• community,  vulnerability

    Who’s climbing up the mountain with you? (on vulnerability and finding safe people)

    When I was in my darkest place, my pain lied to me. It told me that I was all alone. It whispered that no one would understand my hurt. That I was a burden. 

    So I shoved the pain down for years until I no longer could hold it inside. I remember the day I finally opened up. My best friend and I went out to lunch. I could barely eat, sick to my stomach knowing I needed to tell her how bad things were. Saying it outloud made it real, and I had no clue how I was going to move forward from here. But I knew I had to share to get out of the pit. After lunch we sat in a parking lot until I finally felt brave enough to talk. I shared how bad things were in my relationship and the thoughts I wrestled with in the darkness. She listened. She gently cried with me, told me how much she loved me, and said she would fight with me to help me get through. 

    That day marked the beginning of my healing journey. While I was coming to terms with my own pain in silence for months, it still felt too big for me to carry on my own. It took opening my heart a little bit and letting someone else in to bring me out of isolation and into connection and freedom. 

    That friend has trekked all the way up the mountain with me. As I got braver, I linked arms with another friend or two who joined me on the journey. It made the burden lighter and the healing process easier than if I’d tried to shoulder it on my own. I added a counselor and a support group of women to my mountain climb.

    If you are in that pit of darkness with your pain, please know that you don’t have to do this on your own. Start small in sharing. Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a public speech to a room full of people or a social media post to thousands about your deepest secrets. It starts with finding just one person who makes you feel seen and heard. Find just one person who makes you feel safe.

    Here are some of the qualities of the people I consider “safe” in my life when I need to be vulnerable and share. A safe person:

    • Listens without judgment.
    • Makes space and time for me.
    • Does not try to fix the problem. He/she may offer suggestions or challenge me when it’s safe to do so (after the initial sharing/if I’ve asked for it), but their initial response is just listening.
    • Meets me with empathy instead of pity/sympathy.
    • Proves that they are trustworthy (holds your story in confidence, does not gossip).
    • Is also vulnerable with me (when appropriate; my counselor cannot be vulnerable with me about her own journey, but she is still on my list of safe people). I prefer to share my heart with close friends who are also open with their own pain, thoughts, and stories.

    Do you have a safe person or people in your life? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear who’s trekking up the mountain with you? If not, what are some of the qualities that would make someone feel safe to share your story with? 

  • faith in action,  healing from wounds,  vulnerability

    How addressing our wounds brings healing

    “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there,” -Jeremiah 6:14 (TLB)

    When I was in middle school, I fell on my knee at a friend’s house. We were playing charades on the treadmill (questionable judgment) and she gave me the prompt, “Pretend you’re running in the park and you see a cute guy.” I stopped running upon seeing this invisible cute guy, and the treadmill threw me back into the wall. The treadmill continued to run, with my knee catching the brunt of it. We laughed about it but it really hurt, since the fall scraped off several layers of skin. I put a band-aid over it and went back to playing. Our game distracted me, but under the surface I was still embarrassed by the fall and my knee still hurt.

    For the first few days, I continued to wear band-aids on my knee. The wound looked gross, so I covered it up with a fresh bandage each day. After a week, I tried to go without a bandage. My knee hurt from bumping up against my desk, and from air blowing across the wound. A classmate pointed to my knee and said how it looked like “elephant skin,” a grayish, wrinkled layer where my body was trying to heal. Because I hadn’t given it a long enough chance to sit exposed to the air, it was having a hard time healing. But I was more embarrassed by what others thought than healing properly, so I went back to wearing band-aids.

    We can only ignore the discomfort for so long. I can get by with a bandage on the wound for a little while, but eventually I have to remove the band-aid and stop covering up the wound. I have to clean out the infection and expose it to air and light to let it heal properly.

    It’s tempting to ignore the wounds though, isn’t it? It’s easier to stuff the feelings than to let ourselves feel them- especially when the emotions that rise up are difficult. It’s tempting to push past the hurt instead of slowing down long enough to properly heal. It’s common to numb the symptoms of the pain, rather than addressing the source of the pain. We do patch-work on our problems instead of looking at the whole picture, so that God can in turn make us whole.

    It’s scary to actually look at the wound, to admit that we’re hurting, and to surrender to the healing process. But in the case of my middle school knee, that’s what it took for new cells to generate and the wound to heal. In the case of our past hurts and current discomforts, true reflection and vulnerability are important for new life to enter in.

    There’s a verse in Jeremiah that’s stuck with me for the past few years in my recovery work: “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there.” I’ve seen this to be true in my own life, related to healing from trauma and unhealthy relationships. If I ignored the memories or tried to avoid triggers, the wounds were still present. The longer I let the unhealed trauma stay beneath the surface unaddressed, the more room I left for unhealthy coping mechanisms or “infections” that made it worse. I carried the trauma and pain into new relationships and settings, and projected my past pain onto new people. I viewed life through the lens of my hurt, instead of the wholeness God intended for me.

    In order to step towards healing, I had to finally take off the “bandages” of busyness, new relationships, and my denial of any issues. I had to make space to say, “I’m hurting. I need help.”

    When we’ve spent a long time ignoring pain, it can be really uncomfortable to sit with it. But I believe feeling the pain (without numbing) is what leads us to seek healing. I had to learn to identify what I was actually feeling, what I needed, what I was scared of, and even what I hoped for as a result of healing. It took time for me to learn that those hard feelings, memories, and fears did not make me a bad person or a poor example of a Christian. They just made me human, and showed that the brokenness of this world affects all of us.

