Quieted By Love

Over the woodlands brown and bare, Over the harvest-fields forsaken,

Silent, and soft, and slow

Descends the snow.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I have learned to appreciate a good snow fall. I grew up in the Bay Area of California, so my understanding of seasonal weather conditions is severely jaded. When my husband and I moved to Ohio for three years, my lack of experience with climate extremes became strikingly apparent. I was blissfully unaware that there were so many diverse forms water can take as it falls, that trees may get so encased with ice they fracture from the weight, or that every wintery blue moon, it gets so cold that a once-bustling city can give the impression that it has been frozen.

A civilization covered in layers of white and stillness. Here, I find an earthly picture of the quiet spirit I long for. Instead of highways buzzing, to-do list conquering, and my mind racing, I hear God speak softly because all other voices have been swept away by winter’s kiss. When ice and snow blanket thick across the cityscape, people tuck indoors in search of warmth and forgotten hopes of a world at rest awaken. We stop. We breathe. We begin to see more clearly that the hurried life is not what we were designed for. Humanity in its beautiful diversity forgets that a heart can fracture from the weight of living up to expectations, and this, in turn, can leave us feeling frozen.

Rest often feels foolish, even ludicrous to ask for, and amity does not often coexist with forced huddles. My house is full of people requesting presence that is sometimes hard to give, and the demands of the day swallow time. Beyond my close and daily cares lies present day culture where my senses are violently accosted by the demands of a hurting world. The brokenness of society feels too brazen, politics too poisonous, and people are suffering through (or worse, serving) terror. There is much that is troubling to the soul.

It is during these times that I have to fight for peace — real peace, not this fake numbness found behind screens and disguised as my favorite sins. Complacency calls and I find myself convinced that lies I’ve told myself a thousand times are true: I must strive. I can do it. I will justify my existence.

Instead of fleeing to false comfort, I remember that there is a story that looms larger than the horror, and the inner turmoil is met with the hope that this world has been overcome. Peace can still be mine because it is not dependent on me. It was spoken forth by the man who is God, who was once the baby in the manger; who knew that darkness would persistently press in, so He came and offered light.

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.~ Jesus (John 16:33)

I will remember that it is through Christ, and Christ alone that I have been justified. So today as the temperature drops and human tempers flare, I will find a quiet place. I will remember the times when snow overcomes cities and take heart even when silence cannot be secured. God’s promises will not move. He cannot be shaken. I can be calm in the flurries of noise, I find solace in listening for my Savior, and I will relish in well fought for rest.

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. (Isaiah 30:15)

Without rest, I can’t do. I don’t have the strength to fight for justice or extend mercy when my soul is stretched thin. The “be” and “go” must coexist or only a phantom of who I truly am will be seen in my productivity. A dulled passion of lackluster faith is not the kind of stuff that moves mountains, but a quiescent spirit and dependant heart find the source of true power — the Lord God Almighty who brings peace on Earth.

I can make footprints on icy days not because I do not feel the chill but because within me resides a consuming fire that fears not. I can still move forward when I feel pressured to step back because I am willing to dedicate time to sit with The Savior. I cling to His word that restores my soul and let His spirit quiet me with love.

***

Chara bio pic square 600px.jpgChara Donahue loves to talk to women about Jesus, motherhood and discovering the abundant life. She has four kids, a brawny husband, and is a writer/speaker/biblical counselor when time allows. She has an MSEd from Corban University and is the founder of Anchored Voices. You can find her on multiple social media platforms @CharaDonahue.

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. 

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

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.

Finding Peace Amongst the Chaos

I’ve had the opportunity to visit New York City several times and I am amazed each time. The towering buildings, bustling streets and endless nightlife make the city very unique. I love to watch the people who appear to be locals and wonder what it must be like to live or work in such a busy city. I marvel at the beautiful women walking quickly on 5th Avenue in their high  heels and wonder if their feet hurt. I watch the men in business suits hustling from cabs into buildings and wonder how they keep the pace. The noise and lights of Times Square is exhilarating to the senses. Restaurants, shops and entertainment line the streets of this “city that never sleeps.” It’s full of so many distractions, I wonder how anyone gets anything accomplished!

