In Which I Share A Little Bit About My Relationship With Some Of The Animals.

I was born into a family that hated cats. Humanity was divided into two sorts: dog people, and cat people.* The first thing I remember about them is that my mother received an “I Hate Cats” book as a gift when I was a young child. Or maybe she’d had it even before me, and I discovered it in our basement as a young child. Regardless, it was a little comic book of cats being killed or obliterated in weird, semi-hilarious situations. A chubby cat being slingshotted into a brick wall is one I remember in particular.

I really, really liked dogs. I remember every house in every neighborhood we lived in by the dog, not the family. We finally got one when I was 12. Her name was Cocoa. She wasn’t really ‘my dog,’ but she was my responsibility, so, she was basically mine. I loved her infinitely, and I helped her give birth to seven tiny, perfect puppies. When I was 15, I came home from a school-related weekend trip and my parents had given her away so that they could travel more, or more easily, or more something.

I lived on my own for five years after moving out at 18, and I always wanted a pet. A dog was a pet that loved me, liked me, and spent time with me. Cats were never an option as I’d sworn in allegiance to my mother that I would never own a cat. (Besides – they bit and hissed without reason, and were the fuzzy embodiment of Fuck You.) She told me when I was 14 that if I ever had a cat as an adult, she would not come visit me. I don’t know if she was joking, but I always remembered it – even after I became estranged from the family, and visiting wasn’t an option for more serious reasons.

Since landlords said dogs were out, and my belief system said cats were out, I owned a very depressing series of goldfish. None of them outlived the 2 week mark, and the man at the pet store became very concerned with my regular “purchase.”

At 23, I met a man who said he loved cats, but wasn’t really a dog person. He also said he wasn’t a guy who was crazy into hugging people that he wasn’t immensely close with. These two things nearly kept me from even replying to that email.

Two years later, I and this man (that I ended up marrying) brought home three tiny kittens (which aren’t cats) to babysit them for an adoption agency in town. Within 24 hours, I identified tiny personalities. Within 48 hours, I knew which was my favorite. And within 2 weeks, I had decided I couldn’t live without one. Her name is Pixel, and I adore her, and she adores me.

Last week, I texted my mother a picture of my tiny kitten. She told me to stop irritating her. I was sad about it, but the kitten-happiness cancelled out the sadness, and I realized I was still happy.

As I sit in a coffee shop writing this, my husband asks if I want to stay or leave. And I tell him I want to stay, but I miss my cat.

I think there is a lesson somewhere in this.

*More accurately, there were Christians who were dog people, and then there Not-Christians who were dog people/Christians who were cat people/cat people. Religiously and non-religiously, I have happily returned to the one-sort-of-people outlook, where people are just people, and that is that.

Modesty, Lust, And Emotional Rape.

The slow thud of pounding bass through my bedroom walls shook me half-awake. I kept my face in my pillow and wondered why it was necessary for music this loud to be played in our family’s home at 7am on Saturday mornings. I pulled my comforter back over my head, and drifted off to sleep for all of two minutes before the fire alarm went off.

Breakfast was ready. And that fire alarm dug it’s nails into my soul.

15 years old. I stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing my eyes and brushing hair out of my face.

“Back upstairs, Lauren.” My mom stood at the stove, waving her spatula at me.

“What?”

“UPSTAIRS. You know you can’t wear that around your brothers.”

I shook myself fully awake and glanced down to figure out what she was talking about. Sweatpants and a cami. I guess you could tell my breasts were developing. A little late, I might add.

“Mom, I just woke up.”

“You can’t wear things like that around your dad and your brothers. It isn’t appropriate. You’re distracting them. Shame on you.”

A sickness crept up in my stomach and I felt it in my skin. I pushed memories out of my mind.

Memories like the week after I turned 13, and I shyly put my balled up, polka dotted underwear in my mother’s hand because I was too embarrassed to speak the words, “I started my period.” She wanted to show Dad, and I was paralyzed. I stood in an aching stillness, cold feet on the kitchen tile floor, while my little girl mind shifted and groaned and made way for a developing normal that felt like being forced to stand naked in front of a man. Memories like my dad reading my diary against my will. Memories like finding naked women on the computer. Memories like hiding. Pretending. Keeping quiet. Shaking. Hush all these things.

Three years later and the boy I loved broke up with me. I thought it was for a girl that would do more with him.

Six months after that, I kissed a boy. I told him he was my second kiss, thinking that it would be something special to him – and I never saw him again. I found out a week later he’d kissed me on dare from his friends. They had seen my picture, I was super hot, and they didn’t think he could “get me.”

Harassed on the street by a man who wanted me to model nude for him. “I had to.” I was too beautiful, I owed it to him.

Being banned from an organization because I wore a shirt too clingy and was making the boys stumble.

A man I viewed as a father figure coming on to me, shattering one of the only safe places I had left.

A co-worker trying to tape me when I didn’t know it.

A first date who got violent when I refused to sleep with him after he bought me dinner.

A lifetime of awkward visits to the pool in one piece swimsuits and shorts so that I wouldn’t be responsible for causing men to sin when they looked at me.

