Dear Emery



“The disciple living by grace rather than law has undergone a decisive conversion-a turning from mistrust to trust. 
The foremost characteristic of living by grace is trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. 
To believe deeply, as Jesus did, that God is present and at work in human life is to understand that I am a beloved child of this Father and, hence, free to trust. That makes a profound difference in the way that I relate to myself and others; 
it makes an enormous difference in the way I live. 
To trust Abba, both in prayer and life, is to stand in childlike openness before a mystery of gracious love and acceptance.
Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel

 

Dear Emery, 

By the time you’re able to read this, I can only imagine that you are a stunning sight to behold. Even now as a three year old little girl, I see you becoming a young woman who is smart and kind, and who is someone who cares deeply for others. You’re probably still a goofball, and hopefully you still dance on the coffee table while belting out the Moana theme song. I hope that you and Danny are good buddies still who do crazy stuff together like you do now. I’ve always loved your guys’ precious relationship even though it’s a full-time job making sure that you don’t “love” him too aggressively. I admire your passion though, babe! : )

I love you two with every part of me. I hope that at some point you’re able to recognize the ways in which language fails any effort to describe the love that a mother has for her children. It’s through that lens that I’m writing to you specifically here, sweetie. I want to tell you a bit of my story in hopes that it’s useful for you in some aspect of your life’s journey.

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In writing this to you babe, I wanted to offer to you the background story of why I have founded The Pearl Project as my lifelong mission on behalf of women. The Pearl Project is dedicated to you Emery and to my friend Sara Joy who died on May 12th of 2002. Her story has tremendous worth and value in the context of my life, and I feel beyond blessed to honor her life and her death now through my own life’s work.

You both are the two most precious girls that i’ve ever known. 

The entire point of the project is grounded in the fact that I am painfully aware of the the delicate nature of the human heart, mind, body, and soul. We are integrated, beautiful beings that represent the crown of the created order. At the same time, we live in a broken world, and we experience brokenness on so many different levels. Living in that tension is often more than we are able to bear on our own.

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The spectrum of things that can occur inside of the vulnerable and tender heart of a person are vast, for the better and for the worst. SaraJoy experienced a heavy, heartbreaking load in her life that she was simply unable to bear on her own as a 16 year old girl.

I wasn’t able to be what she needed the very most in a friend back then because of my lack of life experience in the realm and the complexity of the things that she was dealing with. I had nothing to offer to her that could have saved her life. She died because of a broken heart and no one to help her carry her heavy load.

SaraJoy needed to be heard, and she needed to be seen in her deepest places in her heart. She had a loneliness and an ache that othing seemed to be able to fill. At this point in my life, in my early thirties, I now understand much better why heartbreak can nearly send one to their death. We see and hear about it every single day, and I have personally experienced the same sort of defeat in my own life. But my story was not over yet.

It is for that reason that my vision for The Pearl Project is to give women opportunities to gather, to be heard, to be seen, and to be loved in meaningful and practical ways that perhaps their life has simply not allowed just yet. Sometimes friendship, Jesus, and story are the literal difference between surviving life and thriving in life.

My aim is to simply give back the good news that was given to me that has forever changed my life and my relationships. As I have experienced the love of a God who has fully redeemed my story, I have dedicated my life to connecting other women with the same God who makes ALL things new. He is in the business of rewriting the history of our lives into a most beautiful, thriving narrative.

The Pearl Project is a call for women to redeem their story. I’ve personally experienced and witnessed the healing power of God working in the fabric of my life in ways that no human effort could explain. I’m calling women to be brave and to step out into the grandesque vision and purpose that Jesus has for the story of our lives.

BEST

 

Emery I’m sharing this message to you with my friends as well because I think you’ll agree that good news is worth sharing. I wanted to get this jotted down for you and for Dan in the case that anything were to happen to me so that you’d always have a place to go to hear my heart for you and to hear about the goodness of God in the story of my life. No matter what ever happens to me babe, never forget that He is good all of the time.

 

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{Let me get past this lump in my throat as I tell my beautiful daughter the most difficult-to-speak-of, vulnerable, and heartbreaking details of my life}

For anyone who knows my life story, particularly in the last 10 years or so, it would be extremely difficult to explain the eventual outcome of my life to date as anything outside of the hand of a good God at work in the details of my life. At my very lowest point in my mid-twenties, I was absolutely racked by anxiety and depression, terrorized by the implication of relentless betrayal, and lonely beyond what I could bear.

I found myself genuinely hopeless to the point that suicide felt like my most reasonable alternative. I reasoned with myself that if I took my own life, that I would finally relieve others and myself of the burden of who I was and of who I was becoming. That is honestly how I viewed myself, as a total burden to everyone that I knew.

I battled that rationale nearly on a daily basis for well over two years. Up until just 5 years ago, my past felt like the most unbearable collective memory that I would only revisit out of occasional necessity.

Stepping into the present

These days Emery, I hardly even recognize the girl that I was back then. It’s been a tumultuous, intentional, and very long journey to get to where I am now. Of course there is so much to learn still. The difference for me these days is not that all of my circumstances have changed, but I’m able to struggle differently than I used to.

I can honestly say that every single day I wake up with the most genuine gratitude and excitement for whatever the day might hold. Today I have an enormous set of dreams in front of me that never felt possible before. Little by little and day by day I see them tangibly taking shape. Today I am a completely different human than I was back then. It feels really good to be so free and to feel so whole again.

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My life is now marked by courage instead of fear. My heart-posture is now bent towards patience and peace instead of anxiety and striving. I experience a deep-residing joy that is not dependent on my circumstances.

