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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On Media & Art · Practical · Testimonies · The Basics

How I’m Replacing My Anxiety: On Power, Positivity, & Choices

dsc05066When I picked up a dingy little book at a yard sale for a few cents, it was simply because the title seemed interesting to me: “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.”

I was struggling with questions about anxiety and how big a role it played in my life, so much so that it was nearly all I could think about every day. I knew nothing about this book, but I’d reached a point where I was willing to hear out anyone who might be able help me figure out what I could do about what I was facing.

During the time I read the book, not only did I receive deep convictions from its words, but I also had an open conversation with a counselor friend of mine about anxiety and its presence in me. These things paired together, following God’s revelation to me about the peace He’s made for me to walk in, have helped me find a grip on my peace and led me in the process of beating my fear.

If you struggle with anxiety, I want to share what I took away from “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway” by Dr. Susan Jeffers with you. I know every experience is a bit different and not everything works the same in everyone. If these things end up not doing for you what they do for me, nothing is wrong with you; you are working hard and doing an incredible job, finding the best weapons and strategies for your own battle. Do not let shame lie to you, and do not give up. This is just my experience, and if you end up being able to share in it, it would be cruel of me to keep what I’ve learned from you.

Not everything I learned from the book is completely related to anxiety, but all of it has been transformative for me. These were my four main takeaways:

1) Fear is based on the lie, “I can’t handle it.”

When I become obsessive and fearful about something in my life, no matter how big or small, there is one common belief that fuels the anxiety: I believe that if the bad thing I’m anticipating happens, it will be too much for me and will overcome me. Usually I am not even aware that I believe this, but the presence of the fear reveals it about me.

A few months ago, I was overwhelmingly anxious about visiting my old stomping grounds. I didn’t want it to be a painful experience, and I’d had panic attacks the last few times I’d been there. But I asked myself: what would happen if my fears were true, and it was painful and I did have a panic attack? I’d have a few difficult hours in my day– and then I’d go home. It might take me a few days to recover, but I’d recover. Was that devastating enough to keep me away? Despite the anxiety I still hosted, I decided to go– and it ended up bringing a lot of healing for the bitterness I’d been hosting toward that place. I did have a panic attack, but afterward I had a lot of good moments, too. I’m glad I didn’t let fear keep me from them.

Two years ago, I was terrified to drop out of college, because I didn’t want to be occupation-less, lose relationships, or be looked down upon for it. But what happened when I did drop out… and I did become occupation-less, lose relationships, and get looked down upon? I cried. I was hurt. I grieved. I wrestled with armfuls of questions, for months. Then I made my peace with it, and realized I was healthier emotionally than I’d ever been before. I became grateful for the opportunity to live a life more true to what I was made for. My fears might have become reality, but it didn’t ruin me; in the long run, it healed me. I survived it and found treasure along the way. I needed things to happen the way they did.

When I accept my fears at face value, they seem giant and domineering. But when I look deep enough into them, I can see how small they are against the backdrop of everything else life holds. I can see that no matter what happens, positive or negative, it won’t be the end of me. I have experienced deeply painful, terribly oppressive times, lasting moments and lasting years– and I am still here. I’m actually the happiest I’ve ever been. What we’re scared of does happen sometimes. But we survive. We learn and we keep walking. Nothing is final or too much for us.

Nothing can come for us that is bigger than He who is for us.

2) We can hold fear from two positions: pain, or power.

How you view your circumstances is known as your locus of control, and there are two possible versions of it: an external one or an internal one. If your locus of control is external, it means that you believe life happens to you and there’s nothing you can do to alter your circumstances. However, if your locus of control is internal, it means that you believe you have the power to use what you have in your given circumstances to create the life you want.

I refused to consider this concept when I first learned about it. My locus of control was completely external; I believed I was stuck where I was in life, which was a terribly harrowing belief to have, because it was eating me alive to stay in my circumstances. When I was told I could change my situation if I wanted to, I immediately shut the idea out, because I didn’t believe I was capable of doing that. But multiple people from multiple areas of my life all began unknowingly asking me the same thing: “Have you ever thought about doing something else?”

And my answer, when I finally gave one, was: “…no. Is that possible?”

Once I opened myself up to the idea of making my own changes, once I realized I had power over myself– God showed me how to use it. He didn’t leave me floundering by myself, nor did He become angry at me like I feared. It turned out that He was the one who made me powerful in the first place. Using that power was not, in fact, a rebellion against Him, but rather a submission to Him and His design for me.

