Tag Archives: Grace

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

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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

Hopes I Lived in 2016 {Part One}

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My greatest fear is that what I hope for will not come to pass. There are so many good things I want to experience, and with every disappointment I face I become terrified that they won’t work out. That is why I keep a list.

I have an ever-growing list of things I hope for. I call them my “looking forward to” lists, to keep me trusting. Last year I decided to see how many things I’d lived from them– and found the number was fifty-six.

Dreams are made for life. Sometimes, it really doesn’t look that way. But I still believe it’s true.

And to strengthen that belief, I’m sharing some of the dreams I lived in 2016– of the 75 total. Let’s do it.

Reading more books. | Reading the Jesus Storybook Bible. | Reading more fairy tales. | Reading the Anne of Green Gables series.

I set my reading challenge to thirty books this year because I thought, “I was in college half of last year and I still managed to read 18 books! I can read thirty this year for sure!” I didn’t quite realize that I like taking my sweet time to read; I didn’t even reach 18 this year. What I did read, however, was overall wonderful. My favorites were probably The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway by Dr. Susan Jeffers (I wrote about it), and the last four books in the Anne of Green Gables series. You can see everything I read this year on my Goodreads Year in Books.

Going to more concerts. | Going to a rap concert.concertssssss

I was surprisingly able to go to a handful of shows this year! Meigan and I saw Rend Collective in February, which was a wonderful time of what felt like a family gathering; my mom and I took a mini road trip to Fish Fest in August with Cindy and Jamie, where we spent all day in the hot sun to see many acts, including Switchfoot (they played the song I secretly hoped they would and my heart soared); and in September I got to take a fun trip with Meigan and Brandon to see NF and Fleurie, two artists I admire so much.

Holding babies.

I did this often because I volunteered in a nursery. I also realized that working with children is not my passion, and stopped doing it. It was a weird discovery, but I think I’m relieved to not be guilting myself into serving a certain way anymore.

Seeing meaningful new movies. | Seeing new Pixar movies.

I’m not as much of a movie person as I once was; I do a lot more rewatching of films I already love as opposed to exploring new ones. But I still got to watch quite a few stories that touched me in some way this year. It terms of new films/Pixar films? Finding Dory was so, so wonderful and Rogue One shocked me with how much it made me feel.

Getting better at painting. | Making art that gets me excited when I finish it. Getting better at art-journaling. artttt

I practiced with acrylics a lot more this year and have become much more comfortable with them. Working in an art journal was a great way to try out different ideas and expand the ways I create. Something I’ve learned this year is that the greater volume of things you make, the more okay you are with making imperfect things, because you know there’s a lot more to come and that you’re getting better all the time. [The prompt journal I’ve used is the Wreck This Journal, if you’re interested in trying it out!]

Hiking a calm little forest trail. | Being reunited with college family. | Having a simple breakfast with people I love.spencers-hike-group

I got to spend a day last month with most of my little group of friends from college. It was refreshing to see them again. It’s also becoming refreshing to feel less tied down to what things were like in college and to welcome what’s here now. I’d never hiked this particular butte, and the view was wildly wonderful even on the cloudy day. I love Oregon. [Photo by Cooper]

friendiverseryIn August, I also happened to be in the same place with the three original friends I met during orientation years ago! We’re still cuties, aren’t we? [Photo by Meigan]

Buying scented candles and lighting them all the time. | Smelling roses and other wonderful smells.

I actually started using a candle warmer this year! I like how long the wax cubes last (much longer than a regular candle), and discovering where to find new scents.

Visiting the coast again. | Camping with people I adore.coastttt

I spent a night in a yurt with my grandparents. It was rainy and cold, but we found graffiti under a bridge and cried laughing while playing Jenga and Bananagrams. The next day was much more sunny; we visited a lighthouse and a lookout point. Oregon, man…

Taking a class from my beloved writing teacher again.

I wrote this on my first “looking forward to” list. I wasn’t sure at that point in time if I’d ever go back to college or not, but now I’m sure I won’t (which is completely fine with me; preferable, actually). But when I found it in my lists as I was preparing to write this post, I stopped for a minute and sat in all the emotions that came. My writing teacher died this summer. I’d experienced grief before, but not like I experienced it for her. She was supportive of me and invested in my growth during a time when I could have given up myself. I still remember what she taught me, both in writing and in being a person, every single day. I love you and miss you, Ms. Lee.

