Embraces for Your Spirit · Life as a Wind Rider · Responses · Testimonies

On Heartache, Healing, & Bowls of Fruit

I’d like to talk about this bowl of fruit for a minute.

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A little over a year ago, I unexpectedly faced something that brought hurtful memories back to the forefront of my mind. Because I had spent most of my life believing I couldn’t have difficult or negative emotions and be righteous at the same time, and later learned otherwise, I went to the other extreme: I embraced the trigger. In fact, after it randomly came into my life, I intentionally began putting it in front of my face at least daily, sobbing every time, because I believed it was healing me. I believed I was facing what had hurt me and in turn was becoming a healthy person.

But after over a week of this gut-wrenching new habit, I felt physically sick and more emotionally and mentally unwell than I’d felt in quite some time. I wondered if maybe it was okay for me to stop waving the trigger in my own face. Yet the feeling in my stomach– the knots, the burning, the heaviness, the dread– wouldn’t leave me alone.

I thought it was the Holy Spirit.

And I did not want to disobey Him.

So I continued, until my body and my heart simply couldn’t take it anymore. I prayed He would understand as I started saying no to the urging I felt. But the guilt was heavy.

I spoke to and prayed with the safe people in my life, and they all agreed passionately that the God who loved me would not do this to me. But I had it in my head that God’s love could come in forms like this, could be torturous in the name of strengthening and healing.

I didn’t know God’s ways are higher than ours— not lower.

He has told us what is good.

I started to believe what my safe people said… until I saw a therapist, who would not deviate from the subject of the thing that had triggered me, no matter how many times I asked her to or how many ways I showed her I truly had processed what I’d gone through.

She didn’t understand, nor did I fully, that you can fully process and understand and heal from something– and still ache at the thought of it.

The ache is not a sign of unfinished work. Sometimes, it’s simply a sign you have a heart that still works.

Remembering deep pain and heartbreak isn’t necessarily like remembering other events in your life. These are things that affected us and imprinted themselves into our brains, often undetected for however long, and it took time for us to recognize them, look them in the face, understand their impact, then release them and begin walking forward. It’s okay if the memories still hurt. It’s okay if tears still come sometimes. It’s okay if you occasionally have to remove reminders from your life. It doesn’t mean you’re still stuck in it.

It isn’t weak to say no to invasive thoughts. It’s bizarrely hard to give up the sense of security the familiar pangs give us, but the further we walk away, the clearer we see that the pain wasn’t embracing us– it was gripping our necks.

I didn’t understand these things quite yet, and having a relentless and unkind therapist who didn’t, either, made things even more confusing. Even when I broke things off with her and recognized the false in her words to me, the thoughts and doubts had been planted and watered. I spent the fall and winter months wrestling intensely with myself and with what I thought was the Holy Spirit, genuinely all day, every day.

In the church I grew up in, we were always encouraged to listen for the still, small voice of God inside us and to do what it said. But we were never taught how to recognize what was Him… and what wasn’t. Add to that a lack of understanding of mental illness, and they had unintentionally trained me that the voice of anxiety that pushed me toward my heartache and gave me physical pain when certain ideas would enter my mind– was God. And if God was love… that must be what love was like.

But God’s ways are higher, not lower.

And He has told us what is good.

I thought making me hurt because of that trigger over and over again was God’s way of loving me, of bringing healing to me by teaching me endurance and bravery. I thought it was a gift in disguise, if only I would prove I trusted Him.

Then I began to dwell on the gospel.

I began to repeat over and over again the succinct words of Jon Acuff:

“It is finished.” May those words land on your bones for the nights when fear tells you the cross was a beginning and you must finish grace.

My healing isn’t mine to accomplish– it’s His. And He has already done it. My job is to accept it from Him, declare it over my life, and thank Him for it, over and over and over until I see it. And to rebuke any voice that tries to convince me of any other reality.

I began to realize that love does not insist on it’s own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It isn’t like the demanding voice I’d always thought was His.

And I finally began to understand what Jesus was getting at when He said:

Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Remember when Jesus was facing temptation in the wilderness, and the enemy told Him to command the stones to become bread? Jesus said no. He later added He wouldn’t put God to the test. He knew their relationship didn’t work that way.

