Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies · The Basics

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

flower walk, pink and treesGod knows how to love you.

He knows what’s going to reach you. He knows how to show you love in a way that will connect with you and make its truest mark on you.

He doesn’t love like people do.

People have loved you, but not perfectly. Sometimes, their love has manifested as dominance and even control. And it scares you, makes you build your invisible boundaries so that people can see you but can’t know you. You are open and honest and don’t hide your true self from anyone… but never do you give yourself to anyone. You let them see, but don’t let them touch. Because if they can touch, they can hurt. You don’t want that to happen to you anymore. So you hold up your invisible boundaries, so that you are visible but not truly vulnerable.

You know love is giving. That love is always a risk. But the cost… you’re not sure you’re truly willing to pay it.

She tells you that to love is to be willing to be broken for their sake. And that in order to be loved, you must make yourself vulnerable to receive what they give… which makes you vulnerable to the risk of being hurt. You know she’s right. You want to listen to her.

But you realize that in your efforts to keep people from controlling you, you have begun to act controlling toward them. You’ve learned to maneuver conversations and interactions so that you can keep anyone at a subtle distance, to protect against the chance of them hurting you. And when He shows you that you’ve even extended that to how you relate with Him… it terrifies you. Because who is He, truly, if He isn’t the image you’ve crafted of Him for yourself? If you can’t ignore pieces of Him and pretend He’s someone He might not be?

You pray a prayer you can feel the danger pulsating throughout: “Reveal your true self to me. Help me to accept the way you want to love me, even if it’s not a way I’d ask for.”

He starts answering. But not in ways you expected. And you even expected the unexpected.

He shows you a young man. One who is sweet and humble, but not without being strong and bold. The young man leaves soon, but not without searing that image in your mind. Part of you slowly begins to believe those things can coexist, gentleness and strength. Part of you begins to see that strength makes you feel small, but doesn’t have to in the ways it has before. Instead of intimidating and scaring you, this strength can make you feel safe. You don’t have to feel powerless. You can feel wrapped in it, and it can warm the winter in you. Among the wild mess inside you, there’s a moment of clarity, and you realize that is what’s happening.

You realize it is Him doing it.

You see that His love is meeting you in ways that will get through to you. He’s been going at your pace. Instead of demanding you change so that you can be loved, He has been entering what’s there, even your vices, and loving you. Not simply in it, but with it. Anything, He says, to be with you.

Anything to love you.

He knew what would reach you. You hid, but He still saw you and knew you. He became the shape that would fit the hole you’d found yourself in.

He knew the deep desires you barely knew existed in your heart, and He entered them, met them in ways you wouldn’t have thought. You didn’t think to want these things, because you didn’t believe you were the kind of person who would ever have them. But He brought love home to you, in a bouquet of flowers bigger and more elegant than anything you’d ask for. It blew you into wide-open wonder and gratitude. But you weren’t looking at the flowers when you thanked Him– you just looked at Him. You met His eyes with your teary ones, and you just looked at Him. Because He was the gift. He didn’t only give you flowers; He had given you His heart. Himself.

Love is giving. The giving of yourself for their sake. And He knows that more than anyone. He always has.

He’s been doing it right under your nose this whole time.

You thought you had to do the hard work of breaking down all the lies that live in your core before you could let yourself be loved. You tried to take steps to do so, and it was beautiful and brave of you. But He chuckles, and He murmurs into your ear that only one thing has ever been necessary.

All you had to do was lean into Him, and let Him love you.

So that’s what you do. You close your eyes, lean against His chest, feel Him wrap you close.

And you let Him love you.

“Simple trust is your participation.”   –Eve by Wm. Paul Young

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies

When It’s Not What You Pictured: On Hamsters & Hope

I’ve wanted a hamster for a long time. I grew up with hamsters in my home and they were such sweet little delights… but two years is not much time to spend with something you love so much. Their lifespan began to hurt me a bit more each time I experienced another loss. Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to go through those losses anymore. I stopped getting hamsters and for the most part shut them out of my mind.