    Last week, I shared about vulnerability with God, and how He wants us to bring all of our hearts to Him. When we know that there is a safe place to let down our walls and take off the bandages, it creates a safe place for us to be honest and open with ourselves.

    Eventually, the wound on my knee became a scar. The skin looks a little different there, and it’s a reminder of a former hurt. But it no longer stings or burns when the air hits it. It’s no longer raw “elephant skin”- it’s just a light pink circle, barely visible to the eye.

    When we make the space to sit with our wounds, we can invite God in to meet us in our pain. That willingness to be vulnerable with ourselves and others, in the safety of God’s presence, brings restoration. After we find that healing, we may carry the scars of the past, but they no longer fester in pain beneath the surface, begging for us to pay attention. They can now serve as reminders of His redemption, and remind us of His power made perfect in our weakness.

  • 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!”

  • intentional living,  vulnerability

    What does it mean to be seen and known by God?

    In the beginning, God designed us for connection.

    Before He even formed man, God built a garden and provided all we could ever physically need. Can you imagine how glorious it must have been? A whole spectrum of bursting color, pure, untainted and joy-filled to behold. Lush plants and an array of fragrances from the fresh fruit trees. The harmonies of bright birds singing their songs in the sky, and animals running through the grass.

    God knew that a beautiful earth could meet our physical needs, but He also said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. So God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, and formed Eve using one of Adam’s rib bones. God breathed His own holy breath into their lungs and created the most intimate human relationship right then and called them one flesh.

    “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2: 25)

    The three of them, Adam, Eve, and God, walked through the gardens together. I wonder what God’s laugh sounded like to Adam and Eve. I picture them sitting in silence together with complete comfort as they watched the sun rise each morning. I imagine God pointing up at the night sky to name all of the stars for His children. I wonder what it was like in those beginning days, with no shame and no sin. Brokenness had not yet entered into the world, and the connection He established remained perfectly intact.

    But the second they ate the fruit, shame crashed into the world. Adam and Eve covered themselves, hid from God, and blamed each other. Most of all, they were disconnected from God and one another.

    “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

    But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’

    He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.'” (Genesis 3: 7-10)

    I can’t imagine how much it must have broken God’s heart to have to discipline His children, to send them out of the garden He built for them, to have to make them garments to cover up their nakedness. That original sin caused a chasm from the original connection God designed.

    How does that affect us today?

    Even though God designed us for connection, we push Him away in our shame. Our shame casts a shadow over the way we see ourselves and the way we see our perfect Father. We fear that He will no longer love us if we let Him see the deepest secrets we carry. We fear our sins are too big for Him to forgive. We fear that He would be disappointed if He only knew our thoughts and our quiet actions.

    So we wear fig leaves to try to keep ourselves from being seen:
    -Denial (I’m okay, really)
    -Avoidance (busyness/not spending time with Him/closing ourselves off)
    -Numbness (if I can’t feel anything or pay attention to it, it’s not really there)
    -Defiance (rebellion/sin/running the other way)
    -Pride (I can handle this on my own/I don’t need help)

    Here’s the thing though: God ALREADY KNOWS all of our sin, thoughts, words, actions, and secrets. The fig leaves we try to use to cover ourselves are not enough of a barrier to push Him away. He still loves us even with His intimate knowledge of our brokenness.

    So what if, instead of trying to hide from the One who already sees us, we stood with our hearts open to Him like an offering? What if instead of hiding behind our ceaseless striving, perfectionism, ambition, and addictions, we pulled back the layers to share it all with Him? What if we let go of the shame to say, “Here I am, Lord,” and let Him have it all?

    I get that it’s scary, but to me, it’s even scarier to imagine pushing Him further away and staying hidden for the rest of my life. I want to live surrendered, in sweet intimacy and connection with the One who created me and knows all of me.

    I want to be like Job, who calls out his questions to the God who has all of the answers.

    I want to be like David, who wrings out his broken heart before a God who cares for our sadness.

    I want to be like Jesus, who kneels before God and asks for the pain to go away, but trusts that God’s will is ultimately good.

    I want to be vulnerable with my heavenly Father and hand Him all of my hurts, my fears, my doubts, my emotions, and my thoughts, because He can handle them.

    I just have to let Him see me.


     

    Related posts for further reading:

    Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

    The Unworthy/Unlovable Lie

    No More Hiding- Pamela’s Freedom Story

  • intentional living,  vulnerability

    Is vulnerability worth it?

    You know those dreams/nightmares of speaking in front of a classroom without your clothes, or showing up for a big presentation completely unprepared? Yikes. Talk about embarrassing and vulnerable, right?

    We live in a society that calls up many different definitions of the word “vulnerable,” especially depending upon context.

    Some view vulnerability as susceptibility to harm or attack. They might picture an unguarded castle, ready for an enemy to invade and take over. In today’s world, there are certainly cases where this definition of defenselessness is true.

    Others see vulnerability as weakness. They may picture complete exposure or nakedness (like that stressful dream).

    Some hear the word “vulnerability” and get itchy and uncomfortable all over… because emotional and spiritual vulnerability in particular can feel really unnatural, hard, and counter-cultural.

    Others have tried to be vulnerable in the past but that openness has actually brought harm in relationships. So those same individuals who once tried to live vulnerably have now built back the walls around their hearts to try to withstand future hurts through self-preservation.

