Exactly where I’m meant to be.

So, how are things going at seminary? Are you enjoying classes? What church are you attending? Have you grown spiritually and personally? What about the city? Does it make you feel out of place? I have frequently been asked these questions over the past several months. At first I would give the typical answers that you would expect. I love school, I’m growing a lot, I am in love with the church I’m attending, and the city has allowed me to see that there is so much more beyond the limits of the 618.

While all of that is true, I feel as though I haven’t given justice to the experiences that I have had since I have been here. I’ve lost who I was and became who I always wanted to be. I’m a girl that has a past, yet not letting it define her. I am a girl that has gained emotions, feelings, and opinions that have helped to communicate how I feel about it all. I am my own person; a person with convictions and values that are shaping the way I interact with the world and how I do church.

I am not going to lie; week one of this journey was by far the hardest. There were more tears than I ever imagined, my pastors were on speed dial, and I was convinced I wouldn’t make it to the final few weeks. I didn’t have friends, no church to attend, and a big city that made me feel like a fly. I was so overwhelmed with the silence that I was living in. Who I was began to stare me in the face and I was forced to deal with it all. I was out of place and I didn’t belong. Something didn’t seem quite right.

Yet, here I am. Sitting in my regular Sunday spot at the local Panera (yes friends, they call it Panera here, I’m learning to adjust). Drinking my usual Sunday coffee and watching the locals interact over their Sunday lunches, and suddenly I realized I have become a local too. This is my space, my place, my environment and it’s shaping me. I do belong, I am supposed to be here and the fear of silence no longer causes me to tremble.

I have fallen in love with life in Northern Illinois. I’ve become captivated by the way the waves crash along the shoreline and have had honest conversations with myself about who I want to be when I leave this place. I’ve never lived away and the little country girl in me is in love with the vastness that exists in this part of the state. I have dwelled in the silence, examined my life in ways I never imagined and realized that I deserve to live in peace. I deserve to live in freedom; I deserve to exist as Brittney. A human that is broken, scarred, and fragile, yet redeemed by Christ and living in the reality that the cross is more than enough.

Seminary as a whole has been so incredibly good. I have grown in my knowledge of scripture, the church, and God. I have studied under some of the most brilliant minds and have met people that live in love and walk in truth. It’s a new environment that has proven to be so incredibly healthy and enriching. I can’t help but geek out over the knowledge that I have gained. It has expanded my vocabulary and has caused me to look at the church in different ways. It is a growing experience, that’s for sure. I forgot how much I love filling my head with knowledge and writing papers that explain why I believe what I believe. It has stretched me, molded me and transformed me. I’m not ready to leave for the summer, and that my friends is a sure sign that I am learning to love the scary and new experiences that God graciously hands to me.

As far as growth, I would say this is the biggest way I see God showing up in Evanston. I have had to sit in silence, pray, and confront the deepest parts of my heart. I have had to write pages and pages in my journal, cry as I walk along the beach, and accept that I need to let go of who I used to be.

As most of you know, I have been in an ongoing relationship with things that have controlled me for far too long. I have reached for control in the unhealthiest of ways and because of it, I’ve built walls, shut people out, and lived in a dark place masked with glitter, smiles and fakeness. Since being in Evanston, I have lost control to gain freedom. I have intentionally placed myself in situations where eating is a must and purposefully kept sharp objects out of my room. I have been intentional on how I treat myself on my hardest of days. I have given myself space to heal and deal with why I do theses things and accepted that it’s who I was, not who I am. I’ve walked in that freedom for almost 90 days and I have never felt so peaceful. It’s a process that I am constantly learning how to live in. I have given myself grace on the days I don’t feel like walking in freedom. I’ve seen myself release a grip and break the walls. I’ve seen the need for Jesus in a whole new way and I want to extend that same grace and love to everyone I meet. People all bring something to the table, why not make that table a little easier to exist at?

