Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies

On Anxiety, Shame, & Unexpected Self-Care

tea on 5-19I thought I was going to start this month out fresh, with February’s confusion and stress behind me and fresh optimism and motivation in front of me. But when I woke up on March first, I was immediately overwhelmed by panic.

I got out of bed to assess what might be wrong, and started becoming faint. My face and my hands felt numbed. With blurry tunnel vision, I slowly crawled downstairs before my parents left to go to work; I told them what I was experiencing, while struggling to take full breaths. My mom called in late to work and drove me to urgent care.

When we got to the clinic, filling out paperwork was hard with how weak and distant I felt, but I managed to do it. They soon called me back to the exam room. I answered questions about my symptoms the best I could as the doctor checked my breathing and heartbeat. She asked me how long I’d had anxiety.

At the end of the exam, she told me she wanted to have my blood tested just to rule out anything else, but that I was probably having an anxiety attack. I went out to the waiting room, told my mom, and sobbed.

My mom went back with me because I asked her to. When the nurse entered the room, he said in a pleasant voice, “Do you do okay with needles and blood?” I was still crying a little and whispered a teary, “No.” I don’t like needles at any time, but every hesitancy I had about them felt almost intolerable then. The nurse was kind and spoke gently with me, even as I started sobbing again when I had to lie down and let him push up my sleeve. Both he and my mom led me in calming breathing and in trying to shift my focus. I still panicked the whole time, but my blood was successfully taken. At first, the nurse said cheerfully, “That wasn’t too bad, was it?” But he quickly added, “Actually, it was probably hard for you. But you did a good job.” I tried to laugh, but I don’t think I did.

The doctor sent me home a few minutes later. And a few hours later, she called with results of my blood test: everything was fine. It really had been anxiety.

I struggled to accept the fact that any of this happened. I didn’t believe it was okay– didn’t believe going to urgent care for anxiety was a good enough reason. I thought it made me weak, unstable, and immature. Did I think that about anyone else who’d done so? No; just me.

The tears in urgent care had been about how scared I was of needles, that was true. But, mostly… they had been about how ashamed I was to even be there.

I knew my anxiety was a disorder. But I thought that because I worked so consistently hard to walk in truth and courage, anxiety wouldn’t be too much of a factor in my life. Sure, I still had it, but I could live as if it was a small thing.

It is true that I am more powerful than anxiety, and that it doesn’t have to rule me. And after my visit to urgent care, I’m realizing maybe another thing is true: maybe acknowledging and accepting the anxiety isn’t the same as giving it power over me.

In my desire to be completely better and completely rid of it, maybe I’ve ignored caring for myself. Not that I don’t take good care of myself, because I do: exercising daily, drinking lots of water and teas, taking important vitamins, avoiding caffeine, using breathing techniques, making gratitude lists, having creative outlets, talking to my safe people, studying scripture and telling myself the truth, praying without ceasing… the list goes on. I know what to do to manage my anxiety, and I do it diligently.

But when I’ve been consistent in all these things and I still end up having an anxious day, week, or even couple of weeks? That’s where I’ve been getting stuck. Because I’ve blamed myself for it. I blame it on not doing enough, not taking good enough care of myself, not giving my worry to the Lord often enough… even when those things aren’t true.

Last year was hard for me. One night I called a friend, crying and asking if I could just talk. She was a gracious listener, and after I let out what I could, she began speaking into me. There’s one thing she said that has since stowed away in my mind, because it was unique and hadn’t sunk in before: “There is delicate and complicated chemistry in your brain, and it doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to do, but you are not less than anyone else for it.”

It wasn’t my fault.

When it comes to anyone else’s struggles with their mental health, I know it isn’t their fault. But with myself, my low points have felt like failure, like falling short physically, mentally, and spiritually… like defeat. But I’m learning, slowly, that not only is that perspective skewed and untrue, but it helps nothing.

I apologized to everyone I interacted with at the urgent care office that day. I felt like an inconvenience, like I was taking time away from real issues with my inability to handle my own. But when I apologized to the nurse taking my blood after he informed me he’d have to try another vein since I was dehydrated, he looked me in the tear-covered face and immediately told me:

“No, don’t apologize! You came here because you needed help.”

I needed help.

It wasn’t a silly outburst, wasn’t a pointless inconvenience, wasn’t all the things I felt like it was– it was a real anxiety attack. Part of my real disorder. I needed help. And it was okay that I’d asked for it. Actually– it was good and brave that I’d asked for it. I was already crying, but his words made me cry a bit more.

