Faith without Limits

In the final week of my 21 days of prayer and fasting, God validated and confirmed what He spoke in the beginning. I began to understand quiet confidence in a deeper way, and developed a deeper trust in God’s timing. When we press in, God moves. 

Day 15: Constant + Unconditional  

“‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:7). 

When I began the 21 day of prayer and fasting, I was worried that my relationship with God would feel different. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to move past the feeling that I had disappointed my heavenly father. I was worried that my faith would no longer feel personal since I struggled to trust myself; however, the very nature of God is that He is unchanging. There is something so healing and personal about experiencing the consistent and unconditional love of Christ in our variable and changing seasons. God’s love does not change. God’s pursuit for my heart does not change. God’s plan for my life does not change.  

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays” (Malachi 4:2). 

Day 16 and 17: Faith without Limits  

To end the last few days of prayer and fasting, I decided to read through the book of John. When I was first saved, I was encouraged to read through John to kick start my personal walk with Jesus. Sometimes we must reconnect with the joy of our salvation. Later that Tuesday night, I had clinicals on a labor and delivery unit. While assisting a post C-section mom in the PACU, she began to exhibit signs of severe complications. I was the only one present at her bedside, and was forced to respond quickly despite feeling extremely overwhelmed and over my head. Thankfully, both mother and baby are now healthy. As I left clinical that morning, I felt a little annoyed at God to be honest. I had been praying for an easy and smooth clinical experience. I declared peace and joy over the night despite how much I struggled to enjoy this clinical rotation. Unfortunately, I also made the mistake of praying that God would use me (what was I thinking…lol). As I left, I felt God saying He was proud of me. I realized how tame my anxiety was during the crisis. I grew in confidence and developed important skills for the nursing field. Despite my lack of training, I was able to respond in a way that possibly saved this mother’s life. And then I felt God challenging me in my faith. 

How often do I want God to use me to build His kingdom, but then place limits on what I think I am capable of being used to do. I limit my faith to my current level of confidence. I limit my faith to the labels I have received from others. I limit my faith to how I am feeling. When we limit our faith to what we can do, we never experience the full extent of the miracles and wonders that God can do through us. I want to live a life of faith without limits.  

“For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limits” (John 4:34). 

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). 

Day 18: The Door Looks Different 

Day 18, March 5, 2020, is a day that will remain very significant in my spiritual journey. It was a day that God validated and spoke a very clear message to my heart. As mentioned in my previous blog, I wrote that I felt like God had prophesied Haggai 2:9 over my year. Fast Forward to the next Thursday night, I got a call from my work saying they were overstaffed and didn’t need me to come in. I quickly decided to attend the Young Adult service at my church since I now had an open evening. We had a guest speaker, and I was excited to attend after weeks of being unable to due to work. The guest speaker opened his message by revealing that he felt like God had asked him to change his message that morning. He felt that someone attending needed to hear this new message. He then asked us to open up our Bibles to John 7. My bookmark was literally already on that page, as that was exactly where my 21 days of prayer and fasting reading had taken me. I immediately felt God’s nudge in my heart. He then shared the verse Haggai 1:9 which says, 

“‘You expect much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin while each of you is busy with your own house.’” (Haggai 1:9). 

Sometimes, the areas in our life where we feel that we blew it were really blown away by God. Doors don’t shut on their own. Sometimes God calls us away from opportunities that are outside of our purpose. We do not have to prove our potential. We have a God given purpose that will come to fruition in its God given time. This message validated exactly what God had already been speaking to my heart. 2020 will be a year of slow growth on good soil, and the new house God is building will be more glorious than the former. 

Day 19:  Fragrance of Sacrifice + Surrender

“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3). 

As I continued my journey through the book of John, I was captivated by the imagery in this verse. I love the idea that our spirit of sacrifice and surrender can fill the space around us. Generosity and servitude can be contagious. It creates a beautiful aroma that is refreshing in a world filled with selfish ambition and greed. I am reminded to never doubt that power of putting yourself second. I pray that I can have a spirit saturated in the fresh fragrance of sacrifice and holy surrender.

