“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” Brennan Manning

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hiding Behind a Smile

I smile a lot.

Sometimes it means I'm happy. Sometimes excited,
but sometimes it's a mask because I'm afraid to show my true emotions.

I don't want to drag people down and be a burden so I put on a smile and act like all is well. Fear and shame have kept me bound. "I'm too sensitive and insecure. I should just get over it. Really, I am no good and unlovable," are lies I've believed. What if I push you away?

My answer has been to hide - hide my pain, fear, and shadow side behind a smile. It protects me from being honest, keeping my life safely concealed.

Silently, I cry, "Help me," but I can not seem to muster up the courage to speak. I keep myself locked up in shame and self-contempt. I punish myself for having longings to be cherished and loved. I convince myself that if anyone saw the real me, they would snicker and judge - disapprove and discard. But I'm desperate for you to see through my facade, to hear my cries, and accept me for who I am. I want to know that my life counts - that I'm worth it.

Rejection, betrayal, and abuse are hard to just 'get over.' When trust is broken again and again, the risk to be vulnerable seems too great. Every time you're hurt, you add another layer of bricks to wall off your heart.

"I will never trust anyone again," I told myself when I was 13. I learned that one does best to bury her feelings and pain, and just put on a smile. Look good, work hard, and make everyone happy - that's the way to survive in this world.

While this works for a while, the blanket of denial and burden of grief becomes unbearable. Hopelessness, depression, and despair made me question, "Who am I? What's the point of my life?"

I saw myself a corpse lying on the floor wondering how I got here. What do I do? There's no one I can trust, no safe place to be. I am all alone - lost.

Thankfully, Jesus seeks the lost. He is near the brokenhearted. He sets the captives free. He is relentless in His pursuit and unwavering in His love. He captures me with His loving embrace and I let Him see ME just as I am. I weep.

He doesn't want my smile on the outside when I'm dying on the inside. He enters into my pain and suffers with me. He doesn't scold me for where I am. He accepts me just as I am. He covers my shame and calms my fears.

I am safe in Him. His promise to never leave my side comforts me. I am free to just be me and that's enough.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Free to Be You!

We come as we are. Don’t we always come as we are? Just whether we reveal ourselves to one another depends... Am I safe? Will they approve of me? What if they disagree and I am shut down? What if they can’t understand? What if they don’t believe me? For me, the biggest hindrance is the lie that my story isn’t worth listening to.

We all have insecurities and fears along with hope and dreams, and it’s a battle to trust and believe that we are loved - just. as. we. are. We don’t have to prove our worth to anyone - Jesus already proved our value by paying the highest price for us - His very life! We don’t have to hide - He will never put us to shame and even when we fail, He still approves. We are free to take risks, live our dreams, and just be honestly true to who He made us to be.

This is not an easy road to travel and living loved means taking risks. We all get down sometimes, and we need people in the arena with us to remind us who we really are - forgiven, loved, pre-approved.

It’s a fight to live life alive, to show our truest selves, to come out of hiding. To be vulnerable takes courage, but when we can be honest with one another, we open our hearts to healing and connection. We open our hearts to the greatest gift of all, Love.

Circled up, we each introduce ourselves and proclaim that we are grateful believers in Jesus Christ living in this broken world in which we all have struggles. I’ve never been in an environment where people are safe to share their own personal deep struggles and be lifted up and encouraged, but it is a beautiful thing to behold. It is pure grace.

Honest hearts spill forth and it is a sacred offering to our Lord. I can relate to every. one. In sharing our burdens, we know that we are not alone.

One woman confesses her addiction to food for comfort and how God is helping her to turn to Him step by step.

Another tells of her husband’s recent relapse and the pain and struggle to trust and love him even in his addiction.

In tears, one woman tells of the deep struggle of loneliness and the grief of coming from a broken family - struggling with envy when she sees others in happy homes and is reminded that hers is not.

Others share about dealing with anger and unforgiveness.

A young woman breaks as she shares how someone was kind to her in a way she had never experienced and it touched her deep - a love message from her Daddy-God.

Some pass with no judgement, just love and acceptance. We understand.

A mother eagerly awaiting to embrace her two children from a foreign land shares her deep longing to hold them close, safe and home, but is faced with unrealistic demands for paperwork that is out of her control. She shares how this trial brought her to a breaking point, feeling angry towards God "because if He cared,He would help." She told God she no longer believed, but as she escaped in her music, a song she never heard came on about trusting in God’s unconditional love. The lyrics repeated over and over again, “I will bring her home. I will bring her home. I will bring her home.” The words pierced her heart, and she said for the first time, she knew God’s love - not just in her head, but she felt it in her heart. Tears streamed down our faces - together. This is Holy Ground.

My turn came around. I confessed my deepest struggle is hating myself - not believing what God says about me - that I am His beloved daughter and I don’t have to do anything to earn it. Yet, even in my unbelief, God is doing miracles all around me. It’s like the walls of Jericho in my heart and in my life are falling down, and I picture Jesus carrying me through the rubble. When I can’t hang on, He holds me tight and close to His chest so I can feel His heart beating for me. He really is crazy about me!

