Part 3: So Fresh and So Clean

With one day left of the 21 days of prayer and fasting, I am more re(fresh)ed and eager about what 2016 will entail than ever before. If you missed part 1 or part 2, you can click the links to go back and read about all the miraculous and encouraging moments leading into week 3! God’s love moves mountains.

Day 14: Answered Prayers

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God of Israel and that I am your servant” (1 Kings 18:36).

Sunday morning’s devotional really reassured a passion that God has placed on my heart. Over the past few months, I have really felt God emphasizing the importance of each and every today. In the mornings while I drive to my 3 hour chemistry lecture, I pray for God to equip me for the day, making me aware of each need. I also pray that God would fill me with His peace and joy. It’s in these mindful moments that I can escape my anxious personality, and find peace and confidence. The more loved I feel by God, the more I am able to trust in Him.

Now, as Day 14 kick off, I began to reflect on all the prayers God has answered just over these past few weeks. Each morning I write in my prayer journal, and then at night I under line the prayers that have been answered. When we are intentional to pray and seek answers, it’s amazing how reliable God is. So often, I begin to doubt God’s reliability when one of my frequent, largely desired, prayers does not get answered. If things don’t align with my timing, I get impatient and uncertain. But just because we don’t see an immediate answer to one prayer, doesn’t mean God isn’t answering our other prayers. The more aware I am of what prayers are being answered, the more my heart’s desires begin to align with His calling for my life.

On Sunday night we had a guest pastor from Hillsong NYC come and preach on when seasons change, God doesn’t. During Diego’s powerful message, I felt God reminding me to expect change, but not to change my expectation. God’s promises do not change so we can expect Him to answer those prayers. For 2016, I have big, mountain-moving, expectations that God is going to use me to accomplish some world changing things.

Day 15: God’s Goodness

God’s goodness has been undeniable in my life. Only 4 or so months ago, I was battling my most severe relapse into my eating disorder. I was exhausted, very unhealthy physically, and in many ways hopeless; however, because of God’s love for ME, I am experiencing freedom and healing from the illness like never before. I’m actually excited about my future. As successful as I have been, I begin to wonder what had made this attempt at recovery so different. As I reflected and praised God for His healing, I felt Him speak something very heavy on my heart. He reminded me that in my past attempts at recovery, I had always been motivated by guilt and shame. I felt bad for putting my family through so much pain, so I would convince myself that recovery was the necessary solution. I knew the eating disorder was wrong, so my transformation was built on a foundation of guilt. It was in that realization that I felt God place this phrase on my heart:

When you seek transformation that’s rooted in guilt and shame, it will chain you. But when you seek transformation that’s rooted in God’s personal love, it will change you. 

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I used to find myself feeling guilty after reading this verse. My new life didn’t look all to different when compared to my life before I was saved. My old life is suppose to be gone, and yet I’m struggling with the same battles. But, guilt and shame come straight from the enemy. The more we feel unworthy of God’s love, the more unworthy we feel to be used by God. Guilt and shame is an attack on our identity and calling. When I read this verse now, the phrase “belongs to Christ” stamps boldly into my heart. I am a child of God. It was only when I began to allow God to love me with His personal love, that I was able to see how vital of a role my life has in His story. I began to crave this new life God promises. God’s love will change you.

Day 16: Provision

With only a few days left of the fast, I began praying specifically for a word or a group of words that would guide me in 2016. I am confident that God will provide; however, I am not always confident that I will be aware enough to let Him. I know the doubt comes from the enemy, but it’s still a struggle I have. So, as I prayed I was looking for some clarity. Three words/phrases that I felt God emphasizing in my heart were: for your glory, servant, and last. After receiving these words I decided to go back to God to see if this was his final answer.  Initially, I had kind of been hoping to hear words like: straight A’s, success, new relationships, and maybe something that would affirm my direction in school/career planning. Servant and last aren’t really the most desirable or glamorous words. So, I thought I would just double check with God that he didn’t think I was Morgan, one of my identical triplets sisters, because people mix us up all the time and servant seemed much more fitting to Morgan’s needs (I’m kidding…I’m kidding). Either way, God had locked down his answer in my heart. 

“‘But if you come back to me and do what I tell you, I’ll gather up all these scattered people from wherever they ended up and put them back in the place I chose to mark with my Name.'” (Nehemiah 1:9).

