Take chances. Abandon all the rules. Ditch the recipe. Color outside the lines.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Self-Love and Poetry

As I am sure has been apparent to those of you who follow me on a regular basis I have been on a new journey lately towards self-love.  I have found that though I can always accept quite readily that God loves me and I can sometimes accept that other people love me, I have an incredibly difficult time loving myself.  Some of this struggle comes from growing up within religion where self-love was labeled selfishness as the continual reminder to “die to self” repeatedly echoed through the empty places in my soul.

I have lived my life mostly unaware what trouble hating myself has caused me.  As I began my self-hate recovery journey a little over a year ago I saw chains break inside me that I had no idea where held captive.  Not long ago my cousin Catherine challenged me to something she called “She Speaks Truth to Herself.”  The challenge was to write a letter to myself speaking truth to my own heart.  It was incredibly difficult and incredibly healing.  [Click here to read my blog of that challenge].  So, when she asked me if I wanted to preview her poetry chapbook with the same title and write a review of it I was super excited to say yes!

She Speaks Truth to Herself by Catherine Valentine is a fantastic little chapbook packed full of truth and healing words.  I’m kind of a sucker for poetry anyway (probably because I really suck at writing it) so it wasn’t incredibly hard for this collection to win me over.  In this book Catherine is fearlessly authentic and beautiful exposed.  My favorite piece in the book is called “Broken.”  Here is my favorite stanza:

This is God’s church, these are His people--
the wounded, the broken, hypocrite and liar.
In good company in the church of the broken.

I would definitely recommend this chapbook to anyone who is interested in poetry, truth, or authentic people.  I hope it will encourage you to start your own self-love journey and in turn free places in you that you didn’t know were captive.  It surely has helped do that for me. 


For more writing by Catherine check out her website here:  www.catherinevalentine.wix.com/cvalentinewriter

Monday, October 17, 2016

Breath

Breath.

It’s amazing what power there is in a breath.
Life itself can hang on the ins and outs of just one breath.  In fact, with very little research one will find that life’s origin lies in one breath.  One holy breath.  One exhale from God and one inhale from man and life exploded into being.  One exhale, one inhale, it’s all so simple.

Today as I sat in the break area at work hanging desperately to the last minutes of escape before going back to invoices and numbers and expectations, I took an extra moment to breathe.  I took just one big deep breath in and let it sink its way down into the depths of me, and as I exhaled I felt my shoulders slump and relax for a moment… a fleeting but precious moment. 

Have you ever stopped to think about what breathing really is?  I mean, have you ever REALLY thought about it?  Breathing is about receiving.  Breathing is receiving life from outside of yourself.  It’s about taking in nutrients and energy and expelling all that is not those things.  One exhale from God and one inhale from man.

It’s funny to me how I so often think that I am in control.  How often a cling to my independence thinking that makes me strong.  AND YET I cannot even take a breath without being dependent on things outside of myself to supply me with life-- on trees and plants and molecules of oxygen that I can’t even see with my own eyes.

I can’t help but liken this physical life to the less tangible reality of spiritual life.  Interestingly enough in the Hebrew language the word for “breath” and the word for “spirit” are actually the same word.  It’s the word “Ruach” and it carries with it the undertone of both life and power.  When the Hebrews spoke of “spirit” it was linked to identity.  Who you were was defined by your spirit or your breath of life.  This linking of breath and spirit and life and identity is peppered ALL through the Bible (weird, it’s like it’s important or something).

Now, you might be saying, “Ok, Jess, we get it you’re a huge Bible nerd, but what does that have to do with us now?”  Well, my friends, what if I told you that you have been breathed into with the holy breath of Jesus himself?  What if you possess in you the very life force of a Savior too powerful to be held by the grave?  What if, your identity is linked to Jesus Himself?

Well, you have. You do.  It is.

Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you.  

