Category: Faith

What to Do When You’re a Grown Up and You Still Have Anxiety

Once upon a time I thought I had my life all figured out. Things seemed to be falling into the right places. I was leading a group of moms, that made me feel like I had a voice and that I was doing “my part.” I was working towards writing a book, and pursuing public speaking. From the outside, it looked like I was living out my dreams.

But for a while, there have been small cracks webbing over the glossy surface of my life, reminding me that I can’t continue to sustain this image for long. And then the girl who seems to have it all together had a panic attack in the middle of leading a women’s study.

 It shouldn’t be a surprise. I’ve carried a lot of stress for a long time. A blend of my daughter’s restlessness and my own insomnia have meant I haven’t been sleeping. For the past couple of months I’ve been having trouble being in settings with a lot of people again, reverting to struggles of my old self. Yes, that anxiety that I’d filed away in the drawer of my past is creeping out and making itself known in my present. Shaking sweating hands, racing thoughts, trouble catching my breath, inability to slow down or process the situation normally, all these symptoms that I share about as things I’ve learned to overcome, are overcoming me.

Its embarrassing and inconvenient. I worry what others are really thinking. I start to feel uncomfortable in my own skin, which is an odd feeling as a 30-something woman– like I’m an awkward teenager again.

To cope, I could resort to old unhealthy habits of my past. But then, I should be older and wiser now right? But the truth is, when I try to think about a long term plan, even when I think about the prospect of finding a counselor, or how I’m going to cope with things that feel stressful and anxiety provoking in the next few weeks, I freeze up. It was this overwhelm that led me to being curled up and immovable on my couch, unable to cope when I was younger.

So this 30-something woman hasn’t learned much, but I’ve learned one simple trick to keep plotting through this familiar maze called anxiety. Its taking the next step.

The next step during my book club was admitting my weakness and getting support to get through the hour. The next step was to leave there with my head held high, to get my daughter, and pick her up and smell her hair, to drive us home and make lunch. The next step was to not give into the thoughts of shame and self doubt, to put her down for a nap, and sit and cry, and listen to good music and pray. Yesterday, all I could do was do the next right thing, and then the next. Today it was waking up, and drinking coffee that tasted like grace, a half of a Pilates workout, and then to cancel my social plans and give myself the time and space I need.

These panic attacks aren’t convenient when it comes to my passion for public speaking and leading. Its not convenient with my husband’s job that is also in the public eye. But I can’t think about the big life implications. I can’t redirect my whole course or make any life changing decisions right now. I just have to trust that God will help me find my way, and the the next right thing will guide me back to who He’s created me to be.

I know that Paul had a thorn in his flesh that God used to empower him. I’m not Paul, and my thorn is probably not as great as his was, but it reminds me that this anxiety thing is a piece of my life that will continue to make itself known on and off. Its something that even as a mom, a wife, a professional, and a “mature and capable grown up,”  I’ll never fully be rid of. While its annoying, and frustrating, its also a gift. Its God’s way of directing me back to Him, so that in this weakness, His power can be made perfect in me. After all, the secret that we grown ups keep, is that we all have so much more growing to do.

 

Finding Your Way

(the verse above was written and given to me in a collection of verses from the teachers at St. John’s)

FINDING YOUR WAY

If you don’t know which way is up or is down,
When emotions are whirly twirly around
and you can’t choose your left or your right.
Let love be your compass
Let love be your light.

Take a deep breath,
You don’t have to hurry,
Just think loving thoughts,
It untangles the worries.

People will fill up your ears with bad news
Sometimes they’ll tell you that life is a bother,
They’ll try to convince you that your way’s not right,
But fill up your chest with a breath and a sigh,
And talk to God, Let Him lead, not your pride.

God made you to be who he made you to be,
Not Cooper, or Eva, not Hannah, not me,
Your heart knows the way, cuz God’s voice is inside,
Keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Do the next right thing, and the next, and the next,
When you go bit by bit, you don’t have to be vexed.

