In a world of curated feeds and presenting our best selves, I love meeting people like Michelle. When one person is willing to show their mess and be real, it opens the doors for others to say, “what a relief. Me too.” This is the power of vulnerability. Michelle’s story doesn’t just show the mess though- it shows Christ’s power in our weakness, and is a true picture of redemption.
This is Michelle’s Freedom Story.
By the time God saved me I had, let’s just say, “lived a lot of life.” There was a lot that I had done wrong and very little that I had gotten right. Despite my honest efforts at being “good” I failed. Sometimes I wish things had been different in my life. I often fall into the trap of believing that if I got it all right then, everything would turn out just as it was supposed to.
You see, I carried the weight of that burden on my shoulders when it was something that I was never meant to bear on my own.
It’s a destructive lie.
I never saw a girl good enough for Jesus when I looked in the mirror. Not to mention, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility of who He might be or what He could want from me. Still, I believed the enemy who whispered, “God doesn’t want what you bring to the table.”
If we get real for a second, most of us have heard the same whisper. We question our value in God’s eyes; we begin to believe we might be too much of a blemished case for Him to handle. I believed what the enemy fed me, have you? He has made us question our value and worth in the eyes of the One who created us. Satan’s cunning attempts made me fail to see the massive need that lingered within my soul. The lies that became woven within me became my reflection on the outside.
Insecurities ruled my appearance and behavior, lack of trust poised me for trouble, and fears led to long, sleepless nights. The truth was, I was broken. I partied for approval, sought self-worth in artificial relationships, and used addiction to cover up the horrible disaster that was churning inside. I craved attention for all the wrong reasons, sought affection to fill voids, and searched for affirmation of my worth from the world, the same society which told me I wasn’t beautiful enough and convinced me eating disorders would fix my weight. I was lost, miserable, and fatally wounded by sin.
I was mistreated, devalued and made fun of. I kept secrets from people who loved me. I was helpless and hopeless. When I was nineteen, God’s grace provided a way out. Choosing to follow Jesus shattered the lies Satan let dangle over my head. The grip of the enemy on our lives can be tight, but the power of the Gospel is stronger. The Gospel can break chains we didn’t even know we had. His grace sheds light on the greatest darkness we carry.
God loves to use a mess for His glory. You see, only God can turn your worst moments into a testimony of grace. Striving for perfection only leads to brokenness and chaos – a mess looking for grace finds redemption in the Gospel. Like that old, worn piece of furniture we keep refinishing because to us it is priceless, God sees us as more than the mess we are. We are worth refinishing into something beautiful.
When God saved me I was at my rock bottom place, the one where you have to choose to live, choose to believe that there is something better. I believed it, but I knew that I wasn’t going to find it within myself. I tried so hard to figure it out on my own until a neighbor shared something life-changing. She said, “God saved me, and He loves you.”
It was like one of those moments in the movies when the music plays, and the lead character has a revelation of some kind. Except mine was minus the music, and it took God a couple of days to open my eyes to this truth that I was loved and pursued by a holy God.
No matter what I tried, there was no getting away from what God was doing in my life. This rock bottom girl was being chased by a loving, faithful, and gracious God.
The world tells us if we are good enough, kind enough, and don’t mess up than we are enough for God. But, the Gospel says, I am broken and without hope, that I am not enough and will never be enough without Jesus Christ.
In a world that says we are enough, God says only Jesus is.
My life was a mess and sometimes still is. I was so burdened carrying the weight of all my mess ups that I failed to see the healing that was right in front of me. Upon accepting Christ I was no longer defined by my messes and mistakes, I was defined by a Holy God. God who placed a stamp of approval on me through Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
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Michelle is a wife and mom of three. She has written several small Bible studies and writes regularly on her blog www.displayinggrace.com. Her goal above all else is to encourage women to thrive in their walks with Jesus and share the beautiful Gospel of Christ. When she isn’t writing or teaching Michelle loves reading, spending time with her family, creating art, and drinking coffee.
