When the voices of comparison and lies from the enemy grow loud, we have to fight for the Truth of who God is and who we are in Him. My fellow writer, Heather, shares beautifully, bravely, and vulnerably about her own struggles with her weight, self-image, and how God met her in her suffering in this piece. I’m so grateful to share her words with you today.
Here is Heather Kristine’s Freedom Story.
I’ve struggled with poor self-esteem most of my life. Every time I walked into a room I looked around and ranked myself in comparison to everyone else. My ranking was largely based on weight. Am I the fattest woman here?
After losing 135 pounds in 16 months through restrictive eating I was sure I had arrived. Now I was worthy of other people’s time and attention, right? As soon as I began to eat normal food again the weight started to pile back on. With each pound, I gained I lost a corresponding pound of confidence.
I started to hide again. I’d cancel plans and refused new invitations believing that my weight gain would be the silent undercurrent to every interaction. Even my own pastor called me out on it. “What happened, Heather? You were doing so well. How did you let the devil get a foothold again?”
Was I really doing so well? I had been restricting myself to under 1,000 calories a day. I’d lost half of my hair. my nails were falling apart. My skin was dull, dry and itchy. Worst of all, I was too tired to do anything. I always thought that once I lost the weight I would regain radiant health, climb mountains, learn ballroom dancing, find love. The only thing I gained in losing all that weight was an inflated ego. Only if I ranked myself higher than average in a room would I have the confidence to strike up conversations and get to know people.
I used to be afraid of people. Long after the bullies had graduated and moved on, I was still bullying myself with a non-stop inner monologue of disgust and condemnation. If I could be this mean to myself then other people were scarier. Why would anyone want to be friends with the likes of me? If I couldn’t even do something as simple as eating less and exercise more, what could I possibly have to offer?
Then God met me in the midst of my suffering.
I had crept out of the evening session at our women’s retreat. Overcome by self-hatred and condemnation I sought refuge in the quiet of my hotel room. Alone with my two favorite guys, Ben & Jerry. Stuffing the empty pint of “Peanut-Buttah Cookie-Core” into the garbage, I was covering my shame with wads of clean paper towel when God whispered to my heart. “Can you learn to love yourself, even if you gain all the weight back?”
I don’t know.
I tried to love myself. I really did, but I couldn’t get free of comparing myself to other women. I lost the ability to pay attention in conversations because all I could think about were all the ways I didn’t measure up. It was like I was being bullied all over again, except that the voices never stopped when the bell rang. They were always with me.
Several months later I was at another women’s conference. Everyone was standing in worship and I was cowering in my seat, fighting the urge to bolt for the doors. After one of the songs, a speaker led us in a time of confession and prayer. I turned to the two friends on either side of me and begged them to pray for me to stop comparing myself to others.
As they laid hands on me and prayed I saw myself in a hall of mirrors. Everywhere I looked was a mirror reflecting and magnifying each of my flaws. “Lord, how can I escape from this nightmare?”
Then a sermon from many years ago began to ring in my ears. The radio preacher was reading from the book of Ezekiel:
“You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
and crafted in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
Ezekiel 28: 12b-14a ESV
The preacher said that Lucifer was covered in precious stones so that he could reflect the glory of God.
The enemy of my soul is reflective!
Suddenly, the hall of mirrors took on an entirely new meaning. As soon as I thought it, I had a large rock in my hand. As each mirror shattered a new rock appeared in my hand. When they were all gone, Jesus was waiting to take my hand and lead me back into the light.
I’m still tempted to compare myself to others. But then I recognize that my eyes have wandered back to the enemy of my soul so I search for Jesus in the eyes of that other person instead. Somehow, this has brought me the freedom to show up authentically in community. I no longer resist the urge to text or call a friend because I don’t want to burden them. I’m no longer afraid to introduce myself to someone new because I’m sure I have nothing of value to offer them. I’m just looking for Jesus in everyone that I meet and I make friends along the way.
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Heather Kristine is a writer living just outside of Columbus, Ohio. Making homemade soup is her love language and she is currently training to be a spiritual director. She has one adult daughter who has flown the coop and two white rabbits. You can follow along with Heather’s beautiful words and journey on Instagram.
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Special thanks to Averie Claire (via Unsplash) for the photo that accompanies this post.
“Close your eyes. Plant your feet, shoulder-width apart. Relax your arms and let them rest by your sides. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and slowly expand your stomach, your core. Fill it all the way. Picture a string pulling directly through the crown of your head up through the ceiling. Lengthen your spine. Keep your feet rooted to the ground.”