    — 

    I understand all of these definitions because I can relate to each of these trains of thought. Here’s the thing though. I don’t know that all of these understandings of vulnerability apply to those of us who believe in Jesus and want to live in light of the Gospel. I came to ask an important question a few years ago, and I want to explore the answer with you:

    Is vulnerability really worth it? 

    Is it worth it to bring down shields and defense mechanisms in order to connect with others?

    Is it worth it to take off the masks we wear and let ourselves be truly seen?

    Is it worth it to live differently from the world around us by getting uncomfortable at times, and showing our scars and telling our stories?

    Is it worth it to open up again, even after we’ve been hurt in the past or our vulnerability was not met with respect?

    These are hard, complex questions. But after six years of digging in to the question of whether vulnerability is truly worth it, my answer is resounding and resolute.

    YES. Vulnerability is worth it, and is so important if we want live authentically as Christians in today’s world.

    Over the next month, can we explore this topic together? We’ll talk about vulnerability and living a life truly surrendered to the work God wants to do in our lives. We’ll discuss what healthy vulnerability looks like, and how to practically live that out in a world that tells us to cover up the hard parts of ourselves. We’ll decide what it looks like to even be vulnerable with yourself, with others, and with God. We can chat about boundaries and finding safe people to practice vulnerability with in real life. And if you really want to dig deeper, I’m going to share books, podcast episodes, and resources you can check out to learn more about this topic (see number 2 below).

    If you want to make sure you’re a part of this conversation, there are two places I’d love for you to follow along:

    1. Social Media- Instagram or Facebook– I’ll post daily thoughts on the topic there, and we’ll have a chance to chat more directly in the comments!
    2. My Email List- On Fridays for the coming months, I’ll send a newsletter to my email list, with exclusive extra resources on this topic, worship music that aligns with the theme, and extra questions for reflection. I’m calling these emails “Freedom Fridays” because I believe in the power of vulnerability to bring freedom, and because you’ll know to look for them on Fridays! You can sign up here to receive them below (if you’re not already on my email list!).

    I pray that no matter what you’ve been through, what scars you bear, or how you’ve learned to survive in this world, our friend Jesus will guide you in a vulnerable life that is truly surrendered to Him.

    With love,

    Heather

    Receive Heather’s “Freedom Friday” newsletters, with a short devotional, resources, reflection questions, and a special prayer just for you.

    * indicates required



  • freedom stories

    Learning to Embrace Who God Created Me to Be- Kelly’s Story

    As a recovering people pleaser myself, I certainly can relate to Kelly’s story. And when we’ve spent most of our lives shape-shifting and trying to fit in,  sometimes it takes a drastic situation or event from outside of ourselves to get our attention. In Kelly’s case, God met her in a big way, far away from home. He made her aware of where she had been placing her value and identity, and to this day continues to guide her into freedom. I love Kelly’s story and the mission she’s found for her life. I pray that it encourages you to embrace who God made you to be too, sweet friend.

    This is Kelly’s Freedom Story.

    – – –

    Even as a little girl, all I ever wanted was to please people. If we were playing the game of “good church answers,” we’d say I needed Jesus. You’re right. I had church, but I didn’t have Jesus.

    High school was a mess, but not many people would have really known because I did a pretty good job of managing how things looked. Thankfully, I met my now-husband and he took on the role of being the steady part of my life. All through my twenties, I fought to figure out who I was. I wanted to be the good Christian wife, but I hadn’t found anyone quite like me to imitate so I did my best to fit in, or at least not stand out.

    Finally, at 30 years old, I started to understand who I was meant to be. Separated from all the distractions of my life, Jesus met me in a Guatemalan ghetto.

    Being in Guatemala without the pressure to perform and responsibilities of home, I was free to experience God at work for the first time. I’ll never forget my first hike into the Maria Teresa ghetto. Walking down the steep steps, we stopped every so often to visit a family in their small, cobbled together home. Each time, God spoke through the families, assuring me of his presence and pulling me in even tighter. When we reached the bottom, the community who struggled to provide for themselves welcomed us like family with food and games. “Our home is your home. You are always welcome here.” Day 2 of the trip and I was changing.

    Looking back I see my struggle. Without knowing God or understanding how he created me, I was never going to fit anywhere. The restlessness I felt was never going to get better because I wasn’t looking for the right things. All my life, I’ve been striving to be the best, to please people, and to be who they wanted me to be. It wasn’t always a bad thing. I have so much to be thankful for because people believed in my abilities and pushed me, but I also carry guilt and shame for the ways I disappointed myself trying to please others.

    I know there are other women like me. We’re the ones on the fringe at church or just outside. Sometimes we try to be part of the group, to fully engage, but no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t feel right. You probably won’t notice though because we’re really good at hiding who we really are.

    We’re playing a part, always dreading the reality that one day we might stand out. This is how I’ve felt for the majority of my life. The older I’ve gotten and the closer I am to God, the more uncomfortable I’ve become living what feels like a lie.

    Life experience tells me to protect myself, to put up walls, keep everyone out, and avoid getting hurt. Self-preservation has been my go-to in the past, but the isolation is suffocating. I need people in my life who allow me to be real and still love me. When I’m wrestling with the tension of questions and faith, wondering if I have the right answers or if the questions even matter, I need people who aren’t afraid and won’t abandon me. Working to become who God is asking me to be isn’t a solitary assignment.

