Beauty for Ashes

The other night, I was in shambles. I woke up in the middle of the night in an absolute panic. I was sweating and crying and panting and for some reason, I could not calm myself down. All I could think about right then and there was that my world was coming undone from the seams. My eyes were puffy, my chest hurt from all of the crying and heaving, my palms were sweaty, and I felt like nothing would ever be ok ever again. I couldn’t tell you what started that whole episode, but I can sure tell you what was going through my mind in the middle of it. Weak. You’re weak. Why can’t you stop crying? You’re not good enough. You see all the people out there having fun without you? You’re alone. Nobody cares about you. Might as well die right here, ’cause who even cares anything about you? 

And you know the worst part? I believed all those lies. You see, this isn’t what you see on social media. You don’t see the jealousy that tears away at my heart as the enemy is able to penetrate me with the lies he builds his kingdom on. You don’t see the tears running down my face as the aching in the middle of my chest makes me want to disappear in a dust of nothingness. Because in all reality, most nights I want to dissipate into a pile of ashes and be swept underneath a rug and be forgotten by the world, and some nights that’s exactly how I feel – forgotten.

Forgotten by the world. Forgotten by my friends. Forgotten. Alone. As these words echoed through my mind, I fell deeper and deeper in a cloud of darkness. I was a captive to the shackles of despair, and you know what? I allowed it. I held out my hands and let the enemy chain my wrists to the darkness of my own thoughts. I gave up the moment it got hard, and he took hold of me and I couldn’t shake him off. Lucky for me, my God already won the fight. He declared victory over me the day Jesus died on the cross for my  sins, and said It is finished. Lucky for me, the fight was already fought. All I had to do was declare it.

And in that moment, the moment I turned my puffy eyed, teary face into my Father’s arms, His grace washed over me.

Isaiah 61 says that:

“He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come… 

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.”

In the moments of despair and chain- linked anguish; in the moments that I felt forgotten and utterly useless; in the moments of pain and heart ache; God saw me. Though I chained myself to the lies the enemy was telling me and encompassed myself in complete darkness, His light broke through and He promised so much more for me. He wiped the ashes from my head that spoke of death and despair and replaced them with a crown that declared my worth and beauty.

He tenderly held me in His arms as I wept, but instead of keeping me blinded in my own darkness, He shone a light on the glory I brought to His Kingdom through my obedience. He placed a crown on my head and proclaimed my authority and worth in Him. I was worth more. I was not forgotten. I was beautiful.

And in that moment, I broke free of the shackles I chained myself with and ran in joy and freedom straight into the arms of my Daddy. No more did the darkness overtake my soul. No more did I believe in the lies of the enemy. No more did I let myself become a prisoner of my own thoughts.

My Father gave me a crown of  beauty for ashes and I declare the victories that come with that.

Friends, as I sit here wondering how to express to you how good and amazing our God is, all I feel compelled to do is pray. I pray that although the blanket of anxiety and depression seems so heavy on your heart, you would find the lightness that comes with God’s presence. Jesus carried those burdens away so you wouldn’t have to dwell in them. Instead, I pray that you choose your dwelling place to be at His feet worshipping Him through the struggles and the pain. Because that is where you will find peace. That is where you will find freedom. That is where you will find love. That is where you will feel whole again. He is for you and never against you; that, I can promise. Friends, I am praying for freedom. I am praying that the bondage that is tethering you to the lies of the enemy’s kingdom be broken in Jesus’ name. All things are possible for our God and I believe in faith that His presence will meet you exactly where you are at, wherever that may be. I love you, sister.

 

Rest for the Weary

As I am sitting here writing these words that are now appearing on your screen or device or however you are reading this, just know I should be studying. Because accounting is no joke and Procrastination Nina has decided to try and learn three full accounting chapters in ONE. NIGHT. What the heck. You don’t have to say it… I’m never going to do this again. Until the next test.

