Tagged: faith

Stepping into the Light After Having Sex Before Marriage

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Someone once asked how Grant and I resisted sexual temptation before we got married. She was struggling with temptation herself and was hoping for some encouragement and guidance. I gave her the truth.

“We didn’t.”

Like many other couples in today’s sex-obsessed culture, Grant and I didn’t save sex for marriage. An intense relationship and long engagement paired with too much freedom led to a lifestyle of sin that we took much care to conceal. We loved our church community and being in student ministry together and feared that coming clean would mean having to choose between serving in ministry and serving our fleshly desires. To avoid that decision, we feigned purity in the public light and continued living out the opposite behind closed doors. Eventually we started to believe we weren’t doing anything wrong.

I know that our experience is not unique. Statistics show that a majority of young Christians are not waiting until marriage. Some are simply swept away by a passionate moment and then don’t get the help they need to make it back to shore. The current often carries them much farther than they intended to go and makes it much harder to swim back.

It’s unsettling yet not shocking that many of our friends, like us, are carrying around secrets of sexual sin to one degree or another. Some have been carrying around secrets since before they began a relationship with Jesus, while some started carrying them after. Some are in ministry. A few of these couples are married now; others are single. And there is one thing we’ve all shared in common: the fear of bringing our sin to light.

There’s something about knowing that you’re not living out the godly, pure Christian walk that is expected of you that makes it more difficult to ask for accountability or be honest about the difficulty of staying pure until marriage. Sometimes it just seems easier to cling to the excuses and justifications that make you feel as though what you’re doing is not that bad. Our culture’s way of normalizing sex and making purity a joke doesn’t help matters either.

Now that Grant and I are on the other side of it all, we realize that this is something we don’t want to see other couples get caught up in. We understand now that choosing purity is not a matter of checking something off the “good Christian” to-do list, but rather a path designed by God for our protection. It is not only the best way to enjoy relationships and marriage, but also what helps preserve peace and joy in both faith and ministry. It’s a fruit he and I will never get to taste. This is why I’m sharing our story today.

Instead of adding onto the fear and guilt that encourages men and women to conceal and stay in their sexual sin, we want to offer a message of freedom that can help get them out. And it starts with pointing to what Jesus has done. How he walked with Grant and I on our dirty, broken path. How he brought us into a covenant of marriage and breathed new life into our faith. How he showered us with immeasurable grace we could never earn or deserve. But most of all, how he transformed our “worldly sorrow,”  the kind that “brings death,” into “godly sorrow,” the kind that “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Godly sorrow. This is what the Lord has been teaching me and what I hope begins to move in the hearts of those who know the pain of sexual sin all too well.

It’s true that now being married to Grant “softens the blow” in some regards; it makes our sin a little less scandalous or a little more easily forgiven, at least in our minds. But I still have sorrow. I have sorrow for the wedding night and first year of marriage that wasn’t quite what I had dreamt of. I have sorrow for the day when we will have to share this part of our story with our children, when we will be to them a warning to heed rather than an example to follow. I have sorrow for my relationship with the Lord that suffered as I carried around the weight of my guilt.

I also have sorrow because I know that as I confess this now, I am probably disappointing people I care about — family members and friends who believed Grant and I were doing things right, friends and mentors who encouraged me and gave me sweet advice for what they thought would be our first time on our wedding night, faithful readers who’ve applauded my authenticity and honesty, pastors and leaders within the church who expected and trusted me to pursue purity, and students under my leadership who looked up to me.

But when I say that we now have a godly sorrow rather than a worldly sorrow, I mean that while there is still a longing for things to have gone a different way, there is also an acceptance that this is our story, a desire to move on and heal, and faith that God will use it for good.

This is different from the sorrow I once had when I was grieving more because of my guilt than because of my loss, when I felt too burdened by what I had done to want to bring my sin to light or make amends with the Lord. The weight I was carrying became so heavy that the only way I could think of to keep moving forward was to pretend it wasn’t there. This is worldly sorrow. And it only leads to death — death of hopes and dreams for the future, death of authenticity and transparency, and death of a once vibrant relationship with God.

Godly sorrow, on the other hand, leads to repentance, salvation, and a life not hindered by regret. It leads to freedom. And the only way to get from A to B, from this worldly sorrow to godly sorrow, is to take your eyes off that sin and instead put it on the Son on the Cross. Believing that the only reason you could ever be victorious over that sin is because of the victory Jesus won for you. Trusting that “his divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). Allowing yourself to accept that it’s never too late to turn back, to run into the Heavenly Father’s open arms and take hold of the mercy and grace he’s so freely offering you.

