Getting Out Of Dodge

I have been looking forward to today for weeks. Today is the day Belle and I take our first solo road trip!

We won’t be gone long–only 3 days–but it’s good experience for us. My parents are a bit nervous about me driving by myself, not just because it’s an 11 hour drive, but also because of people. People are afraid of Belle, though, so I have that going for us. She also won’t let anyone get near me if she’s not entirely comfortable with the situation. She’s a smart dog. But there’s more to me doing this than just to see family and because I hate flying.

I need to know I can.

You see, for years, anytime a road trip was involved, I was never alone–it was always my husband and I moving or driving home from college. It’s taken me just over a year to be okay with myself and my capabilities, so this is my chance to really see what I can do.

. . . . . .

As I’ve said before, I am a planner, but I’ve gotten to the point of only planning what I can stand to plan or what is necessary. I’ve been thinking about this road trip for weeks and slowly gathering supplies and packing them into the car as I could. Now that we are heading out, everything is there and ready.

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What sort of things are hitting the road? Let’s see…

Belle. Traveling with a dog means I need to pack things specifically for her. She actually has her own little bag:
(1) Food & water bowls–I bought plastic ones for travel, so they aren’t too heavy and they won’t break.
(2) Wipes–She has some allergies (who doesn’t, right?), so I’m always prepared with a way to wipe off her paws or clean her ears.
(3) Float coat–Otherwise known as a dog life vest. The members of my family we are visiting live right on a lake, and, though Belle can swim, I want to make sure she is safe. Plus, there’s a little handle that gives me something to hang on to if I need to grab her quickly.
(4) Cooling vest–This little vest is something she wears frequently on our hikes. Since she is all black, it helps to keep her cool when it’s warm out.
(5) ESA vest–I don’t put this on her frequently, but when we are traveling or going to be in places I may not feel entirely comfortable, I bring it. It helps to let people know that (a) I would greatly appreciate if they ask before petting her, and (b) she provides a type of service to me, even if it is just her adorable companionship.
(6) Towel
(7) Seatbelt harness–she isn’t too pleased by this, but it keeps her safe.

In addition to the bag of supplies, I also have a container for her regular food and for treats.

Me. I have a bag of clothes and toiletries, a backpack for hiking (honestly, it’s just one I don’t mind getting dirty), and a backpack for traveling that has all the essentials (wallet, book, computer, cords, etc.). As always, my journal and bag of pens will be in that bag. I honestly don’t think I could go three whole days without writing. I’m also bringing my weights (just one light set). I’m currently doing Beachbody’s 80 Day Obsession program, and I really don’t want to miss a workout. I take pride in how I feel now, and the program has helped me in a lot of ways, so it’s important to me to travel with those things.

Food. This is probably the most important category. Because of the 80 Day Obsession program, I have been a lot more conscious of what I eat, so I am brining my own food instead of relying on fast food stops along the way. Plus, this will help me save some money. I’ve packed all the food into a cooler, along with my portion containers from the Obsession program:

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(1) Fruit salad–I love fruit, and the program allows 3 fruit-specific containers a day. I am hoping the fruit will be able to last me the entire time.
(2) Shakeology packets–Basically a protein drink, but they taste pretty good. It helps me feel fuller longer so I’m not tempted to get fast food.
(3) Meat sticks–I’ve always wanted to try these, and they’re good if I get a need for meat.
(4) Snack bars
(5) RX Bars–Again, so I’m not tempted to stop for fast food. Plus, they help my sweet fix.
(6) Yogurt & granola
(7) Celery & peanut butter–Because, duh.
(8) Shakeology (not pictured)–This is my post-workout fuel for this morning, and it will make sure I am not hungry as we begin our drive.

The food is not just for the drive today, either. The RX bars, meat sticks, and snack bars also serve as fuel for any adventures we have while we are with family, as well as for the drive back. Honestly, a year ago, I wouldn’t have had any self control, but now I know better, and I am determined to make it all last.

Audio. I get bored really easily, so it’s important for me to have multiple things to listen to when I’m driving, especially on long trips. Here is what’s playing on my phone:
(1) Podcasts: Cabinet of Curiosities; my church’s podcast (Collective Church); JourneywomenLoreThe Proverbs 31 Ministries Podcast
(2) Audible: all the Harry Potter books; The World of Lore: Monstrous CreaturesEmbraced by Lisa TerKeurst; In The Middle of the Mess by Shelia Walsh (though this is my Bible study right now, so not while I’m driving)
(3) Music (I use Spotify): a road trip playlist that includes Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Carrie Underwood (just to name a few); my church’s worship playlist; and Top Christian

With these options, I doubt I will be bored of what I hear.

