Meet Rachel.

The first three words that come to mind when I think of this lady:

beautiful, kind, talented

Beautiful - Rachel has a passion for life that burns from the inside, warms her soul and it's abundance overflows into the people around her.  Kind - one of those people who throws gorgeous, backyard dinner parties, and welcomes people into her home; not with-holding a thing, she shares her magical cooking skills, and her heart for hospitality. Talented - put a camera in her hands, and watch her capture special moments with a unique eye for beauty.

That's just three words, but let me, let her tell you more, straight from her heart...

Meet Rachel.

(and be sure to check out her blog: http://www.thefondlife.com/)

Photo: @cruandcompany

I never thought I would struggle with the simple concept I sang so happily as a child, that "Jesus loves me, this I know.”  But a question has plagued me during this past year, a year that has been marked by a continual and debilitating spiritual dryness.  

“Does God really love me?” 

This question punches me in the heart because I am in a place where I have nothing to give Him. Literally … nothing.

In the dryness I have not sought Him. I have not been in prayer. I have not read His word. I have not thanked Him for His gifts. I have not sung his praises. 

The words and actions of my life have given him nothing. I know this and it eats away at my worth because I have no way to earn His love.

And so the question has persisted, “Does God love me? Does he love me in this season where I have nothing to give?” 


Last Monday morning I *finally* decided to open my Bible and I read Daniel 1.

The verse that stuck out to me was vs 17: "To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” 

I thought about this verse for a few minutes and how dreams are a vessel that God uses. How some dreams exist for a purpose and what that means for us. 

Unbeknownst to me, the night before I read this verse, an old friend from high school who I hadn’t spoken to in years had a dream about me. 

She had a dream that she was sharing words that God had put on her heart for me. That God had marked me for a reason, that I was born for a purpose and that I was loved as a child. In her dream I started crying, and said that I really needed to hear that. 

The next night she had another dream. 

@cruandcompany

This time, we ran into each other and were catching up when I shared something about my childhood. In her dream she said, "that is so funny because last night I had a dream that God gave us a word for you about how your childhood was marked by Him. That He was with you.” 

I’ve thought a lot about these dreams. I think the reference to childhood refers to right now. That it refers to my current wrestling to believe I am his beloved child, regardless of what I have to offer him.

Him turning my attention that verse in Daniel tells me that He is nudging at my heart.

Her dreams tell me that He is chasing me, and loves me as I am, no matter what I have to offer. 

Her dreams remind me that He is enough and needs nothing from me in order to love me.

They remind me that He loves me as I am. 

Meet Sarah.

 There are few people who can make others feel as understood and cared for as Sarah Camp. She has this special way of seeing people. In a profound way, she intentionally engages others and gently moves them from contentment with the mundane to a life-giving reclaiming of truth. I can personally attest, her friendship has single-handedly made me better, and continues to sharpen me daily.

Not a big surprise, Sarah is currently in school to be a counselor. Just like in most professions, there are good counselors, then there are those counselors like Sarah – born to be a counselor.

When she knows you, she really knows you. When she sees you, she sees all of you – your junk, imperfections, and weaknesses – yet she doesn't shy away from the mess. When I struggle to believe the Truth, Sarah is the first person to meet me there, and help me claim it, even when I feel too weak to do so myself. 

Meet Sarah.

Leave it to Jennie Pitts to force me into deeper reflection than I really care to dig into at the moment. That girl is constantly challenging me towards a better and more authentic version of myself and I am grateful for the push. She consistently sets the example for taking risks and diving in headfirst when others won’t even get near the water.

When Jennie asked me to write for her blog, I made about six drafts before realizing I was not going to create a perfectly thought out and edited post for the “as you are” theme and be true to its purpose. So rather than defaulting to the perfectionist I am to my core, I scratched all those drafts and wrote this in one sitting with the hope that it will be an honest picture of who I am right now. Here goes nothing…

I am…

A crier. Like, a hop in the car to drive towards school, start weeping for no damn good reason, crier. It is super inconvenient, but also pretty hilarious to those around me. Lately it seems that some pipe broke inside of me and there is potentially no end to this tenderness.

But you know what? I used to be known as the intimidating, stone cold, even keel girl. And I think I like this girl better, she is more real.

