• anxiety,  Bible study,  faith in action,  Reflections on Scripture

    Holy Week Reflections: Peace

    What does it mean to have peace in this world?

    In the days before Jesus went to the cross, he sat with his disciples and told them that they would deeply mourn him soon, but one day they would see Jesus again. At that time, their “joy would be like a river overflowing its banks!” [John 16:24, MSG].⠀
    He went on to tell them: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (v. 33, NIV)⠀
    Another translation says that they can be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. ⠀
    While Jesus didn’t promise his disciples or us a pain free life, he did tell us that he will give us his peace. He gives us his truth. He gives us light in the darkness of this world. And he foretells of a complete joy that we will one day have when we are with him again.⠀
    Friend, whatever trouble, darkness, sorrows, or trials you are facing right now? I’m praying that you would be unshakable and assured. ⠀
    Know that our God is with you, and he grants you the ability to have a deep-rooted peace as you trust in him. The pain may still be there, the fog may still darken the path ahead, and the circumstances may not change, but he will be with you every step of the way. ⠀
    Take heart, because he overcame this world. He overcame the sting of death on our behalf, and one day we will have fullness of healing and joy with him. In the meantime, we can pray for peace.
    – – –

    Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.

    “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete….

    A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

    “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  -(select verses from John 16:16-33, NIV)

     

    More about finding or praying for peace in this world:

    A prayer for the anxious one [asking God to be close to us]

    Choosing brave in the hard things[about making hard decisions and asking for God’s guidance]

    Manna and Morsels [about taking things one day at a time, and savoring wherever God has us right now]

    To the one struggling in silence [about the God who sees you, knows you, and loves you in your pain]

    Climbing through fog and walking on water [about surrendering control and learning to trust God, even when we can’t see the way ahead]

  • anxiety,  weekly prayers

    A Prayer for the Anxious One

    Dear Lord,

    Be close to us, Father.

    I come to you right now and ask for prayer for my friend…

    For the one who is paralyzed with a daunting decision.

    For the one who desperately wants to know the future, but cannot see past the fog of tomorrow.

    For the one who is crippled by debt and financial concerns.

    For the one struggling with deep fear.

    For the one starting something brand new, terrified of messing up.

    For the one who is scared to let others down and fearful to disappoint You.

    For the one who is overwhelmed with the chaos of the current season.

    For the one who wonders when things will ever feel “normal” again.

    For my friend who wants peace but cannot imagine what that would even feel like…

    Be close to us, Father.

    Light the path.

    Take our anxious hearts in Your hands and bring calm.

    You are the God who sees us– help us to know that. You know every single detail of our lives, Lord– from the number of hairs on our head to the deepest longings of our hearts. And You are the God who loves us with a deep, wide, everlasting, unconditional love. Be close to us, Father.

    Help us to breathe deep the incense of Your presence with us, in the midst of the unknowns and the fear.

    Increase our trust in you, God. Help us to know in our minds and our hearts that You are a good father and a gentle shepherd. Help us to believe that You will make the way clear, and that You want our best.

    Be close to us, Father.

    Light the path.

    Lord, when we cannot seem to move in any direction because we don’t know the right decision, help us to remember to take things one step at a time. Help us to reflect on something small and manageable right in front of us, rather than fixating on the whole big picture.

    When we cannot see through the fog, help us to cling to You; be our guide. Light the path, one step at a time.

    Lord, when we don’t know how we will pay the bills or pay off the debt or provide for the big things right over the horizon, help us to trust and know that You are our provider. Help us to remember, Lord, your faithfulness. Remind us what we can control for now, and in the meantime, be close to us.

    When fear is loud and daunting, quiet our racing thoughts of the unknowns and our imagination of the “what ifs.” Strip away the layers of fear built around our hearts, and bring us to a place of resting in Your protection. You are our shield. Lord, let Your Truth be the loudest thing, over the enemy’s lies and our deepest insecurities and the fears that threaten to overtake our sanity. God, quiet our racing thoughts and bring peace.

    Help us to remember that You care for us. Wash Your peace over us, from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes, and to every aching part in between.

    Breathe Your peace into our exhausted bodies, tired minds, and these weary hearts. Lavish Your love on your sweet child.

    Be close to us. Light the path.

    Lord, when we cannot see the goodness in the midst of the hard, train our eyes to see You. You are good, even when we’ve lost sight of that. Lord, we ask Your guidance in seeking out the blessings, focusing on the gifts, and noticing the sweet moments that are from You. Be close to us.

    Father, more than anything else, show us how we can glorify and praise You, even in the midst of our pain and anxiety. Bring us closer to You, and remind us that You are close to the broken-hearted. We love You Lord.

    Amen.

