Misconceptions of Joy…

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{JOY}
a feeling, source, or cause of great happiness
– success in doing, finding, or getting something

So the official dictionary definition of joy focuses around feeling happy because of something you do, find, or receive.  Personally, I think joy is much deeper than that.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately because Scripture says…

Be joyful always.  1 Thessalonians 5:16

It doesn’t say when you are happy, when you do a good job, when you find something, or when you get something.  It says always:  ALWAYS.

If joy only comes when we are happy, doing, finding, or getting, then how are we supposed to be joyful, always?

I believe those are misconeptions of joy, thinking that we can only find joy in the good times.  True joy has a much deeper meaning.

I have some dear friends who are doing a wonderful job of checking in on me and making sure I’m doing okay, who have committed to loving me unconditionally, through the good and the bad.  I often, jokingly call them my “babysitters.”  Most days, it’s still hard to accept or allow them into my life.  You see, until maybe 6 months ago, I didn’t let people in.  Sure, I had friends…and I love people dearly, but I’ve worked hard to keep everyone at arms length or further…even those I would call my dearest friends.  They simply weren’t allowed past the walls I had created.  In recent months, I have slowly started learning to trust and accept people and let them in…S-L-O-W-L-Y!

So these ladies who check in with me…they call or text, “How are you?”  I could choose to fall back on my old standard of “I’m okay,” keeping them at a distance like I always have.  But this year, I have learned that isn’t helpful.  If I’m being honest, I could easily respond the same each time, “Life is hard.  It hurts.”  And sometimes, that’s exactly how I respond.  Other times, I don’t want to respond that way because I am tired of not being okay.  Sometimes, I just want to be okay.  I want to be that person who makes others smile, brings joy into their lives, and wears that happy face.  Sometimes, I am that person.  But truthfully, none of us can ever be her all of the time.  There are times when we’re simply not okay and you know what, that’s okay!  (Learning that didn’t come quick and there are moments I have to remind myself “it’s okay to not be okay” – thanks Perry Noble for that sermon and quote!)

When I respond with, “I’m okay,” it’s not always a lie.  I used to think I was such a liar because that was my go-to answer with everyone, never actually considering how I really felt.  I did everything possible to wear the “okay mask” at all times.  Again, I didn’t let people in and order to keep them out, I had to never rely on or need anyone.  In order to not need them, I had to be “okay.”

This got me thinking about joy.  No matter how I am feeling, how close to the bottom I’ve hit, how dark my world has become, I still feel joy.  In moments when I’m filled with pain, sorrow, consumed by fear, worry, circumstances, plagued with nightmares, left with little hope, yes, even in those moments, there is joy.

So what is joy?

Joy isn’t just a smile.  It’s not just happiness over something you’ve done or been given.  Joy is so much more.  Joy comes when we least expect and yet it’s always there.  There is always a reason to be joyful.  We can find joy in the best and worst of circumstances.

Joy in our children…

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.  3 John 1:4

Joy in the morning…

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.  Psalm 30:5

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.  Psalm 65:8

Joy in trials, trouble, weakness, sorry, grief…

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James: 1:2-3

Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.  Nehemiah 8:10

When anxiety was great within me, your comfort brought me joy.  Psalm 94:19

In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.  2 Corinthians 7:4

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.  Psalm 126:5

Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.  Psalm 63:7

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.  John 16:22

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Psalm 51:12

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  John 15:10-11

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory [joy] that will be revealed in us.  Romans 8:18

Joy in hope, knowledge, and peace…

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.  Psalm 16:11

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Romans 12:12

Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.  John 16:24 (NASB)

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.  1 Peter 1:8

Joy in sharing the Good News

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.  Isaiah 55:12

Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.  Proverbs 15:30

Joy in Christ…

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy.  1 Thessalonians 2:19-20

The LORD has done amazing things for us, and we are filled with joy.  Psalm 126:3

When you look at those verses, it’s clear there is always a reason for joy, always an opportunity to find joy, from the best of times to even the most difficult.  Searching through to find verses about joy, this one seemed to sum it best.  I believe this is true joy

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfortFor we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.  2 Corinthians 1:2-11

I used the NIV Life Application Study Bible.  In reference to the verses above, my Bible states…

“In addition to drawing people closer to Christ, suffering can also help them grow in their faith.  God uses suffering to improve his people and shape them into better Christians.  In fact, suffering should be thought of as the necessary pain that accompanies spiritual growth.  In Romans, Paul noted that suffering produces perseverance, which, in turn produces Christian character (Romans 5:3, 4). 

