Tag Archives: identity

Thoughts from Being 10 Months Porn-Free

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I didn’t plan on this today; I thought maybe I’d write something about how I was doing once I reached the one-year mark. But today is my ten-month mark of being pornography-free, and I have a lot of thoughts about it. I spent some time in my journal last night, wrestling. I would like to share that journal entry.

This month was probably the hardest temptation-wise out of all ten so far. I’m not sure why, but I’ve had to be extra proactive and cautious with myself lately. I fought for this month.

Here’s what gets me: in ten months of freedom, you’d think I would know what was working, would know why I’m doing well and what got me here. But I really don’t. And people ask me, and it feels weird to not have any answers.

I don’t want to invalidate my addiction story; I truly did do things I didn’t want to do, repeatedly/routinely, and I still face repercussions. It was real. But I also don’t want to tell people that grace, candor, and hard work will cure their addiction. I know it is not that simple. It’s just all I can pinpoint that has contributed to my own recovery. I really do not know how I got here.

Though I am so grateful for the way things have worked for me, I understand not everyone who does the same things I’m doing fares the way I somehow have. I don’t have the explanation for that. I fully believe God heals and restores all who come to Him, that He is strength in our weakness, that He shows absolutely no partiality. I trust His timing for everyone. I just don’t know why some of us find visible healing sooner than others, why the timing varies from person to person. Or why I get to be one of those who is seeing my healing already.

Not that I don’t still face temptation, as this month especially has proven (though I can’t exclude the other nine, either). I do face temptation, often. I don’t have it “easy.” But I know I have it easier than many. Maybe I caught my addiction in earlier stages than most who enter recovery.

tiny buds and bloomsI think that’s what I want to stress most: recovery doesn’t stop.

“Porn addict” is in no way part of my identity, and never was. But it’s something that has been/is part of my life. And recovering from being a porn addict and remaining in that recovery? It is an almost guaranteed lifelong process. This is something that will probably always be part of my life. I believe it gets better. But as long as I live in this skin, I have potential to act out of it and I have a lot of choices to make.

I truly do believe in full recovery. I am just not naïve enough to tell anyone, including myself, that there’s a point of arrival. God heals, and He also doesn’t take away our freedom of choice. It’s constant; it’s maintenance; it’s abiding. And I am also not so privileged as to believe people who do what I’ve been doing are guaranteed to see the same outcome I’m seeing. It is different for everyone. Honestly, I really wrestle with that sometimes. Timing is so beyond us, and I don’t understand it.

I think finding the balance of celebrating where I am while commiserating with those in an overwhelming place in the struggle is something I will have to work through for a while. Today, I don’t feel like celebrating, though I know it would be okay for me to. I know the highs and lows of this process, and I want to honor everyone in every stage of it. I am still learning how.

I’m so grateful for these ten months. I don’t take it for granted. I know it’s a gift I don’t deserve, one that puzzles me to be in possession of sometimes.

To my brothers and sisters who are in recovery– be it day one, month ten, or year five– you are in the midst of something holy. He is proud of you. He is working in you. He is there in the mess of the process with you, day by day. And if you have to start over again? Nothing about this changes. There is nothing you can do to change the love He has for every bit of you. Lean into that.


[This video on recovery/sobriety is so eloquent and echoes a lot of my feelings, and also carries some solid encouragement. I highly recommend it.]

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

 

Turning My Darkness to Light

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“Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  -Philippians 1:14

DSC04846We don’t like to vocalize our struggles until we feel they can be wrapped up somehow. Until it becomes part of our past, we don’t tell more than a few people (if that) about our most broken parts.

What happens when the past doesn’t stay there?

What happens when the past used to be a long time ago, but this year we stumbled, and the past became February? And what happens when February turns into five days ago?

All week, I have known my recent stumble demanded a new response from me. I learned a lot last month about what it means to be real; I value no-exception honesty in people more and more every day, and have gained unspeakable comfort and strength from those who vocalize the raw, unfinished pieces of themselves. I cannot escape the knowledge that there is power in being wholly genuine in every context I find myself. Even Scripture has encouraged me to bare it all, has said, “When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.

Our darkness becomes light when we shine light on it.

Light can only enter broken things, after all.