But this year, my desire started peeking out at me again. Hamsters are so precious, and every time they crossed my mind I wanted one in my life. Yet I still couldn’t escape the knowledge that I’d have such a short time with my new friend… that I’d be left with a guaranteed heartbreak every two years. It scared me.

I used to think I was terrible at hope because I can be so cynical, but I’m learning that’s not true. I’m actually proficient in hoping for things. The thing I’m truly not good at is rejoicing in hope. That’s the hard part.

I hope for things all the time, but rarely am I joyful about it; usually, I am deeply afraid. Over the course of time, I have walled myself up and begun approaching opportunities and ideas with an already defeated attitude. It has led me to keep myself from even trying to purse the things I want.

I’ve been trained to see the obstacles and trials in front of me as reasons not to continue, instead of reasons to believe what comes with them must be worth fighting for.

I’ve also been taught that I can’t have such high hopes if I don’t want to be crushed. I became so hurt by disappointment and lost hopes that I tried to stop hoping altogether. I tried to be satisfied with everything, even if it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Soon, I started believing nothing would be what I wanted it to be. And it terrified me.

I remember calling a friend a few months ago and lamenting to her because I wanted so badly to be somewhere else in life, but knew the key to a truly happy life was contentment in all circumstances, and I just could not find the balance between those two places. She told me: “I think a little restlessness is healthy. If we were fully content with every element of our lives, we’d never grow or move into the better things laid out for us. Not that you should be ungrateful or impatient. But I think it’s okay that you want something new.” I ruminated over her words and found comfort in them. I realized that contentment does not mean you don’t ever want anything; it means you are grateful for what you have and are not demanding for more, as if you are owed anything. I can be content and grateful for my circumstances, even as I seek to enter different ones.

One of the biggest parts of hope is believing for the good in things. It is focusing on what could go right rather than what could go wrong, choosing to feed joy and love instead of cynicism and fear.

So when my birthday began approaching this year and my mom asked me what I wanted… I brought up hamsters.

A month later, my mom approached me the evening of my birthday with a little container in her hands. I could hear the faint scratching coming from inside it, and looked through the hole-poked plastic lid to see an incredibly tiny, fuzzy, nervous little friend.

I fell head-over-heels for him the minute we met.


My first impression of him was spot-on: fragile and gentle, super soft– and incredibly anxious. I’d imagined I would get to hold him in my hands all the time, but that didn’t seem possible, especially after he jumped out on my first attempt and I had to rush to rescue him. I was so scared. What if I couldn’t take care of him as well as someone else could?

What if our brief time together wasn’t going to be a joy, like I hoped it would be?

The next few days, I researched training/taming techniques for nervous hamsters and began practicing them. It’s been about a month now since he came into my life; he still doesn’t want to be held much, but wow

He is such a light to me.

I love watching him burrow in his bedding; glimpsing him stretch after he wakes up from a nap; seeing him pull food out of his stuffed cheeks and start nibbling on it; giggling when he climbs the cage’s walls to the top level instead of taking the tubes; saying hello to him when he walks over to where I’m watching him and places his paws on the cage bars; murmuring nicknames and affection to him when he’s awake and just chilling in the corner; tricking him out of his cage with a treat in a mug and letting him explore the house in his ball. I absolutely adore my little guy.

I came so close to never opening myself up to him. To letting all of these things that make my life brighter and bring me deep joy pass me by, because I was afraid to get hurt by disappointment. I can tell you now:

Whatever hurt I might feel in the future is worth the absolute delight I get to live in right now.

He isn’t what I pictured. But he is still what I hoped for.

I named him Jonas, after the character of Jonas Blake in the third Anne of Green Gables book. Jonas Blake and Philippa Gordon feared loving each other because they were so different; they didn’t know how their worlds could come together. But they decided having each other was worth whatever struggles came along.

