Who God Says I Am

I’ve been attending this women’s bible study the last few weeks and each week, a layer seems to be torn off of me.

Yesterday, we talked about Beauty.

I thought this would be one week where I didn’t learn much. Not because I have astronomical confidence but because beauty’s not really a big deal to me. There’s a gift I’ve gotten from having a visible disability where I’ve learned that comparing myself to other women is pointless because I will never look like other women. It’s allowed me to embrace my own beauty more readily.

And then the speaker talked about the other side of beauty. The beauty of who we are, not what we look like.

My stomach dropped. Because I don’t view myself as beautiful on the inside.

I’m a perfectionist, which means I go way harder on myself than anyone ever will. It is an active fight to give myself grace. But I was getting better, for a while anyway.

A few months ago, I found myself talking with two friends who turned the table on me by recounting every ugly thing I had done, every ugly part about me. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve been through and no surprise, I no longer have a relationship with those two people.

Their words had a lasting impact on me, because now I had proof. I was an ugly person and everyone agreed. I fell deeper into a depression, isolating myself from others and behaving as if the words I heard from people I trusted were absolute truth. I was a failure. I was not enough.

So yesterday, when the speaker talked about being beautiful as a woman, all I thought about was their words.

We were asked to pick a word that represented what we felt God was asking of us in order to embrace who He says we are. I knew exactly what my word needed to be.

Grace.

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Go.

This time a year ago, I was preparing to stay. I had every intent of staying in Tucson, finding a better job and getting myself out of the whale of a dilemma I had gotten myself into.

The air itself seemed like spring, although it was deadly hot. I sat across from a woman who was mentoring me at the time and told her spring was coming. The life God continued to promise me was approaching.

My plan was to remain faithful to where I was, press into the community I found myself in and trust God.

I had no idea God had other plans. I didn’t know that in nine short days, I would lose my home. I didn’t know that in ten days, I would lose my job. In less than two weeks, I would make the move to the Valley.

I sat across from a friend the day I lost my job. We crossed our legs on the peach title of my living room floor, the room in disarray from my obvious anxiety and depression. I had just asked God how He could love me and destroy my life at the same time.

My friend described my situation as the city throwing me up.

It’s time to move on. Go.

She looked at me with concern.

I had no other choice. My other options for staying had not panned out. God wanted me to go.

But still, I waited. I packed my things in between sobs of lost hope and unrequited feelings. I thought I had the story right. I thought things were going to turn around. I thought God was pushing me to settle, commit. I was not usually one for sticking around. The only thing I had ever committed to was Jesus. I thought God was teaching me how to keep a faithful presence. I still believed that, which made leaving all the more confusing.

I was about to learn that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts. His ways are not my ways. Commitment and faithfulness doesn’t always look the way we think it does.

I waited three days, still packing but unwilling to move cities until God said go.

The pastor said it for Him. You need to go.

I didn’t hesitate after that. With help, I loaded my car with all my things and wiped the last of my tears from my eyes. I would be faithful. I would commit to the only thing I knew to be true, even if the circumstances made no sense.

God fulfilled every promise He had made, creating a season of Spring in my life. It didn’t make my life easier but it did provide fruit in areas previously barren.

I’ve spent a year learning commitment and faithfulness. I’ve learned how to plant roots and rest in the mundane. I’ve gotten sick and gotten better. I don’t look like the same person I was a year ago.

Sometimes, the biggest thing you can do to demonstrate true faithfulness is say yes to what God is asking of you even if the circumstances don’t make sense. Pragmatism and practicality are very real idols in our culture. For many of us, it determines what we believe and how we live. But if I truly followed pragmatic thought, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be this blessed. I would have stayed where I knew people, where I had friends and security. Who would have moved to a different city when leaving meant losing so much?

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. – Psalm 25:14-15

But this, being here, is so much better. Healthier. More faithful.

The Sunday School Answer

It’s the inside joke for those of us who grew up going to church.

The answer is always Jesus.

For every question we’re asked in church, the only true adequate response is Jesus.

We chuckled over this in high school.

****

I was meeting with my new doctor the other day, going over my history, like all good mental health physicians do, when I was asked the same question I’ve been asked by every doctor since this whole recovery process started.

How are you still functioning right now?

The truth is, the only people who know every detail of my past are the doctors who ask and my sister. At this point, no one has ever heard just how much I’ve walked through. I don’t tell people mostly because I don’t feel most people in my life are ready or able to hear the details without walking away damaged themselves. I care too much about my friends to put them through the details too soon.

But in order for the doctors to help me, they have to know, which is why they ask the questions they do.

Literally every doctor asks me how I’m thriving now. They look at me like I must hold the magical cure for adverse behavior.

I’ve been told I should be different. I should be leading a very different life right now. Or at the very least, I should be recovering from a very different life.

But as of today, the only thing I am recovering from is a previously undiagnosed mental illness and current sugar hangover.

****

You are a peculiar woman. The doctor eyes me with a smile.

I swallow my anxiety. What do you mean? What had I done wrong? I clasp my hands, feeling dread.

