Hello? This is your friend, Anxiety, calling…

My heart pounded faster than I knew it could.  I was sweating through all 3 layers of clothing.  Great.  Now I had to do laundry on top of everything else.

Anxiety had the better of me.  Again.

At least this time I had a real reason to be anxious.  This time I wasn’t worrying about what shoes I might wear 8 months from now or where my non-existent children might one day attend school.
This time was legitimate and no amount of yoga breathing techniques or herbal remedies were about to stop my mind and body from racing.  I was on the verge of passing out.

I was about to talk on the phone with a friend of mine I had not spoken to in 8 months.  We had been estranged from one another, both unsure if we would ever speak again, and I had no idea what to expect.
Do I say hello?  How do I say hello?  Do I ask how he’s doing?  Am I allowed to ask that?  Do I burst into tears and say how much I’ve missed him and love him?  Or do I play it cool and remain slightly aloof so I don’t scare him away?  Will he sound angry or hurt?  If he does, do I respond to that?

In my head I played through approximately 537 different ways to pick up the phone but it didn’t make a difference.  When I saw his name pop up on my phone calling me, all I had thought through ceased to exist and in its place was only terror and anxiety.

“Hi.”  I managed to squeak out, half under my breath.  Still so unsure of myself.

Then I heard his voice.

All he said was hi in response.  But it was his voice that said it.  The same, familiar voice I’ve known for 5 and a half years.  Call it cheesy, but the second I heard the voice I knew, my anxiety fled.  I was safe.  I knew this person.  This was my friend.  I had nothing to fear.

I went into this conversation having to confess some pretty horrific things I had done, unsure of what his response might be.
I left the conversation knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that this friend loved me and cared about me.  And that wasn’t changing no matter what I did, have done, or will do.

I am totally secure in his love and care for me.
I am at rest.
My soul is at peace.

As I’ve reflected on this situation in my life, I started to recognize the parallel to God as my Father.

Most of my anxiety has been due to the fact that I am so afraid to approach my Father and be still in His presence and hear His truth, that I simply keep myself busy so He doesn’t have an opportunity to say anything.  Then I get anxious because I won’t listen to His voice of truth.

I fear Him not in the reverent, respect kind of way, but in the terror sense of the word.

What if God finally said He’s done with me after everything I’ve done?  What if I finally pushed Him too far or hurt Him too deeply?  What if He doesn’t want to be good to me?  What if He doesn’t take me back?

As a girl who has had an earthly father abandon her after she stopped behaving the way he wanted her to, these fears fit into the only thing I know to be true of fathers.  And it makes me anxious to approach God.

Then I thought about this friend.  He’s only a human, not God of the universe.
I hurt him.  Deeply.
He loves me.  Fully.

I heard my friend’s familiar voice and my anxieties fled.  My fears about the future conversation no longer existed.  He didn’t spend the time in our conversation condemning me, rather he took the time to let me know how much he loves me, despite everything I’ve done.

The Lord used this conversation with my friend not only to reconcile two of His children, but also to remind me how He sees me.  If I can rest securely in the love of a mere human, how much more can I in a God who loves perfectly?

There is not one thing I could ever do that would make my Father stop loving me.  I am beloved.  I am the object of His delight.  Period.  There is nothing I can do to earn it.  So when I “mess up” it’s OK.  And there is nothing I can do about it.  That identity can never be taken away.  In that confidence I can approach my Father, who is good and loves me, confess all that I have done, and hear that familiar voice once again.

YOU ARE MY BELOVED.

That is the voice of my Father, and in its presence all my anxieties flee.  It is familiar and loving and true.  Fear cannot remain in its presence.  There is no condemnation.  I am safe in my Father’s arms.

I am totally secure in His love and care for me.
I am at rest.
At last my soul is at peace.

I am beloved.

-A Graceful Follower of Christ

For the Hopeless

A while back I heard a sermon about Jesus winning.  The illustration given still sticks with me and I use it all the time in conversation.

Imagine you’re watching a football game.  You’re routing for one team, but the other looks like they’re going to win.  Then in the final quarter, your team makes a huge comeback and wins the game.  If you’re a big fan of your team, while watching the game you may have experienced anxiety, uncertainty, sorrow, even despair.  You didn’t know what was going to happen.  You had no sure outcome, and had to sit and watch anxiously hoping a miracle would happen.

