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 No One Tells You About Going Into the Hospital

After two and a half decades on this earth, I found myself strapped to a stretcher, my legs pinned down to keep me from kicking the cute EMT. 

Maybe an hour before that, I was in the emergency room, hurling my guts into a trashcan while precious Nurse Marco wrapped me in warm blankets and filled my IV with the medicine I so desperately need. 

Maybe four hours after the stretcher incident, I awoke to find one of my oldest Florida friends right by my side, tagging in for another friend who had previous obligations. 

For the first time in my life, I was admitted into a hospital. And my family was states away. 

But in those hours that are all now blurred together, I came out on the other side, incredibly grateful for surprising things, things no one ever told me about being in the hospital. 

1. Make sure your undergarments are comfy and breathable. I once heard you should always wear cute underwear because you never know when a firefighter will have to cut you out of a car. Three days before Christmas, I can’t tell you how many doctors saw my panties, and how grateful I am they were both cute and comfortable. 

2. Shave your legs. Sadly, it’d been about a month since I did this (it’s winter, leave me alone), and I was mortified as nurses moved about my body to clean me up. If you perpetually keep your legs shaved, it saves you the embarrassment of mumbling apologies to the kind man or woman who is keeping you alive. 

3. Count on the faith of others. Studies show patients who have faith are more likely to pull through a tough accident or illness. But I was barely coherent enough to form a prayer in my head, much less utter something out loud. But before I left for the emergency room, my coworkers laid hands on me and prayed over me. Two different pastors’ wives sat with me in the emergency room and in my hospital room. My phone was blowing up with prayers from around the world. In those fuzzy moments, I knew God had me because His body was reaching out. 

4. Man cannot live on bread alone, but a woman can manage on Jell-O and broth. Bread may have been the whole reason I was hospitalized to begin with, but Jell-O is a life saver. It’s nostalgic and delicious, surprisingly filling when you haven’t had anything to eat in a few days.

5. You don’t necessarily know the people who will show up. When I came to at one point, a new friend sat beside me. We’d hung out maybe three times prior, but she was there with a blanket and cookie pillow and socks and a coloring book. My daddy flew to me. A colleague’s husband–someone I’d never met–picked him up from the airport. My CEO called me. My friend’s mom, who is rapidly becoming a personal friend, joined me in the ER. Another colleague went to my home to feed and walk my dog. All of them I’d classify as lovely human beings, but I was incredibly touched when they stopped their lives to assist mine. 

6. God will show up. Y’all, I’ve stood on the other side of a hospital bed and watched a respirator mechanically pump my friend’s chest up and down moments before his parents pulled him from life support. I held my cousin while my family said good-bye to my great-grandmother’s lifeless body hours after her death. I know many do not equate hospital with hope. But, today, I do. God used nurses and friends and doctors and strangers to prove to me that I still matter to Him. In the pits of depression, I find myself doubtful of His goodness; but the moment I was hospitalized for chronic IBS, He was there. 

He was there in Nurse Marco who called me “my dear,” and kept my body as stable as possible in the emergency room. He was there in Mrs. Nancy, who dropped everything to sit with me. He was there in Heather, who showed up after my convoluted text. He was there in so many others, more than I even know, who lifted me up to Him. 

What no one tells you about the hospital is that it doesn’t have to be a dramatic life-or-death situation to encounter the Living God. 

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.

The Discipline of Forgiveness

“Tonight, I pray for those who have wronged me, used me, abused me — whether knowingly or unknowingly,” I wrote while a flood of emotions began to rise up within me as I came to a resolution. “I’ve decided that it’s between them and God.”

***

I had just gotten home from our weekly Saturday night prayer meeting at my church. My heart weighed so heavy, I just had to pour out my every thought into my prayer journal as soon as I got home. You see, that night after prayer, my Bishop had challenged our church to do something I honestly feel we as Christians don’t do enough. He asked us to pray for our enemies. He referenced Job 42:10 where Job prayed for his friends and the Lord gave Job twice of what he had before.

