Soul Food

Soul Food {June 2018}

Such a wild month for me, filled with open doors and curiosity and good gifts. I’m really focusing on not combing through God’s blessings, turning them every angle they can be turned to test if they’re truly good. God gives good gifts. Now is the time to be thankful and to walk in them and to let my heart leap. He’s declared that over me, and I believe you can take that promise as your own, too. He’s so good to us.

Here are a few things that went with me on this trip of a month:

Music

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If you want all of this music in one place, I have a playlist! It’s on Spotify and on YouTube; I use it for the whole year, so scroll to the bottom for the newest additions.

Movies/YouTube/TV

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  • Solo: A Star Wars Story. I wasn’t sure if I kind of glazed over the movie because of the story or because I saw it on a date, but friends have since confirmed that the movie has that effect, haha! It’s fun, it just doesn’t ask you to invest that much in it.
  • Chuck. My mom and I finished the series this month, with giggles and misty eyes. Such a fun show. The characters snatch your heart. [Admittedly: there were some slightly inappropriate moments we didn’t think were necessary. I personally enjoy the show enough otherwise to have grace for it in that area, but I know I could also be in a place in my life where I would decide to avoid it.]
  • Pollyanna. The scenery and costumes are lovely, and the display of the power of where we place our focus is surprisingly powerful.
  • The Princess Bride. I’m at the point with this movie where I think everything in it is funny and brilliant, and I’m okay with that.
  • Incredibles 2. Super fun, with a some hilarious moments and some sweet ones, too.
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The Jurassic Park franchise isn’t my favorite, but the trailers for this installment made it seem different and interesting enough for me to give it a chance, and overall I enjoyed it! Of course they had to linger on a few gruesome moments of people being eaten by dinosaurs, but there was still a (basic) storyline. And shout out to the sixty seconds we got of Jeff Goldblum.

Books/Blogs/Articles

I thought I was going to crush it with the summer reading, but I haven’t finished anything yet. I’m reading a few books right now, though, and I’m on Goodreads if you want to keep up with my progress and see full reviews from me once they exist!


What fed you this month?

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Embraces for Your Spirit · Recovery

Realizations from 2 Years Porn-Free

from pokemon go walkI haven’t intentionally looked at pornography in two years now. I don’t talk about it as often as I did in the beginning of the recovery process, which is kind of a comfort to me because it shows the impact of it in my life has become smaller and smaller. But even though it feels kind of vulnerable to bring up now, I don’t want to grow silent. I want you, whatever your struggle is, to know you aren’t the only one who faces temptations that feel dark and overwhelming, or who struggles to walk in their integrity. We are all with you. And I think the more we bring those things into the light, the less power we feel they have in our lives. That has been part of my experience, at least.

I’ve talked before about how, even though I’ve been porn-free for a decent length of time, I don’t quite know how to respond when people ask me for advice, because I genuinely don’t know how or why I’ve reached this place. That’s still completely true. So today, on my two years free mark, I’m not writing a “how you, too, can do this!” post. I just have a few things I’ve come to realize along the way that I’d like to share, if you’d like to hear.

1) I am fully loved and welcomed by God no matter the state I’m in.

This is the one thing that I know has been the key to my recovery. The first time I looked at pornography, I sobbed and asked God to forgive me, over and over– and He did not say one single thing about what I’d done. He wrapped me up close, and reminded me of His promise to teach me to renew my mind, and that was all. He loved me, all of me, unwaveringly. If I didn’t have that, I know I would not have been able to enter into recovery, let alone make any progress in it.

If you take one thing from reading my words today, take this: God is not ashamed of you. He isn’t angry with you. He doesn’t bring up your mistakes. He loves you. He is on your side. He is faithful to you and will never, ever withhold one bit of Himself from you. And your healing is His desire and joy to bring to fruition. Nestle in, without fear.

2) There isn’t an answer or a formula, there’s only grace and a process.

I’ve touched on this before so I won’t repeat myself too much, but I’d just like to clarify that while this can be scary, it can also be an encouragement.

There are a lot of tools and resources offered to aid people in their recovery, and I am not at all against trying to utilize them. But in my own experience, as well as the experiences of many of my friends in their own struggles? Those things often don’t work, at least not for long. It can be so discouraging and shame-bringing, especially when we’re trying so hard to grow. But we have to remember: our efforts are important, but they are not our saviors.

I still can’t pinpoint what got me here. Maybe the timing has simply been right for me, or maybe I’ll discover later down the road what the specific tools were, but right now? I can only attribute it to God’s love for me and the process of learning to live out of that place of belovedness. And He has that same kind of love for everyone else.

So, please, don’t be ashamed of whatever hasn’t worked for you. You’ll find the things that do. And you might not even know what they are when you finally do find them, and that’s okay, too. I can’t stress this enough: lean into how loved you are, before you start anything else that could help you, because that is what will carry you through whatever your process looks like.