Learning an instrument. | Feeling more skilled in things I currently feel like an amateur in. | Having my passion for music be known by the people around me, instead of bottled within myself.

Last year, if you had asked me what I do, I would vaguely mention art; I was ashamed of my skill level in music, didn’t feel like a true music-maker. That has changed this year. I’ve discovered songs in my ancient Casio’s keys during my frequent playtime with it, and teaching myself to play a few songs through YouTube tutorials has been helping me train my ear and get better at using both hands. I love saying, “I play with piano.” It’s truly like a delightful game for me. I have so much more to learn, but I am learning, and I love it. Music is home.

Setting up my easel and painting somewhere outside. | Having painting parties.artttt-oopsssss

When your best friend calls you asking if you can come over “like, right now” and paint with her from a birdwatching tower, you say yes. Such sweet times with her. Thanks for getting me to dip my toes in the world of oil paints, Sierra. It inspired me to go and paint the lake grew up next to the next week.

dsc07810I also had a few friends over to play around with watercolor near my birthday. Look at how great they did (mine’s the one that looks like it’s framed by fruit loops ignore that one)!

Getting letters from people I love. | Writing letters.skinners-with-katie

Always writing to Katie from across the country, except now she gets to write about her wedding plans! Love her so much. She came to visit during the summer.

Discovering more musicians I’ll cherish forever. | Growing more associations with albums and seasons of my life.

The most impactful discoveries this year were NF, Fleurie, Anthem Lights, Jeremiah Daly, and Kings Kaleidoscope. You’ll find them all on the playlist I made throughout 2016, which is on both YouTube and Spotify if you want to eavesdrop.

Adopting a pet. | Holding adorable little animals.dsc07779

Jonas came into my life in October. I wrote about him.

Wearing more pretty dresses.

I became a little obsessed with my black and white striped dress, and may have just gotten a navy and white striped dress with longer sleeves because I like the look so much…

 Seeing my best friend again and going on a random little adventure with her.

Our adventure this year didn’t go as we planned. But with all the children’s books, car talks, tea, bad karaoke, borrowed pajamas, and Eloise at Christmastime gushing? We’re still my favorite.

Coloring with children.

My dad had me watch his friend’s granddaughter on the fourth of July; her adventurous spirit and ability to color way beyond her age’s typical skill level were wonderful surprises.

Making notebooks for friends.

I don’t make them for my own school notes anymore, so I like being able to still put them in schools somehow. Having my friends be the vessels is the best way I can think of.

Making prayer-art a regular part of my life.

In high school I met a woman who “prayed in color;” she’d paint in a journal whatever came to her mind as she prayed, and was able to express some of the wordless things she was feeling. I was inspired and wanted to do the same thing, but it didn’t really connect for me like it seemed to for her. I’ve learned that it serves a different purpose for me. When a friend asks me to pray for them in a specific way, sometimes I’ll feel like I’m supposed to paint about it, so I’ll do that as I pray, and will often send them the artwork afterwards with a note about any impression I was getting. I also feel driven to create when tragedy hits the world in some way.

Watching fireworks at our annual Fourth of July barbeques.

I went through a video-making phase during the summer, so I have this year’s fireworks set to music. You can watch it here.

Playing Loaded Questions.

We played for hours at a church group I go to; I laughed harder than I had in a very long time. We’re good at being a bit intense in our discussions, so it was nice to have a light-hearted night and get to know each other’s personalities a bit more.

Making more quote signs.principles-painting

A pretty common practice for me, but always fun. And the past month or so, I’ve been working out some plans concerning my little encouragement posters! Hopefully you will hear about it soon.

Writing about some of the big things. | Finding new things to write about.

I wrote about being kind to myself; about having flaws, and how maybe that’s okay; about forgiveness that doesn’t stop being necessary; about getting defensive on the internet; about using religion as a tool instead of a fence; about being hopeful despite the fear of getting crushed; about not finding a place shaped like me; about love being the cure; about shame, and what it was like to grow up in church; about my pornography addiction and honesty; about God’s revelation to me concerning anxiety and the tools He’s given me to replace it; about my promise to be your friend in our differences… yeah. Some of the big things.

