Freedom Friday: I Am Not The Same

Today, Friday, is one of the very rare mornings where somehow I was awake before my beautiful 1 year-old baby girl. I snuck out of bed, searched for the baby monitor, and settled into my comfy chair to read some psalms.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

 

There is something about this familiar passage that is so life-giving. The song with these lyrics sings in my ears as I read – a song I learned in those early days of walking with Jesus.

My soul exhales.
********************

 

I prepared a teaching on Philippians 4 for the ministry this week. I wanted to share all my wisdom about how God’s Word would have us approach anxiety.

And wouldn’t you know it. I spent the 10 days leading up to the teaching, feeling more anxious than I have in a long, long time.

Times like these – I start to question myself. Why do I do this? I think. Who am I to say that Jesus changes lives? I’m as anxious as I’ve ever been.

There is something so familiar about these thoughts. Comfortable, almost. They are words I have heard in my thoughts for years. A voice of hopelessness.

In those low moments, I am unable to recognize those words for what they are, or whose they are: whispers of Satan.

This morning, I got down on my knees after reading a few psalms and repeated back to God:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

I spent thousands of days elsewhere. I dwelt in the tents of the wicked. As I pondered these words, my soul exhaled again as God spoke to me:

You are not the same Brenna that you once were. Do not give in to the lies. I have changed you and will keep changed you.

I am not the same.

Fall in a park

The leaves are changing color here in New England. They have no control over it, but are submitted to a more powerful force.
 
The same is true of us. If you are a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit in you is changing you day by day as you surrender your life to whatever He has for you. You may have some of the same struggles, face some of the same fears, but you are not the same.

 
If the anxiety returns today, so be it. Rather than wonder how long it will last, I will walk out the truths from Philippians 4 that I shared on this week:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Don’t let the devil whisper into your ear. Listen to God. Pray, and sink deep into God’s peace.

Monday Morning Meditation: Waiting Well

At the time this is published, I will be 1 day shy of 39 weeks pregnant.

I wish I could say that pregnancy has been all roses and silver-lined clouds, but it hasn’t. It’s been 9 months of waiting and dreaming and at times dreading what is to come.

After 2 difficult births including a c-section, after walking with friends who have experienced babies born still, after losing one of my children to miscarriage, I know all the possibilities of what could happen over the course of these long months.

Baby Girl at the mid-pregnancy ultrasound

Even now, with a child still in my womb as I type this, I know that the next few days and weeks and months of this child’s life are in many ways out of my control. I don’t know how the birth will go. I don’t know if this child will have severe food sensitivities like her oldest brother, and how that might impact what and how we both eat. I can only pray she’ll be healthy and that things will go smoothly.

But there are no guarantees.

All the fears and doubts I’ve wrestled with during this time have brought me to the question:

How do I wait well?

What does that look like?

I can tell you what it doesn’t look like because I’ve been doing a lot of that. Moving 500 miles 6 months into the pregnancy likely didn’t help! Waiting well does not look like worrying and doubting and giving in to fear. It doesn’t look like allowing your imagination to run wild with all the things that could happen and focusing on those things. It doesn’t mean giving in to the depression and anxiety that at times comes so naturally.

Yesterday, as I didn’t wait well, these verses came to mind.

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

What are we waiting for, anyway? In any period of waiting, while we might be waiting for something specific to happen (like the birth of a child), what we are really waiting on is The Lord.

One way we wait well, as demonstrated by the psalmist, is by putting our hope in His Word.

I realized upon reflection that I had been putting my hope in things turning out a certain way, and not only is that not beneficial, that clearly wasn’t working for me! I was reminded that the only real secure hope I have is God, and one way to rejuvenate that hope within me was to reflect on His Word.

I knew I need to fill myself with His truth, and I chose to do that through worship. You may put your hope in His Word by reading the Bible or listening to it, listening to sermons, or reading a Christian book. I pulled out my guitar and started to sing.

You are my hiding place
You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance
Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You

I will trust in You
Let the weak say I am strong
In the strength of the Lord

This oldie but goodie has carried me through many a challenging time, and I went on from there, singing songs as they came to mind.

How can you fill yourself with truth today? In your present circumstances, what would it mean to hope in God’s Word?

“Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.”

Psalm 130:7

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #11: “Thin Places” by Mary DeMuth

I finished my 11th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


Thin Places: A Memoir by Mary DeMuth

I began interacting with Mary after a conference I attended and spoke at several years back. She was one of the featured speakers. I’m not exactly sure what prompted my contacting her, other than she has a fresh and unique way of talking about challenging issue like her experience of childhood sexual abuse.

