Tag Archives: relationships

Two hands on sunsut.

Relational Healing: What Are Healthy Boundaries? + Toxic People & Boundaries

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.

As I talked about last week…

Relational Healing comes from three things:

1) Admitting that 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 past relational wounds 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) Setting healthy boundaries and learning to truly take care of yourself so that you begin to make NEW, healthier patterns in your life.

In the month of February, we’ve talked about relational wounds and trauma. We’ve talked about starting the journey towards giving and receiving love.

Now, we’ll talk about healthy boundaries.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

So what the heck is a boundary? In our society, I think it’s difficult to talk about boundaries simply because we hardly function with boundaries anymore. Think of cell phones and social media; the expectation is that someone can get ahold of you ANY time they want. A person is on demand all the time. There is no communication boundary anymore. This crosses into a lot of areas in our lives.

A healthy boundary simple means this: You as an individual value yourself enough to know what lines you will not cross. You do not allow others to cross those personal lines, because when you do, you know it will cause your personal suffering. 

Sound a but vague? Well, that’s intentional. Because boundaries mean different things for different people.

For example, if you personally need to go to sleep at 10pm or you start freaking out the next day, you will go to bed on time. That is boundary for you; staying up until 2am every night is a line you will not cross. And you will not allow others to determine that you stay up too late all the time, because you know you will suffer if you do.

It seems simple. But in relationships (parents, friendships, romantic), this can be HARD–especially if you are a people-pleaser. I know I’ve personally struggled a lot with being a people-pleaser and have been in many toxic relationships/friendships due to this. However, boundaries are probably the most important thing to learn in interpersonal relationships simply because so much damage can be done when boundaries are crossed by someone you love.

Night

I once read or heard someone say (and I cannot remember who or when or what, so if I’m plagiarizing, forgive me) that most real anger and pain inside someone are caused when personal boundaries have been violated by someone else. Interesting to think about isn’t it?

Here are a few boundaries to think about…

Types of Boundaries that Can be Violated

Emotional Boundaries
Does someone consistently use you for their emotional dumping, but rarely offers the same to you? Does someone expect you to be there for them when they need a shoulder to cry on, but never shows up for you? Or how about this idea, in the context of romantic relationship: Does someone use you for emotional support, but uses others for sexual or financial support? Is someone not in a relationship with you, but is constantly acting like they are and crossing emotional boundaries? You may need to reconsider what is healthy or unhealthy emotional sharing or attachment.

Sexual Boundaries
You are the owner of your own body, and you need to decide what is appropriate for you or not when it comes to sexuality. Did the last person you have sex with truly even care about you, and did it hurt when that person just walked away? Is someone you love so addicted to porn that it’s hindering the intimacy in your relationship? If you communicate sexual needs to someone and they simply and consistently dismiss your needs, do you feel unvalued? If so, a sexual boundary that means something important to you has been crossed. Think through what you truly are comfortable with and do not let others cross those boundaries, even if you love them.

Verbal Boundaries
A constant string of insults, sarcasm, or negative communication is not a healthy thing from anyone, and if you have people in your life that you feel are always tearing you down, then that may be a boundary you need to set. “You cannot speak to me that way anymore, or we may need to take a break from our friendship.” It sounds harsh, but in reality, words are one of the most powerful forces in the world. The way someone is wielding them towards you can either build you up or destroy you over time.

Time Boundaries
Do you feel overworked, overstressed, and completely busy? Chances are, you have no healthy boundaries set for your time. News flash: it’s okay to need time to yourself, time to rest, time to just chill out. If you don’t feel that way about your current life, you need to say no to people, events, or causes that are just too much. Set healthy boundaries, like, “I will turn off my phone at 8pm every night.” Or, “Wednesday evenings I will not go out; those are my nights in.” If someone you love is constantly setting up activities and you feel run-down, it may be time to talk about setting some time boundaries for personal rest and rejuvenation.

Health Boundaries
This one may seem weird to some, but because of my health issues, it’s something I’ve had to consider. But there are times that because of health, you must put restrictions of your lifestyle. For instance, you may have to restrict certain foods. Or because of health, you may be very sensitive towards certain events or circumstances (for example, due to the extreme fatigue I’ve been struggling with, I know that large parties or large crowds are something I really can’t do right now, so I do not typically accept invitations to large events). Standing up for yourself in these areas may seem selfish, but it isn’t. Maybe a serious lifestyle of exercise (in whatever from) is truly something vital to your physical and emotional wellbeing. If someone consistently scoffs at you for your choices, makes fun of you, tries to limit your healthy lifestyle because they are intimidated by it, or pushes you beyond what your are capable of without truly trying to understand or empathize–then they aren’t someone that values your health boundaries.

Generosity Boundaries
I’m a very giving person, so this one is especially hard. Yet while it is important to be generous and giving, what if you are giving all the time? Sometimes, givers tend to be sucked into relationships (be it friendships or romantic, etc) that are takers. People like to take, take, take, and you will give, give, give. If you feel emotionally exhausted by a current friendship or other relationship, you may need to set generosity boundaries. You need to realize that giving 100% of the time will leave you drained and unhappy 100% of the time. If people in your life demand and expect generosity (of resources, time, compassion, empathy, etc.) all of the time without offering the same to you, it may be time to step back and reevaluate.

Those are just some examples of boundaries, but hopefully this got you thinking. Maybe you are getting boundaries crossed, but maybe you are crossing someone else’s boundaries.

Toxic People Do Not Understand Healthy Boundaries

Before I close this blog post, I want to talk about boundaries and toxic people…

Saying “no” and setting boundaries can be hard, but if the other person truly values you, they will listen and try to understand where you’re coming from. Behavior will change if they are committed to a good, healthy relationship. If they don’t listen and repeatedly cross lines in a blatant manner, then they are toxic and abusive.

All abuse stems from disrespect for the boundaries and wellbeing of another human being. You should feel safe to communicate your boundaries to someone who loves you; if they don’t listen and continue to treat you in a manner that hurts or angers you, then they don’t truly care.

Toxic, abusive people swing in two directions:

1) They either have NO sense of boundaries whatsoever, or
2) they are obsessed with other people not crossing their boundaries while giving little heed to respecting others’ boundaries.

  1. Example of direction one: A friend who consistently stays up at your house until 4am, talks nonstop, and never thinks that you may need to get to bed (even after you may have hinted or downright told them that it is well past your own bedtime and you need sleep) is someone who has little understanding of boundaries and respecting another person’s needs. Or a person of the opposite gender who consistently flirts with you or shares emotional moments with you while being with someone else has no sense of healthy boundaries. These kind of people should be handled carefully, because there are usually toxic issues lurking below the surface. If you can communicate to them and they stop an issue, fine. But if they persist, you may need to distance yourself from them.
  2. Example of direction two: A person may have all sorts of rules of behavior for the way you are supposed to treat them. They will always stand up for themselves, always be the first to tell you that something upset them, always tell you exactly what they think (and expect you to think that way, too), always be setting rules, and will demand apologies but would never consider apologizing. In short, they will never regard someone else asking for mutual respect as okay, too. With these people, they are usually narcissistic people who love making other people follow their boundaries and rules, but could care less about anyone else. These people are toxic and abusive.

It’s important to note that toxic people may truly try to manipulate, charm, or convince you that your boundary is silly or ridiculous. If someone is consistently charming you or talking you out of real and valid concerns you have, again–they aren’t listening and truly don’t care.

