The greatest compliment—SPECIAL EDITION

“You’re a territorial mother bear. Just like me.”

This is the greatest compliment anyone has given me, not because of the words, but because of who spoke them.

My mom has been a confidant always, especially in the last few weeks. In my intermittent seasons of restlessness, she is the one who gets the phone calls at random times of the day and week. She listens and tries to convince me to stop crying. I know she wishes she could be near me in those moments. She listens and responds when I’m yelling and screaming, mad at the world for this injustice or that unfair treatment. Sometimes I just want her to laugh at how childish I can act in my most vulnerable moments.

Last week, before my lunch break, I vented my frustrations in short, clipped texts to my mom. The number of blue text bubbles increased by the second. Her response, in white, was the greatest compliment I have ever received.

“You’re a territorial mother bear. Just like me. Lol.”

Then as I drove home for my lunch break, I called her. Angry, frustrated, cornered and already crying, I poured out my heart to her. She tried valiantly to fix the problem until she had to lovingly admit defeat. The problem could not be fixed. At least not in one phone call.

“You’re a territorial mother bear. Just like me.”

Work was frustrating me. My writing goals were making me restless. My loneliness was exasperating every emotion coursing through me.

She listened, and with a calm voice she told me,

“Be confident. Be strong. You’re here for a reason.”

The compliment then the encouragement. They are the subject of a good amount of my dwelling over the last couple of days. And since it is her birthday today, I wanted to write something for her.

If you ever meet me, or if you know me, then there’s a good chance you see pieces of my parents in me—specifically, you’ll see my dad’s influence.

I can recall the time when my coworkers told me their first impressions of me. I made my presence known early on, I guess you could say. I intimidated some, came across very strong and steady to others. As some got to know me on a personal level, they learned how I protect others at all costs, how opinionated I can be, how I stick to my guns on the issues I am most passionate about, how I fight for what’s important.

Once they got to know me, they asked about my parents. I told them as much as I was comfortable sharing. They safely assumed I got all these traits—protective instincts, strong opinions, fighting spirit—from my dad.

Truth is…yes, I got them from my dad, but my mom refined them…and added even more to them. She taught me how to have these perceived masculine traits with a ladylike attitude to back them up.

Moms. Everyone has one. The relationship that exists between a mother and her daughter can be a difficult one to navigate at times. For some it is a connection containing pain and heartache. For others it is a friendship between two likeminded people. Still for others it is a link requiring constant repairs or upgrades.

The connection I have with my mom…it feels like it fits all the mentioned categories. Rather, the evolution of it fits the categories.

The only way she could have had the ability to temper and refine such traits as mine is through her superior mom skills.

Growing up, I always wondered what it would be like to have a creative mom, or a mom that loved to go out to the beach all the time, or a mom who found all the fun things to do around town. I simply did not know what it was like to have a mom different from the one I had…obviously.

She was organized. Maintained schedules properly. Always had some wisdom to share. She parented from caution rather than recklessness. Fostered responsibility in her children. Practiced patience when we just could not understand or apply what she was saying. She worked to attain balance even though I am sure she went to bed most nights feeling like a failure and questioning her decisions.

She loved us according to who she was and is.

Looking at my own life now, I clearly see I still maintain my protective nature and my fighting spirit, but it is now tempered with my acquired mom skills.

Her organization has rubbed off on me. I get excited when I get to vacuum my home. I can relax a little easier when I have all the clutter in its place and it is no longer congregating on my dining room table. I enjoy my weekends more after I clean my bathroom and kitchen on Friday nights. I take pride in maintaining my home as my mom was a consistent top-notch homemaker.

Her caution and wisdom come out when I counsel and encourage others. It taught me to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in my relationships with others.

Her patient spirit complements my fighting spirit, because sometimes those you want to fight for require a bit more patience than the rest. Mom had to endure the balance between these two for each of her three kids at one time or another, and it consistently taught me. I fight to find the balance on this scale every day.

Balance has been the biggest lesson. A fighting spirit paired with patience. A free spirit paired with organization and pride. A growing relationship with Christ erring on the wise and cautious side. These traits comprise who I am, yet this would not be a true statement without my mom.

Her teaching, her example, her instruction and her wisdom led to receiving the greatest compliment.

Thus, it is only fitting that the greatest compliment I have ever received came from her.

The physicality of sorrow—it’s healthy to feel it

A bomb. An anvil. A wounded gazelle. A straw and the camel’s back.

This is what sorrow felt like. It resembled heaviness. In one instant, everything I feared came true.

I had given everything I could give. I had run my race with maximum effort and I was running on steam. The tunnel vision was so bad by the time I gave up, dropped and hit the ground, that I had lost sight of the finish line. I was not even sure I crossed it.

I was in my car. The weight of the world was on my shoulders and it pressed me into my seat. I could no longer move. I was trapped. Stuck.

Present day, I can still feel the full weight of it all. Everything that had pent up over time—all the denial, all the sadness, all the fight—finally gave way.

That day will live in my memory forever.