Now imagine you’re watching that same game, but the day after it happened.  It’s been recorded for you, but you sneaked a peak at the newspaper and saw that your team won.  You don’t have any anxiety when you’re watching that game.  No matter how bad it may look for your team, you know the outcome.  You know who wins.  You sit and trust it’ll end up exactly how the paper said it would.

As Christians, our lives should operate much the same way.  We know because Scripture tells us that Jesus wins.  Jesus defeated death.  Jesus conquered Satan.  No matter how bad it looks right now, however hopeless it looks, we need not have any anxiety or despair, because we know the outcome.  Jesus wins.  I already read the news.

I heard this sermon and have been remembering it over and over again.  It has gotten me through this past year.  But even though I know Jesus wins, it doesn’t change how bad my circumstances look, does it?  What is God putting me through all this misery for?  Does He know what He’s doing?  Does He know how painful this is?

I know I’m not the only one asking these questions.

And then one day, the Lord revealed a truth to me that I have used to encourage so many others.  But really, I love sharing it so much because I need to hear it 3 million times to remember it.  Here it is.  It’s very simple.  Ready?

Satan’s plan was to kill Jesus.
God’s plan was to kill Jesus.

With what Satan intended to destroy us, God used to save us.
God allowed Satan to have his way, and in that, defeated him.
God knows what He’s doing.
He is a good Father.
And what Satan is using to try to destroy you, God is using to save you.
No matter how hopeless is looks, Jesus already won.
Satan cannot have his way.  Yes, he’ll try.  Yes, it’ll hurt.  No, you won’t be overcome.  You will not be defeated in Christ.  You cannot be.

Are not God’s ways truly much higher than ours?
Don’t doubt Him.
He really wins.

-A Graceful Follower of Christ

Living Between the Death and Resurrection

I woke up.

It was one of those days I wish I hadn’t.  They don’t happen as frequently as they used to, but they still come.  Days when the reality of my life is so painful, I wish I had simply never woken up.  Or that the Lord would allow me to enter into a coma for a few weeks.  But I woke up.

It should have been a day I wanted to wake up for.  I was going home.  For the first time in about 9 months, I was flying home for a 3 week vacation.  And probably my last real vacation for at least the next 2 years.

But as I said, my heart was so heavy, waking up was filled with pain.  Pain from my circumstances, pain from my choices, pain from the many things I cannot control.

The night before I had the hardest conversation I had ever had to date.  Which, considering my life, is saying something.

Without revealing too many details, I had to tell one of the people who means the most to me, who has never hurt me, who has cared about and for me, who has loved me and trusted me, who has gone above and beyond what any friend is required to do to earn my trust, who has played a major role in my healing process, I had to tell this person that he could not be a major part of my life any more.  At least, not now.  I need to rest and trust God with this amazing person, instead of striving after my desires.

It’s a long, complicated, intricate story and you’ll just have to trust me that this was the best decision. But the important part to note is how big of a deal this was.  This was the biggest sacrifice I could make.  It was the greatest act of trust I could possible show the Lord.

“Yes, God. I will put to death this relationship which has been nothing but good, because I love and trust you more.”

Hanging up the phone after that conversation felt impossible.  It was the beginning of me letting go and trusting.  Will this person ever call me again?  Will this person ever trust me again?  Will I ever see this person again?  Did I lose this person’s love and care?  I have killed something beautiful, and it’s all my fault, and now all I can do is wait.

I found myself asking God the next day: Can you bring something dead to life again?

For any Christian, this is a pretty silly, bordering on dumb, question, considering our entire faith is dependent on believing God did bring Jesus from death to life again.

And then it clicked.  I just “crucified” this relationship.  It’s dead.  A shell of what once was.  When Jesus died, those three days before anyone knew he would be raised to life again must have been utter torture.  All hope was gone.  Everything they believed in felt as though it were now dead.  A person that was loved and good was dead.  Why didn’t God intervene and not allow Jesus to die?

Because God had better plans.  His silence was necessary.  He did not forget Jesus during those three days.  He felt the pain of death and loss.  But He restored Jesus to life.  And an even better, more glorious life.  He had to be silent for our sake.  He loves us so much that He remained silent when His own son was put to death, so that we could be saved.

I put to death something good.  Something beautiful.  It was the greatest sacrifice.  It causes me physical, indescribable pain.  It robs my sleep, it tires my eyes with tears.  But it was for a greater purpose I cannot yet see.

