Why Religion Sucks but You Don’t

There are few things that anger me more than religion.

If you’ve read my posts, you’ve probably sensed my faith is important to me. In fact, it’s everything to me. The faith I’m surrendered to has nothing to do with religion. I’m focused on becoming completely untangled from the stagnant, dead branches of religious systems, judgments and laws and becoming fully alive to the living God and all the worthwhile fruitfulness only a deeply connected and intimate relationship with Him can produce.

It’s been a journey of unhitching myself from the world’s system—the counterfeit—where pride and self-righteousness runs rampant and where burying and pretending is common practice.

The pursuit is simply Jesus—without all the added garbage the world, the deceived and my own flesh try to tack on to what it means to follow Him.

My hatred for religion is birthed out of my unyielding desire to truly know God and—in turn—know myself, because the identity of all humanity is rooted in Him. Religion has tripped us up, sidelined us and left us empty in our pursuits of living the abundant and authentic lives Jesus promised us (John 10:10). Where religion has defined us by our behavior, true faith has identified us as God’s children, redefining our behavior with pure, holy and lasting motivation that springs up from our beliefs, not our self-effort.

I was with a few friends a couple weeks ago and we were talking about all the craziness going on in the world. I was expressing how angry I am that the universal American Church has spent decades building safe little subcultures rather than storming the gates of Hell. I brought up the verse in Matthew where Jesus tells Peter “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). I was lamenting about the Church’s fear over being infected by the world and how that fear has left the Church largely ineffective in the world.

My bottom line was this: Why are we scared of facing sin (within ourselves and others) when we carry the very Anecdote for it? Why are we hiding from Hell instead of storming it’s gates and rescuing those held captive by it’s grips?

My friend Teri shared a revelation she had about the context of that verse which blew my mind. Before Jesus made the statement to Peter, Peter was the first to speak on Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Anointed, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but my father in Heaven,” (Matt 16:17). Teri made the connection that the Church would be built on the Heavenly revelation from God about who Jesus is and who we truly are as His people. Peter didn’t call Jesus a prophet or a teacher or anything else that was socially acceptable or logically derived. He had a heavenly revelation about Jesus’ identity and spoke to that revelation. Following this exchange, Jesus renamed Simon and called him Peter, his new name reflecting his true identity as a rock on which the Church could be built.

“Upon this rock, I will build my church…” Upon the rock which consults with God about who a person is and responds to that higher truth. A rock where behavior, societal standards, religious judgments and interpretations have no power to define a person, only God does. A rock which places the revelation of who Jesus is at the very center where His words begin to rewrite our stories as beloved sons and daughters.    

Listen, the source of our identity affects everything. It’s impossible to behave in a way that is inconsistent with what we believe about ourselves. Our beliefs about ourselves—the real ones, the ones sitting deep within our gut—drive our lives. What are our beliefs producing in us? The true kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit (Rom 14:17). In stark contrast, religion produces constant striving, fear and despair in ourselves. That’s why I freaking hate it so bad! I lived under the influence of religion for so long, constantly feeling like I fell short of the standard, constantly feeling like God was displeased with me, waiting for the other shoe to drop and life to fall apart since I was incapable of keeping it all together. I was disconnected from Unconditional Love because I believed I didn’t deserve it. I blamed myself for all that was going wrong in my life but lacked any power to initiate true change. Religion renders us powerless to true change where Unconditional Love has the power to radically transform us.  

The fruit of our lives doesn’t lie. Our fruit isn’t just what happens in our external world and our ability to pretend we have it altogether—that’s secondary and we can do a really good job of faking our way through that. True fruit starts deeper, “man looks at the outward, God looks at the heart,” (1 Sam 16:7). What happens in our internal world is much more telling and we’d be wise to assess what our internal world has to say. To put it simply, this isn’t about disciplining the hell out of ourselves, it’s about opening our hearts to a real, childlike relationship with the One who fashioned our very souls and calls us by a new name. When you plant a garden, you start with a seed. That seed roots itself in the ground and begins to sprout. We know what type of seed we planted because of the eventual fruit the seed produces. If we want a different fruit, we plant a different seed. We don’t just chop the fruit off and expect something different to grow. We need a full uprooting and a new re-planting. Many of us have planted the seeds of religion hoping to reap a harvest of righteousness, but all we got were weeds and chaff. Let’s start over and plant seeds of Love rooted in childlike faith in the goodness of our real and present Heavenly Father.

After all, sanctification is an act of Love, behavior modification is a response to religion. Only one will last.

Accepting and walking in our identities as sons and daughters of God begins with confession and repentance. We need to confess the darkness in our hearts rather than bury it to maintain a persona acceptable within our religious circles. Religion has created so much dysfunction by using judgment, fear of punishment and shame as “motivating factors.” The truth is Jesus took all our punishment on the cross so we could have the power to walk in freedom, unashamed of the lives His truth is producing in us. He showed us what this looked, and when our life doesn’t reflect His, we need to confess it and repent instead of using our own effort to change our behavior. Instead of trying harder in our own power, we should come boldly to the throne of grace and finding the mercy we need to cover our butts. It might look something like this: “God, this person gets on my damn nerves. I’m tired of pretending I love them when I really feel like ripping their face off. I know it’s wrong, and rather than stuff these feelings, I shine your loving light on this darkness at work within me. I agree with YOU about what makes a person righteous and right now, my heart is dark with hatred. Please expose the root and eradicate these feelings that don’t belong in the heart of your daughter!”

Where religion blocks the door, the Father swings it wide open.”

That’s where healing begins. God is present in the Truth. He never believed our persona anyways, He always saw right through it.

It’s time we did, too.

Religion has a form of godliness but denies it’s power (2 Tim 3:5). Maybe that’s why it angers me so badly. It promises hope and change but fails to deliver. It sets an impossible standard and chastises us harshly when we don’t measure up. Like the pharisees in Matthew 23, it “shut off the kingdom of heaven in front of people” by presenting a series of hoops it claims we must jump through to know God. On the other hand, when Jesus died on the cross, God tore the veil of separation between His holiness and our humanity from top to bottom. Where religion blocks the door, our Father swings it open. Jesus changed the world through walking in His true identity—full of God and draped with humanity. He invites us to do this same and fulfills His promise through humbled, honest and surrendered hearts; through people who know they’re broken but whose brokenness drives them into the arms of a good Dad who empowers us to clean up our messes and create the abundant life He made a way for.

I’m committed to cleaning up my messes and untangling my beliefs from the webs of religion. I’m committed to accepting the Truth about who God says I am and allowing Truth to define my choices. I’m channeling my anger towards religion into allowing Jesus to change my heart.

How has religion affected your life? How has your process of accepting your identity as a beloved child of God changed you? I would love to hear from you. Please comment below.

Finding the Skinny Truth in the Thick of all the Lies

I sat in the exam room of my primary care physician’s office, anxious to get the results of the bloodwork my dermatologist had ordered two weeks prior.

My doctor came in, frazzled and busy, asking what I was there for. I told him his office had called me to schedule an appointment to discuss my bloodwork. He looked at my chart and said everything was normal, but the protein level in my blood was on the higher end. Out of curiosity, he asked if I eat a lot of protein.

“Yeah, I guess. I eat a lot of chicken and eggs. Turkey every now and again,” I responded.

“What do you normally eat for breakfast?” He probed.

“Usually nothing,” I replied without explanation.

If you’re curious, I don’t eat breakfast because I loosely follow intermittent fasting guidelines. This means I normally eat during an 8-hour window. For me, that window is between 11am and 7pm and removes the option of a traditional, early morning breakfast. When I answered the doctor, I didn’t give my reasons as to why, I just simply told him I don’t eat breakfast.  

Without hesitation, he said “You really should eat breakfast, it will help you lose weight.” As he said it, I noticed him glance at my stomach. My cheeks flushed from being both humiliated and appalled.

I was never weighed when I got to the office, so he didn’t know for certain whether or not my weight was within a “healthy range.” Honestly, I don’t know whether it is either, since the BMI chart is a bunch of crap and I haven’t weighed myself in months. What I do know is that I ran five miles the morning of my appointment and I teach a killer cardio fitness class twice weekly. My decision to trade breakfast for brunch is a health-conscious effort to make good choices to honor my body and help it function properly, as I believe in the benefits of intermittent fasting.

