Moving past the fight/flight/freeze of fear into the anxious for nothing…

 

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

I don’t know how many times I have researched the fight, flight, freeze response related to fear, but it’s a lot. And I’m not sure how many times I have combed the Bible reading scripture related to fear, but it’s at least weekly. And yet all this time, I have failed to make the connection between the two. Actually pairing what scripture has to say about anxiety with what my education as a therapist has taught me about the bodies response to fear. And it’s rocking my little world…

We know the Bible tells us to be anxious for nothing. And girl, I know you hear me when I say I wish I could be anxious for nothing, but anxiety comes knocking none the less. I pray and present just like His Word tells me to do, and at times peace guards my heart and mind, but other times I continue to whirl further and further into my own neurotic mess.

But what if we were to step back and apply what we know about anxiety and use it to wield what God tells us in His Word?

We know when stress/fear/anxiety comes, our body is going to respond with fight, flight, or freeze. If we pay attention in that moment, we can identify which of these processes is actually going on.

For example, this past week my daughter had an appointment for dental work. My fear response was to flee. I wanted to skip the appointment and pretend like we weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, thus avoiding my fear (her potential anxiety response) and her fear (pain). I prayed about it briefly, but was up all night mentally rehearsing my escape plan should I need it.

Another example. Later in the week I faced a potential confrontation, and I froze. I just couldn’t do it. And that’s okay, but in doing so, I gave into my anxious response. Thus any peace I might have experienced was eliminated, and I felt depressed and defeated.

If we let our bodies natural fear reaction drive the bus, the peace God wants to give us will most likely never arrive. In order to experience rest, we have to pray and present our request with thanksgiving – but not flippantly – we need to do it like it’s serious business (because it is).

And what do I mean by that? If we look at research about how to derail fear and relax, most therapeutic means will suggest mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, and prayer. Some would suggest repeating a word such as “peace” or “rest” paired with deep breathing and a focus on the here and now. But if you are like me, you usually toss up a quick prayer and then go right back to panic.

And I’ll be honest, for me, it’s because my faith struggles. I don’t think He will help, so I don’t spend much time asking Him. However, if I would change this quick prayer into a mindful experience where I truly sought His peace and didn’t give up until I experienced it, I would likely come to a place of rest and understanding unlike anything I have encountered before. I might choose a more value based action and I could potentially avoid sleep deprivation. It’s a game changer.

And so maybe, just maybe, being a little more intentional and fervent in our prayer and petition could actually help us come to peace God longs to give us. It certainly can’t hurt and is definitely worth a try. This week, let’s try it. I have a feeling God is going to be abundantly faithful. He always is.

DIS-appointed…

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We all have dealt with disappointment on some level. Be it disappointment in others, situations, or disappointment in ourselves. The former can cause significant pain,  but the latter is the most grueling of all. It can lead to feelings of shame, self-hate, and a general spirit of cruelty towards our innermost experiences.

But what leads to disappointment? This feeling of being unhappy with who we are and how we go about life…

I think we could all agree we do the best we can with what we have at the time…and yet knowing this we still bury our admirable intentions in a cave and drag out the blindness induced mistakes as if they are all that exists. But why?

Maybe it has to do with how we have appointed ourselves in the first place. If we appoint ourselves to a level of perfection rather than progress we set ourselves up for failure. Expecting perfection is a very black and white way of thinking. Either we do everything right, or we have done everything wrong. No middle ground. No room for learning. And certainly no room for mercy. When we appoint ourselves to this standard of performance, there is no attainable personal satisfaction and therefore very little enjoying of day to day life.

But what if we were to DIS-appoint ourselves? What if we dropped off idealistic expectations and instead looked to Jesus?

Because we were never able to meet a standard of perfection in the first place. That was apparent from the day Eve ate the apple. Before God breathed the first breath of life into Adam, He knew He would send a Savior to rescue us from the trap of depraved humanity. Because of Jesus we have a standard of sanctification and growing in grace rather than perfection. When we adopt a growth mindset with Christ appointed to the highest place in our heart and mind, things change.