A close friend’s father asking me, begging me, pressuring me, cornering me to watch a movie with him in bed.

Debilitating self-consciousness for years because I was constantly made fun of for how “homeschooler” I dressed.

Men who have put their hands in places I wasn’t strong enough to protect.

Four times my life has ended, and I’ve created a new one out of nothing on the opposite side of the country. And in every life, they find me. These men who take and do not give. These women who shame me into believing it is my fault. The church’s endless list of standards that declares my body is at the core of what is wrong with society. These people who wrap their own sins in guilt and shame and lunge them at my heart, commanding me to carry their weight for them. Hiding. Pretending. Keeping quiet. Hush these things.

All my stories? The ones I brace my spirit to share, and the ones I don’t have enough courage yet to tell? My stories are no different than the average woman. Every woman I know has experienced these things. Every girl I’ve spoken to is wearing thin from the men in her life who have taken and not given. And all these women march forward in brokenness with a church who blames our injured hearts on our own precious bodies. To inflict pain and then blame the injured for the violence does permanent damage to a heart.

For 24 years my suffocating modesty doctrine has kept me from wearing outfits that I love, has dictated the way I dress, and has now brought me to the morning where I stand in front of my closet as a married woman, realizing that I have nothing sexy to wear for night out with my husband.

24 years of hiding so that I won’t be blamed for men fantasizing about me has brought me to my husband wrapping his arms around me, telling me how beautiful and sexy he thinks I am, and that he hates seeing me hide in my clothes because I’m too afraid to wear what makes me feel beautiful.

AND YET.

For the last month, I’ve been suffering a daily barrage of comments and emails criticizing the way I dress. Questioning my character and my salvation. Challenging that I can’t have the influence on women that I want to have when I’m wearing an oversized v-neck shirt on a date with my new husband. Rebuking me for causing men to stumble. Telling me that all the good I am doing is being canceled out by the fact that I have a great pair of legs. That I’m selling myself short by being attractive.

Last night, I received this comment on my blog: “Maybe when you talk about pornography, you could refrain from wearing such low-cut shirts.”

The sickness crept back again. I crumbled. And I sat on my bedroom floor in the dark and cried. The ache was back.

The emptiness in my chest. The pain of having it all taken. The shame of being blamed. The desperate desire for someone to stand up and shout, “IT’S NOT HER FAULT.”

And He did. You know, He whispered, “It’s not your fault.” He whispered, “I made you for this. I made you for Me. I made you for him.” He told me I was beautiful. He told me I have nothing to hide. He told me He knows. That He will never take from me. That he knows every man that tried to take. He told me that it was never my fault.

And then my husband came and wrapped his arms around me and whispered all. the. same. things. in my ear.

My Jesus has proclaimed that he has given me life so that I can have life to the full.

My God says He looks at my heart and that He loves me sacrificially, and Paul begs of us to be perfect in this way that our Father is PERFECT. (Matthew 5:48, I Samuel 16:7, John 15:13, & Matthew 23:13-28)

Have you missed this? Have you missed what the God of the Universe has deemed as PERFECT?

Perfect is sacrificial love, not shifting blame for a selfishness that ravages through the souls of men, urging them to take take take.

Perfect is knowing we are all sons and daughters, made in the image of God, redeemed and restored and spotless before Him.

Perfect is looking at one another’s hearts, and knowing that the outward appearance shows NOTHING of their character, their value, their salvation.

Perfect is living in the freedom that Christ died for. Not under a higher, more impossible list of standards that is so impossibly human it could not have come from our Lover. (Isaiah 28:10)

Dear men: If you believe my neckline is causing to stumble, you have bought into the lie that women are the problem, NOT YOUR LUST.

Dear women: If you believe you are responsible for your fellow man’s sins, you have bought into the lie that YOU are the problem, NOT SIN.

Dear men and women: Our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

When you believe that your struggle is against a man or woman’s body instead of against the spirit of death, you have lost and will continue to lose.

I rebuke the spirit of lust, of rape, of prostitution, of religion, of addiction, and of immorality that continues to try to shackle the body my Maker designed and gave to me with it’s guilt.

I declare freedom, life, joy, purity, beauty and love over my body and my spirit.

Oh, by the way. If you are still following me by this summer, you will most likely see a photo of me at the beach in a bikini at some point.

And I will not be apologizing for it.

- – - – - – - – - – - –
Comments have been disabled for this post out of protection for my heart. <3

Thoughts On Getting Used To Marriage – And Confessions On Not Seeing God.

Disclaimer: I adore my husband. I love that we are married. Marriage is incredible. But marriage is neither “just so amazing!” nor “always so terrible.” It is both. Life is life, and the ups and downs are ever present, regardless of our relationship status. This is my attempt to be honest about both.
– - –

Last night, I shoved my feet into the boots I was married in. I don’t notice anymore that my socks don’t match. When you dig them out of a duffle bag for the 428th time, socks are socks and the color of the toe doesn’t matter much. I did notice that my socks were too thick for these boots, and I cursed them for it.

