Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Ignite a Fire

When the shadowy curtains of darkness have surrounded you, almost swallowed you whole where do you go? What do you do? I find myself there more times than I care to admit. The smothering sensation that leaves me gasping for breath and wishing for the day to end falls heavily and quickly but the strength needed to escape doesn't come easily. In those moments,  I have two choices...I can fade into the background and allow the darkness to consume me or I can extend my hand and reach out for the One who extends His. 

Darkness is a funny can be scary and comforting all at the same time. Darkness can bring about the unknown. Leave us questioning what will we find lurking around the corner. Too scared to look under the bed? The unknown is a cold and lonely place. But then that same darkness can bring a sense of comfort as we bunker down and wallow in our doubts and fears. Staying resolute in a posture of defeat oftentimes feels easier. But it's not. Because the longer we stay there, in that darkness, the longer it will take to find a way out.

The battle out is hard. Fighting takes a lot of strength, courage and stamina. But I've learned that we don't fight alone. We haven't been left alone to fight these battles. Jesus came, He conquered and He won the victory. Just because we have the victory though doesn't mean that there won't be pain or disappointment. But we have to weather through the hard in order to reach the victory. 

Oh the frustration that can come when the disappointments abound. The anger that grows when it feels like God isn't hearing our prayers or doing something to remedy the pain. And it happens. We question His goodness. We question His presence. Sometimes we even find ourselves sitting in the middle of the bathroom floor crying out to Him in anger because we're tired. Tired of feeling ignored. But He's there and He's listening.  He's fully aware of what is happening and why. And if we're paying attention and listening, He makes His presence known. Whether it's through a friend or a book or a passage of scripture, in that moment, He speaks exactly what we need to hear but we have to be listening. With an open heart we have to be willing to listen. Willing to hear what's not always easy to hear.  But when we're feeling hurt or disappointed it's easy to lose sight of Him. In the middle of the chaos and pain, it's easy to miss the sound of His voice. But we have to be still.

So what can bring darkness? I have learned that the enemy will use our marriages to cover us in darkness. But though the enemy will use our marriages in an attempt to destroy us, God will use our marriages to mature and grow us. Now acknowledging those two things is not easy because it means we live in a constant war. An ongoing battle that is constantly taking place between good and evil. Around every corner an enemy exists with a mission to destroy a union that was meant to display the beautiful picture which is the gospel. 

Because of this ongoing war,  so many of us give up instead of fighting the battle. We don't feel like waging war. In fact, most of the time we don't feel like the person on the other side is worth fighting for. We get to a point where we want to throw our hands up in the air and say good riddance because this is too hard. 

Oh how the enemy wants that victory. But if we just hold on and fight then we begin to see the rewards that come from being faithful to the cause that we believe in. We begin to experience the victory that Jesus says we have. When we wage war in the valley we eventually hit those mountain tops where God reveals His splendor and faithfulness in ways that take our breath away. But the decision is ours. Is it worth it? What's really important? 

Giving up will just leave us empty and searching for something else to fill the emptiness. But fighting...fighting ignites a fire within us that allows us to see a bigger purpose for ourselves, for our marriages and for our families. It allows God to shine through us. It offers people hope where they will find encouragement through our struggle and in our stories. Our battle can help others find victory and strength in their darkness.  So don't be afraid of the battle. And most importantly.... don't be afraid of your story! Use to inspire others to continue fighting! Because it's worth it! Because victory is just around the corner!

"But take heart; I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Monday, October 29, 2018

Conformity: A Sign of the Times

My husband and I spent this weekend free of distractions and instead spent time studying God‘s truth with other believers. We finished off our weekend feeling encouraged, strong and more ready for battle.  But it sure doesn’t take long to find ourselves feeling weak. 

Over the weekend we spent a lot of time talking about the world. The way in which the world influences the way we think, believe and even behave. As believers our battle is ongoing.  We are constantly at war with an enemy who seeks out to divide, destroy, deceive, and distract. To cause devastation, disappointment, disagreements, disbelief, and discontentment. One who discourages, promotes discrimination, dishonesty,  disillusionment, and creates disorder.  He brings destruction because his mission is simply to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). And every day we see him at work in the world around us. 

So how does this affect relationships around us? How does the work created by the enemy impact you in a personal way as a follower of Jesus?