This is hard to sometimes accept, but real love comes from the respect of boundaries and the real concern for the wellbeing of another. Period. End of story.

Think about the last time someone truly hurt you. What did they do? What kind of boundary did they cross?

Have YOU crossed someone else’s personal  boundaries recently? Might you need to reevaluate how you are treating others?

Do you know your own boundaries? Have you ever taken time to truly think through your own verbal, emotional, sexual, health, time, or generosity boundaries?

Are you very emotionally tired or drained right now? Could it be that you aren’t setting good boundaries in an area of your life? Are there toxic people sucking life from you? Or are you just too busy?

***Be sure to listen in to my podcast interview, which I will be putting up later today or Friday. In the interview, I talk with a woman who went through emotional abuse in a marriage, how she learned to start recognizing harmful patterns/violated boundaries, and how she started standing up for herself.***

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

Hello

2017 – A Year of Healing: A Year-Long Look into Healing & Health No Matter What

A Happy New Year to all my dear readers! I have an exciting announcement, so please read below…

As many of you know, 2016 was a very rough year for me. Due to relational challenges in a variety of capacities, health challenges, losing another person I loved, grief, financial stresses, work challenges, etc.—it was one crazy ride. The year ended with me having to detox my liver from Nov-Dec. Oh, and then a massive cold. Yay. I’m finally getting back up on my feet after more than two months of having to rest a lot. (I had about 5 hours of energy in me a day.) I’m finally feeling more normal now.

So while I was resting, I was thinking. Ever since 2015, I’ve been wrestling with what to do on my blog. I’m a professional freelance writer now, and I often feel this tension of: “Well, do I be as honest as I used to be on my blog, because more people are reading it? Or do I just write surface-level pieces? Or do I give up on personal blogging/writing in general?”

You see, at the core of who I am is a deeply honest person. I’ve always been so. And I started my blog way back in 2011 because I wanted to be honest. I wanted to authentically wrestle through my own brokenness and find healing—and through my own journey, help others find healing, too. But for me, the more popularity my blog has received, the more stressed I’ve come about—well, being honest. Plus, with all my health stuff that happened 2015-2016, I just didn’t have a ton of energy to invest anymore. I often felt like my writing didn’t matter anymore, that I should just give up.

I can honestly say that over the past 2 years (when my “normal” life literally apart), I’ve found a lot of healing. Yes, 2016 was one hell of a year, but 2016 was also the MAJOR turning point in my life. I’ll always looks back on it as such.

Every new year, I pick a theme word for the year. I give this word to God, and I ask God to teach me things about this word. 2016’s word was “Thrive.” Now, I laugh because in some ways, the entire year was one big, giant shit show. I’ve often wondered what in the world God was doing, because “THRIVE” was the last word I would’ve used to sum up 2016. However, because of the challenges I faced—because of the deep heartbreak, the new grief, the financial strain, the health issues—I learned so much. SO much. And because of the hardships, I learned new ways to stand up for myself, to love myself, to fight for health and healing in my life…because learning these things is the only way to THRIVE.

So I have a new word for 2017. It’s HEALING. And I want to do something exciting on this blog. I want to use the word HEALING as my theme for my content throughout 2017, because there are SO many aspects of healing I want to cover. So I’m actually creating a blog schedule with monthly themes I want to cover that will tackle various aspects of healing when you’ve been dealt awful cards (like loss, trauma, health issues, etc).

Because the truth is that life is hard. It just is. Yes, there’s a lot of beauty, but there’s a lot of sadness. And there are so many ways we as humans have to learn to healthily cope, to find healing, in the midst of the heartache. Because hope and joy is possible. I’ve learned that in my own life, and you can, too.

So what will this look like? I’m glad you asked. Every month, I will be writing posts, making videos or podcasts, and interviewing guests on a variety of healing-related topics. I’ll also be including guided prayer/meditations and basic yoga practices, as well as some art therapy projects. Basically, a whole lot of really cool stuff!

If you sign up for my Grief & Healing newsletter, I will always be providing exclusive monthly content where I will specifically tackle the health topic when it comes to grief. So that content will not be shared anywhere else except in my newsletter—so subscribe today if you haven’t!


2017: A Year of Healing

2017 Blog Schedule: A Year of Healing

February – Relational Health

Since Valentine’s Day is around the corner, I’m going to wrestle with the topic of relational issues. This could be romantic relationships, or friendships, or family, etc. But what does healing look like in the context of relationships? What are signs of relational abuse, and what does it mean to truly give and receive love in a healthy manner?

March – Mental Healing

Depression, suicide, despair…these are words we’re all kind of scared to talk about; mental health is still such a controversial topic—a topic still so full of shame. It doesn’t have to be, and there are so many ways to tackle this subject, especially when you’ve had really hard things happen in your life. I personally have dealt with depression and know firsthand the struggles one can face. We’re gonna think about practical ways to take care of our minds. Yeah, it’s a thing.

April – Spiritual Healing

Okay, this topic maybe sounds weird to some of you, but spiritual health is actually something that truly needs to be wrestled with. I had a friend die in a cult, so this is a particular subject I really want to include. So what does spiritual health look like? Because not every church, pastor, or spiritual group is a good thing…and we need to be wrestling through these issues if we want spiritual vitality.

May – Physical Healing

As someone who has struggled with Lyme Disease for 10 years now, I am passionate about physical health and what it means to love and take care of one’s body—even in the midst of hardship. In fact, physical symptoms in the body often point to other issues we’re having inside ourselves. What does it mean to fully embrace one’s body, to love it, and to take care of it? I can’t wait for this month.

June – Creative Healing

For all those creatives out there, I want to tackle what it means to be healthy with our creativity. This will be a foreign concept to many, but it’s something that is crucial for vibrant creativity. I also want to provide various ways that anyone (not just amazing artists) can use creativity as an outlet for healing. This will be a fun month.

July – Sexuality, Gender, & Healing

Yes, I’m going there—because there are SO many toxic messages out there about sexuality (from both religious circles and nonreligious circles), and I really want to talk through this issue (from a heterosexual woman’s perspective). I will also be personally discussing how women can learn to embrace their sexuality and not hate themselves. Yes–this, too, is a thing.

August – Emotional Healing

So what about these dang emotions? I’m a feeler, so I’ve always been comfortable with emotions, but I’ve come to realize that a lot of people have no idea how to access or tap into their true emotional center—which is crucial to mental, physical, and spiritual health. Unresolved and stifled emotions are seriously the worst, so take it from me—you want emotional health.

September – Health in Our Community, Our World

Once we get here, I hope that you’ll have realized that health is not just about an individual, but how we interact with others and treat our world. This is one of the last topics, because if you haven’t learned to truly think through yourself and how to find healing—how will you ever truly care about your community, the world? We will think through issues like social justice and the environment.

October – Conclusion: A Healed Heart

The heart is the center of our bodies, and it is where our life springs from in so many ways. I will end this series by talking about this crucial element to our beings, and how opening our hearts in an often cruel world is vital to both personal health and the health of the world. I will be helping you learn to release negative emotions and find freedom in this core emotional, spiritual, and physical center.

Nov-Dec: I will be taking a needed vacation from blogging/social media to ensure that I am in a healthy, restful place for the next year. :)

If anyone has specific questions, or if anyone feels like they might have something to share during any of these months, contact me! I will be curating content for this, and I really want to share other people’s input, too.

