Monday, August 20, 2012

Trusting through Troubles

I’m beginning to get an idea of just how powerful living in the Spirit can be. It’s no longer just a thought or belief—but a feeling, a sensation, an experience.

Lately I have been feeling very calm, relaxed, and genuinely happy with life. I have found rest in God, and peace with the story that he has written for me. I have been able to see the beauty in his creations here on earth, and take time to be thankful for all He has given me. For the first time (in a long time) I have surrendered my desire to control my own life, and have given up the control. In this, I have felt a sense of freedom that I have been missing for quite some time—a feeling of not only joy in Him, but happiness as well.

Just to provide a bit of background before this story, keep in mind that I have been volunteering at my church—working in the children's ministry. Because I spend some of my Sundays worshiping in this fashion, I’m not able to attend every service and hear the sermon. It has been a few weeks since I have been able to sit in (with vacation and what not), so I was extremely excited to hear God’s word yesterday morning. I woke up way too early for a weekend, enjoyed the precious gift of a beautiful sunrise, and took time to pray and thank God for his mercy. I was calm, and my soul was at rest.

On my way to church I was fired up. I wasn’t sure exactly what would be covered in the sermon, but I was eager to hear God’s word regardless. Church started and as I started worshiping through song, I started to get an uncomfortable feeling all throughout my body—as well as my mind. I started losing track of the words… I was staring at the screen, but my focus turned to myself-- and my pounding heart, shortness of breath, and dizziness. I was confused. It had been months since my last full-blown anxiety attack. I had shown no signs of issues lately, and had been extremely cool, calm, and collected. Why was this happening—and why NOW? I started to think back to what I had eaten, if I had taken any over-the-counter medicine earlier, or if I had consumed too much caffeine. Nope, normal routine. Then it hit me—there is someone who really does not want me to hear this message, let alone enjoy hearing it.

In most situations it would be a normal option to just remove myself from whatever position, to help subdue the attack. However, as soon as I heard that I would be hearing a sermon on the crucifixion of Christ (important, important, important for the good news of the Gospel), it solidified that my previous hunch was correct. There was a force pushing me away from the Word, and making it almost impossible to concentrate and understand the message.

I refused to remove myself from the sermon. In my head, I repeatedly yelled at this awful and selfish being—out of frustration, fear, and utter anger that he was challenging my faith. When having an attack, it’s easy to make things about “me”. It’s, essentially, what causes it. What is happening to me? Why is he picking on me? What if people can tell? What if I’m uncomfortable? Until, at one point I thought, “Hey, this isn’t about you. It’s only part of the story, and He isn’t shocked that this is happening.” Ouch. My comfort isn’t on the top of everyone’s priority list? I’m not number one? Reality check.

During an anxiety attack, the world around me is blocked out. Because of the focus on my own situation, I rarely remember much of what went on around me. But this day was different. I wasn’t in church to be comfortable, but I was there to hear His Word. Even through the whirlwind of emotions, physical sensations, and thought patterns, I was able to hear the message that day. Think of it like tunnel vision—I couldn’t tell you who was sitting in front of me, or even if someone’s cell phone started ringing during service (let’s hope it didn’t). However, I can remember piece-by-piece the message of Christ dying on the Cross—for us. I made it through the sermon, but still slipped out of the worship service a bit early. Once at my car, I was relieved to feel normal again, yet frustrated that I left early. It was eerie how quickly the onset was, and how quickly it went away (this isn’t typically how they are for me). Again, I realized that there was a third (and much, much lesser) party involved.

This scared the hell out of me—no pun intended. Knowing that the closer I cling to Christ, the harder evil is going to try and pull me down, is a terrifying thought. It’s easy to settle with this thought, “If I back off on the worshiping, maybe he’ll back up on terrorizing.” I mean, it makes sense, right? You’d think he had bigger fish to fry. Wrong-o. I realized that I need Christ at all times—in these times more than ever. It may seem like you’re losing the battle with (insert any of the million possible answers here), but in reality, this war has already been won. This verse has spoken, greatly, to me lately, so I thought I would share.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33

Later that afternoon, I started running my Sunday errands. At the store, I usually browse through the “What to Read” books. However, today, I was led to a section that I don’t normally visit, and there was a book that caught my eye. I picked it up and debated on whether or not I should spend the money to buy it. After flipping through a few pages, I actually decided to put it back on the shelf.  I continued my shopping, but with a gut feeling that I should go back for the book. Needless to say, by the grace of God, it ended up in my shopping basket.  

