The word we focused on at the Wonder retreat this year was “qavah”. It’s a Hebrew word that means to wait, look for, hope, expect, to linger, to collect, bind together a “line” or “cord,” a collection of fibers that are twisted together to make a strong and firm cord. This same word is also used for the abstract idea of “hope,” a strong and firm mind.
And so we gathered at the top of a mountain and we lingered. We found rest in the beauty of the nature around us, in laughter and friendship, in the silence of a still morning at the top of a mountain, in the majesty of a clear night sky and all the stars, in a rainstorm that brought fresh wind and bright lightening, in a Texas sunrise painted by God Himself, in worship and reflection, and in the sharing of our stories with our sisters. We also found it in shared meals, coffee, queso, and cake.
My revelation this weekend was that it is okay to be okay. I realized that in the past few months I’ve been looking for something to be wrong. I’ve always lived in chaos. I’ve spent more time looking for a problem than looking for Jesus; I thought that certainly there must be a problem somewhere. So I kept deciding the problem was me because I couldn’t find one in my life.
“What is wrong with me, God?” I journaled this weekend.
“Nothing”, He replied.
And so, at Wonder Weekend, I left behind my false belief that there must be something wrong with me.
It’s really hard for me rest in being okay, to know that there doesn’t always have to be chaos or problems. Speaking with wise sisters this weekend, I came to understand that my past and survivor’s guilt leave me feeling uneasy with being okay, especially knowing so many others are hurting. Right now I’m doing really well, and I have to learn to press into that and be grateful for all He brought me through and all He’s doing now.
In 2016 there was so much chaos in my life. I was dying inside and out. I went to a Christian woman’s retreat that year too. Absolutely everything in my life changed after the November 2016 Splendid retreat. It wasn’t easy or fun or expected, but it was needed for my survival and for my relationship with Christ. I had to let go, surrender, wait, and be willing to be stretched. Stretching hurts, but that’s how you grow. My journey these past 2.5 years has been scary, ugly, beautiful, painful, exciting, sad, joyful, freeing, healing, restoring, riddled with anxiety, and filled with love. Every bit was worth it.
I am okay. I am happy. I am healthy. I am no longer just surviving, I am thriving. I am excited to see what He has planned for me next. I am walking into His best for me.
Me watching the sunrise at Mo-Ranch in Hunt, Texas. Photo by my friend, Pauline.
When I first started penning this post in my head, I knew I wanted to write about a time that I overcame fear. I wanted to share with you the tools I used to help me overcome my greatest physical, emotional, and spiritual battle. I heard a song recently called Clear The Stage by Jimmy Needham. The lyrics are so true to what I had to do to survive quitting my 20 year addiction to opiates. You can listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/6smGew7dGto
I’ve overcome many fearful situations in my life. Specifically, in the past 2 years, I’ve overcome the fear of leaving a decade long abusive relationship and marriage, the fear of leaving a good job, the fear of leaving my home, my husband, my dog, my town, and the fear of moving home (again) and telling my family the truth about how I had been living.
I also recently overcame the shock of being verbally abused and pushed out of my home church by pastors I love and respect. To be fair, they didn’t tell me I had to stop coming to the church. They did, however, call me names and treat me inappropriately, and so I chose to leave. Praise God that I never had much fear about telling my family why I wasn’t going to that church anymore. I actually had a great peace about it. That peace came from God and from knowing my family loved me so very much. I’ve heard horror stories of families and friends disowning and turning on loved ones because of their sexuality. But I had no fear about that with my family. After all, with everything I’d been through, the least of their worries was who I chose to love… as long as it was a healthy, loving relationship. There was some fear about telling certain friends; friends in the church, my friend who is a pastor’s wife, my friend who is a pastor’s daughter, my mentors and women I consider spiritual mamas, and my friends at work who didn’t know much about me. I am so blessed that in each of these instances I’ve been met with nothing but kindness and love. In fact, all of the above was fairly easy compared to the fear of quitting my addiction.
Absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever done is quit my 20-year addiction to opiates. Quitting was a decision I had to make. It was hard. I knew what was ahead of me once I quit using the drug that prevented my withdrawals. I was under a doctor’s care and being prescribed a medication to prevent withdrawals. It was a band aid medication. I wasn’t abusing painkillers anymore, but I was now addicted to this anti-opiate medication. What a lot of people don’t realize is that stopping that medication would bring on the same sort of physical and mental withdrawal symptoms as quitting heroin. I knew what that meant because I had tried to quit many times before on my own. I knew the weeks and months of physical pain and sickness and emotional turmoil quitting a 20-year addiction would take. I had tried to quit dozens of times before. I knew the fire I was walking into. I also knew that going through the fire was the only way to get sober. It would burn me inside and out. But it would also refine me and heal me, burning out the old and replacing it with the new. And I wasn’t going into that fire alone; this time I had Jesus and my loving family.
The first line of Jimmy Needham’s song says “Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze. If that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols.”
