FREED Magazine Spring 2018 | BLOOM: The Art of Thriving in Brokenness

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Michelle Ana

"I no longer wish this didn't happen because I know the soul that has bloomed inside of me as a result of my brokenness."

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 Michelle Ana


bl ag a

loom gain and again

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.





hat if I exposed the pieces of me that I try so hard to conceal? What if my exposure brings healing to at least one soul? What if I walk to the edge and jump off fully trusting that God will catch me in my free fall? I’m being pushed everyday closer to the edge; closer to the place God is calling me to go. It’s a rush of excitement and if I’m honest, hesitation. The ‘what if’s’ are endless, but the allure of the unknown is enticing. Today I take one step closer and tomorrow I’ll take another or maybe even two. I’ll keep taking those steps until I’m free falling into the exact place God wants me to be. I’ve been broken and I remember the miraculous feeling when God opened my eyes to His freedom. My pain birthed a deeper love for Jesus and He planted the idea of FREED Magazine. This issue, you will find a wide variety of personal experiences. Moments that ultimately allowed our contributors to realize the unfathomable grace and mercy of God more fully as they were able to thrive in brokenness. Through the vulnerability and authenticity expressed throughout the pages of the magazine, I pray you are encouraged to live FREED. Here at FREED, we have been blessed by every story that has made it to our inbox. My Heart’s Prayer Holy Spirit fall on these pages let your truth saturate these words give honor to your name heal broken hearts and set captives free In Jesus’ Name Amen

-Briana Malik | @BrianaMalik1



Michelle Ana

Bailey T. Hurley


Sierra Camelia

Daphine Bush

The art of thriving 12


"To others, I may have looked like I was singing, but I was rhythmically praying to God for strength and help in this time of devastation. I articulated my pain to him and intertwined it with praise and with assurance that he promised to get me through it." FREED MAGAZINE 6




in brokenness Malisa Cruz

Joshua Eze


Taneisha Graves

62 40



che ut


10 "I don't have it all together, but I do worship a God that does. Everything I do is by His grace. I am amazed at who I am now, it's only because of him that I am free from the control of fear and anxiety." All contributors confirmed that the content submitted and published in FREED Magazine is owned by each contributor respectively.



FREED Magazine is believers, dreamers,

a collective of creatives, the lost and the found

who are forgiven and freed. come from different walks

Our contributors of life, countries,

and races yet we are all connected through the freedom we received in Jesus Christ.


Photographer: Katie Jann Ciccarelli | | @katiejannphoto Shirt: Madwell Shoes: M.GEMI Jeans: Abercrombie Bag: Madewell

Model : Malisa Cruz | | @ malmcruz

"I don't have it all together, but I do worship a God that does. Everything I do is by His grace. I am amazed at who I am now; it's only because of Him that I am freed from the control of fear and anxiety."


life still goes on and the rainbow still shines the sun still rises my heart still beats the clock still ticks birds still chirp life still evolves my smile still remains the flowers still bloom i am still strong i am still forgiven and joy still flows from within oozing out of every part of my being i am still alive my hope is still in jesus Briana Malik | @brianamalik1 FREED MAGAZINE 11

A Worshiper's Brokenness

DAPHINE BUSH | @simplydaph Am I supposed to say “I’m okay”? Is this the protocol after losing someone so close to you? Should I even be at church? Should I sing with the praise team? What am I supposed to feel like? What should I say when people inquire about how I'm doing?

It's Sunday-- my favorite day of the week. I'm a singer and worship leader at my church. Well, this Sunday....everything was different. The sky looked different. Church felt different. I was different. Three days prior, my mother died at the tender age of forty-nine. One can only imagine how untimely and sudden her death was. Just days before her death, we talked. A month before, we spent quality time together at a women’s retreat. There weren’t any red flags alarming me that my mother and I were about to say our last goodbye. It just happened. Now it’s Sunday, and I am motherless. I am still a worship leader. I am still "Sis. Daphine" and my church family still sees me as an encourager. My obligation as a minister did not change. I had the same "understood" status and duty, but an entirely new set of circumstances.

I can't lie, but I’m not ready to express what I’m feeling without a public display of emotion. I’m supposed to be the strong, enthusiastic worship leader everyone’s familiar with, but now I feel helpless. What amazes me, when reflecting on that time, is that my spirit continued to restlessly stir within me, still wanting to praise God! I sat in the audience that Sunday, and prayed while sitting there. I remember watching people look at me with disturbed expressions as if they thought I was misplaced being in the audience. I praised God in my seat and released my pain in my worship as the praise team and choir sang; nevertheless, my spirit yearned to do something that was familiar to me, and that was to worship God in song. However, this time nothing felt familiar, yet my spirit knew what it felt like to step on the stage and yield to the overwhelming rush of God’s spirit. It’s like each time I began to lead in worship, I lost complete awareness of my physical and emotional state, and allowed my spirit to navigate for me. I understood the benefits of yielding to the spirit of God. I remembered that in the presence of God was the fullness of joy!

Many questions ricocheted throughout my mind. How do I encourage others when my faith is void? How do I uplift others when my strength is depleted?

I saw that the desire to yield to the reality of my circumstances did not outweigh my longing to give God his due praise. Despite my pain, I asked God to create an opportunity for me to sing if he so desired, and this was mind-boggling to me.

I felt lost. I was broken! Waves of confusion and sadness overwhelmed my mind. I remember However, this time, the opportunity to do so walking into church that morning smiling after was not readily available because I was the profusely crying for hours. People were stopping audience, the one in need, and the audience me and hugging me, asking me if I was okay, and was me, the minister. to be honest, I wondered within I okay? FREED MAGAZINE 12

The next thing I knew, our pastor was up singing and he spoke over the microphone, "Who wants to come and help me sing this song?" My spirit leaped inside of me! I thought, "Lord, is this you?" While I was speaking to God in my spirit, people in the audience began to point to me and yell, "Daphine go up there! Go on!"

ment, it occured to me that God was faithful and mindful to not only bring me through my hardships but grant me the desires of my heart even in the midst of my suffering. I saw God’s fingerprints over this situation, and I can’t tell you how comforting this was to me.

After God amazed me that Sunday, I still had to deal with the fact that my mother's funeral was coming up and that I would be officially saying goodbye-- forever. I prayed and prayed, and cried All of a sudden, I felt the power of God assuring and cried. I desperately asked God to give me sume, himself, that this was his doing. My pastor pernatural strength. I had to mentally prepare then summoned me to join him on stage to sing a myself for this because there would be hundreds song he'd never sung with his group and has not of people there, and I didn't want to miss an opsince. When I walked on stage, he handed me a portunity to be used by God because of my grief. microphone and I began to adlib the words that I didn't want seeing my dear mother laying in the my heart desired to say. casket to alter my focus and intent to exalt God. That night before her funeral, after praying, God To others, I may have looked like I was singing, but gave me a handcrafted poem about my mother. I was rhythmically praying to God for strength and The poem was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist help in this time of devastation. I articulated my reading it at her funeral. As I read it at her service, pain to him and intertwined it with praise and with tears flowed from the eyes of those attending. assurance that he promised to get me through it. My father requested that I promise to publish it because he thought it was so outstanding. Once When I did this, the church went into a fren- again, after seeing how my pursuit to worship zy! There was a huge wave of praise that went touched others so passionately, I realized that throughout the sanctuary. People were crying, God helped me once more, and turned my pain smiling, holding their chests, and staring in dis- into a beautiful experience with him. belief. They saw and felt my liberation take place! They saw me choose to praise God despite my I learned through this ordeal that I must praise current reality. This was the most amazing Sunday God regardless of my circumstances. In broto date! kenness, healing is birthed. Out of pain, power is manifested. When we feel helpless, if we surTHROUGH BROKENNESS, I WAS ABLE TO render to God, out of weakness we are made RENDER PRAISE TO GOD, AND AS A RESULT, strong. If we are never sick in spirit, how can HIS POWER AND FAITHFULNES WAS MANI- God ever be our healer? If we are never in pain, FESTED. how can He be our pain reliever? When you feel the woes of life penetrating your well-being and I handed the microphone back to my pastor and peace of mind, let God be God, and do what he walked back to my seat. My reality was still the does best: saving us out of all of our troubles. same, but my faith had increased. As I shuffled past the people in the pews to my original loca- My experience of losing my mother taught me tion, I felt my daughter tugging on my cardigan. to sing through whatever ails me. I will forever sing through my struggles, knowing that I, myI leaned my ear towards her, and she whispered, self, will see God manifested in my life, and this “Mom, God just answered your prayer. You’ve is what causes me to endure. To any worship always wanted to sing with Bishop.” I was taken leaders struggling with fulfilling your role beaback with her statement’s accuracy because I cause of unfortunate circumstances, hurt, and never uttered those words to her, or anyone. It pain, remember that singers pray twice: once at was merely just a thought in my heart. At that mo- home in our prayer time, and again when we sing!




Alan Diaz


Can you imagine a public space that you frequent plastering the question, “A

Million New Yorkers Are Good Without God, Are You?” FREED MAGAZINE 15

Can you imagine a public space that you frequent plastering the question, “A Million New Yorkers Are Good Without God, Are You?” Your initial reaction might be of pure shock, the second might produce a sense of mourning, the third might bring about feelings of helplessness. Thankfully, there was a response to this question. A movement was birthed ten years ago, making it clear that without question-- we desperately need God. Many hands have gone to work in order to grow this movement and the network of believers that it has inevitably brought together. One of those individuals is Alan Diaz, a native of Brooklyn, NY. At one point he may have believed he was good without God, but has become a force in this movement bringing glory to God and helping to grow other like-minded individuals. We can all imagine the cliche representation of a 17 year old, Central American, first generation boy living in Brooklyn, NY. Our media often portrays him as being a drug dealer, closer to a jail cell than a classroom and constantly knocking at death’s door. Often, this is where the story ends. However, God had other plans for our brother Alan Diaz, and while he fit much of the cliche, this is where his walk with Christ began. When Alan considers pivotal moments in his life that God was made clear and visible, he remembers his barber in Brooklyn. Though in a shop filled with men, and all manner of conversation, his barber never ceased to share the love of Christ with Alan. He also had a cousin that had taken him to church on a few occasions, so he knew where to go when he could no longer run from God. There were even provisions made for Alan so that he could get out of the city, away from his old life, in order to hide himself in Christ. Alan never turned back to his old ways, and finds himself living a life beyond any that he had imagined for himself as a 17 year old. Before Alan knew anything about God Belongs in My City, the movement grew into a prayer walk. In 2009, over 1500 youth mobilized in Manhattan. This wasn’t to protest the sign or any other events happening in the city. Instead, this walk was used to pray for those in the city and the many issues affecting its citizens. While we often hear of the negative impact of social media, this walk going viral prompted other metropolitan cities to ask how they could get involved. Fast forward to 2011 and we find Alan, along with his wife and young family, living in Jacksonville, Florida serving the Lord. Under the direction of his senior pastor, Alan became involved in helping to establish a prayer walk in his own community. Of nearly 100 churches that were invited to participate, 33 responded to the call, and over 700 people participated in praying for their city. They walked a 1-2 mile radius stopping at various locations to make specific requests to God. The leaders had researched the issues plaguing the city and made sure to address what spiritual battles were taking place in the community. In 2012, Alan took on a larger roll with the growing movement, titled “God Belongs in My City.” With this, he has been able to help bring other cities on board-- the movement has now touched over 80 cities. While Alan has done exceptional work, he has found that a struggle has been bringing together the many different denominations that worship and love God in any particular city. Unfortunately, sin has led to division, but God is calling his followers to come together in unity. Still Alan perseveres.


Alan Diaz, Maryann Diaz , Amber Katelyn Diaz 18, Alyssa Carmen Diaz 15, Gabriela Lucia Diaz 11

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” -Ephesians 4: 3-6 (NIV) One of the most motivating aspects of Alan’s work is watching youth pastors really take root in the Lord and follow their calling. He has also had the opportunity to watch God work in very deliberate ways. Organizing takes funding, getting people involved takes persistence, and impacting lives takes dedication. Through this, God has shown his faithfulness and how He can use the obedience of His people. With the opportunity to sit down and pick Alan’s brain, he’d most likely remind us to stay humble. He has found the more one is used, the more pride can try to rear its ugly head. Satan was prideful, he felt he was better, and the flesh can often make each of us feel this very same way. Alan would also remind us of a beatitude we so often fail to exercise in our current culture. Yes, Matthew 5:5. It is imperative we ask God for meekness-- strength under control. Taking a leap of faith and answering the call of God is never easy. Yet it is extremely easy to get caught up in our “tasks” for the Lord. These “tasks” quite often never take us out of our comfort zone and normally surround us with the people we know best. That is why it is such an honor to celebrate Alan Diaz. He has allowed his life to benefit the kingdom. May we all find the strength to ask God where he is leading us and the courage to do it.

INTERESTED IN STARTING YOUR OWN PRAYER WALK IN YOUR CITY? w w w. g o d b e l o n g s i n m y c i t y. c o m


“My relationship with the Lord informs my decisions personally and in business-- areas

I should pursue or those I shouldn’t and making sure I don't make premature decisions.”


A LT R U I S T S H O P W H Y S H O P A LT R I U S T ? By definition, ALTRUIST is the belief in or practice of selfless concern for the well being of others. This provides the foundational ethos of our mission, to provide an online marketplace to promote the betterment of others through fashion and lifestyle. We seek to bring awareness to the designers and creatives who have uniquely merged style and sustainability. When choosing items for ALTRUIST, I first look at the quality of the items focusing on hand-crafted products and then the manufacturing practices of the company/designer. I love that we are able to help people, women, families and businesses that are concerned about the well-being of others and those environments while offering unique and beautifully crafted pieces.


My mother owned a women's boutique (The Queens' Chamber Boutique/ QCB) since I was about 15 years old. I would help her after school or on the weekends and then after college I became a buyer for the store. The purpose of the boutique was to support young teenage mothers from her non-profit, The House of Esther Organization (HOEO), to develop job skills and learn how to manage money while they were in the program. I kept in contact with a few of our boutique accounts, along with other new designers/companies with charitable aspects to their products and decided to open up ALTRUIST. I pitched the idea to other like-minded entrepreneurs and/ or philanthropic individuals who would be interested in this venture and had a couple people that donated to this dream. My husband and I saved a little money and set up space to take pictures. It stopped right here for 2 years as I did all of this and then found out I was pregnant with our 4th son. As the months went on, I still had my passion for ALTRUIST, but I wanted to take care of my family. After our youngest son turned 2, I began to doubt the vision of ALTRUIST. However, I knew ALTRUIST was about more than me. It was also about the young mothers from the non-profit that was so dear to my heart. Therefore, I could no longer despise small beginnings, so and that weekend I took a few more photos with my husband's camera and just launched it! I stopped listening to what it "wasn't" or may not be but what it WAS to be, a conduit of hope-selflessly styled in generosity. FREED MAGAZINE 19


When the opportunity came around to start ALTRUIST, I understood certain aspects of business due to the knowledge my mother imparted, but early on I still had to learn that you make money before you spend money. I had all of these ideas for the site and more products, but I forced myself to work with what I had and to be creative. As a result, that type of minimalist approach allowed me to start without debt and just enjoy the process, and in a way, fuel the passion for the vision I anticipated bringing into fruition. Anyone that has the desire to start their own business should go for it and in doing so start with a well-thought out business plan. Habakkuk 2:2 (ESV) says, "And the LORD answered me: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it." Writing down the vision is beneficial in business or in any other space where you have plans of leading someone or something. You need a plan if you have ambition to accomplish any task because when it get toughs during that "sweat equity" phase (basically, the hard work needed to bring an idea to life- much of this takes place during that first 5 years), your written vision reminds you of your why. Why am I up so late? Why am I taking this photo again? Why do I care about the alignment for the copy content? Just thumb through your business plan, remind yourself of the the "why," get inspired, and for some, you will see how far you've come from your initial projections. Be knowledgeable of the field you are going in. If highly saturated, what do you offer that they don't? Know that you won't know everything. Don't let stats discourage you. Think things through before you quit your job (that's not a lack of faith, just steady plodding) and finally, please don't give up on the vision, see it through. There is a unique space for you and others that may be influenced or inspired by your endurance!





