Grief and loss are hard to talk about, but they are issues that we will face if we haven't faced already. Jesus tells us in John 16 that we will have trials, but to take heart because he has overcome the world. And my friends, this is so true! I was only able to face grief and loss because I KNOW He has overcome the world.
I firmly believe that we do not walk our walks just for ourselves, but that our stories are for someone else. So here is my story.
Having grown up the second oldest of seven children, loss was not a new concept to me. I always had to share things with my siblings and I often lost toys or clothes to them. I think the Lord gave us siblings to teach us to not hold onto anything too tightly :) It wasn't until I was in my senior year at Alabama that I would really understand what loss looked like. I was dead set on going to Medical school when I graduated. I wanted to be a primary care doctor and help people. And I worked relentlessly to achieve this goal! Even if it meant doing research that I didn't enjoy, taking 20+ course hours, quitting marching band, studying countless hours, or never sleeping. Throughout the course of my senior year I felt the Lord saying over and over again that I shouldn't go to medical school. But, I'm stubborn and told the Lord that I would have to fail if I was supposed to be in medical school. So, I started at UAB in the fall of 2012. And y'all, I've never been very good at listening to those who are in authority over me. I failed my first semester of medical school by 1 point. To put that in perspective, if I had gotten two more questions on my final correct I would have passed. I was hit head on with loss. I was devastated. That had been my dream for so many years and I had worked so hard to achieve it. But the Lord knew what he was doing, like He always does! He knew that I had my whole entire identity wrapped up in being a doctor and not in him. Failing medical school was one of the hardest things I've had to go through, but it was also one of the best. Because it taught me that the Lord is good, and faithful, and that He will accomplish the plans He has for us. And as one of my friends told me, it was a perfect opportunity to preach the gospel to myself daily.
Failing medical school was hard, but it is not the most difficult thing I've had to walk through. Fast forward five years later to one morning in September when my brother called me at work. I don't normally answer the phone at work, but it was a slow morning so I did. He had called to tell me that he had found my Daddy in the driveway unresponsive and had done CPR on him. He told me that they took him to the ER in Huntsville and that my twin sister and I should come to Huntsville. So we did, and we made it in time to tell my Daddy good-bye before he passed away at the age of 53. My Daddy's death was so unexpected and sudden I was in shock for the first few days. Everything felt so surreal. But the Lord was so sweet and kind during that time. He had told my Mama the night before my Daddy passed away that "a storm is coming greater than you have ever seen before" and reminded her of his promises in scripture that He would be our peace, He would always provide for all our needs, and that He will always rejoice in us. People from my parents' church also spoke of how my Daddy was so peaceful and joyful the night before he passed, and of how he talked about Heaven and how he longed to be there. All of these things made my grief bearable. I honestly don't know how people who do not believe in Jesus survive things like this. There were days I had to cling to the promises that I knew to be true to not be a sobbing mess. But let me tell you, it is okay to be a sobbing mess! One of the things I have learned through this process is that everyone grieves differently and there is no right way to grieve. Except cling to Jesus. He truly will bring you comfort and peace like you have ever known!! An older lady at my parents church told us to not to try to get over Daddy's death. She had lost both of her parents very young and she said that you never get over it. And it’s true. There are days I still get very sad because I'll never hug my Daddy again or speak to him again. But again, the Lord is there to comfort you!
I also wanted to take a moment to speak on how to respond to loss and grief in other's lives. Because as the church and a as a Christian we should respond in these situations. And because we are a young church most of us probably have never really had to respond to these situations. I know I haven't really had to until recently. When something like this happens, pray for those who are affected by the loss. Prayer is one of the most important things we can do for people! Then do something tangible for the people. They probably do not have the brain capacity to even think of what needs to be done. I know we did not. One of the biggest blessings to us during this time was that people from my parents’ church came and cleaned my parents’ house. And be present! You don't have to know what to say or say anything at all. There is nothing to say in these situations, but presence speaks louder than words. And don't remind them of scripture of what life will be like one day. I struggled with this so much! I knew those promises and believed them to be true, but it’s hard to reconcile them with the sorrow you feel in this present moment. Lastly, remind them that you love them - and again, pray for them!