God gives good, undisguised gifts.

I had to memorize those words, along with many more scriptures. I had to repeat them to myself literally countless times a day. I had to continue renewing my mind day after day, changing the old patterns I’d built into my brain by creating new ones through telling myself the truth, even when my gut didn’t believe it yet.

But do you know what I didn’t have to do?

I didn’t have to trigger myself.

I didn’t have to focus on my pain.

I didn’t have to keep digging in search for more to heal.

Many of us grew up the way I did: suppressing things so much that we barely knew of their existence until they burst out of us much later in an ugly mess. And now I see so many of us going the other way and doing what I’ve just explained I had done– grabbing our pain by the shoulders and shaking it vigorously, demanding answers and healing and finality, and not letting go even when it’s given us all it can. Because we know what it’s like to avoid our pain, and we don’t want to do that anymore. But, now, I can say from experience– the other extreme is not better. It could actually be even worse.

Our minds are the control center of every other part of us. When we are focused on something, that’s the fuel we’re choosing to use at that moment, what we’re feeding ourselves with. Sometimes, there’s something negative that needs to be dealt with, and understanding it in order to start moving forward from it is important and healthy.

There simply comes a cut-off point. There comes a time when we’ve learned what we can, and the transition is made from processing to recovering. And if we don’t allow that transition to happen, we can get stuck. We see and understand our pain, but neglect to do anything more. We keep looking at it and it’s unchanging face, instead of shifting our focus to what’s next and letting the face fade into a faint memory. We grip it tightly, wringing it out like a dishrag in expectation of a few more drops of insight, but never getting anything truly new.

We don’t have to ignore our pain; we shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean it gets the stage or the reigns, especially not forever. Its lingering presence doesn’t mean it has anything to teach us. Often, it simply means our brains are delicate organs that do so much work it takes a while to get through the pile. Those things will go to the back files. We have to trust the (sometimes lengthy) process our brains were built to carry out.

We don’t think we need to keep doing things to heal our bodies when we break an arm and it still hurts for a while; we know it takes time to fully recover. The initial pain was an indicator, but the lingering pain is remains, a reminder that something affected you and now you need to be gentle with yourself for a while. Tampering with the wound would most likely make it worse, and make the recovery time even longer. Most of the healing process is simply letting things get better. Our brains don’t have to be viewed differently; they’re part of our bodies, too, they just also happen to host our minds.

I still ache sometimes. I still get triggered. Today, I started sobbing on my drive home because I was just so sad over a memory and what came with it. But triggered doesn’t mean unhealed; it simply means reminded.

Thoughts that enter my mind can be welcomed, or they can be told to leave. I am the gatekeeper, and I get to choose. Even if it’s a choice I have to make a hundred times a day sometimes.

What empowers us to do this? In my experience this year, it has been knowing God loves me, with actual love, that is lavish and obvious and heart-warming and joy-bringing. He doesn’t disguise it, or use pain as a messenger. He certainly brings good out of my pain, but He is not the one who gave the pain to me in the first place. He gives good gifts, undisguised, and that is all.

And He has told us what is good.

He has taught us about goodness and about love through the ways He’s told us are best to live. Somehow, I’d been convinced His definitions for Himself could be different. But He’s the one who gave the definitions to us; they originated in Him. They aren’t standards He created for us– they’re His already established character. They’re what He is and does. He is goodness and love, in wholeness, and He gives those things to us. Not in ways that first rip us apart and are cruel to us, but in ways that embrace us and give grace to us. Because that’s what love does. We know this with human beings; we can know it even deeper and more assuredly with Him.

His ways are higher, not lower.

When I began to understand that… I don’t know how else to say it, so I’m just going to embrace sounding cliché and tell you the truth: every single aspect of my life changed.

I started living as if I was loved. I started saying no to the voice of anxiety, knowing it wasn’t at all reminiscent of the God who loved me. I started making choices as if He believed in me and wanted my good. I started becoming less concerned with my image and more concerned with being genuine and seeking the genuine good in others. I even got a job, after living at home unemployed for three years because I’d thought He asked me to through those gut-pains I’d felt at the thought of it. And the freedom, health, and quality of life I’ve experienced since are evidences of His true character, of what love is actually like.

