On Stewardship, Speculation, & Love’s Pursuits

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“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

art drawerThese words are important, and it matters that we understand why they were penned.

We can read in Acts 20 (particularly verses 29-35) that pretty much from the beginning of his work in Ephesus, Paul was aware that the people there would experience and be tempted by false teachings, and that these teachings would be birthed from their own church– from them. He made sure to spend a good amount of time (three whole years) with them, teaching them that the truth and reality of grace had to be the source of their work and the way they treated each other, because from it they would be built up and brought into their inheritance.

About a decade after Paul left Ephesus, he sent this letter to Timothy, whom he had commissioned to oversee churches that were having trouble, including the one in Ephesus. Paul knew the false teachings he’d predicted had indeed come into the church. And he told Timothy:

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1:3-4)

Speculation rather than stewardship. That is where the false teachings came from.

In their attempt to sharpen their minds, the Ephesians lost their focus. They forgot that the goal of everything they were called to was love; that instead of having to spend their energy discussing what-ifs and finer details, they had been given something substantial, something they were supposed to take care of and use: they carried grace in their chests. And that grace, even with unanswered questions, was enough to live a full life.

They didn’t need to speculate anymore– they already had something to steward.

It was neglecting that stewardship that brought about the issues the church was facing. After Paul reminded Timothy of their mission of love and what it’s fueled by, he said: “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1:6-7)

These false teachers were not necessarily menacing. They sought to be knowledgeable and to share what they found; they probably believed what they were saying. But they left out the true goal of the church: using love to spread the reality grace. They weren’t pursuing the mission. They lacked love’s pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, so regardless of how many sources they searched and how many discussions they had, they could not reach understanding; they could only make assertions about the things they found in the endless process (things Paul recognized as myths and loose interpretations). These people were not rooted in love’s pursuits, so they could not find the answers, because love was what held them. What they needed was already in their possession– but they deemed their pursuit of finer theology more important.

We are so much like them.

We can have our questions and curiosities, and we can and should grow in our theology. But we cannot forget what our constant and consuming mission is, what demands our attention and our energy. When our focus shifts from pursuing love to pursuing ideas, we trade in stewardship for speculation; we lose something. With a focus of love, fueled by a pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, we have what we need; we have the reality of grace, and it builds us up and brings us into our inheritance. Everything we need comes from grace, from Him. We are not lacking.

We cannot be so enamored by speculation that we forsake our stewardship. We have been charged with the spread of love and grace; neglecting that charge is not only foolish and disobedient, but it is destructive for us and for all who cross our path, because our theology always becomes our actions. We teach our ideas, with our words and by our example, every single day, even if we don’t intend to. And if our ideas are untrue, we become false teachers, instead of stewards of God’s deepest truth– the truth that He loves and has grace for us. If our theology isn’t rooted in love, our actions aren’t either.

And we must never forget what He calls pure and undefiled religion: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). To Jesus, if we are seeking to be close to Him and to love others they way He does, we have the truest theology. When love is our theology and when we live it, it proves and grows itself.

May we participate in the dispersion of love instead of in useless discussions. And may we be so engulfed in love and grace and the spreading of it that we have no room left to speculate.

The way Paul ended his letter is a suitable ending for us, too:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

(1 Timothy 6:3-6, 11, & 20-21, emphasis added)

Soul Food {July 2016}

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This month carried so many different things for me. A lot of things came out in media this month, too, and I’ve been enjoying good handfuls, so let’s talk about some of it!

