Set Free – A Christmas Letter In August

Yesterday I was standing in line at Starbucks when a man behind me asked about my tattoo.

“What’s it mean?”

Turning around I saw an older gentleman with an impressively white and full mustache.

tattoo edited
“It’s my decelaration” I said to my surprise. Normally I start reciting the Bible verse – Hebrews 13:6 “God is my defender, I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Or explain the Alice in Wonderland quote at the top or turn my arm over to reveal my favorite part, the lion.

I continued, maybe to clarify for myself even what I was saying, “It was my declaration of my true identity and that I am not what the world tried to define me as for so long”.

I get a mixture of responses about my tattoo, especially depending on the age of said inquisitor, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

lion tattoo“Were you in the hole or out of it when you got it?” was all he asked.

I thought for a second. “I was on my way out. Getting this was a part of my journey out of that hole,” I answered.

He smiled at me and nodded, almost as if to congratulate me. I turned and paid for my coffee, wished him a good weekend and we both went on our way.

 


I’ve started a new blogging challenge, which I would highly recommend everyone do if you’re inclined at all to blog by the way! But it’s a challenge designed to help make blogging fun again for bloggers. We get different prompts each week and can go at our own pace, but it gives us a place to jump off from which has been much needed for me as of late.set free doveOur first challenge was to write a Christmas letter of sorts. We had been tasked with writing about the last six months of our lives and where they’ve taken us. Well seeing as how I’m a fairly open book and most people can easily join along with whatever journey I’m on if they just look into my social media, I was a bit perplexed as to how to write this.

But mustache man helped me out yesterday.

As I reflected on where I was emotionally when I got my tattoo, I realized how these past six months have been a living out of my declaration.

Six months ago I was just a couple of weeks shy of embarking on the biggest move I’ve made yet (even though this was move number 17 that I’ve made since graduating high school in 2002). But it wasn’t just about the distance of miles or the cost and risk involved in this one. This move was so much more emotional than geographical; so much more a move of the will rather than the body.

freedom from chainsWhen I started my half sleeve tattoo almost two years ago now I was absolutely making a declaration in faith that I was who God said I was, that I was not to fear this world or the humans in it that meant me harm. I was no longer going to lower my head in defeat or retreat from the world out of self-protection. Joan of Arc, the lion, the armor, the quotes and verses and water imagery, all of it were declarations of my strength in Christ; my identity as a powerful daughter of the King. They were declarations of an overwhelming new determination to never again allow myself to be defined by my past, but to move forward with full confidence in the God that I serve and in His ability to heal the shattered heart and confidence I had at the time.
I was in that hole, but I could see out. I knew I was going towards a place filled with hope and healing and a new and whole Brooke who could conquer anything with God by her side. But I was declaring these things in faith, for they had not yet come to their full fruition. I had started to taste and see the goodness of God again, but I was still surrounded by a lot of darkness.

girl on bike
This last move and the past six months: this season has been the part of my journey where I stopped declaring in faith, and actually started acting in confidence; moving out into this whole new season of health and love and fun and adventure again. These past six months have been about completely stripping myself of everything that had held me back and making the intentional movements forward into the new as the whole Brooke. I had a time of incubation you could say, a time of rest and healing and preparation which was given to me by a very gracious God.

But the day I set forward on my move to the East Coast it meant that it was time to act, time to move; time to become.

So that’s what I’ve been doing over the past six months.

I’ve been becoming.

Becoming bold, strong, hopeful, confident, fun.warrior

Yes the days have been filled with meeting new people, transitioning in my job, working away at school, discovering new places and maneuvering all of the emotions that come with a move like this. But more than anything, my soul has been released. I’ve been set free.

And now I’m just learning to live in that freedom. Freedom is a scary place at times, the boundaries are less clear. But on the days when I’m able to embrace the freedom that God has trusted me with and do so without fear? Well those are the days that this life was made for.

Maybe in six more months I’ll be able to look back with a bit more clarity, but for now, I will face each day as it comes.

I will focus solely on living as a woman set free.

…In His strength, I will dare and dare and dare until I die.” Joan of Arc

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God, Isaiah and Roller Coasters

I opened the Bible this morning to Isaiah and found myself immersed in the consistency of God.

roller coaster colorThroughout my life I have felt as if I have been on a constant rollercoaster. Every day, sometimes every moment, bringing about a new challenge, a new victory, a new emotion to conquer, a new level of faith to cling to, another mistake to repent for, another sin to be healed from, another fear to face, another excitement to celebrate. It’s exhausting even typing it.

