This So Isn’t Me – Battling Anxiety

I have been after Macy to write a guest post for almost a year now.  There is something about the way she shares her heart that always convicts and encourages me, and I was excited to share that with all of you.  What she ended up sending is a collection of snapshots into her battle with anxiety, and I believe that God will use her struggles to give those of us in similar places hope.  I pray that you will be encouraged by her heart!

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I’m not sure how to pull these thoughts together with an introductory paragraph. To me, they are all connected with a common thread that I apparently can’t put to words. Let’s just introduce it as a collection of snapshots into my battle with anxiety.

Last year, Joe told me that he has had to relearn how to be married to me. This was after we had one of our biggest fights to date. It had to do with me sharing a creative idea with him privately and him sharing the idea with others and running with it before I’d had a chance to speak up. He argued that I had never before cared about taking credit for an idea, preferring to remain nameless. And he was right– but It wasn’t so much about the recognition. It was more about the ownership of my participation in the world around me. My tendency is to mesh. To blend. To let things pass by me, through me, even. This all stems from fear, of course. Of being misunderstood. Of being disliked. Of being wrong. But I am learning to spend less time trying to perfectly portray myself to people and more time just getting in there showing up and learning and contributing. That’s where vulnerability happens. That’s where connections are made. That’s what has the power to break that enormous barrier between me and others that I feel I have been timidly tapping on my whole life, afraid of calling too much attention.

I told a friend a while back that anxiety, to me, feels like I’m trying to navigate through life with someone screaming continuously inside my head. The screaming isn’t even words, just constant “white noise” muddying up my ability to be completely present in whatever it is I’m doing. I still haven’t figured out how to turn the noise off completely but I am learning to dial back the static and focus on the life going on around me.  My comfort zones are tiny spaces, with the white noise bouncing off the walls and amplifying 1000x over. But I think if I can break that barrier, just shatter it and live in bigger spaces, maybe that noise will actually have some space to dissipate into.

I was recently bawling my eyes out because I felt so incredibly inadequate to do a certain thing. I couldn’t see why I had been trusted with it in the first place. Joe asked me “Macy, are you solving more problems than you are creating? Then you’re good.” That really hit me hard.  I am never never never going to get to a place where I do it perfectly. No matter what “it” is. I think I was trying to maintain a perfect record by doing nothing at all, but what an unfulfilling life that ended up being.

I’ve been pushing myself super hard lately– working full time on evening shift, giving up some of the social life I feel like I only just built, taking on a leadership role in the piano hub @ my church. We are in major debt payoff/house savings mode, I’m going to the gym regularly (mostly haha), and we’re hoping for a baby for too many years in a row now. It all feels like chaos a lot of the time and I crave a giant pause button.

I have found myself saying so much lately “I don’t feel like myself!!” “This so isn’t me!!” as I am forced to do things less than perfectly and not be able to hide it or dwell on it. I think “I’m not a speeder. I’m not ever late. I’m not insensitive. I’m not careless. I’m not unorganized. I’m not unprepared!!” But, I am those things. I am human and flawed, but I used to avoid pressure to keep those flaws from surfacing. What’s coming to the surface now is a whole lot of ugly and broken and I’m doing my best to take it apart & let it be rebuilt better, and it has been super cool to realize I am surrounded by beautiful people who are okay with my awkward unfinished parts.

Because taking credit for my own ideas, and actively contributing to things that I am passionate about despite being afraid, and connecting with a variety of people on a regular basis, and finding my way through the fog, and yelling over the static…. well, those things “so aren’t me!” either. But I am discovering that yes, indeed, they are.

 

The Glory of The Mundane

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Most of the spiritual giants in God’s kingdom are anonymous. It’s interesting to see who is named in the great “faith” chapter of Hebrews 11 and look at their stories — stories that are only a few highlights of countless days. What do we know of their daily grind of a life? Not much, but we see the result of their many small choices in the glimpses that Scripture provides.

That chapter ends with mention of a host of those who lived their life in faith, knowing that the end of their story was “not yet”. It reminds me of the brothers and sisters in Christ who are even now experiencing torture and death for the Gospel.

