What Anxiety Has Taught Me.

I want to share a little bit of my story. This is raw, unfiltered, and where I’m at right now. I’ve always been a worrier and the one who is hesitant to try anything new because, what if something went wrong? But recently, it hasn’t just been that sort of anxiety. I’m talking about the type of anxiety that seems to latch on to a particular thought like an anchor that drops me into an ocean of panic. My first panic attack was earlier this year, when I couldn’t find a job, and it terrified me. I had never experienced such a physically debilitating reaction to a thought in my head. My chest got tight, my breathing became inconsistent and short, and I became lightheaded. At first I didn’t even recognize it as a panic attack, but I knew something was physically wrong…and I had zero control over it. I have continued to have panic attacks since then, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

First, panic attacks aren’t a choice (and if they were, I assure you I would never choose them.) Sometimes I can feel myself sinking into the anxiety little by little, and other times it’s sudden and unexpected. They’re far from convenient and never quite fit into my beloved daily planner. I love having a plan – five year, next year, this month, this week, and even down to the hour. After I had a couple of panic attacks, I realized I would have to loosen my grip on having a minute-by-minute plan, otherwise I would push myself closer to an attack by worrying about when the next one would come. It was a vicious cycle I knew I had to give up. I’ve learned to relax and to take each anxious thought as they come, deal with them then, and put my planner on hold.

Second, anxiety holds hands with depression. I’m generally an upbeat, positive person, so experiencing symptoms of depression was completely new to me. Waking up with zero desire to get out of bed, no motivation to work towards even the smallest goals, and absolutely drained at the thought of faking it and putting on a smile for people worried me. It’s not consistent, or predictable, but there are still days like this; where I wake up to that dark cloud looming above my head that I have to fight from the moment I get up so that it doesn’t dictate my day. It’s a conscious decision to not let it control me.

Third, and this may go without saying, I need people. In the midst of anxiety and depression, I was ashamed. I was embarrassed that I, a firm believer in Jesus Christ, the Giver of joy and the One who calms our fears, was struggling daily with anxiety and depression. I felt like I was doing something wrong, so I wanted to keep quiet about it. My mom sat beside me and talked me through my first panic attack, and then led me through options for getting help. I was in the Word of God every single day. It wasn’t as though I was neglecting my relationship with the Lord and hoping this would go away; no. I was seeking Him everyday, looking for answers.  I needed people alongside me, guiding me through this. Setting my pride aside, I told a couple of close friends about my struggle. I, then, started seeing a biblical counselor every week. And you know what? They pointed me back to the cross. They didn’t see me as a “bad Christian”, but rather, as someone in desperate need of Jesus. It hasn’t taken away the struggle of anxiety, but it helps tremendously to know I have people in my life who are praying with me and for me.

Fourth, and lastly, I’m not alone. Other people face this everyday, and are learning to live with it. I’m learning from people who have been there, how to better deal with anxiety on a daily basis. But bigger than the people on this earth, my Savior lived and walked on this earth, and knows exactly where I am. Even in this dark place, He still finds me and wraps me up in His embrace. I may feel like a failure after each panic attack, or like I’m doing something wrong that I still wake up some days unable to find motivation, but God still sees me as His child whom He loved enough to send a solution to my problem. Anxiety and depression are of my flesh, but I have been made new by Jesus which means that I am not defined by my flesh. Yes, while I live on this earth, I will battle my flesh. But He has already won! My life is a reflection of Him now. Whether in anxiety, or depression, or whatever other season of life I may face, may God be ever glorified through me. He is worthy.

To anyone who has struggled, or still struggles with anxiety, please know that I’m praying. Not only praying for relief from the swarm of anxious thoughts, but praying that Jesus’ name be lifted high through it. We aren’t defined by this – if we are His, we are already living in victory. 

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But If Not… (Part 2)

“That’s not fair!”

