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Be Free – Coffee & Convos Blog

Be Ready

Written by Genna

 

Recently as I was leaving to go shopping, I told my husband on the way out the door, “I’ll be back in a little while. Be ready for tears.” That simple statement sums up my long-time approach to body image issues: be ready. Accept it and carry on. I have struggled with my body type for as long as I can remember. I can’t pinpoint many specific external instances that led to it. But over time—and mostly unbeknownst to me—I internalized cultural standards of beauty (that were often upheld within the church as well) and became keenly aware that I did not measure up. I tried to compensate in various ways over the years, which led to disordered eating and an obsession with exercising. (And a trip to a nutritionist that involved the receptionist greeting me with, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.” Yes, that really happened.) Aside from her receptionist, seeing a nutritionist helped. Learning about how different foods affect our bodies helped. Setting boundaries in exercising helped. But for the most part, I reached a relatively comfortable place physically and the body image struggles became background noise. The noise would grow louder every so often, but I would just tune it out and move on. There were usually more pressing struggles to address, anyway.

The dangerous thing is that I accepted these thoughts as normal. They made me miserable at times and simply annoyed me at others, but overall, I just treated them as something to move past. Because of this, they became second nature to me, and I didn’t even recognize them much of the time. And even if I wanted an escape, I sought after the external—more exercise, more stringent diet. But in pursuing these things without addressing the lies rooted in my heart, my external attempts to fix the problem were mere behavior modifications that offered no lasting hope.

We all know the verse—“I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Can I be honest? I hear this phrase and often my first response is to roll my eyes and to think, “so what?” As if it makes no difference. It feels more productive and fruitful to go to the gym than it does to actually wage war against my thoughts. But this is not the way of Jesus; He works from the inside out. We bear fruit in keeping with repentance—but repentance and faith come first. Paul tells us in Romans to not present ourselves to sin as instruments of unrighteousness. Too often I give my mind over to self-degrading and self-hating thoughts, as though it were the only way. But sin will have no dominion over those of us who are in Christ. The numbers on the scale or on the tags of our clothes are fickle, relentless masters. They are unyielding and impossible to please. We serve a greater Master, One who fulfilled His own law on our behalf, so that we might freely walk in newness of life —able to see God’s good work and to enjoy His wisdom displayed in how He made each of us. Able to say with the psalmist, “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

In fact, the Hebrew word for “wonderfully” in this verse means “to be distinct.” We see this in the fact that we are made in the image of God and therefore distinct from all other living things, but also, the psalmist is speaking very personally and specifically here-I, myself, am fearfully and distinctly made. He shows how God individually crafts each tiny detail of our being, down to the number of hairs on our head. It is His intentional, good design that we each be distinct. How deceitful of the enemy to twist this beautiful fact and to whisper lies to us that speak of one true standard of beauty that we have fallen short of. No wonder our attempts to reach this mythical standard leave us exhausted and in despair.

What’s more, the havoc these lies reap in our own minds doesn’t stop with us. We’re commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. I would never say the things I think about myself to someone else. But if my mind is trained through repetition to see and analyze myself with a critical eye, I can’t just turn that off when it comes to others. The lies that warp my view of myself will also warp my view of those around me. When we begin to experience freedom in the truth that we are beautifully unique, it is not only for our good but for the good of the church. When we live in the freedom of Christ, it gives others the boldness to live in that same freedom.

I am still very much in this battle. I have spent the better part of the last 6 years either pregnant or nursing one of my four children. I have not been in a season where these struggles are quiet. There are days when the despair feels palpable and hope feels nonexistent; days when I have to trace my thoughts backward and cling to truth. Am I in despair because of unhealthy choices I’ve made? There is hope! I am not condemned, because Jesus was condemned in my place. Am I in despair because I fall short of the cultural standards of beauty? There is hope! I am made in the image of the God who designed me to be distinctly beautiful and set apart. Am I in despair because I went shopping and the tags on my clothes don’t say what I want them to? There is hope! I have a fixed identity in Jesus that is not at the whim of the fashion industry’s measuring stick. We have a suffering Savior who not only empathizes with our weakness and sorrow, but who also has the power to help us overcome. There is hope. Body image will have no dominion over us, for we are not under law but under grace.

Struggling Forward

Written By: Maggie Walsh

 

“Don’t do it. Don’t do it, Mags. Don’t do it.”