Speaking of all people, I need to tell you all how incredibly thankful I am that I have found the church that I have been attending since I got here. Before coming to Evanston, I was so incredibly hurt by the church. Rumors, hateful words, and accusations that simply weren’t true caused me to want to run from the church and keep running until I wasn’t near it. I slowly learned to like the church again while attending Immanuel, but here I have fallen in love with the church all over again. I’ve watched barriers become broken, people experiencing acceptance regardless of who they are, and have broken bread with people who are so different than I. This morning, Northbrook UMC voted to hold same -sex couples weddings in their church building. That my friends, is where the Gospel comes to life. Christ died for all. Yes, all! Not an all with a star next to it explaining the exclusions that the word has. The breath of relaxation and joy that filled the room as the word yes was spoken, filled the room with peace and the table that we gather around for communion suddenly got a little more crowded. Crowded in the good way, you know, the kind where so many family members come to thanksgiving dinner and you all have to squeeze together because there’s so much love in one place. I’ve seen the good that can come from the church. I truly believe that Northbrook UMC has been the place ordained and set aside for me to fall in love with the church all over again. It’s so good to see growth happening and people being included in all actions in the church.

I love this place, I love the city and I love who I am becoming. I have never loved the person I am, until now. I’ve never loved the church as much as I do right now. I’ve never experienced freedom and growth quite like this, until now.

So, to answer all of your questions, I love this place, these people, this church, and this city. I have found a whole new meaning to freedom and have loved dwelling in it. I have found myself somewhere between classes, church, and hard conversations overly thankful for the grace that is extended to me and the nudging of the people in my life that got me to say yes to this scary and new experience.

It has been the most beautiful 4 months and I wouldn’t trade the painful silences, hard conversations, and new girl stereotype for the world. I’m exactly where I am supposed to be and for that, I am thankful.

 

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An open letter to the girl who is struggling.

My dear beautiful girl,

I know you are already rolling your eyes because I called you beautiful. You have mentally made a list of all the reasons why you are not beautiful in your head. Your hair isn’t falling into place today, you have a zit on your nose, and your weight hasn’t been where you have wanted it to be since you were 7 years old.

 

But, I need you to let all those things go, let down the walls and listen with an open heart and mind today. You, my dear friend are loved, beautiful, and enough.

 

There have been things in your life that have tripped you up and caused you to destroy the vessel that harbors your spirit. You have skipped meals, destroyed your thighs with a razor and walked away from people because you think you are “too much.”

 

I get it, I have been there, but I need you to know that there is something so much greater on the other side. There is freedom waiting for you in the breeze of the spring air and within the fresh snow that falls in the winter, blanketing everything in a white sweater, as if it’s to keep your frail and fragile heart warm.

 

The past 45 days have proven to be too much. You made resolutions, yet you already “failed” at keeping them. Grades are slipping, and you’re barely able to keep your head above water, so you turn to control, habits that destroy the beautiful being that is you.

 

I need you to know something…you are loved. You are more loved than you will ever realize. There is a God who has put things into orbit and hung the stars that thinks you are perfect, because that’s the way you were created, flaws and all. There are parents, teachers, friends and family members who think you are the greatest thing to happen to them. You have a support system cheering you on and loving you when you cannot love yourself. Let them. Don’t push them away because you feel unworthy or not good enough. Allow them to love you back to reality, a reality that screams YOU ARE LOVED in the face of an eating disorder, self-harm, suicide and anything else that tells you that you aren’t.

 

There is something else I need to tell you. You are beautiful. You, yes you. You have eyes that are filled with sparkle and a heart filled with passion. You have been crafted and created to be exactly as you are. No amount of makeup, dieting, and clothing will change the fact that you are beautiful. I know it’s hard to hear, because you cannot go a day without picking yourself apart. But I need you to believe me. I spent years destroying myself and telling the person looking back at me in the mirror that I wasn’t beautiful. But let me tell you what I’ve come to realize. Beauty that is measured by the soul extends far beyond clothing, weight, and looks. That my friend, is what you should measure yourself in. Not in pounds, inches, and pant sizes, but in the soul. Your capacity to love, your heart for missions, your ability to let people feel safe in times of need, measure yourself in that.

 

One final thing, you are enough. You are more than enough actually. Sure, you’ve made mistakes, we all have, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy and enough to exist in this world. In fact, without you, this world would be missing a part. You play a huge role in peoples lives, whether you know it or not. You are paving the way for someone else, someone else is counting on your story, and someone is waiting to see you bloom because that’s what is giving them hope. So you my friend are more than enough. You deserve life.