     

    Some additional resources to encourage you today:

    Psalm 34 (v. 18 is my favorite: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”)

    Matthew 6:25-34

    Matthew 11:28-30 

    Isaiah 40-41

    When you just don’t know how to ‘be still’ 

    Stand firm when your life is in chaos

    What does God think of OCD?

    Learning to let go of shame spirals and self-condemnation 

    Printable Scripture cards- “11 Powerful Truths for when the lies get loud” 

    *NEW: The Peaceful Playlist (20 songs chosen by me, just for you. Open up this free Spotify playlist on those hard days.)

    – – –

    P.S. Special thanks to Ben White of the Unsplash community for the photo to accompany this post.

  • anxiety,  control,  forgiveness,  freedom

    Shame Spirals and Learning to Let Go

    Shame Spirals

    Since January, I’ve been learning how to play piano. It’s slow going, but it brings me a lot of joy to be able to play and sing worship music (even in the comfort of my own home). Sometimes I play in front of others, but mostly it’s just me and Jesus in my dining room.

    On Monday nights I’m the worship leader for a group at church, which usually means coordinating the song selection, facilitating practice, and leading vocally on some of the songs. Occasionally, as needed, I also jump in and play keyboard. It’s clunky and a little awkward and I often apologize for my piano skills over the mic because I am a perfectionist and want others to know that I’m aware that it’s not good. How silly.

    The point of worship is to glorify the Lord, not ourselves. I have come to believe that the gift of worship leading is to help usher others into the presence of the Lord, and to help a community of believers come together to offer God our praise. But sometimes, I still make it about me. If I’m in my head too much, I end up thinking about the quality of our playing and singing instead of the quality of my heart. And that is pride at its worst.

    This Monday night, I lost sight of the greater purpose of worship. During our team’s practice time, I self-consciously stumbled my way through the music. I just could not get my fingers to work right and I kept losing my place in the music. When my team tried to offer suggestions I kind of snapped, and had to step away in an almost-panic attack. I closed the door of the bathroom behind me and leaned against the door with tears stinging in my eyes. I prayed for forgiveness for my heart, for my lack of humility, for my desire for control. I came out and apologized sincerely to our team. They met me with the sweetest grace and encouragement. During worship time later that night, my playing was not perfect, but my heart was better. And I know the Lord was still there and He was lifted up. Not me. As it should be.

    I came home from group that night and beat myself up. About my perfectionism, my pride, my control issues. I wallowed in the fact that I sinned against God and my teammates.

    I sat for a while that evening so aware of my own sinful nature. I wandered down a shame spiral- starting to list the other areas of my life where I have messed up. I started drudging up things from last month, last year, 10 years ago. And this was over a fairly small grievance. The shame spirals are wider, deeper, and last much longer over sins that I perceive to be even more severe.

    Do you ever do this?

    Learning to Let Go

    God extends forgiveness and grace to cover our sins AS SOON as we reach out and ask Him for it.

    My friends extended grace and compassion to me. They forgave me and let me know that it was okay.

    I have to remind myself that when I go down those rabbit trails of looking at my own sin and failures, I am not walking in the freedom that God has given me. I have a hard time forgiving myself and letting go of what has already been covered.

    There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is godly sorrow over our wrongdoings, which is meant to lead us to repentance. When we experience guilt, it is conviction from the Holy Spirit. Guilt draws us to our knees to ask God to make our hearts right with Him and with others. Guilt says, “That specific action, thought, or word was not okay. Let’s go make it right with God and the people that may have been hurt by that.” Guilt recognizes our responsibility in wrong-doings and brings empathy along with it. And when we offer our sin up to the Lord, He makes us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Our sin is removed as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

    But shame? That is not from the Lord. Shame has a painful grip, and says to me “YOU are a mess. YOU are too broken for forgiveness. YOU are a bad person.” It takes my eyes off of others and brings them fully onto me. Shame separates me from the Lord and others, and often makes me isolate. I feel disgraced and find myself wanting to hide. While guilt spurs us to action, shame is chaotic and paralyzing.

    Last night I was reading 2 Corinthians 3, and came across this verse:

    “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

    When I am sucked into a shame spiral, I push out the Spirit of the Lord. Because shame holds us captive.

    When I encounter shame, I need to remind myself to invite the Spirit of the Lord in to remind me of His forgiveness. Of His grace for me. Of His ability to let go of my past.

    And if He, the creator of the universe and a perfect Father can let go of my past, I can too.

    I am learning to let go. To step out of the spiral and invite His Spirit of freedom to enter in. To remember that I can learn from these times when I stumble. To say “it is finished” and move forward with confidence that He is continually making me more like Him. To speak kindly to myself, with the words that He gives me as reminders of His grace.