Seeing friendships grow deeper. | Hugging people I love.dsc07791

Two of my favorite things about life. Enjoy this photo of my sister and I near our birthdays.

Finding a purse that suits me.

I haven’t had good luck with purses because I don’t want to lug around something big, yet I want room for a sketchbook or journal amongst my other little things. Finally found something in a good size that’s also pretty cute (and it was on sale)!

Driving in tree-filled areas during the fall.

My situation is a little different from what it was last year, and I was a bit downtrodden when I realized I probably wasn’t going to be able to drive much, if at all, this fall. But I did get to drive a few times. And one particular day, I drove under so many trees that I was able to be in the dance of what felt like hundreds of leaves by the time I reached my destination. Grace.

Owning more band merchandise.

The concerts I went to this year helped! I super enjoy my t-shirt with some of my favorite Switchfoot lyrics, and my NF hat (I’ve discovered a love a good ball cap, by the way).

Watching more episodes of great web series.

Oh my goodness, Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party came out this year and I loved it! Not only is it hilarious, but it’s super well-written with a mystery that I couldn’t nail down until the very end. If you want to see classic authors blame each other for murder in the most hilarious ways, but also be curious and in the dark along with them, definitely check out Poe Party!

Giving and receiving words of love on our message board.

We do this super often now that only two of us are home during the day. My mom writes little notes every single morning; sometimes there are puns…

Making food for people.

I put the frozen pizza in the oven every Monday night. I’m saying that counts.

Drinking strawberry lemonade.gee-katie

I’m not the biggest fan of Roadhouse Grill, but we go there once a year for my parents’ anniversary and I get the strawberry lemonade every single time. Wow it is good. I also had watermelon lemonade at a little picnic with Katie and G’ma Edie this summer.

Writing new poems that express what I want them to.

I’ve written a poem every day this year. Not only has it helped me as a writing exercise (if you’re a writer of any kind, study/read/write poetry; it teaches economy of words and gets your head voice familiar with what sounds right), but sometimes it’s my opportunity to get what’s inside me out and find the starting point of some closure or insight. Gems have come from it, at least in my perspective. I’m working on figuring out what to do with them.

You can find my “looking forward to” lists here, here, and here.

Next week I will be posting part two of the hopes I lived this year!

On Stewardship, Speculation, & Love’s Pursuits

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“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

journal in leavesThese words are important, and it matters that we understand why they were penned.

We can read in Acts 20 (particularly verses 29-35) that pretty much from the beginning of his work in Ephesus, Paul was aware that the people there would experience and be tempted by false teachings, and that these teachings would be birthed from their own church– from them. He made sure to spend a good amount of time (three whole years) with them, teaching them that the truth and reality of grace had to be the source of their work and the way they treated each other, because from it they would be built up and brought into their inheritance.

About a decade after Paul left Ephesus, he sent this letter to Timothy, whom he had commissioned to oversee churches that were having trouble, including the one in Ephesus. Paul knew the false teachings he’d predicted had indeed come into the church. And he told Timothy:

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1:3-4)

Speculation rather than stewardship. That is where the false teachings came from.

In their attempt to sharpen their minds, the Ephesians lost their focus. They forgot that the goal of everything they were called to was love; that instead of having to spend their energy discussing what-ifs and finer details, they had been given something substantial, something they were supposed to take care of and use: they carried grace in their chests. And that grace, even with unanswered questions, was enough to live a full life.

They didn’t need to speculate anymore– they already had something to steward.

It was neglecting that stewardship that brought about the issues the church was facing. After Paul reminded Timothy of their mission of love and what it’s fueled by, he said: “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1:6-7)

These false teachers were not necessarily menacing. They sought to be knowledgeable and to share what they found; they probably believed what they were saying. But they left out the true goal of the church: using love to spread the reality grace. They weren’t pursuing the mission. They lacked love’s pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, so regardless of how many sources they searched and how many discussions they had, they could not reach understanding; they could only make assertions about the things they found in the endless process (things Paul recognized as myths and loose interpretations). These people were not rooted in love’s pursuits, so they could not find the answers, because love was what held them. What they needed was already in their possession– but they deemed their pursuit of finer theology more important.

