Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Kelsee. She shares her story through years of struggling with sex, abandonment, beauty and men – and what she learned this year by the grace of God. – Lauren
I grew up never feeling beautiful or lovable. I always felt out of place and awkward and at 5’10”, I am somewhat taller than the average woman. I have struggled with that extra fifteen to twenty pounds as long as I can remember.
I did not grow up with a good relationship with my dad. My dad, while around, was never present. He was busy, he was an adult, he was working. Constantly. Our interactions were limited to him yelling or lecturing and I never felt affirmed as a beautiful daughter.
My older brother left for the Marine Corps when I was 16. We had a rough relationship. He ridiculed me and never defended me. I was never affirmed as a beautiful little sister. He and our father had a rough relationship too, which affected his with me, as I know now, but this is my story, not his.
My parents are both Christians and my mother is the most courageous and graceful, gracious woman I have ever met in my life. I grew up basically living at my church in southwest Ohio. I was there four to five times a week: Sunday morning, afternoon, night, Wednesday night, and usually Friday and/or Saturdays too. I met my best friends at that church and today we are still very close – but when I was sixteen, my parents moved the family to Michigan, to my grandparents’ house.
I was a junior in high school and I felt like God was punishing me for something, but I didn’t know what, because I was good kid. The perfect kid really; I didn’t drink, do drugs, smoke, rebel in any way, or have sex. I was trustworthy, responsible, got amazing grades, and played sports. So when we moved, I became angry, so angry. When I went to my new school, I was nasty with my words to anyone I didn’t like and shot icy glares at anyone who crossed me. I did not speak to God. And I did not participate at any church we went to. I was going to show Him.
My mom says today that I handled everything with such grace and that she is so sorry and so proud of me for what I had to go through. She doesn’t know that I cried myself to sleep at night, that I was miserable, that I cursed God.
When I was eighteen, my dad went to prison. February 2, 2006. I will never forget the last conversation I had with him. I will never forget visiting him in prison. I will never forget sobbing uncontrollably the night my mom told me where he was. I will never forget my incredible friend Hope, holding me in her arms on the floor of the school bathroom for three periods the next day. I was a senior and my dad missed my graduation, my open house, my first job, and my first day of college. He missed all of it. And I was heartbroken and angry. Again. Once again I felt ugly and unlovable and a now, a new one: abandoned.
I got a job and went to college and started drinking and smoking and ignoring my grades and flunking out of classes. I wanted to be noticed and loved and God noticed me and God loved me but I still held onto my grudge and ignored Him.
At my first job I met lots of boys who liked me and I didn’t understand why. I never grew up feeling beautiful or lovable because I never felt my father’s presence in my life. I did not know how to accept love from men. I was embarrassed when they would compliment me. My father never complimented me. He did not express his love for me in a way that I understood.
Then one day, I met a boy and this boy liked me. A lot. He broke up with his girlfriend because he liked me so much. And I liked him, but I was terrified of what letting someone love me would mean. So, for six months I kept this boy at arm’s length. I partied instead, never letting him get within reach of my heart – until one day I decided that I was ready take a chance. May 1, 2009.
I was 21 years old and had never had a boyfriend in my life. I had never been kissed. Never held a boy’s hand. Nothing. And I did everything with this boy. Everything wrong because I did not know any better. I knew in my head not to sleep with this boy but my heart was so thirsty for affirmation that I ignored the Truth and fell for every single lie Satan told me.
Lies that said I was not a good girlfriend if I didn’t sleep with my boyfriend. Lies that said I wasn’t good for anything but sex. Lies that said sex is the ultimate fulfillment in a relationship. Lies that said even God did not love me. Lies that said I was not beautiful and not lovable.
I got pregnant, but God had other plans for that child and I had a miscarriage. September 3, 2010. 4 days later my boyfriend broke up with me because “God told him to”. Yes, he really used that; he brought his Bible with him and everything. Yes, I hated God in my heart. And the next weekend, my ex-boyfriend had a new girlfriend.
Satan reiterated the same lie that he had fed me from childhood: I was not beautiful and I certainly wasn’t lovable and I was abandoned. And again, Satan added something new; I was also a failure as a woman because I had lost a child. I was devastated.
I struggled with my guilt and mistakes for several months, dwelling on Satan’s lies and drowning myself in alcohol and cigarettes. I had the typical rebound and a one-night stand. Mid-January, 2011.
And then God did something. He spoke to me. He whispered softly to my heart and took hold of my hand. He stopped me dead in my tracks and gave me a choice. Point blank. He said very clearly, “Kelsee, either you trust and believe in me this day, like you’ve been saying you trust me your whole life, and you follow me and serve me and turn away from this sin or you don’t believe in me at all. And you need to choose. NOW.”
And I did. I chose God. I chose life. I chose love and I choose love.
That was almost a year ago. In that moment of choice, I felt God and I knew God and since that moment when I finally sought His forgiveness and healing, He has been blessing me. He has been renewing me daily and saving me daily. He has been pursuing me and loving me and washing me with His blood. He has taken away my guilt and shown me that I am beautiful and I am lovable and I am not alone and I am not a failure as a woman.
I am now 24. December 5th. I am once again a student, but this time I have a clear path with God’s blessing, and I am not flunking out of any classes. I quit smoking back in June. I have abstained from sex since that one-night stand and I am saving myself once again for my future husband. My dad has been out of prison for a couple of years now and our relationship is much better. We had a discussion full of tears and apologies awhile back and we still fight (we’re both pretty stubborn and determined) but I know that he loves me and that he thinks I am beautiful. And by God’s grace and renewing love and mercies, I am learning to love myself and others from the inside out.
I still struggle with my past and wrestle with my demons, but God is faithful and God is strong and I am learning every day to trust Him.
Editor’s Note: Do you have too much stuff? This year, I sold everything I owned. Everything I kept fits in my little car. I was shocked, no seriously – shocked, by how many clothes I had. Shocked that I didn’t need two bin-fulls of makeup. Shocked that I didn’t need every single pair of shoes. That two bags/purses was enough. It would rock my world to see all of you getting rid of stuff in 2012. And talking about it. (Who wants to blog that!? Free idea!) And now, on to Whitney Munn’s awesome post. – Lauren
I’ve come to the conclusion that I have too many belongings. Actually, if I’m being honest, I figured that out years ago. I just haven’t done anything about it.
I was just a child when it first occurred to me that I might have too much. I remember hearing the lyrics to the song “What If I Give All” by Ray Boltz, “What if I give all I have? What will that gift do? My child, a gift like that could change the world, it could feed a multitude.” At the time, I considered quite literally giving all I had. I didn’t do it, though. And the more time that went by, the less appealing it sounded. After all, I really liked my stuff.
I’ve had opportunities to travel, see, and even live in places where a lot of people don’t have very much. I’ve bathed a child with a bloated, hungry belly. I’ve bought candies from a poverty-stricken child on a street corner. I’ve seen the yellowed hair of a brown baby who hasn’t had enough nutrition. I’ve helped teach a once starving child that he didn’t have to steal in order to have another meal.
And I still haven’t given all. I still like my stuff. Disgusting, isn’t it?