P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Check out 20+ stories of other inspiring women like Michelle here. [And thank you to Olia Gozha with the Unsplash community for the beautiful flower images].
All the World’s a Stage: Shape Shifter
When I was in elementary school, I was painfully shy. I was tall, skinny, clumsy, smart, and awkward. I didn’t like getting the answers wrong in class so I didn’t raise my hand unless I was 110% sure of the answer. I often looked at the other girls in my class and wondered how to be more confident, pretty, and popular like them. I wanted to be like them, not like nerdy, quiet me.
Then, I discovered summer theatre camp. We got the chance to step into new roles and characters different from our own, everyday-life selves. There were a lot of kids there like me- quirky, shy, lonely, or loud, silly, and unique. As we rehearsed our parts and learned our lines, tried on costumes and stepped under the bright, hot stage lights, we literally “became” our characters. I entered the world of fairy tales and had so much fun blending into the forest as a bright and happy pink flower. In a jungle, I became a strong and sure-footed elephant. In a kingdom far away, I became a beloved princess rescued by her prince charming. Over about fifteen years in theatre, I played characters that were brash, hilarious, provocative, complex, moody, sly, witty, demure, or intelligent. With each wig and set change, these characters allowed me to transform into whatever was required of my role.
In real life, I was also learning how to shape shift. I worried so much about what others thought of me, that I adjusted myself to fit into the “world” of characters in any given scene. If the environment was stressful or argumentative, I did my best to diffuse the situation with a peace-making attitude. If the room was full of outgoing and confident individuals, I played strong and confident. In academic settings, I could be the studious, try-hard perfectionist. At social gatherings, I adapted myself to be more outgoing and fun than I naturally felt. In romantic relationships, I molded myself to meet the needs, desires, and requests of a significant other, letting go of my own needs to make sure the other person stayed happy with me.
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Suddenly Aware: People-Based Identity
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” –Galatians 1:10
Six years ago, I faced a new kind of shift in my life. As I stepped through the doors of a recovery meeting to “help” another person, I became painfully aware of my own unhealthiness. Over the next few weeks of attending those recovery meetings, a desperate need for change grew inside of me. If I wanted to live a life of freedom, peace, and one that was glorifying to Christ, I knew that I needed to let go of my people pleasing. I slowly confronted the habits I’d developed over the years through a world based on people-pleasing:
- I lost my sense of personal identity. When I built my life around the presumed needs or personalities around me, it was difficult to have a firm sense of who I was on my own. When I had too much time by myself, I panicked. What did I like to do? Where did I want to eat? What brought me joy? I didn’t know how to answer these questions unless I had someone else to answer for me. It was just easier for me to always be around people, so that I didn’t have to think for myself or assert my needs or opinions.
- I used empathy as an unhealthy tool. Because I am empathetic, I often feel or can sense the emotions of those around me. As a people pleaser, I learned how to read what the other person needed, and I attempted to be whatever they needed at the time. While I can now see that empathy is a gift when handled properly, the unhealthy management of this gift caused me to take on situations or problems that were not mine to solve. It also caused me to make assumptions that were not always correct. At the very worst, my people pleasing and empathy created ulterior motivations for my service and acts of care for others (“if I do this for them, they won’t be mad anymore,” or “if I take care of this for them, they will owe me/take care of me later”). Yuck.
- I had poor to zero boundaries. I often lost my own voice or strength as I tuned into what the other person wanted from me. I lacked the assertion to stand up for myself, and stayed in unhealthy situations too long. I didn’t always know where the other person ended and I began, so I stayed in those situations to bring encouragement, to help, or to show love. The word “no” was not in my vocabulary. I often said yes out of obligation (and then later resented my yeses). I absorbed the narrative that most things were my fault or my responsibility to fix.
- I was good at wearing masks. Because I only wanted others to see the version of Heather that was easy to get along with, happy, and helpful, I denied or pushed down any emotions that I considered negative. Just like in my theatre days, I grew skilled in my ability to wear masks. But instead of physical costumes or stage make-up, these were behavior masks I wore in real life. I put on masks of happiness and laughter, even if inside I was hurting or struggling with depression. I wore masks of achievement and busyness to cover up my sense of insecurity. I chose masks of forgiveness and peace-keeping, even if I was actually hurt or angry at another person.