A picture of me on Fourth of July this year. Enjoying picnic food and drinks without restriction, committed to living in true freedom.

I didn’t give that explanation either. My only response to his comment were the eye daggers I shot him and the scowl that formed on my masked face (thanks, COVID-19 guidelines).

“I bet you’d lose weight if you started eating breakfast,” he repeated.

“Okay,” I said curtly.

The rest of the appointment was a blur. As I drove home, tears welled in my eyes and rage burned within my gut. As I processed through the exchange I realized this: My doctor didn’t say what he said because he’s an insensitive asshole. He also didn’t say what he said because I’m necessarily fat or unhealthy. His unsolicited remarks were the result of a broken societal system which wrongly equates thinness with health and applauds weight loss at any cost. It’s a system that elevates appearance as the most important thing, as evidenced by widespread eating disorders, the sexual objectification of women and the trillions spent on diet and beauty products each year. It’s a system that says if you’re an average American woman, you obviously want to lose weight because there is a standard of beauty that 98 percent of women are physically incapable of reaching. So, since beauty is THE most important thing, strive, fix, micromanage and accost the hell out of your inadequate body, since it continues to fall inexplicably short.

There is no doubt the system is broken. It’s what needs fixed, not me. But rather than rage against something I cannot completely change, I looked inward to identify what it was about his comment that triggered such an emotional response.

I learned from my friend Teri Moser at Three Thirty Media that, scientifically, we all have three brains. The brain in our head is our thinker. The brain in our heart is our feeler. The brain in our gut is our believer. Our thinker, feeler and believer all need to come into agreement with truth in order for our lives to reflect that truth over time. If not, there will be a disconnection and our lives will instead reflect the short circuit. To put it simply, you can think something logically, even feel it emotionally, but if you don’t believe it deep-down, the benefits of that truth will have no effect over your life. What you believe deep down guides your decision-making. That’s why identifying the lies we believe and replacing them with truth is such a crucial part of inner healing.

The truth is, I can logically say that the societal system that churns out eating disorders, body dysmorphia, the sexual objectification and abuse of women and a hyper-focus on appearance rather than the internal treasures we each carry is absolutely wrong. I can feel the emotions of anger and injustice when I think about what this broken system has cost me and every woman I know. However, if I still believe I’m somehow more acceptable, likable and valued at a smaller size rather than a larger one, I will never be at peace with my fluffy, mom-of-four bod that likes Chick-fil-a and running in equal measure.

I will consistently judge myself as inadequate and that self-judgment will cause constant striving, disconnecting and a lack of peace.

I’m done paying that price. I want to know what it feels like to live in abundant self-acceptance regardless of how I look in the mirror or the numbers on the scale. I want acceptance rooted in my identity as an unconditionally loved daughter of a radically good God. I want to value my voice more than my looks and steward my influence better than my appearance.

Before I get to that place, I need to time travel a bit. Some of the beliefs I formed in my gut were a “survival” response to painful experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. I remember being in second grade and getting called fat. I remember becoming aware that other girls’ stomachs were flat and mine stuck out a bit. I remember realizing that all the women in movies who found love, fulfillment and happiness were thin and attractive. I remember having one of the largest skirt sizes on the cheerleading squad in high school and being so ashamed by that. I remember my joy for making the varsity squad as a freshman being eclipsed by the high school quarterback’s assessment that I was too chubby to be a varsity cheerleader. I remember being told by a bagger at my job as a cashier in high school that I would be “super hot” if I got rid of my love handles. I remember the embarrassment I felt when I was three months postpartum with our second child in less than two years and someone thought I was still pregnant.

Me as a freshman cheerleader in 2001. Clearly “too chubby” to be a cheerleader (please catch the sarcasm).

Pain. Embarrassment. Shame. Questioning.

In many ways, I let those painful moments define me by forming the belief that I could only accept myself if I was physically attractive. Furthermore, I would only be physically attractive if I was thin.

This has been the carrot on the stick. If I could just “get there,” life would be so much better. Obviously, it’s a lie. I have had an eating disorder and was stick thin. Guess what? My destructive thinking still remained.

This is an inside job. An internal problem that can’t be fixed with an external solution.

That being said, my current focus on my personal journey of wholeness is to untangle myself from self-judgement and fasten myself to the Truth. God is the Truth and only His judgment matters. I don’t want to “fix” myself by dieting, obsessive exercise and constant focus on the outward. I want truly transformed from the inside out by embracing Love and allowing Him to do His work in every area of my life.

If this resonates with you, I’ve got a few practical ways I’m leaning into this process that I’d like to share.

Buy new, fun clothes at a comfortable size.
In the past, if my clothes were fitting tightly, I would squeeze myself into them and let the pain remind me I needed to lose a couple pounds. Super loving, right? Wrong. This summer I bought several bigger pairs of shorts and a lot of comfortable, fun and fitted tops. I don’t want to hide my body and punish it for being bigger. I want to embrace it where it is and express my personal style at any size.

Stop weighing yourself.
The scale tells us very little about our overall health. When I ran a marathon in 2018 and qualified for the Boston Marathon, the BMI chart said I was “overweight” and borderline “obese.” FORREAL. Weight is not an indication of health. I read a book written by Lisa Bevere and she said she realized that her weight had become her idol. She felt good when she weighed less and felt bad when she weighed more. Weight is a shallow way to measure yourself. Ditch the scale.

Find a movement that brings you joy and do it often.  
I absolutely love to run and to dance. I used to manipulate my body through exercise. It became a twisted form of punishment. Now I only move in a way that feels good. I push myself when I have the urge and I listen to my body when I need to rest. There are so many ways to move your body and there is no one-size fits all approach. Find a movement you like and carve out frequent time in your schedule for it.

Eat food that tastes good and feels good.
Eat what you like and be mindful of how it makes you feel. Don’t eat past full or satisfied. Learn to listen to your body when it tells you it’s done and be respectful when something you eat makes it feel like trash.

Remember it’s hard work to break the cycle.
I recently listened to a podcast that said we should change our perspective from “trying harder” to “training.” We aren’t trying harder to break out of self-judgement and accept ourselves at any size, we are training ourselves to live in freedom. When you’re in training, you know that if you have a bad day, you get a fresh start tomorrow. We live in a societal system that thrives on judgement so untangling ourselves from that system will take some work. Give yourself grace in the process and love yourself along the way.

I’d like to end with a poem written by Caitlyn Siehl, shared in her book “What We Buried.” She writes:

When your little girl asks you is she’s pretty, your heart will drop
like a wine glass on the hardwood floor.
Part of you will want to say,
‘Of course you are, don’t ever question it.’

And the other part,
the part that is clawing at you,
will want to grab her by her shoulders,
look straight into the wells of her eyes
until they echo back to you and say,
‘You do not have to be pretty
if you don’t want to. It is not your job.’

Both will feel right. One will feel better.
She will only understand the first.

I want to be a woman who understands the second and leads my daughters to understand the same. After all, I don’t have to be pretty, it’s not my job.

And I don’t have to eat breakfast.

How has self-judgment of your appearance affected your life? Have you experienced the consequences of living in this broken societal system that elevates appearance over all else? I would love to hear from you! Please comment below.

How to Spark Change in a World that has Gone Crazy

I was up late several nights this week, scouring the internet for answers. Big Tech’s censorship of some social media accounts I follow provoked me to lift the rug up in effort to find out what’s been brushed underneath it. I quickly found myself knee-deep in “conspiracy theories” that were truly terrifying. I’m not gullible enough to believe every wild thing I read or watch online is true. I’m also not stupid enough to believe the mainstream media is operating freely, without hidden agendas and powerful forces pulling the strings.

We are in an unprecedented time in history where information is being manipulated, truth is being hidden and justice seems like a far-off pipedream.

Our daughter dressed up as Captain America– a superhero who represents justice, goodness and social responsibility.

Regardless of whether there was any merit to the specific speculations I waded through in the wee hours of the night, the unsettling reality is this: there are countless horrors and atrocities happening in the world around us. Human trafficking, child abuse of every kind, widespread racial injustice, the perversion of truth for personal, financial and political gain are just a few of the shocking realities we’re facing. These hard-to-swallow realities tempt us to bury our heads in the sand and pretend evil doesn’t exist. After all, it’s too big to carry, too uncomfortable to face and much too daunting to ever think about changing.  