I read one of her novels in 2013 (hence, it’s lack of mention in the #EmptyShelf challenge!). I then started her new book, Not Marked. It hits a bit too close to home, and I was having trouble finishing it (because it’s amazing and challenging and convicting), and took a break to read something else. Since I’ve been slowly collecting her book through Paperback Swap, I already had Thin Places: A Memoir.

I decided to bring it with me for my wait at the RMV 🙂

Mary has a talent for drawing the reader in, and thus, I read this book in a few days. I expected Mary’s writing to be more focused on the abuse she endured, and while she does talk about that, she does a masterful job of truly weaving life in and out of the pages. She also has a gift for seeing where God is and where He was throughout all the triumphs and trials.

This book will encourage you no matter what, but especially if you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Mary’s work is a joy to read, and she’s a joy to know, even if it’s just through the internet 🙂

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

 

Here I am again, at Ridgecrest

This is my 4th time at Ridgecrest Christian Conference Center.

IMG_8602

Exodus International rotated the location for its annual Freedom conferences. Every 3rd year, it was held on the east coast, here at Ridgecrest.

In 2005, I came here to attend my 2nd Exodus conference (my 1st was in California in 2004 – I attended alone). This was my first conference as a leader, as I had been the director of Alive in Christ almost a year at this point. Roy and several others from the ministry attended. Because Jerry Falwell spoke that year, there was tons of media attention, and I spoke on television for the 1st time about my same-sex attraction.

I don’t remember much about the interview, except they showed a close-up of my wedding ring, and I was wearing a purple shirt.

We returned in 2008, this time with a 11-month old Bear in tow (my older son’s nickname). I had the privilege of sharing my testimony from the main stage and teaching a workshop entitled “Learning to Walk in Freedom” (sound familiar?). I think I also participated in the forums on youth ministry.

Back again in 2011, Bear was almost 4, and we now had JJ tagging along at 1 1/2. We stopped at my dad’s on the way. It was there I found out that apart from a miraculous touch from God’s own hand, my father would die from cancer.

I again had the opportunity to speak, telling the women this time about “Learning to Walk in Freedom.” It was an amazing conference. I felt as if Exodus had truly been refined by fire, and the gold was truly shining through (many others agreed).

In 2012, I flew out to Minnesota by myself, having been invited to participate in the conference on various ways. It was the best Exodus conference I had been a part of, even more so than 2011.

At the 2013 Exodus conference (which I did not attend), it was announced that Exodus would close.

Recently, Alive in Christ joined a new network, Hope for Wholeness. I spoke at their conference this past fall, and now here I am, at Ridgecrest once again, to speak and participate in the Hope Rising conference presented by Hope for Wholeness.

We arrived yesterday, a day early, because the drive was long, and I wanted to get everyone settled. I am 5 1/2 months pregnant, and didn’t want to be too tired for the events.

I’m used to arriving when the buzz of activity is already in full swing. I find myself here with mixed emotion.

So much history in these hills.

As I process all the emotions that are represented here at Ridgecrest, I choose to focus on the excitement I feel at what lies ahead. I’m thrilled with the connections I’ve made in the Hope for Wholeness network, and am humbled to be part of this new work.

God is still holy. His Word still reigns and is to be obeyed.

God is still loving and good and just and faithful.

God is still able.

ridgecrest

An Interview with Abby Kelly, author of “The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story”

Several times on this blog, I’ve mentioned Abby Kelly, author of The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story. Abby is a joy to know! She has really allowed God to work in her life in so many ways. Today, I’m thrilled to be sharing my interview with her here at Living Unveiled.

Abby Kelly small

If you’d like to read her interview of me on her blog, here it is 🙂 My answers might surprise you!

So without further ado, here’s Abby!

Brenna Kate: Tell me your book title and publication date.
Abby: The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story. The paperback was released in early March. The ebook is currently available in most formats.

BK: One word that sums up this book…. (and then why?)
A: Rescue. I like to use that word instead of recovery because “recovery” makes it sound like I did most of the work myself—I recovered. But in very real terms, Jesus rescued me. I had nothing to do with it. I had tried to “recover” from anorexia using almost every method out there. And truly, at least half of me really wanted to get better. I got over the denial pretty quick, but something else kept me stuck. It’s like Paul talks about in Romans 7, I kept doing what I didn’t want to do. But after years of trying, when I finally broke, Jesus stepped in and rescued me. I think that word also applies because I can tell you the exact day my eating disorder was triggered, but I can’t tell you the exact day I got “well.” It kind of overtook me by surprise.

BK: Is this your first book?
A: This is my first book-length project. I currently write for a lot of Christian publications, both physical and online, but those are short devotions and articles.

