I just went and saw the movie, I Can Only Imagine about Bart Millard, the lead singer of MercyMe’s life, and about the song that came about as a result of his journey. Let me tell you, it was an absolutely wonderful, amazing movie, and it stirred something in me that has been hidden for a while. First of all, it showed me that I needed to forgive those in my life that I have found it hard to forgive. Next, it reminded me that God can use any of our circumstances for good. It reminded me that we should never give up on our dreams, no matter what. If God has given us a talent, skill, ability, or interest, we should figure out how to cultivate and harness that thing and use it for his glory. God is not done with you, your story isn’t over yet…in fact, it’s just beginning. You never know what God is going to do to change you, and you never know how he’s going to use your experiences to shape your life and maybe even the lives around you. It shows you the importance of being open and available to God, and saying a daily yes to him, and seeing how he uses you.
I have decided that I want to be a beacon of hope to all that I encounter. For me, personally, this means doing quite a number of things. The first is getting my tattoo next year, which is both a combination of my personal story and also my testimony that I want to share with the world.
I’ve also started a small way of being a beacon of hope at work. I bought a small, dry-erase white board, and various colored dry-erase markers to go along with it. Then, each day, I write a funny or inspirational quote on it. Some of my coworkers see it and love it. Others don’t see it, but they will in time.
Finally, I just try to act as Jesus would in any situation. It can be tricky sometimes, but he gives us grace each and every time. And that’s what I love. He continues to transform me from the inside out, and for that reason, I’m very grateful.
There comes a time in everyone’s life where they experience a brief, fleeting moment that is extremely impactful; it affects them in some way, and they never want it to end. When those moments come, it’s best to savor them, and to process everything that you’re thinking and feeling in the moment. Then, once that moment becomes a distant memory, you can still hold onto it and remember what it felt like a long time ago. Here’s one of the best moments that I’ve savored, and that I hope to remember forever:
The Moment When I Finally Met Jesus on a Personal Level, and the Moment when He Finally Showed Me My Identity
This is a two-fold memory that actually spans two different events, but I’m grouping it into one category because it’s perhaps the biggest thing that I don’t ever want to forget. I had grown up in a Christian home always hearing about Christ. I prayed to Jesus, I asked for forgiveness when I sinned or felt guilty about something, I prayed that people would be healed of their afflictions, and I had even asked him into my heart in fifth grade. I read my Bible as often as I could (though probably not as often as I should have) and was heavily involved in youth group all throughout my life. And yet, despite all that, I never really knew Jesus personally, the way that he desires to know us. I worshiped him blindly, without ever really discovering his truth for myself. I followed him because…it was all I had ever known. I’d never known anything different, having been born and raised into this way of life. So of course, it was only logical that I would follow him. However, I needed to truly experience his grace for myself before I could take it personally (in a good way).
In my freshman year of high school, I began being plagued by these terrible thoughts of: “Oh my goodness, what if God isn’t real?” Sometimes, they’d affect my waking consciousness, whereas other times, I would wake up in the middle of the night absolutely terrified that there was a possibility that I might be living a lie. The idea of not having anywhere to go when I died scared me more than anything else. But deep down, I was scared of God not existing, because what did that mean for me? Eventually, the thoughts subsided, and I convinced myself that of course God is real. There’s no reason for him not to be. Still, I never really experienced him on a personal level….that is, not until one night on a youth group trip in San Diego, which was the first time I ever heard him speaking to me.
I was now seventeen-years-old, having just completed my junior year of high school. At the time, I was struggling with feelings of self-doubt, and wondering what my purpose in life was (if I even had one). I felt guilty all the time about a sin that I kept hidden from others because I was afraid of being judged, even though it wasn’t really anything “major.” I went to this youth event, and we were singing “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe. As we got to the part that goes: “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” I started thinking of how beautiful it will be when we get to be in heaven and sing that directly to God. And then, that was when I truly heard him for the first time. In my heart and in my mind, I could feel him saying, “You have no idea how much I love you.” He began working in me to give me peace and joy that day, and it lasted for a while, but this had just been me dipping my toes in the water. I was to have another experience later on.
