Costume Change

I bought a new shirt last week. I know, buying a new shirt is not really blog-worthy; but sometimes it is. You see, six months ago I wouldn’t have bought the shirt. Why? Because “they” might not like it. Who are “they”? Glad you asked.

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I’m a theatre junkie. I’ve been known to say on more than one occasion that I wish life were like a musical. I spent my high school years on the stage. I’ve been cast in many parts. It’s fun assuming the personality of a fictional character, getting into costume, grabbing your props and standing beneath the spotlight. There’s nothing like the rush that comes from playing to a full house.

What I didn’t realize until just recently was that I wasn’t just a good actor on the stage, but I was a good actor off the stage as well. And my acting started way before high school.

As the first granddaughter I was adored. My grandmother insisted that I do all things girlie. There was much curling-of-the-hair, painting-of-the-nails and shopping for little frilly things. Then there was dance. I hated dance. Grace and poise were not traits I was born with. My feet and my brain share no connection and dance was a humiliating challenge for me. But I looked cute in my little tutu and when I stood on that stage grandma beamed. Winning her approval was worth any sacrifice. So I laced up my tap shoes and followed the spot light across the stage.

Manners mattered to her. Little girls should be dainty and pretty and poised. They should sit still, speak softly, hold their fork just so. They should say please and thank you and look you in the eye. They shouldn’t run or jump or be loud indoors. And so I performed for her. I became the sweet sophisticated little girl she desired.

As a child we lived pay check to pay check. Everyone who knows my mom would describe her as a hard worker. The oldest of six she started working to help put food on the table for her family at a very young age. As a mom she continued to work hard to provide for our family. She wanted more for her kids then working long hours at dead end jobs to just barely get by. She wanted us to be successful. To go to college. To achieve something with our lives.

So I became a diligent student. Advanced classes and high grades became the focus of my life. Science fair projects, essays, research, studying; they defined me as an older child into my teenage years. If there was a hoop, I would jump through it in attempt to please her.

I became “the smart one”. Teacher’s pet, nose in a book, asking for extra credit assignments… I played the part to the best of my ability. I graduated near the top of my class, earning many academic awards and a full scholarship to college. Mom was proud and I felt empty.

In junior high my circle of friends became solidified. I was the shy, quiet one, but the girls weren’t happy about my lack of social skills. They wanted to laugh and have fun and be silly. So I became the life of the party. I went to dances and sleepovers. Played spin the bottle and toilet papered houses. I took the classes they took. Ate what they ate. Wore what they wore. Conforming on the outside and cringing on the inside. It was worth it though, I was accepted, part of the group. I belonged.

Then there were the boys. With each new boyfriend I became a new me. Changing my personality and preferences to match whoever I was dating at the time. I seemed to be wearing a neon sign attracting boys who’s favorite line was “if you really love me you’ll…” I didn’t really love them, but I was desperate to be loved. Just like Maggie didn’t know how she liked her eggs in Runaway Bride, I didn’t know who I was in a relationship. So I became a chameleon girlfriend, and wife.

As a teenager I found God, and church, and new opportunities to perform. I learned the lingo, wore the t-shirt, and assumed the role of a good Christian girl. I conformed to the expectations of the church. I volunteered. Joined the choir. Read the latest Christian books. Amened whoever stood in the pulpit. And it worked. I was valued. I was accepted. I was approved.

With each new circumstance, each new relationship I walked out onto a stage and played a part, picking up cues as to how I should perform based on the characters sharing the stage with me. Always longing for approval, hungry for applause, I lived my life as if I were cast in a role desperate to delight the crowd.

Somewhere between the 5 year old little girl in tap shoes and tights and the 40 year old woman in a cardigan and heels I realized that my life doesn’t fit anymore. That’s the thing with costumes, unless you’re the leading lady of a hit Broadway production, costumes rarely fit right. They are generally random articles pulled and pieced together for the actor and the role at hand. Quiet often costumes are held together with safety pins and clips. Why? Because they were never meant for you. The same skirt for Anne of Green Gables to wear in the funeral scene will be used next season for the Wicked Witch of the West’s costume.

