The Love Dare: Passion, Life, Love (Guest Post by Alise Wright)

Alise on piano

 

I spent two years not touching a piano. And when playing music is where you feel the most like yourself, two years is a long time to go without feeling completely you.

 

I was told that everything I was doing was wrong in the area where I was the most passionate and the most alive. I was told that I could still attend the church, but I could have nothing to do with music. I was told that my passion was self-serving and that what was life-giving was an idol. When you receive that news, it kills passion. It sucks life away.

 

And when passion and life are missing, it can be difficult to love yourself. 

 

I went through a season where this was my existence. A season where the pain of the words that had been spoken to me drowned out the knowledge that I was doing what I had been created to do.

 

For that season, I saw my talents not as a gift from God to be used for God’s glory, but rather as something of a liability to be used for my own glorification. This was not my heart, but because someone in authority had told me that this was so, I began to believe it for myself. The lies became reality and that reality crowded out feelings of self-worth that I had.

 

We are so often afraid to allow ourselves to be identified by what we do. We worry that our value is somehow cheapened by attaching significance to the titles that we have. We worry that if we enjoy the things that we do too much, we will push God out of the picture.

 

But I have found that the more I am fully myself, the more than I fully immerse myself in the passions that God has placed in me, then I am more aware of God’s presence. When I play the piano, and play well, I am more in tune with what God desires for me. When I am fully present with my children, when I choose to be a loving wife, when I write with conviction – these things draw me closer to God.

 

As I am closer to God, I am reminded of my value. I am convinced of the greatness of God’s love for me. And as I gain that confidence, I am able to love myself. Not simply the things that I do, but who I am.

By embracing my passions, I have found life. And by finding life, I have found a deeper Love.

 

Alise is a wife, a mother of four, an eater of soup, and a lover of Oxford commas. She is the editor of Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression with Civitas Press. You can generally find her sitting behind a keyboard of some kind: playing or teaching the piano, writing at her laptop, or texting her friends a random movie quote. You can connect with Alise on her blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

 

Pre-order Emily’s new book, Mom in the Mirror, at 40% off, here.

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The binge-purge cycle of our consumer-driven world (Guest Post by Lorretta Stembridge)

Every new January, I find myself mentally and emotionally traveling back to the top of that heap of months where the view is fresh and the air is clear and the days seem to endlessly trip over one another with their blank calendar whitenesses just waiting to be filled with the hopes and dreams for a coming year. There’s something so refreshing and hopeful found in taking down that raggety-edged, worn out old calendar and putting up another one, still shiny and slippery-slick with newness between my fingers.
I think the equation goes something like this:

new year + new resolve (x) new beginnings = new me. (tweet)

Right?

If only it was that easy. Yet, somehow, that’s the way we’ve been conditioned by the world to behave and believe.
I’m über-amused this time of year while waiting in the grocery store checkout line and I see the shelves that for two solid months held rich delicacies and delights, and those ridiculous magazines covered with this seasons “must-have” gifts, bodies, outfits and hair, and recipes for luxuriously decadent holiday meals and desserts….
THOSE SAME SHELVES are now weighed down with exercise equipment and weight loss programs, diet plans and workout clothes. Just two months ago, I could get the recipe and ingredients for the most luscious cheesecake on the planet and now I need to focus on the best bikini butt by summer!

Seriously?!! Do they think I’m that stupid?
Maybe I am.
Or maybe I have been before.

No, not about the crazy binge/purge cycle this consumer-driven world promotes…
… but I have, in the last year, learned a very important thing about myself probably just as sinister.

Fact is, if I’m not very, very careful I can be easily seduced.

There. I said it.

Fact is, I’m convinced, unless they are comatose or living in a hole,
every living person has a “price.” (tweet)

Call it “habit”, weakness or whatever… there’s a little something in us all where, if we are not intentionally anchored to the truth, we’ll find ourselves easily swayed by the “latest” movement or emotion or teaching or fad…whatever.

I know this because I’ve been what the bible calls a “weak woman”.
Ouch.
Yes… this one….here:

“…weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7 ESV)

No, not on purpose…who really decides to be this way on purpose? But it’s an area I have to guard because Satan would love to have his way with me again. People pleasing. Weak. Easily swayed.

The truth of this hit me like a ton of bricks yesterday as I was trying to write this first 2013 post announcing what “one word” God has been speaking to me for the coming year. I wanted to be pretty and profound…full of grace, deep meaning and beauty.

And I couldn’t do it.
I watched the minutes give way to hours. I changed positions and locations and started over more than ten times. And each time I was left chasing the wind.
Why?

Because I was writing for you.
Because I was writing for me.

And that’s not why I must write.
Not really.

