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

Advertisements
Responses

On Having a Voice

everything will be okayA few weeks ago I started writing something in anger because someone was speaking pointless words that tore others down. I didn’t plan on writing anything more about it than that little processing-piece only I would see.

Then that person, not knowing I was upset or that I’d even heard their words, opened up to me. They told me they often feel they don’t have a voice; that they don’t have anything important to say, let alone a platform where they can say it.

I realized that I’m often a lot like them.

It’s hard to use your voice, let alone use it well, when you don’t believe you have one.

Shame, doubt, fear… they tell us no one really needs to hear what’s in us. And when we believe that, we not only don’t get to use our voices to spur the good we want to see in the world– we get careless. We say whatever seems interesting or funny or relevant at the time, whether we completely believe it or not, because we don’t think it affects anyone.

But wow it does.

That person’s unkind words were heard so clearly; they caused me to fume for days, and they weren’t even about me. But… how was that person to know? If they believe their words don’t impact anyone, the natural conclusion is that being unkind doesn’t matter, because there’s no one to be affected by it.

Here is the truth: people do hear you.

If you are speaking to one person, you have a powerful voice. You’ve got family members in your home, friends in your goings about, co-workers at your job, classmates at school, cashiers at the grocery store, Facebook friends on your screen… there are people all around you. You have an audience, and they are receiving what you say. You have the power to choose what you give them. If you’re careless and don’t give thought to your words, you can hurt, or confuse, or simply fall flat. But if you speak truth and love… it reverberates and carries on inside those who hear you. Because God is love, and He is the truth, and He is literally the Word. When you speak love, you are placing Jesus in front of those you speak to.

What was that about your words not having power?

Your words, when they’re spoken truthfully in love, have accessed the greatest power there is.

So many people from various walks have spoken love into me. I remember the most random compliments people have given me, because they uplifted me so much; I make better choices when people encourage me in my ability to do so; I remember truthful things others have shared with me when I need endurance; I am even more apt to purse something when people tell me I’m good at it. I’m not the only one who experiences this! We all do. Words matter so much to our souls. Why do we feel like our words would be the exception?

You have a voice. You have something important inside you, and you have an audience to share it with. What you say? It matters. The tongue has the power to kill and to bring life, and you get to choose which you use it for. You can tear down, yes, and you can hide in silence, too. But you can also ignite healing, world-altering things in people, just with your words of love. I know a man who responded to a suicidal-sounding tweet a young girl sent him; with his 140-character (if that) response of love and encouragement, he blew her away with his kindness and convinced her to stay in the world longer. Just a few short sentences. But they had the power of life.

Did you know that you have a voice? Because you do.

And we’re listening.

Testimonies

On Insecurity & Contentment (Or, When Clichés Tell The Truth)

DSC03824Growing up, I was never really too down on myself. Because I was convinced make up, hair dye, following trends, and the like were all pointless (maybe even bad),  I had to be content with myself the way I was. Of course I still had insecurities, but for the most part I just knew I was different and that I had to be genuine about myself. I didn’t really focus on my appearance that much.

The past year or so, I’ve grown in terms of how I view myself. I dyed my hair to a color I loved and learned how to take care of it; I collected a few little make up items and liked what they could do; I started dressing a bit more like a grown up version of myself (which is still pretty colorful and wild, let’s be real). Because I was starting to actually view myself as an adult, I was learning that I was in charge of myself, and that there were new worlds I could explore. I’ve been enjoying these worlds a lot, for the most part.

I’ve never really been concerned with being more relevant. But lately… I have.

I wonder if it’s because I entered these new worlds, worlds that encourage self-improvement and high standards I’d never sought to meet before. Without make up/hair dye/whatever, if you aren’t keen on how you look, you can’t really do anything about it. So you learn to accept it and live with your focus placed elsewhere. With those things, however, you can change a lot about what you don’t like. It’s really nice. But if you use them and still don’t feel great about yourself, it stings more. Because you tried to hide the insecure places, and they still peek out and bother you… maybe even make you feel inferior to those who do what you’re doing but seem successful at it.

I feel similarly about exercise. I wasn’t regularly exercising until about six months ago, and now I feel like it’s a hugely important duty for me to maintain my body, or even to make it better. Because exercising has improved my shape a little, and a few people have even noticed. Sometimes I notice, and get excited about it. But now I have this fear of not being able to keep it up. I started exercising purely because I wanted to get a better grip on my struggles with anxiety; I didn’t expect any of this to come with it.

