Rise Up and Walk

When my grandmother unexpectedly passed away last December, a number of conversations with family split me wide open. One was when my aunt, always my favorite since I was a tiny little girl, said to me, "You know, Tami, I see the things you say about yourself, the way you see yourself, and I just can't understand why. I have only ever seen a beautiful, talented, amazing girl in you and watching you grow into a woman has been beautiful."

Sob. You can see why she has always been my favorite.

I know why I struggle. There is an enemy who has sought to crush my soul my entire life. I can sum it up in a simple story.

In 1992 I was 10 years old, The Bodyguard was sweeping the nation and, if American Idol and The Voice existed, every third contestant would be singing I Will Always Love You and trying to hold a candle to Whitney Houston.

I know I sure wanted to be able to sing like that. I would take one of those plastic toy microphones and climb up into my favorite apricot tree in the way back of our back yard, concealed by a bounty of leaves, and belt it out at the top of my lungs. My great dream was to be a singer. Not just someone with a decent voice, but a Whitney. Someone who, when she sang, gave people chills and they instinctively dropped everything and became enraptured not with just the voice but how she made them feel like she could articulate in song every emotion they had ever felt.

Can you feel it? Those chills when the music stops and she just
explodes your soul with that glorious key change? Incredible.

Unfortunately for me, my mom didn't share that vision. One day I took a risk and busted out the chorus, channeling my best Whitney, in our front yard. My mom yelled at me from inside the house to stop it, because I couldn't sing and I would never be a famous singer. Plus, I was getting on her nerves, thinking I could ever impress anyone. Shut up, little girl. No one is listening.

And in my heart, I knew she was right. I was talentless and needed to accept that. I was a fool for thinking I could sing, a fool for enjoying it, a fool for thinking I could ever be a singer. My biggest folly was thinking I could ever be an inspiration to anyone the way Whitney was to me.

That poison spread throughout me. My attempts to impress my parents, to be really good at something and finally feel like I was special to them, worthy of praise and acceptance, always ended with me being told that I was proud, full of myself, just trying to get people's attention. I so desperately wanted to be seen, to be known, to be loved, but every effort ended with the same refrain: I wasn't that great and I needed to get a small head and come down to earth with everyone else. No one was impressed, nor would they ever be. So I could just take that "I matter" pride and get over myself.

I like to think I'm past all that. Grow up! Toughen up! Get over your past. Believe that God loves you. He's a perfect Father! But the voices are still there.

And I actually am not a fool. I know how it works. The voice in my head may be my mother's, but I am wise to the speaker--it's the age old enemy. My mom is not the problem--she is a broken sinner desperately in need of grace just as much as I am. The battle I fight is not against flesh and blood. No; it's against the spiritual powerhouse whose entire existence subsists of crushing the souls of humans, of God's image-bearing and beloved creation.

And he's a crafty fellow, because Satan knows how to shut me up--by keeping me focused on myself.

Because it's still pride. Pride in every form keeps our eyes on ourselves, be the filter that we are of lofty or lowly estate. Either way, our focus is zoomed into us, leaving God and others out of the viewfinder.

I honestly rarely go around thinking I am better than anyone else. But I do constantly think I have some deeply rooted pride that insists I am better than everyone else that I can't see.

So, out of fear that it is there, hidden but driving me, I am frequently silent and stifled.

I am a walking paradox of one who has grown in grace to embrace exactly who God has made me to be yet paralyzed by fear that I'm a beast of pride who is constantly trying to be better than everyone else, trying to distract them from God with me. I'm still that little girl who just wants to be loved, yet every effort to prove I'm worthy of love is met with contempt. "Shut up. You are irritating. You don't matter and you never will. OH YOU THINK YOU WANT TO ENCOURAGE OTHERS? You attention whore. SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP." 

[I get that you might be deeply offended by that f-bomb. I just ask you to step back and feel the weight for one moment of what it is to hear that onslaught of worthlessness every day of your life. Perhaps you'd be less offended at the language used to describe how I am accused and more compassionate toward me as I'm hearing the accusations.]

So why am I telling you all of this?

Oh man. Here come the tears.

Because friend, I want to be free. And my Jesus, the great Liberator of captives, is doing just that.

She didn't know it, but Jesus loved this precious girl.
He loved hearing her sing. And he still does now. 

I have long loved writing. Wanted to write. But I constantly vacillate between this quiet confidence of, "God, I hear you. I see you. I know this is your calling, your good plan," and, "I am so full of myself. How dare I try to steal God's glory by writing...about him. FOOL."

Did you see that? The former is first person intimacy with God, speaking to and hearing from him. The second uses "I" language but is actually third person, detached, yet screaming to the core of my being that I am unloved, unworthy.

You know what's so great about Jesus? He's the most persistent buggar. He keeps pursuing me. He won't let me escape this pull on my soul. I keep waiting for someone to read something I wrote and chastise me. Every time I see a comment or text or FB message that starts with, "I read your blog and..." I'm expecting the boom I wrote about last week. Someone finally just speaking aloud what God has been trying to tell me, that I am an attention whore who needs to shut up. That God is disgusted by my constant display of seeking attention.