However, the Lord didn’t let me off the hook that easily. Year after year, experience after experience, I had that sick feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t right. And one year at a time, one experience at a time, I became an expert at ignoring that feeling. But it’s never gone away completely.
Now, before I go any further, let me clarify that this is what I’ve been learning in 2011. Please, don’t hear me accusing anyone else of selfishness or materialism. It’s a heart issue, and God told my heart no more.
No matter how I may try to justify it, my love of stuff is materialism, and that materialism is an outward representation of a selfish heart. Poverty in the U.S. is the highest it’s been since 1993 (U.S. Census Bureau). Around the world, there are 29,000 children under the age of five who die every day, many from preventable causes (UNICEF). After having heard statistics like these for years, it has grown so easy to dismiss them before I actually acknowledge their staggering implications. But poverty, and the tragedy it often brings, is oh. so. real. And I have oh. so. much.
When I allow myself to think about the effect my hoarding has on the well-being of others, then I cannot rightly carry on with my constant, often meaningless, purchasing. I cannot keep justifying my hundreds (if not thousands) of belongings. Yes, I do have fewer clothes than a lot of my peers. No, I don’t drive a brand new car. But I still have way more stuff than I need. How can I choose to spend $20 for a pair of jeans I don’t need because it’s just “such a good deal” when there are children going to bed hungry? Why would I buy $4 coffee drinks on a regular basis when millions of people have no clean water? Not cool. Not okay.
So I made a plan: from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I decided to get rid of five things a day and not buy anything to add to my stuff collection. I’ll donate the things that are in good condition, and other things I probably just need to throw away (I’m entirely too sentimental and therefore have a plethora of what is essentially trash in my closet). And I’ll be honest, I was super excited about this for the few days leading up to Thanksgiving, but I was surprised at how hard it was to just take some books of the shelf and put them in the giveaway pile. And these are books I’ve only read once… and owned for years. Ridiculous, I know. And that’s why they just have to go.
Yeah, stuff promises to make me feel better. I want to be more beautiful, so I buy new clothes and makeup. I’ve had a long day, so I buy myself the book I’ve been wanting to read. I’ve worked really hard, so I must deserve a new smartphone. But the thing is, as hard as it can be to get rid of it after the fact, all of this stuff hasn’t ever brought me true satisfaction or joy. And I’m realizing that perhaps if joy is not found in an ever-increasing collection of stuff, it exists in a lack thereof. Maybe relinquishing the death grip I’ve had on my money, car, house, and everything that fills it will actually offer me a new found freedom and a truer sense of happiness. I’m not there yet, but I hope and pray that I’m headed in the right direction.
1 Timothy 6:6-7 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
Luke 12:33-34 “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Editor’s Note: We loved this post by the women at FastPray so much that we decided to republish it here. Christmas has always been a hard season for me, without family to spend it with. And I know it’s the same for many of you. Even if you do have family, things change, and “the Christmas ache” is present for most of us. What else do you do to combat it? Please share in the comments. – Lauren
For the past 20+ years or so, Christmas has been bittersweet for me, some years more bitter than others. The downward slide got started when my parents divorced, then picked up steam as I spent year after year without kids or a husband, and usually without even a boyfriend to speak of. It has traditionally been the time of year that has marked the sadness of sameness for me. I have kept waiting for change.
Well, last year I got change as I brought my new husband home for Christmas. And let me be clear, I was very thankful to have him, and he did bring a new comfort to the holidays. But, trying to fit into my growing blended family and missing all that felt familiar from my childhood Christmases made me hit an all-time Christmas low. Christmas night, I crawled into bed crying, longing (again!) for that sweet Christmas bliss with warm fuzzy feelings, complete with a family that is healthy and whole – you know, what’s advertised a million times in 30-second commercials starting in early November.
I was reminded again through my tears that what I really long for is heaven, and I won’t find it here on earth. There’s no great fix to the pain of life in a fallen world – even though somewhere deep inside I thought marriage would do it! None of us has all that we want, or totally wants all that we have. We are made for so much more, and we know it, and so we ache.
What can we do with the ache, especially during this Christmas season that can seem to rub our lack right smack dab in our faces? As I was pondering what has helped me over the years, and continues to help me now, here’s what I came up with:
1) Do something for someone else. My dad seemed to have this lesson wrapped up. He was always taking a shift ringing the Salvation Army bell, buying gifts for an Angel Tree child, or serving Christmas breakfast to homeless people. He found joy in turning his attention away from himself and onto someone who was hurting.
Isaiah 58 is a great antidote for pain and lost-ness, particularly verses 10 and 11:
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
2) Embrace the joy of the season. Don’t wait for a husband, boyfriend or intact family to come along; get a Christmas tree, have a party, go to the Christmas Eve service, decorate your home – enjoy the benefits of the season now, whatever stage of life you are in.
3) Make time to spend with God. Your to-do list may be a mile long, but carve out time to be alone with the Lord. He longs to refresh and comfort you. Let him. Christmas is about God being present with us; take the time to embrace his presence.
May all of us find our comfort and joy in Him this season,
Editor’s Note: Before you freak out, read the post. This was written by Ali Mason. She blogs at alimason.wordpress.com. She works at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO with the high school ministry. Want to read more in the Bible on this? Check out Hebrews 10. – Lauren
Some would describe me as a good person. I try really hard to be kind, treat people well, and love others. I mediate situations, I go to church on a regular basis, and I have an annoying tendency to do the right thing.
But when I look at myself the mirror, I stare into the reality that I am not a good person.
I am an awful person. I am petty, jealous, bitter, perfectionistic, inadequate, angry, grumpy, proud, snide, manipulative, self-absorbed, evaluating, judgmental, selfish, incompetent, codependent, and many more adjectives that would describe the average awful human. So for most of my life, to maintain an image of being good, I would try harder to be kind, treat people even better, and love others as much as possible. I would prevent arguments, become so involved at my church that I would be there daily, and hold myself to a standard of perfection in every action.
But earlier this year, I woke up one day with a crazy notion: I worship a good God. And therefore me being a good person doesn’t really matter in the long run. Because that is not how God sees me.
One might assume that this sort of epiphany would bring freedom and joy and giggles because, hey, for any Christian it kind of makes sense. But for me, this notion rocked me to my core.
Did you ever put on those goggles at the police station when you were a kid? The ones that simulate drunk driving? I feel like I’ve been wearing those my entire life. And that morning that I woke up, I opened my eyes and found to my surprise that the Lord had taken those silly things off. And I freaked out.
There was nothing in my life that I recognized around me, and worst of all, I realized that the reflection I’ve been looking at for so long and have been so ashamed of is not the version of me that my Heavenly Father sees.
Because, you see, when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He bore God’s wrath. And theologically that sounds nice, but in a more image-based description, what that really means is that Jesus was ugly. Like, really ugly. He was my kind of ugly. He put on my mask of being a good girl and carried my bitter, foul little heart around in His chest and hung on a cross. When He died, was buried, and then woke up and starting walking and talking again, all of my crap got left behind.
For people who grew up Christian, this is logical. We learn it in talks from our pastors, we read about in Christian books, we even skim the surface as we read Scripture. But for me, I was living with the distorted image of my good girl self and my broken little heart. I was still walking around carrying this picture of me as the little girl who believed she was to blame for the end of her parents’ marriage, the child who thought she could somehow prove she was deserving of love and attention, the teen who believed that no one could see the scars on her arms, and the young woman who thought the only kind of love she deserved would always come with strings attached.