I grew up participating in community children’s theatre. Through middle school, high school, college, and my young adult life, musical theatre was a huge part of my schedule, my dreams, my passion, and my identity.
During warm-ups and exercises, we often heard instructions like the ones above. We had to be centered in our own bodies before we could step into the characters and lives of others. Whenever we practiced this centering exercise, I pictured myself like a strong oak tree. I imagined my long spine and body as the trunk. My feet, connected to the earth, grew deep and stretching roots into the soil beneath the floor. I envisioned life- I imagined full leaves, colorful fruit, a mother bird in her nest- all supported by this strong, rooted body.
This morning, I listened to Ephesians on my way to work. I heard over and over the command to stand firm. I was instantly brought back to the image of standing in a black box theatre in college in a circle of my peers, with feet to the floor and invisible strings through our heads to the sky.
In truth, there have been many times in my life where I have been more like a weak and flimsy weed- whipped back and forth like the wind, tossed to and fro by the waves and storms of life. And often it was because I was trying to stand firm on my own or through the support of others around me.
When I took my eyes off of my Savior, I looked to my own strength to save me and I sank fast and deep. In the times when I looked all around me for comfort or comparison, I forgot who the Creator made me to be. As I frantically scrambled for security in this world and tried to find reliable and steady things to lean on, I built a life based on the temporary fulfillment of accomplishments, love, and financial stability. When I trusted the changing and chaotic things in this world instead of the Lord, my trust in God’s ability to carry me slipped away like sand through my fingers.
However, in the past few years God has taught me so much about rooting myself in Him. The times when I HAVE felt planted are those when I have not relied on my own abilities or solely on the strength of those around me, but rested in the Lord’s care and provision. In those times when HE has been my planting, He has allowed me to walk through earthly circumstances of confusion, unknowns, and chaos with a sureness that He has it all in His hands.
When I walked through divorce and heartbreak, I cried out to Him. He brought me joy and community instead of depression and isolation.
When I struggled with the deep ache for more children in my singleness, God brought me a sweet contentment in the family He HAS blessed me with, instead of doubt or jealousy.
When I walked through times of instability due to financial crisis or job changes, He removed my fear and brought me an understanding of what His “peace that passes all understanding” actually feels like.
Even when our circumstances do not lend themselves to security, I truly believe it is possible to stand firm in this world BECAUSE of Christ. Here are 5 important ways I’ve learned to stand firm in this world:
- Recognize that strength drawn from anything else in this world is a halfway strength. The only way we can get through some of our hardest times and our brightest days is to recognize Christ as a strong, solid ground on which we can stand. Through Him alone, we can find the full strength we need to get through any circumstance.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV)
- Know that suffering transforms us. This present darkness or trial is building in you maturity, a stronger faith, and the ability to persevere through hard things in your future. Christ is our Savior who understands suffering at the deepest level. When we suffer, we are able to lean on the Lord for our wisdom and trust that He will graciously show us the way forward. Suffering brings us closer to Christ and sanctifies us, making us holier, humbler, and more complete.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind,” (James 1:2-6, NIV)
- Acknowledge that no thing or person here on earth can ever possibly love you or bring as great of fulfillment as our heavenly Father, who perfectly loves us. When we KNOW the height and depth of His love for us, we can grow deep roots and become grounded in His love for us amidst our changing circumstances. His love for us will never change.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God,” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
- Practice gratitude. Instead of getting swept up in the waves crashing around us and focusing on the storms and struggles of this world, we are given the powerful spiritual tool of gratitude that grounds us with a Kingdom-focus. An awareness of the good things keeps things balanced on the hard days, and trains our hearts and minds to scan the landscape for the ways that the Lord is protecting, providing, and showing His great love for us. Whether you keep a mental checklist, write a note in your phone, or keep a daily gratitude journal, I challenge you to find 3-5 things each day that you are grateful for. I promise, it will start to shift your eyes from the chaos.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1)
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him,.’” (Lamentations 3:22-24)
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV)
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,” (Hebrews 12:29)
- Put on your armor. I’ll end with this, as this is the passage that inspired my thoughts about standing firm in the first place. The Lord gives us many powerful ways to protect us against the chaos of this world. When we root ourselves in His Truth, we can stand our ground and be ready for anything that comes against us in this world.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:10-17)
While my image from my theatre days focused on the strength of my own body and mind, I know now that my true strength, peace, and hope in this world comes not from myself, but from the Lord. I pray that you would know that Christ is a solid rock on which you can build the foundation of your whole life. He will not let your feet slip when you plant yourself in Him.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
-The Solid Rock (hymn), Edward Mote, ca. 1834
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Special thanks to Emily Lewandowski who generously provided the picture for this post through her work with Unsplash.
