More Like Me

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When they asked Michelangelo how he made his statue of David he is reported to have said, “It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal growth, finding your purpose, and self-love, and all those threads of thought came together today in a conversation I had with my friends at a women’s Bible study at church. One of the ladies was struggling with trying to figure out what her next step should be. I asked her two questions that I’ve been asking myself.

What gives you joy? What makes you feel most like yourself?

In my life, I can answer those questions in four words. Faith. Family. Friends. F . . . writing. (That last one could have alliterated better!)

As we talked, I shared that I’ve been praying for several months that God will make me the best version of myself. For a large part of my life, I’ve wanted to be someone that I’m not. I didn’t know how to embrace who I am. I’ve looked at other women who I see as sweeter, quieter, less awkward, and a whole host of other things’er than I am. I saw how people appreciated those qualities in other people, and I felt like they would appreciate me more if I was more like them . . . and less like me.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older or maybe it’s because my faith has been growing, but I’m learning how to embrace the me that I am . . . the me that God made me.

God did not make me quiet and meek. He made me loud and bold and prone to talk until people’s eyes glaze over. He didn’t make me the kind of person who enjoys making crafts or talking to other people’s little children. He made me the kind of person who enjoys reading to my kids and playing ball with them. He made me an idea person, even if I’m not always a follow-through person. He made me introspective and sensitive. That’s okay.

During our conversation at Bible Study, we were talking about finding our passion. That thing that energizes us and makes us feel like we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. For me, that thing is writing. I often doubt my talent and my abilities. I worry I’ll never be good enough to live up to the dreams I dream up for myself. But I’ve come to understand that God created me as the kind of person who loves to write. Those dreams are an integral part of how He made me. My gifts and talents, be they what they are, are from Him. My passion for writing is part of His design. While I’ve been chasing my dreams for the last couple of years, I’ve come to feel more and more like myself. My true self.

It made me think of the Michelangelo quote. Our lives are kind of like that. We need to just chip away at the things in our lives that are not us. For a while, I was in nursing school. I was doing well at it, but it didn’t bring me joy. Quite the opposite. It drained my joy and my optimism for my life. When I took my metaphorical chisel and chipped it away, I felt a little more like myself. I could see a little bit more of the vision of what I could become, because I had taken the first step towards the innate me. That was a real-world, practical step I could take. On a spiritual level, I am not artist enough to chisel out the curves and contours of the best version of me. That’s where Jesus comes in. He’s the originator of the vision. He’s the Master. He’s really, really good at what He does. I’m happy to hand over the hammer and chisel and let Him do His thing.

I challenge you. Ask yourself the hard questions. Are you doing what you’re supposed to do? Whatever you’re doing, does it make you feel like the best version of yourself? Does it bring you joy? If not, what “first step” can you take toward being the you that God created you to be. The fullest, most vibrant you. That’s what you should pray for! That He would chip away everything that’s not His glorious vision of you!

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I Need Your Help!

I am participating in a reader-powered process for a publishing contract from Amazon’s imprint, Kindle Press,  for my novel, “Surviving Stephen.”

surviving-stephen

Here’s how it works:
Readers browse book campaigns by authors and nominate books that they think deserve a publishing contract with Kindle Press. Amazon takes note of which books readers want and awards contracts accordingly.

What I need from you:
Join Kindle Scout through your Amazon account and nominate my book. It is an extremely quick and easy process. It will take just a couple minutes!

What I will get:
Hopefully a life-changing publishing contract!

What you will get:
You will receive a free copy of any book that you nominate that receives a contract, including mine if I am successful. You can also read the first several chapters of my novel right now!

I know it takes a few minutes out of your busy day, but I would be so grateful for your help. It would mean the world to me.

Also, please share!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your help!

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/MZWNLD2B3JG6

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Love Yourself

 

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When you are immersed in a philosophy or a mindset, you internalize the messages whether intended or otherwise. Especially when you are a child with a limited understanding of complexities and nuances. We need to be so careful with the messages we send.