. . . . . .

The car is packed, and we are ready to hit the road. I am really excited to be able to do this, and I am also excited to see my extended family. I’ll be taking plenty of photos and taking lots of notes.

Feel free to follow along at my Instagram (@digitalinkandparchment) or Belle’s (@_belle_bear_)!

. . . . . .

Have you ever gone on a road trip before? How did it turn out?

Stronger

“He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength…But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” — Isaiah 40:29 & 31

. . . . . .

I know I have gotten stronger in this season–physically, mentally, and spiritually. For me, these three components really intertwine. If I feel good physically, it has a ripple effect through the other areas of my life and I become more positive. I’ve struggled with self-image my whole adult life (so far), so feeling good physically has helped to improve my mental state.

Many Christian friends of mine have tried to pour the “typical Christian” wisdom into me–all that matters is what God sees; you are made in His image; He calls you beautiful. The problem is when my depressive symptoms present, I don’t hear that. Instead, I hear all the negatives. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I knew I needed to do something about that negative voice, so I started a different exercise regimen. Not only has it helped me to manage my anxiety and depressive symptoms, but it’s also encouraged me. Because here’s how I see it: if God calls me loved and beautiful, then I deserve to make myself feel the way He sees me.

Really, what it has done is make me stronger.

I know I’m stronger physically because I can run faster and for longer and have a shorter recovery time. I can lift heavy things–like cat litter and my 45-pound dog–and it feels easier than it was even six months ago. I don’t have as much knee pain as I used to, even though that is an issue that will probably never go away.

I know I’m stronger mentally because I’m not crying the minute my mind because spinning. I can take a step back and be a little more objective. Don’t get me wrong–I still have days where I just want to cry, and on those days I allow myself the release. Once I do, I can walk away from those feelings, confident they were dealt with. I still overanalyze and play things on repeat–because that’s what anxiety does–but I’m getting better at stopping the cycle. I made friends, and I make plans with them, neither of which I had dreamt I could do a year go.

I know I’m stronger spiritually because I am more patient. I have constant silent prayer to God, sometimes just whispering “Jesus.” I go to church every Sunday and worship with my whole heart, something I didn’t think I could do a year ago. I write down my favorite Bible verses. When something starts going in my head, my first line of defense is to look up a related verse.

I’m far from perfect, though. I sometimes cheat on the nutrition in the exercise program, but I’m better about not beating myself up for it. I do still have negative self talk, but I’m better at combating it. I sometimes let my daily life get in the way and forget to seek out time with the Lord or put Him first like I should. But I know I’m not where I was.

. . . . . .

I know I’ve written on strength before, and I probably will again. Gaining strength is a part of the growing process, and it’s continuous. We don’t just stop finding or gaining strength–everything we encounter helps us dig a little deeper and be a little stronger. When we are weak, when we think we cannot possibly go on, that is when God gives us strength. My storm is far from over, but I am, so far, proud of the person I have become. I feel like I am getting back parts of me that I lost, and that takes strength every day.

Just like picking up new and heavier weights is hard, picking up pieces of yourself is tough. You have to decide how the pieces fit back together. You have to decide if you will include everything or only some things. You have to decide who you are and who you want to–and are meant to–be. You have to look at yourself in the mirror every day and be satisfied with who you are. Are you?

Trust & Intuition

I’ve said before that my dog has taught me plenty of lessons, and she continues to teach me things on every adventure we take together. With our road trip fast approaching, I wanted to get Belle used to her life vest, especially since she’s never worn one before. So I decided to take her to a dog beach.

Belle is what I call “selectively social.” She’s also the type of dog who, if she is not interested in socializing or in befriending another dog, is quick to let that other dog know. In that sense, she is like me. Perhaps that is why we are such a good match. This means, though, that when we go somewhere lots of other dogs are likely to be, I watch her very closely. She never instigates, but she will defend herself.

We have visited this particular dog beach before, before we really delved into training together, so I could safely compare her behavior this time to her behavior last time. And, boy, has it improved! (Score one for me!)

She loves fetching toys–balls, sticks, you name it–and she doesn’t much care if it’s really someone else’s toy. But she gets very possessive of balls and throw toys around other dogs, so I never bring them. (Can you see where this is going?) One dog parent had brought a water throw toy for their dog, and when it was thrown, Belle wanted to tromp after it, even though the other dog had it in and was swimming back. When I called “Belle, no!” she stopped in the waves, and I could see her think. Then she made the decision on her own–to listen to me and return to me. I was impressed to say the least.

