Lessons From Quarantine

As a nation right now, I believe that we are all in the midst of recovering from an illness. And, while it’s been the topic of news article upon news article, and broadcasting story after broadcasting story, this illness is not COVID-19.

It’s a performance-driven life.

Years ago, when I was still a young teenager and fairly new in my faith, I read the popular Rick Warren book “A Purpose Driven Life“. It talked about living a life infused with purpose, given to us by our Creator. But I believe, in recent years as a society we’ve been living something much different—something that, for the purpose of simplicity in this post, I am calling a “performance-driven life”. And I was as sick as the next person.

For most of my life, I’ve noticed that my greatest kryptonite too often is my tendency to equate my self-worth with my ability to live up to my own ideals and standards. And, too often, I can ignore my own emotions and internal warning signs in an effort to try to live up to who I think I’m supposed to be, or who I need to be, in order to keep my life from exploding in a grand volcano of chaos.*

I can remember times, when I wanted so much to be the perfect leader, even in the moments when I felt I was struggling to lead “me”. When I’d work so hard in school, or a part time job even as I was dying and withering away on the inside. When I felt so much pressure to be the “positive” one even as I was literally crying inside—cracking beneath the weight of my own expectations. Moments when I still felt like a little girl trying to be an adult. When I’d sit in guilt over thoughts that I tried my hardest to push out of my mind. Moments when I forgot, on some level, that grace applied to me too.

I’d see people’s social media feeds and feel pressure to live a life just as perfect and interesting and I’d do my best to create the best version of myself through pictures. But recently, so much of life has come to a stop. And it’s forced me to do some serious evaluation. And, it’s made me realize a couple of really important things.

We’re all a mess. As much as we love our organized social media feeds, and the narratives that we tell ourselves about our lives those things are only a fraction of who we are. And as people we need each other—even the most introverted and independent among us. We weren’t created for this world that we’ve created for ourselves. Where we airbrush images and call it beauty. Where we follow each other on social media and call it friendship. Where we talk about the weather or the latest music video by our favorite artist and think that we’re truly connecting.

Through this quarantine, as awful in some ways as it has been, I’ve had so many heart to hearts with friends about the real stuff that we’re dealing with. The rawness and the places where light invades our cracks that makes us humans. Through this “thing” that we’re experiencing as a society I have learned to appreciate people so much more. And I don’t want to continue life after this thing is over like nothing has changed. I don’t want to take people in my life for granted. I don’t want to look at the mundane as insignificant. And I don’t want to stay on surface level conversations—rarely going deep with the tribe of people God has placed in my life.

Maybe something had to die (normalcy) for us to learn how to truly live.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go through the motions one more day.

I want to live a life infused with a passion bestowed by our Creator—creating a better “normal” for myself and the people around me.

Because that is what it means to live. And that is what it means to be alive.

Live Life Fully | One River School | Art Savvy

“A thief has only one thing in mind—he wants to steal, slaughter,[a] and destroy. But I have come to give you everything in abundance, [b] more than you expect[c]life in its fullness until you overflow!” – John 10:10 (TPT). 

*Yes, I can be dramatic sometimes.

Peace

Hey guys – in the wake of the Corona virus outbreak, I wanted to repost a blog that will hopefully give you all some peace. Remember, God is with us and He will never leave us or forsake us! He is just that good! 🙂

1 Timothy 4:12 Girl

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  – John 14:27 (NIV).

Peace. It is a word that we all long for, yet few know how to find. A word that in just five letters, sends calming images to mind and a feeling of comfort to our hearts.A word that conjures up images of beaches and long summer nights. Christmas lights and fireplaces. All things nice, and cozy, and well—peaceful!

It is also a word that is severely lacking from most of the word’s  vocabulary today. 

As humans in present-day-society, we are often encouraged to view life through the lens of lack and scarcity.We are encouraged to chase more prestigious jobs with a higher pay. We are encouraged to get into the most…

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All Sons And Daughters

Throughout my childhood, I could most often be found with a book in my hand and a story in my heart. I was the girl who went to the library often for special events and ‘storytimes’. Who checked out out piles of books from the library and got halfway through chapter books on the car ride home. And oftentimes, during my childhood years, I wanted to live within the pages of the story that I had just read.

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When I read a series of Nancy Drew books specifically adapted for young readers, I wanted nothing more than to solve real life mysteries with my friends. When I read the Katie Kazoo series, I thought it would be so cool to switch places with someone for a day. The narratives that I read shaped my own narrative about the world around me. The gave me a lens through which to see the world.

