Community In A Name

It started about a week before Easter.  In the span of a morning, I felt like everyone who worked for me had either stopped me in the parking lot, ambushed me in the hallway, or popped into my office, all beginning with an eager, insistent “Ma’am…”  I closed my door for a moment, looked up at the ceiling, and whispered, “Can I just not be ‘Ma’am’ for today?  Can I please just be ‘Jessie’ for a bit?”  Outside of church and family, literally the only one who calls me ‘Jessie’ is the local Starbucks barista – and that’s only because that’s the name I tell them to write on my drink.

Why does it matter?  I mean, being called “Ma’am” is some indicator that I’ve gotten to a pretty sweet place professionally.  And when I’m not called “Ma’am,” people normally use Short SKATE – my callsign – which, in and of itself, has special meaning to me.  But “Jessie” is who I am underneath and outside the uniform.  It’s informal and vulnerable.  It’s what those who truly know me can and will call me.  It’s probably the truest version of myself.

As the Easter weekend began, I thought about how powerful names – and the names we are called by – actually are.  Jesus could easily have said, “You will address me as Lord.”  And we would have.  Obviously.  And we do, because He is.  But we also get to call Him Jesus.  There’s something intimate in that.  Jesus gave His life so we could have life, but He gave His name so we could have relationship.

When I found myself whispering at the ceiling, I wasn’t bemoaning my leadership status; I was craving community.  I’ve held fast to the definition of community that I learned many years ago while in IVCF:

Community is knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served, celebrating and being celebrated.

This definition, of course, leaves out the reality that community is having important, heated discussions, but trusting the others in the discussion and being open to, and grateful for, the perspectives they bring.  Community is being held accountable, where shame isn’t used as a weapon, and everyone is invested in everyone else’s growth.  Community is protected, valued, safe.

Community is precious, and I think we all long for the deep bonds that come with it.  We long to be known by name – real name, not just a rank or a title.  We long to be able to rest in the security of being loved so much that there is a profound trust and security in how we act and speak and risk.  We long to be able to pour into others, even as they pour into us, because there’s nothing but growth in such relationships.  And wow, don’t we long to be celebrated?

We long for these things, but we worry about the vulnerability that is necessary to make community happen.  I challenge you to lean forward – with people you trust – into community.  Know their names – their real, preferred names, and know them.  Love them.  Serve them.  Celebrate them.  And may the same be done for you.

How’s It Feel To Be The Older Brother?

About a month ago, I was at rehearsal for the worship team at church.  I had shown up feeling somewhat “off,” but I couldn’t really put my finger on why.  As we were singing, I found myself multitasking, having a conversation with God about how unsettled I felt.  Suddenly, this image of my ex-husband came to mind, and I immediately felt this surge of anger.

God: Why so angry?

Me: Uh, do You really need to ask that?  You know what he did.  I’m pretty much going to be angry about this forever.  I have to be.  If I stay angry, my guard stays up, and he can’t manipulate me anymore.

God: That’s a terrible way to go through life.  But I know your heart, and there’s more to this.

Me: Nope.

God: Ok, so pray for him.

Me: Excuse me?

God: Pray for him.

Me: How about no.  Buckets of no.

God: Why not?

Me: I believe deeply in prayer and in Your ability and willingness to answer.  If I pray for him, I’m afraid You’re actually going to bless him.

God: So you’re being selfish…and afraid.  Why would you be afraid of Me blessing him?

Me (feeling pretty indignant): Are You kidding?  Look what he did to me, to our family!  Even if he turned his heart back to You – for real – for him to prosper, to get Your blessing is just…wrong!

God: Hmmm.  How’s it feel to be the Older Brother?

Me: Huh?

God: The parable of the Prodigal Son.  You’re the Older Brother.  You’re so concerned with how I bless him, even though it doesn’t change how I bless you.  Why do you care?

Me: BECAUSE!  Because if You bless him, somehow it negates what he did, what I went through.  It proves that the rules really don’t apply to him, that he can do whatever he wants and still prosper.

God: You don’t trust Me.

Me: Yes I do.

God: Not with this.

Me: I’m supposed to trust You to vindicate me.  How am I vindicated if You’re blessing him??

