This morning one of the kidlets woke me at 3:50. I couldn’t get back to sleep because I kept thinking about the fact that I didn’t have a headache and I was actually capable of thought! So I got out of bed and came downstairs to read the Bible and look up some more verses on joy.
In the process I found a few quotes I’d written down on Sunday morning, when the woman who does our VBS announced the theme for this summer. She said two things that really stood out to me.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a hard assignment from God?
I hope you never get tired of thanking Him for His salvation.
I don’t think those need any exposition. Although she didn’t state them back to back, the two comments do tie into a single important thought gleaned from the life of Noah. When God asks you to do something hard, thanking and praising Him instead of complaining and moaning about the task works a whole lot better.
The next verse on my list of verses that I wish to study was one that has also caused me to hold back in fear, kind of like Philippians 4:4. It was given to me in response to a question I posed online about whether or not it is sinful to be afraid. I had heard it before, heard sermons and one entire book on the subject of this verse, and yet something about it was rather frightening. I think it was the prospect of being in control of my thoughts. That’s just not something that comes naturally!
2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
So I took a deep breath and dug in. Immediately upon reading this, I was struck by the fact that I had long viewed this as spending time focusing on the bad thoughts and trying to “force” them to “obey”. But this morning, it occurs to me that making them obedient is in fact the opposite of looking them square in the eye and letting our mind percolate on the bad thoughts. A head-to-head battle likely won’t work. You can’t vanquish fear by thinking about fear.
Additionally, you can’t take the thoughts captive if you refuse to acknowledge them. I think sometimes, especially as Christians, we want to pretend like we aren’t having the bad thoughts, the temptations, the doubt. If we deny they are there, they won’t “beat us”. But that doesn’t work either. The verse doesn’t say “ignore every thought that sets itself up against God”, it says to take them captive. Which means acknowledging them, declaring them to be sinful, and then redirecting our thoughts through prayer and thanksgiving.
Another point about this verse is the context. He didn’t just jump up to the microphone and say “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” which is how this verse is often taught. He said “we demolish arguments and every pretension” AND “we take captive every thought”. This means that when our fears and doubts, when the logic and persuasions of the world’s thinking tempt us to believe that God isn’t real or isn’t who he says he is or that he won’t keep his promises or anything else that the Bible says is untrue- then we are supposed to stand up and say “No” and use the wisdom found in the Word of God to make those “thoughts” obedient to Christ.
Paul is specifically talking about spiritual warfare in regards to the truth-use the knowledge of the Truth to counteract the lies. But how do we get this knowledge? Through careful study of His Word. Through prayer. Through the teaching of Godly men. But it all comes back to verifying every possible thought with God’s Word. If it doesn’t fall in line with what the Bible says, it isn’t truth.
However, while the context of this verse is in an academic and spiritual warfare setting, the often used applications are still Biblical. We are called as God’s children to live a life wholly within God’s will. And that means the mind, as part of what makes us people, needs to be obedient.
I think we need to be careful though, and not use this verse to mean that we ought to be continually thinking about our bad thoughts so that we can vanquish them. We can’t pretend they don’t exist, but we ought not dwell on them. We should take Philippians 4 to heart and think about the positive things God has done and will do and use them to praise Him, thus making our thoughts obedient by showing them that the very opposite is true. We make our thoughts obedient by shining the light on the truth and proving them wrong, not punching them in the face and demanding that our minds stop thinking them.
It’s like sitting in a room with an elephant, and being told to not think about the elephant. It doesn’t work. If, however, the elephant is wearing an elaborate beadwork harness and saddle blanket, you may be able to focus so intently on the beauty of the handiwork that your mind isn’t obsessed with the elephant.
But even that is a pale comparison. Perhaps a better analogy would be being asked not to think about the fact that all flamingos are pink. And then, while you are trying not to picture pink flamingos, someone shows you a collection of photographs of white flamingos. You have actually retrained your brain to accept and believe a different truth, that some flamingos are white.
I don’t know how to state what I’m trying to say. I guess in the simplest terms, the verse is reminding us that the wisdom of the world and the errant thoughts of our own pride will often deceive us if we aren’t careful to be comparing them with the truth that Christ has shown us.
I’ve been reading Genesis some more, although I’ve been battling a rather horrific headache, and even now it is encroaching on the edge of my vision, threatening to force me to give up and go to bed. Sometimes during the day, words and thoughts pour out of me without much effort, but when I try to think, when I try to read scriptures and see and hear what God has for me, it’s like someone has set a boulder on my brain. I feel like Atlas, trying to shoulder the weight of the world, all thought outside of “keep standing” seems to have vaporized. I can nearly hear my heart beating through the fog in my mind. A gentle whoosh trying to hypnotize me into sleep. For days I’ve given in, and let the words of the Bible slip past my eyes and out into the mist, not forcing them to settle and put down roots. I feel like the soil that was fertile beyond imagining just two weeks ago, has dried up, and the little shoots of new growth, once so full of enthusiasm, have withered and died in the overwhelming grayness that is this headache.
THIS PART OMITTED FOR PRIVACY
And that is the part that I am ashamed of. The part that I’m reluctant to type, even here in my private journal. That is a part of my struggle that I am HORRIFIED to talk about.
How do you admit something like this when the world is so full of hatred and judgment? Both sides of the argument would look down on me. No one would accept my truth.
But even that doesn’t change WHO I am.
I am a child of God. We all have our own sinful temptations.
I take my sin and my shame, and I turn to Jesus. I ask for forgiveness, trusting that He has cleansed me. And I turn to my husband and love him with my whole heart, amazed once again that God brought this man into my life who continues to love me in spite of my many flaws.
And already, I feel stronger.
Admitting the truth, being honest about our struggles, it’s imperative. As Christians we need to support each other.
I struggle to consider myself worthy of being loved. And when I am unfaithful, I fully expect them to throw in the towel and be done with me.
But that isn’t how love works. That isn’t how God’s grace works.
And as Christian women, we need to acknowledge that. And we need to behave accordingly.
When someone admits something, a painful truth, a struggle with something shameful, a battle with sin- we can’t react in horror.
It comes around to this conversation I am literally having right now as I type in my journal. On facebook, I invited women to join this support group for depression, anxiety and grief. My church is BIG, and I know there are hurting women, and that is where God is pointing me.
And an acquaintance encourages me and reminds me that I am not alone. She admits to being careful who she opens up to (at church). She says that there are many guarded ladies at church and we need a break through!!!
That judgment is exactly what I’m afraid of.
God is kind of telling me that I need to stand up in the face of it- prove to other hurting ladies that the judgment of other people doesn’t matter. The hard part is convincing myself of that truth. It takes a LOT of courage and faith. I’m not sure I’m there yet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be there.
And I know I will be hurt in this process. That terrifies me. I will be judged, looked down upon, possibly ridiculed and scorned.
But I know this is what God wants… Honesty. Compassion. Healing.
Perhaps He’s calling me to minister not only to the hurting, but to the ones who judge others unfairly.
And that is a calling I REALLY don’t want…
God, grant me the courage and faith to step out and follow your leading. Help me to be open and honest about how you are working in my life and what I am struggling with. Give me your peace to protect my heart from the painful attacks from other women, possibly well meaning women, possibly even those I considered my friends. No matter what, let my life be used for your glory. If I can help one woman turn to you, it will be worth all the heartache. Don’t let me forget that.
Depending on who created the survey or tabulated the results, the numbers vary from 1 in 3 to 1 in 6. Either way, this is an astounding percentage. This is approximately 20% of all women.
I work with about two dozen ladies. According to these statistics, four or more of them have been personally affected by sexual crime.
This is a topic that we just don’t talk about, especially at church. Sex is a very personal thing, God-ordained to be reserved for the marriage bed. It is something private, and thus we don’t discuss it. But this cultural silence inside the church leads to thoughts of shame and discomfort in regards to something designed to be wonderful.
So this lack of acknowledgement of the positive side of sexual things leads to an even deeper shame in regards to sexual crimes when they are committed.
And they ARE being committed. But we don’t know that, because no one talks about it.
And we can’t help each other heal if we don’t talk about it.
When a woman or child is violated, she doesn’t speak up, because who would believe her? It isn’t happening to anyone else, so it must have been her fault. And even if she doesn’t fall for these lies, she stays silent because she believes that no one would understand. She is facing the pain on her own.
And it isn’t just sexual crimes. Acts of violence and betrayal happen every day. And no one talks about it. Because we all think we are alone.
But we are not alone!
Why do so many women suffer through anxiety and depression alone? All it takes is one person to show you that you are not alone.
We are a community, a body designed to work in unity. So why do we hide our pain away and wear a mask over our unhealed wounds? Why don’t we expose them to the light and help each other heal?
Because it takes a step of courage. If I want to be a part of my community, of the body of ladies here at my church, I can’t hide in the shadows. I can’t refrain from attending events out of fear.
What exactly am I afraid of?
I am afraid of being outside the group. I am afraid of sitting at a table while the ladies around me talk about things that I can’t relate to. For too many years, I have lived under such a dark cloud of depression that I have viewed myself as unworthy. Why would anyone want to speak to me?
But I would try, hoping someone would take me under her wing, seeking someone, anyone that I could relate to. And on the surface, things would seem okay. But something was lacking.
So I stopped attending, because no one even commented when I didn’t show up. It seemed to me that no one cared. Everyone was so wrapped up in their own lives, that mine was insignificant.
This was quite probably simply my misconstrued notions on the matter, but these feelings have long kept me from becoming involved in the social activities at church.
Service I can understand. I can give of myself. I consider sacrifice part of existence.
But socializing I don’t understand. Why would I or anyone else consider me worthy of friendship? So I kept all possible friends at arm’s length.
I was alone, and I would always be alone.