I’m realizing that being a servant of God means living in His home where you are protected and cared for while building up His family. I don’t want 2016 to be another year of seeking my own heart’s selfish desires, just to end up empty handed. As a college student, I tend to worry about how I will provide for myself as I transition into starting my own life and career. There is a lot of unknown. God has been reminding me that when I commit to serving Him and allow Him to lead me by His love, He will always provide. I cannot fail when I pursue my future that is planned and protected by God.

Day 17: Blessings    

A few weeks (or months??) ago, Pastor Kyle said, “There are always blessings after the battle,” during one of his sermons. I reflect on the encouragement of this statement daily. I think it’s important to expect God to bring His calming presence into every storm. God doesn’t intend for us to live miserable, exhausting lives. At the same time, He doesn’t intend for our lives to always be easy and without pain. It’s in the contrast of blessings over battle, calm over storm, and victory over defeat, that God is elevated.

In 2016, I am expecting some non external blessings from God. I am expecting to feel peace like never before, even during finals week. I am expecting to feel God’s love in deeper ways, even when I feel hurt by friends or family. I am expecting to feel victorious, even when I am losing according to the world’s standards. Sure, I will have moments of pain, sadness, heart-break, anger, and frustration; however, because of God’s promises I can always declare His blessing over my life. I want to walk with praise for the miracles that are yet to come, and to truly live like God is not finished with me yet. I want to walk into scary, uncharted territory towards the blessings I cannot see. I want to be inconvenienced and brought into battle, so that God’s victory can shine through my spirit.

Day 18: Guidance    

“‘I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest-everything will be fine for you.’ Then Moses said, ‘If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me-on me and your people-if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the Earth.’ The Lord replied to Moses, ‘I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorable on you, and I know you by name.'” (Exodus 33: 14-17).

Transition is a scary season in life. I hate change, even little change. I always joke that I am still stuck on Microsoft 2004, so switching to Google Docs has not been an easy adjustment for me. In order to avoid falling into a severe mental break down as I pursue this new life during and after college, I have learned to take life one day at a time. I find peace in knowing that God has a secure path set for me as I walk towards knew things, but it’s still overwhelming at times. God’s guidance is much more manageable when I isolate it to smaller moments each day. I don’t need to know my whole life’s map, I just need to know when to turn next. Every morning as I drive to school or work, I pray for God’s guidance to use me in each location/moment. So, Day 18 my prayer was simply, ‘Use me’.

At school that day, my lab partner in Chemistry began to reveal to me how tired she was of “the church”. She had encountered too many broken churches (ex: a pastor who had an affair), to try again. During class time I was able to share a bit of my journey in how I found The Cause. It took two years after leaving the church I had grown up in for almost 13 years, and trying multiple churches for different periods of time to finally find a church that felt like home. It was frustrating at times; however, it really allowed me to take authority over my own faith. Talking with this girl reminded me of how twisted God’s name and love can get in this broken world. I believe God is using me to plant seeds of refreshment and new interest in this student’s life because that’s how much He loves and cares for HER.

Then, as I entered work, I noticed we had a new employee helping out just for that day. I felt God giving me His nudge of guidance to speak with her too. Pretty quickly, she revealed to me that she really wanted to find a church to get connected in. Thankfully, I have close to a million The Cause pens hoarded in my purse, so I gave her one so she could remember the name and look more into it, and invited her to church. Cause pens make great little “business” cards.

Both conversations started without me explicating saying anything to urge them to talk about God or church. I believe God had planted seeds in their heart long before our conversations, and I was just one person who could help water that seed. Sometimes God just guides us to encourage and love on the hurting, and sometimes He guides us to have bold conversations about faith, God, and church. God knows his children by name, so my relationship and walk with God will look different than everyone else’s. God calls us to be set apart by His presence. My heart is not one of always trying to say and do the right thing; it is one of being willing to respond to God’s desire to love the world through me. I want to be so rooted in my identity as a child of God that God’s guidance begins to feel like a natural part of my day. I don’t want to feel pressure to look and act like a child of God, but I just want it to be who I am. When I pray, I want to let God guide me to His answer instead of trying to convince and guide God to mine. I want to strive to be set apart, instead of always striving to fit in.

Day 19: Promotion

 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so that I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 15:20).