It’s been 10 days off the road, 10 days in Hollywood, and 10 days in our first apartment. 133 days of being married.

My socks should match now, but in furnishing an empty apartment with our income, new socks are not on my priority list.

So, I fought about how much we should spend on a new dresser with my husband, standing in my wedding boots, on the corner of Sunset and Vine.

Just like we’d fought about everything else this week. Food, groceries, carpet cleaner, sex, the color of our clothes hangers, the brand of garlic salt, bath mats, cash vs credit, and parking.

We were late for church. We’d spent too much money. We told the girl with the dresser “maybe,” and then my phone died.

I told Max where to park. I picked where we sat. I mentally bitched at the announcement-giver and churches everywhere who ask you to “squish” down to seat people that walk in late. Our collective “squishing” just opened 247 seats for 4 people.

I recited all the lines in every song, thinking only about the days when single-me attended a church with enough room down front to go sing my heart out to songs I knew and loved. Thinking about how I used to go to church alone, sing alone, and disappear alone. I met God, and I met God every single Sunday. I loved it. I missed when my life was just me and God. My life. I could do what I wanted. I could make it an entire 24 hours without speaking to a soul.

And then I looked at the entire row of single girls in front of me.

I imagined what they were feeling when they sang. Praying to be able to pay their bills. Praying for boyfriends. Praying for husbands. Praying to not be alone. Waiting on God. Because that’s what we do when we’re single. We wait upon God. When we’re single, heartbreak is ever present, and that’s okay. Present in our past break-up, present in our single-ness, present in what we dread in the future. And we find God there, with us. It’s rich.

I wanted to join them.

I wanted to shout that I was confused. That being married isn’t a solution to The Great Ache. That love is beautiful but so broken, too. That broken and alone was easier than broken with another broken person.

But then God whispered: “Lauren, when you’re lonely, it has nothing to do with other people. It has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re lonely, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re angry, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re selfish, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re worried, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re bitter, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re jealous, it has to do with you and Me.

It has nothing to do with other people. It has only to do with our heart and His.

I slowly stood and followed my husband up to communion. I stood behind him in single file line, in the dark, like I was just another girl at church. Not his wife. I felt like he didn’t want to be there with me. I hoped he felt that. Because I was feeling it. And then he reached out his hand behind him and took mine, and my heart broke.

I wanted this. I asked for this. I prayed for this. I begged God for this. I am blessed. I am fed, clothed and sheltered. I am loved. I am recipient of the greatest gift in the universe. I have everything. I know this. What is wrong with me?

And so, I went to where the prayer team was, sat in a corner, and cried. Until someone offered to pray for me. If you have never poured out your hurt to someone you’ve never met, and had them pray with you – for you – over you – with you, you have missed out on what it means to have brothers and sisters in Christ. You have missed out on bearing one another’s burdens. Overcome your fear next Sunday and just do it.

“I have never left you. I have never forsaken you. I am not a God who punishes his children without reason. I am not a God who turns his back on you. I am not angry with you. I am not disappointed with you. I know where you are.”

I sobbed and asked God if I’d done the right thing. If everything was going to be okay. If I would feel Him again like I used to. If I would learn to be close to Him all over again, now that I’m married. If our bills would be paid. If this was Right. If this would be too hard for me, for us.

“Seriously, Lauren? I have stripped depression away from you. I have removed you from the place you didn’t want to be. I gave you a man that you love, who loves you. I gave you passion again. I gave you Good Women Project. I gave you a Story. I gave you new friends who know my Love. I let you travel across the country. I did miracles in front of you. I gave you the awe-commanding sunset behind your wedding on a cliff. I gave you Family. I gave you a new home. And tonight, I brought you to be with children who love me – and sat you at the feet of a woman who would pray over you until you Felt me again. – - – And you ask where I’ve been? If this is right? If I still love you?”

I saw Him again. I heard Him, where I should have heard him a dozen times before. We forget what he has done when we do not intentionally sit at his feet in our mess. We are blind, until we ask Him to let us see. I re-learned unconditional love.

We went home silently, and I held onto his hand for dear life. Remember your first love. I kissed him and I apologized. I made dinner, and I apologized more. I refused to let him help clean up. I sent him to bed to watch what he wanted to watch and found joy in doing the work so that he could play. Love. Not-about-me love. This is what happens when we see God. It is necessary to see Love in order to give love.

I could write a book on last night, and the perspective that God righted in my heart. On marriage and learning to confess everything. On knowing that really, really hard doesn’t mean really, really bad. On how it is not human nature to believe that someone is going to love you unconditionally, and that it isn’t human nature to love them back unconditionally.

But instead, I share my little story of Sunday. A reminder of the blessing we have in one another. Of seeking God until we find out He’s been there the whole time. And of being thankful for what we have, because it’s so much better than we know.

And to say thank you to my husband for letting me pick out the bath mat. That we still don’t have, because I’m unforgivably picky.

I love you. And I love that we are re-learning to love Him together.

One Of My Greatest Fears

I get scared, talking about my life sometimes. I get scared that people see a shadow of the truth in what I’ve done, in how I’ve chosen to live, and say, “I want exactly that.”