Kind of a jerk. Funny transition there huh? All these emotions that course through my body on an hourly basis leave me feeling a little bit mushy and ticked-off. It is just a lot to freaking handle sometimes. All those feelings just swirling around and popping out at me with zero warning. And it makes me tired and irritable, especially when I try to go to Chick-fil-a then remember it's Sunday and it feels as if the world has ended. That being said, I can be pretty sassy to those whom I deeply love when I feel so raw all the time. And that is okay. As long as I can remember to circle back and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes it takes me longer than it should but I can trust that my people know me and they know sometimes I rage a little bit and love me anyway.

I can’t get it right every time but I will keep trying.


A learner. School has never been my thing. Lots of people say this but I genuinely mean that I have always done the bare minimum to achieve the basic requirements and I probably did it the night before (sorry Mom and Dad). All that changed when I decided to become a counselor. I have finally found a subject that deeply interests me and I constantly geek out about. In this season of grad-school, I find myself soaking up all the knowledge I can—both in school and with people. It has been a rich experience to recognize the gift of blocked off time to just learn and train. I love that when our longings collide with a real need we feel alive again. Oh and I still procrastinate, but this go around I actually enjoy when I sit down to finally write or read…that I can live with.

So messy. I am really bad at a lot of things. And my closest friends and family know this. I am like a walking teenage girl ALL the time. Late to almost everything. Sometimes flaky. Giddy excited about so much, then easily angered by things that truly are not a big deal. I struggle daily with an addiction cycle that involves food, co-dependency, and self-soothing. But I also love really hard and really deeply. It seems I was hardwired to function well in the extremes of life and I am quite comfortable sitting on the other end of ugly, painful conversations. I sincerely believe I couldn’t do this without being so messy.

I am certainly not advocating for being an emotional yoyo—I am really working on and growing in being balanced and grounded.

But I AM advocating for owning parts of you that really will not change, no matter what you do, then finding ways to use them fruitfully.  

Doing my reasonable best. This phrase was introduced to me last August while I sat bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in Orientation for my master’s program in counseling. Our professor urged us to not strive for perfection, but for our reasonable best. Wait, what? Yep super “counselor-y” stuff here. If that meant showing up to class 15 minutes late in your sweats, so be it. Or taking a semester off from small group because you are neck deep in community, accountability, and “togetherness”, then go for it. Or saying "no" to a long weekend with friends, but saying "yes" to a long walk with yourself.

There is no glory in running your body into the ground while trying to be everything, all the time, to all people. It just doesn’t work.

And it doesn’t make you a sucky person. It makes you honest and real. In some seasons you can take on more than others, but know your season. Know your capacity. And BREATHE when it is not as much as you’d like it to be. I would say that I am practicing this concept about 60% of the time these days, and that really is my reasonable best.

A new creation. For much of my life I have walked with a banner of shame over my head that declared I am not lovable because of the decisions I have made and experiences I have had. Despite having been in relationship with God for many years, I carried this badge of “honor” because I thought I had to in order to be truthful about myself to others. It was such a lie that kept me in the dark and a half-hearted version of myself. Stepping into a year of life in an unfamiliar city, with new friends, and a whole lot of soul-searching thanks to the above mentioned onslaught of counseling courses and therapy sessions, I have seen God making a brand new beautiful thing in me. I used to think that these kind of conversions only happened when you experienced God for the first time or had some earth-shattering tragedy that flipped your life upside down.

But in reality, God is making us new every. dang. day. And the great news is He never grows weary of that work.

He shapes a part of me each time I make a mistake, or meet a new friend, or have a really hard conversation. It h given me so much hope to know that I don’t have to to figure out how to be perfect today, but that life, each moment, is an on-going process of sanctification in which I am going to look pretty jumbled until the finish. My therapist calls this the journey under the sun (ugh) but he is right. It is just that—a JOURNEY. And journeys are filled with excitement, disappointment, adventures, failures, really pretty views and lots of growing...not perfection.

So as I lean into myself, AS I AM, I am looking to embrace my true identity.

To me that means a comfortable and willing acceptance of my whole person, without regard to future changes or alternations to be made or considered. It means soaking up the reality of both my flaws and strengths that equally make me unique. To walk in a confident awareness of who I am and realizing that if that is alright with God, then it's quite alright with me.

Order an "as you are" cuff bracelet for you, and a friend: http://zellawoods.com/shop/as-you-are-cuff-bracelet

Meet Chichi.

I first heard Chichi, before I met her. When she sings on the worship team, the sanctuary stills in peace, and her listeners meet a very real presence of rest. This woman's joy is contagious and her big, beautiful smile commands a curious and closer look at the origin of her Joy. I am honored for you to meet her today and learn more about her reason for joy... 

Meet Chichi.

I still don’t fully believe that I am enough as I am.

