It means so much to me to share this story with you. I truly admire Kathy as a writer and a woman of God, I am so grateful that we got connected on our writing journeys this past year. Whether she’s sharing about gardening, waiting well in hard seasons, snowshoeing, or her family, her stories always point me to truth and hope. It is a joy and honor to have her here!
This is Kathy’s Freedom Story.
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I never expected to learn so much about myself in sixth grade. It was the year a rare friend, one who made me laugh, somewhat affectionately called me “Knobbies” — she was referring to the recent developments protruding slightly from my chest. Fortunately, it wasn’t a nickname that stuck. You can be sure I found a way to camouflage them after that though.
After school (not the same day) I got on the bus, positioned myself for the hour-long bus-ride. I’d scoot my butt to the edge and wedge my knees against the back of the seat in front of me. Then, someone would slide in next to me. One day the girl sitting with me stated her observation, “You have funny thumbs.”
I looked at my thumbs. Then I looked at hers. Ashamed, I tucked them inside my hands. After her comment, I began noticing everyone else’s thumbs. I’d never realized that mine were not only stumpy, but bulbous on the end, and the nail bed was wider than it was long. From that day forward, I hid them in my fingers any time I was certain someone might see them.
A few years later, sitting in the dentist’s chair, Dr. Mielke asked me if anyone ever made fun of the space between my two front teeth. Honestly, until his question, I had been very proud of the space. After watching my dad spit tobacco through his, I’d learned that I could make a waterfall come out of my mouth when we were at the pool. I thought I was the envy of all my siblings.
My dentist’s suggestion was to use a new procedure called bonding, in which he could bond false fronts onto my teeth. He assured me he could close the gap, and since my front teeth were not large, I would not have to worry about looking like Bucky Beaver.
Within the next week, as life would have it, not one but TWO people made comments on the space between my two front teeth!
Back to the dentist I went for bonding.
Ultimately, horror of horrors for a 15-year-old, bonding didn’t bond well. After several months one popped off, and I had nightmares. Tooth dreams are a thing! Eventually, my dad conceded to my pleading for braces to permanently, and securely close the gap.
I found satisfying solutions to my “birth defects” as they became known to me by observers. But even though I flattened, hid, and filled in the gaps, there was an idea lurking within my heart always, even maybe quiet words echoed from an inner chamber, “there’s something wrong with me.” Something deeper. Something I knew I wanted to hide.
Life taught me that I was most happy when people were happy with how I benefited them.
I learned that if I lived my life to please people, I’d be content. As an introvert and a compliant child, making my parents and my teachers happy was a piece of cake. I learned to observe, listen, and “do” whatever pleased them. I didn’t recognize it during childhood or even into early adulthood, that the desire and even enjoyment of doing what others wanted came from a deep-seated fear. Fear of ridicule. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. All my fears were rooted in the fear that I would find out my deepest fear was actually true: I’m not loveable.
I grew up in the country on a dairy farm. I was a firstborn with eleven siblings. (Read: I worked after school almost every day.) My social life was limited. I wrongly attributed my lack of friends to the dark internal defect that I detected, and often I superimposed my deficit on my appearance. I wasn’t popular because … I had zits. Or, I was fat. Or, I lacked the dynamic personality of the popular girls. I used to study them to find out how they did it, wishing I could afford fancy pants and expensive shoes.
I’ve often said I’d have been a likely candidate for anorexia if I didn’t fear the criticism of my daddy more than I wanted friends.
I’d learned the joy of being Dad’s right-hand girl. He praised my work, and I beamed. This satisfaction at home balanced out the many years I felt like a reject at school. In saying that, I would be remiss to leave my story looking like I never had friends, I did. But the overarching feeling of my growing up years in school consisted of longing for belonging and feeling like a “geek.”
I met Jesus when I was 24 and pregnant with our first baby. I kept hearing a quiet background voice say, “I need something.”
It turns out I needed Somebody.
In the early years of walking with Jesus as my Savior and Friend, I’d fallen in love with Him and His word. I loved choosing the right way and radically throwing out anything that would hinder my walk with Him.
But I continued to struggle with feelings of inferiority in the presence of other women.
Pursuing freedom, I accumulated several Christian books about having confidence in Christ. I read The Bondage Breaker by Neil Anderson. I learned more about the devil, his lies, and how to renew my mind with scripture. I gained a great measure of freedom as I walked with Jesus. When I felt rejected, He would comfort me. I would sense His love or hear a song that solidified that I meant something to Him even if I was nothing to others.
About ten years after beginning my walk with Jesus, life imposed immeasurable stressors coinciding with a strain on my most important relationships. I fell back into striving to make everyone happy. This caused me to tumble into a pit of anxiety and depression. It was a terrifying experience, and it was a long climb out.
I’d understood grace initially, but the old voice in the back of my mind still had me thinking I needed to run circles around even Jesus in order to be loveable. When I broke with no hope of fixing myself, it was His love that had to reach down and lift me up.
Through the loving weekly meeting and prayers of a mentor and the diligent study of His word, the light of His unconditional love began to wash away my unbelief in my value. In my failure, Jesus freed me from the deep sense of responsibility to be perfect that had been rooted in my heart during childhood.
Jesus told me in a dream one night that I was working really hard for something He’d already given me, “righteousness” — and I heard His whisper, “Be still and know that I am God and I love you.”
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Looking back at my childhood, I discern the false conclusions I came to in my immature mind. I see the way that believing lies wreaks havoc in a heart. I am extremely grateful that the Lord gave us His word to wash us clean and set us free from leaning on our own understanding.
It is true, “secrecy is to sickness as openness is to wholeness.” Having mentors and friends in your life who will listen to your heart is essential to freedom. As they pray with you and bring God’s word, they speak life into your soul.
Because God’s word powerfully washes away lies, you can be free from striving to be loved.
What are some of the false conclusions your young mind formed around the pain in your life?
Who do you have in your life that will listen well, pray for you, and encourage you with God’s word?
Who are you serving by being a listening, praying, truth-speaking friend?
– – –Speaker and Bible study author, Kathy Schwanke has a passion for serving Christ and furthering His Kingdom. She encourages women to live lives saturated in the Spirit and the Word. She has a beautiful way of reaching a broad audience with the depth of her wisdom and heart for Jesus.Kathy and her husband Dale (35 wild, married years) are in another temporary dwelling as they search for their next home in Western Wisconsin. They love morning coffee, scenic drives, home remodeling, and bike rides in the summer. They have two married children and seven grandchildren.Read more of Kathy’s beautiful words on her website or on Instagram (Kathy is one of my favorites to follow on Instagram!).
P.S. Want to read more stories of freedom and hope? Find 20 more Freedom Stories of real women like you here.
Friends, Emily’s story is so relatable for me, but I believe also for many women. With this week as Valentine’s Day, a holiday and time that emphasize human love and connection, Emily’s story is timely. I love her heart and the way that she has found hope and freedom in the Lord to be her ultimate Love. When we rest in Him for our identity, it shapes the way we see all of our other relationships and, especially, ourselves.
Here is Emily’s Freedom Story.