We are so much like them.

We can have our questions and curiosities, and we can and should grow in our theology. But we cannot forget what our constant and consuming mission is, what demands our attention and our energy. When our focus shifts from pursuing love to pursuing ideas, we trade in stewardship for speculation; we lose something. With a focus of love, fueled by a pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, we have what we need; we have the reality of grace, and it builds us up and brings us into our inheritance. Everything we need comes from grace, from Him. We are not lacking.

We cannot be so enamored by speculation that we forsake our stewardship. We have been charged with the spread of love and grace; neglecting that charge is not only foolish and disobedient, but it is destructive for us and for all who cross our path, because our theology always becomes our actions. We teach our ideas, with our words and by our example, every single day, even if we don’t intend to. And if our ideas are untrue, we become false teachers, instead of stewards of God’s deepest truth– the truth that He loves and has grace for us. If our theology isn’t rooted in love, our actions aren’t either.

And we must never forget what He calls pure and undefiled religion: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). To Jesus, if we are seeking to be close to Him and to love others they way He does, we have the truest theology. When love is our theology and when we live it, it proves and grows itself.

May we participate in the dispersion of love instead of in useless discussions. And may we be so engulfed in love and grace and the spreading of it that we have no room left to speculate.

The way Paul ended his letter is a suitable ending for us, too:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

(1 Timothy 6:3-6, 11, & 20-21, emphasis added)

The Fuel of Temptation: On Shame & Grace

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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

 

On Letting God Do His Work (Or, That Time I Accidentally Observed Lent)

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“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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On Oppressors & Love: How Our Family Does Things

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withered blackberriesWhen there is a difficult person in our lives– someone who is not kind, who upsets or oppresses us in some way, who just makes life harder– we come up with a lot of solutions and are given various pieces of advice. We can unfollow them online; we can confront them; we can tell others about them and what they’re doing; we can avoid them; we can even cut them out of our lives.

But our Father has raised us differently.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” It’s hard enough not to speak badly of these people; it’s even harder to be generous of ourselves to them. Yet that’s what He wants us to do. He asks that we do nothing but good to those who do us wrong.

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” We are not to simply tolerate difficult people; we are to intentionally plan how we’re going to be good to them. It is to be a mission of ours to treat them with kindness, something we’re supposed to spend time and energy on; we make a conscious decision not to pay them back for the wounds they’ve given us, and to value and respect them instead.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” We must do all we can to create peace; we have to do our part. Theirs? That’s theirs to worry about. It doesn’t matter how they behave, if our kindness affects them or if it doesn’t; their behavior has nothing to do with ours. Love has no conditions. Love doesn’t act in hopes that the person will change, it acts because that is what love does. Our kindness is because of who we are, not who they are.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” Our Father knows when we are being mistreated. He sees it and it angers Him. And He is going to take care of it for us, with His own hands. We don’t have to fix it. He will do it Himself.

It’s all right there in Romans 12, and there is no fighting it. I know, because I tried to. The very day I read these verses, I dealt with various offenses from a difficult person in my life. I wanted to avoid them; I wanted to show them that I didn’t deserve to be treated that way; I wanted them to know what they were doing wasn’t okay; I wanted them to feel guilty. Then my Father pointed me to what I had read that afternoon, and I heard His soft, knowing whisper:

“Tessa… what’s our way? How do we do things in our family?”

Our family is one of grace and forgiveness. No one gets what they deserve– they are given gifts instead. We love people in ways that shouldn’t make sense. That’s what this family does.

It’s what my Father does for me every day. I deserve His wrath, yet I receive His arms.

I have to display loving acts and carry a loving attitude for the difficult people, the oppressors, the hurt-inflictors in my life. I don’t want to; my anger tells me I deserve to be upset and defensive. But I have to love. Because there is one thing I do want to do– I want grow into a way of life where I can look at myself and know: “I get this from my Father. He taught me this.”

I want to look like my Father. To love other people like He loves me.

