Testimonies

On Discerning, Suffering, & Trusting Myself to Know

outside breakfast 1Hi.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

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

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

Where should I start? Well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jesus didn’t do it.

Why?

Because He knew who was telling Him to do it.

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

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

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

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

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

But he didn’t use love.

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

God is Love.

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

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

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

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

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

He was not. He would not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s love.

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Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

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

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

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

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

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

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

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

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

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

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

Because that’s the way He loves us.

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

On Media & Art · Practical · Testimonies · The Basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positivity is not weak, it is empowering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

——-

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

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

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.

Testimonies · The Basics

On Getting My Hopes Up

I might be the biggest idealist I’ve ever known. Even if I’m just stopping by the store, I get excited about who I could see there and what the experience could be like. Maybe it’s part of my design to be hopeful.

But I live on earth. And it’s beautiful here, but it’s broken, too. So hopes can get crushed. I can’t count the hopes I’ve had that I never saw come to fruition. I get so excited about the possibilities that when things actually happen, they are disappointing. Because they’re flawed and messy and not the joys I hoped maybe they could be.

So I tried to stop hoping.

feet and wishHope felt childish. When something got me excited and possibilities for what could happen began entering my mind, I’d tell myself to calm down. “Don’t expect anything from it, Tessa. Just go and enjoy it if you can. Things will probably not happen that way and you’ll get hurt if you expect them to.” I’d been hurt a lot by my own expectations. I didn’t want it to happen again. So I denied hope a place in my life. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing; I thought I was protecting myself. I didn’t know I viewed hope the way I did:

As an enemy instead of a friend.

Recently the Lord has been telling me that something is a promise. Something I’ve tried to shove out of my mind and heart because it’s too special to tease myself with; something so good and so impossible that dreaming about it has physically made my heart heavy, so that I don’t even like thinking about it if I can help it.

But when He speaks… I know. There are moments when I genuinely don’t know if He’s saying something or not. But there are also moments when I know what He’s saying… and I don’t want to believe it. This has been one of the latter. I know what He’s said. I know He has promised to put this thing in my life somehow.

And it terrifies me.

You’d think that being told an incomprehensible joy is coming for me would fill me to the brim with excitement and gratitude. But I’ve lived my life as an idealist; I know what it’s like to be bubbling over with anticipation… only to be left with a deflated version of what I hoped for. And I just don’t want to feel that hurt anymore.

I used to read in the Bible where it says to rejoice in hope, and I’d think it was an obvious statement; why wouldn’t I be joyful about hope? But I understand now: hope is terrifying. When you hope, you’re allowing yourself to put your energy into believing for something you can’t visualize happening. Hope is risky, dangerous business for my heart to take on.

But hope is not dumb.

I’m afraid to believe His words to me because I’m afraid to get my hopes up. It feels childish to hope for it; it doesn’t make to sense to me to hope for it because I cannot see any avenues for it to come to pass. I’ve always known He wants me to have hope in Him for the impossible, but I guess nothing has ever looked too impossible. This… this does.

But I remember when He showed the prophet Ezekiel a valley full of dried up, long-dead bones. And He asked him: “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel responded:

“O Lord God, you know.”

Ezekiel didn’t know what was going to happen. But He knew that the Lord was capable of doing anything. Even the impossible.

The thing He’s telling me about? I have no idea how it can happen. I don’t understand it, it doesn’t make sense to me. But I know I can trust Him. I can trust Him with all of me. No matter what He’s saying, if I understand it or if I don’t, it doesn’t matter.

I can trust whatever He’s saying because it’s Him who is saying it.

My hope is in Him. And He is capable. And if I believe He loves me, why do I not believe I’m special enough to receive the impossible from Him? He has deemed me worthy.

Hope is not dumb. And I’d rather get my hopes up and be crushed than live without hope.

So I rest in who my Father is. And I trust Him with my heart.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  -Romans 15:13

“Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts though the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”   -Romans 5:5

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”   -Hebrews 10:23

[Reminder: God does not contradict Himself. If what I feel He’s saying is contrary to what He says in Scripture, it isn’t Him.]

 

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

[Listen]

Life as a Wind Rider

On Reading My Life’s Story

journal and cpr shelfI have this strange habit of staying up until at least midnight because I want to see the memories Facebook saved for me in the “On This Day” app. I’ve been using Facebook since I was about fourteen, so there’s some cringey gold to be found.

But I was also deeply depressed for a little more than two years in high school. And Facebook reminds me of that, too.

Except those things aren’t memories. That’s the wild thing about depression: I am aware, because of photos and journal entries, of the things that happened to me. But I don’t actually remember them. Reading my journal is like reading a novel. I sympathize with my younger self on a human level, but I can’t remember what those moments felt like; I just remember the constant despair or numbness I carried. Looking at photos from that time is like looking at photos of a sweet, familiar teenage girl; it’s like I was friends with her once. Those years are like stories to me, instead of memories. I know they’re my stories. I try to take good care of them.

Lately, the memories showing up in the app have been inside those stories. A song I didn’t remember existed was there yesterday, from when I was sixteen. When I clicked the link and listened to it, I knew every word. It was a song speaking of light, and it had a joyous air in it. Pride for the girl who listened to that song in the dark swelled up in me. I don’t know what made her do it, but I want to be like her when I grow up.

Today, the memory was from three years ago. Three years ago today, I was rejected from the creative arts program at the college I knew the Lord wanted me to attend. I’d auditioned through a video, the first time for me to sing a solo for anyone. A few weeks later, I received a phone call informing me my voice was “underveloped.” I’d been accepted to the college, but not the program I hoped for. I knew I was supposed to go to the school, so I was glad to be accepted there, at least. Yet I also knew I was supposed to make music. Suddenly I didn’t know how those callings could exist together anymore.

I had been scrolling through Facebook when I received that phone call. I don’t vent about personal situations on the internet, but I didn’t know what to do with the news I’d just received. So I typed through my tears:

Didn’t get accepted into the Creative Arts program; my voice is underveloped. Crushed.

People came beside me and exhorted me. Months later, I would go to that college. But my sense of hope in my dreams of making music was gone. My heart was broken over this twist in my story, and my dreams now felt like burdens I’d have to uselessly carry for the rest of my life. It took a long time to heal from this.

Three years ago, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t finish college; that the Lord would lead me to living at home, figuring out how to make music on my own. I didn’t know that my story was to be even more unconventional and wild.

And I didn’t know that I’d eventually love my story that way.

I love that my Father knows me. He knows an easy, conventional story wouldn’t suit me. “Tessa is my unconventional shining star of a daughter.” He declared when He dreamed me up. “She doesn’t do things the way everyone expects her to; she finds new, creative ways that feed her soul and the souls of others like her. She needs a life that reflects that. It’s going to be so unique, such a delight to unfold.”

He’s crafted all of it. Just like He’s crafted me.

I never thought I’d be thankful for that rejection. But I am. I’m grateful for my crazy, messy, gorgeous story full of twists no one can anticipate. All of it is connected, matters, has purpose. I can trust Him with the hardest parts, knowing they’ll make sense to me someday. I can dream again, because He gives me His eyes when I do. Nothing is irredeemable or immovable– not the darkness, not my mistakes, not my circumstances, not my broken heart. It all matters.

It’s all part of the story. The one He made to fit me just right.