    If you struggle with letting go of your past or shame too, I want to share some verses and a prayer to encourage you today.

    “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9)

    “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” (Psalm 103:8-12)

    “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame,” (Isaiah 50:7)

    “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed,” (Psalm 34:5)

    But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” (John 1:12-14, 16)

    Dear Lord,

    You are not a god that is far away, looking down on me with a wagging finger of disappointment. You are a loving, perfect parent. You see me as Your sweet and precious child. You welcome me into Your arms. Thank You for the GIFT of redemption and forgiveness that we can receive through Your love and through Christ’s sacrifice for us. Lord, I pray for Your Spirit of freedom to be close to me. Help me to remember Your Truth about Your mercy and love. I pray for strength and courage to let go of my past. Help me to see that it is not helpful for me to drag around self-condemnation. I pray for Your guidance to learn to walk with confidence in the knowledge that I am wholly forgiven and redeemed. Thank You for loving me for exactly who I am. I pray that I could bring YOU glory in the way that I walk that out. I love You Lord.

  • anxiety,  faith,  identity,  mental health

    What does God think about OCD?

    I- Chipped Paint

    You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.

    You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.

    You discern my going out and my lying down;

    You are familiar with all my ways.

    This week, I sat on a familiar couch across from the familiar face of my counselor and talked about my recent anxiety struggles. About flare-ups in my people pleasing and old thought patterns that sneak up way too fast and overwhelmingly. About my shame for still struggling with OCD, and codependency, and sin, and basically … not being perfect.

    When I was a child I have vivid memories of spending time on our wooden swing set that my dad built in our backyard. My siblings and I would go outside to play after school while mom cooked dinner. Instead of playing on the swing set, I would sit on the landing above the slide and fixate on the peeling paint. It would bother me greatly if an area was starting to chip or peel, so I would hyper-focus on peeling it away in strips to remove those seeming imperfections. Lost in thought, in somewhat of a trance, I would pull away the old gray paint to reveal the red wood underneath. It was strangely satisfying and calming but also a little unsettling in the aftermath — when my mom called us in for dinner, it would snap me out of the trance. I’d look down at the grass and see far more dried and chipped paint than I had intended to remove, and would be embarrassed for this strange habit. Eventually, in later years, I developed a form of OCD as a way of coping with my anxiety called trichotillomania, a rare disorder on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum that leads individuals to pull out their own hair. The trances with this reminded me of my paint peeling days, though the impact was far more damaging than an old backyard swing set missing its paint.

    II- Tears

    Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.

    You hem me in behind and before, and You lay Your hand upon me.

    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

    For most of my life I’ve been a writer. It’s often been private, in diaries, journals, short stories not shown to others [I’m just getting brave enough to share it]. In my bedroom, I have a box full of old journals, and on the nightstand next to my bed, I have a stack of the three most recently filled within the past year. Each one represents so many stories and wanderings and prayers and tears worked through quietly, mostly on my own or with the Lord.

    My counselor and I have walked together through 5 huge years in my life. These 5 years have carried total humility and honesty, growth, forgiveness, and transformation. She knows me better than anyone on this side of heaven. In the beginning of our time together I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning forward with knots of fear in my stomach– fear of saying some things out loud for the very first time, showing someone else the way my brain works, fear of judgment, and overwhelmed with where to start in processing my heavy burdens. When I would begin to cry in those earlier sessions, I would quickly shut off the tears and put a smile back on my face, saying, “But I know it’s going to be okay.” Yet, every single session my counselor has met me with gentleness and grace. And at the end of every session, no matter what I’ve shared, we have ended our time together with prayer. These days, I sit nestled into the couch with comfort in this safe place. I let the tears flow freely, knowing that there is healing that comes with the fullness of that expression of overwhelm, grief, confusion, sadness, anger, or whatever those tears represent. I come into our Tuesday evening times together, able to share with her what I’ve noticed lately, what I’m learning, ready to share the newest pages of my journal out loud, with no fear of what she thinks of me.

    Once, when I showed her that I was about to finish another journal after only 3 months of starting it, she asked if I was proud of that fact. I said without hesitation, “yes.” We both knew the hard work represented in those pages. But even more than that, they represented for me the bravery of saying the words out loud. There was freedom in that.

    Lately we have been talking about this work we do, of retraining the brain to take on new thought patterns. And how even after 5 years of work there can be new work to keep fighting against 25 years of established patterns. But now, I AM doing the work of creating new patterns. This week, on that couch, I sat with tears in my eyes about my obsessive thinking and how it has gotten out of control lately, sometimes about great things like writing and creativity, and sometimes about things in my past or worry for the future. I asked her to be frank with me (I’ve asked her this question before too, but sometimes just need to hear the answer out loud)– is there something really broken with me? Is the way that my brain works really messed up?

