Oh the Joy I’ve Found

This week marked my 12th Anniversary of working at Consignments Unlimited and ShopCrownhouse. Twelve years ago, I never would have imagined I’d still be working for the same company (and certainly wouldn’t have imagined enjoying it as much as I do!) What started out as—and what remained for several years as—merely a way to earn a paycheck has become a true joy and passion. I love the vision and values behind our company. I love the people I get to work with. I love my boss. She models leadership uniquely, powerfully, and beautifully.

Just last week, on a slow, rainy day, my boss decided to take on a messy task that everyone else had been avoiding. She didn’t fault them for it (they were busy with other tasks); she just rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She models servant leadership and does it with a grateful heart. This week, she was rejoicing over the fact that she got to share the gospel with a woman who was attempting to steal from our store! She wasn’t angry or upset—she was literally giggling with joy! She is truly a remarkable woman.

The greatest testament to my boss’s success is the quality of the team she has surrounded herself with (and, no, I’m not humble-bragging about myself). My coworkers are some of my favorite people on the planet! They are integrous, they are incredibly talented, they don’t complain, and they work hard. Together, we make a powerful force. When I started working for the company, we had a small storefront on a side street in town. There were maybe six employees (myself included). Today, we have two locations, three businesses, triple the staff, and we’re constantly growing.

I’ve learned many things over the past 12 years. First, whatever you do, do it with your whole heart. I had zero passion for “stuff” when I started working here. I’m more of a minimalist by nature. I don’t like shopping, and I hate clutter. Go figure I’d make a living collecting other people’s stuff and reselling it! Early in the job, I remember going into my parents’ room crying because I hated my job at the time and felt guilty earning a living by “contributing to our materialistic western culture” (my humanitarian values came with a heavy dose of naiveté back then). I don’t remember exactly what they told me, but I know it was along the lines of, “This is just a season. Be faithful, work hard, and God will give you the desires of your heart.” I did exactly that, and in the process, God began growing a desire in me that has never subsided. I began to see my job as the amazing benefit that it is to my community (both local and global), and a deep love for my neighbors, coworkers, and even for the tasks I was doing began to bloom.

The second thing my job has taught me is that anything worth having requires patience. I can remember seasons of working at my job and being riddled with depression. My work at the time was a drudgery, and home offered little comfort. The hours seemed to last forever. I was suffering from a ruptured eardrum then, so I worked by myself a lot, and I avoided talking to people.

The amazing thing that happened in such a bleak season of life is I learned to hear God. While my physical ears weren’t working, my spiritual ears had this heightened awareness. I remember encountering God in the back of the warehouse doing some of the most mundane jobs I’ve ever done. He poured out His love and His grace on me and filled my mind with beautiful lyrics and melodies. I grew to crave those times of being alone with God. To this day, I look on that season of life with profound appreciation (I’m writing this through tears just thinking about it).

I’ve learned a million more things at my job, but the last I will mention is this: the difference between hell on earth and blissful contentment is a little thing called gratitude. It’s heartbreakingly tragic how many celebrities and powerful people commit suicide because their lives just aren’t what the world makes them out to be. I’ve found that the greatest joy and a peace that surpasses reason isn’t won with fame, money, or power; it’s won with gratitude.

The Apostle Paul told the Philippian church that he had learned to be content in any circumstance (Phil. 4:11). I thank God that my circumstances have never been as bleak as Paul’s. Paul experienced imprisonments, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, and many other hardships. Still, Paul’s response to being imprisoned with Silas was to sing praise to God. One of the most frequent sayings of Paul’s epistles is “I thank God” (in some form of the phrase). His letters are dripping with gratitude. He thanks God for the Romans, the Corinthians, the Philippians, the Thessalonians, for Timothy, for Philemon, and many others. He encourages the Ephesians and the Colossians to give thanks in all things.

I can attest that genuine gratitude has been the key to genuine joy in my life. I thank God for my job. I thank God for the provisions to live, to eat healthfully, to attend ministry school in California, to buy a car, to graduate from college, to be a blessing to others, and to buy gifts for the people I love. I thank God for the amazing people I get to work with. I thank God for the sense of purpose I feel in serving a vision that I can wholeheartedly get behind.

My job comes with its fair share of stress, conflict, and drudgery … but it also comes with deep satisfaction. One of my greatest joys is hearing those I train share the wisdom, joy, and accomplishment they’ve found in a job well done. I hope and pray to God that that joy will only multiply in the years and generations to come.