So yay! Thanks for reading, and I’m looking forward to 2017!

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ToSeeMe

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.)

 

 

variousthoughtsonlove

A Celebration of Heroic Love

It’s the week of Valentine’s Day. Barf.
(Okay, not really. But I’ve never been a fan of how people obsess over this overly-commercialized holiday.)

For the past few years around V-Day, I’ve been posting pieces about singleness and how amazing it is. Stick-it-to-all-those-sillies-who-make-such-a-big-deal-out-of-this-stupid-day type posts. Because I’m fine with being single. Okay? Okay??? Geez. (In fact, I’ve never been one to mope over being single–although I’ve definitely had my down days–but I’ve always tried to fully embrace the present and be content wherever life may have me.)

But I’m not going to write a celebratory post on singleness this time. Although if you want to read my posts on singleness, please do so here and here and here. Because they are really good posts. I’m quite proud of them, actually. ;)

Instead, I wanted to celebrate love. And not in the way you may think…

***

“A genuine falling in love . . . is a capitulation to the beautiful. Falling in love here does not refer to superficial infatuations or egocentric lust but rather to a selfless commitment made to a fascinating beloved. While this is seen in ideal and holy marriages, it is especially clear in the case of saints who are head over heels in love with the supreme Beloved, whose name is God. Saints see and are smitten. The heroic response is the only response. They know from experience that anything less than everything is simply not enough.” [Fr. Dubay]

Our culture worships the idea of love and romance and all the things it entails. And yet, I think it often focuses on the wrong things. We are obsessed with the idea of obsession and infatuation. To many, getting lost in another is love. You lose yourself in this black hole of another, and you forget all your other friends, and you don’t care about anyone else, and you are consumed…

Then, of course, there’s the sexual aspect of relationships. I don’t think I need to say a ton about how our culture obsesses over sex. The only thing anyone seems to care about anymore is if the other person is “hot” and will be good in bed.

And yet, healthy, good love is not losing oneself in another. Neither is it just sleeping around with the hottest person(s) you can find. Healthy love is when two people can come alongside each other while still maintaining their separate identities, respecting one another and striving to push each other onward in each of their callings.

Love is not about obsession. It’s about selfless clear-headedness in evaluating if certain actions will harm another or disrespect another.

Love is not about lust. It’s about controlling oneself so that one’s desires don’t make another into an object simply to use for one’s sexual gratification.

Love is SO MUCH MORE.

It’s seeing another person as a human being wrought in the image of God. It’s striving in words and deeds to help another person be all they can be–and not drag them down to be something they are not.

Love is standing in the gap for another when they need it the most. Love is holding someone as they cry and not being afraid of negative emotions. Love is celebrating in one’s triumphs even when they are not (or are better) than your own.

Love is messy. Love is hard. Love is heroic.

Love can be found in so many different kinds of relationships.

It’s found in parents who provide for their children, and in siblings who call each other every week to catch up on life, and in friendships where one can be real and vulnerable, and in strangers who pass each other on the street with a kind word…

Love can be found in every human interaction. In how you treat the store cashier and how you give to the needy and how you don’t shout at that annoying child and how you rescue a stray animal off the side of the road.

It’s everywhere, people. Everywhere. Not just in romantic relationship. Love should just be part of our existence in every interaction because every human we encounter deserves to be treated with love.

That’s what it’s like to get swept up in the Beloved. That’s what I think the quote I quoted above is about. If you get caught up in God, and you embrace Him as the ultimate Beloved, then it changes everything. When you embrace that love, you can live in love. It pours out of you. Every small little thing shouts of a Great and Infinite Love that is beyond anything we could’ve ever imagined.

It’s far deeper than a simple romantic attachment between two people.

You smell it in the wind and see it in a rainbow and hear it in a bird’s song.
You feel it in a brother’s protection and see it in a child’s smile and taste it in a mother’s cooking.

I love my God, and I love my world because I love my God.
I see the beauty of love everywhere.
I see that it’s a powerful force that can heal and transform each and every one of us.

So I guess all I’m trying to say is…

Don’t limit your celebration of love.
Don’t get so caught up in whether you have someone or not.
Don’t get so caught up in chocolates and cards and dinner dates.

Don’t miss out on Love.

The heroic love that puts people first no matter if you’re in a romantic relationship with them or not. The self-sacrificing love that is just there for people even when you’re not getting anything out of it in return.

That’s Love.

That’s what I’m celebrating this week.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
[1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV]

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
[John 13:34 NIV]

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On Love & Control in Relationships

One thing I have been thinking about a lot this past summer is love, relationships, and control.

I did a series in July on past relationships with guys, and how painful it’s been for me. How manipulated, controlled, and violated I felt many times as I desperately tried to gain a boy’s love. I didn’t know what love was, and so I let guys walk all over me. I’d change everything for a guy if I thought that’d make him stay. I was attracted to abuse, and I mistook it for love. I have never, ever once felt that a guy loved me. He only wanted to control me.

This month, Boze Herrington took over my blog and wrote about being in an oppressive cult environment where everything was becoming increasingly controlled. Where the concept of the love of God became twisted to control a whole group of people. Where God’s love was withdrawn when people did not follow the leader’s every command.

I think it’s really hit me this summer.

Love is not about control.

It’s not about making someone look, act, think, or feel exactly like you do.

It’s not about making someone cater to your every whim or fancy.

It’s not about manipulation or force –even when it’s masked as something “spiritual.”

Love is about seeing the person as a person, about encouraging them to be all they can be, and about helping them face their brokenness with courage.

Love is about walking alongside another and giving them all the resources they need to blossom into who God has made them to be.

An artist.

A scholar.

A writer.

An engineer.

A doctor.

A mother.

A husband.

It can mean so many different things to so many different people.

Yet unlove comes when we force people to conform to our version of what we think they should be. It’s when we say, “Everyone must be a missionary and preach on corners. That is the holiest way to follow God.” Or, “Everyone better be really outgoing. God hates quiet people.” Or, “I don’t like that you drink sometimes, you’re sinning.” Or, “If you really loved me, you’d sleep with me.” Or any other thing someone can say to control your behavior.

This is so unlike God it makes me angry just thinking about it.

God loves each and every person–each and every broken, flawed individual in this world. He calls to each one lovingly, tenderly: “Come back to me. I love you, no matter how messed up you might feel. No matter how broken. No matter how confused. I can handle your darkness, your questions, your pain. Come to me.”

And yet, here’s the tricky part. Because God loves, He does call us out of brokenness. He calls us to wholeness, to holiness. He does tell us thing we should and shouldn’t do. And this can be a hard, hard battle. But God loves us too much to let us stay in the mire of our darkness. He calls us higher, He calls us to freedom. And He walks alongside us no matter how many times we stumble.

It’s a choice. The choice to embrace love, the choice to heal, the choice to find freedom in God…

The beautiful thing about God is that He never, ever forced us to love Him. He gave us a choice. That’s the beauty of true Christianity. A God who gave humans the chance to choose to love. To have free will. To respond to His love.

And yes, God’s love can draw us toward Him. God’s Spirit can speak and direct us. But God never forces us. He brings circumstances into our lives that direct us. Yet we can choose to follow Him or not.

How hard is this for God? The all-powerful God of the universe lets us have free will. He lets us choose to love Him. He lets us choose to reject Him. He beckons to us all, He died to save us, but He will never make us love Him.

Love is not love if it’s forced.

