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).

Different Versions

Have you ever had an experience with a friend, but they seem to remember it differently than you? That’s how I’m feeling as I am reading about the birth of Jesus.

Luke doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on His birth. In fact, Luke 1:39-56 is all about Mary visiting Elizabeth while Elizabeth was pregnant with John and Mary worshipping God. There are only 20 verses, Luke 2:1-20, that talk about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Needless to say, even after looking at footnotes and related passages, I left these passages feeling a little disappointed. Advent is about waiting expectantly, hopefully, with joy, and I felt…underwhelmed.

So in my desire to more fully know this story, I turned to another gospel: the book of Matthew. There is a significant difference between these two gospels, one that I had forgotten when I took on this endeavor, but one that is interesting to see.

Matthew 1:18 through Matthew 2:23 is the birth of Jesus, His family’s escape to Egypt, and establishing their home in Nazareth. Luke doesn’t cover any of that. I don’t know about you, but one of the things I remember most about the story of Christ’s birth is the star, the angel coming to the shepherds, and the wise men. Matthew covers all of that.

But what I find really intriguing is that while Luke writes about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and the reaction to the pregnant Mary by Elizabeth’s unborn child (John), Matthew writes about Joseph’s struggle with the news of his betrothed’s pregnancy. Joseph was concerned about what he would do with this woman who was pregnant though they were not yet together. And in his worry and attempt to solve it on his own–by “putting her away secretly” (Luke 1:19)–an angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid, that this was by design of the Lord.

Joseph is described as a just man. According to a Word Wealth section in my Bible, this description means the following: “upright, blameless, righteous, conforming to God’s law and man’s. In the NT, it is used primarily of persons who correspond to the divine standard of right made possible through justification and sanctification.” So, Joseph was a man of God, by God’s own definition, and even he was afraid.

How many of us have gone through a situation where we have no idea how it started or what will come of it, but we are afraid? Maybe we are afraid of what others will say. Maybe we are afraid of what we will be like when it’s over. Maybe we hope that by hiding it away, it will go away. And have you ever wished God would just come down to you and say “Don’t worry–this is by design” followed by specifically the good that will come from it? I know I have. Heck, I still do.

But that’s the incredible thing about Christ’s birth: He is the way God told us not to be afraid. And I was reminded of that when I read this passage. That is what this season is about: waiting for Jesus without fear.

We are going to be afraid. We are going to go through all the possibilities in our minds of how to solve our problem. We are going to wonder. But God is telling us that we should not be afraid, that if we just wait we will see God with us.

Seasons

Just as we experience seasons with the weather, we experience seasons in life. Just as with the weather, some seasons we enjoy more than others. But every season has a purpose.

As this winter and this holiday season set in, I can’t help but think back to where I was last year. Not physically, but mentally. I know I’m different now, and I know God has changed me.

All last year I felt I was in the middle of a hurricane or tornado or some other severe weather pattern. I was on shaky ground. My world had been turned upside down. I was being batted around by negative thoughts and crippling anxiety and depression. I prayed that I could just find shelter and stay huddled until it was all over. Maybe if I closed my eyes, plugged my ears, and screamed it would all go away.

God answered that prayer, but not in the way I anticipated. Nothing changed overnight, and nothing has happened in the way I had specifically asked God for it to happen. But I had prayed to find shelter in the storm, and I did: in Him.

At first, I started with prayers of desperation and heartache. Every prayer was a literal cry for help. In every prayer, I begged. I attempted to bargain with Him–“if You do it this way, I’ll never ask You for anything again.” But as time moved forward, those prayers transformed from “change this” to “change me.” And when I finally admitted–to myself and to Him–that I couldn’t do anything, I gave Him room to move.

And move He did. I have a better sense of identity now. I know more about not only who I am as a person, but also who I am in Christ. I have a better sense of my calling and my passions. I know what I can and can’t do in a variety of circumstances. Above all, I’ve realized I cannot expect another human to fulfill a hole or a longing they could never realistically fill anyway.

What felt like a long, cold, stormy winter has transitioned to what feels more like fall. Yes, I know that’s not the real order of seasons, but that’s the best way I can describe it. I still hope for things. There are good things that I can see, but there are still things I feel are missing. So, maybe then it’s more of a very early, dreary spring than fall.

Don’t be deceived. It took me a long time–about a year!–to get to this point. A year of introspection, of crying, of wanting to sleep it away, of reading, of therapy. And I’m not still not 100% okay, still not perfect, still not exactly where I want to be. I’m still a work in progress.

It’s the most difficult season I’ve had to navigate, but, while I would never wish it on anyone, I can see now that God will use it, and has used it, for a purpose. It’s really the first time I can say that I know God works things for good.

And that’s why today, on this last day of the thankful challenge, I’m going to risk being thankful for something that may be controversial: this season. But being thankful for a thing and being thankful for what it has taught you are different things. I’m not thankful that it happened. What I am thankful for is that God has used it to make me a better person and that He continues to use it to show me, and others, that brokenness doesn’t define you or scare Him.

