Tag Archives: love

Two hands on sunsut.

Giving & Receiving Love: The Path Towards Healing

The following post is part of the Year of Healing I’m doing on my blog, where I will explore monthly themes on different aspects of healing. February is the topic of Relational Healing. Please click here for more info.

Last week we talked about relational wounds and trauma. So maybe you’ve realized that there are unhealthy patterns in your own life or that you’ve been wounded in relationships. So now what?

Healing comes from three things:

1) It’s admitting that those painful things happened to you, realizing the roots of those lies and unhealthy patterns in your life. It’s facing the pain and honestly realizing how those things affected you. This can sometimes be the hardest battle, because we don’t want to honestly have to face pain.

2) Realizing that you are worthy of something different and that you can give something different to the people around you. You are loved, you are valuable, and better things can happen to you in your future. And these better things can be given to those around you. This again, can be HARD. If you don’t believe you are loved (because of wounds from the past), one of the hardest mentalities to change is that you are loved.

3) Then it’s starting to set healthy boundaries and learning to truly take care of yourself so that you begin to make NEW, healthier patterns in your life.

We covered step one in the previous article by giving you some practical questions to think through on relational wounds and trauma.

So what about step two? Learning how to give and receive love? What about accepting love inside one’s heart?

These are much bigger hurdles, and they are something that could be talked about for blog post after blog post. But here are some thoughts on learning to give and accept love (a blog on boundaries will come next week)…

On Giving & Accepting Real Love

Seek & Ask for Love  

I really think at the end of the day, I started this blog to help myself face my own wounds and learn how to love myself and to accept love–both from God and from others. I started this blog after my senior year at college when I truly began realizing how deeply I hated myself. Yep. I’d begun to realize all the wounds festering in my heart, all the lies I believed about myself, and how much I truly despised myself. And I knew  in my head somehow that God loved me, that I was worthy of love, that I was a unique and valuable individual. But I didn’t know how to truly jump that hurdle towards accepting love in the deepest parts of my heart.

So I asked God to show me the way. I pleaded with God and simply said, “I know I need to learn about Love. Show me! I will commit to this journey no matter what. I want to learn how to Love, and I will never give up until I find Love.”

So I started writing this blog–which was, at the time, the only way I knew how to cope. (I also started going to counseling, which was huge in my journey. And it’s a step anyone should take who may want to think through these things and grow.)

I wrote through my own pain for three long years. I wrote a lot about love on this blog–probably because I needed to convince myself that I could be loved. It wasn’t until 2014 that I started truly accepting love into my life. In fact, it was in Thailand on a media trip that I somehow breached that hurdle. I somehow accepted that I was loved, that God–this higher, greater Source–loved me. I tapped into some kind of supernatural love. You can read about some of that experience here, which is what I wrote after coming back from Thailand.

I can honestly say I’m still on the journey towards love, but I have come so far. All because I truly began seeking Love.

A friend of mine who has had deep relational wounds puts it this way:

All Love comes from God. You can’t transmit what you haven’t got. If you have a healthy sense of love, it’s because it was shown to you. If you don’t, it’s because it wasn’t shown to you. If you think it comes from you at all, you’re saying your love is confined by your own five senses – by your own finite limitations. That’s like tossing an anchor on a boat and then trying to win a race. It won’t work. You can’t limit love to what you know or are capable of. Doing so is guaranteeing you’ll never progress; you’re crippling love to what you are and are capable of. Letting something or someone greater than you transmit something greater than you into you is what makes you better.

That’s how all learning is. You have to be open to something you don’t yet know, and willing to change (think/work/exercise/pray/read/whatever) to accommodate that.

All people are always changing. What you are changing into depends on what you are receiving. So choose the greater things.
[Anonymous]

I think that most of us can agree that love is some kind of transcendent, beautiful power. No matter what you believe, human beings all over the world have been celebrating Love that is unexplainable for centuries. Whether you believe in God or not, real Love seems to come from some greater Source. There is something beyond us propelling Love.

So why not ask God–or the Universe, or whatever you feel comfortable calling it at this point–to help you learn to give and receive love?

Maybe God is too abstract for you. And while I do believe God is the Source of Love, I also believe God has given so many beautiful examples of love to the world through people. Start researching the beautiful people who have truly moved this world in positive ways. Jesus was a beautiful example of love, and there are so many examples of others across cultures of great people who exemplified love.

Or if you can think of personal examples of love, start there. Think back to the best, kindest, most giving people in your life. Commit to start learning what it means to give and receive even a fracture of that kind of love in your own life.

Start on the Journey in Some Kind of Tangible Way

Like I said before, I knew I needed to learn how to give and receive love. I knew I needed to heal. So what did I do? I started doing things about it. I went to counseling. I began writing this blog. And I also did a whole bunch of other things to explore my own heart, my body, my self.

  • For example, I started dancing, which I’ve written about here. I knew that because of past wounds, part of me hated my own body. So I decided to take up dance classes to explore my own body. Was I an amazing dancer? Heck no! But I did learn to start embracing this body I was in, to start inhabiting it, to begin loving it in tangible ways. Yoga has now become a huge part of my own journey towards love and acceptance in this physical expression of my humanity.
  • I started reading amazing books on healing and love. There are probably so many amazing books, but Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, and Dr. John Townsend are three of my favorite authors on the subject of healing and love.
  • I volunteered at nonprofits here in Colorado that helped victims of human trafficking and learned how to do horse therapy. I explored art therapy and yoga and lead retreats on how those things help you heal. I gave of myself and tried to carry the pain of others in tangible ways, too.
  • Last year, I started cooking really good, healthy meals for myself. This used to be something I thought was ridiculous. I certainly wasn’t worth cooking for! But I began realizing that good food was an amazing way to help me learn that self care was important.