And as I sit here about to have a huge freakout because I have a dumb accounting test to study for (I mean, do I look like an accountant?? I barely know how to properly give back change when I’m working concessions stands!!!!). But I wish that is the only thing my mind has to worry about. I also have a wedding to plan, I have to make sure my fiancé feels loved and valued, I have to invest in relationships and friendships, I have to go on multiple double dates because I just really love people and couples, I have to manage social media pages, I have to lead a group, oh yeah and I also have to find time to worship the Lord ALL WHILE trying to find time to sleep and eat and you know all the necessary things I have to do so I DON’T DIE. Wow. That huge run on sentence is my life right now and sometimes it’s overwhelming. Like majorly overwhelming. As in, most days I make a really long list of things I have to do… and then I take a really long nap and forget all the things I have to do.. until it’s the night before the test and WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE.

In the middle of all of this craziness, I just want to curl up in a ball and cry. I’m not talking about shedding a few tears and wiping them away. I’m talking straight up ugly crying in my bed and making those weird heaving sounds that really hurt but I just can’t stop. Let’s be honest, though. I don’t have time for those kinds of melt downs. Right now, all I can afford is a quick couple of tears. Maybe even a fast look through Facebook (if I’m feeling scandalous…) and then I’m back at it. I don’t have time to cry. I don’t have time to freak out. Jesus didn’t freak out when the world was crashing around Him. He handled it like a boss and raised Lazarus from the dead. I don’t got time for a break down… I have to focus on raising people from the dead! (And by people I mean my poor little accounting grade…)

Jesus definitely did raise Lazarus from the dead and He definitely did handle it all like a boss. But you know what He did right before that? He wept. That’s right Jesus (THE JESUS) had a little meltdown because right before Him laid His friend. Dead. And it was sad, and for a minute, Jesus let Himself feel those very real, raw, human emotions. Because it wasn’t something that should have been disregarded or swept under the rug. It was important to feel those emotions. To let them out and let them be known. And then of course, He raised Lazarus from the dead and all was good. But, friends, let’s not surpass the emotion.

As I’m sitting here writing a million notecards and creating a mass list of all my responsibilities, God whispered to my soul and nestled up close to my heart. And those two words sank deep down into the meltdown parts of my soul. Jesus wept. And then, guess what happened? Nina wept. At that very moment, I could see so clearly what God’s love was.

And right then, I unleashed the anger I had. The fear. The insecurities. The sadness. All of it came pouring out of my heart into God’s steady hands. Did you know that we have been looking for houses and have put offers on so many different places and have been turned down at every turn? Yeah, God. I’m mad about that. Do you want us to live in an apartment for the rest of our lives?? Did you know that I am terrified of getting married? I’m so scared. I have no idea how I am even going to be a good wife. What does that even mean?? If it means being able to cook a million things and keeping a clean house, you got the wrong girl, God. My car currently has 20 empty water bottles on the floor board and a collection of empty drive thru bags. I really don’t know what you expect of me.

And you know what happened? God listened. He listened to my angry thoughts. He listened to how I thought it was totally unfair that we haven’t gotten a cute little house yet. He listened when I told Him that I don’t think it’s a good idea to use the word ‘submit’ when it comes to wives. I mean, do I really have to submit? Like what if Eric wants something dumb like Jason’s Deli when obviously the better choice is Chilis? He listened and heard me when I vented about how accounting should not be a subject in college unless you’re really good at numbers. And then after I was done, God tenderly lifted my eyes to Him and said I feel you. Imagine that. You just poured your heart out to the Lord, and He whispered, I feel you, dog. 

But in all seriousness, He does. He’s been there. Jesus might not have walked through the exact situations we face today, but He understands those feelings. He’s felt betrayal. He knows what grief looks like. He even has questioned His destiny. Imagine this:

Jesus: Really? I have to die on the cross for all of these people? Are you sure that is the only way?

And you know what Jesus did in those moments of fear and uncertainty? He spent time with His father. He knew what His father’s voice sounded like and in those moments, He regained His strength and certainty and pressed on.

I guess what I am saying to you all right now is don’t be so afraid to show emotion. You are not meant to do it alone. Have a mental breakdown… or two. Give all of your worries to God and let Him relieve those heavy burdens that have been weighing on your heart. I promise He can handle it. But, this is the most important part: don’t dwell on it. Don’t give up those burdens and then take them back on the next day. Leave them at the foot of cross and let the Lord replenish your weary soul. You can do it, friend. I believe in you. Jesus is on your side.