Just this last year I lost both my Grandmother and my Grandfather within two months of each other. They were two of the most influential, steady, and important people in my entire life. Being that as it may, I was able to grieve well by allowing my heart to break while at the same time, holding strong to the Presence and the peace that wouldn’t leave my side.

In years past, my emotional state would rise and fall based on what was happening around me, what people thought about me, and what I could or could not control. Today, I am steady and strong only because of God’s steady presence in my mind and my heart.

I see pictures of myself from back then and I try to think back to what I was feeling at that time in my life. I see some of the clothes that I used to wear too, and man, I just wanted to be ‘seen,’ so badly. It makes me so sad to return to ‘that girl.’ Today I feel so far removed from the patterns of thinking and the insecure emotions that used to completely run my life.

To be sure, basic immaturity that comes with youth played a part in my life’s story, like everyone else’s. However that in itself would be a gross oversimplification for what was going on deeper inside of me because it was much more complex than that.

Even the things that I wanted back then and the things that I cared so much about do not even occur to me anymore. In fact, when I think about all that used to matter so much to me, I feel so much empathy for the young girl that I was. Today, I’m able to see her through a much different lens. I’ve forgiven her, and I’ve softened towards her in a way that has allowed me to see deeper into her soul. Only now am I able to extend grace to her instead of the shame that used to pervade my sense of self and effect all of my thoughts and behavior.

 

When I see ‘her’ face in my mind’s eye, I just want to walk up to her, wrap her up in my arms, and tell her that she doesn’t have to do it anymore. I want to tell her that the noise is cheap. I want to assure her that she is enough, and that she doesn’t have to fix herself or fight anymore.

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I would tell her that one day she would understand that people were wrong about her. I would let her know that it’s alright to say goodbye to ill-fitting relationships, that abuse doesn’t have to be a secret, and that there is a much bigger and better plan that was worth every single tear. I guess I would say something like this:

Baby girl, you are beyond valuable. You are loved infinitely by the architect of love itself. That is true of you whether you believe it or not. When you learn that you can trust Him to be your source of love, when you finally believe that in your core, your life will be on fire with meaning, love, and purpose as its fuel… 

There are AMAZING things being prepared for you that only you can accomplish in your lifetime. Believe that! The world needs you to be uniquely you so that you can play your specific part in a much grander narrative. Do not be afraid. “

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Emery the bottom line for me was that when I was younger, there were simply aspects of my life that had not yet been touched by my apprenticeship to Jesus. I had faith in God, but I didn’t know how to apply my childhood understanding of faith and of the Bible to the reality of what I was experiencing in my adult life.

What I had not understood about God back in my late teens and early twenties was that there was nothing that I could have ever done to make God love me any less; AND there was nothing that I could ever do to earn or to make Him love me any more than He already does. I am accepted. I am loved. I am enough. End of story.

Basically I had thought for sure that I had gone too far. My motivation for doing anything that had to do with my faith was to be obedient for the sake of obedience, checking off the boxes. I was positive that I had endured and caused enough emotional damage to ever have a healthy relationship with anyone.

I knew about forgiveness but I believed that forgiveness would apply to everyone else except me. Since I had felt rejected by others in my life, I was certain that I was probably more than God would want to deal with either. I allowed others’ voices in my life to dictate what I perceived to be true of me, rather than listening to the voice of love and truth in my life.

At some point without even realizing it, I began to believe lies about myself that were simply not true. Even half-truths can begin to feel like the whole truth when really, they’re still lies. Over time and after rejection after rejection, betrayal after betrayal, death after death just had a way of hammering in a message that I began to believe. I developed a posture of fear and a very low view of myself. Those lies took root in the deepest layers of my identity, and leaked out into my character and in every facet of my life.

It’s complex, but my story is far from unique.

The truth is that there are all-too-many men and women just like me and you who end up living through the lens of a lie about themselves without even realizing it. The subtly of the lies is what’s so fascinating, but the point is that over time they get so deeply ingrained into the core of  our identity that the lie itself begins to feel like the truth.

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As just one of many examples, take the multi-billion dollar business that is cosmetics, plastic surgery, and anti-aging products and procedures. People sell out in order to get a new version of themselves in order to fit a proto-type for ‘beauty’ that our culture has dictated for women.

The underpinning of all of those products and procedures is actually a philosophy that women end up believing that says that who they are isn’t good enough, so they need to fix themselves. Of course there are exceptions to any rule, but in general women especially are chasing down filters to cover up what is real and project a version of themselves that is not reality. This all stems back to fear of not being ‘enough.”

Social media is this same phenomena, the porn industry is this same phenomena, hollywood, drugs, becomming rich, becomming popular or famous. These all promise so much but deliver so little, but people buy into it and drink the coolaid. Every single one of these concepts have a philosophical undertone that lay the groundwork for a lie that is believed, internalized, and lived through.

The most recent psychological research and analytics for a couple of these concepts is very telling of our culture and what we believe about ourselves. Research tells us that for many people, earning money goes from being a way to feed your family to becomming an addiction, a form of status, an identity statement, a way to compensate for a personal shortcoming, and a way to feel in control. (Fear of not being in control)

At some point porn becomes more than an activity. It is a 100 Billion industry where 35% of ALL worldwide internet downloads are from pornography sites. What that is revealing to reserachers is that porn is an addiction for many men and for women. Reserach indictates that the psychologcal undertone of porn is that it serves as a mask for compensation for a deeper insecurity. It serves as a temporary feeling of validation, and a brief power play.  (Fear of not being “enough) Men and women who struggle with porn are the most likely to carry around with them father wounds that have yet to be unmasked, and who use these things to fill a void without even realizing it.

