Choice as a Superpower

Three months ago, my therapist Jill and I began a ritual of combing through my past relationships and choices. Every single date I’ve ever been on and boyfriend I’ve ever had would be examined and analyzed by her from all angles. “We’re seeking to identify any unhealthy patterns that might be present so that we can create new, healthier ones,” she explained. It was a terrifying level of vulnerability.

As the pattern started to reveal itself, I couldn’t help but feel incredible shame. The choices I’d made throughout my past were unquestionably naive and reckless. Seeing it laid out in front of me was terrifying.

Most of my bad choices were bad men. Seeing that admittance written out on the page feels dramatic, but it’s the unfortunate truth. My history doesn’t lie. In looking back at Rob*, the boyfriend who abused me, I used to have a tendency to view myself as a victim and in a sense, I was one; he must be held responsible for his own actions. Anything less would be reckless, the start of a dangerous, steep descent into victim blaming.

But the truth is that I wasn’t passive. I chose to enter into a relationship with someone who was unhealthy. I chose to stay as long as I did. It’s a sobering reminder, but it’s an important one nonetheless.

This past winter, my boss called every employee into his office. In preparation for a game we’d play at our Christmas Party that would allow us to better know our colleagues, we each had to answer questions about things such as the first concert we ever went to or what animal we’d be. One of the questions was, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” This question is fascinating, mostly because I think that your answer says a lot about you. The answers ran the gamut from invisibility to superhuman strength. Whoever wished for superhuman strength probably does cross fit, and therefore thinks that pushing tires up hills sounds like a jolly good time. One person even said that they’d love to be able to read minds. I answered that I’d love the power to heal others. I don’t think this is a superpower I’ll ever acquire, but there’s one I already have.

Choice is my superpower. It’s yours too. We all have it. I’m trying to remind myself of that consistently. Too many of us move through our lives passively, and when it hits the fan, we view ourselves as the victims. Oh, woe is me. In reality, that’s rarely the case. We have the power of choice, yet in that instance we chose wrong. We chose unhealthy.

Or maybe we chose nothing, but that’s still a choice we made — a choice to stay passive and stagnant, allowing things to happen TO us, instead of being active participants in our lives. We choose to stay still instead of laying down the bricks to the kind of world we wish to inhabit.

The power of choice is something we are always exercising, whether or not we’re conscious of it. It’s for that reason I recently decided I was no longer content to sit passively as my life happened to me. I was going to be an active participant. I was going to start taking responsibility for my own actions and make emotional health a priority so that I could make healthy, empowered choices.

There are times in life when bad things do genuinely happen and are completely out of your control. I don’t doubt this. But I also believe that to play the victim when you were the cause of your own undoing is in some ways an insult to those who were stripped of their agency. Choice is a superpower we all have but it’s not just that. It’s also a privilege and a responsibility.

What will you use your superpower for? What kind of decisions will you make with this privilege you’ve been gifted?

My hope is that you choose to be kind in the face of cruelty.

My hope is that you choose the courage to fight for justice in the face of injustice.

That you make good decisions for yourself, taking good care of yourself, and also choose good, emotionally healthy people who want to help you do that.

I hope that you give yourself permission to be imperfect and messy, bleeding outside the lines, and that you give yourself grace for unfolding in a different timeline than what you’d hoped.

You have a superpower. I hope you use it like one of the good guys.

What Rob and Harry Taught Me About the Power of my Words

Every relationship I’ve ever been in grew from a seed of curiosity.

An irresistible, dangerous curiosity that calls you to it like siren song. I think too much and often find myself turning past romantic encounters over and over in my mind. Just as river currents smooth out the rough edges of a rock as it turns it in its midst, it’s as if I think that if I reflect on them enough, perhaps the power of my mind can smooth out the unforgiving, snagging edges of my memories and make them into something neat and digestible. I reflect on them and think and think and then think some more, but I rarely speak about them out loud.

My therapist Jill once told me that healthy doesn’t attract unhealthy, only unhealthy does. “Hurting, broken people attract others just like them,” was the way she put it. I saw in my mind a parade of broken, passionate albeit responsible men I’ve loved throughout my story and wondered what it meant.

In the past few weeks, I’ve started to face this reality with a new willingness to ask the difficult questions about what truth might be tangled up in it. “What does it say about me that these are the kinds of men I continue to attract?” The question lingered around me like a haze. I would whisper it to myself when I was scrubbing grease off my stove, tasting the bitter weight of it on my tongue. I voiced the question over the phone to my cousin Neema this past weekend. He mulled it over for a few seconds before thoughtfully listing off a few possibilities but among them all, there was one name that he returned to again and again. “Rob.”*

It’s not often that my people say the name aloud.

