My Work Testimony: Hard Work Leads to Righteousness and Other Lies I’ve Believed | Ep. 6

by | Feb 26, 2018 | Encouragement, Identity, Motherhood, Work | 0 comments

Today, in Episode 6 of the Kindled Podcast, I share a very personal story: mine. It’s the story of a girl who believed work could lead to righteousness. It’s got sad parts, but it’s not a sad story, because God writes Himself into her story, again and again. Sweeping her up into the current of His grace and carrying her home to His heart. From learning how to write at the age of 5, to having my second daughter just 20 months ago, this story is one near to my heart. I’m sharing my story not so you see more of me, but so you see more of Him. 

This story doesn’t wrap up with a neat little bow, you see, because I’m still living it. I’m still in the trenches, doing the work of submitting my will and my identity to His loving care. Laying down my weapons to pursue peace and thanksgiving. I don’t have to fight any more. His grace is enough. Because now, He carries me. My hopes, my fears, my longings, my gifts and passions. I’m no longer being held together by my efforts and striving. I’m being held together by a love greater than I thought possible and a hope brighter than my eyes can handle.

Next month starts Real Mom March! It will feature conversations with real moms of all ages and work backgrounds. I can’t wait to share it with you!

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Today I want to share a story that’s really personal and not hard for me to share, but scary for me to share. It’s MY story. It’s no one else’s. I didn’t set out to share this story on the podcast to be honest. I actually think a lot of what I set out to do on this podcast and in this has been shifted and realigned by God to serve His purposes, and not mine. So today when I sat down to actually make some edits to my show notes, I felt the Spirit lead me to open up a pages document and just start typing. Just start emptying my story onto the page and see what happened.
I will confess, this is not perfect. It’s more out of a sense of urgency to be transparent and follow the lead of the Spirit’s nudging in my heart to be real with you about where I come from in regards to this topic of work.
You see my friends know me as an entrepreneur, so when I’ve told people I was starting a podcast on work and motherhood, I don’t think anyone was super surprised. It MADE SENSE I’d talk about work because I work. I own two businesses and it seems to follow that I like talking about work because its just part of my life. But the truth is that it goes way way deeper than that. It’s deep down at the core of who I am and what I HAVE believed for many years. so thats what I’m sharing today
This is the story of my journey with work.
It’s the story of a girl who believed work could lead to righteousness. And for years, she was unknowingly enslaved to a belief system she never would have admitted she operated under. It’s got sad parts, but it’s not a sad story. Because it’s a story in which through ordinary and supernatural means, God writes Himself into her story, again and again. Sweeping her up into the current of His grace and carrying her home to His heart.
It is a long and winding tale. And it is far from over. But it’s one I know will have a glorious ending. It’s also one that I hope in being shared, and in revealing my inadequacies and biggest failures, will point you to Jesus Christ, my only hope.
I think God loves to work in narrative framework. I used to do Parliamentary Style Debate. The rules are a little different than other styles, because you get a resolution and have to define it in a short amount of time and then argue your case.
So we’d study debate and go to class, learning all the styles of resolutions we may be given during a tournament and then every so often we’d have a debate tournament. The way our debate instructor taught us to formulate our argument was Introduction, Body Conclusion. IBC. And the winners of the debate tournament were given ribbons and a case of IBC root beer.
This part of my story is my introduction. I believe I’m now living the BODY part of my story, so this bleeds into that, into today. But to give you an idea of where my story begins, consider this my introduction.
He has written His story in two ways – special revelation and natural revelation. The Bible – His revealed word – which is the primary means He’s given us to know him – is special revelation.
And then, He’s also written it across creation and into the universe by putting laws in place and setting the universe into motion. The way there is order and intention behind every created thing means we can discover knowledge about God by observing nature, philosophy and reasoning – and this is what theologians call natural revelation.
If you’ve ever read the bible, you know that God is a storytelling God. He has written his story into scripture – special revelation – and into the physical world – natural revelation. And He has written himself INTO our story by entering into it as Jesus Christ, the man, sent by God the Father to die on the cross for the sins of many.
I believe that since we are made in the image of God, and since story is how God communicates to us, our stories have power. Our telling and retelling of the story God is writing with our lives is not reflective of ourselves and our power, but of His. So if stories have power, power to witness to the truth, then they should be shared. This is why I’m sharing my story with you. Not so you see more of me, but so you see more of Him.