When I ask God if He can restore this dead thing to life again His answer is:

Look at Jesus.  Yes.  Not only will I bring life back into this shell of a relationship, but I will bring a better life into it.  I work all things together for my glory and for the good of my children.  And I will work your mess and Satan’s schemes against you for good.  The enemy cannot touch you and you have nothing to fear.  You are mine.  What feels like death now is temporary.  Life is coming.  The resurrection came.  I know it feels hopeless, child.  I know I feel distant, silent, and apathetic to your pain.  I was silent when my son died.  But I did it for you.  I did answer.  I am still in control, even in the silence.  You’re living between the death and resurrection.  Do you trust me?

Do you trust me?

-A Graceful Follower of Christ

 

Already, But Not Yet

I scrolled down the Instagram page of a girl I knew about from my home church. No, not that I knew – that I knew about.  She got married today.  Her new husband is the type of attractive some might find suspect.  It’s a little too perfect.  She has a hip job (does anybody still use the word “hip” as an adjective? Is that a thing?), she’s beautiful, she owns a home with her new husband, she has a dog, and she has lived across the world for a number of years and goes on adventures regularly.  Oh, and she’s my age, 22.  I saw her pictures and thought to myself, “Who’s taking all these perfect pictures?  Did she set up this picture to make it look as beautiful as possible?  Does she have your own cameraman following her around, or are all her friends just ridiculously artsy and like taking pictures of her life?” Don’t lie.  You’ve thought that way before too.

I look at my friends from undergrad.  They have apartments and full-time jobs.  Some are engaged, others are traveling the world or making immense and exciting career moves in their fields of study and moving up in the world.  Still others are enrolled in graduate school programs or are working at becoming debt free if they aren’t already.

Looking around, it feels like everybody else’s lives have begun, and I find myself wondering, “When will it be my turn, Lord?”  Will it ever be my turn, Lord?

As Christians, we live in this strange period of time called, “Already, but not yet.”  Jesus already paid our debt, but we’re not yet fully living in glory.  Death has already been defeated and yet we wait for it to be fully realized in Jesus’ return.  We know justice has already been promised, but yet we live in an unjust world waiting for things to be set right.

Already, but not yet.

And this is where I find my life.
It’s already begun, but it hasn’t started yet.
My life is going on and I’m attending seminary so that I can start living and doing what the Lord has placed a desire on my heart to do.  For me, that desire is to minister.  How I live my life now matters for my life then, and so it’s already begun, it’s just not fully realized yet.

The other night I asked the Lord to teach me how to wait and to show me my role as a woman.  *Cringe* go all the feminists.  Before you judge my words “role as a woman,” keep in mind I’m a woman seeking ordination as a campus minister.  And yes, I do believe men and woman have different roles they have been uniquely designed to carry out, neither being better or more important than the other.  But that’s another topic for another blog.

So I asked God to teach me how to wait.  Fantastic.  That’s what my undergrad small group leader would have classified as a “dangerous” prayer.  It’s essentially asking God to show you your weaknesses and make you uncomfortable while He works on them.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about waiting: I don’t like it.
I want control.  I want to decide when the things the Lord has promised will happen.  The Lord has shown me very clearly what my future will look like.  Those things have been promised to me by my Father.  But not yet.  I already have the promises of the Lord, but not yet.  I must wait.  I must go through this time of being refined and molded into the person He wants me to be so that I can be ready to receive those promises.

Last night I came upon Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

This short verse says so much.  First, “wait for the Lord” is repeated, which means we might want to pay attention.  Our timing is foolish compared to His.  We’re like a child saying we want the cookie now, unable to see the importance of dinner; He’s the Father seeing the need for nourishment first and knowing we’ll get the cookie when we’re ready for it.  Wait, we’re told.  Not a suggestion, a command.  We’re not running the show.

We’re also told in this verse to be strong and take courage in our hearts.  Waiting has always seemed fairly passive to me.  It’s the absence of action, right?  We need courage and strength in the middle of a battle, not when we’re sitting back home doing nothing.  In talking to God last night, I sounded like a whiny child, “But Dad, this is hard.  I don’t wanna wait.  Isn’t there another way?”  I was confronted with the idea that waiting takes just as much, if not more, strength and courage, than action.  It’s full, blind trust.

Is my son going to return home from war?
Am I going to get that job?
Is the cancer going to have the final say?
Am I going to be married?
Am I stuck being where I don’t want to live forever?

Wait.
Oh how much more strength that response takes.
We can’t see the big picture.  He can.  So wait for Him.  Take courage in your heart that He is the Good Father who loves you and wants to give you good gifts.  But not just for your sake (this isn’t the prosperity gospel) – it is ultimately to glorify His name.  You’re promised today, not tomorrow.  So live fully present in today and do what He’s asked of you for today, not seeking after the things coming later.

