• freedom,  identity,  shame

    Lay Down Your Shame

    “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” -‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:1‬ ‭⠀



    When I wrestle with the weight of shame, my past says to hide. It says “you are not welcome here.” It chokes and stifles. It makes me feel like I’m covered in grime and stains that cannot be scrubbed clean. Shame says my baggage will prevent me from moving forward or getting through the door. It says, “this is who you are; this is the whole story.”⠀

    I want to refute that, in the name of Jesus. ⠀

    Because we are in Christ, shame is no longer part of the equation. ⠀

    Where shame stifles and chokes, God’s Truth breathes life into us. Where shame whispers lonely, God says loved. Where shame hides our secrets in the darkness, God tells us to talk them over in the light. And freedom is found there.⠀

    Will you join me in throwing off that cloak of shame? He already washed us clean, so we can stop rolling around in old dirt. He calls us to new life- the shame of the past died with our old selves. He calls us redeemed, so we can re-claim our stories in Him.⠀

    Friend, I am praying that we would know that freedom, all the way down to our toes and in the marrow of our bones. If you’re anything like me, and you’re still dragging around the baggage and chains of the past can this be the month where we drop them at the door, once and for all? ⠀

    As much as shame wants us to think we’re too broken, this is not the whole story. But we have to let go of the shame first. Because if anything, the SHAME is holding us back. ⠀

    Your story is welcome here, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of it unfolds. Together, let’s step through the door into freedom, friend.

  • identity,  intentional living,  writing

    I write because I feel God’s pleasure in it…

    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?

  • freedom,  healing from wounds,  identity

    Come Out of Hiding

    “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” -2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

    The Lie:

    Here is one of the biggest lies I have ever struggled with. And one that I see others wrestle with all the time….

    That thing that I carry? The wound, the scars, the memories, the propensity for a certain sin, the part of my story that is hard to speak out loud?

    It makes ME too messy, broken, wounded, scarred, weak, and messed up to ever be well again. Or to be used by God. Or to be loved by others.

    But here also is what I know from 4 years of walking in recovery with an incredible community of others who recognize their weakness. Before sharing the thing (you know– THE thing) out loud, it has SUCH a powerful grip of shame, fear, or even denial over us. It keeps us in darkness. There is such a clear humility to saying “I can’t do this on my own anymore.” And I’ve seen over and over again that once we voice our weakness or brokenness, amazing transformation can happen.

    I am weird and I really like charts/graphs/visual tools to explain things, so I made you a chart of three of my THINGS. I included a few bullet points/symptoms of what happened when I tried to cover each of those things up in my life, and what happened when I finally let those parts of myself and my story be seen:

    If you think about the people in the Bible who made a huge impact for God, a lot of them had their own THINGS. But God doesn’t see those as the definition of who we are. He is able to use us, and even those heavy or hard parts of our lives, to tell a greater story. Of redemption, of restoration, of how His power is made perfect in our weakness. Remember Jacob who was a manipulator and a liar in his youth (to trick his father into giving him an inheritance that should have been his brother’s)? Or Joseph, whose brothers hated him so much that they sold him into slavery, upon which Joseph also encountered false accusations and imprisonment for a crime he did not commit? What about Ruth and Naomi? Naomi lost her husband and two sons, and Ruth lost her husband and moved to a new nation to become a foreigner. David, a man “after God’s own heart,” who committed adultery and murder? Paul (formerly Saul) who persecuted Christians in the new church? Gosh… what would have happened if any of these people decided that they were too broken for God to use them? But, amazingly, each of them persisted in faith that God is who He says He is, even when our lives on earth don’t turn out the way we expected. The God that each of these people served, and the God we serve today is this kind of God:

    “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…

    …I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11, NIV)

     

    The Truth

    Friend, your past does not define you.

    The present struggle you are wrestling does not define you.

    Your wounds and scars and baggage do not define you.

    The brokenness you feel when you think of yourself? THAT does not define you.

