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

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Testimonies

When Peace Doesn’t Feel Close (A Climax in My Anxiety Story)

Their words had become daggers; I felt them in my chest, poking at my insecurities and fears. My lugs then began to empty of their air. The anxiety that was so familiar to me and that had been lurking behind me every day squeezed my lungs to increase the pang of the sharp wounds I was now hosting. I got alone just in time for my surroundings to become hazy and foreign, despite how truly familiar they were. I couldn’t sit down or stand still; I paced in the smallest possible circles, tension radiating throughout my body and spirit.

I wanted so badly to cry. So much had been going on inside and around me, and I knew I needed to release some of the pain I’d gathered from it. But the tears wouldn’t come.

I began singing His words.

[Listen]

I’m right beside you
I feel what you feel
And I’m here to hold you
When death is too real
You know I died, too
I was terrified
I gave myself for you
I was crucified
Because I love you
I love you, child

My voice broke a few lines in, and tears poured out of the cracks.

I stood still, arms around myself, weeping and releasing, praying that I would never let go of my grasp on those words.

flower walk, feet and potAs I stood and as the drops trailed down, I began to feel a tingling, tickling feeling in my feet at the base of my toes. It stretched further into my feet, then began slowly climbing through my legs. It reached the tops of my knees and remained there. Amongst my shaky, irregular sob-breathing, I heard a quiet whisper:

Shoes of peace.

I continued to cry, sinking into His closeness.

Anxiety and brokenness will never have the final say for me. Not when everywhere I walk, I genuinely carry peace with me in a physical way.

Spiritual armor is not a metaphor.

I didn’t understand it before. But then my Father physically placed these shoes on my feet. I felt Him do it, and He called them by their name. [I don’t believe everyone needs to have the same experience I had in order to put on their spiritual armor; it is available to all of us and He shows no partiality. I think He just knew what I needed in order to understand.]

The shoes of peace have become true and functional for me. Peace protects me from succumbing to what scares me and letting anxiety overtake my life; peace pushes me forward when I don’t feel like I can move; peace is His mark lovingly imprinted on me, like a forehead kiss. He has enabled me to be strong, to be powerful, to live in courage instead of fear. It is possible for me.

I didn’t know that before. I thought I would have to live with anxiety and the paralysis it can cause for the rest of my life. Now… now I have hope that it will get better. That it won’t always be as hard to overcome as it is right now. That anxiety is a lot smaller and a lot less powerful than I’ve made it out to be.

Anxiety is still something I face. But when I feel the fear creeping near to put its hands to my neck– I now try to remind myself of the reality of what I’m wearing on my feet.

And I choose to stand firm in the peace that is already mine to possess.

Recovery · Testimonies

Turning My Darkness to Light

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

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

What happens when the past doesn’t stay there?

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

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

Our darkness becomes light when we shine light on it.

Light can only enter broken things, after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I still struggle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am with you. I am with you.

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

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

Responses · The Basics

On Brokenness, Fear, & The Cure

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

[Listen]

 

Testimonies · The Basics

On Getting My Hopes Up

I might be the biggest idealist I’ve ever known. Even if I’m just stopping by the store, I get excited about who I could see there and what the experience could be like. Maybe it’s part of my design to be hopeful.

But I live on earth. And it’s beautiful here, but it’s broken, too. So hopes can get crushed. I can’t count the hopes I’ve had that I never saw come to fruition. I get so excited about the possibilities that when things actually happen, they are disappointing. Because they’re flawed and messy and not the joys I hoped maybe they could be.

So I tried to stop hoping.

feet and wishHope felt childish. When something got me excited and possibilities for what could happen began entering my mind, I’d tell myself to calm down. “Don’t expect anything from it, Tessa. Just go and enjoy it if you can. Things will probably not happen that way and you’ll get hurt if you expect them to.” I’d been hurt a lot by my own expectations. I didn’t want it to happen again. So I denied hope a place in my life. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing; I thought I was protecting myself. I didn’t know I viewed hope the way I did:

As an enemy instead of a friend.

Recently the Lord has been telling me that something is a promise. Something I’ve tried to shove out of my mind and heart because it’s too special to tease myself with; something so good and so impossible that dreaming about it has physically made my heart heavy, so that I don’t even like thinking about it if I can help it.

But when He speaks… I know. There are moments when I genuinely don’t know if He’s saying something or not. But there are also moments when I know what He’s saying… and I don’t want to believe it. This has been one of the latter. I know what He’s said. I know He has promised to put this thing in my life somehow.

And it terrifies me.

You’d think that being told an incomprehensible joy is coming for me would fill me to the brim with excitement and gratitude. But I’ve lived my life as an idealist; I know what it’s like to be bubbling over with anticipation… only to be left with a deflated version of what I hoped for. And I just don’t want to feel that hurt anymore.

I used to read in the Bible where it says to rejoice in hope, and I’d think it was an obvious statement; why wouldn’t I be joyful about hope? But I understand now: hope is terrifying. When you hope, you’re allowing yourself to put your energy into believing for something you can’t visualize happening. Hope is risky, dangerous business for my heart to take on.

But hope is not dumb.

I’m afraid to believe His words to me because I’m afraid to get my hopes up. It feels childish to hope for it; it doesn’t make to sense to me to hope for it because I cannot see any avenues for it to come to pass. I’ve always known He wants me to have hope in Him for the impossible, but I guess nothing has ever looked too impossible. This… this does.

But I remember when He showed the prophet Ezekiel a valley full of dried up, long-dead bones. And He asked him: “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel responded:

“O Lord God, you know.”

Ezekiel didn’t know what was going to happen. But He knew that the Lord was capable of doing anything. Even the impossible.

The thing He’s telling me about? I have no idea how it can happen. I don’t understand it, it doesn’t make sense to me. But I know I can trust Him. I can trust Him with all of me. No matter what He’s saying, if I understand it or if I don’t, it doesn’t matter.

I can trust whatever He’s saying because it’s Him who is saying it.

My hope is in Him. And He is capable. And if I believe He loves me, why do I not believe I’m special enough to receive the impossible from Him? He has deemed me worthy.

Hope is not dumb. And I’d rather get my hopes up and be crushed than live without hope.

So I rest in who my Father is. And I trust Him with my heart.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  -Romans 15:13

“Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts though the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”   -Romans 5:5

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”   -Hebrews 10:23

[Reminder: God does not contradict Himself. If what I feel He’s saying is contrary to what He says in Scripture, it isn’t Him.]

 

Responses · Testimonies · The Basics

On Having Flaws & Being Loved

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.”

Responses · Testimonies · The Basics

Be Kind to Yourself

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.