Responses · Testimonies

“Jesus Loves You More Than a Man Ever Could” – On Guilt & Falling in Love

I was listening to a love song. A person came to mind (or maybe to heart) when I heard it. And I immediately felt guilty.

back at the pianoI grew up in a culture that told teenagers their romantic feelings and desires were something they needed to get rid of. And if they couldn’t shake those feelings and desires no matter how hard they tried, they had to direct them toward Jesus instead.

“Jesus loves you more than a man ever could,” I was told innumerable times. And when I’d have a crush and it just wouldn’t go away, I would reprimand myself for not letting Jesus be enough for me. I loved Him so deeply. But I didn’t have confidence that He was satisfied with me; I believed He was demanding I love Him more and love Him differently. I didn’t believe my genuine love was enough for Him.

When I was told Jesus loved me more than another person could, the application was always: “So you better give Him credit for that.”

Back in October, when I heard that love song, I felt guilty. Because I wanted to sing it about a person, and what’s left of teenage Tessa immediately pointed an accusing finger and told me I couldn’t. I had to sing it to Jesus, or I shouldn’t be singing it.

But then I heard the whisper:

“What if I sang it to you?”

A bit of all of it happened. And He healed something in me that day.

Jesus loves me. More than anyone else ever could. But instead of the response to that truth being guilt, He wants something different.

When He sang that love song to me, He wasn’t shaming me for any lack on my part (and He certainly wasn’t angry at me for having feelings toward a person). He helped me understand by using a song I could relate to: the way I felt for that person? It resembled how He felt about me. And the response He wanted– the response it naturally elicited from me– was not guilt or forced praise.

It was awe.

I had so much in me for that person; it swept me up just to be in possession of it. They didn’t have to do anything to maintain it. It was something living in me, for them. I loved them because of who they were, not because of anything they felt (or, more accurately, didn’t feel) toward me. It was overwhelming in a beautiful way. And finally it was beginning to connect– God goes through that concerning me?

I am a wildly imperfect person, yet I am able to love in measures like these. Why have I believed that God who is Love… would do less?

It would take more time for me to unpack these things. I’m still in the process; He’s still teaching me how to let Him love me. But I wrote in my journal that night, after the song ended:

“Maybe the whole reason we fall in love is so that we can grasp Him better.”


Responses · Testimonies

What My Old Lyrics Taught Me: On Authenticity, Shame, & Growing Up in Church

Music is my home, something I was made to live in. But I’ve faced rejection, limitations, discouragement, and over time I allowed those things to bury my passion. It still lived, but I wouldn’t listen to its outcry for my attention; I pretended it was small and didn’t matter too much to me. But it always did.

About a month ago, I began listening to an artist whose music was more genuine, passionate, and soul-meeting than I’d experienced in such a long time. I’d forgotten that music could be a vessel for such powerful things. It blew on the flames inside me; my passion was no longer trapped in muffled cries, and instead it roared at me until I would look it in the face once more. I then wrote and played and sang like I’d been released from a cell and given permission to love my calling again. Somehow, I had fallen into the trap of viewing my purpose as a burden I must bear, instead of a gift I get to treasure.piano werkin

Now I’ve moved into a difficult place of not being able to do everything I would like to do in my music. My resources and abilities are so very limited right now. I’ve responded to this situation in various ways already, many of them painful and unhealthy. But there’s one way that’s been bringing a lot of closure and healing to me: I’ve been reading through notebooks of my old lyrics. And I’ve been discovering some big things in the process.

1) I can do it.

I began writing my own music when I was eleven. Which means, yes, there are some absolutely terrible, cringey pieces that embarrass me just by existing. But there are a lot more potential-carrying verses than I thought there would be. For a young girl with no one helping her, I could write. I expressed myself well. Based on the kind of music I listened to at the time, I wasn’t too far off from what I wanted to be making. I see an anointing in the girl who wrote those songs. I’m trying to remind myself that she’s me, and that anointings don’t go away. Despite what I often believe, I am capable of being a music-maker.


2) Shame has been a giant presence and loud voice in my life. 