It’s not why I hammered my stake into this piece of blogosphere almost one full year ago.
No, then and now, I was brought to this place from past pain, having looked dead in the face of my own depravity, led through the purging fire by the loving hand of God…. to testify….

to give an answer for the hope I have and you can have… because of Jesus Christ.

And it’s at the beginning of this new year that I wish to be absolutely honest and clear in all I do for our sake and for those who may join us in the coming year because we must be anchored deeply so that

“…we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching.
We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
Ephesians 4:14-16

It’s that important.

I said this to a dear friend today: “To whom much is given, much will be required.” which is drawn from Luke 12:48 and a difficult teaching from Jesus.
All too often we decide this means we’ll give from our happy blessings. And we should. But it also means we should give and give deeply from the wells of blessing we’ve dug and discovered through lessons learned the hard way: In pain.
Not to be morose or joyless but
true
because there’s HOPE.

This will be my “new year” resolution (slightly shaped by Jonathan Edwards) based on this word and this privilege God has given me to walk in for 2013:
Yield

With His help, I can and will learn what it means to yield.
Not simply yielding to just anything or anyone….
but to

The Call.
His voice, His word.

And, also, as the word in Psalm 1 reveals….
there will be a “yield” as a result. It’s His promise as I stay planted, abiding with Him and blooming wherever it is
He plants me.

More to come on that later. Join me?
There will be few changes around here for the coming year.

Perhaps we’ll eat some cheesecake…who cares about bikini butts anyway? Blessings!


(guest post by Loretta Stembridge at Dancing on the Dash)


*2nd edition of Chasing Silhouettes now available HERE

The Quest to Find Beauty (Guest Post by Hope)

I am told that we all have our own definitions of beauty. As individuals, we all see things differently and judge beauty in our own way. If that’s the case, why do so many of us feel that we aren’t beautiful? Why are we still given a standard to measure ourselves in order to feel beautiful which translates into feeling valuable? Why do so many put value on looks to the point that we now have several generations of women who feel less than valuable? Even those who match society’s standard of beauty continue to hunt down perfection in the form of weight loss, plastic surgery and beauty treatments. I have decided, I’m not interested. That is not the kind of beauty I want to pursue.

When I was five years old I had “plastic surgery” (I still think that is a better name then its sanitized replacement “cosmetic”). My parents had been told that the birthmark on my face needed to be removed before I went to school. Their reasoning had to do with the emotional harm it would do to have this brown mark on my lip. So sometime mid-kindergarten, I had a skin graft from behind my ear and the birthmark was removed. They “fixed” my imperfection…or so they thought. The graft didn’t heal properly and I was left with a raised scar. Sometime when I was six they tried to fix it but the result was a larger, red and noticeable mark on my upper lip made even more obvious by the missing cupids bow. So, instead of a natural mark on my face, I had an unnatural looking scar.  This man-made attempt to make me more acceptable only served to make things worse. This caused countless questions along with ugly name calling  from peers and adults (who often scrunched up their face as they questioned “What happened to your lip?!”). The scars left on the inside went unnoticed for years and my attempts to prove my worth only brought more distance between myself and those around me.
As I grew older, my weight became a constant struggle. I could have become thankful that now my face was acceptable when I would hear, “You have such a pretty face, you would be beautiful if you lost weight!”. The media, daily life and unfortunately church held no safe haven for a girl who wasn’t the “right” size. What I find “beautiful” is that although I weigh substantially more than I did then, I now know where my true worth and beauty come from. The magic number of pounds shed that I believed were going to add to my worth was a tiny percentage of what it would take now to reach that goal weight (or pinnacle of perfection) that alluded me for so long.
There are a thousand stories within this story but lets flip the pages ahead to the present. Where I am now, what I am learning and the joy that is filling my soul. I am much more settled in who I am because I know much better now, whose I am.
God is my only judge. He created me, He loves me and He gets to tell me if I am beautiful or not. If we judge beauty by societal standards, nobody will ever match up and we miss the Creator’s intent. We miss seeing His heart and we miss seeing His true beauty in ourselves and in others. We end up pursuing the unattainable and in that pursuit we are never satisfied, never filled up and for many, never able to grasp the intimacy that the One who created us intended to have with Him.
As I learn to abide in Him, in my Savior, my eyes will be on Him. His love for me will become more evident and His grace will not only flow to me, it will flow through me. When I am walking in His Spirit and grace, my responses to pressure, to life, to things that truly may be ugly will create beauty in the hearts of those around me.
Dear Friends, pursue Him. Pursue the One who makes all things beautiful! Follow hard after the Creator of all beautiful things! Not only will you see beauty, you will experience peace.
Always,
Hope (find hope here, at her blog, Finding Hope)
(there is just one copy of Chasing Silhouettes left at Amazon, with more to come… get your copy here!)

