Just Bethany

Reinventing myself

Jesus Is Not a Band-Aid

My people are broken—shattered!—

    and they put on Band-Aids,

Saying, “It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.”

But things are not “just fine”!

Jeremiah 6:14 (MSG)

When you fall down the stairs carrying a bag of groceries and rip every tendon and ligament in your ankle, it hurts. A lot. You have surgery to repair said tendons and ligaments, which also hurts. A lot. But you’re still not cured. You have months (at least) of physical therapy to recondition your knee. And it hurts. A lot. Eventually, it hurts a little less when you wake up in the morning. Eventually, you graduate from a walker to a cane while walking. Eventually, you carry a bag of groceries up the stairs and forget the pain caused by that same action. But it takes a long time. Healing is a painful and long process.

Our emotions are even more fragile than knee tendons and ligaments. So why do we try to slap a Sunday School platitude on a deep emotional wound and tell the traumatized to stop crying about it? That would be like slapping a Band-Aid on a broken ankle. 

  • “Don’t worry about it; just pray.”
  • “Don’t be depressed; you have the joy of the Lord!”
  • “God’s with you, so you shouldn’t feel lonely.”
  • “Just turn the other cheek; it doesn’t matter what others say.”
  • “Time heals all wounds; you should be over that by now.”

I don’t know about you, but that triteness just doesn’t cut it for me. Those phrases leave people feeling like if only we were a better Christian, or believed more, or had more faith, or prayed more, we wouldn’t feel so bad. Author Alison Cook calls it “spiritual bypassing.” Christian author and comedian Jon Acuff calls it “Jesus juking” (you’ll catch the reference if you’re a sports fan). We Scots don’t call it anything because we don’t even acknowledge our feelings. 

No matter what you call it, the effect is the same: we’re stuffing our feelings down into the toes of our winter boots and hoping summer is eternal. Reality check: it’s not. Stuffing our emotions is not healthy. It leads to a whole host of other emotional issues (stress, anger, bitterness) and even physical problems (headaches, stomach aches, chronic muscle pain, and the list goes on). Eventually, you won’t be able to keep those emotions stuffed in. They’ll erupt like Mount St. Helens. 

Here’s the thing. Being a Christian does not make us “immune to normal human emotions” (Cook). My favorite example is David. Just look at all the psalms where he expresses anger, disappointment, fear, sadness, loneliness, shame, and a host of other emotions. But he doesn’t stop there. He works through them. Growth only occurs when we go THROUGH the emotions, not around them (thus the term bypass). 

There are no shortcuts in the Christian life. Psalm 23 talks about the valley of the shadow of death. John 16:33 confirms “In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we should not have feelings! Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It does not say don’t be angry. “You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. You can’t transform what you’ve pretended doesn’t exist” (Cook).

BUT, don’t camp out in those negative emotions. Don’t vent to everyone about everything every minute of every day. As Christian author and speaker Lysa TerKeurst says, “emotions are not dictators.” We should not use emotions as excuses to act out, to stay in the valley, to exhibit bad behavior, or to make others feel worse. No! They’re indicators that we need to pay attention to something going on in our souls. 

Yes, Christ helps. Yes, Christ has forgiven me, so I should forgive others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Yes, Jesus offers his peace when I commit my anxieties to him, but the anxieties keep coming back! Yes, faith is the enemy of fear, but that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid!!

I think we would have less anxiety if we were allowed to talk openly about it. Sometimes that’s all I want—for my feelings to be ACKNOWLEDGED. That’s it. You don’t even have to understand it (because chances are I won’t believe that you do understand it unless I know you’ve been THROUGH it yourself). You don’t have to diagnose it. You don’t have to fix it. Please don’t offer an empty platitude. Just let me express myself. Part of the going-through the process is just acknowledging that those emotions are there. 