Like I said, she is “selectively social,” so when another dog started trotting around after her and trying to instigate who knows what, Belle got grouchy–just a small warning noise–and ran to me. I try to allow her to stand up for herself first and see if the other dog takes the hint, but when this dog just would not stop, Belle turned. I grabbed the leather tab I have on her correction collar just to have control of her, and this other dog circled us. What I found interesting is that, even though I had hold of the collar tab, she didn’t try to pull from me to handle the situation herself, like she would have done a year ago.

She even sat still for photos and listened to her commands. She didn’t go in the water until I said it was okay, and she came back to me when I told her to. It felt like she knew I was keeping an eye out, and she trusted me to handle the environment.

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Belle

. . . . . .

On her leash in public Belle is excellent. She can get particular about people approaching me, so we developed a “say hi” command so she would know it’s okay. A complete stranger approached us as we were walking the downtown area and wanted to pet her. She was hesitant about this person and stood close to me, but when I gave her the command, she lifted her head and allowed this individual to pet her. After a second, she turned her attention back to me, as if to say “I’ve had enough,” so I touched her back to let her know I “heard” her.

The best scene, though, was before we left to head home.

We were sitting outside, enjoying a water and the boat scenery, and a young boy–maybe an early teen–sat on a bench just a short distance from us. From the bit of the conversation I overheard while he was on the phone, he seemed in distress. A couple, who I assumed to be his guardians, approached, and he walked up to them, apologizing for something. As he neared our bench, Belle stood and nudged his hand.

“No,” I told her sharply, embarrassed she had just approached without permission.

“Oh, it’s okay, I like dogs,” the boy said, looking to be worried he got her in trouble.

I placed my hand on her back and said to him, “That’s okay. It’s just for her. She is learning she can’t say hi unless given permission.”

But Belle continued to watch him as he had his conversation with this couple. So I watched her.

“Can I pet her?” the boy asked a few seconds later.

“Sure,” I told him, smiling.

Belle took the opportunity. As he bent down to say hi, she folded herself into him and gave him a gentle head butt. Then she did something she doesn’t do to just any stranger: she licked him. And I don’t mean once. She gave him lots of kisses, and I watched with a smile as he laughed joyously and loved on her.

As we drove home, I thought about her interactions throughout the day and how she has improved since last year. I thought about how she listened so well to me, how she was so attuned to me, and how she just seemed to know when someone needed a little extra love. And I was impressed.

. . . . . .

In all we do, it is clear Belle’s trust in me has grown. Our bond has strengthened through training and everything we do together, so she knows me better. She knows when I need her to be near me, whether it’s because I’m uncomfortable in a particular social setting or because I’m in tears at home. Her attention and obedience to commands has gotten better because she wants to please me, and she knows I love her and want to do what is best for her. Our relationship–and thereby her intuition and attention to me–is built on that trust.

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Like Belle, I have grown and learned a lot in this season. Like Belle, I am not perfect; I am still learning. Like Belle, my relationship with God must be built on trust–trusting that He loves me, that He wants what is best for me, and that He has good plans for me. But I would like to think that, like Belle, I know my master’s voice better now.

 

When A Planner Has Anxiety

I’ve been a planner for at least as long as I’ve been in school. I did a lot of activities growing up, so between those extracurriculars and actual schoolwork, planning was essential to success. In college, planning meant learning time management so I could work and maintain a high GPA. Things were often planned out for extensive periods of time–such as multiple semesters. I like having control, and I hate the unknown; planning was a way for me to know and control my world.

When I started going to therapy, it was recommended I try to pinpoint what causes my anxiety. And you know what the root cause ended up being? Yup–planning.

But I should rephrase that to excessive planning. I had been planning my life–and the life of my husband–for years because I wanted control over what could happen. As it turns out, planning can’t control everything, and it can actually breed a lot of resentment.

When I lost control of everything, though, I couldn’t bring myself to plan anything. Not even my day. I was too depressed. And when I tried planning, my heart started racing, I couldn’t breathe, and I would burst into tears.

Over time, and with therapy, I warmed up to planning again, but with a change. I would only plan what was absolutely necessary. I began bullet journaling. Not only does this allow me freedom to only plan what I absolutely have to, but it also gives me a place to write down my thoughts during the day, writing prompts or ideas, and my prayers. Because I tend to overthink, having a safe space to release those thoughts has really made an impact.