Grant and I don’t live with much regret anymore. We live with freedom instead. And if we had only believed that we could live with that freedom back then, things would probably have gone a lot differently. I don’t think we would’ve hesitated to get help and ask for accountability when we needed it. I don’t think we would’ve made excuses or tried to hide from God or from the church. I don’t think we would’ve wanted to remain in our sin. Not if we had truly tasted freedom, if we had remained captivated with the Cross.

The reason I’m sharing these things is because I believe in the power of godly sorrow, of repenting and allowing yourself to receive God’s grace to start anew.

If you are feeling the weight of worldly sorrow and the regrets of a sin you just can’t outrun, I wish I could be sitting across from you right now. I’d put down my coffee, grab your hands as I meet your eyes, and say these words with the sincerest love and longing for you. “I understand you. I don’t judge or condemn you. And I want more for you. The Lord wants more for you. Even now, no matter how far you’ve gone, he longs for you to know his love and choose a better way.” I hope that in that moment, you would realize you still have a small voice inside of you saying, “Actually, I want more for myself, too.”

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

In the light there is relationship and community. Renewal and cleansing. It’s a place where perfect love trumps fear. There’s no room for shame; it’s just a wide open space of freedom.

And you, my dear friend, are invited to step in.

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If You Want to Love Your Kids

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Everywhere we go, we’re given messages of what mothers should do or ought to do to prove her love for her kids. We’re covertly told that a mother’s love is based on her works, that every decision she makes is a statement about how much she cares for her child. Natural birth or medicated. Breastmilk or formula. Working or staying at home. Vaccines or none. Public or homeschool. Positive parenting or spanking. Crafts or TV. Processed or organic.

I am guilty of believing the lie, of putting certain things up on a pedestal. I wouldn’t dare claim that any of these things make or break a mother’s love, but I like to cling to my “camps”, the moms who are doing it just like me. Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that I’m “doing it right” and I need to do the world a favor by showing them what’s best.

But the Lord is in the business of kicking legalism to a curb. He finds ways to remind me that I have nothing and can do nothing to earn the approval I so desperately crave. He’s humbling me as I allow him to guide me closer to his heart for motherhood. And I realize now that his motto is not “breast is best” and his priority is not to put every mother into the home. I notice that he doesn’t favor the moms who only feeds her kids organic and he doesn’t punish the ones who send their kids off to public school. I see that he equips parents to love on their kids in unique, individualized ways and that he is found in many different kinds of parenting and discipline.

I know now that the biggest favor I can do for any mom isn’t to go on and on about why they should choose a certain style of mothering or why they should follow my example. The biggest favor I can do for any mom is to point them to Jesus. Why?

Because that “love” we’re putting all our hope and boasting in? The love that’s merely a collection of our good deeds based on our society’s ever-changing standards? The love that’s equated with what we put in our babies’ mouths, how many shots they’ve had, and who’s watching them? Well, it can’t hold a candle to the love of Jesus, the love that led him to the Cross. The love that defeated death for the undeserving. The love that throws shame to the curb. The love that promises fullness of life, both now and for eternity.

The love that he wants to shower you with so you can stop the useless striving and comparing and live in freedom instead. The love he wants to use through you to bring his kingdom near.

You want to leave a legacy? To love your kids in such a way that it stands out, transforms your family from the inside out, and doesn’t leave you exhausted or empty in the process?

Then love your kids as a mom changed and led by the Gospel.

Love your kids as a mom who’s freed from the pressure to attain perfection, who allows herself and others to be the messy, amazing people they were made to be.

Love your kids not as a mom who’s enslaved to her circumstances or emotions, but as one who’s dancing in the grace freely offered from heaven and rejoicing in her redemption.

Love your kids as a mom whose eyes are fixed upward on the Giver of all good gifts and whose hands are raised in praise to the only One worthy of glory.

Love your kids as a mom who’s not moved by the pressures of this world or seeking to outdo the moms next to her, but is rather chasing after God’s best for herself and her family.

Your heart’s attitude and the perspective with which you view motherhood changes when you realize that you need Jesus and his die-to-self, unrelenting love just as much as the next mom. When you embrace this sort of love, you no longer care about how you compare to the moms next to you or who’s “doing it right” and who’s not. You’ll be too busy living out your calling of motherhood with the One who called you to it.

Can you imagine it?

Every day I am amazed at how much the Lord has left to teach me about love. As long as I’m trying to prove my love for my baby through every little thing I do, I know I still haven’t gotten it quite right. As long as I’m secretly comparing and competing, I know I still haven’t the faintest idea of what love is really all about. I mean, forget trying to learn how he wants me to love my kids! I still haven’t figured out how to be loved myself! But I want to.