I have no authority on these topics other than the fact that I was completely and utterly in the grip of a lie just like many of these above. We are all prone to look for what seems to fill us up. The idea is that there are countereit love’s out there that play brilliantly to our vulnerabilities. They promise the world but deliver very little. That’s why the life and teaching of Jesus is so subversive, provocative, and absoluetly life-changing.

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I can completely relate to that list above of counterfeit loves in the sense that before I let Jesus become the God of my entire being, I found myself on the empty-promise end of those lies. Lies that sneak their way into our core have tremendous implications for who we do or do not become and have direct implications for the quality of our character development. These issues stem from father-wounds, mother-wounds, abandonment, addiction, feelings of inadequacy, rejection etc, you name it because the list is long.

Over time the lies or the truth that we internalize end up shaping our character for the better or for the worse. Lies can end up twisting our notions of identity and leave us with a spiritual, relational, and emotional paralysis or deficit that is difficult to a) identify, and b) to overcome outside of a dynamic relationship with our maker who is the only qualified source to speak truth about who we are.

Frankly I had missed the entire point of the Gospel.

I didn’t know how to be the truest version of myself. I didn’t realize how a life in apprenticship to Jesus where i’m learning to become more like Him actually makes me more like my real true self. Hang on babe i’ll unpack that down the road. Basically I was in a constant whirlwind of failure, self-doubt, and self-inflicted shame for never being good enough for my own standards and no matter what I tried, I could not manage to get myself out and keep myself out of that storm.

Little did I know that because of Jesus’s love for me, that He was about to turn all of my years of depression and loneliness on its head in order to reveal His power and His grace through the story of my life. Not a single tear has been wasted. He has used every single dark crevice of that time in my life to weave so much light, beauty, truth, and joy where it had not been before.

He is the One who makes ALL things beautiful and who makes ALL things new.

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Emery, my sweet girl…
So much of life will hurt, babe, and so much of it will also be joy.
God is good. Always. And He is there with you in both your joys and your hurts. You’ll be able to sense that He is there, I promise. You, Daniel and Daddy are my testimony of that incredible measure of joy and blessing that is possible when we allow God to define what is good, right, better, and best for our lives. Not that life gets easy when you follow Jesus. In fact it gets increasingly more difficult. But there is a transcendent peace that you experience that nothing else can even begin to compare to, and blessings that come in ways you could neer expect.

You will eventually feel the sting of pain, betrayal, and you will also inevitably realize that you are also capable of hurting someone else deeply. You will even feel hurt by dad and I as well. I am already sorry for that because I never want to see you in pain. I hope that you can recognize that we have always tried to do our very best to love you, but we are honest enough to know that we will fail you at times.

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I was taught about God and about grace for all of my life, but it wasn’t until I hit my version of rock bottom that it all finally made sense.

The sin in my life is what kept me from thriving and from living a life of love and courage. I don’t mean freedom, because unlimited freedom without meaning is cheap. I’m talking about lacking People hate the word sin, but “sin” properly defined is simply “That which violates love.”

When people are honest enough with themselves, they too see how painful it is to to be human and to live a life that is layered in “that which violates love.”

For me, fear and doubt are what violated the love in my life. Fear and doubt violated my relationships with others and with God. My redemption story is that when I was at my worst, He peeled back my layers of fear in order to help me to see myself clearly and to see Him clearly. Now I understood how worthy Jesus is of my affection, how trustworthy He is with my life and future, and how desperately I need Him every single day.

Unless the Presence of the living God is dwelling within your heart, your body, and your mind, the source of your ache will always be for a relationship with the God who designed you and loves you more than we can even fathom. He bought you at a price on the cross, taking the penalty for all of our sin so that through faith you’d be made whole in Him and have life to the fullest. For you, for me, and for every single person.

My particular thirst for wholeness and the ruthless ache of my past are what propelled me into a deeper love for Jesus. That love itself properly understood has fundamentally reshaped what it means for me to be human. This is not religion. This is about a relationship that has changed my life and my relationships from the inside out. That is the story that I hope to impart to you, love.

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Here We Go

By the time I was about 16 years old, my life was on a dangerous downward trajectory. I was a slave to my emotions and I was unaware of the ways in which I operated in self-protective fear and perfectionism. That may sound complicated, but it’s really not.

One of the few things that psychologists, theologians, and sociologists have been able to agree upon is that no matter the context people operate out of two default functions: We operate and live out of fear and/or we operate and live out of love.

For me, it was fear.

It took me years, thousands (literally) of hours of studying and prayer, all kinds of therapy, good friends, and some REALLY difficult conversations to bring those things to the surface. Once they were exposed though, that was when the inward work began.

Wild & Free – Fear and Trembling 
So where did the fear come from? As you know babe I grew up as free as they come on the ranch where Grandma Jeanne lives. There was nothing I was scared of, there was no adventure too extreme or too dangerous. I loved that life, the edgy adrenaline stuff. I was a crazy-happy, wild and free little girl. Frankly, I’ve always wanted the same for you and Dan.

Uncle Nick and Uncle Jesse and I grew up working our asses off and playing hard. Just like the boys were, I was really strong, mentally and physically because a lot was required of us and I had to keep up. I never doubted any of my capabilities because ranch life forced us kids to find a way to do what needed to be done without excuses or complaining.

We logged, we split wood, we built fences, hunted, ran cattle, we played paintball, built insanely high and dangerous forts, and were gone all day and came home when it got dark. No one worried about us because the woods were our comfort zone. The concept of survival in the case of a disaster was a standard part of our childhood training and something I never questioned my abilities about. Our parents trusted us, loved us, and turned us free to create and engineer our own entertainment around the ranch.

We were proficient and responsible with our rifles and all of our tools and equipment by the time we were 8 and 9. We all had jobs at a young age and earned our way to any thing that we wanted. A lot was required of us in the way of work and discipline, perhaps too much at times. The idea though is that we were always up for the task and performed the degree of responsibility that was required of us.

