anxiety

Is Listening to What God Says About You Wrong?

Spending time in God’s Word has become very important to me. I find myself drawn to Scripture that tells me who I am in Him and how God feels about me.

I wrote about a verse Jude a few weeks ago that tells us we are beloved, called, and kept.

Twice I’ve written about how knowing we are clothed in His righteousness makes me believe blanketing myself in shame is something God would hate. (link 1 & link 2)

I spend a lot of time thinking about how God feels about me. I even changed my Instagram name to knownseenliked because I needed to focus my head and my heart on the true identity that God knows me, sees me, and likes me.

All of this focus on me feels wrong. I get a little sting inside that says, Shouldn’t you be focusing on who God is?

Is it wrong? Is my sting right? Should I be focusing more on God and less on me?

My youngest Hezekiah does this really cute thing, but it hit me yesterday that it was very telling to how our brains work as human beings.

Every time I say something complimentary to Hezekiah, which I try to do because I want his 3-year-old heart to know he is amazing and loved, he rejects what I’ve said and tells me his name — which he adorably says as Kia.

Here’s how the conversations go:

Me: “You are such a good boy.”

Hezekiah. “No, I Kia.”


Me: “You are so cute!”

Hezekiah: "No, I Kia!”


Me: “You are a good brother.”

Hezekiah: “No, I Kia.”


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I laugh every time. His insistence that his identity is just his nickname hasn’t stopped me from telling him all the things he is in my eyes. As a parent, I want more than anything to nurture love and kindness in him towards others and himself.

As humans, it is not easy for us to accept positive comments. We are protective and defensive. We easily accept criticism without question, but we are skeptical of praise and complements.

I know this because I had a Christian counselor tell me that I was doing this. He made me start writing down things people said to me that were complementary. It felt silly, but I did it because I wanted to get better. I was so mentally unhealthy, berating myself with negative self-talk.

Earlier this year I saw Curt Thompson speak at the IF:Gathering, and he presented the brain science behind the principle of accepting compliments differently. He shared that research shows that it takes our bodies about 3 seconds to absorb and believe a negative comment and about 30 seconds for us to absorb and believe a compliment. He encouraged us to not push away and deflect a compliment out of humility or false humility because when you do that, you have no chance of ever accepting it. He asked us to take a deep breath and let those kind words that were just spoken about us sink in. He asked us to go back to those words later in the day when we had time to really let our mind believe those words.

If this neurobiologist, psychiatrist knows it is important for good things said about you to be absorbed and I as a parent long for good things said about my children to be absorbed, then can we agree that God wants the good things He has said to His children to be absorbed?

It is important that we listen to the good things God says about us, and I’ve come to believe that that small sting inside of me that says I should only be focused on what is said about God is evil shame that does not want good for me.

Shame is the enemy that keeps us blind and in a corner. It keeps us from connecting to others and sharing our faith.

Obviously, we need to commit time to learn God’s character, and what we believe about God must line up with what Scripture says about God.

This knowing God does not mean knowing how God feels about us is then unimportant. Don’t skip absorbing what God says about you because of humility, false humility, or shame.

God says you are Beloved. God says you are known. God says you are seen. God says you are liked, friended, and included. God says you are chosen. God says you are called. God says you are commissioned. God says you are kept.


New Head & the Heart song this week. Ekkk!

If you’re interested in reading Curt Thompson’s work, he has published these two books:

5 Books That Helped Me Heal

As spring warms my skin, I am transported in my mind to last summer. I feel myself gently swing back and forth in my hammock while I think, aren’t hammocks supposed to be relaxing?

I was in my head a lot last summer. I was seeking anything that would heal my anxiety after finally admitting that it was more than a temporary problem.

Many things were helpful in getting to a healthier place: therapy, journaling, new boundaries, confronting my codependent tendencies, medication, and much needed changes. The thing that made all of these things more effective was reading books that helped me process these changes.

You may have different mental health concerns for yourself or a family member than I did, but all of these books will have good lessons for you on your journey.

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1. All is Grace by Brennan Manning

 

Why?

This book isn’t a “self-help” type of book like the rest of the books on my list. It’s an autobiography of a deeply broken man. I cried tears more than once because of the incredible redemptive, redeeming, reckless love of our God. His trauma from disfunction was familiar even as it was far from my life experience. His tendency towards self-destruction and self-deception was familiar even though it was also very far from my life experience.

Quote:

My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. It is the message of grace…A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five…A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts…This grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us…Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough…Jesus is enough.
— Brennan Manning, All is Grace

Other healing books by Manning:

Abba’s Child

Ruthless Trust

2. How People Heal by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

 

Why?

This book broke down how the ideas of Bible intersect mental health care in the simplest to understand way possible in chapter one. Even if you can only read chapter one, you’ll be better for it.

Quote:

I believed in the power of the Bible and knew that God’s truth could change any life. And I knew that if I could just teach others the same things and encourage them to know the truth as I was learning it, they would find the same kind of growth I discovered. Yet, at the medical center I saw people who had walked with God for years and many who knew more about God’s truth than I did. These people, laypeople and pastors alike, had been very diligent about prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines. Nevertheless, they were hurting, and for one reason or another, they had been unable to walk through their valley. The woman in the pink bathrobe was a missionary who had been called off the field because she was out of touch with reality — out of touch with who she really was and where she was in time. Although the realization I had had with this particular woman came in response to an extreme situation, I had the same realization over and over with hundreds of other more normal clients. To deal with marital, parenting, emotional, and work struggles, people had tried the things they had been taught, and they felt as though these spiritual answers had let them down. And I began to feel the same way. Again the realization hit me: This is going to be harder than I thought.
— Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, How People Grow

Other healing books by Cloud & Townsend:

Boundaries

Necessary Endings (Cloud)

3. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

 

Why?

Peter, a veteran pastor in New York City, is so vulnerable with his own journey to becoming emotionally healthy, and he points out how damaging emotionally unhealthy people are in the local church. If every local church was proactive in making sure that discipleship that included emotional health was a priority, the body would be so much healthier and more whole.

Quote:

The problem, however, is that you inevitably find, as I did, something still missing. In fact, the spirituality of most current discipleship models often only adds an additional protective layer against people growing up emotionally. When people have authentic spiritual experiences — such as worship, prayer, Bible studies, and fellowship — they mistakenly believe they are doing fine, even if their relational life is fractured and their interior world is disordered. Their apparent ‘progress’ then provides a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing. They are deceived. I know. I lived that way for almost seventeen years. Because of the spiritual growth in certain areas of my life and in those around me, I ignored the glaring signs of emotional immaturity that were everywhere in and around me.
— Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

4. The Wisdom of You Heart by Marc Schelske

 

Why?