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  • “Amazing” by Christian Collins. If this guy makes anything, you know I’m going to promote it. Love him and the positive presence he is in the world. [Also the video is so close to a million views oh my gosh!]
  • Anthem Lights, especially their Justin Bieber, Drake, and “Single Awareness” medleys. They also recently shared a Peace & Love medley, which I think is very special. They’re just good. These guys arrange things so well and all have seriously beautiful voices. I’ve been listening to a lot of their stuff lately. (Such as…)
  • Joey Stamper’s cover of “Jealous.” Killer. I don’t even the like the original song but I’ve listened to this so many times because dang that voice.
  • Switchfoot’s new “Where The Light Shines Through” album. This album… we need it. It could not have been released at a better time for us. My hands-down favorite from it is “If The House Burns Down Tonight” (dancing and tears at the same time), but I also like “Looking For America” featuring Lecrae and “Hope Is The Anthem.”
  • “Mountain” by Jeremiah Daly. There’s just something magical about it. Comforting yet somewhat heart-wrenching. The entire album is good, honestly; I use it as lullabies on anxious nights.
  • “Better This Way” by The Early November. A guy I went to college with basically goes to hardcore shows for a living (yes, I’m jealous, too), and this month he shared a clip of this band. I went on my little internet scavenger hunt, discovered this song, and kind of fell in love with it.
  • “Afraid” by Tenth Avenue North. People are coming out with such relevant music lately and I’m loving it. Pumped for this album. “Fear never told the truth.”
  • “Up In The Air” by Tilian. A friend played this for me during a car ride thinking I might like it; she thought correctly. The word “empowering” comes to mind.
  • Relient K’s “Air For Free” album. Why are so many bands putting out such good albums right now?! This might be Relient K at its finest; both uplifting and grounding. My favorite from it is “Man.” I also really like “Bummin'”, “Empty House”, “Flower”, and “Heartache.”
  • “You & I” by Colony House. Lyrically excellent, musically their signature alt-rock with some added retro vibes! I read it was recorded in one live take, which only adds to the retro factor. I’m loving what they’re doing. Their album comes out in September, and you can pre-order it right now!
  • “I’m Not Perfect. You’re Not Perfect. Let’s Hang Out!” by Tyler Ward. First: I think the title is super cute. Second, this song is fun and danceable, while also being a beautifully honest reminder that we’re all just doing our best and can do better together. I appreciate it so much.
  • “A Prayer” by Kings Kaleidoscope. Stunning, heartwrenching, powerful.

What’s that, you say? “Tessa. Come on now. I just want one convenient playlist with all of these songs.” No worries! Not only does this playlist have this month’s music choices, but the rest of my choices from this year so far are there, too! I know: “Tessa! That’s amazing! You’re the best!” I gotchu. [The Tyler Ward song isn’t on it because it is not on YouTube.]

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  • These brothers attempting to make artsy pancakes. Weirdly entertaining (teenage boys crack me up so bad, it’s probably a disease), and I kind of want to do this with my friends now.
  • America’s Got Talent. People are so diverse and interesting, and this show displays it. I love seeing people living in their passions.
  • Collins Key and the Merrell Twins doing the “Smoothie Challenge.” It’s gross but I laughed way too much. Their “Eat It or Wear It Challenge” is also gross and great.
  • Mike Donehey’s video journal for “Afraid.” He always speaks such truth. “Fear is just a consequence of believing a lie.”
  • The Vet Life. My dad told me he was shocked I wasn’t watching this, since it’s about veterinarians and I’m obsessed with animals. I wasn’t too interested in trying it, so imagine his surprise when I spent five hours one Saturday just enjoying seeing these fellow animal lovers take care of creatures and build relationships. They even share details about animal health and anatomy, which is just really interesting to me. [Although when they operate I definitely shield my eyes because I’m a sensitive nugget.]
  • “Tour of My Brain.” So clever. I definitely want to make something like this.
  • Christian Collins (yep I’m gonna talk about him again) creating a song out of instruments he’s never played before. First of all: how did he get so good at new instruments so fast?! Prodigy. Secondly: he makes me smile so, so much. The song is fantastic.
  • Still consistently watched Food Network Star as well as The Mentalist (although I might take a break from The Mentalist for a while because anxiety is dumb).

