What a gift to know this friend, and to share her words with you here. Alexis and I went to college together (I remember the sweet coffee shop she shares about well!), and her friendship has been such a blessing over the years. Alexis practices gratitude, rest, and intentional friendships so beautifully, and the freedom she’s found in these rhythms inspires me greatly in my own life and family. I wish all of you could know this sweet friend in real life, but for now, I want to introduce you to her through her gentle, gracious, life-giving words.
This is Alexis’s Freedom Story.
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I muscled my way into my twenties bound by the tyranny of the urgent. Productivity was my driver, and I’d stay up late into the night to complete projects, study for tests, pour for hours over the perfect paper, grade, etc. After the day was done, I’d often lay in bed repeating back to myself conversations I’d had or presentations I’d given, picking them apart and giving them over to a loud and nasty inner critic.
Having grown up in a family culture committed to productivity, REST had become a bad word. We never actually said it, but overarchingly we knew: to whom much is given, much is expected. Stillness, amusement, stopping to do something for the sake of pure enjoyment – was simply NOT an efficient or fruitful use of time. So we just never did it. There was always a project to be done, a mission to be on, a purpose to be served.
There is a quote I’ve come to love from one of my favorite authors, Wayne Muller, that says:
“Without rest …we miss the compass points that would show us where to go. We bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight. Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.”
Before I dive too deep here, let me say there were many incredible elements of my upbringing. So many sweet staples of life I look back on now and relish: real and raw conversations regularly around the dinner table; parents who loved each other and loved Jesus deeply; a commitment to learning and growth and knowing our own personalities well enough so as to lead well in whatever sphere we were in.
But the space and time afforded for rest, for turning off for a bit and just re-creating, was never quite granted. At least not without an awareness of what we were leaving behind.
This constant awareness of the need to do more rooted itself down deep in my wiring, and, as Timothy Keller puts it in his sermon on Work and Rest, established an eternal inner murmur that I just couldn’t shake.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm them and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
It wasn’t until early in my senior year of college that the Lord began to liberate me from this bondage of busyness and the tyranny of production.
Saturday morning afforded the perfect moment to escape from life as usual. No deadlines haunted my calendar for that following afternoon and rarely were any coffee dates scheduled before 2:00 on a Senior’s Saturday. As the campus had yet to wake, I would make my way silently out my dorm room doors, slide into my little blue Volvo and take the windy backroads up the Cape Ann coastline, relishing every rogue drop of rain on my windshield and the sweet stillness of life around me.
My destination was a corner table at The Bean and Leaf, a dreamy little coffee shop that sat directly on the water in Rockport. The Bean offered a delicious trifecta of space, time and the perfect vanilla latte, making it my personal sanctuary and the perfect place to get lost in reflection. And that is exactly what I’d come for. I’d pop on my headphones, spread the miniature library I’d brought with me out on the table and just … be … still.
Organically, over a period of months, this deadline-less and dreamy practice became a regular Saturday morning rhythm. It seemed to offer the ideal space in time to escape from all things urgent, to set aside all things back-lit and buzzing and allow my head and heart to strike a chord together that they just couldn’t reach during the busyness of the week. And although, at the time, I didn’t understand what it was exactly I was doing, everything in me craved this end of the week, early morning retreat away.
I didn’t realize at the time that this abandoning of normally scheduled life, this pause in creating to let the Lord re-create me, would become an enormously freeing rhythm. This coming away from the muchness and many-ness and busyness of daily life to create space for doing nothing was remaking me. This creation of a sanctuary in time for remembering and taking delight in the greater things was allowing the Lord to nourish me in a way I hadn’t experienced before, renewing me body and soul.
Late in my Senior year, as I was introduced to beautiful concept of Sabbath, these Saturday morning escapes began to make sense.
“Sabbath is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creating to the master of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” Abraham Joshua Heschel
This weekly, intentional, rhythmic practice of Sabbath rest showed itself to be not simply an abandonment of responsibilities, but rather space to order and make sense of them. More than simply the absence of work or a day to catch up on latest projects or errands, it became a consecrated period of time to listen to what was most deeply nourishing and true, directing my attention to the grace that sustains and orders all of life. It became a life-giving rhythm I both enjoyed and desperately needed.