Some days require more courage than others to believe that there’s no tweaking that would make me worthier than I already feel. Sometimes the tweaking looks like being silent when there are a myriad of words churning inside of me, for fear of being too much; sometimes it’s choosing the lesser challenge because I’m too terrified to fail at the thing I want the most.

I am a recovering perfectionist - I have a keen eye for detail, and I want those details to be perfect.

This, I’m sure, would serve me well in certain careers, but for matters of wholehearted living, perfectionism ruins me. I’ve been learning that my desire for perfectionism is the exact same desire I have for control which is the exact same desire I have to minimize pain which is a thing better known as fear. I’m understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism - the former born out of a desire to be the best version of myself and the latter born out of the fear that I will be found lacking and, therefore, unworthy of love. 

Some days, my heart isn’t so frantic in its striving to prove its worth, and on those days, there is a quiet confidence about me that says, “I know who I am and I love who I am.”

Other days, it is a battle to disprove the thoughts that tell me that if I were just a little more ____ then I would be enough.

I have a running list of disqualifiers in my head - things that immediately take me out of the running for worthiness. One of my disqualifiers is that I’m just not interesting enough to hold anyone’s attention. Another is the color of my skin. I have at least eight more. Continuing on the journey of believing that I am enough means that I pay attention to these disqualifiers rather than pretend they don’t run through my mind often. And then I say them aloud to safe people, because the lies are always louder and more powerful when they are hidden inside of me. Each time I say them aloud, they lose some of their power, and I’m reminded that worthiness isn’t a race that I’m somehow behind in. Worthiness isn’t a race at all. Even on my worst day, even if all those disqualifiers I’m so certain of were true, I would still be just as worthy, just as enough as I am. 

My instinct with disqualifiers is to work hard to disprove them.

But the harder, more fruitful work is in stilling my frantic heart and hands, and channeling all my energy into believing what’s already true about me. 

That I am eternally, unfathomably loved and cherished because I bear the image of a good God, and I will never be disqualified for being imperfect because his grace is made perfect in my weakness. The thing with disqualifiers is that they are all about external validation, but silencing those thoughts requires an internal shift in what I believe about myself. My work is to simultaneously hold my imperfection and my worthiness in the same hand because one does not cancel out the other.

I am imperfect, yes, and I am enough.

So what are your disqualifiers? What are the things you’re certain make you unworthy? Maybe make a list of them. And then hear this: You aren’t perfect. You are broken and flawed. And you are enough. Even if all your disqualifiers were true, you would still be enough. You are enough, just as you are

If you enjoyed these words, as much as I do, follow Chichi's blog here: www.thinspaceco.com/journal/

Order an "as you are" cuff bracelet for you, and a friend: http://zellawoods.com/shop/as-you-are-cuff-bracelet

Meet Bailey.

Today, I want you to meet Bailey Hurley.

She and I crossed paths for the first time a year or so ago. We go to the same church, Park Church in Denver, Colorado. Bailey always has a glow about her that quietly speaks the message of "as you are". She is warm, inviting and welcoming, even from a distance. She has such wisdom to share, and a beautiful way with words, so I asked her to share. After you read her post below, learn more about her and follow her insightful blog: www.baileyhurley.com

Meet Bailey.

There is nothing like marriage to confront you with the idea of loving yourself “as you are.”

I know it is often said that marriage can test your patience, your comforts, and your individuality. Up that point, eating popcorn for dinner was completely acceptable. Yet, my first year of marriage, I was confronted with a completely different sin—being discontent with who I was.

My husband, Tim, is hands-down my best friend. He may not want to reenact scenes from musicals with me (that’s what girlfriends and road trips are for), but he is the person I want to spend most of my time living out the gospel with. As much as I long to be known and loved by him, there is something in me that resists.

In those first months, I could not fully embrace his love for me when I did not fully love myself.

Not only is this true about my husband and I’s relationship, but it’s true about how I viewed my relationship with God. I have always struggled to like the person that I am and believed that God probably felt the same. This was just magnified when there was a human next to me, peering into my day-to-day questions and doubts. 

God is a purposeful God, who loves to place people in your life who are going to hold you accountable for the things you would like to sweep under the refrigerator (because who really is going to look under the fridge until moving day?—much safer than a rug). 

My first year of marriage was filled with having to confront the person that God made me to be and learn to love that person.

There were plenty of moments where I sat crying on our bed, trying to drown out Tim’s comforting and loving words because I didn’t want to accept them as true. As Tim moved closer, I wanted to separate myself more. In my sin, I wanted to remain unlovable because I felt that was what I deserved.