Day 20-21: Jump into the Water   

“Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment around him and jumped into the water” (John 21:7). 

As I read this verse I was reminded of the story of when Jesus walked on water. Peter demonstrates an eagerness and confidence in John 21 that wasn’t present in his previous encounter with Jesus on the stormy waters described in Matthew 14. . 

“‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus” (Matthew 14:28-29). 

While the contexts of the situations and the conditions of the waters are very different, the most important factor is consistent: Jesus. In Matthew 14, Jesus appears to the disciples on dangerous, rocky waves. The conditions were dangerous, and they were a considerable distance from land. Also, Jesus appears…WALKING  on the water. Based on all human logic and understanding, it can’t be Jesus because that is impossible. Peter requires reassurance before he will walk towards Jesus. I imagine he slowly and cautiously exited the boat. As the story continues, we learn that Peter began to sink as the fear of the wind and waves began to overwhelm him. Jesus reaches out and catches Peter from sinking in the water, and He asks him: “You of little faith…why did you doubt?”. 

Fast forward to where we find Peter in John 21. He is about 100 yards from shore in his fishing boat. The water is tame and the fishing is slow…until Jesus shows up. When Peter discovered Jesus standing on the shore, he didn’t ask for reassurance. In fact, it says in John 21 that none of the disciples asked who Jesus was…they just knew. Peter jumped into the water and ran towards Jesus. It’s important to remember that this encounter occurred after Jesus was crucified and resurrected. It was the third occasion that Jesus had appeared to the disciples. Despite Jesus’ presence on the shore defying logic and reason, Peter jumped into the water and ran. Talk about a demonstration of faith. 

I love seeing Peter’s growth. It reminds me that God is not finished with me yet. My confidence and trust in Christ will continue to grow. My hesitation and fear will not always hold me back. I pray that my Spirit will have an eagerness and confidence to always take a leap of faith (without hesitation) towards wherever Jesus calls me. 

 

God Remembers

As week 2 of my 21 days of prayer and fasting began, I couldn’t help but to thank God for all that He has already done. I have experienced deep healing and answered prayers. I am so grateful to have a God that loves me in such deep, personal ways. Daily, I am amazed by the grace and love of God. 

Day 8: Iron and Clay

I started week two by diving into the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel is filled with beautifully written depictions of visions and the interpretations of these visions.  

“Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron-for iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united any more than iron mixes with clay” (Daniel 2:40-43). 

Over the course of the 7 months that I have been in Colorado, Godly community has been a consistent prayer in my life. In July of 2019, I felt God speak a response: it will be slow but it will be lasting. 

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he scattered the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop-a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:3-8). 

After walking through a season of painful rejection from people I considered spiritual mentors and friends, I found this promise to be reassuring. I crave true, Christ-like community. Unlike the past, I don’t want an abundance of quick-springing, surface-level relationships. I want something more deeply rooted. The vision described in Daniel 2 perfectly explains the community I once had. There were people of iron and some people of clay. I had people who made me better and illustrated God’s love so gracefully; however, I also had people who only valued me for what I could do. I want friends who make me more like Jesus, not more like them. 

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). 

As I expand my community, I am searching for friends of iron. Within my connect group, I have found people who encourage me and draw me closer to Jesus. I am seeing the fruit of healthy community, and enjoying the process of slow growth on good soil. In my time of worship and prayer, God placed a vision on my heart. I saw a heart-shaped, iron vase filled with an abundance of colorful, flourishing flowers. Praise God for friends of iron who encourage and promote healthy growth within our life. 

“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). 

Day 9 + 10: Trust

On day 9 and 10 of prayer and fasting, I had my second week of clinicals. During week one of my labor and delivery clinicals, I got to assist during a rather stressful delivery. This left me feeling overwhelmed at what was to come. Throughout Monday, I felt anxiety poisoning my spirit just knowing that clinicals were quickly approaching. I felt God asking me, “How much do you really trust me?” Sitting in worry + anxiety pointed out the areas in which I lacked trust. For years I have struggled with anxiety. In 2020, I’m declaring in faith that anxiety will no longer be a driving force in my life. I am declaring peace and making Joshua 1:9 my mantra. I am reminded by Daniel 6 that even in the lion’s den, I can trust that God will protect me. He may not change my situation, but he will provide protection in ways that bring glory to God’s great love. 