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all said it, whether or not we want to admit it (I mean, teenage years…hello). We’ve all hoped that when we uttered those words, someone would come running to our aid to help whatever the unfair situation may be. Does that generally happen? Hardly.

Growing up, I always hoped that when I lost a game because someone was cheating, or someone else got to play with a new toy before I did, I could run to my mom, tell her it wasn’t fair, and she would fix it so that would get my way. Thankfully my mom taught me in those moments, at a young age, that life isn’t fair. Sometimes we’re going to lose the game due to someone else cheating, or not get to play with the cool new toy first, or whatever the case may be at the time…because that’s life. That answer was certainly not what I wanted to hear at the time, but looking back, I am extremely appreciative.

Fast forward a few years, to a time where the worst thing is no longer losing in Monopoly to a sneaky banker who has been stealing money the whole game, and the same principle applies.

When you don’t get into the college you’ve dreamed your whole life of going to.

When you lose your job.

When a family member gets a terminal disease.

When life keeps tossing things your way that make you want to throw your hands up and yell, “God, this isn’t fair!”

Revisiting the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that I talked about in my last blog post, I’d like us to consider a moment how our perspective on struggles might change if we had their heart towards trials, but also towards trust in God.

 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

But if not. God is big enough to remove trials in our lives. He’s big enough to make things “fair” in our sight, but is that really what’s best? Possibly. But I want us to look at a couple other places in the Bible that point to something so much bigger than making us comfortable.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Looking at these three separate passages of Scripture, I want to focus on three truths.

First, when we view trials as a bad thing, we miss out on experiencing joy in a new way. When we seek God’s face in dark times, we shift our focus from our circumstances, to the One who controls them. It tests our faith, and is part of our sanctification as it makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Second, when we say we love God, we have to trust when He says He works everything together for the good of those who love Him. It is much easier said than done, but I can name a few times I have gotten down on my face and cried out to my Savior to remind my heart that He works everything together for good. He is loving. He is sovereign. He is good.

Third, this idea goes beyond just outward circumstances; it also deals with our sinful hearts. For almost half of my life, I have struggled with low self-esteem. I know what the Lord says about me, and about who I am in Him, but that didn’t take away the daily battle of trying to combat those lies Satan was feeding me with the truth. I’ve had to come to a place of knowing that I may never live without that struggle. I recognize that it is of my sinful flesh, but I also recognize that God is sovereign over sin. He is in complete control. If it were to bring Him the most glory by taking that struggle from me, He would. Do we really believe that? He knows my every thought, and He’s not taking this “thorn in my flesh” from me, so I must assume that, at least for now, it is best for me to pursue Him in spite of it. God can still use my sinful self for His purposes. We can’t write off sin as okay because God isn’t taking away the desire for it, because as long as we are on this earth, we will be faced with the desire to sin. But we do have to understand that with that sin, we must lay it at the foot of the Cross, surrendering it to our Heavenly Father, and let Him do with it what He wills best. If that means taking away the stronghold, to Him be the glory. But if not…to Him be the glory.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

But If Not… (Part 1)

As some of you may know (and some who may not), I graduate this December. Yeah…like 6 months away December. I will be graduating with my Associates Degree in Business Administration in hopes of having my own wedding planning business one day. When I think about graduating, I’m overcome with many emotions. Excitement is generally the first emotion I feel, and then it is quickly shadowed by the looming cloud of anxiety that follows.

It wasn’t always my plan to just pursue an Associates degree. I attended Appalachian State University for the entirety of about 2 months. Everything seemed to be flipped upside down when I got a concussion that made me drop out of school to allow my body to rest and heal. Over those next few months of being home and recovering, something unexpected happened…my plan changed. While at first I harbored bitterness and anger towards God, by the time the next semester rolled around (when I fully intended to return to Appalachian) He had worked in my life and redirected my path. I was pursuing a Bachelor’s degree to please everyone around me; I thought it was what was expected of me. Turns out, God really wanted me to just listen to Him and follow what He expected of me. It was not an easy decision to make, and difficult conversations were had to get to the point where I registered for classes at our local community college.