    What I know for sure is God didn’t make a mistake when he rolled the dice with me. (If we’re being proper, there’d be no dice game for God, but I already told you I don’t fit in.) He isn’t disappointed with who I’ve become, even with who I’ve been in the past. Believe it or not, he isn’t keeping score at all.

    I wish this story could be tied up with a beautiful bow and note saying I’ve found freedom and joy in believing who God says I am. But even now, at 38 years old I struggle to be confident in who I am and what God is calling me to do. I doubt myself constantly, my mind like a playback reel of all the ways I need to be better—be calmer, don’t curse, be more patient with the kids, and forgive old wounds—just to name a few. Letting go of my own shame and disappointment is almost impossible.

    I fight to believe God could ever be proud of me just the way I am. My greatest fear is that one day someone will walk up, or let’s get real—comment online, that I am a terrible writer, a heretic, and completely unworthy of working in ministry to teach and share the gospel. I live my life waiting for the shoe to drop and someone to call me out as the imposter I fear I am.

    Two very different narratives compete in my life at all times—God tells me he is strong and has an amazing plan for me, while the devil is making me relive all the minute (and sometimes not minute) ways I have failed.

    Jesus met me in Guatemala eight years ago and keeps showing up. Sometimes he shows up through someone’s encouragement, occasionally the Holy Spirit pushes me in a way I can’t resist, and still other times there’s unbelievable ideas I can’t shake. I wouldn’t be a writer on my own. When I started my first blog, I didn’t even tell people out of fear they’d read my posts. Going to seminary was certainly never part of my plan. But seeking, learning, writing, and serving have all led me to the place he wants me.

    I am the misfit in your church, the one who doesn’t really fit.

    Without a doubt, God is asking me to be honest with you about who I really am, what I believe, what I question, and how he’s using me. Friends, we need to embrace the ones on the outside because he’s working in them too. My questions are not a measure of the faith I lack. Instead, it’s the way God works in me, allowing me to question my understanding to seek deeper truth and a sincere understanding of how he wants me to be.

    Without him, I wouldn’t be sharing this story with you. Nor would I be working for an orphanage or writing a book for all of us who feel slightly on the edge.

    I am choosing to believe in my freedom and the purpose he has for me. Even on the days when it’s a fight not to fall into the depths of self-loathing or when someone’s words cut straight to my deepest insecurities. If my book never gets published, or if it does and is quickly forgotten, I’ll keep sharing because if for no one else, this is God’s purpose in my life. He is asking me to go forward and be honest with others who feel like misfits.

    This is for the one who was afraid to be herself until she heard my story. It’s also for my girls, who I desperately want to show how to face their fears. This is my story of walking with God, wrestling with my faith, and embracing who he created me to be.

    – – –

     

    About Kelly:

    Kelly Beckley Shank found her passion serving in Guatemala. A writer, frequent flyer to Guatemala, and wannabe world traveler, Kelly encourages women to embrace their identity in Christ, especially those on the outside. When not traveling, she enjoys farm life with her husband, 3 children, and their myriad of animals.

    Follow more of Kelly’s writing on her website, or connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.

     

     

     

    P.S. Want to read more stories of hope and freedom? Read the Freedom Stories of more than thirty different women here. Only a few more left before the summer! 

  • freedom stories

    A tough diagnosis, motherhood, and lessons about God- Morgan’s Freedom Story

    Entering into motherhood is a huge change and adjustment in of itself. If any other major life transitions or challenges are added into the mix, it can be really overwhelming to see clearly and find your way forward. Morgan vulnerably and beautifully shares her story of a challenging time in her life, and how God led her through to healing. I love following her stories about her little boy and family, but I especially love what she shares about how God’s working in her heart. Thank you for sharing with us, Morgan!

    This is Morgan’s Freedom Story. 

    – – –

    Our most sought after, long-awaited dream was about to come true.

    We were finally expecting our first baby: a little boy who was to arrive in the Spring of our fourth year of marriage. We had prayed and waited for this miracle for as long as we could remember.

    As I juggled the responsibilities of being a full time special-education teacher and wife, I spent each day with great anticipation over the miracle that was growing inside of my belly.

    Despite the fact that I had been perfectly healthy my entire life, I began to develop chronic ear infections. I merely attributed them to the strange ways that pregnancy can affect a woman’s body. After countless ENT appointments, tube insertions, and a few months of significant hearing loss, I determined to persevere until our baby arrived.

    Surely, I thought, everything will be back to normal after he’s born.

    Six weeks after our healthy, precious boy came into our lives, I was deeply entrenched in the joys and responsibilities of being a first-time mom. The nursing difficulties, the routines, the night-time feeding sessions with heavy eyelids and a tired body; I relished it all. And yet I felt more exhausted than I had in my entire life. At this point, my ear infections had not lessened and I had multiple ENT’s stumped.

    It was as if I was smiling as I walked over quicksand. I rarely let my guard down, because I knew that every new mom had something they were dealing with. Why should my difficulties be any more significant? Little did I know that God was doing a mighty work inside of me, both spiritually and physically.

    At my best friend’s house, there was a small set of stairs that led from the foyer down to her front door. I distinctly remember the realization that came over me as I slowly moved down the stairs, clutching the railing in order to lessen the pain radiating through my knees and ankles.

    Nothing about that was normal, as much as I’d tried to convince myself otherwise.