But God is so consistent.
It’s not a rare occasion that I get that concept completely mixed up. I feel as if God is the inconsistent one. I’ll sit and lament to Him at times saying things like, “God where are you?”, “I thought you told me this was going to work out”, “Why are things changing so much?”, “Why does this evil continue to win?” when really that is just the reality of life because this world is filled with humans and brokenness and sin. We are broken, and we need a Savior and yet the entire time I blame God for being flippant and flighty, distant and disconnected.

Perspective is a beautiful thing, and as I read about the plight of Israel and the constant betrayal to God they committed only to have Him continually pursue them and redeem them I couldn’t help but think of that beautiful thread of God’s consistent and pursuant heart throughout the story of Scripture. His love and commitment toward his inconsistent children is the story of the Gospel.

The Gospel is truly a story of God never giving up on His people, and that reminder is more than enough for me to be flattened in awe of His faithfulness.

There’s a part in Isaiah chapter 44 where God lists all of the things that the people of Israel did to appease their idols, and then in verse 24 He says you have not bought any fragrant calamus for me, or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.

captiveWe sacrifice for the idols in our lives – settle in relationships so we won’t be single, cheat on our taxes to get that extra buck, tell one more white lie to save our pride – and yet our idols and the things of this world want absolutely no good thing for us. We bow down to our idols, and we run away from God. We bow down to the things of this world that we think will help us and deliver us from the agony that reality can bring at times and run from our Father who is the only healing ointment for all of our wounds. Our idols; this world, will only ever take from us. God on the other hand, has sacrificed everything in order to be in intimate relationship with us and chooses still every single day to carry the burden of our sins for us, offering us freedom and redemption at every single dip and twist of our roller coasters that we insist on controlling as much as possible.

After God’s lament of Israel’s insistence on worshipping the world instead of God we read, once again, God’s continual commitment to blessing His people if they would only turn to him. 44:1 declares But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the Lord says – he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun (Jeshuruan “the upright one” is a poetic name for Israel) For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

swing
He never fails to pursue, offer freedom to and bless us.
I was reminded this morning that every single time I think I can control my own life, I am robbing my heart from experiencing the ability of God to show up in massive ways in my life and through my life.
Instead of blaming God for wherever we have found ourselves on this roller coaster today, would you join me today in pausing for a moment, gaining a bit of perspective, and courageously trusting God again that He has only ever pursued us in order to free us from the grasp that this world has on us?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23

Cry, But Do So In The Sun

cry in the sunMy whole life I have had a hard time crying in public. I’m happy Brooke, or excited Brooke or encouraging Brooke, silly Brooke, energetic Brooke and optimistic Brooke.

The problem with that is that I am also emotional Brooke and passionate Brooke; a Brooke who loves and feels and cares deeply and honestly and fully.

And many times in my life I have been sad Brooke and hopeless Brooke and confused Brooke and doubting, fearing and angry Brooke.

And all of these Brooke’s are ok;  one version of Brooke does not negate another.

It’s ok to be all of them, however I have chosen to share only bits and pieces at a time, to bits and pieces of others. A hopeful version here and a happy version there I feel fine to share with the world, but when it comes to the more “negative” sides of Brooke, well I only allow certain people to see those, and when I do it’s always followed with an embarrassed Brooke.

In recent years, however, I have started to understand that more than anything I am a loved Brooke.

In and out and through and around every single emotion I feel and every single way I show it, I am so fully loved that it has started to help me accept the Brooke I am, fully and thoroughly. And through this process of being loved and accepted I have become a more confident Brooke, a more beautiful Brooke, a more free and peaceful and wild Brooke. A Brooke less fearful of who stays in my life or who leaves after seeing all sides of Brooke. I am still loved, and I am still whole.

This week has been very difficult emotionally, and I have felt more of the sad and doubting and fearful versions of myself rather than I have the energetic and optimistic sort. However, rather than being ashamed of these feelings and forcing myself into the more positive traits, I’ve allowed the tears to come and I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable Brooke and honest Brooke even when the feeling of shame sneaks its ugly face in and tries to convince me that this is not ok.

And God has stayed with this Brooke and He’s allowed the tears and He hasn’t tried to force me into acting more faithful or happy when I don’t feel like it.

The only thing I’ve felt convicted about is to still bring this Brooke to the world – to not hide this Brooke for fear that others will judge this side of who I am.sun color

Yesterday I didn’t leave the house, and that was the first bad decision I’ve made all week. I didn’t feel convicted when I chose to watch Netflix instead of do homework or to eat take out Thai food instead of my healthy salad I had in the fridge…but not leaving the house was me hiding from the world – and this was the first time I did not act in my true identity all week.