Books/Blogs/Articlesbook-of-a-thousand-days

  • “Dear You: 5 Brave Things to Keep in Your Pocket for Hard Days in a Hard World” by Ann Voskamp. This… this feels like someone lifting my chin up, looking into my face, and speaking life into my body. Such simple but HUGE things to remember and be in awe of. “Promise yourself you’ll remember this because you will need this most: You can always have as much as God as you want.”
  • “Love Looks Like: Choices” by Sarah Bessy. I’m not even close to married, but this moved me so deeply. A stunning exploration of being two people with different perspectives still unified in love. “Now it’s funny when people ask us sometimes, how do you weather major theological differences in your marriage? I don’t know if we did it the right way. Is there even a right way? I don’t know the right answer for every marriage but here is the answer that worked for us then and seems to still be working now: Choose each other. Turn towards one another.”
  • “Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from The South of France” by Kristin Espinasse. A fun coffee table book to pick up and get a taste of France and the French language every once in a while. [You can keep up with all of my book progress on Goodreads if you ever feel stalkerish; no worries, I get it.]
  • “Guard Your Gates,” also by Sarah Bessey. I love her way of explaining the balance of being guarded while not letting fear win in you. It is so important to understand.
  • “Book of a Thousand Days” by Shannon Hale. Hale wrote what my younger self craved in fiction, and I’m finding my current self still craves those things: a mystical setting, strong/complex characters, lovely thoughts sprinkled throughout the story, questions that make me keep reading because I must know the answers, even a little non-mushy love mixed in. This book pleased me so much.
  • “When We All Ache for Justice in The World” by Tim Stafford. This has lingered in my brain since I read it; it is ringing so true to me. When we want to talk about justice, so often we immediately shift the conversation to focus on injustice. What if, instead, we sought to focus on what justice actually looks like– restoration, healing, things set right?

The Fuel of Temptation: On Shame & Grace

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DSC05087I haven’t had to carry shame like what I’ve carried this week in such a long time. It’s been so loud.

This time last week, I had just told the world about my struggle to fully remove pornography’s influence from my life. Many were kind and life-speaking in response, and I’m so grateful for that; some had a harder time. I love them all, and this is still true: I heard once that if a person makes you feel fear or shame, it’s because that’s what they’re carrying. I think I believe that. And some accidentally passed shame and fear on to me when they said what they did.

When I stumbled and looked at porn three weeks ago, I was broken over it. Then I went to my Father, He held me close, and we started moving forward again. I was doing okay; I was focusing on things that were good and healthy for me and He was doing work in me. But after hurt-filled conversation about the fact I even had to recover from this… I started feeling afraid.

I felt so close to stumbling again, constantly on the edge, even though I had no desire for it. I began standing stagnant where I’d left off; shame was crippling my ability to move on, but more than that– the fear of stumbling was pushing me closer to actually stumbling. When I let fear and shame live in me again, they told me I was weak and dirty. It led me to believe I was likely to continue stumbling, because it was part of who I was; I was too weak and dirty to be different. I was incapable of doing better, they said.

Fear and shame never tell the truth. They were (…are) lying to me. The truth’s words are so much different.

Truth says that God loves to enter weakness; He has even been known to refuse the removal of weakness so that He can show His power through it. Truth says that God has led us to put on our new selves, and that He renews us consistently. Truth says that fear cannot live inside perfect love. Truth says that my judgement day has been moved from the future to the past because Jesus stood in my place and declared me holy and clean. This is the gospel. Anyone who believes shame has any place in me doesn’t know that shame cannot live in God’s house– or that I am that house.

At church this morning, I was in the worship service, and began remembering what worship services used to be like for me. I remembered how scared I used to be that I wasn’t meeting the standards God expected of me or that I was still far from Him whom I loved. And I realized that I used to struggle so much more frequently and intensely when shame and fear were part of my daily baggage. When I believed I was filthy and unworthy even after repentance, I stumbled much more often; I despised myself even more often than I stumbled. Shame was the fuel for my temptation. Just like what I experienced again this week.

When my focus shifted and I began to believe in and abide in God’s love for me, I stumbled remarkably less. I felt more full of life. And when I stopped believing God could be more proud of me and in love with me than He already was, I didn’t have to fear anything anymore. Nothing could touch who I was. God declares no shame for me, so none exists for me; He is God and He establishes what is true.

My mission was no longer removing my sin so He could love me; it was resting in His love so He could remove my sin. I’d had it backwards. I feared my sin, when I could have told my sin to fear what was being done in me.

The focus has to be grace. Anything that gives a “but” to grace doesn’t know what grace fundamentally is. Grace doesn’t follow any rules; it follows love. And love is what God is made of.

