Meet Linda

I met Linda when I was consumed with anxiety and trying to tame wild children in a classroom. Linda was a calm in the midst of the storm. Her soothing voice and welcoming eyes gave me a safe place to land. Our friendship came easily, and to this day, I still admire her perfect juxtaposition of relentless kindness and ruthless perseverance. Not to mention, we both love art too.

Today, she remains a successful science teacher, a very talented artist and a sweet friend... and so much more. 

Meet Linda.

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Looking back on my life, I feel as though I am a seed.

A seed that was planted in hard soil.

One that waited a long time to grow.

A seed that is just now reaching for the light.

 

People who know me now would laugh, but for much of my life, I was not social. I was sheltered.

Afraid of talking to people.

Shy.

 This is me working at a Habitat for Humanity site - I love meeting the homeowners who are always on-site to learn as much as they can about their homes.

This is me working at a Habitat for Humanity site - I love meeting the homeowners who are always on-site to learn as much as they can about their homes.

And in the middle of my struggle, I found an unexpected lifeline.

Already feeling stretched thin, I went to a meeting for a volunteer organization. I never knew how facing my apprehension of conversation would change me.

I found that heart-to-hearts with strangers led me to God’s own heart.

 After Hurricane Matthew, my amazing church friends organized Operation #FillUpAUHaul to take supplies to Robeson County and my husband and I drove down to help deliver the collected goods.

After Hurricane Matthew, my amazing church friends organized Operation #FillUpAUHaul to take supplies to Robeson County and my husband and I drove down to help deliver the collected goods.

Conversations with every person, no matter their struggles or successes, made for a richer world than the insular, selfish place I had trapped myself in.

They didn’t assign me value because of the grades I earned, or the coursework I took.

It was time.

The time spent with them reflected me,

for better or for worse,

just like a mirror.

So, I decided to try to be better.

To inquire. To learn their stories. To laugh with them. To cry with them.

I felt my heart take deeper and deeper roots as they showed me God’s love.

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President Jimmy Carter wrote about meeting a Cuban-American pastor named Eloy Cruz in his book, Living Faith. In it, he was amazed at Pastor Cruz’s gentle, simple words and intimacy with strangers he had just met.

Pastor Cruz followed a simple rule: “You only have to have two loves in your life - for God, and for the person in front of you at any particular time.

When you hear me strike up a conversation, please know that it is from a place of both fear and love.

Fear led me to love, and that love has helped me grow more into the person I am today.

I am fully loved, and aim to truly love others in what I do.

A seed, after all, can remain in the soil or burst forth with life, with care. On the other side of fear, there is boundless light and possibility - if we will only let it in.

Follow Linda on Instagram – @lindandion

Meet Tiffany

Five years ago, Tiffany and I attended Baylor together and found ourselves in the same small group. Although we have not seen each other in years, I always remember Tiffany as a safe place and a gentle spirit. She has this genuine and sincere presence about her, and warm smile to usher anyone in. She has a divine talent for photography and a special way with words. After college, it is no surprise she landed in YWAM (Youth With A Mission) working in the areas of - Discipleship, Red Light District Ministry and Communications.

I asked her to share her answer to the question: "What does it mean to you that you are loved exactly as you are and how has this truth changed your life?"

Meet Tiffany.

To be loved exactly as you are - it can feel like a foreign, even scary notion at times.

If people truly knew the depths of my heart, would they actually want to stick around? I think this is something that we all wrestle with at times. We get tired and vulnerable and start feeling like we have nothing to bring to the table, nothing to give. We see other people and we feel like we don’t measure up. I definitely have moments where I doubt myself.

I get it, it happens. 

To be fair, we won’t always feel 100% but we can’t afford to stay in that place. Self pity is a nasty, nasty drug.

Instead, we need to learn to celebrate ourselves, to celebrate those small seemingly unimportant victories. We need to take the time to notice the beauty and the extraordinary gifts that God has placed within each one of us.

