Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

On Media & Art · Practical · Testimonies · The Basics

How I’m Replacing My Anxiety: On Power, Positivity, & Choices

dsc05066When I picked up a dingy little book at a yard sale for a few cents, it was simply because the title seemed interesting to me: “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.”

I was struggling with questions about anxiety and how big a role it played in my life, so much so that it was nearly all I could think about every day. I knew nothing about this book, but I’d reached a point where I was willing to hear out anyone who might be able help me figure out what I could do about what I was facing.

During the time I read the book, not only did I receive deep convictions from its words, but I also had an open conversation with a counselor friend of mine about anxiety and its presence in me. These things paired together, following God’s revelation to me about the peace He’s made for me to walk in, have helped me find a grip on my peace and led me in the process of beating my fear.

If you struggle with anxiety, I want to share what I took away from “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway” by Dr. Susan Jeffers with you. I know every experience is a bit different and not everything works the same in everyone. If these things end up not doing for you what they do for me, nothing is wrong with you; you are working hard and doing an incredible job, finding the best weapons and strategies for your own battle. Do not let shame lie to you, and do not give up. This is just my experience, and if you end up being able to share in it, it would be cruel of me to keep what I’ve learned from you.

Not everything I learned from the book is completely related to anxiety, but all of it has been transformative for me. These were my four main takeaways:

1) Fear is based on the lie, “I can’t handle it.”

When I become obsessive and fearful about something in my life, no matter how big or small, there is one common belief that fuels the anxiety: I believe that if the bad thing I’m anticipating happens, it will be too much for me and will overcome me. Usually I am not even aware that I believe this, but the presence of the fear reveals it about me.

A few months ago, I was overwhelmingly anxious about visiting my old stomping grounds. I didn’t want it to be a painful experience, and I’d had panic attacks the last few times I’d been there. But I asked myself: what would happen if my fears were true, and it was painful and I did have a panic attack? I’d have a few difficult hours in my day– and then I’d go home. It might take me a few days to recover, but I’d recover. Was that devastating enough to keep me away? Despite the anxiety I still hosted, I decided to go– and it ended up bringing a lot of healing for the bitterness I’d been hosting toward that place. I did have a panic attack, but afterward I had a lot of good moments, too. I’m glad I didn’t let fear keep me from them.

Two years ago, I was terrified to drop out of college, because I didn’t want to be occupation-less, lose relationships, or be looked down upon for it. But what happened when I did drop out… and I did become occupation-less, lose relationships, and get looked down upon? I cried. I was hurt. I grieved. I wrestled with armfuls of questions, for months. Then I made my peace with it, and realized I was healthier emotionally than I’d ever been before. I became grateful for the opportunity to live a life more true to what I was made for. My fears might have become reality, but it didn’t ruin me; in the long run, it healed me. I survived it and found treasure along the way. I needed things to happen the way they did.

When I accept my fears at face value, they seem giant and domineering. But when I look deep enough into them, I can see how small they are against the backdrop of everything else life holds. I can see that no matter what happens, positive or negative, it won’t be the end of me. I have experienced deeply painful, terribly oppressive times, lasting moments and lasting years– and I am still here. I’m actually the happiest I’ve ever been. What we’re scared of does happen sometimes. But we survive. We learn and we keep walking. Nothing is final or too much for us.

Nothing can come for us that is bigger than He who is for us.

2) We can hold fear from two positions: pain, or power.

How you view your circumstances is known as your locus of control, and there are two possible versions of it: an external one or an internal one. If your locus of control is external, it means that you believe life happens to you and there’s nothing you can do to alter your circumstances. However, if your locus of control is internal, it means that you believe you have the power to use what you have in your given circumstances to create the life you want.

I refused to consider this concept when I first learned about it. My locus of control was completely external; I believed I was stuck where I was in life, which was a terribly harrowing belief to have, because it was eating me alive to stay in my circumstances. When I was told I could change my situation if I wanted to, I immediately shut the idea out, because I didn’t believe I was capable of doing that. But multiple people from multiple areas of my life all began unknowingly asking me the same thing: “Have you ever thought about doing something else?”

And my answer, when I finally gave one, was: “…no. Is that possible?”

Once I opened myself up to the idea of making my own changes, once I realized I had power over myself– God showed me how to use it. He didn’t leave me floundering by myself, nor did He become angry at me like I feared. It turned out that He was the one who made me powerful in the first place. Using that power was not, in fact, a rebellion against Him, but rather a submission to Him and His design for me.

