Bra Burning, Awkward Stares and Other Things that Happen When you Become a Christian Hippie

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From the time I was small, my mother told me stories about the 70s. One of her favorites was about all the women who burned their bras.

I got the impression she didn’t think too much of idea. Especially when many of those women put their bras back ON again in the 80s and 90s to become die-hard career girls. I didn’t really have a big opinion myself, but I did secretly admire those women for saying “no” to yet another social custom designed to constrict them.

Thirty years later, I followed in their footsteps.

My path to becoming the “Real Me” (which happens to be quite hippie-like, as it turns out) didn’t happen right away. In fact, it took a break-up with a boyfriend I really cared about to help me see the truth.

I learned from him that if he had known how hippie I really was when we started dating — we never would have dated at all.

Having always presented with a rather “normal” exterior, I had no idea my hippie tendencies were incongruous with my appearance. But the more I considered his feedback, the more I realized he was absolutely right.

Right after this breakup, I got an invitation to spend five weeks in Colorado (AKA: Hippie Paradise!). I also did a 30-day fast from meat, dairy and eggs (ie: a Daniel fast) as part of a prayer challenge with a friend. And in the middle of that fast, God wanted me to release these foods from my diet, at least for awhile, by going vegan. I also decided to buzz my hair and … you guessed it … take off my bra for good.

One morning I just didn’t put one on after my shower. By noon, as per Holy Spirit instructions, both of the bras I owned were in the trash.

I did not put  a bra back on again for almost seven months. The closest I get is the built-in support of my workout shirts. And I couldn’t  have been happier.

Because of the time period wherein I released my bra, I’ve come to have greater peace and serenity in my body. I have also come to greater acceptance because I no longer worry about whether or how other people feel about my “lady parts.”

So what if they bounce? So what if the occasional nipple shows through my shirt? So what if my physique looks a bit “flatter” because my boobs are smaller and they no longer artificially “stand up?”

My appearance and my choices are not defined by others. God gave me these two awesome mammary glands to—hopefully someday—provide nourishment for my children.

They are part of who I am as a woman. And that’s just … that.

Please understand, I didn’t go around flaunting my figure or intentionally trying to make it obvious that I was not wearing a bra. I simply didn’t wear one. It was a point of omission that many people couldn’t seem to help noticing, however. Which is a cultural commentary in itself. Were my breasts the problem, or the society who had somehow cast them as “sinful” and “gasp-worthy” to be present in the room?

I don’t suggest that this practice is for everyone; however, I was amazed by the number of women—friends and complete strangers alike—who would come up to me and whisper in my ear that they’d like to do the same, but just didn’t *quite* have the gumption yet!

But I’m here to say: simply not wearing a bra is easy. Just like I simply avoided meat, dairy, eggs, honey or any other animal product (for the most part) during this time.

You just decide you want to do it more than you care what people think.

It’s the releasing your concerns over other people’s expectations that is the tricky (and involved) part.

Being a bit “countercultural” for me at this point in my journey wasn’t for the sake of making a point. It was out of obedience to what I believe God has asked of me. And out of my commitment to be radically and authentically … me.

A few years ago, I could never have made any of these choices, because I was so conditioned to please everyone else and make sure I didn’t stand out too much.

All I can tell you is: my life became  considerably more blessed when I took “off” all my concern over other people’s expectations. Even in my faith community my choices are considered a bit eccentric. But that’s totally okay.

I think we often believe that if we let go of social expectations, we’ll be ostracized. However, I have found the opposite to be true. In my case, people actually show me more respect—and there’s lots more to talk about.

Not to mention that most people don’t forget the woman who has a buzzed head and doesn’t wear a bra.

But hey, at least now, they remember my name.*

*NOTE: As the prompting of Holy Spirit, I have since begun wearing a bra again because of the season of life I’m stepping into here in the Middle East. However, I can feel the difference–I no longer need that garment to make me sexier or more desirable–and I trust I’ll never put “on” the old cultural baggage again when I put on that garment!

 

The Truth and the Lies of Sexual Dysfunction

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“I’m sorry, young lady. You have a serious sexual dysfunction. You’re going to have to see a therapist.”

I got this diagnosis when I was 25: a newly minted wife who had been a proper virgin up until a disappointing wedding night. Fresh off a confusing honeymoon, I found myself sitting in the doctor’s office where I got the painful news.

Vaginismus, to be exact. Something I’d never even heard of. The doctor barely had, either.

Thus began one of the worst experiences of my life: therapy visits.

To be fair to the sex therapist, she tried. She really did. But at that time, I was a shut-up, locked-up volume of emotional trauma I did not even know I had. She asked some of the right questions. Others, I realize looking back, were pitiably pointless.

Either way, this multi-award-winning doctor for women’s bodies knew very little about what it was like to grow up in a Christian home where sex had been an unmentionable as a four-letter word, and my body a source of shame. So when her usual methods didn’t work, she resorted to Kegel exercises—which I didn’t really understand at the time—and forced me to watch something I had never seen before: porn.

I’m not sure which was worse: the diagnosis I’d gotten, the scratchy voice on the kegel exercise tape, or the quality of the sex romps she forced me to view.

Some of you may be shaking your head that I could have been so sheltered, in my middle 20s. It was 2009, for crying out loud! I mean, who’s even a virgin at that age anymore? Let alone so terribly …. clueless … about her own body.

If you talked to women I talk to frequently, it might not be so surprising. Sharing my story has given other women courage to share theirs with me, and the same threads keep coming up over and over again:

  • Born and/or raised in an extremely conservative Christian church (or Jewish or Muslim community)
  • Raised to be “pure” and a virginal until marriage
  • Struggled mightily with sex after marriage
  • Typical symptoms include physical pain, emotional trauma and difficulty with penetration
  • Ability to sense physical pleasure from intimate acts is low or non-existent

Let’s face it, if you’re raised to withhold your sexuality from everyone (even yourself) for the first 25 years of your life, it’s not going to just flip “on” like a light switch on your wedding night. At least, not if you’re a woman from such a background—whose body needs to feel emotional safe, gently-treated and emotionally close in order to begin to open up.

In these conversations, I have heard comments from other women, like, “My first year of marriage was hell.” And “I had no idea what was going on. I just cried every night.” And “My husband wanted me to enjoy myself, but I just couldn’t relax.”

If you resonate with these statements because, too … I want you to know you are not alone.

I also want you to know that the quickest way out of this dark, scary place is to take the diagnosis you’ve been given and set it on a shelf. Act like it doesn’t exist. Let it collect some dust. Forget about it. 

At least for the next few minutes…

You see, getting a diagnosis from a medical doctor did one thing for me, and one thing only. It convinced me something was wrong with my body the way God had made it.

“Your PC muscles are unnaturally tight, and they associate pain with penetration,” was the way one healthcare provider put it to me, in the simplest possible terms. And it’s true … from a doctor’s perspective, my muscles were too tight to allow vaginal intercourse.

But here’s the thing:

Being told that this was the sum total of my problem didn’t fix things. It actually kept me from finding the real cure for eight more years. 

Thanks to believing that diagnosis, I failed that round of therapy. Failed it miserably. And then failed more tries at home. The doctors talked about surgically opening my vagina—but then decided that procedure would only worsen the problem.

I tried every year after to start that therapy again, but the fear always kept me from getting too far. My body only shut itself down further. It became a demoralising cycle of sadness and frustration and isolation.

My marriage dragged on for almost eight more years until it failed, too.

It wasn’t until I decided—as a single woman again, at age 33, on her own, with no therapist—to set aside the diagnosis that I finally stumbled upon the truth:

Yes, I had physical symptoms in my body. But my body was only reacting to what was going on in my emotions and my mind. And had been, for a very long time. (In my case, since birth … but that’s another story for another day.)

Think about it.

All my life, I’d been taught to withhold myself from anything sensual or sexual. I’d been taught to cover up my body, even from myself. No one had had me do mirror work with my vagina or explore my own anatomy so that I’d actually understand how Part A went into Part B. No one talked about sex or taught me how to tap into my feminine energy so I’d be ready for sex.