 

Wounded People Wound People
Work was how I related to my dad (to Papa Mark). He was an orphan raised in a terribly abusive home, and so his gauge on how to give and how to receive love was difficult to understand at times from the perspective of us kids. That made him unpredictable for me as a little girl.

Unfortunately because of his early childhood environment, he inherited all sorts of unhealthy ways of relating to others and to the world around him. He had just become a Christian the year that he married my mom, so he was at the very beginning of his walk with Jesus which eventually transformed and redeemed so much of his past. As my father however, I needed him to set the tone for me about how love worked and what I should expect from a man who was worth my time, but he simply wasn’t able to do that for me in a way that I could grasp because of that gap in his own life’s story.

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In addition to his terrible childhood, he was in a horrific logging accident that left him with a broken back and in tremendous pain every single day. That left him dependent on prescription drugs that had all sorts of terrible side effects. The cumulative effect of all of those factors meant various things for us kids.

For me that meant that my most crucial relationship, my dad, was unpredictable and sometimes scary, so I didn’t trust it. That generated a father-wound inside of me that set the tone for how I related to other men. I didn’t identify that until years later. He is not to blame for the decisions that I’ve made, but I’ve often wondered if I would have had a higher bar for myself than I did if some things were different in both my dad’s upbringing and thus in my own.

Since that time period in my childhood, my dad got off his medication, and his back has been miraculously healed after nearly 30 years of excruciating pain. His relationships have been humbly restored and it’s as if with his healing, he has become a brand new man. He had a terrible beginning in life, and it is a literal miracle that He is who He is today, babe. He is ONE of a kind, for sure! : )

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Just a couple of years ago, I made the choice to forgive him and to choose joy and connection with him regardless of our past. I didn’t need him to go back through our whole history and apologize or anything like that. I simply released him and myself to be people who have both been recipients of unmerited grace. Today Papa Mark and I have an amazing relationship that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It has been redeemed in so many special ways, and I am so grateful for how the Lord has used that aspect of my story for good in my life. I wouldn’t trade my relationship that I have with my dad now for the whole world.

Regardless of the flaws of my own upbringing, I recognize that no home is perfect. I know that our parents did the very best they could for us, and I attribute the restoration that my entire family has experienced as the direct answers to my mother’s prayers. Legitimately.

 

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The Greensprings
We had grown up in a really small and tight-knit community for my whole childhood in the mountains called the Greensprings. When I turned 14 it was time for me to go into Ashland for school.

I struggled to adjust to that change. It was a huge deal for me. I played sports but I felt like most of the girls on my teams had already well-formed groups of friends that I never felt quite at home in. I had lots of acquaintances, but I had a difficult time making really good friends. I remember feeling weird, insecure and preoccupied with how different I assumed I was for being raised in the middle of nowhere, realizing that my version of normal was likely odd to others.

I felt unpretty and so unaware when it came to fashion in comparison to the girls I met at school. Apparently style mattered in the city and I learned that it was generally frowned upon if you wore you brothers hand-me-downs. I appreciate fashion now, of course, but I just didn’t get it back then and I felt so odd for it. Maybe it was the homemade bangs I rocked until I was like 20 that forever damaged my self-esteem. (MOM!!!)

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Honestly I was just so naive and innocent. I did not understand so much about the really complex world that I had just stepped into that was so different from the life I grew up in. The drugs and the drinking and the sex that my friends were already having was more than I felt prepared to digest. Be that as it may, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about where I was raised and how I grew up. I’d do it all over again. I may not have been savvy to all of that stuff, but I had a tremendous and unique education because of the frontier that was my backyard and because of the trade-work that I was able to learn so early in life.

By the end of the first trimester in High School I had made two incredibly wonderful friends, who didn’t seem to mind my bangs! Heather and Sara Joy. By my sophomore year, Heather had graduated and moved to California but Sara Joy and I spent every single day together. She was a dream come true, and the most caring soul I’d ever met. I was beyond ecstatic to finally have a friend that felt like a sister in every way. She made every transition so much easier. By May of sophomore year, Sara Joy had commit suicide and was gone forever.

Throughout my teenage years, I couldn’t seem to recover from her death. I didn’t have the emotional tools at 16 to know how to even begin to process my grief and attempt to have a normal teenage life. All of my other friends who knew her seemed to be able to move on from her death, but I just couldn’t get there.

Looking back, I realize now that it was because SaraJoy was more than a friend to me. She represented my first genuinely meaningful friendship in my almost-adult life that had filled such a special and unique place in my heart. I had known that she wanted to die. I didn’t know what to say, and then she was gone. I had tremendous guilt about that, always wondering what I could have done differently. It felt like everything in my world had changed. Stuff just got really serious and it kept compounding.

Simultaneously at that particular moment in my family’s story, my parent’s marriage was on the rocks and our house felt like the most hostile environment that nobody wanted to be in or knew how to fix. My dad has just disclosed his terminal illness to us kids and I was getting more numb, untrusting, and insecure by the day.

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To seal the deal, around this same time my brother Nick who had been my best friend for all of my life didn’t seem to want anything to do with me anymore once we got into high school. I had never done life without him so I felt severed from my lifelong companion for several years. I think that’s why saraJoy also felt like such a comfort zone for me, because she took up part of that space that Nick had always filled. Nick and I’s relationship completely improved after college, but back then the timing of it was really hard.

My dog had just been run over in my driveway the same week Sara Joy died, and my brother Jesse had just been asked to leave our house because he and my dad couldn’t seem to see eye to eye about anything anymore. I wrecked my car that I had saved for since I was 9 years old, my fault, and emptied my entire savings to fix it. Stuff was just raw and super hard to wrap my head around at 16.