My purpose in writing this isn’t to make you believe the world has gone to hell in a hand basket, so we should all be perpetually and heavily burdened by the pain of it all. I’m simply passing off my own conviction to you—the conviction to engage and connect when fear rages, discomfort keeps us silent and apathy lulls us to sleep. The truth is, we have more power to change the world than we’re aware of. The power to initiate change isn’t encapsulated within the powerful elite, the institutions we build or the religious processes we’re accustomed to. The power to initiate transformative change begins and ends with our connection and commitment to Unconditional Love.

Mother Theresa said “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” I saw a powerful graphic recently depicting this: Until you fix it in your heart and address it in your home, nothing in the world will change. We absolutely have the power to change the world because we get to choose whether we’ll allow change to enter our own hearts. We get to decide whether we will invite Unconditional Love in to have His way.

You’re probably wondering how a post that started with addressing the atrocious realities in the world veered off into what seems to be a froo-frooey conversation about Unconditional Love. Here are the facts: The dark and devastating things happening in the shadows of this world are a result of broken individuals with broken mindsets, mindlessly pushing evil agendas. Personal deceptions like greed, selfishness, perversion, bitterness, rage and hatred spread like the ink-cloud of an octopus within the sea. Societal decay is nothing more than collective individual decline.

If we aren’t active in pushing back against the evil cloud around us, our lives will be darkened by it. If we are blinded by our own dysfunction, we can’t see clearly enough to be a part of the solution.

When my marriage took a nosedive in 2018, God spoke to me a paraphrased version of the verse from Matthew 7:5. He said “Stop focusing on the speck in Michael’s eye instead of the log in yours.” Mind you, anyone from the outside would be able to look at our situation and see that I was the “good guy” and Michael was the “bad guy.” Michael did things that could easily have him pegged as the problem in the relationship. So why the heck was God telling me I was the one with the log in my eye? If you look up that verse, the rest of it says “then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” I was so busy focusing on the speck in Michael’s eye—his “wrongness,” his dysfunction, the garbage he was bringing into our marriage—that I was oblivious to my own, very real, contributions to our problems. I have no power over Michael’s stuff, only my own. I could never change or control him (trust me, I tried for years). But I could control myself. I could allow myself to be changed. I could repent for my own crap, allowing God to remove the log in my eye so that my vision would be clearer and I could be a part of the solution rather than continuing to point a finger at the “problem.”

I could invite Unconditional Love in to spark the real change I had no power to initiate alone.

The only way for me to have any type of authority in my marriage was to repent. To repent is to agree with God about what makes a person righteous. No matter how it looked on the outside, I wasn’t any more “righteous” than Michael because the source for righteousness is Jesus at work within our hearts. I couldn’t repent on behalf of Michael, but I could repent on behalf of me. I could agree that the judgement I was operating in towards Michael was wrong. So was the bitterness, the resentment, the unforgiveness and the anger. I could let go of my own need for revenge and leave room for God to have His way. Basically, I needed to deal with the darkness in my own heart so God’s light of love could shine bright, lighting up our marriage and exposing the roots of all the real problems.

Similarly, the only way for us to have authority in this big wide world is by conquering our own personal hell, applying the triumph and victory of Christ and allowing who He is and what He’s done to define us.

Most of us are so scared of the ugliness inside of us, we bury it, justify it or shove it into a closet. This is obvious by the way the church universally has operated. The church has created a safe little subculture rather than engaging in the culture around us. Fear has disarmed us, love beckons us to pick back up our weapons of Truth.

Instead of hiding, ignoring, stuffing or justifying when you’re faced with your own dysfunction, I beg you—engage it. Don’t run from it. Explore it and invite God to cut it off at the root and replace it with the truth. Inner healing leads to a healthy family. Heathy families lead to thriving communities. Thriving communities continue to ripple outward, affecting our entire planet.

Moral decline is subtle. Over time, evil conditions us to accept it’s atrocities, blinds us to injustice while feeding on our personal dysfunction. When we confront personal dysfunction, we send the ball rolling in the other direction. Just like moral decline is subtle, so is positive change.

It begins with you. It begins with me.

So, instead of allowing widespread evil to fill us with worry and anxiety over things we cannot change, let’s consider it an invitation for Unconditional Love to do its work within our own hearts. Let’s agree to allow God’s love to shape us into becoming all that He intended us to be. Remember, until we fix it in our hearts and address it in our homes, nothing will change within our world.

The world needs you. The world needs me.   

Did you connect with anything I’ve written here? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.  

How We’re Duped by the Lure of Self-Sufficiency (and what we can do about it)

Under the stillness of the cold night sky, our normally busy household sat in silence as my family slept soundly. It was after one in the morning and I was swallowed up in my Kindle, devouring what would become my favorite novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing.” While Delia Owens masterful words spun a tapestry of mystery telling the fictional story of Kia’s coming-of-age, I got a download from the Lord that tore through the fabric of my own, very real story.  

You’ve despised and abandoned the part of yourself that needs people.

It was like a light came on in a room that had been full of darkness for ages. For as long as I could remember, a nagging frustration and anxiety swirled around my relationships. I lived most of my life feeling unloved, despite knowing better and having loving people around me. I was disconnected and unable to receive what I longed for most. Those words that dropped into my consciousness were like lightbulbs flickering on and my spiritual eyes had to adjust to this abrupt enlightenment. A few things started coming into focus as the words replayed across my heart, this time with more revelation. 

You’ve despised and abandoned the part of yourself that needs people… and that’s such a fundamental part of what it means to be human.

The words despised and abandoned had a tangible heaviness to them. They settled in my gut, forcing out a sob. I began to weep so loudly that I woke up Michael. I lacked the words to explain what Truth had just released in me, so I told him I was okay and to go back to sleep. As he groggily obliged, I began to unpack this revelation.

It has been a year and a half and I’m still unpacking it.

The words that struck such a deep chord of truth within me put me face-to-face with one of my most life-robbing tendencies: self-sufficiency. Furthermore, I realized that in my commitment to self-sufficiency, I’ve denied my soul one of it’s greatest needs: self-acceptance. If needing people is a fundamental part of what it means to be human—and it is—than despising and abandoning that part of myself meant I was living in a gross amount of unacceptance towards my own humanity.

No wonder my soul wasn’t at rest.

We live in a society that celebrates independence. We clap our hands for the people who seem to “have it all together.” We glorify those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and—without help—manage to “get it done.” We don’t have time for needy friends and we most certainly don’t want to come off as one. There is no doubt society applauds the idea of needing “nothing from nobody,” encouraging us on in our pursuit of self-sufficiency.

But society’s value clashes with our Creator’s design and the discrepancy between the two has left us tired, lonely, disconnected and struggling.

To be clear, there is a healthy level of self-sufficiency we need to survive. We need the skills to be able to take care of ourselves and our family so our households run smoothly. This isn’t the self-sufficiency I’m describing. What I’m referring to is emotional independency. It’s building up walls and keeping people out to feel a false sense of emotional security. It’s safeguarding ourselves from rejection, pain and abandonment by never really letting people in on what’s happening inside our hearts. However, when we build walls instead of boundaries, we don’t just keep out the bad people and the painful emotions. We keep the good ones out, too. We disconnect from the people we love and ironically, we reject and abandon ourselves in effort to safely avoid those same situations from others.

To abandon ourselves is to deny our needs and desires. It means suppressing what we’re feeling instead of working through it. It means responding to pain with anger because that feels less scary than being honest about our hurt and disappointment. It means saying yes when we want to say no, and no when we want to say yes. It’s allowing outside pressures and perceived judgement to shape our choices, rather than our own convictions and moral compasses.  It looks like attempting to manage another person’s perception rather than bringing the truest, most honest and authentic version of ourselves into every situation. It looks like avoiding hard, awkward but real conversations rather than embracing them as essential to growth.

We were created with an innate need for connection. In fact, connection is such a crucial part of our existence it’s actually been proven as the anecdote for addiction. Mind blown. If we aren’t living connected, we are more vulnerable to attach ourselves to the things in life that promise satisfaction but fail to deliver. Healthy relationships are a key component to living a fulfilling life, and healthy relationships begin with self-acceptance.

A healthy relationship is a relationship where both parties are seen and known. It’s impossible to be seen and known when we’ve built walls around our hearts. That’s what self-sufficiency has been for me. A wall around my heart that says “if I don’t need you, you can’t hurt me.” Little did I know how badly I was hurting myself.

