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

Misc. · The Basics

On Identity & Never Fitting Quite Right

DSC04999I am both and I am neither.

If there’s an extreme to reach, I can’t. If there’s a side to pick, I can’t. If there’s an ultimatum to meet, I can’t. I’ve looked into both; God has met me in both. I just cannot make myself believe that He only lives in one aspect of everything. I believe He is bigger than I have room to understand.

I was raised around conservative Christians. I grew up and found myself relating to liberal spirituality in some ways, too. I still don’t fit comfortably in any camp. The Bible is my firm foundation and I follow Jesus in relationship, so the latter believe I am religious and closed-minded; I talk about spiritual life on a grand scale and I practice tolerance, so the former believe I am loose and heretical. I don’t fit. I don’t think I am any of the things they think I am; I hope I’m not. I hope you don’t think I am, either. I think I’m just a person just trying to figure things out the best I can. We all are, aren’t we?

It scares me sometimes. Because when you realize no human being has it fully figured out, you don’t quite know who you can go to with your questions anymore. I can talk to someone about something and have such a deep connection with them– then we’ll take the conversation a step further. And we’ll reach a place where the connection ends, where we don’t see things the same way anymore. And I’ll feel alone again.

I realize I will ever fit into any of the categories offered to me.

I’m reading 1 Corinthians. Paul is speaking to the church there, and he mentions that the Jews were demanding signs while the Greeks were seeking wisdom. Two groups wanted two different things to answer their questions, to supply what they felt they needed. Paul then says:

“Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In Jesus, both groups were met. Because of Jesus, they were no longer two groups, because everything each person was seeking was found in Him.

He was the deciding factor of their identity. Of their unity.

When we base our identity on what others say, on groups we can belong to, on categories to sort ourselves into– we are basing our identity on something other than Christ. And when we do that, division enters in as a natural result.

In the same chapter, Paul brings up how the church is experiencing conflict because different people in it claim to follow different apostles. His response is simple:

“Is Christ divided?”

When we follow teachings and ideologies, it’s easy to be divided, because there are so many options to choose from. But when we follow Jesus? There’s only His person. And we can shape ideas to serve us, but we cannot mold a person to fit us. When we follow someone, we serve them. We learn from them. We learn the truth about them because we are with them and we seek to know them.

I’m not choosing an extreme. I’m not picking a side. I’m not selecting a category I might fit into. I can’t.

I’m seeking Jesus. Because He is the answer I’m looking for. Always.

And… I’m loving you. Whatever you might have chosen to identify with. Because the answers you want are in Him, too. It binds us together as family.

And everyone has a place in this family.


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.

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies

On Being Angry With God

taken by myself, of my brotherI am a few days into a new brand new season of life. I’ve been calling it the open seas, because I’ve let go of nearly everything at His prompting. And yes– it’s terrifying. I accidentally broke into tears at dinner the other night. But I am fully aware that the open seas do not just mean the unknown: they also mean that I could go absolutely anywhere and do anything. That’s overwhelmingly exciting, even as it hurts.

I knew a long time ago that this season was coming. But about a month ago, I realized just how little time I had left before I would have to leave a lot of the things I loved. And I didn’t react the way I expected or hoped to–

I was furious with God.

I had been okay with leaving a place in order to go where He wanted me; with leaving the expectations I felt placed on me in order to live in my design; with leaving my plans in order to submit to His. But when it hit me that I would have to leave a community of people that had become my family? I was fuming. I was furious that He would give me such an invaluable gift, a home, only to ask me to give it up so soon. “You can have my entire life, Lord.” I said in my heart.

“But you cannot touch my friends. Don’t you dare take them from me.”

Upon realizing that this was where my heart truly was, I immediately set out to engage in daily surrender of my entire heart and life, including my love for my friends-turned-family. I knew I needed to stop being angry with Him, because I knew He was doing all of this for my good, out of His love for me. I had to trust Him. I could not be angry.

Weeks passed. I had been reading the psalms. For many days, they had been pleading and bitter in nature, and I didn’t know what to do with them. I never really have, I guess, because I knew it was wrong to be angry at God; I never felt like I was able to relate to angry psalms. But when I read Psalm 80, after days of angry psalms, I hesitantly looked up from the book and whispered, “… am I still mad at you, Lord?”

And realized that I was. I really, really was.

My friends attribute the phrase “don’t bottle” to me because I so firmly believe that we need to be transparent and honest about what we think and feel; we need to live in it, and that will lead us into dealing with it in a healthy way. I champion this constantly. But wow do I feel like a hypocrite sometimes, because as much as I try to be honest about where I am, often I find that I’m still bottling because I want to be able to say, “I can handle it. I’m fine, really. I’ve got this. I trust Him.”

Naturally, then, when I found my bottled anger I was deeply disappointed in myself. “You can’t be angry with Him, Tessa. It’s wrong! You have to trust Him. Why can’t you trust that He is doing this for you, for your good?” I’d tried to be positive, but in the process I was stuffing away what I truly thought and felt, and it was hurting me; it was making us distant, because I wasn’t being honest with Him. I had been angry with Him for weeks (or longer) and didn’t know how to fix it, so I actually went to Him and asked Him to help me, to give me wisdom. He was faithful and did indeed come to help me. But He didn’t give me a tool or a principle I could apply, and He didn’t tell me what to do. Instead, He just asked me a question:

“Is it possible to be angry with someone you completely love and trust?”

