Recovery · Testimonies

Thoughts from Being 10 Months Porn-Free

I didn’t plan on this today; I thought maybe I’d write something about how I was doing once I reached the one-year mark. But today is my ten-month mark of being pornography-free, and I have a lot of thoughts about it. I spent some time in my journal last night, wrestling. I would like to share that journal entry.

This month was probably the hardest temptation-wise out of all ten so far. I’m not sure why, but I’ve had to be extra proactive and cautious with myself lately. I fought for this month.

Here’s what gets me: in ten months of freedom, you’d think I would know what was working, would know why I’m doing well and what got me here. But I really don’t. And people ask me, and it feels weird to not have any answers.

I don’t want to invalidate my addiction story; I truly did do things I didn’t want to do, repeatedly/routinely, and I still face repercussions. It was real. But I also don’t want to tell people that grace, candor, and hard work will cure their addiction. I know it is not that simple. It’s just all I can pinpoint that has contributed to my own recovery. I really do not know how I got here.

Though I am so grateful for the way things have worked for me, I understand not everyone who does the same things I’m doing fares the way I somehow have. I don’t have the explanation for that. I fully believe God heals and restores all who come to Him, that He is strength in our weakness, that He shows absolutely no partiality. I trust His timing for everyone. I just don’t know why some of us find visible healing sooner than others, why the timing varies from person to person. Or why I get to be one of those who is seeing my healing already.

Not that I don’t still face temptation, as this month especially has proven (though I can’t exclude the other nine, either). I do face temptation, often. I don’t have it “easy.” But I know I have it easier than many. Maybe I caught my addiction in earlier stages than most who enter recovery.

tiny buds and bloomsI think that’s what I want to stress most: recovery doesn’t stop.

“Porn addict” is in no way part of my identity, and never was. But it’s something that has been/is part of my life. And recovering from being a porn addict and remaining in that recovery? It is an almost guaranteed lifelong process. This is something that will probably always be part of my life. I believe it gets better. But as long as I live in this skin, I have potential to act out of it and I have a lot of choices to make.

I truly do believe in full recovery. I am just not naïve enough to tell anyone, including myself, that there’s a point of arrival. God heals, and He also doesn’t take away our freedom of choice. It’s constant; it’s maintenance; it’s abiding. And I am also not so privileged as to believe people who do what I’ve been doing are guaranteed to see the same outcome I’m seeing. It is different for everyone. Honestly, I really wrestle with that sometimes. Timing is so beyond us, and I don’t understand it.

I think finding the balance of celebrating where I am while commiserating with those in an overwhelming place in the struggle is something I will have to work through for a while. Today, I don’t feel like celebrating, though I know it would be okay for me to. I know the highs and lows of this process, and I want to honor everyone in every stage of it. I am still learning how.

I’m so grateful for these ten months. I don’t take it for granted. I know it’s a gift I don’t deserve, one that puzzles me to be in possession of sometimes.

To my brothers and sisters who are in recovery– be it day one, month ten, or year five– you are in the midst of something holy. He is proud of you. He is working in you. He is there in the mess of the process with you, day by day. And if you have to start over again? Nothing about this changes. There is nothing you can do to change the love He has for every bit of you. Lean into that.


[This video on recovery/sobriety is so eloquent and echoes a lot of my feelings, and also carries some solid encouragement. I highly recommend it.]

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On Media & Art · Practical · Testimonies · The Basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positivity is not weak, it is empowering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

——-

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

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

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

 

Recovery · Testimonies

Turning My Darkness to Light

“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.

Testimonies

On Struggling & Peace

I don’t usually like telling the stories behind my artwork. Often I want to, but then I remember a friend who told me about a piece of mine that connected a few dots for her. What she gained from it was not at all what I’d meant in those brushstrokes, but it was just as meaningful. I don’t want to ruin the beauty in what you see by sharing what I thought you’d see.

But this time… I need to tell you. It matters to me that you know what it means.

I painted this piece yesterday:DSC05919

There’s a story behind it, but it’s not a complete story; it’s honestly just an early paragraph of what I’m still living. The prologue: I struggle with anxiety sometimes. And sometimes I can’t fall asleep because I’m just so alert and afraid. What am I afraid of? Honestly, I don’t really know. Fear doesn’t have to make sense, because it’s the practice of telling stories to yourself. If something isn’t real, it doesn’t have to make sense to terrify you, because you believe it’s real.

I haven’t always known what to do in situations like these; only in the past year have I recognized how big of a struggle anxiety can be for me. I didn’t know there was anything I could do. But now, when I’m lying in bed and my heart is pounding and I don’t want to move or open my eyes– I breathe. I inhale deeply, and exhale long. I do it over and over until the wave passes.

At some point, I realized the best way this worked for me was when I visualized Jesus lying there with me, leading me in my breaths like a faithful husband would. And it’s not something I’m imagining in the sense that I’m projecting Him into my situation. He is there with me, and He is leading me into peace. It’s real. I simply need some semblance of His physical presence when I’m that hyper-aware of my surroundings. And He meets me there, and He stays.

One night, I was anxious, but not to the point of panic. I simply closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

He gave me a vision.

In the vision, I was lying on a giant, royal blue pillow of silk. It waved like the sea, and it floated among the stars. On that pillow, I was at peace.

“It’s me,” He whispered. “You’re with me.”

I haven’t been able to forget it.

Life and being a person have been a bit difficult lately; I’m struggling with a lot of fears and doubts. Normally, I’d be the first person to turn all this into an encouragement. Which isn’t a bad thing, and I do hope you find encouragement here. But if I were to do that completely intentionally this time, it wouldn’t be the fully honest thing.

The honest thing to do with all of this is to tell you that sometimes, things get hard. And sometimes when things get hard, you know what you need to do; you know the simple truth and what response it calls for. But sometimes… even the simple thing is incredibly difficult.