I didn’t really deal with these feelings and fears before. But now I do. And something else has come with it, something that is devastating me: comparison.

I find myself looking at old photos and getting annoyed or even mad at my past self for her weight, which was never really noticeably bad. But worse than that: I look at other women and see things I wish I had… and things that I’ll judge them for having. Because I’m more self-conscious than I was before, I am now more apt to see issues in others and be a more harsh, judgmental person. I compare myself to them, wanting what they have, and I compare them to me, thinking they should want what I have. I hate seeing this in me, and I hate letting you see it; it’s embarrassing and painfully vulnerable. But it fully convinces me that judgmental, cruel people truly are just insecure people who want to feel better inside. People always say that, but I never saw the reality of it before it became my reality.

Dang.

Part of me wonders if I started a lot of this because I fell for someone who seemed to live in such a glittering world, and I wanted to measure up. I didn’t want to be invisible or unsightly or subpar; I wanted to be beautiful and noticeable… to be good enough for his world. And maybe I began tearing down other women in my head because I didn’t want to compete with them, because I had no hope in winning against them. What stupid games we play, thinking anything in life is a competition we have to beat others in. Thinking love is something we win from people.

Yesterday, I liked how I looked, so I took a few photos. Then I saw photos of other gorgeous women, and I didn’t like mine anymore. I met the reality of another platitude– comparison took joy from me.

I think I’m sharing these things with you just to show you how true those platitudes are. Because I’ve heard them my whole life, but I’m just now seeing them manifest. And wow… damage happens when you don’t see or truly believe in something that’s happening inside you.

When I’m alone, just focusing on enjoying what I have and being grateful, I like myself. It’s when comparison and standards come in that I begin to doubt and get anxious and defensive. I have to focus on gratitude. Gratitude for this body I have to live in; for a lifestyle that really works for me; for fun ways to explore expressing myself; for the beauty other women possess; for the unique images all of us get to carry that are a piece of the image of God; for the worthiness of the individual; for people who build others up; for the ability to compliment instead of compete. It is in gratitude that contentment will live and thrive.

So, thank you, Father, for all of those things. And that you like us even when we can’t like ourselves.

[Listen]

Misc.

On Being Broken & Having Doubts

DSC09999I’m broken.

I forget it sometimes. Sometimes, I think I’m doing okay. I do what I can with what I have during the day. Then I get into bed and start talking to Him… and I don’t want to talk for long. Because I just cannot be detached or passive with Him, and I don’t want to concede to the fact that maybe I’m still not okay. “If I just protect my joy, I’ll be fine and won’t get hurt,” I think.

I remember Ann speaking of candle flames. She said that when we desperately cup our hands around the flame of our joy in attempt to protect it, we are suffocating it; we will snuff it out. “My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy. Flames need oxygen to light. Flames need a bit of wind,” she said.

So I try to let myself feel what I feel. I try to stay out of denial when it’s an especially difficult day. I try to be kind to myself. But I still hate not being okay. I hate that hard days are more frequent for me than good days right now. And I hate feeling like a pile of broken pieces, feeling incomplete, empty, like I’m not whole.

Most of the time, I feel it’s my fault. When I recognize a mistake I’ve made or flaw I have, I feel that I should be able to change it. But I have so many flaws and wounds, and they still show up every single day.

Someone I admire once said he believes our gifts and our flaws come together to help us live our specific purpose. I keep thinking about that. And how I’m always going to have flaws as long as I live in this body. Though I’ll fight to overcome them the best I can, there are some things I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my life.

I have power over my actions. But I also can’t fix myself, because the problem is that I am what’s broken. Only my Father can truly heal me, can fix what’s wrong, because He’s the one who made me. So what can I do to improve, and when is it an impossible task for me?

I want to share some beautiful answer He revealed to me. But the painful truth is that I don’t have one. I’m not even close. I’m broken over my brokenness. I’m hosting so many questions, questions I was afraid to ask Him before because I feared He would be angry with me for not trusting Him.

What I am learning is that when I have questions– ugly, difficult, sometimes angry questions– He isn’t upset with me for having them. He knows they’re in me already. When I’m honest with Him about them, He isn’t angry; He’s glad I’m coming to Him. It doesn’t mean He’ll answer the question with anything but His arms and the gentle words, “I know.” But He doesn’t love me less for asking. He doesn’t call my questions sin or mistrust.

