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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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.

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.

Move.

societyBeing uncomfortable can do one of two things. It can either give you an excuse to move out of the uncomfortable position as quickly as possible, or you can choose to stay and sit in the discomfort and allow the situation to move you.

I moved to the DC area 12 days ago, and just about 12 hours after I arrived in my new home I found myself in a series of meetings that lasted two days in which people who are changing the world one precious life at a time convened and prayed, planned and processed the role that faith communities have when it comes to giving children the right to a quality education.

This is  A HUGE topic that I am very passionate about (without education of some sort we all live in a state of blind-spots to the world around us that can be very detrimental), but we will save that for another time.

 

raceI found myself sitting around this table with 25 other people and I was uncomfortable. Not only was I most likely one of the youngest ones there and had less experience in advocacy work than anyone else there. But I found myself being uncomfortable to be white. Much of the discussion surrounded the very horrific truth that children of color are incredibly more likely to be deprived the right to a fair and full education than white children are. There are also many other issues that face children of color that causes them to miss out on experiencing life in a way that liberates and empowers them rather than the reality for so many that ends up placing them in a metaphorical prison of stereotypes that follows them for the rest of their lives.

It’s tragic. And uncomfortable. And I had a decision to make. Would I swallow my naivety and pretend to care while all the while silently defending and justifying myself? Or would I allow myself to sit in the discomfort of the truth and humbly learn and experience and grow in a world that I don’t know nearly as much as I should about?

Over the past year or so God has allowed me to get in incredibly uncomfortable situations, and the more that I have spoken out about them, the more my heart has slowly been breaking. It has been breaking over the realization that justice does not always prevail, it has been breaking over my own naivety and how many times I’ve looked the other way when I should have been a voice to the voiceless, and it has been breaking for what breaks Gods heart, which is the worth of all people, of all colors, of all genders, of all of all of all of ALL to be fought for and stood for and counted as worthy of love and grace and truth and embrace.

 

race1Advocacy is uncomfortable because we will be asked to stand up for that which we do not understand, which means we must become constant learners. Moving out of our comfort bubbles is scary and unknown and causes us to be humble and kind and patient with others who are trying to step out of their own bubbles, but how else are we supposed to be Jesus to this world?

My discomfort was not caused by anyone targeting me, which is a privilege that I have as a white person, but rather it was caused by me realizing just how much I do not know and how blind I have been to the fact that there is suffering all around me that, as a follower of Christ, I must speak out for.

The past few months have been a transition season for me even before making a physical move across the country. I have been questioning so much; the Church, my self-worth, the role of the body of Christ for each other, and I do not have the answers.

I do not have the answers.

But Jesus does. And Jesus made people uncomfortable. I’m afraid that as the Church we have sat in our comfort and labeled anything of discomfort as wrong or something to avoid. But Jesus embodied discomfort! He asked his disciples to follow Him into crazy situations. He was not what people expected. He healed on the Sabbath and stood in front of an adulterous woman and stared her oppressors in their faces until one by one they broke eye contact. They were uncomfortable, and as far as I can tell, Jesus came to create that discomfort.

He shook things up, and as long as we are simply staying within the walls of the church and praying and singing to God and yet not fighting for anything to change in the hearts of those around us who are hurting – NO MATTER HOW MUCH WE MAY NOT UNDERSTAND – then we are at the very least missing a huge part of who God has called us to be to this world, and at the worst we are actually completely misrepresenting Him.

Advocating for someone—anyone, your neighbor, your sister, your enemy, yourself—is uncomfortable because it forces us to actually respond to someone instead of just pray for them (what! Controversial comment alert).

But seriously.

I chose to stay in that room and learn.

I CHOOSE to stay.

 

screaming faceI choose to stand with my God right beside me moving and shaking and stirring up something in me that is filled with more discomfort than I’ve ever known and yet it’s as if the discomfort is acting as just the spark that was needed to cause life to well up inside me that had been sitting idle for way to long masked by the illusion of comfort; by the illusion of avoiding making other people uncomfortable at the expense of my voice.

Maybe discomfort isn’t really the thing to avoid at all. Maybe we should revolt against the dreaded comfort bubble.

Maybe it’s the place where we actually meet Jesus. Where we actually start to experience abundance in this very heavy world. Maybe it’s where we start to take full breaths, deeply inhaling the true life that Jesus showed us while He was physically present.

What causes you to move? What moves you?

What awakens a fire in you that screams that’s not right! That’s not Jesus!

Would you do me a favor and stop waiting for it to make sense and stop waiting for the “right time” to speak up and out and in and all around about it?

Be on your face before Jesus about it, yes! But then get up and do something!

 

Move.

 

Move with the ultimate mover and shaker, the one who came to earth and turned everything upside down for the heart of the adulterous woman and the soul of the blind man. For you. For me.

