Imagine a little girl, about twelve years old. She peers at her swimsuit clad body in the mirror and grimaces. She shifts her weight from side to side, trying to find an angle that makes her look skinnier. She critiques every little part of her body, begging it to become the version she sees in her mind.
I was a fat kid. If I'm honest, I still struggle with being the fat kid. I've gone through seasons of weight loss and weight gain, complicated by hormones, genetics and medication. I try to eat healthy, and then sometimes I don't. I tell myself I'm beautiful in the eyes of God I recite the verse from the Bible that says I'm fearfully and wonderfully made. And yet, there are still times I feel like the twelve year old girl who looks in the mirror and wills herself to just get out there and stop worrying about how she looks.
I know some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. The circumstances might look different, but you are familiar with the same horrific feelings. You might have looked in the mirror just this morning and cried. You might feel ugly and worthless.
I know it feels hard to measure up to the world's standard of beauty. You wish you looked like those gorgeous instagram models with their perfectly posed, airbrushed legs. I get it. The contrast is very real in our minds.
We have to get to root of our quest for perfection. We have to come to grips with the fact that we will never measure up. Will you join me today in giving our imperfections to the God who made us and ask for His perspective as we navigate the seemingly endless expectations of those around us?
I want you to know you are not alone.
Every person has believed a lie about their self-worth at one time or another.
Name the lie.
Contrast it with the truth in God's Word.
There is more to you than the frame that holds your beautiful soul. Tend the beauty on the inside and it will shine to everyone around you.
You are a beautiful masterpiece, just the way you are.
I see you.
The one who smiles, but hides tremendous pain beneath the clever facade. You may have struggled to get out of bed today... Maybe you didn't get out of bed. "It's too much work," you thought to yourself as you buried yourself beneath the covers.
You are not alone in this struggle. Every human will face times of pain, moments of fear and seasons of emotional ups and downs. That's a normal part of life. What isn't okay is when we spiral into preoccupation with worry, fear and distress. When we push life away instead of pushing into life.
I'm not pretending it's easy. I won't sugarcoat how hard your journey will be.
Would you take the first step today?
If you're tempted to hide from life, don't.
If it helps, drop the smile, let someone look deep into your fear-filled eyes and connect to the place inside of you that writhes in pain. Say the words you are terrified to say. You think you're being brave by not asking for help, but you are only delaying the inevitable. You will continue to be crushed by emotions you don't fully understand. Take a chance. Push back the covers and step into the day, regardless of the lie that says "you can't."
Every next step is a milestone. Each little victory will turn into something greater as you keep moving. As you embrace the awkward feeling of vulnerability, you will emerge stronger.
I know from experience.
Take the first step today... with or without a smile.
UNHELPFUL MYTHS/ADVICE ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
We've all been there. The moment someone comes into your life with some thoughts about your life, which they know nothing about. It's hard. I've been the one on the receiving end as well as the one dishing out the free advice.
It's no secret that I deal with anxiety and depression on a regular basis. I wrote about it extensively in my book, "Finding Brave." You can purchase it here, if you'd like to read about my journey.
I've noticed something fascinating while dealing with mental health issues these past thirteen years. People have all kinds of ideas about why you might be having that problem, and they also have lots of solutions for you.
I'm all for solutions. I believe there are some practical solutions to the problems of anxiety and depression. I really do. I am free from the chains of anxiety because I used some well researched solutions. I'm all about it!
However, I thought I'd share a list of "what not to do or say" when encountering a friend or family member who is struggling emotionally.
Are you ready?
Beware, the snark might be a little strong at times.
1. YOU WILL BE FINE
Have you ever struggled to breathe? I mean, the type of breathlessness that comes after a hard fall, where all your air has been quite literally knocked out of you? You know the way your mind races as you attempt to draw sweet air into your lungs? Your eyes dart from side to side as if to find someone to help you with what seems impossible at the moment. You just want to breathe.
That is how so many of the people around you feel on a daily basis. Their mind races, their eyes dart, their breath catches in their throat. Add on top of that, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, and you have the definition of a panic attack. Death feels close and yet you can’t understand what will finally take you, an actual adverse event, or your own fear.
Imagine you have just had the breath knocked out of you and it’s been a full thirty seconds of waiting for a good breath. Now imagine someone walking up to you, putting their hand on your arm and saying “You will be fine.”
“I will be fine?” your mind races in a sarcastic retort.”I might be fine later, but I’m not in this moment! I just need to breathe and that part of my body isn’t working right!” You might roll your eyes at the absurdity of the comment being made to you. It didn’t help you in any way, except maybe remind you that someone was there just in case you needed an ambulance.
People who live their lives from one mental health challenge to the next face this quandary more often than not. It is the tendency of humans to want to speak to a person in pain or anguish with a reassuring comment rather than do nothing. I completely understand this tendency. I have done it many times myself. I admit that I’ve said the same thing to my children a hundred times. “You will be fine.” I say it when they get a minor cut. I say it when they are stressed out about a test. I say it whenever I don’t know exactly what to say.
When someone is having a mental crisis, they don’t feel fine, they can’t imagine feeling fine and they don’t even know what to do in the next moment. In those terrifying seconds, all they see is an insurmountable challenge staring them in the face and they don’t see a way around or over it.
They don’t need a step by step instructional manual in that moment. They don’t need platitudes. They aren’t looking to you to solve everything that’s going wrong. They need one thing. They need your presence.
You may think I’m talking about the type of presence where you just stand there with them, or hold them while they struggle. That might be helpful, and you can certainly ask them.
However, I’m talking about being a true presence in their lives. Ask them what they need...right then, right there. Don’t ask a million questions right in succession, but get to the root of what you can do to be helpful.