I have generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes my brain reacts to things in ways I know are unreasonable; sometimes my body takes on every little stress to full capacity and makes me feel ill; sometimes I feel completely paralyzed and stuck in one terrible thought pattern or circumstance, and don’t know how I’m going to get out. I still feel shame about these things, and going into any detail about them makes me feel like I’m just being too negative and sensitive, like I’m making excuses. But that’s not true.

Anxiety is not an excuse— it’s a reason.

The things my symptoms tell me are not real, and that is so important and empowering to remember. But my symptoms themselves? They’re real. I truly do experience them. They show up, and not because of any lack of effort— physically, morally, or spiritually– on my part.

Having anxiety symptoms isn’t losing the battle.

Victory isn’t found in not having them at all— it’s found in how I respond to them and live through them.

I won’t let myself think otherwise anymore. I’ve taken care of myself, yes. But it’s time I care for myself, too.

I’m not completely sure what that looks like yet; it’s only been a few weeks since I went to urgent care (and proceeded to experience some painful and confusing life stuff that same day), so I’ve been taking things slow. But maybe that’s part of it. Maybe recognizing that I’m not at full capacity and refusing to beat myself up for not doing more than I have the mental energy to do is okay; maybe it’s even good and brave.

I might not be able to stop anxiety from showing up in my life. But caring for my spirit and not allowing shame to stick around makes those appearances a little less devastating, because I’ve removed an extra enemy– my own critical voice– from the equation.

I kind of feel like I don’t really have a strong conclusion to share right now, but I wanted to talk about this a bit, because it’s hard to do, so not a lot of us do it. And we need to remind each other:

The symptoms of our mental illnesses are not our fault, are not signs of failure, are not pretend little things we should feel guilty about facing or needing help with. And we’re probably doing a much better job than it feels like we’re doing.

Let’s start caring for ourselves, okay?

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Testimonies

On Discerning, Suffering, & Trusting Myself to Know

outside breakfast 1Hi.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

This has been a strange, raw year for me, almost as if I’ve been in open heart surgery this whole time. It’s honestly still that way nearly every day. I know that someday I’ll probably tell you every little detail, but not today; the surgery still isn’t over. And recovery takes time, too. I’m beginning to accept that healing is a process, instead of attempting to push it to go faster. Hurt doesn’t usually go away by any force except for the force that time is. But it does go away. I’m beginning to learn that, too.

There is something I’d like to talk about right now, though. I haven’t written (to you, at least) in months, so I hope we’ve still got our cozy atmosphere for conversation and that I’ll still be able to articulate my insides decently on the outside. I want to share it now because it is what’s getting me through this tumultuous year, and, if no one else, I need to have it written down so I can go back to it and tell myself the truth.

Where should I start? Well…

This summer, I was facing a difficult decision. Actually, it wasn’t that difficult; I knew I wanted to say no, and I knew that the path He’d pointed me down years ago wasn’t down the route a “yes” would take me.

But… I struggled to trust myself to know those things for sure anymore.

Because a few months prior, the enemy broke into the lovely home Jesus and I had been building, and he tried to take it from me by attempting to imitate Jesus, treating me in ways I deeply hoped Jesus wouldn’t treat me and saying things I just couldn’t imagine Jesus saying.

Jesus had been shattering the false images I had of Him and replacing them with truth, so I wanted to be open to Him, because in this process I had been learning He was more loving and more kind and more passionate and more absolutely irresistibly good than I ever knew He could be. I didn’t know I could be this in love (with anyone, let alone Him), or that He would be this deeply in love with me. It was the richest I’d ever felt.

So when the enemy tried to deceive me, it nearly worked. Because I was so (beautifully) vulnerable and trusting, that even when I knew in my core this couldn’t be right, I didn’t want to hold the one I loved to a false image I might have of Him if He was trying to shatter it.

It took the persistent presence and affirmations of the people close to me to keep me grounded, to shake me out of the paralysis, and to get me to understand that the haunting, deeply unsettling image couldn’t be Jesus. But damage to my sense of trust had already been done. Because it had taken me so long to rest on the truth of who it was that had spoken… and because my (courageously) open heart had been so open that I almost let the enemy trick me into believing a terrible lie, about Jesus and about myself.

Ever since then, I have struggled to be open to trust anyone, even myself, to tell me the truth. I trust Jesus, with all that I am. But most of the time, I don’t trust myself to discern what He’s saying to me. And I can’t explain how terrifying that is. I’ve tried, so many times; I attempted seeing a counselor about it for a while, and I still haven’t found the words to express how helpless and rotten this has made me feel. No words feel sufficient.