I met Marc at a writer’s conference in Portland when this book was just a seed. He was honest about his struggles with perfectionism and insecurities. Several years later, I read his book and it freed me from a lot of shame about my emotions. I’m an enneagram 3. If you’re an enneagram 3, 7, or 8, you are in the active triad that suppresses feelings by focusing your energy on other things. Becoming in touch with my feelings has been a process, and this book was integral in that process.

With emotions, God gave us a gift, not a curse, a small reflection of God’s own experience.
— Marc Schelske, The Wisdom of Your Heart

5. The Gift Of Being Yourself by David Benner

 

Why?

Knowing God is not something you can integrate into your life and actions fully until you know yourself. This book was full of “ah ha” moments about how the self relates to God. I flagged a third of the pages because it held an important truth.

Quote:

Self-deception occurs automatically. This is part of what psychologists mean when they say that the defense mechanisms operate in the unconscious. It is also part of what theologians mean when they speak of original sin. We don’t really have to choose self-deception. It is — to use contemporary computer jargon — the default option.
— David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself

I listened to this a bunch last summer in the hammock. Still is a fav.

The Detriment of Shame Because of Anxiety

I believe God likes me. It is good.

To get to this place of excepting God’s acceptance of me, I had to let go of my shame about fear.

Do not be anxious about anything. These words come straight from Jesus’s mouth. I feel shame because I find myself anxious every day.

Emotions are not sin. 

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We have five core emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. (Anyone seen Inside Out?) Every emotion we have is either a variation of intensity or a mixture of these emotions.

As we accept that Jesus was human, we have to accept that he had these same core emotions too. It isn’t hard to believe because we can see him display all of these emotions at different points in our gospel story. Jesus never let those emotions lead to sin, but in my life that has happened.

We see Jesus joyful often. I imagine Him full of joy on that borrowed donkey entering Jerusalem. We see Him sad often, especially at the news of the death of His friend Lazarus. We see him angry as He turned over tables at the temple. We see Him disgusted when the Pharisees demand a sign. (He had just fed 4,000 people for goodness sake.)

We are slow to admit that Jesus displayed the emotion of fear. Why is that?

Maybe it is because we have watered down God’s Holy Word into platitudes that we can hand each other and convince ourselves that we were helpful with our Christian clichés.

Maybe it is because we’ve heard things from the pulpit that make us believe fear is a sin.

This Scripture is good, but the enemy can manipulate it like he tried to do with Jesus in the desert to make us think our fear is sin.

  • Do not worry about tomorrow.

  • God did not give you a spirit of fear.

  • Perfect love cast out fear.

  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid.

  • Do not fear. God is with you.

There is an extremely emotional piece of the gospel that I believe shows Jesus experiencing extreme fear.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ’Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, ’Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’
— Luke 22:39-46 ESV

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about sweating drops of blood:

Hematidrosis is a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress. Severe mental anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system to invoke the stress- Fight-or-flight response to such a degree as to cause hemorrhage of the vessels supplying the sweat glands. It has been suggested that acute fear and extreme stress can cause hematidrosis.

If we believe Jesus sweat drops of blood, He must have been under extreme fear, stress, anxiety, and experiencing fight-or-flight.

Reread this passage in the NIV translation with the emotion of fear in mind. How do you experience fear? What physically happens in your body when the emotion of fear takes control of your mind?

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’
— Luke 22:41-46 NIV

Knowing Jesus experienced this emotion takes away the enemy’s ability to shame me over my own emotion of fear.

I experience fear. That fear keeps me alive. That fear is a core emotion that I cannot dispose of.

Our goal cannot be to rid our lives of fear.

Here’s a better goal: know that God accepts you in your fear.

Our fear does not surprise Him or alarm Him. He created us with emotions, and He experiences emotions.

It is easy to think we can just turn to God whenever we have fear, but if we are so ashamed of our fear that we want to hide away from God, how can we seek His help?

I rid myself of the shame of my fear, and I am eager to allow God to help me work through my fear and anxiety.

We don’t cut fear out of our life. We experience that fear and work through those emotions with a God that knows what fear feels like.

Anxiety is such a big part of my life right now, I don’t think I could accept that God likes me if I didn’t realize that God understood my anxiety or that I didn’t need to feel shame about my anxiety.

To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened. In John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus was moved with the deepest emotions (11:33)... The gospel portrait of the beloved Child of Abba is that of a man exquisitely attuned to His emotions and uninhibited in expressing them. The Son of Man did not scorn of reject feelings as fickle and unreliable. They were sensitive antennae to which He listened carefully and through which He perceived the will of His Father for congruent speech and action.
— Brennan Manning, Abba's Child

If you experience shame over your fear, I encourage you to go back over those verses that can either be a cliché or a balm to your soul. Look at the verse with new eyes. See the words coming from a God who knows fear and never wants to shame you.

His Word actually gives us an antidote to shame. That antidote is an emotion. God actually commands us to have an emotion to counteract the negative effects of shame. We are told to have confidence in John’s first letter to God’s children.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
— 1 John 2:28 ESV

He goes on to say:

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
— 1 John 3:19-21 ESV

Have confidence before God. Allow your heart, mind, soul, and body to feel that you can trust and rely on God. Have confidence that God likes you.

God likes you, even when you are fearful because you’re never going to be without fear.

Here’s a song because music is good and wearing the struggle is honest.

Marking Changes By Changing my Instagram Name

Changes are coming.

How do I feel?

Do I feel excited? Yes, because of the possibilities.

Do I feel scared? Yes. I don’t want to feel hurt again.

How can I know it will be different?

I’m different.


This year is going to be full of change for me. We are walking fast towards changing cities, changing ministry jobs, changing homes. We are going from dry to humid, from comfortable to new, from local ministry to global ministry at Wycliffe Bible Translators, from Texas to North Carolina, from Amarillo to the JAARS headquarters near Waxhaw.


It seems fitting to make a simple change to mark these changes. I am changing my Instagram name because AmarilloJennifer doesn’t fit what God is telling me about who I am or what God is calling us to.

How did I get here, to such massive changes?

It started with pain as all new things do.

Childbirth.

Pruning.

Turning over a leaf without pain isn’t realistic. Is the leaf removed from the tree, in the process of dying, crackling even with your gentle touch?

It’s a common refrain in this Christ-following life: church hurt.

I was in a season feeling out of control (as if we are ever in control.) In Annie Down’s book Remembering God, she said the place she wanted to be when she felt church hurt was an old, sturdy, reliable cathedral.

When I read this, I laughed out loud because I realized this is exactly what I did to respond to my church hurt. I asked my family, cleared it with my pastor, and we started attending a very traditional, early church service. We went and listed to their pipe organ, choir donning robes, hymns with obsolete words, high ceilings. I felt safe in those pews.

We did those early services for about three months, and God met me there.

God met me in other ways in those hard months when everything about my life felt as if it had forgotten about gravity and was hovering and threatening to crash down.

