Part Two: Subtle Signs of Spiritual Abuse

Wow. I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me, encouraged me, and shared their own story of spiritual abuse following my last post. While it breaks my heart to hear about the pain that people have gone through, I am encouraged by the unity that occurs from being vulnerable. I wanted to elaborate on my previous post by identifying some of the common signs of spiritual abuse. When I had one of my last meetings with staff before deciding to leave, one of the staff members directly said (unprompted and somewhat randomly) that the church was not spiritually abusive. In that moment, I didn’t think the church was guilty of spiritual abuse because I didn’t actually know what spiritual abuse was. For the last year and half of attending this church, I had multiple experiences that triggered a red flag; however, I always made excuses for these moments because I wanted to believe the best about my church. After leaving, I began doing research into the signs of spiritual abuse. Each article/book I read described everything I had experienced at this church, and it quickly became undeniable that spiritual abuse had occurred.

As Christians, I think it is important to be educated on this subject. The enemy loves to create division and conflict within the church. It is vital for church leaders and attendees to be aware of the subtle signs of spiritual abuse in order to protect and defend the health of the church. The enemy is very tricky and can create chaos when proper policies and accountability are not in place. Spiritual abuse is not a fight between the abuser and the abused, it is fight between the enemy and God’s church. Instead of being quick to deny spiritual abuse, the church must learn to listen to those that have been hurt and identify the areas that the enemy has caused to become spiritually abusive. After much research, I have created a list of signs to look out for and will again use The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen to help communicate these ideas.

  1. There is the neglect of real needs in favor of the “needs” of authority.

If you have ever found yourself ignoring your own needs to meet the expectations of the pastors or leaders within the church, then you may be in a spiritually abusive system. One of the struggles I faced as a connect group leader was seeing individuals within my group seek pastoral care within the church and being told to “join a connect group” (even though they were already attending one), and being made to feel that their problems were inconvenient for the pastors. For example, one girl’s family reached out to the pastors after one of her family member’s received a devastating medical diagnose. After briefly talking with the pastor after church one Sunday, plans were arranged to meet for lunch. When the day arrived to meet, the pastor was a no call/no show. Weeks later the pastor finally reached out and explained that he forgot because his assistant did not put it on his schedule. Instead of taking personal accountability, he deflected the blame and never rescheduled. He did however exploit this family’s story on stage during service which falsely suggests that he is invested in the lives of those that attend. When in reality, this family never attended service again because they felt awkward about the incident. They were made to feel like the pastor’s busy schedule was more important than their own needs, and were made to feel like a burden for wanting to meet with the pastor.

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  1. Can’t Talk Rule

This concept is one of the most prominent and disturbing signs of spiritual abuse that appears in this church. Johnson and Van Vonderen describe the “Can’t Talk Rule” as this:

“The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem. In some way you must be silenced or eliminated. … The real problem, however, is that if a Christian who feels violated stops talking, then the perpetrator will never be held accountable for his behavior” (68-69).

When we met with the staff following the event where they kicked a woman out of church,  we were intimidated and shamed into silence. They said they were choosing to remain silent because it would only make this woman look more foolish. They villainized the act of talking about the issues. When we explained that we were using the language the church had provided and direction individuals with questions from our connect group to reach out to staff, a staff member lashed out abruptly and said, “I told you specifically not to gossip so I hope you aren’t”. We were continually told not to “gossip” about this situation with anyone, and in my last meeting with staff, I was confronted about a previous conversation I had with a friend concerning the issues within the church. The staff should not have held a personal conversation I had with a close friend against me. For those that still attend this church, they are told they cannot “gossip” or they will face the same consequences of those that have left. The inability to address and confront issues within the church protects the pastors from having any real accountability. Disagreements are a healthy part of community and relationships; forced agreement and silence creates a false image of unity and harmony.

  1. Preoccupation with Fault and Blame

As mentioned in my previous post, when we first met with staff they were very quick to blame everyone else for the issues within the church. The people who left feeling broken and hurt, were blamed for asking too many questions, not trusting the pastors, and for “slandering” the church. Staff continually proclaimed that they did nothing “morally wrong” and were blameless. In one meeting with staff were an individual mentioned that the church was causing more issues by trying to put out the small fires instead of just addressing the larger issue, they demanded to know the names of people who were asking questions. The effect of this is that it makes the people who have questions feel like they are causing all the problems. It also prevents a movement of God’s grace from bringing restoration to the unhealthy areas within the church.

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  1. Idolatry of the Pastors

From the very beginning of attending this church, my sisters and I have always felt that there was an idealization of the pastors. Following big events, it is not uncommon to see an outpouring of posts thanking the pastors while failing to give any credit or glory to God. We even witnessed the pastors receive an uncalled for (and somewhat random) standing ovation at a friend’s wedding. We always justified this by assuming that the pastor’s did not ask for this attention; unfortunately, that is not the case. Johnson and Van Vonderen explain this idolatry (serving false gods) in a shame based system as over valuing appearance, what people think, and power-orientation (57). For example, while serving in college ministry we were required to “own the atmosphere” of the evening services. Many nights after service, we would be corrected for not being vocal enough in our feedback to the pastor’s message during service. This correction was coming from the pastor who felt that we were not encouraging enough during his sermon. The intention of giving vocal encouragement during the sermon was always framed as creating an atmosphere that would help new believers feel more connected to the message. In reality, most guests felt that the “cheerleader” section was odd, and it was not uncommon to see staff scrolling on their phone disconnected from the message while saying, “so good” in an inauthentic response. So many Sunday nights after serving for almost 12 hours, I would leave feeling like I need to do better because the pastor felt like the energy in the evening service was lacking. I took responsibility for making the pastor feel encouraged and secure about his message, because I thought the “energy” of the room was connected with the presence of God. Ultimately, the pastors require honor. One of my close friends was corrected for not tagging the pastors in an instagram post where he talked about a church event even though he paid for and planned this on his own. The pastors were disconnected from this event, but still required honor. It is spiritually abusive to require constant praise, and “the way you can spot a false system is that the leaders require the place of honor” (134).

  1.  Feeling Indebted to the Pastors Because of Their Sacrifice and Obedience

While attending this church, the pastors were thanked on an almost weekly basis for their past obedience to come to Kansas City and start this church. Their sacrifice was narrated in a way that made everyone feel like they owed the pastor’s their gratitude and service. In a spiritually abusive system, the congregation feels almost indebted to the pastors because their “obedience” is over emphasized, while the attendees obedience is often minimized.