When I began the 21 days of prayer and fasting, it seemed like the common thing to fast was social media; however, I felt like God wasn’t calling me to fast my social media. I began my recovery in October, and I also started a recovery Instagram at the same time to document my journey. I feel like God is continually calling me to encourage others with my story. When it comes to mental illness, there are so many myths and misconceptions about healing. I felt like God was calling me to bring hope. I post about God’s impact in my life and recovery, while also attempting to not glamorize the process. Recovery is not easy or painless, no matter how motivated you are.

Over the course of the last three weeks, I have been amazed at how God has been able to use me to love others. I receive messages almost daily from girls and guys who need hope and advice. In these conversations, I am able to share and plant seeds of God’s amazing and personal love. I’ve even been privileged enough to have people message me simply about who God is. It’s been amazing to watch God use me and my story to help bring hope and healing to others. Having thousands of people follow along on my recovery and life journey has been humbling, and it has been an incredible platform to share God’s love for each and every one of his children.

It’s been in the success of this account, that I have felt God really call me to write a book. I have an overflowing passion to share the message of identity in an image based society. In image is something that involves tirelessly striving to do more, while identity involves just simply being who God created you to be. There is so much power and rest in learning to let God love you with an intimate love.

The last three weeks have been incredible, and I am eager to allow God to stretch me in 2016. I have gained more insight and clarity about my calling for 2016 than ever before. God’s goodness will never cease to take my breathe away. 2016 is going to be a world changing year!

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.

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. 

Part 2: So Fresh and So Clean

Another great week of prayer and fasting my snooze button is completed! To read about all the answered prayers from week one, click here. This second week presented a few new challenges since school started Monday. I no longer have as much time in the mornings to adjust to my needs for the day. When I have to leave the house by 8:40, I have to wake up in time to do my devotionals as well as get ready for the day! Thankfully, I only have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays so it is manageable!

Day 7 and 8: Help and Protection 

I’ve decided to combine day 7 and 8 because the words go hand and hand. My current daily declaration is, “I am a child of God”. In fact, it’s been my daily declaration over my life for the last few months. I’ve written about it a few times on this blog. It’s the core of my definition, and it’s the identity I have to actively put on each morning. Part of being a child, is embracing the fact that I am weak and dependent on God. In fact, I believe admitting my need for God’s help and protection is essential to keeping a healthy father-daughter relationship. This is tough for me. I love being in control, and am always the last to ask for help.  When I went to treatment for my eating disorder in 2012, I remember hearing God urging me to bring my sickness to Him, but I couldn’t do it. I knew God didn’t expect perfect, but I felt pretty confident He didn’t want me to bring my disaster of a life to Him. So, once I had gotten control over my eating disorder, then I went to God ready to be used and transformed. It’s like rinsing off the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher to be cleaned. I had other areas in my life that needed cleaning up; however, I felt the need to clean up the eating disorder before going to God because that mess was just too big. By not allowing God to truly help me, I was limiting my understanding of God’s definition of help. He doesn’t have an “I told you so” kind of help. Nothing is too big for God.

On Sunday, Liz shared the verse John 10:14-15 which says,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

This verse is rich. First, I think it’s important to realize that God compares himself to a shepherd. Out off all the people in the entire world, God chose to compare himself to the unclean, rejects of society. The juxtaposition is humbling. It gives me even more awe at the thought that we were created in God’s image. God knows His people. He knows we are messy. He knows we have dirt, but that doesn’t stop him from taking ownership of His children. He’s willing to identify as the shepherd we relate to, so that we can identify with Him. Whoooo God is too good! I read this and I hear God saying, “I am all the good in you. I am the best parts of what you think are your worst. I don’t see the dirt, I see the DNA that I knit into your being.”

I am reminded that God deeply desires our relationship. He loves because HE loves to love. He doesn’t love because He wants to be loved by everyone. He came into this world as a baby, not a king. Jesus himself had to be dependent and protected. God is reminding me that I am weaker than I think. I am a child of God. Dependence on Him is in the essence of my identity.

Do you ever stop and think about how powerful a baby actually is? The minute you bring a baby into a room, everyone stops and notices. Babies captivate and command attention just by being. They don’t actually have to do anything to entertain a room of adults for hours.  And almost no one is insulting the baby. Even when a baby cries for the entirety of a three hour flight, people tend to blame the parents. There is protection in allowing ourselves to be the child. In a world that is constantly pushing us to be leaders and to be independent while not making mistakes or failing (which is an impossible balance), God says just be. He calls us to find rest in His arms, and to influence others not by what we do but by who we are.  