Romans 8:11 (NET) 


You know the problem with the Church today?  We only preach half of the gospel.  We want to talk about forgiveness all day long.  Which is great, don’t get me wrong, we’d be hopeless beings were it not for the mercy of forgiveness, but that’s only half of the story.   See because not only was our sin defeated with Christ’s last breath on that cross, but HIS spiritual life was provided to us as He kicked down death’s door and busted out of the tomb.  The gospel is incomplete without the glorious grace of Christ’s life IN us.  One exhale by God and one inhale by man. 

Many will present lists and guidelines and 10 step programs to live a good Christian life neglecting the fact that we are wholly dependent of the Holy breath of God to accomplish any of those things.  Or have we forgotten that even in our breathing we are dependent beings?  We are receivers; God is the giver; may we never confuse the two. 

One exhale from God.  One inhale from man.  That’s the gospel.

But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?  Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.  

Romans 5:8-11 (NET)





Tuesday, June 14, 2016

She Speaks Truth to Herself

My wonderful and talented cousin, Catherine, wrote a beautiful poem called She Speaks Truth to Herself which will be included in her next book of the same title. She recently blogged a letter that she had written to herself in her own voice that was inspired by this piece and challenged me to do the same. When I read her letter I have to be honest… it totally wrecked me. What a beautiful thing to speak truth over oneself.


I have written a few pieces that act sort of like letters to me from God (one of which will be included in my new book coming out next month) and let me tell you those are emotionally wrecking enough! But to think of speaking over myself in my own voice was slightly terrifying and therefore I knew immediately that it needed to be done.


So, last night I “went to bed early” which really means I went and hid in my room and wrote for 2 hours and this is what I ended up with. I cannot express how difficult and healing and emotional and empowering this process was. I challenge everyone to try it; you might be surprised what you learn about yourself in the process.

Jess,

Oh Jess, I have been so hard on you. So many times I have dismissed your great triumphs while other times I have neglected to embrace your failures. I know that this has left you with a war inside that keeps you from being able to fully love yourself. Please forgive me for this. You are so much stronger than you know. You have walked through so much darkness many times without a flashlight. You have faced monsters, and you have leaped over mountains. 

 You are a warrior. You are brave. You are loved so much by so many; never let the days of loneliness, when it feels as if no one understands you, never let those moments drowned out the truth that you are incredibly loved and important. Depression and anxiety do not define you. Addiction is not your master. You are a free, vibrant, passionate daughter of your Father God and He delights in teaching you your identity. You have struggled to be accepted your entire life and even now, when others seem to only want you for what you can do for them, DO NOT FORGET that you are held tight by heavenly arms. He is closer than the skin on your bones. 

 I am proud of you. Though your humanity is hardwired for struggle you are an overcomer. Even when you hide behind your tough smirk and edgy style you are a dainty porcelain doll in the hands of The King and He handles you with care and affection. Being soft is not weakness. 

You are enough. Even when you have empty hands. You are enough. Even when you are exhausted. You are enough. Even when you can't push down those emotions you hate so much. You are enough. And you are worthy of love and affection. Don't you ever stop believing that. Don't you ever give up hope. Don't you ever stop fighting to create those spaces of grace you are desperate for. 

You have purpose and design but you are not shackled to your efforts. Remember to rest. Though you are incredibly significant, the world is more than capable of getting along without you, so stop believing things will fall apart if you stop holding them together. Your arms aren't big enough for that, but your God's are. Be still. You deserve times of rest. Self-care is not selfish. 

 Never stop believing in the church, even if it has failed you more times than you can count. Never stop believing in good men, even if you have been hurt by bad ones. Never stop loving strong women, even if you have been bullied by them. They are all worth it just as you are. 

You are beautiful. Your differentness is attractive and endearing. Your goofiness is adorable. Don't even change just to please someone. I love you; today, tomorrow, and the next day. Even when I forget to say it, even when I don't want to say it, even when it hurts to say it, I love you. Keep your head up, darling. Clear eyes and full hearts can't lose.

