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.”
– – –
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].
Y’all. Rachel’s heart is beautiful. She is one of those people I feel like I know already, even though we’ve never met in real life. The way she invites us into her journey is so warm, gentle, and compassionate. She creates space through her words to let others know that their stories matter too, and her approach to grief reminds us that we are not alone in whatever hard things we are facing.
Here is Rachel’s Freedom Story.
Self-help, independence, and productivity are the values our culture esteems, but what if I told you interdependence, vulnerability, and rest were more powerful? We’re not made to do this alone. We need one another. God has designed us to live in community with one another. There is power and freedom in authentic community, and my own grief journey has revealed this to me in surprising ways.
We never thought it could happen to us again. After losing a baby in early miscarriage, then burying our sweet son Clive, we never anticipated that we could lose another newborn. We welcomed a new pregnancy with joy and fears, holding fast to God.
Our darling Winnie was in our arms for 9 days before she unexpectedly died. We were thrown into the pit of grief again, and it was even deeper this time. How could we go on? Was this to be our life now—endless grief?
Somehow we survived, day by day, taking the manna as it came to sustain. We sat in the darkness, numb and broken, for a long, long time. We wrestled with faith, purpose, pain, and trauma. We processed.
I’d learned a lot from our previous losses, and I’d found a surprising freedom in my grief journey. I’d seen the power of authenticity and vulnerability and how it connected me to others, and I knew that it was worth the pain to share my pain. It wasn’t easy to press into this pain. It still isn’t easy to share my burden and pain with others, but I am seeing the reward of it beginning to unfold in my life. Through my faith and community, I found freedom in my grief.
I found freedom to stay in the darkness a long while, recognizing and allowing the broken world to just be. There is hurt all around us, but instead of granting time for lament we often believe we need to push through into joy, worship, and gratitude. God grants us freedom to lament. I found freedom to feel my emotions—not becoming controlled by them but by validating their place in my life. The Psalms and Job are full of honest lament that is disoriented and dark. With the outpouring of lament and a heart willing to feel pain, God meets us in our deepest hurt. He doesn’t push us past it, but sits with us.
I found freedom in not rushing into finding a lesson, a learning, or a purpose in the pain. If that was to be revealed, I would allow it to unfold with time. Some questions will never be answered on this side of heaven. Journals piled up, filled with prayers and questions. I wanted to find an answer to my pain, but I realized that put an undue pressure of performance into a sacred time of grief. My efficient and introspective bent had to rest and allow myself to learn slowly as God revealed truth in my grief.
I found freedom in being incapable. The Message’s paraphrase of Job 6:13 says, “Do you think I can pull myself up by my bootstraps? Why, I don’t even have any boots!” I laughed aloud when I first read this, but felt so validated. Self-help, productivity, and independence didn’t have a place in my grief. I couldn’t be on the giving side of relationships. I had to allow others to help me. I had to see my own brokenness and inability, and believe that God had granted me community to be His hands and feet to me.
In many ways, it’s hard to be on the receiving end of relationships. It’s easier to help others than allow others to help me. But I absolutely cannot do life alone, and I know we weren’t designed to. We all need friends and family. We need to be the ones to throw our arms around those that are hurting and we also need to be the ones to have arms thrown around us as we hurt. We need to recognize needs in others and we need to make our needs known so others can recognize our needs.
I found freedom in sharing my honest doubts and wavering faith. I was met with understanding and grace by my friends and family. I’d like to share one of the most powerful prayers prayed over me in my deep grief.
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. I say WE, because we know that sometimes you can’t believe alone. We carry you. Even when you can’t believe, we believe for you.”
This is the power of community. This is the freedom that community grants us. We learn from one another. We carry one another, sharing burdens and joys. We experience the heights and depths together, and we do not rush quickly into what feels comfortable but linger in the confusion together.
Recently, I had an image of someone running a race and becoming injured. As she stumbled along and fell, the other athletes ran by. Two paused, looked upon her with compassion, and lifted her arms upon their shoulders. They carried her, allowing her weight to lean upon them. She was a hindrance. She was hurting and broken. She was unable. But, they saw her and carried her.
As a community, we can do the same. We can look to those who are hurting and see what they have to offer—although it is not much in the way of practical help, it is much in the way of soul lessons. Their grief isn’t a burden, but a shared experience. Suffering connects us to one another and to the suffering of Jesus. It helps reframe our minds, fixing them on things unseen and eternal. It gives freedom to live connected in community, as God intended.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)
– – –
Rachel George writes at samandrachelgeorge.com, sharing about hope in the midst of life’s darkest moments. She believes in the power of stories and community, loves being outside, and is thrilled to own a coffee shop in her little Midwestern town. She’s working on her first book about creatively processing through grief with eyes fixed on Jesus, and views her life journey as an opportunity to help others through their grief. You can find her on Instagram @rachelgeorgewrites or on Facebook at Sam & Rachel George.