So when the goggles came off and I saw myself the way that God sees me, I was shocked to perceive that I am whole. I am perfect. There are no stains on my clothing, no blemish on my skin. A pleasing aroma comes from me, there are no tears on my cheeks or lurking in my eyes; there is no shame burdening my shoulders or pain creasing my brow. I am His. And I am perfect.
When Jesus died on the cross, He took our sin. That means that God doesn’t see it when He looks at each of us. This distorted image of myself that I had been carrying around was not in fact reality at all.
I had been deceived into believing that all my striving, all my attempts to live a good life would somehow continue to buy me God’s favor. That my outer goodness would somehow outweigh my inner garbage, that God would see my deeds even though He knows my heart and somehow maybe He would decide that they even out. My inner sense of brokenness drove me into a captivity of legalism. I started depending on myself and all the things I could do for God to get Him to accept me, to notice me, to heal me, to love me, instead of on Him.
But our God is better than that. He is a good God. He is a intentional God who works in all things for our good. He is a Shepherd who will not let us stray too far. He is a Father who welcomes us in with open arms. And so He took off my goggles and led me out of my Egypt, my slavery.
For so much of my life, the words I have said most frequently to the Lord have been “I’m sorry”. But in 2011, God showed me that it’s time to change that phrase to “Thank you”.
Editor’s Note: No child escapes childhood without scars, and when all of us have imperfect fathers, it is nearly impossible to see God for the Father that He is. Today’s post was written by Ruthie Dean. She blogs at www.ruthiedean.com and tweets at @_ruthiedean. She’s also written, “Dating Mistakes: I Can Change Him” and “Being Single: Are Christians Allowed To Be Sexy?” for us. – Lauren
I was afraid.
Afraid God would continue to take away people closest to me or strike me with terminal illness or cause terrible suffering – in the vein of refinement. I was afraid God wanted to punish me.
2011 meant wedding bells for me. I married the love of my life and our reception was out of the movie Sabrina. I landed my dream job working in a publishing house. I am the luckiest Mrs. in the world in terms of in-laws (amazing). I found a group of women who will be lifelong friends.
But in the midst of it all, I was wrestling in very dark places. My heart felt like it was ripped from my chest. I felt betrayed. I felt very alone. I remembered – and I hated what I remembered. Some days I would have to tell myself just to keep breathing. Just keep breathing.
Have you been there?
In the midst of all the confusion and pain, I was still a Christian which meant I believe in a God who is in control. I would have told you God is full of love and doesn’t punish His children just for the sake of punishment. Yet my heart believed differently. The belief that God was punishing me for some unknown offense crept in. Occasionally, I would ask Him to show me WHAT sin I had committed to illicit such extreme measures. I caught myself thinking of God as cruel taskmaster, thinking “I told her not to” as He sent down “punishment” from heaven.
If you believe there is a God who is all-powerful, loving, and at work in the lives of people, have you ever been tempted to believe God is punishing you when things start to go wrong? You don’t get a job, everyone else has found their soulmate except you, or something tragic happens.
Do you ever feel like God is punishing you? Or that He just doesn’t care about you?
Well, I did, and it was only through wrestling through these questions that I’ve come out on the other side. One Sunday, I was almost in tears as my husband was about to leave for a road trip. Please, please, please be careful. I begged. I just can’t to go on if something happens to you.
He touched my arm, put down his bags, and led me over to the couch.
“God is not out to punish you, Ruthie. He’s not going to take me away,” he said softly as I silently wept.
“But how do you know? What if it’s His plan?” I managed to string words together.
We talked for a long time. I sat staring at the ceiling after he left and finally prayed.
“God, I’m scared of you. I just don’t want to experience any more pain. Why is all this happening?”
Something changed inside me that Sunday afternoon. I sat down and wrote a blog post entitled God Isn’t Punishing You. I still wasn’t sure I believed it, but writing helped.
The Bible is full of references to God as a loving Father, as well as many about God’s anger and discipline – confusing and seemingly contradictory. We see God’s anger burning against people in both the Old and New Testament, but also verses about God as a loving Father. Romans 8:15 says God adopted us as His own children.
I’ve heard most people get their perspective of God from their fathers. Fathers who leave cause children to believe God will leave them too. Fathers who abuse can create children fearful God will act in similar manner. Absent fathers leave children wondering if God even exists. Regardless, no father is perfect. We all have flawed relationships with our dads and it is helpful for each of us to look through the lens of our relationships and note commonalities. God is the only perfect Dad.
My view of God was broken in many ways. The flaw with thinking God is punishing me is the belief that God acts according to my character. But he doesn’t. The Bible is full of examples of people deserving punishment, deserving to be cut off from God, and deserving an eternity in hell. But God gives them mercy, grace, forgiveness and eternal life. And He’s done it for me and for you.
Ever so slowly, I’ve chipped away at the lie I believed for so long. I’m learning to trust and learning to turn from fear. God is not a cruel taskmaster, but a loving Father. And He adopted me!
God is not out to harm us or destroy us; He is longing to give us the richest blessings we can possibly imagine.
God takes pleasure in giving us grace abundantly. He is longing to bless us – in the midst of trials and suffering and persecution and confusion – because He is a good Dad.
How has your relationship with your father affected your relationship with God? Do you see God as a loving Father or as a cruel taskmaster?
Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Micaela Hollins, from The Underground Micaela. She also tweets at @micaelarose. I wholeheartedly agree with her words, and I more-than-strongly encourage you to take her advice. Even if you don’t have the money or time (I know, I’ve been there. I AM there.), make it a priority to seek out your options before you decide it’s simply not possible. And if you’re desperate for help, reach out and ask for it. There are women in your community willing to love you through it. Keep seeking until you find it. – Lauren
I like to think I’m pretty emotionally stable. I process my emotions, I don’t run away and I cry A LOT. I’ve even been known to call myself a “self-analyzing pro” because I can come up with a reason for every single one of my behaviors. I’ve got my shit sorted, right?
Wrong. Turns out I am somewhat of an “emotional perfectionist”. I like to be so in control of my feelings and know exactly where each of my behaviors roots from, to the point that I don’t always let things happen organically.
This is my greatest blessing and my greatest curse, because while I’m very emotionally “in-touch”, I also over-think to the point of insanity and exhaustion. After coming out of a long-term relationship (and engagement) in 2011, my over-thinking and analyzing went into overdrive.
When I talked to my friends about it, I sounded sound like I had it all together. Then in the dark of the night I would break down, badly, because emotions and grief work on their own schedule, and when you try and push them down they hit harder. It turns out being human has some painful disruptions, and I didn’t have my shit sorted at all.
So I told my overactive mind to go on holiday and called in a professional.
I started seeing a counselor, someone who has qualifications and actually knows what he is talking about, someone who can guide me to healing in Christ so that I didn’t have to work so hard at healing myself. Because, if truth be told, I wasn’t doing such a great job.
