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

Testimonies

On Struggling & Peace

I don’t usually like telling the stories behind my artwork. Often I want to, but then I remember a friend who told me about a piece of mine that connected a few dots for her. What she gained from it was not at all what I’d meant in those brushstrokes, but it was just as meaningful. I don’t want to ruin the beauty in what you see by sharing what I thought you’d see.

But this time… I need to tell you. It matters to me that you know what it means.

I painted this piece yesterday:DSC05919

There’s a story behind it, but it’s not a complete story; it’s honestly just an early paragraph of what I’m still living. The prologue: I struggle with anxiety sometimes. And sometimes I can’t fall asleep because I’m just so alert and afraid. What am I afraid of? Honestly, I don’t really know. Fear doesn’t have to make sense, because it’s the practice of telling stories to yourself. If something isn’t real, it doesn’t have to make sense to terrify you, because you believe it’s real.

I haven’t always known what to do in situations like these; only in the past year have I recognized how big of a struggle anxiety can be for me. I didn’t know there was anything I could do. But now, when I’m lying in bed and my heart is pounding and I don’t want to move or open my eyes– I breathe. I inhale deeply, and exhale long. I do it over and over until the wave passes.

At some point, I realized the best way this worked for me was when I visualized Jesus lying there with me, leading me in my breaths like a faithful husband would. And it’s not something I’m imagining in the sense that I’m projecting Him into my situation. He is there with me, and He is leading me into peace. It’s real. I simply need some semblance of His physical presence when I’m that hyper-aware of my surroundings. And He meets me there, and He stays.

One night, I was anxious, but not to the point of panic. I simply closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

He gave me a vision.

In the vision, I was lying on a giant, royal blue pillow of silk. It waved like the sea, and it floated among the stars. On that pillow, I was at peace.

“It’s me,” He whispered. “You’re with me.”

I haven’t been able to forget it.

Life and being a person have been a bit difficult lately; I’m struggling with a lot of fears and doubts. Normally, I’d be the first person to turn all this into an encouragement. Which isn’t a bad thing, and I do hope you find encouragement here. But if I were to do that completely intentionally this time, it wouldn’t be the fully honest thing.

The honest thing to do with all of this is to tell you that sometimes, things get hard. And sometimes when things get hard, you know what you need to do; you know the simple truth and what response it calls for. But sometimes… even the simple thing is incredibly difficult.

I know the key to peace is to rest inside my Father and His strength. I know it. I know it’s what my vision meant. And it’s such a simple act to lay down your burdens and just lie on your Father’s chest, to let Him take care of you and find peace in Him. Yet it is something I am working so hard to do right now. I trust Him. But I also fear what’s to come. Which means there’s a part of me that doesn’t trust Him. And it takes a lot of effort every day to silence that part of me, to break out of my worries and just let Him be my peace.

I want to tell you to rest in Him, to let Him do the work, to trust Him. And I do tell you that, whole-heartedly. A mind focused on Him the key to peace. But I also can’t tell you that without also telling you even rest can be hard sometimes. Because we have to keep actively choosing to remain in it, when there are countless distractions trying to steal us away. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we can trust Him; that He loves us right where we are, and isn’t angrily demanding more from us; that His invitation into rest is a warm entreaty He’s making because He wants to be with us and wants to love us well.

I think that’s why He gave me the vision, and why I felt I needed to paint it and tell you about it. Like I need to visualize His presence in my anxious nights, sometimes I need to see that His presence is here for me to find safety in, here for me to delight in… here. With me. When I’m overwhelmed or afraid, I think of the vision and the world slows down for a few moments; now when I look at my wall, maybe I’ll remember to snuggle close. And maybe you’ll remember the picture when you’re feeling burdened, too. Maybe it could help you. How wild would that be?

Sometimes peace takes work. And sometimes, when we fully believe in how loved we are, we rest in knowing the hardest parts have been done for us.

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

[Listen]

Poetry

A Peek at My Daily Poems

journals on deskI write a free-verse poem every night as a way to express and process, as well as to have some kind of creative discipline. For the past month, my poems have often ended up putting words to what the Holy Spirit is teaching me. I don’t normally consider sharing these little poems because they are such vulnerable, exposed pieces of me. But nearly every day last month, I had a desire to let others read what I had just written. That’s what I’m doing today. I hope you hear something in them like I heard as I wrote them, at least in some measure.