In 2013, I was 20-years-old, and felt lost and hopeless. Over the course of the past two years, I had continued to struggle with my sense of self-worth. I had asked God to forgive me for the sin that I mentioned earlier. Several times, in fact, but Satan kept making me feel guilty. His classic lie was: “You’re not really forgiven,” or “did God really say…?” I got into this spiral of sadness, and entered a really dark period of my life. I never self-harmed or anything like that, but I just wasn’t in a good place spiritually or emotionally. I was a volunteer youth leader at my church at the time, and while I could preach about Christ’s unconditional love for everyone, secretly, I believed that it applied to everybody but me. In the depths of my soul, I believed that due to my past, God hated me. In fact, I was convinced that he hated me, and that despite my best efforts at serving him, I would come up short and go to hell. So I was constantly in a state of spiritual torment. I remember one day actually asking God, “what’s the point of serving you if I’m just going to end up in hell anyway?” Like I said, it was a very dark place that I was in, and one that I hope to never go back to. I went to a leadership summit with my church, in the hope to hone my leadership skills and reach the high school and junior high kids that I was ministering to. Little did I know, God had a message for me on that trip. I’ve often noticed that God speaks to me through music when he has something to tell me, and this time was no exception. We were singing Matt Redman’s: 10,000 Reasons, and during part of the song, God spoke to me clearly. He gave me my identity. His words to me were: “I don’t care about what you’ve done in your past. What’s important is the here and now, and who I’m creating you to be.” I felt so relieved, because in that moment, I knew that he didn’t hate me. He loved me, just as I was, no matter how much I felt like the prodigal daughter. However, there was also a part of me that was a little upset and angry, because I had struggled for two years with thinking God hated me, and I was frustrated that he had allowed me to believe that lie. So I asked him, “then why did you wait two years to tell me this? Why did you let me struggle with hating myself and wondering if you hated me, too?” And he gently replied, “the why is not important. It’s how I’m working in you and transforming you that’s important.” And suddenly, I knew that he was right. The reasoning behind my struggle didn’t matter. The point was that God was using my struggle to point me back to him. All along, even when I doubted him and wondered where he was, he was right there, pointing me back to him.
Since then, I have had a few moments of questioning, and of being slightly afraid that I’m not good enough. I know that I don’t measure up to God’s standards, and that I can’t ever truly measure up until I get to heaven. But then, when I start to doubt and question, I go back to this moment, and I think about what God told me. I am reminded of who I am and whose I am. I know where I’ve been, and where I’m going, and I can’t wait to see who I turn out to be when God is finished with me. I believe that I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. I can’t give up or give in, I’ve got to stay strong and fight against everything that tries to bring me down. But I’m not alone. God is always by my side. And even on the darkest of days sometimes, when it’s hard to find God in all the chaos, or when I’m not feeling very valuable, I think of these two songs, and they make me happy, and draw me closer to Christ:
I hope this post has inspired you. Don’t forget, don’t ever give up. God loves you more than you can ever know or fathom. And he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
In a society that moves fast and is constantly saturated with conversation, those of us with anxiety often feel like we are hiding in the shadows. Whenever we try to talk about how we’re feeling, things usually go one of two ways. Either someone responds with, “anxiety, everyone’s got that nowadays,” or “what do you have to be anxious about? Your life is good.” And so, we keep quiet, we make life work behind the scenes, because that’s the area in which we shine the most. It’s sad, but true. As someone who suffers with anxiety, I’m here to describe a few things to you that people with anxiety rarely share, but often wish they could. We’re just looking for a kindred spirit, someone that we can talk to who won’t judge us or try to make light of our feelings. If we could find that one person who would listen in the way that we need, here are a few of the things we might say:
1. We Tend to Overthink a Lot, and We’re Often Painfully Aware of It
I am a chronic overthinker. I know that I overthink everything, but it is because I have found that if I don’t overthink something, then I either end up messing it up, or something bad happens. So, I usually plan far enough ahead that I can handle with adverse circumstances, should they arise, or I can plan around them so they don’t happen at all. That being said, when us folks with anxiety make even a small mistake, we beat ourselves up over it for years. More often than not, we catastrophize the situation and make it out to be worse than it really is. And it’s not that we’re being dramatic, it’s that our brains are just wired that way. For instance, “Oh crap, I forgot to mail that bill that I needed to send in today. It’s due in fifteen days. But, the mail is slow sometimes, and knowing my luck, if I mail it at five o’clock today, it’ll get lost, and then the debt collectors will come after me, etc.” Or, in a more extreme scenario, “Oh no, I forgot to turn the Christmas Tree lights on before I left for home, I hope my house didn’t burn down.” It’s not that we’re worry-warts either, it’s that our overthinking is often a coping mechanism, at least it is for me. The more that I have time to overthink a situation, the more that I can reflect on the “worst case scenario,” and can plan how I will handle it should worst case scenario actually come to pass. That way, I’m not completely blindsided if the worst does happen. I have a plan of action in place, and it won’t destroy me. Of course, my overthinking also tends to stress me out a little bit.