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When I was a young girl, I bought into a pattern of lies that led me to an exhausting life of pursuing the love of someone, anyone, who was willing to give it to me. I’m not entirely sure how exactly this pattern took such deep roots in my soul, but their infection robbed me of joy and led me to sacrifices I never intended to make.
I was convinced that every square inch of myself needed to be dedicated to maintaining the happiness of other people in my life and if they were happy with me, they loved me. If I could be the one that listened to their problems and helped them find solutions, even if that solution cost me something, they would love me. Eventually I would connect with someone, we would develop a great relationship based on fun and joy and common interests. A friend that loved dancing and showtunes as much I did, a friend that played soccer and loved great movie quotes. A friend that loved Jesus and didn’t think it was weird that I did, but we made space for the hard questions too. But eventually, the lie would begin to manifest its way into my thoughts. I would agonize over whether they would keep loving me or not, and fear their certain departure, seeing great things like adding others to our friendship as signs that they loved me less. I became so consumed with fear that I would inevitably lose them, that I began to literally make cases for why I was a mess, but also why I was in need of their love and friendship. The chains that held my adolescent heart captive must have been just as suffocating for those around me as it was to me.
Even as I grew and matured (a little, anyway) this translated into even more toxic patterns of behavior in relationships with guys. I had a sense of boundaries physically, but even those began to wear thin under the pressure of “if you really love me,” coming from their tender lips. Like the serpent encircling Eve in the Garden of Eden, tempting her to believe that the Creator’s word wasn’t fully true, I buckled and caved into lie after lie about who I was, and what love really was.
Even though I was raised in the Church. Even though I was certain that I loved Jesus, it was clear that I was not so certain that Jesus would always love me. Love, even God’s love, felt like it depended entirely on what I was willing to give and to do in order to be worthy enough to keep it, and even more tragically, I believed it could be lost.
Thankfully, the Lord only lets us go so far. Not just once, but over and over again. When I was a freshman in college, I was living at the lowest point I had ever been, believing the lie that my virtue and my value, taken from me against my will, was now in someone else’s hands and maybe God would somehow fix the mess I had surely allowed. God chased me down and delivered me out of the pit. He sent a man into my life to call out the the lies I had believed about what love really was. He sent a book into my lap that told the fictional story of Hosea and his adulterous wife who believed she was too far gone to ever be truly loved and revealed the reality of her worth and the depths of His redeeming love. He opened His Word to me in a way I had never seen before about the height and depth of His love for me (Ephesians 3:18). He led me to place of seeing that “there is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you.” The Lord began to uproot the evil lies that had held me captive for so long and to sew new seeds of the freedom found in His redeeming love.
Any time I share this part of my story, it always feels strange because it equally sounds like I’m talking about another person’s life, and then there are times I can still see some of the residue of those lies in my current days. Its wild to me that life with Christ provides the opportunity of constant renewal. As we grow, we face new problems and new patterns that trip us up, and bring us to the end of this version of ourselves. Other times, old habits and patterns are triggered by trauma, and old lies manifest themselves in masks. In that process, the Lord lavishes His love on us again and again through His word, His people and the presence of His spirit, renewing our minds and transforming our hearts. (Romans 12:2).
Freedom from sin and all that entangles us is ever available to us, and it is an ever-present pursuit this side of Heaven. Like a child wondering how many times she’s going to need to receive a reminder from a loving, but watchful parent, I often wonder to myself “How many more ways am I going to need to learn about God’s love?” But maybe it’s less about repeating the same lessons you thought you had learned before, and more about God’s love and a life of freedom in Christ being like the opening up of new parts of a gift you have already been given. It takes us to a deeper place of savoring the Good News of the Gospel, and it calls us to a deeper knowing of the One whose love is never ending, that does not ask for us to earn it, but to receive it freely.
– – –Emily is wife to Andrew and mother to Nora Beth and Jacob. She is a woman redeemed by a good God and continues to marvel at what an epic storyteller He is. She is a lover of words, people and coffee, especially when all three are involved. And tacos, but not tacos and coffee.Co-Host for The Emerge Podcast
I am so happy to introduce you to Patricia today. Patricia has such a fun, creative spirit about her, and she inspires me with the way she looks at the world. The visuals in her story are so powerful. If you’ve ever wrestled with your faith OR stepped into sweet surrender of God’s love for you, I know Patricia’s words and images will speak to you.
Here is Patricia’s Freedom Story.
I have lived tired. I have lived tired, hurt, and lonely much of my young life. I have wrestled with words all my life, trying to make sense of any form of hope in an ugly, perverse world.
I’ve wrestled with God, but He always wins in the end. Always.
One of my most precious, soul-changing, heart-engaging memories blossomed the winter of my first year at Iowa State University. God challenged my judgmental opinion of Christianity in all its practical and visible evidences to the contrary in the lives of friends and strangers. He sought me while I paraded my pride. My personal accomplishments became my ‘god’, as I sprinted away from God’s presence in my life.
I had sought academic excellence, and strove with purpose, drive, and everything a young engineering woman during the 80’s strove to accomplish. I would return on occasion to the idea of a holy, sovereign God I had learned about in junior high school confirmation class, but I had no confidence if, or when, He would bring rest to my weary soul.
Figuratively running from any semblance of organized religion, I had a notion, a fleeting thought, which flamed into burning truth. God cared about the heartaches of my life, all our lives. He cared enough to send His Son to pay the price for my doubting heart. I flung off nagging doubts, and I allowed God to release me from pain and selfishness. His sacrifice, the death of His Son in my place, moved me, humbled me. God became my Father in reality, and in my technicolor dreams where flying proved possible and running races held finish lines.
Literally running to a small church, I heard the gospel of redemptive grace, of remarkable forgiveness for my prideful, judgmental heart. I needed hope and freedom from the pain of foggy memories, from the shame of abuse to both my body and my spirit, and from my personal anguish. My crushed spirit became whole on a Sunday evening in 1981. I had stopped running.
I had stopped running from God in Jesus Christ, who had become my Salvation and my Lord.
At age 57, I still wrestle from time to lonely time. I wrestle with feelings of inadequacy, as if I don’t matter to people around me. And, yes, if I am being transparent, I struggle with thoughts like these which lie and steal my joy. I occasionally resist the truth, the truth that Christ is enough for me in whatever circumstances I find myself. When I find myself crawling under the covers for comfort and refuge, I deceive myself. I attempt to hide from the God who sees everything. He has seen my brokenness and stored up my tears.
I don’t mean to doubt His promises. I don’t set out to pick a fight, nor to argue His methods, or even to provide my own defense, when all I need is His truth about who I am. He sees me. He knows me. Only His opinion matters. I simply forget to enter my prayer closet, my personal war room, a sanctuary for warriors in the battle of life. I wouldn’t fight a physical battle without proper armor, so I must assuredly put on spiritual armor for the battle for truth and freedom to live for Christ in a fallen and broken world.
He was always enough. I just didn’t know Him. And if I confess my moments of unbelief, He will be enough for today, tomorrow, and the rest of my days on this earth.