    I was determined not to let my joints, fatigue, or pain in my sinuses keep me from enjoying being a mother. My husband took tremendous care of me, but I was stubborn. I pried myself out of bed for every feeding, collapsing back under the covers as I tried to get enough rest to make it through the next day.

    I finally saw my primary care doctor, who ran a series of tests. In the weeks that I waited for answers, I felt fear and uncertainty rise to the surface. My body felt as though it was falling apart, but the miracle of motherhood kept me going.

    As my disease progressed, I began to have trouble with the simplest of daily tasks like walking and getting dressed. My husband and loved ones started to pull more weight with household tasks and in taking care of our baby. When I had to have help getting out of the bathtub or with turning over in bed, I felt a mixture of deep longing and of shame.

    There was nothing I could do, no instant remedy. No way of outsmarting, out-working or ‘fixing’ it on my own.

    At the surface, all of the unknowns were staring me in the face and making me feel as though the mountain I was facing was insurmountable. I had a deep longing just to be a ‘normal’ mother. But deep inside of me, God made Himself known. His peace held fast within the depths of my heart, even when everything I knew seemed to crumble around me.

    In the midst of the pain, I graciously did my best to savor the small moments with my little one. The tiny breathing, the smiles, and the countless hours lying with him close to me.

    It wasn’t long before a rheumatologist referral, more tests, chest scans, and lots of blood work finally revealed a diagnosis. Wegener’s disease. A very rare auto-immune vasculitis that causes inflammation of blood vessels and affects the sinuses, lungs and kidneys. By the provision of God alone, I now knew the name for the odd malady that had taken over me, thanks to a smart, compassionate person whose life purpose was to save people from rheumatological diseases.

    I could now begin treatment and work toward my new normal.

    Through the depths of struggle that made up that time period of my life, the Lord was gentle with me. He led me to exactly the right people, places and positions at exactly the right times.

    Things would get worse, for a time, and then they would get better. Much better. Today, I live life pain-free. My new normal is not without its responsibilities, or extra routines to keep me healthy. I have worked to make changes in all areas of life to ensure that I stay on the path to healing.

    Though I was held captive by a physical darkness, the spiritual light that had transformed me so long ago had won the day. I learned that life is not without its obstacles. Sometimes there are roadblocks that show up along your path, and other times a whole mountain is blocking your view. We need not despair, because our loving Father will never fail to gently lift us up and carry us all the way around to the other side.

    – – –

     

    About Morgan: I am a former teacher, staying at home with our toddler while learning to embrace my love for writing. My family is currently waiting on our next baby through domestic adoption. When I’m not at home chasing around our little one, I am most likely reading, cooking, going on a walk or spending time at the lake. 

    Find more of Morgan’s writing at her website, personal Instagram, or her Instagram account where she documents her journey with Wegener’s

     

    P.S. Want to read more stories of hope, healing, and freedom? Check out the other 30+ brave women of faith who have shared their Freedom Stories here.

  • freedom stories

    Free to be Loved- Lyndsie’s Story

    Comparison. Insecurity. Perfectionism. 

    But then, Christ.

    When Lyndsie became a mama, God helped Lyndsie to see just how much she was loved. Her story of coming to understand God’s unconditional love is one that I hope encourages you and meets you where you are today, especially if you struggle with insecurity or trying to measure up to an impossible standard. 

    This is Lyndsie’s Freedom Story. 

    – – –

    “You’ll never measure up to her,” I whispered to the tear-streaked face in the mirror. “You’ll never be good enough.”

    I don’t know how many times this scene has repeated itself in my lifetime. The “her” was different nearly every time. She may have been a friend who had reached a new level of success that I could only hope for. She may have been a random stranger on social media who was living my dream. She may have been an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while that I ran into at a restaurant and realized just how beautiful she was. How could she be so skinny after four kids? I was struggling with baby weight from two!

    Whoever she was, knew I would never measure up. And the thought crushed me every time.

    A matter of self-esteem

    I grew up in a home with one parent who was loving and caring. The other left me at a young age, and only visited and spent time with me periodically. I didn’t realize until many years later just how much that affected me.

    Growing up, I had braces, glasses and frizzy hair. While I had friends, I wasn’t popular, and was often forgotten. I had good grades, but I didn’t consider myself smart. I didn’t like to be the center of attention, but I longed to be noticed and included. I was painfully shy, and people probably thought I was stuck-up. My worst fear was to be laughed at, or made to look stupid, so most of the time, I kept my thoughts and opinions to myself.

    Trying to measure up

    I consider myself so blessed to have been raised in a Christian home, and a wonderful church. I first realized my need for salvation when I was thirteen, and asked Jesus to save me. I knew that salvation was a free gift, and I could never earn it. What I didn’t understand was unconditional love.

    So many things in my life made me believe I had to work to try to measure up. I needed to work be beautiful or accepted or smart enough. No one told me I needed to measure up, or even that I had something to measure up to. All I had were my own ideals of what I thought I should be.

    Trying to measure up to the perfect women is one thing. (Although, really, what is a perfect woman?) But trying to measure up to a perfect Christian is another thing altogether. But I tried. Oh, how I tried.

    The thing to realize about striving for perfection, is that you can never get there. But you keep trying and trying. I thought if I could just do better, or be better, God would love me more. But if I couldn’t do better, He would be hurt and disappointed in me.

    And so I did what I thought I needed to do. Read my Bible. Check. Pray. Check. Go to church. Check. Say the words. Do the things. But if a day passed when I didn’t read my Bible or pray, I felt guilty. When my lost family members didn’t get saved, or even accept my invitations to come to church, I felt like a failure.

