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.

 

Then My Soul Sings

These days, most of my time is consumed with white dresses, vintage doors and lots and lots of flowers. We still have a little less than a year to go until we tie the knot, and I am already SO. STRESSED. And don’t even get me started about how many fights me and Eric have gotten into since we’ve gotten engaged. Most of these fights normally end with someone yelling, “LET’S JUST ELOPE!” And then we agree that planning a wedding really sucks and then we go back to trying to find the perfect color for the cloth that will hang on our arbor. Raise your hands if you’ve gone through this whole engagement season and have wanted to cry like every day. I am WITH you, sister. But amidst this whole whirlwind of emotion, let me just tell you that God still finds ways to sit on my soul and whisper to my heart. He is right in the middle of everything and beckons me to drop the wedding planner and to do lists and sit at his feet. What’s important? He asks. What is actually important about this season? And this normally leaves me weeping in my bedroom (or in my living room in the middle of writing addresses on envelopes for engagement party invitations.) It makes me want to crawl straight into God’s lap and let Him wipe away my tears as I search for the answers deep in my heart.

You, God. My soul sings for You. That’s what’s really important. The only thing my heart cares for is that it is tended by the very hands that molded me into the Type A person that I am. My soul sings for a God who is so personal and intricate that He speaks to me in my brattiest and most selfish moments. Because those are the moments that He tenderly lifts my head up and asks me the questions that make me rethink everything. What is important? 

Let’s be really real for a second. Marriage is hard. I’m not even married yet, and I already know it’s going to be one of the toughest things that I will ever do. Don’t get me wrong, I love Eric with every single part of me, but this engagement has been so difficult. God has delivered to us so much goodness that comes from the steadfast love that we shower each other with daily, but the devil likes to get in the middle of all that, which makes it real messy. He likes to bring out insecurities and doubts that do not come from Jesus’ heart, and wow those are really hard moments. Those are moments that I am honestly not even sure I want to go through with this whole marriage thing. Seriously. In about a year, I’m going to be stuck with Eric for the rest of my life. Am I ready for that?? And then comes every single doubt that the devil can conjure up in his evil little mind and then I start to believe it and then I’m in this mess of doubt and confusion and I don’t even know what the heck to do. Then, boom. It’s like love and grace had a baby and hatched it on my heart and all those doubts and fears and insecurities fly out the window because God asks me one very simple question. What’s important? 

Well You, God. Obviously. You’re what’s important. 

Yes, I know your heart. It sings for my love, but look up. What’s important?

Then, boom. I see it. The answer to the question I have been subconsciously asking ever since Eric and I have started dating. His really bad habit of biting his nails is not important. His really annoying tendency to be over protective and over bearing is not important. The fact that he asks me if I’m okay like 100,000 times a day is not important. This whole wedding isn’t even important. The important thing is his love. It’s the fact that at the end of the day, he’s going to be with me. Through every season, through the struggles, through the fun, through the painful lies that my flesh wants to believe, and through the freeing truths my heart proclaims, he’s going to be there. And that’s what’s important.

I have found the one my soul longs for. He sees me, like really sees me. I have found my good thing, and I am never letting go of what’s important.

I’m praying for each one of you girls (and guys) out there who don’t even know what to do with their relationship anymore. It’s hard and it sucks and it’s a whole lot of work that  sometimes doesn’t even seem worth it. Trust me. It is. I’m praying for a love and a grace that encompasses all pain and doubts and fear. That those lies are plucked from your heart, and in its place, you would find God’s truth. He yearns for your heart. He yearns for your relationship. His covenant with us is what is carried out through marriage. What a gift! What a God! I’m praying for peace and comfort in the hard times and constant joy in the times that you want to lay in your bed and ignore everyone. Relationships are not easy and are a whole lot of work, but they are so worth it.

You are loved beyond belief by a God who cares and adores you. He sees you right now, reading these words as I am pouring them out of my heart. All he wants is for you to open up your heart and let Him in. To accept Him into your life. He wants to be your first love. He longs for your attention. Look straight into His eyes, and I promise your life will change forever.

Ahava

When I think about happiness, I think about Eric’s goofy smile when he’s up to something. I think about him snoring obnoxiously on the couch while I am trying to finish up my homework. I think about his constant love even when I am the most unloveable person in the world. I’m talking about him pouring out his love even when I am moody and grumpy and hungry. (Guys, if you can love a girl when she’s hangry, you know she’s the one.) This kind of happiness and love gives me such a clear picture of God’s love for His children. It’s an ahava love, friends, and boy does it feel good.

Let’s back up and take a look at what ahava love is. The happy times are great and fill my heart with so much love and thankfulness, but that is not the only thing our relationship is made up of. Our relationship is also made of many, many, many fights. Sometimes they’re fights about someone not answering the phone right away, but other times, they are fights about very real and harsh things. Just the other week, Eric and I had one of the biggest fights that I think we have ever had (I’m talking slamming doors, screaming, tears rolling down cheeks, and cars revving off into the distance). These times are hard. They make me want to curl up in a ball and forget about his goofy smile. They make me want to turn around and run as fast as I can away and never turn back because it hurts. SO. MUCH. These are the times I want to build a brick wall around my heart to protect myself. What is ahava love, then? It’s the moment when I am sitting on my couch crying my eyes out after he slams the front door as he walks out, then hearing the door open back up five minutes later. It’s him pulling my broken self into his embrace and whispering that he would never dream of leaving. I’m not going anywhere, he says, I’m right here and I’m never leaving you. This, my friends. This is ahava love. It’s a type of love that isn’t only present in the good times when it’s easy to love. Instead, it is forever constant when the last thing you want to do is love. It is mightier than the grave, and it never gives up. It encompasses even when you want to run and run and run, because obviously you’re incapable of love, right? Wrong. 

Ahava love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. It pursues. It doesn’t envy; it doesn’t boast. It redeems; it gives grace. And where in the world did Eric learn to love with so much abandonment and fearlessness? From our Father, of course. These characteristics that I just described in how well this man loves me is a complete representation of how well my God loves me. We love because He first loved us. God shows up everyday and loves with complete abandonment. He loves even when we are fully incapable of loving with the same intensity. His love always knocks on the front door, seeking to be known– seeking to be felt. His love covers all pain and insecurity and fear. His love covers our relationship, and that’s how Eric knows how to love– from our Father who guides his every move. He knows how to lead us in this kind of love because he follows our God’s lead.

Love with abandonment. Love without the fear of receiving in return. Love like our Father loves us, and I promise you will be able to relish in all the beauty it holds. Stop running; answer the door and feel His presence. He wants you. Not the perfect you. Not the you that smiles and laughs and pretends everything is okay. Nope. He wants the you that is falling a part. The you that wants to run at any sign of danger. He wants to embrace you in your brokenness just to promise that He is not going anywhere. To promise you of his constant grace.