Stop trying to control the progress of your own life.  Stop trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together and making it all happen.  Stop striving after the things the Lord has said you’re not ready for yet.  He will surely give it to you in its time.  If you don’t have it now, then now is not the right time.  You are not the Lord of your life, so dethrone yourself.  Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!  Trust and look to Him, not your circumstances for they lie and He does not.

Embrace the already, but not yet.

-A Graceful Follower of Christ

 

The Necessity of Winter

Almost half a year ago (ew, I wish I didn’t calculate that), I moved out of the northeastern part of the United States to what I would consider the south.  The number one comment people made towards me was, “Oh, you’ll LOVE the winters there!”  I was told that I would still be far enough north to have four distinct seasons, but that the winters would be nice and mild.  I was told that at any hint of bad weather the state would shut down and call for a snow day.

Growing up and spending 22 years in the north, winter was never my favorite season.  In fact, I hated it.  Yeah sure, the snow looks beautiful when it first falls.  But it’s significantly less romantic when it’s piled in ten foot high brown heaps, and trampled on by muddy boots trying to shovel out cars to get to work on time.  The lack of sun makes me depressed, as it’s consistently gray and cloudy and cold for what feels likes endless months.  And to make it worse, life doesn’t “shut down” in the north when the weather is gross.  Negative 15 degrees and snowing?  Yeah, you have class.  And work.

I could write a novel.  How do I hate winter?  Let me count the ways… I hate being cold with no hope of feeling warm; I hate when the snow coming down is attacking my eyes and I can’t see where I’m going; I hate the little puddles that form at my ugly, clunky boots when I walk inside; I hate vacuuming up chunks of salt from my floor; I hate needing to set aside extra time before going anywhere to clear my car and defrost it; I hate the dead trees and earth and desperately miss the sight of green; I hate wearing wet socks all day because I accidentally stepped into snow deeper than expected and it made its way into my boots; I hate stretching out all my jeans by having to wear tights underneath them; I hate shivering to the point of physical pain to try to maintain body heat.

Yes, yes, I know. There are ways to look at and love winter and I understand.  But I find very little to enjoy about the season as a whole.  Naturally, this is why so many people said I would love the south.  But I discovered something fascinating this winter.  I don’t love southern winters.  I almost hate them MORE than northern winters.

Why?

Partially southern winters make me feel like a total wimp.  But beyond that fact, I hate them because they rob me of the joy of spring.

While some people live and breath winter, I live for the springtime. Yes, it’s rainy and cloudy and mucky and muddy.  But with spring comes hope.  The winter is at long last over.  Death is no more.  Life and color return to the earth.  The sun starts to make its appearance and warms my body up.  When spring comes, I actually have so much joy that the first day I don’t need to wear a coat, one will typically find me skipping outside because I can’t contain it. (This is not an analogy, but literal truth.  Yes, I skip when I’m happy.)

I LOVE the spring.

However, in living in the south this year, I’ve found no desire for spring to come.  It has basically felt like spring to me since around October and it’s now almost February.  My heart never experienced the depth of winter this year, and so my heart will also not experience the heights of spring.

My friends, miserable as it may feel to some of us, we need winter.  We need sorrow.  We need death.  We need to know it, feel it, and experience it for what it is.  Without it, we can never know true joy.  We can never know true life.  We can never know spring.

Part of what makes Easter Sunday so wonderful is understanding the devastation of Good Friday.  The Resurrection could never have happened if Jesus had not died.  There is no real life without death.  We cannot save our lives until we first die to them.  You will never have life and have to the fullest until you have also died to the fullest.

We need winter.  For without it there is no spring.

-A Graceful Follower of Christ

The Year of Prayer

For those of you who know me, you know that I called 2015 the Year of Promise.  Why?

The easy answer is because God told me it was.  I can’t explain it very well, but it was a big year of many promises being fulfilled, and many promises being made.  2015 was not just a big year in our world, but also personally.  As I reflect back on my life in 2015, I see all that the Lord has done.  It was the first full year I experienced the Lord as my Father; my brother came home from his deployment; I experienced prayers being answered and healing taking place in my life and among those close to me; I tasted the goodness of the future God has for me with women’s campus ministry; I graduated from undergrad with two degrees; I moved away from my home of 22 years and started a new life in a new state; I began seminary.  But more than anything, I experienced the goodness of the Lord.  I experienced His faithfulness as He continually fulfilled all that He promised He would.