Following Jesus does not come without sacrifice. In the book of Luke, Jesus  is speaking to a crowd and He tells them, “if you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else-your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters- yes even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

That is such a powerful statement. Jesus is not in fact saying that we are to hate people because that goes against his command to love everyone (Matthew 22:39). Instead, the point He is making is that no one else in the world should come before Him.  There is no other relationship on this earth more important than a relationship with Him. That our love, devotion, and commitment for Him should surpass every other relationship on this earth. Jesus said,  “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against- or two in favor and three against. Father will be divided against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). 

The message Jesus brought was not one of just love and hope. He brought a message that speaks to holiness. He brought a message that points people to His Father. He brought a message that speaks of sin and forgiveness.   He brought a message that is full of redemption and grace but it is a message that is not always easy. As we learned this weekend, it is a message that is rejected because of pride and selfishness. And it is a message that can cause division.

Following Jesus comes with a cost. It means we don’t get to live the way that we want to live. We don’t get to do the things that we want to do. We have been placed on this planet with a purpose and a mission.  Yes we are commanded to love but we are also commanded to hate sin. To turn from those things which God despises (Proverbs 6:16-19, Proverbs 8:13). We are to point people to the cross. To reflect God’s love so that those around us would come to know Him and be saved.

Take note, there are six things the Eternal hates; no, make it seven He abhors: Eyes that look down on others,   A tongue that can’t be trusted, hands that shed innocent blood, I heart that conceives evil plans, feet that sprint toward evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and anyone who stirs up trouble amoung the faithful” (Proverbs 6:16-19, The Voice).

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (Proverbs 6:16-19, NIV).

“All who fear the Lord will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech” (Proverbs 8:13, The Voice).

“If you respect the Eternal, you will grow to despise evil. I despise wretched, vile talk and ways of pride and arrogance” (Proverbs 8:13, NLT).

We are living in troubling times. A day and age clearly described in the Bible.  All you have to do is scroll through social media to see the hatred and division, the abuse and pride. To see the enemy at work to distract and divide from what’s really important.

In 2 Timothy we are told, 

“You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be pumped up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that can make them godly.  Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NLT)

“And know this: in the last days, times will be hard. You see, the world will be filled with narcissistic, money grubbing, pretentious, arrogant, and abusive people. They will rebel against their parents and will be ungrateful, unholy, uncaring, cold hearted, accusing, without restraint, savage, and haters of anything good. Expect them to be treacherous, reckless, swollen with self importance, and giving to loving pleasure more than they love God. Even though they may look it or act like godly people, they’re no. They deny His power. I tell you: stay away from the likes of these.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, The Voice)

At the end of the day we have been given a mission. We are to go and make disciples. We are to introduce those around us to Jesus. We are to care more about the many who will spend an eternity in hell then we do about our next episode of our favorite show or the next big football game. But oh how distracted we have become. The enemy is more powerful than we give him credit and he has meticulously worked to keep us focused on our own desires.   And we all fall into this category. Not one believer is immune to the attacks of the enemy. 

So how do we avoid being sucked into the game that he plays? That’s such a huge question. The only solution is that we remain focused on Jesus. That every part of every day is spent with eyes solely focused on Him. It is only when He is in front of us that we can love as we are called to love, that we can serve as we are called to serve, that we can testify to who He is and what He has done. In our own power, we are weak. In our own power what we accomplish will surely fail if He is not at the center. 

For every believer the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in every one of us. But that power can only be utilized when we are focused on the right source. And that source is Jesus alone. Many will claim His name and profess that they follow Him, but very few will actually live out that life and follow the way in which He has commanded.  Very few will utilize the source of power that resides within every believer. 

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11).

To point us in the right direction we need to start in Romans and learn how to rewire our thinking, change our focus and listen for God’s voice. 

 “Do not allow this world to mold you in it’s own image. Instead be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete” (Romans 12:2, The Voice).

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Anxiety in a Philippians 4:6 World

Anxiety and CPTSD… I deal with both. At age 11, I experienced a trauma that forever changed who I would be. It was when anxiety first reared it’s ugly head. As life continued, toxic relationships entered my life and my anxiety grew becoming more severe. By the time I removed myself from the toxic relationship, I was left with CPTSD to partner with my anxiety. 