God: Do you really think you see the whole picture?  And you want vindication, but I want you to be whole.  How can you be whole if you continue to carry around so much anger and fear?  How whole can you be when your anger and fear keep you from praying for someone who needs Me?  I have vindicated you and will continue to do so, but it might not look like what you think it should.  And you have wrestled so much lately with the loneliness of your heart, but until you let go of this anger and fear, you won’t be ready for the man I’m preparing for you.

It should be noted that having this kind of conversation while singing worship music at the same time is a mess.  But getting my heart right was worth it, and perhaps there’s no better place and time for that to happen.

I went home that night, put my daughter to bed, and sat for a long time, not quite sure what to say.  I knew I wasn’t yet ready to go all out praying for God’s best for my ex-husband, but I also knew that I needed to do something.

Ok, God.  I don’t know how to pray for Nathan yet, and I’m not sure I can pray for You to bless him, but I bring Nathan before You.  I ask that Your will be done in his life, and I ask that You change my heart to eventually see him through Your eyes.

It wasn’t a perfect prayer, but it was a start.  And if it keeps me from being the Older Brother, even better.

When Life Becomes an Extreme Cha Cha

It has been awhile since I’ve been able to sit down and actually get a post written. In the wake of my Storyteller talk, I have found an incredible number of opportunities to talk to people, listen to hurting hearts, and simply let people know they were not alone.  Unfortunately, this left me somewhat lacking the emotional bandwidth to write, but the time has certainly come.

While sharing my story has been the best way to redeem the things I’ve walked through, I’ve found that I tend to feel pretty vulnerable on the other side of the telling.  There’s nothing easy about standing up in front of a room full of people and baring your soul, but as I’ve done it a few times in the last month and a half, I have continually found myself saying, “By the grace of God, look how far I have come.”  And it felt good.  It felt victorious.  It felt like I’d crossed the finish line of healing.

Until it happened.

I won’t go into what happened, but it wasn’t good, and I could never have anticipated the triggered physical and emotional responses that would follow.

I spent an entire weekend in bed with crippling depression.

I had my first panic attack in years, in the middle of the night, and I woke up thinking I was going to die.

I couldn’t sleep.  I lost my appetite, and what food I did consume just didn’t taste good.

I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, and I never seemed to be able to get enough air, which had me hyperventilating in fear that I was suffocating.

I had some of the worst non-stop headaches I’ve ever had.

I cried.  A lot.

And I was angry.  Angry that something had triggered responses so extreme I felt like I was reliving the hell of five years ago.  Angry that my motivation to do anything had suddenly disappeared.  Angry that the stars and sunrises and sunsets and everything else I normally found tear-jerkingly beautiful had been drained of their color and wonder and inspiration.

I was angry that something had happened to me.  Hadn’t I walked through enough pain to earn my safety?  How could this be real life?

I still got up each morning and put on my uniform and went to work.  There was a mission to carry out, and sense of duty is a powerful thing.  I had people to lead, people to help, people to care for, and that couldn’t wait.  So I went, and I hid my tears, and I tried not to let on that I couldn’t breathe.  And I survived.

This morning when I woke up, I found myself staring at the ceiling, again fuming that I was right back at square one, that I’d come so far only to have all the progress erased, as though my life had turned into an extreme cha cha – one step forward, one step back, a million steps forward, now go all the way back.  But two things happened as I prayed and thought through this insane dance; I realized that I was having to walk out what healing looks like.  Just as I’d said in my talk, healing isn’t linear; it’s cyclical.  You can think you’re over something, and it will jump up and hit you like a ton of bricks, and you have to dig in and do the work all over again.  The second realization was that time is relative in the healing process.  It took me years to get to a place where I could stand on a stage and tell my story and talk about redemption and hope and healing.  That doesn’t mean that this step backwards in the healing process requires years to come back from.

Perhaps that’s what resilience is actually about.  You might have to bounce back from the same woundedness again and again, but each return trip takes less and less time.  You’ve experienced the light at the end of the tunnel, the place of being alright, and that makes it easier to get back to.  Your heart has a map; it knows the way.

This dance isn’t always fun, friends, but it’s real.  I write this knowing that I’ll be okay again and that this won’t own me.  I also know that there are no shortcuts to healing; I have to experience this in its entirety, to work through the emotions and the pain to come to wholeness on the other side.  I can’t engage in all the unhealthy coping mechanisms that are so tempting – drinking too much, eating my feelings, etc. – because then I’m putting my faith and my pain in places they don’t belong.

