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ANTHONY & SOPHA RUSH "These two years of marriage have exposed the deception and pressure trap of feeling like I had to be that "perfect" wife and he had to be the storybook husband because people were watching our marriage unfold."

Credits E D I TO R I N C H I E F Briana Malik S E N I O R E D I TO R Ausha Munroe COMMUNITY & BUSINESS R E L AT I O N S Carolina Aragon A D M I N I S T R AT I V E A S S I S TA N T Sydney Thom C OV E R S TO R Y Anthony & Sopha Rush

When you pick up an issue of FREED Magazine or scroll through our Online Journal, we want you to feel as if you’re sitting down with a close friend. We hope the authenticity of our stories stirs your heart. Our desire is that our vulnerability allows you to be open with those whom you trust to expose what is broken, seek healing, and have the courage to one day tell your story. Our scars are reminders of the battles we faced and our stories testify to the healing that comes in surrendering to Christ. -T h e F R E E D T E A M



personally experienced the extreme highs and disparaging lows of deception. I tasted the bitter fruit of lies and was burned by the fire of deceit. For that season I enjoyed being deceived, but when my eyes were opened to the truth I couldn’t turn a blind eye to the facts. I sought perfection hoping to find freedom from the deception. Once I stopped trying to curate perfection after I experienced what God does even in imperfect situations. He turned a mess into a beautiful abstract piece of art touching me and my situation in ways I personally could not even have fathomed. As you explore these pages I pray that the all consuming love of Jesus fills you and the stories of our strong, courageous, and bold contributors stirs your heart to action. Lastly, I pray as you read through this issue that your eyes are opened to any deception in your life and that you ask God for wisdom and the strength to remove it.

-Briana Ariel


www.BrianaAriel.com | @Briana___Ariel


















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All contributors confirmed that the content submitted and published in FREED Magazine is owned by each contributor respectively.


Jakera Cooper

Choosing Life

IG: @thejakeracooper www.coteriecollective.co

From a young age, in the midst of me living and growing in a perpetual state of sin, shame and guilt at the mercy of my parents and environment, I always had this feeling that I would die young. I remember vividly thinking I would never make it to 16 years old. I had no idea why, but I would be surprised to be alive and breathing on the day of my 16th, 18th and 21st birthdays. I wasn’t suicidal or depressed, but I dreamt and genuinely felt that I would be leaving earth soon. The enemy had a plan for my downfall from the very beginning. I lived in chronic, unannounced, unexpressed fear for most of my life. Because I didn’t know any better, I chose to believe the lies that I would never make it, never be anyone or amount to anything because I would never live to see the day. The truth is, God knew me in my mother’s womb and established my destiny, but I spent all of my energy focused on the enemy deploying his plans for my destruction. My biological parents did the best they possibly could while being entrapped, enslaved and bound to a life of drugs, alcohol, abuse, prostitution, abortion, and incarceration. This was their norm, as it soon became mine. At the age of two, barely knowing how to eat on my own, I ate from the trash at times because I was so hungry. I was a timid and very anxious child; being punished for things I didn’t understand. I grew up seeing abuse, drug needles, visiting family members in jail, hearing stories of overdoses and death, enraged drunken fights and things of the like. I grew up very fast. I often wonder what and where I would be today if I was never rescued and redeemed. FREED MAGAZINE 6

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I love my sister. She is my anchor. My blood. My helper in this life. We are just one year apart and adore one another. I thank God for her everyday because of the life we both were dealt. At around the age of seven we were adopted by my aunt and uncle by the sheer grace of God. Strongholds and generational curses caused my sister and I to utterly turn their home with their three biological children upside-down. From anxiety attacks, resentful outbursts, stealing, lying, back and forth to court and supervised visitations and endless therapy sessions, my aunt and uncle ran the race God called them to with diligence and love. They had no idea the amount of work, grace, prayer and love that I needed at a very sensitive and important time in my life. They didn’t choose this. God gave me to them and called them to a lifelong journey that would forever change the course of my life in this world and the next. They were instruments of grace as they were used by God to change my eternity story. If it weren’t for them exchanging selfishness for selflessness, I have no idea where I would be today. I’ve dealt most of my life with broken promises, confusion, and a tug-of-war between love and hate. As I grew older I often asked, “Why me? Why couldn’t I just be ‘normal.’”I had big dreams but had no idea how to reach them. On one end I longed for a nuclear family that was happy and whole that I could call my own; on the other end I was angry, resentful, bitter and unforgiving. I often had anxiety attacks that followed me up through recent years. I never really noticed them or wanted to accept it. I later found out that my anxiety was tied to my need to belong, be wanted, be needed, and be perfect so that others might love me. My anxiety got so bad that I would quit jobs, not talk to people for weeks on end, and hide myself from everything and everyone. I was in a constant state of panic; I felt like I was always about to die and did it all alone; never telling anyone. I was the bigger sister-- I needed to be strong, courageous, wise and discerning. I felt like there couldn’t be a weak or vulnerable bone in me because I had a younger sister growing behind me that needed an example that was different from what I had.



I lived like this until the day I told God that I was not leaving his presence until I had my breakthrough. I remember it so clearly. I was in the car on the way from work and I was crying asking God why. More like screaming, hitting the steering wheel and having a tantrum like a child because I was so over it. Not only was I asking why, but I said ‘no more.’ Little did I know he was waiting until I got to this point of utter helplessness, depletion of self, and complete surrender. He spoke to me through my tears that for most of my life I chose to believe the lie of the enemy that death was my reality; that anxiety and worry were mine to own for the rest of my life. I cried even more because he was telling me that the life that I had lived up to that point was a choice. I didn’t choose this life, but I did choose how I would live it and I chose fear and anxiety over love, power and a sound mind. I chose death over life, but God showed me my truth. He showed me that he never meant for me to live like that. He showed me that I chose to carry a burden for almost 23 years that was never mine to begin with. I found freedom and healing that day. Strongholds and curses were broken off. The lies of the enemy were exposed, rebuked, denounced and cut off with the blood of Christ. I want to encourage those reading this. It gets better and you have a purpose. There is a plan for your life. There is a future and hope for you. I want you to ask yourself and bring God into this conversation: What lie(s) have you chosen to believe in? What burdnen(s) have you been carrying that you were supposed to leave at the foot of the cross? Maybe you didn’t choose this life, but God chose you to walk in victory all the days of your life, not just some. How bad do you want your breakthrough? Are you will to completely surrender everything to God so that he can do what only he can? I am standing in agreement with you as you have this conversation with your heart and God, that you find peace, freedom and purpose in your pain, trial or situation. Remember to speak life to what may seem dead in your life because you have been redeemed, set-free and called to run this glorious race!


Photographer: Odile Quidal | www.OdileQD.myportfolio.com | IG: @by_odile Model: Whitney Senga | IG: @withneey | Location: Paris

A walk in

Covenant Garden

Aliah Mitchell Matta

The Girl with the Shattered Mirror

Instagram: @ alilyxo Twitter: @Alilyxo17

Mirrors reflect light. When we look in the mirror, we’re supposed to see someone we know. Someone we recognize. But that’s not always the case. Mirrors are fragile objects, they break. They shatter. Kind of like us after we’ve been told lies. After we’ve believed lies. No truth is left behind. But I want to let you in on a little secret, what you do with the shattered pieces is what counts. How you see yourself after you’ve been deceived is what truly matters. How you move on from a world of lies to a kingdom of truth is what determines who you are. Make the shattered pieces count. Growing up my shattered pieces had a lot to do with my culture. Being AfricanAmerican and Puerto Rican was something I wore as shame. I never knew what I was supposed to look like, act like,or talk like. It was really easy for me to believe what others had to say about me. Black was not beautiful, and I would have to live with that for the rest of my life. Looking back, I regret not realizing who I was. It was so easy to accept the lies rather than search for truth. FREED MAGAZINE 10

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My shattered pieces also had a lot to do with my relationship with my dad. I had a lot of questions about who I was because of his absence at the time. My hair didn’t make sense nor did my medium-sized lips. I didn’t know then, my identity is found in Christ and in Christ alone. Everything seemed to pile up on me at age 12. I specifically remember waking up one morning thinking I couldn’t make it through the day. I figured that I could distract myself by washing dishes and playing worship music. My thoughts were louder than the music, and the same words kept replaying in my head. As someone who struggled with suicidal thoughts at the time, I want you to know that the enemy has no favorites. He chooses anyone and makes them believe there’s no hope. A sense of freedom was gained that day when I told my mom what I was feeling, but shame was still my home. To this day, I have no words to describe that time period of my life. But I do know life is much more beautiful when you accept God’s love for you. Generational curses and depression have nothing on you when you know you’re loved. Life changes when God’s reckless love intervenes. As I write this, I feel God breaking it all down for me. Lies lead to disappointment, and disappointment leads to shame. We walk around with insecurities on our sleeves because of the lies we’ve been told. And the hardest part is that these lies don’t always come from strangers. Sometimes, the voices in our heads are extremely familiar. They can come from a family member, or a “friend.” I know how hard it is to forgive yourself for allowing it to happen, but if deception hasn’t come knocking on your door; I’m convinced it will soon. And when it does, I encourage you to do the hard work of uncovering the lies in your life. Pick up the shattered pieces, lay them out on the table. Begin to speak truth to yourself. You are your biggest motivator. On the other side of deception, there’s freedom. Make the shattered pieces count.

Photographer: Leslie Hernandez FREED MAGAZINE 11

Bradley Lopez

No Turning Back

IG: @ bybradleylopez

I always knew there had to be a God. I can vividly remember feeling as though there was something greater protecting me. As a little kid flying from New York to the Dominican Republic, I would be terrified and afraid of the turbulence, so I used to hide under the blanket and begin to pray. These moments were probably the first encounters that I acknowledged my need for God. Though I believed there was a God, I had never taken the time to cultivate a relationship with Him, so I spent my early twenties searching for fulfillment, pleasure, and love-- anything to fill the void. I used to go out to clubs, drink, and surround myself with women chasing after the next thrill in order to find satisfaction and fullness. It was all temporary. However, I didn't know any other way. Growing up, I came across Christians that would say things like, “You shouldn’t do this or that,” and it always felt like judgement. They never seemed appealing to me, so I didn’t view them as an example and wanted to be nothing like them. I knew something in their faith was right, but I had a feeling there was more and that their attitude and character wasn’t like that of Jesus. There had to be something deeper, so I began to search for God myself. My first encounter was actually through researching on YouTube and watching people receive the Holy Spirit.


FALL 2018

During the summer of 2016, when I was around twenty-five years old, my family got invited to church. When my mom asked if I wanted to go, she was surprised when I immediately said yes. What she didn’t know was that I was already searching for God on my own, so when I received her invitation, I thought it might be the answer to some of my questions. I had questions about what my purpose was and wanted a revelation or something like it. We went to the church and the pastor ended up calling my entire family to the altar. I felt the Holy Spirit moving, so I started feeling a little scared and nervous as I had never experienced a feeling like it before. I began to tremble and my heart started beating faster. I dropped on the floor and found myself crying. When I opened my eyes, the pastor told me that God has something big for my life. Those following days, I didn’t listen to music and I am a music head. I felt so full and alive that I didn’t need anything from the outside. Before going to church that Sunday, I had never felt a sense of peace like I was feeling inside. Four months later, I returned home from a trip and I felt empty again. But then I remembered my friend inviting me to Hillsong two years prior, so I googled for their services and I decided to go on my own. I experienced a touch of heaven for the first time ever on that Sunday. I remember driving back home and crying because I couldn’t believe what I was feeling. After a Sunday service, I wouldn’t want it to end. My heart was filled with so much happiness as I left with an abundance of love, peace, and grace on the inside. Ever since, I made it a priority to go to church every Sunday. I met Jesus at Hillsong.

fun is not about what you do, it’s about how you feel. If I already feel good, I can be anywhere and feel content. I now find joy in helping people, learning and creating by working on my calling through my gift within fashion. Since I feel a great sense of freedom, everything else is just an added bonus. You begin to get joy from the smallest things. My dreams were too small for the plans that God has for me. Consequently, I stopped following my dreams and started following Jesus. I can only imagine what he will continue to unfold in the days to come. Never in a million years would I have thought my life would look like this. I have been able to meet so many people in church. Having them be a part of my life has been really encouraging through watching the love they have shown me, shown others and the way they love Jesus. They’ve taught me a lot about how to seek God in every area of my life, like how to be there for my family and friends and even how to become a better and stronger man.