I think that the most amazing example of a life lived primarily in the mundane is Jesus. Christmas is a time of celebration of His birth, but it’s hard to imagine just how mundane that actually was. What do we know about His daily life on earth? Not much, but there would have had to be things like this:

  • Keeping the baby Jesus clean, warm & fed — that’s lots of poopy diapers and baby spitup and the rest of infant care. The God who created the universe needed someone to change His diapers. Think about how far a step downward that is.
  • Childhood — no temper tantrums but still daily meals and the cleanup involved. Preparation of daily meals without electricity, too. Most of the day was likely spent in community, talking and working.
  • Early adulthood — I cannot imagine there were not chores of some sort. Floors need to be swept, the meal thing never goes away, dishes and laundry still happen. There is no mention of servants for this class of Jewish society.
  • Ministry years — His years of ministry, short ones, were spent walking places as far as I can tell. Lots of unexciting stuff mixed in with the teaching, and He often used what was happening around them to illustrate the lessons. God uses stuff we understand to help us understand new concepts.
  • Integrated into the Jewish home & community would be regular religious celebrations, teaching times for the family to focus on God and His Word. All the Feasts, the Sabbath, and more would be part of life’s regularity.

How many of those days do we know about? Not many. All we know is the relatively few times things were recorded. In today’s social media tech world, daily moments are recorded a lot, but in that time, it just happened. We see the fruit of the harvest, but we miss the mundane reality of seeds planted and organic growth that takes time.

At Christmas, I am reminded that God values the mundane and partakes in it through His Incarnation. He takes the ordinary, physical reality of daily life and blesses it with His presence in every aspect. It takes time to see the harvest, but it will come.

I had a blessing today, when my daughter posted about washing the dishes. It was encouraging to see some of the fruit that comes from just doing what comes next by the grace of God. It’s a privilege to have lived long enough to see a small part of what He has been doing all the time.

How To Find Contentment In The Real World

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I think one of the craziest things about our culture is marketing. This pervasive industry is built on the goal of destroying contentment — because if you are content with what you have, you aren’t going to be buying anything.

That clickbait title is designed to make you discontented with your current level of knowledge. People analyze titles to see which ones generate the most traffic, and try to utilize the wording that gets results. Who doesn’t want to see what brought tears to the eyes and made the jaw drop in amazement? Why not see what we are missing?

All the magazines, most of the blogs, and every piece of advertising we are exposed to is designed to make us discontent with our current state so that we enter the sales funnel. That funnel may begin with getting on an email list or liking a facebook page, but the idea is to generate income eventually.

The problem isn’t in people wanting to be paid for what they provide, but in the discontent generated to make us dissatisfied with what we have so that we get something new. This new thing could be a purchased product, an experienced activity, or a new level in a relationship. But it doesn’t keep us satisfied — it doesn’t bring the lasting contentment we think is being offered.

I am terrible at this, because it is easy for me to surf for fun eye candy instead of taking care of what already is in my life. Amazon knows how often I look at that Chromebook and will drop the price like a dangling worm on a hook. Etsy is like the Molasses Swamp in Candyland, sucking me in for many turns while I look at removable tiles to update my backsplash. I am pretty sure I am not alone.

Why not take an honest look at what we already have? In Christ, we have more than we realize: Philippians 4 — …I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Notice some things here: 

  • Contentment is a learning process
  • There are things like being brought low and facing hunger in the contentment category
  • The famous “I can do all things” verse is in context of learning to be content in any situation

Hebrews 13 — Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Thoughts to ponder:

  • Love of money, not money itself, is the potential problem
  • What we have is Jesus and He will never leave or forsake us

1 Timothy 6 — But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. Perspective:

  • You are not going to take it with you
  • If you have something you could eat (not if you like it) and something to cover your body, that’s enough

I have been thinking about the food/clothing thing a lot lately. When the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, they had God’s presence guiding them day and night. When they were hungry, God gave them manna (which means, “what is it?”) and told them not to stockpile unless directed to do so. Their clothing and shoes never wore out, so they never needed a new wardrobe. Later on, He brought them to a land of plenty, with many things to eat and many riches. He warned them that it would be easy to get sidetracked by all the stuff they could accumulate.