And if you’re reading this and you don’t have experience with addiction or struggles of this nature, please: still remember these things. The people around you who are struggling don’t deserve to be shamed for the tools that didn’t work for them. See them for who they are– someone deeply, unwaveringly loved by God– and let that lead your behavior and your speech.

3) Temptation is NOT sin or failure. And it doesn’t go away– but it does lessen.

I’ve spent two years without looking at pornography, but that does not mean I’ve spent two years without being tempted to do so. It makes me uncomfortable to say that, and I know it might make some uncomfortable to hear it, but I’m not about to pretend or lie about this. This is one of the biggest things I’ve learned as I’ve emerged from a church background that preached guilt and fear, and I don’t want to stop telling anyone who will listen:

Being tempted is not the same as giving in to temptation.

Jesus was tempted, and was without sin— and now the same can be true of us. This is part of the gospel, the world-shaking truth He wanted us to know so badly that He died to prove it to us. How graciously we view ourselves is hugely important to Him.

I used to think facing temptation meant I was already sinning, and having that belief in my core was so crippling to any forward movement in my life. I am so grateful for His truth, and that, even when it hasn’t fully sunk in, I can make the choice to bank on it anyway and He will be faithful to show me the reality of it.

I still have graphic dreams sometimes. I still have to occasionally unfollow certain accounts on social media, not because they’re posting anything wrong but because my mindset isn’t always right toward what they do post. I still catch ugly thoughts suddenly popping up in my head. But none of this means I’m failing. In fact, it is all a normal and natural part of recovery. It’s okay to make progress and still have more to make; not being at the finish line (which, again, I’m honestly not sure exists this side of eternity) doesn’t mean you’re not walking on the right path.

[Side note on the graphic dreams: scientifically, one function of dreams is your brain processing things so it can store them in less prominent places and bring more finality to them. If/when you have those dreams, it’s okay to be unsettled, but don’t let it lead you to believe that you’ll never be rid of those things. Pornography affects the brain in a lot of different ways, but your brain is also such a powerful organ and can heal itself with the right care; sometimes, dreams are a part of that healing. It’s difficult, but as much as it feels like a bad sign, it’s actually a good one. Take heart.]

You’re going to face temptation in your recovery. Guaranteed. Sometimes, it’s going to feel nearly unbearable. But don’t let the fear take over. Don’t let yourself give into the feelings of shame and guilt and condemnation, because God never hands out those feelings. And don’t let yourself believe that because you’re drawn to something again it means you’ve already taken steps backwards. I promise: you’re doing a better job than you think.

Things will get better for you. Those thoughts won’t always be in the forefront of your mind; they’re going to shrink and shrivel and fade, and you’re going to feel the reality of your freedom stronger and stronger in you. Believe in who you already are: a person deeply loved by God. Everything else will flow from that, with time and a lot of grace.


Thank you to everyone in my life who has supported me, cheered me on, walked with me, and shared their own struggles with me in these two years. I know I wouldn’t be the same without you, and I know I still need you.

And thank you, Jesus, for being my rock, my biggest fan, my comfort, my true north. I wouldn’t be doing any of this without you. I love you with my whole heart.

Soul Food

Soul Food {May 2018}

This was a month of good changes. It’s taken years, but I’m learning to believe in how well God loves me and how widely He opens the world to me, and it’s changing how I make choices and how I carry myself. I’m very grateful for my life and the good things He’s placed in it; I’m praying for the wisdom to steward well.

Here are a few things that walked with me into the new.

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  • “Everywhere All At Once” by Post Animal. Their first full-length album came out last month and the instrumental intro is the stuff of dreams.
  • “River” by Leon Bridges. Gently powerful, led by an incredible voice.
  • “New Light” by John Mayer. He did that. At first you cheerfully groove along to it, and suddenly he comes in with the guitar and your jaw drops. Or maybe that’s just me? Either way, thanks for the first tunes of the summer, John.
  • Cimorelli’s mashup of “No Scrubs” “Nice for What” and “Friends.” They killed this, especially in the second half. But I’ve come to expect it from these six gifted sisters.
  • “Guillotine” by Jon Bellion. Infectious and so well done. “The secrets you tell me, I’ll take to my grave. There’s bones in my closet, but you hang stuff anyway…”
  • Phil Collins’ “Face Value” album. My car plays cassettes, so I get to belt along to some of my favorite classics on my commute. I play Phil way too much; the song I currently belt the most passionately is “You Know What I Mean.”
  • “Video Sunshine” by Knox Hamilton. I’m so happy to be getting new music from these guys! This is a dancey yet relaxed summertime jam.
  • Pretty much everything by Joseph Tilley; I love his vibe and his youthful voice. Lately his song “Feelings” has been on repeat.