It never happens. I weep because people open up to me about how judged and shamed they were by the church. Or someone I have long looked up to tells me how broken and struggling she is after being devastated by her church, and she's just identifying with me in my pain and how my openness ministered God's grace to her.

And grace upon grace? I remember myself from my legalist past as a real bitch. Yeah, I said it. Judgmental and cruel. Causing people to shudder when they remember me. Thankful they have distance from me. That is the only way I can see myself, thus I assume everyone else sees the same person.

That silly Jesus of mine keeps telling me, "Nope. Not so much." People tell me they remember me as kind and open, an encouragement. Or, one friend who I feel suffered under my, "Shape up," proselytizing told me that, yes, that wasn't fun, but what she has carried with her is not disgust at me but ache and concern for me, that I lived under such heavy bondage and rules. That she saw her beautiful friend become more and more enslaved to religion that stole the joy of the sweet soul she had long known and loved.

But Jesus has been freeing me. More rusty chains fall, useless and crushed, to the earth. And the Lord wants me to declare my freedom by writing about it.

Jesus has been stirring my soul to write for as long as I can remember, but for the last few months the heat just keeps getting turned up. I can't escape it. I'm feeling increasingly like Jeremiah with the fire in his bones that he cannot hold in. I'm growing weary of resisting but still think the driving force is just that hidden pride again, wanting attention, so I don't say the things I actually feel impassioned to say.

And then, at Liberate, it was right in front of my face: by silencing myself I am actually sinning. I'm avoiding God and running from the freedom and grace he has for me. He loves me and he's given me a gift and a passion for something that not only brings joy to me but that he wants to use to bless others. And, yes, I'm a sinner who wants people to like me and think I'm talented or impressive, but not more so than any other person. But the greatest source of my pride has come from silencing myself so that I can think I'm being humble.

Did you catch that?

God revealed, straight up, that my silence is actually what's hurting me. My attempt to be a good quiet girl who doesn't screw people up with my prideful speaking out is what actually metastasizes the death in my soul. I'm taking the lies spoken to me and feasting on them, and the cancer grows because I embrace it as health and life to be a quiet little good girl.

But it's not healthy. It's killing me.

Because, friend, I keep finding out more and more that God really, really loves me. As my beloved Spiritual grandpa Steve Brown always says, God doesn't just love me--he really, really likes me.

Of the many voices--parents, teachers, friends, pastors--who have called me proud and told me to be quiet, not a single one has ever been God's.

Not a one.

You know what God said? He said, "Get up, my paralyzed daughter. Rise up and walk. And tell everyone!"

"Why the Spirit inside you is better than Jesus beside you."
More chills than Whitney.

He said it most clearly through JD Greear's session on Friday morning at Liberate. He was speaking from a sum of his book, Jesus Continued. [Which is only $2.80 on Kindle today, February 26th, so get dat biz!]

When the session is available to listen to, I'll link it up right here. But what struck me most beautifully from his talk was when he was speaking about how we experience the power and leadership of the Holy Spirit. I did a lot of, "Oh, yes!" and, "Mmm-Hmm." Because, you know, the Gospel, our circumstances, the Word, the Church; all ways the Spirit works. Yup.

Two things really captured my attention, however. He said that one way we experience the power of the Holy Spirit is through using our gifts, and I heard the Spirit say, "Write, Tami,"  but I pushed it down as probably just my prideful heart rearing it's ugly head again.

But then he said we can experience the Holy Spirit through our spirits. He quoted Nehemiah 2:12, a part of the Bible I love, where God tells Nehemiah to rebuild the wall, but I never caught something: God put it on Nehemiah's spirit to do it. There was no Bible verse that Nehemiah read and then did--it was something the Lord wanted Nehemiah to do so he put it on the man's heart. And Nehemiah didn't go tell a bunch of people, trying to confirm if it was really the Lord--he just recognized the voice of the Lord speaking to him and heeded it.

And God said, so clearly, "I want you to write, Tami. Stop worrying about if you're supposed to be successful or important in anyone else's eyes. Stop fearing that my plan for you might be to help a lot of people; stop worrying that I might actually love others through you and open up Pandora's box of you being noticed as a result. Just let my love flow through you. Heeding me speaking to your spirit right now is for your joy.

Because, sweet daughter, you are already successful and important in my eyes. You have the all of the glory and righteousness of my Son. Go forth with me, with my Spirit inside of you. The rest is just details and you get to experience me even more in all of those details. Come what may, I love you and your life is not your own. Stop hiding, baby girl. Rise up and walk into the light and tell everyone how I got you there."

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic1 called Bethesda,2 which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.3 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight yearsWhen Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, r“Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
sNow that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews4 said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him,“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”            
John 5:1-17 [emphases mine]  
Goodness, I love Jesus. He knew healing the invalid, living his life for others, would lead to his death--people who find their righteousness in the Law really detest those walking in freedom--and yet he did it anyway. Jesus was about doing what his Father wanted, not living under the fear of what his obedience would cost him. Again, it's not just that Jesus died. It's that he lived.

God wants me to write. To push through the fear of discovering secret pride. To believe the truth that God loves me and it is finished and it's his joy for me to write and, by his sweet grace, for you to see him and enjoy him and experience him through my writing. Because I matter. I matter so much that Jesus didn't just die on the cross for me, but he lived for me. And he loves me so much that he wants me to experience the joy of doing, of writing and telling you about how good God is and you get to experience him and his joy through me doing that!