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). 

I truly felt the peace and confidence of Christ show up during my clinical rotation. I spent my first night caring for babies in the NICU (talk about an illustration of strength + courage), and had many opportunities to try (and succeed at) new skills on night two.God is with me, I cannot fail. I will fully trust in God.

I Will Trust by Red Rocks Worship has been especially encouraging this week. I will link it below so maybe it can encourage you as well. 

I Will Trust- Red Rocks Worship

Day 11: On Call 

On day 11, I was supposed to work a night shift; however, I got a call that they were over staffed and putting me on call for the night. This allowed my 15 minutes of prayer and worship to be extended which is exactly what my soul needed. As I drank coffee and spent time in God’s presence, I felt him challenging me on how I was positioning myself for His call in my life. See, because I knew I may get called into work, I stayed in my scrubs, drank coffee to energize, and kept my phone nearby in anticipation. I had to stay alert and ready just in case I got called in. I felt God challenging me with this idea in my spiritual life. How can I prepare to be ready + alert for God’s call? How can I prepare my spirit? I was reminded of this verse: 

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:13-17). 

In order to be “on-call” spiritually, I have to be equipping my mind with God’s truth daily. I have to mindfully live with an empowering awareness that God’s spirit lives in me. I have to be intentional to walk towards things that provide a spirit of peace, and question the things that disrupt God’s peace in my life. I have to make time in the word a priority in my routine, and I have to place my faith in God’s ability rather than my own. God is always calling us to love our neighbors, help those in need, and to encourage those around us. I pray that I can be quick to respond, and that I can carry a culture of the cross with me wherever I go. 

Day 12: Highly Esteemed 

“While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, ‘I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my Lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.’ Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. ‘Do not be afraid, you are highly esteemed,’ he said. ‘Peace! Be strong now; be strong.’ When we spoke to me, I was strengthened…”  (Daniel 10:16-19). 

Who else can relate to Daniel? I know I can relate to feeling tired, worn out, anxious, discouraged, unable to find the words to pray, and unworthy. But, God does not look down on us when we are burnt out and struggling to keep our head above the water. In contrast, His response is that of encouragement and love. We are highly esteemed by heaven. I love the order in which encouragement is spoken. Courage precedes peace. Peace precedes strength. Some days, it takes all the courage I have to trust God; however, when I place my life in His hands, I receive supernatural peace in return. Heavenly strength is required to declare peace and reject anxiety. Heavenly strength is found in God’s word.   

Day 13: Rebuilding 

For day 13 of my 21 days of prayer and fasting, I felt compelled to read the book of Haggai. I felt thoroughly blessed by this story of restoration and rebuilding.

“‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:9). 

As I read this verse, I felt that it was a prophesy over my life. I had put so much of my own ambition and strength into building the life that I was previously living. I was pursuing a degree that I thought would give me peace. I was striving to be the “perfect Christian” through my own works. God had to tear that old house down in order to restructure my foundation. I had to learn what building a house looked like on His terms and in His grace. In the past few months, I have felt genuine supernatural peace like never before. I have become disciplined in patience. I am learning to say yes to the God things, and I am setting my own agenda to the side. 

Day 14: God Remembers 

On the final day of my second week of prayer and fasting, I am reminded of this simple truth: God remembers. I decided to read the book of Zechariah. Zechariah means “Yahweh remembers”. When I lack trust or find myself becoming impatient, I find assurance in knowing that God knows the desires of my heart. He crafted them. He knows my deepest hurts and how to heal them. He knows my deepest prayers and when to answer them. He knows my greatest struggles and how to grace me through them. He knows my potential and how to nurture my growth. God remembers. God knows. I will trust.   

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalms 37:4).

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous-how well I know it…. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Psalms 139:13-14,16). 

