How many of you have read these beautiful Freedom Stories and thought, ‘Good for them, but I’m just not there yet…’? Today I’m sharing the story of a vivacious and sweet mama who is still figuring out what freedom looks like. I loved getting to interview her this month as she shared about her “in progress” journey towards a life of freedom. If you’re still in the midst of figuring it out, be encouraged- so many others are too!
Here is Katherine’s Freedom Story
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Before we get into your story, I want to know some of the fun stuff! Tell me about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into your life!
So, I studied elementary & special education in college with graduate courses in preschool studies (never finished). Turns out I didn’t enjoy teaching public school like I thought and am now going a completely different direction. After having my boys, I learned a lot about birth, and I want to be that positive voice for others… so I’m training to be a birth worker, a doula!
Also, my go to coffee order is an iced white chocolate chai!
That sounds amazing! Also, I love the direction and passion you’ve discovered for your life!
Galatians 5:1 is a key verse for our FREEDOM STORIES. It says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What was the old yoke you were living under? What was that slavery like for you?
My freedom story centers around learning slow, and letting go of things that aren’t freeing. It is by finding simple again, shedding the layers, that I’ve learned more of who I am created to be in Christ. The layers, or the yoke of slavery, were all the things that stole my joy, made me stuck, lingered in discontent.
I experienced this in so many ways: my own internal dialogue, words from others, the outside of what we see on social media- the things that slowly chip away at my own self-image.
In many ways I think we are our own worst critics. If there is a word said or a situation that doesn’t go as planned, we are generally playing out different scenarios in our head far longer than anyone else is still thinking about it. And that does something to you, if you let it.
Instead, I’ve found freedom when I let go of the false narratives I create around certain aspects and situations of life, while staying true to reality, yet still not downplaying the severity of some real life.
Overall, it is a loss of sense of self, and of my worth and value as a cherished daughter of God… that is the underlying theme, the reason why I didn’t allow myself to slow down or see the truth, staying stuck in a holding pattern, the yoke.
What were some of the old narratives you absorbed?
There are many, but as mentioned, they all come back to one point: forgetting my value and worth in Jesus Christ, and losing my sense of self. This story encompassed all of 2018, the past year, for me – from the moments until my son’s birth in late January to some mental battles I’m still fighting to this day. An entire year.
In regards to learning slow, finding simple, and shedding the layers which weren’t true to who I am in Christ; well, those narratives and words are just the opposite of this.
-the false narrative that I’m “just” a mama who stays home with her babies and can’t keep “a real job”
-the false narrative that I have to be busy doing something or else I’m not worthy (rest isn’t an option)
-the false internal narrative that is keeping me feeling stuck in the past with “would’ve could’ve should’ve”; regrets, words, actions
– the false narrative that I felt unworthy of all I have and do, and maybe the crushing dialogue is right, and why am I even here anyway, is this feeling worth it?
-the false narrative that I wasted my time in college studying things that I’m not even doing now; I want a different career and life path (no more teaching, hello being a mama and doula-in-training), and I’ve completely lost track and capacity for theology and faith and prayer – all of it that I studied in some capacity.
Plus, postpartum hormones magnified all of these tenfold. 2018 was a hot mess, a scary spiral, until I found solid faith based help. I needed help to do what I was reading and wanting: go back to the basics, and find a simple and slow way of life – only hold on to those things that are authentic to me and my worth in Christ.
What was the turning point? Was there a rock bottom or a point that you realized that you couldn’t live like that any longer?
I’ve been in counseling consistently for the majority of the past year to work through these obstacles, and I’ve grown much, and learned so much of myself.
The turning point came when I let go of a victim mindset and made a choice to come out of the fog, and get to the root of the discontent.
When I let go of things that weren’t freeing, I had to change my thought process and internal dialogue – it’s still a struggle, as I lived in survival mode for so long. It takes a lot to come out of it- and is so misunderstood because it’s an unseen battle.
It was a slow fade but was also a slow turning point. It’s almost like the two are codependent. When I felt stronger, I also felt weaker. As I was learning about slowing down and finding rest in my day – for my mental sanity at some points – I was also frantic with my to do list trying to ease the burden of disappointment for the “undos.”
As I was gaining (virtual) community with other mamas in a natural due date group or parenting group – well, much of it was unseen, hidden by those in my physical community, and I felt lost and misunderstood by all I knew.
What changed? (what actions did you take/truths did you discover/community did you connect with to help you find freedom)?
When I choose to slow down and let go of things that aren’t freeing – this is when I uncover myself again. As I worked through these narratives in counseling, I was also living in community with sisters in Christ who have carried me through the storms without even knowing it. The consistency in meeting each week, the friends for myself and my two boys, the no-pressure community bible study, the short devotional that were all I could chew at the time. The community held me through and brought me to a place where I could find freedom again. Even when I felt no progress was being made- the consistency made a difference. I always knew I felt stuck and I always knew the truth and God’s word of my worth and I always knew there was good in the not-good, and I always knew that I needed to let go of the layers, but I still felt frozen in it, until I made a choice to move in it.
Tell me about your life of freedom. What does it look like for you now?
I’m not sure if I’d say I’m in the life of freedom right now. I know who I am and my identity as a daughter of God, I know where I’m going, I know the direction to go in continuing to slow down to live life purposefully, simply, letting go of the things that keep me stuck – but I’m still in the middle of the process. I’ve made a lot of progress in learning the mindset shift, but I still have ways to go. Right now, I’m able to write again, I’ve found direction in work and home, I’m learning and seeing God in a new light having gone through such a dark year. The freedom looks like feeling like myself again- sure of who I am and where I’m going, able to write and talk about what needs to be.