Another critical dynamic to the child-parent relationship is obedience. (This is the part where you click away since I wrote the word obedience). Personally, I used to have this idea that obedience was God’s way of making me more “perfect”. He was telling me what to do so that I wouldn’t be bad. Therefore, whenever I disobeyed, I felt bad. I am realizing that obedience isn’t about perfection, but obedience is about protection. God doesn’t want us to pray, read our Bibles, tithe, serve, etc because He’s trying to perfect us. God wants us to do all of these things because He’s trying to protect us. The enemy is waiting for us to disobey so that He can convince us that we are bad children. He’s waiting to plant the seed that we are not worthy of God’s love. But, like the prodigal son, our Father is running with open arms thankful for moments that we are near enough to receive His love. He refuses to listen to why we don’t think we are worthy to be His children, because a parent loves their child simply because they wanted a child to love!

I’m not a parent, but I do have a 17 month old puppy, August Grey, so it’s basically the same thing. One of the things that Gus Gus loves to do is dig through the kitchen trash. No matter how many times we try and redirect his behavior or show him his shiny cool toys, he’s consistently more interested in the trash can. Now, his frequent poor behavior doesn’t make me love him any less. We bought the dog knowing they love to chew on shoes and dig through yesterdays thrown away dinner scraps. It’s expected, and never a real surprise. I think God views me with a similar perspective. He expects disobedient behavior to some extent simply because I am a human and that’s what humans do; however, that will never stop Him from trying to redirect me from digging through yesterday’s trash. Sometimes we wonder why our lives are such a mess, but don’t take time to realize that we have been searching through the garbage. God’s calling us away from our trash so that we can see the wonderful resources only He can provide. The enemy is crouching, ready to leap on any opportunity to smash our calling. We have to be children that protect our calling by allowing God to protect and help us.

Day 9: Comfort

Day 9, Tuesday, was proof of God’s perfect timing. Tuesday was my first day back in classes which meant I had to endure a three hour chemistry lecture. I was in need of some comfort. As I went through my devotional that morning, I felt like my understanding of God’s comfort was too limited. As I read comfort, I heard comfortable…and knew that I wasn’t right. So, I decided to do some more research in The Word. I wasn’t sure where to look, but I felt God telling me to read 2 Corinthians. As I opened my bible to flip there, I was surprised that I had opened up to the exact spot. Now, I don’t think God is always  going to direct us to specific passages when we toss our bibles in the air and catch it by a page. But, God knew what I needed and helped me get there. Chapter 1 of 2 Corinthians is titled, “Praise to the God of all comfort”. I was ready to hear God speak.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same suffering we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

Man, God revealed to me that comfort is truly about being uncomfortable. It says He comforts us in ALL our troubles, meaning even when our troubles come from being sinful, he’s still there. Personally, I find it easier to go to God for comfort when my trail is caused from something outside of me. I can ask God to comfort me in school or work, because these are necessary evils of life; however, when I am struggling with sin I tend to go to God for forgiveness wayyy before I go to Him for comfort. Why would I ask God to comfort me in my disobedience? God has been reminding me daily that I have forgiveness. I can’t spend my prayer life asking for forgiveness, when it was and is a gift! I’m learning to let God love me in my messiness because that’s what HE desires! He loves broken people.

Also, while reading these verses, the phrase patient endurance really stuck out to me. I think when we go through trails, we tend to expect God to comfort us by immediately calming the storm. We want circumstantial comfort. But God’s comfort isn’t circumstantial. He’s the God of ALL comfort! Patient endurance means that we expect God to provide resolution in His own timing. We can expect God to calm the storms, but we have to learn to be patient. Learning to rely on God’s presence in the midst of the storm is the true test of comfort.

As I reflected on this idea, God placed a vision in my heart. It was me walking out of the boat and onto the water towards God. I felt him telling me that He doesn’t just want me to walk towards Him, but He wants me to walk toward him so He can lead me in a dance. And as I closed my eyes in prayer, I envisioned myself dancing with God on the raging waters. My comfort wasn’t in the chaotic waves surrounding me, but my comfort was in God’s arms.