You are brave. She responds. It takes a brave woman to live like you do with all the adversity you have experienced. It’s very impressive. 

I try not to cry. I do not feel brave. I feel terrified. I have cried three times today and have begged God all day to give me peace to no avail.

Thank you is all I can muster.

What is your secret? The doctor asks with eager anticipation.

I want to groan. I am annoyed that God has still not granted me peace yet. My faith. Jesus.

She seems disappointed. They always do. No doctor I’ve met yet has been satisfied that Jesus is the reason I am not what I could’ve been.

But there’s nothing else I could say. Jesus is the only true adequate response.

When Forgiveness is Hard

I’m really not good at forgiveness.

That’s probably not how I should start this blog post. What I’m bad at.

I’ve been attending this church in the Valley that I like quite a bit, mostly because it’s a culmination of all the churches I’ve been to in the last five years. Sunday, we talked about idolatry in the context of the book of Acts. How we’ve refined it past stone images.

For some, it’s comfort.

Others, it’s security.

Me? I’m pretty entitled when it comes to reconciliation.

The word itself-reconciliation-is not bad in it of itself but I twist it into something I must have. Something I’ll beat a dead horse to get.

Because deep within all of us is this desire to be forgiven. We need to know that we can fail and still be loved and accepted.

We need to hear that we’ve been forgiven.

There’s something that breaks inside of me when I apologize and I’m not forgiven. It’s this raw hurt that eats away at me when I’m met with silence or anger. Something has not been fulfilled in the relationships in the church when we refuse to live out the act of the cross because to do so otherwise would be to lay ourselves down for a repentant person.

And who wants that? Why tell a sinner they are capable of redemption?

I’m in an interesting place in my life. On the one hand, going through a mental health crisis led me to do some incredibly stupid things, things that I have reached out to apologize for with no forgiveness extended back.

On the other hand, my crisis led people I love to do incredibly stupid things that I need to forgive them for.

I crossed my arms in defiance on Sunday. If grown, religious men couldn’t extend forgiveness to me, why should I have to forgive my friends?

I wanted to experience forgiveness first before I was willing to forgive anyone else.

That’s idolatry.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23

The will of God is for His children to reflect Christ in all aspects of our lives, to all people. God has this way of pointing us to reflect Christ most to the people we’d like to forget.

Too often, we do this Christian thing backwards. We plant churches, start ministries and lead community groups first and then we focus on reflecting Christ. And usually, we only reflect Jesus when it’s comfortable and easy. With our friends. With our families. With new people who haven’t hurt us yet.

But God isn’t impressed with how many churches we plant. Lead 10. Plant 17 more. We didn’t earn God’s grace by our merits.

Do His will.

I’ll try to do the same.

The woman who dared to touch Jesus’ cloak

 

 One of my biggest struggles when it comes to faith is believing truly that I’m saved. While intellectually, I understand that I am saved by grace and not by works, I often wrestle with the fear that I have not done enough to earn God’s love or favor. I was told once that our understanding of God is directly related to our relationship with our fathers. My father is not a gracious man. It has taken years for me to even begin to understand what grace is or does.

Going through my recent mental health crisis impacted how I viewed myself in God’s eyes. I questioned whether or not I was truly saved for months. I doubted I loved God or even believed He existed.

For twelve years, I walked around with an undiagnosed mental illness. I saw several doctors and counselors. I took medication I didn’t need because it fit diagnoses I didn’t have. By Spring 2014, I was off all medication. It was determined that I didn’t need it.

My condition got worse. I isolated myself from others, pushed friends away, did things out of character and lacked an ability to self-care. And while some people have continued to run this race with me, most people gave up. I was yelled at, disciplined and accused of the very thing I feared the most: I must obviously not be saved.

And a woman was there who had been afflicted for twelve years by an issue of bleeding. She had suffered greatly under the care of many physicians and had spent all she had, but to no avail. Instead, her condition had only grown worse.

When the woman heard about Jesus, she came up through the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she kept saying, “If I only touch His clothes, I will be healed.” At that instant, her bleeding stopped, and she sensed in her body that she was healed of her affliction.

At once Jesus was aware that power had gone out from Him. Turning to the crowd, He asked, “Who touched My clothes?”

His disciples answered, “You can see the crowd pressing in on You, and yet You ask, ‘Who touched Me?’”

But He kept looking around to see who had done this. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him trembling in fear, and she told Him the whole truth.

“Daughter,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you; go in peace and be free of your affliction.” – Mark 5:25-34

I understand this woman’s struggle intimately. To continue to get sicker and not know what to do is a nightmare. I felt like I was a burden, a problem. People were better off without me. I read this story recently in a bible study I joined and started sobbing.

Because I get her. I understand the desperation.

That moment when you have exhausted everything you have within you and you cannot go any further. When you are down on your knees and the last thing you can grasp onto is the bottom of Jesus’ cloak.

Her faith made her well. Believing that not only could Jesus heal her but that He would is what healed her.