That is what I had to do. My addiction had become an idol. I had come to know Jesus years before I quit. I was going to church, doing Bible studies, listening to worship music, going on Christian retreats, reading my Bible and praying daily… all while being medicated everyday just to maintain “normal”. But as the lyrics go “you can sing all you want to and still get it wrong; worship is more than a song“. I had to clear the stage, clear my life of all the stuff that was preventing me from quitting drugs. I had to leave my co-dependent abusive relationship. I had to quit my job where being high was the only way I could function. I had to set ablaze all the things I thought I wanted, and set them at the foot of the cross, entrusting myself to Jesus. I had to humble myself before my family and Jesus. I needed help and I couldn’t do it alone.
I was very sick for weeks; weak, malnourished, depressed, not sleeping … all the typical opiate withdrawal symptoms. My memory was awful and my moods rollercoastered. I was a terror to live with and a sad sight. One very specific thing I remember is that at 39 years old I was too sick and weak to load a dishwasher. I knew that in time I would heal physically but that it would take even longer for my brain to heal. It can take the brain a year to begin healing from the type of addiction I had. And so I waited.
“Take a break from all the plans that you have made and sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper. Beg Him please to open up his mouth and speak, and pray for real upon your knees until they blister. Shine the light on every corner of your life until the pride and lust and lies are in the open.”
During that time of waiting, during the sickness and pain of withdrawal and healing, I turned to God. I put a battle plan in place. Sick as I was, I laid in bed for weeks reading the Bible. Weeks turned into months. Tired as I was, I wrote the Psalms (specifically 34, 116, 23, and 91) out on paper over and over and read them aloud over myself. This was a very good tip from a dear friend, and I recommend it to anyone dealing with a difficult situation. I still do this today when experiencing difficulties; it calms me and brings me peace. There is something about writing the Word out on paper, not typing, but slowly writing, paying attention to each Word and reading them aloud over yourself as if God wrote them just for you. I prayed and had trusted friends praying for me. I listened to worship music and praised Him even though I was hurting so bad.
“Then read the Word and put to test the things you’ve heard until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken.”
It had been weeks, going on months of me lying around the house sick and weak. More times than I can remember, I thought for sure I would not survive, or didn’t want to. One day, as I lay sick in my bed, I opened my Bible to John 5:8 where Jesus tells the man to “pick up your mat and walk”. And so I did. I got out of bed and went for a walk outside. I had not been outside for so long. The sun felt good. I couldn’t do that every day. Some days I was too weak or too depressed. Some days the best I could do was go sit in a sunny patch of grass in the yard. It was springtime. The giant oak trees became my church, the flowers the stained glass, and the birds the choir. I just kept looking for God. I knew He was healing me.
“Then seek the Lord, and wait for what He has in store, and know that great is your reward, so just be hopeful.”
Then it happened. One day I was able to help my mom load the dishwasher without getting sick or too tired. Before I knew it I was able to unload the heavy dishes and stack them up in the cabinets. Who knew that doing the dishes would be one of the biggest memories and milestones of my healing? It meant I was getting stronger. It meant I could finally help my mom who had taken such good care of me even when it was extremely hard to do so. I was thrilled in that moment. Standing there over a sink of dishes in my mom’s kitchen I wept. I wept for joy knowing God had healed me. I was getting stronger and I knew I would continue to get stronger as weeks turned into months which turned into a year.
Today I am proud to say that I conquered my fear, crushing the idol of addiction, and I am 1 year and 7 months sober. The process drew me nearer to the Lord than I had ever been before. The tools I used, like writing out the Psalms, praying with friends, and leaning into the Lord through His Word and worship, are still tools I use to conquer fear today. I know I could not have gotten off drugs and remained sober for 19 months now without Jesus. I have not relapsed once. That in itself is a miracle. I was healed completely by God. It is my biggest testimony. Praise God; I am healed.
“We must not worship something that’s not even worth it. Clear the stage; make some space for the One who deserves it. Anything I put before my God is an idol. Anything I want with all my heart is an idol. Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol. Anything that I give all my love is an idol.”
Hi friends! This post is part of a 7-week series on overcoming fear in which a few friends will be dropping by as guest bloggers. Please visit their blogs, linked at the bottom of their posts here, if you’d like to hear more from them. Here’s to getting a little more free from fear together. – Bree
Wearing a mask, building walls, the need to appear perfect, all play into anxiety. When you are a strong Type A personality with some slight OCD tendencies, anxiety seems to be a natural part of who you are. Well, at least in my case it is. Growing up, my family was a hot mess. I took on a great deal of responsibility at an early age. I guess as I grew up the need to look and at least appear perfect along with the need to control everything intensified. It wasn’t until well into adulthood I even realized that some of my behaviors, thought patterns and behaviorisms were linked back to anxiety.