I don’t want to run, or wrestle, or doubt. But when I do, I hope you’ll walk beside me. Comfort me. And I pray you’ll point me to the truth of learning to rely on God for my hope.
I long to practice the presence of Christ wherever I am, in the grocery store, at Bible study, or in the digital, pixelated, online world. This is freedom to untangle words spoken contrary to His truth. Freedom to walk, and not run or grow weary, beside Him in all His glory and grace. And freedom to hope and breathe forgiveness to those who have hurt us. I long to be free from bitterness, to be ready to forgive as soon as they ask. I aim to live at peace with hope shining through the darkness, piercing the sadness, and soaring on winds of purpose.
Purposely dwelling in His presence takes practice and commitment. Our words can bring hope and healing, or they can stab and cut deeply if we don’t put on His armor. Word-swords. Carry them gently. Raise them, but only when resting in His Word. Meditate on His magnificent love for us. He is enough for today, and He will always be the truth we dare to fight for this side of heaven.
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When is Patricia not creating? She gravitates toward the artsy, inspirational, and God-honoring vision to share messages of hope and forgiveness in Christ. She promotes innovative teaching and journaling through life. After hubby’s retirement, Patricia began quietly penning an inspirational Christian fiction series. Patricia’s newest discovery of Instagram, hashtags, and bullet-journals keep her engaged in social media. Courage: her word for 2019.
How many of you have read these beautiful Freedom Stories and thought, ‘Good for them, but I’m just not there yet…’? Today I’m sharing the story of a vivacious and sweet mama who is still figuring out what freedom looks like. I loved getting to interview her this month as she shared about her “in progress” journey towards a life of freedom. If you’re still in the midst of figuring it out, be encouraged- so many others are too!
Here is Katherine’s Freedom Story
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Before we get into your story, I want to know some of the fun stuff! Tell me about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into your life!
So, I studied elementary & special education in college with graduate courses in preschool studies (never finished). Turns out I didn’t enjoy teaching public school like I thought and am now going a completely different direction. After having my boys, I learned a lot about birth, and I want to be that positive voice for others… so I’m training to be a birth worker, a doula!
Also, my go to coffee order is an iced white chocolate chai!
That sounds amazing! Also, I love the direction and passion you’ve discovered for your life!
Galatians 5:1 is a key verse for our FREEDOM STORIES. It says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What was the old yoke you were living under? What was that slavery like for you?
My freedom story centers around learning slow, and letting go of things that aren’t freeing. It is by finding simple again, shedding the layers, that I’ve learned more of who I am created to be in Christ. The layers, or the yoke of slavery, were all the things that stole my joy, made me stuck, lingered in discontent.
I experienced this in so many ways: my own internal dialogue, words from others, the outside of what we see on social media- the things that slowly chip away at my own self-image.
In many ways I think we are our own worst critics. If there is a word said or a situation that doesn’t go as planned, we are generally playing out different scenarios in our head far longer than anyone else is still thinking about it. And that does something to you, if you let it.
Instead, I’ve found freedom when I let go of the false narratives I create around certain aspects and situations of life, while staying true to reality, yet still not downplaying the severity of some real life.
Overall, it is a loss of sense of self, and of my worth and value as a cherished daughter of God… that is the underlying theme, the reason why I didn’t allow myself to slow down or see the truth, staying stuck in a holding pattern, the yoke.
What were some of the old narratives you absorbed?
There are many, but as mentioned, they all come back to one point: forgetting my value and worth in Jesus Christ, and losing my sense of self. This story encompassed all of 2018, the past year, for me – from the moments until my son’s birth in late January to some mental battles I’m still fighting to this day. An entire year.
In regards to learning slow, finding simple, and shedding the layers which weren’t true to who I am in Christ; well, those narratives and words are just the opposite of this.
-the false narrative that I’m “just” a mama who stays home with her babies and can’t keep “a real job”
-the false narrative that I have to be busy doing something or else I’m not worthy (rest isn’t an option)
-the false internal narrative that is keeping me feeling stuck in the past with “would’ve could’ve should’ve”; regrets, words, actions
– the false narrative that I felt unworthy of all I have and do, and maybe the crushing dialogue is right, and why am I even here anyway, is this feeling worth it?
-the false narrative that I wasted my time in college studying things that I’m not even doing now; I want a different career and life path (no more teaching, hello being a mama and doula-in-training), and I’ve completely lost track and capacity for theology and faith and prayer – all of it that I studied in some capacity.
Plus, postpartum hormones magnified all of these tenfold. 2018 was a hot mess, a scary spiral, until I found solid faith based help. I needed help to do what I was reading and wanting: go back to the basics, and find a simple and slow way of life – only hold on to those things that are authentic to me and my worth in Christ.
What was the turning point? Was there a rock bottom or a point that you realized that you couldn’t live like that any longer?
I’ve been in counseling consistently for the majority of the past year to work through these obstacles, and I’ve grown much, and learned so much of myself.
The turning point came when I let go of a victim mindset and made a choice to come out of the fog, and get to the root of the discontent.
When I let go of things that weren’t freeing, I had to change my thought process and internal dialogue – it’s still a struggle, as I lived in survival mode for so long. It takes a lot to come out of it- and is so misunderstood because it’s an unseen battle.
It was a slow fade but was also a slow turning point. It’s almost like the two are codependent. When I felt stronger, I also felt weaker. As I was learning about slowing down and finding rest in my day – for my mental sanity at some points – I was also frantic with my to do list trying to ease the burden of disappointment for the “undos.”
As I was gaining (virtual) community with other mamas in a natural due date group or parenting group – well, much of it was unseen, hidden by those in my physical community, and I felt lost and misunderstood by all I knew.
What changed? (what actions did you take/truths did you discover/community did you connect with to help you find freedom)?
When I choose to slow down and let go of things that aren’t freeing – this is when I uncover myself again. As I worked through these narratives in counseling, I was also living in community with sisters in Christ who have carried me through the storms without even knowing it. The consistency in meeting each week, the friends for myself and my two boys, the no-pressure community bible study, the short devotional that were all I could chew at the time. The community held me through and brought me to a place where I could find freedom again. Even when I felt no progress was being made- the consistency made a difference. I always knew I felt stuck and I always knew the truth and God’s word of my worth and I always knew there was good in the not-good, and I always knew that I needed to let go of the layers, but I still felt frozen in it, until I made a choice to move in it.
Tell me about your life of freedom. What does it look like for you now?
I’m not sure if I’d say I’m in the life of freedom right now. I know who I am and my identity as a daughter of God, I know where I’m going, I know the direction to go in continuing to slow down to live life purposefully, simply, letting go of the things that keep me stuck – but I’m still in the middle of the process. I’ve made a lot of progress in learning the mindset shift, but I still have ways to go. Right now, I’m able to write again, I’ve found direction in work and home, I’m learning and seeing God in a new light having gone through such a dark year. The freedom looks like feeling like myself again- sure of who I am and where I’m going, able to write and talk about what needs to be.
Do you still wrestle with those old struggles often? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?