It is crazy the way in which trauma affects our brains. It took studying psychology and understanding the way in which trauma re-wires the brain that helped me begin to process through the events of my past. It has taken a lot of counseling.  It has taken a lot of revisiting the past and working through lies that I began to tell myself at age 11. It has taken someone helping me to understand that something that I experienced when I was 15 years old was not my fault. That because of the trauma at 11, my brain was not in a place where it could fully grasp the weight of what was happening to me. It has brought me to the place of understanding the significance  of the way in which big events or trauma can set us back and keep us from being who God created us to be when we don’t get the proper help. 

Now before going further I want to address the counseling. Did going to counseling make the anxiety and CPTSD go away?  No. It doesn’t work that way. I will probably deal with both of those things for the rest of my life.  But what it did change was how I deal with my anxiety and CPTSD.  And it taught me the importance of boundaries and being reminded of who I am in Jesus. Do I always do these things perfectly? No! It is a daily struggle. But each day is a step in the right direction. 

Back to anxiety. Many websites are available for family and friends to read on anxiety and how to help someone that you love who deals with anxiety. And for the most part if you can follow simple suggestions that are often shared on these sites,  you can help your anxiety plagued loved one in ways that can totally change the way they deal with their day. But the issue is that most people don’t take the time to understand mental illness. Instead we often times let ourselves get in the way by thinking that the problem is all us. That there is something wrong with us and that’s why the person with anxiety is avoiding us or not responding to us. But that’s not the case. 

Anxiety sucks. Though I know when I am feeling highly anxious, I don’t often know why I am feeling anxious. There are certain situations that I find myself in that serve as triggers for both my anxiety and my CPTSD, but often times I cannot avoid those situations. They are just part of every day life. So I have had to learn how to maneuver through those situations. It is incredibly difficult when the people around you don’t understand that you have to put into place certain boundaries as a way to prepare yourself in certain ways so as to not become triggered by a situation. It’s as if those of us who deal with anxiety constantly have to live one step ahead of ourselves in order to keep ourselves from having a panic attack, a breakdown (melt down),  or a manic episode.

Because of trauma early in her life my amazing 17 year old daughter deals with anxiety and panic attacks. And she does a great job of acknowledging when she's feeling anxious and puts things into place that help her. This was a day last week when she sent me a text...

She didn't know what was making her anxious, but she knew to find a distraction and to focus on something different. Often that's how anxiety works. We just don't always know the cause.

For those who suffer from anxiety (as a result of trauma)  and CPTSD it is helpful for people to realize that we probably understand boundaries more than the normal person. That is because we understand the importance of those boundaries and the way in which they are needed to keep us mentally healthy. It means that there are people in this world who we will not associate with because they are toxic to our health. It does not mean we do not love the people. It does not mean that we do not care about the people. But what it does mean is that we care enough about ourselves to do what needs to be done to protect ourselves from further harm. 

The idea of boundaries can be incredibly difficult for those of us who live in the church world. Because in this world we have been taught that we are to love everyone, which means we have the mindset that setting a boundary goes against that command.  We have somehow confused this idea and made ourselves believe that loving everyone means that we have to allow everyone into our personal space. And this is just not true. We can love people from afar. We can pray for people from afar. But we do not have to allow people within our small circle if they have proven to be detrimental to our health. 

Also for those of us who live within the church world, we are often quoted the verse Philippians 4:6 that says we are not to be anxious about anything. That is one of the most frustrating things to be thrown at us. When you speak that verse to us  it acknowledges that you are unaware or do not understand the type of anxiety that we are dealing with. We don’t deal with the normal worry of how we’re going to pay the next bill or if it’s going to rain today. Our anxiety comes from places of trauma. The reality that bad things happen, that they have happened to us and the possibility of them happening again (to us) are quite high. That the trauma that we have been through is not necessarily a one time event.  And that there are things around us that can trigger the memories of those past traumas. Yes we can do what Philippians 4:8 says and place our thoughts on things that are true and noble and right but again It takes time for a person who deals with anxiety to take those thoughts captive and to bring oneself  back down to a place that feels safe and calm.