In many ways the same could be said for us as adults today. The narratives that we tell ourselves shape our view of the world around us. Thus, I have recently felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to address a topic, or ‘narrative’ that too often has been pushed to the side, diminished, or simply not addressed, even though it is something that most likely, many of us have had questions about at some point in time.

And that narrative concerns the role of women within the church.

In society at large, the list of things that women can do has increased dramatically. In 1920 women officially received the right to vote. In the 1940s, during World War Two, women entered into the work force at rapid pace. And today, most schools have sports teams where women can participate in sports like tennis and soccer. However, in the 21st century church, it is still extremely rare to see women who preach, lead, and hold positions of authority. To a great extent, this is due to the way that certain verses, such as 1 Timothy 2:12 have been interpreted. 

 However, if you look at the context of the text, it’s not quite as clear-cut as it may seem.

In this verse, Paul is writing to Timothy concerning his ministry in Ephesus. In this specific verse he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[a] she must be quiet.” 

At first glance, it can easily look like Paul is not permitting women to serve in certain ministry roles; however, if you read the chapter before it, this verse becomes a whole lot clearerDuring this time there were many false prophets in the surrounding area, and it seems based on this text, that because women did not have access to religious education, they were far more susceptible to these heresies than the men in this same region. According to Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:7, “They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” This verse seems to be referring to the same group of women that Paul is asking to be silent in this particular church, in this particular time. 

Secondly, for Paul to ban all women from leadership he would literally have to contradict himself—as he commends women preachers and leaders in various other passages of the Bible. In Romans 16:11 he says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.“, which in Greek translates ‘deacon’ to mean ‘leader of a congregation’. Furthermore, in Philippians 4:2-3, Paul says “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” These verses seem to indicate that Paul was a strong supporter of women in ministry.

Finally, we see various other passages of Scripture affirming women in ministry as something that is good, to be expected, and honorable. Acts 2:17 says, “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. And, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 speaks of women praying in public—once again showing women in positions of leadership and authority. 

To conclude, I believe that as the Body of Christ, we need to include both men and women in Christ’s story of redemption. We ought to not just enable half of the body of Christ to reach people and nations—but the whole body. We ought to empower women to see themselves as vessels God can use to spread the Gospel. We ought to be amongst the strongest supporters of women co-laboring with men to bring the Gospel to every nation, just as God commands us to do in Scripture.

As I have worked and continue to work in the areas of ministry God has called me to in my own life, I am so thankful for the pastors, leaders, and friends—male and female alike, who have encouraged me to go fully after the callings the Lord has placed on my life. I am beyond blessed to be part of a community that supports me and so many others in all of these things. And, I pray that every person—male and female alike, would feel that same kind of support as they pursue the things that God has called them to do. 

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”’ – Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV). 

 

Choose Kindness

I have never considered myself to be a bully. I’ve been on the receiving end of bullying and to put it plainly, it sucks. There are few things on this side of eternity worse than feeling rejected, or like an outsider. Because of this, I try to do the opposite of bullying whenever I meet someone new. I try to make them feel welcome. I try to make them feel comfortable. I try to show them the same kindness that Christ has shown me.

However, recently, God has revealed something to me that caught me by surprise.

I do not always show that same level of kindness towards myself.

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Just recently, I was praying for God to reveal to me anything in my life that is wrong, and not of Him. I started praying that He would point out any area of my life where I was falling short, so that I could correct those areas and walk in the path that He has for me. And as I was praying, I found myself saying things like “God, forgive me for the way that I talk to myself…forgive me for the words that I speak over myself….”

This was almost shocking to me, because I hadn’t previously thought of myself as being mean to, well, myself. But as God was pointing these things out to me I realized that everything I was saying was correct. Without even realizing it, I have been bullying myself. 

I was saying things to myself that I would never dare say to another human being. About my abilities. About my talents. About my appearance. About the way that my personality is wired. When I thought about myself, I wasn’t looking at myself the way that Christ does, or through a lens of godly humility, but through a distorted filter that had come straight from the devil. Odds are, most of us would never consider ourselves to be a bully, but how many of us have bullied ourselves with thoughts that are not of God? How many of us have remembered the first part of Mark 12:30-31 (to love your neighbor), but forgotten the second part (to love yourself) of that same passage? 

It’s funny how easy it is to justify bullying towards ourselves—to write it off as simply having high standards for yourself. But Biblically, there’s a big difference between striving for excellence and speaking destructive words against yourself. Look no further than Psalm 139:13-18 to see exactly what God has to say about you.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.” 

