Unfiltered: because the world needs more vulnerability.

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i.

 

It has been much too long since I have sat myself down to write. In the past months, exhausting and chaotic as they have been, I have lived.

 

I have mourned things that would never come to be. I have both sat on the floor of my room sobbing for hours, as well as driven myself to the beach in the middle of winter to dance with joy, alone on the shore, letting my feet be tickled by the ocean waves.

 

I have spent countless hours with friends, working through relationship issues and talking through breakups. I have attended Bible studies, and I have made too many commitments. I have scrubbed floors and washed thousands of dishes and cooked too many complicated dinners.

 

I have stayed up late to get work done, and gotten up with the sun some mornings. I have slept through too many of my alarms, eaten too much ice cream, spent too many hours on social media, and then realized how empty I really felt.

 

I have gotten on planes and braved hours of traffic to hug precious friends from all over, and have gone to coffee shops by myself and pored over my laptop with an overpriced cappuccino trying to force myself to absorb information. I have passed exams, and I have failed them. I have lived up to my own expectations, and I have failed myself too.

 

I have lived with a free and contented heart, rejoicing in both the goodness of God and the sweetness of my circumstances, and I have laid in bed late at night and realized the depression I thought I had beat and the loneliness that came along with it never truly went away.

 

I have prayed apathetically and worshiped sporadically. I have studied the Bible intensely, and I have pleaded with God wildly.

 

I have read books. I have gone exploring. I have lost people I was holding too tightly onto, and have grieved over the people I have disappointed.

 

And in all of that, through the joys and the sorrows, I have become exhausted – too tired to let myself think, but in not letting myself contemplate, become even more drained with the seemingly meaningless chaos my life has consisted of.

 

ii.

 

I find a script in my head, a list of the things I say to myself to manage it all. Something to settle the cognitive dissonance, to translate the confusion into something I thought I could swallow:

 

I tell myself I am all alone.

I tell myself I have to be strong, independent, guarded, and fearless.

I tell myself that love is for everyone else, but not for me.

I tell myself I am not enough, I am not wanted, I am too much.

 

So what do I fill my life with more of? More Facebook (newsflash: social media is NOT good for the soul). More Netflix (oh, all it does is distract). More striving to be someone I think I have to be (living another’s life and calling is completely wearying). More commitments (why do I think I have to be so busy?). More friendships forged in my own strength (ah, but to live out of obligation and not out of love serves no one).

 

In all of this, I have discovered something about myself – something uncomfortable and unbeautiful, but something so integrally part of me nonetheless: I have always lived in pursuit of something.

 

In shameless pursuit of something else, something more, something bigger and better or maybe even worse, but something.

 

In sixth grade I created a plan to be done with high school math and teaching myself calculus by eighth grade. That never happened, but I was so, so determined, and I felt like a horrible human being for not reaching the ridiculous goal I set before myself. Achievement was my addiction.

 

In seventh grade I was consumed with memorizing Scripture, with bringing my friends to youth group with me, with making sure I brought my Bible every week. I made sure I was always wearing shorts that went down to my knees, never anything form-fitting and especially never sitting next to or hugging boys. My rigid, exaggerated version of holiness was my vice, and I thought I was succeeding.

 

In ninth grade, I created a plan to read the entire Bible, four chapters a day, starting in January and finishing in October. While the discipline of reading Scripture was good for my heart, I fell into a pattern of obsessive obligation, not reading about my Lord because I loved Him.

 

The very same year, I’d skipped the grade before and told myself I’d be done with high school at sixteen and college at eighteen. I was pursuing my depiction of success at the expense of my sanity, and ended up dropping a class and a half because they were eating away at my soul and I was finding myself in a puddle of tears at midnight at least once a week.

 

I pursued being good. I pursued being smart. I pursued having everything all together, being everything to everyone, being right and sweet and a slave to perfectionism.

 

In eleventh grade, my world was rocked and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was not seen or known, and I did not know if I was loved. I was afraid to embrace all of who I was. And it was then, I think, that I really let myself hang onto grace, because it was all I had left.

 

iii.

 

I read 1 Corinthians 12:9 over and over, internalizing what this verse meant for me, for my faith, for my life.

 

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

 

I had quoted this verse for years. I had written it on index cards. I remember walking upstairs to my room one day years ago, this verse echoing in my head, and thinking, “But what does that even mean?”

 

I had lived so long with the idea that grace was not for me. Sure, it covered my salvation, but in return, I had to live the identity of the good girl in return.

 

But when I finally realized how imperfect I was, I reached for grace. When I realized how weak I was, I reached for grace. And I found it.