I am done with the false, finger-wagging, works-based god that was handed to me. Give me Jesus. Give me the healer and redeemer and lover of humanity, who doesn’t say “get out of that place” but “I will take your place.”

Yes, God wants the best for me; yes, my life should be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel; yes, I need to put in my best effort to overcome my struggles. But what I do is secondary to what He does. What I do cannot and will not save me. Christ and only Christ stops the flesh. It is all grace. All of it. We are not saying effort has no value. We are saying grace is of infinite value. Grace must be the focus. It must. Where you place your focus is what you walk toward.

When my focus is that He loves me and has my best in store, I am no longer afraid; instead, I rest. And He works in me, and when He asks me to do something I do it. But I no longer try to do everything. Because He tells me I don’t have to. I just listen and obey. And because of that, I no longer face anxiety but intimacy.

This week, I am going to my Father. I am going to submit to His work in me, for that is my work. And instead of drowning in the shame and fear others might try to place in my hands, I’m going to swim in the grace He’s given me to carry in it’s place.

“Grace is God’s best idea. Rather than tell us to change, He creates the change.”  -Max Lucado

 

Turning My Darkness to Light

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“Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  -Philippians 1:14

DSC04846We don’t like to vocalize our struggles until we feel they can be wrapped up somehow. Until it becomes part of our past, we don’t tell more than a few people (if that) about our most broken parts.

What happens when the past doesn’t stay there?

What happens when the past used to be a long time ago, but this year we stumbled, and the past became February? And what happens when February turns into five days ago?

All week, I have known my recent stumble demanded a new response from me. I learned a lot last month about what it means to be real; I value no-exception honesty in people more and more every day, and have gained unspeakable comfort and strength from those who vocalize the raw, unfinished pieces of themselves. I cannot escape the knowledge that there is power in being wholly genuine in every context I find myself. Even Scripture has encouraged me to bare it all, has said, “When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.

Our darkness becomes light when we shine light on it.

Light can only enter broken things, after all.

I can feel my heart pound wildly against my chest at the thought of the freedom I would be walking in if I just released everything… including the parts I don’t want you to see. But I’ve been afraid. People can generally accept someone’s messy past. But a messy present? One that may or may not go away soon… if ever? It scares us. Because it’s imperfect and we can’t fix it with our usual, one-size-fits-all answers.

I used to be afraid of the struggles of others. But when I stopped denying the existence of my own, when I couldn’t ignore them anymore, I found such comfort in the company of those who were openly imperfect. Even if they weren’t physically with me, I knew they were with me. I knew I wasn’t the only one dealing with garbage like mine.

It is time for me to be that company for others, too.

I have to bring my darkness out into the light. For me, but also for you. It might scare you once you see it; it might make you leave me, or attempt to fix me with no result. Those are deep fears I keep running into as I write this. But… what if it helps heal you instead? It might do that, too. It might embrace you, or spark some measure of hope in you. Because you might remember it when you think you have to hide your own struggles, when you think you have to deal with them by yourself. And it might lead you to accept the open arms of your Father more readily. I know this because others shining light on their garbage has done the same for me.

You are not the only one. You are not the only one who tries but doesn’t always succeed; who has been doing well but knows they could fall again; who still deals with things they hate, things they know should belong in the past. I’m here, too. I’m with you.

And here is what I have in my garbage right now: lust and pornography.

I accidentally found porn around three years ago. It horrified me, and I sobbed into my Father afterwards, repentant and deeply pained. It truly was an accident. But months later, in one weak moment… I remembered how easy it had been to find. So I found it again. On purpose this time. And it horrified me, and I repented in deep sincerity once again.

This cycle has repeated itself since. My Father has forgiven me and welcomed me immediately each time. He has never condemned me. Instead, He has comforted me, and let me weep inside Him as my shame and disgust overwhelmed me. He has promised to teach me to renew my mind, and has done so much in restoring me.

And I still struggle.

I deal with lust in some form on an almost daily basis, but it’s only been twice this year that I have given in to pornography: once in February and once last week. But twice still feels like so many, because I know there shouldn’t be any instances of this in my life anymore. Both times, I have written to a friend I go to for accountability, and lamented: “I thought it was gone. It had been so long, I thought I was finally rid of it. How did I get here again?”