Costumes aren’t clothes. And characters aren’t real. And acting isn’t living.

The scariest, and most liberating, thing we will ever do is to walk out onto the stage of our lives as ourselves. Not pretending. Not faking. Not acting. Just being who we are. Flaws, and quirks and all.

“By God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not ineffective.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

By God’s grace I am what I am. God’s unique creation. My life planned and formed by Him to be a reflection of His glory and grace. Why would I wear a costume created for someone else and assume the role of someone else when the Creator has already scripted a role for me to fill?

So… I bought a new shirt. Because my life doesn’t fit anymore. And I’m tired of wearing things picked out for me by other people just in hopes that they will be pleased with me. Because there is one who loves me just as I am. And His applause is enough for me.

~Keri

Photo by arcticpenguin Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Rediscovering Me

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Keri and I sat across the table from one another tucked away in a booth sharing chips and salsa, sorrows and dreams. It was raining outside so we let the contents of our heart spill out too. We have been doing this sort of thing for years, since the first time we had Mexican food together and confessed that we were broken girls. It’s how this whole thing started, this process of becoming unbroken and pieced back together, this journey of finding other girls and taking them with us.

We seem to always have a sacred moment where I find a paper napkin and my favorite pen and start writing a thought, something God-inspired, something that causes our eyes to light up because we know our paper napkin dreams aren’t just for us, they are for you.

Keri told me about a recent conversation with one of our favorites, a woman we both look up to, about her season of singleness, dealing with the mess of divorce, and discovering who she was. It went something like this:

“You asked to be hidden, right? You have to be hidden until you figure out who the real you is. Or else, he will fall in love with the fake you, and you will have to be that for the rest of your life.”

I had one of those whiplash moments where I was completely taken back by that thought. The fake us. The one who was hiding behind a facade, a mask of what we thought whoever standing in front of us wanted to see…the fake us.

I had to ask myself a really hard, crappy, question.

Did the “fake me” walk down the aisle almost sixteen years ago, the twenty-two-year-old version of me, stretch mark-free and wearing sparkling white?

I remember the fake me vaguely, but I remember how uptight and insecure she was…especially around the people she didn’t think accepted her. I like this version of me more- the stretch mark, Spanx wearing one with laugh-lines, and a story to tell. She is flawed and fierce. She is a work in progress who loves Jesus, and people, and the mess that comes with them.

She is free.

That girl, the fake you, is a puppet on a string, she’s not free. She lives in a fake, powerful cage, and is scared to walk in freedom.

That is why we are starting this new series, Rediscovering Me, because we are wondering if you are hiding behind the fake you.

The real version is better. The real you is stunning and it’s scary being her, but it’s the most beautiful thing ever because it fits. We want you to find the girl you’ve forgotten, the joys that used to thrill you- the moments that made you feel alive and whole and worth it.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1 NIV)

The free, non-fake version of us can’t return to the things that held us captive anymore. We have to walk uncharted places and let God lead us. Sometimes we feel trapped because we continually stay in the same place, our invisible cage.

The fake you simply won’t do. Not anymore. So, are you in? Will you take this journey to walk in freedom?

We would love for you to blog about your experience, your “fake you” story, and linkup with us!

Much love,

Jennifer

A Braveheart Moment & Subtraction

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I’ve said this a million times…I only like numbers when they are working in my favor. The act of subtracting gives me mild heart palpitations, or maybe it’s the coffee. Either way, I just want to know that I have something to work with, something to hold in my hands and trusted friends by side. There are times when we just want more. And then God reveals a better, scarier picture of us standing there with infinitely less. And we whispered, “You have got to be kidding me?”

How many times have we watched people gather their army in the battle? We want a “Braveheart” moment with fists pumping in the air, instead we find ourselves standing with the group of scrawny kids no one wants on their kickball team. I’ve always been the scrawny kid that gets pummeled. In Junior High the rationale was that the more people you have rallied in your corner, the greater the chances were for victory. The numbers said you were right and if you were wrong you still had a crowd of people being wrong with you. At least you weren’t alone and wrong. Last night I was reminded of Gideon. As he was gathering his army the word from God told him to subtract from the mighty army…not add. (Judges 7) In the end it was about God receiving the glory for the victory, not man. I can’t imagine how scary it was for him to say, “Send all those big boys home and end with three hundred, not thousands like you had intended.”

