Thank You Mays Family.

To the parents who became my closest friends,
            Thank you.
Val and Brian, you were only looking for a nanny when you hired me. I was an 18-year-old, fresh high school graduate, with a background in Children’s Ministry and love for kids. You took a chance on me. Val, you met me at Panera one night after I got off work. You bought me my dinner, you asked me questions, and you let me share my testimony, and life with you. You’ve always been so easy to talk to.
A week later, you invited me into your home. I pulled into your long driveway. It was December, it was cold, and I was concerned about how I would back out and down the hill without ruining your yard (I still find this challenging two years later.) Your bright blue door seemed to welcome me, and as I stepped inside your home for the first time, I felt safe. I took off my shoes, and within seconds I met Lucy Melissa. We bonded quickly. Then, you introduced me to your tiny babe, Leah Jay. She was so small.  She slept in my arms, and rested against me for several hours that day.
I spent the day with your family. I worked hard to prove that I wanted to be a part of your life. Val, you made me feel like I was your best friend. You have this unique skill of making people feel loved and welcomed without even trying. Little did I know, you would actually become one of my best friends. One with whom I’d cry, and laugh with. Who understood me, and loved me even when I was messy. Who made me coffee, set out my favorite water cup, and bought all my favorite snacks just because you loved me. I needed a friend like you. You were a gift from the Lord, and I’m so incredibly blessed that He allowed us to meet.
Then, I met you, Brian. You came home that first night, exhausted from work, but incredibly hospitable to the stranger in your home. You immediately treated me like a little sister. You made me laugh, and teased me. Conversations lasting well past my “quitting time,” and I never regretted staying. You loved people. You cared deeply, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness and advice to this day.
You two hired me that night. And thus, began the beautiful two-year process of becoming a family with a “Sissa.”  I will forever and ever be thankful and praise the Lord I was given this opportunity. You loved me as if I was your own sister, and I deeply treasure that relationship. Thank you for taking care of me, and cherishing me. For serving me.
I love you two.

To the two beautiful little girls who changed me in more ways than one,
            Thank you.

I was with you for three days a week (or more), nine hours a day, for two years, and you taught me so much.
You taught me to be patient.
You taught me to look for the little bugs on the ground, and the birds in the sky (despite my fears) and rejoice.
You taught me to compromise.
You taught me to stand firm in my beliefs…especially, in regards to whether or not you needed another cookie.
You taught me to sing nursery rhymes…900 times a days.
You taught me how to change blow-out diapers in a zoo restroom.
But mostly, you helped teach me how to love deeply, and authentically.
Lucy Melissa, I pray you never lose your sense of logic and empathy. I loved arguing with you, and having deep conversations about the weather, how to bake, and why people feel things the way they do. I love that you love so fiercely, and love talking to people. You talk to anyone and everyone, about everything that’s on your mind. I love your authenticity, and honesty. You’re one of the smartest little ones I know. I often catch you staring off into space, and when I ask you what you’re thinking about, you have a big idea ready to explain to me. I truly believe you’re going to do big things one day. I pray you do them for Jesus. That you’d fall in love with Him and use that big, beautiful, smart brain to know Him even more. I can’t wait to see all that He has for you.
Leah Jay, my sassy queen. You are every bit as smart as your sister, and every bit as sassy as she is logical. When you were a baby I used to play Christian Hip-Hop, and it was the only thing that could calm you down. It’s still your favorite to dance to. You feel so deeply. You are the introvert. Many days you feel like my extra limb, because you’re always at my feet, or in my arms, or sitting on me. You are already nurturing. You change a baby doll’s diaper better than any child I’ve ever met, and you’re always trying to wipe your sister’s face. I pray that you would fall deeply in love with Jesus, and that He would show you how to use all of those big emotions to win people to Him, because He will, and He’s going to show you how to take care of people. Please let Him show you. Because if you do, it’s going to be grand.
Ladies, I’m going to miss our morning dance parties. I loved dancing with you two. I’m going to miss getting your “tiny snacks,” for you…even if you’d only eat half of it before you decided you needed another one. I’m going to miss the cuddling and watching Daniel Tiger. I’m going to miss you falling asleep in my arms, and watching the little smile you get when I kiss your cheeks. The squeezes around my neck, and the blanket nests. The summer days when popsicle juice ran down your chins and I was given sticky kisses. Explaining flower blooms, and cottonwood. Listening for the thunder, and watching the rain. I loved teaching you about Jesus. Truly, not much gave me greater joy than to sing, “For God so Loves the World…” and reading your Storybook Bible with you two. I hope you always love to pray and remember that Jesus loves you.
I’m going to miss the hard too. I’m going to miss sick days and having to bring a change of clothes every day because something will be spilled on me. I’m going to miss talking through tantrums, and working through big emotions. The messes. The screams. Kissing owies. Girls, please remember to use big-girl-words, and always take at least one no-thank-you-bite for Mama and Papa.
I hope you two know how much I loved you…love you. It breaks my heart that my role in your family has to change, but I’m so thankful that I’ll still get to see you, though far less than I once did. I want you to understand how much I adored you, how grateful I was for you, and while I may take care of other babies now, you two will always be the little girls who changed me. I’ll never stop praising God for that sweet life blessing.

