Stronger

“He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength…But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” — Isaiah 40:29 & 31

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I know I have gotten stronger in this season–physically, mentally, and spiritually. For me, these three components really intertwine. If I feel good physically, it has a ripple effect through the other areas of my life and I become more positive. I’ve struggled with self-image my whole adult life (so far), so feeling good physically has helped to improve my mental state.

Many Christian friends of mine have tried to pour the “typical Christian” wisdom into me–all that matters is what God sees; you are made in His image; He calls you beautiful. The problem is when my depressive symptoms present, I don’t hear that. Instead, I hear all the negatives. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I knew I needed to do something about that negative voice, so I started a different exercise regimen. Not only has it helped me to manage my anxiety and depressive symptoms, but it’s also encouraged me. Because here’s how I see it: if God calls me loved and beautiful, then I deserve to make myself feel the way He sees me.

Really, what it has done is make me stronger.

I know I’m stronger physically because I can run faster and for longer and have a shorter recovery time. I can lift heavy things–like cat litter and my 45-pound dog–and it feels easier than it was even six months ago. I don’t have as much knee pain as I used to, even though that is an issue that will probably never go away.

I know I’m stronger mentally because I’m not crying the minute my mind because spinning. I can take a step back and be a little more objective. Don’t get me wrong–I still have days where I just want to cry, and on those days I allow myself the release. Once I do, I can walk away from those feelings, confident they were dealt with. I still overanalyze and play things on repeat–because that’s what anxiety does–but I’m getting better at stopping the cycle. I made friends, and I make plans with them, neither of which I had dreamt I could do a year go.

I know I’m stronger spiritually because I am more patient. I have constant silent prayer to God, sometimes just whispering “Jesus.” I go to church every Sunday and worship with my whole heart, something I didn’t think I could do a year ago. I write down my favorite Bible verses. When something starts going in my head, my first line of defense is to look up a related verse.

I’m far from perfect, though. I sometimes cheat on the nutrition in the exercise program, but I’m better about not beating myself up for it. I do still have negative self talk, but I’m better at combating it. I sometimes let my daily life get in the way and forget to seek out time with the Lord or put Him first like I should. But I know I’m not where I was.

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I know I’ve written on strength before, and I probably will again. Gaining strength is a part of the growing process, and it’s continuous. We don’t just stop finding or gaining strength–everything we encounter helps us dig a little deeper and be a little stronger. When we are weak, when we think we cannot possibly go on, that is when God gives us strength. My storm is far from over, but I am, so far, proud of the person I have become. I feel like I am getting back parts of me that I lost, and that takes strength every day.

Just like picking up new and heavier weights is hard, picking up pieces of yourself is tough. You have to decide how the pieces fit back together. You have to decide if you will include everything or only some things. You have to decide who you are and who you want to–and are meant to–be. You have to look at yourself in the mirror every day and be satisfied with who you are. Are you?

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 Name Above All Names

I just wanna keep calling your name
Until you come back home…

-“I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” Zayn & Taylor Swift

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The last few weeks have been hectic to say the least. Between the end of a complicated course and some emotional upheaval, I didn’t dedicate time to blogging. Instead, I dedicated time to myself–prayer, spending time with my dog, journaling, and just taking care of myself in general. I even got a new hairstyle (say hello to pink!).

I’ve always been a Taylor Swift fan, so I started listening to her new album, reputation. And I really like it! The thing is, it’s the first music I can listen to in over a year. And listening to it makes me feel a little more empowered (admittedly, the pink hair helps, too). And, sure, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” is not only T. Swift, and it’s from Fifty Shades Darker, but I can relate to the lyrics just a bit. As I’ve been listening to music, I’ve felt a shift in myself, too.

The truth is, my heart is calling him. I’m not 100% okay. But I’ve felt like I am growing stronger by the day. Sure, some days–heck, some mornings–are harder than others. I’ve started to see, though, that God has a plan for everything, and He will use this for my good.

I have felt as if something is about to happen, as if God is preparing me. As I have attended church and listened to worship music, I feel my spirit changing. Things are by no means going the way I had anticipated or even hoped, but I know God is working.

Tomorrow is Easter. It marks the resurrection of Jesus, of the whole reason Christians exist. It signifies the end of death. It signifies that dead things can be resurrected when we believe. Tomorrow is an important day. It’s also a new day.

So I’ll continue to take life day by day. I will fight this as long as that is what God is calling my spirit to do, and if He is, He will strengthen me for the battle.

The name I have to keep calling out is the name above all names: Jesus.