Many years later, Jesus would tell a group of people on a hillside that there was more to life than food and clothing: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6)

When I was a young believer, I trusted God to dress me. I knew I didn’t have a good handle on what would be appropriate clothing, so I used these verses as a challenge to trust His provision. He was really good about providing many things to wear, and things to eat, over the years. I have learned that there are seasons in contentment. Sometimes I have had very little, but most of the time I have more than I realize.

I am still being challenged to trust His provision, but when I put my list of wants in His hands, it’s been interesting to see how He provides. For example, I have been eyeing some very cool market baskets made in Africa for a few years but never could justify spending the money. At the local Rescue Mission Thrift Store I found one for $3 and gleefully bought it with thanksgiving in my heart. It’s a reminder to me that I don’t need to buy stuff immediately — and that it’s a good idea to wait on God’s provision.

The illustration that continually reminds me of contentment is the way my hand feels when I hold it out the window as I drive. If my hand is relaxed, it feels full. If I try to grasp it, there’s nothing to hold. I see contentment as relaxing my hand so that God can fill it with the temporary things that are best for me at the moment. These things will change like the wind and they will feel full of promise. If I relax my grasp, I enjoy the moment. If I try to hold on, my hand is empty.

Contentment in Chronic Illness

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Perhaps the title sounds like an oxymoron to you? To me, this has become a reality. But contentment was not always a familiar place in which I resided.

During my mid-twenties, I was a young wife and mother and had it become quite apparent to me that something was clearly wrong with my physical health. I was in constant physical pain and had chronic fatigue, among other confusing symptoms such as memory loss, migraines, and insomnia (just to name a few). Finally, after almost 5 years of personal research, countless doctor’s visits, and a plethora of prayers, I was officially diagnosed.

The main offender was recognized as Fibromyalgia, along with a myriad of co-existing conditions which accompany this syndrome. As you may conclude, I went through a grief process, for I had permanently lost my good health at a young age. That being said, I do believe that if and when God chose to heal me that He indeed could do so. I was quite familiar with the fact that Paul did not have the thorn of his affliction removed even after he asked God three times (2nd Corinthians 12:1-10). Not to mention, God’s own son — who was perfect in every way — suffered not only physically, but emotionally as well (1st Peter 4:1-19). Therefore, if I was a follower of Christ, should I expect anything different than this?

I suppose before I go on, I should let you know the definition of contentment in which I subscribe. This is from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

contentment — an internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances

Okay, sounds like a goal in which a good Christian should aspire to, right? However, how does one attain such a lofty goal?

As mentioned earlier I did go through the stages of grief as I mourned my physical health, future goals, and ideas of what the perfect mom and wife should look like. The first stage is Denial. I must admit I did not spend much time here, due to the fact that I had a few years to mentally prepare myself before my official diagnosis came. In fact, strangely enough, it was a relief and validation that I was not losing my mind. Indeed, something was amiss with my health. Moreover, one of my favorite verses has always been Proverbs 3:5,6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; and in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

I knew whatever was happening to me was no surprise to God and He would always be there for me!

The second stage of grief is Anger. This is not an emotion that I personally feel comfortable with, especially in light of trying to represent Christ. I know anger in and of itself is not sinful, yet one can sin due to anger. Thinking back, I believe a more precise way to describe this phase of grief for me would be disappointment. I found the medical community to have very little information at the time about this relatively unstudied syndrome called “Fibromyalgia”. Also, at that time treatment for Fibromyalgia consisted solely of dosing with pharmaceuticals. This was contrary to my personal beliefs of achieving a healthier body. I looked to God again, knowing that He had the answer if any improvement was to be had. I let go of any unreasonable hope I may have placed on the medical community. This helped me to move onto the next stage.

Bargaining is said to be the third stage of the grief process. I found this to be a non-issue, for as I stated above, I was trusting God’s plan even if it was not mine, uncomfortable, or even downright painful. If you find yourself stuck in the chains of bargaining you will not know the beautiful freedom Christ has given you. Christ paid the unfathomable price of His precious life so you would no longer have to find yourself trying to work for (or bargain) your way into better circumstances. I recommend reading 1 Peter 4 as one way to have a proper perspective. There are many more scriptures on suffering; just take a look in your concordance.