- I served people above God. As a people pleaser, I attempted to be all things to all people. I sometimes went against my own standards or ethics of what I knew was right because I wanted to keep in the good graces of others. Essentially, people became my god. And the thing about people is that we are all human- our needs or emotions change on a regular basis. Our desires and relationship dynamics can shift with the season. By trying to keep others happy in a moving, changing, fallen world, I was all. over. the. place. There was nothing steady or grounding about placing my focus solely on others’ happiness. My choices that made someone happy yesterday could make them mad today. I constantly stayed on the merry-go-round of building my world around the moving target of other people’s expectations.
While the world of theatre welcomes this versatility and adaptability, doing so in real life can be exhausting, inauthentic, and even dangerous.
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True Transformation: God-Based Identity
Here’s what I have come to know as Truth over the past six years of work in counseling and codependent recovery:
- A God-based identity is far more grounded than the one based on people. Scripture is packed full of references to Christ as a cornerstone and God as a rock. That identity is a solid ground we can stand upon in this world. I would much rather base my identity on something firm, stable, and unchanging instead of the whizzing, whipping winds of change that come from trying to please others. When I choose to ground myself in God, the world is easier to navigate and I know who I am.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” – Philippians 4:1
- An identity built on Christ is glorifying to God. His Word reminds us to put our priorities in the right order. He also tells us that when we try to please people, we cannot also be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10). When we build our lives around a God-given purpose and identity, we are able to serve Him with our whole hearts instead of the leftovers.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” –Matthew 6:33
- Rooting myself in God yields security in His true, unconditional love. In God, we are loved not because of what we do, what we bring to the table, what we achieve, or who we make happy. We are loved inherently, at the core of our very being, because He made us and we are His children. God’s love for us celebrates His good work in each of us, from our unique personalities and physical attributes, to our God-given design in our skills and gifts. When we cover up or move away from our own identity to be more like those around us, we step away from all of the special and wonderful things He crafted in each of us.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” –Psalm 139:13-14
- A God-based identity builds authentic connection. People pleasing is surprisingly very lonely for how other-focused it is! When my people pleasing was at its worst, no one knew the real me because I didn’t know the real me. As I released my people pleasing tendencies, I discovered the things that brought me joy, what made me mad (and learning to express that in healthy ways), and how to share the real parts of myself with others. As I moved away from a people-based identity and into my God-given identity, I made real connections with others by sharing my authentic self. I also learned how to serve others from a healthy place, without ulterior motives or expecting anything in return.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” -1 Peter 4:10-11
- When we build our life on the identity God gave us, we get to celebrate our weaknesses and our need for Him. When we recognize that we can’t do it on our own, we rely on God instead of others to life us up. We allow Him to lead us in our work, relationships, love, goals, and our lives, instead of struggling through on our own false strength. A God-based identity allows us to remove all of the layers and masks to be proud of our weakness, because it brings glory to God and makes room for Him in our relationships.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. -2 Corinthians 12:9
Friend, if you struggle with wearing a mask for the fear of letting other see the real you, I am praying for you today. Christ allows us to step into freedom from the overwhelming exhaustion of our former ways of people pleasing.
It is possible to stand firm and secure. It may take some more shifting (a good kind of shifting!) to fix your focus onto a lasting and steadfast love rather than seeking the approval of man. But I can guarantee you that God provides us with a full, abundant, grounded life when we surrender to Him. I pray that over time, you can shed those layers and learn more about who God made you to be.
“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
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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.
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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).
Happy Friday, friends! This week’s story echoes what I’ve heard from so many friends and women in my life. It is hard to give up control from the desires, dreams, plans, and courses of action we map out. So, what does it look like to peel away the layers of perfectionism and surrender that control to God? Amie does a beautiful job of showing us. Thanks for kicking off 2019 Freedom Stories with an honest and beautiful piece, Amie!