My hope is that when I get older and my kids ask me what I was doing during this time when so much is happening in our culture and society that I can point to where I allowed my faith and compassion to lead me beyond comfort and to create opportunity for people in a way that God designed for me. There's so much to celebrate around us, so much good others are doing that even in doing well you can be tempted to do more than you can manage. With four young kids, I have to be mindful of my capacity-- I may be able to do many things well, but is God asking me to do all of those things right now? My relationship with the Lord informs my decisions personally and in business-- areas I should pursue or those I shouldn’t and making sure I don't make premature decisions. As a wife and mother, my decisions affect not only myself but when God sees me, He sees my husband and my children so it's about more than me.




QUAZI DESIGN COLLAR Swaziland, Southern Africa

QUAZI DESIGN ZIG ZAG BOWL Swaziland, Southern Africa




I will definitely keep refining what I've started, but I am very excited about what is to come this year! I am meeting some very talented women and hoping to add organic/natural skincare products to the shop. Just a few SELFLESS Scents we hope to curate to keep the smell of generosity around. There are a few other collaborations happening, but I love a good surprise so I hope to share more of that in the future.

Lydia Osborne @altruistshop

w w w . a l t r u i s t s h o p . c o m FREED MAGAZINE 23

AROMATIC INFLUENCE BAILEY T. HURLEY @ b a i l e y. t . h u r l e y

w w w. b a i l ey t h u r l ey. c o m

I hate the moment when I am driving out of my garage, have turned onto the main road headed toward my busy day, and realize I forgot to put deodorant on. If my mental checklist of morning to-dos does not remind me, I am quickly alerted a few hours later when I get a whiff of my underarms. My first response is always, “Darn it, not again.” My second response is to quickly think of all the people I have interacted with that day and hope they haven’t smelled me. My third thought is to plan a strategic way to make sure no one else realizes I forgot to freshen up in the morning—it usually consists of making sure I hug everyone like a T-Rex. I just extend my arms slightly so that I still seem friendly but don’t engulf my friend in the full smell of B.O. Big smile, little arms. Smells are aromatic. Good or bad. Sometimes I put on my Bath and Body Works lotion and people stop me in stores to ask why I smell so good. Other times, I use candles to make my home feel warm or familiar. And sometimes I can’t take credit for my appeal-

ing scent at all like the way my clothes smell after a bonfire. Even when a few days have passed, my clothes will still carry the scent of burning wood and good conversation. There are also smells that permeate in a bad way. Public bathrooms are places I try to avoid at all costs. Sometimes, I’ll hurry through Target like a maniac rather than stop in the restroom that smells like the unflushed disaster of someone who must have had explosive diarrhea because that’s the only explanation for the awfulness. Smells evoke powerful responses, which is why Paul uses them to describe our influence on the lives of others. “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life” (2 Cor. 2: 15, 16 ESV).

Melanie Fenwick Photography | @melaniefenwickphoto


God has placed us in the lives of others to be an aroma to them. To some we will exude sweet and satisfying smells; we will smell like life and Christ’s glory to them. To others we will smell like a public restroom. We will represent the dim lighting and dirtiness in their lives that will repulse them. Yet, we are purposed to spread the aroma of the gospel of Christ and we must avoid the temptation to adjust our smell based on our audience. I often feel the temptation to reek a little less of Jesus in certain environments, but censoring faith from my conversation is like a battery operated candle—which we all know are cheaters. Instead, we emit love, compassion, peace, and hope to those who need it most. We stink up the place with our crazy love for the broken and the hurting. We introduce the scents of joy and grace to many who only know punishment by the law. I am so thankful that God wants us throughout the lives of people to be the powerful aromas of Christ. Even when I am walking through a day unprotected by the science of deodorant, I am still a pleasing aroma to God. Who knew our odors mattered so much? What scent do you give off to the people you influence? How do you create a business, a home, or a community that permeates the truths of Christ? May we all be like an air freshener of Christ’s salvation to those we encounter daily…and remember to put on deodorant. FREED MAGAZINE 25


w w w . p e n a n d p r o s e . o r g




Dec 31, 2013, marks an important day in my life. It was the day I decided that I was tired of living a life of partying and doing what I wanted to bring momentary pleasure, only to bring guilt and shame later. It was the day I decided to fully follow Christ, no matter the cost‌ Even if it meant giving up parties with my friends, and even if it meant giving up alcohol completely. I had my first drink around 16 years old, it was a Shiner. For me, beer was never an acquired taste like my friends had warned me it would be. It was an instant taste that I loved and craved. Up until then, I never had too much interest in drinking. I wanted to taste the beer to see what it was like, but I never really thought much about drinking, let alone getting drunk. When I turned 17, that changed. I hung around an older guy that my parents warned me against, who ended up getting me drunk and then proceeded to rape me. I think after that, alcohol became a source of comfort to me. A source of escape. In my mind, alcohol was the only thing that saved me, it was the thing that erased my memories, and the thing that made me temporarily forget myself. It was a way past my depression. Going to college, I found a group of friends that I loved and trusted, and we all partied every weekend. Our parties were never too crazy. There were never drugs present, besides the occasional pot smokers who would sneak out to the cars to smoke, and there were never people having sex all over the place. The majority of our parties consisted of drinking games, trying to speak foreign languages, and dancing to Kpop. The parties were fun for me, I felt safe. No boys ever tried to do anything to me, and if they did it was because I wanted them to. The alcohol made me feel powerful and in control. I could control how much I drank. I could control how much fun I would have. I could control how much I drank. I could control how much I drank. At least that’s what I told myself, over and over. I convinced myself that I was in control; meanwhile, alcohol was slowly sneaking in and taking over. I needed to drink to be around people. I needed to drink to feel confident. I needed to drink to laugh. I needed to drink to wind down or to have fun. Every time I drank, it was out of survival. I needed it. FREED MAGAZINE 27

Photography: Shelly Borga of Dakota & Co.


Back to December 31st. The pivot point of my life. Several days prior, I was bored so I invited a boy over to drink three bottles of wine with me. Worst idea ever, by the way. We ended up making out and doing the stupid things drunk people do before I got mad at him and spent the rest of the night puking up my guts in the bathroom. The vomit that came out looked something like the inside of my stomach, stained dark with red wine. Or was that blood? I didn’t know. All I could think about was whether or not I should go to the hospital. I stayed in the shower and washed my body repeatedly with some lavender soap. I couldn’t even manage washing my hair; it just fell over my face as droplets of water slipped down my cheeks into my mouth. At least I was getting some form of hydration, right? I don’t remember the rest of the night… Just the smell of that soap, which still reminds me of the wine I drank, and I want to gag thinking about it. The boy must have left, or maybe he didn’t, I can’t remember. All I know is that I hated myself more than I thought possible. December 31st, I showed up to a New Year's Eve party that I had been invited to. I didn’t really want to go, but partying in the New Year was all I really knew how to do. I couldn’t even drink and the ever-present smell of alcohol still brought back the taste of vomit. The boy was there too, drinking again. How could he drink so much after that? But then again, what was I doing at the party anyway? That party was so awkward because I knew that I was out of place. I wasn’t supposed to be there, and I wasn’t having fun, so I went home. That was the last time I would ever drink. It’s the last time I would ever go to a party. I knew that in my heart. I spent the next several days in the silence of my bedroom, crying until my tears ran out. I still remember the feeling; feeling like my heart would collapse under the weight of the sin I had been living in for years. Feeling like I would suffocate if I didn’t confess and repent of everything to God. So I stayed in my room and prayed, and read the Bible, and wept, and wrote to God, and wept some more. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I couldn’t stop reading Psalm 51. Whatever brought David to write that psalm, I didn’t know… but no words had ever felt so true to what I was going through. The following Sunday came along and I was more ready to be in church than I had ever been, and more than ready to feel God’s presence again. I don’t even remember what the sermon was about or what led to my collapse in the back of the auditorium, all I know is that it was in that moment that I truly gave everything to God. I felt like I was crying so loud the whole world could hear me, you know, the kind of crying where you can’t even seem to catch your breath. The ugly crying, so to speak. Either way, I was curled up in a ball in the back of the church next to a potted plant. The leaves seemed to provide some sense of safety. I don’t remember anyone around me. It was just me and God. And then, alas, I could breathe again. Everything would be okay again. I would be forgiven, again.

4 Years Sober


love, when you’re so overtaken by it that you want to shout it from the mountaintops, “EVERYONE, JESUS IS SO AMAZING AND HE LOVES YOU!” But then you’d look crazy. But why aren’t we shouting that every day? The truth of His love is something that cannot be denied.

The invitations to parties were slowly replaced by invitations to go out with my church friends to do fun things, like watching movies, bowling and playing games. And each time we went out, I remember feeling so clean. I had no idea how to have fun without alcohol, but this newly found “fun” to me was the best feeling of joy and laughter I had ever experienced.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability. But with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. | 1 Corinthians 10:13

The nights I’d spend drinking were replaced with nights I spent learning the piano on a keyboard given to me from someone at church. I don’t think they even knew the impact that keyboard would have, but looking back I can see that having a keyboard to worship God with was a key factor in filling up my time. I spent hours upon hours learning each key, singing songs to God and playing melodies from my heart.

I look back at the Sierra from 2013 and I hardly recognize her. Telling my testimony is a funny feeling because I feel like I’m writing a story about someone else… I’m not the girl I used to be. My old selfdied, and my new self was born by the grace of God.

The desire to drink was replaced with a desire to spend time reading and re-reading the Bible. I didn’t want to put that book down. There was, and still is, so much to learn about God.

What’s funny is that at the time I gave my heart back to God, I was so terrified. I was crying in my room about it for three days. It was the hardest and scariest time in my life. But now, I just see all the blessings and miracles that God did through that. There’s no way I could write it all in this post, but maybe I’ll write a book about it one day. I can tell you some of the key things God did in my life after my step towards obedience in loving Him.

The desire to receive validation from boys was replaced with a desire to please and love my savior. I know, I always used to judge Christians who’d say they were in a relationship with Jesus or “in love” with Jesus… But I began to understand that. That feeling of

Every addiction I had, without me knowing it, God had provided an outlet and a way of escape. Just like his word says, in the midst of temptation, he provided a way out. I cry just thinking about His gentle love. He’s so good.

So here we are…. April 2018

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. | 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

Photographer: Kendall Nicole |@Kendallnicolestudios December 31st: I re-dedicated my life to God. No alcohol, no parties, no boys, no distractions, just me and God. March 2014: God brought the most amazing, loving, godly man into my life, Tim.

August 2015: I got hired at my first full-time job. October 2015: I was able to pay off all my credit card debt. December 2015: I bought my first car.

May 2014: I was offered a full-time internship with my church. July 2014-2015: The internship began. Endless opportunities for spiritual growth happened throughout the year, and too many blessings to count. July 2015: The internship finished, and I took my first mission trip to Nicaragua. I began to see God’s greater calling on my life.

June 2016: I took another mission trip to Miami and returned to Nicaragua. God showed me more pieces of the vision and calling over my life. August 2016: I moved to Austin, adopted a (psycho) puppy, and found a church.

4 Years Sober


I look back at the past three years and thank God for how much healing I’ve experienced. He provided an amazing church to serve and grow in. He brought along an amazing and godly man to show me what real love looks like…. seriously, I learned more about the love of God by seeing the endless love that Tim has shown me. If a man can love me that much, I can’t even comprehend how deep God’s love is. He brought me the most amazing friends to love and grow next to. He opened the door to work at a job (with the most amazing boss in the whole world), which provides for all my financial needs. I’ve grown closer to God. I’ve experienced an indescribable freedom. I’ve experienced a deep and lasting joy in my spirit. I start laughing just seeing how my one act of obedience and surrender turned into a spiral of blessings and divine opportunities. The life I was living before was directionless. I felt empty. I could never find lasting joy. Everything I did was in my own effort, all up to me and it was stressful. NOW, I’M FREE FROM THAT. GOD SAVED ME. I pray and ask God for direction, and then I do what he guides me to do, and I know it will be okay. I know it, because I’ve lived it. Where God guides, He provides. Psalm 51 1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.


"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen." -ELISABETH KUBLER-ROSS


Broken but Somewhat Functional BREANNA BRINKLEY Instagram: @breannabrinkleyrd Twitter: theonthebrinkrd

When things didn’t go as planned or if someone treated me badly, I assumed I must have deserved it. I strongly believed outcomes and results were reflections of how hard I worked and how I presented myself. Shame is such a powerful tool of the enemy.

allowed him to kiss and touch me. Luckily, before he took a step towards me as I just stood there frozen, he decided we had both been in there too long and he didn’t want to get caught. That day I was fortunate nothing happened, but I blamed myself for going in there and then blamed myself for never I thought sexual harassment was something saying anything to management, my parI was born to deal with. It was something ents, or anyone else. You see, the devil made that happened before I even started grade this occurrence so frequent in my life that school, it followed me into my middle school eventually it twisted my thought pattern. years, again it nudged itself on me in high I believed the lie that since it was not an school, and of course this familiar acquain- isolated event and happened continuously tance showed itself in college. From as far throughout my life, I had to be the cause. I back as I can remember, throughout my knew men would comment on my appearentire life, boys then eventually men would ance and would always shower me with come and try to see what they could take compliments on my looks, but I just didn’t from me. For instance, I remember my first understand how it turned into these danwaitressing job in college; I was trapped in gerous situations. I thought, “I must be doing the restaurant walk-in fridge with one of the something wrong,” which later led me into cooks who would not let me leave unless I believing this was my burden to live with.


"And I remember that being the first time I felt people saw me for who I was, a hurting soul that just needed to know I didn’t deserve any of the bad that happened and that I was

LOVED by God no matter what happened to me, despite how I acted out of that pain, and regardless how far I had gone from Him."



Suppressed memories and injuries have a funny way of reminding you that they are not going anywhere and letting you know they are still holding you captive. I became selfish for my happiness and somehow I had twisted in my mind that if nobody was going to look out for me, I would. Of course you can’t always control what happens to you, around you, or to those that you love. But despite knowing that, I found myself trying to control everything around me at any cost necessary. And I did all of this to “win at life;” and to be honest, it didn’t fill the void. I would chase after excitement then once that was over I would look for the next thing to make me happy, whether that be a new relationship, experience, vacation, or activity. For so many years, I thought if I could do things the “right way” by society's’ standards (get into the right crowds, look a certain way, gain the credentials) that I would be okay at this thing called life. So I learned what I needed to do in order to become great through societal expectations. Consequently, I became more manipulative, competitive to a fault, and willing to step on others to get where I wanted to go. My actions were always centered around my happiness, wants, or dreams. I felt entitled. Therefore, I was determined to be the boss of my own life and to always have control. I became good at detaching from people and felt justified because society is steadily screaming to us, “cut off whoever is not benefiting you,” so if others did not follow suit, I would quickly replace them. I slowly became good at being in the world and of the world. I knew how to respond to get what I wanted and also knew what people were looking for, so I would mold myself to fit in and be accepted. And ultimately, I became lost in it, lost with comparison, trying to get ahead and stay ahead, and trying to be this picture perfect woman, which ultimately led to me forgetting who I truly was. My value and self worth was tied so heavily to the acceptance of others that positive thoughts of myself did not exist unless they were validated by someone else. And since everyone I was surrounded by had the same mentality, they were using me for as long as I benefited their goals and life. Ultimately, it was a toxic environment. Living this way, I knew my happiness would only be short lived and as a young adult I repeated the cycle of partying, drinking, working harder to try to please others and to fill that void with self-gratification. At this point in my life, church was something I did as a checklist, but I wasn’t all the way committed. I grew up occasionally going to church but I viewed it as religion and not a relationship. Throughout my life I never felt convicted about how I was living unless it was outside of society’s morals as well. In 2016 I had just gone through a horrible breakup, started a new job in a new city, and our family dog passed away so I did whatever I could to escape my thoughts. I would go out every weekend, I had completely lost my appetite and dropped fifteen pounds within six weeks, and really did whatever seemed like it would help me cope with that disappointing and unfamiliar time in my life. So I started partying harder and going out more when I realized I didn’t want to go down that path anymore. The attention of men did not matter, the fact that I was working my career field did not make me feel whole and it finally registered in me that I couldn’t help myself on my own. I gave church one more try, but I decided to be fully invested and thirsty for a solution for my life. One evening I went to a women’s program held at the church I was trying out in Dallas. I remember it so vividly because it was the first time that I saw other women being transparent of the shame or guilt they were carrying and really discussing how it imprisoned them.



praise you because


am fearfully and wonderfully

made; your works are wonderful,


know that full well.”