I was chanting to try and get control over my thoughts, which were racing headlong in a direction that they could not go, not right now.

I mean, it’s 2 o’clock on a Friday — I’m at work, for crying out loud! But the thoughts don’t care what my setting is. They don’t care about the length of my to do list or the fact that I have several deadlines I have to meet by 5 o’clock. They only care about getting me to a certain destination, and it’s a destination I don’t want to reach.

I feel like I should warn you now, dear reader, this is an uncomfortable read. It’s uncomfortable to write, too, so let’s just dive into the discomfort together. Deep breaths …

So these thoughts, they have all kinds of triggers. A line in a song, an image in a movie, an offhand comment, a memory — they can hit anytime. And all roads lead to one destination, my sin struggle that I’m most ashamed of, the one that I’ve fought against for years: masturbation.

I know, I know — just the word elicits a reaction. Maybe your nose crinkles, your shoulders tense, you feel like this is the perfect time to start a new show on Netflix. I get it! So for the health of your upper back, let’s call it “skiing.”

I never thought I would struggle with something like this. I never imagined that skiing would be a part of my story.

I was the kid in Sunday School who knew all the answers. I hated getting in trouble, so I didn’t break the rules. I was at church every time the doors were open. Being a preacher’s kid in a small town meant everyone would know if I messed up, so my goal in life was to never mess up.

And by my own personal standards — which weren’t necessarily sky high — I did pretty well. But that was before any male found me remotely attractive.

I was a late bloomer compared to my friends, and it wasn’t until college that I had my first boyfriend … and then my second, third and fourth boyfriends. Of the four relationships, two were serious, and it in was the first serious relationship that I came face to face with real temptation.

He was older than I was, the strong and silent type, and I trusted him. I trusted him completely. He was the one to stop things when they began to go too far, and for the first time in my life I realized that I wanted to push the boundaries.

I think that’s what surprised me the most — that I was the one pushing our boundaries. I had always assumed that I would be the moral compass of a relationship, that I would be the strong one.

But I wasn’t either of those things. And a part of me didn’t want to be.

In high school, I always thought that life was black and white, good or bad, virgin or slut. I didn’t expect the slow fade of continual compromises to wear down my cultural Christianity over the course of a year and a half, one decision at a time.

When he and I finally had sex, he asked me if I was sure. I told him I was, because even though I wasn’t quite sure who I had become, I knew exactly what I wasn’t. I wasn’t a virgin.

And in my relationships after him, the sexual boundaries were pushed so much faster. It was like we were in fast-forward, and I had absolutely no idea how to even find the remote to hit pause.

I think what was so unexpected for me, especially in my second serious relationship, was that I simultaneously wanted sex and wanted to not have sex. In the moment, I was 100 percent in support of it. Out of the moment, I was 100 percent against it. The tug of war between my flesh and my spirit was in full swing, and I was so isolated in my sin that I couldn’t break free of the chains of my lust.

The skiing was a natural result of my gradual compromises and isolation, and it skipped hand in hand with my longterm sexual relationship. I rationalized all of it away, though.

Of our relationship, I told myself, “We’re going to get married. In 40 years it won’t matter that we jumped the gun a little.”

And of my skiing, I told myself, “It’s not hurting anyone. This is just a personal thing, just a release.”

I wish I had realized sooner that it was hurting someone. It was hurting me in way that was so pervasive that I still don’t have complete freedom from it. And it was hurting my Father who didn’t create my sexuality solely for my own pleasure.

Today, I’m not in a relationship, and I haven’t had sex in almost three years (praise the good Lord in heaven!). But the skiing — it has remained a monthly, weekly, even daily struggle. Sometimes I can pray fiercely and resist the temptation. Other times the urge hits like a whirlwind, and I get swept away. Then the wind settles, and I’m left with the realization that I’m still not free, that my decisions made in the heat of the moment didn’t just leave scratches on the exterior of my heart; they dug deep, disfiguring what God intended in a way that I can’t describe.

And so I write to you from the midst of my sin, redeemed but struggling. I don’t have total and comprehensive freedom. I have moments of victory and varying amounts of time between skiing. I often feel like a failure, and I want to keep this struggle in a box buried in the back of my closet where no one will ever see it.

But Jesus.

He created us to live in community, and he created us to bear one another’s burdens. For the first time in my life, I have true community that loves me enough to ask me how my skiing is going, to encourage me when I resist, to give me truth when I give in.