I think part of the problem was that I was firmly entrenched in denial. I couldn’t pull out the weed of social insecurity if I didn’t dig up the roots. And I simply didn’t see them.
It started years ago. The summer after my event I was so overwhelmed and confused that any and every stimulus caused me to shut down entirely. I would retreat into sleep anytime and anywhere. I remember the doctors asking me if I was sleeping okay at night. I lied. Already I was rewriting my story, convincing myself that nothing had happened. My mysterious narcolepsy gradually went away as I regained control of my physical responses to stimuli and began to believe my own lies. I was fine.
For twenty years I maintained this status quo. I lived my life the best way I could, but it was a lie. I felt like a fraud. Happiness felt like a façade. I married, hoping that love would make me truly happy. I had children, dreaming of maternal happiness. I followed all the guidelines for a healthy, happy life.
But I was so depressed, I felt NOTHING. I finally sought help in 2009. Through talk therapy and medication, my body rebuilt the brain chemicals I had been lacking. I began to experience love and happiness. I was good.
But I wasn’t. Not really. I never exposed the roots. I sought something to do, some activity to provide the fulfillment I sought. The support that I ought to have been finding in the local church.
In 2012, I attended a Citizens Police Academy. It didn’t help, but it gave me something to do. After that I did a similar class through the Sheriff’s office. I was seeking the confidence I lacked. Training to be “one of the good guys” should have been helping.
But it wasn’t. I didn’t know what to do, so I continued training- class after class, seminar and hands on workshops.
Then I joined a woman’s self defense class, and something happened that I never expected.
The deputy leading the class sat down and told us her story. Her voice wavered as she explained why this class was so important. She was an officer of the law! But that hadn’t made her invincible. She was honest. She was raw.
And suddenly I was handing her a note asking for help and I couldn’t believe I had finally broken my silence. Because of her willingness to admit to her pain, I felt I had found someone I could share my pain with.
And it started a revolution in my life. At first I fought the memories and the fear with my own strength, using the principles she taught in her class and a few she shared on the side with me. But over time, we became more comfortable, and the subject of faith came up and I realized with a start that I had been neglecting the Healer. I was trying to fight my way to wholeness without asking the One who made me! I spent that night studying scripture, and the next Sunday morning Pastor preached a sermon on the very thing I was studying.
I threw myself at HIS feet, and since then, I have already made enormous strides.
But you see, this monumental moment, this change in my perception of myself- this only started two months ago. I met my healing sponsor on February 7th. I turned back to Jesus on March 21st.
And this morning I realized that I need to take the next step.
So what better way than signing up for the Garden Party?
So I decided to do it.
But I’m nervous.
Because what if I get stuck with a group of ladies who are friends and I’m the fifth wheel?
And I tell myself would it really be that bad? Maybe they’ll be a readymade GROUP of friends and supporters.
But I’m still afraid.
Because I don’t know how to define myself with this new piece of me acknowledged. I can’t go around saying “Hello, my name is Sabrina, and I am permanently broken because I was hurt twenty years ago but I’m putting the pieces back now. Will you be my friend?”
But I also can’t go around pretending to be who I’m not. And I haven’t figured out how to navigate anything yet.
So I guess I’m looking for friends who are willing to accept me, scars and all. And I don’t have faith that those ladies actually exists. But where else could I find such support if not at church?
Because my relationship with my healing sponsor is not a friendship relationship. It’s practically anonymous. She knows this one specific piece of me. The part that has been hidden for so long. But I want to find people who can know and accept all of me.
And that terrifies me because I still don’t consider myself WORTH accepting.
I took the first active shooter response class a year ago, before the opening of my Pandora’s box. Back then, I was going through the motions. Everything was a mental exercise. It wasn’t real. I didn’t care.
I didn’t know how I would react this morning. I gave myself a pep talk and prepared myself as best I could, but I honestly didn’t think I’d have much of a problem. I did fine last year, and an active shooter is absolutely nothing like being tossed in a swimming pool, so I didn’t think it would be triggery.
Not surprisingly, the training was adrenaline filled. The scenarios were frighteningly realistic, with some guns shooting blanks and air soft guns hitting the trainees with pellets. It made last year’s training seem like a cake walk.
Because of my battle with fear, I was unwilling to participate without wearing a yellow “safety” vest, signaling to the acting “bad guys” not to shoot me.
Even with this unrealistic safety net, and the knowledge that none of the bullets were real, and fully expecting to be faced with a gunman, I was still so startled when the first shot was fired that I froze. I felt trapped, and my body responded instinctually.
I couldn’t think. I couldn’t even move.
Thankfully, I was in the presence of an acquaintance with whom I have undergone a great deal of these training classes on just about every subject under the sun. She saw me freeze, grabbed my jacket, and dragged me to safety.
It shouldn’t have surprised me, my reaction.
The same goal applies in all types of life-threatening situations- escape to live another day. For some reason, this basic principle is difficult for my body to accept. Whether the imminent threat is a rapist or a gunman, I can’t acquiesce. Not again. But that is what my poor battered mind wants me to do. Just hide and hope it all goes away. But it doesn’t.
Because hiding under a desk will get you shot. And believing he won’t hurt you and doing what he says will get you raped.
And here’s where things get really sticky for me. Because if that happens, I’m done. I quit. I shut down. Game over.
But I realized this morning, that even if I do get shot, or I do get raped, I’m not dead yet.
If I freeze again, as long as I’m still breathing, I can unfreeze and fight back. I can still run. I can still survive.
Like I did this morning. I didn’t stay frozen. I didn’t give up after my failure. I tried again, training my brain to respond the way I wanted it to.
One thing I was not expecting was my reaction to wounded people. I was terrified for my life, to the point of letting a door shut in someone else’s face. Yet when a man fell at my feet with a gunshot wound to his arm, I lost all awareness of everything around me and focused fully on providing him with medical care. Others in the room barricaded the door. Some leapt for safety through the window. I refused to leave the injured man’s side, for fear of him bleeding out. I forgot all about my own safety.
In a later scenario, I almost ran TOWARDS the shooter to help a wounded man, who for all I knew might have been one of the shooters! Two others did what my friend kept me from doing, and in the process they were both shot.
Another thing that surprised me was the fact that so few people were actually hit when they continued to run, continued to move, didn’t give up, didn’t give in.
The lesson here, for me, was that I can survive. I don’t have to freeze.
What I once hated, my hyper-vigilance, I now realize can save my life. I saw one of the gunmen entering the building with his weapon drawn, simply because I am always watching the exits out of a desire to not feel trapped. I was able to get my friend and I to safety before the first shot was even fired.
My instinct to run is good, even when it appears the odds are against me. Even if I freeze for a moment, I should never give up.
For a good half hour after the final scenario, I continued to physically shake as I came down from the adrenaline high.
But I was proud. Because I am rewriting my fear responses.
Preparing to run.
Preparing to survive.
And these thoughts had me thinking about other, less life-threatening matters.
Fear frequently keeps me from doing things.
I avoid parties, because I’m afraid of feeling crowded, or trapped, or having no one to talk to, or being a stick in the mud.
I have never gone ice skating because I’m afraid of making a fool of myself or getting hurt.
I don’t sing as much as I want to, because I’m afraid of other people hearing me and thinking less of me when I suddenly can’t remember the song or just disastrously mess it up.
And it’s not just little things. It’s the big, life-changing stuff.
I struggle to be intimate because I’m afraid of being hurt.
I restrain my emotions because I’m afraid of being misled.
I keep quiet because I’m afraid of not being believed.
Fear freezes me. And that is not okay.
To overcome it, make a plan. And practice.
(I can’t learn to enjoy parties if I never go.)
And don’t stay frozen if something goes wrong.
(If someone calls me a liar, take a deep breath and keep talking.)
Because fear doesn’t have to be paralyzing.
It can be a powerful motivator.
When I was afraid for my children, or my friend, I did unimaginable things. I was able to formulate and execute a plan. I was able to administer first aid and save a life. I never imagined myself being able to do things like that! I wasn’t worried about doing it wrong. I just did it.
So that we could all survive another day. And not just survive. Thrive. Without fear.
The purpose of this training is to rewire our fear responses so that we can react properly when the adrenaline is surging. And it works.
I went from freezing in panic to saving someone else.
And that feels pretty doggone awesome.
One of the side effects of my volunteer work with the county sheriff is a deeper awareness of the evil that is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. Today I am attending training for advanced civilian response to an active shooter event. I am saddened by the fact that these sorts of classes are necessary. These learning opportunities serve two purposes. They open my eyes to the needs in our community so that I might pray more, and they prepare me to take an active stand against the violence and aggression.
“Active stand” is not something that comes naturally to me. In my last civilian response to a shooter class, I wanted to sit in the back and use the others as human shields. I did eventually stand up and prepare to throw books and pencils at the armed men attempting to enter our classroom, but it is not my natural response.
I think my tendency is a “come what may” attitude. I have no problem retreating into my mind and using words to express my needs to God. I have a huge problem coming out of my mind and using my body to not only survive, but help others as well.
But I have learned, specifically over the last few months and largely because of the support of the deputies teaching the R.A.D. class, that I am created to be STRONG. I have inside of me the ability to plant my feet, look adversity in the eye, and yell “NO!”
No more cowering under the desks for me. No more misguided beliefs about the inherent goodness of man. No more Russian roulette and accepting my supposed fate.
I will survive another day. I will fight back.
For my husband. For my children. For myself.
I will not give up without a fight.
“But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.”
Context- This song is a cry from David’s heart after being hurt by his enemy. It doesn’t skirt around sadness, frustration, gratefulness, anger and relief.
Thoughts- Emotions are what make us human. Here David uses his feelings to cry out to God and wait for His healing. He trusts in God’s loving protection from the negative side effects of unbridled emotions.
