Tag Archives: strength

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

Standard

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

Turning My Darkness to Light

Standard

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

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

What happens when the past doesn’t stay there?

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

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

Our darkness becomes light when we shine light on it.

Light can only enter broken things, after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I still struggle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am with you. I am with you.

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

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

For The Hard Days

Standard

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.

On Creative Drought & Faith

Standard

I baked cookies in the heat today.bowl of cookie cookies and bowl ovenready cookies

Why? Because I feel completely dry of creative juices.

I have written the same blog post nearly all day for two days now, and I don’t even know if I’ll end up posting it. I’m not passionate about it, I feel like I didn’t convey things the way I wanted to, and I don’t know if anyone else could even benefit from it.

“What’s the point?” my inner critic asks me bitterly.

I sketched out the beginnings of a painting I wanted to work on yesterday. The lines are there now, but I don’t want to fill them in. Because I can’t shut the thought out of my brain that it won’t end up looking the way I want it to look.

“Why would I waste so much time on something that I’ll end up finishing with the words ‘good enough’?” my inner cynic asks, a whisper of sadness in her tone.

I love my friends. I don’t get to see many as often as I used to and I’m trying to cope with that. I’ve been writing letters with a friend back and forth, but it’s been a while now since I’ve received her letter and I still haven’t written back. Because I feel like what I write her has to be uplifting, and I just don’t know if I have the right words.

“Why is it so hard to just make something heartfelt and be happy with that?” I whisper, hugging my legs in my desk chair.

That’s why I made cookies today. I want to– have to– create, but I am terrified that what I make isn’t good enough.

Cookies are easy. As long as they’re golden brown and taste like a cookie, they’re successful. There’s no pressure; I don’t view them as an expression of my soul. They don’t have to be unique, expressive, interesting. But what I write here, what I paint onto a canvas, what I say to someone else… it matters to me. A lot. I want it to be good.

I want to be able to create things that don’t get in the way of what I’m trying to express to you. I want to make something that captures what’s inside me and speaks into your life. And I’m being completely honest with you: I feel like I just can’t. I feel like I don’t have a voice to match my soul. My soul has so much in it, so much I wish I could share. I wish I had that ability. But, today, I don’t feel like I do. There are days like this that are just hard.

This is so hard for me to handle, because creating is what Jesus has asked me to do. I left college because He wanted me to create. I can’t express how weighed down I feel by the thought that I can’t do what He’s asked of me. If I can’t do it, what else can I do? Is anything left?

Phew. I’m sorry. Thank you for listening to my ugly.

I wrote a poem about a month ago when I was feeling like this.

Do you ever feel like you fail before you start?
Because it’s not what you do–
It’s you?
I am telling you, soul: this is your design!
You were created for this.
And the only person who can truly get in your way?
It’s you.
Believe in who you are;
Trust Him who made and is leading you.
There is so much beauty here, and–
It’s you.

And it makes me think maybe I should just keep creating, even in the slough. It’s not my best, but it’s not my worst, and I think I said what I wanted to say through it for the most part. If it helps no one else, it’s helping me.

After I wrote it, I realized that doubting my ability to create was a symptom of doubting the Lord. Knowing He asked me to take some intense risks in order to create, and knowing that all He’s been saying to me lately has been to express and create, what could make me think that I’m not able? This is His will for me. I am on the path I followed Him onto. Nothing is going to stop Him from accomplishing His good purposes, not even if I am lacking. This is His. He is in this. He has strength for my weakness. He has prepared these things in advance for me. I can create expressive, interesting, unique, meaningful art, because He wills it be so.

When I don’t trust that I can do it, it’s an indicator that I don’t fully trust Him. Creating great art seems impossible because I’ve been trying to trust myself for it, and put all my stock in my own abilities. And the truth is–

I don’t have what it takes. I can’t do this alone.

But Jesus?

He can take me there. And He’s told me He will. And when He does, it won’t be because I’m wonderful and talented; it will be because I am swimming in His grace. It is hard to sit back and wait, but it’s even harder when I find that I’m not trusting Him. When I don’t trust Him, I end up not even trusting what He says about me. And He says that I am chosen, royal, holy. He says that He does all He does for my good. He says that I share in suffering in order to become more like Him.

And He says that He loves me. He loves me enough to give up His life for me, to call me His friend, to walk with me every day.

I am growing in believing Him deep in my heart.

I haven’t believed You.
But it’s more than that.
I haven’t believed You because…
Because You believe in me.
And I don’t.

May we have so much faith in you, Lord, that we will have faith in your promises, too. May we seek to glorify you in what we do and may that be enough for us, because it is enough for you. May we feel deep in our souls that you are our reward, and that you understand our depths even when we can’t express them. And may we see an inkling of what you see in us. We love you.