For anyone reading this right now, keep searching and looking towards God and try to seek Him because you will find Him. I once heard that if you ask God powerful questions, you’ll get powerful answers. It’s not a perfect life, but there is hope. Jesus helps through the storms. To be able to experience freedom from shame, guilt, addictions, and bondage all because of God’s grace and a second chance, is a privilege. When you’re not free, you feel the need to escape your reality and find a false sense of freedom. I look back at my life and see how much God has changed my perspective. In the beginning, some people were having The things I used to overlook, I now care for. I trouble accepting the changes and progress have a deeper compassion and love for people. I was making. It was a bit challenging because I want to listen and understand people more. they were always bringing up my past, but I I feel His love and His presence like never never added to those conversations because I before. I found what I was searching for and it knew I was changing and growing into a better is something you can only feel when you accept version of myself daily. Some people look at Jesus at His word. I wouldn’t trade this for Christianity like you can’t do much, so they anything in the world. make excuses for denying the faith, "Oh, I’ll do that in the future,” “I’m too young to be there,” or, “It’s a boring life.” But from my experience FREED MAGAZINE 13

Keri Hui

No Longer Caught Up in the World’s Ranking

IG: @kerihui www.kerihui.co.uk I was 9 years old when I entered my first piano competition. When the judge handed me the third prize, he commented, “I would have placed you higher if only you had not played the last note wrong!” I was bubbling with joy regardless. Meanwhile, I could not fathom why the second-prize winner was crying. But as I grew up with the dream of becoming a professional musician, I came to understand his cry of despair. After all, he was so close to obtaining the first prize. Since studying as a full-time music performance major in college, I have used competition as a tool to verify my existence and value. For a long time, I did not want to admit it, but C.S. Lewis hits the nail of the head, “We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” FREED MAGAZINE 14

FALL 2018

Deep down, I craved recognition, be it a recognition of my talent or of my hard work. Yet with more participation in competitions came more insecurity and sometimes self-pity. My mood lived under the control of ranks and marks that judges assigned to me. I could feel great for a minute when people praised me or my work, and yet in the next, crushed into pieces when criticism started to roll in. The more I went on stage, the more I felt like I was being judged in a courtroom. Because I was not considered as being on “the top,” a teacher I loved grew ashamed of me. Knowing I am not the most gifted performer, I was not bitter, but because I held this teacher in high esteem, the words that were spoken to me concerning my value haunted me. One of the last things that I was told was, “You will never make it.” This confused me. At first, it seemed like the two of us were speaking different languages, for if there was indeed an “it” that I wanted to achieve, it was the goal to enjoy God and His gift. However, I was indeed chasing after a false “it” which I had never realized. As I walked under the shadow of shame and rejection without knowing where I was, God, faithful in His nature, finally awakened me with not only a comforting, “How long will you mourn?” but a sobering, “How long will you remain in the world’s system?” Is the idea of competition inherently bad? Although competition in the fallen world does seem to be plagued with pride and envy, God did create us to play and to delight in the good gifts that He has given us. Most competitions seem to test our ability and reveal our gifts, while others, like sporting competitions, foster friendship and cooperation. Perhaps that's why many teachers, including some of my own, have asked their students to compete for the purpose of sharpening skills.



“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14) — when we think of false teaching, what often comes to mind are beliefs such as the denial of the triune nature of Jesus Christ or of His death and resurrection. Yet I have been tossed by the waves with a more subtle lie: that I need to delight in, to find my worth in, and to submit to the world’s ranking system rather than Him. I was caught up in the world’s ranking system, mistaking it as the god that confirms my existence and determines my worth. But the God revealed in Jesus Christ shatters all deceptions. As Eugene Peterson writes, “The moment the word God is uttered, the world’s towering falsehood is exposed - we see the truth. The truth about me is that God made and loves me… The truth about what is wrong with the world is that I and the neighbour sitting beside me have sinned in refusing to let God be for us, over us and in us.” God does not only speak truth, He is the Truth. In choosing Him, there is no middle ground: I can only choose to dwell either in lies or in the Truth. I can only choose to abide in the world’s ranking system or in His love. I can only choose to live as the citizen of the kingdom of darkness or of the kingdom of God. And the world’s ranking system, no matter how deeply ingrained in us, does not exist in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matt 19:30). No matter how small or big our portion of gift is, or how early or late we have come to receive Him, or how “high” or “low" our position is at work, Christ is all and in all — by leaving the world’s system behind, I let Christ be the reality that I live in.


Photographer: SKYLAR COONAN | IG: @SkylarCoonanPhotography | www.SkylarCoonanPhotography.com

E ugene H olloman

Unlearning a Dream

IG & Twitter: @geneduke14 www. theathletestudent.com

When the word deception roles off the tip of my tongue, I can instantly feel my heart start to beat rapidly. Maybe the rapid heart pounding is a result of the negative connotations attached to the word. Embedded deep within are reminiscences of betrayal, cheating, fooling, lying, hypocrisy, and disappointment to name a few. Or maybe it’s because I have been deceived so many times that my heart in conjunction with my mind unconsciously recollects some of those buried memories. “Your only way out of here is through sports,” was the constant message you would hear in my community. So from the time I discovered the gift of athleticism up into my 23rd birthday, I worked tirelessly in the pursuit of a lifelong dream built upon deceit. I can recall numerous times telling myself to pursue other avenues rather than football. I was tired of putting my body through physical pain. I was tired of the screaming coaches. I was tired of the conditional love determined from how well I performed on the field. But, soon thereafter, I would convince myself that if I didn’t continue there was nothing left in this world for me. There was nothing I was qualified to do. Either it was sports, or my life had little to no value.


FALL 2018

My entire life I turned public deception into self-deception by consuming tidbits of media lies each day as if they were snacks. Slowly but surely, I devoured what television deemed as necessary. Society deceptively suggested running, throwing, kicking, and hitting a ball was much more rewarding for young African Americans. The mainstream media heavily doused the airwaves with a representation of African Americans as either entertainers or athletes while rarely seeing role models who were family men or held positions that did not focus on their physique and stamina. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, chefs, and teachers were far and few between. The result from both inadvertently formed a perspective that ultimately shaped my selfworth. The only thing I believed I was worthy of was one day being a professional athlete playing on prime-time television. Either I was going to be a superstar athlete, or I was nothing at all. The art of deception was at its finest my senior year at James Madison University. I was coming off an all-conference football season in which if repeated – I would more than likely reach my goal of becoming a highly paid professional athlete. Instead, I tore ligaments in my knee altering the only plans I had ever had. Rather than taking advantage of my education, I took the easiest courses the university had to offer. I chose the easiest major I could find because my fate was sealed, so I thought. As days turned into months, I established suicidal thoughts. I felt my life was not worthy of living. Having the rug pulled from right underneath me in a millisecond, left me feeling hopeless. Coaches, family, and friends who loved me prior to my knee injury were long gone afterward. I battled with depression for years. I hated God. How could a loving God deny me of a dream I had as a child? A dream in which I prayed to him about. I ultimately graduated from college. But after years of chasing one dream with my identity so tightly wrapped in it, I had no idea what to do with my life next. Why didn’t I take advantage of the opportunities I was given, ran through my mind like a treadmill over and over again? I blamed my parents for not teaching me. I blamed coaches for only coaching me on the field. I blamed the school system. I blamed the media. But after being stuck with picking up the pieces of my life, I could only blame myself. In an instant, the realization of self-deception struck me harder than any hit I had ever taken on the football field. In the midst of my brokenness, I tried to fill the void of emptiness with partying and alcohol. To no avail, drinking and partying only freed me of my agony for the moment. It was like cutting branches from a hideous tree you wanted to be remove. I eventually learned the only way to rid yourself of a problem altogether was to dig it up from its roots just as you would a tree. In my search, I knew I was in need of something that would not depart from me when the buzz wore off. FREED MAGAZINE 19


It wasn’t until I heard, “Your identity is not in sports, it is in Christ,” from my pastor in 2011, that things began to change. It was like the shackles instantly broke from my body as I started my journey of following God and understanding true purpose. As my relationship with Christ strengthened, I found new self-worth. I found a new identity, one that sports or the media could not determine as significant. I began to work diligently with the help of His Spirit in finding other talents and gifts God had given me. I found a genuine love for writing after pursuing a doctoral degree in strategic leadership. I recently selfpublished a fictional novel titled ‘The Athlete-Student: Freshman year.’ And after years of being deceived, I now understand the importance of breaking away from lies. Breaking away from strongholds that deter us from being everything God has called us to be. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined being an author. It’s been a long road from believing the “dumb jock” stereotypes. While I don’t want to make the journey of finding true purpose through God sound easy because it was one of the most challenging experiences I ever had, I do want to emphasize the importance. I learned more about myself through a refinement process that has invigorated my character and has allowed me to care about others genuinely. For me, God was the last resort. I thought I could fix myself. I figured if only I could catch the right break, my life would turn for the better. I see now, when we try to do things apart from God is when true deception starts. No matter how many lies you believed or how far you think you might be, find yourself through pursuing a relationship with God. I can guarantee it will be a story worth telling.


IG: @ h e n r yj k e i t h |



Meridith Boggs

An Unhealthy Relationship with Food

IG: @meredithwboggs www.meredithwboggs.com “Based on the story I know and from your height and weight, you’re right at the cut off for being anorexic,” said the tall, slender woman in a white lab coat with her name and credentials embroidered on the left side, stethoscope around her neck, who sat on a stool in front of me. “No,” I thought. “I’m not at that point, not yet at least.”. At this moment, as I was being confronted with the truth, not only could I see the self deception that had brought me to the very place I was sitting, but that deception was driving my response, it was fanning the flame of denial as I thought to myself, “No, I don’t have a problem and I definitely don’t have an eating disorder.”


FALL 2018

The lies that led down a path to control then obsession to finally a full blown eating disorder stemmed from the culture around me and was fed by the insecurity of every middle school aged girl I knew. Whether with school girls or church girls, the insecurity of one's own body, the unattainable standard the media portrays and the cultural acceptance dieting or restricting certain foods at the sake of health, made for fertile ground for these lies to take root and grow. Just a few more pounds, a few more miles or a few less calories would certainly be the cure. My body survived daily a deficit of nearly one thousand calories. My breakfast and lunch on school days consisted of a Balance bar, giving my body a mere fraction of the carbs, protein and fat it needed. I obsessively read labels, scouring for the caloric and fat content of a given food item. Foods like eggs, milk and one slice of cheese on a sandwich were off limits because they were too high in fat. Very lean meats, low calorie yogurt, a few very select carbohydrate and vegetables were in the ‘safe’ and ‘allowed’ food categories. While already running of a major deficit of the calories my body needed to operate each day much less the nutrition needed to survive, my exercise routine did my body far more damage than it did good. My summer days were spent doing hour long swim workouts as part of the swim team. When school was in session, each day after school I would hit the treadmill for a 2-3 mile run and complete the work out with a 20-30 minute weight training routine. I pushed my deprived body to perform the same way athletes do while withholding the fuel and rest it needed. It would make for a good story if I told you that the day I sat in front of that woman in the white lab coat marked a turning point. However, that wasn’t the case. Just as I did not wake up one day entrenched in an eating disorder, wildly out of control with my thoughts and patterns as it pertained to food and body image, the fix would not be a quick one. Recovery would be a journey, not an overnight destination to arrive at. It was a journey marked by months of wandering and stumbling but also one colored by the beauty of recovery and redemption. During my season of recovery, part of my work included approaching exercise in a way that was not obsessive and introducing and incorporating foods I had previously restricted back into my diet in order to nourish my deprived body. But the real work came in confronting the lies I had been deceived by. The real work came in seeing those lies for what they truly were. They were not ‘guidelines’ to keep me on track or ‘motivation’ to keep me moving ahead. They were lies, false beliefs, distortions of truth, deception.



