Mama said there’d be days like this.

And somewhere in between the coffee dates & office conversations & worship nights & prayer vigils & newly-formed friendships, I missed the reason for community. Completely missed it & it was right under my nose the entire time. This isn’t a competition. “The day you wake up and realize not everyone is out to get you or push you out of the place in which you belong to try and take over what God has called you to will be a very good day for you,” I’ve had to repeat to myself. Sometimes I mistake people’s comments for hits & my automatic reaction is to want to hit back, but it doesn’t work that way. The world isn’t against you. At least, it isn’t right to assume that. If these are the lenses you put on, every day of your life you’ll be dodging punches that weren’t even meant for you. You’ll be wondering what make-up to use to cover up your black eyes, when in reality, they aren’t ever going to happen. You will tremble in fear. You will dig a hole so deep that will be close to impossible to get out of.

Fear is a paralyzing thing. I don’t even know what to classify it as. I have a deep hatred for it, but I think that’s because I know it all too well. Fear & I have formed an intimate relationship in the past few years. Fear in books & in pens & in bed sheets & in keyboards & in cameras & in people. I can find him anywhere. Fear meets me where I’m at, especially when I look for him. I recognize him. He greets me with unworthiness, the two inseparable. Unworthiness is a comfy sweater I’ve trapped myself in for a while now. I’m comfortable in it. So comfortable. I love being used. If I could pinpoint an unhealthy love language (there should be a test for that one), it would be: “Hello, my name is Jenna & I don’t mind being used by people. Actually I love it.” I mistake dependability for being used though. Dependability = good. Being used = bad. Dependability ≠ Being used. Glad we cleared that up.

I’m not sure how many times I’ll have to say it to convince myself I’m worthy & that I have value. Maybe it’ll be the 20th time from today. Or maybe 378th. Or maybe 4,506th. Or maybe the millionth. God only knows (literally). Do I need to tattoo it on my forehead so I see it every time I look in the mirror? Or maybe somewhere on my body? Or in notecards? Or sticky notes? Or every tangible thing I have? How the heck is this supposed to work? How am I worthy?

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I’m tired of feeling inauthentic & I want to stop it. I want to completely erase everything about myself & rewrite every word to my story. Some days I wouldn’t say that, but today I do. I realized I don’t want to have to share my messy heart with people. I know we’re supposed to help each other bear burdens, but I don’t want to subject somebody to that. It’s not the load that weighs you down; it’s the way you carry it. And I’d like to carry mine alone.

I have relied way too much on other people to affirm me & define me. And I’m still empty/haven’t figured things out for myself & wonder why nothing has changed. Please, hold me up & hold my hand & tell me everything is going to be okay & let me believe it & tell me how to fix it. Tell me what to do to make this go away. I share my entire heart & spill my guts & expect everything to be fixed by other people’s words or comfort, but somehow things are still in the exact same place. It’s like I couldn’t even get past the starting line of the marathon.

I sat in a dark bridal room of our college chapel last Friday night. To my left was a mirror, completely marked in words that people had written to depict what God saw them as. Valuable. Child of God. Beloved. And then there was a cross lying on the table with a nail sticking out of it & we were supposed to write all the lies we believed about ourselves or the burdens we keep carrying around & then put that piece of paper right through the nail & onto the cross. The only words that crossed my mind to write:

These hands are dirty & still You call me Yours.

These hands are dirty & still You call me Yours. Wow.

Punch fear in the face today. Be the one to start the fight, even though this is unfamiliar territory for people-pleasers. I believe in you & hopefully that’s just enough to give you an ounce of courage, knowing one person believes in you. It’s okay to be feisty & critical & maybe even a little bit cynical. You don’t have to say yes to everything. They tell me confrontation might even be a good thing. I had to call a bank lady & get a little confrontational after an hour and a half on the phone with her today. Talk about breaking out of a comfort zone. I almost cried though, so I don’t think that counts.

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I think there’s a difference in being too grounded and having your head too far in the clouds, and I think I’m searching for the happy medium (I’m locked to the ground). I want to take life less seriously. I want to learn to live a little more freely (or completely free, but I would definitely be okay with a little bit more freely).

Emptied. I want to be completely emptied.

I am thirsting for inspiration, in any form, but particularly in writing. That’s what I crave right now. To be filled with inspiration & emptied in my outlet. I want to be filled with eloquent words & people’s letters & inspiration from photographs & drawings & quotes & conversation & everything. I want to be overflowing.