    III- Light, Tea, Psalms

    Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?

    If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.

    If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

    Even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.

    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

    Even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day,

    For darkness is as light to You.

    To my question about my brain… my counselor met me with gentleness and grace, as always. She affirmed that the quirks of my personality {obsessive thinking, extreme motivation, my empathy, my creative brain, even my perfectionism} are part of how God made me and formed me and loves me. When these qualities and thought patterns get out of control and go into overdrive, I enter into discomfort, darkness, pain. But these quirks? They are also some of the qualities that make me an excellent researcher, someone who is innovative and bright, good at coming up with new and creative ideas, fiercely loyal, strong in my faith, a wonderful friend/sister/group member, a good communicator, and a tender-hearted human with a heart for serving others in this world with love and kindness. When I become aware that those quirks are in overdrive or are blocking me from putting my full identity in Christ, I can take a moment to breathe and have compassion for myself. Then I can use one of the tools in the toolkit I’ve assembled in these 5 years to get back to being grounded and centered, knowing that I am loved for exactly who I am. To let the light back in.

    So this week, I pulled out some of those tools. I spoke with my loving dad on the phone. I ate a healthy black bean burger and sweet, fresh pineapple for dinner. I played the piano. I am drinking peach ginger tea or a spicy cinnamon variety of hot tea in my favorite mug in the evenings. And I’m going back to my favorite Psalm- the one that reminds me of the Truth of who God is and that He loves me no matter where my mind goes (Psalm 139, written throughout this post).

    IV- Paper and Stained Glass

    For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

    I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    Your works are wonderful, I know that full well…

    How precious to me are Your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!

    Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—

    when I awake, I am still with You…

    Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

    See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

    The other night, while on the phone with my dad, I looked over and saw this piece of art that I created a few years ago. When my OCD was probably at its worst and my life felt utterly out of control, I discovered an interesting world of paper cutting and the art of scherenschnitte. This folk art form from Germany which literally means “scissor cuts” became a new creative outlet for me to channel my perfectionism, anxiety, and OCD. In those moments of digging into my artwork, it is me, the paper, an exacto knife, and worship music. Entering into a new kind of trance, I get to hyper-focus on slicing straight lines and chipping away at the pattern before me. My favorite designs are ones like this with symmetry, order, a calming pattern to cut out–the ones that remind me of stained glass or a fractal. This design, created out of a season of disorder and darkness, is such a clear and tangible reminder to me that I crave order, creativity, and color. And that hard work, generosity, and hyper-focused motivation and thinking are part of the fabric of who I am. I am working on having GRACE for myself for how much I have grown and for who I am. And reminding myself that He is crafting me into something beautiful, even in my brokenness.

    The mind of God and all of His ways are mysterious to us–I don’t believe that any man will ever be able to comprehend the Lord’s thinking fully here on earth. Here’s what I DO know though, from spending the past 5 years digging further into His word, praying, and pressing into His truth:

    • He calls us to “be still” before Him, for He is God (Psalm 46:10)
    • We were created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27)
    • He calls us fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)
    • He has so much grace and mercy for us (Romans 3:23-24; Hebrews 4:16)
    • He is a stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9-10)
    • He rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17)
    • He refreshes and restores our souls (Psalm 23)
    • He bears our burdens for us (Matthew 11:28-30)
    • He knows every thought in our hearts/minds (Psalm 139:3-4, 23)
    • The peace that comes from Him is far better than any peace I can find in this world (John 14:27)

    I do not know the details of your struggles. But God does. He loves us and calls us to love others in the same way. So I want to encourage you to find balance–more grace, less self-condemnation. More rest, less striving. More community, less isolation. If you’re wrestling with what it looks like to have a healthy mind and how these things seem ingrained in the fiber of your being, try to have compassion, mercy, and gentleness for yourself. After all, YOU were fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Creator– in His very image. He is crafting you, too, into something beautiful, with every single part of who you are.

    _________________________________________________________________________________

    P.S. Do you battle with keeping Truth at the forefront of your mind? Do you wrestle with lies, insecurity, anxiety, depression, OCD, mental battles of any kind–anything that pulls you away from the present into a rabbit trail of fear, worry, or restlessness? I would love to share some of my favorite Scriptures with you in the form of a free printable I created. These 11 powerful Truths are some of my favorite Scriptures to come back to when the lies get loud in my mind and heart. Though I know prayer and Truth are a component of a holistic solution, I encourage you to print it out to hang on your mirror, next to your desk, or to cut into note cards to encourage a friend for the hard days.

    Enter your email here to get your Scripture cards. Be encouraged. You’re not alone.