It was a normal day—normal in that nothing had fully settled. The feeling was one I was well-acquainted with. It was the most normal the chaos had felt. But something was coming. I felt it. And I knew I was helpless to stop it. The night before I had finally begun to take deep breaths again—like I had been under water for too long and my head broke the surface, allowing a taste of fresh oxygen. But it still felt like I would go under again.

The bomb was still ticking down. The anvil had not dropped yet. The gazelle was still moving—limping. The final straw had not been placed on the camel’s back.

I was the bomb yet I holding my own detonator. I was the anvil yet I was holding the rope because I was under the anvil. I was the camel at the mercy of the hand laying the straws down.

I feared the detonation.

I feared the pain of the anvil dropping on me. That is why I had been working so valiantly to hold onto that rope.

Strength was waning, though.

I stood at church. It was a Sunday night. I had my dog Lottie with me, as I always do. A long drive home to San Diego was ahead of me, and I was going to have a big enough jump on time that I would be able to relax for a little while when I got home before going to bed. But as I stood there, I doubted I would make it home in one emotional piece.

I could feel the heat of sorrow and exhaustion as it started to burn in the deepest part of my heart, and then it spread to the rest of my chest cavity and on to the rest of my body.

I tried holding it together as I said goodbye to my parents and a few friends I calmly walked to my car with Lottie in tow. Curious, I wondered how long I would last. A mile later I peeled off the road, screeched diagonally into a gas station parking spot and slammed my car into “P.”

Eyes closed, head leaned all the way back on the headrest, my breaths came fast. I opened my eyes and scanned my surroundings. I was far enough away from all the pumps and the customers with their listening ears.

I leaned my head forward and rested it against the steering wheel, opened my mouth and released a gut-wrenching, blood-curdling scream.

The bomb had detonated. The anvil had dropped. The gazelle was down for the count. The final straw broke the back.

The bomb had detonated. The anvil had dropped. The gazelle was down for the count. The final straw broke the back.

Tears were streaming and I angrily wiped them away. I sadly realized I was catching my own tears. No one was there to catch those tears, offer words of comfort.

I was the bomb. And the only thing that was not decimated was me, as a bomb can never fully destroy itself. Instead, it remains in pieces on the floor, leaving the most sorrowful evidence of what just occurred.

But there was an odd sense of relief. The running was over. Running from the pain, exhaustion, the Holy Spirit and His love. It was done.

The bomb pieces could finally be picked up. The anvil would be removed from the ground. The gazelle and the camel would heal.

I was the wounded child, but God was the caregiver, scooping me up, carrying me to His sanctuary where He would take His time healing me, teaching me to trust again, letting all the wounds heal properly.

The wounds that radiated with pain that day had to have their moment. That screeching stop, that loud scream, that long drive home was their moment. And God lovingly met me there and accompanied me as I dried my tears, got on the road and drove home with my heart pounding.

Should Christians have negative emotions?

It was drizzling as I walked to my car in the Target parking lot. It was the kind of drizzle that soaks you through if it has enough time. My cart was full of boxes containing unassembled furniture. With this purchase I had nothing left to do for the day except assembly which would not take long. Filled with the need to run, flee, I loaded my car with my bags and boxes and got on the freeway without a destination in mind.

As I drove, the destination came to my mind. I had always wanted to know what the beach looked like while it was raining. Mission Beach it would be.

The strip of concrete in Mission Beach—Ocean Front Walk it is called—is where I found myself after driving in silence for 25 minutes. There was no time of prayer, there was no music. It felt like life had stopped as the beach walkway waited for me. The deserted parking lot told me no one else had the desire to know what the sand and beach looked like while it was raining.

Wearing my New Balance flip flops and a hoodie, earbuds in my ears to ward off any conversation heard by the runners and joggers going by, I walked to the retaining wall, staring at the whitecapped waves being tossed before they hit shore. The clouds became grayer as my eyes tracked them from directly above to as far out as I could see. I felt like that color, as if I looked slightly harmless overhead but the farther out the more volatile my emotions would become. And I was out there alone.

How could I possibly explain these roiling emotions to someone when they felt unexplainable? It felt like there was no beginning and no known ending to the internal turmoil. Was there even a way for me to understand it?

It felt like there was no beginning and no known ending to the internal turmoil. Was there even a way for me to understand it?

I felt like those waves, being tossed, waiting for a pause in the tempest. Waiting for relief. I needed people to help me through this, but too often I heard other Christians, mature Christians, cautioning against emotion of any kind. How could I confide emotions if I cannot explain them, if they end up making me feel separate?

I stared at the waves long enough to be drenched by the rain. I got back in my car without a single clue as to how I could learn to articulate my emotions.

That day was nearly two years ago. I like to think I have learned a bit about emotions since then. Even more, I have learned that I myself am an emotional being. That is how God chose to create me. Looking back on the confusion and hopelessness and restlessness I have felt now leads me down a path of encouragement.

God taught me through a long season that emotions are not bad and they can be brought from the abstract side of life to the concrete side. And I can do this through words.