Stop being politically correct (or church appropriate). Stop the apathy. Speak up. Now please hear me, wisdom is key. Love is absolutely necessary. But God is still a God who moves.

Let’s be the ones who actually bring about the things we speak about such as justice and reconciliation in the name of God. Let’s move and love and shout and cry and rejoice and repent and apologize and laugh and dance and sing and confront and relinquish control to the almighty God when it’s out of our hands and then get up and start all over again.

God created me with a LOUD voice, and I intend on using it now no matter how cracked it gets.

I intend to move.

Do you?

Stuff.

Just about a week ago I watched everything I own be put into a 6’x7’x8’ metal box and be driven away on the bed of a truck

And I don’t miss any of it.

Knowing I wouldn’t see any of it for at least two weeks I kept waiting for that feeling to rise up of regret or lack or emptiness, but I’m still waiting.

bubbles

I love to fly, even when the flight is like the one I’m on as I write this. This flight has so much turbulence that I don’t even think I’m allowed to have my computer out right now, but seeing as how the flight attendants aren’t even allowed to walk around still 45 minutes into this flight, I think I’m safe from their reprimand. Safe from crashing however is yet to be determined…If you’re reading this, just know I survived.

In nine days I will be boarding another plane, but this time I will be on a one-way trip to Washington DC all the way from my home outside of Portland, OR. I was born and raised in the NW, and other than a 10-month stint in sunny San Diego and as much international travel as I’ve been able to shove into my 31 years of life, I have always lived in the NW, and I have always loved it.

My childhood is here, my friends are here, my family is here, my church is here, and everything I have known that has shaped me into who I am today

is here.

And in just a mere nine days from writing this post I will not be here.

Due to the gentle but firm prompting from my grandpa and parents, I decided against driving a U-Haul truck across the country. My step-dad reminded me that maybe I don’t need that much adventure, especially in February weather, when he asked me, “isn’t moving across the country enough adventure already?”. Touché Brad, touché.

So I went with my logical head instead of my dreamy heart—this time—and listened. So I decided to ship my stuff instead.

Let me just tell you right now, even with my limited amount of stuff, that is not a cheap option! Purging was definitely next on my to-do list after looking at my budget, so I started giving away or selling pretty much anything I could bare to part with. There were definitely things that were easier to part with than others, but it became a quite cleansing process.

freedomfalling

Even with all of the purging, the day the truck came to deliver the empty metal container I stood there feeling a bit discouraged not knowing how on earth all of the remaining pieces of stuff would ever fit into a space that looked so small. I started to quickly decide what other stuff I could actually part with. In the end we made it all fit thanks to some good friends with amazing tetris-like skills.

I was very thankful that they were able to fit it all, but in the end, as I stood there and watched it drive away the next day I couldn’t help but feel as if I would be just fine if I never saw any of it again.

freedom1

That was my tangible stuff. The heart stuff that I’m deciding whether to take with me or leave behind however, now that’s a much harder purge to make.

This move has been a catalyst in my life for facing the previously-avoidable-now-turned-unavoidable-stuff.

I’ve been on a journey in this process of ridding my own heart of a lot of the unnecessary intangible stuff, and that is where the real cleansing has begun to take place.

The real question for me has become, what am I holding onto in my heart that is not meant to fit in that relatively small box of necessities that is making this next move with me?

What is unhealthy for me that it is time to purge?

freedom2

I have realized in this move how blessed I am with relationships in my life, and yet I still allow myself to hold onto doubt and resentment and bitterness toward God for things yet unseen in my life that I have prayed for. Whether it’s for my future husband, for my healing—emotionally, spiritually and physically—or for the myriad of other things that I try and control instead of trusting God with fully.

For the most part I was completely in control with the purging of my possessions, however the purging of the heart stuff? Ya, that job has got to be given completely to God. To give Him control of purging and deciding what’s junk and what gets to go with me is not an easy thing to do.

It’s one thing to proclaim that I trust God and His heart and plan for me, but it’s a whole other thing to be able to get to a place where I could watch a lot of my emotional stuff drive away and say to God, “I would still be whole in you even if I never saw any of those unanswered prayers come to life”

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Woah. That’s even hard to type.

But I’m determined to only type words on a screen that I’m willing to live out. So that’s what I’m doing. I am here, on this bumpy plane, asking God for an increase in my faith. This move is not simply about embarking on a new adventure. It definitely is about what He’s moving me forward into, but it’s also just as much about what I’m willing to leave behind. Perspective is a very healing thing, and although the only thing I can see outside of the plane right now is white fog, my heart is feeling clearer than ever.

What do you need to allow God to purge you of? Seatbelt signs are on, it will be a rough ride at times, but will you commit to trusting God with me on this incredible invitation to freedom?

It’s time to purge the stuff.

 You’re not alone.