BK: Who is your intended audience, and what do you hope your readers take away from your work?
A: When I first concluded the book, the last chapter addressed the three demographics that I imagine will benefit most from this book: an individual personally struggling with an eating disorder, a parent of someone struggling with an eating disorder, or someone whose marriage is crumbling due to an eating disorder or another type of addiction. That said, anyone and probably almost everyone is connected to someone who has food and body image issues. Anyone in that position will benefit from this book.

I want people to feel sorrow and fear when they’re in the middle of the book. The point is to reveal the gravity of eating disorders—anorexia is the most deadly mental illness. Because our culture is so adjusted to fad diets and the term “obesity epidemic” we’re often blinded to the dangers of weight loss tactics.

At the end of the book, I want people to be buoyed by hope and feel like they know where to go next to find help for their own struggles. I want them to see Jesus as their first and last resource and to understand His love for them even in the middle of the mess, even when they’re “sick.”

BK: What was the hardest part of writing this story? What brought you the most joy?
A: The hardest part was actually asking about and listening to the honest accounts of the pain I caused other people in my illness. I wrote to each of my sisters and asked for their memories of that time—how they felt and what they thought. I knew my eating disorder had affected them, but in the process of treatment, most of the focus was on me. I was constantly searching internally and being asked what I thought or felt. But it was eye-opening and a little painful to listen intently to how others were hurt in my chaos. The most joy was definitely the end and not just because I was done writing. But the book ends at “now.” And now, I’m discovering each day afresh. Now, I am walking in freedom. Now, I am enjoying Jesus. Now, I am engaged in relationships. And now, I enjoy food 🙂

BK: Who has inspired you most in your writing career? Personally and professionally.
A: Personally, my mother. No one else in my life has been so open and honest and vulnerable with me about her mistakes, finding forgiveness, changing and growing in the Lord. From the time I was little, she showed me what it’s like to be a woman after God’s own heart. Also, when I was the most rebellious and hateful, she never turned her back on me. And when my husband was struggling, she always honored our marriage and respected him and gave us grace.

Professionally? Well, this is an eclectic list, so bear with me. First, my dad. He’s the consummate professional. He respects everyone, absorbs every opportunity to learn, innovates and leads with kindness. Second, my husband. He’s an incredible leader which is something I’m always told I “should do” and I’m never comfortable doing. Patrick is an Army officer. I’ve watched him lead humbly, from the front, fearlessly and consistently. His time management skills, creativity and innovation amaze me. He can see third and fourth degree consequences and anticipates both the best and the worst.

And yes, there’s a writer mentor too. 🙂 Bethany McShurley has edited several of Beth Moore’s Bible studies. At one point, I sent her an email because I loved her words at the front of the study. She replied to me and offered encouragement in my current writing projects and even sent me some opportunities. I want to have the characteristics of all those people in my personal and professional life.

And now, some random little things about Abby…
• Nickname as a child (and story behind it) Oh-so-many! Squilly (who knows, my dad came up with it) Abs, Ab-ner (that had to happen) Jenny (one of my sisters) even shortened my name to “A” for a while.
• Favorite color (and why) Again…so many! Green first, I think. Then blue, brown, orange—can I keep going?
• Preferred writing attire? Yoga pants usually, or if I’m coming in from a morning dog walk and the idea simply struck, then it’s my tennis shoes, jacket, whatever I have on!
• Tea or coffee? Coffee! I’m like you, Brenna, mostly decaf. I get really jittery with caffeine but I LOVE the taste of coffee!
• Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts? Starbucks all the way! I worked at Starbucks for a while when we were stationed in Washington State. Now, I’m more hooked than ever!
• Favorite author? I have no idea! Actually, wait—C.S. Lewis. That’s not because I’ve read all or even most, maybe not even many of his books. However, I am unceasingly amazed by the beauty of his writing. How he manages to combine that beauty with such deep, raw thought is beyond me. It’s like he takes questions that have never before been posited and then tumbles and spins and polishes them, providing an answer that gleams like expensive jewels.

Thank you so much, Abby, for allowing me to interview you! Mostly decaf for the win! 🙂

You can read my review of The Predatory Lies of Anorexia here (I loved it). Get the paperback or the Kindle for yourself or someone you love today!

Happy New Year! Wherever You Go……

Happy New Year, Freedom Friends!

2013 is officially over, and 2014 is in full swing.

The New Year’s resolutions have been made. We’re excited about a fresh start. Out with the old – in with the new! Right?

Right?