    Inside I believed that God was disappointed in me. He expected more of me than I was giving. I couldn’t measure up to what He wanted.

    A change of heart

    All my life I heard that God loves us like a father loves his children. I could never understand that, of course, until I had a child of my own. As I started interacting with my son, so many things suddenly became clear to me.

    I love my boys unconditionally. Nothing could make me love them more or less. When they do something good, I am so proud of them, but I don’t love them more. When they are mean or disobedient, I don’t love them any less.

    I want to spend time with my boys. I love when they come to me and want to snuggle on my lap. I love to hear their little voices tell me how much they love me. If they push away from me, or don’t want to be with me, I’m not angry. But my heart is hurt.

    One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my kids is how bad behavior separates us. There are times when I have something special planned for them, but when they misbehave or have bad attitudes, I can’t enjoy the special things I had planned. But I don’t love them any less.

    It’s the same in my relationship with God. He loves me unconditionally, whether I do all the right things or not. When I disobey, or don’t do the things I know He wants, He is hurt, and our relationship cannot be what He wants. His desire is to spend time with me, but I can push Him away. He won’t force His way back in. But, as with my boys, when I’m ready to run to Him, He’s still there, loving me, and waiting for me. Life is so much sweeter when I make the choice to follow His will and spend time with Him.

    A changed life

    As I slowly began to better understand God’s love, I began to see the whole world differently. For so long I had been working to earn something that was already mine. My time with God had simply become one more thing to check off the list. I did all the things that a good Christian is supposed to do, but I didn’t do them from a heart of willingness.

    When I realized that God loves me no matter what I do, I didn’t stop doing those right things I’d been doing. But they were different. My daily Bible study and prayer became a time I enjoyed. A time I spent with Someone Who loved me and would never stop. If I missed a day of my personal quiet time, instead of feeling guilty, I felt sad, because I was missing an important part of my life. And I knew that God felt the same way. He wasn’t sitting in Heaven being angry at me for not checking “pray and study” off my list. Instead, He missed spending that time with me.

    John 8:32 says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” When I realized the truth of God’s unconditional love, I was free. I no longer felt the need to measure up to an impossible ideal of the perfect Christian. But I also found the self-esteem that I’d been missing for most of my life. I finally realized that God doesn’t compare me to someone else and expect me to be better. He only expects me to do the best with what He’s given me.

    I found a new confidence in the woman God created me to be. I have tried things I never thought I’d do before. I have learned that I can do hard things, and I can succeed. When I find myself thinking that I can’t measure up, I take a minute to consider where that thought is coming from. Because it doesn’t come from God.

    I mess up every single day. There are times when I feel the separation from my Heavenly Father, brought on by my own bad attitude or behavior. But now I know without a doubt that He is always there loving me. And nothing I ever do or don’t do can change that. That truth has set me free.

    – – –

     

    Lyndsie is a wife and stay-at-home mom to two ornery boys. When she has spare time you can usually find her reading a good book, making a quilt or baking something sweet. She lives and writes on ten acres in the Low Country of South Carolina. You can find her thoughts about faith, motherhood and life in an RV at Not Just a SAHM.

     

     

     

     

     

    P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories of hope and encouragement? Check out 30 other stories about finding freedom through Christ and authentic community here

  • freedom stories

    Journey Through Infertility and Loss- Shawna’s Freedom Story

    In light of National Infertility Awareness Week, my friend Shawna is here to share her story. Her outlook on life and helping others through the pain she’s experienced (and even her great sense of humor!) consistently encourages women through her writing and ministry. I’m so honored to have her here. If this is part of your journey too, Shawna has a number of resources and articles you can find on her website (her link is at the bottom of this post). We pray that you know you’re not alone. 

    This is Shawna’s Freedom Story. 

    I grew up in the church. My grandfather was a deacon, my father was an usher, and my mother sang in the church choir. I don’t think I understood that some people didn’t believe in God until I was well into my teens. I was surrounded by people of faith.  

    I was handed my share of trials throughout my teen and young adult years, but I never questioned that God loved me. I may not have had a money tree growing in my backyard, but I had a family that loved me, a work ethic that allowed me to work my way through college, and dear friends that I still have to this day.

    I never questioned God. Not until Tuesday, June 13, 2017.

    I have a crazy story of infertility and loss. I have been pregnant 11 times. I am so very blessed to have two precious boys with me here, but I also have a football team in Heaven.

    You see, I am a bit jacked up. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and a Balanced Translocation. The PCOS makes it difficult for me to get pregnant, and the Balanced Translocation makes it difficult for me to stay pregnant. A double whammy of fun, unfortunately!  

    We got pregnant with our first little man after about a year of infertility treatments. Harlan was our first pregnancy, and although we knew the issues against us, we never truly understood what was to come. Harlan was SUCH a little blessing, and we couldn’t wait to grow our family.

    Unfortunately, however, by the time we had our precious Jackson, I had miscarried FIVE times.  One time was twin girls, we had already seen their heartbeats, and my husband had already started to refer to them as “his girls”. To say that took me to my knees is an understatement. Lots of tears. Lots of praying for understanding. It was a hard time.

    But, the week “our girls” were supposed to be born, we discovered that we were pregnant with Jackson.  It was such a blessing. He was my 7th pregnancy!  And, when I held him in my arms, I knew two things:

    1. Our family was complete.
    2. All is in God’s perfect timing.  If I had had my babies in the time frame that I felt was best, I never would have had Jackson’s smile and laugh in my life on a daily basis.  