I was so confused, so lonely, and so afraid of the future. It felt as though I had nobody and things were just crumbling. Everything that I loved and had counted on seemed to leave, and I had no idea how I was supposed to keep my head above water through it all.

I was embarrassed about the state of my family at the time. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my grief because I was certain no one would be able to relate to me. Fear and insecurity began to take root in place of my confidence and joy that I had as a young girl.

Dreaming up dreams about my future just wasn’t even in the cards for me because I was just trying to cope with my daily life.

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Underneath The Surface
By the time I hit my early twenties, my lack of clarity for my future coupled with my spectrum of fears and insecurities were driving the details of the way that I spoke, the way that I related to others, and the way that I allowed myself to be treated.

My default operation as a young woman was out of self-protection, self-preservation, and perfectionism. By the time I was 20, the strong and happy little girl from my childhood was replaced with a timid and powerless young woman who was pinned to the ground with a fearful undertone that I could never seem to conquer.

I often cared too much out of fear of failure or a fear of disappointing those I love. Anytime I received punishment for something wrong I had done, it was always pitiful compared to the self-discipline I would inflict on myself through the critical voice in my head that consistently told me that I was a failure. I’d self-punish myself into “being better.”

One example of this is when I would take the punishment for something that I didn’t do (that Jesse had done) so that I would ensure that my younger brother Nick wouldn’t be punished wrongly by chance. Not protecting him would have been failure to me and I just couldn’t let that happen to him. Somehow I didn’t seem to mind what it cost me outside of my own honesty. I would frequently take upon myself whatever the consequence would be to ensure calm in our house. This is where my people-pleasing began because it momentarily quieted what I didn’t know how to handle well.

Simultaneously, I didn’t care enough about other things. This took shape in the way that I would allow myself to be spoken to or treated. I sought out the attention of guys to obtain some sense of feeling wanted. That was a high for me that became addictive, to feel wanted, because I just wasn’t receiving that affirmation anywhere else in my life. It was cheap. Not caring enough (compensating for the fear of rejection) was crippling me and it was all fear-based.

This was when co-dependent friendships and relationships began.

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Unbeknownst to me back then, I had learned and adapted two unhealthy styles of relating to others. I would play one of two roles in my relationships: Either I was the taker and would subtly demand things emotionally from people that often times they simply could not give to me (fear-driven). Or I would unintentionally become the powerless person; the victim. I wanted someone to love me to my core, but not require much of me in return (Self-Protection, Fear).

As a powerless person, I was so scared that I would end up caring for someone just to have them leave or die, that I would go to any length at whatever cost to myself in order to try to keep them around. (Self-Preservation, driven by fear). I didn’t believe that anyone could actually just love me without strings attached.

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I lost my virginity when I was 19 years old to probably one of the most cruel human beings I’ve ever known. He was however the first guy to want to actually stick around and “put up with me,” from my perception. He was popular, good-looking, charming, in the NFL and he wanted me. He told me that if I didn’t have sex with him that it was over. I caved so I wouldn’t lose the only guy so far that seemed to give a crap.

Originally I felt like the most special girl in the world for the first few months. The problem was that he wanted me for the long run as his wife, but he also wanted whoever else might satisfy him along the way.

The cheating all started just after I lost my virginity to him. It would be incredibly difficult to describe what that meant to me, the spiritual sacrifice that it was for me, and the complexities of what surrounded that moment in my life. The point here however is that as a result of that, he owned me mentally, physically, and manipulated every ounce of dignity I had left in me. This turned into a vicious cycle that got worse every day.

When lies begin to feel like the truth
I was THAT girl who genuinely began to believe that when he cheated on me, it was because I had done something wrong and that I wasn’t giving him what he needed which is the ultimate fear of a perfectionist because “love” is then performance-driven.

This dug deeper into my sense of rejection, and added to my piling list of insecurities, trust issues, and my sense of self-worth. My innocence was trampled on, completely taken for granted, and used against me in terrorizing ways. Everything with him got progressively worse over time.

I was trapped in that abuse cycle with him for 5 years. Every time I would leave, He would find me, or I would naively believe that he had changed because I so badly wanted to believe that there was no way that someone would intentionally hurt another person the way that he would hurt me.

When you’re in that kind of cycle of abuse, you don’t tell anyone about it. Either you’ll get in trouble, or because you’ll end up feeling shameful, stupid, and you’ll likely end up hearing what you already know but feel powerless to overcome. At some point I was a victim of him, for a good long time.

Then at some point it became my fault for staying. I’ve had people argue against that on my behalf, but it is true. At some point, it became my fault, and recognizing that was what motivated me to cut all ties for good. I was 24 at the point this ended for good.

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Vicious Cycle
I dated two more guys before I met Bryan. Both guys cheated on me with no remorse at all. The last one of those two even proposed to me. We put a down payment on a house, made plans for the future, and I had finally felt like life was beginning to come together for me.

He served in the 82nd Airborne with two tours in Iraq, and went on to become a sheriff’s deputy here in Portland. He had a baby on the way with another woman at the point I discovered what was going on. He fully intended on marrying me, and living two different lives. I lost thousands and thousands of dollars as a result of this episode, I lost my home, and all of my future plans that I had finally risked dreaming about.

By the time I was 27 years old, the crazy that I felt within me at times basically amplified itself over time which stemmed from not having even a trace of trust left in me at all. I had clung in fear to the lie that everyone that I cared about would eventually leave, and that I would not end up being worth the commitment or worth loving. My experience in life so far was proving that to be true and it was killing me from the inside out.