  1. Preoccupation with Spiritual Performance

In a spiritually abusive system, there is an unhealthy focus on spiritual performance which often results in either shame or self righteousness. Personally, I found myself serving nearly 15-20 hours a week at this church and still feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. One Sunday, my sisters and I missed an evening service. Later that week, we were corrected for not attending. Since we were a part of college ministry, we were suppose to be at the evening services to “own the atmosphere”. We were told by this staff member that for a moment she was worried about the condition of our hearts. I remember feeling ashamed for not being good enough despite having served from 6am to 1pm at this church that day. While attending this church, I felt like I needed to justify any time I couldn’t be there on a Sunday. I would feel guilty for missing a Sunday while on vacation, and planned vacations specifically so I wouldn’t have to miss. One Wednesday evening, we were called by a staff member and told that we needed to attend a Freedom Night that the church was having. With only a few hours before the event, we told this staff member that we had homework and other responsibilities we needed to take care of. We were told that our priorities were out of line, and shamed for not being committed and being “all in”. At the time, I truly felt like I was the problem. I didn’t understand that I had unhealthy boundaries because there was such an emphasis on performance.

These are just a few signs of spiritual abuse that I experienced but was unable to identify at the time of the occurrence. There are many other subtle signs, and I think it is important to be educated on this subject matter. I know that so many other people have had much worse experiences of abuse within this church which has resulted in these individuals needing counseling to heal from the damage. Those are not my stories to tell; however, I hope that in sharing my truth individuals will feel empowered to share their own. Ultimately, my heart in discussing the effects of spiritual abuse it not to tear down the church but to make it stronger.  

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Part 1: My Experience with Spiritual Abuse

As I begin to write out this blog, my heart feels heavy and unsafe. I am filled with doubt as to whether or not sharing my experience with spiritual abuse is the “right” or “Christian” thing to do. I know that there are many people who will view my words as slanderous, bitter, and overly critical. My character and the quality of my faith may even be questioned. It is from this place of being a christian and feeling suffocated by the weight of the opinions of those within the church, that I invite you all into this part of my story.

I invite you all to read this gently but actively. If you have questions or feel that something I say is incorrect, then please reach out to me. Spiritual abuse is not a new problem within the church. Jesus actively and assertively spoke out against spiritual abuse in his lifetime, and I feel that I hold some of that responsibility today. I grew up in the church. I love the church. I have promoted and testified to the healing I have experienced within the church; however, I have also experienced hurt and deep pain. It can be hard to form a healthy relationship with God when you do not have a healthy relationship with the church.

I recognize that there is a massive number of people who have felt judged and pushed away by the very place that preaches unconditional love and grace. Three years ago I remember talking with my lab partner in chemistry about our faith. She revealed to me how many times she had been burned by the church, and I remember thinking she must have just found a bad church. Surely, if she would just come to my church she would would experience church the way God intended. It wasn’t until three years later after being burned by my church, that I began to realize my lack of empathy for her pain. In some ways, I was shifting the blame or responsibility onto her. I felt immune to spiritual abuse. Unfortunately, even good churches can fall into practices of spiritual abuse. The enemy attempts to kill, steal, and destroy all things that glorify God. Thankfully, God has secured our victory. I believe that God can still perform salvations and miracles within a church that is unhealthy. I also believe that you can attend a church that is spiritually abusive and never be spiritually abused. God protects. God overcomes. God heals.

The intention of this blog is not to expose the church that hurt me. I could write a blog twice as long about the wonderful experiences I had within this church. I grew spiritually and met some amazing, God-focused individuals who love like Jesus. Unfortunately, I also experienced some spiritual abuse and manipulation that has made me feel inadequate in my faith. In order to heal, I had to leave the place that was making me spiritually sick. I did not recognize how damaged my thoughts and beliefs had become until weeks after leaving. For years, I unknowingly and willingly walked out my faith carrying the heavy weight placed on me by the misuse of spiritual authority in my life. Today, I am sharing my truth in order to bring light to the enemy’s tricks and lies. I am sharing my story in hopes of encouraging those who have been burned by the church to know that they are not alone. I am believing that God will use my testimony for His glory. Whether on an individual level or within a larger organization, Christians have always and will always be broken, imperfect, and messy. I am not above it. I have zero stones to throw. I am just thankful that I serve a God who loves the broken. I pray that as Christians we can learn to carry that same culture. 

With all that being said, I am finally ready to tell my story (I think…). About two months ago, I made the decision to leave my church of four years due to spiritual abuse that was occurring. In the process of healing and sorting through all of my messy emotions, I began reading The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Vanvonderen. I was shocked to discover that this book that was written in 1991 contained chapters filled with my own experiences, thoughts, and feelings. In order to help explain my own truth, I will be using this book to help articulate the signs and symptoms of spiritual abuse.

Before I go much further, it is important to define spiritual abuse. Personally, this phrase sounds harsh, confronting, and extreme. Johnson and Vanvonderen provide an excellent illustration of spiritual abuse which I think helps to soften the shame-filled tone of the phrase while also maintaining the integrity of its significance and eternal impact. They write:

“It’s possible to become so determined to defend a spiritual place of authority, a doctrine or way of doing things that you wound and abuse anyone who questions, or disagrees, or doesn’t ‘behave’ spiritually the way you want them to. When your words and actions tear down another, or attack or weaken a person’s standing as a Christian- to gratify you, your position or our beliefs while at the same weakening or harming another- that is spiritual abuse” (23).

If you have experienced this within the church, I am sorry. Remember that your “standing as a Christian” is not measured by your acceptance and approval within a church organization. You have unconditional acceptance and approval from a heavenly father that doesn’t expect you to “behave”. If God expected us to behave, he wouldn’t have sent Jesus

The spiritual abuse became undeniable in August following an unfortunate event that occurred one Sunday morning. A young woman who I greatly admire was kicked out of church one morning by the pastor and a staff member. She was threatened to be arrested for trespassing if she did not leave. This individual had called this church home for many years, had served extremely sacrificially, and had been endorsed many times by staff on stage. When news of this event spread, I was confused and had many questions. Under what conditions does the church feel they have the authority to kick someone out of church? Is this the character of Jesus? If so, am I a bad “Christian” because I don’t agree with kicking someone out of church? Am I a bad “Christian” if I question this leadership decision? Ultimately, my sisters and I decided to take our questions to staff. We felt hopeful that they could help us to see Jesus in this mess. Unfortunately, our questions only multiplied as we were met with defensive, contradicting, and and manipulative language.

First, the staff maintained an argument that they did nothing “morally wrong” therefore an apology would not be issued. They then proceeded to weaken and harm the character of the woman kicked out of church in order to justify their actions. Specifically, they called this individual foolish, broken, and bad fruit. They initially claimed that this individual was asked to leave because she was there to bully and harass another individual within the church. This argument was used as the initial justification/motive, and the staff member we talked with claimed she was exhibiting a level of harassment that could get someone fired. In following conversations, the staff changed their answer to pinpoint her concerns/questions of leadership as being the reason for her being kicked out, and claimed “harassment” was accidental and poor word choice when this individual proved to be innocent. They continued to argue that they had handled the situation with “class and grace”. After talking with staff, I was extremely uncomfortable and confused by their responses. I did not understand why they were so quick to defile the name of an individual they once celebrated. The staff said they were handling this with grace, yet they continued to speak a language of blame and judgement. Grace is identifying with and loving the broken, not shaming them. Grace allows us to find courage in our brokenness, and to feel loved in our mess.