If you want victory…you have to subtract. And I guess that’s where I am right now, subtracting all the things that I think will make me feel better or make me feel like I’m winning. God keeps stripping me of what I think I need to be successful and removing the fear from saying “no” to things that aren’t on His list for me right now. Somehow we must allow the numbers be against us, not in our favor.

One by one, as Gideon’s vast army looked less mighty and more like a recipe for disaster, God promised the victory. It didn’t have to make sense or have to be in the play-books of how to conquer the enemy. In the end it was all about obedience. God was asking some pretty big things of someone who wrestled with fear. (Like we all do.) God never saw Gideon as someone who was afraid and cowered, He spoke into that heart and called him a mighty warrior. He spoke to the man he would become and called that into being. And when he was afraid, God spoke peace into his timid heart.

“Peace be with you, do not fear, you will not die.” (Judges 6:23)

Gideon had moments where he asked God for confirmation, asking for a sign, anything to let him know the instructions were from God and not him. (Judges 6:36)

You are a mighty warrior, a man or woman of valor. God calls to us in our seasons of wanting to add so much more to our list than we can actually handle and asks us to subtract. I know this season for me, the painful act of removing things that have become a security blanket, is essential to real and lasting victory in many different areas in my life.

Sometimes more is just more.

I have felt this prayer rising up in my heart as I feel God subtracting and removing the things that I think are powerful and mighty, nothing can compare to what the power of God brings in our lives.

God,
Be mighty in us. Whatever you have to subtract in us and in our “army” to help bring about true victory, subtract it and release us for real kingdom battle where you win. We don’t need more, we just need you.

Amen

Much love,

Jennifer

My Broken Girl Story- My Messy Beautiful

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My daughter came to me wearing a frown as she carried her favorite stuffed animal, Chickie. When you love something hard it’s bound to tear, sometimes in the same place where the first wound originated. Chickie has required multiple surgeries and so have I. What I have been through physically is nothing compared to what others have faced. I started writing seriously seven years ago, before then I was just playing. Prayer journals and angry poetry placed at my bedside as I dealt with miscarriages, surgeries, and tests that hurt so badly that I would fold in the elevator only to stand when the door opened. I never wanted anyone to see me folded, weak, and messy.

Six years ago I was recovering from an emergency surgery. I had two weeks to prepare beforehand and I was trying my best to figure out another option other than what my doctor strongly suggested.

“It’s now or later…how long do you want to suffer? I would never recommend this surgery to a thirty-one-year-old unless it was needed.” I nodded, still scared to death as he set the date and I emotionally ran away.

With several staged interventions of loved ones and friends, I folded again and surrendered to the cutting of surgery and process of healing afterwards. But I wasn’t ready for the fear that was surfacing and the nightmares that happened as I drifted off to sleep. This peaceful sleeper began to fight and scream with terrors. My husband would rush to my side and one time had to physically pick me up and put me back in the bed. We were both terrified and knew this was not normal for me; I was running scared even in my sleep. I was a rag doll who needed to be fixed with torn places no one could see, both on my heart and in body.

I’ve always been the girl who never liked to slow down, especially if it was forced. Yet being forced to slow down was the best thing for my health and my heart. Now I make rest and taking care of myself a priority. I stopped running, I asked those really hard questions like…how old was I when my mom placed two brown-eyed-girls in a car and drove off to find the three of us a safe place? Where was our family in all of this? Where was God?

I acknowledged that what happened to her and to us was not okay as I forgave again and rejected bitterness. Again. God was always right there leading my mom, carrying her as she cried and fought for her girls. It seems like there has to be a good reason for running and hiding and pauses for healing both physically and spiritually. And so I did all of that really well and gave myself room to go retrace broken places in my past. I kept a few people at arms length until I healed. I gave myself permission to not be okay until one day I really was okay and better than ever. And as I sit here with the sun on my face and joy in my heart, I can tell you with confidence that God heals your broken past and gives you a stronger, clearer voice with beautiful things to say if you let Him. Sometimes our messy is the most beautiful thing that could ever happen to us. Our messy gives way to the beautiful and the miraculous.