But nothing amazes me as much as Central Park. An oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle, it offers green grass, water, and peace to those who visit. Each time I visit I wonder how often the people who live in the city visit the beautiful refuge. People jog, walk their dogs and relax in the grass and if you didn’t know it, you could easily forget that you are in New York City.

This sense of tranquility among the chaos of the busy city reminds me of the peace and comfort that the Bible can offer us when life gets crazy. We are faced with tough decisions, demanding schedules and families to provide for and life can be very overwhelming. We need to remember to take advantage of the stories and examples that are offered to us. The Bible should be the first place we turn to when we need help or advice. God sent His only son to be an example for generations to follow. We can look at the stories in the Bible for guidance and direction when life gets as noisy and messy as a crowded city.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. Joshua 1:8 (NLT).

The Bible answers the questions that we all want to know: What is the purpose to life? Where did I come from? Is there life after death? How do I get to heaven? Why is the world full of evil? Why do I struggle with making good choices?

In addition to these “big” questions, the Bible gives much practical advice in areas such as: How can I have a successful marriage? How can I be a good parent? What is success and how do I achieve it? What really matters in life? How can I live so that I do not look back with regret? How can I handle the unfair circumstances and bad events of life?

Christians are so lucky to have this valuable resource to help us navigate the storms and busy pace of life. The question is this:

Will you remember to use it when everything around us presents a distraction?

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.

Redeemed Weekend – May 21, 2016

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A few nights ago, a friend asked me, “So, how do you get all of your ideas?” The truth is that almost every idea I’ve ever gotten has hit me suddenly, manifesting out of nothing. My mind is always running, so it makes sense. The idea for Redeemed Weekend came about in the exact same way – suddenly – and I immediately sent our Head Editor, Kristina, a message about it.

Every Saturday morning, we will prepare a devotional and quiet time playlist for you. Our prayer is that we will bless your weekend and your walk with the Lord. Please enjoy the first Redeemed Weekend.

Nina xo

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Devotional: Anxious For Nothing

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:6, 7 NKJV (emphasis added)

This passage has become a part of my daily walk in recent months. As someone who has struggled with anxiety in the past, it’s become one of my go-to scriptures when I begin to feel my mind wander into a battlefield of lies from the enemy.

Paul wrote to the Philippians to be anxious for nothing. As Christians, we have nothing to be anxious or worry about. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us not to worry about anything — what we’ll eat or drink or wear. In Matthew 6:26 He tells us to look at the birds, “Are you not of more value than they?” If God is able to take care of the birds, how much more will He care for us… His children?

When you worry…

Pray. There’s nothing more effective than prayer. James 5:16 says, “… The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” When God’s children pray, something happens in the atmosphere. God hears your every word, spoken and unspoken. Your prayers will not go unanswered. Keep praying. Keep making that special time with Him, for He will bring you out.

Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is defined as expressing gratitude. When you come to God with thanksgiving and praise, you’ll find that it automatically brings joy and peace. Don’t believe me? Try it. There have been so many times when I didn’t feel like praying, let alone expressing my gratitude while I was in the midst of a storm. But when we come to God with a thankful heart, it is then where we come to realize that it’s not about us… but it’s about Him. It is in the moments of thanking Him for the things He’s done, what He’s brought us through, and what He will do that we humble our hearts and truly give everything — every care — to Him.

It is in these moments of prayer and thanksgiving that we find true peace.

A peace that passes all understanding. A peace that guards us. A peace that comforts us.

What are you worrying about today? What thoughts are consuming your mind? What’s weighing heavily on your heart?

I encourage you today to set some time aside and pray… talk with God. Let Him know what’s on your mind. Then write Philippians 4:6–7 down on a piece of paper, a journal, a sticky note… and put it some place where you’ll be able to see it every day. And every time you see it, remind yourself: Be anxious for nothing.

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.