It is only after you have done the work, to uncover the lies that have served as your motivation, weed out the harmful thought patterns that have directed your actions and confronted head on the lies you have believed about yourself and God, that you can begin to destroy those lies and rebuild your life on the foundation of truth. The lies I confronted during my season of recovery, the lies that had long deceived me were that my value was found in my image, that if I didn’t maintain a tight grip of control over my body, it would betray me. My weight would balloon out of control and I was the one ultimately in control. The truths that came to replace those lies were that my value and worth was found in who I am, not what I am, that truth that my body would not betray me like I feared, but that I could learn to trust it and befriend it, and the truth that God is the one who is ultimately in control, that he holds our lives and directs our paths. Every day I wake up and practice believing these truths and on my better days, I do in fact believe them, deeply, fully and with a sureness in my bones. But on my worst of days, the lies that decieved me for years will show back up. These lies are usually masked, enticing me, beckingong for me and assuring me that what they have to offer will be the cure, the fix and satisfaction to the deepest longings I feel in my soul, a longing that I have come to find is only satisfied in Jesus. When these lie begin to lurk in my heart and my mind begins to entertain thoughts and paths that I know lead only to harm, destruction and hopelessness, I ground myself in the only one who can save me from those places and save me from myself. I root myself in the truths I have come to believe, holding on securely to the one who has promised and who is faithful. Contemplative prayer, yoga, running and writing are just a few of the practices I use to keep myself grounded and rooted in truth. Surrounding myself with people who know my story, people who have shared similar struggles and continually


Cindy Lora

Finding The Truth

FALL 2018


Human reason teaches us that bad things only happen to bad people. However, the truth is, we live in a fallen world and bad things do happen to good people. Look at Jesus, He was perfect, and sinless; however, he was crucified for our sins. He didn’t do anything wrong, yet He suffered. The Bible says, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). This Scripture reminds me that suffering and hardship is part of life. However, I know that there is always a purpose behind the pain. You know a lot of times you don’t realize you are being deceived until God reveals the truth to you. For many years in my life, I walked in deception. I came from a family that had strong faith; however, their beliefs were very different. My father’s family believed in Hinduism while my mother’s family believed in Christianity. My paternal grandfather was considered a Hindu priest while my maternal grandfather was a pastor. Therefore, growing up I was confused in what to believe. Unfortunately, when I was about 8 years old my maternal grandparents passed away. The unexpected death of my mother’s parents took a toll on her, and eventually my parents got divorced. My father was granted custody, which resulted in me living with his parents.


My paternal grandparent’s faith in Hinduism taught them to believe in many gods. I remember growing up and seeing statues of the different gods that they worshipped and prayed to. My grandparents participated in various ritualistic ceremonies. In addition, they believed in reincarnation and in karma. Therefore, they believed if something bad happens then you must have done something to deserve it. Growing up with this mindset placed a lot of pressure on me. I struggled with a spirit of perfectionism and making sure I pleased everyone. However, a turning point in my life took place once I got married. After two years of marriage, I found out I was pregnant. My husband and I were so excited that we told everyone we were expecting a child. While I was pregnant, I kept having these negative thoughts that kept saying, “You're going to lose this baby, just like your coworker did.” I remember being so worried that these negative thoughts began to consume my mind. You see, the job I was working at got shutdown for cancercausing chemicals, and a coworker was pregnant during this time and lost her child. Eventually, the voice got louder and I was filled with so much anxiety, doubt, and unbelief that I ended up miscarrying. I was devastated, ashamed, and embarrassed because everyone knew about my pregnancy. I fell into a deep depression. I couldn’t stop crying and didn’t want to get out of bed. I kept thinking about what my family must have thought, whether or not I did something bad because I miscarried. I started to analyze everything in my life to see what I did to deserve my child dying. However, I am so thankful that during this difficult time I had people praying for me. I know even though my maternal grandparents died when I was young, I thank God their prayers never did. I believe I am saved today because I had praying grandparents that served Jesus and preached the truth! I am grateful for prayer, Christian television, and the Bible, because these spiritual tools helped me to heal and recover. One particular Bible story that comforted me was the story about the blind man. “The Pharisees asked Jesus who sinned that caused this man to be blind. Was it this man or his parents? Jesus replied, neither this happened so that I may be glorified” (John: 1-12). I realized at that moment I didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this; I was being deceived by the enemy and the lies of this world.



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If I had never miscarried, I wouldn't be the person I am today. During this difficult moment in my life was when I found the truth... JESUS. “He is The Way, The Truth and The Life” (John 14:6). Jesus delivered and set me free. He exposed the lies of the enemy. I know now, “The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. God came to give you life and life more abundantly” (John 10:10). This experience caused me to seek Jesus and allow Him to purify my life. Once I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, He restored everything I lost in the storm. In less than 3 months after my miscarriage, I got baptized and I got pregnant. On July 3, 2014, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. God gave me double for my trouble because on May 14, 2017, on Mother’s Day, the Lord blessed me with another son. I have to be honest, I cannot imagine being a mom without Jesus. God has used this trial to deepen my Christian walk and transform me into His image and likeness. Looking back now, I can tell you my paternal grandparents were the most loving and respectful people you would have ever met. They taught me amazing values and ethics. However, because they believed in Hinduism and served other gods, this opened the door for sin. They followed traditions that were passed down from their ancestors. In my heart, I know they didn’t know any better; they just did what they were taught. I felt free to know that I broke these generational curses and I was no longer being deceived. I’m so thankful that God mantled me with the Spirit Of Truth and opened my spiritual eyes. God showed me I needed to repent and confess the iniquities of my forefathers. Once I did that, I knew the Lord separated me completely from the sins of my forefathers by the precious blood of Jesus. Those inherited generational curses needed to end with me. The Bible tells us that Jesus came and died on the cross conquering Satan, so that we can be set free from curses (See Galatians 3:13). I may be the first person that accepted Christ in my father’s family but I know I won’t be the last. Today, I am committed to teaching my children and others not to walk in deception but in the truth. Just like Jesus set me free, I want to help others become free as well. The Bible says, “Consider it all joy when you encounter trials and tribulations because God is perfecting your faith and your character” (James 1:2). We are all going to go through difficult things in life but know God will walk you through the storm and you will come out better than before.



W W W. F R E E D M AG A Z I N E .C O M

Orlando Rodriguez

Self-Made Mentality

IG: @Orlando_rodriguez I had enough religion to give me hope and enough faith to believe in a God that would accept me into heaven and reunite me with my lost loved ones without ever wanting a pure relationship with Him on this side of eternity. Growing up, I did the catholic sacraments of baby baptism, communion and confirmation, but I didn’t grow up in a Christian home with a true biblical understanding of the gospel. The only time I went to church was for holidays, weddings and funerals. Still, I had enough selfrighteousness and good deeds to believe I was a good person compared to others. The way I lived worked for me, served me, justified me, and excused me, so as long as I could sleep at night with the decisions I made, my conscience was cleared. If God didn't help me look at these things through his truth, instead of my own, I could have spent a lifetime being deceived by my own reasoning for why I lived the way I did.


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was raised by a young single mother who got sick and died at 36 leaving me without parents at the age of 16. I had grandparents who tried their best to take care of me but because they had a lot of their own stress dealing with the loss of their daughter and a son who was in and out of jail behind drugs and crime, I felt more like a burden than a grandson that was loved. This environment caused me to hold in a lot of emotions making me a walking time bomb with a violent temper that sometimes got me into trouble. Although my teenage years were tough, I decided early on that I was not going to be a slave to my circumstances, but that I would be strengthened by them. Eventually, I chose to disconnect from my grandparents and do everything on my own. I worked at least three jobs simultaneously to support myself and by the time I was 22 I bought my own home. I felt as though there was nothing I could lose or that could be taken away from me that I wasn’t able to overcome. I refused to develop a victim mentality and learned how to obtain success by the standards of this world with a “self made� mentality. This made me strong but also a little hard hearted. Believing I had overcome the world's pain at an early age became a strength of mine, but the evil within me was something that needed to be exposed and dealt with as I grew older. As a young adult, I casually involved myself in relationships that had all the benefits of companionship without real accountability and commitment, so I ended up disappointing and hurting the people I cared about. I soon realized these relationships would never be enough to satisfy the longing of my heart to know real love which made the temporary pleasures of these relationships no longer worth it for me. These uncommitted, selfish, casual relationships were the reason I grew up in a broken home and most of the people I know have been a product of broken families. Because the only real love I believed I had ever experienced was from my mother, there was a vulnerability I carried within me to feel loved and wanted. There is a cycle of brokenness being passed down from generation to generation. I decided that I would no longer continue this cycle and create the very circumstances that caused me a lot of confusion and pain growing up. I decided I would rather be alone than to use and be used, hurt and be hurt by people in temporary relationships not built on a foundation to last, so I isolated myself bringing a season of loneliness that brought me to the end of myself.



This is the season that God's spirit led me into prayer where I asked Him to show up in my life and reveal Himself to me. This was also when His spirit convicted me to read a New Testament Bible that was given to me by a coworker at the time. Although I did not fully understand everything I was reading, I could not deny the revelation that was given to me. God's word became a mirror, a reflection to see myself, not through my own perspective but through God's perspective. I saw my need for forgiveness and for a saviour. I saw the saviour God provided in the personal embodiment of His truth, righteousness, mercy, grace and love in Jesus Christ displayed on the cross. No matter how independent and how successful we become by the patterns of this world, no one is “self made.” We were all infants raised in an imperfect world by imperfect people with imperfect surroundings, traditions, religious beliefs, upbringings and NO MATTER HOW influences creating our self-centered reasoning INDEPENDENT AND for why we believe what we believe and do what HOW SUCCESSFUL we do. I came to know the God of the Bible WE BECOME BY THE personally as a God who was willing to step into PATTERNS OF THIS the humanity He created to love and lead by WORLD, NO ONE IS His example. He is a loving father not expecting us to fend or figure things out for ourselves “SELF MADE.” without his personal involvement like some dysfunctional, non-existent parent. When I surrendered my will, the Lord blessed me with opportunities to glorify Him and equipped me to be on the front lines of this battle everyday. I prayed for the Lord to put me in a career that I can serve Him and live out my faith as His ambassador and He miraculously resurrected a dead dream of mine to become a firefighter. I now get to live out my faith as a living sacrifice to represent a God who provided the ultimate sacrifice to save lives. God and his living word became my point of reference for truth; I was set free of the deceptions coming at me from the world around me and the ones within spurred by my own perceptions.

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The God of the Bible is not a God of confusion. There is only one truth. We can all be wrong, but we all can't be right. That's why it is written, “Let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4).” By definition, all truth is exclusive of anything that is a lie no matter how good it sounds, what hints of truth are in it, how many excuses or justifications there are for it, or how many people believe it. The reason Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6),” is because had God not provided a specific way and point of reference for truth in a world of nearly 8 billion people, we would have billions of world views, philosophies, religions, denominations within religions, gods, testimonies and truths. Before coming to the faith, I wrestled with making God fit my image. However, when I made it less about me and more about a God who loves and commands all His children to love Him, I was able to come to the truth that sets humanity free. I may have been set free from the deception I was once a slave to, but I am still in the fight of my life and the lives of those around me to stand firm for the truth of the gospel. I encourage those reading this, unsure of what they believe, to go before the Lord in prayer and ask Him for His spirit of truth available through Jesus Christ. For my fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, I encourage us all to stand firm and deny the temptation to make our faith more about us than about the one who saves us. This is not a work done in and by ourselves that we may boast or judge who is who by what part of the sanctification process they are in. There is no condemnation for those that love the truth (Jesus) and are willing to be forgiven, changed and redeemed by it (Him).