On seeing myself with the right eyes (Guest Post by Holly)

I just want things to be normal.

At least, that’s what I think when I’m most vulnerable and scared and down.
Like when I’ve taken refuge in our teeny shower stall a little too long and I’m burning lava hot yet I don’t want to step out of the rushing water that drowns out the droning in my ears, in my house, in my life. I reluctantly step out and slowly turn, stealing a glance at the clouded mirror that hides my image behind a wall of wet.
I don’t see me.
I stand there, naked and dripping, huddling my body around a towel, willing it to heal my deepest darkness.
But still, I don’t see me.

Slowly, the mirror begins to drip, revealing jagged blurry pieces of my face, like exaggerated tear marks in negative.
I lurch towards the glass and hastily wipe it down, unable to stand the distortion.

And I see me.

Wet, stringy hair and a face that won’t let go of its adolescent skin, despite it’s aging eyes and I know, perhaps now more ever, that I will never really see me, will I?

Because these eyes need correcting, in so many more ways than one, and if left alone, they can’t see rightly.

So I turn away…there’s always this great turning away…and I rush to put on my clothes because I feel too vulnerable if I don’t.

And then I sink onto the bed and remind myself to breathe into one moment, then the next.
And I sigh.

And then I remember…

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
-Antoine de Saint Exuperay

And I ask, how does one see with their heart?

(thank you, Holly, for this powerful post… )

the shirts we wear (guest post by duane scott)

In some states, if caught driving under the influence of alcohol, a person is required to wear a blazing orange vest and pick up trash in ditches.  On their vest, the words are printed:

I AM A DRUNK DRIVER

Cars pass, people stare.  One night’s bad decisions are worn as clothes for the world to see.  I’m reading this in the newspaper, wrinkles appearing on my forehead, because I think it’s a bit harsh.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think driving drunk needs consequences; serious ones even.  But to have your past mistakes pasted across your back for the sheer purpose of embarrassment, it’s just…

“It’s the same thing you do,” heaven bends low and whispers. God’s guiding hands settle on my shoulders.

I close my eyes.

It’s morning now, this very morning, and I’m playing the day over again in my mind, like a film projected on my eyelids.

I see myself.  The way I stumbled out of bed, forgetting to tell God good-morning.  Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I step into my jeans.  I’m late for work now and I don’t want to wake my wife with the light so I reach blindly into the drawer, grabbing a t-shirt.  Slipping it over my head as I walk to the bathroom, I flip on the overhead light to brush my teeth and convince snarled hair to lay low.

Earlier this morning, I never saw it.  But now, in my mind, I notice the words stamped on my wrinkled t-shirt.  They read:

I AM UNNOTICED

I AM FORGOTTEN

I AM UNLOVED

I wear these shirts.  Daily.  In my hurry to rush toward my normal day in my normal life,  I forget that “I am His beloved.”

Imagine this.  Your alarm rings.  And God smiles. Why? One of His favorite people are waking to the day He created, to the Grace He has given through the night.  And then this.  You rush away, never even nodding in the direction of God or even smiling back.

It’s sad, really.

Because the truth is you are noticed.  He created you uniquely to be “you” and every hair on your head is counted.  You aren’t forgotten.  In fact, God created a home just for you and someday, He’d like to be your neighbor.  You are loved.  It has been said a scroll, stretched side to side in the heavens, could not contain enough words to describe the love He has for His children.

The shirts. They look tattered now, lying there in the laundry.

(Thank you for this powerful truth, Duane. Readers, please visit my friend, Duane Scott, at his blog, here)

*To pre-order my book, Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder (Foreword by Dr. Gregory Jantz) please click here.*

How to be beautiful (Guest post by Jennifer Dougan)

A song on Sunday sent me into snake ponderings.

The worship song surged around me in the church pew and I lifted my writhing three year old onto my hip. Unaccustomed to being with us in the service, he was a whirl of energy and motion. Hanging off the chair with one hand and shoulder draped off the edge, he had peered at the floor. Spinning over he cuddled onto his sister’s lap, squeezing her arms for a hug. A grey sandaled shoe jabbed into my side, and I quickly readjusted my shirt.

It wasn’t his writhings that turned my mind to snakes, though. The worship song that we stood and sang back to God said wonderingly,

“You make beautiful things, beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things, beautiful things out of us.”

“You make me new, you are making me new.
You make me new, you are making us new.”

My oldest son has an eighteen inch garter snake that he found and tamed. Now the snake often coils comfortably up his arm as he walks the house, or hangs harmlessly around my seventeen year old’s neck as he corrects his math problems.

“Did you know,” my dad said, “that a snake is nearly blind right before it sheds its skin? With eyes that are clouded and dull, it is fearful and aggressive. Feeling vulnerable, it will often strike at the hand bringing it food too.”