If you want all of this music in a playlist, I already made one! It’s on Spotify and on YouTube; scroll to the bottom for the newest additions.

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  • The Fugitive. A engaging action movie with a well-paced, well-told story and great performances by Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones.
  • Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” music video. So much to unpack; every element means something. Brilliant.
  • The movie-length pilot episode of Father Dowling Mysteries. Cheesy yet engrossing.
  • This video from Emily Wilson about standing up for yourself and sharing your honest thoughts as a woman. So important to keep this truth close.
  • Continued watching Chuck (currently on season four) and Designated Survivor.

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  • The Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, and Laura Martin. Free Comic Book Day was this month and my mom found the Spider-Man comic they were giving away while I was at work. Comic books are short, especially when they’re still coming out, but I have a lot of fun reading them, especially Spider-Man.
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Such a helpful book with a lot of solid insight. I read it over a couple of months so I had time to let the principles take shape and to practice them. I did think a couple of times that it speaks a lot about how important it is to have boundaries and the effects of them in our lives, yet lacks a bit of instruction on how to actually go about creating them. Maybe it’s a very situational thing, though, so it would be hard to sum up? Regardless, I gained a lot of insight and assurance from reading it. [I would like to note: in some instances scripture is used a bit out of context, which bothered me.]
  • The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. A collection of short, sometimes lovely, sometimes crazy fairy tales I slowly made my way through.

If you want bookish updates and full reviews from me, I’m on Goodreads.


What has been feeding you lately?

Soul Food

Soul Food {April 2018}

This month was a whirlwind. I feel like it just began, yet a lot has happened. I’m thankful that Jesus has been with me for every bit of it, keeping me close to Him and assuring me I’m doing just fine. I honestly didn’t consume a lot of varied art/media this month, maybe because I already felt like things were all over the place, but what I did consume? Pretty solid.

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  • “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman. The hands-down best song from the film; emotionally stirring, with absolutely stunning vocals. It’s my current piano practice piece so I hear it all the time, and I’m obsessed still.
  • “Stop It (Stripped)” by Sleeping Lion. Somber, yet passionate, too. I think it’s so lovely.
  • “I Don’t Want U Back” by BØRNS. What a jam. It makes me dance and also feel kind of empowered about moving on from things that don’t serve me anymore.
  • “Love You Like That” by Dagny. Infectious sound and sweet lyrics.
  • “Open Arms” by PRETTYMUCH. So much talent! And the song takes such unexpected turns musically and it works so well. I’ve been listening to a lot of their work lately. “Healthy” is an absolute jam, too.

If you want all of this music in one place, I have a playlist! It’s on both Spotify and YouTube; just scroll to the bottom for the newest additions.

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  • Avengers: Infinity War. It is so, so good. I expected to like it, but I did not expect it to be this high quality. I saw it twice opening weekend, which might have been too much too soon because it made me pretty emotional, but wow it’s good. The various characters in various settings could have felt choppy and all over the place, but it’s so well-written that it’s beautifully cohesive, clearly telling one big story. And we all know I love Tom Holland, but truly: if I had never heard of him or seen him in anything before, I would be an instant fan after his performance in this movie. He absolutely nailed it. Not to discredit anyone else, because I can’t really think of an actor that phoned it in; everyone shined. And Thanos is an incredibly layered villain, it’s wild to witness. I’m rambling now, please just go see it.
  • “The Cast of Black Panther Plays Would You Rather.” I want to be friends with everyone in this, please. “W’Kabi has a blanket…”
  • Jenna Fischer talking about the space we take up. Love this advice; it’s not just for artists, I think it’s for anyone who feels like they have to be small.
  • Honestly, so many interviews with the Infinity War cast. An embarrassing amount. It’s how I’ve been coping. I made a playlist of some of the ones I enjoyed if you want to cope with me.
  • The Sound of Music. Because sometimes I listen to the soundtrack when I clean and I wanted to see the lovely visuals, too. Let’s go visit Austria someday, please.
  • This video about getting triggered and how to manage it. So simple, so gentle, so comforting. “If you have strong feelings, it could mean you’re a compassionate person, rather than someone whose wound hasn’t healed… Go in the direction of comfort.” I needed this.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger. I hadn’t seen it in a while and wanted a refresher. Update: it’s still great.
  • Continued watching Chuck (currently on season three, with mixed feelings), Spring Baking Championship, and Designated Survivor.

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  • The Forgotten Way Meditations by Ted Dekker. I was afraid to read this at first because I was emerging from a season that had been really difficult, in part due to a book that had influenced my thinking and personal theology in negative, destructive ways. But when I reached a point where I felt safe and firmly planted enough to read a bit of non-fiction again, I was very grateful for what I found in this book. It’s split into three parts, and the first two parts are remarkably gospel-centered and share things in a way that is unique and clicks. I will admit, the third part did not have those same qualities to me and brought me back to a bit of a cautious place. But it is definitely still a worthwhile read.