Get me alone, God. That is my deepest desire right now. I want to be completely & uncomfortably alone with God. I think I’m afraid to find out that a God who is Creator & Deliverer to so many people could never know me intimately & I could never know Him intimately. What if I find out that He doesn’t care as much as He was supposed to, as much as I expected Him to? I would rather not know Him & assume things about His character and love for me than get to know Him & find out He wasn’t everything I’d hoped for. But somehow I still pray to know Him more intimately, even though it scares terrifies me. Let go, my soul, and trust in Him.

And I know all the words are scattered & maybe they didn’t make sense to you, but they clicked for me. Something finally clicked for me. For the first time since freedom & solitude & the retreat, I got it. I get that I have to get myself alone with God, even though it’s terrifying. That’s why I haven’t felt love: because there is no room for fear in love. No room at all.

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Wednesday mornings, we keep meeting like this.

Tonight (I guess last night since it’s Wednesday morning now, if we want to get technical), I sat amazed. And in tears, to be completely honest.

My sins submerged, Your love has saved my soul. Your love is like a storm.

But I have to backtrack a little bit for you to fully understand what’s going through my head, or at least try to, so bear with me.

Being home was weird.

It smelled like home. Felt like home in movie nights & flannel PJ pants & baseball gear galore. All my dirty laundry that I dragged home smelled like home when I left, and no that isn’t a metaphor for anything this time. Home in a good way though. Each time I go home, it’s like a completely new atmosphere & holds a completely different meaning for me, but this time it was good. Whether it was rocking my little brother back and forth at one in the morning or drinking coffee, early in the morning in the kitchen alone, it all sort of fit into place & snuggled back into a new part of my heart.

Well-rested. Finally. Black coffee & nights in a Blue Ridge cabins & never-ending games of fishbowl (charades on steroids). I slept on a pull-out couch some nights this past week, and I can honestly say I haven’t felt this rested in a long time. It is a very very good feeling.

Debrief from the past few weeks:

  1. If you keep seeking anything, you will find. Even things that aren’t there. You can convince yourself they are. Seeking personality traits in people that are not there. Seeking bad situations where there is only good to be found. Seeking grief hidden in pockets throughout your days. Seeking anxiety tucked into planners & journals. Seeking wholeness in empty situations. Seeking Jesus in every single day life & I know that’s the most important one. Seek & find.
  2. You don’t need a last word. “The last word is the way you live your life. That is the final word.” Katie Jo, my heart needed this more than you realized in those moments at Swift.
  3. Consider the wildflowers. And then remember how much more the Father cares for you. You hold value. You are worthy. And even if I have to repeat this to myself 5,000 times a day, I know it to be true & it will never cease to be true. I’ve always said that the Lord speaks the loudest through the people around me & I also still know that to be true. Words matter. Words hold weight. Use your words for good. I know the women of God I constantly surround myself with definitely do.
  4. The light shines in the darkness & the darkness has not overcome it.
  5. Sometimes, we all need a good heart to heart. It was definitely a treat to be able to see some of my favorite home people more than once this week & even more of a treat to catch up with all of these people. My cup overflows.
  6. And still my favorite, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.

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Sharing the messy state of my heart is something I’m learning to be better at (and sometimes learning when not to share as well).

Freedom. A foreign concept for some. Most days, I feel like there is just one more thing I have to do to attain it or unlock that door or cross that bridge, but some days I feel it. Oh, I feel it & I run with it & dance in it & sing & shout it out. I think so often we let chains of comparison & lust & striving hold us down to the cross that was already carried for us. These are all thieves of joy. Comparison. Lust. Striving. It’s all sin that makes us say, “I can do this better than God. Let me walk it alone this time. I am capable of walking this alone.” And you’re wrong. Completely wrong.

I think the daily stuff is the hardest. In the most painful & trying times, you can body slam into God’s presence & grace & that’s not a question (depending on the circumstances). But every single day? That’s the rough stuff. Deciding to wake up every single day even when it feels like God has forsaken you or laid the weight of the world on your shoulders, that’s the hardest part. Choosing & reminding yourself every single day to trust Him when you cannot even trust yourself. Choosing & reminding yourself every single day that your worth & your value can only be found at the heart of God. Choosing & reminding yourself every single day that your every breath comes from the sacrificial & blameless Lamb so the least you could do is lay your worries & burdens at the foot of the cross & trust Him enough not to pick them back up.

I got back to campus on Friday afternoon & had over 48 hours completely to myself. I ran. I wrote. I was productive & filled up. Quiet time & time spent in solitude with Jesus is some of the most precious time for me (confessions of an introvert). However, on Sunday afternoon I went for a walk in 70 degree, perfect spring weather with a dear friend & it was exactly what I needed. I checked my mailbox in this time to find a skinny, yellow, inter-departmental mail envelope tucked neatly inside. I thought it must be something for work. It wasn’t. It was an anonymous letter from a friend.

“It’s been wonderful to see you love others despite inner struggles and I hope you know that your pursuit to love well has not gone unnoticed.”

My heart shattered & was put back together within a matter of seconds. God is faithful. He knows how to reach me. Thank you, whoever you are. I hope you know that your words are beautiful & powerful. These words were beautifully overwhelming, in the best form of that word. We live in communities of believers because we are supposed to be image-bearers of God & help carry one another’s burdens. He knows that we will try & try & try to carry our own burdens, so He gives us these communities. My heart swells at just the thought of these people. How incredibly fortunate I am to be called a child of the Most High God. To be chosen & adopted & redeemed. It makes me ugly cry when I think about these facts. These Truths.

This place. This community. These people. I am humbled & built up & so incredibly loved all at the same time. Part of me cries out of unspeakable joy & the other part cries out of sadness that things will never again be exactly as they are in these moments. I want to stop time, capture it, and carry this feeling around with me for the rest of my existence. And the funny thing: nothing ground-shaking happened tonight. I sat on the front steps of our library & watched our improv troupe perform. And I drank an amaretto latte. And I laughed until I cried. And I was spontaneously koala-hugged. And I was surrounded by people, some I don’t even know. And I felt loved.

God is lifted high in actions. He is lifted high in community, and not only that, but community that glorifies Him. He is lifted high in our daily rhythms, lavished in His unforced grace.

I once heard “Hallelujah” described as something we say when we have no higher words of praise. When there are no words to describe the awe we are experiencing toward God, “Hallelujah” steps in. And in the past few days, may it be in mountaintops moments or moments when I feel extremely sad for no apparent reason, Hallelujah floods its way into my mind and courses through every inch of me. Praise be to God for every feeling I’m allowed to feel and for all of the decisions I’m allowed to make under God’s sovereignty. I feel peace. An unspeakable joy. An oasis in the chaos. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.

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He meets me in the dugout.

“You’re making me like You, clothing me in white. Bringing beauty from ashes, for You will have Your bride. Free of all her guilt and rid of all her shame & known by her true name and it’s why I sing.” // E V E R   B E .

Though my sins are scarlet, You have washed me white as snow. Not like an off-white, old shirt. White white. Snow white. Brand new. Made alive. Blinding, eyes-hurting white. Holy. Pure. Blameless. Thank You, Jesus, for redeeming me. Blue sky. White snow. Bare trees. Fullness. Fullness in Your presence, Lord. I pray that You would unburden me. Pull them off. Strip me clean of my burdens. I am naked before You. You see me as I am. That’s terrifying & beautiful at the same time.

Over the past few days, whenever I have thought, “Oh wow, that’s terrifying,” on subjects like my job & marriage (way way way down the road, so far down the road it’s basically not even in my vision) & all of the little risk-takings in between, all I have heard is a little whisper saying, “Do not be afraid. It is I.” Without fail. Every time. Do not be afraid, it is I. A quiet, but resounding, whisper. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.

I went on a Spiritual Disciplines Retreat this past weekend. I know you’re probably thinking, “Spiritual Disciplines? That sounds gross & restricting.” Trust me when I say it was beautiful. It was an entire weekend devoted to learning about rhythms in our relationship with Jesus & that was beautiful to be able to understand we can come into His presence at any time & all it takes is being intentional with Him. Intentional with this precious time where we tear away distractions & let the Lord have His way in our lives. It was freeing.

We had this 2 & a half hour period for solitude & silence. Those are 2 of my most favorite things, right under coffee, quality time, and letters. I sat in the freezing cold on the back porch of Cottage #6 in silence. No worship music in my ears. No warm bodies around me. Silence, except for the sound of snow melting off the roof, which was oddly soothing. I looked out at this expanse of bare trees and white white white snow. Pure white. And I was immediately overwhelmed. I journaled about 10 pages in this time & sometimes it was me rambling, but mostly it was conversation with the Lord. Back & forth Truth. And the Lord spoke. Endlessly. I look back at these words & I know they are not my own. Why are you afraid to come into My presence?…Do not be afraid, it is I…I will take you as you are, but I will not leave you that way…I LOVE YOU. YOU ARE MINE…Come home. Come home. Come home. I love you. I accept you. I want you.

And I can honestly say those are the MOST intimate moments I have had with Jesus to date. And I loved every single minute of it. That is what my heart longs for: to know Jesus more intimately & deeper every single day of my life & until He calls me Home.

For the past few weeks, it’s like there has been something shutting off this bridge that I need to take to reach freedom. Like there’s just one more thing I have to do to attain this foreign thing called “freedom” & I cannot for the life of me figure out what that is. And I still never put a name to that missing puzzle piece, if it was ever actually there, but things slowly shifted into place. I wish I could say it was like a firework going off or a jumping-out-of-an-airplane experience, but He came quietly. Through the empty woods & wilderness & into my heart. Slow at first, but steady & resounding. My heart synced up to His & my rhythms were celebration & permanent love.

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One of the main ways that I hear God is through conversation & story. I like to hear about the other ways that other people hear from the Lord, because I have started to realize that all of our communication styles with Him are unique. While I might talk to Him in sign language, someone else might speak in French. I think that’s the best way I can describe it. I write to Him & He writes back, while my friend finds Him in analogies or in images. A dear friend that I met my senior year of high school once described to me the way she hears from Jesus & my mind was blown because I didn’t realize how many different ways you could hear from Him. I put Him in a box & thought, “Okay, I can find Him in Scripture, maybe prayers, and, on my crazy days, an actual voice,” and that was it. I boxed Him up & set Him on my bookshelf & He could only come out when I asked Him too, but that’s not how this works.

She described to me the way she would pray: sometimes she would close her eyes & just ask that the Lord would put an image in her mind. She is a crazy-talented artist & a very visual person, so these are the most vivid instances in which she has understood the Lord or seen His work in these images. Upon seeing this image, she would know that this is never something she could have envisioned & she just sort of knew it was something from God & these images always held significance for her (her description was much more eloquent & I know I’m falling short of that, but bear with me). I remember her telling me about sunflowers. And since she shared this form of communication with me, I was like, “Oh! Maybe this would work for me! Maybe not, but why not try it out?” I tried it a couple times & never really saw anything that I could distinctly say was from God, so I just thought maybe that wasn’t my way of communication.

Well, I’m sitting on this porch on Saturday afternoon & thought I would give it another shot. Why not, right? 2 & a half hours of silence? I’ve got time for it. So I closed my eyes & just asked Him. Lord, show me something. And immediately it was just there. Streaming water. Smooth stones & pebbles under rushing water. And I’m struggling to walk across this water, but it’s a cartoon version of myself walking on these real rocks & real water, so this has never been something that would ever cross my mind. And then, Jesus, in a white robe, comes to me from behind, takes me hand, and leads me across this stream as the water starts to rush harder and harder against my ankles. Once to the other side, He picks me up & embraces me. And I know that I was never alone. And I knew that all of this was not something I could’ve come up with in my mind. And you might be sitting there thinking, “This girl is telling me she had a vision with a cartoon her & a cartoon Jesus? She must be out of her mind!” Call me crazy. I felt it. I saw it. I couldn’t believe it either, but I also knew it wasn’t me.

I opened my eyes & felt a freedom. I tasted it. I got it. And for those few moments, everything clicked into place.

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I sat & recalled huge moments where The Lord showed up in my life & told these stories with an awesome new friend last night. And now I just sit here in awe & I’m reminded of the Lord’s faithfulness. Boy, is He faithful. He shows up & shows up & shows up when I want to sit on the bench. He pulls me out of the dugout & stops the waiting game, shoves me up to home plate & says, “Hit this out of the park. I’ll be your strength.” And He grand slams again. He is so faithful.

I want to sing & dance & shout from the top of the Ford complex about how faithful & incredible Jesus is. About this freedom that sets my soul ablaze. He is good. And I mean good in the deepest-rooted, celebration-striking meaning of that word. Good. Good. Good.

My freedom from the Father brings me joy. Soul ablaze. Heart on a mountaintop. Dancing like a fool. Singing with my tone-deaf voice. Writing with this Truth He gives me. I am free. You are free. Let that strike some ice or darkness in your heart. Let Him pull you onto the mountaintop. Come stand with me. Come stand in His glory. Come stand on the mountaintop.

Let me feel the freedom You have already given me. I AM ALREADY FREE. I am already free. I am already free. Let me accept it. I am already free. I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God. You drowned my fears in perfect love. Defeated. Game over. Lay your weapons down. I am free & I am a child of God. Celebrate that. 

I’m crying & I think it’s because I finally believe it. I am free. F R E E   I N D E E D.

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