PSALM 139:14

Photographer: Briana Malik | | @Upliftedphotography Model: Crystal Alyss Brown | @passion_bycrysb

Broken but Somewhat Functional

And I remember that being the first time I felt people saw me for who I was, a hurting soul that just needed to know I didn’t deserve any of the bad that happened and that I was loved by God no matter what happened to me, despite how I acted out of that pain, and regardless how far I had gone from Him. That night we discussed the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-6 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friend and neighbors together and says, ’Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’.” And that day I decided to accept that God is just happy that I am coming back home to Him. From then on, I went 100% in for Christ. I began going to church steadily, I surrounded myself with people who were also growing in their faith, and I took on the scary task of working through my past because I was no longer going to hold guilt or shame in my life anymore. I realized, for years, I allowed shame to keep me from claiming my value. I have once heard quoted before that, “women are made to believe that we are strong by how much pain we can endure,” and I want to shake up that narrative completely! I want every woman to know that we are strong because God made us strong. Ever since that day, when I decided I am not identified by my pain, I have seen God use me in ways I could never imagine. Instead, I am a piece of the larger puzzle God has made to help bring others to Him. I feel true joy at all times knowing my purpose has been waiting for me to shed this shame off so that God can start using me to spread His kingdom and invite others to the table. He could not use me before with all of my selfishness, and manipulative ways, because I was downright “ugly in spirit.” By slowly shedding off these defense mechanisms and ugly characteristics that I built from my past I was able to let go of perfectionism, work on letting people in, shed my need to constantly have control and chip away at all of the other baggage I carried around to make me feel safe. I learned I had always had the protection of God, and Christ was to always be with me no matter the situation. And because I was in that mindset for such a long time, I always want to make sure other women out there know that whatever you have been through that makes you think you are too past gone for God to accept you; He is waiting for you to let Him in! Just as He says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” So come on ladies, let’s begin to work on becoming the woman He designed for you to be.




P h oto g r a p h e r : O d i l e Q u i d a l | @ bF RyE_EoD dMiAlGeA Z I N E





RISING FROM THE ASHES | @janette_butcher

I have always been the kind of personality that is all or nothing. So when I met the Lord in my late teens I was an in. My personality combined with my passion meant I found myself in church at least three times a week, serving on numerous ministries, and leading a weekly connect group at home. Whenever someone called, I was there. Even my job at the time was somewhat of a ministry, working with high needs, long-term unemployed clients to help them deal with the challenges they were facing. Of course my desire for excellence opened up many opportunities for me. I was offered and accepted a role as a national partnership manager in my field, I started to lead ministries and was presented opportunities to travel abroad. I wore my business as a badge of honour as my identity hung on the thread of what I did. I lived on the accolades of others, always affirming how ‘on fire’ I was. I felt significant for the first time in my life, which provided more than enough drive to keep me living a life that was constantly overextended. This landed me in South America on a three week intensive youth mission trip. Every day of the trip was jam packed, long days with long meetings, long meetings with long lines of people waiting to be prayed for. Everything was long except for the time I allocated for sleep. I got a few hours of sleep at best each night, not wanting to miss a single thing. When I returned from my fiery ministry trip in South America, still enjoying the high, feeling like the hulk spiritually and ready to have a crack at raising the dead, I felt unstoppable. I’ll admit I had a few moments overseas where I started to feel a little unwell — a sinister rash appeared on my neck and I experienced some flu like symptoms. However, I shrugged FREED MAGAZINE 40

it off and gave my attention to improving my awful Spanish and mastering the art of preaching with an interpreter. Turns out ‘please’ in Spanish translates with way more syllables and sounds ridiculous if said multiple times in a row. In spite of me, an entire church received the joy of the Lord mid message. My newfound friends survived my lousy Spanish and I soldiered on for the rest of the trip. Though I felt ready to take on the world, physically something was off. Landing back home was rough. Not just because of the jet lag, stinky feels and the fact that I had misplaced my toothbrush but because I felt really unwell. I got home with zero intention of braving the lag and reunited with my beloved bed. Hours later, I was up with a raging fever and fluids coming out of all openings. I’ll spare you the finer details. For two days I couldn’t hold my head upright without becoming nauseous and violently ill. Finally, my roommate drove me to the local medical centre for examination. Long story short, I had glandular fever and some South American virus I can't spell properly. I didn't think much of the doctor’s assessment and was given some brief instructions on managing the fever and symptoms and sent home. I was told to rest, but I didn’t

At the time, I worked in a high pressure role with long hours and extensive travel. It felt great being the youngest person in the company managing reasonably sized government contracts. When I wasn’t in a work meeting or on a flight, I was at church. There was always something to attend or be involved in. I didn't eat well and when I did, I would eat on the run. I never took lunch breaks, or breaks at all. Looking back, I can see how unsustainable my lifestyle was and how it was a disaster waiting to happen. Eventually the fever broke and all traces of an illness from my trip to South America seemed to have disappeared. I escaped this bout of illness without those around me having any clue something was wrong. However, soon thereafter, my health again began to deteriorate and a long painful journey led to a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. From the outside, my life appeared to be flourishing. Whenever I would start to feel vulnerable: I would withdraw, isolate myself and pull it together before showing my face again. No one knew that secretly I was battling debilitating chronic illnesses and that my soul was straining under an incredible amount of grief, anxiety and unresolved trauma. I had no idea about self-care, sustainable rhythms, boundaries and the importance of managing myself well-- spirit, soul and body. Consequently, in my mid twenties the rug was

violently pulled from under my feet and everything in my life collapsed like a house of cards — I suffered a nervous breakdown. In the painful months that followed, I could barely function. I couldn’t sleep properly, I was barely eating, and I could no longer work as I struggled just to leave the house. My body would tremor uncontrollably and my cognitive capacity was so low that I couldn’t even fill in a form without feeling overwhelmed and bursting into tears. To make things even worse, the people around me were grossly underprepared to handle my struggle. This was in part because I presented myself as a very consistent and high functioning woman. People around me only knew of my strength, stability and stamina in my personal devotion to the Lord and in loving others. They had no idea of my painful past. I don’t know that I was taught explicitly that my past trauma was irrelevant since I had become a new creation, I just think it was one of those lessons I absorbed from the culture of the church. Consequently, I lived a significant portion of my Christian walk in denial about the impact of my past. Unfortunately, this meant I spent a long time and a lot of energy trying to pretend I was okay or hiding the fact that I wasn’t. I did not realise that suppressing my pain or denying it was preventing me from experiencing the healing and hope that was on the other side of working through the heartache. I had no idea how long it would take for me to dig myself out of the rut I was in and there were days I questioned whether I would ever be my normal again. I had six months off of work to recover, during which I made mountains of terrible choices, just trying to numb, suppress, or medicate the pain that had exploded inside my soul. At the time, I had no reference point or tools for processing pain in a healthy way. It was a terrifying and excruciating season of my life, yet in it I was met by the kindness and nearness of God in a way that still impacts me profoundly. He really is close to the brokenhearted. Looking back, here’s where I went wrong: I said yes, when I knew I needed to say no. I often let my passion for helping people go unchecked and unrestrained, meaning I would always say yes to what I felt passionate about at the expense of better judgment. I did not set healthy boundaries or limits and I did not communicate powerfully. I listened to the voice of fear — fear of being rejected, judged, misunderstood; the fear of failure, disapproval or disappointing others. I didn’t see myself being equally as valuable as those I ministered to. I allowed myself to be pressured, guilted and manipulated into doing things that I did not want to do. I gave grudgingly, resentfully and under compulsion often, although I would never have had the security to admit that to myself at the time. I did not make time to both rest and recharge. I did not manage my time, energy and resources to match my priorities, and if I had priorities, they were all out of whack.


"I wrote this just for you — to tell you I see you in the rubble, to say I am with you in it, that God is in the mess with you, not distant or aloof, but present and close, redeeming every detail." I did not live powerfully, I let the days demands and people’s needs or expectations dictate how I would spend my time. I did not look beyond the moment to consider sustainability or longevity and I never adjusted my commitments to match my capacity, in changing seasons and circumstances. I believed I was expected to be okay all the time and that joy was the only appropriate Christian emotion. I neglected to understand, embrace and value my humanity, with its vulnerabilities and weaknesses. I was afraid of pain and did not understand how vital it is to process through it in a healthy way. I shamed myself for feeling, which was way more destructive than just embracing the initial feeling. I tried to hide my pain from God and others instead of inviting them into it which only served to prolong pain and prevent healing. I think self-care can be a difficult truth to grasp in a Christian context. We are taught from the onset that to be a ‘good’ Christian is to be selfless, to love the poor, befriend the lonely, generously serve, be hospitable and lay down our lives. Somehow though, we mistranslate this to mean giving people unlimited access to our time, energy and resources. It has just ticked over four years since my rebirth. Although it has been hell at times, I can say I have risen from the ashes a more compassionate human. Pain has been a game changer for me. When pain is fully felt with the Comforter, it is the very thing that propels us in our destiny. Everything is drastically different now, my walk with the Lord, my love for people, and the way I live and do ministry. Maybe today you are reading this and you can see yourself in my story. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and at a breaking point. Or maybe you’ve already found yourself there, amongst the wreckage, feeling discouraged, despondent, disappointed or even disillusioned in your faith. I wrote this just for you — to tell you I see you in the rubble, to say I am with you in it, that God is in the mess with you, not distant or aloof, but present and close, redeeming every detail. The word for redeem in the Bible translates as a simultaneously past, present and future tense word, the implication is that God is all the while redeeming you. Your broken places, like mine, are being restored and you too will rise from the ashes. You’re gonna be okay.


PHOTOGRAPHER Henry Keith LOCATION LA | @henryjkeith


Love in All The Wrong Places JEMIAH BARKSDALE

Because my mother kept my brother and I in church when we were younger, we had an idea of God, but we simply didn’t “know” Him, especially not for ourselves. That was enough for a while, so it wasn’t until I was around the age of 14, a freshman in highschool, that I started desiring the lifestyle my peers had been accustomed to for years. I began to get myself involved in ungodly activities. It started out with simply hanging around the wrong crowds and turned into my thirsting for attention from guys. I got introduced to sex because I wanted to fit in with my “friends” and lost my virginity at the age of 15 to a guy that I thought would be my husband one day. Eventually, I got introduced to drugs (marijuana) and drinking alcohol. I started going to class less and less which turned into skipping school altogether. Drama was constant and I almost got arrested. At the time, we thought getting in trouble and being rebellious was fun. We thought living a lifestyle that went completely against God was cool. In actuality, what I was doing only left me more and more empty. At this point, as a high school student, I felt far away from God. I felt as if I had no guidance, no one that I could truly turn and talk to, nor anyone that was genuinely there for me. If I can be honest, God was the last person on my mind. I had no conviction. I didn’t feel bad about hurting Him because sin made me numb. I didn’t see a wrong in anything that I did because I was so deep in the world. It all became the norm for me. Fast forward to my junior year in highschool, and I meet a guy. He seemed to be the peace that I needed especially because of all the tragedy that I had been putting myself through. At the time, I thought he was the most amazing person on the planet. He listened to me, wiped my tears, encouraged me when I felt down, spoiled me with attention and always reassured me of my worth. I built my world around him. It was like God literally sent him to me as my personal comfort. I couldn’t go a day without him. I depended fully on him to make me feel better, so I couldn’t not be around him. He was my god which I realized once I found myself being controlled by him and continuously falling into his traps of manipulation. At the time, I didn't fully realize it, but he didn’t want me talking to or being around anyone but him. The control had become extreme, to the point where I turned against my family and friends just to make him happy. This hurt me and destroyed me in many ways. The type of grip that he had on me was something that only God could have loosened. I was 16 at the time. Looking back, I realize this wasn’t something that a 16 year old or really anyone should have had to deal with, but it happened because of “my” decisions. Eventually, I found myself being mad at God because I thought God had sent him to bring me peace-- not heartache, depression, and instability. After a year of being together, we broke up. Miraculously, I was able to break free from that toxic, ungodly relationship. Thankfully, one of his closest friends was jealous of our relationship, so he did everything in his power to break us up from the day we got together. He would lie on me and make me look bad in front of my ex, and that caused problems between us. At the time all of this devastated me. Then one day, his friend made an accusation that caused my ex to end the relationship completely.

Now that I look back on it, it was a blessing in disguise; although at the time, that was one of the worst days of my life. I felt like I lost a part of me. I didn’t have anyone because he was the only person that I surrounded myself with. I went through depression from the loneliness I had sentenced myself to. I started smoking weed heavily, drinking alcohol more, going out to party more, and even entertaining guys I really didn’t have much interest in. I did all of this in an attempt to fill empty voids. I used these distractions to cover up the hidden depression and pain that I was feeling.

in her closet and I would read scripture out of it daily. I started praying more and watching different sermons online. And eventually, I met some amazing people who loved the Lord and were willing to help and guide me on my journey. I felt such a wave of peace come upon me. A peace that I can’t begin to describe, but I know for sure it was the Holy Spirit. I haven’t turned back since!