It’s okay to run from the things that hurt you as long as you always find yourself running to God who makes forgiveness actually attainable instead of a nice thought. God can mend broken homes and hearts and sometimes He gives you an open door and a trusted friend to wrap their arms around you and help you cry a little, or a lot, as you come up for air before you lace up your running shoes. One day the running stops and the messy, beautiful dance starts because you are free. Not perfect. Not free from battle wounds, but in a place where mending begins.

Ask those hard questions, let God mend your torn places. I’m convinced that we travel back and forth from broken places and seasons, we are never really exempt from hard, tattered places…and so we run like rag dolls and let God do His surgery. We let Him unfold our fetal position posture and we stand stronger and there we find Him waiting with healing in His wings. Your messy is beautiful and exactly what this world needs. Let the messy mingle with the miraculous…wild, free, and fiercely beautiful.

Much love,

Jennifer Renee

This post is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior project- to learn more and join us, click here ! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback!

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Approval Ratings & Dumpster Diving

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“She called it baggage. “You’re scared to open your suitcases and see what your mother packed.” ~A.S. King

Somewhere over time, tattered places, and rifts in who I was hoping to “become” I realized I was holding on to traits, fears, and conditions passed down to me. I had learned how to adapt, almost morph somewhat into whoever the person standing in front of me wanted to see. I became a girl jumping through hoops hoping to earn love based on performance. If I just jumped high enough, if I was just good enough, everyone would be happy. I had realistic fears, I could end up in the same category, like the statistics predicted from someone who came from a broken home. I could become someone unable to hold onto a relationship, unable to hold on to hope, numbing my pain while pretending that I was okay. I looked around and viewed something that did not have to be my reality, or my identity, and yet I was tethered to mistakes I had not made. I was carrying someone else’s broken baggage.

This need for approval followed me into my early years of ministry, isn’t the minister’s wife supposed to have it all together even at twenty-two? Um, no. I had so many eyes watching me so I went to war with the sloppy perfectionist inside of me. I still needed to know that I was enough, even the messy parts of me.

Somewhere along the way I learned to lay down the baggage that didn’t belong to me, to walk uncharted territories towards wholeness in God.
With God I always knew that I was enough, but it took decades to replace the lie I had believed for so long. The lie that I was not enough. Deep within the tattered places inside a blazing hope consumed that timid, insecure heart. I believed that somehow God could use a girl who didn’t have it all together. To move forward, I needed to lay a few things down.

My inner craving for approval and belonging had become my baggage weighing me down. It became a mask to hide behind, a chain around my heart, crippling the gifts that God had placed inside. But He came to set me free, not part of the way- just barely getting by free, but free indeed. His freedom is so sweet, so satisfying and paid for, no jumping through hoops required. You just open your hands and heart and receive the gift He wants so much for you to have.

Our worth and value does not have to be tied to the bottomless pit of people pleasing. We don’t have to throw away our confidence or dumpster dive for the blessings of others. We don’t have to jump through hoops or work so hard for the approval ratings of others.

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.”(Heb 10:35 NIV)

The other day I felt slapped with an approval rating, it was pretty low score, actually, and it hurt. It really did. A decade ago I might have spiraled in a pit of depression and accepted this “low score” but somehow growing up gives you room to reject things that might otherwise destroy you and your self worth. We have a choice about what we are going to take into our hearts and carry around with us. Unconditional love doesn’t come with a scorecard and a measuring system. My choice is to travel light. I might have to throw a few things away and unpack my bags from time-to-time, but I will not throw away my confidence.

Much love,
Jennifer

Tick Tock

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Sometimes I pray crazy prayers. Prayers that I mean at the time but then later I wonder…

What was I thinking?

Three years ago I prayed a crazy prayer. At the time it made sense to me, I had just went throughout the hardest thing of my life. I was devastated and tired and weak and defenseless.