The main point here? There is an important element of giving love as you’re learning to receive it. Giving love to yourself (even if you don’t necessarily feel it) and giving love to others (even if you don’t necessarily feel it). It’s a give-and-take, a dance between the two. 

And be okay with failure. If you’ve been wounded in relational aspects, chances are that you will make a lot of mistakes. You will probably push people away, you will sometimes react in fear, and you will not be loving sometimes. You will not be perfect in this quest. And that’s okay. Just keep picking yourself up every day and ask yourself, “Have I progressed on this journey of love and healing?” If the answer is yes, then that’s what matters.

I love this thought from another friend on the healing path.

Chose the next best thing. Depressed? Suicidal? Hate God, the world, and yourself? Well, right now you need to eat a snack (Snickers!), or have a meal, or go for a walk. Let the future worry about itself. Right this second, do the next best thing–an email, a phone call, a suicide hotline, a business meeting, whatever. The next best thing. Once you are stagnant and apathetic, it’s very difficult to generate momentum. So keep moving–no matter how slow or insignificant.

[Anonymous]

I love this thought from another friend on the healing path. Choose the next best thing for yourself. Keeping yourself moving, no matter what. Don’t get stuck. Don’t get stagnant.

It’s actually kind of exciting, if you think about it.

Why do I say all this? Because it’s no easy formula. Every single person is different. Maybe your journey will be learning how to garden, or volunteering at a nonprofit, or painting out your story without words, or moving overseas and embracing adventure.

The journey has to be about your journey. The important thing is to truly, honestly admit that you are wanting to find healing, to find love. Just simply admitting and asking God to take you on the journey–and then starting the journey through counseling and other tangible ways–is the first HUGE step.

The point is: What are ways you can start experientially exploring Love?

This is the question you will ask yourself and continue to ask yourself as we explore so many different concepts over the course of this Year of Healing.

 

Two hands on sunsut.

Digging Deeper into Relational Wounds & Trauma

The following post is part of the Year of Healing I’m doing on my blog, where I will explore monthly themes on different aspects of healing. February is the topic of Relational Healing. Please click here for more info.

Last week as we began our journey of Relational Healing in the month of February, I talked about how healing begins and ends with what we think about love.

So where do our concepts of love come from? As human beings, we are relationally wired to connect with each other. Relationships form the foundation of how we experience the world. As children, we grow up with parents, we have friends, and we fall in love with people who will shape our ideas and concepts of what love truly is.

A friend of mine who is a counselor has this to say:

“One of the things that as a professional I remember most from trainings is that humanity is relational.We can not be separated from the people who are around us. I would say that so far in my practice counseling others, this concept has only been strengthened…

People from all walks of life always come back to how they are effected by those around them, both positively and negatively…The fact that relationships are central also makes relationship wounds very deep, and often effect multiple areas of life. The more central the relationship to the person, the more effect.”
[Johnmark Mangiameli]

Humanity is relational

This can be fine when everything goes smoothly. If you grew up with loving parents and a more or less safe childhood, then maybe love was modeled in a positive, life-giving manner. Maybe you didn’t, though. Maybe your family and upbringing was fraught with dysfunction.

“My father never hit me, but he was emotionally and psychologically manipulative,” shares a friend of mine about his abusive upbringing. “All through my elementary school years, I prayed for God to make my dad hit me so people would finally have a reason to see him in a bad light, and, just maybe, I’d finally be able to get away from him…

“There was no sense of privacy or personal space. Many times growing up, I found my dad going through my trash, picking through my backpack and schoolwork, reading my diary, and (later, when we had a computer), poking through my files and installing spyware to see everything we were doing. It didn’t matter if I had a bad day and wanted to be alone; when he wanted something from me my feelings didn’t matter. When he wanted to go through my personal items–my pockets of my clothes, the compartments in my backpack, the drawers in my bedroom–when he wanted to go through it, he went through it.

“I was afraid of his anger, so to avoid provoking him by saying or doing something he didn’t want, I tried not to write down my feelings, thoughts, or prayers. I learned to bottle up everything I thought and felt, making my only release the tears I shed as I fell asleep. I also learned to hide. To change where I put things, how I wrote or said things, how I reacted when he was around. My brother learned to simply not care; I learned to evade. “
[Anonymous]

Maybe your parents seemed okay, but you developed a strong attraction to abusive men or women in your life, which shaped your early perceptions of romantic love.

For me personally, I know the the first time I truly fell in love was with a very manipulative, destructive guy—that experience framed the way I’d interpret love for years and years since then. Because he mistreated me and used me emotionally (but wouldn’t commit to me in any real way), I have struggled to be able to ever feel like I am valued and worthy of being truly committed to. I have had countless guys use me emotionally, then throw me aside and never commit. This perpetuates the wounds I feel. So that deepest wound when I was 18 has led to countless other wounds over and over again. This is a pattern I still recognize and notice today, something I’m still trying to fight in my own life.