Do you still wrestle with those old struggles often? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?
I do every day. I lived that for so long, it’s hard to let go of the voices and narratives. I feel stronger, I am stronger mentally, but the devil still creeps in to steal my joy, my identity. The little things- mannerisms or excuses or simply being (acting) busy. How do I slow down in this season, chasing a three year old and one year old? What is there left to let go of to give me breathing room to be, to feel myself again? I’m still learning and struggling in what all of this looks like. I’m still in the midst of my freedom story. This is why I haven’t finished my memoir yet!
And on those days? I pray whispers. It’s all I can do most days.
Are there any key scriptures, quotes, or books that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?
“You are the books you read, the movies you watch, the music you listen to, the people you spend time with, the conversations you engage in. Choose wisely what you feed your mind.”
”Not-yet-there is not a perfect place, nor is it always a comfortable place, but it’s an important place,” Michelle DeRusha (True You Book)
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” -James 4:8
Those are beautiful! And last, because I’m a big believer that gratitude lists help us remain present and fight our battles, tell me 3 things you’re grateful for right now.
Grateful for: space heaters for cooler weather, coffee dates with sweet friends, and my two sweet boys and all that comes with them.
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Katherine Newsom writes at Simple Natural Mama about all things faith, family, simple and natural living. She writes for the natural minded mama who likes to keep things simple (but mostly for herself to process life!) She is a mama of 2 boys and a birth doula-in-training, who spends her spare time learning about herbal remedies, essential oils, intentional living, gentle parenting, and birth stories- all through the lens of faith. She lives on 46 acres which will one at be a natural produce farm, in rural east Texas, with her husband and 2 boys, a number of cows, chickens, cats and a dog.
P.S. Special thanks to Daiga Ellaby of Unsplash for the beautiful image to accompany this post.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
– Deuteronomy 31:6
One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make took me two years of deep prayer and discernment. Once I had clarity and peace about the decision, it still required more bravery than I could muster to move forward. I needed the Lord to help me move. Without Him, I think I would have been paralyzed in fear to take action.
That season taught me so much about making hard, brave choices with the Lord’s guidance that I can now apply to other areas of my life, and I would love to share those lessons with you today.
If there’s a hard decision or action ahead of you, I’m praying for bravery for you right now. Maybe it’s just for today’s brave, hard things (smaller, daily decisions), or maybe it’s a Big Thing that you’ve been thinking about for a long time, but here are the steps I’ve found to be most helpful in making hard choices.
1. Pray for wisdom.
If you’re unsure of what to do, it definitely takes courage to listen to the Lord’s direction and to discern His will. If there’s something you KNOW you need to do, especially if it’s hard, it probably requires more bravery than you could conjure up on your own.
God is faithful to give discernment as we press into Him and ask for His guidance. When we make our requests known before Him, He listens. His answers may come through the wise people around us, Scripture passages, sermons, or the Holy Spirit, but they will never contradict His character or commandments.
- “I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” –Psalm 16:7-8
- “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.” –James 1:2-5
- “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” –Psalm 25:4-5
2. Seek wise counsel.
Check in with others who know Him and know you well. Especially on the big decisions! When it seems that God has made the next step clear to you in your own time and prayer with Him, seek confirmation from the wise individuals God has placed in your life. Wise counsel may come from a mentor, pastor, counselor, long-time friend in the faith, or a parent.
*NOTE from a recovering people pleaser 😉 There is a difference here between people pleasing (making your decision to keep others happy) vs. obeying God and checking in with your people (making your decision in and with Christ’s leading). I’ve often found that when I’m just making the decision that “feels right” but I haven’t spent time praying about it first, the wise counsel around me offer gentle, loving, or very clear answers that challenge my decision. Of course, those individuals are all coming from different angles and experiences, but if they love and are walking with the Lord, they can often help you see blind spots or affirm that your next step sounds wise.
- “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” –Proverbs 19:20-21
- “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” –Proverbs 11:14
3. Ask Him to equip you.
I think about ALL of the people in the Bible who probably felt ill prepared to step into the hard, brave things God called them to do. And yet, He equipped them to do His work. Noah, Moses, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, David (in his battle against Goliath), Jonah, Mary, and Paul come to mind right away.
If He has called you to this hard, brave thing, He will not only prepare you for it, but He will also see you through.
- “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:4-7
- “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” –Isaiah 61:1-2
- “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”—1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
4. Take action to do that brave, hard thing.
Once we know the right thing, it can still be super hard to step forward. It requires courage, it sometimes requires surrender, and it often requires great faith that He will take care of everything on the other side of what we cannot see. At this point, with His equipping, we can step forward in obedience.
- “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” –Hebrews 13:20-21
- “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”- Philippians 1:6
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As we consider the hard, brave actions He might be calling us to take, here is a prayer for you:
Lord, we know that sometimes You call us to do hard things.
Help us to hear you clearly– where You want us to go and when You want us to move.
Sometimes, the brave, hard thing is being still. Sometimes it’s just waiting on You, or letting You fight the battle for us. In that case, help us to surrender control and still our own hearts when we’d rather rush ahead.
But when You DO show us the brave, next thing? Equip us for what’s next.