The sound of it is sharp. It has the jagged echoes of a slur and refuses to be palatable when it arrives on the tongue. It’s etched itself into my spirit.

Three years ago, I lay with a man on a pile of worn Russian blankets in panels of sunlight that came through a large loft window. The window was open to the crisp, warming sun of an early New England fall. His strong, snow-colored limbs weaved their length around the curves of my frame and he wondered aloud as the sounds of Cambridge hummed five stories below us, “What were you like before it all?” I had no response. The question turned around and around in my head and I became more aware of the humming voices below and less unaware of the tugging warmth of his fingers moving through my hair. I was filled with nothing but emptiness.

What a question. I tried to imagine the girl who was, holding her up next to the one who is, comparing and contrasting the two. The girl from the past felt distant, like a stranger. Who was she? What was she like? It was an uncomfortable thing to reflect on and at the time, the answer was hard to unearth. I’d shrugged it off like an uncomfortable garment and said whatever I needed to in order to move on from it, “I don’t remember.”

Rob. I think it was hard for me to see her in my mind’s eye because the memory of him is so overpowering, occupying all of the space, creeping into all of the corners until there’s no room left for anything else.

I haven’t touched on him in my work too much, or at least not with specifics. I’ve sometimes asked myself why that might be. Maybe it’s because there seemed to be so many grey areas about what occurred in our relationship that I didn’t want to risk being wrong, destroying someone’s life because I paraded a misunderstanding as cold, hard fact. Maybe it’s because he’s still out there and I’m afraid that putting his name down in writing will call him back to me when I want mountains to stand between us, tall and strong and too dangerous for him to scale.

Finn has been encouraging me to write about it. “Being scared to say his name out loud keeps you imprisoned,” he said, “Screw him. Own your story. Say his name so many times that it ceases to have power over you.” Rob Rob Rob. I recently talked to him about how in Harry Potter people called Voldemort, “He Who Must Not Be Named”; their fear was so paralyzing that they couldn’t say his name. At the beginning, Albus Dumbledore is the only one who can and coincidentally, he’s also the one who doesn’t fear him. “Do you think Dumbledore could say Voldemort’s name because he didn’t fear him, or do you think he didn’t fear him because he was willing to say his name aloud?” I wondered.

“The words we speak have power,” was his reply. He told me that it was the reason why, in his mind, my writing was as much of a spiritual vocation as it was a creative one. “You are much more than ‘artist.’ You are also a healer and wise woman and call-up-higher.” Words have power. We see this principle at play in titles. I didn’t think that I was all of those things yet, but I gave myself permission to rest in sacred potential, praying to grow into them, instead of pushing them away and saying, “I’m not enough.”

Rob Rob Rob.

The power that words have can be seen just as much in what we choose to say as what we carefully avoid saying. As Harry’s courage grows against Voldemort, he too starts to choose truth in his words instead of fear. In the last movie, before his final fight against the darkness, he calls it out by name. Not He Who Must Not Be Named. Not even Voldemort, the name he took on after he acquired power. Instead, Harry challenges the enemy by calling him the name he had when he was a boy: “Tom.” With his choice, he strips the enemy of his immortality and turns him into a man. I plan to start doing the same thing to my own nemesis, one word at a time, with each brave decision I make to not avoid his name.

This past weekend, I hid from the chill of winter’s arrival by curling up underneath the warmth of my favorite throw; it’s all warm yellow and gold threads and makes me feel safe because my friend Nick brought it back for me from an archaeological dig in India. I drank white wine and breathed in the scent of my amber candle and listened to the Ed Sheeran love songs playing on the stereo.

There in that safe place and with a newly heightened awareness of the power of my own words, I thought back on Alexey’s question from three years ago. “What was she like? The woman you were before it all?” Neema is trying to teach me that it’s not healthy for me to dwell constantly on the past so although it’s no longer uncomfortable for me to think on, I also don’t think it’s a question I’m meant to answer. My words are meant for the present.

They’re better suited to speaking truths over and affirming who I am right here and right now, today, as I live in this God-given moment.

Who am I?

I am a dreamer. I am creative. I weave tales in my head and then tell them and I recreate the images I see in my head by taking paint to canvas.

I am extremely passionate and when I love and am loved by someone whose soul is made of the same stuff, the electricity between us can light up a city.

I am strong, stronger than I’ll ever know. I prove this to myself over and over. The intensity of my resilience makes me capable of being someone’s rock and the depth of my Love can make me into his Light because I firmly believe in the words of Abdu’l-Baha when he says, “Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.”