Relational Trauma & Generational Wounds

Another thing others may not realize is that even if one’s parents were functional, it has been scientifically proven that trauma gets passed down in the DNA of descendants. So intensely damaging things that may have happened to your ancestors actually has a direct impact on how you process the world. For example, even if your parents were decent human beings, if one of your immediate ancestors had trauma, then you will inherit the trauma that is associated with that ancestor. If whole people groups (like Jews in the Holocaust) suffered extreme persecution, that same trauma will affect their children and grandchildren’s own DNA.

In my own personal life, while my parents tried very hard to live decent lives, I come from grandparents on one side that were alcoholics and addicts. I have seen the unhealthy, abusive patterns that are reflected in my extended family play out in my own life as I’ve gravitated towards unhealthy men. (In fact, I’d argue that my own form of “addiction” has been towards men. Addictive patterns are very prominent in my family tree, and while I was always the good Christian girl that never did drugs or drank excessively, my addictive DNA from my generational history manifested in other ways).

And what is trauma, by the way? Some people get scared of that word, so here is a definition:

“My dictionary defines trauma as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Defined like that the events which can be considered traumatic are wide ranging indeed—from what might be considered the stuff of ordinary life such as divorce, illness, accidents and bereavement to extreme experiences of war, torture, rape and genocide.” ~Psychology Today

Chances are, you’ve had a traumatic experience at some point in your life. For example, I know that many people come to my blog because of death and grief, which can be very traumatic experiences. Each person is affected by things differently. What may not seem traumatic to some could actually deeply affect another person. Everyone is an individual.

Hiding and Running from Relational Wounds

Whatever the cause, those hard and painful experiences can leave us in a numbing or “freeze” state when we shut down in a certain area and continue to hide ourselves or repeat the wound in unintentional ways over and over again until we face that trauma and begin resolving it.

Dr. John Townsend in his book Hiding From Love (which I highly recommend) writes that once people have been through something traumatic or experienced unsafe relationships, they begin to hide those broken, unloved areas:

“All of us to some extent live two lives: an external life, in which we learn to express the feelings, attitudes, and behaviors that are ‘safe’ to express; and an internal life, in which we closed away our ‘unsafe’ traits, which exist isolated and undeveloped. Our tendency is to keep the ‘unloved’ parts of ourselves forever under wraps, with the hope that in time, they will go away and not cause more pain.”
[Dr. John Townsend]

Hiding can look like all sorts of things. Addictions like alcohol, drugs, etc. Or simply emotional numbness and unavailability towards the people you love. Not being able to commit to anyone romantically or sexual promiscuity can be forms of hiding, as well as perfectionism and having to have everything in order all of the time. Workaholics or being over-the top achievers can often be a way to compensate for deep past wounds. Even spirituality can be a way to run and not face reality (we’ll be talking more in depth on this topic in April during my Spiritual Healing month). There are as many ways to cope and hide from pain as there are humans, because again—we are all individuals who will deal with things in our own way.

The point is, we are all running, running, running from whatever it is that deeply wounded us. And running doesn’t help.

Trauma gets stored inside our bodies. Once something painful occurs, our emotional right side of the brain reacts first, but our rational left side of the brain immediately steps forward and says, “That wasn’t a big deal,” or can easily try to wipe it all away, rationalize it, and move on. But trauma lives in the emotional side our brains and gets trapped inside us if not dealt with, leaving emotional scars inside us that manifest in a number of physical and mental symptoms.

As my counselor friend says,

“Internalized pain also often effects health, and someone’s physical health symptoms are so intimately connected to relationships.…A whole paper could be written on the effect of negative relationships on the mind. Some general examples of effects on the mind range from: anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, mood swings, negative views of self worth, negative views of the world, hopelessness. Mentally, the type of relationship, how close the relationship was to the person, what type of relational trauma happened all depend on the level of effect on a person.”
[Johnmark Mangiameli]

Does any of this sound like you? Any of this vaguely ringing a bell or making you uncomfortable? If it sounds a bit overwhelming, it can be. But the good news is that relational trauma can be released and overcome in your own lifetime, as long as you are truly facing the past and healing.

Dig Deeper:

1. I’d like you to is take 30-45 minutes of time and go back to your childhood, your teenage years, and your adulthood.

Think about the most pivotal relationships in your past. How did they shape you? What did they tell you about love? What were the messages that you internalized? Do you notice any dysfunctional patterns that continue on to this day?

Grandparents:

Parents:

Siblings:

Extended Relatives:

Friendships:

Romantic Relationships:

2. Now think about yourself.

What do you believe about yourself because of relational wounds?

What were the lies you believed about love because of how others treated you?

If you could define “love” from negative experiences in the past, what would “love” look like? Have you seen those negative beliefs play out in your own life?

What are dysfunctional ways you’ve tried to hide from revealing the broken places in your life?

What are unhealthy coping mechanisms you’ve used to run from pain?

And what are you wanting to do differently moving forward?

If love could be redefined for you, what words would you like to use?

After thinking through these things, now may be a good time to do my mediation on God’s love. Stay rooted in God’s love for you no matter what kind of pains you have endured. Healing is possible. Hope is possible. YOU ARE LOVED.

Two hands on sunsut.

God’s Love: A Contemplative Prayer Meditation for Relational Healing

Meditation-

As I said in my previous post, your healing begins and ends with love. The things you believe about it will either hinder or help your healing. And at the core of love is GOD. For God is love.