I am scared that people will hear I’ve sold everything I owned this year to travel the country in a little car with a man – and decide that THAT is the best way to live.

I am terrified that girls hear the story of how I met my husband on Twitter – and start scouring the Internet for the perfect man who blogs, is wickedly clever, and wants to talk to them too, a pretty girl online.

I worry about sharing how I decided to drop out of college (temporarily) for a second time, and chose to leave my 9-5 job – not wanting for a moment for any woman to trample the sparks of opportunity she’s been blessed to receive.

Yes, I have been inspired, moved, pushed, refined and bettered by listening closely to other women’s stories; by observing other women’s lives. Life gives birth to life. Fullness swells to create new fullness. Iron sharpens, truth speaks, love heals.

But please. Do not be tricked into attempting to replicate life in order to escape death. You are not a clone.

God is too creative with his daughters. The heavens plan and whisper and lay foundation for you, your life, your story.

My life has become more beautiful, my awe of God’s work has increased beyond measure – as I hear story, after story, after story of women who live utterly opposite lives as that of mine. What a God we serve. No one could weave a story like Him.

Rarity increases value.

There is not a woman walking this earth who has an existence identical to yours.

And there is not a woman in the world who can fulfill the Creator’s intricate, intentional plan for you.

By plan, I do not mean a clearly marked path in which you choose to walk daily until the day you die, with a pre-determined life-story utterly outside of your control.

By plan, I mean your birth, your childhood, your brokenness, your character, your personality, your hopes, your passions, your gifts [ trust me, they are there, whether you see them or not yet ], your body, your mind, your spirit – - – all of these things fall perfectly into place to make possible a life that could never be lived by another human being.

We do not serve a God who wastes resources.

You are not wasted.

We are beloved children of a God who treasures and counts carefully – who rejoices in indescribable pride – over the value of his sons and daughters.

And all these little things? Every detail, every heartbreak, every rush of joy, every word He has whispered to you in the dark places – they make you a resource that would break His heart to waste.

You are rare.

You are of value.

Where we see our worthlessness, He sees an entire life composed of endless spaces to fill with his overflowing Love.

“You were bought at a price. Do not become slaves of human beings.” (I Corinthians 7:23)

Do not become the slave of another human being’s life. Of another human being’s story. Of their success, of their failure, of their talent, of their beauty, of their skill.

You were bought at a price.

“Live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you.” (I Corinthians 7:17)

I am a believer. A believer in a furious love, a scandalous grace, and a God I do not understand.

I am a believer. A believer in a Savior who walks with me daily, who leads my feet to places only mine can go, and who holds your hand through a life that I could never live.

We are beautiful. Bought at a price. Claimed for freedom.

And asked to live as believers in the places that our Father has powerfully created for us.

the art of change.

to fight the stagnant.

there is an art to change.

and the secret is not in the pursuit of it. or in it’s accomplishment.

but rather in the art of perceiving it.

* * *

you have moved. you have grown. you have changed.

you have improved. you have become strengthened. you have learned.

you have seen. you have been. you have said.

you have created. you have chosen life. you have ended death.

you have become more beautiful. you have grown into yourself. you are more.

there is an art to observing the change you have made.

there is an art to knowing your growth, and ending the lie in your bones that says you are right where you always have been.

it is worth your time to document your movement forward. it is worth the hour of your day to know what you have done with your time.

sometimes we must move into our past, in order to accurately see our present.

create a place on the page, in the journal, on the blog, in the portfolio, on the table, in your soul. create a place to document your change.

* * *

look at your first month of blog entries.

look at your journal from three years ago.

look at your first photos.

do you see the movement?

write down the lies you used to believe.

write down the truth you know now.

write down the part of your heart you hadn’t met 5 years ago.

do you see the growth?

find your first pieces of art.

find your first songs.

find your first designs.

do you see your progress?

think about the mistakes you’ve made that will not be made again.

think about the depth of character that was lacking 10 years ago.

think about the hidden places of the old depression.

do you see the new life?

sift through your albums, your archives, your chapters.

sift through your resumes, your childhood, your classes.

sift through your failures, your accomplishments, your proofs of action.

know the growth reflected in the dissonance between the past and present – know that your present will always be your past, and soon.

* * *

he says he is faithful. to move, to carry, to nurture, to redeem, to assign purpose. he is faithful to carry onto completion the good work he began in you.

you cannot help but grow. he has not forsaken us. like a tree beside still waters, you could not cease to grow even if you so desired.

because he is the great i am.

and in him we live, we move, we have our being.

* * *

refuse the lie of stagnancy. refuse the lie of stillness. refuse the lie of hopelessness.
document your change. be encouraged. and continue to move.

What I Wish I’d Known Before Watching Porn

In addition to this little blog here, I run Good Women Project. I don’t normally post much there and am primarily the editor, since I have been blessed with countless women who have incredible stories of their own to share. This month, however, we are talking about pornography. So, I decided to begin with a little bit of my own history with porn. To read the full post, click here. We will be talking about pornography from a women’s perspective for the rest of November. Join us.