IG: @ antboy 901 | www . hallswayphotography . com

Anthony Hall



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D E · C E P ·T I O N :

the act of causing someone to accept as true or

valid what is false or invalid

: the act of deceiving



Shana Bernabela

From Lies to Truth IG: @shanabeefree www.wrappedinfreedom.com

The sunken place. That is the only way I can describe that breakup 4 years ago. I had never experienced a pain so piercing. A heartbreak so suffocating. My cries in the midnight hour rendered me unable to breathe at times. What was wrong with me? Was I not worthy enough? Was there something I could have done? For months I felt like I was gasping for air, spiritually dying on the inside. My heart shattered. My soul wounded. My very existence questioned. As the cloud of darkness hovered over me, I found myself not wanting to live, not wanting to face another day. It was a scary place for me to enter. How could the loss of someone make me not want to exist? As I looked in the mirror, the woman staring back at me was screaming for healing. She had fallen completely apart. She needed God more than she realized. The entire relationship I thought God was at the center of it, but as I laid in a pool of misery, I realized He was not. My boyfriend was my idol. My identity, my worth, I placed it all in his hands. I clung to him more than I clung to My Father. FREED MAGAZINE 36

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And when he left, it left me cradling a sea of emptiness. Nothing had meaning. It’s interesting how trials will illuminate your spiritual blind spots. And this is what happens when we manage our beliefs without regard for the truth, when we simply hear the word void of application- we deceive ourselves. Lies become the beds we lie in. In James 1:22 it says, Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. How many times do we hear the word, but fail to apply it? It’s like knowing the lyrics to a song, but never singing it. Freedom does not come simply by hearing, the freedom we long for is nestled right in the middle of our obedience to the word of God. We must be DOERS of the word. As I crawled my way through that valley of depression, the question that kept surfacing was, What do I need to DO to live in the fullness of who God has called me to be? “Place no other idols before Me.” That’s all I kept hearing God say. So I began walking the path to surrender, anchoring myself in His Truth, and watching Him so delicately rebuild the ravaged pieces of my heart. I was no longer significant because I was a girlfriend. I was simply significant because I was His daughter. His Truths became my resting place. And Instead of seeing myself through my eyes, I started to see myself through His eyes. I am His masterpiece. I am accepted. I am whole. The beauty about God is that even in the midst of my self-deception, He still unconditionally loved me through it. He was with me. The Truth always wins.


Comunity Feature


Carlos A. Rodriguez


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BECOMING HAPPY SONSHIP It may be cliche, but there is no denying that God can turn anything around for His good. Happy Sonship becoming what it is today is no exception. We imagine that men and women of God shouldn’t struggle especially when they are in leadership. However, Carlos A. Rodriguez, the founder of Happy Sonship, did indeed struggle. HIs ministry was in seemingly shattered pieces, his marriage was in a questionable place and the only way he was able to deal with the mess of life was to begin blogging. “It was cheap therapy. And because I was already in full time ministry and my whole church knew why Pastor Carlos had to stop being the pastor, I began to confess publicly. I wrote about hating my counselor. I wrote about choosing ministry trips over my kids birthdays. I wrote about being a jerk to my wife while I was an angel to the crowds. Oh yeah… I also wrote about my doubts and anger and everything in between. People really connected to it. They appreciated the vulnerability. So they kept reading.” Thankfully, after a year of intentionality, Carlos understood recovery. The counseling had produced much benefit and he could again love his wife as Christ intended. Though he no longer needed to find relief by blogging, he kept writing. Carlos would infuse Jesus into topics that were controversial and/or trending. Eventually, the blog went viral leading to millions of readers. “And then God stopped me (because He loves me) and told me, ‘Stop writing about it, start doing it.’” God gifted Carlos with the ability to not only write, but to write with transparency and grace. And though Carlos could have easily been content with a successful blog and a major following, he responded to the call of God to stretch himself. Carlos was willing to make it real. “Best thing I have ever done! My faith is more alive than ever. And I get to do it in a healthy marriage with a healthy family!” FREED MAGAZINE 39

HAPPY SONSHIP: THE MISSION Each aspect of Happy Sonship is centered around relationships and building a stronger community. When God prompted Carlos A.Rodriguez to do more than speak about the problems he noticed around him, Casa de Paz, Inside Hope, Project Next and US Relief flowed out of the charge. Casa de Paz is a children's home in Lima, Peru focused on providing access to resources children in that community wouldn't otherwise have available to them. The prayer is that the children being supported will eventually have the knowledge and compassion to influence change in their community. Inside Hope is a prison ministry geared toward giving incarcerated men the tools they need to succeed after serving their sentence and continuing lives outside of prison. These men are also becoming equipped to better relate to their loved ones fostering healing and growth. Project Next flowed out of the difficulty

families face in the adoption process when it comes to finances. Through the efforts of Happy Sonship, families seeking to adopt can find financial support, lifting much of the burden. Finally, the US Relief effort seeks to provide assistance after a natural disaster has occured. Most recently, Puerto Rico has become a major area of focus. “Hurricane Maria was a beast. The loss of human life and property has still not been properly accounted for. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their businesses, thousands of families were separated, and many homes are still partially or completely destroyed. We were here a few weeks after the storm handing our water filters covering more than 50 thousand people. Since then, we have focused on home reconstruction. Making sure no family is under a blue tarp. Making sure single mothers are ready in their homes if another storm comes by. Making sure the elderly in the mountain region have a family looking out for them.�


C O M M U N I T Y F E AT U R E : H A P P Y S O N S H I P

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GETTING OUT OF THE WAY The work Carlos is doing could easily become about him. It can be tempting to take the glory when God has given you gifts that man often praises. Because of this, Carlos recognizes his need to continually ask himself the tough questions that keep him focused on Christ. “Constantly challenging my heart keeps my heart sweet and focused. And making sure I have trustworthy people around me willing to call me out when I need it.” Inevitably, there are difficulties when maintaining numerous efforts like Casa de Paz, Inside Hope, and Project Next. However, having the proper perspective has made all the difference for Carlos and his team. They could have easily believed they were the experts and were going to come in and solve problems based on their outsider knowledge. However, Happy Sonship has not had to experience the defeat that comes along with this line of thinking. Though time is of the essence, everything they do is about establishing trust and building from there. “The thing that makes it easy is relationship. Knowing the locals. Making friends with those we are serving… and even more than that, learning from them! No doubt about it, that takes time and effort. But it is so worth it. Trust is built. Then, the healthy back and forth of ideas becomes possible (and for all parties involved to know that we are in it for the long term).”


THE MAN BEHIND THE MISSION Of course Happy Sonship is all about doing the work of Jesus Christ and seeking to spread the gospel, but still God wanted to use sinful man to work in accordance with His will. Carlos A. Rodriguez is that man as he is passionate about Christ and spreading the truth of HIs Word to anyone willing to listen. He aims to give a voice to the voiceless and relief to those in need. Carlos came to know Christ when he heard Billy Graham preach a simple sermon on the cross. He said that the symbol for Coca Cola and McDonald’s golden arches were more recognized globally than the sign of the cross. “I don’t know why I responded, but the 13 year old me found a mission in life: the cross must be number #1!” When Carlos heard Billy Graham speak, he was not a Christian, but he had heard of Christ and was open to learning more. And in March of 1995, after Graham finished his sermon, Carlos walked down the bleachers and said yes to his invitation and has since been committed to making Christ known. Today, Carlos is well known for his transparency in the Christian community. Because of this, Carlos not only has to navigate his efforts within Happy Sonship but also within his online presence. Being authentic as an online influencer has proven difficult for many, but Carlos has done it gracefully as he recognizes his need to embrace humility. “It is difficult only if you’re pretending. Masks are heavy and demand too much attention. I much prefer honesty, radical acceptance and not taking myself too seriously.”

HOW TO GET INVOLVED 1. Learn more about the efforts of Happy Sonship www.HappySonship.com 2. Support the ministry financially by donating or purchasing items at w w w .T h e H a p p y G i v e r s . c o m (all profit will continue the work of Happy Sonship) 3. Get the word out! *tweet, share, post 4. Continue to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ

FB / Twitter / Instagram: @HappySonship www.TheHappyGivers.com www.HappySonship.com

Nicole Marrs

Exposing the Cracks

IG: @nicolemrenee I remember the exact moment when I realized the life I had so carefully crafted for myself was a profound lie. I was sitting in my dorm room as a university freshman without memory of the last moment when I hadn’t been crying. Deeper than that, I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t been submerged in pure fear, confusion and despair. I saw clearly in that moment that I had placed too much hope in humanity and that the pain produced from the ragged break-off of a years-long relationship had convinced my heart that I was not worthy of love. The ever-lacking presence of a father had told my soul I was too shattered to be relevant - that attempting to fuse my story with others was futile. The chronic illness which wracked my body had further impounded the idea of my own insufficiency and unworthiness. There have been many times in my life when I believed I identified with larger-thanlife, rock-bottom stories - but I don’t think it was until that afternoon in my dorm room, when I was gasping for any remnant of hope, that I realized how completely broken I was. I realized I had convinced myself that I was living an overcoming, steadfastly superior life, but in reality I had just been covering over the cracks in my faith with a showy, meaningless facade. FREED MAGAZINE 44

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In time, the small cracks had grown into massive fissures that could only be fixed by demolishing the surface where the cracks were housed. I had allowed my selfdeprivation and discouragement to grow unchecked, for fear of the repercussions of addressing them. And when I finally allowed myself to expose my brokenness to light, it turned out that structural deformation of my heart had progressed far beyond a cosmetic one and had succeeded in compromising the very foundation of my faith. An unfathomable, hollow, lonely, semester-long depression followed this revelation - a profound hopeless loss of will. I felt that I had done my best to serve Christ and yet had ended up in an empty, lonely, relatively joyless life - so what was the point of continuance? When the raw horror faded away into a dull ache, I finally saw clearly that the problem had begun when I had become more concerned with showing off the soulrenovation I had done myself instead of showing off the beauty of the cracks that the Lord had gently crafted into my story. I had failed to allow my hardships to shape the way I saw Christ and influence the way I chose to live, because I didn’t want it to inconvenience me. I regret that it took such extreme circumstances, and such a painful journey, for me to recognize the need for a change in perspective. But like any person who must rebuild from rubble, the value of hindsight is not lost on me - and I see clearly that all of it was a miracle worked by the divine hand of the Lord. He knew that I would never be able to see past my ill-built facade unless the cracks it was hiding were exposed and the entire structure was demolished. I am undone when I think of how merciful the Lord was to me, through my undignified time of crawling out from the ashes and rebuilding my foundation. He reminded me of my own sin, but in a far different way than the self-deprecating, tormenting spiral I had put myself in for years previous. Jesus showed me the beauty of my brokenness, in the midst of a redemption story that is more vast than I could ever begin to conceive. I have found it is far more freeing to let go of dignified thinking - for who can know what tomorrow will bring or what pain will be brought in the night. Live with eternity in mind, casting away earthly expectations and accolades and instead choose to live in sackcloth for the glory of our Father - that is where freedom can be found. Choose to display the cracks in your life, your doubts and fears and anxieties, trusting that the Lord will hold you gently in His hand.


