Power. Love. Sound Mind.

This is a devotional that I recently shared at my final sorority meeting. It was probably topic number five that I was going to write about. I wanted to speak about the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone and tell about the journey that I have been on this year, then as I was starting to write that devotions I was scrolling through old photos to find the date of an event and was suddenly overcome with how different my body looked. I went down this massive rabbit hole downward spiral that had me standing outside the library crying on the phone to my mum for half an hour. So that brings me here, to writing about taking a stance against fear. (note: I’m never at the library, I’m not that studious please don’t think I am)

When I phoned Mum she asked me how I was doing, and my only reply was “I don’t know,” because I had been having such an amazing day filled with fellowship and time with Jesus and was now suddenly overcome with self-doubt, fear, a perceived lack of control, and all these lies. The first thing my Mamma said to me was that God has not given us a spirit of fear so if I am suddenly overcome by fear, it is not from God. It is the enemy wanting to steal my joy because it is the joy of the Lord that gives me strength, and wanted to break the power of God wanted to say through my devotional.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

During the conversation I came to realize so many lies that I had bought into in the past in regards of my body, relationships and the future (potential blogs maybe?), the root of which was fear. Fear that I would never look the way I wanted to again, fear that I would lose control, fear that I would never be loved by a guy, fear that I am not worthy. I had a disturbing dream that night before, and I had a mountain of school work that I just could not get myself to start in front of me. Mum pointed out that all these things are not from God, God did not feed me these lies, and God did not want to confuse or scare me. She encouraged me to feed myself with truth, to read Ephesians 6, put on the armor and let God fight this battle for me. The victory has already been won in Jesus, we just need to “having done everything, to stand.”

Ephesians 6:10-20 (NLT)

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.

Another translation says:

Ephesians 6:13 (NKJV)

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

The Bible tells us that we are not fighting against flesh or blood, but against evil spirits. My struggles are not with my body or mind, or with other people, but against the lies of the devil who is trying to derail me from the power of God’s purpose for my life. Think of a moment that you have sat back and just said “Wow God, that was insane!” In that moment you feel so much peace, so much joy and freedom, and that makes you feel untouchable; almost powerful. That is the power of living in God’s purpose, and it is the power that God wishes for us to live in every day. It comes from His spirit and is enabled when we rest in Him.

As I was spilling my fears and doubts to my mum, I was pacing up on a wall outside the library. I suddenly had the desire to be up on the wall, not on the standing on the ground or sitting on a bench – I wanted power and control over my situation. Towards the end of the conversation my mum said that I needed to hand over my idol to God and allow His truth to speak into my life. Honestly, I wanted to vomit when she said that. I am a massive control freak, so giving up something to God means accepting that the outcome that I desire might not come true and that scared me to no end. Eventually though, I stopped pacing and sat down on the wall. I felt so much peace just from doing that, almost as though I was physically surrendering to Jesus. Defeated in my powerlessness and hopelessness, but at peace knowing that God is holding my burden and fighting the battle for me. He promises in Philippians 1:6 that He will continue the good work that He has started in us; I did not need to fear about the outcome of this battle or what would become of this idol that I had created, because God is at work there and promises to continue with it.

What I do need to do however, is keep my eyes and thoughts fixed on what is true, what is pure and what is holy. Psalm 121 was a passage that I repeated to myself multiple times a day during a week that I would say was the week where I was most overcome by fear in my life and is one that I will probably keep repeating to myself as I walk out this next journey.

Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.

God promises to watch over me, to continue His work in me, to protect me from harm, and all I need to do is put on my armor – truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, faith and the Spirit. The beauty of this is, that these things aren’t anything we can control or work for; God is all of these things and grants them to us by His grace. We just need to sit in His presence, let Him speak truth to us and give Him our burdens. This is easy to say and do when we are in the euphoria of His goodness and grace, in the vulnerability of reaching the point of desperation that Jesus is the only way forward and in the “mountain top moments” of life. It is difficult however, when we are wrestling with fear and wanting to overcome it by our own strength, wisdom and experience. If someone had told me this before I phoned my mum I probably would have rolled my eyes and told them not to slap me with scripture when all I need is a hug and someone to listen to how awful my life is. Bless my mother though, she knew exactly how to slap me with scripture and tell me to get out of the rabbit hole of despair and self-pity, to stop making more out of my issues than they were and to not give the devil more power than he deserves, without me feeling victimised and angry.

I sometimes feel as though this is an ugly see-saw cycle that I am in. That I go from being crippled by fear, to mountain top victory, back down again to hyperventilating on the phone. This is not the life God has called me to, nor is it the life to the fullest that He promised me. My job then is outlined in Ephesians – to stay alert and pray in the spirit at all times. Recognize the difference between hormones throwing your emotions out of whack, and the enemy throwing you curveballs to steal your joy. Know that God wants to move powerfully in and through you and the devil knows this and will try his best to prevent it. This is why before and after retreat everyone experiences the craziest week, gets sick and feels too tired to even go. It is why before you have a breakthrough you walk through hell first.