Grief and loss have had a major part in my story and I am so very thankful for them! They have shown me that the Lord is GOOD and FAITHFUL and that we can still have joy even in the midst of our trials. If you are struggling with this topic my door, my table, and my ear are always open for you! Because I am not the best writer, I will leave you with the words of a professional one who sums it up far better than I ever could. Stasi Eldridge recently wrote about the loss of her grandchild and she wrote: "I have experienced many goodbyes in my life and the older I get the more I have had to say. It would break my heart into shards were I not to know that my goodbyes, though excruciating, are temporary...The only way we can wait with any kind of grace and even know the joy that we are exhorted to possess while we do is if we know in the depths of our soul that we will not be waiting forever. We are going to be filled...I am learning that it is not in living without pain or emptiness or longing of any kind that I will find joy. It is not. No. It is in His presence that I will know the fullness of joy. Because God doesn’t merely give us joy. In every season of our lives be they filled with goodness or grief, summer’s blooms or winter’s chill, He gives us Himself. Joy incarnate...His scars hold all the hope I need. Though I grieve the end of seasons and mourn the loss of those I love, hating every goodbye I have ever had to say, because of Jesus, I know that a grand and endless “Hello” is coming. So I can wait for it. I can long for it. And I can do it with an expectant hope that will not disappoint."
When I think through what it has looked like for me to grieve the fact my dad is not a believer and everything that goes along with that, it can be overwhelming to find the words to articulate those feelings. Honestly, the fact I had to think about it as much as I did in order to write this blog tells me that I don’t think about it nearly enough. I have no particular reason for infrequently thinking about it except that it’s extremely difficult to think about and can become easy to dwell on. Grief over my dad’s spiritual condition has looked differently over time, and I am still very much fleshing out what it looks like to grieve well. There are times when it just feels normal for that to be the reality, so I don’t acknowledge the weight. On the other hand, I often find myself on the end of the spectrum where I grieve “too much”...grief and sadness are the associated predominant feelings and can easily become consuming. There are so many aspects of grief, but this blog gives a window into what it has looked like for me to grieve the lostness of someone I love deeply.
First and foremost, I grieve the weighty truth that if my dad were to die today, he wouldn’t spend eternity with Jesus. I don’t want to grieve in advance and rob today of its joy or fail to trust that the Lord can change my dad’s heart, and I tend to spiral when I start thinking about the reality of his eternal fate. I can become panicky when thinking about how I would cope if he died without knowing Christ. It is the hardest thing to think about. But, it’s not just the end of his life that causes me to grieve. It’s also knowing that as I write this and every single day of his life up to this point, he has lived without knowing and taking hold of the goodness of the Lord. The grief is not just that one day he could be separated forever, but the heartbreaking reality that he is currently living enslaved to sin and brokenness and self and the world. He is not experiencing nor has ever experienced the freedom and joy of new life in Christ.
For a long time, I felt that since his eternal destiny was the priority, there was no space to grieve the ways that my dad not being a believer has led to brokenness in my own life. It felt selfish to think about those negative repercussions. I felt I could not hold him to any kind of standard since he was not a believer, so I could not grieve what was lost for me personally by him not submitting to Christ in the way he parented. But without grieving, I could not experience healing. It was preventing me from forgiving the wounds he inevitably caused. There were losses in my life and family, namely childhood as the Lord intended it to look like. I could grieve that loss for my mom and for my brothers; the reality of that was in my face every day and forced me to lean into it. But I still had not given myself permission to grieve.
