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.
– – –
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.
– – –
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.
– – –
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.
– – –
Shifting the Self to Make Room
When I was growing up, I didn’t play “house” in the same way other little girls did. I played writer, teacher, theatre director, Miss America, and interior designer. I played artist, inventor, and in 9th grade I had one weird year where I thought I wanted to be a behavioral geneticist (I was really into science that year). As I entered into my 20s, I often thought I would opt to not have children. I was afraid I was too selfish. I feared I would mess up, or couldn’t handle the responsibility of raising a human. So it was easier for me to dream of Broadway instead of babies.
Then, Emmett entered my world.
Six weeks into my young marriage, I got sick and convinced myself it was a stomach bug showing up late from a Mexican honeymoon. But two pregnancy tests at home and one blood test from the doctor proved me wrong. That “sickness” was the most unexpected, terrifying blessing I could have ever imagined.
I had an unexpected reaction to this news. I grieved. I was so scared to step into this role, and I had no clue how to adjust to the reality of being a mother. I was so scared to embark on this journey, unsure of who I was, unsure about the impact upon our finances, and honestly unsure if my fragile new marriage could handle a baby.
Most of all, I was scared I would fail at motherhood.
Each day, as I rode the commuter train to work in Boston, I prayed.
God, I don’t know what I’m doing. Please show me how to love this child. Show me how to be its mom. Show me what to do.
I bought a cute little journal that I slid into the front pocket of my purse, and I started writing notes to the baby. I told it what I was eating that caused the most kicks and wiggles. I shared how the weather and shifting seasons looked like from my view out the train window. And as the baby grew, I started to cradle my belly with a protective hand.
When we found out the baby was a boy, we knew his name right away– it was a family name from his dad’s side that just seemed to fit. Emmett. I started writing notes in my little commuter notebook to Emmett- I wrote love letters each week, poems and observations about the world in 2012 when he was growing in my womb. I fell in love with this baby, and my heart took the full nine months to get ready to be his mama. But when they placed him on my chest, right above my swelling, full heart, I knew he was a gift. He was a straight up blessing from the Lord.
The first year was a blur. I tried to be “mother” but really didn’t know what that meant. Postpartum depression felt like I was moving towards my crying baby in a fog. My exhaustion amplified his colic, and I don’t think I showered much that year.
My afternoon walks on the farm where we lived were my sanity savers. I tucked Emmett into a little carrier, and he cozied into my chest each day. As we walked in quiet, I often felt stinging tears in my eyes, but also peace that God was with me. God was with us. I breathed in the air of our Virginia mountains and whispered to Emmett about the robin flying by, or the way the ground felt beneath my feet. I thought that being a mother meant completely dying to myself– denying all of my wants, needs, and dreams. I thought it meant sacrifice at my own expense, 100% of the time. I stopped caring for myself as I tried to care for this sweet little boy. In the midst of that (and in the midst of other hard circumstances), I think I just lost myself entirely. Or maybe, I didn’t really know who I was to begin with.
– – –
God Loved Me Into Motherhood
The postpartum depression didn’t go away on its own. I visited a Christian counselor to seek help climbing out of the pit.
She helped me to discover much bigger work that I needed to do. As I started to uncover more over the next year or two about my identity in Christ, I looked at some deep wounds buried deep beneath a facade of perfectionism. I realized that if I was not well, I could not be well for my son. I could not transform magically into a mother, caretaker, and homemaker, if I did not know who I was first and foremost in the Lord. I could not show unconditional love to another until I fully accepted the unconditional love of Christ myself.
God poured healing balm into the holes in my heart and showed me that this baby could not fix my breaking marriage (that was way too much pressure for a child), and a marriage could not fix the holes from past trauma or wounds (that was way too much pressure for any human being). It was time to do some work with God to fill in those holes, with God as the Healer, Fixer, Redeemer. And He did fill in the holes– but first He tenderly unearthed the pain of the past. He waded through and weeded up my selfishness and pride. He helped me to see how my perfectionism was holding me back in motherhood. He planted seeds of healthier new thoughts about myself, and gave me a firm foundation in Truth to replace the lies I had memorized about who I needed to be to please and love others well. He brought community in my life to surround me when I felt lost. And mostly, He showed me so much love. I learned to accept His grace, and came to see Him as a loving, good father instead of a judgmental, condemning or apathetic figure. I learned how to parent from the ultimate Parent. He loved me into motherhood.
– – –
A few years ago, in the midst of my divorce, my best friends from college convened in Minnesota for a wonderful reunion weekend. It was amazing how we were able to pick up right where we left off. It was also a gift to be with one another in person in the midst after years of major life transitions in each of our lives.
We laughed a lot, went for walks, drank afternoon tea on the porch, and held space for each other to fill in the details that we miss when we live hundreds of miles away from our dear ones.