 

Unfractured Love

A few weeks ago, my aunt was gracious enough to let Eric and I join her and some of my family at her beach house a few minutes outside of Destin. As we were all lounging on the beach one sunny afternoon, my baby cousin grabbed my hand and asked if I could walk with her down the beach so she could grow her massive sea shell collection. Let me tell you, I don’t think I have ever seen a child so excited about shells that were chipped and broken. Any time a new, badly beaten shell washed upon the shore, my cousin squealed, carefully picked it up, made me look at it and washed all the sand off with her tiny little hands. She, then, put it in her little bucket and kept on walking down the beach– ready to find another piece of shell to add to her collection. As I watched her excitement, God spoke so delicately to my heart.

If you don’t know the origin of sea shells, get ready for a biology lesson! All sea shells normally provide a home for little sea critters who have soft bodies and would otherwise get hurt by the crashing waves of the ocean. However, once these little sea critters either die or get too big for their shells, the poor shells get casted off into the deep abyss, where they eventually will wash upon shores and be discovered by very excited tiny hands. But, by the time they get to shore, they have gone through a very very rough time. Imagine having no anchor and literally being scraped and scratched up again and again until you finally reach shore where you can breathe and take a much needed break. Okay. I totally understand that shells are inanimate objects and cannot actually feel any emotion, but sometimes I like to believe they can.

The life of a shell isn’t exactly the greatest thing in the world. You’re getting pulled through the deep, dark places and you arrive chipped and broken during your journey– only to find yourself in the hands of a little girl who is so excited to see you. Instead of finding the broken, dirty pieces a bad thing, she delights in the mere existence of what you are. And, as I watched the excitement leap out of the squeals and laughter of this 5 year old, God whispered to my heart, and said That’s how I see you. 

See, the thing is life sucks. Period. That’s all the advice I have for today– life absolutely sucks sometimes, and you get these nasty scrapes and bruises from the really mean things people say or do to you. And those wounds on your heart make it seem almost impossible to let love in again. It’s almost as if the chipped heart you have begun to embrace is all you are able to give, and it feels like that is just not enough for anybody out there. Because, those scars lead to anxiety attacks. It leads to fear and insecurity and jealousy and tears and those are simply traits that many people do not find attractive. It leads to messy relationships that end very badly, which, then, leads to another broken piece that readily awaits the next person you encounter. And the cycle goes on.

The devil tells you that no one will be able to love you. He wants to make you believe that those bruises on your heart is going to result in a failed relationship every. single. time. See, he delights in your pain. He delights when you have those miserable panic attacks that make you feel like you could just die on the floor and no one would even care. He enjoys the times that you feel so desperately alone and broken. Because, your pain is how he thrives. 

Hey, friend. Can I tell you something? Turn your head towards God, and I promise you will hear the exact opposite. Because He joyfully picks you up and sees so much beauty in your brokenness. He finds your scars and chipped self so beautiful in so many ways. He carefully dusts you off and washes you in His mercies, and then welcomes you in an embrace that can feel no rival.

See, the thing about God is that His love is not dependent on how whole you are. It is not an equation that somehow calculates how many panic attacks and freak outs you’ve had in a week, which then, shows how deserving you are of God’s love. If you didn’t know, God’s love is unfractured. It doesn’t break easily. It isn’t conditional. It isn’t afraid. It isn’t insecure. It’s all consuming, and always present. It seeks to be known and embraces all. God does not care how badly you are beaten up. He declares freedom for your heart, and exclaims that you are His child. He pulls you from the clutches of the enemy and promises you much greater things. Because, the hurts that you are feeling now are not worthy of being ignored and pushed deep down where you can’t feel them anymore. Those scars are worthy of so much more. You are worthy of so much more.

Embrace those nasty scars. That’s the only way you are going to feel whole again. But don’t simply embrace the scars, embrace the love that God showers and pours into your life. He wants to do this with you. Beloved, He cares about you. More than anyone in the entire world could have the capability to do. Embrace the scars in order to learn to love yourself again. I promise, that’s the first step. Let God lead you away from the lies of the enemy and into His arms. That’s the best place to be.