Say, “I’m here. Whatever you need, I’m here.” Sometimes just knowing that they don’t have to figure out how to survive on their own is enough. There’s plenty of time for doctor’s visits, long, healing sessions with a counselor, and a discussion about what practical steps to take next. But, more than likely, during a crisis, they don’t need a run down of their next assignment. They need your presence.
Walking with someone who doesn’t know how to function is tough. I won’t sugarcoat it. They can frustrate and annoy you...especially if you have no way to empathize with their pain. Add on top of those frustrations the fact that many times they won’t do what’s needed to get better, and it can be a recipe for disaster. No one is perfect. But, may I remind you, when I say no one is perfect...neither are you. You have shortcomings in your life that you aren’t tackling. And yet you would enjoy having empathy from another when you hit roadblocks.
I believe it’s important to remember that people who have depression or anxiety want to get well, and often don’t know how to make that happen. They go through ebbs and flows of commanding emotions which try to dictate their reality. They might have extreme mountains and valleys within one week’s time and deal with incredibly frustrating voices in their heads telling them they can’t do it. They aren’t able to ever be normal again. It doesn’t matter that no one is normal. It doesn’t matter that the person sitting beside them walks through other types of pain and suffering. All they see is that they can’t even get out of bed or walk out the door without a reminder that they aren’t enough.
Tell them you are there for them. Mean it. Do what’s needed to remind them they can do harder things than they thought they could. Hold their hand and walk out the door. Rub their back. Draw their bath and light their candles. Make some hot tea. Entertain the kids with a quiet game in a separate room.
Whatever you do, don’t just pat them on the shoulder with a patronizing smile and say, “You will be fine.”
2. ANXIETY ISN'T REAL. IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
Well, yeah. That’s the problem. There is something wrong in their head, namely their brain, and their nervous system, and possibly their entire body. But, saying it isn’t real is like telling a diabetic that the coma they just entered into isn’t real. Even though the diabetic’s pancreas isn’t producing insulin to keep them from entering that coma, you could tell them that their coma is imagined. Because that would be so helpful and wise. I would advise you to not say something so unsubstantiated. Anxiety is just as real as Diabetes. It’s not made up. It’s not pretend. It’s not people being over dramatic.
I realize that mental health challenges are multi-faceted. There are times when people could be doing more to get well. There are so many resources out there to help people live their best life...literally. However, to act like the actual disease process of depression isn’t real is just ignorant at best. Do you suppose brain scans and years of scientific research are just fabricated out of thin air? Do you really think that hundreds of thousands of people are making up a problem so they can “get out of things?”
Oh, I wish I could tell you how it feels...I mean how it really feels to be going out of your mind with an anxiety attack and the next moment read a post on social media which declares you are imagining your panic. It’s not real, it’s all in your head. You should be able to just buckle down and figure it out.
I’m all for hard work and self improvement, believe me. I would love to be able to snap my fingers and declare, “I am well! It’s not real! This depression is a figment of my imagination!” Wouldn’t that be lovely.
Yes, it would be lovely. Just as it would be wonderful to snap your fingers and get rid of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, sciatic nerve problems. What needs to happen for those diseases to be healed? Sometimes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, heart medications, exercise, change of diet, insulin, chiropractic care. The list goes on.
In each of the aforementioned diseases, a prescription of some time is warranted and will only work if the patient agrees to do what’s required. Even then, sometimes the cancer returns, the heart stops beating, the insulin isn’t enough, the sciatic nerve pain comes back with a vengeance.
We are human beings with fragile and finite bodies that don’t work correctly. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, it’s not ideal. But, let’s stop pretending that one type of health challenge is legitimate and the other isn’t.
Can you imagine if two friends sat down for a drink and a pastry at a coffee shop. They haven’t seen each other for a while and they are there to catch up with one another. After the obligatory hello and small talk, they finally get down to the fine details of their lives. “I just found out I have a cancerous mass in my brain,” one says to the other. The person sitting across the table looks quizzically at the cancer patient and shakes their head. “You know, that’s not real. It’s all in your head,” she says, giving a look of shame for emphasis. “If you would just snap out of it and shake it off, it wouldn’t even bother you anymore.”
Yeah, you can’t imagine that, and it’s a very good thing you can’t, my friend. That conversation has no business taking place. And neither does a conversation like that around the topic of mental health. We’ve got to stop saying ignorant things that contribute nothing to the world but condemnation and shame.
People who are anxious or depressed already feel behind, cast down, embarrassed, and afraid of what people think. The last thing they need is someone talking to them directly or behind their back about how they are imagining all of it.
So what do they need?
They need you to do a little research and find out what so many know to be the truth. Depression and anxiety are as real as any other disease process. The brain doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to. The body doesn’t always run perfectly. Things misfire and levels go wacky and cells don’t behave the way they were created to. Just as the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, the body doesn’t always produce enough serotonin.
Now, I admit this is a superficial and over simplified explanation. There are so many things we could say on this topic. People don’t have to be as sick as they are. There are many times that people get lazy and don’t do what’s required to get better. I get that. Or, they try to get better and the cancer or heart disease leads them to their death. It’s a hard reality of life. Even the best patients, following the best advice, doing all the right things, face a repeat diagnosis. In the same way, imagining that people with mental health problems should be able to magically make their problems go away is simply wrong.
So the next time you hear someone discuss a person with anxiety or depression and say those ignorant words, “It’s all in their head,” kindly respond with, “I know, I feel so bad for them. Their brain isn’t functioning the way it should and that has to be so hard for them to keep going every day. Why don’t we see if they need anything?” That’s a much better way to look at the situation.