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“Pornography is a charged subject, and it’s a word that rarely crosses the lips of most women. Yes, there are now breeds of the modern woman who watch, talk and joke about it regularly, but most of us still stay further away from speaking the word than we actually stay away from it.

When I was in high school, pornography was on the long list of “bad things” that I didn’t know much about – and unfortunately also on the list of things I had participated in. Nevermind why I was watching it, the how is the same for all of us: we stumbled upon it because of someone else. And none of us knew what to expect, or how to handle it.

Later in life, I caught myself remembering how I used to watch it for a few minutes here or there, and wondered strictly out of boredom if it would fill the big, empty space of loneliness in my late nights. There were no parents around to hide from anymore, and no one checking my Internet history. Pornography was easy, and I never exactly knew why it was bad, particularly since I wasn’t actually having sex. To me, it was just something dirty that you probably shouldn’t have anything to do with. But “probably shouldn’t” never stands up against loneliness and boredom.

I am not one with an addictive personality. Meaning, I binge, and then drop things quickly. I knew this about myself, and so I used this as an excuse for watching pornography. I’d watch it every night for a couple weeks, then not at all for a few weeks. Always off and on. Clearly I wasn’t addicted. Just like I smoked, and never became addicted to nicotine, and drank, but never became an alcoholic. I was just watching it, and could stop anytime I wanted. No damage done, because I was still in control.

Wrong. Nicotine still seared my lungs, and alcohol still did some decent damage to my liver and personal life. Just because we aren’t addicted, doesn’t mean it does no harm. Even while I wasn’t “addicted” to watching pornography, I always wanted more. It existed as a guaranteed time-filler and pleasure-bringer, and when you get an hour to yourself – that’s an easy default. An easy default activity that establishes a heavy precedence in what you do with your next bad night.

I wish that 10 years ago someone had educated me on pornography. What it is, what it does, and what it reaches in and destroys in the hearts, minds and bodies of men and women.

I wish that someone would have told me that researchers have proven it sabotages your sex life.

I wish someone would have explained how dopamine, the chemical that is released every time you experience pleasure, drives you to return to what provided that feeling before.

I wish someone would have told me that the kind of pornography you’re most turned on by is usually linked to a corresponding hurtful event in your life, further injuring your brokenness.”

To read the rest, please visit Good Women Project. > > >

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Supplemental Saviors, And My Disappointment In Myself.

I am disappointed with myself.

I am disappointed that I have tried to find supplemental saviors.
People ask how I did it. Did what? I want to ask.
How you overcame your past. What was done to you, and what you did to others; to yourself. The grief that you were dealt, and the grief you caused.
I listen to their perception, and begin to think I am an exception.
I listen to them search for an answer more tangible, more attainable, more controllable than Jesus.
And I begin to comb through my healing, dig through my heart, sift through the hard years…to find things easier than Jesus.
Some days I find nothing. Some days, empty things that bear partial witness to a whole truth.
The empty things, the whispers-of-truth things, the supplemental saviors…they taunt me with their checks in boxes and say, “See? We have made you whole. We have filled you. We helped you overcome.”
But still, their mercies begin and end with the front and back of their covers. Their mercies fill and are contained by the box for the checkmark.
And I am a living, dying creature. I need mercies every morning. New ones. For the new death, the new hurt, the new sin.
So I rally my books, my counselors, my friends, my pastors, my families, my communities, my epiphanies, my curriculum, my antidepressants, my better diets, my therapists, my mentors, my time that passes, my supplemental saviors, and I cry out: “APART FROM HIM WE CAN DO NOTHING.”
Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing.
I have done nothing. I have overcome nothing. I have healed nothing. I have won nothing. Rather, I have come to the end of myself, and found a Savior who needs no supplement. A Savior who has done and is doing and will do it all.
For he has sworn it across the heavens, “It is FINISHED.”
We have not believed.
Death wrecked my heart, my family, my hope. Jesus killed it off before it killed me utterly, and gave me a new life.
There is no healing or comfort that can be attained by your adding. Only by emptying everything you are, and filling it with everything He is.
I am not the exception. You are not the exception. We have inside us the hope of all eternity, a seal upon our hearts, because He was the exception in our behalf.
Lord, help us with our unbelief.

Resources For The Recovering Legalist (Or Homeschooled Kid.)

After I wrote A Letter To My 18 Year Old Self and shared a little of my ultra-sheltered, conservative upbringing, I’ve received a lot of emails asking what books I recommend reading.

So, I’m working on putting together a little resource list for each of you dear hearts. It’s by no means complete, but a core selection of reading material that helped me move out of one world into another. If you have something to add to this list, PLEASE do! Leave it in the comments.

Please, please do not let money come in between you and these books. Rent them at the library, or find them through bestbookbuys.com. Or carve out time in your week to go sit at Barnes & Noble and read them on the floor. That’s how I read most of them.


Waking The Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive – John Eldredge :::::: “The story of your life is the story of a long and brutal assault on your heart, by the one who knows what you could be, and fears it.” Enough said. Read it.