I went to my first session with a heavy heart; I was sad, lonely, and running on empty. On the journey there, I prayed “Please Lord let this be good for me, let me gain something from this because I’m spent and don’t have any strength left.” God heard me. I sat there and released months’ worth of tear-stained words to this counselor who is paid to listen to me. I didn’t feel guilty for “dumping” on him; I just let go. He helped me reach some important conclusions in that very first session and I left feeling so light, I thought I might just fly.
The second session was a little harder, grittier and a hell of a lot more painful. That’s when the good stuff happens though and hey, I’m still alive. Not only am I still alive, but as each session passes I gain a little more freedom. During these sessions, my pain is justified, understood, and accepted, but our (mine and my counselor’s) ambition is my healing and I’m not allowed to sit in my pain and pity for longer than necessary. I must keep moving forward.
I’d rather be dealing with this at 22 than at 42, 52, 62 when I’ve caused other people pain from my own wounded heart. Have you heard? Hurting people hurt people. All of my hurt has come from hurting people, and out of that hurt I’ve hurt more people. It’s a vicious cycle, BUT I have the power to break it and it’s my choice whether I do or not. No I won’t ever be perfect but the goal isn’t perfection, it’s wholeness in Christ so that I’m not operating everyday life out of brokenness.
You might be thinking, “Gosh, she is so honest, telling the blogosphere she is screwed up enough to go to counseling.” If it helps you, then heck yes I am honest enough. Frankly we are all screwed up at least a tiny bit because we live in a broken world with broken people. We like to act like we’re okay, but if we’re honest, we’re not always okay. Sometimes we are a lot worse than okay, and who wants to live an “okay” life anyway? Christ came to set us free indeed! It’s time to claim that freedom and live in it.
If you have faced trials in the past that you still haven’t overcome, if you’ve never been to a counselor, or just think it would be good for you, then please go and talk to someone. Who knows, you may only need one session, or you’ll need loads. It’s amazing what you work through with the right counsellor or therapist, some of which you never knew you were carrying around with you.
Whatever the case; deal with your pain so that it doesn’t deal with you. Also, I personally think that if you’re in a relationship then it’s even more important; there is a lot of stuff that comes up when we share our lives intimately with someone, and sometimes they can’t carry our baggage as well as their own.
All this was to say, it’s nice not having to figure everything out by myself. Yes I still have to think, feel, process. However I am externalizing it in a healthy environment instead of running circles in my mind. I cannot emphasize exactly how transforming these counseling sessions have been. I know that by facing my past I am paving the way for a bright and healthy future, because there is nothing I desire more. My past has held my back for too long, and I’ve decided enough is enough. Christ is my healer and deliverer, and He is yours. He longs to heal your brokenness and I implore you to let Him, because no matter how hard you try or how smart you are, you can’t fix yourself. That’s what I learned in 2011.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Crystal Gettings. She tweets at @CrystalGettings. If you are struggling with stress, depression, or lies that bounce around in your head, I highly recommend the book, Waking The Dead: The Glory Of A Heart Fully Alive. I would not be half the woman I am today if I had not read this book last year, and I never would have launched the Good Women Project. It is worth your time and money. – Lauren
When I reflect on 2011 in years to come, one major lesson will surface in my mind: How I finally recognized the lies I had believed and accepted the truth I needed so desperately.
For years I accepted the “stress” that constantly flooded my body and mind. I told myself that it was was just that: stress. Everyone experiences stress, so I wasn’t special. Little did I know that it was only the symptom of something deeper.
It took me getting up the courage to resign from my first professional PR job at an agency; to working from home with another organization for several months; to finally taking a step back from all jobs and forcing myself to just be a young stay-at-home mom, in order for my healing journey to come full-circle.
During this time, I was determined to figure out why I felt completely out of control. So many nights I woke up shaking feeling hopeless; other times evil dreams and thoughts attacked and called my name. Anyone that knows me will have a hard time believing this because I am naturally a happy-go-lucky, positive, and extroverted person. I am pretty confident. But all of that was all thrown to the wayside when I was listening to the lies. This is what can happen when terrible lies form in our mind and we accept those thoughts as truths, allowing one little lie to grow and gradually choke away that which is healthy.
For a while, I felt so helpless that I could not bring myself to clean my bathroom. It sounds pathetic, but when these feelings surrounded me, boxing me in, I would walk up to my dirty bathtub and stare at the black grime that had so clearly made its mark. It may well has been a still shot of how my inner being felt – dark, hopeless, helpless, blemished, and in serious need of a good cleaning.
There were so many lies that haunted me; I cannot count them all. But the greatest underlying lie was this: I will never be good enough. Behind every lie I believed, there was that voice whispering that I could never measure up. So many people, whether man or woman, believe this lie. Some are aware of it and others are not. It is extremely dangerous for those who do not yet know it is a lie.
I am so thankful that God allowed me to experience some dark days in order to get my attention. With pain, came anger, as well as a strong desire to change. Pain motivated me to act; so for that, I am grateful.
I allowed myself to get angry at how the enemy had tried so diligently to take over my mind. Since I had been “living well” – married at 22, close with family and friends, trying to love God and do the right things – perhaps the enemy thought, “If I can’t control her actions, I’ll slip into her mind.” That may sound crazy to some, but the reality of it hit me as I realized how twisted my thoughts had become. What good are we for God if we do not have a sound mind? 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
Over time, I had become spiritually crippled (I will point out that I continued to function normally through the mental struggles) because of the lies I allowed to take root in my mind. It was when I sought help that my thoughts, which I had accepted as truths, came out of hiding and presented themselves as what they really were: lies. And where do lies come from? Liars. John 8:44 tells us that the enemy “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him” and “when he lies, he speaks in his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Honestly, I was relieved when God taught me that I was drowning in lies. It took the burden off of me; it meant I wasn’t a failure and all those other terrible things I had thought. Instead, I had simply been listening to a liar. The greatest liar of them all.
I think it is also worth pointing out a few definitions of the word “lie” from a few online dictionaries:
1. A false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.
2. Something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture.
You know what I get from reading these definitions? The fact that a lie is meant to deceive. There is a purpose to each lie. There is no “neutral lie.” Lying is the enemy’s “native language” and the oldest trick in the book (literally – The Fall of Man in Genesis 3 – check it out).
Thanks to the Lord for never giving up on me. He was always there with His hand outstretched, waiting for me to reach out and ask for help. And to stop beating myself up daily and giving in to the lies that plagued my mind.
He was so willing and able to rescue me. And He’s willing and waiting to do the same for everyone.
We must first recognize the lies that have manifested in our culture, in our homes, in our hearts.
Then we must give those up, consciously choose not to believe them, and accept a new truth – God’s truth – instead. If we hold on to the lies, then how can He fill us up with truth?
There is not enough room for both. We cannot serve two masters – whether it is the love of money vs. loving God, or believing lies vs. accepting God’s truth. Either way, we pick a side. Whether we realize it or not, we are doing one or the other. If we do not choose truth, we accept lies.
Let’s choose to acknowledge our thought patterns and actions that are greatly affected by those thoughts. Only with true recognition comes acceptance of what has transpired, and only then are we able to move forward and change with God’s grace and guiding hand.