I’m keeping my eyes on things above, and I’m letting Him lead me in this crazy dance.

Selah in September

Several months ago, a friend challenged me to find a word that would be both a mantra and a truth to speak over this season in my life.  I prayed, looked, read, and tried not to come up with the word myself.  I sensed that there was purpose ahead, and I wanted to be wholly ready, and I felt that whatever the word was, it was going to be part of that.

September arrived, and I woke up with the word on my lips: Selah.  If you’re familiar with the Psalms, you’ll see the word throughout, often given as an instruction to the person leading music – an instruction to stop and listen.  That’s the key – stop and listen.  In the midst of the madness, hit the pause button and employ all the senses.

Stop and listen.

Stop and look.

Stop and smell.

Stop and feel.

Stop and taste.

Stop and be.

Selah.

I don’t believe in coincidence, and I find it telling that the word finally arrived hand-in-hand with September.  Even though I live in an area that is still sweltering in 90-degree weather, I always envision September to be the gateway to Autumn – sweaters, boots, hot drinks (PSL anyone?), cooler days, trees exploding in a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and gold, and the smell of fires being lit in fireplaces.  Everything about fall invites you to slow down a bit, cozy up, and immerse yourself in all that is around you.  Autumn practically calls you to Selah.

So what do I do with this?  It has been more than the obvious, although I have deeply loved stopping and listening to birds, my daughter’s laughter, harmonies, and wind chimes.  I have also been listening to my own body – resting and resetting when necessary, going for a run when I’m craving an endorphin push, and eating when my stomach tells me it’s hungry.  On top of that, I’ve been conscious about listening to others.  Before letting my impatience with my daughter cause a short response, I take a breath and listen to what her little heart is trying to tell me.  I’m in a position at work to make decisions that carry serious weight; but people are impacted by these, and each of those people has a story and a life and a career.  Each of those people matter, and as I have been tempted to make quick decisions based on my gut and a lack of time, I have heard this gentle whisper to Selah…stop and listen. 

And I am a better person for it.

Not better than anyone else.  Never better than anyone else.  But I am growing each time I choose to stop and listen instead of rushing headlong into all the things – the choices, the responses, the moments that I won’t be able to get back or take back.  And as I get better, the people in my sphere of influence are hopefully helped…or at least not hurt.

Selah.  As Summer transitions into the brilliance of Autumn, it beckons us to stop and to listen, to feel, to see, to smell, to taste, and to simply, utterly be.

Selah.

 

 

 

Hidden Hope, In Plain Sight

I realize that this is the second tattoo-related post on my blog in recent weeks, but bear with me.

I recently – finally – got my tattoo.  I’ve wanted it for years, but the timing was never great, and I was waiting for the right design.  Then I ended up traveling for work to a location that seems to have as many tattoo shops per capita as Las Vegas has casinos.  One evening, as several of us were eating dinner, one of my coworkers called the shop across the street from the restaurant (after scoping it out on Yelp) and, before I knew it, I was in the shop getting the details worked out.

The artist joked that my design was really four tattoos in one: a butterfly, a semicolon, a heart, and a cross, and, well, he wasn’t wrong.  But their individual significance gives way to a larger meaning when put together in this way.  They each hold something special, but they are more than the sum of their parts.

The butterfly has long been important to me, especially after doing the Chrysalis weekend (Walk to Emmaus) when I was in high school.  It symbolizes new beginnings.  It represents change.  It is new, radiant, beautiful life on the other side of what the caterpillar can only imagine to be darkness and pain.  The old, quite literally, is gone, and the new has come.

If you’re familiar with Project Semicolon, you know that the semicolon is associated with mental health and suicide prevention.  In writing, when an author wants to end a sentence, he or she will use a period.  But if they have more to say, if the sentence shouldn’t end yet, the author can use a semicolon.  My semicolon says that I have thought about ending the sentence, the story, the book…but I chose not to.  I have more life left to live – more to write, more to sing, more to experience, more to be.