It wasn’t what they ever pictured for themselves… but it ended up being what they’d been scared to hope for.

Maybe that’s the way things happen.

And maybe we’ll get to see it for ourselves.

Maybe hope is worth the risk.

Embraces for Your Spirit

On The Unfinished Things

I visited an art-focused thrift store last week. They carry things that a lot of people would probably throw away or recycle, and they display art made with those things, art that shakes your shoulders and exclaims, “Look at all the cool stuff you could do! Get out of your box, silly! Try your crazy idea! Try it! Try it!” Sometimes I need to just inhale some good art to remind myself how much I love it and how much I still have to explore.

There were containers full of discarded photographs at the thrift store. I’ve seen them at county fairs and flea markets, too, and it always confuses me in an almost mournful way. Why are these photos here now, and not with the people who took them? Did they lose them? Did something make the person want to get rid of them? Did someone else donate them? Where did they come from and why didn’t they stay there forever? It unsettles me, and I wish I knew the answers. Every time I see photos for sale, I end up buying at least one, and I’ve never had a plan for what I’m going to do with them. I got quite a few at the thrift store this time. And I was determined to use them, in whatever way I could find.

“A collage or shadow box might be cool…” I mused. I looked through our craft paper and started pairing photos with backgrounds. I added lace, paper flowers, cut-outs, words, anything I felt suited the picture. I did this for multiple photos before I realized–

“I’m scrapbooking. I’m scrapbooking for strangers who didn’t get to.”

I started feeling a sense of duty toward the people in the photos to represent their memories and their personhood well. I chose colors I imaged they would like based on what they wore, paper that seemed to suit the situation, details I hoped honored what they felt toward the photo and the memory. I cared deeply about the way I treated those images.

Now I have multiple scrapbook pages full of people I’ve never met and places I’ve never been, and I don’t know what to do with them. But I am so glad that I brought some sense of completion to something that was unfinished.scrapbook pages together

Sometimes I fear that things will remain unfinished. I become impatient, or rather, I wear the mask of impatience. Yeah, sometimes I am angry or upset or restless, but when I look inside, I don’t see those things as much as I see fear. I see myself, my arms hugging my knees, and I’m trembling. “What if this is never fixed? What if this is something I’m going to have to live with the rest of my life? What if I never see it come to completion?” I pause. And with bitter tears I whisper:

“Are His promises true? Can I trust Him?

There it is. There’s the fear at it’s core.

“Do you still love me, Father?”

Does He still love me even if He lets pain exist in my life? Pain I’ve asked Him to heal? Pain that’s been here for such a long time? I don’t want to pass it on to my children. I don’t want it to live with me forever. I want it to be finished. I want it to end here. And the anger comes out because I’m secretly afraid that it won’t come to pass that way.

I forget that He’s a good Father.

“I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it.” He says (Is. 60:22). He doesn’t forget His work. He is a good Father. He always comes through for His children. Even if it takes longer than we’d choose sometimes. He knows what He’s up to.

I’ve got some unfinished things inside me. And I’ve got Someone who sees them and is enraptured by them and seeks to finish them. Promises to finish them.

He’s the author and He’s the finisher.

None of this stays an unfinished thing.

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies · The Basics

At The Table

I was making the same terrible choice over and over, breaking my own heart more with each blow. I was tugged in two directions and continuously chose the wrong one. It was my choice. And when it hit me… when I realized how broken I was… I cried in my hands, and cried to a friend, and cried out to Him.

And He told me to return to Him, because there was a place for me at the table.

Come on home, home to me
And I will hold you in my arms,
In joyful glee
There will always, always be
A place for you at my table
Return to me


I listened to His words until I fell asleep. And I woke up, and began the journey of learning to walk in grace. Walking in His kingdom.

I heard them fighting. I read the cutting words, saw the triggering images, felt the pulsing anger. Everyone was different, unique, and came from different places. And I wondered if we would ever be able to become the family I dreamt we could, this family of humanity in union with our Father.