It took months for me to say yes to my new direction, and even longer to tell anyone about it and begin acting on it. But I did. I started making changes. I left old things and started pursuing new ones. It was still hard, but a different kind of hard than before; this was the kind I knew was going to birth good things.

I’m not stuck anymore. I know that, at any time, if what I’m doing is not good for me, I can change it and do something else. I have the power to do that.

When we’re in any situation, we are making a choice to stay there. We can choose not to stay there anymore if we want to. I used to constantly say, “I can’t do that because this thing is preventing me.” But the truth is that there is truly nothing I can’t do.

If I wanted to move to Los Angeles today, I could. I don’t have money, transportation, or a place to stay, but I could pack a suitcase and get on a bus, and once I arrived I could find a shelter somewhere. Would it be the wisest thing for me to do? Probably not. So I choose not to do it. But I don’t get to say that I can’t do it.

If I want something badly enough, I have ability to go get it. It is just that sometimes the payoffs of not doing it at this point in time might outweigh having it right now. That’s okay! It teaches me patience and trust. Life is largely about the process; waiting times are not times we have to despise or rush to escape. Sometimes it’s the right time to make a change; other times, it’s the right time to wait it out for a while. But we are never stuck. Once we understand that, we are living from a much more productive and positive place.

I think a lot of us grew up viewing power and control as negative things. I have known and been affected by controlling people my entire life, so I know it’s easy to have those negative connotations. But do you know why controlling, manipulative people do what they do? They feel powerless. The reason they are seeking to control you is that they see power in you and want to benefit from it; they don’t believe they can do what they want to do themselves, so they use other people. Controlling people have an external locus of control.

A healthy sense of power is so different from that. When you believe you are powerful, you believe in your ability to do what you want to do, not to make someone else do it. A truly powerful person is someone who knows they are in control of their own actions and attitudes, and exercises that control in order to make good choices and love well.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; it’s something He gives us and wants to see in our lives. It is not simply the ability to keep yourself from bad choices, like we seem to teach all the time– it’s also using your power to make really good ones. When you use your power well, you are demonstrating spiritual growth.

This all affects our relationships with fear and anxiety because if you believe in your power, you will start using it. With an internal locus of control, you know that your circumstances don’t control you– you control you. Whatever fear is living in you, you know you are bigger than it and that you can combat it. You do not allow yourself to become a victim of anxiety, but rather a master over it. You might have anxiety, but it is you that owns it, not the other way around.

When I am afraid, I have a choice. I can choose to succumb to it and let it lead me, or I can choose to ride the wave out and get through it. Fear still exists for me, but it doesn’t have to win out over me.

It’s a cliché now, but it’s still true: when you learn you are powerful, you begin to realize you also carry responsibility. You realize you can’t blame others for your happiness (or lack thereof) anymore, because you are in control of your experience. No one can be responsible for your quality of life except for you.

There’s an important distinction between your experiences in life and your experiences of life. Things happen to us that we had no hand in. We don’t get to choose where we grew up, or what programs accept us, or who falls in love with us. But we do get to choose how we let those things affect us. Bitterness? Despondency? Entitlement? Those are responses. And while we may not be able to choose our initial feelings and it’s important for us to recognize them, we one hundred percent control what we decide to feed and sit in versus what we decide to let go of and move past. We have control over how we choose to live; we have the power to look at everything through a hopeful lens instead of a victimized one.

I have found that when I take responsibility for my feelings and my mindset along with my behavior, it is easier for me to be kind to others and to love my enemies. I can’t get mad at someone for not giving me something I have the ability to give myself. It doesn’t mean I’m condoning their negative behavior; it just means I’m not letting it change my positive behavior.

3) Being positive is not being in denial, it’s being perceptive.

Many of us have been told that when we look for the positive, we are not aware of the reality of the situation and are being oblivious to what’s going on. But let’s take a minute to think about this: what makes it so that a positive mindset is less realistic than a negative one? Both are perspectives, ways of viewing reality. And the way you view reality determines how you treat it. So if we choose a negative mindset in the name of being realistic, what we are really doing is determining to have a negative reality.

Choosing a positive mindset is not being unrealistic– it is choosing to have the best experience possible in reality. When we view life through a positive lens, we don’t need denial, because we can see possibilities for ways to make things better, and we are more likely to act on those possibilities because we believe they can make a difference.

Positivity is not weak, it is empowering.

It can be wildly hard to get rid of a negative mindset when you’ve been hosting one your whole life, or when you are in environments that are full of the kind of talk that fuels one. Perseverance matters so much in this. Our subconscious’  believe what they are told; if they are fed insecurities, lies, and thoughts of helplessness, and they aren’t also being fed a greater measure of affirmations, truths, and motivation, they will continue to operate out of destructive patterns.