    God says that in our brokenness He can bring beauty. That He will restore the years the locusts have eaten. That He binds up the brokenhearted. He proclaims freedom. He SETS THE CAPTIVES FREE.

    When we come out of hiding, we are set free, sweet friends. There is nothing too dark or too heavy or too broken for Him that He cannot redeem. And in the present, while we are waiting to see how it will be restored? In the waiting for that beauty and redemption, we get to wait with open hands and humble hearts to know that HIS power is made perfect in our weakness. We get to offer our weakness up to Him to watch how He will fill us with His power and reach others in our lives through it.

    We get to be like Jacob with his sinful past who was newly named “Israel” and blessed by God as the father of a nation. God re-defined Jacob and used him as the foundation of a favored people.

    We are able to stand firm like Joseph, who said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). God sustained Joseph and rescued others through him.

    We can comfort those who mourn and stand by their side, like Ruth did for Naomi. God restored Ruth’s broken heart and brought her a sweet redeemer in the form of Boaz, and even used her in the lineage of Jesus, a true Redeemer for the rest of us.

    We can cry out to God in our shame, our pain, our brokenness like David throughout the Psalms. God forgave David in his repentance, and still used David’s story and his heart to show others how to walk through the light days and the dark.

    We can be like Paul, who stepped into humility after he met the Lord and brought truth to others. God transformed Paul’s heart and gave him a powerful testimony that allowed him to speak to others from a place of true awareness of his NEED for a redeemer.

    What if instead of praying away that weakness or brokenness, we instead prayed that God would transform the way we look at it? If we prayed for Him to use it, however He can, to bring hope to others and bring glory to HIS greatness? What if instead of covering up those parts of our story, we shared with others to let them know that they’re not alone? In your honesty and vulnerability with yourself, God, and others, I pray that you might be released from shame, darkness, and feeling like you will never be free from those heavy burdens. Because, dear heart, when you set those things into the light, the darkness cannot have as much power here.

    A prayer for you:

    Lord, I know that I cannot do this on my own, so I don’t want to hide anymore. You are a God who redefines, sustains, restores, forgives, and TRANSFORMS lives. You have been faithful to do so for others, and I pray that you would help me to trust that You have restoration for me too, Lord. I pray that in the midst of my weakness or brokenness You would allow me to see others who are hurting too, so that we can come together and realize we are not alone. Lord, I pray for your comfort and for reminders that you are with me in the midst of my pain, my battles, my darkness, and any brokenness that I experience. I do pray Lord for Your work of restoration and healing, but in the meantime Lord, I pray that YOUR power would be made perfect and known to others in my weakness. Thank You for loving me and helping me to step into Your light and healing.

     

    *This post is the final installment of an IDENTITY series for the month of August. Here is the introduction (Who do you think you are?), followed by a post about our new-found purity in Christ, how to fight the lie that you are unworthy of love, and the 5 things that happen when we don’t believe that we are enough. Also, special thanks to Aaron Burden, Ibrahim Rifath, and Blake Cheek of Unsplash for the beautiful images to accompany this post.

  • freedom,  identity,  insecurity,  rest

    You Are Enough (and the 5 things that happen when you don’t believe that…)

    “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” -Galatians 1:10 (ESV)

    The Lies:

    Picture this.

    There’s an old wooden ladder, leaned up against a tall tree. Climbing this ladder proves to be challenging– shaky, unsteady. As you look around at the other trees, you see that some others are taller, some others are wider, some have brighter fruit or bigger leaves. So you keep climbing to get as high as you can. The wind is blowing, and your ladder and the branches around you seem like they could give way at any moment. And if you’re looking around and thinking about where you are compared to everyone else, there will always be another anxious climb, even if not this tree or this ladder.

    But, what if there’s another way? Instead of climbing the ladder, can you just sit under the tree? Can you rest for a little while? With the solid ground beneath you, you run your fingers over the steady roots. You lean back, cradled in the shade of the leaves and branches above you. A bird is perched on a branch above and sings you a sweet song. You are grounded. Rooted. You are sheltered.