I was asking God, “Are we suppose to leave?”

I realize now I was asking God the wrong question. In Jen Wilkin’s book In His Image, she talks a lot about being in God’s will. She says this:

For the believer wanting to know God’s will for her life, the first question to pose is not ‘What should I do?’ but “Who should I be?”
— Jen Wilkin, In His Image


I was asking “DO” questions, but God in His loving way was answering my unasked “WHO” question. In every good thing He was putting in my path meant for my healing, He was telling me who I was.

I started therapy around the same time I was finding solace in that unchanging church sanctuary. Over months of talking through feelings shoved in corners, patterns emerged. God showed me that I could ignore my past hurts not allowing them to come into my thoughts, but they were going to drive my brains reaction to every current hurt whether I acknowledge them or not.

I saw that hiding in the bathroom during times of stress or feeling ignored was directly related to experiences I had as a child. I saw that my urge to run away when I felt like I wasn’t measuring up to other’s standards was directly related to my flight responses. I saw that my anxiety to enter situations had everything to do with fears of rejection.

I began to turn those fears, anxiety, and hurts on their head. I looked to Christ. How does He feel about me?

  • I know I am seen. I am never ignored by God, and He hates being ignored by us.

  • I know that I am known. God takes pleasure in knowing me.

  • I know that I am chosen. I could never be rejected by God because we are forever family.

  • I know that I am loved. God first loved me, and His pure love for me cannot be matched.

  • I know that I am liked. God sees and knows me, and His opinion of me is that He likes me.

  • I know that I am friended. God calls me friend, and He lets me know what He is doing.

  • I know that I am included. God never pushes me away; He always draws near.

  • I know that I am commissioned. God has given me all authority of Heaven and earth to make disciples in His name.

When I look at my current Instagram name, AmarilloJennifer, I think of me three years ago before I was graciously showed who I was. I was looking for identity in my role in ministry here in Amarillo. I saw what I was doing for God in my outreach, church, service, and good works as who I was. If you asked me to tell about myself, I couldn’t get through three sentences without mentioning my ministry in Amarillo.

I am not AmarilloJennifer.

As we pursue this calling to join Wycliffe, I have learned some lessons. I know I am not WycliffeJennifer. I cannot define myself by the temporary or what I do.

I can only define myself by the permanent and what Christ did.

Which brings us to the new Instagram name:

KnownSeenLiked

I am KnownSeenLiked.

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You might wonder why I picked out these three truths. You might be especially wondering why I would choose liked over loved.

My pain centered around being misunderstood. I wanted desperately to explain myself to all parties involved and the world at large in a way that would end in everyone’s approval. I wanted to be known.

We all have this longing deep inside us, and I believe this longing is good. What is not good is selfish ambition and bitter jealousy. It is hard to separate those good motives of sharing myself with others from the motive of wanting approval from this world.

God meets this need to be known and understood on the deepest level. He knows me better than I know myself. When I get brave and be honest with God, when I let down my false selves that I can easily hide behind, when I allow sharing of my true, real thoughts and feelings with God, I feel that need to be known by others slip away. I understand now it was an unattainable goal that would never give me any satisfaction.

In my pain, I wanted to be seen. Feeling ignored sends me to a very dark place very fast. I do not mean failing to be recognized or not applauded for doing good. What I mean is feeling like I have been hurt and no one notices or cares. This feeling that I am on my own, left to bandage my wounds myself causes overwhelming feelings of distress and anxiety in me.

Others sometimes do God’s work in showing me love, they show me that they care about my life — the good and the bad. More often, others are too busy with their own life to notice valleys or mountains in my life. God sees every step. He is never too busy to see me.

Why liked instead of loved?

One of those healing, good things that God put in my path was Sonscape Retreat. Sitting in front of printed out results of online tests I had taken before we arrived and a couple who was there to counsel, mentor, and guide us toward healing from ministry burnout, I was faced with some truth. I was confronted with the fact that I was not objective in my thinking. I had the tendency to illogical and self-absorbed instead of fair-minded when it came to thoughts about myself and how I was perceived by others. My surveys had also revealed the fact that I had a big problem with negative self-talk. These things together pointed to a deep-seated hurt in my past that had not been dealt with. I was advised by these wise guides to listen to a sermon. The sermon was delivered by Brennan Manning.

I had never heard of Brennan, and like the overachiever I am, I took notes. I wrote these quotes in my notebook.

  • God loves you intimately. His love reaches into my dark places.

  • God loves you uniquely and reliably.

  • God loves you tenderly. God likes you. Do you believe it?

  • I dare you to trust that God loves you as you are because you’re never going to be as you should be.

  • Self-love is a profound act of faith.

This sermon challenged me in a way I had never been challenged before. I began the work of accepting that God liked me just the way I am.

These words were not new. They had been drilled into my head as a child from the television set. I had let shame and untruths cover over this beautiful, childlike truth that my friend Mister Rogers had told me over and over every time we met in my living room.

You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.”
— Mister Rogers

What I didn’t know as a little girl is that Fred Rogers had trained at seminary and had been ordained by the Presbyterian church to minister to children through the medium of television. He was telling me how God felt about me by modeling our loving God in his words and actions.

There is something about knowing we are liked that feels so much more intimate than the overused word love. I feel a deeper connection to this God who wants to commune with me. God would have never sent His precious son to earth to die for my sins if He didn’t not only love me but like me also. And Jesus died not for some idealized version of me. Jesus died for me, the sinner - just as I am - me. I am His handiwork. He called His creation good. He made me, and He likes me just as I am.

I am KnownSeenLiked.

The best part of this new Instagram name is that it is you too.

You are KnownSeenLiked.

These truths about me are true for you too.

How amazing to try to avoid this trap of selfish ambition on this social media platform and instead speak truth to all of our hearts from a place of pure gratitude to our God?

I want you to know this joy of being known, this relief of being seen, this deep appreciation of being liked.


Lie #1: Everyone Berates Themselves in Their Thoughts

As long as I can remember I’ve had critical, shame-filled thoughts about myself. I thought everyone did.

It went beyond correcting myself when I did something wrong. 

An example of a correcting thought might be, “I knocked off the cup. I need to be more careful next time.”

An example of a shameful, berating thought might be, “I always knock off things off. I’m so clumsy and awkward. I have no coordination and I take up too much room. Other people aren’t like this. What is wrong with me? I’m the worst.”

After a retreat leader brought up my negative self-talk at a ministry retreat we attended last fall, I asked my husband about his thoughts toward himself.

“Don’t you have these types of thoughts?”

The retreat leader had me list out all the negative thoughts I had about myself. I was on my third page, and I wasn’t done yet.

“No,” he said emphatically. “I don’t think that way about myself at all. It worries me that you do.”

I tore myself down in my thinking, and I was shocked to find out that everyone didn’t do the same.

