Category Archives: The Basics

If you want a basic look at my personal worldview and what I believe is the most important (that I’ve written about so far), this is your go-to category. Also good for if you only plan on reading a few posts of mine and you want them to be the “good ones” haha!

On Brokenness, Fear, & The Cure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Letting God Do His Work (Or, That Time I Accidentally Observed Lent)

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“Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being and communing with Him.”   -Scott Sauls

easter bloomsI had no intention of observing Lent this year. It has always just seemed too religious to me; the idea of religion is something I wrestle with, something I consistently need to find balance in. But in February, the day after the Lord asked me to let something go and I (hesitantly, painfully) obeyed, I discovered He had done so on the first day of Lent.

Religion is not bad, and I constantly have to remember that. On the way to church Easter Sunday, I was thinking about the past forty days, and I articulated to myself: “It’s so funny that He used Lent to do all this for me, when it’s such a religious thing.” And I heard inside me a chuckle carrying the words:

“Tessa, you love religion.”

Maybe that was true, I began to realize. I make boundaries for myself all over the place (if it’s necessary or not). Symbolic acts and ceremony matter greatly to me and help me process and remember. In some measure, maybe my soul needs religion.

Religion isn’t bad. The problem comes when I begin telling Jesus He has to operate within the boundaries of it. When I try to fit Him into a mold, to make Him follow the rules, to make sure He never deviates from the established way things are done, I am making religion my god. And that is the opposite of the point.

By religious standards, I failed Lent. For weeks after I gave that thing up, I would check in on it multiple times daily, and I picked it back up before the forty days were over. But God was present for every single thing that I did, and I acted according to His lead. He was proud of me. I felt it.

On days when I cracked under the pressure, He would scoop me into a long hug and tell me it was okay. He wasn’t exasperated or disappointed in me. He told me this was His work, not mine. My work was trusting Him enough to let Him do it.

We feel like we’re being lazy, like we’re not doing enough, when He tells us the only thing necessary is to sit at His feet. Those feelings are from the voice of shame, and it’s lying. Redemption is His work. Our work is believing and saying yes. Shame told me I had to do more, that I needed to make Him more proud.

The lie I believed was that He could be more proud of me than He already was.

He is proud of me even when I stumble, because He knows He is teaching me to walk. He lets me learn at my own pace; leads me through a process. I gave up that thing piece by piece, and each moment was led by Him. When only one piece was given up, that was all He’d asked of me. He wasn’t glaring at what was left, He was pleased with the one thing that was gone. Because I’d said yes to Him despite how it hurt me. He never rushed me; He knew what I could handle.

I blamed myself and my lack of discipline for my pain, when He was waving me over to gratitude for the growth that was happening in me. I made it about my shortcomings, instead of His lavish grace and love. There is so much more freedom in Him than I allow myself to believe. His way is so much kinder than mine.

During Lent, I learned to trust Him. I learned that I can trust Him. I learned that I am fickle and that He’s not mad at me for it– He loves me. He loves me enough to hurt me in order to remove something that is killing me inside. That thing? It was an idol to me. I needed my Father to be my God again. And He knew the best way to make that happen.

Weeks later, when He told me I could pick that thing up again… I didn’t want to.

I didn’t think I was ready. I was afraid of myself. I had turned a vessel into an idol, and it had taken so much for me to cut those ties and to see those altars start crumbling. That thing’s importance in my life was decreasing, and although it was so painful, I knew it was redemptive. I knew my Father would never ask me to do something painful if there wasn’t purpose in it; it was hard and holy work. He was not being cruel, He was protecting me. Now, I was afraid to give myself too much leeway and go back to where I was before, back to the obsession and the distress. I didn’t trust myself. But then He asked me:

“Do you trust me?”

So I said yes and picked it up again.

I asked Him why He let me pick it back up. His only response was a hug that wouldn’t let go. Grace is not about what makes sense; it’s about His love for me.

I wasn’t perfect about it, and I’m still not; to be honest, it’s been a struggle, and I’m still learning what it looks like to have this thing in a new place in my life. But I’m better than I was. Because I ask Him to take over now, and He is doing the work. Lent reminded me that being with Him is the most powerful thing I can do. I didn’t give that thing up for Lent; God entered into me so I could let go of that thing during Lent.