I can feel my heart pound wildly against my chest at the thought of the freedom I would be walking in if I just released everything… including the parts I don’t want you to see. But I’ve been afraid. People can generally accept someone’s messy past. But a messy present? One that may or may not go away soon… if ever? It scares us. Because it’s imperfect and we can’t fix it with our usual, one-size-fits-all answers.

I used to be afraid of the struggles of others. But when I stopped denying the existence of my own, when I couldn’t ignore them anymore, I found such comfort in the company of those who were openly imperfect. Even if they weren’t physically with me, I knew they were with me. I knew I wasn’t the only one dealing with garbage like mine.

It is time for me to be that company for others, too.

I have to bring my darkness out into the light. For me, but also for you. It might scare you once you see it; it might make you leave me, or attempt to fix me with no result. Those are deep fears I keep running into as I write this. But… what if it helps heal you instead? It might do that, too. It might embrace you, or spark some measure of hope in you. Because you might remember it when you think you have to hide your own struggles, when you think you have to deal with them by yourself. And it might lead you to accept the open arms of your Father more readily. I know this because others shining light on their garbage has done the same for me.

You are not the only one. You are not the only one who tries but doesn’t always succeed; who has been doing well but knows they could fall again; who still deals with things they hate, things they know should belong in the past. I’m here, too. I’m with you.

And here is what I have in my garbage right now: lust and pornography.

I accidentally found porn around three years ago. It horrified me, and I sobbed into my Father afterwards, repentant and deeply pained. It truly was an accident. But months later, in one weak moment… I remembered how easy it had been to find. So I found it again. On purpose this time. And it horrified me, and I repented in deep sincerity once again.

This cycle has repeated itself since. My Father has forgiven me and welcomed me immediately each time. He has never condemned me. Instead, He has comforted me, and let me weep inside Him as my shame and disgust overwhelmed me. He has promised to teach me to renew my mind, and has done so much in restoring me.

And I still struggle.

I deal with lust in some form on an almost daily basis, but it’s only been twice this year that I have given in to pornography: once in February and once last week. But twice still feels like so many, because I know there shouldn’t be any instances of this in my life anymore. Both times, I have written to a friend I go to for accountability, and lamented: “I thought it was gone. It had been so long, I thought I was finally rid of it. How did I get here again?”

I hate pornography. I hate the industry, I hate the effects it has on us psychologically and physically, I hate the perversion it displays of something that was made to be pure and dazzling. I hate it with the deepest passion. Yet I have consumed it twice this year. I consumed it last week, even with all I know. And I don’t know if this time was finally the last.

I believe there will be a last time. God has kept His promise to rework my evil intentions into good things for His glory, making me stronger with new revelations every time I have failed. I just don’t know when that last time will be. I hoped it would be February, and it wasn’t. Now I hope it will be last week. It could be. But I honestly don’t know. Not one piece of me wants pornography in my life, but what happened last week that somehow made me feel differently? I don’t understand it. I hate fearing the ticking of a time bomb inside me, never knowing when or if it could go off. Because I know I have control over my actions… yet I do what I hate.

This is where I am today. I’m emerging from grieving my sin. I’m wrestling with what it means to be a human being with flesh warring against my soul. And I’m exposing my darkness so it can become light. Altogether, I am learning how to live in freedom. Freedom from my struggles, but another kind of freedom, too– the freedom that comes from living fully in the truth, without hiding anything and without fearing what others might see in me.

My unsightly pieces are visible to you now. But I hope when you look at me, they aren’t what you see. Instead… I hope you see a companion. I hope you see there is so much more to me than my struggles, that my garbage is not who I am– and that the same is true for you.

We have let fear and shame keep us from our freedom and from each other for too long. It’s time we take back our ground. We have been given the gift of being able to bear each other’s burdens and walk toward healing together; I don’t want to forsake that anymore.

I am with you. I am with you.

And we are still fully loved, even as we are fully known.

We get to learn how to live in our freedom now. One stumble and one step at a time.

On Identity & Never Fitting Quite Right

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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.

[Listen]

On Having Flaws & Being Loved

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I’m learning that God doesn’t view my flaws the way I was taught He did.

I was taught that purity is something I maintain; something I must guard and curate, through the means of what I do, how I speak, how I behave, what I lend an ear to. It is a sanitized lifestyle, a sanitized mind, no room for ugly thoughts or feelings, no allowance for mistakes or questions or doubt. I was taught that my purity was something I grew because of the good things I did and the bad things I avoided.