I’ll be sharing some of those negative things I thought about myself this month because all of the things I allowed my brain to repeat to myself in my head were lies. I reinforced those lies by repeating them and believing them in that invisible space no one can see and hear.

The effect of berating myself and believing those lies was not invisible though. It spilled out into my life in so many ways. It affected the speed in which I could slip into anxiety or depression. It affected my ability to be objective about my relationships with friends and family. It pushed me into perfectionism. It enabled my people-pleasing to continue because I if I could get approval from others then maybe I could prove the voices in my head wrong. It made me wear shame-colored glasses that changed how I viewed everything in my life. I was constantly on the warpath of striving to prove my worth.

For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
— Proverbs 23:7a NASB

It was daunting to think about changing the way I thought. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think that way about myself.

Realizing that not everyone had pages and pages of negative self-talk gave me hope.

Not everyone rakes themselves over the coals in their thinking, and I didn’t have to either. 

If you need to hear this because you believed this lie too: Not everyone lives with negative self-talk. You don’t have to think that way. You can change the way you think. You can stop berating yourself in your head.



Need help fighting lies?

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Here’s a song for you today. John Ortberg says that the soul is needy like Bob from What about Bob. That’s accurate.

When Anxiety Makes Celebrating a Chore, Six Tips to Survive the Party

Parents were picking up kids, and I was handing out little baggies of goodies to each bouncing boy headed out the door. We had filled their systems with all forms of sugar from liquid-grown-in-fields to powdered-and-whipped. We had celebrated our bright-eyed boy’s turning of eight, complete with a hand-drawn ten-foot Godzilla adorning the wall, a back porch covered in yellow, blue, orange, and green silly string, and a cake that featured gummy army men plotting the takedown of a plastic Godzilla. I felt two feelings battling inside me, dark and light. On one hand, I felt proud we had celebrated well, even with while keeping the newly adopted two-year-old happy and feeling safe with all the buzzing, busy boys in our house. It felt good to feel like celebrating and celebrate well. On the other hand, I felt the presence of my anxiety.

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May and June are full of big days for our family: four birthdays, Mother’s Day, wedding anniversary, and Father’s Day. Last year during this time, we were in the middle of a very uncertain international adoption, and I didn’t feel like celebrating a darn thing. I was treading water emotionally. We even had a bonus special day thrown in last year because our oldest graduated high school. One more party to plan in between crying and mental nail-biting. My grief and anxiety would not be put away; It demanded to be seen and acknowledged. What I’ve realized this year is that even without the stress of our adoption and graduation, my anxiety still makes it hard for me to celebrate. 

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Celebrating is worth fighting for. It is worth it because I love my family. We must celebrate because celebrating brings joy, and joy is our strength. 

 

Here’s how to survive when the calendar demands celebration:

1. Don’t shame yourself at any point in this process.

Thoughts like, what’s wrong with me that I can’t be happy about a birthday party? are not helpful or kind to yourself. If you are wrestling temporary stress in your life or you are dealing with the realities of living with anxiety, you must allow yourself the room to feel what you really feel, and you cannot have shame because you have those feelings.

2. Set up good boundaries in your celebrating.

You don’t have to be hype for a week over the big day. You don’t even have to be partying for more than a few hours. The point is to take a chunk of time and celebrate something for the sake of celebration. Set aside your grief, anxiety, or stress-inducing problem for just a few hours and give this important person, place, or thing in your life its due festivity. When it is over, you will still have your issues you are struggling through there waiting for you.

3. Invite people who have proven themselves as safe people.

Someone who will bring you flowers on a bad day is the perfect person to invite to your good day. Someone who refuses to acknowledge you are struggling during hard times isn’t going to truly celebrate your good days either. They may pretend to celebrate with you, but if they don’t engage in your whole life as a person, good and bad, they aren't genuinely rooting for you or the success of your life. You have permission to only invite who you need and want to invite. It is perfectly ok to only allow people who are genuine and kind into those big celebratory moments of your life.

4. Do not overdo it on your party planning.

Don’t demand perfection from your party. Keep things as chill as possible. The icing might run, the wrapping paper might rip, or you might forget the cups. Something will go wrong. If you have unreasonable expectations for the big day, you are setting yourself up for a meltdown.

5. Schedule time to recover after the party.

Your energy level is going to be depleted. Plan for that. Don’t plan to hop from a time of celebration to something else that would demand your energy. You will probably have feelings about the day or interactions with people at the celebration. Plan a quiet morning the next day to reflect and recover. It may even take two or three days to recover from a party. Don’t beat yourself up if that happens. Remember, no shaming yourself!

6. Give yourself credit.

When the celebration comes to a close, don’t allow your anxiety to rob you of that moment of congratulating yourself for celebrating well. You honored the moment and didn’t allow your anxiety to steal your joy. You celebrated (not perfect) well.

Your life deserves wonder, fun, the satisfaction of accomplishment, and delight, even as you contend with your anxiety. May these tips help you celebrate and bring more joy to your life as you deal that anxiety.

The wonderful thing about joy is that it is deep enough to hold all the light and dark that your soul can hold, and as you allow joy to enter into that space in your soul that was made to hold it, your body, mind, and heart will be strengthened for the good days and bad.

Does feeling alone trigger your anxiety?

There are feelings that can tigger my anxiety in an instant. 

It is probably the same for you too.

Feeling ignored throws my brain into survival mode, and I feel myself wanting to flee. I want to run away from the danger. But the truth is there isn’t any danger.

In every moment of my life, I am seen by my Lord. I am deeply known.

I found beautiful validation of this truth in an unlikely place in the Bible. Right in the middle of one of the minor prophets, a lesser read portion of Scripture there is an example of deep disappointment and God’s reassuring gesture that says, “I see you.”

The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, ‘Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.’
— Haggai 2:20-23 ESV

Here is what you need to know about Zerubbabel. If the exile had not happened, Zerubbabel would have been king. Instead, he was governor over Israel. Not all of the Israelites had returned from exile. They had limited resources to rebuild what had been a magnificent temple, built under Solomon’s leadership and destroyed during the Babylonian capture. They had no armies, and they were rebuilding without the power Israel once had.

How disappointing to know that he could have been a king over Israel with a beautiful temple. Surely if the exile had not happened he would feel the favor of God. Being a governor isn't the same as being king.

I’m sure Zerubbabel probably imagined how things could have been different if the exile hadn’t happened. I’m sure he imagined the respect he would command, how it would feel to stand in front of the grandiose temple as king, and how it would feel to sit on a throne.

Did anyone notice or acknowledge the position he didn’t have, the position that would have rightly been his?

I think Zerubbabel felt unseen.

God noticed.

God saw Zerubbabel.

