• faith,  redemption,  spoken word

    Redemption Story – A spoken word piece

    I originally shared this as a spoken word piece at my church’s Storyteller event. I came across it today and thought it might speak to someone in this form, here. Soon I hope to record a few of these pieces so you can hear the way these words sound in my head 😉 In the meantime, know that even in this broken world, redemption is coming. 

    …Once upon a time, there was a tiny little bird. He was young and hopeful, but oh so tiny! The tiny bird often looked out to the big, strong birds and wished he could soar like them. The expanse of sky beyond his tiny nest made him feel far too small to conquer flying. One day, watching the other birds, he convinced himself he needed to soar to feel big and strong like them. The tiny bird made a giant leap, and soon felt himself falling, falling, falling. He landed hard on a branch below and looked down at his wounded wing. “Now I will never conquer the sky,” he cried. “And I will never soar like the other birds.”

    …Once upon a time a widowed woman, lonely and tired, sat in a quiet blue chair missing her husband. She often sat there looking at the beautiful urn on the mantle that held his ash and longed to pick it up and hold it, to sift through death’s dust, just to be closer to her love. She left it there but stared each day. She ached in loneliness, aware of the giant hole left by his life. The silence was deafening and the pain made her heart often feel that it would stop altogether. During the afternoons, she turned off the lights to dull the brightness of day, waiting for night and sleep to come so her heart could get some rest from the aching. But during the days, blue chair, staring at the mantle, heart aching.

    …Once upon a time, there was a man who had it all. The perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect car, the perfect family. He wondered what he did to deserve such bountiful blessings. But one day, the man received news that he would be let go from his perfect job, and his purpose as a provider seemed to break beneath him. Soon, they had to sell the perfect house and the perfect car, and his perfect marriage was shaken. He felt that nothing was certain anymore, the castle was crumbling, and he was grasping at straws to feel secure—but nothing seemed to work. Years went by and the man felt as though he lost it all as he became the shell of the man he once was.

    – – –

    Wings wounded. Hearts hurting. Identities shaken. The “once upon a time” is a war-stricken country, with children covered in ash and no longer able to cry. The “once upon a time” is the illness fallen upon an innocent child. The “once upon a time” is a wildfire that destroys whole homes and whole cities. It’s divorce and a family broken apart. It’s the woman with scars she dares not speak of, in shame of what’s been done to her. It’s the son who turns away and chooses to live life on his own terms, far away from the family and faith he once knew.

    The pain is too much to bear. We realize we can’t conquer the sky, or see light and joy, or imagine how life will be made right again.

    But listen. Beat… beat… beat. The heart still pumps on. Life flows through the veins. In the winter cold where death seems to reside over the trees and earth, a tiny bud pushes through the hard ground and begins to show that spring will come again.  

    You see, this is the story of a mighty king who takes our broken things, and makes something magnificent out of the meek.

    This is a story of brilliant light piercing through darkness and death.

    This is a story of rebuilding the ruins that were shattered around and beneath us.

    This is a once upon a time, that WILL end in redemption. Even if earth shows us hurt, and sin overtakes us, and paradise is lost, He will restore the years the locusts have eaten. Listen…

    He was despised and rejected by mankind,
        a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
    Like one from whom people hide their faces
        he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

    Surely he took up our pain
        and bore our suffering,
    yet we considered him punished by God,
        stricken by him, and afflicted.
    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
        he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
        and by his wounds we are healed.

     

    Beat… beat… beat.

    – – –

    After days of struggling to fly again, that tiny little bird hears the whisper: “My child, come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” The tiny bird rests and day by day, his strength grows and when it is time, he finally soars. Restoration for what was once broken.

    One evening, the widow finally decides to lift the urn from the mantle to move it closer to her blue chair. Her hands shake and she drops the vase, and the ashes scatter everywhere. She weeps as she kneels in the dark next to the urn’s broken pieces. She is struck with the idea to glue them back together, shattered piece by shattered piece. Though there are cracks and holes, she places a candle inside, where her husband’s ashes once lay. The light breaks through her darkness and she feels some relief in her aching. Beauty where there were once ashes.

    The man who lost it all finally gets it. His wholeness cannot possibly come from cars and homes and jobs and material things, or even from those around him. He is humbled and looks upward, and even though the pieces aren’t back together, the ground beneath him is sturdy. He is planted like an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His glory. Rebuilding where there was once ruin.

    In our pain, in our sorrow, in our grief, in our times of waiting, His wounds will walk us through our brokenness. Healing is coming. He washes over our wounds in grace upon grace upon restorative, brilliant, mighty, precious, amazing grace.

    – – –

    Friend, if you are in a season of hurting, waiting or brokenness, can I pray for you?

    I am here and would love to pray for you this week. Let me know whats on your heart here

     

    P.S. Thank you so much to Kari Shea, Hide Obara, and Megha Ajith (all of the Unsplash community) for the images to accompany this piece. 
  • faith,  healing from wounds,  identity,  insecurity

    The Unworthy/Unlovable Lie

    THE LIES:

    Elementary school. That was the first time I had that feeling of not fitting in. Specifically, third grade. I was tall and lanky with glasses and a bad underbite. I was shy and wanted to fit in with the group of girls who had emerged as “popular.” I remember feeling embarrassed on the first day of fourth grade that my new outfit, which had been considered “cool” in third grade was suddenly… uncool. Fifth grade, as the other girls in my class developed and moved into a new phase of bodies and boys, I was still secretly playing with Barbies. I was behind and on the outside.

    Through middle school and high school, I started to realize that if I modified how I spoke, what I wore, and the jokes I laughed at, I would stand out less and could blend in more. I was consistently insecure that if others saw the “real” me, they would surely reject me. I became a shape-shifter to gain approval from friends, never really showing my authentic self. In actuality, I don’t think I knew who that was. But I knew that I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, and a large part of that was that I didn’t feel loved and accepted. I thought I had to earn the love of others, and I never quite felt that I made the mark.