It all started when I was learning how to write. I had one of those tracing books where you trace the lowercase and uppercase letters of the alphabet on one line, then beneath them write the letters on your own. I must have been around 5. My mom was helping me. I remember her sitting next to me showing me how the “hook” of the lowercase a came off the right side and curved a little. I watched her hand move, drawing the little hook, and took a swing at it. I drew the hook on the wrong side of the “a.” 
My mom gently said, “Whoops, that’s ok, it actually goes on this side.” As soon as I saw the error, I lost it. I threw down the pencil and gave up all hope that I would ever correctly be able to write a lowercase “a.”
“No! I can’t do it! I’ll never be able to do it! It’s too hard. I hate it.”
She was, I’m sure, somewhat shocked at my outburst, but also knew who I was. A perfection-seeking first born highly concerned with my ability to do what was asked of me. Unwilling to give myself (and often others) grace. I was either all or nothing. I would be perfect or I wouldn’t do it. That was how it had to be. This is one of those formative, early memories that writes itself into your subconscious and gives you a framework to understand who you are and what you’re about.
Though I was only 5 at the time and didn’t yet know it, that was the beginning of my life long refusal to accept less than “excellent” from myself. It may seem extreme to say that’s how I was a child, but I do think that even though it may not have always showed, this is how I operated on the inside. It was what I told myself and believed about myself. What I expected from myself. The measuring stick I held up to myself and my life. Perfection and perhaps even goodness was attainable if I JUST. TRIED. HARD ENOUGH.
If only I could work harder. Train harder. Longer hours. More practice. Fewer mistakes. More focus. More doing. I would get there. I could prove it. I was good enough.
I can’t tell you how many sports I did during my middle and high school years, giving up after only a year or two of practices and games. I was a hard worker, of course, but when I was not the best INSTANTLY, I got bored, or frustrated, or lost interest. Swim team, Basketball, Volleyball, Track, Soccer, Cheer. Jill of all trades, master of none. And I was not really ok with that. Not really at all.
I accepted Christ into my heart around the age of 8 or 9. I had been fighting with my brother when my mom took us aside and explained our sin to us, pointing us to Jesus and showing us our only hope was in Him. Wow, I had (and have) a good mom. What a blessing to have a parent who takes the time it’s necessary to say the words my heart needed so desperately to hear. I remember after she talked to us, me just crying and crying, saying over and over, “He didn’t have to do it for me; He didn’t have to do that.”
I believed then, and I know now that that was a moment of differentiation for me. I had believed in God and Jesus and the Bible before that, but I remember knowing in my heart that that truth was for me.
Nevertheless, my tendency was to sing for my supper. I wanted to be accepted and loved on the basis of my good works. I wanted to be enough on my own. I desperately hoped I might be able to work hard enough for God that he would tell me, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Unfortunately nobody told me, when He spoke those words in the Bible, He had been talking to his perfect Son Jesus. The true heart of the gospel evaded my heart a bit longer.
And so, I began the long slow, climb up the mountain of seeking righteousness through WORKS and through WORK. Both of them found a safe and secret home in my heart, deep beneath the surface. Beneath the truth I knew that Christ died for the ungodly. I didn’t consider myself one of those. Because, hey, I was pretty good.
Fast forward a few years. I was doing the work, showing up early to school, FCA leader, leading bible studies, sharing the gospel with wayward high school students, running for Stuco Vice President and becoming Salutatorian (2nd highest academic ranking) of my senior class. I was dating a boy all through high school who I thought I’d marry. It was just certain in my heart and mind we were made for each other. But ever so slowly, we stopped pursuing purity. It went from a first kiss in the car after junior prom to having sex outside of marriage. Of course, no one knew. I could keep up my charade of being the “good kid.” After all, I didn’t party or drink. I had never done drugs. I wasn’t “like that.” I just was having sex with the boy I was going to marry. Or so I thought. 
It hurts my heart to go back to the darkness of my heart in those years of high school into college, when I continued to keep up appearances of being shiny and clean and OK on the outside. All the while, I was plagued and tormented by the sin I knew I was hiding, the guilt and filthiness I felt in lying to a God who knew the truth, and to my parents and everyone else who didn’t.
