• freedom stories

    When My Singleness Held Me Back From Joy – Jessica’s Story

    Sometimes we come across words that read like balm to our aching souls. Jessica is a gifted writer and encourager whose words do just that.

    As I read through her advice and encouragement to others in difficult seasons, I knew it was important for her voice to be a part of this series. I wish I had found Jessica’s blog or inspiring Instagram feed a few years ago, during the times when I was most alone and so determined to define my worth through relationships. Today, no matter what season you are in, I hope you will be encouraged by Jessica’s story.

    Here is Jessica’s Freedom Story.

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of being a wife and mom. I’ve held this desire in my heart with hope for many years, looking forward to the day that I become Mrs. Somebody.

    I’ve dreamed of making a home with someone, being a support and encouragement to him, and doing life together for God’s glory.

    I’ve waited on God to bring us together. I’ve prayed for a godly man.

    But at one month from my 27th birthday, I’m single, never even having had a boyfriend.

    Still single. Still waiting. Still praying. Still hoping. Still dreaming.

    I trusted in Jesus as my Savior at a young age, and all through my growing up years, I continued to follow Jesus.

    But as I entered into my twenties, there were several years when I struggled with a deep discontentment and lack of joy. I felt unfulfilled and purposeless and insecure. I had this dream to be married, a dream I believed God placed in my heart, but it wasn’t happening, and that left me unhappy, and fearful that it would never happen.

    Psalm 37:4 is a verse I’ve known for as long as I can remember: “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

    I loved the promise of this verse. It gave me hope. It assured me that God had indeed given me dreams, and given me permission to dream those dreams from Him.

    But at times, my desires and dreams would become distorted and disfigured.

    My dreams for marriage turned into if onlys: If only I had a boyfriend, than I would feel cherished. If only I were married, than I would feel happy. If only I had a husband, than I would feel loved.

    In thinking these if onlys, I was basing my fulfillment, happiness, and worth on my dreams of being married coming true. I wouldn’t have said I was enslaved or trapped, but I wasn’t living in freedom during this season of singleness. I felt held back; held back from living my life with joy by the lies that my life wasn’t full right now, that I was missing out on something more beautiful, that my purpose only started once I got married, that maybe I wasn’t good enough for marriage or worthy of a husband’s love.

    My dreams turned into if onlys, and then the if onlys started to form idols out of my dreams, attempting to shape them so they were no long the dreams God had placed in my heart, but the things I was serving with my heart.

    In the midst of the discontentment, my heart yearned for freedom from the things that were holding me back from joy.

    And I knew that freedom and joy wouldn’t be found in my dreams coming true. Freedom and joy and could only be found in Jesus.

    I knew my life wasn’t about a relationship status, but about my relationship with Jesus. And I wasn’t about to walk away from the Savior I had met as a little girl. I surrendered my dreams to Jesus, even if that meant those dreams wouldn’t come true. I chose to be the Bride of Christ, even if that meant never getting married.

    Looking back, I can’t put my finger on one single moment of choice, except for that prayer of decision made by a five-year-old girl to trust in Jesus.

     

    But looking back, I do see daily choices that God used to bring me freedom and joy in my singleness:

    Spending time in God’s Word: Lies about my worth and purpose as a single woman were what was feeding the discontentment. So I spent time in God’s Word, filling my heart and mind with the truth of Jesus’ love for me and my worth and purpose in Him, replacing the if onlys with God’s promises.

    Praying about my dreams: God gave me this dream to be married, and He wanted me to give it back to Him. I found that the more I thought If only, the less I prayed for my future husband and marriage, and the less I trusted God with my dreams. The if onlys brought fearful urgency for marriage, because I wasn’t trusting God. Prayer brings hopeful expectancy for marriage, because I know I can trust God.

    Starting a gratitude journal: I wanted to have joy in my singleness, and in the Bible I saw that joy was linked to thanksgiving. I started a gratitude journal to have an intentional way of daily giving thanks to God. Rejoicing in who God is, in what He has done, and in the abundant gifts He has given opens my eyes to the beauty and goodness and presence of Jesus in my life right now.