- Recognize that strength drawn from anything else in this world is a halfway strength. The only way we can get through some of our hardest times and our brightest days is to recognize Christ as a strong, solid ground on which we can stand. Through Him alone, we can find the full strength we need to get through any circumstance.
I love Kate’s story so much. When she sent it to me, tears filled my eyes- THIS was exactly my vision for the Freedom Stories series. Kate’s story is one of motherhood, and of postpartum depression, yes, but even more than that it’s about finding a sense of belonging that is lasting amidst all of life’s changes. Her words are strikingly beautiful and honest. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share them here.
Here is Kate’s Freedom Story.
I lost my way for a long time.
About 3 years after my son was born, maybe a little longer.
I left my career to stay at home, a blessing to be sure. But, all at once I had this little human that I was responsible for, a marriage that morphed into a full-fledged family, and a new life in the span of 12 hours. As I labored, my husband and I grew up.
Too fast, and not fast enough — all at the same time.
Drowning in hormones and the recovery of a tough birth, I experienced the identity crisis that had been chasing me my entire adult life.
I’m lucky, really. I’ve always had someone, someone has always stood the gap for me. Being young when my parents split, there were grandmothers and aunts and a stepmom that shaped who I was as a woman. I’ve never been without a guide or a protective wing. But I still struggled. I struggled with identifying with my family, with my friends. I struggled to belong to anyone or anything.
In the tumult, I found Jesus. And while He filled a lot of holes in my heart and mended many of the cracks; I still didn’t quite understand.
I was a believer, sure, but where did I fit in?
And then marriage, and then kids….
Was I my husbands? Was I my parents? Was I my kids? Did I have any right to claim family in any of these instances? Where did I belong?
These questions might seem silly to some, but if you’ve ever struggled with belonging, then you’ll feel right at home within my crisis. It’s as if I was a walking, vibrating, sandcastle. The winds and waves of every day threatened me, and so far I’d held up nicely.
But the storm of becoming a mother, myself, made landfall, and I collapsed.
Making it out of bed only to care for my newborn and lay on my family room floor, I was nothing but shell. I couldn’t sleep, I ate terribly, and I felt and cared so much with nowhere to place it.
It goes by many names. Generalized anxiety disorder, postpartum depression, panic, full mental breakdown, whatever you want to call it; it was all of those things and more. It felt like I was responsible for and incapable of everything. All at once. My body physically hurt and my brain swam and spiraled about with everything that could possibly go wrong at every minute. I was too full of worry to fit anything else, but at the same time, I was so desperately empty. It was as if I was living with my body turned inside out. Every nerve exposed to the dangers of this wild world. Every minute I was just waiting for something that would cause me pain.
That’s what depression and anxiety felt like to me; like everything was broken.
The meds helped.
They cleared the fog, removed the 400-pound elephant that sat on my chest, released my body from the suffocating imbalance it was experiencing so that I could lift my head. I’m so thankful for meds. I’m so grateful for doctors that listen, best friends that call out our pain, and husbands that don’t give up.
I’m even more so thankful for a Savior that doesn’t just remove pain and fix brokenness, but uses it to build and grow; to strengthen and prepare.
Meds, however helpful, would not solve the problem that still remained. That had always existed. I needed a place to belong.
I wish I had the perfect 5 step plan to find belonging, but I don’t. It’s a winding path that looks different for everyone. I know that it took time. It took honesty. And it took scripture.
When I finally lifted my eyes off of my own self-service, there He was. Waiting, as He always is.
Soft-eyed, and soft-palmed; He lifted me and branded my heart with His name.
Here was my place. Here, in Him, I find belonging.
It feels whole. It feels mended, and full of good things, and strong, and healthy. It feels like full breaths of fresh air.
And it also feels like my body is turned inside out. Every nerve exposed to the dangers of this wild world.
All of this was my path to this type of living I do now. This words on a page, bleeding from your fingers, the front door always open, heart ready to break for you, arms ready to receive you, beat up, bruised, and bandaged life that I am so gloriously sitting in. It is mine because He found me, branded me, called me, and comforts me.
My pain and my trudge to this place, that’s my freedom.
The world seeks belonging. It’s craving honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity. The world is looking for Jesus, whether they know it or not, and it doesn’t need any more telling. It needs showing and doing. This is the call that needs answering now.
The lost are searching. Searching for the patched-up ones, with still fresh wounds and bandages and bruises like ourselves. People who can be honest about where they are from, and gentle about where to go. People who live inside out, with every nerve exposed. And before any of us can answer this call, before we can live heart open like this, we need to belong.
