My Birth Story, Part I: Pregnancy and War

You wouldn’t think the two would go together, pregnancy and war, but oh, they do. From the minute I started even thinking my body might be hosting a new life in the near future, I started preparing. I started taking prenatal vitamins 4 months (yes, pretty much right when we got engaged) before the wedding, because I knew we’d talked about babies and I wanted all that folic acid and all the iron and all the goodies because I’m a scientist and a planner.

Each day a tiny reminder that I hoped it would happen, months before trying.

Then the wedding came and those long conversations took place that were so exciting: we were on board for a baby, so help us God.

Even though I’d never tried for a baby before, and never had the experience of something going wrong, a part of me was still afraid. Maybe because so many close to me had struggled with their fertility, waited months or years, I was trying to be logical and excuse any possible delays. But God answered on our first plea with the faintest pink line. I was pregnant!

And then immediately, I was a secret-keeper! Boo!

They forget to tell you this part, it’s the unwritten instruction after “two lines means positive” on the pregnancy test, it goes “tell only the people who will be your support system in case of the M word.”

The M word. Literally the first grenade chunked at a mama who just learned there’s a tiny, tiny human in her womb.

Everything can just end, Helena. Those first weeks. We don’t schedule appointments til you’re 8 to 10 weeks. Oh okay.

Let’s do math: baby count starts at first day of last period aka 2 weeks before conception ish, then you have to wait till about 4 days before the next period is due to get a positive with those overpromising fancy sticks, so that’s “3.5 weeks” when I knew I was pregnant.

You mean to tell me that the next 4.5 to 6.5 weeks are just a blind waiting game? Bring in Google, what can I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? Is it okay to exercise? No rollercoasters. No hot tubs. Just be very careful in general, there’s no recipe for how to keep a baby in there, just know all their organs are forming so be the healthiest you can be, ever. Good God, okay. God help me.

Meanwhile, there are negative symptoms everyone says will happen, like a one-size-fits-all misery poncho I was supposed to wear. But I felt okay. I was extra sleepy but not nauseous. I was picky with what sounded good to eat, but I could eat smaller meals and I felt fine. I was excited in my secret, giggling with family and my best friends. I decided I wasn’t going to believe everything they told me, because I was already experiencing something different, answered prayers for no nausea, no sickness.

I began at this point to stop thinking of the M word and just to pray. I was referred by two Godly mamas to a book called Supernatural Childbirth by Jackie Mize. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’ve seen God do miracles in front of your eyes, you can handle this book. Basically if you’re been scuba diving with Jesus and you’ve read the book of Acts and thought “I believe it,” then Supernatural Childbirth won’t sound crazy.

I began to pray for a pain free childbirth with no complications, no tearing, no prematurity, no hemorrhage. I prayed for 100%. Not 90, or 85, but the full birth miracle package. Why not, right?! It’s Jesus, for Christ’s sake. By the time we announced the pregnancy, both Buddy and I were sold out on a supernatural birth. I got really quiet about this, because it sounded crazy banana sandwich. Also, I didn’t want people who didn’t have that experience to feel like I thought I deserved something they didn’t have. I didn’t want to invalidate their trauma, especially if part of their healing was to share their story. Even if it was a terrifying, unique story that would clearly cause fear to a first time mom! I learned to listen with a filter.

Every time I got “advice” about pain or complications, I rebuked it in my head haha, like someone had just spoken death over me. I thought “that’s not my story.” My thoughts stayed the course, believe it or not. I trained my mind for war. Birth was gonna be my victory, my Jericho, my Valley of Berakah. I recited and memorized birth affirmations. I told my body it knew how to birth, and that birth was a normal thing, a common rite of passage designed by God, who is kind. He designed sex and birth. I signed up for both and thanked Him.

We decided that the birth would be very private, and chose a Godly, wonderful doula to be with us (Buddy and I only, aside from birth staff). We chose Atlanta Birth Center as our birth location and prenatal care provider. We chose a midwifery model of care. We did minimal testing, aside from gender DNA (I was way too curious). We only had one ultrasound at 20 weeks, and no cervical checks before labor began. No family in the waiting room, no immediate visits. We safeguarded that space for rest and recovery.

I can say now that pregnancy was wonderful. I was healthy. I had a virus that made me achy for 4 days, but that was it. I had to learn how to SLOW DOWN in the end, lest I’d hurt myself trying to get up too fast. I didn’t swell, nor had back pain. I slept well, even with the frequent bathroom trips. I wore my rings until it was the day to have the baby. I gained about 17 pounds, no diabetes. Baby was head down when she needed to be, my placenta was not in the way. All those answered prayers!

I prayed for supernatural birth. God’s answer, though not exactly as I asked, was even better. Here comes part 2!

The Best Year

Chalk it up to God’s perfect timing, love, and kindness, but I have had the best year of my entire life thus far. I thought my best years might have been behind me, but how wrong was I to entertain that thought!

I looked back and thought maybe my junior year of high school was my best year. I was like Mario with a shining star, for you who played Nintendo. The music was faster and I probably glowed. I think I could have ran through walls at 17, and I ran so fast back then. Everything was in front of me, the whole world was my oyster. Everything was fun. Free time was not a thing, because I filled every minute with people and activity. But that wasn’t my best year!

Maybe my freshman year of college was my best, I thought. I was in band in college and that’s one of the most treasured memories. The feeling of belonging and being good at something, all at once. My grades were great, I was figuring out a new city, and I had made some big changes in my life. In all that, my relationship with God had grown. Yet that wasn’t my best year.

