The Purpose of Imperfection

Do you know how useful imperfection is? I’ve found several uses for it in my own life. I use mistakes to prove that:

  • I’m not as capable as other people
  • I’m not as a good of a mom as other women
  • I’m not worthy of deep relationships
  • I should give up on a goal, since I’ve obviously failed
  • I’ll never change; I’m the same old person I’ve always been

Not very helpful, huh? Imperfection grates at me. I may not be able to remember the birthdays of my in-laws, or what I needed at the grocery, but I can remember mistakes for years…decades! Tiny moments of poor judgement become an arsenal of regret that I can use to derail growth, goals, and relationships.

So many of us use imperfection as weapon, to tear ourselves down and keep us tied to the past. We keep memories as punishment for messing up. We refuse to pursue dreams because, as our mistakes have taught us, we cannot be trusted with those things. We hang on to shame as penance. We keep track of every wrong step, as if that will keep us from anymore slip-ups.

But here’s the thing: mistakes are unavoidable. Not only that, but they are a necessary ingredient in character development and learning new skills. How can we learn to see mistakes as something positive, or (gasp!) even as something helpful?

In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul gives us a different perspective on mistakes: as a witness to God’s unfailing love.

1 Timothy 1:16 says, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.”

Jesus has “immense patience” with us when it comes to mistakes. I’m guessing that’s not your first thought when you make a mistake: “Ooooh, God is going to be soooo patient with me!” But He is! And there’s a purpose in His patience: so that His love and forgiveness for you can be displayed, and others will be drawn to Him.

Here’s the thing though: this only works if we accept His forgiveness and refuse to punish ourselves. We cannot preach the grace of God but live out self-condemnation. God offers forgiveness for our sins, as well as assistance in moving on from them. But if we follow that with a self-imposed binge of shame, then the message gets muddied. Who needs God if He’s just going to pile on guilt? I can do that on my own, thank you.

Want to learn how to re-purpose mistakes? Want to stop beating yourself up every time you make one? Want to, as my friend Jess says, turn mistakes into blessings? Read this little nugget from Paul in Philippians 3:13b-14: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

First, forget what’s behind. You can’t change it, but God can redeem it. He can turn imperfections into lessons, guardrails, turning points, and lifesavers. Mistakes in our hands turn into weapons, but Jesus trades beauty for ashes.

Second, strain toward what is ahead. Strain is not a passive word…this takes work! Put energy into giving God your mistakes and moving on. Be diligent about spending time in the Bible, pray for wisdom on what to do next, and, when applicable, apologize. Owning up to our mistakes with God and others draws a line in the sand, declaring that we will not be controlled by our past. That kind of vulnerability brings humility (an underrated key to growth), and produce a beautiful witness of God’s perfect character.

Mistakes do not mean you’re beyond redemption or incapable of change. They mean you’re human, they mean you’re trying, they mean you’re normal. Give your imperfections to Jesus, and let them be redeemed.

He is immensely patient with us, in the midst of our mess. Take a deep breath and begin again.

Be a Stand Up Guy

It is dawn, and Jesus has shown up early to church. As a crowd gathers around Him, He sits down to teach them.

Soon a disturbance erupts. A group of men, teachers themselves, drag a woman through the temple grounds. They force her to stand in the thick of the crowd, in front of Jesus, and they begin their accusations.

“This woman was caught in the act of adultery!” they declare. “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women!” Their purpose is laid bare with the ensuing heavy-handed question: “Now what do You say?”

Jesus knows exactly what’s going on here. The Bible even tells us plainly in John 8:6 that the Pharisees, this group of teachers, were just using the question as a trap, a way of tripping up Jesus so they could have a reason to arrest Him. And they were willing to barter with a woman’s life to grasp their goal.

Important to note here: this is an example within biblical text of a group of men accusing a woman in order to gain an advantage, and not the other way around. But that’s another blog post. 😉

It’s easy as leaders to get caught off guard when dealing with issues of a sexual nature, be it sin or assault, and especially in instances where others are watching how we’ll react. In many cases, logic and reasoning seem to short circuit. There are so many reasons for this, and they can be addressed at another time. But the point here is that Jesus stayed calm. He wasn’t worried about what the crowd was thinking, and He was able to recognize that what was being presented by the Pharisees wasn’t necessarily the whole truth. He refused to engage in the drama, the fiery accusation, the ultimatum of action. In fact, He remains seated. The Pharisees want a public fiasco, an immediate decision, and Jesus won’t give it to them.