I’m a married, mom of three, who happens to be on a church staff. I also hold a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Counseling. One would think looking at this list, I would have all my stuff together and never waiver in my faith. When I look at where I am in life, while it may not be perfect, I really do have a great life. I have been married to the man of my dreams for a little over 13 years. I have 3, beautiful, healthy, active kiddos. If that’s the case, then why and how does anxiety play into my current life? The answer is deeper than what I can get into in a single post, but it’s a combination of past trauma and biology. Do you know how humbling it is to even admit out loud I have an anxiety disorder and have a therapist?
What many people don’t realize is anxiety falls on a spectrum. Some of what you think of anxiety is what you picture and is often portrayed in movies. Other people are ones you may consider to be “Worry Warts,” or characterize as “high strung.” Not all who struggle with anxiety have panic attacks where you are struggling to catch your breath, crying uncontrollably, or rocking in a corner somewhere. Sometimes the person in front of you may being having a panic attack and you don’t realize it’s happening at all.
For example, a couple years ago I went on girls’ beach trip. It was divine. I was with some of my best girlfriends. The weather was gorgeous. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We were sitting in beach chairs, books in hand, enjoying conversation and listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore in front of us. If I were to describe a perfect moment in life, this would be one of them. All of a sudden a feeling of dread washed over me. My heart started racing and I wanted to flee. It was literally a feeling of fight or flight. The most frustrating thing is there was no identifiable trigger. All I could do was put down my book, get up and jump into the ocean. I swam out a ways and then stood there with my back to the shore doing deep breathing exercises until I no longer felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. My friends all assumed I was hot and wanted to cool off, not knowing anything was happening. Once I felt like I had my body back under control I went back to my beach chair. It wasn’t until later I told one of them what really happened. She wanted to support me, but because I was so embarrassed I couldn’t tell her in that moment.
In a later conversation with my therapist, she told me that in times of complete peace the body, always on guard, took the total lack of issues and triggered a physiological response. There is not always a identifiable trigger to panic attacks. We also talked about how other situations, not necessarily stressful can trigger an attack. Lack of sleep, hunger, intense situations and sometimes even talking to certain people can trigger an attack. Most people assume if people like me would “just quit worrying” or “think positive thoughts” the anxiety would disappear. Like so many other mental health disorders, there is a chemical imbalance and it’s not something we can just “think away.” Trust me, if that were possible I would have done it a long time ago.
Given that it’s something I have to live with, how do I cope on a regular basis? Most days I’m honestly ok. Therapy, the greenway and deep breathing exercises have been the best ways for me to deal with my anxiety. So far I’ve been able to avoid meds. This may not hold true down the road, but for now I don’t take anything.
The Lord and I also have many many long conversations. Please don’t hear me saying this is something that can be prayed away, because I know from experience, it can’t. It’s not that the Lord isn’t capable of taking away anxiety, but He doesn’t always choose to remove it from a person’s life. My faith is important to me and I can’t imagine walking down the road of anxiety without my faith. There are days when the fact that I am a Christian and on church staff the guilt and shame come into play. On those days I have a couple of people the Lord has put in my life I can turn to and lean on. I’m grateful the Lord has put people into my life who can be His hands and arms on the days I need them.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned this year is that I can’t please all people, all the time. There are days when I strive to do everything right and know that I’m going to fall short and it has to be ok. For so long I’ve allowed what others think to rule my life and I notice on the days when my anxiety is at its highest, I am trying too hard to please those around me. As silly as it sounds the song “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman” has become an anthem for me in coping with life. Yes, the Lord has used a secular song to speak volumes into my heart and life this year. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to let things, situations and even people go, especially if they don’t accept you for you.
My greatest encouragement to anyone who walks this path is to let things go. Don’t tell people you want to do things you don’t want to do. Don’t continue to try and get certain people to like you. Your greatest value comes from the Lord and not those around you. On the hard, high anxiety days cry out to the Lord. Give it all to Him. He knows how you are feeling anyway, so let it out. His shoulders are large enough to handle it. It may also help to find a trusted friend or therapist to help you walk the hardest, darkest days of anxiety. You are NOT alone. You are NOT broken. You ARE loved. You ARE valued. The anxiety many never completely disappear, but it does not have to define who you are or where you go in life.
Heather Hughes is a wife, mother of three and on staff at The Glade Church. She has been blogging for several years and has a book in progress. Heather’s passion is to speak into the lives of women, assisting them to build authentic relationships with the Lord and those around them. Blog: www.mirrormirror05.com
God is moving in big ways in my life, and because I can’t see the end, the purpose, the “why” of it all, some days it is so hard. I’ve always said I have Big Faith. Friends tell me that I’ve overcome so much in my life, and I have. I have walked through and conquered huge fearful things, especially in the past few years. But the enemy doesn’t stop attacking just because you beat him once. If you wake up every day seeking after the Lord, consider yourself targeted. As a follower of Jesus I have a huge target on my back and the devil wants to take me down. I learned yesterday that fear can come when you least expect it, especially when everything is going so well. I was sitting in the rain of favor and overflow, and the devil didn’t like it one bit. So he attacked.