We talked about jobs, moving, new marriages, and a marriage ending. We talked about missions and motherhood and reminisced about college memories. Our sweet friend hosting us for the weekend had her boys with her, and we took turns playing cars on the carpet with her toddler and holding her youngest baby. Two of our girlfriends there had bellies round with their first babies.
Where I once feared being a mother, I had by that point come to embrace it. Where I once had no clue what to do with a baby in my arms, my heart now ached to hold another of my own. As sweet as it was to be with these five beautiful girls, there was also an aching reminder that life had not turned out the way I had expected. They showed me so much love in that space, but it was bittersweet. I looked at the growing bellies friends expecting their first with simultaneous joy and sadness. And when it was my turn to hold the baby boy of our host, it was overwhelming.
Holding him brought up a surge of unexpected emotions. As tears welled and I choked back tears, I gently passed the baby to another friend and went to a room to cry by myself.
I felt gratitude for my friends. Joy for several of them as they also entered into motherhood. Awe for the growth God brought into each of our lives, not just in parenting but in other areas too. And then a deep, deep ache.
I had been ignoring it for a while, but the smell and softness of her baby boy brought it all to the surface. Along with the ache to have more children was a keen awareness that it may not be possible for me to have another. Then, guilt washed over me since I had already become a mother when others feel this ache for most of their adult years. Then, gratitude for Emmett and the chance to be his mama.
Grief for my breaking family. Gratitude for the family God HAD gifted me with. Gratitude and grief in the same moment, wrestling around in my heart in Minnesota.
Thus began a long season of reconciling the desires of my heart and the aches of my heart, and placing them in God’s hand. I began praying for His will for my family and acceptance of the season where He had me right now, but it still hurt.
– – –
This Sunday in church, a sweet little girl in a tutu skirt babbled and smiled from the row of chairs in front of us.
When she made eye contact with me, she smiled even bigger and nuzzled into the arms of the woman holding her. I smiled back and we played a subtle game of peek a boo.
A few minutes later, I looked over at my fiancé, who was smiling in the little girl’s direction. I followed his gaze and saw she was playing the same bashful game with him. It made my heart happy to see.
It made my heart happy to see the pregnant mama at the grocery store last week, cradling her belly.
It makes my heart happy to get the video messages from another one of those dear college friends, snuggling her new baby and telling us about life with two kiddos.
It makes my heart happy to check in with myself and recognize that envy is not there. The aching is no longer resident. I can smile and know that God knows the desires of my heart, but also place those desires back into His hands and say, “Thy will be done, Lord.”
It makes my heart happy to know that God loved me into motherhood, but He also loves me in every single season of my life. He has loved me as a creative independent, as a new and overwhelmed mama, a broken-hearted and aching woman, and in the beautiful present season where he has me right now.
– – –
If you struggle with contentment in the right now of your life season (whether you have a deep dream, an aching desire, or questions about your identity as it relates to your dreams and roles), here is a prayer I want to share with you:
You know what’s best for me, You have a design for my family, and You have a good and perfect plan for my future.
I know that You know my deepest longings and desires of my heart. Thank You for seeing me– for really seeing me– and loving me when I sit in unrest, longing, or questions about who I am. Help me to remember first and foremost who You are. Help me to remember who I am in YOU, beyond any earthly role, responsibility, dreams, or relationships (whether those roles and dreams are fulfilled or not).
And if Your plan does not include the fulfillment of these desires, I pray that I can genuinely say, “I praise You still.”
I want to honor You in the attitude of my heart as I live the life You’ve blessed me with. Help me not to envy others, but to trust Your plans for my life, Lord. Help me to be content and present in the season where You have me, right now.
P.S. I am deeply grateful to my friend Kristin Dunker of Kristin Dunker Photography for taking these beautiful family photos of Emmett and me in 2017. Thank you, friend!
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
– – –
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.
– – –
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.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
– Deuteronomy 31:6
One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make took me two years of deep prayer and discernment. Once I had clarity and peace about the decision, it still required more bravery than I could muster to move forward. I needed the Lord to help me move. Without Him, I think I would have been paralyzed in fear to take action.
That season taught me so much about making hard, brave choices with the Lord’s guidance that I can now apply to other areas of my life, and I would love to share those lessons with you today.
If there’s a hard decision or action ahead of you, I’m praying for bravery for you right now. Maybe it’s just for today’s brave, hard things (smaller, daily decisions), or maybe it’s a Big Thing that you’ve been thinking about for a long time, but here are the steps I’ve found to be most helpful in making hard choices.
1. Pray for wisdom.
If you’re unsure of what to do, it definitely takes courage to listen to the Lord’s direction and to discern His will. If there’s something you KNOW you need to do, especially if it’s hard, it probably requires more bravery than you could conjure up on your own.