I don’t think the staff intentionally meant to lie to us. They were just believing what was most comfortable. They found themselves confronting a messy conflict, and “the need to look good or be right overcame the desire to speak truth. When this happens, the so-called right answer is not the real answer. We tell others what we think they want to hear, not what we really think. This is a lie. It is always a lie” (128). I am 100% guilty of speaking the “right” answer instead of the “real” answer. In a society that sometimes expects (or so it feels) perfection out of pastors and churches, admitting to mistakes can feel impossible. The enemy loves this! Pastors/churches are crushed by a pressure to be perfect, and victims of spiritual abuse are crushed by the language and actions taken to maintain a church’s “perfect” image. It’s a lose-lose situation which is a win-win for the enemy. Thankfully, Jesus secured victory so any “win” for the enemy has been nullified by the blood of Jesus. Unfortunately, victory is not painless. Victory in Christ does not protect us from the real, emotional damage caused by the enemies attacks. It’s okay to feel hurt, angry, and tired. Positive, promise-declaring, attitudes are not a measure of one’s “success” or health in their faith. In fact,I have found that it is in my authentic, real, and broken emotions that I celebrate my victory in Christ most deeply. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to experience judgement when our real emotions and thoughts are not what the church claims to be the right emotions. Clearly you just need to pray more, lean in deeper, and worship louder…Right? Wrong. We serve a personal God. That gives us the authority to experience, feel, worship, and build our relationship with Christ in the way that God designed for us. Guess what? God designed you THIS way. He’s not intimidated by our questions, our concerns, our doubts, or our fears. He’s excited to navigate you through the mess (because it builds real relationship with Him) in order to uncover the fullness of His love.

Following phone conversations with staff where we attempted to sort out the contradictions and questions, it was determined a face-to-face meeting would be best. At this point we had reached out to the individual who had been kicked out of church in order to hear her truth as well as another individual who had experienced her own rejection from the church. This second individual had been brought up by staff during their defense as being part of all the problems. It only felt fair to hear both sides, especially since the claims the staff were making completely contradicted the character of these individuals. Going into our meeting, we had a list of questions to ask. Our questions were not coming from a place of disloyalty or bitterness. In fact, it was more of a plea to find healing in the hurt. We were desperate for a sign of grace and/or humility in order to find a sense of peace. We didn’t want the church to be perfect in their response, we just wanted them to be honest and human. Instead, we were made to feel that our questions were a reflection of poor faith. The church presented a case for how they had handled the situation perfectly, and we were told that if the same context where to arise they would act in the same manner. They felt zero empathy for the people who were hurt by their actions. Our concern for the “other” was met with the questioning of our character. At the end of the meeting, we were directly asked the question, “Do you trust the pastors.” This question was asked with the implications that if our answer was “No”, we would be encouraged to step back from serving in the church. We asked staff if it was possible to trust the pastors and also disagree with them. They answered by saying that theoretically that was possible; however, realistically that should not happen.

As someone who grew up in the Methodist church, I never evaluated my trust for the pastors. Methodist pastors rotate every few years to prevent a church from becoming about the pastors. So, I hesitated to verbally answer the question but found myself subtly nodding my head yes. This incongruence was a symptom of spiritual abuse. I knew there was a “right” answer. The right answer was yes; however, deep down my real answer was no. First, I didn’t have a relationship with the pastors. I was being asked to unconditionally trust people who refuse to live transparently. Also, in my four years of serving faithfully at this church, I never struggled with my trust for leadership. I occasionally had questions about leadership decisions, but I trusted God and I always believed that each season had its purpose. So, it never felt important to have unwavering trust for the pastors. Unfortunately, explaining that our trust was in God and not in the pastors was insufficient. We were asked to meet with staff in a few days after we had reconsidered our answer. We were also encouraged not to serve on Sunday. Their reasoning was that they wanted to provide us time to think without feeling obligated by our commitments; however, it felt as if they were preparing for us to leave. 

Demanding trust is a sign of spiritual abuse. Johnson and Vanvonderen explain:

“In this little system trust was expected, even required. It was not something to be earned. How could anyone confront problems, then? How did you get to the truth? … Trust is not something that can be demanded or legislated. It is gained or lost on the basis of integrity and honesty” (121).

When I first approached staff with questions, I assumed it was safe. Over the course of my four years at this church, I had shown kindness and integrity. I was honored by the pastors and staff for my commitment to serving, and felt that my character would speak for itself. When my faith was so quickly questioned by individuals in a place of spiritual authority, I felt small and insecure. Was trusting the pastors an important part of trusting God? Could I trust God and question spiritual authority? Surely I just need to humble out, be corrected, and learn to unconditionally trust the pastors. I am the problem. I am defective.

In the meeting that followed, I came to the forced conclusion that I did trust the pastors. I felt worthless when my character was being questioned, so I lied about how I was truly feeling because I was afraid. I was insecure in my faith, and I needed the validation of staff and church family to feel like I was where God wanted me. As the pastors got on stage during a team service and claimed to be under attack, I felt like they were indirectly framing me as the enemy. They claimed they had come out victorious and pure. Where did that leave me in the narrative? I felt dirty. I didn’t want to lose the respect of these people for standing up against spiritual abuse. I didn’t want to honor my real feelings because I was convinced my feelings didn’t matter/were wrong.

Initially, I sought the path of least resistance which was agreeance; however, I quickly learned that this only created more tension in my spirit. It became clear that I could not grow spiritually in a place that suspected I was bad fruit. I no longer felt championed and empowered. I felt silenced and manipulated. So, I made the decision to find a church where I could grow and be nourished. That decision was followed by a reaction from the pastors and other staff within the church to unfollow me on social media, which communicated that I was no longer a part of their community. It was painful to lose friends solely based on the decision to find a different church. Once again, I felt worthless and rejected. I felt as though in some way I had failed as a “Christian”. The worst part was, I couldn’t even turn to my closest friends without being shamed for gossiping or labeled as the problem.