Oh sweet baby Jesus, that last line read, "...experience him and his joy through me dong that." Praise Jesus for proofreading. Because dong. lolololol

I have much more to say about Liberate 2015, but this was a really important place to start.

A dear friend, a woman whose very existence is grace to my soul, the same one who first told me about Liberate almost a year ago, asked me what one thing was reverberating through me since the conference. I told her this in response:

JD Greear talked about how we're not going to hear from God through the Spirit if we aren't using our gifts, and it just set the wet concrete of me avoiding God's call to start writing and speak aloud what he's showing me. He wants to minister joy to me and others through that and I'm missing that joy by succumbing to fear of man. ENOUGH. "It is finished", for me, for right now, means the end of my paralysis. I'm the parable in which he commands the lame man to walk and he wants me to tell everyone.

And she said--and you'll see now why she's pretty much the best, so go read her stuff already--so wonderfully in response:


So there you have it. Death to the lie that I am anything other than an important, beloved, precious daughter of Jesus. One to whom he has said, "Rise up and walk, and tell everyone."

Ok, Lord. I won't shut up. May everyone see how good you are, because I'm free. And so, so, so very deeply loved.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13
You know what gives me more chills than Whitney's effortless chord progression? That God himself says, "I will always love you. I cannot love you any more or any less than how completely and perfectly I already love you."

So I repeat: I won't shut up because I am so, so, so very deeply loved.

And so, my friend, are you. So let us rise up and walk together and tell everyone of our great Healer and Liberator.


Home Sweetest Home

So many feels tonight.

I'm home after an incredible week. I will have so many words, as my heart was writing away in my head the entire time I was there. Because when my heart gets full words spill forth. You don't even know how many notes I have to create on my phone with ideas about posts that I don't want to forget before I can actually write!

But for now, I will say that I am so incredibly thankful. I'm grateful that I got to go sit and soak up Gospel truth for three full days. Then Jason and I enjoyed just being with one another and the beauty of the Florida Keys. I'ma have a whole post just dedicated to how much grace there was to my marriage in a few short day's time...but speaking of time, I need some to be able to get that done.

Today we flew home, and my word, I am just reminded how much I love it here.

I really love saying "just" a whole heck of a lot. Just sayin'. #youseewhatididthere

I got straight up emotional seeing this tag on a
bag as I boarded our last plane.

See, there was this moment on Thursday when Jason and I were driving around Ft. Lauderdale and suddenly I said, "THAT'S WHAT'S WRONG!" Jason, a bit freaked out, looked at me I guess expecting a second head to burst forth from my shoulder.

But you know what it was? After the initial allure of the palm trees wore off, I was looking around as I was traversing the FIVE THOUSAND HIGHWAYS in the area and became overwhelmed by...well, the nothingness. Just a sky dotted by palm trees and the knowledge of an endless amount of people and buildings and humidity.

Here, at home in the insane beauty known as the greatest place on earth--I mean, the Pacific Northwest--you're never more than a bend or small hill away from views of huge, glorious mountains. There's the mountain, Mt Rainier, but there are also the Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east. And they are MOUNTAINS. As in, you can't just drive for 20 minutes and hike a half hour up to the top like on the east coast.

[I lived in North Carolina for two years. People would ask me if I had been to the "mountains" and I would choke on my spit. Because, yes, Asheville is gorgeous. But dem Appalachians ain't no MOUNTAINS.]

These are sharp and craggly and zippered apart. They are full of rocky cliffs and tree lines and snow. Your mind goes nuts realizing every ridge probably has a name and who even has time for knowing stuff like that? They are terrifying and majestic. And I love them.

And then more emotions when I saw these snowy peaks,
because I knew we were just moments from home.

I mean, I love looking at them. I am an avid indoorsman. I put my PNW roots to use best by thinking about how beautiful my surroundings are when running errands.

But ahneeway, the point is that no matter how much I love going anywhere, my favorite part is always coming home. I just love it here. I can't live anywhere else. Not even though I love Tullian and wondered if we could ever handle living in Florida, the land of endless summer (no, really, some bros in a truck in Key West had a special license plate declaring the state to be just that). But nope. Just nope. Lovely to visit--so lovely we already bought tickets to next year's conference--but the Puget Sound is home.

Add in our kids, and today was a highly emotional day. I love them beyond comprehension. The few hours we had with them before bedtime were spent putting off unpacking so we could soak up copious amounts of snuggling.

This lovely lady wanted to take many pictures with her mama <3

A wee bit blurry, but Jason's theory is that our precious boy is
hoodie obsessed because so is his mama!

And then there's the fact that I am currently soaking up the final few moments of the glorious wonder known as Parks & Rec. *sob* Why are all of my shows ending? But it's a good end to a great show. And yay for Netlflix and TiVo and endless ability to rewatch.

So I'm breaking all the blogging rules, posting this at 11pm, but know that many posts are in the works and I hoooooope to be making good use of this space.

Now excuse me while I cry myself to sleep with visions of Andy Dwyer's broken leg and the non-spoilery things I'll say about the perfection that is ending as I wrap up these words.