3. IF YOU WOULD EXERCISE AND CHANGE YOUR DIET, YOUR ANXIETY/DEPRESSION WOULD GO AWAY
How many of you have been on the receiving end of a message from a person you barely know, telling you about the latest supplement guaranteed to make all your dreams come true? It happens quite often to me. I don’t know if it’s because people know I struggle with anxiety or if it’s because I have a few pounds to lose, but I seem to be the target of their helpfulness more often than not.
Healthy eating and exercise are essential for everyone. Does everyone live that way? No.
If we all ate perfectly every single day and exercised faithfully from the time we were born, we wouldn’t get sick or die, would we?
Wait...maybe we would. Maybe we would still get diseases and have problems and die, actually. Do health freaks not get sick? Do supplement pushers never face cancer diagnosis’? Do marathon runners never die from heart attacks?
We all know the answers to those questions. Even the healthiest people face health challenges. I remember when someone suggested that I change my diet to help with my anxiety. I figured they might know something I didn’t. So I tried it...for a very long time. Did my anxiety go away? I’m afraid not. And, I’m not the only one who has had similar results. I’ve known several people with mental health problems who have tried special diets, exercise plans and supplements to try and erase their anxiety and depression, and while it may have lessened the severity of it, the tendency to mental breakdowns was still very much alive.
I wish there was a magic pill, a perfect diet plan, a life-changing exercise routine that would erase the effects of mental health problems. I don’t think it exists. That’s not to say those things aren’t helpful...indeed they are! When people lessen their sugar intake, it makes a huge difference not only on the way their body functions, but on their mood as well. Irritability lessens, the mind thinks better and productivity increases. When people exercise, the uptake of serotonin increases, which makes the whole world look better. And there are deficiencies in our bodies that are often remedied by a supplement. All of these methods should be adopted for anyone, and most definitely for those of us who struggle with mood disorders.
However, acting as if those methods will cure someone’s depression or anxiety is foolish and unhelpful. It is actually quite discouraging. In the mind of the person dealing with anxiety, they begin to blame themselves for their problems without any proof of that. They just begin to assume that they must be doing something wrong.
My advice to the advice givers? Don’t make it sound like whatever you’re selling is going to answer every problem they’ve ever had. It won’t. Human beings haven’t found the fountain of youth, and they will continue to search for it until the end of time.
4. ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ARE SINFUL
If clinical anxiety and depression are sinful, then so are ulcers and asthma.
I often wonder where people get their definition of sin. If you aren’t a Christian and you are reading this, please indulge me for a moment, or skip over this part altogether. One of the most unhelpful myths about anxiety and depression disorders is that they are a sin you can be delivered from.
Now, to be fair, the Bible does say “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phillippians 4:6-7 ESV). If the Bible tells us not to be anxious, and we are anxious anyway, doesn’t that mean we are sinning?
Well, first of all, that verse is specifically dealing with not obsessing over our problems, but instead remembering to give our cares to God and allowing Him to take care of them. There is a peace that comes from giving our cares over to the One who can ultimately fix what needs fixing.
I personally believe that the sinful part comes in to play when we worry needlessly over things that we know better about. We know we should stop obsessing about how everything is going to turn out and yet we continue to stew in it. If God convicts us of that and we ignore His kind reprimand, then we might be entering into the sin zone (did I just make up a phrase?)
Let’s be honest about something though. We know that Jesus lived on this earth as a human, without sin. Jesus also had intense anxiety in the garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion on the cross. He had such intense anxiety that the Bible says He “sweat drops of blood.” That’s some intense fear! We can all acknowledge that Christ was without sin, and yet we can all acknowledge that Christ dealt with human anxiety.
There are times when the feeling of dread someone is dealing with is simply physical. We don’t need to over spiritualize their issues and say they just need to give it to God. Of course they need to give it to God, much like you need to give things you are dealing with to God. We all would live better lives if we operated from a place of perfection where we always surrendered every negative emotion to God.
For people with mental health challenges, the sin is not in having the disease, the sin is when it controls every aspect of their lives. After they have done all they can, surrendered all they can, they have to accept that they will need to once again get out of bed in the morning and give their worries to God.
Referring to anxiety and depression as sin does nothing to help your friends who suffer. It alienates them and makes their struggle even more disheartening. If you are in a relationship with someone who deals with this, remember to address specific issues as sin, not their mental health status. (And only if you are in a discipleship or mentoring relationship with them...otherwise, it’s just weird).
5. EVERYONE HAS PTSD THESE DAYS. THEY ARE MAKING IT UP.
Oh that’s right...because there’s nothing that makes you more popular than struggling with trauma. It’s a real conversation starter and makes life special.
It makes no sense that people would make that up. There are only a very few people that would find that entertaining. The truth is, most of us have grown up with misconceptions regarding trauma. We imagine trauma to be what soldiers or policemen deal with. We nod our heads in sympathy when we hear someone’s story about their experience with PTSD...unless we think that person doesn’t deserve to be pitied. If their traumatic experience doesn’t strike us as difficult enough, then we are tempted to label them as dramatic.
Here’s the truth about trauma. Trauma is anything unexpected that your body/mind doesn’t know how to handle. The degrees of trauma vary, but what doesn’t change is that it does affect your body and mind. I understand that some people appear able to handle the unexpected better than others, but they even the most stoic have to process what has happened to them. What is unfortunate is that a lot of people don’t understand what even “minor” traumatic events are doing to them until it’s too late. A mental health crisis happens and suddenly they find themselves in a Counselor’s office trying to figure out why the world is upside down.
In my case, I was able to eventually look back over my life and see several traumatic events in my childhood differently. Alone, they were difficult. But, because I never processed them correctly, they piled on top of each other and buried latent fear and anxiety deep within my conscience. I didn’t know I had a problem because I had always figured out a way to deal with what was creeping at the door.