 

But I wasn’t prepared for the creeping lies of perfectionism and depression to visit me again.

 

Here’s what I’m learning in the midst of the mess: when we listen to the lies that tell us we’re not enough or we’re too much, that we have to be everything to everyone, that we are a burden to those around us, that we are not loved and we are on our own and that the desires of our heart will not be met by God, we are not accepting the fullness of what grace offers. Because while Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection happened once two thousand years ago, grace is not limited to one historical event.

 

Grace says, you are not good enough on your own, but because of Christ, you are whole, you are clean, you are renewed in all the fullness of life and the Spirit of the living God lives inside of you. And therefore, you ARE good enough. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 8:11)

 

Grace says, you are never without hope because Jesus Christ came to give us abundant life, whether in this world or in Heaven. (John 10:10)

 

Grace says, the perfection you long for on this earth is met in Him, and while the desire for perfection exists because we were designed in total goodness, even though this world is broken all perfection is achieved in Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:10)

 

iv.

 

I think we’ll always have pieces of our life we don’t like that we have to deal with, something I refer to loosely as ‘our things.’ We all have our things that hold us back, that keep us up at night, that we can let hold us captive. Maybe it’s anxiety, or despair, or perfectionism, or bitterness, or hopelessness, or fear. Whatever your thing is, the part of you that you hate bringing out into the open because vulnerability is uncomfortable and it’s easier to smile and make it look like you’ve got everything all together, the battle to overcoming begins with a complete acceptance of grace.

 

It’s waking up in the morning and saying, “Lord, I know You love me. Thank you for giving everything for me.”

 

Fill your days and your mental scripts with small prayers like mini letters to the Creator of the universe, words penned in the heart, held firmly onto even when it’s hard to see and breathe.

 

“On my own, I’m not enough. But You make me enough, God, so thank You.”

 

“I am wearied by life, Jesus, so thank You for bearing my burdens.”

 

“Life feels so hard right now, but I thank You that You have overcome the world and I’m never hopeless in You.”

 

“Thank You that You see me as clean and new and right in Your sight. It’s hard to feel, but I know it’s true, so help me believe it, my God.”

 

“Faithful You have been, and faithful You will be. Help me hold onto this truth, Lord, that You’ve never forsaken me, and You never will. Thank You.”

 

I am convinced that the acceptance of grace is wild and messy and filled with thousands of thank-you-Lord prayers over and over, even when God’s presence is hard to feel in the moments of grief and uncertainty and exhaustion. It is reading Scripture when we do not feel like it, because the Lord is so, so good, regardless of our emotions. It is staying rooted in the Word of God so our minds are renewed in the reality of His goodness and faithfulness.

 

v.

 

Right now, I’d like to wrap this up in a neat little bow and say I’ve got it all figured out now, but I don’t. I’d like to say it’s as simple as praying for five minutes and reading a chapter of the Bible each day, but if it were, none of us would still be struggling.

 

But here’s what I do know:

 

God has not abandoned you, nor forsaken you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

God looks at your soul and feels only love towards you. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

When you wonder if you’re enough, you are, because in Jesus, all his holiness and goodness has been credited to your account. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

You have permission to fully live out the uniqueness of the person God created YOU, individually and specifically, to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

There is nothing you can do to earn grace – it is not a loan that needs paying back, but a free, underserved gift that’s completely, totally yours for the taking. (Titus 3:4-7)

 

And know this – unpopular and heretical as it may sound, hear this out – if you did absolutely nothing to change your life after meeting Jesus, if you only believed on His name for salvation and nothing else – you are still just as saved as if you had lived a life of ceaseless devotion. The love of Jesus is not conditional, nor do we have to pay for some maintenance plan to ‘keep grace.’ (Ephesians 2:8-9)

 

If grace is dependent on us, it is not grace. If unconditional love is based on our works, it is not unconditional. If the love of God is earned, it is not a gift, but a business transaction.

 

I want to invite you into a space of vulnerability here – to open the platform for us all to say, We don’t have it all figured out, but we’re resting in the God Who does.”

 

If you’ve ever been caught up in the game of pursuit, of going after that next thing either because you think it’ll make you content or just that you have to in order to be enough, I want to invite you into what I’m walking through. I want to invite you into a life of resting in Jesus, above all else, because He has already pursued you and all you have to do is reach out your hand and say, “I accept your grace and I want to dance in the joy of what You’ve done for me.”

 

Let’s dance in joy over this lovely, wild, messy grace we are invited to partake in. We were called to live in freedom – so let’s live free, full of thank-yous and rooted in the truth of the gospel of grace.

 

aj 2

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Real Life: grace, twinkle lights, depression, & me.