I hope that you find comfort in knowing you are not alone. There are people all around the world who are struggling, needing to know they are loved, beautiful and enough. I love you and I am so incredibly proud of you for still living, breathing, and believing that tomorrow will be better.

 

I’m here, always. Loving you, encouraging you and believing in you. You can do this! You are capable of more than you ever thought possible.

 

Love,

The girl who used to walk in your shoes

Daydreaming In The Wilderness.

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to speak at an evening worship service where people of all walks of life gather together. It’s a time where life stands still and people enjoy the presence of one another and worship as the body of Christ. But, what happens when chaos abounds all around us and that normalcy is interrupted? What happens when that chaos begins to enter into our daily lives? I think I speak for everyone when I say; the past few weeks have been ones of uncertainty, heartache, and pain for the world. We are aware of the hurt that is happening, globally, locally and within our own lives.

 

I was given the topic of the Promised Land, but my heart was too plagued by the events of the week to focus on anything else, so I did my best to speak about the beautiful land in the beginning, but here is where my mind and heart wandered by the end of sermon writing. I hope and pray that you find yourself in this message this week. My friends, daydream in the wilderness, it’s got to be good for the soul.

 

This past week I haven’t been able to give my attention to anything but the world. This world that is broken and dark and at times incredibly scary. This world that makes me long for a Promised Land that is filled with all those good things that the 12 talked about when they reported back to Moses.

 

I don’t know about you, but this week I have been frustrated and upset. Upset that I live in a world where hate exists, where love doesn’t always seems to win over the hearts of people, and where evil is lurking at every nook and cranny of the universe.

 

I’ve cried, I’ve prayed, I’ve journaled, I’ve read news stories and had conversations, yet I’m still mad, and God is meeting me there. God is meeting me in my own brokenness and frustrations and I find that to be so incredibly beautiful.

 

You see, this Promised Land seems to be something that I’ve been trying to dream up for the past week. I wonder what it was like; I wonder what they were thinking. Some people were not excited about this new adventure, but some were. They knew about what was to come in this new land, and it seemed good by the reports that we read in scripture.

 

I wonder if they were walking around in the wilderness for those 40 years daydreaming about that Promised Land, thinking about things that they wanted to be there. The fruit that was juicy and delicious, the river that was filled with water daily, or the security of knowing where they would place their heads every night. I wonder if they daydreamed about those things, if those things made their mouths water and their heads and hearts wander to that place of hope, because one day maybe that security would become a reality.

 

I’ve walked around this week daydreaming. Is anyone else with me? Is anyone else daydreaming of better tomorrows? Here’s where I’m at. I’m going to walk this line of honesty and vulnerability with you.

 

I want to live in a world where people love each other. Where hate doesn’t exist and people don’t go around killing one another.

 

I want to eat food because it’s healthy and the right thing to do, not because I’m shaking and on the verge of passing out because I haven’t done it in a while and my old habits are coming back again.

 

I want to look at the people I love and see hope fill their eyes, not sorrow and fear and hurt. I want them to not hurt themselves or starve themselves or look for ways to walk away from this world all together. I want them to eat ice cream at 2 AM, after having pizza for dinner. I want everyone to enjoy the beauty of a sunset and the simplicity of the flowers growing through the cracks of the sidewalk. I want people to walk outside and look up, because the stars are so incredibly beautiful.

 

I want to see that Promised Land. I want that land to have no hate or war or eating disorders or self-harm or bitterness or shame or abuse or anything that makes my heart hurt, that makes little kids die of cancer, that makes my little brothers best friend commit suicide, or that makes people walk into movie theaters with a gun in hand. I want it to be filled with love and joy and peace and safety and security. This is my daydream as I’m walking in the wilderness, waiting for that promise land.

 

We can’t pretend that we have all the answers. We can’t slap on the, “everything happens for a reason” statement, or the “God makes all things work together” quote. It won’t work. Not this time. We have to be people of action, people who have their feet on the ground ready to live in and out that daydream.

 

I don’t know why things are happening; you don’t know why things are happening, but they are. Chaos is all around, globally, locally, and within our own lives. But, I have a daydream that I am dreaming about, it’s a dream that I want to live and lean in to daily and I pray that you will join me in that.