Be aware of when big moments are coming; for me tonight was a big moment and in a few weeks I have another big moment coming up. When you are aware, you can recognize these spiritual attacks for what they are and sharpen your sword with the truth of God’s word in order to stand firm. Have verses up your sleeve, like the ones I have shared, to recite out loud and refuse the devil room in your life. Know your trigger points that get you to the tipping edge; mine are loneliness, lack of intimacy, and comparison, they show themselves up through body image issues, self-worth doubts, the fear of being single forever, sexual temptation, and fear of losing control or failing in various areas of my life. When these triggers appear, Lord have mercy, ask for help before you give in or breakdown, let the truth denounce the lies before you run out of Kleenex or you scare strangers just wanting to study for finals. This may come from talking to someone who is wise enough to give you truth but mature enough to carry your burden with you, reading God’s word or fleeing the situation physically.

This winter break, or Christmas break for me (I’m having winter and then going back for summer before starting school again), spend some time with Jesus to figure out what it is that causes your insecurities, fears or struggles with sin and find the scriptural truth about them. Then be aware of when they often arise in your life so that you can combat them with God’s word and power before they kick you down the rabbit hole again. During finals week please take good care of yourself, make time for God and for Godly fellowship even when you do not feel as though you have time. Somehow whenever you honor God with your time first He always comes through with enough time and focus to get all one million and ten things done, and it is through these times that you will get the strength to hit a home run off the curveballs that are thrown your way.

Pandora’s Box: The ugliest of uglies, covered by the beauty of grace

I don’t think I have ever sat on a blog post as long as I have sat on this one. I have been putting off writing this for a year. A. Whole. Year. What even!? I normally sit down to write as soon as I am inspired to write something and smash it all out in one sitting, but this one is different. This one is messy, it hurts, it is not pretty. It is simultaneously the ugliest and most beautiful part of my story. It scares me SO much to be attaching my story to this post, because for a long while in the last 12 months I was going to write it hypothetically, not attaching anything personal to it, but that’s not me and that’s not how God called me to write. It was the one that inspired Pandora’s Box, and also started me on my journey of being passionate about authenticity and vulnerability. So here, welcome into the ugliness of me.

We often encourage one another in the church to extend grace to others, because all sin is equal in God’s eyes. Your little white lie that you told as a three year-old is equal to the person sitting in jail after committing murder. It is a hard pill to swallow, but also allows us to see all people with dignity and not think of ourselves too highly. We may not have committed murder, but we have still sinned and have no right to judge that person harshly for having made different mistakes than us. Had you lived their life, who knows what you would have done?

There is one group of sins however, that is still largely not included in this though: sexual sin. Yes, it is treated equal from the pulpit, preachers are very quick to remind people that God will forgive them and restore their righteousness after they have committed sexual sin. This is not often seen in the culture of our testimonies and conversations though. We really want to hear the testimonies about the drug addicts who came to know the Lord, or the teenager who went to college and started drinking and sleeping around before coming to Christ. We do not really ever hear about the devout Christian who is currently struggling with the same sin. We do not often sit down for coffee with our church friends and tell them about how we are struggling with lust, pornography, or crossing sexual boundaries in our relationships. Yikes, that doesn’t go down easy with a blueberry muffin or caramel slice.

That is precisely my pet peeve with Christian culture though. If we can be honest in confessing and praying for one another’s struggles with jealousy or lack of discipline in reading the Word, why can we not carry one another that much more in our purity? Striving for sexual purity is something that separates the Church from the secular world (Ephesians 5), so it is exactly where the Devil will want to target us. Sexual sin often occurs in the isolation and secrecy of our bedrooms, and that is exactly where the enemy wants it to stay. It is in this secret place that it holds its power over us, and festers into the ugly boil of guilt and shame on our hearts. We begin to think that because we are alone during our time of temptation, that we are alone in struggling with this sin.

That is exactly where I was my freshman year of college. Sitting in my dorm room, my hands pulling at my hair, feeling sick to my stomach. I was a leader in my community the year before and took such a strong stance for purity, yet here I was living a hypocritical life. I tried so hard to stop, but felt so incredibly lonely in that period of my life and this was something that let me escape that. I had not successfully made friends at college, was so far away from everyone who knew and understood me, and was not in the best place in my relationship with my family; I felt so disconnected and found a false sense of intimacy in pornography. I knew it was wrong, I knew I needed to find help, but I could not get myself to tell anyone. I remember many nights walking to church with this heavy burden, wishing someone would see right through me and talk to me. That did not happen though, and I remained stuck in this swirling dark abyss. Until one day.

(My story is so beautifully entertwined with so many others finding freedom, but their stories aren’t mine to tell, so this is not my complete story – just the parts that I am free to share.)

I was at my church small group, having  just encouraged other girls in their faith, putting on a perfect front of having it all together. We had finished for the night and were just chilling, when one of the girls started crying and said she needed to share something. She shared about being in the middle of a struggle with light pornography, and I wanted to throw up. I knew I had to open up, the time had come. Problem was, my sister was in my small group. It is so much easier to open up about the ugly things with people who do not know you well, that telling does not have great consequences. My sister, who I respected and thought was the most perfect woman ever? No way. Cue ugly crying. Wilma (my friend over here), came and knelt before me and asked me what was wrong. I told her I could not share because my sister was in the room. I expected her to politely ask my sister to leave, but that would be too easy. My sister came and sat right next to me and put her arm around me. All I could get myself to say, burning my throat like heartburn on the way out, was, “What she shared is true for me too.” When I expected shock, rebuke and condemnation, I got gentleness, love, and reassurance that I was not alone and would overcome this.