Whether we deny our needs or not, they’re still there. And unmet needs lead to dysfunction, no matter how far we suppress them.

I’m learning what it looks like to embrace my own humanity by expressing my needs unapologetically. Before I had some miles in on this particular journey, I got into a heated exchange with Michael. We both have highly demanding lives and instead of leaning into each other and facing our personal difficulties together, we were in the habit of blaming and resenting one another when things got stressful. During one of those outbursts I actually said out loud “I’M SORRY I’M A HUMAN BEING WHO HAS NEEDS!”

Dramatics aside, I was sorry. I’d much prefer to not have any needs I couldn’t meet myself. That’s a much safer place to be. But that’s not how I was made—that’s not how you were made—and that’s not how life works.

I’ve since learned how beautiful it is to have needs. How my neediness attracts God’s sufficiency and being sufficient in Him is so much more fulfilling than the empty pursuit of self-sufficiency. I’m learning how expressing needs within relationships has the power to build trust in a way no other practice can. Most importantly, I’m learning how to validate myself and my needs, even when I don’t feel validated by others.

I’d like to share with you a few practical ways I’m untangling my heart from the net of self-sufficiency and embracing the neediness that makes me human.

Stop comparing.
I can be in the bad habit of looking at other peoples’ lives (at least the parts they show on social media) and thinking I should be able to do as much as them. They look like they have it altogether, why can’t I? Well, for starters, they’re not me. They don’t have the same history, emotions, demands, values, schedule, physical make-up, etc. as I do. Just because they seem to have it all together doesn’t mean it should be easy for me to, too. It’s been said that comparison is the thief of joy. I’d push it further to say it’s the thief of that and so much more. Don’t look at someone else’s life and use it as an excuse to beat yourself up or invalidate your own needs.

Accept help with gratitude.
Did you enjoy my blog post last week? If so, you partially have my friend Lyndsy to thank. I woke up that morning heavy with the demands of the day. House chores, kid nonsense and a post burning on my heart with no time nor solitude in which to write. Out of nowhere, Lyndsy texted me and asked if she could borrow my kids for a few hours. My gut reaction was “no way!” She has four kids of her own, she didn’t need to add mine to the bunch! However, I needed her to take my kids in the worst way. I needed time alone to write and get my feet back underneath me. I knew her text was a life raft sent from God Himself and I took her up on that offer. Guess what? Her kids had a blast. My kids had a blast. And she and I spent part of the afternoon together, sipping a dalgona coffee and catching up. It was good for us all. I’m so glad to have a God who loves me and friends who listen to Him when He nudges their hearts. I’m so thankful that He is the provision of each of our needs when we’re humble enough to let Him—and those He uses—in.

My kids and my friend Lyndsy’s kids enjoying each other and the sunshine as I enjoyed my time alone to write.

View needs as a deeper invitation for love.
One of the most transformative things happening in my marriage right now is our view of needs and their affect on our relationship. No longer are our personal needs a declaration that the other person doesn’t measure up. No longer are we suppressing our needs and in-turn manipulating the other person to help us because we are too dysfunctional to have a mature conversation. Now, we face our needs and demands together. Rather than our needs dividing us against each other, they’re fostering honest communication and bringing us together as a team. Healthy relationships are built on trust and one of the best ways to build trust is to express a need and have that need met by the other party. Needs give us an opportunity to grow in love in a way nothing else can.  

See stress as a trigger that you’re over-extended.
Instead of sucking it up and keeping it moving when I’m stressed out and frustrated, I’m using stress as an invitation to take a step back and rest. I ask myself, what’s really going on in my heart? What do I need to maintain my peace? If that means saying no to some things, clearing our schedules and drawing boundaries, I commit to doing those things and I don’t feel bad about it. Again, my job isn’t to manage another person’s perception of me. If my “no” or my “boundary” causes someone to judge me as falling short in some way, that’s on them. I need to learn to live from my convictions and stress is a signal that my convictions have been speaking, but I might not be listening.

Stop judging.
Judgement sucks. Period. We don’t have God’s vantage point and we aren’t built to judge. Often, I judge myself and fall short of my own standards. This is when needs are suppressed and I “suck it up and move on.” Spoiler alert: You can only “suck it up and move on” for so long before you desperately crash and burn. When a need comes up, stop judging whether it’s legitimate or not. Stop saying “I’m fine” when you’re not and instead, invite that need to clue you in on what’s really going on in your heart. Practice validation rather than judgement and your sense of wholeness, peace and joy will increase as you grow.  

I’m beginning to embrace what I once despised and celebrate every messy and unpredictable part of what it means to be human. I’m finding that as I receive more and more of this grace for myself, I have a deep well to draw from and refresh others.

Did you see yourself within my story and my descriptions? Do you struggle with the lure of self-sufficiency? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.

Divide and Conquer: How to Identify and Overcome the Real Enemy in Conflict

I wanted to throw my phone against a wall and crumple in sadness from what I was seeing on our family group chat. Hidden and unresolved dissension between two family members had erupted into an explosion of flared tempers, accusations, judgements, justifications and misunderstandings. Some family members abandoned the conversation altogether as others picked sides or tried to grasp what the hell was going on.

I was in the latter group, though my somewhat-combative personality (holler at my fellow enneagram 8’s!) and close relationship to one of the people directly involved caused some to peg me as having picked a side.

In all fairness, I most likely would have, had I not recently fought to overcome some divisive issues within my own home in recent years. In the past, I would have judged who was right or who was wrong. I would have defended the person closest to me and vilified the one who was not. I would have crafted well-thought out arguments explaining our “rightness” and the other party’s “wrongness.” I would have jumped into “defense mode” and steadied my position as the self-proclaimed protector of all I felt were victimized.

But not this time. This time, I could see with clarity the strategy of the enemy and I determined I would NOT be a pawn in his games.

In any relationship there is a force—a real enemy—who is working to tear apart. To divide and conquer is his favorite strategy. He plays on our woundedness, our fears, our insecurity and the lies we believe to isolate us and create sides. He pits person against person, then sits back and watches us do his job of destroying one another and sometimes ourselves.

To be frank, I’m sick of his shit. I’m sick of families being ripped apart through divorce or mishandled conflict. I’m sick of people suffocating under the weight of shame, self-hatred and addiction. I’m sick of people aching for true, safe and covenant connection while indulging on the counterfeit version that only exists behind an electronic screen. I’m sick of loneliness drowning those desperate for true friendship but terrified of rejection. 

A fuzzy and unprofessional picture of two people who frequently disagree, yet love each other deeply: our two youngest children.

This recent family conflict deeply affected my heart because it came on the heels of these two non-comparable, large scale pictures of division: The murder of George Floyd and Rachel and Dave Hollis’ divorce announcement. George Floyd’s murder and the Hollis divorce are in no way similar, but rather illustrate two completely different ways the enemy tears people apart.

George Floyd’s publicized murder was the tipping point of public outrage over the wide-spread racial injustice endured by black Americans at the hands of corrupt people in a position of authority. This outrage manifested in protesting, rioting and looting. To be honest, I have a hard time writing about this topic because I know that—as a simple, rather-uncultured white girl— I don’t have an ounce of the understanding I need to process these events with any kind of authority. But as an American citizen, I have felt the tension of a nation divided. I have wept imagining the horrors black people have faced simply because of their skin color. I have been incensed with rage over those who refuse to lay down their pride and agree with the blatant truth screaming that—as a nation—we have got to do better. I can’t possibly understand; but I deeply ache to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

As for the Hollis divorce: If you are unfamiliar, Rachel Hollis is a New York Times best-selling author of the books Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing. She and her husband Dave have four young kids and built their business from the ground up on the principles of personal growth, self-discipline and adopting a no-excuses approach to life. They had a daily morning show on social media and a widely successful marriage podcast. Millions of people have eaten, slept and breathed their advice on becoming better partners and living a successful life. While millions were practicing their “proven principles” to better their relationships, they were headed for divorce.

What. Is. Happeninggg?!?!

I read comment after comment on their social media posts from those who are angered, disenchanted and simply floored by their announcement and my heart echoes many of those same feelings. How can two highly-motivated people who have the practical keys of success on lock not make a marriage work? Why can’t they apply the same grit they applied to making millions into making a lifetime-covenant relationship stand the test of time?