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If you met me today, you’d be meeting a pretty normal girl. I like coffee, and cozy sweaters, and reading, and smiling, and driving, and Chick-fil-A.

 

And I really, really love Jesus.

 

If we had a conversation, we might talk about how I like your hair, where we’re each from, or what our day-to-day lives look like. I might ask you if you like coffee or tea better, what makes you feel alive, what your favorite ridiculous bad jokes are, or how I could be praying for you.

 

Sometimes I think we only let the world see one side of us, and today, I’m here to say that it’s okay to be a lot of things. It’s so important to be you, every ounce of the you that God designed you to be.

Continue reading “Real Life: grace, twinkle lights, depression, & me.”

Enough: my battle with the hustle, the stress, and the busy, and how I found rest

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It’s Saturday morning.

 

Rainy and chilly, I tiptoe across the living room carpet, coffee in hand, hair thrown haphazardly into a messy bun. I breathe.

 

After a week of running fast and hard, it’s finally quiet. No more hustle. Just me. It’s a refreshing change of pace, but I find my mind spinning with thoughts to make up for the lack of stimulation in tasks, math problems, and meals to cook.

 

I think about how much I absolutely adore New York City. I love the noise, the lights, the crowds, the pace. I’m enamored with the culture, the resilience, the opportunities.

 

But maybe, sometimes, I identify with it a little too much? I fill my life with faster, louder, more, more, more. I say YES and tack more onto my to-do list, put more friends and meetings on my calendar, apply to serve in my church more and more and more and more – and then I collapse. Hard.

 

Because I tell myself I can’t rest, I shouldn’t take the time to be refreshed. And it’s not as though I don’t rest – just that often, those times are laden with feelings of guilt.

 

Because don’t I need to do more? Be more? Write more? Work more? Study more? Sing more? Don’t I need to prove that I can be independent, capable, and strong? That I can meet people’s expectations?

 

Don’t I need to prove that I’m enough? Continue reading “Enough: my battle with the hustle, the stress, and the busy, and how I found rest”

How the Done List Saved My Sanity & Refreshed My Faith

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If you couldn’t tell from any of my previous posts, I’m one of those classic Type-A, list-writing, goal-driven, oftentimes perfectionistic girls.

 

I’ve written about how much this affects my life – about how it’s caused me to struggle with accepting grace, accepting my worth, and living fully, freely, wholly.

 

But this year, this 2017, I’ve implemented some things into my life that have helped me make grace tangible, my faith just as a part of my life as every other thing on my lists.

 

And the first thing is my Done List.

 

Many people in the world have to-do lists; whether chicken-scratched on a loose scrap of paper, dictated into Evernote, or perfectly printed in a notebook, we’re all familiar with the concept. It’s our own human way of organizing our lives, of creating little goals with checkboxes and a dose of self-motivation thrown in.

 

But I don’t use to-do lists. I use something called a Done List.

Continue reading “How the Done List Saved My Sanity & Refreshed My Faith”

Returning Again to The Everlasting Promises

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I’m back to the beginning again.

 

It’s funny – sometimes I think I’ve got it all figured out.

 

I write these posts, I journal, I speak, I talk with friends – and sometimes, I feel like I’ve solved everything. Like I have all the answers, and that maybe, this time, I’ll really have control of my life.

 

Ironically, however, I think I’ve got it all covered and then I struggle again.

 

I write about true identity being found in Christ and yet I find myself playing the comparison game, over and over.

 

I write about hope in pain, and soon after I find myself, once again, stumbling in the darkness, losing faith in any light.

 

I write about living in grace and the very next day I battle overwhelming guilt and shame.

 

And here’s the kicker – all this leads to is more guilt.

 

There’s a whisper in my head, reminiscent of the Serpent in Genesis 3, saying, “Did God really say His grace covered everything?”

Continue reading “Returning Again to The Everlasting Promises”

When Your Soul is Longing to Be Enough

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Enough.

 

I have a love/hate relationship with that word; the whole concept of adequacy and fullness.

 

Because deep inside of me, there’s this longing to be truly enough…and an aching dread that I never will be.

 

I know that sounds extremely un-Christian and negative, so please do hear me out. This is something I think really needs to be addressed.

 

In a world that seems to require perfection, how can we, as imperfect humans, truly live freely?

Continue reading “When Your Soul is Longing to Be Enough”

Jesus Has Made You Enough (Hebrews Bible Study: Week 10)

Jesus Has Made You Enough (Hebrews Bible Study- Week 10)

Welcome to the tenth week of our Hebrews Bible Study, everyone! This week we’re contemplating Hebrews 10, one of the fullest and most exciting chapters in all of Hebrews. I know I keep saying this, but Hebrews 10 is seriously another favorite chapter in this book.