When the Pharisees keep pushing and questioning Him, Jesus stands up.

Look: He stands up. He takes a stand, in front of a crowd, in front of His followers AND His enemies, and gets between this mob of men and the woman they’re threatening. Jesus calls the Pharisees out: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And of course, the only one left standing is Jesus. The crowd disperses, the fireworks are extinguished, the trap has failed.

To Jesus, in this moment, the issue is not whether or not she’s guilty, but the way she is being treated. Jesus, the only person who could actually take offense at the sin, chooses first to focus elsewhere. Perhaps she did commit adultery, but that’s not what the Pharisees care about. They don’t care about the truth, the circumstances, or the spiritual state of the woman…they just want to trap Jesus. And He knows that. He stands between the mob and the woman and says, “This isn’t right.”

Jesus didn’t excuse the sin, He shifted the power dynamics til the mob of men and the accused woman were on equal footing: they were all sinners. Jesus removed the external threat, and only then did He address the woman, though not with an accusation! He instead asks a question: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” He is asking her to look up and see: He took care of her. He sheltered her. He saw and understood. He could be trusted with the truth of her and her situation. He did not go off the testimony of others, He spoke directly to her. After peace and safety for the woman were restored, only then did Jesus correct and direct her. And He addresses her spiritual state privately, not in front of a crowd.

Jesus is a stand up guy. He doesn’t get caught up in the optics or politics of a situation. He doesn’t get distracted by fireworks or emotions or offense. He stands up for the vulnerable and the defenseless. He recognizes manipulation. He sees through sexism.

He stands up for women. He stands up for me.

Will you?

A Love Letter to Perfectionists

Dear Perfectionists,

I know you’re busy, because well, you’re ALWAYS busy, but I’ve got something important for you to hear. So please take a minute and sit down to read this.

No, like literally sit down. STOP TRYING TO MULTITASK AND JUST SIT DOWN FOR A MINUTE.

Ooooh, see doesn’t that feel great?! This will be short, so just take a deep breath and listen.

I know you’re tired. Like deep down, feel-it-in-your-bones tired. Maybe you have a lot going on, maybe you don’t, but I know that your brain is constantly running regardless of the to-do list. There’s always something, right? Something to fix, something to fret about, someone to text, someone to be mad at, a mistake made in seventh grade that you need to feel embarrassed about AGAIN.

You should’ve loaded the dishwasher last night but instead you watched Netflix and that’s DEFINITELY worth feeling guilty about because now there’s no clean spoons and the only food in the house is cereal because also you should’ve gone to the grocery but you didn’t because somebody had to do the laundry and see isn’t this what happens when you take any time at all for yourself and isn’t it your job to make sure absolutely everything is running absolutely smoothly absolutely all of the time?!?!

Yeesh! No wonder you’re exhausted! You are constantly working, thinking, and giving and I wonder if you even know why you’re running at this pace. Maybe you think if you let something drop then a punishment will be heading your way. Maybe you think if you let your mind relax you’ll have to think about your spiritual health, which is slowly dwindling under the weight of chores and obligations and “have-to’s.” Maybe you think a person with your kind of past doesn’t deserve to have an easy time.

I think…I think you let something slide to the background that would be really, really good to bring back to the forefront.

Grace.

Such a simple word, such a freeing concept. Galatians 5:21 says, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” When we perfectionists (mhmm, I am also in this club) try to fill our lives with rules and duty and work to distract us from our imperfections, or to cover up previous mistakes, or to earn the love and approval of those around us, then we set aside the grace of God. We pick up our own “righteousness” and tell God, “I can do this on my own! Go help a weaker vessel!”

But, from the exhaustion on your face, I’m guessing that doing this on your own is not working out so well.

Is perfectionism your way of proving to God that you’re worthy of His love? That you don’t deserve His wrath? 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God does not view you as a problem to be fixed, or an irritation to put up with! He loves you with an enduring and unconditional love. His desire is not to punish you, but to bring you into deeper relationship with Him by making us more like Christ. And this transformation happens through salvation in Jesus, not through the law, no matter what your perfectionism tries to tell you.

