Powerful Thinking

When I was a teenager, there was a period of time when my sister and I did nothing but fight. We couldn’t get along, no matter how hard we tried. We just ended up stealing the peace of those around us as well as our own. I received a revelation that I needed to start thinking good thoughts about her. It wasn’t easy because I was quite stuck in a negative thought pattern. I decided that I needed to come up with at least 3 good things about her each day.

Thinking 3 Good Things

This expiriment to think 3 good things about her was so difficult that at first I could only think of physical things that I liked about her: she has nice teeth, she has nice shoes, she has good style. But as I practiced this every day, deliberately thinking at least 3 good things about her, I started to notice the beauty of who she is on the inside: her strength, her wonderful sense of humor, her fierce love for me even though I had been acting unkind towards her. After about 2 weeks of this, our relationship had changed dramatically. We stopped fighting.

This tool of thinking 3 good things has helped me keep my peace during conflict. Whether it’s that I am no longer getting along with a person, I’ve been hurt, or I just plain don’t like someone, I have found that there is always, ALWAYS, something positive that can be said.

This doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to all behavior and just think positive thoughts. It does mean that I have the ability to approach confrontation with love if I am practicing this. Because, let’s face it, I often lose sight of the good in people; their perceived “wrongs” can be all that I see.

I have made the BIG mistake of blinding myself to the good in others by focusing on their mistakes many times in my life. It is a prideful error because it is rooted in judgement, and it breaks relationships instead of restoring them. Yet, thinking good thoughts – even if it’s just 3 – reminds me that friendships and sisterhood and people, as a whole, are worth fighting for.

Thinking Precedes Actions and Attitudes

I forget sometimes that thinking is a powerful tool: it precedes every action, every attitude, consciously or not. It creates my perception of the world and the people who surround me. Thoughts may fly in my head uninvited that are unexpected, unuseful, and unworthy of my time and energy, yet if I meditate on these thoughts, forgetting their power, I give them a home in my life. Once negativity settles in, it is difficult to evict, it will surely produce behavior and attitudes that do not serve me well.

I have battled negative thoughts with clenched fists and the determination to not think a certain way only to find my mind on repeat with the same negativity. This happened with the conflict between me and my sister, it has happened when I feel the need to fix a bad situation with worse behavior, it happens every time I think “just dont think about it.” “Just don’t think” is not the answer. Instead I must deliberately and consciously, replace my thoughts with positive ones.

I must replace negative thoughts with good ones.

Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones uses energy. Sometimes negativity makes me apathetic, and I don’t even want out of it. I quite enjoy my bad attitude and pity party, thank you very much. But there usually comes a point when I realize that I don’t have to live that way. I can have peace, and I can have joy – they are very attainable. I must actively train my thoughts on what is good.

The Lesson I Keep Learning

This life lesson that I learned at 18 has been re-taught to me so many times, and I hope that I will continue to hear it over and over in my lifetime because it is so powerful. The practice of it has saved relationships, changed my perspective on difficult situations, and has helped me reduce stress when dealing with difficult people.

Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy, I will think about today.

When I Thought Kindness was Fake

I used to want to puke if people were kind to me, especially Christians. I believed that nice people were fake, two-faced phonies. Sarcasm and cynicism, I believed, were somehow more genuine attributes. The funny thing is that I was fake. I was nice to people to their faces and rude behind their backs. Even my own biting cynicism was a mask to cover my insecurities and anger.

The Power of Grace

Now, I care a lot less if people are fake – that’s their prerogative. When you come to realize that you’re life is full of grace, you have an opportunity to extend the same grace to others. I get why people are sweet in person and are judgmental behind my back. I’ve known that pride and insecurity intimately. Yet, I’ve experienced true and consistent kindness even when I didn’t deserve it. My fear of other people being fake was my own issue, not theirs. I was missing out on the goodness of people because I was judgmental, I was unable to make friends because I couldn’t be a friend since I couldn’t trust. Since I feared people’s disapproval, I disapproved first.

I wish I could say that I became lovey-dovey towards people in one epiphanic moment. Instead, my heart stretched to the point it felt like breaking throughout the last two years, and then when I thought I was done growing, it stretched more, and it still does. But I can honestly say that I have opened my heart to people more than I ever thought I could. In turn, God put people in my life who have lavished me with genuine love and grace. I’ve gotten to know some wonderful people whom I would’ve previously judged and disliked just because I didn’t understand their kindness.

Judge and You’ll Lose

There’s this great verse in the Bible that reminds me that if I judge, I may believe I am superior, but I’m really a loser: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same thing.” Romans 2:1 NIV. The Message translation says, “It takes one to know one.”

It takes one to know one.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered this, but I haven’t. Yet, I have a little more self-awareness to at least see that when I thought kindness was fake, kindness wasn’t coming from a genuine place in my heart. This judgment was only hurting myself. I failed to see my own need for change, and I missed out for years and years on relationships with wonderful people.