Your heart knows the way,
You’re never alone,
Close your eyes tight, and pray ,
Let love guide you home.

How to Heal a Broken Heart

People disappoint us. We give them our time, our trust, and maybe even our secrets, and sometimes, they don’t protect it like it deserves to be protected.

People are true too. They are loving and devoted, generous and tender. But the ugly and beautiful aren’t always distinguishable on the outside. Or maybe its that each of us are a mosaic blend of ugly and beautiful fragments..

When we entrust the beautiful parts of ourselves to people who are careless, our hearts can feel beat up, broken, or even hardened.

God thinks out hearts are pretty important. So important that, “from (them) flows the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Rejection has a way of bruising my heart. Intentional or unintentional hurtful words burrow in like thorns that cause sharp and unexpected pain. Sometimes I know why my heart is hurting, but I’ve let the pain grow so deep, that I have trouble figuring out exactly where it started, like finding a splinter in a callused foot. My heart can start to get callused from wear and tear, pain forming a barrier that makes me feel less and less.

A once fleshy hearts can become so solid and impervious that it repels instead of absorbs. It can build layer after layer of self protection that shields from feeling any emotion. It fortresses itself against life, instead of being a pipeline of love to the surrounding world.

God knows the condition of our hearts. He knows that we need His grace poured into our heart cups—that we pour that grace into each others heart cups to be whole again.  His grace is the antidote to a hardened heart. It is the elixir we need to be able to love.

“I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

I use to admire the people who let tragedy, disappointment, and rejection ping off them like the flat rocks that skid across smooth water. My life would be so much less complicated if I cared less; if I felt less.

But God calls us to experience the world through loving hearts that feel, and hurt. He wants our hearts to beat and break for the community around us. A heart too tough to absorb the pain, may mean we need a heart transplant. We need God to remove the hearts that have curled in on themselves and hardened. Because tender hearts that hurt and feel, are sensitive to God’s molding and shaping, refining and defining as we engage our worlds with vulnerable hearts, willing to be known.

As a kid, I always felt ashamed when an unkind word or mean glance caused me to cry in front of my peers. At some point, we learn that being tender hearted is a bad thing.

My four year old is starting Pre-K. I’m feeling typical mommy nerves over what this year holds in store for her. But I think my biggest fear is that my daughter will begin to learn that she can’t wear her heart entirely on her sleeve. Her heart is so visible, pulsing through every inch of her little body and pouring out of her intensely blue eyes. Her heart is open and tender, and untouched by the world’s wounds. I love that her heart is like a vibrant paint, that spills and colors every part of her life with intensity and feeling. When she cries, it is with earth shaking sobs and big gliding tears. Her anger curls with a hook in her brow over great betrayal and injustices. Her joy, is so intense that it beams from her face like sunlight that brightens a dark room and helps you to see. When she loves, it is a passionate, kisses all over my face, look me deeply in my eyes, kind of love, that I know she feels with every fiber of her being.

As adults we learn to stuff, swallow, or hide emotions. We don’t want to feel too sad, so we numb it with pleasant distractions. Nor do we want to feel too happy, it could lead to disappointment. So we are divided by happiness, and anticipation, as we wait for the other shoe to drop. We don’t give ourselves over to the throws of anger, even at injustice, because adults are suppose to stay even tempered. And love, well love seems okay as long as it is returned to us in equal amounts. If we love more than we’re loved in return, then the imbalance can pose a risk—and rational adults don’t like to gamble with their hearts.

But then there is God. A God that whose heart is pure, passionate, and pursuing. He rages over injustice, cries out and weeps, He loves and longs for us like His bride.

God takes risks in relationships. He meets us more than halfway. He gives more than we can ever repay. He loves and forgives when we don’t deserve it.

Callused hearts are rendered useless by unforgiven hurts, dark and unmet longings, and deep seeded pains that can’t ever be completely unrooted or explained.