We can forgive ourselves. We can look at our mistakes honestly, without judgement, and choose to learn from them. We can take victory for what it is without feeling like we have to constantly live up to the next triumph or higher standard. We don’t have to be the best but we realize we aren’t our worst. Christ has already redeemed the place of our worst. It no longer exists.

And what does all this mean for someone who beats themselves up for past mistakes, imperfection in the present, and fears failure in the future?

It means we can stop.

The moment we DIS-appoint ourselves, step off of the throne, and put Jesus there – He does what He already came to do. He sets the captive free.

“Therefore, now no condemnation awaits those who are living in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, because when you live in the Anointed One, Jesus, a new law takes effect. The law of the Spirit of life breathes into you and liberates you from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2 The Voice Translation

One of my favorite authors, RT Kendall, says it this way…

We forgive in proportion to how we love; and we withhold forgiveness in proportion to how we hate.

We can choose to love ourselves, forgive ourselves, and see ourselves through the lens of mercy because Christ loved us first. He sits atop the throne of our lives, not our own accomplishments or standards. It’s Him up there. And just Him. And us down here. And just us. We can drop the heavy chains of perfectionistic bondage and rest in knowing the standard is grace. Nothing we can do can make Him love us more and nothing can make Him love us less, we are loved with the fullness of who God is from the moment we accept Him into our hearts and minds. So let’s DIS-appoint ourselves sweet friends, and in doing so, find rest.

for the survivors this Christmas…

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This season is tough on some of us. We all know it. Some are grieving. Some are struggling with depression. Others have recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness…and the list goes on. There are countless reasons Christmas, with all of it’s joy, can be a really difficult time. And one particular group on my heart this year are those who have survived sexual abuse. Why? Because this is a time of year when many are encouraged to stay silent – pretend everything is okay – and stand by swallowing the thick gag inducing reality of what really happened.

And maybe it’s you this year. And maybe it’s someone you know. Maybe the trauma is fresh, and maybe it happened 20 years ago – but still feels like it was yesterday. 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse, so chances are, it has affected someone you know in some kind of way. But what can we do?

As a therapist, there are 2 things I have noticed that are more healing than any theoretical process or research driven therapy could ever be. And what are those 2 things?

Victims of sexual abuse need to know they have a voice, and they need others not to shrink back from their story. It’s that simple and that complicated.

I think of it in the same way my husband was once described as a firefighter. He was the one who chose to run into a burning building when everyone else was running out.

And that’s just it.

When someone has been hurt by sexual abuse, regardless of the extent of the abuse or how long ago it happened, there is a part of them that was on fire. It was in pain, it was hot, it felt like burning, afraid, alone, and trembling. A really scary space. Family may run away, friends may not understand, and many people just pretend it never happened because no one wants to swallow that it really did.

And I don’t think it’s intentional, this way we go about avoiding what happened. As humans, because of the way we are wired or the way we are raised, these kind of things make us uncomfortable. And so it seems easier just to sweep them under the rug than to get real and honest about them. But where does that leave the vicim?

Powerless, voiceless, undone…feeling alone and afraid. And it’s wrecking.

When something comes along and devastates your sense of humanity and innocence, everything in you wants to hide and scream all at the same time. And because we don’t know what to do with the jumbled up traumatic emotions and memories – we often do whatever we can to lock them away as if something is wrong with us, and disengage. And that my friend, is why offering a listening ear, being there for someone, regardless of what they need to talk about – is of utmost importance.

And a step beyond that, we need to help them find their voice

One of the most empowering things anyone has ever done for me was a sweet friend who told me it was okay not to engage with those who prompted my pain during the Holidays. That I didn’t have to give into pressure or demands. That my feelings mattered, and that my feelings were okay. And you can be that friend for someone else. You can empower them to have a voice during the Holidays. To let others know that some things are just too much for them to engage in – and that is okay.