I’d have to fast forward quite a bit because my next stab at my best year wouldn’t be til 2012. The World Race. It was the most mind-blowing experience, traveling around the entire globe, literally, we went around the whole world on my route. Preaching, teaching, building, and exploring. I realized that God had that “glory to glory” thing for me to receive, and I did.

The next year was big. Huge. I moved to Georgia and realized it was okay to root down. I kept saying yes to God’s leading and I experienced fulfilled promises over and over. I met wonderful people. I went back to Uganda for a month. I moved like 57 times within the same city. I changed adult diapers until God finally opened a place for me to work in a hospital again. I had cried a lot of tears about my debt and in 2013 I began my journey to be debt free. You’d think that year is hard to beat, but 2014 got even better.

2014… I spent it working really, really hard. I did ministry and juggled my hot mess personal life, and worked night shift. I went back to Thailand, which was one of the most healing and rewarding nods from heaven I’ve ever received. I was able to lead with a broken heart, God’s strength in my weakness, and that propelled me forward to go to ministry school. I moved south, to Atlanta. I applied for a new job, and got it. I was supposed to start in December 2014. Due to delays for HR, I found out that December day that they needed to move my start date to January 5th, 2015. I was deeply relieved. That year ended and I got blindsided with hard news first thing in 2015, but I somehow knew it was gonna be okay.

2015… on that 5th day of January, I met Buddy. It was the coolest, most God-appointed situation. Did I mention I wasn’t supposed to be at orientation that day? I was supposed to start 2 weeks prior, but HR delayed. It was insane, you-have-lost-your-marbles kind of stuff. One chair left. And off we went. That year wasn’t easy, but it was very, very happy. I worked at two different hospitals at night, and I knew debt-free was coming.

Honestly we can probably skip right over 2016 because I did not think that was in the running for my best year yet haha. It was pretty brutal. Aside from getting debt free, 2016 was really, really hard emotionally, physically, and mentally. Let’s just say my body decided it was done with night shift and would no longer sleep during the day for longer than about 4 hours, and yet I worked 8 months of night shift, falling apart, hunting for literally anything in the day shift and finding nothing until August. Bye Felicia.

2017 started and I had no clue, just no clue how much blessing it had in store. That first weekend we had a winter storm named after me come through Atlanta. Two weeks later, Buddy proposed. On June 5th, we got married and it was THE BEST ceremony I could have ever dreamed of. I bawled my face off, and laughed, and it was just insanely beautiful.

We honeymooned in Miami and talked about how we didn’t want to wait at all for babies, and we started praying for God to bless us in this. And boy, did He! I saw those pink lines on July 4th, and it was unreal!!!

Now I sit here, with this baby bump, getting my heart ready for Christmas, and I can’t help but think… God did it again. He gave me the best year. This one will be hard to beat, but something tells me meeting my daughter in 2018 and seeing Buddy be her daddy will just be the best, yet again. I get to read the Word to her and sing praises while she’s trapped in here ūüėČ and it’s such an honor to impart what I can and be entrusted with this precious gift. I couldn’t dream of complaining about any little thing, and I am looking forward to the love and sacrifice this next year will require, because I know Someone who modeled it perfectly. He’s guiding us on, from glory to glory.

DAILY DEVOS RETURN…

As you all know, the #ATLdevo began back in September of 2014, and ran until about August 2015. Every single day, I made it a discipline to write what I was learning with Jesus, and posted it ONLINE, and not only that, but delivered every morning to the inboxes of 80+ people. NO PRESSURE!

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The feedback was incredible. Just incredible. Let me quote some of the emails/texts/messages I’ve gotten throughout this year of writing…

“We, your devo followers, are so thankful you said yes. I know you’re growing from it and it’s a big encouragement.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for your obedience in doing this devotional. This devotional continues to raise me out of so many heart-heavy situations.”

“I look forward to these devotions every day! Thank you for your heart! It is making a difference in my life! Thank you for your obedience!”

“Oh my goodness, you don’t know how your messages speak to me. The last couple of ones I find myself crying and asking God for more of Him!”

“Very thankful for your ministry here. It’s been too long since I journaled about the goodness of the Father and too long since I’ve been still and quiet early in the day. Love the prompts as well! Keep serving faithfully as you are!”

“Thank you for your inspiration and interaction with daily verses and uplifting words. Your obedience to God is one of the many gifts He’s given. You are a treasure to those of us receiving them.”

“Thank you for your daily devotionals. Really great stuff and God inspired.”

“I have been going back and reading the Phylla House devos: SO GOOD! I might use them next year for my class :D”

“Thank you Helena, for allowing God to use you in our lives! Today’s devo… it was exactly what I needed.”

“Your devos are amazing and I can hear your voice as I read them! So great! Thank you for blessing me and so many others with them already!!!”

These are quotes in reaction to the devos I wrote in 2014 to 2015. I picked 100 of those devotionals and published them in a book! You can buy that book here!

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Why am I charging for this book? Well… I have 80+ people who got it for free, one page at a time, via email and reading the Phylla House blog where the devos¬†were originally hosted. The subscribers¬†actually got more than that, because some of the devotionals didn’t make it into the book. After that, I prayed hard and pulled the devos¬†from the blog, edited them fiercely, and published them in tangible form.

The cool announcement is that I’M DOING IT AGAIN!!! Fresh devos, page by page, delivered to your inbox, free as birds,¬†imperfect¬†¬†probably,¬†full of late-night/early-morning Love.¬†¬†You can subscribe to the Phylla House blog and¬†see it¬†unveil one page at a time, as God teaches me over the next year. How does that sound?