Okay….Let’s pause, drink some water, take some deep breaths, and check in…because personally I’m starting to feel drained. It is hard speaking truth that I don’t want to believe. It’s hard for me to reprocess one of the most painful seasons I’ve walked through. I wanted to believe that my church was healthy and would never commit spiritual abuse. I wanted to believe that I was above being spiritually abused because I had a strong, personal relationship with God. I wanted to believe that I was living a John 10:10 reality because I didn’t want to risk losing my church home. I also didn’t want to discredit God’s faithfulness during my time at this church. I valued building God’s Kingdom, and wondered if it was selfish of me to expect a church to feel safe and welcoming for me. Church isn’t about me (right?), so why should I let something like this bother me? As I write out all of these thoughts, I still feel insecurity and uncertainty. I still feel selfish and rebellious and ashamed at times. But, these feelings are not from God. These are symptoms of spiritual abuse. The pressure for perfection in faith is not from God. When a religious organization uses intimidation, shaming, and manipulation to control your behavior, do not confuse this with the true character of God. You have access to the same Holy Spirit as those with places of spiritual authority. You are not broken. You are not unworthy. God loves you and accepts you JUST BECAUSE! That can be really hard to grasp when we are accustomed to achieving standards and living up to the expectations of others in order to avoid correction. If you need validation from the church/pastors to feel like your faith is “successful” (like I once did), then you are living in a spiritual abusive context that is inhibiting you from finding true fulfillment and rest in Christ alone.

Honestly, the idea that restful should be a word that describes my faith makes me feel sinful. What about all the serving and kingdom building that needs to be done? I’m not “All In for Jesus” if I’m not exhausted. I can rest when I get to heaven…right?? Clearly, I have a lot I’m still working through…and that’s okay. I’m not writing this blog post because I claim to have all the right answers. I just think it’s time for me to bravely live out the real and honest journey of my faith, instead of the faith I think I am suppose to have.

The Scandal of Grace

Recently, I have found myself amidst conflict. As someone who hates conflict and tends to avoid it at all cost (sometimes to an unhealthy extent), I have been experiencing extreme anxiety, confusion, and unrest. I have been nauseous and unable to sleep as I attempt to untangle the unrest in my soul. My typical go-to coping mechanisms of binging on carbs and buying gifts for my dogs to cheer myself up vicariously through them have been ineffective (which is probably a good thing since both are unhealthy coping mechanisms…but hey, I’m human). So, in the messiness I am reminded that the only answer is Jesus ( oh how easily I forget this). As I have been prayerfully processing my thoughts and emotions in this conflict, I felt God challenge my heart. God directed my attention toward His grace. I realized that in this conflict,both sides have explained that they have felt that they have extended grace to the other side; however, neither side expressed feeling that they have received that grace. This revelation really challenged me in my understanding of God’s grace. How often do we hear from people who are not plugged into a church that they feel judged by the church despite the church believing that they are sending out a message of grace? Where is the disconnect? How can we be better at carrying the character and culture of Christ? As I  sat uncomfortably in the confusion, I found myself crying out to God in prayer, ‘What do I not understand about grace? What am I getting wrong/missing’. As I leaned into scripture and the correction I felt from the Holy Spirit working in my heart, this is what I learned:

1) Grace saves you a seat. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him and yet he saved him a seat at the dinner table. Judas attended the last supper (…and I thought my family dinners could be tense lol…). Is anyone else questioning Jesus’s judgement/choice of friends? It doesn’t make sense…but THAT is grace. Grace doesn’t make sense. Jesus did not cast judgement on Judas, because He knew that not only was Judas limited by his “human-ness”, but He also understood the significant role Judas was playing in God’s story. He celebrated with Judas. Jesus loved Judas, and he never stopped…God is love. And the other 11 disciples were not without their own faults. Jesus also saved a seat for Peter who would go on to deny him three times. Jesus knew that the people closest to him would disappoint him, but he embraced them unconditionally.

“Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'”(Matthew 26:27). 

 As I read this verse, I am reminded how thankful I am for Jesus. If I had been in Jesus’ shoes, the verse would read something like this” :

“Then she took a cup passive aggressively saying to them, ‘Drink…especially YOU Peter (makes direct eye contact and mumbles, you liar). This is my perfect, faultless blood which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins which you all desperately need. And you’re welcome, I’ll be praying for you..;” (the book of Abbey 26:27)

If I was in Jesus’ shoes I would be spilling tea not pouring communion. Jesus saved a seat for Judas and Peter and forgave them before they betrayed him.  As I read through this verse, I felt God asking me who I needed to save a seat for. Who in my life have I “uninvited” because I have felt hurt. In order to carry a culture of grace, I have to be willing to celebrate the plan and purpose of God with everyone…especially my “enemies”.

2) Grace produces gratitude. Grace is being able to read the crucifixion story without  villainizing Judas. Grace is being able to read the crucifixion story and thanking God for Judas and the high priests’ roles in the larger story. In Matthew 26:27, it says Jesus took the cup and gave thanks. Moments before Jesus would be betrayed, abandoned, and crucified, he was giving thanks. (what?!) Even while he was being wrongfully arrested and prosecuted, Jesus took a stance of humility and silence.  If I were in this situation, I would be defending my reputation and trying to prove to those around me why I was “right”. But, Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t belittle Judas’ character or insist that he had done nothing wrong, he simply walked the path of his calling. So often when we find ourselves in conflict we can confuse the need to feel “right” with the deeper need to feel seen and heard. As Christians, we can carry a culture of grace by learning how to listen and empathize with others. We are all undeserving of grace, yet God sees, hears, and responds with love to our story anyway. For that we can be grateful.

3) Grace requires transparency. Even though Jesus lived a perfect and faultless life, that is not the most important part of the story. God desired a relationship so deeply for us (sinners who are imperfect), that He sent Jesus to take our debt so that we could have an eternal relationship with our father. You cannot share a testimony of perfection and also tell a testimony of grace. If Jesus had spent his entire walk towards the cross trying to convince others of his perfection/innocence, the power of grace would have been lost. Jesus didn’t take a victim stance because he knew he had victory. Jesus was willing to wreck His image, because He fully embraced His identity. Jesus knew who He was, and He knew the heart of God. Personally, I would be heart broken if anyone ever looked at my life on social media and thought, “I wish I was her. I wish I had her life…it looks so fun/easy/happy.” I would hate for others to think I have a “perfect” life because of how I narrate my life via social media. Trust me, you do not want my life. Not that it’s not filled with joy the majority of the time, but I have really difficult struggles and hardships (just like everyone else). Instead, I pray that my vulnerability and transparency on social media and within my relationships would be saturated with a story of grace. I pray that my life would never be about me but would always be a reflection of God in me. When we carry a culture of grace, others feel safe and free to be their authentic selves. They do not fear judgement or rejection. I truly believe outsiders and nonbelievers will be more willing to enter the doors of a building where the transparent walls allow them to see that inside the people are just like them. People are attracted to grace.

4) Grace results in change. This past Easter season, my church encouraged church family to share their story of grace. Each story followed a similar pattern: an imperfect person encountered God’s grace and was changed forever. When we encounter God’s grace, our hearts are changed. This part can be especially hard to embrace. Not only can it be painful to humble out and admit that we need to change things within our own hearts, but it can be even more difficult to be patient in the transformation. So often as Christians when we find ourselves in conflict with others, we are quick to respond in prayer for the other person. But grace and prayer require action. If you are praying for reconciliation, what actions are you taking to see God move in that way? If you are praying for peace, what ownership are you taking over that promise? Sometimes the solution is to stay and work hard on restoring the relationship. Other times, God will call you onto a different path. What is important to remember is that the destination is the same. We are all racing towards eternity, and that requires a lot of grace. The position we take in the transformation determines our destination. For example, we can view separation as division or we can view it as expansion of influence in building God’s kingdom. When we keep our eyes on God’s mission, which is building His Kingdom, we remain unified in grace. CELEBRATE the calling on other’s lives. It is not a competition. Changing the world is a big task, and it starts and continues with the transformation we receive through grace.