Love,
Jess

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monsters Under the Bed

What is it with us humans and our general lack of ability to vulnerable and authentic? I mean really, what’s with that? Why are we so scared to just be honest about our struggles? We all know they exist. It is blatantly obvious that each and every one of us struggle, and yet we are terrified to admit our own battles.

Christians? Oh yeah, we’re the worst about it. Our churches have become spaces of structure and regulation that leave little room for messy people. Somewhere along the way religion became tangled in the expectation of doing everything perfectly and sabotaged the ability for people to be real with one another. And don’t go thinking it’s just the “religious types” either because it’s not. Us grace gospel types can fall into this same trap, talking about grace like it’s just a Theological concept instead of what (for some of us, most of the time) is the only thing that gets us out of bed in the morning.

I think we're just afraid of our own ugliness. So then it's easier for us to be enraged about the "big" issues in our world, to throw a fit over unisex bathrooms, to spew hatred over people's choices at the polls, and to mock legalistic pastors. It is much easier for us to face the monsters we see in the world than it is to face the ones under our bed.

And in neglecting to face the monsters under our beds, we effectively sabotage the great story of redemption. For it is only in the most desperate and most unmanageable of moments that we can truly see the ineffable glory of grace and its ability to conquer even the most ruthless of foes.

Maybe that's what Jesus meant when he said, "those who have been forgiven much love much." Maybe his words were not meant as qualifiers of the greatness of one's love but rather exposers of the depth of one's need.

Only when we are brave enough to come out from under the covers and meet the monsters we imagine to be formidable face to face are we able to see them whimpering and wailing under the rescuing fist of God's grace. It is inevitable that in these moments we will be brought to our knees once again in awe and wonder of a God who transcends our situation and yet is intimately aware of our pain.

We want to tame grace, to lasso it, and tie it down to the pew next to us. It bucks and jumps and lays to waste the structured box of a building we’ve placed it in like a bull in a china shop. Grace is not safe. It saves. There’s a big difference between the two. It will hazardously force you to have to face the monsters under your bed but it will also rescue you from them. I wish we would allow ourselves to be brave enough to look under our beds. Then maybe, just maybe, in being honest about the monsters under our beds we might find that the ones in the world aren’t as big as they seemed.

I hope God’s grace makes your life dangerous today.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why I Stopped Pursuing God


Pursue God. Pursue Jesus. Pursue intimacy with God. Pursue righteousness.


All of these directives seem good and honorable, and they are taught as such. Many a pastor and Christian teacher has used them as mission statements and explanations of the “good Christian life.” We are taught that pursuing God is something we should always be doing.

Chase after Him. Look for Him. Be in pursuit of God. What you do when you find Him no one has quite figured out yet, but what everyone knows for sure is that we should be pursuing Him. Unfortunately, what that sounds like is that He's hiding away somewhere, tucked just out of sight, and waiting for the magical day when someone's worthy pursuit ends at the finish line of Him. If you listen to this message long enough you will eventually come to the conclusion that you will never get to the finish line (at least not in this life), but you must, by no means, ever never stop running. Keep doing. Keep working. Keep trying your hardest, putting forth your best efforts, and stretching your farthest towards godliness.

For all of humanity's existence we've been trying to claw our way up to God. We've built towers and constructed temples all under the banner of "pursuing God." The temptation of Adam was "God likeness." He pursued God to the point of his own death, sacrificing abundant life to gain it himself. Sounds like pursuit of God didn't work out so well for him?

What if all this time we've been pursuing God and missing the point all along? What if the Christian life is not about our pursuit of God but rather God's relentless pursuit of us?

Jesus was presented with the same temptation as Adam, but instead of pursuing God likeness he relinquished it to the point of His own death, sacrificing His life so that we could have it abundantly.