And then, God willing, at the end of¬†2016, I’ll revise the devos and publish them in book form once more, in time for you to gift them to your friends and family, having “already read it” if you know what I mean ūüėČ

I hope you’ll come along with me.

The journey starts again on January 6th, 2016.

Much love,

Helena

Emotional Abuse and Neglect

November 13th. It would have been my 7 year wedding anniversary this week, ya know, had it not been for the divorce.

I chopped my hair off, my beautiful long, blond hair and I felt so free!¬†Of course, I asked his opinion many times, and he approved. I wouldn’t have cut my hair had my husband not approved! I thought that the change would make me more noticeable, more attractive. I wanted to be attractive, so he would look at me. I just wanted him to really look at me, instead of the computer screen he was so drawn to. I remember meticulously curling my hair, and walking into the bedroom to show him. He was at his computer, and he turned for half a second and looked¬†back at the screen before he mumbled “looks good” and kept clicking. I felt a wave of shame wash over me. My eyes teared up. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Nothing I did was good enough to beat the screen. All that clicking wasn’t just for the games, but also for pornography. I never knew what he was really looking at.

Attention and conversation. How demanding, right? I wanted to be in relationship with the person I had¬† married. I felt ignored and unseen. I felt helpless, angry. I didn’t know how to express it. I was 21, and I didn’t want to be a nag.

I had an alcoholic college¬†boyfriend call me a “bitch” once. Yeah, I typed it. It hurt so much to hear that word that I told myself I would never nag again, and that I would especially never argue with a drunk man who wants the bathroom door CLOSED while he’s puking. I thought he needed some air. My bad. Don’t even get me started on alcoholism. I’ve dated 2 alcoholics and I’d like to say that’s 2 too many. Nothing like¬†having to drive his truck home¬†every single time¬†we went out in public, because Chugga Chugga couldn’t stop, and then cleaning up his puke in the bathroom because Chugga Chugga couldn’t handle his liquor. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. You’d think those were easy breakups, but they weren’t. I loved their families, loved their mamas. Good hearted men who loved me dearly. They just loved drinking a little bit more.

I’m sure I didn’t look thrilled day-to-day. I’m sure my tears got super old. Ew. What a drag! I’m sure my attempts to talk through it all were just SO draining to him. SO draining that he would say it felt like “cutting his chest open with a knife” every time I brought THAT up. Super. Guilt. Bottle it up. Never bring it up again.

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I found out how crippling and painful it¬†was to marry someone who was addicted. Someone who valued a “THING” over their spouse, and any THING over Jesus. It was painful to watch the person you love the most waste their life and hurt themselves. I didn’t want to have children, and yet I wanted them so I could have someone to look at me and see me. Wow, right?

This is how the divorce started. This.

I daresay many divorces start like this. One person feels unwanted, over and over. They go looking for attention, for affection. Rejection leads to adultery. The opposite of the gospel, really. The very thing two people swear to one another at the altar, to be there for each other. Broken vows left and right, man.

BUT GOD… has shown me fantastic, healthy marriages. Men who are powerful leaders, making Spirit-led decisions, praying over their families, and boasting on how hot their wives are. They are the flower-pickers, the ones who hold the woman when she cries instead of telling her to stop. Men who are not perfect, but their priorities are right. To honor and cherish their spouse, to be home for the family, and to be present, devoted. Oh and these men are praised, let me tell you. Their wives go on and on about how wonderful, handsome, godly they are. Incredible fathers. Fantastic lovers, when the ladies are giving TMI! Oh, what a gift. My favorite person. My great love.

I believe firmly that it takes a change of heart to cause a behavioral change. God has to move in the heart. God has to break the chains of addiction, of fear, of rejection. God has to be sufficient. Idols have to be laid down. And grace has to abound. The ones who love us the most will fail us miserably from time to time, and that’s no surprise. But the ones who truly love cannot, cannot, CANNOT think that emotional abuse and neglect are acceptable behaviors. Women have to stand up against it, as do men.

Ladies, don’t marry the little boy who ignores you.

Men, don’t marry the little girl who turns away your affection.

Wait for people who love you well. Commit, then. And if you’re in a marriage like this, frozen cold like Elsa’s castle, feeling all alone in your frosty attentionless and sexless wonderland, I’m so sorry. Get help. Talk to mentors. Talk to a counselor. Talk to JESUS. Talk. Talk before you cheat. Talk before you leave. People CAN change, but they have to want to. That’s where Holy Spirit can come in and do His job.

I pray a blessing over people who are dating, that they have the discernment to lay down communication and their emotional needs out on the table before marriage. That they understand mutually how important this is. I pray a blessing over marriages that are struggling, that God will open up eyes and ears and hearts to LOVE. That those addictions have to go, in Jesus’ name. That sufficiency will be found in Christ, so that we can love other people well. I pray for the divorces that are about to happen and I intercede, Jesus, for the ones who are hurting SO much. If emotional abuse bruised, they’d be purple and black. Jesus, have mercy on their broken hearts. Be near to them. Bring them renewed hope.

Started From The Bottom Now We Here

We look at stories of people who started from scratch, and we admire them so.

Self-starters! Visionaries! The world applauds their determination to succeed against all odds, and honestly, I can relate a little bit. When I moved to America, we sure didn’t have much. When I first filed my FAFSA, which is the form you fill out for college financial aid, the government expected my family to be able to contribute $0 to my college expenses. That was accurate. I studied and I worked, received scholarships and grants, and a few loans. I came out with an honors diploma. Cue celebratory rap song.