. . . . . .

What is your favorite season?

Do you need to be thankful for a particular season in your life?

Have you ever been grateful for something out of the ordinary?

Is there a difficult circumstance you’re facing where you need to see God’s goodness? Or did you see His goodness on the other side of a difficult situation?

Thankful for…Community

It’s been difficult for me to make friends, and that’s my own fault.

I used to be a social butterfly, but as I got older–and had some bad experiences–I took on the mentality of “I have 3 friends; I don’t need more.” Throughout my marriage, my husband and I have moved every 2 years. Not for the military, but because we changed universities. When I first started college, I had a desire to make friends. I wanted to have those late-night, candy-fueled study sessions in a dorm.  I wanted to giggle with girl friends and walk to class with people and go on adventures with others. And for the first year or two, I did that. I made friends. We studied together, we did projects, we had Bible study, we went on weekend trips.

But then my husband and I moved. And I was devastated. Not at the move, but at the loss of my friends. There were nights I cried. There were nights I begged to go back. There were nights I insisted we move back to our home state because I knew I had friends there.

The move was for the best. We weren’t happy at the first university, and we wanted a different environment. My learning style required small classes, and I was about to change my degree from biology to English, and the college we transferred to was a small liberal arts school. But after marriage and the move, I felt like making friends was hard. Not because of any fault of my husband’s, but because I struggled to find people who could relate. I was young and married, so I was a bit of an anomaly. I also knew we would be graduating in two years, and I would be headed to graduate school. I also wanted to keep my head down and study to get the best grades I could.

So, instead of pressing in and trying, I stepped back. My husband became my best friend, and the only time I talked to classmates was really while I was on campus.

When we moved for my graduate program, that mentality didn’t change. I knew I would be graduating in two years, so I thought it would be pointless to make friends. I didn’t want to be distracted from my studies, and I thought having friends would negatively impact my grades. I even recall telling my husband once, who wanted me to make friends, “What’s the point? We’ll be gone soon.”

I had grown close to a few girls my last year of high school, and we have stayed friends. I always thought I didn’t need anyone else. What the issue really was was fear. I was afraid to make friends that would make it difficult to leave. I didn’t want to fall in love with where we were or who we were surrounded by because if we left, I would be devastated and feel alone, just like I did when we left the first university. I was protecting myself.

So I never thought I would again see a time that I made friends and was happy about it, regardless of what my future may hold. But now is that time. Thanks to my church.

I have become friends with a few girls from church, and I find that, for once, I don’t feel entirely defeated after spending time with them. I don’t get my energy from being around people. Social situations, especially ones with more than 3 other people, take an emotional toll on me, and I tend to have to go home and decompress. While where I get my energy from hasn’t changed all that much, I don’t feel completely drained after spending time with these people.

They have welcomed me with open arms when I was beginning to think no one would. I am fearful, I have anxiety, I’m uncertain, I love my pets more than most people, I have a pseudo non-traditional job, I often feel broken and unprepared for life…and yet, they have accepted me. They encourage me to grow and think and be myself.

And it is for that I am thankful.

I am thankful for the community I have found. I am thankful I know people who make me look forward to going to a small group every week. I am thankful for people who allow and encourage me to be open. I am thankful for people who accept me. I am thankful for new friends.

If you’ve struggled, or are struggling, to make friends, no matter the reason, take your time. Allow yourself to come to a healthy place where you would be willing to accept friendships. Be thankful for even that one person you trust. And if you blog, you have a welcoming community here. Because we all need community of some kind.

So, to my girl friends–all of you–if you’re reading this, thank you. Thank you for knowing me and knowing my struggles and accepting and loving me anyway.

And to this wonderful blogging community, thank you for following me on my journey and for helping me to grow not only as a person but as a blogger.

Today, I am thankful for community.

. . . . . .

What community are you thankful for?

Mental & Physical Preparation

This season has been a trying one for me, and God has guided me through ways to navigate it. Through His direction, I have turned to writing and exercise to manage my anxiety and depressive symptoms, both of which are far healthier than the alternatives.

I’ve talked about how running helps me get out of my head, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February. In preparation for this, I’ve signed up for other races strategically between now and then. And Sunday is race 1: a 10K.

I ran 6.2 miles last Sunday as a practice run, so I’m toning down my running this week. Instead, I’m doing light exercises and some yoga–all from the comfort of my apartment. Nutrition is equally as important as the actual physical exercise, so I’m also being conscious of what I eat.

Only three days in to this “regimen”, and it hasn’t been easy. I’m tempted by cookies and Halloween candy every day. And, admittedly, I bought a pizza for dinner (though I didn’t finish all of it!). But having just completed Beachbody’s 80 Day Obsession, I am feeling confident that I can control myself…at least better than I used to be able to.

But physical preparation is only half the battle. Mental preparation is just as important. And as I’ve only ever run 5Ks before, my mind is doing it’s fair share of negative self talk: Why on earth did you sign up for this? You don’t have self control when it comes to food. You’re no different now. You’re never going to be able to do that half-marathon. 