Sex God – by Rob Bell :::::: We never talked about sex. Ever. It was dirty, sinful, wrong. I recommend this book to every person regardless of their past or present.
Captivating – Staci Eldredge :::::: READ. I was the ugly duckling growing up. On top of wearing “homeschooler clothes,” I was gripped with devastating insecurity through middle school and high school. I read this when I was 18, and thank God I did. Girls, you are beautiful. And you were meant to be beautiful. It’s OKAY to be beautiful.
Sex & The Soul Of A Woman – Paula Rinehart :::::: Girls, this is a must-read. Even if you haven’t had sex. You are an absolute gift to man. Paula writes about sex and heart-stuff in a way that only a woman can.
Ragamuffin Gospel – Brennan Manning :::::: The gospel is simple. The church has complicated it. Get it un-complicated.
Think Differently, Live Differently – Bob Hamp :::::: This book will change the way you view absolutely everything. It’s no longer about doing more right, more good. It’s about knowing that “more right, more good” won’t get you any closer to the life Jesus created for you. It’s about living from the Tree of Life, not from the branch of Good on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What’s So Amazing About Grace – Phillip Yancey :::::: Get this, or at least get the Visual Edition for starters. Weeks after I ran out and away from my family, I probably wouldn’t have read anything other than the super-awesome visual edition. This book showed me, for the first time, that Jesus loved me. No matter what. And that all of us were sinners, and equally dirty. No matter what.
Longing For Daddy: Healing From The Pain Of An Absent or Emotionally Distant Father – Monique Robinson :::::: I had a close relationship with my dad the majority of my life, but not so much in high school. And I haven’t had an eye-to-eye conversation with him in six years. No matter where you are in your relationship with your dad, this book helps you look at fathers (and your heart) the way God does.
Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No - Cloud & Townsend :::::: This book is important for every single person, and absolutely necessary for someone who grew up in an controlling or manipulative environment. I am a people pleaser, I can’t say no, I over-commit, & I get irrationally emotionally involved. For the first time in my life, I know it’s okay to do what I want with my life.
The Hidden Heart* – Bob Hamp :::::: The idea that “the heart is deceitful above all else” and must be ignored and smothered, is something that has been grossly mis-interpreted in a lot of conservative Christian circles. I was racked with guilt and ended up severely depressed because of it. Read Bob’s brief *blog post on how you are SUPPOSED to treat your heart.
Radical – David Platt :::::: The gospel in its simplest form. Learn to live how Jesus lived.
Homeschool Blindspots* – Reb Bradley :::::: If you are planning on homeschooling, or are homeschooling, read this *blog post. Also, if you were homeschooled, this might set you free a bit from your parents mistakes, and help you measure out grace where it is needed.
Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith From Politics – Alisa Harris :::::: If you were raised in a very political-oriented family like I was, read this.
A Tale Of Three Kings: A Study In Brokenness – Gene Edwards :::::: Very, very short book. If you’ve lost family members, moved away, or gone through any sort of grief – read it.
Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers :::::: This is a pretty hefty novel (yes! novel!) about a prostitute. This book I hid in my room when I was 17, and it pulled at my heart strings just enough to give me the courage to leave home and seek out a God who was this loving, this forgiving, of a woman He dearly treasured.

Blog Posts I’ve written on my experiences:

A New Definition Of Love
How To Deal With Pain
Letter To The Girl Without A Father
Grief, Lightning Storms, & A Broken Spirit
Jesus Will Change You
When Christianity Says You Aren’t Enough
Love Was The Plan

Very important note:
At the end of the day, no book or author is going to heal your heart. If you’re human, chances are you’ve undergone heartbreak, heartache, or trauma. On top of being born broken. There are no words better than God’s, no love closer than Jesus’s, and no friendship closer than the men and women who are called your brothers and sisters in Christ. If you’re a recovering legalist, or don’t know much about God, take a little break from the rest of the Bible and spend significant time reading just Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Get to know Jesus first. We come to God through him, and we begin to live our new created lives through him.
If you’re having trouble reconciling the love of Jesus to the harshness of God that you used to know, read Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. Learn that He has written His words on your heart, and will never forsake you or be angry with you again. Hear that He has forgotten your mistakes completely. He has bound you up your wounds in loving kindness. God has fought in your defense since the day He created you. You are safe, and He is NOT disappointed.

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Were you raised in a too-conservative home? Homeschooled? Dealt with severe loss or grief? Have a past you’ve needed recovery from? Broken relationships with family?

What books do you recommend? PLEASE share them in the comments.

A Letter To My 18 Year Old Self – And My Story.

Some of you know pieces of “my story,” others none at all. One day, I’ll have more of it written out – and it is a gift to me that this blog is the slow uncovering of my never-ending wrestling match with it. Thank you for listening, and for loving me through it. It has meant the world to me.