    Have ever struggled with any of these statements?

    • I’m too emotional.
    • I’m not outgoing enough.
    • I’m too loud; my personality is too big.
    • I’m not organized or productive enough for that job/company.
    • I’m too quiet to make an impact.
    • I’m not important enough for others to listen to.
    • I’m too broken for this church.
    • I’m not spiritual enough for that friend group.
    • I’m too quiet, shy, boring.
    • I’m not pretty enough.
    • I’m too inexperienced to succeed at this dream.

    But here’s the bigger question–who says so? Somewhere along the way, did you hear that some aspect of who you are doesn’t meet the standard of other people’s expectations? Did you absorb the message that you need to tone down your light or your level of excitement to make others comfortable? Sure, for one friend group or person, you may be “too much,” but for another relationship, those very same characteristics might seem like “not enough.” For one job or company, you may be “not creative enough,” but for another role, you might be “too outside of the box.” It’s funny… all of these too much/not enough statements are actually very subjective if you think about it.

    If we are living our lives in fear that our personalities, skill sets, and what we have to offer won’t meet the sliding scale of comfort or expectations for the culture around us, we end up living in a way that is inauthentic to who God created us to be.

    As a recovering people-pleaser, I have had to remind myself often of what God says about where I find my identity. Do I find it in the opinions of those around me? Or in HIS value in me?

    “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” – Proverbs 29:25

    “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” – Isaiah 2:22

    “For they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” -John 12:43

    “Let no one deceive you with empty words…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” -Ephesians 5:6-10

    Here is what I’ve seen happen when we don’t believe that we are enough, just as we are:

    1. We gain false security: We become secure in things that can change at any moment. When we think we have reached the status of “secure” in the opinions of others, those views can change within moments, days, seasons. We can become puffed up with pride when we value those feelings and accolades of man higher than the view of God.
    2. We scramble: When we are constantly trying to get in the good graces of others, we end up doing things for the wrong motivation of trying to be SEEN as helpful, likeable, needed. Rather than stewarding the good gifts, skills, and characteristics God has given us, we scramble to try to earn the favor and praise of others.
    3. We strive: Similar to scrambling, striving happens when we start climbing a ladder fast and hard to meet the standards or expectations towards worldly “success.” This is what happens when we try to prove to ourselves or others that we ARE in fact enough. Can you learn to rest secure instead? Not in what you have done or haven’t yet done, but in what God has done for you. He has already rescued you, redeemed you, set you free. You do not have to live a life of striving.
    4. We become stunted: The too much/not enough lies can make us compare our beginnings, our skills, or our stories to those around us. And then in that comparison, we can become completely paralyzed. Our growth stops when we try to be like someone else, or when we are frozen in fear that we will never be good enough to try going after those dreams He’s placed in our hearts. Instead, we are called to walk forward in the confidence and calling that God has for us, and in who He made us to be.
    5. We suppress: When we fear rejection for the truest and most authentic parts of ourselves, we hold back and dim everything about us that in fact makes us unique. Because maybe, when we have let our true selves show in the past, someone verbalized our deepest fear….that who we are (our very essence) was too much/not enough for THEM. But for God? The One who made you? The one who knows the very numbers on your head? You are exactly who He made you to be, sweet friend.

     

    “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” -Isaiah 61:3

    The TRUTH:

    Notice that it says in Isaiah 61:3, that they will be called oaks of righteousness for HIS Splendor. By HIS planting.

    I know that we live in a culture of upward mobility. Of making room for ourselves to make our voices heard. Or rubbing elbows to get in with the right crowd. When we are not secure in who HE has made us to be, we worry that we are not enough. We become so fixated on what we can do, and on not making the mark, that the ground beneath us becomes unsteady.

    We do not have to do the work or put our own selves on display. In Him, we are oaks. Firm. Strong. Righteous. Planted- exactly as He made us, and exactly where He wants us to be.