I am now 19 years old and I have been saved and faithfully living for God for almost 3 years. As I reflect on my teen years, I thank God for all I’ve gone through; although, at the time I A month had gone by since the break up and didn’t understand why I was going through it. there I was, still stuck in my hurt and pain. I re- You may think that since I grew up in a Chrismember staying in my room every single day, tian household, with a mother that loved the not talking to anyone, not eating, only sleeping. Lord wholeheartedly, I could have avoided all I felt so low and hated everything. I remember of this “unnecessary” hurt, but it was a personsaying to myself, “There has to be something al choice that I had to make. I thank God for better than this. I’m tired of feeling this way!” my mom. Without her prayers and reminders, I began to question my existence and what my I wouldn’t be who I am today! I had to WANT purpose of being here was. better and I had to DO better. People can pray and encourage you all day long, but if you arOne day, while in my room, I cried out to God. en’t willing to change for yourself then it won’t I literally got on my knees, prayed and asked manifest. Him if He could take this pain away from me. I didn’t know anything about being saved and Living a life that goes against God will only satliving for Christ. I had never read my Bible and isfy you for a short amount of time. Eventualit was rare that I prayed. I contemplated on my ly, you will wonder what’s missing and realize bed, on the fence about letting go of my old that you’re still empty. I know this sounds clilifestyle and finally giving my life to the Lord. che, but living for Christ is amazing. You mess I was so used to doing my own thing and con- up, learn, and grow daily. Your purpose here is forming to the world and thought that it would much more than just sitting around and wastbe too hard to just let it all go. I found my “hap- ing your life by getting involved with things piness” while living in the world and was un- that are killing you slowly. You don’t have to sure if I should give it up completely or not. I test the waters and play with fire when you remember being on Youtube and a video ran- have a God who is waiting for you to come to domly popped up on my feed. It was a video of Him. He is waiting for you, in your messiest a little girl sharing a dream that God gave her. form, to clean you up and make you whole and In the dream, God revealed to her both Hell new. Why push away a God who is willing to be and Heaven. Now mind you, I’ve always known there for you even when you neglect Him? You that Hell and Heaven were real places, but I are not your past, you are not your mistakes, never consciously thought about them. Her and you are worth much more than what dreams changed my perspective. I remember you’ve gone through. You have a purpose here audibly crying out to God and repenting right on this earth, why not seek God so that He in my bedroom, asking God to forgive me for may reveal it to you, and give you all that you my sins and declaring that I was done playing need to fulfill it? The choice is yours, I pray that games with Him. My mother had a KJV Bible you make the right one. FREED MAGAZINE 46

Photographer: Odile Quidal | @by_odile Model: Whitney Senga | @withneey L o c at i o n : P a r i s , F r a n c e

Letting Go of the Past LYDIA MCINTOSH


"The enemy had found his hook and he was tugging hard on it."



was 22 when I met my husband through an online dating website. He was cute in his profile so I took a chance and messaged him. After texting for a few weeks, we finally met for coffee. Clay was fun, easy to talk to and a true southern gentleman. We had conversations about our families, faith, values and friends. I felt as though he had the whole package and after a couple months of going on dates, I knew he was the one. We shared similar interests, both grew up in the church and it seemed as though he ticked off every checklist I had for my future husband. Our relationship was smooth and didn’t seem to come with any baggage. We were on the fast track to bliss with no foreseeable bumps in the road. But one night as we played 20 questions on my couch, our conversation turned personal and we began talking about our past. “I’m a virgin,” I disclosed, proud of my status yet uncomfortably awaiting his response, unsure if he would be happy and what his answer to the same question would be. My nerves grew impatient until he at last dropped the bomb, he was not. At first I was apprehensive and that apprehension quickly turned into deep disappointment. I was curious about his number but was scared to ask the question, so I left it at that pretending it didn’t bother me, while in reality a million questions ran wildly through my mind. Questions of curiosity such as who were they, why them and questioning his values about premarital sex. My thoughts took me tumbling down a rabbit hole I hadn’t intended on traveling and soon all of my thoughts were focused on that one topic. It didn’t take long for those poisonous thoughts to grow and seep into my everyday. Even the smallest thing would trigger questions about our conversation and that poison began to create resentment. I had waited my whole life to be with the man I marry, if Clay was that man, then why didn’t I deserve that same gift? I felt cheated. How could he? Why was I, his future wife, not at the forefront of his mind when he was dating these other people? Resentment slowly morphed into disgust and there was a battle raging within me. The enemy had found his hook and he was tugging hard on it. Shortly thereafter, it began to reflect in our relationship. We were on the brink of breaking up and I had no understanding of how to stop it. However, I knew something in me wasn’t right, so one day I sat in my kitchen and called out to God with tears in my eyes. “Take this from me,” I pleaded. I didn’t want this suffocating weight on me anymore. It didn’t belong there, it wasn’t mine and as Clay had pointed out to me it wasn’t his anymore either. He had already asked for forgiveness long ago. Quickly I realized this wedge that I attributed to the discrepancy of our pasts was merely my own selfishness and harbored feelings toward moments in time that had nothing to do with me. When this realization sank in, my former feelings of disgust, resentment, disappointment and apprehension melted leaving a thick residue of incredible shame. Shame for placing myself on a pedestal, for holding things against him that happened years before we met. Shame for making myself greater than God and turning Clay’s past into something unforgivable. If he had made amends and asked for God’s forgiveness, who was I to continue to hold it against him? I sat in my kitchen and once again called out to God with tears streaming down my face, but this time to come at His feet and admit my own sin. How wrong I had been to believe that Clay was the one committing acts of sin against me when I was neglecting the log in my own eye. With my former burden gone and shame on my heart I came to Clay asking for his forgiveness for the way I judged him and treated him so wrongly. The chains that bound me to anger were uncuffed, the heavy burden I had placed on myself was gone and the wedge that had formed between us disappeared. We’ve now been married for over two years and I am so thankful that God allowed me to let go of Clay’s past, learn through that hurt and grow in our relationship. It has allowed me to realize that I am not God, I am not perfect and our life together is renewed in Christ alone. FREED MAGAZINE 49

The Story You're Building in Me



lowers seem to adorn every occasion. When a guy meets a beautiful woman, he determines to buy her flowers for their first date. When a close friend becomes ill, flowers are sent to their hospital room. A bride will pick out her favorite flowers and choose them to hold in her tight grip as she walks down the aisle. After the passing of a loved one, friends and family send large bouquets of flowers to be placed near the casket or beside the grave. They seem to be a fixture in nearly every major occasion in our lives. I don’t think it is simply because they are beautiful. FLOWERS ARE A REMINDER THAT LIFE WILL RETURN EVEN AFTER A HARSH SEASON WITH SEEMINGLY UNSUITABLE CIRCUMSTANCES FOR SURVIVAL. They are reminders that even when the process doesn’t look convenient, it is necessary. Life is a forever process until one day we are called by our Heavenly Father to live eternally in His presence. I never thought my journey would look anything like what I’ve been through thus far, but I was graced with this assignment and I have seen the ever endless love that forever blooms in every season. It brings me to a beautiful memory growing up. The unmistakable scent of a lavender flowery mixture was a permanent fixture in my home. My mother was adamant about cleanliness. That purple cleaning solution kept the inside of our home sparkling. So I felt like my mom was a super woman! I mean, she would get so much done and always expressed the importance of keeping God in the center of all that we do. My upbringing was very old school. It probably contributes to my being an ‘old soul.’ My parents played very traditional roles. Dad worked to pay the bills. Mom stayed home taking care of the house and occasionally babysitting other kids from the neighborhood. My father was always telling his latest jokes to integrate laughter in the home. You could always count on him for that! Naturally, my parents influenced a lot of what I felt I wanted in a marriage. I desired to feel covered spiritually and protected physically. Sunday school, church plays and old school Spanish Christian music have always been a part of my life. Growing up in church was quite the adventure of learning who God is through the eyes of leaders and eventually getting to know Him for myself. Being raised in the church has its advantages and disadvantages. The wrath of God and rigid rules characterized most of my thoughts concerning His nature. I’d always feel like I disappointed Him if I made the slightest mistake or wasn’t perfect enough. I think back at how silly that way of thinking was. Just because I wasn’t meeting manmade standards, I believed God no longer loved me. As I became a young adult and really got to know God on a more intimate level, I realized that there was nothing that was able to ever separate me from His love. Who was this God of love and where had He been my whole life?

The Story You're Building in Me

Naturally, because love was an area God continued to pour so much into, I desired to serve and love someone by way of marriage. I never really knew what I wanted in a husband, but my father seemed to have been a really good place to start my list of expectations. The guy really set the standard high. Great provider, Jesus lover, funny, caring, and the list goes on. I knew my dad wasn’t perfect, but I was certain these attributes were a must for me. Marriage seemed like such a mystery yet a mystery worth finding out more about. How can two imperfect people love each other until death? Without fully understanding the capacity of the calling required of a wife, I decided in my heart I’d save myself for the one when I was 14. My parents had strict rules on dating and when I would be allowed to actually bring a guy home. Therefore, I knew the idea of having a relationship in my teen years wasn’t an option if I wanted things to last.

I ALWAYS TALKED ABOUT HOW I WANTED TO MARRY MY FIRST LOVE. AT THE TIME, IT MAY HAVE SOUNDED LIKE A FANTASY TO MY FRIENDS, BUT I KNEW GOD WOULD HEAR MY HEART AND ANSWER MY PRAYERS. AND THAT HE DID. It was a busy lunch room, lots of laughter, many conversations happening all at once and in the midst of it all, I met a guy that would mark my life forever. At this point, we were both 15 and in our sophomore year of high school. We were babies. Instantly becoming the best of friends, we were inseparable. Just like a flower blooms, our friendship blossomed into love. It seemed as though God was allowing us to have an accelerated amount of meaningful experiences in order for the depth of our relationship to grow. With the challenges of long distance, military enlistment, college, ministry and even some break ups in between, our love stood the test of time. We were two best friends that fell in love with each other, not realizing the inevitable fate of how truly short our forever would be.


P h oto g r a p h y : B r i a n a M a l i k |

w w w . U p l i f t e d P h oto g r a p h y . c o m

The Story You're Building in Me


knew something was different months before I turned 20. Gifts started getting fancier, and talk about marriage popped up in every conversation. It seemed like life before Curtis was impossible to imagine. My intuition served me well when on March 21, 2009, Curtis Crum got down on one knee to ask for my hand in marriage. We were certain that we were each other’s ‘person.’ We made a decision that we would stand out amongst our peers and friends by waiting until marriage to experience the physical intimacy designed for husband and wife within covenant. The decision was simple because we knew we were both worth the wait, but the process of waiting was not. We created boundaries for ourselves in order to uphold this promise we made to God and each other. I’d have to say that having a long distance relationship and busy schedules helped out as well. Planning our wedding wasn’t the ideal process since Curtis was in another state on military duties. Visiting venues, trying on dresses and taking pictures of floral arrangements became my norm. We weren’t working with a huge budget, but thank God for family! We received so much favor, it was almost unreal. The day finally came and after not seeing Curtis for a few months, he arrived to the train station a few days before our wedding with the biggest smile I'd ever seen on his face. That smile was priceless.

"I’d be walking toward the man God assigned for me to marry. As he sung the words, 'God’s greatest gift to me is you,'”


di n g


ur wedding day went by so fast, but it felt like time stood still at the ceremony. With fresh white roses in my bouquet, a breathtaking dress with a sweetheart neckline, and my father at my right side, I knew that when those doors opened, I’d be walking toward the man God assigned for me to marry. As he sung the words, “God’s greatest gift to me is you,” I was certainly elated with the love I felt in the room. Not just Curtis’s love for me, but God’s loves for me and for us. Tears, pure hearts, and vows written in our private time echoed the room as God’s presence overwhelmed us. The night went on and we finally were able to come together as one. If I may be honest, when I got married, my expectations were extremely high. I was comparing my fathers’ years of edification to Curtis’ 21 year old efforts. I was definitely met with disappointment as I quickly realized that Curtis, my husband, was indeed as human as I was. In fact, we mirrored a lot of each others’ flaws. And because of the military lifestyle, super long days, frustrations were beginning to be a norm. But how beautiful it was when we saw the God in each other. Laughter was definitely part of the culture of our home. We worked so well with one another. He was the main person pushing me to start all of my endeavors, especially my YouTube Channel that is now viewed by thousands around the world. As the reality of marriage settled in, the triumphs and trials challenged us to love and cheer each other on more than ever before. Just as some flowers witness some of the rainiest and muddiest of days, my husband and I saw the side of each others’ flaws that most people would never be able to handle about us. God assigned us to each other, knowing all that He knew about us. I became immersed into the identity of being Curtis’s wife. And I loved every bit of it. When Curtis would share the painful experiences of his childhood and life in general, I would hurt with him. As his wife, I wanted to protect him and be all that he needed. But that quickly became problematic. I began thinking that as long as I was always there for him, everything would be okay. I wanted to provide for him in areas that I couldn’t fulfill. I wanted to fill holes in his heart that I didn't create. However, because of this, I felt certain things becoming a little rocky as a result of my priorities. My insecurities became louder in my mind and I never felt good enough. I knew God was working on my heart but I also needed to do my part. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully in love with God. God was in our marriage. He was definitely a foundation. But my love for Curtis took over my heart. Curtis’s military assignment ended and after much prayer, we decided it’d be best to move back home to New Jersey. There was a sense of safety being around family that allowed this transition to be more seamless but just like everything in life, you can have a plan but God has His way of doing things. Although it was exciting to be back home, we began to miss the life we created for ourselves in Columbia. Our church, our favorite ramen noodle spot on Gervias St., the beautiful nature and flowers that surrounded our apartment complex; we missed it so much! After almost 9 months of saving money for an apartment close to the New York City area, we finally moved out of my parents home, whom so graciously allowed us to stay for as long as we needed to. Finally, a fresh start, a new beginning to what felt like was our marriage and life again. Even with the move to a new city and excitement of creating more content for my blog, I still felt empty and unfulfilled in certain areas of my heart. I didn’t feel like I was living my full potential, even as a wife. I realized that I highly esteemed the identity of being a wife. The role is impressed upon so many women at such a young age. As I began to dig deeper I questioned why was it an “I made it” moment when a woman got married. I saw the crippling weight that women would place on their desires of wanting to be a wife, as if that would complete them. That is exactly what I had believed, but I wasn’t complete.


Once I realized my faulty thinking, I had to make the difficult decision of asking God to dethrone Curtis from my heart. I was so afraid to say the words because did this mean I loved him any less? No! By no means! I loved my husband but I had also asked God to give me wisdom beyond my years in order to live my life in purpose. My discernment was becoming sharper than ever and I felt in my heart that God wanted His throne in my heart back. I wrote those words in my journal, repeating them daily until it started to happen. I truly believe this season was a preparation season. My prayers were more radical than ever. I was asking and petitioning God for supernatural miracles in my life and for His light to shine through me. My platform really started to grow the more I opened up my heart and became transparent with my virtual friends (followers). I vividly remember Curtis agreeing to me quitting my day job because my blogging career was growing and we were in a place financially where one income was going to suffice. I could hear his voice even now saying to me, “It’s happening!” All of the beautiful things I had ever wanted to do with my platform were going to happen. All of this was taking place right before the new year. Needless to say, it had been a rather trying year as I invested tears, prayers and time to do some heavy duty heart work! I was so ready for a fresh start. I was due to fast for the very first 21 days of the year, just to be very clear about my goals and intentions for the year. And in the midst of it all, it happened. January 8th, 2017, my life changed drastically. I was in my mother's kitchen making kale for my niece and myself when I suddenly realized my phone wasn’t on me. There was a strange sense of urgency and worry that caused my heart to beat faster and faster. I knew I needed to find my phone. I quickly realized what that feeling was. I received an alarming call from one of Curtis’s classmates that he had fallen and lost his pulse. My mind went to a thousand places but the very first thing I knew to do was to get to him. I needed to get to my husband. I threw my winter jacket on, prepared myself for a snowy, bumpy 60 minute drive and drove to where I knew he was. I got to him and he was gone. Instantly, death became real, but I will tell you one thing, eternity became even more tangible from that day on.