When changes in my life upset my equilibrium, I couldn’t keep it down any longer, and I began having serious symptoms of anxiety, but not just any type of panic, the type that most often accompanies PTSD.
My counselor began to see that I was dealing with more than just a “little bit of anxiety,” and that we needed to get to the root of the problem. Through extensive counseling and therapy, I was able to address the trigger than lived deep inside my brain. It was as if my brain needed to be healed and rewired.
I still have to prioritize my mental health and see a professional counselor regularly. I’m so much better at dealing with the unexpected, but I do still struggle with it.
I find it ironic that people can’t be understanding to the way people deal with traumatic events differently than them. I’ve heard it all, I think. People witness someone being overdramatic (in their mind) and can’t understand what would make them think they could be dealing with PTSD. They might point to people in other countries who go through horrific experiences and are seemingly fine. But, do you realize that our definitions of “fine” are extremely subjective? We don’t know what people who are seemingly fine might go through day after day, night after night. Perhaps those of us in the western world are more pampered and struggle with difficulty adjusting when things go wrong. But, maybe that’s just a myth.
The point is, it’s none of your business whether someone deserves to have PTSD or not. Professionals who study this field for a living are finding out fascinating discoveries about the brain. We know more about how it responds to trauma. We better understand appropriate ways to heal the effects of the trauma.
It doesn’t help people who deal with the ramifications of traumatic events to hear that they should be able to better handle what happened to them. It doesn’t help at all.
6. IF YOU IGNORE IT AND JUST KEEP GOING, IT WILL GO AWAY
Think about that statement.
Really think about it.
Does it translate to anything else in your life? Would that make sense if we were talking about literally anything else we were dealing with?
If you are a runner and have a broken ankle, and continue to run...to keep going, will that broken ankle stop being broken? No, of course not. You would need to see a Doctor, have him set it and then submit yourself to the healing process. You would run again, but you would have to take some time off to heal. You couldn't ignore it and imagine it would suddenly disappear.
Have you ever had a different kind of situation in your life that you just kept ignoring, thinking after some time, surely it would disappear? Maybe you are dealing with deep seated anger of what someone in your past did or said to you. You've pushed it down over and over again thinking that eventually it would disappear. And yet, something reminds you of it, and you feel those familiar responses creeping back up. Things don't just disappear because we ignore them.
Some of us are more inclined to that kind of coping mechanism and others deal with things as they come. No matter what our tendency is, I understand the inclination to put our emotional health on the back burner. Self care is commonly the first thing to go. We think we need to hit our deadlines, or on the flipside, continue in our lazy, bad habits. I get it. It’s not easy to face the fact that we aren’t doing very well. It’s also easier to place convenience over healing. Diving into our emotional issues is difficult and typically a longer path than we think we have time for.
In my case, I had to let inconvenience have it's place in my life so I could take the time to heal. I needed to spend the money for counseling. I needed to carve out time in my schedule. I needed to take medication when I couldn't leave my house to drive anywhere. I couldn't pretend like my mental health would just magically improve. I had to do something.
If you are struggling with anxiety or depression and think you can ignore it...you can't.
If someone you love is struggling, don't tell them to distract themself until it goes away. It won't work. It will come back. It won't be quiet until it's dealt with. Help them deal with it.
7. IF YOU HAD ENOUGH FAITH, YOU WOULDN'T FEAR
I think a lot about heroes. The people we look up to in life...in history. As a Christ follower, I think often about the people mentioned in the Scriptures. Abraham, Noah, Moses, Ruth, Esther, Joshua, Joseph. The list could go on and on, but you get the point. When it comes to fear, we don’t put those people in the fearful category, and yet they had moments of anxiety. Sometimes we read about it implicitly, and other times we infer those emotions from a place behind the text. Even though Joseph seems like this great leader who had anointed abilities, I’m sure he was terrified when he was sold as a slave, when he was thrown into prison, and when he was brought before Pharaoh.
When Abraham left his people to head into unknown territory, you have to know he was afraid. And yet, he is known as a man of great, great faith. Fear does not infer a lack of faith. It’s what we do with our fear that matters. Because he chose to do great things while afraid, we don't think of Abraham as a man of fear...rather we know him as a man of faith, who, understandably, had moments of fear.
In the case of anxiety, it can be tricky because it seems as though Jesus is inviting us into a place where we don’t have to struggle with fear because He asks us to give up our control. He invites us to lay our cares at His feet. He says His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He has plans to give us a future and a hope. We know all the ways we are supposed to think about our struggles, about our lives. And yet, while we are on this planet, we will continue to fear, in spite of our faith.
Don't buy into the lie that you are discounted from the title "Christ follower" or "man/woman of faith" because you struggle with anxiety and/or depression.
I'd like to encourage you to try this. Next time your heart is full of fear, and your mind is determined to act like a human, pray like the psalmist, David,
“Hear my cry, O God; from the ends of the earth I cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you are a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy…” Psalm 61:1-3
There’s a whole lot of noise in the world today. That’s part of the reason I haven’t been writing very much recently. I can’t stand the thought of adding to an already overwhelming amount of information. People can’t digest all that is at their fingertips. It’s too much.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that sometimes a message starts burning within me until I just have to sit down and get it out. When I can’t shake it, I know it’s time to say it. So, here I am, adding to the noise and hoping that it’s worth someone’s precious time. Maybe someone needs to hear it right now!
Purpose is of utmost importance to me. If something doesn’t have a purpose, I have a very difficult time getting on the bandwagon of whatever it may be. You can ask the women’s ministry team I led for several years… I was annoyingly hypervigilant against “fluff,” as I called it. I had to learn to take a chill pill and realize that a little superficial fun never hurt anyone, in fact it can be downright therapeutic.