It can take a lot for someone to dive into my depths. I can be emotional and moody and withdrawn but this is not a bad thing; they’re symptoms of the fact that I am all water, and to be honest, I am happy being an ocean, thank you very much.

I have been called “funny” and “vibrant.” An Irish man with eyes like the sky once told me on a date that I was a “total woman” and he added that he meant it in the best of ways.

I stand up for people and against hatred and I try to be a comforter.

I like pie and red wine and books and art galleries.

I am many things, and I am not defined by him.

I am defined by Me. 

Loving Amidst the Wildness

A few years ago, if you’d asked me about the kind of love I dreamed about, I’d have told you about a love that was all-consuming. The kind that shattered the world I inhabited. “We will be very passionate,” I’d say to you, describing the dynamic my soulmate and I would share, “Our connection will intersect on multiple levels — physical, intellectual, and spiritual. He will be deep and wild, and the love we share will change me.”

I found exactly that with Andy.

Our connection was intense. Emily Bronte once wrote, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same,” and in our way of relating, I saw that play out. A romantic fling-turned-best friend, Finn, told me last month that I was the wildest girl he’s ever known. “Not in the personality sense that people often think of, but you have a wild spirit,” he said, “There’s a restlessness you have that seems to often threaten to overtake you.” He summed it up by labeling it a “quiet wildness,” yet all I could think on was how Andy and I were two souls made of the same stuff, deep and wild, quietly for me like an ocean and roaring for him like a raging river.

After Andy and I departed physically, the threads that had tied us together didn’t unravel. They remained weaved and entangled; the longing I continued to feel for him was exquisite. I would often lie awake at night, imagining what it would feel like to wake up from a deep slumber to find him there beside me.

My friend Nikita has always said that our relationship contains a looming, ever-present inevitability. In December of last year, I wrote about him and about how the threads that had tied our love together were knotted and weaved so tightly that even when I tried to sever them, they remained.

A few weeks ago, he and I stood on North Broad in front of my apartment building. It was pouring down tepid summer rain and I kissed the hell out of him while asking how we could have ever lost one another. The open umbrella rolled around on the wet pavement next to our feet and between breaths he said he wasn’t sure, that maybe we’d been too young, or maybe he just got scared to feel what he felt, or maybe it was just wrong timing.

What we had was passionate and intense and I’ll hear the echoes of our love story for the rest of my life. I have been in love with this man for almost ten years. But the truth is that I tried to force Andy to fit into a lofty ideal I held of him instead of giving him the grace to be and his spirit the room to breathe. I’d built him up in my head and embellished him so opulently that for him to be human would have been a violent arrival into reality. The fact is that he was broken, too broken for a relationship. In my love for him, I thought that if I held him tight enough, my pieces would melt together with his jagged edges and through this process I’d make him whole again.

I didn’t have this power and it was unhealthy for me to think so.

This was perhaps the real reason we would lose one another again and again. I recently told my spiritual counselor, Jacklyn, what I’ve started to realize about myself and the kind of men I love, “If I could tame a man and force him to morph into a being of my own making, I wouldn’t feel enough awe in his presence to choose to love him.” For me, love for a man comes only after an intense respect, never before and never without, and respect in my mind struggles to hold hands with “tamable.”

But I’ve also started to realize that you know you love someone when you choose to not try to change them, to avoid an instinct to tame them, an attempt to mold them until they fit into an ideal you’ve placed on them. You choose to take them as they are or even say, “no thanks,” but either way you honor who they are instead of forcing them to morph.

I have been on the receiving end. I have been with men who are attracted to my restless depths but make me into their project once they have me, trying to mold me into something neat and tidy instead of giving me the permission to exist freely.

Andy was too broken for me to tie my life with, but I chose to honor him, blessing him where he was before saying farewell, instead of staying and pruning him into a figure of my liking. Seeking to tame someone is not love and a relationship that you enter into with the intention of altering the other isn’t one worth having. 

I used to believe that I loved him because he was wild. The truth is that I know I loved him because I honored him where he was and allowed him to remain.

Helping my Boyfriend Guard his Purity

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 NIV

There recently came a point when I started to ask God His plans for my love life. I told God how I was open to meeting someone within His perfect timing and really placed these desires at His feet and told Him, “Lord, I trust you to complete that which concerns me and bring about what’s perfect for me.” It wasn’t long before he brought me my boyfriend. I’m pretty lucky: Matt’s handsome, smart, thoughtful, hardworking, and initiates time for us to seek the Lord together.