We need to belong to Jesus.
Living vulnerably is not easy, it comes at a price. We give the world our worst moments and use them to point people to Jesus. We lead the charge into battle. We make ourselves vulnerable to judgment and ridicule.
And it takes a toll on your soul.
But the toll is a small price to pay. An investment in eternity.
So do the work. Lift your eyes to meet His gaze. Let Him brand His name on your heart so that your identity is firmly found in the hope and promise of Jesus Christ. The armor you wear into battle is a composition of His Spirit and His Word and His Salvation.
Be branded with His name and pay the toll from His pocket.
Because when He’s the bank, the toll on your soul is never too high.
We are all promised trouble in our wild world.
But also, victory.
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Kate Radcliffe is Nothing Fancy. She’s a wife and a mom to two Wild Things. Out of her broken and restored soul, she writes. She’s honest, real, and extremely loud. She exists to gather people around her table and send them home bellies full and steeped in the aroma of the Spirit.
Her blog, Nothing Fancy, exists to encourage and inspire women to live free and full in the goodness of the Lord. Friendship, fellowship, and refining fires are her bread and butter. She lives loudly, loves wholly, and exists simply.
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Special thanks to Daiga Ellaby for her gorgeous sand castle image that she donated to the public domain via Unsplash.
Since January, I’ve been learning how to play piano. It’s slow going, but it brings me a lot of joy to be able to play and sing worship music (even in the comfort of my own home). Sometimes I play in front of others, but mostly it’s just me and Jesus in my dining room.
On Monday nights I’m the worship leader for a group at church, which usually means coordinating the song selection, facilitating practice, and leading vocally on some of the songs. Occasionally, as needed, I also jump in and play keyboard. It’s clunky and a little awkward and I often apologize for my piano skills over the mic because I am a perfectionist and want others to know that I’m aware that it’s not good. How silly.
The point of worship is to glorify the Lord, not ourselves. I have come to believe that the gift of worship leading is to help usher others into the presence of the Lord, and to help a community of believers come together to offer God our praise. But sometimes, I still make it about me. If I’m in my head too much, I end up thinking about the quality of our playing and singing instead of the quality of my heart. And that is pride at its worst.
This Monday night, I lost sight of the greater purpose of worship. During our team’s practice time, I self-consciously stumbled my way through the music. I just could not get my fingers to work right and I kept losing my place in the music. When my team tried to offer suggestions I kind of snapped, and had to step away in an almost-panic attack. I closed the door of the bathroom behind me and leaned against the door with tears stinging in my eyes. I prayed for forgiveness for my heart, for my lack of humility, for my desire for control. I came out and apologized sincerely to our team. They met me with the sweetest grace and encouragement. During worship time later that night, my playing was not perfect, but my heart was better. And I know the Lord was still there and He was lifted up. Not me. As it should be.
I came home from group that night and beat myself up. About my perfectionism, my pride, my control issues. I wallowed in the fact that I sinned against God and my teammates.
I sat for a while that evening so aware of my own sinful nature. I wandered down a shame spiral- starting to list the other areas of my life where I have messed up. I started drudging up things from last month, last year, 10 years ago. And this was over a fairly small grievance. The shame spirals are wider, deeper, and last much longer over sins that I perceive to be even more severe.
Do you ever do this?
Learning to Let Go
God extends forgiveness and grace to cover our sins AS SOON as we reach out and ask Him for it.
My friends extended grace and compassion to me. They forgave me and let me know that it was okay.
I have to remind myself that when I go down those rabbit trails of looking at my own sin and failures, I am not walking in the freedom that God has given me. I have a hard time forgiving myself and letting go of what has already been covered.
There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is godly sorrow over our wrongdoings, which is meant to lead us to repentance. When we experience guilt, it is conviction from the Holy Spirit. Guilt draws us to our knees to ask God to make our hearts right with Him and with others. Guilt says, “That specific action, thought, or word was not okay. Let’s go make it right with God and the people that may have been hurt by that.” Guilt recognizes our responsibility in wrong-doings and brings empathy along with it. And when we offer our sin up to the Lord, He makes us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Our sin is removed as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
But shame? That is not from the Lord. Shame has a painful grip, and says to me “YOU are a mess. YOU are too broken for forgiveness. YOU are a bad person.” It takes my eyes off of others and brings them fully onto me. Shame separates me from the Lord and others, and often makes me isolate. I feel disgraced and find myself wanting to hide. While guilt spurs us to action, shame is chaotic and paralyzing.
Last night I was reading 2 Corinthians 3, and came across this verse:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
When I am sucked into a shame spiral, I push out the Spirit of the Lord. Because shame holds us captive.
When I encounter shame, I need to remind myself to invite the Spirit of the Lord in to remind me of His forgiveness. Of His grace for me. Of His ability to let go of my past.
And if He, the creator of the universe and a perfect Father can let go of my past, I can too.
I am learning to let go. To step out of the spiral and invite His Spirit of freedom to enter in. To remember that I can learn from these times when I stumble. To say “it is finished” and move forward with confidence that He is continually making me more like Him. To speak kindly to myself, with the words that He gives me as reminders of His grace.
If you struggle with letting go of your past or shame too, I want to share some verses and a prayer to encourage you today.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9)
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” (Psalm 103:8-12)
“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame,” (Isaiah 50:7)
“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed,” (Psalm 34:5)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” (John 1:12-14, 16)
You are not a god that is far away, looking down on me with a wagging finger of disappointment. You are a loving, perfect parent. You see me as Your sweet and precious child. You welcome me into Your arms. Thank You for the GIFT of redemption and forgiveness that we can receive through Your love and through Christ’s sacrifice for us. Lord, I pray for Your Spirit of freedom to be close to me. Help me to remember Your Truth about Your mercy and love. I pray for strength and courage to let go of my past. Help me to see that it is not helpful for me to drag around self-condemnation. I pray for Your guidance to learn to walk with confidence in the knowledge that I am wholly forgiven and redeemed. Thank You for loving me for exactly who I am. I pray that I could bring YOU glory in the way that I walk that out. I love You Lord.
This story from a fellow Hope*Writer and mother resonates with me on a deep level. A loved one’s struggle with substance abuse changed the course of my life, and I so appreciate my friend’s willingness to share her story about walking through that as a mother. I am so thankful for this friend’s vulnerability and courage to share here.
Here is a mother’s Freedom Story.
“You shall have no other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3 NASB)
“You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them…..but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces,” (Exo 23:24 NASB)
I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not want children. It was the deepest desire of my heart. After marriage, I struggled with infertility. Our son was born when I was 35 and soon I quit my job of 15 years to stay home as a full time mom.
I LOVED being a mother. I poured my energies into raising our son. I taught him the Bible, and took him with me to Bible study so God’s Word could be poured into his young heart. My deepest prayer was that he would know and love the Lord early in life. He asked Jesus to be his Savior at age 5.
My son was the source of my joy and happiness. I carefully weighed every decision we made for his life. I don’t think I am different from other mothers in this. But due to various circumstances, I never had any more children. So he was the sole focus of all my parenting energies.
Eventually I returned to work to help our family finances. Our son was 15, and my husband worked from home, so I thought we could make things work. Our son had always been very easy to parent; he had a level head, worked hard in school, and was a successful athlete.
But, our son had a learning difference that was not diagnosed for years. He struggled academically in certain educational settings, and to try and meet his needs we moved him from one school- and peer group- to another. By the time he was 17 he had been to 5 different schools in 5 years.
My new job in sales required more than 40 hours a week to be successful. I trusted that our son was old enough not to need intensive parental oversight. He had been taught right and wrong, he had been taught the Word of God, he was well loved and had everything a child could need.
But, the five different schools in five years had devastated his social connections. He was an island, and a very lonely one. I did not see that, because I was focused on my job. But our son was drifting.
I don’t know exactly when it started. Those details belong to my son’s story. But little things began to nag at me about his behavior. He was always out with friends, but he would not bring any of them home. Some odd incidents occurred but he always managed to come out of them with a plausible explanation. But I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong.
Unsettled, I quit my job to return home as a full time mom. Soon after, we learned that our son had some serious issues with self-esteem, and drugs. He told us that he was miserable with his life, had only a few friends who were poor influences, and was terrified of disappointing us.
I was heartbroken and devastated. I did not want him to have lifelong consequences from teenage choices. And I did not want him to have to battle substance abuse.
And I was mad. I had given up career, and financial comforts, to raise him and give him everything he could possibly need. I felt his series of choices invalidated all of my work, efforts, prayers and sacrifices. I felt that my life’s work in parenting him had been for nothing. I felt betrayed. These were my honest feelings at the time.
But most of all, I felt fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of whether not this would haunt him, and us, forever. Fear that he would not turn away from that life but instead would be sucked deeper and deeper into it. FEAR kept me cold, nauseous and unable to sleep.