Dear friends, the lies can begin vaguely and slowly. Please take the time to recognize what your mind is thinking and what you are choosing to dwell on daily. Remember Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
If you know Jesus, you are free. But it is a decision we have to make each day – whether we will live in the freedom that Jesus has already graciously given us. It’s when we drift away from Him that we can begin to feel enslaved again. Thank God that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)
I am free – free at last!
Editor’s Note: Addiction is defined as “devoted or given up to a practice or habit or to something psychologically or physically habit-forming”. I would argue that as broken people, we are all devoted to or rely on something we don’t wish to. A thought process, a lie in our head, cigarettes, alcohol, pornography, sex, attention, emotional highs and lows, food, etc. So often, the root of our addiction lies in our belief that we are unworthy; that we are deserving of a life in which we commit a “slow suicide”, as Tammy puts it. But the truth is that you are worth a full life. It is worth fighting for. For 2012, pursue the truth of your value. Tammy tweets at @tammywerthem and blogs at I Woke Up Yesterday. – Lauren
In 2011, I finally confronted my love affair with nicotine.
I am a recovered crack-addict and alcoholic, who spent over half my life in and out of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I have over seven years clean and sober. I am 40 and began my love affair with nicotine in high school. I became a daily, pack-a-day smoker my freshman year in college, when I began attending AA. Back in the “old” days, we smoked inside the meeting rooms. My dad smoked, his dad smoked, so naturally I smoked too. You see, I am just like my dad. This idea that I was just like my dad? It actually made me proud to be a smoker.
For me, giving up cigarettes was harder than giving up crack cocaine. Cigarettes are far more socially acceptable than crack. They are legal, cheaper and available at most gas stations and convenience stores. My cigarette of choice was Newport.
Why would I write about my life without cigarettes, when there are so many other real and relevant issues I could write about? Well, cigarettes were destroying me, my marriage, and my testimony with my kids and women I mentored. Smoking is a hard habit to break and I associated smoking with reward and friendship. I rewarded myself for finishing chores. I took breaks from my family members, if they were irritating me. Smoking helped me relax. I chose it above things more worthy of my time. I was addicted. Cigarettes were my best friend and took precedence to my husband’s wishes and the needs of my children to grow up in a home that was smoke-free.
When I found out I was pregnant with my second child in April of 2011, I thought about quitting smoking. I had just returned from a week-long birthday trip in Ireland with my mom and sister, where there were plenty of folks who smoked. I was happy to light up with them. My husband begged me to stop smoking; he has been begging me since I met him. I have lied to him about my smoking, convincing him that I had quit. I snuck around like an alcoholic, hiding my stash.
When women find out they are pregnant, they get super healthy. They get their prenatal vitamins, quit smoking, scale back on coffee, exercise, and then some. Most “normal” women do this in preparation for their pregnancies. In my case, I did not choose to quit smoking immediately. In fact, when I was pregnant with my first child, I did not quit smoking all the way – and when I brought him home from the hospital, I was taking three and four showers a day to wash the nicotine off my body. This was completely insane!
With this pregnancy, I faced a constant battle of wanting my fix and seeking to honor God with healthy choices and thanking Him for the miracle of life growing within me. Like a good addict, I rationalized my use of nicotine and convinced myself that a half of a pack was better than a whole pack. I tried to cut back. Thankfully, due to my pregnancy developing, I started to get really sick from smoking and put cigarettes down completely in July of 2011. I became fully convinced that I am valuable enough to quit smoking and not commit a slow suicide. Replace “smoking” with your harmful habit of choice. It’s all the same.
Here are some benefits of my quitting smoking: I smell better. I feel and look better. I am not setting a bad example for people I love, especially my very impressionable children. I want to kiss my husband more. He is not on my case to quit. I am saving a ton of money by not purchasing cigarettes. I may have decreased my chances of getting cancer. (My dad died a young and tragic death at 54 years old, from colon cancer. I am certain his lifelong cigarette habit was a contributing factor). I have freedom today and am not chained down to my next nicotine fix. I no longer have to lie about or hide.
I am grateful that I quit smoking in 2011. I am more grateful that I am committed to remain a non-smoker, for the rest of my life. Of course, I will accomplish this one day at a time. Today, when I smell cigarette smoke, I am mildly interested and also a little grossed out. I hope to never be one of those reformed smokers who seek to condemn those who still battle their addiction. My heart’s desire is that my victories, through Christ in me, will serve as an example and give hope to those who struggle with any addiction.
With support and loving community, I am able to remain smoke-free, drug-free, and alcohol-free. I have other vices that I battle: anger, irritability, lust, shame, the need for control and more. I choose to see the small victories of everyday life as proof that God is not finished with me. I am a work in progress and I am grateful that HIS love covers a multitude of sin. Also, I am very grateful to walk in the knowledge that His love is not based on my behavior or performance. I never thought that God was mad at me because I smoked, but I felt the conviction that I was not honoring Him with my choice to smoke. And I want to live a life that pleases Him and draws others into a relationship with Him.
NOTE: Good Women Project does not embrace nor reject the behavior of smoking. This post was not published as a reflection of our views on cigarettes, nicotine or substances but rather to share a story of a woman in our community. Thank you for your understanding.
Editor’s Note: Today we are hearing from Rachel, our Director of Mentoring. She tweets at @_rachchristine and blogs at Sincerely, Rachel Christine. I have some more words to share, but they’re at the end of this post! – Lauren
‘Transparency’ is a funny word because it is such a pretty-sounding word for something that makes you feel so very ugly. If you had asked me a few years ago if I was a transparent person, I would have said yes. I had close friends who knew me, and I was completely honest with them about every aspect of my life.
Except for the ugly things, of course; those I kept secret.
Truthfully, it didn’t cripple me to keep secrets. It was very easy to walk around projecting a life different than the one I was actually leading. On the outside, I pretended to be just like everyone else.
But in secret, my heart was planted on the shaky stones of the approval of men, and I struggled daily to believe I was worth more than they said I was.
It wasn’t until a dear friend sat me down and asked me a very hard question that I finally understood friendship. She said, “Rachel, what are you doing?” And with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I confessed to my friend.
The problem today is that we are afraid to ask hard questions to each other. And we are also afraid to live openly and honestly about the answers to those questions. We don’t talk about our “issues”. We don’t hear about someone’s battle with depression until they commit suicide. We don’t hear about someone’s struggle with lust until they have an affair. And my friend didn’t learn about my issues with acceptance until I got caught looking for love in all the wrong places.
This same friend wrapped up a rock, and gave it to me as a present. With it, she gave me a card that said, “I know you have a lot of hurt to work through, and I know it’s going to be tough. But I thought maybe you could use a friend to help you break down the glass house you’ve been living in.”
There’s a verse that has been lingering in my heart lately. In Matthew, Jesus is talking in parables, and he says this: “The kingdom of heaven is like buried treasure…” (Matt. 13:44)
I think we have piled so much stuff on top of what it was that Jesus preached, that now we have to actually dig to get down to it. And digging is a lot of work. We end up tired, and bruised, with dirt under our fingernails. That’s why we need help; we were made to need each other.