Acknowledging our emotions and going through the steps to heal them is just as necessary for a healthy emotional balance as physical therapy after ankle surgery to repair those torn tendons and ligaments. Not acknowledging and working through emotions is like just lying in a hospital bed after the ankle surgery for weeks on end. Sure, you have a new knee, but it’s not going to work very well if you don’t do the hard work of physical therapy. Maybe you think that the ankle should heal up in a few weeks, just like the removed appendix did. Nope. Maybe you think that the hurt should be gone as quickly as the anger (or vice versa). Nope. It takes as long as it takes. Maybe you think you’re all healed, but then a twinge swoops in unexpectedly and leaves you breathless for a moment. Does that mean you need another ankle surgery because you didn’t have enough faith that the surgery and physical therapy you already did was enough? No! It means that healing is a long-term process!!

Whoever gets sense loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will discover good.

Proverbs 19?8 (ESV)

So, if we’re not offering Jesus Band-Aids, what should we offer instead? What do you think? What’s the most helpful thing you’ve heard when you’ve gone through hard times? Drop me a line and let me know what you think. I’ll be posting about it next time.

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How Big Is Your Cross?

How big is your cross? Depends on your proximity. If you’re close, your cross is big. If you’re far away, your cross is small. In our oversized, bigger-is-better world, we equate size with greatness. 

But here’s the thing, sometimes we just need to get closer in order for it to be bigger. When we get closer to the cross, we’re closer to the Lord of the cross, the one who has already defeated our enemy—a big God who can tackle big problems.

When I forget to read my Bible, when I focus on problems, when I spend more time asking God for piddly things than praising Him for all things, when I focus on the chasm of the water between us, I find myself feeling distant from the cross and all it represents.

But when I read my Bible, focus on the beauty around me, remember to praise God for the blessings he has given me, and look for the connecting bridge (Jesus), I find myself craning my neck to take in the power and majesty of the cross that is right in front of me.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

James 4:8 ESV

What about you? Do you need to adjust your proximity? How big is your cross?

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If I Don’t Say It . . .

If I don’t say it, it’s not true. If I don’t say it, it didn’t happen. If I don’t say it, I can sweep it under the carpet. Right? As much as my reticent Scottish ancestry would like to believe that, it’s not accurate. Feelings can only be suppressed for so long; events happen whether or not I verbalize them. 

This past two years (more like seven), so many things have happened that I don’t want to acknowledge. But I’ve learned that acknowledgment and acceptance don’t necessarily equal approval.

By accepting that certain things ARE, I free my heart to figure out how to live with their realities without losing my mind.

But how on earth do you accept losing your second chance at love, your health, your finances, your job, your church, and your dreams for your family? Prayer, prayer, and more prayer! Then . . .

You get up, dress up, and show up! You put one foot in front of the other. You cry. And you cry some more. 

Then you dry your tears and do the next thing. But the thing about crying is not allowing yourself to wallow indefinitely. So many bitter people wallow forever and never get through. They are stuck in the Fire Swamp of despair—like the quicksand in Princess Bride, but without hero Westly. 

Whatever you do, don’t keep it all bottled inside! From experience, I can tell you that doesn’t work. Forty-eight years is a long time to keep a stiff upper lip. When you keep it bottled up, it bubbles over—”out of the abundance of the heart, [her] mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). And that’s just not a pretty sound.

Feelings have to be traveled through. There is no around. Going through does not mean getting stuck in them, though. It means processing those feelings, so you can heal. Healing comes from going through, not from stuffing. 

David struggled with this very issue when he was being pursued relentlessly by his enemies. He was honest with the Lord about his emotions, but he didn’t stay there. Many of the psalms document David’s struggle with accepting the hard stuff of life. One of my favorites is Psalm 79. David begins by telling God what others have done against him. Then he lets the Lord know what he’s feeling. “How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?” (v. 5). He is honest with God about his feelings; he doesn’t keep them bottled up inside. Rather, he gives them over to the Creator of feelings who knows best how to soothe them. He next asks for help: 

“Help us, O God of our salvation,
    for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
    for your name’s sake! (v. 9).