They love me when I can’t love myself, and they constantly lift my eyes to the Father when shame makes me want to hide my face.

Our sin has consequences, ladies (like struggling not to ski while at your place of employment). There’s a reason God designed sex within marriage. It’s a beautiful, binding act that is intended to bring glory to the Father. Outside of marriage, it’s a selfish shadow of what it was created to be, but it still binds you to your partner, leaving you scarred and wounded with each encounter.

I am beyond thankful for the grace, mercy and unshakeable love of Jesus. I’m a prime example of how our Good Shepherd leaves the 99 to find the one who is lost.

And to anyone else who has strayed, who is struggling to reign in her desires, who looks in the mirror and wonders who the girl looking back at her is, I want you to know that God is worth it. He’s worth the struggle. He’s worth saying no to what you want in the moment. He’s worth walking away from the guy you slept with last night. He’s worth placing your relationship status at his feet and saying, “Not my will, but yours, Father.”

My God is worth chasing. So what are you waiting for?

If you want to hear more of my story (yes, there’s even more nonsense) or just want to chat, I would love to get coffee, ice cream or food of any kind with you (maggiewalsh09@gmail.com). We also have a fantastic women’s ministry that’s chalk-full of ladies who are chasing Jesus and loving those around them well. Just email Kim Hawkins (khawkins@ironcitychurch.org) to get connected.

 

From Bondage to Freedom

This story is about a deep struggle with my sinful nature and a faithful, shepherding God who never failed to see me as I was and love me steadfastly.  This story is about a life once marked with bondage and shame, now marked with freedom and jubilance.  I pray the Holy Spirit will be with you as you read, and that he will accomplish his desired purpose through my words.

As a little girl, I grew up in a loving, supportive home with two parents who knew God and served him faithfully.  Because of their Godly witness, when I was six years old, I repented of my sin and believed in Jesus for my salvation.  One thing I struggled with as a little girl (and even still today) was sleep.  I believe my hardship had its roots in anxiety: I would lie in bed awake, knowing I needed to go to sleep, but my mind would turn and turn, and I would fixate on how many hours and minutes and seconds I had left to sleep before morning would come.  This was a problem for me even as young as four years old, because it was at that age that I first began to engage in masturbation to help myself fall asleep.  I kept this a secret from my parents, because although I may have not known the sexual connections at that age, I did know that it was something which I should hide, and roots of shame began taking hold.  There are many opinions about masturbation in young children.  Some would say it is a healthy action within the maturing process, a natural phase that children pass through.  Others would say it should be discouraged.  What I know is this: even as a very young child, I was using masturbation to self-soothe, and I knew it was not a healthy or appropriate choice.  As I grew older and matured in my relationship with Christ, I came to recognize and realize that my continued behavior was sinful because it distorted God’s sexual design.

This pattern of near-nightly dependence in order to sleep continued throughout middle and high school.  As I matured, so did the sexual connections of my actions, although by the grace of God I never engaged in pornography.  I kept my habit completely secret, except from the Lord.  I continually brought my struggle before him and asked for his help and guidance, but I never confessed my sin to other believers or sought help.  The shame and guilt and embarrassment I felt kept me isolated from seeking wisdom from my family.  I was so afraid to tell anyone what I was doing.  The longer I kept this secret, the more impossible it seemed to ever confess it to anyone else.  I would have periods of victory, but then fall back into sin, meanwhile never making the connections to the other roots of anxiety and worry that were likely perpetuating my dependence on masturbation.

After limping along by myself in this struggle for 14 long years, in God’s providence, he convicted me to share my struggle with my ever-patient, wise, and loving mother.  It was the summer before I left for college that I realized I could not bear this sin alone any longer.  I knew that at college, no one would know me, and it would be even easier to hide my struggle and continue in bondage.  That conversation I had with my mother was one of the most difficult of my life.  I cried for about an hour before I could choke the words out to her.  I was so embarrassed and discouraged, filled with defeat and shame.  She listened to me carefully and without judgement while I told her my secret that began when I was four.  She responded with grace and patience that I can only hope to possess one day with my children.  She prayed with me, she told me that I was not alone, she told me she loved me.  In the weeks and months following, she held me accountable.  She didn’t tell another soul on earth.  She loved me so deeply and wonderfully through that confession.  She also helped me see that there were triggers and reasons for my dependence.  This behavior, as I mentioned before, was rooted in anxiety and compulsion.  I had probably developed a psychological addiction to masturbation.  She helped me walk through a holistic and honest approach to my struggle that acknowledged that wrapped up in this struggle were sin issues, but also mental health issues.