…I doubt Him daily.

Solid theology in my head and noble intentions in my heart don’t change what’s wrong in my soul. I can know His promises and His truth and His character in my head and I can act accordingly, and I could still not be convinced of them in my soul. I know my Father loves me. I know He’s working things for my good. I know He takes care of me. I know He’s a healer. I know He makes a way where there is none. I trust Him in my head.

But, in my soul… I don’t believe it. I’m scared to.

I’m scared to surrender my vices to Him. Because I know in my head He doesn’t take things away without putting His best in their place, but in my heart I’m afraid to be left with nothing; left to myself, and now even without the little balms I’ve made for myself.

I’m scared to pursue what He points me toward. Because, in my head, I know that when He asks me to do something, He does it with me. But in my heart I know I am inadequate and not skilled enough and will fail by myself. I’m terrified He won’t come when I need Him. The enemy’s lies have been in my ears for so long that I can hardly distinguish them from my own thoughts.

I’m scared… I’m scared of who I am.

In my head, I know that my Father loves me, but… but all of me feels so unloved. Overlooked. Tolerated. Unlovable.

No words of wisdom can fix this brokenness in me. I have a lot of them, and I believe them in my head, but they don’t reach my heart. I wish they would.

“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart,” He says.

My Father is the changer of hearts. When I want to believe but still doubt, He comes in power to teach my very heart to trust and know Him and His truth. In our struggles to believe, He reorients our hearts, completely, so that we belong to Him and He belongs to us, in wholeness.

When my faith runs short, He brings my heart into His own. And He doesn’t run short on anything.

“That’s always the best place for miracles: God meets us– right where we don’t believe. When our believing runs out, God’s love runs on. . . God takes broken hearts– and gives you His.”  -Ann Voskamp [full post]

“Before you doubt Me, doubt your doubts. Doubt your doubts, and you will see that they are just as empty as the tomb that I walked from. . . Don’t you see these rings in my hands? See, we are married.” -Joseph Solomon [full video]

Blossoms of an Artist

One of The Good Days

I am bursting. I have joy bubbling up inside me, joy that’s making me dance in circles around my room even though the song on my playlist right now is hard rock. It’s weird, and I know this isn’t going to make a lot of sense to you, maybe, but that’s okay.

Look what I did:life watercolor on easel

I painted. I painted on a full-sized piece of art paper. For the first time in such a long time.

For over a month now I’ve been in this place of complete open seas, not knowing where the Lord is leading me but knowing that He is leading. It’s a place that I’ve been grieving in, a place that I’ve been confused and hurt in, a place that I’ve wanted to leave. And I’m still here.

But today was the first time I saw a sign that I really am going somewhere.

I told you a few weeks ago that I feel so inadequate to make the art I want to make sometimes. And that having those insecurities comes from doubting that God is capable of using me in the ways I secretly dream He would use me. Knowing that I left college because the Lord wanted me to do some kind of creative work, the fear that I can’t make good enough art is crippling. But things are getting better. He’s teaching me to create again. He’s teaching me to go into creativity with the thought in the back of my mind, “There is a definite possibility that I could like this when I’m done with it.” And He’s teaching me to trust Him and what He says about me.

It’s been a long time since I’ve made something creative and been really excited about the way it turned out. But today broke that. I love this piece. And although I hope other people like it, too, it doesn’t matter to me a lot if they do. Because I think it’s lovely and it gets me excited every time I look at it. There are hard days, days that make me feel like I’m not going to be able to do what He wants me to do and what I want to do.

But there are also days like this.

I made blank space on my walls when the semester ended. I took down the pieces that didn’t carry deep meaning for me, but I also unintentionally made it so that I needed to fill those empty spots with new art. And I’m excited to start the refilling with this new piece, this piece that is ironic and kind.

Blossoms of an Artist

On Creative Drought & Faith

I baked cookies in the heat today.bowl of cookie cookies and bowl ovenready cookies

Why? Because I feel completely dry of creative juices.

I have written the same blog post nearly all day for two days now, and I don’t even know if I’ll end up posting it. I’m not passionate about it, I feel like I didn’t convey things the way I wanted to, and I don’t know if anyone else could even benefit from it.

“What’s the point?” my inner critic asks me bitterly.