And so as we celebrate the birth of God’s one and only Son tomorrow, it’s my prayer that we remember the true reality of why He came. That He was not afraid to get in the middle of our stark barren humanity and He never shrinks back from our pain. That He is the Wonderful Counselor and that He calls us to share His good news with others in any and every way that we can.

Sometimes the best thing we can do to celebrate Jesus is to sit next to the person who bears the burden of the undisclosed, let them know they are seen/heard, and that Jesus will never shy away from their pain because they are the very reason why He came.

 

overcoming the negativity bias…

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Negativity bias. What is it? What does it mean? It’s the way our brain reacts stronger to negative stimuli than positive. It’s the reason we can hear something painful and it lasts for years, and yet something positive may not stick for the fullness of a minute!

Take today for instance. My daughter had a major dental procedure. Stressful for any kid, right? But with her combined sensory and anxiety issues, she is often taken into another realm when it comes to unfamiliar and uncomfortable experiences. So how did she do? Freaking fantastic! I couldn’t have asked for her to be braver! She blew my highest expectations out of the water. And how long did I focus on it? For a few minutes, and then I went on with my day as usual.

Rewind to a few weekends ago…

Lauren had a really rough weekend. She cried about everything. From having to touch her feet to the carpet, to the way clothes felt on her body, going to run necessary errands, and even out to eat with the family. She whined and threw a fit over all of it. How long did I focus on it? It seemed like forever! I asked myself a million questions in regards to why she was struggling again, tried to do research to see if we were missing something with her, and let my mind wind itself completely out of rational control. I could not seem to go on with my day as usual, no matter how hard I tried.

And for the most part, we don’t focus on the negative intentionally. It’s just the way our brain is wired. We recall and process negative experiences with greater detail than positive ones. But if we want to create a life that we enjoy, a life worth living, we have to do some work to change this bias. So how do we do it? Philippians 4 gives us some great instruction…

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

We can intentionally hold positive experiences in our mind. At the end of the day, instead of recalling and replaying the moments we could have done differently, we can replay the things that went well. And what will be our reward if we do this?

Well, God says it will be peace. Not only peace, but that the God of peace will be with us. When we choose to focus on the good, we can feel God’s presence in an increased way. I’ve tried it, and when I practice it, it works.

Nothing drives away the peace of God like a good batch of worry, but nothing brings Him closer than an intentional time of thankfulness and resting in His goodness. When we choose center ourselves with excellence, it changes us. It breaks the chains of depression and anxiety in ways that nothing else can.

Our fallen sinful brains may be biased to see the negative, but life in the Spirit lends itself to greatness. With all that is in you, choose to see the good, and see it way big. Because it is BIG. The light always outshines the dark. And perfect love always casts out fear.

because suffering is hard to understand…

imageThe story of Lazarus frustrates me. I know Jesus eventually raises him from the dead, but the fact that he lets him die and stay in the grave while others weep and mourn – it’s difficult for me to understand. I’ve heard several explanations and interpretations. They make sense, kind of. But there is a piece of me that still feels disappointed. If Jesus could have spared them all the pain (and He could have) why didn’t He?

And I ask it not just for Lazarus and Mary, but for myself, and for others who are hurting. For those who feel dead inside…the hearts that feel trapped behind the doors of the tomb…and those who watch them writhe in pain and desperately wish they could make it stop…but they can’t.

I know the easy churchified answer, but that doesn’t always satisfy. When we see and hear about things that are just wrong and seem unnecessary, we need something deeper. Because if there is not a reason for Him choosing to allow suffering, than how can we say He is good?

Purpose from the pain. Beauty from the ashes. Good from the bad. All of those things. I get it. I really do. But the answer still falls short, at least for me, of explaining the allowableness of the pain experience itself.