  • anxiety,  depression,  faith

    Faith Like a Mustard Seed

    “If you had faith even as small as a tiny mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would go far away. Nothing would be impossible.’” [Matthew 17:20]

     

    I pray for a mustard seed for you. For you to know these mountains can be moved.

    When hopelessness comes in like a dark cloud, it’s hard enough to muster strength let alone a mustard seed of faith. Faith feels out of reach sometimes- hoping in these things unseen and unknown and at times utterly unbelievable. To believe that there is something more than this present darkness. To believe that there is someone who could love us in this mess we’ve made. To believe that there is someone who can save me from the miry pit and give my life hope again.

    But let me tell you, there is rich substance in this tiny little seed–

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. [Hebrews 11:1, KJV//The Message]

    To the girl who sits with anger bubbling up and surging forth, overcome with the tidal wave of her own emotions.

    To the woman who weeps quietly over a lost seed-sized baby with its own identity and a future here on earth seemingly ripped away.

    To the couple squeezing hands across the hospital bed as one fights an internal battle of blood cells, not quite sure how much time is left.

    To the man who has spent months pouring a morning pot of coffee and pouring over hundreds of job openings, desperate for a way to provide for his family again.

    To the boy who knows hunger like I will never know and would give anything for a home-cooked meal, but even more than that, a home.

    To the one overcome with shame for past failures and faults, who feels like there will never be another way than this old pattern that is bound to keep on repeating.

    For the one who feels that this life is unbearable, it bears repeating–these mountains can be moved.

    A mustard seed.

    That is literally all it takes.

    I’m praying that you can dig down deep to find a seed of hope planted in your heart- a small spark that keeps pushing you forward towards a bigger light.

    That this mustard seed of hope would wedge its way through the seeds of doubt and anger and fear and worry and sadness and would GROW and move mountains in your life.

    I picture a tiny seed that pushes through the soil to send deep roots down into the earth. Soon a seedling, and then a tree, and then shoots of life, and then fruit all pushing the mountain to the right or the left or eventually INTO THE SEA because that tree has grown so strong. But all you need to start with is a tiny seed.

    I’m living proof of this mountain moved with the smallest of seeds. I had become a shell. I was broken, anxious, controlling, depressed, and without hope. With bookshelves full of books that could fix my problems but more problems mounting up than I could possibly fix, I was tired of talking and tired of digging and just plain tired. I had tried to find my hope in my own strength for far too long. Eventually my fragile shelled cracked wide open, but inside I found a mustard seed. It was buried and barely alive, but there it was. Pulsing with the little faith I had left. Helping me to breathe in and breathe out with just enough strength to look upward. To see that there had to be another way; there had to be more than this way I’d been doing things.

    A mustard seed of hope. I found a Redeemer. I came to know this Counselor. I grew not just in knowledge about, but in closeness to this living, loving Savior. He scooped me up and started to put me back together. There it was–a seedling, that grew slowly but surely into a little tree. The ability to keep stepping forward. Shoots and branches. Genuine relationships with people who loved me without my mask of perfection. Fruit in service and the ability to love others, with a real love that did not require or expect anything in return. Hope for the future.

    The troubles are still there at times, and the pain still pops up. But there is a greater hope outside of myself that is moving mountains. Because now I know that God is with me, and with Him nothing is impossible. That mustard seed I found was the seed of growth and change and healing and community and freedom and JOY. So I am praying that you find your own mustard seed and can press into the HOPE God has for you. Because He’s able to move even this mountain.

     

    *This piece was written for spoken word– stay tuned for a video soon!

  • anxiety,  identity,  rest,  trust

    Mary, Martha, and Me- From Striving to Rest

     

    THOSE SISTERS

    I was reminded this week about the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10, and I pictured myself about halfway between the sisters. I can imagine running to and fro trying to get everything just right, bumping into Martha as we hurry past each other in the kitchen. But I’d also stop for just a few minutes to eavesdrop on Mary and Jesus, soaking in just enough of His presence that I was NEAR to Him but not WITH him. That’s what I’ve done this week. I read the Word, I prayed the prayers, I did the ministry stuff, I was faithful in my work and parenting, but at the end of the day I was still leaning on my own strength. Here’s what Jesus told Martha when she bugged Him about making Mary help (He surely reminded me of the same truth this week) in Luke 10:41-42-

    “Martha, Martha, [Heather, Heather] you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

     

    STRIVING

    Sometimes our best laid plans don’t quite work out the way we envision, and the way we respond says a lot about us. Earlier this week, a project launched that I had poured a ton of time and creativity into; I felt confident and excited to watch it flourish. But factors outside of my control meant the project just didn’t quite land as expected. I quickly flew into a tailspin of proving myself—hurrying around and hustling hard. I jumped into action with fresh ideas and this striving started trickling into my relationships. I was suddenly caught up in fear that I wasn’t “doing” enough and wondered if I had been a good friend/sister/daughter lately. Which led to more hustling.