It felt like the biggest burden had been flopped off my back, but was now lying messily at my feet. My secret was out, but not completely – there was still a big phone call home lying in front of me. I am of the weird kind that tells my parents everything, and I knew they needed to know this. So late that night, sitting back in my dorm room I picked up my phone. I dialed my Dad, and said to him, “Dad I have something I need to tell you, but please please please don’t be mad at me.” In between sobs and periods of hyperventilating, because I did not have the cop out of being able to use my friend’s story, I told my Dad everything. I, again, expected shock and the wrath of telling your parent that you let them down and have been living a double life for a while. Instead I got a few moments silence, followed by a teary Dad telling me, “Pets, I need you to know that I have never loved you more than I do in this moment. Thank you for loving me enough to tell me.” To say I was taken aback would be an understatement, I felt so much relief and love in that moment, unlike I have ever felt in my life. Mother Bear had a similar, tearful response, feeling bad that she had not been able to prevent this part of my story.

I was so shocked at my family and friends’ reaction, overwhelmed by the lightness that comes from having confessed sin and opening the door to walk out of guilt and shame. More over, I realised that if that was the reaction of my earthly father, the man who raised me to a certain standard, but was himself imperfect, how much more grace and love would my Heavenly Father extend to me? I saw myself, a young toddler waddling up to Abba and being lifted onto His knee. Sobbing, I told Him everything and begged for His forgiveness and help. The grace and gentleness in His response was overwhelming. He did not put me down in disappointment, but instead cradled me close to His chest assuring me that it would all turn out for good.

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. Proverbs 28:13

That was by no means the end of my story. It was just the beginning of a walk of overcoming temptation, stumbling time and time again, wrestling with accepting forgiveness and having to daily hand over the guilt and shame that I was trying so hard to hold onto. The beauty of my story lies in the grace of the Father, be power of the gospel and death of Jesus Christ, the gentleness of community, and the fact that I was not alone. The more I reached out to people, the more I found others (guys and girls) who had or were struggling with pornography. Opening up about my story brought so much freedom, and started conversations where other people were able to lay down guilt and shame and choose grace and freedom.

So what was the point of my rant and sharing of my story? The point was to start a conversation, to help people realise that no matter what you are struggling with – you are by no means alone. There is no way that you are the only one of the people you know that is struggling with your secret burden. That ugly black stain on your story is not unique to you, and even if it was, it is not the ugliest, darkest stain on peoples’ stories. If the only reason for me sharing the part of my testimony that I have only shared with a select few online, was for one person to be able to share their burden then I will be happy. Sexual sin is not singularly a pre-Jesus sin, and pornography is not a male-only issue. To the preachers that address the reality of pornography as not being a pre-salvation sin, please I beg of you, do not exclude women from this conversation. It increases the shame and guilt of the many women in your congregations that are stuck under the weight of this sin. Yes, it is prevalent for me, because it has always been talked about in male circles, secular and not. It has not really ever been spoken about as a thing that women do, or struggle with, for women – secular or not.

Dear friend who may be where I was freshman year, or even walking the walk to freedom, you are not alone nor will you be stuck here forever. Our Jesus overcame death so that you can overcome this. The battle has already been won, and there is nothing that you can do that God is not willing and able to forgive. Have the conversation with someone that you trust to carry your burden with gentleness and mercy, but also have the strength to keep you accountable, have the hand on your shoulder as a reminder to keep your eyes forward and help you up when you fall down.

James 4:6 But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

To everyone else who made it this far in reading this, thank you for extending grace to me in reading this. I sincerely hope that after reading this, that your view of me will not diminish, but if it does that’s okay – Jesus has graciously taken me on a journey of putting my worth and identity solidly in Him, so I will not fight you on your view of me. I am still me, I am still the girl proudly wears her purity ring and stands for everything that I stood for before. I just have a few more wounds that have become scars and have realised that I am only able to stand for that which I do by the grace of God and His great mercy.

God is good. All the time. No really, He is.

God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good. Growing up in the church I had this drilled into me and would probably participate in the back-and-forth recital of it in my sleep. Recently however, I realized that I was not entirely convinced of its truth. But I’m His faithfulness, this summer God has really helped me to believe that He is good and wants what is best for me.

The day before my trip to Haiti I was given news that rocked my world. It put into question the biggest dream I have had for my since I was a little girl. In Haiti I saw extreme poverty, systems that did not work and too many orphaned children. Over summer I have really struggled with my worth and identity. Through it all though God gave me an unexplainable joy that strengthened me each day. I was able to speak life into others while finding truth for myself in Jesus.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

Psalm 56:8

Jesus cares that my heart was breaking and that my worth was not being found in Him. He is with me while I am ugly crying (every fortnight…) and when I am questioning why things happen. Not only that but He holds my sorrows and turns them into joy. The deeper my sorrows have been, the deeper the joy that He gives me has been.

I arrived at summer camp not knowing a soul and not having my phone during the week to contact my friends and family back home. This forced me to turn to God when I was tired for energy; when I was frustrated for patience; when I was doubting for confidence; when I was grieving for joy. He was faithful in providing me with community to love and support me, and for very gently challenging me to put my hope and identity back in Him.