My life has changed completely, all because I started believing what He’s proven from day one: He loves me. He gives me good, undisguised gifts. And in His love, I am safe and I am free. Not a twisted version of safe and free that comes through painful, hurtful means– truly and obviously safe, truly and obviously free, already paid for in love on the cross.

As I was learning to release the trauma that I kept mentally returning to, a new heartbreak showed up. And it hurt, and I had to process it. But you know what? It was so much different this time.

Because I knew now that I didn’t have to shake it by the shoulders: I just had to look it in the eyes. I had to acknowledge it was there and understand why, then shift my gaze toward what I wanted to build in my life next. Time did the rest.

So now, as I face another fresh heartbreak, one that admittedly stings quite a bit more than the last one… I remember these things.

I remember pain points out the tenderness of my heart and the places it’s been bruised; I also remember pain isn’t something I have to ask to stay.

I remember it’s okay to cry and ache and feel heavy; I also remember I don’t have to force myself to lean into those things in the name of not avoiding how I feel or wringing out insight or healing.

I remember it takes time; I also remember there comes a point when that’s all it takes, when there’s nothing for me to fix and I just have to let my brain do its organizing.

Mostly, I remember God loves me. With an obvious love, in undisguised ways. And that’s why I get to walk forward, whole.

By now, if you even remember at this point that I mentioned it, you might be saying, “Tessa, what about the bowl of fruit?”

Oh, yeah, that.

I’m doing well, overall. Walking forward from this most recent heartbreak has been deeply painful and difficult, but I know I’m where I need to be in the process and I know the ache will lessen the further I walk over time. It’s just still hard right now. I still miss what I lost often, even as I understand why it couldn’t be part of my life anymore. My thoughts are all over the place and I have to journal, vocalize, and/or replace them all the time. And when there are days that are overwhelmingly heavy, I pray for help. Not in grand, pleading prayers, but usually just in the literal words, “Please help me.” And He hears that, and He wraps me up and gives me forehead kisses and assurance.

I was talking to my mom (one of my safe people) about it recently, and she said she personally, in response to chaotic thoughts that threaten her peace, prays that she will see Him in something. He always responds; something little will happen, and it will light up her spirit in joy for a minute and she’ll recognize Him and His love for her, ever present. I’m noticing the same thing happens with me.

Last week, my morning started out with a handful of upsetting things, which was not pairing well with the fragility I was already feeling. As I entered the kitchen to find some breakfast, I noticed a bowl of fruit. It had the usual oranges we keep on the counter, but it also had pears and a banana. And something about it just made my heart leap for a moment and feel a sense of abundance, and I remembered Him. I took a breath, and I faced my day feeling a little lighter.

Am I saying to just focus on the little joys and your trauma will go away? If you know me, you know I don’t shut up about the power of gratitude, but no, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that where we focus is where we go.

When we focus on loss or lack or pain, that’s what we’re going to see. That’s what life is going to consist of for us. When we focus on gifts given and on potential and on our hopes? That’s what we’ll see. That’s what we’ll build on and that’s what our life will end up being about. God has given us such powerful minds, and His love gives us the safety to use them. We get to build our lives with the good He constantly places around us.

He gives us new things to dwell on, instead of our pain. He gives us reason to rejoice.

So I’ll let bowls of fruit make my heart leap. I’ll squeal at sunset clouds. I’ll jot down words that resonate a sweet note with me. And I’ll give my time to people who need a hand or a presence, and I’ll hug my loved ones tightly and often, and I’ll pursue chances at love when they come along. And when I do this– when I choose to cherish and build up the good around me and make that what I dwell on– that’s what my life will be made of.

I get to choose what stays and what simply visits. I am the gatekeeper, with my sound mind.

And He has storehouses of good, undisguised gifts, steadily on the way to me.