Maybe our problem is that we see Jesus as an example for us. We see him as a standard we should in some way model or live up to, and yet that was never his purpose on this earth. Jesus did not come to show us what we should try to be like. He came to show us EXACTLY what God is like. He came to set the record straight. He came to silence the very first lie that ever slipped off the tongue of the serpent, that God is distant and withholding, and show us exactly how excessive and gracious God really is. Jesus came to make an unfathomable God tangible. He came as a flesh and blood representation of God's stubborn delight in a people hell-bent on independence. What an audacious reality, that the God of the universe we try desperately to work our way towards, instead slips into the fragile skin of our humanity as if to say, "No, children, let me come to you."

Oh how generous and glorious a God! How inexpressibly thankful I am that He pursues me. Because, if I’m being honest, I’m much more likely to be found cowering in my nakedness behind some fig leaves than running after Him. Still, He comes, walking through the cool of the garden, to pull me close and silence my shame for He has never been scared away by sin. If I’m being honest, I’m much more likely to be a petulant and stubborn child of Israel who rather be oppressed once again under the shackles of Egypt than to trust God’s faithfulness to fight for me. And still He comes, parting the sea of my struggle and drowning my bondage in perfect love. If I’m honest, I’m much more likely to be an idol worshiping judge, a depressed king, or a doubting disciple than I am to be trusted champion of The Kingdom. And still He comes, calling me to care for His people.

So, I've come to the decision to stop pursing God and instead rest every day in the awareness of his pursuit of me. It’s time we all stopped running. It’s time we gave up on pursuing a God who is already closer even than the skin on our bones. It’s time we chose to stop pursuing God and rest in THE pursuing God.

May you come to know the reality of an intimate God that has pursued and embraced you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Promise and the Promiser

Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.


This passage has always been a somewhat bittersweet one for me.  The reason for that is possibly because most often I have heard it as an “encouraging” response from fellow believers after my genuine and vulnerable expression of an aching need in my soul for something.  I express, “I am desperate for purpose, I crave connection, or I long for others to see truth,” and the best I am offered is a platitude of “Well, just delight yourself in the Lord…”  The platitude itself isn’t so bad but it is accompanied with this understood meaning, “IF you just love God more THEN He will give you what you need… maybe… one day… when He feels like it.”

Instantly, what is meant to encourage, wounds. 

See, here’s the thing, “loving God” has become synonymous with “being more obedient” or “doing more things for Him.”   Hooked to that is this twisted Theology that somehow God only shows favor or gives generously to those who love Him well.  We end up attaching strings to what we claim is God’s unconditional love.   We say to people IF you do _________ THEN God will ___________.  What we don’t realize is that when we make God’s faithfulness dependent on our action, it is us who become the gods.  And rather unhappy ones at that. 

See what I mean?  Totally twisted!  As if the hands that carved the universe could be tied by the brittle whims of my human behavior.  As if the arms that stretched wide to bleed out my sin could be bound by tattered ties of my testimony. How could the frayed edges of my efforts even begin to incite the love of a God who is far bigger than them?

My therapist said something in passing this week in our session and the statement has been stuck with me all week.  He said, “Let us not be tempted to trust in the promise rather than in Him who promises.”  A simple statement really, but with such depth of truth.  How easy it is to become focused on needs, my cravings, my desires, and claim with fervor “God promised if I ask it will be given to me!”  This focus blurs the bigger picture we’ve kept hidden in our peripherals.

The bigger picture, the better picture, is that not only does God promise to give us the desires of our heart but actually HE is the desire of our heart and we already have Him, all of Him, in fullness, no holding back.

I say, “I’m desperate for purpose.”  He answers, “Let’s create together.”
I say, “I crave connection.”  He answers, “I’m tangled up in the very essence of your being.”
I say, “I long for others to see truth.”  He answers, “I’ve never stopped pursuing them.”

We have hunger pangs and He is the bread of life.  We long for justice and He reigns resolutely.  We beg for tenderness, care, comfort and He wraps us in His embrace.   We are need and He is source.  That’s how it was always designed to be.

