10 Things I Learned in 2018

1. We give fear and anxiety too much power; sometimes it's best simply ignored. While I’ve fought (and won!) against anxiety for much of my life, this year it reared its ugly and unwelcome head at a more severe level than ever before. For about 5 months this year, I fought against panic attacks, really bad days, and that constant swarm of negative thoughts so often associated with anxiety. This went on for so long that I managed to strain a muscle in my chest, which I find pretty hilarious. In the words of my doctor, “Try to relax a little bit.” In all of this, Holy Spirit repeated Psalm 13 again and again and I finally learned that the best remedy for anxiety is distraction. Anxiety is a liar in every circumstance, all the time; anxiety never tells the truth. Just as David writes in Psalm 13:6, I’ve found that singing in worship is the best way to return to peace. It may not feel like it works at first, but if you persist in focusing on the good that God has done, you will find freedom. I promise.

2. Do not speak negative things about yourself, in your head or out loud. My skin flared with acne this year—the horrible kind that you can feel throbbing all day, burning the skin, leaving countless scars—and it challenged my self-esteem. I don’t think it’s vain to want to look and feel beautiful, it’s a natural human desire, but for many months I fought with the phrase “I feel ugly”. In the midst of it, I’ve learned never to speak about the things I don’t like about myself or else I’d develop a hyper-focus and become consumed by self-critical thoughts. Don’t give your negative thoughts any life by speaking them aloud.

3. Know who you are, remind yourself often and defend yourself when others challenge you. I’ve never been the type to speak up for myself, I’d much rather avoid conflict and leave things unaddressed. While there is a time to let things go, I’ve learned that if you do not defend your actions, people will act upon their interpretation of your choices and not the truth. I will not become a doormat tread upon by other peoples’ projections, emotions or insecurities. Own your actions, not other people’s interpretation of them.

4. It is better to say "no" when you're uncertain than to give a hesitant "yes". This one is easy: stop committing to things you're unsure of.

5. You don't owe anyone anything. I don’t care if that sounds harsh or entirely un-Christian, it’s the truth. What kind of life are you living if nearly every choice you make or thing you do comes from some sort of obligation to someone else? It is not arrogant or unkind to believe your time is valuable. Self-respect and self-sacrifice can coexist, I promise. You can be kind to others and be kind to yourself. Sometimes the healthiest choice for your life requires telling well-meaning, good people that you love “no”. Do not make decisions because you feel like you “should” or out of a sense of obligation; you will later discover resentment and bitterness in your heart. Be kind, put others first, but do not sacrifice your mind, body and spirit on the altar of public service. It’s very difficult to love people sincerely if you’re living with a spirit of bitterness, resentment, rejection and hurt from burdens you weren’t intended to carry. 

6. Worship, dance, celebrate every day. This year, I went through many days of feeling so caught in my anxieties that I couldn’t think of anything else. In that struggle, I learned that it is vital for me to spend at least 5 minutes a day singing, dancing and worshipping. I don’t always feel like it, and sometimes I’d rather just sit and mull over my problems. After a year like this one, I've grown in my ability to set my emotions aside and worship even when I don’t want to. It may take a few days of fighting for you to actually get to a place where I feel better, but it always works. 

7. Be very careful whose opinion you listen to; people often have unseen motives and are too quick to offer their input. I love people, I love trusting people and I love sharing my heart, experiences and dreams. I love asking people for advice, learning from their experiences. However, I’ve learned this year that people rarely say exactly what they mean or mean what they say. It’s not a pessimistic statement—there are wonderful, sincere people in the world—but it is realistic. I don’t believe all people are intentionally manipulative, but I have discovered that a second meaning usually lies beneath compliments, suggestions, advice, requests or warnings—usually a more self-serving motivation that produces an end-result you weren’t aware of. This is not cause to distrust and disconnect from the world around us; we must recognize our self-worth and live with confidence in our decisions. It all goes back to confidence and freedom, that was a theme for me this year.

8. You can change your thoughts; you're not a victim of your mind. One of my favorite authors, Graham Cooke, says this, “If your thinking has brought you to a place that you do not like, have another thought!” When caught in a mess of negative emotions, I’ve often felt helpless and unable to control my thoughts. That’s a lie, and such a silly one. You can actively choose to think of something better, say something kinder, or change a negative thought to a positive.