I’ve been in love. I’ve loved deeply. And my love has been rejected. I know what it’s like to reel from the pain of rejection. But let’s be honest–if the person I loved had been forced to love me back, wouldn’t it have been empty? If I could’ve made him love me, wouldn’t it have been cheap love? False love?

Real love is a choice.

And God wants us to choose. To choose Him.

It’s a dance. He asks, and we must respond. His Spirit leads, but we must follow. It’s give-and-take. And it’s the most beautiful dance we could could ever embark on.

But it’s not about control.

singleness

Singleness and the Church – Guest Post on Convergent Books

I’m a guest blogger over at Convergent Books today! Today, I’m talking about the honorable state of singleness and the great history of singleness in the church. One of my favorite topics in the world. (No joke. It really is.)

Read it! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here’s an excerpt to pique interest…

singleness

Singleness and the Church

At church one time I was talking with some older ladies. Our conversation went something like this:

“So, are you married?”

“No.”

“Oh.” You could  hear the disappointment in their voices. As if there was nothing more to talk about now that they knew I wasn’t a mother or wife like them.

This has happened many times in a variety of settings. Married Christian woman act disappointed and dismissive once they find out I’m single. No matter what I talk about—be it my love of hiking, my work to protect girls from human trafficking, my endeavors in writing—it’s all met with an odd silence. With a disapproving show of disinterest.

Because I’m single, I am nothing. Or maybe, in their world, I’m broken and in need of fixing.

Read the rest here.

convergent

kiss

Boys, The Good & The Bad – Part III: The College Years

Here is Part III of my four part series on “Boys, The Good & The Bad.” You can read Part I and Part II here. This series is a look back on my life and my interactions with boys. My purpose for this series is to show both the pain and the encouragement that males can bring to females. It’s to explore the ugliness and beauty of relationships with the opposite gender. It’s a complicated issue, but so many us of struggle with our identity when it comes to the opposite gender. We have a profound impact on each others’ lives, for good or for ill.

kiss

***

Needless to say, I enter Bible college a broken mess.

For two years, I’d loved a boy who never loved me back. I poured my heart out trying to save a broken boy who drained me of all emotion and made me hate myself because he didn’t look at me once in the way I looked at him. I’m recovering from anorexic tendencies, still struggling intensely with self-hatred and depression, and I have so many questions as to why that whole boy mess happened in the fist place.

Now, I’m surrounded by boys. Some of them are interested, some of them flirt with me. I just cant. I can’t do it yet. I stare at myself in the mirror and think, “What do they see in me that I don’t?” I wonder if I’m pretty. I just don’t know. All I can see is a girl who wasn’t good enough for the boy she loved so deeply.

I’m lonely. I don’t want to date yet. I just want a friend. I pray to God one night, “I just want one guy friend who will simply be my friend all four years here at Bible college. Just one friend who won’t expect anything from me.”

A few days later, *Alex, who is in the same First Year Transitions group I’m in, walks up to me after class, shakes my hand, and tells me, “I’m Alex. I don’t like you or anything. But I want to be your friend.”

I’m blown away. I don’t like him either. Phew.

He sees me a few days later, and we sit at a soccer game cheering on our school’s team. He tells me if our team scores a point, he’ll give me an avocado. Our team scores 8 points. He has to ask another girl friend of ours where to get me an avocado. But he gets me one.

As the months pass, he asks me how I’m doing, and I hesitantly respond. But our friendship slowly grows. I know he’s safe. I know he doesn’t want anything from me. It takes a while, but he is a friend all four years of Bible college.

A friend God gives me in His great mercy.

A friend who simply cares.

***

My sophomore year in college, I date Boy Two. I actually start liking this guy my freshman year in college, and it carries over into sophomore year. I really think he’s awesome. He’s smart and likes theology and art. I am convinced God wants us to be together. I am so attracted to him (which is funny to think about now–he really wasn’t that amazing). I like his facial hair. And….and darn it. I just can’t get him out of my head.

Finally, in a burst of “stepping out in faith,” I Facebook message him my number. I know girls aren’t supposed to do that, right? We’re supposed to let a guy pursue us. Well, I failed.

About a month later, he finally calls (he’s been warming up to me before that). We hang out, we study.

He tells me we’re just friends.

Okay, fine, I think. I can do this again. It’s not like Boy One. I learned my lesson. I don’t have to give my heart away like that.

A day later, he calls me again. We hang out another time. “I think I want to give you a chance.” He tells me. “We’ll see how this goes.”

Suddenly, things are turning around. God truly does want us to be together.

***

We don’t-date-but-actually-do-date-because-we-hang-out-ALL-the-time-alone-together for a few months. This entire time, he’s up and down. Sometimes, he tells me that he likes me and just can’t stop thinking of me. Some days, he tells me he doesn’t know what to do with me. “I mean, I like you. I just don’t know if I should date you,” he says. “I’m really, really praying about it. God is just going to make it clear. I mean, I want to date you, I just don’t know if God wants it.”

This is confusing to me. I feel as God wants us to date. Why isn’t Boy Two getting the clue? But I like him so much, and so I just go along with it.

One evening, he asks me, “So…why should I date you?” Although I don’t see it at the time, it’s a subtle “What’s in it for me?” type question. He wants to know if I’ll be worth it. If I’m worth his time and effort.

What do I say to something like that? Why should he date me? I was hoping he’d know that without having to ask me.

Because we kind of are dating, whether he’ll label it that way or not. We’re hanging out almost every evening. And if we don’t hang out, he’s calling or texting me.

But it’s not dating, according to him.

It’s just….weird.

I just feel a little sad inside a lot of the time I’m with him. I feel empty. I can’t seem to get super happy. One evening, he tells me, “I like you! I really like you. I really do! And I want to date you, I just need to pray a little longer. I’m just not sure about a couple things.”

I try to get happy. But I can’t. I don’t know why.

“Why aren’t you happy?” he asks me. “You should be happy about this.”

“I don’t know,” I tell him.

“Well, I told you I really like you. You should be happy.”

The next time I see him, I try to be very, very happy.

***

Finally, he says, “God says we can date.”

God is good!

He said yes.

So we date.

***

He’s a guy who tells me I’m wrong all the time, who demands my trust, who expects me to support him and all his emotions, but doesn’t do the same for me.

“Give me your trust,” he says. “I need to know you trust me. I don’t want you to hide things from me.”

He wants to know my hurt, my past, my pains. I feebly attempt to tell him some of the pain I’ve been through with Boy One. I try and trust him because I need someone to show me what trust means. I need him to be healing. I need to learn to trust a guy.

So I give him my trust. Not my love, my trust.

Yet when I ask him about his past, he won’t tell me anything.

***

He tells me I’m wrong all the time, he treats me like I can’t think logically even when I can, he doesn’t like that I’m smart.

He tells me exactly what our future will look, what the next ten years of my life will be like. He tells me what he’s the leader of the relationship, that he makes the decisions, and that I will follow and support him. He tells me that it’d be weird for us both to pursue our passions, because the guy is supposed to do that in order to provide for the girl.

He tells me a lot of things.

And I listen, like a good girl should, and I obey. God wanted us to be together, I think. So I have to be happy. I’ve got to be a godly woman and submit. I’ve got to make this work. 

***

And he finally breaks up with me because, “God told him to do it.”