5) The object of grace is relationship. God extended grace to us because he deeply desired relationship with us. So, you cannot claim that you are extending grace if your goal is forgiveness, justice, or an apology. The goal of grace is relationship. When we extend grace, we have to be willing to lay down our pride and hurt emotions. If we are holding onto bitterness or expecting something from the other party, then our extension of grace will not reach far enough. Grace often requires sacrifice. As a church, individuals will experience God’s grace when we make real, healthy relationship with them the goal. Where can God use you to heal loneliness? Where can you reach out to bring healing or health to a relationship? How can you be more inclusive in inviting others into your circle? The object of grace is relationship or it’s not grace.

The Pain of Change

As I stepped into my junior year of college, I knew there was going to be a lot of changes. I started a new school, a new job, and moved into a new apartment. At the beginning of 2017, I felt God whisper that it was going to be a year of stretching into new territory. Little did I know,  it was going to be some painful stretching. As 2017 came to a close and 2018 began, I felt like God declared the word brave over my year. God was calling me to be courageous in the chaos, and I had to learn to humble out daily and trust God. Every comfortable area of my life was completely transformed, and I had to rely on God in deeper ways. God taught me many lessons through this process of transformation, and I have finally found the words to articulate what God has been doing in my heart. Because let’s be real, radical life change is painful and messy. But, God is faithful and the creator of all things good!

1) Redefining My Identity

“He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30)

I have always excelled in school. I love learning, and I love the feeling of accomplishing challenging things; however, this past year of school has made me feel anything but smart and accomplished. For the first time in my life, I began to struggle academically. As my A’s turned to B’s (and sometimes C’s), I found myself questioning my identity. How could I consider myself “smart” if I was struggling so much in school? I didn’t realize how much I allowed my grades to define my value until I was placed in the fire. And instead of pressing into who God says I am, I started working harder and harder to prove my value. It was exhausting. Fortunately, God never stopped whispering my worth over my sleepless nights studying and striving. He never left me. He never stopped declaring His promises over my life.

It wasn’t until I surrendered my worry in worship, that I found security and assurance. I had to stop allowing things of this world to measure my value, and embrace my identity as a child of God. I had to stop worrying about whether or not my grades would be competitive enough to get accepted in Physician Assistant school, and trust that if God called me to it, he would grace my path for it! This season of struggle was really a season of strengthening. I had to strengthen my faith to truly trust in the hope of Christ. I had to take ownership of the promises of God in my life, and surrender control at a painful level. It was painful and at times embarrassing, but without a heart of humility we will never experience the fullness of God’s greatness. I don’t know about you, but I would rather live a life that highlights how faithful and good God has been than a life that illustrates how “great” I am. It is only God’s work in and through me that will have an eternal impact.

2) Doing Church vs. Being the Church

Another huge transition in my life, was being forced to step back from serving in the church as frequently. I went from serving on 3 to 4 teams and serving every Sunday, to serving on 2 teams and having weeks where I wasn’t technically rostered to serve. After starting a new job, I had to step back from serving as often and honestly it was hard. I felt misplaced guilt from the enemy about not being as good of a “christian”, and I felt like I was letting people down; however, I knew that God was calling me into this new season. As I began to dive into these feelings of shame and guilt that I knew were from the enemy, I felt God reveal to me some areas in my heart that needed correction. I realized, I had gotten really good at doing church. I loved busying myself with tasks like setting up and tearing down pipe and drape at our mobile campus, making coffee, and bringing donuts to city group because it was in my comfort zone. I felt good about myself and was happy to contribute to a greater cause; however, recently I felt God challenge my perspective on serving. While there was nothing wrong with serving on these teams, and they were important in making church happen every Sunday, they were also largely in my comfort zone. It’s easier to bring donuts to our college connect group every week than it is to bring a new person. But, we all know that donuts are already getting into heaven. I had gotten really good at doing church within the context of church, but I was failing to be the church within my everyday environments.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).

Everyday as I drive to school and to run errands, I always see homeless people on street corners asking for help. Most days, I drive past them thinking, “I wish I had something to give, but I don’t have anything with me…maybe next time”. But the things is, I know I am going to pass by them again, and each time I fail to equip my car with water and snacks to pass out. Honestly, this is inexcusable. We are the hands and feet of Christ, and we need to take ownership of our role in helping those in need. I refuse to ignore the need that God has placed before me. I refuse to live a life of doing church on Sunday, and then living a normal, unintentional life on Monday. I am the church. I have a bigger part to play, and God has intentionally placed me at my school and my workplace to be a carrier of his culture. God never called me to serve at church, he called me to be the church.  

3) Dealing with Church Burnout

Okay, so this next part is gonna get a little raw and honest. It has taken months of humbling out and seeking God to find heart transformation. But, I think church burnout is something that Christians don’t talk about enough. We all have times where we will question leadership decisions, feel overlooked, or feel critical of certain decisions made in the church. This is in part because the enemy loves to manipulate our thoughts and feelings by planting lies about the authority in our life.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6).

In the garden of Eden, Eve was deceived into sin because the enemy planted seeds of doubt and questioning. If Eve would have just gone to God with these questions, so much pain and suffering could have been avoided. The same thing still happens today. Our doubts and concerns can be scary and hard to talk about because we don’t want to appear faithless. Also, doubts and concerns are often met with defensive language that creates a larger gap and prevents healthy conversation. How do we confront these feelings in an open and honest dialogue without feeling judged or creating gossip?

For me, I learned to always talk up. I expressed my frustrations with people above me so that I could hear truth and not just what I wanted to hear (even though sometimes it feels so good to have our feelings validated). I also had to learn to let go of my pride, and trust God. Naturally, we have a very selfish perspective because everything is filtered through our personal experiences. Therefore, it’s easy to feel justified or feel like we could do better. But, it’s not about me. (some days I have to make this my mantra). I refuse to have a faith limited to pursuing and obeying only the things that I agree with or that feel right to me in that moment. Our feelings can be very wrong sometimes, and as long as I only pursue things that are fruitful and in line with God’s word, I cannot go wrong. God has been reminding me to think bigger. I have had to step out of my selfish box of thinking, and grasp onto an eternal perspective.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

There is nothing more exciting than seeing individuals say yes to Jesus for the first time. I want to be someone that continually seeks the joy of salvation. No matter the path I am on, salvation for others is the goal. Church burnout happens when I place my joy in the wrong things. Church burnout happens when I begin serving people and not God. Church burnout happens when my pride gets in the way of God’s promise. I refuse to allow myself to limit what God can do because I am unwilling to fully commit to the leadership above me. I refuse to be anything but all in for God’s kingdom.