After months and months of having a pity-party for myself (there was definitely retail therapy involved), I finally decided to push the lies away and begin to open my ears to what Scripture was telling me. I know it sounds like I pulled myself up by my bootstraps but in reality this was more like a snotty-faced whisper of a prayer for my perspective to change.

Loving who I am is an act of worship because it shows my gratitude to the Creator who made me.

Tim’s unconditional grace and encouragement are just a few ways that I can be reminded of the way that God sees me. God loves me with such a fierce and sincere love! He shows me His love in that while I am still a sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8). This perspective shift draws me closer to God and my husband, who both desire to speak truth into me with full-knowledge that I am not complete or whole, but perfectly lovable in their eyes.

Order an "as you are" cuff here: www.zellawoods.com

Some thoughts on Beauty.

On my flights, with Wifi off and lots of time to do nothing, I often let myself think and journal... My brain is like a question-generator; I love asking fun questions, chasing rabbits, learning skills, and figuring out new ways of thinking about things! It's a total gift, and too often a curse, but I am what some might call an "over-thinker". Needless to say, I thought this one was interesting, so I typed it up and asked some friends about it...


So what is it that makes something, or someone beautiful?

Definition of Beautiful

1. Having qualities of beauty

2. Applies to whatever excites the keenest of pleasure to the senses and stirs emotion through the senses

Well, lets start with an object you might have called beautiful (a song, an animal, a place etc) and then come back to that question.  Fill in the blank for yourself, and write! 

What makes you describe _____________ as beautiful? 

For me – What is it that makes me describe some paintings as beautiful, but not all?

 A painting is beautiful when… it just feels right. I guess. 

Beauty is truly “in the eye of the beholder” in some sense. I may find a painting attractive and alluring, while someone else may not give it a sideways glance. To me, its beauty comes from something words cannot quite describe. Initially, it draws attention because of an emotion. It beckons by way of colors, shape, composition, theme, symbolism etc.

Something in it calls and captures an individual’s attention. Initially, one might exude a response of shock, or surprise – eyes dart to it by way of curiosity. Others are more subtle, and allure with tranquility and a peaceful aura.

So. What makes a painting beautiful

I want to say, the way it makes one feel, the emotional satisfaction.  When I find myself describing a painting with the word, “beautiful”, it has an emotional effect on me; it makes me feel more balanced, steady and at peace. 

It draws me in. 

Is my standard of beauty for myself, and others, falling short because of some fabricated image of beautiful? Where did this ideal come from? 

I think, by nature, I like to figure things out, and I enjoy the "chase", but why? It makes me think about the excitement of an abstract vs. a recognizable subject. I’m drawn to abstracts because they move and never quite stop moving. Subconsciously my eye is entertained trying to figure it out and make it into something I can name… but it’s an abstract. 

Abstracts are not intended to be figured out.

Our brains are always thinking – I guess it is an aspect of God to be a curious creator– to desire to design and make things “whole” again, to complete the picture, and decipher understanding. But what if you are complete, and beautiful when there is nothing to compare you to? 

Then, what makes a person beautiful, or not beautiful? 

I'm really not sure. But, I do know, we are made in the image of God. Each person is a painting, unique in itself. You can never be replicated. Each and every person has a beauty of his or her own, and that Beauty seems to speak to the Beauty in another (but not all others).  You are beautiful to another when something about you calls to something in another. They feel more balanced and steady, at peace and more whole around you. Physical beauty is only the initial aroma, the curious glance, something about one that invigorates and stirs an interest in another.

Your Beauty is the means in which one person finds a knowing and being known; it’s intoxicating. 

When people come to paint with me in a one-on-one lesson, I like to tell them, "What if you painted an apple, and your apple was the first apple ever to be created? Who is to tell you it is wrong?" Just something to think about. 

So in conclusion, I have clearly not solved this question…what makes someone, or something beautiful?  But I think it’s a good rabbit to chase to start thinking about how that ideal of “Beauty” got in our heads, and what are some of the lies we have believed... would love to hear your thoughts!

Meet Susie.

In the presence of Susie Davis the air itself seems to wrap you up in a warm blanket on a cold day; she has this way of looking you in the eye and making anyone and everyone feel safe, and home. For this reason, I asked her to write an "as you are" post. I am so honored to feature such an amazing and inspiring woman, who has personally helped me to know and believe this truth in my own life. 