I am reading a couple more books right now, but I haven’t finished them yet. If you want to keep up with my progress and read full reviews when they exist, I’m on Goodreads.


What fed you this month?

Soul Food

Soul Food {March 2018}

It’s been a month of unexpected and hard things, but also of growth through those things. I’m finally learning God redeems every hard thing and uses it for a good purpose, but that He also doesn’t give the hard things to me; He gives good, undisguised gifts and He loves me well. He’s my rock. I’m so grateful to Him. In this hard month, one way He loved me was through music and art. Here are a few of those vessels.

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  • The Rodgers and Hammerstein Songbook. My friend Karli gave this album to me a few years ago, and lately it has been my go-to housecleaning soundtrack. Some of my consistent favorites from it have been “The Surrey With The Fringe on Top” and “Younger Than Springtime” (William Tabbert’s voice… swoon). [I dislike both Oklahoma! and South Pacific but it doesn’t ruin the songs for me.]
  • Kirsten Collins and Box of Beats’ cover of “Supernova.” Their vocals are insane. I actually like the original song by Ansel Elgort, it’s such a jam, but it does have a little profanity so I usually opt for this solid cover.
  • Vance Joy’s “Nation of Two” album. He’s a wonderful songwriter who brings a gentle, authentic air to everything he makes, and his new album is a delight. My favorites from it are “Saturday Sun” “Take Your Time” and “I’m With You.”
  • “June” by Briston Maroney. “Ain’t it funny how I wanted this all my life? Ain’t it funny how I got it here and it don’t seem right?” That line hit me deep. And the song is so interesting and unexpected instrumentally, too.
  • “gone.” by Day Bit. Something fun yet emotional to put on repeat and somehow feel motivated by.
  • NÄM’s “Umlaut” ep. I heard one song from it and was wowed by how it encompassed my musical taste from at least three different stages of my life; it was simply too special and made me look up the rest of their catalogue. This whole ep is absolutely lovely, mixing modern electronic sounds with homey singer-songwriter vibes.
  • “Favorite Mistake” by Regal. Nostalgic in an edgy way, if that makes sense? Like it reminds me of what I listened to in the early 2000s also lets me feel some 2018 angst?
  • “Please Don’t Leave Me Like This” by Edward & Jane. Feels warm and haunting at the same time. The title alone made me want to like the song, and I wasn’t disappointed.
  • “High Altitude” by Davis John Patton. So lovely and gentle. “Just keep your eyes locked ahead; I know the fear you feel. Every time you look down, know I’ve fallen farther than we could…”
  • Walk Off The Earth’s cover of “Hey Ya!” This song is already a jam and makes me dance every time, but these guys brought their own fun to it– along with killer vocals– and I’m into it. I’ve been listening to it every day. For sure check out the video, too!
  • “Part of It” by Relient K. Oldie but goodie. “It’s not the end of the world, just you and me.”
  • “I Think I See You Now” by Tina Boonstra. Calming and beautiful.
  • “Creatures” by Glass House Point. Such good vibes; cozy yet energizing.
  • “Better With You” by Jesse McCartney. Yes, that Jesse McCartney! His new song is so sweet.

If you want all of this music in a playlist, I’ve made it! It’s on Spotify and YouTube. I use it all year, so scroll to the bottom for the newest additions.

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  • Chris Evans’ Advice for People with Anxiety and Depression. I’ve adopted “shh” over the past few months, and it truly is weirdly profound. It quiets the brain noise, and allows me to hear Jesus whispering, “Peace, be still.”
  • Way too many videos about polishing a resumé. This one was the most practical and helpful for me so I’m sharing in case you’re in the same stress-boat. We’ve got this!
  • The Intern. Such an adorable film! Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway are wonderfully matched co-stars telling a delightful story. The characters face some hardships, but the tone manages to stay lighthearted and uplifting. By the way, can De Niro’s character be my adoptive grandpa? Because I love him to bits.
  • Thor: Ragnarok. Because it came out on dvd this month and it still makes me scream with how funny and good it is.
  • Chuck. My mom and I needed a new series to watch, and this one is fun, goofy, and heartfelt, with a bit of spy action for good measure. It also reminds me why I had that big crush on Zachary Levi in college. We’re on season two right now. [My only complaint is that the women in the show exist almost exclusively for the eyes of men; Sarah and Ellie are the two that have more substance.]
  • Spring Baking Championship. Because I’m a nerd and I can watch the baking and decorating process for hours.
  • The new Infinity War trailer. Giggles and tears simultaneously. I’m so ready to see this film next month!
  • Matthew Hussey’s advice videos. He’s a life coach who focuses on helping women navigate dating, and while a lot of his materials have cheesy/click-bait titles that don’t reflect the scope of the content, he really does have a lot of practical wisdom to share. He’s direct and tells the hard truth sometimes, yet it’s still somehow encouraging and leaves me feeling empowered to make good choices. Some videos I’ve gleaned from include this one on over-investing, this one on seeking closure, this one on pacing, this one on being ghosted, and this one on getting over a breakup. [Don’t worry, by the way, I’m doing well!]
  • Black Panther. Fantastic cast, relevant and tactfully approached themes, and one of the better Marvel movie villains.
  • Continued watching The Good Doctor, Designated Survivor, and Worst Cooks in America.