When I woke up yesterday, I prayed about a situation and felt good that God had it all under control. Of course He did, right? He always does. Even so, I asked for confirmation. I put into practice something I think a lot of us do. Something I learned from a Pastor that has brought me confirmation before. I held onto my closed Bible and I prayed that when I opened my Bible and pointed to a scripture, it would confirm for me what I was specifically praying about. So, with eyes closed, I opened my Bible and pointed to the page. Imagine my surprise when my finger landed exactly on John 5:39.
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me.” John 5:39 NLT
I laughed out loud. I had my confirmation. The Holy Spirit was saying “you already know God’s got this, you don’t need confirmation, keep your focus on Jesus”. Big faith.
As the day progressed, that big faith of mine was tested. The enemy came at me hard; he knows my weaknesses. Some thought I was crazy for having so much faith and putting it all in God’s hands. And when “it” didn’t happen the way I thought it would, when I thought it would, the enemy used that and ran rampant through my thoughts with doubt. I recognized it as an attack of fear, and it was so powerful. To combat it, I used all the weapons in my arsenal. I prayed, worshiped with music, read my favorite go-to Psalms, and got on my knees crying out to the Lord to ease my suffering. But suffering has a purpose; it grows me, stretches my faith.
Even with all the fight I could muster, fear derailed my faith yesterday for just a little while. I knew I had to stop giving into fear, but how? I couldn’t ride the faith train and the fear train at the same time. I listened to doubt and fear and said things that were so not like me; even I was surprised when I said them. Repeating the enemy’s lies out loud gives him power. This had to stop.
Yesterday was not a pass or fail test. It was a test of faith and learning; did I learn something? About me? About God? I did. And my faith is all the bigger for it. I keep coming back to James 1:2-4.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4 NIV
I learned a big lesson yesterday. I learned that “God’s got this”, no matter what. All my doubt was so unnecessary because He was there the whole time working things for my good. I’d spent the whole day wallowing in doubt and frustration, and all the while God was still doing what He does – preparing a place for me. He was still on track with His plan for my life, still faithful, still loving me, even in my anger and doubt. God doesn’t change.
Keep praising Him in the storm, friends. Praise Him when it’s hard, praise Him when you don’t feel like it, praise Him when it seems pointless, because praise is never pointless. Hold fast to your faith. Have big “now faith”. That means right now, in every moment, even the hard ones.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
There’s no comma between the words “now” and “faith” in that verse. It doesn’t say “Now, faith is …”, it says “Now faith is ….”. Right now. Even when you cannot see. Remain confident. Rest assured. Hold onto hope in Jesus. When the clouds clear you will be amazed at what you see.
I haven’t written in a long time. Nudges from the Holy Spirit are telling me it’s time to start writing again. Bear with me, I may be a little rusty, but I have so much to share.
I’ve gone through huge changes in the past two years. Physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. As the seasons of life rolled through like summer storms, I always kept looking for the rainbows. Through all the trials and waiting and joy, I watched God moving, and it has been spectacular. To have been so lost and outside of myself for so long, and surrendered to Christ, is a joyful thing. Is it hard? Yes. But it is worth it. I am worth it. And so, like James, I counted it all joy. (James 1:2 NIV)
A season of surrender.
On November 20, 2016, I left my abusive marriage. It was not planned. I did not want to go. Two days prior, my husband had abused me physically and verbally worse than he ever had before. Yes, it had happened before. Many times. You might ask why I didn’t leave sooner. For every abused woman, that answer is different. For me, I was trying to save my husband. But I had heard from God that I needed to get out of His way. God would heal us both, but not while we were together. Also, I did not want to leave my comfort zone, where abuse, addiction, and lack had become normal to me. On that day though, God was having no more of my stubbornness. If I would not leave on my own, He would yank me out of there. No pit is too deep for God’s long arm of love to grab hold and pull you out.
Sitting in the house that day became impossible. God was literally shaking me to my core to get out. So, riddled with anxiety and tears flooding my eyes, I went outside, sat by a tree and called my mom to come and get me. I left with just the small suitcase I never unpacked from my trip to a Christian woman’s retreat just a week prior. Leaving it all behind, and surrendering everything to Christ; trusting Him step by shaky step. I left my job of four years with health benefits, left all my belongings, my husband, my dog, and my home (a tiny 5th wheel trailer with no heat). I had no car because I’d totaled it in an accident a few months prior. I moved back in with my mom in a different city. I was addicted to drugs, penniless, jobless, abused, abusing myself, defeated, and depressed.
A season of healing and restoration.
I previously wrote about the day I quit my addiction to opiates. On May 5, 2017, I started a long and painful journey through withdrawal, detoxing, and day by day sobriety. It was the most painful thing I have ever done. I kept a journal, and if you read it, you would learn that many days I did not think I would survive. I thank God for His presence through it all, and for my family who supported me through this time. In ten days, on November 5th, 2018, I’ll be 1.5 years sober from my 20-year addiction to opiates. And all the glory belongs to God.