I do every day. I lived that for so long, it’s hard to let go of the voices and narratives. I feel stronger, I am stronger mentally, but the devil still creeps in to steal my joy, my identity. The little things- mannerisms or excuses or simply being (acting) busy. How do I slow down in this season, chasing a three year old and one year old? What is there left to let go of to give me breathing room to be, to feel myself again? I’m still learning and struggling in what all of this looks like. I’m still in the midst of my freedom story. This is why I haven’t finished my memoir yet!
And on those days? I pray whispers. It’s all I can do most days.
Are there any key scriptures, quotes, or books that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?
“You are the books you read, the movies you watch, the music you listen to, the people you spend time with, the conversations you engage in. Choose wisely what you feed your mind.”
”Not-yet-there is not a perfect place, nor is it always a comfortable place, but it’s an important place,” Michelle DeRusha (True You Book)
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” -James 4:8
Those are beautiful! And last, because I’m a big believer that gratitude lists help us remain present and fight our battles, tell me 3 things you’re grateful for right now.
Grateful for: space heaters for cooler weather, coffee dates with sweet friends, and my two sweet boys and all that comes with them.
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Katherine Newsom writes at Simple Natural Mama about all things faith, family, simple and natural living. She writes for the natural minded mama who likes to keep things simple (but mostly for herself to process life!) She is a mama of 2 boys and a birth doula-in-training, who spends her spare time learning about herbal remedies, essential oils, intentional living, gentle parenting, and birth stories- all through the lens of faith. She lives on 46 acres which will one at be a natural produce farm, in rural east Texas, with her husband and 2 boys, a number of cows, chickens, cats and a dog.
P.S. Special thanks to Daiga Ellaby of Unsplash for the beautiful image to accompany this post.
There is something a little terrifying about the feeling of exposure. To be fully seen, uncovered, and vulnerable is just plain scary sometimes.
But what if the one who sees us already knows everything we lay bare? What if that One even already LOVES us? Pamela’s story is one of freedom from shame, healing from deep wounds, and a knowledge that she no longer has to hide or pretend in God’s presence. What a life-giving discovery. Pamela- thank you for sharing your story and heart with us.
Here’s is Pamela’s Freedom Story.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts, you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
As a child and teen, I was really good at pretending. It’s what you do in an alcoholic home. You dodge and hide because of shame. You don’t want people to know what your life is really like.
My role was to do everything perfect, so I wouldn’t cause any trouble. My thinking was, “If I just did everything right then I won’t upset my father.” I longed for his approval, but he preferred distance, self-pity, and the bottle of alcohol. He never seemed interested in his little brown-eyed daughter. I also learned at a very young age to keep quiet. Don’t say anything to upset anyone. I learned to hide my pain.
We were sporadic church goers at best at our mainline denomination. As a teen, my mom dragged us off to a full-gospel church. Can you tell I wasn’t too thrilled? The joyful, clappy worship was like nothing like I had ever experienced. I loved the music, but didn’t understand why I would cry in church. What was this thing I felt that welled up in my chest? Was it the love of God? Was it the goodness of being His presence?
We attended the youth group for awhile, but I always felt like an outsider. Those kids all had perfect families and perfect Calvin Klein jeans and high-top Reeboks. It was the 80’s after all. They were in another class of which I wasn’t welcome. The youth leader was kind and enthusiastic about Jesus, but I always felt less than there.
This was my perception: church was for happy, perfect families. Church was a place to pretend like everything was okay. Put on your smile, greet a few people, sing some songs, listen to a sermon and smile on the way out. With the brokenness and shame I carried inside, I felt dirty, and not worthy to be with all these pretty church goers. Eventually, we just quit going.
Imagine my surprise, when I met Jesus at age twenty and began to read about a loving Father. I was amazed. I thought, that’s it, that’s what a father is supposed to be. As I fell in love with God, He began to heal my wounds. I was enough, because He made me enough. His righteousness made me right, and it was the best news I ever heard. He accepted me just as a was. He loved me in spite of my broken family, and He covered my shame.
As I grew in the knowledge of God, I stumbled upon the Psalms and King David was my guy!
His words were like unlike any I had read in the Bible. He poured out his heart before God in a most honest, raw way. He painted vivid pictures of his suffering and angst. There was no pretense. He was vulnerable and transparent before God. And at the end of each Psalm, David says, but God. After unleashing his honest pain, he would reflect on the goodness of God. David remembered God’s faithfulness and how the Lord delivered him from difficult situations in the past.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth has dried up like potherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircle me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display;people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength: come quickly to help me.” –Psalm 22:14-19
David became my model for how to relate to God. I was free from hiding, pretending, and not acknowledging my true feelings. I was free to express what I felt and then turn my thoughts to God’s goodness.
As much as I hid as a child, just to keep the peace in our home, I didn’t want to do that in my relationship with God. As I was ready Psalms one day this verse jumped out at me.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts, you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” –Psalm 51:6
As I had spent years trying to control how I appeared on the outside, God was more concerned about my heart. It gave me the freedom to do the inner work; the healing work. I was free to walk in truth and my identity as a dearly loved daughter, a sweet child of God.
Years later my husband and I were called into full-time ministry. We’ve spent 17 years leading churches in Minnesota and Iowa. We work hard to create environments where people can come as they are. A core value we have is teaching people to live open, honest and vulnerable before God and man. We all have issues and pain which need healing and restoration. We all need freedom from hiding something. Jesus provides a fresh opportunity to walk in wholeness and to live honestly before Him.
How about you? Do you pretend with God? It’s such a funny thought because there’s not one thing we can hide from God. He knows our thoughts and words before we speak them.
Have you tried pouring out your honest, broken self? He is ready to meet you with immense love, compassion, and empathy. Once we are truly honest, God can bring His wonderful truth. I challenge you to risk vulnerability today. God wants to meet you in the sweetest way.
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I smile a lot. I’m an enthusiastic encourager. I’m too pretty for math, and I’m woefully inept with technology, but I can whip up a mean pot of braised beef stew. My heart is moved by compassion for you, if you’re in a difficult season. I’ve experienced domestic violence, addiction, suicide, and chronic illness. But I’ve also found redemption, restoration, miracles, and intimacy with God. I want to spend my days sharing God’s goodness. I’ll share my story vulnerably in hopes you’ll have the courage to do the same. There will be no pretending here. I’ve created this space to encourage, inspire and help you draw closer to God.
Want to read more Freedom Stories? Check them out here.
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P.S. Special thanks to Cory Bouthillette of Unsplash for the image to accompany this post.
This topic is close to my heart. I’ve spent many years wondering about the intersection, overlap, and difficulties related to mental health and faith. Through my own journey with depression, anxiety, and OCD I’ve asked a lot of questions about the strength of my faith, how God designed me, and how much healing is possible on this side of heaven.
It is such an honor to share Jen’s story here, as she shares her own questions about that intersection through her diagnoses of Bipolar II. Even if you don’t struggle with a specific mental health diagnoses, there are some rich conversation and prayer topics in this week’s Freedom Story for many of us. As we filter through our own feelings and hold them up to God’s ultimate Truth, we receive clarity about who He is and who we are in Him. Jen- thank you so much for sharing with us!
Here is Jen’s Freedom Story.