It took months for me to say yes to my new direction, and even longer to tell anyone about it and begin acting on it. But I did. I started making changes. I left old things and started pursuing new ones. It was still hard, but a different kind of hard than before; this was the kind I knew was going to birth good things.

I’m not stuck anymore. I know that, at any time, if what I’m doing is not good for me, I can change it and do something else. I have the power to do that.

When we’re in any situation, we are making a choice to stay there. We can choose not to stay there anymore if we want to. I used to constantly say, “I can’t do that because this thing is preventing me.” But the truth is that there is truly nothing I can’t do.

If I wanted to move to Los Angeles today, I could. I don’t have money, transportation, or a place to stay, but I could pack a suitcase and get on a bus, and once I arrived I could find a shelter somewhere. Would it be the wisest thing for me to do? Probably not. So I choose not to do it. But I don’t get to say that I can’t do it.

If I want something badly enough, I have ability to go get it. It is just that sometimes the payoffs of not doing it at this point in time might outweigh having it right now. That’s okay! It teaches me patience and trust. Life is largely about the process; waiting times are not times we have to despise or rush to escape. Sometimes it’s the right time to make a change; other times, it’s the right time to wait it out for a while. But we are never stuck. Once we understand that, we are living from a much more productive and positive place.

I think a lot of us grew up viewing power and control as negative things. I have known and been affected by controlling people my entire life, so I know it’s easy to have those negative connotations. But do you know why controlling, manipulative people do what they do? They feel powerless. The reason they are seeking to control you is that they see power in you and want to benefit from it; they don’t believe they can do what they want to do themselves, so they use other people. Controlling people have an external locus of control.

A healthy sense of power is so different from that. When you believe you are powerful, you believe in your ability to do what you want to do, not to make someone else do it. A truly powerful person is someone who knows they are in control of their own actions and attitudes, and exercises that control in order to make good choices and love well.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; it’s something He gives us and wants to see in our lives. It is not simply the ability to keep yourself from bad choices, like we seem to teach all the time– it’s also using your power to make really good ones. When you use your power well, you are demonstrating spiritual growth.

This all affects our relationships with fear and anxiety because if you believe in your power, you will start using it. With an internal locus of control, you know that your circumstances don’t control you– you control you. Whatever fear is living in you, you know you are bigger than it and that you can combat it. You do not allow yourself to become a victim of anxiety, but rather a master over it. You might have anxiety, but it is you that owns it, not the other way around.

When I am afraid, I have a choice. I can choose to succumb to it and let it lead me, or I can choose to ride the wave out and get through it. Fear still exists for me, but it doesn’t have to win out over me.

It’s a cliché now, but it’s still true: when you learn you are powerful, you begin to realize you also carry responsibility. You realize you can’t blame others for your happiness (or lack thereof) anymore, because you are in control of your experience. No one can be responsible for your quality of life except for you.

There’s an important distinction between your experiences in life and your experiences of life. Things happen to us that we had no hand in. We don’t get to choose where we grew up, or what programs accept us, or who falls in love with us. But we do get to choose how we let those things affect us. Bitterness? Despondency? Entitlement? Those are responses. And while we may not be able to choose our initial feelings and it’s important for us to recognize them, we one hundred percent control what we decide to feed and sit in versus what we decide to let go of and move past. We have control over how we choose to live; we have the power to look at everything through a hopeful lens instead of a victimized one.

I have found that when I take responsibility for my feelings and my mindset along with my behavior, it is easier for me to be kind to others and to love my enemies. I can’t get mad at someone for not giving me something I have the ability to give myself. It doesn’t mean I’m condoning their negative behavior; it just means I’m not letting it change my positive behavior.

3) Being positive is not being in denial, it’s being perceptive.

Many of us have been told that when we look for the positive, we are not aware of the reality of the situation and are being oblivious to what’s going on. But let’s take a minute to think about this: what makes it so that a positive mindset is less realistic than a negative one? Both are perspectives, ways of viewing reality. And the way you view reality determines how you treat it. So if we choose a negative mindset in the name of being realistic, what we are really doing is determining to have a negative reality.

Choosing a positive mindset is not being unrealistic– it is choosing to have the best experience possible in reality. When we view life through a positive lens, we don’t need denial, because we can see possibilities for ways to make things better, and we are more likely to act on those possibilities because we believe they can make a difference.

Positivity is not weak, it is empowering.