A world without God makes our hearts harder and less feeling. But God makes our hearts beat like new again. He replaces the heart that is twisted and scarred and knows too much, with a new heart of flesh that beats supernaturally for a world that needs more of us—a world that needs more of Him–a world that needs love.

My First Book Launch Team: More Than Just Making It

About 6 weeks ago I signed up to be a part of my first ever book launch team. I didn’t know what this was exactly, but I knew I was 100% behind the author Erin Odom. You see, I’m in a writing support and encouragement group called Hope*Writers. Us Hope*Writers, we like to stick together, to pray for one another, to give positive feedback, and to promote each others work. But in HW, Erin is a shining star. Not just because her blog, Humbled Homemaker, is an amazing resource for moms (it is!), and not just because she is a great writer (she is), but because she is a person that is always answering questions, lifting others up, and offering encouragement and useful advice to other aspiring writers. This is an author I want to get behind.

To my surprise, her book More Than Just Making It wasn’t about mindful living or deeper spiritual awareness like I initially thought. Those are threads woven into it too, but when my book arrived in the mail, I laughed out loud. The full title was: More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated. While I’d love to read another book on living in the moment, receiving this book was a God wink, or as Erin calls it, “a kiss from Jesus.”

Yes God had been listening to my prayers. A burst pipe and a flooded house have displaced us from our home all summer. Dealing with insurance and the onslaught of expenses was not the easy process we’d imagined. In March my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease that meant a week long hospital stay, prescriptions, and a monthly visit to the hospital’s infusion center. As a LCMS pastor, my husband is blessed with a generous paycheck, but all these circumstances on top of each other, meant God was challenging us to make every dollar count.

 Money is an uncomfortable topic that most of us would rather avoid. But Erin cuts through the tension with personal stories that pull you in. Her useful advice feels like its coming more from a friend over coffee, rather than just a book of how to’s. More than that, her engaging stories and compelling honesty help me think about other friends that may be in need. Friends that beneath the smiling facade, might be struggling to buy enough food to feed their family. Her book has helped me become more clued in to the difficult reality that exists within my own community and church.

I recommend Erin’s book if you’re looking for ideas on how to make your budget stretch, or even looking for supplemental income. I also recommend her book for those that are financially secure, to go along with Erin on her journey as an educated woman from a “good Christian home,” living in poverty. She upends our comfortable categories, and challenges readers to see that anyone could find themselves barely making it.

More than Making It shares a message of hope, offering practical advice, along with the hope that comes from faith and God’s redemption.

After all, Erin Odom is an example of how God can walk with us through difficult circumstances, that shape us into Hope*Writers; she is a walking testament to how our sad songs become love songs, and how our struggles transform into stories of His goodness.

Pre-order your copy of More Than Just Making It before September 5th to receive $220 of free bonus gifts. 

Wide Open Spaces- The Summer We Gave Up on Having Plans

I’ve joked that this is the summer of “Wide Open Spaces.” Yes, “Wide Open Spaces,” like the 1998 song by the Dixie Chicks that I shouted along to while driving my baby yellow Jeep Wagoneer, windows down, hair flying, pink rhinestoned sunglasses sitting defiantly below my over-plucked eyebrows. While the song hummed of independence as a teenager, its become our summer theme song because it sings of our calendar- lots of wide open spaces, to fill,with two young girls in a small apartment. Wide open spaces because we’ve cancelled our summer plans and vacations in order to focus on getting our house back together after it flooded from a burst pipe on Mother’s Day.

Before you feel too bad for me, know that I don’t regret the house flood of Mother’s Day 2017, because it has given us an opportunity to make repairs on the house that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Its given us a nice pool to use all summer, and a smaller living space to have to clean. Its taught me that I can survive an entire summer with only four pairs of pants, five shirts, and two pairs of shoes, and its shown me that our family is whole because of the way we love each other, wherever we live.

I’m feeling nostalgic because our apartment living is coming to an end in two weeks when the lease is up, house- ready or not (praying for ready).