It has been a tough summer of growth, but I feel closer to who I am meant to be each day. I am looking forward to continue walking out this growing season of rediscovering me and leaning more and more into Jesus. I may not be meeting my earthly standards of what, where and who I should be, but I have hope that I am becoming closer to who Jesus made me to be – which gives me so much peace and joy!

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:13‬

Both of these verses God gave me at pivotal moments this summer through wonderful friends and mentors, which is another testament to His goodness and faithfulness. Even in my doubt and in the days where I have not turned to Him with my pain, He hunts me down and showers me with love. He is a good, good Father.

Pandora’s Box: Technology & Shame

Week 2 of Pandora’s Box! We’re starting off slowly and will gradually get uglier and messier here on the ol’ blog. This week we tag-team to Mima, who wrote about how technology stole our worth and can cause so much shame because it steals the identity for which we were created. How technology is shaping and taking over our lives is often talked about, and the conversation is slowly turning also to how much shame and identity questioning is caused by social media. So, here’s our take on a very important topic that is going to keep getting more important as technology and social media gets bigger.

 

The first identity you and I ever held was child, daughter or son.
We were held in tender arms as we uttered our first cries and were nestled upon our mother’s hearts.
We fastened ourselves upon her bosom in complete trust that she would nourish us and not give us poison.
Our fathers held us, a fragile bundle in hands that could easily engulf but instead swore to protect and love.
Our needs of being seen, being known, being love, being taken care of were all met.
As children our needs were easily met, or is more accurate to say our needs were more readily explained and affirmed?

In an ideal world the above would be normal, it isn’t.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from your mother looks or feels like.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from your father looks or feels like.
Some of you have never known what pure unconditional love from anyone looks or feels like.
When this need to be loved is not met by Someone outside of ourselves, we go looking for that Someone who or whatever they maybe.

(Please note you are completely free to argue with me,)

What if social media is parenting us? What if that has become the place we feel safe, known, loved.
What if we are being coached to connect better with a screen than we are with tangible presence?
What if we have been taught to associate the number of likes with life?
What if we rather take a picture of where we were so that other people know where we were rather than enjoy being in the moment.
Who do we turn to in the midst of a crisis?
When we are bored?
When we want to celebrate?
When we want?
When we need?
Who do we reach out to?

I understand why it’s easier to interact with your screen than it is to talk to flesh and blood.
There is no risk.
Your screen won’t judge you.
You can hide behind it and no one is the wiser.
You can speak to it and it doesn’t speak back.
It can just lie there lifeless in your hands and yet somehow it holds your life.

When you have thought or have been brought up thinking that maybe you are not worth the risk of loving, it’s hard to risk and let others in. I was brought up in a good home and like any good home it has its issues, added to that a sinful nature, a fallen world; the result is a trapped mind.

Trapped in looking for validation any place other than where it is freely given.
Trapped in placing other fallen beings as my judge when there is only one true and just Judge.
Trapped in believing that no one can save me so I have to look out for myself.
So I scroll through the likes, flick through the faces that light up, do a song and dance for my “crowd”.

When did technology when did social media become our Savior, Judge and Lord? The day we forgot to love our God with all our strength, all our heart and with all our soul.

As you grow and learn, you realize that getting into a relationship is not the end goal, its merely the beginning. You find that comparatively getting into a relationship is far easier than maintaining, sustaining and growing said relationship.

You find that to grow a relationship requires risk, opening up your heart fully to another person. What if true life is found within risking it all? What if true life is found in being present in both our relationship with God and our relationship with others?

Jesus modelled that.

He showed that it’s a relationship with the Father, a needy relationship, a submitted relationship that is where true life is found.  A relationship where things get messy, where things are not Pinterest perfect or Instagram worthy. Where the mark of our relationship with God is not that we graduate into self-sufficiency but we graduate into childlikeness dependency.

To be quite honest, the gospel tastes like vinegar to me sometimes I wanna spit it out and run away. Maybe when you have had a lifetime of drinking poison, the antidote actually tastes bitter not because its bad but because its different.

Heaven looks nothing like this planet, there is no orphan mentality, there is no fear of authority, there is no sense of being lost, there is no death, and there are no lies. There is a Heavenly Good Father cares for us, wants the best for us, protects us, loves us and that all of those needs were met in Jesus.

Am I the only one who struggles with this? That the moment I repented and said yes to God (Christianese of accepted God into my heart) instantly the righteousness of Jesus was put on me and I was adopted into the Kingdom of Heaven. God the creator of the heavens is now my Father and He loves me. He wants to be the one I got to when I am bored, when I am needy, when I am tempted to booty call that guy, when I am mess.

To be human, I have realized is to be in a constant state of need. To be a Christian is to consistently bring that need to God my Father and expect Him to meet it. We can’t outgrow our childlikeness, we can try and stuff it down but deep down inside we know we are not that strong, we are not that great. And that’s okay.

God is a good father, who nourishes us more than our mothers can, protects us more than our fathers can and loves us far more than the love of anyone on this planet.

So, let’s stop making idols out of our phones, our sex drive, our parents, our lovers, our kids, our food, our bodies, our thought, our feelings.
Let us return to God, believe in Him and be the much loved child whose needs are always met.

You will always be a child in Your Heavenly Father’s eyes and that is more than okay.