One thing I never allow myself to forget is that before my boyfriend, he is first and foremost my brother in Christ. 

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” 1 Timothy 5:1–2

This means that I’m supposed to be his partner in this crazy, fallen world we live in and walk with him towards Jesus. A big part of this is helping him guard his purity.

We know that in relationships, men are supposed to be the spiritual leaders. However, this sometimes leads to Christian women being passive in our relationships when we’re supposed to be partners in Christ, coheirs of salvation:

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7 ESV

When you’re dating, your romantic partner is supposed to be one of your main sources of accountability in your walk with God. Godly women are supposed to constantly point others to Jesus, not cause them to stumble, and we have so much influence when we’re dating. We can either worsen all the temptations that come at our boyfriends, or we can be invaluable allies in their fight for their purity.

Here are the things that I’ve started to do in my relationship to be his ally, not one of the many things he has to guard himself from…

1. Having High Standards

I’ve seen so many girlfriends stuck in relationships with guys who indulge in sexual sin on the regular and continue to do so even as their girlfriends try to convict them against it. The truth is that in all of those relationships, the girls would willingly take part in some of these activities (even though they’d feel guilty afterwards and try to stop) or at least turn a blind eye to them. How can we expect a guy to step into line and rise to a higher standard when we ourselves don’t see it as worthwhile? It makes us hypocrites at best.

It’s human nature to continue on with the same behavior when there’s no incentive for change or potential for negative consequences. People will treat you how you let them. They’ll continue to behave in a way that’s unacceptable simply because your willingness to stick around and tolerate it communicates that it is.

One of the ways I’m helping my boyfriend guard his purity is through guarding mine fiercely and being clear about what I find unacceptable, along with following through when he falls short of them. He recently told me that because of this, he has a high level of respect for me and also has a desire to rise to the occasion.

2. Being Mindful of What I Expose Him To

Last week, he texted me, “Hey, how about I take you to the movies? You pick.” I watched trailers for all of the movies listed as “Now Showing”, but the most important thing I did was research how each movie ranked in terms of explicit content.

So many of us are unwilling to participate in sexual activity outside of God’s plan for it, yet are willing to expose ourselves and significant others to temptations. I have heard of Christian girls who ask their boyfriends to watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show with them and who hold up magazines of half-naked women to their husbands, innocently commenting, “I wish I had a body like this.”

To help him guard his purity, I don’t watch movies or TV shows with him that feature sexually explicit content, I don’t encourage him to read books that feature much of the same, and I dress in a way that’s modest. In other words, through my behavior, I show respect to him, to God (and His commandments to him), and to the very real battle I know he has to face as a young man living in a fallen world with a very real enemy who wants to see him lose everything.

3. Being His (Loving) Accountability

It’s important to have high standards, but too many Christian girls move into the sphere of shaming their boyfriends for sinning differently than they do. The enemy loves shame because shame takes struggles underground, where they can grow and worsen. Even though you should have high standards, you should communicate them in such a way that a guy feels like he can come to you for support in his areas of struggle.

You should be his accountability, not a fellow accuser. There’s an important balance to strike between speaking the truth in love and making a fellow believer feel the shame that Jesus died to free them from. 

I’ve made it clear to my boyfriend that he can come to me to confess any sin under the sun and that I would support him and help him fight it. If he came to me to confess a sin that I promised myself I wouldn’t be yoked to, I would distance myself from him and leave him, but I wouldn’t sever all ties. I’d support him and be open to reconciliation if I saw true repentance and change.

***

Many of us are so focused on our OWN walks and guarding our own purity that we forget about our significant others and how we’re supposed to support them. A Godly woman doesn’t just guard her own walk; she leads her brothers and sisters to the same place and consistently points them to the cross. You are supposed to be your boyfriend’s most important accountability and most important earthly source of spiritual strength. You have the potential to be an invaluable ally in this fight he has to take part in every single moment of his life.

There’s a battle cry. Can you hear it? Rise to it.

Why I’m Not Ready to Be a Wife: Perspectives on Biblical Marriage

“So, something happened,” my text to Kristina started out as I sat on my bed in the lotus position, listening to Bethel Music and crunching on almonds. “Boyfriend asked me how I like my apartment building and when I told him I love it,  he then said, ‘Maybe we can look into the two-bedroom apartments there if we get married.'” She replied with an emoji seizure.