 

I love you to the moon and back.
Love, Sissa.

 

 

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Look Up.

I am the first born in my family. I like to say I’m a “leader.” My siblings would say I “nag.” For my own dignity, let’s compromise and say I’m “bossy.” I’m also extremely driven. I love moving forward. I love working hard and seeing the fruit of my labors. I don’t give up quickly. A trait that my mom likes to illustrate by telling the story of how I learned to roller skate.

The house I grew up in had a big grassy hill in the backyard. One day, after getting new roller skates, I strapped them on and took to the hill to learn how to use them. My mom told me I couldn’t learn how to roller skate by going down a hill. I was determined to get it, and prove her wrong. Unsurprisingly, I fell. A lot. But, guess what? I learned how to roller skate going down a hill.

Now, when I’m presented with a challenge, my mom and I will laugh and say, “Alyssa. You can’t learn to roller skate going down a hill,” knowing that I will prove this obstacle wrong. Even if it hurts.

All my life, I’ve pushed for my goals, regardless of what people thought or said. Did words hurt me? Absolutely. But, I always set my eyes on what I’ve wanted, and got it. I started working as soon as I could to pay for a car and independence. I graduated with my first college degree at 18. I’ve taken college level math classes, and science classes. Neither of which I enjoyed. But, I couldn’t let them beat me, so I passed.

As a child, and as a college student this has proved beneficial. School and work has never been easy, but it’s always been conquered.

But, as a Child of God…this has proved most challenging.

It would seem that in regards to this area of my life, I’m a slow learner. The Lord has consistently put me in positions where I can fight, and kick, and work as hard as I’d like, but until He says yes, I stay put. He’s done this in the area of school, career, and relationships. It would seem that all of these things will only happen in His timing, no matter how badly I want them, or what I try to do to speed up the process.

Why? Because, my Heavenly Father does not concern Himself with what will make me most happy, but what will give Him the most glory. I’ve had to realize that I am spoiled. Horribly, and repulsively spoiled by my own ambition.

Waiting on the Lord isn’t easy. It often feels like a balancing act between being okay, and grasping desperately for some shred of hope. Some days, it is hard to even utter the words, “God is enough,” because in the wait, there is a lot of heart wrenching doubts about Him. I’ve doubted that He satisfies. That the Lord remembers me. That He cares about my wait. That He hears my cries. That He wants to bless me.

In the midst of this, at times, agonizing wait, the Lord speaks to me through His Word and in my prayers. Every time I start to dwell on, or whine about, things I’m waiting for, I hear the Lord gently whisper, “Look up, Child. Up. Up.”

I read Genesis 15 this week, and my eyes focused on a couple of phrases. While God is addressing Abram, about His promise for Abram, I couldn’t help but think the Lord was telling me something similar. “Look up, and count the stars…”

“Look to the heavens…”

It is incredibly challenging to see His faithfulness when my eyes are focused on this World’s shortcomings. God didn’t ask Abram, “Well, how old are you and your wife, again?” He didn’t ask to be told all of the problems that seem to stand in the way of the blessing. Instead, He told Abram to look up, and reiterated His promise. And Abram believed the Lord, and He counted him righteous.

“The promises of blessings from God take patient, and steadfast faith as we wait on God.” –Phil Spagnolo.

In Colossians, Paul tells the church, “Set your minds upon the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (3:2-3)

This means, that God has already proved Himself faithful to bless me. He saved me. So, even if I never get what I’m (sometimes not) so patiently waiting for here on earth, He has already done more abundantly than I could think to ask.