Liberation, FL

When I became a Christian at 16, the primary appeal to me was that Jesus made things clean. I didn't just want my sin forgiven--I wanted my whole life to be better. Because I came from a background of abuse and chaos, I wanted assurance that I would have a good, clean life, replete with lovely friendships and a good job and, eventually, an amazeballs husband, perfect marriage, perfect kids, lovely home...you get the idea.

Not a smidge of yuck anywhere. Just obeying God and getting a bright and shiny life as a result.

I thought that forgiveness of sin and sealing of the Holy Spirit meant that I--and all other Christians--would be perfectly able to be good and right and make life so good and lovely. That Christians just inherently became more wonderful and lovely people simply for having become not a heathen anymore.

{My sweet Jesus just laughed with me because...well...Christians are the worst. They do just as ugly and awful things as non-Christians, but then say it's what Jesus would have them do and they feel justified that the God of the universe told them to be a jerk. Let's just be honest.

Don't believe me? That's just me linking to someone being nice about it.}

But Jesus wasn't so much someone to love, to be known and comforted by, as someone to make my life immensely better than my childhood had been. I just needed to obey him enough to earn his blessing.

I was all in for all the wrong reasons.

It got me into trouble. In high school, a guy friend from youth group asked my opinion on dating, and I shared my belief that if he didn't date and waited on God to basically marry the first girl he had a crush on around age 20 then he'd be "doing the will of God" and have an "untarnished marriage." And, yes, I die inside writing those words. Unfortunately the girl he wanted to date was a pastor's daughter, and the pastor brought down the boom on the youth group leaders, who brought down the boom on me. I'll never forget it--after doing nothing but trying to say "yes" to everything, immersing my entire life to revolve around youth group, and desperately trying to make her like me--my mousy youth group leader's wife took me outside in the middle of the singing one Wednesday night, got right in my face, and told me through angry whispers (because if NO ONE CAN HEAR you it makes it okay) that if she heard a single word about my opinions on dating then I'd be out of the youth group and never welcome back.

I gotsta insert David Spade saying, "buh-bye" here because it's so tragic, yet so ridiculous and she was so awful, that I can laugh about it now. But there isn't a good YouTube of the original so just go to 8:30 on this one if you need some "buh-bye" in your life like I do in this moment.

In college,  I foolishly thought pastors and their families were pretty much perfect (God only makes the very best of his people leaders! Insert more Jesus laughing here), and became convinced that if I could just marry the worship pastor's son at my church then I'd be a part of their perfect family, that I'd be loved as a daughter by a guy whose actual daughter called him "daddy" and it was beautiful and not weird. The "crush" I had on the oldest son had virtually nothing to do with the boy in question, but unfortunately my attempts to make myself "available" for him to notice and fall in love with me resulted in yet another Holy tirade. This it came late at night, in an empty church. I was ushered into the pastor's office; I felt like I was going closer to Jesus just entering that room, I kid you not. This time the boom was delivered by both said worship pastor's wife (the boy's mom) and the head pastor's wife, telling me that I was a pervert, because they knew I had been sexually abused as a girl, and I was a college sophomore and he a high school junior so PERVERT ALERT [irony: he's now married to a girl who was a good friend at the time and she's the same age as me and he had a crush on her the same time I had a "crush" on him when I was being called a predator] and if I so much as looked at the boy again I could consider myself out of the church.  And that I wasn't to even talk to his mom anymore, that I disgusted her, even though she had been my mentor. And no, no one else would be mentoring me. I needed to just focus on the college group and stay away from everyone else. But they "loved" me so that was why they were telling me all this. They wanted me to be able to shape up. Just...alone with Jesus because they had to keep their distance and protect their sons.

I went home to my dorm room and cried like I had never cried in my entire life. Honestly. I just collapsed onto the cheap Fred Meyer rug and sobbed in the dark for THREE WHOLE HOURS. Completely alone and terrified that I would be kicked out of my church. The church that I had, yet again, made the complete center of my entire life, ostracizing college friends who didn't get Christianity exactly right like only that church did, all because I had been convinced that was what obedience looked like. It was what God wanted of me.

Goodness, I wish the me of today could go hug that poor 19 year old girl, tell her about Jesus and grace and all three of those women were full of BS...but that's jumping ahead.

Those are just two sad examples of my tragically misled and poorly taught heart trying desperately to keep the spiritual rules to earn God's favor. If I could just obey enough I could get to that good life. Fill in the blank to how I needed to obey, but here are just a few:

  • Pray in a room alone at least 30 minutes every day, never saying "I'll pray for you" and not actually getting that person onto the list 
  • Read my Bible also at least 30 minutes, but 60 if I loved and was serious about the Lord
  • Memorize huge portions (read: Psalm 119, Philippians, etc) of scripture because otherwise I wasn't serious about God 
  • Be at the church for every study, every service, every prayer meeting 
  • Lead, lead, and lead some more at every opportunity 
  • Share the Gospel all. the. time. (not kidding--I was taught that using an ATM or self-checkout at grocery store was sin; I should go to the store at the same time once a week, use the same teller or checkout line, and build a relationship with the worker so I could help them become a Christian and come to church, and then they could get everyone they worked with saved) 
  • Go on mission trips that were 25% physical help, if at all, but primarily sharing the Gospel (I went on seven mission trips in five years, always "giving Jesus my Spring Break") because Jesus' command was to "take the Gospel to all corners of the earth" and if I didn't do that, didn't sacrifice my school vacation at the altar of Jesus' gospel then I didn't--you guessed it--love Jesus nor take him seriously. 
  • Plus camps and service projects and ministry teams and trips...church was a full 50 hour a week job for most of high school and all of college
  • It was also dressing modestly and not tempting the boys but I was fat so no one ever worried about me doing that.