Little backstory, Susie and I have too many close family connections to count...to name just a few- her niece, Natalie, is one of my very best friends, I went to Baylor University with two of her wonderful children, Will and Emily, and although UT Longhorns, I adore Sara and her daughter-in-law, Amy, too. This family is generationally stocked full of rockstars; I have always admired them for their contagious faith, and genuine kindness. Susie and her husband, Will, co-founded a church in Austin, Texas - Austin Christian Fellowship and she is also involved with IF: Gathering. 

Meet Susie.

The pink geraniums on the front porch need watering. The morning sun shines down making the leaves nearly translucent, revealing tiny veins otherwise hidden.

Even with regular watering, the geraniums are reluctant to bloom. It’s just too hot. Too much Texas sun coupled with ninety-degree weather day after day after day. I put my coffee down, walk outside and uncoil the hose. I turn on the water, drag the hose to the front porch and spray the thirsty flowers in an effort to remind the geraniums I didn’t forget about them. 

There was a time in my life I felt forgotten by God …

But let me start at the beginning. I met Jesus at twelve and fell totally in love with God and the whole idea of God. I read my living Bible. I made church a part of my life. I shared my newfound faith.  

And then, when I was fourteen, I met a brutal world reality: I witnessed my teacher’s murder. It wrecked me deeply. I felt frail and fragile, beaten down by the world's hell-sent heat.

I had enough of a love for God that didn’t denounce my faith. Enough of a spiritual rhythm to steady me as I struggled to try and make sense of what happened. But God’s presence and comfort to me felt as weak and ineffectual as a light spray from a garden hose on a scorching summer day. 

I spent the next decade scrambling to take care of myself. Anxiety overwhelming every aspect of my life. Loving God but not trusting him and in the process, I became a broken woman. On the outside, adhering to the system of Christianity but on the inside deeply fearful of the next bad thing happening.

My heart was divided. And the weirdest thing happens when you have a divided heart. You feel even more broken, more a fraud, more disoriented with who you are. But since you are the only person living with your real self, you are the only person who feels and sees the devastating brokenness.

But then … God.

He saw me all weak and thirsty embracing an empty well. He saw who I became outside of his trust. And he had a better plan for me than throwing a little water on the devastating drought in my life.

God loved me right in the middle of it all. God did not desert me. Not in my pain. Or rebellion. And he never did walk out on me in the season when those enormous questions needed honest answers.

What does it mean to be loved ‘as you are?’

For me it means God.

God in the beautiful and the ugly. God in the best and the worst. God inside and out. God holding my broken, divided heart and saying, “I love you just the same. Before and after and forever.”

Without that kind of love and healing, I can promise you I wouldn’t have the courage to communicate with you about this now. And I certainly wouldn’t have the vulnerability to write a whole book about what a fear freak I was and how God literally saved me from myself.

I don’t know what it is you want to be. A writer or a painter. A wife or a mom. An attorney, a baker, a songwriter.

Whatever it is you want to do and become is wholly dependent On being honest with God ‘as you are’ ~ no matter where that is.

He is the only one who is capable of loving you as you are no matter where you were or are or will be. He is not going to be surprised by any of the attitudes or actions or questions you have about your life or the world.

It might sound simplistic but a real and honest surrender to God and yourself ‘as you are’ is more valuable than a bunch of hustle and hard work. Because surrender yields peace. Surrender provides comfort. And in the end, surrender to God is inexplicable joy.

Prayers for you … ‘as you are.’


Susie has written a wonderful book about the story of her life and finding freedom from fear, called, "Unafraid" (order it here). She also writes daily on her blog (https://www.susiedavis.org/).

Order a limited addition, "as you are" cuff bracelet: http://zellawoods.com/shop/as-you-are-cuff-bracelet

Meet Meredith.

Anyone who knows Meredith Smith, deeply knows they are better for it. Everyone she encounters, people, dogs and horses alike, are greeted with a warm, Shreveport, Louisiana accent and a real, Southern embrace. She's the person who pulls over for a stray dog, who brings warm cookies to your doorstep on your birthday (or sends flowers from a distance),  who cries with you when life sends you curve balls, and will drive through the night just to give you a hug at the airport...I've known Meredith for 9 years now, and I can personally attest to her embodiment of "as you are".

So, Meet Meredith.

Over the last six months I have experienced more joy than I thought possible, more freedom than I ever knew I was capable, and more peace allowing me to trust in His timing and plan.  To me, “as you are” embodies knowing that “who you are” is enough. Being able to genuinely walk (key word, genuinely) in the confidence of who I am is often hard for me. 