So over the summer, when I faced a decision I thought deserved a no but was afraid should be a yes, I didn’t know what to do. I’d still been speaking to Him, even when I didn’t understand His end of the conversation, so I told Him about it. About how scared I was. About how I’d do anything He wanted me to do, and how I so hoped He didn’t want me to do this. About how confused I was and how lost I felt.

A few days later, I read the story of when He faced the enemy’s lying, imitating voice Himself.

Before Jesus began traveling with the disciples, He spent forty days alone in the wilderness– isolated, exposed, and without resources. He faced consistent temptation every one of those days, and He had no food during them. By day forty, He was weary and starving. The enemy saw that vulnerability, and said to Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

Jesus could have done it. Jesus probably wanted to do it. And most interesting of all: the act itself, of turning a stone to bread so He could nourish His starving body? It wasn’t an inherently bad, sinful thing to do. It even made sense.

But Jesus didn’t do it.

Why?

Because He knew who was telling Him to do it.

The voice telling Him to do it was telling Him to prove Himself– “If you are the Son of God,” it had said. And Jesus knew He had to do no such thing. He knew who He was already. And He knew His Father wouldn’t make Him question that or ask Him to prove it. Jesus knew that in His Father He had security and safety. So when the voice speaking to Him didn’t display those truths, He knew to reject it.

The enemy presented many more temptations to Jesus during that time, but the last one was unique. He brought Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, and told Him:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”

The “if” statement was there again, but there was something more complicated in play, too: the enemy had quoted scripture.

It is wildly unsettling to know that the enemy can use scripture, but I’ve witnessed it so many times, in my culture and my church experience and my own mind. I struggle so much to trust anyone’s interpretation of scripture, my own included, because deception isn’t exempt even there. But Jesus experienced this, too. And He knew how to face it head on. The enemy used scripture, yes–

But he didn’t use love.

Because he doesn’t have any. That is his dead giveaway:

God is Love.

Love is the defining context of all of scripture, because love is God’s character. If it isn’t love, God doesn’t do it and He doesn’t ask us to do it. When the enemy told Jesus to jump off a building as a sign of faith, Jesus knew that His Father who loved Him would not do that to Him or ask that of Him.

He also knew scripture; that while it did host the words the enemy said, it hosted other words, too. He knew scripture required context to be properly understood. And He knew the words Love had for Him were not the ones that had been spoken; instead, the correct words were: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” So He spoke those words back to the voice, the enemy’s voice. Eventually, the enemy saw his efforts weren’t working, and he left.

Jesus knew His Father. He knew He was well-loved by His Father. And that was the pillar of truth for Him, who is Truth. That was what kept Him firm.

It is still so hard for me to trust that I’m walking in the truth. But I stick by Him. I study scripture intently, to see what love looks like manifested through Him. And though I admit I approach the Bible and His presence with a measure of fear every day, what I find there is not crushing– it is life-breathing. It is Him. It is love. I see that love is patient and kind, doesn’t insist on its own way. And that greatest love does not push us down– it lays down everything for us. Like He has always done.

I’d had it wrong. I knew that love leads us to suffer for the other person, but I didn’t understand what that meant. I wasn’t even aware that I thought this… but I thought that Jesus wanted me to love Him by suffering. I thought He was telling me to suffer and that it would prove I loved Him.

He was not. He would not.

Jesus knew it when He refused to jump from the temple roof, and I am finally learning it for myself.

Love does lead us to suffer for the other person. Love does not lead us to tell the other person to suffer.

That is not love, that is manipulation and cruelty and fear. When anyone else acts that way, it’s usually obvious to us that they aren’t being loving. Why do we automatically assume God, who is Love, might be the cruel and controlling exception?

Why do we continue to think that God, who is Love, would be less loving than we are?

Jesus laid Himself down to suffer for those He loved. He told us to follow Him in doing the same for others. He did not tell us that in order to love Him, we must suffer. Instead, He told us that when we love Him, suffering will come and He will be with us in it. He is not the source of the suffering; He is not behind it, He does not bring it on, and He does not want it for us. He faces the inevitable suffering with us, even after He suffered for us. That’s what love does.

Love doesn’t hurt others– it hurts for and with others.

Love lays itself down– it doesn’t push others down.

That’s what I hold to. That’s the heart I seek behind every voice. And if that heart isn’t there, I reject the voice and I wait for His. For the truth. I sit with Him, let Him wrap me up wordlessly, nestle in close.

Because, while I still struggle to be sure of His voice… I can always be sure of His presence. His overwhelmingly soft and kind presence.

He keeps my feet on solid ground, even as He lifts me up off my toes.

He’s love.

Responses

A Letter to Pastors: On Adversity, Silence, & Us

Dear pastor,

Please: will you tell the church what happened?