The Lord healed me physically, is still healing me emotionally, grown me spiritually by leaps & bounds, and drawn me nearer to him through it all. He has restored all that I lost and more. I’ve had an amazing part-time job for nearly a year, and have accepted a full-time job that starts in the new year. I have a car and my own laptop. I’m paying my own bills, including my debts, my own car insurance, and my school loans. My credit score has increased by 50 points in the past 2 months and is climbing. I have money in my savings account. I’m traveling; vacations and women’s retreats. I’ve been to 10 states with friends this year. My father has said he “has his daughter back” and that he trusts me again. My parents are proud of me and excited with me about my future. And again, all the glory belongs to God. Some will say that I did the hard work. And I did. But I could not have done it without Jesus.
A season of stretching and standing up for myself.
In the middle of all of this, God led me to a church that helped me grow spiritually by leaps and bounds. They poured into me and I soaked it all up like a sponge thirsty for water. I was so thirsty for the Lord. I was at church anytime it opened. I served as a greeter, served on the prayer team and the intercessory prayer team. I loved it all and made new friends there. God stretched my already big faith and began to teach me about my self-worth and spiritual gifts. I received my prayer language, which was something I had been asking for from God. I never wanted to leave that church. After about a year God began to gently whisper to me that my attendance at that church was only for a season. Of course, I didn’t want to hear that and so I kept attending. Again, God nudged me: this church is only for a season, and that season was coming to an end. Again, my stubbornness kept me there – in my comfort zone. I kept going, sitting in the front row each Sunday, worshipping and serving … until I couldn’t anymore. Slowly, church leaders pulled me out of different service areas. I reconciled it to myself as “it’s their church, their rules. I’m just here for Jesus anyway”. Within a few months, I found myself in the middle of the hardest spiritual battle I’d ever faced. Up until then, the church leaders thought they could fix me with niceness. Surely, they wouldn’t lose their “miracle of 2017” to what they considered a mortal sin. As I listened to the pastors, whom I deeply respected, I also insisted on digging into the Word myself. When I wouldn’t simply bend to their beliefs because I had my own interpretations of the living word of God, they become hostile. They will tell you they did it out of love, and I truly believe they loved me the best way they knew how. But God doesn’t love with fear and verbal abuse. They told me I was no longer allowed to sit on the front row, where I had been sitting since my first day there. Why? Because they needed to protect their reputation. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Oh, and I guess don’t let the sinners sit on the front row. Thank God that when the verbal abuse started, I immediately recognized it as abuse. The very church who helped me realize that I was, in fact, abused by my ex-husband, was abusing me now, and I was having none of that again. God had already yanked me out of an abusive marriage and healed me from abusing myself with drugs; I wasn’t about to stay at a church who abused me because of my sexuality. Today I thank God for the friends I made there who did not abandon me as I thought they might. I thank God for the knowledge, growth, and support I received from the church during the season I was there. But as my best friend told me out of love and support, “season over”. I never stepped foot back in that church again.
Restored to more.
Seasons are never just about us. All of this was never just about me. It’s so much more. People are always watching. My family and friends have watched me walk this out. People I have never met have heard my testimony. I surrender to the Lord daily and take each new step slowly but surely. I have been restored to more than I was before, physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. And all the glory belongs to God.
Today is Monday. Most of you woke up early, maybe wishing it was still the weekend, bribing kids to get out of bed, and hurrying off to school or work.
I have a different sort of purpose today. I’m in the process of healing. In past posts I’ve mentioned the abusive relationship I was in and the drug abuse. It wasn’t just my husband who was abusing drugs, I was too. For years I’d been getting treatment for my addiction from a specialist. I’ve decided it’s time to stop taking the medication that treats my addiction, not to take another drug, and to take on the big bad wolf, quitting altogether and getting healthy. My doctor agrees it’s time. Which means I’m in the business of trusting God. I could not do this without God’s help. I know that because I’ve tried many times and failed for over 20 years.
This time it’s different. This time I have Jesus by my side, the Holy Spirit in my heart, and God coming for me. I may have been wounded by emotional, physical, and drug abuse, but the wound is not fatal and I serve the greatest healer of all, God.
Trusting God is not always easy. If you don’t know God, imagine trusting someone that you cannot see and surrendering your entire life to Him. Then waiting to see what happens on His time, not yours.
During this process, I have to be honest with myself & God, confessing my sins. I have to be willing to surrender to His will for my life. I have to stop depending on myself, let go of the reins, and let Him lead me. I have to be able to be silent and still, listening for His instruction.
Trusting God means going down the road less traveled when most people are going the other way; it’s usually not the way you wanted to go, or thought you were going, but it’s His way, the best way. It is not easy.
Trusting God means trusting the people around you who He sent to help, and trusting that He always has your best interest at heart.
