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).

The News

What is your reaction when you hear incredible news? Do you scream and shout? Gasp? Are you vocal or silent? Are you reserved or outspoken? Do you worship?

Worship? You might ask. But what if it was bad news? I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter the type of news we get, our first response needs to be to worship God with whatever we have in us.

Imagine being Mary. An angel of the Lord visits you and tells you that you’re going to be pregnant, even though you haven’t known your husband, and–wait!–that son will be the Savior of the world. My reaction might have been something along the lines of:

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or

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But Mary seemed to respond calmly as she asked the angel how this would be possible. When the angel explained, Mary’s response was to declare herself a servant of the Lord: “Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word'” (Luke 1:38).

Man, I wish I could have that response to situations. I mean, I also wish an angel of the Lord would appear to me and tell me how things are going to work out (am I right? anyone?). But to have the confidence that it was God’s word that was spoken to you and to be excited about it is incredible.

According to the definition in my Bible, “word” here means something that is spoken, and the additional study material at the back of Luke (in my Bible) says this scripture is telling us to submit our plans and future to God’s will. So, she knew God told her this would happen, and she faithfully accepted the plan and submitted herself to Him.

That is remarkable to me. Mary had no idea what would happen next. All she knew was that she would give birth to Jesus. She left her uncertainty with God.

Granted, I have no way to know if she felt any uncertainty, but I know I would. And how often has something happened that I say “God, tell me what’s going to happen,” but He only gives me a piece at a time. Because that’s what He does. He works in such huge ways that He can only give us a small piece of His plan at a time, otherwise we would be overwhelmed. Imagine if He had told Mary everything to expect with Jesus. She may not have departed with such faith–she may have felt more fear and uncertainty, which would not propel her forward into God’s plans.

When something happens, we often want the whole picture right away. But, more often than not, God deals in short utterings, telling us only what we need to know right then. It’s a gentle nudge, a whisper of “do not be afraid…for with God, nothing is impossible.”

And worshipping is our indication to Him that we know that.

A Season of Hope

Do you celebrate advent?

All through my childhood, my parents would gift me with an advent calendar on December 1. I was always excited to open the little window and eat the little piece of chocolate as I eagerly counted down the days to December 25. I never really knew what “advent” meant, but I knew I loved the anticipation of Christmas Day.

Why? Because the Christmas season is a time of hope. If you’re a child, you eagerly await Christmas Day to see the magical appearance of presents that may not have been there the night before, hoping you got that gift you asked Santa for. If you’re an adult, parent or not, you eagerly give others presents, hoping they like the gift.

And if you’ve ever faced a heart-breaking disappointment, you hope for relief…and maybe a miracle.

I wish I could tell you I got the Christmas miracle I begged God for last year, but I didn’t. I wish I could tell you that this year doesn’t ache, but I can’t. It doesn’t hurt as much, but the hurt hasn’t entirely gone away. I wish I could tell you that I’m not still walking through the difficulty, but I can’t.

I wish I could tell you my childlike joy never faded, but it did.

But the great thing about the Christmas season is that it’s never too late to get that joy back. And that is why I am going to be working to celebrate this season and read the story of Christ, through the book of Luke. I encourage you to join me.

If you’re curious about what hoping and waiting on Jesus means, if you’re struggling to find even simple happiness this season, or even if you just want to read along to see what’s going on, I welcome you.

Let’s unwrap joy together.

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?

A Time to Give Thanks

Give thanks to the lord for he is good! His mercy endures forever. – Psalm 136:1

I like to view thanksgiving as an opportunity for me to really focus on the good. As I have been preparing my apartment for the Thanksgiving feast, I marveled at how far I’ve come in a year. This time last year, I didn’t want to see my family, and I certainly didn’t feel thankful for a darn thing.

But this year is different. I feel thankful for quite a few things. Some things I have written about here, some I have not yet. November isn’t over, though, so neither is the Thankfulness Challenge.

As you spend time with your family on this day, I pray you would find yourself in a space of gratitude at some point. Reflect on how God has blessed you. You may not be in exactly the place you want to be, but the Lord is right there with you and is blessing you along the way. And that, in itself, is something to be thankful for.

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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?