I don’t mean to come off as judgy, but like so many others who cheered them on and supported their work, I’m heartbroken over their split. This situation just goes to show the enemy’s strategy to divide and conquer manifests in myriads of ways and can make even the best of relationships a causality of war.

When family drama erupted amid these national crises, it felt like my personal life was resonating with the enemy’s battle cry. In 2018, my marriage survived a brutal assault during which I was made privy to so many of the enemy’s schemes as well as my own weaknesses, making me susceptible to his relentless attempts. So, instead of throwing my phone across the room when the family group chat went haywire, I threw my hands up in worship. Instead of crumpling to the ground, I dropped to my knees in prayer. I committed to being a peacemaker and a speaker of Truth instead of a self-proclaimed protector who chose a side (as I had always done in the past). Satan wouldn’t work so hard to destroy relationships if healthy ones weren’t such a beautiful display of God’s love.

So, what does it look like to be a peacemaker and a Truth-bringer in times of conflict? Here are a few practical ways I’m learning to navigate conflict in a healthy way:

Be civil.
We are all human beings made in the image of God. It’s possible to disagree with someone without dishonoring them. To honor someone is to acknowledge the piece of God they carry and treat them accordingly, no matter how they behave. How you treat people says a lot about you and little about them.

Assume the best.
We all know what it’s like when we have been falsely accused. It’s painful and immediately puts us on the defensive. Instead of accusing, ask questions.

Have the tough conversations.
So much hurt could be avoided if we were willing to communicate through awkward conversations. If we were honest about our fears and our pain without putting up our defenses and protecting ourselves, it would be so much easier to see conflict through to a real resolution.

Speak the truth, even if it hurts.
I’ve been accused many times of being brutally honest. I’m learning to temper that and speak what I perceive to be true in a way that’s honoring and life-giving. However, withholding and “keeping the peace” is just as a destructive—if not more destructive—than brutal honesty. There is a proverb that says “The wicked flee when no one pursues but the righteous are as bold as lions.” If our intentions are pure, we should have no problem speaking our truth. It’s not our job to manage another person’s perception of us. It’s our job to be our authentic self and offer up that authenticity in times of conflict in relationship. Withholding and putting up walls in conflict plays right into the enemy’s plan to divide.  

Know the difference between keeping the peace and making peace.
A peacekeeper is not a peacemaker. A peacekeeper shoves shit under the rug to maintain a false sense of calm, ignoring real issues. A peacemaker is willing to approach divisive issues and conflict, knowing that true peace is a result of working through whatever has set itself up to tear us apart. A peacekeeper adds to division through buried feelings of bitterness and resentment. A peacemaker talks through heavy-emotional topics for relationships to be healthy, whole and reconciled.

Understand that relationships are messy.
People are messy, so relationships are even more so. True humility, mercy and forgiveness are essential for any relationship to thrive. We are all human beings with an abundance of weaknesses. We need grace from God and from those closest to us to truly grow and build thriving relationships where we feel seen, known and loved despite our flaws.

This is in no way an exhaustive list on how to dismantle division in relationships. These are just a few “tools of the trade” I’m committed to growing in personally in order to bring peace into divisive conflict.

Do you have anything to add? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below!

What it Really Means to have the Perfect Summer Body

It’s Memorial Day weekend and here in Ohio we’re thrilled to see cooler temperatures and dreary weather replaced by the warmth and sunshine of a new season. However, the brightness of summer’s coming arrival casts a familiar shadow affecting women everywhere. The shadow being the belief that the bodies we have fall short of the bodies we need to wear swimsuits and summer apparel confidently.

More devastating than those pressures themselves is the self-hatred they have the power to produce in us.

I’m callin’ bull shit on society’s efforts to tell us we don’t measure up to the unrealistic standard set for us as American women. More importantly, I’m sharing my very-present battle for freedom from a negative relationship with my body and the self-destructive habits it has perpetuated.

To give some context, I’ve gained and lost the same thirty pounds multiple times in the last few years and recently came to the revelation that my self-acceptance is contingent upon my weight.

I feel good about myself when I weigh less and I feel bad about myself when I weigh more.

When it’s broken down like that and I consider the fact that I let something as trivial as how much gravity it takes to keep me grounded affect whether or not I accept myself, it makes me feel really, really shallow. Not only that, it reveals a raw place of real brokenness that needs addressed.

We are three-part beings composed of body, soul and spirit and our bodies are the least compelling thing about ourselves. So why is so much time, energy and money wasted on obsessing over it and trying to “fix” it?

I’m a fitness instructor and an avid runner. I love to cook and eat healthy and I believe we have a responsibility to treat our bodies well. But this effort to micromanage our bodies through harsh dieting and abusive exercise in order to achieve a mostly-unrealistic standard is the opposite of caring for our bodies. In fact, it’s actually punishment fueled by hatred and fear. We hate our bodies so we starve them and over-exercise them in effort to force them to change. On the flip side, when we love our bodies, we eat well out of honor and working out becomes a fun and stress-free labor of love. Our thoughts aren’t consumed with what we are and aren’t “allowed” to eat and food is just food: We eat it when we’re hungry, enjoy food and use it appropriately as a part of how we celebrate life. In short, we consume it but it doesn’t consume us. We’re free.

Seeking to change our body from a place of self-hatred rather than self-love will inevitably lead to self-sabotage and disordered eating. Disordered eating is disordered eating, whether we’re eating too much or too little.

This is where my weight fluctuations have come into play. I have lived most of my adult life in either bondage to restriction or bondage to food. In bondage to restriction I was eating no sugar, or following some other strict regimen, counting calories and tracking my intake. In bondage to food I was abusing food as a source of self-comfort, eating well-past full out of boredom, stress or to numb my feelings. I was like an addict with junk food as my drug-of-choice. I’ve swung like a pendulum from the bondage of restriction to the bondage of food. Now I’m at a place where I’m desperate for freedom from both.

The journey to that place of freedom begins with true self-acceptance.

Me, my sisters and my niece rockin’ our swimwear, enjoying a Memorial Day picnic at my aunt’s house.

In the summer of 2018, I was on the low-end of my thirty-pound weight fluctuation. I was at my “best,” teaching a weight loss and fitness support group focused on inner-healing as an integral part of true transformation. I felt so good about myself; so confident. I rocked a bikini at the beach that year. A real bikini, not one of those high-waisted ones you can pull up and over all your insecurities. I truly accepted myself at that weight and I loved what I saw in the mirror. I was proud of her, confident about who she was and what she could accomplish.

Just then, several bombs dropped into my personal life that completely derailed me. I faced the unexpected death of a young family member, deep, gut-wrenching betrayal and—if that wasn’t enough—my Nanny (mom’s mom) was given 18 months to live as cancer began to suffocate her with it’s relentless grip. I was spiraling, trying to stay on my feet in the ring of life as I was hit with one blow after another.

As stress pressed in, the healthy habits I’d formed dipped out and I was left grasping for anything to numb the pain. I had a lifetime history of making food a safe friend and I began inviting her over nightly to help me hide the painful emotions I wasn’t quite ready to face.

It wasn’t long before nightly food binges paired with frequent glasses of wine left my pants digging into my waistline. From that point on, I went up and down in weight. I had a few stints with strict diets to get myself “under control” again only to run right back to my familiar, food-indulgent ways. I haven’t gotten true victory yet because I wasn’t fully aware of the deeper issue. I was trying to fix an internal problem with an external solution.

In my weight loss and fitness support group I taught that wounds lead to lies. Lies lead to false beliefs. False beliefs lead to negative actions which produce negative behavior. So often, we try to fix the behavior without addressing the wounds and lies at the root of those behaviors. Just like a bad weed, those behaviors will keep sprouting back up unless we completely uproot them where they’re germinating. We need to get healing to the wound, identify the lie and replace it with the truth.

What I’ve realized recently is there’s a wound in my heart that’s taught me I’m unacceptable unless I’m physically attractive. It’s also taught me I’m not physically attractive unless I’m under a certain weight. Society perpetuates these beliefs by affirming and validating those who are thin while treating those who are not as if they’re broken. What’s actually broken is a society obsessed with appearance. The fruit of such obsession is widespread eating disorders, narcissism and mental illness.

