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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Recovery · Responses · Testimonies

The Fuel of Temptation: On Shame & Grace

DSC05087I haven’t had to carry shame like what I’ve carried this week in such a long time. It’s been so loud.

This time last week, I had just told the world about my struggle to fully remove pornography’s influence from my life. Many were kind and life-speaking in response, and I’m so grateful for that; some had a harder time. I love them all, and this is still true: I heard once that if a person makes you feel fear or shame, it’s because that’s what they’re carrying. I think I believe that. And some accidentally passed shame and fear on to me when they said what they did.

When I stumbled and looked at porn three weeks ago, I was broken over it. Then I went to my Father, He held me close, and we started moving forward again. I was doing okay; I was focusing on things that were good and healthy for me and He was doing work in me. But after hurt-filled conversation about the fact I even had to recover from this… I started feeling afraid.

I felt so close to stumbling again, constantly on the edge, even though I had no desire for it. I began standing stagnant where I’d left off; shame was crippling my ability to move on, but more than that– the fear of stumbling was pushing me closer to actually stumbling. When I let fear and shame live in me again, they told me I was weak and dirty. It led me to believe I was likely to continue stumbling, because it was part of who I was; I was too weak and dirty to be different. I was incapable of doing better, they said.

Fear and shame never tell the truth. They were (…are) lying to me. The truth’s words are so much different.

Truth says that God loves to enter weakness; He has even been known to refuse the removal of weakness so that He can show His power through it. Truth says that God has led us to put on our new selves, and that He renews us consistently. Truth says that fear cannot live inside perfect love. Truth says that my judgement day has been moved from the future to the past because Jesus stood in my place and declared me holy and clean. This is the gospel. Anyone who believes shame has any place in me doesn’t know that shame cannot live in God’s house– or that I am that house.

At church this morning, I was in the worship service, and began remembering what worship services used to be like for me. I remembered how scared I used to be that I wasn’t meeting the standards God expected of me or that I was still far from Him whom I loved. And I realized that I used to struggle so much more frequently and intensely when shame and fear were part of my daily baggage. When I believed I was filthy and unworthy even after repentance, I stumbled much more often; I despised myself even more often than I stumbled. Shame was the fuel for my temptation. Just like what I experienced again this week.

When my focus shifted and I began to believe in and abide in God’s love for me, I stumbled remarkably less. I felt more full of life. And when I stopped believing God could be more proud of me and in love with me than He already was, I didn’t have to fear anything anymore. Nothing could touch who I was. God declares no shame for me, so none exists for me; He is God and He establishes what is true.

My mission was no longer removing my sin so He could love me; it was resting in His love so He could remove my sin. I’d had it backwards. I feared my sin, when I could have told my sin to fear what was being done in me.

The focus has to be grace. Anything that gives a “but” to grace doesn’t know what grace fundamentally is. Grace doesn’t follow any rules; it follows love. And love is what God is made of.

I am done with the false, finger-wagging, works-based god that was handed to me. Give me Jesus. Give me the healer and redeemer and lover of humanity, who doesn’t say “get out of that place” but “I will take your place.”

Yes, God wants the best for me; yes, my life should be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel; yes, I need to put in my best effort to overcome my struggles. But what I do is secondary to what He does. What I do cannot and will not save me. Christ and only Christ stops the flesh. It is all grace. All of it. We are not saying effort has no value. We are saying grace is of infinite value. Grace must be the focus. It must. Where you place your focus is what you walk toward.

When my focus is that He loves me and has my best in store, I am no longer afraid; instead, I rest. And He works in me, and when He asks me to do something I do it. But I no longer try to do everything. Because He tells me I don’t have to. I just listen and obey. And because of that, I no longer face anxiety but intimacy.

This week, I am going to my Father. I am going to submit to His work in me, for that is my work. And instead of drowning in the shame and fear others might try to place in my hands, I’m going to swim in the grace He’s given me to carry in it’s place.

“Grace is God’s best idea. Rather than tell us to change, He creates the change.”  -Max Lucado

 

Responses · Testimonies

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

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

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

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

1) I can do it.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Misc.