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Not only do we celebrate this kind of hard path, we look down on the other one… you know… when people are given stuff by their parents. We call them spoiled. We question their appreciation for what they have, because well… they didn’t “earn” it, but instead they were given these things. And we judge them. We judge them, even though they have to steward what they’re given with the same amount of responsibility as anybody else who comes to own those belongings. When you own a car, whether you bought it or not, you have to take care of it. You still have to understand what you have, and know how to manage it. And if you don’t manage it well, soon enough you’ll be a pedestrian again, right?

The world makes life about “earning” stuff. People both ignore and celebrate the orphans who have no parents and no inheritance… the orphans of the orphans of the orphans…. and all the while, all those orphans want to build is an inheritance. They want to build security for themselves and for the next generation. They ultimately hope that their kid will be judged and spoiled, a child who has an inheritance, who has an easier path… a child who doesn’t have to start from the bottom of the pit and claw their way up.

We should take a long, hard look at our theology, then, if we judge the children of families and we admire the disadvantaged, but only when they manage to break the mold. We judge the disadvantaged when they fill our prisons, when they prostitute themselves, and when they become addicted. We don’t celebrate their predictable outcomes, do we? We don’t take even a moment to pity them, to put ourselves in their shoes, to adopt them, or to visit them and tell them of a Family they can belong to. I promise you it’s the most humbling thing to befriend a prostitute and hug them, and tell them how worthy they are of love. I promise it’s life-changing to go to a prison and look into the eyes of the condemned, and tell them about a Guy who did away with condemnation. That’s the kind of thing, though, that only children of God can do. No self-starters get these kinds of perks. We have to lay ourselves down to become His children. And then He begins to blow our minds with what it looks like to belong to Him.

All this hit me while I was thinking about inheritance. What does it look like to have God as my Father, truly? What does it look like to steward the inheritance He gives me, aka gifts I DID NOT HAVE TO EARN?! I have so many of those, you guys. It’s ridiculous. And the funny thing is that I TOTALLY DESERVE THESE THINGS. You read that right. It’s no typo.

I deserve what the Father gives me because I’m His kid. You ever give your kid an ice cream cone and send them on a whole “I DO NOT DESERVE YOUR LOVE VIA ICE CREAM CONE!” rant? Nope. Not even a little bit. Kids will just say yes and more, and happily dig into it. And are we not called to be childlike? I think this is what it is. To stop beating ourselves up with the gospel of false humility, to stop questioning so much that we are worthy of His love, because obviously we are worth dying over and He says we belong to Him. We are so very worthy, in ways we may never understand, but that’s okay. We are loved and we are His. And because of that, we have an inheritance, and we deserve one. Once we get over these things, we can move on to thinking of how in the WORLD we’ll actually steward this thing properly.

What does it look like to open our hands and say “Okay, let’s do this” and accept something bigger than ourselves, given to us to love and take care of? I’m learning.

I’m learning how to steward hearts. Jesus gave me keys to a whole bunch of hearts. I have access to the deep parts of so many people. It’s like a counselor and a friend and a sister, all mashed up into one. I have keys like that. I get to love so many women, truly love them. I get calls and texts and messages from total strangers, and once we get on the phone, I ask “Okay, how did you hear about me?!” and hear their various responses. Then I hear their hearts. I hear bits of their stories. I ask how I can serve them. I give them my best gold nuggets of wisdom, unafraid of their reactions haha. And I am blessed, BLESSED to get to pray with them. Sometimes we walk through inner healing. Sometimes they forgive people while on the phone with me! Can you just imagine that kind of breakthrough! Tears, y’all. Lies coming off. Trust issues addressed. Anger shoved aside. Prophecy and revelation for their lives. THEIR HEARTS ARE TREASURES and I get to step into them! The honor is heavenly. If you want to get a call, you know you better just ask right now!

I’m learning how to love deep and wide the man of God in my life. He’s a TREASURE. We’ve both had birthdays in the past couple of weeks, and it was the sweetest thing to plan a fun date and buy him gifts, and receive his sweet gifts. He gives great gifts, just like his Father in Heaven.

What got m1240504_10101870265764450_579034297_ne on this inheritance roll, though, was this season of graduation of my first year of ministry school, and the opportunity I’ve been given to step into leadership of a nonprofit widows and orphans ministry. I get to be their Executive Director, and they’ve been going as a nonprofit for 7 years. That’s a huge inheritance, fam. I see God honoring my faithfulness to step into a learning season, and then giving me this giant graduation present of loving on Ugandan widows and orphans and reminding them how incredibly WORTHY they are. They are His Pearls, and my new sisters and jjajjas and kiddos. I have so much family now, and I love them. It blows my mind that Jesus trusts me with them, but He totally does. He’s like “SURPRISE!!” and His face is so full of excitement, and His eyes dance over me, watching my joy rise to meet His, my awareness coming in to fully absorb the fresh heavenly reality of a new piece of my inheritance. I had left a piece of my heart in Uganda, and now I realize it was a seed. It has grown!

And I forgot all about my orphan days. I forgot that I started from the bottom, and now I’m here. I forgot that I put in any kind of work, because my Father is the best Father, and He gives me extravagant gifts, like hearts and sunrises and nations. He walks me across bridges I’ve never been, and tells me secrets. He takes me up high on hot-air balloon rides, and to exquisite gardens. He clothes me with dignity and strength. And I tell you, I promise you, I never ever have to work for this kind of inheritance. Not for a minute do I need to worry, or labor, or behave as to earn anything. It just is mine because I have the Family name.¬† And it’s yours, I tell you.