    Life moved on with our family complete.  We tried a couple more times to grow our family through infertility, but it was so obvious that that door was closing, and we needed to move on with our current blessings.  It was rough to walk through that door, but we prayed our way through it.

    Then 2017 happened.

    On March 6, 2017, after being told for years that I would never get pregnant on my own, I got a positive pregnancy test.  

    My main emotion was PANIC! What the heck, God? Hadn’t you already closed this door? We already cried through BOXES of tissues over this issue, and now here we are again?  

    My second emotion was FEAR! My odds of miscarrying were extremely high, and I was not in the mood to revisit the heartbreak. Especially with a nine-year old and a six-year old along for the ride.

    While Reid spent several weeks in bubbling excitement, I spent the time full of anxiety and knee deep in prayer.  

    Weeks flew by, and suddenly we made it to the second trimester with zero issues.  We were pregnant with a baby girl, and she was 100% healthy! Perfect DNA, no issues. Sophie Caroline Beucler. The little sister to two VERY excited little boys. And, the perfect surprise ending to our very tumultuous journey of infertility and loss.

    On June 13th, at my five-month appointment, we discovered that Sophie had died within twelve hours of my walking into my OB’s office. I had felt her kick the night before, and now she was dead.  We had to break the news to our boys and hold them as they grieved. We had to donate a crib, maternity clothes, and baby gifts that we could no longer bear to see. And, we had to prepare my body to deliver our little girl.

    I questioned God.  No, I didn’t question God.  I screamed at him. I sat on my bathroom floor, banging the ground and screamed at him. There was so much anger. So much heartbreak. Not only was He putting me through this, but now I had two young boys hysterical over the loss of their sister. Why would He even allow me to be pregnant if He was only going to allow this to happen? I questioned God.  It was the beginning of the lowest point in my life.

    On June 16th, I checked into Labor and Delivery along with the other very pregnant women about to meet their newest additions.  Instead of a smile, my face held heartbreak as I was escorted into the room. As I was getting my epidural, I told my nurse that I was being punished.  I didn’t know why, but the Lord was punishing me.

    This is when the Lord knocked down my door.  He had been holding my hand all week, but I wanted nothing to do with Him.  I was mad at Him. Angry. But, at this moment, he knocked down the door and sat down on that couch in my L&D room.  Here is how I know . . .

    1. My nurse had experienced a miscarriage at five-months as well.  It had happened ten years ago, but she held my hand and prayed over me.  She ministered to me in a way that no other nurse could have done. She was such a blessing to me.
    2. My friends signed up for thirty minute slots to pray for me while I was in the hospital.  I could not pray, I didn’t have the words. But my friends and family became the hands and feet of Jesus and prayed for me.  
    3. I was able to hold my baby girl before giving her back to the doctor. That is a memory I will hold with me always. I got to hold her.

    Y’all, this was the hardest thing that I have ever gone through. Grief is a hard thing. Loss is a hard thing. But, let me tell you what is not a hard thing: God’s love for you.  I spent weeks not speaking to friends, hiding out with my boys, and rolling my eyes at the Bible verses people were texting my on a regular basis. It took me time to heal, time to grieve. And, I didn’t knock down the door to look for God. He came looking for me. I was the one sheep that walked away, and He came to find me.

    After we lost Sophie, I spent a long time asking WHY. What was the WHY in this situation. I had to share my experience to at least open up the conversation about infertility and loss. To allow people to feel the freedom of sharing their stories, and in turn, hopefully building a community of women that don’t have to feel ashamed or lonely. To allow us to heal together, to grieve together.

    No matter what circumstance changed your intended life plan, we have all sat by ourselves wondering what steps to take next.  It doesn’t have to be infertility.  It doesn’t have to be experiencing a miscarriage. It can be anything important to you that made you stop in your tracks and take a deep breath. That moment can be lonely. That moment can make you question God.  

    Listen, I am a work in progress. I feel that our God can handle our anger. I was SO VERY ANGRY WITH GOD when we lost Sophie. At the time, I wasn’t worried if He could handle it. But, He can. God can handle us any way we are. Even if our heart beats with anger over a tragic heartbreak.

    At one point during my journey of infertility and loss, I found a quote in a devotional that has always stayed with me: “The task ahead of us is never as great as the power behind us.” That became my mantra. Through tears, I said this quote over, and over, and over again through my decade long journey to grow my family.  This sweet little quote is proof that God is with me.  Sometimes it may not feel like it.  But He is.

    If you are currently going through a struggle of infertility or loss right now, please let someone know. Reach out to me! I would love to pray for you. I have been given the blessing of being on the other side of my grief and being free to share my story.  I pray that this gives at least some of you the freedom to share yours. We are all in this together.

    – – –

     

    Shawna is the founder of Lunchbox Babies, a lifestyle blog that is geared towards those women that are currently walking, or have walked, the road of infertility and loss. After experiencing eleven pregnancies, and nine miscarriages, Shawna felt compelled to share her story with others and help people heal through hope, humor, and faith. She has also published articles with Moms Encouraging Moms, Do Say Give, Life Abundant Blog, and Heather Lobe’s Freedom Stories. Shawna can also be heard on the popular Don’t Mom Alone and Blossoming Mommy and Baby podcasts. When not working with the Lunchbox Babies community, Shawna is a mom to two miracle boys, she runs around chasing two crazy dogs, and is blessed to share this story with a very patient and understanding husband!