Love is so counter-intuitive to what I’ve always known and done. I still find myself kicking and screaming about it daily, because it is so much easier to sink into my anger and self-pity than it is to love someone who doesn’t even like me. I’m learning something new, and that means I’m messing up all the time. But knowing that He has already nailed love and extends it lavishly toward me in this process? That makes me get up every day and keep trying.


[Important note I need to make: these verses do not ask us to stay in harmful, abusive relationships. They simply ask us to be kind, peaceful, honorable, and forgiving, no matter how someone treats us. If you are in a harmful relationship, you do not need to stay there, and I beg you not to. Be kind, seek peace, honor the human being, forgive them; you can do all of these things outside of the depths of that relationship.]

On The Lifestyle of Forgiveness

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flower walk, pear treeA random, harmless little event caused me to run somewhere I could be alone and shake with tears. I didn’t understand why.

I began writing to my counselor-friend about what happened, asking her questions the same time I asked them of myself. By the time I hit send on that e-mail, I understood why that small moment broke me apart: I had been wounded by similar means as a child. I’d blocked it out, but I remembered now. And it felt like large hands were squeezing life from my heart.

She e-mailed back, said I was on the right track. She also suggested that a good next step would be to list “what the locusts had eaten” so I could recognize the restoration– and that I should write a forgiveness letter and burn it. I wrote the list almost immediately, but the letter… I told myself I’d write it soon. “Soon” became over a month and a half later.

I didn’t even plan on writing it when I did. But a song came on that day, one that made tears spill out when I tried to sing along. It made me think of the person who hurt me. I began to write, teardrops splashing on the page. And when I was done… I loved.

Before I wrote the letter, I knew I might not feel my forgiveness toward them, that forgiveness was a choice instead of a feeling, so I’d resolved to be okay with however I felt. I didn’t think I’d feel the forgiveness. But I did. I did feel it. And it had wings.

I loved what the letter had done for me, and when I remembered I was supposed to burn it, I didn’t want to. But two days later, when I tried to read it again… something in me just couldn’t. The forgiveness was completed, it was all done. So I burned the letter. It crumbled slowly and blew away to nothing.

It was finished.

Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished” when He died for the forgiveness of humanity. After forgiving someone who might never be different, but whom I choose to love still… it started to mean something more to me. He wasn’t just saying, “There, you’re forgiven, I did what I had to do.” When Jesus said it was finished, He was saying, “We don’t have revisit it. I forgave you. It’s done. I just love you.”

Two months later, when the same person hurt me in the same way as before, I had to forgive them again.

And I didn’t want to.

I’d forgiven them for the past, for the thing that I thought was over. But could I forgive them for something they were still doing? Something they might never stop doing? I felt anger envelop me like a heavy cloak, because I knew I didn’t deserve what they did.

But the bitterness was eating me up inside. No matter what they did to me, I still loved them in my depths. I was hurting every single day, but I didn’t realize it wasn’t entirely because I was unjustly treated… it was mostly because I didn’t want to be bitter at someone I loved.

It took time to make the choice to forgive a second time. But when I finally did, it was like I had been given permission walk again. I hadn’t been aware of how confined and constrained the bitterness had made me. This time, I didn’t feel forgiving. But I possessed love. So I forgave anyway.

I didn’t forgive them because they deserved it; I forgave them because I didn’t deserve it, either.

I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. But I also didn’t deserve to let my bitterness eat me from the inside because of it. I forgave them because of love, but I also forgave them to begin the healing process for myself.

My Father forgave me when I didn’t deserve it. No one here gets what they deserve– we all get grace. That is how my Father’s family does things. And I love this a whole lot better than the way others have been doing things.

I am learning this person has influenced me in so many ways, over such a length of time, that forgiveness is something that must be a daily practice for me. I often find myself using a flawed thought process they taught me, or believing a lie they unknowingly told me, or maneuvering an obstacle they placed in front of me. And when that happens, I stop everything for a moment and make a strong-willed statement inside myself: “I forgive you for ______.” I name it. I forgive them for it. And I begin walking forward, away from it. Every day, I do this. And when the anger begins to bubble up, making a specific statement of forgiveness changes me.

It reminds me we’re all just doing the best we can. And there’s grace for all of us.