Ten years out from those little coffee shop escapes in Rockport, Saturday mornings continue to carry the sweetness of Sabbath. I’ll wake slowly, light my favorite candle and prop a little stack of books I’ve wanted to dive into onto my corner of the couch. Turning the water on for coffee, I’ll open the blinds and take my time prepping the french press, giving a bit more attention than normal to the pour over process. I’ll look back over my prayer journal from the week, letting the Lord pull threads and themes I didn’t catch in the craziness. And as time and space settle, so often He will note for me things to take with me into the coming week, and the things I need to leave behind.
The setting has changed, but the premise and the promise have not. Disconnecting from the urgent, attuning my soul to the things of God, and letting him renew my hope for the future.
Rest. Remembering. Renewal.
Mark Buchanan, in His life-shaping work called The Rest of God, says:
The essence of the Sabbath Heart is paying attention. It is being fully present, wholly awake in each moment. It is the trained ability to inhabit our own existence without remainder, so that even the simplest things – the in and out of our own breathing, the coolness of times on our bare feet, the way wind sculpts clouds – gain the force of discovery and revelation.
True attentiveness burns away the layers of indifferent and ennui and distraction – and reveals what’s hidden beneath: the staggering surprise and infinite variety of every last little thing.
The space my soul’s been given through this sacred practice has done so much more than free me from the bondage of production. Though the weeks are full and the deep sense of purpose in our days is always to be cultivated, I’ve tasted such sweetness in their abandonment to recognize the giver and sustainer of all good work in the first place. The ache for rest is no longer something I long for in vain, but something I look forward to at the end of every week.
And Jesus, who IS our Sabbath rest, beautifully comes with us out of this practice and into each moment of the week, granting us His sacred presence through the spirit regardless of what day it is. However this ancient practice of taking one day out of seven that allows us to recognize His goodness and power over all things is truly transformative. The gift of unhurried wonder – the nourishing of an emergence – is a treasure to simply receive and relish.
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Alexis is a thirty something letter-lover from NY. Next to great writing and dark coffee, her life is daily energized by the things beneath the surface. She relishes moments of moving past surface level niceties to the raw and the real truths that shape our days. However beautiful, intricate and messy it all might be, nothing makes her heart happier than going there.
She’s a firm believer that knowing what you stand for and where your heart beats hardest is a fantastic way to show up in the world. For her – naming and celebrating people, moments and the gratitude-worthy details of the day to day is a calling – and her greatest joy comes in helping others make space to do the same.
Currently, she is delving deep in those moments in Birmingham, AL where she runs her leadership consulting and soul coaching business, leading others in identifying their personal mission, vision and purpose, knowing themselves to lead themselves and cultivating life-giving rhythms of work and rest.
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].
To the one struggling in silence…I wrote you a letter today.
I wrote it to myself, too- for the girl years ago who used to hide her sadness. Who was afraid to be seen. Who thought people would only love her if she showed her happy, put-together life.
This letter is a reminder to us both of the One who sees us, knows us, and loves us, even in our hurt.
Hello my dear,
Oh, friend. I know you feel alone in your hurt, your pain, your sadness. How I wish I could scoop up your heart in a big hug and tell you that I see you. I wish I could bring you your favorite flowers right now, or sit with you at a coffee shop over big mugs of our favorite tea or coffee. I’ve been where you are, and I know you’re hurting deeply, quietly. And I wish I could help you know that you are not alone.
But, the truth is, I don’t know why you’re hurting. You’ve gotten so good at holding it all inside. Can we take a few minutes to just breathe, to just be still, and to start letting those walls down?
Here’s what I know about you, sweet friend. You don’t want to suffer in silence or hiding anymore. So, I want to whisper words of hope and encouragement to you right now.
While I do not know the details of your hurt, we have a heavenly father who knows the depths of our hearts. In Psalm 139, the psalmist reminds us of how deeply God knows us:You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.Throughout the course of this Psalm, David lists these ways that God knows us intimately and deeply:
- Thoughts (v. 2, 23)
- Actions (v. 2-4)
- Words (v. 4)
- Our location (v. 7-10)
- Body (v. 13-15)
- Soul (before we were formed into bodies; v. 16)
- All the days of our lives (what is to come; v. 16)
- Heart (v. 23)
- All of our ways (v. 3)
Not only does God SEE us (even when we try to hide), KNOW us (every single aspect of our lives), but He also LOVES us fully and unconditionally.