But for the majority of my life, I want to be found participating in things that matter for years beyond the doing. I am enamored by the idea of changing realities that haven’t even happened yet. I have witnessed how purposeful sacrifices can lead to generational modifications. I am inspired by the revolution that happens when one person takes a stand and says “no more.”
There are a lot of ways in which a person can say “no more.” We are all faced with little choices every day which will lead to one outcome or another. We know this instinctively, we just don’t always take the time to analyze this practice.
Most of us know what we should be doing. An overweight person is typically aware that they should lessen their food intake. The diabetic knows they should probably pass on the chocolate cake. The smoker is aware that each drag of the cigarette is leading to a potential death. The alcoholic doesn’t drink because he thinks it’s a good idea. Deep down they know they should say no. The chronically negative person hates that they cannot find the good in anything and yet feels powerless to change. The parent that resorts to screaming instead of balanced reason with their children doesn’t feel better when they go over the edge.
What are we to do? Here’s a start:
- Decide you are going to make the change.
- Start small.
- Get back up and try again if you fail.
- Keep trying, even when it gets hard.
These are all steps we’ve heard before. Maybe we’ve even tried them before.
I want to talk to those of you who have talked about making better choices and continually find yourself slipping right back into the behavior. I consider myself something of an expert on the subject, because I’ve had the experience of consistently failing at something.
Thankfully, I’ve come to understand that there are lasting ways to make changes in our lives. I know that growth and change are possible. It doesn’t mean perfection is ever reached; I don’t believe that perfection exists...in anyone. Do you hear what I’m saying? If someone tries to sell you some kind of fake perfectionism, run away. More than likely, they aren’t being honest about something in their life.
I do believe with all my heart, however, that real, lasting change is absolutely possible. When I was tempted to quit counseling because it was too expensive or too painful, I didn’t because I was amazed at how much it was contributing to the change I saw in my circumstances. I processed memories and perspectives that needed to be discussed, received tools to help heal my mind, and started using those tools in order to create a new normal.
Once you discover that something needs changed, the only responsible thing to do is to work towards changing it! Now that you know...it’s time to grow. We were designed to learn new things every day. We are stunning creations who have the capacity to reset and form new identities. We don’t have to stay stuck.
If you struggle with a toxic thought life, start today at changing those thought patterns (speaking to the choir on this one… this tendency is huge in my life). You don’t have to believe every negative thought that happens to saunter through your brain. Make it stop. And if you find yourself unable to, get some professional help. Don’t take it. Boss your brain around and tell it what to do. Change the conversation happening in your head.
If you find yourself continually going back to the same type of toxic friendships, make a conscious effort to separate yourself from the negative relationships you have created with them. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s necessary. Sometimes it takes an honest conversation with a friend. Maybe they aren’t so bad that you need to make a separation. But, perhaps you need to discuss some of the negative patterns you know are present in the relationship.
Maybe you know you should discontinue a habit. It’s something that is only mildly destructive now, but you have a sick feeling in your gut that it could be the death of you if it got out of control. Why wait until you have damaged health, a crumbling marriage or a crisis of some kind before you make the change you know is vital right now?
Decide to change.
Get back up and try again if you fail.
Keep trying, even when it gets hard.
I want to challenge you (and myself) to think about the possible ramifications of just one choice. What could change in your family if you stopped toxic thinking? What patterns could you put to an end if you chose to think before you spoke? How might you inspire the generations coming up behind you if you were to put an end to unhealthy habits? What might your decision change for those who are watching?
I get it. It’s not often that we think about our great-grandchildren while we are going through a typical day. But, maybe it’s time to start thinking toward the future. What can we change today that will have a lasting impact on our family tomorrow?
If it feels overwhelming, break it down in bite-sized chunks.
Smoke one less cigarette today. Use one teaspoon of sugar in your coffee instead of two. Take two bites of dessert instead of ten. Replace “I’m so ugly” when you look in the mirror with “I am thankful I have eyes to see,” or with a compliment you know to be true about yourself. Count to ten before you respond to your kids with the typical red faced retort. Ask for help. Breathe. Have grace for yourself. And, start small.
Over time, add more to your small goals. Do more as you can do more. Don’t give up!
The important thing is that we recognize when something is a potential long-term problem and we begin the process of correcting it in our lives.
It’s good for us.
It’s good for those who are watching us.
What is it in your life that you know needs to change?
I’m cheering for you. I know it’s tough to look at those areas we know are holding us back.
But, let me lovingly tell you, now that you know...it’s time to grow.
Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash
We had such a wonderful time at the very first "Finding Brave" book signing the other evening!
My friend Debbie was able to capture a few photos for us.
Thank you to everyone who came out to purchase the book and chat for awhile. What a great evening!
I’m somewhat sure I’m doing a few things wrong in my life. That is, wrong according to my own ridiculous expectations of myself.
I don't work for a high-earning company. I haven’t made the New York Times Best Seller’s list. I have dirty dishes on my kitchen counter, currently, as we speak.
I feel like a failure most days as a wife, mom and friend. I don’t call or write my Mom enough, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t sent out a Holiday card in like, five years. Oh, did I mention I’m pretty sure I’m failing as a mom?
Who makes the rules around here? Why do we feel so inadequate in today's culture? Do any of you ever want to go back to churning butter and running through fields of wildflowers with your perfectly content, technology-free children?
Much of my writing is reflective. I’m typically either thinking through a situation, or have recently come through a life lesson. This essay on life is still in process, so forgive the informal tone.
I might possibly be using you as a sounding board.