Now before you think I have just breezed through all of the stages like some super-saint, here comes the cold, ugly truth of my personal struggle: Depression. This is the 4th stage in the process of grieving. This has been my Achille’s heel since I was a young child. Now, this is a common symptom for anyone who has a chronic illness or is in chronic pain. That being said, God has a way to free us from this as well.

I have found the books of Psalms and Philippians to be a soothing balm for this condition. If you want to free yourself of this sad state — start praising and thanking God for His goodness as soon as your eyes open in the morning. Repeat this process throughout the day and pray away any negative thoughts from the enemy as soon as one enters your mind.

I would like to say that this step was a once and done process for me, but unfortunately I have moments, (sometimes seasons), where I struggle. For example, my husband was a youth pastor for about 7 years and during these years I was unable to actively participate in various events. One such event was a mission’s trip to Kentucky. Our own teenagers were going on, and I really had wanted to go with the group. Unfortunately, due to the  nature of the trip and lodging I would not be able to physically withstand the conditions. Did I feel like throwing a pity party? You bet!

However, I knew that was not the attitude or actions God wanted me to have concerning this trip. No, instead He humbled me and showed me that I still could be a vital part of this mission’s effort. I remained at home with only God and became a prayer warrior for our youth group’s missions trip. The trip went well and the now-young adults still talk about the life changing events that occurred on this trip. God is good!

Now we come to the last stage of the stage of grief: Acceptance.  Much like depression, I have my moments or seasons where I question if my condition actually is Fibromyalgia and not another condition such as Lupus or Lyme’s Disease. I do accept I have a medical condition — I am just uncertain about the actual diagnosis. I suppose in reality it may not matter much what one calls this condition — rather that we trust the One who is sovereign. Jeremiah 29:11 says:

“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

May you and those you know struggling hold on to our only true hope.

While this brings us to an end on the stages of grief, it does not necessarily bring us to the next stage of our Christian life. That is becoming what God has planned (in spite of what may seem like impossible circumstances). Yes, we have hope eternal in Him and He has given us gifts and opportunities no matter the challenge. If He wants us to do something we have our strength through Him! (Philippians 4:10-20)

One of the ways He has me dying to my flesh is looking beyond my suffering to help others in need. I find this distraction from self to be beneficial. Try it and you will see how He fills you with special joy, comfort, and peace. If I can encourage you in any way or answer any questions, please leave me a message below. May God bless you!

God Weeps With Us – Tears of Joy

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Read the first part of Amanda’s story God Weeps With Us – Tears of Pain

Grief is different for everyone, and everyone goes through the stages in their own time and at their own pace.

I cried myself to sleep for months and it was well over a year before I stopped having nightmares. The doctors had run some tests but couldn’t find any reason why I went into early labor. They also said that whatever had happened was a fluke and shouldn’t happen again. We were pretty anxious to get pregnant again, not to replace William, because no one ever could, but it left a hole in us that we were hoping to ease with another baby.

I also strongly believe that going through something like this will either make or break your marriage. It made ours stronger, no one felt my pain the way that Seth did. He was such a comfort to me. But as the months started to pass us by we both began to get pretty discouraged. We realized that it may not be easy for us to get pregnant again, and seeing other people get pregnant without even trying kind of hurt. It was no one’s fault that they got pregnant easily, they just did.

Seth and I didn’t know what we wanted to do anymore. We needed to be alone together, to grieve, and to seek God’s direction for our lives. We had saved up a good bit of money, and so we both quit our jobs and moved 5 hours away to my mom’s hunting cabin in the woods. The cabin had electricity but no running water, but that didn’t bother us.

We spent four months there over the winter. We slept, prayed, chopped wood, fetched water and watched movies. We prayed for direction and a baby but most of all we prayed that we would do what God wanted us to do.