I have a theory about sin. I believe that when temptation meets weakness we are most vulnerable to get caught in the trap of sin. And when my husband of nearly 20 years left and I found myself a single mom of four teenagers I knew I was at my weakest. I also knew the greatest temptation I could face in that season would involve a man. So, I prayed a crazy prayer every day, several times a day, for months. God, make me invisible to men. Don’t let them notice me or talk to me until my heart is healed and You think I’m ready to date someone, and until You are ready to bring the right person to me. And if you want me to stay single then that’s okay too.

Here’s the problem…. God listened… and did what I asked. And it’s getting annoying.

At the time when I begged Jesus to make me invisible it wasn’t annoying. It was wise, and protecting and safe. I knew that my lonely heart couldn’t handle the temptation of a relationship and that I had a lot of work to do before I would be ready. That answered prayer was freeing. I promised God and myself that for a year I wouldn’t even think about dating but would instead focus my energy on my kids’ healing and my own healing. And I did just that. Through counseling, mentoring, a tribe of friends, and lots of hard self examination, journals, and prayer. At the end of year one I realized, I’m still not ready. So I committed to another year. Prayed sincerely again the prayer of invisibility and continued slowly down the path of healing.

But now… now I have days when I wonder if Jesus forgot about me.

You see, as far as I’m concerned, my heart is healed and ready for adventure. So, I find myself tapping my foot and checking my watch wondering why God hasn’t removed the cloak of invisibility.

When I first prayed that prayer I meant it with every fiber of my being. So what’s changed? Do I no longer want God to protect my heart? Do I no longer think that His plan is better than my plan? Do I no longer think that I am susceptible to temptation? No. All of that is still true. But I’m no longer thankful that God heard and answered my prayer, I’m now frustrated that God heard and answered my prayer.

So what’s changed? The only thing that’s changed is time. Time’s gone by. More time than I think should have. I prayed a simple prayer and trusted God completely and totally to answer that prayer in whatever way was best for me and my kids, He did, and now that more time has gone by then I think should have I’m grumpy about it.

God seems to have a habit of allowing long stretches of time to pass before He shows up. Just the other day I was reading about Sarah and Abraham and the years they waited for their promise. I have it confess, I was more than a little irritated with Sarah when she got Hagar involved instead of just being patient and trusting God.

Almost every single day I ask God to order my steps. To lead me and guide me and unfold my story as He wants to, not as I want Him to. But I’m just like Sarah, questioning the slow, twisting path He has me on.

Do I want God to make me “visible” to the perfect man? Yeah, maybe. But what I really want more than anything is to trust Him. To trust Him when I’m weak and when I’m strong. To trust Him when the promise is new and fresh and when it’s gathered dust and nearly forgotten. To trust Him in my today, and my tomorrow, and my next week, and month and year. I want to trust His timing as much as I trust His love.

I don’t want my trust to be based on convenience or desperate need. I want to trust Him when it’s inconvenient, when it’s long, when it’s hard, when the seasons are dry with no rain in sight. I want to trust Him then. Not to answer my selfish prayers, but to order my steps. All of them, not just the easy ones.

It’s hard. When more time has gone by then we think should have. Hard to hold on to the promise. Hard not to take matters into our own hands. Hard to trust that He still has a plan. But He does. He does. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that truth.

He has a plan. He has not forgotten. We can trust Him… no matter how long it takes.

~Keri

 

Photo by Kaja Kozłowska. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Hair Pulling & Tired Hands

Originally posted on Broken Girl:

Photo credit: Debbie Thurmond

Photo credit: Debbie Thurmond

I read something on social media last week that had me fired up. It actually hurt one of my dear friends and shook her up. How she handled the criticism, which is unfortunately part of life, made me so unbelievably proud of her because she is on the frontlines of Women’s ministry, well known, and longs to see women set free to just be who God intended them to be. I get it, social media is a beast, you can either use it as a tool or it will use you. Either way, we have a choice to make on how we use our platform and how we honor Christ with our voice. We are all divinely fashioned by a God who created us to function uniquely in the body of Christ. And when you publicly bash someone or call them out…you are talking bad about…

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