I could almost hear my heart shatter open.

It is not wrong to be angry with God. Let me say it again: it is not wrong to be angry with God. He understands. He knows that sometimes we won’t understand what He’s doing at first, and that it will hurt us for a while. But this is the kind of hurt that brings even deeper healing, so He allows it. And yes, it’s hurt; it’s real and ugly and painful and sometimes leads you to burst out sobbing. I feel that. I still feel that. Today, I feel it.

And it’s okay.

Because I know He loves me. And I love Him, even though He’s made me angry. He understands. We’re still talking, still walking together, and I’m still following Him. I still have complete faith in Him. Because my love is so much deeper than my anger.

Anger is not the opposite of trust; they can live together. I never understood this before, and it caused me to bottle because I felt like my anger meant I didn’t love Him well enough. But I love Him so much, enough to follow Him down this path only He can see. The anger will fade.

But the love never has.


Inescapable Lessons from Generation Unleashed 2015

Wow, life is strange. I feel so much right now, and it seems like none of it should go together harmoniously, but it does. The Lord is writing music in my life; teaching me how to write my own again, maybe. I used to think that I’d been neglecting songwriting, but when I was talking with a dear friend last week and she asked me about it, I realized my daily poetry has rhythm most of the time. Music has been coming out of me still. We can’t ignore our design, friends. No matter how much it scares us to release.

He’s been teaching me that in so many ways, not just in that conversation with my friend. I took my sixth trip to Generation Unleashed this year. It was my last trip as a staff member for this youth group, so I tried to be open to every element of it that could become special and lasting. And there were so many beautiful little moments that I treasure closely in my heart; so many significant and simply sweet words were shared, both by the speakers and within our group.

taken Januray 28, 2014Judah Smith was the speaker the night I fully believed in God’s love for me at fifteen years old, so getting to hear him speak again felt very full-circle. This year he spoke of soul-homes. Just like our physical state needs a home, our soul needs that place of rest and comfort, too. He explained that God gave us His own breath (Gen. 2:7), and that when we bless Him with that breath, our soul goes home. In that home, we simply get to be with Him, to listen to Him. And going to that soul-home to be with Him is what matters. We have to let our souls go home every day; we have to praise Him with the breath He is letting us borrow in order to do that. The Lord and I have been talking about home for a few months now, and this message was a very clear one from Him that above all else, my home will always be with Him in our soul-connection. I have that home with Him. You do, too. Go there. That’s what matters in this life, friend.

Dylan Jones spoke of carrying burdens. He used the story of David fighting Goliath, particularly when Saul has David try on his armor and David removes it all, saying, “I am not used to it” (1 Samuel 17:31-40). He shared that David was not used to relying on his own strength to fight battles, and that often we carry weights we were never meant to because we hope they will help us. The key to endurance and to victory is laying down those things. Sometimes there isn’t something wrong with me; sometimes, I’m carrying something I’m not supposed to. It could be sin, which He is ready to take from me (1 John 1:9), but other things can be weights, too. I don’t need to pick up those deeds or duties, even if they are admirable. I just need to pick up the foundational things– unconditional love, faith, grace. Dear friend, we were never designed to carry weight of any kind. His burden is light, and He is offering to trade with us. Let go.

Dylan also spoke at one of the additional sessions I attended, and I’ll just share some notes that were important to me:

Jesus doesn’t start something He’s unwilling to finish.

Anxiety and insecurity are symptoms of following the wrong thing.

Your sole responsibility is to keep following Him, regardless of mistakes.

taken January 28, 2015Chris Durso was the next speaker, and he shared about the two crosses we can bear. He said that Jesus already bore our cross of sin, so when He tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him, that isn’t the cross He means. The cross He asks us to carry is one of purpose. He enables us to carry it and goes with us. We argue with Him about what we’ve been given, but if it’s there for us, we can accept it; we are able. So many of us are still carrying our sin crosses, when we should be carrying our purposes instead. The cross Jesus took for us is screaming life at us; “Live!” it says, because death was defeated on it. I am terrified of my purpose-cross. Absolutely terrified. But I have to carry it, and this message convinced me deeply of that.

Chris spoke at the next session I attended, too, on Numbers 13:26-33. He shared about “giants” in life and how to defeat them. I wait for backup so often, thinking I can’t act until something happens first, but the Lord is telling me that I am enough. And these giant obstacles are giant opportunities for God to work. To handle these obstacles, we have to talk to Him about them. If it is promised to me, it is coming my way; it is not dependent on me. When we jump ahead, we become terrified because we weren’t ready to see it yet. We also need to talk back to our obstacles, telling them about our God. We have the power of life and death in our tongues; we need to speak life over ourselves. Giants fail when faith steps in. God has never failed before– why would He start with me? The promised land is His to give, and friend, He is giving it to you and me. I felt this message deep in my stomach, with dread and conviction and awe. I’m facing some pretty big giants, and I am so scared to act in any way; I am scared they will beat me and leave me in sorrow and defeat. But the Lord promises me: This land is mine to give, and I am giving it to YOU. I can’t escape this message no matter how much I’d sometimes like to.

All of these messages are in the back of my mind every single day. They are inescapable, because the Lord is pursuing me and these are His words. I thank Him for that pursuit and for giving me purpose, even when it is terrifying and overwhelming. And I’d like to let you know:

He’s doing the same thing with you. Listen to Him. And trust Him.