    Another huge component of this growing lie that I was unlovable and unworthy came through the lens of romantic relationships. When the boy I had a crush on in my fifth grade class openly laughed at me for my flat chest, I went home early with a stomach ache–my first glimpse at rejection and unrequited feelings. But even more than that, I absorbed the internal message that who I was wasn’t worthy of returned affections. Over the years I heard iterations of the a certain message from our culture (from the someday-my-prince-will-come fairytales of childhood all the way to the more mature romantic themes of magazine ads, television shows, movies, and books)– that I would feel complete when finally I found someone who loved me in a big and sweeping way. I came to hope that being accepted by others would fill in the holes of loneliness. During my deepest times of insecurity, I took on heartbreak after heartbreak by opening myself up to relationships out of fear of being alone or thinking that when I finally found “the one” I would finally feel whole.

    On the other side of divorce and deep heartaches, I still occasionally hear those old lies of “unlovable” or “unworthy,” and sit with the fear of rejection or abandonment. But the past few years, God has done some incredible work within me to bind up wounds and show me His sweet love. I want to whisper to you some words of encouragement today…

    Friend, I don’t know what you’ve been through in your life that makes you wonder or doubt your worthiness in relationships. I don’t know what wounds you carry from childhood, or the heartbreaks, rejection, trauma in your life that have layered lies, insecurities and deep wounds into your soul. I know that at times you may feel lonely and rejected in rooms full of people, and even more achingly so when you’re alone with yourself. That these wounds may have opened you up to lowering your standards, settling for unfair or unhealthy relationships, or even enduring abuse because you didn’t believe you deserve any better.

    But sweet friend, here is what I’ve come to know as absolute Truth, and sometimes have to remind myself of even now. Another person will never make us feel complete. If I’m waiting on that “perfect love that casts out all fear” (and casts out insecurity and self-doubt), it will never come through another imperfect soul on this earth. As we sit longing for a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love, we need to recognize that God IS LOVE, and lavishes that very kind of love on us. That He is a good and perfect father who can bind up our wounds. He abides in us and we can love others (and ourselves) more fully once we know that He is the one who fills us up and that we are made complete in Him.

     

     

    THE TRUTH:

    As I’ve read my son the Jesus Storybook Bible this year, I have found myself holding back overwhelmed tears during the stories of Creation and Jonah and David and his small stones, and the mighty but quiet story of Jesus’ birth story. Sally Lloyd-Jones shares in such an accessible and simple form the beautiful and redemptive love story of God in a way that she describes as a “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” This year, during my own prayer time after Emmett goes to bed, I’ve sometimes pulled his storybook Bible back out to re-read the story from that night and wonder how I’d missed it before. That in one story after another, this Heavenly Father has pursued us, just wanting us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He loves us and will never leave.

    Honestly, THIS was the place that my heart shifted from seeking other places of self-worth and love and saw that the Truth of my being as loved and chosen and pursued by God was right in front of me all along.

    In those times that we question or doubt our ability to be loved, we have to go back again and again to these Truths, as we up-root the lies of unworthiness:

    • “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
    • “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:7-9)
    • “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
    • “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
    • “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love.” (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)
    • “…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 3:17-19, NIV)
    • “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)
    • “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a)

    Our emptiness or feelings of unworthiness will never be satisfied entirely in human relationships, even the good ones. If I am seeking a big redemption story in a relationship here on earth, I will end up disappointed again and again. Don’t get me wrong- I believe that incredible healing can come within the context of healthy community and relationships. But until we recognize that the ONLY one who can fill up all of our empty spaces is God, we will always come up short.

    In HIM, we can know that we are His beloved, that He chose us, that we are worthy, that He will never leave us. This is different than human love. Humans may reject or abandon us, they may put up walls or turn away. But not our God. This amazing Father, with loving arms, embraces us as His beloved children and fights for us. With Him, there is a precious guarantee- He is a God who keeps His promises and is unwavering in His character (Numbers 23:19).

    In HIM, we are purely and perfectly loved.

     

    *This post is part of a series about IDENTITY. If you want to read the series, here is the introduction (Who do you think you are?), followed by a post about our new-found purity in Christ, no matter how dirty we feel (I am clean, I am made new). 

  • faith,  freedom,  healing from wounds,  identity

    I am clean, I am made new

    In this identity series, I will tell you a story of my own struggle with a particular lie/old identity, and then the Scriptures and prayers I’ve used to re-claim a new identity in Christ. Read the intro here

    I thought I was…. (here are the lies I wrestled with):

    Unclean, dirty, impure, shameful, destined to repeat the past, defined by my sin/mistakes

    Over the course of my 30 years of life, I have oscillated between different identities related to my status of clean, unclean, pure, impure. There have been seasons where I wore my purity like a badge of honor, an outward symbol of how pure I could make myself. Looking back I can see it was just that–a badge that could easily fall off, a self-proclaimed purity. My heart wasn’t necessarily as clean as my outward actions.

    And there have been times when the actions of others or my own choices have left me in a pit of shame, chained down by darkness, covered in the grime of sin. Times when others called me “unclean” and I said, yep, that’s the truth. I took the words, actions, and fallen human choices that happened on this earth (either by myself or others) and let them define me as ultimate truth. No matter how much I prayed to feel clean I would not accept that God could really wash me and make me new again.