“To rest through it and look outside ourselves to the beauty around us gives sadness the space to finish up.” –Tiffany Mitchell

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Embraces for Your Spirit · Recovery

Realizations from 2 Years Porn-Free

from pokemon go walkI haven’t intentionally looked at pornography in two years now. I don’t talk about it as often as I did in the beginning of the recovery process, which is kind of a comfort to me because it shows the impact of it in my life has become smaller and smaller. But even though it feels kind of vulnerable to bring up now, I don’t want to grow silent. I want you, whatever your struggle is, to know you aren’t the only one who faces temptations that feel dark and overwhelming, or who struggles to walk in their integrity. We are all with you. And I think the more we bring those things into the light, the less power we feel they have in our lives. That has been part of my experience, at least.

I’ve talked before about how, even though I’ve been porn-free for a decent length of time, I don’t quite know how to respond when people ask me for advice, because I genuinely don’t know how or why I’ve reached this place. That’s still completely true. So today, on my two years free mark, I’m not writing a “how you, too, can do this!” post. I just have a few things I’ve come to realize along the way that I’d like to share, if you’d like to hear.

1) I am fully loved and welcomed by God no matter the state I’m in.

This is the one thing that I know has been the key to my recovery. The first time I looked at pornography, I sobbed and asked God to forgive me, over and over– and He did not say one single thing about what I’d done. He wrapped me up close, and reminded me of His promise to teach me to renew my mind, and that was all. He loved me, all of me, unwaveringly. If I didn’t have that, I know I would not have been able to enter into recovery, let alone make any progress in it.

If you take one thing from reading my words today, take this: God is not ashamed of you. He isn’t angry with you. He doesn’t bring up your mistakes. He loves you. He is on your side. He is faithful to you and will never, ever withhold one bit of Himself from you. And your healing is His desire and joy to bring to fruition. Nestle in, without fear.

2) There isn’t an answer or a formula, there’s only grace and a process.

I’ve touched on this before so I won’t repeat myself too much, but I’d just like to clarify that while this can be scary, it can also be an encouragement.

There are a lot of tools and resources offered to aid people in their recovery, and I am not at all against trying to utilize them. But in my own experience, as well as the experiences of many of my friends in their own struggles? Those things often don’t work, at least not for long. It can be so discouraging and shame-bringing, especially when we’re trying so hard to grow. But we have to remember: our efforts are important, but they are not our saviors.

I still can’t pinpoint what got me here. Maybe the timing has simply been right for me, or maybe I’ll discover later down the road what the specific tools were, but right now? I can only attribute it to God’s love for me and the process of learning to live out of that place of belovedness. And He has that same kind of love for everyone else.

So, please, don’t be ashamed of whatever hasn’t worked for you. You’ll find the things that do. And you might not even know what they are when you finally do find them, and that’s okay, too. I can’t stress this enough: lean into how loved you are, before you start anything else that could help you, because that is what will carry you through whatever your process looks like.

And if you’re reading this and you don’t have experience with addiction or struggles of this nature, please: still remember these things. The people around you who are struggling don’t deserve to be shamed for the tools that didn’t work for them. See them for who they are– someone deeply, unwaveringly loved by God– and let that lead your behavior and your speech.

3) Temptation is NOT sin or failure. And it doesn’t go away– but it does lessen.

I’ve spent two years without looking at pornography, but that does not mean I’ve spent two years without being tempted to do so. It makes me uncomfortable to say that, and I know it might make some uncomfortable to hear it, but I’m not about to pretend or lie about this. This is one of the biggest things I’ve learned as I’ve emerged from a church background that preached guilt and fear, and I don’t want to stop telling anyone who will listen:

Being tempted is not the same as giving in to temptation.

Jesus was tempted, and was without sin— and now the same can be true of us. This is part of the gospel, the world-shaking truth He wanted us to know so badly that He died to prove it to us. How graciously we view ourselves is hugely important to Him.

I used to think facing temptation meant I was already sinning, and having that belief in my core was so crippling to any forward movement in my life. I am so grateful for His truth, and that, even when it hasn’t fully sunk in, I can make the choice to bank on it anyway and He will be faithful to show me the reality of it.