You don’t have to hide from God. He can see you anyway, sweet friend. Let down those walls and tell Him about your pain. Cry out to Him with those struggles. He can handle it. He is the One who holds your anguish and your tears in His hands. He is the One who grieves with you. The One who pursues you even when you try to hide in the dark. He is the One who will never leave you or forsake you.
I’m praying for you today– that you would remember that you are not alone. I am praying that the God who comforts will be close to you, and that you would remember that you can tell Him anything. Praying for the healing work to begin as you bring your struggles, pain, and grief into the light. God sees you and knows you in this hard season, my friend. And more than anything, He loves you.
What a beautiful gift to share this writer and storyteller with you. Crystal’s encouraging words and honesty about the power of forgiveness have catalyzed me to look at some areas where I might still be holding on to unforgiveness. Her book How to Pray for Someone Who Hurt You, released this year, really helped me to let go of a particular hurt from the past. Savor her story over a cup of tea or coffee, and I pray that her words and the Truths she shares would help soften your heart or encourage you if past hurts still linger.
Here is Crystal’s Freedom Story.
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Sometimes you know what you need to do, without having a clue how to really do it. That’s how I felt several years ago when I found myself in some pretty messy conflicts that left my family divided. Having grown up in the church, I knew that I was called to forgive, but when pressed, I really didn’t have a clue how to go about it.
I had heard multiple sermons on the power of forgiveness, and I was familiar with the words of Jesus in Matthew 18 about forgiving from the heart. But, how could I actually do this when my heart felt bruised, confused, and angry?
I’ll be honest, I felt ill-equipped.
The call to forgive seemed overwhelming, sometimes impossible. How was I to ever find freedom from the emotions that I felt? How was I going to break away from the painful arguments that were on repeat in my mind? How was I going to overcome the depression that seemed to cycle endlessly?
I didn’t have the answers to those questions, but God did. He reminded me of Colossians 3:12-15, and I love this wording from The Message;
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives.
The NIV says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Col. 3:15).”
I looked at my own little world, and I looked at what the Bible said. My world seemed splattered with resentment, entitlement, and fear. Yet there were Paul’s words, divinely telling me that I was made for more -that I was called to peace.
Stop and consider this with me- Jesus, in his kindness, has called each of us to peace.
This is when things changed. I accepted that I was called to peace, but I knew that peace would only come by a deliberate decision to choose love, even when I didn’t feel like it. What was I willing to do to experience this peace that I was called to?
Was I willing to be humble?
Was I willing to let go of my perceived ‘right’ to an apology?
Was I willing to lose an argument?
Was I willing to respond to rudeness with kindness?
Could I have enough self-control to not respond in retaliation?
Could I let go of the urge to ‘punish’ somehow?
Was I willing to do the hard work and forgive?
It took me a while to unwind and process all of these things, but I knew that I was miserable and that I could only be free to follow my own calling and be the kind of mom/friend/spouse/professional that I wanted to be if I was able to move out of this bondage of resentment and into the peace of Christ.
Freedom meant choosing the path of forgiveness, no matter how hard it was, or how long it took.
For me, forgiveness meant facing the pain and working through it, not around it. It meant dealing with my emotions, my expectations, and my fears; one by one until every wound had been healed. It meant reading these verses from Colossians over and over again until they were deep in my bones, and it meant going slow; offering prayerful, calculated, holy-spirit filled responses instead of knee-jerk reactions. Forgiveness meant redefining what it meant to love one another after conflict, and it meant loving in ways that seemed unnatural and out of my comfort zone.
All of these brought me steps closer to the peace of Jesus, but what impacted me the most was choosing not to dwell on what was offensive. After I had worked through the pain and processed my own brokenness, I needed to let go of what had happened and lay it down at the feet of Jesus. It is in this surrendered, self-controlled space that I felt I had truly forgiven. There was no need to keep rehashing the conflict in my mind, to do so would only keep me in bondage. I could choose to dwell on all that was messy and hurtful, or I could again, listen to the words of Paul. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 3:8-9).”
Friends, loved by God, let us not be prisoners of our broken pasts. Let us not be defined by our messy histories. Let us not give any more mental space to the things that bind us. Let us forgive and choose the peace of God. Let us choose to dwell on how we are loved by God and cherished by Him. Let us choose to dwell on His kindness, His ability to redeem, and His forgiveness. Let us allow our souls to breathe afresh in the goodness of God and when we do the world will not recognize us by our brokenness, for what will be seen is a beautiful life restored by a loving God, and He will be glorified.