World Suicide Prevention Day {2015}: A Recap

September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that I needed to engage in it somehow. The theme To Write Love On Her Arms gave for this year was “We’ll See You Tomorrow.” I saw people writing on pieces of paper why tomorrow was an important thing for them, and I decided to do the same. It was so much more interesting than I thought it would be; it made me think about a few of the specifics of how lovely life is and how much exists in it for me. I ended up with six little signs, and took photos of each one to share in some way.

I didn’t think Facebook would be that sharing platform, because I don’t really talk about my experience with sadness much to the people in my life unless they ask me about it or are struggling themselves. Maybe… maybe it’s a fear of mine that the people I love will see me as someone troubled and withered, rather than just seeing Tessa. It’s happened before. And it can wound for a long time.

But on World Suicide Prevention Day, I shared myself anyway.

I shared the photos, and I shared stories that went with them. And I’m glad I did, because I need to learn to talk about it bravely. People need to hear from those who have experienced it. I keep wanting to say here that I don’t currently wrestle with sadness, because I don’t want people to be concerned for me… but what if I was struggling right now? If I was depressed right now, what would your perception of me morph into? Why would what I’m saying be different?

I wish we didn’t have to do this. I wish we didn’t have to change our minds about people we know and love when we hear about their struggles. All of us struggle. The person we love is that same person even when they reveal their brokenness to us. We all have it. So, please, when someone courageously shares with you their most swept-under-the-rug broken pieces… listen. Listen to your friend. Love your friend. Tell them they are your friend. That’s what they need from you. They need your love, not your fear. Your love is what will help them. Walking with them is what will help them. Do nothing less.

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”    -Brené Brown

I’m going to keep sharing, despite my fear and despite the reactions that suggest to me maybe I should stay quiet. Because so much of shame’s power comes from secrecy. And I am not ashamed of my story, because I love and trust the one penning it.

Here are the photos I posted:

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And here are the stories I shared with them:

  • “A Train Ride to Life.”
  • “Seeing The Dots Connect.”
  • “100 Things to Look Forward To” and “100 More Things to Look Forward To.”
  • “I was talking with a friend, and she was telling me that she never really wanted to have kids until she realized she could change a family forever by being the generation of it that chose love and health. My family is wonderful, I love them so deeply, but there are unhealthy pieces, too. And knowing that I have a chance to heal from those pieces and pass health into my family history… it gives me shivers and makes me feel strong.”
  • Authentic Fiction‘s music.
  • “If there is love in my heart, there are recipients for it. I don’t want to deny anyone the love I have for them, even if they can’t return it. I want to keep giving it out. Because giving without payment is part of kingdom life. I’m already in eternity when I love people.”

May we all find the courage to be who we are: beloved broken people, being tenderly pieced back together.

Practical

For The Hard Days

I’m in a transitional season, a time of waiting. Usually I’m pretty good at seeing positive things in where I am and doing what I can here. But… there are also hard days.

I’m realizing that we all have them. I don’t know why I thought I was the only one, but I definitely did. I used to be ashamed of it, like I needed to find the good things in it and turn it into a good day because I shouldn’t be having a hard one in the first place.

But I have learned that self-pity is different from grief.

shoes and dandellionWe can grieve a lot more than death. We lose many things over the course of our lives, and those losses are painful, even if it seems like they shouldn’t be as painful as they end up to be. I lost a lot of things when I entered this waiting season. I lost the life I thought I was going to lead; I lost a few dreams; I lost dynamics I had with people; I lost a lifestyle I didn’t know I’d loved so much. Those are painful losses, life-changing losses. And if I have days where I have absolutely no desire to leave my bed, where the only thing I can do is watch sappy films, where I’m restless inside for no reason I can pin-point– that’s okay. It’s normal to have days like that when you’re grieving; it’s healthy. I don’t have to make myself more positive, or turn the day into a better one, or drag myself into doing things I don’t have the internal energy to do, or be angry at myself for not being able to function very well. We wouldn’t ask people in the midst of grief to do those things.

Yet here I am, dealing with loss– asking those things of myself.

Grief is okay. Grief is a necessary piece of being alive. It isn’t simply wallowing in sadness– it’s the process of dealing with everything that comes to us in times of loss. We cannot deny ourselves the time we need to grieve. This season of waiting is seriously hard sometimes. But I am starting to see that maybe He isn’t giving me a new direction yet because I need to grieve what I’ve lost before I can accept and pursue something new. I pray every day that He would lead me into grieving well.