Pandora’s Box: Shame

Shame. It’s such a small word but carries such weight and power. In 2015 I realised how much shame was controlling me; how it held me captive and distorted my identity. I reached a point where the burden of shame was just too heavy to carry, it had my heart feeling sick. One dark, cold Dunedin night I broke. I spilled my ugliness and exposed my heart’s wounds to Mima and my sister who received me with open hearts and open arms. After that night and a few difficult phone calls to my parents I realised that the power of guilt and shame lay in silence. Your sin and screw ups can only haunt you if you keep quiet about them. The more open I was about my mistakes, the less shame I felt; it opened the door for support, love and accountability. I realised that I am not a sum of my mistakes; my identity lies as a daughter of the King, bought at the highest price. That did not make me perfect, the scars of my mistakes I will carry with me forever, but it did open up the door for grace and forgiveness.

As has been the theme with a lot of my posts and rants the last year or so, this new series was born out of the realisation that the more we stay silent the more life will get the better of us. The more I talked to people about the true state of my life, the more I realised that I am not alone. I am not alone in my loneliness, in my struggles, in my shame, in my doubt, in my stupidity, in my sadness. I was talking to Mima one night about how angry I was that I had lived under the burden of shame for so long for no reason and that especially in the church we feel the need to sugar coat our lives to glorify our sanctification. But in doing so we are taking away the power of grace. Grace can only be powerful when we are humble enough to admit that we are not perfect. And so the idea of Pandora’s Box was born. We are aiming to cover all things taboo; all the things that we all know but are too afraid to talk about. In doing so we hope to start conversation here and wherever you are. We hope to empower you to uncover your wounds to let them heal.

When I called my Dad to tell him of the shame that I had been carrying around I remembering crying my heart out. I said to him, “Daddy, I have something I need to tell you but I’m so scarred. I feel so awful and I don’t want you to be angry or disappointed.” In broken sentences and a flood of tears I told Dad everything, I opened my wounds hoping at the most that he would not scratch them open and cast me out. Dad paused for a while and then choking back tears of his own he said to me, “I have never loved you more than I love you right now. Thank you for loving me enough to share this with me. You are not alone in this.” I realised in that phone call that if my earthly Dad could respond like that to the biggest stuff ups of my entire life, how much more love my heavenly Father would extend to me. I realised that Jesus died so that we could curl up on Abba’s chest and ugly cry while we told Him what we’ve done. Jesus died so that Abba could hold us and heal our wounds instead of casting us aside. I found so much comfort in realising that I did not need to hide from God when I did the wrong thing, but that I could run to him with arms wide open and collapse into His arms.

When I sat on Abba’s knee and told Him about my shame, insecurity and hypocrisy I found my identity in His love and grace. I realised that I am forgiven and am not defined by what I did. It has taken me many months to be comfortable enough to start this series, to realise that it exposes me to mass-judgement and risks my reputation and many friendships. But I am ready, ready to write out of a place of being scarred, not carrying around festering wounds. All it took for me to find peace, restoration and freedom was to hear a resounding “me too” from loved ones, from role models and from Jesus. To realise that I am not alone.

My hope and prayer for you reading this is that as we take this journey of opening Pandora’s Box that you will find that too. That you will hear a “friend, me too” in every word that we say or write. That you will feel the love that we are extending to you and that you too will be able to sit on Abba’s knee and empty your heart; to exchange your wounds for freedom. That you will look at the scars on Jesus’ hands and realise that they are there so that you can be free of shame, because you are not alone in your pain. The video above is a spoken word piece that Mima and I wrote together and really summarises our hope for this series that we are tackling together; that you will find freedom from your shame when you embrace vulnerability. So friend, I ask that you open your heart for the next few weeks as we get our hands dirty. Please read what we have to say with eyes of grace and love, and realise that we are not doing this to point fingers or condemn anyone. Please also have patience with us as we explore making videos – we are doing it so that you can hear our hearts behind our words, that they will be more than words on a screen. Please hold our hearts as we share them very vulnerably with you.

Buckle up loves, we are in for a bumpy ride but the reward waiting on the other side is so worth it! As always, drop us a comment and let’s start this conversation!

 

Note: The music in the video is not ours, it was done by Kai Engel

I am 21: It ends with ‘happily ever after’

Last one before we tackle something even scarier on the blog! We have tackled the task of remembering the complexity and simplicity of every stage of our lives, in order to best love and serve the younger ones around us. To finish off, we have a piece to encourage us college-aged girls.

Today we have Mother Bear on the blog! I definitely inherited my love for writing from my mum; she has an amazing gift that I wish I got to see more often. My mother is just that, a mother through and through. She is also a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a speaker, a prayer, a psychologist, a professional, and is successful in everything that she does. Most importantly though, she is my mother. She has an amazing testimony of restoration and finding renewal, strength and joy in Jesus, and the fruit of His freedom is so evident in her life! I am so privileged to have been raised by this amazing woman; is is both strong and gentle, just and kind. It is fair to say Mamma, I definitely gave you the most cheek of us three and probably fought with you the most too, but you always stayed patient and understanding. Probably because you were fighting with the mini version of yourself… For those of you not fortunate enough to have met my Mamma yet, she is best described in Autumn patterns. She is fun, a moment-maker, creative, colourful, loving, deep, and shows great love for everyone she meets. I love you Mamma and am so thankful for everything that you do and who you are; and so thankful for this love of writing that we share!