    Midway through the week, a sweet man in my life and I had a little chat. I was feeling anxious and burnt out and stressed, struggling with my sense of self-worth. I told him, “I don’t get it—I spent like an hour reading the Bible and journaling today at lunch, and I’ve been reading the Word and praying a lot lately but I still feel off.” He asked me to tell him more about what I’d read that day… I shared the parallels I’d found in Jeremiah 17 and 1 Corinthians.

    Jeremiah 17:5-8:

    “This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

    But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

    And 1 Corinthians 1:27-31-

    “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

    I realized I had been leaning on my own strength and not resting. At. All. And when I trust in my own strength, I am parched like that bush in the wastelands y’all. Here’s what STRIVING looks like in my world:

    • Relying on my own strength and understanding/plans
    • Proving myself through my efforts
    • Easily affected by my circumstances
    • Trying to live up to the expectations of others (even if they are self-imposed/assumed on my part)
    • HARD WORK, which tends towards legalism to earn the Lord’s favor/the good feelings of others
    • Exhaustion (parched desert!)
    • Pride
    • Judgment (of myself and sometimes others)
    • Anxiety/rushed decision making

    REST

    So what’s the solution? I find it in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

    My striving looks a lot like the first part of this verse- laboring, toiling, weary, tired, burdened, heavy laden, worn out, burnt out. Sometimes with even good things! But my hard work and doing things on my own strength do not define who I am. When I allow myself to REST in His strength, HE makes me strong and brings peace. This goes against everything in my perfectionism that says “keep hustling,” but leaning on Him brings peace and refreshment to my soul. So if the opposite of striving is REST, here’s what we get to experience:

    • Leaning on His strength. Finding that it is okay to show weakness, because that is where His strength can carry us and show His power.
    • His wisdom (not our own way of understanding)
    • Deep roots; we are not tossed to and fro because we are planted (Jeremiah 17:5-9; Psalm 23)
    • The ability to be more present and connected with others
    • Gentleness for ourselves
    • Clarity of thought; sanity!
    • Childlike joy as we slow down enough to recognize the sweet blessings in our lives
    • GRACE

    This summer, I will continue to pray for margin in my life (and in yours!). Not just tiny cracks for time spent NEAR the Lord, but an abundance of time to sit at the feet of Jesus. I pray that you also can spend time resting in His strength, and knowing that no matter what your circumstances bring, your soul can be stilled because your identity is found in the one who made you and who rests with you.

    If you’re like me and need extra help thinking about why rest could possibly be important, here are some helpful resources I recommend.

    • Sabbath rhythm- I’m so thankful for my friend Alexis Girvan who has introduced me to the beauty of intentionally spending time each week in Sabbath… read some of her work here or this awesome book Alexis recommended to me by Wayne Muller that helped me dig deeper into Sabbath
    • Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
    • This Spotify playlist I made that is on repeat in my house lately-summer rest
    • Memorize Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 23; Matthew 11:28

    When we put rest in HIM first–when we lean on Him for our source of refreshment–the world cannot take that good portion away from us. I hope you’ll choose rest with me.

  • anxiety,  control,  fear,  trust

    Climbing Through Fog and Walking On Water

    Photo credit: Mary Gin Shepherd

    “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

    -Joshua 1:9

    Imagine someone with control issues trying to plan their way up a mountain, where thick fog is obscuring the way forward. As a controlling planner myself, let me share with you what the potential thought process might be for our adventurer as they consider the daunting task ahead.

    Who knows how long this will take? Will I get there before dark? If this takes longer than I’m expecting, I’ll definitely be late/frustrated/anxious. What if I get lost? How will I shout out for help? Would I go back down? Or keep climbing up? What if this view isn’t worth it?

    My friends and the youth from our church did a hike the other day that literally embodied this foggy mountain climb that I’ve been imagining. (Shout out to my friends Mary Gin and Becky for sharing their foggy pictures to help tell my story). Confession: this control freak would have been a bit anxious on that particular hike.

     

    THE FEAR:

    I often claim to believe and trust that God is in control. But let me be honest; my life has often looked a lot more like a tug of war with God. A power struggle that I’m bound to lose, but I fight tooth and nail to win anyway. Sometimes, this is a very subconscious process. But regardless, I admit that I have control issues. I fear letting go, and I definitely fear trusting anyone other than myself to lead the way… even God.

    During one of the hardest seasons of my life, I grew paralyzed by a tough decision that I knew was ahead of me. The overwhelm swallowed me up and I was completely unsure of which way to turn, what the future held, what God wanted for me.