When we start to speak negativity over ourselves, we are speaking words of destruction against a person that God created, loves, and died for. We are speaking against a son or daughter of God. We are speaking against the very temple where the Holy Spirit resides. Few people in the Old Testament times would have dared speak against the Tabernacle, where God took up residence under the Old Covenant.

It was considered holy and anyone who spoke out against it would have immediately drawn shock and absolute horror from the people around them. But as New-Covenant Christians, we believe God lives inside of each one of us. 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” This means that God’s Spirit literally makes His home inside of every person who believes in Jesus and trusts Him as their Savior. So why would we feel it’s OK disrespect God’s dwelling place now? And if God has called us treasured, unique, and beautiful, why would we choose to see ourselves any differently? 

This week I want to challenge you to change the way that you speak over yourself. I want to challenge you to love yourself—not in a conceited way, but in the way that God calls us to love and value ourselves in the Scriptures. To remember that you are immeasurably loved (John 3:16), chosen and adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5), and created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

So choose to rest in God’s love. 

Choose to live in His freedom. 

And choose to remember who HE says you are!

“We have become his poetry,[a] a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works[b] we would do to fulfill it!” – Ephesians 2:10 (TPT). 

Enneagram Series: Sarah’s Story As An Enneagram Nine

Hey everyone,
I have some pretty big news today! My good friend Sarah Gittens has graciously agreed to contribute to my series on the Enneagram and she has shared below what it is like to be an Enneagram Nine!
Sarah was one of the first friends that I met at my church and she is without a doubt one of the sweetest, wisest, and most genuine souls you could ever care to meet. She is also low-key an expert on all things Enneagram—making her the perfect person to help me out with this series! So without further ado, here is Sarah’s post!
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What do you want?
I’m guessing the vast majority of you have an immediate response. 1) A latte to wake up. 2) A life partner to wake up with. 3) A raise or a new job. 4) A better phone or 5) A new pair of jeans that make your butt look good. 6) All of the above. I’m quite certain that most of you can answer, without hesitation, regardless of how you approach the question.
If you’re a nine, you most likely paused. You probably thought about what the person is really asking. Considered all possible answers and the various outcomes of those answers that would fall on the ears of anyone listening. You’ve wondered how vulnerable you can be or even want to be. You’ve wondered how it would make them feel? How they might respond? How will it impact this moment or future moments? You may even have an answer but instead:
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*Responds to a question with a question
“I don’t really know.”
“I’m good with whatever.”
[insert whatever you think is safe to say]
As a nine, I am easy going, generally content, interested, happy to listen, patient, a day dreamer, accepting, a natural mediator, passionate, and I value others. I am also avoidant, people pleasing, procrastinating and have lived most of my life unaware of my inability to value one person: myself.
The truth? I DO know what I want. The problem? The answer has always been buried by a million thoughts of what you and you and you want. Does what you want clash with what I want? How would you feel? Would you feel insecure, happy for me, upset with me or jealous? How would you respond? Would you judge me, be kind or discard me? We know what we want.. but what we want has become lost or buried.
We have sometimes called the Nine the crown of the Enneagram because it is at the top of the symbol and because it seems to include the whole of it. Nines can have the strength of Eights, the sense of fun and adventure of Sevens, the dutifulness of Sixes, the intellectualism of Fives, the creativity of Fours, the attractiveness of Threes, the generosity of Twos, and the idealism of Ones. However, what they generally do not have is a sense of really inhabiting themselves—a strong sense of their own identity.
When I started reading the above paragraph, I loved it. When I hit the last sentence I hated it. I hated it because I knew it was true. When I went away to college, I realized I didn’t know myself and I spent the next several years trying to find who I was, what I liked, and why I liked it. I didn’t realize how often I stayed silent and when I did speak up I said things I heard rather than believed or felt. I was in there, but I had fallen asleep. I thought I had made so much progress and maybe in certain areas I had…
Awakening. This is how I would describe the time since I learned I was a nine in July of 2018. The enneagram reminded me that I matter and yes, I know I matter. I have grown up in church. I know Jesus loves me. I can quote Psalm 139. I can tell you with tremendous conviction that YOU matter, YOU are loved, and YOU are believed in. I know I matter but do I know? Do I believe it?
We will always be a work in progress, but asking myself what I want has been both liberating and terrifying. It has made me more vulnerable to the negative emotions that accompany disappointment, but has also been a catalyst for practicing genuine gratitude. My ability to reframe negative situations into positive emotions is a wonderful gift, but too often I settled for a facade of peace. I settled for the background [of my own life] even though I matter [as much as the next person] to receive love, be seen, and achieve success. Courage may look a bit different for everyone, but for me, it has been actively believing and praying for things I had let die, fade or been too afraid to want.
I don’t think I’ll ever possess the natural self confidence I admire in others. I used to want it. I tried to emulate it. However, I’ve noticed that my motivation has never been from a place of self confidence (because it never actually comes), but I will act from a place of conviction. In the midst of all this self reflection is a realization that I need to believe I matter and have value. A knowledge won’t suffice, rather I need that seed of truth to take root. It is in this truth, “I matter,” that this 9w1 day dreamer is free to hope again. Free from the weight of doing or being what others expect. Free to ask herself, “what do I want?”
To [me and] my fellow 9s: You can be happy even when others aren’t happy for you, because your happiness matters. You can be upset when you’re mistreated, because your feelings matter. You can speak up, because your thoughts, opinions and the many perspectives you effortlessly see all matter. You do not have to hide or diminish for the benefit of anyone else because your presence matters. Actually, we benefit when you don’t hide. We benefit when you speak up. We shine better when you shine. You are not selfish for wanting anything, because you matter. So tell us, what do you want?