Books/Blogs/Articles

  • “For Two Months, I Got My News From Print Newspapers. Here’s What I Learned.” by Farhad Manjoo for The New York Times. An interesting look at how the culture of online news can cultivate anxiety and a sense of false insight in us. I think there’s pros as well as cons, but it’s important to understand the cons and make choices with them in consideration.
  • “When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea” by Emily P. Freeman. Such an important and valuable insight. “The answer to dealing with the shocking thoughts that come into my mind isn’t to try to stop having bad thoughts. The answer for me is to refuse to be shocked in the first place and instead, be loved. Be small. Belong to Christ.”

I’m still reading those five books I said I was reading last month and I’ve honestly made no progress in any of them; I simply haven’t been in a place where I want to put extra thoughts into my mind. If you want to keep up with my reading progress when I eventually start making some again, I’m on Goodreads.


What fed you this month?

 

Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies

On Anxiety, Shame, & Unexpected Self-Care

tea on 5-19I thought I was going to start this month out fresh, with February’s confusion and stress behind me and fresh optimism and motivation in front of me. But when I woke up on March first, I was immediately overwhelmed by panic.

I got out of bed to assess what might be wrong, and started becoming faint. My face and my hands felt numbed. With blurry tunnel vision, I slowly crawled downstairs before my parents left to go to work; I told them what I was experiencing, while struggling to take full breaths. My mom called in late to work and drove me to urgent care.

When we got to the clinic, filling out paperwork was hard with how weak and distant I felt, but I managed to do it. They soon called me back to the exam room. I answered questions about my symptoms the best I could as the doctor checked my breathing and heartbeat. She asked me how long I’d had anxiety.

At the end of the exam, she told me she wanted to have my blood tested just to rule out anything else, but that I was probably having an anxiety attack. I went out to the waiting room, told my mom, and sobbed.

My mom went back with me because I asked her to. When the nurse entered the room, he said in a pleasant voice, “Do you do okay with needles and blood?” I was still crying a little and whispered a teary, “No.” I don’t like needles at any time, but every hesitancy I had about them felt almost intolerable then. The nurse was kind and spoke gently with me, even as I started sobbing again when I had to lie down and let him push up my sleeve. Both he and my mom led me in calming breathing and in trying to shift my focus. I still panicked the whole time, but my blood was successfully taken. At first, the nurse said cheerfully, “That wasn’t too bad, was it?” But he quickly added, “Actually, it was probably hard for you. But you did a good job.” I tried to laugh, but I don’t think I did.

The doctor sent me home a few minutes later. And a few hours later, she called with results of my blood test: everything was fine. It really had been anxiety.

I struggled to accept the fact that any of this happened. I didn’t believe it was okay– didn’t believe going to urgent care for anxiety was a good enough reason. I thought it made me weak, unstable, and immature. Did I think that about anyone else who’d done so? No; just me.

The tears in urgent care had been about how scared I was of needles, that was true. But, mostly… they had been about how ashamed I was to even be there.

I knew my anxiety was a disorder. But I thought that because I worked so consistently hard to walk in truth and courage, anxiety wouldn’t be too much of a factor in my life. Sure, I still had it, but I could live as if it was a small thing.

It is true that I am more powerful than anxiety, and that it doesn’t have to rule me. And after my visit to urgent care, I’m realizing maybe another thing is true: maybe acknowledging and accepting the anxiety isn’t the same as giving it power over me.

In my desire to be completely better and completely rid of it, maybe I’ve ignored caring for myself. Not that I don’t take good care of myself, because I do: exercising daily, drinking lots of water and teas, taking important vitamins, avoiding caffeine, using breathing techniques, making gratitude lists, having creative outlets, talking to my safe people, studying scripture and telling myself the truth, praying without ceasing… the list goes on. I know what to do to manage my anxiety, and I do it diligently.

But when I’ve been consistent in all these things and I still end up having an anxious day, week, or even couple of weeks? That’s where I’ve been getting stuck. Because I’ve blamed myself for it. I blame it on not doing enough, not taking good enough care of myself, not giving my worry to the Lord often enough… even when those things aren’t true.