I guess I’m wondering who decides what constitutes a perfect life? Where do we get this idea that someone else’s version of living--someone’s unique existence is the one we should be copying?
Sure, there will be some overlapping. There will be people whose experiences sound very much the same. There will be statistics and data which explain preferred outcomes and point to choices which brought about that result. I get it that there are certain absolutes. That’s not what I’m thinking about here.
Current status check:
Roof over my head. (check)
Food. Clothes. Education. (check, check, check).
Technically, if those things are a part of mine and my offspring’s experience (and they are), then we have the formula for a pretty fab lifestyle. And yet, I sit here today, reflecting on all the ways I must be messing the whole thing up.
Perhaps it’s due to my fascination with perfectionism. I’m trying to give it up, honestly I am. It just creeps back into my subconscious every once in a while and begs for me to take another look at it’s many charms. If I was perfect then surely the outcomes of my life would be perfect too.
I know what I need. You need it too, if you are wandering around in “What if” land like I have been this week.
Most of the time we just need a reminder about what is truly important. We don't usually need someone telling us what we are doing wrong. Most often we need an affirming voice telling us to keep going in the areas where we are doing our best.
My husband and I had an interesting discussion this week. Every once in awhile we (and by we I mostly mean I) start worrying about whether or not our kids have all the opportunities they should have. Will they grow up in the right way, with the correct influences and will they have all the chances they could have to make it in life? I’m not sure why I’m even worried about it. But, it seems like the thing to do as a “barely millennial.” It feels like I should be very concerned about the way in which my kids are growing up.
I’m all for intentional parenting. All for it.
I’ve read a few parenting books and I think they are fabulous. We have to raise these whipper-snappers into functioning adults. It’s a big job.
But, if you need a reality check like I do, I’m going to share one with you.
It’s going to be okay.
I need to hear it and I’m guessing someone else needs to hear it too.
If you can’t afford the highly competitive, private school with all the opportunities for success, it will be okay.
If you can’t make that awesome vacation work because, well, bills, it will be okay.
If you have to eat rice and beans for the next fourteen days because the transmission went out, it will be okay.
If you can't manage putting all of your kids in extra-curricular activities, it will be okay.
If your kids decided to try out that swear word they overheard and you are still dying from embarrassment, it will be okay. (Life lesson!)
If you are loving each other and making this crazy life work to the best of your ability, it will be okay.
People who came from what seems like the back of the pack have been making it fine for years…
Thomas Edison was told he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
Michael Jordan was once rejected from his high school basketball team.
The founder of Starbucks grew up in a low-income housing complex.
Perhaps you dream of creating the perfect life with as few complexities as possible. But, could it be that the complexities are what help create courage and determination?
I’m making it my goal to do as much as I can, with what I have. And then, I’m going to choose to accept the inevitable.
I don’t want to be lazy. I don’t want to say it’s good enough when it really isn’t.
However, I do want to stop allowing my perception of the perfect life to get in the way of enjoying the beautiful blessings I have right in front of my clueless face.
Today I will choose to give my family an extra dose of loving, even if they scrunch up their face and act like they don't like it.
Today I will choose to have an attitude of gratitude, knowing that I have all I need to make successful children.
Today I will remember that nothing good comes out of comparison. Instead, l will do the best with what I've been given and forget about whether or not the person next to me is doing better or worse than me.
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As many of you know, I have been working on a project near and dear to my heart for the past year. I've written a book and have partnered with WestBow Press to publish it. I'm so excited to report that it's almost finished!
I feel so strongly that this book could help people who were once like me. I've often wondered how differently my story would have played out if I would have had access to a story like mine. If I could have read an honest story and known that I was not alone. If I could have known that healing was possible, even if it didn't look like perfection.
My book will also help those who are supporting people with challenges. I believe it will help them be more empathetic and understanding.
I want to get the word out about this book, but I'm going to need some help to do it!
I'm looking for volunteers to be part of my launch team. We begin right away, so if you think you might be interested, please head on over there.
I can't wait to get started!
I have a junk drawer in my kitchen island. Perhaps you have one that's similar. Honestly, it isn't all junk. There are some pretty important things hiding in there. But, over time I've found an odd assortment of items tend to accumulate in that location. Pens which no longer work, a random key that no one wants to throw away (you know, just in case). A few stray paper clips, a piece that fell off of a piece of furniture, just waiting to be reunited with its larger part.
Every once in awhile, I come to a point of frustration and I know it's time to clean out the drawer. It's too full, too disorganized and littered with things that don't belong. I comb through its contents, checking for things of value, placing items in their rightful place, discarding the pens that no longer contain ink. I typically find things no longer useful to me, so they join the pens' fateful demise.
I've learned that my mind can become a junk drawer all too easily if I'm not continually dealing with the excess negativity. When I let things slide I end up with a thought that turns into a normal reaction, which evolves into a habit. It happens gradually and yet all too quickly.
Just as we should frequently sort out the junk drawer in our home, we must take the time to sort out our thoughts as well. So often there are thought patterns that have no business taking up space. There are beliefs we hold about ourselves and others that are nothing more than blatant lies. They have been allowed to take over.
It's time to root them out.
The rooting out isn't easy, but it's worth it in the end. A mind full of truthful, meaningful thoughts will foster peace and calm. The mind that contains fear, worry, and lies will breed anxiety, discontent and pain.
If you knew it was possible to change, would you want to?
Take a minute and think honestly about that question.
Are you content living in dysfunction, or are you ready for transformation? If you are ready to walk on a new path, read on.
Change requires a choice.
I mean, honestly, when it's time to clean out the junk drawer in my kitchen, it's the last thing I want to be doing. I'd rather sit on the couch and relax than tackle that craziness. It's similar when we go to transform our thought patterns. It might be messy in there, but it's our mess and we are comfortable with it. It may bug us from time to time...like when we open that drawer and rifle through the contents, but we feel like we can deal with it.