    While the opinions, values, and feelings of this world can change in an instant, and are as fickle as the “breath in our nostrils,” our God is different. Throughout Scripture there are SO many powerful images of God as a steadfast and steady force. Here are just a few that remind me of the strength we can find when we trust in God:

    “And they remembered that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer,” -Psalm 78:35

    “For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?” -2 Samuel 22:32

    “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” -Romans 8:31

    “Be still and know that I am God.” -Psalm 46:10

    “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” -Psalm 95:1-5

    “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” -Isaiah 54:10

    Instead of swaying back and forth, trying to be everything to everyone, I pray that in HIM, you can stand firm. I challenge you to rest secure in the fact that the Creator of the universe also created you, with all of your quirks, character traits, passions, and your specific voice. We do not have to scramble or strive for value, because we are already seen as valuable to our rock and redeemer. If we can take our focus off of the changing tides of this world, we can keep our eyes on His steady face and do it all for His glory instead of man’s.

    Lord I pray that you would remind each of us that we are not defined by what we DO, but by who you are, and who we are in you. Help us to rest secure in You, in your steadfast love and righteousness, not in our own striving or scrambling, or in the changing and unsteady things of this world. I pray that we would rest our souls before you, knowing that in you we can be called oaks of righteousness, planted and secure. Because you are more than enough for our questions of whether we are enough, Lord. We pray that today we might find our value in You, and You alone.

     

     

    *This post is part of a series about IDENTITY for the month of August. 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), and last week’s post about the lie that you are unworthy of love. Also, special thanks to fancycrave1 of Pixaby and Kevin Young of Unsplash for the beautiful images to accompany this post.

  • 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.

  • identity,  insecurity,  rest

    A Letter to the Tender Heart

    Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

    Dear Tender Heart,

    You and I are cut from the same cloth, so I want to whisper you some words of encouragement. I don’t want to assume to know everything about you or your story, but I hope these words can give you comfort. I picture that we are sitting across from one another at my favorite coffee shop,  or sitting side by side on a breezy summer day, rocking in wooden chairs on a big front porch. Or maybe this can be a folded letter on delicate stationary that you can tuck away and read again when you need reminders from a friend who gets you.

    Sometimes I know you wish that the heart you wear on your sleeve could be covered up. I know its a heavy load to bear at times- feeling everything with such intensity and depth. I know that when you see the aching and struggles of the people in your life, you feel their pain too. I know that you often sit in longing, in sorrow, in the overwhelm of how to care for the hurt you see around you.

    There may be people in your past or your present who made you feel abnormal for this tender heart of yours that feels so deeply. That you are too much or that you are too different. But I don’t want you to lessen yourself or try to cover it up or become like “everyone else.”

    You know why, sweet friend? You remind me of Jesus.

    He saw the HEARTS of the hurting and met them with compassion. When the stories and struggles of others were brought to Him, He felt every bit of it–He wept for us. Those tears were not a show of emotion just for God to display that Jesus was made of DNA and blood cells and the stuff of personhood. Those were the outward expression of a Creator, a Redeemer, a Mighty God who walked and dwelt among us and loved us so deeply. He touched our wounds and bore our burdens and WEPT for this hurting world. He ached to fix and heal and restore those deep hurts. I read the first 12 chapters of John this week and saw the person of Jesus in a new light. John paints the picture so clearly of a loving, kind, empathetic man whose whole ministry was filled with examples of compassion. As I read about Jesus’ healing of a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years, His conversation with the woman at the well, how He fed the hungry, showed forgiveness, stood up for those with shame, raised His dear friend from the dead, and wept with Mary and Martha, all I could see was that He was MOVED by the stories of others. He met us in our hunger, our doubt, our illness, our shame, our fear, even our death, with His whole heart and sweet TENDERNESS.

    I know this passage is a little long, but can we read it together? It moved me to see how much Jesus loved and cared for His friend, so I want to share it with you:

    When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” He asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

    Jesus wept.

    Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” [John 11:33-44]

    He ultimately bore all of these burdens on the cross in His death, taking on every sin and pain so we wouldn’t have to bear the weight of it. He, in His mercy and with His own tender heart, DIED that we might have freedom and hope once again in this fallen world. We can bring every heaviness to Him and ask Him to sit with us. In the quiet or in our crying out, my friend, He is right there with you in this. He doesn’t need to you to change a thing before you sit side by side. He loves you and your tender heart just as you are. After all,

    So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. [Genesis 1:27]

    and….

    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. [Psalm 139:13-14]

    Friend, your deep compassion, your empathy, your sensitivities, your desire to help others find healing? Those are GIFTS. When it is too much to bear, it is okay to weep. But also, I hope you can see that it is good and relieving to bring those burdens to Jesus

    He can show you how to care for the hurting by pointing them to His hope and healing. He can also bring a sweet balm to you. Rest in the truth that you are never too much for Him. You are His beloved, and He cares for your sweet, sweet heart.

    Love,

    A fellow tender hearted sister

    Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

  • control,  freedom,  identity,  intentional living

    Addicted to Busy

    Four years ago I walked through the doors of my church for a recovery meeting. I was really there to try to support… help… okay, fix another person that I thought could benefit from the meeting. What I found was how deeply hurting I was, and how I really needed the support and help to recover from my own hurts, habits, and hang-ups.

    Celebrate Recovery became a safe place for me to take off my mask, understand myself and my issues better, and find healing in a Christ-centered recovery program. [Celebrate Recovery is an international program started at Saddleback Church with Rick Warren and John Baker in 1991. The program is now offered in over 35,000 churches, prisons, rescue missions, and colleges worldwide].

    Over the past four years I dug deeper to the root of my issues, completed a 12-step study, attended a CR conference last summer in the Nashville area with 3,000 other people in recovery (it was AWESOME), and entered into leadership at our church’s CR ministry. I now mentor other women, help lead the Newcomer’s class, serve as the co-leader for the Monday night worship team, and am passionate about recovery in all aspects (not just my brand of recovery). This is part of the life work I know I am called to do, and I am so thankful for the way this ministry opened my eyes to the pain and struggle of others (outside of my own “stuff”). At the end of the day, we’re a room full of people who love the Lord and want to be real about where we’ve been, but also find hope in where God can lead us next.  

    The first step of recovery (for ANY area in life) is stepping out of denial; admitting that we no longer have control. In the language we use at CR,

    “We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.” 

    I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
    For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. -Romans 7:18

    Once we admit that we do not have control over those compulsions, those painful areas of our lives, or other people, change is finally, truly possible. But first we have to get to that point of unmanageable–the out of control, rock bottom, heart break that life cannot go on like this any more.

    Each Monday, for the past four years, I have introduced myself in this way:

    “Hi, my name is Heather. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, and I am in recovery for codependence, anxiety, and divorce.”

    We introduce ourselves in this way to first of all recognize that our greatest identity is found in the Lord (our addictions do not define us!). We list our areas of recovery second to keep us out of denial– there is something very vulnerable about sharing those struggles out loud… but also extremely freeing to know that there are others who can relate, encourage you, and spur you on to greater growth. Once we say them out loud, those secret heavy things we’ve been carrying around for so long start to have a little less power. It is then that we can finally get to work.

    At some point I would love to tell you more about codependence and God’s journey in my life of shifting my identity away from extreme people-pleasing to finding my identity in Him. And I’d love to tell you more about these 12 steps that completely changed my life.

    But this week, what’s heavy on my heart is that my busyness is no longer something I can manage. It is officially… unmanageable. I have shared before with friends, family, colleagues, and my recovery friends that this is a deep-rooted struggle that has been a part of my pattern of existence for as long as I can remember. High school was stacked full of the hardest academic classes I could take, school plays, band, student council, church youth group, private flute lessons and voice lessons, a touring show choir, and a restaurant job. When I got to college, I promised myself that the fresh start would allow me to hit re-set. It didn’t take long for me to pick up new roles and routines that were jam-packed into my days, along with trying to find more balance for a social life. But that meant lunch dates and coffee dates and weekend outings with girlfriends and more things packed in than I could handle. I kept pushing. When I would come home on Christmas and summer breaks I would just sleep for the first 2 or 3 days home, only waking to eat. My mom would ask me what was wrong, but I was just purely exhausted.