 

Grab your favorite drink and a Bible, and come glean truth with us. You’re welcome to start right here, even if you haven’t read all (or any) of the previous ones. However, if you’d like to, feel free to read through the past nine weeks’, listed below.

Continue reading “Jesus Has Made You Enough (Hebrews Bible Study: Week 10)”

There Is Always Grace

There Is Always Grace

 

I’ve been really stressed out this week.

 

You’d think that for a girl who wrote about stress as the very first topic in her book, that I’d be all set.

 

But I’m not.

 

People that try to say that stress is nonexistent are wrong, because it totally does exist. And I’m wary to admit it, but stress does consume me sometimes, especially on weeks like this.

 

(I promise I won’t talk about my problems too much; I just want to give you guys some background.)

 

Most of you know that I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month. I was doing great, but then I had a week of driver’s ed.

 

That was all last week. Six hours a day, five days in a row, on what was supposed to be my vacation. It wasn’t terrible, it really wasn’t, but it completely sapped my energy and I wrote a total of 300 words in that entire week, when I can usually write 300 in ten minutes. A writing rut, folks.

 

*cue dramatic sighing*

 

Plus, I have some things going on Friday through next week and I’m a little frazzled.

 

Well, maybe “a little” is an understatement. But I digress.

 

The point I want to make here is that as Christians, we try to come up with all these “cures” and “reliefs” for stress, when in reality, we’re only masking the problems. Things like “believing harder” or “confessing our sinfulness” or something.

 

We’re not really dealing with the issue of being stressed, we’re just telling ourselves that we shouldn’t be. But that isn’t fixing anything.

 

Before you write me off as super-religious, vague, and unhelpful, let me attempt to explain what I mean.

 

Stress, in and of itself, is not bad. In fact, it can be helpful when trying to achieve a goal. Deadlines are beneficial, and a little extra adrenaline never hurt anyone. Stress can motivate us to just do it.

 

But the scary part comes in when we’re so overwhelmed by stress that we let it overtake us. We let our feelings consume us and blind us to the hope we have.

 

Instead of letting stress dictate how we live our lives, we can live in grace. We can know that failing does not make us failures, as I wrote about on Saturday. We can know that we are loved no matter what we do, instead of thinking that our worth is based on our performance. We can know that nothing can separate us from Christ’s love.

 

I believe that much of our stresses revolve around having to get things done.

 

For me, this week, it’s studying enough for my test on Monday, completing 6,000 more words before Saturday, and juggling life on top of that.

 

Part of me is screaming “I CAN’T DO ALL THIS!” because it probably is too much, in the first place. But the other part of me is listening to the lies that are telling me it’s the end of the world if:

1) I fail my test,

2) I don’t get 6k written by the end of the week,

3) I miss another commitment,

4) I keep forgetting to respond to my emails,

5) I don’t write one blog post,

6) I let my friends down,

7) I don’t get to read quickly through the books people are depending on me to review.

 

I have this weight that’s pulling me down, because I feel like I have to do everything, and everything flawlessly. Is that possible? No. Do I make myself try anyway, and crush myself in the process? Why yes, yes I do. Is it smart or wise? Absolutely not. Do I know this? Yes, I do.

 

So what is wrong with me???

 

I have let stress overtake me and affect my thoughts.

 

I have decided to forget the truths in the Bible that remind me that I need not be perfect. I’ve forgotten the fact that my sins, NEVERMIND MY TEENY LITTLE MISTAKES, were all covered at The Cross. I’ve forgotten that the problems of the world are not my own, that I’m not responsible for other people, that it won’t kill off the world’s population if I take a little break from blogging.

 

God’s truths of grace and love do not depend on how well I live my life. If they did, I’d be in trouble. His grace stands in the places where I need it most, and His love endures when I feel the most unlovable.

 

Maybe I’m writing this post just for me today. Maybe I’m the only one that needs to remember that stress doesn’t have to control every hour of my life.

 

Maybe I’m the only one that needs a reminder of renewed grace for each day. Maybe I’m the only one that needs to be encouraged, especially when I do fail (because I’m very far from perfect).

 

Maybe I’m the only one that needs to be reminded to do MY best, and not necessarily expect myself to do THE best. I’ll do the best I can, but not beat myself up over what I wasn’t capable of.

 

But if that’s you too, please know that you’re not alone.

 

If you’re stressed out of your mind, I won’t try to “fix it,” I’ll only say this. You are not alone. You do not have to handle everything yourself; take some pressure off. And I promise, there is always grace for you.

 

*aj