And yet in 2015, I also heard many promises from the Lord that I simply don’t trust.  Among all the faithfulness and provisions of God, I still fail to trust what I cannot see.  In the same year that I felt closest to the Lord, I have never felt farther from Him. Where does this leave me?

Pointing back to Ephesians 3:14-19, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

KNOW the love of Christ.  It leaves me with knowledge.  My faith is not about how close I feel to the Lord.  My heart can be deceiving.  It comes from intimately knowing Him.  Beyond all feelings, beyond what my circumstances look like, beyond how unlikely His promises seem, I know that God is God and that He is trustworthy.  I know He wins.

Which brings me to 2016.  This year, God said it is the Year of Prayer.  This year I trust with the little faith I possess that through the prayers of me, His daughter, and you, His children, miracles will happen.
Through prayer, we will know the Lord.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…

-A Graceful Follower of Christ

Dear Social Media

This past week we celebrated Christmas.  The only people I saw on Christmas this year were through you.  I “celebrated” vicariously through the joy of others surrounded by loved ones.  But your pictures only amplified my reality, Social Media – I am alone and I am unhappy.  Yes true, my family was only right outside my locked doors, but I couldn’t look at them.  My hurt ran deep, my depression took residency in my spirit, and my life suddenly seemed not worth the living.  On a day when Christians should have the most hope, I felt utterly hopeless.

Someone said to me after I shared my struggles, “I wish people would post the truth on social media.”  What she wished for was that people would be vulnerable and show others who they really are.  What a different world this would be if her wish came true.

When I think about being a wife or mother someday, I often have unrealistic expectations.  Whether that be because I am an idealist, or because people only share the good, or (most likely) a mix of the two, I couldn’t tell you, Social Media.  I do know that if you were all I had to understand life by, I would be wildly mistaken for what to expect out of my own.  Some of the most impacting and important moments of growth for me  were during my college days.  I had the opportunity to be ministered to by a woman, married and with a little baby.  Because she’s a human, however, she didn’t like to be vulnerable.  But sometimes our pre-scheduled meetings didn’t line up with when her life looked like a neatly wrapped package.  Sometimes there would be toys all over her floor and unwashed dishes on the counter and in the sink.  Sometimes her baby would throw a tantrum or she had just had an argument with her husband.  Sometimes she hadn’t slept well and was struggling to be present.  It was in those moments I learned the most valuable lessons about life – it wasn’t perfect, no matter how good it looked on the outside.  She has a godly, adoring husband, and now two precious babies, and yet her life is not perfect.  She has doubts, fears, insecurities, struggles, heartache, good days and bad days just like me.  Those moments allowed me insight to know that I was not alone and I will never “arrive” to a perfect life – not in this lifetime, anyway.

Social Media, you are the hub of “perfect” people.  For who will show you a picture (or even be tagged in a picture), in which one thinks he/she looks fat, ugly, or unflattering?  Who will post a status saying they are suffering with depression, lonely, and wondering if their life has any meaning or purpose on Christmas Day for fear of being judged as dramatic and needy, or losing friends, or gaining unwanted attention?  Who will show the world not just the picture perfect moments but also the daily grind that is life, real life?

I’m not implying that the entire world needs to know each intimate detail of each individual’s life.  That would be unwise.  What I am saying is that others have a desperate need to know that each person’s life is not perfect and more fulfilling than their own.  Sometimes you don’t get an A on your test.  Sometimes you don’t get the job.  Sometimes you do argue with your loved ones.  Sometimes relationships do fall apart.  Sometimes you do sit alone on Christmas, wishing you weren’t alive.  Sometimes you do forget that your joy is found in the Lord, and not in the circumstances of your life.

Humans are creatures of jealousy and we compare ourselves to everyone around us, Social Media.  But let me be clear – the very people that we idolize are looking at others too, convinced that others possess what they think they do not.  Not a single person is satisfied without Christ, regardless of whether someone else thinks they should be or not.  In looking at others, human beings will never find satisfaction.

And so, Social Media, I declare today that my value does not come from who does or does not like my picture, post, or comment.  My day is not a good one when I am complimented and a bad one when I am torn down.  My identity does not come in the form of another’s opinion.  My joy, my identity, my purpose, Social Media, do not come from you.  They come from my Father in Heaven.

In that confidence from Him I can say my life is not perfect.  And neither is yours, Social Media.  No matter how good it looks on the outside.

Be encouraged.

 

-A Graceful Follower of Christ.