    Having accountability: Being single can be lonely. And that’s what the enemy wanted me to be: alone as I battled the discontentment and fought the if onlys. But God gave me people who I could talk to about my struggles, who could give me godly wisdom, who could pray for me, who could speak truth and encouragement into my heart, and who could hold me accountable to living in obedience to Jesus. They helped me remove the shackles that chained my worth and fulfillment to my relationship status.

    God used and is still using this season of singleness to teach me so much about finding my contentment in Jesus, and in Jesus alone. He is continually bringing me to a place of deeper surrender and commitment to Jesus. And in that depth there is deeper freedom and joy.

    There is freedom in surrender, freedom in choosing Jesus as my joy, freedom to live fully, even with unfulfilled dreams, even if those dreams are never fulfilled.

    But even now, it isn’t easy. Being single can be hard. I still have my dreams and I’m still praying for a husband. I know the struggles of the single woman: the waiting for an unknown someday, the comparisons and jealousies that creep in, the insecurities of not being good enough, the discouragement that it will never happen, the loneliness and longing for a partner, and the discontentment that comes with it all.

    Maybe you’re struggling with some of this right now. Can I end with some encouragement for you, as one who is right there with you in the midst of these singleness struggles?

    You are the Bride of Christ, set free to live a joyful life in love with Jesus, and it is THAT relationship that gives you your worth and your fulfillment.

    Let’s choose Jesus.

    – – –

    Jessica Faith Hagen is a writer, dreamer, and bookworm, who is learning to live content in Jesus every day, not just someday.

    She writes at The Overflowing to encourage other young women to know their worth in Christ, grow their faith in God, and enjoy their life right now.

    – – –

    Special thanks to Daiga Ellaby (via unsplash) for the beautiful image of the girl and flowers to accompany this post. 

  • faith in action,  meditation,  weekly prayers

    Airport Prayers

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    Yesterday was a day of intercession and prayer. Some of you shared your hearts with me, and some of you just came to my heart as I spent time with Jesus. I prayed for you on my morning run as the sun came up over the lake. I sat in a quiet chapel in an airport full of motion to still my heart and speak your names softly. I lifted you up during my day of travel, on my flights back home. And in page after page of my journal, I wrote out prayers for you.

    //

    I prayed for you to know the God of mercy and grace, rather than one of judgment and condemnation. I prayed for you, the one carrying far too many burdens, to feel the freedom to release them at His feet. I prayed for you who are aching in body and spirit- for relief and healing, but also for you to experience the closeness of a tender Savior who understands suffering. He is right there with you in this as you wait for healing to come. For you who are beaten down and battle weary, I prayed for sustenance. One day at a time, one moment at a time, to trust Him to guide you forward and to give you what you need. I prayed for Truth to be with you today instead of the lies of your past and the insecurities of the present. I prayed for you who are waiting, for a time of stillness and intent listening as you wait for wisdom and His lead.

    //

    For both of us, I prayed that this season would be one of standing on the Rock. That on the hard days, we would not be shaken or moved because we stand firm with the Creator and Counselor who holds it all in His mighty hands. He will not let our feet slip. He will never leave us. He is right here. We are not alone.

  • freedom stories

    Rescued From the Life I Wanted – Paola’s Story

    Friends, I’m so excited for you to meet Paola. She is sharing her story with us today through an interview we had this week. I love how technology can put us in touch with sisters/community from all over the world. If her words speak to you, be sure to let her know in the comments below or hop on over to her site (linked in her bio below).

    Here is Paola’s Freedom Story

    Hi Paola! I’m so grateful you’re willing to share your story with us. Before we get into it, will you tell us some of the fun stuff? Tell us about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into your life!

    Several addresses and many accents along the way summarize my life. I was born in Spanish, live in French, and think in English! Born in Venezuela I was raised and educated between cultures. My formative years were spent between Europe and the US. I became a believer in college through the ministry of Inter-Varsity, and later joined a local church that became my home church for ten years. Years later I would return to Venezuela, now an adult. This makes me a TCK – short for Third Culture Kid.