I still have graphic dreams sometimes. I still have to occasionally unfollow certain accounts on social media, not because they’re posting anything wrong but because my mindset isn’t always right toward what they do post. I still catch ugly thoughts suddenly popping up in my head. But none of this means I’m failing. In fact, it is all a normal and natural part of recovery. It’s okay to make progress and still have more to make; not being at the finish line (which, again, I’m honestly not sure exists this side of eternity) doesn’t mean you’re not walking on the right path.

[Side note on the graphic dreams: scientifically, one function of dreams is your brain processing things so it can store them in less prominent places and bring more finality to them. If/when you have those dreams, it’s okay to be unsettled, but don’t let it lead you to believe that you’ll never be rid of those things. Pornography affects the brain in a lot of different ways, but your brain is also such a powerful organ and can heal itself with the right care; sometimes, dreams are a part of that healing. It’s difficult, but as much as it feels like a bad sign, it’s actually a good one. Take heart.]

You’re going to face temptation in your recovery. Guaranteed. Sometimes, it’s going to feel nearly unbearable. But don’t let the fear take over. Don’t let yourself give into the feelings of shame and guilt and condemnation, because God never hands out those feelings. And don’t let yourself believe that because you’re drawn to something again it means you’ve already taken steps backwards. I promise: you’re doing a better job than you think.

Things will get better for you. Those thoughts won’t always be in the forefront of your mind; they’re going to shrink and shrivel and fade, and you’re going to feel the reality of your freedom stronger and stronger in you. Believe in who you already are: a person deeply loved by God. Everything else will flow from that, with time and a lot of grace.


Thank you to everyone in my life who has supported me, cheered me on, walked with me, and shared their own struggles with me in these two years. I know I wouldn’t be the same without you, and I know I still need you.

And thank you, Jesus, for being my rock, my biggest fan, my comfort, my true north. I wouldn’t be doing any of this without you. I love you with my whole heart.

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies

On Anxiety, Shame, & Unexpected Self-Care

tea on 5-19I thought I was going to start this month out fresh, with February’s confusion and stress behind me and fresh optimism and motivation in front of me. But when I woke up on March first, I was immediately overwhelmed by panic.

I got out of bed to assess what might be wrong, and started becoming faint. My face and my hands felt numbed. With blurry tunnel vision, I slowly crawled downstairs before my parents left to go to work; I told them what I was experiencing, while struggling to take full breaths. My mom called in late to work and drove me to urgent care.

When we got to the clinic, filling out paperwork was hard with how weak and distant I felt, but I managed to do it. They soon called me back to the exam room. I answered questions about my symptoms the best I could as the doctor checked my breathing and heartbeat. She asked me how long I’d had anxiety.

At the end of the exam, she told me she wanted to have my blood tested just to rule out anything else, but that I was probably having an anxiety attack. I went out to the waiting room, told my mom, and sobbed.

My mom went back with me because I asked her to. When the nurse entered the room, he said in a pleasant voice, “Do you do okay with needles and blood?” I was still crying a little and whispered a teary, “No.” I don’t like needles at any time, but every hesitancy I had about them felt almost intolerable then. The nurse was kind and spoke gently with me, even as I started sobbing again when I had to lie down and let him push up my sleeve. Both he and my mom led me in calming breathing and in trying to shift my focus. I still panicked the whole time, but my blood was successfully taken. At first, the nurse said cheerfully, “That wasn’t too bad, was it?” But he quickly added, “Actually, it was probably hard for you. But you did a good job.” I tried to laugh, but I don’t think I did.

The doctor sent me home a few minutes later. And a few hours later, she called with results of my blood test: everything was fine. It really had been anxiety.

I struggled to accept the fact that any of this happened. I didn’t believe it was okay– didn’t believe going to urgent care for anxiety was a good enough reason. I thought it made me weak, unstable, and immature. Did I think that about anyone else who’d done so? No; just me.

The tears in urgent care had been about how scared I was of needles, that was true. But, mostly… they had been about how ashamed I was to even be there.

I knew my anxiety was a disorder. But I thought that because I worked so consistently hard to walk in truth and courage, anxiety wouldn’t be too much of a factor in my life. Sure, I still had it, but I could live as if it was a small thing.

