For better, for worse.

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I’ve begun learning something deep and irrevocably profound: there is great, timeless beauty in accepting yourself fully. Good days, bad days, okay days. Put together or falling apart. We are at our best when we are at rest within ourselves: confident in, and at peace with, our unique beauty.

My whole life I have battled with the reflection in the mirror and I’ve tried hard to hide my ugly and unacceptable. I’ve never believed that I could be beautiful, and though I have tried to change my appearance, it never felt like enough. Slowly but surely, however, I am realizing that nothing I do on the outside will ever lead me to a place where I can love myself enough to be at rest with the person in the mirror.

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In the past, I would have looked at these pictures and cried over how ugly I am. I would have seen only flaws, and nothing worth loving at all. I would have thought about all my gorgeous friends and all the stunning women in movies and magazines and all the exotic beauties across the world. And I would have looked at myself and hated every single inch. Because in comparison, I simply can’t even begin to measure up. That’s the truth. But, the thing is, it’s all relative. Who can measure up? There is no “#1 most beautiful woman in the world” or “sexiest man alive”. There is no perfect standard to strive to reach. There is only you. And me. And him. And her.

The truth is, there is no measuring up because we weren’t meant to be measured at all. We were just meant to be. We were meant to be our unique, diverse selves. We were meant to be valued in and of ourselves, despite ourselves even. The problem with wearing masks is that only the mask receives love. The you behind the façade grows weaker and the wounds gets deeper. You can’t be loved and known if you can’t be seen. And you won’t be beautiful if it’s not from within. The thing is, you can’t hide from your ugly, or your beauty.

And when age is the great equalizer, what will you look like when time peels away your mask? Will you desperately try to keep gluing it back on? Will you plaster on fake youthfulness, or will you age gracefully and wonderfully? Will you search endlessly for the waters that will restore your beauty, or will you realize that your realest beauty can never die or fade away. The truth is, our beauty should grow and expand evermore, until our last breath, past our last breath.

Beauty extends the grave.

The nose you have, the lines you develop, the marks on your heart. They don’t determine beauty. The world does not determine beauty. Beauty is so much deeper and more personal and more lasting. Truest beauty comes from God alone, the author of all things beautiful. It rests on the shoulders of those who have weathered the storm and walked out with a brave testimony: it comes from above. It shines out of the woman who reached her end, chose surrender, and bears the marks of love’s pain and grace’s humility. Beauty transfixes a person from the inside out, from the ashes up. Beauty happens when we shift from living to be loved, to living already loved by Love Himself.

I look at these pictures, and for the first time, I see! I see my very own beauty. I see my flaws and the beauty of those very flaws. I see the quirks of my face that make me, me. I see the features that I have never loved, and likely never will, but I accept them, and I’m okay with them. Because I also see the joy in my heart on my face. I see the fire in my spirit through my eyes. I see the trials and the perseverance and the story of victory written across my chest, woven into my posture. I see myself and I see the beauty and the dignity that is mine and mine alone. And I love it.

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It’s those wild sunflowers that grow on the side of the road…

They always get me. They just beam at me.

And I smile as I drive because I love those summertime sunshine flowers and I love that they’re always there.

Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

And it’s those halos of yellow and orange and gold that sprout up like wildfire all over the roadside – the boring roadside – that remind me to put on my miracle shades and roll down the windows.

They strike me with their brightness. I can’t help but light up a little myself and I try not to stare too long as I drive. Yes, there is beauty everywhere. Yes, it is easy to miss all these little miracles in the busyness of life. Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to see the wheat rippling in the breeze or a thousand sunny flowers on your way to work, and stop for a moment and admire. It takes discipline to keep looking and stopping to see with more than just your eyes on a daily basis.

But more importantly, when you make this a habit and you practice it with gratitude, those miracle shades start to change other things too: ugly things, broken things, painful things. We see the cycles of the seasons, we watch the faithful rising sun each morning and evening, we laugh at the squirrels chasing and climbing their way through life. We follow the bees to the flowers and they dip their legs in and fly home. We learn to not just appreciate the beauty but to see it as miracle.

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When you see a little, you start to see more.

They say that a miracle is something that cannot be explained by scientific or natural law. So maybe science can explain what’s happening when the Northern Lights come to play, but can it really? Is that not still a miracle of light that inspires awe and wonder? So we learn to see the simple, the natural, as miracle too. And then we see that there are miracles all around – everywhere you turn.