When I was with my last boyfriend who lived all the way in Russia, marriage was an ongoing conversation. “If this is going to work out, one of us has to move to a new country and I wouldn’t do that without marriage,” was how he put it; the limits placed on us by distance rushed it. When I explained it to my friend, Lisa, I told her that I didn’t think I was ready to get married, “A part of me doesn’t want to get married until my late twenties or maybe even early-thirties. I really enjoy singleness.”

Now that New Boyfriend has brought up the M-word, a lot of my old worries have started to resurface. I’ve been telling friends my images of him reorganizing my bookshelves to accommodate his library and his clothes lying on the floor all over the apartment. Of course, with each of these fears, they had quick and wise solutions. I could hear how petty and insignificant my fears sounded but to my ears, they were better than the truth.

So much of biblical literature reveres and jubilates women who are good wives and homemakers:

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.'” Proverbs 31:28-29 NIV

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” 1 Peter 3:3-6 ESV 

“He who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 18:22 NLT

“I’m not sure I’m ready to be married,” sounds so counter to what we’re taught by the conservative church about biblical womanhood.

It seems that friends and classmates are getting engaged or married left and right. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have friends who are doing neither of those things yet intensely wish they were, coveting what our peers have. I’m in none of those groups; I’m not married or engaged to be married, nor am I coveting the experience. I’m content and fulfilled with the gift of singleness that the Lord has blessed me with.

I no longer feel like I’m less of a biblical woman for saying I’m not ready to be married because the truth is that I’m not ready to be a wife.

Marriage is something that was created by God for a particular purpose:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:22-33

So many Christians approach marriage the way the world approaches it: we want to get married because we think we’ll no longer feel lonely or that it’ll make us look like we have it together. Like the world, so many of us idolize marriage until it becomes all about how it would make us feel and what it could do for us or give us, completely forgetting that God created marriage for His purposes, not for ours.

The role of marriage in God’s kingdom is to glorify Him, a living representation of Christ’s relationship with the church. The role of a Christian wife is to be an ezer to her husband, helping him fulfill his spiritual calling and meet his full potential, becoming the biblical man God has designed him to be.

The Christian wife is a prayer warrior, an intercessor, an accountability partner, a bible study buddy. She’s called to fight for her husband on her knees, to speak truth and the Word of God over him, and to convict him in love when he falls short of God’s standards.

Being a wife is a sacred ministry position in the Kingdom of God with a holy responsibility. For me to treat the role with the reverence it deserves by recognizing that I’m not ready or strong enough to fill it is a sign of godliness and spiritual maturity.

I sometimes say that I’m not sure I ever want to get married. The truth is that I think I’d like to get married one day, but only when I’m ready to be a wife. Until then, I will pray: Father, may I be worthy.

Biblical Womanhood: When You Feel Like You Don’t Fit the Mold

A few months ago, I went on a second date with a guy who called me “cool.” We sat in the dim lighting of a local restaurant and he said, “You’re the kind of girl my friends would love. You’re a pretty cool chick.” I smiled and laughed; after all, it was a compliment. Yet, I couldn’t help but mull this compliment over and I found myself obsessively dissecting it in my brain.

Since becoming a Christian, I’ve often found myself struggling with my identity. “Sure, I’m cutting away at sin in my life, but am I biblical?” I ask. “Do I have a good reputation in my church family? Am I perceived as Godly?”

In the world of evangelical Christianity, there is usually a mold. There is a prescription for what it means to be a woman in the church outlined in the biblical womanhood podcasts and Proverb 31 bible study workbooks.

In many ways, I fit it. I’d consider myself to have very traditional values and interests. I love baking, I throw down in the kitchen, I arrange flowers, I lead bible studies and run bake sales, and even though I value my career and my college education, I could never imagine putting my professional goals above a husband or children.

But in many ways, I’m an outcast from stereotypical biblical womanhood.

I have a nose ring. I’m designing a tattoo that I want to get along the spine of my back. (It’s Psalm 23 in Hebrew letters, if that makes a difference.) I drink gin neat and like going to Indie rock clubs on weekends and have a snarky sense of humor. My lips are usually colored red.

With these traits, am I still in the running for a Proverbs 31 medal? Could I make it into the biblical womanhood Hall of Fame for the fruits of the spirit that I sow in my life, or will those other traits disqualify me even though they aren’t anything to repent over?

Christianity can seem like a very restrictive, homogeneous culture, one in which we all have to speak in the exact same way, dress in the exact same way, and have the same cookie cutter hobbies. It can feel like you’ll be shunned as an outcast if you fall outside the typical mold and this is one of the main ways Christian women end up feeling hurt by their church family.

I once read about one such woman. An artist by profession, she was known for her funky, creative style. One Sunday after church, a woman approached her and “warned her” that her style was immodest, even though it wasn’t overly revealing.