 

Maybe your wilderness daydream looks different, but I think that we can all agree that we want to be walking, talking, breathing Promised Lands for this world. We can cover a lot of ground when we all stand together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with our brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world, saying here we are, use us as the promise land to the rest of the world who is walking around in the wilderness.

 

We simply have to hang our hats on the unknown grace and peace that only comes from knowing Christ. The grace and peace that meets us in our bitterness, in our tears, in our anger in our confusion, in our upset texts and phone calls to those we trust, and in our empty prayers.

 

We stand here, knowing that the Holy Spirit has filled our hearts and lives, so we reach up, holding on to the one who holds us in that grace and peace. We don’t have the answers my friends; don’t pretend to have the answers this week. Let the world know that we are just as hurt and broken and confused as they are. We are angry and upset and longing for answers.

 

We serve a God who is greater than this world, a God who loves us in our wilderness and in our daydreaming, and I find that to be the most reassuring thing that I’ve heard all week. I’m resting this week in the unknown answers to my hurting and upsetting questions, knowing that I serve a God who will wrap his arms around this hurting world right now and always.

 

One day, my friends, we will find security and peace in our Promised Land and I cannot wait to see love conquer all things and peace flood the hearts and lives of all people as we worship as one body. Until the day, until Heaven has completely come to Earth, we keep on daydreaming. Amen.

Communion: A meal I no longer want to skip.

Communion is such a beautiful and sacred part of the worship experience. We gather together to partake in the bread and cup as the body of Christ, but what happens when some of us struggle to come to the table?

Mental illness is swept under the rug in the church and we often steer away from anything that makes us cringe, feel uncomfortable, and question what we believe. The reality of it is that people are daily putting on happy faces, covering up scars, and walking into churches like they have their lives together. The church has become a place where those who are struggling, often struggle in silence.

For years, I have battled an on-again/off-again relationship with an eating disorder that has come to steal, kill, and destroy anything good in my life. I have been consumed by what I look like, what goes into my body, and how the rest of the world perceives me.

Communion has always been such a hard thing for me to partake in. I look at this Holy meal as another meal that I have to grin and bear because I can’t let anyone know what is going on.

But I know I’m not alone. All around the world people are battling this vicious disease and are feeling the same way. Three meals a day are hard enough to sit through, let alone another meal where people call it Holy and blessed.

I would often think that something was wrong with me. People were receiving these elements and becoming teary eyed because they were so happy and I would become teary eyed because bread and juice are just another thing to add to the calorie counting chart.

This week at church we had communion together, but this time it was different. As I was walking to receive the elements this week, there was peace and understanding that this meal was not specifically set out to make me miserable, but rather to make me feel fed and nourished, but in a good way.

As Pastor Jackie called me by name and reminded me that the body and blood of Christ has been broken and shed for me, a transformation began to sink in. The words, “The body of Christ broken for you, Brittney” transformed my thinking.

Christ calls me by name and invites me to this table daily. It’s a table that has been prepared with healthy and good food that is designed to nourish and replenish me, not to harm me.

It’s a meal that stands as a reminder of what Christ has done for me and what Christ can do through me.

As I ate of the bread and drank of the cup, my thinking was not on calories, what I look like, or what people will be thinking of me, but rather, it was on the reminder that I am enough, I deserve to be healthy, and food is not the enemy.

The battle was won, but the war is still being fought. It has been a 10-year battle, but yesterday a transformation began to happen. I became teary eyed as I realized that not all food is bad and this Holy meal is prepared to serve as a reminder of who Christ is.

If you’re battling this mental illness, know that you are not alone. If this meal that people see as Holy and sacred is one that you want to skip, just like the others, I invite you to look at it as an invitation to believe in better tomorrows.

As you drink of that cup and eat of that bread, you’re giving yourself nourishment to keep going, to keep fighting, and to keep seeking truth.

You’re not alone, there are lots of us who weekly have to choose if we will partake in the meal that is set before us or step back while others enjoy the feast.

I’m sorry, forgive me.

My favorite words all through college were redemption and reconciliation. With each passing year, they seemed to take on new meaning. I watched these words come to life when I sat in theology classes and when I interacted with people on campus. These words are sacred words, words that burn with hope, burn with truth, and burn with a need to look within.