Ponder these verses and quotes…

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
[1 John 4:8 ESV]

Even Kings and emperors with heaps of wealth and vast dominion cannot compare with an ant filled with the love of God.
[Guru Nanak]

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
[1 John 4:7 ESV]

But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.
[Thomas Merton]

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
[Colossians 3:14-15 ESV]

Riches take wings, comforts vanish, hope withers away,but love stays with us. Love is God.
[Lew Wallace]

I experience religious dread whenever I find myself thinking that I know the limits of God’s grace, since I am utterly certain it exceeds any imagination a human being might have of it. God does, after all, so love the world.
[Marilynne Robinson]

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.
[Brennan Manning]

The God of the Universe loves you with an unending love. No matter what you’ve been through or what you’ve done, no matter what others have done to you, I want you to remember this truth:

You are LOVED.

Does this shock you? Surprise you? If you were honest with yourself,  do you even believe in love? I’d encourage you to begin exploring this concept of love. The concept that the universe begins and ends in love–and you CAN tap into that love and begin to live in it–is crucial to healing.

When we begin to dwell in love–in the Source of Love, which is God–that’s when we begin to heal. This is the foundation for healing.

As pain comes up, as you face yourself, as wounds from others surface–you must go back to the truth that you are LOVED. God is love. And God’s love is enough to get you through whatever life has thrown your way.

So how can you start living in this truth of God’s love? One of the most amazing ways to begin exploring truth and letting it sink into your soul is through meditation. I dare you to try the following contemplative prayer meditation. Do it several times a week in February. Do it every day. (In fact, it’s recommended that you dwell and meditate on a truth for 30-40 days for it to truly sink into your soul.)

Contemplative Prayer Meditation on the Love of God

In this meditation, we will focus on the phrases below:

God is love.
I am loved. 
God loves me. 

After you do this meditation, please think through the following questions. Write about the things you observed during the meditation. Observe the thoughts or memories or pains that surfaced in your heart. Jot down answers to these…

Do you believe that God is love?

Do you believe you are loved by God?
Do you believe that you are valuable?

Do you believe that you are worthy of love?

Why or why not?
(This question is crucial. Spend some time here. We will be exploring this more in depth in later weeks).

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
[1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV]

Thank you for reading! If you have any questions along the way, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Photo © Masson from Adobe Stock

Two hands on sunsut.

February: An Introduction to the Relational Healing Month (& The Year-Long Series)

February is the month of love. Valentine’s Day shines forth as the one time of year that love gets celebrated through cards and candy. (I don’t buy it.)

Just to be clear, this month on the blog is NOT just about romantic love. It’s about the love of all different types of relationships (parents, friends, dating, marriage) and how that plays out in real life. It’s about the past pain we might’ve experienced in love and how to learn to recognize patterns, let go, and heal.

Many of us grew up with a twisted concept of love. Maybe it was a father figure who wasn’t around. Maybe it was an abusive boyfriend or marriage. Maybe it was friends who lied and betrayed trust over the years.

No matter what your background, we all have scars from the past. We’ve all had love tainted. Because it’s easy to use the word “love,” but it’s much, much harder to live it out in every day life.

You see, I’m convinced that healing begins and ends with love and our understanding of it. If we don’t have a solid foundation of what love looks like, we will never function properly. We will continue cycles of dysfunction passed down from generation to generation. Relational healing depends on our healing in our concepts of love.

A Year of Healing

So at the end of the day, it’s all about love. Loving oneself, loving others, loving the world.

That’s what I hope this Year of Healing become for you: a gradual awakening to love. Because all healing comes from love, and love helps us heal.

So here are some preliminary thoughts as we get going on this series on Relational Healing:

  1. I am not here to be the expert. I am not here to give you all the answers. I am simply someone on the same journey who is sharing insights along the way. And believe me–I have a long way to go myself in the healing journey, which is part of the reason I want to explore these things. The answer I come to may be different for you. I respect that. The important thing is that I want you to start asking questions and thinking through things for yourself.
  2. Others will be sharing their own journeys on here, too. I’ve had some amazing people offer to share their insights and stories. I’m excited about this, because I want to glean input from a lot of different people who have embarked on the healing journey. They may come to different conclusions than you do, or that even I do, and that’s okay. Again, it’s all about discussion and having you start thinking through things for yourself.
  3. I believe in God and will be framing my series around this. Even if you don’t believe in God, I hope that you can still find usefulness in the thoughts and tools presented here. No matter your spiritual background, I invite you to be open-minded. Part of healing is trying new things and going new places in the mind and soul in order to release old things that aren’t useful to us.
  4. This is going to be fun, so keep smiling! I’ll be making videos, podcasts, and blog posts over the course of this series that will be meditations/contemplative prayers, yoga practices, interviews with guests, art therapy projects, etc. So embrace it all and have fun with it. You don’t have to be yogi to enjoy some movement. You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy a little creativity. You don’t have to be someone who regularly meditates to try it out.
  5. You can’t do it alone. I’d encourage you to invite a spouse or friend to go along this journey with you. If difficult things arise for you, please go to counseling with a licensed therapist. All the prayer/meditation/journaling/art in the world can help, but there are times we truly need outside input and professional advice. If you feel that is necessary, seek that out. Do not be ashamed.