He did Lent for me.

Maybe that’s what religion is for. It gives us tools. It creates spaces and opportunities for us to find it in ourselves to let Him in so He can do His work in us. Maybe religion isn’t us doing the work– it’s a reminder that we can’t and that He can. And will.

“I keep my eyes always on Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”   -Psalm 16:8

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On Having Flaws & Being Loved

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I’m learning that God doesn’t view my flaws the way I was taught He did.

I was taught that purity is something I maintain; something I must guard and curate, through the means of what I do, how I speak, how I behave, what I lend an ear to. It is a sanitized lifestyle, a sanitized mind, no room for ugly thoughts or feelings, no allowance for mistakes or questions or doubt. I was taught that my purity was something I grew because of the good things I did and the bad things I avoided.

As a result of this teaching (that no one outright spoke but that was the core of so many of the things people did say), I believed this was what made God love me more and think I was of enough value to be His: if He saw me live in complete purity. But I couldn’t, no matter how much I effort I made, how strongly I disciplined myself, how sincerely I repented. I couldn’t be pure enough to be fully loved by Him.

Filthy, life-sucking lies.

God has always been seeking one thing from me, and that is me. My purity exists and is here in full right now, because He gave it to me. Because He knew I could not achieve it, He gave me His own. He gave His life to break the barrier, because being with me mattered that much to Him, was that strong of a desire in Him. It is not because I am perfectly sanitized or because everything about me fits into a nice, tidy little box or because I do everything right– it’s because He loves me. He always has.

People don’t like my flaws. I don’t, either. If I could change them, more people would love me and it would be a lot easier to love myself. Because I’ve always had this mindset, I thought God did, too. I thought He loved me out of obligation, as if He was my parent so He had to love me. And I thought He wanted to change me. I thought He welcomed me, but kept our intimacy to a minimum, because I wasn’t pure enough to fully be embraced yet. My flaws had to be fixed first.

“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”   -Song of Solomon 4:7

DSC03312God does not want to change me.

Does He want to heal my wounds? Yes, of course! “Healer” is part of His identity, cannot be removed from Him. He loves me and wants fullness and abundant life for me, and He hates to see me hurting, to see me living in less than His best. So He will heal me of my wounds, those things I carry that hurt me and the world around me. And it’ll be painful sometimes. My wounds are numerous and large and I’ve carried them for so long that I get protective because don’t know what I’m like without them.

But my wounds are not me.

There is nothing about me that is wrong. He loves every single piece of me, even the ones no one else (including me) really likes. I’m broken, a huge mess. But none of my pieces are a mistake. All of my pieces are here, being tenderly placed together. There is not one piece of me that is unworthy. Not one.

I value and seek growth; I know He wants it for me. But I also know that He is the one who makes it happen, when it is supposed to. And I know He calls me flawless, wholly beautiful, right now. And if He says it, it is truth.

My Father doesn’t say, “I love you even though you have flaws.” He says, “I love every single piece of you.”

Be Kind to Yourself

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10474834_690577417644852_3293979167945899032_nI heard a song called “Be Kind to Yourself.” And I loved it. But I didn’t know if I should.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be kind to myself.

I was raised to do the right thing and to let my moral compass guide me, to obey the Bible in everything (which I am grateful for). Making the right choices was of the utmost importance, so if I made a mistake, I needed to know I made a mistake. I needed to be told it was a mistake, I needed to declare it was a mistake, I needed to vow never to do it again, and if I spoke about it afterwards, it was quickly shoved out of the conversation, as if speaking about it was it’s own mistake. This wasn’t intentional, but it’s the way things worked out. And now, as an adult trying to navigate personhood, I still live with this sinking feeling–

“I can’t be too kind to myself, or I’m giving myself license to keep making bad choices.”