Judging People Vs. Using Judgment

Being non-judmental is not analogous with accepting all behavior. I can discern that a behavior is harmful to myself or another, and not tolerate it. At the same time, I can deeply understanding that I am no better than anyone else. This means that I will still have to confront inappropriate behavior, yet I can do this with kindness.

This is probably the hardest part for me: how to set firm boundaries with love. People who are violating boundaries don’t usually enjoy when others set boundaries; it feels unloving to them. And honestly, I need work on the “with love” part. Sometimes I’m harsh and firm in a curt way that comes off rude.

Here’s the bright side: I’m a work in progress, and I have lots of opportunities to practice this one.

To Love and Be Loved

The more I get to know God, the more I understand why his top two commandments are to love Him and to love others. It’s for my benefit. I’ve been on the side of not liking God or people either, and I have to say, it’s a lonely and bitter place. On the flip side, it’s a much more vibrant and enjoyable life when I am loving God and people and allowing people in.

My heart belongs to God – that gives me courage to love. His heart is for me to know and show love. Little by little, one day at a time, I get to grow just a bit more in this.

Overcoming Fear of People to Love People

I get social anxiety sometimes, and this makes me afraid of people whom I’m not very close to. I get afraid to say hello to people I was able to talk to freely days ago, afraid to look people in the eye, terrified to chitchat. Sometimes it’s there, and other times it’s not. Sometimes place affects it more; I have more social anxiety at church and almost none at work, which doesn’t make sense because I’m liked at church (maybe even loved) and I’m disliked (maybe even hated) at work.

Isn’t that the point of anxiety though? It makes absolutely no sense! There are days when I’m talkative and confident and loving people is easy. I’ll talk to people in the grocery store or on the bus or I’ll say hi to twenty million people at church. Then there are days when my heart races at the thought of talking to people and showing them love is hard for me because I just want to run and hide.

Love Even When . . .

I recently read Everybody Always by Bob Goff. One of my big takeaways is that I don’t need to make someone my project, I just need to love on them and see what I can learn from them. I already want to love people. I understand that it is the highest calling. Loving others is Christianity 101. Jesus said all of the Law and all of the prophets are summed up in just two commandments: One is loving God and two is loving people.

Loving others is the basic core of Christianity, so I must face my fears of people to love them.

But I can’t love people if I avoid them. I must take a step into that fear and realize that it’s okay to be afraid. It is uncomfortable and I’ll say stupid things or won’t be able to hear what other people are saying over the sound of my own heartbeat drumming in my ears, but it won’t kill me. And the more I do it, the better I will get at it. The call isn’t to love people whom I am comfortable around (just a handful, really, and most of them are under the age of 5). The call is to love everybody. And the timing isn’t when I’m feeling good, it’s always, even in the midst of anxiety. Everybody Always.

Find Your Loophole

Bob may have revealed a loophole to overcoming anxiety for me though. He said we should focus on what we can “learn ” from each other. I didn’t think of it this way before, but learning from each other truly is an act of love and humility. To learn from someone you must listen to them, and you must assume that they know something you don’t. For me, focusing on what I can learn from others takes a lot of pressure off of interacting with them. I don’t need to impress, or keep the conversation going, or be changing their lives with a sage word. I just need to listen with empathy, understand that they view life through a different lens, and this is profoundly interesting. People have so much they can teach me.

Maybe this struck me because I love learning. It is one of my top 5 character strengths. Maybe someone else’s loophole to social anxiety is something else that drives them. Maybe someone’s strength is Belief, and they can use that to start believing the good in the people around them which will silence fears in their mind.

Fear tries to shrink. We shrink in stature, shrink the the number of places where we feel safe, shrink our friend circle, shrink our faith. You may not be able to face fear head-on at first, often times I can’t. But Fear is also pretty linear, it has only one trick – to make itself bigger and everything else smaller. Outsmart fear – find your loophole.

People Over Paperwork

I was recently at a wedding, and I was sitting at a table full of people whom I didn’t know, but they all knew each other (if you relate to any part of my social anxiety, then you understand how uncomfortable that was for me). In fact, they all worked together as hospice nurses. Instead of staring at my phone and awkwardly eavesdropping, I chanted in my mind “everybody always,” which gave me the courage to actually speak to them.

Since I’m terribly horribly no good at small talk, I said “So what got you into the business?” as if they were selling shoes not helping people die peacefully. “Business” was certainly not the right word, implying they are profiting from people’s death. In my defense, I have the vocabulary of a two-year-old when I’m anxious, so I’ll take what I can get. I timidly smiled through their slide-glances (a smile covers a multitude of social inadequacies, I am learning). I cleared my throat and tried again, “I mean, what made you choose this line of work?” It was fascinating hearing their responses, some of their reasons were quite moving. Since they opened up so freely, and apparently loved talking about what they do, this gave me courage to ask another question: What’s the hardest part of your job?