I was confused, devastated, carrying around the feeling that God was punishing me for something I didn’t know I did. How could a good God rob me of a goodbye or even closure? I must have done something so terrible to now face this life as a widow. For a while I became afraid to even pray because after Curtis passed away, I started seeing revelations of different prayers being answered. I witnessed God do things in me and through me that I had never seen Him do before. But I asked very hard questions. Why did I have to lose my husband? Why couldn’t he be here with me cheering me on as he always did? Why me? Why so soon? Why was my forever cut so short? We didn’t we even have kids. It was only a couple of weeks after Curtis passed away that I was met with God’s response. He spoke loud and clear. I learned that this, losing my husband, did not hap"I was confused, pen to me so that I’d be punished or so that somehow now I can out my purpose, but quite the opposite. My call and purpose in devastated, carrying live life was established long before the foundations of the earth. This around the feeling did not take God by surprise, he calculated this death into my life. gave me this assignment because He knew that His strength that God was He was going to be made perfect in my weakness and the world was punishing me for going to be a witness to it. It was through long nights of crying and in my journal that I learned that God is so big, merciful, something I didn’t writing loving and Sovereign, that He’d be able to handle my hard quesknow I did." tions. God’s hand met me where death tried to choke the life out of me. This was about purpose. This was about Kingdom work. I felt God show me that this right here was a divine collision between my yes and His destiny for my life. My life was never meant to be defined by my losing Curtis and becoming a widow, but always about aligning my heart to what God has called me to do. There were nights where I would wrestle with my new reality of being a widow. So much shame was attached to that reality. I held so highly the role of a wife, that the fact that I felt robbed of that was an area I needed to surrender. It was time to become immersed into the identity God gave me, not by cultural, religious or traditional standards, but by His voice. My yes required a level of surrender that I hadn’t gotten to until I was able to dethrone everything in my life and surrender all that I had to what God had in store for me. It's not easy letting God know that He can have everything as long as He doesn’t take His presence away from you. That became my reality. Words and prayers are so powerful. I felt like a flower being embraced by the sun and kissed by the rain. Life was beginning to have its color again. Although I never saw my life taking such a turn, I know that God is working it all out for my good. I feel the sting of death through the everyday absence of my husband, but God has truly kept my heart, soul and mind through it all. The simple fact that Curtis is experiencing the fullness of love with God the Father, is beyond enough of a reason to continue living so that I can see him again. As I continue to move forward in life, I can’t help but to think of Curtis everyday. Every time I see a service member in uniform, while food shopping or even going to the theater to watch a movie, I am reminded of him. Sometimes I have these moments where I’d say what would Curtis think of this or boy would he have loved that, it’s only natural. He was the funniest man I knew. A heart of pure gold shined through every single act of kindness, he never hesitated to serve. He was special. I knew that whenever I needed Curtis he would be there for me, that was just the husband he was. We were one. We shared a covenant that is a mystery to most. To be able to exemplify how Christ loved the church is no easy task. Let’s be honest, we were two very imperfect hearts. And still, marriage is like the most beautiful rare flower. If mistreated and mishandled, it will be crushed, but if the perfect amount of nutrients mixed with the perfect amount of sunlight and healthy soil, it leaves room to stand the test of time and fully bloom into its incredible purpose. FREED MAGAZINE 58

The Story You're Building in Me


eing Curtis’s wife was an honor that I would have the pleasure in taking again and again; even knowing the outcome. I no longer wish this didn't happen because I know the soul that has bloomed inside of me as a result of my brokenness. I’m sure if he got to playback how his final moments in this world would play out, he’d choose it again and again, knowing that the last words he’d utter were songs of worship to the Father that made a way for a miracle in his life. The miracle of grace, the miracle of unconditional love, the miracle of knowing that his creator knew the depths of his heart and yet still he loved him. He gained eternity. That’s the God he served. Curtis was freed from all the pain this world ever caused him the minute Heaven met him. Time does not heal all wounds, only Jesus has the power to heal you. It’s been a long year and few months since Curtis passed away, and as you can imagine the process of grief has been quite the rollercoaster, one that has shown me that grief isn’t just a ‘pray and it goes away’ type of thing. Sorting through grief may very well be a lifetime process for me. Just think about all of the desires that I have on my heart for family and companionship, I’d like to think God can still do a new thing, but in His timing. Even then, I will be reminded of the fact that I once married my first love and the one I’d thought would be my only love. I still cry in my car thinking about the dream I had of holding a baby in my hands and crying tears of joy but also tears of sadness. Sadness because the reality is, I will never be able to have Curtis’s children, but joy because the dream of being a mother felt so real.

My car seems to be a very safe and sacred place for me. It’s the place where I have the control to shut everything off and be in silence. There is where I cry, I worship, and where I’ve had some of the sweetest encounters with God. I know now that God never wanted me to hide my anger, hurt or sorrow from Him. He simply wanted to know that I could trust him with it. I still trust him with it. You may see beautifully curated pictures on my Instagram feed, and even then I share glimpses of my pain through my writing, but exposing the rawness of some of the piercing cries I still weep at an unexpected thought or memory, it just wouldn’t look pretty. My struggles are as real as yours. I have not “made it” because I’m now able to share my testimony, I’ve simply come to the conclusion that this just cant be it. Life cannot be a dark shadow of pain and brokenness. Witnessing my husband on his deathbed and replaying in my head what his last moments must of looked like assured me that I want to live my life in such a way that rewards me the gift of everlasting life with my Father in Heaven. God has already gone before me and conquered the grave. For that, I will forever be grateful. Just as a gardener plants, cultivates and watches the beautiful harvest bloom, so will our Heavenly Father watch over you.










remember being the kid who knew all the bible verses in Sunday school and I could recite back all the details of Noah’s ark. My family was always in church so I knew how to do church things. I was under the impression that people who go to church are good and do good things and I thought that was enough. I remember at age 11, I experienced the meaning of death as my great grandmother passed away. I recall just being completely confused to the concept that she wasn’t going to wake up ever again. My mom explained to me that my grandmother was gone but she was in heaven and that if I accepted Jesus, I would see her again one day. So after she passed away, I remember being in my living room, grabbing a piece of paper and writing “I wanna know Jesus” and passing it to my dad. I accepted Jesus that night but I still had no clue what it was like to have a personal relationship with him. I remember thinking, I can handle it God, but I’ll call you when I need you. But the thing about God is that he has a way of bringing you and me into total dependency. I got involved with my first guy crush ever at 15. We obviously didn’t know a thing about what it takes to love another person romantically but that didn’t stop us from trying. I remember that he was going to be moving to a different state and we decided to go our separate ways. However, what I didn’t realize is that he was under the false assumption that I was supposed to wait on him. I started dating someone else in 2010 and word got back to him that I was with someone else and that I didn't keep this “so called” promise. In 2012, he came back and released his anger by raping me at my own home. What was only a five minute occurrence just felt like an eternity for me. My body was frozen and I was completely paralyzed with fear. I don’t remember much of the details but I do remember him saying, “I own you, I bet you won’t leave again.” In that moment, I had lost all control. FREED MAGAZINE 62

As terrible as the initial rape was, the days and months to follow were worse. I remember people at school minimizing my pain by stating that they didn’t see any visual scars on me. That I was one of the “lucky” ones. I distinctly remember one person telling me, “It's been enough time, you should be over it by now,” as if minimizing what I had gone through to getting over the flu. One Sunday, I sat in church and listened to the preacher talk about purity and staying pure until marriage and I was filled with complete shame. I already knew something was different about me, something that I couldn’t yet put into words. How do you explain what it means to lose your virginity to an act that you didn’t consent to? I kept asking God why me. I had followed all the rules, I had lived a good life, why had you allowed this to happen to me? I was never told that the shame I carried wasn’t mine to bear. I never knew that God could still love me with all my scars. So I decided that if this is what growing up is like, I don’t want to see another year. I drove myself into depression and eventually started cutting. Every time I’d have a flashback or someone hurt me, I’d take a razor to my arm and cut it. In my mind, if I was going to be in pain, I wanted to be in control of it. I developed insomnia and kept a bottle full of oxy beside my bed just in case I couldn’t bear it anymore. I had developed a false sense of what love and intimacy looked like. I believed that I had no say or control over what happened to my body, so I gave myself away to my current boyfriend at the time in fear of being raped again. After the relationship ended a day later, I just knew what it was. It was me that was dirty. It was me that was not enough. I began to hate love, myself, and especially God who I thought had allowed this to happen. The justice system brought forth a conviction; however, my heart still missed something. I believe my breakthrough came from a visit from a deacon at church who was suffering from cancer. He just flat out looked at me and said, “You’ve met the enemy and it’s you. You’re still living as the victim when God is waiting to heal you, to make you whole. Because you know what, hardened hearts don’t make room for wholeness. God didn’t give you the spirit of fear, sweet girl. Trust him.” That night, I threw up the white flag. I said, “God, you were right. I thought I was strong and I could carry the weight of this world on my own. But God I can’t. I’m hurt, I’m heartbroken, and I need your grace. I need you right now. Rid me of the lies I’ve placed in my head and help me reach forgiveness. Take the reins and I’ll move out of the way.” Ever since that day, I have dramatically seen God moving in all aspects of my life by allowing me to graduate college at the Univerisity of Virginia in two years and being accepted in the top physician assistant program in the country. Not only providing me blessings but hard lessons. I knew I could receive grace and redemption but I was one of the good ones, right? My sins were as bad as other peoples’ sins. God changed my perspective on that when I got a letter from my rapist with genuine apologies. After a lot of prayer and mediation, a meeting was arranged, tears were shed, and I began to feel incredible compassion as I was able to see my rapist through the eyes of God. This is where God revealed to me my biggest lesson to date: there is no life so deeply and tragically sinful that it’s beyond the reach of God’s amazing rescuing grace. I saw nothing but evil and hatred but God said otherwise. My message for you today is simple; salvation is not a reward for the righteous but a gift for the guilty. Where sin runs deep, his love runs deeper. He says in Isaiah, "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist, return to me, for I have redeemed you.” As far as grace is concerned, God never serves leftovers.



w w w . p e n a n d p r o s e . o r g


Plant Language


MIRIAM DWYER|@ingracewestand


n every room of my house there are plants. Succulents, Hibiscus, Aloe, African Violets, Pothos, Meyer Lemon, you name it, we probably have it. During our cold Canadian winter, we bring all of these potted plants indoors and place them strategically in our most sunny rooms. Some of them seem happier than others, the ones closest to the sunlight streaming in bending and stretching towards the window. The lucky ones who get the south facing living room and library barely even notice their new change in surroundings. But no matter which room the plants are in, they still give their all to living as much as they would outside in their preferred climate. (That is, I assume so, because really I do not have a degree in plant language or even that green of a thumb, but rather just an amateur belief in myself to understand the deep parts and souls of plants.) Yet, of all the happy and healthy plants in my house there is one plant that seems to be struggling like no other. No matter what room I put him in, what window I try or what special plant food I give him, I can feel the miserable and unhappy vibes pouring out of his wispy little leaves. With this self-proclaimed plant power, I have deduced that this little plant's sadness is not due to where he is, but rather his unwillingness to flourish in a place that is not his ideal location. Okay, so I know that these are totally unrealistic assumptions to put on a tiny little fern plant, but it is not unrealistic when it comes to our own human lives. There will be many times and seasons in your life where you will wish you were somewhere else. Some other town, some other school, some other position in life. Our natural propensity as humans is not to dig in and give it our all despite circumstances, but rather to become like my little fern plant and barely survive, just waiting and hoping for a season change.


"If we cannot learn to be content in low seasons, in high seasons we will lack the joy we so wished for; and if we cannot learn to be content in high seasons, we will pass by God’s purpose."



Plant Language “But godliness with contentment is great gain,” 1 Timothy 6:6 (ESV). Contentment is not something we are born with or we are automatically given at salvation. It is something we learn and grow into, a state that can only be achieved after letting go of our love of material possessions and control of our lives. Whether you have a lot according to the worlds' standards or very little, you can be content; or you can be left wanting. Look at what Paul said about contentment in Philippians. “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV) He had to learn to be content when he was facing lack and abundance. In both situations it is equally as hard to learn true contentment. How much are we letting our surrounding circumstances impact our mood, emotions and relationship with God and others? If Paul could say he was content in prison, we can learn to be content in a school we don’t really like, a town we don’t seem to fit into or a job we never thought we would be doing. As soon as we stop wishing and waiting for the next year or season where we can improve our circumstances or see change, we can truly start to learn contentment in what God has given us. So much time can be spent compensating our lack of happiness with food, technology, bad habits and living for the next change. Each day God is giving us an opportunity to live in his fullness, and if we don’t allow him to teach us contentment, we will forever be wasting this gift of time in unworthy ways. No matter where you are, where you have been or where you want to be, God knew you would be there and has a perfect plan. Honour God through every action and thought and don’t let yourself be like the little fern who refuses to be happy with where he is. If we cannot learn to be content in low seasons, in high seasons we will lack the joy we so wished for; and if we cannot learn to be content in high seasons, we will pass by God’s purpose.








i buy myself flowers as a way to honor myself remind myself that I don’t really need a guy to bring me anything that I have within myself to reclaim all the flowers given to me at the expense of my being silenced - flowers used to manipulate truth just like a seed - i’ve experienced some really dark places felt buried from pain spaces that didn’t show me love or respect however, seeds produce flowers manifesting the power of loss, pain, and despair just like the seed i am blooming within to produce something of beauty and substance so i buy myself flowers as a reminder to bloom

- TONYETTA WHITE @musingsofgold



@ b r i t p u r c 9 4

The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Jeremiah 31:3 (KJV)

Britni is an effervescent personality well versed in multimedia art though she loves the simplicity of a hand drawn illustration— yes, doodling is what she does best. She loves to use her gift of drawing to capture the essence of people and the uniqueness that God has created in each individual. Much of her work has been inspired by animation, yet she is able to incorporate the honesty of our experiences walking out the Christian faith.


The Top 6 Struggles for Men in Relationships

J O S H UA E Z E |@JoshuaEze


he problem when it comes to men in relationships is that many men are trying to be leaders without first being a follower. This problem is evident in men who are trying to lead relationships, ministry, businesses, and culture without first being a follower of Jesus. The Bible talks about how before a man endeavors to follow Jesus, he first must deny himself, take up his cross and then follow Him. If a man is not willing to die for anything, he won’t be able to lead anything. That man should endeavor to die to himself daily--to be a living sacrifice for his woman. A living sacrifice for his children. A living sacrifice for the call of God on his life. It’s important for us to understand what it means to be a disciple. The root word for discipleship is discipline. In order for a man to lead the way Christ endeavors for him to lead, he first must be a disciplined individual. Perverted intimacy, deep insecurities, quick internalization, poor initiatives, hidden intimidations and no insight are the six struggles that keep men from healthy relationships. Thankfully, there are solutions to these struggles and they all begin and end with Christ. Let’s start with number one, perverted intimacy. A lot of men grow up in lustful environments causing them to be, or to pursue women pervertedly. When a man lacks intimacy, true intimacy with God, every intimate endeavor will be perverted. Intimacy with God is the number one thing that is keeping men from leading appropriately. God is not expecting for you to lead perfectly, He just wants you to lead humbly. He wants you to lead in a way where you are completely dependent on Him. And if there are no intimate interactions with God, you won’t know how to interact with a woman or nearly anyone around you. That’s why every man has to ask himself, how intimate am I with God? How deep in the sanctification process am I with Him? Because if your intimacy with God is lacking, then you will be looking for lust from a woman, not love. You will have a selfish love not a selfless love. You will still be addicted to pornography. You will still be looking at every woman that passes by. That’s why the number one reason why men struggle in relationships is because they don’t have a focused intimate relationship with God. If a man does not love God most, everything else will fail. Therefore, in order for a man to lead his relationship the way God intends him to lead, he must pursue intimacy with God. Pursuing intimacy with God is a never-ending process. God is so vast that a man can run a million miles a day pursuing God, so he should always search for a deeper spiritual fast, deeper prayers, a deeper desire for the reading of God’s word, and a deeper understanding of the will of God for his life. Number two, deep insecurities. A lot of men are struggling in their relationships right now because they have deep insecurities. Because of this, they find their security in their position, FREED MAGAZINE 71

they find their security in their money, and/or they find their security in the woman they have. And these things cause relationships to fail because a man is only going to feel like a man based upon what he feels makes him the most valuable. If his value is not from God, then he will devalue the people closest to him if they don't seem to add to his worth. A woman will then be seen as an asset amongst other assets that allows this man to feel as if he has value. Women are not an asset of a man’s value. Instead, a woman is a man’s helpmate. That’s why men have to dig up their deep insecurities and find their place in God and allow Christ to secure their insecurities. He must dominate his insecurities. Insecurities are going to rise. You cannot eliminate insecurities but you can dominate insecurities. When you step into husbandhood day one, there are going to be some insecurities; fatherhood day one, some insecurities. Ministry day one there will be some insecurities. And that’s okay because, it’s not the feeling of the insecurity, it’s the believing and acting on the lie of the insecurity that can lead to sin. That’s why you must find a way to dominate the effects of the insecurity. Number three, quick internalization. A lot of men internalize a lot of things. There’s a nature about a man that’s very unique to him, and man does process differently than a woman. But a lot of men don’t have updated, God focused processes to help him avoid internalizing offenses. There are a lot of men today that are still internalizing or still have yet to process what their dad did to them, what their mom didn’t do for them, or what happened during their college years. They internalize all these different aspects of their past and it causes future relationships to be stifled because the man has internalized so much pain, that he now pushes that pain or those expectations on his family or any other entity that follows him. To avoid quick internalization, men must set up processes to help with internalizing offenses. You have to create or find a community of brothers where you can vent and confess those hurts and that pain, so you can get it out of your system. In turn, you will be emotionally available to those that follow you. You’ll also avoid both intentional and unintentional behavior that can be abusive to both self and your family. Number four, poor initiatives. A lot of men have poor initiatives when it comes to their relationships. They start initiatives that are emotionally driven, meaning men will try to create an environment that initiates what he may selfishly desire or you have men who are not well versed in the expectations of God, so their pursuits aren't biblical, causing women to fall in error. That’s why men have to be biblically sound and emotionally and mentally stable. If there’s no emotional or mental stability or no biblical soundness, then you as the leader will lead women in places where they shouldn’t have been led. Therefore, a man must be poised with his initiatives which means don’t just jump the gun. You have to allow God to give you discernment. Ask God what initiatives should I embark on in my relationships in which I will inevitably take the lead? Number five, hidden intimidations. There are a lot of men who are intimidated by strong women or intimidated by other men and they try to mask it behind “masculinity” when they should actually deal with what intimidates them. God wants every man to be a man of faith so that he can carry out his God-given assignment. We, as men, must make sure we are measuring ourselves against the standard of Christ and not the standard of man. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and help you to see yourself from the perspective of God. You have also got to ask for help with whatever intimidates you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When you are intimidated by those around you, and haven’t willed yourself to fight ungodly comparison, you will struggle in your ability to lead.