I made the decision to break this chain about a month ago. Since then I’ve gone through many ups and downs, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I’m blessed because God has sent many people to help me, including my family, doctors, and my friends.
My friends are integral to this process because they always remind me of my goal, which is to be free and to accept the freedom that Jesus bought for me on Calvary when he died on the cross for me. They are my spiritual supporters, my midnight cheerleaders, and mid day musketeers, coming to the rescue with words of encouragement via text messages and phone calls. A sweet picture or meaningful scripture; just a soft reminder of how important it is that I do this, to break this chain that has held me back and weighed me down for 20 years. The enemy cannot have hold of me anymore.
My family and my doctor keep me in check, ensuring I do what I need to do. Things like eating well and checking my blood pressure. It sounds so simple, but when you’re in the thick of it, when you’re in the fog of war, a physical, emotional and spiritual war like this, it’s hard to remember what you’re supposed to do. If you cannot see the shoreline because the storm is raging all around you, you have to trust the people who love you. You have to trust they were sent by God.
In four days, by the end of the week, when everyone is saying “TGIF” and making plans for the weekend, I will be celebrating a major milestone in my recovery. I don’t know if I will feel horrible or okay. It will take my body some time to heal. I’ve been abused, and abusing myself, for quite some time.
I do know that God is going to take my brokenness and put me back together, better than ever, healthier, wiser, and stronger. A friend of mine once said that “brokenness blooms beautiful”. All I have to do is hang in until He gets here. To wait on Him, for His perfect timing, to trust in that and to not waver in my faith. To have blind faith that keeps going no matter what. Even when I cannot see the shoreline through the storm.
I’m scared because I have no idea how I’m going to feel and excited because I know that the healing process has started. My body will regulate back to normal over time, and I will start a new journey, whatever path the Lord has carved for me.
Normal. Whatever that means. But I’m looking forward to finding out who Bree is. She’s been missing for quite some time.
“I will cast my cares on you” Lord (Cast My Cares by Finding Favour), as I start down this road to healing. You have given me such a sweet, straight path to follow.
The air smells of honeysuckle and hope. The sun is bright but not hot. My heart is at peace with the decision I’ve made.
My family, and those who care about me have come into agreement that this is the best thing for me; confirming, for me, that we have come into alignment with God’s plan. My friends (you know who you are), have agreed to pray for me and check on me, being the hands and feet of Jesus when I need them.
Thank you Lord for this soft place to land after such a difficult decade. I made many bad decisions, and I’m so grateful for your never ending grace, mercy, forgiveness, faithfulness, and love. You, Lord, are faithful even when I am not. You are the anchor of my hope!
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)
You, Lord, are making all things new, and “You are making a miracle in me. When I see nothing but damaged goods, You see something good in the making. When I see wounded, You see mended.” (Mended by Matthew West).
Sometimes I get scared, but when I turn that fear over to you, you give me strength instead. When I get anxious, you give me peace. I’m so grateful for my faith in Jesus Christ as I face these challenges and choices. I believe my faith will heal me. I believe that because God said it would. Looking forward to this time of healing, and abiding in Christ; listening for what God would have me do. No matter what road I take, Jesus will always be with me. That is for sure, that is unchanging, that is a promise from God.
It’s a long commute home on any day, but this day it was longer. This particular day I was driving down the same road, but on a different journey.
There is a road that I jokingly call the “long road”, because it is the longest of 3 country roads I take to get home after I exit the interstate. On this day, it was as if the “long road” had turned into the long, dark, twisted entrance to a cave; a cave I’d once been in and thought I’d never go back. I’d been there nearly twenty years prior, when first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I’d left college, going home to my parents, because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had been misdiagnosed by the college medical staff as “depressed”, but it was more than that. I was depressed at the time, but the medicine they gave me, anti-depressants, made me feel worse. So I dropped out of school and went home. By the Grace of God, my mother is a psychologist, and my father a counselor. They helped me find an amazing psychiatrist whom I saw, once a month (or more, if I needed to) for over 12 years. He said I reminded him of his daughter. He was a great doctor.
So there I was, on that road, headed for that cave again. Why? Because my friend was there, and I would not let him navigate that cave alone. I couldn’t drive fast enough to get to him, I was concerned and interested to see how he was, but not scared. I was never scared of him. I was scared for him. I knew that whatever he was facing, though different than what I faced, he would need me, and I would be there for him. Most importantly, I was bringing help. This time, as I entered that cave, I had Jesus with me.
I knew my friend’s smiles around others were faked because that’s what I used to do. I faked happiness for years so that I wouldn’t worry anyone. I just wanted everyone else to be OK, and not to pay attention to me. I wanted to melt into the background, go unnoticed, and just hide under a rock someplace. I saw this in my friend. I heard his words, and like a time machine, they took me back twenty years. Back to when I’d said those exact same words. “It’s like I am putting on a show for everyone”; “It’s exhausting”; “I don’t want to do this anymore”. I’ve known my friend more than 14 years, and saw though that fake happiness like his smile was made of glass. I saw through to the worry and pain he was in. I didn’t understand it and neither did he, but I would be there to try and figure it out with him.