Last week as I opened my fridge on my lunch break, I thought about emotions, how at times they are the hardest things to explain, particularly the negative or difficult kind. There’s such a contrast here. It is difficult to explain what hopelessness feels like because it’s on the negative side of emotions. But can we explain what joy feels like? Anytime, any place. This sparked a desire in me to find a way through personal stories and experiences to relate what certain abstract emotions feel like. Maybe you are encountering these emotions right now and need a friend, maybe you need to know that emotions are not all bad, maybe you need the assurance that God will bring you through.

That is the purpose of this post and the following posts this month. I want you to understand that emotions can be felt and can be concrete rather than abstract. Then in the final post, I will conclude this series with a story of how I gained the confidence to articulate my emotions and gained knowledge of who God created me to be in spite of my emotional makeup being in turmoil at times.

Earlier this week I read a devo and a quote jumped out at me, making me believe even more in this mission. The devo is written as a personal letter in first person from God to one of His children (you):

“Pay attention to what I am doing in your heart—with your emotions, your thoughts. Ask me to help you decipher them. Ask me to show you why you feel the way you feel. But these emotions? Feel them. And show them to me. The open-hearted surrender of your emotions to me will help you see me in the storm, in the madness you feel when emotion is all you know and nothing else makes sense.”

Emotions are difficult, just as standing on the concrete walkway in Mission Beach was difficult. I left that moment believing answers would never come, believing I would be trapped by myself, in myself, forever. But just as the next day dawned with no rain (a change), soon my situation changed. And yours will too. In the meantime, my prayer is that you will be encouraged through these posts. You are not alone in your emotions.

The act of settling unsettles us

Settle is an active verb. It requires a choice, a conscious decision that must be made. The word implies taking only a fraction of what one believes is due.

Settling in relationships, all relationships, can be painful.

I have been in pain. I have walked miles trying to alleviate the pressure in my chest. Rain or shine, I wore a path around my work because it was the only time I felt I could release the tension. I have spent hours justifying making the wrong choices for myself and my long-term well-being. Through a cycle of seasons I had to prepare myself for the decision ahead. Leaves fell, clouds rolled in and out, the hour of the sunrise and sunset changed…I stayed the same—not ready.

I wanted things to be settled. But I could not find my way through it. If God wanted the absolute best for me in every category of life, how could I be OK with settling for less?

While the implication behind the word can easily mean compromise, a healthy compromise at that, it is not always the healthiest choice to settle. After devouring Scripture over the last year detailing God’s will for us (how much He desires for us to be happy and joyful and at peace) I can tell you with confidence that God does not want us to settle—at least not for unhealthy options.

Here are a few of the verses I have pondered—

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly,” John 10:10.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full,” John 15:5, 11.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage,” Galatians 5:1.

For me and for so many others, making tough relationship choice comes down to knowing that God wills for far more than what we will for ourselves. The feeling of knowing we can settle and supposedly be OK is like standing on the edge of a cliff knowing if you jump, you are likely to get injured and may not get another opportunity to do it safely. So, it comes down to this: If the pain you are enduring or the choices you are making are not leading to the life described in Scripture, then reevaluate.

If you continue to settle, here are some things I know from experience you will endure. I endured it. Some of my dearest friends have endured it as well. You are going to be OK. I just want you to know you are not alone.

The act of settling unsettles us.

Settling for those who are not going to treat you the way Christ does is unsettling. In settling, sacrifices will be made, beginning with your emotional and spiritual well-being. Your emotions will be rattled. Life will feel both chaotic and still, numb. You will question your own character, wondering what else you will find a way to justify.

The aftermath of settling is even more difficult to endure. If you are in the middle of it right now and you are rationalizing and struggling with doing what you know is right, I want you to consider the next couple of points:

  1. It will hinder future trustworthy relationships from forming. They will just be more difficult than they need to be. This could end up causing prolonged pain because trust has become difficult.
  2. You will always wonder if history is going to repeat itself, if you will find yourself in the same amount of pain for the same reasons again. This will zap your peace and your desire to move forward.

Those are a couple of the negatives. But because I tend to be the person who sees everything as being connected, I will tell you I have noticed two long-term positives from a season of settling:

  1. It has built determination to know the difference between healthy compromise within a healthy relationship and unhealthy settlement in an unhealthy relationship.
  2. It has strengthened me to stand up and not settle for anything less than what God wants for me, and as an extension what I want for myself.

At the end of these posts, I always have to ask myself, Where do I go from here? What does this leave me with?

Other than the verses I listed above, I am going to give you a person in Scripture I like to study. He is a kind, generous, compassionate, strong man of God who acted as a friend to everyone. He is an example I aspire to regardless of his gender. It is Boaz.

When I read a devo about him, I read these words—

In the example of Boaz, we see nine aspects of safe people:

Safe people understand the Father heart of God.

Safe people care about our safety.

Safe people introduce us to other safe people.

Safe people enforce good boundaries.

Safe people are generous.

Safe people encourage our character.

Safe people pray we would flourish.

Safe people provide comfort and kindness.