God is faithful to give discernment as we press into Him and ask for His guidance. When we make our requests known before Him, He listens. His answers may come through the wise people around us, Scripture passages, sermons, or the Holy Spirit, but they will never contradict His character or commandments.
- “I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” –Psalm 16:7-8
- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” –James 1:2-5
- “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” –Psalm 25:4-5
2. Seek wise counsel.
Check in with others who know Him and know you well. Especially on the big decisions! When it seems that God has made the next step clear to you in your own time and prayer with Him, seek confirmation from the wise individuals God has placed in your life. Wise counsel may come from a mentor, pastor, counselor, long-time friend in the faith, or a parent.
*NOTE from a recovering people pleaser 😉 There is a difference here between people pleasing (making your decision to keep others happy) vs. obeying God and checking in with your people (making your decision in and with Christ’s leading). I’ve often found that when I’m just making the decision that “feels right” but I haven’t spent time praying about it first, the wise counsel around me offer gentle, loving, or very clear answers that challenge my decision. Of course, those individuals are all coming from different angles and experiences, but if they love and are walking with the Lord, they can often help you see blind spots or affirm that your next step sounds wise.
- “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” –Proverbs 19:20-21
- “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” –Proverbs 11:14
3. Ask Him to equip you.
I think about ALL of the people in the Bible who probably felt ill prepared to step into the hard, brave things God called them to do. And yet, He equipped them to do His work. Noah, Moses, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, David (in his battle against Goliath), Jonah, Mary, and Paul come to mind right away.
If He has called you to this hard, brave thing, He will not only prepare you for it, but He will also see you through.
- “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:4-7
- “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” –Isaiah 61:1-2
- “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”—1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
4. Take action to do that brave, hard thing.
Once we know the right thing, it can still be super hard to step forward. It requires courage, it sometimes requires surrender, and it often requires great faith that He will take care of everything on the other side of what we cannot see. At this point, with His equipping, we can step forward in obedience.
- “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” –Hebrews 13:20-21
- “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”- Philippians 1:6
– – –
As we consider the hard, brave actions He might be calling us to take, here is a prayer for you:
Lord, we know that sometimes You call us to do hard things.
Help us to hear you clearly– where You want us to go and when You want us to move.
Sometimes, the brave, hard thing is being still. Sometimes it’s just waiting on You, or letting You fight the battle for us. In that case, help us to surrender control and still our own hearts when we’d rather rush ahead.
But when You DO show us the brave, next thing? Equip us for what’s next.
Help us to choose brave, even when it’s really difficult.
Lord, be our strength in the hard things.
-to let go of the unhealthy (things, places, relationships)
-to step into a new season, with both feet and our full heart
-to trust again after hurt (as You lead)
-to advocate for others who cannot advocate for themselves
-to choose joy
-to make the appointment
-to break that habit
-to be vulnerable
-to dream bigger and let You lead in that
-to ask for help
-to set the boundary
-to ask the hard questions
-to love the unlovable
-to love our enemies
-to love ourselves as You love us
-to keep showing up for the things You’ve called us to (our jobs, parenting, ministry, being faithful in marriage, getting up again on the hard days, etc.)
-to take responsibility for our own parts
-to stand up for what’s right
Lord, we know You will fight for us when it’s time. You will bring us to solid ground and plant our feet. And You will lead the way when it’s time to move.
Help us to trust You for the times when we are to be still in bravery, to stay planted in courage, or to
move forward in faith.
– – –
One more goodie: “The Brave List“
Pssst…Dear friend, if you need the extra boost of bravery today, I created another resource to help you. This is called ‘The Brave List’ (12 curated worship songs to help you with strength and courage), and you can listen to it on Spotify any time you need an extra boost of courage. Click here to listen:
P.S. Special thanks to Noah Buscher for the original image in this photo (via Unsplash); “Be strong and courageous” graphic created by Heather Lobe (via Canva).
My name is Heather, and I’m a hope*writer.
When I was a little girl, I wrote in diaries. My best friend and I would write plays for the neighborhood and perform them in the backyard. I wrote poems and even attempted a few novels.
My mom found my “first published book” when she was cleaning recently– a book of poems with my own illustrations and a funny self-written “About Me” section that talked about my many publications (hopeful dreaming?).
When I was in middle school, I won an essay contest called “What Safety Means to Me,” and I drew comparisons between Dorothy’s unsafe moves in the Wizard of Oz and how we can be more aware of our surroundings in today’s world. It was creative, but definitely a stretch. 😉
For college writing and theatre assignments, I loved digging into hard topics that looked at the tension between faith and mental health, or vulnerability and shame, or wrestling with doubt about God. I wrote plays and articles and journalism pieces. I even wrote fun travel blogs from my time abroad in Italy.