Here is Amie’s Freedom Story.
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I silently stared out the window at the barren fields and cloudy skies, as we drove the five hour trip back home after a whirlwind trip to visit family for the holidays. The kids had their headphones on and were listening to a story CD, and my husband, Josh, was zoned in on the drive; I welcomed the quiet and temporary solitude free from distractions. As I watched the gray storm clouds rolling by, I couldn’t help but parallel the bleak skyline to the past year’s disappointments. It seemed as though, despite my best efforts, things just hadn’t gone at all according to plan.
My mind wandered to 2017, which had ended rather disastrously as I’d stretched myself too thin and ended the year with a panic attack, due to over-commitment and my desire for control and perfection in nearly every aspect of my life. This forced me to stop and re-evaluate my priorities. I remembered choosing the words “purpose” and “present” to define 2018, believing that a schedule and well-thought-out plan would cure the anxiety and stress I’d been unable to shake. I told myself that if I just had a clear-cut purpose and plan instead of aimlessly saying yes to everything, things would get better.
Instead of finding my purpose, however, God began to peel back the layers of my striving to reveal imperfections, weaknesses, and failures. I fought for control, for this perfect ideal I had in my head for what I thought God wanted. I looked at what others were doing and questioned why God didn’t create me with the ability to accomplish what they could. I kept asking myself why I seemed to have all of these limits that they didn’t and begged God to take away what I considered to be shortcomings so that I could do all of these great things for Him. I just knew I could be of more use if He’d created me without all of these struggles! My inner critic was relentless. My desire for personal perfection began to grow into a critical view of others as well, and I attempted to lay the blame for my failure on others. I told myself that if they had just behaved differently, my reaction would have been better.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself here before: wondering why, despite your gold foil calendar and multi-colored sharpie pens, life seems to be spiraling out of control at a speed you just can’t keep up with. You’ve found fault with yourself and others, as your inner critic keeps a running list of all the mistakes that give you cause to just throw your hands up in the air in defeat.
The GPS startled me out of my reflection as it reminded my husband that we needed to take the next exit, and it suddenly hit me: Josh wasn’t wringing his hands and wondering what the GPS was thinking, or if it was making the best decision. He was simply steering the van in the direction he was being told to go. He trusted that the GPS had the right answer.
Perhaps that was the answer to why last year had gone so horribly, terribly wrong. I’d been more consumed with the set of directions that I had so carefully laid for myself, that I forgot to trust the One who ultimately guides my steps. I’d ignored God’s whisper to rest in Him and allow Him to lead, believing the lie that the success or failure of my kids, my ministry, and my journey lay solely in my own hands. If I wanted to stop the mad cycle of failure, guilt, and regret, I had to stop striving on my own and sacrificing people on the altar of perfection. Wanting a perfect house, a perfect life, and perfect responses to anything that life threw at me was unrealistic, but how could I come to terms with the fact that life isn’t always ordered and controlled? I desperately wanted the peace that comes from knowing that it wasn’t all up to me.
Could it be that the secret to peace and rest simply lay in putting my trust in Jesus? I pulled out my phone and began to search for verses on peace. I found Isaiah 26:2, which says, “You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You.” (CSB) Jesus has already done the work for me, laying out His perfect plan for my life, and willing to freely give me the perfect peace if I will simply trust Him. It all began to make sense. Freedom and peace could be mine if I chose to trust that He has my best interest at heart, even when life is messy and things don’t make sense!
Now please hear me out. I know I can’t realistically live with the assumption that because God is leading that I’ll always like the direction I’m heading, but I can choose to rest in the fact that I don’t have to figure it all out on my own, control other people’s choices, or throw my hands up in defeat when things don’t go according to my plan. I continued reading and found that Isaiah 26:12 reads, “Lord, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our work for us.” (CSB) What difference would it make in my life if, instead of believing the lie that it’s all up to me, I believed the truth that every good thing that I do comes from God graciously enabling me to be part of His plan? This perspective eliminates my need to struggle through on my own, because He has become perfection for me.