I hate pornography. I hate the industry, I hate the effects it has on us psychologically and physically, I hate the perversion it displays of something that was made to be pure and dazzling. I hate it with the deepest passion. Yet I have consumed it twice this year. I consumed it last week, even with all I know. And I don’t know if this time was finally the last.

I believe there will be a last time. God has kept His promise to rework my evil intentions into good things for His glory, making me stronger with new revelations every time I have failed. I just don’t know when that last time will be. I hoped it would be February, and it wasn’t. Now I hope it will be last week. It could be. But I honestly don’t know. Not one piece of me wants pornography in my life, but what happened last week that somehow made me feel differently? I don’t understand it. I hate fearing the ticking of a time bomb inside me, never knowing when or if it could go off. Because I know I have control over my actions… yet I do what I hate.

This is where I am today. I’m emerging from grieving my sin. I’m wrestling with what it means to be a human being with flesh warring against my soul. And I’m exposing my darkness so it can become light. Altogether, I am learning how to live in freedom. Freedom from my struggles, but another kind of freedom, too– the freedom that comes from living fully in the truth, without hiding anything and without fearing what others might see in me.

My unsightly pieces are visible to you now. But I hope when you look at me, they aren’t what you see. Instead… I hope you see a companion. I hope you see there is so much more to me than my struggles, that my garbage is not who I am– and that the same is true for you.

We have let fear and shame keep us from our freedom and from each other for too long. It’s time we take back our ground. We have been given the gift of being able to bear each other’s burdens and walk toward healing together; I don’t want to forsake that anymore.

I am with you. I am with you.

And we are still fully loved, even as we are fully known.

We get to learn how to live in our freedom now. One stumble and one step at a time.

Soul Food {June 2016}

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The first month of my summer was both weird and wonderful; I hope the rest of my summer is even more so. I learned quite a bit about the kind of art that’s special to me, so you’ll see some of that represented here.

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  • NF’s “Therapy Session” album. Yes, I mentioned him last month; yes, I’m still 100% obsessed. Every track is truly so good and so powerful. I am such a big fan of his. A few current favorites from the album are “Real”, “I Can Feel It”, “Wish You Wouldn’t”, and “Got You On My Mind.”
  • I’ve also been listening to NF’s “Mansion” album. I was going to list my favorites from it and had actually started to, but I genuinely was naming nearly every song on the album. It is just so good. Although I will say, if you only listen to one song from this album, make it the title track. I love all the others, but this one… we need it. [P.S., I might see him live in the fall and am so giddy about it!]
  • “Fireflies” and “Verge” (ft. Aloe Blacc) by Owl City. Nostalgia and just fun (I have to dance to “Verge” every single time). I can’t hate on Owl City.
  • Louisa Wendorff’s cover/mashup of “Never Forget You” and “Close,” featuring Anthem Lights. “Hey Tessa when are you gonna stop talking about Louisa–” NEVER! She is a huge inspiration to me. Beautiful harmonies on this, in which she created a cohesive story from the songs like she always does because she’s the queen of mashups.
  • Speaking of Anthem Lights, their Drake medley is fantastic. I’m not a Drake fan but I really enjoyed this.
  • “All Of God’s Children” by Jon Foreman. The lyrics are so, so important.
  • “Waking Up Again” by Emily Hearn. Sweeping, homey, uplifting; the kind of music I can nestle into.
  • “Bluebird” by Esme Patterson. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but the sound itself of this song is encouraging to me; it’s just a kind and welcoming melody that picks me up. Lyrically lovely, too.
  • “Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato. I don’t normally listen to Demi, but when I heard this song I was stunned by it. Her vocals are crazy, the piano is haunting, and the emotion is so transparent. I’m working on learning the piano!
  • “You Know It” by Colony House. My favorite band released a new single, from their upcoming new album, so of course I’m going to share it! They’re putting out some 1960s rock vibes, and I’m into it.

If you want a playlist with all this music, I have one for you! It features all my 2016 Soul Food picks so far, so this month’s are near the bottom.