All the posts the last while have been beautiful and have absolutely touched my heart, but this one was the one that brought me to tears. So without further ado, enjoy this beautiful encouragement from my Mamma to you!

Untitled design

I am 21. We are dancing, I have my arms in the air and a smile in my heart. Tonight I am wearing my long pleated brown skirt and matching top, leather belt and my Cowboy boots. Oh, them boots, I love them. Wear them every day and everywhere!

My family is here tonight, to celebrate with me. Dad, had organised it all. He is happy. I look up and know that he sees me tonight. Together.  It has been a long time since we had all been together.

Not long ago, I saw dad smiling at her. Adulterer.  Lies.  Denial.  Rejection.  A lonely girl in her Cowboy boots, in a lonely city…

Longing to be seen.

I keep busy and study hard. I achieve.  There is this boy in my life. He is fun and dynamic, yet toxic.

At night I dream and long for “one day”. When morning unfolds her brightness over me, I keep busy. Meals are small and very controlled. I exercise. Driven to be busy.

Dear, sweet little girl, how I wish you could know that not long from now, your stride will change. You will find home in the Father’s house and know that HE knows you and that HE sees you! You will never feel lonely again and the “busy” will become content.

Them boots will dance, dance before Jesus!

You will discover your calling in life and fall in love with an amazing gentle- giant of a man. You were ready to meet him, because you had spent time with Jesus.

Those fears that haunted you, the loneliness, rejection, perfectionism,  insecurities, abuse, all of them, taken from you when you sat down at the Father’s feet and opened your ears to hear His Word.

I am so proud of you! You chose to run after God. To believe what He said about you. You chose to let go of self-doubt and the staring judgment of their eyes.  You studied the Word and memorised verse upon verse. You pulled on His Armor and sharpened your sword.  Most off all you softened your tongue. You speak life and tend to others now.

Them boots will be traded for walking boots.  You will go from dusty-red African sunsets to amazing greens and oranges in the South-Pacific.

My garden blossoms here in the green:  there is a meadow full of wild flowers, a rose-bud and a bright yellow sunflower.

Sunflower springs into action at the first sight of light. Her eyes are filled with life. Adventure is what she loves. She reminds me of a brown-eyed 21 year old, and yet, there is more. More passion, more purpose, more focus, more love.

I put down the watering can and smile.

Thank you Father for tending my garden, even when I am far away and not able to prune and feed. Thank you Abba for my Sunflower who is now wearing bright Texas orange and waking up content, knowing that You know her and see her.

The truth behind 18 years of lies and life

I genuinely don’t know where to start with talking about the woman. If you took me, added a extra dash of dorkiness, took away netball and left me in the sun for rest of my life – you’d get Wilma. She has been a great asset to my life the last 4-5 years that I have known her; she has encouraged me, held my broken pieces when I was too ashamed to share them with anyone else, told me countless times that I am a dweeb, laughed and dreamed with me and called me up when I am in the wrong. She is a inspiration to me when it comes to writing (check out her awesome blog here) and one of the unfortunate souls who is stuck with me for life! Her honesty and teachability are amazing and I absolutely love the way that she wholeheartedly pursues knowing Jesus more intimately every day. I don’t know someone who so actively seeks to grow and improve themselves consistently like Wilma. She’s a gem and I love her to bits! Here is her perfectly written piece on being 18!



The tick tock march of the times always sojourns forever forward.  Quite like the beat of your own heart; always a steady beat, beat continuously itching forward to what? What is the desired end my beloved 18 year old self, that time and heart strings reach forward to? 

The Truth

The truth; it gently cups your face, looks tenderly into your face and says you are going to be okay.   

With each change life brings, with each day your heart beats into the future, in every moment you are going to be okay.  

I know the world seems bleak, there is so much confusion and deep emotional swirls but be still; you are held in God’s hands.  

Especially when you feel like letting the grip go and fall into silent, painless oblivion. The One who died to give you life abundantly is holding you with nail scarred hands. He has stared into the black abyss of death and conquered it, beloved seal this into your bones; He went through hell so that you wouldn’t have to.  

So with each change life brings and there will be many.  

With each day your heart beats into the future, for you will live and have life abundantly.  

In every moment no matter how painful; you are going to be okay.  

Beloved take a walk with me, you keep asking why I keep calling you beloved.  

You scurry away from that word like a cockroach exposed to light.  

It’s time to stop living in the darkness of the lies you are cowering under. You were not created to have clandestine meetings with Luke-warm and drink stolen waters. You were re-created to live in the light and to bask in the love that God lavishes on you.  

You don’t know God very well at this time but don’t worry He knows you. 

One day you will be able to see the tenderness He gazes at you with as you stagger slowly towards Him.  

One day you will know the tone of His voice, the gentle, quiet voice that draws you closer and deeper into Love.  

One day you will catch a glimpse of how much you are loved and be forever changed.  

You don’t know yourself yet, but you will.  

Who are you?  

Why, you are the Beloved. You are chosen and set apart for God. For Good works.  

No matter the accolade, no matter the adoration from parents, no matter the embrace of a lover.  

They are all mere dung compared to the knowledge and the revelation that you are the Beloved of God. Chosen by and for Him alone.  