God told him to break up with me? It’s painful, it’s wounding. Why use God as an excuse? Why use God as a way out? I’m just confused. “God told you to date me in the first place,” I say. “You said you’d prayed about it.”

“Well, I did. He just told me this now.”

Boy Two takes the trust I began placing in him and pulls the rug out from underneath me.

And he doesn’t really care about that at all.

“I’m afraid you’ll say bad things about me. I’m afraid everyone will hate me,” is what he he tells me when we break up. That’s all he cares about. How he appears to everyone outside. It’s all about him all the time.

(I don’t say much about him at college. His reputation, after all, is so very important, and I don’t want to damage it).

***

Yet with that break-up, something breaks inside me again.

I didn’t love him.
But I did trust him.

Something about Boy Two and his whole mess has damaged me more. I feel like dying. Especially when he ignores me–literally, ignores me–after we’ve broken up as if I hadn’t even existed.

I am of absolutely no importance.
I am no one.

Just a speck that he easily abandoned.

He moves onto other girls after that. We are all a secret from each other until a year later, when we realize he’d messed around with multiple girls all in a row.

I begin counseling that year.
Because something is really wrong.

***

Summer after sophomore year. I decide to stay in Chicago for the summer. My friend Alex stays in town over summer, as well as some other guys. We all hang out in groups and do silly things together. We have a Hulk night and dress in green, we watch Band of Brothers, we play Scrabble. We also have serious talks about life and relationships.

They are just there.

They help me clean the dishes when we have parties.

They laugh at me, and I feel a little funny.

They are in awe that I can predict the plot of Iron Man right away. (I’m a writer, so sometimes I just see how someone would write things into plots. But really, Iron Man is not that…hard).

They are just nice.

I begin to see how good these guys are. They simply treat girls like humans. They aren’t how to see how many they can date, how many they can sleep with, how many they can use.

It’s a great summer, even though I feel so broken. Even though I have times where I feel so, so sad.

But I’m glad I have friends. Guys who remind me that there are great guys. Not all of them are disorienting, self-absorbed, damaging.

***

Junior year hits. It’s just…a hard year.

I secretly like Guy Three all year, and he never even looks my way. And when he finally does, its just this condescending, playing kind of interest. He lusts after me, I can tell. But lust doesn’t make him want to go for it, since he’s a good, Christian guy. I feel like an object most the time when I’m around him. I feel flustered every time I’m around him. I feel stupid and inferior and not cool enough and just…horrible.

I’m a failure at capturing a man’s true, genuine attention. I couldn’t with Boy One. Boy Two didn’t stick around. And Boy Three just kind of flirts with me, condescendingly speaks to me, and in general is just a self-absorbed jerk, even though I genuinely like him. Even though I tell myself he’s this awesome guy who loves God so much.

I feel pretty pathetic.

Because I kind of am.

But why?

***

I go to counseling all year, and it’s the year I begin to get to some painful stuff. Stuff that goes deep into my family and into seeing how imperfect my family is. How I never connected emotionally with my own father, which is why I constantly look for affirmation for it in guys—especially broken guys.

I’m devastated by this. My family is supposed to be perfect. I love them so much. Yet I never told them anything about my pain. And they never really asked. I was so alone in high school so much of the time. I hid so much from them. I wonder if I can ever repair our relationship. I wonder if I can ever work through my father hurt–which wasn’t intentional at all, but has still deeply wounded me.

The end of junior year come. I am officially rejected by Boy Three, who tells me that we are just friends and he is interested in another girl. Yet he was playing with me. He was really attracted to me. I saw his eyes. I know the looks.

But I wasn’t enough.

I’m never enough.

The whole thing is so confusing to me.

And I realize a guy can be attracted to you, lust after you, use you, and still not care once cent about you.

***

Alex and I do homework one night together (he likes that I take good notes). He sees I’m not doing well.

“Can I just tell you something?” he says. “I’m engaged now, so I can tell you this. I’ve always been your friend, so you don’t have to think this is weird. But you are beautiful, and you are talented, and you are godly. You’re better than most the girls at this school. And if a guy doesn’t see that and admire it and pursue it, then he’s not worthy of you. You’re worthy of being pursued, of being treated well, of being loved.”

I nod tearfully as he gives me this speech. I realize it’s something I’ve always needed to hear. But no one ever told me this. I go to my room and cry and cry.

A few weeks later, I tell another friend what Alex told me. She needs to hear it, too.

There are so many girls who need to hear it.

His words are healing, his words are true, his words are caring.

And I’ll never forget them.

***

It’s the summer after junior year. I’m not in a good place. I can feel myself hardening. I sometimes cry in our apartment when no one is there.

I’m feeling a lot of anger. Anger towards my family, anger towards God, anger towards men. I’m feeling angry towards myself and how I just can’t seem to get a guy to stay to save the life of me. I’m feeling anger towards guys and all their stupidity. How they use girls and lead them on and drop them when they feel like it.

All I want is to be loved. To feel safe.

I’ve never felt loved and safe with a guy (romantically). Never!

I don’t know it at the time, but that summer is when I make the vow: “I will never love a guy again.” But I do. My heart hardens, the walls go up. It just seems too hard to try and work through my issues. It seems easier to just…stop. To stop trying.

Guy are never sincere, I think. They always just want what they want. They never really care.

(It’ll be two years before I realize the silent vow I made to myself that summer).

***

This is the summer I begin having weird panic attacks whenever rape is mentioned or I see it on movies. Seriously, I watch four movies that summer with graphic rape scenes (on accident), and I start shaking every time I watch them. I start crying. It’s like this visceral reaction. It’s so strange. I know I haven’t been raped, but for some reason, I’m reacting so strangely to these things.

Something is wrong.

I just don’t know what.

***

My roommate is engaged to a great guy that summer. He looks at her with that Look. He has eyes only for her. I see how much he loves her. This warm, full look. It gives me comfort to see it. That’s the way a man acts who is really in love, I think. When he truly doesn’t seem to see anyone else but his woman in his mind.

You can tell.

You can tell when a man looks at a woman and loves her and sees her. You can tell when a man looks at a woman and simply sees her alongside plenty of other women.

Isn’t a woman just another woman to most men?

The whole thing makes me sad. Because guys are always looking at someone else, always lusting after things they don’t really care about. I can tell because I know I’m beautiful now, and I see guys stare at me all the time. They don’t do anything but stare. They never try to get to know me, they just look. And it’s not the nice look, either.

And I’m tired.

This is not a good way to start my senior year in college.

***

Senior year in college happens.
The Year From Hell.
Everything comes to a head.
Some guy friends I truly thought were friends abandon me at the beginning of the year. They move onto other girls quickly and with ease, as if they hadn’t cared at all (which I guess they didn’t). But I cared, and I’m devastated.

It’s the last straw.

I don’t understand how guys can just easily abandon girls—even girl friendships, I shout to myself. I don’t understand that kind of inhumane tossing aside of relationships for whatever else comes next. I don’t understand why guys use girls all the time for their own gain and pleasure. Even Christian guys who are supposed to be so much better than Non-Christians, right?

Christian guys suck just as much as Non-Christian guys. They’re just better at pretending they’re not!

I’m tired,

and I’m jaded,

and I’m bitter

and I’m angry.

***

I’m going to counseling. I begin to sift through the mess that is my emotions. I begin to realize that I have suffered abuse in the past from guys. No, not physical abuse, but spiritual and emotional abuse. I feel violated. I feel alone. I feel as if Boy One and Boy Two just took, took, took and left my heart lying in this mess on the floor. It still lies there, unprotected and vulnerable. So then Boy Three was just such a stupid, pathetic mess because I just let him play around because I just didn’t know how a guy should treat me.