It has been a painful year of opening myself up, one stitch at a time. I’ve dug deeply in my soul, with friends by my side, and found the truth hidden beneath the layers of dirt I packed on. I’ve been ashamed, embarrassed, and so very sorry. However, I am learning this: I would rather be tired from working through it but completely free, than living in a glass house where I am scared to be anything other than perfect.
Ladies, we have to dig for truth, and we have to grasp for community. And we have to do it together. To confess to each other as we are called to do is a very scary, hard thing.
We have to advocate for sisterhood and raw relationships.
We have to ask hard questions and expect our friends to ask us some back.
We have to be accountable to someone other than ourselves; it brings life and truth and the community that Jesus called us to.
The good news – we can start right now. Make it a goal to fight for community because you are worth the freedom that comes with it.
The kingdom of heaven is buried treasure. And it is so worth digging for.
A P.S. From Lauren: One of the main reasons I founded the Good Women Project was to begin this kind of community. This kind of friendship and openness. For your new year’s resolution this year, will you consider digging in and getting honest with a woman you respect? It requires you going out of your way to reach back into the church, the community, a small group, a recovery group, or even a friend you already have. But it’s crucial to the future of your heart. This upcoming year, commit to grow in the light, with someone else. Also, I’d love to ask you to think about making yourself available to another girl. Will you check out our mentoring program? In 2012 we’ll be introducing something new to our mentoring program: A panel of women who are able to answer your questions on intimate, broken things – when you don’t have this kind of women in your life. If you’d like to be on this panel, please let us know.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Kristin Veiga. She tweets at @Kristinveiga. Forgiveness is so simple and so available in Christ, but so difficult for us to grasp. Beautiful post. If you want to share your story on what you learned in 2011, check out our Contribute page. – Lauren
I rang in 2011 this past year as an agnostic.
I believed there was a God, but that’s probably as far as it ever got.
I believed that I didn’t want or need God in my life.
I was wrong.
On May 28, 2011 my best friend, Joseline, and I were having a sleep over. She is a Christian, but had never explained the gospel to me. Coincidentally, some of her friends were having a party on the same night so we, desperate for some fun, decided to go.
Little did I know that everyone at the party was going to be Christian.
To this day I have never been in a more uncomfortable situation. I did at that point acknowledge the existence of God, but it meant nothing to my life. No one at this party knew that I was a “sinner” and not the “oh a little white lie won’t hurt” type but the “I smoke a lot of marijuana, I drink too much, and I’ve had sex” type.
I thought I was a sinner among saints. Again, wrong.
However, I did fall in love with these people the first night I met them. But I didn’t think they could accept me the way I was. I didn’t think God could accept me the way I was.
The next day was a Sunday and I was really curious about why the people I met at the party were so nice and loving, so I decided to give church a chance. I was in so much trouble. I don’t remember what the pastor spoke about that night, or why it impacted me so much but that night I prayed to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
But something still wasn’t right. I didn’t believe Jesus could love me after all that I have done, all the hurt I had caused, all the sins I had repeatedly committed. I felt that no matter how good I was from that moment on, that when the time came where I met God at Heaven’s gates that He wouldn’t let me in because of my sins.
Again, I was wrong.
That same night I met a man who through the words of God forever changed my view on who God was and who I was to Him. He introduced me to Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” After a few more minutes of talking, he left and I was left alone to my own thoughts.
I kept thinking that God’s love for me was impossible. I was so broken, so messed up, so lost. He couldn’t love me. But He did.
That night I truly learned the meaning of why Jesus died on the cross. It was for me. Not because He had to, or because He simply didn’t want to live anymore, but to forgive me. Through His actions of Love I am now and will forever be forgiven. Not just of my past sins but of my future ones too.
I also learned that the people at the party who I thought were so saintly and sinless were anything but. They’re human, and they sin whether they are of the world or of God. The only difference is that they know they are forgiven and try their hardest to live a godly life.
Through Him I am now able to use all my past sins and all my future sins and take them and apply them to helping the younger girls in my church when they face similar situations. Because of this, I now see all my sins as a blessing and not a curse.
God, who is so beautiful and mighty, knows how to turn something bad into something great.
I am thankful to be able to ring in the New Year knowing confidently where I will go when I die, that my sins will forever be forgiven, and that He will not judge me on my past mistakes but will be my strong tower for 2012 and the many years to come.
Editor’s Note:Today’s post is by Julia, and you can follow her on Twitter at @juliac24. It never ceases to amaze me how many of us girls grew up like this. Countless women trying to find approval and salvation in our “trying harder”. If you struggle to say ‘no’ and to care for yourself – we REALLY recommend “Boundaries” by Cloud & Townsend. It is Biblical, professional, and will change your life. – Lauren
In 2011, I learned to say a bad word.
The word that no good Christian girl ever says. A word that people who are really good Christians don’t use.
I always thought that if I said this terrible word, I’d be the bad person.
I grew up as the good little church girl, sat in the front pew every Sunday while I listened to my dad preach. I got baptized when I was eight, and from then on, I did whatever needed to be done. I knew all the answers in Sunday School, I sang in church, played piano in church, and as I got older, became a leader for kids ministry and youth ministry too. I was the counsellor in residence for all of my friends (and even some not-so-much-friends) – when somebody needed help, they came to me.
Fast forward to 2011, and I’m in my second year at a Christian university. Residence Advisor. Worship Leader. And again, Counsellor in Residence. This time, it was my job. Part of my RA requirement. To help people.
So it piled up. Schoolwork. Meetings. Chapel services to lead and plan. Girls to mentor. Dorm events to plan. All-rez extravaganzas to help with. You name it, I’m supposed to be doing it. Here’s what I learned.
Going going going? Leads to slowly dying dying dying. There’s no time for you, no time to refresh, no time for God. Lots of time for ministry, but no time for the One that I’m supposed to be ministering for.
“God will speak to this people, to whom he said, “This is the resting place, let the weary rest”; and, “This is the place of repose” – but they would not listen. So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there – so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured.” Isaiah 28
So, I learned to say the bad word. I learned to say ‘no’.
I learned to set boundaries, and stick to them. Instead of spending all my time with the girls on my floor, I started spending time with the One that deserves most of my time – Jesus. And what did I learn?
That saying ‘no’ is not a sin.
That people are not the most important thing, God is.
That ministry is not always what I’m called to do.
That sometimes I’m called just to sit back and bask in the presence of a Father who loves me and who refreshes me, even when people are pounding down my door.
God doesn’t call me, you, or anyone to always say ‘yes’. Yes, we are called to love. Yes, we are called to work. And yes, we are called to minister. But not to please a boss, a friend, a parent, a boyfriend, a spouse. To please the One who made us, the One who has given us that calling.
Paul writes in Galatians that “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a follower of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
Not being able to say ‘no’ usually comes from a fear of people. Fear that we won’t be liked. Fear that people will be angry. That they won’t understand. That they won’t appreciate us enough. That we’ll lose a bit of that “oh she’s so nice and wonderful” reputation.
We are not alive to please people, we are alive to please God. And His desire is not for us to burn out, to be tired, to be exhausted. His desire is for us to be filled, to be poured into, to experience His presence, so that we can share that with others.
So try it. Say ‘no’. The first time it will be hard, but oh-so-satisfying. Don’t learn it the hard way – when you have so much on your plate that you just collapse. The more you say it, the easier it becomes.