Help us to choose brave, even when it’s really difficult.
Lord, be our strength in the hard things.
-to let go of the unhealthy (things, places, relationships)
-to step into a new season, with both feet and our full heart
-to trust again after hurt (as You lead)
-to advocate for others who cannot advocate for themselves
-to choose joy
-to make the appointment
-to break that habit
-to be vulnerable
-to dream bigger and let You lead in that
-to ask for help
-to set the boundary
-to ask the hard questions
-to love the unlovable
-to love our enemies
-to love ourselves as You love us
-to keep showing up for the things You’ve called us to (our jobs, parenting, ministry, being faithful in marriage, getting up again on the hard days, etc.)
-to take responsibility for our own parts
-to stand up for what’s right
Lord, we know You will fight for us when it’s time. You will bring us to solid ground and plant our feet. And You will lead the way when it’s time to move.
Help us to trust You for the times when we are to be still in bravery, to stay planted in courage, or to
move forward in faith.
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One more goodie: “The Brave List“
Pssst…Dear friend, if you need the extra boost of bravery today, I created another resource to help you. This is called ‘The Brave List’ (12 curated worship songs to help you with strength and courage), and you can listen to it on Spotify any time you need an extra boost of courage. Click here to listen:
P.S. Special thanks to Noah Buscher for the original image in this photo (via Unsplash); “Be strong and courageous” graphic created by Heather Lobe (via Canva).
My name is Heather, and I’m a hope*writer.
When I was a little girl, I wrote in diaries. My best friend and I would write plays for the neighborhood and perform them in the backyard. I wrote poems and even attempted a few novels.
My mom found my “first published book” when she was cleaning recently– a book of poems with my own illustrations and a funny self-written “About Me” section that talked about my many publications (hopeful dreaming?).
When I was in middle school, I won an essay contest called “What Safety Means to Me,” and I drew comparisons between Dorothy’s unsafe moves in the Wizard of Oz and how we can be more aware of our surroundings in today’s world. It was creative, but definitely a stretch. 😉
For college writing and theatre assignments, I loved digging into hard topics that looked at the tension between faith and mental health, or vulnerability and shame, or wrestling with doubt about God. I wrote plays and articles and journalism pieces. I even wrote fun travel blogs from my time abroad in Italy.
Somewhere along the way, though, I started worrying about how others would receive my words if I put them out there. It was too difficult to put the harder things I experienced into words, and I feared what would happen if anyone ever read those words. I kept my words inside, or at the very most, inside of my private journals.
As God’s healing touch has reached down into my life over the past few years, I have come to see that writing is not just something I like to do. It is part of who I am. I write to figure out how I feel. I write to praise God. I write to encourage others that they are not alone.
I’ve been publicly writing again for this past year, and it seems like things have just clicked into place. I understand more about the world and myself, and it feels like an act of worship to the Creator who made me to be creative.
Last year, I took a huge leap of faith and joined an amazing writing community. I went from insecurity about putting my words out into the world to confidence that THIS is part of who I am. I am a writer. I can now say that without imposter syndrome or second-guessing myself 😉
Through this community, I have:
-gained valuable resources to grow in my craft
-built my writing habit (I used to write whenever “inspiration” hit- now it is a part of my regular routine several days a week)
-clarified who I’m writing for (this has been one of the most helpful and freeing areas of growth!)
-made incredible relationships with other writers
-created a weekly guest posting collaborative through Freedom Stories
-started a book proposal
A favorite quote of mine is from “Chariots of Fire.” Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner, says, “I run because I feel God’s pleasure in it.” I am so thankful to Hope*Writers for helping me fully step into my calling as a writer.
I write because I feel God’s pleasure in it.
If you have a dream that has often pressed on your heart or surged to the surface when you let it, what is it? What is the thing you do that makes you feel most alive or fulfilled? What would it look like for you to fully step into that?
There is something a little terrifying about the feeling of exposure. To be fully seen, uncovered, and vulnerable is just plain scary sometimes.
But what if the one who sees us already knows everything we lay bare? What if that One even already LOVES us? Pamela’s story is one of freedom from shame, healing from deep wounds, and a knowledge that she no longer has to hide or pretend in God’s presence. What a life-giving discovery. Pamela- thank you for sharing your story and heart with us.
Here’s is Pamela’s Freedom Story.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts, you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
As a child and teen, I was really good at pretending. It’s what you do in an alcoholic home. You dodge and hide because of shame. You don’t want people to know what your life is really like.
My role was to do everything perfect, so I wouldn’t cause any trouble. My thinking was, “If I just did everything right then I won’t upset my father.” I longed for his approval, but he preferred distance, self-pity, and the bottle of alcohol. He never seemed interested in his little brown-eyed daughter. I also learned at a very young age to keep quiet. Don’t say anything to upset anyone. I learned to hide my pain.
We were sporadic church goers at best at our mainline denomination. As a teen, my mom dragged us off to a full-gospel church. Can you tell I wasn’t too thrilled? The joyful, clappy worship was like nothing like I had ever experienced. I loved the music, but didn’t understand why I would cry in church. What was this thing I felt that welled up in my chest? Was it the love of God? Was it the goodness of being His presence?
We attended the youth group for awhile, but I always felt like an outsider. Those kids all had perfect families and perfect Calvin Klein jeans and high-top Reeboks. It was the 80’s after all. They were in another class of which I wasn’t welcome. The youth leader was kind and enthusiastic about Jesus, but I always felt less than there.