    This past April, I helped lead worship at a women’s retreat for my church. The theme of the retreat was “Clean.” In preparation for the retreat, I prayed deeply and listened dozens of times to Natalie Grant’s song “Clean” (which would be our theme song for the weekend). That gorgeous weekend at a retreat center in a wooded area of West Virginia, our speaker poured Truth over us about our status as clean in Christ. We sang the words, “there’s nothing too dirty that you can’t make worthy,” and I spent a lot of time journaling and praying. I knew something deep and rich was stirring in me– memories were rising to the surface from childhood and adolescence and even recent months and I was seeing for the first time that what God had already CALLED clean I was still wrapping around myself like a cloak of shame. Although He had already released me from the chains of the past, I was dragging them around and wallowing in my own shame and self-condemnation.

    I went for a run in the woods during the Saturday afternoon free time on the retreat. As I ran on the path down a big hill, I had this incredible feeling of innocence and childhood. With sunlight bursting through the trees and pouring over my head, I imagined a little girl running down a grassy hill into a field of wildflowers with her arms wide open to scoop up color. I laughed and felt like I could fly, I was so light and happy. And suddenly, I realized. Breakthrough. I let go of the chains I’d been set free from long ago– as I ran, I felt heavy weights falling off of my ankles and hands and my heart. I found myself running, wide open and free into pure JOY. Since that weekend, I have felt a sense of freedom I’ve never before experienced in my life– relishing in the fact that GOD has made me clean. There is nothing too dirty or shameful I could do that He would choose not to forgive if I asked in earnest for His forgiveness. Once He has washed me clean, I no longer have to sit and wallow in shame that I am dirty, unclean, or defined by my past. And there is nothing I can do to make myself worthy enough. I need Him to make me holy and pure.

    I am learning more and more this important truth about my identity:

    EVERYTHING I am flows out of the Truth of who He is.

    Photo credit: Annie Spratt

    The Truth:

    As I was on that retreat weekend, I remembered a strange phrase from the psalms… and I couldn’t get it off my mind for days. “Cleanse me with hyssop.” This was David’s cry in Psalm 51 to be cleansed not just physically, but spiritually after he was found out in his affair with Bathsheba. I know that feeling–wanting to feel like your insides are clean and pure and no longer charred by sin and darkness. I read that hyssop is an herb from the Middle East similar to mint, used for cleansing, medicinal and flavoring purposes (it resembles lavender in photos I’ve found). It was used throughout the old testament related to sacrifices, used as a paint brush to place blood over the door frames in Exodus 12, and in David’s heart-wrenching cry of wanting to be purified. The good news is that Christ became our sacrifice so that we COULD be called pure, worthy, and clean– so much better than any outer cleaning we could try to give ourselves. Our hearts are able to be new each day, and through Him we are called a NEW CREATION. I am praying that by remembering who God is, what He is able to do, and the new identities we can have in Him, you will be able to join me in walking in this status of being redeemed and set free from the past. I used Psalm 51, Psalm 103, 2 Corinthians 5, and Galatians 5 to walk through this exercise:

    Because God is… (fill in adjectives that describe the character of God):

    • Steadfast in mercy
    • Abundantly loving (unfailing in His love)
    • Holy
    • Gracious
    • Slow to anger
    • Compassionate
    • Perfect
    • Forgiving

    “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” -Psalm 51:1

     

    HE has the power to… (verbs listed with God’s actions for us/over us):

    • Deliver me from bloodguiltiness
    • Wash me thoroughly
    • Cleanse me/create in me a clean heart
    • Forgive all of my sins
    • Heal all my diseases
    • Redeem my life from the pit
    • Crown me with steadfast love and mercy
    • Satisfy me with good
    • Renew my life
    • Work righteousness and justice for the oppressed
    • Remove our transgressions (sins) from us, as far as the east is from the west
    • Reconcile us to Himself, through Christ

    “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow….Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” -Psalm 51:7, 10

     

    So, He calls us… (new identities we can claim for ourselves):

    • Clean
    • Whiter than snow
    • Pure
    • Redeemed
    • Reconciled
    • Ambassadors for Christ
    • The righteousness of God
    • A new creation
    • Set free

    “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:11-12

    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” -2 Corinthians 5:17, 21

    To dig in further: read Psalm 25, Isaiah 43, Isaiah 44, Colossians 2:13-14, 1 John 1:9

    Friend, no matter what you struggle with that makes you feel dirty or unclean (whether it is in your past or a present wrestling), my prayer for you today is that you could KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that in Him, you are a new creation. He is abounding in love and is able to cleanse you thoroughly. He calls you pure, redeemed, reconciled, and has set you free. Now, let’s spend some time scooping up those wildflowers of color and life, knowing that we are free indeed. Here is a prayer you can come back to when you are wrestling with shame:

    __________________________________

    Lord, I praise You– that You are steadfast in mercy, unfailing in your love, and that you are Truth. You have the power to carry me out of the darkness and shame and into Your light. Wash me, and let me hear YOU when you call me clean. I humbly ask you to help me to release the lies and chains I’ve carried around that say otherwise. Please help me to see myself the way You see me. I boldly ask for you to free me from the bondage of my past that has still been gripping me– the chains that I’ve heavily dragged around with me for all this time. As I step deeper into the purity of Your heart, I pray that I would not just define myself by outward actions, but that I would be cleansed at the very depths of my heart and mind. If there are wounds from my past that still linger, I pray for your healing touch that I could reach the fullness of the restoration that you have for me. I want to run freely into Your arms with joy, knowing that I am free indeed. I love you Lord.

    Photo credit: Heather Schwartz

  • faith,  healing from wounds,  identity

    Who do you think you are? Finding a new identity in Christ…

    There’s this word that I use a lot. On a pretty regular basis I talk to others about how my life has been transformed as I learned about my identity in Christ.

    Oxford Dictionary defines identity as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

    Do you allow yourself to take on the names that others have called you? Have you claimed labels for yourself that you’ve picked up over the years, perhaps based on things done to you, or things you’ve chosen for yourself? Those names and labels have power—they start to seep into the core of how we see ourselves, almost like indisputable facts.