At home, church and school, the female body was a problem for the male gaze … and that translated into the fact that I as a woman felt like I was the problem. Intimacy was a forbidden fruit that was frequently talked about as a source of sin and sometimes celebrated as a wonderful part of marriage.

I had been taught that if I saved myself for marriage, I would naturally enjoy superior sexual experiences because of this choice. This teaching was fundamentally a lie. Did God want me to save my sexual expressions for marriage? Yes. But shutting myself off from loving, non-sexual touch before marriage, and abstaining from studying and understanding my essence as a woman , actually hindered my ability to bless my husband within it.

In the absence of balanced teaching and a healthy relationship with my God-given sexuality, the concept of “intimacy” had been my enemy from the time I was born. No wonder it and I could not make instant friends after my marriage.

I was taught strictly to obey and achieve, holding back my emotions and physical touch, not to feel and experience and let go, surrendering myself to the pleasure of another’s warm embrace even in an innocent, platonic way.

I was dressed up and paraded as a “good girl” who knew how to look the part. But get past that down to the messiness? Let anyone see me in sweatpants (let alone less than that)? Nope. Not happening.

Even the notion of “experiencing pleasure”–the capacity for which is critical to healthy sexual relations in marriage–was suspect. Pleasure in church was associated with sin, not with healthy, natural everyday activities. Subconsciously, the teachings of my church suggested that too much enjoyment of anything, even godly things, was probably a problem.

In fact, if you’d asked me what brought me real pleasure—innocent, everyday pleasures to savor such as “the scent of flowers on a spring breeze” or a “hot cup of tea by the fire”—I don’t actually think I could have told you. I was too busy dressing up and over-achieving. And being super sure my head, rather than, my body, did all my sensing for me.

All of this fed my natural self-loathing of my body which every American girl is tempted to every day of her life.

Did I mention that unconditional love for your body makes it a whole lot easier to receive someone else loving it back?

Over those next few months, after making these startling realizations at age 33, and divorced, I decided to try the therapy again.

But this time, I did it God’s way. I asked Him to demolish any theology of sexuality that did not reflect He actually said about me and my body as a woman, and about marriage and about pleasure. I prayed for guidance to the right tools. Then I bought the dilators and yoni eggs the long-ago therapist had recommended once for the physical practice. But I only moved forward with that while totally getting quiet, sitting down with God and actually facing my tremendous inbred fear of intimacy … and my hatred of my own body.

Once I began taking each brick off the emotional and mental walls I had built up against my Real Self, the wall (miraculously) started to come down. Not easily. Not quickly. But it did come down.

One realization led to another. Which led to another. Which led to … well, another.

I discovered that as a woman, who would normally be deeply in tune with her body by God’s natural design, I had no real innate ability to feel into my body or understand what it was trying to tell me. In fact, my body and I had been at odds with each other my entire life. Yet my husband, who as a man naturally lived more in his head, had been looking to me to help him relax deeply into bodily experiences.

I started to learn what it felt like to love my skin exactly as it was. To make friends with all the parts of myself that I had previously not even understood. I learned to get comfortable dancing naked in my room, with the door shut. I took a mirror and stuck it up you-know-where and gave myself an anatomy lesson. Or two. Or five.

Above all, I asked God to unlock the deepest parts of my womanhood that had been locked up in a prison since babyhood, with the key tossed who-knows-where.

He heard my cry. He always does. And praise Him, He faithfully and gently handed me the key.

When I started the dilator work again, this time, my thoughts about myself and my emotional pain were healing first. So the physical practice was a totally different experience.

The body that previously “needed surgery” yielded naturally. No, I didn’t finish the dilator therapy overnight. But dilator by dilator, I retrained those PC muscles not to feel the pain they used to feel. By myself. Naturally. At home. Until one day, I outgrew the dilators and had to buy a genuine dildo. And I felt no pain at all.

(Some other day I’ll tell you about what it’s like putting condoms on a cucumber when the dilators don’t fit anymore. But yeah, that’s a story for another day …)

More than that, I started to feel totally relaxed and comfortable with myself as I was. I had to shed all that body shame, and truly redirect my thoughts to see how God sees me, as a woman. I began to pamper myself, to enjoy feeling beautiful, to lean into practices like yoga and chakra work that helped me get comfortable with who I was and become smarter about “hearing” my body.

That made all the difference in the world.

Now, when I look back on the frightened girl in the doctor’s office, all those years ago, I wish I could tell her to take that diagnosis and toss it right out the window. I would have bypassed the “sex therapist” and never even entertained the discussion of surgery.

Because I believe now that when it comes to our sexuality as women, most of our body’s physical responses result from what’s happening in our hearts and minds.

By telling me I had a “physical condition”—without addressing the fears, sadness, misunderstandings of God’s design for sexuality, and self-hatred in my heart—my healthcare providers encouraged me to see the problem as being outside myself. Which also means I saw the solution as being outside too.

You want to cure for your problems with body love? You want to conquer your fear, reclaim your intimacy, save your marriage? Or ensure that your first experiences with sex in marriage really are the blessed path of discovery I was once promised they would be?

Listen to what the doctor says, yes. Consider the therapist’s advice. Get prayer and counseling at your church. But above all, go deeper.

Go straight to the source.

Ask God to show you—really, truly show you—how you’re feeling about yourself, your body and your sexuality.

Then be brave enough to sit with the answers He gives you. Also brave enough to share what you learn with another woman you trust. And further more, brave enough to do whatever it takes to break down those walls.

When you begin to know yourself in this way—hard as it can be—you can truly take your first step to healing. Because healing this “sexual dysfunction” (really, the physical manifestation of an emotional wound) is an inside-out job. Your body will only be a thermometer for what’s going on in your heart and mind.

Let God heal you within, and your body will be set free.

Have a story to share? Struggling with vaginismus or wondering why you can’t seem to relax in intimacy? I love mail! Send me a note, and I’ll respond:

7 Things That Happen When You Get Emotionally Free of your Past

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Sometimes, on the healing journey, it can feel impossible to believe that you will ever be free of what happened to you. You’re a goal-oriented woman, and you love to have a target to aim your arrows toward, or a finish line to run for. But when it comes to your emotions and healing from your past, that target, that line, always seems to move.

Some days are okay. Some days are terrible. You’ve been told it will “get better,” but what does that even look like? How will you KNOW when you’ve reached a place of freedom?

At one level, freedom is a lifelong event, and it’s entirely personal. Each day, we can make choices that take us closer to God and closer to total surrender and joy in Him, which will naturally break off the bonds that have held us back. That exact path may look different for each woman, of course. But the process is the same.

However at another level, I can testify from my own experience: you WILL know, that you know, that you know, when you become emotionally free. You WILL start waking up each day with the significant conviction that you are no longer moved by what happened to you: that your life is blank slate now, not a museum to the past.

Believe me, it’s the best feeling in the world.

“But wait,” you say. “I feel like a one-woman triage unit every day of the week, and that still doesn’t give me a lot of help.”

I totally understand. I did too, when I first started this process. Here are seven (concrete) things that you can also expect to happen when you break away from the pain of the past and allow yourself to be totally renewed. If you haven’t experienced these, don’t feel bad. Rejoice that this is what you can look forward to, and keep walking forward on your healing process.

1) You have no desire anymore to talk about “what happened.”

The biggest hallmark of emotional bondage is the fact that your pain will always come spilling out of your mouth—not matter how hard you try “not to talk about it.” Ask your girlfriends; if they are honest women, they will tell you if every coffee or wine date devolves into your personal trauma session. When I was in the worst of my pain, I instinctively looked anywhere I could to get relief. (Anywhere, that is, except to God!)

Stopping yourself from speaking when you are dying inside is not what I’m talking about. When you are in the midst of your pain, you must speak about it long and freely to whomever will listen. But the MARK of having received full healing is when your past wounds no longer define your present reality.

When you get to the place where you are truly no longer moved by what happened to you, and you rest in total peace that God has transformed your pain for good, you won’t even remember to talk about it. People will bring it up, and you’ll be thinking, “Wait, what? Oh right, that thing …” You might even be startled when people bring it up, because your former pain no holds you in a vice-grip deep in your soul.