For most of my life, I have been at battle with myself. A battle that has been fought with scars, tears streaming down my face, and distorted images of myself. I have been in need of redemption, so that I can heal and reconciliation, so that I can forgive myself.

The following is a letter to myself. An apology letter that has been 23 years in the making.

Dear Body,

Before you start to cringe and prepare yourself for the blow, relax and prepare to take in these words. These words are going to be different than anything you have ever heard before.

I want to start with I am sorry. I am sorry for the way I have treated you for the past 23 years. I have damaged you in ways that will stick with you for the rest of your life. I have left marks on you that will forever be a reminder that I didn’t think you were good enough, but here I am to tell you that I am sorry.

I am sorry for the years that I’ve spent covering up the marks that I left on you. I am sorry for the years that I spend leaving those marks on you. Those marks that are reminders for days, weeks, and months later. I’m sorry, forgive me.

I’m sorry for the years I’ve spent in front of the mirror screaming with no sound and crying with no tears because I thought you were the most hideous thing to ever walk the earth. Maybe your mentor was right, that mirror really was lying. I’m sorry, forgive me.

I’m sorry for the years I’ve spent pushing food around my plate while you cry out for it to nourish you to do your daily functions. I’m sorry I forced you to do all those school days, middle school, high school, and college without food. I’m sorry that even now I force you to do life without food. I’m sorry, forgive me.

I’m sorry for the years I’ve spent wishing I was someone else. Someone who was prettier, skinnier, more intelligent, and the list goes on. You have been good to me. Even when I put you through all of this junk, you still woke up each day and put your feet on the floor and chose to keep going. I’m sorry, forgive me.

There came a point today when I was walking around the track when I realized you have carried me this far and I need to be thankful for that. The amount of times I have tried to destroy you and you kept going should say something about the kind of woman you are.

I’m never going to completely get rid of what has happened in the past, it’s a part of me. The scars, the random hiccups, the body jumps, but that’s who we are.

Thank you body, for keeping a soul that longs to do something that will change the world. For harboring a heart that feels deeply for things and a brain that thinks about things that matter. You’re important body, thanks for bringing me this far.

Can we be friends, I’m tired of fighting. I’m sorry, forgive me?

Dear Eating Disorder,

Hello old friend, it has been awhile. You were a comfort to me in my time of need. You were a friend when I felt like my whole entire world was dark and spinning out of control. You always seemed to show up in the most extreme ways, on my most stressful days. Offering me control and a handle on the situations that overruled me.

You fooled me most days. I really let you have most of the control. You were like a bully. You told me what to eat, what to wear, what I said, what I did and how I interacted with the world. You were quite controlling, yet I didn’t want to let you go, you were the only friend I had.

I’m writing to let you know that you really stole a lot from me for 8 years. You took my joy, my happiness my passion, and my drive to do life on most days. You isolated me from those closest to me and made me think that you were the most important thing in the world. I started to live to please you. You were my idol, my god and I worshipped at your feet in the mirror of my imperfections. I pushed aside my religion, my friends, family, and school and consumed myself with your lies, your sweet talk, and empty promises.

You took so much from me and I won’t get a lot of things back, but I am here to let you know that I forgive you, but more importantly, I forgive myself for letting you control me.

When I walked away from you, from your lies, you gripping hand around my neck, and your disappointing look each time I looked in the mirror, things began to change in my life. I picked myself up off the floor and looked in the mirror for the first time at a woman who was created for more than lies and deceit.

I saw a woman who had been taken captive by a disorder that fed her sweet lies of perfection that quickly consumed her, broke her, then left her for dead. A woman who in that spot found a God that reached for her and fed for truth and hope and offered her life.

From that day forward I haven’t looked back. There have been days where you send me texts, tweets or send friends to offer me messages, but I have realized that I don’t need you.

I’m writing you to let you know that it’s time for you to leave me alone, but not just me, all of my friend all around the world who are feeling controlled, consumed and trapped by you. It’s time for us to be free. Let us go. We need to be free and away from you.

You were a good friend when I didn’t know any better, but now, I know that you were the worst thing that ever happened to me. I need you to be cut from my life forever.

Sincerely,

A girl you no longer have control over