On one particularly raw day, I found myself alone on the bathroom floor in my cold apartment in a city far away from home, contemplating how I would end my life. That began to feel like the best solution for the darkness and the pain that had made its way to the very deepest part of my soul.

I wondered so many times where God was at, and why He wouldn’t just rescue me? I thought the most textbook victim thoughts about God too: “If you’re such a good God, why would you allow this to happen to me?” I didn’t take my life that day, but that’s when suicide began to take root as a frequent and appealing option to end the pain.

Metrics

By all of our cultural metrics, I had it going on. I had excelled in a highly specialized set of disciplines from several different college, graduating at the top of my programs in DC and Oregon. I came from a good family. I had more friends at this point. I was making good money. And yet, I perpetually felt lonely and as if my life was irrelevant. There was this gaping void in my life that nothing would seem to fill.

So I would cling to what was comfortable and whatever could temporarily fill the void. I allowed my relationships, my work, my education, how much money I made, and my social status to dictate my value and how I viewed my worth as a human.

My relationships with nearly everyone were skin deep, shallow, and unhealthy. My theology was incomplete and “religious,” in the programmatic way that I approached God. I had Him squeezed into this box that fit my very minimal expectations for Him and for myself because at this point I didn’t trust Him or myself to pull through for me. I had Him rigidly defined, neat and tidy, and there for when I needed Him like a genie in a lamp if I weren’t able to control something myself.

I was the queen of excuses and a victim mentality. That victim mindset had leaked out of my father wound and my abusive relationships and had become a part of my identity. My victim-ness was reiterated by betrayal after betrayal. I was in fact a victim as someone who had gone through an abusive relationship, but it was as if I had convinced myself that someone else was always causing the poor conditions of my mental state and my overall life.

I preferred to relieve myself of the responsibility to own the choices that had landed me in a series of foul relationships.

I was the definition of a hypocrite because I knew all the right things to say and do so that people wouldn’t see the mess in my life. I was so embarrassed of who I had become and what I had allowed into my life. An epic failure is how I viewed myself. To seal the overall deal, I was a hot mess you could count on finding at the lamest bars or dance clubs on any given weekend or weeknight. Drinks in hand, money out the window like it was nothing, living it up however I could because I couldn’t even begin to tackle the wounds that were festering in my soul. So you cover them up with distraction and comfort!

IMG_3160I would be lying if I said I wasn’t having fun, because I was. I was having the time of my life because that enabled me to mask and overlook what I desperately needed to face within myself. My definition of the good life, the party life back then, was only fun precisely because the bar that I had set for myself was so darn low, so cheap, and so vague.

I could just about convince myself that anything was fun, or worth my time. Only now am I able to grasp that was because of a gross misunderstanding of my worth, my value, and my purpose.

That life stole a lot of precious things from me. My time being one of the most hurtful of them. I view the choices I made back then and the powerlessness I acquired as a thief. Of course I learned so much because of it, and of course I can relate to others who have gone through similar things in ways I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. And of course, there is no changing it now. Yet I have paid a high price for those painful years that hardly seems worth it.

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If it’s not good, He’s not finished with it yet
Into the narrative of my life walks Bryan Hays. He was perfect. Okay, he is flawed…but so, so good. The best man I had ever met.

The point at which we met, neither one of us were in any position to be in relationship with each other at that particular moment. The relationships that we had both just come out of left us both timid, distrusting, and emotionally unavailable. But little by little we began to grow in love for each other. I knew deep down from early on that he was “it” for me.

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Although we had love for each other, we knew that feelings were not going to be enough to rectify the damage done in both of our hearts in order to produce a life of fulfillment and meaning for the long run. Not that we realized this back then, but we both had yet to lay our lives completely at the feet of Jesus to do His restorative and empowering work that only He could do. Only He could take our broken lives and piece them back together for love’s sake.

For me personally, I had yet to bring my emotions, my past, my fears and my deepest longings to the only ONE who could actually offer promise of hope and a future that was worth living. I was still trying to control my own life and keep myself from getting hurt again.

We both desperately wanted the same thing, to be love and to be loved unconditionally. We were just beginning the journey that God would eventually prove to use so incredibly faithfully to redeem not only our own stories, but the stories of many of our family members and friends. It was as if we knew deep down that there was promise for us, but we had to get out of each other’s way in order to let God begin healing what was broken inside of us.

I had a moment of total surrender just a few months before Bryan proposed to me while in Sedona, AZ. We were at a crossroads. I had begun to give up on love, on Bryan, and all that I had ever hoped for. It felt like we just couldn’t make it work, we were both just too messed up to handle each other with the care that we knew the other deserved. The road looked too narrow, it seemed impossible, and neither one of us were softening into the tender, mercy-filled relationship that God had planned for us. It felt like it was over to me.

For me, it was the bookend to a lifelong message that I wasn’t enough, that I wasn’t worth fighting for, that I had no future ahead of me, and that I would never be worthy of love.

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When I arrived in Sedona I fasted for 24 hours. I NEEDED direction and clarity at this juncture more than I needed food. I was praying my guts out, but nothing.

I had no peace, my anxiety was through the roof rattling my sanity. My mind was viciously replaying every devastating conversation and scenario in my life that reemphasized how I hopeless I was feeling. The whisper from my mind to my body was, “Just end it. Look at you. You’ll never amount to anything. You will always be alone. No one will ever love you enough to stay.”

Same old script.

The day came and went, but nothing. I didn’t feel like I had any clarity on what to do next at all. I felt like God had bailed on me too. If this was how life was supposed to go, I didn’t want it anymore. I woke up in the morning, and the same hopelessness that I had felt for so many years crept back in and took a gut shot.

I finally gave in. I was done.