Please note: I am not referring to activism on behalf of abuse victims, giving your personal testimony, or other types of important “speaking out;” I am referring to the obsessive need to share your pain with others in order to somehow get healing “from” their attention. The attention can’t heal you; only God can!

2) When you think of the people who wronged you, you feel only compassion.

Yes, what happened to you was terrible. Perhaps it was a collection of “somethings” that happened and there’s a parade of perpetrators a mile long: at home, at church, at school, in the community, etc. You may struggle to believe it will ever be possible not to feel the rage and grief that rise up every time their name or face flashes before your mind. But believe me, beautiful woman, it is.

You will know God has healed you emotionally when you can remember these people in your life or walk past something that triggers their memory and yet feel nothing but compassion for them—because you recognize that their own tremendous pain drove them to what they inflicted on you.

3) Your IBS, upset stomach, digestive issues and anxiety heal themselves.

Please keep in mind I am not a doctor and cannot give you medical advice. However, I can offer the laywoman’s observations: in my own life, and those of other women I watch heal emotionally from the darkest, most painful events you can think of, I have witnessed physical symptoms completely break off of those women as they reach healing.

In my own life, when I was in the worst of my emotional pain and disempowerment, I struggled with stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, digestive issues and unstoppable anxiety. As I submitted to the healing process by opening up to God’s love, taking control of my thought patterns, shifting my diet, incorporating gentle yoga, praying daily, etc. I began to notice a drastic reduction in symptoms. Ultimately, this resulted in several miraculous healing experiences. Today, I am symptom-free … without the aid of doctors, surgery or expensive drugs.

4) You naturally stop self-medicating with TV, greasy food, social media or shopping.

Many women tell me they admire my choice to eat meat-light and wish they could do the same—but they say they can’t keep themselves from “cheating” with junk food. If staying consistent with healthier eating choices, managing your spending, limiting your TV and social media time is hard … then you can mark it down, you are still in emotional bondage.

Each of these “indulgences” is perfectly okay and enjoyable in moderation but can quickly become an excuse to get our good feelings from somewhere other than God and ourselves. Needing anything outside of ourselves, exactly who God made us to be, to feel good is by definition a form of bondage.

When you are emotionally free, you won’t “need” these things any more and/or can enjoy them in moderation. Or choose to give them up altogether and not feel deprived at all.

5) You reclaim “painful places” and create new memories in them.

How did I know I had fully healed from the pain of my divorce? When I sat for two hours in the very same coffee shop where I had my last private conversation with my ex-husband … and didn’t even remember that event for about two hours of sitting there. I was SO in the moment, enjoying my work, the coffee and the space, that I did not even recall that my marriage had essentially dissolved in that space. This was not an act of disrespect to my marriage or that conversation; it was a marker that I had finally move on to create new memories in that space.

That is what it truly means to reclaim a space for your own after trauma has marked it. When I came back to my hometown, Milwaukee, after nine months of traveling, I felt that my emotional “set point” had been reset, because I could walk into places that preciously were emotionally loaded from my marriage and divorce, and feel totally free to “own” them again and make new memories that aren’t mixed up with what happened before.

6) Other people’s poor choices no longer affect your joy.

This is a fairly simple one, but wow is it powerful! When you become emotionally free, you reach a place where you realize that YOU are the only person you are responsible for. Yes, you can pray for others. You can seek to be a positive influence. You can give of yourself. But at the end of the day, you are the ONLY person you can truly change.

When you relax into that space where you are no longer responsible for everyone else’s well-being, you can truly release your emotional bondage and your attachment to the idea that other people need to change … which is nothing more than a distraction from how YOU need to change.

7) You feel genuinely happy for no reason.

I know, dear heart. I know it’s hard to imagine this when you are in so much pain right now. But the day will come when all those “weights” on your heart will come lifting off, and you will float down the street, truly in love with you life, no matter what is going on in your material, lived experience.

This will be possible because you will know, that you know, that you know, that your Redeemer lives, and that you are being held by the Everlasting Arms, in the grip of the Everlasting God who never faints or grows weary. The ancient yogis spoke of BLISS, and I believe this is it: the ability to dance your way through life, amid sunshine and rain, because what is happening inside you is no longer contingent upon what is happening outside.

Reading this list and feeling like you could never scale this impossible mountain of emotional healing? Wondering how to let go of the weights that are holding you back — so you can enjoy these seven signs of emotional freedom?

More on that another day.

A Tale of Two Sunsets … and Two Seasons of Life

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Think things won’t change?

Give God a year and see what happens.

I love a lot of things about the new home God has sent me in Dubai. But perhaps the thing I love most, besides the people He has placed in my life, are the sunsets. Last night, I got to enjoy this amazing edition (above) with a friend as we strolled around a local market perched on the edge of the Arabian Gulf. There’s no filter on this photo, other than the little “enhancement” button my iPhone has.

But as awesome as this sunset was, as it happened, it wasn’t the only sunset I saw today. Facebook also reminded me of a memory and sent me another sunset photo—of the one I saw exactly one year ago to the day, in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Could those two sunsets be any more different? Ah, now there’s the story.

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Dream Trip? Um yeah, no ….

Going to Iceland may sound exotic, not to mention the extreme opposite from a sunset in the Middle East!! For me it was definitely a bucket-list dream—but I wouldn’t have picked to go in the nadir of the year: those cold, dark, seemingly-“dead” weeks before the winter solstice. I also wouldn’t have picked to do it with about $40 USD in the bank. This translates to about 5,000 Icelandic krona.

If you know anything about Iceland, you know it’s expensive to do anything there, from taking a taxi to eating lunch. Five thousand krona might get you one meal. Maybe two if you shop deals hard for, like, two hours in advance of each meal. (Who has time for that, yo?) I don’t know, it might even cost you 5,000 krona to eat at McDonald’s. Not that I did … but my point is: it’s freaky expensive to survive.

Frankly, when I arrived and saw what I was really dealing with price-wise, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive at all.

I had money set aside for this trip. Not a lot, but definitely more than $40 USD. And then … as always seemed to happen during this “Nothing” phase of my life … the money had to get reallocated for other purposes. Last-minute financial crises always seemed to hit when I was about to take a trip I had felt led to schedule in the first-place.

Iceland was no exception.

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Last Ray of Hope (or So It Seemed)

I remember that sunset well. December 2 2017. I was pounding the cobblestone pavement of old-town Reykjavik, peeking in windows and snapping photos of the adorable cats and dogs that seemed to grow three extra layers of fur against the biting Atlantic wind. I wasn’t going in many places, because what’s the point when you don’t have money to spend? Stepping inside a restaurant  to get warm and read the menu gets really awkward after awhile when you don’t ask for a table!

There’s only about three hours of sun in Reykjavik any given day at that time of year, and since the rest of my stay in Iceland was totally cloudy, it’s a good thing I snapped this photo before the sun went down that day. Right at the top of the hill in front of Reykjavik Cathedral, the national church known for its distinctive bell tower (among other architectural features).

I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful than that last ray of light amid the grimness.

After I took the photo, I remember deciding to blow 2000 of my non-existent krona on a bowl of lamb stew—the absolute rock-bottom cheapest local food I could find—so I could at least say I had eaten a “traditional local meal” whilst on the island. I walked around for a few more hours before heading back to the silent, empty women’s dormitory of the hostel where I rented a bed. More a hostel for ghosts, it would seem. I never saw another human soul there the whole time I stayed.

The north wind whistled around that traditionally-built wooden house. And even though I knew it had been built generations ago to withstand exactly this kind of weather, I still shuddered every time I heard a board creak.

It was as if the wind intended to splinter not only the house, but what was left of my life.

End of One Life, Beginning of the Next

That sunset has stuck in my mind ever since. Mostly because it reminded me that there was still light, still hope. That even though my life seemed completely out of control, traveling to Europe alone simply because God said to, with no money and no plan, at the ugliest/darkest/most depressing time of year … well, even in the middle of that mental and emotional landscape (which happened to feel as barren as Iceland!), there was still a sun behind the clouds.