As life has taken turns and not gone as expected, my confidence has been shattered and I have felt discontent with my life – huge problem.  In my heart and life, I was grasping for the next big thing (new job, friends, relationships etc.) and missing out on what God actually had for me. This lack of confidence brought insecurities and loneliness from all directions….

The phrase “as you are” didn’t feel like an option.

My “as you are” was super messy, broken, insecure – it wasn’t something I felt proud of, or something I wanted to share.  But, looking back, I see now my messiness was a green light for God’s faithfulness to take center-stage.  

Allowing myself to embrace where I was, who I was, just as I was, I have come to know a confidence that I lost somewhere along the way and recognized a difference in Meredith Leigh Smith, fully loved and accepted as I am – terrible with grammar, messy hair, no make-up, thoughts scattered, often times too quick to speak and forgetting what I needed to know 99% of the time.

Choosing to accept that we are loved just “as we are” is mind-blowing, but nonetheless it is a choice. 

It is an adventurous fact; a fact that brings freedom in being who you were made to be, along every path we choose to take, over hills of hurt, through rivers of restlessness. There is freedom in saying, “Lord, have your will and way and thank you for loving me where I am – just as I am.”  There is no greater adventure than following Jesus and allowing Him to be your confidence, your contentment, your more than enough – to embrace the uncertainty that HE’s got us, and loves us just as we are.

It is indeed Truth that you are loved, accepted and created for His name to be made known. To me, “as you are” means, no matter where you are in life, you are able to come to Jesus as is, no bells and whistles, no expectation to perform, without perfectly articulated thoughts – just you, the created being desired by your Creator.  I’ve never felt or experienced that more than being given the opportunity to be a Young Life leader. 

Young life has allowed me to be loved as I am, while also learning to love others in the same way – to me, that is a game changer.  The reality of your own genuine mess and need of Jesus, hits home when you want people to see what Jesus is doing in your life – even if it is messy.  My girls have loved me, served me, and have not cared I was a mess.  They had zero judgment, they showed up and chose to invest in me and our time together…it is the sweetest gift to pursue Jesus with my high school besties.  

As this phrase has become more, and more real in my life the person who started this has had a super meaningful role to play.  She has boldly walked where God has led her and loved the mess out of me over the last nine years. She has been a friend that distance couldn’t change what the Lord had in store for a friendship. Jennie, thank you for your commitment to pursue the responsibilities, and dreams God has put in your heart and to cheer on others as you come to know them, and love them just as they are.

Meet Michele.

For several years now, Michele has been a very special friend to me. She married one of my best friends, and makes him better. Needless to say, Michele is refreshing - I admire how she lives unapologetically, and she is real in every sense of the word. She is not afraid to love you (every one of you). By love, I do not mean the soft kind that is afraid to say the hard things, but the kind that seeps into your bones and sees you, all of you...for these reasons and so many more, I asked her to write what "as you are" means to her. So meet my friend, Michele...

“It is for freedom that you have been set free.”

Okay. that’s cute. But what does that actually mean? I started following Jesus when I was 16, and free was not a word anyone would use to describe me. Maybe shy, quiet, insecure, numb. But certainly not free. When I got to college I remember reading this verse in Galatians and being unable to shake it.

Christ has set me free.

It is so simple, clear, and definitive. But I didn’t experience freedom at all. I was chained to performing. Chained to fear. Chained to numbing and ignoring my feelings. Chained to constantly proving how enough I was. So I started to wrestle with God, asking him what it meant. God, where is this promised freedom? Could you actually have that for me? And if so, how the heck do I take hold of it?

What I’ve learned is that freedom is in surrender. It’s in the ceasing. Ceasing to prove, perform, and control.

The endless proving of my enough-ness will always leave me lacking. Always push me to try harder to continue to prove and maintain the image I create. I have learned that the only way to truly rest in being enough is to look at God to tell me that it is true. The truth is that he spared nothing to purchase my freedom. He gave it all up—his power, his position, his reputation, his life—so that I can live forever knowing the true value of my heart. Value is determined by how much someone will pay. He paid it all. And he did it for the messy, broken, sinful me. He loves me as I am. 

It blows my mind and has transformed my life. Instead of being defined by my failures and victories, I get to be defined by the unchanging love of Christ. I started to untangle my identity from my grades, my relationships, my leadership skills, and my future plans, and let it be rooted in Jesus’ love instead. Grades became numbers, not a scoreboard. Relationships were allowed to be messy and not define me. I could mess up and not completely crumble under my fear of failure. Slowly but surely God’s Truth began to transform my heart and mind 

Being loved “as you are” is risky.