21

Every January, my church does 21 days of prayer + fasting. It’s the perfect way to kick off the new year by turning down the often suffocating noise of the world, and leaning into the loving whisper of God. It’s a way to cast vision over the coming year, and increase your expectation for all that God wants to do! Every year, I reflect on my time of prayer and fasting by writing a blog on all that I feel God spoke to me. It’s the perfect way for me to set my focus and direction for the year. It also allows me to look back and see God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises in my life each year. Every year, I am amazed and humbled to see how significant the words whispered in January are to the direction of my life. (2016: week 1 week 2 week 3 ; 2017 )

“Then the Lord answered me and said, ‘Write the vision and engrave it plainly on clay tablets so that the one who reads it will run. For the vision is yet for the appointed future time. It hurries toward the goal of fulfillment; it will not fail. Even though it delays, wait patiently for it, because it will certainly come; it will not delay’” (Habakkuk 2:2-3).

This year, I felt God challenge my heart in new, bigger ways. Here we go!

1) Cultivate Community.

Let’s just be real with ourselves for a second. How many of us waste weeks/months/years praying for different and “better” community/relationships than the ones we have. If you are anything like me, then maybe you have scrolled through social media thinking, “Why can’t I have THAT?” or “I wish I had friends that did xyz.” Maybe you’re single (AND SUFFICIENT….), and crave to be in a relationship. Maybe you feel lonely and like you don’t have anyone to lean on in rough seasons. I hear you…I’ve been there. Don’t get me wrong, I have wonderful friends who love me and that I value immeasurably, but the problem is….they are all human beings (myself included…shocking I know). And as we all have come to discover, human beings are imperfect. Consequently, relationships are imperfect and messy.

But, God wired us for community. Because of that, we can be confident in His promise to put the right people in our life in each season. The people in your community are not there by accident. The new and awkward friendships you are building are not an accident. The people in your circle today are not an accident. Maybe if we spent less time craving different relationships and spent more time intentionally cultivating the ones we already have, we would see God’s divine purpose behind each encounter and relationship come to fruition. The enemy loves to kill, steal, and destroy God’s promises in our life. He loves to attack our community because he knows that our community points us to our destiny. Over the past three weeks, I have had God-encounters with individuals that I have known for months or even years. There is nothing more exciting and fulfilling than seeing God’s plan come alive in the lives of others. And honestly, these are not the people I would have expected God to use. But, when I turned my focus away from what I could get from relationships and attempting to fulfill voids in my heart (that only God can fill anyway), and instead focused on investing in the people around me, my heart felt abundantly full. We were created for relationships…relationships were not created just for us. In 2018, I am placing my attention on the people around me. I am choosing to cultivate my community, and I am leaning into all that God has planned.

“He who watches the wind waiting for all conditions to be perfect will not sow seed, and he who looks at the clouds will not reap a harvest” (Ecclesiastes 11:4).

2)Busyness Steals The Banquet

One of the best parts about starting out the year with a time of prayer and fasting, is that it forces me to prioritize my time with God. As someone who has passionately pursued God for almost a decade now, one would think that prioritizing God’s word would be easy for me…right? (wrong) Honestly, in this current season of life, I have struggled more than ever to find consistent routine in my devotional time with God. Between working overnights as a CNA twice a week and having a full load of college classes Monday through Friday, my time is limited. Not to mention, the list of other commitments that fill my schedule. While these are all important and necessary investments of my time, they are not more important than spending intentional and mindful time with God.

I am reminded of The Story of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22. Everyday, God is inviting me to join him at heaven’s table to be celebrated. And like the invited guests in the parable, some days I shrug my shoulders and go off to school, work, or even commitments within the church. Unfortunately, when we decline God’s daily invitation to receive his banquet, we become drained by the things stealing our time. *Cue burnout*. I can only give my best when I take time to receive God’s best for me. In 2018, I want to live each day feeling celebrated and loved by God for who I am, not for what I do. I want to prioritize God’s banquet even when I have a thousand other things calling for my attention. In a world that celebrates progress, I want to learn to celebrate the pause. One practical way I intend to do this is by blogging at least once a month. God speaks to me as I write. It’s the way I untangle and tame the chaos of my overthinking, and uncover all that God is speaking into my life. But most importantly, I want to accept my daily invitation to just be before I instantly create my list of everything I need to do. I’m taking ownership of my seat at the God’s banquet.

3) BRAVE

Every year, I ask God to give me a word of intention for the year. This year, I felt God whisper the word brave. Does anybody want to trade….maybe somebody who got the word sacrificial giving…anybody? Totally kidding. But seriously, just the word brave puts butterflies in my stomach. I’m the type of person that loves to go second. I don’t want to take the first step into the unknown waters or be the person that breaks the ice, but once I see someone else navigate an intimidating situation (and by intimidating situation I mean things like talking in a connect group, praying out loud, ordering a pizza over the phone…you know) mentally I feel empowered to do the same. But, I know that I will never fully be used to address the desires of God’s heart in this world if I don’t learn how to move past fear. Fear is a feeling. Brave is an action. This year, I want to go first into the unknown. I want to be the first to welcome home individuals who come to church for the first time. I want to be quick to act obediently to God’s nudge no matter how nervous I may feel. First off, fear is a liar! The things we are most afraid to do are often the most important things for furthering God’s kingdom. Mountains move and miracles happen when we choose faith over fear. Courage is contagious. When we step out in faith and break the mirage of fear, others feel inspired to follow. It just takes one yes to create a movement of God.

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13).

For Those Days When You Just Don’t Feel Like Enough

Today, I am writing to myself. Do you ever have those days/weeks/months where everything you do seems to fall a little short? Because same. Lately, I have felt inadequate, and no matter how much harder I work or how much farther I push myself…I continue to fall short. Why? Because you cannot improve yourself out of insecurity. Feelings are not facts. When we attempt to work our way into worthiness, we will always come up short.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24 NIV).

So, if you too have been feeling a little unworthy, inadequate, or incapable…Let’s all just take a big sigh of relief together…ready? Breath in. Breath out. Ahhhhhhh. We can stop hustling and grinding to prove that we are enough, because we have been made whole by God’s unwavering, unconditional love for us! The greatest gift we have ever been given is the grace of God. Why then do we try to outrun grace? I don’t know about you, but my legs are tired. It’s okay to rest and receive God’s personal and empowering grace.

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 You can walk confidently in your calling, equipped with God’s grace and unfailing love. You have nothing to prove. You are loved. You are valued. You are more than a conqueror. You have a God-planned and God-protected calling on your life, and you cannot fail. You are capable. You are seen. You are enough! 