P h oto g r a p h y : J e s s i c Fa REEl EmDo rMe A| GwAw Zw I N.E E m4i6l i a M a r i e P h oto g r a p h y . c o m

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Dispelling the Fantasy Anthony & Sopha Rush IG: @livedeeplyrooted IG: @rushanthony Twitter: @sopharush Pinterest: Sopha Rush


’ve always been fascinated with the simplicity of nature. Maybe it’s the slow pace it seems to take on or the ability to hear my own thoughts as I find myself walking through the wilderness. To be surrounded by the enormity of trees reminds me of how small I really am. It’s humbling to be honest. When I get in nature, I see so much of God connected within the trees, plants, flowers, even clouds. So much life breathed into such beauty, deeply rooted in God’s creativity. When I was younger, I remember warm summer days when my grandma would spend hours working in her garden. See, we lived in the city, so there wasn’t much land to plant, yet my grandma grew plants in crates, 5 gallon buckets, anything literally that could hold dirt. I guess when you are passionate about something, you will find a way to cultivate it. I got to witness her plant seeds-- not just in pots. I got to see the transformation of how tiny little seeds could produce such goodness that landed in the stomachs of her grandkids. It was exciting as a kid, watching week after week, a seed turn into a sprout, to vines, then the harvest. I never really stopped to think how could a plant sustain itself. You see, I loved the end results but never cared much about the roots that anchored each plant. I couldn’t see them, so they didn’t matter to me. I didn’t understand that roots were vital and was what gave each plant life beyond the messiness which they grew in. And just like my life, I didn’t quite understand what God was doing, what He was planting, yet He was cultivating my story. Seed after seed, season after season, roots were being deepened. FREED MAGAZINE 47

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rowing up in dysfunction, I began to believe everything that surrounded me was normal. As a little girl, I saw no fault in the way my childhood was playing out. To me, I thought most families were exactly like mine. We didn’t grow up in a home where God existed, but I sensed there was love. Mom met my dad after she came over from Cambodia as a refugee and they became high school sweethearts. Sooner than later, they were parents to five children at the tender age of twenty-three. Neither of my parents grew up with present fathers. I think that played a huge part in some of the poor decisions made. My dad got involved with the wrong crowd and ended up becoming a dealer to provide for his family. In and out of jail, my dad had to do what he needed to do, and the streets became my father’s reality. My dad later committed suicide at the age of twenty-five, I was just five. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on. I couldn’t wrap my head around why I was never going to see see my dad again. It was such a strange feeling knowing one day he was with us, the next, just gone. It shifted our world and just like that, our lives were uprooted. The foundation of our household was shattered. As I watched my mom try to pick up the broken pieces, it was as though pieces of my mom died that same day. It was strange watching the woman who birthed me suffer, and there was no way for me to help. She was never quite the same. I mean, could anyone blame her? She struggled as did we. To not have a father present as a little girl and to watch a mother unravel planted in me deep rooted seeds that began to choke out the joy that once surrounded me. When I used to picture myself being a wife, I dreamed it to be wrapped in sweet aromas. I saw us having a home that was filled with nothing but breakfast in bed, candlelit dinners every night, and a perfectly polished home with an empty sink and laundry basket. I remember writing letters to my husband while we were dating-- enumerating all that I would accomplish as his wife. Everything was going to be but sunshine without any expectancy of rain. You see, I was basing my relationship off of the romances found in a Nicholas Sparks movie, hoping to replicate a love that wasn’t rooted-- just a surface level relationship. The plots led me to believe the illusion that love is always about fun, never showing the work required to succeed.


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Anthony on the other hand, grew up having a more realistic view of marriage. Watching his father’s marriage as well as the marriage of his maternal and paternal grandparents, allowed my husband to see the beauty in marriage, so it was something he looked forward to. Of course no marriage is perfect, yet they modeled it with grace and forgiveness. When his parents would have disagreements in the home, they made sure he knew that disagreements were not a result of a failing marriage. If there was one thing he learned through witnessing their marriages it was that-- you never quit on one another. You work through your problems together. Because of my upbringing, I had little to no trust in men. I felt unprotected, vulnerable and exposed yet surrounded by men that tried to step up to take my father’s place. In and out of our home, I couldn’t understand how or why men found it just as easy to walk right out of my life. They couldn’t see the pain and hurt it caused me. I tried not to blame them for it, though I learned fairly early how to shut people out around me. I didn’t want anyone getting close to me. I was tired of hurting people hurting me for seemingly no reason. Not having my dad present affected me more than I even realized. I thought I was healed from my childhood trauma and could trust someone who I loved, but even then, I still feared being abandoned and rejected. I couldn’t fully love the way I wanted because I was held captive by the pain that was caused. I allowed the chains of my childhood to keep me from truly being free to love wholeheartedly. Anthony wasn’t exempt from his fair share of painful experiences. While I found it difficult to relate to men, he often found it difficult to relate to women. And many of the behaviors he was beginning to watch manifest in me reminded him of pain he endured early on in his childhood that shook the very foundation of his family. However, having strong men present in his life, Anthony was taught the importance of women and how they were to be treated and there were no stipulations attached to this charge. His father would always tell him, “The decisions you make today could have an effect on her present and her future. Be smart.” If there was a word or two to describe our first year of marriage: growing pains. When we started this journey of marriage, we thought we had at least some idea of what we were getting ourselves into. We attended premarital counseling, looked to the example of those in our community and were wholeheartedly committed, but even that wasn’t enough to teach us what marriage really looked like. It wasn’t the knowledge we lacked, it was experience. It was like being thrown into a basketball game for the first time, we had the knowledge that you needed to dribble the ball and shoot it through the hoop, but having never touched a basketball before, we felt completely inept. We struggled in our ability to be vulnerable with one another and offer grace in the areas of weakness that were exemplified once we got married. Our inability to fully experience emotional intimacy created insecurities that could have truly damaged the marriage. FREED MAGAZINE 52

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P h oto g r a p h y : J e s s i c a E l m o r e |

w w w .E m i l i a M a r i e P h oto g r a p h y . c o m



"These two years of marriage have exposed the deception and pressure trap of feeling like I had to be that “perfect� wife and he had to be the storybook husband because people were watching our marriage unfold."



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There should be no surprise that I struggled with feeling as though every disagreement was a sign of a failing marriage. I let my brokenness lead me into unrealistic expectations causing me to distance myself and shut down when I felt unloved or underappreciated. Anthony couldn’t understand my extreme reactions to what felt like a normal argument in a healthy relationship. This led him to feel as though he was walking on eggshells and I could explode with any move he made creating a vicious cycle. My very warped view of marriage was beginning to take its toll on a covenant that I had entered into with both my husband and God. These two years of marriage have exposed the deception and pressure trap of feeling like I had to be that “perfect” wife and he had to be the storybook husband because people were watching our marriage unfold. I wanted to be such a great example for others that I allowed our marriage to suffer. I let my false reality of marriage get in the way of truly letting my husband be the person he was and embracing our differences. I wanted him to be someone he wasn’t to fit my perception of what a husband “should” be while never really getting to the heart of who my husband was. He begun to feel attacked and belittled by my efforts to portray him as someone he wasn’t because somehow it had become all about Sopha. I struggled to understand that this covenant wasn’t solely about making me happy. The reality is, marriage can become an idol, leaving one empty if not careful and that was exactly what I experienced. I allowed my emotions to dictate how I would treat my husband; regardless of the fact I was to be a reflection, a mirror of Christ. It was all about my own happiness rather than the holiness that was to be represented in our home. I’ve learned over these years that God uses marriage to glorify Himself, not my selfish agenda and misconceptions. In that, God has grown Anthony and I in ways we never knew were possible. Becoming a wife has shown me the ugliness of my heart, yet at the same time created space to heal deep wounds that were rooted from my childhood. Had we realized the beauty of our singleness, we would have focused on our contentment before becoming one. It is a time when one can create rich soil within their garden. Society has a way of making us feel like we have to be in a relationship, but there is no shame in waiting for a relationship that is God honoring. As men and women, we should allow for time to heal and grow especially if one has experienced a painful past. Weed out the noise, guard your heart, bury it in God’s word, and deepen your roots in Him so you can become a man or woman of God-- walking fearlessly in truth, and knowing who and whose you are.



P h oto g r a p h y : J e s s i c a E l m o r e |

w w w .E m i l i a M a r i e P h oto g r a p h y . c o m



arriage has shown Anthony and I that it’s not all about happiness, but how virtuous and holy we can become so that we can be a better reflection of Him. And that in itself has helped our marriage blossom, bearing fruit that wasn’t planted overnight. Seasons will come and go, no one is exempt from them. Just like any relationship, there will be a fair share of experiences that won’t be all smiles. Frustrations may occur, even trust lost, but during those hard truths, life taught us the importance of digging roots deep down. When life circumstances try to rob us of our joy and unrealistic expectations begin to cloud our perception, we are reminded that perfection cripples reality. As my father in love always says, “The day you stop learning about one another, is the day you stop growing.” Like gardening, marriage requires hard work and labor. Just as a gardener goes into preparation to tend one’s garden, we had to do the same. We had to unlearn and unravel old habits and behaviors that needed to be weeded out in order for us to grow and weave together as one. We had to confront buried pain and dig through the dirt in order to reveal hidden treasures within each other. With the right tools and proper motivation, the work didn’t feel like a burden but instead felt like a privilege. Our work was no longer about us, but about the God we serve. We are nowhere near perfect, but we put in the work that is needed to cultivate a healthy marriage and that is in itself has made the proverbial-- blood, sweat and tears-- worth it.

Rachel Derouen

Embracing the Journey

IG: @rad.journey Twitter: @Naturelli1920


y journey started when natural hair was not very popular. In the summer of 2006, I experienced my last relaxer. Partly because I was fed up with the chemical burns I would endure every 2-3 months from those wretched products. That night in my dorm room, after the worst episode of chemical burn ever, I decided to discontinue relaxers for good. I made up in my mind that I was going to just flat iron my hair ever so often to maintain. I did not realize I was "going natural" until someone asked me if I was. Once my texture began to change, I started to dabble in different styles, but the results weren't at all in my favor. During that time, I was still in college, so I avoided the criticism by unpretentiously wearing styles that kept my natural hair hidden. I tried my best to be invisible but social at the same time. My hair was the last thing I wanted to bring attention to. The more I wore it in a natural state, the more people began to notice.


FALL 2018

"You are prettier with straight hair." "Your attitude is better when your hair is flat." "You appear to be more calm when your hair isn’t big." "You have good hair for a black girl." "I didn’t know your hair could do that." These are a just a few statements (from people I knew and barely knew) that I have heard over the course of my 12 year natural hair journey. The more they noticed, the more opinions I received. It was a difficult transition because of the lack of knowledge. I winged it the entire time. However, as time went by, I began to notice more girls giving tips online which helped me a great deal. Five years into my journey, I was able to master a good twist out and of course my favorite, braid out. In the first few years, there were definitely insecurities that hindered me from embracing natural. Many of my friends didn't’ know I was natural because I wore my hair straight most of the time. Instead of feeling freedom, I was imprisoned by opinions and even self-doubt. I was quite the shy person in my early twenties and not as bold as I am now. Instead of defending myself, I internalized the negativity. The feeling was far from liberation. I wanted my hair to be accepted by others more than I wanted it for myself. Contemplation of having my hair relaxed again crossed my mind plenty of times. As time went on, I was able to avoid the relapse. Negativity often was shown by persons of the same race and background as myself. Even those who experience the era of afros and jheri curls expressed opinions as if the natural hair community is some new innovating hair movement. During the 70s, and 80s, both men and women wore their hair as an expression of freedom. Sure there were some who wore their hair straightened or relaxed, but the ability to wear it "out" was favored more. How did I overcome this stage in my natural hair journey? I did so by self-realization, self-confidence and self-love. I reminded myself of who I was and whose I was. God never made a mistake when he created me. That creation included every single strand of hair that grew out of my head. His word says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well" (Psalm 139:13).


Malachi Phresh

Still a Virgin

IG: Maliphresh Twitter: Maliphresh www.MaliPhresh.com I have been abstinent for 10 years. I’ve counted it since my first offer back when I was 13 years old. She said if I came over I wouldn’t leave a virgin, so I didn’t show up. When I was a kid, I would tell people that I wasn’t having sex until marriage and they’d always doubt me and insist that would change once I got older. I never believed how hard keeping my commitment would be until my hormones started kicking in. However, I am now a 23 year old virgin and Christian rapper with the stage name “Maliphresh.”