    As a type-A perfectionist and a big-time dreamer, I typically try to imagine life 10 years down the road. Then I come up with specific goals and a plan of action to get there. I like to have a plan A, along with back-up plans for my back-up plans. I think through the ripple effects of decisions and anticipate how I will handle the reactions/results that will “surely” come if I do x, y, or z. There is something terrifying about letting go of that level of detailed planning (control) and entrusting it to someone else.

    That hard season, I couldn’t even picture 2 months down the road. I truly needed God’s guiding for His will for me. Sometimes, though, when we pray for His will, we wait, and wait, and wait. We are looking for big neon signs flashing towards the path to take, or a mountain-shaking, booming voice of wisdom to point us in the right direction.

    “But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

    “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

    “Come,” He said.

    Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

    Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

    And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

    -Matthew 14:27-33

     

    THE PEACE:

    Do you ever feel like Peter, calling out to Jesus to make sure He’s really with you on your journey? When we lock eyes with Him and follow His steady voice calling out to us to Trust, we are carried forward, one step at a time. But when we start getting wrapped up in the wind and the waves around us, we sink.

    In the hard season, I learned to pray to surrender to God in smaller ways, and knew that eventually He would reveal a path. I had to slow myself down and stop running ahead. I wasn’t asking for a big reveal of where He would take me long-term, I learned how to ask for Him to show me just one day at a time how to move forward, how to walk with Him. I learned how to press into His Word and focus on His strength instead of my own, waiting for His voice to show me the way forward.

    The answers were usually very quiet, so I had to sit in stillness and wait, something I’m not naturally inclined to do. But they did come. He walked me through it. And I learned to trust Him more with each step.

    If you imagine that foggy hike again, and apply this one-step-at-a-time approach, it changes the whole adventure. You can begin to enter into a slow but steady pace (not rushing anxiously). You get a chance to connect with others on the trail and take each step with intention. You carefully climb over a big tree root instead of tripping over it and falling. You look up through the mist and take in the birds in the trees and sky overhead, instead of laser focusing on the mission to get to the top. You breathe in the air of a nearby stream and realize how sweet it is to be here, on this very journey.

     

    A PRAYER FOR YOU:

    If you’re struggling with fear of the unknowns in the future, or trusting that God has you in His hands, I’d love to encourage you with this prayer today:

    To the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and the End… Lord, You know it all, and I am thankful for Your gentle care and Your sovereign knowledge of my life and circumstances. You are trustworthy. I ask that you go before me. Still my heart. Quiet the overwhelm. Help me to honor You as I learn to wait for Your guiding.

    I know that You honor obedience, so please bridle my heart in my desire for control as I learn to obey You instead of running ahead. I lay my plans down at the altar, and pray boldly (faithfully), “Not my will but YOURS be done.” If I try to pick up that control again tomorrow, please forgive me, and gently remind me to lay it down at Your feet again.

    When I can’t see the whole path, cast Your light on just enough for me to trust you and take one step. Help me relinquish control, my will, my plans, and trust You one step at a time. I commit this (decision, situation, relationship) into Your hands. Show me the next right thing; I pray that my life and my growing faithfulness will honor You.

    “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

    –Isaiah 41:13

     

    Source: my sweet friend, Becky McLaughlin
  • anxiety,  control,  faith,  spoken word

    From Fear to Peace

    Ya’ll. Let me tell you something. About a month ago, I felt a pressing on my heart to share about my journey with fear. And then the funny thing is, the FEAR took over again (as it does, when we let it). Loud thoughts and insecurities paralyzed me. I suddenly became engulfed with fear–how am I even qualified to talk about this? I’m not a good enough writer, my blog posts are too heavy/vulnerable, my voice doesn’t matter, I am STILL struggling with fear right now, etc. Ironic? Maybe,  or maybe the enemy just knows my greatest struggle.

     

    Since a young age, fear has OWNED me. I’ve been enslaved to it. It has found a way of creeping into my daily life and thought patterns, and I’ve let it rule. Something I’ve learned is that fighting fear is a battle. As much as I know the commands from Scripture to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” and “take every thought captive,” sometimes it is a lot harder to let the Truth of God’s love seep into the fiber of our beings and release the grip of fear, anxiety, worry, panic, and insecurity.

    I watch my 5 year old son wrestle with fear– he tells me before bed about his fear of robot aliens or snakes with chicken heads coming after him in the dark (the imagination of a child!). We look in the closets, and turn on the night lights, and pray over his room and his safety and for him to be super aware of God’s presence with him. But at 30 years old, I am no different! I still need to look into closets and seek out light and pray for a SUPER awareness of God with me, as I wrestle with fear–anxiety on the road about car accidents, or worry for my loved ones when they are far away from me and I don’t know if they are safe. I get tangled up by anxiety and hide myself, for fear of rejection or not being loved. I have breathed through panic attacks in Rome and New York City and sitting in the church pews and even in my own home when my rational thinking flies out the window and I am overtaken with fear. I KNOW FEAR like I know my own reflection in the mirror. But I also have come to know that we are not called to live in fear. And I have found delivery, and freedom, and want to share with you (if this is a struggle with you), that there is another way to live. 