So take another deep breath. Put down your to-do list, your measuring stick, your comparison chart. Pick up the grace of God and hold on tight. You are loved and valued no matter what your output is. You are accepted and treasured no matter how many times you fail. Let’s have that playing on repeat in our minds, instead of our mistakes.

Sincerely,

A Recovering Perfectionist

Shoving Shame Out the Door

Picture this: you are cruising along on the highway and your car, Umberto, breaks down. After the car is towed and dismantled and analyzed, the mechanic calls and tells you good news: It’s fixable! He then tells you the price, and you promptly pass out on the floor.

You are panicking. You can’t afford this. You’ll have to abandon Umberto. How are you going to get to work? The gym? The library? CHICK-FIL-A?!?! You take to Instagram and share a picture of yourself staring mournfully at your useless car, with a caption full of grief-y hashtags: #broke #stranded #whyme #ripumberto

When your Uber drops you off at work the next morning, you trudge to your desk. But what’s this! There’s an envelope on your desk! You look inside and see a fold of bills. You read the sticky note inside…the cash is from your coworkers. “We saw your post on Instagram and wanted to help, no strings attached,” the note reads.

The exact thing you needed, at the exact right time. You sigh. You pick up the envelope.

And you throw it in the trash.

No, not the trash, the shredder. You make sure that sucker is buried in paper and will never see the light of day.

What?! Who in their right mind would do this? Oh I’ll tell you who does this…we do. All the time. With a little thing called the gift of encouragement.

(Is this a good time for a mic drop? I really want to do a mic drop.)

The gift of encouragement is a powerful tool of the Holy Spirit that often goes ignored or denied. It’s powerful in that, like the cash in the envelope, God often sends it when it’s the right gift at the right time. He is the one who created you, so He knows what you’re going through and what you need to hear. As a bonus, it is a gift both to the giver AND the receiver. When we are the receiver, those words are a shame extinguisher; when we are the giver we get to see the healing power of godly words at work…if the gift is accepted.

But it doesn’t always feel good, right? I mean, think about the last time someone gave you a compliment. Did your shoulders go up to your ears? Did you explain it away? Did you awkwardly laugh? Did you shoot back a sarcastic barb to create some distance?

…did you take the gift and throw it in the trash?

That itchy feeling you get when someone says something good about you, TO you? That’s probably shame. Shame and encouragement cannot coexist in the same place. The acceptance of encouragement extinguishes shame, and shame knows that. It’s always going to push back. Shame is that voice that whispers, “They don’t mean that…they say that to everybody…you’re not good at anything…you’re not worth anything…”

The longer shame goes unchecked, the more space it takes up. And the more space it has, the louder it gets. And there’s a way to beat it, but reader, it’s tough: you gotta start trusting that God thinks good things toward you. You’ve got to start trusting that other people think good things toward you. And you’ve got to start accepting gifts.

You start stacking those gifts up inside, and shame starts to get shoved out. It loses its place, and its voice gets softer. Accepting those gifts is a choice to believe that God is true and right, and shame disappears in the face of such faith.

My struggle with shame originated with years of traumatic experiences, and I know how debilitating it can be. It took years to undo the bind of shame, and I’m still working on it, but it has been worthy and fruitful work.

Want to join me on the other side of shame? Here are some simple ways to practice accepting the gift of encouragement:

  • Say “thank you” when given encouragement…full stop! Don’t belittle it or try to explain it away. It’s okay to grin awkwardly or start whistling while you’re learning how to do this.
  • Do your own Bible study…list verses that are statements of what God thinks of you and says of you.
  • Make 1 John 3:1 personal and say it aloud to yourself every day for a week: “See what great love the Father has lavished on me, that I should be called a child of God! And that is what I am!” Pray that God will give you the faith to trust His word.
  • Get brave and make a list of 10 things that you do well
  • Get brave again and make a list of 10 things you like about yourself
  • Ask a close and trusted friend what they admire about you. Did you just say to yourself, “There’s nothing admirable about me”? THEN CHOOSE THIS ONE! 🙂

The God who created sunrises and weeping willows and puppy cuddles created you too. And He used only the good stuff.