Here are people who care for people at their worst: in pain, heartbroken, unable to control their bladder and bowels, in distress, literally dying. Yet the hardest part of their job, almost unanimously, was charting. They hated the paperwork because it took them away from patient care. I was blown away by this response. I immediately realized these people know something about love that I don’t.

You see, lately in my job the hardest part about what I do is the people, and I’d gladly take the paperwork. In fact, it gets frustrating when the people interrupt my paperwork. How can this be when my day-to-day dealings with people are objectively less emotional and messy than a hospice nurse’s? When did deadlines become more important than people to me?

Learning to See Differently

I could make excuses for why I feel that paperwork is more preferable than people at my job: people complain, they don’t listen, they break rules, they take up too much time. But couldn’t all that be said about a hospice patient too? I doubt that the nurses I spoke to are dealing solely with compliant and graceful people, instead they deal with the same mixed bag of people I do. Yet their hearts are for people and their paperwork is a burden. I’m letting that sit with me because it feels like I’ve been given a new lens, and I’m seeing things differently. I have adjustments that I need to make.

Today I will try to learn from people, not change them.

Today, I will put people before my own agenda.

Going Public

Last February, I went away for a silent retreat, which was an exceptional experience. While I was there, I felt God nudge me to start a blog about my spiritual journey with Him. At the time, He was dealing with me about humility pretty regularly, so I chose the name Humble House Journey.

I knew some things right off the bat about this blog: 1) I could never be concerned about whether people followed it or not, that was not the purpose. 2) I needed to be careful about what I wrote because writing is influential. That part scared me a little. My dream is to trade my rent-raising career for a career in writing, yet I’ve had two fears holding me back: the fear of sucking horribly, and the fear of writing something that is hurtful or can be misconstrued to the point that it would turn someone away from God. I’ve written both sucky things and hateful things in my life, so let this blog at least not be the latter.

I have a confession . . .

When I started the blog a few weeks after the retreat, I laid out my heart in some painfully honest posts. Yet, I immediately felt worried about attaching my real name to it, so I devised a pen name, Alaine Laurel, which is just my middle name and an abbreviation of the street I grew up on as a child.

My fears were no longer my usual writing fears, but they were specifically about writing about God. I worried that my non-Christian friends would laugh, and I worried that my Christian friends would think, “Who does this unqualified baby Christian think she is?” Or maybe I was a little too honest and people wouldn’t like me when they saw my flaws. I feared shame and inadequacy. Yet, I convinced myself that I was right for having a pen name. I told myself that by using a pen name I wasn’t promoting myself, and therefore didn’t have to worry about it becoming about my glory instead of the good work God is doing in my life.

The problem with this logic is that I didn’t share the blog with anyone, which basically means that I created a lavish online journal. A few close friends knew i was writing a blog but didn’t know the name of it. I have p-l-e-n-t-y of journals, but I didn’t feel God’s nudge to write another journal, I felt his nudge to create a blog to share with other people. So what was my hold up?

Liable to be Labeled

The ugly truth is that I’m ashamed of being called a Christian sometimes. Don’t worry, I know all about the verse in Luke 9:26 when Jesus says that he will be ashamed of whoever is ashamed of Him. It has reverberated throughout my mind when people ask me what I did over the weekend, and I felt too embarrassed to say I went to church and enjoyed it, or when people would say how awful Christians are, collectively casting them as one as if we all have the same flaws or political agenda, and instead of speaking my Truth, I stayed silent due to fear. Let alone telling someone about what God has done in my life. Let alone being labeled a *gulp* Christian. Because that label carries so much baggage, some of which I’ve had my own bad experiences with.

The pretty cool thing is (at least I think so) that God knows this about me. He didn’t pull the plug on our relationship. Instead, He has lovingly helped me see how I put too much weight on what other people think. The more I gain victory over this, the less shame I feel.

Because honestly, I’m not ashamed of God. He is wonderful, and He has done great things in my life. I am afraid of what people think of me. Yet, there God is, showing me time after time, that I do not need to worry about what people think. I just need to trust Him.

Embracing Weakness

Just a couple of days ago, I said, “Okay, God, I’m going public with my blog.” If my non-Christian friends think I’m crazy, then that’s cool, who isn’t? If my Christian friends think I should stay silent, then that’s their prerogative. This is my step of faith and no one else’s. Shorty after I decided that, my Aunt sent me a text telling me I should start a blog. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but this blog is a big leap of faith. I’ve had no confirmations that this is what I should be doing, no angel came to visit me, no prophet spoke over me, no one even encouraged me. The moment I decided to claim this blog publicly I received a text of encouragement though she had no knowledge of its existence. That’s interesting to me!

Through this, I’m reminded that God knew how weak I am when he called me. Thankfully, He won’t leave me in this state. He gives us grace one day at a time, one victory at a time. His strength shines through our weakness. Take a moment to let the verse below sink in.