    Practically a foreigner, it would prove a hard experience, and by God’s grace, a great blessing. It was there that I met and married my husband. As the political situation there worsened, we began to pray for and research legal avenues to leave. The Lord made a way and after a rigorous application process, we were approved and immigrated to Canada in 2012. We became Canadian citizens in 2015.

    It’s all harder than it sounds, less glamorous than it looks, and infinitely more blessed than I could have ever expected. When we moved to Montreal, learning to run in its majestic winter became a goal. Now, for fun, I run outside year-round in Canada!

    What a journey! And friends… Paola runs in the snow, like -20C (which is about -13F). So she’s a warrior in my mind! Paola, 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?

    Ever since I can remember, I wanted to succeed. Both my upbringing and my education showed the ideals of the world, so I had very high expectations of myself from a young age. By the time I was in my 20’s I was hungry for achievement, that I may feel validated and important. Without realizing it, I gladly served at the altar of success. My worth was completely married to the fruits of my labour.

    What were some of the old narratives you absorbed?

    My old narratives dictated that to be someone, I needed to attain certain goals. The size of my bank account, my job title and client portfolio; it all said something about me that confirmed to me and others I was a person of value. I was hungry for achievement because I was hungry for identity.

    The core issue with narratives is to ask – is this true? According to who? There is nothing wrong with wanting a good job and salary. The issue becomes the definitions we attach to things. For me, these things became markers of approval. A full life was a life of influence and plenty. I was working with the wrong definitions.

    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?

    The turning point came in the form of a severe burnout and depression. At the age of 43, I woke up one day hating my life so much I was looking for ways to quit it. Nothing will sober you up more than to realize you have the life you wanted, and its emptiness swallows you whole. None of the achievements I’d worked so hard for were giving me any of the validation and comfort I wanted. (If you want to read more about that, I’ve written about it here).

    So what happened next? What actions did you take? Did you connect with community or find new Truths that helped you find freedom?

    The moment of truth came when I finally made the decision to quit my job. It seems like such a simple and even small thing. People quit their jobs every day. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Who would I be then? After being the shadow of a person for months, tired, sleepless, and depressed, with a big gulp I timidly typed up and handed my resignation. It was the hardest and most freeing thing.

    After I quit it, I realized I wasn’t just quitting that job. I was quitting an entire way of looking at myself and others. I was quitting a pursuit of 15+ years to make a name for myself, that had turned out to be a house of cards.

    My husband coined the aftermath of my quitting rehab and detox. Indeed, over the months that followed, I relearned to be a person again. Stripped of all the things that gave me identity and security, I had to learn to walk again. Scripture became my shelter. I read and pray like never before. I had lost my way home and got to see God’s truth afresh. It was such a gift, that literally saved me from myself.

    To find myself face to face with the gospel again was the greatest respite from the relentless pursuit of so many years. Jesus’s work on the cross makes me whole. The Bible clearly states that it is by grace alone that we are saved. Our identity is safely in the hands that were pierced for my sake, that I may have communion with the Father. Losing sight of that had meant losing my lifeline. Lies spread into every crevice of my thought-life. Reconnecting to the Vine, revived my heart and made room for the Truth while exposing the lies.

    Being part of a gospel-centered church was also pivotal. To hear God’s Word preached Sunday after Sunday makes a dent. When I was lost in the idolatry of success those words became medicine when I finally understood my workaholism and idolatry.

    I love your story because I see myself (and many others) in it. You made such a bold change that required such a step of faith, and I’m so grateful to hear about the changes that brought for you. Tell me about your life of freedom. What does it look like for you now?

    Today I see my life is small and my God is big. I was so hungry for spectacular, so avid for results, I had reduced God to a small caregiver I’d summon when things got too hard to face or I didn’t have the outcome I was hoping for. Today, my life is small and simple. I don’t have a big salary for an important position at a big-name company. My days are invested being a wife, a learner, and a mentor, writing, reading, and studying. I try to live each of those roles out of the title that makes every breath possible – disciple. I am a follower of Christ.