There are still times when I’m made to feel ashamed of the ways I don’t fit neatly into an evangelical box. I’ve been told to my face that  I’m too bubbly and talkative and need to tone it down a little. I’ve read tweets on social media that judge women for their makeup choices and make me feel like the fact that I love red lipstick is wrong. I’ve been made to feel like a good Christian girl would never be seen at an Indie rock concert, even when it’s vulgarity-free.

Even to this day, I still sometimes feel uneasy about whether I fit into the mold. However, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to nor should I want to. God stitched every single one of us together and made us unique. He gave each of us inherent worth and value along with distinct personalities, dreams, passions, and tastes.

I don’t fit the mold because God didn’t use one.

We are not all mass produced copies, nor are we meant to be, and I rise above the voices of those who say otherwise.

I was uniquely created by a God who said, “Oh, that’s good,” after He stitched me together.

There is no mold for biblical womanhood. There never was.

The Humility of Godliness

“Does God really move mountains?” She asked me these words in Russian, looking up at me from my lap where she lay her head as I read to her from the scriptures. My mind raced. I knew that our God COULD move mountains, yet I thought I’d yet to see Him do it in my lifetime. I looked down at her face, ivory-colored framed by blonde ringlets, and whispered to her the truth that rang deep within my heart where it fed my hope. “Yes, He does move mountains,” my eyes held hers and I smiled, “But He rarely moves a mountain all at once and all in one piece. Usually, He moves it one stone at a time, one faithful follower’s hands at a time.” Even after she was in bed, those words I poured into her stayed with me, vibrating in the background.

***

Our Jesus gave and gave to us, all while knowing that we would never be able to repay Him. He was a God who became a man. He had heaven and He traded it for the earth. He let go of the glory that belonged to Him alone and allowed Himself to be mocked, ridiculed, and then crucified, all so He could have us. Our Lord is a kind and loving servant, and He was defined by his humility.

As Christians, we’re called to pursue Godliness.

“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV)

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1: 5-8 ESV)

 

We’re called to pursue Godliness in speech, in thought, and in action. Our quiet time, our worship, our fasting, our devotionals, and the Christian books we invest in all seek to bring us closer and closer to that ultimate goal of Godliness.

However, the pursuit of Godliness can become sin.

There have been times when I find myself focused more on pursuing godliness than on pursuing God. Even though Christians would strive for both, our focus should never be more on the appearance of Godliness than on God Himself. The pursuit of Godliness can easily become prideful, even an idol.

In ministry, so many of us desire the spotlight. We want to be the one on the stage who receives all the glory and credit. We want to have our face on the backs of bestselling books and preach messages that go viral and write articles that get thousands of shares on Facebook.

The truth is that God calls all of us to lives of humble servanthood, moving mountains for Him one small stone at a time. Most of us won’t be a bestselling author, a famous international missionary, or a megachurch pastor’s wife.

The Godly woman is defined by all of the deeds that bring her no glory.

All of the things that she does in quiet, away from the eyes of those who could praise her and tell her that she’s worth far more than rubies. All of the ways in which she serves instead of takes. All of the ways she follows the leader, content with helping to move stones one at a time instead of getting credit with being the one to move the entire mountain. All of the way she’s the unsung hero that no one in her church knows about. She is content with this, because His praise is enough.

I Want To Talk About Mourning Your Story

I cried at work.

The ugly kind of cry that makes it hard to breathe and sends mascara running in black rivers down your face.

 My boss described it as sudden, almost manifesting out of thin air. “I understand you’ve been going through a challenging time,” he said, his green eyes bright and shimmering with concern, “but it’s like it suddenly came to the surface all at once.” He then gave me time to compose myself in the women’s bathroom. “I can’t have you crying all over the Warhol,” he said. He was half-joking, yet entirely serious.

A few weeks ago, Andrew told me he was worried, “You’ve always felt things deeply and had this sense of sadness around you, but I’ve never seen you with this much of it.” He’s known me for almost ten years and within that decade, he’s been witness to all the times I dropped a plate because I was suddenly overtaken by sobbing while doing the dishes. He knows all of the restless nights spent staring at the ceiling; they’re almost as much a part of his story now as mine. Yet even with all of the broken pieces he’s been witness to throughout the past decade, he’s worried because these past few weeks feel different. 

I want to talk about mourning.

I want to talk about mourning because my soul is clothed in gray and my heart is filled with an indescribable grief and it has been for quite some time now. Sadness is my longtime companion; it wafts in the air around me like a familiar scent that lingers in the threads of your clothes no matter how often you put them through the wash.