    • Picture a middle school girl, beloved by her parents but suddenly faced with comparisons or harsh criticism from her peers in the hallways and locker rooms. She no longer looks in the mirror and likes what she sees. She takes the negative comment of “ugly” and repeats it to herself each time she steps up to her reflection. Soon it affects the way she carries herself, the way she interprets her interactions with others, the way she herself in the world.
    • I think of a man who has wrestled for years with substance abuse and addiction. Hurt at a young age by family wounds, he discovers the enticing world of alcohol and drugs at far too young of an innocent age. He finds that those substances bring him momentary numbness, where he can ignore his pain and escape real life for a little while. Through a series of choices and events, he eventually gets into trouble– in far too deep to get out on his own. He now looks at these choices and consequences, and sees himself as broken beyond repair, shameful, a disgrace. This affects the way he carries himself, the way he makes future choices (feeling trapped in this pattern), and the way he sees himself in the world.
    • What about the executive who has built a life of success? While wrapped up in accolades and affirmations, pleased with performance and ability to control outcomes, this perception of self, based on external praise also affects interactions with others, and the way this person perceives his place in the world.
    • Then there’s the woman whose heart has been broken over and over again. Whether through abandonment, rejection, heartache, hopes dashed, she has come to see herself as unlovable, or unworthy of being loved back. Soon that affects the way she herself, her security within relationships, the way she sees the world.

    Photo credit: Suhyeon Choi

    I’ll share with you my own list (this is not comprehensive… there are certainly others) of identities I’ve held onto for myself over the years. There are “good ones:” pure, hard-working, good Christian, popular, actress, singer, writer, mother, ministry leader, friend, smart, creative. Then there are the ones that have had more staying power– the ones I’ve pinned to myself like a scarlet letter: lonely, depressed, anxious, ugly, unclean, unworthy, divorced, broken, shameful, too much, not enough.

    Wanna know where these identities came from? Let me give you a hint… not our God. These came from the world. From fellow humans (also broken and fallen) whose flippant words become etched onto our hearts as deep wounds. From the enemy who wants to see us climb back into the mud and roll around, making us fear that our junk is too dirty for God to truly forgive. From our own sense of pride. These are not the places He wants us to live.

    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” -2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

    Over the past few years as I’ve thought and wrestled with identity, I realized that I was letting the words and actions of the world around me define me instead of the powerful TRUTH of an unchanging, always loving, steadfast God. The One who created me. The One who knows me better than anyone. The One who knows the number of hairs on my head, every thought before it enters my mind, the words I will say before they leave my lips. The One who has already forgiven my sins and washed me clean. I am finally learning to use the words He gives me to build my identity:

    set free

    child of God

    forgiven, clean

    worthy

    victorious

    redeemed

    beloved

    Friends, we can re-claim our identities… in fact we are called to do so! When we release the powerful grip of what the world has said about us and walk boldly into our identities in the Lord, it changes the way we see ourselves, the way we act, the way we live out our purpose. This for me has been a journey of understanding more about who the Lord is and what HE says about me, so that I can replace the waves of lies that wash over me with His unwavering Truths.

    “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2 (NIV)

    For the next four Fridays in August, I want to talk about how we can transform the way we see ourselves from the inside–the very core of who we are. I want to encourage you to join me in digging deeper to this identity stuff. While positive affirmations are super helpful, I think the work needs to be deeper than that. Finding the source of wound or where the lie may have originated, finding out more about the character of God, and who He says we are in His never-changing Word and Truth.

    I would love to hear from you before we dig into some of these old identities– what is the loudest lie for you? The name you’ve carried around that you want to release for good? Send me a quick message through the prayer form. I’d love to pray for you, but also (anonymously) address some of the actual lies you struggle with in these upcoming posts. Grateful to be on this journey with you.

    Photo Credit: Kari Shea

    Dear God,

    Thank you for your unfailing love. Help me to understand more of that love, as I draw closer to You and learn more about your nature. I want to know You more, and as a result know more about how You see me as Your beloved child. Allow that to transform in a deep and lasting way my interactions with You, myself, and the world. I pray that You will protect my heart as I learn more about the lies I’ve carried around for far too long, and I ask that You would give me the courage to let go of those names, insecurities, and lies that are not based in Truth. Lord, I want to live an abundant and authentic life, with my full strength and security in You. I pray for Your gentle and patient care as I step more fully into the identity and purpose YOU have for me.

    Amen

  • anxiety,  faith,  identity,  mental health

    What does God think about OCD?

    I- Chipped Paint

    You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.

    You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.

    You discern my going out and my lying down;

    You are familiar with all my ways.

    This week, I sat on a familiar couch across from the familiar face of my counselor and talked about my recent anxiety struggles. About flare-ups in my people pleasing and old thought patterns that sneak up way too fast and overwhelmingly. About my shame for still struggling with OCD, and codependency, and sin, and basically … not being perfect.

    When I was a child I have vivid memories of spending time on our wooden swing set that my dad built in our backyard. My siblings and I would go outside to play after school while mom cooked dinner. Instead of playing on the swing set, I would sit on the landing above the slide and fixate on the peeling paint. It would bother me greatly if an area was starting to chip or peel, so I would hyper-focus on peeling it away in strips to remove those seeming imperfections. Lost in thought, in somewhat of a trance, I would pull away the old gray paint to reveal the red wood underneath. It was strangely satisfying and calming but also a little unsettling in the aftermath — when my mom called us in for dinner, it would snap me out of the trance. I’d look down at the grass and see far more dried and chipped paint than I had intended to remove, and would be embarrassed for this strange habit. Eventually, in later years, I developed a form of OCD as a way of coping with my anxiety called trichotillomania, a rare disorder on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum that leads individuals to pull out their own hair. The trances with this reminded me of my paint peeling days, though the impact was far more damaging than an old backyard swing set missing its paint.