That’s what I’ve learned in 2011.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Jessica Eschezabal. She tweets at @jessieeche. One of our topics this year was beauty & body image, and we had so many incredible submissions. Our body weight and what we see in the mirror is a daily fight for most of us – but not one we are meant to be fighting. If you’d like to read more stories on this, check them out here. – Lauren
If I had to describe a large portion of 2011 in one word it would be obsession.
I was obsessed with my body. Always trying to make it more beautiful. And the worst part was that it was a secret struggle.
I gained about 15 pounds during the summer of 2010. Once I got back home, the number on the scale scared me to death. All of a sudden, I looked in the mirror and saw a different person. I saw someone I didn’t want to look like.
I’m still not completely sure what caused such an intense insecurity. Why I desperately needed to lose the weight. But that didn’t seem to matter at the time. All I wanted to do was get back to normal. And while I was at it, I decided I wanted to pursue the best body I could get.
I wasted countless hours online looking through exercises, magazines, and at models. I have always liked and appreciated fashion, but this time I got sucked into the fashion industry and all of its pressures.
Everything was about me, me, me.
During this time God was knocking at my door but I was too busy on the computer to get up and open it. One of my best friends approached me several times asking me if I was okay because I looked thinner. I would assure her I was fine, but inside I had a terrible knot in my stomach knowing what I was doing was so wrong.
But I couldn’t stop.
I tried several times to stop looking at models on Tumblr. I was successful for several days, and even felt a hint of freedom. But I would soon find myself scrolling through the pages again. I was chained.
I couldn’t eat food without mentally calculating calories or thinking about what the ingredients might be. I went to bed thinking about it, and woke up thinking about it. I never thought I had a problem, but today I will completely acknowledge the fact that I was developing a psychological disorder: anorexia nervosa.
But then God saved me.
One morning I woke up and I’d had enough. I couldn’t live like this anymore. It was eating me alive. God was pounding at my door. He couldn’t stand seeing His beautiful daughter destroying herself. He couldn’t stand seeing His precious creation being consumed by His enemy’s lies. He wanted me back.
And I finally opened the door.
I went to my university that morning and confessed everything to my best friend and asked for accountability. I decided I would not exercise any longer until I felt I could do it without the wrong motives. I deactivated all my email subscriptions to the latest exercise routine and diet tips. I deleted all the fashion Tumblrs I followed and all the models I followed on Twitter. I cleaned my room of garbage. I was done.
What gave me the power to all of a sudden drop everything I held onto so tightly? God. I did not do it on my own. It would have been impossible. God filled my broken body with strength and I was able to stand up again. You will not find that strength elsewhere.
This is what I learned about body image: if your eyes are on yourself, you will never be satisfied. This world offers counterfeit beauty. You have it for several years and then it’s gone. Fashion models are an illusion. They are not real. (Don’t believe me? Go watch the Dove Evolution video.)
God said, “Fix your eyes on me.” And so I did. And everything changed.
I saw myself as God’s creation. Beautifully and wonderfully made.
I never had to live chained to the lies of this world. God sent His son to die for me so that sin no longer had a hold on me. I didn’t have to be “beautiful enough” for Him. So why was I living as if I were still chained to that?
In 2011 I learned how to live a life of victory. Learning from my past mistakes and applying the lessons to my future.
The thoughts still come back to haunt me. But I don’t need to submit to them any longer. When I am completely consumed by Christ, I lose sight of myself. I don’t matter anymore. It’s not about me, but Him.
I want my security to come from a different source. Not the world, but Christ.
One of my favorite authors, Leslie Ludy, describes a girl consumed by Jesus perfectly, “Her value comes from knowing she has been redeemed and loved by the King of all kings. Her focus is on His desires, not on her selfish wants.”
That is what I am striving for. I am definitely not all there, but I am getting one step closer each day. This is my goal for 2012.
“They care not at all what the world thinks of them, because they are entirely taken up with the tremendous realities of their King.” —Bishop Bardsley
Editor’s Note: I have no words for this post. It was written by Trish Palac, who also wrote a great post on verbal abuse in dating relationships for us several months ago. Trish tweets at @trishpalac. – Lauren
I sat eagerly next to my dad as he entertained me in a way that only a six-year-old can be entertained. I begged him for the third time that day to please, please peel my orange for me. He could almost always peel the entire thing off in one piece. And it thrilled me. It was magic that only my daddy could possibly possess.
I sat again, eagerly, next to my dad in his big 12 passenger van as he drove me 180 miles up to Michigan to see my boyfriend for the weekend. I was sixteen and giving him gray hairs on a daily basis. But he faithfully drove me up there and made sure I was safely deposited at my boyfriend’s family’s house. He always bear hugged me before he drove away.
And again, I sat next to my dad this past summer. I was 22. It had been a year and a half since I’d seen him and almost a year since my wedding. The one that he couldn’t attend to walk me down the aisle. He smiled, but his eyes were empty. He wore all khaki and his clothes bore his name and inmate number. He bear hugged like he always used to, but today it was in the visiting room of a federal prison in Ft Worth, Texas.
A father is always his daughter’s first love. He is always the man that she grows up wanting to make proud. My dad was no exception – he was my world. But on that day in the court room when I heard the judge sentence him to 180 months in prison? That was the day that my world stopped. My dad was being charged for a crime I couldn’t never even imagine him committing. This couldn’t be my dad being taken out of the room in handcuffs while staring at the floor to avoid the tear-filled eyes of his family. This couldn’t be the same dad that patiently taught me how to drive in that big 12 passenger van. This couldn’t be happening to my family.
I have spent a lot of time angry. Angry at my dad. Angry at God for letting this happen to my family. Angry at the I.C.E. agents that came to my house that morning and took my dad away from his family. Angry that I was too embarrassed to tell my own friends and family why my dad wasn’t around anymore or why my heart was breaking. I was always the girl that was lucky enough to have the coolest dad in the neighborhood. He homeschooled me and my seven siblings, he taught me to ride my bike, and he always provided constant laughter. Now he was being taken away for the next fifteen years of my life with no chance of an early release. Now his name was in the local paper.
Then, I spent a lot of time forgiving. My dad was always a people pleaser by nature. He put other peoples happiness first and rarely did things for himself. So during the ten months between the beginning of the investigation and his sentencing – he always acted like everything was okay. By order of the authorities he wasn’t allowed to be near our home or allowed see the kids that were still under eighteen, so he stayed in an apartment on house arrest. When I went to visit him he acted like everything was fine. Like the most important topic to discuss was the weather or the current book he was reading. But my heart ached and I felt betrayed. I felt like the truth was being hidden from me. Like a child being kept in the dark. I was encouraged, by my then-fiancé, to ask him to tell me what happened. Why he did what he did. What was true and what wasn’t. In asking these hard questions I saw I side of my dad that I had never seen before – a raw, authentic, broken man that made a mistake. I had never seen him express something so real before. He was always just my dad. Always happy, always laughing. Never broken. But this broken man in front of me was left empty-handed and discouraged. It was in that moment that I had more love and respect for my dad than I had ever had before.
