Is Fear Ruling Your life?

I realize my life vacillates between living in faith and fear. When I live in faith, I make decisions immersed in God’s presence and blessings. When I live in fear, God isn’t there. The quality of my life deteriorates; I end up feeling anxious, unsteady, misunderstood, and alone.

Throughout my lifetime, I have been blessed to always have people speaking life into me, both Christians and non-Christians. From family to friends, classmates, professors, to strangers. Many people have told me that I am smart and full of talents. I was told from a young age that I would be successful, a leader, at the frontlines of change and innovation. But somehow, my mind warped that into fear. How can I live up to these kind words?

I renamed my fear into something cute and more appealing than fear, though, I called it perfectionism. That’s more acceptable than the word scared, and I could use it to explain away my lack of advancement. I was afraid people would find out that I am not as talented or as smart as they think. Of course, hiding my skills made even more people believe I did not have any. Some people even began to assume I was lazy, they would measure my progress next to my gifts and come back confounded. How could I be an intellectual with nothing much to show for it?

Many times, God has called me back to Him, to go deeper, get closer, recognize His presence, and step out in faith. Several times, I let fear block the call. Instead of obeying the Lord, I would do what was safe: stay at a job that did not care about me, hang with friends who did not care about me, continue to be with a guy that God did not want for me, and constantly compromise my morals and beliefs in order to not burst the bubble of safety that I had imagined. But what I viewed as safe, was actually a trap.

Every time I run back to a guy, friends who regress my progress, a job, or partnership, I get further away from Christ. No matter how fun or nice they seem.

Let’s think about Egypt in the bible, often described as lush and beautiful, where people went to look for help or to prosper instead of turning to Christ.

Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt

Genesis 13:10 (NLT)

In Numbers, the Israelites, who were just freed from slavery, oppression, subjugation, and violence, the same people who were shown numerous miracles in the wilderness, wanted to go back to Egypt at the first sign of an obstacle. How often do we run back into chains, sin, and oppression when things get tough? For example, how many times have you run back to an ex, a situationship, a friend, a certain lifestyle, or a profession when you felt challenged?

The Israelites were going to be taken into a land flowing with milk and honey, abundance, a bountiful community, but they allowed fear to grip them and overtake their lives. To them, Egypt, a place where they were subjected to inhumane treatment, looked more appetizing than obedience.

Sin and disobedience can often mirror pleasure, fun, and satisfaction but only on the surface. The deeper you involve yourself, the more trapped and eventually imprisoned you become. Unfortunately for them, because of their blatant disregard for God’s presence, they were figuratively imprisoned, destined to wander in the wilderness for forty years.

How many miracles in your life must God complete before you stop treating Him with contempt and before you stop questioning Him? How long will you hamper your prosperity and remain in the chains of your mind, also called anxiety, perfectionism, immaturity and lack of self-love before you choose to run to Christ?

How long are you going to run back to the safety of your job where you live paycheck-to-paycheck and ignore the call God has on your life to be an entrepreneur and change the world for good? How long are you going to run back to that relationship that breeds tepidness, mediocrity, and even sin when God’s has someone better for you?

And how long will you continue to overlook the behavior, lifestyle, and beliefs of your friends because you’ve known them all of your life instead of obeying God who wants you to isolate and become closer to Him?

When will you stop being disobedient and allowing fear to rule over you? When will you stop wandering, afflicted by fear?

God has plans to prosper you; He has performed miracles for you. He loved you so much that he gave. And will continue to. So why are you afraid?

For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life

John 3:16 (AMP)

However, even if you’ve been living in fear, there is a way to turn it around.

Instead of burrowing away in guilt because of your disobedience, let’s instead activate God’s grace. Unlike the Israelites who God forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years due to their contempt, we are living under His grace, due to the gift of Christ on the cross.

So join me, the former perfectionist, in repenting and taking action today by choosing to live in faith instead of fear.

Discovering Purpose

When I chose to be saved again, to recommit myself to Christ as an adult, and to mature in Christ, I was consumed with fear.

How could I possibly prove myself to be a good Christian if I lacked vision? And without vision, how could I even begin to contemplate purpose? Purpose, at the time, was this abstract concept that I seemed to chase but could not find. And this easily led to feelings of inadequacy, which then led to doubt and fear.

Eventually, I realized that I was leading a fear-filled life, a life God did not mean for me to be living. We are meant to be free in Christ, not chained to worries.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 7 (NLT)

This revelation led me to draw closer to Christ. You see, God left us with perfect instructions on how to live our lives as Christians. When I began to not just read the Bible more but also reflect on its passages, my understanding of purpose solidified.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 

Mark 16:15 (ESV)

If we are followers of Christ, we are meant to spread the Gospel. We are meant to bring people to Christ. We are meant to help shine a light in darkness. That is our purpose.