God looked straight at Zerubbabel and said, “O Zerubbabel my helper, I know your lineage. I will make you like a treasure. I will make you like a sign of royal favor. I choose you.” (my paraphrasing)

When Zerubbabel heard the words of Haggai, hearing that the Lord would make him like a signet ring (a highly valuable possession or treasure, a sign of royal favor) and that God had chosen him, he must feel so know, seen, and fully loved.

He was seen. He was not alone.

God promises to be with Zerubbabel and the small number of Israelites obediently rebuilding the temple. The prophet Haggai records these words of encouragement from the Lord:

Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.
— Haggai 2:4-5 ESV

The prophet Zechariah also records these encouraging words to Zerubbabel.

Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’
— Zechariah 4:6 ESV

The other thing you need to know about Zerubbabel is that he is in genealogy of the Lord Jesus. God fulfilled his promise of a king who would reign eternally through David and Zerubbabel. What a servant indeed!

Being seen and chosen was true for Zerubbabel, but it is also true for you and me too.

Feeling unseen by others causes me anxiety, but knowing how intimately God sees each of us is changing the way I react when I feel that anxiety start to build.

I do something daily that helps with this. Each day, above my to-do list I write, “I am seen, known, loved, liked, chosen, friend, included.” This is how God sees me, and I remind myself every day.

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What are your anxiety triggers?

Think about times when you’ve felt anxious. What other feelings accompanied your anxiety? What circumstances brought it on? Make a list. Then for every feeling on that list, write the truth about how God thinks of you. After you’ve done this, incorporate those truths into your life. You can copy them into a journal daily, make a reminder on your phone, or print them and put them in your bathroom. See or write the truth of how God sees you every day.

It is too easy to forget how God views us. It is too easy to think we have to behave ourselves to be loved by God. It is too easy to think we have to perform to be seen by God. Anxiety manifest in perfectionism that lies to us. Perfectionism says that we have to measure up to an unattainable goal, being a perfect Christian.

Real life is far from perfection, and truth overcomes the lies every time.

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.
— Brennan Manning, All Is Grace

Need help battling lies?

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When You Need to Admit You Have Anxiety

I have anxiety. It is not easy to put this information in black and white for the world to see. I live in a hotbed of stigma. I am surrounded by it. Depression and suicide in my family of origin, transracial adoption, and choices by family members have made me very aware of how stigma is isolating. Willingly admit more stigma to my life might be wildly unwise. At this point, I’m knee deep anyway. Why not add a few more inches?

Truth is truth, whether you admit it publicly or not.

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I was hesitant to admit my anxiety because of the idea of labeling myself. If I said this was a problem for me, I would have this label attached to me. I believed that my anxiety was temporary. It isn’t. I can look back into my memories and see an anxiety-filled Jennifer at every age and stage of my development. I have lived with anxiety all my life, and the only hope of overcoming it is to own it and learn the best ways to live with it.

If you’ve read my blog, you might remember me posting about struggles with social anxiety. You might be wondering what the difference is. There is a difference. In the past, I’ve struggled with social anxiety. With social anxiety, I would put thoughts in other people’s heads. I would decide I knew what other people were thinking about me, and it wasn’t good. These false ideas would paralyze me and cause me to withdraw from social settings, especially church.

In the last year, my anxiety has become very evident and a hindrance to functioning in life. So many times I have become overwhelmed with the human response to fear. I don’t just feel paralyzed or want to withdraw, my fight or flight response has lost its ability to discern what is really dangerous. The slightest feelings related to fear (rejection, stress, inadequacy, helplessness, overlooked, left out) are treated as life-threatening by my brain. My body reacts, and I cannot control it. My nervous system makes my skin hurt, my brain becomes foggy, I have headaches, heart palpitations, and sweaty palms all because my brain releases hormones that cause all kinds of physical problems.

For me, admitting that I had social anxiety was like admitting to anxiety-light, not the full blown anxiety that tops the list of mental illnesses. I wasn’t ready to be truthful with myself about the extent of my internal struggles.

This summer I plan to blog about my anxiety, how it affects my day to day life, and how it relates to my faith. I hope sharing my struggles and victories will encourage you with your own hard-to-admit problems, whether that is also anxiety or something else that fills you with shame, anger, or fear.

If you are struggling with owning your anxiety, social anxiety, depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, or other mental illness, I would encourage you to think through these questions.

  1. What would it change to admit that I have this illness?
  2. Can I look back in my past and see that I had this issue in my childhood or teenage years?
  3. Who would be supportive if I admit that I have this illness?
  4. Who might pull away if I admit that I have this illness?
  5. Am I getting help (medicinal, therapy, or otherwise) for my illness?
  6. Would I be more likely to seek help if I admit that I have this illness?

Admitting the truth of where you are at is the only way you can know the options of your next steps.

For me, my next steps have been big. I have been seeking several outlets for healing and help. I have intentionally surrounded myself with supportive people. 

There’s a silver lining of stigma. You find true, safe friends when you have this baggage that many shy away from. There were people in my life that were unwilling to discuss my anxiety. They didn’t want to ask questions or seek to understand it. Supportive people will not only seek understanding, but they will approach you with empathy. Empathy is essential to really good friendship. 

On the other hand, there were a few friends who showed themselves to be caring, kind, empathetic, and encouraging. These are the friends who showed the love of Christ during a difficult time in my life. I am so grateful for their wisdom and friendship.

Don’t be afraid of stigma, losing unsupportive friends, or seeking help. As you take the first step of admitting you have a problem that needs help, pray God will lead you to your next step. Supportive friends will emerge, and you will thank God for them.

*I'm not a therapist or a doctor. Please seek medical help if you have anxiety or other medical issues.

Growth & Humility Part 2

Two days ago I blogged about what spiritual growth looks like and how it leads to humility in Part 1.  One of the things I said was, “When I think back to the lessons I have learned they seem to fall into two categories: either times when God surpassed my expectations, answering prayers overabundantly, beyond what I asked Him or times when I tried hard and God let my efforts fail.”

On this post I wanted to give you some examples from my life where I have learned lessons and grown spiritually.

A few weeks ago, I was in one of those try hard and fail moments.

Lost and stuck.  That’s where I was.  Not where I was suppose to be and stuck in the mud.  Not alone either.  I had a van full of 5th and 6th grade girls, and where did I lead them?  Lost and stuck in the mud.

How did I get here?

Anxiety was rearing its ugly head that morning.  The reasons are too many to list.  For one, I was starting a new study in my Sunday school class.  I was nervous about it.  I wanted it to go well.

I was feeling all the physical symptoms of anxiety.  I was light headed and my stomach was churning.

Walking into Sunday school, I was asked the question that began my “try hard” journey.

“Could you drive a van?  The other ladies are taking their own cars.”

My thoughts were “I am feeling like the odd woman out.”  And, “I’m not even sure how to get to this camp.”

But instead, my voice said, “Ok.  I’ll do it.”