I don’t think she earned the healing she received but I do believe that it is impossible to please God without faith. I’m learning that the Christian life is not simply a decision you make once but a lifelong journey of daily choices to walk in faith. Sometimes they’re big choices. Where you live, who you marry. Mostly, they’re daily decisions to take one step at a time towards the bigger story. Send that email, pay that bill.

Everything we do takes faith. When we choose faith over what is known, we trust our futures to the God that knows us best.

I am understanding that I am a daughter of God as I continue to walk in faith with the God that rescues me daily.

The year I tried to #LiveBoldly

I’ve always been borderline introvert but in January 2010, I made a New Year’s Resolution to #LiveBoldly.

Before it was cool. Very hipster.

At 20, I was quite the wallflower so I decided that living boldly meant putting myself out there. Just start saying yes to whatever came my way.

That year was a blast. I went on road trips, attended parties, had lunches with new friends and even dominated a poker game among strangers. If not for that year, I would have never ended up in a kitchen in Ireland, learning what it means to be bold for the Gospel.

This was my boldness, thriving in a new environment. I began the long process of what it meant to build community as a young adult. Any time something new came my way, I asked myself “what would bold do” and then I did that.

Looking back, I see someone very entitled trying to have an acceptable life. This was long before Instagram was a thing and I was rarely on Facebook at the time.

I wanted the life I thought I was meant to have. I finally had this freedom to live an abundant life and I thought by living boldly, I would accomplish that.

But abundance looks very different when you’re truly #livingboldly.

It looks like sobbing into your bible while dropping everything at God’s feet.

Bold is Christ asking God “Why have you forsaken me” on the cross.

Bold looks like a married couple buying me groceries when I didn’t have food to eat.

Living with abundance means giving financially even when you’re scared of losing your means.

I’ve experienced true boldness when I am at my weakest. It’s in those moments that I throw my hands in the air and tell God exactly what I’m feeling and what I want.

My prayer  life has been marked by a lot of cursing, angst and screaming. (Side note: I have no idea how people do their quiet times in coffee shops. I am usually a mess by the end.)

There’s few things bolder than telling the Creator of the Universe how you really feel.

Living abundantly means trusting God when you have nothing left to offer. And then watch Him fill your bucket with hope.

The year I #LivedBoldly led me to the life I’m living now. It wasn’t wasted. I would probably not be working where I work now if not for that year. At 20, the boldest thing for me to do was say yes to trivial things so that I could say yes to the bigger things down the road. Like the job interview that brought me here. My understanding of living boldly has grown up and matured as I’ve sought Christ.

Saying yes to God in the face of darkness has led me to this abundant, hard, beautiful life. I don’t question if I’m #LivingBoldly anymore.

Spirit lead me…

Sometimes, I think I chose the transparent life.

Mostly, I think the transparent life chose me.

I still remember the first time I felt the leading of the Holy Spirit on my heart. I hadn’t been a Christian more than about two years and I was sitting in a crowded, hot room one night in California.

How I ended up in that room, that night is a story for the books. It was the first time the Holy Spirit took over my voice and I said yes to going to church camp when I had fully intended to say no. I was this sullen, angry teenager. Hell-bent on making every authority figure in my life fearful of me. I was not a fan of the church.

But you know, the joy of the Lord is my strength.

So I was sitting in this room that I never intended to be in, experiencing what I can only describe as the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

Most people talk about the Spirit as this mystic being that gently leads followers of Christ to where they should go and what they should do.

No. Just no.

Homeboy, I have no idea what anyone is talking about.

The Spirit is not gentle. Not in my life. It is straight-up the most impulsive feeling I have ever experienced.

Because it’s been ten years since that night in California and God hasn’t changed the way the Spirit moves in my life.

For everyone else in that room, they saw a small girl sharing her transparency for the first time. How she was hurting herself. How much she wanted to die. The tears rolling down her cheeks.

But my heart in that moment? Oh, the Holy Spirit did for the first time what it’s done ever since. The joy bounced around my chest in a way that took my breath away. It felt like a hand reached out and grabbed my heart, my only response being impulsive. I opened my mouth.

With everything that’s been going on in my life lately, I’ve been trying to find clarity in how to follow God faithfully. And it’s remarkably simple. God is not a God of confusion. When the time is right, He makes the path clear. If the path is not clear, it’s because you’re not ready for the answer.

My journals lately have been full of prayers for my future husband. I’ve never done this before, not really. Pray for him. Talk to God about him. Up until about three years ago, I never wanted marriage. And if I’m being truly transparent, it’s because I never wanted to be disappointed. I never wanted to desire something that I might never receive.

My heart has been grieved enough.

But in the last few weeks, I’ve felt that impulsive nature of the Holy Spirit. That hand has stopped me in the middle of a work day to write out a quick prayer. I sat in a movie theater when that hand grabbed my heart and I prayed for him again. My journals are full of previously unspoken and unknown desires.

I’m not really sure what the Spirit is doing in my life but something is moving in my heart.

To this day, I have no idea why it was so important that I spoke up and shared my story that night in California but it really doesn’t matter. I’ve been serving God impulsively ever since.