If you know your Enneagram number, and would like to contribute a post for this series, please contact me at courtneymwhitaker@gmail.com or shoot me a DM @authorcourtney1 on Instagram. I can’t wait to hear your stories

Brave Love

“Bravery is the audacity to be unhindered by failures, and to walk with freedom, strength, and hope in the face of things unknown.” Morgan Harper Nicholas.

Recently, I had the chance to take a free Christian online course by the name of Brave Love. Some of you may be familiar with the organization, but for those of you who aren’t, it’s a movement designed to empower women into the fullness of what Christ is calling us to on this earth. Choosing to live intentionally, as a move of God within our cities and communities. However, when I first heard of this organization, one of the first things that stood out to me was the name. ‘Brave’ Love. 

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Because most of us, if we’re honest, don’t immediately associate love with bravery. We associate it with meekness and mildness. We associate it with gentleness and sensitivity. But bravery? Not so much.

The truth is, most of us even as Christians, are quick to associate love with the form of love seen in movies like Sleepless In Seattle or The Vow. However, if we’re looking at love through the lens of Jesus, love is so much more. And, it is in fact, a call to be brave. 

For the Christian, brave love looks like going up to a barista at Starbucks, or a cashier, and letting them know that God loves them—allowing them to hear the truth about God for possibly, the first time in their life.

For the Christian, brave love looks like being there for someone who’s struggling, and entering into their world—cracks and all, rather than allowing fear and apathy to have the final say.

For the Christian, brave love looks like praying for a parent with an addiction and believing God’s love will win out in their life, even when the situation looks absolutely hopeless.

For the Christian, brave love looks like choosing to wait to date when seemingly every person around you has a boyfriend/girlfriend because you want to date intentionally and wait for the person who’s everything that God has for you.

John talks about this very matter in 1 John 4:16-18 (MSG), when he says,

“God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”

Love is not a gendered word. Men are not ‘just’ called to bravery, and women are not ‘just’ called to love—both men and women, created in the image of God are called to brave love, which is a call to reject apathy. People will forever argue, debate, and philosophize about what true life—lived in its fullest capacity looks like. But if we look to the Bible, and if we look to Jesus, we were put on this earth for two purposes—to love God and love people. Everything after that is secondary.

When people look at me, I don’t want them to just see the girl with glasses who writes stuff. I don’t want people to look at me and define by my talents, appearance, titles, or Instagram feed. When people look at me, I want them to see Jesus in me. I want them to see His Holy Spirit at work in my life. When people look at me, and when I look back on my life, I want people to be able to say about me what was said about King David in 1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22. That I lived my life as a [girl] after God’s own heart.

This week, I want to challenge you to take the steps towards a brave kind of love in your own life. To dare to live wholeheartedly for the Gospel and to dare to love people like Jesus. I want to challenge you to see love as something that is, truly brave. And I want to challenge you to live out that bravery in the context of your very real, very present, day-to-day life. 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philipians 4:8 (NIV).

“So then, prepare your hearts and minds for action![a] Stay alert and fix your hope firmly on the marvelous grace that is coming to you. For when Jesus Christ is unveiled,[b] a greater measure of grace will be released to you.” 1 Peter 1:13 (TPT).