What I especially love about the semicolon in this tattoo is that it would be easy to not notice it; it doubles as the body of the butterfly, and one could be forgiven for not even realizing the semicolon is there.  That’s exactly what my struggle with mental illness is – it is a part of me, subtly present, but never my defining feature.  For it to be part of something that symbolizes new life is even better; I carry my struggle into my new life because, while my story doesn’t define me, I can absolutely use it to offer a light in a dark place to someone else.

The heart and the cross are somewhat self-explanatory:

Love.

Love conquers fear.  It overcomes and forgives our worst.  It inspires our best.  Every single thing I do needs to be done in love, and the cross represents the greatest act of love humanity has ever had the opportunity to witness intersecting with the greatest need humanity would ever know.  It is sacrifice, humility, courage, and hope.

Ah, there it is.  That thing I talk a lot about if you’ve spent any time at all reading this blog.  Hope.

I debated simply tattooing the word on my wrist, as much a declaration as a plea, but I wanted to do this differently.  Instead, each of the four symbols within my tattoo is a variation of hope:

The butterfly’s hope is that new life, that “hanging on” in the darkest of experiences, the transformation revealed when it leaves the chrysalis.  The caterpillar’s entire existence might have been over, lost to the darkness, but it continues in a vibrant, bold way.

The semicolon’s insistence that the story isn’t over is hope’s quiet resolve.  There is more to be writtenIt must be written!  Everything is incomplete without the rest of this story.

Love, at its core, is hope.  We often pour out our love for others, willing to overlook and overcome their darkest moments and shadiest corners, because we see potential – we have hope for what can be, and we love them enough to not give up on them while they get there.  Can we reserve that same kind of love for ourselves?  Can we see the potential of who and what God created us to be and believe that we’re worthy of that potential?  Love gives us a place to transform.  Love lets us be caterpillars, with a ridiculous, outrageous hope for the butterflies to come, without giving up on us in the cocoon.

And oh…the cross.  Jesus came face-to-face with humiliation and pain and betrayal.  He could have ended the torture and the spectacle, and the angels – who were perhaps watching in abject horror – would have come to His aid in the blink of an eye.  But He endured the worst because the best was yet to come.  He knew that his sacrifice, and His subsequent resurrection, would mean that hope would not only be forever present, but it would be accessible.  To you.  To me.  To all of us, no matter how dark our past; our futures could be something different.

So each of my tattoo’s symbols has a very specific meaning, but there is hope hidden in each of them.  Hope hidden, but in plain sight.  Where do you see hope today?

 

Who Are You?

Who are you?

When someone asks us this question, we always offer our names first. After that, we go with relationships – significant others, parents, children, colleagues. Then activities and places – where we work or go to school, where we go to church, things we’re involved in. On the surface, in public, to a stranger who might ask, we want to communicate that, whatever our identity, we belong. Somewhere, to someone.

But in the middle of the night, when we’re lying awake and staring at the ceiling, what do we say when we turn that question on ourselves?

Who am I?

Our answers to ourselves become far less about convincing someone that we belong, and far more transparent in what we believe about ourselves.

I’m an idiot.

I’m a failure.

I’m the world’s worst parent.

I’ll never be good enough.

I’m unloved.

I’m unlovable.

I’m damaged.

I’m weak.

I’m a fraud.

I’m invisible.

Do these sound familiar? They are the party line of the Negative Self Talk Committee that loves to hold late night meetings in our brains and our hearts. The committee doesn’t always need much help. For some of us, the things we tell ourselves simply echo the wounding things that we have been told by others, making it even easier to believe that this – this less than – is who we are.

But there is no freedom in that identity. None. Every painful word creates another bar on the cage that holds us back from being who we were created to be. And we were created to be more, so very much more.

But God didn’t create us to be more and then walk away. His pursuit of us is steadfast and unyielding. Have you encountered this persistent God? Has He won your heart? Then you are changed. Your identity is changed. It is built on the solid rock of our unshakable God, not on the shifting sand of the things we hold to and the lies we tell ourselves.

So who are you?

You are loved.

You are worthy.

You are new.

You are clean.

You have a purpose.

You are a son or daughter of the King.

You are whole.

You are seen.

You are known.

You are forgiven.

You are not an accident.

You are not alone.

You are not your past.

You are not your scars.

You are not your hurts.

You are surrendered, and in that surrender you are more than a conqueror.

You belong. You belong. You belong.