Thankfully, that relationship ended abruptly sophomore year of college and that boy broke up with me. My heart was broken, shattered into a million pieces. I felt unloved, unworthy and discarded. I had set myself up for an absolute train wreck by giving my heart away before it was mine to give. And I felt the full effect of that betrayal of God’s commands. I felt the pain associated with my sin.
In the months following that break up, I turned to partying. I had never gone there but now seemed as good a time as any to give up the good girl routine and have some fun for once. I had been in a serious relationship since I was basically a freshman in high school – didn’t I deserve to let loose? Everyone else was, and I didn’t see why I should be excluded any longer.
I traveled with a friend to a college a few hours away where I had met someone who I knew would offer us a good time. Well, there was a lot of cheap beer involved, but it was not a very good time. Maybe at the time I was trying to convince myself this was fun, this was what I had been missing. But this only drove me further from God and the acceptance I so desperately was seeking.
 I wanted to be loved. Told I was enough. Told I was wanted and beautiful. Desired and lovely. Worth something. To anyone. And I was willing to again sacrifice my standards and how I was raised in the hopes someone would speak those words to me.
It was the grace of God in my life that during that short stint, God made sure no one spoke those words to me. In fact, quite the opposite. I felt worse. More unloved, more of a failure and much more broken. I gave myself again to someone I hoped would speak the words my heart longed to hear. And again I was left empty-handed and empty-hearted. Left again to sit in my aloneness and to cry out for forgiveness and help from the God I figured had long since given up hope on me.
What a disgrace I had become! I remember thinking I was just disgusting. An embarrassment of a Christian. Here I was, this girl with a glittering reputation and promising future. The first born of a family who had started a private school, was always the hub and center of their children’s friends and activities. Family vacations and holidays and everything was all how it SHOULD BE on the outside. Yet I felt so below that reputation. I shamed myself into an even darker place. I told myself I actually deserved to be distant from God and this was what my actions bought for me. Of course, at the time, I had only half the story right. My actions had purchased distance and isolation from God for me, but I was missing the hope. I was divorced from the message of the gospel. I believed it but I wasn’t living in freedom. I was living in chains to my sin. Held down and captive by the darkness that filled my heart and mind as a result of how I was choosing to live.
Fast forward a few more months, and I decided to get involved again with a local church. Perhaps from a place of wanting to prove to God I could follow the rules and “be good enough” again. But nonetheless, I began going and sitting under the word of God. I know it was spoken over me every week, so many times, and I know I understood with my mind but I don’t think it had yet taken root in my heart.
Just as I finally began to be OK with my status as a single girl, one I was unfamiliar with due to my long relationship status throughout high school and college, I met a new boy. This one was different.
He loved Jesus and had a real relationship with Him. I could tell. He was funny and cute and the life of the party. The room’s energy level went up when he walked into it. 3 days after we met we found ourselves watching The Office in his tiny bedroom which was actually technically a “closet” because it had no window. We began holding hands and I felt a rush of anxiety and guilt and fear flood in.
Not again. You can’t do this. NO MORE gray area in your life, Haley.
I told the boy how I felt and instructed that if we were to be holding hands, it had to be on official terms. I felt this was the only way to protect my heart from getting swept up into another pursuit for acceptance. I felt if someone had to say “you’re my girlfriend” that that meant I could rest easy in that title enough not to need more. Well, I was wrong, but at the time in my delicate and fragile state, it made sense to me. So I gave him the ultimatum and he said, “Well, can I date you, please?”
Ok then. Yes. We went back to holding hands and watching The Office and my heart swelled with warmth and excitement. I was finally feeling wanted again.
This silly beginning of the story is actually the story of how I met my husband and how we started dating in 3 days after we met. And I wish I could say we were perfect and holy and pure throughout all our 4 years of dating, but that would be a lie. We stumbled and slipped up many times. Both of us had sexual impurity in our past. The devil had already found a foothold and he weaseled his way into that part of our relationship plenty of times. But ultimately, and in the midst of our shortcomings, we knew we were sinning. We begged God for help. We told friends to keep us accountable. We were seeking the Lord. For the first time in my life I had a partner on my side fighting for me instead of for himself. A man who was after God’s heart like David, but still screwing up big time. We experienced God’s grace in our relationship as He did pursue our hearts for Himself and through a break up, brought both of us to a better place where we were more focused on Him than on our relationship and ourselves.