So I left the house today, and as I walked, the tears came again, but this time I felt God’s arm around me and a smile on His face as He whispered to me that it was going to be ok, but for now it was also ok to cry – as long as it was out in front of the world to see. As long as it was without shame or fear.

As long as it was out in the sun.

Sustained.

life

My God. The God of surprising sustenance.

He sustains me when my life feels like it’s a constant cycle of moving boxes, semesters of grad school and emotional scar tissue being built up through constant surrender and intention.

Healing takes time. Moving to a new place takes settling. Jobs change, semesters change, my moods change, my body changes, the seasons, relationships and positions of the moon are never still.

But my soul can be. And that is only by the grace of a sustaining God.

I had a really beautiful morning with Mary and Elizabeth and a bunch of boys in the Gospels today.

I read the story of Mary, a faithful, believing and sustained young girl going through the transition of all transitions. She goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is with child as well after waiting through much heartache and intentional trust in God’s promises.

Their babies leap, the Spirit moves and they worship Jesus.
Then there’s the story of Zachariah, the doubting husband of Elizabeth who upon receiving his voice back faithfully praises the God who sustains instead of being bitter about why his voice was taken for a time.

There’s John the Baptist, faithful from the womb.

flower budThere’s Andrew who bids his brother Simon to come and see this new Jesus guy where he is given a new name upon interacting with the One who sees us as our truest identities.

Page after page I read and soaked in the stories of my ancestors before me.

They weren’t perfect, but they were willing to trust that just around the corner there was a promise already fulfilled waiting for them.
They listened to the ache in their hearts for something more even when the world told them they were crazy to listen.

They held onto hope, let go of bitterness, and worshipped. They invited others to come and see the hope that they knew.

They allowed themselves to be sustained. In all of their humanity, imperfection and doubt, they allowed God to show them that He actually meant it when He said that none of that could keep Him from loving and sustaining them.

I sit amongst boxes again today, yes, again, as I pack up the home I’ve only known for three months and get ready for yet another transition.

I’m tired physically, unsure of what’s coming next, but my soul is truly still. I feel an incredible peace that I know only comes from the only force larger than the inconsistency of this life.

This peace has only come from me taking a cue from my brothers and sisters in the Bible worshipand making a choice this morning. A choice to be quiet, to be still, to rejoice and to worship my sustainer. I pictured being in the room with Mary and Elizabeth—Facing the unknown; trusting in the knowing God. Worshipping.

I put on some worship music, and I swear those two sisters of mine were in the room with me as we praised a God who knows. A God who holds us.

We lifted God up with thousands of generations of praise. We lifted a God up who transcends time and space and every limitation of this temporary home of ours.

I am sustained by this truth.

God is truly the anchor in an ever changing world, and that is always cause for worship.

 

Name.

For most of my life I had only ever heard one definition about my name – River. Or stream…or…brook. Take your pick. I was water! And I had heard all of the sweet nuances that my kind mother tried to assure me of such as the fact that streams were refreshing and brought life.

Oh and I definitely had my fair share of being called a Babbling Brooke. And it was all fine with me. I embraced it. I love my name. And I really do believe in the power of knowing and owning the meanings of names.

peace
But then, a couple of years ago now, I heard a new definition of my name.

Peaceful.

The sound of that word coming out of Liz’s mouth as she shared what she had learned about my name evoked this deep, gut-level desire to be at peace. So much so that the tears came immediately and wouldn’t stop.

I remember getting in bed that night and lying there, pleading with God to show me how I would ever find true peace in my life, and how I would ever be the kind of vessel that brought peace to others.

I knew I had always been able to bring fun and laughter, energy and probably more chaos than I want to admit. But that night I discovered my deep desire to be a vessel of peace, and that first I would need to live in that reality of peace that only comes from being linked to the true source of such a thing.

Isn’t that true for all of us? At the end of the day, we lie in bed, alone with our thoughts, with our memories, with our fears and regrets, with our hopes that we’re too scared to voice out loud. We long for a true deep meaning to our lives, to our identities, to our names.

identity 2When this name was spoken over me I was in the darkest season of my entire life. I was trying to make sense of what it meant to be completely imperfect and was fighting the feeling of being a failure on a level I had never experienced.

