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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!