Today’s index card was one of the Psalms. Part of what makes the Psalms so relatable is the fact that they don’t pretend like we are emotionless vulcans. Instead, they acknowledge the very real presence of human emotions.
This particular Psalm is a lament, seemingly the morning after being assaulted or harmed by an enemy or enemies. Or perhaps it is in the morning after suffering a nightmare in his sleep.
Either way, he is full of anger and fear. He begs God for help and takes comfort in God’s hatred for the sin and arrogance of the evil doers. He takes refuge in knowing that God will not turn him away, and instead of holding on to his desire for vengeance, he gives it to the Lord.
He then reminds everyone that doing this, turning to God and seeking asylum from the pain and the grief and the anger results in songs of joy. God will protect those who turn to Him for help, because He wants them to be filled with joy at His Goodness.
I love the direct correlation between laying your sadness, fear, hurt and anger at His feet and being filled with joy. Like Philippians 4 says, wrap those thoughts and worries up with songs of praise and thanksgiving and give them to God. Cover them with joyful thoughts, good thoughts, and all you will see is what God has for you.
I’ve often struggled to “control” my thoughts and emotions. The thing is, God doesn’t expect that of us. He just wants us to acknowledge them, and then ask HIM to help us reshape them. By focusing on God’s saving grace, His loving hand, His ultimate victory, we become filled with joy and peace. Focusing on the pain and the hurt and the fear and the anger fills us with pain and hurt and fear and anger.
So take refuge in Him and know that our emotions are not wrong. Don’t fight them or become frustrated by them. Simply turn to God and revel in His goodness. Find joy in who God is, in what God has done, in what God WILL do.
I wrote a song today, about my study of Philippians 4.
My world was colorless, drawn in sharp black lines of shouldn’t and should.
I struggled, focused on doing right instead of seeing what was good.
I was staring at the shadows, while the Light of the World stood beside me,
Waiting for me to turn and see all the beautiful things He had for me.
Things that are true, things that are noble.
Everything right and everything pure.
Things that are lovely, things to admire,
Everything excellent calls me to PRAISE!
I take my fears and I take my shame, I take my needs and I take my fight,
And I wrap them up in praise and thanksgiving so that all I can see is what’s right.
Things that are true, things that are noble.
Everything right and everything pure.
Things that are lovely, things to admire,
Everything excellent calls me to PRAISE!
YOU are truth, YOU are noble. YOU are right and YOU are pure.
YOU are lovely and admirable. YOU are excellent, and I praise you.
I praise you!
You light up my shadows, you color my world, you refocus my vision and fill me with joy!
YOU are truth, YOU are noble. YOU are right and YOU are pure.
YOU are lovely and admirable. YOU are excellent, and I praise you.
I praise you!
Today I read Genesis 4- 6.
I only have a moment for my thoughts, and they are scattered. But I was drawn to the fact that Cain, after murdering Abel, was distressed to leave the presence of the Lord. And in the following chapters, both Enoch and Noah were said to walk with the Lord.
Could this have been literal, like Adam and Eve walking in the garden with the Lord?
And what on earth was the deal with Nephilim and Sons of God and other odd phrases and descriptions. Why would God put something like that in the Bible if no one knows what it means?
I am battling a head cold, and my brain struggles to process thoughts.
But I did notice from the birth of Cain to the genealogy of Noah’s sons, fear is not mentioned. Perhaps that has something to do with the literal presence of God?
I’m planning to attend a meeting with the county commissioner to discuss ways to keep people in our community safe. So, always the reader, always one to study, I looked up other similar initiatives. In the process, I came across a blog called “Survivor Manual”.
These quotes stood out to me.
“Being pierced with the sword of trauma can leave you silent, frozen in fear, stuck, and in pain. You can live with the sword pierced through you. You can ignore the fact that you are wounded and deal with the symptoms and instead of the cause. .. Keeping the sword in place is living in denial… When you see the sword and realize you are wounded, …you can see that you can live a much healthier life when you remove the sword that wounded you.” (Survivor Manual- Angela Shelton)
“Being disbelieved is a survivor’s greatest fear…” (Survivor Manual- Lia Mack)
“Many of us know what it’s like to still need to talk beyond the limits of what others think is normal or necessary… “(Survivor Manual- Lia Mack)
I emailed Lia Mack after reading her article on the Survivor Manual blog, and she responded almost immediately! We discussed the healing power of writing, and she recommended that I contact Angela Shelton and see if she would be interested in using any of my writing for her blog. I wasn’t sure what to do, because from the very beginning, during that first round of R.A.D. classes, I didn’t want my name and photo associated with my story. But after talking to my friend yesterday, and telling her the entire unedited truth I realized that I am ready.
I also discovered a link on Angela Shelton’s Survivor Manual’s facebook page to Terri Hatcher’s speech before the UN on ending childhood abuse.
With no statistical or scientific backing, 1 in 3 sounds absurdly high. Are there really that many women and children who have been abused physically, sexually, or verbally simply because of their gender? And then I think about my own circle of friends and how many have shared with me and I realize she might be right.
But in the end, that doesn’t matter, because what does matter is the part where she says she will NOT be silent. No one should feel that they can’t be honest out of fear of being disbelieved or discredited. These women and children need a chance to raise their voice and say NO MORE.
Perhaps that is where I can help.
All it took for me to break my silence was one woman using her voice. Telling her story. Trusting our acceptance.
Maybe I can be that someone for another survivor. Maybe I have found a platform for my voice.
I am again (or still?) reading and studying Philippians 4. Perhaps all these interruptions are meant to keep it in my mind, to have me read and reread so that I can’t miss what God wants me to see.
After reading the passage again in a couple of different translations, I have tried to condense it into a single narrative on living the best life God has for us- a life of contentment and peace.
When I said at the very start of this journal that I was seeking “happiness”, I quickly amended that to “joy” as I began my Biblical study. But this passage reminded me that there is more to happiness than just joy. Contentment is a vital piece of that often sought happiness. As is peace. The life Paul is describing to the Philippians is, once again, the life I am seeking.
And he explains how to get there.
First, be joyful. This doesn’t mean paste on false pretenses of happiness, or go about everyday handing out smiley face cookies. It means to take a long hard look at what Christ has done for us and roll about in the good feelings that those thoughts inspire. Like Scrooge McDuck in his moneypit, dive in and simple ENJOY the fact that HE is a healing God. A saving God. The conqueror of fear. The risen King. The Holy One. The atonement for our sin. The Creator of the Universe. The beginning and the end. The source of our joy.
Don’t just acknowledge these facts. ENJOY them. Let them fill you with JOY.
And once you are abundantly overflowing with JOY, turn to the people around you. Put others ahead of yourself. Don’t just be “unselfish” but be “other centered”. Make your choices and live your life so that other people can see what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Followers of Jesus spend their time filling other people with the JOY God has given them.
Next, pray. When something causes you stress, or your eyebrows knit with worry, don’t give in to the desire to stew in frustration or misery. Fear and anxiety may not be preventable, but we are admonished to lay them at the foot of the cross. When you are afraid, pray. When you are afraid again five minutes later, pray again. When you have to stand up in front of a crowd and speak, pray through your breathing. Inhale a prayer, exhale a prayer. When you can’t sleep, don’t count sheep. Pray. There is no limit on the number of prayers you can pray in a day. In fact, we are told elsewhere to never stop praying.
So instead of focusing on the fear and the worry, focus on HIM, and thank Him for what he has and will provide.
And then the most amazing thing happens. You will be filled with peace. Now, don’t misinterpret this. I think for years I’ve mistrusted this verse because I didn’t “feel” that peace. I still worried. I still lived in fear. Where was this unimaginable PEACE that was promised if I simply prayed?
The problem is that the peace I was seeking was an absence of pain. That isn’t the peace Paul is talking about. He is talking about contentment and faith: an ability to rest in the knowledge that your problems are in God’s hands.
And here’s the thing. If you are overflowing with Joy- found in focusing on God, and pouring it into the lives of others, and literally breathing prayers of thanksgiving to God every minute of every day, there is nothing left to feel BUT peace. It isn’t based on emotions, it is based on KNOWLEDGE.
When you know WHO God is, and WHAT He has done, and HOW He has cared for you and you FOCUS on those things, every breath you take will be filled with praises. Your problems and your requests will be laid at his feet surrounded in prayers of thanksgiving and awe, and He will take them.
And he will guard your heart and mind.
But here’s the thing. He will GUARD your heart and mind. It doesn’t say “He will keep all attacks and problems away from your tender feelings.” But he WILL protect you- both your emotions (your heart) and thoughts (your mind). He will cushion the blows, so to speak. And block certain attacks of Satan entirely. But He doesn’t erase all adversity.
The peace He provides is not in a lack of awareness of danger or need, but in knowing that HE will not forsake you.
Peace flows from the joy we find in the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ pervading our every thought and our every breath. Paul said it twice because it is so important. CHOOSE JOY!
Choosing Joy isn’t magically feeling giddy. It is focusing on God so intently that He becomes the only thing of consequence.
So how do you train your brain to focus this way?
Paul tells us to think about every good thing that you possibly can- in yourself, in others, in the physical world, and in God…everything you can possibly think of to praise God for!
He first uses the word TRUE.
Then he speaks of NOBILITY.
Then what is RIGHT.
Things that are LOVELY.
Things that are ADMIRABLE.
Whatever is EXCELLENT.
I fully intend to come back to this verse- maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week- and dissect each of these words and brainstorm my own lists of things to Praise God for.
In the meantime, Paul wasn’t done. He still had some things to say on the topic of contentment. Contentment is the happiness found when things aren’t the way we want.
Contentment can only be found in the strength that comes from Christ.