That brings us to now. Almost a year and a half later, I’m about to enter my final semester before completing my associates degree. I know this is where God has called me for a purpose, yet, I still struggle with anxiety of what will happen after graduation.

I was reading the story about King Nebuchadnezzar where he built an idol and commanded everyone to bow down to it – including Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. If anyone refused to bow down, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace. Well, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused and this is where we’ll focus in on the dialogue.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

OK. Let’s just try to put ourselves in their position right now. They already had the guts to face the consequence of not bowing down to the idol, and when faced with another opportunity to get out of the consequence, they don’t back down. They’re asking to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Do we get that? They are looking at King Nebuchadnezzar in the eye and asking to be burned alive before they bow down to his idol. How can they do that? Because they know and believe God will save them. But that isn’t all…I think the most beautiful, powerful phrase in this is when he states that God will deliver them, he continues to show faith by saying “but if not…we will not serve your gods.”

But if not. They knew God was all-powerful and completely capable of delivering them; they just weren’t positive if He was going to or not. As I read this, I tried to think about what I wanted most out of life. When I’m stressed about the future, I definitely put my dreams to be a successful wedding planner at the top of my priorities. I think to myself that if I can accomplish that, I will be okay. Other times, I put marriage and having a family one day on a pedestal. If I can reach that point, then I will have made it.

But what if those things don’t come to fruition? What if God has other plans? Will I still love and trust Him? He is absolutely capable of providing those things and blessing me in those ways, but even if He doesn’t, I need to respond in a way that glorifies the Lord. My relationship with Jesus needs to be first priority so if those things don’t happen, I will be completely satisfied by being in relationship with my Creator and Savior.

My hearts prayer is that in this season, and seasons to come, I will be able to pour out my hearts desire to God knowing He is fully capable and all-powerful, and be able to sincerely say “but if not”, I will still follow after You in everything I do. May my hearts desire be to better know and love the God who redeemed my soul.

A Season of Loss.

I’m sitting in our living room surrounded by open boxes, ripped up wrapping paper, and the smell of Christmas dinner being prepared in the kitchen. I really do love the excitement of Christmas and the joy that it brings. Today, though, I can’t seem to get my mind off of what I have lost.

My community and I have experienced so much loss this year. I have attended way too many funerals for people much too young to leave this earth. After I lost a friend in February, I really wrestled with the Lord about why such tragedy would take place. I quickly learned that asking “Why?” was the wrong question. Well, I have attended three other funerals since that one, and have another one coming up. While the stinging pain doesn’t lessen with the news of each loss, I hope to offer some encouragement in what I have learned through such a confusing season in my life.

First of all, I have learned that death is not natural. It never gets easier to hear that someone has passed away because we were not created to die. In the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God created Adam and Eve in perfect harmony. It wasn’t until they chose to sin that death even entered the equation.

By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:19

So while this may seem harsh, I feel like it should be said. When we lose loved ones, it seems to be a natural reaction to blame God. “He did this.” seems to be the first place our mind goes (at least that’s how it has been for me.) But from what I’ve learned, this is completely unfair to our Creator. It was because of our sin that death even exists. God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and warned them of the consequences. When they chose to disobey, God (being a just God) followed through with irreversible punishment. Each time a loved one dies and leaves this earth, our Father’s heart breaks as He sees this world in the broken state that it is. He is still good.

Second, because we know that God is good, we can trust He will continue to be good to those left hurting. I’m beyond thankful that every one I’ve lost this year had a personal relationship with Jesus, so I can rest in knowing they are in the presence of our Creator. While that provides joy in the midst of heartache, it doesn’t take away the painfully obvious – there are loved ones left behind that have to live their day to day lives with a hole in their heart from the one they lost. Knowing Christ by no means takes away the pain of losing a friend, but it helps tremendously in the healing process. Because Jesus hurts with us, He is there to bind up our wounds.