My life was either all Jesus' or I was a joke. A fake. A phony Christian. A carnal Christian. If I didn't want those labels, then I better not live like they belonged on me.

It was constant rules and purpose and being intentional with every. single. second. of my life to make sure I "redeemed the time" and didn't waste my youth/college years/singleness, etc. Always had to be making sure God wouldn't be disappointed in my choice of how I spent even one moment of a day. I remember, actually, when I pretty much had given up by my senior year of college (my rule keeping never did earn me any more love with leadership in that church) and a girl from the college group that I lived with heard me listening to Push by Matchbox Twenty and said, ver batim, "Do you think that's edifying?" with the craziest fire in her eyes and sneer on her lips.

Satan at play.

Every relationship was either about me being discipled by someone "superior", me being accountable to / with a peer, or me discipling someone to whom I was superior. I was even an RA so I could convert a bunch of college freshman to super dedicated Christians who would go to my church. Not church--my church.

And by "dedicated" I mean legalists just like me. No "secular" music, books, or TV and movies. Well, for TV and movies it was ok if it was the equivalent of PG or below. Except for the Lord of the Rings trilogy was ok because Tolkien was friends with CS Lewis, doncha know. [Fact: I love those movies. Still a stupid rule for grown ass adults.] But even with a PG branding, nothing too sketchy. Mulan had ancestor worship. Out. American Idol was way too worldly, plus, secular music. Out. During the Super Bowl we turned the TV off during commercials and after 3 minutes or so would turn it back on. The insane football fan that I am went NUTS when we would miss important plays because we waited too long but this was pre-TiVo. But better to miss the game than to risk possibly seeing a girl's midriff.


Look, this is gonna be a hellalong--no, tamilong--post, but can I just tell you a funny story?

We can argue later, but I no longer believe that it's inherently sinful to listen to "secular" music. But on one college mission trip my struggle was #soreal because we were on a party strip where clubs would blast music. For whatever reason one club kept blasting Linkin Park's In the End (not exactly dance music, so I dunno) and I was obsessed with that song. When I would be "sinning" I'd use my college's intranet to go find music on other people's computers to copy to mine. Or if that failed, I'd use Napster (yup, I'm that old) and the first song I'd always find was In the End. And then, when I was being "obedient" I'd always ceremonially delete that song first. So that song is always so loaded with my legalist past if I hear it somewhere.

Kinda wanna listen to it now.

But EVEN MORE CRAZY is that when I became a Christian in high school I rid myself "secular" music for the first time, so I gave all of my BMG and Columbia House CD's to a friend named Starr. When she saw that one of them was the, at that time, newish and crazy popular Yourself or Someone Like You she about lost her mind. Who would just give that away? And I explained that it was sinful so I couldn't listen to it anymore because I loved Jesus now. I always wonder if she thought, "Sooooo...I can listen to it since I'm headed straight for hell?"

Ah, Christian culture. You horribly blind buggar.

For the record, hell is very real. Just pretty sure one's eternal damnation is not based on obedience to cutting Rob Thomas's raspy lyrics from our lives.

But, the point is, I was a crazy legalist and moralist who was taught to vote for GW in 2000 and again in 2004 if I loved Jesus and insert 80 million other nonsensical things that had as much to do with Jesus and his gospel as...well...things that have zero anything to do with Jesus and his gospel.

Who Would Jesus Vote For?
Although, truth: I like the guy. Just not so much his politics
because now I'm a Libertarian

I'm not trying to completely crap on that time in my life. There was some good that came from it--I took very seriously that God's word is real and we can look to it for wisdom. Also, God himself is very real and actually cares about our lives, every intricacy. He's not distant and aloof, and his Holy Spirit is actually here to help us live out lives that aren't aimless and wasted. Those are good things to believe are true.

But there was a LOT of bad. The most tragic part is that I was explicitly taught that if I would just obey enough then God would bless me. Remember the Prayer of Jabez? "Breaking through to the blessed life"? It's ironic to me that my church thought that whole movement was a pile of garbage, yet what they did was add on to it. It wasn't just praying a prayer and believing God enough to be blessed. It was doingallthethings so God had no choice other than to bless your obedience.

Not to step on toes, but while my church taught that Joyce Meyer and her brand of "mind battling" to believe God and think the right ways was false teaching, they were all about Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God and, for da ladeez, any words breathed by Beth Moore were only thisfaraway from actually being breathed by God, except just straight to women. And while Mrs. Moore is a sweet and funny lady, and I admittedly haven't read her in a decade and might receive her differently now, what I got from the 80 jazillion of her big ol' studies that I did was, basically, "Here is what God says. It is true. Now believe it and do it so God's time spent on you isn't a waste." Which isn't so different from Mizz Meyer. Both have almost nothing to do with Jesus' performance on our behalf. Jus' sayin'.

