What Is Strength?

“Strength comes from doing what you thought you couldn’t do.”

Okay, so this is actually from the trainer with the Beachbody exercise program I’ve just started. She uses it to push you to give a little more in your workout, but it rings true for life.

If you had asked me a year ago if I would make it through this storm, I would have said “no.” Beyond that, if you had ever before asked me if I could handle this type of devastation, I would have said no. But the year and a half has changed me.

Because I was thrust into (extreme) discomfort, God had an opportunity to pour into me in ways I had not before imagined. It caused me to draw near to Him. A year ago was the first time I truly cried out to Him, and I have felt Him with me ever since.

This time last year I was a complete mess. I was so depressed I could barely function. I wanted to sleep all day, wishing I could just sleep away the problems. But sleep didn’t solve anything, and, in fact, it started to make things worse. So I pulled what my pastor once referred to as a “Hail Mary”: I called out to God more sincerely than I ever have in my life. And then I started going to church.

And that’s when I started to gain strength.

I was suddenly surrounded by people who I felt comfortable opening up to. I was talking and socializing, something I didn’t think I was capable of. (I had even told a friend of mine I didn’t want to make friends at the time because I couldn’t be a good friend because I was struggling too much.) I started thinking about leaving the job, and then I did. I gained confidence as I began writing more. I was talking more than I had in weeks. I still remember the first real smile I had after everything, and do you want to guess where it happened? At church.

A friend (let’s call her A) recently told me her boyfriend had expressed to her that he thought A and I would become close because we are both so social. I looked at her for a moment, laughed, and said, “I’m really not that social.” But it was then I had a realization: God had given me the strength to keep pressing on and to socialize when I had never thought I could.

So here I am.

A year ago today, I couldn’t even think about lasting all day outside let alone beginning a new exercise or health regimen. A year ago today, I was so distraught I thought I would never smile again. A year ago today, I couldn’t tell you who or what I was. A year ago today, I was not who I am today.

Today, I proudly call myself a writer. Today, I make plans with girl friends to go do things. Today, I can leave my phone at home without having anxiety. Today, I sleep because I am exhausted from a job I enjoy. Today, I don’t always have to force a smile or a laugh. Today, I can breathe.

I never thought I would be able to get through this. I am by no means saying my storm has passed, but I know I can stand firm in the storm because God is my strength. I have a mental picture of myself standing in the midst of a tornado, as it is swirling around me, but I am unmoving.

We battle what we do for a reason. I believe that reason is so God can use it to strengthen us, to make us turn to Him, to enhance the relationship we have with Him. If you’re in the middle of a storm, know that you will get strength as you press into God and He walks you through the darkness.

So, sure, strength in exercising is important, and you gain muscle by pushing yourself. But you strengthen your faith “muscle” by believing even when it seems like your world is crumbling. It can be scary, and it is not easy at all, but it is worth it.

 

The Creation of: “The Craziness of Laundry”

He found her on the bed amongst scattered, half-folded clean clothes. Mascara stained her cheeks, her nose was red and splotchy. He rushed to her side.

. . . . . .

My husband and I got married the summer we entered our junior year of college, as we were transferring colleges. At the time, I was majoring in biology, but I had flat-out failed general chemistry II at our first university (well, I got a D, but that wasn’t good enough for the degree path of course). The night before classes started, I looked at the learning management system for the chemistry class I was set to retake.

“I don’t remember learning any of this!” I shrieked at my husband.

“C’mon, we learned that!” he told me, perusing the syllabus.

It was about that time I started crying. “I don’t remember any of it,” I bawled.

He tried to tell me it would come back to me once class started, but I had lost all confidence, and I told him I would just fail again, that I just wasn’t cut out for biology.

“I want to change my degree,” I told him, having made up my mind once my tears settled.

“To what?”

“English.”

He paused, and he told me to sleep on it. The next day, we walked up to campus to make our way to the admissions and advising offices. We stopped outside the building, and he gave me the sternest look he had ever given me to that point.

“You can change your degree,” he told me (not that I’d necessarily asked his permission), “but I don’t want to hear you complain about it in a month. You make this change, you don’t go back. Are you sure about this?”

“I want to change my degree,” I told him, resolute.

He took my hand, and we walked into the building.

Another woman might have yelled at him, about how dare he try to tell me what decisions I can or cannot make. Another woman might have argued. I didn’t. Because I knew then, and I still know, that in that moment, he wanted to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. He wanted me to know he fully supported me, but that this change would be a permanent one.

I changed my degree that day, and I never once regretted that choice.

. . . . . .

The college we graduated from had three options for English at the time: English – General Option; English – Creative Writing; or English – Journalism. At our previous university, I had taken a lot of English courses, since it was my passion, and the General Option fit best with the transfer credit I had. As with any degree path, though, I got to choose electives. All but one of the degree path electives I chose was creative writing of some kind (the other one was working on the student newsmagazine).

My senior year of college, I took a Creative Writing course. To this day, this was my favorite course, and what I learned about writing, even though I no longer have the physical notes, has stuck with me.

One of our assignments was to write a short story where we did not reveal anything until the end. I had never done anything like that before, and I had no idea how I was going to accomplish it. I always had high expectations of myself, and I didn’t know how I would meet those expectations with this assignment.

I had just had what I would later (and I mean a few years later) realize was my first real breakdown, and, looking back, it was probably some initial sign of some sort of depression. My husband worked off-campus, while I worked on campus as a tutor, and he had one semester less than I did left in school. I hated household chores, and all I was doing was homework. I felt stuck and inadequate.