We have to out-talk our negativity. When you feel insecure, name strengths and good traits you possess and point out to yourself how you’re doing a good job; when someone tells you something that is against your God-given identity, reaffirm your identity and what it means for you; when you start to feel helpless, tell yourself that you are powerful and remind yourself of all your options. Be kind to yourself. Be active and relentless about it, and have people in your life who echo these kinds of healing words to you. Let love, not fear, have the final word in you.

4) When it comes to making decisions, there is no loss, only gain.

I am the queen of indecisiveness. If there are multiple options, I pretty much go into paralysis until it’s narrowed down to two, at which point I will toss the two options every possible way they can be turned, then make a very hesitant choice. I will proceed to doubt my choice for weeks. What a fun cycle, eh?

But making decisions is actually a lot less complicated and dire than I’ve believed it to be. No matter which option I choose, the truth is that there is not a losing decision. On any path I walk, there is a wealth of lessons, experiences, and treasures for me to find. I think often we fear making a bad choice because we don’t want to miss out on something good. But what if we had a different perspective when making a decision? What if we focused on what the different options have to give instead of what we’d potentially lose? When we do that, we are no longer looking for the least costly option, but instead for the most rewarding one. It is much more productive to function this way.

And if you end up being unsatisfied with your decision? You can still make a different one! It is okay to make mistakes. No matter how many zigzags you make on your path, you’ll still be able to get to where you’re going. We gain lessons and experiences from everything we go through. God’s business is redemption; nothing is wasted. And He knows what you’re going to choose before you choose it, so you can rest in knowing it’s all part of something bigger, something that will always work out for your good.

——-

Phew! There is so much to unpack in these concepts, so much we can reap from them. I encourage you to keep ruminating on them. And, if you’d like, I so recommend reading “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.” The last two chapters are a bit out there and I admit I only skimmed them because they were more opinion-based, but the rest of the book was such a transformative tool in my life.

Anxiety doesn’t own me anymore. I am better equipped to face it than I knew I could be. All of this is my story; I’m not going to present it as the cure or the never-failing balm for anxiety. But I wanted to share my experience and the tools I’ve found useful, if there’s any chance you might be helped by it, too. I am rooting for you and fully believe in a breakthrough for you, however in comes into your life. Thank you for being interested in how in came into mine.

Responses

On Having a Voice

everything will be okayA few weeks ago I started writing something in anger because someone was speaking pointless words that tore others down. I didn’t plan on writing anything more about it than that little processing-piece only I would see.

Then that person, not knowing I was upset or that I’d even heard their words, opened up to me. They told me they often feel they don’t have a voice; that they don’t have anything important to say, let alone a platform where they can say it.

I realized that I’m often a lot like them.

It’s hard to use your voice, let alone use it well, when you don’t believe you have one.

Shame, doubt, fear… they tell us no one really needs to hear what’s in us. And when we believe that, we not only don’t get to use our voices to spur the good we want to see in the world– we get careless. We say whatever seems interesting or funny or relevant at the time, whether we completely believe it or not, because we don’t think it affects anyone.

But wow it does.

That person’s unkind words were heard so clearly; they caused me to fume for days, and they weren’t even about me. But… how was that person to know? If they believe their words don’t impact anyone, the natural conclusion is that being unkind doesn’t matter, because there’s no one to be affected by it.

Here is the truth: people do hear you.

If you are speaking to one person, you have a powerful voice. You’ve got family members in your home, friends in your goings about, co-workers at your job, classmates at school, cashiers at the grocery store, Facebook friends on your screen… there are people all around you. You have an audience, and they are receiving what you say. You have the power to choose what you give them. If you’re careless and don’t give thought to your words, you can hurt, or confuse, or simply fall flat. But if you speak truth and love… it reverberates and carries on inside those who hear you. Because God is love, and He is the truth, and He is literally the Word. When you speak love, you are placing Jesus in front of those you speak to.

What was that about your words not having power?

Your words, when they’re spoken truthfully in love, have accessed the greatest power there is.

So many people from various walks have spoken love into me. I remember the most random compliments people have given me, because they uplifted me so much; I make better choices when people encourage me in my ability to do so; I remember truthful things others have shared with me when I need endurance; I am even more apt to purse something when people tell me I’m good at it. I’m not the only one who experiences this! We all do. Words matter so much to our souls. Why do we feel like our words would be the exception?