But the real sermon in this psalm is the last verse. David gives thanks to the Lord WHILE he’s in the middle of his mess. That’s what we need to do, too.

For me, writing is often the way through hard stuff and its accompanying emotions. What’s your way through the quagmire of messy life?

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Don’t Pet the Bison

. . . And other things you don’t think you have to tell your kids. I asked some of my mom friends for the most outrageous things they’d ever had to tell their kids not to do, and here’s what they told me (along with a few that have come out of my own mouth): 

  • Don’t eat Tide Pods.
  • Don’t bring a kitten home from Tennessee.
  • Don’t lick the floor. 
  • Don’t eat the dog’s food.
  • You can’t teach the cat to read.
  • Don’t put cereal in your nose.

As God’s children, he’s had to tell us plenty of things that he probably thought we should know already, but we seem to do them over and over again anyway.

  • Don’t gossip.
  • Don’t complain. 
  • Watch your attitude.
  • Love and respect others. 
  • Put God first (on Sundays and every other day).
  • Be generous.
  • Don’t worship idols (disguised as kids’ soccer games, career success, or a bigger house).
  • Don’t be jealous (of your friends’ lives as portrayed on Instagram and Facebook).

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:13

Duh. Remember when we were teens and that was the standard response that meant “I know! I’m not stupid, so you didn’t have to tell me that”? And then remember when our moms were right after all?

How many times did God have to rescue the nation of Israel in the Old Testament because they did something stupid like worship idols or make a treaty with the enemies that God told them to destroy (Joshua 9, the book of Judges)? A lot! How many times does God have to rescue us because we went ahead and said what was on our minds or skipped church for the third week in a row? A lot!

When God tells us something in his Word, it’s because he knows best. For real. We should not be so arrogant as to say “duh” because chances are we’re about to act like a tourist with her arm stretched out to pet that bison. 

Paul assures us that God gives us the ability to follow God’s directions so that we may live a life that glorifies Him. That’s what this well-known verse is really talking about: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Let me know in which areas I can pray for you to be strengthened.

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The New Midlife Crisis: Not Just for Men Anymore

In the good old days, we’d hear about men in their 40s and 50s leaving their wives, buying fancy sports cars, and running off to Mexico with 20-year-old blonde bimbos. We’d shake our heads sadly, judge him loudly, and say, “Oh, he’s having a midlife crisis. His poor wife!” And that would be the end of it.

I’m pretty sure there’s a new midlife crisis in town. And it’s not a 55-year-old bald guy speeding down the road in a red Mazda Miata with a young blonde in the passenger seat. It’s the moms with empty nests; it’s the victims of the 20-year-ditch club (women divorced after being married to the same man for 20-ish years and raising a family with him); it’s the resumes with the 18-year gaps. They’re still driving beige minivans; they’ve crammed what’s left of their belongings into a two-bedroom apartment; they’re still cooking meals for a family of six, but setting the table for one. They’re hopping from job to job, from church to church, from activity to activity yet feeling unfulfilled and lonely.

But the new midlife crisis is also hitting successful career women, moms with kids finishing up high school, happy wives, and lifelong church members. What’s up with that? We’re the richest country in the world with more disposable income and time than ever before, yet we’re unsatisfied with our lives.

At this age (40s-50s), we should have figured out what we want and acquired it. We should have learned our lessons and moved on. We should have the experience to know what we’re good at and to work at it. 

As Ada Calhoun wrote in “The New Midlife Crisis,” Gen X women all over America are experiencing a depressing shift into this period in our lives. It’s not just women going through upheavals and transitions. It’s women who look like they have it all together. 

I could cite multiple reasons for these feelings of panic and crisis, but that’s not my main point. If you’re feeling useless, rootless, and helpless to do anything about it, you’re probably not interested in the why. You’re just interested in the fix. Like yesterday. 

So, what’s the real answer? I don’t know! But I did some poking around to find out what the answer is because I, too, want the fix. Like yesterday.