And in my searching last night as I laid in my bed trying to come to some new level of understanding, this crossed my mind…

All of it means nothing – the purpose, the beauty, the good – if we refuse to accept the message of the cross.

Because the message of the cross is dirty. It’s scary, nasty and frankly – gives me nightmares. Every time I watch a reenactment on TV or a movie, I can’t hardly stand it. It makes me want to vomit. And even though I know how the story ends – and it ends well – the pain of the cross is tremendously real.

And so if Jesus suffered in such a way, if God allowed Him to suffer a fate that I can’t even stomach, then what makes me or you or anyone else immune to pain?

The answer is nothing.

Because the cross is painful. It is pain and hurt and abandonment and being shoved into the darkness by hateful humans spitting in our face. It is the Son of God, forsaken. It is blood spilled and flesh torn – it’s real life.

Jesus did not avoid pain. And He didn’t go around with big red bows trying to quickly tie up Lazarus’ or Mary’s pain either. He’s not a card carrying fairy princess godmother. He was flesh that suffered and died, not so we could avoid hurting, but so we wouldn’t be alone and abandoned in the process.

He was there when Lazarus died. He was there while Mary wept alone. He is there when children get raped. He is there when a sweet girl puts a blade to her wrist. He is there when the addict shoots up or swallows another handful of pills. He is there when life brings the unspeakable and makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. And it pains Him, it desperately pains Him, but He isn’t our glorified gigantic handyman. The message of the cross is knowing there will be pain, but because of His suffering, we do not have to suffer alone. That pain is uncomfortable – but with His presence we will be okay. He brings freedom not always from hurting – but from being unsheltered, deserted, and left with insufficient power to heal.

And so yes, beauty from ashes, and purpose from pain, but maybe more importantly the deep deep connection of the one who fills our lungs when the air sucks out of the room and we can’t even breath. In it all, He remains.

 

 

 

 

He makes me brave, thoughts on insecurity…

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If you asked me a few months ago if I was insecure, I would have said yes. If you ask me today, I might be more secure than I was a few months ago, but my answer would still be yes. Honestly, I don’t think there will be a point in my life that I will say no. And for the good or the bad, that’s just the way it is. It’s the way God wired me and I’m ok with that. This little bit of insecurity that I keep tucked under my belt is one of the most valuable things I have ever owned.

Sounds weird right? Because who wants to own something like insecurity? It’s uncomfortable, and sticky, and at its worst-induces panic. It can be a real pain in the butt. And for the longest time I thought…I’ll get out there, live my life, and do the things I’ve always wanted to do when this insecurity problem goes away. But until then, I just need to shame myself back into my bubble because what value is someone who struggles with insecurity anyways?

I felt that way for a long time. It was a really paralyzing feeling. I wanted to move on from where I was at, but not until I was more secure. However, I couldn’t ever feel secure because I felt so afraid and stuck. It was a vicious cycle. And it’s reared its ugly head a lot this week.

As I come up on a new journey, it would be really easy to step to the edge of the cliff, but never actually jump off. And not that I’m jumping off a cliff, but I am taking a big leap of faith, and sometimes I wonder if I am going to fly or splatter on the pavement. And insecurity screams: just step back to where it’s safe Stephanie! Who told you you were capable of this anyways? Are you crazy?

And I recognize the voice. It’s not God, it’s not me, and it’s not anyone that cares about me.

It’s fear, and if I know anything about fear, it’s that God did not give us a spirit of fear.

And what I desperately want you to know, and need to remind myself of, is that our thoughts and feelings aren’t always going to line up perfectly with the actions we need to take.

Sometimes we are going to be terrified, but it’s time to act anyways. Other times we are so over the top sad, but we know the best thing is to get out of the house and engage. Sometimes we will make the choice to forgive, but our heart is torn to shreds. Sometimes we feel incredibly insecure, but we move forward, and trust God to fill in the gaps.