We have to make the decision that we won't settle for a kind of dysfunctional comfort zone. If you've felt the pangs of frustration, you know it's not healthy for you to continue in it. So, make the choice to make a change!
Since you aren't able to stop the thoughts from coming into your mind, you have to take the time to tackle them when they arrive.
Say for instance, you find yourself entertaining this idea from time to time: "No one cares about me..."
The next time you hear that thought, write it down. Take a little time and ask yourself where that thought originated from. Is it something you've thought for as long as you can remember? Or, is it a new thought, brought on by a recent experience? Record your observations about your findings.
Next, go to your search bar on your computer and type in the following: "Verses about God's care for me." Click on one of the results. Read the verses. Write down one or two which are particularly meaningful. Keep them close to you, perhaps by your bed, in your car, or taped to your bathroom mirror.
When that thought comes to you again, stop immediately and speak to the thought (in your mind, or out loud...I won't judge).
"I know that there is Someone who cares for me! Isaiah 41:10 says, 'Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.' And furthermore, in Matthew 6 it says that I'm more important to God than the birds of the air, and even they are taken care of!"
Every time that thought comes to steal your joy, replace it with a statement you know to be true. (Even if it doesn't seem true at the time).
You can even think about instances in your life when people cared for you in meaningful ways. Speak about those times and replace that negative thought:
"I know I'm cared for because Carla smiled at me last time she saw me and told me she had been thinking about me this week. And, my neighbor offered to pick up my mail while I was out of town. And I had the nicest conversation with the girl at the checkout stand - she was so friendly!"
The important thing is that you immediately spin that negative thought around to something positive. Do it over and over and over. Every time you entertain a meaningless, negative thought, replace it with a positive affirmation. Before long you will be amazed at how different your thought life is becoming.
If you find yourself continually entertaining thoughts you know to be prideful or impure, stop immediately and confess it to God. There is tremendous power when we agree with Him and admit that it's wrong. Say, "Lord, I know that temptation is trying to get in the way. I want to choose my sinful desires over you in this moment, but I'm choosing You instead." Search for verses about sin and temptation (study the life of David...that's a great place to start). Use those verses in the times of temptation or the moments of failure. Speak life and truth to your mind.
I can't remember where I first heard this statement, but it's a good one: "You have to boss your mind." You have to choose to tell it what to do, or it will tell you what to do.
Just as you order the junk drawer and create calm where chaos once reigned, so you do in your mind. Boss your mind and tell it what it gets to think.
"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."
Philippians 4:8 NLT
*Do you want a relationship with God but don't know where to start? Send me a message. I'd love to talk to you!
Photo: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Selfishness knocks often-- In marriage, parenting and life in general. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could flip a switch to become the patient version of ourselves we dream about during our fits of frustration? I know I’ve been there before.
Not long ago, my husband and I were discussing potential changes to his schedule. While I wanted to be supportive, I knew that my world would turn upside down just a little. I found myself groaning and complaining to him. “As a mom, I don’t ever get to determine my schedule. My schedule revolves around everyone else. There’s nothing I can do about it. So I guess I might as well get used to it.” I tried to be as sweet as possible, in a slightly passive-aggressive way. Part of what I said was true. Most often, moms face the fact sooner or later that their lives are forever changed when they give birth to humans. We are never the same. We juggle meals, naptime, school schedules, lessons, practices, family dynamics, laundry and cleaning better than the highest paid personal assistant. We are tuned in to the different sounds of a cry, the eye-roll of a teen-ager and the needs of our husbands. It’s not easy, but somebody has to do it!
All joking aside, both moms and dads are asked to give up a lot when they create life and give it space to become something great.
I read a quote recently that brought an abrupt end to my petty complaints in the moment.
C. S Lewis wrote, “The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.”
The very things I have often allowed to circumvent my happiness are the things that bring me joy and purpose! What an important wake up call for those of us who gravitate to grumbling when we should be expressing gratitude.
I know we’re human, so we make mistakes--I get it. I refuse to be hard on anyone who is doing their best to live a life of meaning. So many of us are doing what we can with the tools we have at the moment. However, I’d like to propose that perhaps it’s time to step it up in the thankfulness department. I’d like us to consider that putting others above our desires is not a reason to whine, but a chance to thrive. It gives us renewed perspective so that we might see a world beyond the one with us in the center. A world where we “outdo one another in showing honor.” Where we bless those who persecute us and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:10,14,15)
I have a pre-teen, so I have moments in which I think I’m being persecuted. I’m really not, but when the angst of growing pains takes over a peaceful morning, I roll my eyes more than my adolescent does. Then I gently remind myself that I’m the adult here and it’s time to “Mom-up” for the situation and do what I’ve been created to do. Parenting is a great study in humility, because just when you think you are starting to figure out one stage, another one hits you like a force of nature. We pretty much never know what we are doing.
Even in the trenches of teen drama, there is a silver lining. Whatever the stage--In the middle of diapers and doctor visits, car lines and acne treatments, there are blessings to count. Parents, take heart. I know that there are days in which you feel selfish for partaking in self care. Don’t you do it. There are ways to create space for your own needs, without becoming a selfish monster. It’s a delicate balance, but it generally revolves around motive.
I know it’s not our favorite thing to do, but we must surrender our desire to be at the top of the food chain. Sometimes we need a reminder like the one in Philippians 2:3 to shake us out of our predictable behavior: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” I don’t know about you, but I battle a daily desire to be number one. I wish I got it right every single time, but I don’t. I have to repent--confess--ask God to reframe my thinking so it looks more like His. He is the ultimate authority in sacrificial living (and dying).