Sometimes, I can’t see any other possibility but the worst case scenario, so then I tend to dwell on it more than I should. And of course, the more I dwell on it, the more anxious I become. And then I tell myself, “you’re overthinking it, stop it, there’s a simple solution.” So then I do the thing that is the simple solution, but then I still fret and worry about it until I have the actual result. Or, I start to say things like, “stop overthinking it and just relax,” which then of course inevitably leads to the “what is wrong with me? I’m not normal…” train of thought. Fun times.
2. We Can’t Turn our Anxiety Off
The one thing that I wish people would understand is that anxiety is not like a television. You can’t change the channel or turn it off if you don’t like what you’re seeing or hearing. Anxiety is raw and real, and while many of us have tried to turn it off, it’s ultimately impossible. Oftentimes, our thoughts run away with us and become flights of fancy, or they just become troublesome nightmares that we can’t seem to shake. For example, if we’re in a situation where we feel uncomfortable, even if everyone else around us feels perfectly fine, we can’t shake that feeling that something isn’t right; and the longer we stay in that situation, the worse our anxiety gets until it ultimately erupts into a fit of tears or anger, depending on the situation.
Oftentimes, I’ll say, “I’m worried that we’re going to be late to this event.” And then someone says, “We’ll make it, don’t worry.” And then with every second that goes by, I’m sitting there internally thinking to myself, “We’re going to be late, we’re going to be late.” Usually, even if we are late, no one is ever angry with us, but of course, I don’t see it that way. I just see it as, “Oh my gosh, we’re being rude, we’re late…” or “We’re going to be in trouble for being late.”
Lately, my classic thing that I can’t seem to turn off is the “We’re going to get evicted” worry. We have a great landlord and excellent neighbors. And I try to be as courteous to everyone as possible, but sometimes I think I can be a bit excessive. Sometimes, I have to run the dishwasher or take a shower at 8:00 at night, and I worry that it’s going to be too loud for our downstairs neighbors, since we’re on the top floor, and that we’re going to get evicted. But no one ever complains. Sometimes we play our music loudly or watch fairly loud videos, and again I worry that the volume will bother our neighbors, but it never seems to. However, the biggest one in this category is with my loud friends. Oftentimes, their voices exceed normal decibel limits with how excited or frustrated they get with the games they are playing or the jokes we are telling, and I often have to remind them to keep it down, because we live in an apartment and I don’t want to get evicted. Usually, they’ll say something along the lines of, “I don’t care, it’s not my place…” which I immediately follow up with, “but I’m your friend, and it’s my place. You should care if what you’re doing ultimately ends up with me getting evicted.” Surprisingly, we haven’t had a single complaint against us, but that thought is always there, nagging at me in the back of my mind. Would I love to turn it off and just go with the flow? Of course, but that’s impossible.
3. We Typically have Very Low Self-Esteem
Because of our anxiety, we’re already “different” from the rest of the group. We don’t meet the status quo, so we’re outsiders, and we know that. However, because we know that, we tend to internalize many, many things. For instance, the biggest thing that I internalize are things related to my faith. If I mess up even in the slightest, I feel like I am a terrible example of a Christian, and I will keep praying for forgiveness over and over again and listening to Christian music until I feel better. It’s sad, and I know that’s not what God wants for me. He wants me to be free to enjoy this wonderful life that he has given me. Fortunately, now that I have a new job with better hours, higher pay, and nicer people, I am starting to learn how to do that. It is a slow process, but one that I hope continues.