Fast forward a few years. I married this boy. We started a life together. We moved back to the Midwest where I was from, though we had been living in DC since I had graduated college, for about a year. We settled into life near my family and closer to his in Colorado, and things were great!
But one year into our marriage, I discovered my parents’ own marriage was on the rocks and might ultimately end in divorce. Though I won’t go into the details here, because they are not mine to share, I felt my entire universe around me begin to melt away. It was as if this world I was living in where I had the perfect family and heritage and reputation had been hit with a hammer and the glass shattered into a million little splinters and began to fall away from the wall of my life.
In the months that followed, I worked HARD to hold my reality together. Though it felt as though I was on a ship tossing about in a wild and raging storm, I sought to hold my 4 younger siblings up and together, even fought to keep my parents together, as though we had any control over that. I fought to maintain my identity in the midst of a torrential downpour that threatened to wash away any semblance of who I had thought I was. Who I had been.
It was a hard thing to face one year into marriage. But through it we came.
In the wake of the divorce, I found myself with a budding bridal business. One I had started nearly accidentally by listing a few items on Etsy. It was starting to take off and I was seeing that the more oil I poured on the fire, the bigger it burned. I saw an opportunity to rebuild for myself a new identity. A new self. To build for myself security. A new name and a new reputation outside my family’s reputation or who people thought I was. I POURED myself into my work. Though I was working full time for my dad’s company, I came home at night and worked late into the nights. Til 12:30 or sometimes 2am, making and making, building and building. Until my fingers were bleeding and my eyes were burning, I’d work.
I certainly didn’t see it at the time, and didn’t connect my work in that season to anything deeper. I just thought I was trying to build a business and sacrificing work-life balance for the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, which had always been in my bones. But looking back, I see that I had fallen prey to the trap. An innocent enough trap at first. But one that led me to an understanding of myself as success or failure at the result of the work of my own hands.
My parents had let me down. But I would not let myself down. I would work until the job was done and done right. I would toil and labor and cry to my husband how tired and overworked I was, all the while resisting anyone who would threaten to take it from me. Work was becoming my new identity. In the wake of the divorce, I worked to find peace. To find identity. I was putting a new stake in the ground. One that would say something about who I was as an individual. One that had nothing to do with them or my family but that could be solely based on me. I would rise or fall on the back of my hard work. Then I could finally prove to myself – and everyone else – that I was worthy. I was good.
Soon, a baby came along. A longed for and delighted in daughter, Isla. She was the joy of my heart. I poured myself into this newfound role. I continued to work hard and juggle being a new mom with owning a budding business and found that to be a challenge, as most first time mothers do. But I continued to be able to “hold it all together” for the most part. I had a very involved family with lots of siblings who helped babysit and a Mom and Dad who were amazing grandparents and very much involved. I continued to be able to “wing it” building a business and a family. No problem. Mostly. I decided I’d take my growing business to New York Bridal Market. This would be my big break.
When that first baby was 11 months old, about two weeks before New York bridal market was to begin, I found out I was pregnant with baby number two.
As you can imagine, life only got more full and busy from there. I would do this thing somehow, some way. I would make it happen. Grow my business, grow my family, maintain an ounce of my sanity and everything would be just fine.
Now I hope you can understand how many details I’m leaving out in this bird’s eye overview of my life. Life is never as simple or as straightforward as we make it sound. And I don’t for a minute want to give the impression that I was totally clear or confident about any one path at any given time. There was doubts and prayers and hopes and fears all wrapped up into every step I took, as there always is in life. But my hope is that I am painting a picture of why work became so foundational to my identity. The series of events that happened in my life. The choices and steps I took that resulted in the person I became. One wrapped up in achievement. Pursuit. Proving. Gains. Success. Approval. Is it starting to become clear?