Because one of the best and most freeing parts of his love is that it doesn’t depend on my perfection. It solely rests on his.

And if I can get this and embrace this with what little time I have on this earth, what can stop me from raising a family of planet-shakers? If the Lord is for me and I actually believe it, who can be against me? Is there anything quite so powerful as a mother on a mission, equipped with the truth that the world so desperately needs?

I’m daring to find out.

Our Marriage After Baby

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I knew my marriage would change after having a baby. I had heard rumors of sleep-deprived parents just passing each other like ships in the night and sexless couples who hadn’t been on a date in ages. Two people so consumed with parenthood that there is little energy or time to devote to one another. A wife and husband resembling roommates more than spouses.

I am happy to report that those things aren’t all that true for us, but Grant and I have still had our own fair share of challenges and did change in many ways after becoming parents to our sweet baby girl just six months ago. We’ve come a long way since coming home from the hospital, but we’re still finding our way back to each other. Regaining what was lost as we gained this precious new family member. Uncovering a slightly different version of ourselves and discovering how they fit together.

The first few months were an adjustment period filled with tears and screaming and laughing and bonding. My hormones did a lot of good when it came to my relationship with my baby. But my relationship with my husband? Not so much. Postpartum rage was very real for me, as is the prolactin coursing through my body from breastfeeding that has basically brought my desire for intimacy to an all-time low.

For a while I just didn’t care. My whole world had shifted from being about me and our marriage to being about her. It felt as though I had blissfully, freely given my whole being — my heart, body, mind, and soul — to my baby. My husband just got the leftovers.

I used to always want to serve him, to be his “helper.” I would make breakfast every morning and dinner every night, keeping the house clean and making sure everything was in proper order. I listened to all of his work stories and encouraged him daily, telling him how handsome and hardworking I thought he was. I would sit and think of ways I could ease his burdens and make him smile. I used to surprise him in the bedroom.

As soon as I had a baby, I no longer cared about serving my husband. All I wanted was to be served by him. I let him do all the cooking and all the cleaning. If I was sitting on the couch and there was something I needed, he’d get it for me. If there was something I wanted done, he’d do it for me. It wasn’t a big deal at first. I literally had just squeezed an eight pound baby out of my body and was now a twenty-four hour milk machine. It was time for me to put my feet up and let Grant run the house for a change. And he loved taking on those burdens in the early days. He’s always had a servant’s heart. If his body could produce milk, I know he’d take on the task of breastfeeding in a heartbeat just so he could share in that burden, as well.

But if there was an appropriate length of time that I was allowed to be a little selfish as a new mom, I had long past it. And if there was an appropriate amount of responsibilities I was allowed to shirk or amount of meanness I was allowed to dish out, I definitely crossed the line. Things got ugly when he would start talking to me about work and I’d simply tell him that I didn’t care. It became exceedingly difficult for him when he’d tell me I’m beautiful or try to make a move and I would just turn away. For months on end, it seemed as though I only cared about my needs and Tessa’s needs. And if Grant had his own needs, I certainly didn’t want to hear them.

Until I began to realize that I hadn’t touched a stove in five months and that almost all of my sentences began with “can you…” Until I scrolled through our text messages and saw that he never stopped sending me sweet words of encouragement whereas I never returned any back. Until he brought to my attention that it hurts him when I turn him away, that there were beginning to be emotional ramifications to the lack of touch and closeness between us. Physical touch is Grant’s top love language. Unfortunately, it is my lowest one. See the problem?

I told myself for a while that because so much of my behavior could be explained by my change in hormones, there was nothing wrong with me or with us. Things were just different and there was nothing I could do about it. But I know better and I’m choosing every day to do something about it now. What does this look like? A lot of asking for forgiveness. Self-reflection. Tons and tons of prayer. But most of all, it has looked like intentionality — intentional decisions to love and serve. Even when my heart’s just not in it. Especially when my heart’s not in it. And most of the time, it’s not. Almost nothing between Grant and I feels natural anymore. What once came naturally requires intentionality. There’s just no way around it.

I still ask Grant for a lot of help around the house, probably way more than I ought to ask a man who works full time on the night shift. But I’m trying to change this. Even though every part of me would rather be spaced out in front of the television by the end of the day, I’m force myself to put some effort into cooking again. To be the first to tend to the crying baby instead of the last. Instead of piling things onto Grant’s plate just because I’d like to see them done, I’m now intentionally mulling over each item on my to-do list, determining whether I can do it myself or if it even needs to be done at all. Usually it doesn’t.

