Self-constructed walls and lives that scream “STOP!”

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As as I sit at Disney World (because that is what I do here while my husband naps and my kids entertain themselves on rides and check back for food and drink), I am reading an intriguing book. My favorite quote so far is: “I often think that the effort we put into trying to pretend something  about us is true-that we are less than we are  or more than we are or that one aspect of ourselves is the whole story-is based in a fear of being really known, of being truly seen, as we actually are.” Nadia Bolz-Weber

A few minutes ago, I got up from my reading and was taking pictures of fountains and flowers and encountered these walls…..

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They are covering up construction sites that are meant to stay out of sight. That is, unless you are me and climb up to see what is really behind them.

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But my intrigue had little to do with Disney’s next project and everything to do with our hearts. What is the condition of our hearts most of the time? Guarded. Barricaded by walls. Tucked behind thick fences of protection.  We are terrified to let people see our flaws, vulnerable places of weakness, and desperately don’t want anyone to think we are…..NEEDY.  When we even say that word, we use a tone of disgust because it is the last word any of us wants to be used to describe us. We can’t fathom others seeing the construction being done in our lives, our hearts, our raw places. So like Disney, we erect the facade, all clean and neat.

The inevitable result of the self-constructed walls is shallow, superficial relationships where we are never known. We either become whoever other people want us to be or we shut down and stop trying…..and we stop truly living and just start to survive.

True community begins with being vulnerable, raw, honest, and REAL. I have come to the place in life where fake and  superficial is exhausting. I pray God takes me to the depths with people- even those I just meet because that is where life happens. Real life. Not the fake reality of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Those are not real, people. And if we believe the lie that other people’s lives look that good all the time we will continue to hide our “junk” and fall deeper and deeper into the well of self-condemnation and insecurity.

I have lived with insecurity all my life. As I sit here today at 45 years old,  I still struggle….but the healing for me has happened when I decided to be honest with  God, my friends, and myself. When I began to realize that being a mess is ok and is actually comforting to other people who are bombarded with images of others “having it all together.” When I stopped playing the game of life and started living it, I was set amazingly free. Free to be me. Free to make mistakes and free to not have all the answers. Now that is to truly live.

I wonder who else is ready to stop playing church, stop with the never-ending images of perfection, and be with other people who want to be seen and known.  I have found that community with a group of women who make me brave everyday. Women who are going to get up this Saturday at a women’s event and hold up a poster board with words that describe their stories and their past that are not pretty and can’t be put in a pretty little box with a bow, all safe and secure. Words like “drug addict, ” “rape,” “multiple divorces,” and “sex at the age of 13.”

I know we all have wounds that grow deep from betrayal, abandonment, and shame. I get that. But it is time that we stop letting those hurts define us and keep us from finding people who want to do life together and be the body of Christ for each other.  It is not pretty or perfect- it is ugly and messy sometimes…..but that is where God wants us. He calls us to the the trenches,  sharing each other’s burdens and loving the unlovely parts of each other.

That, my friends, is REAL LIFE. A life of abundance and a life of freedom.

Light Breaks Through- WHAT IS THAT?

IMG_0678For those of you who see my post about Light Breaks Through and wonder what in the world I am up to now….I can explain!

About a year ago, I made a friend who I consider a “lifer.” We talked on the phone and I knew immediately we had a lot in common- our lives, loves, and laughter brought us into an instant friendship. We had this idea that to #lovewithoutagenda was an idea that was worth giving our lives to so we began to discuss what that would look like.  A lot of phone conversations, several meetings later, and a lot of prayer- Light Breaks Through was born. I actually think it was in existence for many years in Jerriann and me but we became an official 501(c)3 a few months ago.

Because she and I both don’t think God belongs in a box, we have simply taken this organization one small step at a time. We had a women’s encounter in Lakeland over the summer that went really well and then decided to host another one in Madison, Jerriann’s hometown, on October 3rd.  As we see needs in women, we want to meet them. If that means traveling internationally, going into strip clubs, or sitting with women in the streets- we want to be present. Fully present.

For now we feel that women getting together in community for one day to talk about real issues and hear stories from women who have overcome great obstacles is a way for God to use us…..so we are focusing our attention on these gatherings.

As women, we take care of needs of others, we work hard, and we neglect ourselves spiritually and relationally.

How many of us have taken the time in the last several months to focus for more than five minutes at a time on our mental and spiritual health? Probably very few of us- me included. And we make excuses- the kids, our schedules, or our jobs….. but deep down most of us are just scared. Scared to put ourselves out there. Scared to show up. Scared of how God will speak to our hearts. And we stay STUCK.

We certainly do not have all the answers but when we felt there was a need we wanted to do something.  Here is how we tell our story on our website:

Light Breaks Through began as a simple idea…..that God has a plan for all women and their stories matter. As it began to unfold, God gave a clear message that we are to embrace women from all walks of brokenness because we each have value and worth. 

As the leaders of the organization, we have experienced our own brokenness and know what it feels like to struggle with insecurities that we are too damaged to be used by a perfect God…..but as God has arrested our hearts, we are learning that we have purpose and importance because that is how we were created.  

As we are changed, we have a vision to see women across the globe experience the wholeness and freedom in Christ that we have experienced. We invite you into a community of women who know what it is like to be lost and then found. In bondage and then free. Enslaved to sin and on the road of a new way of living.