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Oh the Joy I’ve Found

Beauty isn’t skin-deep, and neither is health.

I’ve wanted to share this for a long time, but I’ve held back. I was embarrassed. I was afraid the victory I had achieved wouldn’t last. I was afraid people would think it wasn’t a big deal. But it was a big deal to me, and maybe my vulnerability will help some of you.

The subject is health.

Because our society is obsessed weight loss, most people view being skinny as a sign of health. Frankly, it’s not. Some people are born with genes that make it easy for them to stay skinny. They can deprive their bodies of nutrition, sleep, exercise, etc., and still be skinny. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy.

About 3 ½ years ago a doctor came and gave a lecture at our church. She talked about nutrition and the quality of our food supply and what it takes to be truly healthy. That day I made some hard decisions that have changed my life dramatically.

I’ve always been thin, but I’ve also always had some health issues. I used to hate eating out or eating at friends’ houses because my stomach would hurt afterward. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was enough to make me avoid eating in public. Any foods outside my usual diet at home seemed to challenge my digestive system (if you know what I mean).

Then there was the acne. Most adolescents experience acne when they go through puberty. Mine was severe, and it showed no signs of slowing down into my early 20s. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse. I looked around and saw people in their 30s and 40s still struggling with acne well beyond adolescence. I feared that was my lot in life. I piled on the makeup and gave myself a pep talk whenever I left the house. “You are not your skin. Beauty is on the inside.” Sometimes I believed it. Sometimes I didn’t. Most days I just avoided mirrors.

I tried many skincare regimens, none of which worked. That is, until I met Dr. Jody. In her lecture (listen here: http://www.givinglight.org/nutrition/), she explained that the typical American diet is full of genetically-modified foods, pesticides, and chemicals that are harmful to the body. She talked about food intolerances and how many Americans’ bodies are “taught” to be intolerant to foods because they aren’t given clean, organic versions of those foods. Instead—in ignorance, usually—they consume foreign substances that imitate nutrients but actually destroy the gut and internal organs. In the medical world, this is referred to as “leaky gut syndrome.” (Dr. Jody explains it all much better, so if any of this is new to you, I encourage you to check out the link above.)

After her talk, I asked Dr. Jody if a leaky gut could cause acne and, of course, she said yes. She said the key to healing my acne was healing my gut. But not eating junk food wasn’t enough. I needed to figure out what foods (vegetables, meats, dairy, etc.) were triggering my digestive problems and acne. Jody recommended eliminating foods for about 3 weeks at a time—starting with the three worst offenders—wheat, dairy, and eggs—and then introducing them back into my diet to see if I experienced any adverse reactions. I took her up on the challenge.

I quickly realized that dairy and gluten were giving me problems. Since that day (in July 2014), I have been almost entirely dairy and gluten free. I’ve also been working toward a completely organic, non-GMO diet whenever possible. I avoid sugar and yeast, drink lots of water, and exercise regularly. The results: my acne has improved about 90% and I only have digestive problems when I eat one of my “trigger foods.” Last month—so I could have documented proof—I had a food allergy (intolerance) test taken and had several vitamins and minerals checked as well, via blood tests. The results: no more leaky gut 😊

I am so incredibly thankful to Dr. Jody for sharing her wisdom with me and my church. Several others from my church family have also taken the “food intolerance challenge” and experienced amazing results as well. I think the most profound testimony of this diet transformation is that it has made me feel more in control of my health. I realize that I don’t have to live with acne, poor digestion, and joint pain (another symptom I experience). I don’t get it right 100% of the time, and I don’t always know exactly what my body needs, but I know that the solution exists. I don’t feel hopeless anymore.

In the church, we like to talk about freedom in lofty, abstract, or spiritual terms, but true freedom has tangible, physical results. Before, I was too ashamed to not wear makeup in public. Now I go swimming on a regular basis. Before, I made excuses and tried to ignore my hunger when I was in public. Now I eat at friends’ houses frequently (and quite enjoy the experience!) Back then, I felt enslaved to my skin. Now, I feel more confident, more in control, and beautiful.

This post is not my way of patting myself on the back. I have put off sharing it for a long time (a friend finally persuaded me). My hope is that this post inspires you to not give up. If you are experiencing bondage physically, emotionally, or spiritually—take courage! The solution exists. Never stop seeking God for answers. He may give you an instantaneous miracle, or He may lead you down a path to a long-term freedom that requires a long-term change. Don’t give up, friend. You were designed for a freedom that lasts forever and a health that is deeply rooted. Let’s keep going after it together!

P.S. In case you’re also interested in beating acne, I’m going to share my new skin care regimen below. I’ll post some pictures of me without makeup (scandalous, I know! lol) so you can see my honest progress. I’m still figuring things out, and I do still get nasty red spots from time to time, but I can usually pinpoint the cause (and usually it’s because I chose to cheat on my nutrition 😉). In any case, I hope this helps someone!

Skin-deep collage

Brianna’s Skin Care Regimen as of March 2018

I wash my face once at night before I go to sleep with Young Living’s Melaleuca-Geranium Cleansing Bar Soap. I moisturize with Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Day Lotion immediately after cleansing (I’ve been looking for an all-organic lotion, but as of now, this is the one I’ve found to give me the best moisture for my usually dry skin, especially in the winter time). I do not wash my face in the morning. Instead, I use essential oils. Lavender, cedarwood, and geranium are my favorites (be careful about essential oils because not all of them can be directly applied without diluting, and some people’s skin reacts badly to some or all essential oils). If I wear makeup (usually I do on the weekends), I use Dermablend Smooth Liquid Camo Foundation. This foundation was rated low hazard on https://www.ewg.org/skindeep

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget: you’re beautiful!!!

Beauty isn’t skin-deep, and neither is health.

Eyes on You

Sometimes I look in the mirror, I get really close and stare straight into my eyes, and I whisper the words: “I am a person.” I don’t know when or how it started, but I’ve found this practice to be inexplicably empowering. It strikes me how often I, and others I’ve conversed with, look outward for validation. We barrel through life, pushing aside every thought that makes us feel uncomfortable. Then, somewhere down the road, we find ourselves forgetting who we are. Our thoughts become so consumed with “I have to” or “I wish I” or “I wonder what they” or “something’s wrong with,” and at the heart of these vague, incomplete thoughts, brushed aside for a time that never comes, is a soul that is desperate to be validated. It screams out, “Hey! I’m here!” It just wants to be seen.

I love Psalm 139. It talks about how God knows us—everything about us.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up.

You understand my thought from afar.

You scrutinize my path and my lying down,

And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.

Even before there is a word on my tongue,

Behold, O Lord, You know it all.

He searches us. He knows us. He sees us.

We are not and will never be forgotten. He cares about our day-to-day. The moments when our hair is undone and we have bags under our eyes and we’re tired… He looks at us with nothing but fiery love that never fades. He is all consuming. He consumes our mistakes and our failures. The love in His eyes burns away every shortcoming until we realize who we are: holy.

Holy means “exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.” It isn’t because of anything we’ve done, but all because of God. He made us. He chose us. And He chooses us every day of our lives.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.

Why do we feel like love has to be earned for it to be valuable? I would propose that at the root of this feeling is a lie that says our starting place is imperfection. In order to be lovable, we must overcome our imperfection.

This is the lie that religion—false religion—lives on. God loved us while we were imperfect, and He made us perfect again. Not so that He could love us but because He loved us. He wanted us to be able to live up to our potential—to be all the things that we want to be. Greatness isn’t something He requires; it’s something we naturally desire because it’s who we were designed to be.

I will conclude with this: for all who are sons and daughters of God, perfection is our starting point. Perfection means complete, lacking nothing. You have nothing to prove. God already has His eyes on you.

Now go make history.

Eyes on You

The End of Me

I’m afraid I’m about to betray the extent of my nerd-dom. The inspiration for this post is a moral philosopher I’ve been learning about in my Ethics class, and I’m about to write an essay that is not at all a required assignment. His theories just so inspired and astounded me that I had to stop and “process in print.” Here we go! …His name is Immanuel Kant.

You’ve likely at least heard the name before. His philosophies have influenced entire nations. I won’t bore you with philosophy jargon, but Kant’s theory basically hinges on two principles:

1. Human beings are ends in themselves, not means, with inherent value.

2. Pure practical reason—before cultural conditioning—is shared by all human beings, it recognizes the inherent value in other rational beings, and it guides our moral decisions.

All the other profound points he makes fall apart without these foundational principles.

Yet, these principles can easily be undermined with two simple questions: How do we know that human beings are ends rather than means, and how do we know that human beings actually share this pure, practical reason? Science doesn’t tell us these things.