Heavenly Father, help me to trust that Your plan for my life is better than anything I could ever dream up for myself. When I feel like I’m losing control and anxiety starts to creep in, help me to find my rest in You. Thank You for the privilege of being a part of Your master plan, and for allowing me to be an imperfect vessel to be used by You for whatever you see fit, even when things don’t go according to what I think is best. May my imperfections continuously point me to You, reminding me that You became perfect in my place. Help me to choose to accept the freedom You offer from perfection by resting in the truth that You have it all under control.
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Amie is a banker’s daughter turned farmer’s wife, who loves lazy days at the beach and a good conversation with friends. If she isn’t running here, there, and everywhere, you can usually find her doing extraordinary things like cleaning out her flower beds or washing dishes. She is a recovering perfectionist who is learning to see the beauty and purpose in each ordinary day, and hopes that sharing her journey will point readers back to her heavenly Father, who can take the mundane and use it for our good and His glory. She and her husband live in the country with their two children and pet goldfish named George.
You can follow Amie’s writing here!
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P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Find more stories of hope and freedom from others here. Also, special thanks to John Canelis for the picture to accompany this post (via Unsplash).
This is a story for you.
The one who feels broken. The one who is struggling.
The one right in the middle of the hard stuff.
This is a story for the one in the waiting.
For the one standing at a fork in the road, frozen on which way to turn.
For the broken-hearted soul, staring at the pieces and unsure of how you will ever feel whole again.
For the one crippled with anxiety or sitting in darkness, praying for the light.
– – –
Can I whisper something to you right now?
Freedom is for all of us. That means you, too.
Sweet friend, I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me this fifteen or ten or even five years ago, but freedom is possible and it is available to us here. In this life.
This past fall, God pressed it on my heart that this freedom thing I’m passionate about is bigger than just the story He is weaving for my heart. There are a lot of people walking in freedom, who have amazing stories of healing, redemption, and hope to share. I shared 15 of them with you from September to December, and you know what I heard?
“Amen.” “Me too.” “Tell me more.” “I wish I had that kind of story.”
Here’s the thing…
I believe that you DO have that kind of story. You, my fellow traveler on this journey, have your own freedom story. We are the wrestlers- the ones who work things out with fear and trembling. The ones who are not scared to look at the hardest parts of our story and pray for healing. Freedom is sometimes a quick turning point, a 180, or a miracle, but more often than not? It is a process.
Thank you for being brave enough to believe that freedom is possible. Not just for others, but for you too.
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I am REALLY really really excited about two things right now:
- A whole new group of Freedom Stories, currently scheduled to begin next week (January 11) and run through the middle of April. God opened the doors for about 15 more women to join in on Fridays to share their stories here too. So check back each week for more stories of hope and freedom. I can’t wait to see the new connections, ah-ha moments, and inspiration He brings through these women’s brave sharing.
- Something just for YOU. I want you to know that this freedom is not just for others who have stronger faith or better resources or less messy stories. It is for you, friend. If you want to dig deeper and imagine a life of freedom, enter your email address here for a free 5-page workbook to start looking at the areas where you long to be free. More to come on this soon (to go deeper!!!), but for now, get your free PDF:
Recently, God has been placing reminders on my heart to slow down.
This summer, I finally recognized my own addiction to busyness but my schedule still looks quite the same.
This fall, He whispered to my heart that in order to heal through grief and forgiveness, I need to make space for my body to breathe. I haven’t quite found that space in full.
I continue to try to make room in my week to celebrate the Sabbath, but I still struggle with giving Him my time and my rest, uninterrupted from other focuses and commitments.
The truth is, I struggle to “be still” because I still try to be god of my own life.
I scramble and manage and run and burn-out. I am busy and hectic and live my life in chaos, with momentary glimpses of rest before I’m back to the hustle and grind again.
I wrestle my schedule into place and worry about money. When my life feels out of control and I am at my worst with anxiety, I try to control the people and circumstances around me.
None of these things bring stillness.
Because none of these actions or patterns recognize that God is sovereign.