The Faithful Sunrise

I had a long night.

Over the course of two hours I cried to the Lord on my knees, called my best friend who spoke the Lord’s wisdom into my life, and ended the phone call praying again and blessing the Lord in song with her. It took two hours, but God changed my heart from one of bitterness and confusion to one of blessing and praise and thanksgiving, despite the confusion and chaos of my life.  I have no idea what God is doing, but I know (after being reminded) He is good and worthy of praise, and so I can have peace and rest in that truth.

I finally got off the phone and went to sleep. It was 2am and I had to be up early for work the next morning. Miracle of all miracles, I woke up on time. I looked out the window of the guest room I’ve been staying in for the weekend, and there I saw it: the sunrise.

I don’t remember the last time I saw the sunrise. Either I’m simply not awake for it, or I’m at work or school during it. But this morning I saw it. The orange piercing the blue sky in streaks behind the shadowed trees.

All I could think for the next hour was, “Your mercies are new each morning.” So I looked up the verses in Lamentations chapter 3.  It read,

“My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance had perished; so has my hope from the LORD.’ Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to and end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” (emphases added).

As I said, I don’t know what God is doing in my life.  But I know that He is faithful to His promises whether or not I see it or understand.  His love is faithful.  I’ve been blinded to it in many ways, but He opened my eyes today to the revelation that His very creation reflects His faithfulness.  The sunrise comes each day without fail.  The sunset comes each night without fail.  The seasons change each year in their time without fail.  He has given me a world that I can look at and physically see its faithfulness so that I can know that He too is faithful.  When I inevitably forget how He has been faithful in my own life, all I need to do is step outside and open my eyes.  Staring me right in the face is the proof of His faithfulness in every part of creation.  The very earth shouts of it.

His promises are true.  He is faithful to fulfill them.  He is faithful to love me, recklessly, foolishly, without a single condition.

I can trust the sunrise.  I have hope in the sunrise.

Therefore I can trust God.  I can place my hope in the Father who loves me without fail.

-A Graceful Follower of Christ

A Song to Meditate On

 

 

Camp Days

Once upon a time, I went to summer camp. Every day. For 8 weeks. Every summer. I have spent years trying to block this time of my life out of my head.

That being said, it is odd that I’ve been thinking about my camp days so much lately. Don’t misunderstand me – there were certainly many great things about that camp (climbing a 30 foot rock wall and zip-lining down, spending a week each summer in a tent and singing around a bonfire, hiking to a lake to go canoeing, making all of the lanyard keychains, doing team activities, playing games, etc). But these were also days of awkwardness, insecurities, and pain for me. Days of being the outcast. Days when I often found myself going home and crying because I felt so cast aside and unpopular.

I was eight years old when I started going to that camp.  My parents had just gotten divorced, and my mother needed to work every day to pay the bills. She got a job cleaning a Christian camp, and so my brother and I were able to go to camp every day for the whole summer for free. Honestly, looking back, it was a huge gift to my mother.

And so I went to camp. Every day. For 8 weeks. Every summer. I saw many of the same faces each week, but I was shy. For those of you who know me today, this is probably the biggest plot twist to the story as I am the farthest thing from shy now. But I promise you, there was a time in life (17 years to be exact) when I was shy. I wouldn’t talk to people at all if I could avoid it. I felt like everyone was judging me and that they thought I was ugly and unlovable, and so I stayed as far away from attention as I could get.

I distinctly remember being different from the other kids. Especially the girls. They showed up every day with clothing that was cute and matching, but also that fit them. I had lived on hand-me-downs, and most of the clothing I had was too big. Partly because I am a very tiny person, but partly because we couldn’t afford to buy new clothes, especially when I would grow out of them. The other girls always had really beautiful hair. It looked like their mom had spent time braiding it or putting it up in a cute way. I had a terrible haircut that made me look boy-ish. It wasn’t long enough to even pretend to put it up, and there was no way my mom was spending more than a few seconds doing my hair. The other kids wore sandals and had painted toenails. My mom made me wear sneakers and socks to protect my feet. To top it off, I smelled like bug spray and sunblock. I rarely witnessed another kid’s parent making them put on bug spray or sunblock.

To put it in other words: I wasn’t popular. And I certainly wasn’t the pretty girl.

I looked back on old camp photos a few months ago and asked my mom, “Why did you let me out of the house like this? I look terrible!”
She shrugged and said, “It wasn’t a fashion show. You were outside playing. You dressed in what we had.”