FALL 2018


y sexual history has been something I have been both proud and ashamed of depending on what circle I'm with. When I'm in the hood or in the streets, I try not to bring it up, but sometimes people can just tell. I guess we virgins act a certain way. Because of this, I have often pursued sex and ultimately decided not to go through with it. I've turned it down because that's what I've been taught to do. Sex was meant as a covenant under marriage, a sort of handshake when man and woman become ONE body and ONE flesh. I have allowed lies regarding sex to lead me closer to the edge than I’d like to admit. At one point I even allowed myself to believe if I have sex just once then I'll be okay. The day I let that thought saturate my mind, my pastor said EXACTLY what I needed to hear, and that's, “Sinning with the purpose to not commit that sin again will never work!” I realize that whenever I try to rationalize my lust, I am always in the wrong. Hurtful doctrine these days states YOLO (you only live once). That's an excuse to do anything the flesh desires because you may never get another chance. Using YOLO as a means to have sex is a very poor use of a phrase which was only meant to give people courage, not justification to be irresponsible or rebel against God's word. Along the way I have been strengthened by: godly counsel, prayer, good company and even better music.When the people I’m around only talk about or make music about sex, that HEAVILY INFLUENCES ME! So that’s when I put on that reliable Christian Hip Hop. I noticed that music is in my ears 24/7, so it is the first place I run. When it gets really bad, I listen to this song by 116 from their album Man up called “Temptation.” It ministers everything I’m feeling and need to hear at that moment. Godly counsel also helps very much because I can talk to men of God who understand where I am because they’ve been where I am and have made mistakes that I or they don’t want to see me make. Prayer honestly doesn’t help me much at night but I realize that it manifest itself to the wisdom to change my music and the wisdom to seek godly counsel and to keep better company. I just thank God that I could share the do's and don'ts of my testimony of how I made it this long and I pray people can learn from my near mistakes and get out of the LIE of self-deception and reasoning your sin. I also pray that I take my


Photographer: Kimmie Harper | @kimmie_harper Model: Janette Butcher | @janette_butcher

Amy Lauren Perkins

We Wear the Mask

FALL 2018

IG: @iamamylauren

Galatians 6:7-8 (NKJV) – “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” You want to know the difference between telling a lie, and deceiving someone? Telling a lie means to make an untrue statement. Deceiving someone means to make an untrue statement with the intent to gain some personal advantage. Ergo, a liar tells lies because he does not want to tell the truth. A deceiver tells lies because he wants the advantage. I know what you’re thinking; which one are you, Amy? Are you a liar, or are you a deceiver? Well, blessed reader, how much time do you have? In retrospect, I was a liar because I wanted to avoid telling the truth about who I was becoming. But on the flip side, I was a deceiver because I wanted to make it seem like my life was together when it wasn’t, thereby having the advantage over others whose lives weren’t together either. I guess that makes me a “leceiver,” a liar and deceiver simultaneously. I know, I know, this sounds much more complicated than it actually is. Allow me to explain. Hey there. My name is Amy, and I’m a former church-goer. FREED MAGAZINE 63

The average church-goer has a well-developed mask that is worn around other church goers. It has been crafted to perfection over the years, and if you are a current or former church- goer, you know exactly what I’m referring to. Church-goers know the language. When someone asks how you’re doing, you respond with, “I’m blessed and highly favored!” When someone speaks to you, you put on the biggest and brightest smile you can muster and act as if you don’t have a care in the world. Then after church ends on Sunday, you go home, take off that mask, and go back to living however you wanted to live, doing whatever you wanted to do Monday through Saturday. Then early Sunday morning, you dusted off your mask and repeated the process all over again. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. The mask we wear protects us from being too vulnerable around people we don’t trust, but unfortunately, that same mask hinders us from true healing and deliverance in Christ. A scripture found in I Thessalonians 5:11 says that as believers, we should “...encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (ESV). We can’t do this thing called life by ourselves, we need the body of believers to stand with us, love us, and correct us when necessary. We need to bear the burdens of each other, and stand in the gap for each other. I’m a PK, or preacher’s kid, so I grew up in the spotlight. The thing about a spotlight is that when it’s thrown on you without the desire to stand in it, you’ll do anything and everything to avoid it. Some people enjoy the attention being in a spotlight brings. Others, not so much. Most of the time, people stand watching you intently because they’re waiting for you to fall. They scrutinize everything, whether good or bad, and wait for the chance to signify. See there? Maybe you aren’t as good as you think you are. Well now, look who’s just like the rest of us! MmmHmm, I knew you weren’t perfect. People can be harsh, and without a strong sense of my identity in Christ, I found myself lying just to keep them at bay. I walked around as if I had the perfect relationship with Jesus as a young adult, but the truth is, I was sinking. I was sinking in sinful and lustful behavior, I was sinking in indulging my body in eating unhealthy foods in large amounts, I was sinking in my prayer life, and I was sinking in developing the gifts and talents that God gave to me. I was sinking with a 1,000 pound weight tied to my ankle. But God...



FALL 2018

On Sundays I chose to live in the lie that I was so holy and righteous, then drove home to belittle and condemn myself for having lack of self-control. Satan was in my ear, every single day, reminding me of the failure that I thought I was. I didn’t know much scripture to combat his lies, which only pulled me further into the world of deceit. He was the master deceiver, and I was the apprentice, learning how to continue deceiving myself and others from his strong example. In January 2015, I lost my job. To quote the famed Charles Dickens, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I was slowly losing my confidence in my professional abilities, but God was strengthening me spiritually. He then aligned me with a discipleship program at a local church in Maryland, where I gained the knowledge of who I am in Jesus. I’ve got some Word in my heart now. When Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy me with his lies, I remind myself by speaking the Word and crashing his deceitfulness. Him: You remember what you did a few months ago? You disappointed God so much. Me: It is written that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I confessed that, and God forgave me, then removed my transgressions from me as far as the east is from the west. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus! Nice try, devil. Move it along, I’ve got things to do. (*insert eye-roll emoji here). By taking off the mask, I was able to confront who I am in my flesh: a petty introvert who likes to over-eat, sleep all day, and play with tall boys with beards. But because I allowed myself to be vulnerable with my sisters-in-Christ and let God’s Holy Spirit do the work in me, I am walking in my new nature: a loving social butterfly who strives to steward well over her body, makes a schedule to keep her on task and not idle, and feels a burning desire to tell others just how much God truly loves them and wants a relationship with them. Because I walked in my flesh, I reaped seeds of doubt, discouragement, anxiety and stolen confidence. Now that I walk in the Spirit, I reap seeds of love, joy, peace and understanding. I encourage you to take your mask off right now, and throw it in the nearest spiritual trashcan. You may not like what you see underneath it, and that’s okay, but if you surrender yourself and your process to God, He will change your view of yourself. He will show you the beautiful creature He created you to be, and He will forge a new beginning in Him. It’s time, Brothers and Sisters. It’s time for the mask to go. FREED MAGAZINE 65

JESSICA ELMORE Photographer www.EmiliaMariePhotography.com A va i l a b l e to t r av e l w o r l d w i d e AD

Courtney Williams

Your Heart's Desire

IG: @courtnwilliams Twitter: @courtnwilliams

I was born in Beaumont, Texas to a 20-year-old single college student. My mom was at Prairie View University on a track scholarship when she found out she was pregnant with me. Being a young single mother in college was tough for her and eventually she felt like she had no choice but to put college on hold and focus on tending to me. She did the absolute best she could with raising me along with her village, but I always told myself that if I didn’t do anything else in life, I was going to be sure not to have babies out of wedlock. Growing up, literally all three of my closest girlfriends had both a mother and father in their household. It was tough being the only one who didn’t. I truly desired to start a family with my future husband to ensure that I had a spouse to help me raise my children, so you can imagine the heartbreak, humiliation, and guilt I felt when I saw two lines indicating that I was pregnant by a long-term boyfriend at 23 years of age. Because of this, the enemy had more the enough room to begin attacking me in the area of my worth. He used deception to make me believe that my entire story would be defined by having a baby out of wedlock.


FALL 2018

I carried around so much shame during the pregnancy because I didn’t have on a wedding ring. I hated having to refer to my child’s father as “boyfriend” instead of “husband” with a big baby bump. Even once my daughter was born, I felt extremely embarrassed that we didn’t have the same last name. I started to come to the realization that the five year relationship that I had devoted so much time and energy to wasn’t going to work out. I was pressuring my boyfriend for marriage and he simply wasn’t ready-- half a decade and a baby later! There were times that I would just cry and ask myself, “How could you, you know this is not what you wanted for yourself or your child.” That was probably one of the lowest times in my life. I could not see how things would possibly work out for me. It had only been one year since I graduated college with a marketing degree, so I clearly didn’t have the best job in the world. I was living with a roommate in a two bedroom apartment. And to make things worse, when I was 7 months pregnant, I got laid off from my first post college job. Around that time I visited Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas and instantly felt at home. I knew immediately Wheeler was the church home for me. I started to get back into church consistently and focus on making my personal relationship with God stronger. Slowly but surely, I started to believe what the Word said about children of God.



I believed that in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. I knew I had to cast all my anxiety on Him because He cared for me. I knew that if I put my hope in the Lord, He would renew my strength. I never once felt shamed at Wheeler for being pregnant and unwed. I told myself the baby was on its way, that wasn’t changing, so all I could do was prepare mentally and spiritually for motherhood. I believed God would take care of the rest. Shortly thereafter, a company ended up hiring me when I was 9 months pregnant and stated that I could start working weeks after I gave birth. Once giving birth to my beautiful baby girl, my life changed forever. I had to grow up overnight and realize it wasn’t about me anymore. I felt a sense of purpose and things that once mattered, no longer mattered to me. Something about motherhood gave me a confidence I’d never had before. I realized how strong women are and that with God, we can literally do anything if we put our minds to it…even if we have to get the job done by ourselves. I was now working, living on my own, paying my own bills, taking care of my daughter, single and loving it. I started to be open to the idea of being in love again and having the husband and family I always desired, even if it looked a little different than what I originally planned for. Fast forward a few years and my now husband reached out to me through Instagram and the rest is pretty much history. We were married two years later. We built our first home from the ground up. We blended a family-- he already had one son and I had a daughter. We were blessed to be able to add another kid to the mix from our union. I started a blog, www.courtneynwilliams.com where I talk about my journey from single motherhood to marriage, blending a family, and so much more. If you told my 23-year-old, unwed, unemployed, and pregnant self that in just 3-4 years from then my life would have made a total 180 degree turn, I probably would’ve said, “yea right.” Thankfully, I’ve been able to share my testimony with women from all over the world. I hear from so many single mothers telling me how my story has helped them not give up on love and that it has shown them you can still have all your hearts’ desires even if life doesn’t go exactly how you planned it. Women who are dealing with trying to peacefully and genuinely blend a family tell me how my story has shown them it’s possible. Our mistakes can touch other’s lives and give them hope. Let go of any shame you’ve been carrying around and allow God to work in your life. Don’t allow the enemy to deceive you. It’s pure deception. You are worthy! No matter how big of a mistake you feel that you’ve made. I’m in awe of God’s faithfulness and perfect will. He took what I looked at as my greatest mistake and used it for His glory. FREED MAGAZINE 70

Skylar Coonan


IG: @SkylarCoonanPhotography | www.SkylarCoonanPhotography.com

Shannon Cox

Unmasking the Lie

IG: @hopentheword Twitter: @hopentheword www.hopentheword.posthaven.com “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction;” Isaiah 38:17a The deeper I go into studying emotional/verbal abuse, the more my eyes are opened to see what I was blind to during my 27 years of victimization. I am now able to comprehend the red flags that were there all along. I recognize the proverbial blinders I chose to wear until I was so beaten down that I no longer had the strength to remove them. I am in no way insinuating that any victim of abuse is at fault. I am merely stating that through much prayer and studies, I know where I deceived myself into believing lie, upon lie, upon lie. I believed the lie to the point of desperation. I believed the liar to the point of losing my selfesteem, my dreams and goals, my friends and a lot of my family. I lived the lie until the Lord began to peel away the scales on my eyes and He began to show me in His Word who He says I am. I stayed in that “prison” until the light was shined on the truth. Once I saw the light, the door to freedom began to open. It took months of preparation, soul searching, prayer, and placing my hope, faith and trust in Him to lift me out of the situation and not return to it or another like it. When the door was fully open, I ran!


FALL 2018

The Lord has given me a ministry to turn my test into a testimony. And made it my mission to shine the light on the truth about emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse.