I’m not asking that you share an entire sermon about it. And I’m not asking you to get up on stage and declare any political or polarizing opinions. That isn’t what this is about; it isn’t what so much of this has been about.

church ceilingI have struggled to find a home in the church for a while now. There have been a lot of reasons for that, and most of them I discover along the way as I keep seeking. That’s another story, one I’ll tell another day.

But as I’ve been going through this process, I’ve noticed something about the church and the different ways it handles the things happening around (and within) it.

I grew up attending one particular church. I haven’t been a regular member there since the beginning of this year. But when the first refugee ban was put into place back in January, I asked a friend still attending that church if anything had been brought up concerning it that morning. And he responded:

“About the what? Are you talking about that thing they mentioned on TV?”

I thought I would be angry or sad, but I ended up almost feeling numb. I didn’t expect the answer to be yes. But I also didn’t expect him to know nothing about what was happening. That was what stuck with me the most.

Some time later, I visited a different church. I had never been to the service of any tradition but my home church’s before, so much of it was new to me. But a time for corporate prayer came, and the clergy began with: “First, let us pray for the people recovering from the shooting.”

I knew that was right. I knew that was what the church of Jesus would do.

I attended a few services at that church, and a simple call to prayer for what was taking place around the world happened in every single one of them.

It wasn’t political, wasn’t polarizing, wasn’t angry, nor was it despairing– it was basic compassion.

It was looking at events taking place in the lives of others and recognizing: “I have a share in that.”

To the people in that church, because something affected humanity, it affected them, too. They were kingdom-minded.

I have no memory of the churches I grew up attending ever mentioning or praying for things like this.

But it isn’t a denominational thing to do– it is a biblical thing to do.

Again, pastor, I’m not asking you to preach a fiery sermon about anything, or to give your church a political label, or even to share your stance on how to fix things.

What I am asking is that you remind the church that people who care about other people are the true Jesus people.

The church has a messy reputation, and not for no reason, but I know there are so many lovely, Christ-like people within those walls. Let’s believe that the people in your congregation are wonderful people who do care about others. The thing is?

How many good, kind people are in churches right now, with hearts and hands ready to help– and they don’t know people need it?

The man I spoke to about the refugee crisis didn’t know what it was until I explained it to him that night. He’d heard a headline on the news while channel surfing (related: most people don’t watch the news), but he didn’t know it mattered. He didn’t know who he could pray for, let alone what he could do to help. No one told him. He had been in church that morning, but no one there said anything, pastor or otherwise.

That isn’t the only example. This weekend, a violent Nazi demonstration happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. One of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known didn’t hear about it until I mentioned it, assuming she already knew. Shock and tears filled her eyes immediately. She had gone to church that morning, too. But no one there said anything.

Is it the church’s job to make sure individual people are staying aware? I don’t know; I think we all should be actively seeking opportunities to pray for and contribute to the lives of the hurting.

But it is the church’s job to make disciples. And that means teaching people what Jesus meant when He told us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.

There are so many good, caring people in the church. But when those people don’t know about the problems, how can they fix them? When the only people who know about the problems are the ones contributing to them or the ones who do nothing, what can that help?

How is that keeping the peace, when there isn’t truly peace to begin with?

We aren’t called to be peacekeepers, but peace makers.

As someone that many people are looking up to as a leader, you, pastor, have the ability to directly affect how the people in your community will respond.

You are in a position to remind the church that humanity is a family, with fates all tied together, and you have the ability to inspire more prayer and more compassion and more action in people whose hearts Jesus has already built for it. You don’t have to tell people how to care; just teach them why they need to. He will do the rest.

Not only that: you get to tell the hurting that they are seen. That they matter. That you won’t turn away but instead will stand with and for them.

That Jesus loves them, and that’s why you are going to love them, too, with a generous, sacrificial love.

A simple announcement. A simple call to prayer. They don’t do everything, especially when there’s such a volume of work to be done. But they do so much more than you’d think. They’re a spark.

Please, pastor: will you tell them?

Will you tell the church when things happen to our family? Will you lead the church to pray and to seek?

Will you show the world the real church of Jesus?

 

“To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.


[If you are not a pastor, I still so strongly encourage you to hear this. Bring awareness to the people around you; pray with people; seek a way to help. You are just as capable of sparking change as the people in power, because you give yourself to Jesus, and He multiplies what you bring Him. Love will always make a way to come in.]

Soul Food

Soul Food {April 2017}

Sunshine-filled spring days met me somewhere deep this month. I found a lot of light in the art I consumed, too. Let’s talk about it!

