Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies · The Basics

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

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

Testimonies · The Basics

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

“Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being and communing with Him.”   -Scott Sauls

easter bloomsI had no intention of observing Lent this year. It has always just seemed too religious to me; the idea of religion is something I wrestle with, something I consistently need to find balance in. But in February, the day after the Lord asked me to let something go and I (hesitantly, painfully) obeyed, I discovered He had done so on the first day of Lent.

Religion is not bad, and I constantly have to remember that. On the way to church Easter Sunday, I was thinking about the past forty days, and I articulated to myself: “It’s so funny that He used Lent to do all this for me, when it’s such a religious thing.” And I heard inside me a chuckle carrying the words:

“Tessa, you love religion.”

Maybe that was true, I began to realize. I make boundaries for myself all over the place (if it’s necessary or not). Symbolic acts and ceremony matter greatly to me and help me process and remember. In some measure, maybe my soul needs religion.

Religion isn’t bad. The problem comes when I begin telling Jesus He has to operate within the boundaries of it. When I try to fit Him into a mold, to make Him follow the rules, to make sure He never deviates from the established way things are done, I am making religion my god. And that is the opposite of the point.

By religious standards, I failed Lent. For weeks after I gave that thing up, I would check in on it multiple times daily, and I picked it back up before the forty days were over. But God was present for every single thing that I did, and I acted according to His lead. He was proud of me. I felt it.

On days when I cracked under the pressure, He would scoop me into a long hug and tell me it was okay. He wasn’t exasperated or disappointed in me. He told me this was His work, not mine. My work was trusting Him enough to let Him do it.

We feel like we’re being lazy, like we’re not doing enough, when He tells us the only thing necessary is to sit at His feet. Those feelings are from the voice of shame, and it’s lying. Redemption is His work. Our work is believing and saying yes. Shame told me I had to do more, that I needed to make Him more proud.

The lie I believed was that He could be more proud of me than He already was.

He is proud of me even when I stumble, because He knows He is teaching me to walk. He lets me learn at my own pace; leads me through a process. I gave up that thing piece by piece, and each moment was led by Him. When only one piece was given up, that was all He’d asked of me. He wasn’t glaring at what was left, He was pleased with the one thing that was gone. Because I’d said yes to Him despite how it hurt me. He never rushed me; He knew what I could handle.

I blamed myself and my lack of discipline for my pain, when He was waving me over to gratitude for the growth that was happening in me. I made it about my shortcomings, instead of His lavish grace and love. There is so much more freedom in Him than I allow myself to believe. His way is so much kinder than mine.

During Lent, I learned to trust Him. I learned that I can trust Him. I learned that I am fickle and that He’s not mad at me for it– He loves me. He loves me enough to hurt me in order to remove something that is killing me inside. That thing? It was an idol to me. I needed my Father to be my God again. And He knew the best way to make that happen.

Weeks later, when He told me I could pick that thing up again… I didn’t want to.

I didn’t think I was ready. I was afraid of myself. I had turned a vessel into an idol, and it had taken so much for me to cut those ties and to see those altars start crumbling. That thing’s importance in my life was decreasing, and although it was so painful, I knew it was redemptive. I knew my Father would never ask me to do something painful if there wasn’t purpose in it; it was hard and holy work. He was not being cruel, He was protecting me. Now, I was afraid to give myself too much leeway and go back to where I was before, back to the obsession and the distress. I didn’t trust myself. But then He asked me:

“Do you trust me?”

So I said yes and picked it up again.

I asked Him why He let me pick it back up. His only response was a hug that wouldn’t let go. Grace is not about what makes sense; it’s about His love for me.

I wasn’t perfect about it, and I’m still not; to be honest, it’s been a struggle, and I’m still learning what it looks like to have this thing in a new place in my life. But I’m better than I was. Because I ask Him to take over now, and He is doing the work. Lent reminded me that being with Him is the most powerful thing I can do. I didn’t give that thing up for Lent; God entered into me so I could let go of that thing during Lent.

He did Lent for me.

Maybe that’s what religion is for. It gives us tools. It creates spaces and opportunities for us to find it in ourselves to let Him in so He can do His work in us. Maybe religion isn’t us doing the work– it’s a reminder that we can’t and that He can. And will.

“I keep my eyes always on Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”   -Psalm 16:8


Soul Food

Soul Food {March 2016}

This month was a good one. I accepted its contents as they came, and there were times of stretching as well as times of happiness and comfort. Here is some of the media I took with me.