This was my perception: church was for happy, perfect families. Church was a place to pretend like everything was okay. Put on your smile, greet a few people, sing some songs, listen to a sermon and smile on the way out. With the brokenness and shame I carried inside, I felt dirty, and not worthy to be with all these pretty church goers. Eventually, we just quit going.
Imagine my surprise, when I met Jesus at age twenty and began to read about a loving Father. I was amazed. I thought, that’s it, that’s what a father is supposed to be. As I fell in love with God, He began to heal my wounds. I was enough, because He made me enough. His righteousness made me right, and it was the best news I ever heard. He accepted me just as a was. He loved me in spite of my broken family, and He covered my shame.
As I grew in the knowledge of God, I stumbled upon the Psalms and King David was my guy!
His words were like unlike any I had read in the Bible. He poured out his heart before God in a most honest, raw way. He painted vivid pictures of his suffering and angst. There was no pretense. He was vulnerable and transparent before God. And at the end of each Psalm, David says, but God. After unleashing his honest pain, he would reflect on the goodness of God. David remembered God’s faithfulness and how the Lord delivered him from difficult situations in the past.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth has dried up like potherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircle me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display;people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength: come quickly to help me.” –Psalm 22:14-19
David became my model for how to relate to God. I was free from hiding, pretending, and not acknowledging my true feelings. I was free to express what I felt and then turn my thoughts to God’s goodness.
As much as I hid as a child, just to keep the peace in our home, I didn’t want to do that in my relationship with God. As I was ready Psalms one day this verse jumped out at me.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts, you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” –Psalm 51:6
As I had spent years trying to control how I appeared on the outside, God was more concerned about my heart. It gave me the freedom to do the inner work; the healing work. I was free to walk in truth and my identity as a dearly loved daughter, a sweet child of God.
Years later my husband and I were called into full-time ministry. We’ve spent 17 years leading churches in Minnesota and Iowa. We work hard to create environments where people can come as they are. A core value we have is teaching people to live open, honest and vulnerable before God and man. We all have issues and pain which need healing and restoration. We all need freedom from hiding something. Jesus provides a fresh opportunity to walk in wholeness and to live honestly before Him.
How about you? Do you pretend with God? It’s such a funny thought because there’s not one thing we can hide from God. He knows our thoughts and words before we speak them.
Have you tried pouring out your honest, broken self? He is ready to meet you with immense love, compassion, and empathy. Once we are truly honest, God can bring His wonderful truth. I challenge you to risk vulnerability today. God wants to meet you in the sweetest way.
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I smile a lot. I’m an enthusiastic encourager. I’m too pretty for math, and I’m woefully inept with technology, but I can whip up a mean pot of braised beef stew. My heart is moved by compassion for you, if you’re in a difficult season. I’ve experienced domestic violence, addiction, suicide, and chronic illness. But I’ve also found redemption, restoration, miracles, and intimacy with God. I want to spend my days sharing God’s goodness. I’ll share my story vulnerably in hopes you’ll have the courage to do the same. There will be no pretending here. I’ve created this space to encourage, inspire and help you draw closer to God.
Want to read more Freedom Stories? Check them out here.
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P.S. Special thanks to Cory Bouthillette of Unsplash for the image to accompany this post.
Sometimes we hit hard patches of life. There are seasons in our journeys that seem utterly impossible.
Those feelings of helplessness and uncertainty are unsettling to say the least.
If you are stuck right now- unsure of how to climb out or move through or charge ahead, I am praying for you.
Right now, I come before you and lift up those who feel absolutely stuck.
I know YOU know their hearts, Lord. You know their struggles, the wrestling, and the overwhelm better than I ever could.
Lord, we proclaim that You are our Deliverer- You can pull us up from the darkest pits or deliver us from the quicksand or prepare a way out of the seemingly impossible.
I pray for those who feel:
STUCK BECAUSE THEY’RE SINKING-
Father, in the midst of overwhelm and unhealthy situations, we can sometimes feel like we’re completely sinking. Rather than wrestling to escape the quicksand feeling, help still our flailing limbs and emotions. Guide us out of danger. As much as we want to get out of it in our own strength, we need You. Be our rescuer. Bring helpers alongside of us to pull us out of the pit. Deliver the ones who feel like we are drowning from our sinking situations.
STUCK IN INDECISION-
God, when we reach forks in the road, we can sometimes feel swallowed up in indecision.
For those who are desperate to get out of that fork in the road, help us to slow down the impulse to run ahead. Help us to seek You first and let You lead. Lord, You are patient. Help us to be more like You as we wait for Your steady hand to guide us. Help us not to run ahead of You, but to walk hand in hand down the right path.
And when we stand frozen at that fork in the road, in fear of making the wrong move, comfort us Father. Help us to have patience until You speak. Give us clarity to see where You want us to step. Help us to hear You clearly. Increase our faith to ask boldly for direction. You are a God who can do impossible things- even get us through this seemingly impossible impasse.
Even though all options ahead seem overwhelming, we believe You will be faithful to see us through.
STUCK IN THE DARK-
Lord, in the midst of the darkness, I pray that You will remove panic. Darkness is scary, and so are the unknowns when we can’t see the way out. Father, help train our eyes to seek out the light. When all we can hear is the lie or insecurity, help train our ears to seek out the Truth.