There are so many templates thrown at us about what we should look like, what size we should be, what we should have accomplished by now, but we can’t fall into the trap of letting all that define us. Honestly, it would be so boring if we all looked the same, operated under the same personality.

Please don’t try to be someone else.

The world needs you to be you. So dig down deep and discover the beauty within, I can promise you it’s in there waiting to be released. 

I think a huge tool I have found in learning to be loved as I am is recognizing that creeping comparison that sneaks in and steals my joy for who I am and where I am. Recognizing it and then nipping that bad boy right in the bud.

Without comparison I am able to measure myself rightly, the way God sees me.

Without comparison I am able to recognize not only the innate value within me but the beauty of who God made me to be.

Without comparison I am able to allow God to love me and in turn to love myself.

It’s about clinging to God’s perspective in the great times and in the hard times.

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Dear one, even if you feel weary and broken, I promise you – you do have something to give. God has intricately woven your heart, your dreams + desires. He has wired your personality and created you to be a unique representative of Him on this earth. There will be ups and downs but please do not let the enemy steal your personality and your fire. We were created to know and be known, don’t stay isolated. 

Let God’s love make you alive, and allow others into that space so that they can not only know you, but love you. 

 

Connect with Tiffany on Instagram: @gramforthelamb or her website: http://www.tiffanyhopelambert.com/

Meet Kacie

Kacie and I met through Camp Ozark some years ago... almost immediately we connected over our mutual love for CS Lewis and Tolkien, and all things deeply spiritual – we also both love to smile really big and laugh together! Kacie's heart makes any stranger feel warmly welcomed and dearly loved – she embraces even the most wayward with cheerful eyes and a kind empathy. I hope her words touch you, as they did me, and make you feel less alone in hard places. She has this insanely beautiful way of writing, and uses words the way an artist uses a paintbrush. Some day I hope she will write a book. I will be the first to buy it! Soo naturally, I asked her to write an "as you are" post:) 

Follow along with her writings at @kaciemargo on Instagram.

Meet Kacie!

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Two things were consistently true as I grew up: I liked who I was, and I liked people liking who I was. I was also a normal teenage girl and not a mutant, so for sure I had my seasons of insecurity and despair, but overall, I look at my life and think without question: I was loved.

So if someone were to have asked me the question, “How has knowing that you are fully loved as you are changed your life?” I would not have known how to answer. I’ve always felt loved, and I’ve always felt that I was pretty easy to love.

As a general rule, I only showed up around others when I was full: full of joy, full of energy, full of drive, full of creativity and inspiration. There was a small pocket of people who had access to other things I was full of: snark, doubt, overthinking, sass. But for the most part I was full of joy, and it was a priority of mine to be seen as full.

And then,

all of a sudden,

I was empty.

Depression was the diagnosis. The first time I went to a therapist, within twenty minutes he was scribbling his signature for antidepressants. That made me angry. You know twenty minutes worth of my life and you’re trying to get me to pop a pill? So I left.* Then I turned to books. I read anything I could get my hands on about depression, searching desperately for ways to get out of it, as if there were a step by step tutorial to get me out, clean and unscathed. I prayed as much as I could and received as much prayer as I could, and when the heaviness didn’t lift, I began to panic.

I’m not a person people associate with the word depressed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to emotion and can feel all the feels, but at the end of the day, I can find a positive and hopeful angle. This time, I couldn’t.

Whatever this depression thing was… it hit hard. Like a thief in the night, y’all. Nobody was prepared. Especially me.

Then came the metaphors with no solutions:

I feel... like I’m drowning while people play on the beach.

I feel... like I’m in a glass jar, always just out of reach with no ability to escape or connect.

I feel... like I’m in a total fog.

I feel... like Sandra Bullock in the middle of space, untethered and floating sans gravity in dark matter.

I feel… like a total failure.