    II- Tears

    Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.

    You hem me in behind and before, and You lay Your hand upon me.

    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

    For most of my life I’ve been a writer. It’s often been private, in diaries, journals, short stories not shown to others [I’m just getting brave enough to share it]. In my bedroom, I have a box full of old journals, and on the nightstand next to my bed, I have a stack of the three most recently filled within the past year. Each one represents so many stories and wanderings and prayers and tears worked through quietly, mostly on my own or with the Lord.

    My counselor and I have walked together through 5 huge years in my life. These 5 years have carried total humility and honesty, growth, forgiveness, and transformation. She knows me better than anyone on this side of heaven. In the beginning of our time together I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning forward with knots of fear in my stomach– fear of saying some things out loud for the very first time, showing someone else the way my brain works, fear of judgment, and overwhelmed with where to start in processing my heavy burdens. When I would begin to cry in those earlier sessions, I would quickly shut off the tears and put a smile back on my face, saying, “But I know it’s going to be okay.” Yet, every single session my counselor has met me with gentleness and grace. And at the end of every session, no matter what I’ve shared, we have ended our time together with prayer. These days, I sit nestled into the couch with comfort in this safe place. I let the tears flow freely, knowing that there is healing that comes with the fullness of that expression of overwhelm, grief, confusion, sadness, anger, or whatever those tears represent. I come into our Tuesday evening times together, able to share with her what I’ve noticed lately, what I’m learning, ready to share the newest pages of my journal out loud, with no fear of what she thinks of me.

    Once, when I showed her that I was about to finish another journal after only 3 months of starting it, she asked if I was proud of that fact. I said without hesitation, “yes.” We both knew the hard work represented in those pages. But even more than that, they represented for me the bravery of saying the words out loud. There was freedom in that.

    Lately we have been talking about this work we do, of retraining the brain to take on new thought patterns. And how even after 5 years of work there can be new work to keep fighting against 25 years of established patterns. But now, I AM doing the work of creating new patterns. This week, on that couch, I sat with tears in my eyes about my obsessive thinking and how it has gotten out of control lately, sometimes about great things like writing and creativity, and sometimes about things in my past or worry for the future. I asked her to be frank with me (I’ve asked her this question before too, but sometimes just need to hear the answer out loud)– is there something really broken with me? Is the way that my brain works really messed up?

    III- Light, Tea, Psalms

    Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?

    If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.

    If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

    Even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.

    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

    Even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day,

    For darkness is as light to You.

    To my question about my brain… my counselor met me with gentleness and grace, as always. She affirmed that the quirks of my personality {obsessive thinking, extreme motivation, my empathy, my creative brain, even my perfectionism} are part of how God made me and formed me and loves me. When these qualities and thought patterns get out of control and go into overdrive, I enter into discomfort, darkness, pain. But these quirks? They are also some of the qualities that make me an excellent researcher, someone who is innovative and bright, good at coming up with new and creative ideas, fiercely loyal, strong in my faith, a wonderful friend/sister/group member, a good communicator, and a tender-hearted human with a heart for serving others in this world with love and kindness. When I become aware that those quirks are in overdrive or are blocking me from putting my full identity in Christ, I can take a moment to breathe and have compassion for myself. Then I can use one of the tools in the toolkit I’ve assembled in these 5 years to get back to being grounded and centered, knowing that I am loved for exactly who I am. To let the light back in.

    So this week, I pulled out some of those tools. I spoke with my loving dad on the phone. I ate a healthy black bean burger and sweet, fresh pineapple for dinner. I played the piano. I am drinking peach ginger tea or a spicy cinnamon variety of hot tea in my favorite mug in the evenings. And I’m going back to my favorite Psalm- the one that reminds me of the Truth of who God is and that He loves me no matter where my mind goes (Psalm 139, written throughout this post).

    IV- Paper and Stained Glass

    For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

    I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    Your works are wonderful, I know that full well…

    How precious to me are Your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!

    Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—

    when I awake, I am still with You…

    Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

    See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

    The other night, while on the phone with my dad, I looked over and saw this piece of art that I created a few years ago. When my OCD was probably at its worst and my life felt utterly out of control, I discovered an interesting world of paper cutting and the art of scherenschnitte. This folk art form from Germany which literally means “scissor cuts” became a new creative outlet for me to channel my perfectionism, anxiety, and OCD. In those moments of digging into my artwork, it is me, the paper, an exacto knife, and worship music. Entering into a new kind of trance, I get to hyper-focus on slicing straight lines and chipping away at the pattern before me. My favorite designs are ones like this with symmetry, order, a calming pattern to cut out–the ones that remind me of stained glass or a fractal. This design, created out of a season of disorder and darkness, is such a clear and tangible reminder to me that I crave order, creativity, and color. And that hard work, generosity, and hyper-focused motivation and thinking are part of the fabric of who I am. I am working on having GRACE for myself for how much I have grown and for who I am. And reminding myself that He is crafting me into something beautiful, even in my brokenness.

    The mind of God and all of His ways are mysterious to us–I don’t believe that any man will ever be able to comprehend the Lord’s thinking fully here on earth. Here’s what I DO know though, from spending the past 5 years digging further into His word, praying, and pressing into His truth:

    • He calls us to “be still” before Him, for He is God (Psalm 46:10)
    • We were created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27)
    • He calls us fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)
    • He has so much grace and mercy for us (Romans 3:23-24; Hebrews 4:16)
    • He is a stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9-10)
    • He rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17)
    • He refreshes and restores our souls (Psalm 23)
    • He bears our burdens for us (Matthew 11:28-30)
    • He knows every thought in our hearts/minds (Psalm 139:3-4, 23)
    • The peace that comes from Him is far better than any peace I can find in this world (John 14:27)

    I do not know the details of your struggles. But God does. He loves us and calls us to love others in the same way. So I want to encourage you to find balance–more grace, less self-condemnation. More rest, less striving. More community, less isolation. If you’re wrestling with what it looks like to have a healthy mind and how these things seem ingrained in the fiber of your being, try to have compassion, mercy, and gentleness for yourself. After all, YOU were fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Creator– in His very image. He is crafting you, too, into something beautiful, with every single part of who you are.