When I think about Peter’s journey towards Jesus on the water, I wonder what would have happened once He arrived at Jesus’ feet. Peter had asked Jesus to call him to walk on the water, but then what? Personally, I don’t want to live my life constantly asking God to assure me of His presence by drawing me near. I want to do more than just walk on the water. I want to be so sure of His constant presence that I allow him to lead me in a dance. Even when the world around me is crashing, I want to dance.

Day 10: Peace

When I read the intention of the day, I was excited. In early October of 2015, I began to pray daily for peace and joy. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression, I was tired of living life suffocated by my emotions. As I prayed each morning for uncircumstantial peace and joy, God provided! I have never felt this full of peace and joy so consistently in my life. God has worked miracles!

“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).

We live in a world that loves to worry, and truthfully there is a lot to worry about. More often than not, our worry is planted in future-thinking. But as humans, we are not capable or blessed with the gift of foreknowledge. You know who does have that capability? God. And, God says not to worry! He knows YOUR future, and He loves YOU. It’s in that feeling of personal love, that we find peace. For those who struggle with severe anxiety and/or depression like myself, my advice is to communicate with God. Accept His personal love, and discover what the reassurance of His voice sounds like in your life. It’s hard to trust God, if you don’t know for sure that He loves YOU. He says cast your cares on me because I care for YOU. Until we feel God’s intimate love, it’s hard to trust that He has our back. Put God’s love for you at the center of your life, and watch him displace the worry.

Day 11: Wisdom   

Wisdom. I hear people tell me that I am “wise beyond my years” way too often for how unwise I actually am. What some see as wisdom, I see as over-thinking everything to death. The reason I love to blog is because I can reflect and think and think and think and think. My brain spins at three-million miles a second, and it’s exhausting at times. In many ways I find it to inhibit my ability to enjoy the little things. I don’t always know how to simply go from point A to point B in a clean, straight line. Instead, I find myself running circles from point A to point B until I have tired out the route. And, more times than not, I find myself in situations where I’m taking the same round peg trying to get it to fit through the same square hole. I am not that wise.

Now that I’v established how I am the village idiot in most situations, I am thankful that God has a way of using the unusable parts in us. It’s in my moments of circular, unrelenting thinking that I hear God speak to me His wisdom. God doesn’t speak to the wise. God speaks wisdom to those who are willing to listen. I think the world pushes us to want to be original and ground-breaking. Even I find myself reading scriptures, hoping that God will speak unshared wisdom into my life so that I can inspire others. But the truths and promises of God are not saved for one person to hear. God’s wisdom is not suppose to be original. It’s all centered around God’s love for bad people, and should be repeated until everyone knows how loved they are by God. God doesn’t keep secretes, so when we hear God speak something to us, we often hear it repeated to others. God has been really pushing me to stop seeking validation from the world, but instead to seek validation from the holy spirit! God’s validation is MUCH more gratifying because He doesn’t validate our image, but He validates our calling.

Day 12: CONFIDENCE 

Oh boy. Confident is not the first word you would use to describe me. I am full of insecurities; however, God has been making some major changes in my life. I think the enemy loves to manipulate our insecurities to cause all kind of trouble. Insecurity and sin go hand and hand.

“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. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:6-7).

I think sometimes it’s hard to feel confident in God’s promises when the world’s promises look so good from the outside. But, when we finally attain what the world promises, it leaves us feeling empty and ashamed. We think, “man, everyone looks so happy…something must be wrong with me that (enter world’s idea of happiness) isn’t making me happy.” So, we sew our fig leaves together and put on a smile. God doesn’t call us to be confident in ourselves. He calls us to be confident in Him, knowing that He loves us for EXACTLY who we are. Losing weight, wearing make-up, having xxx amount of twitter followers, or wearing Pinterest worthy outfits won’t make you confident. Confidence comes from feeling loved, and the only one who will love you unconditionally is God. I think learning to let God love you is the first step to not only being confident, but in changing the world! God’s love has a way of bringing security to our insecurity.