He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

We aren’t promised a life without hurt and loss, but we are promised a Savior to heal us. We don’t walk through these seasons alone.

Third, I know I will see these dear friends of mine again in Heaven. There will be days where it will seem unbearable, and tears inevitable, but this earth is not our home. Christ will return and call us home to eternity with Him. Upon first thinking of this, I am overjoyed that I have such a gracious Savior and that I will be reunited with the ones I believe went way too soon. My second thought, then, is the ones we lose that do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It creates in me a sense of urgency to spread the Gospel to everyone I know. Not just for fear of being eternally separated, but because Jesus is good, He is healer, and He is with us. He saves us from our dirty, rotten sin and gives us purpose in this chaotic, fallen world.

It seems unrealistic to say that we won’t have questions in times such as these. But I am here to tell you that no matter the questions, run to Jesus. We may not be given answers about why we lost a friend, but we will be wrapped in His embrace. We may not ever know the purpose in losing someone so dear, but we can find purpose in knowing Jesus – to live to bring His name glory. Through the good, and the bad. Praise His name because He is always good.

The Truth of the Matter is…

Every week I meet with a group of three girls and we share a time of fellowship and time in God’s word. We are working our way through the book of John and let me just tell you, it has been extremely convicting. When I first heard we were going through John, I’ll be honest in saying I was less than thrilled. I grew up in the church, so I thought I had heard everything I needed to hear about Jesus’ time on earth. I had obviously learned all that God could ever teach me from when He sent His Son to live among us.

From day one God has been proving me wrong and putting me in my place. Every week has been eye-opening and convicting as we’ve been following along Jesus’ journey on this earth. The great thing about God’s word is that you can never learn everything. His Word is living and active and consistently changing hearts. I’m so thankful for that!

This rang especially true this past week. We covered chapter 10 of John and one thing in particular hit me like a ton of bricks.

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.”

John 10:24-25

Let me set the scene here. “The Jews” mentioned here have been following him around for quite a while now watching his every move. They’ve witnessed him perform miracle after miracle (and usually their response is anger and wanting to stone him.) At each of these occurrences, Jesus has been very patient with them while also not straying from the truth of His message. The Jews are awaiting the arrival of the prophesied Messiah and deny that Jesus could possibly be the one they have been waiting for.

Ok, so now read those verses again and picture it with me. Imagine Jesus being surrounded by these people who have witnessed his miracles, and they tell him to tell them plainly if he is the Christ. I think if I was Jesus, I would have probably thrown my hands up and wanted to give up. But, thankfully, Jesus isn’t like me. I imagine the tone of his response to be kind but sharp.

“I told you, and you do not believe.” 

It’s almost like Jesus is looking at these people and asking, “What more do you want?” Here he has healed the sick, caused the blind to see, and fed thousands of people with hardly anything, and they still question him.

Now before you start thinking what idiots those Jews are like I did when I first read this, try to see how closely this correlates with how we act. I have been following Jesus since I was 6 years old. I have known and experienced His loving, gracious relationship for 13 years now, and I still act like these Jews so many times. I have seen His miracles and His hand on many occasions and felt Him in ways I never knew was possible, yet when I’m faced with something especially difficult, I tend to act the same way.

“If You are really God, You can fix this situation.”

“If You are always there, why can’t I feel You?”

“If You cared the way You promised you would, I wouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Ah, yes. I am guilty of this so often. I go to God begging and pleading about why my life is so difficult and why He’s so distant, when in reality, I am failing to trust everything He’s already shown me. In times where life is hard, God is still in control. In times when I’ve felt alone, He is still there. In times when I feel lost, He still cares deeply about me and my heart. It is such a natural tendency to question God, but in His patient tone, He responds that He is still Lord. Whether we like it or not, He is still good. Believe in Him.

Grace Abounds.