Depending on God is a realization of our own powerlessness without him and our need for his constant touch in our lives.  God is our source of power, and we receive His help by keeping in touch with Him.  With this attitude of dependance, problems will drive us to God rather than away from Him.”  NIV Life Application Study Bible

Most of my life, I have constantly tried to win the battles of life on my own.  I turned away from God because my beliefs were that I was unworthy of His love, that He could never care about me or see me of any value.  I was too damaged and broken to be used by God.  Why would He want to know me?  And I had a history with God.  I had cried out to Him time after time, begging Him to save me from the hell I was in.  I felt my prayers went unanswered.  Again, I felt unworthy, unacceptable, damaged, and broken.

What I have learned through the past few years is that God chooses me.  He is using me.  He is using all my brokenness to help others, to pull me out of this darkness and draw me closer to Him, to open my eyes to who He really is, and to realize His true character.  No one on this earth lives a life without hurt and pain.  We all suffer.  We all understand loss, grief, hurt, and pain.  It doesn’t matter what you believe, if you believe in God or not, you still know and have experienced or will experience hurt and pain in your lifetime.  We cannot escape it.  It is a part of life.  But joy can also be part of life.  I can honestly say that joy has filled my life in the darkest moments and when I needed it most…

In my best attempts to be honest, I admit the struggles lately have been huge.  Last year, I battled many occasions when death seemed like the best option, yet here I am, alive.  Some days, I don’t really feel like I’m living, but in those moments, what keeps me going is most often a verse I’ve clung to over the past year.  I’ve drowned myself in God’s word.  Admittedly, I’m horrible at memorizing Scripture but I can tell you that at just the right times, God’s word has spoken loud and clear.  In those moments, I find joy.  There is joy in knowing that God hears me in the best of times and in my deepest, darkest, most painful times.  He uses His word to remind me that I am not alone, that He cares, He grieves with me and for me, He has greater plans, there is a purpose for my life.  He offers the same to anyone willing to receive Him.  It’s our choice.

My heart aches for those who suffer alone…because I’ve been there and I’ve been in that place without hope and without joy.  My prayer for you is that you find joy in all your moments, from the best to the worst.

Joy in a new baby.  Joy is a smile, instant love.
Joy in a good job or steady paycheck.  Joy is dependable.
Joy in a roof over your head and food on the table.  Joy is comfort.
Joy in the smile of child.  Joy is precious.
Joy in the attitude of a teenager.  Joy is unconditional. 
Joy in the wisdom of the elderly.  Joy is irreplaceable.
Joy in the morning and at night.  Joy is with us in the light and dark.
Joy in the valley and on the mountain.  Joy has no boundaries.
Joy in the calm and in the storm.  Joy is peace in the chaos.
Joy in the suffering because it produces perseverance.  Joy is purpose.
Joy in depression because there’s still a glimmer of hope.  Joy is hope.
Joy in cancer because you’re strong enough to fight.  Joy is strength.
Joy in death because it’s a new beginning.  Joy is life…even in death.

What are your thoughts? 
What does joy mean to you?
Where do you find your joy?

Do you feel you are able to find joy in all circumstances or only in the good times?

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2014: A Bittersweet Goodbye…

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2014…

I can’t say I’m sad to see it go but at the same time, I’m thankful for many things 2014 brought my way.

A few of my favorite songs…

Casting Crowns – Thrive
MercyMe – Greater
Big Daddy Weave – Overwhelmed
Danny Gokey – Hope in Front of Me
Unspoken – Keep Fighting the Good Fight

And I’ve found a new love and appreciation for different music.  I’ve grown quite fond of Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic, and The Script.  I’ve also revisited one of my old favorites, Creed, for some music comfort.  Music and lyrics have always played a huge part in keeping me going but even more so in 2014.  Thankful, in the later months of 2014, for the return of many mornings waking up with Jesus music in my head!

A few of my favorite reads from 2014…

The Best Yes by Lysa Terkheurst
You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth
Living So That by Wendy Blight

Reading hasn’t always been something I enjoyed.  The past four years, reading has become a staple for me.  It’s not always books…sometimes it’s articles or updates but I read all.the.time.  And I love it.  I read devotions and Scripture.  I read lyrics and blogs.  I read articles and studies.  I’m always reading something.  And I write.  I thrive on writing.  My goal for 2015 is to write…write more, write every day, write as much as possible.

And on my list of reasons I’m not sad to see 2014 fade away…

It’s been the most difficult year for me as far as depression goes.
That depression was accompanied by an eating disorder, cutting, and suicidal thoughts.
Nightmares and flashbacks have plagued me.
I questioned life, my family, my purpose…over and over.
It has been a year filled with hurt, desperation, fear and worry.
It’s been a year of heartache and loss of many wonderful people.