This summer through counseling I learned that we don’t forgive people, we forgive wounds. What this means is that there can be real hurt and lasting wounds from things that were unintentionally done or without malicious intent and it can even be from things that were not done. For example, my dad would be devastated to know I viewed these things associated with him as significant hurts in my life. He never intended to cause pain, in fact he has dedicated his life to providing for me in the best way he knew how. A lost person doesn’t realize they are lost and they don’t see sin for what it truly is. My dad did not have the capacity to parent differently because he was not looking to or relying on the Lord. But it doesn't make the wounds that happen as a result of that any less real. It was extremely freeing for me to learn that it was not selfish to grieve the losses I experienced as a result of my dad being emotionally unavailable, not caring about my heart, being physically present but not invested, failing to protect me spiritually and emotionally, making money lord of his life, and ultimately failing to lead our family like Christ. One of the most significant losses was not having someone to speak truth in my life. Thankfully the Lord provided some incredibly life-giving people to speak worth and value into and over me, but I majorly lacked anyone to shepherd my heart and intentionally develop my character. I also grieve the fact that I did not have modeled for me what it looks like to have a Christlike marriage or to protect and lead a family. With that, I grieve the fact any future relationship will be affected (not ruined) by that loss. I grieve the lack of connection and bond with my dad because of our differing goals and perspectives. How deeply I wanted to have a father like the ones I saw so many of my friends enjoy- these dads loved the Lord and therefore loved their kids intentionally. Overall, I just grieve that my family was and is not the one I so desperately wanted to have. No matter how much fun we have together, there is still a very real void.
So, what does it look like to grieve for what you wish you had but also trust the Lord is good and sovereign? Well, for me it’s looked like grieving in a way that doesn’t question God but still acknowledges that my current reality is not the way the Lord originally intended life to look (like in the beginning). But it’s the way He allowed my life to look. And because He allowed it, I know whatever happens will work out for my good and His glory. This disposition has led me to wonder: is it possible that it actually drives me towards the Lord to grieve? Like Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of Ages.” In order to grieve, I have to recall what He desired life to look like. When I lose sight of the fact that He not only cares about family, marriage and fatherhood but also that all of these things were designed with the specific purpose of glorifying Him, then I can become dismissive of the fact that there are real issues worth grieving.
My dad is not abusive or mean; he is actually very kind and gracious and generous much of the time. He set me up for success in a lot of ways and gives very practical advice. But I do grieve that I have never gotten to experience family in the way the Lord intended, and I ultimately grieve that he hasn’t gotten to experience family the way the Lord intended.
Because of my relationship with my dad, I know grief is worth leaning into. Because if we don’t feel it, then we are missing the heart of God. If it doesn’t cause me absolute turmoil that my father doesn’t know the Lord, then I am missing the necessary urgency for eternity. If it doesn’t grieve me that healthy relationships aren’t present because of the state of his soul and lack of submission to the Lord, then I am not looking forward to the day when there will be no more brokenness. When I shy away from the suffering, then I let myself live in the allusion that what I have is enough. Grief forces me to long for heaven. I recognize what should have been and will be again when all things are made right and as originally intended. I first learned this concept through the grief of losing a loved one, but I believe it is true of all forms of grief. Losing my grandma recently made me think about Heaven more than ever, especially because she was so ready and so excited to be with Jesus. I was jealous because when she left, I was still here with all the hard things that come with life on Earth. So, leaning into all the emotions grief brings and acknowledging the brokenness forces me to long for heaven. And I don’t want to miss that.
So if I am going to lean into grief, then I have to know what it looks like to trust God through grief. It is a daily choice to learn to speak truth to myself…. I often find myself saying, “okay I have to trust that these things that grieve my heart all day every day also matter to Him.” So how do I turn my grief over to the Lord and not hold it so tightly? I think it comes down to this question: Do I believe I have a heavenly father who cares I am grieving? I personally did not experience that type of compassion from my biological father. Frankly, my dad wouldn’t have known if I was grieving. And if he did, he wouldn’t have been willing to make himself uncomfortable to discuss it. He cared a lot and showed it in his own way, but it often did not feel like it. (Side note: I am not saying that being a believer makes fathers exempt from failure, just that having the Holy Spirit means they are in the process of becoming more like Jesus).