It is better to wait on the Lord than to go through the agony of pushing for our own way. Those of us who wait, may wait for forever, and it will mean all glory to God. He is better than anything we may be waiting on, and hoping for, here on Earth. So, we must look up.

“My soul, wait in silence for God only,

For my hope is from Him.”

Psalm 62:5

Plain Jayne

My middle name is Jayne. I have brown hair that isn’t curly, but it definitely isn’t straight, and it’s not even always wavy. Most days it does what it wants because I’m no match for its stubbornness, and I’ve learned not to fight a battle I can’t win. I have light blue, narrow eyes. I’m five feet, six inches tall.  I wear the same three cardigans at least five days out of the week, and the same two pairs of jeans. I have a favorite pair of boots and I’ve worn them every single day since I opened them on Christmas morning.

I am literally a “plain Jayne.”

When I was five-years-old I learned what the word “fat” meant. I stood outside my family’s tiny duplex, barefoot in the bright green grass my dad had taken such good care of, and listened to my friend’s cousin talk about how he would never date this girl he knew because, “she’s fat.” I remember being thoroughly confused by this statement because as far as I was concerned every person was beautiful (except for the bad guys I saw on that Cop show my dad watched,) and their size had nothing to do with it.  When I asked them what being fat meant, they said, “Fat people are ugly! No one likes fat girls.”

Before that day, I genuinely did not understand that being bigger equated to being less beautiful. After that conversation, my eyes were opened and I started seeing that way the world defined beauty was completely different than I previously thought. Society taught me that anything outside of their norms was not beautiful, and all of a sudden, I was terrified of being “fat.”

I would think, “What if people don’t love me?”

That question haunts me to this day.

By ten-years-old, I was convinced I was the fattest ten-year-old alive. Every single one of my friends were thin, athletic, and while I was not their size, I was far from fat. I couldn’t wear the same clothes as them because I was bigger. By ten-years-old I was five feet tall and they were still barely the size of 4th graders. I remember thinking every day that they were beautiful and I just existed. In addition to this, the boys all liked them more than me.

“Who wants to be with a girl that’s taller than them?”

In sixth grade, I gained a tremendous amount of weight. My life was turned upside down as my parents struggled in their marriage, my mom found out she was pregnant with my sister, and we moved out of my childhood home to live with my grandmother.

By the end of sixth grade, I was round, awkward, and I made the poor decision to chop my hair off into the worst bob in the history of haircuts. It framed my chunky face and accentuated the extra weight I carried. Every morning I would look in the mirror and tell myself, “You are not loveable. You are not beautiful. You are fat.”

Even more haunting is that a young man in my class, screamed at me one day calling me a, “fat ass,” confirming every one of my worst fears. I was fat. I was not beautiful and I was unlovable according to the world.

Little did I know I would grow an extra three inches to be the height I am now, and my body would use the extra weight I carried. I grew my hair out long. I could run a mile in eight minutes; I was strong. I gained friends. I was excelling in school. Guys took notice of me for the first time in my life. I had people’s attention, and they loved me.

At sixteen, I stepped on the scale every day for validation. Every day it told me what I wanted…until, one day it didn’t. The light switch in my brain turned off. The thought of starting my day left me weepy and anxious because I resented getting dressed. I covered my face with makeup, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. When I stood in front of a mirror, I couldn’t walk away until I pointed out every single flaw. My eyes, like a microscope on my body, zeroed in on each imperfection. On some days, I was nicer to myself and would only pick one thing to hate, but still I heard the voice of my classmate, even two years later.

“Fat ass”.

Other days I would fall into a ball on the floor of my bedroom and cry so hard I’d choke on my own sobs. Digging my hands into the threads on the carpet, and wonder why. Why couldn’t I be beautiful? Why couldn’t I be loved?

“Unlovable. Unworthy. Not wanted.”

Soon, those thoughts became comfortable. Self-hatred became a normal part of who I was and I retracted from people.

“Who’d love a shy fat girl who doesn’t even like herself?”

Hating what made me intrinsically me, was easy after a short time. The voice of hatred rang loud and sharp in my ears constantly, and eventually I accepted what I heard as truth. I walked around for a year just accepting those harsh comments as truth before a friend called me out.

I told her, that I didn’t think this guy I liked would ever like me because I wasn’t pretty or thin enough.