And He told me to love and to hope for peace, because there was a place for every single one of them at His table.

“People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Luke 13:29.

I loved my Father who adopted me, who gave me His heritage, who loves His children this way.

I sobbed in the night, stayed up much too late blowing my nose and begging Him for anything. I had realized during the day that I didn’t feel at home in my favorite place anymore, that my affection was now for the memories and that I couldn’t connect there anymore. I tried, and it just hurt more. My place was no longer there for me. No matter how much anyone wanted me to have a place, how much I wished I could be there. This was two days ago. I want to trust Him; I do trust Him. But I have no direction, in any area of life. I don’t know what to do about any of this. I don’t know what to do, Father. About anything.

“Just be with me. Sit at my table.” He says.

Jesus told a parable about a man who threw a grand banquet and invited guests– guests who had other things to worry about, and chose to focus on those things instead of the feast they had been welcomed into. They didn’t make time to be with him, because everything else was stealing them away. So he invited everyone who was willing to come, from every possible place. Even then, there was room left over. There was no shortage of room at that table. And he would not rest until it was filled.

My Father wants to share His abundance with me, but most of all– He wants to be with me. He wants my company. He wants His family to all come home. Just like I want a home.DSC01459

He welcomes me to His table. His table that is already right here and now.

I timidly approach Him in pieces, and He picks all of me up to carry me to my seat.

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies

On Being Angry With God

taken by myself, of my brotherI am a few days into a new brand new season of life. I’ve been calling it the open seas, because I’ve let go of nearly everything at His prompting. And yes– it’s terrifying. I accidentally broke into tears at dinner the other night. But I am fully aware that the open seas do not just mean the unknown: they also mean that I could go absolutely anywhere and do anything. That’s overwhelmingly exciting, even as it hurts.

I knew a long time ago that this season was coming. But about a month ago, I realized just how little time I had left before I would have to leave a lot of the things I loved. And I didn’t react the way I expected or hoped to–

I was furious with God.

I had been okay with leaving a place in order to go where He wanted me; with leaving the expectations I felt placed on me in order to live in my design; with leaving my plans in order to submit to His. But when it hit me that I would have to leave a community of people that had become my family? I was fuming. I was furious that He would give me such an invaluable gift, a home, only to ask me to give it up so soon. “You can have my entire life, Lord.” I said in my heart.

“But you cannot touch my friends. Don’t you dare take them from me.”

Upon realizing that this was where my heart truly was, I immediately set out to engage in daily surrender of my entire heart and life, including my love for my friends-turned-family. I knew I needed to stop being angry with Him, because I knew He was doing all of this for my good, out of His love for me. I had to trust Him. I could not be angry.

Weeks passed. I had been reading the psalms. For many days, they had been pleading and bitter in nature, and I didn’t know what to do with them. I never really have, I guess, because I knew it was wrong to be angry at God; I never felt like I was able to relate to angry psalms. But when I read Psalm 80, after days of angry psalms, I hesitantly looked up from the book and whispered, “… am I still mad at you, Lord?”

And realized that I was. I really, really was.

My friends attribute the phrase “don’t bottle” to me because I so firmly believe that we need to be transparent and honest about what we think and feel; we need to live in it, and that will lead us into dealing with it in a healthy way. I champion this constantly. But wow do I feel like a hypocrite sometimes, because as much as I try to be honest about where I am, often I find that I’m still bottling because I want to be able to say, “I can handle it. I’m fine, really. I’ve got this. I trust Him.”

Naturally, then, when I found my bottled anger I was deeply disappointed in myself. “You can’t be angry with Him, Tessa. It’s wrong! You have to trust Him. Why can’t you trust that He is doing this for you, for your good?” I’d tried to be positive, but in the process I was stuffing away what I truly thought and felt, and it was hurting me; it was making us distant, because I wasn’t being honest with Him. I had been angry with Him for weeks (or longer) and didn’t know how to fix it, so I actually went to Him and asked Him to help me, to give me wisdom. He was faithful and did indeed come to help me. But He didn’t give me a tool or a principle I could apply, and He didn’t tell me what to do. Instead, He just asked me a question:

“Is it possible to be angry with someone you completely love and trust?”