I walked out onto the porch of the house where we were staying with my Bible and my notebook in hand. I sat down, still as can be. I began to process the details of my emotions and my thoughts. For all of the complexity and the spectrum of thoughts running through my head, all that I could seem to land on was that I was drowning in my childhood storybook notion of God who never seemed to pull through for me. Had He  really forgotten me?

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I was so mad at God. I had the audacity to trust Him for my whole life, through everything I believed He was there. When Sara Joy died, I believed He was there with me when no one else could handle my agonizing emotions, even months after she died. I believed He was there with me in those nights where I laid there, used and discarded, crying myself to sleep quietly so that the cruel one wouldn’t hear me.

I told others about His goodness and His grace even when I had not yet experienced the fullness of that in my own life. Yet I believed it to be true because I believed that He was truth embodied and that Truth was on His lips. The words that I had read every day of my childhood and every day since no matter what was happening in my circumstances, I believed Him. So where was He in this?

A few minutes later, I found myself on this back porch in a foreign neighborhood yelling at the top of my lungs for God to either show up, and make Himself known to me, or else I quit.

I was angry. I was confused, and I didn’t care anymore about who heard me, how crazy I seemed, or what came next. I was done.

I quit life, I quit hope, and I quit the small glimmer of a future that I saw in Bryan’s eyes when he looked at me. I was at the literal end of what I could handle within myself as a 27 year old girl. Where my human soul had been so trampled down and worn out, I was exhausted. It felt like I had been barely surviving myself year after year, and I was just tired of it. I had reached my limit and my capacity as a human to endure the road before me.

The lonely, discarded, and never good enough Jenna finally acquiesced to that definition of myself. I took a deep breath in, and agreed, “It must be true of me.” My fear had won. I was never meant for love. I was never meant for a future worth anything and my entire life was a waste. This moment wasn’t just about Bryan. It was representative of nearly a decade worth of pounding my head into the floor, waiting, desperate, trying, failing, suffocating, pushing through, weeping, and finally just letting the cards fall in their place. I was surrendering my life and surrendering my control of it.

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I had my head in my hands, weeping as if the floodgates of my soul had just been cranked wide open. I had nothing left to give. I sank back into my chair, closed my eyes, and I gave up. If I could have handed over the breath in my lungs at that moment to someone else to take it away from me, I would have.

Time seemed to stop. One more breath, in. And out. Total silence. My tears just kept dropping, as I laid there with my eyes closed and my head up towards the sky.

Another breath in, and out. In….and then I had to stop. I held my breath in, my eyes opened wide, as I looked around me to try to see who had spoke my name, “Jenna.”

I was alone at that house. No one knew me in Sedona. When I looked around, no one was there. I felt so confused now and distracted from my grief. I turned around in my seat to look once more. I was alone.

Confused I sat back once again in my seat. Right as I took in my next breath, I heard, “Write this down.”

I could never in all of my life even begin to use language as a means to describe what I felt in that moment, and what came next. I do not care even the slightest bit what anyone might think of the following because this is and will always be the literal most pivotal moment of my entire life.

I sat upright immediately, grabbed my notebook and pen in front of me, and set the tip of the pen down on the paper. With no thoughts of my own, writing at a speed that I’ve never written in my life, God literally spoke to me as I wrote down what He had to say to me.

I started at the very top of the page. He said, “You are a Pearl of Great Price. Any man that would be worthy of you would sell all that He has in order to obtain you, a Pearl of great Beauty.”

Immediately following that, and in 10 minutes time, I had 17 pages hand-written of a completely systematic dissection and exposure of the precise lies that I had believed in my life, and the accompanying fear associated with the lie.

Following the list of lies such as “You will be alone and afraid all of your life,” or “You are not smart enough,” and “You will eventually mess up everything,” He went on to have me write out verbatim scripture verse after scripture verse that counteracted each and every individual lie.

The scripture verses that flowed so fast from my pen were scripture verses that my mom read to us as kids but that I had not repeated audibly from that point in my childhood forward. For every lie, it was met with the truth in Scripture specifically addressing that lie:

-‘You will be alone and afraid all of your life’
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

-‘You are not smart enough’
“For I have not given you a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love and of a sound mind.”

-‘You will never amount to anything in your life.’
“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”

-‘You will eventually mess up everything’
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not harm you; Plans to give you a hope and a future.”

Just on and on and on…17 pages worth of scripture just pouring out of my hand at a speed I cannot even describe or replicate. It was as if time simply stopped. My breath was steady, I was focused, it was crystal clear, and He just spoke. The Presence that I felt in this time frame was the most powerful and amazing feeling of my lifetime.

By the time it was all spoken, my pen stopped, and that was the end. Once the words stopped coming, I just sat there for a moment in awe, flipping back through page after page after page of what just happened.

As I began at the beginning and read through every word, I wept brand new tears of a different sort than I’d ever been able to cry before. These tears were tears of reconciliation and a peace that completely transcended my comprehension, and anything i’d ever experienced before. (I’m happy to share this journal entry with anyone who’d like to see it).

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It’s as if I had heard the truth for the very first time in my life. My spirit was at rest for the very first time since I was a child in response to the truths that were given to me that day.

I had asked relentlessly for God to show up. In fact, I screamed for Him to show up. And He did because of His grace, His mercy, and because of His mind-bending love for me.

I believe now that it was necessary for me to hear those specific truth claims of God in order to break the shackles that had held my entire life in chains since I was 16 years old. It’s as if only out of God’s mouth exists the truth, and only the truth was capable of tearing down strongholds so thick that my whole life had been chained life to the ground.

For me, that day God became a warrior on my behalf. He won a battle that I never could have. For my sake that day, He became a God of justice and my protector. For the first time, I experienced what it meant when the Bible speaks of God as a good father. His hand and His voice were bent in the direction of His daughter because everything was at stake.