When my flaws are especially prevalent, or I make a mistake, or I’m wrestling with messy questions, my first reaction is to tell myself to stop. “Tessa, you know better. You are hurting yourself. You have to stop. Why do you keep doing this? You know it isn’t good. Get rid of it!” My internal voice has been saying those things since I can remember, in her angry, intolerant tone. She has not been kind to me. She makes me feel incapable of being a good person, like every thought I have has to be polished and fit into a tidy spot somewhere, or it has to go. She is seeking spiritual perfection. And I have followed her in that pursuit, and have stumbled into a melancholic inner rage every time I fall short.

So when I heard “Be Kind to Yourself,” I smiled. But I also crumbled, and wanted to cry. Because it was something I wanted to believe, but didn’t think I could.

I asked my Father to help me understand. Because I knew I was broken, and I didn’t know how to cope with it. I was going to have flaws my whole life, I realized. And only He could fix my brokenness. So why was He was angry with me about something I couldn’t change? My heart was heavy, with anger and sadness and fear…

Fear that He didn’t love me the way I was.

But He heard me. And He began sending me voices to teach me about being flawed and broken. He sent Christian Collins to plant a seed in me, to stir my thoughts to wonder if my flaws are supposed to be in me, if they contribute to my unique make-up to help me live fully in my purpose. He sent J.S. Park to point out to me that I will never reach a flawless version of myself while I live on earth; we’re all just doing the best we can with our brokenness. He sent Scott Sauls to remind me that fixing my own behavior is leagues different from letting my Father transform me from the inside. And He sent John Piper to look me in the eyes and declare over me: my weakness is my Father’s favorite place to enter, in power, and He loves me for it. He loves me. All of me. Even my flaws.

He just wants me.

When I first heard “Be Kind to Yourself,” I liked it, but I didn’t know if I should. Because I didn’t want to give myself license to be messed up without being disciplined.

I didn’t know that being kind to yourself is like building a relationship of trust with yourself.

We are in a relationship with ourselves, as strange as that sounds. And if I treated other people like I treat me, there would be no one left around me. Because I would condemn them, remind them of their mistakes, tell them to be better in order to be more loved. I would be viciously lying to everyone, in a twisted attempt to help them.

We feel guilt automatically. If we have love for our Father in our hearts, we will be hurt by our failings. We will feel remorse. There is no need to make sure we are feeling that remorse or that we know we are sinful. We do.

When I am kind to myself, I am teaching my brain that I am trustworthy, a safe place. A few days ago, I admitted to a mistake I’d been making. And something about that admittance was just so different from those I’d made in the past. Instead of reprimanding myself, I was glad that I was admitting my mistake and seeking growth. I began trying to figure out what caused me to make that mistake and what I could do to make things better. I expressed love for myself by offering a hand instead of wagging a finger.

I had been more quick to make the admittance in the first place because I wasn’t afraid of being shamed and belittled by myself. I knew I would be welcomed.

My Father is like that.

I knew the truth in my head, that God loves broken people. But I had twisted it in my heart. I believed He only loved broken people because He saw their potential to be fixed. I believed when I acted out of my brokenness, He was angry with me for it. I didn’t hear “I love you” from Him; I heard, “I love you, but you have to do better.” And that is not how my Father speaks to His kids.

My Father does not reprimand me for my screw-ups, my mistakes, my flaws, my brokenness– He opens His arms.

And He picks up the pieces Himself.

There Is More: On Gratitude

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I’ve been keeping gratitude lists for around three months now. Ann Voskamp shared undeniable evidence in her book, One Thousand Gifts, that joy comes from gratitude, evidence I just could not argue against. I don’t know why I wanted to argue, why I didn’t want to believe there was a key to joy; maybe I thought it was too easy, and feared that meant I was responsible for my own bitterness. Well, that fear was real. I did have to own up to my cynical heart, and it didn’t feel good at all. Even as I began to write gratitude lists, I was still battling with struggles and sadnesses, and my circumstances didn’t get better.

I kept writing. I kept listing the things I saw, things that were good around me, even if it was something like “donuts,” or “paint marks on my skin,” or “warm hugs from a friend.” And I started seeing that giving attention to the good things does not mean ignoring the bad things– it means celebrating that there’s more in life than the bad things.