As a result of this teaching (that no one outright spoke but that was the core of so many of the things people did say), I believed this was what made God love me more and think I was of enough value to be His: if He saw me live in complete purity. But I couldn’t, no matter how much I effort I made, how strongly I disciplined myself, how sincerely I repented. I couldn’t be pure enough to be fully loved by Him.

Filthy, life-sucking lies.

God has always been seeking one thing from me, and that is me. My purity exists and is here in full right now, because He gave it to me. Because He knew I could not achieve it, He gave me His own. He gave His life to break the barrier, because being with me mattered that much to Him, was that strong of a desire in Him. It is not because I am perfectly sanitized or because everything about me fits into a nice, tidy little box or because I do everything right– it’s because He loves me. He always has.

People don’t like my flaws. I don’t, either. If I could change them, more people would love me and it would be a lot easier to love myself. Because I’ve always had this mindset, I thought God did, too. I thought He loved me out of obligation, as if He was my parent so He had to love me. And I thought He wanted to change me. I thought He welcomed me, but kept our intimacy to a minimum, because I wasn’t pure enough to fully be embraced yet. My flaws had to be fixed first.

“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”   -Song of Solomon 4:7

DSC03312God does not want to change me.

Does He want to heal my wounds? Yes, of course! “Healer” is part of His identity, cannot be removed from Him. He loves me and wants fullness and abundant life for me, and He hates to see me hurting, to see me living in less than His best. So He will heal me of my wounds, those things I carry that hurt me and the world around me. And it’ll be painful sometimes. My wounds are numerous and large and I’ve carried them for so long that I get protective because don’t know what I’m like without them.

But my wounds are not me.

There is nothing about me that is wrong. He loves every single piece of me, even the ones no one else (including me) really likes. I’m broken, a huge mess. But none of my pieces are a mistake. All of my pieces are here, being tenderly placed together. There is not one piece of me that is unworthy. Not one.

I value and seek growth; I know He wants it for me. But I also know that He is the one who makes it happen, when it is supposed to. And I know He calls me flawless, wholly beautiful, right now. And if He says it, it is truth.

My Father doesn’t say, “I love you even though you have flaws.” He says, “I love every single piece of you.”

“They’re Not a Christian Because _____”

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DSC09659“That person says they’re a Christian, but it doesn’t seem like it, because they–”

Wait. Can we talk for a second?

What makes someone a Christian? We could have different perspectives on this, but I think most would agree that a Christian is someone who seeks to know and love God, and accepts His grace through Jesus. That’s a Christian at the core, isn’t it? Do we agree there? If we do–

How do we make sense of these statements that so many of us make?

“He says he’s a Christian now, but he still swears all the time.”

People said that about an actor earlier this year. He had just declared himself to be a Christian, after a long internal battle ending in an encounter with God– and we weren’t rejoicing with him. We were telling him: “Not quite yet. Change your vocabulary first. Christians don’t talk like that.” We missed out on joy.

“He says he wants to be like Jesus, but he doesn’t seem to care too much, because Jesus definitely didn’t live the way he’s living.”

People have written entire articles based on that statement after reading a recent interview with a huge celebrity. We weren’t excited that he was seeking to emulate Jesus in His life, or that he believes in the power of Jesus to forgive and transform us, or that he just blatantly shared the gospel with an infinite number of people who adore him and read his interviews. All we saw was that he isn’t perfect yet.

Because we have it all figured out?

“You want to be like Jesus? Well, I’m sorry, but you aren’t,” we said. Forgetting that we aren’t, either. Forgetting that we’re all in different spots on our journeys, and deal with different struggles at different points in time, and that love and grace are what make us who we are.

“She talks about Jesus, but she also dresses immodestly pretty often.”

I said this. About a musician I didn’t even know. I didn’t focus on the positive messages she shares through her music and on social media, and I didn’t see her as a person. I just looked at her clothes and decided I knew the contents of her heart. And I am so ashamed, and deeply sorry.

When we say, “They’re not a Christian because _____,” we are saying that something other than the love and grace of Jesus makes us who we are.

That is in direct opposition of the gospel.