My road after I confessed was long and filled with discouragement.  I fell back into my old patterns more times than I can count.  But I experienced such power from the Holy Spirit to ease my mind and soul that were so tormented before when I would lie down to sleep.  Psalm 23 reminds us that the Lord is our good shepherd, and he cares for us: he leads us beside green pastures and still waters.  He restores our soul.  And I remember clinging to Psalm 63:6-7 many struggle-filled nights, “…when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help.”  When I went to college, I formed deep Christian friendships with wonderful women that I was also able to confess to and share with, and I saw the Lord transforming my life with his power.  There were always mistakes along the way.  And even now, in a healthy, committed, loving marriage, I still make mistakes.  But praise the Lord, I rarely fall back into my old patterns, because God has redeemed my twisted sexual desires and self-dependence and shown me that the way he created sex to be is so much more deeply satisfying.  Seriously, it’s great and such a gift! 🙂  And God has taught me that he can sustain me and I do not have to succumb to anxious thoughts and fears.

Sisters, I want to say these final things to you.  First, you are not alone in your struggles in sexual sin.  God created us with sexual desires that are wrapped up in all the rest of our intricate selves and it is very probable that we all have fallen in this area in some way.  Second, the power of confession and repentance are real.  If I had continued in secrecy to battle this sin, and not had the wisdom of other believers to help me troubleshoot and problem-solve and hold me accountable, I would never have experienced the freedom I have today.  James 5:16 says “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”  Third, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  He will forgive you- over and over.  Many times I refused to or avoided praying to God because I was just going to have to confess the same sin to him again for the thousandth time and I just knew he didn’t want to hear it.  Sisters, that is a lie Satan wants you to believe to keep you from communing with your Savior.  He begs us to come to him and lay our burdens at his feet (Matthew 11:28).

Finally, consider this word from the Lord: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24  It’s the God of peace who sanctifies us.  He gives us peace and calm through the heavy and stormy seas of sanctification, when we feel as if we would rather die than continue through the sin struggle.  And believe me, I have been there.  And he promises to keep us blameless at the coming of our Lord.  He will surely complete all these things in us, as he is faithful to fulfill every single one of his promises.  He will surely do this.

Sisters, I know I have shared this anonymously, but I would love to meet with any of you one-on-one if you want to hear more about my story or share yours with me.  Contact Kim if that’s the case for any of you.  We are in this fight together and I want to battle with you.  I love you, and I love our community of strong and faithful women here at Iron City Church.

 

Shame. Guilt. Fear.

When thinking about the topics of sexual immorality and sexual abuse, these three words bounce around in my head, like unwelcome guests who refuse to leave after too long of a stay. Even years later, there are specific memories, lingering scars, and painful experiences that still bring tears to my eyes, a physical ache to my chest, and these lingering feelings of shame, guilt, and fear.

Guilt for something that I had no control over. Shame because of wrong choices that I consciously made. Fear of being alone in a room with a man. Guilt for messing up, yet again. Fear of confession and loneliness from hiding a painful secret for too long. Shame because of something that happened that I felt like was “too much,” “too terrible,” “too dark” to share even with my closest friends.

I have experienced the deep deep pain of sexual abuse and the deep deep darkness of sexual sin. Both led me into a downward spiral of shame, guilt, and fear. I do recognize that sexual abuse and sexual immorality are two very different topics, and I will address each separately, but it seems that both bring about these similar emotions.

As I remember these feelings, I am reminded of the very first mention of shame, guilt, and fear in the Bible – Genesis 3. In this story we see Adam and Eve being tempted by Satan and falling into the first sin.

This story reminds me of my own temptation towards sexual immorality because in it we see the blatant deception of Satan. If you haven’t realized yet, Satan is a dirty stinkin’ liar. And he’s good at it. He uses lies and deception to lead people into disobedience to God. He makes sin appear to be something good, appealing, and pleasurable. He then tempts us by arousing within us a desire to move beyond the limitations which God has established for us – limits that God has set for our own good and for His glory! So often we see God’s commandments as limiting and constraining but they are actually so beautifully liberating.