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Jen, thank you so much for joining me in this series. It’s an honor to share your words and your heart here! Before we get into your story, I want to know some of the fun stuff! Tell me about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into Jen’s life!
Hey, I’m Jen from Barrie, Ontario, Canada, which may have something to do with the fact that I’m cold all the time. I lived most of my life about three hours away from here, but the Lord led us here just over two years ago. I’m on staff at one of the greatest churches ever as a Christian school music teacher, teaching all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 12, so my days are never boring! I also love to teach ladies Bible study at my church and to write at home. I’ve been married to my husband Michael for almost 18 years. We have three beautiful children and are in the thick of raising teenagers. My nickname growing up was Zuska. How’s that for unique?
Something else unique about me, after struggling with depression for many years, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II last year and now I love to talk about how my mental illness and my faith intersect.
I’m so glad you’re here, Jen! Thank you. So, Galatians 5:1 is a key verse for our FREEDOM STORIES. It says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What was the old yoke you were living under? What was that slavery like for you?
I struggled with depression for many years, but I would not necessarily say the depression itself was the yoke of slavery I was under. God has not yet lifted that yoke off of me and I don’t believe that He keeps us in bondage.
I think that the slavery I was under was believing that I had to do everything myself. I didn’t see a counsellor, didn’t go to my doctor. I kept believing that I just needed to pray more or work harder. I saw depression as a defect that was up to me to fix. I believed in mental illness and have always believed that some people need counselling and medication. But for some reason, I didn’t think that applied to me.
After a few years, I started inviting Jesus in to do some of the hard work with me, but I still felt that it was mostly dependent on me. That I must not be working hard enough or be spiritual enough. When I would go long times without feeling depressed, I would assume that I had finally conquered it. Only to have it come around again.
In the midst of all of that, what were some of the old narratives you absorbed?
I felt a lot of shame around it. Unless I could talk about it from only a positive perspective, as in, here is what is working for me and it can work for you too. I didn’t want to become the girl who was known for talking about her depression and for many years fought against God telling me to write about it in my blog, even though I had written a Bible study on it previously. I just didn’t want to be “that girl”.
I also felt a lot of shame around what was going on inside my mind. Because I didn’t understand that I had Bipolar, I would have these thoughts and decision making processes that scared me and I almost felt as if there were someone else living in my mind at points.
But as always, I soldiered on. I kept trying to work harder and be more spiritual and work it all away. When I did tentatively reach out, it was to the wrong people and didn’t help.
What was the turning point? Was there a rock bottom or a point that you realized that you couldn’t live like that any longer?
I stopped needing to sleep. That’s what first caught my attention. I had been like that as a teenager, but once I had little kids, this mom could sleep whenever I had the opportunity! But now I had teenagers and was not quite so exhausted and so I couldn’t sleep again. That along with several other physical symptoms made me convinced that I had some sort of early onset menopause. When I described it to my doctor I said it was like I had bipolar. Yet I was still surprised when that was the diagnosis in the end.
I was devastated by this diagnosis. I had just recovered from the hardest year of my life the year before and was thrown by the fact that God would ask me to walk another hard road so quickly. I felt as though my world was spinning out of control.
That sounds like a huge turning point and a really challenging time… After that diagnoses, what changed? (What actions did you take/truths did you discover/community did you connect with to help you find move forward)?
I got a diagnosis one afternoon and was in a counsellor’s office the next morning at 9am. God had lead us to him for marriage counselling, so I already had someone to go to. I poured out the whole story through tears and then it finally occurred to me to ask him, “do you even do this?” He assured me that yes, he did counselling for bipolar and we started down the road of hard work to learn how to live with this new reality.
The hardest thing for me to accept was that I could no longer trust my thoughts. I viewed everything through the lens of bipolar and that lens often skewed reality. For someone who prided themselves on their common sense and independence, that was a really hard reality.
After a few months of hard work, I had a breakthrough. The Lord had been teaching me something in the Psalms months earlier. As I look back, I know that He had gotten this truth into my heart so I would be ready. The psalms often begin with really hard emotions. Even wrong emotions. Thoughts like, God you’ve abandoned me. It would have been better if I had never been born. I wish that I could fly away. The psalmists had these honest and raw conversations with God. Usually by the end of the psalm, they are praising God for His goodness and deliverance. I used to think that was just the end of the story. They were upset or in pain or in trouble and God delivered them. But then I realized something important.
In many of the psalms, the goodness of God is described in the future tense. As in, God has not done this yet, but I believe He will.
The psalmist were not afraid to lay it all out there. To acknowledge their feelings. They weren’t afraid to tell those feelings to God. But then they returned to what they knew. It’s like they said, this is what feel, but this is what I know.
That is so powerful! I will be chewing on that for a long time.
Tell me about your life of freedom. What does it look like for you now?
That phrase, this is what I feel, but this is what I know, has changed my life. I run to the only source of truth – God and His Word – and I filter everything my bipolar brain tells me through that phrase. And now I can identify what is truth and what is not. That’s not to say that it’s an easy process. Far from it. But there is a freedom in truth that cannot be found anywhere else. And that freedom is available for us all, bipolar or not.
Knowing that I can come to God with all my mixed up feelings, all the untruths I’m believing, all the times I just want out of life, and He is not scared of them, not offended by them, and even welcomes that honesty, that gives me the freedom to not be ashamed of who I am. And the truth of God’s Word tells me what I know, no matter what I happen to feel today.
There is a beautiful freedom in being okay with my feelings, but not having to live my life by them.
Do you still wrestle with those old struggles? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?
I wrestle most days still. And with my diagnosis, I probably will always have some struggle. And that’s why I have to continually remind myself of truth. I read my Bible, I talk to God, I print out verses for my fridge, I’m honest with my counsellor, I’m surrounding myself with an awesome group of friends. There are a few people outside of my immediate family who are not afraid to ask me if I’ve been sleeping, or how I’m doing. And I answer them honestly. It’s a beautiful thing to be getting the help I need.
Are there any key scriptures, quotes, or books that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?
Psalm 42 has always been a very important chapter to me. I wrote a Bible study on depression using this chapter long before I realized that it followed this format of, this is what I feel, but this is what I know. The psalmists talks about his soul being cast down. Cast down is a term referring to when a sheep has fallen on its back and cannot get back up. If a shepherd doesn’t rescue that sheep, it will die.
I have often felt like that. Like my soul has been cast down and I might die without help. Yet at the end of the psalm, the psalmist encourages himself by repeating what he knows. That God is his help and his hope. He is acknowledging how he feels, but relying on what he knows.
Thank you for sharing that image and the Psalm, Jen. Both are so relatable, no matter where we are in life or what specific circumstances we’ve been through.
Okay…last, because I’m a big believer that gratitude lists help us remain present and fight our battles, tell me 3 things you’re grateful for right now.
I’m thankful for my counsellor. He is leading me through one of the greatest battles I have fought. And he’s doing it well.
I’m thankful for gift cards – yesterday and today I got to buy books, get Starbucks, and go for a massage.