Well baby number two made her entrance. And with that God began to Tear. Down. Walls. All the walls I had built around myself and the identity I had formed for myself in my productivity and success. My achievements. Those all became much harder to attain when one kid might be napping but the other would be awake and needy to be held. Yes, life became even more joy-filled and exhausting. And work hours and productivity became more scarce. My safe and secure identity began being ripped out of my tightly gripped fingers, one by one.
Again, looking back to even just 20 months ago to when she was born, this second baby birthed only 19 months after my first was God’s greatest grace to me yet. He gave me more than I could handle. And in that spot, I found myself for the first time ever turning from my work and turning TO Jesus for hope.
And I have not stopped since.
Now you may be thinking, wow, this story feels really fresh, and you’re not all that far out of the woods in terms of finding so much identity and hope in work, to which I’d reply: “You’re exactly right.”
You see, I’ve found that even though we sometimes take years and years to come to Him with the burdens we have been struggling and failing to carry, when we submit our wills to His and ask for help, He doesn’t need years and years to make a change in us or to show us the error of our ways. He doesn’t tarry with relief or the presence of His spirit in our hearts, burgeoning our hope and upholding our lives in his good, good hands. He needs but a moment of submission, saying Yes, Lord and Come, Lord Jesus and there He is.
You don’t have to even run back to him, because I have found, He is right there. When I turn around from myself and stop worshipping the mirror I’m staring at and looking for hope in, I turn and find myself right up against him. Brushing against his garments and laying my head on his chest to cry as He embraces me and takes the weight off my back. As He lifts up my head and tears stream down, I find rest. I find acceptance. I find hope. I find the love and belonging I was searching for all along. All this time I had thought I might find it in relationship, or family, or work and proving I was good enough. And I can say, after more than 10 years of living burdened and in chains to my performance, He has loosed them and I am free.
It doesn’t mean that it’s never hard for me to remember the truth. There are moments when that familiar friend of anxiety and self-reliance rear their ugly heads. But His Spirit is never far and the encouraging and true words of the Bible are near to me in the form of encouragement from my husband, friends and community. They help remind me who I am and whose I am.
This story doesn’t wrap up with a neat little bow, you see, because I’m still living it. I’m still in the trenches, doing the work of submitting my will and my identity to His loving care. Laying down my weapons to pursue peace and thanksgiving. I don’t have to fight any more. His grace is enough. Because now, He carries me. My hopes, my fears, my longings, my gifts and passions. I’m no longer being held together by my efforts and striving. I’m being held together by a love greater than I thought possible and a hope brighter than my eyes can handle.
I hope in this story that you don’t see me, but you see my Savior. You see the reason for the hope I have. His name is Jesus.
With Him comes freedom. And I know it’s hard to believe – but it’s free. Even for the girl who wants to be loved for her work. In fact, especially for her.
And it’s hard to imagine how such a freedom can be ours at no cost to us, but that’s the gospel. That’s the good – and the absolute best – news.
“Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought.” – The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis

There’s no power this world has to offer
No recognition this world has to give
That I would not trade for the arms of my Savior
This no ordinary man that carries us up our mountains

Never an orphan, never without Him
Looking back now I see where His light was
Ever before me, ever behind me
Looking back now I see where His light was
Where His light was

[Verse 2]
There’s no power this world has to offer
No recognition this world has to give
That I would not trade for the arms of my Savior
This no ordinary man that carried me up my mountain
Carried me up

I hope you see Jesus in that. I’m so grateful He’s given me a voice to share my story, and I pray it’s one that points you to Him. Thanks so much for joining me today and I will catch you next time on Kindled.

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