Man alive, just typing this out is exhausting. How did I live that way for well over a decade? Lord have mercy.

That all is a lot of weight on a person. Because I wanted desperately to never doubt God. I wanted to believe that God had a perfect plan and a husband for me, to not think, "Is he the one?" and hope every cute boy who came to youth group would fall in love with me. But I sure didn't stop thinking and hoping for a husband. Every journal from that time is about a boy I wanted to fall in love with me, but if it wasn't from the Lord, could he please just take away the feelings? And if he was allowing it, could he remove the thorn from my flesh that Satan had sent to buffet me? Let me just trust him enough to be ok with his timing for a husband, someone to finally, truly love me?

See, at the root of it all, deep down I simply just wanted to be loved. Accepted. Told that God died for my sins so that I could be free from the wages of death, to go forth in freedom and joy. And now here was a husband of tangible proof that God loved me.

Instead, I was told that Jesus loved me and died for me, but that my life was not my own (which is true), so I needed to obey and become more like Jesus (which isn't exactly true). You know what's funny about that? I hunted the Bible down for a verse that said, "Jesus died for you, so now become like him." I cannot find it. I found someone else's composite of 50 verses that are about becoming more like Christ. What I found was that there are a whole lot of glorious verses about what Jesus did for us and commanding us to walking like he did (loving others) out of a response to what he's done for us, basically, yet not a one that actually says, "Become more like Jesus."

That's a huge deal. You might think I am saying we don't actually become different as a Christian. I emphatically am not. What I am saying is that allowing Christ to affect the world through us isn't about us. It isn't about me believing enough, memorizing scripture enough, praying enough, evangelizing enough, attending church enough, etc.

There is no "enough" that we can attain.

Here's the problem I see--if we can dig down deep and find the discipline to be obedient enough to be less ourselves (an inherent sinner) and more like Jesus (part of the triune deity that is the one true God), then why did Jesus have to die? Does having the Holy Spirit magically unlock an ability to become more and more actually like Jesus--aka more into God himself?

I am not writing this to have a scripture battle about sanctification with anyone. But I will tell you what I know from experience--I desperately tried to be like God. I tried to never be angry, to always be motivated only by love and wanting God's best for people, on and on.

You know what I discovered? It's damn hard to know exactly what God is thinking all the time and to perfectly see the world from his perspective. There's this pesky little verse about the human heart:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

[Jeremiah 17:9]

Do you see what I see? In plain english, even when we're trying our best to do what we believe God wants, our own hearts can have not-god motives that get us in trouble.

For example, my heart told me I wanted to honor God in all things and be pure before marriage. In reality, as I discovered a few years into marriage, I sinfully had just expected that if I was "good" sexually God would give me a dreamy fairy tale marriage where I rarely fought with my husband and the sex was really fulfilling and great and he--nor I--would ever be tempted to even think about sexual stuff with anyone other than each other. Ever. Because God blesses obedience.

You know the problem with that? Sure, it's good to want a healthy marriage with fulfilling sex. But to think that obeying God earns a lack of struggle, lack of sin and its effects, lack of the fact that we live in fallen world? That's not real life. It's perfect fairy tale world. And you know who you don't actually need in perfect fairy tale world?


Why would I need him if my obedience leads to a lovely life, free of needing a savior? Real life has my own sin and this broken world. Both are so ugly that they lead to me recognizing my desperate need for a savior. Real life has beauty from beyond me that sends me running in gratitude to that same savior who is so good to me, so tender and patient and faithful and there,  when things are ugly.

What if the blessing from obedience isn't that we actually obey so perfectly that there are no bad side effects, but rather that we see how sinful we actually are when we fail to obey and we have more real relationship with, reliance upon, the one who did obey perfectly?

See, for years (and years and years) I lived under the weight of Christian teaching that Jesus died to save me, so now I'm free from eternal hell, but I damn well better not waste this life. God saved me and sure he loved me but really he just wanted to save more and more people through me. I was less someone Jesus loved and died for and more part of a holy pyramid scheme. Which meant that I didn't have a relationship with him, not really. I was peddling his products and hoping to earn some real good rewards but the head dude didn't give a crap about me--unless I messed up, of course. Then he had to discipline me (insert those women from the stories at the beginning) so I could get back on track.

But God? He died for me, sure, but he didn't actually, emotionally love me.

I was desperate. Desperate to know that someone loved me. I've written about some of this before, but in my heart I believed God to be the Ultimate Abuser. He didn't care about me, not really. I guess in heaven I'd be in mansion on the outskirts of town, on the other side of the tracks near the pearly gates, while the people he really loved got to live in the urban core. But maaaaaybe here on earth I could get a few of those people, Christian leaders like pastors and their ilk, to love me. That was why I obeyed God--if I could just be good enough he might show me favor and prove he loved me by having other people, the ones he actually really did speak to and show tenderness toward, love me.

I never could get it right. Like those anecdotes at the beginning displayed, even my best intentions just kept getting me into trouble. I thought I was seriously such a shitty Christian, that I actually was the problem. That I just wasn't trying hard enough.