 We are not an organization of quick fixes and religious testimonies. We believe in the honest gathering of women sharing their struggles, their stories and their lives as they seek Christ and do it imperfectly. 

We are all saved by His extravagant grace and we want to share that with you. If you are looking for perfect people, we are not it. If you are looking for a place to belong and be known, you are welcome among us. If you are hungry for something other than the sitting in the church pew surrounded by people and feeling like you are on the outside, you will find a home in the work of Light Breaks Through. 

We host “women’s encounters” that are one day events where we gather, learn, grow, and share in real life community. We ask women to take off their masks and JUST BE. That is where God will meet you. We pray that you will be led to see your value, your worth, and your identity and not settle for a life of mediocrity and shallow relationships. 

We hope you will join us. The journey of redemption is waiting- we just have to say YES.

For more information, you can go to LightBreaksThrough.org or contact Jennie at jensellis624@gmail.com.

 

 

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Briefcases, stories, and strength…..

DSC_3060This morning I  was perusing Craigslist and came across an estate sale where they were selling all of the contents of a home. That always fascinates me because I start to wonder what the situation is….often it is someone who has died and the family is selling everything they did not want to save. Whenever I walk into a sale like that, I always struggle with digging through someone’s special possessions and I feel a bit like it dishonors the memory of the person who owned them. Then I start to wonder how long they owned something, where they might have purchased it, and what it meant to them. Why do I have all this going through my head when other people are simply picking up stuff and making deals? Because I love stories and I believe that there is power in knowing someone else’s story.

I headed out to the estate sale that had caught my attention, thinking it sounded like a fun adventure for 7:30 AM on a Friday. The family appeared to be hosting the sale and the men about my age were joking with me about buying this or that and were ready to sell me all their “bargains.”  We laughed and joked for a while and then I  headed inside where there were tables full of odds and ends. I picked up a box with birds on it and a small, elderly woman quietly said, “There are pieces of a handle inside the box that can be added to it.” I stopped and probably gave her the creeper stare because a million questions started going through my head….”Is this your house? Are these your things? Why aren’t you freaking out? Do you have to leave your home? Are you sad? Where are you going?” In the meantime, she was unassumingly walking around to the people at the tables, saying very little. I told her I liked the box and went outside to add it to my other few things I had purchased.

I was intrigued with the woman who was telling me about the box and asked the men who were taking the money. They said that she was their 91 year old grandmother who was widowed and was moving into an assisted living community. I told them she appeared to be more at peace with selling her belongings than I thought she would have been. One of them replied, “She is a woman of great strength.”  I continued to dialogue with them about her and how difficult this must be- for her to watch  what she cherished as sentimental and a part of her life be picked through by people who know nothing of the history. They continued to praise her for her strength.

I left with the black briefcase and the brown art box and passed on the bird box because it cost all of $2. Have I mentioned how cheap I am? For the next hour, I was driving around running errands and found myself turning around and going back to the estate sale. I walked up and the grandson said, “You came back for that box, didn’t you?” I told him I had and he said it was sold. Totally bummed I went into the house and asked the mother-in-law to show me something that was sentimental to the sweet woman who lived in the house. She had several items that the family had passed on that had still meant something to the elderly woman. I looked at a pretty Christmas angel that she had made 60 years ago, but it felt too personal to buy even though it was for sale. Then the grandson brought out a gray briefcase with the initials “CW” which are the same initials of my grandfather. He said it had belonged to his grandmother’s mother- Catherine Whipple.

I bought the gray suitcase to add to the black briefcase and brown art box I had purchased the first time around and explained to them that I wanted to write a story about my experience. They were intrigued that I could walk in an estate sale and come out with a blog, but played along with me.

As I left with my new possessions, I started to think….it must take inexplainable courage  to watch almost everything you own be sold off for a dollar here and a dollar there. It would have been one thing had she not understood what was going on around her, but she was very aware of her surroundings and cognizant that her stuff was being carried out the door by strangers.

This week I have struggled a lot with having courage. I have had a lot of mixed emotions as I have been faced with my father having a stroke/heart attack. We don’t have much of a relationship so it has all been very confusing. I have asked God over and over to give me courage and strength and I have had great peace this week MOST of the time. I would feel God giving me the moment by moment direction I needed and then I would slowly fall into self-preservation and find myself drifting. Then I would move back toward God. The ups and downs went on like this all week.

It was not until today-when I saw a 91 year old woman, who had lost her husband, her ability to drive, and now her home and all that was in it-that I realized what beautiful strength really is. I see brave people all around me but I often think that by 91 it must wear off and we become fearful of everything, especially our futures. Today I saw the opposite. I saw quiet strength and peaceful acceptance.

I wanted to ask her and her family if they were Christians but I felt that I had already invaded all their personal space and pretty much stalked their family history so I did not ask. I regret it because it could have been a huge testimony to God’s goodness. Only He knows.

Do you ever wonder how you are going to face the unknown? Do the what-ifs drive you nuts?  Take heart, my friend.

Paul writes in the book of Colossians:

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,  and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”

I pray you find strength this week. Strength to face the unknown. Courage to let go of whatever is holding you back. And endurance to run toward the abundant life God has for you.