That’s the hope, isn’t it? Isn’t that why we love this season? New Years brings a fresh round of “Change Your _____, Change Your Life!” Have you ever played this game? It begins with “If Only’s”:

If only I lose weight…
If only I move…
If only I find a new job…
If only I found a good partner…

Then my life would change.

Then we might lose the weight, or relocate; we find the job or the new spouse. Usually, we’re not successful. The outcome doesn’t necessarily settle the disillusionment we feel because we thought for sure things would be better “if only.”

Why is that? Because the saying is true:

Wherever you go, there you are

Have you ever thought about what this really means? We get so focused on changing our external circumstances that we forget this simple truth: most external issues flow out of internal issues. So no matter where you go or how much weight you lose, inside you are still you. If we don’t allow God to change the internal, changing the externals will not have the hoped-for result. We will experience the same trials, the same struggles, the same unhelpful thought patterns. We will do the same thing again and again and expect different results.

I started re-reading the book of Joshua today. The Israelites are about to cross the Jordan to head into the Promised Land. God gives Joshua a string of directives and things to remember, ending with, “For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The Israelites had a few things they needed to work on. They needed to trudge forward without fear. They needed to remember the instructions God gave Moses on how to live, meditating on them day and night. They needed to choose courage and not discouragement. And finally, they needed to remember that wherever you go, there God is.

What would happen if in 2014, we played the “Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life” game?

What would happen if we began the New Year focused on who He is rather than who we want to become?

How about we make it goal to take God at His Word in 2014, no matter what comes our way, meditating on that Word day and night? What if we allow God’s Word and His Holy Spirit to change the internals and allow the external changes to flow out of God remaking us from the inside out? What if we chose hope and courage instead of fear and disillusionment? If we really believed that nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 17:20), and that we are to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), if we truly believe God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9), how drastically different would our lives be?

Wherever you go, there God is.

What about you? What is God speaking to you about your hopes for the new year? 

Monday Morning Meditation: Turn to Me (Psalm 25 Series)

Here is today’s passage in the Psalm 25 series (v. 16-18):

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.
Look upon my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.

Do you ever feel as if the troubles of your heart have multiplied? Like you already had enough troubles, and suddenly, you find yourself with exponentially more?

Turn to me, O God.

Have you ever found yourself lonely and afflicted (the NLT says “deep distress”)? Drowning in anguish?

As I write this, I have just completed the Yakima (WA) Relay for Life. I chose this location to support my friend Eva. I chose this event to honor my father, who I lost to cancer 7 months ago.

It was a beautiful and emotional time. I am now facing flying home with 2 sick kids. It’s a long plane ride and a 2 1/2 hour drive to get to the airport.

“Drowning in anguish” is a bit extreme for how I feel, but distressed is sufficient.

Turn to me, O God.

I am reminded that God is near. One of the themes of this psalm is hope. “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame.”

I rest in that promise. God is able.

Feeling overwhelmed? Pray with David (and me):

Turn to me, O God.

Freedom Friday: My Stone of Remembrance

“People come and people go; only You remain. Constant. Faithful. Loving. Kind. Good. Comforting. Patient. Wonderful.” I tweeted this on Monday.

To say I’ve been struggling in the past year, and even more so since my father died, is an understatement. Some days, weeks, months are more difficult than others. I find myself anxious, despairing, eating to numb the feelings.

I had been asking myself, if this were someone besides me, how would I be advising them? How would I be helping them? I would be telling them to give themselves grace, that God deeply deeply loves them, and that He doesn’t see them as the broken person that they see themselves to be.

So, I have just been telling myself those things. That I am God’s favorite. His beloved. Cherished. That He has so much more for me than I have allowed myself to experience.

Something happened almost 2 months ago to make these things feel even more real and true.

On April 9th, I was driving to work as I do many days. I was on the highway, going just under 60 miles per hour.   It was in the mid 70s, so I had the window open about 5-6 inches. There was a truck in the lane to the left of me, driving about 10 feet in front of me.

All of a sudden, several rocks flew out of the truck. The trajectory of each rock was different, so there was no way to swerve or try and get out of the path of the rocks.

Several of the rocks were large and coming straight at me, so I did what I thought to do: I ducked! My windshield already has a crack in it, which has been repaired, but I didn’t know if it’s still as strong as an intact windshield would be.

I heard a big clanking noise and looked up, expecting my windshield or window to be shattered. It wasn’t. I finally realized the rock must have come right in the crack in the window, not breaking anything, and narrowly missing my head. 

I felt God speaking to my heart, “See, Brenna? I am faithful.”

When I finally got a chance to stop, I looked for the rock. It was by the passenger side door, and it was the smallest one that had fallen off the truck. Some of the rocks looked as big as the palm of my hand.