First of all, don’t do anything rash or stupid that you might possibly regret later. Just. Don’t. Do. It. Second, cling to the truths you already know from God’s Word. Like these:

  • Our main purpose in life is to glorify God.
  • Cling to Christ and continue on–Philippians 3:13-20.
  • Wait on the Lord, and He will give you new strength–Isaiah 40:31.
  • Read the book of Ecclesiastes; Solomon’s musings will make you feel less alone.
  • Read Psalms 105-106 and other biblcal passages that review all of the good things that God did for Israel and reflect on what good things the Lord has done in your life.

Third, try a few practical things as well:

  • Journal–get all those angsty feelings out of your head.
  • Strive to eat healthier–most of the time. Hey, a girl’s gotta have her chocolate from time to time.
  • Start ramping up the number of steps you set as your goal on your FitBit.
  • Talk to your girlfriends. I guarantee that you’re not the only one trying to figure out hot flashes, teens/20s drama, parent care, and career crises.

So, am I fixed yet? Nope. But I know where my focus should be: on Christ, not on myself. And I know I just have to keep going because one day I’ll look back on this period in my life and be grateful for the lessons God taught me through it.

What about you? Where are you in this journey called life? (Sorry, more Prince!) Are you feeling the crunch of a midlife crisis? And what are you doing about it? Tell me about it!

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Take It to the Cross

How many times do we hear—or say—that phrase and not know how to take our burdens to the cross and leave them there?

“Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge

I connected immediately with this sculpture, “Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge, the first time I saw its image. Others have called it “The Weight of Grief,” and that’s what I see. Grief, bitterness, struggles, loneliness, loss, all these things weigh us down. It’s not just all in the mind or in the heart; hard things take their toll physically too. 

All this weight that we carry can make daily living difficult. Imagine carrying a 30-pound backpack on your back all day, every day. Sounds exhausting, right? Well, that’s what we do when we don’t let Christ carry our spiritual and emotional burdens for us. 

I’ve tried to envision how free I would feel to be rid of all the weights I carry. I can picture Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress stumbling toward the cross. As he nears it and lifts his eyes to see the symbol of his Savior’s love, the weights fall right off his back. Can you imagine the freedom and lightness he felt? Can you imagine the freedom and lightness you and I would feel if we could only lay down our rock loads at the foot of the cross.

We can!! In order to help those of us (me) without an imagination, I’ve thought of doing this physically, but I haven’t yet. Gather up a bunch of rocks, use a sharpie to write a burden on each one—whatever’s weighing down me heart and mind and causing me to be bent over with grief. Take those rocks, those burdens to the cross and set them down on the ground beside it. I imagine Jesus bending over and picking up those rocks and in exchange giving me His yoke of peace, love, and grace. How much lighter I would feel! Those aren’t burdens at all; they’re blessings!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Once we’ve laid our burdens down at the foot of the cross, we can’t pick them up again. Not that I would want to, but we are creatures of habit. 

Recently when I was struggling with a particular issue with one of my children, I was keeping it all inside and not telling anyone about it—even my closest friends. I was so crushed by this burden—just like the person depicted in the “Rising Cairn” sculpture—that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was filled with anxiety and grief. My dad finally encouraged me to let it go, to let others help me carry that burden to the Lord. It was hard to share what I felt like was my failing as a mother, but I did. It took several months of prayers, tears, and sharing with friends who carried me to Jesus, but I have let it go (mostly). When I dwell on this issue, I still cry. I pray constantly for this problem. But I don’t carry the burden of it around with me, and in that, I am free. 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free

John 8:32 ESV

I have other burdens that I’m working on releasing, but sometimes I feel like the rocks are superglued to my hand! Why do I hold onto my burdens instead of loosing the backpack straps and letting the whole bag fall to the ground at the cross as Christian did? I don’t know! But I’m working on it, and I’m inviting Jesus to help me release these burdens. 