She questioned me boldly, “Do you really think that’s true or do you just think that?”

To me, it was all the same.

The simple question rocked my world. Not once did I consider that my own thoughts may be traitorous. This caused me to ask myself, “Why would I lie to myself?”  Or better yet, “Why would I be so hostile toward myself?”

During this time, I was getting over a heart-wrenching break up with a boy I truly believed I was going to marry. While we were together, I allowed him to give me my identity and purpose. I was happy when he was happy, and when he wasn’t, I fell apart. My life became maintaining his emotions. So, when it ended, I was left to pick of the pieces of my identity and I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I was lost.

I became a shell of a human. I would wake up, cry, and pull myself together long enough to talk to my family. Talking to people outside of my immediate family proved too challenging, and I stopped responding to texts, invites or calls. Every day, I would pull my brown hair, that isn’t curly or straight, into a bun. I tried to change the color of my hair four times, but nothing made me happy. I took no pride in the clothes I wore because I hated my body. When I’d brush my teeth, I tried desperately not to make eye contact with myself, because if I did, I’d have to listen to that familiar cruel voice that was louder than ever.

It took me two years to look myself in the eyes again, and see that my life had purpose. I spent my time choosing to believe that my identity wasn’t something as miniscule as my physical traits. But, instead that my identity consists of a multitude of pieces that make up who I am as a whole. I repeated scripture to myself daily, I clung to prayer. It was a fragile practice, but it was working.

I lived like this for several months, and I’d just started to get used to it when my ex confronted me again and asked me to coffee. I told him yes, but only to explain why I could not simply be a placeholder for a position in his life. We’d decided to go after church.

That morning, my mom left for the early service and I decided I would ride with my dad. I stood in the bathroom and did my eyeliner for thirty minutes straight. Just trying to get it to be even. Removing it, and starting over. Removing it, and starting over. The longer I stood there, the louder the voice would get.

“He’s using you. He doesn’t need you. He left because you weren’t pretty enough. You will never be enough.”

It made no sense. I didn’t want him back, but I wanted him to want me.

I began slamming drawers in search for another cotton swab, which attracted my dad like a moth to a flame. He walked in frustrated because I was slamming drawers in his house, but after watching me for a moment, he asked, “What’s going on?”

I shook my head furiously. This had nothing to do with him. But I desperately wanted him to understand. Instead of a verbal answer, I threw my eyeliner directly at the mirror, which rattled angrily.

It was then he knew. My father stepped forward and wrapped me in his arms. The comfort of him allowed me to release the emotions I’d locked away.

“He doesn’t get to have this power over you. People don’t define you, you hear me?” My dad whispered to me, “You’re better than this. You’re beautiful, and smart, and worth love.”

I could only nod, and fight for control.

Those words comforted a deep wound in my heart, and began to disciple me. I started to realize that my entire life I allowed others to tell me who I was. From the time, I was five-years-old there’s been a fear of not measuring up to an invisible standard of perfection.

So, I met my ex for coffee that day, and I managed to say what I needed to say, armed with the knowledge that I was worthy whether he thought so, or not.

Four years later, I know who I am. I’m still learning, and studying what it means to be fearfully and wonderfully designed in complete uniqueness. I trust that no one can take that away from me. Not a man, not a woman, not even I can take that away.

But, sometimes, I still sit on the floor of my bedroom and cry. I still have days where I feel unlovable or ugly. Where I wake up, and can’t find one thing to rejoice in. Those days still come, and they still pierce my heart with daggers. But, even on days where I weep over my insecurities, I have a deep-rooted joy, because I know the truth. I believe that I bear the image of my Heavenly Father, and that makes me worthier than any person, standard, or jean size could ever make me.

It’s been an all-out war with my desires, but I’ve begun to accept that I may never be traditionally beautiful. It’s simply not in the hand I’ve been dealt. Instead, I recognize that I am meant to be a woman of beautiful character—one who loves others well, who seeks righteousness, and strives to fulfill her purpose. I don’t have to look like a magazine model to be that. I don’t have to be perfect. That’s so freeing, because I’m not perfect. I still have brown hair that isn’t curly or straight, and most days it’s still in a bun. I still have narrow blue eyes. I still wear the same three cardigans and two pairs of jeans. I’m still five feet, six inches tall. I still wear the same pair of boots and my middle name is still Jayne. But, now, I trust that I am so much more than all of that. I am so much more than a, “plain Jayne.”