So strap on your boots. Healing takes courage. Healing is not easy. But it’s the most important work you can do for yourself and for the world.

We’re going to start with a contemplative prayer/meditation on God’s Love that will help you begin the ground work for all you will later do for February and in the coming months. This will be posted in a separate post today.

Photo © Masson from Adobe Stock

Heart shaped christmas tree ball with chain of lights

Love (A Poem About the Fight for Love this Christmas)

My dear friends, thank you for continuing to read this blog. I really do want to thank you. I hope that the holidays are going well so far for you. I know that for me, new grief has been brought up in some hard ways this holiday season. I know for many of us, the holidays can be a hard time, because grief comes up in greater ways. Love can be so painful once love has been crushed or lost. It is hard to feel hope.

For the past few months, I’ve been working on this poem. I wanted to share it with you during this holiday season. Maybe it needs to be read by someone.

You see, I don’t know what any of you think about Jesus. And that’s okay. But when I study his teachings, I just can’t help but see how full of this passionate love Jesus was.  A Love for people that was not constrained by religion or legalism, gender or race. And I know a lot of people seem to forget that Christmas is, in the deepest of ways, a celebration of Love. What Love can do to change the world in life-giving, beautiful ways.

Maybe in a world torn asunder by hatred and politics and demonization and corruption, we need to remember that Love can still change us all.

Never give up on Love, no matter what.

Love

Growing up,
we were taught that love was easy,
A simple formula
Like 2+2 = 4.
Love was just something you did
And people loved–
well, quite easily!
Love was a four letter word
(one of the good kind)
Right up there with other short-yet-profound words
–like hope, faith, joy–
Words that got thrown around Sunday School
haphazardly on felt boards
Or on the flashing lyrics screen…

But the plant of my soul
began to grow,
On rocky soil dried out by misuse
and oversimplification,
And it took a long, long time
before I realized that many play
a game called “Love,”
Because “love” is such an easy concept to throw around
Someone’s neck like a lasso,
Dragging them down
into nothingness.
And this idea of “love”–
What you believe about it
& learn about it–
Actually determines the rest of your life
Because there are so many words
That mask themselves as “love”:

Abuse,
Self-Hatred,
Control,
Hitting,
Hard Words,
Manipulation,
Self-Righteousness,
Demonization,
Lies…

A person can “love”
and treat you like shit
as long as the word they use is “love,”
Because whatever someone says
negates anything they actually do.
And at some point,
One begins to wonder if “love” is even a real word
Because one grew up believing in “love”
(that little 2 +2 = 4 formula)
And now…well, it’s hard to find.

Because what is “love”?
Where the fuck is it?
That’s what I want to know.
Because love isn’t all about fucking.
And it isn’t nice notes,
And it isn’t pretty words,
And it isn’t grand promises,
And it certainly isn’t lies
or lust
or manipulation
or yelling
or power plays
or self-righteousness.

I’ve been searching and searching
For this thing called Love,

So where is it?

I began to finally find it
when I looked within–
To the secret place,
the garden space,
Where God walks in the silence
And we must listen harder than we ever thought possible
To the winds of Spirit.

Love has to be found within oneself before
It can ever be loved outside–
That how we treat ourselves
And take care of ourselves–
How we fight for healing and truth and authenticity
inside ourselves
determines how we will love others.

Love starts from within,
And the roots have to go deep,
Deep, deep down into one’s very soul
Or the world will tear it all away.

Love is a blood-and-sweat fight
not a walk in the park.

Love is climbing Mount Everest
to find the treasure buried within another human being.

Love is sometimes staying and sticking it out.
Love is sometimes leaving and letting go.

Love is forgiving, but not necessarily trusting.

But sometimes Love is letting one’s barriers down
And sharing the deepest wounds of one’s past.

Love is vulnerability to someone safe.
And Love is becoming safe through vulnerability.

Love is standing up for others who aren’t being loved.
Love is putting oneself on the line for others even when society mocks.

Love is letting someone weep without condemnation.
Love is letting someone dance without judgment.

Love is helping someone embrace their passions,
But Love is not about letting our passions consume us.

Love is listening hard to another’s history,
and vowing to change the way things have always been.

Love is respect, and respect is love,
for there is no separation of the two in true relationship.

Love is not candy, V-Days, and fancy dinners.
Love is seeing a person and truly wanting the best for them.

Love is not about putting someone in a cage,
But letting them fly freely, their soul on fire.

Love is new places and experiences,
and Love is the little things that become romance and adventure.

Love is warring for someone else’s spirit,
Never letting them wilt and shrivel.

Love is sometimes 3 simple words: “I am sorry,”
and then really being sorry.

Love is not losing one’s self in another,
But becoming oneself in deeper ways because of another.

Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love does not seek its own.
Love is not envious,
Or controlling,
Or dominant.

Love is stronger than Death.

Love is God
And God is Love.

And even while the earth crumbles
And wars wage
And people hate,

Love
never
never
fails.

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When Your Heart is Breaking: 4 Years of Grief–Old & New

Four years ago, I woke up to frantic texts from my sister that something really bad had happened. Four years ago, I received one of those phone calls you always dread. On November 2nd, 2012, I found out that my dear Kindred Spirit was dead, mysteriously dying on October 30th, 2012. Not only was she dead, but she had died inside an abusive relationship and a cult, which shattered my entire perception of reality and left me wrestling with grief, faith, God, abuse, and so much more ever since.

