Lent 2016

Preliminary Thoughts

It’s been a very long time since I really recognized Ash Wednesday by giving something up or taking on a new habit. Growing up, this was an integral part of the church calendar as I grew up in a United Methodist church. Now, I find myself in a new season of my own spirituality. A season that I know will bring simplicity and a childlike faith back into my life.

These next 40 days will also be a season of healing. For nearly two years, my husband and I have been trying to conceive a child to no avail. However, now that we have completed our cross-country move and settled (to some extent), I feel like a new chapter is beginning and I don’t want to miss it. For the past several months, probably since the summer, I could tell that I was spiraling down into depression again. My anxiety was high. My trust in God was at a low. Most days I didn’t even know how I felt about Him or His promises. I engaged in worship, but to be honest, that has always been the easiest part of the Christian walk.

What am I going to be doing for the next 40 days?

First things first, I’m committing to a time of prayer, reading, and meditation every day. I have not be in a regular practice of doing these things every day for quite some time (besides the Bible app’s devotionals). During this time of healing and introspection I really need to be ‘plugged in’ to God’s Word and my communication with Him.

So, in order to accomplish that, I am not logging into Facebook or Instagram until after Easter. I should preface this by saying that I have lived in legalistic ways before and as a result, they killed my freedom in Christ. This is not for accolades or to go along with perhaps a popular thing to give up for this season. The reason is that I can spend hours, hours on social media, browsing, judging, and comparing my life to others. This habit has hampered my prayer/devotion life and my overall well being.

I am not going to be doing any food/drink fasts. I’ve done them in the past (giving up soda, giving up sweets, etc) and for me, it was a nuisance more than a sacrifice. By silencing the drama and noise of those two social media platforms, I know that my mind will be clear and my heart ready to receive.

My cousin Anita is sending out a prompt twice a week to me and many other people as a way to let us write our thoughts about our own spiritual journeys. She’s basing it off of the Lent Photo-a-Day Instagram Challenge. So every day, I will write about each of these prompts instead of taking pictures, and on Sundays and Wednesdays, I’ll write specifically about the prompt received in my email.

photo a day

I’m also going to be reading Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller. I recently completed a devotional on the Bible app that included excerpts from this book, so I decided to read it over the next several weeks.

Why would I read a book about something so ‘basic’ in the Christian life? Because I need help. I need to get back to a place of communicating effectively with God, and sometimes that requires going back to the basics, even if you’ve believed your whole life.

So, here it goes. As we go through this Lenten season, it will also become spring. I don’t think that is a coincidence, especially for this weary soul.

 

 

Hello, my name is Elizabeth and I’m a control freak.

With winter break behind us, I’ve had some time, weeks even, to ponder things… events, ideas, prayers. So far my year of no resolutions is going great thankyouforasking… and I have to tell you that my one resolution was to make the bed every day. And as of Day 22 of 2014, I’ve succeeded. 😉 It really makes me feel like I have control over the day so early on…

I’ve really been pondering and mulling over this idea of self-control. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, but it never really stood out to me before. I always thought that maybe things like love and patience and goodness were more important or something. But lately I’m beginning to think that self-control is the key to all of them, and it’s the key to a full life that can manifest Jesus’ love on earth.

And really, it’s not self-control. Lord knows I cannot, I repeat can NOT control myself at Orange Leaf with all those delicious flavors of fro-yo, let alone the toppings. It’s a crap shoot, guys. He also knows that sometimes I just can NOT control my tongue on Interstate 10. I mean, seriously. It’s just offensive. So in all truth in a slow process I’ve been letting my self-control become God-control.

Self-control is a good thing to learn how to cultivate, but if you’re anything like me, you learn things the hard way.

Story of my freaking LIFE.

I have spent most of my 27.75 (as of today actually…) years on this earth being anxious, controlling, worried, planning anything and everything, and that’s my own personal version of lack of self-control.

I have spent a good portion of that 27.75 years letting my emotions get the best of me only to feel regret or embarrassment later. I’m like Kristen Bell; “If I’m not between a 3 and 7 on the emotional scale, I’m crying.” Can I get a witness?

I spent a few years of my 27.75 overweight because of my lack of self-control with eating and concurrent lack of exercise.

I’ve spent a different good portion of my 27.75 years saying things that just seemed to roll off my tongue only to be begging for forgiveness later.

