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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The Scarlet Letter

S I’m branded forever now with that letter; you know, the one that screams at people from across the room. Yes, I’ve got that huge S on my chest. You know, S for Speeder. Everyone asks me about it all the time.

“I just heard the news! I can’t believe you’re a Speeder!”
“When we were in college, I voted you least likely to be a Speeder.”
“What happened? I must know all the details! Where were you? Just how fast were you going? How much was the ticket?”
“That place is a speed trap! Better drivers know how to avoid getting caught there.”
“How could you? You grew up hearing the rules every time you were in the car!”
“Didn’t you read the manual on how to avoid being a speeder?”
“Is this the first time?”
And my favorite: “You need to tell me all about it so I can pray for you that you won’t get another speeding ticket.”

They’re right. I did read the driver’s manual, and I did know how to avoid getting a speeding ticket. I knew where the speed traps were. I remember hearing during my childhood how terrible speeding is; those lectures increased in intensity and frequency when I first got my license. I thought that if I bought my car at the conservative sales lot that it wouldn’t be marked for speeding. How wrong I was.

For years, no one noticed that I was a Speeder. Then I got my first warning. From then on I was labeled. Every time a police car was behind me, I just knew the officer was pulling my record. One day I saw a police car at the speed trap. But on my second pass down that road, I forgot. I was just careless, and I got busted. Worse yet, I had to pay a huge fine! Sure, people told me I could fight it and get a lawyer, but I knew I was guilty. I paid the fine. And then I had a record. Oh, the shame! I thought people would never stop talking about it!

Sure, talk died down some, but people still noticed my scarlet S. The next time I got pulled over, I wanted to sink through the floorboards of my car. After all, I had a different car, one that definitely wasn’t supposed to go over the speed limit. Apparently my new car also has the S on it.

To make matters worse, as I pulled away, my phone dinged with a text from my daughter’s friend. She had seen me pulled over. Now my children will find out! I’ll never live this down! I wanted to keep my kids out of the whole speeding mess because I had lectured them numerous times about the pitfalls of speeding, and kids do tend to do as you do, not asD you say. I can’t give that first speeding ticket back. It will always just be there. I will always be a Speeder.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not really talking about speeding. Oh sure, I am a Speeder, but the letter that really stands out is the D. Yes, D for Divorce. The church’s unpardonable, most obvious, most gossiped about sin. Recognize any of those comments above in a different context?

Kudos to your high school English teacher if you get the references to The Scarlet Letter. If you didn’t, go check out a synopsis here.

One a Step at a Time

I’ve always been big on planning ahead and knowing what’s coming next. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible in life. My life, specifically. Just when I think something’s settled–a job, a legal matter, a kid’s plans–it becomes unsettled. It’s not a question of whether troubles will come, it’s a question of when. Of course, the last few years of my life seem to have had an overdose of woes. L. B. E. Cowman, author of one of imagemy favorite devotionals Streams in the Desert, had this encouragement:

“‘When thou passest through the waters . . . they shall not overflow thee (Isa. 43:2).’ God does not open paths for us in advance of our coming. He does not promise help before help is needed. He does not remove obstacles out of our way before we reach them. Yet when we are on the edge of our need, God’s hand is stretched out.” (Jan. 6)

To me, this means that I need to keep moving ahead even when I can’t see where my foot will land. It’s almost like God’s grace for each moment is in his outstretched hand. I need to take a forward step so I can reach his hand and the help that he is offering. And then the next step and the next measure of grace and so on.

God has proven this principle to me numerous times over the past few years especially. Just when I think I’m about to be overwhelmed in a court case, god provides the victory. When I’m pretty sure I haven’t taught enough courses in a term to pay the rent, he not only provides enough, but gives me an unexpected overflow. When one of my girls makes me seriously doubt my worth and effectiveness as a mother, just the right word of encouragement is whispered in my ear at just the right time.

Life is lived one step at a time with its corresponding handful of grace. I was thinking about digging my toes into the cold sands of fear, but it seems I need to be stepping forward in faith instead.

What about you? Digging your toes in fear or stepping out in faith for a needed measure of grace?

 

Brokenness Made Beautiful

                                                                                 “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

     I’m broken. What good is broken? A broken bowl lands in the recycling bin. A chipped glass loses its place in the cupboard.

     Broken is ugly.  I kick a broken seashell aside instead of adding it to the sandy collection in my pocket.

     I’m so glad that God doesn’t have the same attitude. Instead of casting aside broken people, he lovingly gathers up the pieces and brings them into his workshop.