It made sense, but I wasn’t satisfied. I still today look at other women and see how they dress and how they do their hair and make-up and wonder, “Why did my mom never teach me these things? Perhaps I’d have a shot of being pretty if she only spent the time showing me how.”

Why am I telling you all of this? So you can relive your own awkward camp days? And maybe for some extra fun, we can talk about Middle School?

I tell you this, because I had a realization in the shower today. Yes, showers are the best places for deep thinking.
As I pondered on my old camp days and remembered the insecurities I felt and still feel even now, I started to remember who my best friends at camp were. I recognize it’s odd to say I had to remember who my best friends were, but as I said, I tried hard to block much of these days from my mind, and also, best friends in camp are different than best friends in the rest of life. Here are the three best friends I had in camp:

  1. A black boy my age who had an Afro and was named Macon. Yes. Macon. Yes. It rhymes with bacon. I loved playing with him. We made lanyards together, even creating our own design at one point, and picked up cool rocks to collect and show each other during hikes. People made fun of Macon because of his name, his hair, and he was also pretty loud so some people got annoyed with him. I was his only friend. I didn’t think twice about it.
  2. A girl a year older than me with Down’s syndrome who had her own personal helper with her all the time. I loved them both deeply. We played a matching game with cards and sat next to each other at every activity. I would make her lanyards and teach her how to do it herself. She couldn’t pass the swim test to swim in the deep end, so I stayed back and swam with her in the shallow end. We’d take turns seeing who could hold their breath longer. Again, I was her only friend. Again, I didn’t think twice about it.
  3. Another boy my age whose mom cleaned the camp with my mom. His parents had recently gotten divorced because his mother found out that his father had been physically and sexually abusing him. Because of this he had physical problems and couldn’t hold his bladder. He frequently smelled like poop and kids made fun of him. He was too embarrassed to tell the counselors he needed help when he went to the bathroom in his pants, and so I would pretend not to notice and go quietly tell a counselor he needed help when no one was paying attention. But he was kind and made me laugh. Again, friendless.  Again, I didn’t care and befriended him anyway.

These were my best friends. It took me over a decade to finally realize today that this was somewhat weird. I was only close friends with the socially outcast. Perhaps because I was one as well on some level, but I also had other friends who were slightly more popular and well-liked. I just preferred these three. And I never once thought to be their friend because I felt sorry for them. I genuinely loved each of them and enjoyed their company. I didn’t even see them as different from anybody else until today as I thought about it.

Here’s my shower realization: My mother did it right. She DID teach me how to be beautiful. I didn’t know it at the time, or even years later. But my mother taught me what the important things in life were – to love God, and to love His people, unconditionally, without questioning their status in the eyes of the world.

Perhaps I was never the beauty queen or most popular. Perhaps I looked funny giving up my privilege to swim in the deep end so I can swim in the 3 foot end with my friend. Perhaps I sat out of a lot of games so that my friend who couldn’t play would have somebody to talk to. Perhaps I spent a lot of time sitting next to a boy who literally smelled like poop. Perhaps I associated myself with people that would make me look like a loser and get laughed at.
But I loved these people. I loved and I loved without question. I loved others the way God loves me. Jesus too associated Himself with the outcast. One of my best friends recently told me during a phone call, “You remind me of God’s love more than anyone else.” Not only was that the most humbling compliment I had ever received, but also I’d take that over a good haircut any day.

And so I say to myself again, “Why did my mom never teach me how to be beautiful? Perhaps I’d have a shot of being pretty if she only spent the time showing me how.”

I understand now, Mom.

You did. You really did.

-A Graceful Follower of Christ

 

My Question

It was like a light switch when it happened.  It was almost immediate, with no warning signs of its arrival.

I had enjoyed four glorious years in undergrad of almost complete confidence in who I was and what I looked like.  For any woman, that is big news. Almost unbelievable.  Bear with me.

Growing up, I didn’t have internet or television influencing me regularly and telling me what I should or shouldn’t look like.  I never spent hours looking at my body in the mirror picking it apart, nor did I tamper with any ways of changing myself physically.  I only recently learned what a cuticle was, and learned how to pick my body apart by having roommates in college.  I didn’t even realize there were so many things to dislike about oneself until living with other women.  While I always felt uncomfortable with certain aspects of my face and body, wishing with all my might that I could change a few things and thinking I was ugly because of them, there came a time of freedom from those lies.  It was during my senior year of high school.  I started to see myself as God saw me – a work of art.  Each aspect I despised was actually what made me uniquely me.  I finally got that.  For real.