Four years later, October is always a hard month as old grief and trauma resurface.

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After Bethany died, I experienced the deepest darkness I have ever known. I would call it the night of the soul. Sometimes, it’s strange to look back on that time of my life and wonder how I ever survived. I was suicidal in many ways. I didn’t want to live or love again. Everything shut down in my heart in profound ways.

My heart was broken, and I wondered if I could ever recover.

***

A year after Bethany died, my roommates at the time surprised me with a Christmas present: a cat. They drove me to the animal shelter, and I picked her out. When I first saw Eilonwy, (her animal shelter name was “Christy,” which didn’t fit her at all), I knew she was the one. I was scared to commit to a pet. I was scared to love and open my heart. But looking at Eilonwy, I knew I had to love her. I fell into Love, and this small little creature touched my hardened heart.

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Eilonwy was with me through the second year of grief over Bethany that I wrote about on my blog. As I struggled through intense anger and grief and despair, she sat by my side. She’d curl up on my lap every day and remind me that life could be beautiful, too. That love was worth it. Her steadfast love over the past few years taught me that opening one’s heart to something is always worth it. My heart was mended in some way through our friendship. (And we did have a true friendship. It was uncanny how we could communicate without words. Anyone who has had a deep connection with an animal knows what I’m talking about.)

Over a week ago, Eilonwy went missing.

She slipped out of the house one evening while I was out of town at a wedding, and I haven’t seen her since. I’ve looked and looked and looked. I’ve handed out fliers and put letters in mailboxes and posted all over social media and talked to neighbors. Still no sign.

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My heart is broken all over again.

As I grieved Bethany in October, it began to hit me that I have to grieve this animal now, too. I had to grieve the living thing who taught me how to love after Beth’s death and who shone light into my darkened heart. Maybe Eilonwy is gone forever, missing the very same month my dear Beth died 4 years ago.

***

I’ll admit that 2016 has been a very rough year. I haven’t blogged at all about it, really. But I have faced death again of people I dearly loved, I have grieved deeply again. My health problems continue to cause issues, and I’ve been in multiple unhealthy, abusive situations this year that have drained me of vitality.

And now October. Now this. The one living creature who stuck by my side through everything, who was been a constant, daily source of comfort and joy, who I turned to for such emotional support…she’s gone. I didn’t realized how deeply I leaned on this small, seemingly insignificant creature until she’s now disappeared. Now her little animal absence clouds my entire heart, our entire home.

Life matters. Even the smallest life.

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Sometimes, I just wonder if the world is playing is some cruel trick on us all. If the universe just laughs up there while we try to cope with one awful thing after another. I want to again cave into cynicism and despair and anger and darkness—just as I did 4 years again when my Kindred Spirit died. I want to believe that the world is only horrible, because it would justify me being only horrible and giving up and treating others however I damn well please.

That is, after all, how many live their lives. They become disillusioned and just give up, and Hate enters, slowly and subtlety destroying their hearts and the lives of countless others in their wake.

***

But then there’s Love.

I can’t deny that what Eilonwy and I had was Love. Maybe to some of you this sounds silly. To anyone who has shared a bond with an animal, you know. This pure, unconditional Love between two different species that breaks all boundaries and reminds us that differences don’t have to separate us. That just because something is small and furry and can’t speak with human words doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have things to teach us and show us.

Maybe the bond that can form with an animal shows us that Love can transcend anything. That the Different still have profound meaning. They are still part of creation and worthy of respect and love. They may speak in different ways, but their words are just as loud.

Eilonwy loved me. There have been multiple times this year where I felt so tired, so sad, so alone—and she would always climb into my lap and purr and make sure I knew that no matter what was going on in the world, I was Loved. She was a gift. Our friendship was a gift. She was God’s handprint on my aching heart.

Eilonwy taught me to listen, to hear, to be part of relationship in a whole new way. Because true Love is about listening. It’s learning how to see something from a whole other perspective, to respect a living being, and to find ways to transcend the Different and make a beautiful bond.

Our world needs more of that. We need to be able to see the Different and to embrace it, love it, and learn from it. Instead of seeing ourselves as superior, we must see ourselves as constantly learning from the Different—human and animal alike. How are we ever to find peace if we can’t learn to listen and respect the Different?

And this comes from Love. You can’t deny that no matter how awful the world is, that Love shines through. That it is Love that gets us through. That the greatest stories of peace, redemption, and healing are about Love. Difference. Transcendence.

***

Since Bethany’s death, I have made the long, arduous trek towards Love. I’ve begun to realize that Love is the only reason to keep existing in this world. I’ve realized that the only way to fight the evil and darkness so prevalent in this world is through Love.

Love is a gift. Opening one’s heart is a gift–even when one’s heart is later broken because of it.

Loss will come. This is the inevitable way of life. Anything we love will be lost someday. But Love is more powerful than loss. Love transcends time and space and species and the world. After all, the Different isn’t so different when Love is there.

So when your heart is breaking, please remember this:

Love is worth it. Again and again. No matter what.

Love never fails.

Beth

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A Declaration On Love (Thoughts + a Poem on Love)

Last fall, I was in a relationship briefly, and the guy walked away after a few months. And it hurt. It hurt again (as it always does), because I cared a lot, and it was hard to realize he cared so little.