All the qualities they loved about you are now weapons in their arsenal. Here a few examples I remember all too well. The twisting of my good qualities that my abuser used against me:

Most of these abusers are Narcissists and/ or Sociopaths. Narcissism is NOT a disease! • Your drive to do better? Selfishness. All It is a decision. It is a decision to gain the time you spend going to school and control of their target. They know exactly studying takes away from your duties at what they are doing. Narcissistic abuse is a home and you aren't going to use that gradual brainwashing and crazy-making of degree anyway. “Who are you trying to their victim. Therefore, since it is a decision impress, Miss High and Mighty college to abuse, you cannot “help” them, “fix” lady?” them, “teach” them or “show” them morals, • Your compassion for others? Stupidity. decency, or common courtesy. You cannot They don't appreciate it and are just love them enough to make them want to using you. You could be at home showing change. You cannot placate them in any way. ME some compassion. It is impossible to avoid an attack, no matter • Your friendly nature? Tramp. You just flip what you do, say, or don't say – everything your hair and bat your eyes at anyone is ammunition. All you can do is walk on who looks your way. You don't even eggshells and brace yourself – because it is know how pathetic you are. You are fat, coming. lazy, frizzy haired, stupid and no one else wants you. Make no mistake, the Narcissist targeted • Your ability to work long hours or hold you. They established rapport and gained down more than one job? Lazy. You your trust, they led you into sharing your aren't really working, you are hanging hopes, dreams, fears, and (the worst part) around the office with your so-called you trusted them enough to share your friends that are lazy like you, or they are past. These abusers target people that are single and have nothing else to do but already broken in some way; their targets gossip all day and night. You are using it are usually givers, hard workers, have a as an excuse to stay away from home so huge sense of compassion, and (are you you don't have to take care of the kids ready for this?) very intelligent. All of these and the house. are wonderful attributes and character • Your like-ability? Whatever. They don't traits – except in the hands of a Narcissist. like you. You probably told them some The Narcissist/Sociopath remembers cock-a-mamie story about me so they everything you shared, earned your trust by would feel sorry for you. You are such a sharing “their” story only to begin building a victim, poor baby. trap for you with the details of yours.



• Your faith? Hah! You can't even do that right! Hypocrite. Have you ever read, “wives must submit themselves to their husbands. In EVERYTHING?” You don't submit to me on anything! You fight me on everything. If you would just be the Christian you claim to be, we wouldn't have these problems. *Of course he left out a whole scripture, focusing only on what I was supposed to do. Ephesians 5:22-26 ends with, “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...” • Your friends and family? Losers and man-haters. They all hate me and you listen to them so much. All they do is talk smack about me. And their husbands? Wimps! No wonder we fight all the time with all their garbage running through your head.

Someone I dearly love once said to me, “if you don't respect yourself, how can you possibly expect me to respect you? If you can't even love yourself, how could you ever love anyone else?” That someone was a catalyst to opening my eyes showing me that even though I was out of the situation, I was still minimizing it. How can we get our lives back and find purpose and joy in living if we participate in the abuse by minimizing it or making excuses for it. Truth: it's impossible. Brothers and Sisters I want to tell you who God says YOU and I are: You are beautiful because you are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:4)

You are royalty. “But you are a chosen No matter how long or how much you people, a royal priesthood...” 1 Peter 2:9a have been targeted by the abuse, it is all a charade. This person has twisted your You are victorious. “For the Lord your God good qualities into something sinister and/ is the one who goes with you to fight for you or shameful. The Narcissist has caused you against your enemies to give you victory.” to question your own motives, intelligence, Deuteronomy 20:4 and character. This twisting of words, actions, and qualities has a technical term; You are the Victor, not the victim. “The it's called “gaslighting” (aka: crazy-making). Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If And again, make no mistake, it is intentional. you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and Victims of long-term target practice tend carefully follow them, you will always be at to minimize the Narc's behavior. They tell the top, never the bottom.” Deuteronomy themselves (and others), “I probably said 28:13 it wrong.” “They're right, sometimes I just don't think.” “I don't know what else to do, I You and your children are protected. “I will must not be trying hard enough.” And God contend with those who contend with you, forbid if someone outside the relationship and your children I will save.” Isaiah 49:25b actually calls you out on this. The immediate response is equally minimizing, “You don't know/understand him/her, he/she didn't mean it that way,” or one I heard recently, “he is just passive-aggressive, it's his way of not having to make a decision.” FREED MAGAZINE 74

FALL 2018

You are loved, forever. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 You are chosen. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world...” Ephesians 1:4a You are strong. “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord is my strength is my strength and my song.” Isaiah 12:2 You are enough, do not be ashamed. “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other, never again will my people be shamed.” Joel 2:27 You have a purpose and a future. “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 You deserve peace. “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” Isaiah 32:18 You are heard. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a place to stand.” Psalm 40:1-2 You have hope. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 & “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 You are a new creation. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” Isaiah 43:18–19a What will you choose to believe? Lies, slander, and a charade? Or the Word. Who will you choose to listen to? The Narcissist, who hunted you down and slew your self-worth? Or God, who has loved you since the beginning of the world. While you ponder on the questions I posed to you, I have one more thing that the Lord says you are: You are free, “to say to the captives, 'Come out,” and to those in darkness, 'Be Free!'” Isaiah 49:9 I decided to believe the Word. I decided to believe that every single scripture in the Bible is a love letter-- from God-- to me! I chose freedom. I chose love. I chose to stand up for myself. I chose to be free. I chose to hear and see the truth. I chose to find me again. I chose to believe my savior, Jesus Christ. FREED MAGAZINE 75



FALL 2018

The hardest prison to escape is the prison of the mind, One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is a thing called pride, So what happens when a man full of pride can’t escape from his mind? Locked away and can’t find the key, But even when the cell door opened and he was free to go, He stayed behind the bars and simply said no, You see, pride has a way of trapping you, Even when you have the key, And have the ability to go free, Pride kicks in and says, who gave you authority, To tell me that you’re free? Pride does what it wants, when it wants, It sticks around longer than we’d like it to, And never completely leaves when we want it to, It boxes you in deep within your own self, It takes you, out of you, And puts you up on a shelf, Like I don’t need you anymore, You can sit here and collect dust, And as you begin to rust, You start to die and wither inside, Because you believe the lie from your pride, That says, you need me, But this is me being humble enough to step aside, And watch that thing called pride pass right on by, And as it passes by, I tell it, Humility gave me authority, To tell you that I’m free, And without a place to reside and hide deep inside, There’s nowhere for pride to go, So it simply dies, And this right here, Is like a shot to the head, *POW* This is death to my pride.

Jay Highsmith


Melonie Jordan

Freedom From Heartbreak

IG: @meloniebygrace www. meloniebygrace.com

I gave my life to Christ within the first two months of my college career, but became involved in a bad relationship just a year later. In spite of all of the red flags, and all I was learning about God, the relationship continued; eventually, I became a single mother to my daughter when I was a twenty-two year old senior. Even while having a newborn and struggling spiritually, I managed to graduate in the top ten percent of my class and go on to law school immediately after graduation, taking my baby girl with me. Going to law school was amazing, but I had my fair share of challenges with balancing law school and raising a child. Yet, in the midst of this trying season, I decided to surrender my life to God once again; I decided to believe He was who He said He was. I grew close to God during this time– I saw Him perform miracles on my behalf. God made His character known to me, and my love for and trust in Him deepened. I truly wished to love, honor, and worship Him with my whole life.


FALL 2018

My desire to honor God strengthened when I was introduced to the “courtship” concept, commonly referred to as dating “God’s way.” I came to believe that honoring God meant first addressing your own issues so that you would be whole before entering into a relationship. In a dating relationship, I believed that honoring God meant setting stringent boundaries, and when couples honored God in this way, God honored them by providing the spouse that was perfect for them. I truly believed that the frustration, the pain, and the heartbreak experienced in worldly dating could be avoided by simply doing things God’s way. It was during this season, in my second year of law school, that I met my husband. I wasn’t looking for a relationship and didn’t think I would meet someone because I was a single mom. In spite of my own disbelief, God led my husband to pursue me. As our relationship progressed, God confirmed to both of us that choosing each other in marriage meant choosing His best. After 15 months of courting, my husband proposed to me in the sweetest way, and we married the following summer. Knowing God’s best for me was my husband, I still could not understand why our relationship was not panning out the way I expected. My husband and I both learned that we had issues– we were not as whole as we thought. We made mistakes. We argued. We experienced moments of deep heartbreak on both sides. I was beyond frustrated and upset. I wondered if we missed God and made a mistake in getting married because we were having such a tough time. After about nine months of these thoughts tormenting me, God showed me that the result of honoring Him would mean freedom from the control of heartbreak, not heartbreak itself. Being released from the control of heartbreak allows me to love my husband without condition, just as Jesus loves me without condition. God showed me that He never promised me, or anyone, a suffering free, easy life nor a romantic and dreamy dating/courtship relationship. God never promised me a spouse that meets all the desires of my heart, who does not have anything to heal from, who is a strong leader at all times, understands me, quickly apologizes, and would never hurt my feelings intentionally or mistakenly. On the contrary, we see in John 16:33 that Jesus Himself promised suffering, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Additionally, we live in a fallen world, and though we are believers, we are imperfect, even in Godly relationships. Troubles, fallen-ness, and imperfect sinful human beings almost guarantee that heartbreak will come ... even from your spouse.



When heartbreak comes, we can either run from it and wonder if God is still in the marriage, or we can realize that God is there all along calling us to be more like Him. I love how Paul Washer put it in his sermon God’s Glory in Marriage, “How else would you learn unconditional love if you were married to someone who met all the conditions? How would you ever learn mercy, patience, long-suffering, heartfelt compassion if you were married to someone who never failed you, who was never difficult with you, who never sinned against you, who was never slow to acknowledge their sin or ask for forgiveness? How would you ever learn grace to pour out your favor on someone who did not deserve it if you were married to someone who was always deserving of all good things?” If God promised us a perfect spouse who would be all we expected them to be, we would not grow into all God calls us to be. Heartbreak will come, even in the most well-intentioned God-honoring relationships. When the heartbreak comes, we are not chained down or even moved by it. We expect it, and we know that those moments in our marriages can push us into the character of Christ. Spouses are people, people are imperfect, and we cannot become like Jesus if someone is “perfect for us.” We become more like Jesus by choosing to love, serve, honor, and respect without condition. No one is immune from heartbreak, but we are free to love in spite of the heartbreak.



Her Freed Soul walks you through the raw journey of a young wife and new mother who’s seemingly picture perfect picket fence life unceremoniously shatters into a thousand unrecognizable pieces, leaving her utterly broken, to how she found healing and the strength to move forward. Briana Ariel articulates and explores the depths and levels of pain through her poetry by expressing and sharing the grit it takes to allow yourself to be healed from the inside out. The collection of poems sends you on a roller coaster journey of authentic emotions as you see, live, and feel the poignant struggle as she faces her past, realizes her present, and prepares for a triumph future.


Chiquta Harris

Price of Forgiveness

IG: @ xo_quedah www.audaciouspursuit.com


believe we all possess the innate desire to be treated fairly and with respect. Whenever the opposite is true, our tendency is to either seek vengeance or to withdraw completely. I would speculate that for most, if not all of us, this initial mindset or course of action is no fault of our own as this is something we are generally taught when we are young-- If someone hits you, hit them back. We are taught this "defense" mechanism as a way of coping or dealing with being mistreated. For me, this mindset was especially true when it came to the relationship between my parents and I. This was one of the enemy’s initial weapons of deception in my life-- the thought of only giving honor to my parents when I felt they were deserving of it.