We are so much more than what we see in the mirror. As stated before, I think we all should respect our bodies, fuel them and move them well. But we need to put first things first. We can’t hate ourselves happy. We can’t shatter ourselves whole. True fitness begins on the inside and has very little to do with the weight on the scale or the image in the mirror. True fitness hinges on embracing ourselves where we’re at—accepting our bodies as a part of who we are; respecting them like we would respect a friend. Would you berate a friend like you’ve berated your body? Would you neglect your friend’s needs to manipulate her into changing? I’d hope not. However, that’s how so many of us have treated our bodies. That’s how I have treated my body.

Now, as I teeter on the high-end of that thirty-pound flux, uncomfortable with how I look and feel, I’m pressing into a question I felt God whisper over my heart a few months ago: will you accept yourself here?

God says I embrace you as you are. I embrace everything you are and everything you’re not. You don’t have to do more, try harder, or be better. Right here—in this moment—I embrace all that you are.

That is what acceptance looks like. It’s embracing ourselves despite the nagging thought we don’t measure up. Will I trade the acceptance of my Creator for society’s disproval? Will I trade my peace and sense of self for the self-judgement built by a broken society?

It’s a choice I have to make. It’s a choice you have to make.

I have two daughters and two sons and I want to give them something worth hanging on to when it comes to body image. I want them to see men and women of all shapes and sizes confidently wearing whatever makes them happy. I want them to see bodies as just bodies—not as a measuring stick for worthiness or a barometer for happiness. I want them to have a healthy relationship with their whole self, but I can’t impart what I don’t possess.

As I sit here feeling chunky, I’m also feeling grateful. I’m so grateful God has brought me back to this place where I’ve judged myself as unpleasing. It was easy to accept myself and feel confident when I was at a lower weight. Now that I’m not, it means my self-acceptance will have to be rooted in something deeper than the gravity it takes to keep me grounded and the image I see in the mirror.

Sometimes we go around the same mountain again so God can take the healing another layer deeper.

I’m repairing my relationship with my body, one choice at a time. I’m choosing acceptance over judgement; kindness over manipulation. I’m choosing to listen to what my body needs to thrive. I’m going to let her be free and celebrate without shaming and punishing her. I’m going to listen when she says she’s satisfied and I’m going to trust her when she needs to rest. Most of all, I’m going to stop shaming her for being something that she’s not and—instead—thank God for the miraculous gift she is.

Will you join me on this journey? Let’s root our self-acceptance in our spirits, where God’s unconditional love flows freely. Let’s not stop pursuing healing until we’ve struck a balance of true fitness and true freedom. Let’s give our children the gift of healthy self-love in a society motivated by fear and self-hatred.

And, in case you’re waiting for someone to give you permission, wear the damn bikini.

10 Life Lessons from Motherhood

Ten years ago, on the eve of Mothers’ Day, I gave birth to our firstborn son. His entry into the world made my husband burst out laughing with joy and my heart explode with wonder. I’ll never forget the “magic moment” when his tiny newborn frame was laid upon my chest. Life as I knew it had changed forever. I was a mom now; it was as if everything I did from this point on carried so much more weight and meaning.

The next six years brought three more babies and three more of those “magic moments.” Those moments were tucked into long days and short years, first steps and first words, mundane moments and sleepless nights, lots of laughter and deep sadness, hanging on and letting go, needing a break and getting a breakthrough, losing my image and finding myself, painful frustration mixed with deep, life-changing love.

May 8, 2010– My first “magic moment.” Holding our son, Zaiden, for the first time.

I’m in no way an authority on parenting, but I have gleaned a few nuggets of wisdom as I’ve “failed forward” on this beautiful, paradoxical journey of motherhood. Here are ten rays of light that have illuminated my path on life’s most difficult and rewarding endeavor: Motherhood.

I’m nobody’s savior.
I used to think I had to be Jesus to my kids and save them from the world that was out to destroy them. I couldn’t save myself and I sure as hell can’t save them. It’s not my job. It’s my job to facilitate an experiential relationship with God by having one myself. Before they were my sons and daughters, they were His. I don’t have to save them; I just need to let Him save me. As they see Him at work in my life, it will light a torch for them to follow in their own walks with God. Many times moms are compelled to save their kids from the pain meant to lead them into the arms of the Ultimate Comforter. It’s so hard to watch our kids go through pain. But pain is a part of life and we should practice walking with our kids through pain rather than saving them from it.

Connection is greater than control.
So many times I want to control my kids’ behavior. I want them to stop being jerks and making me look bad. I want them to knock it off, watch their mouth, clean up their messes and get in line. In essence, I want to control them and make them do what I want them to do. The truth is, I can’t control them and trying to will only damage our relationship. I’m not saying I shouldn’t have expectations for their behavior—I most definitely do and should. I’m saying that when I truly connect with my kids first, I ultimately have more influence in their life. They then want to contribute to the atmosphere in our home in a positive way. Our pastor taught me that discipline without relationship leads to rebellion. When I try to control my kids, I’m after the “results” of their behavior, not the heart behind it. Connecting with them on an emotional level enables them to feel safe, loved and known. When they are connected to me emotionally, they care how their behavior affects my heart and vice versa. They don’t NEED to be controlled because love enables them to control themselves.

Perfection is overrated; conviction is underrated.
In our Pinterest-perpetuated world many of us are after a picture-esque life that only exists behind an Instagram filter. I’ve wasted so much time trying to measure up to an unrealistic standard instead of sinking into the conviction of my heart and parenting from that place. Perfectionism is a lie. Conviction leads us to the Truth. No matter who we are or what we do, we will never be enough for some people. That’s why we need to do what feels right for us and make decisions that keep our personal sense of peace intact, regardless of how it looks to others.  

An unfiltered, unflattering, non-Pinterest worthy of the six of us, snuggled in bed together.

Fear is our enemy.
I remember the moment I was delivered from an intense amount of fear when it came to parenting. When I had our first two children, my anxiety and worry over their safety was tangible. Every time I went anywhere without them I was worried sick. I would have visions of something bad happening to them and feel paralyzed by fear. Many times, my fear was manifested in anger. In the movie Frozen there is a song sung by the trolls that says “People make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed, but throw a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.” I was constantly scared and constantly raging as a result of that fear. One day, God spoke to my heart and said “Did you ever dream you’d have a blonde-haired, blue-eyed son?” The answer was no. Both my husband and I have dark hair and eyes, as do both sets of our parents. I assumed our kids would follow suit, yet our son was blonde, with sky-blue eyes. God continued “No, you didn’t. That’s because I made him—he was my idea. I will protect him and take care of him.” Something shifted in me and fear started loosening it’s grip on my heart. God’s love casts out fear and His love for me and my children began casting out the fear that was controlling my life.  

Parenting my kids means re-parenting myself.
I say often that my kids teach me way more than I teach them. Our third child, Brinley, went through a terrible stage when she was between two and three years old. She would scream and throw tantrums like I had never seen before. These tantrums would last for hours and I felt completely helpless and at the end of my rope. I would eventually lose it and yell out of my own anger and rage. During one of these episodes, God spoke to me and said “You don’t get through one of her tantrums without throwing one of your own.” Ouch. It was true. From that point on, I would talk to myself and validate my own frustration instead of acting out of it. I’d say things to myself like “I know this is hard, but you are the parent and you have to bring peace into her chaos.” To this day, I’m still not perfect in it. But meeting her tantrums with love and peace rather than allowing my own temper to flare changes everything. Instead of letting her tantrums cause me frustration, I’ve allowed them to teach me more patience, strength and peace.  

Moms: We need each other.
Moms. Get you some mom-friends. Parenting is hard. You need women in your corner who GET IT. Women who know you love your kids even when you are so freaking annoyed with them. I spent the first several years of motherhood gping it alone. I let my fear of being judged as inadequate by others shut people out. My heart was closed-off to friendship out of fear of rejection and life was so dark and lonely. When I begin to let people in, my life started to explode with color again. I felt loved, understood and supported. There is so much to be said for that!  

Repentance is everything.
The best thing I do as a mom is repent when I blow it. I have cussed at my kids, disciplined out of anger and acted a damn fool. While I’m so not proud of that, I know that God can use my brokenness as a springboard for His goodness in their life. Every time I blow it, I apologize. Most of the time, it’s with tears in my eyes. I tell my kids it’s not their fault that I lost it. That no matter what they do, I should always control me. I tell them that there is nothing they could do to make me love them more or love them less. I tell them I’m a human being and I make mistakes, just like they’re human beings who makes mistakes. We connect in this place where our humanity intersects and Love covers us with His healing restoration. If I’m proud of anything as a mother, I’m proud of the way I honestly and humbly repent when I all-too-often blow it.