To The Warriors

Standard

You are a warrior.
They didn’t simply hurt you–
They ripped you apart.
And you,
With tears on your cheeks and layers on your body,
taken May 19, 2014You were forced to find the shreds,
To try piecing them together again.
Dear warrior–
You are whole.
You have been restored.
It can’t be erased, but neither can you.
You are a warrior.
And speaking, healing, sobbing, living–
This is how you fight back.
Your soul is strong, they couldn’t destroy it.
And the pain will leave, someday.
Until that day–
Sob. Mourn. Ache.
And allow me to do it with you, if I can.
I believe you.
And those who don’t?
You don’t have to believe them, because you know.
You used your voice, warrior.
That is a great, fearsome weapon.
You learned the power of your voice, the power of truth.
Don’t stop using it to fight.
You matter, and your value can never be stolen.
You remain undefeated.

[For S.L, D.C., K.H., and others. Normally I give commentary after my poetry, but I strongly feel I should leave this to stand alone; don’t let my interpretation get in the way of what you just heard in your spirit.]

Hope? Check

Standard

taken March 6, 2013This week was finals week for me. On Monday I had two tests; the first one was kind of early in the morning, so the night before I wrote myself a list entitled, “Remember.” I was half asleep when I scribbled it, but I knew I would be too rushed in the morning to bring everything I needed to. I still forgot a few things for my lunch. But at least they weren’t on the list, right?

I woke up and moved at my own pace. At the moment, I didn’t care when I needed to leave; I was so tired, and not simply physically. . . more in my soul. Has your soul ever been tired? It’s kind of hard, isn’t it?

After washing my face and putting on my favorite casual dress, I began filling my backpack. The list soon came to mind, and I reached for the little notebook on my desk. I’d remembered most of the things on the list, but I was glad I’d written it so that I could be sure I didn’t leave out anything. After examining the contents of my backpack again, I looked at the list and ran through it one more time. Folder? Laptop? Flashcards? Study notes? Thank-you cards? Check. But what was that last item on the list? I read it– and time around me paused.

I’d written “hope.”

The night before, I’d recognized my need for hope. So much so that I put it on a list of things to bring with me, without even thinking it was weird. And yes, it is weird! But. . . why? Why would it be weird for me to make a conscious decision to bring hope along with me for the day? To make intentional hope part of every day?

Life has been messy lately, with a few surprises and situations that haven’t been entirely positive. My brain has been even more messy because of it. It’s frustrating and discouraging, to be honest. But the next day, when I was once again washing my face and grumbling about what the day held, I remembered the list. And I heard so clearly: “Do you have your hope with you?”

I don’t know what things are going to look like. But I know trusting that Jesus is still working in my life is vital to surviving. He is the only real source of hope we have– not our abilities, not our careers, not other people. Just Him.

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. (Psalm 94:19)

A Scale Peeled Away

Standard

illustration of EustaceI’m certainly in a time of refinement right now. A lot of things inside me are being rearranged and even removed, but it reminds me of what happened to Eustace in Voyage of The Dawn Treader: with each scale that Aslan tears off, it’s difficult, but I’m becoming a person again; no longer will I be a dragon marked by greed and selfishness, but instead a real person with a new heart. And that’s exciting. Jesus has been speaking loudly and lovingly, and I think that one of the things He shared with me can mean something to you, too.

About two weeks ago I was ready to go to bed. I turned out the lights and laid down, but in an instant I saw something in my mind: a hideous face sporting an evil grin. I knew this picture was only in my head, but it still made me short-of-breath scared, because I saw in every aspect of that creature’s expression it’s desire to have me. I tried to think of pleasant memories and lovely places to block that image out, but when I would, it would be there, behind me, carrying that same disgusting grin. I prayed. I prayed and prayed for help, to be released of it. Suddenly, a verse entered my mind in the midst of everything else:

Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.

This verse is Genesis 4:7. I know that because it was the first verse I ever underlined in my Bible that actually meant something to me; I was probably nine or ten, and after an argument with someone, I randomly opened my Bible (I never purposefully opened it back then) and found it. It simply spoke to me, calmed me down a little. I’ve known and treasured this verse for many years, but until recently I never realized the true depth of it.

I see now that Jesus wasn’t just speaking about my anger in that little situation; He was telling me what was really going on in my life. Seeing that hideous face behind me in all of my memories suddenly became a vivid picture of my life.

That face belongs to sin.

All my life, in so many places, it has been lurking right behind me, seeking to overtake me. But now– there’s a chance. I can master it! I can rely on God’s strength, and it will leave me more scared than I was of it’s face at first.

That night still encourages me, but more than that: it keeps me in check. If I am tempted in any way, I remember what sin truly looks like; I remember that it is evil and disgusting and wants to hurt me. And that makes me desire Jesus even more than I already do.

Thank you, Jesus, for peeling off these scales. I can’t wait to see what a real Tessa looks like. You are wonderful, and I love you.