I feel… utterly unlovable.   

I crawled through the fog of depression for two years. (And there are still days when I wake up and everything is dark and heavy.)

Whomp.

Cue... shame. I mean, who wants to feel like a little piece of squish stuck in a clam shell at the bottom of the ocean when they’re first married?

Cue... more shame. Hello, twenties! The time of your life! The time to determine what direction you’ll go! The time to maximize your potential! The time to make a lot of money and set yourself up for success! The time to dream!

Yet there I was, a dreamer and visionary in my past life, but in this new sucky sad life, I’m the girl that breaks down in tears because she doesn’t know what to make for lunch. Y’all. I’m for sure in the “live to eat” category rather than the “eat to live” one and I lost ten pounds simply because eating felt too hard. What?!?!

I did not feel worth a penny. I was newly wed and unemployed. I was attending a new church, so I did not have the opportunity nor the bandwidth to serve in any form of church leadership, let alone make friends. I had been a worship leader, speaker, and staff member in multiple ministry spaces for the last decade, and went straight to… nothing.

I felt so foreign to myself that I began to hate myself. My journal was filled with countless one-sentence entries. “I feel so empty.” “I don’t want to exist anymore.” “I just want to go away.” “F*#@.”

I felt like a complete and total failure. A failure of a wife. A failure of a Christian. A failure of a friend. A failure at everything.

With feelings of failure came self-condemnation. It was the ugliest. I literally lost every ounce of self confidence. My backbone shriveled into a limp noodle. My husband could so much as look at me the wrong way and I would burst into tears.

I blamed myself for being depressed. I completely exhausted the question, “What did I do wrong?”, convinced that the depression and fog was the consequence of some egregious mistake I had made along the way. I hunted down the “root” of my depression like it was my job.

Birth control. Burnout. Disappointment in myself. All real contributors to the fog and emptiness. So I quit birth control… some improvements. I journaled and read books on burnout… a couple perspective shifts. I went to more therapy… a couple more tweaks. These were good steps in the right direction, but none of them fixed me. Oh, how I wanted them to. I would have believed a telemarketer if they said they could help me quit depression (as if it were some bad life habit!)

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There was not an easy way out, and there is almost never an easy way out. It is nuanced and hard and slow. Surrounded by people, it still feels lonely. And the only way out is through it.

But the focus of this post is not about my experience with depression. This post is about how I came to have a real answer to the question about being known I am fully loved as I am. Of all the unlikely and unfortunate teachers, depression stripped me of all the things I always felt loved for: joy, energy, positive perspective, ambition. My people did not withdraw their love from me, but I withdrew it from myself, and I did not believe it when others offered it.

So what was my turnaround? What was the moment where I began again to believe “you are loved wholly as you are?”

I’m sorry to say there wasn’t one. No big epiphany or breakthrough for me.

But you know what there was?

Presence.

I tried to isolate as hard as I could, attempting to protect my people from an abundance of dark thoughts and despair. As hard as I tried to isolate, I found myself surrounded by presence.  

There was the real presence of humans I could see with my own eyes: my husband, my friends, my neighbors. They stayed normal. My husband sat through the tears and did not cringe when my biggest triumph of the day was getting out of bed. They remained present. My friends were not phased. We texted and called and wrote letters like we always do. None of them withdrew from me when I attempted to withdraw from them.

And there was the real presence of One I could not see:

my Creator. He did not shame me or try to change me. He did not recoil at my anger or despair. He was not offended by my emptiness. He was not offended by my inability to hope. He was not offended by my inability to believe the best about Him, nor was He offended by my inability to trust in the goodness of anything.

Of all the miracles He could have performed in that season, of all the ways he could have answered my prayer to Please God, fix me, he offered this one:

I am near.

That’s it: I am near.

Did I believe it?  B a r e l y. But “barely” was enough for belief to grow.