And while I’m not sad to say goodbye to 2014, it’s bittersweet because…

Through the darkness, God’s light has shined brighter than ever.
In my darkest moments, His words kept me going (Phil. 1:23-24, Joel 2:2).
I’ve learned so much about myself and about life.
I learned with prayer, encouragement, and support I can do anything.
I’ve gotten to know some amazing people who love me and accept me unconditionally.
I’ve learned to let others in and make wise decisions about who I choose to have in my life.
I’ve come to realize that God is my everything, that He is my reason to live.
I’ve learned to be honest about who I am.
I know I am called.
I know there is purpose for my pain.
I know God has bigger plans.

2014 has been almost unbearable at times.  As much as I’ve wanted to see it disappear, to kiss it goodbye, I’ve been afraid to say goodbye…because saying goodbye to 2014 means a whole new year comes.  It’s 365 days of more to come…and that may very well be more pain, more hurt, more fear, more suffering…and along with that, there’s potential for more growth, more learning, more challenges to overcome.  For me, 2014 is a year I won’t forget…

2014 was the year I lost 60lbs.  My weight loss journey began on March 12, 2014 when I filled my cup up with water instead of Diet Coke.  I haven’t drank anything other than water since (and the occasional hot chocolate).  That same day, I decided to eat healthier.  I didn’t change what I ate, but I changed how much I ate.  I began making better choices.  And two days later, I started walking.  I walked almost every single day, three miles a day through August.  Along with this good, healthy lifestyle, came a new struggle I’d never faced before.  I began purging which, for me, was very similar to the escape that cutting gave me.  It became a new way of hiding from the pain I felt.

2014 was the year I went back to school…at 36 years old.  In the summer, I took two online classes and made A’s in both.  In the fall, I took a full load…four classes.  I finished the fall semester with 3 A’s and a B.  Not too shabby for a girl who never studied, who was dealing with some pretty severe depression and side effects including trying to stay alive, a wife, mother, blogger, and Bible study teacher.  There was definitely some divine intervention from the man above!  The plan for 2015 is to continue with school, but not the full load…back to 2 classes it is.  This will allow time for writing!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  2 Corinthians 12:9

2014 was the year I cried out to God at 5am on a Thursday morning back in October…and questioned my reason for living, questioned my purpose, and doubted I could go on.  That morning, after questioning, “Torn between wanting to live or die,” I read this verse…

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.  Philippians 1:28b-26

2014 was the year I wrote a letter to say goodbye.  In writing that letter, I learned I have so much more I want to say, so much more I want to write, so much more life I want to live.  I said goodbye to people I’m not ready to say goodbye to.  I wrote out words I thought I’d never write and expressed feelings I never imagined I would express.  Through that experience, I learned how to be honest, how to share my deepest, scariest thoughts, and how to get through them.  I learned that God is the reason I am alive.  I learned that He is everything.  In my darkest moments, He was what kept me going.  I know some people don’t believe in God and I know some may question my beliefs or Christians in general but I can truly say, if it weren’t for my faith in God, my utter dependance on Him, I’d be saying goodbye to life and not just goodbye to 2014.  If you are doubting life, wondering if you can make it another day, don’t give up.  Press on.  Tell someone.  Be honest.  Use your voice!

2014 was the year I looked at my children and felt the most incredible pain because I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving them and also felt the best thing for them would be for me to disappear.  Physically, I couldn’t bear their hugs, looking into their eyes, hearing them laugh, and seeing them smile.  Can you imagine that kind of pain?  Torn between not wanting to leave your children but believing that would be the best thing for them, believing that neither choice would really be what they deserved, wishing they had been given a different mother?  That was unbearable.  And parenthood comes with it’s own struggles anyway.  I’m thankful that wasn’t something that lingered long.  It lasted about a week then those thoughts faded.  It was a week too long and not something I’d wish on anyone.

2014 was the year I sat in my Tuesday morning Bible study, in my own little world, with thoughts of a plan running through my head.  That plan was a plan of peace, of hope, of mountains and warm sunshine.  It was the idea of peace and hope of leaving this world and being with God.  As I stumbled across the verse below, I knew God was saying, “Put your hope in me.  In your darkness, I am the light.”  God was telling me, He is that peace.

A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it.
Joel 2:2

2014 was the year I learned to finally open up…to share things I’ve never shared, to break the silence, to allow myself to have a voice, to speak up for what I believe.  It’s also the year I’ve felt most passionate about making sure others are encouraged to have their voice.  I learned to trust and I learned about boundaries, setting them, and keeping them.  I learned that I don’t have to tell everything to everyone but it’s also not good to keep everyone shut out.  I learned it’s okay to share…and it can be safe, that there are people who will stand by me through even the most difficult moments.  I’m still learning.  I have a lifetime of lessons I’ve learned wrong that I’m slowly relearning.  It’s a process.  I’m thankful for the people God has brought into my life in 2014.  Some were already in my life but it was 2014 that I really let them in.