Have you ever made a running list in your mind of wrongs someone has committed against you? Consciously or subconsciously, I am guilty of this. It’s as if I’m waiting for them to make that one huge mistake that will justify me writing them off. Call me awful, I know. It could be due to the fact that I have trouble trusting people, but I think it’s a cop out to blame it on that. I think it’s a much deeper heart issue. 

Receiving grace is so much easier than giving it. I want to be forgiven, but I don’t want to forgive others. That seems to be too difficult sometimes. So instead of practicing grace, I continue in my selfish ways of wanting to take but not give. As you can imagine, that doesn’t always work out too well. I’ve jeopardize friendships and hurt people because of my selfish habits. 

The Lord really convicted me of my heart issue in this regard recently. I take the grace I’ve been shown for granted. Let’s just review for a moment just how much grace I have been shown. There I was, bound by sin and choosing my sinful nature over Christ, and Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross to forgive me. The one who rejected Him. I was hell-bound, and He rescued me from a life of slavery to sin. Why? I can assure you it was nothing that I did. It is only out of His great love that I was shown such beautiful grace. 

From the moment I was saved, I make mistakes on a daily basis. And guess what…the Lord’s response to me is on a daily basis as well. Grace. In abundance. He sees all of my filth and sin, and He still reaches out to me in love. (Just take a moment to thank the Lord for that. I needed to as well.) Now, seeing the grace we’ve all been offered, it puts into perspective my selfishness. 

Take a moment and imagine with me what it would be like if our relationships reflected this type of grace? What if when someone wronged us, we chose to love them instead of writing them off? Imagine the response. I know that whenever I majorly screw up, I’m worried about the other person’s response towards me. Will they be mad? Will they not want to be my friend anymore? And when they come to me, say they love me despite my mistake, I see such a beautiful picture of Christ’s love. 

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are

Lord I Need You – Matt Maher

I want my relationships to look like that. I want people to look at my actions in everyday struggles, and see Christ’s love for them. I want them to see grace in abundance. Because I will always make mistakes, but I also know my Savior’s response will always be grace and love for His child. I want to practice showing grace the way Jesus has shown me grace. Not because it’s in my own strength, but because I have a Savior who shows grace to me every single day in ways I could never imagine. Because my life has been transformed by grace, I want to show grace to others. 

Worship in the Routine.

Everyone experiences ups and downs in life. You get the new job, you lose that new job. You find your first love, you experience your first heartbreak. Changes in life are inevitable. As I have expressed in a past post, I’m not a huge fan of change. I like control so I want change when I make it, and only then. But what about when life stays the same? What about when you look over your past week and there was the same, boring routine everyday? 

I’d like to venture out and say that some people don’t fear change as much as they do staying the same. Even myself, the one who hates change, really hates when everything is so predictable. Waking up at the same time, eating the same breakfast, going to the same job, working on the same project, coming home in the same rush hour traffic, eating the same leftovers, and going to bed at the same time.

Looking back over this year, I can easily say it has been the most challenging year of my life. There has been a lot of change that I have not been a fan of, but I’ve also grown closer to the Lord in ways I never imagined possible. I’ve found that, with the right mindset and heart towards lousy circumstances, worshipping the Lord can become almost second nature. But what about when all the craziness settles and you find yourself back in the daily routine? 

That brings a whole new challenge to the table. Personally, once I have control over my boring, daily routine, I get out of my worship routine. I’m self-sufficient. My need for a daily encounter with my Savior seems to get lost in the mundane. 

Now imagine with me for a moment if we worshipped the Lord in the mundane. If when we rose in the morning, our first instinct was to thank God for another day? Or when we ate that same breakfast, if we praised Him for another meal? Or when we get stuck in the traffic that has been sitting still for an hour, if we took that opportunity to just talk with our Savior? Maybe you already live like this, but I know I could be doing a lot more to worship Jesus Christ with my boring, everyday life. 

In the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens, I want my life to cry out praise to the God who continuously showers grace and love on me. 

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Psalm 103:1