    Do you still wrestle with those old struggles? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?

    Of course! The flesh is in perpetual opposition to God. There are days when I fear my life is too small to count. My calendar, once filled with meetings with big-name clients, now has writing days, and coffee dates with women I mentor. Sometimes I feel like my contribution to our household economy reflects my worth. I’m especially grateful for my husband, who is the first to bring me to the Truth.

    Today when I feel down and realize the root is a thought that is faulty in light of Scripture, I try to preach Truth to my heart instead. The feelings may linger, but I pray, confess my heart out to God, maybe share with a trusted friend or two and ask for their prayers. Don’t want to entertain what is not Truth-based. The gospel is too precious, was too costly, and is too powerful, for me to waste my time investing in things that are not aligned with it.

    Yes! Are there any key scriptures, quotes, or books that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?

    My story of freedom is a story of RESCUE. He rescued me from endlessly trying to build my own little kingdom of self-sufficiency. Clarity on who He is brings clarity on whose I am. God has Lordship over all things and we are utterly dependent on Him. This brings Him glory. It’s a heavenly perspective that helps me to put things in their rightful place – Jesus on the throne, my life in His hands, my heart trusting His. He’s strong, I don’t have to be. He is trustworthy.

    “Know therefore today and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above, and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39 ESV)
    “Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth. Unite my heart to fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11 ESV)
    “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7 NIV)
    “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)

    Those are such powerful Truths! And I love what you said about our own little kingdoms. I’ve built a few of my own over the years, and you touched on something I think a lot of people can relate to in your story. I’m so grateful you’ve found freedom. Okay, one last question, 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. 🙂

    1. God’s Word – It’s made ALL the difference. God’s words have carried me through the painful process of ridding my heart of all previous go-to behaviours and definitions and held me tenderly in the safety and provision of His promises. I testify of His goodness and faithfulness with all my heart!
    2. God’s people – My husband and close friends who prayed me through the dark time. For new ones that bless my life and teach me the good fruits of love, gentleness, and patience.
    3. New beginnings – He is making all things new. Writing is a hard and humbling activity for me. I’m grateful for the ministry of words that I feel called to learn to steward. It keeps me utterly dependent on God.

    – – –

    Paola Barrera is a writer who desires to let the Word be the lamp unto our feet it says it is, letting it edit our narratives and words with those that matter most – God’s. She writes regularly at Words Outloud and lives with her husband Gustavo in Montreal, Canada. You can follow her on Twitter @Paola_BarreraR and Instagram @paola_m_barrera.

    – – –

    Special thanks to Richard Lee (with Unsplash) for the image of the birds in flight to accompany this post!

  • control,  intentional living,  mental health,  weekly prayers

    Manna and Morsels

    I had coffee with a friend, and we talked about the times of life where everything feels overwhelming and complex.

    We looked over at her sweet baby, napping in the booth next to us. We sipped on hot coffee in paper cups and talked about the seasons of life where we can’t see the path forward. We talked about the fog and the paralyzation of depression. She and I both have encountered the darkness of depression and the crippling weight of anxiety, and we’ve known in those times that God is there. But He has also felt far away.

    On those hard days and in those dark seasons, getting out of that pit can seem like a daunting, long road. Even if others could show us a charted path towards healing and towards intimacy with Christ–even if there are steps or courses we could take–we likely feel like that is more than we can handle.

    I am one who likes a good plan. I like to know the 12 steps I can take to find peace, the 3 things I can do today to feel less anxious, the 10 Scriptures I can meditate on to remember that God is light in our dark times. But what if even those “simple steps” seem too daunting? Sometimes 12 steps are too far ahead of what I can see, and that particular long path seems overwhelming. And 10 Scriptures? How do I pick where to start? Thinking about the 3 things I can do TODAY reminds me of the 17 things on my to do list that I haven’t done yet, and all of it seems like more than what I have the energy to tackle.