We’re both relieved that I’m starting to crave intimacy a little more these days, but four out of five times that he pursues me, he still gets turned away. If I’m not careful, I can let weeks go by without so much as a passionate kiss. The problem is that I’m waiting to magically want to be close and physical the same way I did before, and it’s just not happening. So now I’m starting to have to make those small, intentional choices. To greet him with a hug and kiss instead of the usual distracted hello. To hold his hand or sit next to him even when I’d rather have my space. To respond to his pursuit despite my lack of desire. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received on this subject is to say yes first and let the desire come later. More often than not, the desire does come.

In order to spend quality time together, we often have to remove ourselves from the house. We go on day trips together, listen to podcasts in the car, and take walks around the park. We tow the baby along in the stroller, letting her be engaged with the sights and sounds as we attempt to reengage with one another again. We’re realizing it’s not the fancy date nights or the spending of money that nurtures our friendship. It’s the small, simple things — a sermon we both enjoyed, cooking or pulling weeds side by side, going through the one year Bible reading plan together, and eating breakfast at the kitchen table as a family every morning.

When life gets busy and distracting, it’s easy to let these small, simple things be the first to go. So we have to be intentional to hold onto them. Sometimes that means saying no to invitations from friends or limiting time with family. The things that once were a priority get put on the back burner for now. We don’t mean to be shut-ins or let people down, but this is how we fight for our marriage. Reclaiming the space, time, and effort we once tried to freely give to everyone and everything.

I think one of the best parts about our marriage after having a baby is getting to see each other shine in our new roles of mommy and daddy. Watching Grant laugh and play with Tessa makes my heart burst with gratitude that the same man who makes such an amazing husband is just as amazing of a father. I love my husband and the life we now have together. I don’t want to end this post without making that clear.

It’s not easy being parents and it’s not all that easy on our marriage. But the Lord knew when he brought us together that he would also bring us a baby girl and that she would change us, challenge us, and make us even better than we were before. I did enjoy the days when it was just Grant and I. But nothing can compare to the joy we have now. And these challenges we’re having to navigate are necessary and good, provided that we allow them to make us into the wife/mom and husband/dad we’re meant to be. This is our sanctification.

I’m sharing all of these things because I want to remind every struggling wife out there that she does have a say in the direction of her marriage. We get to choose to be the loving mom and the loving wife. And we do not, or rather we cannot, do this alone. God in his great mercy hears our prayers and our soul’s longing to be united with our husbands again, to have our marriage be all that it can be and even more. He picks us up in our weakness and carries us closer to the finish line. He takes our desperate “Lord, I need you” and runs with it, renewing the things we thought were long dead. Fixing the pieces of our hearts and marriages that we believed were broken. I know it to be true because I’ve seen it happen for me, my sisters.

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:3-5).

If nothing else, my prayer is that in sharing these things, God might use my weakness and brokenness to show off his great love and power. Looking back on these past six months, I feel all kinds of weak and broken. But if there is glory or praise to be given to him from what Grant and I have been experiencing, let it be. I will be the first to lift my hands and shout, “Hallelujah!”

 

The Loneliness of Motherhood

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Motherhood is a lonely thing.

It doesn’t matter how many times your family and friends promise to be there whenever you need a break or are reaching your wit’s end. When you are a new mom, you still end up feeling like you have no one to lean on, no one who truly understands.

When the baby isn’t going down for their nap and is crying from gas or when you’re nursing in the middle of the night for what feels like the twentieth time, there isn’t a loved one whispering “you’ve got this, mama” in your ear or an unread text from a girlfriend reminding you that this season will pass. There is no kind nanny just waiting to be tagged in or a therapist in your living room who is always available for a good vent. If you’re lucky, you have a friend or two who are also navigating the early months of motherhood. But even being surrounded by other new moms is no guarantee that you’ll find the immediate solace you need. Somehow you end up feeling utterly alone despite everyone’s supposed promises that you are aren’t.

If you’re in the early days of motherhood and are handling it anything like me, you try to keep busy. You involve yourself in church and Bible studies. You invite anyone and everyone to get coffee with you. You visit family. You spend a lot of time on social media and Netflix. You walk around the mall and try not to spend all of your money. You become a regular at the park, pushing that stroller around the track until you can’t feel your wrists anymore.

But maybe, like me, you have found that this “keeping busy” thing just isn’t enough. It can get you through a few days or even a few weeks, but the loneliness and purposelessness always return. Being a stay-at-home mom of a baby who can’t walk, can’t talk, basically can’t do diddly-squat besides shake a few toys and play peek-a-boo is rough, no matter how hard you try to sugarcoat it with a full schedule or how many friends you have.