As humans, our natural, post-Fall state is discontent. Greed. Selfishness. Wanting more. Wanting better. Wanting acclaim. Nothing is ever enough. We can’t grasp contentment in our flesh. Only Christ can step into our lives and take our natural human anxiety and selfishness and transform it into “joyous satisfaction.” (The Voice)
Paul goes on to say that contentment is great to have, but don’t forget the joy that comes from helping other people out of their sticky situations.
When Paul talks about God providing for all our needs, it is a direct continuation of his thanking the church for meeting his own needs with their generosity. Give generously and God will meet your needs. But his thought doesn’t stop there.
Give generously and God will meet your needs SO THAT God may be glorified.
So, in summary, the basic message of Philippians 4 is this:
Think about every little thing that you possibly can that is good. Praise God for these things, and keep your eyes on HIM. Choose to continue focusing on these things, and revel in the good feelings, the joy that comes from thanking God. Take your fears and worries and wrap them in the praises that you sing. Lay them at his feet, and don’t let them stand back up. When they attempt to seek precedence in your mind, focus harder on the good things. Let the joy that fills you flow into your life and into the lives of others. Give generously. Live selflessly. And without even trying you will be content and filled with peace. Not a lack of adversity, but an unwavering belief in HIS goodness.
Peace and contentment don’t come through SEEKING peace and contentment. They come through focusing on God’s goodness.
I woke up singing this song.
“You were reaching through the storm, walking on the water, even when I could not see. In the middle of it all when I thought You were a thousand miles away, not for a moment did You forsake me. After all You are constant. After all You are only good. After all You are sovereign. Not for a moment will You forsake me. You were singing in the dark, whispering Your promise even when I could not hear. I was held in Your arms, carried for a thousand miles to show- Not for a moment did You forsake me! And every step, every breath you are there. Every tear, every cry, every prayer. In my hurt, at my worst, when my world falls down- Not for a moment will You forsake me! Even in the dark, even when it’s hard- you will never leave me!” (Not for a Moment, Vertical Church Band)
Music can speak to my heart in a way that mere words often can’t. Perhaps that is why the Psalms were originally songs. We were created to sing His praises. Words connect with our intellect, our mind. Sound connects with our heart, our spirit. We were made to be moved by melodies.
Back to Philippians chapter 4.
(The kids are still asleep; I have a few minutes I hope.)
The first card that I filled up yesterday started with verse 4, but it also included verse 6.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: REJOICE!”
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
And then I tried to read the context, about how Paul considered the Philippian church his joy, similar to his comments to the church in Corinth. (2 Corinthians 7) But I was overwhelmed by the number of references to peace, thinking processes, strength and joy.
So I immediately pulled out another couple of cards.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”
“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that you at last have renewed your concern for me…I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty,. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation… I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
I believe that these verses are not meant to stand alone, in the way we so often memorize them- a reminder against anxiety, an exhortation to joy, directions on redirecting one’s thoughts, trust in his strength and provision. But they were written together into a single passage about living the best life God has for us.
(And the kids are awake again. How I long for the ability to stay up all night, to study in peace. Alas, God has given me these little people to raise to praise Him. I must not forsake that privilege!)
I have taken to posting my journal posts on my social media network, and the responses have been very eye opening.
It seems everyone is facing a battle that they thought they were alone in. And to some extent we each face our own problems- one friend was attacked by a spouse, another by two strangers, one by a neighbor, another by a parent and yet another by an uncle. Some abuses were in childhood, some as adults. Some were sexual, some were physical. Some didn’t leave visible scars. Some left their survivor fighting for life in the intensive care unit. Some ladies remember every agonizing second of the assault, some have a complete blackout. And, I’m sure, some still haven’t spoken a word. And this is all within my tiny circle of acquaintances!
But the end result is the same. Fear. Uncertainty. Loneliness. Hopelessness. All brought on by trauma wrought at the hands of another human being.
I’ve often thought that the Psalms were pretty songs that really only mattered to the ancient Israelites as they wandered about trying to defeat enemies that came at them from all sides. Since we don’t usually hang out on our war horses with our swords on the defensive, a lot of the imagery just seemed antiquated. But rereading them now, in the light of the pain and suffering that so many ladies face because of betrayal and hatred of mankind, they paint a picture of God’s amazing ability to heal. His promised, joy-giving salvation is not just the ancient war-time winning, or even simply Christ’s death on the cross. He pulls us from the miry depths. He removes our clothes of weeping. He fills us with his abundant blessings. Every single day is a new miracle.
Many days, it is hard to believe in that possibility. And then a friend steps up and offers support. And I brush it off and tell her not to be sad. I never meant to make her sad.
“ Honey, that’s what being friends is about. When I say “sad” I mean that I hurt with you for an evil that happened. And it happened to you, who are my friend. So the hurt hurts me. The world is full of evils. Whether we know about them or not. If my friend has faced an evil, I want to know. So that we can fight it together. No one should face such things alone.”
And I realize once again how foolish it is to view ourselves as alone in this journey called life. So I accept her support, and I tell her the truth.
“I have recently been shown that “time heals all wounds” just means that the outside part looks the same. The physiological effects on the body are completely outside one’s conscious control, and denying the truth doesn’t help with healing.”
And she told me her story, and how she was so young that she didn’t understand and couldn’t explain and as she got older she didn’t even know what was true and what wasn’t. And we bemoaned the fallacy of our brains. The neurological instability of memories. And I told her about my periods of “narcolepsy” the summer after my event.
We talk about the battle between staying silent and talking, about finding someone to talk to. She chose to speak with her father. I decided not to talk to my family. I was worried about my mom not believing me, and I was worried about hurting my dad. The healing I’m receiving is coming from talking, true, but it’s talking to my husband. It’s talking to friends who have shockingly similar stories to tell. It’s talking to women who want to defend themselves. Healing comes from community. And to be perfectly honest, my parents and sister aren’t my community anymore. We’ve reached a comfortable long distance relationship, and I’d like to keep it that way. Comfortable.
But this friend halfway across the country IS my community. We are connected in ways that other people can’t understand. And our conversation continues. The world’s most supportive husband brings me dinner as I sit at the computer communicating with her. And the conversation deepens, into the nitty gritty. Into the details that only Tim has heard. And some that I have never even said to myself.
THIS PORTION OF THE JOURNAL HAS BEEN REMOVED FOR PRIVACY PURPOSES.
We talked for a bit about anxiety and panic attacks and then out of the blue she goes back to the description I had given her.
“Even if it was an accident for that man to be in the same part of the house with you while you were changing clothes, an honorable man would have apologized and excused himself. Or even just burped loudly and passed you on the stairs. As a rude, drunk person.”
I actually laughed at that burp comment, but it brought up something that was bothering me. He was SILENT on those stairs. Since when are drunk men silent? Maybe he was waiting for me. It wasn’t the first time he threw me in the pool. He knew what happened next, he knew I would go inside to change.
But my friend, ever the voice of reason, tried to talk me down from my conspiracy theories.
“Or he might have just been in the bathroom (at the top of the stairs, right?) And just took the opportunity to do something awful.”
“But he didn’t flush the toilet if he was.”
“But he was a bad person. They aren’t always hygienic. One supposes.”
And I laughed out loud. I miss this friend. I wish she didn’t live 1200 miles away. I tell her she made me laugh, and she apologizes. But I scold her for that. Friends are for leaning on, talking to, and cheering up. Laughter is ALWAYS okay.
And we ended the conversation on a happy note.
And I re-read the conversation and realized that this was the very first time I had told the WHOLE story, start to finish. More or less. It still comes out in round about circles. And I still don’t have all the right words for what happened.
But I’m learning to talk. And in the process, I’m also learning to laugh.
I’ve been trying to determine if fear/anxiety is a sin. Many scriptures seem to indicate that it is, but my personal study and the Holy Spirit working in my heart has me rethinking that position.
I know fear can lead to a decrease in faith, or be caused by a decrease in that faith, both of which are outside the will of God. But I think the two aren’t NECESSARILY linked. It is possible to be filled with fear and faith simultaneously, just like physical sadness and the Joy of the Lord coexisting. Fear is my flesh trying to convince me that my faith is failing, that I am failing. Fear is a brain chemical process that is often outside our control. Fear can also be caused by the lies of the devil being whispered in our ears.
What our BODY feels, what our EMOTIONS say, they don’t matter. If our HEAD knows the truth, if our HEARTS trust in Him, if our WILL obeys IN SPITE OF the fear, then we have not sinned.
I think when the Bible says “Do not be afraid” or “Do not be anxious” that perhaps it means “Do not let your fear or anxiety cause you to falter in your faith, or cause you to fail to see HIS hand, or cause you to disobey or pull away from HIM.”
All of this thinking that I have been pouring into my journal has also been pouring out in conversations throughout the day. These were thoughts from my dad on the question of “Is Fear sin?”
“The first verse that comes to my mind is Romans 14:23 “But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” There is a principle that says anything we do that does not flow out of our faith in God is a sin. By this definition we all have a bigger problem with sin than we care to admit. That’s why Paul said “all have sinned …” and “no one does good, not even one” and “without faith it is impossible to please HIM”.
“Sin does not just mean we’ve done bad things. It’s much deeper. It is an all out war being waged between the old and new man.
“In the heat of the battle it is really important to remember that His love for you is not based on your performance or your ability to conquer an area of struggle in your life, like fear or anxiety. You can’t do it and He knows it.
That is why you are a child of grace, pure grace, with no contribution from you. That thought alone should help set your heart free.
“When you feel your thoughts shifting toward the struggle and the guilt, remember the ONE who has won that battle for you. His perfect love heals all pain and casts out all fear. You are now a Kingdom child, called to set your eyes on things above and not on the things of this earth.
“You are safe in HIM. Believe it. It is a promise from Him that will never fail.