I drove down that long passageway into the cave and found my friend. In this cave you never know behind which rock, or which corner, another scary thing is hiding. I knew because, like I said, I was in there twenty years ago, trying to sort it all out. For example, I would take a medication that was supposed to make me feel better. These medications can take 6-8 weeks to really start working. So I took the medication diligently, and for one month I was more depressed than ever. Fail; on to the next one. “Everyone reacts differently” my doctor said, “we have to keep trying”.
Around the next bend, I’d be prescribed something to help me sleep, but it only made me completely wired with a bad type of energy. So much terrible energy, that there was no way I could sleep. In fact, it gave me awful panic attacks. Fail; on to the next one. I felt like I was trying every medicine under the sun. But I had to keep trying.
There is light at the end of this cave; you can get through, and you can overcome. Not only that, but I think, after twenty years, I finally know why God allowed me to wander into that cave to begin with. So I could help others. So my cave becomes a blessing. From dark to light, from walking through hell to helping others. Amazing. Amazing realization for me but my friend still has a long way to go. So do many other people who find themselves at the mouth of this dark cave.
But I will be there with him every step along the way. On the other side of this cave is the rest of his life. I know because I’ve been thought it. And who knows, maybe I’m still walking through that old cave of mine, but now I have my faith, my God, and Jesus. And that makes all the difference.
Have you praised the Lord this morning? Have you looked into the mirror, looking in your eyes and praised the Holy Spirit? Have you lifted your voice in worship to our Lord, despite your woes, do you have faith that Jesus is aboard this tiny boat? Aboard this boat with you that always seems to leak, but hope floats, don’t you know, and with faith you will not sink. With faith you’ll fill those holes, and with praise you’ll keep on sailing, and with love you’ll keep on going; with Jesus you’ll keep prevailing.
In my last post “The List of Ten” (please read the post below), I left it as a “to be continued”. I needed to save the second part of this amazing story as it’s own post. It’s deserving of that. It is not merely a series of coincidences, as some may call them, but to me, they are miracles. I say that because at that time in my life, I did not believe these things were possible. When I prayed over my list daily, I told God that they were impossible for me to accomplish alone. But I’m never alone when I’m with Christ, am I? And is anything too hard for God?
As I said before, I thought this was such a silly idea. But within 9 months of praying, all of these things had come to pass. To review, my list included these things (as well as a few others that are so very personal, I’ve decided to keep them private for now):
I want Mark and I to move out of this hotel we’ve lived in for two years and into an apartment.
I want to get a car.
I want to reinstate my driver’s license and fix my tag so I could drive legally.
I want to marry Mark, in a church chapel, officiated by a pastor (not a notary).
We had a car, but it wasn’t running well, wasn’t dependable, and wasn’t legally registered. I began riding the bus to and from work daily. I’d never taken a city bus anywhere before and was quite concerned I wouldn’t be able figure out how to do it, but I did. I took the bus for a couple weeks until the great city of Jacksonville decided to change the bus routes, causing me to have to make 2 stops, with an hours’ wait in between. So I decided I needed a bike to ride to and from work. The hotel we were living in was only about 3.5 miles from work. So I thought “seven miles a day, I can do that!”. But I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 12, and now just over 2 decades later, my muscles were screaming at me “are you crazy?” The Pastor at the church we were attending at the time bought me a good, road worthy bike. This, the first in a long line of blessings to come. I road my bike all winter long, albeit a Florida winter, it still gets cold, and it still rains. I carried a huge backpack full of my work clothes, shoes, lunch, makeup, hairbrush; everything needed to put myself together once I got to work all sweaty.
I rode that bike for nearly 4 months until Mark’s mother decided to give us her car. Give, yes, I said give. She no longer drove it, and she’d been thinking of getting rid of it. I believe God helped her think about giving the car to us. It was, and still is, and amazing blessing. So now I had a car, but I did not have the money to register it, or pay for taxes, tag, or to reinstate my suspended driver’s license for unpaid traffic tickets. I kept praying. One day, my mom decided to help me with these expenses. I felt like the blessings were raining down on me! Soon I was a legal driver with a legal car, and driving again. Praise God! I am so grateful to our mother’s who blessed us with these gifts.
