Growing in Grace

My life has been in upheaval quite a bit so far this summer. (And it’s only nearing the end of June!) My goal has been to just go with it and keep taking the next step. And it’s worked. I’m actually starting to thrive off the busier, all-over-the-place-ness that is my schedule. It seems like God is teaching me a million things right now, but a big one is being willing to step out and into what He wants for me. That often means leaving my anxiety behind/ acting in spite of it. One of the ways my anxiety manifests itself is in relation to other people. I tend to keep my distance and not engage because of that. If people come to me, that is usually okay because I actually genuinely love people a lot.

Sharing the love of Jesus is hard when fear keeps you from striking up conversations  with your co-workers or walking across the room to a group of people. Unlike other times in my life, right now, this is a battle worth fighting. I know so many people who are great at reaching out to people and making them feel accepted. I’ve benefited from this on many, many occasions. It is one of the best feelings- to be drawn out and have someone be interested in you and your life! I want to offer that gift to the people I come into contact with. (Er, the ones I could be coming into contact with…)

Walls must come down; having open hands is necessary. As a Christian, I have received love, grace, and forgiveness, and still do receive them daily. Why would I feel the need to protect myself when I belong to God? Letting what had been given to me flow freely to others is the only way to actually experience the freedom those gifts were meant to give.

As the person who likes to stand back and observe, this all means I need to step forward and be the one who speaks, pursues relationships, and acts kindly toward others. It means I stop worrying about what someone will think of me if I say or do something. It means that I start acting more and observing a little less. It means that I look beyond myself in action taken and words spoken.

Yet, I cannot count how many times I have done the opposite when the opportunity arose. I have been glued to the ground, unable to open my mouth, left conversations unfinished, and far too often have not even been able to make eye contact with people. All because of my anxiety. It’s so frustrating and heaps shame on me. In those moments, I have to accept the grace to not engage just as readily as I would need to accept the grace to overcome and engage. I have to take to heart God’s power and love in a whole new way just so I don’t drown in guilt. Second, third, and hundreth chances are the way God rolls, though, because He’s not keeping track. Thank goodness!

What You Can Know When You Want to Say, “No!”

I was scrolling through Facebook and found a quote that cut right to the heart of what I have been learning lately:

“Only if your God can outrage you and make you struggle will you know that you worship the real God and not a figment of your imagination.” – Timothy Keller

It’s just like any other relationship, only more because God’s thinking is so much higher than ours. There will be conflict between what we believe or want and what God says or asks of us. When this happens, we will struggle with our heart.

In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus makes it clear that following Him will be hard.

 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The one that sticks out to me is having nowhere to call home. I hate that. A couple summers ago, I volunteered at a summer camp. The dorm-style rooms we stayed in were not very welcoming and overall did not feel like home. I looked forward to the weekends, when I could spend at least a few hours in a real home. A kitchen, a couch, a bedroom, a normal bathroom, decoration- it’s all so beautiful. Being home allows me to relax. But Jesus makes the point that sometimes we won’t have simple luxuries like home. Sometimes saying “yes” to Him means giving up something very valuable to you. Other times, it means jumping in right now without having everything squared away.

God’s plan is not our plan. To follow Him, we often have to let go of dreams and sometimes go against what makes logical sense. And that is okay because we serve a God who can turn water to wine (or blood), calm a ravenous storm, make the blind see and the seeing blind, and so much more! He knows what He’s doing and we can trust Him, even when it hurts, even when it doesn’t make sense. More so, we can know we serve and worship the real God when what He asks of us goes against our will and heart.

Who’s Visiting the Mental Realm

What would Jesus do? A decade or so ago this catch phrase was popular, but now it’s considered cliche. Often we subconsciously ask, “What would mom do in this situation?” or “What would dad do?” or “What would my friend do?” or even, “What would a certain celebrity or leader do?” Sometimes this can be a good thing, especially if they are seeking after Jesus or living in a healthy manor. As a daily habit, though, it can take us off track. I think it’s important to ask who or what inhabits our mind. Because who and what we think about will shape who we become.

So who do you want to become like? Aspiring to have certain qualities we see in another person can be a good thing. We must be careful not to place a person on a pedastool and expect them to be perfect, though. In the end, that only leads to hurt.

I have to remind myself that Jesus is my main example. I’ve begun reading ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ which documents the thoughts and discoveries of Brother Lawrence. As you can probably guess by the title, he was very good at inviting God into his brain-space.

“When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God, a fresh remembrance coming from God invested his soul, and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself.” (‘The Practice of the Presence of God’)

In a letter he wrote, Brother Lawrence freely admitted that the first few years of striving to think of God often was extremely difficult and disheartening. Yet, it had become such a valuable part of his relationship with God and he recommended the habit to all he came into contact with. I think it’s encouraging to know that the mental realm doesn’t have to be won by tomorrow, nor does failure after failure have to make us quit. There is hope for the kind of closeness with God that Brother Lawrence experienced. There is hope that our minds will be filled with good, positive things. There is always hope. So strive towards that hope set before you!

Paul talked about “dying” in suffering like Christ so, “by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11) The road to freedom is marked by this dying; a relationship with God will inevitably come with suffering. Yet, we are not to run from hardship. The battle of the mind is pivotal and we can’t run from the struggle.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

Peace to You

It’s Christmas time once more! Despite the many almost car accidents that happen this time of year, it still holds a little more joy and peace. Honestly, that’s probably because I haven’t been consistent in preaching the Gospel to myself. This time of year, though, my mind is brought over and over to the wonder of God coming all the way from heaven to walk among us. It’s truly an amazing thing.

Believing in, and contemplating, that action gives me greater confidence that I can trust God. If Jesus went so far to fulfill promises from the Old Testament to restore relationship with us, than I can . Even when circumstances around me would make me question God’s goodness,  I can look at the Gospel feel confident of His love. There’s nothing like the Gospel to give, or restore, faith. And along with this faith comes peace.