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  • The music video to “I Luv Rap Music” by dc Talk. It’s horrible in the most wonderful way. Friends might say it captures my essence (hahaha!).
  • Zootopia. Both a cute film with clever design and writing, and an important film sharing that we don’t need to fear others and treat them differently; we’re all the same inside. I love what Disney has been telling our kids lately.
  • Mike Donehey’s new video journal. I love this. I’ve always been bothered by Christian culture telling me I have to be a leader; the fact that Jesus asks for followers brings such comfort.
  • Sleeping Beauty. Its art and music are such consistent sources of wonder for me; I watch it when I need to get into an inspired headspace.
  • Robin Hood. I fall into a classic Disney animation mood sometimes. This lovely film captures fairytale wonder and the influence of 1970s art/music, which happen to be two things I really enjoy.
  • “The Inspiration Shake” on New Age Creators. A practical yet poetic and cute look at some simple self care for creatives.
  • “Food Network Star.” Because I’m a nerd and the contestants are interesting. Also Rhett and Link were guest judges once and it was incredible.
  • Lecrae’s TEDtalk, “Heroes and Villains: Is Hip-Hop A Cancer or A Cure?” I think this history of hip-hop and the culture it was born from is so, so important. He articulated it excellently.

Books/Blogs/Articlesmy afternoon

  • “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes. I have a slight rant about this novel. You can read it on my Goodreads if you’d like.
  • “Rejoice and Be Sad” by Shannan Martin. I just found comfort in this reminder that sadness is an emotion we have to feel and isn’t an indicator of how well we’re doing in life.
  • “About Those ’20 Minutes of Action:’ 20 Things We’d Better Tell Our Sons Right Now About Being Real Men” by Ann Voskamp. The truth living in this post is powerful and vital.
  • “Anne of Avonlea” by L.M. Montgomery. My first experience with this series is going so well; every character is such a delight, and Anne teaches me about myself.
  • The Bible Students Say Twitter account. An anonymous Biblical Studies professor tweets cringey lines from students’ papers, and it’s gold. And sometimes terrifying.
  • “Reclaiming ‘That Girl'” on Dear Woman. “‘That girl’ has become the poster child for too much. Too emotional, too loud, too needy, too picky. And I am convinced it has to stop. Every time we negatively refer to ‘that girl,’ there is an actual girl we are condemning.”

What My Old Lyrics Taught Me: On Authenticity, Shame, & Growing Up in Church

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Music is my home, something I was made to live in. But I’ve faced rejection, limitations, discouragement, and over time I allowed those things to bury my passion. It still lived, but I wouldn’t listen to its outcry for my attention; I pretended it was small and didn’t matter too much to me. But it always did.

About a month ago, I began listening to an artist whose music was more genuine, passionate, and soul-meeting than I’d experienced in such a long time. I’d forgotten that music could be a vessel for such powerful things. It blew on the flames inside me; my passion was no longer trapped in muffled cries, and instead it roared at me until I would look it in the face once more. I then wrote and played and sang like I’d been released from a cell and given permission to love my calling again. Somehow, I had fallen into the trap of viewing my purpose as a burden I must bear, instead of a gift I get to treasure.piano werkin

Now I’ve moved into a difficult place of not being able to do everything I would like to do in my music. My resources and abilities are so very limited right now. I’ve responded to this situation in various ways already, many of them painful and unhealthy. But there’s one way that’s been bringing a lot of closure and healing to me: I’ve been reading through notebooks of my old lyrics. And I’ve been discovering some big things in the process.

1) I can do it.

I began writing my own music when I was eleven. Which means, yes, there are some absolutely terrible, cringey pieces that embarrass me just by existing. But there are a lot more potential-carrying verses than I thought there would be. For a young girl with no one helping her, I could write. I expressed myself well. Based on the kind of music I listened to at the time, I wasn’t too far off from what I wanted to be making. I see an anointing in the girl who wrote those songs. I’m trying to remind myself that she’s me, and that anointings don’t go away. Despite what I often believe, I am capable of being a music-maker.

 

2) Shame has been a giant presence and loud voice in my life. 

For a large portion of my life, I never felt I was doing enough, was pure enough, or was passionate enough about the Lord. My music from those times expressed that shame; I didn’t intend to express shame in my verses, but, unbeknownst to me, it wove itself into each one.