“There’s such a thing as emotional rape,” says my counselor gently. “It’s where you are violated emotionally, where a guy demands emotions or trust from you, then takes those things and leaves, just as he would physically taking you.”

Emotional rape. I’ve never heard of it before. But suddenly, everything makes sense. The summer movies where I started shaking when rape was addressed. The ways I clench up when people talk about it. The ways I silently relate to girls who’ve been sexually abused, even though I have no idea why I relate so deeply.

A boy doesn’t have to force himself physically on you in order to violate you and take things he never should’ve taken. A boy can take your emotions, and your love, and your trust and leave with them. It is, in a sense, rape. Yet it’s so much more subtle. So much harder to figure out than outright physical violence. Boys can just as deeply wound through emotional aspects.

I begin to understand why I’ve felt so broken ever since Boy One and Boy Two.

I freak out. I start having black outs and panic attacks. I feel like I’ve failed. I’m not a good, Christian women. I’ve been abused. I’ve abused myself. I truly think I shouldn’t be loved. God’s going to leave me if I make one more mistake. No one will ever love me. I’ve messed up. It’s all my fault. If I’d just been a good, perfect Christian girl who wasn’t so broken, none of this would’ve happened.

I victim-blame just like victims usually do.

***

Another of my friends since freshman year, *Sam, sees something of the pain and starts telling me he’s praying for me. He’s a fun, great guy. I never tell him what’s truly going on because I’m so ashamed about the abuse stuff, but he sometimes listens and he sometimes prays for me. And just knowing that is helpful.

We sit on the bus on the way to senior retreat, and we talk about things, and he tells me about a book called The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. I know I need to read it. I ask him if I can borrow it.

A few days later, he comes up to me. “I was going to give this to you in a few weeks once I’d finished it,” he says. “But I just really felt like God told me to give you this book now. You need to read it.”

So I eat up that book. It’s all about love and grace and forgiveness. How we are all broken, yet God still loves us through the brokenness. My life is changed because of that book, my relationship with God changes because of it.

I will be forever grateful to him for helping me even though he didn’t know how important it was that I read that book.

The impact you have on people through simple acts of kindness can be astounding.

***

My friend Alex also talks with me. I don’t tell him what’s really going on, either. I just can’t tell anyone—especially a guy. But he sees something is wrong, and he talks to me. “You can cry, you know that?” he says. “It’s okay to cry.”

“I know,” I say.

He’s about to get married, and he’s about to graduate in December, and I know our friendship will never be the same. It’s ending, in a way. I’m okay with it, because it has to be that way.

Yet he’s the one guy friend I have all four years who I really trust. The one guy who asks me questions and isn’t afraid of the responses I give him and who stays by my side even when I get really, really broken.

I’m so grateful for him.

And I will miss him when he graduates.

Because now, I’ll have no one to talk to.

***

My last semester at college is a painful one.

I’m alone. I have no guy friends anymore that I can really talk to. I have one girl friend left at school (most my other good friends have graduated) who knows what’s kind of going on.

The only one who truly knows is my counselor.

I want to shut down. I don’t want to feel anything anymore. I don’t want one more person to leave or abandon me. I don’t ever want to love or be loved.

I feel numb. I don’t care anymore.

People really suck.

Christians suck the worst.

***

(LARGE PARENTHETICAL STATEMENT:

This is the year I like Boy Four. I’m not going to say much about this crush. It’s actually more painful than any of the others, because he’s actually a good guy. The first good guy I’ve liked in a long, long time. I never even show him or tell him I like him. I feel too broken to do much of anything anymore when it comes to romantic feelings. It’s a very secret crush that lasts most of senior year. Sometimes, I think he likes me, but I never know for sure.

I wasn’t going to mention him in this post, but I have to be honest. So there. Boy Four.

It’s different this time, though. Because I know in my heart of hearts it’s not going to work out–no matter how much I like him. No matter how much I pray or try and make God say yes.

God says no.

And it’s the first time I don’t fight it as much as I’ve done in the past.

Yes, it’s hard. I make some mistakes during this year with Boy Four. I do try and tell myself God wants it, I do try and control the situation. But I recognize these things in myself now. I’m fighting them for the first time.

But it’s also a triumph. Because in the end, I walk away from the feelings, the feelings that I know are wrong, and I say no to myself.

It’s the first time I feel God calling me to something else. Not dating, not marriage (at least not now). Not those  girlish dreams of my romantic youth.

But other dreams.

Dreams I can’t see yet. Dreams I can hardly imagine.

And I take God’s hand and start surrendering. (It’s a painful surrender, to be sure).

There’s nothing I can control–not love, not life, not anything.

I die to self.

It’s the first time in my life I truly do so.

END PARENTHETICAL STATEMENT)

***

Last semester, I take this drama class.

In the class, we have to feel. We have to do these creative projects that make us express emotions and pain. It’s a hard, hard class, but God uses it to help me get through that last semester. He helps me realize how deeply important art and creativity is in my life. How He made me so expressive and creative for a reason. I’ve stopped really doing creative things because I feel that a grown up doesn’t do those things. A good Christian doesn’t do those things.

The class begins to heal me, because it’s the first step I take toward embracing myself as a creative, artistic, expressive person once again.

I come up with a project for this drama class’s final exam. It’s a experiment in facing my wounds. I’ve begun to realize that for so long, I’ve placed my identity in others–especially men. It’s been painful. But because I’ve placed my worth in others, I’ve nearly been destroyed. I let them walk all over me. I let them use me.

And it has to stop. I must find my identity in God.

I ask this guy to help me with it. I need a painter for the drama I’ve written. A painter to represent Jesus. This painter will paint a painting entitled “Loved.” This painter will paint over horrible words people have given me. He will show me a new identity.

I don’t know this guy very well, but he’s in my class, and he’s an artist. A good artist. I don’t think he’ll help me—I mean, who would? I’m just a mess. But I guess he doesn’t know that. I ask him, and he says yes.

We work on the project, and that is, in a way, healing. He sees some of my pain. I have to show some of my emotions to this guy in order to make the drama effective. I’ve shut down so much at this point that I hate showing emotions to guys (to people period).

But I do. And we perform our drama about being Loved, and it’s a huge success. Beautiful in so many ways.

This guy gives me the painting he paints for our skit. “This is yours,” he says. “This is your story.”

Another moment of healing.

The painting says “Loved.”

It’s a needed reminder as I graduate and start another life.

A new life.

(And it is this project that inspires me to begin my blog, Identity Renewed.)

***

A few years later, I ask myself: Why are relationships about control so often? Why can’t we let people we date be who they are meant to be? Why can’t we let them dream and encourage their dreams? What makes us want to stifle them?

Is it fear? Jealousy? Pride? Or all of these things?

To truly love someone is to hold them in an open hand. To truly love someone is to want to see them succeed in their passions. To see them flourish and grow and become more like Christ.

If someone you are with doesn’t listen to you, stifles your opinions, stops your dreams, treats you condescendingly, plays around with other people even as they date you…If they tell you, “God told me you need to behave that way or go along with my plan,” or just use God as a trump card all the time for their own actions….

Something is wrong.