There’s no doubt that running has helped considerably with my self-control. It takes patience and determination to train for a race, to get up when that alarm rings so so soooo early, to reject that second (or third) cupcake in favor of being fueled properly.

The Army has also been a fantastic teacher of patience and self-control… and just life and marriage in general. Early on I’d let myself get all worked up about where we would move… looking up maps and races and interstates and houses to rent and jobs.. I bet you’re exhausted just reading that. I was exhausted, wrought with anxiety over many things I had no control of. I couldn’t even control my own actions or emotions and that quickly leads to a downward spiral which for me ends in depression. And that’s a dirty slimy pit. So dirty. And slimy. *gag*

The thing is, I asked to learn this particular fruit of the Spirit (ughhh silly me!), and I learned a few more fruits of the Spirit in tandem with self-control. And boy was I brought through situations where I was taught how to let go. I think for a Christ-follower to have self-control really speaks volumes of his or her sincerity of faith and growth in relationship with Jesus. With self-control you learn to control the following but Lord have mercy not limited to:

your reactions to things (ahem, crazy drivers on I-10 or Army ridiculousness),

your reactions to people (you know, that one person that just reallllllly gets under your skin),

your eating,

your working out,

your interactions with people at work,

your emotions when in a precarious situation (this I’m still working on),

your parenting (I have yet to encounter this),

your Internet usage (heh),

your Bible-reading,

your praying,

your relationship with your spouse (also working on this, I’m sure my husband is thankful).

If I let Jesus deal with these things and guide me throughout my days, that means that I trust Him 100%. When we start taking back control, we stop trusting. I want to trust 100%. Who wants to take their burdens back? I sure don’t. I wouldn’t wish my past anxiety or worry on anyone. ANYONE. I guess what I’m getting at is that all of this is connected as deep heart issues generally are.

Something I’ve been mulling over is that self-control leads to obedience. To be obedient means that you sometimes have to lay aside your plans, your worries, your anxieties, your wants, your desires, in order to pick up your cross and follow down the straight and narrow. It’s hard because we as humans think we gain something by staying in control. My friends, it’s quite the opposite. Believe me. Congratulations, you gain something alright; you gain back your burdens.

But I want to be obedient. I know God knows when I wake and when I lie down.. He knows my past, present, and future.. He knows what lies deep in the abyss of my soul and longs to take those burdens and control freak tendencies. I could easily be tempted to start controlling the next several months (despite the fact that we are in Army limbo [or purgatory??] right now) and apply to jobs, take teacher tests, and generally freak out. *Gulp*

(Aside: My ten-year PCHS Class of ’04 reunion is this year and everyone’s all “Do you want July 19 or August 2?” and I’m all “Hell *ahem* heck if I know what state I’ll even be in then! Must be freaking nice to know where your LIFE is headed in six months!” See?? Prime example.)

But when I am free from my control-freakness (hey, I’m a budding linguist so I can do fun morphological things like that ;)) and cultivate God-control, I can be freed up to be obedient… and that is the life in Christ I long to live. With the beginning of my 29th year of life and 7th year of marriage quickly (oh so quickly) approaching, I knew something needed to change. I should be better by now, less reactive, more proactive. Less anxious, more sure. God-control is the only way.

Fighting fire with fire.

How do you overcome depression and anxiety, let alone when your husband is deployed? It’s not easy, and if you’re feeling depressed or anxious, so much that it’s starting to affect your every day life, you need to take it seriously. Maybe you’re like me and have dealt with mild or situational depression or anxiety in your life, and it comes and goes depending on your health and stressors at that particular time.

For me, it most recently hit me during my trip home. I have been treated in the past for depression/anxiety, both with therapy and meds. Both were needed at the time and both helped me a lot. Let me say this: there is absolutely no shame in finding help. This is the first time I have considered going back to the doctor since I stopped meds and therapy in 2008. I have a lot of situational stressors going on, so as of right now I’m going to do what I can to control it with lifestyle changes and reevaluate after my husband returns (soon!!!!). By that time, many of the stressors will be gone so I will probably not have to seek professional help. I have dealt with this since I was in junior high, so I know myself and my body very well.

The point of this post is to give some tips to help you if you’re dealing with mild depression or anxiety. I am not a mental health professional by any means; I’m a woman who has a lot of experience with these illnesses and have found little things to do in my life that help me cope without continued therapy and meds.