Somewhere a few years into my marriage I was telling my husband how it was all my fault, the pain that was in my past from my high school and college years that had me so jacked up and terrified of any Christian authority, and my husband got SO ANGRY. He is a pretty steady Eddie, so it caught me off guard.

He said, "Dammit, Tami, no! Yes, you are a sinner and you made some foolish choices. But you know what the problem was? Those women shouldn't have pointed you toward how to keep their rules lest you lose the ability to be in fellowship with the only people that were family to you.

They should have pointed you to Jesus, how deeply he loves you and how he wanted to meet you in those places where you were scared that he didn't actually love you. They should have told you that you didn't need to perform for acceptance--that you were already accepted!

Tami, they sinned against you!"

Oh, man. Those words rocked me. Something in me wanted to believe him, but it seemed so dangerous. Could it actually be that no matter what I did, Jesus loved me? Already accepted and forgave me? And that he was close and intimate and real and personal and he really truly loved me?

I haven't written much about my time at Mars Hill, and someday I may, but right now I will simply say that, though there were beautiful parts of Mars Hill, there was a lot of the same moralism, the sermons consistently saying, "Jesus loves you! So now here's how to structure your life and keep all these rules", the same "get lots of people saved and have all the parties and know every neighbor and get them to this church so they can do it for their friends and neighbors" pyramid scheme, and there was scary stuff going on with leaders and power over people and the pressure to conform or be labeled "probably not even saved." Seriously. It's not hard to go find gazillions of stories from people who experienced this.

The reason I bring up MH right now, though, is I just kept right on in those "perform for Jesus" ways. By mid-2012, I was drowning. I actually had made some wonderful relationships and had some truly wonderful leaders, and I was finally realizing that how I had experienced authority in the past was wrong. But in so many other ways I was sick to death of trying to keep all the lists I was being told equated with godliness. I dreaded every Sunday and going to church. I still tweeted about all things Mars Hill all the time, "read mark's new book!" and "come to this amazeballs sermon launch party!" I kept up the charade, but inside, to be completely honest, for well over the last two years before we left (in May of 2014) I was miserable. I prayed my heart would change, thought I was the problem.

Enter God's sweet grace to me. The grace in this instance can really be summed up in a name, so let me rephrase that.

Enter Tullian Tchividjian.

I feel kind of like a drug addict trying to recount how they got addicted, but in a glorious way. "It started here, I think, with a little bit of this, then, I don't know, it just snowballed until nothind else could satisfy anymore." Because I did get addicted to something--I got addicted to grace, and Tullian Tchividjian was my dealer.

Still is.

I can't remember exactly how I first heard of him. I think I read a few articles online. I know I first mentioned him on this blog here in a post counting down the days to meeting my baby girl Juliet; you can do a 'ctrl+f' on PC or 'splat+f' on Mac for "Day 67" but here is the money quote:

[The article about sanctification] was written by Tullian Tchividjian, whom I just love. He's a man who preaches grace according to the Bible--free, unlimited, and all about Jesus and his goodness and not a thing to do with us. For the longest time I thought grace was that Jesus died for me so I better obey him so I could deserve his grace. That's a false, false, false gospel. If we can do anything to earn Jesus' grace then that means his death is in vain.

Oh man, I get chillllllls just reading that. I remember how it felt--realizing that Jesus actually loved me. That everything I was desperate to be true about the Bible and the Gospel and Christian living--THAT GOD LOVES US--was actually true.

I will admit that after being allz about the Mark Driscoll bandwagon for the better part of a decade, it's really scary to me that I love one man's teaching so much. But, as my dear friend Marella and I were talking about one day, it's just that Tullian's beautiful redundant teaching feeds our souls.

By redundant, I mean that every sermon boils down to the fact that Jesus did it all. It is finished. Jesus + Nothing = Everything. As in John 8:11, Jesus makes it clear that we are not condemned. We're forgiven. We're free. Free from trying to earn acceptance by trying to not sin and instead free to repent when we do sin. We get to really know that neither our failure nor our accomplishments define us. The love of Christ, his poured out blood, and his perfect record, defines us. And Tullian says that over and over and over, in every sermon. God's grace to us is Jesus Christ; nothing we do or don't do can get us any more or any less of God's approval. We're loved. We're liberated.

In fact, Tullian poked fun at himself and another dude yesterday by retweeting this tweet; included here is my response:

So Tullian's teaching has been such grace to me. Listening to his Romans series last spring when I was murdering my health trying to be a runner just flooded my heart with so much desperately needed grace from Jesus. I was parched from the spiritual desert of the last two years of moralistically centered teaching, teaching that said if I trusted Jesus enough I'd get it right, and the water of the word, of glorious "it is finished" grace, was drenching me yet I could not be quenched.

Still can't, really.

Another way Tullian played a life-changing role was in Jason and I reading Glorious Ruin after Roger was diagnosed with autism. And a year later when the pain wasn't any less devastating. And then the book's message was balm to our souls when a month after that Juliet was diagnosed with autism. Plus the teaching--that suffering frees me from trying to make this life my source of joy, instead allowing me to find comfort and rest in Jesus, who suffered immensely for me--has been grace to my soul through many various trials. So much suffering has been met with even more grace because of how Jesus knit himself into the weave of my soul through that one book.