On the sidenote of service: knowing who you are in Christ makes you better at serving, because it revolutionizes service. Jesus was King AND washed feet. He did it from utmost royalty, even the most humble of acts of love. That…… that’s the example. That’s not a self-starter, but a servant-hearted Son. Nothing was beneath Him. He didn’t HAVE to, but chose to. He could look people in the eyes and truly love them. That’s the heritage of a really really good Father.

What has He given you? With what piece of the Kingdom have you been entrusted?

Don’t buy the lie for a second that you have to build it yourself, earn it yourself, or keep it yourself. You can work hard, you can appreciate, and you can steward, but you too will forget that you ever started from the bottom.¬† You know how to receive and how to give. You know how to release gifts back to the Father, and know He’s trustworthy to keep them for you. You are His beloved. You are His chosen. You are favored. Oh, and you are trustworthy with the treasures that are most precious to the Father’s heart.

4 Dysfunctional Dating Personalities

I must admit that in the past I’ve done wrong all the things I’m about to call out. I was selfish, and I didn’t know myself very well. I created parasitic relationships. I was insecure. I say “was” because along the way I learned a few things. You’re here already, so have a seat. You’ll probably nod along. I’ll try to be direct. Here are 4 types of dysfunctional dating personalities.

1. Mirrors

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“It’s like you’re my mirror, my mirror staring back at me.” -Justin Timberlake

I call them mirrors because these people are looking for only themselves in another person. Their traits, their strengths, and their weaknesses. They have grace only for familiar weaknesses, and appreciation for only their kind of strengths. They want to look at someone and feel like they’re looking in the mirror.

The lie they believe is that dating themselves would be the easiest thing, because they understand themselves. They want to trust and they can only trust themselves. They’re afraid of the unknown. They are afraid of unpredictability. They are afraid of the unfamiliar. They’ve probably been 100% burned by someone they trusted before, and now they’re out looking for themselves.

The thing about mirrors, though, is that you miss out on having a real counterpart, someone who loves you through the differences and whose strengths compliment yours. Breaking out of this mirror dating strategy looks a lot like laying down expectations and digging deep into humility. Look at your best friends and tell me how they’re different from you, and yet are still your best friends. Having major things in common is absolutely necessary, but don’t let fear or trust issues become the compass for your choices.

Mirror relationships miss out on the gospel because they are oftentimes judgmental. Mirrors are quick to cut a relationship the minute they realize they’re not dating themselves… that’s insecurity playing out like judgment.

I learned not to be a mirror, because I need someone who sees the world slightly differently than I do, yet loves me enough to come and sit by me and show me, and want to know what I see. I learned that brave communication is the key to accessing the reward of doing life with a different person. If we fail to communicate with courage, to voice our needs, we end up resenting that person for not seeing it the way we do. We assume the permanent role of being misunderstood, which is a victim mentality, and we miss out on the flexibility of love. Love can stretch around and see things from multiple angles. Love can give grace in the middle of disagreement. Dating someone who would be exactly me in another body would not lessen conflict, it’d probably increase it, because I’d expect that person to understand more about me with less information. It’s backwards. It’s lazy love. It’s self-seeking, literally. You should desire to look into someone else’s eyes and see them for who they are, not simply compare them to your likeness.

If you’re in a relationship with a mirror, you’ll feel like a show dog. They will run you through their hoops, their obstacle courses, and at the end of the day, you’re still on a trial period. You don’t feel secure in those relationships, because they’re constantly judging you, comparing you, and well.. you’re gonna be disappointing because you’re not their long-lost twin. If you let their disappointment (which actually stems from their own fear of failure due to previous failure) seep into YOUR heart, you’ll start to feel like you don’t measure up. That is not true. You are yourself, and you were never meant to be just like them. You are you, beautifully. You are worth the risk of being loved for who you are. If that person cannot appreciate who you are, you should break up with them. Do it quickly, and don’t look back. They do not currently have the ability to love you well, because they are only looking for themselves. Gather your courage and remember that you’re brave enough to love someone through their differences. That’ll come in handy when you’re dating someone who is enamored by YOU and not their traumatized sense of preservation. Pray for their healing, but for the love of God, get out of the toxic relationship.

2. Blankets

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“If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world?” -Snow Patrol

Look, blankets are not the worst. Lots of blankets actually get married and stay married. But the thing about the blankets: they’re looking for comfort. They’ll date the friend and marry the friend, and truly they’re not feeling on the inside what they know they should be feeling. But they are so, so comfy that they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to hurt anybody. They don’t know who they would be without that friend of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 plus years in their lives, with due reason. They love that person, just in a “hug your grandma” kind of way. Aww. It’s¬†super tragic. The friend zone gone wrong.

The lie that they believe is “there will not be someone else who will feel this familiar, who will love me for me, who will know me this well, and who will let me know them fully” and they sit there with this tangible option of comfort versus the invisible risk of the ominous, fiery “what if” in the uncertain future. This is why a lot of blankets do get married. They value the relationship for what it is, even if it is completely lukewarm, and they choose it. I’m sure some of¬†these semi-arranged marriages do thrive, but I believe you should question your thinking during DATING if you’re not feeling anything beyond friendly love. I think it’s deceptive to someone to pretend you have passionate feelings for them. It’s a lie. When you’re married, you stay married. You kindle the fire. I’m writing this about DATING, k? Cool.

Blankets miss out on the opportunity of meeting someone who exhilarates them. It’s the crazy-in-love thing. Whether or not that fades is irrelevant. It should be there at least at first! The romantic in me demands the spark, the butterflies, the stuttering, the lingering on the phone unable to hang up, the swoon when that person kisses your cheek, and the fire that burns up inside when they look into your eyes and you know they are thinking about how much they love you. Blankets chance missing that, and I think that’s just crazy. Love is All-consuming Fire, by definition. God embodies both.