“We all know those ‘friends’ were really Job’s enemies,” Bishop Huntley continued, “The only thing keeping us from our double blessing is not praying for our enemies.” Then, he had us do something that changed the way I will approach forgiveness forever. He had us call out all the names of those who wronged us before the Lord in prayer. It was the most powerful and emotional end to any prayer meeting I’ve been a part of.

***

Tears welled up in my eyes as I sat on my bed and began to list the names of each person I have been hurt by in my 24 years of living. Staring at a once empty page, I noticed the list had turned out longer than I had expected. As I turned over the page, I began to do something I’ve never done before… I asked God to move on their hearts. I pleaded with Him to turn their hearts back to Christ and to have His way in their lives.

I then began to ask the Lord to work on MY heart. To take me back to those moments of pain and hurt, and to free me from unresolved bitterness and anger in those moments.

The flashbacks began to crowd my mind. Tears came, streaming down my face as I began to remember every detail. Every word cut like knives. Every tease, every painful moment came rushing back.

“They’ll never know the hell they put me and family through some days,” I continued writing as I relived every battle I’ve ever fought in my mind, “…Through it all, God had me.” Tears began to stain the paper as the words kept coming. I couldn’t stop. And then, I wrote down all the things every situation had taught me.

And as my entry came to a close, I looked back at those things and gave thanks. “So I guess if there’s one thing I could say, I would say thank you… Like gold tried in the fire, I know we can withstand the flames.”

***

There is so much I could say on the topic of forgiveness, but let me just leave you with a few thoughts…

Forgiveness is a daily decision. We always hear the expression, “Forgive and forget.” Well, excuse me for being a bit cliché but that’s easier said than done. A lot of times, there are situations that arise and little things that happen that can trigger a painful memory or hurt. It’s in these moments where we begin to feel the same emotions rise back up to the surface.

When this happens, we have a decision to make. We can allow ourselves to be bitter. Or we can forgive again. Each day, you have a choice to make. I pray you choose to forgive.

Unforgiveness creates resentment. I was talking with Nina a few days ago and she said it like this:

 Unforgiveness creates resentment in our hearts for the things we feel they stole from us. Suddenly, we begin to think of all the things we harbor resentment for and replace them by saying, “They stole _____.” Or, “I’ll never be able to get back the _____ they took from me!”

You may feel like someone stole something in your life. Whether it be the time you had with them, the idea of a perfect relationship, whatever it may be… Though it may be true, unforgiveness will cause you to harbor resentment and bitterness toward that person. Please, choose love.

True forgiveness means to wipe the slate clean. When Jesus died on the cross, the blood He shed was enough to wipe away every sin we ever committed. We should be the ones paying for our sin and shame, and yet, Christ paid a debt He never owed in the first place.

The same happens when we truly forgive others. True forgiveness is saying, “You don’t owe me anything.” Even if the person apologizes or admits that they were wrong, it can’t make up for lost time or change the fact that the damage has already been done. It simply means that you are moving forward. Choose grace, and move on.

So I want you to take a moment and search deep within yourself. Who are your enemies? Who have you been harboring resentment toward? It’s time to be like Job and pray for those who have wronged us. Write their names down and call out their names before the Lord. And then… let go.

3 Signs of Spiritual Abuse in Dating

I recently counseled a young woman about a romantic relationship she was in. She’s told me over time many red flags that all led me to believe that she was in an emotionally abusive relationship yet she wouldn’t have exactly described it that way. What she said was, “He just cares so much about my walk that he doesn’t want to see me stumble.”

Many sin-driven Christian guys twist God’s design for romantic relationships before then using it to justify controlling, emotionally abusive behavior. 

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24 

Because of all the confusion about what these verses mean, Christian women I meet with who are in these situations find themselves feeling confused about what’s abuse and what’s not. A young woman can become convinced that an abusive Christian boyfriend or husband is just exercising leadership or protecting her from stumbling.

How can she tell the difference? A few signs to look for:

  1. She Feels Forced

Because I’m a young, modern guy who self-identifies as a feminist, I used to feel uncomfortable with God’s command that my wife submit to me. “That’s so outdated and archaic,” I’d think to myself anytime I came across that part of the bible, “It was specific to those times when women didn’t have the same rights as men.”

