Blossoms of an Artist

I Started an Etsy Shop!

art drawerThe idea to sell my artwork and some of my other creative projects through Etsy has been in my head for over a year. But I immediately faced discouragement when I first began vocalizing it, so I mostly shoved the thought away.

In November, however, I was given an opportunity that I so wanted to take hold of. It was going to cost more money than I had (or would have any time in the near future), but I had such a desire for it that I was ready to start taking the idea of an Etsy shop seriously and see if I could raise funds that way. I began to research, ask friends who had experience, and work on what I was going to be selling.

But because my situation is unique (living with my family and working on creative pursuits from home, with no income to speak of), I faced a lot of setbacks during the process. Starting a business was intimidating. Okay: it was terrifying. I was determined to push through the fear, but running into roadblock after roadblock was becoming more spirit-crushing with every instance. And when the opportunity that had spurred me to start working on this in the first place fell through… I just kind of left everything alone. I didn’t intend to give up. But I did give up.

When I had been working to build the business and began facing discouragement, the Lord had been so clearly and openly supportive of me. He pointed me to the story of the Eiffel Tower; when it was being built, the art community in Paris was circulating a petition to stop the work, claiming it would be an ugly mark on a beautiful area in the city. The builders continued anyway, and created a piece of artwork so widely loved that it has become an icon. He told me this story, and encouraged me to keep building. I wanted to listen. For a while, I did. But eventually I let the discouragement get to me.

Lately I have been revisiting some of our conversations from that season, and seeing what He said and didn’t say… and what I did and didn’t do. Etsy was something He said was good. And something I have ignored. I don’t want that to be the case anymore.

Last week– I opened my Etsy shop. Tessa Maye Makes Things is alive.

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I know I will face challenges. But I will face them, as they come, instead of letting them cripple me or keep me from something that could be good. I am nervous. But when I put the final piece of information in and saw my shop go live for the first time? I took a deep breath. I felt relieved, and I felt hopeful. I’m not going to ignore that.

If you want to check out my artwork/projects, feel free to visit the shop! I am brainstorming more ideas for it already. But, if nothing else, I want to urge you: that thing that still invades your mind sometimes? That He placed a desire for in you? That maybe He’s even told you He’d support you in?

Keep building.

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Recovery · Responses · Testimonies

The Fuel of Temptation: On Shame & Grace

DSC05087I haven’t had to carry shame like what I’ve carried this week in such a long time. It’s been so loud.

This time last week, I had just told the world about my struggle to fully remove pornography’s influence from my life. Many were kind and life-speaking in response, and I’m so grateful for that; some had a harder time. I love them all, and this is still true: I heard once that if a person makes you feel fear or shame, it’s because that’s what they’re carrying. I think I believe that. And some accidentally passed shame and fear on to me when they said what they did.

When I stumbled and looked at porn three weeks ago, I was broken over it. Then I went to my Father, He held me close, and we started moving forward again. I was doing okay; I was focusing on things that were good and healthy for me and He was doing work in me. But after hurt-filled conversation about the fact I even had to recover from this… I started feeling afraid.

I felt so close to stumbling again, constantly on the edge, even though I had no desire for it. I began standing stagnant where I’d left off; shame was crippling my ability to move on, but more than that– the fear of stumbling was pushing me closer to actually stumbling. When I let fear and shame live in me again, they told me I was weak and dirty. It led me to believe I was likely to continue stumbling, because it was part of who I was; I was too weak and dirty to be different. I was incapable of doing better, they said.

Fear and shame never tell the truth. They were (…are) lying to me. The truth’s words are so much different.

Truth says that God loves to enter weakness; He has even been known to refuse the removal of weakness so that He can show His power through it. Truth says that God has led us to put on our new selves, and that He renews us consistently. Truth says that fear cannot live inside perfect love. Truth says that my judgement day has been moved from the future to the past because Jesus stood in my place and declared me holy and clean. This is the gospel. Anyone who believes shame has any place in me doesn’t know that shame cannot live in God’s house– or that I am that house.

At church this morning, I was in the worship service, and began remembering what worship services used to be like for me. I remembered how scared I used to be that I wasn’t meeting the standards God expected of me or that I was still far from Him whom I loved. And I realized that I used to struggle so much more frequently and intensely when shame and fear were part of my daily baggage. When I believed I was filthy and unworthy even after repentance, I stumbled much more often; I despised myself even more often than I stumbled. Shame was the fuel for my temptation. Just like what I experienced again this week.

When my focus shifted and I began to believe in and abide in God’s love for me, I stumbled remarkably less. I felt more full of life. And when I stopped believing God could be more proud of me and in love with me than He already was, I didn’t have to fear anything anymore. Nothing could touch who I was. God declares no shame for me, so none exists for me; He is God and He establishes what is true.

My mission was no longer removing my sin so He could love me; it was resting in His love so He could remove my sin. I’d had it backwards. I feared my sin, when I could have told my sin to fear what was being done in me.

The focus has to be grace. Anything that gives a “but” to grace doesn’t know what grace fundamentally is. Grace doesn’t follow any rules; it follows love. And love is what God is made of.