As one of your friends said: “Keep running to Jesus”
I can think of no better advice.”
I was reluctant to face the next verse on my page of references, because I already knew the verse, and it seemed too much like an impossible command.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say REJOICE!”
I copied it onto the card and then started reading at the beginning of the chapter. By the time I was done, I had four more cards filled out just from Philippians 4! Many of these verses I already knew- exhortations against anxiety, how to direct our thoughts, the source of our strength, the meeting of our needs. And I’ve probably read them all together in context on more than a few occasions.
This morning the Holy Spirit showed me the picture Paul was painting for the Philippians.
(I was pulled away from my study by the pressing needs of my family, children waking and the to-do list getting tackled. In the midst of it all, my cell phone pinged that I had a new message. It was from the instructing deputy from my R.A.D. class, the wonderful woman who had become my de facto sponsor in healing. At first when we had corresponded, there had been no mentions of God and faith. I was operating almost entirely in the flesh, and as a government employee she wasn’t supposed to talk about religion. But as we communicated about the effects of violence, the paths of healing, and the wonderful men that we had married, the topic came up. And it was like we both let out a sigh of relief. We were no longer only discussing half of the picture. It wasn’t just the body and the mind healing, it was the spirit.
And so, the message I received on my phone today brought me to tears as I sat on the toilet in a Mommy-style effort to gain some privacy.
“God is holding out his loving hand to guide you through these baby steps. I’m glad you finally accepted His hand to heal through this journey. I cannot wait for your final transformation of healing. I can see the change already in less than 2 months. I know you’re a work in progress, but I’m glad you finally decided to work and stopped burying it all. You are on your way and I am so proud of you and how far you have come.”
I cried because I had lived in anxiety and fear, even after being properly medicated, when all I needed was someone like her to hold my hand, look me in the eyes, and tell me I was strong. I needed someone to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself, when I didn’t have faith in God.
Every. Single. Step. HE was there! He worked in her life, saving her from a horrible situation that made mine pale in comparison. He gave her strength. And He gave me strength through her. How I long to be able to share His strength with other ladies!
She told me-
“My faith is what got me through my event. We have no idea why certain things happen in our lives. We struggle making sense of His plan. However, we have to continue having faith in Him that it is all part of His master plan for our lives. I know I was meant to survive to share my story and teach women options of defending themselves. “
And perhaps that is why God brought me through my mental illness, through my pain and anxiety… so that I too might help other women. If nothing else, I will take Psalm 30 to heart and I WILL NOT BE SILENT! I WILL SING HIS PRAISES THAT HE MIGHT BE GLORIFIED THROUGH HIS WORK IN ME.
And yes, I just shouted in my journal.)
Time is short this morning, but I did fill out two more index cards with verses about joy.
“Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
“I trust, I won’t be afraid.”
The context of this song of praise is within a prophesy predicting God’s mighty victory and a gathering of the remnant. Isaiah tells what the Israelites will sing- praises to God for his salvation, his removal of fear, his glorious deeds. Salvation will fill them with joy!
“Another hymn of praise, joy abounding at the recollection of His salvation, His forgiveness, His greatness, His removal of fear.”
The top of the card was labeled with JOY and FEAR.
“Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
“You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”
The context here is within a song praising God for pulling them from the depths, for hearing their cries, for healing them. Thanking God for not staying angry. Remembering their dismay at feeling abandoned by God, and crying out for mercy. And why did God save them? So that they might sing his praises, shout it to the world, and not remain silent.
“This song of praise goes further than thanksgiving- it explains the purpose behind filling us with joy- so that we won’t be silent.”
The card was labeled HEALING and JOY.
Why does God remove our weeping and fill us with joy? So we can be filled with praises for His work in our lives. So that we won’t be silent!
May we all never cease to sing His praises!
Further thoughts on these cards, how they relate to each other and to the other verses I’ve studied so far will hopefully come after work.
Based on a conversation I had yesterday with a friend who had an abusive past. It’s amazing the things people hold in their memory, in silence. I had no idea.
Why don’t survivors talk about their events?
Why can’t women band together and find strength in the fact that they have all survived?
I think the major reason is fear.
1. Fear of changed perception.
“We like to believe we always have control of ourselves. It’s not easy to admit that someone else had control over you and there wasn’t much you could do about it.”
Everyone sees everyone else through their own uniquely colored lenses. And sometimes, something someone says or does causes your view of them to shift. You had no idea your coworker loved to go to clubs on Friday nights, and it changes how you see them. Your stodgy librarian actually has three tattoos inside her right arm. Maybe she wasn’t as boring as you thought. An obnoxious neighbor turns out to actually be incredibly sweet once you get to know them. A friend betrays you. An enemy helps you. Our perceptions of people change, sometimes gradually, sometimes in an instant. We all want others to view us as successful, confident, worthwhile. Although we use the word “survivors”, it takes a lot of mental effort for someone who has faced sexual crime to call themselves anything other than a “victim”, and that often comes with a self perceived sense of worthlessness. This causes a sense of shame and a visceral fear of anyone “finding out the truth.” We don’t want to admit to anyone that we aren’t or haven’t always been in complete control. There is an underlying, minute to minute anxiety based on the fear that the careful façade you have created is liable to crumble in an instant. That look of sorrow that appears suddenly in their eyes when they first view you as a victim; It’s a terrifying prospect. Even worse is the possibility that they don’t believe you, or consider you an attention seeker. Because the only thing worse than being viewed as helpless or pitiful is being viewed as a liar.
2. Fear of making things worse for others.
“Why would I need to bring it up so far after the fact? It would just hurt them if they knew.”
I’m talking about women who have healed physically, who don’t have a scarlet letter advertising their pain. Most of them don’t want to “burden” others. They want to forget about it, and they try desperately to do so. Talking about it would just make things worse. And it would cause other people pain. Oddly, a common theme among survivors of violence is the fact that even in the midst of their own suffering, they worry about others. One lady told me that she was laying in the hospital, worrying about the neighbor that found her, worrying about her children, even worrying about her dog. She was concerned about how her incapacitation affected the people she cared about.
3. Fear of retribution.
“I was afraid of what (the perpetrator) would do to me if I told anyone.”
Maybe the perpetrator promised to harm loved ones if it was ever spoken of. Maybe the assailant was a family member who you can’t cut ties with. Maybe nothing was said or done to indicate a planned return-but as long as the attacker is still living, the possibility exists. The very existence of someone willing and able to do what was done means there are others able to commit these atrocities. It could happen again. You never feel safe.
4. Fear of the truth.
“It becomes a habit (to keep silent), and you think if you just don’t think about it, it will eventually just go away.”
It is easy to believe that by not talking about it, it didn’t happen. That we can walk away and live our lives as if we haven’t been bruised and broken. That denying an attack can make it less real. Sometimes this is confounded by an odd phenomenon in which the brain erases traumatic memories. We get diagnosed with depression and anxiety when in reality it is PTSD. We medicate the symptoms as our body tries to process events that we can’t actually remember, or that we are trying desperately to forget.
“Then you keep finding reasons to justify not speaking about it.”
There are probably hundreds of other reasons that women don’t talk about this all too prevalent crime. But it comes down to this question.
Is it worth staying silent?
What would it look like, for a group of women to stand together and relabel themselves as survivors? To cheer each other on and refuse to ignore the past, but to refuse to stay stuck in it, either? To pin a ribbon to their hats in solidarity as they step out and offer support to our sisters who are still mired in the lies.
You are not alone!
You don’t need to keep quiet!
How much faster would they heal if we, who had battled the inner demons before them, could hold their hands, and look them in the eyes and say “You are strong.” If they had sponsors who could remind them over and over again that healing takes time. That baby steps ARE steps. That the pain is real, but it doesn’t have to define them. That there is no shame in being a survivor. That they are not broken, only reshaped. That they might not ever be who they were before, but they don’t have to stay how they are now. They can become who they want to become.
In the depths of despair, it feels like an insurmountable goal. But it only takes one sister, one sponsor, one friend to start the journey. If she can do it, you can do it.
So why aren’t we supporting each other?
One of the other things I wanted to pursue in this wisdom quest was to literally read the entire Bible in search of references to fear, anxiety, courage, confidence, peace, joy and hope.
So today I started at the beginning.
The first mention of fear in the Bible was Adam and Eve when they were naked, and afraid. Up until eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, everything was perfect. There was no fear, because there was nothing TO fear. The animals all got along in peaceful coexistence. There was no lack of food. There weren’t thunderstorms or tornados. The temperature was always warm and comfortable. They had each other, and they lived in wedded bliss.
But then, they ate the forbidden fruit.
And fear entered their lives.
The question I posed was this- Was that fear a sin?
Let’s look at what they were afraid of. Were they afraid of being naked? They had been naked from the time God created them until this moment. I don’t think the fear was simply of being unclothed. I think the fear was anxiety over being seen as vulnerable. It’s a fear that we as Adam’s descendents still struggle with thousands of years later.
We are ashamed of all the things that we view as less than perfect, and we are afraid of others seeing and being aware of those flaws.
I believe that their fear was not a sin, but it was caused by their sin. It was a marker, a red flag, and indicator to God that they had changed. They wanted to hide from God because they knew they had sinned. They were afraid of his wrath.
And that is a perfectly justifiable fear!
When I first read this passage, I was stumped by the question. Was their fear a sin? And to be perfectly honest, I thought it was.
God, THE ETERNAL ONE, the creator of the Universe looked on them with pleasure, and sought their company. And yet they hid. They defied GOD! Surely the fear caused them to sin, and thus the fear is sinful.
But again, it isn’t the fear that is wrong. It is their reaction to the fear. The sin they committed by disobeying God because of their fear.
You might wonder why this matters.
Sin caused the fear.