When I told my husband of this assignment, stressed out about creating something I could be proud of, he paused and looked around our small apartment. We had laundry piled up that I had not yet folded because…well, I couldn’t be bothered. We always joked we would get a maid when we had “adult careers,” with “adult paychecks.”

“Write something about how laundry makes you crazy,” he said with a smile.

It was a good-natured comment, meant to make me laugh or smile. But it was also honest in that he thought writing would help me.

I remember just staring at him and excitedly grabbing my laptop.

“How’s this?” I asked him once the piece was complete.

He read it over, chuckled, and said it was good. I received a kiss on the forehead for my effort.

Writing that piece ended up helping me that night. Bonus: my instructor and my class (because I ended up sharing it with the class) loved it.

. . . . . .

That piece has sat in my external hard drive for years, untouched. It hadn’t been changed. It hadn’t been edited. It hadn’t even been read since I submitted it as my assignment. Looking back, it was the first time I realized writing could help heal. As I’ve been seeking to write more and make it more like a job, I decided it was time to revisit some previous pieces.

Today, The Craziness of Laundry finally got to see the light of day. I hope you take a moment to read it, and I hope you enjoy it.

Sometimes it’s the most mundane thing that can push us to the edge.

Making Mistakes

Today was the first day in a few weeks I broke down in tears and fell on my knees, literally crying out to God.

Even though this past weekend was enjoyable as we spent time on the beach in Delaware and I watched Belle frolic in the ocean for the first time, I could feel something bubble up, just beneath the surface. I could feel it in the way I had trouble focusing on anything other than Belle, in the way I couldn’t control checking my phone though I knew there was no reason to, and in the way I could barely finish a thought without a heavy mental sigh. Another episode.

I missed my therapy appointment last week because of our trip to Delaware. I thought I’d be okay for a week, but I guess I didn’t realize how much therapy is helping me.

I left work early today, explaining I “don’t feel well,” that I’m “taking it one day at a time,” and requested to work from home the rest of the week in hopes it will help me recoup some of myself. I don’t know if it will.

Honestly, the only thing I know to do at this point is cry out to God.

A few days ago, I woke up with this idea in my head: we can acknowledge we made a mistake without dismissing that we learned from it. As the day wore on (and I do mean wore on), I began to wonder if it was God trying to speak to me.

For weeks, I’ve been told by (some) family members not to view past decisions as mistakes. But why not? These people seem to think I’m somehow dismissing that I’ve learned from the mistake. I promise you, I’m not. I just learned the hard way. But the fact of the matter is I did make a mistake. If I don’t admit it, if I don’t say it out loud, if I don’t own up to it, then nothing can ever change.

I made a mistake.

Now all I can do is thank God for letting me learn, for not forsaking me, even in the midst of my mistakes, and for keeping His promises, even if I cannot see them yet.

Since my positivity challenge ended, I’ve struggled to write. It goes back to feeling I have nothing to write about, nothing that anyone else would care about.

But that is the enemy speaking.

I know that because one of the comments the Editor wrote on my draft of my final publication for the positivity challenge was telling me that she followed each of the posts and that I have inspired others to challenge themselves. And what better praise could an aspiring writer get than to hear you’ve inspired others?

So, yes, I made a mistake. But already God has kept a promise to me, and He has used that mistake to turn me back to a gift He blessed me with.

After falling on my knees, and with tears still streaming down my face, I took a nap. (Because when I’m depressed, I sleep a lot.) I slept longer than I meant to, but when I woke up, I felt a little better. Maybe not 100%, because that will come in time, but a little. My tears had stopped at least. But in that tearful crying out, I felt close to God. In the admitting of making a mistake, in admitting to trusting in my own will above His, I felt relief.

I hope I can encourage you. If you made a mistake, cry out to Him. It doesn’t make you weak. It brings peace, relief, and new insight. It is in those moments, when you give yourself entirely to Him, that He will speak to you.

Day 11: Researching Myself

How did it go?

I started looking at apartments today. There’s something about apartment hunting on your own that is both sad and (almost) exciting. All I care about is finding a place I can afford and that is good for Belle and the cats.

I also started listening to some writing and career podcasts, and I even downloaded some writing courses on iTunes U. Just partaking in those makes me feel I am moving in the right direction personally.

My neutrality doesn’t seem to be going away. Instead, it seems to be turning into periodic breakdowns. I guess I’ll have to see how it progresses as I get ready for my next work event, which will most likely cause some anxiety and help the spiral into breakdowns.

What did I learn?

One thing I started to realize, especially as I look at apartments, is that, in the past (including most recently, before relocating), I tried to plan everything in life. And that just isn’t possible. I took advantage of people close to me and relationships. I made people feel like they were inconveniencing me because I had made all the plans but didn’t make them feel they had a say, even if that wasn’t my intent. I thought if I just planned enough, nothing would go wrong because I would have planned for it all.

Guess what? God showed me different.

My mom used to tell me “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” And she’s right. His plans are so much better than any I could have thought of. I just have to work on trusting that.

I also realized what gives me anxiety: thinking about the future. I realized it always has, really, but my way to try to combat it was to just keep planning. Heavens knows that didn’t work, either! I need to focus on the present, because He holds the future.

In a Christian podcast I was listening to, the speaker recommended taking an “inventory” of your mental whereabouts at certain intervals throughout the day—your thoughts, your feelings, what is driving you. I got to thinking that it may be a good idea to do to help me focus on the present.

So, I’m going to set my phone’s timer for 90 minutes during the day, and each time it goes off, I will stop, assess myself, and write down what I find. Almost as if I am researching myself, and that may be just what I have to do—research myself.