    _________________________________________________________________________________

    P.S. Do you battle with keeping Truth at the forefront of your mind? Do you wrestle with lies, insecurity, anxiety, depression, OCD, mental battles of any kind–anything that pulls you away from the present into a rabbit trail of fear, worry, or restlessness? I would love to share some of my favorite Scriptures with you in the form of a free printable I created. These 11 powerful Truths are some of my favorite Scriptures to come back to when the lies get loud in my mind and heart. Though I know prayer and Truth are a component of a holistic solution, I encourage you to print it out to hang on your mirror, next to your desk, or to cut into note cards to encourage a friend for the hard days.

    Enter your email here to get your Scripture cards. Be encouraged. You’re not alone.

  • anxiety,  depression,  faith

    Faith Like a Mustard Seed

    “If you had faith even as small as a tiny mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would go far away. Nothing would be impossible.’” [Matthew 17:20]

     

    I pray for a mustard seed for you. For you to know these mountains can be moved.

    When hopelessness comes in like a dark cloud, it’s hard enough to muster strength let alone a mustard seed of faith. Faith feels out of reach sometimes- hoping in these things unseen and unknown and at times utterly unbelievable. To believe that there is something more than this present darkness. To believe that there is someone who could love us in this mess we’ve made. To believe that there is someone who can save me from the miry pit and give my life hope again.

    But let me tell you, there is rich substance in this tiny little seed–

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. [Hebrews 11:1, KJV//The Message]

    To the girl who sits with anger bubbling up and surging forth, overcome with the tidal wave of her own emotions.

    To the woman who weeps quietly over a lost seed-sized baby with its own identity and a future here on earth seemingly ripped away.

    To the couple squeezing hands across the hospital bed as one fights an internal battle of blood cells, not quite sure how much time is left.

    To the man who has spent months pouring a morning pot of coffee and pouring over hundreds of job openings, desperate for a way to provide for his family again.

    To the boy who knows hunger like I will never know and would give anything for a home-cooked meal, but even more than that, a home.

    To the one overcome with shame for past failures and faults, who feels like there will never be another way than this old pattern that is bound to keep on repeating.

    For the one who feels that this life is unbearable, it bears repeating–these mountains can be moved.

    A mustard seed.

    That is literally all it takes.

    I’m praying that you can dig down deep to find a seed of hope planted in your heart- a small spark that keeps pushing you forward towards a bigger light.

    That this mustard seed of hope would wedge its way through the seeds of doubt and anger and fear and worry and sadness and would GROW and move mountains in your life.

    I picture a tiny seed that pushes through the soil to send deep roots down into the earth. Soon a seedling, and then a tree, and then shoots of life, and then fruit all pushing the mountain to the right or the left or eventually INTO THE SEA because that tree has grown so strong. But all you need to start with is a tiny seed.

    I’m living proof of this mountain moved with the smallest of seeds. I had become a shell. I was broken, anxious, controlling, depressed, and without hope. With bookshelves full of books that could fix my problems but more problems mounting up than I could possibly fix, I was tired of talking and tired of digging and just plain tired. I had tried to find my hope in my own strength for far too long. Eventually my fragile shelled cracked wide open, but inside I found a mustard seed. It was buried and barely alive, but there it was. Pulsing with the little faith I had left. Helping me to breathe in and breathe out with just enough strength to look upward. To see that there had to be another way; there had to be more than this way I’d been doing things.

    A mustard seed of hope. I found a Redeemer. I came to know this Counselor. I grew not just in knowledge about, but in closeness to this living, loving Savior. He scooped me up and started to put me back together. There it was–a seedling, that grew slowly but surely into a little tree. The ability to keep stepping forward. Shoots and branches. Genuine relationships with people who loved me without my mask of perfection. Fruit in service and the ability to love others, with a real love that did not require or expect anything in return. Hope for the future.

    The troubles are still there at times, and the pain still pops up. But there is a greater hope outside of myself that is moving mountains. Because now I know that God is with me, and with Him nothing is impossible. That mustard seed I found was the seed of growth and change and healing and community and freedom and JOY. So I am praying that you find your own mustard seed and can press into the HOPE God has for you. Because He’s able to move even this mountain.

     

    *This piece was written for spoken word– stay tuned for a video soon!

  • anxiety,  control,  faith,  spoken word

    From Fear to Peace

    Ya’ll. Let me tell you something. About a month ago, I felt a pressing on my heart to share about my journey with fear. And then the funny thing is, the FEAR took over again (as it does, when we let it). Loud thoughts and insecurities paralyzed me. I suddenly became engulfed with fear–how am I even qualified to talk about this? I’m not a good enough writer, my blog posts are too heavy/vulnerable, my voice doesn’t matter, I am STILL struggling with fear right now, etc. Ironic? Maybe,  or maybe the enemy just knows my greatest struggle.

     

    Since a young age, fear has OWNED me. I’ve been enslaved to it. It has found a way of creeping into my daily life and thought patterns, and I’ve let it rule. Something I’ve learned is that fighting fear is a battle. As much as I know the commands from Scripture to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” and “take every thought captive,” sometimes it is a lot harder to let the Truth of God’s love seep into the fiber of our beings and release the grip of fear, anxiety, worry, panic, and insecurity.