The truth is that the loneliness of motherhood is not merely a matter of not being surrounded by enough people. No, it is lonely by design.

Only you are this baby’s mother. You offer them the special comfort that they can’t find anywhere else. You pay attention to the details of your baby’s development like nobody else. You alone know how to discern their different cries and the exact way they like to be rocked or held. You’re the only one who cares if they miss a nap or get hungry sooner than expected. You clock in the most hours with your little one and hardly ever get to clock out.

With this kind of around-the-clock care you are giving, it is no wonder that you start to feel a little neglected and taken for granted. That sleeping angel you just spent an hour nursing and coaxing to bed can’t express their gratitude. Your husband can only listen to your troubles and tend to your needs for so long before they have to get to work or get some sleep. Your friends don’t know that it hurts to wait for that text or invite that never comes. And those people giving you unwanted advice don’t understand that they are doing the opposite of helping.

Side note: this week I fell apart and cried in front of my five-month-old and she laughed. SHE LAUGHED. If that doesn’t make you feel taken for granted, then I don’t know what would.

If you’re a new mom and are tired of how lonely you’ve been feeling, maybe even embarrassed for not quite thriving as that mom you were so excited to become, I just want you to know that I do understand. I’ve been there and am still there. I don’t have any real solutions and I don’t think there are any. I think that when we became mothers, we unknowingly signed up for one of the loneliest of jobs. That’s just the nature of motherhood.

The one thing I want to say to encourage you, the thing that I wish someone would say to me, is that being lonely is okay. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It doesn’t mean you have to try harder (although you most certainly can try).

If you’re lonely, you’re doing something right. You’re allowing yourself to give fully and freely to that precious baby, even while knowing there is a cost. You’re learning how to bear hard times for the sake of your family, one of many sacrifices you’ll make for the rest of your life. You’re walking through the valley that can refine you and point you to the Most High Comforter.

One day your little one will be able to thank you for all you do. You’ll get more time to do things for yourself. Your day will consist of more conversations than coos and cries. But in the meantime, my lonely friends, I am right here with you. You are loved and not forgotten.

You’ve got this, mama.

 

 

 

When You Don’t Feel Beautiful

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Having a baby changed everything about my body. Every single part. I’m gradually losing my hair, breaking out in pimples like I’m back in high school, still dealing with swollen fingers and feet, and don’t even get me started on my jello-like belly and thick thighs.

I like to talk about my postpartum body because it’s real. And for the most part, I like my body, too. I’m still so fascinated by the fact that it housed a tiny human for nine months and is able to produce the only source of nourishment that tiny human needs. When I look in the mirror, I often see a strong woman, a mighty warrior, and a great mom. But when I take the time to really examine my body, I begin to remember the way it used to look and start to notice all of its flaws.

Lately I’ve been noticing the flaws more and more. I’m no longer on that “new mom high” and I’m paying more attention to things outside of my life with a baby, like what other people are wearing or what size they are or how flawless they look on social media. I still want to appreciate my body and feel confident in my own skin, but I can’t shake the feeling that I should be thinner, tighter, and trendier. I don’t like that none of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit me. I feel frumpy in my seamless nursing bras. It bothers me that I still look like I could be four months pregnant. And if I’m being totally honest here, I feel far from sexy with this saggy, squishy body.

I could spend the rest of this post ranting about how our society has failed us –how it’s difficult to find flattering clothing for curvier women, how we’re surrounded by pressures to get rid of our baby weight, how filters and editing apps create an unrealistic expectation of how women should look, and how Victorias Secret doesn’t even carry plus-sizes (I may or may not have shed tears at the mall after discovering this) — but I know that my problem isn’t just with society. The problem also lies with me.

I’m the one who has a problem with the way I look. Sure, I call myself “beautiful” because that’s what I’m supposed to believe about myself, but I still pick myself apart like most women do. I’m the one doing the analysis. I’m the one who’s deciding I don’t like what I see.

This past Sunday evening at church, I was trying to focus during worship, but all I could think about was what a disaster my shopping trip had been that day. I went to the mall with expectations of finding clothes that would make me feel pretty and I instead left empty-handed. It’s not wrong to want to feel pretty or to want to dress up and look nice. But because I failed at fulfilling this vision for myself, I began to question my beauty as a whole. Am I really beautiful? Because I think my muffin top says otherwise and my greasy hair disagrees. How I would love to be just a few sizes thinner! Or have amazing, long hair or a smaller chest or a nicer wardrobe.