My purpose is not to undermine Kant. I actually think his philosophies are brilliant, and they go much deeper than what I have summarized. Still, they naturally beg further questions.

It is beautiful to think that human beings have inherent value. Any other thing—a pen, a car, a window—is viewed as valuable based on its purpose. If a pen stops writing, we throw it away. If a car breaks down, it is now an expense instead of an asset. If a window breaks, we say it is “useless” (or we re-purpose the glass, giving it new value… now I’m betraying another nerdy habit :p ). Yet, when a human being “breaks down”—is very sick, perhaps—or for some reason cannot perform their “natural function,” are they without value? Any humanitarian would scream, “Of course not!” But why? Why is it that human beings have inherent value beyond our capacity to perform? Why do we get to be the “ends” rather than the “means”?

I was once “educated” by an online customer that value is determined by demand (I had turned down his offer on one of my more-unique vintage items that had, admittedly, been up for sale for quite a while…) If my online friend’s advice is true, does this mean our value as human beings is based solely on people’s want and need of us? If so, what does this say about orphaned children? The elderly? Or how about refugees? We could scan the world and find many “inconvenient,” “unhelpful,” and so-called “unwanted” people (by the way, it is hard for me to even type these words, even in a hypothetical situation!) If we are seemingly not wanted by other people, not beneficial to society, then whose demand makes us so valuable?

Now we step into my philosophies.

I don’t think that we are the ends. Inherently valuable, yes, but not because we are the ends. I think that every human being has and is a means to a greater end, and that greater end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Aquinas). We are God’s cherished creation; that’s what makes us valuable.

This thinking didn’t start in the 1700s with Immanuel Kant. Thousands of years earlier God said, “I am that I am.” And in Revelation, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” As a means to an end ourselves, it’s difficult for our minds to comprehend that God could be something other than what we arethat maybe, just maybe, God could actually be the ultimate beginning and end.

I think the very reason all of our philosophies lead to more questions is evidence to the fact that we, in actuality, are not the end. There are answers beyond our pure, practical reason that only God can supply. C.S. Lewis chimed in on this discussion. He put it this way: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Here are a few other verses that speak to God’s transcendence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1); “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.(John 4:13-14); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6). I’m sure there are plenty more, but those were just a few off the top of my head…

The truth is, it’s only in God that our longing is fully satisfied. Personally, my faith has given me peace in the midst of some very unsettling situations and unsettled ideas. It’s not a peace that tells me to stop questioning (for I, as a means to an end, do not have all the answers). Rather, what I have is a peace that satisfies the restlessness of my soul. It’s a peace that inspires curiosity rather than desperation. The Bible calls it the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension and guards our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 4:7). In peace, I will continue to press in—for at the end of me, I have found there is more.

The End of Me

A Better Word

Fear—is an illusionist.

He makes me see not what is but what could be.

Master Manipulator, he tangles and tightens;

My God sets me free.

 

My God is a jealous God.

He is jealous for my time and my attention.

I have no time for Fear.

His words are worthless.

 

My God is a zealous God.

His love burns all that stands between me and my destiny.

When the shouts of fear become louder than the still small voice, I will rest

in the testimony of Jesus.

 

God, you are my One Thing.

Single-minded,

Fully focused,

Your Word is my greater YES.

 

Fear—is an illusionist,

a complete waste of time.

Fear—is a liar.

My God can-not lie.

A Better Word

Happy Thanksgiving!!! (2014 edition)

A few weeks ago I was serving as a helper in the children’s ministry at my church. My older sister was teaching. She’s quite the ambitious one! Rather than skipping over the ambiguous Scriptures that even adults like to glaze over in search of a more “kid-friendly” passage, she started right at the beginning and has been methodically working her way through some of the meatiest passages of Scripture there are (including everyone’s favorite Leviticus, and even the genealogies!) I was quite impressed with some of her teaching points. How do you keep kids from the ages of about 5 to 11 (or anyone, for that matter) interested in a genealogy?! Well, she did—and what she said has stuck with me ever since.

She basically summed it up in one sentence: Our God is a family God. Simple, right? Even a 5-year-old can understand that.

This lesson came to mind again today as I was talking to my newest cousin, who recently married into the family. She and her husband are going to be in town for Thanksgiving this week and I was helping her to remember some of the family connections (it’s a little intimidating trying to remember at least four dinner tables worth of names!) I suggested that we should make a family tree, hence the tangent.