 

 

 

 

Part 1: So Fresh and So Clean

img_7202 To kick off the new year, my church is participating in 21 days of prayer and fasting that we call “So Fresh and So Clean”. The idea is that by turning down the noise of the world, we would all hear God speak. As someone who has just recently found success in my recovery from an eating disorder (praise God!) the word “fasting” sounds all to familiar to my vulnerable ears. I knew that fasting any type of food was a bad idea, and would defeat the purpose of starting off my new year growing closer to God. After some thought and prayer, I decided to fast my snooze button. I have always loved long, slow mornings. It is the time in my day when I find the most peace, and the energy of my morning is capable of setting the pace for the day. Chaotic mornings tend to lead to chaotic days. With that being said, I don’t always feel that way when my erupting alarm disrupts my peaceful sleep. I tend to overuse my snooze button in response to the weariness I feel each morning. Before I know it, the clock reads 10:00. So, fasting my snooze button seemed perfect for me. It was a sacrifice I could make (even when it’s really hard!!) to allow God to set my pace for the day, and God has shown up big time! I’m up between 5:00-7:00 am, and I immediately read my devotionals/Bible, listen to worship music, and then pray. The point of waking up early is to use that time to focus more on God. As the first week of So Fresh and So Clean comes to an end, I feel overflowing with God’s goodness. When God speaks to the heart, it demands to be repeated.

Day 1: Forgiveness

I have never participated in a fast, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I woke up, slightly motivated by the adrenaline of starting a new habit, eager to spend time with God. The intention of the day’s prayer was forgiveness. Each morning, I write in my prayer journal, expecting God to answer them throughout the day. Before starting the fast, the idea of living life one day at a time had been pressing heavily on my heart. In the Lord’s Prayer it prays, “Give us today our daily bread”. God is a moment-by-moment God. He equips us for each day, and He answers our prayers every single day. He may not answer every prayer, but He answers the prayers for today. On the first day of the fast, God reminded me of this.

One of my best friends (we’ll call her J), really struggles with the idea of accepting God’s forgiveness. Knowing that God has forgiven the world of sin, and truly feeling His personal forgiveness don’t come in the same package. As I went about my day, J called me with guilt in her voice. She explained to me that she was worried about losing a relationship over a mistake that she had made, and wasn’t sure what she should do. I listened as she explained a thousand reasons why she didn’t deserve forgiveness. She waffled between the idea of pushing the conflict under the rug, or admitting her wrong and asking for forgiveness. The tricky thing was that the only solution that could bring healing, also risked the complete opposite reaction: the destruction of a friendship. As I listened, I continued to reflect on the time I spent in the morning focused on God’s forgiveness. I had no doubt that He had equipped me for this exact moment; He had given me my daily bread. I was able to encourage because God had encouraged my heart earlier that morning.

After spending hours on the phone, J finally found the courage to confront the issue. By the end of the night, J had received full and loving forgiveness from the friend she had hurt. Not only did her friend forgive her, but her friend responded in a way that was rooted in the forgiveness God has for his children. God’s forgiveness is unconditional and doesn’t keep score of our wrongs. He forgives because He values our relationship more than anything else. God is not a father that responds with, “I’m not mad…I’m just disappointed” (because we all know we would rather see our parents angry than to let them down). His forgiveness celebrates with open arms when we walk into the truth.

Through this messy moment, God revealed so much to me about the purpose of this fast. First, I was reminded that sacrifice isn’t about what I can get out of it. I’m not denying myself of the luxury to sleep in for 21 days so God will bless my life. It’s not about me. God is equipping me to encourage and bring life to others. Through these moments, my heart is filled and my spirit refreshed. I went to bed feeling humbled by God’s perfect timing. I was also reminded that we don’t serve a “big-finale” kind of God. We don’t have to endure 21 days of sacrifice for Him to answer a prayer. God’s love and eternal invitation to be adopted into His family is a gift. He answers prayers every single day. Every day there are miracles. (Did I say every day?). We serve a moment-by-moment God.

Day 2: Salvation

After feeling so humbled by God’s goodness after day one, I woke up nearly dancing feeling eager to be apart of God’s plan for day two. The intention of my day: salvation. Truthfully, once I read what the focus for the day was, I felt a little uneasy. Salvation is a heavy word.

“anyone who wants to approach God must believe that He exists and that He cares enough to respond to those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Do you ever read a verse and think, “Has that always been in there? How have I missed this!?” Because same.