You have a voice. You have something important inside you, and you have an audience to share it with. What you say? It matters. The tongue has the power to kill and to bring life, and you get to choose which you use it for. You can tear down, yes, and you can hide in silence, too. But you can also ignite healing, world-altering things in people, just with your words of love. I know a man who responded to a suicidal-sounding tweet a young girl sent him; with his 140-character (if that) response of love and encouragement, he blew her away with his kindness and convinced her to stay in the world longer. Just a few short sentences. But they had the power of life.

Did you know that you have a voice? Because you do.

And we’re listening.

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

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Testimonies · The Basics

Releasing the Truth

I have always been open about myself. Even though I’ve become a bit timid, I don’t hesitate to tell someone something about myself if they ask. But last year, when I was sharing my struggles with someone and they essentially asked me if I was crazy. . .  something changed. I’ve found that now I try to water down the truth in order to appear okay, that I’m afraid to be honest because sometimes the truth is hideous.

I didn’t realize this until recently, when I was wrestling with sadness and ended up talking about it with two different people. The first person saw my sadness, and their response was to ask me questions. They were rather broad questions that didn’t really pertain to my sadness, but I tried to answer them. The more I was asked, the more I tried to hide the truth, because I knew this person would not understand. I left that experience feeling more sad and alone than before.

The next day, I met with my small group. Every time we get together, we go around the room and share our “rose and thorn,” basically the best and worst elements of the week for us.  It was my turn, and I gladly shared the “rose” of a dear friend having her baby. We rejoiced for my friend and gushed about the incredible beauty of new life. We were just about to move on until someone said, “Wait. Tessa, have you shared your thorn?” All attention was directed to me. My heart was in my stomach, and I quickly mustered, “Oh, my thorn is just brain stuff. It’s okay.” But that wasn’t enough. Our leader asked me, “What does that mean?” Everyone waited for me to answer. I began hesitantly. . .  but I told them. Whatever truth about the state of my heart came to mind, I spoke aloud—my fear of sounding crazy, why I had that fear, the feelings I had that reminded me of depression, the helplessness that made me feel—everything. Their response? Genuine sympathy and understanding. They didn’t try to fix me like the person the day before had; they simply prayed for me and showed loving concern for me, and that was the best thing they could possibly do. I felt loved and cared for, by them and Jesus. That was the day I learned that being vague about myself doesn’t help me; it keeps me from experiencing the joy and freedom of truth.

taken for the 5:19 Photo Project, 2013Jesus says, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32), and He is so right. But have you ever considered that this doesn’t simply mean “stop lying”? Lies are not the only thing to keep truth from us; sometimes concealing the truth is just as harmful as trying to replace it. Being vague is essentially keeping the truth from someone, right? Lying keeps truth from people, too, only instead of being secretive it is manipulative. Lies and vagueness are related, and as Christians we cannot be liars. Jesus Himself is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). If we live contrary to the truth, we are living contrary to Him. Again, this does not refer only to lying; Paul almost suggests that being vague angers God when he says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). God doesn’t want us to hide.

Being vague, in actuality, does not even serve the purpose we want it to. Instead of preventing people from knowing any details, it makes them crave the details even more, because it seems as if something is being kept from them. I will give you a disclaimer right now and say that I’m about to be a bit vague in the stories I tell, but it is not to conceal the truth from you; it is simply to respect the people in these stories. I think that is one of the only situations that makes it okay to be vague: when you need to protect the identity or confidence of others. That being said, a man was recently fired from his job for reasons unknown to the public. Because no one involved in the situation has given anyone any information, the public is not only insatiably curious—they assume the worst about him. They know nothing, but because the truth has been kept from them, they think it must be an incredibly ugly truth.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my youth pastor was fired and sent back to his home state. It was indeed for an ugly reason: he had been unfaithful to his wife with an intern in the church. It was a horrible, painful truth—but it was the truth. And because the church leadership was open about it, we didn’t have to be curious; all we had to do was cry, grieve, and heal. Knowing the truth brought that healing to us, because it allowed us to be unified. It hurt, so much, but hurt heals.

Sometimes vagueness creates curiosity, but other times the reverse is true: it can create a sense of tolerance. If we’re crafty enough about it, we can make things seem smaller or less important than they are. For example, politicians are often vague, so much so that it is hard to understand what is actually being said. Many people are adamant about finding the truth, but more commonly I see people simply give up trying to know. George Orwell, in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” states it this way: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of atom bombs on Japan can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” I believe that this kind of vagueness creates an attitude of cloudy tolerance in people, and that leads me to ask myself:

Do I want to be simply TOLERATED?