Each time he said, "My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weakness so that the power of Christ can work through me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT

I am weak in many areas, and one of those is admitting to weakness. Paul actually celebrated his weakness because He knew that’s where God’s power shows up. I admire that kind of self-esteem, one that rests in God’s goodness.

So here I am, posting not as Alaine Laurel, but as the Jesus-loving, proud-to-be-a-Christian-because-God’s-love-changed-my-life Jessica Abbe.

Today I will embrace my weakness because that is where God shines through.

Who Am I?: Allowing God to Dictate My Self-Worth

Have you ever had an interaction with someone that didn’t go so well? I have. In fact, I recently had someone say some pretty unkind things to me. If self-esteem is a tight rope, I get a little wobbly after such interactions. Thankfully, I don’t crash and fall like I used to because of the good work God has done in my life over the last couple of years. God is my rock that steadies me. Hurting people hurt others, and I can have compassion while lovingly detaching myself and not accepting lies that go against God’s truth.

Who do people say I am?

Honestly, there are a lot of people in life that would like to tell me who I am. People love to judge others; I am guilty of doing this too. We make judgments about people’s appearances, their character, their careers, their relationships, their parenting styles. Yet, people are hot and cold. That means if I allow other people to dictate my self-worth, then I may be full of confidence one moment and feel terrible about myself the next.

Jesus had a lot of people saying ridiculous things about Him. Actual religious leaders plotted to kill Him, so you can only imagine what kind of nasty lies they made up about Him. Did Jesus allow what they said or thought about Him to change how He viewed Himself? Certainly not!

There is a part in the Bible (Matthew 16:13-17) where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They have a whole list of answers: John the Baptist, a prophet, Elijah, and so on. I can just imagine Jesus scratching his head and saying, “How do people come up with this stuff?”

Who do you say I am?

After this dialogue, Jesus then says, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter says, “You’re the Christ.”

That wasn’t Peter’s opinion, that was a revelation. In Matthew 16:17 (AMP) Jesus says, “Blessed [happy, spiritually secure, favored by God] are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood (mortal man) did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus was so secure in who He was that He was not shaken by the list of names people called him, their delusions, and false opinions. When he heard the Truth, he was like, BINGO, that’s it! Blessed are you Peter for getting it!

I would love to have that kind of self-understanding. Can you imagine being so confident in who you are that you can not only sift through the lies and the truth with ease but also be unperturbed by what other people think of you?

The things that people say about me can vary too. Some might say I’m a giving person, some might say I’m selfish, some might say I’m too busy, some might say I don’t do enough. Depending on the person, their perception and their motivation, I could be labeled a thousand different ways. But there is only one definition that matters: what God says about me.

God’s View of Me

Jesus knew who He was, and he knew who the Father said He was. I need to follow suit when it comes to figuring out who I am, so that I am not tossed around like a wave based on another person’s perception of me.

So when people, no matter who they are, attack my character or label me because I don’t live up to their expectations, I don’t need to allow this to destroy my self-esteem. My worth comes from God and His love for me, and I need to abide in it. That means I get to rest in confidence in His love.

Blurred insults in black and white with speech bubble overlay that says, "I have loved you, just as the Father has loved me; abide in my love." John 15:9
There are a lot of voices out there trying to tell me who I am, but I will listen to God. I am loved.

If God wants to reveal something in my character that needs changed, He will convict me in a loving way. The Bible uses the analogy of pruning, which is careful and precise cutting back to promote growth and health, not coming at the whole vine with an ax. His conviction doesn’t always feel good, but it also doesn’t leave me feeling worthless. So it’s a good indication that if someone is saying things about me that are mean and simply untrue, that it is not from God, and I don’t need listen or accept what they are saying.

Today, I will let go of other people’s opinions when they don’t align with God’s Truth.

I will trust that God will reveal character flaws in love while giving me grace to change.

I can have confidence and self-esteem because of who lives on the inside of me.

Worry Waves

We recently had some gorgeous spring days, and I had not a worry in the world.  Flowers were bursting with color, not a cloud in the sky, temperatures were reaching a comfortable high-seventies.  It was amazing weather, and I could feel my spirits lifting with each sunrise.  People all around seemed to be in a better mood.  Isn’t it remarkable what a little Vitamin D can do?

Then the rain clouds started to roll in, and though it sounds cliche’, I received some bad news around the same time.  A close family member is struggling with severe depression, a medical bill that I hoped would be covered by insurance isn’t and will drain most of my savings, I’m dealing with uncertainties with my health, and I’m having some trying moments as a mother of two young children.  I feel as heavy and sad as the rain clouds.  I wish I could crawl into bed so I could sleep through this season.

Life isn’t going the way I want it to, but life presses on. 