And God is not okay with that. God gets really ticked when people use His name as excuses for their own immature, selfish, controlling behavior.

God isn’t the cause of these things.

God probably doesn’t want you to to be with someone like that.

In fact, He doesn’t.

But so often, we place our identity in the opposite gender, and we stop truly listening to God, because it seems so much easier to put our worth in a guy or girl.

But we are Loved. God loves each and every one of us. And yet, if we don’t understand His love for us, we will let others treat us any way they want. Our relationship with God, the truths we believe about Him, are so crucial to every other human interaction. When our identity is in Him, things begin falling into place.

Because to live in His love, to place our identity in Him, is to learn what Real Love is.

I learned this lesson over those four years of college. I learned to start placing my worth and value in God, not men. And yes, it took some hard, painful things in order to do this. But now, a few years down the road, I’d never take back those experiences.

I also learned to surrender to God. I start learning to follow Christ in my heart of hearts. I stop fighting Him and telling Him what to do when it came to life and love. I took His hand and truly started walking with Him in the direction He was walking. It was a novel idea, I suppose, to follow Him instead of the other way around. To begin trusting Him to direct the course of my life instead of me.

Yet this changes everything. Because I am Loved, and God has a better plan for my life than any I can dream up on my own.

Tune in next week for Part IV, the last part of this series!

*Names changed for privacy.

kiss

Boys, The Good & The Bad – Part II: Senior Year in High School & Beyond

Here is Part II of my four part series on Boys, The Good & The Bad. Read Part I here. This series is a look back on my life and my interactions with boys. There have been many painful experiences, but many joyful ones. My purpose for this series is to show both the pain and the encouragement that males can bring to females. It’s to explore the ugliness and beauty of relationships with the opposite gender. It’s a complicated issue, but so many us of struggle with our identity when it comes to the opposite gender. We have a profound impact on each others’ lives, for good or for ill. I’ll be exploring that as the series progresses more.

kiss

***

I’m a senior in high school. My Kindred Spirit leaves for college, and that alone is harder than I ever thought it’d be. I miss her a lot.

And then Boy One enters the picture. The first boy I ever really, really like. Yes, I’ve had inconsequential crushes a few times. But this…this is different. I like him immediately. We become good friends. We have a lot in common, and we have fun together. I’m hoping it’ll work out.

But a few months down the road of our friendship, he tells one of my friends, “I don’t like her, we’re just friends. There’s not a lot of chemistry between us.”

I’m devastated. No chemistry? Does he really find me that unattractive? Now I know what it means to be “Just Friends.”

It SUCKS.

Yet I know I have to hide my feelings and be just friends, because that’s what he wants. So I hide my feelings. I don’t want to destroy our friendship, because it means a lot to me.

The more I get to know him, the more I see how broken and wounded he is. My heart reaches out to him. I want to help him. I want to heal him with my love. I want to be the girl who rescues him. I’ll do ANYTHING to help him. It seems so romantic.

“I’ve done some really wrong things,” he tells me. “I can never forgive myself. God can never forgive me.”

He cuts himself, and he does other things.

I send him verses, and I pray for him, and I try and talk to him, and I am just there whenever he needs it.

“You’re the only one I can trust,” he tells me. “No one else listens to me like you do. I can only trust you and my youth pastor.”

I am equated with a youth pastor in his mind.

For some reason, this binds me to him in even stronger ways in my mind. I have to be strong for him. I’m the only one he can trust. I’m the only one that’s really there for him. In a way, I begin to equate my love = God’s love for him. I begin to believe that God wants me to stick this out and love this guy because no one else will.

My love will save him.

So I must stay. I must show him love. I must show God’s love, no matter what happens. God is telling me to love him.

My heart begins to break, slowly, gradually, deeply.

***

Have you ever fallen in love?

Because falling is the right word.

You’re walking along living a normal life, minding your own business.

And then you trip, and you fall off a precipice into a yawning abyss.

You spin and you lose control.

You don’t know what’s up or down, right or left.

The clear blue sky grows smaller and smaller above you.

And the darkness grows stronger and stronger.

And you keep falling, falling, falling.

You wonder if you’re insane.

You forget yourself and everything you used to know.

Because love feels a lot like insanity, especially when the person you love could care less.

You’re not falling in love, then.

You’re simply falling into darkness.

No one is there is catch you.

***

For two years, senior year and the year after high school (I take a year off before I head to college), I love him. I silently, secretly love him.

Why? Because he needs me. And because God told me to. And God told me I’d heal him with love.

He never loves me. In fact, he likes every girl in our circle of friends except me. It’s torturous, as he tells me who he likes this month, and I just nod my head and grin fakely.

“What is wrong with me?” I ask myself all that time. I look in the mirror at myself and think, “What can I change about me? What do I do differently?”

Yet I must love him. God told me to. I read my Bible more, I pray harder, I plead with God to change him. I take Scripture out of context, I twist it to mean things it doesn’t mean. I convince myself that God has made me a promise that I will be with this guy, that he will change, that he will love me. And nothing changes. Nothing. “God, don’t you care at all about me?” I shout. “Don’t you see what I want? Why don’t You answer?”

No matter how hard I believe, I’m met with nothing but silence from God.

The more I try to control God, the more insane I feel.

***

I’m crushed and despairing. I begin thinking horrible thoughts about myself.

He’s rubbing off on me. All his self-loathing and abusive tendencies become part of me. I don’t know where I end and he begins. I feel everything he feels.

I stop eating. There are days I just want to punish myself, to make myself pay for the ways I’ve screwed up. If I had just done everything right, if I had just been who he wanted, then he would love me.

God told me to love him. God promised that He’d heal him through my love.

And it hasn’t happened yet.

Which means I just need to try harder. Love is about sacrifice, I tell myself. Love is about dying to self and being there for the man you love no matter what. Love is about denying oneself. If I can only do this more, then my love will change him.

And it doesn’t.

So I feel like a failure.

***

Once, I have a dream. In the dream, we are in a dark house and all of Boy One’s ghosts are in the house. There are hundreds of white, ghastly figures walking around. They overwhelm him. I keep trying to help, to get him away, but they start overwhelming me, too. We are surrounded by these haunted figures who start tearing us apart. I’m suffocating, I’m dying. The ghosts move in closer, and I’m about to be run over by them…

I wake up sweating. The dream is a perfect description of how I feel.

Yet I love him so much. I just want to help him. I can’t stop loving him. It’s this addiction. This life-sucking addiction that I can’t ever get out of.

I’ve fallen into darkness.

So I love him.

***

As year two of my love begins to come to a close, I meet with him.

“I want you to know that God loves you,” I tell him. “God can forgive whatever you’ve done. He’s just waiting for you to come back to Him.”

“Teryn, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you the last two years,” he says. “Thank you.”

“I’m just trying to be a good friend,” I say, although my heart is hurting so deeply it feels like a knife is stabbing me repeatedly.

I love you, can’t you see? I think. Can’t you see that all this is because I love you?

After that, things seem to unravel more. He pushes me away. Then he needs me. Then he pushes me away.

Then he dates another girl and doesn’t tell me for weeks. I find out through a mutual friend. “He doesn’t even like her,” my friend informs me. “She really likes him, though.”

The pattern of his life.

***

Do any of you know what it is to love and to not have that love returned?

To know that one of the most precious and beautiful of feelings is not shared by the person you love?

To know that no matter what you do, or what you say, or how much you care, they don’t give a shit.