All during church the physical reactions from anxiety were compounding.  I couldn’t see anyway out of driving.  I jump in and tell myself that all I have to do is follow the person in front of me.  I can do this!

When I lose sight of the person in front of me and accidentally take the wrong highway, I should have called someone, told them to wait for me, but that’s not the move of a girl who can do anything.

I got this.  I’ll use my GPS on my phone.  (“I” is the key word here.)

So an hour and a half later, where am I?  At the exact dot that my flawed GPS tells me the camp is located.

And that silly dot is in the middle of a muddy field.  Maybe it’s time to call someone?  

No.  I still got this.  I’ll just turn around.  With a big 15 passenger van.  On a muddy dirt road.  With a dozen pre-teen girls.  What could go wrong?

Now I’m lost AND stuck.  Maybe it really is time to call someone.

I take out my phone, and after a dozen tries, I finally get a call through.

And here comes a farmer with a shovel to help us out.

I want to say that I was gracious to that farmer, but I honestly am embarrassed to report that I gave him a passive aggressive report on how I shouldn’t be there at all.  I said something about no one waiting for me and no time to look at a map.  And then I gave him a cold shoulder thank you before I drove backwards half the length of the dirt road to a place where it would be safe to turn the van around.

By that point, help was calling trying to give me directions, trying to find us.  I really hope I was grateful and friendly, but I can’t imagine that I was.  I was shame spiraling hard.

After driving another 10 minutes in the wrong direction, (of coarse I would turn the wrong way when I got to the main road), I finally found our help waiting to guide us to camp.

I was so upset, not about the van incident in particular, but with life in general.  Shame spiraling can cause you to look at life in an “all good” or “all crappy,” black & white sort of way.  I used my anxiety induced upset stomach to give myself an excuse to go home and not even help with camp that week.

What did I learn about God?  How did I grow?

I went home and spent some time reflecting on my bad attitude, my shame, and my anxiety.

I journaled, and I listened to audio books.  I kind of had a camp for one.

I did learn some things, but they were mainly about me.

On the other end of the spectrum there have been times when God blessed times of ministry and times in my life personally so overwhelmingly that I was awed by God’s love for me and for others.

I had a hard time narrowing down which example I wanted to share because there are so many times God has shown Himself to be trustworthy, faithful, and abundant.

Last year when I went on mission trip to Ethiopia, God accomplished so many miracles to provide for the orphans.  I was blown away watching God move to provide for those children.  Not just small things, but also big things like 350 mattresses and a latrine for the government orphanage.  This Christmas when I joined a group of just a few women to raise money for orphans in Uganda, I saw God provide $20,000 to purchase land for the orphanage.  After Christmas I joined another group of ladies to plan an interdenominational gathering for women in our city, I watched God provide every penny we needed to accomplish the event.  He also filled every seat that rented, set up, and prayed to be filled.  At Citychurch, I’ve watched God miraculously provide too many times to count.  I’ve also watched him change hearts and lives of children we minister to.

One of my favorite times God has blessed me was when God provided the money for my husband James and I to go on a vacation to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary.

It was the spring of 2012.  James and I had gone through a rough couple of years, losing James’s dad, my mom’s hospitalization, having a newborn baby - i.e. sleep depravation, and losing my brother to suicide.

We were dreaming of getting away by ourselves for our anniversary.  Unexpectedly, God provided the exact amount of money that matched up with the vacation we had priced on Travelocity.

I was floored.

What did I learn from this?  How did I grow spiritually?

I learned that God loves me, and because He loves me, He gives good gifts.  I learned that God treasures marriage.  He cares about my marriage.  He puts value on it.

Just to contrast, when I tried hard and fell on my face, I learned something about me.  When God surpassed my expectations, answering prayers overabundantly, beyond what I asked Him, I learned about God.

Learning about me and my fleshly issues and learning about God and His faithful provision leads me to the same lesson.  That lesson is humility.  My humanity reminds me that I need God, and God’s magnificent graciousness reminds me that I need God.

My efforts are so futile, mind-numbingly futile.  God is awe-inspiring, and I am humbled at the grace His shows me.

Humility.  I’m there now, and I hope to stay.  

          ...And I lost it.  That lasted five seconds.  Oh well, I hope to visit as often as my flesh will allow.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
— Matthew 11:29-30 NIV
I like to post a song with each blog post because music makes me happy.  Sadly I'm not humble about my good taste in music.  This song by twins sisters who grew up in France and Cuba is from my favorite album released this year (so far.)

Anchor and hand off your load

The year I turned 31, I was in a funk.  My husband and I were transitioning where we were living, so we had moved into an apartment for 3 months.  I spent a lot of time in bed in that apartment.  I thought I was depressed so I started researching depression.  I read blogs, forums, and medical websites.  

I figured out something.  I didn’t have depression.  I had social anxiety.  Going out into the world seemed impossible because my brain was betraying me.  I would have wacky thoughts.  Here’s an example.  No one came over to talk to me right after church ended, so every lady in the church thinks I am annoying.  My voice must be like nails on a chalkboard to them.  The reality was, as I was too caught up in wacky, immature thinking to realize, that every lady in my church has a lot going on in their life.  They have babies or foster children or teenagers or money struggles or illness or other issues.

As I began to learn more about social anxiety, I decided I needed two kinds of help.  First, I went to the doctor and was put on the lowest dose possible of a anti-depressant.  Since I’m uncomfortable with taking medicine, also an anxiety issue, I started the medicine with the stipulation that it would only be for a short time.  I knew I needed a boost to get me looking at things in a more positive light, and I knew I needed to put my trust in the Lord.  Three months after starting the anti-depressants, I found out I was pregnant.  I was ready to stop taking the medicine.

The second way I needed help was figuring out how to recognize things that were true and things that were just plain false.  

I knew I needed to get my mind straight.  I needed to figure out how to live my life with social anxiety.  I needed to know that I could live the life God had called me to live without social anxiety holding me back from anything God called me to do. 

I found a journaling website that had you analyze your thoughts and thought process in social settings. It was a Godsend.  It wasn’t a Christian site, but what it asked me to do was actually something we are called to do as Christians.  Paul tells us to take our thoughts captive and interrogate them.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV

When I had thoughts that were negative about myself, those thoughts were not honoring the God who made me.  Those thoughts did not honor the Savior who died for me or the Holy Spirit who dwells in me and makes me His temple.  

The reason I am sharing about my social anxiety is because I know you’ve got something in your life that can either be a weight that anchors you to your chair or anchors you to The Lord.  

Jesus is our forerunner.  Hebrews 6:20 tells us so.  Back in Roman times, when boats would come into a port to dock during a storm, they would send the small anchor boat ahead to make sure the boat could be docked into the harbor.  Jesus has done that for us.  He died for us, was rose again, and He is there docked in Heaven.  We can choose to anchor to Him or remain in the storm.  