The rock in my car

I’m keeping the rock. It is a stone of remembrance for me, like when Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River.

Look back on your life, on your stones of remembrance. Those hopeless situations where God allowed His hope to shine through. Those small lights in your life. Write them down. Reflect on them. Trust in the character of the God who parted the Jordan at flood stage.

God is faithful. And His faithfulness shines best in impossible-seeming, flood-stage situations. Choose to trust today in the God who can calm the storm and part the waters.

Monday Morning Meditation: All Day Long (Psalm 25 Series)

We’re continuing the Psalm 25 series, my psalm for the year, with the 3rd installment.

Verses 4-5:

Show me your ways, O Lord,
Teach me your paths;
Guide me in your truth and teach me
For you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.

I memorized these verses several weeks ago and have found myself endlessly repeating them. Sometimes, I simply say, “All day long, Lord, all day long.”

I shared in my initial post that this psalm has sustained me through many challenging events. In September, we found out the cancer was now in the liver, that my father may only live 3-6 months, 6-12 if the chemo worked. We set a date to move, no matter what, whether the condo sold or not. That date was still 2 months away. I was struggling with hope.

I read Psalm 25 as I walked to the train the day after finding out the cancer had spread. It became my routine, as I grasped on to every word of that psalm as a deer pants for streams of water.

I still do.

We have since moved. My father lived less than 2 months, and in addition to career changes and location upheaval, I wrestle daily with what life should look like at age 37 with my father not here for me to call on the phone with questions, but present with the Lord. I’ve wondered if what I feel is grief, or am I slipping back into the depression that dominated my life for over 2 decades.

The questions that have come in this time have not been easy. Answers are coming slowly, through prayer, through clinging, through resting, through trusting.

Show me Your ways, O Lord….

Not mine, God. Yours.

Teach me Your paths
Guide me in Your truth and teach me

Let Your truth shine forth into my darkness, into the questions. Let truth be what I cling to.

For You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all. day. long.

You are Lord. I am not. Therefore, my hope is in You and You alone.

Morning coming slowly in our new town


Joy comes in the morning, friends.

And in the mourning, too.

It is coming slowly. Like drips of living water.

I’m catching glimmers of hope and allowing God to teach me.

My hope is in Him, all day long.

Monday Morning Meditation: Dealing with Shame (Psalm 25 Series)

Several long weeks ago, I began a series on Psalm 25, my psalm for the year. We looked at just the first verse and a half (1-2a):

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
in you I trust, O my God.

Today we’ll look at the next verse and a half (2b-3):

Do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in you
will ever be put to shame,
but they will be put to shame
who are treacherous without excuse.

To assist me with my seminary graduate work, I recently purchased a Bible software package. Having just completed my first Old Testament exegesis project (do you have any questions about Nehemiah? I may just have answers!), my favorite part was having the software read the Hebrew to me.*

But I digress 🙂 Let’s put ourselves in the psalmist’s shoes for a minute (in this case, King David).

Have you ever felt ashamed?

Shame is a common human emotion. It began with Adam and Eve, after their eyes were opened to good and evil. Prior to that, they felt no shame (Genesis 2:25).

Can you even imagine what that felt like?

Shame is partially taught and partially inborn. There is such a thing as “healthy shame.” If we sin, and we think, “That was not a good choice,” or “I did something wrong,” that is healthy shame. If we sin, and think, “I am bad to my core,” or “I am a mistake,” that is not healthy shame.

Distinguishing between the two is a challenge. In fact, when I typed “dealing with shame” into Amazon.com, 467 resources came up.

How did David deal with his shame and fear of it?

He chose to take it to God and put his hope there.

Hope is a choice. It can be a difficult and even counter-cultural choice in a world that relies so much on what we see and feel and touch. Hope is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” according to Hebrews 6:19. But the Tyndale Commentary on this section of Hebrews rightly states that it requires tenacity, a tight hold on God and His Word, to retain that hope; it will not simply come to us or happen by chance.

What is our solution to shame today? Either healthy or unhealthy shame?  Hope in the Lord. Find your worth there. Allow your identity to be defined by the cross and not by the reactions of others.

Choose to put your hope in God first.

*I don’t know a single thing about Hebrew, but even I can learn and discover interesting aspects of the text through simply hearing a robotic voice read it to me. In fact, during this exercise, I spent way too much time playing with that feature.

I’ll just give you an example of the structure of verse 3. The word that is translated “put to shame” is in the middle of the Hebrew and is repeated. So the structure of the sentence looks something like this:
These people = no shame; shame = these people.

Repetition is a commonly used literary device in the original languages, but some of that can be lost in translation. The English here actually does a fairly good job of capturing that.