I’ll be honest, I try to not speak of it much here. I was born in the South, homeschooled, and raised in an ultra conservative home under a definition of sheltered that most people aren’t familiar with. The oldest child of 4, we were to be “set apart” – never coming into contact with the sinful world. I lived in a bubble, with restrictions like no television, no movies, no public schooled friends, and no books unless dad read them first. All letters I wrote and received had to be read by a parent before they entered or exited the home, and every church sermon was picked apart at the Sunday dinner table, truth re-stated and lies cast out, until my heart was bloody. I didn’t have friends at church; youth group wasn’t allowed, and I dressed funny, so the other girls in Sunday school class didn’t talk to me. I never went on a date or kissed a boy before I was 18, and I went through my teenage years with no make-up, no nail polish, and no girls nights allowed. My teenage years were instead full of politics, speech and debate, and discussing the perversion that is American society.

To this day, I haven’t seen The Little Mermaid, and if you joke about an actor, TV show, or musician between 1987 and 2003, I will look at you with same expression I give astrophysicists when joking about microquasars. This morning in bed, my husband asked me if I knew what Seinfeld was and I replied happily, “Yes, it’s a cartoon!”

Somewhere between age 16 and 18, I began questioning things. I was introverted, and miserable. There were too many secrets I couldn’t share, too many things I couldn’t do, and too many books I couldn’t read. And I was desperate to have fun, and to stop thinking. Weeks after turning 18, I walked out of my home. I went to the only safe place I knew, and stayed there. 6 months later I moved for the 10th time in my life to Phoenix, Arizona to go to college. Since then, I have moved 22 times, not including the last 7 months of living in a car while I travel the US.

My life has never been the same. I lost my family, my friends, and I have spent every day of the last 6 years learning who I am, who God is, and how the world functions.

Much of it was a clean break, and much of it was a slow, brutal tearing apart.

I sat down last night with a heavy heart to write a letter to my 18 year old self. So many women have asked me to share my story. One day, it will be a book, but for today, it is in the form of a letter I wish someone had written me 6 years ago.

- God is not who you think He is. He is bound by nothing and no one. Don’t be afraid to question what you know of Him. Don’t be afraid to question the rules as laid out for you. God is big enough to handle it, and crossing the lines of religion, denomination, subcultures & belief systems will not break your God, or revoke your salvation.

- God will fight in your defense. Even when you are suffocating and drowning in confusion, when the ground underneath you seems unsteady and faulty, He will always know your heart and will never condemn you for your lack of understanding. He is the God of wisdom and of truth. If you seek it from Him, He may re-write what you know, and that is okay.

- It will be harder than you think. This isn’t teenage rebellion, and it isn’t the miscommunication of the generation gap. You will not wake up one day and have parents again, and your decision to walk out on your own means God will reassign new family members to you. Permanently. It will be painful, especially on holidays and birthdays, but in the end, you will find out that biological family is given to us to represent spiritual family – and you are simply learning it the hard way.

- Your heart is not evil, nor is it deceitful. Do not be afraid of yourself; God created you and set those desires in your heart for good. Submit yourself to Him, and you have nothing to fear. Dig deep into what makes you happiest, what triggers emotional responses, and what you are drawn to. It isn’t you being worldly or sinful, and you will not be punished by God for them. Live life fully, and don’t be afraid to breathe. Your mistakes are already paid for, and fear does nothing to stop death – only to stop life.

- It will get better. Those girls you envy, that are confident and beautiful? Those girls that have friends to laugh with and cry with? Those girls who have good men in their lives and a future they look forward to? Those girls who aren’t plagued by confusion, depression, and loneliness? Those girls who can have fun? In six years that will be you. And those years will go by fast. Take it one day at a time, and don’t try to become someone else. Become what you love, and a miracle will happen: You will become that girl.

- Read, a lot. You have years and years of truth and love to re-write into your heart. You were born broken, just like the rest, but in your own unique way, too. It takes reading about others’ childhoods, brokenness, and fears to see what Jesus can do to a woman’s soul. Acknowledge that you’re just trying to figure things out – and read everything that gets put in front of you that has to do with healing. It will slowly permeate your mind and heart, and truth will soothe the ache.

- The numbness will go away, at the cost of your innocence. You’ll slowly learn how to be human, and you’ll slowly begin to feel normal. I know that in a desperate attempt to be ‘just like everyone else’ you’ll get drunk at the frat house, you’ll kiss boys whose names you don’t know, and you’ll watch pornography. I know you’ll sleep with a guy you don’t even like in a self-loathing attempt to destroy the Holier Than Thou reputation you’ve grown up with your entire life. It will wreck you, instead of heal you – but it will bring you to a new understanding of Grace that God needed you to experience. It will be part of your story.

- Read the four gospels. Every single day. Take a break from theology, and let go of what is right and what is wrong. At the end of the day, your salvation rests on Jesus alone, and he cares only for your heart, not for how much you know. Pay attention to what he talked about most: Compassion, healing, taking care of the widows and orphans, dealing out grace and mercy, overlooking tradition for the sake of love, and making people new. Our first command is to love one another, and you will not be able to do that with judgement and bitterness in the way.