Ann described it as winning back some ground. When we see and name and give our attention to the good things, we are telling the bad things that they don’t reign; we are keeping the hard things from taking more room than they require or deserve. There is more to life. There is pain and hardship, yes, and there is more. When I started using the lists as a way to see the good, instead of a way to fix what was wrong, my heart began to change. And when I started being grateful to the Lord for those things, instead of simply being grateful inside myself, I started seeing that it was His love surrounding me.

Everything, everything, is a gift. And in times like this, when I am reminded just how messed up and broken I am, it hits me that I don’t deserve anything. That absolutely everything is grace. Everything is given to me by my Father, for my good; given because He loves me. Sometimes I still write the lists out of habit because the hard things seem more prevalent than the good. But my love for my Father grows every day, as He continues to love and I learn to love back by saying “thank you” for each gift I can find. There is always more. There is always grace.

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”  -John the Baptist, in John 3:27

Every November, I do some kind of gratitude/positivity project for Thanksgiving. Because gratitude lists are a daily habit for me now, this year’s project is a collage of the gifts I recorded in my journal, written on strips of paper with colorful markers. There are numerous layers to this collage, and it was made solely during the month of November.

Immeasurable grace, all around me, hardly captured. I can never stop being grateful.DSC02569

It’s Temporary: On Darkness & Time

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I was in the deepest darkness I had ever experienced. I called it the dark room. I felt trapped within myself, the walls pressing against me on each side, no light to be seen. I believed there was no way to escape, that I was to remain there, without feeling and without hope, for the rest of my life. I was sixteen, and using every ounce of faith I had to believe God still loved me, when every voice in my head was telling me He had left me to myself.

It was November, the middle of the night. Sleep wouldn’t come to meet me. I silently sobbed in my bed, staring at the dark ceiling, praying what little I could muster. And I remembered when I was first beginning to feel the walls press in around me. It had been March and snow had fallen heavily overnight, and my soul took an unexplainable deep breath that day before being suffocated again.

“Please… can you send snow?” I prayed now, in a tear-laden whisper. “Please. I just want snow. If it snows, I’ll know you’re still here.”

The next morning I awoke, not remembering my desperate request. I drudged my way to the kitchen, then eventually to my homework at the table. My body physically felt heavy from the dark pressing on me.

It’s snowing!

My brother pointed toward the window, to the tiny flakes of frozen grace falling from the gray sky. And laughter bubbled out of me like a volcano that had been dormant for centuries. I walked out onto the porch and stood in falling snow, staring straight up at where it was coming from. I had been heard. I was still loved by Him. No matter what the cowardly voices said.frozen pond left

I lived this story quite a few years ago now. I recently found something in which I had recorded it, and I felt my heart expand as I remembered what it was like.

I was despairingly depressed. I would be for over a year after that; it was only the beginning. But Jesus was always faithful to reveal Himself to me when I was losing hope. I couldn’t feel Him. But I could see what He was doing to communicate with me anyway. Although at the time it didn’t feel like reality to me, He never left me to live in the darkness alone. I look at that time, and I see Him there.

One of my deepest fears during that time was that the dark room was my home. That I wouldn’t be able to leave it for as long as I lived. I would ask Him for a different fate daily. I remember that now, and wish I could take younger Tessa by the shoulders and look into her watery eyes and tell her:

This isn’t your home. It’s temporary.”

Younger Tessa… she didn’t know that everything is temporary. Even at the beginning of this year, I didn’t quite understand. But I’ve been learning about time. I’ve begun to grasp that the eternal things I invest in here– love, compassion, kindness, joy, service– those don’t go away. They are my treasures in the kingdom, and I get to keep them. I’ll be able to live in them again someday, when I don’t call this body home anymore. But that’s the other thing: I’ve also been discovering that circumstances are temporary. That means two things, and both need to be expressed together or they lose a bit of meaning:

  1. The darkest times, times where I see no hope, no light, and feel completely abandoned– they don’t last forever. Better things are always going to come for me. I get to wait in expectation of them.
  2. The brightest times, times where I giggle at the small things and my heart soars and I get to live in dreams– they don’t last forever, either. They are expressions of grace. I must live in them as passionately and as fully as I am capable of doing, while I can. Time doesn’t stop moving.