Hebrews 11 recalls times in history that people showed faith. It lists Cain and Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. One thing that all of these people had in common, was that their faith was represented through action. Faith is action. They didn’t just believe in God, but they believed that God believed in them. Wow. One of my biggest struggles is believing that I am usable. I believe that God can do the impossible around me, but struggle to believe that God can do the impossible through me. That morning, I prayed to have the same passion that my 7th grade self had after I was saved. Two names were placed on my heart that morning, and by the end of day I had extended encouragement to both. There weren’t tears or major revelations; however, seeds were planted and I was able to feel God’s unwavering belief in my imperfect ability a little deeper. I am learning to squash my self-doubt with the belief that despite how small my gifts and talents are, I am capable of achieving the impossible by the power of God who lives in me.

Day 3: Mercy

Maybe it’s the fogginess of waking up at 5am, but again I woke up unclear on what to think about the day’s focus. What does mercy even mean?

“but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself” (Luke 18:14).

I find so much relief in this promise. I spent years of my life so NOT content with who I was. I thought I was the exception to God’s perfection… he had created me full of mistakes. One of the clearest messages I have felt God place on my heart is the idea of wrecking my image. I feel so obsessed and passionate with this idea: Wrecking my Image to Embrace my Identity. God has planted a message on my heart and called me to encourage by sharing my story. Day three was a reminder of this.

That  Wednesday night I had bible study at my church. As my sisters, best friend, and I left, the weather had become quite icky. I pulled out of my parking space to leave, and totally (and I mean TOTALLY) ran over the curb that separated the parking spot from the street. It was hard to see outside, and I forgot how close the curb was. The car was completely fine, and the only thing damaged was my pride. Immediately, I felt the need to defend myself. My sisters and friend had just witnessed me make an embarrassing mistake, so I quickly reminded them of my “flawless” driving record. I have never been in an accident or received a ticket. (Truthfully, that should read, “I have gotten lucky on numerous occasions and have never been caught speeding.”.) That day God gave me a deeper understand of His mercy. Mercy is accepting that despite my mistakes as a driver, God still trusts me to drive. When I follow my own path and ability, I tend to run into a lot of curbs; however, when I let God be my guide and I give him control of the direction of my life, I find myself on a beautiful journey. Mercy is accepting His embrace even when I fall. It’s living in constant awe that God chose me, and He can use my imperfect self.

I think there is this misconception that when we become Christians we let “Jesus take the wheel” (cue music). I disagree. Being a Christian is very active. We still have free will, and can choose what path we take each day. If Jesus was at the wheel, life would be MUCH easier and a lot less bumpy. He’s a perfect driver. Instead, being a Christian is about letting the Holy Spirit be your GPS (sorry for the cheesy comparison but analogies and metaphors are kind of my guilty pleasure). Being a Christian sounds a lot like this:

GPS (aka Jesus): Turn left in 800 ft.

Driver (aka Abbey): I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that’s the wrong way. I’m not suppose to turn this soon. That can’t be right.

GPS: Turn left in 400ft….100 ft….50 ft…turn le-

Driver: Do you even know where we are? Maybe this is outdated. You probably didn’t see that they recently added a round-about. I’m going straight.

GPS: Recalculating…

No matter how many times the GPS has to recalculate because I choose to go the wrong direction, I am reassured by God’s mercy that despite my many mistakes God’s destination for me never changes. He always recalculates. I don’t have to know where I am going because God’s guidance is enough. The destination is set.

Day 4: Faith

“‘How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this?… You’re not taking God seriously,’ said Jesus. ‘The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle'” (Matthew 17: 17,20).

Ouch. I can feel the annoyed eye roll as Jesus speaks. The crazy thing is that Jesus isn’t annoyed that people are coming to him for miracles. He’s annoyed because his disciples don’t understand that they have the authority to preform the same miracles through the Holy Spirit. I felt God convicting me about my prayer life…again (my prayer life clearly needs some work and that’s okay). First off, I need to believe that God can do the impossible through me! Not only can God move mountains, but God can use ME to move mountains. I think sometimes I fall into this category I like to call “prayticipating” when I should be participating. “Prayticipating” is when we like to solve problems and pains by responding with, “I’ll pray for you/the situation/etc”…and then waiting for God to do the real healing without our active participation. We wait for God. Participating is when we take authority over our individual part to move mountains. Prayer is a great gift, and we should always bring our troubles and triumphs to God; however, when it comes to the promises of God, we have the authority to declare them over our mountains.