But this summer of Wide Open Spaces in a small apartment has taught me a thing or two about how to live life well, that I’d like to remember when we’re back home with a full Fall calendar.

  1. I can busy myself with mindless stuff even when my calendar is wide open–Mindless TV, social media, email, etc. Stuff that keeps my mind busy, and hands moving, but leaves my heart with an ache of empty.
  2. There’s something valuable about lingering with other people. Being present, without an agenda, to just let the minutes, hours, and days unfold together with meandering conversation, tender moments between our children, and memories that will write our life stories and our kid’s identity. Thank you Erin, Patria, Danielle, and CeCe. I love you so.
  3. My kids like to just be with me. No screens, No nifty gadgets or toys. Laying together in a big king bed will do. Our bodies tangle together as we tell each other silly stories, ask and answer outrageous questions, and dream out loud.
  4. I always found the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” insightful but incredibly cliche. Its amazing though, the amount of time and life there is to live when you aren’t busy cleaning, preparing, and planning. It has given me time to ponder, to write, and to just breathe. I want to create more margin to just live in the present, rather than always preparing, and making other plans.
  5. I lost my bible somewhere with all the rest of my important stuff in storage. Since my brother in law is in the “used books reselling biz” I got my hands on Albert Liao’s Bible. It was sitting on the top of a box of discarded books. Albert’s Bible is filled with a lifetime of highlights and notes of a man that was searching for God in his own life story. This summer of “Wide Open Spaces,” I read Albert’s Bible and remember again and again that we all have our own stories, stories that ebb and flow with restlessness and contentedness, heart-splitting pain and heart splitting joy, but His truth always brings sense to it all.

Infusion Day

I’m sitting here with a faint smile across my lips. My daughter is laying across my lap, her hand cupping the perfect point of her chin. We’re resting and waiting as the medicine drip, drip, drips into her veins.

Once a month we come to the hospital’s infusion center for her to get a steroid drip and IVIG blood infusion.

We get up with sleep still in our eyes and quickly fill our bellies. We load into the car in our comfy clothes and bags of books and blankets and stickers, to camp out at the hospital. The day starts early and wraps around dinnertime, sometimes later.

The day after, she’s lethargic and cranky, suffering a hangover from the infusion that her body so desperately needs.

I dread these long days of being tied to an IV pole, but a part of me craves the comfort of them. The comfort that comes in knowing that these are days of healing.

God speaks to me more loudly as I sit in the hospital and watch the smiling children with their sunken eyes and patchy hair. We’re lucky here, because Elyse gets an IV in her arm instead of needing a port in her chest like most of the kids.

A doctor from Elyse’s hospital stay came in to do her check up. Tears collected in the bottoms of her eyes as she took in how much she’d grown—How Elyse’s once angry red skin now looks smooth and creamy.

Today a nurse gave us a Joy Jar. A jar with a rubber ducky, and a soft square blanket, a light up ball, and thick, bright crayons. A tall, clown-like man came in with polka dot tennis shoes and oversized glasses. He bent down over his long slender legs and played a ukalele, singing a slow folk song.

This isn’t like an amusement park where children come for their fill of happiness. But this jar of joy, and this awkwardly sweet clown are brave and beautiful reminders that this place is full of life and hope. As the kids hum along to a melancholy tune, wearing hats embroidered with the letters NEGU (never ever give up), I see happy that is fought for—like striking a match in a dark and unfamiliar room.

I want to sit and listen to every family’s story. Stories like the three sisters that come along every two days to hold their baby sister’s hand during chemo; or the grandma that brings her three year old, Eva, once a week. Her sparse short hair is always decorated with a large pink bow. I want to light a candle for each of them like a birthday cake. I want to hold onto their wishes and blow them like dandelions.

As I sit now and see the brave stories unfold, I long to be the kind of person that sings their sad songs with them, and offers jars full of joy. They teach me that joy is fought for, and hope is holding the candle of faith during a long, hard wait.