However, true biblical submission always flows freely from a woman’s spirit and is never something forced onto her by her husband:

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Colossians 3:19 NIV

A Godly relationship should never comprise of a man forcing his girlfriend or wife, whether physically or through emotional manipulation, to do anything, even something good like reading the bible or coming to church. God chose to give His daughters free will. What right does a man have to take away a gift God has intentionally given?

2. She Feels Shamed

“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7 ESV

Jesus died on the cross so that sin would have no power over us any longer. He also died on the cross to rid us of shame. A sign of spiritual abuse in Christian dating or marriage is when a spouse shames the other person under the guise of “convicting.”

Shame is NOT from God and a Kingdom Man practicing biblical leadership exercises every drop of spiritual authority over the devil he has to chase it out of his household and away from his woman. He doesn’t summon it, plant it, or cultivate it.

3. She Feels Degraded

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 ESV

Every single person was bought with the ultimate price, the blood of Jesus Christ. This gives us innate dignity because we are clothed in the Son’s blood and restored to perfect righteousness.A Godly man uses his headship to restore and redeem by leading his girlfriend or wife to wholeness through the Cross.  Biblical and humble headship should never diminish or devalue the worth and dignity that have been bestowed onto a child of God.

***

God’s perfect plan is for men to lead with love, integrity, and humility. It can be confusing when a woman finds herself feeling emotionally or spiritually unsafe with a man, but the truth is that our Lord is not a God of confusion and He has plans to prosper us, not to harm us. Anything less than loving leadership that brings His daughters to the foot of the cross is not His will. Abuse, even when packaged in a neat Christian bow, is still abuse and no one is required to suffer through it.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1.800.799.7233

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.

Faith Can Be Scary

“Why would you share something so personal with complete strangers?” This is what the voice inside my head was saying as I contemplated writing my book. I was 41 years old and not who people thought I was. I had a secret and was about to go public; and even though I had a sick feeling every time I thought about it, I knew that God wanted me to do this. I had been called.

It all started about a year and a half earlier… I was struggling with the guilt, shame, and doubt that accompanied a life of abuse. I was an only child and had survived a life with an alcoholic mother and sexually abusive father. After being estranged from my parents for many years, I began to worry. I would be unable to sleep at night thinking about what I would do if something happened to my dad. My mom was a stroke victim and he took care of her. As much as I tried to ignore my conscience, the thoughts wouldn’t go away. My sons wanted to know why they couldn’t go visit their other grandparents. As I wrestled with this, God knew it was time for me to face my past and spoke to me very clearly one morning.

It started out as any other Sunday as my family headed to church. Our four sons went to their respective classes, and my husband and I sat next to each other enjoying the worship music. When our pastor began to speak, I froze. He started talking about forgiveness. I knew he was talking to me. The message hit my core, and I was confused and angry as I thought that forgiving my parents would release them from their actions. I talked to my husband and he suggested that I talk to our pastor. Scared to open up about my past, I was hesitant to talk to my pastor but I knew that I needed to. After telling him about my past, he told me the truth about forgiveness. By forgiving my parents, I was not excusing them from their behavior. Rather, I was releasing myself from the pain of the past.

Six months later, my father died and I was left to care for my mother. During this trial, I sought the advice of a Christian counselor. As I unpacked my complicated, messy past and current situation, she smiled and said, “You are a perfect example of God’s grace.” I thought about it and realized that I was. During our next session together, she said it again and then asked me a question that changed my life, “Would you ever consider sharing your story to help others?”

I left her office feeling scared, excited, and nauseous. I immediately made a list of all the reasons that I wasn’t qualified. I tried to forget about it but I’ve learned that when God wants to get your attention, He will keep trying until you respond. I had spent most of my life trying to avoid and deny my past for fear of being judged by others and was fearful of how the people in my life would respond when they learned the truth. I prayed and asked for wisdom and as scary as it was, I knew that I needed to trust God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5–6 (NLT)

As I timidly told my closest friends about my past and that I was going to write about it to help others who may be hurting, I received overwhelming support.