When we feel the darkness setting over us again, help us to cling to You as our hope. With you, there is always hope. Remind us that morning will come again.
STAGNANT & STUCK-
For the stagnant times, for the days when we don’t know how we got here?
I ask that You would change the things we don’t have control over or the power to change on our own. Bring life back into what feels dead. Bring hope where we’ve lost sight of the good. Bring Your love where we feel lonely.
For all of us who are stuck right now, grant us trust in You. Even when we can’t see what You’re doing, I pray that we would trust Your sovereign plan and Your big picture view.
Speak into our blind-spots. Help us to widen our glance so that we can see the ways You’re working, even if we don’t know the end results.
Help us to let go of expectations. Remove the pressure we’ve placed on ourselves or picked up from others.
Help us open our hands to receive Your guidance, and let go of any desire for control– Thy will be done, Lord.
Grant us patience in the waiting; wisdom in the waiting; trust in You in the waiting.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
-Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB)
This topic is close to my heart. I’ve spent many years wondering about the intersection, overlap, and difficulties related to mental health and faith. Through my own journey with depression, anxiety, and OCD I’ve asked a lot of questions about the strength of my faith, how God designed me, and how much healing is possible on this side of heaven.
It is such an honor to share Jen’s story here, as she shares her own questions about that intersection through her diagnoses of Bipolar II. Even if you don’t struggle with a specific mental health diagnoses, there are some rich conversation and prayer topics in this week’s Freedom Story for many of us. As we filter through our own feelings and hold them up to God’s ultimate Truth, we receive clarity about who He is and who we are in Him. Jen- thank you so much for sharing with us!
Here is Jen’s Freedom Story.
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Jen, thank you so much for joining me in this series. It’s an honor to share your words and your heart here! Before we get into your story, I want to know some of the fun stuff! Tell me about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into Jen’s life!
Hey, I’m Jen from Barrie, Ontario, Canada, which may have something to do with the fact that I’m cold all the time. I lived most of my life about three hours away from here, but the Lord led us here just over two years ago. I’m on staff at one of the greatest churches ever as a Christian school music teacher, teaching all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 12, so my days are never boring! I also love to teach ladies Bible study at my church and to write at home. I’ve been married to my husband Michael for almost 18 years. We have three beautiful children and are in the thick of raising teenagers. My nickname growing up was Zuska. How’s that for unique?
Something else unique about me, after struggling with depression for many years, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II last year and now I love to talk about how my mental illness and my faith intersect.
I’m so glad you’re here, Jen! Thank you. So, Galatians 5:1 is a key verse for our FREEDOM STORIES. It says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What was the old yoke you were living under? What was that slavery like for you?
I struggled with depression for many years, but I would not necessarily say the depression itself was the yoke of slavery I was under. God has not yet lifted that yoke off of me and I don’t believe that He keeps us in bondage.
I think that the slavery I was under was believing that I had to do everything myself. I didn’t see a counsellor, didn’t go to my doctor. I kept believing that I just needed to pray more or work harder. I saw depression as a defect that was up to me to fix. I believed in mental illness and have always believed that some people need counselling and medication. But for some reason, I didn’t think that applied to me.
After a few years, I started inviting Jesus in to do some of the hard work with me, but I still felt that it was mostly dependent on me. That I must not be working hard enough or be spiritual enough. When I would go long times without feeling depressed, I would assume that I had finally conquered it. Only to have it come around again.
In the midst of all of that, what were some of the old narratives you absorbed?
I felt a lot of shame around it. Unless I could talk about it from only a positive perspective, as in, here is what is working for me and it can work for you too. I didn’t want to become the girl who was known for talking about her depression and for many years fought against God telling me to write about it in my blog, even though I had written a Bible study on it previously. I just didn’t want to be “that girl”.
I also felt a lot of shame around what was going on inside my mind. Because I didn’t understand that I had Bipolar, I would have these thoughts and decision making processes that scared me and I almost felt as if there were someone else living in my mind at points.
But as always, I soldiered on. I kept trying to work harder and be more spiritual and work it all away. When I did tentatively reach out, it was to the wrong people and didn’t help.
What was the turning point? Was there a rock bottom or a point that you realized that you couldn’t live like that any longer?
I stopped needing to sleep. That’s what first caught my attention. I had been like that as a teenager, but once I had little kids, this mom could sleep whenever I had the opportunity! But now I had teenagers and was not quite so exhausted and so I couldn’t sleep again. That along with several other physical symptoms made me convinced that I had some sort of early onset menopause. When I described it to my doctor I said it was like I had bipolar. Yet I was still surprised when that was the diagnosis in the end.
I was devastated by this diagnosis. I had just recovered from the hardest year of my life the year before and was thrown by the fact that God would ask me to walk another hard road so quickly. I felt as though my world was spinning out of control.
That sounds like a huge turning point and a really challenging time… After that diagnoses, what changed? (What actions did you take/truths did you discover/community did you connect with to help you find move forward)?
I got a diagnosis one afternoon and was in a counsellor’s office the next morning at 9am. God had lead us to him for marriage counselling, so I already had someone to go to. I poured out the whole story through tears and then it finally occurred to me to ask him, “do you even do this?” He assured me that yes, he did counselling for bipolar and we started down the road of hard work to learn how to live with this new reality.
The hardest thing for me to accept was that I could no longer trust my thoughts. I viewed everything through the lens of bipolar and that lens often skewed reality. For someone who prided themselves on their common sense and independence, that was a really hard reality.