Safe people point us to God as our safe place.

If your relationships do not strive to this standard and you know God has better for you, trust Him. While I do not regret anything as it is always being worked out and redeemed, I do wish I would have been less fearful and perhaps not worn such a divot into the pathway around work.

Safe people point us to God as our safe place.

Be encouraged. You deserve the abundant like God has planned for you, the life He wants for you. Do not settle for less than what He wants, what He has. I am cheering for you.

How to enjoy the relationships meant for you

I sat at one of the picnic tables at work. It was hot outside. A heat wave had settled in the region and I was feeling it. But I was excited. I was going to catch up with a friend for a few minutes.

She excitedly hugged me before we sat down together, and quickly the conversation turned lighthearted as we recapped our weekends. Then it went deeper and what came out was a time of connecting, and we walked away with more common ground than we already had. But keep in mind, this person is not exactly like me. Looking at our personalities, we are opposites. But seeing that we can connect over a common desire and common lessons we are learning is encouraging.

Our lessons seem to be about relationships. And this is slightly where our differing personalities come into play: While she is fearful her people will leave her, I fear I am undeserving of my people, the relationships I have. Both stem from fear and both result in the potential to lose people who matter to us, yet the process we go through between the starting point and the destination is different.

The conclusion to our conversation was the reality that we are meant to be in relationships with others because we are meant to be in relationship with Christ first. And in the moments when our relationship with an invisible God is in jeopardy, it is the human relationships He uses to bring us back to Him.

A short part of my story has to do with isolation. During a turbulent time for me, I retreated from most interaction because everything caused pain. At times the pain was like an exposed nerve ending. Other times it was a dull ache. Still pain nonetheless. Coming out of that time of isolation made me feel as if my relationships could not survive much longer. How could they when I was holding myself back so fiercely?

Isolation made me think I did not deserve good and healthy relationships.

This was in complete stark contrast to the life I envisioned for myself as a young girl. Always knowing there was a cry in my heart for deep connections, I desired people from all walks of life to populate my life, my heart. I wanted to give myself to my people because that is what I wanted in return. But with age, the process of forming strong relationships seemed unclear. What worked for one relationship did not work for another. Nothing about connection seemed easy or wanted. Where did this leave me? Where was I supposed to go from here if I wanted that little-girl vision of full relationships to come true?

It has been a learning process. The past year has been spent relearning healthy relationship habits, reprogramming my thoughts and heart to trust and realizing relationships can be great, just as I always imagined.

Healthy relationships, in my experience, can just happen. But they take work to stay that way. When a relationship takes an unhealthy turn, it infects different parts of your life. Think of a habit you have, one you are not proud of. If you were to lay down that habit right now to replace it with a better habit, a healthy habit, do you know there would be a time of relearning healthy habits? You will need time to get rid of what was unhealthy to take on what is healthy. The same goes for unhealthy relationships. Be patient as you relearn what a healthy relationship is meant to resemble.

One part of my relationship struggle has been realizing that I find more reasons to keep my heart safe than I do to trust it to someone else. Broken relationships have been characters in the last five years of my life, and each one convinced me (in the moment of its breakdown) that trust is not something I want to do again. Earlier this year, I was so convinced trusting people was not worth it that it invaded my relationship with Christ. I could not even say I trusted Christ with my heart. But while it was scary for me to think about trusting again, it was even scarier to think of the alternative—an ever-hardening heart because I would not let anyone come in and change things. I could not live like that. So, I reprogrammed my thoughts and heart to determine it was OK to take a chance and trust. It has been a day-by-day journey, but God has not let me down; neither have my people.

So, I reprogrammed my thoughts and heart to determine it was OK to take a chance and trust.

What came next was a lesson about my community. While I would gladly step off a ledge for any of them or hunt them down in a burning building to pull them out or vow to protect them and take care of them to the best of my abilities, not all communities are perfect. They never will be. But that little-girl dream to have a group of loving, fearless, funny, inspiring, encouraging people to accompany me through life…that community can be real, even if not perfect.

All this to say that no amount of relationship struggles will ever kill my desire to have great relationships. If nothing else I am a fighter for my relationships because I know this one thing: I was made—we all were made—to be in relationship with Christ, and that is meant to extend to relationships with others. But here is the thing: The enemy wants me to think relationships are not worth it, or rather I am not worth being in relationship with. This is a lie. A lie I have to fight against every day. And this fight takes on three facets I am going to share with you and I hope it encourages you.

  1. Be the fighter God created you to be. Take up your belt of truth. The truth is God created you to be in relationships and has many precious plans and promises for you, for us. When we stand on that, we are fighting.
  2. Be confident in the relationships you have and the relationships you are working on. Each is accomplishing something in you, making you into who God created you to be.
  3. Enjoy them. A wise man once told me that connections with people are intoxicating. It is true. I enjoy my relationships with the hope they will all last a lifetime. I pray you have the same enjoyment.

What do you see? What do you notice?