 

Walking Through The Fire

Recently, God has been doing some major correction in my heart. For the sake of fully processing all that God is doing, I’ve decided to take some time and make some connections via blogging. I hope it’s okay if I get a bit transparent for a moment.

Lately I have been living out of this place of insecurity. One of my biggest fears in life is failure. My perfectionism and type-A personality crave control. Unfortunately, things have been going far from perfect. In March I started my first CNA job, and was genuinely excited to take the next step towards my long-term goal of becoming a physician assistant. Well…things did not go as planned. Long story short, I quit. After experiencing extreme anxiety and panic attacks, I decided that I needed immediate change. While I am the biggest advocate for prioritizing mental health and pursuing peace, it’s not always easy to make big life changes. The relief of leaving a job that was producing severe anxiety and stress in my life was quickly followed by the panic of being unemployed. It doesn’t help that over the past few weeks I have been searching for an apartment to move into at the end of this summer which has made the financial burden of adulthood more confronting.

Prior to my resignation, my short car rides to work ALWAYS consisted of worship and prayer because I genuinely needed God’s strength to help me through my shifts. One day while driving to work, I was praying for God’s presence to provide me with peace and confidence. Suddenly, my soul leaned into a specific line from the song When The Fight Calls by Hillsong Young & Free. The lyric says, “I’ll walk through the fire and not be burned, Pray in the fight and watch it turn”. In that moment, I felt God say, “Abbey, stop being afraid of getting burned.” Wow…suddenly, the chaos in my life clicked. I have been living with this fear of taking one wrong turn and getting burned. Oh how I have been limiting my faith.

You see, I find that it’s easier for me to believe that God has secured and protected my future than it is for me to trust God with my tomorrow. My future is x amount of days/weeks/years away while tomorrow is much more confronting. It’s easier to believe that the best is yet to come, and harder to have faith bold enough to make immediate steps forward into the unknown. Currently, my life is full of transition. I am transferring schools, moving out of the safety of my childhood home, and growing increasingly closer to fully committing to a career path. While I feel confident about certain steps to take in life, I am also constantly battling self-doubt and insecurity. What if I end up hating the career path I chose? What if I’m not smart enough? Even at the young age of (almost) 21, I feel like I am running out of time to meet the expectations of others. What if everyone discovers how imperfect I am?

*Cue God’s healing truth. I recently started reading the book Grace not Perfection by Emily Ley, and this statement has quickly become my mantra for 2017. It’s so simple, and yet it can be so hard to fully embrace. Grace gives me permission to feel complete in my brokenness. Grace gives me permission to present my messiness to the world and still confidently declare that I am enough. God is with me. God is for me. I can handle this. I will not get burned.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 NLT).

The reality of living with a fear of getting burned is that it roots from a pride issue. Why am I so afraid of admitting that I don’t have it all together? God has really been calling me to humble out and trust Him. Walking a faith-filled life means walking through the fire with my head held high. I refuse to question my path when I feel the heat. I refuse to be so afraid of getting burned that I prevent God from refining my heart in the fire.

“Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.” (1 Peter 1:7 MSG).

Today, I am declaring that I can handle the heat. I am refusing to let the enemy posion my path with fear or doubt. I will not be burned.

 

30 Days, No Makeup 

I remember when I started wearing makeup. I was in seventh grade, and my mom took me to CVS to buy some cheap powder foundation, blush, and mascara. Over the years, my makeup collection has grown, and with it a dependence on makeup to feel confident and presentable. At the beginning of each year, my church participates in 21 days of prayer and fasting. As I considered what to fast, the idea of fasting makeup crossed my mind. I was immediately intimidated by this thought; however, I knew I had to challenge myself to find confidence without makeup. One of my main 2017 goals is to learn how to see myself through God’s eyes. When I continually use makeup to enhance my image-based confidence, I am failing to fully embrace my identity as a daughter of God. The confidence of Christ is so much greater than personal confidence, so it’s important that I challenge any areas in my life where I am holding onto a desire for external validation. 

First, not wearing makeup forced me to confront the condition of my skin. I have always had a rather good complexion; however, I have never taken good care of it. I am guilty of falling asleep with a full face of makeup on, and I rarely moisturized my skin. Going makeup free made me confront and reavulate my skin care routine (which was previously non-existent). I established a morning and night routine. While my skin became a lot healthier, the greatest impact this had was that it provided a designated time each day for self-care. By spending at least 5 minutes each morning and night to focus on myself, the tone of each day became more relaxed and balanced. I tend to go through each day with high stress and anxiety, so scheduling a time to pause and relax was amazing.

Mentally, not wearing makeup allowed a lot of my insecurities to surface. Leaving the house without covering my breakouts or putting on some mascara made me feel very vulnerable. I was surprised at how limited I felt while not wearing makeup. I realized I literally felt less worthy to talk to someone which is SO illogical. In reality, no one treated me any different (duhhhh!). No one made the comment, “I really liked you until you stopped wearing makeup. You’ve changed”. Obviously, makeup doesn’t make you a better friend. Sometimes, it takes confronting our irrational thoughts that fuel insecurity to overcome them.  

As I journeyed through 30 days without makeup, I began to wonder what fuels a women’s desire to wear makeup. Personally, I think it’s fun to try out new techniques, colors, and products. I enjoy investing time in making myself feel good; however, I also use makeup as a mask to hide my exhausted eyes and fickle insecurities. As I began to ask the girls in my life why they wear makeup, I was surprised how similar their thoughts were to mine. While makeup can be a confident boost, it also requires a lot of time, energy, and money. There is empowerment in going bare-faced when society promotes fleek eye brows and Kim K contour. We were never meant to be flawless. 

Overall, ditching makeup for a month allowed me to explore the motivations behind why I wore it. I was able to confront the irrational thoughts that my self-worth is connected with my appearance. We are not MORE beautiful when we wear makeup and dress in the latest trends. Beauty is not conditional. We should not be afraid to expose our imperfections. We are masterpieces created by God! I want to feel like a masterpiece even when I’m not wearing makeup and my skin is breaking out. 

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago”(Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

At the end of the day, we are created in God’s image! It is no surprise that the enemy would want us to hate our reflection. The enemy hates everything created by God. In 2017, I want to see my reflection as an avenue for God’s glory to be revealed. In 2017, I aspire to embrace real. I want to be unashamed and authentic. I want to focus more on building God’s kingdom than building up my own confidence. In order to turn my eyes toward heaven, I have to turn my eyes away from the mirror. 

My Life is Not Aestheticly Pleasing 

A little over a year ago, God whispered to my heart destiny-declaring words that inspired my first blog post, Wrecking My Image. I wrote about how the story of the Virgin Mary had inspired me to live a fearless life that refused to protect my image over my calling. As the Christmas season quickens pace, I am reminded of these truths God spoke to me. 