After a few months of hard work, I had a breakthrough. The Lord had been teaching me something in the Psalms months earlier. As I look back, I know that He had gotten this truth into my heart so I would be ready. The psalms often begin with really hard emotions. Even wrong emotions. Thoughts like, God you’ve abandoned me. It would have been better if I had never been born. I wish that I could fly away. The psalmists had these honest and raw conversations with God. Usually by the end of the psalm, they are praising God for His goodness and deliverance. I used to think that was just the end of the story. They were upset or in pain or in trouble and God delivered them. But then I realized something important.
In many of the psalms, the goodness of God is described in the future tense. As in, God has not done this yet, but I believe He will.
The psalmist were not afraid to lay it all out there. To acknowledge their feelings. They weren’t afraid to tell those feelings to God. But then they returned to what they knew. It’s like they said, this is what feel, but this is what I know.
That is so powerful! I will be chewing on that for a long time.
Tell me about your life of freedom. What does it look like for you now?
That phrase, this is what I feel, but this is what I know, has changed my life. I run to the only source of truth – God and His Word – and I filter everything my bipolar brain tells me through that phrase. And now I can identify what is truth and what is not. That’s not to say that it’s an easy process. Far from it. But there is a freedom in truth that cannot be found anywhere else. And that freedom is available for us all, bipolar or not.
Knowing that I can come to God with all my mixed up feelings, all the untruths I’m believing, all the times I just want out of life, and He is not scared of them, not offended by them, and even welcomes that honesty, that gives me the freedom to not be ashamed of who I am. And the truth of God’s Word tells me what I know, no matter what I happen to feel today.
There is a beautiful freedom in being okay with my feelings, but not having to live my life by them.
Do you still wrestle with those old struggles? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?
I wrestle most days still. And with my diagnosis, I probably will always have some struggle. And that’s why I have to continually remind myself of truth. I read my Bible, I talk to God, I print out verses for my fridge, I’m honest with my counsellor, I’m surrounding myself with an awesome group of friends. There are a few people outside of my immediate family who are not afraid to ask me if I’ve been sleeping, or how I’m doing. And I answer them honestly. It’s a beautiful thing to be getting the help I need.
Are there any key scriptures, quotes, or books that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?
Psalm 42 has always been a very important chapter to me. I wrote a Bible study on depression using this chapter long before I realized that it followed this format of, this is what I feel, but this is what I know. The psalmists talks about his soul being cast down. Cast down is a term referring to when a sheep has fallen on its back and cannot get back up. If a shepherd doesn’t rescue that sheep, it will die.
I have often felt like that. Like my soul has been cast down and I might die without help. Yet at the end of the psalm, the psalmist encourages himself by repeating what he knows. That God is his help and his hope. He is acknowledging how he feels, but relying on what he knows.
Thank you for sharing that image and the Psalm, Jen. Both are so relatable, no matter where we are in life or what specific circumstances we’ve been through.
Okay…last, because I’m a big believer that gratitude lists help us remain present and fight our battles, tell me 3 things you’re grateful for right now.
I’m thankful for my counsellor. He is leading me through one of the greatest battles I have fought. And he’s doing it well.
I’m thankful for gift cards – yesterday and today I got to buy books, get Starbucks, and go for a massage.
I’m thankful for sunshine. It’s been a dark and dreary winter so far here in Ontario but today there is fresh snow and the sun is shining on it. New snow and sunshine always seem to remind me that God’s mercies are new every morning.
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Jennifer Holmes is a wife, mom, Christian School music teacher, and writer who also happens to have Bipolar II. She’s exploring how mental health and faith intersect and invites you to share that journey. She loves to blog and share on social media, often at night all wrapped up in blankets. Follow along at jensnewsong.com and on Facebook and Instagram (her favourite) @jensnewsong.
P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Find more stories of hope and freedom from others here. Also, special thanks to Alex Loup for the picture to accompany this post (via Unsplash; graphic created with Canva by Heather Lobe).
Be close to us, Father.
I come to you right now and ask for prayer for my friend…
For the one who is paralyzed with a daunting decision.
For the one who desperately wants to know the future, but cannot see past the fog of tomorrow.
For the one who is crippled by debt and financial concerns.
For the one struggling with deep fear.
For the one starting something brand new, terrified of messing up.
For the one who is scared to let others down and fearful to disappoint You.
For the one who is overwhelmed with the chaos of the current season.
For the one who wonders when things will ever feel “normal” again.
For my friend who wants peace but cannot imagine what that would even feel like…
Be close to us, Father.
Light the path.
Take our anxious hearts in Your hands and bring calm.
You are the God who sees us– help us to know that. You know every single detail of our lives, Lord– from the number of hairs on our head to the deepest longings of our hearts. And You are the God who loves us with a deep, wide, everlasting, unconditional love. Be close to us, Father.
Help us to breathe deep the incense of Your presence with us, in the midst of the unknowns and the fear.
Increase our trust in you, God. Help us to know in our minds and our hearts that You are a good father and a gentle shepherd. Help us to believe that You will make the way clear, and that You want our best.
Be close to us, Father.
Light the path.
Lord, when we cannot seem to move in any direction because we don’t know the right decision, help us to remember to take things one step at a time. Help us to reflect on something small and manageable right in front of us, rather than fixating on the whole big picture.
When we cannot see through the fog, help us to cling to You; be our guide. Light the path, one step at a time.