One day while Seth was cleaning his guns I asked him if he had ever consider being a gunsmith. He was very passionate about them so why not? We looked up gunsmithing schools and there was one located in Pittsburgh that was one of the top three schools in US. We applied and Seth got accepted. We could both feel God leading us and we knew without a doubt that Seth was meant to go there. Seth’s school was full time for 16 months long and boy, was it hard. With his school and both of us working, we were under a lot of stress, and we both still battled with the loss of our son.

I distanced myself emotionally from a lot of my friends with children. I hated myself for the feelings I had. I wanted to be happy for them but there was a part of me that wasn’t. I would listen to them complain about how hard it was, how they couldn’t take another sick or screaming kid, that they never got to go anywhere or that they never got any sleep. Sometimes they would say how lucky I was because I could do what I wanted and wasn’t tied down.

Inside, I was screaming. I would give anything to be tired because William kept me up or deal with the millionth poopy diaper and runny nose. In my mind, they were the lucky ones.

One day after another friend of mine told me she was pregnant, I went out to our truck and I screamed at God. Why would he give me this desire to be a mom if he was never going to fill it? Was it a cruel joke? A punishment? After I finished yelling and crying I felt God give me peace, just like he always has, and again I prayed for him to give us a baby in his time.

Seth still had a couple more months of school left when I heard that a Jane, a friend of my family, was pregnant and possibly looking into putting the baby up for adoption. I talked to Seth about it and we decided it couldn’t hurt anything to send her a message, so I wrote to her that if she was seriously considering adoption Seth and I were interested. She quickly responded, thanked us for the offer but said that she had decided to keep the baby. I wasn’t too upset because we hadn’t really gotten our hopes up.

Months later, I received another message from Jane. As I started reading my heart began racing. She told me that she had decided she wasn’t ready to be a mother and asked if Seth and I would reconsider adopting her baby.

I sat there in my chair and cried, completely overwhelmed by the rush of hope. I called Seth at work and told him the news, then asked if we could adopt her. Without any hesitation Seth said yes!

October 8th, 2012 was when we found out that we were going to adopt this little girl, but she was due Dec 12th which meant that we had only two months to get ready for her. I didn’t know how in the world it would happen, but I knew that this was God’s hand moving and he would work out all of the wrinkles.

My best friends set up a Facebook page so people could donate, our church threw us a money tree baby shower, another friend held a fundraiser for us and my sister gave us a crib, a swing, a car seat and clothes galore! Money poured in from all across the country, much of it from family and friends that we hadn’t seen in years. My father-in-law was able to get us an amazing lawyer who took our case for a really good price. It wasn’t long before everything had fallen into place.

We had met with Jane and everything seemed all set. She had already named the baby Samantha Rayne. She said we could changed it if we wanted to but she would love if we kept it. Samantha means “God has heard” and Rayne means “a blessing from above”. I don’t think there is a more perfect name to describe what she is to us! God truly had heard us!

Jane went into labor in the wee hours of the morning on December 11th. We arrived at the hospital and waited in the waiting room. I couldn’t believe the time had come, we were only moments away from holding a baby that was going to be ours! Jane was amazing and so brave. I will always be thankful for what she did for us.

When they brought us Samantha, Seth held her first, so perfect and pink. She weighed 6 lbs 5 oz and was 19 inches long. She had dark hair and dark blues eyes. I got to hold her next and I couldn’t believe that I was holding my daughter. There had been years that I thought this moment would never happen. I was holding a miracle in my arms, proof that God heard my prayers.

Two days later we got to take the precious baby home with us. On the drive home I was looking out the window and kept seeing lights shoot across the sky, but I brushed them off as just reflections from other cars. When the lights didn’t stop I asked Seth if I was just seeing things, but he said no, they were shooting stars. There were dozens of them. I felt as though God was putting on a display just for us!

We had always joked that if God wanted us to adopt he would literally have to drop a baby into our laps, and that was what he did. We couldn’t have planned a better scenario ourselves. I sat in the car and cried softly, not tears of sadness but tears of joy as I rejoiced in God’s goodness. His love never fails and I am so thankful he never let me go, even when my faith was gone and my heart felt broken.

We may never know why we lost William, but we would not have been in a place to adopt Sammi if we hadn’t. God’s plan is perfect and he truly makes broken things beautiful.