As I reflect on my journey to writing this book and speaking to groups, I am amazed by what God has done with my life. By sharing our stories, we allow God’s good works to shine and give Him the glory that He deserves.

Is it scary? ABSOLUTELY! But God calls us out of our comfort zone so that we can show others what true faith looks like. Are you willing to take the risk to show God that you fully trust Him?

Life Changes, But God Doesn’t

I have lived a very blessed and privileged life. Don’t get me wrong I have worked hard to get to where I am, but my parents were always very supportive in giving me many opportunities to grow. Some might even say I’ve been spoiled. I grew up going to church and I attended a Christian university. Some might even push to say that I’ve been sheltered. In all honesty, I can’t say I disagree.

On the day of my college graduation, as per usual, many pictures were taken to document the important day. I hate every single one of those photos because, at the time, there was severe swelling in my face that contorted my smile into something unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. My friends kept telling me to smile normally, even though I felt like I was. My boyfriend at the time was always by my side to remind me of how “different” my smile looked. In other words, I no longer had the smile that he had fallen in love with. I no longer felt like myself. Unfortunately, within the few months to come, I would start to feel less and less like myself. My life would no longer be the same.

One week following my graduation, I went to my local hospital to further investigate why there was severe swelling in my cheek. A couple days later, what I had thought was severe swelling from grinding my teeth due to stress, I was diagnosed with cancer.

More specifically, it was a tumor in my right cheek known as a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor. You say, “That’s a pretty wild name! I’ve never heard of anything like that before!” And that makes sense because it’s an incredibly rare type of cancer. This tumor had been growing since January of 2015, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from college in May of 2015 that I was able to get the proper medical attention that I needed. I was diagnosed in June and began chemotherapy treatments one week after my diagnosis.

Once I had announced my diagnosis on Facebook and called my closest friends and family the cards, letters, baked goods, presents, and the encouraging messages came flooding in. Everyone said they were praying for me. I had visitors in the hospital. But I still felt so alone.

I was the one having drugs pumped through me. I was the one losing her hair. I was the one throwing up constantly and being stuck in the bathroom for hours. I was the one with a constant pounding headache. I was the one with such intense mouth sores that it was impossible for me to eat. I was the one crying myself to sleep at night because I didn’t know how much longer I could handle this pain.

To make matters worse, one of the people that I trusted most to stay by my side in this scary trial — my boyfriend at the time — broke up with me in July. One month after beginning treatments and the day before my birthday. I now not only felt alone but pathetic. I felt as though my life was spiraling out of control. My life was falling apart before my eyes and I felt like I was just an innocent bystander. As it is often said by those who are struggling, I too thought, “Why me?”

At this point in my walk with God, He felt more distant than He ever had in my whole life. He was a powerful enigma that was allowing my life to become a living Hell. And I was pissed.

Prayer seemed pointless. Worship seemed like a waste of time. I just needed to focus on taking care of myself because God was doing a really crappy job.

Everyone experiences pain differently and has their own unique struggles. No one can truly understand what I went through, just like I cannot understand what you may be going through right now. But there is one thing I know…

We need to keep living. There will always be pain, but we cannot let that define how we live our lives. We cannot and shall not be buried in the stresses of life such as work, failed relationships, sickness, financial stress, emotional distress, addictions. We cannot let those things defeat us because news flash: God already won. A good friend of mine just reminded me of something amazing: While there are times in our lives that we will feel very distant from God, such as I have throughout the treatment of my cancer, maybe it’s okay to not have our faith grown during the trials but after the trials. God is constantly growing and changing us, and that does not stop when life gets hard. Quite the contrary, because I believe one of the reasons God brought me through this scary season of my life to help me find my way back to Him.

So here I am, almost a year since I began treatment, a completely different person than I was before. Still just as fun-loving and spunky, but completely overwhelmed by what the future holds for me. I’m terrified and relieved, I’m confident but I’m also unsure, and most of all, I’m much more certain of the fact that God truly is in control of my life.