That is not true of my heavenly father. He moves closer; He does not shy away in times of grief. He is not afraid of being uncomfortable nor is he put off by my raw emotions. He cares. He sees me. He knows me fully, not the presentable, put-together version of me that is handling things well. He knows and loves the real version.
It is especially hard to trust God in and through grief when the situation is likely not changing in the foreseeable future (although not discounting that God is totally able to make that happen any day now). I often wonder how I grieve in the long-term while still functioning in the short-term? It’s hard to do that because usually attempts to carry on with life mean gradually slipping into becoming numb. Friends will ask, “How are you doing with your dad?” My initial response tends to be, “Well I’m the same - He still does not know the Lord but that’s just how life has always been.” Then I realize that I have in fact grown numb and need to lean in all over again, not just leaning into pain but leaning on the Lord.
These thoughts apply not just to fathers, and not just to family. This framework for grief (lean into the hard, trust through grief, see God’s heart, eyes and hope on eternity) is hopefully relevant and helpful to all who grieve, especially for peoples’ souls. It is worth leaning into, feeling fully the weight of it. There are still so many questions to ponder while grieving: How do you find the balance? Can you care too much? How do you not let it consume you? How do you ensure you don’t take on the role of responsibility for their salvation (if that’s you, let’s chat cause I’ve been there). All of these are good questions and that is why we have each other. We are all grieving something, If you think you’re not, then seek out some real and genuine relationships with people who don’t know Jesus. It will break you in the most beautiful of ways.
And always remember, “We grieve but not as those without hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Family Matters #2
Something I have become increasingly aware of since I left my parent’s home for college seven years ago is that family matters really do matter. In fact, my relationships with family and entire upbringing, for that matter, affect e-v-e-r-y-thing about the way I view the world and the people around me. What I didn’t realize as a high-schooler was that while I could wish away the days under my parents’ roof, I could never escape the lasting imprint my childhood environment would have on me. I could have moved a million miles away and still be affected by my relationships with family. So, because my childhood would inevitably impact me for the rest of my life, I resolved that this impact would be as positive as possible. However, what I didn’t quite realize was that this goal required coming face to face with all the junk I spent most my adolescence trying to escape. And as silly as it seemed to go back to the beginning when I was trying to move forward, my 18-year old self painstakingly began to put the puzzle pieces of my personality, feelings, and passions together with the events and people that had significantly shaped my perspective.
Those events in a nutshell: I lived in a home of four until I was five and my parents divorced. My dad received custody, rather unconventionally, of my brother and me. We were a party of 3 for only a short time before Dad met my stepmom and her three kids and was married, making our family a family of 7. We quickly moved to a new city and began our life as a new family there. Before long, 5 kids became 7, and our life continued to get busier and busier. My dad was not around a lot throughout my childhood as he was busy building his medical practice; moreover, as the only neurologist in our town, he spent most of my childhood on call overnight at the hospital. Therefore, my stepmom – who was practically a stranger to me – raised me. I quickly learned that I received positive affirmation when I did chores or helped out my family in some way, thus instilling a habit of people pleasing and a seriously flawed understanding of love. I also quickly learned that if I didn’t complete my chores perfectly or to my stepmom’s exact specifications, my character would be ripped to shreds. Therefore, until I left for college, my understanding of love was almost exclusively conditional: my parents do x for me, so I must do y for them, although y would still never be enough. So basically, I spent my young life doing all the things to try and please my parents, but never doing anything well enough. My life revolved around my family to the extent I had little to no social life outside of school and family obligations and began to dread every day and became so incredibly bitter.