“Be still and know that I am God.” -Psalm 46:10
So I am learning. Slowly.
That I am not God.
That a knowledge of this fact requires deeper knowledge of my Savior.
That being still is not a to-do list item but a matter of stilling my being before the Sovereign Lord.
If you also struggle with being still, I wrote this prayer for us. Feel free to list your own reminders and gratitude of God’s goodness at the bullet points.
Lord, I praise you because You are mighty. You are sovereign. You hold this world and my world in Your hands.
I ask for Your help because I cannot do this on my own.
Father, help me to view this world through wide-eyed observance, wonder and awe instead of the narrow lens of a cell phone camera and my crowded calendar.
To start my day savoring the Word instead of consuming the words and images of strangers in my incessant scrolling.
To stop clinging to control of my schedule, money, relationships, so that I can open my hands to receive simple joys…
- A small red leaf in my path in the midst of the yellows and browns
- The warm sun splashed across the pillow on a Sunday afternoon
- The autumn breeze rustling the ground
- The smell of muffins baking in the oven
- An acorn that reminds me of my Grandmother
- A warm mug of cinnamon tea shared with a friend while our children play with wooden trains
- The plant on my doorstep from a sweet friend to encourage my blossoming creativity
- An enveloping hug from the person who loves my whole heart
- The laughter of my son
- A glorious sunset of peach and orange, with a hint of winter in the air
Lord, my heart longs to be still rather than running through my week without stopping. Lord, I desire to be still and breathe rather than gasping for air. Lord, I’m ready to be still and surrender control.
Father, I trust you to lead.
Help me to follow
ready to listen and receive Your truth
ready to give, with Your guidance
ready to be
– – –
What are the things you notice when you slow down? What would you add to the prayer? Is this a struggle for you too?
P.S. Thank you so much, Leah Kelley, for offering this handful of acorns to the public domain via Pexels. It was the perfect fit for this post.
“Close your eyes. Plant your feet, shoulder-width apart. Relax your arms and let them rest by your sides. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and slowly expand your stomach, your core. Fill it all the way. Picture a string pulling directly through the crown of your head up through the ceiling. Lengthen your spine. Keep your feet rooted to the ground.”
I grew up participating in community children’s theatre. Through middle school, high school, college, and my young adult life, musical theatre was a huge part of my schedule, my dreams, my passion, and my identity.
During warm-ups and exercises, we often heard instructions like the ones above. We had to be centered in our own bodies before we could step into the characters and lives of others. Whenever we practiced this centering exercise, I pictured myself like a strong oak tree. I imagined my long spine and body as the trunk. My feet, connected to the earth, grew deep and stretching roots into the soil beneath the floor. I envisioned life- I imagined full leaves, colorful fruit, a mother bird in her nest- all supported by this strong, rooted body.
This morning, I listened to Ephesians on my way to work. I heard over and over the command to stand firm. I was instantly brought back to the image of standing in a black box theatre in college in a circle of my peers, with feet to the floor and invisible strings through our heads to the sky.
In truth, there have been many times in my life where I have been more like a weak and flimsy weed- whipped back and forth like the wind, tossed to and fro by the waves and storms of life. And often it was because I was trying to stand firm on my own or through the support of others around me.
When I took my eyes off of my Savior, I looked to my own strength to save me and I sank fast and deep. In the times when I looked all around me for comfort or comparison, I forgot who the Creator made me to be. As I frantically scrambled for security in this world and tried to find reliable and steady things to lean on, I built a life based on the temporary fulfillment of accomplishments, love, and financial stability. When I trusted the changing and chaotic things in this world instead of the Lord, my trust in God’s ability to carry me slipped away like sand through my fingers.
However, in the past few years God has taught me so much about rooting myself in Him. The times when I HAVE felt planted are those when I have not relied on my own abilities or solely on the strength of those around me, but rested in the Lord’s care and provision. In those times when HE has been my planting, He has allowed me to walk through earthly circumstances of confusion, unknowns, and chaos with a sureness that He has it all in His hands.