I know the key to peace is to rest inside my Father and His strength. I know it. I know it’s what my vision meant. And it’s such a simple act to lay down your burdens and just lie on your Father’s chest, to let Him take care of you and find peace in Him. Yet it is something I am working so hard to do right now. I trust Him. But I also fear what’s to come. Which means there’s a part of me that doesn’t trust Him. And it takes a lot of effort every day to silence that part of me, to break out of my worries and just let Him be my peace.

I want to tell you to rest in Him, to let Him do the work, to trust Him. And I do tell you that, whole-heartedly. A mind focused on Him the key to peace. But I also can’t tell you that without also telling you even rest can be hard sometimes. Because we have to keep actively choosing to remain in it, when there are countless distractions trying to steal us away. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we can trust Him; that He loves us right where we are, and isn’t angrily demanding more from us; that His invitation into rest is a warm entreaty He’s making because He wants to be with us and wants to love us well.

I think that’s why He gave me the vision, and why I felt I needed to paint it and tell you about it. Like I need to visualize His presence in my anxious nights, sometimes I need to see that His presence is here for me to find safety in, here for me to delight in… here. With me. When I’m overwhelmed or afraid, I think of the vision and the world slows down for a few moments; now when I look at my wall, maybe I’ll remember to snuggle close. And maybe you’ll remember the picture when you’re feeling burdened, too. Maybe it could help you. How wild would that be?

Sometimes peace takes work. And sometimes, when we fully believe in how loved we are, we rest in knowing the hardest parts have been done for us.

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.

Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

Free to Struggle

My research paper this semester has stolen my life in the best way. I hope that after it’s done, you’ll be able to see it somehow– here, elsewhere online, maybe even in a published form! Until I know for sure I’ll just keep the specifics under wraps, because it is that special to me. I am putting my entire heart into this project.

I discovered something while I was researching that is deeply changing my life. My project is very much about human hearts more than anything, and as I researched I didn’t just look in books and in databases; I spoke to people and observed situations wherever I happened to be. The more I found, the more it all pointed to one main conclusion that touched my paper but also went way beyond the scope of it. Jesus was being so loud, and the more He said, the more I realized how real His words were, how much truth He was speaking. I began sharing these truths in my school’s little prayer meetings and in my small group, and when they reacted with almost amazed comfort like I did, I knew Jesus wanted these things to be known. That is why I’m writing this today. I think it’s one of the most important things you’ll hear… possibly ever. Ready?

It is one hundred percent okay for you to struggle.

I can’t speak for you about many things, but I know I can say this about you and have it be absolutely true: you struggle with something. And if you’re like me, you hate it, and most days you might be able to shove it to the back of your mind, yet it still hurts you in the deepest place because no matter how hard you try, how fervently you repent– YOU STILL SIN.

My dear friend, all of us fall short, and all of us are ashamed of it. But hear this: Jesus NEVER asked you to be perfect. He came to die because He knew you couldn’t be perfect but He still loved you and wanted to be with you. You are magnificent, treasured, priceless, and Jesus chose you, before repentance ever crossed your mind. What makes us think He doesn’t love us now that we’ve repented and still sometimes fail? He loved us before, and He loves us now. That will not change.

And your struggle? That thing that still has you in chains sometimes? That you’ve never been able to completely rid yourself of? That makes you cry every time you fall back into it, because you just weren’t strong enough? Jesus does not even think of that when He sees you. He did not come to make you perfect! He came to fulfill the perfection He knew you couldn’t reach, so He could be with you and you could live a beautiful life. Growth is real, but perfection is not, at least not in human beings. If you still struggle, that means you are a human being; it does NOT mean you are a failure or that your love for Jesus isn’t real and deep.

I’m not saying that Jesus hasn’t freed you from sin. He definitely has. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24). But addictions are almost never cured in a single moment, let alone struggles we’ve lived in for years. You are completely allowed to make mistakes as you grow. We have two natures, and they truly are in war against each other. We must remember that a few battles won does not equal a war won. Jesus has made us warriors, but more than that– conquerors!

We still must passionately seek to live in righteousness and purity; I am not at all saying that because Jesus loves us unconditionally we can live in our sin without caring. But I think we forget what Jesus actually asked of us: love Him with every piece of us, and love others. These two things are like water and sunlight for a righteous and pure life. Seeking righteousness and purity for the sake of having them is noble, but it won’t get us far. Only through Jesus will we grow, because He is the source of all that is good.

You have permission to struggle. You have permission to passionately love Jesus, knowing that’s all you need to do. And you have permission to talk about yourself in the present tense, not, “I used to ____” or “I’ve been having a hard time, but God is sovereign.” Yes, He is, but that doesn’t mean things don’t suck for you right now. Be honest!  If you are struggling, don’t be ashamed to say so to people you trust, because they’re struggling, too. We all are. I think one of the greatest mistakes we make in church is trying to offer solutions instead of comfort and community; it makes it seem like if you aren’t doing well, you’re an oddity, and that is just not true.

I shared my testimony with my small group recently. I’ve shared my testimony multiple times in multiple situations, but this was the first time I didn’t give it a conclusion. Instead of ending at the day I began living with Jesus, I shared where I was right in that moment. I shared that things were not perfect, and that since Jesus and I have been walking together I’ve had some incredibly painful times– times of weakness and of heartache. I also shared that I love Him more than I ever have, and that I see Him in my life every day. We don’t need conclusions, because our stories aren’t over yet! What matters is Him. Don’t give your sin more credit than it deserves; seek to be pure, but do it out of love for Jesus. Do it because you want to please Him, and remember that you please Him as you are RIGHT NOW. You might fail– but His love will not.

“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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