In general, we tend to struggle with believing in ourselves. When we say that we want to do something, someone close to us will ask, “well, why don’t you?” And then we list off all the reasons why it’ll never work, and ultimately talk ourselves out of it. Or, conversely, we often allow ourselves to be talked out of something by others because we either take their criticisms to heart, or we do what they ask just to get them to leave us alone. Again, this is no way to live, and we know this, and it is because we know this that we feel there is something wrong with us. Pointing out the fact that we worry too much just adds fuel to the fire–it’s another thing on the list of “things I need to fix.” And then we stress ourselves out trying to fix it. I personally am guilty of this type of frustration. I often find myself getting annoyed, because someone asks me to do something, I do it, and then they get upset because I did it. Or I find out that they don’t like what I’m doing, so I stop, and then get told to just be myself and not care what others think.
Be yourself, they say. So I act like my little old self, with my seemingly old-fashioned beliefs, my strong convictions, my likes and dislikes, and so forth. Then I get told that some of those things are downright terrible, or that I shouldn’t say certain things or behave in a certain way. So I try to correct those things, and then when I correct them, I get told that it doesn’t matter what others say–that I should just do what makes me happy. What do you want from me, society? Make up your mind! I’m just one person! I can’t do everything or be everything! Like Hawk Nelson says in their song: Everything You Ever Wanted: “I tried to be perfect, tried to be honest, tried to be everything that you ever wanted. I tried to be stronger, tried to be smarter, tried to be everything but you.”
4. We Actually Want to Get Out and Try New Things
As much as we get anxiety in new situations, we also crave fun and adventure. We want to try things that take us outside of our comfort zone, but we want to be able to do those things on our terms. If someone forces us into a new or unique situation, we will generally balk at it, get frustrated, or decide that we want no part of it. However, if it’s an idea that we come to on our own, decide, “hey, this would be fun to try,” and are able to do it with a group of friends, in an environment that makes us feel comfortable and where no one is judging us or laughing at us, then we are generally ok with the new activity.
One example of the above-described situation is this: I hate public speaking. I am not good at it at all. I can communicate much more eloquently in writing than I can when speaking. When I speak, I often lose my train of thought, stammer, stutter, and the like. It’s not a pleasant thing at all. However, when speaking about something that I am passionate about, I can go on for hours. For instance, if I were leading a Christian seminar for teenagers or young adults, I think I would be good at that and would really enjoy it. Or if I were talking about horses or my favorite movies with a complete stranger–I could go on at length about it. However, if someone were to stick me and a random stranger together and say, “you’ve got an hour to learn about each other,” it would be an extremely awkward situation for me. I wouldn’t even begin to know what to say, except for making small talk. It would be something along the lines of, “so, what are your favorite animals?” “Oh, well I love horses and wolves, though I don’t own a horse; but I have a kitty cat.” “Oh, really? I’m more of a dog person, but cats are cool.” “Oh yeah? That’s nice. Well, what are your favorite movies..” But of course, there would be random, long, awkward silences in there as well. It just wouldn’t be fun. However, if I initiate the conversation, then I think it would be different. However, even then, I get in my head too much. When my husband and I went to a comic-con a few weeks ago, there was a girl there who had a really neat tattoo. Every time I’d see her, I’d want to go up and compliment her on her tattoo, but then I thought that she’d look at me funny or think I was weird, so I just didn’t say anything to her. In retrospect, I wish I would have. It might have opened the door to an interesting conversation about tattoos in general. Oh well, what’s done is done. C’est la vie, right?
So, anxiety isn’t what a lot of people think it is. In fact, many of us don’t talk about it, because we know that we won’t be understood or taken seriously. The next time someone brings up their anxiety to you, don’t downplay what they’re saying, but actually take the time to hear them out. The more willing you are to listen to them, the more they might surprise you, and the better you may be able to understand them and be the support that they need.