On Monday morning of this week I woke up from a dream that was extremely realistic and vivid. It’s a recurring dream I’ve had for years, but this was the most detailed and memorable yet. I can’t stop thinking about it.
I can almost smell the french fry grease, and feel the familiar stickiness under the rubber soles of my shoes. I am back at my first high school job, waiting tables at an ice cream shop. In the dream, I take a quick survey of the restaurant, and see that I have guests seated at tables 21, 22, 53, 54, and 55. None of them have been greeted yet, and I know that I have to jump in and start taking care of ALL OF THEM.
I reach into my apron to take out my notepad and start running around taking drink orders and apologizing for the delay. When I run back to the kitchen to pour sodas, I peek my head out and see even more guests seated at new tables. Oh no! Some are checking their watches, obviously perturbed for how long I am taking. One table is getting up to leave.
I rush around in bubbly waitress mode and try to collect orders, explain menu questions, deliver drinks, and navigate the new computer system (obviously it has been upgraded since high school). The computer screen is locked and I can’t remember my old passcode. I eventually get in, and EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT. I can’t find the kids menu, and all of the sundae names have changed in the last 15 years. More tables are expressing their frustration, and I run out and apologize, blaming the delay on the computers/the cooks (when in actuality I haven’t entered one meal into the computer because I can’t figure out the system). I feel panic rising up in my throat. New customers are waiting at the hostess stand and I am literally about to burst with anxiety. Finally, I turn around and see that there are about five other waitresses standing by the ice cream fountain. They aren’t being lazy, as I had assumed earlier in the subconscious of my dream. They just thought I had it all under control. I shout out an exasperated cry for help– “can anyone pick up a table for me?” Three waitresses quickly jump in and begin to help managing the chaos just as I wake up.
When I woke up I was immediately aware of the fact that this dream, this recurring dream of serving at the ice cream parlor in New Jersey, has much deeper meaning than I’ve ever realized before. There are two things God showed me when I woke up and prayed:
1) THAT DREAM is the definition of insanity…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It is not His will for us to live that chaotic, twirling, micro-managing, stressed out life anymore. He has called us to FREEDOM!
2) Freedom is found when we ask others for help. When we recognize that we don’t have to do it on our own anymore, there is relief. When we know that (thank goodness) we are actually not alone, there is comfort and guidance that others can provide. In hearing the story of another person, we get to say “me too” and break the tension of thinking we’re the only one wrestling with darkness.
I’ve shared over the past several months various areas that God has brought/is bringing freedom into my life. Through Christ and with the support of community, I have been set free from:
- depression and hopelessness
- some of my worst tendencies with OCD and anxiety
- abuse, trauma
- extreme people-pleasing and perfectionism
AND, with this freedom, I have also stepped into true joy that permeates my life, even on the hard days. I have been granted compassion for others who are in deep places of sorrow, trauma, divorce, and addiction. I have recognized my calling and purpose to lift up others who are hurting through my voice. I have found hope.
This is the heartbeat of my story, and the heartbeat of this space. I want you to know that:
1) There is freedom to be found in a life surrendered to Christ. He is able to break the chains that you cannot break for yourself.
2) You are not alone. I am a big believer that “vulnerability begets vulnerability” (a favorite Brene Brown quote), and I want to open up a space where you can hear other stories and perspectives than just my own.
Just like I can’t serve everyone in that restaurant by myself, I know that not all of the people who step into this space will resonate with my story. BUT I know that there is still hurt and there are still chains you might be carrying around–I want to help you find freedom.
So here’s the vision: This fall (starting today!!!), I hope you will join me in reading FREEDOM STORIES on the blog each Friday. I have asked some of my favorite writers and some new writing friends if they will join me in sharing where they have found freedom in their life through Christ and authentic community. You will hear from others who have been released from the chaos or burdens that once weighed them down, like substance abuse, false idols, really hard seasons in their marriages, parenting struggles, singleness, shame, disordered eating, and grief. This is a brave tribe of women who are willing to go first and be vulnerable in order to encourage others with their own stories. I’m so excited and hopeful to share these stories of freedom, and I pray that you will join in the hope we have found, too.
“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 (NIV)
Here is one of the biggest lies I have ever struggled with. And one that I see others wrestle with all the time….
That thing that I carry? The wound, the scars, the memories, the propensity for a certain sin, the part of my story that is hard to speak out loud?
It makes ME too messy, broken, wounded, scarred, weak, and messed up to ever be well again. Or to be used by God. Or to be loved by others.