His purpose was paramount in everything He did. His theology of others first was revealed in His thoughtful service to others.
I’m challenged to continue to surrender my selfishness to the One who can transform my human tendencies into miraculous milestones for His glory. And as I give Him my tendency to take the number one spot, He gives me a heart of gratefulness for the blessings I had all along, but was too self-centered to notice.
PC: Matt Hoffman on Unsplash
I have been experiencing an unusual case of the "I wants" recently. It's most likely due to the promise of Spring peeking right around the corner, that brings with it the desire to renew the old stuff in my life.
I look around my home and see all the projects that would seemingly make my life more meaningful when completed.
I walk into my closet and am faced with the disorganization I have allowed to invade my everyday existence, and find myself scheming how I can acquire the latest and greatest tools to make that space work.
My kitchen suddenly seems outdated and frustrating with it's creamy laminate floors and stock kitchen cabinets. I'm unsettled and ungrateful.
I often feel guilty when those thoughts creep in. After all, I've lived major portions of my life without perfection in home essentials, so why do I care so much?
I suppose there is something to be said for the way I am wired. I am a Creative by nature, so I love the renewing and restoring part of any project. I am inspired by color charts and the way textures can beautifully compliment each other.
There's nothing inherently wrong with finding pleasure in creative endeavors, but there is something off when we strive for perfectionism at every turn.
When our wants become an unending distraction to what our soul needs, we are the losers.
I'm challenged by the idea that our focus should be centered on the important work of renewing our minds. Of allowing the Spirit of God to remake our inner beings. We must cast off the distractions that take away from the ultimate goal of seeing. The goal of seeing our lives through the lens that our Sovereign God desires us to.
We must allow our sight to be restored.
In Mark's Gospel we read a telling of the interaction between Christ and a blind man named Bartimaeus.
And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
Mark 10: 46-52
We have to be willing to throw off the cloak...the things holding us back from our healing. Matthew Henry writes the following, "The gracious call Christ gives us to come to him, encourage our hope, that if we come to him we shall have what we come for. Those who would come to Jesus, must cast away the garment of their own sufficiency, must free themselves from every weight, and the sin that, like long garments, most easily besets them..."
In my life the weight that often besets me aren't the big things. More often it is the little annoyances, frustrations, and feelings of discontent that hold me back. They fill my mental real estate and create a web of clutter that I often allow to mess up my day.
I know the key to real joy. I am aware that to the degree I pursue Christ, I will experience a feeling, or awareness that can't be taken away by simple circumstances.
When I am tempted by feelings of discontent, I have the power within me to focus on all the beautiful ways God shows up in my life.
First, He saved me. For real. I was a mess before He changed my life. Before surrender I lived an existence of striving.
Secondly, He changed me. He made me into a new creation. And He's not done yet! Every day I wake up is a day where God chooses to mold me into the person He thought of when He created me. I only have to keep letting Him have first place in my life.
Lastly, He loved me. Correction. He loves me. If all he did was die for me, it's enough. But, that's not all He's done. He walked before us. He came to earth as a real person with real hurts and human perceptions. And in His walking on this earth, He gave us a road map to a life of joy.
Psalm 16:11 says that "in His presence is fullness of joy." Jesus knew the secret to joy was perfecting His focus on His Father.
Similarly, when we feel our gaze shifting to things that can't bring us lasting fulfillment, all we have to do is spend time with the One who gave us time. Prioritize Him!
In John 15:5, His words give life and hope. "...I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing." To have true joy, we must abide (remain fixed in a state) in Him. We don't ever stop abiding. We don't ever stop living in His presence. And when we abide, we will produce much fruit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Those don't come by accident. You don't just sort of acquire those traits. We remain in Him, and He lives through us.
So practically speaking, when I find myself zeroing in on the things I believe to be imperfect in my surroundings, it's time to check my motives. I have to ask myself why I am hyper-focused on it? I need to consider the possibility that I'm looking to perfection in my home, in my life, my family to be the source of my joy.
If i'm obsessing about the state of my surroundings, instead of the state of my soul, then something is off. I'm very aware that the correcting of that skewed thinking can take time and purposeful redirection towards what really matters.
When the lack of perfection in my house and life is stealing my joy, I need to look deeper and make sure I'm not looking to the wrong things for my fulfillment.
I LOVE this passage of wisdom found in II Corinthians 4:16-18.
"Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
My house, my things, my worldly possessions will decay. Our bodies will decay. And while we don't need to neglect the improvement of those things, the better fixation would be on our inner self. What we think about. What we choose to dwell on in those quiet moments. Who we allow to control our inner dialogue. All of the outward striving to achieve perfection only serves to create a feeling of discontent and emotional instability.
I think we intuitively know that our bodies, our things are decaying. We know that there is more out there, which would explain why we feel like we need to change something again and again. It's why there are trends in the world. It's why there are "hot items," which will be old news before the year is over. We are working to impress people (sometimes ourselves) and all along our Creator is saying, Come to me. I'm literally all you need. He says in Matthew's Gospel,
"So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34).
He cares about our needs. He will supply our needs. But, I think He desires to be our greatest "want." He tells us to seek first His Kingdom...His Righteousness.
So the next time I feel that sick feeling of discontent in my gut, I'm going to remember that He invites me to worry less about tomorrow, and more about His plans for my life, and for the lives of those around me. I'm going to continue to enjoy creative projects, and re-do things in my home. I'm going to continue to go work out and eat healthy food. But, I refuse to obsess about things that God clearly tells me to stop obsessing about.
I want. It's how God made me.
I just want to seek and pursue His kingdom and righteousness first...before I seek that perfect wall color.