Here is the beautiful promise of God; He is a God of Peace, and He is with you. He has called you to walk with Him and become like Him, and you are called to peace. This peace is found by forgiving others, just as we have been forgiven, and by living lives of love.
Praying you experience the peace of God today, as you forgive completely, from the heart.
– – –
Crystal McGowen is a non-clinical Christian counselor and Soul Care provider based in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not hiking in the PNW with her husband and two girls, she enjoys writing, experimenting with watercolors, and exploring food carts.
Crystal believes that every women’s story has the potential to impact the Kingdom of God in dramatic ways and that all of us have a story to share. She seeks to equip women to live vibrant lives that are emotionally healthy and spiritually mature by offering online forgiveness coaching and soul care appointments.
P.S. Want more stories of hope? Here’s where you can find 20+ other Freedom Stories from women who have found freedom through Christ and authentic community.
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.
– – –
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.
It is my honor and joy to share this story with you. This sister of mine is a real life friend here in Roanoke, and I have loved walking this journey with her. I have literally watched her freedom unfold over the past few years, but especially this past year. I have seen God work in her own life, but then also impact other women around us in community. Through her thoughtful conversations and wrestlings about how alcohol affects our lives when used in unhealthy ways, she has made room and grace for others who may wrestle with the same thing: “gray area drinking.” I love this sister’s heart and her story.
Here is Saralyn’s Freedom Story.
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Before we get into your story, I want to know some of the fun stuff about you, Saralyn! Tell me about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into your life.
Thank you so much for even asking me to be a part of this Heather! It is a true honor and I LOVE how you are sharing stories to help others! I’m originally from a small town in West Georgia called Carrollton, but Virginia is my home. I am one of 6 children and I’m smack dab in the middle! I’m a believer, a wife to Stephen of almost 12 years, mother to Charlotte (6) and Carson (almost 3). Most days you’ll find me moving my body through some form of dance/cardio or Holy Yoga. Stephen and I love to go see live music and take hikes outside with our family. We also are involved at our church where I serve on the Women’s Ministry Team.
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?
YES GIRL! This verse is special because it will ALWAYS remind me of you, Heather. I discovered this verse while we were in a summer bible study called Seamless (one that I will never forget). If you are looking for a good launching pad-type study into the Bible, please check it out! I now proudly display this verse in our home.
Growing up I was always a believer, but I was not a participant in my faith. It wasn’t until about 2 years ago when I discovered that there was a “relationship” opportunity for me and the Lord. Through joining our new church that we love and finding a Bible study, this is where that relationship started for me.
It’s important to mention that I come from a family that is cursed with unhealthy addiction. One of those is alcohol. Yes, I would party some in high school and I might have even thrown a party or two while my parents were out of town. I never took anything too far and no one ever got hurt. Fast forward into college, marriage and becoming a mother. I continued my partying ways and it began to taper off after the first years of our marriage and more so after the birth of our first child. There were still plenty of Sunday mornings where I would wake up hungover from the night before. Once Carson came into the picture, I developed extreme postpartum anxiety and depression. I tried to eat right and workout enough to make it go away. I saw a doctor and she helped me get the right medication. However, I often found myself reaching for a glass of wine when things got stressful or to just unwind after a long day. Looking back, I realize I would reach for a glass to manage my anxiety. Often that one glass would lead to another and next thing you know you are bathing the kids with a glass of wine. Then you are rushing to tuck them in bed so you can go have another glass.
As a working mom with two small children, it is stressful. Not to mention the expectations of having to portray a perfect life these days. Social media can really be a tough place for people.
What I dealt with is what I consider “Gray Area Drinking.” I didn’t consider myself addicted. No one ever got hurt. I didn’t lose my job. I just began to realize that it wasn’t serving me well.
What were some of the old narratives you absorbed?
That I need to drink to have fun…
To relax, manage stress, or just because I deserved it…
To be the life of the party…
As a marketing professional, I want to also touch on the areas of social media and how companies are normalizing drinking more than ever. There are countless meme’s, t-shirts, cups, even health and wellness businesses promoting the lifestyle of how mom’s “need” to drink to do our jobs. “Mommy Juice”, “Wine Not”, “Rose All Day” is everywhere! It’s hard because of how normalized and celebrated drinking alcohol has become.