How do you know if you’re dealing with these illnesses? There are many online resources such as questionnaires that can informally assess your current mental state. If you choose to see a doctor or therapist, they’ll go over your personal and family medical history during your first visit. Be honest; no one is there to judge you. I have mental illness on both sides of my family, so that tipped my doctor off that I might need more than just cognitive behavioral therapy. Biology is hereditary.

1. Take a deep breath and don’t take yourself so seriously. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to cry because it seems that everything is going wrong all at once. Remember that you’re not the only one going through this and that you won’t feel like this forever. Mentally step away from the situation.

2. Make your home your sanctuary. It’s really important that when you come home from work or a night out that your home is comfortable and somewhere you can relax. One way I do this is to make sure the house is cleaned on a regular basis. Ask my husband; I can’t relax unless things are picked up and dishes are done. Buy some candles and light them when you get home. Buy pretty towels for the bathroom. It may sound silly, but little things help.

3. Give yourself “me” time. The amount of “me” time depends on whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, but since I’m the former, I need “me” time to recharge and feel refreshed. I know this all too well, so I try not to plan too many things with friends on a weekly basis. At the most, I’ll reply with a “maybe” if I’m just not sure about doing a particular activity. And it’s okay to say “no”! The night my husband deployed, I had just started final exams; I left my final early to see him off. That night I relaxed with a hot bath and a glass of wine. I made that time for myself and it made the first night alone that much easier.

4. Get a pet. My pit bull mix Missy is my companion when my husband’s not home. She offers protection and companionship, and she’s not too shabby of a running partner either! Of course, pets come with vet and boarding bills, but this time apart from my husband has showed me that it’s worth it!

5. Visit friends and family, or have them visit you. I have been blessed to have both my sisters visit at different times (and one with her new baby!), and my aunt came right after finals were over and we flew back to Illinois together. I just got back from a two-week visit with family. Visits, whether here or there, help you reconnect with family and friends from “back home” and give you something to break up the duration of the time apart.

6. Develop a few close friendships. We’re not meant to go through life alone. Being far away from family can be difficult, but it is possible to find amazing people to go through life with you wherever you’re stationed. Put yourself out there and meet people. Don’t write people off because you might be stationed somewhere new soon. We need each other. And when you get to know people in your community, you’re not just “passing through” anymore; you’re now a part of that community.

7. Set short and long term goals. This could be goals with a hobby, or goals for school. If you have kids, it could be places to see or things to do with your kids. For me, it’s running. While my husband is away, I train for races. Running keeps me sane, fit, gives me an endorphin rush and time to process things.

8. Lower your expectations. Part of my anxiety stems from things related to time. I’m always 5-10 minutes early, to EVERYTHING. It’s just the way I grew up. But in my 27 years I’ve learned that not everyone is like that. My anxiety also is tipped off when I expect to get somewhere in a certain amount of time, and unexpected traffic or a forgotten errand gets in the way of that. Another thing that gets me is when I expect to chat or Skype with my husband and he’s not available. Just take a breath and stay calm.

There are a million more tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years, but these are the ones that have come to mind recently. Every day down is another day closer to homecoming! You’re going to be stronger than the day you started.

Defending our faith

Yesterday I was enjoying a book and the late summer sunshine on campus when two girls approached me. The conversation went like this….

“Hi! We have a Bible study here on campus and we were going around asking people to see what they know about the Bible. Do you believe the Bible is true?”

“Yes, I do!” In my life, the Bible is 100% truth, infallible, and the guide for living our lives and a way in which God speaks to us. The Holy Spirit brings the God-inspired words to life.

“What if we told you that in the Bible it says….”

For an hour we went through the Bible together (it was the New International Version; I asked) and these girls tried to convince me of things not accepted by mainstream Protestant doctrine by using Scripture out of context. I asked them if they had looked up certain things in the Greek or Hebrew, and they told me that “Well, no, but it’s pretty much the exact same thing in English.” While I agree that we have some amazing translations of the Bible in English, in order to get the absolute entire picture, we need to cross-reference these verses with the original languages in which they were written. Even comparing other English translations can shed light onto tough passages of Scripture.

I’m by no means a Bible expert. However, just in the past few years, I really started studying more and learning how to debate (thanks Petr and Gabi for your Christ-centered debate group!!). By God’s grace, I stumped these girls on the issues they were trying to convince me of. They were like robots; they had many verses highlighted with Post-It strips indicating where to go next if the person being interviewed posed a certain question.