My son built a reptile habitat in a glass aquarium, with cedar wood chips and an overturned log.

In order to rid itself of the old skin that is constraining it and hindering it, the snake has to be intentional. It can’t hole up in a safe dark corner, with dull, clouded eyes. Rather the snake has to purposely lean into the hard places between the log and the glass window, and push through the rough patches, intentionally poking into and through dark places. It’s the pressure and the pulling that tug off the dead to reveal beauty below.

We’re standing in the pews and singing and I’m holding my three-year-old in my arms and he’s writhing, and I picture my oldest’s newly-gleaming snake. Pearlescent emerald and gleaming amber striped down the snake’s back, leaving behind a faded, transparent wraith in the aquarium.

I sang “You make me new, you are making me new. You make things new…..

“You make beautiful things, ….

And I realize it’s me that God has been pressing through the tight places, poking into the dark corners, and leaning me into the rough patches to tear off the old, revealing beauty below.

How do we be beautiful? We lean into the rough places. We dare to walk with our Creator through the dark corners, through the tight spaces that’ll pull off the old and make all things new.

You make beautiful things out of the dust
you make beautiful things out of us

(thank you, Jennifer, for this stirring post. please visit Jennifer here at her lovely website)

When you hate who God made you to be (Guest Post by Roseann)

I am not sure when the lies began…those tapes that started playing in my head…
“you are not as good as…”
“you’re not loveable”…
“you’re a failure”.
No matter what success I found in life…
These tapes would not be silenced.
by the time I was in college, these tapes were in high gear.

In college I innocently joined the pastime…
a ritual of sorts…taking place in every dorm
a little exercise…and some Diet Tab (that dates me).
But this “innocent” college pastime apprehended me…
and dragged me down a very dark road…
a road of obsessive exercise…a road of starvation.

This obsessive behavior…
was only fueled by those negative tapes.
But I hid this all pretty well…
from the outside, my life looked really good…
in some ways a life others envied.

But those lies continued to steal, kill, and destroy…
not just my mind but my body as well.

After my first year of teaching…I spent a week in the hospital…
a week to figure out why my body was refusing…
It resisted all the medical attention given to bleed the blood of life…
the blood needed to really be the woman God intended.
While the doctors where figuring out my body…
I lie alone figuring out my faith.
Being very new in my walk with the Lord…
my ears and heart were learning to be tuned to hear His voice.
I cannot say I heard an audible voice…
but oh how clear it was…
this question…
a question not wrapped with judgment nor condemnation…
but a question asked in compassion…
from a heart of love for my brokenness…
”Why are you spitting in my face and telling me you hate who I created you to be? “
I answered back through my tears in a loud cry…
”I do hate who you made me to be.”
This sickness called anorexia is a slow death…
and I was telling the Creator of the universe…
what He created did not deserve to live.
And with that confession…something changed…
I could not bare the thought of spitting in my Savior’s face…
I wanted to be healed.

Did this end all the self-hatred?
Oh, I wish I could tell you yes…
but I did walk out of the hospital changed…
slowly but surely…little by little more freedom came.
Freedom from every bite controlling my thoughts…
freedom from a minimum requirement of daily exercise to find peace.

but the tapes…those tapes…
they were not so easily erased.

I found the healing of the body happens more easily…
than the healing of the heart and mind.
Renewing my mind and transforming my heart was a very slow process.
God came in many ways to heal me… body, soul and spirit.
He patiently wooed me to trust His Love for me.
He showed me what His unconditional love looked like through the love of my husband.
Over time my thoughts toward God were finally finding
a safe place to land…
therefore my thoughts toward myself were becoming
more kind…more forgiving…more safe.

After all these years, I am still surprised …
when I can trace thoughts back to self-hatred…
But now when God comes and tugs on that weed of
self-loathing thoughts…
its roots are no longer wound through very fiber of my being.
Instead, it’s like pulling up a weed whose root system is almost dead.
God has brought a freedom I wasn’t sure was possible.
But praise be to Him …
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. Ephesians 3:20

My heart breaks now when I meet another…
One whose mind if full of these same lies…
At the same time…my heart is so full of hope…
Because…
The same Kind and Gracious God who loved me to healing…
Whose love never grew weary…
whose Light was bright enough to penetrate even the darkest places…
whose Truth was stronger than the lies…
whose blood came and healed my wounded heart.
This same God will meet each woman…heal each heart…
and each one will walk in more freedom than she could ever imagine.

I pray if you too listen to lies…
that you will find encouragement here…
encouragement to let God in…all the way in…
to every lie…every dark place of hiding…to let Him show you and tell you…
of His immense Love for you.. how very precious you are to Him.
you His daughter…you, a daughter of the King.

(thank you, sweet Roseann, for sharing these words today… )