It was a blessing in disguise. The relationship was not headed in the best direction… And I’ve struggled with unhealthy relationships in the past. Men who didn’t cherish me or care that much at all. It’s a cycle I’ve repeated all so often in my past, but luckily this time I noticed it and was much more willing to let go and trust the process.

Still, it was a wake up call for me. I went back to counseling, and I’ve been sorting through some things since then.

The week after we broke up, I wrote this poem.

To See Me

I want someone to see me

No, not the outward me
Not the one the whole world sees
Not the me with an image and reputation
Not the me with a career and acclamation

I want someone to see me
Really see me

Eye-to-eye and
flesh-and-bone
connecting through the inner heart
reveling in the hidden part

all my goodness and my imperfections
glittering through my shining soul

what has been cracked through the wounds of life
renewed in the deep wellspring of love’s gaze

I want someone to see me
and not run away

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After that break up, I began to again wonder if love truly does exist, or if love is just a fantasy. For a brief time, I teetered on the edge of cynicism and bitterness (which has been my default setting for quite some time).

But I refused to cave into the hopelessness. I fought that urge like my life depended on it–because in many ways, it does.

One morning about a week or two after the break-up, I was praying and crying and pouring my heart out to God. And God reminded me how deeply I am loved, I am cherished. And that Love is the only answer. That a heart open and warm and alive is the only answer in this hard, cold world.

Even if that last boy didn’t love me, it doesn’t mean love isn’t out there.

I believe in love. And I refuse to cave into cynicism now, even when love still seems so far off.

I believe someone will see me someday, and that someone will want everything I have to offer.

Because true love is seeing someone’s soul and truly admiring them enough to invest in a life together.

True love is seeing a human being as irreplaceable, unique, special, and wanting to bear witness to that human being the rest of their lives.

True love sees someone with all their flaws and brokenness and wants to help them heal and become more whole and bright and alive.

True love walks alongside someone and supports them in their passions and pursuits.

That’s what love is. It isn’t superficial. It isn’t selfish. It’s true and deep and loyal and committed.

And you know why I know this? Because I have loved in this way, and I can see this love in my own heart. Yes, I’m flawed. Yes, I struggle. But love pours forth from me now, and I believe it can pour forth into another’s heart, too.

For anyone who knows my journey over the past few years, you should know that this truly is a miracle. That I believe in love again. After so much darkness, I believe in love.

I will find someone who loves in the same way OR I will be single the rest of my life.

Because let me be clear about something: 
I. Don’t. Need. A. Man.

I have love from so many people who dearly support me, pray for me, and uplift me. I have so many amazing friends who are truly fighting for my healing and who listen and care and want what’s best for me. I have friends and family that love me. And on top of all of that, God has this overwhelming love for me that is quite startling. It still takes my breath away sometimes.

No, I don’t need a man.

No one should need someone else to fulfill them. I’ve tried to do that and I know it’s useless. I’ve tried to put my identity in men, and I know where it leads. It leads to emptiness and depression and darkness. I’ve tried to quench my fire-filled heart just to be more placable for the tastes of selfish, cold-hearted people, and I’m done with it.

I will be my passionate, untamed, poetic self and I don’t care if men look at it and don’t know what to do with me.

I don’t need a man.

BUT what I AM saying is that I will wait for romantic love. If love is to be mine, it will be beautiful and honest and true, and if I never find it on this planet, I don’t care.

Because I know what love is, and I won’t settle for anything less.

I know what love is, and it courses through my veins.

I know what love is, and I would rather die alone than let someone sap and slow me down when I could be running, running, running along in the freedom and joy that is LOVE.

So until you see me–really see me–then don’t mess around with me. Sorry. It’s not what I’m looking for. I’m not looking for a game or a snack or a one-night-stand.

I’m looking for an ocean that is deep and adventurous and holy and wild and wonderful.

Because love should reflect God, and God’s love is like an ocean. And because I’ve swam in those waters, I won’t settle for the shallows any longer. I won’t let others quell and contain and misuse and abuse.

Do you understand? This is my declaration.

I’m not looking for love (I’ve already found it).

The love is inside me.

(And if someone who also has the love inside them finds me, then we will hold hands, face the world, and EMBRACE all the wonders together.)

 

 

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The Girl Who Is Loved: Honest Thoughts For Valentine’s Day

It’s February, which means that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. And this year, I just want to confess something:

I don’t know what it is to be loved.

Let me clarify something: I know what it is to love, and I have loved many times in my life. From the very first time I fell in love at age 17 to all the guys I’ve truly fallen for since then, I have loved. But I have NEVER had a romantic interest truly love me back. I’ve had romantic interests be attracted to me, kind of somewhat like me, and, of course, want to sleep with me. I have no lack of attention, and I could find dates (and have found them) left and right over the past nine months or so.

But I don’t want attention. I want love.

Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I wonder: Does love even exist, then? Am I fooling myself to think that I’d ever find someone who is truly invested in loving others and loving his significant other? Has our generation (the Millennials) lost the meaning of love? That deep, committed, self-sacrificial love that is supposed to be the essence of relationships? Am I asking too much? Am I too idealistic? Does my own personality just not fit into today’s world of hook-ups, one-night-stands, selfishness, sexual addiction, rape culture, and abuse that passes so often as love nowadays?