Truth be told, when I outlined this post about a month ago I had a slightly different lead in mind. I was going to talk about how we all want deeper connections, we all want what’s important to us to matter to everyone else. But I reject the idea that everyone can be categorized this way. Not everyone wants the same things out of their relationships.

I want to be understood by my people. I do not necessarily need them to agree; just make an effort to understand why something is important to me. This is my priority yet I understand others are different. Example: My mom is cut from a different cloth than me; we have different personalities; we have different desires. Where I want to be noticed and understood to foster community, she is happy to be in the background as a lone wolf.

I addressed my last post to people who are like me, who want their people to encourage and support them and simply try to understand something foreign to them. Likewise, this post is for you. We are not the same as everyone else, and what we want is not going to be the same as everyone else.

We want to be noticed. Not the surface stuff. With us, everything goes past the skin. It is more important our people notice a mark on our hearts rather than a new pimple on our foreheads. We want not only our jobs, hobbies, opinions, beliefs to be noticed; we want the reasons why behind those jobs, hobbies, opinions, beliefs to be noticed.

We want to be noticed. Not the surface stuff. With us, everything goes past the skin.

I have stated before that often the only thing my thoughts revolve around are relationships. Whether what I am working on at any point in time is focused on relationships or not, something I am seeing or hearing or noticing is relating back to relationships. I will admit not all of my relationships have been successful. I have had heartbreaks, I have had seasons of frustration and losing desire to put forth effort. But both the successes and the failures have taught me lessons I would not have otherwise learned.

Those lessons I will now state—

  • I have learned that you must first notice things about yourself if you want someone else to notice them. What special things about yourself do you enjoy, do you appreciate, do you value? For example: If you are a kind person, people should be able to see that in the way you treat others. And if you value that trait, then others should be able to value it as well.

While I want my whole personality and all my traits to be noticed by people who matter—for the sake of giving a full picture of myself—there are some I want noticed more than others.

Above all, I want my sincerity, kindness, determination, adaptability and love to be noticed. If I am being honest I also want my humor to show as well. In order to make these things noticeable to other people, I have to be willing to put them on display without allowing fear a foothold. But how can I do it in a way that feels natural, not forced, not awkward? Because trust me when I say I have my awkward moments, and I cringe for weeks afterward.

I have found an answer for myself. It makes the difference in showcasing who I am. I have to work hard at it every day. Somedays are much easier than others. Other days I go to sleep feeling defeated. But I keep pushing.

  • Here is my answer: I have to maintain the truth in my own head and heart that tells me, in this moment, I am exactly who God created me to be. When my confidence is founded on my identity being in Christ, I can actually feel my sincerity making a difference, my joy and humor being appreciated, because it’s making a personal connection with me. It matters to me. I appreciate those things.

Sometimes all I feel is frustration with myself, thinking I am an inconvenience of some kind to another. This does nothing but hold me back. I do not want to be held back; I want to move forward, always. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am loving and kind and considerate, and for the first time in my life I am secure because I know that is who God made me to be—everyone else’s feelings on the matter are inconsequential.

Now that I notice these lessons and learned these things about myself, and you hopefully have begun to notice your own special things, how can we become more proficient in observing special things in another?

Most people want what they give to be reciprocated. If you notice things about yourself that you want others to notice, there is a vice versa paradigm occurring.

What can we notice about others that will reveal their God-given gifts? What noticeable peculiarities can lead to deeper relationships? I work on my relationships using the following four points:

  1. Look and be willing to patiently dig to find their characteristics. Not everyone is generous right off the bat. It takes time to show that. Be patient.
  2. Seek and try to find complementary interests and experiences with another person. If you enjoy discussing culture, find people who also enjoy it.
  3. Ask questions about and observe someone else’s needs. It will reveal much more about their needs than you initially think.
  4. Last, observe their existing relationships. You learn a great amount about people by noticing who they maintain and pursue relationships with.

Without a doubt, we want to be noticed, but we also want to notice others. And the best way to do this is by knowing who we are in Christ. As you bookend your day with your relationships, you must know who you are and who God created you to be. When you work every single day to build your confidence and your knowledge on who He is and all He does, it makes everything else in your life—especially your relationships—align with His love and His purpose and His will.

Pursue Him, and in pursuing Him, don’t forget to pursue others. You were created to be in relationships, so cultivate them fearlessly.

Emotional Needs—We All Have Them…What Are Yours?

We are not all the same. We do not fit into the same categories. Yes, we are all humans; on that level, we are the same. But everything else…there are no two people alike.

With that being said I am going to pinpoint this post toward the people who are like me—the ones who are always a little less than content, always seeking more, battling feelings of restlessness and insignificance, desiring to meet the needs of others, wondering when others are going to meet their needs.

While I, and most likely you, know and understand that Jesus is meant to meet all our needs (and should meet all our needs), I want you to understand that it is OK to have emotional needs within the relationships you maintain in this world.

Through this post I want you to be encouraged to find and understand your own emotional needs, how to take note of another’s emotional needs and how our needs are met through the person (and people) of Christ.