Now I’m spending a lot of time learning and understanding. After this turn in my relationship with my dad is when he was taken to prison halfway across the country. My world was left with a huge hole that I couldn’t fill. That piece of my heart was left with marks of the pain lived over the past year and those still healing scars. I was always aware of the almost tangible absence of my dad. And I was constantly devastated thinking about the pain he must be going through. His family was his life, his identity. And he was stripped of that. It hasn’t been until recently that I am beginning to understand that God has greater dreams for us, my dad included, than for a return to a pleasant life. He wanted more for my dad. He didn’t want his identity to be his family. As great of a dad as he always was, God wants more. He wants my dad’s identity to rest in Him. He wants my dad to be a reflection of His grace. And He knew that for my dad to find his new identity in the grace of Jesus, to have no other choice than to fall into His arms – he had to lose everything. He had to fall apart. He had to become the shell of a man that broke my heart so fiercely to see. God has to prune and reshape my dad to use Him in the way that He has always intended.
My dad will always be my hero. I may still have moments where I mourn the loss of what was – the loss of having my dad and best friend in my daily life like I always thought I would. But I know that I can hold onto the hope of greater things for him. Things that he was divinely created to do. People’s lives that he has already touched in ways that only he could. I know that there are big things in store for him – plans that are so much bigger than what we had our hearts set on for our own little world. The joy that God will reveal through the pain of this nightmare will be incomparable to anything that we could ever plan for our own lives. What I pray for my dad is that he sees that we are more than the mistakes that we make. We are more than the tragedies that invade our lives and we are more than that which we cling to so dearly to only have ripped away from us. We don’t know what God is doing or why we feel the heartache that we do. But what we can cling to is the promise that, yes, the pain may not go away, but it will always do its work in us.
Editor’s Note: Last night, I lashed out at my husband with misplaced anger. We had been walking up and down the streets in San Francisco, and I spent the majority of my night avoiding eye contact and biting my tongue to keep from hatefully responding to the obscene looks and gestures that men were throwing my way. When we got home, I had about 14 city blocks of frustration pent up in my little heart, and nowhere for it to go. And then I sit down to read Grace’s submission today, here below. Please, as a woman created by the author of beauty and redemption, join me in seeking His way of responding to brokenness. Grace blogs at With Grace in The City. – Lauren
My first memories of being cat-called are from high school. I was on the cross country and track teams, and, on occasion, the girls would get cat-called as we ran around the city. Back then, I would ignore these experiences and continue running. No second thought given.
These days, however, cat-calls elicit an altogether different response. I am currently living in inner-city Los Angeles and participating in an internship with an organization dedicated to seeking transformation in urban poor and slum communities around the world. Darkness and brokenness hang heavy over the inner city. One particular area of brokenness that I experience on an almost daily basis is that of fractured gender identity and cross-gender interactions. Women are broken, men are broken, and the relationships between women and men are broken.
If you knew me, you would know me to be a pretty even-tempered, controlled woman. You’d also know that I am a woman who has uttered no more than a handful of expletives in my entire lifetime. ” alt=”” width=”300px” />
And yet there are times when I am walking our streets and my immediate response to a man’s unwanted attention is “F*** OFF.” These are not words that any of my closest friends would ever expect me to utter.
Because, you see, I am deeply frustrated with the broken gender dynamics of my neighborhood. It is a salient point of frustration because the reality of cat-calls and unwarranted attention are a fact of life for most any woman walking the streets of my neighborhood – regardless of who you are, how you dress, or what expression you wear on your face. Further, I now understand all of the unspoken realities that lie hidden in a cat-call. I recognize it as an act that is demeaning, insulting, and condescending. I see how it diminishes women into objects of lust in an oversexualized society.
It is so very easy to be angry. So easy to get stuck in frustration that I can’t see past the brokenness to hope for something better. It is easier to boil with anger for a moment than to actually engage and deal with the negative emotions that run through my veins.
At one of the meetings for my internship, we had an extended discussion about gender in our neighborhood. The women on the team shared our experiences as women in the inner city. We asked tough questions.
How can we, as women of God, live in the inner city and cultivate healthy cross-gender relationships? Is it even possible?
Is it possible for us to live life here without feeling constantly demeaned by men and subsequently frustrated and angry?
Is it possible for our sense of self-esteem and worth to not get screwed up or contaminated by the sinfulness and brokenness of this present culture?
Even after hours of considering how to engage in gender brokenness in a Biblical and loving way, we had few answers. The only real conclusion we landed on was the fact that, for women, it is a cost of discipleship to live in the inner city and to love God’s people here. As people of God, we are to expect suffering and for everyone there are different costs to us in our journeys with Jesus. For me, as a woman living in the inner city, having to experience the reality of cat-calls, whistles, and other demeaning cross-gender interactions is a cost that I choose into.
It is also a cost that I am learning to bring before Jesus. And so in 2011, I learned to be a woman who forgives and prays. I have chosen to not remain a woman who sits passively and powerless in anger. Instead, with the Lord’s help, I am learning to be a woman whose guttural response to broken gender interactions is to forgive and pray for the man who hollers. Because anger does nothing to bring change. Yet praying to our God who is powerful and who created gender and created woman is indeed an act of power. In fact, it is a revolutionary act because it places power not in the brokenness of our society and culture, but rather in the hands of Him who is powerful to redeem and restore where our human eyes see only fractured hopelessness.
I’m not oblivious or blind.
I noticed you noticing me as you walked by, biked by, drove by.
I see you and sometimes I just want to throw my middle fingers in the air.
I want to respond in rebellion to your treating me as an object of your pleasure.
I see you and I wish to retaliate in every way that the world has taught me to defend myself.
In anger. In frustration. In violence.
I hear you too.
I’m not deaf or ignorant.
I hear you cat-calling me like I’m some piece of meat you can bid on at the market.
I hear your overt invitations that deny the existence of a soul and mind and beating heart beneath this skin.
I hear you and sometimes I want to throw words back at you.
The mean, nasty, offensive ones I was taught never to use.
My anger wants to flow out with fighting words – to command my arsenal of insults against you.
But, as a daughter of my heavenly king, my actions and my words are worth so much more than these irrational, emotionally-driven responses.
Because the Lord has given me words to speak life into death and hope into depression.
He has armed me with the creativity to fashion my thoughts and actions into powerful instruments that can influence this world for good and not for bad.
So with my words I will not cuss you out or even mutter frustrations under my breath,
Instead, I will recite my father’s love letters to me as given in His word.
And I will harness my words to pray determinedly that God would redeem you and that He would redeem our broken gender dynamics.
With my words I will tell stories, and mentor, and encourage the young women of this neighborhood to grow up confident in the love of their Father who sees them in secret and beams with joy at their beauty.
With my hands and feet I will not fight or incite.
Rather I will love with them; I will hug, and hold, and carry – both the pains and sorrows and the joys and hopes of those around me.
They will be instruments of art and creativity, life, color, hope.
I will use them to build up God’s kingdom here on earth – to bring life into dry and parched lands.
My hands and feet, my words – they were formed and made, commissioned – to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth – intended to tear down that which is unjust and to replace it with what the Lord deems GOOD.
So I will not waste them on rash anger. I will not squander them in frustration.
Rather, I will use them – with intention and great power – for the glory of the Lord.