But here also is what I know from 4 years of walking in recovery with an incredible community of others who recognize their weakness. Before sharing the thing (you know– THE thing) out loud, it has SUCH a powerful grip of shame, fear, or even denial over us. It keeps us in darkness. There is such a clear humility to saying “I can’t do this on my own anymore.” And I’ve seen over and over again that once we voice our weakness or brokenness, amazing transformation can happen.
I am weird and I really like charts/graphs/visual tools to explain things, so I made you a chart of three of my THINGS. I included a few bullet points/symptoms of what happened when I tried to cover each of those things up in my life, and what happened when I finally let those parts of myself and my story be seen:
If you think about the people in the Bible who made a huge impact for God, a lot of them had their own THINGS. But God doesn’t see those as the definition of who we are. He is able to use us, and even those heavy or hard parts of our lives, to tell a greater story. Of redemption, of restoration, of how His power is made perfect in our weakness. Remember Jacob who was a manipulator and a liar in his youth (to trick his father into giving him an inheritance that should have been his brother’s)? Or Joseph, whose brothers hated him so much that they sold him into slavery, upon which Joseph also encountered false accusations and imprisonment for a crime he did not commit? What about Ruth and Naomi? Naomi lost her husband and two sons, and Ruth lost her husband and moved to a new nation to become a foreigner. David, a man “after God’s own heart,” who committed adultery and murder? Paul (formerly Saul) who persecuted Christians in the new church? Gosh… what would have happened if any of these people decided that they were too broken for God to use them? But, amazingly, each of them persisted in faith that God is who He says He is, even when our lives on earth don’t turn out the way we expected. The God that each of these people served, and the God we serve today is this kind of God:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…
…I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11, NIV)
Friend, your past does not define you.
The present struggle you are wrestling does not define you.
Your wounds and scars and baggage do not define you.
The brokenness you feel when you think of yourself? THAT does not define you.
God says that in our brokenness He can bring beauty. That He will restore the years the locusts have eaten. That He binds up the brokenhearted. He proclaims freedom. He SETS THE CAPTIVES FREE.
When we come out of hiding, we are set free, sweet friends. There is nothing too dark or too heavy or too broken for Him that He cannot redeem. And in the present, while we are waiting to see how it will be restored? In the waiting for that beauty and redemption, we get to wait with open hands and humble hearts to know that HIS power is made perfect in our weakness. We get to offer our weakness up to Him to watch how He will fill us with His power and reach others in our lives through it.
We get to be like Jacob with his sinful past who was newly named “Israel” and blessed by God as the father of a nation. God re-defined Jacob and used him as the foundation of a favored people.
We are able to stand firm like Joseph, who said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). God sustained Joseph and rescued others through him.
We can comfort those who mourn and stand by their side, like Ruth did for Naomi. God restored Ruth’s broken heart and brought her a sweet redeemer in the form of Boaz, and even used her in the lineage of Jesus, a true Redeemer for the rest of us.
We can cry out to God in our shame, our pain, our brokenness like David throughout the Psalms. God forgave David in his repentance, and still used David’s story and his heart to show others how to walk through the light days and the dark.
We can be like Paul, who stepped into humility after he met the Lord and brought truth to others. God transformed Paul’s heart and gave him a powerful testimony that allowed him to speak to others from a place of true awareness of his NEED for a redeemer.
What if instead of praying away that weakness or brokenness, we instead prayed that God would transform the way we look at it? If we prayed for Him to use it, however He can, to bring hope to others and bring glory to HIS greatness? What if instead of covering up those parts of our story, we shared with others to let them know that they’re not alone? In your honesty and vulnerability with yourself, God, and others, I pray that you might be released from shame, darkness, and feeling like you will never be free from those heavy burdens. Because, dear heart, when you set those things into the light, the darkness cannot have as much power here.
A prayer for you:
Lord, I know that I cannot do this on my own, so I don’t want to hide anymore. You are a God who redefines, sustains, restores, forgives, and TRANSFORMS lives. You have been faithful to do so for others, and I pray that you would help me to trust that You have restoration for me too, Lord. I pray that in the midst of my weakness or brokenness You would allow me to see others who are hurting too, so that we can come together and realize we are not alone. Lord, I pray for your comfort and for reminders that you are with me in the midst of my pain, my battles, my darkness, and any brokenness that I experience. I do pray Lord for Your work of restoration and healing, but in the meantime Lord, I pray that YOUR power would be made perfect and known to others in my weakness. Thank You for loving me and helping me to step into Your light and healing.
*This post is the final installment of an IDENTITY series for the month of August. Here is the introduction (Who do you think you are?), followed by a post about our new-found purity in Christ, how to fight the lie that you are unworthy of love, and the 5 things that happen when we don’t believe that we are enough. Also, special thanks to Aaron Burden, Ibrahim Rifath, and Blake Cheek of Unsplash for the beautiful images to accompany this post.