Let me take a few moments to dispel some of the lies that Satan is so good at feeding us, lies that I have so easily believed:

You are not what has happened to you. You are not responsible for your sexual abuse. You are not too far gone because of the sexually immoral decisions that you have made. It is possible to have a sexually pure relationship. God is able to forgive you. God did not let this happen to you because He doesn’t care about you. God put the “limits” of sexual morality on your life out of love for you. You are not unloved by Him.

I write these words with tears in my eyes. I wish that I could look at you over a cup of coffee and beg you to not believe the lies that you have been fed.

Sister, believe that the “limits” you feel that the Lord is placing on you regarding sexual morality are for your good. Believe that you are not responsible for your sexual abuse. Believe that you are not what has happened to you. Believe that God is able to forgive you. Believe that God cares about you. Believe that God loves you. Believe that God is good to you, even in the most painful moments of your story.

Oh child of God, believe.

Because the sad truth is that deep pain can have the effect of warping our view of God and our understanding of the truth. Pain can blind us to the grace and goodness of God. Sexual abuse can leave scars that are deep and lingering and honestly, I’m not sure if they ever fully heal. It can bring about feelings of bitterness, grief, frustration, and anger – towards your offender and towards God. It can lead you to feel desperate and hopeless and alone. But. This does not have to be the end of the story.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day,
and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9)

But. This word, “but,” brings hope to every tragic story.

But the Lord God called to the man. The grace present in this simple statement astounds me. As Adam and Eve crouch in the bushes, hiding their nakedness, bending under the weight of the never-before-felt emotions of shame, guilt, and fear, the Lord God calls out to them.

Don’t believe the lie that God is discompassionate, distant, or apathetic to your pain

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

Our God is a God who calls to the sinner middle of their wretchedness. Our God is a God who pursues the broken in the very depth of their pain. Our God is a God who redeems every broken story into a story of hope and beauty. And He has the power to do this in your story as well.

Maybe, just maybe, the Lord intended for me to walk through seasons of darkness so that I could bring hope to just one person reading this. And if so, as hard as it is to say, it was worth it.

And maybe, just maybe, as I share my story with you, you will find the courage to share your story as well. Coming from someone for whom vulnerability and honesty is extremely difficult, sharing your story can bring incredible healing and freedom.

Sisters. Remember who God is. God’s goodness is no less present in the deepest sorrow than in the most beautiful joy. His sovereignty and goodness is not limited or diminished by the trials and evils of the world.

Read Genesis 1 and 2. Remember that God’s deep desire is to restore humanity and creation to the perfect relationship that existed before the fall, a relationship completely free of shame and guilt and fear. Remember that, because of Christ, we have the hope of a future where sin and shame and guilt and fear are simply distant memories.

Remember and have hope.

** a little note from someone who held this pain in for far too long: don’t let the enemy make you feel like you are alone in this. you’re not. you don’t have to walk through the pain of sexual abuse or the struggle of sexual immorality alone. i pray that you would find the strength to be open with a friend, a counselor, a family member, or a pastor so that God can begin to redeem your story and restore your soul. i am available if you need someone to listen. remember friend, there is hope. **

If Not, Then What?

Written by: Rachel Carroll

 

My Story with Jesus and Anxiety

Hi, my name is Rachel and I have clinical anxiety.

Some say admitting you have a problem is the first step towards healing. That part’s not hard for me. The next part is: telling my story in light of Jesus.

Unfortunately we’ve been fed this lie in privileged American culture that everything is supposed to be as close to struggle free as possible. Convenience is king. How fast, how finished, how polished can our lives get. If you’re struggling, there’s an app for that. And then there’s social media—everyone’s best. Or even some honest people’s “worst”…but it’s still the worst that we’re curating and choosing to share, unfiltered or otherwise.

What’s even more, I feel like in western Christian culture, this lie is somehow perpetuated. We struggle, but Jesus. We went through that thing, but then Jesus. We offer our stories to the world with the best homemade Pinterest wrapping paper and a nice finished bow on top. The Bible says not to worry for anything… isn’t anxiety just being really worried all the time?

I have anxiety. Crippling at times. I have panic attacks. I am on medication. And because of this, sometimes I feel like my soul is separate from my body. The way I feel and am experiencing the world is different than the way my body feels.