    You can also connect with Shawna on Instagram.

     

     

    P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories of hope and encouragement? Check out 30 other stories about finding freedom through Christ and authentic community here

  • freedom stories

    Only One Thing: Carly’s Freedom Story

    “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

    And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:37-39 NLT

    On this Good Friday, I’m honored to share with you Carly’s Freedom Story about the one thing that remains even when everything else in life is uncertain or has the potential to be removed from our lives. 

    – – –

    When I’d first discovered that my ex-husband was having an affair I actually thought it was going to be the thing that would catapult our hard marriage into the healing it had needed for a long time. That does happen. And it makes for a really beautiful story. A story I was hoping would be mine. But that isn’t what happened and that isn’t the story I got. When things crashed, they crashed hard and ended swiftly. I woke up one morning and the life I’d been living for the past ten years was gone. The life I’d been planning, dreaming of, and working towards crumbled in my hands, and I watched the pieces slip right through my fingers.

    It was over and I wasn’t sure who I was anymore or what exactly the point of being alive was. I’d devoted my life, as I’d always wanted to, to caring for my three young children. I’d poured everything into them, and was even homeschooling them at the time. Now I was supposed to throw them into school and find some sort of a job when I’d spent those career building years building kids. I was back at square one with three mouths to feed and special needs to consider. As a mom who hadn’t spent a lot of time away from my children, I was also looking at a significant amount of time without them because of shared custody. Not only was this devastating and unfathomable to me, I knew it would be for them. And that part tore me to shreds. I was deep into an adoption ministry that I carried loads of passion for. It was my mission, my calling, the assignment God had given me. I had big plans and big dreams, ones I was sure were from him. In a blink I no longer had the capacity to manage any of it and it was gone too. I was no longer wife, no longer the good mom, and no longer living my passion for adoption.

    A few months before my divorce I remember sitting in church. The pastor was talking about our identity. Who we are. And he asked a question. He said that the way we could tell where we found our identity was by asking ourselves what things, if they went away today, would make us feel like we weren’t ourselves anymore. I immediately tagged my marriage, my adoption ministry, and being a good mom. If those things went away I really wouldn’t know who I was, what my purpose was. And none of those were bad things. In fact they were all really good things to want to be successful at. I tagged those things and pondered them for a long time. It was like I’d written a quick little list in my brain and it was tacked up in the corner somewhere that I could see it, all the time. So when with one single blow each of those things vanished right before me, I knew. I knew that the God of the universe had spoken straight to me in that moment. He had been preparing me for what was to come. And when all the things that I thought mattered most, mattered to God even, dropped straight out of my life I knew there was one thing that never could, that never would. Jesus.

    And I discovered that all the things, even the good ones can go away. And I’m still me because Jesus is still Jesus. He is the one and only thing that will never go away. He will never leave. Never forsake. All the things I thought I could never live through. All the things I couldn’t see a way into or a way out of. All the things I clung to, even the good, God things. They can all be taken away from me. My life and everything in it can be gone in a blink, but nothing and no one can separate me from the love of Jesus. It is who he is and it is who I am and it is the only thing I can cling to. It is all I can count on. Just him. No one and no thing can change the fact that I am loved by him. Nothing can take that away.

    I’m not saying I didn’t feel the searing ache of the loss I faced in that time. I questioned. I cried. I wailed. I kicked. I screamed. I swore. I begged. But I realized that I could stop clinging to all the things in my life. The weight of doing it all right. The measuring up. The striving. The fear and anxiety that goes with trying to be all things to all people all the time. The heaviness that comes with just trying to live a life. I saw how very little control I actually had over any of it. How I could do my absolute best to do all the things and be all the things and I could still lose them all in a heartbeat. And when the dust settled and all I had left was the love of Jesus, I knew it was all I actually needed. A freedom washed over me. I’ve never felt freer than I did in that moment. When I saw that I don’t actually have to be or do anything. My pathetic efforts to be a good wife, mom, and minister just kind of blew away with the storm. I didn’t need to give Jesus a reason to love me. In fact, all my flailing around trying to find one for him was as weak the fall leaves in the winter wind. My eyes were opened and I could see just how wide, and deep, and long the love of God actually is for me. The freedom of that knowledge is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

    Life has moved on from that moment, from the deep waves of grief to the constant drip of life with shared custody, caring for children with special needs, and all the other life things. I’ve remarried. I’ve learned to live with the needs of my children. I’ve learned to live with the ache that comes with periodic separation from them. I have been given so many beautiful gifts, like tiny cactus blossoms amidst the sharp spines. But the gift I hold tight to. The gift I know can’t ever be taken away. It’s the one God gave me when he met me at my emptiest. When he loved me at my most unloveable. It’s the knowledge that there is really just one thing. And his name is Jesus.

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    Carly Webber is wife to Dustin and mom to four littles (by adoption and birth). Life has thrown her a few curve balls (including divorce and special needs children) and her heart is to encourage others who also feel sidelined by life’s tough blows. She believes there is life and joy right in the midst of all the hard and she wants you to believe it too. You can read her words at carlybethwebber.com and connect with her over on instagram too (@carlybethwebber).

     

     

     

     

     

    P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories of hope and encouragement? Check out 30 other stories about finding freedom through Christ and authentic community here. And special thanks to Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels for the plant image to accompany this post.