I was also trying to make sense of what it meant to be a victim of emotional and sexual abuse; a victim of deep and very confusing manipulation, and at the hands of a Christian at that. I was processing what to do with well-meaning people all around me who just didn’t understand and the cavernous loneliness and confusion that came from that.

I was trying to understand how to follow Jesus even though I felt like I had let Him down more than I ever could have imagined being capable of doing, and then still trying to open myself up to receiving His undying love and devotion to me in the midst of feeling the most unworthy of that love and devotion than I had ever felt.

not of the world
Everywhere I looked I felt like I was losing, being depleted of any sense of peace or joy.

And yet, I still desired it. And in this moment I realized that there was still a soul inside of me that was awake, thirsty and desiring to thrive.

When I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks on end, there was a spirit alive in me. His Spirit.

And this spirit inside of me desired peace.
It was the first glimpse of hope I remember feeling that I wasn’t just lost to the identity of depressed and wandering victim, but that there was a source of life bigger than anything I could do to snuff it out. And this source of life in me…it wasn’t just life in itself, it desired life for every step that I took after this.

Yes, the power of a name. It’s real, and it’s divine and it’s God’s design for us.

Later on, just a few months ago, my dear friend Austin looked up the meaning of my middle name, Nicole, when once again I was having to fight just a little bit harder than normal to remember the healing that God has brought me into after that terrible season of life.

victim

Overcomer.

Peaceful Overcomer.

Brooke Nicole.

See, there’s a power in owning who we are in Christ no matter what the world tries to tell us about ourselves. There’s a power in surrendering to God’s definition of us, even when it doesn’t make sense.

Even when we don’t believe it.

Wherever you are today, whether it’s easy for you to believe who God says you are or whether you don’t ever want to hear the name of God again, you are still a divinely created and obsessively loved person who matters; who has infinite worth.

You are still named by your Father, individually and purposefully.

You are not your darkest moments, your worst failures or your most devastating experiences. They are a part of your story, but they are not what defines you.

What’s your name? Search it out until you find a definition that causes that spirit inside of you to desire life again as you’ve never known it.

You’ll find it, but you must also find the courage to own it when you do.

Artist.

art handsI am an artist.

That has taken me years to say, let alone believe, but say and believe it I do.

I’ve been reading a book by Seth Godin recently called Linchpin. He speaks to the creative soul in each of us and brings up so accurately the fact that as children we are constantly dreaming, imagining, believing that we can defy the forces that seem to constrict us in this world. The forces that keep us from doing things such as flying by jumping off of a couch. How dare the world stunt an imagination that believes in such things! But stunt it does. Over and over and over again as we age.

The fact that my heart leaps and I feel a little bit like crying when I think of that sense of freedom we have as a child shows me that the desire to leap and fly and defy worldly constrictions still is at the very center; the very core of who I was created to be.

We were creatively created by a creative Creator.colorful trees

He created beauty simply because He loves beauty. This world would have still functioned without the vibrant colors of a sunset or the way that dew settles on grass in the early morning hours. He could have made it that way, and yet He chose to create an art piece more incredible than we could ever know.

And He has created us to continue to create. To bring our own artistry to our lives. For many years I have seen that as a childish desire, one that is not responsible or maybe one that is prideful. After all, who am I to declare myself an artist? What if no one ever reads what I write? What if the art I pour out into words is bad or wrong or too simple or too theologically incorrect or…or…or…
I’ve been trying to re-phrase the questions in my heart lately. What if instead of seeing every constriction that the world and my conformed-to-the-world thoughts remind me of, what if I chose to allow that artist inside of me to jump off the couch and dare to fly again?

kids jumpingJesus calls us to be like children, and I have heard many analogies about this topic, most of them wonderful ones. Children are trusting, children come to Jesus just as they are, children have the faith that can move mountains.

But children are also artists. They create in every way possible. They create with their minds and their hearts and they are exactly who God created them to be without trying to prove anything to the world yet. Ideally this energy and this thirst for life and the impossible would reside in our hearts always, but we have to search for it more intentionally the older we get.

I have been searching, I have been longing deeply for that freedom again. For the freedom from the labels that others have put on me which I wrote about earlier this month. I have been searching for the beautiful dialogue between my heart and God’s.  I have been searching for healing and for true love to replace the tainted, abusive and harsh ways of pacifying pain through false love that the world offers.

And I think I’m finding it you guys. And it feels good.

 

And it feels selfish.

 

I have been looking at the world through new lenses lately and have found myself overwhelmed regularly by the pain that others go through; by the enormous amounts of injustice in this world. I feel helpless most of the time to use my life in any way that would help alleviate this suffering and injustice. And I feel selfish when I focus on my own heart and my own life when it seems as if my struggles are so miniscule in comparison with the pain of this world.