And you don’t have to convince anyone of that.

Don’t Forget to Turn Around

Moving is stressful.  Anyone who has ever moved can tell you that, and anyone in the military who does this fairly often can attest to the reality that sometimes the move goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t.  This has been one of those moves where the list of random things going sideways is almost comedic, but the impact that it has had on my mood and general outlook has been anything but funny.

There was the base hotel that had said they would be able to accommodate me for 6 days, but when I arrived could only do five.  Then the room they put my daughter and me in was less than ideal for two people who had packed up everything they might need for the foreseeable future – the door to the room didn’t close properly at the bottom, so if my daughter kicking me repeatedly in our shared bed didn’t keep me up, the flies, moths, and flying ants that had easy access to the room did a stellar job.  The air conditioner was so loud we had to yell to be heard over it, but we couldn’t control the temperature in the room ourselves, and water pressure in the shower was so bad that my daughter was convinced the shower must be broken.  (And for anyone who would argue that we should have asked for a different room, we had been given the last available room on base.  We were stuck.)  I got into a minor fender bender while trying to figure out which way I was supposed to turn out of a parking lot, because my GPS’ decision to recalculate at the last second was just enough distraction for bad things to happen.  I jammed my thumb somehow and it swelled to twice the size it normally was, which made loading and unloading the car more difficult than I expected.

All relatively little things, but in the context of a move and stress, they added up – big time.  And those little things began to magnify themselves in my brain, especially as I lay awake in the middle of the night, dodging dream-kicks from the munchkin and wondering what bug was crawling on me now?  The morning light, with its overwhelmingly beautiful sunrises, did little to quell my frustration.

I can’t believe I have to pack all of this up again in a few days and move to a hotel off-base – out-of-pocket – and then do it again a few days after that (because of availability) and keep going back and forth from hotel to hotel.  I need a house.  I need a church.  I need some stability.  And, for crying out loud, I need a flyswatter!

Sunday morning arrived, and my heart ached for the familiarity of our church family in the town we’d left.  We’d been known and loved and welcomed there, and I got a stomachache thinking about walking into a new church in a new town where we knew no one.  I did my best to bury my anxiety so that my daughter wouldn’t pick up on it, and we headed to one of the few churches in town that fell into the general description of what we were looking for.  We loved it.  We were warmly welcomed when we walked in.  The kids service used some of the same materials that our previous church had used, and the setup was close enough to familiar for my daughter to confidently hug me goodbye at the door and waltz right in.  The auditorium felt comfortable, the music was good, the preaching – satellited in from a main campus church elsewhere – was fantastic, and it turned out that someone from my new unit was on the worship team.  After the service was over, I picked up my little girl and she chattered on and on about how great everything had been.  I knew then that we had found our new church, and all we had done was show up.

The next day, we arrived at the off-base hotel after a long first day at work.  For the third time, I begged them to see if there was any availability at all that would keep us from having to bounce from one hotel to another multiple times.  With a bit of effort, the nice woman at the front desk was able to work it out so that my daughter and I would be in the same room, at the same hotel, for the next two weeks.  I was overjoyed and relieved.  Finally!

On the way up to our room, I found myself humming the tune to Blessed Be Your Name.  The first line of the chorus says, “Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise.”  I always took “turn back” to mean something transformative, as in, I’ll take this blessing you gave me and turn it into praise for You.  But in that moment, in that elevator, it occurred to me that “turn back” might mean actually turning around and remembering to give thanks and praise, instead of just walking on.

As my daughter and I continued down the hall, the story of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) came to mind.  Basically, Jesus healed these ten lepers and told them to go show themselves to the priest, who could verify that they were healed and could rejoin society.  Of the ten lepers who experienced this life-altering, never-going-to-be-the-same event, only one took the time to come back to Jesus and say thanks.  Keying into my room, all I could think was, “I want to be like that guy!”

So we got inside, got settled, and I explained to my little girl that I’d been praying for a resolution to the hotel situation, and God had answered that prayer.  I told her I had prayed that we’d find a church quickly, and I had asked others to pray for the same thing, and God led us straight to one we loved on our first week in town.  I told her it was super important that we not only acknowledge that He’d answered our prayers, but we needed to thank Him for it too.  Adorably, she looked at me and said, “I’ve got this, Mom,” and proceeded to pray for both of us, giving thanks like only a 7-year-old can.