Declare his glory among the nations,

    his marvelous works among all the peoples!

Psalm 96:3 (ESV)

Now, there can be a difference in each of our methods. One person may bring others to Christ through their singing, and another through preaching. And yet another through leading. God has given us each unique skills and talents in order to strengthen the church by bringing more people into the family of Christ.

So if you can sing, use your voice. If you can write, put words to paper. If you can nurture, raise your kids up well, allowing them to understand and accept Christ early on in life. And whenever you feel doubt or worry starts to creep up and spread, turn back to the book of instructions and ruminate on His word.

Purpose has never been this abstract concept but one that is very clear and concrete. So set down your fears and feelings of inadequacy and today, declare that you will live in purpose and in freedom instead.

Helpful Tools: Want to learn more about your God-given skills? Visit the Spiritual Gifts Test website and take the test.

The Importance of Vulnerability

The need for control is a dangerous snare. Though most would not describe me as controlling, I am human after all, and I don’t enjoy relinquishing every corner and crevice of my life to anyone. Therein lies my problems.

I often describe myself as an open book, and to an extent, I am. It’s the reason I feel confidently in Cultivate Women. However, I have gotten great at the game of skipping, omitting, and deleting chapters of said book. How else would I convince everyone that everything is okay? Great, even.

Part of the reason I believed I had to be taken (mostly dragged) through a wilderness season is because of my disobedience. I didn’t want to create a blog about all my faults and foibles, I wanted to control the audience. I especially did not want to reveal my struggles to people in a new city, a very conservative city, where you are taught to assimilate rather than stand out.

But God asked me to stand out and because I hesitated and delayed, He had to reveal to me the cost of my disobedience. The cost of refusing to be vulnerable is a heavy one. It allows pride to bubble up and color and conceal our experiences. And what happens when we conceal who we are and allow pride to rule in our lives?

First pride, then the crash—

    the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.

Proverbs 16: 18 (MSG)

Vulnerability requires us to let go and let God. It requires us to come out of hiding, hiding the not so great things that are going on in our lives or what has happened in our past. It requires us to be defenseless to attack, whether it be gossip from the people we believed we were the closest to, or a loss of a job, connection or relationship.

Consider my past disobedience, and how my desire to maintain an image of being in a great place began to eat away at me. I did not want to admit that moving to Dallas was incredibly hard after all. I was lonely and broke, and slow to understand the ways of a conservative city. I was gossiped about, betrayed by friends, and not treated kindly by men who were supposedly upstanding in the community. This was a time I needed connection the most, but because I refused to let down my defenses, I suffered in silence.

However, vulnerability also allows us to make connections and bring people to Christ. This was the lesson God was trying to teach me. He wanted me to realize that I was not alone, that He will always show up, and with provision. And that He is made strong when I am weak and feeling defenseless.

What we need to realize is that it is our authenticity, the revealing of our scars and past traumas, that allows us to break down barriers, reveal the commonalities between ourselves and others, and bind us into a family, a true family in faith. And if we lose out on people or opportunities when we are honest, consider it pure joy because God closes doors on the people and things that are not good for us.

We also need to realize that service and purpose are tied to our ability to be vulnerable. In my career, my success as an educator has everything to do with the rigor of my instruction but also my ability to connect with all kinds of students. And the success of Cultivate Women depends on my vulnerability, my commitment to be honest and share, make connections and encourage others. How else will we learn that we are not alone and grow if we hide anything in our lives that is less than perfect?

Now, like Paul, I take pleasure in my weaknesses. I have decided to relinquish every corner and crevice of my life to Christ, so why would I cower in fear and conceal my struggles with pride, when I can boast about my weaknesses and have the Lord’s power set upon me?

Are you willing to let go and let God?

Beauty in Brokenness

Struggle seemed to have captured me the minute I asked to go deeper in Christ. My romantic relationship with the perfect match (on paper) ended suddenly, my lucrative job fell through, and God began to show me parts of myself that were not so great. Before I knew it, depression enveloped me.

Months went by and the only thing that seemed to greet me were closed doors. Opportunities would present themselves, opportunities I knew I was qualified for, sometimes overqualified for, but I received rejection after rejection. Even the things I usually used to comfort myself, fell through, over and over again.

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4:12( NLT)

Then a morsel of respite presented itself in the form of a job. The job required a huge salary cut and no benefits, but it was job that would allow me to work in the house of the Lord. Though I could hardly live off of the money I made, I was convinced that this difficult season in my life would finally come to a close. God had heard my prayers

Those who plant in tears will harvest in shouts of joy.