    I watch my 5 year old son wrestle with fear– he tells me before bed about his fear of robot aliens or snakes with chicken heads coming after him in the dark (the imagination of a child!). We look in the closets, and turn on the night lights, and pray over his room and his safety and for him to be super aware of God’s presence with him. But at 30 years old, I am no different! I still need to look into closets and seek out light and pray for a SUPER awareness of God with me, as I wrestle with fear–anxiety on the road about car accidents, or worry for my loved ones when they are far away from me and I don’t know if they are safe. I get tangled up by anxiety and hide myself, for fear of rejection or not being loved. I have breathed through panic attacks in Rome and New York City and sitting in the church pews and even in my own home when my rational thinking flies out the window and I am overtaken with fear. I KNOW FEAR like I know my own reflection in the mirror. But I also have come to know that we are not called to live in fear. And I have found delivery, and freedom, and want to share with you (if this is a struggle with you), that there is another way to live. 

    I’m going to share a few posts in the coming weeks about some practical and prayerful ways God has helped me conquer fear (and is still helping me, even now). In the meantime, here is a spoken word piece I wrote today at my favorite coffee shop, thinking about this fear, and thinking about the sense of freedom I feel when His love and Truth and peace take over.

     

    What does it look like to give up control? To let go of my pride and thinking I have to have it all figured out? Does it look like reckless abandon, abandoning my dreams, and sitting passive while someone else drives? That thought is terrifying for a control freak like me.

    What does it look like to walk in peace? I am not a natural pillar of peace- I run ahead, and rush around, and can’t sit in stillness for more than 2 minutes. I am anxious, I am a worry wart, I am obsessive, and I cannot imagine not having this fear as part of my life. When my thoughts race, I am desperate for this peace that surpasses all understanding, and I go to any source I can think of to find it– wise books, and wise friends, and time in the wilderness soaking in the beauty of creation, yet still I wrestle in the waiting. Peace is fleeting when I look to these sources, so still my mind races and still I sit in fear.

    What does it look like to take every thought captive? To say, I can’t do this on my own anymore? Exhausted from living this way, I realize I’m undone. I’m ready. I start to hand each thought over to my Creator, one by one, plucked up and passed over to someone Mightier than me. I release my death grip and let You crush to death my fear, the lies, the sin, the shame. When I find myself still holding on to fear and control, whether it’s a stronghold or a just a tiny pinch, You whisper, “I can handle it. It’s not too much for Me.” Sometimes I laugh, thinking these burdens and fears are too shameful for You to see or too big for You to handle. But even that’s laughable isn’t it? Here I am thinking the Creator and King can’t handle my control issues. But You whisper again, “I can handle it.”

    I labor and wrestle. With sweat from my brow and the intense pain of giving up control, I release the burden. You call me into FREEDOM. And I taste it. It’s close. With a cry of life, I sense Your sweet love wash over me and my lungs gulp for air. I taste Your goodness and mercy. New life. I realize the old way I was living was not what You desire or designed for me. There is a shift, and I go from that clinging to an unbridled release– Lord, take everything! You keep telling me, “I can handle it.” And I believe You.

    Thank You Jesus.

    “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are Mine.” -Isaiah 43:1

  • depression,  faith,  rest,  weekly prayers

    Weekly Prayers: It Is Well

     

    Have you ever sang the song “It Is Well With My Soul” when your soul did not feel well?
     
    On the days that that phrase rings true, we can say it as a declaration with peaceful truth and confidence– Yes! Amen! It IS well.
     
    But here’s the thing… most days, inner peace is not something that comes easily for me. In fact, I am currently in the midst of wrestling my good old frenemy Seasonal Depression. Yuck.
     
    There are days when it’s super hard to motivate myself to pick up my Bible because I’d much rather wallow in negativity. When I do NOT want to cook for myself and instead want to eat chips and salsa and chocolate chips for dinner. When I want to isolate and binge-watch Netflix instead of being real with friends about my place of need. This week alone, I have done a little bit of both. I’ve wallowed in darkness/negativity AND made myself read my Bible to seek out light. I’ve indulged in the snack junk food dinner, and also made some intentional, healthy meals. I’ve engaged in the Netflix marathoning, but also reached out to my support system to say “I am hurting.”
     
    As much as SOME of this is in my control, depression is a real thing. And I know that I cannot fight it without the Lord. In this season, I am learning to look at this prayer/proclamation differently.
     
    When I sit in unrest, when my heart is heavy, when I cannot move because my body is sad, “It Is Well” becomes a pleading prayer. God, please MAKE it well with my soul.
     
    The history of this song is pretty remarkable. A man who experienced deep, tragic loss, proclaimed that in the Lord, his soul was alright. I’d venture to say, it was more than alright. He found rest and hope in Jesus, and was even praising Him in the midst of darkness.
     
    Sometimes its too hard to sing or say “It Is Well” because we do not FEEL well. But if we fold our arms or refuse to sing it because it’s not true at that time, we are missing out on peace that can come JUST from praying it in genuine need. When we whisper in desperation that it WILL be well with our souls, He starts to bring a different kind of freedom from our trials. He may not remove the painful circumstances, but saying those words and clinging to Jesus opens us up to rest. To His peace. To HOPE. And I need hope right now, so I’m choosing to sing/pray my way through the darkness. 
     
    So, if life is straight up hard for you right now, can we pray this prayer together?
     
    Lord, let me declare that it is well with my soul, and trust that You will make it so.
     
    In my desperation, still my heart. When my wounds are loud, bring Your healing balm. When my world feels like it’s caving in, help me dwell on the Truth about who You are. I praise You, because You are faithful, You are Redeemer, You are steadfast.
     