All in all, I’m glad to say goodbye to 2014 because I believe that 2015 will bring with it, it’s own amazing stories to go on my timeline of life…of living.  I’m choosing to live.  I’m choosing to live for God.  I’m choosing to believe there is purpose in my suffering, and that through this, there is a greater plan.  I realized even more, just how strong my desire is to write, to speak up, to use my voice to give others a voice.  I need to write, to share my stories, to explain things, to help others, to raise awareness for depression, self-injury, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts.  I want to use my voice to help others find their voice.  2015 won’t magically make life better.  It won’t make the nightmares stop or the memories fade away.  There are things I have to face, things I have to share and talk about, things I have to heal from…but I am healing.  I am choosing to move forward in spite of the fear and worry.

Will you join me in 2015?
Will you encourage me to keep going, to keep fighting the good fight, to press on?
Will you walk this journey with me?

I hope you will.  I’m looking forward to what 2015 has in store for us all.

What has 2014 meant for you?  What are you hoping for in 2015?

 

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Beyond Thankful…

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This Thanksgiving, I want to challenge you.

I want to challenge you to go beyond. 

Beyond your dinner table. 
Beyond your home. 
Beyond your family.
Beyond your own blessings.

I want to challenge you to go beyond by remembering…

By remembering that out there somewhere is a lonely heart, a lost soul, a broken dream, a shattered life.

They are men, women, and children.  They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, friends, neighbors, strangers.  They are people.   And so many feel so alone.  This time of year can be so hard for many.

As you gather around your dinner table, sharing laughs and smiles with your family, remember the wife who said goodbye to her husband this year, who is learning to live without him, who is spending this Thanksgiving questioning why he’s no longer with her, why God had to take him away, why it hurts so much.  Remember all those grieving the loss of their loved ones, their significant other, their best friend.

Remember them and pray for them.

As you embrace your loved ones, your spouses, your parents and children, remember the broken families.  Remember the wives left behind to explain to their children why daddy moved away.  Remember the husbands lost in a world of confusion, wondering where things went so wrong.  Remember the children torn between mommy and daddy, two houses, feeling insecure and carrying burdens their little bodies were never meant to carry.

Remember them and pray for them.

As you think of all the blessings you have, remember the men, women, and children without a place to lay their head.  Remember the ones sleeping in the cold, with nothing more than a box for shelter.  Remember the ones with empty stomachs, wishing they could taste even the smallest crumb.

Remember them and pray for them.

As you share in the joy of watching your children play and giggle, embracing each hug and kiss, remember the families who laid their little ones to rest all too soon.  Remember the ones who cried out, “God, save him!” or “Can’t I hold her just a little longer?”

Remember them and pray for them.

As you hear others tell you how much they’ve missed you and how loved you are, think of the children who have no one to love them, who are tossed from home to home, living with no stability, no hope.  Remember those who sit in quiet corners, scared and alone, tucked away and forgotten or silent in fear.

Remember them and pray for them.

As you head out for holiday shopping and the temptation to become frustrated or annoyed with the hustle and bustle of overcrowded malls, empty shelves, and mass chaos, remember the employees who are working, sacrificing time with their loved ones, to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.  Remember the emergency workers who risk their lives every day, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, who give selflessly, day after day, spending time away from their loved ones to be someone else’s hero.   Remember those who have lost their jobs, who have tried to provide for their families and now wonder how they will feed their children, much less give them a special gift at Christmas.

Remember them and pray for them.

As you sit back and think about the many things you are thankful for, remember the ones who are struggling to find a reason to be thankful, some who are just trying to find a reason to survive.  We have so much to be thankful for and yet for some of us, it’s an almost unimaginable feat.  Some days, just being thankful for the air we breathe is a grand accomplishment.  Some are stricken with illness, disease, unable to get out and enjoy each day.  Some are stuck in hospitals or nursing homes.  Some are consumed and plagued by depression and other issues that leave them bound up inside.

Remember them and pray for them.

When you share with others the things you are thankful for, the blessings God has poured into your life, remember where you came from.  Remember that everything in your life is a gift from God, your faith, your hope, your love.  Remember those who don’t share your beliefs.  Remember they are people too.  Remember that just because someone does not agree with you or believe the same as you doesn’t mean they are bad or wrong.  Be kind.  Be understanding.  Get to know them anyway.  Shine your light regardless of someone else’s beliefs.  Remember we all have to start somewhere but if we never give them a chance to start, if all we show is hate or disgusts, we are not shining the light of Christ!

Remember them and pray for them.

We live in a broken world with so much loss, hurt, pain, and torment.  For some, this is physical, current and real.  For others, it’s replayed over and over through memories of difficult times, sleepless nights that impact our ability to function, grief, trauma, and so much more.  It’s people of every race, sex, nation, and age.  Grief, loss, hurt, and pain are a part of life.  For many, each day comes with it’s own share of trials but the holidays can increase the loneliness, the burdens, the worries, the heavy weight of unbearable pain.