I think I will always carry some amount of insecurity. And for the first time in my life, I’m okay with that. Because it keeps me humble, motivates me to learn, and gives me the desire to help people with a passion that might otherwise fade. It teaches me how to love people better. And God may never take insecurity away. But it won’t stop me from serving, nor does it need to stop you. Because at the end of the day, He is our one secure place and that is enough to bring us through even the toughest tomorrow.

 

He speaks over the unspeakable…

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Some things are just unspeakable. To feel the words depart from our lips would be more than our heart could stand.

And it’s a tough line, because sometimes things just don’t need to be spoken. And other things do because in the speaking of them, they lose some of their power. But it’s never easy. It’s difficult, and often comes with an aftermath.

Now that it’s out there what does that person think? Will they think less of me? Will they love me the same? Will they blame me for the horrible awful thing that happened? Or will they help set me free of the blame that was never mine?

It’s a gamble. We never know. And people are weird and carry their own baggage and sometimes their baggage insists they react in inappropriate ways. And that’s why I am so glad there is more to this life than humanity. There is a higher, greater, unconditionally loving Father. And He, my sister, does not change.

You can tell Him your best and you can tell Him your worst and He always loves you the same. He loves you with the fullest measure of His love from the moment you let Him into your heart and mind. He knows you from the start. He speaks over the unspeakable places in ways another human never could. Because He is God. And He knows.

ALL of you, He knows.

And it’s vulnerable and frightening and can even feel intimidating to come into His presence raw and exposed. But He won’t hurt you. He just wants to make the broken places new. And sometimes we have to be a little vulnerable and trust Him so that He can do the work.

Sometimes the work includes sharing your story with another human. A person you choose to trust that is trained to help. A person who has extra large shoulders, ready and eager to take on a portion of your pain. Because God didn’t put you on an island and He doesn’t want you to walk alone. We all need brothers and sisters to help us along the way. But no one, not even the best therapist in the world, can heal your pain like Jesus can. They can walk beside you in the process. But only Jesus does the divine…

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:1-4

This is what He does. It’s why He came. And when we cower in shame afraid to let Him see the broken places we know He already sees, I think it’s painful for Him. Just like when we see our own child hurting, but they don’t come to us.

The unspeakable exists. I get it. Maybe no other human needs to know, but God does. Because He specializes in speaking life over the unspeakable. He is profound and wise and we can trust His goodness. He knows what it takes to help us survive, and He’s got just the thing to pull us through.

 

they looked to Him and were lightened…

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Today I walked into a room. A large room. A room filled with people I admire. People I look up to. People who do the kind of work I do, who care about the same things I care about, and love well.

And it felt like a slice of heaven.

I love nothing more than being part of a something greater than myself. A community of compassion and ideas. A fresh breath of caring air. It’s the part of life I adore. I can’t thank God enough for the healing He has provided, the love that set me free, so I might get to play a small role in the life of someone else  – with these people in this way.

It felt like a slice of heaven…but at the same time I wanted to vomit, my face felt like it was on fire, and I really couldn’t gather my breath.

It’s weird how the things we love and want the most can create the most anxiety within us. Like a gigantic spoon reaching into the core of our soul and scooping out the most vulnerable part that very much wants to engage, but is afraid of being seen as less than – all at the same time.

And as I decompressed and began mentally unloading my day, I went to God’s Word and found this…

Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. Psalm 34:4-5 ESV

The KJV says it this way…

They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. Psalm 34:5 KJV

They looked unto him and were lightened…just let that phrase soak in for a minute. It’s powerful. Life altering powerful.

Because we look to so many things and are burdened.

We look to a room full of others that we admire, and it’s an amazing place to be, but rarely are we lightened. In fact, in rooms like these we are often weighted, heavily weighted with the cold wet blanket of our own insecurities.