    My adult life at 30? I could post a picture of my calendar here but I think that would only prove a point I’m finally coming to see– my own pride. A sense of self worth in how much I can juggle before breaking. I think there are roots of this busyness habit that are very much tied to my codependence (identity based in what others think/not wanting to let others down), but there is fresh, new work to do here. There are new layers to address about how I find a sense of worth in performing well, and coming to REST in the identity God has given me instead of one I create for myself or how I am perceived by others.

    As this realization really started to hit me this week, in yet another cycle of burnout and exhaustion and a 4th of July Wednesday that involved sleeping and “wasting” half of my day off, I realized…. unmanageable. For how much I CRAVE rest, peace, stillness, rhythms that feel intentional and slow, why have I not been able to change this pattern? I picked up a book from my bookshelf that I started reading two years ago. But this message is right on target with the reminders I need right now, in handing over my whirlwind of a lifestyle to God and STOPPING. To learn to be more present than perfect. To be more still than successful. To have peace when I sit in quiet instead of a frantic to-do list constantly running in my head to do more, or to be more.

    There was an ah-ha moment for me when I hit this passage in Shauna’s book:

    “You can make a drug– a way to anesthetize yourself– out of anything: working out, binge-watching TV, working, having sex, shopping, volunteering, cleaning dieting. Any of those things can keep you from feeling pain for a while– that’s what drugs do…

    Most of us have a handful of these drugs, and its terrifying to think of living without them. It is terrifying: wildly unprotected, vulnerable, staring our wounds right in the face. But this is where we grow, where we learn, where our lives actually begin to change.”

    So on that note friends, I am ready to take step 1 to admit that my busyness has become unmanageable. I’m ready to strip it away and look at the wounds and meet change.

    “Hi, I’m Heather. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ. And I am addicted to busyness.”

    This week, the greatest joys after making this realization were the moments of stillness and stopping to pay attention….

    I realized that every time I get in the car I use my voice-activated Siri and tell her to make a note in my phone about new things to add to my grocery list, my to-do list, my writing list, or to send a text message for me. My boyfriend (a wise man who gets me/my heart) challenged me to use my car rides for prayer or worship time. I loved it on the first morning…. but by the afternoon I auto-piloted into making a phone call when I got in the car. It’s deeply ingrained, but I am making progress by taking note, giving myself grace, and making heart adjustments.

    I wanted to work through lunch on Tuesday (a particularly busy/stressful day), but instead took a midday run through 90 degree humidity (I packed shorts, so don’t worry, I wasn’t running in a dress). I listened to a thought-provoking and centering podcast with J.A. Medders and Tony Merida about Christ-centered writing [Home Row, episode 31]. I let myself run slow up hills, and I took mental note of every single beautiful, simple thing I saw. I literally stopped to smell flowers. I waved at people I passed. I looked goofy, I’m sure, jogging in the heat, with a big happy grin on my face. But I felt peace.

    I spent time digging into Romans and DELIGHTED over all of the exciting ways the Word came to life. I could not get enough! So this weekend, I am unplugging. I am going to pay attention to where my sinful tendencies rise up to cover up any emptiness with activity, and I am going to work on being more present with my son and the people God has me with each moment. I hope you can do the same, one day at a time, one moment at a time.

    If any of this struck a chord with you, I’d encourage you to press in. Take note. Maybe sit with the question for a few minutes in a quiet place…are there any areas of your life that feel unmanageable/out of control? It’s okay (even freeing) to admit it to a safe and trusted friend… that’s where the healing begins. If I can pray for you let me know – I’d be honored.