I grew up in the Christian Fundamentalist movement in a series of small Baptist churches. And when I say I grew up in it, I mean I was in it. I was one of those kids who literally grew up in church. I was in Sunday School every week. My family was there on the third pew from the front every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and for week-long (sometimes multiple week) Revival services several times a year. A week of VBS every summer, and sometimes extra weeks in friends’ churches. I went to Christian camps in the summer. Not only that, but I went to school at church. Yes. At church. I attended my church’s (very small) Christian school from pre-school to the middle of my tenth grade year, and then was home-schooled with the same Christian curriculum for the remainder of my high school years. Are you following me? I was in it. 

There were a lot of really great benefits to being raised that way. I memorized more Scripture in elementary school than probably 99% of Christians memorize in their whole lives. I was well-versed in doctrine and apologetics (according to my Fundamentalist churches’ beliefs.) I knew the Bible backward and forward. I came to Christ at six years old. I loved and was loved by a lot of wonderful people.

However, there was one person I was not loved by, and that was me.

In my Fundamentalist churches’ attempts to show me my sin and instill a reverence for the holiness of God, they inadvertently sent the message to my child’s heart that I was unlovable. In their efforts to teach me to put others first and love my neighbor, my child’s heart heard I didn’t deserve to be loved. Yes, I promise you they told me Jesus loved me and I promise you they wanted me to see God as a loving Father, but the intended message is not always the one received.

I spent my entire childhood, my adolescence, and my early adulthood feeling deep inside that I was unworthy. I didn’t matter. I sat through church services where preachers told me that I did not deserve grace or mercy or love, but I deserved to be in Hell “with my back broke and my tongue cut out.” I’m not sure why that phrase was a thing, but it was one I heard a lot. Preachers seemed to try to outdo each other with descriptions of how unworthy we were of God’s love in an attempt to show us how gracious God is to love us despite our sin. The message I heard was that I was bad, unworthy, and unlovable.

Little girls want to be cherished and loved. They want to feel special. Society is constantly telling them they don’t measure up. The church should be the loudest voice telling them they are adored.

Even while trying my best to love God, I never viewed him as loving me. I stood up in church and testified of how I was so thankful for his love because I knew I didn’t deserve it, because that was what I was supposed to say. It was only a cognitive understanding, though. It never reached my heart.

After a few years of personal upheaval in my life, I found myself very distant from God. When my church and ministry ties were broken, I found my relationship with God was not strong enough to keep me spiritually grounded. I went through a huge crisis of faith. A dark night of the soul. It was during this time that I started to really embrace a growing message from secular culture and the feminist movement in America.

The message was that I was good enough just the way I was. I was beautiful. They were preaching self-love and body confidence. They were telling me I didn’t have to change who I was for any man or anyone or any prevalent idea of beauty. They said black is beautiful. White is beautiful. Brown is beautiful and special and lovely. They said girls are smart. Girls are talented. Girls can change the world. They told me I was worthy of love and respect.

I should have heard that at church.

Instead of embracing the idea of being fearfully and wonderfully made in church, I embraced a more humanistic message. It was an improvement over the way I had always saw myself, but it wasn’t quite enough.

Three years ago, I met a man who made me his wife, and he has poured sweet words of affirmation all over me since day one. When we were first dating, I started going to church with him because I hadn’t been able to find a church that was the right fit for me and my kids up to that point. I wasn’t sure I liked the church at first, when I was just dipping my toes in the water. But the further I waded in . . . into small groups and Women’s Bible studies . . . the more I realized this church was just what I needed in my life. They were preaching a different message.

They told me I was loved, adored and cherished. They told me they had tarnished pasts and damaged histories. They told me that this church was a place it was okay to not be okay. They told me I was loved. Week after week the pastors, the worship leaders, the small group leaders stood before me and said, “We love you so much!” It was a different vibe. It was such a relief!

I’ve been getting more and more involved with this church, and I’ve recently began serving in the student ministry. As I have sat in church with hundreds of middle school and high school students listening to sermons geared toward them, I have found that my inner child . . . the little girl and the teenager and the young adult I used to be . . . is listening, too. She’s hearing words she never heard before, and it’s changing the woman I am now.

Last week, the student pastor told that room full of students that they needed to love themselves. He told them they needed to love God above all and then they needed to love themselves.