Get Back Home

We are living in an apartment as our house gets remade. But as the walls are rebuilt in our home, its within the four walls of this small apartment that I’m learning how to live again. You see I’ve been so concerned about what I want to do with my life that I’d forgotten the importance of who I already am. Sometimes we have to relearn the basics. 

As I curl up on an unfamiliar couch in an apartment full of borrowed furniture, my words curl around me like a blanket as I reread an old manuscript I had tucked away and forgotten about. I read the things that had first helped me to find my writing voice. Things about how to be a mom and still find myself at the same time. Words that somehow gave voice to the constant stone at the pit of my stomach, and the little question marks that constantly buzz like unfinished thoughts in the back of my brain.

I had discarded these stories as postcards of my past, as I fixed my eyes on bigger goals. But life’s unplanned challenges have humbled me. Like wiping away the layers of makeup before a mirror, I’m remembering what I really look like.

In the background the lyrics of an old song hums a familiar tune,

“Once, there was a way to get back homeward
Once, there was a way to get back home
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby”

As ironic tears line my cheeks, I realize I’ve taken a long, hard journey home. I’ve circled back to me- to that unmasked face in the mirror. A face that is creased with a few more crinkles in the corners of my eyes, but those same green eyes and freckles look back at me honestly. I wish I could explain to my teenage self how the soul doesn’t droop and sag like skin. Although my skin betrays me to be 33, my soul still feels smooth and bright, like an unweathered stone.

As I read the words from a girl who didn’t know the pain that I know now- its easy to think I knew little. I was naive and optimistic like an eighteen year old that doesn’t think the sun will leave a lasting mark. But in a season when I’m jaded and lost, these words from my past are as green as the grass I lain in to tell stories from the clouds. Green like the crab apples we’d pick from the mushroom shaped trees in Apple Hill. Green like the sweet peas I pureed to create my first homemade baby food.

As the landscape of my life shifts, cracks, and droops I remember that my soul is still planted in the same small hole. Each word I write, read, pray, and speak are like buds of life that spring forth from that same unmovable place.

When Bree was two, she would put her shoes on the right feet. I watched proudly thinking somehow she’d learned her right from her left. At four years old though, its a guarantee that her foot will find the wrong shoe, even when I  set them in front of her the right way. Today, I just watched my 21 month old, Elyse fit her little feet in the proper shoes, while Bree waddled out the door again like a duck, toes pointing in opposite directions. I realized that sometimes the right thing comes naturally.

As I assert my own knowledge and independence, I go through a season of getting things backwards too.

I dream that someday I will be a writer and speaker, but the truth is that the important tending needs to happen in the little circle of soil that holds my soul. From that small, sacred place, God can bring forth life that can bear fruit and shade. But its in the dark hole where He does the work that matters most.

Curled in the dark, like a womb, a waiting place, I wait for God to do His good work in my heart. I pray that He will grow me into a tree that stands tall, but more important, that I have solid roots like fingers always reaching back home.
“The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

Home isn’t A Destination

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At the edge of now; Searching for not yet

What is; What is to come,

Warm brushstrokes of hope bleeding into the dark sea of unknown,

Plans harpooned; Disquieted and motionless

As stillness ripples across the white caps of uncertainty

Fingers of light touching things submerged,

The meeting place of lungs and gills,

Anticipating, trembling; Longing waiting,

Humming with hope, Holding still,

Peace in knowing; Faith in waiting,

The crossing place where the Divine teaches us,

To walk across sin’s sinking surfaces,

Holding His guiding hand home.

 

Called to Be

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Calling. Something that seems to come outside us. That irresistible thing that beckons us, shapes us, needs us to engage. I don’t know about you, but this is a word that I’ve grappled with every few years, finding it impossible to sift it down to one single grain.

But I think more and more, calling is the complicated thing that our generation and younger generations seem to long for. To live a life of purpose that somehow pays the bills and fulfills us, so our lives feel good, and look good on Instagram. Is that what calling is? Or does it have an illusive quality- something we’re always looking to find more fully- but never fully “arrive” at.