Fast-forward 365 days, I was sitting on the pier at a market in Dubai, eating a beautiful meal with a friend whom I didn’t even know last year. There was food in my belly, cash in my wallet, and even a bank card with more where that came from, if I should happen to need it. I was enjoying a holiday from an amazing job, wearing a new dress I’d picked out myself, and was carrying a card in my purse that entitled me to resident benefits and services from the UAE, a country I never even once thought of while I was penny-pinching my way through Europe.

And then there was that sunset, the one I posted at the top of this post. One of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever seen in my life, right there over my head, God’s banner of love painted in watercolors across the sky.

I couldn’t help noticing that everything about it was extravagant: the scope, the size, the layers, the intensity of color. All of it was triple or quadruple (maybe more!) of those same features in the Icelandic sunset.

Between Dec 2 2017 and Dec 2 2018, it’s like someone took the saturation tool in Photoshop and jacked it up to maximum.

My life, too, feels like it’s been jacked up since that now long-ago day.

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Change is the Only Constant

There’s no greater lie than the one we all like to tell ourselves when we’re most in distress: “Things will never change. Because in the walk of faith, I’ve noticed, change is the only constant. Sometimes, as in the tale of two sunsets, you just gotta wait 365 days to really see the full effect.

If I could go back to that girl I was last year, floundering in life, questioning why she couldn’t seem to settle down, and why nothing was working out, and why she was traveling in Europe when she just wanted to be home with people she loved … except that the more she chased home, the more it seemed to evade her … I would hug her and tell her it’s going to be okay.

Yeah, even when you’ve landed in a country where it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit in December and there’s 20 hours of darkness every single day.

Seasons come, yes. But they also go. There’s no guarantee that next year’s sunset on December 2nd will be anything like this year’s. If you’re smart (and you know how God works), you know better than to say, “Nothing’s ever gonna change” out loud. Or in your heart. Or even in your deepest, darkest thoughts.

Because words have power. Expectations are the fence we try to build around what God can or will do next. You have no idea what’s coming next in your life, even if it seems as bleak and dead as a frozen island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

So don’t build a box for God that you don’t want to live in.

For every dead twig, salt-soaked rock and gust of killing wind I felt in Iceland last year on this same day …. I’ve been repaid a hundred-fold in flowering trees, warm Gulf waves between my toes and endless sunshine. Not to mention amazing friends who feel like family, a steady income and the prospect of once more trading my suitcase for an address.

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Are you really ready for your big shift?

Honestly, I’m kind of glad no one told me about the Dec 2 2018 sunset back on Dec 2 2017. Because no matter how much they would have tried to encourage me with it, I wouldn’t have been ready to believe it was possible, or even receive it into my life.

Maybe you’re not ready, either, for what God wants to send you in the way of prosperity, love, community, ministry and purpose by this time next year.  Maybe He knows it’s gonna take a WHOLE year of wandering to prepare you for your blessing.

Don’t fight how He chooses to work—even if He sends you on what seems like a fool’s errand.

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One year later, at a market on the Arabian Gulf!

What if I had to be in Iceland last year at this time, and snap that one precious sunset photo, because He knew it was the only way I would fully appreciate and worship Him for the shifts in my life?

That’s probably not the only reason … but even if it were, the “fool’s errand” is starting to look quite a bit less foolish.

Waiting for your big shift? In the meantime, trust the process. Watch the sunsets. Guard your heart, your mind and your words against thinking change will never happen. Thank God in advance that you’ll be seeing next year’s edition from a whole different vantage point.

Oh yeah … and don’t forget to take a lot of photos. You never know when God might use Facebook memories to help you remember!

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Breaking the Bondage of the “Good Girl” Habit for Good

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“Little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice …”

From the day you were born, you were everyone’s darling.

The frilly dresses. The cutesy toys. Daddy adored your dimples and Mama fussed about your hair. As you grew older, they bragged about what a “beautiful young lady” you were becoming. They applauded all your accomplishments and went to great lengths—perhaps even personal sacrifice—to ensure you had what you need.

Or perhaps your experience was the opposite. Maybe you knew everyone else’s needs st home came before yours. Maybe you spent a lot of time propping up other people’s emotional insecurities. Maybe you had to keep it together, at least on the outside, because no one else could have coped if you really, truly needed something.

From all this attention, or lack thereof, you learned one thing early, and one thing only:

Being a good girl was the best and most reliable way to make sure you had a good life.

“Survive” might be a strong word. But let’s face it: the human brain is wired for survival. Perhaps you never went hungry or felt like your physical safety was truly at risk. But there were still emotional risks in your home. A lot of them.

Maybe it wasn’t really as happy on the inside as it seemed from without. Maybe you watched your mom “perform” for your dad in order to get acceptance and attention. Or perhaps their relationship was truly great—but as strict disciplinarians, they made sure you knew that you had better comply.

Whatever the reason, the verdict is clear. You were a certifiable Good Girl for most of your life.

The problem is … did you really ever stop?

The “Good Girl Complex” is common. If you identify as someone who has shaped her identity based on the needs and wishes of others—what makes them happy and therefore keeps you emotionally safe—you are not alone. And indeed, being a woman of integrity who follows God and brings joy to others, as much as she can, is an admirable goal.

But the Good Girl Complex is so much more than that. It’s not about a heart overflowing with gratitude to God. It’s about a performance based on what other people want. If you’re stuck here, you already know it. You don’t need me to give you 25 more signs to help you decide if that’s you.

The biggest clue is really this: can you say with 100% confidence that you are who God made you to be … Or would you have to admit, instead, that who you are is really more whom you allowed others to shape you to be?

If you are experiencing this peculiar (and insidious) form of emotional bondage, you know exactly what I am talking about.

  • The endless stressing about what others think of you.
  • Striving to meet impossible goals for your body, love life, family and career.
  • A perfectionistic obsession that drives you to insane levels of achievement—without much sense of fulfillment.
  • The constant shaping of your words and actions to accommodate what you think other people want to see and hear.

I can only write this article because, for much of my life I was a Good Girl, too. I learned very early that the way to get love in my house was to comply. Without compliance, there would be no affection. And the older I got, the more my compliance earned me.

I complied at home and got adoring parents.

I complied at church and got adoring friends.

I complied at school and got adoring teachers.

I complied in my marriage and thought I had an adoring husband–but this is where all my masks ultimately fell away, when I realized how unhappy he was with (among other things) living with my masks.

By the time I was 30, I had built up what looked like a really great life … but inside, I had absolutely no idea who I was. I and felt it. I lived constantly with this sneaking suspicion that I was not even half of who I was meant to be, but who was that even? Would I even know the Real Me if she walked up to me on the street corner—and slapped me in the face?

For many years nothing changed. But when I decided that I would no longer tolerate being someone other than who God made me to be, everything shifted.

This was a big moment for me. I came to a point where I was sick of my own compliance, sick of saying ‘yes’ when I wanted to say ‘no,’ sick of looking and acting and sounding like ‘someone else.’

So for perhaps the first time in my life, I decided I would do … not simply what others wanted me to, but what God truly desired for my me and my life.

This was the shift that changed everything.

Now please understand: I am not advocating AT ALL that you simply blow off your spouse or significant other, family and friends, and leave on a world tour just because you feel like it. There is a VERY fine line between self-discovery and selfishness.

However, all those caveats aside, most of us as women don’t really know ourselves or who God made us at all. As a result, we can’t possibly love ourselves by basking in His love for us. Our lives and relationships suffer deeply because of it.

When I decided to do what I wanted for a change, I wasn’t simply looking into my own selfish heart and chasing whatever I found. Instead, I asked God to show me the desires HE had placed in my heart, that I was completely ignoring. 

Psalm  37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

I had always loved this verse, but I never really understood it until I made that big decision. It wasn’t that God would give me everything I wanted, if I delighted in Him. It was that by delighting in Him, I would discovery all the desires He had already tucked into my heart.

THOSE desires are not the selfish desires. They are the ones He has given us for big, real, awesome purposes because of the plans He has for us.