He told them they cannot love others the way others need to be loved if they don’t first love themselves as the beloved sons and daughters of God.

It rocked me. As he read Scripture and taught about relationships, I sat there stunned realizing I had never heard that message in church before. I realized self-love does not have to be prideful. I realized it is not at odds with the Bible or Christianity. Jesus taught us to love God above all and then to love our neighbors as ourselves with the implied assumption that we would love ourselves first.

So if you’ve not heard that message before, let me be the first to tell you . . .

You are loved by God with a fierceness that will take your breath away if you ever grasp it. You are worth so much. Despite your mistakes, your missteps, and your sin, Jesus came to take all that from you and restore you to relationship with God. He wants you to understand how much He adores you. Jesus wants you to know that you are wonderfully made. You are a work of art . . . the special passion project of the Creator. He made you just as You are, because that was his design and his artistic vision. Embrace yourself. Love yourself. You will be surprised at how much love you have to pour out to others when you let yourself be immersed in the love He wants to pour out all over you.

 

~If you have questions or want to know more, send me a message through my contact form. I’d love to talk to you.

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Book Signing

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I want to let all my local friends know that I will be doing a book signing at Union Avenue Books in downtown Knoxville tomorrow, Saturday the 27th from 11-3. If you are going to be at the Farmer’s Market or just hanging out in Market Square, come by and see me! I will have plenty of copies of “Little River: Vol 2!”

Also, for all my non-local friends, if you would like an autographed copy of “Vol 2,” you can now order them from my website through PayPal. If you don’t already have a copy of “Vol 1,” you can get both volumes for a special price of $20. (That’s a five dollar savings.)

Don’t forget, “Vol 2” has exclusive content you can only get by purchasing the book!

Thanks, Guys!

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Book Release

Today’s the day!

I’m so excited to announce that Little River: Vol 2 is now available in paperback and Kindle versions!

If you’ve followed the serial week by week, be sure to get a copy of Vol 2, because it includes an exclusive Little River Story. Going Home tells the story of Kyle Anderson, Lexi’s missing brother. If you wanted to know more about where he disappeared to for seven years, you’re going to want to get a copy of this book and find out! Going Home is only available in Vol 2, so you won’t be able to read it online. You don’t want to miss it!

To celebrate its release, I’m doing a giveaway! If you want to be entered to win an autographed copy of Little River: Vol 2, all you have to do is sign up for my quarterly newsletter by messaging me your email address. I will randomly draw a winner one week from today.

Click here to order your copy of Little River: Vol 2!

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Summer Hiatus and Announcements

Hey, Everyone! I hope you enjoyed Little River: Vol 2. I meant to have this post up a little closer to when I posted the conclusion, but, man, summer has been so busy already!

Because of the busyness of summer with six children and because of wanting to take a little break, I am taking a hiatus from Little River. While I won’t be posting weekly chapters over the summer, I will be working on something for you. I’m including Bonus Material in the paperback and Kindle versions of Little River: Vol 2. This will probably be in the form of a couple of short stories or a novella about some of your favorite Little River characters. I hope it will be a nice incentive to invest in a hard copy of Vol 2!

Now, for a couple of announcements . . .

I’m really excited to announce that, after running Little River: Vol 1 in it’s entirety, the editor of the Morgan County Today wants to run Vol 2, as well! This is exciting news for me, and I’m really proud to collaborate with the Morgan County Today in this way.

Secondly, I’m excited to be a part of a book sale/signing at the Lenoir City Arts and Crafts Festival this Saturday with the Author’s Guild of Tennessee. If you are local, I’d love to see you and sell you a book. There will be several other local authors there, and it’s a great opportunity to #ReadLocal! So, come and support your local author’s and enjoy what I hear is a fantastic annual Festival!

 

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Little River: Vol 2 – Ch 25 – Conclusion

If you’ve not read previous chapters of Little River, you can catch up here!

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Josiah found the sound of leaves crunching beneath his feet a comfort, even though Crockett’s absence was never more apparent than when Josiah was in the woods. When he could hear nothing but the barking of squirrels overhead and birdsong all around, he started to feel the tension leave his body. If he could build a cabin and live up on the mountain, he would. It was only his loyalty to his aging parents and the farm he grew up on that kept him in town.

