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

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Recovery · Responses · Testimonies

The Fuel of Temptation: On Shame & Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Testimonies

On Insecurity & Contentment (Or, When Clichés Tell The Truth)

DSC03824Growing up, I was never really too down on myself. Because I was convinced make up, hair dye, following trends, and the like were all pointless (maybe even bad),  I had to be content with myself the way I was. Of course I still had insecurities, but for the most part I just knew I was different and that I had to be genuine about myself. I didn’t really focus on my appearance that much.

The past year or so, I’ve grown in terms of how I view myself. I dyed my hair to a color I loved and learned how to take care of it; I collected a few little make up items and liked what they could do; I started dressing a bit more like a grown up version of myself (which is still pretty colorful and wild, let’s be real). Because I was starting to actually view myself as an adult, I was learning that I was in charge of myself, and that there were new worlds I could explore. I’ve been enjoying these worlds a lot, for the most part.

I’ve never really been concerned with being more relevant. But lately… I have.

I wonder if it’s because I entered these new worlds, worlds that encourage self-improvement and high standards I’d never sought to meet before. Without make up/hair dye/whatever, if you aren’t keen on how you look, you can’t really do anything about it. So you learn to accept it and live with your focus placed elsewhere. With those things, however, you can change a lot about what you don’t like. It’s really nice. But if you use them and still don’t feel great about yourself, it stings more. Because you tried to hide the insecure places, and they still peek out and bother you… maybe even make you feel inferior to those who do what you’re doing but seem successful at it.

I feel similarly about exercise. I wasn’t regularly exercising until about six months ago, and now I feel like it’s a hugely important duty for me to maintain my body, or even to make it better. Because exercising has improved my shape a little, and a few people have even noticed. Sometimes I notice, and get excited about it. But now I have this fear of not being able to keep it up. I started exercising purely because I wanted to get a better grip on my struggles with anxiety; I didn’t expect any of this to come with it.

I didn’t really deal with these feelings and fears before. But now I do. And something else has come with it, something that is devastating me: comparison.

I find myself looking at old photos and getting annoyed or even mad at my past self for her weight, which was never really noticeably bad. But worse than that: I look at other women and see things I wish I had… and things that I’ll judge them for having. Because I’m more self-conscious than I was before, I am now more apt to see issues in others and be a more harsh, judgmental person. I compare myself to them, wanting what they have, and I compare them to me, thinking they should want what I have. I hate seeing this in me, and I hate letting you see it; it’s embarrassing and painfully vulnerable. But it fully convinces me that judgmental, cruel people truly are just insecure people who want to feel better inside. People always say that, but I never saw the reality of it before it became my reality.

Dang.

Part of me wonders if I started a lot of this because I fell for someone who seemed to live in such a glittering world, and I wanted to measure up. I didn’t want to be invisible or unsightly or subpar; I wanted to be beautiful and noticeable… to be good enough for his world. And maybe I began tearing down other women in my head because I didn’t want to compete with them, because I had no hope in winning against them. What stupid games we play, thinking anything in life is a competition we have to beat others in. Thinking love is something we win from people.

Yesterday, I liked how I looked, so I took a few photos. Then I saw photos of other gorgeous women, and I didn’t like mine anymore. I met the reality of another platitude– comparison took joy from me.

I think I’m sharing these things with you just to show you how true those platitudes are. Because I’ve heard them my whole life, but I’m just now seeing them manifest. And wow… damage happens when you don’t see or truly believe in something that’s happening inside you.

When I’m alone, just focusing on enjoying what I have and being grateful, I like myself. It’s when comparison and standards come in that I begin to doubt and get anxious and defensive. I have to focus on gratitude. Gratitude for this body I have to live in; for a lifestyle that really works for me; for fun ways to explore expressing myself; for the beauty other women possess; for the unique images all of us get to carry that are a piece of the image of God; for the worthiness of the individual; for people who build others up; for the ability to compliment instead of compete. It is in gratitude that contentment will live and thrive.

So, thank you, Father, for all of those things. And that you like us even when we can’t like ourselves.

[Listen]

Responses · Testimonies · The Basics

On Having Flaws & Being Loved

I’m learning that God doesn’t view my flaws the way I was taught He did.

I was taught that purity is something I maintain; something I must guard and curate, through the means of what I do, how I speak, how I behave, what I lend an ear to. It is a sanitized lifestyle, a sanitized mind, no room for ugly thoughts or feelings, no allowance for mistakes or questions or doubt. I was taught that my purity was something I grew because of the good things I did and the bad things I avoided.