Psalms 126: 5 NLT

Months later I was laid off without notice. The salary I could hardly get by with vanished and I felt I had hit rock bottom. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of shame. I had never been laid off before, and even though they informed me it had nothing to do with performance and everything to do with lack of funds, their explanation did not seem to add up. I had such a horrible experience working there that I felt it was personal and extremely callous.

Shame ballooned into a deep sadness. I had never been without a job and I used to take pride in that. My family and friends lived so far from me and several of the people I felt closest to in Texas, suddenly became too busy for me. I felt that I had made a huge mistake trying to follow God’s instructions, and slowly my heart began to harden against Him. I was broke, felt purposeless, and wasn’t sure why I was needed at all in this world.

But in that dark and empty place, I learned to be vulnerable, something that I have struggled with my entire life. I learned that I needed people. Because I lacked, I was forced to ask for help, and though I felt embarrassed, I recognized that I couldn’t survive without help. This need to depend on others, broke me.

In my brokenness all of my flaws surfaced. I discovered I struggled with pride, un-forgiveness, stubbornness and a lack of self-discipline and this shocked me.

I realized that my pride obstructed me from being vulnerable, from asking for help, and making connections with people. My lack of self-discipline impeded my ability to fast and be more prayerful. Even though I was still in a place of blaming my issues on the Lord, who truly only has plans to prosper me, I knew that in order to climb out of despair, I had to trust and depend on Him.

My stubbornness transformed me into a bad listener. I was (and I am still working on this) someone who interrupted a lot, did not take advice much, and was skeptical of other people’s opinions. Though I believe my somewhat defiant personality can be a strength in that I tend to forge my own path, it’s also a weakness that has hampered me from being more successful and listening to good advice.

Lastly, after my somewhat traumatic experience at my last job, un-forgiveness pooled inside of me. I am usually able to forgive quickly because I give many people the benefit of the doubt. But I felt burned, humiliated, and let down by people who were supposed to mentor me, build me up and support me, for they are my family in Christ.

It took me a long time to realize that I was struggling to forgive them because I felt justified in my un-forgiveness. Not only were they wrong but I protected them, and continue to, by never fully disclosing what I felt I was forced to endure. But God revealed to me, after I fasted and prayed, that my heart could not thaw unless I forgave, and that I should be even more forgiving of my family in Christ. Christ forgave me and endured the cross to save us all, even though we did not deserve it. So who am I to not forgive people who probably do not understand the pain they have caused me?

In this season of brokenness, I discovered beauty and rest. I learned to be content, even though this season isn’t over just yet. My circumstances may not be awesome but I serve a God that is awesome.

I have learned to improve myself, and even though it’s been incredibly difficult, it stretched me and pushed me to a place I would have never discovered. I learned the beauty in forgiveness and the beauty in recognizing my flaws and boasting about them because the power of Christ works through my weaknesses.

And those friends who abandoned me? I have forgiven them but also recognize that fair-weather friends aren’t friends at all. So I thank God for revealing them to me.

What has God revealed to you during your most difficult times?

Losing Faith

This past year has been an amazing one for me, but not in a positive way. I am impressed by the sheer number of trials and tests I have endured and continue to experience, and most of the testing began when I became more involved at a church.

When I got the opportunity to work full-time at a place of worship, I remember feeling elated. I had moved to Texas for a change, to get closer to God and find a community that shared my faith, and this community sort of fell into my lap. After three rounds of interviews, I was selected, and I felt God had qualified me to work there.

During the interview process, I was honest about my background, where I was on my journey towards Christ, and how I came from a background that was less conservative than the community I’d be serving. The hiring team assured me that these qualities were my strengths and so I felt the job was a gift from God. After a meandering start in Texas, I felt everything was about to settle.

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.

1 Peter 4:12 (NLT)

However, within a week of working at the church, I experienced conflict. I learned that many of the female elders did not like me much, they assumed since I was younger and single, that I was a threat to their marriages. They also took it upon themselves to tell others not to trust me, and often, I could overhear them whispering about me while in a huddle. They never made me feel welcomed, only shut out.

Then the rumors began to spread about me, which was surprising. Not only because I was new to town, new to the church, and also not at all like the girl they were describing, but also because these rumors were being spread in a place that was supposed to be holy and originated from a church leader. I remember feeling like I had no one to speak to about it. I was warned not to involve the senior pastor in anything, I didn’t have friends in Texas, my friends from home weren’t strong in faith, my mother had warned me not to work at a church and my boss was a thorn in my side.

I made the assumption that a church was a home, a happy home, full of not-so-perfect people, but at least nice ones. How naive of me.