WAYS OF WORRY

The other night, I stayed awake playing fear-based reels in my mind.  I’m in limbo waiting on test results to rule out some serious medical conditions, so my mind takes me to the worst places.  The bottom-line question that I keep coming back to is: Am I going to be around to raise my daughters?  I wonder this over and over.  It’s a fear that keeps me up at night, that makes me cry, that makes my mind race with anxieties about their future.

As I lay awake in bed, I prayed, and I felt like God was saying that I needed to stay present.  I was anxiously trying to figure out the future, and I just needed to be in the moment. 

FINDING COMFORT IN WORRY

As I thought about this idea of staying present, I realized that I get some comfort from worrying, from imagining the worst possible situation and playing the victim of tragedy because in my imaginings, I am at least cared for in some way by someone else.  I think this need for comfort might stem from the same thread that my need to please people comes from.  Just like I want other people’s approval, at times I want their sympathy.  Both approval and sympathy are ways that I look for an external person to relieve anxiety or hurt within myself. 

But that isn’t how I want to live my life. 

I want to be a powerful woman of faith, unperturbed because of who is on the inside of me not because of the people who surround me.  I want to firmly rest in God’s peace through any challenge regardless if anyone is by my side. 

Don’t get me wrong, people are great! I believe that it’s necessary to have a good support system; however, there will always be lonely moments in life’s challenges, parts that I must face alone.  If I require another person’s attention or sympathy or faith, I am setting myself up for disappointment because people are not my savior, God is. Rather, I need to listen to God and develop the character to bring me through life’s challenges.   

FINDING CONTROL IN WORRY

Sometimes I trick myself into thinking that I am preparing myself when I play out worry-fueled scenarios in my mind.  I think that the devastation of bad news, the sting of betrayal, the heartbreak of losing a loved one would be dampened if I could imagine the outcome. 

The truth is I just end up stealing peace from myself in the current moment.  Usually when life-altering events happen, I least expect them.  In the past, even when my worst fears came true, my worry beforehand didn’t make the pain less.  So why waste time worrying?  Or, as Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

I am not doing myself or anyone else a service by worrying.  It does not mean that I care less if I refuse to worry.  To let go of control of the future is not saying that I don’t care about what happens.  It’s saying that I believe that God is in control, and His ways are higher than my own.

FINDING CHRIST IN WORRY

So God told me to stay present and in the moment, and I think this speaks to the way that God can take something that is destructive and turn it into something positive. He took my worry and turned it into a reminder that I need to focus on Him. Now, when I notice myself worrying (which, sometimes I follow a trail of worry for a while before I even realize that I’m on it), I then get to give it God and get back to putting my trust in Him. 

A song was playing on the radio yesterday that really helped me.  It’s called “Safe to Shore” by Rend Collective.  The lyrics paint an image of God being the lighthouse that will carry us safe to shore.  We are guaranteed to face trouble in this life.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble,” but he also left us with the assurance that he has overcome the world. 

This is not my end destination.  God has my children in His hands and His plan is infinitely better than my own.  He will guide me through all of life’s challenges, and as Rend Collective says, He “is the peace in my troubled sea!”

Rend Collective|”My Lighthouse”

Emptiness

I’ve tried to fill the emptiness inside with a host of things in my lifetime. In my youth, I used drugs, alcohol, partying, and romantic relationships. Instead of shrinking, the emptiness within me grew. It became obvious that the path I headed down wasn’t taking me to good places, so, by the grace of God, I gave up bad relationships, excessive drinking, and drugs. I thought that because I gave up these things that I was in the clear, that I was healthy. When that emptiness persisted and tore at my insides, I had other innocuous – but equally inadequate – fillers such as school, work, friends, family, even church.

Failing Fillers

No matter what I’ve tried to fill my life with to take away internal pain, it has always failed me at some point. All it took was one road bump to throw me off kilter. If I didn’t get a promotion at work, I unraveled. If I sucked at having patience with my kids, I hated myself. If my church wasn’t meeting my needs, I questioned my faith. No matter who or what I try to fill my life with to make me feel happy and whole, it will at some point fail me. It is inevitable.

But God never fails. He will never let me down. His love for me is unchanging, yet it’s life-changing. He is the one source of true fulfillment.

Daily, I am faced with a choice: who (or what) will I look to for fulfillment? It may seem like there are abundant choices, but there are only two:

1) God

2) Something else

One choice never fails and one will always fail . . .

Our Spirit Longs for Connection With God

We are made of three parts: soul, spirit, and body. Just like my body craves food (preferably tacos) every day, so my soul and spirit crave connection with God. In Psalms 42, it says, “My soul thirsts for God.”

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:1-2

At times, my soul aches for God. It is no wonder to me that I was such a bitter and angry person for so long before I came back to the Lord – my soul was dehydrated and needing a long, deep drink of God!

Now, I can sense the disconnection when I’ve put other people (or things) before Him, I haven’t spent time with Him, or when I’ve done something wrong and I need to repent. When I return to Him, I am met with hope and a sense of wholeness in my current state.