Last year was hard for me. One night I called a friend, crying and asking if I could just talk. She was a gracious listener, and after I let out what I could, she began speaking into me. There’s one thing she said that has since stowed away in my mind, because it was unique and hadn’t sunk in before: “There is delicate and complicated chemistry in your brain, and it doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to do, but you are not less than anyone else for it.”

It wasn’t my fault.

When it comes to anyone else’s struggles with their mental health, I know it isn’t their fault. But with myself, my low points have felt like failure, like falling short physically, mentally, and spiritually… like defeat. But I’m learning, slowly, that not only is that perspective skewed and untrue, but it helps nothing.

I apologized to everyone I interacted with at the urgent care office that day. I felt like an inconvenience, like I was taking time away from real issues with my inability to handle my own. But when I apologized to the nurse taking my blood after he informed me he’d have to try another vein since I was dehydrated, he looked me in the tear-covered face and immediately told me:

“No, don’t apologize! You came here because you needed help.”

I needed help.

It wasn’t a silly outburst, wasn’t a pointless inconvenience, wasn’t all the things I felt like it was– it was a real anxiety attack. Part of my real disorder. I needed help. And it was okay that I’d asked for it. Actually– it was good and brave that I’d asked for it. I was already crying, but his words made me cry a bit more.

I have generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes my brain reacts to things in ways I know are unreasonable; sometimes my body takes on every little stress to full capacity and makes me feel ill; sometimes I feel completely paralyzed and stuck in one terrible thought pattern or circumstance, and don’t know how I’m going to get out. I still feel shame about these things, and going into any detail about them makes me feel like I’m just being too negative and sensitive, like I’m making excuses. But that’s not true.

Anxiety is not an excuse— it’s a reason.

The things my symptoms tell me are not real, and that is so important and empowering to remember. But my symptoms themselves? They’re real. I truly do experience them. They show up, and not because of any lack of effort— physically, morally, or spiritually– on my part.

Having anxiety symptoms isn’t losing the battle.

Victory isn’t found in not having them at all— it’s found in how I respond to them and live through them.

I won’t let myself think otherwise anymore. I’ve taken care of myself, yes. But it’s time I care for myself, too.

I’m not completely sure what that looks like yet; it’s only been a few weeks since I went to urgent care (and proceeded to experience some painful and confusing life stuff that same day), so I’ve been taking things slow. But maybe that’s part of it. Maybe recognizing that I’m not at full capacity and refusing to beat myself up for not doing more than I have the mental energy to do is okay; maybe it’s even good and brave.

I might not be able to stop anxiety from showing up in my life. But caring for my spirit and not allowing shame to stick around makes those appearances a little less devastating, because I’ve removed an extra enemy– my own critical voice– from the equation.

I kind of feel like I don’t really have a strong conclusion to share right now, but I wanted to talk about this a bit, because it’s hard to do, so not a lot of us do it. And we need to remind each other:

The symptoms of our mental illnesses are not our fault, are not signs of failure, are not pretend little things we should feel guilty about facing or needing help with. And we’re probably doing a much better job than it feels like we’re doing.

Let’s start caring for ourselves, okay?

Misc.

45 Stand-Out Women in The Bible {Part Two}

mirror reflection 2Recently, I shared the first half of a list of women in the Bible I admire and that I feel we can all be inspired by. I have loved putting these together and seeing how clearly God loves and values women; even when everyone else seemed to be against them, God was for them and gave them His strength. He does the same today.

I hope you feel a measure of encouragement from learning about these ordinary women empowered by extraordinary love. Here’s the second half of them:

Lydia– She was a merchant who sold purple cloth, something expensive and reserved for the wealthy and regal, so she had some wealth and reputation of her own. She was with a group of women by a river near Philippi when Paul and other missionaries came and began speaking to them; Lydia already worshipped God, but hearing about Jesus opened her heart even further to Him and she was baptized, along with her household. She opened her home to other believers, eventually housing a large amount of Philippi’s church. Obvious leadership capabilities and a welcoming nature lived in this woman. [Acts 16:14-15, 40]

Martha– Many of us know about Martha in the context of when she was distressed trying to prepare dinner for Jesus while her sister sat and listened to Him; she eventually asked Jesus to tell her sister to help with the work, to which he responded: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” We often hear this story used as an example of what not to do, and while it is incredibly important to hear His words to her in our own spirits (it’s one of the main verses I cling to in my life), we forget that she was distracted “with much serving.” Martha wasn’t doing something wrong (she served Him dinner again later without issue), she had simply lost focus and was seeking to please Jesus with her hands above her presence; we do the same, all the time. And later, we see that she must have heeded His words and spent more time being present with Him, because she and her siblings were friends of Jesus. When her brother died after they’d asked Him to come heal him, Martha didn’t shy away from Jesus; she confronted Him about how hurt she was, yet she also expressed faith in Him, not only to fix things, but to be the Savior. And her faith was met in both. I truly admire her. [Luke 10:38-42, John 11-12]

Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus)– She was the sister who sat at Jesus’ feet and eagerly listened to Him teach; Jesus affirmed to her that by doing this she had chosen the one thing she needed. When her brother died, she wept and was at home surrounded by others mourning until she heard that Jesus came and wanted to see her; she then approached Him and fell at His feet weeping, telling Him if He had come sooner her brother would have lived. Jesus was moved so deeply that He wept, too. And when He raised her brother to life, the people who had gathered to mourn with her saw it happen. Later Jesus had dinner with their family, and Mary anointed His feet with an expensive perfume and wiped it with her hair; some thought it wasteful, but Jesus praised her for it. The way we see Jesus interact with Mary shows how much He cares about our emotions; she was a passionate woman, but He didn’t ever give her reason to believe that she was too much for Him. He loved and validated her. [Luke 10:38-42, John 11, 12:1-8]

Mary (mother of Jesus)– Many of us know her story: how she was a young girl when an angel appeared to her and told her she was going to have a baby that would be the long-awaited Savior; how she responded with questions but willingness and trust even though it would jeopardize her reputation, especially since she was a betrothed virgin; how she braved a long journey late into her pregnancy and gave birth in a cave surrounded by animals; and how she fled with her family to a different country for a few years soon after. All of that is wild. What the Bible doesn’t go into detail about is the years of raising Jesus (along with the other children she later had). I’m sure it felt like a lot of pressure raising the Son of God on top of all the normal pressures a mother feels. And I can’t imagine how it felt to see Him be crucified, and to hear Him making sure she was taken care of even as He was dying. Mary wasn’t perfect, but she showed up, and it was enough for Him. She was even there when the apostles met to replace Judas after Jesus ascended– a normal girl who would have lived a quiet life, and instead all know her name. [Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, Acts 1:12-14]

Mary Magdalene– She became one of Jesus’ female disciples after He healed her of seven demons (I wish we had more of her history, but maybe it’s even better that all we know of her is her redemption!). She supported and accompanied Him, even when it meant being present at His crucifixion. She was also there when He was placed in the tomb. Some gospel accounts say a group of women was first to discover His empty tomb and share the news, but John says Mary was there alone. At first she wept at the tomb, thinking His body had been stolen. But He appeared to her and put her heart at ease, giving her the mission and gift of speaking of His resurrection and ascension. Her transformation and the way she was always looking to Jesus instead of behind her is so empowering to read. [Matthew 27:56-61, 28:1-10, Mark 15:40-47, 16:1-8, Luke 8:1-2, 24:1-10, John 19:25, 20:1-18]

Michal– She was the daughter of King Saul who fell in love with David and became his first wife. Admittedly, she grew to be problematic when she began hosting bitterness. But the fact that she helped David escape when Saul sought his life, and that she survived being captured and sent off to a new husband for a while by her manic father, shows us she was more than just a spoiled princess. [1 Samuel 18:20-29, 19:11-17, 25:44, 2 Samuel 3:13-14, 2 Chronicles 15:29]

Miriam– She was the daughter of Jochebed who helped preserve her baby brother Moses’ life during a massacre; she later led the people with Moses and Aaron when the Lord delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. She sang powerful songs of worship which are recorded in the Bible, and she was so respected by the people that they deeply mourned her death and listed her name in genealogies along with her brothers (which was not normal). A natural leader with an earnest heart, even when she made mistakes. [Exodus 2:4-8, 15:20-21, Numbers 12:1-15, 20:1, 26:57-59, 1 Chronicles 6:3, Micah 6:4]

Naomi– She and her family had left their home due to a famine, but both her husband and her sons died before they could return. She struggled deeply with bitterness, yet she still did not treat herself like a victim: she decided to go back home alone. But when her daughter-in-law Ruth refused to leave her side, Naomi took her in and did what she could as a widow to make sure Ruth was well– even to the point of helping her approach a man and get married again! She later helped care for Ruth’s baby. I like that she was no-nonsense but still deeply caring. [Ruth]

Persis– She’s very briefly mentioned in one of Paul’s letters, but we know she was important to the church when he calls her “dear Persis, who has worked so hard for the Lord.” That’s a worthwhile sentence to have in your memory. [Romans 16:12]

Phoebe– She was a deaconess in the church in Corinth, known for her kindness and generosity. She was also the carrier of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I like to remember her when people speak negatively of women being in church leadership. [Romans 16:1]