    So we can start by asking for manna.

    MANNA

    In the Bible (Exodus 16), there is an incredible story about a group of people (the Israelites) who were delivered out of slavery in Egypt by a man named Moses. As Moses and another leader named Aaron led the Israelites out of Egypt, they entered into a wilderness, where there was nothing to eat. The people complained to Moses and Aaron that they were going to die of hunger.

    God spoke to Moses and told them that He would take care of the hungry people.

    “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Exodus 16:4-6)

    The bread from heaven was called manna. God made these daily provisions for the people, even with meat (quail) in the evenings. Moses said that through these provisions,

    “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against the Lord.” (verses 6-7)

    When they went out to collect their bread for the first time, like flakes fine as frost on the ground, they asked what it was. Moses reminded them “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” He repeated the commandments of how they were to gather it, ensuring that each person would have plenty to eat– “enough for their fill that day.” And He warned them not to leave any of it over til the morning.

    BUT if the people feared that God would take care of them again the next day, and tried to gather more than their daily portion? The warnings were that the leftovers would either melt with the heat of the sun, breed worms, or smell.

    And yet… what happened?

    “But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it til the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.” (verses 20-21)

    God had to re-remind them that they were to just take enough for one day at a time. Their lack of trust in Him required repetition- that He would provide, and then God showing again and again that He would in fact do it.

    The people ate the manna for forty years, until they came to a new land.

    Every day for forty years (that’s roughly 14,600 days), there was manna.

    MORSELS

    How often do I get ahead of myself and try to figure out the next steps on my own? How many times have I been in seasons of waiting when I begged (demanded) that God show me the whole path ahead? How frequently have I stressed about provision, with crippling fear that He won’t take care of me? How many days have I woken up and thought about everything I needed to do that day, without a thought of prayer or consulting with God to lead the way? I cannot tell you how many journals of mine are filled with confessions of not trusting God to lead the way and trying to take control back into my own hands.

    Sitting with my friend, I was reminded that there are some seasons where we are just called to simply rest. In the daily act of surrender to Him, we get to stop wrestling and just ask HIM to be our fill. When we let Him show us one step at a time, one day at a time, He is faithful to give us a way forward. Sometimes they are baby steps- tiny morsels. But as my friend shared, morsels can be savored. With gratitude for the flavor that comes with each small bite, we can remember that He carries us through the wilderness and is faithful in His provision and protection over us.

    There are some times where we don’t need to chase down complex systems or plans, but just go back to the basics:

    Just choosing one verse to pray all week long.

    Reading a psalm before bed. Just one.

    Stretching in the morning and thanking God for the morning light.

    Taking a walk and noticing the droplets of dew on the grass, or picking a few small flowers to carry in your hand.

    Sitting for a longer period of time than the busy schedule might seem to allow for coffee with a sweet friend.

    Making a homemade meal and thanking God for the ingredients, for the home in which to cook it, for the body that it nourishes.

    Asking Him to show us the next right thing and learning to be still and wait for HIS guidance.

    There are some days where we just have to ask for manna, and trust that God will bring it.

    And sweet friend? He will.

    A Prayer for Manna and Morsels

    Lord, we ask for a taste of a manna today. You tell us in Your word that Your mercies are new every morning. Will You show me a new mercy today? Help me to have eyes that are opened to see Your miracles- Your provision in the daily needs that get me through this day; Your care and compassion for Your people, including me; Your sovereign knowledge of my life, that I can trust that You know the way and will guide me to walk in Your will, even when I can’t see the whole path forward. Forgive me for the times that I try to take control or look to other sources to be my guide. Lord, I open my hands to receive Your lavish love — help me to savor every morsel that You give me today.

     

     

    *Special thanks to Simon Wilkes and Isaac Mehegan who provided the images to accompany this post (via unsplash).