The gospel tells us that our identity lies solely in the redemption we’ve been given through His love. Our identity as beloved children comes from the fact that He loves us. “They’re not a Christian because _____” tells us that our identity as beloved children is dependent on our behavior. Dependent on us.

And I don’t ever want my interactions with anyone to become a vessel for that false gospel.

If your theology is different from mine; if we don’t think the same way concerning social issues; if your lifestyle is unlike the one I live– our Savior is still no different. Christ came for all. If you know and love Jesus, we’re siblings, and I love you right where you are, the wholeness of you. And so does He.

May we never forget who we are.

On Religion, Relationship, & The Extremes

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I’ve been in a place of extremes lately. I was in a church history class last semester, and the main thing I took away from it was our tendency to go to extremes. When one group of Christians would begin having an issue in their beliefs/teachings/practices, those who noticed would break off and start their own group striving to be without that issue. But something always seemed to happen when they did that– they would go to the other extreme. If the church was being too strict and regimented, a group would form that would later become too loose and reckless. And it would continue in a cycle of legalism versus carelessness. It had to be one or the other. They never seemed to be able to just fix the intensity; if something was reminiscent of an element in the group they’d broken away from, they pushed it away and sought the opposite, because they had been reminded of something that had been destructive.

And I guess I’ve been doing that, too.

DSC01148I don’t want religion. Jesus didn’t come to earth to start Christianity; He came to earth to save the people He loved so He could be with them and share in relationship with them. I go to church, I read the Bible, I do “Christian” things, but it’s not because I’m religious. I do those things because I know Him, and through relationship with Him I know that these are things He wants me to do. These are things that grow our relationship and put me in positions to love Him and love my family of humanity.

I don’t want to be part of a religion. I don’t want to be a Christian. I just want Jesus. I want to know God. I want to know the Creator and Healer. And I do. We share in love, and when life is dark and painful He is the one thing that makes me feel remotely alive and safe and calm. I just want Him.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples shared the various things they’d heard: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, a prophet. But then Jesus asked them another question– “But who do you say that I am?” This question is so different from the first. The first is about people who don’t have relationship with Him; they’ve seen Him and heard Him and maybe even spoken with Him, but to them He is nothing personal. For them, He is a concept to be pondered. But the second question… the second question is about His friends. Jesus is asking the people who know Him whom they believe Him to be. He doesn’t ask them who they think “the Son of Man” is; He simply asks–

“Who do you say that I am?”

They know Him. And it is through knowing Him that they know and believe and live in the life-shaking truth:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The living God.

When we know the living God, any ideas we have about Him get to be confirmed or proven wrong, because we know the person they belong to. We go from religious people to the people who are His loved ones.

That’s what I want.

But I think, in the process, I’ve hated religion too much.

No, I still don’t want to be a Christian; I still think Jesus came to save His loved ones instead of set up a religion. “He himself is our peace, who has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:14-16). But I know Him because, through reading the Bible, I learn to recognize His voice. I cannot express how many times I’ve grown to know Him better through studies of theology. I can’t tell you how many times the Christian church has pointed me toward greater depth with Him. I can’t count how many times Christians have ended up saying the same things God has said.

Jesus didn’t start Christianity. But maybe Christianity was started by people like me, who wanted to know Him.

I’ve gone to the other extreme. I’ve seen the deep issues and hurts that come from being religious and formulaic about a relationship with God, and in response I’ve started becoming adverse to anything that sounds religious… even if, maybe, it’s what Jesus says, too. I finally admitted these things out loud, and to myself, for the first time today.

And I was sitting in a Catholic cathedral when I did it.

My church is great. It’s relaxed and homey and feels accessible. But the cathedral… every stained glass window, every carving, every statue, every element in that room… it was all about Him. One of my best friends was there with me, and she said, “You would think it’s too extravagant, but it’s not. It’s all for Him; all of it makes me think about Jesus. And that cross…11800312_865882580114334_2251339569539622530_nWe don’t see that in many churches. There will be a wooden cross, but… He isn’t on it. Maybe we’re too afraid to look at Him.”

Jesus, on the cross, for His loved ones. That’s what I want to see.

And I will do everything I can to see Him more clearly and more closely every day, to be with Him. Even if that makes me look like a Christian the process. Because I don’t need to pick an extreme.

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”   -Job 42:5-6