• healing from wounds,  vulnerability

    Search me, O God, and know my heart

    When I was in college I took a personality assessment that gave me an interesting result- it said I was 98% extroverted on the introversion/extroversion scale. A staff member reviewed my results and was surprised by my number. “It’s not a bad thing, but you may want to explore healthy ways to stretch yourself in the other direction.”

    The reason I tested so high on that end of the scale is because I was terrified of being alone. In a room full of people, I could figure out how to act, what to say, and who others expected me to be. I could read the emotions of everyone around me, and knew how to answer questions to keep others happy. I knew how to define myself as long as others were around me.

    After getting the 98% extroversion result, I tried spending an afternoon by myself in my college dorm room. I had a panic attack after 10 minutes. I literally didn’t know how to be on my own. My people pleasing was a coping mechanism I used so that I didn’t have to look inward or deal with my own pain or discomfort. I could tell you what you liked and how you probably felt and what you needed, but I couldn’t answer those same questions about myself. It was too uncomfortable and painful.

    Part of my healing journey with the Lord has been learning to sit quiet before Him. I ask Him to show me the feelings I’ve suppressed, to bring up the painful memories so we can deal with them together, and to show me the aspects of life that bring me joy so that I can be comfortable with time by myself. If we are going to be vulnerable and live authentically with others, we have to be okay with looking at our own stories. We have to pray, in the safety of God’s embrace, for Him to reveal our thoughts, feelings, and the depths of our hearts to us so that we can step into freedom. There’s no way to be free if we aren’t willing to look at and heal from the wounds that chain us down or keep us trapped.

    What about you? Are you willing to ask God to search you? Do you get scared of what you will see? The final part of Psalm 139 says this searching work will lead us into the way everlasting. I pray this time of self-examination and vulnerability with the Lord will lead to freedom, sweet friend.

    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
        Try me and know my thoughts!
    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
        and lead me in the way everlasting!”

  • healing from wounds,  Letters

    To the one struggling in silence…

    To the one struggling in silence…I wrote you a letter today.

    I wrote it to myself, too- for the girl years ago who used to hide her sadness. Who was afraid to be seen. Who thought people would only love her if she showed her happy, put-together life.

    This letter is a reminder to us both of the One who sees us, knows us, and loves us, even in our hurt.

    Hello my dear,

    Oh, friend. I know you feel alone in your hurt, your pain, your sadness. How I wish I could scoop up your heart in a big hug and tell you that I see you. I wish I could bring you your favorite flowers right now, or sit with you at a coffee shop over big mugs of our favorite tea or coffee. I’ve been where you are, and I know you’re hurting deeply, quietly. And I wish I could help you know that you are not alone. 

    But, the truth is, I don’t know why you’re hurting. You’ve gotten so good at holding it all inside. Can we take a few minutes to just breathe, to just be still, and to start letting those walls down? 

    Here’s what I know about you, sweet friend. You don’t want to suffer in silence or hiding anymore. So, I want to whisper words of hope and encouragement to you right now. 

    While I do not know the details of your hurt, we have a heavenly father who knows the depths of our hearts. In Psalm 139, the psalmist reminds us of how deeply God knows us:

    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.
    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.
    Throughout the course of this Psalm, David lists these ways that God knows us intimately and deeply:
    • Thoughts (v. 2, 23)
    • Actions (v. 2-4)
    • Words (v. 4)
    • Our location (v. 7-10)
    • Body (v. 13-15)
    • Soul (before we were formed into bodies; v. 16)
    • All the days of our lives (what is to come; v. 16)
    • Heart (v. 23)
    • All of our ways (v. 3)

    Not only does God SEE us (even when we try to hide), KNOW us (every single aspect of our lives), but He also LOVES us fully and unconditionally.

    You don’t have to hide from God. He can see you anyway, sweet friend. Let down those walls and tell Him about your pain. Cry out to Him with those struggles. He can handle it. He is the One who holds your anguish and your tears in His hands. He is the One who grieves with you. The One who pursues you even when you try to hide in the dark. He is the One who will never leave you or forsake you. 

    I’m praying for you today– that you would remember that you are not alone. I am praying that the God who comforts will be close to you, and that you would remember that you can tell Him anything. Praying for the healing work to begin as you bring your struggles, pain, and grief into the light. God sees you and knows you in this hard season, my friend. And more than anything, He loves you. 

    Sincerely,

    Heather

  • 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