I see blanket relationships missing out on the gospel when it comes to being lukewarm. Often, these two people don’t go out of their way to express their love to each other. It’s a comfort zone, which isn’t unbiblical but it can hinder the zeal that could be there. It’s also a control and trust issue thing going on. Blankets think they are expert statisticians, that they know their odds are harsh. They may not believe God has the best for them and the person they’re dating.

I learned not to desire a blanket relationship when I realized how much pain it can create.¬†Blankets are in my opinion the hardest breakups because they feel like you have to get out of the warmest bed to the coldest room, on a rainy morning, with the option of sleeping in, and instead you sit up, put your feet on the floor, and walk away from the comfort zone. It’s excruciating. I wish those on no one. But can I tell you how glad I am right now that I’m not in a blanket relationship? SO glad.

The key in overcoming these kinds of relationships is to have blind trust in the goodness of God, and also to place a high value on honesty.¬†You might think you’re avoiding pain by staying in, when really you’re being dishonest with that person every single day by not loving them romantically. When that truth rises out, it hurts a different kind of pain. I’m not saying to be fully led by feelings, but you are not a robot! If you’re not feeling romantically drawn in, be honest and end it. Set that person free to experience a real two-way street relationship.

If you’re in a relationship with a blanket, you might feel unappreciated and overlooked. You’re not being pursued much. Romantic gestures might look forced. It’s the classic case of being taken for granted, mostly because… well… you’re being taken for granted. You might be feeling the fire yourself, but you notice the gap between your ideal and what you have. It might be great to ask some hard questions and to communicate what you need. Along the lines of “hey, I feel like we are so comfortable together, and I’d like to keep the fire alive. What are some ways you can think of that we can express passion to each other?” and TALK. TAAAALK. If you don’t talk about it and you break up with a blanket, you’re gonna hate me and yourself and everything. This is not an easy breakup. You’ll need to lean heavy on the Lord (as always) and dig deep into His Word. Prayer turns up like 15 notches. Surround yourself with friends and wisdom. All is well that ends well and I promise you have got to let go of mediocre to experience greatness. Good is the enemy of best. You are so so so worthy of passion, and you should make room for it.

3. Empty Cups

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“I don’t want no scrub, a scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me, hanging out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride, trying to holler at me.” -TLC

At the risk of sounding horribly harsh, let’s talk about empty cups.

Empty cups don’t have anything to offer you, but they still think they should be dating you. You have to fill them up and hold them up. Everything that would be of benefit in the relationship would be coming from one side, while the other is seeking validation, affirmation, status, and a way to avoid their own issues just a little bit longer. Empty cups put a high value on how they feel for you, and a very low value on pretty much everything else that is important, like faith, distance, financial health, overall health, life goals, accountability, family, and committed decisions like parenting, housing, and attempting to make some long-term decisions. This sounds AWFUL but you would not believe how many people are not in a healthy place emotionally to date¬†but are still trying to date, in the middle of their broken places when they should be seeking Truth and wisdom and healing. These people are co-dependent. They don’t know what to do with themselves if their phone isn’t buzzing, because they don’t quite know how to access Jesus for a relationship. They are not permanently stuck that way, but they MUST go through healing. We have all been empty cups at one point, and we know that the best thing that can happen is being released so that we can lean on Jesus without a distraction or alternate source of comfort.

The lie they believe is that they need to lean on somebody else (and not 100% on Jesus) to give them their daily boost of “I am significant.” They do not fully know who they are in Christ, nor what Jesus does for them. Odds are, they are disconnected from the voice of God. Maybe it’s because of a stronghold, or just that they haven’t been taught how to access Jesus for themselves. This kind of love is like a vacuum, not an overflow. They’ll be looking to receive. They speak loftily without making any action to back up their words. They talk big game about their feelings, but they shy away from commitment and have no means whatsoever to actually commit! These relationships are so very unhealthy. These are breeding grounds for resentment and abuse of various forms.

Empty cups miss out on the opportunity of experiencing intimacy with God, because they’re afraid of intimacy with God. This might stem from parental wounds, or abuse, or hurt from a previous relationship. They for some reason feel separated from God, even though the Word of God says there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God. And because they need the love of God (we all desperately, desperately do), they’re gonna try to get it from a person. They want to be filled up. They want someone to pour joy and peace and love and patience into them, in an overflowing fashion. This is the role of the Holy Spirit within us. These are the fruits of intimacy with God, not with people. There is no suitable substitute for the love of God.

Empty cups miss out on the gospel because they struggle to believe it for themselves. They see other people enjoying the freedom and identity of Christ, but don’t quite know how to access that. They think there’s something wrong with being single, because they are not fully content with Christ alone.

I learned not to be an empty cup when I had no choice but to be a single empty cup haha. At first it was excruciating, but the lonely times with Jesus got sweeter and sweeter. Sometimes I’d get pizza and pepsi, and go to the dock to watch the sunset with Jesus. Sometimes I’d go hike a mountain or run in the trails. I’d sit and paint, and write, and color with markers. I would read out loud “Streams in the Desert” to Jesus in the morning, watching the sunrise. Sometimes I’d just cry in my car, and that was okay too! I started to understand what it meant to say “apart from You I have no good thing” and “there’s nothing on earth I desire beside You” and I became wildly independent. I realized that my love is independent, that I can love people and not require an ounce of it back. Forgiving people who didn’t love me well or at all. Loving my enemies. At the end of the process, I was filled to the brim.