For a large portion of my life, I never felt I was doing enough, was pure enough, or was passionate enough about the Lord. My music from those times expressed that shame; I didn’t intend to express shame in my verses, but, unbeknownst to me, it wove itself into each one.

Discovering this in my old music unearthed some anger in me toward the Christian youth culture I grew up in. I love the people that led me in youth group, and I’m not bitter toward them; I know we’re all just doing our best, and I still carry many good things they did for me. But the things unintentionally ingrained in me? To be honest, they’re still infuriating sometimes.

I was taught that my friends’ salvations were dependent upon my boldness; that I had to be on fire, with a wildly passionate missional lifestyle, for my faith to be valid; that I had to perform well for the Lord, or else He would be disappointed in me. All of these things were said outright at some point in my experience, but they permeated teachings I received all the time. And it all said the same thing to my soul– “You are not good enough for God to love you the way you are.”

I didn’t know that humans cannot save others humans; that my only job has always been to love everyone. I didn’t know that feelings sometimes need to be told the truth; that burning passion is not necessary for whole-hearted work, and sometimes we do what we don’t want to do because we know it’s right and good. I didn’t know that God wanted me, as I was, no matter how well I was or wasn’t doing.

Why didn’t any youth ministry make it a point to teach me that?

Why did they lead with the need to evangelize, when I didn’t know the fullness of the gospel in my own soul first? Why didn’t they teach me about my belovedness, about who I was? Why didn’t they recognize that I didn’t need solutions as much as I needed people to walk with me through my dark places?

[This isn’t completely related, and I’ve considered cutting it out of this post countless times, but I think it’s important to put it out in the open: no one in my church was able to recognize depression in me, during the more than two years I lived in it. Whenever I tried to vocalize anything about what was happening inside me, I just ended up being confused by the faith-isms they gave me with sympathetic expressions on their faces. I became convinced that it was my fault I was suffering. A leader once approached me and asked me to help another student who expressed numb sadness like I had once done, because it was assumed I’d found a way through it; the leader didn’t know what to do when I replied I was still in it and had no solution to give them.]

I’m a little angry, yes. But anger is a secondary emotion; mostly, I am sad. I’m sad because we’re so unpracticed in dealing with rawness and the incomplete things in our own souls and the souls of others, when it is something so vital to being a healthy person. And I’m sad because younger Tessa was given one-size-fits-all advice and pats on the head, instead of something real.


3) Music was always my taste of what was real.

I expressed things I didn’t even understand or recognize in my life, but somehow knew when I began writing my verses. I could say what I most genuinely meant there. I could discover what I meant there. And I could find healing in the process. No other place was like that.

It’s still true for me. He always meets me intimately in my music. It’s still the place I find the most safety and comfort and hope.

NF has this line in his song appropriately entitled “Real:” “You gave me music as medicine.” I feel that so deeply.


4) Because shame wouldn’t let me have compassion on myself, I didn’t know how to give it to others.

I treated so many of my friends as projects in my mind; I expected perfection from them. If they “failed” in some way, I saw it as my fault. These are lies that grew from what I believed about my own unworthiness, and the perfection I demanded from myself. It was surprising to see just how many songs I’d written about people I knew who were “lost,” and how firm I was in my judgements of them. For a while, it was pretty much all I wrote about.

I wish I could go back to every person I’ve ever condemned (some verbally, I’m sorry to say). I wish I could tell them that they are holy, one hundred percent holy, because it was His gift to them. I wish I could tell them He already fully loves and welcomes them, as they are. And I wish I could tell them that I have my own vices… that I am not better than them in any way, never have been and never will be.

I was so wrong. I know I was a different person back then, that I can’t be angry at younger Tessa because she was doing the best she could. But I wouldn’t blame anyone else if they chose not to forgive me. I am so sorry for the damage I might have caused in people I just wanted to love.

Hurting people hurt people. I didn’t know I could be such a clear example of this, but I know it now. And wow am I grateful that He’s teaching me how to be kind, to myself and to others.


5) I was genuinely, madly in love with Jesus.