  • freedom stories

    My African Year of Grieving – Laura’s Story

    As I was reading Laura’s story this week, I kept wishing we were sitting together over a cup of coffee at a cute cafe in one of our cities. Which is kind of perfect, because she writes as The Caffeinated Woman and invites others to “live wide awake” through her writing and speaking. She has a beautiful heart for the Lord, and has found sweet freedom and healing from her grief through her relationship with Him.

    Here is Laura’s Freedom Story

     

    National geographic wrote an article about the way some people groups in Africa handle grief. The part that stayed with me after reading it, was that when someone experiences the significant loss of a loved one the expectation is that for a year they are given space and freedom to grieve. A whole year.

    Other cultures, including the one in which I live, do not offer much in the way of space and freedom to grieve significant loss. We hurry-up, plan and pull off a funeral in a matter of days. Some work/school environments offer benefits to have a few days off. Days. And not everyone can or will offer that. Beyond a couple weeks post loss there is a generalized expectation that we “should” move on. I mean life keeps needing be lived right? I deeply dislike the word ‘should’ yet it’s common enough to hear in the context of how friends and family speak of the bereaved, weeks after their loss. There’s a lot of opinion about what the grieving ones should or should not be doing after a certain (short) time frame.

    Here’s truth:

    Grief has a job, takes its own sweet time, and left to do its work will lead the grieving to a healthy new chapter.

    Because I lived in this and through this I have the right to say, let’s offer all people groups the freedom to grieve. For more than a few days.

    Most young kids have an answer or two or three for the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was: to be a mom. I told my brand new hubby that. He said, how about we do ‘just married’ for a year first? That was a good life choice. A year later I brought it up again. He said, how about a puppy? Our darling golden retriever puppy Bailey was a great source of distraction for another year. We knew when the time was right, only our idea of good timing turned into a lot more time. Eventually a lot of time passed and we were introduced to the concept and treatment of infertility. And then the time arrived to be a mom, for us to be parents. Our first ultrasound showed us our insta-big-family. We were going to go from a couple to a family of five.

    During the time of pregnancy we were middle school youth leaders. Each week I went to the doctor I was given an ultrasound VHS tape recording the growing babies. That movie was a highlight at our youth gatherings. During the time of pregnancy, there were some unexpected issues, days in the hospital, hours on monitors and eventual bed rest. One day, at my 23 week and 5 day appointment, I found myself on the way from my doctors office to a hospital with a level three NICU, via ambulance. Hours later JR and I heard the cries of Calvin, then Leah, and finally Andrew DeGroot. Each weighed in at one pound, with the tiniest fingers and toes. They were living, they were baptized, they just didn’t have enough lung development to live long.

    It was the two of us there with our little ones, and a remarkable staff. Oh, and the Spirit of the Living God who made himself known right after we were told the babies would be born living but not survive long. We looked at one another and these were the words we said out-loud:

    “I look up to the mountains — does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

    There was more, is more to that prayer. We had all the words to Psalm 121 given to our minds to speak into that sacred and scary and sad, so sad space where we were alone. But not alone at all.

    Thus began my African Year of Grieving. No one could have prepared me for being a mother that would bury her first three children. I didn’t want to be a grieving mother. I wanted to breastfeed, complain about not enough sleep, push a stroller, get puked on, read Where The Wild Things Are, rock babies to sleep. I won’t ask you to imagine what it’s like to bury a child though some of you reading already know. Others of you know similar unexpected and devastating loss. It unsettled every part of my being, including my faith.

     

    Grieving was deep, grueling, exhausting, and long. A majority of the sympathies and sentiments are initially full of grace and shared sadness. Yet, there is a subtle undercurrent of ‘get better soon,’ which morphs into well-meaning words and expectations for you to be back to your old self by, say, a few weeks later. Certainly after a couple months.

    But what they don’t get, I didn’t get either, was that the old self won’t come back. The old self wanted to get pregnant, have a baby, be a mother. This self, the one that did have the baby, that is a mother but doesn’t have children to raise will require the freedom of time, tenderness, tears, tantrums, tons of sleep, to find whatever self is next.