As my responsibilities have increased and changed–like having two part-time jobs–I have to plan any fun time, retreats, or vacations I want to enjoy. As my mental state has gotten better, I can actually enjoy those times. And I finally planned my first solo vacation.

Belle and I are going on a road trip.

My birthday is next weekend, and her and I are going to visit family in another state. We will only be gone for four days, but it’s our first trip solo, and I’m really excited. It’s the least amount of planning I have ever put into a trip–I asked at the beginning of the month if they would be around for a visit, and they said yes. I’ve only been really planning it for three weeks.

And it feels really good.

God has used this uncontrollable time in my life to show me I need to learn to let go of control and hand it to Him. As always, I’ll be taking notes the entire trip. I am really looking forward to seeing what I learn about traveling solo with Belle and about myself.

So, I’m curious: what would you like to see about the trip?

Telling Your Story

If you’ve been a follower of this blog for any amount of time, it’s likely that you’ve seen it go through quite a few changes to this point. Seasons, if you will. Like I’ve gone through.

When I started blogging, I wasn’t really sure where I was going with it. I’ve known since college that I want to write, and blogging was sort of my “introduction” to getting “out there” (whatever that really means). But it was more of a public journal, with the only message being “I’m here” and maybe the attempt at online community. As I progressed in my writing, as life happened, and as my seasons changed, I began to feel that wasn’t enough.

When I started taking my writing more seriously, though, I wanted the message to be “you’re not alone,” but I was suddenly afraid. It meant telling my story, and I wasn’t sure if that was “safe.” I wasn’t even sure if I should. After all, who wants to hear my ramblings of my struggles? What I have gone through and continue to go through isn’t near as bad as what other people have suffered through. I’m not even that good.

This change was another opportunity for the enemy to come in and tell me lies. He wanted to take my writing, he wanted me to believe his lies about my abilities–that I was incapable, that my words would never matter–and not Truth. He had been doing a number on my head for years, and here he saw another opportunity. I’m a Christian; I shouldn’t struggle with anxiety. If I have anxiety, it means I don’t really have faith.

But then I encountered a podcast episode from Proverbs 31 Ministries–the podcast that actually jumpstarted my decision to make this blog a true part of my life. And do you know what it was on? Yup–anxiety. And there is one message in that episode that really hit home: seeking outside help does not make you any less of a believer.

And there it was. The truth I so desperately needed to hear as I was on the brink of an episode.

I have been seeing a therapist, but I had felt shame in the need. I have toyed with the idea of medication for my anxiety because it causes me to miss valuable hours of sleep. My therapist even provided me a letter for Belle, assigning her officially as my Emotional Support Animal. But the guilt welled inside me. And suddenly, here I was, listening to other Christian women say that seeking help is good.

This made me realize that maybe other Christian women need to hear the message that they are not alone, just like I needed to hear it.

What’s more is my church began a sermon series a week later called Crash The Chatterbox, and the first message on insecurity laid right on my heart. The minute my pastor said, “who told you the gifts God has given you will not make an impact?” I felt the  tears begin to well up and my soul felt ripped. Because that was exactly how I had been feeling for a while.

The thing is that “you’re not alone” is a strong and much-needed message in the lives of Christian women–heck, in the life of any woman. We all seem to think we are alone, that we are the only ones who suffer, that no one can possibly understand. We feel others will judge or shame us: “they live such happy lives, they couldn’t understand”; “if I tell them about my situation, they’ll tell me how it’s my fault”; “I can’t reveal the truth because I’ve put on a mask for too long.” When the truth is those “others” have probably also faced similar circumstances and we just didn’t witness it, and they are probably just as desperate to share their story to someone who would listen.

Besides, how do we have the Bible? Because Jesus’ disciples decided to tell their stories. And their stories impacted the world.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson: telling your story is important. It doesn’t matter what it is. Do not compare it to others’ stories; your story is your own. And your story is special because it is yours. God’s impact on our lives was never meant to be a secret–every time He does something, we are to shout our praise and give Him the glory and point others to Him. And how else do we do that than by telling our stories?

A Racing Heart

My mind is tangled. My heart races. I can’t breathe. No matter how much I try to regulate my breathing, I can’t calm it down. So I sit in a type of silent pain, waiting for the hours to pass.

. . . . . .

This is what my life is like a lot of days. Struggling with anxiety means your head hardly has a quiet moment. Sometimes it has to do with a situation or event, sometimes it doesn’t. My anxiety has been around since at least high school. I think I hardly noticed it in school because anxiety and stress is “expected” in college. When life after college got out of my control, my anxiety “came back”, and it did so with a vengeance.