The fear caused sin.
Both are bad.
But, at least in this passage, the FEAR itself is not sinful.
This is important to me, because my personal battle with fear has long gone something like this- “God, please vanquish my fear that I may stop living with a lack of faith.”
The thing is, it wasn’t my faith wavering. I was still ACTING in faith. What our BODY feels, what our EMOTIONS say, they don’t matter. If our HEAD knows the truth, if our HEARTS trust in Him, if our WILL obeys IN SPITE OF the fear, then we have not sinned.
Further study still needed, because basing an entire theology on one tiny mention of fear is probably not a good plan.
“Nehemiah said “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
I read the entire chapter of Nehemiah 8 in order to establish context, even going back a little further to get a bigger picture.
The Jews had been exiled. They returned to Jerusalem, only to find it burnt to the ground. The wall was crumbled. The work that needed to be done seemed impossible. They hadn’t heard God’s word, probably ever. Ezra stood up before them all in the ruins of the city and read. Everyone listened intently as he read, and they all wept. They worshiped. They understood. Nehemiah told them not to mourn. Why were they crying? Perhaps they mourned the fact that they had lived so many years without this knowledge. They mourned for the sins they had committed. Nehemiah told them to leave the tears in the past. Have a party! Shout it out! When we have nothing, when we ARE nothing, HIS JOY is our strength. His joy keeps us putting one foot in front of the other. More than that, HIS JOY fills us to overflowing so that we can’t help but hold our heads high. The celebration continued after this verse; the biggest party since Joshua’s day. Their joy was very great.
Can you imagine what that must have been like? Living a life of misery. Knowing that something was missing, but not able to articulate what was wrong. Trapped under the weight of expectations and desires that were crushing in their magnitude. Knowing that at some point in the past, life had been better but unable to find the way back. It’s not hard to picture. I’ve been there. The details were different, of course. I’ve never been physically removed from my home or exiled from my community. And I’ve never been denied access to the Word of God.
That’s the part that blows me away. I have had multiple copies of the Bible in my possession, as well as access to dozens of Biblical commentaries. I diligently memorized the words, going through the routine of reading and reciting, praying to God for deliverance from problems. Lifting friends and co-workers up in intercession. I was literally surrounded by the Word of God but I wasn’t listening.
The Israelites in Nehemiah 8 listened. They talked about it. They studied. Their hearts were moved. Their lives were changed. And that filled them with inexpressible joy. And yes, verse 17 says “Their joy was very great.” But it was more than that.
Their joy was their strength.
I seek strength. Confidence. Courage. It takes strength to step out and start rebuilding a wall. It would be easy to stay back and weep. To lift my hands and cry out to God in misery.
Nehemiah is telling the Israelites how foolish that is. He has already provided deliverance! Look to Him, hear His words, and stand up straight. Celebrate, and be filled with the courage and confidence that comes from HIS JOY.
And what is “the joy of the Lord”?
The maturing power of tribulations.
The TRUTH of His Word.
What is “strength”?
The dictionary defines it as power. Muscular power. Mental power. Moral power. Courage.
Nehemiah 8 uses it in direct opposition to grief, strength to overcome weeping.
What does this overcoming strength provide?
The very things I seek.
This morning I picked up where I left off and looked up the next verse on my list of random references to Joy.
2 Corinthians 7:4
“In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy”.
At first I thought this was a similar passage to the two I read yesterday. Affliction leads to perseverance and strengthening of our faith and character. But I kept reading. And the rest of the passage gave me new insight.
When Paul came into Macedonia, he was being harassed. Persecuted. Bothered. Tormented. And he was actually afraid. (I made a mental note to look into Paul’s fear later.) His fear didn’t last long, though, because God sent him Titus. Titus comforted him, eased his heartache. Where did Titus get his reserve of faith and peace that he was able to share with Paul? The Corinthian church. And the church was very concerned for Paul. Their concern, their prayers, their repentance and obedience to God’s will filled Paul’s heart with joy. Seeing God work in their lives was the source of Paul’s joy.
I added another verse to the front of the card.
2 Corinthians 7:16
“I rejoice because I have complete confidence in you.”
My thoughts on the back of the card were brief.
“God’s hand in others lives can comfort our fears, and seeing His work brings us JOY! (and peace and comfort)”
You see, sometimes it is really hard to see God working in our own lives. That is part of the reason we are all part of the body of Christ. Just as service toward others can bring us joy, their work on our behalf brings us joy. Not only their direct concern for us, but seeing others grow in their faith encourages us to do likewise. Drawing closer to God as a body is one of God’s desired outcomes from affliction.
Talking with Tim just now, we were both amazed at how God brought about this passion in my heart. This new awareness of all God has in store for me. The search for courage, joy, and hope. The vanquishing of fear. Five years ago I finally sought help for my depression after fifteen years of fighting it alone. I was at a point where I firmly believed that I was incapable of feeling emotions. But my pastor recommended a Christian therapist, who recommended a psychiatrist, and between them I found a new plateau of existence. I was able to love. It was such a new, overwhelming feeling- to love my husband and children. It took my breath away, and for a few years, I thought I had reached “normal”. Chemically, medically, I had. But something was still lacking. The thing is, I didn’t realize anything was wrong. I didn’t know anything was missing.
I signed up for a self defense class, part of a series of activities and volunteer work that I was filling my time with in an effort to avoid falling into depressing reclusiveness. At that class, I met a woman who had been brutally attacked, and her story stirred up memories that I had long ago buried. A stinky collection of offenses left to rot in the back of my mind, festering into a putrefying cancer that was literally eating my joy alive. I was bereft of self confidence. I trembled in fear. I wore a mask every single minute of every single day, because I had no idea that the terror I lived with was such a problem. My medication cocktail kept the physical side effects at bay, but drugs couldn’t give me the things I really needed. The things I didn’t even know I lacked until yesterday.
After a grueling, mentally agonizing class, the last of my second round, I started this journal. It wasn’t going to be anything more than a mind dump, a way to get the weight of suffering off my chest. But in the process I clearly articulated what I was lacking.
And that was when God knocked me in the head with a clue by four and said “I have the answers right here for you.”
And what Tim and I were just discussing was the fact that I was so far from hearing God’s voice, so wrapped up in staring at my feet that He used a roundabout path to get me where he wanted me. Even though I wouldn’t listen to His voice, He didn’t give up. He directed my steps without me even knowing.
There is literally no part of the Bible that I haven’t read before. I have probably heard just about every possible sermon, and read dozens if not hundreds of books about Biblical truth. I’ve studied theology and flipped through concordances for fun. But none of that was getting past the intellectual portions of my cerebral cortex and touching me where I was hurting.
But God saw that, and He saw that that was not okay. That was not His plan for me. Fear and self loathing are a part of the old man. Joylessness is not acceptable in a Child of God. He has so much more for me! So He reached out where I was and directed my steps, stepping stone by stepping stone, until I landed back in His arms.
The path is long and twisting, and not once was I ever outside of God’s vision.
Spring, 2013 I signed up for a citizen’s police academy. I was trying to vanquish the boredom wrought from raising three small children and working outside the home three days a week with people no taller than my knees. My reason for joining the class was stated as “To talk with people I can look in the eye without bending over.”
The class went well. It gave me something to do. When a further course of study became available that fall, through the county sheriff’s office, I signed up eagerly. When the training was complete the next year, and volunteer positions opened up, I signed up whenever I could. Monthly training opportunities kept my calendar from turning into a blank slate, and I settled into a new status quo.
One opportunity that was offered was a women’s self defense class, and I had no conflicts with the dates, so I signed up. I had settled into a comfortable routine.
All that was about to come tumbling down.
This is what I wrote after the first class.
When I first walked into the room, it was with the false confidence I had grown accustomed to showing. I had been volunteering with the local police department and county sheriff’s office for a few years now, trying to build up true confidence to replace the façade. It hadn’t worked yet, but this class was another opportunity to empower me. I was determined to learn how to face the world with less fear. And what better way than with a woman’s self defense class?
It started out just like the myriad of other courses I had taken through the Volunteers in Safety Support Services program. I signed in, picked up the course book, and found a seat close to the door. I briefly wondered why I always sit close to the door, especially since this time, it was in the front of the room. I am usually more a back of the room attendee. But easy egress trumped lack of visibility by the instructor. The classroom filled up, I introduced myself to the woman seated next to me (although, actually, she spoke first), and we laughed about our matching McDonald’s coffee cups. Nothing like caffeine to bring ladies together, right?
We started by introducing ourselves and stating why we were there. I fully intended to say that it was because I was invited, and leave it there. But the instructor said that others had admitted to being survivors and wanting to take the class to empower themselves. And I couldn’t go that far, but I found myself admitting that I had failed to defend myself in the past. Even saying that, admitting that small truth, was so terrifying I stared at my hands while I said it. I focused on breathing while the introductions circled the room, and I focused intently when the lecture portion started. I was fine.
About an hour in, I really needed to use the restroom, and that was when I realized I couldn’t leave the room without walking in front of the instructor. She was literally standing in front of the doorway. My pulse pounded in my ears. I was trapped.
The logical side of my brain chided me, reminding me that no one would mind if I just stood up and walked to the door. No one would question me. And yet, I couldn’t do it. When the instructor paused for a break, I bolted from the room and ran to the restroom. I sat on the toilet trying to calm my heart rate and breathing. Even I recognized that my reaction was odd and inappropriate.
I knew what had set off my “don’t trap me” radar. A clear memory of being grabbed by the wrist, my paperback novel falling to the ground. Being yanked to my feet, and then lifted off the ground, one strong arm between my legs, the other twisting my arm painfully. The sound of drunken laughter in my ear while I shrieked in protest. Things I had locked in a box years ago were coming out to haunt me. And I didn’t like it one bit. Because now, the emotions were coming out, and it wasn’t pretty. Panic threatened to stop my breathing. Cold fear made me shiver. I forced myself to breathe deeply and separate myself from the terror. Logic. Use logic. It had been my best friend for decades. Black and white. Predictable patterns.