I want to talk about mourning. But the kind of mourning I speak of isn’t the moment of silence for a horrific event that sends a violent crack through the foundation. It’s not the mourning that occurs when the doctor calls us with bad news. It’s not the mourning that occurs when we have to put someone we love in the ground.

I want to talk about mourning, and the kind of mourning I want to talk about is the mourning of our stories.

Stories are my passion and for the record, every single one of us has one. A past. A film reel of the events in our lives that stand out more significantly than the others. Lyosha once told me that there isn’t a soul in this world who doesn’t have something in their past that changed them forever, an event after which they could never return to the person they were before.

I cried at work a week ago. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It wasn’t comprised of quiet tears at the desk, easily hidden from others. It was the kind that made everyone in the office stop in the middle of their work and stare.

When my boss asked, I’d explained it away as grief over the news I’d heard at the doctor’s office. The kind of news that alters the way you plan your life and what dreams you’re allowed to even have. The truth is that the news was only 5% because I’ve been this way for a few weeks now.

The Thursday before, in the midst of a pitch black night, I was driving Andrew’s black Audi down a long stretch of empty highway when the rage hit me and I slammed on the gas and screamed. I did it because I was annoyed about being led on by a man who used me to figure out his feelings for someone else, I was bitter about finding Great Love only to have the entire Atlantic and all of Western Europe between us, and I was angry about the actions Rob committed against me and how because of them, I’m still scared to be in an elevator with a man I don’t know.

Last night, I went out running at 11 because I couldn’t sleep. My heart was pounding violently and my breathing was frantic and I ran farther than I’ve ever ran with the fastest average pace I’ve ever held, fueled by adrenaline as I saw nothing but red.

I want to talk about mourning stories because mine are resurfacing, bleeding into my present.

The stories of romances that went wrong and plot lines that unraveled without a conclusion need to be mourned just like any other tragedy or death. We need to heal from the what-could-have-been’s and those who sinned against us. If we don’t, our suffering will move through the rest of our story with us and will bleed into our present. Maybe not right away, but perhaps like mine, you will start to notice it little by little before it suddenly enters your present all at once, all at the same time.

“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches,” Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”

Suffering is the common thread that all of humanity shares.

We all know mourning and sadness and longing and rage; none of us are strangers to these experiences. However, when we simply stifle them instead of doing the hard work of healing, when we fail to properly mourn these stories, they will forever rear their ugly head and hinder our ability to live better stories in the present. Mourn your story, Beautiful Human. You were so much stronger than you should have had the necessity to be. Weep over the romances that went wrong and the stories that unraveled. Commit to living a better story in the present.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Rilke.

A Prayer for Orlando

I was on my way to church when I saw the news. My feet pounded the pavement as I weaved through the skyscrapers that surrounded me with their various shades of endless grey. Orlando. The breaking of my heart wasn’t instant; it lingered in the temporary sphere of disbelief and denial, still recovering from the last violent rupture that had occurred too recently, too close to this one. It’s not possible, not again, I’d told myself. My inner dialogue of self-reassurance was frantic, running along before the reality hit me all at once, all at the same time. My soul collapsed under the weight of that instant grief.

On the feed of my Twitter, I saw that the deadliest mass shooting in American history had occurred the night before while I’d rested quietly at home, oblivious. The afternoon before it happened, I’d met up with my friend, Kevin, at a conference for the LGBTQ+ community. “This is just the most accepting and open-minded place,” he’d told me; the excitement he’d felt about the love that flooded the four walls of the convention center was intoxicating.

After I’d heard the news, I walked past the set-up for the Pride Parade. The rainbow colors of hope suddenly felt ironic. “I feel so bad for the people at the Pride Parade,” I told my friend Dominique after church, wiping away tears as we walked together, “Last night has to be weighing on the whole day. It HAS to be.”

What do we do when someone else’s sin destroys the world that much? When the hatred in their heart is so all-encompassing that seeking to annihilate another human being because they exist is the only way it can seek out relief?

What we can do is pray. To pray at our desks, to pray on our walk, to pray when we’re lying in bed and before and after dinner and wherever we are, to just drop down on our knees and pray. Wherever you are sitting with your grief today, pray this prayer for the LGBTQ+ community with me.

Abba God,

Help us to never forget that you are a good, good father, even on the days when our grief is so heavy that our lungs struggle to breathe and our sorrow is so all-encompassing that we can’t even see through our own tears. Let your love and mercy wash down over us and push away our salt water tears with your living water so that we can be cleansed and made new again and again and again.