    Thank You Lord. You know suffering well- You’ve watched us betray You for thousands of years, choose sin instead of light, reject You when You offer life. Your only Son endured suffering to death on our behalf, and You absorbed the full weight of our suffering already. 
     
    Help me remember the suffering of others, and to pour out Your love to them (I am not the only one hurting!).
     
    Help open my heart to receiving love from the people You’ve placed in my life (it’s okay to grieve, to ask for help).
     
    Help me to rejoice in the GOOD that I do see–and if I can’t see anything good right now? Help me to seek it out and start to see it with new eyes.
     
    Let me find my hope in You, and remind me that these temporary afflictions will bring an eternal weight of glory
     
    Be my rock when the waves crash around me. Be my strength when I am weak and disheartened. Anchor me. Lord, bring YOUR peace to this soul.
     
    It is well, it is well with my soul.

  • control,  faith,  rest,  spoken word

    Fill Up My Empty

    A few months ago during a sermon, one of our pastors shared the following quote that really resonated with me:

     

    “The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” -Bruce Marshall, The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith

     

    Tim shared this quote to support the idea that our deepest longings point us towards God, even though on this earth we oftentimes seek to fulfill those longings in foolish, temporary, unfulfilling ways.

    That Sunday morning, it was almost as though something clicked into place for me that I’ve been coming to realize for a long time. Throughout most of my life, I have built my identity around other people–what they thought of me, trying to meet their expectations (whether stated or assumed), keeping the peace, helping others with their problems, etc. I also have used accomplishments and success, my ability to mother/friend/write/perform well, and my good works to give me a sense of worthiness or to attempt to fill holes in my heart. But the truth is, (and what Tim shared reminded me of this)—God is the only One who can fill those places. Everything else that I try to pack into those holes will come up short of His goodness.

    After hearing that sermon, when I found myself running to anything in this world out of a place of desperate need (ie: calling a friend when I wanted to process something; using food, drink, Netflix, spending money on coffee or new stuff to lift my mood or numb feelings of sadness; keeping myself far too busy to slow down and take space for stillness), I stopped. I tried to peel back that layer of the onion and look a little further by asking myself, “What is the deeper thing I’m longing for right now?” And often times the answer pointed back to a desire for a sense of worth, a place of belonging, something to make me feel less sad/tired/alone, a feeling of being loved. And while sometimes the things of this world hint at being able to fill those desires and needs, I am now trying to run first to God.

    Last night, I shared a spoken word piece at a Storytellers event at my church. This piece, entitled “Progression of a Heart,” has been rumbling around in my heart for the past few months and it felt really freeing and beautiful to share it yesterday with a group of supportive and encouraging people.

    I want to share it here to encourage you– this “chapter” is where I currently am in my posture towards the Lord, but there were 4 prior chapters that I summarized in my journey. And as a good friend shared with me last night after my piece, I can’t wait to see how God unfolds chapters 6, 7, 8, 9… there is surely more work to be done as I journey on, but for now, here’s my heart.

    Chapter 5- Fill Up My Empty

    Hello, my Father. My best friend. My shelter. My anchor when my soul is untethered. My comfort when I ache. My husband in this single mother season. My source of Truth when lies start to creep in.

    You. It’s always been You. You are the only one that can heal a heart that was once more holes than it was holy, or place a heart of flesh where there was stone. I no longer need to numb. Or hide. Or jam those puzzle pieces into place.

    Lord, continue to fill up my empty.

    When I want someone to tell me that I am worthy, You tell me that You fearfully and wonderfully created me in YOUR image.

    When I am weak and vulnerable, You tell me that Your grace is sufficient for me…Your power is made perfect in my weakness.

    When I desire intimacy, You remind me that You formed my inmost being and before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely Lord. There is no greater intimacy than to be known at that depth.

    When I am weary, You take my yoke upon You and replace it with a lightness that I can shoulder for that moment.

    When I am lost, You show me that You are the way. You help me put one foot in front of the other as I wait for You to show me the next right thing.

    And when I want a love story and to have my heart fought for, Oh Lord, you remind me that You love me with the fiercest, greatest love. You’ve already fought for my heart, and you PURSUE me passionately.

    I am in awe that the Creator of this universe is wrapped up in my universe and delights with me and grieves with me and shows me who I am.

    I will go wherever You want me to go and be whoever You are making me to be. I am free. I am wide open. My heart is all Yours.

    “Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” -John 4:13-14

    Friend…if you find yourself running to things of this world, don’t be discouraged. I am praying that you would start to run to the source of Living Water that can heal wounds and fill up your empty, too.

  • faith,  intentional living,  rest

    To make a home, make room for more light…

     

    This is the ceiling light in my living space. The room where I spend the most time, when I am actually home. I am constantly on the go, and I don’t leave much room for margin. My apartment, where I have lived for almost 3 years, has felt often times like a holding space for what I thought might be a temporary arrangement. The season has stretched on, and sometimes I neglect this little space because it’s easier to just keep moving than to sit… be still… to accept and call this home.

    This holiday season was a bit of a hard one for me, and this particular light fixture needed its bulb changed for the past 2 months. I have let my fake Christmas tree and its tiny bulbs light my evenings, making frequent mental notes that I should put a new light in so that the room could feel a little brighter. But sometimes it felt better to sit in the cozy darkness, with just the corner lit up, my sweet little tree with my favorite ornaments looking back at me.

    Today, I take my tree down. I made space today to write. I’m folding 5 loads of laundry that have been piling up. I’m prepping healthy foods for this week to be intentional about what I put in my body instead of eating for comfort or convenience as I have been the past few months. And I changed the light.

    Because I’m making space in this season for more light, more hope, for establishing what it looks like to make this place actually “home.” I’m working on a gallery wall for the living room, finishing projects that have been in limbo for a while, and I’m letting light in, so that hopefully I have more to pour out.