I sketched out the beginnings of a painting I wanted to work on yesterday. The lines are there now, but I don’t want to fill them in. Because I can’t shut the thought out of my brain that it won’t end up looking the way I want it to look.

“Why would I waste so much time on something that I’ll end up finishing with the words ‘good enough’?” my inner cynic asks, a whisper of sadness in her tone.

I love my friends. I don’t get to see many as often as I used to and I’m trying to cope with that. I’ve been writing letters with a friend back and forth, but it’s been a while now since I’ve received her letter and I still haven’t written back. Because I feel like what I write her has to be uplifting, and I just don’t know if I have the right words.

“Why is it so hard to just make something heartfelt and be happy with that?” I whisper, hugging my legs in my desk chair.

That’s why I made cookies today. I want to– have to– create, but I am terrified that what I make isn’t good enough.

Cookies are easy. As long as they’re golden brown and taste like a cookie, they’re successful. There’s no pressure; I don’t view them as an expression of my soul. They don’t have to be unique, expressive, interesting. But what I write here, what I paint onto a canvas, what I say to someone else… it matters to me. A lot. I want it to be good.

I want to be able to create things that don’t get in the way of what I’m trying to express to you. I want to make something that captures what’s inside me and speaks into your life. And I’m being completely honest with you: I feel like I just can’t. I feel like I don’t have a voice to match my soul. My soul has so much in it, so much I wish I could share. I wish I had that ability. But, today, I don’t feel like I do. There are days like this that are just hard.

This is so hard for me to handle, because creating is what Jesus has asked me to do. I left college because He wanted me to create. I can’t express how weighed down I feel by the thought that I can’t do what He’s asked of me. If I can’t do it, what else can I do? Is anything left?

Phew. I’m sorry. Thank you for listening to my ugly.

I wrote a poem about a month ago when I was feeling like this.

Do you ever feel like you fail before you start?
Because it’s not what you do–
It’s you?
I am telling you, soul: this is your design!
You were created for this.
And the only person who can truly get in your way?
It’s you.
Believe in who you are;
Trust Him who made and is leading you.
There is so much beauty here, and–
It’s you.

And it makes me think maybe I should just keep creating, even in the slough. It’s not my best, but it’s not my worst, and I think I said what I wanted to say through it for the most part. If it helps no one else, it’s helping me.

After I wrote it, I realized that doubting my ability to create was a symptom of doubting the Lord. Knowing He asked me to take some intense risks in order to create, and knowing that all He’s been saying to me lately has been to express and create, what could make me think that I’m not able? This is His will for me. I am on the path I followed Him onto. Nothing is going to stop Him from accomplishing His good purposes, not even if I am lacking. This is His. He is in this. He has strength for my weakness. He has prepared these things in advance for me. I can create expressive, interesting, unique, meaningful art, because He wills it be so.

When I don’t trust that I can do it, it’s an indicator that I don’t fully trust Him. Creating great art seems impossible because I’ve been trying to trust myself for it, and put all my stock in my own abilities. And the truth is–

I don’t have what it takes. I can’t do this alone.

But Jesus?

He can take me there. And He’s told me He will. And when He does, it won’t be because I’m wonderful and talented; it will be because I am swimming in His grace. It is hard to sit back and wait, but it’s even harder when I find that I’m not trusting Him. When I don’t trust Him, I end up not even trusting what He says about me. And He says that I am chosen, royal, holy. He says that He does all He does for my good. He says that I share in suffering in order to become more like Him.

And He says that He loves me. He loves me enough to give up His life for me, to call me His friend, to walk with me every day.

I am growing in believing Him deep in my heart.

I haven’t believed You.
But it’s more than that.
I haven’t believed You because…
Because You believe in me.
And I don’t.

May we have so much faith in you, Lord, that we will have faith in your promises, too. May we seek to glorify you in what we do and may that be enough for us, because it is enough for you. May we feel deep in our souls that you are our reward, and that you understand our depths even when we can’t express them. And may we see an inkling of what you see in us. We love you.

Testimonies

Learning From The Everyday

One of my favorite words lately has been “life.” I think because I’m starting to see life as an adventure instead of something terrifying and unknown, my heart has begun to soften and open a little more toward whatever comes with life. And that fact makes me smile at random points in the day, because that is huge. Someone who used to be terrified to live. . . now her favorite word is “life.” There is hope for you, friend. Soon you will feel more affection for life, and it will feel even better than you think it will. It feels so, so good. Even when things are hard.