One of the greatest things I felt shame about was my relationship with Him. I lived daily life with a sharp ache inside because I didn’t think I was loving Him well, or that I was worthy to be with Him. It is so wild to read my old verses now and see that I’d dedicated songs to Him, writing His name at the bottom of each page, with a heart drawn next to it in complete sincerity.

The love I had for Him seeps through every word I penned. I was enamored. I loved Him with the deepest passion I’ve ever known. I hope I’ve only in grown in that, but it was wildly evident in me when I was a teenager; I wouldn’t shut up about Him.

Despite how she felt, teenage Tessa was in such a good place with Jesus. Yes, she had flaws and made mistakes; she still does as a grown up. But she didn’t need to fear a lack of love for Him inside her. She was dripping of it.

And she didn’t need to fear a lack of love for her inside Him, either.

I know these thoughts are messy. But I’m sharing them because I’m learning messy is okay because it’s what’s real. We don’t need to struggle make our words relatable to everyone; we just need to come from a place of vulnerable, awkward, scary authenticity. After all, people can only relate to things that are actually real. Some of the most life-speaking songs in my life have been ones that were unique and probably not relatable for everyone. They sat with me in my mess and my darkness; they told me I wasn’t the only one, and that it was okay to be unkempt inside… showed me there’s beauty in unknown, deep waters because that’s where the answers are hiding, ready to be sought out.

Reading my old verses has further convinced me just how important it is that I keep writing new ones, keep recording what’s in me, keep being fully real. I needed it. I still do.

And there are others who need what I find just as much as I do.

Responses · Testimonies · The Basics

Precious, Not Shameful (Or, Why Learning About Modesty Made Me Cry)

This year, an intensely complicated subject has continued to show up in my life. Jesus has been sending me ideas and perspectives that make me stand up and cheer “Yes, yes, yes, yes!”, make me gasp and say “That is so backwards!”, or even make me genuinely question what I’ve always thought. I’ve been learning so much, and I think it’s time I start voicing these things that have changed my life radically. What is this subject that has been affecting me so deeply?


I know what you’re probably thinking: “But, Tessa, we’ve already got this all figured out; you don’t need to question anything.” I used to think so, too. But what I’m finding is screaming otherwise. I’ve grown up in the church and wouldn’t change that at all; I love where I’m from, and I still attend the church I did when I was a baby. But I realize now that modesty is a much bigger issue than we think, in different ways than we expect. Can I share a bit of my story with you? There’s a part of me I wasn’t aware of until a few months ago–

I have sexuality.

That’s kind of a “duh” statement, isn’t it? I am a human being; I have sexuality. The end. But no one has ever simply told me that it’s okay to have sexuality. Do you want to know what people did tell me when I started growing up? “You need to be modest to keep boys from stumbling when they see you.”

And that’s all.

When that mixed with my inaccurate perception of sex, the message was incredibly clear to me that my sexuality was something to be detested and hidden away. I was still not fully aware of the reality of Jesus’ forgiveness at this point, so I associated my shame with who I was. To me, I didn’t have shame; I was shameful. I’ve always been modest with my clothing, more modest than anyone required of me. But it was never enough to me. If I was wearing a t-shirt, I would also be wearing two tanks tops under it. No matter how hard I tried, I was afraid that because I was a girl I was going to be a stumbling block.

A few months ago, I was still living in fearful modesty when I found an article someone had written– and almost cried because I related to everything she said. I hadn’t realized these things hurt me so much. While I didn’t agree with every argument the writer made after she shared her story, it brought an awareness to me that has been shaping every aspect of my life ever since, and that is–

Having sexuality is not sinful.

I know how obvious that is, but that just makes it even more terrible that I subconsciously believed it for so long. When my Bible study and youth group leaders would tell me to be modest, it was never for any reason but to keep boys safe or do my husband a favor. That implied to me that if I was seen, I was stealing someone from a deeper relationship with Jesus, and that terrified me. Cue t-shirt with two tank tops.