I’m thankful for sunshine. It’s been a dark and dreary winter so far here in Ontario but today there is fresh snow and the sun is shining on it. New snow and sunshine always seem to remind me that God’s mercies are new every morning.
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Jennifer Holmes is a wife, mom, Christian School music teacher, and writer who also happens to have Bipolar II. She’s exploring how mental health and faith intersect and invites you to share that journey. She loves to blog and share on social media, often at night all wrapped up in blankets. Follow along at jensnewsong.com and on Facebook and Instagram (her favourite) @jensnewsong.
P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Find more stories of hope and freedom from others here. Also, special thanks to Alex Loup for the picture to accompany this post (via Unsplash; graphic created with Canva by Heather Lobe).
Happy Friday, friends! This week’s story echoes what I’ve heard from so many friends and women in my life. It is hard to give up control from the desires, dreams, plans, and courses of action we map out. So, what does it look like to peel away the layers of perfectionism and surrender that control to God? Amie does a beautiful job of showing us. Thanks for kicking off 2019 Freedom Stories with an honest and beautiful piece, Amie!
Here is Amie’s Freedom Story.
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I silently stared out the window at the barren fields and cloudy skies, as we drove the five hour trip back home after a whirlwind trip to visit family for the holidays. The kids had their headphones on and were listening to a story CD, and my husband, Josh, was zoned in on the drive; I welcomed the quiet and temporary solitude free from distractions. As I watched the gray storm clouds rolling by, I couldn’t help but parallel the bleak skyline to the past year’s disappointments. It seemed as though, despite my best efforts, things just hadn’t gone at all according to plan.
My mind wandered to 2017, which had ended rather disastrously as I’d stretched myself too thin and ended the year with a panic attack, due to over-commitment and my desire for control and perfection in nearly every aspect of my life. This forced me to stop and re-evaluate my priorities. I remembered choosing the words “purpose” and “present” to define 2018, believing that a schedule and well-thought-out plan would cure the anxiety and stress I’d been unable to shake. I told myself that if I just had a clear-cut purpose and plan instead of aimlessly saying yes to everything, things would get better.
Instead of finding my purpose, however, God began to peel back the layers of my striving to reveal imperfections, weaknesses, and failures. I fought for control, for this perfect ideal I had in my head for what I thought God wanted. I looked at what others were doing and questioned why God didn’t create me with the ability to accomplish what they could. I kept asking myself why I seemed to have all of these limits that they didn’t and begged God to take away what I considered to be shortcomings so that I could do all of these great things for Him. I just knew I could be of more use if He’d created me without all of these struggles! My inner critic was relentless. My desire for personal perfection began to grow into a critical view of others as well, and I attempted to lay the blame for my failure on others. I told myself that if they had just behaved differently, my reaction would have been better.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself here before: wondering why, despite your gold foil calendar and multi-colored sharpie pens, life seems to be spiraling out of control at a speed you just can’t keep up with. You’ve found fault with yourself and others, as your inner critic keeps a running list of all the mistakes that give you cause to just throw your hands up in the air in defeat.
The GPS startled me out of my reflection as it reminded my husband that we needed to take the next exit, and it suddenly hit me: Josh wasn’t wringing his hands and wondering what the GPS was thinking, or if it was making the best decision. He was simply steering the van in the direction he was being told to go. He trusted that the GPS had the right answer.
Perhaps that was the answer to why last year had gone so horribly, terribly wrong. I’d been more consumed with the set of directions that I had so carefully laid for myself, that I forgot to trust the One who ultimately guides my steps. I’d ignored God’s whisper to rest in Him and allow Him to lead, believing the lie that the success or failure of my kids, my ministry, and my journey lay solely in my own hands. If I wanted to stop the mad cycle of failure, guilt, and regret, I had to stop striving on my own and sacrificing people on the altar of perfection. Wanting a perfect house, a perfect life, and perfect responses to anything that life threw at me was unrealistic, but how could I come to terms with the fact that life isn’t always ordered and controlled? I desperately wanted the peace that comes from knowing that it wasn’t all up to me.
Could it be that the secret to peace and rest simply lay in putting my trust in Jesus? I pulled out my phone and began to search for verses on peace. I found Isaiah 26:2, which says, “You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You.” (CSB) Jesus has already done the work for me, laying out His perfect plan for my life, and willing to freely give me the perfect peace if I will simply trust Him. It all began to make sense. Freedom and peace could be mine if I chose to trust that He has my best interest at heart, even when life is messy and things don’t make sense!
Now please hear me out. I know I can’t realistically live with the assumption that because God is leading that I’ll always like the direction I’m heading, but I can choose to rest in the fact that I don’t have to figure it all out on my own, control other people’s choices, or throw my hands up in defeat when things don’t go according to my plan. I continued reading and found that Isaiah 26:12 reads, “Lord, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our work for us.” (CSB) What difference would it make in my life if, instead of believing the lie that it’s all up to me, I believed the truth that every good thing that I do comes from God graciously enabling me to be part of His plan? This perspective eliminates my need to struggle through on my own, because He has become perfection for me.
Heavenly Father, help me to trust that Your plan for my life is better than anything I could ever dream up for myself. When I feel like I’m losing control and anxiety starts to creep in, help me to find my rest in You. Thank You for the privilege of being a part of Your master plan, and for allowing me to be an imperfect vessel to be used by You for whatever you see fit, even when things don’t go according to what I think is best. May my imperfections continuously point me to You, reminding me that You became perfect in my place. Help me to choose to accept the freedom You offer from perfection by resting in the truth that You have it all under control.
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Amie is a banker’s daughter turned farmer’s wife, who loves lazy days at the beach and a good conversation with friends. If she isn’t running here, there, and everywhere, you can usually find her doing extraordinary things like cleaning out her flower beds or washing dishes. She is a recovering perfectionist who is learning to see the beauty and purpose in each ordinary day, and hopes that sharing her journey will point readers back to her heavenly Father, who can take the mundane and use it for our good and His glory. She and her husband live in the country with their two children and pet goldfish named George.
You can follow Amie’s writing here!
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P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Find more stories of hope and freedom from others here. Also, special thanks to John Canelis for the picture to accompany this post (via Unsplash).
This is a story for you.
The one who feels broken. The one who is struggling.
The one right in the middle of the hard stuff.
This is a story for the one in the waiting.
For the one standing at a fork in the road, frozen on which way to turn.
For the broken-hearted soul, staring at the pieces and unsure of how you will ever feel whole again.
For the one crippled with anxiety or sitting in darkness, praying for the light.
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Can I whisper something to you right now?
Freedom is for all of us. That means you, too.
Sweet friend, I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me this fifteen or ten or even five years ago, but freedom is possible and it is available to us here. In this life.
This past fall, God pressed it on my heart that this freedom thing I’m passionate about is bigger than just the story He is weaving for my heart. There are a lot of people walking in freedom, who have amazing stories of healing, redemption, and hope to share. I shared 15 of them with you from September to December, and you know what I heard?
“Amen.” “Me too.” “Tell me more.” “I wish I had that kind of story.”