    I’m going to share a few posts in the coming weeks about some practical and prayerful ways God has helped me conquer fear (and is still helping me, even now). In the meantime, here is a spoken word piece I wrote today at my favorite coffee shop, thinking about this fear, and thinking about the sense of freedom I feel when His love and Truth and peace take over.

     

    What does it look like to give up control? To let go of my pride and thinking I have to have it all figured out? Does it look like reckless abandon, abandoning my dreams, and sitting passive while someone else drives? That thought is terrifying for a control freak like me.

    What does it look like to walk in peace? I am not a natural pillar of peace- I run ahead, and rush around, and can’t sit in stillness for more than 2 minutes. I am anxious, I am a worry wart, I am obsessive, and I cannot imagine not having this fear as part of my life. When my thoughts race, I am desperate for this peace that surpasses all understanding, and I go to any source I can think of to find it– wise books, and wise friends, and time in the wilderness soaking in the beauty of creation, yet still I wrestle in the waiting. Peace is fleeting when I look to these sources, so still my mind races and still I sit in fear.

    What does it look like to take every thought captive? To say, I can’t do this on my own anymore? Exhausted from living this way, I realize I’m undone. I’m ready. I start to hand each thought over to my Creator, one by one, plucked up and passed over to someone Mightier than me. I release my death grip and let You crush to death my fear, the lies, the sin, the shame. When I find myself still holding on to fear and control, whether it’s a stronghold or a just a tiny pinch, You whisper, “I can handle it. It’s not too much for Me.” Sometimes I laugh, thinking these burdens and fears are too shameful for You to see or too big for You to handle. But even that’s laughable isn’t it? Here I am thinking the Creator and King can’t handle my control issues. But You whisper again, “I can handle it.”

    I labor and wrestle. With sweat from my brow and the intense pain of giving up control, I release the burden. You call me into FREEDOM. And I taste it. It’s close. With a cry of life, I sense Your sweet love wash over me and my lungs gulp for air. I taste Your goodness and mercy. New life. I realize the old way I was living was not what You desire or designed for me. There is a shift, and I go from that clinging to an unbridled release– Lord, take everything! You keep telling me, “I can handle it.” And I believe You.

    Thank You Jesus.

    “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are Mine.” -Isaiah 43:1

  • anxiety,  rest,  weekly prayers

    Weekly Prayers: In my unraveling, rest me

    My favorite part of the Bible is the Psalms– the gut-wrenching honesty, the beautiful images, the hope even in the midst of the psalmist’s questions and pain. Recently I was introduced to a Puritan Prayer book, and I was inspired to write out a collection of my prayers for you here on a weekly basis. Some of these are utterances I’ve poured out into journals before, and some may have been laid on my heart just for you. If you need more specific prayer, please let me know here.

    Lord, sometimes I am a mess. I am unraveled, I am anxious, I am lost. I feel overwhelmed by the pieces- sometimes tangled up, sometimes scattered everywhere- and I scramble to put everything back together.

    Lord, be my rest. Help me to sit with the pieces. Show me how to let You lead. I don’t want to rush to hodgepodge it back together, as I know that my solution will surely be confused, jumbled, and not the quality you desire for me.

    Will You slow my mind?

    steady my heart?

    help still me?

    Lord, one step at a time, one piece at a time, guide me. Show me the next right thing. Help me to put one foot in front of the other.

    Help me to truly be okay with the painstakingly slow pace that may be required, like that of a young child learning to stumble and hobble along. Help me take those first steps, full of focus, energy, balance, and trust, instead of running ahead of You.

    Cast out the fear I have of the unknowns ahead. Help me to trust that Your plan is good.

    You tell me to “be still,” so I will be faithful in that today.

    And tomorrow? Please help me again to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that YOU are God, You are sovereign, You are my refuge, You are powerful, You are peacemaker, You are strong when I am weak,

    You are making all things new.

    Verses to encourage you:

    PSALM 46
    God is our refuge and strength,
    A very present help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear,
    Even though the earth be removed,
    And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
    Though its waters roar and be troubled,
    Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah

    There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
    The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
    God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
    God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
    The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
    He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

    The Lord of hosts is with us;
    The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

    Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    Who has made desolations in the earth.
    He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
    He burns the chariot in the fire.

    Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!

    The Lord of hosts is with us;
    The God of Jacob is our refuge.