Josiah’s stride lengthened as he crested the ridge and the terrain leveled off. He had no intended destination, and yet he felt a distinct sense of purpose with every step, almost like he had an appointment to keep. A stirring in the leaves nearby caused him to stop and listen. After a moment, he spotted a chipmunk busy collecting nuts under a massive oak tree.

Pushing through a particularly thick stand of mountain laurel, Josiah gasped as the way opened up in front of him. The path in front of him was no more than a deer trail, but the sunlight cut through the trees overhead and shone directly on the path, illuminating a small piece of quartz that sparkled in the sunlight. Something about the combination of the sunlight on the quartz and the wide open view in front of him made Josiah feel expectant. He picked up the quartz and dropped it in his pocket, and carefully made his way to the place he hadn’t realized he was headed.

Taylor’s Jump Off was a bluff not visited by many people. People frequented other bluffs on this mountain that were easier to get to, but, though it was the least visited, Taylor’s Jump Off was the most talked about. Josiah could still remember the first time he came here with his Papaw. The old man had made him hold his hand, even though he was nearly twelve. The panoramic view was seen easily enough from several spots, once you fought your way to the clearing, but the ledge Josiah was working his way toward had the most magnificent view he had ever seen. His papaw warned him not to try to get down to the ledge; several people had fallen and been injured or killed attempting the short descent to the granite outcrop. Papaw had said it was suicide to attempt, and then told him how Zeke Taylor had done just that after he lost his wife and kids in a fire. He left a note under his hat at the base of a tree, climbed down to the ledge and jumped off. That was seventy odd years ago, but the spot was still called Taylor’s Jump Off.

Josiah smiled to himself, remembering how he had climbed back up the mountain just a few days after his papaw had showed him the spot and climbed down to the Jump Off. Telling Josiah not to do something was pretty much the same as giving him a direct commission to do it. Taking care not to lose his footing, he lowered himself the final two feet to the granite ledge. Getting down was easy; getting back up was the tricky part.

Once he found a spot to sit, he looked around and sighed. The view was worth the danger. Jutting out from the rest of the mountainside, the Jump Off allowed an unobstructed view of nothing but treetops below and another mountain across the valley. Off to the left, you could barely see the Little River snaking its way through the valley. Josiah inhaled the crisp air and closed his eyes. The peace was almost palpable.

Unbidden, the memory of Ezra’s visit a week ago came to mind, and Josiah remembered the words he had said, “There’s peace to be had, but I only know one way to find it.”

Josiah thought about all the times he had sat through church and wished he was in the woods. All the sermons he tuned out paled in comparison to the integrity of the wind in the trees. Remembering Ezra saying he met Jesus in the woods, Josiah rolled his eyes, and then laughed at himself for doing it. There was no one around to see his disdain. No one else to laugh with him over the Sunday School version of a white-robed, scarlet-sashed Jesus strolling through the forest. No one else around, yet Josiah felt strongly that he was not alone.

Feeling silly from the moment his lips parted, he said aloud, “I’m here if You’re here.”

Josiah shook his head, feeling foolish. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the piece of quartz. Holding it up to the sunlight, he admired the way it sparkled. He had always been a sucker for the pretty things he found in the woods. His dresser was covered with the various items he brought home.

As Josiah’s thoughts wandered, he suddenly had a very vivid memory of sitting with his Papaw on his back porch. There was a large creek rock balanced on the porch railing with a Bible verse painted in his Papaw’s shaky block lettering. Josiah had sat there so many times that he had memorized the verse on the rock. “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”

            “Why did you paint that rock?” Josiah had asked.

“To remind me that God takes care of me,” Papaw had answered. “A long time ago, I went through a dark time. I was tired and scared, and I used to go down to the creek to pray. One day, God gave me that verse while I was sitting by the creek. I carried home that rock and painted that verse to remind me.”

Josiah had only nodded, and pushed himself back and forth in the old porch swing. Now, the memory of his Papaw’s words and the intensity with which he spoke them flooded Josiah’s mind.

“I guess You are here,” Josiah whispered. “I’m here, too.”

 

©2016 Rachel Holbrook

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