As a result of this teaching (that no one outright spoke but that was the core of so many of the things people did say), I believed this was what made God love me more and think I was of enough value to be His: if He saw me live in complete purity. But I couldn’t, no matter how much I effort I made, how strongly I disciplined myself, how sincerely I repented. I couldn’t be pure enough to be fully loved by Him.

Filthy, life-sucking lies.

God has always been seeking one thing from me, and that is me. My purity exists and is here in full right now, because He gave it to me. Because He knew I could not achieve it, He gave me His own. He gave His life to break the barrier, because being with me mattered that much to Him, was that strong of a desire in Him. It is not because I am perfectly sanitized or because everything about me fits into a nice, tidy little box or because I do everything right– it’s because He loves me. He always has.

People don’t like my flaws. I don’t, either. If I could change them, more people would love me and it would be a lot easier to love myself. Because I’ve always had this mindset, I thought God did, too. I thought He loved me out of obligation, as if He was my parent so He had to love me. And I thought He wanted to change me. I thought He welcomed me, but kept our intimacy to a minimum, because I wasn’t pure enough to fully be embraced yet. My flaws had to be fixed first.

“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”   -Song of Solomon 4:7

DSC03312God does not want to change me.

Does He want to heal my wounds? Yes, of course! “Healer” is part of His identity, cannot be removed from Him. He loves me and wants fullness and abundant life for me, and He hates to see me hurting, to see me living in less than His best. So He will heal me of my wounds, those things I carry that hurt me and the world around me. And it’ll be painful sometimes. My wounds are numerous and large and I’ve carried them for so long that I get protective because don’t know what I’m like without them.

But my wounds are not me.

There is nothing about me that is wrong. He loves every single piece of me, even the ones no one else (including me) really likes. I’m broken, a huge mess. But none of my pieces are a mistake. All of my pieces are here, being tenderly placed together. There is not one piece of me that is unworthy. Not one.

I value and seek growth; I know He wants it for me. But I also know that He is the one who makes it happen, when it is supposed to. And I know He calls me flawless, wholly beautiful, right now. And if He says it, it is truth.

My Father doesn’t say, “I love you even though you have flaws.” He says, “I love every single piece of you.”

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Worthy to Be Praised, Forever and a Day

This one is going to be short and sweet. I’ve thought about it a lot, and only one thing will make sense. What is so praiseworthy that it deserves to be my constant thought? What is so incredible to think about that it makes me praise? Even when I’m thinking about something else, what is always in the back of my mind? What dictates my attitude because of how much time I’ve dedicated to it? What is in the midst of every part of my day, even when I don’t realize it? What am I absolutely in love with more than anything else?

This “it” would be a “who”, a magnificent “who”. This person would be my closest friend; I would be comfortable sharing anything with them. They would fervently listen to me, and they would understand me. They would notice even the little things about me, like that I scratch behind my ear when I’m uncomfortable, or that I prefer pens with blue ink, or that I use Bing as opposed to Google simply because Bing has pretty photography. They would teach me new things every day, and they would be a wise and encouraging teacher. When I crumble, they would hold me in their arms and wipe away my tears. They would cry because I did. They would love me no matter what, and they would tell me so all the time. When I’m stubborn and selfish, they would be honest but gentle in softening my heart. They would care enough about me to not hold back, to do what they needed to help me even if I wouldn’t like it at first. They would love me and reach out to me even when I’m hostile and upset. They wouldn’t hold anything against me when I come to my senses and beg for forgiveness– they would choose to forget my mistakes! They would be holy, so much more beautiful and powerful than me, but they would trade it to be with me. Before I even knew them, they would be so in love with me that they would leave their own home to make their home with me, even if it meant torture, DEATH. But their love would be so strong that death wouldn’t be able to hold them down. They would come back! They would rise to life and seek me out, and never question if I was worth their perfect, flawless life! Oh yes, this person would be worthy of ALL my praise! But who?! Who would ever think of being this person to you and me?!

His name is Jesus. He’s God’s only begotten Son, but He became a man to save us. He did this for us. He is all this and so much more; He wants to be this person TO YOU AND ME. Can you fathom it? If someone you could see did all these things for you, wouldn’t you fall on your knees and fervently kiss their feet and weep because of it? Jesus is real, and He’s here. It may not seem like it sometimes, but it’s 100% true, I promise. When I write about Him, I’m not writing theology or philosophy; I’m writing about my friend, the love of my life. It’s not made up; it’s what I learn about Him, and what He reveals to me. Only He is worthy to be praised.