     Gold, on the other hand, is valuable in all its forms. It can make even ugly things beautiful. But before gold can become useful, it has to be refined. The refining process cleans away the dross and makes the gold malleable. The refining process is painful for the gold, but it’s necessary. It’s the same way with our lives. We’re a rough nugget of gold, and in order to use and beautify us, God has to refine us. The painful trials and challenges we go through in life have the potential to make us pure, malleable, and beautiful, if we allow them to.

     God then takes our broken pieces  and refined gold and turns them into something even more beautiful, strong, and useful than before. This process is beautifully illustrated in the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, which means golden joinery. The gold adds value and strength to the ceramic piece. The vessel then becomes more valuable and desirable.

He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the Lord An offering in righteousness. ~ Malachi 3:3, NKVJ

     Life’s trials and challenges, while seeming like a hammer swinging in a china shop, will eventually turn us into vessels of beauty for God’s glory.

     Lord, help me to remember that your purpose is to take my broken pieces and to perform kintsugi with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Was Worth It

This morning during church, I heard yet another story of a guy who met a girl and gave up, on the spot, his drug addiction in order to be with her. Another guy gave up a 20-year pornography addiction–overnight–when God convicted him to do so to stay with his loving and forgiving wife. Other guys give up jobs that would take them away from home, alcohol, wild parties, bad habits, and codependent parents.

I’m thrilled for those marriages; really, I am. I rejoice with my friends whose marriages have been rescued. I pray blessings and continued peace over their families.

But I cry for myself. I’ve wondered every day for the past (nearly) two years why I wasn’t enough. Why he couldn’t/wouldn’t give up his pornography addiction. Why he had to scream and yell at me in order to relieve his stress. Why I had to feel bad so he could feel good. Why I wasn’t worth standing up for against outsiders. Why he wouldn’t ever let go of any little (let alone big) offense. Why leadership twisted into control.

In the middle of my pity party this morning, the worship team sang “Jesus Paid It All,” and I realized that I really was worth dying for. This guy named Jesus gave up his home and his life for me. Jesus made me free! I don’t have to be under anyone’s control; that’s not part of God’s plan for me. I have been rescued; it just didn’t look like I thought it would.

Stand fast therefore in liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. ~ Galatians 5:1, NKJV

 

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Jehovah Jireh

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100Tonight during our church’s women’s Bible study, my friend Karen shared about the meaning of joy using four specific examples from Scripture. Although we don’t know each other well, I felt that each and every example–including the definition–were meant for me specifically at this point in my life. That’s a God thing, y’all!

Karen’s definition: “Joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives and that he will be there no matter what.”

The first thing I noticed was that joy does not equal happiness. The second thing I noticed is that joy is not dependent on our circumstances. The third thing I noticed is that God will be here for me no matter what and no matter who else is not in my life.

Because the examples that Karen shared seemed to parallel my current life so precisely, I want to share them briefly here.

1. Ruth. She left her family behind, as did I. She had no husband to provide for or protect her. Neither do I; I actually need protection from my ex. God orchestrated ahead of time for Boaz to advocate for her. God has used many unexpected people to help me over the past year and a half. The Hebrew word for provide is jireh. Just as God was Ruth’s Jehovah Jireh, so he is mine as well. The cool thing about that particular phrase–Jehovah Jireh–is that I already have it written on the memo board by my desk.

2. The widow and her cruse of oil. Elisha instructed the widow to use what she already had–oil–in a way that she could pay off her debts and still have enough money left over to live on. I also have talents and educational degrees that the Lord can, and I believe will, use for me to find a full-time job that will provide for my needs and for the needs of my children. Not only did three out of the five classes I was supposed to teach this semester fall through, but I have also not been receiving alimony for the past two months. Jehovah Jireh provided for the widow using the oil that she already had; I believe he will also provide for me financially.

3. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Lord not only protected these godly men from being burned to a crisp, but he was also right there with them in the midst of the flames! If (since) the Lord can be present in a furnace, I believe he can be with me in the midst of a courtroom. I believe God can protect me from the flames of the enemy, no matter what form those flames take. It is ONLY through God’s strength that delivery comes! The Israelite men didn’t have fireproof suits. My ex-husband-induced panic attacks can only be overcome through the Lord’s strength.

4. Peter. He was thrown into prison, and the key was thrown away. He had no earthly hope of escaping, but that didn’t stop a group of Christians from praying fervently on his behalf. Imagine their surprise when, while they were praying, Peter knocked on the door–free!

Lord, I want to have this kind of belief and this kind of prayer life!!

My current life situation looks fairly hopeless, a lot like these four biblical examples began. Thank you, Karen, for sharing the hope and encouragement that I can have real JOY right now. It’s not about me. It’s about God and what he can do!