But the Lord had something to say about that.

“You don’t get to pick and choose what parts of you are beautiful. You either are beautiful or you’re not. And my darling, you are beautiful.”

Me? Really? I’m beautiful?

I let this sink in for a moment. And I had to ask myself, is it enough for the Lord, my heavenly Daddy, to say that I’m beautiful? Is that enough for me? If I stopped getting likes and comments on my photos, if I stopped wearing makeup or curling my hair, if I didn’t have anyone around to compliment my looks, would it be enough for me to know that God himself sees me as beautiful?

I don’t like my answer to that question. Because truthfully, it’s a no.

I don’t have that confidence yet. I don’t have that security in myself. I don’t have that positive body image. I want it, but I’m just not there.

Praise the Lord for grace upon grace.

I was created for more than this world, but I still get caught up in it. The Lord formed my body, but I tear it down. I am blessed with life, but I curse the vessel I’ve been given. My Father in heaven calls me beautiful, but I act like he’s a liar.

But I know there is immeasurable grace for me in my moments of weakness. And I know that if I come to him with a desire to change, to see myself as he sees me, he’ll give it to me. It’ll take time to believe the truth he whispers in my ear and it’ll take effort to cast out the lies the enemy whispers in the other, but one day — Lord willing — I’ll get there and it’ll be so worth it. I have hope there will be a day when I will be able to stand in front of the mirror without a made-up face or the pretty, frilly things of this world and fully, completely, irrevocably see myself as beautiful. From the top of my head all the way to my toes.

But for right now, when I am asked to believe that I am beautiful, I at least pray, “I do believe… but help my unbelief.”

 

The Dark Side of Writing

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Image by Sandra Konrad via Flickr

There is a dark side of writing, specifically blogging, that I believe many people experience but few talk about. I have known this dark side very well and have become so accustomed to it that it took a long time for me to even understand it or do anything about it.

I wrote a blog post last July about why I stopped writing, and at that time I was fully committed to putting that part of my life behind me. I already had done so for quite some time before really announcing it and I figured I’d be too busy being a mom to even want to pursue writing again.

But shortly after my daughter was born this past October, I began feeling a longing to write again — about my new experiences as a mom, what God has been teaching me, some more details about my pregnancy and birth, the challenges I’ve been facing — but I fought that longing and tried to push it as far away from me as I could. Instead of it going away, it only became stronger. So strong that even when I would rather have been thinking about anything else, I was already writing full length blog posts in my head. No matter how hard I tried to distract myself or think about something else, the words would not stop coming to mind. I thought the enemy was trying to tempt me and that giving in would only upset God, who I assumed was proud of me for putting writing aside in the pursuit of godlier things.

Honestly, I was scared.

I knew what writing had done to me, how I had pursued this “calling” and worked on finessing this “gift” to the point of losing myself. When I look back, I see the way it brought out this ugly monster inside of me — this greedy, insecure, jealous person who cared too much about gaining a following and keeping up appearances on social media. I was fame-hungry and applause-driven. What had been a passion became an obsession.

I don’t think I’m the only one who can attest to the way that being in the spotlight and having a platform can bring out the worst in you, yet this dark side to writing is not talked about. Even I didn’t want to admit to it for the longest time. Because why would people look up to us or admire our gifts if our character is slipping away? Being vulnerable to this level doesn’t seem so exciting anymore when you know it may negatively affect the way people perceive your “brand.”

And that’s what mattered to me, really. The brand. I was trying to sell myself to the public without even fully realizing it. And in doing so, I feel like I was also selling little parts of my soul, like the part that enabled me to celebrate other people’s successes without feeling like I need to compete with them or the part that was able to enjoy life without caring what other people think of me.

But God.

Yes, there is a but.

But God, in his immeasurable grace, still somehow used me. Because when I look back, I also see the way my truth encouraged and ministered to others. I remember my stories reaching the hearts of hurting people. With the gift of writing I was able to put into words what other people were experiencing, whether the aches of being a young twenty-something, the woes of relationships, the bitter seasons of loneliness, or the inner conflicts of our spiritual walk.

When I look at my journey as a writer as a whole picture instead of just focus on my shortcomings, I am reminded that writing was never my sin. It was many things — a hobby, a gift, a passion, a ministry, a calling — but a sin was not one of them. I lost myself for some time and sin found a way to creep into my life, but that didn’t negate what God was able to do with a testimony and a gift. And it still doesn’t.