But then I remember that there is an enemy out there who is the greatest identity thief color throwthat ever was and ever will be. And his greatest desire is for you and for me to be less than who we were created to be. His greatest desire is to steal, kill and destroy us (John 10:10). He hates who we are, and he fears who we are becoming. To focus on our identity; on fully allowing the creative artist in each one of us to flourish by being renewed day by day by the miraculous love of Jesus, is the greatest thing we could do to bring the healing power of Christ to this broken and hurting world every single day.

To create through words, relationships, numbers, jobs, churches… is to continue bringing the flourishing and miraculous work of Jesus to this world every single day. We are His artists, we are His art. We are His beautiful workmanship and this world needs beauty. The enemy would have us neglect ourselves at all costs in order to pour out to others, but the enemy is a deceiver, a master manipulator, and by selling us this lie that it is selfish to focus on our own hearts when there is a hurting world is one of his greatest attempts to stunt our lives so that we will painfully dull ourselves day by day in the process leaving us tired, burnt out and completely unable to pour out beauty that we so long to pour out.

color handsI lived this way for so long. And I’m done living this way now. I am worth just as much effort and love and healing as every person in this world is. And I know that the only way my life will be able to pour out the colors of joy and love and peace that Christ created me to pour out is when I am living in those same colors daily.

I am an artist. You are an artist. You and I are worth the freedom that comes when we embrace the fact that we were created to create in our own beautiful way.

 

The world needs our color.

Choice.

SONY DSC

I’ve heard it said that life is a sum of our choices.

I haven’t been a fan of that phrase during certain seasons of my life because it felt unfair.

What about the things that happened to me that I had no control over?

Didn’t those things define my life as well?

A couple of years ago I started seeing a therapist after my life had hit rock bottom, at least my own personal version of rock bottom.

I sifted through the rock and the rubble with my therapist week by week. One rock at a time. Sometimes I got so frustrated that I threw them all back in the pile only to start over the next week with the sifting process.

But I chose to keep going.girl walking barefoot

In my weekly conversations that consisted of trying to untangle the mess of the sum of my life choices up until that point, I started to realize that I did in fact have a choice in everything, even in the things that seemed out of my control.

That’s a humbling reality right there, but reality it was.

The fact was uncovered that I had the choice about how I reacted to every single situation in my life.

I chose how my life was going to move forward from that day on.

I could choose to get out of bed every morning. Some days I chose this and others I didn’t.

I had a choice whether or not to have just “one more” glass of wine instead of actually facing my situation in life.

I had a choice whether or not to blame the Church for what had been done to me and leave it, or I could choose to stick around and try and make it better.girl at end of dock

I had a choice whether or not to bad mouth someone who had slandered my name or to instead trust the God of justice with His ultimate outcome someday.

I now have a choice whether or not to open myself up to people or to close them out.

I have a choice to trust or be defensive.

I have a choice to be angry or to embrace the unexplainable peace of God that only comes with my full surrender to Him.

I have choices. Every day.

Some days I choose really amazing things. And some days I don’t.

So yes, my life could be identified as a sum of my choices, and that definitely is a part of my identity.

But as I’ve been praying and working through the process of what my true identity is, I’m making another choice.

I’m choosing to think of my life as ultimately defined by the fact that I am a choice.

I have been chosen by God.girl dancing to man with guitar

He made the choice to die for me even when He knew there would be days that I would choose the taste of wine or men over Him.

He made the choice to invite me into this world even though He knew the pain I would endure.

He made the choice to stick around and fill me with His Spirit even though He knew that I would doubt Him to the point of walking away from Him time and time again.

He chose to create me.

He chose to love me.

He chose to die for me.

He chose to be raised to life again, for me.

He chose me.

And He continues to choose me every day.

He continues to forgive, heal and comfort me every day.

He continues to choose to partner with me and show me His incredible plans for my life day by day.

girl on bikeHe has chosen me.

He has chosen to devote His entire existence to loving me.

He has chosen you too you know.

And now, more than any other choice in my life, the one that will continue to matter the most, the one that will continue to define my identity more than any other choice I could ever make, is the choice I make every new day to believe that He has called me chosen and worthy of that choice.

So today, once again, I choose Him back.

I choose to love others the way that He has chosen to love me.

And I choose to love myself because He has chosen to love me.

I am a choice.

I am His choice.

And that is the choice that ultimately defines my identity.