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?

How Do You Feel?

“I don’t feel well.”

How many times have you said this? And how many times have you not meant physically well? There have been many times I haven’t felt well, but there have also been times I have felt “off” without really knowing why. But telling someone I didn’t feel well without a physical ailment to accompany it made me feel like I was lying, so I didn’t.

I struggle with telling others this, especially when it comes to work. I value honesty and openness, but how open and honest is appropriate in that context? So, I settle for “I don’t feel well” and hope the other person either understands the underlying context or doesn’t ask questions.

I’ve come to realize something, though, and that is this: you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

If you don’t feel well, simply say so and move on. Only explain as much as you’re comfortable or as much as is appropriate. When someone has a cold, we understand they aren’t at their best and we don’t ask questions, so why should it be any different with mental health?

Perhaps because depressive symptoms manifest differently in different people. I came across a very interesting article on my social media feed the other day about high-functioning depression, and I was a bit surprised to be able to relate to some of the points. (No, I’m not going to diagnose myself or make assumptions, but it may be worth a question to my mental health professional.) If someone doesn’t “seem” depressed, it may be more difficult for others to believe that person is struggling simply because our society takes only what we can see.

It’s important, then, to take gauge of yourself periodically during the day. If you’ve been struggling through an episode, give yourself some grace during the day and find gentle ways to bring yourself back. Maybe you need rest, be that physical rest in the form of sleep or spiritual rest or both. Maybe you need an outlet. Whatever it is, do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

So, in all honesty, how do you feel?

 

Rest

I was doing well. Then I had an episode.

I’d been trying to ignore an oncoming episode for a few days, which is something I should know by now that I shouldn’t do. By the end of that day, I was on the floor of my room in tears, Belle trying to console me with kisses and leaning on me. She knew the moment I walked in the door.

As I recovered–washed my face, did my bedtime routine–I realized I had allowed life to get in the way of spending alone time with God. I’ve been waking up every morning to exercise, but in my groggy state, I haven’t been thanking Him for giving me the ability to workout. I haven’t been spending time with Him in the middle of the day or in the evening. I haven’t allowed myself real rest. Not sleep, but the rest that is found in Christ.

This is what happens when we don’t give our souls rest.

We need to take time out of our day to spend with the Lord. When we feel weakest, He can provide the strength we seek. When we feel mentally, emotionally, spiritually exhausted, He can provide the rest we so desperately need.

What does this look like? It looks different for everyone. But it’s something we all need.

I’ve struggled with the idea of rest for a long time. I thought if I rested in any way, it was just laziness and I wasn’t being a productive member of society. Ya know what I mean? Do you struggle with that? But God actually tells us to rest.

The next time you’re feeling on the edge of a breakdown, ask yourself how much time you have spent with the Lord recently. If you’re like me and you’ve been going on stop, you may not have allowed yourself an opportunity to breathe. Your spirit may be exhausted and need rest.

So, I’m taking advice. How do we set aside time to rest our spirits? What do you do to rest in His presence?

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?

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 Thing About Goals

What does reconciliation look like? How long will it take?

I was asked these questions a few weeks ago, but they are questions I don’t have solid answers to. By definition, reconciliation means: (a) agreeing to an amicable truce; (b) resigning to something not desired; and (c) the process of making consistent or compatible. Of course, in the case of which I am speaking, Option C is the definition I am going with.

For the first time in a few months, I had the opportunity to express just that. I had the opportunity to say I have changed and that, basically, it means knowing our individual needs and being able to work through this difficult path together.

I was told it doesn’t seem our goals are compatible “still,” and there was clear frustration. And it was that moment I realized I had said my goals without really expressing them. I’ve spent a year in my own head, evaluating and re-evaluting my goals–for life, my marriage–but I had never had to express that process to someone who had been absent from it for so long.

Really, my goal is to make this work. However I need to. I know what “sacrifices” I am willing to make. I know what I need. I know myself a little better. But I’ve also realized other things.

My goals are flexible. This doesn’t mean I am a doormat. Instead, it means that my goals, and the processes, change as my needs and desires change. And that’s completely okay. As long as I do not feel I am being untrue to who I am, then having flexible goals is fine. For instance, I want to travel. At first, the thought process was something like: “I am determined to find a job abroad and experience that location.” Now, it’s something like: “Oh, I can go on vacation there and eventually return to the territory I am comfortable.” Same goal–traveling–different process to get there.

Ability to do what I need to do. This actually boils down to my anxiety and depressive symptoms. If I feel an episode is coming on, I need to be able to “get out”–of the specific situation, of the location temporarily, of my head–somehow. I need to have the flexibility to do this. I’ve also realized that it’s completely okay to travel, visit family, or go do something without my husband. I relied on him for companionship and to fulfill emotional needs, and I’ve realized it’s unrealistic to expect a human to fill a spot only God can. I need to be able to get outside with Belle or write when I need to or when I am called to.

My marriage. This is plain and simple: I want my marriage. This relationship overrides everything except my relationship with God. I let other people come in with their concerns and their help, and I stopped listening to my husband’s valuable input. Pick your battles. Not everything is worth having an argument over. Compromise will be important. But, all in all, this relationship will win over everything else in life.

Employment. I need a job. Not only is that a financial fact, but it’s a personal need. I can’t not work. Of course, I would prefer to be a writer full time. If he is willing to allow it, then I will, of course, take it. If not, though, I know what sort of jobs I want (and don’t want). I know what sort of sacrifices I can make in this arena. I know what I hope to be.

Really, these things–these realizations, these conversations–take time. And I’m not sure how much. In the end, I said I realized what I am willing to do, and that I will do whatever it takes.

. . . . . .

The next few days are big. I hope to be able to properly express my goals. I pray for the wisdom to be silent when needed, but to also speak the right words. I pray for the Lord’s guidance and grace. I pray for His favor. I feel ready, and I pray He finds me ready too.

Through all of this, my goal has been to get to know the Lord better. I have prayed more. I have found an amazing church and community of believers. I have written more, thereby working toward fulfilling the calling He has placed on my life. My goal has been to get to know who I am in Him.

My prayer is that this is part of that.

Judgement (Isn’t) For The Dogs

I’ve expressed many times that Belle is my support. I honestly do not know what I would be like through all this if I did not have her by my side. Her affection, training her, hiking with her…it has all provided me with ways to either get out of my own head of transfer my anxiety or depression into a worthwhile and meaningful experience.

But I have seen a lot of comments on some social media sites–mainly the ones that happen to pop up on my news feed and are organizations that “help” people get ESAs (you know, the “registry” type sites)–that have upset me. Some people say that an excitable dog would not make for a good ESA, and they imply that those with that type of dog as an ESA is faking it. Other comments show judgment toward the dog, saying that an aggressive dog is not an ESA.

Who are you to say that my excitable dog does not provide me the emotional support I need from her? You don’t know me or what I struggle with. You have not worked with her. You do not know us.

Who are you to judge that someone’s dog is aggressive? Barking does not signify aggression. Jumping does not signify aggression. You don’t know her like I do.

I know judgement on dogs will (probably) always exist, but it is frustrating. So, like any writer, I took action by writing about it.

Have you ever judged a dog by its appearance? Or even by its breed?