None of us are promised tomorrow.  As you gather with your loved ones, remind them how special they are, how much they mean to you, what a gift and blessing they have been.  Tell every person who crosses your path that they are important, they have a purpose, they are needed and loved.

And to push this challenge even further, I ask you not to stop at remembering and praying for them, but reach out. 

Lend someone a hand. 
Volunteer your time. 
Sing at a nursing home. 
Give a stranger a hug. 
Buy a child a toy or a coat. 
Take a homeless person to dinner. 
Ask someone what they are thankful for.  Tell them you are thankful for them!
Bake cookies for your local fire department and police department…and tell them thank you when you drop them off. 

Do something, anything to lift someone’s day, to give them a reason to be thankful. 

I promise, you’ll walk away with the bigger blessing…all because you gave.  This year, go beyond thankful!

I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High.
  Psalm 7:17

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.  Psalm 28:7

Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Psalm 106:1

And to share with you…I am thankful for music.  I am thankful for the men and women who travel the country to put music in our hearts, who’s words I’ve clung to in the most desperate moments and words that have filled my heart with joy and peace.  I am thankful for their talents, for the encouragement and blessings their words have brought into my life.  And here’s one of my favorites for you…

Lincoln Brewster “Made New”

 

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An unexpected thanks…

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This year, Thanksgiving comes with a whole new view from where I stand.

This time last year, I started out on a new journey, yet it was one that was all too familiar.  As an adult, I’ve been in and out of therapy, battling depression for most of my life.  This year has been no different, only this year, it came as quite a surprise.

You see, the past four or five years have been amazing.  I have been a new person.  I thought God had miraculously healed me from all the things that haunted me.  I thought I had been made new.  And in part, that’s true.  What I’m learning though is that healing is a process, perhaps lifelong.  I have not been made new but I am being made new.  This year, my realization that I am not healed, that I still have many broken pieces that need to be put back together, has been quite the challenge all while at the same time, serving as the most amazing blessing…

This year, 2014, has been a year of so many new things…good and bad.

For starters, in March I began losing weight.  As of now, I’ve lost 58lbs.  For the most part, I’ve done it in a healthy manor.  I quit drinking anything other than water (except the occasional hot chocolate now that the weather is cooler).  I started walking 3 miles a day and for months, I did that every single day.  I also started watching what I ate, eating less and making wiser, healthier choices.  The determination and discipline was absolutely a God thing … no doubt.

I joined an in depth Bible study that has proven to not only have an impact on my relationship with Christ, but it has taught me to have closer, deeper relationships with my sisters in Christ, slowly learning to let them into my world.  My spiritual walk has grown deeper than ever.  I have felt so connected, diving into Scripture and clinging to it with every ounce of strength I have.  Nothing has proven greater than this.

I have seen people grow, share things they never imagined sharing, lean on people when they wanted to run and hide, depend on others, admit their struggles, and thrive in spite of the curves life has thrown them.  I have seen friends lay to rest their loved ones.  Some beautifully strong women have said goodbye to their husbands, their best friends.  I have seen their grief.  I have held their hands.  My heart has ached for them.  I have wrapped my arms around mothers who have said goodbye to their imperfectly perfect angels all too soon.  I have watched them as they kissed the foreheads and fingers, counted every toe and begged for just one cry, just one peek at big blue eyes.  I have watched their anguish.  I have been the parent who faced a nightmare with her own children, devastating news, shattered lives, fear, faced with uncertainty and desperation only to have the peace of God’s presence and comfort embrace every wounded place.

And I have been the woman on the edge.  I have faced new challenges with caution as I lose weight because I am weak and in my weakness, I have struggled to keep things in a healthy balance. What began as weight loss, healthy and positive, has quickly become an issue of control, and quite possibly what could be considered an eating disorder. I have struggled with old habits of cutting to numb the pain I feel because after years of not feeling then suddenly have these feelings surface, being unsure of how to handle these feelings or even how to feel them, it just seemed easier to push them away by numbing the pain.  I have been the woman faced with doubt…not doubt in a God that is mightier than anything life can throw my way, but doubt in myself…doubt that I can hang on and do this thing called life by His clock and not my own.  I have been that woman, debating whether I am strong enough to face another tomorrow.  I have seen the darkest dark.

And through it all, His light has continued to shine.  In fact, His light shines brighter than ever.  I can’t imagine a better place to be.  The peace I feel about life, the mercy and patience He has shown, the acceptance and love from the people He has placed in my path, the understanding, the unconditional love, the amazing, amazing grace!

Unexpected…every trial, every circumstance, every bit of suffering…all unexpected because after all, I was beyond all this.  I was healed.  Really though, I am far from healed.  I am completely broken and in that brokenness, He has met me.  He has carried me.  He has blessed me with some amazing women willing to walk this road along side me, who have held my hand, who have encouraged me to share, to lean on them, who wait patiently as I attempt to tear down my walls and as I begin to feel these feelings that have far too long been shut off from my world.