I think one of the best ways to learn about yourself is to notice how others have gotten to know themselves. Seeing as you are reading my latest blog post, I will offer an interpretation of my own needs so you can see if yours match up, give you a sort of starting point.

I can be summed up with three needs: support, encouragement and kindness.

Emotional support has been difficult to come by at different points of my journey, but it is one of the most valuable gifts I can receive. It comes in the small moments when something big is about to happen. Their support comes in an active laying down of themselves and what they think is the best thing in order to lift me up in what I’m pursuing—even if they do not agree.

When I am supported, I feel encouraged. But there are other components to the encouragement factor. It is one of those spiritual gifts that can rely heavily on words and actions. However, I rely heavier on the words. Encouraging actions do not hold much weight without the words. And I never knew this was a need of mine until I suddenly did not have encouraging words from a few important people as I contemplated the next big moves in my life. Words were void. They left mouths with no intention of finding the right landing pad. In the time I have discovered this need, I have had a hard time picturing how I lived without being aware of it for so long. It is so ingrained, and perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy trying to encourage others around me.

On to kindness. It sounds pretty self-explanatory, I know, so I will not offer much of an explanation. What I will say is it makes me comfortable, gives me a place where I belong. Laying out kindness as your welcome mat builds a connection not easily broken because kindness creates a safe space. For me to be comfortable around someone, I need to know I’m safe. And kindness is but one way to create that.

So…do any of these needs sound anything like yours? If you know your needs, are you making them known? There’s no shame in sharing what you need. And do not ever let anyone convince you your needs are not in line with God’s will…they are. Sharing needs does not make you weaker; if anything, it makes you stronger.

Now that you know your own emotional needs, let me ask you another question: How much time do you dedicate to learning the emotional needs of another?

From the time I was a small child, I was always comfortable with being observant rather than outgoing. With age, I noticed I could observe people. In my own relationships, it has come in moments of stress and peace, joy and despair, simply in being able to see how others react and how I can best assist them.

I love to ask questions. I always say, “I’ll never know until I ask.” It is true. Assuming never got anyone to a good place. You have to be willing to ask the right questions. Asking the simple question, “What can I do for you?” has the power to do so much.

I love to form connections because this helps form trust. People will know you are a trustworthy person if in you they can detect genuine kindness, interest, a desire to help, someone willing to listen. And even more so, if they can detect a consistency of those things. Consistency tells them they can rely on those beautiful traits of yours, and the connection only grows stronger with time because they are able to trust you.

Finally, be willing to sacrifice or compromise. Not to unhealthy proportions, not to the point of neglecting yourself to take care of another. But in just being able to discern when someone else’s needs should take precedence over your own.

I have noticed that God created me to be in relationships with people. It is fulfilling. And can be distracting. But please understand something: If you are like me and you know you are meant to be in relationships with others, there is nothing wrong with that. We are wired in a certain way, a way God ordained. The struggle is in knowing how to pursue God as the satisfaction of your needs before pursuing a human.

If ever a day goes by that I am not grateful for the relationships I have then it is a day I cease to remember they are but one way God has met my needs. He could bring absolutely anyone into my life, yet He chooses to bring people who offer love and support and encouragement, growth and development. And those who are only meant to be present for a short time, He uses them as well.

My always wanting more…that is there because He deemed it should be. And He only is able to reach down to the depths of my heart and soul, appraise what I need and fully meet those needs in ways that even I cannot comprehend at times.

What are your needs? What are the needs of those around you? And how are you training your heart to know God meets all of your needs?

Here is a verse that has brought comfort and motivation—“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand” (Psalm 139:12-18).

Cultivating Honesty

The story in the movies was always the same. A boy liked a girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day. He doubted she would ever go for someone like him; it seemed they had nothing in common. But then the idea would come. There was a risk he could take. He would find out anything he could about her and what she was interested in, and he would change into someone she could connect with. Then he would realize the problem: In his quest to become someone she would want, he ceased being who he really was, but still gained her trust; when he was no longer able to maintain his new identity, she was hurt. She felt betrayed.

The risk never paid off.

Honesty in showing who you really are was more valuable than they could see in the beginning. Perhaps in some unseen part of the story they committed to being honest, as much as it depended on them, for the rest of their lives.

I remember consuming these stories as I was growing up and seeing how dishonesty led to so many problems. Cultivating honesty became a desire for me. I wanted to be honest and give people an opportunity to be honest with me in return. Specifically, I wanted honesty in my relationships. I believed without honesty there would be no trust. If there was no trust, I wouldn’t ever be comfortable being myself, and vice versa for someone else in relationship with me.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this topic, as I’ve spent an equal, if not greater, amount of time thinking about relationships. Everything from proper and healthy environments to desires and standards to being able to communicate. Relationships are the bookends of my life; naturally they mean the most to me.

Which makes me ask this long-winded question: Is there something I can do—something you can do—that will cultivate honesty? that will let the world around you know there is no shame in honesty? that it’s a priority? that it should be taken seriously?

I believe the answer is yes, there are a few things we can do.