December 22, 2015–
On the bad days,
I hope your remember me.
I hope when you feel your holes, sore and gaping,
You remember I carry healing in my own.
I hope when you are restless from isolation,
You remember I choose you and seek you.
I hope when you host the burden of your questions,
You remember my arms are the answer, period.
I’m sorry you have bad days.
But I hope you remember me when you do.

January 1, 2016–
Not every day will be easy to live;
You’re a human, and humans hurt.
But you also know God.
And God heals.
Not every day will be easy to live;
But He’ll be with you in all of them.

January 6, 2016–
Today was a hard one.
It slowly wrung you out, in the same motion as suffocation;
You struggled to breathe.
I’m so glad you kept trying.
Rest tonight.
And know I am with you for all of it.
I will never leave you to ache alone:
I will do it, too.

January 7, 2016–
Let the happiness bubble out of you.
You don’t have to ask why He gave the gift;
It’s enough to Him that you loved it so much.

January 10, 2016–
We get to share this life with so many,
And I’m wildly in love with that.
But this life belongs to us alone.
You get to decide what we do with it,
And I’ll follow you in love.
And we’ll hope as many as possible still want to share in it.

January 14, 2016–
Sometimes we hold so tight
To our hurts, our ticking bombs,
Because they remind us of what we need.
Sometimes we are so afraid to let go
Of the hopes placed on our burdens,
Because the only part we choose to see is hope.
Sometimes, our fingers must be pried
Off the weights keeping us from life–
Because we are far too loved to be held down.

January 17, 2016–
I am cruel; you are kind.
I pray your thoughts invade my mind.
I am broken; you will heal.
You are here with me and you are real.

January 23, 2016–
You are always growing,
Always becoming.
And I am always in love with you,
Every stage.

January 26, 2016–
It’s in the pieces.
It’s there you can get stuck in the mess–
Or you can find joy in the beauty of
Every
Little
Thing.

January 27, 2016–
I forgive you.
For this, and this, and this, and this.
Every day I will write these lists on my heart,
Will remember you did what you could.
I cannot stop forgiving you,
Or you will never stop hurting me.
Yes, I forgive you.

January 30, 2016–
The voice of fear is loud and close–
But it is cowardly.
Speak back to it, boldly.
It will run as fast as it wanted you to.

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies · The Basics

At The Table

I was making the same terrible choice over and over, breaking my own heart more with each blow. I was tugged in two directions and continuously chose the wrong one. It was my choice. And when it hit me… when I realized how broken I was… I cried in my hands, and cried to a friend, and cried out to Him.

And He told me to return to Him, because there was a place for me at the table.

Come on home, home to me
And I will hold you in my arms,
In joyful glee
There will always, always be
A place for you at my table
Return to me

[Listen]

I listened to His words until I fell asleep. And I woke up, and began the journey of learning to walk in grace. Walking in His kingdom.

I heard them fighting. I read the cutting words, saw the triggering images, felt the pulsing anger. Everyone was different, unique, and came from different places. And I wondered if we would ever be able to become the family I dreamt we could, this family of humanity in union with our Father.

And He told me to love and to hope for peace, because there was a place for every single one of them at His table.

“People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Luke 13:29.

I loved my Father who adopted me, who gave me His heritage, who loves His children this way.

I sobbed in the night, stayed up much too late blowing my nose and begging Him for anything. I had realized during the day that I didn’t feel at home in my favorite place anymore, that my affection was now for the memories and that I couldn’t connect there anymore. I tried, and it just hurt more. My place was no longer there for me. No matter how much anyone wanted me to have a place, how much I wished I could be there. This was two days ago. I want to trust Him; I do trust Him. But I have no direction, in any area of life. I don’t know what to do about any of this. I don’t know what to do, Father. About anything.

“Just be with me. Sit at my table.” He says.

Jesus told a parable about a man who threw a grand banquet and invited guests– guests who had other things to worry about, and chose to focus on those things instead of the feast they had been welcomed into. They didn’t make time to be with him, because everything else was stealing them away. So he invited everyone who was willing to come, from every possible place. Even then, there was room left over. There was no shortage of room at that table. And he would not rest until it was filled.

My Father wants to share His abundance with me, but most of all– He wants to be with me. He wants my company. He wants His family to all come home. Just like I want a home.DSC01459

He welcomes me to His table. His table that is already right here and now.

I timidly approach Him in pieces, and He picks all of me up to carry me to my seat.