Time to start believing it. ❤

An Introduction

Survival is insufficient.

– Station eleven, by emily st john mandel

Hi, and thanks for stopping by! I will be writing regularly for the Eve Center, a nonprofit women’s center here in Cincinnati, so I thought I’d share those articles here as well. Nothing fancy, just posts focused on overcoming difficult or traumatic pasts. Rather than just surviving trauma, I believe we’re meant to be completely free of it, and live full lives regardless of the memories we carry. Feel free to let me know your thoughts or questions! ❤

The God Who Saw

I wonder how long it took you to gather the courage to tell someone. Hours? Weeks? Years?

Did you rehearse what you’d say? Did you agonize over how many details to include? Did you practice not crying, not emoting, so you could be as calm as possible and not scare the listener…pushing through your own frightened emotions to get the words out?

I wonder how many people you cycled through before you decided who to tell. Would a parent believe you? Did you decide to trust a friend? Did you go to a spiritual mentor?

So many of us have gone through this ringer, and on the other side of this brave act of coming forward, we were met with questions…with doubt..with accusation…with flat-out rejection.

I wonder how your heart took it. Did you shake with anger? Did you cry at the injustice of it? Or like me, did you sink back into the shadows of shame, believing every word of the person across from you: “You must have caused this somehow.” “But why were you there so late?” “Don’t you know how angry the Lord is at this?”

I’ve received all those responses, and from very good people. They spoke out of ignorance and fear, not out of a desire to hurt. But the truth is, ignorance still leaves scars. And what are we to do when our most trusted allies have doubted that which has hurt us the most? How can we return to church when our authorities there have turned their faces from us? And what does this say about God?

Is it possible to still trust a heavenly Father, when our spiritual fathers have failed us?

I spent years wrestling with these questions, until I stumbled upon a beautiful piece of truth hidden in 2 Samuel 13:1-22. The whole chapter is a tough read: King David’s son Amnon falls in love with his half-sister, Tamar. Amnon, lacking any self-discipline or a moral compass, rapes Tamar. He then casts her out (for she is now a reminder of his own ugliness and cruelty), and Tamar flees in grief to her brother Absalom. King David, it is important to note, chooses not to intervene.

Now, there is a ton to unpack here. But I want to focus on what we can glean about the trustworthiness of God, regardless of how other spiritual leaders have acted toward us.

Amnon reacts in disgust to Tamar, the victim of his own crime. Absalom advises Tamar not to let this act of violence affect her and just let it go; he later murders Amnon, though I would wager this had more to do with his own anger than looking out for the well-being of Tamar. King David remains silent on the issue, perhaps to preserve some familial peace…a grievous mistake, as he will lose all three of these children before the story is done.

But do you know where I find comfort in this chapter? A small blurb in verses 4-6 describes Amnon and his gross cousin Shimeah planning how to trap Tamar. In subsequent verses we see that plan played out perfectly. In verse 13 we see Tamar, with astounding compassion and clarity, try to rationalize with Amnon and escape this assault. And in verses 14-15, we see Amnon’s sinful behavior, and his following rejection of Tamar.

Do you see? God saw everything. He saw Amnon’s destructive choices. He saw the plotting. He saw Tamar’s refusal. He saw David’s silence.

God saw the whole story.

If you tried to tell someone about abuse or an assault that happened to you, and were met with rejection, disbelief, or silence…please understand. That is not God’s response.

God saw the whole story. He knows what led up to it, what occurred, and the consequences. He has seen the way others have rejected your requests for empathy and justice and He disagrees. He does not shame or blame. He weeps alongside you.

Have you tried before? I urge you, try again, but start with telling God. He will not reject you. He has the whole picture. And if you’re brave enough to try that, you can be brave enough to trust that He will lead you in your next steps. He will, as He did with me, provide mentors and allies to walk alongside you.

You were brave once. You can be brave again with the God who does not disappoint.

The Stair Stepper of Sin Management

Have you ever had a behavior that you can’t quit? Maybe it’s a bad habit, like chewing your nails or hitting snooze twenty times (hi, my husband!). Maybe it’s an internal thing: a constant string of negative self-talk, or critical thoughts of others. Of, if we’re willing to get vulnerable, maybe it’s a hidden and harmful thing: an eating disorder or physical self-punishment.