My direct supervisor was the most difficult person I had ever worked with in my life. He would yell at me often, for things outside of my control or because he had dropped the ball on something. He would get into my personal space and belittle me. He often forgot to assign me tasks, so when I inquired about them, he’d become even angrier. Whenever I would try to step up and take on more assignments, offer a new idea or try to serve the church in a new capacity, he would reject it. Every day I felt small. Every day I felt encaged.

I remember arriving to work with a knot in my stomach on a daily basis. I would enter the church hoping to hear that my supervisor was sick or out of town, only then, when I was informed he wouldn’t be around, would I relax.

He wasn’t the only man who made me feel small though. I come from a culture that still treats women as inferior to men. We’re often told to keep our mouths shut as women. We’re often reminded that our worth is only in our looks, the kitchen or in bearing children, nothing else. Many women from my background make themselves shine less by exiting the workforce or not continuing their studies in order to appease their partners. Sacrificing our success is seen as the ultimate virtue, unfortunately.

Several of the men at my church, some married, others in relationships, few single, would stand around in the area I was stationed, talking ruthlessly about the women who came in-and-out of the establishment. They would rate their looks harshly, discuss what they imagined they could get away with doing to them, and actually attempt said things, all within earshot of me. Sometimes I was the subject of their conversations, and even though I felt incredibly uncomfortable, I was forced to smile through it. I had complained about the groups of men who spoke about women as if they were objects before, and was quickly told that men would be men.

Eventually, things began to intensify. My boss became more emboldened to denigrate me, to the point I felt like I was in a verbally abusive work relationship. More rumors about me and unsuspecting women continued to spread around the church, and more men felt empowered to misbehave. I felt myself moving further and further away from the confident person I once was and this realization saddened me. I also felt tired of having to pretend that the church I served was perfect and confused about why God had wanted me there.

I was over plastering a smile on my face so no one would suspect I was miserable. I was tired of pretending to respect people who would live their lives as if they never knew God. And I was tired of trying so hard to be meek, unseen, and silent against maltreatment and injustices. And so, after a morning of my boss verbally lashing me, I walked out of the church. But things quickly changed for the worse and I found myself questioning God and my faith.

Have you ever found yourself questioning God? I’ll tell you more about my experience in the next post and how it led me to my purpose and creating this blog.

The Cult of Purity: Part Two

Rahab is one of my favorite women in the Bible because of her checkered past. She, like me, does not easily fit into the image that purity conjures. Yet her courage and faith, not only reconciled her with Christ but also made her pure again and cleaved her to a royal family.

Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road.

James 2:25 NLT

She married Salmon, one of the spies she helped to hide in Jousha 2. She gave birth to Boaz, who married Ruth. Ruth gave birth to Obed, who was the father of Jesse. Jesse fathered King David and Jesus came from King David’s line. Rahab went from being deemed a harlot to being mentioned in a family line with Christ. So of course even I, with my tattoos and my own unwholesome past, became part of Christ’s family once I accepted Him into my life. Even with my mistakes, I am God’s masterpiece.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2: 10 NLT

Here is a shortened version of my story:

Men were never hard for me to get, I never sought boyfriends or male companions, and I often found myself in relationships or relations (unholy ones) with men, serious men too. The ones who worked in hedge funds, engineering or were billionaire heirs. Though I never bragged about these things or even worked hard to acquire this kind of admiration, my friends and acquaintances saw me as some kind of gem, and at times, I was addicted to the way they venerated me. So I hoarded it.

Internally, this made me feel small and worthless. Externally, I beamed with false pride.

Often, I did not have deep feelings for these men. I was attracted to them, but hyperaware of how incompatible we were. Many of them reduced me to my appearance and were happy with just some kind of trophy girlfriend they could brag to their friends about, I often felt owned by them instead of equal to them. Internally, this made me feel small and worthless. Externally, I beamed with false pride. I even began to give advice to the many women who wanted to be just like me, because they believed their value was in being devalued.

Even though I knew God had more for me, it took me years to understand the damage these flings and relationships caused to my psyche. It has taken me some time to unpack the depth of the impact disregarding God, dishonoring my body and not following His instructions has had on my life. It took me leaving my favorite city in the world, my hometown, in order to fully confront this issue.

And once I became obedient to God, followed his instructions, moved, surrounded myself by “Godly” people, worked at a church, served in church, promised to save myself, the same issues not only persisted but began to reign down on me, with more problems added to the mix. Though it took some ups and downs that I will discuss more in an upcoming post, I refused to yet again become a slave to my flesh and my ego. God freed me from that bondage and I accepted my status as clean, as a new creation, as pure, just like Rahab.

So even if I don’t fit into the carefully curated image of purity in the media, I am confident that Christ views me like royalty, fearfully and wonderfully made. And I am here to tell you that you are too. He sees your mistakes, your past, the trials, and tests you haven’t yet endured, and still loves you.