Lord, when we don’t know how we will pay the bills or pay off the debt or provide for the big things right over the horizon, help us to trust and know that You are our provider. Help us to remember, Lord, your faithfulness. Remind us what we can control for now, and in the meantime, be close to us.
When fear is loud and daunting, quiet our racing thoughts of the unknowns and our imagination of the “what ifs.” Strip away the layers of fear built around our hearts, and bring us to a place of resting in Your protection. You are our shield. Lord, let Your Truth be the loudest thing, over the enemy’s lies and our deepest insecurities and the fears that threaten to overtake our sanity. God, quiet our racing thoughts and bring peace.
Help us to remember that You care for us. Wash Your peace over us, from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes, and to every aching part in between.
Breathe Your peace into our exhausted bodies, tired minds, and these weary hearts. Lavish Your love on your sweet child.
Be close to us. Light the path.
Lord, when we cannot see the goodness in the midst of the hard, train our eyes to see You. You are good, even when we’ve lost sight of that. Lord, we ask Your guidance in seeking out the blessings, focusing on the gifts, and noticing the sweet moments that are from You. Be close to us.
Father, more than anything else, show us how we can glorify and praise You, even in the midst of our pain and anxiety. Bring us closer to You, and remind us that You are close to the broken-hearted. We love You Lord.
Some additional resources to encourage you today:
Psalm 34 (v. 18 is my favorite: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”)
Printable Scripture cards- “11 Powerful Truths for when the lies get loud”
*NEW: The Peaceful Playlist (20 songs chosen by me, just for you. Open up this free Spotify playlist on those hard days.)
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P.S. Special thanks to Ben White of the Unsplash community for the photo to accompany this post.
Happy Friday, friends! This week’s story echoes what I’ve heard from so many friends and women in my life. It is hard to give up control from the desires, dreams, plans, and courses of action we map out. So, what does it look like to peel away the layers of perfectionism and surrender that control to God? Amie does a beautiful job of showing us. Thanks for kicking off 2019 Freedom Stories with an honest and beautiful piece, Amie!
Here is Amie’s Freedom Story.
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I silently stared out the window at the barren fields and cloudy skies, as we drove the five hour trip back home after a whirlwind trip to visit family for the holidays. The kids had their headphones on and were listening to a story CD, and my husband, Josh, was zoned in on the drive; I welcomed the quiet and temporary solitude free from distractions. As I watched the gray storm clouds rolling by, I couldn’t help but parallel the bleak skyline to the past year’s disappointments. It seemed as though, despite my best efforts, things just hadn’t gone at all according to plan.
My mind wandered to 2017, which had ended rather disastrously as I’d stretched myself too thin and ended the year with a panic attack, due to over-commitment and my desire for control and perfection in nearly every aspect of my life. This forced me to stop and re-evaluate my priorities. I remembered choosing the words “purpose” and “present” to define 2018, believing that a schedule and well-thought-out plan would cure the anxiety and stress I’d been unable to shake. I told myself that if I just had a clear-cut purpose and plan instead of aimlessly saying yes to everything, things would get better.
Instead of finding my purpose, however, God began to peel back the layers of my striving to reveal imperfections, weaknesses, and failures. I fought for control, for this perfect ideal I had in my head for what I thought God wanted. I looked at what others were doing and questioned why God didn’t create me with the ability to accomplish what they could. I kept asking myself why I seemed to have all of these limits that they didn’t and begged God to take away what I considered to be shortcomings so that I could do all of these great things for Him. I just knew I could be of more use if He’d created me without all of these struggles! My inner critic was relentless. My desire for personal perfection began to grow into a critical view of others as well, and I attempted to lay the blame for my failure on others. I told myself that if they had just behaved differently, my reaction would have been better.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself here before: wondering why, despite your gold foil calendar and multi-colored sharpie pens, life seems to be spiraling out of control at a speed you just can’t keep up with. You’ve found fault with yourself and others, as your inner critic keeps a running list of all the mistakes that give you cause to just throw your hands up in the air in defeat.
The GPS startled me out of my reflection as it reminded my husband that we needed to take the next exit, and it suddenly hit me: Josh wasn’t wringing his hands and wondering what the GPS was thinking, or if it was making the best decision. He was simply steering the van in the direction he was being told to go. He trusted that the GPS had the right answer.
Perhaps that was the answer to why last year had gone so horribly, terribly wrong. I’d been more consumed with the set of directions that I had so carefully laid for myself, that I forgot to trust the One who ultimately guides my steps. I’d ignored God’s whisper to rest in Him and allow Him to lead, believing the lie that the success or failure of my kids, my ministry, and my journey lay solely in my own hands. If I wanted to stop the mad cycle of failure, guilt, and regret, I had to stop striving on my own and sacrificing people on the altar of perfection. Wanting a perfect house, a perfect life, and perfect responses to anything that life threw at me was unrealistic, but how could I come to terms with the fact that life isn’t always ordered and controlled? I desperately wanted the peace that comes from knowing that it wasn’t all up to me.
Could it be that the secret to peace and rest simply lay in putting my trust in Jesus? I pulled out my phone and began to search for verses on peace. I found Isaiah 26:2, which says, “You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You.” (CSB) Jesus has already done the work for me, laying out His perfect plan for my life, and willing to freely give me the perfect peace if I will simply trust Him. It all began to make sense. Freedom and peace could be mine if I chose to trust that He has my best interest at heart, even when life is messy and things don’t make sense!