What I’ve come to find is that broken things on this Earth can never quite be made whole. My “blended family” would likely never operate like a full-blooded family. (aka Jesus can restore us to His righteousness now, but we won’t attain perfection until it is given us in Heaven.) Even as well-intentioned as my stepmom may have been to treat all us kids equally, it never really happened that way. We all received equal material stuff but there was a clear divide between my stepmom’s kids and the rest of us. That really messed with me subconsciously and created this I’m-screwed-up complex that shows up in my life from time to time even now. The void of unconditional love that I experienced in my life made me long for a relationship with my biological mom more and more, especially because – despite her faults – she was the only person that made me feel loved for who I was. However, my parents shielded me from a relationship with her, censoring every conversation I had with her and telling me how horrible of a person she was. I was lucky if I saw my mom twice a year growing up. So basically, I spent most of my young life feeling so deeply alone, unknown, and radically unworthy of love.
As a middle schooler, I sought to know the Lord and poured all my emotions into a relationship with Him, but I wasn’t really sure what it meant to have a relationship with Him and didn’t really see that modeled well in my life. Therefore, I expended tons of energy into learning all about Him and instead of knowing Him, ended up becoming super legalistic and self-righteous. I was looking for something to make me feel good enough and prided myself on not doing the “sinful” things my classmates did. Likewise, I thought if I took advanced courses and elevated myself academically, I would find my worth. But even with my self-righteous cloak, I still felt so terribly lonely and unworthy.
It took separating myself from my family and having friends in college to call me on my self-deprecating, people-pleasing crap for me to step back and realize just how screwed up my perspective really was. But to fix the issue, I had to get to the root of it, which was first and foremost my sin but compounded by my family issues. I began to compare and contrast the love of the Lord to the often hostile and conditionally-loving home I grew up in. I also had to get over the guilt I often felt about despising my family situation when so many people grew up in unimaginable, abusive home situations. Just because I didn’t experience trauma in my family, doesn’t mean it’s not worth reflection and even counseling. Now that I have taken the time to think through my family issues, my friendships are better because I now know my tendencies and defense mechanisms. More importantly, I can love my family better because I understand them better, and I’m no longer trying to avoid them in anger.
I think the Lord is super cool for putting me in the situation He did, namely because I may never have known Him if it weren’t for my stepmom’s Christian influence on my family. My father was agnostic before he met my stepmom, and who knows where I would be today had life taken a different course. Growing up in a Christian elementary school was such a gift, and I am endlessly grateful for my knowledge of the Bible that I have and understand today, even if I didn’t truly get it back then. I now have a thriving relationship with my biological mom, and I am endlessly thankful for the grace the Lord has given me to share with her. Moreover, I am endlessly grateful for the fruitful conversations I have had with my stepmom throughout my adult life because I have forgiven her and am now able to love her like Christ. Lastly, I am thankful for feeling lost and alone for so long because it enables me to fill the void with the Lord’s perfect love and appreciate His kindness in a way I may not have had I had the picturesque family (but what even is “picturesque,” really?).
So shout-out to the Lord for His kindness and for knowing all my ways. What a deep kindness it is that He keeps us and to think that I can’t escape His presence or His love. And shout-out to my incredible people, most of whom are in this Body, for your grace as I work out my family issues and for your encouragement to press into the hard and the ugly for the sake of healing and growth. I am truly indebted.
I wish you ladies a deeply discerning spirit and a supportive community as you seek to know and understand yourself the way the Lord does.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
**I must give credit where credit is due: my recent and short-lived binge-watching of This is Us and exposure to the Enneagram have most certainly contributed to my most recent enlightenment regarding family impact.
Family Matters #1
I exist in a divided family. Many of us do.
That term covers a multitude of differences in my family. From ideological beliefs to personality traits. In fact, a friend recently coined the term “spiritual mutt” to define my existence in my family dynamics. I say this because I am going to step back into the past for a minute, but I hope to bring this back around to talk about my current family dynamics.
I lived in a false persona of security for most of my childhood. When I was about 12, circumstances in my family started changing. One thing led to another which led to another which led to abuse. I think there’s three things that I want to point out about abuse. One, abuse carries with it a weightiness no matter it’s frequency or severity. Two, men are not the only abusers. Three, sexual abuse isn’t just penetration.