Things being temporary could sadden me. But instead, I choose to let it give me a greater desire to truly live my life, in all circumstances, with all that’s inside me. We get to climb mountains before we reach the level ground we are promised. And it’s a journey marked with beauty as well as difficulty. That’s what makes the end so glorious: we saw both, and we get to see that beauty wins out.

The darkness is not your home. He is. And He’s there with you, no matter what you can or can’t feel. Trust Him more than your own heart. The darkness is real– but it’s not all there is. You must remember this.

The light is in you. And although your best times are not your home, either, they are in it. He keeps what you love and treasure about them safe for you, and you’ll have them again. Forever, this time.

The kingdom and what it’s full of is forever. All else is temporary. Don’t fear, and don’t miss it.

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A Prayer Against The Spirit of Fear

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DSC02494Father, the spirit of fear is filling so many. You have not given it to us, it is not from you. You have given us power. I pray that we use this power, that we reflect you– who you are, how you love, the heart you have for your children.

We are family, Lord. Your heart for each of us is the same and is love. We forget this so often, Father. We forget that those suffering in ways completely unimaginable to us are your deepest loves, just as we are. We forget that you show no partiality. We are fearful of people just like us. Something must be done, Father. You want your family back. You fight for your children.

We have forgotten that people don’t fight other people, they fight the powers of the dark. Some are losing, giving themselves over to the darkness and allowing it to rule them. They– we— forget that you, our Father, are the king. This is your land. This is the land you have given to your family. I am so sorry that we have given it away.

Father, we want you here. We need you here. The darkness is so thick. Remember when Phillip asked why we could see you while the rest of the world couldn’t? You said that our love for you beckons you, and you come and make your home with us. Lord, make your word come to pass. Let our homes be filled up with you, and may we be beacons light, piercing and shattering the darkness. One light fights the darkness. And there are so many of us. So many who could be homes filled with light.  Express your love through us, Father. You are king. This is your rightful kingdom and you want it back. Your kingdom is not land, it is the people in it. Your kingdom is family. And, Lord, I pray that we would all live in the heart of family right now, that we would see another person and see you, because they are your child, our brother or sister. The kingdom is a family. Restore our family, God.

The spirit of fear is doing heavy work in the world, even in your family. The air around me has felt suffocating, and my insecurities, ones I haven’t even experienced before, have been screaming at me. I knew something was different here. But this week, the spirit of fear is taking ground all over the world. Father, I reclaim this land in your name! This is our home, our family’s kingdom, and fear is not welcome! We need you here, Father. We need love to destroy the fear. You are love. You are light in the dark. Please break down our stubborn, walled up hearts, and enter us. Make your home with us and reclaim the land. Restore your kingdom. Bring the family together in unity and strength. Lead us in combating fear with love.

Lord, your children are afraid. We need your peace. We need to remember that fear is what separated us from you in the beginning: fear that love wasn’t enough. We need your spirit to teach us what we’re missing, to give us strength to continue living in love. You say our love is shown in our obedience to your word. Please plant your word in us so deep that it is part of our skin and bones, that we cannot help but walk in love according to your word. We need you so desperately, Lord.

I pray for wisdom for our leaders. I pray for grace in hearts scattered all throughout the world. Every continent, every country, every city, every street, send your spirit– you, who are love– and chase out the spirit of fear. It has no place in our home.  Make your home in us, Lord. We seek you and we plead to see you. We love you so much, Father. Lead us to prove it.

Thank you for the cross, Father. You have proven that you do not leave your children alone to fight for themselves. You are a savior. You have already restored us. Now we must accept it.  We must open our doors to you in order to have you make your home with us. Open our eyes and hearts to you, you who never leaves a good work unfinished. You are the beginning and the end, the author and the finisher.  You are the completion. We trust you. And fear has no place here. Just your love. You have shown us the greatest love. Lead us to be your imitators. Because you are our Father, we are your children, and we need what you have. What you freely give. Thank you. Thank you for being love.

“My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  -John 14:27

“We’re incredibly sad, but we’re not afraid.”  -Bob Goff