It is true that I am more powerful than anxiety, and that it doesn’t have to rule me. And after my visit to urgent care, I’m realizing maybe another thing is true: maybe acknowledging and accepting the anxiety isn’t the same as giving it power over me.

In my desire to be completely better and completely rid of it, maybe I’ve ignored caring for myself. Not that I don’t take good care of myself, because I do: exercising daily, drinking lots of water and teas, taking important vitamins, avoiding caffeine, using breathing techniques, making gratitude lists, having creative outlets, talking to my safe people, studying scripture and telling myself the truth, praying without ceasing… the list goes on. I know what to do to manage my anxiety, and I do it diligently.

But when I’ve been consistent in all these things and I still end up having an anxious day, week, or even couple of weeks? That’s where I’ve been getting stuck. Because I’ve blamed myself for it. I blame it on not doing enough, not taking good enough care of myself, not giving my worry to the Lord often enough… even when those things aren’t true.

Last year was hard for me. One night I called a friend, crying and asking if I could just talk. She was a gracious listener, and after I let out what I could, she began speaking into me. There’s one thing she said that has since stowed away in my mind, because it was unique and hadn’t sunk in before: “There is delicate and complicated chemistry in your brain, and it doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to do, but you are not less than anyone else for it.”

It wasn’t my fault.

When it comes to anyone else’s struggles with their mental health, I know it isn’t their fault. But with myself, my low points have felt like failure, like falling short physically, mentally, and spiritually… like defeat. But I’m learning, slowly, that not only is that perspective skewed and untrue, but it helps nothing.

I apologized to everyone I interacted with at the urgent care office that day. I felt like an inconvenience, like I was taking time away from real issues with my inability to handle my own. But when I apologized to the nurse taking my blood after he informed me he’d have to try another vein since I was dehydrated, he looked me in the tear-covered face and immediately told me:

“No, don’t apologize! You came here because you needed help.”

I needed help.

It wasn’t a silly outburst, wasn’t a pointless inconvenience, wasn’t all the things I felt like it was– it was a real anxiety attack. Part of my real disorder. I needed help. And it was okay that I’d asked for it. Actually– it was good and brave that I’d asked for it. I was already crying, but his words made me cry a bit more.

I have generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes my brain reacts to things in ways I know are unreasonable; sometimes my body takes on every little stress to full capacity and makes me feel ill; sometimes I feel completely paralyzed and stuck in one terrible thought pattern or circumstance, and don’t know how I’m going to get out. I still feel shame about these things, and going into any detail about them makes me feel like I’m just being too negative and sensitive, like I’m making excuses. But that’s not true.

Anxiety is not an excuse— it’s a reason.

The things my symptoms tell me are not real, and that is so important and empowering to remember. But my symptoms themselves? They’re real. I truly do experience them. They show up, and not because of any lack of effort— physically, morally, or spiritually– on my part.

Having anxiety symptoms isn’t losing the battle.

Victory isn’t found in not having them at all— it’s found in how I respond to them and live through them.

I won’t let myself think otherwise anymore. I’ve taken care of myself, yes. But it’s time I care for myself, too.

I’m not completely sure what that looks like yet; it’s only been a few weeks since I went to urgent care (and proceeded to experience some painful and confusing life stuff that same day), so I’ve been taking things slow. But maybe that’s part of it. Maybe recognizing that I’m not at full capacity and refusing to beat myself up for not doing more than I have the mental energy to do is okay; maybe it’s even good and brave.

I might not be able to stop anxiety from showing up in my life. But caring for my spirit and not allowing shame to stick around makes those appearances a little less devastating, because I’ve removed an extra enemy– my own critical voice– from the equation.

I kind of feel like I don’t really have a strong conclusion to share right now, but I wanted to talk about this a bit, because it’s hard to do, so not a lot of us do it. And we need to remind each other:

The symptoms of our mental illnesses are not our fault, are not signs of failure, are not pretend little things we should feel guilty about facing or needing help with. And we’re probably doing a much better job than it feels like we’re doing.

Let’s start caring for ourselves, okay?

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.

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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.