Sitting in the midst of my beautiful sisters that Jesus holds so dear, I am overwhelmed by God’s goodness and faithfulness to each of us. So, in my turn, I ask if they don’t mind if I just share my heart in prayer. I thank God for being our Daddy who cares for each one of us and never leaves us - He meets us right where we are IN the struggles and mess.

My heart is filled with compassion and love for God's people. Then, He confirms in my heart that I am His. He has come and made His home in me! Something I’ve always doubted. But His Spirit in me cries, “Abba Father.” I know I am loved and I can trust Him. That gives me courage to share my story even in the middle, unfinished, messy place.

I am nourished by the beautiful women, each with her own story, who opened up their hearts. We all have hurts, hang-ups, and habits that weigh us down, but we are not meant to carry them alone! In sharing our burdens, we invite Jesus to lift us up out of the ashes. We laugh. We cry. We pray. Jesus comes down and meets with us - He doesn’t keep His distance. He enters into the rubble with us, reaching the unreachable parts, healing our wounded hearts, giving us hope even in the valley of death, and redeeming our very lives.

Love calls out the good in one another and inspires courage in each other to live confidently in our Heavenly Father’s unwavering love for us. My heart is full. "Let us love one another."

God is real and He really can do miracles in each of us no matter how dark and deep our pit.

“There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still.” Corrie ten Boom

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Every Story Matters

I’m writing right now because I have believed the lie that my life doesn’t really matter - that no one cares about my story. That if my friends really knew all of me, I would be too much, and they would leave me. I’m writing because I fight so many lies every. single. day.

As I read the words of my friend, Jennifer, “Your words matter to God. Your words matter to people.” I threw my phone down and just wept. It was like God was speaking directly to ME - piercing through my scarred heart, and I cried, “Oh God, help me believe this.”

Earlier this morning, I had opened my phone-Bible (Message version) looking for a verse on friends. I ended up in John 15, “Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” Immediately, I was bombarded with condemnation. “You are a bad friend, Paula. Think of all the friends you have lost. No one will ever stick it out with you because you don’t stick it out with them.” I got myself in a shame pit, and it’s so hard to try to climb out.

The truth is that I grew up too fast in an unhappy home and I found my worth by pleasing others and performing for acceptance. I have always longed to be close to God and people, but I walled-off my heart at an early age. I learned the world was an unsafe place and no one could protect me, so I had to protect myself. Though I’ve had a nice, competent, ‘together’, positive exterior, I never let anyone see the hurt I buried inside. I truly believed I was worthless and no one would ever love me - for me. It is a fight to not believe these lies still.

I married a man that wasn’t really attracted to me, but God told him to marry me and he liked that I was a “good, humble, submissive” girl who wouldn’t hold him back. I never complained and I truly wanted to live for Jesus. He believed we should “live as if we weren’t married” in order to be ‘sold out’ for Jesus and further the Gospel. Though it sounded good and I thought I was 'dying to myself,' I really felt unloved, abandoned, and alone. I didn’t believe I had any worth - so at least I could help him make much of God.

Then, we ended up in an unhealthy church that promised to love us and teach us God’s ways. We gave ourselves to them. I was uncomfortable at first, coming from the world with different standards, but I changed my exterior to fit the mold, and I quietly conformed and obeyed my leaders with a smile. I tried so hard to please so I would belong and be loved, but I never could measure up. I never was good enough. I still love all the people there and count them as friends, but when I left, the connections were severed, and I was once again, desperately alone - unloved. Who really cares for me?

I gave up. Life is too hard. No one will ever love me. I am lost. Then, God put two friends in my life that believed in me. They believed in Jesus in me. They didn’t mind my tears or hurt or anger. That didn’t push me away. My friend, Dave, told me that Jesus found me and that “God loves me as I am, not as I ‘should’ be,” a quote from Brennan Manning. It was too good to be true - with eyes on all of my failures of the past - I doubted God could really like ME. But there was a little speck of hope that I hung on to - that maybe it really was true - there was hope, even for me.

Through Dave and Kelli’s friendship and love to me, God started tearing down my walls. I felt Love, God’s love, for the first time. I know God tried to show me before, but I was too walled-off and hard to feel.

My Creator Daddy is a gentleman and He doesn’t push me too hard - little by little, He opens my heart to heal me. Though I cry because it hurts, His love touches my pain and makes me soft so I can feel again. He makes my heart alive, and I’d rather be alive and able to feel even in the suffering, than dead-while-breathing and numb.

He’s given me a heart that can show my true self and accept the way I am, because He accepts me as I am. Now I can connect with others on a heart level because God has made my heart to feel, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am thankful for the friends I have, for the friends I have had that are still in my heart and I believe that God will reunite us again, and I’m thankful for the people God will put in my life to share this life with through the joy and the pain. I’m thankful that my husband is now my friend too and God is connecting us in a deeper way than ever.

Thank you, God, that redemption wins! Love wins! You love us so we can love others and friendships are a beautiful gift from You. Thank You for never giving up on us even when we give up.

Thus, I’m writing right now because I am a Believer. Though I’ve wished my life away so many times, God sees me as valuable and He has me here on purpose - for purpose. He proved His love for me through Jesus, so I surrender. My life is His - not to hide my true self, but to share all that God has done and is doing for me - even in the struggles. May He have glory in my life.