I am thankful for the season when I wasn’t writing because it led me to understand there is a more graceful way to live that doesn’t involve so much selfish ambition or people-pleasing. But I’m ready to rediscover my passion for writing again. I am putting several safeguards in place this time, aware that the enemy is always going to want to corrupt a good gift, especially when the aim of it is God-glorifying. Even though I don’t know how often I will write or what exactly I’ll even write about, I trust that God can do something with my mess and use me once again.

I still believe there is a dark side to writing, but I know there is also a beautiful one. I realize now that it’s up to us to decide which side we’ll give power to and I want to pick the right one this time.

When I Knew Skip Wells

Photo by Beverly & Pack via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/6qcu3N)

Photo by Beverly & Pack via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/6qcu3N)

When I best knew Skip, who is also recognized as USMC Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, he was not yet a man. He was a boy. My fifth-grade crush, actually. Two days before I got the news that he had been killed in a shooting in Chattanooga, I was telling my fiancé about Skip and that one time I had peach juices running down my face as I ate a peach in front of him in fifth grade at Bells Ferry Elementary. To this day, I still consider that as one of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood. Skip was also the one who made me blush on my first day of sixth grade when I came back to school from Summer break and had “filled out” and somehow grown a foot taller. I remember him being one of the first people I saw in the halls of J.J. Daniell Middle School and being absolutely delighted that he noticed me. “What happened to you?” he asked with surprise and a smile. Flirting or not, I was pleased.

The funny thing is that I have hardly any memories of Skip and I after that day. We went to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school, yet my memories are confined to such a short period of time because I know that we fell into different crowds and didn’t care to remain friends. All I remember of him from high school was that he dated the same girl for years on end and I kept thinking to myself every time I saw them holding hands in the halls that I don’t know anyone else my age who is as faithful in a relationship as him.

One of the things I did know about him regardless of whether or not we lost touch was that he loved God very well. I also remember that he loved this country and the idea of fighting for it, and after we graduated in the same class from Sprayberry High School in 2012, I wasn’t surprised to find out that he wanted to be a Marine.

Fast forward a few years and I’m sitting alone in my house with tears streaming down my face and wondering why Skip had to die. And as I’m wondering this, I’m also fervently praying for his mother and family because I couldn’t bear the thought of what it must be like for them to hear the news that their Skip is gone. How do you get through the loss of your son? I remember thinking to myself. No mother should have to outlive her child, I also said with anger to God.

But I wasn’t angry at God that day. I was angry at the world. I was angry at the shooter. I was angry at terrorism. And also scared. Because I could no longer deny that evil isn’t lurking around the corner. Skip knew that more than I did. And knowing such evil and doing whatever possible to stop it from harming others is an act of heroic bravery. Unlike me, Skip had that heroic bravery about him.

Like me, most people these days like to pretend that such evil things don’t exist or aren’t happening all around them.

On the day Skip died, he wasn’t given the option of pretending. Skip was a brave and honorable man. He was one of the rare few in this world willing to lay down his life.

I wasn’t planning on going to his funeral today. Even though I was there when the coffin containing Skip’s body arrived at the funeral home last Thursday afternoon and I was also there when that same coffin was leaving the funeral home to be transported to the actual funeral this morning, I didn’t want to go to the funeral. The very scared part of me just wanted to be a witness, a bystander. I didn’t want to be a part of the mourning because then that would require doing something as terrifying as going to a funeral, which I had never done and never wanted to do.

But as I watched the hearse drive by me, I realized that I was already wearing an all-black dress. I had already completely filled my gas tank. I had already bought food to tide me over for a few hours. I was already unscheduled to do anything this afternoon. And lo and behold, I had just enough time to make it to the funeral. So I went. Alone. Unexpectedly. Slightly frightened of what I’d find.

Do you want to know what I found? That I was mourning. I was mourning for Skip, but also for his mother and also for myself. I can’t possibly compare my life to Skip’s life, let alone any experience of mine to Skip’s death. There’s no justice in that. But when I say that I was mourning for myself, I am indicating that something was lost in my life this past week: innocence. I not only became acquainted with the reality of evil more than ever before, but I also became more angry at evil more than ever before. I couldn’t claim naiveness anymore. And I HATED that man for what he had done to a godly man like Skip.

This past semester, I took a class on terrorism and I sat through the whole semester in that class without batting an eye. I even described the terrorists I was learning about as “interesting” and “intriguing.” I contemplated their motives, somehow had natural empathy for them, and would come home to Grant and talk about how fascinating the whole subject was.

But there was not a single fascinating thing about what transpired in Chattanooga less than two weeks ago. Not a single thing. What transpired in Chattanooga was sickening. Disgusting. Horrifying. And heartbreaking.