What rocks are superglued to your hands? What burdens are in your backpack weighing you down? Take them to the cross and leave them there, friend! If you need someone to pray with you about your cares, let me know.

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The Loneliness in Suffering

The thing with trials is that they are compounded by loneliness. Many trials are so individualized that no one can fully share in the suffering with you. No one else feels exactly the same way you do. No one else responds the same way to similar events. No one else can bear the weight of feeling through the emotions that accompany your suffering. No one else can cry your tears. So even if you’re blessed enough to have someone’s arm around your shoulders during the tough times, you still have to walk through that dark valley alone.

No one else can cry your tears.

Sure, others have gone through similar trials, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re hurting right now. Having someone say, “I’ve been there; it sucks, but you’ll make it through,” is sometimes helpful. Even better, having someone just sitting beside you silently is comforting. But it’s not enough.

But Christ is enough. As the only fully divine AND fully human being, He understands what we’re going through in ways that no one else can. He was rejected, mocked, and put to death, which led to being separated from God the Father – the ultimate torture. That means He understands when our kids reject our values (which feels intensely personal). He understands when others offer empty platitudes that feel like mockery. He understands separation from the ones who matter most to us, whether by death or by divorce. Our souls crave this deep level of understanding when we are suffering.

Even better than just knowing that Jesus understands our sufferings like no one else does is the fact that He’s offered to switch burdens with us. Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV) promises us rest if we can let go of the weights that are dragging us down:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Trust me, I know how hard it is to give my burden to Christ. It feels more like He’s prying my fingers open one by one and peeling that heartache back. But it’s worth it. You’ll feel better, I promise.

Leave me a comment with your prayer request, and I will spend time sharing your burden with the Lord. Sharing your heartaches with others who will share them with the One who understands will lighten your load. Try it.

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Me Too . . . Again

FindYourVoiceLinkup

When I logged back into my lonely blog, I discovered this half-written post. I don’t remember starting it, but it’s still applicable, so I cleaned it up and posted it.

My biggest fear when it comes to sharing my story is that I’ll be judged, condemned, and rejected. What’s the worst thing that could happen if I share parts of my story? I’ll find out that maybe some people weren’t true friends. Or maybe I’ll find out that some people are gossips. Those discoveries hurt. A lot. I’ve had those things happen, and I survived.

But I’ve also discovered that others have gone and are going through the same things that I am. That makes the process a little less lonely. And when I’m able to focus on helping someone else, my current problems seem to diminish just a bit. I feel like maybe that’s where God’s calling me to go with this blog–helping others who are going through separation and divorce, abuse, job loss, financial loss, home loss, car loss, health loss, reputation loss, friend loss, caring for aging parents, suicidal kids, watching adult children walk away from everything you’ve taught them, being condemned at church, starting over . . . again.

So, how do I get brave enough to give a voice and a face to the story that God’s weaving in my life? First, I waited. The beginning isn’t the time to share. I didn’t even know what was going on myself. I journaled, read, and received counsel from a variety of wise sources in the midst of my storms.

Then I looked for people who have been through what I went through. Somehow, hearing stories with which I could identify made me braver about sharing parts of my story.

Jo Ann’s book, When a Woman Finds Her Voice, was a tremendous help at the beginning, and it helped me to find my voice even while others were suppressing it.

Does this mean I have to share all the gory details (and there are a lot!) of every part of my story? I don’t think so. As always when writing, I need to analyze my audience and purpose, then filter through my story through a more objective lens.

Care to rejoin me? Let’s walk together through this journey called life (shoutout to Prince; yes, I’m totally an 80s girl!).

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Stop the Car!

stop signAs soon as I promised to write about real help for anxiety in my next blog post, I had a panic attack because I was afraid I couldn’t deliver. I thought to myself, what on earth was I thinking??? I don’t have any answers! I have no idea what helps me, let alone what would help others, with real anxiety issues. As I’ve just let the idea simmer in my mind for the past few weeks (oops), a few thoughts have come to me. Like all thoughts worthy of being captured in writing, these elusive impressions flit through my head while I’m driving, teaching, in the shower, or in the middle of church, which leaves me anxious that I’ll forget to say something really important. You see my dilemma?