FALL 2018

From six months until I married, my maternal grandmother raised me. She was truly heaven sent and was exactly what I needed. Unfortunately, my relationship with my biological parents was pretty rocky as one might assume. To make a long story short, at the age of nineteen, my dad and I were able to make the first steps to repairing our relationship. It was hard for me at first, but I am thankful that God continued to work on me so that I did not miss an opportunity to have a relationship with him. My interaction with my mother was a different story. I was able to have more frequent contact with her since it was her mother that was raising me. However, we still did not have the best mother-daughter relationship throughout the years. Sadly, because of this, my mother and I spent numerous years not speaking to one another. When I first became a mother, I would always long to have a better relationship with my children than the one I experienced. I actually went to counseling for four years in order to deal with factors I considered would hinder my ability to do so. During counseling, I understood that there may have been things that my mother experienced that she had not dealt with or was unable to fully process. She too had her own story, her own hurt and her own pain. Unfortunately, that hurt and pain had been passed down to me, but I was in a position to break the cycle. I chose to do so. I made the decision to forgive my mother, even without an apology. I decided to pray for her and ask for God's grace, love and mercy to encompass her. Growing up, I can honestly say that I hated my mom (it wasn't right but I'm being 100% transparent) and I remember my grandmother always reminding me of Ephesians 6:1-3. She would constantly place emphasis on the fact that honoring my parents was not only a command from God but that it too was the first commandment with a promise. I remember her saying, "No matter what she does or says, at the end of the day she's still your mother and as her child you have a responsibility of honoring your mother." I would think, "Honor her for what? She doesn't deserve to be honored." I now understand that the Bible does not say, "Honor your parents if you believe they deserve it." Conviction. Christmas 2012, I remember calling my mother and telling her that I forgave her for all of the hurt and pain that she caused me. As much as I wanted her to ask me to forgive her, I understood that she was not in a place to do so. I remember thinking and preparing myself to be okay with granting forgiveness even though it had not been requested. It was hard, but I was determined to not allow this pain to dictate my life any further nor to be passed on to my children. I wanted a release. I wanted to be a better mother to my children. Did things become 100% better from then? Nope. Did they become worse? Nope. I decided to trust God's timing. I didn’t want to force or rush it. I just wanted to trust Him because this was too big for me to handle. FREED MAGAZINE 83


I have experienced so many events in my life where I wished my mother would have been present, but I also understand and have to trust that God was protecting me for a reason. Had she been at those events during our broken states, there is no telling how things would have gone. If I would have forced something between my mother out of my own selfish desires when the time wasn't right, it wouldn't have worked. It could have potentially resulted in more hurt, pain and frustration, so instead of focusing on the pain and anger, I decided to focus on Christ and to see our relationship from a different perspective. One Saturday, she unexpectedly called me and we talked for about an hour. I remember the joy she expressed when I let her talk to my kids for the first time. After we talked, I cried throughout the rest of the day. It was so refreshing. I felt at ease talking to her. I wasn't guarded. I wasn't upset. I didn't even have prepared responses. I just allowed God to be God. Finally, in 2017, I visited my mother and this was the first time she saw my children (who were at the time 5, 2 and a newborn). She also made a trip to visit and stay with me which was the first time she had ever stayed in my home. It was a new experience for us both, but it was something that was needed. This was hard for me initially. It took me completely surrendering to Christ in order for Him to renew my mind and come in alignment with the things He had for me. God didn’t desire for me live a life of bitterness and hatred toward my parents. He desired for me to be an example of His forgiveness and love to others here on Earth. He required me to dismantle this

misconception of reciprocity and to live freely in the truth of His word. I believe that because I honored my mother, God honored my prayers. Fast forward to a couple of months ago, my mother called me super excited about a new job offer she received to which I was equally excited. Our conversation was filled with how grateful she was for all she would be able to do because of the job opportunity and my genuine happiness for her. Then toward the end of the conversation, she said something so striking, "I remember you telling me about 10 years ago that if I were to become sober that you and I would become the best of friends." Honestly, I don’t even remember telling her this, but when I tell you my heart leaped! I am almost in tears again just thinking about those words and the feelings from that moment. It was then that I understood the saying, "Forgiveness is not for them. It's for you." Had I not asked God to help me truly forgive, I could have easily missed the sincerity of that moment or worse, it would have never happened. Today, I can say that I am thankful for my mother. I constantly pray for her, for her peace, her happiness and most importantly her relationship with Christ. I pray that she recognizes He is all that she will ever need. I pray that God fills all of the voids that her past experiences and hurts have caused her. I pray that she understands that she is loved beyond comparison and that God never left her side and is always with her. Without a doubt, God's timing is perfect. I am not sure where our relationship will go, but I am hopeful.


The Light

Finding Him and sticking with Him is joy. The moment He grabs hold of you, He will never let go. As long as you hold on you will be fine! -ERICA JOHNSON IG: @ Mrs.E_Johnson

Charlyn Nater-Severino

True Healing

IG: @iamcharlynnater www.charlynnater.com


he hardest blow for me was when I was fifteen years old and my mother abandoned my older sister and I. She just up and left. I felt responsible, which is what the enemy wanted, like in some crazy way it was my fault that a grown woman decided to leave her children behind. Everything went downhill after that. I began smoking, drinking and having sex. I relied on friendships as my greatest form of support and was once again deceived because they could not fulfill what my heart desired most, a mother’s love.


FALL 2018


learned at a very early age that pain was inevitable and hurt was closely attached to it, so I didn’t expect to be loved or protected. The most distinctive of memories was when I was raped at the age of sixteen. I learned a few lessons that night: I was not as grown as I thought I was; Saying “no” to a man with a goal to attain, no matter the damage he will do, won’t stop him; I needed my mother in my life more than I even knew or could comprehend. This and many other dark memories caused me to believe that I wasn’t even worthy of God’s love. Growing up, I was forced to create structure for myself since I did not get it from the ones whose jobs were to provide it. Because of my upbringing, I became overly controlling and believed as long as I protected my personal space and surroundings no one could ever deceive me again. I lived this way until I had a child of my own and realized the importance of God in my life. I finally let him in but was still very broken, vulnerable and angry. I cried to God continually, prayed daily, read my bible, fasted, journaled, and even started seeing a Christian therapist and began to truly deal with the pain from my childhood. It is in those moments that true healing took place, that the deception the enemy tried to place on my life with all of the let downs and disappointments slowly started to disappear. I realized that only GOD could truly take away the pain. That the people who hurt me were so deep in pain themselves that they couldn’t even begin to see the damage they were placing on me. Finally, I could breathe again. I was free. Free of bondage. Free to live in the truth of Christ in my life as he always intended for me.


Canei Hines

7 o'clock IG: @caneihaveacupcake

Yesterday I had a dream so vivid that I can still see it when I close my eyes. You were there, right there with me. My heart was so full in that moment to know that finally I could see you after what’s felt like forever. We sat there on the floor of my living room silent for most of the time eating Oreo’s because that was our thing. I was lost in your presence for a while, but for just a moment I looked up and caught a glimpse of my wall. I looked to see a crack so large that everything around it seemed to disappear in its presence.


FALL 2018

We sat there staring at this crack as if it were artwork crafted by the master of all things that are good. The only thing was, it wasn’t good. I touched it and realized how deep this crack was, and boy was it deep! I looked over to the wall length mirror I had and caught my reflection. For a moment I thought to myself, “Who are you? We proceeded to examine the rest of the walls in the room only to reveal that every wall had a crack and I had been oblivious to it for some time. It seemed as if I had tried to patch the largest crack with plaster in the smallest spot but it did nothing for the mending process. You looked at me and said, “How long has it been this way?” Well, I guess I’ll answer that for you now since that was only a dream. It has been that way since you’ve left me. I’ve held the way I feel inside for so long that now my foundation is broken. Those cracks represent my wounds that I have been avoiding so they won’t heal properly. I don’t acknowledge them because it hurts to think that you are no longer present in my life. And I know how the cliche goes, “Time heals all wounds,” but how long am I supposed to wait until this passes over me? WHEN WILL WE GET IT? WHEN WILL THE ANSWERS COME? HOW DO I COPE WITH TIME THAT SEEMS TO ONLY MOVE A FRAGMENT OF A SECOND AT A TIME? HOW DO I START TO PATCH UP ALL OF THESE CRACKS THAT RUN DEEPER THAN THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA? Honestly, it’s been a while and I still don’t have the answers to any of these questions. Nevertheless, one day I will smile and realize that the time that I once counted to pass has been long gone and that my cracks have finally been resurfaced. And in that very moment whenever that day may come, I will think of you and realize that maybe goodbye wasn’t really so hard after all. So here’s to the cracks that will make me strong again and to my mirrors that will one day turn into windows so that someone else will get the chance to see me, really see me; the way that you did.




FALL 2018

Hello friend!

I am so excited that you decided to join this 21 day challenge with me. I pray that as you go through these next three weeks, that you gain more understanding & clarity through intentional prayer time. When you get to know God on a deeper level, your time spent with Him becomes easier, along with the the desire to choose Him daily. On days you miss, don't feel discouraged, start the next day. Just don't give up! May you fill this journal with your thoughts & prayers you've been longing to share with God. ​ ​ ​

How it works!

For the first ten days, there will be prompted prayers that will help guide you into your journal time with God. You will also be provided with daily Bible Scriptures & questions to reflect on. As you progress throughout the journal, you will find space for you to create your own prayers as you grow & have a better understanding when it comes to your prayer life. ​ Can't wait to see you get to know God more! ​

Sopha Rush

-founder of livedeeplyrooted ​ ​ ​

Let's be friends

Instagram: @livedeeplyrooted Twitter: @sopharush Pinterest: Sopha Rush Blog: sopharush.com FREED MAGAZINE 91

My Prayer Dear God, My heart is heavy, burdened with so much pressure from my ​ circumstances. The pressure of feeling like I have to have it all together. The feeling of not being good enough, not being where I want to be, comparing myself to the next. I ask God, that you would help me keep my eyes fixed on you. For you are not the author of confusion, but of peace. As I continue to fill my life with Your truths, I pray I won’t have any room for satan’s lies to take root. ​ ​

Reflection Questions

1. What is making me feel heavy and weighing me down? ​ 2. How can I find peace in the midst of my circumstances even if they aren’t ideal? ​ ​

Scripture Reading

1 Corinthians 14:33 Phil. 4:7 Ephesians 2:14 Col 3:15 John 14:27 ​ ​ “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” --John 14:27

Journal Entry

FALL 2018

"I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess."-- Martin Luther



My Prayer

​ Dear God, ​It's scary not knowing exactly what the outcome may be. No matter what happens, I know that whatever lies ahead of me, You are already there. Right alongside of me, every step of the way, You are guiding my steps, and working everything out for my good, regardless how I may feel. You know what You are doing and what is best for me. When I am ready, I know You will place it in my hands. May I continue to chase after You as You continue to show me the difference between my needs and my wants. ​

Reflection Questions

1. What is something in my life that I am not willing to let go of and give it completely over to God? ​ 2. How can I trust God more in the midst of not knowing? ​ ​

Scripture Reading Joshua 1:9 2 Samuel 7:28 Psalm 9:10 John 14:1 ​

" May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." --Romans 15:3 ​

FALL 2018

Journal Entry

If you wish to know God, you must know his Word. If you wish to perceive His power, you must see how He works by his Word. If you wish to know His purpose before it comes to pass, you can only discover it by His Word. – Charles Spurgeon TODAY I PROCLAIM VICTORY OVER:


My Prayer Dear God, ​Everyday that you allow me another day, is a gift. May I not take it for granted. I pray that you go before me, guide my thoughts & order my steps because life isn’t always easy. But knowing that You are protecting me, allows me to trust You wholeheartedly with peace. Teach me the importance of appreciating the little things that surround my life. ​

Reflection Questions

1. What is one area of my life that I need to spend more time appreciating? ​ 2. What are some things that I am thankful for or that I don't thank God enough for? ​ ​

Scripture Reading ​ 1 Chronicles 16:34 Philippians 4:6 2 Corinthians 4: 15-16 ​ ​

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. --Colossians 3: 17

FALL 2018

Journal Entry

"The reality is, my prayers don't change God. But, I am convinced prayer changes me. Praying boldly boots me out of that stale place of religious habit into authentic connection with God Himself." -Lysa TerKeurst ​ TODAY I PROCLAIM VICTORY OVER:


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FALL 2018

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Profile for FREED Magazine

FREED MAGAZINE FALL 2018 | Deception: Breaking Free of the lies that bind  

Deception: Breaking Free of the lies that bind featuring Anthony and Sopha Rush!

FREED MAGAZINE FALL 2018 | Deception: Breaking Free of the lies that bind  

Deception: Breaking Free of the lies that bind featuring Anthony and Sopha Rush!

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