This past semester of college has challenged my need to appear in control. I was taking 19 credit hours and working towards my CNA certification. Honestly, the busier I get, the more I want to appear balanced and uneffected by the chaos. I strive to be “perfect”. Social media creates a culture of competive comparison that can leave me feeling inadequate and unworthy. Tonight as I restlessly reflect on the last few months, I am reminded that God loves messy. God CHOSE messy. 

So here is my confession: My life is not aesthetically pleasing. 

1) Rarely does the atmosphere of my life look like a cute and cozy coffee shop. In other words, I’m more of a “half-spilled Quik Trip coffee while exhaustedly driving to an undesired location” than a “warm Goat Hill coffee while reading a good book on a rainy day” kind of girl. I’m always in a hurry even though I’m ALWAYS 20 minutes early to everything. I’m alarmingly punctual. It’s actually a problem. Relaxing is not easy for me. I find comfort in worry and planning and preparing and stressing. I’m thankful I serve a God who challenges me to pause and proclaim His peace. My heart finds rest in His presence. 

2) I once bought La Croix at Target because I thought it would make my seem trendy…not because I genuinely wanted it. I mean, La Croix is tolerable and definitely Instagrams better than a Diet Dr. Pepper, but I bought it for all the wrong reasons. This is just one trivial example to illustrate how hard I strive to fit in. Everyone wants to belong; however, we will only satisfy that craving when we allow our AUTHENTIC selves to receive God’s love-sealed invitation into His family. Living an image based life is empty. We have to claim our genuine, God-crafted identities to find fulfillment. 

3) No matter how many Youtube videos I watch, my eyebrows will never be on fleek. I have always struggled to accept my appearance. I have spent the majority of my life struggling to fix my body. Recently, I have found myself channeling so much time and effort into image based self-improvement. But, this is wasted energy. God hand-crafted me into a masterpiece. There is a difference between cherishing yourself and changing yourself. When I cherish my body, I focus on improving the quality of my health, happiness, and heart. When I change myself, I manipulate the pieces of me that God created in order to fit into society’s strict standard. In 2017, I plan to channel more energy into my calling than into my outfits. 

4) I have never been able to perfect the messy bun; however, I’m a master at creating a mess. I don’t wake up flawless, but I do wake up with God’s fresh mercy and grace. This past year has been filled with memories I wish I never created. Sometimes, I choose insecurity over quiet confidence. Sometimes, I choose selfishness over sacrificial love. I’m far from perfect; however, I am always near to a perfect God. 2016 has also been filled with more moments of abundant and lavishing love than I could have ever imagined! I am speechless as I reflect on how many miracles God performed in my life and through me this past year. It’s a good thing God loves and uses messy people. 

5) My relationship with Jesus is not a 5a.m, photogenic devotional. In many ways my life is more like a photo album filled with forced family photos than an aesthetically pleasing editorial. Some days, I have to force myself to spend time with Jesus despite my tired, stressed, and anxious soul (and some days I choose sleep or work over Jesus). While I absolutely love sitting in the quiet, calming presence of my perfect father, sometimes I convince myself it can wait. It’s not always easy making God my number 1 priority when I have timelines and deadlines to follow in school and work. This past year, I have learned to be flexible and frequent with my faith. I began to live in worship, believing that God was wanting to use me in every moment. As my faith became a willing walk of worship each day, I found that The Holy Spirit came alive in ways I never could have imagined. I abandoned the idea that God-encounters had to take place in quiet moments, and began to proclaim His presence and promise into every moment (no matter how chaotic). 

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

‭‭Galatians‬ ‭1:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In 2017, I plan to recklessly abandon my desire to belong. I already belong to the family of God! I can delclare my acceptance into the face of insecurity. •Authenticity > Aesthetic• 

Hit the Ground Running 

This blog post is way over due, yet perfectly timed. It’s been a message on my heart for almost a month now; however, God is still revealing new meaning to the phrase He placed on my heart in a moment of flooding anxiety. But, the full story starts in January during a time of prayer and fasting. During my churches 21 days of prayer and fasting, God challenged me with an image that stems from Matthew 14 when He called Peter to walk on water. 

“Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭14:29-33‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

I felt God challenging me with the questions, “what would have happened if Peter had made it to my arms? What would have happened if Peter didn’t sink?” With that challenge came the image of me dancing on top of crashing waves with my loving, Heavenly Father. So, I made a commitment to dance this year. I made a commitment to trust God over trusting my physical feelings of fear or doubt and my logical explanations of why I can’t possibly walk on water. 

In May, I decided to leave my job so that I could open up my schedule to serve more in my church. I had been praying for months (and chatting my family’s ears off) about this decision, because I knew logically it didn’t make sense. I had a good job, loved my coworkers, and keeping my job would have been better financially; however, I couldn’t ignore the feeling that God was calling me to step out of my boat. I quit my job, believing that God would provide opportunities to serve in my church that I could not see yet, and that He would provide financially. The crazy thing is…He did provide! I had short term, flexible job opportunities that perfectly complimented my desire to serve in my church! Also, in the beginning of July, I was given an opportunity to serve on a creative team in my church that I NEVER could have predicted…an opportunity that I would not have had if I was still working at my past job. I’m constantly amazed at what doors open in my life when I follow the whisper of God! 

With new opportunity came new resistance. For the first time in months, I began to experience suffocating anxiety. One night, as my head spun with critical, anxious thoughts, I decided I needed to distract. Anxiety is just what the enemy wanted, and I refused to entertain his lies. So, I put my music on shuffle and the first song that played was It is Well by Bethel! Message received, God. In that moment, I paused to praise and pray! I felt God reminding me to hit the ground running. I may not be the most experienced or qualified to serve on this specific creative team; however, I knew without a doubt God was already there calling me to step outside of my boat and into His arms….and I refused to settle for anything less than dancing! I refused to doubt myself. I had been asked for a reason, and with God on my side I could not fail! 

One of the most relieving things about serving God is that it isn’t about personal ability. It’s about obedience and willingness. So instead of looking at what I lacked, I boldly offered what I had (willingness) knowing that God would provide the rest (ability). 

Fast forward a month and I’ve found myself in a season of transition. I’m transitioning into a new season of greater responsibility and greater independence. I’m creating myself in ways that I haven’t had to do before. And so, with that comes the need to be more intentional, brave, and patient. Growing up is an imperfect process, and I never want to get to a point where I think I have everything under control. I just want to find peace in knowing that God is in control (which hasn’t always been easy for me….heck, it’s still really hard some days!). As a part of this new season, I’ve decided to train for a half marathon in April! Running allows you to embrace the uncomfortable, escape the logical, and live intentionally. I want to spiritually and physically hit the ground running as I go towards where God is calling me next! Tonight, God gently reminded me of His empowering love and constant desire to run the race with me!  

“And He gives you faith, 

So you can lift your head, 

And you can run real fast, 

And you can feel His joy”

https://youtu.be/zEL4Oqfcgn8