You know those famous Carrie Underwood lyrics, “Jesus, take the wheel”? Catchy tune, right? Well, I’ve learned that Jesus never lets go of the wheel; He’s always in control of our life. It’s just up to us to stop holding on so tightly, trying to control everything ourselves, and go along for the bumpy and beautiful ride that God already has planned for us.

Our lives are far from perfect, but that’s what makes them exciting. That’s what makes us, and our circumstances, so unique. We’re all different, and not one of us is “normal,” we’re always changing and that’s a-okay.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:9–10, whenever he began to struggle, “[God] 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So I’m not the same as I was almost a year ago, or even a few days ago; but I am stronger. I’m much more comfortable with myself, imperfections and all because I know this is where God wants me. I’m not sure where I’m going, but I know I’m not living this life on my own.

After all I’ve gone through, and will go through, it’s a blessing to be told my smile is still quite beautiful even if it is different. Life, although it may be different, is still beautiful. I promise.

Experience: Raising Godly Kids Today – A Glimpse Into the Life of a 4 Boy Mom

When I meet someone for the first time and they hear that I have four sons I often hear one of the following comments… 

“Better you than me!’

“Wow, how do you manage it?”

“So, you’re the queen?”

Never in all my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be a mother of four boys. When the doctor placed my first born in my arms eighteen and a half years ago and announced that it was a boy, I actually panicked a little bit. I thought, “What am I going to do with him? I don’t know anything about dinosaurs or airplanes!” Seven years later, our fourth son was born. He was perfect and my husband and I were excited and proud. Then it hit me… this was our last child and I didn’t have a daughter. I must be honest and admit that I felt alone.

As I was raising my young sons, I’d find myself looking at clothes and toys that were targeted for girls. 

I’d walk through the aisles making comments in my head….

Pink tutu and blinking wand… maybe.

Purple sparkly bike with ribbons on the handles… definitely.

Yellow dress with matching daisy purse… absolutely.

Hair bows… buy them all!

And then I’d head back to the land of blue and red with many less options. Fortunately, boys don’t care as much. They’re fine with less options and don’t need matching accessories; which makes my life easier.

Being the only female in a house of males can be challenging. I quickly learned about dinosaurs, trains, and airplanes. I watch football, baseball, and hockey as I try to keep up with stats and scores so I can join in the dinner conversations. But I also do my best to point out things to my all male crew that might not be obvious to them. Things such as the beauty of flowers, the joy of shopping (I’m still working on that one), the happiness that dressing up can bring, and explaining why I need so many pairs of shoes. I still feel like a fish out of water at times, but I make it my mission to help my sons understand the unique differences between men and women. 

My husband and I have brought them up in a home full of love, and have made sure that they have a relationship with Christ. We are fair, but firm. I like the verse Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” This verse speaks to fathers, but I think it is easily applicable to mothers as well. 

As our sons have gotten older, I feel that I have an important role in making sure that they have stayed true to who they are and not the norms that society believes young men should be. If you’ve seen any of the video game covers or watched a commercial during a football game, you know what I’m talking about. I want them to be the type of man that I’d want my daughter to date. Through this, I realized that I had an opportunity to teach them about being a true gentleman. We talk about sex, drinking, drugs, and why certain images of women are offensive. 

Don’t get me wrong, my four are not perfect. They are loud, smelly at times, and argue with each other. They don’t always fold their laundry (even though I tell them several times) and don’t always want to share. But they have good hearts and have developed into God-loving young men. Two of our sons have been on mission trips to Africa and Guatemala. Our third son raised over $1,000 from a lemonade stand and donated it all to charity. Our youngest son helps his grandparents and refuses money.

Through our relationship with Christ, our sons see models for happy, healthy lives. They appreciate the relationship that all six of us have and want to maintain it. I’m sure that they will make some mistakes along the way, but will feel confident that they know they can ask us for help and forgiveness.

So my advice to young moms is this: do your best each day and apologize if necessary. Be honest with your kids and talk to them about your struggles. Pray with them. Be a model for them and let them know that they are loved by you and God. And don’t forget to do something nice for yourself every once in a while!