 
 Psalm 37:4- Jess Standard Version (JSV):

“Rest peacefully in the Lord, and you will find He satisfies the desires of your heart.”


Whatever stretch of your journey you find yourself on today, whatever yearnings wrench in your soul today, may you take comfort in knowing that you are in relationship with the God who satisfies.  Rest in the truth that His favor is not dependent on your behavior nor are His blessings contingent on your obedience.  Live with fierce and unshakable boldness to approach the throne of the Father and have your thirsts quenched.   And may we not be tempted to trust in the promise rather than in Him who promises.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Wreckage

Why is it that the church is so afraid to talk about brokenness?  Why do we tremble in fear at the thought of discussing anything having to do with a depth of pain or struggle?  We write it off with platitudes of counterfeit care or the all-encompassing “I’ll keep you in my prayers.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there aren’t times when those utterances are genuine I just think that often times we’d rather pray for someone’s brokenness than make an effort to engage it.

This frustrates me.

I recently started facilitating a service called “Renegade Church.”  It’s a place for the renegades, the outliers, and the mess makers.  It was started with the vision to create a space where we talk about brokenness, a place where we aren’t afraid of mess and struggle and doing everything wrong.  I wanted to create a space where people who don’t fit in the sparkling clean world of church could come and just be, where they could come and experience the greatness of Jesus without all the baggage that comes with it.  Sunday morning I was discussing this service with someone who was interested in attending when an older man who was listening in to our conversation commented. “Is that really necessary?”

Is that really necessary?  Is a service like that REALLY necessary?

My answer was simply, “Yes, I absolutely believe it is.” 

I dream of the day when I can answer no to that question.  I dream of the day when a service like that isn’t necessary because it’s common place in all churches.  I yearn for a time when our timidity towards brokenness is stripped away.  Unfortunately today my answer remains, “Yes.  It is absolutely necessary.” 

It’s necessary because brokenness is a reality.  Times of struggle are a reality.  I wish life in Christ meant we no longer hurt or struggle but unfortunately we are still participants in a world that has been broken by sin and brokenness is an unfortunate side effect of that reality.  Though our true identity is whole and perfect in Christ our experience in this world is not always so and if we cower at the thought of discussing such a truth we, in fact, allow it to overpower us.  So, in our efforts to disengage our fear, we actually empower it.

I have this thought... a “what if” you might say. 

What if, we have been lied to?  What if we have built our worldviews on a false idea?  What if brokenness isn’t a bad thing?  What if being broken is simply the beautiful beginning to being whole? 

So often we think of brokenness as the ending point.  We see it as the negative result of something destructive happening to a thing which was once whole.  What if it’s actually the other way around?  What if, in reality, we all begin broken and the true beauty of our new creation is built out of the rubble of our broken beginning.  What if wholeness is the result of brokenness?

We all wish to believe that our original perfect state of wholeness is that of a ship.  It sails freely and majestically on the water, and yet, it somehow ends up ship wrecked.  Some fierce and unrelenting storm rages and the ship ends up shipwrecked.  How easy it is for us to relate to this, that at one time all was good and now it’s not.  We all vainly wish for our origin story to be birthed in the majesty of a calm sea.  The truth is our origin is not in the ship but in the shipwreck.  We all begin as tattered sails and rotted wood and it is only in our recognition of that fact that we can see the true beauty in the new creation the Artist has fashioned from the wreckage. See, the thing is, if we live our whole lives trying desperately to be ships then we miss out on the beauty of our true design.

If we refuse to be aware of our brokenness we will never understand the fullness of God’s grace.


I fear this is an inadequate attempt to put into words what I feel is such a significant concept to discuss.  I wish I had the eloquence with which to express that which aches in my heart to be said, but then again, that might just defeat the whole point.  I conclude with a desperate plea to all churches and all Christians, I beg of you do not forsake the brokenness.  Refocus and retrain your mind to see the beauty in broken.  Walk amongst the wreckage with the Artist and watch as all things are made new.