Somewhere along the way, though, I started worrying about how others would receive my words if I put them out there. It was too difficult to put the harder things I experienced into words, and I feared what would happen if anyone ever read those words. I kept my words inside, or at the very most, inside of my private journals.
As God’s healing touch has reached down into my life over the past few years, I have come to see that writing is not just something I like to do. It is part of who I am. I write to figure out how I feel. I write to praise God. I write to encourage others that they are not alone.
I’ve been publicly writing again for this past year, and it seems like things have just clicked into place. I understand more about the world and myself, and it feels like an act of worship to the Creator who made me to be creative.
Last year, I took a huge leap of faith and joined an amazing writing community. I went from insecurity about putting my words out into the world to confidence that THIS is part of who I am. I am a writer. I can now say that without imposter syndrome or second-guessing myself 😉
Through this community, I have:
-gained valuable resources to grow in my craft
-built my writing habit (I used to write whenever “inspiration” hit- now it is a part of my regular routine several days a week)
-clarified who I’m writing for (this has been one of the most helpful and freeing areas of growth!)
-made incredible relationships with other writers
-created a weekly guest posting collaborative through Freedom Stories
-started a book proposal
A favorite quote of mine is from “Chariots of Fire.” Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner, says, “I run because I feel God’s pleasure in it.” I am so thankful to Hope*Writers for helping me fully step into my calling as a writer.
I write because I feel God’s pleasure in it.
If you have a dream that has often pressed on your heart or surged to the surface when you let it, what is it? What is the thing you do that makes you feel most alive or fulfilled? What would it look like for you to fully step into that?
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.
– – –
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.
– – –
P.S. Special thanks to Cory Bouthillette of Unsplash for the image to accompany this post.
Sometimes we hit hard patches of life. There are seasons in our journeys that seem utterly impossible.
Those feelings of helplessness and uncertainty are unsettling to say the least.
If you are stuck right now- unsure of how to climb out or move through or charge ahead, I am praying for you.
Right now, I come before you and lift up those who feel absolutely stuck.
I know YOU know their hearts, Lord. You know their struggles, the wrestling, and the overwhelm better than I ever could.
Lord, we proclaim that You are our Deliverer- You can pull us up from the darkest pits or deliver us from the quicksand or prepare a way out of the seemingly impossible.
I pray for those who feel:
STUCK BECAUSE THEY’RE SINKING-
Father, in the midst of overwhelm and unhealthy situations, we can sometimes feel like we’re completely sinking. Rather than wrestling to escape the quicksand feeling, help still our flailing limbs and emotions. Guide us out of danger. As much as we want to get out of it in our own strength, we need You. Be our rescuer. Bring helpers alongside of us to pull us out of the pit. Deliver the ones who feel like we are drowning from our sinking situations.
STUCK IN INDECISION-
God, when we reach forks in the road, we can sometimes feel swallowed up in indecision.
For those who are desperate to get out of that fork in the road, help us to slow down the impulse to run ahead. Help us to seek You first and let You lead. Lord, You are patient. Help us to be more like You as we wait for Your steady hand to guide us. Help us not to run ahead of You, but to walk hand in hand down the right path.
And when we stand frozen at that fork in the road, in fear of making the wrong move, comfort us Father. Help us to have patience until You speak. Give us clarity to see where You want us to step. Help us to hear You clearly. Increase our faith to ask boldly for direction. You are a God who can do impossible things- even get us through this seemingly impossible impasse.
Even though all options ahead seem overwhelming, we believe You will be faithful to see us through.
STUCK IN THE DARK-
Lord, in the midst of the darkness, I pray that You will remove panic. Darkness is scary, and so are the unknowns when we can’t see the way out. Father, help train our eyes to seek out the light. When all we can hear is the lie or insecurity, help train our ears to seek out the Truth.
When we feel the darkness setting over us again, help us to cling to You as our hope. With you, there is always hope. Remind us that morning will come again.
STAGNANT & STUCK-
For the stagnant times, for the days when we don’t know how we got here?
I ask that You would change the things we don’t have control over or the power to change on our own. Bring life back into what feels dead. Bring hope where we’ve lost sight of the good. Bring Your love where we feel lonely.
For all of us who are stuck right now, grant us trust in You. Even when we can’t see what You’re doing, I pray that we would trust Your sovereign plan and Your big picture view.
Speak into our blind-spots. Help us to widen our glance so that we can see the ways You’re working, even if we don’t know the end results.
Help us to let go of expectations. Remove the pressure we’ve placed on ourselves or picked up from others.
Help us open our hands to receive Your guidance, and let go of any desire for control– Thy will be done, Lord.
Grant us patience in the waiting; wisdom in the waiting; trust in You in the waiting.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
-Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB)
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.
– – –
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.
– – –
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).