Like I’ve said before. It’s a Game.

And I was never good at playing The Game.

***

Boy One gets worse and worse. He ignores me more and more. He uses me. He lies to me. He pretends not to know what’s going on with me.

He doesn’t even come to my going away party when I leave for college. He says he’s coming, and then he chooses to work the night of the party. He says he’ll come see me to say goodbye, and then he never does.
He says a lot of things, and I always hope, and the hope is always crushed.

When I leave for college, it’s like my heart is torn into a million pieces.

I am shattered.

God, why did You tell me to love him? I ask again and again. Why did my love not heal him? Why is my heart so broken? Why wasn’t I good enough?

***

It takes me many years before I realize how weirdly abusive the whole situation was. How manipulative it was. How I let him use me because I had no idea how I should be treated in a relationship. My identity was in him, and I was almost destroyed because of it.

I also realize how God DID NOT tell me to love him and to lose myself in him. How I tried so badly to control the situation of this broken, messed up guy with Scripture and prayer and love. How God said, “NO, NO, NO,” time and time again. I over-spiritualized everything because I was in love.

Feelings are fickle, the heart is deceitful, and spiritual language can be used so beautifully for what WE want. My own depravity got in the way of God’s voice in many, many ways.

Half the blame can be put on me. I should’ve walked away long before it got so crazy. (And I do walk away, actually. My freshman year at college, he starts contacting me on Facebook and tells me he wants to see me during Christmas break. I tell him I can’t. I tell him it’s too painful, and I can’t see him again. It’s the hardest thing I ever do).

But some of it was NOT my fault. People reject love, even when it’s well-intentioned. You can’t control another person no matter how hard you love them. They will either respond, or they won’t. They will either use that love to their advantage, or they will love back. And it takes wisdom and discernment to know the difference.

This boy didn’t know what love was. He only knew what hurt was. He’d been hurt, so he hurt me in return. He was shattered, and so he shattered me. It’s the cycle of hurt and abuse that, unless truly give to God and truly broken, perpetuates throughout generations. Hurt begets hurt, abuse begets abuse, unlove begets unlove.

And I, in my innocence and romanticism, got caught up in a something that was too strong for me to handle. I was wounded.

I fell into darkness.

God caught me at the lowest point.

***

Because you see, during this time in my life was when my relationship with God became real and raw. I was humbled, I realized how stupid I could be, and I realized how deeply I needed God. I learned so much about God’s love, what it is and what it isn’t. Even though I made mistakes, I also experienced God’s love in amazing ways. He is rejected all the time by a world that hates Him, and yet He loves. He loves us all with this deep love that aches to be reconciled to us. He aches to heal us. He aches to change us and free us.

I saw this boy with this Love, and I saw him through God’s eyes. He didn’t respond to such a love, and that wasn’t my job. But God’s love is powerful, and it is painful, it is beautiful, and it is utterly beyond comprehension.

God gradually lifted me out of those dark places. He patiently waited for me to come back to Him, for me to acknowledge my own depravity and my need for control. He saved me from myself. He loved me, He never left me, and He deepened me through this whole time in my life.

Tune in next week for Boys, The Good and The Bad – Part III: College Years

*Names changed for privacy.

heartbreak

Two Poems About Heartbreak

heartbreakIt’s Tuesday, and I’m posting a poem. Two, actually! The poems I’m posting tonight are tied into the blog series I’m currently doing in the month of July called “Boys, The Good & The Bad.” Part II of my series will go up on Thursday evening. In that post, I will be talking about falling in love for the first time.

It was not a pleasant experience. I loved this guy, and he didn’t love me. He was a broken guy who dragged me into this mess. And I, who truly believed I could love him into change and healing, tried in every way to help him. It didn’t work.

The first poem, entitled “Afterthought,” is actually a song I wrote during a time when this guy I loved liked another girl who didn’t like him. Oh, the drama. I felt very much like an afterthought, always. I tried so hard to be there for him, and yet he always had eyes for another.

The second poem is a poem I wrote expressing the pain I saw in him and how much I wanted to help him heal. I was so hopeful that through my love, he would find hope. I was convinced God was going to do miracles in him and free him.

It didn’t happen.

(I was such a romantic back then, which was wrung out of me quite thoroughly).

Sigh.

I truly loved this guy. It’s painful to go back and think about it, but I learned so much through the whole experience. I honestly don’t want to share these poems, because they show this broken, little girl side of me that just wanted love and would put up with anything to get it.

I don’t like to think about that side of me anymore.

 

Afterthought

(Verse 1) She and I walk down the hall,

And I see him standing there.

My heart starts beating hurriedly,

And in vain I wish to hide.

My head goes down,

I don’t want to blush,

Then I glance up hopefully.

And there he stands, watching only her

with an expectant little gaze.

Angry, I chide myself,

My heart sighs with lost hope.

Because I care too much—

My heart is rent—

Although I know

I should’ve known better

*

(Chorus) Because I’m just an afterthought.

An afterthought, an afterthought.

He didn’t give me a glance—

His look was all for her.

Because I’m just an afterthought,

And that’s all I’ll ever be.

*

(Verse 2) Oblivious, she chatters on,

Thinking they are only friends.

Forgotten, I stand quietly there

While my mind keeps wondering:

Why did I come?

Why can’t she see?

These secrets are too much for me.

For as he gazes at her, his eyes are sad

Although he tries to mask his pain.

And I see, reflected in his face,

The loneliness that reigns in me.

And he cares too much—

His heart is rent—

Although he knows

He should’ve known better.

*

(Chorus 2) Because he’s just an afterthought.

An afterthought, an afterthought.

She doesn’t give him a glance—

She is just his friend.

That’s all he’ll ever be.

Because he’s just an afterthought,

And that’s all he’ll ever be.

*

(Bridge)

And yes, I feel lonely,

And so do they.

And why can’t it all

Just end happily?

But the thought comes to me

That God has a plan

Although we haven’t seen it yet

And yes, it’s all confused now

But we’ll endure ‘til it’s time

For the right love to come along

*

(Chorus 3) Because none of us are afterthoughts

Are afterthoughts, are afterthoughts

He loved me before time—

He wrote my love story

And that’s comfort enough for me

Yes, I’m not an afterthought,

…afterthought…

…afterthought…

I might feel like it now—

But the time will come

for true love to begin.

03-26-06

Your Eyes

Ever since I became your friend,

I can read what you’re really feeling:

Even if you lie or smile vacantly,

Your eyes tell me the dark truth.

I have seen deep sorrow and regret

Reflected like wells in your eyes–

All the sins and pain of yesterday,

Your eyes tell me the vague story.

 

How I wish I could change

The sadness in your eyes,

Replace the self-condemnation

And give your eyes radiant joy.

 

I wish I could dispel the darkness

That dwells in your eyes.

I wish I could shout and sing

Until your eyes shone with redemptive melodies.

 

And oh—how I love your eyes!

Even when they fill with un-spilled tears,

Mirroring your self-deprecation,

Even then, oh—how I love your eyes!

 

And I cry to myself when I am alone

Because I can’t heal your eyes.

And I hurt and ache inside

Because your eyes have no peace.

 

All I can do is pray and wait

For the God of heaven to heal,

So that your eyes can truly smile at me.

Oh, how I long for that day!

 

When you have forgiven yourself,

When you have surrendered all,

And made sense of yourself, your past, your future—

Then I will see His light in your eyes…

12-26-06