I don’t know why exactly but there is just something safer about being loved because of acting or doing or saying or being a certain way. Doing something to earn love makes sense. But what I know about Jesus is that he takes the things that seem to make sense to me and flips them upside down. Earning I get. Trading love in exchange for ____ (fill in the blank—being good, doing the right thing, loving people enough) is logical and acceptable. Believing I am loved just because I am makes me feel helpless. It gives all the power back to God. Where it belongs. And I hate that. And yet in that there is true, real, lasting unchanging freedom. I can stop doing for love and start living from love.

In my job, I have the insane honor of walking with girls of all ages. Encouraging them to be themselves and believe their worth gives me so much life. I have the delight of hanging out with a crew of the sweetest 12 year olds around, and watching the way they play, laugh, and openly speak their thoughts is so refreshing. They aren’t afraid to risk big yet. I think Jesus was really onto something when he told his disciples to have the faith of a child. They understand something that us adults tend to forget: the beauty of simply offering themselves.

I went to the talent show at the middle school, where I do Wyld Life, this spring, and the kids who performed blew me away. They sang, they danced, they uni-cycled, they acted, they played instruments. They offered. They were willing to put themselves out there for their corner of the world to see. They were so brave. And they had so much fun. 

When I get anxious and scared and want to play small because the same old lies are running through my head, I remember my middle school friends. I take a deep breath, put on my big girl panties, and remind myself that I am fully seen, fully known, and fully loved as I am.

 And somehow that is enough. 

 

Purchase an "as you are" cuff here: http://zellawoods.com/shop/totally-custom-cuff-bracelet

Meet Kayla.

A little over a year ago, I made a wonderful friend, Kayla Fruchtman. We met for coffee and just clicked. She is a woman who started, "The Her Initiative" and I believe she embodies the "as you are" series. Here is why...

A little over a year ago I was sitting at my work desk stalking “Christian mom bloggers.” Doesn’t get weirder than that. And before you judge me on why I was doing this, I’ll explain

I was slowly dreaming up The Her Initiative and knew I wanted to get some “social media influencers” on board to promote the cause. My first attempt at finding these influencers was to troll the internet for those perfect looking women, who not only have a beautiful home, but a gorgeous husband, and perfect-looking children. And somehow, she also finds the time to blog about it! These women seemed like they had it all together and I thought that was what I wanted to align The Her Initiative with (I learned quickly that was not the case...more on that later!)

As I read their stories, something became clear, over and over again. These seemingly perfect-looking women had pasts. They had been broken, hurt women who had faced some really tough things. They openly talked about bad relationships, one night stands, abortions, and abuse. They talked about their pasts in a very confident way because they had been “redeemed” or “made whole.” And it was very physically clear that their past was redeemed – they had the hot husband, 2.5 kiddos, and gorgeous house to prove it. The more I read their stories, the more I questioned my own...

Why?

Because I was currently sitting right in my mess. I was broken in a million pieces at that exact moment and there was no outward evidence that I had been redeemed. I didn’t have the perfect house (or beautifully curated Instagram feed), I didn’t have the husband or the perfect children in their perfect clothes. I was single, and bored, and questioning if there really even was a bigger plan for my life. I was in a terrible pattern of bad relationships and poor decisions. And the more I read about these women, the more frustrated I was that no one was talking about the hard things while they were actually dealing with them. It’s as if we women can only share our brokenness once we are whole again.

Where were the women who could admit that their past is quite recent and they still screw up? We live in a society that doesn’t let us speak up “as we are.” We can only speak up when we have seemingly figured it all out.

This. Is. So. Unfortunate.

It’s unfortunate for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that it produces a hidden society of shame and makes us think that we have nothing to share, as if we’ve lost the authority to speak Truth because we’ve screwed up. I used to be the friend that listened really well and sometimes had good advice, but when I couldn’t share my story fully, it started making me question if I would ever have anything good to say again.

But then something really interesting happened.

The most incredible women started coming into my life and we shared our stories with each other and the brokenness slowly started to feel like it was this beautiful part of me, not something I needed to be ashamed of. I didn’t have to be fully “fixed” to offer love, insight, and (dare I say) wisdom to my friends. We met each other where we were…as we are. 

There is this Japanese art called Kintsugi that literally means to “repair with gold.” You take a broken piece of pottery and you put it back together using real gold. The piece is more beautiful than the original, with all the gold highlighting the cracks where it was once broken. I love how this represents our lives. We can’t hide the cracks. We are all broken. But that is what makes us beautiful.