Discovering this in my old music unearthed some anger in me toward the Christian youth culture I grew up in. I love the people that led me in youth group, and I’m not bitter toward them; I know we’re all just doing our best, and I still carry many good things they did for me. But the things unintentionally ingrained in me? To be honest, they’re still infuriating sometimes.

I was taught that my friends’ salvations were dependent upon my boldness; that I had to be on fire, with a wildly passionate missional lifestyle, for my faith to be valid; that I had to perform well for the Lord, or else He would be disappointed in me. All of these things were said outright at some point in my experience, but they permeated teachings I received all the time. And it all said the same thing to my soul– “You are not good enough for God to love you the way you are.”

I didn’t know that humans cannot save others humans; that my only job has always been to love everyone. I didn’t know that feelings sometimes need to be told the truth; that burning passion is not necessary for whole-hearted work, and sometimes we do what we don’t want to do because we know it’s right and good. I didn’t know that God wanted me, as I was, no matter how well I was or wasn’t doing.

Why didn’t any youth ministry make it a point to teach me that?

Why did they lead with the need to evangelize, when I didn’t know the fullness of the gospel in my own soul first? Why didn’t they teach me about my belovedness, about who I was? Why didn’t they recognize that I didn’t need solutions as much as I needed people to walk with me through my dark places?

[This isn’t completely related, and I’ve considered cutting it out of this post countless times, but I think it’s important to put it out in the open: no one in my church was able to recognize depression in me, during the more than two years I lived in it. Whenever I tried to vocalize anything about what was happening inside me, I just ended up being confused by the faith-isms they gave me with sympathetic expressions on their faces. I became convinced that it was my fault I was suffering. A leader once approached me and asked me to help another student who expressed numb sadness like I had once done, because it was assumed I’d found a way through it; the leader didn’t know what to do when I replied I was still in it and had no solution to give them.]

I’m a little angry, yes. But anger is a secondary emotion; mostly, I am sad. I’m sad because we’re so unpracticed in dealing with rawness and the incomplete things in our own souls and the souls of others, when it is something so vital to being a healthy person. And I’m sad because younger Tessa was given one-size-fits-all advice and pats on the head, instead of something real.

 

3) Music was always my taste of what was real.

I expressed things I didn’t even understand or recognize in my life, but somehow knew when I began writing my verses. I could say what I most genuinely meant there. I could discover what I meant there. And I could find healing in the process. No other place was like that.

It’s still true for me. He always meets me intimately in my music. It’s still the place I find the most safety and comfort and hope.

NF has this line in his song appropriately entitled “Real:” “You gave me music as medicine.” I feel that so deeply.

 

4) Because shame wouldn’t let me have compassion on myself, I didn’t know how to give it to others.

I treated so many of my friends as projects in my mind; I expected perfection from them. If they “failed” in some way, I saw it as my fault. These are lies that grew from what I believed about my own unworthiness, and the perfection I demanded from myself. It was surprising to see just how many songs I’d written about people I knew who were “lost,” and how firm I was in my judgements of them. For a while, it was pretty much all I wrote about.

I wish I could go back to every person I’ve ever condemned (some verbally, I’m sorry to say). I wish I could tell them that they are holy, one hundred percent holy, because it was His gift to them. I wish I could tell them He already fully loves and welcomes them, as they are. And I wish I could tell them that I have my own vices… that I am not better than them in any way, never have been and never will be.

I was so wrong. I know I was a different person back then, that I can’t be angry at younger Tessa because she was doing the best she could. But I wouldn’t blame anyone else if they chose not to forgive me. I am so sorry for the damage I might have caused in people I just wanted to love.

Hurting people hurt people. I didn’t know I could be such a clear example of this, but I know it now. And wow am I grateful that He’s teaching me how to be kind, to myself and to others.

 

5) I was genuinely, madly in love with Jesus.

One of the greatest things I felt shame about was my relationship with Him. I lived daily life with a sharp ache inside because I didn’t think I was loving Him well, or that I was worthy to be with Him. It is so wild to read my old verses now and see that I’d dedicated songs to Him, writing His name at the bottom of each page, with a heart drawn next to it in complete sincerity.