9. Be aware of what you watch, listen to, eat, say feel, who you spend time with, etc. — recognize how external factors affect your body, soul & spirit. Remember how I mentioned that I strained a muscle from being anxious this year? Hilarious as it is, I’ve become more aware of external factors that affect body. I’ve discovered that I can reduce anxiety when I reduce caffeine intake and I’ve also learned that it’s not good for me to watch dramatic, intense movies. I already have a lot of feelings in life and I don’t need to get caught up in the story of some estranged family who reunites over a tragedy (even if it won an Oscar). External factors can impact emotional, mental and spiritual health, it’s important to learn what is good and bad for us individually. I used to be embarrassed of being so easily affected, but I’m not anymore; I recognize that it’s just part of who I am and I’d rather live healthily than do things for the sake of fitting in.

10. It will always turn out okay. Some days it's hard to believe, but nothing is truer. It all turns out okay in the end. It really does.

New Houses

God is not in the business of renovating existing houses. He builds new in place of the old, from the ground up. He removes what existed before, every piece of it—the roof, walls, floor, faulty foundation—and clears the land. Yes, the old walls stood on their own, the cracks in the foundation have not yet visibly affected the tenant and the roof kept the rain out, but He is rebuilding it wholly and completely and no reminder of the old house can remain. It is not that He despised the former so much that He regarded it garbage, but rather that He knows the tenant is better served by the things of His building because He is the ultimate craftsman.

Did you know that sometimes He even cuts down the old, beautiful, safe trees surrounding the house? It is because He intends to cultivate a garden instead, one that the tenant can eat from and grow with. At first, when tenants give their house over to Him, they expect construction to move rapidly but oh how they are wrong. This, of course, is only for their benefit (as He is no lazy contractor) — the process is long simply because He has promised them to build something that will last eternally, and He always keeps His word. 

When He pours the foundation, the tenant anticipates the walls will go up immediately after, but He reminds them that it must first be tested and sealed. There is no value in building a house on a foundation that cannot stand the climate, it will only have to be rebuilt. When He frames the rooms, He does so based upon what He knows of the tenant (and He knows them well), its design suits them perfectly with no lack or excess of space. He installs the windows and ensures the view through the glass is something beautiful; they allow sunlight to seep in and only make the interior more bright and lovely. The most distinct feature in His design plan, present in every home he builds, is the light He places on the interior of the house. When the sunlight doesn’t seep through the windows because of clouds or nighttime, the tenant can switch the lights on and the house is illuminated once again. 
The electricity never goes out in His houses and there’s no such thing as a utility bill once you’ve given your house to Him. 

It’s really a great deal, when you think about it, an excellent investment—you gain the most beautiful new house only at the expense of control over its design. It’s not something to worry about or fret over, He’s been in this business for a long time.
It is impossible to endure if you are under the impression that everything you need is just over the next mountaintop. To endure, you must believe you have access to everything you could ever need, right now in this moment. Then, if you know that you lack nothing, you can say, "I can walk this path for as long as it takes; I am fully provided for."

You Have All You Need to Get Where You're Going

If you scroll through the last few months of my writing, or even the last few months of posts on social media, you’ll find quite a collection of thoughts on being in the valley season of my faith. It felt like far too much time spent fighting my way out of a place I so despised; I’d much prefer a constant mountaintop experience. The beginning of summer brought me from the valley season to one of rest. While I was relieved to head for new scenery, I was equally as much afraid of new ground. For as often as I cry out to God saying, “Let’s do something exciting!” I also cry, “Oh help, Dad, I’m afraid to go somewhere new.”

I love the story of the beginning of Moses’ ministry in Egypt, when God first calls him by name. Moses walks beside a mountain and the Bible says that an angel appeared to him in the form of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2, ESV), he notices the bush and resolves to turn from the path he was taking and take a closer look. This brief moment sets Moses toward a life of faith; God places Himself in the path and gives Moses the opportunity to know Him. The Bible then says, in verse four, that “when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, “Here I am.’” 

The Lord revealed to me through this story the pattern of seasons with God: it’s opportunity and response. By the blood of Jesus, we’re able to hear the voice of God calling us off our path, but we have the freedom to choose our response. What kind of lover would Jesus be if he forced us from one place to another without a say in the matter? It’d be like forcing your best friend to go to the place of your choice every time you decided to do something, disregarding their opinion altogether. Our Father, though, is the best companion; He likes giving you options because He knows love is only true when it’s given freely.

God gives you the option to say “yes” or “no” as you walk from season to season with Him, just as He did with Moses. As the story continues and God tells Moses of His epic plan to set the Israelites free from slavery, we witness one of the most amusing exchanges between God and a man in Scripture (or at least I think so). To paraphrase, God says to Moses, “Surprise, I’m the same God that your ancestors flipped their lives upside down to follow and you’re going to follow me too. I heard the cry of your people, the ones you once tried to defend back when you lived in Egypt, and I want to use you to bring them out of slavery and into a land flowing with milk and honey that you’re going to take from various intimidating people groups.” (That’s a rough summary of Exodus 3:6-10.) 

Moses responds, “Yeah, no. Wrong guy.”

God counters, “My child, you have nothing to fear because I told you I will be with you. It’s worth your time because, after you do this, I’m going to let you serve me for the rest of your life.”

Again, Moses questions, “As I play this out in my mind, I realize I’m going to look really stupid in front of all of these people if I can’t entirely explain who I am and what I’m doing nor justify every action. Did you think that through?”

I love God’s response. He silences Moses with the simple statement “I AM who I AM.” This exchange makes me laugh because I’ve had this conversation with God many times over the past few years, though outside of the freeing-the-Israelites context. This is, in fact, my most frequent response to new seasons with God. Some of my go-to statements of fear are, “They’re going to think I’m weird,” or “I don’t have enough faith to follow through.” For this newest season it was,“I don’t want to be lonely,” but they all fall under the general theme of, “That looks unfamiliar and scary and I don’t think I’m strong enough to handle it, let’s just not.” I’ve tended to push or pull or drag my feet when I realize God’s leading me somewhere new, somewhere not within the carefully constructed religious box. Each complaint I send at my Savior is met with, “But daughter, don’t you remember who I am?” As with Moses, my fear falls away and faith awakens when met by the Living God. His kindness, goodness and love are irresistible; He’s the very thing my heart was created for. 

In a life with God lies the satisfaction of everything our hearts desire. An encounter with Him sparks a fire in our souls, igniting the kindling He placed within us at the beginning. When you have gazed upon the perfect face of Jesus or heard Him call your name, when you recognize that He alone holds everything you’ve ever longed for, how could you move in any other direction than toward Him?

Knowing King Jesus nullifies the crippling symptoms of fear. Encountering God empowers us to step forward into whatever is next because His love casts out every anxiety. I always interpreted that phrase to mean that, if I truly loved Jesus and believed in Him, I’d never face something I was afraid of because His love would remove any feelings of fear. While He may very well cast out doubt, and those moments are incredible gifts, He is as equally likely to nudge us forward even when remnants of fear can still be found in our hearts. His “love casts out fear” because it sets us free from fear’s former power, loosing our feet from the shackles to which we were bound before we met Jesus. This freedom doesn’t guarantee you’ll never feel fear again, it guarantees that you are no longer bound by it.

As Moses considers where God has asked him to go, he lists off his insufficient talent or intellect as reason to abandon the cause (Exodus 4:1-13). In fear, he tells God, “Please send someone else.” The Bible then says that the Lord’s anger was kindled against Moses, but His love provides the measure of faith necessary to prepare Moses for the journey ahead. In order to protect the relationship between them, God produces the resources needed for Moses to obey His command; He provides faith, dressed as Aaron, for the task ahead. God says to Moses, “I will provide Aaron as a mouthpiece for you. You’ll do what I’ve asked, but He will be your voice.” (Exodus 4:14-17) God meets Moses in his small faith and provides what is needed for greater faith to arise. You see, had Moses disobeyed God because of his fear, it would have affected their relationship. In His compassion and kindness, God provides a way for Moses to step into the season where he has been called and to continue in relationship with Himself. 

If we believe God is who He says He is, then we believe that He provides. The core of Christianity is that, no matter the cost, God always rescues His children. God will not ask you to step into a new season with Him and then set you up to fail. He’s a good friend, father, companion, lover—His kindness never runs out.

And He gives us the measure of faith necessary to step into the land He’s called us.

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way." (James 1:2-4, MSG)

Afternoon Coffee

You make me think of drinking coffee
Mid-afternoon in my favorite chair.

I sit and I sip, expectation of quiet now satisfied.

Being with you is the pause I scramble to obtain
Because there's no greater peace than the freedom to just be.

So, when I think of you, I think of my afternoon coffee in the blanket-covered chair.

Your only expectation is that I show up,
And you're always waiting for me.

You don't require deep or productive commentary,
But you love to hear how my mind wanders.
You love to watch me simply be free.

You're like afternoon coffee in my favorite chair,
You're the quiet my heart needs.