[I’ve been reading “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero this year, and grieving things lost is what the entirety of chapter seven is about. I recommend this book more than I have ever recommended one before; it is permanently changing the way I treat my thoughts and feelings.]

Knowing that I am grieving, and knowing that we all have hard days, has encouraged me to be more honest about where I am and to learn how to handle it in the best way possible for me. It also makes me want to share what I’ve learned so far with the people around me, because I continually discover that they have hard days, too. We all do. And that means we never have to be alone. We get to share with each other. So, please, may I share some of the things I’ve learned with you?

It is okay to say that today is one of the hard days. I know that it’s harder to do than it seems. We don’t want to label it because we want it to get better, but that’s the thing: saying, “I’m having a hard time right now,” is not at all the same as saying, “Things are not going to get better.” Hope is huge, and something we need. But admitting where you are doesn’t mean you don’t have legitimate hope for where you’re going to be. The problem with not understanding this is that it tends to not allow us to be honest with ourselves about what’s really going on; it puts us in denial. Saying, “I’m okay,” when we’re not is so much worse than honestly admitting, “I’m not okay right now.” Have hope, yes! I pray hope over your life! But it’s okay to have hope in the midst of pain. That’s where hope thrives.

It is hugely important to feel what I feel. I’ve written about this before, but I cannot stress enough: please do not bottle your feelings. Feeling your emotions to the hilt does not mean that you have given them control over you. Feelings are reactions, and it is not only healthy, but wise to at least hear them out. “I have a lot of anger inside me right now. What has triggered it? What would help me find resolution for the cause of it?” Your feelings can almost be like clues on a map that help get you where you need to go. It is not wrong to feel the way you do. It’s okay to feel negative feelings; just don’t allow them to influence your behavior into negative actions.

“We ought to listen to our emotions before we start preaching to them.” –Adam S. McHugh

It is so helpful to tell someone when I’m having a hard day. I have a few friends I know I can message any time, and they will listen to me and have genuine love for me and pray for me the rest of that day. It keeps me out of denial when I talk to them, reminds me of reality and that it isn’t all bad. Their words of love and their prayers, even if they don’t always make the present moment better, give me the assurance that people are walking beside me, with their arms around me, helping me stand when I’m tired inside. One of my favorite poems at the moment expresses it so beautifully:the thing about love

It’s okay if, try as I might, I can’t get any art out on hard days. Yeah, it’s hard when I don’t feel at all creative, because creating is one of the biggest reasons I know Jesus has me where I am. But the thing about grief is that sometimes it steals energy from you, makes you lethargic and internally shriveled. That’s normal, I’ve come to understand. And saying, “Okay, nothing I’ve tried is remotely working out, so I need to stop today,” is so much different than giving up. If doing something you normally love doing just has no appeal on the hard days, you are not obligated to do it. It’s okay to take a day off. Your emotional health is important, more important than a task being completed. Do what you can, listen to your limits. And one off day does not mean you’re not capable or that you’re not doing well. You’re probably doing better than you think. Just try again tomorrow.

It’s okay if not everyone is supportive. I knew months ahead of time that I would be in this place, so I had time to solidify what I knew in my core before I had to announce it to anyone. Do I recommend waiting as long as I did? Hahaha– no. But I do recommend that you sit down with yourself and build your foundation out of what you know. What has Jesus made so clear to you? What does He say about where you are? What is He asking you to do? Know those things. Because I was completely sure of those things and placed them immovably as a piece of my foundation, when I told other people what I was doing, their opinion on it came second. People I love and look up to and respect don’t see the sense in what I’m doing; have written me e-mails saying not to; have looked down on me. But I simply cannot take any of that to heart. I know what He said. I am firmly planted in it. I still love and respect those people, but it’s okay if this is an area I can’t take their guidance in. The Lord is my guide, and if I know what He said, I have to acknowledge when some people in my life cannot speak into my situation this time. It doesn’t mean they can’t give me wise counsel again; it just means that I’m listening to Him before I listen to them.