Unlike the old me, this me isn’t going to give in to that nonsense. There are times on my runs when, even through the music blaring in my ears, that negative voice decides to be louder and I physically shake my head to shake it off or say a silent prayer. There have been times when, mid workout in the privacy of my apartment, I’ve actually said out loud “shut up!” to no one but that voice. There have been moments I have cried out loud “Jesus, please!” when the voice seems to be too much in control. The funny thing is, when I do that, I have this mental picture of, what I call, “bitch-me” making an angry face–lip curl, raised eyebrow, side eye–and giving me a doubting look while she fades back into the darkness. Because she knows she’s been defeated. It may only be for that moment, but she has been. And she will continue to be defeated one moment at a time.

Because that is how progress works. It doesn’t happen overnight. We won’t get rid of negative self talk in one day. We won’t cry out to Jesus and suddenly everything is better right then. We won’t because it’s those moments–the moments we need His grace and His strength the most–that help make us stronger.

Physical preparation means I eat right and do physical practices that will make me stronger but not wear me out or injure me. Mental preparation means I talk myself up this whole week, I excitedly tell others what I’m doing, and tell myself I will finish strong.

I don’t know what being prepared looks like for you, but it’s an important step in getting over any humps and in being prepared for when that negative voice creeps in. Being prepared doesn’t mean dwelling on the negativity; it means knowing what can trigger it and combating it accordingly.

I know my preparation journey–be it physical or spiritual–is far from over. And neither is yours. Stay in it in faith. It will get better, but only if you prepare.

The Connection Between Confidence & Independence

Independence changes you.

I’ve had the opportunity to become more independent in both work and outside endeavors, and it has really changed me. I go to work early in the morning, I go home to two cats and a dog, I do some form of exercise–whether it be Beachbody or running–and I prepare my dinner and give the animals theirs. It’s made me see that I haven’t been solely responsible for me in a very long time–if ever. It’s been an adjustment, but I think one that was needed in order for me to get back on track with myself and God.

I’ve said before that I feel I lost myself in my marriage. I had unconsciously replaced God with my husband, and it meant I couldn’t be the woman he had married. This has become my opportunity to find myself–and God–again.

. . . . . .

I feel more confident at work because I am confident in my knowledge and my abilities, something I was lacking in my first job. I know I can do what I’m doing and that I have the tools and the skills to do it well. I think that’s the first sign that I am doing what God has intended for my life. I’m not turning to work for my meaning anymore, but instead turning to my faith.

But independence has also made me more confident in who I am as an individual. I’ve found I can do things I didn’t think I could…and things I didn’t want to. I can save money on my own. I can cook for myself. I am working on making sure I don’t rely on anyone but God to fill a space in my heart.

It was once insisted that there must be something I like about being on my own. The truth is, there is. But it’s nothing about the tangible–it’s the mental. I like that I have gained my mental strength back. I like that I have a bit more confidence in who I am. I like that I have a better idea of what I want to do with my life. And I’m even more confident that my heart hasn’t changed.

For me, independence has boosted my confidence, and my confidence boost has made independence a little easier. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have bad days, that I’ve suddenly changed my mind, or that I’m an entirely different person. It just means I am working to get back to who I am.

God uses our weakest moments, the things that didn’t go “according to plan,” for His glory and to draw us nearer to Him. I never believed that until this storm, and it’s truth I am clinging to.

. . . . . .

Have you gone through something that has shaken you to the core? How did God use that?

Are confidence and independence linked for you? What has made you more confident or more independent?

 

A Sudden Realization

I woke up today realizing I no longer wanted to teach.

It’s been coming on for a while, really. One thing has led to another, and I just feel it’s not for me. Now, with a full time job, I don’t feel I can give teaching the attention it deserves. But it’s more than time management abilities. It’s desire. I woke up today wanting to go into my writing and editing job–to the office–and do that work and see those people. In that moment I realized I found what I am supposed to do.

I’ve been praying about this for a while too. Do I completely stop teaching? Or do I just limit what I’m willing to take on? Today felt like a clarification from God about my next steps.

I went back to teaching when I left my previous job and this storm started. It was something I knew, and I was desperate to get out of the job I was in. In a time of complete turmoil, I needed a comfort zone. Since my second year of graduate school, I have enjoyed teaching, but I always felt there was something missing. I think I know what that is now, and I’m going to go after it.

I’ve also been praying about beginning a new project. I would not have time to devote to this project if I continued to teach, and this project is something that has been on my mind for a long time. (I will reveal more when it is solidified and I have taken the steps to make it happen, but keep an eye out.)

I feel like God is leading me in a direction I have waited a long time to be led in, and I am really looking forward to what is next.

These sudden realizations can be scary, but if you have been talking to God about a potential change, it may be a sign from Him. I’ve learned it’s important to stay in prayer, even about “the little things.” He may use the little things to begin moving us forward.

So if you have a decision to make, big or small, ask God. He will provide you an answer.