It’s the gold in our lives. It’s my story. It’s your story. It’s as we are.

In the past year I have seen my brokenness in a whole new way. I see it as the story that has shaped me to be the person I am today. It has led me to some really beautiful people and friendships and it keeps me grounded. My story is worth sharing while I’m still single, I don’t have to wait to have the “redeemed” looking life to share truth. I don’t have to feel like I have to hide a part of me – I can be fully me, with my golden cracks shining through. 

I choose to be as I am and I ask you to do the same. It’s the most beautiful part of who you are. As you are. 

Caveat:

Why did I write this post and allude to my past but not really share it with you? Was part of me tip-toeing around certain topics? Maybe. Maybe I didn’t want to tell you everything and that is ok. I have a real love/hate relationship with the blogging social media world because we often think its ok to share the deepest parts of ourselves with the rest of the world. While I just told you in this post to fully be you, I want to give this warning: be authentic, not vulnerable. Everyone deserves your authenticity, not everyone deserves your vulnerability. We’ve taken these trendy words and often used them interchangeably but it just isn’t true, they are very different. Vulnerability is something that is earned. I’m not going to air my “dirty laundry” to you, I don’t know you. But I am going to be real and authentic with you. I would want nothing more than to get to know you over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and build a level of trust and commitment that could lead to vulnerability. But for now I’ll sit on this side of my computer screen, and you can sit on the other side, and we can meet each other as we are, fully authentic, no shame included!

Purchase an "as you are" cuff here: http://zellawoods.com/shop/totally-custom-cuff-bracelet

#asyouareseries

I am a "words" person. I always have been. 

I truly believe words are a gift God has given us as a way to express something deeper on our hearts. Although, more often than not, words do not suffice for what we feel, they give us an opportunity to express what, in reality, is impossible to articulate. When we communicate with others about the things weighing on our hearts, we have an opportunity to share our burdens with one another. It is a way we can love one another, and remind each other we are not alone.

Years ago I read something by one of my favorite authors...

Dare to believe you are loved, exactly as you are – not as you should be, because you are never going to be as you should be. –Brennan Manning

There was something about that little line "as you are" that struck a chord in me. 

Somewhere, over the course of many years, I had latched on and developed a firmly held belief in a lie that I could not be fully accepted until I had made myself into an ideal version of myself. The people in my life, the culture I was around, the schools I attended...all these things subconsciously chiseled away at this fabricated image of who I needed to be.

This perfect version of myself haunted me, and followed me around every day; nagging me to work harder, to perform and achieve, or else face shame and disappointment from those I loved. 

It was not until my pride was broken down by a number of events and circumstances, I finally fell on my knees, consumed with anxiety and utterly exhausted – I admitted I could not attain this ideal version of myself, and I was too weak to try anymore. But it was then and there, I finally understood the Grace of God. 

The second I opened my hands and asked for help, all I could hear were those words – "Jennie, I love you as you are."

What would happen if I actually dared to believe that I was loved? Not as I thought I needed to be, but exactly as I am. Even if "as I am" right now, in this moment, is not the ideal version of who I am becoming. 

It was out of this vivid understanding of Grace, and Severe Mercy, that everything changed, and I began to believe I am enough, as I am. It is out of this same understanding, I want to share other stories with you...


For a couple of years now, I have been bewildered to watch my little story impact so many people. Every time I tell my story, I watch a light ignite in people's eyes, and they begin to ask themselves, "Hey, what if I pursued what I really love? Am I worthy enough to do the same?" 

I am aggressively passionate about encouraging people to believe in their own worthiness, and out of that, accept the call on their lives to believe in who they were created to be and boldly pursue whatever it is on their hearts. I would not be here today if I had not had people (many of you) constantly reminding me "You can do this. You are enough, as you are." 

I have severely underestimated the ability of one story-one life to significantly impact the life of another. Even though, I still constantly struggle to believe I am enough as I am, I want to start a blog series of stories. These stories will be from individual, ordinary people (of all ages!) whose lives have been significantly changed by this truth- to be loved exactly as you are. It is out of these stories, I hope truth will be spoken into your lives and you can find enough courage to keep going in whatever it is you are good at, but too afraid to pursue.

Needless to say, will you help me begin to share this blog? This is a space for inspiring stories of people who have come to believe they are loved, exactly as they are, and how this Simple belief can change lives. 

Feel free to contact me and refer men and women who embody this same message.

Also, you should order a bracelet from zella woods.