But then I asked another question: What do we do depending on which side we fall on? Are we the ones fearing honesty? Or are we the ones desiring honesty? Are there those who find themselves on both sides?

What I have written below is from my own experience, as in this stage of life I can easily fall on both sides of the honesty issue. I can be fearful to be honest and open about who I am, and I can also be the honesty champion, taking up that flag with pride and waving it around like a crazy person. I have listed these experiences below and hope you find them helpful.

  1. Honesty requires a healthy environment.

What do I mean by that? I mean there are environments we create as we live our lives. If we notice that our friends and family don’t have a problem opening up about their bothersome situations, sharing their burdens, being unafraid to express their heartaches, then the environment you provide is likely a healthy and encouraging one.

On the other side of this is whether you can recognize when someone is giving you a healthy environment. A safe space should exist for you in a relationship you cherish. The person or group you share this cherished relationship with should listen to you without trying to fix you, without making you feel as if you are the problem. They should encourage you instead of teach you.

A few other things that contribute to healthy environments is the conversation. When the conversation is good and following a mature direction, it has a way of naturally edifying and encouraging you, or them, and showcases how the parties’ best interests are being considered. Good conversation with mature hearts will lend a good amount of peace, letting you know it’s more than OK to open up; you’re in safe hands.

The right environment will provide a secure barrier for you to be honest about who you are without shame.

  1. Good emotions provide honesty.

You’ve likely heard this: “Love is a verb.” That is true. But it’s also an emotion. It’s the one word that sums up the motive behind selflessly taking care of someone. So, do the people in your life know you love them? When love is pure, it opens doors, allowing for deeper connection and trust to form. It promotes kindness. It brings to mind the Bible verse that says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) This verse speaks of love, because love has to be the motive—otherwise you won’t do justice, you won’t love mercy, and you won’t walk humbly with your God.

Another thing about good emotions…don’t underestimate the value of sensitive affection, whether giving it or receiving it. This will challenge you, especially as the giver, to be a listener, a friend to someone who needs the assurance to know honesty is not a bad thing; it’s a good thing.

  1. The power of being who God created you to be.

I wouldn’t have added this point if I haven’t seen the proof in a personal way. And I’ve noticed there are three benefits to realizing the truth of this.

  • It draws the right people to you and repels the wrong people from you. Being honest about who you are and not apologizing for it challenges people. And sometimes those people don’t have a desire to meet any kind of challenge. And that’s OK. But still, be yourself.
  • Being who you are fosters fearlessness. When you realize you can remain standing for things you’re passionate about, it gives them a desire to fight for their own passions, their own beliefs, never giving in to shame of any kind. If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will be worth it, then it will be.
  • Finally, you being yourself is going to be used by God to bring people from the outside, in. It’s going to help them realize they have intrinsic value and they too should be exactly who God created them to be.

Cultivating honesty is one of my highest desires for all of my relationships. And these few observations have made me reflect back on my childhood, making me want to reach into all of those stories to implore the characters to simply be themselves. Because if we can’t be ourselves—the people God has had an exact plan and blueprint and purpose for from the beginning—then nothing will make sense. The smallest conversations and connections will become difficult when in reality being yourself should come naturally. And the only way it comes naturally is through honesty.

So be honest.

God Knows His Characters

Ever stop to think about how well God truly knows you?

Just like the author He is, God has woven a character sketch for every single one of His kids. He knows the ins and outs of our hearts more than well enough. He sees us for who we are, and with all our flaws and pain and scars and joy and triumphs He still loves us. While I know there is pain associated with not mattering nearly enough to other people, that is never the feeling I get from my heavenly Father. He loves me well and I cling to Joshua 1:9 knowing He has written my story, created my character sketch and composed my heart to reflect Him as I walk forward.

There are certain things I need and crave in my relationships. One item at the top of my list is the need to be known, understood, cared for.

To be known is to be able to trust another person with my struggles, with my goofs and corks, with my weird thoughts, with my dreams, with my plans to achieve those dreams. To be known is to be loved. To be known is to hear the words, “I love you just as you are,” and to see those words backed up by actions. To be known is to discern someone has pure intentions toward my heart.

To be understood is to have someone not necessarily agree with me or everything I do; rather it’s about knowing they are trying to agree. Trying doesn’t mean there will be success, it simply means they are putting their best foot forward with pure intention, to let you know that they’re willing to sacrifice their own opinions to understand yours.

To be cared for is to foster true respect and honesty. To be cared for is to be observed to find more and more things to cherish, rather than things that can be used. To care is to give the other person the assurance they are safe.

These are the reasons why I’m happy to be writing this post. God has been teaching me a lot about courage in these areas, and how sometimes the smallest things require the most courage.

Because I so desire to be known by other people, I’m coming to learn that it’s far better to know I’m known by God…and He cares for me infinitely and understands me better than anyone ever could. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter if no one else in the world knows me or understands my heart. Rather it’s become far more important to believe with my all that God loves me completely and unconditionally. And He’s been using a truth found in an Old Testament story to solidify this in my head.