I want to take younger Tessa into my arms and let her cry about the shame she feels trapped in. I want her to hear C.S. Lewis when he says, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Most of all, I want her to realize that she isn’t being modest to save boys–

She is being modest because Jesus values her.

taken March 21, 2012The famous Bible passage that speaks of being a stumbling block is Romans 14:13-23. It’s a beautiful passage that speaks of loving others through what you do with yourself. It says that if you wonder if something is sinful, for you it might as well be, and then relates that concept to other people; if you are doing something that isn’t sinful, but someone sees you doing it and they have never been able to without believing they are sinning, it is as if you are sinning in front of them, which places conflict inside them. We must not do that. However, when Paul penned these words, he didn’t happen to pen the word “modesty” in with them. This concept can definitely apply to modesty, but it is not at all saying that women have the responsibility to be modest in order to keep men from sinning; if anything, it is saying women should be modest to help other women.

Verses that do speak of modesty actually have quite a different take on it. First Timothy 2:9-10 says, Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness– with good works. And 1 Peter 3:4 says, Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. Both of these verses are on my closet and I deeply hold to them, but not for the same reasons I used to. I used to read them daily and tell myself, “Okay, Tessa. Don’t let anyone see you.” Today, I read them and tell myself: “Okay, Tessa. Let people see you.”

Yes, these verses tell me to be modest, but not because I need to protect the men I meet. These verses say that modesty is a way to practice self-control; that beautiful actions should be my focus; that the things about me worth noticing come from inside me; that Jesus adores my spirit. I honestly have no clue where we got the idea that modesty is for the protection of other people. Modesty is a virtue that involves humility and kindness, not something that is meant to be found solely in women and what we put on our bodies; it’s the unwillingness to draw attention to yourself in order to win praise. These verses speak to women, but that’s because women were seen as objects and Jesus wanted to say, “No! I see inside you, and I love the you that exists in there. You are not an object and need no decoration; you are precious, and you have the ability to do beautiful things in my name. I am in love with your spirit. With you.” Do you hear Him saying that to you? Because He is. The hidden person in you is His dearest treasure. He wants your spirit to shine brightly from your physical body. That’s why He asks you to be modest. Not to keep boys from sinning, not to give your husband a gift– to be a soul instead of a body. Your existence is not a stumbling block.

One more thing: because all we were told as girls in youth group about our sexuality was that we needed to be modest, I felt like a disgusting, lustful monster for having sexual desires.

If I ever voiced this, I might have been corrected. But I was too terrified, because… well, I felt like a disgusting, lustful monster, and I didn’t want to tell someone that I was! But I wasn’t. And I’m not. I have desires sometimes, because I have sexuality, but I am not a monster. And the girls in your church’s youth group, maybe even the grown women in your congregation, need to be told this about themselves. I passionately hate that we forget men aren’t the only ones who have desires. We hear about sex being “what men want” (which is another stereotype I detest), and whenever I heard this I would internally crumble into a pile of pain as I whispered, “I want it, too. Not right this moment and not in a weird obsessive way, but I want it.” I cried about it sometimes, in quiet moments by myself as I thought, “I shouldn’t be feeling this. Jesus doesn’t want me to feel this.”

So, precious girl, this is for you: having desires is normal, not sinful. Acting out of them right now or obsessing over them may be wrong, but having them does not make you wrong. The key is surrender, giving your entire self to Jesus to care for. This isn’t something you can go through without Him. Accept what you feel and ask Him to give you patience, not simply in your actions but in your soul, too. Your sexuality was His idea. He made you; He knows how to take care of you. Beloved, there is nothing wrong with you, and I don’t ever want you to feel that way again.

And church, I have a question. I’m not asking out of bitterness, although I was when I first learned these things. I just ache to know: why didn’t you tell me? Why did it take so many shame-filled years for me to finally understand that I could have desires without being a monster? That all it took was trusting Jesus to take care of me? And why did you put effort into teaching me about modesty, yet ignore teaching boys to see me as a soul? Why did you talk to me and boys about their desires, yet say nothing about mine? And why didn’t you explain that modesty goes way beyond clothing?

Be modest, yes. But remember that modesty doesn’t stop at what you put on your body; you can be modest in your words, your actions, your spirit. And He’s teaching you to let your spirit, your soul, shine out of you and be what everyone remembers after they see you. You are not a stumbling block or a monster. You are precious. Allow that be seen.