Briefly, here’s a little bit more about my background. From age 12 until 18, I was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by my mom. From her perspective, she didn’t feel heard and she didn’t feel cared for. At every turn, the ways that she spoke to me and treated me was a result of feeling misunderstood. Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors that exacerbated her responses but, at the core of it, it was the turmoil in my parent’s relationships that led to her actions.
The typical dynamics of my family at the time looked something like this. My parents would often get into arguments and I would act as the mediator. There are so many factors that motivated my role as the mediator. I had younger siblings that I wanted to shield. I wanted to earn their affection. I needed to earn my place. I mentioned that sexual abuse doesn’t only involve penetration. I say this because, for me, my mom would do whatever it took to make me uncomfortable enough to leave the room when my parents were arguing. Sometimes, that looked like caressing me in places where she shouldn’t.
Having said all that, imagine how hard it was when my first thought after going through a difficult experience a couple years ago was “I just want my mom. I want to lay in her lap and cry.” She was never that person. She still isn’t that person. But, that was the Lord beginning to work out forgiveness in my heart. It’s been really messy sometimes. Most of the time, I’m completely unsure of myself. I question if I really want it, if it is really worth it. I question her and if anything has changed. Navigating family relationships is hard because I want more for them then they are currently experiencing, but I also what more for our relationship than we are currently experiencing.
There are some things I want to own about the beauty of forgiveness.
One, it is okay to grieve the relationship that should have been and isn’t. A problem arises when that yearning for intimacy overshadows wanting the gospel for them.
Two, forgiveness reveals misconceptions that have been colored by trauma. Misconceptions about God and our expectations. What expectations for our family have we elevated to the same level as salvation? As in, I will know God has redeemed my family when they are seeking counseling. Reciprocating the relationship in this way? Things that are good to want but aren’t the same as salvation. What expectations do we unnecessarily place on God as evidence that He is faithful? Can I just trust that He is faithful despite my circumstances? And, misconceptions about our family. Bitterness, and hurt, do a lot of damage that tend to negatively affect the way we view someone else’s motives. I’m not even talking about abuse. When we experience hurt at the hands of someone else, it is hard to believe the best about anything else that they may do. I am not free from this. Our own trauma blinds us to the trauma of the person that has traumatized us. Trauma that probably motivated the trauma that they impressed upon us.
I have to regularly remind myself that I have forgiven her. I have to regularly check my beliefs and my thoughts about her and her motives.
Four, I have never known the depth of my sin and the Lord’s grace for me more than I have since the moment I first extended forgiveness to my mom. It’s not just the mysterious, one-time act of forgiveness but I am incapable of loving her from moment to moment apart from Jesus in me.
So….how do we get from overwhelming grief to overwhelming understanding? By the grace of Christ in us and the mercy of Christ for us. Regardless of circumstances, I am well because I am well because I know that the grace of God is enough for me because He is faithful to keep His promises. This kind of knowledge is what God wants for us.
Written by Haleigh
I’m pretty strong. Physically, I can lift large amounts of weight from the ground to over my head. Mentally, I can block things that try to bring me down. Emotionally, I can maintain a calm, steady demeanor in the midst of trials. The problem is that the second two are just a front that I’ve just gotten pretty good at. They are things I use to keep people from seeing how I feel about myself, my body, and my life. So without further ado, here’s a little peek into an area of my life that I am completely weak.