But then Jesus can just heal me right? I need to pray harder, trust more, worship longer and he’ll calm my spirit and take away my anxiety. He promises us “peace that surpasses all understanding” right? Well yeah. But that’s not the whole thing. You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to just pray away their insulin problem, would you? Maybe they can make some personal choices to heal their body—you know: diet, exercise, tracking sugar levels, engaging with their body more. But at the end of the day it’s a chronic disease that in almost all cases demands medical attention. And yes, there are those rare cases where natural recipes and excellent self care lead to healing. And that’s amazing. But not usually.

So what about this whole mental illness thing? Can’t I just engage with my God and my faith more and he’ll bring me healing? Well, maybe. But my guess for this current season of my life is no. I believe He can heal me. I believe in miracles, divine intervention, the power of prayer—God’s promises to protect us, work all His plans for our good.

But if not, then what? If He doesn’t bring relief, where does that leave my faith? I’m a “missionary” for goodness sakes—living in a different home than my first culture and doing life in vocational ministry… I deserve healing right? But if not, then what?

And then there’s the lies. Well if living abroad is what’s triggered these symptoms, I must not be cut out for what God’s called me to my whole life. If I can’t handle the daily stresses of life here, maybe I’m not meant to stay. Somehow the poverty is too much. I wasn’t truly built to last in the developing context that I’ve dreamed of engaging in my whole life. Maybe I should just give up, go back to my first culture. You know, for the sake of my weak brain.

Here I take my cues from the Bible. Look at the story of Joseph, Moses, Naomi, Job. Holy cow, look at Paul. Never have David’s pleas in Psalms felt so real to me—the evil pressing in, the faithfulness of the Lord still present. Then most of the disciples. Then the early church. Oh, and Jesus: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” …And God said no, Jesus had to suffer for the sake of the whole world and Eternity. He knows ultimate pain and suffering.

This struggle with mental health doesn’t somehow quantify my faith. And because I’m in “vocational ministry” “in the field” that doesn’t make me immune. In fact, we are all vulnerable.

Understanding our sisters and brothers struggling in this way is essential to their, my, healing.

Yes, I trust the Lord to take away my pain. Yes, more time in the Word and in prayer and worship does calm my spirit and bring momentary relief. But if not, then what? For my body to fully heal, I personally need medication to find chemical balance again (y’all physical clinical anxiety and hormones are fascinating… google it). And Jesus. Lots of time with Jesus.

So there’s my story. No Pinterest worthy kraft paper wrapping or washi tape. No beautifully crafted burlap bow. Just my heart. And my desire for the nations. And oh yeah, my broken body poured out…and still hurting. But trusting in God’s sovereignty, his Will, and his ability to use my weaknesses, my story for His purposes. So that if not, then this: I will continue the race set before me, and trust all the more that He hears me and I am Loved.

Hey You

Written by: Claire Auriemma

 

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24

Hey you.

Yeah you.

I know you think you’re alone.

You’re not.

I know you think everyone else has their [ish] under better control than you do.

We don’t.

How would I know? Oh, no reason. I’m only writing this in the midst of an emotional breakdown. Yep. I’m talking two hours of sobbing out gallons of tears, desperately trying to remember why I should keep living. Or at least trying to figure out how to die in a way that will cause the least amount of trauma to my husband.

Hi.

How’s that for an ice-breaker?

I’m 25, successful, working in a field I love, pursuing a graduate education I’m passionate about, married to my best friend, and I’ve known Jesus for nearly a decade.

Oh, and I’m also depressed. And have crippling anxiety. But I didn’t realize that for most of my life. It wasn’t until last summer that I finally got a diagnosis for what’s been plaguing my mind for most of my life. You see…

Depression and anxiety are nothing more than fearing man more than I fear God, A.K.A. sin, and therefore if I try to address them like the world through Psychiatry and medication, I’m just putting a band-aid on a gaping, sin-wound. Instead, I should just repent of my sin and trust God more…at least that’s what my Bible College taught me.

Only spoiled, rich, brats in First World nations have the luxury of being depressed because everyone else is too busy just fighting for survival. There’s nothing more selfish I could do than commit suicide…at least that’s what my dad told me (by the way, he’s definitely depressed too).

This is the world I grew up in. To admit I was depressed would’ve brought derision and shame. I just had to pray harder. Renew my mind more. Be. A. Better. Christian.

Except that’s not how mental illness works at all. I was living like I could pray away a brain tumor and didn’t need doctors or surgery. As you can imagine, as time went on, the pressure built, and I didn’t get better.