At the end of the day, I truly believe that it is important that when we discover that someone in our life deals with anxiety, that we take the time to understand that person. That instead of jumping to conclusions or assuming the absolute worst, that we take the time to put ourselves in their shoes. To see the world from their perspective. And though that is incredibly difficult to do when one may not struggle with anxiety, there are so many great resources available that do a really good job of diving into the life of a person who struggles with anxiety and even CPTSD.

What people should know about anxiety

10 things about anxiety and depression

Friday, August 10, 2018

It’s Time to Clean House

Impatient and struggling we want to see change happen immediately. When something is wrong we want it fixed. We wrestle and wrangle with the struggles we face thinking that we can make it better. 

That’s been my situation for the past two years. I wanted change and I wanted it right then and there. And I truly thought I had the power to change my circumstances. 

Here’s the thing…we live in a world where we’re told that we “have the power within ourselves” to rectify the wrong to get what we want, or fix what is broken. And there might be some truth in that. We probably do have the ability to do those things. However on our own, without all the information, we don’t have the ability to properly put together a solution. 

The greatest life lesson that I have learned is that God is ultimately in control.  No matter how much I try to maneuver or piece together a solution for my weary circumstances, I’m incapable of doing it correctly. And the simple reason why I cannot do it is that the only information I have is the information that sits in front of me. I know what led me to the situation and I know where I am in that moment but I can’t see ahead into my future. I have no idea what’s coming next. 

What does that mean? It means I can’t create the perfect plan that will heal my broken situation. This means that in those moments when I’m struggling, scared and alone my reaction to the things happening around me is typically based on those listed emotions. For me, I need a quick fix. I need something to make the pain go away. For some that might be drugs or alcohol. For some that might be sex. For some that might be vegging out in front of the TV or a good book.  Whatever that might look like, none of those things ultimately fix what’s really going on. 

No matter how hard we try, without all the information, the solution that we create will probably end up causing us more harm than good. 

Over a year and a half ago I posted the picture on this page truly believing what it said. I believed that at the right time, the Lord, would make it happen (Isaiah 60:22).  What was the “it” in that statement for me?  It was my pleading with God to make my husband better. To make our marriage what it had once been. But at the same time I wanted to believe that the Lord wanted it to happen right now just like I did. But He didn’t.  He wanted some change to happen first. So instead, His plan for me included a desert, some wandering, some soul-searching, some loneliness and some severe heartache, because His timing is perfect. He knows just what we need and when we need it.  He knows that in order for us to be the best version of ourselves, that we have to find our way back to Him because we have strayed away. And what’s interesting is that sometimes we don’t even realize that we have strayed until it’s too late. And because we don’t realize how far we have strayed we don’t realize the amount of work it’s gonna take to get us back to where we need to be. And for me, that was my biggest problem and it took quite a bit of work for me to realize that’s where I was. 

So as my struggle grew bigger and my heart ache deeper, I finally realized that I needed to invite Him in. I had to open the door and ask Him to clean house. And He did. 

He started with my closet. He started going through the clothes in my closet that had been there for way too long and He began removing those things that no longer “fit.” Relationships that were  unhealthy and activities that were a distraction. Before I knew it, half of my closet was gone but I could see what I had that still fit. From there He moved into the bathroom. The messiness of the bathroom reminds me much of the messiness of my sin. The grime and the mold that can build leaving our bathroom feeling icky and gross just like sin does to our hearts. He began to expose those places that I had missed. Those corners that I had overlooked or ignored because I just couldn’t be bothered with trying to get it clean. But He wiped it all clean.  And by the time He finished that bathroom sparkled like it never had before.  And then He moved on into the kitchen. The disheveled and unorganized kitchen. The room where chaos often lives.  He started by arranging things. He put things in order making things easier to find. He sorted things out by their priority, putting those things that are most important where they could be accessed easily. 

Once He finished cleaning house, there was a peace that wasn’t there before. This peace didn’t come easily because I had to say goodbye to some things I didn’t want to see go but I am so thankful for the work that has been done. I am thankful because it caused me to rely on and trust Him to make the moves that were best for me. 

God knows everything about us. He knows what our future has in store for us.  This means He alone is the perfect solution to whatever circumstance we face. And once we have handed over our circumstances, and His timing and plan unfolds before us, we’re able to look back on everything that we’ve been through and find joy in the pain. Suddenly we realize it was all for our benefit because it drew us closer to Jesus. He alone became our Saviour, our strength and our comfort as we trusted Him to "clean house."  