When the Pain Doesn’t Go Away

Just because I put God first does not mean that I will never have pain.

I’ve experienced a deep loneliness for several weeks now, and I am tempted to fall into old habits to ease the pain. In spite of choosing God instead of other people or things to fulfill me, I still feel hurt. Why is it that if God fulfills me that I still feel pain? Why doesn’t He automatically enter into those places and make me whole?

I believe God is showing me that this feeling inside is a place that he wants to speak to and heal, and I need to trust Him. I’ve used people and things to make me feel a certain way instead of doing the internal work that I need to do. That kind of work is painful, and that is why I have shied away from it.

He’s using this time to show me places where I’ve relied too heavily on others, made them my security blanket. It’s hard stepping out into new territory without the comfort of people whom I’ve relied on. It’s lonely at times.

He’s showing me how I allow envy and comparison to erode the joy and hope that I currently possess. When I see someone who has a life that I want, I should praise God. God is good. He has a good plan for me – maybe it’s my dreams, and just maybe it’s something even better! Regardless, I need to trust and praise Him.

He’s showing me that I need to rise above the temptation to play victim, feel sorry for myself, wallow in self-pity. As Joyce Meyer often says, “You can be pitiful or powerful, but you can’t be both!” I’m not saying that I need to deny my emotions. They are real and they should be acknowledged. At the same time, I don’t need to dwell on them until they consume me.

This has been my prayer lately:

Lord, fill the emptiness within.

Let not my pain be in vain;

May my heart grow during this time so I can love more.

Giving Up Things for God

Have you ever felt like God was telling you to do something, but you weren’t sure if it was Him, so you didn’t follow through? I have. In fact, I believe God is calling me to give up something, but I haven’t been willing to do it yet.

I believe God is calling me to let go of alcohol so that it doesn’t become a stronghold in my life, and so I don’t cause other people to stumble. The truth is that it’s not that difficult for me to obey most of the time, but I feel like He is saying to give up alcohol forever. FOREVER. It’s a big commitment.

Alcoholism is prevalent in my family of origin. I’ve indulged in my fair share of excessive drinking in the past. I gave up drinking when my husband and I started planning a family, but as my kids grew, I started drinking occasionally. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with alcohol, but for some people, like myself, it can be a slippery slope toward dependency. Even now, there have been times when I’ve over-indulged in alcohol in the spirit of having fun or letting loose. Since I’m genetically predisposed to alcoholism, this is very dangerous. The Apostle Paul is on point when he says, “‘Everything is permissible for me’ — but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ — but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Alcohol is not bad, but it does not mean it’s good either.

Though I thought I heard from God about this, I find myself saying, are you sure God? Am I hearing you right? What are people going to think about me? It’s in this struggle that I feel like God is speaking some things that I would like to share.

Listen to the Whispers

It’s not fair for me to ask God to speak to me, but then doubt that I am hearing from Him when His will does not align with mine. If He told me to tell someone else to give up alcohol, you bet that I’d be calling them up on the phone so self-righteously delivering the news. Yet, when He is addressing me, it’s as if I turn into a child covering my ears, saying, “I’m not listening!”

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How many times have I have cried out to God to speak to me? Countless times I’ve prayed, “Just tell me what to do in this situation, God!” or dramatically quoted Psalm 83:1, “O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still!” But do I listen when He says something that I don’t want to hear?

I feel like God is speaking to me that if I’m not willing to listen to His whispers that I am at risk of not hearing his voice at all. Why? Because what we focus on becomes the loudest voice. There are a lot of voices in the world competing for my attention.

Many times when I’m sitting across from someone carrying on a conversation, someone else’s voice catches my ear, and I start listening to them instead of the person across from me. I’ve had to make some embarrassing apologies to people for my rudeness! But it’s a lot like that with God. He tends to have a quiet voice that can easily be drowned out by much louder voices if I choose to turn my attention away from Him. When I listen to Him, I acknowledge His voice, and I become more accustomed to His voice.

I’ve found that God doesn’t usually speak to me in a loud, defined voice. Rather, it’s a gentle whisper. A nudge of the heart. This blog is a nudge of the heart. I believe God directed me to create this blog about my spiritual journey, so I’m here, stepping out in faith. He didn’t send an angel to me to start this blog. He didn’t send a person with a confirming word. Yet, I felt God led me here. Maybe this blog will never reach a single person, yet it is still an exercise of faith for me, and so it is beneficial.

I felt the same nudge to give up alcohol, but instead of jumping on the bandwagon, I feel doubt. What if I’m giving up something and this is not God?

Obedience is an Act of Faith

But it’s how I respond to a whisper about something small that will reflect how I will respond when He calls me to bigger and scarier things. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). If I take a leap of faith and listen now, I poise myself to be ready when He calls me to bigger things. This is a simple request that God is making, and now is not the time to doubt His voice. It’s simply time to say, “Okay, God. I trust you.”