I could almost hear my heart shatter open.

It is not wrong to be angry with God. Let me say it again: it is not wrong to be angry with God. He understands. He knows that sometimes we won’t understand what He’s doing at first, and that it will hurt us for a while. But this is the kind of hurt that brings even deeper healing, so He allows it. And yes, it’s hurt; it’s real and ugly and painful and sometimes leads you to burst out sobbing. I feel that. I still feel that. Today, I feel it.

And it’s okay.

Because I know He loves me. And I love Him, even though He’s made me angry. He understands. We’re still talking, still walking together, and I’m still following Him. I still have complete faith in Him. Because my love is so much deeper than my anger.

Anger is not the opposite of trust; they can live together. I never understood this before, and it caused me to bottle because I felt like my anger meant I didn’t love Him well enough. But I love Him so much, enough to follow Him down this path only He can see. The anger will fade.

But the love never has.

Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

On Treasures & The Kingdom

I’ve been learning about the kingdom lately; it’s been on my mind all the time, even amidst all the other things in the mess of my brain right now.

I was reminded a few months ago that there is no marriage in the kingdom. We don’t need it there, because we are married to Christ and are brothers and sisters in the one, complete family. I love that image. A spiritual mom told me this, just in passing, but it has stuck with me and I think of it almost daily. No matter how I feel toward someone or what role they end up playing in my life here, in the kingdom we will be brother and sister, a family. If I invest in him as someone I simply love– if I give of myself to him and am genuinely loving toward him without any agenda of becoming more– I’m not going to lose him. I get to keep that. Marriage is going to be great, I’m pretty excited for it, but it shouldn’t be the goal of a relationship with someone. The goal is to share love. Period.

I’ve also been thinking the past few days about treasures in heaven. I used to imagine that my treasures in heaven, the rewards for the things I do here, would be a bigger mansion or more gold and jewels; literal treasure I’d be able to touch. I never really thought about it for more than a few seconds.

at the crossBut this week, I’ve been incredibly aware, incredibly sensitive to what’s around me. Because I’m leaving a lot of things behind to follow His lead in what I know will be mind-blowingly good. I don’t know what that will be yet, but I know He wouldn’t take me this far to give me less; I know He works all things for my good, even if it means I have to give up what I think is unsurpassingly great. When I have to leave something that makes me think, “What could be better than this?”

That is so exciting.

Because it means something is. Something is better than this, and this is already crazy good. I might have to wait to see what this even-better thing is, and it might be painful to wait and to leave so much in the process. But, oh… it’s going to be so worth it. He sees. He knows. And He’s in this.

In this place right now, with nine days left before I leave what I so dearly love, I am more sentimental than I can remember ever being. I just want to hug everyone, and spend as much time with everyone as possible, and show up early, and go home late, and sit in my favorite places, and… I just want all of the little things. Because they make my heart soar; they’re home. And the Lord has been showing me:

These are the treasures. I get to keep them.

The love I’m sharing in– the kindnesses, the heart, the hope, the encouragement, the genuine hugs, the knowing glances, the compassion, the oneness of heart– these are eternal things. If I invest in these things, I am investing in things that will not fade away. Where I spend my time will fade; the work I do will fade; the accolades I’m given will fade. But not the eternal things. Not love, not kindness, not hope, not joy. I get to keep these. I am not losing anything, because the things I treasure most? I’m taking them with me. They are eternal. Because I invested in these eternal things on earth, I’ll have them in heaven. And maybe that’s what He meant when He spoke of treasures in heaven– not a reward for doing good, but simply having good that won’t fade.

To my dear friends, whom I love with all my heart: I am so glad that I get to keep you.