It can be wildly hard to get rid of a negative mindset when you’ve been hosting one your whole life, or when you are in environments that are full of the kind of talk that fuels one. Perseverance matters so much in this. Our subconscious’  believe what they are told; if they are fed insecurities, lies, and thoughts of helplessness, and they aren’t also being fed a greater measure of affirmations, truths, and motivation, they will continue to operate out of destructive patterns.

We have to out-talk our negativity. When you feel insecure, name strengths and good traits you possess and point out to yourself how you’re doing a good job; when someone tells you something that is against your God-given identity, reaffirm your identity and what it means for you; when you start to feel helpless, tell yourself that you are powerful and remind yourself of all your options. Be kind to yourself. Be active and relentless about it, and have people in your life who echo these kinds of healing words to you. Let love, not fear, have the final word in you.

4) When it comes to making decisions, there is no loss, only gain.

I am the queen of indecisiveness. If there are multiple options, I pretty much go into paralysis until it’s narrowed down to two, at which point I will toss the two options every possible way they can be turned, then make a very hesitant choice. I will proceed to doubt my choice for weeks. What a fun cycle, eh?

But making decisions is actually a lot less complicated and dire than I’ve believed it to be. No matter which option I choose, the truth is that there is not a losing decision. On any path I walk, there is a wealth of lessons, experiences, and treasures for me to find. I think often we fear making a bad choice because we don’t want to miss out on something good. But what if we had a different perspective when making a decision? What if we focused on what the different options have to give instead of what we’d potentially lose? When we do that, we are no longer looking for the least costly option, but instead for the most rewarding one. It is much more productive to function this way.

And if you end up being unsatisfied with your decision? You can still make a different one! It is okay to make mistakes. No matter how many zigzags you make on your path, you’ll still be able to get to where you’re going. We gain lessons and experiences from everything we go through. God’s business is redemption; nothing is wasted. And He knows what you’re going to choose before you choose it, so you can rest in knowing it’s all part of something bigger, something that will always work out for your good.

——-

Phew! There is so much to unpack in these concepts, so much we can reap from them. I encourage you to keep ruminating on them. And, if you’d like, I so recommend reading “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.” The last two chapters are a bit out there and I admit I only skimmed them because they were more opinion-based, but the rest of the book was such a transformative tool in my life.

Anxiety doesn’t own me anymore. I am better equipped to face it than I knew I could be. All of this is my story; I’m not going to present it as the cure or the never-failing balm for anxiety. But I wanted to share my experience and the tools I’ve found useful, if there’s any chance you might be helped by it, too. I am rooting for you and fully believe in a breakthrough for you, however in comes into your life. Thank you for being interested in how in came into mine.

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.

Testimonies · The Basics

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

“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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Practical · The Basics

My Personal Guide to Internet Anger

Nov 5 15The same thoughts flash through my mind every time I see things that anger me or cause others to argue on the internet. I haven’t voiced or articulated these thoughts, even to myself; I’m scared I’ll contradict myself and am aware of the irony. But I’ve decided to write this as a reminder to myself when those situations come up. If you want to use it, too, that’s totally cool, but I’m not going to claim I know the correct way to handle it. These are just things I’ve learned are good guidelines for me and the way I personally want to interact with people through my computer screen.

So, Tessa–

You do not have to have an opinion on everything. It is a great idea to do your research and figure out what you think about a topic. But if you resonate with pieces of both sides? That’s okay. Don’t be afraid of letting things exist together. You don’t have to choose a side if none completely line up with your own heart about something. More often than not, both sides have genuine merits to them. It’s not you versus me; it’s us, together, trying to figure it all out. Having this mindset makes it hard to see anyone as an enemy.

Or, if you’ve done your research and still don’t really know what to think much at all? That’s okay, too. I have not been able to forget this tweet:

There are a few topics that we simply cannot understand, no matter how much research we do, because we’ve never lived it. We can read all we want about it, but we still won’t truly know what it’s like to experience it; we can have opinions, but we cannot speak into it with understanding, because we can’t know what it’s like. Sometimes it’s just too big to grasp. That’s okay. You are a human being with limitations, and there’s no shame to be had in that.

You don’t have to have an opinion just to add to a conversation, especially if choosing a side brings more hurt to more people, people you’re not even sure are wrong. Most of the time, we just need to listen. And to show love to everyone who speaks, no matter what they’re saying.