And I can pretty much guarantee you: those plans are the direct opposite of what your inner Good Girl thinks you should do. And probably the direct opposite of what people in your life are expecting you to do based on past experiences, and the unwritten “code” of how your relationship with those people operates.

Now, I wasn’t able to make this switch overnight. Mostly because I had been so busy pleasing other people for so long, that I had no idea what I really wanted anyway. First, I had to ask God to strip away all the layers of detritus so I could actually find those genuine, godly core desires.

When I asked Him to do what He said He would, He delivered more than I ever could have thought.

Of course, this shift also totally rocked the life I thought I had. It showed me all the ways I had built my life on a false foundation of other people’s expectations—not on who I really was in Christ. Now, I was stepping into my true identity in the love and purposes of God. And that was, essentially, like taking a jackhammer to the foundation of everything I thought I had built.

I’m no engineer, but even I know, under those circumstances, the structure in question is destined to fall.

So I’m not hear to tell that if you lay down everyone else’s desires, Good Girl, and start chasing the ones God has purposed for you, that it’s always going to be easy.

It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

But if you know the pain and emptiness of being a Good Girl who’s really just a shell of the YOU God created to you be … you know that sometimes, as Anais Nin says, “The pain of remaining tight in a bud is greater than the pain it [takes] to blossom.”

You can break your Good Girl habit, my friend. But only when you drop what everyone else has handed you and ask the living God to help you open your hands and let Him fill them.

The Good Girl Habit may feel safe, but it’s really just the long, slow death of your beauty, joy, passion, prosperity and purpose.

Break that habit … and quite possibly, you’ll lose your life as you know it.

But run to Jesus, and you will find the life your soul craves.

 

Telling Your Story Is Great, But Which One are You Telling?

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Apparently wanting to shoot your alarm clock (or your iPhone) when it goes off isn’t a 21st century experience? 😉 Photo taken at Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in Berlin.

It takes a great deal of courage to tell your story.

In my old life, before Nothing, the suitcase and cross-continental moves, I used to do a lot of coaching for women. Telling your story was something I preached and taught. And to a certain extent, I lived it.

But I did not understand then what I have come to see since: that telling the story you have lived is so much easier than telling the story you are living.

When we start out on this journey, with God toward greater intimacy and vulnerability with others, it feels like a “big thing” to finally talk about the parts of our story we may have kept hidden for years.

I personally found it revolutionary to speak of the night God spoke to me in Tuscany, of my healing journey with sexual dysfunction and many other aspects of my story. Receiving love from others and knowing that they still cared for me despite what I had been through was revolutionary for me, given where I had come from.

Yes, vulnerability comes in layers. And telling the story of the past is one layer. If we are not willing to start there, we will never find any other form of intimacy in our lives.

There’s a leap that must be taken, and the leap from the past is perhaps the most accessible.

But telling the story of the present is another kind of leap entirely.

Intimacy with others—the healthy kind, where we feel truly seen and known and loved in spite of what has happened in our lives, and also because of it—is a such a rare gift. And it prepares us to get braver, say more and let others see more of us, too.

Though sharing the story of our past is indeed one powerful form of intimacy, it still allows us to stay hidden. We can craft a narrative of transformation and change which may be genuinely true … but enables us somehow to still avoid speaking about the mess we are currently facing.

The story of our past transformation, if we are not careful, can become a beautiful image that unlocks for us admiration, not connection.

There is a powerful difference between those two which I cannot overstate. But it’s taken me years to recognize it.

Admiration is an external quality. People stand beside or around us and gaze at us, loving the qualities which we have carefully put in front of them for their review. It’s a good healthy start to something more in a relationship … but it’s also just that. Only the start.

If our relationships never get past admiration—and that’s very easy, by the way, for those of us “good girls” who know how to placate everyone by doing what they want and need—they will perpetually leave us unsatisfied. Because admiration does not require true understanding, or a sense of  empathy. It only requires awe.

Awe is so much easier to manufacture than understanding. Just ask any of the world’s dictators. Or celebrities…

Connection, on the other hand, is a much messier proposition. It requires a great deal more courage, because to speak of the mess that absorbed today, is a heck of a lot more challenging than to speak of the mess tha absorbed the last decade. Or even the last week.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to write about last week’s or last year’s or last decade’s mess. But to write about the tears I shed last night (yes, I actually did) over the love of my life I lost fifteen years ago? And the aching realization that I never …. really never …. got over that relationship?

And that at age 35, I have somehow only just realized I still desperately need the healing of Jesus for a huge mistake (which I could be so bold as to call it a “massive fuck-up”) that happened at age 20?

Dear God, save me from having to admit that to anyone.

And yet … I need to. And I did.

Because the story I lived is just my narrative. The story I am living now is my battleground. And wars are rarely won alone.

So maybe it’s time we stopped. Trying to win them alone, I mean.

Maybe it’s time that the story we lived becomes a platform for telling the story we are living. And that we recognize that all the wounds we drag ourselves back home with, and all the wounds that have never healed properly, whether from the actions of others or from all those “massive fuck-ups” of our own, are the very stuff of which real relationships are made.

When we refuse to share the story we are living, we cut ourselves off from having a warm hand in ours, and feeling the safety of a human hug, and the sweet relief of a voice that says, “Me too. I’m there also.”

At the end of the day, the only person who can deny us this sweet relief is … us.

The stories we choose to tell will determine how connected we feel. But perhaps the biggest mistake of all is not to realize that you can tell your story, and still stay completely hidden.

Maybe it’s time we came out from hiding behind our stories of triumph.

The unfinished, unedited next chapter is so much more powerful.

_

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Why is Lasting Life Change is So Elusive?

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You’ve been working on yourself for some time now.

You go to counseling. You’re in church regularly. You’re seeking God, following all the self-discovery and self-care practices you’ve been taught, and making some radical shifts to how you “do you.”

But it doesn’t really seem to stick. You know what I mean? You feel good, eat right and go to yoga for a week, then the next week you binge out. You pray and seek God often, but you still struggle with tremendous bitterness about what you’ve been through. T

he new friends you’ve made are strengthening you … but for every one of them, there’s ten from your old life whose energy drags you down every time you open your social media feed.

Life change is elusive, Sister.

I know you know this. You wouldn’t be here reading this blog if you didn’t sense it in your bones. Know it in your soul. Feel it in the wet fabric of your pillow each night.

I get it. Totally. I was there for more years than I care to admit. Things shifted, yes, but nothing radically CHANGED until I got clear on one small truth that I kept wanting to overlook.

To get and become everything you want, you must say yes to ‘nothing.’

For most of us, I think we come to this healing journey because we desperately want more. More than the oppressive emotional pain. More than the broken relationships. More than the dead-end career or struggling business that is our daily reality. And I do believe God wants more for us. He is calling us to MORE, which is why He has led us to pursue the changes we are trying to make.

And yet.

And yet …

Sometimes we re not fully ready for the impact of what we are asking for.

You see, God knows that it’s impossible for us to have what we really want while we are clutching so tightly to what we actually don’t want. Half a life shift is no shift at all. You cannot have a legitimate resurrection without a legitimate death.

But who really, honestly, actually wants to DIE?

If you find yourself stuck in the middle of your healing journey, trapped halfway between who you were and who you want to be, mark it down. THere is something that must die before you can be reborn. There is something you must drop from your grip so you can receive your destiny with truly open hands. There is a nothing you must submit to so that you can step into everything.

Okay, you get that in theory. But what does it look like?

In my healing journey, there is one simple “trick” God gave me to help jettison myself out of every stuck place. And that was just a simple question:

“What is the ‘empty space’ I am resisting today?”

Invariably, there was a “loss,” a “death,” some kind of emptying I was resisting to. Instinctively, I knew that in order get where I wanted to go, I was going to have surrender that place: to step beyond it and leave whatever was there behind, so I could get to the next level of my destiny.

There’s nothing harder than letting go. Which is why we resist. Do everything else we can. And ultimately, remain stuck.