For example, I would never have found freedom from my eating disorder if I just prayed for freedom and waited (I know this because I tried it many times). I wasn’t going to wake up one day suddenly feeling free because I prayed for it. Freedom is already a guaranteed gift and promise from God (John 8:36). It wasn’t until I declared my God-given freedom over my life that the mountain moved. I had to take authority over my part in moving the mountain, because God had already done his part.

Day 5: Temptation

Every morning when my alarm goes off, I am tempted to go back to sleep. In the moment, my thoughts are centered around the weight of my eye lids and the comfort of my pillows. I don’t push myself to get out of bed by telling myself I’m not sleepy. I roll out of bed each morning because 1) it’s my “fast” for the 21 days of prayer and fasting and 2) I am genuinely excited to spend time in God’s presence. Somehow, He knows how to turn my painful crawl out of bed into an energetic dance in the matter of minutes. Even when I wake up doubting that I’ll have the energy to read my devotionals without turning my book into a pillow, within 20 minutes I am surprised by my wide-eyed worship at 6am.

Day 5 reminded me that attacks from the enemy are not a matter of if but a matter of when. The enemy is crouched waiting for us to be vulnerable; however, we don’t defeat temptation by preparing for the battle. We overcome the enemy by declaring and preparing for victory. God is not sin-focused. So, it’s silly to try and defeat your temptations by putting your focus on the problem. Instead, our eyes must be fixed on God’s power over sin. When I’m tempted to hit snooze, I don’t focus on not falling asleep….I focus on waking up. Overcoming temptation is about running towards the promise and plans of God. As I enter into 2016, I’m equipping myself with the word and truth of God. I’m focusing on my inherited victory as a child of God.

Day 6: Fear 

Day 6 is today! (The day I am writing this blog post). I wasn’t sure if I should include this day in part 1 just for the sake of trying to avoid writing too much; however, when God answers specific prayers…I cannot help but share His goodness!

This morning in my prayer journal I wrote, “God I pray for your spirit to speak through me this morning as I blog and write”. I had planned on going to Post Coffee to blog all week. I love coffee. I love blogging. Why not mix the two? As I was putting on my shoes to leave I felt God speak to my heart this message, “You don’t always have to be the bold initiator, but you are equipped to respond boldly.” I am not an initiator, and boldness is definitely not one of my strengths; however, God has given me a desire to build up my boldness. So my daily prayer is to be boldly confident and confidently bold. I feel a desire to lead and encourage others by sharing my story. Either way, I am a work in process. This morning God reminded me that He is with me through the process. He created me perfectly for TODAY. So, even though I desire to be someone who can boldly initiate conversations of encouragement…today I didn’t feel quite there. Now, I truly believe God can transform us in the moment, and loves when we step far out of our comfort zone; however, he also knows our heart and our spiritual gifts. God created me. He’s not surprised when I tell him boldness is not my strength.

Today at Post coffee while working on this blog (it has taken me three locations and a couple of hours to complete this), a girl slightly younger than me approached me just to appreciate and acknowledge the fact that we were both reading our Bibles. We should celebrate and feel united when we encounter other believers. We began talking and sharing a bit of our stories. We both found encouragement in hearing each other’s hearts, and exchanged numbers to stay in contact. Wow. The movement of God was undeniable. The reassurance He placed on my heart earlier that day was equipping me for this exact moment. When we go to God everyday for our daily bread, He’s there waiting to answer our prayers.

“I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown” (Isaiah 43:1).

We are not called to live fearless lives just because God is big, strong, and can win every battle. We are called to live fearless lives because God is personally equipping us for our specific battles. Jesus did not die on the cross just so He could have victory over the enemy. Jesus died on the cross for YOU!  His love is personal. He equips us for each day specifically! His strategy is personalized to YOU! The enemy cannot create. He can only kill, steal, and destroy. His strategy never changes. Today I was reminded that God created me and knows more about me than I know about myself. He is personal, loving, caring, and protective. I live fearlessly not just because I know my God is strong, but I live fearlessly because I know my God is strong for and in ME!

The coolest thing about God is that his love is limitless. His goodness is limitless. It doesn’t matter where you are on your journey, or how “mature” of a Christian you think you are (or are not)…You can always go deeper. I don’t know anything about what tomorrow brings, or if I will even be lucky enough to get a tomorrow. But I do know that God doesn’t hold back or save his best for our “best”. He’s a moment-by-moment God, eager to bring the best out of each and every moment.

 

 

 

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). 

 

 

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). 

 

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.