Being an empty cup is not a permanent state, but dating when you feel this way or dating someone who feels this way is a TERRIBLE idea. The key in overcoming? Get healing. Get your time with the Lord, and that might mean you need to set a time frame and just be SINGLE during that time, by choice. Figure out your non-negotiables. Ask Him who you are. Ask Him to reveal His love for you. Take a sober look at your life, the different parts of it. Change what needs to change. Commit to what is important to you.

If you are dating an empty cup, you might feel the need to stay with them because you hate the idea of being yet another thing that falls apart in their life, BUT you need to pray and ask the Lord if you’re in the way of their healing. You might be a distraction. They need a counselor, a friend, a mentor. You need a break from all the hot mess drama. You might realize you don’t have 99 problems, you just have one. I say back away, but you do you, boo boo.

4. Reachers

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“I wish that I could be like the cool kids, ’cause all the cool kids they seem to fit in.” -Echosmith¬†

One of the tv shows that I used to indulge (I watched every single episode) is How I Met Your Mother. It isn’t PG and they make tasteless sexual jokes. But I watched it for the puns, the Star Wars references, the Canadian Robin Sparkles, the woo girls, and the heavy-metal music wrestling scenes. SO, in this show they brought up a theory that in every relationship there is a Reacher and a Settler… so someone is dating outside of their league, while the other is dating below their league. I disagree. HOWEVER, some people firmly believe they are the perpetual reacher. They don’t consider themselves to be worthy, which looks a lot like the empty cup, but a little different. Reachers aren’t empty, and they’re not looking for comfort. The lie they sincerely believe is that they are 100% out of their league, which sets the tone for an imbalance that plays out through the whole relationship.

Sidenote: I have SO been the reacher, as in I thought I was dating outside of my league. In the past, I dated a “cool kid” and for the life of me I could not figure out what he saw in me. The entire time that relationship lasted, I felt very uncomfortable, very unfit. I felt like the Princess Diaries, a commoner in royal settings. It made for a LOT of awkward interactions, second-guessing everything I said and trying too hard to attain a standard I made up for myself. I felt like the oddball around his cool friends, and I was just not trendy enough. I was hurt when that relationship ended, but GEEZ, I also felt SO relieved. I didn’t have to try to fit with the stuffy, superficial cool kids anymore. I could just eat a pizza with my hands, not worry if it was vegan or gluten-free or WHATEVER. I didn’t have to sit through another British tv show that bored me to tears. I could wear ripped jeans again and not feel like a hobo. I could say “I have never heard of that band” and smile for days.

With all that said, being the reacher is a full-time job. Constantly trying to adjust, to attain the standard, to fit in as much as possible, to say the right thing, the witty thing, to not be too quiet or too loud. Ew!

Reachers miss out on feeling like they’re enough and wonderful, just for who they are. They are constantly comparing themselves and worrying way too much about people’s opinions of them. It’s a performance, the kind that you know you haven’t practiced enough for and it makes you extra sweaty to think you’re probably gonna mess it up somehow. You’re expecting failure, and pit stains, expecting that person to wake up one day and see you for who you really are, and walk away. Being a reacher is not healthy. It’s not accurate.

Reachers miss the gospel because they don’t see their own value in God’s eyes. Identity in Christ. There are no leagues. There is, though, a thing called confidence. It’s important. I’ve met people who at first don’t catch your eye, but then they swoop in with their personality and captivate the room. I’ve met people who are so endearing that you can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy when you’re around them. You can’t tell me that if they dated an “attractive” or “affluent” person that they’d be the reacher? Nah. Neither are reachers. You have two people who are fascinated by each other. The gospel declares that Jesus is fascinated by each of us! None of us are peasants hoping to impress Him. He LOVES us. Though we fall short of glory, we have attained it in Him. To think you are less than worthy in any relationship is to miss the application of the gospel.

The key to overcoming the reacher mindset is to remember your God-given worth. If you don’t know it to remember it, then you need to go figure out how awesome you are so that you can come back like “of course you asked me out, way to notice how awesome I am!” and change the game. On the flip side, if you feel uncomfortable and feel like you don’t have the grace to be yourself in that relationship, talk about it and consider breaking up. I think the reacher is the opposite of the blanket. They’re so uncomfortable in their own skin and that discomfort travels through the relationship. It could be a good relationship, were it not for the person feeling so unworthy.

If you’re in a relationship with a reacher, you might be feeling super annoyed or tired of repeating yourself, telling them how great they are and having it go in one ear and out the other. And you might be wanting to date somebody who has more confidence, so that you don’t have to persuade them to believe they are good enough to be loved by you. Be wary not to put that person in uncomfortable situations to “test” them because that’s mean. It’s like taking a non-dancer to a salsa club… so mean! Be kind. If you’re not content in the relationship because that person keeps questioning their worth, you might wanna reconsider that relationship. It’s exhausting, and limiting. Imagine a relationship where both people felt confident of their worth, and celebrated each other? Yeah. Make room for that.

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I’d love your feedback. Did you relate to any of these? You’re awesome, and God is well-pleased with you. ¬†If you’d like to talk about any of this, I will make time for you. Leave a comment with your thoughts ūüôā Also, if you have other suggestions of these kinds of relationships and you want me to write a part 2, leave those in the comments.

Thanks!

A Valentine’s Love Story

If I told you I wasn’t looking, you still wouldn’t get it.

I. Was. Not. Looking.

I wasn’t embittered, just a bit tired. My heart was tired. Not broken, surprisingly. The friend who I had just dated was so kind to be careful with it. He and I are still friends. It’s just this wonderful thing. It had just ended, no lie, a few days prior. One more reason why I wasn’t looking.