Unexpected thanks…but this year, I would expect nothing less.  See, this year, I am more thankful than ever.  This year, I am treasuring every single day.  I look at each person that crosses my path with a completely different lens.  I see them.  I really see them.  I ache to know them.  I want to share with them what they mean to me.  I want every person who has touched my heart to know what a gift they are.  I want every woman who is facing uncertainty and struggles to know there is hope.  I want every child who feels scared and alone to know that they are loved.  I want to be a voice for those who cannot speak.  I want to write and tell the world all the stories God has placed on my heart.  I have so many things to share and this year, I am thankful for one more day to share, to love, to cling to The One who gives me hope.  I am thankful for each and every smile, even when they cover the tears I cannot cry.  I am thankful for this darkness because as I walk through it, His light shines on my path, He guides me.  His presences is so much clearer.  I could not be more thankful than I am today.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:18″

Listen to this amazing song by Steven Curtis Chapman – The Glorious Unfolding

What are you thankful for?

 

My Risk: Transparency…

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My dear friend, Suzie Eller, is hosting a blog this week on taking risks and I couldn’t wait to participate!  Be sure to visit her blog and say hi :)

I am torn between the two:  I desire to depart and be with Christ which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Philippians 1:23-24

That was the verse I read on the morning of October 2, 2014.

I read that verse after doing a Google search.  The phrase I searched for was…

“Torn between wanting to live or die.”

Yes, at 5am, I typed in those words.  And I wanted Google to give me the answer.

I learned many things that morning.

I learned that God is in control…of everything…even Google.

I learned that God is persistent and adamant about getting His point across.  According to Google, there were 35,000,000 results for that phrase.  7 out of the top 10 were the same…a Bible verse…Philippians 1:23-24.  7 out of 10!

I learned that God has plans for me and there is purpose in my struggles.  Really, I already knew that, but God was clear with me that morning, reassuring me and reminding me.  Last week was a week of much learning and growth in my life.

As I read that verse, I have to admit, I had mixed emotions.  In some ways, it was comforting to feel that God was speaking to me, letting me know I am not alone, that a man thousands of years ago had felt the exact same feelings I was feeling, to believe I need to be here for more than just stumbling through each day.  In other ways, I was disappointed, hoping for a way out, something that would say, “It’s okay, come on home.”  God was very clear and numerous things have come up since then that only confirmed this over and over.

Later that morning, a friend and I dug through the verses before and after the ones above.  They read:

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

As I read through that, the more clear things became.  I began to put things into perspective and think on my priorities.  Last week, after all of this, I was able to decide what’s most important and what needs to be weeded out.  I have a ministry, I have desires I believe God has placed on my heart and those are the things I want to strive for.  Those are the things I need to keep on breathing and that’s exactly what I need to do…press on.

My risks…

I am a Bible study leader.  This week, I shared this story with my class.  I was nervous.  I was afraid.  But I knew it was the right thing to do.  God had been preparing me for this…to step out of my comfort zone, to put aside the fears of what others would think, to be real and transparent, to be a voice.  I did that, with His help and through it, I gave Him all the glory.  My hope is that my honesty about my own struggles will encourage others to share and to let them know they are not alone.  After all, we are supposed to support one another and carry each others burdens (Gal. 6:2).

It was a risk.  People could have walked out of my class.  People could have been disappointed in me and questioned my ability to teach a Women’s Bible study.  I suppose they still could.  But, who would I be if I hadn’t obeyed?  Who would I be if I hadn’t stepped out, taken that risk and been honest?  I wouldn’t be me and me is exactly who God wants me to be.  No one else, just me.

And now, I take another risk by sharing this with you, the world.

What I know is that none of us are free from struggles.  We all face different trials.  We are all guaranteed to have difficult times.  But none of us should ever have to face those things alone.  We should all feel like we can tell someone.  We should all be able to get support, love and encouragement from others.  We don’t always feel like that is possible and that’s just sad.  When we are in our darkest moments, that’s when we need others the most.

I took a risk in sharing my struggle because it was the right thing to do.  Life isn’t easy.  For me, it never has been.  What I know now is God has never let me go and He promises He won’t.  He has placed people in my life that are walking along side me, and sometimes, they are helping to hold me up.  I’m learning to accept that.  I’m taking a risk by letting them in.  I’m the girl who’s spent her whole life pushing everyone away so letting people in, letting them see this vulnerability, exposing my weaknesses, my darkness, well, it’s nothing shy of terrifying but it’s so worth it.