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  • Knox Hamilton’s “The Heights” album. I saw them live at the end of last month when they opened for Colony House; I got back home from my trip, then downloaded their album and started listening to it on repeat. They are so much fun, and not without being meaningful, too. My favorites from the album are “Washed Up Together” “Set It On Fire” “Pretty Way to Fight” “How’s Your Mind” “Sight For Sore Eyes” and “The Heights.”
  • “Rapper” by Heath McNease ft. Keyes. In my head for dayzzzz.
  • Isla Roe. Her voice is stunning, and she pairs it with poetic songwriting and simple, haunting arrangements. She has an album called “April,” and I can’t pick favorites from it; they’re all so lovely. I also enjoy her songs “Still Your Girl” “Thirty Thousand Feet” and “Hazel (demo)” scattered across the internet. She is just incredible.
  • “Goodbye” by filous ft. Mat Kearney. I’ve been obsessed with Mat for such a long time and nothing he does changes that; he is so consistently good. A huge inspiration to me. “My heart is on the table; somebody’s gotta try. I’m willing and I’m able, don’t you know it? I don’t wanna say goodbye…”
  • “11:47pm” by Montell Fish. Good vibes, especially in the second half. Just something to sit with.
  • Elvis Presley’s version of “In The Garden.” My car only plays cassette tapes, and my Elvis hymns collection is becoming my go-to. This song in particular captures me every time. One of my favorite hymns.
  • “Time Flies” by Lykke Li. Makes me feel like I’m in a fairyland, a somber but still lovely one. So beautiful and stirring.
  • “In The Blood” by John Mayer. His new album “The Search for Everything” came out this month. He released it in three separate waves, so only four of the songs were new to me, but it’s such a great album all around; I listened to it almost exclusively for a while. The song I’m sharing is my favorite new one. It hits so deep.
  • Derek Minor’s “Reflection” album. I found a list of rappers who were Christians and checked them all out, to find that I enjoyed Derek far above the others. Relevant, convicting, and uplifting all at once, surrounded by solid beats. My favorites from this album include “Look At Me Now” “Hold Up” “You Know It” “Until I’m Gone (ft. BJ The Chicago Kid)” “Judo” and “Good Enough (ft. Camille Faulkner).” That’s like half the album but shhhh it’s fine.
  • “In The Name of Love” by Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha. Emotional and heart-thumping at the same time. I turn the volume way up on this one.
  • “Always Been U” by Phangs ft. R.LUM.R. If you saw Relient K on their last tour, you also saw Phangs in their band. His new single just dropped, and what. a. jam.
  • “Fallen Short” by Youth. Such comforting spring vibes in this. If you follow Fleurie on all her social media, your playlists will quickly fill with her shout-outs.
  • “On A Night Like This” by Dave Barnes. I spent a late night with it and it was just what I needed. Dave writes so beautifully.

If you want to listen to all of this music in one place, I have a playlist on YouTube and on Spotify. Scroll to the bottom for the newest additions.

Movies/YouTube/TV51T5sJngQLL

  • Andrew Garfield dancing for charity. No comment necessary.
  • John Mayer’s interview with Charlie Rose. This made me want to go for coffee with John to chat about music and personal growth. I didn’t know if I’d watch the whole thing, but I was so engaged that the time flew by before I knew it. One of my favorite things he said: “There’s a difference between writing a song because of somebody and for somebody.”
  • Guardians of The Galaxy. I know it’s been out for almost three years now, but I just had never been able to see it until this month! I think it’s a great marriage of a comedy and a cool superhero/sci-fi movie. Looking forward to volume two soon!
  • This Tom Holland interview. He’s one of my favorites. All his interviews are fun to watch because he’s just charming, but this one was also a genuinely great chat (shout out to skilled interviewers who ask good questions) about Marvel and the upcoming Spidey film. And I swear: he gets more handsome every week.
  • Jen Campbell’s analysis of Peter Pan. The day I declared I simply didn’t like Peter Pan, I watched this video and repented. It convinced me to put it on my re-read list.
  • Brad & Hailey Devine’s “Kyoto Travel Guide.” Goals.
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Battle of The Five Armies. Why not part one? Because I’ve seen part one a hundred times, y’all. Also I had to google who the fifth army was.
  • This video about falling in love, heartbreak, and learning to be firm in who you are. I love the way she tells her story and how much wisdom she has for us to glean. “I was a different person, and that person didn’t need him, she wanted him.”
  • The cast of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries playing Marrying Mr. Darcy. I need this card game and I need to play it with these people right now, please.
  • Continued watching Designated Survivor and Scorpion.

Books/Blogs/Articlesgeorge and dress 2

What fed you this month?

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

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.”

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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