In a moment of weakness (or maybe it was strength) I tore a scrap of paper out of my notebook and jotted a note to the instructor. It simply said “How do you stop the fear from freezing you? I’m afraid I’ll be unable to move, unable to fight back again.” At the next restroom break, I slid the note to the instructing deputy, but I couldn’t look her in the eye when I asked her to read it later. Even now, admitting the truth felt like lying. I’d denied it for so long.
I made it through the rest of the day, using the logical side of my brain to learn and categorize the various stances and maneuvers. It wasn’t until that night, while going through the moves again, that I realized “If I had just done this, I could have gotten away.” And panic blackened the edges of my vision. Breathe, I told myself. I could almost see myself targeting his forearm, surprising him with something more than passive resistance. That was what I want. I want to rewrite those memories. I don’t want to feel trapped. I want to feel like I have the power to free myself. I want to be able to sit on the far end of the room. To sit in the middle of a row. To push my chair all the way in. To be aware, but not afraid.
So before I could talk myself out of it, I went online, found the instructing deputy’s contact information, and emailed her. I told her the whole story. And then I hit send. And I sat and stared at my computer monitor for a good twenty minutes wondering why I had done it. If I just stayed logical, forced the memories and emotions back into the box, I probably could have gotten through this class just fine by not thinking about it. So why did I WANT to think about it? Why did I want to admit to what had happened after twenty years of hiding? I had admitted defeat twenty years ago, why was I suddenly planning to fight back? It was all inside my head, no one else needed to know. So why was I sharing now? What was it about this class, this instructor that encouraged me to do the impossible?
And then I realized it was her honesty. She didn’t hold any cards when she told us how she had been attacked.
Sometimes I want to take it all back. Pretend like I never said anything. Go back to the lies that felt like truth. They were easier. Stay clinical, detached, get through the class without feeling anything.
But I can’t do that. At work today, I told my coworkers about the self defense class, and how empowering it is. Which I found odd, since so far all it has done is open a can of worms I really wanted to stay closed and buried forever. But maybe getting rid of that rotten stinky mess, airing it out and facing it head on is what is helping. If I can reposition myself in my head, see myself standing up and getting free instead of cowering in fear, than I can help others. But I have to go back to those memories in order to rewrite them.
At this point, I was still so far from God, I was operating purely in the flesh. Confronting the past when really, all I needed was to turn toward the future. The past was holding me down, a weight tied around my ankle that I simply had to let go.
But God didn’t stop trying. He held my hand when I wasn’t even looking.
Through another class session.
Through the final terrifying scenarios where we acted out attacks.
Through starting the class again.
Through going on line and signing up to be an advocate.
Through making a new friend.
Through holding her hand.
All the way up to the final day of the second series of classes.
He brought me every step of the way until I realized what I needed and where I could find it.
His still small voice had been whispering at me to lift up my head. His tears had fallen at the misery I lived in when he was right there, begging me to look up.
It’s not like a magical light switch has been flipped and suddenly I am filled with hope, and joy, and courage and faith. But the lids have been pried off and God is filling me with his blessings.
I can do this.
Because it isn’t ME doing it.
HE is my HOPE, my JOY, my COURAGE, my STRENGTH.
And He was there all along.
Overwhelmed with pages of notes, and hundreds of references as well as an entire Bible full of treasures worth gleaning, I had to start somewhere. So I went back to the page of notes I had carried with me to church and I decided to write out the verses one by one onto index cards. On the back, I would write the context of the verse, and then maybe my thoughts on the matter. On the top of the card in bold print I planned to label them with the things I was studying- Joy, Faith, Confidence, Peace, Hope; the enemies of Fear and Anxiety.
An hour later, and I had two cards done. God’s word truly is a fountain of wisdom!
The two verses that I chose were literally just the two written on the top margin of my page. I think James 1:2 was written originally, and then at one point I had decided Romans 5:2 related to it so I scribbled it in. Perhaps Pastor had briefly mentioned the passage in his message.
So the first card started.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
And I kept writing, because that wasn’t the end of his thought!
“Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
I almost stopped there, but in reading to establish context, I realized that the thought wasn’t complete.
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.”
So I paused and I thought about that. What does it mean to be mature and complete? Does the context provide any clues? The author (James) went on to remind the readers that God is generous and will provide wisdom to all who ask, but only if they have faith and do not doubt. So how did all of these statements combine into a coherent whole?
I went back to the beginning.
When and how can a trial produce joy?
When I have faith in the outcome.
If I hold onto that faith, it grows stronger in the face of opposition. Faith learns to wait. To endure. To persevere. It doesn’t give up. It doesn’t lose hope. If I hold onto that faith, if I let it persevere, I will become what God wants me to become. Complete. And this promised outcome from the suffering gives me JOY.
Joy isn’t just happiness in the promise that the trial will end. It is the very fact that the trial is working in my life to shape me into the person God wants me to be. More compassionate. More patient. More sympathetic. It is making me more complete.
So how does the following statement regarding wisdom and doubt connect with the promise in verses 2-4? If you hold onto that faith, if you are growing in perseverance and maturity, you will recognize your lack of wisdom. And God has all the wisdom you need. You only need to ask.
Right now, God is fulfilling this promise in my own life, as I stare at these verses in awe and wonder. All the answers we seek, all the wisdom he has for us, it’s all right here in His Word.
I try to summarize my thoughts on the back of the index card.
“Trials/suffering brings us joy, only when our faith reminds us God has a purpose. Trials teach our faith to persevere, making our faith stronger and us mature. Maturity recognizes lack of wisdom and trusts God to provide.”
At the top of the card in bold letters I wrote “JOY” and “FAITH”.
Realistically, I could have called it a day. I had made lots of progress on my study, and I had plenty of things around the house that I ought to be doing. But God wasn’t finished with this lesson. So I picked up another index card and wrote the next reference on my list.
Romans 5: 1-5
Before I wrote down the verses, I looked them up in one translation after another. There were so many unusual turns of phrase, so many words translated differently in different versions. It was difficult to settle on a translation. Instead of my usual NIV, or even the ESV that the kids were fond of, I finally settled on The Easy-to-Read Version. I have never read this translation before, but this passage didn’t change the original intent, only the words to make them more decipherable. So this is what I wrote on index card number two.
“We have been made right with God because of our faith. So we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through our faith, Christ has brought us into that blessing of God’s grace that we now enjoy. And we are very happy because of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory. 3 And we are also happy with the troubles we have. Why are we happy with troubles? Because we know that these troubles make us more patient. 4 And this patience is proof that we are strong. And this proof gives us hope. 5 And this hope will never disappoint us. We know this because God has poured out his love to fill our hearts through the Holy Spirit he gave us.”
In settling on this particular translation, I was surprised at how similar this passage was to James 1:2-4. Trials lead to perseverance of our faith, resulting in maturity of character- here further defined as courage, or proof of strength that gives us hope.
And this hope isn’t just wishful thinking. This is 100% guaranteed. A promised future that gives us happiness because it will NEVER fail.
Between the length of the verse, and the depth of the context (Abraham’s justification through faith explained and translated into our justification by faith) I only had a tiny space to write my thoughts on this verse. This is what I wrote.
“Troubles make us patient and prove we are strong, giving us the proof that we need that our hope is secure. And in that hope we find happiness.”
At the top of the card I wrote “JOY” “CONFIDENCE” “FAITH” “HOPE” and “PEACE”.
And I held the card in my hand and realized that this one paragraph touched on nearly everything I was seeking.
And the bottom line is that if you want to be happy, look to the future. Look at your struggles, your trials and tribulations and see how they are shaping you into who God wants you to become. Hold onto your faith, and develop tenacity and perseverance. Stand for the truth in the face of adversity and watch your character strengthen. The courage you develop will be proof that you are strong. And the hope we have of our future with Christ will never disappoint us, because he pours his love into us. When we seek him, he is there. He will not fail. He is shaping us through our trials, giving us the wisdom we need. Preparing us for our future with him. How could that not bring joy?
I struggled with where to start, so I suppose I’ll start at the very beginning. I was listening to a sermon called “Faith: The Predator of Fear.” To be perfectly honest, I haven’t finished yet, so I can’t tell you his answer. You see, he posed a question that caused me to pause the video. I looked up verses. I googled and read dozens of opinions. I discussed with Tim. Even princess got in on the conversation. I found an old Puritan text that answered the question so beautifully I was nearly in tears. So what was this question?
“Is fear sin?”
At first glance, the answer seems obvious. Of course not! We can’t control how we feel, and without fear we’d all die from doing stupid things like diving out fifth story windows.
Over and over the Bible says “Do not be afraid.” So what does that mean? To whom was this mandate given? When and how does it apply to me?
While I sought to answer these questions, the Holy Spirit redirected my steps. In my pursuit of God’s wisdom regarding my anxiety, I was drawn to search for verses on the subject of joy. This was where God wanted to shine his light into my life this morning. At the time I didn’t know why, but I listened to His leading.
Battling depression sometimes feels like happiness is simply an illusion, a fleeting emotion that my amygdala refuses to recognize. All happy feelings were being overwritten by fear memories. That tiny piece of my brain could only hold so much information, and fear is a sticky thing. It gums up the works and never lets go. The amygdala cannot rewrite fear memories. The only way to overcome them is to train the brain to detour into the cortex where new memories, new conditioning can be stored. It is daunting. It requires baby steps. Sometimes it seems impossible, the task insurmountable. The amygdala is a stubborn piece of mental real estate.