I definitely feel convicted, not because I’m an awful person or because God is mad at me, I don’t believe either of those things are true. But when I don’t listen to God I’m telling Him with my actions that I trust my own judgment more than His.

I’m not a fair-weathered friend in real life, and I don’t want to be a fair-weathered believer in my spiritual life. How sad to only trust God if it’s something that I want to do! Even though I’m artistic and imaginative, I sure hope there is a better design for my life than what I can come up with! I believe that God has an awesome plan that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. In order to see that, I need to trust Him. I need to obey him because that is trust in action.

Choose to Please God Over People

It’s hard for me to trust when I am afraid. I’m afraid of what other people will think. Some already think that I’m too religious and just need to let loose. I’m worried that this will be seen as yet another change that they can’t relate to. Relationships can feel so fragile when people resent changes that they see in me.

I worry that they will no longer love me, that they won’t find me interesting, that I won’t be relevant.

I asked God to show me where I still care about what other people think of me. It’s surprising to see that revelation here. The truth is that if I must alter my behavior to make someone else comfortable with me, then they don’t really love me. They love an image that I’ve created. Fear and codependency are my pitfalls, and I dig myself deeper into that pit if I engage in behavior with an intention of people-pleasing.

Instead, I need to choose to please God who loves me no matter where I’m at in life. In this world, people have a shaky and broken version of love. True love is impossible to earn. If you don’t believe me, ask the guy who created it. God gives love freely no matter what a person’s behavior is. That is the true model of love. If a person is offering love with strings attached, then it’s not modeled after God’s love. It’s a phony. A fake. A cheap imitation. I will never win by trying to earn love.

God’s love cannot be earned or altered with my good or bad behavior. He will never stop loving me. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

God give me the humility to listen to You – Your plans are higher

Tune my ear to Your whisper, turn my gaze towards you

Let me boldly obey despite what others may think

Sharing the Burden

I am an Encourager. If I see someone in need, I am eager to help share their burden and lighten their load or cheer them on, yet I’m not so quick to let go of my own baggage and receive help. Whether it’s pride or insecurity, or both, I don’t want to impose my troubles on anyone else. However, by not allowing others in, I rob them of the opportunity to fulfill their love calling. Also, I am on a slippery slope towards destruction because pride can fester the false belief that I can do life by myself.

When the Pain is Too Much

I recently awoke to excruciating abdominal pain. I couldn’t stand on my feet because the pain intensified, so I lay still in bed, crying out in pain. When I finally got up, the light in the room went dim, my ears felt like they were made of fuzz, and my hands and feet tingled. I almost passed out. It didn’t take long for me to wake my husband, who called my mom to watch our children while he took me to the hospital. In the Emergency Room, various nurses and doctors attended me, all with the intention of helping me. I had physical pain and needed help, so I reached out for it, and people responded to my need.

Yet, when it comes to emotional pain, I’m reluctant to reach out. For a couple of weeks now, maybe longer, I’ve been carrying emotional pain around like a heavy stone. Because my hurting is emotional, not physical, I have a hard time getting help for it.

Listen to God

This week at church, the pastor read from Galatians 6:1-5, and the part that stuck with me was this:

Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the requirements of the law of Christ [that is, the law of Christian love].

Galatians 6:2

During this sermon, God started to show me ways that I have recently encouraged others, and I felt His gladness about this pour over me. Then, in the most gentle way, I felt Him say, “Now it’s time for you to let someone carry your burden.” I knew deep within what He was saying was true. There was no disbelief or indignation. My reaction was simply, “Okay, God.”

Then my words were put into action, which is more difficult. The pastor had an alter call, asking people to come forward who are down in the mud, who are carrying a burden that’s too heavy. I stepped forward though the last thing that I wanted to admit in front of a whole church filled with people is that I need help. Still, I stepped forward. Then he asked for people who didn’t step forward to lay hands on and pray for those who needed a burden lifted.

Lean on Others

In this simple act of obedience, I found people at my side whom I didn’t expect. They too had heavy hearts and needed a lift. And I found people behind me who did not judge me or pry into why I was standing there. They eagerly shared their love and support, just like I do when I know someone needs help from me.

I don’t need to carry my stone-like burdens by myself. I can rely on God and others to help distribute the weight.

The circumstances that brought me forward to that place of admitting that I need help have not changed. But my burden is lighter and my pain is duller because I reached out. In addition to God loving me, I know there are people who love me. They are praying for me and standing next to me in hopeful expectation that God will see me through.

When the pain is too much,

listen to God,

and lean on others

Church Grinch

There was a time when I said I loved God, but I hated his people. I hated church – the displays of worship, the preaching, and the music. It was all fake, disingenuous. God was distant. I raised my eyebrows and muttered “good luck with that” when people said they prayed.

The same attitude that the Grinch had towards the Whos in Whoville, I had towards Christians, and I sounded a lot like him. I was cranky and judgmental, cynical and superior.