  • The piano version of “You Don’t Have to Go” by Christian Collins. Oh my goodness. I can’t express how stunning and moving this is, or how proud I am of Chris. His song and its depth have been beautifully magnified in this version, by Kurt Hugo Schneider’s piano work and by the deeper intimacy in Chris’ voice. I gasped and covered my mouth the first time. I love it so much.
  • “Here Lies My Pulse” and “Cripple Me” by Rebecca Roubion. Both of these are just such lovely ballads to sink into and stew over; sentimental, yet thoughtful. The piano and her voice are both enchanting.
  • Shakey Graves, especially “Unlucky Skin” “Family and Genus” and “Proper Fence.” His music can be gritty, so I’m a little choosy about which songs I listen to. But he definitely has brilliant gems in his narrative, down-home roster; I think he is so skillful in what he does. Listened to him pretty much nonstop this month.
  • Louisa Wendorff’s mashup of “Photograph” and “Clean,” featuring Who Is Fancy. I know I’ve mentioned Louisa multiple times over the past few months, but I just love her. Her work and her spirit inspire me. I love how she can put songs together and create a story out of them. This one is special.
  • Tyler Ward’s cover of “Piece by Piece.” I love his way of interpreting music through his electric guitar, his amazing voice, and his emotions. This song is incredible.
  • “Fill My Cup” by Paul Colman Trio. This popped up on a random music channel we were listening to, and the happy feelings laced through it caught me. I grew up listening to a different song from this band, so that made it extra special; the early 2000s is a favorite music era of mine.
  • “Latch” by Disclosure ft. Sam Smith, the Dj Lil Taj remix. So much fun to dance to! Even if that’s not your way of exercising you’ll probably end up dancing to this anyway. And of course Sam Smith’s voice is incredible.
  • “Hurricane”  by Lord Huron. Lyrically interesting, musically fun and unique.
  • “Mine” by Maisie Peters. What a lovely, personal little ballad. It’s like listening in on her inner ponderings on a rainy evening.
  • “Searchlight” by Hermitude ft. Yeo. Upbeat and lyrically simple, which makes it such a blast to dance to. I love finding new exercise jams.

Want to listen to all of these songs in one place? Check out my Soul Food 2016 Playlist!


  • The “Donut Challenge” with Rosanna Pansino and Jake Roper. Two friends, blindfolded, trying to guess which kind of bizarre doughnut they’re eating. Weirdly entertaining and fun. Although I really wanted a doughnut for a solid couple weeks and watching this made it worse.
  • “Scorpion.” This show about a group of geniuses who meet complex, urgent needs in the world and navigate their differences through their common strengths? So fun. Endearing characters and smart plotlines.
  • “Starting Your Etsy Business!” on Nia’s Nest. An Etsy shop is tucked in the back of my mind, so this FAQ-style video by a successful shop owner was a good find for me. I saved it for reference in case I ever decide to take the plunge!
  • Up. I rarely choose to watch this movie because the first few minutes make me feel so much, but I caught it playing, and had to stay and watch. It is such a lovely, witty, heart-healing film. One of my favorites ever.
  • The Peanuts Movie. Oh my gosh it’s SO STINKING CUTE! My brother and I enjoyed it so much. Heartfelt, genuinely funny, just so sweet. It’s wonderfully classic Peanuts, but also modernized well with a great script.
  • Filmmaker Paul Dalio sharing about his experience with bipolar disorder. I give standing ovations to those who speak about their mental health; they show the world how much every human being is just that– a human being, with struggles and gifts alike. [If you want to be more informed about bipolar disorder, you can visit this article that was shared on World Bipolar Day this month. I encourage you to do so!]
  • Wreck This Journal flip-throughs. I’ve had my journal for a few months, and it has been a ton of fun adventuring in art with it so far. Seeing what others have done with theirs is interesting and inspiring for me. I especially like this one and this one. [There might be a sweary word or two in their artwork?]
  • Nathan and London Kress’ wedding video. This is one of the most darling couples I’ve seen. Ever. I admit that I’m one of those people who isn’t a fan of seeing couples be coupley, but these two… they have magic. (It’s also fun to see the little boy from “iCarly” all grown up and getting married!)
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I have always loved legends of mystical lands, so when this Disney movie came out when I was little it was very exciting for me. It doesn’t get a ton of recognition, but I still think it’s fun, engaging, and creative. I always secretly admired Kida and wanted to be like her.

Books/Blogs/Articlesbook tea bookmark

  • “Why All Your Failing at Doing Things Better This Lent– May Be a Kind of Succeeding” by Ann Voskamp. This one brought the tears. Our mistakes and our messiness and our shortcomings? God doesn’t look down on them– He values them. Because He values us. And resting in that? That’s the point.
  • “You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Good” by John Richmond. A look at the images we have of others and ourselves, and why it’s a good idea to stop crafting them. Humanity is messy and grimy; that’s hard. But it can also be a comfort.
  • This report from the American College of Pediatricians about gender ideology and its effects on children. This is important.
  • “The Metaphor in the Front Yard” by Sarah Bessey. “It’s kind of ridiculous how often I used to get mad at the effects of that rotten thing in my life instead of dealing with the cause, the rotten thing itself.” This one hit me hard.
  • “Rice Krispies: My Spiritual Awakening,” also by Sarah Bessey. I think many of us grew up being taught that we had to do great things for God, and believed there were people who are heroes of faith and greater in the kingdom than the rest of us. I love how she unpacks these assumptions and what the Lord speaks into them.
  • “This Is Why Your Suffering Needs a Voice” by Lisa Gungor. “We want to move forward right away, be happy, positive, love the person who hurt us, be over the grief of a lost life. But Lent calls us to face the darkness head on; to not put a lid on our anger about whatever suffering we have experienced, but to look at it for what it is.”
  • “3 Lies We Need to Stop Telling About ‘Negative People'” by Sam Dylan Finch. I’ve never been able to articulate why people being quick to cut others out of their lives bothers me so much. This post nails it. “It’s one thing to cut out someone who is abusive or puts you in immediate danger. It’s another matter entirely to cut someone out of your life because they aren’t happy enough for you.”
  • I am the worst bookworm ever and take forever to finish books; I’m reading three right now, I just haven’t completed any of them! However, I update on Goodreads regularly, so if you’re interested in what I’m currently reading/my impressions while I read, it’s all there.

I’m taking part in the “What I’m Into” link-up over at Leigh Kramer’s blog, so be sure to go over there and browse if you like seeing what other people are consuming.