Enneagram Series: My Story As An Enneagram One

Hey fam!! I am officially starting a new blogging series on the Enneagram. I know a lot of Christians who are interested in this particular personality test and its intersection with personal growth and our faith journey, so I am doing this series to highlight the journeys of various individuals with various personality types. I pray that this series serves as a testimony to God’s goodness and the ways that the Lord has helped us overcome struggles in our lives. 

Note: Personalities tests do not define us, but they do help us to better understand ourselves and those around us. For example, if a person claims to be an introvert it gives us the understanding that they need time alone to re-energize. This does not handicap them from socializing; it merely tells us about an important facet of their personality and the way that they were created and designed. The same goes for the Enneagram. 

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Most of us can remember at least bits and pieces from our childhood days. The days when we were young, and still trying to find our place in this world. The times that molded us and shaped us. The fragments of our personality that bled into our adult-selves. In many ways, our younger selves give us a glimpse into the person we are becoming. And I know that for me personally, I can see this principle at play in my own life, looking back on my younger, childhood self. 

I can still remember times as a kid when I’d literally go to tears when I missed a word on a spelling test, to the absolute befuddlement of my parents, who thought I did fine. I also remember times when I, for the sheer enjoyment of it, lined up my crayons in perfect rainbow order (descending from red to purple) and feeling a sense of satisfaction in my accomplishment. In my young, childhood brain, there was a right way of doing pretty much everything—including arranging crayons.

This tendency, though eventually taking a more mature form, eventually found itself re-emerging throughout my teenage years. 

I can remember putting pressure on myself with nearly every task that I took on. In my schoolwork, I strived to make straight A’s. In my writing, I wanted every sentence to sound perfect—regardless of whether anyone actually ever saw it or not. When I was on the yearbook team, I wanted my pictures to be lined up just-so. And when I had chances to sing on stage, act in a play, or give a speech, I practiced nearly to the point of insanity.

In some ways, this perfectionist-streak likely protected me from a lot of pain, heartache, and regrets. I never smoked. I never drank. I never had any regrets when it came to my interactions with the opposite sex. However, it was also easy for me to fall into other sins and issues that were less public and easier to hide, such as pride and self reliance. After all, grace was for the people who sinned ‘big’. For drug addictions and teen pregnancies. Not for the Christian ‘church girl’ who spends her free time swimming in the ocean of words.* Somewhere in my subconscious, I felt that if I could just put my all into everything I did and avoid making mistakes, I could find approval from God and others and avoid the pain that comes from falling short. But little by little, God began to show me the gaping cracks in my try-hard ways.

I began to see how even in small ways, I too often fall short of my own standards—and wear myself out in the process of trying to achieve perfection. But I also began to see that God’s love truly is big enough to cover me completely. And I began to realize just how unfailing and unchanging His love really is. 

I began to really see on a heart level (beyond head knowledge) that God doesn’t love us any more if we’re ‘good’ and He doesn’t love us any less when we fall short. I began to realize that when God looks down He sees me in all of my shortcomings and imperfections and still sees me as someone worth dying for. I began to see that as I stand before God, and as I pour out my heart to Him I don’t have to be the smart one, the good one, or the responsible one, but that instead, I can just be me. The real me, not the me that an overly critical ‘inner voice’* tells me I have to be in order to survive this thing called life.

In the words of an old song by Laura Story, “I can be scattered, frail and shattered, Lord I need You now to be, be my God, so I can just be me.”

I also, through this process learned what it means to see the lost and the broken and the prodigal as people not-so-unlike-me. To recognize that life is more than just a list of rules, and that God’s love goes deeper than the differences that exist between us. And to see the potential in people that too often, the church and society have written off. To see God’s fingerprints on each and every person that crosses my path.

Today, as a twenty-one-year-old college junior, I realize I am no longer the same perfectionistic, stressed-out girl that I was when I was younger. Sure, I still sometimes struggle with perfectionism. And yes, I do still sometimes put pressure on myself. But no longer do I see myself as the sum total of my grades, accomplishments, and high standards. Instead, I have learned to recognize myself as a child of God who does not need to be perfect to be loved by God and the people around me. And this, has made all the difference.

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“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (TPT). 

*Translation: The girl who’s low-key obsessed/addicted to books.

*Inner Voice definition – a term in Enneagram language used to describe that voice inside of you that constantly tells you to be better and reprimands you when you do something wrong. Enneagram Ones have an extremely loud ‘inner voice’.

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If you know your Enneagram number, and would like to contribute a post for this series, please contact me at courtneymwhitaker@gmail.com or shoot me a DM @authorcourtney1 on Instagram. I can’t wait to hear your stories!