For the IF:Amarillo gathering coming up in 17 days (Eeeek!?!!?!), we have a website with a blog. Kaylie Hodges is our blog master. One of the things she did on the blog was to post a picture of our leadership team and introduce everyone. We have known each other only a few months and talked a handful of times, but she nailed it. Here's what Kaylie wrote about me:
"This lady will surprise you. She comes off as quiet and meek, but she has a crazy funny sense of humor and her willingness to step out in spite of her sometimes shyness speaks to a faith that truly believes that He has overcome. She works crazy hard to make sure we have the resources we need and doesn't mind handling the tough stuff like money and photoshop."
How did she know about how God has given me a faith to overcome my shyness? That girl's got some insight.
Yesterday I ran into an old friend. We had been camp councilors together for Angel Tree Camp in 2009. Before Citychurch had their own children's camp, Camp Hope, Citychurh threw it's staff, volunteers, and resources to help Angel Tree Camp. So many of the children who had family members incarcerated were the same children that Citychurch was reaching. So it seemed like a no brainer to partner up.
Sometimes I really forget how much and how far God has brought me in overcoming my shyness. But thinking about those Angel Tree Camp years, brings back some low points for me. Those were the years I was realizing it wasn't just shyness holding me back, it was social anxiety. Preparing to help for the first time at Angel Tree Camp, it reared it's ugly head.
The season before the 2009 camp, I had finally realized that the way I thought other people viewed me was not healthy or normal. I realized that I was having what I call "wacky thoughts." I was convinced that everyone was constantly judging me or thinking the worst of me. I'm such a people pleaser, so that was my nightmare. The truth is that people are very much wrapped up in their own lives, their own problems. If they think about me, it's a side thought, not "There's Jennifer, let's rip apart her appearance and actions in my brain." That's wacky.
That 2009 winter and spring, my anxiety had lead to a paralyzing depression. To get out of it, my husband, doctor, and I decided a very low dose anti-depressant was a good idea. So I began that medicine in early June. Angel Tree Camp was in that late July. Citychurch had been helping with Angel Tree for a few years, but somehow I had never helped with Angel Tree Camp. I had babies or other reasons that I couldn't help, so this was my first time to be a councilor.
Angel Tree Camp was such an epic thing. It was a huge deal every year. There was so much thought, care, and planning that went into those camps, it was intimidating. Decorations, themed skits, messy games, t-shirts, color coded cabins inspired young people to color their hair crazy colors, and fun activities galore.
Leaving for camp that July, I had agreed to ride out to the camp with another councilor that I didn't know yet. The people in charge had put me in a cabin of councilors and girls that were all strangers. I remember that my purple cabin ladies had told me to buy purple balloons. So that morning James drove me to buy balloons and took me over to the parking lot where I was going to meet my ride.
I was petrified. I was going into social anxiety minefield. How was I going to ride in a car with this lady I don't know for 45 minutes? I'm going to have to get to know all of these people. I didn't know what anyone or anything was going to be like. They are not going to like me. I'm going to be miserable.
I know I sound like a 9 year old before camp. I was a grown woman. James had to pull the car over and convince me that I could do it.
It's embarrassing to admit that it was so hard for me to get in a stranger's car and go help underprivileged kids with incarcerated parents have a fun week. The only reason I am admitting this is: 1. God has brought me so far, and I want to praise Him.
2. I know there are other ladies who have this problem. I want them to know that God can help them overcome their anxiety.
It doesn't happen overnight. It has taken years to heal.
Let me give you a flash forward timeline of what happened next:
I had the best time at camp. I became fast friends with those other ladies. That fall I found out I was pregnant with Gabe and that my father in law Don had leukemia. I gave up the medicine because of my pregnancy. That December, Don went to be with the Lord. January was my mom's hospitalization. May Gabe was born. June we moved to a new house. July my little brother died unexpectedly.
So needless to say, I didn't help at the next Angel Tree camp. I had a newborn and grief.
The next summer, 2011, Gabe was a year old, and James volunteered to watch him so I could help with Angel Tree Camp again. I was on board. I was going to help. I went to the planning meetings. I bought cabin decorations. I even crafted things for the girls in my cabin.
But the night before camp, my social anxiety was there, tearing me down. I completely chickened out of going. I called and convinced my mother-in-law to take my spot.
If having to pull myself together and get a pep talk is embarrassing, completely backing out the night before was downright shameful.
Over these years of grief, changes, and loss, I was beginning to cling to God like I never had before. I was in such need of his healing, grace, comfort, and love.
I dove into studying his word, like I never had before. I began to grow in my faith. I began to serve Him in our church again.
The next summer, 2012, was our first year of Camp Hope. We took all the fun of Angel Tree and included all of the kids that Citychurch brings to summer Bible clubs. We named it after one of my father-in-law's favorite words, Hope, as a tribute to him.
I agreed to help. I was determined to redeem myself. Honestly it was so much easier to go and help that year. God had healed me so much, not just by learning more about Him through Bible study, but by leaning on Him through serving Him. I had begun to teach Sunday School for the pre-schoolers and seek out ways to serve Him. Each time I had stepped out of my comfort zone and taught or served, God had helped me do it.
God has truly brought me through so many things. He has handed out measure upon measure of faith every time I was in need of it. He has proven Himself trustworthy to me.
Just like a toddler learning to walk, I held onto God and He helped me along. It was even more than that analogy because with my anxiety, I was paralyzed. I was powerless.
I could do nothing myself. God gave me the strength. I know my strength comes from Him.
In my life now, I am very busy with ministry. I am constantly putting myself in situations with new people. I'd love to tell you that it is easy now, but it's not. I just remind myself that God is strengthening me, and just step out in faith and do it. I know I can't do it on my own, but I know He can do it. He's proven Himself to me.
If you have anxiety, He will prove Himself faithful to you too. It takes more than just learning these words. You don't need faith to stay powerless and inactive. Step out and serve Him. Let Him give you the strength.
"Do you not know?
Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the whole earth.
He never grows faint or weary;
there is no limit to His understanding.
He gives strength to the weary
and strengthens the powerless.
Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
but those who trust in the LORD
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:28-31 HCSB
"I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth."
Psalm 121:1-2 ESV
"This saying is trustworthy:
For if we have died with Him,
we will also live with Him;
if we endure, we will also reign with Him;
if we deny Him, He will also deny us;
if we are faithless, He remains faithful,
for He cannot deny Himself."
2 Timothy 2:11-13 HCSB