Here’s the thing…
I believe that you DO have that kind of story. You, my fellow traveler on this journey, have your own freedom story. We are the wrestlers- the ones who work things out with fear and trembling. The ones who are not scared to look at the hardest parts of our story and pray for healing. Freedom is sometimes a quick turning point, a 180, or a miracle, but more often than not? It is a process.
Thank you for being brave enough to believe that freedom is possible. Not just for others, but for you too.
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I am REALLY really really excited about two things right now:
- A whole new group of Freedom Stories, currently scheduled to begin next week (January 11) and run through the middle of April. God opened the doors for about 15 more women to join in on Fridays to share their stories here too. So check back each week for more stories of hope and freedom. I can’t wait to see the new connections, ah-ha moments, and inspiration He brings through these women’s brave sharing.
- Something just for YOU. I want you to know that this freedom is not just for others who have stronger faith or better resources or less messy stories. It is for you, friend. If you want to dig deeper and imagine a life of freedom, enter your email address here for a free 5-page workbook to start looking at the areas where you long to be free. More to come on this soon (to go deeper!!!), but for now, get your free PDF:
I am so grateful that Amy and I connected through our writing community, Hope*Writers. She and I both know the sorrow of divorce, and it is always an encouragement to me to see how others walked through it with the Lord. Amy’s is a beautiful story of freedom (I love her list at the end of the post), and a story of God’s hand on her life. Her healing journey is a testament to her faith in God and desire to keep pressing into Him, even in her pain. I pray that Amy’s story will meet you today, and remind you of God’s great faithfulness.
This is Amy’s Freedom Story.
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I’ve always been a slave to structure. Operating in a world of perfect plans and pride in my own clever ways I spent my life making all the “right” choices. I firmly believed by choosing God’s ways I would be blessed with all the things my heart desired. For thirty one years I barely suffered any setbacks, disasters, or deviance from my best-laid plans.
I married a Christian man whom I met at Bible college. He was even a Biblical Studies major and I was obviously well-equipped to be a pastor’s wife. I was obedient, prayerful, and a leader for Christ. What could go wrong?
So entrenched was I in my perfect little works-based world that when a majorly devastating moment occurred I hardly knew what to believe anymore. Was God on my side after all? Had I been wrong about everything?
My husband announced he was leaving our marriage on April 1. I thought it was a pretty nasty April Fools’ Day joke until I saw his hardened eyes not meeting mine, and his lips twisted into an unrecognizable expression.
It felt out of the blue to me…which must say something about how much time and effort I had spent cultivating my seemingly perfect exterior life and the lack of time I engaged in any sort of authentic, meaningful relationship with either my God or perhaps my husband as well?
I grappled with my identity from the moment he walked out the door. The last time I had been without him I was and eighteen-year-old college Freshman. Now I was a thirty-one-year-old woman who lacked basic banking skills and had no idea how to pay my mortgage.
I truly believed that God would intervene and soften my husband’s heart if I prayed enough. If I showed him how much I loved him. If I continued to trust and obey I would get my happy ending.
But in spite of my fervent prayers and last ditch efforts to make him see how we could fix this it was eight long and lonely months after he left when we sat in a courtroom in front of a judge. Tears streaming down my face, kleenex disintegrating into my hand, I had to testify that my marriage was “irretrievably broken” even though I didn’t believe it for a minute.
I desperately grasped the front of his fleece and cried up into his hardened face, “But I love you!”
He turned and walked away from me without so much as a glance.
It’s been seven years now since the day my heart exploded into little bits of grief. Seven years since I held his hand. Looked into his once soft brown eyes. Seven birthdays. Seven Christmases. Seven summer vacations without him.
The morning of my divorce I read Psalm 91. I felt confident that God was going to turn my husband’s heart. After all, God hates divorce.
Psalm 91:9-11- Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place- the Most High, who is my refuge- no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
This all-consuming evil wasn’t supposed to happen to me. This was not my life. The life I had so carefully planned. My numb soul- broken and shattered- began to realize that I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Without him I wasn’t me anymore. For thirteen years I had been a part of him and he a part of me.
Did I like the Green Bay Packers anymore? Did I enjoy making steak fajitas or fish fry on a Friday night? Everything I used to know was suddenly thrown into chaos. My entire life felt like a lie. I wasn’t strong. I wasn’t confident. I wasn’t even recognizable to myself in the mirror.
I thought about the Israelites. God’s chosen people. And yet he had allowed them to wander for forty years in the wilderness. How could a loving God allow so much suffering? So much sin and pain? The Israelites wanted nothing more than to return to Egypt- the land of their suffering but also the land of familiarity. The place where everything felt “normal” and “right”. They may not have been free, but they could find comfort in the predictability of their life in Egypt.
I wanted more than anything to return to the land of my marriage. To exist in the “before” rather than this existence void of love and joy. Lacking peace and hope. Confusion and despair defined me and I couldn’t see past the torrent of grief that came in never-ending waves.
I went back to that Psalm that promised to save me from any evil. I must have misunderstood. I must have faulty beliefs about a God I used to trust.
Psalm 91:14-16- Because she holds fast to me in love, I will deliver her. I will protect her because she knows my name. When she calls to me, I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble; I will rescue her and honor her. With long life will I satisfy her and show her my salvation.
God was with me in my trouble. In that moment I realized to be free from this oppressive pain and begin to allow Him to repair my broken heart I would need to deliberately choose to avoid the entanglements of Satan’s lies. These freedoms would pave the way for healing and begin to allow me to see the light again.
- Freedom to Grieve- I had to mourn the loss of the life I imagined. I still mourn the losses. The children I never had. The husband I’ll never see again. God promises to be with me in this pain. He alone satisfies my desire to be loved and wanted.
- Freedom to Choose- I can choose to live in the darkness of my circumstances or to walk in the light of God’s purposes for my life. God was not surprised by my divorce. He didn’t cause it and He didn’t want it either. I can’t bitterly hold the choices of others against my loving God and expect to regain my joy. Rather I must choose every day to confirm my place as God’s beloved regardless of the rejection I have experienced.
- Freedom from the Weight of Guilt- No matter what role I played in the demise of my marriage, God washes my sins white as snow. He doesn’t want me to carry my sin and cling to the past to the detriment of living for him today.
- Freedom to be Me- God says I am His adopted. His beloved. His friend. My identity in Him is secure. No matter what I can rest safely in the way that He sees me. I am united in belonging to a God who loves me more than I can imagine. This brings freedom to know that creating me in His image was purposeful and I am valuable to God.
The truth is what sets us free. (John 8:32) God’s truth. His masterful plan for us extends through any circumstance and heartache. Through any unexpected and unwanted moments God has got us. He won’t leave. He won’t walk away. I trust His loving promises to eventually lead me to an eternal freedom in a place free from pain. And that’s a freedom I will gladly accept.
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Amy Boyd is a blogger, and communicator who loves to provide hope, heart revival, and assurance that our identity lies in Christ alone, and not in our circumstances. She is a chai latte addict who recently began adding a shot of espresso to her latte for an extra kick. She writes at revivemeagain.com. Today she shares how she finds freedom in the midst of an unwanted divorce.