Abraham was the man in the Old Testament who is accredited for having great faith.

“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised.” – Romans 4:20-21

Faith gives peace because we are sure that God will provide, guide, and protect as we follow Him. The interesting thing is that Paul says that Abraham’s faith grew stronger as he gave glory to God. It makes a lot of sense that when we’re focusing on who God is and what He’s done that we would rest easier in His present and future sustaining grace.

In comparison to Abraham’s faith, I’ve noticed that the people in the Old Testament who did not have faith were afraid and made terrible decisions out of that fear. (1 Chronicles 19-20) So trusting is incredibly important if we want to make wise choices.

The is post has gone a little off the topic of the birth of Jesus… But can we really appreciate Jesus coming without a heart of faith?

“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” – 1 John 4:9

59. A Righteous Ruler’s Promise

Is it really already Thursday? I feel like that will be my thought most weeks over the next semester… it’s just what college does to you. Time starts to fly, and you’re along for the crazy ride.

My goal is to keep up with this blog, posting every week. But I’m saying sorry in advance, because I’m sure I’ll miss posting at least once.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

When I read this verse at the beginning of the week, it struck me that it’s so hard to remember and believe the promises of God. They are just so crazy good! In real life, if something sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Another verse helped me to take this particular promise to heart as I started school this week.

“But to the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.” – Hebrews 1:8

I see this mental image of God giving Jesus a throne, a kingdom, and it’s defining feature is uprightness, righteousness. The one who came, died, and rose again; the perfect one who is now seen by God instead of sinful me. That’s the God I can see keeping the promise to uphold, be with me, and provide strength. That’s the God I can see fulfilling those words.

College has been a source of anxiety and panic in the past, so after a year off, I was nervous about starting this semester. It’s cool to see how God has set up “guardrails” this week to stop me from going too far into that anxiety, though. He was with me every moment and I’m slowly getting used to that idea. God wants to work in our lives/ bring His righteous kingdom: we just have to leave room for Him.

55. Despite Cares of This World

The past couple of weeks I’ve been living in the land of impossible. Thing after thing that usually cause me great anxiety have come my way, much of it healthcare related. It’s a miracle that I haven’t had a full blown panic attack, but anxiety has been building. At times of small, slowly mounting anxiety, verses such as, “Do not be anxious about anything” don’t often help. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what the heart needs, though. I found Jesus’ words on the end times and this warning:

“But take heed to yourselves, least your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36

In their own way, these verses can cause anxiety. Going back a few lines before these, you find Jesus describing all the things which will transpire leading up to His second coming. It scary stuff! Then He concluded the list with, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift your heads, because you’re redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28)

When our focus is on Jesus coming back, it’s easier to not be dragged down by the cares life. Looking back, will the fact that I got stuck with a needle to have blood drawn matter? Will the time I eat dinner matter? I doubt it. Having a consistent conversation going with God helps us to focus on Jesus instead of _______.

45. 7 Ways I Deal With Anxiety Attacks

Disclaimer: These tips and tricks should not take the place of a doctor/ psychiatrist/ psychologist/ counselor’s direction or prescription. They are simply a few helpful techniques I’ve found to minimize the grip of anxiety.

Dealing with anxiety and depression can be compared to fighting a battle, except that it’s all in the mind. Anxiety comes in many different forms, though all of them can reek havoc. There are multiple techniques for dealing with anxiety, but for this post I’ll be explaining how I’ve learned to deal with a specific type of anxiety I call an anxiety attack.

My first semester of college, I experienced constant anxiety which peaked in panic attacks fairly regularly. During that time, I trusted the fear. Since then, I’ve learned to address the anxiety as my sworn enemy instead. What I call an anxiety attack usually comes over me when I’m isolated, and includes debilitating lies ruminating in my head. Sometimes it’s all I can do to walk out into a public place, where at least I’m not trapped. Even in public it doesn’t go away, though, and it can require the bravest acting to appear normal and not run away to hide.

So here are seven steps I integrate to take back control of my mind:

1. Address the anxiety as my enemy. It wants to ruin my life- isolate me from people and prevent me from living the life I want to live.

2. Take deep, slow breaths. This helps reset the body and mind and counting how long I breath in, hold, and breath out gives me something else to think about.

3. Focus on the surroundings. The goal is to bring myself out of my head and away from the negative thoughts. It can help to study the texture, color, and shapes around me (especially because of my background in drawing).

4. Pray for truth and freedom to win. Because that is what this fight is about. Without God fighting for me, I know I’ll be defeated.

5. Quote scripture. Whether it be, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6), or a verse that specifically applies to the root of the anxiety.

6. Tell myself out loud, “It’s all going to be okay. It’s all going to be okay…” If there is anyone within earshot, this one gets skipped. The truth is that life will go on, if not here on earth than in the presence of God. There is a seal of salvation on me, whether or not I’m struggling with anxiety.

7. Engage with a person or project. This helps to pull thoughts away from the anxiety and toward something productive.

Something to remember is that any time anxiety takes hold of your mind, your body responds. That means that hormones and sugar are released into your bloodstream to help you either fight, or run away from, the “danger.” While taking away the power and control of the anxiety is my goal in implementing the above actions, the symptoms from the anxiety attack will not magically disappear. Despite this fact, there are a few things you can do to help your body return to a resting environment. Deep breathing helps the body turn off the emergency response, eating a snack can give your body energy to replenish what it just used up, and exercising gives an outlet for all the pent-up “fight.”

I believe that God is ultimately the one who can control and prevent anxiety. Next week I’ll look into some of the guardrails God has set up to help us be a people without anxiety.