    And what about God?

    I knew about God. I grew up with healthy church experience, a mother who prays and taught us to pray. Youth group, camp, serving projects, Bible classes, were part of my foundation. But in this grief all I knew about God so far, really didn’t make any sense at all. Six months into the year of grief, I walked my dog, stopped in the middle of the field, released every fiber of my highly emotional self, and shaking my fist at the sky I screamed, “If you are for real God, WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH ME?”

    Immediately God replied, “I want all of you.”

    There in the field at the crossroad of bitterness or joy, I heard the very audible voice of God for the very first time. I was prepared to let go of believing. I was ready to live a dark, inward, hard-hearted, shut-down, imprisoned existence. But there must have been hope too, quietly pleading behind the pain. And because He spoke to my raw, honest self in such a tangible way I chose the path of joy. It didn’t begin with sudden feelings of happiness, it began with a hunger to Know God, the one that talked to me, not just know about Him.

    In my African Year of Grieving, I was set free to know and love Someone. Jesus knows and loves me already. He knows all of me, wants all of me. He told me Himself. And so many years later, I deeply believe His words were not only for me alone. They are for you too — you who might be devastated, desperate, on the long road grief. You are not alone. The God who speaks, who loves, who heals, who has freed us, is present. He wants all of you too.

    One year later, I can honestly say I was ready for something new. Good grieving work happened in many ways, with a few people who went the distance with us. We had a memorial ceremony then, acknowledging the loss and placing bulbs in the ground as a symbol of new life that had and would continue to come. I turned the page and began a new chapter.

    My freedom story continues. Two years after the triplets, we were in a hospital room and said hello to Lyndsay and Lauren. They’re remarkable humans that I can’t believe are mine! I continue to be hungry for an ever changing relationship with Jesus and his loved ones. His Word has informed but is transforming me and I’m so thankful to have been set free to remain free to surrender my life and pursue life — the one Jesus wants to fill with healing, wholeness, hope, and love.

    – – –

     

    Laura DeGroot is the Caffeinated Woman! She loves to laugh, live out-loud, drink good coffee, read good books, and eat great food. She is a motivated speaker, the mother of exceptional twin girls, and the wife of a loyal, adventurous, exemplary man.

    Laura is a champion for caffeinated living. She encourages others to embrace their story, lean into rough patches, and be present to God’s healing and powerful Presence. She has lived with both significant loss and abundant blessing, sometimes simultaneously. Her stories come from the quotidian life of a strong-willed daughter, an appreciative wife, an often unconventional mother, and a challenged pet owner. Her posture and openness to life reveal that she is “never the expert, always the student.”

    Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    Laura encourages others to live wide awake at The Caffeinated Woman

     

     

    – – –

    Special thanks to Christiana Rivers (with Unsplash) for the cozy image of the coffee to accompany this post!

  • freedom stories

    What a dream about ice cream parlors reminded me about freedom

    On Monday morning of this week I woke up from a dream that was extremely realistic and vivid. It’s a recurring dream I’ve had for years, but this was the most detailed and memorable yet. I can’t stop thinking about it.

    I can almost smell the french fry grease, and feel the familiar stickiness under the rubber soles of my shoes. I am back at my first high school job, waiting tables at an ice cream shop. In the dream, I take a quick survey of the restaurant, and see that I have guests seated at tables 21, 22, 53, 54, and 55. None of them have been greeted yet, and I know that I have to jump in and start taking care of ALL OF THEM.

    I reach into my apron to take out my notepad and start running around taking drink orders and apologizing for the delay. When I run back to the kitchen to pour sodas, I peek my head out and see even more guests seated at new tables. Oh no! Some are checking their watches, obviously perturbed for how long I am taking. One table is getting up to leave.