I would not have believed Him if he had said “I love you.” It would have been laughable. My brain was so consumed with thoughts of being unlovable that I would have resisted immediately. But I am near was a plot twist. And believing — slowly — that He is near has opened my heart to little slivers of other truths: like I am loved as I am.

If the Creator of the Universe is not only okay to be near me, full of depression and despair (arguably the most draining states of being), but also chooses to come near? Then he has to be full of either insanity or love. Or both. In my opinion, he is insane love. And whether I’m depressed or full of joy, He chooses to come near as I am.

So when it’s hard to believe — even still — that I am loved or loveable, I try to switch words around to truths I can believe a little easier:

I am loved at my weakest = He’s near when I suck.

I am loved when I am producing nothing. = He’s near when I really suck.

I am loved totally and completely. = He’s near and smiling.

Plot twist: I am not loved for my joy, or my leadership, or my good ideas, or my gifts, etc. Those may make me more loveable when they’re flourishing, but they are not the reason I am loved. I am loved *gulp* simply because I was created by Insane Love.

Hello, you. If knowing you are fully loved seems absolutely impossible, and if believing in Insane Love feels trite or ungraspable or simply unbelievable, I can and will still say to you: He is near.

People of faith have all sorts of ways to remember and remind. Some keep a prayer stone in their pocket. Others have rosaries. Others still have tattoos or practice mantras or keep rhythms in their day that help them remember what is true.

For me, as soon as I feel the fog of depression descending again, I close my eyes and think or speak You are near.

When the belief feels unattainable, I find a new place to sit. I’ll hike a mountain. I’ll drive to the edge of a beautiful lake. Or sit outside on my porch and watch fireflies. Or sit in the dirt and tend to my garden. But when belief feels hard or impossible, I have to go sit my butt in a beautiful space. Beauty creates thin spaces that make it easier to believe He is near.

Y’all. He always will be. And believing that is changing my life.

*Disclaimer: I am in no way discounting or undermining the real and amazing work that both psychiatrists and modern medicine can offer for the brain. I simply did not feel heard by the psychiatrist and ultimately decided medicine was not the right choice for me.

I also in no way assume anyone else’s experience with depression is the same as mine, so any sentences laced with humor are in no way intended to make light of depression nor are they intended to speak for anyone else who has experienced depression.

 

Meet Kelsey

The truth is, I have never actually met Kelsey, but I hope some day we can meet in person and share a cup of coffee! Recently, she sent me a message on Instagram about how she wanted to order a Lion painting and how the "as you are" series had really impacted her life at a time she needed it most...

"...For some encouragement on your Monday. I bought a bracelet in 2016 that says “as you are” from the blog you were writing/organizing at that time. It was a super relevant message that God spoke to me through during that season of my life. So I just wanted to say thank you. I have worn the bracelet every single day since August 2016. And have even bought a few for my YoungLife girls I lead in Oregon."

Kelsey's message encouraged me to start posting these stories again, so I asked her to write the next "as you are" blog, in response to the question below –

"What does it mean to you that you are loved as you are, and how has that impacted your life?"

Meet Kelsey!

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“I am not enough”.

Since I was a young girl, this narrative has taunted me. I often get caught up believing I am not a “good enough” friend, pediatric nurse, Younglife leader, or just not a good enough overall.

So what has been my “fix”?

I strive. I please. I perform. I hide the real me.

For as long as I can remember, I have tried to find an antidote to this problem, or something I could do to fix the hole in my heart. I longed to feel known, loved and free, but instead I kept feeling like a total and complete hot mess.

Feel me?

Like a buoy in the middle of the ocean, I was tossed and thrown in any direction. My identity depended upon my circumstances and the voices of the people around me. I became really good at measuring my worth and identity by the wrong things – what others thought of me, how well I pleased others (any other people pleasers out there?), relationships, my appearance, and if I could put a smile on my face and act like everything was okay.

if I looked like I had it all together on the outside, then it would magically change how I felt on the inside, right?