These are questions I ponder quite often, and I just don’t know the answers. My heart laments the fact that so many don’t understand love, and that I myself have wrestled so deeply with this issue in my own life. This I know for certain: I do know that what I’ve experienced in past relationships wasn’t love. I do know this. And I’m trying, trying, trying to figure out what love really means.

What does love mean? This is the cry of my heart.

What would it mean to be loved? What would it mean to be cherished, valued, respected? Where is love? Why have I searched so long and have never found it? Why are men who have no love inside them attracted to me? Why am I attracted to men who aren’t loving and fully there for people, themselves, and others?

I’m not being judgmental. It’s just the truth. The truth of what I’ve experienced. I’ve seen emotional and spiritual abuse. I’ve seen narcissism and selfishness. I’ve never been seen and valued inside a romantic relationship.

My heart is aching for love. I just want to be loved. I want to feel that people care about me. And I’m not just talking romantically. I want community. I want friendship. I want to be silly and laugh and feel closeness again.

***

Ever since I moved to Colorado, I’ve been in a very hard place. My best friend died inside an abusive cult environment. I completely shut down after that and didn’t want to make any deep friends again. The pain so was fierce, and I thought that loving anyone ever again wasn’t worth it. My heart shut down for several harsh, desolate years.

Then my health went downhill last year. I felt so awful and so drained and so tired. I could hardly do anything other than rest, and I hung out with very few people last year. From January-May I never left my house except for work and to sometimes go over to my old roommates’ home. Do you know how isolating that feels? Do you know how hard it is to feel like life has completely stopped, while everyone else around you is hiking and going on adventures and healthy and living life?

It was hard. I was so lonely last year, so I numbed the pain by watching lots of TV. I watched 30 Rock and Parks & Rec and all sorts of shows that showed groups of people who were having fun and who cared about each other. Why? Because I was alone and I just wanted to feel part of something, even if it was only through a TV screen.

Things began to look up last fall, but there is still part of me that just wants to leave Colorado Springs as soon as I can because it has been such a hard time of life for me here. I feel as if I’m just known as The Girl Whose Friend Died In A Cult…or The Girl Who Was Really Sick. Or, if I’m honest, The Girl Who Didn’t Give a Shit and Shut Everyone Out Because Her Heart Finally Died After Way Too Much Hurt.

For almost two years, I’ve been trying to relearn love. To redefine myself as The Girl Who Loves No Matter What. Slowly but surely, my life is changing. My heart is brimming with love where before there was only coldness.

I look at people and I love them. I see them. I am becoming a Girl Who Loves, and it is one of the most profound, beautiful experiences of my life. Maybe, having seen so much unlove in my life…and having stopped loving for a period myself… I now know that Love truly is the only way forward. That the alternative (which is hardness and anger and hatred and despair and cynicism) can’t be born.

The alternative is living death.

For to truly live to is love.

So see? I will not be a victim of my past circumstances. I will not let the Darkness take more than it already tried to take years ago and all the years since. I will not lament this desert season that has been Colorado Springs. I will thrive. I will turn this barrenness into something life-giving and flourishing. 

And no, I will not numb this ache inside to be loved, to be known, to be understood. Why? Because this ache drives me to God. It drives me to consider what I must change in my life in order to move forward. It drives me towards healing, towards wholeness. How deeply I want to be healed, to be whole, to be loved.

will find love. I will love. I will be loved. 

First, I will find love in God—who is the Source of Love and who has carried me every step of the way since the first shattering pain over 10 years ago. I will try my hardest to invest in friends who truly care. I will try to build up community and fun and adventure. And then, maybe someday, I will find romantic love with someone who truly values all sides of me, who respects me. And I will not run to counterfeits, because the more I learn about Real Love, the more I can spot falseness.

This isn’t the end. Just because I’ve made many mistakes, just because my life fell apart here in the Springs doesn’t mean my life has ended. I am picking myself up and I am growing and I am thriving. I will not let the suffering of life defeat me.

I will find the Beauty, the joy, the love.

I will be The Girl Who Loves.

A then, finally, The Girl Who Is Loved.

 

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Advent Poem #4: Love

This December, I’m going to write a poem and some thoughts for each week of Advent. Candles will be lit in countless churches across the world, and I will try to meditate in some small way on the themes of each week leading up to Christmas:

  • The 1st Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope.
  • The 2nd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Peace.
  • The 3rd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy.
  • The 4th Sunday of Advent symbolizes Love.

Advent Poem #4: Love

Do not call yourself a hopeless romantic
For to be romantic is to see the world
As it ought to be despite all the darkness

You wish deeper things for the world
You dream to see goodness fulfilled
And love to overcome

You are, in fact, a hopeful romantic:
Living with courageous Christlikeness
in a world gone mad

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Photography – Jessica & Ben – Engagement Portraits

 

Right before I left on my trip to the PNW (which has been amazing so far!), I did an engagement photography session for a couple here in Colorado: Ben and Jessica. They wanted something playful and fun, which fits their personalities well. We decided to do a paint fight. Despite it being a little rainy, we explored the beautiful Colorado countryside and had a ton of fun.

These are some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. (Okay, every time I take photos, I think they are my favorite). There were some very special moments during this couple’s shoot, and I truly am so happy I got to be involved in this portrait session.

Jessica and Ben, you rock! :)

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Photography by Teryn O’Brien Creative