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:15-16 

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:28 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

When You’ve All but Given Up

What happens when we release the grasp of something we are afraid to give up? What happens when we let go of the control of something that we think only we can fix? What happens if we hold on to something for too long? 

This has been the lesson that God has been teaching me for the past two years. Amongst other things, He has been teaching me the importance of letting go and casting all my cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). To acknowledge that giving Him all of my doubts, worries, hurts, and frustrations is the only way things will get better. I won’t say it has taken this long to figure that particular principle out because I’m stubborn, though I can be stubborn, but instead it’s been trying to fully understand what it means to let go of something and hand it all over to God. 

All along that’s been my desire.  To give Him everything that was happening in my life and allow Him to work. What I didn’t realize was that I was still holding on. That my fear of losing something familiar  was keeping me from releasing every piece of what needed fixing. And so what had to happen? He had to completely break me down. I had to be reminded that I have no control of what happens in my life. Here’s what I mean by that.....Yes I can make choices or decisions but the outcome of His plan is based entirely on how His plan has been written. I can change how I get from point A to point B by the choices or decisions I make, but ultimately the destination has already been determined by Him. This means I can make the road an easy one or I can make it incredibly difficult. And that is what happened over the last two years.

Matthew and I have spent an incredible amount of time the last two weeks searching out God‘s word, studying God‘s word, talking through what’s been going on the past two years with his accident, the struggles in our marriage, and really praying and asking God for direction. It has been an amazing two weeks. For two years we have struggled, searched for God, questioned God, trusted God and felt like we weren’t making any headway. But one day when we didn’t think we could take anymore and we both expressed that we were done, we sat down together and asked God to step in, to move in a way where we knew He was working.  We asked Him to guide and to restore. And that is exactly what He’s been doing! 

Matthew likes to listen to a preacher by the name of Joby Martin. This pastor is fantastic and I enjoy listening to him as well, especially because he sounds like Matthew McConaughey to me. Anyway, Matthew sent me one of his sermons last week on God‘s faithfulness. At the beginning of that sermon, Joby talks about being part of the family of God. Being in community. He talked about how community is so incredibly important when it comes to facing trials or struggles. He went on to say that if you wait until you need Christian community then it’s too late because we are always in need of the body of Christ.   Accountability, the encouragement, the connection that comes from believers spending time together.  He added that Christian community is deeper than any genetic family. And if Matthew and I have learned anything over the last couple of years it is the truth of that statement. When a group of people share the common bond that is the love of God and an intimate relationship with Jesus, the relationship you have with those people in your community is something that you will never know outside of being part of the body of Christ.  And as I thought through the significance of that statement, I realized that that was part of what Matthew and I have been missing the past two years.  

For two years, we have been surrounded by a group of people who have prayed with us, prayed for us, walked with us, stepped into the mess that has become our life, and loved us no matter what we were facing. It has been a loyalty and love that I have never experienced before. But what existed within our community, was lacking in our marriage. Our life situation had become so monstrous that we had become more focused on our problem than we were on God, the One who loves us.  We had become like Peter when he stepped out into the water. Instead of focusing on the face of Jesus, we focused on the storm that surrounded us (Matthew 14:22-33]. The common denominator, that is Jesus, that had drawn us to one another in the beginning was no longer the common denominator. We had lost that intimacy that is shared between believers because Matthew and I had lost our foundation which is Jesus. The rock that had made our community so strong and kept it strong, was not the rock that our marriage or our individual lives was built upon. So when life’s struggles came to be, our foundation crumbled. For two years people have prayed that Matthew‘s brain injury would be healed, that all of our issues would be resolved, and that God would show up in a big way. But all along, God allowed these things to happen as a way to draw us back to Him and mold our lives into something that He has planned for us. 

We would rarely choose the hard path that God lays out for us.  The one that includes the pain, the struggles and the frustrations. But thankfully we serve a God who loves us and knows just what we need in order to hear His voice within the chaos that is this world. It took a place of complete brokenness that we were finally able to hear His voice, but thankfully He didn’t give up on us. Though it took us reaching a place of complete exasperation and a place of “being done,” His faithful love chased us down and drew us back into the safety of His arms.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Ephesians 3:20