It was like walking around with a mask on my face; never feeling truly known.

As far back as middle school, I recall singing Taylor Swift’s song “Forever and Always” at the top of my lungs in my room (usually with a hair brush microphone) because the lyrics struck a cord in me. I so badly wanted someone to come along and be my forever and always, never leave and tell me I was good enough. Maybe this would finally make me feel good enough?

Also, can I get an amen from all the TSwift fans out there?! 

As women today, we are bombarded with two opposing messages – We think we are good enough alone, or our self-esteem becomes inflated with false empowerment narratives.

BuT, in the long run, neither of these actually makes us feel complete.

“For in Christ all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” Colossians 2:9-10

I hate to break it to you sister, but you are not enough by yourself. When we are striving to be enough on our own we are denying our desperate need for grace and love. Only IN JESUS am I complete – I am enough in Him and because of Him.

Period.

God says, “I love you, exactly as you are, daughter. you are worthy and in me you are made complete.”

His view of us is the ONLY one that will never change. He is the ONLY one who will not let us down and defines who we are; no human can hold this responsibility.

We are limited, but He is limitless.

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We are not defined by our successes or failures, or by what we do or do not do. Paul reminds us in the Bible that our worth and position before God is not defined by our actions, but rather by what He did for us. We are chosen, accepted, and protected in Him.

Since our good behavior did not earn God’s acceptance, then our bad behavior cannot un-earn it.

God demonstrated his own love for us, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

So listen closely, love, this means that it is all about Jesus’ “doing” for us by dying on the cross. He did this because he’s so crazy about us he could not stay away. We can stop trying so stinkin’ hard and stop proving ourselves as a cover-up. 

The phrase “as you are” stuck with me ever since I heard it because, truth be told, I heard it at a time in my life when I didn’t feel very loved as I was. I felt more rejected, lost and well… not good enough. However, I have worn a bracelet around my wrist every single day for the past two years with “as you are” engraved on it because I need to be reminded every single day that I am loved as I am.

So here I am, in all my mess, reminding you – Jesus loves you as you are.

I encourage you to dig into what that means. Discovering who the Lord says you are is the best investment of you could ever make. As you grow in who you are in God, you will find purpose and freedom in the journey. Be patient with yourself. There is an unraveling process as we dig into our soul and let Jesus heal us from our past.

His grace is sufficient for you, sweet girl.

Most importantly, ask yourself: who is saying the thoughts that go through your head about who you are?

Bob Goff says, “Most of our decisions are driven by either love or fear. Figure out who’s doing the talking, then decide what you’ll do.

Figure out who is doing the talking in your head. Is it a statement derived from love or from fear? Don’t let the lies define who you are when there is a true identity waiting for you to take hold of it, and put it on.

So, sweet girl, you are so much more than “just enough”– you are an image bearer of Christ, treasured, forgiven, wonderfully made, hand picked and loved so much more than you’ll ever know.

Only Human

 Rachel Carter Photography

Rachel Carter Photography

You could say for the last couple months "I hit a wall", and lately, I have been in recovery mode.

I am not a "slow down and rest" type of person. In fact, I have always been a very independent and achievement-oriented person, and someone who experiences significant shame when I can't figure things out or be who I think I need to be - at all times, for all people. Even on my wedding day, in his speech, my Dad said, "Jennie has always said she will 'figure it out', and she will figure you out..." 

However, within the last 7 months - I got engaged, planned a wedding, attempted to deal with lots of unanticipated hard stuff, married my best friend (BEST day of my life!), moved into a new home (with a BOY) and not to mention, changed my name – OH, while running a full-time business and traveling almost every weekend to paint weddings.

It has been a humbling season, to say the least. I will admit, it has been a lot, and I feel like I keep learning the same sobering lesson, over and over again –

Jennie, no matter how invincible you think you are, you cannot do it all. You cannot be it all. You cannot fix it all. You are only human.