The Top 6 Struggles for Men in Relationship


And last, but not least, no insight. A man must not only be a man of sight, but a man of vision. If a man doesn’t have a vision for himself and doesn’t have a vision for his marriage then what is he looking at? A man without a vision is easily distracted. And what causes a lot of relationships to fail is that a man has no God given vision for his life. When a man has a vision for himself, he will be better equipped to lead his family in order that God would get the glory. In order to accomplish this, you have to stay close to God. God is the one that has the play by play, step by step, way by way process for you to follow. If you stay close to Him, you’re going to always have insight, you will always have a clear vision.


as men, must make sure we are measuring

ourselves against the standard of Christ and not the standard of man."



Brides In Training BY: LAUREN HOLMES

W W W .T H E S I M P L E F R E E L I F E . C O M

This training is for every woman, whether single and desiring to prepare for marriage in the future, engaged and in need of good advice, married and in need of a refresher, or a newlywed still learning the ropes. It might even be for someone who has been through a divorce and wants to learn how to do things God's way in the future. These practical tips, stories, and interactive questions will help you to prepare to be a better wife and to have a more fulfilled marriage. They will save you the headache and heartache of having to go through the issues that so many of us "married folks" have had to go through. Don't learn the hard way - learn 'what not to do' before you say "I Do!" It is never too late to start over and do things the right way - God's way!




So if the Son sets you free, you are truly FREE. John 8:36 (NLT)


learning to thrive CLAIR PERRY | @ClairP_


have found that there is a misconception surrounding the act of getting over someone. The idea that getting over someone involves cookie dough, Netflix, and a big box of tissues to catch your lonely tears is pretty engrained in popular culture. But what happens after those tearful nights? What happens after you chop your hair to show everyone that you’re moving on? What happens when you finally stop thinking about that person day and night? The misconception is that the “after” is rosy. The after is never the Hollywood picture of someone coming up on top and realizing that she’s better off. I’m not saying that these things don’t happen, but they rarely paint the entire picture. Getting over someone isn’t just deleting their texts. Getting over someone is fighting the urge to text them in the middle of the night because you’re lonely. Getting over someone isn’t just picking up another bad habit to take his place. Getting over someone is finding out how to choose the lesser of two evils. Getting over someone isn’t picking up the pieces. Getting over someone is rebuilding the old version of yourself, the true version of yourself. To thrive after becoming so broken seems like an impossible feat. To thrive in the face of overwhelming sadness, loneliness, and disappointment seems like an unreachable goal at the end of a very long road. And while it may be a lofty goal that seems unattainable, you are capable of thriving. But it isn’t going to always be pretty.




few days ago, I got up and went running. I planned on going right when I got up, but I let myself sleep in late. Cursing myself for being so lazy, I put on my shoes and took off on the muddy trail. And then it started raining. And I thought to myself that I deserved it for sleeping in so late. So I kept running. My chest hurt. It hurt to breathe. My legs ached. And all I wanted to do was be back in bed. But when I got to the top of the quarry, I stopped. I realized that I had been so hard and mean to myself for not getting up early that I missed the opportunity to be proud for even getting out of bed. Even after “getting over” him, I had still been beating myself up over it. Even though I overcame my loneliness and depression that had kept me in bed, I still didn’t feel like I deserved to be happy. So I kept running. I ran all the trails I had been down before. I ran as hard as I could. And as the rain poured down, I gave myself some credit for getting up that morning. The after isn’t always rosy. Some days make you feel like Reese Witherspoon after she graduates from Harvard. Other days you feel like Allie in The Notebook waiting for Noah to send you a letter and it never arriving. Some days you get out of bed and run. Other days you sleep until noon. The point is, thriving after being broken requires you to open yourself up. You have to be your own champion. You have to congratulate yourself for getting up, brushing the dirt off, and carrying on. Beating yourself up for not achieving the goals set so high above the bar isn’t going to make the pain go away. It won’t make your chest or your legs stop hurting. And you can’t run away from that pain. But you can go through it and come out on the other side. You can push through the pain and love yourself even more for it. xx, Clair



Photography : T Edwards Photography Model : Daphine Bush Dress: Ann Taylor Shoes: Valentino

Growing Faith Anew KENDALL NELSON | @lifepurposefull


eautiful blooms, new life, fresh starts—they’re the signs that spring is in the air and what we look forward to as we climb out of the dregs of winter. But two years ago, my spring looked nothing like this. For my husband and me, spring 2016 was marred by heartbreak and loss as the harsh and devastating reality of miscarriage crushed our hopes and rocked our faith. My husband and I had been married for two years, and though this pregnancy did come as a bit of a surprise, we were so excited and in awe of God’s desire to grant us such a blessing. Over the course of the several weeks of seemingly unending doctor’s appointments and lab tests, my faith was tested like never before. When I heard those words, “there’s no heartbeat,” I couldn’t even breathe. I couldn’t choke back the tears, and I couldn’t understand what on earth was happening. We were blindsided. It had never occurred to me that we’d hear those words after our very first ultrasound. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew, statistically, that this could happen, but it never entered my consciousness that it could happen to me, to us. Winter was thawing, and spring was emerging; but inside, I was still frozen. The next few weeks of more ultrasounds and blood work made for the very worst of emotional rollercoasters. We prayed and prayed and just knew God was going to do a miracle for us. Our faith climbed higher and higher with each passing day because we knew what our God was able to do—and we diligently tracked down the promises written in His Word proving so. We clung on to hope and demanded ultrasound after ultrasound, just knowing they’d finally find that little heartbeat. But after each one, the results hit us harder and harder. Our faith in our miracle had us on top of the world, only to be shoved off the edge by the next doctor’s report. I felt like I was plummeting from the highest of heights, living every emotion known to man on the way down—anger, sadness, fear, resentment, mistrust, confusion, hope, love, uncertainty. And then, nothing. I couldn’t feel anything anymore. I was just blank. There was nothing left. It was like the dead of winter all over again. I came crashing down in this place where I honestly questioned what the point of all of this was—the point of faith; the point of reading scriptures when you never know how God is going to interpret them in your life; the point in believing for a miracle only to be let down. I felt cheated, I felt confused. I felt like God took me along for this ride and forgot to trigger my parachute, or simply chose not to.

But in my heart of hearts, underneath the frozen tundra of emotion that the miscarriage left me with, I knew my faith just had to have a spark of life lying dormant, somewhere. God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Remembering that, I chose to ask God what I had missed. What was it He was trying to work in me or in us that necessitated this experience? I wanted to learn the lesson, and learn it fast. So I reread all the scriptures and promises we had circled in prayer, and was heartbroken to see how, reading them through this new lens of hurt and loss, they still applied. The clarity with which I interpreted these verses to apply to my situation when I was expecting a miracle was the very same clarity I had rereading the exact verses after the final outcome. I know God’s Word is alive because the same words can speak something new in every situation! My faith was growing anew. I believe the point of all of this was simply to grow my faith in God. Talking through it with my husband, I discovered that I’d grown up with an “ask, believe, and receive” kind of faith. Yes, I was taught that God’s will doesn’t always align with ours, and when a door closes in our lives it’s because it wasn’t what God had for us for one reason or another—He has something better for us. But in my personal experience—from getting into the schools I wanted to attend to opening doors to job opportunities—God has pretty much given me all that I’ve prayed for… until this. But in this particular context, this revelation was somehow more of a disappointment to me than an exciting discovery. So I challenged God: “I asked you to lead me to your promises for me and you led me here. Why did you let me misinterpret them when You knew what was going to happen?” Instantly I felt His response: “You asked for the Word, not the interpretation.” I. Was. Floored. How could I have missed that part? I was so caught up in the only outcome my heart could fathom that I never even stopped to ask God what His will was in the situation. I never bothered to get His interpretation of those promises for my life. I sent myself on this emotional rollercoaster journey by assuming God’s will and allowing myself to only have faith for one particular outcome. My faith was myopic. When faith is myopic, we limit God to work in only one way. Consciously or subconsciously, we cling to the notion that there’s only one possible outcome. We perceive everything through the lens of the resolution we desire and are blind to everything else. It never occurred to me that God wouldn’t work a miracle for us in this situation. We know full well that our all-powerful God could have turned everything around for us and showed Himself strong as a testament of His power to our doctors, radiologists and everyone else. In fact, that’s exactly what I was convinced would happen. But it didn’t. God chose this experience to reveal to me how shortsighted my faith really was and to develop me in the process. It is only now that I reflect on two of my favorite Scriptures and truly understand the level of faith required to have true vision. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (KJV, emphasis mine) “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” – Habakkuk 2:3 (NLT, emphasis mine) FREED MAGAZINE 80


True vision looks beyond the intermittent obstacles and keeps in sharp focus the ultimate outcome. When our faith is myopic, we can’t get past the situation right in front of us, and we run the risk of losing our faith—and the war— if our current battle isn’t decided in our favor. Growing and stretching our faith allows us to see farther ahead and stay focused on where we’re going without being discouraged or derailed by what’s currently in front of us. True vision looks beyond the intermittent obstacles and keeps in sharp focus the ultimate outcome. When our faith is myopic, we can’t get past the situation right in front of us, and we run the risk of losing our faith—and the war— if our current battle isn’t decided in our favor. Growing and stretching our faith allows us to see farther ahead and stay focused on where we’re going without being discouraged or derailed by what’s currently in front of us. Having true faith requires long-range vision and a commitment to allow God to show us where He’s ultimately taking us and to trust Him to get us there; no matter what comes our way between where we stand now and where we will stand in the end. That’s the kind of faith God wants to birth in us! With this new faith blossoming in my heart, I was able to begin again with God and allow Him to begin a new work in my life. I’ve learned so much more about God and about myself, and I truly see now how He can use even the most crushing circumstances to refine us and bring new life to and through us. And because He is faithful and his love is immeasurable, He blessed us with the most perfect baby boy who just turned one this January. It’s true that all things work together for our good.




LIGHT YOUR PATH TO CAREER SUCCESS Resume Revision Individual Career Coaching Professional Development Workshops Mock Interviews Post High-School Planning


stand that every photo tells a story." - Skylar Coonan

Photography : Skylar Coonan w w w . sky p hoto g ra p hyg a l l ery . c o m @ skyphotography

#beBOL DliveF R E E D

"I want people to "feel" more than they "see" when they come across my photography. I want them to under-

Photographer: Odile Quidal | h t t p s : / / o d i l e q d . m y p o r t f o l i o . c o m | @ b y _ o d i l e FREED MAGAZINE 84

The Fabric of Our Lives A


fter starting a new job, I noticed a coworker with a dried cotton plant on her desk. My first thought was one of discovery since I had never seen cotton in its raw form close enough to reach out and touch. It was almost a shock. My second thought left a bad taste in my mouth as I considered the implications of a cotton plant in Southeastern Virginia. I thought of dark emasculated skin. I thought of long hot days in unbearable conditions.

I needed to come to terms with how to deal with this man. Could I place him in the untouchable box? I could, and my husband would be okay with that, it was what his flesh had wanted to do all along anyhow. However, he, just like that dried cotton plant, represented so much more than the negative I wanted to peg them with. Can you imagine what it would cost me to erase my husband’s father from my life?

It would cost me the one thing I couldn’t live without. There are too many scriptures that remind us to, “forgive so that we might be forgiven” (Matthew 6: 14-15, Mark 11: 25-26, In that moment, I couldn’t understand how Matthew 18:34-35). she could house a cotton plant on her desk for all to relive an unfortunate past. I desperately need God’s forgiveness day in It seemed simple enough to house cotton in and day out, just like the cotton that has been an untouchable box. Then it hit me, almost ev- used to make the sheets I sleep on, the couch erything on my body was formed from cotton. my family lounges on, the wipes to change my I remembered how much I loved the feeling 7 month old, and the college university sweatof that 100% organic cotton shirt. It was soft ers that are so easy to slip on when I run out and comforting. How could something I con- of the house. sumed so much of make me cringe?

The use of cotton as fabric can be traced as Can you imagine what it would cost me to far back as 6000 BC. Civilizations have long understood the value of this plant, who am I erase cotton from my life? to look on it with contempt? My husband’s faRecently, I have had quite negative feelings ther is God’s creation, who am I to judge him toward my father-in-law. Of course it was as unredeemable? easy enough for me to blame him. I thought about all the hurt he had caused my husband Though I still haven’t finished the work of fully in the past. I thought about his character and forgiving my father-in-law, nor can I look at cothis coldness. I had it all figured out. He was the ton without remembering the stain of slavery, bad guy. Again, I had a bad taste in my mouth. it is my intention to chip away at those boxes.


@richaguilarpho @ r i c h a g u i l a r

"I want people to see the realness of life. I want to strip you down and see what inspires you so you can share that with the world. For some it's the ability to dance; others, it’s the love they share with their spouse or children. Whatever it is, I want to capture the passion that’s inside of you."

NATALIE HIXSON | @ nataliehixson

When YourComingDreamsTrue Are Not

My heart aches for my past self as I look back and see myself frustrated, stuck, and beating my head against the wall wondering when my life would begin. It wasn’t too long ago that I found myself weeping in my car all the way to a doctor’s appointment. Willing myself to stop, as I didn’t want to walk into the appointment with mascara running down my face and red blotchy eyes, was the only thing kept that moment from turning into a complete meltdown. The tears just wouldn’t hold back; they kept flowing as I was thinking… “You are 36 years old, and you have no career to speak of. No great accomplishments or accolades. No firm established business. You’ve lived over a third of your life without having realized any of your dreams. You’re a failure.” Those thoughts kept repeating themselves in my head, you know like one of those stupid songs that just gets stuck playing, over and over and over again and you just can’t get it out? For over two years I had committed to being a life coach which included going through school, completing my practicum and working with non paying clients for practice. I had the skills, listening and connecting the dots for people was one of my specialties. I even had the certificate from school. I was official! But the dots that were not connecting for me were the how to make a coaching career profitable and sustainable. It seemed as if whatever I tried flopped. Was I even meant to be a coach at all?