Blossoms of an Artist

On Artistry & Breathing

I tried to write this post a few times, and I simply couldn’t. I planned to share poetry. I read through my poetry journal more than once and loved what I saw there; I wasn’t just seeing writing that wasn’t half bad, I was seeing God’s presence and His wisdom in every single day I’d lived. I hadn’t always seen Him in my day, but reading the poetry I wrote at the end of each day, from July to now. . .  He’s in all of it. Do you see Him in your life today? If you don’t, someday you will think of today, and you’ll see Him, and you’ll see how He loved and sheltered you. He is here with you and with me. Sometimes we simply have foggy days in our spirits. That’s what my daily poetry journal has been teaching me. I just completed my first, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have a last because doing this helps my soul so much.

This is strange. But I just spent a lot of time going through my journal and typing a few of the poems again, and I just felt like I shouldn’t share them. Not because I’m a secretive person (I’m a gaping-wide open book, acquaintances of mine will tell you that), but because I simply felt the Lord telling me I didn’t have to. My poems are my gift to me, and that’s okay.

This week at church we were singing our own songs. My church’s worship times are so diverse and I love it; people dance, create their own lyrics, and often the Lord will speak something to someone and have them share it with us. This week all of that existed, and that’s pretty normal. I don’t usually sing my own songs, I often hum different tones when we do that because it lets me express my soul’s wordlessness, but this time I sang a song as it came. Afterwards, I had two consecutive thoughts. The first was, “I wish I could remember that song.” But the second?

“. . . I don’t have to. That song was for us.”

taken 2014I’m honest by instinct, and I love being able to share in real things with people even if real is sometimes ugly and messy. I’m not sure why God made me this way, but I’m grateful He did, because He functions this way, too. But honest doesn’t have to mean emptied. Not everyone has to know your depths. There are people who do need to know your depths, and there are some people who are special enough that you want to entrust them with yourself. But not everyone needs everything. There are days when you can simply exist.

I painted today. And the first thing I did after finishing the painting? I took a picture of it for Facebook. My first thought wasn’t to breathe my art in and decide how I felt about it– it was to feel validated as an artist. Why?

I think this is something I need to grow in. I think we go from people-who-make-art to artists when we realize that we don’t need other people to tell us we’re creative, insightful, talented; when we just do it because we love it and it’s the way we breathe and it’s a joyous experience with Him. Because He’s an artist, and He doesn’t need to prove it. He doesn’t need to show someone His work in order for it to become art. He created not because He wanted a title or to be talented or to share it, but because He loved what He was creating. We aren’t something He made to show off– we are His breath. And He has art hidden everywhere: stars and planets we may never find, exotic animals deep in forests we haven’t yet explored, microscopic creatures that bring Him glory by existing, sunsets on completely uninhabited islands. No validation needed, because His art is not His work, it’s a reflection.

And if I am a reflection of His, I hope that I can learn to breathe just like He does.

Create some pieces only you know about. Write in a journal no one else will open; paint something and let it live on your bedroom wall; draw something that won’t leave your sketchbook; wear your favorite clothing items on a stay-home day; play your music and don’t feel the need to film a video of it; laugh by yourself about a funny story without feeling like you have to tell the story; spend a day with a friend and don’t take a photo; be in awe of your own insights and don’t feel like you have to voice them yet.

There are times when sharing is wondrous and even necessary. Honesty and genuinity and vulnerability are some of the most important things we can practice, and I live in them daily; I was made to and I honestly can’t function well any other way. But sometimes, I need balance. Sometimes the Lord just wants my sweet whispers, a special time with me and my depths no one else has seen.

When we create, when we experience joy, we don’t need to think about anyone else seeing or knowing about it. All we have to do is breathe.

Poetry

Everywhere

I thought finding myself in You

Meant never losing myself again.

But I never knew I would walk away

From the One who made my heart begin.

 

I love you more than anything!

Honestly; You’re all I really desire!

Why do I feel so far away?

Have I quenched our burning fire?

 

My Love, I know You’d never leave,

I just don’t understand why.

You still love me in the midst of it all,

And it makes me want to cry.

 

I believe in Your love with my whole heart,

I’ll never let You go.

Even when I’m far away,

You’re still here and I don’t even know!

 

I feel You in my heart physically,

And I’m finally convinced.

I’m not running anymore.

In You I’ve found my Prince.