It is the truth. As much as I do not want to admit it – I am only human.

By human, I mean a fragile, insecure, weak, feeble, broken, dependent creature who is also, somehow, made in the image of God Himself, and designed to be fully dependent on HIM.

So much to swallow, but take a big gulp - this is the good stuff...

Here's some raw truth about this season – I have experienced very intense anxiety, and some really dark and hard days. But, within those dark and heavy experiences, I truly believe God allowed me to be humbled and he is still slowly, gently chipping away at my propensity to trust myself more than I trust Him. 

Our millennial American culture teaches us that something is wrong if we find ourselves struggling, or if we get hurt. Little league teams give every child a trophy because they don't want to distinguish winners and losers, and if you are offended by something, you get all kinds of accolades in the media.

What if we, as a culture, started to value the hard stuff we experience, and praised our failures as a means of growth?

What if you and I began dinner conversations opening up about our struggles and weaknesses and how these experiences deepen our spiritual growth and produce character?

In celebration of the hard stuff, sometimes we have to look back and remember what we have endured to give us hope for the future. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4: 5-7
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

In 2014, I stumbled upon a talent I didn't really even know I had, so I started a business - Jennie Lou Art. By the grace of God, and so many encouraging and supportive people, I have been able to keep doing this job. See my Instagram (@jennielouart) for a glimpse of 10 favorite paintings from 2014-2018.

I keep telling myself to remember how the hardest things can be our greatest successes in life if we allow them to shape us, and lead us into growth. 

 

Lowndes Plantation

Taylor and Bennett's wedding could not have been more glamorous, and perfect! Gregory Blake Sams Event's did a spectacular job of incorporating a unique Art Deco theme, while keeping the style tasteful and pleasant. As an artist, painting this scene was an exciting challenge. I truly loved combining all the different rooms and colors, and several different scenes into one painting. Hope to see you again soon Charleston! xo, Jennie Lou

POOL PARTY WEDDING!!

What a memorable wedding!!

First of all, the bride's dress was her mother's and has been worn now by 6 family members... it was absolutely gorgeous! Fun fact: I painted Abby's twin sister's wedding last year too at the same home:)

Secondly, Texas summers can get really hot, and this wedding was no exception. It was 102 outside for this precious couple's outdoor ceremony at the bride's family home on Lake Travis. The guests were such troopers the whole time, until it just got to be too much - one person jumped in and the rest of the wedding guests followed, including the bride and groom!

I have to say, it takes a special bride and groom to embrace such a hilarious turn of events! Everyone was laughing and splashing around in the pool the rest of the afternoon. An unforgettable wedding, for sure! I wish I could have jumped in too...

The Astorian - Houston, Texas

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Last weekend I was in Houston, Texas painting at the lovely Astorian. The classy venue is tucked away in an unassuming industrial part of town, and has wonderful views of the city! I really enjoyed incorporating the buildings into the skyline, and doing my best to draw lots of straight lines for the windows! Austin and Mason are the loveliest couple, so genuine and sincere! I saw lots of Baylor friends, and enjoyed engaging with the crowd! Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Jolesch!! 

Austin Public Library - Austin, Texas

Live Wedding Painter

 

This was a first to paint on a balcony behind glass walls, where everyone can see you but you can’t hear them! I kept looking down to see people frantically waving at me, while “painter focus mode” tried to keep me on task. I’m sure they saw me dancing to the music up there – this band was amazing!!

These vendors know how to make a beautiful wedding happen - @brockandcoevents @jennydemarcoweddings @donnabrunsmakeup @steelcitypopsatx @davidkuriodesigns @jimmymcneal @azizzband @austinpubliclibrary @thecakeplate

Thank you to the most elegant, Mr. and Mrs. Maloney!! Your dance classes paid off, you two owned that sparkly dance floor.