The genealogies are the beginnings of God’s family tree. In recording the names of the fathers of our faith, God showed that he not only values that first tribe of chosen followers, but He thinks and cares about future additions—like my new cousin—and wants them to feel connected to their larger story. He imagined us before we were anywhere near the family photo, and He thoughtfully crafted a family tree for us. That list of names says more than “Abraham,” “Isaac,” and “O-holi-ba-mah.” It says, “Welcome to the family.”

I feel so overwhelmingly grateful to be a part of something bigger than myself! When I forget who I am, or that ceaseless chatter in my mind tells me I should feel alone, all it takes is one good look at this Big Book on my desk to remember that I am never alone. There is a cloud of witnesses in the sky cheering me into my destiny. And more awesome still is the reminder that I am loved by a perfect Father who doesn’t believe in disownment. Nothing I say or do could make Him stop loving me. My name is recorded. For better or for worse, I’m in.

And that is something to be thankful for.

P.S. To my reader, whoever you may be, I hope you have a family to embrace you this Thanksgiving. But if you don’t—and even if you do—you are welcome to mine. Jesus came to earth to make sure you had a place at the family table. At His table, there is always food, always friends, always laughter, and always love. If you’d like to RSVP, just leave comment and I’ll be in touch 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving!!! (2014 edition)

Thirsty Soul

Just as the human body needs food, water, sleep, etc., the soul also has needs–which are often neglected. In Psalm 143:6, in a bout of desperation, David cried out to God. “My soul longs for you, as a parched land.” In the one hundred and fifty Psalms, the soul is referred to over one hundred and ten times. Most of these are personifications of the soul: it is called hungry, thirsty, panting, fainting, melting, yearning, longing, sinking to the dust, crushed, in prison, and in need of deliverance. In Psalm 142 David bemoans, “No one cares for my soul.”

 

Last month I was at a conference where David and Melissa Helser were two of the keynote speakers. I remember that Melissa had us do something that at the time seemed silly: she asked us to close our eyes, put our hands on our hearts, and say, “Heart, I love you.” This seemingly strange request has since become a valuable habit of mine. When I did it that first time, it felt like warm water pouring through my veins. My soul had been thirsty and I didn’t even know it. Since then I’ve noticed the numerous times throughout the Psalms where David speaks to his soul. It strikes me how lovingly he tells his soul to wait on the Lord, to hope in the Lord, and to remember the Lord’s faithfulness. It’s almost as if he’s comforting a weary daughter who is tired and distraught from a long journey. His words are tender and reassuring.

 

When is the last time you acknowledged your soul’s existence? Does that seem odd to you? The truth is we do it all the time. Remember the last time you got upset about something and asked yourself, “Why are you getting so worked up? Gosh, just relax!”? Or maybe you were having a bad day and thought, “You seriously have a problem. Get a grip!” If we spoke to others the way we speak to ourselves sometimes, we’d probably lose a lot of friends!

 

Maybe you don’t say these things directly to yourself. Maybe you are more spiritual and turn your thoughts about yourself into prayers. Does this sound familiar? … “God, I’m screwed up. I need your help. The other day I [insert confession here] and made a huge mess. Why do I always do that?” Now, let’s be clear, it’s good to ask God for help. It’s good to confess our sins to Him so He can wash them away. But do we ever follow David’s example and acknowledge our souls as valuable and in need of love and care and affirmation? When Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, He was assuming that we were, in fact, loving ourselves. Our souls.

 

Just as the body suffers when you don’t give it nutritious food and water and rest, the soul becomes sick when you neglect it. Your soul needs love. It needs affirmation. It needs to feel safe. It needs rest and hope and happiness. Oh, and here’s a big one: Your soul needs to worship. It needs to fix itself on something beautiful, remember its Creator, and adore Him. Worship recharges, re-calibrates, and restores the soul.

 

The next time your soul cries out in pain, try speaking to it like that hypothetical daughter who is weary from the journey. Don’t yell or become impatient. Tell her that she is safe. Tell her that her needs will be met. In essence all you are doing is echoing Papa God’s voice. Do like David and “lift your soul” to Him. When you are weak, He is strong. When you are thirsty, He is refreshing water. And when you are in lack, He is more than enough. Remember that, oh precious soul. Remember that you are loved.

Thirsty Soul