Do you know what it does for the soul when you take a moment to think about and give thanks for the places in which God has moved, in His timing, for your good and His glory?  It’s remarkable.  The other things that hadn’t worked out yet, that loomed so large in my heart and mind, suddenly paled in comparison.  I could easily choose joy, because I had first chosen to turn around and give thanks.

There are going to be seasons in which things aren’t working out the way you want them to.  I encourage you to identify the things that are working out.  Find them.  Acknowledge them.  Call them what they are.  And dedicate a few moments to thanking God for working and moving and loving us enough to operate in His timing and not our own.  Your outlook will change, but you have to turn around first.

Guest Post: The Watch & The Tattoo

Alyssa Montague is one of the gutsiest people I know, and I am honored to have her share her heart and thoughts in this guest post for If I Knew Not Midnight:

Multiple high profile suicides this past week have left me with a lot of thoughts and feelings. This morning I wrote some of them down. I’d like to share them with y’all if you’d indulge me.

I adore the Kate Spade brand and it’s meant a lot over the years. The brand’s simple, sophisticated femininity speaks to me and it’s always a bit of a moment when I let myself have a Kate Spade. A few weeks ago I bought myself a present at the Kate Spade outlet near my dad’s house. It’s a watch that straddles the line between practical and whimsical in a way that feels so very me – a scalloped leather band with enough sparkle on the face to be pretty and fun without nearing gaudy or pretentious territory. I love it so much. Today I put it on, and I paused as I turned my wrist over to fasten it. There, under my Kate Spade watch, was my tattoo. I got this tattoo a few years ago to both honor my fight against depression and suicide and, more personally, to provide a very pointed reminder. At the last minute, I will always be reminded to keep fighting.

Seeing my tattoo juxtaposed with this symbol of celebration and joy, my heart broke. My soul has lived the foggy weariness that claimed Kate Spade and others, and I thank anything divine I’m not there right now. But I know so many are still there, wandering in grey, muted desolation and rapidly running out of hope.

Because you might be one of those people, I want to be open about my struggle in the hope that you will know you’re not alone and you’ll know it’s okay. But in case I haven’t been clear, I am mentally ill.

Let me say it again, louder, for the people in the back. I am mentally ill.

There is no reason or catalyst. It’s just part of my beautiful, amazing brain. Most days I function just fine. Some days I don’t. My medication helps and so does my pupper. Therapy had been invaluable to me. And oddly, running. None of those things are magic on their own, but I’m using all of them to make it. And I’m surviving. No, wait. Actually, I’m THRIVING. I have an amazing life with incredible family – both the one I was born to and the one I’ve found and built. I own the anxiety and depression that has impacted me so significantly, but I refuse to allow them to define the core of who I am.

If, like me, you are living with mental illness, I offer you this: you are not alone. Sometimes you feel broken, and that’s ok. It. Is. Ok. It’s not all of you. Not even a little bit. You are a magical sunfish or an opalescent tree shark (™ Leslie Knope). You, in all your brokenness, are beautiful and magical and brilliant. I love you, and I ask you to stay and keep making the world better by being you. Because I promise you are doing exactly that, and we need you.

The Other Side of Impostor Syndrome

Long before I knew that it had a name, I knew what Impostor Syndrome was. In almost every setting in my life, I felt like I was a fraud, and that any day now, everybody would figure out that I didn’t belong. This deep-seated feeling existed in spite of whatever talents I possessed and whatever successes I had enjoyed in both academic and career pursuits. And it followed me everywhere. At school. At work. Serving and volunteering. The specter of doubt and fear haunted me at every turn, even in my friendships and relationships.

Impostor Syndrome has become increasingly better known, particularly because people are willing to talk about it more. I was stunned when I first heard someone else discuss this thing that clung to my soul; I wasn’t alone, and this was apparently ridiculously common – among women, among high-achievers, and among those who already tangoed with anxiety and depression.

I recently realized that while Impostor Syndrome puts a name to the sense of “not belonging,” there’s more to it. If, courtesy of Impostor Syndrome, I believe that I don’t belong, it is easy to believe that nothing I’ve done has made an impact. If it hasn’t made an impact, if nothing I have done mattered, perhaps I don’t matter. Do you see where this is going? Do you see how insidious this train of thought is? The most accomplished among us could easily be led to believe – by their own brains – that nothing they have done is important, that they don’t belong, and that they don’t matter. For anyone who has struggled with the darkness of depression and the temptation to end it all, this is a slippery slope that anyone can tumble down.