What could that empty place be for you? I have no idea; I suspect you already do. But in case you’re truly stumped, here are some “nothings” I had to face, in order to receive everything:

  • The “nothing” of space: Cleaning out a lifetime of emotional clutter in the form of stuff in my house that was emotionally dragging me down.
  • The “nothing” of relationships: Releasing boyfriends, exes I still had a “thing” for, and toxic friendships—as gently and kindly as possible—that I kept stumbling over.
  • The “nothing” of dreams: Closing my dream business and giving up on achieving my deepest desires, so that God could put brand new better desires in my heart.
  • The “nothing” of social expectations: Following God’s call into things and places that I knew my friends and family would look down on and reject me for.
  • The “nothing” of self-image: Letting go of my obsession with losing weight, perfecting my skin, getting the right wardrobe and anything else designed to boost my image to others, in favor of practices that made me feel good inside.
  • The “nothing” of finances: Submitting every dollar I had to God, watching Him take it ALL away, and trusting that He would provide for me.
  • The “nothing” of meditation: Returning daily to practices like meditation and yoga even when I struggled to quiet my mind inside, believing that the practice would yield rewards in time.

Did any of these resonate with you? I’m sure there are many more kinds of “nothing!” But I bet you can see something on that list that speaks to at least a part of your situation today.

Any time we are stuck on the healing journey, it’s only and ever becuase we are holding back, unwilling to release something we have been clinging to.

Let’s face it: the empty space can be terrifying. Who wants to sit alone with their thoughts (during meditation), sit alone with four bare walls (after decluttering), sit alone with themselves (after jettisoning the toxic job), or sit alone at the coffee shop (when others reject your choices)?

And yet.

And yet …

Though your healing journey is perhaps the biggest gift God will every give you, the “dirty little secret” of emotional freedom is that you will be required to lay it all on the altar.

Freedom never happens when you’re dragging your past around with you, or a toxic present, or excessive expectations about the future.

True freedom happens when you drop everything you’re clutching so tightly, and submit to the terror of the empty space.

Make friends with Nothing, dear heart, and you will find the change you seek.

How Everything Began with Nothing


IMG_0258 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness
was over the face of the deep.
G
enesis 1:1 (ESV)

Walking up Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, you wouldn’t immediately call it a great place for meditation. Especially not at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday—when suit-clad office workers come streaming out of the buildings, scrambling for the car keys that will whisk them off into another lazy weekend.

The tallest buildings in this small-big Midwest city line that street. One end of Wisconsin Avenue stretches all the way past Marquette University and out to the suburbs. The other, which was the direction I happened to be heading, dead-ends in the white wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum, spread against ribbons of Lake Michigan blue.

No, Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee is not at all a good place to meditate on a gorgeous day. But it’s where I happened to find myself, pairing my even footsteps with my uneven heartbeat that Friday afternoon. My headphones were in. The worship music was blaring. I had just come from a routine trip to the local bank and now, on my seemingly routine trip home, I found all sorts of reasons to “meditate.” Which was, at that time, really just my shorthand for asking of God how long, exactly, until He sent me everything I wanted.

At that point in life, I felt I had some decent reasons to demand something good.

The year of 2016 had been brutal but transformative for me: an unforeseen divorce, business highs and lows, the carving of a new life from the rubble of the old. I had faced each challenge head on. Brave (with a few lip quivers) Uncomplaining (well, mostly). My body was bruised from repeated falls from grace, and my fingers bled from clawing my way back. But claw I did, fighting every day through that crazy year to create a different future for myself.

By early 2017 I had moved into a brand new apartment I actually liked with a sliver of a Lake Michigan view. I had built my freelance marketing business up to a bona fide small agency with twelve contractors. I had new clothes to hang on a body I actually felt good in, had just bought my first-ever designer purse and driven home a new-to-me Fiat that represented the first car I had not relied on a man to buy on my behalf. I had even just gotten my dream couch: one of those delicate antique settees with scrolling mahogany woodwork. (I considered this my personal down payment to myself on settling in to an altered existence where I had finally achieved some semblance of peace and prosperity.)

Yet something was missing. Well, actually somethings, to be precise.

Money was flowing in, but thanks to all the contractors it took to actually do the jobs I got, my bank accounts always looked anemic. The business had grown, yes, but I was now chained to a desk twelve hours a day selling projects and managing what I had sold. I had finally begun to rediscover the artistry that went into hiding after my ex-husband broke my heart.

Yet even there my progress was fitful at best: the one-off pieces of art that sputtered from pen and paintbrush were a shadow of the complex projects I had once finished regularly. I had even gotten a new handle on body love, health and exercise—things that had plagued me from childhood—but the stress from the divorce and its fallout had taken a toll on my health. Chronic digestive issues and fatigue seemed to eat up every little physical gain I made.

And then there was the matter of my love life. I had done a ton of work on myself post-divorce: really delving in to where I was blocking love from my life, not just romantically but from friends and family too. I had made a lot of changes. I had learned to be really present with the people I love. And yet, I found myself burning from the heels of two broken dating relationships, both of which had started out with great potential.

Oh yes—that sultry, blue-skied Friday in July might not have been the most opportune moment to tell God all of my troubles. But while I dodged the suit-clad on their rush for the suburbs, tell Him I did.

The strange thing was, in my heart of hearts this time, I knew He would answer.

Leaving the bank, I wound my way up Wisconsin Avenue, past the twelve-story, rust-red Railway Exchange Building, Victorian architecture at its ornate finest. On the tenth floor, less than a year prior, my ex-husband and I had sat in separate rooms while his lawyer gave mine an ultimatum: accept the paltry settlement he was offering—far beneath the amount stipulated by Wisconsin law—or face an ugly divorce trial that would wipe out what little I had left. The memory still burned in my conscious as I stepped quickly past the door. Less painful for the resources in question than for the agony of realizing my tender college sweetheart had become my stone-faced enemy.

Beyond that was Amalinda, a red-and-gold painted lintel the only announcement that the city’s finest Spanish and Portuguese food might be found within. Here, in the midst of my divorce, I had sat the previous July with a dear friend. We had talked until midnight over the dessert of the day. Dating soon followed. Being seen and heard for the first time in my life, I fell for him. And I fell hard. But by September, we were parting ways in deep anger and disappointment. Just the thought of eating another dessert there still left a bitter taste in my mouth.

The memories flew by me with each passing buildings, each of them more painful than the last. There was the Pfister Hotel, where I had spent the day roaming with my most recent boyfriend, a gifted professional photographer. We had broken up just one month prior. And then there was a cramped little Starbucks, where one of my best business mentors had encouraged me to up-level my freelance business into an agency. In my heart, I blamed him for the overwork and constant stress that had been mine since adopting his recommendation.

Further beyond that soared the tallest building in Milwaukee, the U.S. Bank Building, though soon not to be the tallest anymore, its rigid white bones were knit together with glass. I ignored the twirl of the revolving doors as I passed them, trying to ignore, as well, all the times I had tried to get inside the upper eschelons of that building, seeking any toe-hold for my business in the endless climb for entrepreneurial success. All I had gotten was after fall. More blood. And more bruises.

“When is it all going to show up, God?” By now I was asking the question out loud, not caring in the least which fleeing office worker chanced to overhear. “I’ve been asking You for so long. Doing all the things You have told me too, as far as know. But did I miss something? Am I not obeying you in some way?” The tears came now, unbidden. “What am I missing here, on the path to everything?”

At the moment I let these words escape, I was still traversing the U.S Bank Plaza. Just then, I happened to glance up to the left. I was startled to see a series of limos, lined up bumper to bumper at the curb. The nearest one’s license plate read THINK 1.

Seriously? Did I just really see that?

“Okay, God.” I took a deep breath. “I’ll think.”

So I thought.

Nothing came to mind.

I glanced at the next limo’s license plate. It read THINK 2.

“No really, God. I’m thinking. I promise. Okay?”

Still, nothing came to mind.

THINK 3.

“Seriously, God. This isn’t funny. I’m thinking, okay? Thinking thinking thinking! Do you see me over here thinking? You can hear my thoughts. I know You can!”

God was mercifully silent in that moment, relegating Himself to satisfaction of a visual joke. No matter how hard I thought, I came up with Nothing. And yet, though I kept walking, I could guess by now where this was going. Limo after limo, each had the same license plate with the same minor adjustment:

THINK 4. THINK 5. THINK 6. THINK 7.