I also believe it is important to mention that I struggle with body image issues. After having two children via c-section and breastfeeding, it is understandable. One thing I didn’t realize I was doing is that I would rarely give myself days off from working out. I would sometimes never let my body fully rest. See, I knew that I would more than likely be drinking that night. So, in order to “make room” for those calories from the wine, I would make myself workout. Not a healthy balance at all.
Over time, I’ve realized who my identity is in Christ. I used to walk into a room and I would mold to other people’s personalities to make them or the situation more comfortable or bearable. I realized that is actually sinful – to not lean in and embrace the person God has made you to be. I don’t have to do that anymore. God calls us to shine the light and gifts He gave us and to stand firm in that truth.
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?
One night, after some early evening drinking and not eating until 9pm, I attempted to put my kids in the bath. They were tired and didn’t want to take a bath. I remember screaming at them and losing my cool. It’s a feeling that makes me sick every time I am asked to share about it, but I don’t shy away from sharing it because it’s my truth. This is where the love story began with me and Jesus.
That night I decided to ask the Lord for help. I could no longer do this anymore-be bound to this kind of pain. The next morning was February, 12, 2018 and this was two days before Lent. I decided to see how it would be to give up alcohol for 40 days. It was amazing what the Lord did with me in those 40 days! I have been alcohol free for over a year now and it has been the best decision of my life.
I no longer wanted to be that person, that kind of mother, to ever see those little eyes to look at me that way again. My children were 5 and 1.5 at the time and I thank God that they were so young when I decided to give up alcohol.
I am and will always be grateful for making the choice while I still had a choice to make.
What changed? (what actions did you take/truths did you discover/community did you connect with to help you find freedom)?
This is such a good question! LOVE IT! So, I knew another mom that loved Jesus and she had recently given up alcohol. She was an unexpected angel and she is still someone I communicate with all the time. In fact, I have been public about my journey and there has been an amazing dialogue with other sober curious mothers. We call ourselves, “Sober Sisters”. There is a group of us that are on the same text thread and get together on occasion. We share our ups and downs along the way. It’s been amazing!
There are also a few Instagram accounts I follow that have been helpful such as @tellbetterstoriesmedia, @drylifeclub, and @thesoberglow . One podcast that especially helped me is called Edit- Editing the drinking and our lives by Adian Donnlley and Jolene Park. It’s like they crawled into my head and put out to the world exactly what was going on with me! SO good!
Tell me about your life of freedom. What does it look like for you now?
WOW! People ask me all the time if this is a “forever” thing. I tell them that I do not want to get ahead of myself, but it’s a decision made knowing that I’m just a better person without it.
I believe that drinking is a wall between my relationship with God. I am able to receive His love and communicate better with Him. I now have a better understanding of what I was put on this Earth to do and my identity in Him.
There is also less drama in my life. Part of this process is removing things that might have brought me anxiety or stress. I have been able to take a deep breath and be more intentional in the relationships with my family and friends that lift me up most.
Do you still wrestle with those old struggles? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?
I am human so yes, I sometimes do. For some reason, vacation can be hard not to have a drink. It’s like the enemy knows that I am not in my normal routine and he wants nothing more but to throw me off.
In those moments I am honest with myself about them. I take it to the Lord, talk to my husband or my Sober Sisters about my feelings. Sometimes I may reach for some dark chocolate, kombucha or hot tea instead!
Are there any key scriptures, quotes, or books that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?
Be on guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong and do everything in love. 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14
Honestly, I just LOVE this one! It’s my favorite. I believe that all of those words, that posture of faith and strength has carried me through being a participant in my faith so far. And of course, Galatians 5:1 really does say it all, right?
And last, because I’m a big believer that gratitude lists help us remain present and fight our battles, tell me 3 things you’re grateful for right now.
Being able to hang out with my husband and kids. To be present with them – not rush bedtime, to feel my very best each morning when they wake up!
To treat my body as a temple and something that I use to honor God.
To use my story and my suffering, to possibly help someone else by leading them to a better relationship with Christ.
– – –Saralyn is a believer, wife, mom and loves all things beautiful! You may find her doing yoga, hiking outside, volunteering her time in Women’s Ministry through her church or involved projects with her clients through her marketing and creating branding business, Saralyn Hamilton Creatives. Follow along in her everyday life through Facebook, Instagram or on her blog!
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!