As I walked into the orientation room for my first day at the new job, I was ready for a few things. I was prepared for outdated powerpoint presentations, and boring benefits package options. I was ready for safety videos about pathogens and common sense stuff. I knew I’d get my new badge, and that I’d find myself chuckling to myself that it always feels the same, the first day at a new hospital. They always tell you it’s the best place to receive care, because we all just care soooo much. I’ve heard it all. I was ready for this.

I wasn’t ready to get there a little late. I had gotten all done up, red hair in curls, makeup on, cute business casual clothes on (not scrubs, watch out), wore my flats. I was wearing my new peacoat and a long shiny necklace. I chose the glasses that morning, to make myself look sophisticated and maybe a little bit older. Overall, I was ready to endure with poise, ready to smile and nod. I remember praying the whole way up the elevator “God, please don’t let me make a poor impression of Your name because of that traffic jam… please.” and I walked in, and saw a beautiful thing: a line.

Sigh, THANK GOD! I’m not late, they’re still registering.

Turns out the whole orientation got pushed back, making me early. SCORE!

I signed in and was informed that there was pretty much just one chair, on the front row, or I could wait as someone was retrieving more chairs from another room. They handed me a fancy hospital logo water bottle stuffed full knick knacks, and sent me on my way.

I happily skipped to the only seat, right in the front, where I would have willingly chosen to sit if the room had been empty. I was going to be sitting between a cute older black lady and some man with broad shoulders and a really nice shirt. The back of his head was handsome.

I sat down and I was a little bit mortified. I thought “oh great, he must be a cute doctor. No ring… must not be wearing his ring, or he has a nice fianc√© somewhere. Perfectly trimmed beard. Red jacket. He brought his own leather folder? His own nice gel pen? His own reusable travel coffee cup? Yeah, he must definitely be a doctor. I will not even look at him, he is too handsome. Let me talk to the cute lady beside me and completely ignore him.”

And that’s what I did, or tried to do. I chatted with the lady next to me, and I found myself noticing little things about him, like how he sat so still and didn’t jitter at all, like a man who is confident of himself. I noticed there was a light in his eyes… what color were they? Green? Hazel? I couldn’t tell.

I opened up my water bottle to dig through the goodies. I found a pen, a badge holder, a pamphlet about being new, and attached to the bottle itself was a little folded-up paper. I carefully unfolded it and chuckled. I squinted to read what I quickly realized to be instructions for the water bottle. In four languages! It was hilarious.

Then I heard his voice, as he leaned toward me and quietly asked me, “are… those… instructions?… For the water bottle?” and I could see him smirking in disbelief.

Game over.

I know I hit him with a few of my cheesy jokes, something about getting to learn some new languages, and how it was a complex water bottle that needed instructions. My sarcasm was flying out, and it was being well-received. Understatement of the century. He was turning purple, trying to stifle his laughter. On a Monday, just before 8am, and he was wiping tears away from the corners of his eyes, laughing.

“I’m Helena,” I said, as I smiled through the rush going on in my mind.

“I’m Buddy, nice to meet you.”

Buddy? Is his name really Buddy? I never saw his name badge, so I figured I’d never know.

The banter went on through the whole orientation, approximately four hours of ridiculous comments thrown back and forth, through every cheesy video, powerpoint, and benefit presentation. To the point that we were joking around about being each other’s beneficiaries in case of accidental death and dismemberment. At one point, we looked up to find a lady standing in front of us, with her hand out to collect a form that neither of us filled out. We’d been laughing. Oops. We quickly filled out our papers, chastising each other for getting in trouble. I remember leaving my badge visibly on the table, so that he could see my full name. He did. I didn’t see or hear his last name.

Around noon or so, we had to move to another room so that we could complete some computer training modules. As we stood in line and got separated with a new seating order, I knew it was about that time. I may have left my coat behind so that I could go back by that room and retrieve it, just in case. Sure enough, after I’d finished my modules, I got my coat and looked at him as he looked up at me.

“Bye, nice to meet you, see you later!” and I turned around and walked out.

I pushed the button for the elevator, got in, hung around the lobby to get a sandwich from the snack bar, then I got in my car. I wondered if I’d ever see him again.

I assumed it wouldn’t but I secretly hoped it would. It was so nice to laugh like that. It was the kind of connection I have with my better friends. I had no way of looking him up, and I guess that was perfect.

Have you figured out the obvious ending? Because he and I have been dating.

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Yeah, he looked me up. He found me. He messaged me, told me he had to talk to me again and asked to keep in contact with me. I found out later that week that he loves Jesus. That week, we went on our first date, and he came with me to Bethel Atlanta. I ended up meeting his family. We’ve been going on dates every weekend, hiked a couple of mountains. And it’s the weirdest thing to be dating someone who is ready, in every sense of the word, to be in a relationship. He wants what I want. He’s in the same place in life. He really loves Jesus, have I mentioned that? We know how to hang out and do nothing, and it’s the best kind of nothing. It’s my favorite nothing to do, just being with him. We spur each other forward, and it’s this crazy Kingdom thing. My heart is full. Happy is scary, but so brave.

And for your inner cynic, who doesn’t believe in Cinderella stories, who doesn’t believe you can just meet someone and it be that incredible… well you’re wrong.

Don’t stop believing that God can put you in that kind of setup, where you’re stuck together and you have no choice but to laugh, no choice but to notice, no choice but to be chased, pursued, and surprised.

It comes when you’re not looking, or so people have always told me. I now believe in the truth of that statement. I wasn’t looking, but hey look… love is here.