Just after this incident, I began to wonder why He hadn’t done this for me earlier, or why He didn’t choose to speak so clearly to me earlier in my life? I realized that until this moment, although I believed in God, I still believed that I knew better than He did what I needed. I believed that I needed to control my circumstances, because no one, not even God, could be trusted with my heart.

As it turns out, the very point where I gave up control of my life for the very first time, where I got brutally honest with God and with myself and realized that I actually cannot save my own life, was the moment that I actually invited His presence into my life for the first time through the surrender of control. I needed God to show up for me more than I needed anything else, or else I could not go on.

Not Bryan.

Not a relationship.

Jesus. I needed Jesus to show up and quench my deepest longing with His love that spread so far and wide covering every inch of who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming in Him. What made all the difference was when I allowed my thirst for Him to become greater than my thirst for His blessings.

The moment that Jesus became King over my life was the moment that He also revealed to me that He has chosen me and that He would go to any lengths to be in relationship with me. He showed me that even if everyone else left me, He would still choose me. He revealed that He would fight for me, that He would pursue me, and that He is willing to take on Himself the full weight of what I had carried around on my own shoulders for the majority of my life.

He gave me freedom and a lightness that was bought at a price on the cross through His death. This was the moment where the God of my childhood became the God of my whole life because He reached into my story, spoke life and truth where death had crept in, and breathed new life into my lungs.

He redeemed my story.

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The One
Scripture says that the Lord, Yahweh, is a good Shepherd, and that He hears the voice of His sheep. It says that even if one of his sheep is lost out of 99, that He would leave the entire flock in order to go and find the one and bring it back home. He left His throne to be present and active in the story of my life in order to bring me into the fullness that He had in store for me.

Each lie needed to be exposed for what it was in order for me to move into freedom from it. At the end of the day, it came down to me not trusting that God would actually follow through with a good plan for me. It was doubt that caused my fear when the rubber met the road. It was that either that I choose to trust God with my choices, my future, and my relationships, or else I try to make them function all on my own.

That place and that tension between trusting God or taking control for ourselves is where the lie is so deceptive. Since day one of the Creation Story, the issue was not that Eve ate a piece of fruit. It was that She and Adam were redefining Good and Evil for themselves in order to control their own lives instead of trusting in God to provide everything that they need according to His perfect plan for our lives.

What my experience has taught me is that no matter what comes my way, God will always allow us freedom and our free will to choose for ourselves which path we will journey down. But God is good all of the time, and His definition of good, best, and right will always prove to be the breath and the heartbeat of our stories. As I look back now, it is so clear that even when things seemed so dark and so hopeless in my eyes, He was very much involved and working all things together for my good and for His purposes.

I have personally experienced God in a way that has forever shaped the way that I think of, talk about, and relate to the idea of God. He was the One who saw every tear and was with me in the storms. He was in fact with me in every moment of my pain and yet He allowed me to choose my life’s path for myself. He waited patiently for me until I would actually be teachable and humble enough to hear His still, small voice.

What was meant for evil in my life God has used for my good and for His glory. He has in every way redeemed the story of my life and reshaped the narrative to be one which speaks of His power over death and over sin. Sin is simply that which violates love.

For me, fear was what violated love in my life. But now, we are more than conquerors through Him.

And oh as you run, what hindered love will only become part of the story.”
Steffany Gretzinger


Enough Grace for Today

Little by little, day by day, month after month, and now year after year, He has been SO faithful. Gradually, God began His good work in healing up daddy’s heart as well, and soon after Sedona, we commit our lives to each other and to God. For daddy and I, there has been nothing more impacting than to establish an actual purpose for our marriage. The purpose is to do life with a mission together, to point our kids and others to Jesus, and asking God’s hand to work within the details.

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From that point forward babe, people began coming into our life left and right who were supporting us in terms of our spiritual growth, prayer, and fresh doses of exposure and encouragement. Before long, both of us began to actually believe that we would be victorious in our lives and that our marriage will be a catalyst for growth, maturity, and for the deepening of our relationships with God and with each other.

These Days

Today I am working on a vision that I’ve named The Pearl Project that is designed to offer women the opportunity to let Jesus into the details of their lives in order to Redeem Their Stories. That has been my story, and that is what I hope to offer back to other women as they go about their life’s journey.

For me, it required a wild encounter with a personal God and an irrational love in order for me to truly taste the richness of grace and truth. I want to continue to use my life as an example and as a testimony of God’s relentless love for each and every one of us. There is no one who is too far gone to receive the love of this Good Father.

He is Grace
Grace calls the waitress to the table, and sits her down to wash her feet.
Grace waits with healing in His wings when we’re too mad to pray.
Grace assigns dignity and honor to the one who has rendered themselves worthless.

“You will trust God only as much as you love Him. And you will love Him to the extent that you have touched Him, rather that He has touched you.”

Honey I hope that the grace that you experience in your life is as precious to you as it has been to me. Grace gave me you. I hope that my story helps, heals, and offers hope.

Love, Mommy

3 Replies to “Dear Emery”

  1. Jenna ~ Thank you for sharing your Spiritual Journey and putting your heart on your sleeve. God definitely has a plan for you. It has been an absolute pleasure to get to know you. Happy happy Mother’s Day to you!
    Your Sister in Christ, Heather

    Like

  2. Jenna,
    I was in tears as I read your story. Had to stop several times. So many similarities in my childhood and adult years. You are a Pearl and your lifelong mission will touch many lifes.

    Like

    1. Maria,
      Thank you so much for your message, here. I am so touched by your experience of my story. It sounds we like we have much in common! Thank you for your encouragement…

      Like

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