I am done with the false, finger-wagging, works-based god that was handed to me. Give me Jesus. Give me the healer and redeemer and lover of humanity, who doesn’t say “get out of that place” but “I will take your place.”

Yes, God wants the best for me; yes, my life should be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel; yes, I need to put in my best effort to overcome my struggles. But what I do is secondary to what He does. What I do cannot and will not save me. Christ and only Christ stops the flesh. It is all grace. All of it. We are not saying effort has no value. We are saying grace is of infinite value. Grace must be the focus. It must. Where you place your focus is what you walk toward.

When my focus is that He loves me and has my best in store, I am no longer afraid; instead, I rest. And He works in me, and when He asks me to do something I do it. But I no longer try to do everything. Because He tells me I don’t have to. I just listen and obey. And because of that, I no longer face anxiety but intimacy.

This week, I am going to my Father. I am going to submit to His work in me, for that is my work. And instead of drowning in the shame and fear others might try to place in my hands, I’m going to swim in the grace He’s given me to carry in it’s place.

“Grace is God’s best idea. Rather than tell us to change, He creates the change.”  -Max Lucado

 

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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Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

Free to Struggle

My research paper this semester has stolen my life in the best way. I hope that after it’s done, you’ll be able to see it somehow– here, elsewhere online, maybe even in a published form! Until I know for sure I’ll just keep the specifics under wraps, because it is that special to me. I am putting my entire heart into this project.

I discovered something while I was researching that is deeply changing my life. My project is very much about human hearts more than anything, and as I researched I didn’t just look in books and in databases; I spoke to people and observed situations wherever I happened to be. The more I found, the more it all pointed to one main conclusion that touched my paper but also went way beyond the scope of it. Jesus was being so loud, and the more He said, the more I realized how real His words were, how much truth He was speaking. I began sharing these truths in my school’s little prayer meetings and in my small group, and when they reacted with almost amazed comfort like I did, I knew Jesus wanted these things to be known. That is why I’m writing this today. I think it’s one of the most important things you’ll hear… possibly ever. Ready?

It is one hundred percent okay for you to struggle.

I can’t speak for you about many things, but I know I can say this about you and have it be absolutely true: you struggle with something. And if you’re like me, you hate it, and most days you might be able to shove it to the back of your mind, yet it still hurts you in the deepest place because no matter how hard you try, how fervently you repent– YOU STILL SIN.

My dear friend, all of us fall short, and all of us are ashamed of it. But hear this: Jesus NEVER asked you to be perfect. He came to die because He knew you couldn’t be perfect but He still loved you and wanted to be with you. You are magnificent, treasured, priceless, and Jesus chose you, before repentance ever crossed your mind. What makes us think He doesn’t love us now that we’ve repented and still sometimes fail? He loved us before, and He loves us now. That will not change.

And your struggle? That thing that still has you in chains sometimes? That you’ve never been able to completely rid yourself of? That makes you cry every time you fall back into it, because you just weren’t strong enough? Jesus does not even think of that when He sees you. He did not come to make you perfect! He came to fulfill the perfection He knew you couldn’t reach, so He could be with you and you could live a beautiful life. Growth is real, but perfection is not, at least not in human beings. If you still struggle, that means you are a human being; it does NOT mean you are a failure or that your love for Jesus isn’t real and deep.

I’m not saying that Jesus hasn’t freed you from sin. He definitely has. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24). But addictions are almost never cured in a single moment, let alone struggles we’ve lived in for years. You are completely allowed to make mistakes as you grow. We have two natures, and they truly are in war against each other. We must remember that a few battles won does not equal a war won. Jesus has made us warriors, but more than that– conquerors!

We still must passionately seek to live in righteousness and purity; I am not at all saying that because Jesus loves us unconditionally we can live in our sin without caring. But I think we forget what Jesus actually asked of us: love Him with every piece of us, and love others. These two things are like water and sunlight for a righteous and pure life. Seeking righteousness and purity for the sake of having them is noble, but it won’t get us far. Only through Jesus will we grow, because He is the source of all that is good.

You have permission to struggle. You have permission to passionately love Jesus, knowing that’s all you need to do. And you have permission to talk about yourself in the present tense, not, “I used to ____” or “I’ve been having a hard time, but God is sovereign.” Yes, He is, but that doesn’t mean things don’t suck for you right now. Be honest!  If you are struggling, don’t be ashamed to say so to people you trust, because they’re struggling, too. We all are. I think one of the greatest mistakes we make in church is trying to offer solutions instead of comfort and community; it makes it seem like if you aren’t doing well, you’re an oddity, and that is just not true.

I shared my testimony with my small group recently. I’ve shared my testimony multiple times in multiple situations, but this was the first time I didn’t give it a conclusion. Instead of ending at the day I began living with Jesus, I shared where I was right in that moment. I shared that things were not perfect, and that since Jesus and I have been walking together I’ve had some incredibly painful times– times of weakness and of heartache. I also shared that I love Him more than I ever have, and that I see Him in my life every day. We don’t need conclusions, because our stories aren’t over yet! What matters is Him. Don’t give your sin more credit than it deserves; seek to be pure, but do it out of love for Jesus. Do it because you want to please Him, and remember that you please Him as you are RIGHT NOW. You might fail– but His love will not.

“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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