 

 

Seen + Celebrated

When I moved to Colorado, I immediately attempted to get plugged into a church. After experiencing the trauma of losing my church community in August of 2018, I had built up so many walls and anxieties about church. Church had always been my safe place. It was the place that shaped me into who I am today, and was always the source of my community. After August of 2018, it no longer felt safe. People within the church labeled me as dangerous, rebellious, and manipulative. I couldn’t help but carry these labels with me as I attempted to get plugged into a new church. I wondered if they would think the same things. I feared they would see the “real” me and kick me out. Clearly, I was too broken. After attending a church for a few months, I took a break. My insecurities and shame told me I didn’t belong. I went into self-protective mode. I went into hiding. Thankfully, God didn’t leave me there. I recently joined a connect group and attended church with my best friend by my side. I no longer wanted to allow the pain of my past to prevent me from experiencing God’s best for my life. I also felt Him calling me to do 21 days of prayer and fasting. In order to fully process all that God is doing in my heart, I’ve decided to write everything out. I started this blog because it’s how I best process what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life. It also allows me to be authentic about the reality of my life and faith. We are all broken people in need of God’s grace and love. 

Day 1: Necessary Endings 

I started day one of my prayer and fasting by worshiping and reading through the book of Philippians. While I wish the hurt of my past church experience didn’t still affect me, it does. I feel insecure about my faith. I feel bitterness towards the people who lied to me and hurt me. I feel anger towards God. I feel confused by the incongruities of what I saw in the church verse what Jesus models. But mostly, I feel deep sadness. Sadness about the things that I lost. Sadness about the damage the enemy created. 

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (‭‭Genesis‬ ‭32:28‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

 After over a year of wrestling back and forth with God, I have finally found freedom. At times, the rhythm of our wrestling felt like a tight embrace that allowed me to mourn and cry. Other times, it felt like a battle for rest. Similarly to Jacob, I am finding a new God given identity after the battle. I had allowed my contribution in a church to become my identity in a way that was unhealthy and overwhelming. I am learning now the painful fallout was a necessary ending. On day 1 of my prayer and fasting, my connect group leader casually recommended that I listen to a previous sermon. When I got home that night, I listened to it while I got ready for bed. It was exactly what my heart needed to hear. It provided a fresh message of grace, healing, and hope that left me feeling speechless and my heart stirred. It also gave me much needed reassurance. I will link the sermon here. 

“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,” (‭‭Philippians ‭1:15-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Day 2-3: Peace

On Tuesday, I started my OB clinicals for nursing school. I was feeling extra anxious about this rotation because labor/delivery is just not my passion. As I drove to my clinical, I prayed and worshiped. Sunday’s message was about utilizing the weapon of worship in our daily life. While I’m no stranger to singing + dancing around my room to worship and connect with God, the reminder is always nice. At church, the pastor shared the very well known verse: 

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (‭‭Philippians ‭4:6-7‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

As someone who grew up in church, this verse is one of many that have been conditioned into my memory; however, I don’t always apply it as I should. Anxiety has been a constant obstacle in my life. So, as I anxiously drove to clinicals I mediated on this verse, allowing the peace of God to empower me. I believed that God would be with me…and God showed up. As I walked into the classroom where my clinical group met to discuss our patients, I saw this written on the white board: 

 

The Bible verse validated the work God has been doing in my life. He appears in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. 

Day 4-5: Rest

Day 4 and 5 consisted of two 12 hour night shifts at work. After having worked two 12 hour night shift clinicals, I was feeling a little exhausted knowing I had two more. Coffee can only supplement rest for so long. Thankfully, I was relieved to discover that for my first night of work I got to train a new employee, and for my second night at work I was floated to sit in a 1:1. I felt like God was illustrating the types of rest we can find in Him. The first being having others walk alongside us and helping us.

“It turned out that whenever Moses raised his hands, Israel was winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, Amalek was winning. But Moses’ hands got tired. So they got a stone and set it under him. He sat on it and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on each side. So his hands remained steady until the sun went down. Joshua defeated Amalek and its army in battle” (Exodus 17:11-13, MSG).  