And we look to our accomplishments and the things we have done well. And we look to our failures and the times we have messed up. And we look to those we love. And we look to those we are angry at. And we look to this and we look to that, but rarely, rarely, do we look to these things are lightened. Maybe we are lightened slightly. But no one lightens the way God lightens.

When we look to God, not only are we lightened, but our faces are not ashamed.

The anxiety, the vacuum sucking insecurity, the embarrassment that we feel when we think I wonder what they really think about me, that cold stark feeling of loneliness in a room swarming with people – when we look to God and are lightened, He takes all of that away.

All of it.

And it’s you…and it’s Him…breathing…and there’s nothing to fear when that big gigantic spoon digs deep down inside because He has seen it all and chooses to love you anyways. And who does that?

Who loves the unloveable places of you? Who knows the unspeakable things about you? Who sees you at your very worst and never turns there face away?

Only God does that.

Today will be far from the last time I walk into a room like the one I did today, and that’s a good thing. Because hot vomity feeling and all, what really takes my breath away is knowing God lets me be a part of something I could never ever be worthy of. Not because I deserve it – but because He loves me.  He could have left me in the trenches of my broken heart – all dirty and filled with shame – but He didn’t.

And it’s not just me, or my family, or my friends, or the girl down the street – this lighten-ing that happens is for all of us.He came to set all the captives free, each and every one. We all look to Him and are lightened. We all look to Him and are released from shame. We all experience the profound unconditional love that only He can provide. And I just don’t even know what to say about that other than I am so stinkin’ thankful.

Jesus, it’s my prayer every single day, that I never get complacent, dull, or less vulnerable to the power of your great love. Because I need it so desperately, and that’s a good thing. Thank you that you lighten us. Thank you that you have already taken away all of our shame. Thank for just helping us do these things that you have given us the authority and power to do. Just thank you for being God and for loving me anyways. Amen.

 

 

 

 

for when we get caught up and overwhelmed with do-ing…

love mercy

Because when she closes her eyes, instead of seeing herself as the beautiful child of God that she is, she sees a tornado. A swirling cloud of dust and destruction that ruins everything it comes in contact with.

That’s how I saw myself for a long time. If I didn’t do something best, I must be the worst.

I equated actions and abilities with personhood. And it’s never what God intended…to be a slave to opportunities, experiences, or accomplishments.

It’s a painfully exhausting way to live. And thankfully, I’ve come a long way. But when I get tired, old images seep into the pores of my heart. And although I no longer see myself as a dark cloud of destruction that couldn’t possibly risk true connection with another human being, it’s times like these that I wonder.

I test the waters.

Is that old message true? Is there evidence all the hard work I did to see myself as capable and confident just a facade? Do I really have worth and value just in being who I am? Or do I need to perform, and push my children to perform, for me to be valued and lovable.

I pack my schedule relentlessly to avoid feeling inadequate. I stack accomplishments higher and higher, and it looks pretty nice. Before I know it, I find myself kneeled there. Maybe I start worshiping it. Maybe I offer it to God as if it’s something He wants. As if I could earn His love with my God-starved strivings.

And then it takes a weekend like this, where I deal with situations and circumstances completely out of my control, for me to realize how far I have drifted.

All this stuff I have been working towards, it’s good stuff, but it can never be my identity…my value…and it certainly can NEVER EVER be my God.

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. Micah 6:8 MSG

So that’s it.

It’s really not about me accomplishing this or that. It’s about love and compassion. It’s less about taking myself too seriously (to an almost obnoxious level) and more about taking GOD seriously.

It’s less about what I can do, and all about what He can do. And that’s security. That’s confidence. That’s safety. That’s rest. Because even if I turn into that dark tornado cloud of destruction that I am so dang afraid of, He remains greater. If I fail (and I will because we all do), it’s okay, because He never will.

When she closes her eyes, she no longer sees destruction. She sees Him. She sees safe. She sees love. And she’s gonna be okay.