There’s one place in the Bible we can go to and see the words courage and strength multiple times in the same passage. And that’s the first two chapters of Joshua.

Joshua 1:9­—Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

If I’m not careful I tend to think of the Old Testament as if it’s not valuable, at least not as much as the New. So earlier this week I was reading Joshua 1 and it hit me: Perhaps I think there is nothing left to learn from the Old Testament because all the answers in each story have been given. There’s little left to the imagination.

We know God supplied a ram to take Isaac’s place on the altar. We know Ruth and Boaz ended up falling in love and being some of the ancestors of Jesus’ line. There’s so much we know from the stories of the Old Testament that I forget to examine it with a student’s heart.

Joshua challenged me. Because just in the first nine verses alone God shows His heart for the Israelites’ new leader. He repeatedly tells him to be strong and have courage. And throughout the rest of the chapter and on into the second, as Rahab makes her first appearance, He is showing just how well He knows Joshua. He repeatedly offers the encouragement to Joshua’s heart he needs in every single moment.

This encouraged me. It made me realize that I get carried away with the desire to feel like I matter to people, and the subsequent heartbreak when I don’t feel like I’m enough for them. But that’s the completely wrong perspective to have. God loves me and meets all my needs by reminding me to be strong and have courage, to start and end each day with the knowledge that God knows and understands me when no one else does.

Here’s something I’ve done this week to remind myself God knows me and all the other characters He has created: He met my need to be strong and have courage as I had to make a tough decision not long ago. He assured me He was already at, and even past, the hurdle I couldn’t even approach yet. I just had to trust Him.

What can you do this week to remind yourself that God knows and understands you well? Is there something you’re holding back from doing because you’re afraid or fearful? How can you challenge yourself to take action knowing God is already there, even past it?

He Proves His Faithfulness

“Everything’s okay. God’s timing is always the best. He’ll make it all work together.”

Perhaps you’ve had these words said to you. Perhaps you’ve been the one saying them. Regardless of the circumstances or your role in them, these words don’t always provide the assurance needed. At least they don’t for me.

But the moments when things are chaotic and don’t make sense…those are the moments when God is orchestrating everything just to give me a boost of faith right when I need it most.

And there is so much evidence of this being the truth.

I’ll share some examples of this from my own life to show this to be true. There’s no better story than the one you can share with kindred spirits. And there’s power in experiencing similar details that simply prove God is at work.

I’m part of a small group that meets every week. We are studying the book of Esther right now—a book famous not only because it’s main character is a woman but also because God does not play a direct role in the story. He remains behind the scenes. Esther contains gems about integrity, standing up for what’s right, not compromising and the power relationships have.

In my own quiet time in the mornings, I am studying the Armor of God. This week in particular has been about the shield of faith, how it’s meant to be a shield not only for myself but for others as well (as the shield of a Roman soldier could cover himself and one-third of a fellow soldier).

And in the last couple of months alone, God has placed people in my heart and my life to trust and treat well. It’s been like watching the book of Esther and the Armor of God come to active and fruitful life all the time.

The common thread here is relationships. As I get older and learn more and experience more of life, I become more convinced every day that God uses people in profound ways in the lives of others. And things seem so genuinely unrelated—until they don’t, until you have that feeling in your chest or your gut, that lightbulb moment telling you it all makes sense now.

That’s God. That’s His faithfulness being proved to You.

The knowledge that He remains faithful in the midst of so much turmoil is evident when happenstances that seem so unrelated suddenly start to morph into one single tapestry—like a 750-piece puzzle coming together.

One day I can be wallowing in every kind of bad or negative thought about myself, and the next day God has me talk to someone who is struggling the exact same way. When I want so badly to take the plunge, to face a fear, and I find every excuse to back out, I’ll end up reading a testimony about overcoming fear, or I’ll open my Bible app and the verse of the day will be about fearlessness. Or one night I’m recalling some painful parts of my story for the benefit of another and the next day they let me know God used that honesty to minister to them.

It’s difficult to explain the full feeling I get when I know God is walking me through this life. Because it’s not easy and it doesn’t always feel good. Because staying faithful to Him is the hardest thing I have to do every single day. Because at the end of the day it’s still difficult to have faith in a God I can’t see.

At the beginning of the year I made a commitment to be fearless. I decided that if anything ever held me back from following where God is leading me, it wouldn’t be fear. (I’ve shared this commitment on my Instagram previously.) Not long after I made this commitment, I started to get the sense that something big was coming—bigger than I would be capable of wrapping my head around. And that feeling is already starting to materialize. In very small ways, but still materializing.

And just to get to this point of seeing the smallest bit of materializing blessings I had to endure a season on empty.

And thank God I did.

God took my heart, hearing all my cries for a full life. He answered those cries by filling my heart with Himself and giving me new desires, new dreams, new goals to accomplish. And He’s proved His faithfulness time and time again every day since.

Those words I mentioned at the beginning of this post…they don’t always offer peace, but they do offer a glimpse of reality when it doesn’t make sense. Because God is truly and faithfully working things out.