As a Christian woman, I have been given the “Christian answers” to my anxiety:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know not God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” — Jeremiah 29:11

But these didn’t really help because I didn’t understand what was behind the anxiety. And there is something behind the anxiety: a voice whispering all my insecurities.

You’re not really qualified for that job, so don’t even try.

You’re not a good woman or a good wife; it’s no wonder you’re struggling. He doesn’t want you. Who would?

You’re a terrible dog-mom. You don’t know what you’re doing at all.

But that isn’t God. It’s the enemy. And I have to tune out the enemy or I will continue to suffer.

“The voice you believe will determine the future you experience.”

If I continue to give space to the enemy’s voice, I will experience an anxiety-ridden, miserable future. If I choose to turn my mind to Christ, though, I will experience His peace, love, and mercy–and a more positive future.

Over one year ago, I felt a nudge that I felt was from God. I felt like He was telling me that what was about to happen would lead to a positive future. But then things crashed around me, and I began to question if I had truly heard Him.

And that is when the enemy comes in and whispers lies: Did you really hear from God? Did He really tell you that? Maybe He really doesn’t want good things for you. He’s just watching you suffer, and He isn’t going to do anything about it.

But getting out of my head long enough to even try to focus on God’s voice and promises can be a lot. It can be emotionally draining.

. . . . . .

I had to find something to get out of my head. So I started taking exercise more seriously. I began running–and have even done a few 5K races–with my dog, Belle, and I was finally utilizing the exercise facility at my apartment. I noticed a difference within days. My mind was focused on running pace and number of reps, so it didn’t have time to entertain any more lies.

Exercise helps me refocus my energy and push myself in positive ways–in ways that will make me physically and mentally stronger. Adding Belle to the mix actually helped my head because I became focused on our combined abilities and we bonded.

 

Even with music in my ears, I often start to silently pray, especially during races. This helps my spirit and it makes the time fly by.

And when I get home from a run, I feel motivated to read my Bible and journal.

. . . . . .

But some days are better than others. Some days my heart races for no reason. And if that happens when I’m at work, I have to wait it out until I can go on a run. Today was one of those days. As I was running, lies began to seep in again: you won’t make 3 miles. Just give up now. Stop trying. But I didn’t listen; I pushed through. And when I refocused my energy on my music, on running with my dog, on the moment, I was able to push that whisper away.

My story with anxiety isn’t over. There are so many other components–exercise and nutrition, therapy, practices. But I know God has plans for me, and I believe that now. I am better at discerning what is God and what is the enemy. And that is progress.

. . . . . .

Do you struggle with anxiety? What do you do to manage it? Is there a way you could manage it better?

 

Time Doesn’t Stop

Head’s scared, heart broke
Burned from a band of gold
Rather just be alone…
Bang, bang on a drum
You’re not a setting sun
You ain’t even close to done…

The clock don’t stop ticking away…
–Clock Don’t Stop, Carrie Underwood

. . . . . .

A year ago, this song brought me to tears yet I played it on repeat. Maybe because, even then, I knew the truth in it.

In any relationship we are in, we fight. In marriage, though, every fight feels like it’s the fight. We sometimes forget that we can take a step back, breathe, and reorganize our thoughts–we don’t have to engage right then and there. We get ramped up and we forget to slow down.

The interesting thing for me is that I teach conflict management. In the past, I would analyze our conflicts through the lens of theory until my husband got upset that I was putting everything in that perspective. I never understood why he got upset. It helped me to cope and step back, so shouldn’t he like that it helps me be more level-headed? What I failed to see is that it made him feel like I was studying him and our relationship instead of being in it.

And instead of turning to my education, I should have been turning to Jesus.

. . . . . .

The Bible actually has some things to say about conflict:

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” — Proverbs 15:1

“‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath…” — Ephesians 4:26

These ideas have been whispered in my spirit this last year, and they are things I have been actively working on. I want to say, though, that this does not mean as Christians (and, frankly, as Christian women) we can’t ever be frustrated. We are human; God knows this. That is why those verses are there–to remind us the best way to handle those situations.

It’s also important to remember that no day is guaranteed, and we should try to make right as soon as we are able. “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” reminds us to forgive quickly.

And that is what Carrie Underwood’s song reminds me of: forgiveness. Even in the middle of a fight, no matter how big or small, step away from the emotions and turn to Jesus. Ask Him to give you a loving heart and to help you forgive, even when you think the other person doesn’t deserve it.

Because the truth is the clock doesn’t stop ticking, and you don’t want to be caught wishing things could have been different.