When I walked through divorce and heartbreak, I cried out to Him. He brought me joy and community instead of depression and isolation.
When I struggled with the deep ache for more children in my singleness, God brought me a sweet contentment in the family He HAS blessed me with, instead of doubt or jealousy.
When I walked through times of instability due to financial crisis or job changes, He removed my fear and brought me an understanding of what His “peace that passes all understanding” actually feels like.
Even when our circumstances do not lend themselves to security, I truly believe it is possible to stand firm in this world BECAUSE of Christ. Here are 5 important ways I’ve learned to stand firm in this world:
- Recognize that strength drawn from anything else in this world is a halfway strength. The only way we can get through some of our hardest times and our brightest days is to recognize Christ as a strong, solid ground on which we can stand. Through Him alone, we can find the full strength we need to get through any circumstance.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV)
- Know that suffering transforms us. This present darkness or trial is building in you maturity, a stronger faith, and the ability to persevere through hard things in your future. Christ is our Savior who understands suffering at the deepest level. When we suffer, we are able to lean on the Lord for our wisdom and trust that He will graciously show us the way forward. Suffering brings us closer to Christ and sanctifies us, making us holier, humbler, and more complete.
“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. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind,” (James 1:2-6, NIV)
- Acknowledge that no thing or person here on earth can ever possibly love you or bring as great of fulfillment as our heavenly Father, who perfectly loves us. When we KNOW the height and depth of His love for us, we can grow deep roots and become grounded in His love for us amidst our changing circumstances. His love for us will never change.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God,” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
- Practice gratitude. Instead of getting swept up in the waves crashing around us and focusing on the storms and struggles of this world, we are given the powerful spiritual tool of gratitude that grounds us with a Kingdom-focus. An awareness of the good things keeps things balanced on the hard days, and trains our hearts and minds to scan the landscape for the ways that the Lord is protecting, providing, and showing His great love for us. Whether you keep a mental checklist, write a note in your phone, or keep a daily gratitude journal, I challenge you to find 3-5 things each day that you are grateful for. I promise, it will start to shift your eyes from the chaos.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1)
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him,.’” (Lamentations 3:22-24)
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV)
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,” (Hebrews 12:29)
- Put on your armor. I’ll end with this, as this is the passage that inspired my thoughts about standing firm in the first place. The Lord gives us many powerful ways to protect us against the chaos of this world. When we root ourselves in His Truth, we can stand our ground and be ready for anything that comes against us in this world.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:10-17)
While my image from my theatre days focused on the strength of my own body and mind, I know now that my true strength, peace, and hope in this world comes not from myself, but from the Lord. I pray that you would know that Christ is a solid rock on which you can build the foundation of your whole life. He will not let your feet slip when you plant yourself in Him.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
-The Solid Rock (hymn), Edward Mote, ca. 1834
– – –
Special thanks to Emily Lewandowski who generously provided the picture for this post through her work with Unsplash.
- Recognize that strength drawn from anything else in this world is a halfway strength. The only way we can get through some of our hardest times and our brightest days is to recognize Christ as a strong, solid ground on which we can stand. Through Him alone, we can find the full strength we need to get through any circumstance.
I laced up my sneakers and packed all of the essentials for my longest training run yet- 11 miles. Breathing in deep through my nose, I pushed off against the greenway path and steadied my pace. Mile by mile, I prayed for the individuals whose names were in my pocket on a 3×5 note card. With the rhythm of my feet on the pavement, and the sound of the rushing water with the river next to me, I entered into a time of communion with God. The rest of my week was packed full and overflowing, loud and chaotic, but in those long runs? It was just the Lord, a chance to clear my mind, and the beauty of the open sky above. When my lungs or legs grew tired, I flipped my index card over to remind myself of that day’s meditation. For that run, I prayed over Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
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.