And for every person who doesn’t understand or doesn’t support me, there are so many more rooting for me. I have beautiful people in my life who write to me sometimes just to ask, “How are the open seas right now?”, who call to see how I’m doing and say that they are excited for me, who tell me I can succeed at what I’m called to, who even offer to hang out with me on hard days. You have those people, too. It just takes patience and courageous honesty to find out who they are sometimes.

“Grief and praise go hand-in-hand.” I watched a video about grieving, and that was something he said in it. I don’t think the video was from a Christian standpoint, but this statement carries double meaning for anyone who knows Jesus, definitely. The way he meant it, he elaborated, was that we need to appreciate the things we’ve lost. It’s okay remember them fondly.

I remember what it was like to think I had my life figured out; I remember what it was like to believe that a few particular things could be part of my life; I remember every single day I spent with the people I love, and all the laughter, stories, and tears we shared; I remember the small joys in the old routines I partook in every day. I remember these things, and I smile because they were so good. It’s possible to remember them and how good they were without taunting myself with them. No, I’m not getting those things back– but I had them. I had good things, and I am so grateful for the amount of time I got to have them. I miss them, and I’m glad they’re part of my story. Two-part statement, no contradiction, using the word “and” to connect them. I appreciate the things I lost even as I grieve the loss of them.

It’s completely necessary to talk to Him, and there are so many ways to do it. I’m still learning this one, but I promise you: we cannot do this without Him. If I don’t tell Him about what I’m going through, inside and out, everything just becomes blurry and gray and even harder than before. He is here to hold us up, even if we’re angry at Him or incredibly messy or at a loss for anything to say. He’s here to receive us. We must go to Him.

Responses · Testimonies · The Basics

On Having Feelings for Someone

I’ve rewritten this post a few times as I processed it, and I think maybe this time I’m finally able to look at things more clearly, without a foggy environment for my thoughts to swim. It always feels kind of strange to be writing about this, but it’s something that’s important to me and I’d like it to be something we talk about more. And I know some people talk about this too much, but I think that, at least in my circles, we don’t talk about it enough. There are things we’re ignoring that are hurting some of us, because almost all of us have refused to deal with them.

I don’t know if this is something I’ve ever been directly told, but it’s something that I’ve always believed, which makes me think it’s either a pretty big philosophy of the culture around me or something human nature struggles with. But: have you ever felt guilty for being attracted to someone? Like you had to tone down the feelings you had for someone? Have you ever believed that God didn’t want you to have feelings for someone? That you were disappointing him by having someone who gave you butterflies? Because I have. This has been my life. And dear friend, if this is your life, too, I want to tell you what He told me.

I have to get a little personal for you to understand the potency of His words, I think, so I hope that’s okay. Last year at this time, I was talking to the Lord pretty frequently about a man in my life. We weren’t together or even considering being together; he was simply a friend I had hidden feelings for. I wondered if maybe someday we would get married, because we just. . . fit. You know those people who carry an atmosphere that just compliments yours so well? He was one of those. Whenever I saw him I felt connected to him; his atmosphere and mine felt warm and natural together. Along with that, he had many qualities and even quirks I’d always pictured my husband having. He looked like my husband inside.

I loved talking to the Lord about him because it always carried a bit of excitement. But I also became a little impatient. I told Him so many times that I didn’t want to invest my heart in someone who wasn’t my husband, and then asked Him to guide my feelings. Some days I’d ask Him to straight-up tell me– “Is he my husband, or do these feelings need to go away?”

About a year ago, the Lord unexpectedly straight-up told me. I honestly didn’t think He would, because in every other instance He’d simply let my feelings fade (which is totally okay). But this time, He was so clear. And even on days when I’ve wanted to doubt if I really heard Him, I know I did. I know the Lord told me that I will not be marrying this man. But that wasn’t the only thing He said: He talked about what my husband will be like. And I am so excited to know this man, because even the small little things I know about him are making me smile as I type. The Lord’s revelation to me was not a sad one, it was a joyous one! Still, there was now a man in my life I knew I wasn’t marrying– that I still definitely had feelings for. To be honest, I still feel for him sometimes, although usually I’m fine.

I didn’t always handle it well; I actually became bitter against myself. “Tessa, why are you still holding on to him?” I’d reprimand. “Why can’t you just let him go? He isn’t your husband, you can’t feel this affection for him! You have to let go of him!” When I was in the midst of reprimanding myself, I’d talk to the Lord, too. I asked Him what I could do about this man I saw frequently and still had a deep affection toward. And He answered that question, too. He said, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again” (1 Pet. 1:22-23).