Correction has it’s place, and it has places it should not go. Someone is being pretty irrational and using circular reasoning and contradicting himself, and you’re annoyed. But you take a breath, and ask yourself why. “Because someone is being rude and not making sense!” you answer quickly. The follow-up question you get to ask is:

Do rude, non-sensical people heed to someone who points out that they’re being those things?

I’ve never seen someone change their heart because someone else debated with them on the internet. I’ve definitely been challenged and had thoughts introduced to me through something someone has written on the internet, but it has always been something they shared independently, from their own experience, in their own internet space, left for me to find on my own. It has never been in response to me or someone else on a Facebook post or in a comment section.

Correction is necessary for everyone, but here’s the thing– we do not have grounds to correct someone we have no relationship with. If I were to vocalize that I believe something cruel or irrational, my closest friends would talk to me about it– privately, in person, with love for me and with hearts that seek understanding of where I’m coming from. It would be a conversation. Even if we ended up disagreeing, I’d still listen to them, because I know they aren’t just seeking to nitpick or start an argument; they care about their friend.

But if you don’t know me and I come to tell you you’re wrong, what reason do you have to listen to me with an open mind? You know nothing about me that qualifies me to advise you in thinking or living; it wouldn’t make sense. We might not even share the same moral compass. My points could be valid to me and still not matter to you, because your values are different from mine.

It is so tempting to join in and to correct people who have struck a nerve. But correction is meant to be found in the context of the safety of relationship. Which I’m inclined to believe doesn’t include calling someone out in a comment.

We have to remember– humans cannot change other humans. Our goal is never to change people; it is to love people, right where they are, like our Father loves us. Only God can change a heart. And He leads us to repentance with what? With loving kindness.

“Wisdom is proved right by all her children” (Luke 7:35). Time is such an interesting friend; it will tell us how true our thoughts really are. As time passes, we will see how things actually play out, what lasts, and if our ideas come from love or from fear.

We need to have the humility to say, “I believe this with all my heart– and I could still be wrong.” It’s okay to be in that spot; it means we’re teachable, with a healthy view of ourselves. We can be wholly firm in what we believe even as we remain accepting of our fallibility. We might end up being right. But we can be loving, if we’re right or wrong. And seeking to understand the motivations behind any opinion, even if we’ll probably never agree? What a beautiful way to love.

[Listen]

Not attending an argument isn’t the same as not using your voice. I have experienced things that have been more difficult because of teachings that weren’t true, written or spoken by people who had no personal experience or were biased. When it comes to those things, I will speak. I will speak about certain sensitive topics because those things were made more difficult for me by people who spoke spoke falsehoods. I point out the patterns that I recognize, the ones I know deep in my soul to be harmful. I passionately, intimately believe in what I speak into.

But when I see something I don’t agree with, that does not make it on par with the things I advocate for in my life. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with, but my involvement in a conversation about them most likely is not necessary; I don’t have to “speak up,” because I’m not doing it for any purpose aside from adding my two cents. Honestly, that isn’t speaking up as much as it is asserting myself.

There is no reason for me to argue about something that I’m not actively working toward being a voice for in actual life. We show we care when we act, when we do something about it. If I have a voice, I better be using it for something that matters and I better be using it well, stewarding it as a gift that I don’t deserve.

Let your positivity outweigh their negativity. My favorite thing to do when I see something online that frustrates me, that doesn’t seem right, that makes me want to respond back with my own opinion? Independently share some kind of positivity instead.

I don’t have to respond to the particular person and I don’t have to address the specific subject. It doesn’t even matter if that person sees or hears what I share. It’s not about being right– it’s about being a source of love. Love is always the right thing.

The good things we share with the world can outweigh the negativity others are putting out. If you see someone spreading words to shame others? Spread different words to tell others of their worthiness. While that person is being a voice for shame, now there is another voice. And it speaks of love and of grace.

As I said earlier, I’ve never been changed by someone calling me out on the internet. But I have been changed, sometimes radically, by things people have shared in their own spaces simply to express their heart or experience. That’s where I believe the real power of having a voice on the internet lies.

The unkind voices are loud. But when there are more kind voices, they ring louder. And they echo for a long time to those that need to hear them.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
-1 Corinthians 8:1-3

I’m sure this list of guidelines and reminders is not complete or comprehensive. If we’ve learned one thing these past few minutes, it’s that I’m a flawed human being just doing my best to figure things out. We all are.

I guess I’m just writing in hopes that we remember we get to do this as a family.

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.