When I was a kid, my family used to go camping in the summer and fall. I loved the smell of the woods, and the familiar drive into the state park that we visited. The trees enveloped us as we drove farther down a winding dirt path, away from towns and highways and the hustle and bustle of our normal daily rhythms. On those trips, we fished, hiked, swam, ate good food, and sat around the fire at night telling stories or singing songs. Some of my sweetest, most relaxed and joyful memories from my growing up years are from those trips.
My favorite part of those camping adventures happened in the evening, right around dusk. My brother and sister and I gathered sticks and small branches from the woods, excited for the taste of smoky marshmallows and melted chocolate s’mores. Finally, after much anticipation and excitement, my dad would start the fire. On those evenings, under an open sky, serenaded by crickets, I sat and watched the sparks catch onto the wood and slowly build into a bright crescendo of light. Any time I catch a hint of the smell of woodsmoke, I am instantly transported back to those sweet, nostalgic camping trips.
I grew up in a Christian home and church, and adopted a life verse pretty early on in my walk with the Lord:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16
This verse became a mantra- I often said it to myself in lunch rooms or gym class when tempted to react with a less-than-kind response to others. I listed it as my favorite quote in my senior yearbook, and had the reference of Matthew 5:16 engraved on the inside of my class ring.
The problem was that I was externally motivated. I shined as brightly as I could, but my focus was on outward good deeds, always wearing a smile, and the appearance of having my life all together. However, sometimes those good deeds had ulterior motives (really, I wanted to be SEEN as good), the smile was often just a mask, and my life wasn’t all together. So I wasn’t really being honest with myself or others.
It’s easy to sense a false light source. On those camping trips, sometimes we would have to use our flashlights to carry us through the woods to the bath houses. The battery operated flashlights would barely cut through the darkness, and when we returned to our family campsite, it was a welcome relief to find the swell of light and warmth coming from the fire. Sometimes when I look back on myself during those periods of life where I claimed Matthew 5:16 as my badge-of-honor-life-verse, I think I reflected more of a harsh fluorescent office light (the kind you’d rather turn off because it hurts your eyes) or a flashlight that barely lit the path forward, rather than a pure source of light and truth.
Over the years, I’ve become keenly aware that when we admit our weakness there is more room for Christ’s light to shine through. If we can’t admit our brokenness, it’s hard to see the need for a Savior to redeem and restore. I now know that when the light shines through from a deeper internal Source, it is lasting, it is pure, it brings warmth, and draws other people to it, like a cozy campfire on a chilly autumn evening.
The light cannot be generated by us if we truly want to draw others to Christ– it has to come from Christ alone. In my younger years of faith, I often let others know that I was a Christian by offering up stock answers to hard questions, quoting Scriptures, and making lists of my good deeds and activities. But I really wasn’t worried about praise for my Father in heaven… I think I can see now that I was much more concerned with praise for myself.
The best way I can draw others to Him is by abiding with Him, sharing how He has changed me, and letting His love flow into the lives of others around me with sincerity and genuine care.
- “Remain in me, as I remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” -John 15:4
- “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” -Psalm 119:105
- “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” -John 14:6
- “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” -John 8:12
When I am abiding in the Lord– spending true time in prayer, reading His word consistently (daily), praying for others, digging into the work He wants to do in my life– I find that I stop worrying about “turning on” my light like a lamp switch. The light starts to flow more naturally because the source is eternal, pure, and I am able to love others well without selfish motives. THAT kind of light is the light He calls us to be.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather be gazing up at a thousand bright stars next to a campfire than forging my way ahead with an inauthentic light source trying to dazzle others to Christ. He doesn’t need me for that. He is the brightest Light on His own. We are a mere reflection or a vessel for it to shine through.
A few extras just for you:
A passage for you to read: John 15:1-17
A song for you:
Some questions for you to consider:
- Are you comfortable showing your own brokenness, or telling the story of how God has brought healing to your life?
- Do you point others to Christ just in your words or the smile on your face?
- What do your actions look like on any given day (especially when others aren’t looking)?
- What is your motivation in serving and loving others?
- What does that “abiding” look like for you?
*Special thanks to the wonderful Ian Keefe, Toa Heftiba, and Jonathan Forage for the images featured in this post.