The second type of rest is slowing down and physically resting. For a year and half, I overworked myself to complete exhaustion. I was staying awake for 30(+) hours multiple times a week, and over-committing in almost every area of my life. I didn’t know how to admit that I was stretched too thin, and I didn’t know when to say “no”. In this new season of life, I have learned to prioritize rest. I have committed to setting healthy boundaries in my work and church life. I am learning how to ask for help, and I am taking time daily to rest + recharge my soul in the presence of God.   

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV). 

Day 6-7:Seen + Celebrated

While spending time in worship, I felt God place this phrase on my heart: Seen + Celebrated.  In a society saturated with social media, it’s hard living a life that doesn’t require reassurance. If posts don’t get enough likes on Instagram, we assume it must have been a bad picture. Almost everything we do can quickly be validated by followers on social media. Over the last year, I took a major break from social media. I deleted my Instagram, and only used social media in ways that added joy to my life. It was freeing not feeling so attached to a number of followers or number of likes received on a post. Becoming emotionally attached to these sources of validation was an unintended consequence of social media use, so taking a break rewired my brain in such necessary ways. Without the added fog of Instagram likes/followers, I was able to connect with my worth in Christ on a deeper level. I was able to establish a deeper self worth not connected to other’s opinions of me. I am fully seen and celebrated by God. Nothing can change that. Even on my worst days, God celebrates me. I want to have assured confidence…a confidence that is not easily shaken. 

“The fruit of righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17). 

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him” (Jeremiah 17:7).     

 

Moving Up

This past year has been filled with the most challenging, exciting, and uncertain times of my entire life. Everything I had built my life and future plans around began to crumble in August of last year. I lost my church and a large part of my community. I also changed my major in college after feeling inspired to switch my career goal from PA to NP. During this season, it felt like everything was falling apart around me. I felt extremely out of control which is not a feeling I tend to cope well with; however, I am grateful for the opportunities that forced me to lean deeper into God’s grace and love. He is always faithful. God was stripping unhealthy things from my life which allowed me to move in the direction of my calling. He rekindled the deepest desires of my heart, and turned my dormant dreams into reality. 

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church  in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! (Ephesians 3:20)

In December of 2018, I had the crazy idea to attend nursing school in Colorado. I have dreamed of living in Colorado and working in pediatric mental health since I was admitted to the EDU at the Colorado Children’s Hospital in 2012. I witnessed firsthand the impact these professionals can have on an individual’s life because I lived it. It was in my biggest struggle that God planted a seed of passion for my calling. After months of feeling burnt out, drained, depressed, and crippled with anxiety…I finally felt hope. Taking the risk to only apply to one nursing school required me to recklessly trust God. I started speaking it before I saw it. God was helping me to develop courageous trust and a bold faith. In May, I recieved my acceptance letter and began making plans to move. Throughout this process, I anticipated running into an impossible obstacle. I feared being unable to find a place to live or running into financial struggles. To my surprise (and despite my faithless doubt), God opened every door necessary and made a way. Every trial I had faced in the previous months began to make sense as God’s bigger purpose became clear.  

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) 

Since moving to Colorado, I have experienced so much spiritual growth. Surrounded by mountains, God has been teaching me that not every mountain is meant to be moved (Mark 11:22) but some are meant to be climbed. It’s uncomfortable and painful at times; however, it’s the only way to take higher ground. In this season, I’m still acclimating to the elevation both physically and spiritually, but I find comfort in knowing that God is faithful. 

Months before moving, I expressed to a friend that God speaks to me through rainbows. Many significant moments in my life have been marked by a rainbow. I told her that if I saw a rainbow on the day I moved to Colorado then I would know that this is where God had called me to go. Because of God’s personal love, I saw a rainbow (on a rather clear day might I add) the day I moved to Colorado. It was the exact sign I had been praying for to feel affirmed by God that this was the right move for me. 

Within two weeks of being in Colorado, I have found a job that pays more than I dreamed, I have found a church that truly feels like home, and I have experienced overwhelming, supernatural peace. God has answered so many prayers. He has healed parts of my heart that had been damaged over the last year. God is faithful. He is a loving father. I am excited for this new season of growth as I continue to move up into all that God is calling me to be.  

Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already-you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there. (Isaiah 43:18-19). 

 

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.

Landon.jpg

  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!