Of course I had been fulfilling my calling as a wife and mother with an established family, amazing husband and three lovely daughters, yet I never truly dug deep to find out who I was. My husband Mike and I started dating at 15 and 16 respectively, got through high school and some college then played the marriage card. Soon after we had babies. My life had been consumed with being a partner to my love and being a mother to my babies. In my journey of domestication, I failed to take the time to discover who was behind the wife of Mike and the mother of Enya, Skye and Shay. And if I’m honest, deep down I just knew there had to be more. Why would my heart ache, bursting at the seams to reach and help more women with my services? And why hadn’t coaching been working out for me? Did I just stink at marketing? Was it that nobody wanted to talk to me? Those couldn’t be it. I’d been doing everything right. Taking all the steps that are proven to build and create a successful coaching practice. And I am a great coach, the few women I have coached were changing their lives and making things happen. The calls were completely God led, and I felt his presence there. However, I just couldn’t get my practice off the ground. Why would God call me to be a coach if he had no more clients for me to help? (And here is the bigger question that kept running through my mind…) What is my message? Why can’t I seem to figure out what my message is to reach these women? SO many questions, yet no answer from God. Even my business bestie was dumbfounded. My friend, a life coach herself, could not understand why things were not working for me. We both graduated coaching school together at basically the same starting point in our businesses, and hers started booming. Mine stayed quiet. What was I doing wrong? Have you felt this way? You’ve poured your heart and soul into something, but it’s as if God turned his back on your work and said he’s handed out enough blessings in that area, he’s got no more for you.

When Your Dreams Are Not Coming True You’ve followed all the directions exactly, even going above and beyond. You’ve prayed over your hard work, given it to God, asked him to bless you, and yet the divine lines of communication stay silent. Tears, anger, depression, anxiety, loneliness. All these feelings flood you and you just can’t seem to pull through… For me these negative feelings came during difficult moments. When I would try a new business idea and it didn’t work, when one of my peers would have success pains of jealousy would arise, or anytime I began to feel my dreams were not being realized. When the enemy showed me what I couldn’t have, those were the times the negative feelings and thoughts would really consume me. Sometimes I’d cry, sometimes I’d scream, sometimes I’d call up to God in anger. I would take my frustrations out on my family through withdrawing from them or being irritable toward them. I was blaming God and others for my circumstances. My eyes were blind to what success really meant -- following God’s plan, not my own. As a believer I knew that deep down God has a plan for me. The part that drove me crazy was trying to figure out what that plan was. I wasn’t willing to just wait, live in each moment and really spend the time it took to dig deep WITH God to figure it all out for me. Eventually, my prayer changed from, “Lord, please bless my business, my dreams, my plans.” The prayer that changed everything! “Lord, please strip me of MY dreams, goals, and plans. Take away the desires of my selfish human heart, and replace them with YOUR dreams, goals, and plans for my life. Fill me

with your desires. Create in me a new heart, and in your time, open my eyes up to YOUR divine purpose for my life. I am yours, use me as you need me, however, and whatever that looks like. Please bless my journey. Thank you Lord, I love you. In Jesus name, Amen.” Today I encourage you to change YOUR prayer. Even if you think you know that what you are doing is the right thing, I urge you to cross check your heart. Pray the prayer above and see where God leads you. Don’t give up. Persevere. Walk forward in faith. Keep praying. There have been many life lessons learned in the years as I have struggled to find my purpose. One of those being that I needed to pray differently. Through all of this, I have realized that God’s will for my life is more fulfilling than any plan or dream that I could work up in my limited understanding. Today, I am freed from feelings of discontentment and freed to love my family and welcome the plans that God has for me. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3-4 NIV “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2 NIV

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Building Community



new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:34-35, ESV

Ever have that nagging feeling that something’s missing? That something’s off? That there’s a lost puzzle-piece that you didn’t even realize you needed? Well, for me, that missing puzzle-piece of my life as a believer was community. I’m 25-years-old, have been a churchgoer since I was 10 or 11, and a follower of Jesus since 19-20. Needless to say, I’ve been around the church for a little while; so, I’m quite used to the rhythm of Sunday gatherings, sitting and hearing pastors preach, and being involved in various church-related ministries/activities. However, for years my life as a believer was incredibly individualistic. Sure, I went to church with people, served in various aspects with people, gathered at the church with other young adults for our young adult’s ministry…the list goes on. But what that list would not include is this: doing life with people. On the outset, it would have seemed that I was pretty tightly knit with my fellow church members, and in a lot of ways that would be true; but too often that togetherness and unity began and ended on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. In the rhythm of it all, in the busyness of it all, it didn’t occur to me that there was more to being the Church than just going to church. That is, until it did. In reading God’s Word, particularly the New Testament, I would come across a “one another” here and a “one another” there; and over time those “one anothers” both stung me with conviction and stirred within my heart a longing to experience what I was reading. “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” – Hebrews 3:13 FREED MAGAZINE 93

I hardly took the time to think about what my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ were dealing with on the daily basis, let alone taking the initiative to ask. So how could I be in a position to offer them encouragement? “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16a I was so caught up in the seeming status quo of being “put together,” that fear kept me from being honest with those I gathered with weekly. I needed them to pray for me. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom. . .” – Colossians 3:16 Fear of rejection and backlash kept me from lovingly, yet honestly, speaking up when the opportunity arose. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15 I didn’t know those around me intimately enough to do either; and my own mask prevented others from doing the same with me.

Jesus made space for others; we prefer to have our own space. Jesus made time for others; we think more about our “Me Time.” Jesus sacrificed for others; we don’t even like the word “sacrifice.” Jesus lovingly served others; we want to be served. Jesus was patient with others; we seethe with rage when driving behind someone going the speed limit. Jesus gave His life; we’re preoccupied with saving ours. Without even considering it – and largely because of that very thoughtlessness – we seek what we believe is best for ourselves; but to be Christlike is to cast self aside. “And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23 In my newfound pursuit of community, I’ve discovered that our pride and selfishness are not only the antithesis of what Jesus calls His followers into; but are the very things He calls us out of. Encouragement, challenge, support, and all else that is to permeate a community of believers, requires that we set ourselves aside, it requires humility.

Over and over again, God’s Word made it abundantly clear to me that the lives of Christs' disciples aren’t to be disjointed, but united in a far deeper way than we in the West probably prefer (at least, that was true for me). Scripture encourages and challenges us repeatedly to die to self and live as Christ lived. Simple enough, right?

People much smarter than I have written and taught extensively on Christ’s humility, so I don’t feel burdened to flesh that out here; but what I will say is that humility can be seen throughout the entirety of Jesus’ life on earth. From His birth as a vulnerable baby, to His dealings with broken mankind, to His humiliating crucifixion and glorious resurrection; humility permeated Christ’s life.

Simple in theory, yes; but simple in practice? Not quite.

And if we’re to follow Him, it must permeate our lives as well.

Community is easier discussed than lived out, largely due to the selfishness borne of our sinfulness. Jesus’ divinity aside, I daresay the greatest difference between Him and mankind is His utter humility and our incessant self-centeredness.

Looking back, my pride and self-centeredness blinded me to the needs of others, making it impossible to, “in humility count others more significant than [myself]” (Philippians 2:3).


HUMILITY AND INTENTIONALITY: BUILDING COMMUNITY Biblical community (doing life with other believers) requires humility, and humility requires intentionality. I have yet to meet someone who switched from being utterly self-centered to impeccably Christ-and-others-centered in a day, so I’m sure that I’m not alone in admitting how easy it is focus on me, myself, and Bryan. But I had to teach myself to simply say, “It’s not about me,” anytime the Holy Spirit graciously helped me to recognize when I was turning my gaze to myself. Reminding myself of God’s multifaceted infinitude made it easier to then remind myself that I am simply not the center of existence. THIS FREED ME UP TO FOCUS UPWARD (TO THE LORD) AND OUTWARD (TO OTHERS), OPENING MY EYES TO THE INNUMERABLE WAYS IN WHICH I COULD SO SIMPLY BE CONCERNED FOR OTHERS. Texting or calling a friend or family member to ask how they’re doing. Asking people how I can pray for them. Looking that cashier in the eyes and asking them about their day. Making our home available to others and inviting people in. I could continue, but the point is that God opened my eyes to the world of needs outside of my own, and I had to be intentional about taking hold of those opportunities as they came. Community, among other things, requires humility and intentionality, and that requires that we not only consider others more than we consider ourselves, but we must also be actively thoughtful about others and how we can be there for them. Take the lens off of yourself and place it on the God that so lovingly pursues you, and in learning of His love for you, you’ll want to be an instrument of His love to others. To put it plainly, life is not about you. And it certainly is not revolving around little old me (and praise God I don’t have to bear that pressure). We weren’t designed to go through life alone, no matter how introverted we may claim to be. We need others. Others need us. And we would do well to make every effort, empowered by God’s Spirit within us, to seek to live that out. I wrote much of this in the past tense, but it is an ongoing endeavor, and I believe it will be until my time’s up. Make space for the people in your life. Make time for the people around you. Ask more questions. A cluster of candles burn hotter and shine brighter than a solitary one. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:34-35

Photographer: Odile Quidal | w w w . o d i l e q d . m y p o r t f o l i o . c o m | @ b y _ o d i l e







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



How God Happened To Me MICHELLE EARLY | @GodHappenedToME


am the love product of a Baltimore artist and a Jamaican immigrant. My dad has an eclectic musical ear and unique photographic eye. My mother was born with love in and on her heart and gives all that she has to those that she loves. The match seemed unlikely between the two, yet almost 32 years later, here I stand as proof of their beautiful union. Despite the burning love that they initially had, raging flames soon dimmed and the two parted ways when I was about four years old. My dad went his way and my mother stayed in Baltimore to raise me and her four other children. I was only four years old so I never could have known that after my dad left, my life would take a turn for the worst. Before my mother came to America in 1982, she had given birth to four children (two girls and two boys) in Jamaica. However, when her mother arranged my mother’s journey to America, only she (my mother) and her daughters were on the plane. My brothers were left in Jamaica to be raised by other family members until the time that my mother was able to send for them. One brother was ten at the time, the other was only three. The separation had lasting effects on both and neither has ever truly recovered, but at the time, it was the best possible solution.


life has never been easy;

my life has never been perfect.

However, my God has never removed His hand of grace, mercy, and favor from over me. Everything that was designed to kill me has only brought me closer to my heavenly Father.



In 1990 when my mother was reunited with her sons, they were also introduced to the newest member of the family- me. I was almost four years old, my oldest brother was eighteen and my other brother was almost eleven years old. We coexisted in the same home for as long as we could but soon unknown tensions began to rise. By 1992, the brother closest to me in age had decided that he had had enough and sought revenge on my mother for his perceived abandonment at such a young age. He decided that the best way to hurt her was to hurt her “prized possession.” In his mind, that happened to be me. Beginning in 1992 and roughly ending in 1994, my brother raped me repeatedly and without regard to who I was or our sibling relationship. I was only six years old when it first began. No one knew about it. He told me that if I were to tell anyone, that it would get worse. And since it was already the worst thing that I had ever experienced, I kept my mouth shut. I experienced horrors worse than many episodes of Law and Order: SVU except it was all real; it was my real life. I bore the pain of my secret and the pain of the continual rape for two years until one random day at home with my mother. We were watching a television show and during a commercial break I said, “mommy, I think I’m pregnant.” I was eight years old, and although I was not really pregnant, I thought I was because I had experienced sex. Shocked and bewildered, my mom wanted to know why I had made that statement so I told her everything. She immediately called the police and then my life changed. I still suffer from PTSD and I do not remember many things from my past. I remember being at the hospital getting tested for STDs and pregnancy. I remember being in court the day of his sentencing. I remember each gruesome act that he put me through. Unfortunately, I do not remember the better moments, the moments that involve love and happiness. No, those memories are gone forever. Throughout the course of my life, I gravitated towards food, sex, alcohol, and marijuana to numb the pain that I was constantly feeling. I would seek therapy but I would stop after a few sessions because I would think that I was better. I knew God on an acquaintance level, having been baptized at age eight, but I did not really know Him on a personal level. I went to church with my new best friend who I had met after the rape, but again, I was never really in service. I made idols out of things that were only further destroying my body, my mind, and my spirit. I contemplated and even attempted suicide, in the hopes that the pain would finally go away. But nothing dulled the pain completely, so I just ate more, drank more, engaged in more sexual activities, and further separated myself from God. In 2012 things honestly seemed to be improving. I had just become a member of an international sorority and my life seemed “perfect.” But then a car accident happened, followed by a layoff from my job. Depression was slowly creeping back into my life and I did not even notice it at the time. By October 2015 I was sitting in my doctor’s office telling her that I thought I had Thyroid issues because of severe lethargy. I told her my symptoms and she told me her diagnosis- depression. I wanted to laugh it off, but one of my sorority sisters (who has a degree in Counseling) had just told me the same thing a few days before so I took the medication that my doctor recommended and I drove home. I was taking my antidepressants and things seemed to be okay for the remainder of 2015. I was in a steady relationship and he was supporting my every decision. I was content— or so I thought.

P hotographer : W ill Evans | voidshots . myportfolio. com @ voidshots

But still, like dust, I'll rise. -- Maya Angelou


HOW GOD HAPPENED TO ME In January 2016, I asked my doctor for a dosage increase because I felt like the meds were not working. A few weeks after the increase, I began isolating myself more and more. I stopped attending church, I dropped out of all sorority activities, and I backed out of all social functions. I had a mental and nervous breakdown. I call this time of my life 'The Dark Place' because I would lock myself in my room every day and leave for nothing but food, work, and the bathroom. And with each of these ventures out, I would have anxiety attacks. Every weekday morning I would wake up and cry because I had to go to work that day. I wanted to quit my job but I had to work because I had bills to pay— bills that I never ended up paying because I would forget to take care of them. Then every weekday evening I would come home, grab the least healthy combination of food I could find, and retreat to my room. I cared about nothing and no one; I just wanted to live in my room and in my pain.

"My life has never been easy; my life has never been perfect. However, my God has never removed His hand of grace, mercy, and favor from over me. Everything In June 2016 my boyfriend and I moved to Ashburn, Virgin- that was designed to kill me ia and I just knew the depression was leaving me. As it turns has only brought me closout, I was just as wrong about the depression as I was about er to my heavenly Father" the permanency of my relationship. He and I broke up in September 2016, only three months into our 11-month lease. After a few days (three to be exact) of mourning our breakup, I sat with God and invited Him back into my life. That day He came and my life has never been the same since. On January 3, 2017, God spoke to my heart yet again and gave me the ministry of God Happened To M.E. He was saying that “life” was not happening to me, it was Him who was happening to me. Literally, He said, “God Happened to Michelle Early.” I said thank you and the ministry was born. Over the past 16 months, God has allowed so much to happen to me, all designed to bring me closer to Him. I was in another car accident, lost another job, spent five months unemployed, became a substitute teacher, wrote two books, birthed three sub-ministries, and so much more… all because I gave God a YES. My life has never been easy; my life has never been perfect. However, my God has never removed His hand of grace, mercy, and favor from over me. Everything that was designed to kill me has only brought me closer to my heavenly Father. Today I boldly rejoice when I think about where He has brought me from and all that He has done in my life. It is my mission and divine purpose to share my testimony with others and tell them that if God could heal and use me, He can heal and use anyone. I have made many poor choices over my life but the best choice that I made was giving my life to Christtwice. He saved me. He charged me to share Him with the world. HE FREED ME.



B R I N K NUTRITION w w w. o n t h e b r i n k n u t r i t i o n . c o m




Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a passion for health awareness and a love for food. Throughout my studies I grew to learn that the food you eat either feeds disease or fights it! I am passionate about steering from the ‘good foods versus bad foods’ mentality and showing that health is not about depriving yourself of tasty food but to focus on all the options that healthy foods offer. I have found that the key t:o great health is nurturing healthy relationships with food, not compromising on flavor, and making healthy choices more often than not.