We can get stuck in cycles of harmful behavior that seem impossible to stop. We wake and declare, “I am NOT going to lose my temper today!” And twenty minutes into our morning commute we are shaking our fists in anger, wondering why we even try.

Why does this happen? Do we just lack the willpower to control our behavior? Do we not love Jesus enough? Are we not using big enough words in our prayers? Are we actually stuck in the Matrix, doomed to repeat this cycle until Morpheus arrives to wake us up?

I bet you’ve got a million lines that you repeat to yourself as to why you’re stuck with this behavior. You call yourself weak or stupid, remind yourself that this is the way things will always be, admit that there’s no point in trying to change. But I’ve got a question for you: has your goal all along been to simply stop the behavior? Because that just might be the problem, friend.

Aiming to stop the behavior will just lead to sin management. Sin management is where we jump from sin to sin to avoid confronting pain, addiction, or negative memories. This is where cycles are created, because without confronting the root (or reason) for our behavior, we are bound to either return to it, or find another behavior to deflect from our hurt. The cycle repeats itself like those diabolical stair stepper machines. At the end of the day you are exhausted and discouraged, yet you’ve made no forward progress.

Put another way, these behaviors can function as coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms are behaviors we develop to deal with stress, trauma, or emotional discomfort. These behaviors can be healthy, like learning deep breathing techniques to calm down during a panic attack. But they can also be unhealthy, like consistently using sarcasm to cut down a friend whose genuine affection is triggering memories or abandonment. Or, we might use a normally healthy behavior to substitute going to God for help. Exercise is a great thing, but when we pile on workouts to avoid thinking about our troubles, then it just becomes an unhealthy diversion.

These coping mechanisms do nothing to solve our problems. They merely mask a root we don’t want to explore. And they can be so ingrained in us that we don’t recognize them as harmful or out of the ordinary.

So what’s a person to do? Sin management doesn’t work. You can’t stay on that stair stepper forever. I mean, if you’re like me you hopped off that thing five minutes in and went looking for a Chipotle.

A fuller, healthier life is not found in simply correcting our behavior, but in addressing the root of why we behave like this in the first place. That means leaving behind sin management and pursuing authentic healing in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus doesn’t want quick fixes to quit a habit. He desires authentic healing for our souls. Not a band-aid, but a full restoration to wholeness!

Authentic healing is allowing Jesus to address our hurts and skewed belief systems. Rather than changing behaviors, we are allowing Jesus to change us at our core. It takes intimacy with God and vulnerability within safe community. It’s not the quick fix, but it is the eternal fix.

Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” And this give us a blueprint on how to begin pursuit of authentic healing.

First, we start by acknowledging (again and again and again) that we are new creations NOW. Not once we stop the behavior, but now! This is simple in concept but can be difficult when old memories come knocking. When you feel the pull of a bad habit, remember that you have been set free from those chains once and for all. You are not obligated to stay on the stair stepper.

Second, Paul states that the old is gone. If it’s truly gone, then we need to stop bringing it up, right? If you tell yourself a hundred times a day to stop thinking about white cheddar Cheez-Its (Lord help me!), then you’re actually still thinking about Cheez-Its a hundred times a day. That kind of thinking keeps our focus on what we’re trying to get away from, and what we’re thinking about determines the direction we head in. It’s the dreaded stair stepper mentality! We must learn to keep our thoughts forward-facing positive, not rear-facing negative. Allow Jesus to shift your eyes to the hope He’s offering, not the past you’re trying to escape.

Finally, we must take our focus off what binds us and latch on to what can free us: Jesus. We need Jesus to reveal the root of our behavior. Once we allow Jesus to work on the root, it can be totally removed, and we’ll have no need for the coping mechanism. How do we do this? Philippians 4:8-9 says it best: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Focusing on quitting the behavior will train our brains to return to that very behavior and fill us with discouragement. But when we train ourselves to focus on Scripture and praise Jesus, we will be filled with peace. And it is that peace that can lead us to truly hear how Jesus wants to lead us into full restoration, authentic healing, and a transformed life. This is possible for you! Jesus is ready to show you a much healthier way. Healing is waiting…no stairs required.