Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies

On Anxiety, Shame, & Unexpected Self-Care

tea on 5-19I thought I was going to start this month out fresh, with February’s confusion and stress behind me and fresh optimism and motivation in front of me. But when I woke up on March first, I was immediately overwhelmed by panic.

I got out of bed to assess what might be wrong, and started becoming faint. My face and my hands felt numbed. With blurry tunnel vision, I slowly crawled downstairs before my parents left to go to work; I told them what I was experiencing, while struggling to take full breaths. My mom called in late to work and drove me to urgent care.

When we got to the clinic, filling out paperwork was hard with how weak and distant I felt, but I managed to do it. They soon called me back to the exam room. I answered questions about my symptoms the best I could as the doctor checked my breathing and heartbeat. She asked me how long I’d had anxiety.

At the end of the exam, she told me she wanted to have my blood tested just to rule out anything else, but that I was probably having an anxiety attack. I went out to the waiting room, told my mom, and sobbed.

My mom went back with me because I asked her to. When the nurse entered the room, he said in a pleasant voice, “Do you do okay with needles and blood?” I was still crying a little and whispered a teary, “No.” I don’t like needles at any time, but every hesitancy I had about them felt almost intolerable then. The nurse was kind and spoke gently with me, even as I started sobbing again when I had to lie down and let him push up my sleeve. Both he and my mom led me in calming breathing and in trying to shift my focus. I still panicked the whole time, but my blood was successfully taken. At first, the nurse said cheerfully, “That wasn’t too bad, was it?” But he quickly added, “Actually, it was probably hard for you. But you did a good job.” I tried to laugh, but I don’t think I did.

The doctor sent me home a few minutes later. And a few hours later, she called with results of my blood test: everything was fine. It really had been anxiety.

I struggled to accept the fact that any of this happened. I didn’t believe it was okay– didn’t believe going to urgent care for anxiety was a good enough reason. I thought it made me weak, unstable, and immature. Did I think that about anyone else who’d done so? No; just me.

The tears in urgent care had been about how scared I was of needles, that was true. But, mostly… they had been about how ashamed I was to even be there.

I knew my anxiety was a disorder. But I thought that because I worked so consistently hard to walk in truth and courage, anxiety wouldn’t be too much of a factor in my life. Sure, I still had it, but I could live as if it was a small thing.

It is true that I am more powerful than anxiety, and that it doesn’t have to rule me. And after my visit to urgent care, I’m realizing maybe another thing is true: maybe acknowledging and accepting the anxiety isn’t the same as giving it power over me.

In my desire to be completely better and completely rid of it, maybe I’ve ignored caring for myself. Not that I don’t take good care of myself, because I do: exercising daily, drinking lots of water and teas, taking important vitamins, avoiding caffeine, using breathing techniques, making gratitude lists, having creative outlets, talking to my safe people, studying scripture and telling myself the truth, praying without ceasing… the list goes on. I know what to do to manage my anxiety, and I do it diligently.

But when I’ve been consistent in all these things and I still end up having an anxious day, week, or even couple of weeks? That’s where I’ve been getting stuck. Because I’ve blamed myself for it. I blame it on not doing enough, not taking good enough care of myself, not giving my worry to the Lord often enough… even when those things aren’t true.

Last year was hard for me. One night I called a friend, crying and asking if I could just talk. She was a gracious listener, and after I let out what I could, she began speaking into me. There’s one thing she said that has since stowed away in my mind, because it was unique and hadn’t sunk in before: “There is delicate and complicated chemistry in your brain, and it doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to do, but you are not less than anyone else for it.”

It wasn’t my fault.

When it comes to anyone else’s struggles with their mental health, I know it isn’t their fault. But with myself, my low points have felt like failure, like falling short physically, mentally, and spiritually… like defeat. But I’m learning, slowly, that not only is that perspective skewed and untrue, but it helps nothing.

I apologized to everyone I interacted with at the urgent care office that day. I felt like an inconvenience, like I was taking time away from real issues with my inability to handle my own. But when I apologized to the nurse taking my blood after he informed me he’d have to try another vein since I was dehydrated, he looked me in the tear-covered face and immediately told me:

“No, don’t apologize! You came here because you needed help.”

I needed help.

It wasn’t a silly outburst, wasn’t a pointless inconvenience, wasn’t all the things I felt like it was– it was a real anxiety attack. Part of my real disorder. I needed help. And it was okay that I’d asked for it. Actually– it was good and brave that I’d asked for it. I was already crying, but his words made me cry a bit more.