First things first. If you’re having a full-blown panic attack, and you’re driving a car, stop driving! Seriously. Just pull off the side of the road or into a parking lot and let the panic attack finish its torrent. Don’t endanger yourself, your passengers, or other drivers. The panic will eventually subside enough for you to continue your journey. I promise.

Next, if you’ve suffered from overwhelming, debilitating anxious thoughts for more than several months in a row, consult a professional. I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack while I was dialing the phone the first time I made an appointment to talk to my doctor about my anxiety. But to my great surprise, I did not die. Actually, while I had suffered from mild, generalized anxiety pretty much my entire life, I didn’t even recognize these newer, more severe symptoms as anxiety.

We’re all guilty of self-diagnosing ourselves (WebMD anyone?), but sometimes we’re just too close to the problem to know what’s wrong. And besides, most diagnoses are best left to the professionals. Just attaching a name to my feelings, however, gave me a measure of calmness that maybe I could be treated, healed, or at least helped now that I knew what it was.

If you’ve never talked to a professional about your anxiety, start thinking about it. Ask for physician referrals from friends. Pick up the phone and make an appointment. There, don’t you feel a sense of relief now? If you want to talk to someone who’s been there—and is still there to a degree—let me know.

After I got going on writing about real help for anxiety, I wrote over 1,800 words in an hour on that topic. I guess I had more ideas than I realized. So, I decided to break them up and dole them out over a few weeks.

Next up, the Christian answer. My thoughts may surprise you.

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Let’s Talk about Anxiety

Let’s talk about anxiety. I don’t mean being a little bit nervous or worried. I mean being sick to your stomach anxious. Locomotive circling the brain nonstop anxious. Blurting out irrational thoughts anxious. Can’t breathe anxious. Can’t hold a cup of relaxing lavender tea without spilling anxious. Racing heartbeat anxious.

According to Dictionary.com, anxiety is “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.”

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Anxiety is an officially diagnosed chemical imbalance in the brain. When the serotonin, norepinephrine, and gaba are out of whack, a person cannot control her anxious thoughts any more than someone with a blockage in his heart can control whether/when he has a heart attack. Anxiety can also be caused by poor adrenal and/or low thyroid functions. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, PTSD, OCD, and social anxiety are all in the same family.

Sometimes people with anxiety need medical intervention—prescription or natural herbs—in order for their minds to calm enough so that they can focus enough to pray and have faith. Taking medication does not mean people don’t have faith. Medication helps to heal people’s chemical imbalances and calm racing thoughts just as a stent in an artery prevents another heart attack.

How do you know the difference between sinful worry and medical anxiety? Talk to a professional; don’t try to diagnose yourself. Here’s my definition of the difference between being a little worried (sin that can be controlled) and being medically anxious (not a sin, can’t be controlled): sinful worry is being upset about and thinking about not having enough work as an adjunct and a freelancer to pay my bills for the rest of the year. It’s wondering now about how I’m going to adjust my schedule to add more classes to the fall semester (8 months away). Medical anxiety is being unable to stop obsessing about my finances, being so overwrought about my bills that I feel sick to my stomach and can’t focus on what my kids are saying to my face. It’s the Same. Exact. Irrational. Thoughts. Over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And being incapable of stopping or changing those thoughts. It’s trying to pray, but all that comes out is Those. Same. Anxious. Irrational. Thoughts.

As long as we’re being honest here, I suffer from a medical condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Occasionally I suffer from some pretty severe panic attacks. Some days are better than others although the past few months have seen a resurgence in my anxiety levels. Yes, I pray. Yes, I try to have faith. Yes, I read my Bible. Yes, I try all sorts of self-care techniques. Yes, the anxiety is still there.

If you suffer from anxiety, know that you are not alone!

Next time: Real help for anxiety.

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