There are so many things that we need to say to our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Christ but cannot find the strength to or the words for. I ask that you strengthen our arms so that we can hold them. I ask that you open our hearts so that those who disagree on an issue can place politics aside and love. I ask that you open my mouth so that I can have the courage to say the words of love and hope and “I don’t even know what to say”s to my LGBTQ+ friends that I feel called to speak but don’t know how to.

I ask that you help us to remove this idolatry of categorization and labelling. Help your children to repent of this view of the LGBTQ+ community as “other.” Help us to repent of the emotional distance we have in our minds between their humanness and their sexual orientation.

Father God, you take brokenness and sin and tragedy and make it new. I hope against all the hopes that you will use this day to help Christians, regardless of their theology, welcome gay people into their family today. To put issues and convictions aside and tell them, “Sweet, beautiful, human. You are stunning. I am in AWE of how fearfully and wonderfully made you are. This is a church. This is a family of Christ. These are children of God. And you are so very welcome here.

The Mess of Healing Work

I love my therapist. On Friday, the close of one of the worst weeks I can remember, I sat across from her and tried to put my feelings into words while my tears mixed with snot and she looked at me with that loving expression she wears. “You’ve had it rough,” she sighs and shakes her head, “You’ve had it rougher than most women.” 

“I can’t help but feel like even when nothing bad is happening, there’s always SOMETHING — some sort of pain or sadness,” my words lingered in the air between us. “You are healing and overcoming a lot,” she stated, “It stings to clean and heal wounds that are cut that deep.”

Healing is often viewed as gentle and therapy as therapeutic.

The image we see in our minds is a process that lessens the pain more and more or a journey that gets easier and easier, but I’ve found that this isn’t really the case. I used to think that when I did everything by the book, showing up for therapy once a week and reading the books and completing the workbook exercises and putting the advice into practice, I’d start to see the results of my healing process. What if healing is less of a consistent upward trend and looks more like a doodling full of circles and squiggles that once in awhile plummet to rock-bottom where you have to start all over? And what if sometimes, the healing process seems to hurt even more than whatever it is that messed us up this badly in the first place?

I started this process two years ago and I still can’t forget the way he felt. Rough hands, aggressive mouth. A wall with a green coat of peeling paint that I was shoved up against; the canvas I stared at for five minutes. I was convinced that if I were to just do everything “right” — therapy once a week, reading the books, completing the workbook exercises, putting into action the tips — I’d be healed. Yet, two years later, I still feel his hands on me when I’m lying alone at night, and in my dreams, I still see that stupid wall.  

When we truly own our stories, they lose their power over us. However, it sometimes feels less painful to just pretend they don’t exist.

Healing IS painful. And it’s messy, too.

It doesn’t often come with the closure we crave for a situation and will instead require us to become okay with not having everything wrapped up tidily with a neat, grosgrain ribbon.

I recently wrote that healing, “requires us to lean in. To lean into the discomfort and the pain and the vulnerability. It requires allowing ourselves to get uncomfortable.” Healing is messy because it’s never clean-cut and ending with a perfect Hollywood fadeout. It involves reaching and climbing and stumbling. It means receiving the fact that God sees all of it — our striving and our failing — and He chooses us anyway.

During one of my recent therapy sessions, I told her my realization about the entire process. “I feel like I might never be truly healed because perhaps healing is a lifelong journey more than it is a goal or a destination,” I said to her, “I think I can consider myself healed right now just because I am okay with that fact. I am okay with who I am and where I am. I am okay with healing being hard, lifelong work that I have to practice over and over.

A man I dated, Lyosha, once told me, “You’re not supposed to have it all figured out. I’m seven years older than you are and I still don’t have my life totally figured out. Life is meant to be a messy, ongoing project. Be brave with your wild, work-in-progress life.

Healing is supposed to be messy. Who cares if it looks more like squiggles and doodles than a steady upward trend make through Microsoft Excel?

Healing is supposed to be an ongoing project. Maybe you’ll have to forgive the person who hurt you over and over again.

Healing is supposed to be wild. It should surprise you with its sharp turns and take your breath away with its spontaneous detours.

Take heart when I say to you that your healing was never meant to be straightforward and pain-free like driving down a long, stretch of highway. It was meant to be a road trip over desert plains and on roads hugging mountain tops and through thick forests. It was meant to be difficult and challenging. It was meant to be painful and uncomfortable.

Anything that changes you and heals you will sting and cause some bruises. But take heart and look into my eyes when I say this: It will be worth it.

My story’s proof.