If I could go back to my 18 year old self, this is what I would tell her. 

The tick tock march of time always sojourns forward, we can’t bend it but we can reflect and allow another, you precious reader, to glimpse behind and see.

That God is with us in every moment, He is faithful beloved so take His hand and walk this life together. 

From your 22 year old self.

 

 

Fifteen: Pick up the pen

My turn again! I was sitting here wondering who was meant to do this week’s post, then I remembered it was me… Then I procrastinated writing; watched too many episodes of Gilmore Girls, went to the baseball and had spring break instead. 

Many of you knew me at 15, or at least have heard about what life and Petro were like in 2011. For those of you that don’t know that part of my saga, you can read a bit about it on my GUCCI Girls Night post. So, we’ll just jump straight into me at 15 years old. 


You’re fifteen, vulnerable and insecure. You have absolutely no clue who you are, where you’re going or what you’re doing. Fear of being pushed aside or unjustly benched keeps you sharp, sarcastic and loud. You find your worth in success in school and sport, and the pains of worthlessness come from having no control over relationships and joy. Joy. Dang, that’s an elusive idea!

Darling, pick up your pen. You’ve always been interested in words but saw poetry as boring. Literature is far more powerful than an A on your report card. Your heart spills so beautifully through ink. The dark, chilling phrases scribbled on napkins, whiteboards, folders and scrap paper will bring the sweetest relief. 

You’ve never viewed yourself as depressed, it’s a label that doesn’t fit you. You don’t fit the stereotypical behaviors or gothic persona. Your family is outwardly perfect. You laugh a lot and to the untrained eye life is going perfectly for you. You are involved in prayer ministry and are supporting your friends through their own struggles. I see you though. I hear your silent pleas not to wake up the next morning and feel the heavy pit in your heart. 

So pick up the pen. Write, dream, explore, exaggerate, minimize and paint pictures with your words. After you’ve run your lungs raw and feel drained after exuding your aggression on your netball opponent and your insecurity by arguing withthe poor boys in class: write. Always write, but keep your journal to yourself. You want others to read it to understand the rawness inside, but they never will. You can paint the best picture, but art always requires the viewer to interpret what they’re seeing. 

Keep writing, never stop. One day your pieces will skip along the page instead of dragging their feet and you will need to extend your vocabulary to find new synonyms for “happy”. Your notebook of poems will start to leak onto a blog, but instead of bleeding into electronic ink you will craft a letter of hope and encouragement to share. If your heart needs to bleed, bleed into paper and then share that relief online. Never encourage out of a wound, first give it time to heal and always use your words to encourage others. 

There will come a day when that pit will be filled with petals and the rawness gently healed. You will never be fully okay, no one ever is, but you will find joy. You will find the boldness to dream and the courage tthat chase down those dreams. You will find friends, be patient dear. Always love others, always be honest and be open to making mistakes. You will still be hurt by people and hurt a good many yourself, but you will learn the art of forgiveness and restitution. 

Hang in through the winter dear, spring is coming and it is beautiful! Keep smiling and enjoy those dashes of happiness. Love your netball team, those girls will provide some of your most cherished memories and will be the cushion that your heart is seeking. You will never have a team like that again, make every single second with them count. Embrace grief, it will open doors to connect with your family and show your friends your true heart. 

Though this season is marked by a depth of sadness you will hopefully not experience again, it is not defined by it. You will still laugh and enjoy life. You will still seem like you have it all together and are happy, because Jesus is holding all your pieces together and His joy is giving you strength. Never let go of Him, He is the only hope you need to survive till tomorrow. 

You are about to undergo a massive life change moving cities, it will be challenging but so rewarding! Everything you hate about yourself now will be challenged and eventually it will either fixed or you’ll come to terms with it. Some of friends you have now and are abut to make will stay around for a long time yet (that English one who keeps harassing you to call her – keep her, she’s of great value), but some you will outgrow and that’s okay. It will hurt because your friends mean everything to you, but you will always remember them fondly and love them.

Remember that all it takes for friends to be there for you is for you to ask for them to be, you are awfully good at seeming okay. Be honest when people ask how you are. Be willing to sit on the outskirts of a group and never truly fit in, you were never made to be part of the crowd. 
So darling, wear your retainer and curly hair with pride, embrace whatever fashion statements you want (you’re going to regret them later regardless of what you choose), run, play, laugh, be a kid, work hard, embrace grief and love people. Most importantly though; pick up the pen and write. 

Ten Years Vulnerable

As I mentioned before, this mini-series is all about getting perspective back into the lives of young girls, as many of us are in positions of serving these girls. Last week we looked at being five, how much doubt and fear there can be at that age and how gracious God is to keep us joyful at that age.

This week we are jumping forward to ten-years-old, and hearing from another girl is super dear to my heart. This girl was my childhood best friend and around this age we were as thick as thieves. She was there for my first real crush and first heartbreak, for a large portion of my God-moments, multitudes of laughs and backyard camping, my Cabbage Patch pal, the girl who inspired me to get a Baby-G and joined me in the awkward brace-face phase. She runs her own successful blog at  Lovely’s Little Adventures, y’all should go check her out.

Lovely, I am so proud of the amazing woman you have become and the ministry you have. I am so thankful for you and love you so much! 10 was an interesting and busy time for you and for us, and you capture it so nicely on it below.