Seven limos, altogether. Seven calls to think.

Seven is the number of perfection in the Bible, I knew. But I wasn’t perfect; that much, the last year had taught me. Now, as if I any doubt left, my feet hurt and the rising stress in my gut was making short work of my lunch. I could feel another of the endless digestive attacks coming on. Suddenly, all I wanted was to be home, stretched on that antique couch with a blanket pulled over my head.

“I’m not perfect, alright?” I shouted to the Heavens. “You should know this by now! And I cannot figure out what you are saying! If you’re going to answer me, You’re going to have to just say it Yourself, God. Just say it!”

I shouted this last sentence so loud, even the most frazzled commuters paused to stare.

Leaving the limos in the wake of this last plea, I rounded the bend in the street. To my right, the orange arms of the Apostrophe Statue spread over Spaight Plaza, punctuating the wings of the Calatrava-designed Art Museum behind. Just a few nights prior, I had gone to this park in the cool darkness of an early July night. I had kicked off my shoes, rushed the grass and danced with manic ecstasy to the tunes in my earbuds. The same tunes that, now, mocked the warm tears streaming down my face.

Ahead was the corner of Prospect and Mason. This, to me, was the end of Wisconsin Avenue, the place where it turned sharply east into Prospect, while Mason stretched to the east, to the east toward War Memorial Plaza, overlooking the Lake, and to the west toward the jagged glass column that would one day become the Northwestern Mutual Building.

In the shadow of this monstrosity, the soon-to-be tallest building in the city, I stopped to cross the street. The no-walk signal flashed. I held myself at the corner, all the pent-up anger and sadness burning inside. Finally, a walk sign. Relief! I stepped into the street. But as I did, a rattle-trap car pulled up at the intersection in front of me. It was so unremarkable that I hardly noticed it, save for the fact that it was a jalopy in every sense of the word.

I had had enough with license plates for one day, thank you very much. But sometimes God causes us to look where we don’t want to, if for no other reason than to remind us that He is still in control of all things, even the trajectory our gaze.

The car was a broken-down wreck, yes: a peeling blue Buick so beat up, its very presence on the road was clearly an exercise in faith. It grumbled and growled at me as I passed it. I made it a point not to look the driver in the eye; to this day, I still don’t know if it was a man or woman. But there was one thing I could not help noticing: a license plate so unmistakably clear, this time, that I stared in spite of myself.

EXNIHLO.

That was the license plate, yes. Due to letter restrictions, the Latin phrase had been shortened, but my mind immediately filled in the details.

Ex NihiloOut of nothing.

I knew that phrase, oh yes.As a good little Bible college girl years ago, with one of those good little theological educations, I knew the phrase Ex Nihilo. Though it never appears in the Bible, it is often used by theologians when debating the origins of life. Some say when God created the world “In the beginning,” as it says in Genesis 1, this means creatio ex materia—creation out of something that already existed. (A few versus in the chapter appear to suggest there was water or some type of matter already present in the world at the creation.) But other theologians say no, it was creatio ex nihilo—an artistic act that called up everything we see around us out of absolute and complete Nothing.

My purpose here is not to convince you of one or the other theological takes on Genesis 1. But if you’re curious, yes, I do come from the lineage of the Ex Nihilo. God knew this when He sent a beat-up Buick with a crazy license plate my way. And when I saw that license plate, I knew that God had decided to answer my prayer.

Before my foot even hit the opposite curb, I heard His still, small voice thunder in my spirit.

Everything you want will come out of Nothing.

I paused on the opposite curb. This was my answer; I knew it even before the voice of God had coiled again into its majestic silence. I glanced back. The light changed; EXNIHLO was rattling its way on up Prospect Avenue, spewing black clouds as it went. I had never seen that car before, and I have never seen it since. Sometimes I wonder if it really existed at all—or whether it might be some sort of joke, a cosmic illusion conjured up by God’s considerable humor and powered by angels for the sheer purpose of putting me on notice.

My prayers had been heard. The season was shifting.

Everything you want will come out of Nothing.

Had I been more perceptive at point in my life, or perhaps more receptive, I would have seen immediately that “nothing” had already been my portion for some time now. From the first day my ex-husband announced his desire for a fast, surgically-precise divorce, everything in my life had been receding like the slow ebb of a tide. But I had fought the tide. This was the supreme lack of perception that, at this point in my life, had kept me from seeing the truth so long that on July 21st, 2017, I actually had to ask for it. For every inch of bare sand in my life that the ebbing wave had exposed, I had scooped that same water into a jar and splashed it back over the sand, trying to keep it all wet. Now, even the jar itself would soon be swept away.

But I was neither that perceptive nor that receptive back then. Instead, I took comfort in the explanation, though I did not really understand it. My stomach settled. My feet softened. I had no idea what this directive meant, but it didn’t really matter. I walked the last four home, utterly content with what I had heard from the Most High

As miraculous as this experience had been, there was an ominous edge to it. What I did not understand on that boiling-hot Friday of July 21, 2017, was that my attempts to grab hold of everything were not just premature to my personal process. They were in direct violation of how God actually enacts transformation. He cannot bring us everything He seeks until He wrests from our grasp everything else that keeps our hands balled into a fist.

The visitations of THINK and EXNIHLO—and His subsequent pronouncement—were the only warning He would give me that the hour of complete Emptying was now at hand.

There would be no art without destruction. No progress without regression. No making of anything without the unmaking all that had come before.

That day, God said to me,“Everything you want will come out of Nothing.” And I am here to testify: He always makes good on His words.

This is the story of how I lost and gained it all.

9 Ways to Love Your Body When You Don’t Really Like It

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“Don’t you you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that His spirit dwells in your midst?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16

You know deep inside if you don’t love your body. It’s hard to admit aloud, perhaps, but not hard to know in your soul. You hate mirrors. You don’t want to have your picture taken. And nothing you put on your body, clothes-wise, actually feels good.

There was a time in my life where I didn’t just dislike my body. I loathed it. I dreaded taking showers or baths because I’d have to undress in front of the bathroom mirror—and stare at all the lumps and bumps I had that I didn’t think were in the “places they were supposed to be.”

Many of my friends might have been surprised to learn how I felt about myself, because some of them considered me “slender” and “fit.” It took a lot of effort and ingenuity to make my body look different than it was, not to mention a lot of time and money. I bought the best bras I could afford. Shapewear, makeup and expensive haircuts were my best friend.

Yet, despite all this, I didn’t feel good in my own skin. And I certainly didn’t love it or what was inside of it.

It took me years to realize that my feelings weren’t magically going to change overnight. Yes, I did want to feel differently about my body, but spiritually (and neurologically) speaking, there are only two ways to change your feelings about yourself.

You have to change your THINKING and your ACTIONS.

No, your feelings won’t change overnight. But as you start prayerfully 1) doing things that genuinely nourish your body (rather than simply covering it up) and 2) redirecting every self-negative thought into one that honors God’s perspective … you will see change.

One day you will wake up, like I did, realizing that your body is pretty amazing exactly as it is. And that, in fact, you aren’t quite sure why you hated it so much or wanted to change it so badly. I know this might sound like an alternate universe, but it is possible.

Here are 9 ways to start nudging your inner “Negative Nancy” voice in the direction of genuine self-appreciation and praise to God for how you were made:

1. Ask God to change your heart toward yourself by showing you HIS radical love for you.

God says that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). He loves you to the core of your being. Every time you cut yourself down, you are essentially blaspheming Him by speaking against something that He has called good. God knows where you are at; He is ready and willing to extend mercy to you and even help you have a “new heart” in regards to yourself. All you have to do is ask. Sure, the way you FEEL about yourself might not change overnight. But you will receive the transformation if you persist in prayer and in choosing to THINK thoughts that reflect what HE says about you, not what your inner “Negative Nancy” is telling you.