Then, at a training day in the early spring of last year with Elyse Fitzpatrick, whom I also love, a friend offhandedly mentioned the Liberate Conference 2014 (Liberate is the ministry Tullian started, both to share his teaching and to network the teaching of others who teach the same stuff about grace), and had I listened to the sessions? Because Elyse's teaching there was incredible and made her think of me, and I should go look up the Liberate app.

Long story short, I listened to the teachings and...oy. Just life changing.

Because it all happened as we were in the midst of leaving Mars Hill and my heart was breaking and I was angry and broken and so jacked up.

But that teaching about the grace of God meeting us right where we are? No more moralism or rules or earning anything? That yes, we are sinners who get mad, so we get to admit we're mad, even if we're mad at God, and repent but also God still loves us and isn't trying to fix us? That he shows us his character by being merciful instead of full of wrath that we effed it all up again?

Man alive. No more trying to not be angry, but instead dealing with the anger with God instead of for him? No more fearing that God would be disappointed in me or give up because I hadn't learned how to trust him and never be angry by now? And, even harder, dealing with all of the pain beneath the anger? Feeling let down by God, toyed with by God? And admitting that to him? And then he says, "Frail and weak child, I love you and died for you feeling this. You can trust me and rest in me," and he means it? I mean...come on now.

That's beautiful.

That's grace.

So then, I'm writing this today because tomorrow the most amazing thing is happening.

Tomorrow morning we're getting up earrrrrrrrly and our good friend Josh is driving us to the airport while his incomparably lovely wife Becky begins the daunting task of seven full days with our kids and her 6 month old. He's helping when he's not working, duh.

But Josh is taking Just Jason and Me--my favorite two people to be alone together--down to good ol' SeaTac.

Because, dream of dreams coming true, we're going to Liberate Conference 2015.

I still could cry about it. Truly.

This is so tamilong--told ya--but the theme of my life since starting to listen to Tullian so much last year has been one resounding gong:

It is finished. 

I even commissioned my dearly beloved Lizzy (who did the design on this blog! And has the greatest Etsy shop!) to make me a print that is on our gallery wall.

[True fact: I'd show you the whole gallery wall but it's been in a limbo state of 60% done for decades of weeks because #reallife and #thestruggleisreal so #nope. You'll see it when you see it.]

No more striving. No more rules and lists and trying to prove a damn thing to God because he sees and knows all of me, already died for me, already accepted me, already declared me righteous because Jesus imputed his perfect record onto me already.

It is finished.

I even decided that, when I feel right about the timing, I'm going to get "it is finished" tattooed just under my left clavicle, signifying it being tattooed onto my heart. [Yes, the heart is actually in the middle, blah blah blah, it's my body, under my clavicle would look better, so suck it.]

Last year, Jason and I had a lot of conversations about this "it is finished" theme in my life, and I had yearnnnnnnned to go to the next Liberate Conference but figured it was like how I want to weigh 160 pounds--possible? Maybe. But probably never happening.

When I heard that the theme of the 2015 conference was "It is Finished" I just about died, and I asked Jesus (and Jason) to be able to go. By some string of miraculous grace, Jason got a better job and financially it wasn't crazy. Sure, we could pay off some more debt instead...but this just was what we knew we had freedom in the Lord to do. And I anticipate it being priceless.

So. I can't even handle this, but yes. Tomorrow we're flying across the country and going to the Liberate conference. Then, after like 3 actual talk-to-one-another, just be together and not some event or obligation, date nights since Juliet was born, we get to go spend 2 nights in the Florida Keys.

I have never been to that part of Florida--my only Floridian experience was my sophomore year of college, a week doing street evangelism to the drunk college kids during Spring Break in Panama City Beach--TRUE STORY and I told you I did #allthemissiontrips--and I am so excited.

Key West sounds like a dream place, that doesn't really exist, so I am so excited to go to there.

Our hotel is actually in Marathon, but same difference. 

Plus I LOVE bridges and I am DYING over this one, and Marathon
means we drive over it bunches more while going back and forth.

I am going to go to there. 

Shut up.

Now, what you have to know about me (if you don't already) is I am constantly afraid of offending people or making them jealous or seeming braggy or prideful or something bad. Because still a sinner. The biggest problem is how much time and energy I put into those fears and trying to avoid anything like that.

So, despite wishing I could bring everyone with me {MARELLLLLLAAAAAA}, I would still love to let you know that even if you cannot be there in the flesh, you, too, can be fire hosed down with grace via the Liberate Conference. Not only will they post the sessions later, but they also just announced that they are live streaming it! Woot! Yes, it's $40, but SO DANG WORTH IT.

I mean, get this li'l tidbit:

At the conference we are going to be talking about how to embrace Jesus’ message of “it is finished” in a world that shouts the opposite. We’ll explore how the finished work of Christ affects how we approach this exhausting world we live in. This 3-day conference promises to be a weekend of freedom, as we shift our focus from what we have to do, and celebrate what Jesus has already done.

How could you pass that up?

So, here you go: enjoy the conference using this link! It has allthedetails you need.

Otherwise I'll tell ya all about it when I get back (maybe during! Because new MacBook!), I promise.

I want to end with the beautiful slogan of Liberate; I pray it reverberates endlessly through your soul like it does mine: