A SOUND MIND STORY: VIRGINIA'S STORY

A SOUND MIND STORY: VIRGINIA'S STORY

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen. Hebrews 11:1 TLV

I unfolded a donation letter with a curious yellow post-it stuck on top. “There is hope!” was hand-written in bold marker. An international ministry took the time to place post-its on all its mailers. I got up and stuck the post-it at eye-level on our new apartment door in New York City.

Less than a year before, I had married my best friend and fully expected us to fly like two eagles into our new life. But this vision didn’t happen. A series of changes and difficult circumstances hit me at an intensity I had never experienced as an adult: rejection, loss, illness, injury, old trauma, death, disappointment, anonymity. Our move to New York, an adventure I had freely chosen, was the hardest blow. David was trying to get me to fly with him, but I couldn’t get off the ground. I couldn’t even look up. And at some point I didn’t recognize myself as a bird, let alone a soaring eagle.

On most days, I blamed New York.

Lies filled my thoughts. I entertained these lies so much that being tormented by darkness shifted to believing the darkness was who I was. The darkness rationalized that I was simply letting go of my dreams and growing older. I was not the woman I thought I was or the woman David signed up for. That woman had been a huge misunderstanding.

Depression is personal. You cannot compare one person’s depression to another’s because the damage of depression is in its despair, not its degree. But there is one comparison I can make. So many people in our world have depression and do not know Jesus. I have His Spirit inside of me, yet I remained on the ground, flightless. Depression inflicted a unique shame because it signaled a breakdown in my life in the Spirit.

Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery. Galatians 5:1 PHILLIPS

Other versions say, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” I had read that so many times, yet never heard it. He died for our freedom. He is freedom. And I was not abiding in the Freedom that He died for.

I do not have a formula for how to walk through depression. I saw a godly therapist and began taking medication. I absolutely know there were spiritual battles I could have fought and Truth I could have tapped into and didn’t. What I can share with confidence, is that community and obedience were my greatest weapons. In spite of the pain of every physical step and mental decision, I chose to show up. I showed up for teams, community groups, leadership classes, prayer conferences and freedom groups even when I felt like an imposter. How can I serve if I don’t feel love? How can I be in the Spirit if all I feel is pain? Regardless, I kept doing the things the woman I once was would have done and join in things bigger than myself. I’ll never forget the first time I invited every woman I had begun to know at Liberty Church to my home, expecting maybe one or two to respond, and having every woman say yes. Shortly after, God asked me to open my home to women’s groups and create a space for vulnerability and His presence. I couldn’t feel His touch, but I would watch Him touch others. As my relationships deepened so many people affirmed my value and my strength. I had no idea why because I never felt effective or productive. These people believed in me with no visible evidence besides the value they saw, the value He bestowed upon me. And He was always telling them to tell me that He was with me.

Exactly three years after my depression began, I joined our church’s 21 days of prayer and fasting. Two weeks into the fast, I walked up Broadway and the chill in the air reminded me of previous New York winters. The first winter I wanted to give up on New York. The second winter I was collapsing under the weight of my depression. I stopped the tape to observe my third New York winter - even though I already knew what I’d feel. I envisioned myself sitting back down into the well-worn chair of my depression to confirm the inevitable. But the chair was gone. I noted the lightness in my body and thought I recognized joy, which felt unnatural so I checked again for the chair because it had to be somewhere in the room. I could not summon the feeling of the chair. I then noted the clearness of my mind. My mind felt clean. With childlike curiosity, I searched the room for the woman I was before the depression. And then I remembered what it felt like to be her and then my eyes were opened.

That Sunday I told my Brooklyn community what God had done. They celebrated with me. I should have told them how much their love had paved the way for His healing.

God reminded me of the post-it note, over two years old now, still on our door. And in an instant I realized that note was not in everyone's mailer. It was in mine. It was His declaration of victory long before my battle would end.

There is hope!

He fights for our freedom. And He always wins.

Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy's [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

 

 

 

Real Women. Real Freedom: Louisa

Real Women. Real Freedom: Louisa

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to sing. I remember being so outspoken about my singing, that once in Elementary School, I belted out Annie’s “Tomorrow” in front of my class of 30 students with no inhibitions. Somewhere along the way, that changed. Afraid of what other people thought of people who “claim” they can sing, I chose to stay silent about my vocal abilities.

I ended up harboring jealousy over others who were so willing to put themselves out there and I clothed myself in false humility. It got to a point where, in college, when my brother fell in love with music again, I would say, “he’s the singer, I’m the dancer” ignoring the fact that God made us in such a way that we both share both abilities.

It wasn’t until I fell back in love with God around three years ago, that He began to reawaken this gift inside of me. God worked on my heart and taught me that instead of feeling like I had to be “humble” and stay silent, that I was actually hiding one of the gifts he’d given me, and was dishonoring Him because I wouldn’t share my gift with others (see Matthew 25:14-30 and Matthew 5:15).

Because I wasn’t sharing that part of me, I was actually holding myself captive; not allowing others to see me. There are few things that make my heart sing (pun intended) quite like singing does. To me, being free is having the courage to put my talent on display and to earnestly desire to bless others with it. It’s not about desiring praise, it’s about singing songs in such a way that bring me joy in the hopes of bringing others joy in the process (Hallelujah is one of those songs).

It’s because of that revelation that I decided to put my latest cover on Youtube. It’s because of that revelation that I decided to take the plunge and join worship team. I don’t know where God will take me with this gift, but I know now that it is far better to partner with Him with each gift that he’s graciously given me, rather than run and hide because of how I think others will perceive me.

A POWER STORY: TIFFANY'S STORY

A POWER STORY: TIFFANY'S STORY

Unsurprisingly, Tiffany felt excited the day she found out her unborn child was a boy. She had brought home the sealed envelope, inside the result of a blood test detailing the sex, to her husband and four-year-old daughter. As a family, they opened it together.

However, a few days later a fear began nagging at her. “It was just the simple fact we were having a black boy who will eventually become a black man,” said Tiffany, 34, her slight Louisiana accent still audible after 11 years in New York. Despite those years in the city, she remains sweet and softly spoken with a bright smile that takes up a serious amount of face space.

That moment was in 2016 and Tiffany’s fear wasn’t exactly irrational. In a way, you could call it a practical response or a motherly instinct. In 2012, an unarmed 17-year-old boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood vigilante who was later acquitted of all charges. A slew of similar deaths followed making headlines. All of them male. All of them black. For Tiffany, those killings, some of them caught on camera and played thousands of times on cable news, didn’t plant the seed of fear for her son. They simply germinated what was already there.  

It’s hard to pinpoint when that seed was planted. Was it a generational fear subconsciously passed down since slavery? Or was it constant acts of racial microaggression like a New York City cab driver favoring the light-skinned customer on the other corner over her darker skin? Perhaps it was the Confederate flag fluttering above houses in her hometown. (Some will argue that the Confederate flag is just a show of Southern pride, but there is no denying it is also symbol that white supremacists rally around).

“You would think that would be something of my mother’s generation but that was something of my generation, something that impacted me,” said Tiffany, while breastfeeding her son, Spencer-Jackson, born in March.   

In a nonchalant way, she shrugs off the challenges throughout her life as common because unfortunately, they are. She was raised by a hardworking single mother with a strong faith in God who fought to get her kids into a good school, even if that school was a two-hour bus ride from home. Compared with other students there, her family didn’t have money. While those kids spent spring break on a vacation, Tiffany’s spent hers working in a bakery across from the school.

Then there were those little things that emit a curious “hmmm...”. For instance, being one of only a few African-Americans in the school’s dance team. In the summer between morning and afternoon practice, the other girls, all of them white, would hang out at someone’s house. Tiffany was never invited so she filled her time at the bakery. “I always wondered ‘What is it? Is it because I'm black? Why am I not getting an invite?” she wondered to herself at the time. Although each instance was different, it carried the same message: her life, her black life didn’t matter so much.

It’s easy to see how she thought of her son with fear and for him, statistically, the stakes are higher. Even at the age of ten, black boys are often perceived as older and seen without the lens of childhood innocence that is extended to white boys, research from the American Psychological Association found. A Washington Post investigation also found that unarmed black men were seven times more likely to die by police gunfire than unarmed white men. However, those disproportionate statistics are not clean cut and there is a layered debate as to why.

When Tiffany first felt fear for her unborn son, she pushed it away refusing to “give it any energy.” That didn’t stop the fear from shaping her life. Like most modern women, social media is a big part of Tiffany’s life, even more so because it is the crux of her job as a social media consultant. Throughout her first pregnancy, her unborn daughter was a regular subject on her Instagram account, but that wasn’t the case for her son. People she hadn’t seen in recent months had no idea she was pregnant. “I don't know if this has something to do with this being my second pregnancy and not my first,” said Tiffany. “I just wasn't telling people.”

She began chatting with friends and speaking to her husband, slowly realizing and admitting her underlying fear. That’s when Tiffany attended the She is Free women’s conference in September 2016, her belly beginning to swell four months into her pregnancy. Freedom from fear came in what seemed like a throwaway line as speaker Lisa Bevere closed up a message on one evening during the conference. "Mommas, you do not have to be afraid for your children,” was the sentence, which Tiffany still remembers verbatim. The message wasn’t about race or children or even fear. “Lisa wasn't speaking in that context, but it was at that exact moment when she said it,” said Tiffany. “It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

That night Tiffany felt empowered to post a photo of her baby bump on social media, captioning it with a testimony of the fear broken moments before. Comments of encouragement quickly came in as well as other women sharing their own instances of fear over their children.

Now her son is three months old and even though he is on this side of the womb, the anxiety never returned. “It was complete freedom,” she said.

Freedom On Display: Andrea Yu

Freedom On Display: Andrea Yu

Name: Andrea Yu
Piece: Free-motion Embroidery

Why do you create?
I create because it brings me joy, and believe that what you do out of joy will spread joy to others. To channel that with the Father is something indescribable.

Why did you decide to make something for Freedom on Display?
Creativity is part of who I am. It’s embedded into my heart, and it’s one of my gifts. I wanted to jump on the opportunity to be free and create something with my hands because I hadn’t done anything personally creative in a very long time. My current job withholds my creative capacity with many boundaries and limitations. With that being said, Freedom on Display was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself- stepping back into creating something freely from my heart.

What was the inspiration for your piece?
I’ve always struggled with striving for perfection, specifically in my creativity. As I was praying over what to do for this project, the Holy Spirit spoke and reminded me that I may not be or do things perfectly, but I am free in His presence. God clearly wanted to show me how to break free from all the striving through the process of this project. So I said, “Okay God, I want to create something with you, without fear and worry of what anyone else is going to think. I want you to guide my hand and breathe on this piece, so I can form something beautiful in freedom and not in perfection.” I wanted to create something with the Holy Spirit to represent freedom in what I was creating as an act of worship.

The Process:

Setting the atmosphere of my workspace was key to creating my piece. I anointed my space with essential oils, played worship music, and let the Holy Spirit to navigate me through the process without thinking about anything except for how cool it was to freely be creating with my Creator.

Materials:
Free-motion embroidery was one of my favorite techniques when I learned basic sewing, so I chose to challenge myself with picking it up again. I also just love what you can do with fabric- the texture you can make, and all the substrates there are to choose from. I chose linen. It is natural, and I love the texture it holds. The texture in the fabric allowed me to not be afraid of messing up, and added to the textural effect I wanted to keep in the piece. I also love the fact that linen was one of the most common fabrics used during the biblical times and is mentioned several times in the Bible as “fine linen” to depict the wardrobes of many priests and even the Lord and his angels!

What does freedom mean to you personally?
Freedom for me is to follow and be led by Jesus without fear. I don’t know what I would do without Him navigating the way in my life, and the only way I am free, feel free, and can be free is by constantly being tethered to Him and the Holy Spirit.

Real Women. Real Freedom: Nicole

Real Women. Real Freedom: Nicole

Meet Nicole Reyes… A sister. A friend. A teacher. Here is her story of freedom.

What does it mean to live free?
Nicole:  Jesus promised us in John 10:10, “life and life to the full.”  The Message version of that same verse describes this life as, “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”  I like that!  And I think that is the kind of freedom Jesus has for each of us.

Was there a time when you weren’t experiencing this freedom?  
Nicole:  Absolutely.  I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and even though my parents loved me I was exposed to a lot of fighting and abuse.  My father was an alcoholic for the first 10 years of my life.  As I child I never really understood unconditional love.  I felt like I needed to act a certain way and perform a certain way to try to keep my father’s drinking manageable.  When I was 12 years old, I became a Christian, and Jesus began to bring healing to my family.  We started attending church, and my father quit drinking.  It was a huge breakthrough for my family, but there was still a lot of hurt and pain to work through.  By the time I was 16, my relationship with my dad was completely broken.  I felt rejected by him, and ultimately I felt there was something wrong with me.  My relationship with my father seemed to be an indicator that I wasn’t good enough to be loved.  And perhaps the hardest part was how lonely I felt.  I believed the only person I could really depend on was myself.

How were you able to experience freedom where there had been so much pain?  
Nicole:  Jesus has really been so good to me!  When I was 19 years old, the Holy Spirit started speaking to me about forgiveness.  I began the journey of reconciliation with my father, and I am so grateful for the relationship I have with him today.  That was a defining moment for me- the moment I chose to forgive and move forward from the wounds of my childhood.  But it wasn’t the end of my journey; in fact, it was just the beginning.  Over the years, Jesus continues to lead and guide me in His powerful truth and relentless grace, teaching me just how loved I am and what it means to love.  I really believe abiding in God’s love and loving others is an endless exploration with surprises around every corner.  I continue to discover what it means to know that no matter what I experience or what I do or do not do, I am loved and that I am capable of loving.  And this continual discovery is continually changing me into a woman who loves more, laughs more, dreams more, dares more, and lives more.

/// “And this continual discovery is continually changing me into a woman who loves more, laughs more, dreams more, dares more, and lives more.” ///

What role have other women played in your journey of freedom?
Nicole:  I’m not sure where to begin!  Thank God for the women who held my hand and encouraged me and picked me back up when I stumbled under the strain of recovery.  Thank God for the women who wouldn’t leave me even when I tried to push them away.  Thank God for friends who see the best in me when I struggling to see it in myself.  Thank God for friends who aren’t content with fake answers and shallow conversations.  Thank God for friends who know when to hug me, when to cry with me, when to say or do the most idiotic things that turn my self-focus into roaring laughter!  We all need friends like that, and without my mom, my sister, my pastor, and my close friends I wouldn’t be experiencing the freedom I am.

What is your prayer for the women attending She Is Free this year? 
Nicole:  I hope that you hear Heaven speak to you this year at She Is Free.  I hope you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your Heavenly Father has always loved you and always will; that one look from Him can calm the raging storm of your soul and heal the deepest wounds of your heart; that one word from Him can ignite hope deep within and breathe bravery into your very lungs; that one conversation with Him can deposit wisdom for your world and inexpressible joy in your current circumstances.  I pray that at She Is Free you know the sheer happiness of having Him extravagantly cheer you on, boldly believe in you, lavishly love you, relentlessly provide for you, and wildly protect you.

“10 A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
–John 10:10 The Message

Freedom Firsts with Nagela: The Horse

Freedom Firsts with Nagela: The Horse

Unexpected things happen on the journey of freedom. Watch how Nagela bravely crosses off an item on her “Never Have I Ever” list. Please share this post with a friend.