There’s no award for having the cleanest house.
I decided a long time ago not to stress about my house. I try my very best to keep it altogether, but if you stop at my house unexpected, there’s a good chance you’ll find laundry in piles, dishes in the sink and crumbs on the floor. My fridge stinks and my cupboards need organized badly. But you know what? I try and I’m learning daily how to balance it all in a way that feels right for me. The dishes, laundry, floors and fridge will be there indefinitely, but there’s only so much time I’ll have the opportunity to play barbies, stack blocks and build train tracks with these four precious souls. I wish I was better at managing it all, but I’m not. I do know that I try my best and hope my kids remember the times I set aside my to-do list to engage with them on their level.

So much more is caught than taught.
When my oldest was four, my second child was two and our third was a newborn. Life was wildly busy and my husband was doing a lot of travelling. I was buried by the demands of raising three babies and pulling the weight of the household. I felt so much shame for not “having it all together” and being more gracious in handling this abundant load I had been given. One day, I was slapped in the face with just how tangible that shame had become. During one of my husband’s trips, my four-year-old had thrown his sister’s favorite toy and broke it. I cried because I was so frustrated and angry. My son looked up at me with tears in his big blue eyes and said “I wish I was a better boy.” Gut-punch. What a weighty load for a four-year-old to carry! No one told him he wasn’t enough. I certainly didn’t think he needed to be “a better boy.” But how often did I wish I was better? A better wife… a better mom… a better Christian… a better woman. That shame of not measuring up had fallen on his shoulders. Hearing my wonderfully adequate, much-too-young son utter that shame-filled phrase sent me on the journey of addressing my own shame and finding wholeness. More is caught than taught and, whether we like it or not, we lead by our example.   

Loving your kids well means loving yourself well.
I see so much of myself in my second daughter, Quinn. I see so many of my qualities—both good and bad— evident in her in increasing measure. When she was very young, I was having trouble connecting with her and I couldn’t figure out why. One day as I was writing in my journal I had a lightbulb moment. I couldn’t connect with her because I rejected myself. I wasn’t rejecting her, I was rejecting the parts of myself I saw in her. This broke my heart. I had to repair the relationship I had with myself if I wanted to love her well. Loving well comes from a place of being loved well. Regardless of whether or not anyone else loves us, we can choose to love ourselves. And more importantly, we can connect with the source of Unconditional Love and receive His love in such a way that changes everything.

In conclusion, ten years ago, the responsibility of motherhood opened the door of an amazing, hard, hope-filled and wondrous journey which daily continues to unfold. I hope you connected with these nuggets of wisdom I’ve expressed here and I hope you’re keeping your eyes and ears open to what motherhood is teaching you. Do you have something to add? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.

Finding True Healing in a Quick-Fix World

It was the summer of 2018. The sun was hot as I laced up my New Balances to hit the pavement for a mid-week run. There was a lot to sort out on this handful of miles and it had nothing to do with physical fitness or the marathon training plan I was working through.

Several bombs had recently dropped into my personal life, blowing it to bits. Running was where I did my best processing. Each stride helping me see how I could start picking up the pieces to put my life back together again.

My marriage was in shambles. A result of two stubborn, bull-headed and broken people trying desperately to fix each other and failing miserably at loving each other. All those misguided efforts had culminated into an epic explosion that threatened to rip our family apart. My husband and I were going to marriage counseling. There, our pastors were helping us navigate the seemingly insurmountable mountains of pride and pain we faced as a couple. In addition to marriage counseling, I was also meeting with a mentor one-on-one, whose victory through similar circumstances lit a torch of hope for me as I fumbled my way through this darkness.  

Counseling and mentoring were essential to the survival of our marriage during this season of our lives. However, on this particular day, I was weary of all the efforts. It was as if my spiritual determination to not drown in hopelessness had wearied my soul. With this run, I was determined to find a life raft.

The afternoon sun beat down on me as I turned the corner on an old familiar route. Sweat soaked my tank and blurred my vision. My body’s endurance felt taxed, much like my soul.  Just then, words of Life floated up to the surface of my thoughts.   

You want to be fixed, God said.

Yeah, that would be nice! I replied, internally.

Your counselors, your mentor, Michael and your family—they all want you to be fixed, too. He went on.

It was true. I hated looking at myself and seeing all the glaring, obvious places where I still needed to grow. I hated seeing my contribution to our failing marriage and being suffocated by the lie I deserved this pain. I hated the depression that crouched at my door. I hated the way I buried my pain and sadness with anger and rage. YES! I WANTED FIXED! And as much as I wanted to be fixed, I could also sense that desire from others around me, too. After all, I’m the strong one! I bounce back, make healthy choices and grow through adversity. But I had never been through a season like this, and those closest to me were worried about how I would respond. They hated seeing me angry, bitter, hopeless and grappling with unforgiveness. My brokenness was scaring them and they wanted me fixed, too.

But God wasn’t scared. And He wasn’t in a hurry.

You’re not getting fixed, you’re getting healed. And healing takes time. God said.

It was the life raft I was looking for. Just then, I got a picture of a wound. What happens when you poke, prod and irritate an open wound? It takes longer to heal. I was severely wounded and my efforts to “get fixed” were bumping up against God’s process of true healing. I needed to stop viewing myself as a project needing repairs. I’m not a project—I’m a human being. I didn’t need fixed, I needed to connect with Unconditional Love which is the ultimate healing agent.

I saw my glaring shortcomings as evidence I must change to receive the love I need. It doesn’t work like that. Receiving the true and unconditional love we were created for is the only way to be truly transformed. Without that, we are just modifying our behavior to play the part. There is nothing that will bankrupt our souls quicker than that. God sees right through our pharisaical efforts to pretend we have it all together when we’re falling apart in our internal world. The only way to be truly transformed is to connect with Unconditional Love—by faith—in the face of our own glaring failures and harsh self-judgement. Walking with God isn’t about behavior modification, it’s about sanctification. Sanctification happens when we stare into God’s face long enough to begin to see ourselves through the lens of love He sees us through.

I saw immediately how this idea of being fixed rather than healed applied to myself personally, but the revelation didn’t stop there. It also applied to my relationship with my husband. Like I said, we had tried to fix each other and—in essence—failed at loving each other. I can’t fix myself, let alone my husband. It’s not my job. It’s my job to receive the love I need for myself in excess so that I have enough to pour out on others.

I won’t pretend I’ve mastered this process, but I have learned what it looks like to partner with God on this journey. I’ve learned He’s patient, gentle and that there’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more or love me less. Coming to deeper revelations of His perfect love in an imperfect world is changing my life and my relationships, layer by layer.

I’m not getting fixed, I’m getting healed. And healing takes time.

Do you connect with this post? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and join the conversation.

Cultivating Connection While We’re Utterly Isolated

In Mid-March, COVID-19 brought our lives as Americans to a screeching halt when it threatened our health and encroached upon our well-being. Staples in our normal routines—like school, church, organized sports, eating at restaurants, attending large family gatherings and more—became “non-essential.” We were mandated to stay home for our own safety and the safety of others.

It’s been over seven weeks since life as we knew it ended. State and federal leaders forge a new way forward while searching for the delicate balance between protecting public health and the long-term sociological and economic impact of those protective measures.

As government leaders fight to balance the scales, within our homes we are given a choice and an unprecedented opportunity. We can scratch and claw to maintain the sense of normalcy we’ve built our lives upon, or we can take a step back and embrace the gift wrapped within the uncertainty of these times. This gift we’re afforded is the chance to clear our schedules and cultivate the very thing we were created for: Connection.

How can we cultivate connection when we’re isolated within the walls of our home? The meaningful connection we were created for begins on the inside of us and ripples outward.

