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 · Testimonies · The Basics

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

flower walk, pink and treesGod knows how to love you.

He knows what’s going to reach you. He knows how to show you love in a way that will connect with you and make its truest mark on you.

He doesn’t love like people do.

People have loved you, but not perfectly. Sometimes, their love has manifested as dominance and even control. And it scares you, makes you build your invisible boundaries so that people can see you but can’t know you. You are open and honest and don’t hide your true self from anyone… but never do you give yourself to anyone. You let them see, but don’t let them touch. Because if they can touch, they can hurt. You don’t want that to happen to you anymore. So you hold up your invisible boundaries, so that you are visible but not truly vulnerable.

You know love is giving. That love is always a risk. But the cost… you’re not sure you’re truly willing to pay it.

She tells you that to love is to be willing to be broken for their sake. And that in order to be loved, you must make yourself vulnerable to receive what they give… which makes you vulnerable to the risk of being hurt. You know she’s right. You want to listen to her.

But you realize that in your efforts to keep people from controlling you, you have begun to act controlling toward them. You’ve learned to maneuver conversations and interactions so that you can keep anyone at a subtle distance, to protect against the chance of them hurting you. And when He shows you that you’ve even extended that to how you relate with Him… it terrifies you. Because who is He, truly, if He isn’t the image you’ve crafted of Him for yourself? If you can’t ignore pieces of Him and pretend He’s someone He might not be?

You pray a prayer you can feel the danger pulsating throughout: “Reveal your true self to me. Help me to accept the way you want to love me, even if it’s not a way I’d ask for.”

He starts answering. But not in ways you expected. And you even expected the unexpected.

He shows you a young man. One who is sweet and humble, but not without being strong and bold. The young man leaves soon, but not without searing that image in your mind. Part of you slowly begins to believe those things can coexist, gentleness and strength. Part of you begins to see that strength makes you feel small, but doesn’t have to in the ways it has before. Instead of intimidating and scaring you, this strength can make you feel safe. You don’t have to feel powerless. You can feel wrapped in it, and it can warm the winter in you. Among the wild mess inside you, there’s a moment of clarity, and you realize that is what’s happening.

You realize it is Him doing it.

You see that His love is meeting you in ways that will get through to you. He’s been going at your pace. Instead of demanding you change so that you can be loved, He has been entering what’s there, even your vices, and loving you. Not simply in it, but with it. Anything, He says, to be with you.

Anything to love you.

He knew what would reach you. You hid, but He still saw you and knew you. He became the shape that would fit the hole you’d found yourself in.

He knew the deep desires you barely knew existed in your heart, and He entered them, met them in ways you wouldn’t have thought. You didn’t think to want these things, because you didn’t believe you were the kind of person who would ever have them. But He brought love home to you, in a bouquet of flowers bigger and more elegant than anything you’d ask for. It blew you into wide-open wonder and gratitude. But you weren’t looking at the flowers when you thanked Him– you just looked at Him. You met His eyes with your teary ones, and you just looked at Him. Because He was the gift. He didn’t only give you flowers; He had given you His heart. Himself.

Love is giving. The giving of yourself for their sake. And He knows that more than anyone. He always has.

He’s been doing it right under your nose this whole time.

You thought you had to do the hard work of breaking down all the lies that live in your core before you could let yourself be loved. You tried to take steps to do so, and it was beautiful and brave of you. But He chuckles, and He murmurs into your ear that only one thing has ever been necessary.

All you had to do was lean into Him, and let Him love you.

So that’s what you do. You close your eyes, lean against His chest, feel Him wrap you close.

And you let Him love you.

“Simple trust is your participation.”   –Eve by Wm. Paul Young

Responses · Testimonies

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

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

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

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

1) I can do it.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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