- Be the little girl that you are. God knows you’re scared of growing up, and he knows that right now, you despise men. He sees you as pure and innocent, and when you can’t explain yourself, he already knows your heart. God desperately wants to be your Father, not your life coach, your teacher, your business consultant, or your boss. He just wants to be your Father, and sitting in His lap sobbing, “I don’t know, I don’t know” is okay – just as a little girl falls, gets hurt, and buries her face in her fathers lap to cry and beg him to fix it. God will always defend your innocence; Jesus loves the little children.

- Choose to always believe that God is good. You’ll always believe that God loves you, but you’ll stop believing that He is good. Like dark-chocolate-and-a-big-hug kind of good. Your life is in shambles, and He knows it. You’ll be a mess for awhile, but He has a plan. You’ll hate it, you’ll get sick of it, it won’t make sense, and you’ll cry yourself to sleep a lot – but He will always be good, and you must always believe it. The moment you stop believing it, your heart will break all over again, and you’ll start sabotaging yourself. Dig your heels in and believe that God is good.

- Being a girl is okay. All the things you weren’t allowed to do in high school, go do them! No matter how silly, how impractical, and how pink they are. Buy the colored eyeliner, get a brazilian wax, color your hair, paint your nails black, spend too much money on shampoo, go see outrageous chick flicks, buy that sequined little black dress, buy the scandalous lingerie and enjoy laughing at trash reality TV. Not everything has to be practical, and you don’t have to think in black and white. Find yourself somewhere in there, and learn to enjoy being a woman.

- Your parents’ definition of sin may not be God’s definition of sin. Sin is missing the mark, choosing to live a life apart from God’s way, and letting self-centeredness grip your heart. Just as one culture believes a woman without a headcovering is sin while another believes that voting Democrat is a sin, neither of these hold any weight over anyone’s salvation. Don’t give sin power where it doesn’t deserve to have any. Choose instead to see people how Jesus saw them: all in universal need of His love to fill their empty hearts.


- It isn’t your job to find a man to love you. One day, after you’ve made way too many mistakes and gotten your heart broken, you’ll decide to revert to what you believed when you were a little girl: You’ll get married, and it will be amazing. I don’t mean this in a naive, Cinderella sort of way – I mean that the man you’re going to marry is already born, and when he meets you, you won’t have to fight to get his love or attention. God made it that way, and it’s okay to believe it stubbornly like a little girl. And it is true what they say: When you know, you will know.

- It’s your life. I know you don’t believe me, but really, it is. You were created to live a life no one else can live. If you live a life dictated by someone else, then you were not necessary. And God does not create unnecessary things. There will be things only you feel, things only you experience, and at the end of the day, you need to be the one who loves what she is doing with her life. People will be unhappy with you, and family and friends will disagree with you. God has a story for everyone’s life, and you will not live that story if you’re letting others write it.

Yesterday Is Dead & Tomorrow Is Not Yet Born

Sometimes, few words are best. I’ve been noticing that Jesus tells very short stories. I’ve been in a season of wanting to talk less, to listen more. It’s a little bit of being tired, a little bit of burn out, and a lot of knowing that at the end of the day, you are just like me: A girl with a lot of problems, a lot of questions, and only one Savior.

I was going to write a long post about how I’ve been cutting things out of my life. How I left most of my artwork, clothes, and letters I’ve held onto for years back in Ohio last month. How I stood over a small fire in my back alley, watching years of court documents and condemning letters burn into ash before my eyes. I wanted to write about coming to terms with missing relationships in my life; ones I desperately want, but cannot have. About the pain that comes with little deaths, and the joy that stubbornly arrives the morning after. About the silly things: unfollowing, unsubscribing, and hemming in my heart in a way I never have. And to write about how I’ve learned to instantly toss out anything that reminds me of a past life; a woman who I used to be, but am no longer.

I wanted to tell you all to jealously protect the life you want to create; to share how I’ve chosen to let go of things, people, and memories. And how I wish someone had given me the strength to do it years ago.

But all I can write is that I now know the difference between yesterday and tomorrow. That I will never live in either of them. But that my place will forever stand right here, in the middle, called “Today.”

Today, I have to decide if Jesus is enough for me. Today, I will learn to wrestle with the hope of heaven. Today, I will be content in not knowing the answers – and no longer being concerned that I do not know. Today, I will sit and hear stories of girls with broken pasts and broken hearts, desperate for love, and say, “I have found no answer other than Jesus.”

Today I will choose to act on the truth I know, even when I do not understand it.

Today I will choose to trust in love that was proven by death on a cross, even when I don’t feel it.

Today I will choose to believe that I was made beautiful, even when I cannot see it.

My yesterday is dead, and my tomorrow has not yet been born.

Today is the only day that is alive. And for the very first time, I am going to live it.

I am out of words, so I made this pretty little thing to remind us all that it’s hard to slough off the past, but so worth it. Feel free to Pin it, tweet it, blog it, put it on your bathroom mirror, anything. Also, I just finished re-designing my new sister-in-law’s blog, so you should take a peek & say hello to her.

What have you cut out of your life recently? What do you need to let go of? Do you need prayer for the courage to do so? I want to hear. Leave it in the comments.