It starts with connecting to our hearts and to the God who fashioned them. Where busyness normally distracts us from an experiential encounter with the God of the universe, stillness invites it. God is always singing over us with His love songs. When daily life is rushing by, it’s hard to hear His melodies. As our churches close their doors to formal gatherings, God seeks to invade our hearts and our homes in a deeper, more tangible way. We often institutionalize the very faith that needs to be personalized in order to impact us. God isn’t stuck in the church, within the pages of our hymnals and the three points of a Sunday morning sermon. He’s with us where we are, reminding us of a Love that seeks to save what’s been lost to us. He’s ready and willing to heal and restore everything we surrender into His care. No matter where we are in our journey of faith, we can be certain that God is pursuing us. Where COVID-19 is sowing seeds of fear and terror, God is sowing love, peace and provision. Our hearts are the environment where those things take root and grow. We get to choose which of the lot we will cultivate.

Not only does slowing down mean hearing God and connecting to His heart of love for us, it also means connecting to our families in a way that changes things. About a decade ago, I heard the statistic that parents spend less than three minutes a day engaged in meaningful conversations with their kids. When I heard the statistic, I was pregnant with our firstborn and thought to myself “there is NO way I’ll spend such little time talking to my kids!” Here I am, ten years and four kids later, singing a different tune. It’s not that I don’t want to have meaningful conversations with my kids because I do. But with school, sports and other obligations filling our usual schedule, finding time to sit and talk is normally a rare occasion. Not now. In this moment, most of us have more time on our hands than we know what to do with. This is our chance to develop habits that outlast any negative impact of COVID-19. We aren’t just surviving another season of busyness—we’re given a chance to slow down, clear our plates and create a healthy culture within our families. We’re given a chance to reset and be intentional.

Our four kids at the park after we finished school work one day soon after the initial school closures.

When we dropped our firstborn off at kindergarten four years ago, I ugly-cried so hard my abs hurt from heaving. It didn’t get better when we dropped off our middle two kids. In a couple years, when we drop off the baby of the family for his first day, I’ll probably need heavily medicated and physically removed from the school’s property.

Letting go isn’t easy for me and sharing my kids with their school system for a large portion of weekdays is something I do reluctantly. Since Ohio announced the closure of all schools for the remainder of the year, I feel like I’ve been given a glimpse back to simpler days when my babies were all under my roof all the time and rushing around was at a bare minimum.

Trying to homeschool three kids while the fourth kid colors on the walls and flushes random household items down the toilet is character-building to say the least, but that’s a different post altogether. If ever I wanted to have more meaningful conversations with my kids, this is the time.

Along with the parent-child relationship, marriage relationships are also being reset. More togetherness means rubbing shoulders more. Rubbing shoulders more creates friction and friction creates change. When we’re stuck in the ruts of our routine, we can float along doing “life as we know it” without really engaging with what’s happening. We don’t ask ourselves what we need from our spouse or ask our spouse what they need from us. We don’t investigate our relationships and find the places we have room to grow. More time and more friction can lead to better changes and more depth.

In conclusion, COVID-19 brought us isolation, the mandate to shelter-in-place and closed our doors. Redemption brings us the unprecedented opportunity to open our hearts wider to the connections that matter most. While COVID-19 spreads fear throughout the world, redemption stirs up love within our homes.

What are you doing to squeeze the most out of this unique moment in history? I would love to hear from you! Comment below.

Reborn in the Spring

Something deep within me sighs with relief when the gray of winter bursts forth with the colors of spring. The days get longer, the grass gets greener and the birds wake us with their songs once again.

Where winter carries its own unique beauty—the beauty of stillness, resilience and solitude; Spring’s beauty thrills with her fresh breaths of new life, lavishing us with colors, sounds and warmth. Trees that looked bare and dead in the winter are now reborn with leaves and blooms, their emergence marking the coming of a different season.

Spring in Ohio usually lasts about three minutes to what feels like winter’s six months, but I enjoy every single second of it.

When I wrote the date in my journal on April 8, 2020, I realized why this time of year speaks to me in such a tangible way.

It’s because much like the earth itself, I was reborn in the spring.

When I was in the thick of my teen years making dumb decisions of chronic self-sabotage, I came home one night high as a kite. I was anorexic, trying drugs like coke and ecstasy, involved in a mutually-abusive relationship and—most toxic of all things—drowning in self-hatred. I had weaved so many webs of lies in my life that I, myself, was becoming trapped by them.

Here is a picture of me taken my junior year, about six months before this encounter.

My parents who were—for lack of better terms—the “goodie-two-shoes” type had no idea what they were up against. However, they noted my change in behavior and my mom knew it was well-past time to intervene. When I got home on this particular night, I smelled like weed and my mom picked up on it.

“Get in the car,” she said.

“Why?” I asked, panicked.

“Because God has been telling me there’s something going on in this house and I’m going to find out what it is. You’re getting a drug test,” she answered fiercely.

Shiiiit.

Fear gripped my sinking heart. I had carefully weaved those webs of lies to hide what was going on beneath the surface. I was going to be exposed for what I really was: A mess and a disappointment.

In the midst of those despairing thoughts, a bible verse I learned as a little girl in Sunday school bubbled to the surface of my heart: The truth will set you free.

I was utterly imprisoned by the deception I had created, the self-hatred I was drowning in and the toxic habits I was forming. Freedom is what I yearned for most and—in that moment—freedom is what Truth had promised me.

“…freedom is what Truth had promised me.”

Brittany Ross

Although I was sure I had just heard from God Himself, I wasn’t exactly a willing passenger on that trip to the hospital for a drug test. I was quiet and detached as my mom yelled and threatened; her love intermingling with her fear as she desperately grappled with the destructive daughter she had no power to save.

I failed the drug test miserably and my mom’s hurt and pain was so tangible you could cut it with a knife. I had gotten word that my dad left work to meet us at the hospital.

This is it, I thought. They’re going to send me somewhere.

Prior to having decisive evidence to prove their fears correctly, my dad told me if I got caught doing drugs, he’d send me to Belmont Pines—a behavioral and rehabilitative health hospital for “problem kids.”

This failed drug test would be my one-way ticket out of my house and into a treatment center with all the other kids who made messes and disappointed their parents.

But when my dad entered the hospital room, I wasn’t met with the anger and rage I expected. Behind the hurt and fear in his eyes, I saw the desperation of a father who—in his own humanity—was unable to express the limitless love he had for a daughter whose behavior ripped his heart out.

My barrel-chested, manly-man-of-all-men dad bee-lined right for me. He dropped to his knees and grabbed my hands. He looked me right in the eye and said “What did I do wrong? Please tell me how to help!”

I deserved judgement but was offered a way out. It was a tangible expression of the Heavenly Father’s grace reflected in the broken but unconditional love of the man who knelt before me, undone.

Something inside me broke. Where accusation wanted to rightfully expose me as a mess and a disappointment, my Father had a different story to tell. In His story, I’m a beloved daughter who needs the grace of another chance. I’m a redemption song He’s ready to sing; where the white flag of surrender becomes the backdrop to my greatest love story.

I never touched a hard drug again. The date was April 8, 2004. God said “Remember this date.”

Even though grace—not judgement—defined the moment that changed everything, my choices weren’t without consequence. I was grounded for the entire spring and summer and my parents became fiercely protective where I refused to protect myself. God met me here. In the midst of long, lonely days, He started to show me I could have a real relationship with Him where He speaks to me and leads me; where He is present and involved. I asked Jesus to be my savior when I was seven years old, but until that day a decade later, God was just a list of do’s and don’ts and a rebel heart like mine simply did not have what it took to follow the rules.

Both the rules and the rebellion were death to me, but this real relationship began to bring me to life. I once heard it put “God always revives what religion kills.” My life is a testimony to that truth.

This year, when I realized what day it was and my personal connection to the expression of spring, I looked up the significance of the date April 8. I. Was. FLOORED. If you have some time, you can read what I found here. But to give you the gist—Jesus was resurrected on the 17 day of the Hebrew month of Nissan which translates into—you guessed it—APRIL 8!

MIND BLOWN.

God doesn’t waste a thing. A THING.

So, yes, much like the earth itself, I was reborn in the spring. Since that day in early April 2004, it’s been a series of one step forward and two-steps back; a cha-cha dance of sorts with a Creator who is patient with me and who never stops pursuing my rebel heart. He is replacing the dead branches of religion with new growth rooted in love. Each spring, I’m reminded in such a beautiful way He is still doing something new.

Does what’s happening in the earth in a specific season connect with you in a personal, meaningful way? I would love to hear your story. Leave me a comment below.