If I become crafty in vagueness, it doesn’t allow anyone to actually know me. They can have a conversation with me and leave with no more understanding of me and my life than before. It might make me “safe,” but not known. There is great value in being understood by someone; we all long for it, yet rarely to we give anyone the opportunity to give that gift to us.

Just last month, I received it.

Again, I must be a little vague to honor the other person involved in the story, but I trust this will not robbed of its power or beauty even if a few details are not elaborated. I was having a conversation with a dear friend I’ve known since grade school; we have grown together in age and in spirit, and she is a treasure to me. But, in all the years we’ve been close, we had never shared our testimonies with each other. Maybe we figured we lived them together, but, still, we didn’t know the whole story. During this conversation with her last week, I told her I needed prayer but was afraid to say why. She paused, then pursued, “Can I tell you my whole story?” I said, “Of course,” and with every sentence she spoke my heart rate increased.

She was telling me my own story.

She was speaking about herself, but she was unknowingly telling me, “Our testimonies are almost the same.” We had fallen into the same sins, felt the same guilt, received the same revelations! Nearly every detail lined up. When she finished her narrative, I thanked her, and said, “I was the same way.” She gasped, and whispered, “You, too, Tessa?” We laughed and trembled joyously at the gift God had given us: assurance, understanding, and FREEDOM.

Just imagine if my friend had given me a cloudy version of her testimony! We would never have experienced the miracle we did. We had been vague with each other about our testimonies for many years, but inside we carried one of the deepest connections possible. I am infinitely grateful that she was honest with me; it gave me the courage to be honest with her, and as a result we now walk in so many blessings we couldn’t have before. The whole truth led to more wholeness in our friendship.

Most of all, it made me see that I hadn’t been honest with myself. I lived with the belief that no one else who lives the way I do now would have a past like mine. But SHE DID. I had been lying to myself.

We MUST be honest. Not only is it firmly required of us, but God is practical in His requirements; honesty in all things, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is one of the most important elements of walking in freedom. The truth will set you free. And sometimes, you must set the truth free first. Let it out.

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The War Inside

Song of Songs 6:1-3–

OTHERS

Where has your beloved gone, O most beautiful among women? Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?

SHE

My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather the lilies. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.

     What I found: After she publicly expressed her love for Him, declaring that she is not ashamed but PROUD to be His and speaking of His glory, others began to seek Him. They started realizing what she did at the beginning of the book: they needed and wanted Him. Everywhere you go there are people like this, people who seek answers, but we need to realize that they didn’t begin asking until she began sharing. You can’t wait for people to ask about your relationship with Jesus; they (most likely) won’t know to ask you about Him if you don’t talk about Him! You don’t have to burst out with the Gospel on the sidewalk; just live out life with Him. That’s the first part this passage. The other is this: GOD DOESN’T LEAVE. No, you AREN’T alone. He IS there. I don’t know if you feel Him right now. I’ll be honest and say I don’t. I haven’t in a long time, but I know He’s here. All my doubts, everything that tells me He’s gone, is a lie from the enemy. There really is a battle between good and evil: it’s being waged inside you and me and everyone on earth. We have an enemy whose sole mission is to rip us apart from God. He hates God, and because God loves you he wants to destroy you. I don’t know when this battle is going to end, but IT WILL END. God will rescue me. God will rescue YOU. God will restore us and everything we’ve lost. The enemy will not win. We have to be strong now, with God’s strength. We can’t let the enemy steal us away, or we will lose, the ultimate loss. Hold onto Jesus with everything you are! He will protect you; He will never let you fall to somewhere He isn’t. He’s in the deepest holes to catch you. Jesus felt this pain we feel when He died on the cross. Not only did He feel the horrific physical pain of every piece of the process of crucifixion, but He felt the pain of everyone who lived and ever would live, inside and out, all at once. Jesus knows what pain is. When He rose, He rose against pain. He overcame it! Dear friend, the battle is already won! Keep fighting for Him, and let Him fight for you! He’s not gone. This year at Generation Unleashed, I fell on the church floor during worship, sobbing. I prayed over and over, “Come back! Please come back!” Eventually, still on the floor, still sobbing, a woman came and put her hands on my back and began to pray. She alternated prayer with speaking over me, and at one point she cried to me, “Come back to Him, He wants you to come back to Him!” He wasn’t gone– I was. Ask Him to restore you! You see, even in the passage today, He’s where He’s always been: inside you, rejoicing in you, completely YOURS.

This is what I found today. What about you? How can I be praying for the battle inside you?