If you’ve anchored to Him, it is finished.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a big something weighing you down.  God doesn’t want you to carry that load.  Cast all your cares on Him.  He can handle it.  How do I know that He can handle it?  I’ve tested Him.  There’s no weight limit with God.  There is no too hard or too complicated for God.  

For me my social anxiety was my big something.  Trying to carry it on my own ended me up in bed, blinded to the woman God made me to be.  I couldn’t see past my nose.  Giving that big something to God was not an easy thing for me to do.  It was a process.  I had to learn to think differently.  I still have to remind myself to think differently.  I had to learn to lean on Him.  But as I did, I could see places and go places that I could never have dreamed.

Love me some Jr. Jr.  They are one of my favs.  This song is one of those short ones at the end of the album.  Kind of like a bonus, but aren't the lyrics genius?

Messy is ok because perfect isn't the goal

*****Here is a post I wrote yesterday for the IF:Amarillo blog.  It's up today, and I thought I would post it here too.  Only 2 more days until IF:!*****
IF:Table. It’s so simple: 1 simple meal, 6 women, 4 questions, and 2 hours. So why do I get so nervous just thinking about it.
Well it doesn’t take a psychotherapist to figure out the source of my nervousness. It is clear to me that each and every reason I am nervous about hosting an IF:Table is centered around my perfectionism.
My perfectionism is my worst enemy. I want picturesque table settings in my crumb free home with a meal that Giada De Laurentiis would crank out.
This season of my life, that isn’t what IF:Table at my house will look like. Even if I pull off a delicious meal and decorated my table, my kids make more messes in a day than a demo construction team. As I write this, my 4 year old is literally crushing up packing peanuts on my carpet. Oh my. I’m not making this up. It’s happening.
Let me keep writing and get the vacuum out later.
The problem with perfect is it doesn’t exist. It robs us of having sweet, honest, intimate, unperfect moments with other people in our lives.
The other problem with perfect is that it isn’t what people are expecting or even want. If five women sign up to attend my IF:Table and give up a day of their month to attend, they are not expecting to show up to the home version of B. L. Bistro.
Because if they did show up to the perfect meal, decor, and setting, it would honestly be off-putting and superficial. It wouldn’t come from humility or hospitality.
Hospitality is defined as the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. That is all. Nothing about centerpieces or immaculate homes or julienne cut veggies in that definition.
What women are craving isn’t a Bible study wrapped in a gourmet restaurant experience. They want honest conversations about faith and God around a simple meal.
I can do that. You can do that.
Pray about signing up to host an IF:Table at your real-life home. We will have forms and cards at the event to for you to volunteer to host or attend an IF:Table.
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts....” Acts 2:46 ESV

My biggest sin

***I wrote this for the IF:Amarillo blog a few weeks ago. I thought I would post it here. Only 4 more days until we will gather for IF:Amarillo!***

I’ll start out by telling you that I’m a goody, goody. (Do you remember being called that? Or calling someone that? I don’t think kids say that anymore, but they did back in the day.)

I got saved when I was 12, and I don’t have one of those “wild seed” testimonies. Sometimes I’m even jealous of those of you who do.

There’s no smoking, drinking, or drugs in my past. Both of my grandfather’s were abusive alcoholics. So I sore off drinking even before I was even a Christian. After my life progressed into a life of ministry at Citychurch ministering to kids and teens, drinking just didn’t fit the ministry God gave me. No judgement. I just don’t.

I married the first guy I dated. Even more goody, goody, I married a home schooler. Our pre-married dating was not Duggar-extreme, but it wasn’t far off.

I could keep playing “I’ve never” game longer, but I’ll get to the “I’ve.”

Worry.

Worry has been the biggest struggle for my in my sin life from day one. It’s my fleshly goto response to almost any situation, good or bad. (That’s right. I can even worry about good news.)

Here’s the thing about worry. It’s a big sin. Definitely bigger than all those “big” sins this goody, goody girl avoided.

When I worry, I’m telling God that I don’t believe He can handle my problems. When I worry, I am living like an atheist would live. I’m breaking God’s first commandments about worshiping Him and only Him.

So what does this have to do with IF? A lot.

Let’s plan an event for 500 women. My response, 500 worries pop in my head.

So let me take you back to the Jan. 4th IF:Amarillo Leadership meeting. How many women do we have signed up? About 38. Has anyone donated money? No.

Bam. Worry overload.

It’s been about a week since that meeting, and God is moving. Women are responding. We have a little money in the bank.

You would think it would be easy not to worry now. The tides are turning. But I’m good at worry.

I’ve learned that I have to physically, mentally, and spiritually decide not to worry. I have to stop myself as soon as it starts and make my brain head in the other direction.

It’s like a Christian guy faced with a Victoria Secret ad. If they are doing the right thing, they’re going to stop and flee like Joseph.

Worry is the mistress I have to flee from.

Do you have something you are worried about? It’s not easy to stop and flee those thoughts. God will reward you for trusting him. He loves giving us Faith. He has an endless supply to handout to us every time we need to trust Him.

Faith is the antidote to worry. Fortunately for us, Faith is the exact thing we will be learning more about at this year’s IF:Gathering. All of the IF sessions will center around the life of Joshua and his incredible faith in God’s promises. You won’t want to miss it.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” I Peter 5:6-9 ESV


File this song under "world's most popular artist that you've probably never heard of."  James made me watch a whole documentary about the Swedish House Mafia selling out festival size concerts all over the world.  I still don't understand the extent of mass appeal this band has, but the song is pretty catchy.

Paralyzed and powerless

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









Birthdays and numbers

There are 23 days until my 38th birthday.  You can't avoid numbers when you talk about birthdays.  Each year you are stamped with a new number that reminds you of your progress as a human with a limited time here on Earth.  Some things are subjective.  Songs, words, weather, and colors.  We all have our own opinion and feelings about them.  Numbers aren't like that.  They are concrete facts.  The can be sobering and objective.  It is undoubtedly good or bad.  One hundred and two degrees on the thermometer of your kiddo at two in the morning.  There are ten questions and you get 9 right.  Your bank account has less numbers in it than you need, or maybe that number has a negative sign in front of it.  Your team is up by two points, and the game time clock counts down to zero.   There is no arguing with numbers.

So in anticipation of my birthday, I thought I would recount a few memorable birthdays leading up to 38.  And as a homage to numbers, I am going to try to be sobering and honest about those birthdays.

February 6, 1983  This birthday was a big deal to me.  I was turning 6 on the 6th of February.  That would never happen again, and I had learned just enough about numbers in Kindergarten and 1st grade to think it was special.  I had a party at McDonald's, which was very exciting.  It was the thing to do in the 80's.  And I received an amazing gift from my parents, a pink Huffy bicycle.  That bicycle would last me into my teen years.  (Which is not surprising if you know my dad and how well he takes care of possessions.  We moved that thing across the country and back.  I never remember having problems riding it.)  I was over the moon excited about it.  I wouldn't own another bicycle until I was an adult, a Christmas gift from my father-in-law.  I was also over the moon about that bike too.

February 6, 1985  I was crazy about Cabbage Patch Kids.  We had moved to Oklahoma City, and I had made a few friends there.  My parents had a birthday party for me and invited some girls over.  I really wanted a Cabbage Patch Kids cake.  My dad has the most can-do attitude of anyone I know.  My mom baked a cake, and my dad decorated it by drawing a CPK logo on it with icing.

February 6, 1989  I was twelve.  I had finally arrived in the teen category, just like Jessica and Elizabeth from the Sweet Valley books!  On top of that, I was thrilled to be having a slumber party.  We were living in Mansfield, Texas.  Uncharacteristically of that part of Texas, huge snow storm hit, and I wasn't sure any of my friends would be able to come.  Five of them were able to beg their parents to drive on the horrible roads, including my cousins Donna and Rhonda.  (Donna went to be with the Lord a few years ago, and I miss the loving, sympathetic, caring lady she was.)  I got a pretty great birthday present from my parents that year, a Nintendo NES complete with Mario Bros. and that Olympics game that had the pad you could run on.  My mom had wrapped it in white paper, so I could see what I was getting through the paper.  I know how bad my acting skills are now.  I cannot keep a straight face or hide my every thought from it.  I can't imagine how bad I was at acting when I opened that gift.  I remember being so stressed out that I was trying to hide my knowledge of the contents of that present.

February 6, 1993  Sweet sixteen.  I didn't have a fancy party, but it was the best time.  I was far enough into high school to know who my true friends were.  I wasn't trying to impress anyone.  They just came over and we laughed the whole night.  We laughed so much that I was physically in pain by the time they left.

February 6, 2002  John Mayer has this song that says, "I rent a room and I fill the spaces with wood in places to make it feel like home.  But all I feel's alone.  It might be a quarter life crisis or just the stirring in my soul.  Either way I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still verdictless life.  Am I living it right?"  A quarter life crisis might sound like something made up, but I had one.  I started worrying about wrinkles, applying sunscreen and nightly face cream.  We had just bought our first house.  I had a three year old and a baby on the way.  I was wondering if I had rushed into being a grown up or missed out on something that I should be doing as a 25 year old.  The answer of coarse, I know now, is no.  I didn't miss out on something.  I had a pretty great decade of being twenty something.  But I was worried about it back then.

February 6, 2007  I turned thirty.  I was ecstatic about it.  I felt like I had joined a club.  At that point in my life, most of my friends were home school moms well into their thirties or even forties.  I was such an adult.  I said goodbye to my unauthoritative twenties and welcomed in my thirties.  I had a pretty great party too.  I was exploring new food and cooking new things.  I decided to make everyone falafels.  That's so me.  I made a playlist on my iPod for the party.  That's so me.  The thing I love about turning thirty was finally feeling comfortable about being myself.  One of the guests at my party was Andy Chase.  He brought his guitar and sang happy birthday properly.  He also gifted me this really great drawing of a store kitchen from his childhood.  I have it hanging up and I remember that fun time turning thirty every time I take the time to really look at it.

February 6, 2009  I was going through a rough time.  It was excruciatingly bad.  My social anxiety was kicking my tail.  I didn't know what was wrong with me.  I had days that winter where I didn't get out of bed because I was so paralyzed with anxiety.  I was convinced that everyone in my life thought the worst of me.  I was depressed.  This was a short season of my life, but it was real.  I haven't been cured of social anxiety, but I have learned to deal with it.  God has been faithful to lead me through it.  I didn't realize that birthday what a rough time my mom was having with her depression and anxiety.  All I knew was she didn't call me to wish me a happy birthday.  Since she didn't remind my dad about my birthday, he didn't call me until days later.  It was heartbreaking.  I can look back now and see that my mom was really hurting, and I have truely forgiven her.  But in that place I was at where my thoughts about everyone in my life was skewed and wonky, it was awful.  James's family wanted to celebrate my birthday, but I refused.  I begged and threatened James to let this birthday float downstream.  I warned you that I was going to be honest and sobering didn't I?

February 6, 2010 My mother's depression has spiraled down and hit that place of extreme in January.  So mid-January to mid-February was spent at my parent's house in Houston.  And my birthday was spent in a very untypical fashion, visiting my mom at the mental hospital.  I was 5 months pregnant with my youngest, Gabe.  James took me shopping and bought me the cutest blue maternity dress.  The morning of my birthday, I took out my phone, opened a notepage and ranted.  I got all my mad and ugly feelings out and then I deleted it.  I decided that I had purged the ugly and I was going to choose to be positive.  I was going to be happy my mom was alive, wear my new dress and try to be happy I was having a birthday.  My dad, James, I and went to visit my mom.  It was emotionally draining, but James was there for support.  When we got back to my parents house, several of my dad's brothers and sisters had arrived from Ft. Worth.  They had brought a cake and some presents (all of the presents were really for Gabe, baby clothes and baby things, but they were presents at any rate.)  There are so many reasons I love my dad's family.  They have a closeness and a willingness to help out each other.  They are loving people.  But I just remember that impromptu party being a worrisome ball of nerves for me.  I felt such a spotlight of questions and expectations.  If you have social anxiety, you know any spotlight or attention can be completely nerve-racking.  It isn't their fault, they were trying to be helpful and sweet, but I was so ready to put that birthday to bed.

February 6, 2011  I really don't remember many specifics of this birthday.  I just remember I was happy to be having a normal birthday after my two yucky ones.

February 6, 2014  I had the opportunity to host an IF:Gathering at Citychurch on the 7th and 8th.  I spent most of my birthday getting journals, handouts and decorations ready for the women's event the next day.  I was thrilled to be serving the Lord on my birthday.  After the loss of my father-in-law in 2009 and losing my brother in 2010, I had a new perspective on life.  I was renewed in my fervor and intentions to serve and share Jesus.  I had 12 women attend, and it was a great birthday and a wonderful weekend.

February 6, 2015  It is coming soon, and I know what I will be doing (Lord willing.)  I am knee deep in the trenches with 8 other women planning a city-wide IF:Gathering.  I am again so excited to serve the Lord on my birthday.  I can praise him because He has been faithful in every season of my life.  When I was a hyped-up excited and shy 6 year old, he was there.  When I was a nervous about life 25 year old, he was there.  When I was in the dumps and in despair, He was there.  When I'm loving and serving Him, He is there.  He's my rock and my fortress.  He's my gift and my gift giver.



"I love you, O LORD, my strength.  The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." Psalm 18:1-2 ESV

"For who is God, but the LORD?  And who is a rock, except our God?— the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless."  Psalm 18:31-32 ESV

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." James 1:16-18 ESV