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A Heart That Was Two Sizes Too Small

The truth is that I was broken inside. I didn’t truly know God’s love. Christians had hurt me, and I built walls thinking I could avoid pain. The problem with walls is that though they are great at keeping things out, they are also great at keeping things in, and a heart that isn’t flowing, isn’t growing. . . it shrinks.

I blamed my pain on others. Instead of looking to God for healing and using pain as an opportunity to grow, I saw myself as a victim. I went through hard times, hellish times, and all these people whom I went to church with seemed to go on smiling and not seeing my pain, so I went on smiling and tried not to show my pain. A big part of my inability to open up was because I had no grasp of grace. But I didn’t know that then, and I turned the pain that I felt into hatred towards my fellow believers.

I began to notice how people “fell short.” The same people whom I labeled as judgmental, I judged quite severely. My reason for going to church wasn’t to worship God, I was there to fulfill a Christian duty and to keep up Christian appearances. During worship, I was looking at other people and judging them or envying them. During the sermon, I could barely keep my eyes open.

I had no compassion or empathy for Christians whom I immediately held to a higher standard just because they professed to believe in God. Very few, if any, can change overnight once they accept Jesus into their lives, so why did I expect Christians to be perfect?

The Climb to Mount Crumpit

My bitterness and pain mounted, and I lived on that mountain for many years. I no longer went to church. Then eventually, I no longer read my Bible, and soon after that I stopped praying, except maybe occasionally. Then, I questioned God’s existence entirely.

I tried going to church a couple of times during this period, but the experience was so viscerally displeasing, that I vowed I’d never go back. The first time, I was with my husband and some friends, and I had a full on panic attack. I left before the service ended.

The second time, I went to my brother’s church for an event. A woman there greeted me with a big smile and said something to the effect, “It’s such a beautiful day in the Lord!” How cloyingly sweet, I just might puke! I thought. I refused to smile and rolled my eyes. During the whole service, I wrote in my journal about fake Christians and tried to pick apart every word someone said to prove my point.

The third time, was after my daughter was born. I went back to the church my grandmother had taken me to when I was young. It was a different church by then but the same location. I can’t remember anything “wrong” with the service or the music or the people. In fact, the pastor even stopped me and my husband in the hall and kindly introduced himself to us. But I was short with him and couldn’t wait to leave that place. I never wanted to see another church again. Little did I know that I would find myself back at this church a year or so later.

The Fall from Mount Crumpit

Surprisingly, today I am a person who genuinely loves going to church, multiple times a week. I would go to every service they offered if it wasn’t a burden on my family. I love worshiping God, and the preaching, and the people. The wonderfully imperfect people.

I didn’t get there overnight. Rather, God was planting seeds in my life for some time. Ironically, the deep pain that drove me away from the church was the same thing that drove me into God’s arms. For a long time, I thought I would handle things my way, but when it got to be too much, I sought God. What a loving God that He would pursue me even when I hated him and his people!

Adult hand holding an infant's hand with text saying, "We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19"
God loves us even when we are incapable of loving Him back. This is how we learn to love.

Eventually, I needed a space to worship God, and so I started to go to church again. I tried several churches, and finally felt at home at the same one that I almost ran out of while the pastor introduced himself to me and my husband a year prior. The sanctuary indeed became a sanctuary from the turmoil that I was experiencing.

The Celebration

In those early weeks of returning to church, I felt so overwhelmingly grateful to worship God and be surrounded by people who sang the same songs to the same God. It was powerfully moving. During that time, God so clearly spoke this to me: “Church is a tool, not a replacement for me.” I had a tendency to replace God with checklists and rules. I made people’s opinions my god, instead of looking to God for my worth. Just like the Grinch needed to know that there is more to Christmas than presents, I needed to know that there is more to a relationship with God than a checklist. I needed to know that if I allowed it to become my god, even this church that was filling my heart with joy could spoil my faith. My Grinch heart began to grow with God’s grace.

We Love Because He Loves

Maybe you have someone in your life who is like me, and they don’t understand your faith. Maybe they are bitter and resentful. I urge you to be patient and keep on showing them love and grace. Know that God loves them, and He is working on them. You can let go of trying to change them. Keep looking to God to fill your cup with love, so you can send His love out into the world.

Maybe you are like me, and you once felt God’s love and had passion for Him, and now you are unimpressed. I urge you to assess where the disconnect is coming from. Talk to God about it even if you’re not convinced He’s listening. If you’re angry at God, let Him know why. Maybe you are like me and people hurt you, and you blame God for that. He still wants to make things right with you. Ask Him to soften your heart. For us wall-builders, this is a bold prayer. It’s an invitation to let God in. Be brave when you start to feel pain again as He reveals wounds that you hid or denied. I assure you that He will lavish you with His love and there is no balm, no cure, no treatment on earth that can replace the great healing power of God’s love known.