Throughout college I understood that as well.  I found myself beautiful even on my “ugly” days when I didn’t look my best.  I didn’t find a need to wear make-up because I felt beautiful without it.  When I did wear make-up, I just felt extra beautiful.  Every time I looked at myself in the mirror, I legitimately smiled.  (Yes, I was that person you didn’t think existed).  But there I was – God’s daughter, shining with His beauty from the inside out.  I saw it.  I didn’t need someone else to tell me, I didn’t crave the compliments of others to get me through the day, and I didn’t need to prove myself to anyone.  I rested in who I was in God’s eyes.  I enjoyed the compliments of others as a simple gift, not a lifeline for survival.  I started figuring out my clothing style and how I liked to put myself together, but not for the sake of trying to prove my beauty to the world.  Rather because I was finding my identity in Christ and allowing myself to be fully me in freedom.  In this freedom, I also enjoyed the ability to appreciate the beauty of those around me, without comparing myself to them.  I know, this sounds like I’m making it up and I’m perfect, neither of which are true, but this was the real deal.  This was my reality.

But then it happened.  I turned 22.  The flip switched.  Suddenly my identity was under attack, and I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was.

All at once I found myself thinking I wasn’t enough.  The thoughts come still today (and so I write this to remind myself as much as anyone else), unrelenting, unceasing: I’m not pretty enough.  How does she always look so beautiful? Why can’t I be like her?  I’m not adventurous enough. My life is boring and my dreams are small.  Maybe I’m not a very good friend.  Should I get make-up lessons?  Should I change my style?  Should I change my hair?  Maybe I should spend money on fixing my body?  Why I am struggling with my beauty? I don’t want to be like every other girl. I thought I was over this. 

These are all thoughts I have had in the past five months and still today.  If this isn’t the definition of an attack on one’s identity, I’m not sure what is.

So what do I do with this?
The world tells me that I should live for myself, make myself happy, not worry about what anybody else thinks.  The only person’s opinion that matters is mine, says the world.  Live for myself.  Love myself.  If I can just love myself, that will fix everything.

But that doesn’t satisfy me.  First of all, there is not enough strength within me on my own to not care about what other people may think.  Secondly, the more I focus on myself, the more problems I find.  The more I focus on me and me alone, the more miserable I feel.  I simply cannot conjure up the love within myself to love myself deeply enough to satisfy me.

I used to have a question: Am I beautiful?

It took 17 years for me to answer, “Yes, I am beautiful,” to that question.  While I might not be physically attractive to every person, I am still beautiful.  I understand that.

So wait, if I understand I’m beautiful, what am I struggling with?
My next question.
Now I ask: Am I beautiful enough?

To that my answer is no.  I’m not enough.  I fall short every time I compare myself to someone else.  Every time.

So if loving myself does not satisfy, what option do I have left other than accept my misery?

I believe the answer is not within myself, but outside of myself.
No, not within the affirmations of other people.  Instead, within the unwavering, unchangeable truths of God.  When I look outside myself, and I focus my attention on God’s truth by asking, “Who do YOU say I am?” the answer is the same each and every time for He does not change.

You, Beloved, are my image bearer.  You reflect Me.  And that is where your beauty comes from.

My beauty does not come from the right make-up routine or tricks, the right outfits, the right hairstyle, or the right weight.  My beauty doesn’t even come from me loving myself and having confidence in myself.

My beauty comes from my confidence in the Lord and who He says I am.  He has created me IN HIS IMAGE.  He is the most beautiful thing in the world.  He is more stunning than any sunset, mountain, ocean, star, or jewel.  His beauty is so much that it would overwhelm us to take it all in at once.  And I am made in that very likeness.  I am created to show His beauty to a world in desperate need of it.

The world is right about one thing – what other people think truly does not matter.  Even affirmations can only satisfy so much.
But I believe their conclusion is wrong.  What I think about me doesn’t matter either.  Because my beauty doesn’t come from me loving me.  It has been bestowed upon me by an outside source, and it cannot be taken away, regardless of what I think.  It is a truth I cannot do anything about.  I have been called beautiful, and so I do not have to question it, affirm it, or focus on it.  It simply is.

Back to my question: Am I beautiful enough?

When I look to my Maker, that question ceases to exist.
I can rest assured in His beauty.  Therefore, I can rest assured in my beauty.

There is no longer a need for comparison.  I can simply enjoy the beauty around me, knowing I have the privilege to partake in it.

And so do you, beautiful reader.

-A Graceful Follower of Christ