I am confident that one day, I am going home.  But for today, God has me right here.  He has plans and a purpose.  And even though the events of last week haven’t erased the thoughts that cloud my mind, they give me hope.  He gives me strength and as long as I am here, walking on this earth, “I will continue to rejoice…I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.” (Phil. 1:18-26)

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The most selfless act… {Part Two}

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Read Part One here!

How can you help someone who is struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts?

I won’t pretend to have all the answers on this one and it may be different from person to person so I’m going to tell you from my own experience what has helped me and what has not.  There are many websites with tons of information.  One of the first steps you can take is to educate yourself.  Learn what depression is and what it isn’t.  Try to understand how it affects a person, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Take a stand to know more and then take what you learn, apply it and share it!

For me personally, it has been difficult for anyone to come along and “save me.”  This was never an option.  I simply do not allow others into my darkness…until now.  I will say, the only reason I am sharing this now is because the good that can come from this far exceeds any fears I have of rejection and judgement.  I simply have to be a voice for all of those who cannot find their own voices.

Friends have come and gone.  Many never knew just how clouded my thoughts were.  Only this year, have I really started inviting people in.  Even when I let the walls down enough to let someone in, this depression, the darkness, the thoughts of dying, are things that continue to be locked tightly away, even from my closest friends, including my husband.  This just isn’t something you want to share with those you love.  You don’t want to burden them with these fears, worries, or pain.  You don’t want to create panic in them.  You don’t want to cause turmoil or upset in their lives.  So it stays hidden, deep inside.

I think what I am learning is that if the day comes when my irrational thinking wins the battle, there will be nothing anyone can do.  I don’t say that to scare you even more or to turn you away, I say that to let you know that it is never your fault if someone makes the choice to take their own life.  So many survivors left behind from suicide take on this guilt, wondering if they should have noticed more, done more, or been a better friend.  Don’t carry those burdens.  Just don’t.

Keep in mind these are written from my own perspective but let’s assume they apply to anyone suffering with depression.  If you have a friend who is battling this fight, ask them…really ask them what they need.  They may not be able to answer you right away.  Encourage them to really think about what is helpful and what isn’t and ask them to share that with you!

So, what can you really do?

You may not be able to prevent suicide.  What you can do is extend love, compassion, try to understand – even if you really can’t – simply try.  Be there for me, let me know I am not too much for you, that you can’t carry my burdens but that doesn’t mean you can’t be there for me.  Tell me how much I mean to you, how important I am to you and others.  Just knowing that someone truly cares may be all it takes.  Believing that may not come easy for me.  My mind is filled with lies and all that clouded judgement.  I may not believe that you really care.  I may not even want to believe it.  Keep telling me.  You might get frustrated and feel like nothing you’re doing is working or helping.  You may want to give up on me.  DON’T!  Be patient wit me.  Encourage me to keep fighting.  Keep telling me over and over, that you are there, that you love me, that you know I am hurting, that you see my pain.  I may get angry with you.  I may try to push you away.  I may pull away and try to shut you out.  This is not because I don’t trust you or because I am actually angry with you.  It may simply be my defenses that long ago helped me to survive but now, keep me very alone.    This darkness has invaded so much of me and it will take time.  I may try to avoid you.  Don’t let me.  Due to the depression and the irrational thoughts, I may not be able to make all the right choices, but you can help me by choosing not to give up on me and not letting me give up on you.

From my own experience, what I don’t need is preachy.  I know Scripture.  I know how to read my Bible and I do.  I know God loves me.  I know and believe He has a plan for me.  I have no doubt that God can heal me.  What I need is a friend.  Sometimes all I really need is a person to be there, so that in those moments when I feel so alone and so invisible, someone can remind me I am not alone.  Someone can say, “I am here.”  That’s a hard step for me, to admit I need anyone, and it’s even harder for me to let them in.  In my mind, I feel like too much of a burden.  I feel like I am wasting someone’s time, that they’d rather be doing something else or that everything else in their lives is more important than me.  Don’t let me carry that.  Sure, you have things that are important, but let me know I am just as important and that there is nothing you wouldn’t do to let me know I am not alone.  On the flip side, some may not know all of this.  Some may need to hear God’s word.  You need to get to know your loved ones well enough to know their needs.  Ask them.  If they can’t tell you, keep asking until they can.  But please, please don’t be offended if they are not ready or in a place to hear God’s Word.  You can pray for them and let God work in them through the love your share with them and the light you shine in their life.

I can’t get over it.  Telling me to “Just get over it,” “Let it go,” or “Snap out of it,” does not help.  In fact, what I hear is my problems are nothing, that I shouldn’t be struggling like I am.  Or maybe I hear you don’t have time for me and we both just need to move on.  I take on guilt and shame for being too broken.  I began to question, even more, what is wrong with me.  I know that’s not your intentions.  I realize your intentions are most likely good, that you are trying to be helpful.  If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay, you don’t even have to say anything.  You could offer a hand.  You can pray for me.  You can put me in touch with someone you think would understand.  Please don’t expect me to just get over it.  It simply does not work that way.