The love I had for Him seeps through every word I penned. I was enamored. I loved Him with the deepest passion I’ve ever known. I hope I’ve only in grown in that, but it was wildly evident in me when I was a teenager; I wouldn’t shut up about Him.

Despite how she felt, teenage Tessa was in such a good place with Jesus. Yes, she had flaws and made mistakes; she still does as a grown up. But she didn’t need to fear a lack of love for Him inside her. She was dripping of it.

And she didn’t need to fear a lack of love for her inside Him, either.

I know these thoughts are messy. But I’m sharing them because I’m learning messy is okay because it’s what’s real. We don’t need to struggle make our words relatable to everyone; we just need to come from a place of vulnerable, awkward, scary authenticity. After all, people can only relate to things that are actually real. Some of the most life-speaking songs in my life have been ones that were unique and probably not relatable for everyone. They sat with me in my mess and my darkness; they told me I wasn’t the only one, and that it was okay to be unkempt inside… showed me there’s beauty in unknown, deep waters because that’s where the answers are hiding, ready to be sought out.

Reading my old verses has further convinced me just how important it is that I keep writing new ones, keep recording what’s in me, keep being fully real. I needed it. I still do.

And there are others who need what I find just as much as I do.

On Brokenness, Fear, & The Cure

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I’ve never been able to articulate any thoughts or feelings about tragedies; I just can’t talk about them. I have always turned to music instead. I’ve painted with tears in my eyes as I listened to a song in attempt to find comfort; I’ve sung words that poured out of me and became prayers; I’ve written verses that maybe no else hears but that have been some of the most genuine, crafted verses to come from me. It’s the only thing I can manage. For me, tragedy becomes music.

I’m beginning to understand why.all of God's children

I believe fear and all that comes from it is the driving force of all that is broken about the world, about us. I believe love is the cure.

I believe any action born of our brokenness comes from a deeply-rooted fear. And I believe the deepest fear we all carry is this: that God doesn’t love us like He says He does. This fear ends up convincing us we aren’t loved at all, because God is love. We fight the fear every day, often without knowing. Some of us lose the fight, miserably, every single time; I believe that is why we do the terrible things we do. If we don’t believe in the love that exists for us, we can’t believe in any love that can come from us. So we don’t love. We don’t know that we can.

That is why I believe love is the cure. I believe that when we all accept the love that exists for us and enter into learning how to love others, our brokenness will be healed. Love is the cure. God is love. And I run to Him with tears in my eyes, and He holds me close and tight until the pain finally stops.

I am discovering that all of this is why my response to pain has always been music. Music is my home. I’ve always felt a belonging and a kinship inside it. I’ve been through seasons of distancing myself from it, but every return is genuinely like a homecoming, like waking up. I was made for music, or it was made for me, or some combination of both.

Music is the place where love is manifested the greatest for me. It is where I feel most alive, where I feel like I am living in what my Father has made for me to live in. Music is how I most purely receive love, and it’s how I most purely give love.

Of course it would be my response to tragedy, to violence, to pain, to brokenness, to fear– it’s where I meet the deepest love I know.

I want you to look inside yourself, and I want you to find whatever your music is. What makes you come alive every time you find yourself in it? What is home for you? What is the biggest fountain of love in your life? When you find whatever it is– do it. Do it wholeheartedly and without reserve, and do not stop. Your souls needs it, but even greater than that: the world needs you to do it.

When fear and all its friends is our response to tragedy, we’re only allowing more of the problem into the world, because fear is the source of it. But when you find your identity in the love that exists for you, and when you release the love that’s living in you, you are adding to the cure.

If we all loved from our deepest places, we would see love come into its fullness in our world. It would become the kingdom on earth. And our greatest hope is in His promise– that this kingdom of love is our inheritance, is our actual future.

He proves His love for us, as He teaches us to love like Him. And He fixes the brokenness; with His perfect love, He casts out the fear.

Fear doesn’t have the final word– love does. Love always has the final word. Because love is bigger and is stronger.

So, please: enter into Love. Find your music. And make it with all that you have.

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”  -Leonard Bernstein

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