2. Choose to feel good, rather than look good.

This is a simple but profound shift. If you’ve been buying tight clothes, Spanx or other shapewear that drives your skin insane but molds your silhouette into something you think is “acceptable,” now is the time to change that. By contrast, perhaps you wear “tent dresses” to hide your shape but secretly feel unkempt or slobby in them, what does that say? Either way, it’s time for change. Go to a favorite thrift shop or department store–your choice–and give yourself a whole afternoon to try on all kinds of outfits. Notice which fabrics feel good, which waistbands feel good, which clothes make you relax versus tense up. Once you find what makes you FEEL good, stick with that. And only that. By prioritizing your own good feels, you are de-prioritizing how others perceive you.

3. Nourish your skin inside and out.

At a certain point in my healing journey, I had a choice to make. I could continue spending tons of money on face/body products that promised miracle results, plus cosmetics that over my lifetime, would cost as much as a sports car. Or I could focus on having really great skin, and making sure I took care of its health so that I glowed from the inside out. I chose the latter. And I can say that that choice actually changed everything about loving myself and my body. My secrets for glow-glam skin that doesn’t even need makeup include:

  • Drink half your body weight in water each day.
  • Dry-brush before you shower, every time.
  • Use a natural charcoal exfoliating sponge on your face twice per week.
  • Make your own face scrub (it’s easy and fast!).
  • Swap commercial “moisturizers” for a gentle natural oil. (I use argan or jojoba.)
  • Shave your face with an eyebrow razor (yes, all those fine hairs everywhere!); it’s a powerful exfoliant and makes skin glow.
  • Try a vegan, vegetarian or meat- and dairy-lite diet. You’ll be shocked at how your skin responds.

Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying them all at once. Pick one technique and see what it does for you! Then try adding another.

4. Find a self-care practice that works for you.

For some women, baths make them feel great. For others it’s lounging in pretty lingerie while they read a book by candlelight. Maybe your jam is a monthly massage or two yoga classes a week. Whatever it is … and you might have to experiment to find it … prioritize that. For many years, because I hated my body so much, I didn’t want to spend time or money nourishing it. Once I began allocating resources to feeling good, guess what? The feelings followed. So find your jam and stick with it. And if you “fall off the bandwagon,” simply get on again. That’s why self-care is a journey and not an destination.

5. Do mirror work daily.

If you’re not familiar, mirror work is a practice in which you choose several affirming statements about your body, tape them up to the mirror where you get ready each day, and say them to yourself directly in the mirror as you dress. It might sound or feel “cheesy” at first, but WOW is this practice powerful! You see, our brains respond to verbal input. If your verbal input toward yourself is always negative, nothing is going to change. The combination of looking into your own eyes in the mirror, plus speaking “words of life” over yourself, can change so much. Some of my favorite mirror work affirmations include:

  • I love you exactly how God made you.
  • I am fearfully and wonderfully made because God said so.
  • You are becoming more beautiful each day, [insert name].
  • Who’s that gorgeous woman in the mirror? Oh, it’s me!

6. Move your body, just for fun.

When I began my healing journey, I was incredibly self-conscious about dancing and had been all my life. But something happened as I began to DO and THINK love toward my body. I would shut my door, turn up the music, and dance just for me. This was new. It felt strange and even silly at first. But then it began to feel REALLY GOOD. There’s a power in great music, and a power in dance. It will life your spirits like nothing else. Even if all you can do is move back and forth, wave your arms and turn in circles … baby girl, crank up those TUNES. The key too is to choose positive music—praise and worship, or at least songs that share a positive, uplifting message about the world and about you. You’ll be amazed at how your posture and your self-confidence begin to change in public as you do this work in private.

7. Practice standing tall.

Posture is a funny thing. It actually does make a difference in how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. Coming from a conservative church background in the ‘80s, I had those hilarious posture lessons with a hymn book balanced on my head … and it did nothing for me. This is partly because those lessons were focused on me looking “lady-like,” which is ALL about how other people perceive us. That is a lie from the pit of hell. Later, during my healing journey, I learned how to stand tall in yoga because it felt good and it made me feel powerful. Because when you show up and stand tall, people react differently to you, innately. And you also react differently to yourself. If you want to learn more, here is:

What Really Happens When You Buzz Your Hair in the Middle of a Nebraska Blizzard

On Saturday, the 14th of April 2018, I buzzed off all of my hair. 

My journey toward this moment began more than a decade ago, in Tibet, where I was frustrated by the intermittent showers I could get in that harsh, wild landscape. Sometimes a week went by between real showers, and my greasy hair was suffering. I told some other people in my travel group that I “just wanted to buzz it off.” They all thought it was a great idea, a smart solution, but ultimately I chickened out. 

Why? 

Simple.

I was afraid of what other people would think. 

Fast-forward a decade and a half. I had just come out of a rich, full romantic relationship that did not last as long as I had hoped it would. But in that breakup, God gave me the tremendous gift of revealing to me, through my now ex-boyfriend’s wise observations, all the ways in which I was not honest on my exterior about who I really inside.

I sat with his words and recognized the truth in tI knew I needed to make certain changes to be more authentic. And I had a feeling my hair was one of those changes. 

My friend Snowe and I started praying about what I should do. And you know what God said? 

His response was to show me an image of myself, vowing to buzz my hair back in Tibet. 

I knew immediately that the meaning was clear: this actually was the real me. But my fear had gotten in the way, and it was time to let that fear go. After all, it was fear that had kept me from fully being the real me in my dating relationship, which was a large shared of my contribution to its ultimate demise. 

I had learned my lesson. There was no going back. 

I promised God I would buzz it all off as soon as I got to Colorado, where I was going to visit a friend. 

God has a sense of humor, of course. 

I had a gut feeling that He wanted me to buzz my hair on 4/14, which back home in Milwaukee is known as “Milwaukee Day,” since our primary area code is 414. But as it turned out, I never made it to Colorado for 4/14. Instead, I got stuck in the biggest, nastiest blizzard I have ever witnessed. On 4/14 I was stuck in a roadside hotel in tiny Paxton, NE.

After paying for the unexpected hotel bill, I had $14 left to my name. (Ironic, no? $14 on 4/14? God has such a sense of humor!) But I was undaunted. I went to the hotel clerk and asked who in town could buzz my hair for $14. Keep in mind this was the day after a mammoth blizzard, when the I-80 highway was still completely shut down from Lincoln, NE, to the Colorado border!

He sent me into town to find the only beauty parlor, which was located in a house. Long story short, I almost missed the stylist, but by some miracle, she actually did come in to work that day. She buzzed my hair for $10 and I gave her the remaining $4 in tip. 

I walked out the door feeling completely liberated of every fear I have ever had about “looking good” in order to be accepted by others. 

The funny thing is, too, that the response of other people has been far different from what I anticipated. I thought I might get shunned, or get a lot of negative comments from people. (After all, where I come from in Milwaukee, you don’t see a lot of shave-headed women running around like you might in some more fashion-forward towns.) 

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Shaving my head has shown me who my true friends are. And I discovered, in fact, that more people were ready to applaud me for revealing the Real Me than were ready to ridicule me. 

People come up to me all the time now and ask about why I shaved my head. Women tell me they wish they had “that much courage,” and I encourage them to step out and do what their heart is leading them to. 

Perhaps I have been most surprised by the number of men who come up to me in stores or restaurants and compliment my hair—not in an uncomfortable or suggestive way, but with an energy of genuine appreciation for someone choosing to be different. 

People tell me all the time that my buzzed hair looks good on me, but here’s the dirty little secret about that: 

I had no idea if it were going to look good, or not, when I decided to do it. 

I simply went with God’s leading, and with the absolute conviction that I NEVER wanted to get into a relationship again where someone was unclear about who I really am. 

My buzzed head said “rebel.” It says, “free spirit.” It says, “artist.” Funnily enough, more cool people who also fit that description are showing up in my world every week now. 

Why? 

I think it’s because I chose to step out first, in the middle of a blizzard, when I didn’t know what the outcome would be. Following what God has for us, and creating the life He has given us a vision for, is all about faith. 

Sometimes you gotta take a pair of clippers to your head before you can really see who you are under all the layers of social conditioning, people-pleasing and unconscious choices you have been making all your life. 

Let it all fall away, and find out who you were meant to be.