When I returned home, I immediately started reading it. A few hours later—after inspiration, chills, and messages from his word, I was sat at the end, astounded. God knew exactly what I needed to hear, and He was determined to get me to listen. There was actually a quote in the book that referred to this.  

“God is very, very patient. He will continue calling to us, He will shout when He must, and He will always welcome us back with loving, nonjudgmental arms” –Mary Neal, MD.  (Cue goosebumps.)

Even after a scary and confusing attack during the service, I strived to obey Him. I may have had a horrible experience for a few minutes, but the benefits to following him are eternal. I will continue to trust and follow His guidance to the best of my ability. Life may not always be filled with happiness, but I am certainly filled with joy. As long as you keep your eyes focused on Jesus, He will carry you through the troubles. I can feel God working in me right now, and I feel something big on the horizon. Good or bad, I’m patiently awaiting whatever it is He as planned for my future.

The following verse was in my book—and I absolutely love it! I try to pray this every day on my way to work (my version’s not as eloquent).

“Remind me each morning of your constant love, for I put my trust in you. My prayers go up to you; Show me the way I should go.” –Psalm 143:8

Wonderful song (below) about how God will lever let you go. You should check it out. I love you all, and thanks for reading! 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Messy Misinterpretations

In today's society, we constantly encounter misunderstandings of tone, attitude, and context through the use of social media. It has created a barrier between ourselves and those with whom we communicate. That being said, it is easy to fall into the habit of misrepresenting our intentions, or even misreading someone else's. Although still young, I have learned many lessons regarding the attempt to decode a message received from someone--especially from someone of the opposite sex. 

I have included three scenarios, and with these, a bit of commentary. Remember, you are fearfully and wonderfully made--don't join in on the games that can ultimately lead to hurt, heartbreak, and even hate. 

Scenario One:
Receiving that text after midnight. You know, the one that comes out of nowhere on a Friday night, simply stating "Hey ;)". I can assure you, that wink becomes dangerous after the sun goes down. It's tough to assume that anyone would want to strike up a decent, worthwhile conversation at that hour. Remember, for most people, feelings are somewhat amplified in the evenings: sadness, loneliness, vulnerability.  Be cautious of how you respond and even with how you let a late-night discussion alter your emotions. 

Scenario Two:
Oh, the ever-so-common drunk dial. You can't help but to feel a bit of satisfaction when someone's slurring through their undying confession of love for you...right? It's possible that I am making it sound silly, but how often does he confess it sober? More importantly, how often does he show it sober? If you're having a difficult time coming up with an answer to that, it's probably a phone call that never should have been answered in the first place. You deserve to hear it from a sober mind and honest heart. 

Scenario Three: 
Ah, the old "You should come over."--winner of the Most Deliberately-Ambiguous Statement of the Year award! It's 1am, and you are inviting me over to make cookies and play video games alone? Maybe, but not likely. It could be loaded with mischievous [scary, messy, confusing, misleading, heartbreaking, selfish] intentions which may remain undiscovered until it's too late. Always think through the situation before making a decision. 

Rough news for you ladies: These scenarios are endless. However, if you cling to Christ and pray for wisdom and guidance, many of the deceptions and temptations can be overcome through Him.

Only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trial into a triumph, a victim into a victory.

Beth Moore makes a strong suggestion in one of her sermons, which I feel is applicable to this post:
"Desperation does not make good decisions...ask God to fill you with His Spirit--to fill up every empty, broken place in you, and then see how you feel about that situation."

I realize that these specific situations may seem trivial, but the danger lies in how you allow yourself to respond to them: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Trust me--letting yourself get mixed up in these schemes can lead to a loss of self-respect. Let me ask you this: If you don't respect yourself, are you crazy enough to believe someone else will? 

I don't mean for this post to make guys look bad. Being on the other side of those scenarios brings just as much heartache and pain.. so I would not recommend tempting others either! This was simply to bring awareness to the fact that times are changing, and social media makes it easier to share personal and intimate information with the click of a button. Temptation is high, and tools are more accessible than ever. Be smart!

As you meet new people this academic year, hold strong to your values and principles. Once compromised, it is extremely difficult to patch-up your integrity. You're a beautiful being, and should always be treated with respect. I pray that God blesses you all this year, and that he provides discernment for the trying times. 

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ." -Colossians 2:8

This song, "Steady My Heart", has a great message--and of course it rocks because it's Kari Jobe. You should give it a listen. Much love!