Without further ado, enjoy the world’s most tragic photo of 13(ish)-year-old us and then how stunning my friend has become!

To my ten year old self,

First off – you’re going to be okay. Sometimes in the darkest nights, you don’t think you’re going to make it, but you are. Be excited for all the things God is going to do in your life, and in you. But most of all, be excited for the people God’s going to bless you with.

I know making friends is hard, and it will continue to be a struggle (yay for being an introvert), but there are some really cool people who are in your life right now, and some that will walk in a little later. Although people will hurt you, it’s okay, because we’re all human and you’re definitely going to hurt others too. You’ll get to experience God’s love and healing, and you’re going to make lifelong friends.

Appreciate the different seasons in life. Sometimes you’ll naturally drift away from people and although it’s going to be hard for a little while, God’s going to fill the gaps. But for now, enjoy the friends you have and make lots of fun memories. When you get older, you’re going to be so thankful for all the times you’ve spent at the Swart house.

Learning isn’t going to be something you’ll only be doing at school. You’ll look back and realise how much you’ve learned from other people, from books, from life experiences. But there are going to be things you’re going to have to unlearn, but it’s okay. You’re always going to be growing, changing and learning, but at the end of the day, you’re really going to love it.

Life is going to take some twists and turns, and you’re really going to have no idea how you ended up where you are as a 20 year old, but enjoy the ride! Don’t get so caught in trying to find your worth in your grades, in relationships or in trying to be perfect. Don’t let words sink into your heart that aren’t from God. And don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes you are your own worst critic. You’re going to love who God created you to be, and life is going to be so much more fun when you do.

Love,

Me

A letter to my five-year-old self

Hey friendlings, we’re going to be doing something new here on the blog for the next wee while!

I friend of mine challenged us at the AIA winter retreat that I went to to stop praying just for ourselves, but to pray for and care for others. I didn’t think much of it at first but it really hit me recently. A lot of us are coming into seasons or are neck deep in seasons were we are serving younger people, whether that be at summer camps, church ministries, helping out at community events or coaching. With all of that in mind, I thought it would be super useful to take a trip down memory lane and remember what it was like to be younger, but also have a look into what it was like for other people to be younger. So I have asked people that I love to share a little something about or to their younger selves so that you don’t have to listen to my life story all over again.

Today we kick things off with one of the people that I love, respect and cherish most on the planet. She’s my personal angel, model, role model, baker, artist, listening ear and lifesaver. If you have had the privilege of meeting her and hearing her story, you know that she is a person of great character and strength. She shares bits of her struggle in moving to NZ right before starting school without knowing a word of English – the fact that she wrote such a beautiful piece in itself is testament to how far she has come! She is currently 21, just graduated college (whoop whoop!), is working and on her way to work at a summer camp in the US in May!

So, without further ado, my sister ladies and gentlemen…

Dear Younger Me

Welkom in Nieu-Seeland.

Life will have been looking, and sounding, very different to you lately. You probably have not realised it yet but this wet, green country is home now. These strangers who sing different songs and don’t always where their school uniform are to be your people.

I know you are very lonely and confused and that you miss all that you have left behind, but do not be discouraged. There is actually far more to love about this new place than to despise. In time you came me to see this and to find your own niche among kiwis, though you are unable to envision it now.

Let me reassure you; someday this-terrible-English will not be so terrible. Someday you will understand your classmates, your teachers and the strange behaviour of the general populace. Someday you will find that you can in fact do the work assigned to you and do it very well. But I caution you not to allow the opinions and standard of others to others to determine your view of yourself: whether good or bad. You are hard enough a taskmaster that criticism will crush you and constant praise will become an addiction. On that note; learn to be teachable. You do not know everything because you read it in a book and you learn better from demonstration anyway.

As you can see, I know you very well. That is experience talking. It is the greatest of teachers but requires you to make peace with occasional mistakes. Remember that failing does not make you a failure and that steel must be tempered to be strengthened. This trial you are going through will teach you compassion for the lost and courage in the face of confusion. Just like Paul, learn to treasure adversity. Remember also that you view the world through a different lens and that it will not always understand or accept your perspective. As Pappa says; different is special and special is good. Do not wish away a part of yourself in order to gain what another has. God did not make any mistakes in the making of you.

I promise that you will come through this, and with barely a scar to show for it, as the most important parts of your previous life came with you. Your ever-supportive family and all-loving Abba will never abandon you. You already know that God has not given you a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind; next you need to learn that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. So have courage. Eventually you will know that He never puts you through beyond what you can bear and that He works all things to the good of those who fear Him. Abba’s got this, but that’s not something you will realise for at least another thirteen years.

So just continue to marvel at the ‘glittery’ streets, the beach that’s just down the road, the chocolate croissants at the corner bakery and that your chest is ever less constricted. Enjoy being young enough to attend the Christian Men’s Network breakfasts and eating more than your share of the bacon. There will be a time when that will be frowned upon. Play outrageously and at every opportunity. Do not let the risk of dirt or humiliation keep you from enjoying every day that you are given. Laugh from the depths of your being, that your joy may be shared and have an open heart that you may be welcomed.

Yours sincerely,

One who has seen a little more of the bigger picture.

PS: Make friends with the little girl in your class with the soft smile and long, pale curls. You will not regret the time invested.