After very tense weeks, our son made the choice to change his life, environment, peer group and focus. He knew kids who had made better choices with their lives, and he wanted to do the same. He chose to get counseling through a unique program for adolescents. He began to set his life on a better course. But my fear and devastation continued.
Standing in church a few weeks later, I closed my eyes to sing the morning hymn. Immediately, I saw a clear vision. There was a room with an aisle down the middle. At the front, a screen covered the entire wall of the room, and on it, appeared a picture of my son’s face. Down the aisle leading to the photo of my son were toppled and broken statues, the pieces scattered on the floor.
Then I heard the Lord speak. He said, “These rocks that line the aisle are the broken idols of your life. They are the idols you have smashed because of your love, faith and obedience to Me. But there is still one idol in your life, and that is your greatest idol. That is the idol you worship, you love, you take joy and hope from, instead of Me. Your greatest idol is your son. You need to lay that idol down before me, and place your love, joy and hope in me, not him.”
I opened my eyes, gasped and looked around to see if anyone else had seen what I had. But everyone was singing normally.
I had not seen it before, but once the Lord literally laid it before my eyes, I knew it was true. I adored my son. I worshiped him. I placed my hopes and dreams in his life and I took my significance and worth from being his momma. He was my all. I could never have seen it to admit it without God’s intervening conviction.
And then I heard God’s calm voice say, “He is YOUR idol, but he is MY child. Lay him at my feet, so that I may lift him up and He will know My love. No one loves him more than I do.”
I gasped again realizing that this was God’s promise to walk alongside my son in the present circumstance. God was not just asking me to give up my greatest idol. He was asking me to place him in God’s care in faithful obedience and trust. I sank into my chair, sobbing, overcome by the revelation about my heart.
In truth I was a lot like most of the mothers I knew who poured their lives into their children. In a culture where outward achievements and material possessions signal success, we mothers often see our children as the primary tangible fruit of our labor, time and care. Their successes and achievements validate our major life choices, and consequently their failures or shortfalls may make us feel we have failed.
When we place our faith in something else to give our life significance, or hope or joy, we have made that thing an idol. My son is a great love of my life. But he is not my Savior. I have only one Savior, my Lord Jesus Christ.
That day I asked the Lord to smash the greatest idol of my heart so that He would be free to reclaim the heart of my son. In doing so I was freed. I was free to love and enjoy my son as the wonderful gift he is, without requiring him to give my life meaning and purpose.
And so, ironically, my son was set free that day as well.
Years later, our son is a healthy, thriving college graduate, who served as a mentor to other struggling youths, as well as a sober role model for others in college. He is engaged to a wonderful young woman and successful in both his business and personal life. He lives out his freedom with joy and purpose. And so do I!
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About the writer:
The author is a Jesus loving southerner who celebrates being a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and cancer survivor. She loves her family, laughing with friends, teaching others that the Bible is relevant for today, encouraging women in their faith and Italian food. She lives, writes, teaches and avoids cooking as much as possible!
My body holds memories of its grief.
Sometimes it manifests as anxiety, bubbling up as a slow simmer. Sometimes it is triggered by the news, or hearing someone else’s story that brushes up against mine. That is the pain that feels sharpest. Sometimes it comes out as anger, when I haven’t taken time to just feel sad and I’ve pushed it down and down and down and then it lashes out with an angry tongue. But more often than not, it is an unexpected wave that comes over me–a surprising sadness on an otherwise normal day or week.
And then I look at the calendar and I realize what is happening. Every February, heartache swells over missing my grandfather–my dear Poppy. Sometimes in April, the anxiety of a particular trauma rises up in my chest as my body recalls an event that changed the course of my life. And in early October, there is a sadness over a wedding anniversary that is no longer celebrated, and a painful heartbreak that occurred years later in the same month.
One morning this week I woke up with a dull ache, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I received a message from my cousin, letting me know she was thinking about me this week. Her validation that this might be a hard time for me was so comforting, and gave me space to grieve. The tears that had been lingering below the surface finally came out. I let my body just feel the pain and grief it had been holding.
Sometimes it is a lot easier for me to extend grace and kindness to others than to myself, so my counselor and I have been working through a series of letters that I am writing to myself. Letters to baby Heather, little girl Heath, the Heather who has made mistakes in the past that needs to be reminded of grace. So this week, I wrote my body this letter. And I thought it might be helpful for someone else today too, so I am sharing it here.
To my body,
Hello sweet girl. I want to tell you something. I haven’t always been kind to you. I want to whisper kindness over you today. You’ve been so strong, and you’ve endured so much. You have danced across stages and smiled at strangers, but you’ve also been bruised and scarred. You ran a half marathon and bring me nourishing rest each night, but there have also been seasons where I neglected or criticized you. You once withstood trauma, but at another time you also birthed a beautiful baby boy into this world. You carry me to work, sit in the car for road trips, savor new foods, offer hugs to loved ones, and lead others in worship with strong breath against vocal chords. However, in the times when grief has arisen, I have not always given you the space you have needed.
So today, I am making space for you. I’m slowing down for a little while to just listen.
Is today hard for you? How are you feeling? I’m here and I am listening.
I have tried to rush you past those very feelings. I have gotten wrapped up in justifying thoughts or trying to be further along in processing your grief. There have been so many times when I have used busyness or slapped on a mask of “happiness” to try to push past what you were feeling. I’m so sorry for that.
To the days when you feel echoes of trauma… I trust you. I believe you. It breaks my heart to think of what you went through, and I’m so sorry it still hurts at times. It’s okay to still be angry or scared or sad when you think of that. It’s not okay that that happened, but you are not broken because of it. You are compassionate and tender-hearted, and it has given you a sensitivity to others in their pain. You are able to share your story with others and let them know they’re not alone.
To the seasons where the grief rises to the surface… I’m here. There is healing in tears. When the tears burn just below your eyes, let them come. In survival mode, I know that I have pushed those tears down or moved quickly past. But I’m making a safe space for you to let it out. I will try not to numb those feelings with busyness or other coping mechanisms. I will try not to minimize those feelings and brush quickly past. Today, I will let myself feel sad if I need to let sadness come.
I know you’ve heard me say things like, “I should be further along in processing this,” or “I shouldn’t feel sad right now when I have so many blessings!” Those simply aren’t helpful phrases, Heather. Grief takes time and space. And it is possible to feel joy and sadness at the same time. Yes, there are things to be thankful for and blessings to count, but they do not negate the parts of your life that carry wounds.
But Heather? Even though these parts of your story and your life and the wounds you carry are true, there is another TRUTH that stands with you in all of this. You have a Savior who is with you in every experience, every joy, every sadness, and every ounce of pain that occurs. I want to remind you of these words today, even in the midst of feeling your grief.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 38:4)
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 38:17-18)
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
The Lord is WITH you in this. He can handle the grief. He can handle the sorrow. Bring it all to Him.
I’m proud of you. I love you. I’m here for you.
P.S. Special thank you to Lex Sirikiat, Autumn Mott Rodeheaver, and Aaron Burden for the beautiful autumn leaf/tree photos that accompany this post (all three photographers generously share their work via unsplash).
|| wres*tle (verb): : to move, maneuver, or force with difficulty; to combat an opposing tendency or force; to engage in deep thought, consideration, or debate ||
Friends, if you have ever wrestled through darkness, depression, anxiety, or questions about your faith, you’ll likely recognize the thoughts and feelings in the story below. My friend Thelma does a beautiful job of sharing how she found freedom through her wrestling, and I pray her words will bring hope to you if you find yourself in the midst of the mud right now.
Here is Thelma’s Freedom Story.
I sat on the brown leather loveseat in my counselor’s office, my shoes in a heap on the rug, legs tucked beneath me. I was nervous, fighting back tears. I didn’t want to be here, despite knowing something had to give. A month ago my doctor had threatened to make me take leave of absence from work until I could get a handle on my circumstances, and I had avoided her office ever since.
“Find a counselor,” she said. With reluctance and trepidation, I did as I was told.
I was drowning. My circumstances had heaped up giant mounds of burden and responsibility and I felt wholly inadequate to respond. And I was angry. Very angry. All the time.
Angry at God, mostly. If he was a good, able God, why was my life an endless storm? I had a laundry list of grievances and I wanted answers. Was I missing something? What lesson was I supposed to be learning I was missing out on?
“Look, God, this is me losing my mother at fifteen. This is me having to live in foster care for two years. Here is our struggle with infertility. This is my husband’s chronic pain, diagnosis, and surgeries.” And here I was, fighting a losing battle (it seemed) trying to maintain or improve my husband’s declining health, gaining no ground, and swiftly losing interest in a God who seemed pleased to wreck me.
I was drowning. I was pretty sure God did not care.
“I still believe,” I insisted to my counselor, trying to wrestle through the darkness towards some fumbling light of hope. “I believe Jesus died for me, but I am so angry right now.”
We dug deep together, my Christian counselor and I. I was instructed to journal. She assigned me the homework of moving through the Psalms at a snail’s pace, to highlight words that jumped out at me, themes that surprised me. I found myself underlining everything about safety, security, refuge. I scrounged a pink highlighter to capture the words ‘help’ and ‘listen’ and ‘rescue’. The word ‘trust’ was underlined in purple. After six months I barely made it to Psalm 25.
Digging deep, I uncovered some hard truths. A Christian since childhood, I knew many truths about God, only I wasn’t responding in faith to anything he said about himself. Since the age of fifteen, when my mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm and we found her on the couch, I believed God wasn’t trustworthy. I did not trust him. Sure, he hadn’t actually dropped me yet, but I wasn’t convinced he wasn’t going to.
I believed he took great delight in wrecking me. Breaking me down as though to teach me an elusive lesson I couldn’t master. Each new circumstance left me shattered and breathless and reminded me of how useless I was to grasp whatever it was God was trying to teach me.
I had allowed my circumstances to dictate my definition of God. I believe him to be capricious, cruel and elusive. Oh sure, I could drum up the appropriate words in the right moments… a writer and a Christian, one does not simply declare, ‘God is probably good, but I don’t have a lot of evidence to support such a claim. Sorry.’
This compilation of learned beliefs (each of them with no basis in Scripture) left me crippled. I was fighting for my life, choked by anxiety, and drowning in a perpetual storm. I was forced to admit these beliefs would no longer sustain me. I would need to replace them with truth.
I recall being alarmed the truth was so accessible. My wounded, hungry heart slurped up the overwhelming evidence of God’s nearness, presence and safety. I hungered for safety. I craved refuge. But could I trust him?
I went back to the beginning of the Psalms after finding a prayer in Psalm 25… the only prayer I uttered for the next six months:
“Turn to me and have mercy,
for I am alone and in deep distress.
My problems go from bad to worse.
Oh, save me from them all!
Feel my pain and see my trouble.
Forgive all my sins.” (Psalm 25:16-18 NLT)
I have no light bulb moment of surrender that made all things well. I worked feverishly in counseling. I tested and rehearsed coping techniques to manage my anxiety. I built help into my life, opening new streams of communication with people I could trust. I journaled several pens dry. I marked those first twenty five psalms until I could barely read the print. I prayed those three verses over and over in the tightest, most private corner of my heart because it was all I could manage.
My circumstances didn’t change. My husband’s health continued to be a challenge, and I still struggled to balance his care with my other responsibilities. At some point, however, I realized I was no longer drowning. Instead of being thrashed by relentless waves, I found myself waist-deep in mud. I was damp and cold and uncomfortable but there were moments of calm. I wasn’t alone anymore. God was there, and I knew it.
I could almost hear the Spirit whispering as I read those psalms for the hundredth time: “Here, look. Read this part again.” Throughout the day, Scripture and hymns would flow through my heart, and I knew the God of everlasting love was purposeful in his comfort.
I no longer believe he wants to wreck me. I have accepted this world is a messed up broken place, and difficult circumstances happen; not just to me, but to everyone. Though new pain may find me somewhere down the road, God is not trying to break me. He is the God of restoration and wholeness. As the apostle Paul assures us: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:23-24 NIV, emphasis mine) His faithfulness endures forever.
I no longer believe he is going to drop me. Daily I marvel in this freedom. Believing him at his word as a place of refuge and safety has irrevocably changed my life. The writer of Hebrews writes, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)
Through his grace I can claim this confidence now: he sketched the details of his goodness and mercy into my heart so I could lean it, believing in faith that he is the best, the softest and safest place to land.
My circumstances have not changed, but I am free. His faithful mercy and grace have made me confident in the Lord’s goodness and trustworthiness. As much as I would love to take credit for my newfound ability to surrender, I know I am a new creation because of Jesus only. To him be all the glory, forever and ever.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32 NIV
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Thelma Nienhuis writes at thelmanienhuis.com, pouring out grace and encouragement when life turns upside down. She is a lover of Jesus, coffee, donuts and naps. She lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, Len, and far too many four-legged children.
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Many thanks to Zach Reiner on Unsplash for the perfect muddy boots photo to accompany Thelma’s story!
I laced up my sneakers and packed all of the essentials for my longest training run yet- 11 miles. Breathing in deep through my nose, I pushed off against the greenway path and steadied my pace. Mile by mile, I prayed for the individuals whose names were in my pocket on a 3×5 note card. With the rhythm of my feet on the pavement, and the sound of the rushing water with the river next to me, I entered into a time of communion with God. The rest of my week was packed full and overflowing, loud and chaotic, but in those long runs? It was just the Lord, a chance to clear my mind, and the beauty of the open sky above. When my lungs or legs grew tired, I flipped my index card over to remind myself of that day’s meditation. For that run, I prayed over Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”