My purpose for writing this is not to nit-pick every issue we talked about, nor is it to bash other people or denominations. It’s to illustrate how important it is for us to know what we believe, why we believe it, and where to find it in the Bible.

If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. Even a Christian who attends church and reads the Bible can be swayed by tactics such as these. Do you know where you stand on issues such as creation? Sin? Salvation? Heaven? Hell? The divinity of Jesus? The oneness of the Trinity?

Debating these issues can get heated and sometimes offensive, but I thank God for the grace He gave me and I hope these girls could see what I was showing them out of love. Above all, this is what is important:

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you

to give the reason for the hope that you have.

But do this with gentleness and respect..” I Peter 3:15

and

“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed,

but of those who believe and are saved.” Hebrews 10:39

A work in progress

Our theme for 2012 at Harvest is “Get it done”, based on Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Works do not earn us salvation, rather they should be a product of salvation. In the shuffle of every day stresses, I get so consumed in my little bubble and how I’m going to get everything done.

I want to be focused on the eternal, but I cannot do it in my natural state. I’m selfish, arrogant, prideful. I get worried, anxious, and needy. I need a sanctifying work. 1 Thessalonians 5:23:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

When I first got saved, and even years later I turned a lot of people off to Jesus. Heck, maybe I still do. I’ve made mistakes and taken wrong turns. I disguised myself from behind a mask of “miss goody two shoes straight A’s virgin church girl”. At least that’s how I perceived myself. When you make mistakes, you learn from them and I think I’ve learned to be more like Jesus and just love people.

This blog post by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary put things into perspective. I love  her blog because she’s just so real. I think she says what a lot of Christians are afraid to say. She cusses. She admits her failures. Publicly. No sin will ever get dealt with if it’s kept hidden. [Believe me, I know from experience.]

I want to love Jesus and love people, but I also don’t want to go off the other deep end and be all about loving and not about salvation or discipleship. We don’t need to be from the world to be relevant in the world.

To be honest, I’ve been doubtful lately. Gasp. What?! Doubting?! You mean, you haven’t been 100% walking in faith? Who woulda thought.

I’ve been wondering why bad things have to happen to good people. I found out this week one of my friends is starting chemo treatments… and it’s just not fair.

I’ve been wondering how people who did walk in the faith could be the furthest thing from it.

I’ve been wondering how to share Jesus with people without sounding preachy. Is being their friend enough? What’s the point of having “friendships” if it’s just a “missionary friendship”? Sorry, but I refuse to befriend people with the sole purpose of sharing Jesus with them. I want to actually like my friends, spend time with them doing things we like to do together, and just be friends.

I wonder how the Church has gotten so so so far from who the real Jesus was. The Jesus who talked to strangers, whores, lepers, preachers, tax collectors, fishermen. He never asked any of them to change who they were before they started following Him. He only asked for an undivided heart… so… what is with this judging and labeling homosexuals, potheads, divorcees, big wigs, abortionists, etc who don’t even claim to be Christians?! Who says that’s the “Christian” thing to do? It pisses me off.

I think God has done some sanctification in my life thus far. I’ve let him change my attitudes towards nonbelievers and believers alike. I still have a lot of bad attitudes to work through, and cussing up a storm is not the way to do it.

I’m sick of my inner dialogue being about myself and how I feel about things. It’s all about me, me, me. More than once in the past week I’ve felt on the verge of an anxiety attack… it’s a throwback to life four to five years ago.. and I thought I got through it.

Thinking on all the things that I need to be sanctified for or from can be overwhelming and depressing…. however, I am thankful for a Savior who loves me for me, Elizabeth, the Elizabeth that talks behind her boss’s back, the Elizabeth that lusts after attractive actors (it must be their fault, right?!), the Elizabeth that doesn’t pray or study the Word nearly enough, and the Elizabeth that picks fights with her husband.

There is so much that God’s planned for me to do, so with my undivided heart and His willingness to pursue and purify, we can get it done.

I wish I may, I wish I might

Get this: The day after I wrote my post on “being on the road to contentment”, I gave myself a hearty slap in the face.

We all grow up wishing things, right? On the stars, on birthday candles, on whatever. (One time, I wrote a preadolescent wish on a slip of paper and placed it in a “wishing jar” my aunt gave me from Hallmark. The wish came true. But I won’t tell you what it is… yet. It’s pretty funny, because it came true. Insert suspense here.)

