Pressure

One of the messages we, as Christians, hear most often is probably that others should see something different about us. We are not to be like this world; we are called to be the Light of our Savior. Talk about pressure, right?

Luke sets the stage for Christ’s birth by giving the brief account of John the Baptist’s birth. An angel appears to his father Zacharias and tells him that his wife Elizabeth will have a son who will be highly favored by the Lord. Zacharias does not believe this, since he and his wife are past child-bearing age and she has not had children. Because of his disbelief, he is turned deaf and mute until his son is born (Luke 1:5-25).

Just the next verse over, in Luke 1:26, the angel appears to Mary and tells her she will have a son. She is shocked, but she worships God. Her next move is to go visit her relative, Elizabeth. (Yes–it’s the same Elizabeth.) And what happens when she appears? “And as it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41).

Elizabeth knew, her unborn son knew, that Mary was different. In fact, Elizabeth asks Mary, “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary is already being referred to as the mother of the Savior. If anyone has ever known pressure in her life, it’s Mary, I’m sure.

We can see the difference in Zacharias’ and Mary’s responses–one of disbelief and one of worship. I think that’s a pretty clear example of how we can handle pressure. We can believe in God but have disbelief about His works that we become silent. Or we can believe in Him and, even in the midst of the unbelievable, say “may it happen as You command it, Lord!”

And that is how people know who we belong to.

A few months ago, when I was getting my nails done, I got into a conversation with the lady next to me about my circumstances. Nothing detailed, nothing overly personal. She said she had felt like she should talk with me, and she asked if I was a “believer.” To be honest, this term throws me off. Can’t you just ask if I’m Christian? Or a woman of faith? I could “believe” in a lot of things. Anyway… She said she felt I was because of how at peace I seemed. After the conversation ended, I smiled. I had never had someone assume I was a Christian because of how I talked, and I had a moment where I thought “but how did she even see that?” And then I had another moment later: “Oh, no. What if I don’t always show that? What about those days I feel utter despair and no peace? Am I fraud?”

It can feel like a lot of pressure sometimes, but that’s because we are human and we aren’t perfect. But God loves us anyway. And in this season, where everyone else is so uplifted and joyful but I still struggle with a sense of hopelessness some days, I have to remember to take the pressure off myself. I’m not a “bad Christian” because there are days I just want to cry when I get home. I don’t believe in God any less because I sometimes struggle to see the good that can come from this season. My first response needs to be Mary’s, not Zacharias’.

And here’s the thing: God put that pressure on someone else, on His Son, so I didn’t have to struggle with it.

So, I want to leave you with this: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

We All Do It Differently

I know that in church we are told that to spend time with God, we must pray and meditate on His Word. While I agree wholeheartedly, I also feel that spending time with God looks different for each of us.

I listen to Christian podcasts on my drive to drop Belle off at daycamp and then to work. (I navigate between Journeywoman and Proverbs 31 Ministries.) I pray in the car and periodically during my day. I am currently reading through The Middle of the Messand taking notes. Every time I go on hikes and weekend adventures with Belle, I find myself thanking the Lord for not only the ability to do those things, but also for the mere existence of Belle. I find myself just speaking with Him, saying “Jesus” over and over again. I find Him in the moments I break down in tears and unexpected peace washes over me. Sometimes I find Him in the tears. Plus, of course, I go to church every Sunday.

I try to do Bible journaling. I try to read my Bible and let it sink in and take notes. More often than not, though, I fail. I go back to the same verses I have read over the past year because of the comfort they provide me as I fight this storm. Sometimes I’ll find a new verse and write it down. Sometimes I find the verse, but I just read it a few times. Sometimes I spend a few seconds reading, sometimes more.

Unfortunately, I’ve allowed life to get in the way of spending time with Him the “right” way, but I know He is present in my every day.

I know He is there because I feel peace in moments I’m a mess on my bedroom floor. I know He is there because I can discern His voice to me in moments I am doubtful, questioning, or in distress. I know He is there because of how I have changed.

My point is this: as Christians, yes, we need to spend time with the Lord. We need to find that quiet, uninterrupted time to be with Him. But it’s okay if those moments don’t look the same for you that they do for others. We are individuals, made uniquely by Him, and He knows how we best communicate with Him. So spend time with God in the way you feel closest to Him.

It doesn’t matter how you spend time with Him. What matters is that you do.

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.

 

 

 

On Patience

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5: 1-4

. . . . . .

Last week, the group I serve with at church wanted to recognize other church members who they believe were showing the fruits of the spirit by writing the fruit on a small piece of paper and giving it to them. A friend caught me off guard and handed me this piece of paper that said “patience.” She said it was for everything I had been going through this year.

 

Being recognized for anything makes me uncomfortable, but it got me thinking. This church launched last September, and I have been attending since Launch Day. This means these people–the people who have become friends, my church family–have watched me go from downcast and crying almost every Sunday and every small group, hardly speaking to anyone, to serving on the team, smiling, and interacting with others. This person has watched me grow. And the one thing I have been hearing from God consistently this entire season is “patience.” So it’s no coincidence I was given that word.

. . . . . .

I tend to process emotions and changes pretty quickly. I used to get upset when others didn’t process this stuff as quickly as I did, which usually led to more frustration. I’m that person that thinks “here is how to handle these emotions, put this piece here, and let’s move on.” But I’ve learned that I can’t do that because pressuring people into processing what they’re feeling won’t help them process any quicker or any better.

So I have to practice patience and allow them to process in their own way and on their own time.

. . . . . .

I have been asked why I haven’t moved on with my life. The initial response is simple: my heart has not changed, and for a while depression and anxiety ruled my life. But the more complex answer is that moving on looks different for everyone. And I chose to move forward.

I knew I couldn’t stay in a depressive haze forever. But I also hated it so much when I got the “Christian responses” because they felt so insincere to me. The more I became involved in my church, though, and the more I began praying and learning about God, the more I felt like my world would be okay. Because I had to allow God to answer me, not people. And that’s when I began hearing “patience.”

So I stopped what I had been doing and took time to re-evaluate my choices and decided to take things in slowly for the first time in a long time. I began getting back into things I enjoyed. I started writing again. I took time to properly train and bond with Belle. I went back to my roots, so to speak. I started seeing the girl that I had been when I married my husband, and when she started to shine through again, I saw hope.

But it’s not something that could happen overnight. Because trials breed patience, which breeds hope.

. . . . . .

The truth is, though, I am not that exact same girl. And thank goodness.

I am older. I know a bit more of myself. I have a stronger faith. I believe and love harder. I will try harder than that girl would have.

Because trials also change us. But they change us into who God wants us to be.

. . . . . .

If you are struggling, be patient. Often times the battle isn’t ours; it’s for God. I guarantee He is moving, even if you do not see direct evidence. You may not see it right that minute, but when you look back, you will see He did some incredible things.

And if you know someone who is struggling–it doesn’t matter what the struggle is–be patient. If they don’t process like you do, be patient. If they need time or space, grant it and be patient. If they don’t want to talk about something, if they don’t want to move forward, if they don’t want to have the “Christian conversations,” just be patient.

Sometimes we have to go through tough times to see God, to draw near to Him. He will use those storms to change you and to glorify Him. Those storms will build your character, teach you to persevere, and show you how to walk in love, patience, and gentleness.

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.