Yesterday, I celebrated my 31st birthday. This week I’ve been reflecting a lot on my 30th year, and the amazing healing, hope, and freedom I now cherish. So this week… I’m sharing my own Freedom Story. A story about my 30th birthday and the significance of a tattoo. In many ways, this is part of my heart for this series.
I’m grateful to celebrate with you here.
Tattoo Parlors and a Birthday Present
This wasn’t an impulse decision. It was an intentional, prayerful choice.
For my 30th birthday, I decided it was time to seal my freedom as a reminder to myself. Last December, I planned a trip to Baltimore to visit my best friend Char. We researched tattoo parlors, and I asked Char to write out an important phrase in her beautiful calligraphy to incorporate into the special design that I dreamt of for nine years. We sat across from each other in the tattoo parlor, taking in the bright blue paint and looking at framed images on the walls. I was wearing my favorite scarf and filled to the brim with excitement. Char sat cradling her belly, at seven and a half months pregnant. I remember thinking we probably looked a little out of place, but I didn’t care. As the artist I chose took me back to the chair, I didn’t feel nervous. My cheeks hurt from smiling, and I felt an anchoring sense of peace.
This was a day I wanted to remember.
Italy and Peppermint Tea
When I was 21, I studied in Italy for four months. Our group stayed in Orvieto, an ancient town carved out of the top of a rock cliff in the region of Umbria. My favorite features of the town were its beautiful cathedral, the rolling hills and vineyards below our cliff, the lemon trees in the library courtyard, and the kind families I often saw at the market on Saturday mornings. Those four months signified self-exploration, my wrestling attempts towards independence, the savoring of the slower pace of Europe, and a marked turning point in my life.
We lived in an old monastery, no longer in use by monks but inhabited by Christian college students on one side and retired nuns on the other. Often, we looked out the windows to the gardens below to see the nuns waving up at us, “Ciao!”
One spring afternoon, I sat in the kitchen with our program director’s wife, Sharona. I loved spending time with Sharona and her young kids. They reminded me to laugh and slowed me down from my normal whirl of activity. That day, we opened the windows and had peppermint tea from a special ceramic jar on her window sill. There was a vast difference between the cozy tea, the smell of Italy after a rain, Sharona’s peaceful presence, and the tumbling anxiety I carried inside. She asked me to tell her my story. I took a deep breath and shared while I held my mug of tea close.
When I was finished, she looked me in the eyes and said something I will never forget.
“It seems like all your life you’ve been a bird. You’ve wanted to fly but you’ve had your wings held down and held down… I think you’re ready to fly.”
I’m not sure why, but the image of the bird unable to fly struck me deeply. I imagined one day I might fly, but I knew I wasn’t there yet.
The Bird Cage
When I think of freedom, I do picture a bird. Not a bird in a cage or with its wings pinned down, but a bird soaring against a bright blue sky or a gorgeous sunset. I picture joy.
For a good portion of my life though, I was more like the bird with pinned wings. I had debilitating anxiety, and I struggled with striving and people pleasing. I lived in fear of letting others down or hurting their feelings, and my highest aim was to make sure others were happy. The peace-keeper, the straight-A student, the good girl with a constant smile on her face.
I imagined sky-high expectations from others and feared I would never live up to those ideals. My extreme perfectionism led me into obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviors. I didn’t believe I was worthy of good things or healthy relationships, and often settled into relationships that reflected my poor self-esteem. I had terrible boundaries and said “yes” to everything and everyone, because “no” felt selfish.
The breaking point came at 25. I was a new mother, wrestling with life–not just the life of my little boy and providing for him, but my own life. I didn’t want to live the way I was living, but I couldn’t picture another way. I had so many questions about how I had gotten lost, how I had strayed this far off track. The birdcage was suffocating. I was losing my fight… part of me didn’t even care if I ever flew or got out. I lost much of my faith, and I realized I lost myself too.
Learning to Fly
Then, a light.
I went to a meeting- a support group. I was there to “help” someone else, but as I looked around the room and listened to stories of hope and healing, I recognized that I was in desperate need of help myself. The thing was, I couldn’t help myself anymore. No amount of reading from self-help books or journaling could pull me out of the pit or the darkness. I needed others. And I needed God.
Gently, lovingly, He patched my wings. He helped me shed the weights pinning me down. He focused my eyes on Him instead of worrying about everything going on around me. He started to heal me from the inside out.
I entered counseling and began to cull through wounds. The Lord taught me about forgiveness.
I found true, authentic community in my support group. No longer was fear of judgment the driving force for my behavior. My desire for change was finally greater than my people pleasing. I let my new friends open the door to the bird cage for me.
I came to understand who God really is. As I read more of the New Testament (particularly John, Matthew, 1, 2, and 3 John, and 1 and 2 Corinthians), I learned more about His grace.
I memorized Psalms and spoke His Truth to myself daily, instead of dwelling on my negative self-talk and criticism.
I learned what brought me joy: serving others without expectation. Running. Hiking. Baking. Painting. WRITING. Worshiping. Mothering my son. Connecting bravely with others who have hard stories but have found hope in Jesus.
I started to understand more of who God made me to be: He made me with a heart that loves deeply. He gave me creativity, depth, and zest for life. An empathetic and compassionate spirit. A quirky sense of humor. An ability to lead others with grace and gentleness.
Christ didn’t come to bring a nebulous, unattainable idea of freedom, but to give His children a true, deep, soul-level deliverance.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
“I am set free”
With pin pricks of ink, I heard the buzzing sound of the tattoo artist working on my rib cage.
My eyes stung and I breathed deep, relaxing into the table. As the artist carefully brought my vision to life, I prayed. I closed my eyes and thanked God for all of the work He has done in my life. I am set free FROM:
- OCD and trichotillomania
- Debilitating anxiety
- Toxic relationships
- Doubt about my faith; bitterness towards God
- Depression and suicidal thinking
- Extreme people pleasing
- Perfectionism and control
- Trying to live up to the expectations of others
Now, I live in freedom. God has brought me freedom to:
- Establish healthy boundaries.
- Forgive those who have hurt me.
- Take responsibility for my part, and let go of shame and self-condemnation.
- Carry JOY; this is not a fake smile to cover up my scars and my pain, but lasting, deep joy.
- Live in authentic community with others.
- Walk in the calling He has placed on my life to empower and encourage others who are hurting.
- Know His Word as truth. I know God is loving, merciful, steadfast. I believe He created me in His image, has His mighty hand on my life, and loves me fiercely.
As I prayed and thought about all of these areas in my life, the tattoo artist etched my best friend’s writing beneath an open bird cage on my side. It says:
On my left shoulder, there’s a silhouette of a flying bird. My freedom bird.
As Char and I left, I told her the significance of my time on the table, and the depth of my prayers and gratitude for how God has protected and guided me. She told me that while she watched me with my eyes closed, she prayed for me too. She thought about all of the amazing things God has done in my life. Who knew that getting a tattoo could be such a spiritual experience 🙂 I am immensely thankful for the work God has done in my life. Even on my dark days or difficult times, I know that the Lord is with me.
In Him, I am set free.
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What are some things God set you free FROM in your life? What are the ways you walk in freedom now?