SERVICES PROVIDED I provide a free 15 minute consult with any client to learn each other and see if we are a good fit! - Free 15 Minute Consult - Therapeutic Meal Plans for busy families and those on the go

- Weight loss - Weight Management - Diabetes Management


- Transition to vegan/ vegetarian

Cure for an Uglier Blemish MELISSA ESSIEN @poeticlyfe4me

God’s Grace! Those two words I have been falling madly in love with over the past year. When God decided to gracefully break me, I was in a place of contentment. God’s Word says that the heart of man is never content, but I was truly satisfied with where I was in life; so I thought! My husband and I had just welcomed our beautiful baby girl into the world; we had moved into to a suburban area, ideal for raising children. I so admired the reflection seen in our mirror of life. However, much like any other perfect reflection, if you look close enough, a blemish is sure to be noticed. It all started with a lump. When I first discovered a lump in my right breast, I took my eyes off of every other beautiful aspect of my life. I became obsessed and consumed with fear and doubt. I could not pull back from the mirror of circumstance. First came the days of denial. I refused to believe it was cancer. I had just given birth to my daughter five months earlier. I tried to convince myself that it was some weird side effect from breastfeeding. There was no way God would allow this to happen to me. I was a great person; caring, loving and supportive in every way, to everyone. Why would God forsake me? Of course this was something I could no longer ignore. I could not remain in a cycle of wonder, so I went to an oncologist and three days later, it was confirmed. I was a Her2 positive, Stage 3 cancer recipient. The days of anger and crying, quickly followed. Why? How? It felt impossible to remove my eyes from that ugly blemish called cancer! Did I do something to anger God? Did I somehow fall from His grace? Little did I know, there was something in me that God wanted to work on and it was not the cancer. Church and family members told me to have faith, that God would surely heal me; but I was not convinced. Cancer had thrown my life into a whirlwind and all I could think about was chemo treatment, losing my hair and nonstop doctor visits. I had gotten to a place of little faith, and truth be told, my lack of faith was not due to my cancer diagnosis. FREED MAGAZINE 106

I did not know how little faith I had in God until I was faced with something so real, so scary that it felt as if my world was crumbling. BUT GOD’S GRACE! In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." FAITH was the very thing God wanted to work on in my life, He just allowed breast cancer to be the avenue to expose an even uglier blemish, “faithlessness.” I went through months of treatment, when God could have healed me the first day I was diagnosed, but I did not believe. Instead of magnifying was the very God in my situation, I magnified od wanted to the cancer. But the God I serve is thing merciful and He graced me with work on in my life e this testimony to share. Chemotherapy humbled me in ways just allowed breast I could have never imagined. God had my full attention. I had cancer to be the avenue no other choice but cry to Him. to expose an even uglier Doctors, family, not even friends could comfort and heal me. Only blemish faithlessness God. I had made a conscious decision to praise and glorify God in my situation from that point forward.





Even if God would have decided not to heal me, I would have gladly died with my hands lifted to Him in reverence. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 it states, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” “You shall live and not die,” are the words God whispered to my spirit. “My plans for you are good.” And here I am, one year later, healthy as can be. God not only restored my strength, my physical beauty and my joy, but He instilled in me a faith that can never be shaken! Whose report will you believe? God is Who He says He is; I am a LIVING TESTIMONY. And it’s blemish-free!

New Begginings


SUE BOLDT | @sue_boldt I love new beginnings... I love second chances, third opportunities, and fourth starting-fresh experiences. The list goes on. Jesus loves new things, too. That is what grace is all about. And mercy. He is all about doing new things, especially in His lambs’ lives. Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:18-19 (NKJV) Let the Magnificent Creator fashion something new in you today, this week, this new year. It is time to let some old things go and extend your hands to receive His fresh gifts in, to, and through your life. However, let Him do it. No help needed on your part; just surrender. You won’t be disappointed.



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



I’m a Christian by grace, a New Yorker by default, and a student by choice. If you were to ask someone to describe me, I’d like to think they’d say I’m a heart listener. I love sitting across a table listening to words travel from one heart to another. I think that’s what has led me to pursue a masters degree in mental health counseling. There’s something so powerful about getting together with people and sharing little pieces of ourselves with one another. This is how Project Healing began. I’m the founder of Project Healing, a faith based online ministry, which started in November 2014. It was birthed out of my own healing journey with Jesus Christ. It consists of online devotionals that are dedicated to encourage the lost and empower the broken. My hope is to share pieces of myself with you through these devotionals and in the process your own story is told. You can usually find me with my head in a book, laughing with a friend, or getting my favorite iced soy chai latte at Starbucks. FREED MAGAZINE 113

How-to read Neli's 10 Day Devotional I encourage you to grab your favorite drink and take your time! Each devotional is accompanied with a reflection question you can reflect on and journal through.

So grab your journal, your bible, and begin read-

ing a devotional. The hope is for your faith to be strengthened and your

God. My prayer is each devotional will encourage you, empower you, and bless you! prayer life to be transformed as you go deeper with

HERE’S A LITTLE GUIDE TO DIRECT YOU THROUGH EACH DEVOTIONAL: 1. Read the chapter of each verse and let yourself soak in each word. 2. As you read through the devotional, highlight what stands out specifically for you. 3. Reflect on how it relates to you and journal through the reflection question. Let that time be an intentional conversation between you and the Lord. Sometimes I write out prayers or questions and as I do that, I learn more about God and myself in the process. Journaling helps to promote awareness and internalization.

Continue days 6-10 at


Day 1: THE ANOINTING “Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” Esther 2:12 NIV Esther was a beautiful young woman. A woman full of purpose and conviction. A woman with a voice. However, Esther was also a woman who knew suffering. The Bible doesn’t specifically tell us Esther was a woman acquainted with pain but we know her story. She lost both parents as a child. She was an orphan, an exile in a foreign land, being raised by her cousin. Esther knew grief. She knew abandonment. She knew hardships. Yet, she was chosen. In Esther 2:12, Esther needed to undergo 12 months of treatment before going into the King's presence. This treatment consisted of an oil of Myrrh anointing. What’s so significant is oil of myrrh was used to clean and heal wounds. Esther needed to go through an inner healing that she would be set apart for kingdom purposes. The pain Esther endured was a magnified preparation for the elevation she was to get to that was activated by an oil anointing. Esther needed an outpouring of oil of myrrh to heal those old wounds. She needed to enter a time of preparation followed by an anointing before the king could put her in a position of influence. Before you get elevated, there is a preparation period. Beloved, please don’t despise your preparation period for it is the small beginnings that carry the anointing. It’s in the anointed preparation you learn your kingdom purposes. This anointing carries power to heal, to intercede, and to save. What you are feeling is part of the preparation process. Where you are right now in this season of your life is exactly where you need to be to step into your next God ordained assignment. The preparation plus the anointing equals purpose and elevation. This oil of myrrh anointing is one God outpours to advocate for the voiceless, to bridge the gap between the kingdom of heaven and God's people, and it comes with the divine authority to rid what is not of God. Esther was able to call out the injustice, which led to the salvation of her people. 12 in the Bible symbolizes divine authority. This means God's divine authoritative hand is over your life shifting, healing, mending, preparing, and outpouring for His glory. The tears you have poured out and the pain you have gone through are not insignificant. In essence, they are prophetic because every tear you cry, God collects them. They are prophetic because they speak volumes into what God is going to do in your life. Your pain is the predecessor to your position. Pain has the potential to be transformed into power. Your oil of myrrh anointing is not by accident. It is on purpose for a purpose. God’s preparation in advance is what is propelling you into your God given position. From ancient times, the priests and kings were anointed as a sign of God’s power upon them. They had to be anointed before going into office. The oil is what sets you apart. The anointing in your life precedes the divine appointment and future elevation. Whether you are 24, 94, or somewhere in between; you are right where you need to be.

Reflection Question: What season are you in? What does it look like?

DAY 2 : THE PROMISE “Saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” Mark 11:2 NIV Point A is a great place to be. It is the place of conception for the promise given to you by God. This isn’t just another pinky promise between two friends; it’s as a result of your relationship with Jesus. It is in the journey with Christ that promises are cultivated. In Mark 11:2, Jesus sends two of his disciples to a village ahead of them with a word. He says, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” Jesus is intentional when He gives you a word because He knows that promise must carry you to your promised land. He knows it must sustain you as you walk on ahead. This is point B. It is the carrying of the promise. Carrying your promise and standing on that word implies you move forward. Your steps cannot be ordered toward your promise if you aren’t moving, working, and praying. Your steps must mirror that of the promise. However, rest assured as you get closer to your promise, people will rise up and ask, “What are you doing?” and “Why are you doing that?” But stand on the word the Lord gave you because once you reach the promise, it will be waiting for you just as Jesus said. You are to carry this promise into fruition. This is point C; the fulfillment of the promise. Beloved, as you’re walking to your promise holding on to the word the Lord gave you, you may start to get tired. You may start to doubt because nothing around you looks like that promise. In fact, it may even start to get a little dark but be encouraged because you are standing on holy ground. What God says is always true, it’s always full of purpose, and it always comes to pass. This is point D. Point D is where point A and point C merge. Note when Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him, He stood at point A because they needed to trust Him at His word. Point D is where God gets the glory for your faithfulness. You may be waiting for finances to roll in, for a child to get well, for your marriage to be restored, for a loved one to be saved, or for your future spouse; be empowered because that promise has your name on it and no one has ever touched it except Jesus. Point A: Conception of the promise Point B: Carrying of the promise Point C: Fulfillment of the promise Point D: Point A and point C merge

Reflection Question: What has God promised you?

DAY 3: THE STRUGGLE “Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Genesis 32:28 NIV As a society, the word struggle has come to mean something negative, yet in Genesis 32, we see Jacob wrestling with God. He struggles with God. However, this wasn’t any ordinary struggle; it was a holy one. It was a physical struggle encountering a spiritual cause. At face value, Jacob was a thief and a runner. He stole his brother’s birthright and his blessing. But God knew Jacob’s innate tendencies. The difference is God did not define him by this. You see, the world will define you by what you’ve done, but God will define you by who He is. God saw beyond Jacob’s faulty sense of identity and saw his godly potential. The struggle Jacob encountered with God was an intentional part of God’s plan for Jacob to develop a godly character. Godly character precedes a godly reputation. In the development period, there is a struggle because you are stretched as you wrestle. You are broken down physically in order for there to be a spiritual breakthrough. However, the thing about the struggle is you develop skills you didn’t know existed. You sharpen abilities and gifts already ingrained in you. The struggle is an integral part for the formation of your identity in Christ. In that struggle, Jacob was asked his name not because God didn’t know it, but to make Jacob aware of his fleshly nature. He needed Jacob to be self-aware because it’s only in the struggle you learn who you are in God. It’s important to note Jacob’s name was changed as a result of him confessing who he was. The confession was the identification of his limitations and his weaknesses. Jacob means “he cheats; he grasps the heel.” How intentional was it Jacob’s identity was tied to his name. Throughout his life, he became a cheater, a deceiver; he became a person who stole another person’s blessings. He was a people pleaser, a liar, and a runner. But now came the time to fight for his own and the struggle was for him to learn his true identity. Maybe your life has been characterized by others telling you what to do and how to be, yet, here comes God and offers you a brand new name and identity; one that is connected to your very purpose. Your name change is indicative of your identity in God. Just like Jacob, it is one that will amplify your calling. Jacob’s name change is what defined his purpose as the father of the 12 tribes. He was now a new creation. You are a new creation. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t have a limp. The limp Jacob walked away with was evidence God was with Him in the struggle. The limp you have, whatever it may be, keeps you dependent upon God. That limp is evidence of your encounter with The Most High; it’s evidence of God in your life. After you encounter God, you are never the same. You learn who you are because of whose you are. Remember, the struggle is never in vain.

Reflection Question: How does God see you? Who are you in Christ?

DAY 4: THE FREEDOM “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.” John 8:3-4 NIV Growing up, I thought I had to be perfect. I had to look and act perfect. I had to speak perfectly and have the perfect weight. In fact, I developed the disease of perfectionism because I thought I needed to be perfect. And while God has been working on my perfectionism, whenever I am exposed, whenever someone points out something wrong with me, I cringe. Even if it’s constructive criticism, I turn into this little girl that always needed to fight. Sometimes I even freeze. But the point is, I identify with the adulterous woman. She must have felt humiliated and embarrassed because her dirty laundry was just aired. She must have lost her voice in that moment. She was exposed and all eyes were on her. The bible says, “They made her stand before the group.” To put it simply, her sins were on display. There was no hiding or running. Yet Jesus had a purpose. He was already teaching in the temple courts, so He used this as a teaching moment. As the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were questioning Jesus so He would condemn her, Jesus does something odd; He bends down and starts to write on the ground with His finger. Theologians debate about what He could’ve written but they believe He wrote their names and their sins. As they continued to question Jesus, He says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” and He bends down and starts to write again. And finally, one by one they start to go away until it was only Jesus and the adulterous woman. Jesus wanted it to be just Him and her because He wasn’t afraid of her sin. He wanted to show her He was in her mess with her. Jesus wanted intimacy with her because her sin had just been exposed and He knew how she felt. She was vulnerable. I believe Jesus intentionally wrote in the dirt because we are formed from dirt, from the dust of the earth. And Jesus knew how she was formed. He knew she was fragile. Psalm 103:14 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him: for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Whatever Jesus wrote, he used the very thing we were created with to convey a prophetic message that revealed the prescription for her sin; it was Jesus. It was intimacy with Jesus. It was in the middle of her expose, in the center of her sin, the adulterous woman met her savior. Where there is sin, there is the potential for forgiveness and salvation. But sin needs to be exposed for there to be forgiveness. Being exposed is hard. It’s vulnerable. But if there is sin in your life, confess it. Bring it to Jesus. He will not condemn you. Because while sin needs to be exposed for there to be salvation from it; the forgiveness of Jesus precedes your freedom. Be free from sin.

Reflection Question: What do you need to let go of?

DAY 5: THE STAGES OF HEALING “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” John 5:6 NIV I recently brought the youth and young adults I teach through a teaching series titled, "Meeting God in different seasons in different ways.” For one particular lesson, they learned about "The God who heals.” During Jesus' ministry on earth, He healed countless people from a myriad of diseases and ailments, among other things. As I studied the stages of healing, I realized how much we have control over our own healing. Let me explain. . . In John 5:1-9, Jesus is in Jerusalem near a healing pool called Bethesda. While He was there, He noticed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Now it’s important to note this man was paralyzed in some way for a full 38 years, yet the first question Jesus asks him is, “Do you want to get well?” When you are in a certain state for a period of time, you become conditioned to being that way. You become accustomed to living with the aches and pains, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. It becomes your normal. So the first stage of healing is to actually choose healing. We have to choose to want to get well. The second stage is to understand only Jesus can heal you. In John 5:7, the invalid says he has no one to help him into the pool. He comes to the understanding only Jesus can help him because no one else has been able to. However, it’s important to do the work of healing. The third stage is being aware of what you need healed. In Matthew 20:32, Jesus comes across two blind men as well and the first question He asks is, “What do you want me to do for you?” In order for healing to begin, you need to be aware of your need for healing. Awareness is the most powerful of these because it means you are no longer blind to your wounds. You can now identify them. The last stage of healing is to believe in the healing. In Matthew 9:28, Jesus is in his hometown of Capernaum and He comes across two blind men. As they are following Him, Jesus goes indoors and asks them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Healing isn’t a question about whether Jesus can heal or not, Jesus is healer. But it is a question of “Do you believe?” You need to believe to be healed. You have to believe in the healing even before it comes. This is the epitome of faith; seeing the potential of something before it comes to be. I want you to pay attention to the fact in all these stories of healing, Jesus asks the person in need of healing a question. Sometimes we go to God asking Him what to do but because we aren’t expecting Him to answer a certain way, we misinterpret God’s answer for silence. Sometimes God speaks in questions too. So as you go forward in your healing journey, remember the acronym: CUAB. 1. Choose healing 2. Understand only Jesus can heal 3. Awareness of what you need healed 4. Believe in the healing

Reflection Question: What do you need healing from?

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