And I hated that man. Which, if you know me, you would say is absolutely out of my character. Jessie loves everybody!

Except it’s not out of my character. Hate is not out of any of our characters.

You know what’s out of our characters? To love despite complete loss and heartache. To keep going despite losing all that is most precious to you on this earth. To allow yourself to be put in harm’s way and even killed for the sake of so many Americans who forsake both patriotism and respect for servicemen.

That kind of behavior, that kind of love and strength, is not of this world. It is of God.

Skip had that kind of love and strength in him. It WAS of his character — because his character was molded and transformed through his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I’m sure Skip hated evil. We can all hate evil (if we choose to finally see it). But you know what else Skip did that I think is pretty uncommon? He loved what is good.

Many of us are in the in-between. We are indifferent to both extremes. We are touched momentarily by a sweet, selfless act and temporarily in shock from a terrorist attack, but we carry on with our ordinary, everyday lives. Skip wasn’t willing to carry on with his ordinary, everyday life. That’s why he joined the Marines. And I know Skip’s mother won’t carry on with her ordinary, everyday life. She will be forever changed by what happened to her son.

We aren’t designed to experience joy and pain only to carry on with our ordinary, everyday lives. That’s the pattern so many of us choose, but it’s not the calling God has for our lives. He wants us to be impacted and touched. Furious for the sake of justice. Jealous for righteousness. And as brokenhearted as he is for the hurting and lost in this world.

We all need wake-up calls. We are all on our way to the grave. Although eternal life will be waiting for many of us on the other side, we still have a life left to live here on this earth. And some of us, like Skip, will be leaving this earth way too soon.

What I loved about Skip’s funeral was that it wasn’t just a celebration of Skip’s life, but it was also a celebration of God’s gift of eternal life. We know that Skip is in the presence of God in Heaven, able to freely rejoice and escape the numbness that this world has to offer us at the cost of our innocence.

I love that at the end of the funeral, the pastor got up on stage and was able to give an invitation to all of those attending. It was an invitation to that same eternal life Skip now calls his home. And I pray that people decided to begin a relationship with God and accept the offer of eternal life in God’s Kingdom as a result of mourning with Skip’s family and friends today. Even the people who were mostly there to get good videos and pictures on their iPhones, the people who disrespectfully made Skip’s funeral look like a spectacle. If they saw the love and life of God through the lens of their camera, then I suppose it would all be worth it.

I guess I’m sharing all of this because I’m mourning in my own way, along with many others. I’m wrestling with how much hate versus love is in my heart as a result of such tragedy and evil happening around me. I’m praying for Skip’s family while also secretly and desperately pleading with God to never let me experience the loss of a child. I’m striving to let myself be changed by this instead of snap back to the naive, ignorant life I often choose to live. And I’m wondering how God is getting the glory through Skip’s life and death (although I have no doubt that he is).

My last thoughts on Skip Wells for today are that I knew him as a boy, when we were young and innocent and mostly unafraid. Now Skip is gone and so is that innocent, courageous youth we both once knew.

He became a man without me noticing and he was going to go off and do great things probably without me noticing, too. But now nothing about Skip can go unnoticed. And I’m left with the choice of whether I’m going to keep noticing — not just Skip, but all other important, even senseless things happening around me, both good and evil — or if I’m going to shut my eyes and choose ignorance.

You have that same choice to make. If you knew Skip, then you also have now known death. And evil. And pain. And loss. You might not feel it all right now, but you can’t say you don’t know that it’s there. So what are you going to do with it?

Are you going to let the evil and pain drive you into the arms of God and purposeful living, as it did for Skip? Or are you going to let it create a wall of bitterness, indifference, or apathy in your heart?

Skip doesn’t have to make that choice any longer. He is with his Creator in a place more beautiful and perfect than we could ever imagine. But you and I are still here. We do have that choice to make. And if we choose right, we may get to scratch the surface of that beauty and perfection, at least enough to get us through each heartbreaking day and tragic night until we get to be face-to-face with our great God, too. And if we choose wrong, we’ll only miss out. We might spare ourselves from some pain right now, but not in the long run.

Skip might have been afraid of death, but he was still willing to risk his life. What are you and I afraid of? And looking at Skip’s bravery and faithfulness, how can we maybe borrow some of that bravery and faithfulness to make sure we also live a life and die a death that is as far from wasted and purposeless as the east is from the west? I’ll give you a hint: even good and honorable Skip knew he needed a Savior. What makes any of us think we don’t desperately need one, too?

Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, we will miss you and we honor you. Thank you for being an example to others around you. I will see you in Heaven someday so please save a perfect peach for me.