I don’t need anyone to fix me, nor do I believe they can.  I don’t need all the answers.  I don’t need you to right the wrongs.  Sometimes, I may just need you to listen, to let me tell you what I am thinking and why I am thinking it without the worry that it will scare you away.  I may need to share the thoughts or memories that flood my mind, without fearing my pain will hurt you.  I may need to scream, or cry.  I may need to just sit and hold your hand.  I may need a hug.  At different times, there may be different needs but I never need you to fix it all or carry it for me.

Take care of yourself.  That’s what I want most.  In doing that, don’t leave me hanging.  I know your family and obligations are important but I need you to remind me that my life is just as important.  If I call you at an inconvenient time, I’m sorry, but if I’m taking the step to call you, then trust me, it’s really important.  Depressed people, remember, pull away, shut others out, withdraw.  So if I have taken that step to call, please know my intention is not to inconvenience you or cause disruption in your life.  If I call, it’s because I am in a desperate moment and am very much in need.  In saying that, if you can’t be that person who drops everything in a moment of need, say so.  Hopefully, I can find someone who will be that go to person.  Encourage me to find two or three people who I can call on at anytime.  Remind me I am loved and cared for and that you’re not bailing on me.  Tell me I am not too much for you but that you also have to take care of yourself.  I will try to understand.  Remember, I don’t want bring pain or suffering to anyone else, but I do need honesty.  And if you are that person, who is willing to accept a call at any given time, take care of yourself.  Have your own support system in place.  If you begin to feel weighed down, don’t shut me out, but seek out support for yourself.  I don’t want you do carry this burden alone just as you don’t want me to carry my burdens alone.

Most importantly, give hope.  Tell me reasons to live, why I am important.  Point out good things in my life.  Remind me of good times.  I may not always hear you.  I may brush you off and not believe you.  I may try to ignore you.  Those are all my defenses.  Those are lies that have filled my mind.  Tell me anyway.  Give hope to the hopeless!

And if you are the person who is walking in my shoes…

Please know, you are not alone.  Yes, I know you feel so very alone.

I know the pain is often unbearable.  I know that sometimes it feels like the weight never lets up.  I realize the fears and worries are overwhelming.  I know it’s hard to believe anyone cares or could possibly care.  I know everything in you wants to run away.  I know your heart aches with every beat.  But you are not alone. 

You may not feel supported.  You may have hundreds who love you or you may have none.  Somewhere out there is someone who will take the time to help you.  Please call a friend.  If you don’t know anyone to call, call a support line, a therapist, a doctor.  Go somewhere and make a friend.  Go to a church.  Go to a hospital.  Go to the police station if you have to.  Just don’t walk this road alone.  Tell someone how you are feeling.  If they won’t listen, tell someone else.  Keep telling until someone hears you.  Someone will listen!

You are not crazy!  You are hurting.  You are lonely.  You are in a dark place and you need light.  You are suffocating and you need air.

It really is okay to need and there are people in your life who will help you find that light.  You may have to seek them out.  I know that can be extremely difficult…do it anyway!  Don’t let your light fade out without trying everything you can to get out of the darkness.  You are worth it.  You are loved.  You are amazing and God can do something with all the garbage you carry.

If you can’t bear your heart to another soul, know that God is always with you.  Even if you are angry at Him.  Even if you don’t want to believe in Him.  Even if you are like I was, that little eleven year old girl who believed her God could never love her or want her, who prayed for Him to save her and never heard her prayers answered, who begged for him to protect her and felt so abandoned, I want you to know, He never left me … not once.  I have run so far from Him, turned my back on Him, been furious with Him, and yet each day, He reminds me that I am loved, He offers me peace and comfort, He extends His grace, and He never lets go.  You are worth it!  You are not alone!

Take off the mask.  You don’t have to be okay.  One of my favorite pastors once said, “It’s okay to not be okay!”  That was a message that I have needed to hear over and over.  It’s okay to not be okay!  Let the tears flow.  Be a mess.  Let others in, let them see the brokenness.  If they truly care and love you, they will love you along with all your imperfections and broken pieces and even more than that, they will want to be there, along side of you, to help you, to be there for you, to listen and to love you.  Let them!

I know this is difficult.  I know this is easier said than done but know I am speaking this as I am going through it with you.  I am facing this just as you are.  I am walking this road with you.  I know it’s not an easy journey but doing it alone only makes it harder and more painful.  I would love to hear from you.  Please know that my heart aches for you.  If you want to send me a message, feel free to do so.  I read every comment and I try to comment back.  I may not be your go to person, but I can encourage you to find one :)  Don’t give up!  There is hope!

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Suicide Hotline – 1-800-273-8255

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