Priscilla– She and her husband met Paul on one of his missionary journeys and ended up joining him; Paul later wrote that they’d risked their lives for him. They hosted a church in their home, and they also journeyed on their own. They once encountered a Jewish man named Apollos who was preaching in the synagogue but didn’t have all the information, so they privately spoke to him and explained what was missing, and he became adept at doing the same with other Jews. Because her name was often listed before her husband’s, it is believed she was a more prominent leader, but both were highly regarded in their maturity and wisdom. They set an awesome example for married believers. [Acts 18:2, 18, 24-26, Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:19]

Puah and Shiphrah– These two were midwives in Egypt when Pharaoh began fearing the growth of the Hebrew population, and he ordered them to kill any Hebrew baby boys that were born. But these women believed in God and did not listen to the orders: they delivered both the baby boys and baby girls. When Pharaoh confronted them, they simply said the mothers had their babies before the midwives arrived. God saw what they had done and blessed them with their own families. [Exodus 1:15-21]

Rahab– She was a prostitute living in Jericho when the Israelites came to scout the land. Two scouts stayed at her house, but when the king learned about it he sent orders for her to release them; instead, she had hidden them under the brambles of her roof and told the king’s messengers that the men had gone, sending them on a pointless hunt elsewhere. But she was also frank with the men she had hidden, telling them everyone was terrified because they knew the Lord had given the land to Israel, and she made them promise to spare her entire extended family when the time came. They promised, and she helped them escape. When Jericho was destroyed, those same men made sure to rescue her and her family. She lived among the Israelites from then on and her family line continued through them– into the line of Jesus. She was kind, yet she was also ruthless in the best way, and God honored that in her. [Joshua 2, 6:17, 23-25, Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25]

Ruth– After her husband died, Ruth was determined to stay by her mother-in-law Naomi’s side, even though it meant beginning life in a new city with no one to provide for them. She was active and sought opportunities to care for herself and Naomi, and ended up gleaning in fields owned by a kind man named Boaz; he took notice of her and continually blessed her with extra provisions and a seat at his own table, knowing her story and admiring her character. When Ruth told Naomi about him, it turned out that he was in line to be her kinsman redeemer (meaning he’d marry her to preserve her husband’s name since he was a relative). Ruth then approached Boaz and humbly yet boldly asked him to marry her. After Boaz went through the town elders to work out the complicated details, he joyfully married her; they had a son who would later be the grandfather of King David. I love Ruth’s forward-moving and optimistic way of approaching life, and the example she and Boaz set for healthy mutual submission. [Ruth]

Vashti– She’s barely mentioned, and she isn’t seen as a hero. But the one thing we know about her is that she was queen to King Xerxes, and when he drunkenly summoned her to appear before his party guests and show them her beauty (we can guess what that meant), she refused. She was banished for it, and these events led up to the search for a new queen, which is how Esther’s story begins. I just appreciate Vashti’s courageous and dignified response to the idea of being ogled, especially given how dangerous it was to respond that way. [Esther 1]

The woman at the well– She was at the well by herself, which is a clue to us that she was an outcast since there were particular times all the women drew water together. Furthermore, we know she had been married five times and that she wasn’t married to the man she was currently living with, because Jesus told her He knew those things. Add all of this to the fact that she was a Samaritan and Samaritans and Jews did not interact, and it helps us understand her (and the disciples’) amazement that Jesus was even talking to her, let alone having a conversation about the kingdom of God with her. And when she expressed faith in the coming of the Messiah, Jesus told her: “I am the Messiah!” Her response? She left her water jar, ran into the village, and started telling everyone about Him. Because of her testimony– which was obviously powerful, because the people listened to her despite her reputation– many Samaritans began to believe in Jesus and listened to Him themselves. Not only did Jesus love her well by showing her she was seen, but He also began restoring her life. [John 4]

The woman with the issue of blood– She had been bleeding constantly for twelve years when Jesus came to town. Because of cleanliness laws, she wasn’t even allowed in the main area of town: she lived on the outskirts with the other unclean people. So when she made her way through the crowds surrounding Jesus, not only was she taking a step of faith, but she was putting her life at risk. She finally reached Him and touched His hem– and, from then on, the bleeding stopped. And Jesus did something remarkable: amidst the crowd of people pressing in all around Him, He knew someone had intentionally touched Him and been healed, and He asked who it was. This woman, who had been apart from the rest of society for over a decade, was terrified. But she went to her knees in front of Him and told Him her story, and He blessed her for her faith. A humble woman with insane courage. [Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48]

The woman in Song of Solomon– I know she’s a semi-fictional woman written by Solomon, but I still appreciate what the story teaches us about romantic love and how God views and values it. And the fact that the female character is the main narrator of the story is unique and special. [Song of Solomon]


Super helpful resources I used to put this list together: