Confessions of a Prodigal Son {Giveaway!}

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Today is a very special day…three years in the making! It is officially the release date of the film, “Confessions of a Prodigal Son”! You can now find COAPS at Walmart, on Amazon, and more. I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of Nathan Clarkson, who wrote, produced, and stars in this beautiful movie. I had the honor of playing his leading lady on the screen, and it has been such a fun journey.

Aside from my support and belief in the talented man who wrote the film, the story was extremely close to my heart. There have been many times in my own life that I have felt a bit like a prodigal. Moving out to Hollywood at 17, I was pursuing my dreams, but also escaping from many things in my life. At times, I felt so inadequate and imperfect that I truly tried with all of my might to hide from God…to runaway…to be “free.” This false sense of identity and freedom only bred deeply rooted insecurities, loneliness, and immense pain…some of which leaving some scars that I believed would be permanent.

This film is a must-see for our generation. It is a movie that demands we ask ourselves the crucial question: what story is your life telling? Everyone needs the message that no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or where you’ve been, it’s never too late to come back home. You are never too far gone. You are never beyond the point of being loved and having great purpose. Our stories can be redeemed and our scars can be erased.

Because we are SO excited about this release, and because the COAPS team believes in every identity girl, we are giving away a “Confessions of a Prodigal Son” pack, which includes a DVD as well as the music inspired by CD, which has artists: Ellie Holcomb, JJ Heller, Ben Rector, Andrew Peterson, Newsong, and even Nathan and I!

To enter the giveaway, simply complete the following 3 steps:
1. “Like” the COAPS Facebook page:
https://m.facebook.com/ConfessionsOfAProdigalSon
2. Share the link to this article on your own personal Facebook page to spread the word about the film.
3. On Instagram, share one of the photos from this article, and remember to tag @coapsmovie AND @identitygirls!

We will be selecting a winner on March 31st! Good luck, and spread the word about the film to your friends!

XO,
Rachael Lee

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The Perception of Beauty

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{Disclaimer: I actually had a true moment of, “I can’t believe I’m posting this!” as I was writing. However, that is exactly the point. Here goes.}

Admit it, ladies. We’ve all done it. Every girl has those days where we wake up, look in the mirror, and just don’t like what we see. Having a bad hair day or unpleasant moment is one thing, but our thoughts and negative self-talk can actually cause longterm damage. Each time we speak something hateful over our own lives, we are planting these new seeds of self-consciousness, doubt, and a lack of worth that continue to grow in our hearts and minds, leading to deeply rooted insecurities that we can’t cut out easily.

Today, I am making a fool of myself and sharing a ridiculous trick that I learned during one of my “hating on myself” days. Back in January, I was hanging out with my dear friend/sister/spirit animal, Coco, in Miami. On this particularly beautiful Florida day, we wanted to go out on the town, go shopping, grab dinner, and just do some typical girl stuff. We both found ourselves trying on everything in Coco’s closet {yes, I stole her clothes many a time}, yet coming up unsatisfied. Looking at ourselves in the mirror, we began to say awful things about ourselves, hating on our hair, makeup, body types, clothing, you name it.

We forced ourselves to go out, despite our serious desire to just hide under a rock for the day. While shopping, I saw this enormous denim jumpsuit, that we now refer to as my ‘Joe Dirt’ attire. I burst into uncontrollable laughter the moment I saw this incredible work of fashion, and I immediately headed for the dressing room. As my tiny body was swimming in a sea of denim and snap buttons (completely losing site of any shape I once had), a strange joy came over me. Seeing how ridiculous I looked in this outfit made me much happier to go back to what I felt most comfortable in: being myself. Next time you’re finding it difficult to love how you look, do something crazy. Try on something you hate. Be silly and ridiculous. And remember that the real you is insanely gorgeous.

Life is short.
Love yourself.
Speak life.
Have fun.
Laugh at yourself.
Skip embarrassment.
Change it up.
Shake it off.
Try on something hideous.
Remember how truly, authentically beautiful you are without even trying. Inside and out.


PS-best part? This gem was a whopping $89 at Urban Outfitters. Had it not been so expensive, I probably would have added it to my wardrobe just for days like that.

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What kind of woman are you?

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I was talking to a dear friend earlier on this International Women’s Day about what kind of women we truly want to be. It has been an interesting season of life, and appearances/striving to be a perfectionist has always been important to me. That has slowly been fading, the facades being stripped away, so that I am able to step into who I truly am.

So, here’s some of what we came up with:

I will be okay with the silly, wild, weird and free inside of me//
I will smile so big that my cheeks make my eyes close//
I will be a woman with contagious laughter and joy//
I will love myself with humility, yet great depth, so that I am able to love others well//
I will have ears that listen and eyes that see the good in others and focus on their needs//
I will adventure//
I will eat more macarons//
I will give more//
I will live in the moment without fear of the future//
I will always strive to continue owning the woman God designed me to be//
I will be unapologetically, authentically me.

This is a beautiful day to celebrate what the modern “Proverbs 31 woman” is really all about. Happy lady day, my friends.

Genuine Faith: Things Just Got Real

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Last night, I had the honor of leading the devotion (on the topic of genuine faith) before we went out for Treasures strip club outreach, and I will be sharing that with you today. As I spent time meditating on this, praying, and talking to my mentor about it, I was truly blown away by God’s incredible timing of trusting me with this topic. It has been a season of trials and challenges in my life. God is patient even when our faith is not as strong as it could be. He is with us through our doubts and battles.

As it continued to be a difficult season for me, God kept opening up more doors and asking me to do things for Him. This reminded me of Gideon’s story. Who are you in the midst of trials? How will you remain faithful even through doubts, pain, and questioning?

Gideon’s story in Judges 6-8 is a wonderful example of genuine faith. There are many elements to study, but one beautiful lesson is that God is patient with us even as our faith is not yet strong. In these chapters, it’s like God is coaching Gideon live, in real battles.

Chapters 6-8 tell his story. Gideon was hard at work on his farm, doing his normal, everyday life, when an angel of the Lord called him to lead the Israelites in battle to defeat the Midianites. God had allowed them to oppress the Israelites for the previous seven years because they had not followed him. As a result, the Israelites had been forced to live in the mountains and caves for safety. This is why the angel found Gideon.

Gideon had some initial doubts (wouldn’t you?), but God was incredibly patient in helping him to overcome those doubts, as described in chapter 6. He then organized a strong group of men to expel the Midianites. God told Gideon to reduce the size of his army…and it wasn’t a subtle change. Eventually, the army went from 30,000 all the way to 300.

It’s important to remember that God works with intention. He doesn’t make changes or take away without reason. The purpose of this down-sizing was to demonstrate to the people that the upcoming victory was clearly God at work, not the power of man. Gideon secured the victory over the Midianites by following God’s command. However, he didn’t do this perfectly and completely confidently. He was real. He was authentic. And he wasn’t afraid to tell God that he wasn’t so sure about the whole plan.

I’m going to share the 4 elements of having genuine faith that helped me immensely with last night’s outreach, and with the navigation of some tough trials in my life.

1. Humility
We can’t be used for God’s purposes if we can’t humble ourselves before him. I used to be a huge perfectionist and people pleaser, and I would try to hide from God when everything in my life wasn’t going super well. Gideon’s story shows us that God can handle our mess.
Be honest about where you’re at. God can handle your doubts, fears, and shortcomings. I had to take off the mask and stop being a perfectionist in order to have genuine faith and be used mightily.
In judges 6:13, Gideon continually says, “Me?!” “Me, my master?” He began with a humble heart, and it had to turn also to a willing heart. This is often how I feel when God trusts me with a task…“Me?!”
God will use us in our genuine faith, just as we are. Even with doubt. Sometimes the best prayer is to ask God to help you in your unbelief. Gideon had doubts. But God said in Judges 6:16, “I’m with you. Believe me.” What a simple and reassuring reminder. He didn’t get angry with Gideon for questioning. He won’t get angry with you. With God, there are no stupid questions. So be humble. He doesn’t need you to have all the answers. I also love in judges 6:23 it says,
“But God reassured him, “Easy now. Don’t panic. You won’t die.” I think I need to put this on sticky notes everywhere in my life. Easy now. Don’t panic. You won’t die.

2. Willingness and Sacrifice
Remember that Gideon was hard at work on his farm when the angel called him to lead. He was in the middle of his normal life, his routine, his comfort zone, his skill set. Genuine faith means having a heart that is willing to obey God even when it scares us or doesn’t make sense. It also may mean leaving something else behind. Generally when God has opened a door for me to do something big, it has required me to turn away from other things that are more comfortable for me to live in.

3. Quality verses Quantity.
The faith of a mustard seed may be more authentic than someone’s loud and proud, works-based faith. Gideon had doubts, and his faith wasn’t necessarily overwhelming and overflowing, but it was pure. We aren’t going to do outreach to show off and do something “good.” It’s the small, silent, genuine faith deep inside of us that counts. Our hearts. Our motives. Our intentions. It’s okay to feel scared or inadequate. Even the tiniest bit of faith has brought you here, right to this moment.

4. Identity
Genuine faith means being our true selves…owning who God says we are. Our faith will not be authentic if we aren’t secure in our identity. We have to know and believe in who God says we are. When we do this, our faith will be real and strengthened. We will also be able to help these women understand their true identity. In order to be used by God and impact others, it starts with us.

Gideon didn’t demonstrate genuine faith through perfection, but through authenticity and willingness. I think God wants to give us opportunities to let him be God to us…that’s what trials can become. Just as God downsized the army from 30,000 to 300, there were moments in last night’s outreach where in our genuine faith and human nature, doubt and fear would creep in. Some of the group wasn’t able to make it, and our “army” was downsized. We may have felt a fear of being unable to get into some clubs, but genuine faith meant believing God is with us and that He will make a way. And He did.

Authentic identities. Pure motives. Real love. True intentions. All fueled by God. THIS is genuine faith.

“Faith is not believing in my own unshakable belief. Faith is believing an unshakable God when everything in me trembles and quakes.”
-Beth Moore

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Beauty in the Threshold

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While in NYC last fall, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from taking a picture every single time I passed a church. They were all so uniquely beautiful…each door filled with detail…every threshold just waiting to tell stories of the lives that have come through.

It happened instantly for me, this strange, impromptu church door photography extravaganza. The moment my feet stepped off the shuttle and onto the pavement in New York, it had just started raining. My eyes looked up to see Holy Cross a Church. Without missing a beat, I snapped a photo. Due to it being very late at night, rainy, and a bit crooked from my shaking hands, it didn’t end up being a magnificent or quality image. However, there was something about the picture’s imperfection that ignited this idea…the concept that these doors had a story to tell.

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What was it about these church doors that was so enticing and filled me with so much wonder?

With each new church, and every unique door, I found myself becoming a bit overwhelmed with mixed emotions. Why were these doors alluring to me? Why did I feel so connected to them?

After spending some time in prayer, it hit me. There were so many years of my life that I didn’t feel I belonged inside the walls of a church. “Would they let me in if they really knew me?”, I would often wonder. “If I were them, would I let someone like me inside?”

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
-Revelation 3:20

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
-Matthew 7:7

It changed my life to realize that Jesus wasn’t waiting for me to be perfect in order to live in relationship with him. He wasn’t locking me out in the midst of my darkness. I was enough, just as I was, as long as I was able to humble myself and have a willingness to knock on the door.

The actual church itself is incredibly powerful. Sanctuaries are amazing. But I believe that we underestimate the significance of taking that first step…of walking up the stairs…knocking on the door…stepping just underneath the threshold. The transformation starts there. There is beauty in the threshold.

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The Power of Life and Death

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A sweet friend of mine sent me the text above earlier this morning, and my heart absolutely melted. Each time I’ve taken the “5 love languages” quiz, words of affirmation always score very highly in priority for me. I know that I’m not alone when it comes to this love of beautiful words, as the bible is filled with the reminder of their importance.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
-Proverbs 18:21

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
-Ephesians 4:29

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
-Proverbs 12:18

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
-Colossians 4:6

Words can be a place of knowledge, education, growth, life, love, passion, peace, and healing. But words also have the power to hate, destroy, break, diminish, and deeply wound.

This has been a particularly challenging season of life, and I have been covered and protected by an incredibly powerful weapon: words of truth. We need friends who affirm and remind us of who we are. The truth has to scream louder than all of the lies and negative words that may be swirling around in our hearts and minds.

In the past week, I have had numerous sweet friends completely overwhelm me with their loving words. My Identity Girls writing team even started posting encouragement for me in our private Facebook group. These girls are my warriors…they fight for me, and even when there’s nothing more that could be done, words are always an immense source of healing and peace. When I find myself in survival mode, fighting just to make it through, my incredible friends help me to thrive. They breath life into my weakness. They bring light to my darkness. Their words are my fuel.

Beautiful words are why I love reading…why I’m a writer…why I believe in the power of stories…why testimonies matter…why sharing and cultivating messages can change lives. Words can bring life or death. I choose life.

Who can you inspire, edify, affirm, and love today through a few simple words?

Does it hurt?

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“Are you comfortable?”
(Yes. The answer is always yes.)
“Does it hurt?”
(No. Well, maybe, but I’m definitely not going to say anything.)

Yesterday at the dentist, he pressed and poked around my gums to see how I was feeling in regards to the unruly wisdom teeth that will soon be gone. As he did this, he asked me to let him know if something was uncomfortable. It was all uncomfortable. For some reason, I didn’t want to irritate him or sound like a whiny patient, so I remained quiet.

“Rachael,” he said, “I can tell just by looking that this must hurt. You need to know that it’s okay to acknowledge and rate your pain. It can cause further problems or even more intense, long term pain if you don’t address it.”

It wasn’t the first time someone told me that. My entire life, I have been told this by orthodontists, dentists, and numerous doctors. What is it about me that feels the need to suppress? Why do we feel it’s bad form to be honest about what we feel? Why do we feel it is necessary to put on a smile while we are screaming on the inside?

The other night, a good friend of mine was talking to me about some difficult things that have happened in some challenging seasons of my life. She said something that really struck me. “I know you are okay, and this pain won’t last forever. But it’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to feel the pain.” I realized that she was right…I needed to allow myself to feel pain, rather than being a people pleaser and simply pretending that everything is fine.

Here is the flaw in the plan of living as if there is no pain. If we believe that this world is not perfect, that we are living for God’s kingdom, this theory makes no sense. Also, would we need Jesus if we were flawless? If our circumstances were always perfect? What would that do to his life, his message, and the grace he provided? It would be obsolete. Jesus would be out of date and insignificant.

Jesus didn’t sugarcoat. Jesus faced reality head on. Jesus didn’t suppress and put on a facade. Jesus wept. If Jesus was capable of meeting people in their suffering, having his heart broken, and crying when loss occurred, why don’t we feel the ability to do the same?

Just as my dentist talked about how things could get worse if I neglected to acknowledge my physical pain, our own denial and suppression can greatly stunt our spiritual, emotional, and mental growth as well. I am not encouraging that we become negative or dwell on the struggles in our lives, but they cannot be swept under the rug. They are part of the journey. If I ignore my health problems, they will not get better. They will get much worse, my body will become weaker, and eventually it will just waste away. What does that say about our hearts, minds, and souls? We have to accept and acknowledge the pain in order to find healing.

The Reality of Chronic Illness book giveaway!

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There is nothing more beautiful to me than seeing young women thrive and flourish in all seasons of their lives (the good, the bad, and the lukewarm). My favorite artists are those who allow God to use the difficulties in their lives to create something beautiful, something that can inspire and edify others. This is redemption. Through the various obstacles I have faced in my life, it has been crucial for me to remember that God wastes nothing.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

This world needs the beautiful reminder that our pain and suffering is not just a waste of life. There is purpose in every moment we experience. I am so excited to share this book giveaway with you today, as it is from one of the beautiful girls I mentor who has become one of my dearest friends. Rachel Allison is truly a remarkable talent, a true cultivator of beauty and light for this generation.

Begun as a series of posts on social media, this project is a pairing of self portraiture and writing that gives an honest look into daily life with chronic illness. It is a help to the chronically ill and healthy alike.

The Reality Of Chronic Illness will be available for purchase at rachelallisonartist.com/shop beginning February 16th, and you can enter to win a signed copy by clicking this link.

Drowning in grace.

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“And we are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way He loves us.”

Many years ago, when I was about 9 years old, my family took a cruise to the Bahamas. Growing up in Florida, my brother, Dustin, and I were like fish…great swimmers, always in the water, and we would approach the ocean fearlessly. With boogie boards and huge smiles, Dustin and I raced into the warm, clear blue waters.

What we didn’t realize was that the waves and patterns of the ocean were different in Nassau than what we were used to in Florida. Within moments, the current had pulled us much further out into the deep blue sea than we had intended. Enormous waves were flying over my head, crashing down, and pummeling me deeper and deeper. I didn’t have enough time to come up to scream for help or look for my brother (thank God for all those years of having contests in the pool to see who could hold their breath the longest).

I found it ironic that just as I had been baptized in such still waters earlier that summer in a swimming pool at camp, now raging waters could be the death of me. It may sound crazy, but at 9 years old, in that moment, I truly felt an overwhelming truth that it was a possibility that I may not make it out. That I may never be found. It seemed impossible. That brief moment seemed like an eternity, and the last thing I remembered was feeling excruciating pain in my chest, wishing I could just get one breath, and being pushed down by a strong wave until I hit my head on a rock below.

Suddenly, I felt something, someone, grab my hand. It was my mom. Miraculously, she was able to find me and pull me out of the water. After throwing up sand, and finding sand in my hair and ears after days and many showers, it’s safe to say I was done with the beach for that particular trip.

As I sit here writing this in Miami, the ocean and I are on great terms. I am not afraid of the waves, because I know that I am not alone. There have been many times in my life since then that I have audibly asked Jesus to help me (and have sounded crazy, I’m sure). Sometimes life feels impossible…it all seems like too much…but I can promise that when it feels like you are drowning in pain, you are most certainly drowning in his grace and love.

Know that no matter where you are today, what you are facing, or what you may have to overcome, there is safety. There is peace. Take refuge in the words of Jesus below, as they are just for you.

“You are surrounded by a sea of problems, but you are face-to-face with me, your peace. As long as you focus on me, you are safe. If you gaze too long at the myriad problems around you, you will sink under the weight of your burdens. When you start to sink, simply call out, “Help me, Jesus!” and I will lift you up.

The closer you live to me, the safer you are. Circumstances around you are undulating, and there are treacherous-looking waves in the distance. Fix your eyes on me, the one who never changes. By the time those waves reach you, they will have shrunk to proportions of my design. I am always beside you, helping you face today’s waves. Remember that your relationship with me is saturated [drowning] deeply in grace.” -Jesus

God gives us more than we can handle.

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“When Job lifted his face to the storm, when he asked and was answered, he learned that he was very small. He learned that his life was a story. He spoke with the Author, and learned that the genre had not been an accident. God tells stories that make Sunday school teachers sweat and mothers write their children permission slips excusing them from encountering reality.”

-N.D. Wilson, Death by Living

It’s easy to fall into the temptation trap of resenting our place in the grand story of our lives. Through trial and difficulty, we often feel overwhelmed and get caught up in the “life is not fair” complex. Can I be honest with you for a moment? A while back, I was in the midst of my own personal storm. I was in Washington at a retreat, sitting down to eat dinner with a group of women. We began sharing our stories, talking about where we were at, and it was incredible that every young woman there seemed to be fighting quite the war. These strong warriors had battle scars from the illnesses, family issues, and broken relationships they had endured.

One of the ladies cracked open her bible, as we devoured our soup and pumpkin croissants, and read this verse that had reassured me many times before…

“No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”
-1 Corinthians 10:13

We’ve all heard people say it our entire lives…”God won’t give you more than you can handle.” However, I had an unfortunate lightbulb moment in the midst of my attempt for quick, easy comfort when she went on to read this very popular bible verse…

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
-Philippians 4:13

So basically, God won’t give us more than we can handle on our own. But here’s the kicker…we aren’t expected to do it alone in the first place. I don’t believe that we were made to “handle” the intense suffering and deep darkness that comes with the broken world that we live in. It would be a hopeless story if that was where God decided to leave it. And I’m not going to lie…there have been seasons in my life where these thoughts did leave me feeling a bit defeated.

But wait…there’s more to His story. There’s more to your story. We aren’t alone in this. In the heart wrenching moments, sorrow, loss, pain, confusion, doubt, we are given the opportunity to rely on Him. My Jesus Calling today began with these words…

“You can achieve the victorious life through living in deep dependence on me.”

I started this article by talking about the “life is not fair” complex. And to be completely honest with you, when it comes to our own selfish standards, sure…God is not “fair.”

“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe

Jesus was radical. He lived and loved in a way that was inspirational, but it terrified and angered many. God’s way is often uncomfortable. His stories aren’t a Disney movie or a cheesy Nicholas Sparks novel. His stories are real. I thank Him for that because we are real. I am real. I wouldn’t fit into His grand story if He were completely safe. We wouldn’t be used in mighty ways if He were completely safe.

Don’t get me wrong. God is good. But He is not safe. Scripture talks over and over again about the goodness of God. When I don’t understand, agree with or even see what He is doing, I know that Romans 8:28 is true…that He is good and that He works for the good of those who love Him.

His stories for our lives won’t lead to a predictable path. My life is completely different than I ever would have imagined it would be, but I love the journey…I am thankful for my role in the story. Perhaps you had hoped that the part God had for you would be easy, clean, and problem-free. The truth is, He may not want you on the sidelines. He may be preparing you to be a warrior.

He may be giving you more than you can handle…but I can promise you that you are not alone, and that if you accept your role in the story, it will be the most beautiful, significant, and magnificent thing you ever do.