Friendship & Freedom: Sarah and April

Friendship & Freedom: Sarah and April

For some reason when the first ever She Is Free registrations went on sale, I thought I’d buy 2 – one for me and one for my best friend from middle school who I hadn’t spoken to in about a year… and who lived across the country! Even wilder, she said yes(!) and a NYC reunion was in the works!

To be honest, I was a bit nervous. We hadn’t seen or really caught up in a while and my life was drastically different from when we had last seen each other. I wasn’t sure how it would go but was so excited about the event and having her to visit that I just ran ahead. The best part of that first day was finding that God had radically changed her life since last time, too! Here we were, at a clear God-appointment after a complete 180 in both of our lives, running wildly, kinda gracefully, at our new found freedom and daughterhood.

We’ve now been to both She Is Free’s together and after the shock and awe of meeting a wholly transformed (and even more beautiful than ever) April at the first one, I learned one of the richest lessons of my life over the second She Is Free. I did not have the nervous uncertainty this year, instead I had presumptions: I had grown certain ways, she must have grown there, too! Instead, I found someone who had spent the time between each conference certainly growing, like a weed even, but in vastly different ways than I. She had depth where I was just grasping things and vice versa. I had learned lessons differently or different lessons were learned. I was humbled and… how crazy, she seemed to have her very own, personal, brilliant, customized relationship with God that looked nothing like mine and yet everything like mine all at once!

To my great blessing, I met more of God just by processing and learning and laughing and worshipping with her those 4 days and had a complete paradigm shift in my understanding of God’s relationality. As I learned from my oldest best friend how to host a guest speaker and sought her wisdom, I marveled at the woman she had become and the differences and sameness of our walks with God. I also realized that the same must be true of my friends here in front of me. The ones I do life with every day and might not notice the change over the passage of time. I’ve learned to celebrate the color of God they bring to the masterpiece instead of inspecting it and trying to conform or compete with it. I’ve determined to not compare walks or measure growth in any worldly sense. I endeavor to seek out what others can teach me about my Lord, rather than be threatened by it. And I’ve certainly thanked God for middle school awkwardness redemption! 

Meet her yourself – below are some of April’s brilliant tidbits on doing this together:

– After worship the first night of She Is Free as both of us were on our knees weeping, we knew this was powerful
– I got to meet a whole community of women and stay in touch with them throughout the year so by the next She Is Free, I truly felt like I was visiting a whole bunch of friends
– Sarah’s and my friendship has such a deep bond now because we encountered God in the same space, in the same presence, and got to “decompress” together about all God was telling us
– Throughout the year we got to check in with each other to “do life” together from coast to coast. Whether we send each other Bible Verses, sermons, blogs, thoughts, etc – I knew Sarah was in my corner
– This She Is Free I actually got to serve with Sarah and watch her become a leader at Liberty and watch the church grow and expand. That warms my heart! I feel like it’s a win for me too!
– From exceptional Liberty Pastors, generous volunteers, amazing worship, incredible art pieces, generational support, and power packed preaching and teaching, She Is Free is something you can’t afford to miss.
– She Is Free exposed me to women of all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, coming together under the banner of freedom, love, and grace.

Invite someone(s) and be blessed beyond what you imagined!

Freedom On Display: Christina

Freedom On Display: Christina

For the last few years I struggled with understanding what it meant to be saved. There was never a time in my life that I did not believe in God. I was raised in a Catholic family. We went to church every (most) Sundays. I went to Catholic school for twelve years, we prayed before meals, and had Bibles in our home. I was baptized, had my first communion, and was confirmed, but if you asked me if I was a Christian, I would have stared at you blankly and said not really.

I came to Liberty two months after moving to New York City. I had finally made the move I was dreaming of for as long as I can remember, but I felt lost and alone once I was here. A friend invited me to her church and after a few polite declines I woke up one Sunday, got dressed and headed to Soho to meet my friend for church. Something clicked pretty immediately that first service and I kept going back. Within two months I was on a team serving on Sundays. One Sunday during the pre- service team meeting the Pastors felt they needed to use that time to pray. So they put on worship music and the team lined up to get prayer from the Pastors and members of the prayer team.

I still remember the song that was playing. It was Everything to You by Bethel. I got in line not knowing what I was even doing. When it was my turn the community pastor said to me what can I pray for you for? “I don’t know, I said. I don’t know what I am doing.” He said how long have you been saved? And I started crying and said I don’t know what that means. So he started to pray for me. And I sat down in my seat and watched the rest of my fellow team members pray and get prayed for. Service came and went and I found myself in my apartment on the floor sobbing. I was crying so hard it felt the tears were coming from my stomach. I called my Mom and just sobbed on the phone and told her about what I just experienced.

It was then I realized that I could know Jesus. That I could have a relationship with the Holy Father. That Jesus did not just exist on an altar for us to bow to on Sundays and not look back. That Jesus is within us always. I realized that I was made whole in His name. That there was joy and peace, and love waiting for me. It was like Jesus had sat down on that floor with me and cried with me as we watched the pain and sin that I held onto wash away. I was His creation, I was free from the chains of loneliness and depression and sin, I was saved.

I realized that I knew religion. But I did not know Jesus. I did not know that there was a plan and purpose for me. Since I have come to know Him, I have learned about parts of myself that I never knew existed. I picked up a paintbrush for the first time and painted because He called me to. He showed me that I was worthy, I was creative, I was valued, and that I was loved!

For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to the arts and fashion. I am in awe of people that take a blank canvas, or pieces of fabric, or blank film and create art. The art of creating has always moved me. I believe that art is the medium I have to reach people. I have seen that art can give people purpose, it can heal the hurt and wounds people suffer from. It can give words to emotions that people can not express. Art can unify where there is division. Art can bring light to a room that is filled with darkness. When I create anything I know it is made with the same purpose I received that day on my bedroom floor. The day that I was saved. The day that I stopped being an acquaintance of the Father. and I became a daughter. The day I became a Christian.

Freedom for the Generations: April & Avalon

Freedom for the Generations: April & Avalon

Last year I invited my mom, Dennise to She Is Free with the hopes that we would have the rare chance for some one-on-one time and deeper connection as mother and daughter. Since moving to New York, opportunities like this are few and far between. I knew that God had something special planned for us. Mom had just come out of a tough season with my grandmother’s passing. God’s timing for connection, rest and healing was perfect. I was also going through a painful transition season with my own family and was feeling quite broken. We knew in our hearts that we both needed a refreshing of our spirits, our souls, and our bodies and that there was a new level of freedom awaiting us.

At She Is Free, we both experienced a true freedom from the bondage of anxiety, pain, and performance. I felt so overwhelmed by how much my loving Father poured out His heart into both of us that weekend. We laughed, we cried, we prayed, and truly went to a new level of understanding as mother and daughter and also as individual women. During worship I remember standing beside my mom and I heard the sweet but strong voice of God say “You will conceive a daughter this year and her name will be Avalon Reign.” I had never thought of that name and having another baby was not on my radar at this point. A little stunned, I quickly looked up the name. I was moved to tears to find out that Avalon means “apple of God’s eye” and Reign means “to hold royal office”. I realized at that very moment that the entire weekend was all about me realizing how important freedom is generationally.

A few months later, God’s promise was fulfilled and I became pregnant with a daughter! I am still blown away by what Avalon means. It is not a name that I had ever planned but is truly a beautiful gift from heaven and a sweet prophecy over my daughter. Being the apple of God’s eye means you know He has prized you and He sees you fully and wholly for who you are; our identity is set in Him and  Him alone. I know Avalon was born to carry the banner of identity in Christ for her generation. This whisper from God at She Is Free was louder to me than a million trumpets and shows that we are all called to carry the banner of freedom not only for our generation, but for the generations to come.