Enough

A few weeks ago, I wrote a paper called, “Plain Jayne.” The title was a play on my middle name, Jayne, and my struggle as I’ve fought to see the value in my identity. In the paper, I disclose my battle with my appearance and a deep-rooted fear that I’d never be loved because I didn’t “measure up” to an invisible standard.

I believe decent art is vulnerable. Raw. Real. So, what would be better to write about than my fifteen-year battle against believing that I was genuinely ugly, and my fear that I’d never be enough for anyone?

I knew I wasn’t the only woman, or human, to ever struggle with this. But I didn’t want to vomit up words and depression on to a piece of a paper. It had to have meaning. It had to have truth.

But as I neared the end, I started to panic realizing that I didn’t have a happy ending. Oh, I had answers. But, my role in the story had little closure. The shred it did have, was blind faith, clinging to the knowledge that God’s word was truth. Regardless of my feelings.

I texted a friend, “I don’t have a pretty bow to put on it. I hate that.”

My friend texted me back simply, “Then put an ugly bow on it. Or don’t wrap it up. Leave it strewn about.”

I hated that response, because it meant I had to come face to face with the truth about where I was at.

I’m sorry to say, but even as a believer, I’ve struggled to accept that I was made in God’s image. I could tell you differently. I could quote scripture to you. I could probably even convince you that I had peace. But, I know my sin. I know my flaws. My shortcomings are ever before my eyes, and yes, sometimes they’re temporarily blocked by pride, but when pride is removed I’m left a shattered woman. The enemy is quick to remind me that I will never be enough, and that I am unworthy of love leaving me on the floor of my bedroom in front of a mirror, with clothes all over, sobbing, as I mourn my plight.

I couldn’t tell my professor and fellow classmates how to live without fear that they’d never be enough. Because, truth be told, I live with it every day. My head knew truth, but my heart just wasn’t there yet.

So, I rehearsed truth over again, like I’d done so many times before. I shared with them that I knew in my head that I was made in the image of God, and that He alone gives me worth. But I stayed honest, and told them that I was still battling. I was still learning what my role and value was not only as a woman, but also as a Child of God.

I put an ugly bow on it.

For the first time in six years, I genuinely looked at where I was in this area and let it be. I was honest with not only my class and with the reader, but with myself. There is freedom in being messy with the Lord.

We had a lot of work to do.

Yesterday, I had a break through. I listened to a sermon where the speaker shared about art and the value of words (which made my little writer’s heart happy.) In the midst of the sermon the speaker says something that was supposed to be a quick fact, but it caused me to freeze.

In Genesis, the author writes about everything God creates, and after He creates something it is said, “and it was good.”

The original definition of “good” is beautiful, precious, best, better, fair, graciously, joyful, kindly, pleasant. The list goes on, and on.

I paused, and chewed on that for hours. Something about that caught me, and then it hit me.

Since I was five years old, almost all of my life, I have always tried to define beauty. I have always tried to be beautiful, and enough. But, if the true meaning of “beauty” is goodness, then it isn’t a stretch to consider that the question I was truly asking was, “What is good?”

The answer? God’s creation redeemed by Jesus.

Therefore, this battle I’ve fought has never been about being beautiful. Since the beginning, it has always been Christ drawing me and pushing me to seek out what is “good.” Although, I wouldn’t know Him personally for another nine years, and then not even realizing His faithfulness in this area for another six.

How beautifully painful it is that the Lord did not allow me to see beauty in myself, but instead, used my struggle to allow me to see beauty in Him alone. The only One that is truly beautiful.

I see this in the world around me now! Of course, beauty cultures, and the trends change so frequently. People are striving to see what is, “good” but they have no standard. Unfortunately, they will never see it until they fall before the throne and gaze upon His face. “Those who look on the LORD are radiant.” (Psalm 34: 5)

All people are made in God’s image, I’m not going to sit here and declare that only Christian’s are beautiful. Creation is beautiful. But a creation redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection is good.

I have a long way to go. I’m not completely healed of this battle. I may never get to a place where I am completely satisfied in what I look like. I may always have days where I wonder if I’m “enough.” But that’s okay. I don’t need to be good enough, because He is.

 

“Those who look on Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

            This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his fears.”

Psalm 34: 5-6