When a person tries to fill themselves up with purpose, or position, popularity, or possessions, they are going to become bloated, and so incredibly empty.

In 1 Corinthians as Paul addresses the people of Corinth, he scolds them for allowing themselves to become “overinflated or distended” with pride- the Greek word physioo. As Pastor Tim Keller points out in his book about self forgetfulness, Paul doesn’t use the normal Greek word for pride, hubris, but makes a point to use this other, more descriptive word to emphasize the Corinthians problem.

When we try to fill ourselves up by searching for approval and achievement, we’re going at it the wrong way. Calling isn’t something that we need to search for outside of ourselves, but something God has planted within us; who God has created us to be. It flows out of who we are. Our essence.

Calling isn’t necessarily how we’re going to pay the bills, but maybe a nice bonus. Calling isn’t going to make our lives fall into perfect order, or gain us popularity, or make us look good on Instagram. Calling doesn’t mean that we always want to do it either- sometimes following our calling feels like trust, obedience, and hard work.

Calling is living out who God created us to be in a life that serves him and the people around us. It can be as small as writing an article for the preschool newsletter, reading our kids poems, or making a meal for good friends to share over a good conversation. It can look like sitting with someone when conversation is halting and uncomfortable and tears flood our vision. It can go bigger than we imagine by rebuilding a village in Africa, raising thousands of dollars for the underprivileged, or finding a cure that saves millions.

Calling isn’t about going to the right college or having a fantastic resume. It isn’t necessarily about traveling across the world or impacting thousands of lives. Lived out, calling looks like the next right thing.

But the point is- calling isn’t something we have to earn or prove, its created by God, and fueled by the Spirit. Its about prayer, faith, and steeping ourselves in His word. Day by day, minute by minute calling is lived out in trust and obedience.

So how do we teach our kids this, as we ourselves are still figuring it out?

I don’t have all the answers, but I think the first step is not pushing our kids to achieve. Achievement is great, but it flows out of being who we are. No I think first we need to teach our kids how to be. How to be present, how to be honest, how to be loved and loving, how to be whole. The first step is teaching them how to be God’s child. That happens when we bring them to church, when we pray with them, and read God’s word, when we talk with them and answer their questions.

But most of all it happens as we live out God’s calling in our own lives- quieting our hungry egos and filling ourselves up with him. Remembering that we don’t need to be popular, or skinny, successful, or rich to be loved by Him. We already are.

Prayer
Remind us that only You can satisfy this ache within us.

We come to you now with open palms and empty souls.
We are dry clay jars of dust, ready for you to fill us, fuel us, and repurpose us for Your glory.

We feel hungry and empty,
And yet we look to be filled by whatever is at the end of our fingertips.
Until we are full, and bloated, and completely unsatisfied.
Sometimes we’re distracted into believing we have all we need,
Sometimes we’re smug and satisfied, easily pleased with our own abilities.

Thank you for tugging our hearts back to You,
For reminding us of our overwhelming need for Your Glory.
Thank you that the Holy of Holies dwells in our chests,
No longer behind an untouchable veil.

Let us lean into our longing and linger in Your presence,
As you pass over us let us realize the magnitude of Who You are.
Satisfy us with your fullness, and let us continue to hunger for You

Thank you for reminding us that only You are our source for true fulfillment.
Touch us with Your presence Lord,
Fill our heart cups with Your living water
Fill our souls with the bread of your life.

We lift our palms to you, empty and filled, lost and repurposed.

 

100 Honest Words

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“What do I want to be when I grow up?”

A question I’ve asked since scraped knees and greasy pony.
Sleek and polished professional the same question buzzes in my blood.
Yoga pants, messy bun cliche, kids running underfoot, the question sings like a lullaby in the early morning beneath cries and snuggles.
These days self realization looks a lot like self promotion— self devotion.
But amid the accumulation, and forward motion, stuffed emotion, I wonder if that question is an ironic statement that lingers to tease us, teasing out the loose threads of our unraveling certainty.

Who am I?