    I rush around in bubbly waitress mode and try to collect orders, explain menu questions, deliver drinks, and navigate the new computer system (obviously it has been upgraded since high school). The computer screen is locked and I can’t remember my old passcode. I eventually get in, and EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT. I can’t find the kids menu, and all of the sundae names have changed in the last 15 years. More tables are expressing their frustration, and I run out and apologize, blaming the delay on the computers/the cooks (when in actuality I haven’t entered one meal into the computer because I can’t figure out the system). I feel panic rising up in my throat. New customers are waiting at the hostess stand and I am literally about to burst with anxiety. Finally, I turn around and see that there are about five other waitresses standing by the ice cream fountain. They aren’t being lazy, as I had assumed earlier in the subconscious of my dream. They just thought I had it all under control. I shout out an exasperated cry for help– “can anyone pick up a table for me?” Three waitresses quickly jump in and begin to help managing the chaos just as I wake up.

    When I woke up I was immediately aware of the fact that this dream, this recurring dream of serving at the ice cream parlor in New Jersey, has much deeper meaning than I’ve ever realized before. There are two things God showed me when I woke up and prayed:

    1) THAT DREAM is the definition of insanity…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It is not His will for us to live that chaotic, twirling, micro-managing, stressed out life anymore. He has called us to FREEDOM!
    2) Freedom is found when we ask others for help. When we recognize that we don’t have to do it on our own anymore, there is relief. When we know that (thank goodness) we are actually not alone, there is comfort and guidance that others can provide. In hearing the story of another person, we get to say “me too” and break the tension of thinking we’re the only one wrestling with darkness.

    I’ve shared over the past several months various areas that God has brought/is bringing freedom into my life. Through Christ and with the support of community, I have been set free from:

    • depression and hopelessness
    • some of my worst tendencies with OCD and anxiety
    • abuse, trauma
    • extreme people-pleasing and perfectionism

    AND, with this freedom, I have also stepped into true joy that permeates my life, even on the hard days. I have been granted compassion for others who are in deep places of sorrow, trauma, divorce, and addiction. I have recognized my calling and purpose to lift up others who are hurting through my voice. I have found hope.

    This is the heartbeat of my story, and the heartbeat of this space. I want you to know that:

    1) There is freedom to be found in a life surrendered to Christ. He is able to break the chains that you cannot break for yourself.
    2) You are not alone. I am a big believer that “vulnerability begets vulnerability” (a favorite Brene Brown quote), and I want to open up a space where you can hear other stories and perspectives than just my own.

    Just like I can’t serve everyone in that restaurant by myself, I know that not all of the people who step into this space will resonate with my story. BUT I know that there is still hurt and there are still chains you might be carrying around–I want to help you find freedom.

    So here’s the vision: This fall (starting today!!!), I hope you will join me in reading FREEDOM STORIES on the blog each Friday. I have asked some of my favorite writers and some new writing friends if they will join me in sharing where they have found freedom in their life through Christ and authentic community. You will hear from others who have been released from the chaos or burdens that once weighed them down, like substance abuse, false idols, really hard seasons in their marriages, parenting struggles, singleness, shame, disordered eating, and grief. This is a brave tribe of women who are willing to go first and be vulnerable in order to encourage others with their own stories. I’m so excited and hopeful to share these stories of freedom, and I pray that you will join in the hope we have found, too.

    Photo by Katerina Radvanska via Unsplash
  • freedom,  intentional living,  meditation

    Open

    || O P E N ||

    A suddenly free day created an expanse of time for thought around this word.

    …Open…

    To lay beneath a tree and look through the clearings, between the branches, to take in the expanse of pure blue sky.

    Space for Sabbath rest, a run by the river, cooking the stew that reminds me of my best friend.

    To hold hands open, gentle, soft for whatever is placed in them.

    To remove clutter, extra, the unhealthy and the unneeded. To make space for the healthy and good.

    To hear other people’s stories without judgment.

    To create room for those who are different than me to feel heard and loved.

    Allowing my own feelings to rise up without self-criticism. Letting go, as with a breath, those that are not healthy or helpful. Holding on to what is true and will create growth.

    Offering grace.

    To let love in again after deep pain and sorrow.

    Noticing the September around me.

    ||

    What does the word OPEN mean to you today?