It took a very long time for me to come to grips with this and it still is a struggle for me to even say or type the words “I’m weak” in reference to any area of my life. I never thought food/nutrition would be something I struggled this much with. I am incredibly weak when it comes to sweets. I’m not just talking like sometimes go a little overboard at the dessert table at a wedding or something, I’m talking if a buffet of sweets is in front of me on the right day, I will eat to the point of almost making myself sick, just because it’s there. Not because I’m truly that hungry or anything. It happens even when I don’t want it to and even when I know I shouldn’t. I just can’t stop sometimes. It makes me feel broken. Like something is terribly wrong with me and that I should be able to control my own appetite. My self control and all my knowledge of nutrition goes out the window and I’m left with an overly full stomach, guilt, and shame. By the grace of God, this occurrence has never led me to purge or starve myself, but I won’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind. I’ve been listening to a podcast lately called Head to Heart by Restore Ministries here in Birmingham and there was one thing that the counselor, Julie, said that really inspired everything I’m writing about today. She said (referring to what Paul said in 2 Cor. 12:9-10),”Boast in your weaknesses so that the power of God would be shown even still more. Find freedom in weakness.” So here I am…(attempting) to boast my weakness. As I said earlier I’m the last person to admit that I’m weak, but yet I know God is patiently waiting for me to bring my weakness to him so that He can make me strong. It is a daily battle to let him take this weakness from me. Some days easy, some days I completely slip up. In Julie’s book, Unhitching from the Crazy Train, she introduces the “Freeze Frame” technique. It requires you to “freeze” what you’re doing and think about what your core belief is in that moment. Often my core belief in those slip up moments is that I must take all I can get just in case the supply runs out, not that I am a well provided for daughter of a King. But that is what I pray for and what I preach to myself, even in the midst of slipping. It doesn’t always work, but I know that God is working in me. Something else from the book that really helps me in these moments is saying and remembering, “He is in this, He is in me.” That doesn’t mean it’s ok or that it’s just going to magically go away, but it directs me back to the only one that can change me. 1 Corinthians 10:13 has also been a verse I keep going back to because it reminds me that God is faithful, even in this, and He will provide a way out for me. Sometimes that’s the only hope in moments of weakness, but then again, it’s the only hope I need.
When it comes to body image, it depends on the day, honestly. I’ve always been an athlete so performance has always trumped aesthetics for most of my life. I’ve always wanted to be able to perform well and feel good vs. look good and feel awful. I think all of the social media influence of the last few years has played a huge role in the shift in my mind of how I “should” look. When my body fails to live up to those unrealistic, worldly standards, I begin to be at war with my body, hating it for being how God created it. I begin to believe that people’s opinions of my body are what give me value and that I should feel ashamed because I’m not what “should” be. “If we are stuck in what should be and stuck in shame, the enemy has us. If we’re busy looking at what should be, we are not dealing effectively with what is.(H2H Podcast)” Boom. This simple statement rocked me. I’ve been so caught up in what I should be and how I should look, I have been blind to the beautiful, strong body that God has given me. Lately I’ve really been trying to see myself for how I am in this very moment. My mind almost instantly tells me I should lose weight again, that I should workout more, etc. etc. But in those moments, I remember the simple implication of the gospel that was so wonderfully defined in the Crazy Train book. “If the gospel is true, then I am a well-provided for daughter of a King and my worth and righteousness is in Him, not myself.” Not in my number on the scale, in the size of my waist, or in the thickness of my thighs...IN HIM. The world may see my waist size, but God sees so much more.
I hope this has helped to connect some dots between body image/nutrition/health and our Father. It took a very long time for me to connect the two and I’m still very much learning all of these things and how to let God take over this area of my life. If anyone would like any guidance or help in regards to fitness and nutrition, I would love to walk alongside you. I probably know more about nutrition than my own profession and I truly enjoy using my knowledge and experiences to help people.
Book: “Unhitching from the Crazy Train; Finding Rest in a World You Can’t Control”-Julie Sparkman & Jennifer Phillips
Podcast: Head to Heart by Restore Ministries
Book: Body Beliefs-Jason Seib **Disclaimer: I have not finished this book yet and it is not faith based. The author believes in evolution, but I easily was able to see God in it with the knowledge that He is our creator.** There are a ton of applicable tips in this book when it comes to how we think about our bodies. I have the PDF for free if anyone would like this.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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 (email@example.com) 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.
Written by: Claire Auriemma
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
I know you think you’re alone.
I know you think everyone else has their [ish] under better control than you do.
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.
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)
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!
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.”
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.”
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.