I once had a conversation with a friend who was moving to a new location. This person was trying to avoid having a “going away” lunch, in spite of the tradition of such an event and that this friend was well-known and well-loved within their workplace. They were trying to avoid it because they were convinced that no one would show up and that their absence “wouldn’t matter anyway.” It was heartbreaking to see someone who was so valued and respected feel as though they didn’t matter. I now know it was Impostor Syndrome.

If, like me, Impostor Syndrome has haunted the corners and moments of your experiences, telling you that you are not good enough, that you’re a fraud, that you don’t belong, that you’re not worthy, that what you do isn’t important, and that what you do doesn’t matter, I need you to recognize that for what it is and tell it to sit down and shut up.

If you know someone who wrestles with the beast that is Impostor Syndrome, will you please speak beauty and truth and light and hope into their lives? We often assume that the high-achievers don’t need anyone to tell them that they are doing well and they matter; they may need to hear it most of all. It isn’t even about where they find their identity; they just want to know that their life and work means something to someone, somewhere. What if you could help tame the insidious beast by letting them know how valued they are?

You’re not a fraud. You belong. Your work matters. Your creativity matters. Your passions matter. You matter.

You matter.

You matter.

I See You, Part 2

Ok, friends, we have to talk about this.  It has been almost two weeks since I published I See You, and the response has been overwhelming.  I witnessed the emotional response when I offered the words at church, but the conversations – both in person and online – that I have had since then have just blown me away.  Why?  Because out of a question to God and the words that came from the answer, it has become abundantly clear that I managed to tap into a wellspring of pain.

While both men and women have talked to me about I See You, a great majority of the women have come with questions and stories that have been buried in pain, and that pain has been buried in fear.  Some of these women asked me if they could really dare to hope that God actually saw them.

(And let’s stop right there for a second.  I’m no theologian or guru or anything that makes me the person to be answering that question.  The fact that people wanted the answer from me tells me how desperate they were to hear it.)

Instead of answering the question, I dug deeper into why it was a question to begin with.  These were women of faith; why would they question whether God sees them?  The answers that I got from them boiled down to a sense of inadequacy, which in turn led to this belief that they were somehow unworthy to be seen by the very God who created them.  Ok, so why did these women feel inadequate to begin with??

Y’all.  I didn’t see it coming, but maybe I should have.  Many women pointed out how they didn’t measure up to a certain person in the Bible, and it wasn’t Jesus.

It was the Proverbs 31 Woman.  Seriously.

If you’re unfamiliar with this woman, here’s a refresher for you:

10 [b]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

On principle, I don’t have a problem with this woman, but I don’t think she’s real.  I think she’s an ideal whose character and integrity we should aspire to, but I don’t think she’s real.  When does she sleep?  How about self-care?  When does she meet her tribe of girls for coffee or wine?  How about date nights with the hubby?  Yes, I’ve Westernized this like none other, but you get my drift.  She’s someone to aspire to, but she’s not the measuring stick against which we should be judging ourselves.

If I See You broke your heart wide open because you feel like there’s no way God could possibly see you and love you in your inadequacy, I want you to think about something.  God gave His Son for you.  And then He kept pursuing you.  (Y’all, I love you, but there’s no way on God’s green earth that I would sacrifice my daughter for you.  Not any of you.  In fact, my parental instinct is to do whatever it takes to save my child.  God did the exact opposite.)

Do something for me for a second.  Close your eyes.  Imagine that you’re sitting at God’s feet.  Now look up, look at His face.  (No, I don’t know what God’s face looks like; that’s why you’re imagining this.)  What do you see?  Are you afraid to even look because you are convinced that there will be nothing but judgment and disgust on His face?  Look, please, because there’s grace in those eyes.  Grace and love and peace and a deep desire for your heart to be at rest.  The judgment you’re convinced will be there is a prison of your own making, and the door is wide open.  Walk out, walk in freedom, and bask in the reality that He sees you.

He sees you.  He knows you.  He loves you.