Now please hear me out. I know I can’t realistically live with the assumption that because God is leading that I’ll always like the direction I’m heading, but I can choose to rest in the fact that I don’t have to figure it all out on my own, control other people’s choices, or throw my hands up in defeat when things don’t go according to my plan. I continued reading and found that Isaiah 26:12 reads, “Lord, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our work for us.” (CSB) What difference would it make in my life if, instead of believing the lie that it’s all up to me, I believed the truth that every good thing that I do comes from God graciously enabling me to be part of His plan? This perspective eliminates my need to struggle through on my own, because He has become perfection for me.
Heavenly Father, help me to trust that Your plan for my life is better than anything I could ever dream up for myself. When I feel like I’m losing control and anxiety starts to creep in, help me to find my rest in You. Thank You for the privilege of being a part of Your master plan, and for allowing me to be an imperfect vessel to be used by You for whatever you see fit, even when things don’t go according to what I think is best. May my imperfections continuously point me to You, reminding me that You became perfect in my place. Help me to choose to accept the freedom You offer from perfection by resting in the truth that You have it all under control.
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Amie is a banker’s daughter turned farmer’s wife, who loves lazy days at the beach and a good conversation with friends. If she isn’t running here, there, and everywhere, you can usually find her doing extraordinary things like cleaning out her flower beds or washing dishes. She is a recovering perfectionist who is learning to see the beauty and purpose in each ordinary day, and hopes that sharing her journey will point readers back to her heavenly Father, who can take the mundane and use it for our good and His glory. She and her husband live in the country with their two children and pet goldfish named George.
You can follow Amie’s writing here!
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P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Find more stories of hope and freedom from others here. Also, special thanks to John Canelis for the picture to accompany this post (via Unsplash).
This is a story for you.
The one who feels broken. The one who is struggling.
The one right in the middle of the hard stuff.
This is a story for the one in the waiting.
For the one standing at a fork in the road, frozen on which way to turn.
For the broken-hearted soul, staring at the pieces and unsure of how you will ever feel whole again.
For the one crippled with anxiety or sitting in darkness, praying for the light.
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Can I whisper something to you right now?
Freedom is for all of us. That means you, too.
Sweet friend, I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me this fifteen or ten or even five years ago, but freedom is possible and it is available to us here. In this life.
This past fall, God pressed it on my heart that this freedom thing I’m passionate about is bigger than just the story He is weaving for my heart. There are a lot of people walking in freedom, who have amazing stories of healing, redemption, and hope to share. I shared 15 of them with you from September to December, and you know what I heard?
“Amen.” “Me too.” “Tell me more.” “I wish I had that kind of story.”
Here’s the thing…
I believe that you DO have that kind of story. You, my fellow traveler on this journey, have your own freedom story. We are the wrestlers- the ones who work things out with fear and trembling. The ones who are not scared to look at the hardest parts of our story and pray for healing. Freedom is sometimes a quick turning point, a 180, or a miracle, but more often than not? It is a process.
Thank you for being brave enough to believe that freedom is possible. Not just for others, but for you too.
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I am REALLY really really excited about two things right now:
- A whole new group of Freedom Stories, currently scheduled to begin next week (January 11) and run through the middle of April. God opened the doors for about 15 more women to join in on Fridays to share their stories here too. So check back each week for more stories of hope and freedom. I can’t wait to see the new connections, ah-ha moments, and inspiration He brings through these women’s brave sharing.
- Something just for YOU. I want you to know that this freedom is not just for others who have stronger faith or better resources or less messy stories. It is for you, friend. If you want to dig deeper and imagine a life of freedom, enter your email address here for a free 5-page workbook to start looking at the areas where you long to be free. More to come on this soon (to go deeper!!!), but for now, get your free PDF:
As we begin a new year, we praise you.
Lord, you are Creator. In you, we find new beginnings.
We discover and delight and praise your good works- the sunrise that reminds us that each day from you is a gift to unfold. Freshly fallen snow that shows us a clean slate. Crisp air that fills our lungs so that we can breathe anew.
Thank you for providing for all of our needs last year, and for the abundant blessings above and beyond what we asked. We praise you for all of the ways we grew, for the new people you brought into our lives, for the lessons learned, for the ways you made us more like you.
Thank you Lord for carrying us through the hardest times of this past year. We thank you, Father that you are our protector. Thank you for sustaining us and holding us when we did not have the energy or strength to walk on our own.
Thank you, too, for those hard seasons. For the pruning. For casting out the things we needed to let go of, and for sharpening us as we pushed through the trials of this past year. We also thank you Lord that in the midst of the hard, the pruning, the sharpening, the waiting, you never left us once. Thank you Lord, that when we face difficulties, you are close to us in our pain.
Lord, your Word tells us that your mercies are new every morning. We thank you that each day you begin again with us. The past is behind us, and we can move forward with your mercy covering us. Help us to walk in your power and strength today. May we remember that this new year is an unfolding of new mercies.
As we face a new day, a new week, and a new year, help us to rely even more on you and your strength rather than ourselves. Help us to dwell on your promises and keep your eternal perspective during our day to day lives. May your Truth continue to inform the way we make our decisions, fight our battles, and build up those around us. Jesus, may we be more like you this year. Thank you for all that you have done this past year, and all that you will do in the years to come. Today, Lord, and this year, are yours.