I was taking those steps. I was reconditioning my body to not freeze in fear. To hold my ground. To fight back. I was building confidence. But I was doing it in my own strength. I would pray for help, but it was just words. I didn’t have faith that God would help. I had lost sight of hope.
And then yesterday God knocked on my heart and said “I offer you the happiness, optimism, confidence, and hope you seek.”
I dove into the scriptures, not wanting to stop for sleep, getting up early and collecting verses about joy. I scribbled them onto a sheet of paper and tucked it into my Bible for study while Tim rehearsed with the worship team. I didn’t pull it out, though. I was too busy standing in awe at the lyrics of the songs being sung. I stood in the back of the sanctuary as the room filled. And I sang, arms lifted, heart soaring, spirit bowed in awe.
“Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord… Our God, You reign forever. Our hope, our strong deliverer. You are the everlasting God. You do not faint. You won’t grow weary.
You’re the defender of the weak. You comfort those in need. You lift us up on wings like eagles.” (Everlasting God, Brenton Brown)
I have long been drawn to the latter half of Isaiah (the lyrics to this song are from Isaiah 40) and the book of Revelations. Until today, I never realized how full of joy and optimism, confidence, and hope they were: The very things I had been craving without being consciously aware.
“Christ is my reward and all of my devotion. Now there’s nothing in this world that could ever satisfy. Through every trial my soul will sing- No turning back. I’ve been set free! Christ is enough for me…Christ my all in all, the joy of my salvation. And this hope will never fail- heaven is our home. Through every storm my soul will sing- Jesus is here. To God be the glory! I have decided to follow Jesus- no turning back… The cross before me, the world behind me- No turning back.” (Christ is Enough, Hillsong)
I was struck this morning by the repetition of the phrase “no turning back”. It had never resonated with me before, because I had always lived a “good” life. I was saved at the age of four. There was no “sinful past”. But today I was reminded of yesterday’s journal entry. The part where I said “I can’t be who I was, but I don’t have to stay who I am.” I can move forward. “Turning back” doesn’t just mean falling back into sin. It means looking backward. Wanting something back that is gone.
“In this time of desperation when all we know is doubt and fear, there is only One Foundation. We believe. In this broken generation, when all is dark, You help us see; There is only One Salvation. We believe… We believe in God the Father. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit, and He’s given us new life! We believe in the crucifixion! We believe that He conquered death! We believe in the resurrection, and He’s coming back again! We believe!” (We Believe, Life Worship\Newsboys)
How do we conquer that doubt and fear? With the only true foundation; Faith!
“Seems like all I could see was the struggle. Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past. Bound up in shackles of all my failures. Wondering how long is this gonna last? Then You look at this prisoner and say to me “Son- stop fighting a fight it’s already been won!” I am redeemed, You set me free! So I’ll shake off these heavy chains, wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be. I am redeemed! All my life I have been called unworthy, named by the voice of my shame and regret. But when I hear You whisper, “Child lift up your head” I remember, oh God, You’re not done with me yet! Because I don’t have to be the old man inside of me, ‘cause his day is long dead and gone. Because I’ve got a new name, a new life, I’m not the same- and a hope that will carry me home! I am redeemed!” (Redeemed, Big Daddy Weave)
It was almost like this song was written about my struggle over the last few days. Like my reaction to Christ is Enough, this song had often been “overlooked” by me. Sure it was pretty, and it was nice to be redeemed, but I didn’t carry heavy chains and stains. But I was wrong! I was bound. The chains were buried so deep, locked in a box, festering. I wasn’t bound by my past sins, but instead by shackles of fear; ghosts from the past that had literally drained me of happiness and hope. I was just reminded yesterday to stop fighting the past when he holds the future. The fight has been won! My self confidence was so low that I couldn’t even hear Him whispering to me to lift my head. Singing this song this morning, I turned my face heavenward, tears ran down my cheeks. My past was in the past.
When I finally picked up the bulletin and saw Pastor’s sermon topic, my jaw dropped. Tim wrote me a note, as he was equally amazed at God’s timing on this sermon.
“Where Can I Find Joy?”
Over and over throughout the message, I compared my notes from the morning, and jotted things down and stood in awe at how God was confirming what He had shown me just hours before.
The first point was one that I already intellectually acknowledged. Verses on this point were easy to find. Joy can be found in my salvation. The mere thought of it can make my heart palpitate. Similar to the way the song “We Believe” had filled me with hope and joy. Joy is the fruit of His salvation changing my life. (Psalm 51:12, Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 12:3, 1 Peter 1:8-9, Galatians 5:22)
The next thing God showed me was the joy found in serving him… in moving forward, in action, in having a purpose. I’d already seen how helping my new friend yesterday had given me strength. Trying to “will” myself happiness was a fruitless endeavor, yet seeing others smile can bring unexpected joy. Surrendering to His will is a surprising source of joy. (Psalm 100:2, 1 Peter 1:15, John 15:5)
An even more surprising realization was that joy doesn’t just counteract suffering. Joy can be found smack dab in the middle of suffering. In fact, suffering can CAUSE joy. It’s all in our reaction to the pain. Paul considered it JOY to suffer for the gospel. I fully intend to follow Pastor’s advice and study the life of Paul. (2 Corinthians 7:4, James 1:2)
And the last thing God highlighted for me this morning was that joy comes from the Word. And how true that is! The past 24 hours of Bible Study have filled me with such hope, such optimism, such joy. God’s answers have been here all along. I simply needed to look. (Psalm 19:8, Jeremiah 15:16)
After reading my journal entry yesterday, I was overwhelmed with a desire to devour the scriptures to find references to the things I was seeking: confidence/courage, self worth, happiness/joy, optimism, peace, and hope; as well as references to the things I was battling: anxiety and fear; and their antithesis: faith. With these concepts in mind, I started jotting down references. I quickly filled an entire notebook! And this was just scratching the surface. I wanted to start at Genesis 1:1 and read clear through to Revelation 22:21. In thirty years of scripture reading, I had never been filled with such a burning passion for His Word. It wasn’t a chore, or an obligation, or in gratitude; it wasn’t selfish or simply for the sake of knowledge. For the first time in a long time, possibly for the first time ever, I realized God has a message for ME. And although I’ve read the words dozens of times, I wasn’t always focused. Although I know the basics, I suddenly realized it goes so much deeper. I am already amazed at how intertwined the concepts I am studying are. I can’t wait to organize my thoughts and share them.
“Oh Lord, may I not be distracted or dissuaded but may my heart, long bound in chains of fear forged in Satan’s furnace of lies, be freed from its prison. May I see and sense the Peace that passes all understanding. Will you take all of me, even the parts I have kept hidden, and fill them with your light? May your perfect love drive out all fear. May my feet not be persuaded to leave this path. May I become the vessel you intend me to become. In your precious name, Amen.”
For 20 years I pretended like I was okay. I shoved the fear and the painful memories into a little box in the back of my mind… all of it locked away- a thing of the past. To an outside observer, my life was nearly perfect. The feelings of shame and unworthiness, however, ran deep in my blood. They could not be easily forgotten.
I did forget. I erased so much from my memory that my childhood barely exists. Just occasional snippets of happiness that managed to survive two decades of mental illness. When the depression finally took over my life and I was forced to confront it, I still kept that box hidden. There were certain events that I would have taken to my grave. At least I thought so until last month. What was the point of opening that box? Those demons were long gone and did not need to be acknowledged.
The box came flying open last month. Certain things are blurry, or gone, details are missing, blackouts smack in the middle of the terror. But I am picking up the pieces of myself that I had accidentally trapped with those memories: confidence, optimism, hope, happiness. How had I survived 20 years without these? How would I ever find my way back? They were mocking me. “You can’t be confident- you have no control over what others do to you.” “Why on earth would you ever hope for something better?” “You are just a girl, you’re weak.” “Be realistic- the world sucks. Stop daydreaming.” “You can’t be who you were because you were just a child- naive, clueless and wrong.” “Do you think happiness is real? It’s just an illusion.”
They stood there, the ladies who had pried the lid off the box unknowingly. “You can do this.” “You can fight the memories.” I laughed bitterly. I didn’t even have memories to fight- just the debilitating fear, the emotional fall out, my body’s unpredictable response to stimuli.
I pulled up the pieces I did have- and I fought “like a cat in a bag.” Slowly the bits and pieces were falling together. I was confronting my past, rebuilding confidence and hope.
I met someone else a lot like me. For years she had tried to pretend nothing had happened. It didn’t work for her either. I stood beside her and cheered her on as she confronted her painful past. But the memories came rushing back to her, and she curled up and cried. Instead of running to her aid, I froze. I trembled. I cried. Maybe I was fooling myself. I could never be her cheerleader. I could never help someone else. Maybe we were all doomed to be eaten alive by the past. I emptied my stomach. My heart rate skyrocketed. A nearby EMT held my trembling hands and practically force fed me Gatorade. My skin was pale and clammy. I shivered in terror. I wanted to quit. I could barely move away from the wall. I was defeated.
She stood up, put her boxing gloves on, and fought back HARD. I can’t articulate what that did for me. The cloud of pessimistic defeat lifted, and for the first time I felt hope. If she could fight back, we all could. She didn’t let her fear win. So I would not let my fear defeat me.
I padded up and fought back, twice more.
My new friend paused in fear again. I stopped breathing. Lights sparkled in my field of vision. “Breathe,” they told her, ”You’re safe here.” I heard their words of encouragement and sucked in a deep lungful of air. Then another and another. My vision cleared. My strength returned. I walked to her side. And I held on tight. We can do this. And she did it. And I smiled. For her. For me. For all of us. We are fighting back. We’re putting the pieces back.
I can’t go back to who I was.
I don’t have to stay who I am.
I can become who I want to be.