Through the faithful wisdom of some of my friends, I grew in my understanding of mental illness. If the fall of mankind caused spiritual death, physical death, and illness, why was it so hard to believe that it also caused mental illness? When a person is physically sick, we pray AND tell them to visit a doctor. I accepted that I struggled with depression but wasn’t ready to deal with it beyond prayer, discipleship, and sheer willpower.

The biggest clue should have been that I’ve had suicidal thoughts off and on since I was 10 years old. But the thoughts were coming more frequently. Last summer I was diagnosed with an incurable neurological disorder. While reading up about what this meant, I learned that others with this disorder nearly always also suffer from Depression.

Okay. I’m depressed. This isn’t my fault. This isn’t a sign of my unfaithfulness to Christ. This is mental illness. So, I finally sought professional help and medication.

I wish I could say that everything is just peachy now and I’m totally joyful all the time. LOL. Still haven’t quite recovered from the emotional breakdown of this evening.

But there is no quick fix to mental illness. Since this is fairly new for me, I’ll probably be using trial and error for a while to find the right medication and dosage to manage my symptoms. I’ll probably be dealing with this for life.

These conditions are not life-consuming. They are not the end to my story, but simply a new setting. I’ve been given so many good gifts, so much unmerited favor (grace) floods my life that I have to put on blinders not to see it. I have moments, days, weeks, months even when my peace and my hope can’t be shaken. When I’m filled with childlike wonder over the aesthetics of a sunset, or the sound of my man’s heartbeat, or the cuddles of my sweet dogs and kittens.

But sometimes simple decisions still paralyze me. Sometimes I stay up half the night repetitively playing a game on my phone because I can’t bear to face the reality that the sooner I sleep, the sooner I have to go to work and school. Sometimes (okay, often) I question all of my life choices and want to give up. Sometimes I become overwhelmed by the weight of uncertainty and exhaustion and disappointment and insecurity and body-image and my desires and my plans and injustice and hopelessness and these thoughts plummet simultaneously into an abyss threatening to crush my mind so that I can’t even form a single sentence. Sometimes I feel like I can’t live with the pain I have caused others by sinning against them. Sometimes my thoughts terrify me. Daily, I just want relief. “Oh wretched [wo]man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Ro. 7:24)

Jesus.

Only Jesus. Medications and therapy definitely help, but only Jesus can ultimately deliver me.

But like Paul, I probably won’t see that deliverance in this life. And I’ll never stop spiritually wrestling with this either…identifying where my sin makes my illness worse…working to maintain balance in my spiritual walk to prevent cascading into despair…desperately wringing my hands and wailing for mercy from my Abba, Father.

I’m thankful that God is in control and I am not, because seriously, my mind is crazy-town. I’m glad that even though my thoughts and feelings don’t always align with reality, I can trust that God’s promises are true. And despite my deep longing for heaven, I know that every time my lungs inflate it’s a gift from God. If he wanted me to come home to heaven, then I’d be there. And though I don’t understand why I suffer from depression and anxiety, I know that his plans are infinitely wiser (and better) than mine. Life is precious. Life is beautiful. God is glorious. And I want to live in light of that.

That doesn’t mean I don’t doubt. Trust me, I have plenty of doubts. Just call me Thomas. Probably the scripture I pray the most is, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mar. 9:24)

I struggle (a lot) with the promises that “we are more than conquerors (Ro. 8:37)”, that God has given us a spirit of, “power, love, and a sound mind (I Tim. 1:7)”, or even the often misquoted, “all things work together for good for those who love God (Ro. 8:28)”. We have to wrestle with these truths (because they ARE true) in the whole context of Scripture. Those cherry-picked verses will leave us in despair if we don’t consider…

We are guaranteed to suffer in this life…(there are literally so many verses, I couldn’t pick one to share because #anxiety)

Trials are sanctifying, refining fire, because Christ suffered too…(Ro. 5:3; II Cor. 1:5)

His glorious grace is put on display when we are weak…(II Cor. 12:9)

It’s okay to mourn and to be vulnerable with one another…(Ro. 12:15; Eph. 4:2)

All these burdens we experience in life are temporary. They might seem like they’ll last forever, but depression can’t hold a candle to the incomprehensible glory that God is preparing for us: for you! For me! His beloved daughters…(Ro. 8:18; II Cor. 4:17)

I’m preaching these truths because I need to hear them. Oh, how I need to hear and believe these truths…Lord, help my unbelief!

