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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Responses

A Letter to Pastors: On Adversity, Silence, & Us

Dear pastor,

Please: will you tell the church what happened?

I’m not asking that you share an entire sermon about it. And I’m not asking you to get up on stage and declare any political or polarizing opinions. That isn’t what this is about; it isn’t what so much of this has been about.

church ceilingI have struggled to find a home in the church for a while now. There have been a lot of reasons for that, and most of them I discover along the way as I keep seeking. That’s another story, one I’ll tell another day.

But as I’ve been going through this process, I’ve noticed something about the church and the different ways it handles the things happening around (and within) it.

I grew up attending one particular church. I haven’t been a regular member there since the beginning of this year. But when the first refugee ban was put into place back in January, I asked a friend still attending that church if anything had been brought up concerning it that morning. And he responded:

“About the what? Are you talking about that thing they mentioned on TV?”

I thought I would be angry or sad, but I ended up almost feeling numb. I didn’t expect the answer to be yes. But I also didn’t expect him to know nothing about what was happening. That was what stuck with me the most.

Some time later, I visited a different church. I had never been to the service of any tradition but my home church’s before, so much of it was new to me. But a time for corporate prayer came, and the clergy began with: “First, let us pray for the people recovering from the shooting.”

I knew that was right. I knew that was what the church of Jesus would do.

I attended a few services at that church, and a simple call to prayer for what was taking place around the world happened in every single one of them.

It wasn’t political, wasn’t polarizing, wasn’t angry, nor was it despairing– it was basic compassion.

It was looking at events taking place in the lives of others and recognizing: “I have a share in that.”

To the people in that church, because something affected humanity, it affected them, too. They were kingdom-minded.

I have no memory of the churches I grew up attending ever mentioning or praying for things like this.

But it isn’t a denominational thing to do– it is a biblical thing to do.

Again, pastor, I’m not asking you to preach a fiery sermon about anything, or to give your church a political label, or even to share your stance on how to fix things.

What I am asking is that you remind the church that people who care about other people are the true Jesus people.

The church has a messy reputation, and not for no reason, but I know there are so many lovely, Christ-like people within those walls. Let’s believe that the people in your congregation are wonderful people who do care about others. The thing is?

How many good, kind people are in churches right now, with hearts and hands ready to help– and they don’t know people need it?

The man I spoke to about the refugee crisis didn’t know what it was until I explained it to him that night. He’d heard a headline on the news while channel surfing (related: most people don’t watch the news), but he didn’t know it mattered. He didn’t know who he could pray for, let alone what he could do to help. No one told him. He had been in church that morning, but no one there said anything, pastor or otherwise.

That isn’t the only example. This weekend, a violent Nazi demonstration happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. One of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known didn’t hear about it until I mentioned it, assuming she already knew. Shock and tears filled her eyes immediately. She had gone to church that morning, too. But no one there said anything.

Is it the church’s job to make sure individual people are staying aware? I don’t know; I think we all should be actively seeking opportunities to pray for and contribute to the lives of the hurting.

But it is the church’s job to make disciples. And that means teaching people what Jesus meant when He told us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.

There are so many good, caring people in the church. But when those people don’t know about the problems, how can they fix them? When the only people who know about the problems are the ones contributing to them or the ones who do nothing, what can that help?

How is that keeping the peace, when there isn’t truly peace to begin with?

We aren’t called to be peacekeepers, but peace makers.

As someone that many people are looking up to as a leader, you, pastor, have the ability to directly affect how the people in your community will respond.

You are in a position to remind the church that humanity is a family, with fates all tied together, and you have the ability to inspire more prayer and more compassion and more action in people whose hearts Jesus has already built for it. You don’t have to tell people how to care; just teach them why they need to. He will do the rest.

Not only that: you get to tell the hurting that they are seen. That they matter. That you won’t turn away but instead will stand with and for them.

That Jesus loves them, and that’s why you are going to love them, too, with a generous, sacrificial love.

A simple announcement. A simple call to prayer. They don’t do everything, especially when there’s such a volume of work to be done. But they do so much more than you’d think. They’re a spark.

Please, pastor: will you tell them?

Will you tell the church when things happen to our family? Will you lead the church to pray and to seek?

Will you show the world the real church of Jesus?

 

“To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.


[If you are not a pastor, I still so strongly encourage you to hear this. Bring awareness to the people around you; pray with people; seek a way to help. You are just as capable of sparking change as the people in power, because you give yourself to Jesus, and He multiplies what you bring Him. Love will always make a way to come in.]

Responses · Testimonies

“Jesus Loves You More Than a Man Ever Could” – On Guilt & Falling in Love

I was listening to a love song. A person came to mind (or maybe to heart) when I heard it. And I immediately felt guilty.

back at the pianoI grew up in a culture that told teenagers their romantic feelings and desires were something they needed to get rid of. And if they couldn’t shake those feelings and desires no matter how hard they tried, they had to direct them toward Jesus instead.

“Jesus loves you more than a man ever could,” I was told innumerable times. And when I’d have a crush and it just wouldn’t go away, I would reprimand myself for not letting Jesus be enough for me. I loved Him so deeply. But I didn’t have confidence that He was satisfied with me; I believed He was demanding I love Him more and love Him differently. I didn’t believe my genuine love was enough for Him.

When I was told Jesus loved me more than another person could, the application was always: “So you better give Him credit for that.”

Back in October, when I heard that love song, I felt guilty. Because I wanted to sing it about a person, and what’s left of teenage Tessa immediately pointed an accusing finger and told me I couldn’t. I had to sing it to Jesus, or I shouldn’t be singing it.

But then I heard the whisper:

“What if I sang it to you?”

A bit of all of it happened. And He healed something in me that day.

Jesus loves me. More than anyone else ever could. But instead of the response to that truth being guilt, He wants something different.

When He sang that love song to me, He wasn’t shaming me for any lack on my part (and He certainly wasn’t angry at me for having feelings toward a person). He helped me understand by using a song I could relate to: the way I felt for that person? It resembled how He felt about me. And the response He wanted– the response it naturally elicited from me– was not guilt or forced praise.

It was awe.

I had so much in me for that person; it swept me up just to be in possession of it. They didn’t have to do anything to maintain it. It was something living in me, for them. I loved them because of who they were, not because of anything they felt (or, more accurately, didn’t feel) toward me. It was overwhelming in a beautiful way. And finally it was beginning to connect– God goes through that concerning me?

I am a wildly imperfect person, yet I am able to love in measures like these. Why have I believed that God who is Love… would do less?

It would take more time for me to unpack these things. I’m still in the process; He’s still teaching me how to let Him love me. But I wrote in my journal that night, after the song ended:

“Maybe the whole reason we fall in love is so that we can grasp Him better.”

[Listen]

Poetry · Practical · Responses

On Refugees: A Poem & A Few Ways to Help

dsc08915I could have been you.
I could have entered the world at war,
Could have seen horrors that echo,
Could have known nothing but danger and the desperation for escape.
But, somehow, I’m me.
I’m not where you are,
Don’t understand suffering the way you do,
Don’t know what it’s like to be hated in my core.

I could have been you.
But, somehow, I’m me.
So I choose to be your sister,
And fight so you’ll have a seat.
Your heart is safe with me.

I ache for my refugee brothers and sisters. But I also burn liquid hot with a growing passion to help them in every possible way I can. Here are some of the ways I have found, and encourage you to engage in as well:

Share the facts. Don’t let the voice of fear be the only one speaking. Be a voice of truth and of love. Share that the screening process for refugee entry into the US is already intensive, more rigorous than that of any other form of immigration. Share that the odds of being killed by a refugee-disguised terrorist in the US are 1 in 3.64 billion per year; you are more likely to be struck by lightning– while drowning. Share that “compassion and security are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing.” Share that the overwhelming majority of terrorism in the US has not come from foreigners. Share that “in cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.” Share that banning any human being from anything solely based on their religion or nationally is discrimination and an attack on religious freedom, period. Share that ignoring the helpless is ignoring Jesus, and He will not tolerate it. Fear is a liar. Love tells the truth. Let love win in you.

Contact your officials. It is actually wildly easy to reach your government officials and let them know you want action on an issue. This form lets you email the president, your representative, and your senators all at once and helps you figure out what to say. You also have the option to see their phone numbers and call them with your concerns. The greater the volume of voices speaking the same thing, the more likely they are to take notice. Do not relent.

Support those working on the front lines. There are a few main organizations my friends who work in humanitarian efforts have recommended to me:

  1. Preemptive Love Coalition. They are based in the countries facing ISIS right now, providing real-time relief and aid to the people there. You can also directly donate to the work they’re doing specifically in Aleppo. They do things right; their mission and their methods are simply holy.
  2. World Relief. From their website: “Through partnerships with local partners and churches, World Relief is providing help, temporary shelters, hygiene items, and psychosocial counseling to displaced refugee families, as well as sponsoring child-friendly spaces for mothers and children. In addition, World Relief has been empowering local churches to resettle refugees in the United States for more than 35 years.” Explore their website to find the specific way you feel led to help.
  3. My friend, Delaney. She works with refugees and is currently getting ready for a trip to Germany to meet physical and spiritual needs of the refugees in the camps in Berlin, specifically the unaccompanied children. This woman shines bright, and supporting her work is something you can be proud of.
  4. I am also adding the ACLU, the group that brought this weekend’s executive order to court and put it on hold just one day after it had been signed. They appear before the Supreme Court more than any other organization besides the Department of Justice, giving voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one. A different kind of refugee aid, but still important, especially given our current circumstances. The immigration ban is still being enforced despite the court ruling; we still have much work to do.