There’s nothing wrong with hoping and dreaming for your life, until you’re 25 and feel as if you still haven’t gotten anything you’ve wished for. I know.. it’s overdramatic and whiny. I have plenty of great things.. an awesome husband, we’re provided for, we’re employed, we are madly in love.

But lately I’ve been grumpy. My husband has noticed it on multiple occasions, and it’s really none of his fault. Really. It’s been my choice to be grumpy, which is just plain ridiculous. I wished for two whole years that if we could just be together, live under the same roof, then I’d be happy. Well guess what? Our happiness is not, cannot, be wrapped in circumstance. Because when it doesn’t go our way, we get grumpy. And when Elizabeth is grumpy, it’s a bad day to be inside her head.

This whole week has been pretty bleak, mindfully speaking. Blah.

I have a confession: I am a covetous person. I really have always been this way… unfortunately it’s a way of life here in America, always wanting the bigger, better, more grandiose things in life. If we could only have this, only have that. Only look like her, have a different body.

The truth is, to covet is to sin. It says so in the Ten Commandments. “Covet” is such an ugly word, and I hate to say that I do this. All. The. Time. I compare and judge myself against others, and most saddening, against myself. It’s a horrible game of tearing myself down.

Part of my problem has been running. I know, I know.. when I started running it was never supposed to turn into a sick game of beating myself up. It’s like a punishment, that I gladly take upon myself. Go faster, run longer, follow a strict training plan (even though there’s no race or weight goal). And when I don’t meet my self-imposed goals, I feel guilty.

—————

I want to do my hair like that.. then I’ll feel more confident.

I want to have smaller body proportions.. then I can wear cuter clothes in smaller sizes. (My wish, [remember?], was that I wanted big boobs.. Lord help me, because genetically it shouldn’t really have been possible. Ha.)

I want to run faster so I can be better than… myself. (WHAT?! But this is what goes through my messed up brain!)

I want a job better than the one I have now, because then I’ll feel like I’m really doing something.

I wish I hadn’t missed that exit.. now I have to waste time and take the next one. I hate wasting time, and now I feel guilty for wasting a part of my day.

—————-

This is just a sneak peak at what goes through my mind for what seems like every second of every day. I apologize to my husband incessantly for saying or doing something that I think hurt him, when in reality, he told me that I’m really apologizing to myself. It’s so true. What a sick cycle!

It really makes me want to cry, because this is not a reflection at all of who I am in Christ! Where is the freedom, the joy, the grace?

I tell you what.. I am so glad that Jesus ate with sinners, that He chose to forgive those who were putting Him on that cross.. and that the fact that He lives now is what sustains me for eternity. I need grace, I need forgiveness, I need a Savior. Without those things, I am doing nothing but putting myself through a downward spiral…. and that, eventually, will send one to the grave.

I want to live a simple life of contentment and freedom. That’s really what I want. I don’t have to covet someone else or push them around to get it, either. It’s freely given to me through grace.

I want to stop striving all the time, and just start living.  I want to eat ice cream, and not feel guilty. I want to run and just be thankful that I can run. I want to go to work and be content there.

Romans 8:1-2 says,

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation

for those who are in Christ Jesus,

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit

who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

>We have a hope

>

For some reason, this hymn popped into my mind tonight. Hymns make up such a huge part of my church history.. they helped expand my vocabulary, taught me how to read and sing parts, planted a love for poetry, and introduced me to so many truths of the Bible that still ring in my ears to this day.
This is one of my favorites… simple but full of truth. I heard a bit of bad news about an extended family member this evening, and it just reminds me that in the hard, and seemingly hopeless times, we do have a Hope.
“My Hope is Built”; Mote, Bradbury
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. 
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, 
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name. 

On Christ the solid Rock I stand, 
All other ground is sinking sand; 
All other ground is sinking sand. 

When darkness seems to hide His face, 
I rest on His unchanging grace. 
In every high and stormy gale, 
My anchor holds within the veil. 

His oath, His covenant, His blood, 
Support me in the whelming flood. 
When all around my soul gives way, 
He then is all my Hope and Stay. 

When He shall come with trumpet sound, 
Oh may I then in Him be found. 
Dressed in His righteousness alone, 
Faultless to stand before the throne.