DSC03978He told me that I am still called to love him, no matter the title he holds in my life.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this answer at the time, so I just journaled about it and tucked it away; it peeked out at me occasionally, and it discouraged me because I didn’t know what loving him looked like without the feelings I had. That was quite a while ago now.

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about a man I know, and my stomach becomes fluttery and I end up smiling. This is going to sound strange, but I’m honestly not attracted to people easily; I’m aware of when someone is attractive, but I myself am not usually drawn to the person in that way, so when I do feel that warm flutter at the thought of someone, it’s a slightly big deal (in a sense). I talked to the Lord about it, and asked Him what I should do. And do you know what He said?

He told me to love him. Just like He’d told me to love the other man at the beginning of the year. And I don’t know why it took so long, but I finally realized: it is never wrong to love someone.

I’m not at all saying that I’m in love, or that letting yourself be consumed with thoughts for someone you know you won’t marry is okay. I thought He’d said that at first, but I’ve been talking to Him more about it, processing it, and even talking with a friend about it. And I don’t think what I thought at first. At first, I thought He was telling me I could feel recklessly without consequence. But I’m almost positive that wasn’t it. When He told me to love that man last year, He also told me he wasn’t my husband and that I needed to stop investing my hope in him. I didn’t understand how the two could go together at the time, but now I’m beginning to.  Feeling for someone? That can’t be helped. But obsessing over my feelings for someone? Daydreaming, constantly thinking about our interactions, investing hopes that don’t belong to that person? That’s my choice. I can control that, no matter how many times it’s felt like I just fell into it.

The Lord knew I would still have feelings for that man, and He was telling me I didn’t have to ignore them or be ashamed of them. Instead, I could use them as an opportunity to genuinely and truly love someone. My heart for him was already so big, because I’d grown so fond of him. It may not be “let’s get married” love– but it’s love. And it’s love that is pure because I genuinely adore him. I have the opportunity to release wild kindness and heart, because I can still love this man I sometimes feel for.

You see, when we (or at least I) feel for someone, we wonder what to do. “How do I treat him? Do I approach him for normal interactions, or wait for him to approach me? Can I be my sarcastic self with him, or is that flirting? How deep do I let our conversations get? Can we hang out, or would it feel too much like a date?” I could go on and on, but I think you might be able to add to this train of thought yourself. The point is:

We spend our energy wondering how to interact with them, when the rules haven’t changed– we are meant to love them.

Yes, there is the layer of feelings on your part. If those feelings are reciprocated, that’s something to talk and pray about. But if it’s just you? Potential titles do not dictate your behavior, and they don’t have to dictate your thought life, either. You don’t have to be afraid, and you definitely don’t have to be ashamed. Feelings are natural, and sometimes they take a long time to fade. Sometimes, they don’t fade; maybe your feelings will lead to something. And with the mindset of love on that journey, you’ll be able to say, “I loved them deeply before romance was ever a factor for us. I loved them with Christ’s love. Period.”

There’s a gigantic difference between guarding your heart against corruption and hiding from people you feel a real connection to. God made us a body, He wants us to be connected [this article expresses it so well]. You don’t love people because you have hopes for a deeper relationship later on: you love people because love is what we were made to do.

We complicate things, but the Lord has made this so much easier for us. Dear friend, I know these feelings are crazy hard to deal with sometimes. But there’s only one thing you need to focus on here: how well are you loving them as a person, with your actions and behaviors and words? Are you a bright, warm presence in their life, even if you’re not a romantic presence? Don’t love them as someone you hope will belong to you– love them because you love them, because they are deserving of love. If you feel for them because you see things in them you want your future spouse to possess or because you love imaging the two of you together, do you actually feel for them, as the person they are? Or do you mostly feel for what you want them to be for you? I know: ouch. I feel that burn, too. I’ve only recently been realizing that this is the way my heart has worked. But now that I realize it, I can change it. I can choose to love people because of who they are, not because of who I hope they’ll be to me.

I don’t have to be ashamed of affection when I use it to love someone purely.