The miracle shades become even more vibrant and maybe we look in the rear view mirror and we see some bright dots in that dark patch we went through. We start searching for more. We start hunting for the stars in the blackness. But is it the stars alone that make the night sky such a majesty? Stars shine day and night but it’s the night that allows us to see.

So when we can’t explain the suffering, could we dare to call it a miracle too? What of this whole world can we truly explain? We name based on feelings and understanding, but the truth is, we simply don’t know. We are limited.

That’s what miracle shades are: a way of seeing despite our limitations. They are not just bright or optimistic or positive. They are vibrant. You see the contrast. You see the color. You see the radiance of it all together, and how the miracle isn’t just the blinking stars but the whole experience in full.

So, I name it all miracle. I call it all good. Sometimes I see, sometimes I don’t. And a lot of the time I wait. I wait – and look – to see because I know I will. I believe it, somewhere deep down, that no matter how much life hurts at times, no matter what I see now, no matter what I feel…there is always more. And it is going to be stunning.

 

Inhale, exhale.

In less than a month and a half, I’ll be in France. What??? That’s so exciting! Sometimes I can’t believe the moment. How is it that I’m already a college graduate? I feel old, yet at the same time I know just how young I still am. And each day, though my physiological clock ticks away another 24 hours, my soul does not. The person inside me, she only grows younger and more vibrant; wiser but all the more childlike; stronger and all the more secure.

I have this great gift stretched out before me. The chance to go and reshape my life. Wipe away every way in which I’ve defined myself by what once was.  Paint a new scene across this new page. Let the strokes of this new life sear beauty into the ugliness, seep moisture into the dryness, contrast the darkness in radiance. It’s hard to really put to words what this trip means to me or how important it is.

Leaving all that is familiar behind gives you the chance to reinvent. That’s what I seek. Not start over, not bury the past in denial, but reform the way in which I live, love, and interact. Three months of daily intentionality. Three months of learning the Word that never dies. Three months of peeling off the rest of this dead skin and laying bare my true heart. Soaking up everything He has for me and taking the risk of being known. I’ve been made a promise about this journey, and I know it won’t be broken.

I can see the future for the first time and it looks like love. Freedom is painted across the dawn and I’m willing to do all the hard work of looking at the truth and accepting what I’ve turned away from.

As much of a blessing this is going to be, it will also be a sacrifice. But it’s the sacrifice that makes everything possible. It’s the sacrifice that is going to allow me to take it all in so that I can wholly pour out. When we lay down, we find life. And when we find life and become alive, we give life in return. That’s the dream. That’s what I was born for.

God gave us these beautiful things called mirror neurons. When we look at someone who is smiling, for example, these neurons mirror that smile, and our brain lights up as if we ourselves were smiling. How cool is that? That’s probably why we love being around happy people so much. In a way then, we’re all contagious. What will the world catch from me?

The life that has been given to me, the joy, the love…lungs revived and flooded with sweet air, dead heart jolted awake…I have to testify.  I have to be a vessel carrying this living water, a vessel through which other people come to taste the same thick, golden truth that is honey on the lips.

So on the surface, it looks like three months in, three months out. But really it’s me, diving completely in, for a lifetime of this, of inhale and exhale. Glory to glory. Inhale life, exhale life. Love in, love out. Breathe Jesus in, breathe Jesus out. He is worthy of it all.

 

And, believe me, it was divine.

The smoke from the fire traveled far, and the normally clear Colorado air was hazy that day. I didn’t think much of it until the sun began to set, and, believe me, it was divine. This picture can’t capture the radiance. It’s funny how the eye can see fuller than the camera, and yet somehow still, we do not see in full.

We can dive deep into the waters of always looking, and still be always missing. This blurry fire-soaked sky with its consuming ball of fury sinking low – this was easy to see. Really, how could you miss it?

But everything isn’t always like that. Just because something is not displayed so overtly beautiful, does not mean that it isn’t stunning nonetheless. Behind-the-veil stunning must be sought out by the hunters with adrenaline-hearts soaked through with the aroma of life. It must be beheld in the inner eye and caught as the breath catches in the throat and the looker renders breathless.

There’s something in it, don’t you think? I think it’s called the breath of life for a reason. When something takes our breath away, what does that speak? Too much for me to hold, too much for me to live sowing and reaping the life of lungs, when there is something so much more worthy of that very breath, that very life. It says surrender, give it back, worship what I cannot comprehend by giving that which I cannot live without.

And, oh, that I would not stop here. That I would not stop ever. That I would always be seeing more, seeing deeper. When you catch just a glimpse of it, you have to catch more. You have to be caught by it, held by it, bowed to it. To live with self bowed low is by far greater than to live with self elevated high.

See through the veil and see through to glory.

 

 

 

From the Dust

I’m a passionate person.

I often do not live the inside outwardly – and I’m eaten alive by the suffocation of self. Fire teases me and tides pull me deeper. Thundering voices drenched in fervor cause my heart to pound and my spirit to soar. Scenes of beauty move me to submission and there is no love like that of the passionate.

Surrender is for the zealous and I know it’s for me.

I listen to her voice as she sings, no it’s more than that. She’s releasing, multiplying, worshiping. Word after word and song after song – impossibly glorious, dripping with the sound of heaven. I want to take the beauty of her voice, the deep passion of her soul cry, and etch it into my skin. I want to fuse it with my bones: make it a part of me. It’s like purity-love made to the artist through his masterpiece, within the bounds of a delicate body, and uncontrollably – gratefully – spilled out for all to see.

That kind of radiance is ecstasy that begs to be participated in.

It is beauty I desire – beauty I resonate with on the deepest of levels. But I don’t have that kind of voice. I can’t strip bare and fill lung and empty out bliss…

Or can’t I?

Maybe my singing voice doesn’t represent the beauty of my soul cry, but God has given me words of striking resemblance. He gave me the gift of words. Words that not everyone has. Words that express the beauty within me, His beauty within me, in a tangible way.

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The patterns of nature encircle me with steadfastness and patterns of thought have enthroned pages throughout time. I speak a native language of laughter but there is a higher passion-language – the mother tongue of my being – that pleads to be heard too.

So give me the chance to express, to create, to love with these oceans at the end of pens and keyboards. When I have wrestled with the tongue and wrangled with the throat, I glide with ink and find belonging in the scrawl of my hand.

Within the symbols that make a language, I find freedom to be. My ability to express self was quenched very early on, but through the pounding of these keys I fight what was lost and I find a voice of wisdom and strength. I am stretched transparent and all is on the line for me to be judged. But it must be worth it – to be heard – when I have stayed silent all my life.

To release this is to release my suffering. To write is to step onto ground that was stolen from me and pour water onto its barrenness.

And that verse says, “Let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior’.” And I stand tall and I wage a war through my words, a war of perseverance with the one who dried up my wells. I fight with honor unseen and grace resilient. I fight for dignity – no matter what I appear to be, what I was told to be, I am more and I will not quit.

So this is part of my battle, and I win this round and lose another, but I always keep going. I write and I bust out of seems, scrape dirt off my past, wash away the shame of my mistakes and the pain of my perpetrators. When I write I am real, and I am strong. All those years of torment at their hands and all those teeth that gnawed me up whole – they fade into the backdrop of my life and become a platform:

A stage for God’s beauty and glory to be pained brilliantly on the canvas of my story, on the canvas that is me.

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And from the dust my words are crowned with holiness as they mature with the fullness of their testimony.

Breathe in the Pieces

There is so much going through my mind. I’m always searching and learning. Always thinking, dreaming, reaching. So much of my time is spent uncovering things that are covered. The culmination of things noticed and remembered. I’m writing now because I have to. Every time I try, I am hindered by the idea of sorting it all out. But this time I want to push past it. Everything may not connect perfectly as I write, as I live even, but it is still coming together wonderfully nonetheless.

This evening I grabbed my phone, put in my headphones, and went for a walk. I played one song on repeat, and I want you to listen to that song now, before reading on:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0FW–zidYA&index=1&list=RDP0FW–zidYA

This song, by Amanda Cook, wakes me at my core. It sends chills through my bones. Because it is truth that I’ve longed for. It’s why I can’t deny Him any longer.

I was fixated on the moon tonight as I walked. Full and vibrant, piercing through the leaves on the tall trees. The leaves that are beginning to turn gold. The light shone down upon the water. It’s one of my favorite sights, the reflection it makes. I stopped on a bridge and watched the water rush beneath me, calm but quick. I could see grasses and algae underneath the water, bending with the current but holding on. Fallen leaves sweeping by. This was made for me. This is God’s heart. The whole world is filled, filled with His beautiful heart of love. He has given us all this beauty because He loves us. He really loves us. Like the song says, He doesn’t give His heart in pieces. He gave it all. And He is so much more than enough.

I hear the words of this song, over and over I listen: “Unreserved. Unrestrained. Your love is wild, your love is wild for me. It isn’t shy, it’s unashamed. Your love is proud to be seen with me.” I hear them deeply. I hear them as a woman broken by the sting of abandonment, shame, and rejection. Broken by years of sexual abuse. Broken by worthlessness and self-hate: a crushed will. I hear the words in my emptiness and I am filled, because I actually know, without a doubt, that these words are true. Because I’ve experienced it! They are true of the God who created everything. “Uncontrolled. Uncontained. Your love is a fire burning bright for me. It’s not just a spark. It’s not just a flame. Your love is a light that all the world will see.”

I’ve told my story quite a few times now, but in the past 24 hours I’ve realized that what I’ve been telling isn’t really true. It’s not really my story after all. I don’t want to minimize what I’ve been through, but the part of my life that is really unique—that is really worth telling—is the testimony to who God is, and how He has given an average girl such an extraordinary life. So instead, I want to maximize the God I’ve made so small.

For such a long time, I’ve tried not to surrender to womanhood. Due to the abuse I experienced in early womanhood, to me being a woman meant being weak, being defenseless. Being wronged and unheard, choked and voiceless. And because of that, for years I longed for the privileges of a man. The strength and the presence. The ability to compartmentalize and detach. The burdens of being a woman were simply too heavy. And I didn’t want them, not at all.

For years, I hated men for putting their rejection, anger, and weakness on us. Now I understand that not every man does this, but for so long, it was all I knew. And so I hated them. But I hated because I was envious. I wanted that kind of power. Selfishly, my anger brought me to a place of becoming what I hated, of wanting to do the very things I so strongly am against. But in my anger, I neglected to see something so important: the strength it takes to be a woman, and how our femininity and gentleness makes us anything but weak. Quite the contrary, actually. We are resilient, and that is so much of what makes us strong and beautiful. It’s hard to be a woman! Just as I will never really know the bitter pangs of manhood, a man can never know the tragic injustices that often fall upon women. But we are what we are and there’s no way around it. Many of us try to, but I’ve come to accept that I just can’t deny that which I inherently, genetically, and wonderfully am.

I am a woman. All the way to the core. And that’s okay. And I am not weak or powerless because of it.

I intend to embrace this fact instead of hopelessly trying to deny it – and miserably failing. I want to accept myself for all that I am. And I want to do it well. Do it courageously, humbly, gracefully. I want to be a woman with meekness and strength. With gentleness and perseverance. With love and compassion. I want to do womanhood with joy and thanksgiving! I’ve been given this, and I want to recognize it for what it is: a gift. Because really what it means to be a woman is indescribable. It’s to submit, but complete; to follow even though you can lead; to sacrifice; to surrender; to be strong in all the ways that are unseen and unrecognized. It’s to be delicate and powerful at the same time, to be strong through our vulnerability and wise by our compassion. It’s to be sensitive to life and valued equally, but so very distinctly. And though the world tries to shame us for our beauty, our sensitivity, our service and submission, by telling us we’re too much or not enough, the everlasting truth of womanhood, as predestined by God, is this: we are beautifully His, beautifully complex, and beautifully made for so much more than this world gives us credit for.

And though it is so hard sometimes in this world to be a woman, and though I despised this gift for years, and though I will have to continually fight to value and honor my femininity, I can confidently say now that I am proud to be a woman…It’s not always easy, but God made me strong enough to step out of this old, marred skin that the world gave me, and step into true, God-given womanhood.

So I listen. I listen and I am healed and revitalized. I am strengthened and overjoyed. For you make it right, Lord. You heal all the pain in my own life and make it honorable. You take what should be broken in me and you make it more whole than I ever imagined it could be! It’s all just so, so good because of you.

“Your love’s not fractured, it’s not a troubled mind. It isn’t anxious, it’s not the restless kind. Your love’s not passive, it’s never disengaged. It’s always present, it hangs on every word we say. Love keeps its promises; it keeps its word. It honors what’s sacred, because its vows are good. Your love’s not broken, it’s not insecure. Your love’s not selfish. Your love is pure! Cause you don’t give your heart in pieces, and you don’t hide yourself to tease us.” You carried every burden, every injustice, every wrong. You were perfect and we were not. You were betrayed, but you didn’t say a word.

Because you came to give us everything, to give me everything – everything I just don’t deserve! And I know it intimately and first-hand. So I breathe in the pieces of who you are, and I see.

And you’ve won me.