Be an advocate. You can sign petitions of solidarity, but you can also simply speak kindly of every race and religion, no matter what the people around you are saying. Align yourself with the marginalized; if someone wants to oppress refugees and/or Muslims, let them know they’ll have to face you first, not in an angry stance but in a poised, firm one. I am learning that we can be angered for righteous reasons, but our anger itself is not the righteous thing. Feel the anger– then let it go, instead of feeding it. Let the passion it awakened in you lead you forward, in love and in peace. We don’t fight fire with fire; we don’t fight fear with fear; we don’t fight hatred with hatred.

Keep creating. This one may not sound important, but it’s a way of pushing back darkness with light. I’ve talked about this before, about how putting our deepest loves into action in the world is how we kill the fear. Keep doing that. I don’t know what your passions are, but live them. We need that from you. We need what you have to give, whatever form that takes.

Pray. Genuinely, this is not a cliché or a cop-out. Your prayers reach the Father. And when you pray for refugees, you are praying straight into His own heart, because He is near to the broken, He takes up the cause of the oppressed, He avenges His children. Pray. It is not a fruitless thing. It is fuel for everything else you are doing. God is working, today. And He will not stop until every single one of His children is safe with Him.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

-Matthew 25:31-46

Responses · The Basics

A Letter to My Friends on Election Day

fireworks-2Dear you,

I am so grateful to be friends with you.

It’s Election Day. Some of you have voted for one candidate; some for another; some even still for another; and some of you haven’t voted at all. A lot of you have negative opinions of each other because of these differences. But I still love all of you. Honestly, one of the reasons why is because we’re so different.

It’s easy to dehumanize someone’s worldview and to see it as evil when you don’t know and love anyone with that worldview. In the past I have been prolific in dehumanizing others, belittling them and what they think simply because they were hard for me to understand. Since then, I have learned that seeking to understand is far more moral and loving than policing others to fit the mold I fit into… to fit my image.

We are all already made in a perfect image.

It has been a long road for me so far in realizing the depth of that truth.

Because each of you, my friends, has such a different worldview from the others, I have witnessed anger, hatred, and, more than anything– fear. These things are aimed at my friends… by my friends. One group cannot imagine any decent human being believing a certain way– and I can think of many lovely human beings in my life who do. Another group sees only ignorance and self-centeredness in those who believe a certain way– and I can point to intelligent, humble, kind friends of mine who host those very beliefs.

To me, political parties, religions, belief systems, races, sexualities… they aren’t institutions, or groups, or concepts anymore.

They’re faces I’ve looked into.

They’re souls I’ve come to know, and whom I have seen carry the same seal in their hearts as the one in mine… the one that declares I was made in love and am sustained in love by my Maker. My Maker formed every bit of me, called me “altogether beautiful.” And He did the same when He made every single one of you.

Our pieces are different. But they come from the same place.

We are all love children.

Because your pieces are different from mine, our friendship becomes that much more crucial. You see things I don’t; you have passions I don’t share; you have a different context than the one I come from. This means you understand things I don’t yet– things I may never be able to understand, if you don’t share them with me and I don’t listen to you. In order to grow in wisdom and compassion, I need you. And you need me and all of my other friends for the exact same reasons.

The things we let divide us are actually points for us to connect. What one of us lacks, another possesses and can share. We are wholly beautiful on our own, but what great measures of beauty are displayed when we stand side by side, a mosaic of what love looks like.

Today is a day so many of us have feared. No matter what happens in the election, I am going to witness friends celebrating, friends mourning, and friends sifting through armfuls of questions. And I have decided that the best thing for me to do is to enter into those places with each one of you, the best I can. Because we belong to a kingdom and a family much more than we belong to anything else. We belong to one another.

And because, to me, you aren’t an institution, a group, or a concept–

You’re a soul. Made of the same stuff as me.

You’re my friend. My family.

I pray for peace and an open, loving heart in you, in me, and in all we cross paths with. I love you, and I’ll talk to you again soon.

Your friend,

Tessa

[Listen to “Wild World” by Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors]

Responses

On Stewardship, Speculation, & Love’s Pursuits

“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).

journal in leavesThese 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)

Recovery · Responses · Testimonies

The Fuel of Temptation: On Shame & Grace

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