Dear sisters,

I’m a mess. I’m so broken. And I’m with you. So don’t ever think you’re alone. I pray that this might give you some hope. I pray that we can persevere together through the pain with joy knowing that we were not made for this sin-sick world – we were made for an eternity free of sickness and sin, worshipping our sweet Jesus.

Anxiety? You Are Not Alone

Written by: Nicole Beachum

 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Proverbs 3:5

When I was five years old I passed out. I can vividly recall hearing my mother scream my dad’s name over and over again – in complete panic. We left my uncle’s house and rushed to the hospital, getting pulled over by the cops for speeding on the way. Ultimately, the doctors sent me home without any answers.

Everything in life continued “normally” until I was 11. Again, I fainted while my mom was putting earrings in my ears. The paramedics came to our house and checked my blood sugar, among other vitals. This episode led to a variety of doctor visits and tests, including a CAT scan. Again, no answers.

Fortunately, that was the last time I fainted; however, my life drastically changed. I would be taking a shower and would accidentally knock the shampoo into the floor – and my mom would rush in, totally freaking out. As a child, I didn’t understand what was happening, but her fear and panic coupled with my fear of passing out again led to severe anxiety.

From the time I was 11 until 16, I was absolutely miserable. Every single day at school (especially during lunch time in a crowded, loud cafeteria) my heart would race, my palms would sweat, and the room would spin. It was terrifying.

To tell you that I was miserable at this point of my life is honestly an understatement. I did not come from a Christian household. I did not know the Lord. My parents had a horrible relationship. Furthermore, I told no one about my anxiety – not a soul. At 11 I was suffering alone and felt utterly hopeless – a reality that stayed with me until many years later.

By the time I was 15, my parents were divorced. A year later they were both remarried – and being an only child I was left alone to deal with the heartache and brokenness that comes from divorced and then quickly blended families.

There were many times in the span of those five, unbelievably long years where I honestly did not want to live anymore. I was miserable, alone, and hopeless.

One night when I was 16, I hit my knees and called out to a God I did not even know. I begged for Him to save me. I committed my life to Christ in complete and total desperation. In this way, my testimony is simple – God came in and saved my life.

Slowly, but surely my anxiety decreased. It definitely did not completely go away. I went off to college and for the first time in my life I was well enough to get involved. I joined social clubs, the Student Government Association, and leadership organizations all throughout campus. I also started attending church my freshmen year of college – it was a life-changing experience. Anxiety was still there, but it was far less severe than before turning my life over to Christ.

In 2008, I was in graduate school and the anxiety started to become more severe again. Note, this was not due to sin or not walking close to God. I would be walking across campus and would slowly, but surely feel like I was walking sideways. It would also occur sometimes in class, and when I tried to go to football games and other loud places with my friends.

I felt led to go see my general practitioner and he lovingly told me that it was chemical – and that a small dose of antidepressants would help. He was right. Since 2008 I have been on antidepressants. The anxiety? It’s 99.99% gone.

Now, this is when I feel obligated to clarify that I think there is one English word for two very different things. There’s anxiety in which we are not trusting the Lord and are unnecessarily worrisome. Medication will not and should not be used for this type of anxiety. Then, there’s clinical anxiety that needs medication.

I thank the Lord that someone had the wisdom to explain this to me – a believer who loved me and loved our Lord.

Looking back over my life I would have never said this when I was in the midst of suffering with extreme anxiety. Today, however, I am so thankful that the Lord made anxiety part of my story. More than drawing me closer to God and introducing me to my Savior, anxiety kept me out of trouble when I was growing up. It provided me with a resource to help encourage others who are struggling with chemical anxiety. It made me the person I am today.

Anxiety is part of my story – something I did not understand at the time, but God used it for the Kingdom and for His glory. It also allows me to have confidence in other difficult trials in my life.

Right now we are in the process of possibly losing our foster daughter, which has been in our care since she left the hospital. Am I sad? Sure. Is it hard? Absolutely. But I know God is there, I can trust Him, and He is in control.

The first verse I memorized is still close to my heart to this day:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”

Proverbs 3:5

Sisters, my sincere prayer is that if you are struggling with anxiety or depression that you know you are not alone. That you reach out and allow your church community to encourage and help support you – pointing you to Christ. Most importantly, I pray that you turn to God – you can trust Him… even if you don’t understand the “why” just yet. You are loved. You are not alone.