I have generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes my brain reacts to things in ways I know are unreasonable; sometimes my body takes on every little stress to full capacity and makes me feel ill; sometimes I feel completely paralyzed and stuck in one terrible thought pattern or circumstance, and don’t know how I’m going to get out. I still feel shame about these things, and going into any detail about them makes me feel like I’m just being too negative and sensitive, like I’m making excuses. But that’s not true.

Anxiety is not an excuse— it’s a reason.

The things my symptoms tell me are not real, and that is so important and empowering to remember. But my symptoms themselves? They’re real. I truly do experience them. They show up, and not because of any lack of effort— physically, morally, or spiritually– on my part.

Having anxiety symptoms isn’t losing the battle.

Victory isn’t found in not having them at all— it’s found in how I respond to them and live through them.

I won’t let myself think otherwise anymore. I’ve taken care of myself, yes. But it’s time I care for myself, too.

I’m not completely sure what that looks like yet; it’s only been a few weeks since I went to urgent care (and proceeded to experience some painful and confusing life stuff that same day), so I’ve been taking things slow. But maybe that’s part of it. Maybe recognizing that I’m not at full capacity and refusing to beat myself up for not doing more than I have the mental energy to do is okay; maybe it’s even good and brave.

I might not be able to stop anxiety from showing up in my life. But caring for my spirit and not allowing shame to stick around makes those appearances a little less devastating, because I’ve removed an extra enemy– my own critical voice– from the equation.

I kind of feel like I don’t really have a strong conclusion to share right now, but I wanted to talk about this a bit, because it’s hard to do, so not a lot of us do it. And we need to remind each other:

The symptoms of our mental illnesses are not our fault, are not signs of failure, are not pretend little things we should feel guilty about facing or needing help with. And we’re probably doing a much better job than it feels like we’re doing.

Let’s start caring for ourselves, okay?

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Life as a Wind Rider

Hopes I Lived in 2017 {Part One}

I started writing a list of things to look forward to when I was nineteen. I was a year through college, realizing that I didn’t like what my life looked like, and battling the terrible thought that maybe my life wasn’t going to be worth living if it couldn’t hold my hopes and see them through into reality.

But I became determined to keep living, and to believe that God had true life in store for me. Instead of fearing that my hopes would never come to pass, I started writing them down under the title: “Things to Look Forward To.”

A lot has changed since then; a bit hasn’t. But hopes keep existing in me. And I keep doing my best to give audience to them rather than to my fears. And the list? It’s grown to be over three hundred items long, and I got to live ninety-two of those items this year alone.

Dreams are for life. For my life and yours.

We get to keep living. We get to see that God really does give good gifts, even when we don’t yet understand how they’ll arrive.

I do these intakes yearly as a reminder for myself, and for you if you need it. Without further ado: here is the first half of the hopes I got to live this year.

Developing photos and scrapbooking them | Filling more journalsDSC00457

I’m notoriously bad at printing out my photos (in other words: I’ve had the same camera for nine years and haven’t developed anything, ever). But this year I took up a more creative approach to my daily journal and started recording the highlights/main events of every month, and it felt natural to add photos to those pages. Now I just print out a few favorites at the end of the month and stick them in as a more relaxed scrapbook; it works well for me, since my journal already hosts everything else.

Watching fireworks

My family lives on a lake and we get to watch the fireworks show every Fourth of July from our backyard barbeque. My grandma was with us this year, so that was extra special.

Reading more books | Reading more fairytales | Becoming a good bookworm again

I used to think that I was a slow reader– then I started reading books I actually enjoyed. Giving myself permission to stop reading books I wasn’t getting anything from was a great decision and allowed me to read some fantastic stories this year. Goodreads kept track of them all for me if you’re interested in seeing more of my thoughts on them; the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness and Eve by Wm. Paul Young were powerful favorites.

Writing lyrics again | Learning an instrument | Putting my lyrics to music | Feeling more skilled in things I currently feel like an amateur inrandom piano

Music is the thing for me, even if I don’t always act like it; I think knowing how important a role it plays for me has made it feel almost too pure to pursue, if that makes sense. I’m really going to work on pushing through that hesitancy in 2018. However, I’m not going to let what I haven’t done keep me from being in awe of what I have done. Watching clips I’ve taken of my piano practice from early in the year and comparing them to what I can do now gives me a rush of happiness. I started to add very simple piano backing to some of my lyrics, too; I can’t wait for my skill in that to grow. I know I’ll get there. It’s the thing for me.

Going to more concerts | Seeing Colony House | Owning more band merchandiseDSC09748

I got to my see my absolute favorite band this year, and it’s hard to explain how that feels; when they started playing the first song, a sound came out of me that was half laughter and half sobbing. If you ever get a chance to see Colony House (or whoever your favorite artist might be), do it. Huge thank you to my mom for making the trip with me and to Karen for letting us stay with her while we were in town.

I also got to see Switchfoot, Relient K, Andy Mineo, MercyMe, Jordan Feliz, and Matthew West this year. Mostly old favorites, which was unplanned but nice.

Seeing meaningful new movies | Seeing my favorite actors in great new movies | Seeing new Marvel moviesspiderman with rachel

My interest in film has grown quite a bit and I’ve stretched myself in terms of the kinds of movies I see, which has been overall very rewarding! I finally watched Interstellar (so good, wow!), Arrival (surprising; I might need to rewatch it), The Sixth Sense (fantastic), and Guardians of The Galaxy (I felt like a fake Marvel fan for waiting this long to see it), among other films I’d somehow avoided. As far as new ones go…

La La Land was wonderful and so was my beloved Emma Stone; Hidden Figures was delightful, inspiring, and important; Hacksaw Ridge was one of the most powerful films I’ve watched in my lifetime and made me so proud of Andrew Garfield; War for The Planet of The Apes was incredible (as is the whole trilogy) and Andy Serkis is a powerhouse of an actor; Doctor Strange was such an awesome, interesting piece of the Marvel universe; Wonder Woman was cool, and reminded me that femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive but rather are intertwined; the fifth installment of Pirates of The Caribbean was engaging and introduced me to the wonderful Brenton Thwaites; Collateral Beauty wrecked me; Thor: Ragnarok was super fun; and, yes– Spider-Man: Homecoming made me so ridiculously giddy (I saw it in the theater more than once, which is not something I ever do) and Tom Holland is one of my favorite people.

Watching movies with dear friends | Receiving a bouquet of flowers | Having flowers in the houseflowers from brandon and meigan

Meigan, Brandon, and Josh came over to watch a movie over the summer and brought flowers for me; my friends are the best and love me so well. Josh and Rachel have come over for movies a few other times, too, and Sierra and I spent a lovely evening together watching La La Land for the first time.

Getting better at painting | Learning new ways to make things | Making art that gets me excited when I finish it | Spending more time in my sketchbookrandom art

Discovering through practice is one of my favorite ways to grow. I really enjoy creating without pressure, and having a random sketchbook that I’m not afraid to mess up in or throw random scraps into has helped me do that a bit more.

Going to more baby showers

My sweet friend Kayla is having her second little boy soon and I loved being able to celebrate and anticipate with her.

Going on a road trip | Seeing a real castle | Taking walks in new places | Sitting by the lake in the summer | Dangling my feet over a dock for a calm while | Staying in hotelsBeFunky Collage

This summer I got to visit Port Townsend, Washington with my family. Such a fun trip, featuring my first ferry ride, walks in town and inside the Manresa castle, game nights with cry-laughs, a giant stairway leading to nowhere, street cats, chats on the docks, and a lot of beautiful things to see.

Hiking a calm little forest trailhiking with mom

My mom and I went to a local butte she’d never hiked before. A lovely summer morning.

Visiting the coast againfamily trail walk

My grandma lives on the coast right now so I got to see it a few times with her, including Easter weekend when we stayed with her. We often walk a particular trail and I feel a strange partial ownership of it now.

Getting letters from people I love | Writing letters | Getting packages in the mail

My dear sweet Katie still sends me letters, no matter where she is. I love having that correspondence with her and knowing we’re still touching the same things even when we’re on opposite sides of the country. She even sent me a Christmas package!

Discovering more musicians I’ll cherish forever | Unexpectedly hearing songs that bring me to the most beautiful place of nostalgiawith only the lonely

So many wonderful musicians out there creating such meaningful things. I’ve been compiling a playlist all year long, and ended up listening to it probably almost daily. Notable new finds for me this year were Kina Grannis, Phangs, Ed Sheeran (definitely not new, but new to me), John Mayer (ditto), Knox Hamilton, Isla Roe, Francis and The Lights, LANY, and Post Animal. Plus, old favorites like Colony House, Pen Pals, Good Old War, Nick Voelker, and Andrew Belle released new work!

Exploring art galleries | Seeing my best friend again and going on a random adventure with her | Drinking bubble teabirthday museum visit with Sierra

Sierra gifted me one of the best afternoons of the year for my birthday. She took me to the art museum on her university campus, taught me about the Barberini tapestries we saw there, led me on an autumn walk, bought me bubble tea, and was the listening ear I needed. Such a good time.

Being reunited with college family | Wearing more pretty dresses | Wearing red lipstick | Taking adorable and/or dorky photos in a photo booth with loved onessenior banquet all 3

Some of my best friends were seniors in college this year, and Meigan invited me to her senior banquet. Brandon was nice enough to share his date with me (haha) and I had a lovely time with them and the other friends I got to catch up with there.

Also, I’d never worn red lipstick before this year and I think it’s so fun!

Flying in a plane | Traveling to places different from where I liveDSC01408

I definitely did not expect to embark on my first ever flight this year, but my Aunt Cheri invited my grandma and I to visit her this summer, so we did! I can’t tell you how many times I googled “can I pack _______ in a carry on” before we left. I was nervous, but it ended up being relatively painless. And being up in the sky… insane. The world is so big and I forget that sometimes; it’s such a comfort.

My aunt lives in a city unlike the ones I’m used to, and I was grateful she took us exploring during our stay. But I have to say: our backyard meals and movie marathons and laughs were just as fun as the “bigger” adventures.

Having painting parties | Having craft days with friends | Painting/carving pumpkinsDSC02225

Meigan, Ariel, and Rachel came over near my birthday to paint mini pumpkins with me. I so enjoyed the company and seeing everyone’s unique brand of creativity.


Next week I will share the second half of the hopes I lived in 2017. If you want to read or use my “looking forward to” lists, you can find them here, here, and here. I encourage you to write your own if you think there’s any possibility it might bring some hope into your life.

Your dreams? They’re made for you to touch.

Take heart, and enter the next year with hope.

Testimonies

On Discerning, Suffering, & Trusting Myself to Know

outside breakfast 1Hi.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

This has been a strange, raw year for me, almost as if I’ve been in open heart surgery this whole time. It’s honestly still that way nearly every day. I know that someday I’ll probably tell you every little detail, but not today; the surgery still isn’t over. And recovery takes time, too. I’m beginning to accept that healing is a process, instead of attempting to push it to go faster. Hurt doesn’t usually go away by any force except for the force that time is. But it does go away. I’m beginning to learn that, too.

There is something I’d like to talk about right now, though. I haven’t written (to you, at least) in months, so I hope we’ve still got our cozy atmosphere for conversation and that I’ll still be able to articulate my insides decently on the outside. I want to share it now because it is what’s getting me through this tumultuous year, and, if no one else, I need to have it written down so I can go back to it and tell myself the truth.

Where should I start? Well…

This summer, I was facing a difficult decision. Actually, it wasn’t that difficult; I knew I wanted to say no, and I knew that the path He’d pointed me down years ago wasn’t down the route a “yes” would take me.

But… I struggled to trust myself to know those things for sure anymore.

Because a few months prior, the enemy broke into the lovely home Jesus and I had been building, and he tried to take it from me by attempting to imitate Jesus, treating me in ways I deeply hoped Jesus wouldn’t treat me and saying things I just couldn’t imagine Jesus saying.

Jesus had been shattering the false images I had of Him and replacing them with truth, so I wanted to be open to Him, because in this process I had been learning He was more loving and more kind and more passionate and more absolutely irresistibly good than I ever knew He could be. I didn’t know I could be this in love (with anyone, let alone Him), or that He would be this deeply in love with me. It was the richest I’d ever felt.

So when the enemy tried to deceive me, it nearly worked. Because I was so (beautifully) vulnerable and trusting, that even when I knew in my core this couldn’t be right, I didn’t want to hold the one I loved to a false image I might have of Him if He was trying to shatter it.

It took the persistent presence and affirmations of the people close to me to keep me grounded, to shake me out of the paralysis, and to get me to understand that the haunting, deeply unsettling image couldn’t be Jesus. But damage to my sense of trust had already been done. Because it had taken me so long to rest on the truth of who it was that had spoken… and because my (courageously) open heart had been so open that I almost let the enemy trick me into believing a terrible lie, about Jesus and about myself.

Ever since then, I have struggled to be open to trust anyone, even myself, to tell me the truth. I trust Jesus, with all that I am. But most of the time, I don’t trust myself to discern what He’s saying to me. And I can’t explain how terrifying that is. I’ve tried, so many times; I attempted seeing a counselor about it for a while, and I still haven’t found the words to express how helpless and rotten this has made me feel. No words feel sufficient.

So over the summer, when I faced a decision I thought deserved a no but was afraid should be a yes, I didn’t know what to do. I’d still been speaking to Him, even when I didn’t understand His end of the conversation, so I told Him about it. About how scared I was. About how I’d do anything He wanted me to do, and how I so hoped He didn’t want me to do this. About how confused I was and how lost I felt.

A few days later, I read the story of when He faced the enemy’s lying, imitating voice Himself.

Before Jesus began traveling with the disciples, He spent forty days alone in the wilderness– isolated, exposed, and without resources. He faced consistent temptation every one of those days, and He had no food during them. By day forty, He was weary and starving. The enemy saw that vulnerability, and said to Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

Jesus could have done it. Jesus probably wanted to do it. And most interesting of all: the act itself, of turning a stone to bread so He could nourish His starving body? It wasn’t an inherently bad, sinful thing to do. It even made sense.

But Jesus didn’t do it.

Why?

Because He knew who was telling Him to do it.

The voice telling Him to do it was telling Him to prove Himself– “If you are the Son of God,” it had said. And Jesus knew He had to do no such thing. He knew who He was already. And He knew His Father wouldn’t make Him question that or ask Him to prove it. Jesus knew that in His Father He had security and safety. So when the voice speaking to Him didn’t display those truths, He knew to reject it.

The enemy presented many more temptations to Jesus during that time, but the last one was unique. He brought Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, and told Him:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”

The “if” statement was there again, but there was something more complicated in play, too: the enemy had quoted scripture.

It is wildly unsettling to know that the enemy can use scripture, but I’ve witnessed it so many times, in my culture and my church experience and my own mind. I struggle so much to trust anyone’s interpretation of scripture, my own included, because deception isn’t exempt even there. But Jesus experienced this, too. And He knew how to face it head on. The enemy used scripture, yes–

But he didn’t use love.

Because he doesn’t have any. That is his dead giveaway:

God is Love.

Love is the defining context of all of scripture, because love is God’s character. If it isn’t love, God doesn’t do it and He doesn’t ask us to do it. When the enemy told Jesus to jump off a building as a sign of faith, Jesus knew that His Father who loved Him would not do that to Him or ask that of Him.

He also knew scripture; that while it did host the words the enemy said, it hosted other words, too. He knew scripture required context to be properly understood. And He knew the words Love had for Him were not the ones that had been spoken; instead, the correct words were: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” So He spoke those words back to the voice, the enemy’s voice. Eventually, the enemy saw his efforts weren’t working, and he left.

Jesus knew His Father. He knew He was well-loved by His Father. And that was the pillar of truth for Him, who is Truth. That was what kept Him firm.

It is still so hard for me to trust that I’m walking in the truth. But I stick by Him. I study scripture intently, to see what love looks like manifested through Him. And though I admit I approach the Bible and His presence with a measure of fear every day, what I find there is not crushing– it is life-breathing. It is Him. It is love. I see that love is patient and kind, doesn’t insist on its own way. And that greatest love does not push us down– it lays down everything for us. Like He has always done.

I’d had it wrong. I knew that love leads us to suffer for the other person, but I didn’t understand what that meant. I wasn’t even aware that I thought this… but I thought that Jesus wanted me to love Him by suffering. I thought He was telling me to suffer and that it would prove I loved Him.

He was not. He would not.

Jesus knew it when He refused to jump from the temple roof, and I am finally learning it for myself.

Love does lead us to suffer for the other person. Love does not lead us to tell the other person to suffer.

That is not love, that is manipulation and cruelty and fear. When anyone else acts that way, it’s usually obvious to us that they aren’t being loving. Why do we automatically assume God, who is Love, might be the cruel and controlling exception?

Why do we continue to think that God, who is Love, would be less loving than we are?

Jesus laid Himself down to suffer for those He loved. He told us to follow Him in doing the same for others. He did not tell us that in order to love Him, we must suffer. Instead, He told us that when we love Him, suffering will come and He will be with us in it. He is not the source of the suffering; He is not behind it, He does not bring it on, and He does not want it for us. He faces the inevitable suffering with us, even after He suffered for us. That’s what love does.

Love doesn’t hurt others– it hurts for and with others.

Love lays itself down– it doesn’t push others down.

That’s what I hold to. That’s the heart I seek behind every voice. And if that heart isn’t there, I reject the voice and I wait for His. For the truth. I sit with Him, let Him wrap me up wordlessly, nestle in close.

Because, while I still struggle to be sure of His voice… I can always be sure of His presence. His overwhelmingly soft and kind presence.

He keeps my feet on solid ground, even as He lifts me up off my toes.

He’s love.

Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

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.

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

Poetry · Practical · Responses

On Refugees: A Poem & A Few Ways to Help

dsc08915I could have been you.
I could have entered the world at war,
Could have seen horrors that echo,
Could have known nothing but danger and the desperation for escape.
But, somehow, I’m me.
I’m not where you are,
Don’t understand suffering the way you do,
Don’t know what it’s like to be hated in my core.

I could have been you.
But, somehow, I’m me.
So I choose to be your sister,
And fight so you’ll have a seat.
Your heart is safe with me.

I ache for my refugee brothers and sisters. But I also burn liquid hot with a growing passion to help them in every possible way I can. Here are some of the ways I have found, and encourage you to engage in as well:

Share the facts. Don’t let the voice of fear be the only one speaking. Be a voice of truth and of love. Share that the screening process for refugee entry into the US is already intensive, more rigorous than that of any other form of immigration. Share that the odds of being killed by a refugee-disguised terrorist in the US are 1 in 3.64 billion per year; you are more likely to be struck by lightning– while drowning. Share that “compassion and security are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing.” Share that the overwhelming majority of terrorism in the US has not come from foreigners. Share that “in cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.” Share that banning any human being from anything solely based on their religion or nationally is discrimination and an attack on religious freedom, period. Share that ignoring the helpless is ignoring Jesus, and He will not tolerate it. Fear is a liar. Love tells the truth. Let love win in you.

Contact your officials. It is actually wildly easy to reach your government officials and let them know you want action on an issue. This form lets you email the president, your representative, and your senators all at once and helps you figure out what to say. You also have the option to see their phone numbers and call them with your concerns. The greater the volume of voices speaking the same thing, the more likely they are to take notice. Do not relent.

Support those working on the front lines. There are a few main organizations my friends who work in humanitarian efforts have recommended to me:

  1. Preemptive Love Coalition. They are based in the countries facing ISIS right now, providing real-time relief and aid to the people there. You can also directly donate to the work they’re doing specifically in Aleppo. They do things right; their mission and their methods are simply holy.
  2. World Relief. From their website: “Through partnerships with local partners and churches, World Relief is providing help, temporary shelters, hygiene items, and psychosocial counseling to displaced refugee families, as well as sponsoring child-friendly spaces for mothers and children. In addition, World Relief has been empowering local churches to resettle refugees in the United States for more than 35 years.” Explore their website to find the specific way you feel led to help.
  3. My friend, Delaney. She works with refugees and is currently getting ready for a trip to Germany to meet physical and spiritual needs of the refugees in the camps in Berlin, specifically the unaccompanied children. This woman shines bright, and supporting her work is something you can be proud of.
  4. I am also adding the ACLU, the group that brought this weekend’s executive order to court and put it on hold just one day after it had been signed. They appear before the Supreme Court more than any other organization besides the Department of Justice, giving voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one. A different kind of refugee aid, but still important, especially given our current circumstances. The immigration ban is still being enforced despite the court ruling; we still have much work to do.

Be an advocate. You can sign petitions of solidarity, but you can also simply speak kindly of every race and religion, no matter what the people around you are saying. Align yourself with the marginalized; if someone wants to oppress refugees and/or Muslims, let them know they’ll have to face you first, not in an angry stance but in a poised, firm one. I am learning that we can be angered for righteous reasons, but our anger itself is not the righteous thing. Feel the anger– then let it go, instead of feeding it. Let the passion it awakened in you lead you forward, in love and in peace. We don’t fight fire with fire; we don’t fight fear with fear; we don’t fight hatred with hatred.

Keep creating. This one may not sound important, but it’s a way of pushing back darkness with light. I’ve talked about this before, about how putting our deepest loves into action in the world is how we kill the fear. Keep doing that. I don’t know what your passions are, but live them. We need that from you. We need what you have to give, whatever form that takes.

Pray. Genuinely, this is not a cliché or a cop-out. Your prayers reach the Father. And when you pray for refugees, you are praying straight into His own heart, because He is near to the broken, He takes up the cause of the oppressed, He avenges His children. Pray. It is not a fruitless thing. It is fuel for everything else you are doing. God is working, today. And He will not stop until every single one of His children is safe with Him.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

-Matthew 25:31-46