I am a few pages into a new chapter of life. It’s such a drastic new chapter that it feels more like an entirely new book; maybe it’s a new volume of my book? Metaphors aside, I’ve been spending my time thinking about and fondly remembering what’s happened in my story so far. I’ve only written here on this blog purely in Spirit-led moments for the entirety of this year, and a few little things I’ve wanted to write about have piled up in my brain (and on scraps of paper laden around my house). What would you say to a little catching up, right here and now? Let’s do it.

I learned a little about specific prayer, and how personal God’s love for me is. God answers prayer, and we know that, but earlier this year there was a period where I prayed for a few particular things. I prayed for a relationship between two of my friends to be mended. I prayed for a groove I could get into for my homework and assignments so that I wouldn’t be as overwhelmed, because I was unreasonably overwhelmed. I prayed for a friend’s loved one who was in an in-between place concerning faith, that she would seek God and God truly, without any religious baggage attached to Him.

And one by one, I saw these things become reality in the world just as I had asked.

I was told what one friend said to the other in order to mend their relationship, and it was exactly what I’d prayed that person would realize. I felt deep peace and calm when I sat down to work on my assignments, even though they’d become bigger and more terrifying. And my friend told me about a long conversation she and her loved one had about God; in that conversation, her loved one had stated that she wanted to know the truth about who God really is.

“All we can do is pray” is the exact opposite of a weak state. He listens to us, and cares for us in intimate ways.

taken by myselfI learned a little about peace and it’s relationship with His voice. I was one hundred percent ready to step down from my role in a ministry, feeling no guilt or doubt about it– until I was given an opportunity to do what I deeply love, within that ministry. My conviction was a bit cloudy after that, and I didn’t know what to do. “Do I become gloriously free from the thing I don’t want to be part of, or do I stay stuck in it because I get to taste one of my strongest passions?” I was restless and desperately seeking answers. I didn’t know what to choose. All I knew was that He had called me to follow my passion, and that when I was confident in leaving, I had deep peace about it. I had to make a choice. And when I chose to leave–

Instant peace filled my soul.

God is certainly present in my chaos; He is with me and He is working in it for His glorious purposes. But I’ve noticed something: when He speaks, I know. I might be utterly confused about the details, I might not like what He says, I might doubt if He said what I think He did. But I know when He speaks, because I know Him. And His voice never comes in a confusing blur. He brings peace with it. There was a lot of chaos in my brain, but whenever I considered what I knew He’d said in the first place, there was stillness in that. I was calm in my soul when I visualized leaving.

It’s been a few months now, since I left, and let me tell you: He was right. I am so glad I listened to His voice. Find peace in His words, friend.

I learned a little about my identity and what being defensive says about me. A person in my life (who didn’t have the relationship with me to do so) questioned my abilities and my intelligence. I felt wounded, insulted, and angry, and wanted so badly to defend myself against this person. I wanted to let them know just how good I was, how many people had praised me, how much I really did know.

But then the Lord told me, “Those who plan peace have joy” (Prov. 12:20).

I didn’t need to defend myself, because I knew who I was. I knew that I could use my abilities and intelligence without having to prove it to someone else. And I decided to plan peace, ignoring the offense this person gave me, because I had become secure in who I was. No one else’s validation needed.

You are gifted, smart, and worthy. Sometimes people don’t recognize that, but they don’t have to. Don’t let someone else’s inability to see you affect how you live. Don’t feel defensive; just be.

I learned a little about humility. I took a class this semester taught by an absolutely brilliant man, with brilliant classmates, and even brilliant authors writing the books we read. It made me feel not at all brilliant, because it was a challenging class for me. I was discouraged at first. But my professor and the Lord continually reminded me that, no, I’m not an authority–

And I don’t have to be.

Humility isn’t solely an attitude about what you can do; it’s also being completely okay with the fact that there are things you can’t do. Be willing to learn and be open to the wisdom of others, and not only will you gain knowledge about something new, but you will have much more peace about the entire process.

These four lessons were learned a few months ago, but I wanted to tell you about them because I’m still living in the effects of them. Praying specifically, hearing His voice, being at peace with myself and others, and admitting I don’t know a lot of things– these are part of my life every day. And I am so grateful that He never gives me anything meaningless.

What are you living in right now that He could be using to share a heart-change with you?