One of the other things on my list was that Mark and I be married in a church chapel. Now remember, we had already been living together for over 10 years. We had talked about marriage, but could never afford it, or other circumstances prevented it. Mark usually suggested we just marry at the courthouse with a notary. But since coming to Jesus, I wasn’t having any of that! I wanted to be married by a Pastor in a chapel. At the time, we were attending a church that met in a school, so there was no chapel, and we were not truly happy at that church for different reasons. We had been visiting other churches, trying to find something more traditional. We found Deermeadows Baptist Church, and both really liked it. We met a Pastor there, whom I’ll call Pastor “Michael” (because I haven’t asked his permission to use his name in my blog). Pastor “Michael” had been at Deermeadows for a long time, and was a senior member of their staff. He seemed to like Mark and I, and we both liked him. After about 3 months of attending, we asked about becoming members of the Church, which Pastor “Michael” counseled us on. He talked to us about what it meant to be a member of the church. Shortly thereafter, Mark and I told the Pastor that we wanted to be married. Pastor “Michael” did premarital counseling with us for a few weeks. We felt so loved and not judged by Pastor “Michael”, despite our current situation and our past.
Deermeadows Baptist is a huge Church with a large campus. The main sanctuary holds thousands. One day, while looking for the ladies restroom, I stumbled upon a couple of doors I’d never seen before. An ethereal glow emanated from the glass in the doors. I tried the handle, it was unlocked. I walked in. It was the most beautiful little chapel I had ever seen. Wall to wall in stained glass, with the centerpiece, a floor to ceiling stained glass of Jesus. I sat down and cried my eyes out, thinking “this is where I am going to be married. Mark and I will stand under that picture of Jesus and make a covenant between each other and God, to be wed and love each other forever“. And so it came to pass that we were married there on September 26th, 2015 by Pastor “Michael”. Though I couldn’t afford it, my family gifted us with things like a photographer, a make up lady for me, my dress, Mark’s suit, and a reception. Pastor “Michael”, however, returned the checks I’d written to him and his wife (who would be there to help). “It’s part of my ministry” the Pastor explained, and he did not want to be paid. Bless.
So now we’ve come to the best part of this post. The most amazing miracle of all, what I asked for first; to be able to move out of the hotel we’d lived in with our beloved dog for 2 years. How we got there is a long story, but once there, we were stuck due to financial problems and bad “rental” credit history. We tried to apply at apartments time and again, but were denied each time due to our credit history. I understand that I was responsible for the bad credit history. I take full responsibility for our situation. This hotel was not nice. It was full of, well, people like us, people with problems, and bad people. Drug dealers and such.
At the time I was very much involved with an online bible study. It was the end of January and we were studying Acts and I read the story of Rahab in the Bible for the first time. I read how she lived in the walls of the city, on the outskirts of society, and was doing whatever she could to care for her family. I also read about how she’d heard about God and the great things He was doing for His people. And she believed. I imagine that she had nothing but bits and pieces of information about God that she heard in passing, or from the men she “worked” for. I felt so much like her. I connected with Rahab. Living on the edge of society, in the bad part of town, hardly surviving, and doing what she could to care of her family.
When a couple of God’s people came into her city as spies to determine how they could capture the city God had promised them, they met Rahab. (Please forgive my recounting of this story from my memory, as I may have some of the details wrong, but the main point is spot on). Rahab trusted what they told her, and trusted that they would save her and her family if she would just believe and have faith. Rahab had faith. Perhaps just a mustard seed of faith that she kept deep in her heart, but it was there. So much like me, in the beginning of my coming to Jesus. Having not been raised in Church, and knowing nothing of God, Jesus, or the Bible, but I like to think my faith was strong. I’ve said before: if God will take my life and trade it for the life He has planned for me, the life Jesus died to give me, I will take it!
“I am Rahab”, I thought.
Rahab knew God was going to take the city, and so she helped the spies and told them what they needed to hear: that the whole city was afraid of God and what He was doing through his chosen people.
I wrote in the bible study comments that day about how much I felt akin to Rahab and why. I explained in an open, honest, vulnerable way that I knew what it’s like to be Rahab. I wrote more details than that, not because I wanted pity, but because I was so amazed that I could relate to a woman who lived I don’t know how many thousands of years before me. I was hardly able to type through the tears. Rahab inspired me. Her little bitty faith saved her and her families’ life and made her the great great+ grandma of Jesus. Rahab, just an ordinary woman, like me, being used by God for greatness. “Could He use me?”, I thought.
Later that day in the bible study, a woman whom I will call Robin (to protect her privacy) commented. She did not know me at all, except from the comments I’d written over the time I’d been involved in the study. She asked, very timidly, if she could help me. She didn’t want to make me feel like it was charity. After all, I had not asked for help. Because she asked for it, I gave her my P.O. Box address and a few days later I received a card from her with a beautiful message, a monetary gift to add to my bank to help us move, an a picture. The picture was of a young girl in a 3rd world county, to whom she’d donated, in my name, a bicycle that would allow that girl to get to and from school. I cannot type this without crying. God is SO amazing. He works miracles everyday!
I could end this story here, and it would be nice. But we aren’t even close to the end.
Over the next few weeks, everyday when checking my P.O. Box, I began to receive cards from other women who did not know me. Cards from all over the country. Some cards contained monetary gifts; $1, $5, $20 or more. All of them came with handwritten words of encouragement, or scriptures, and they wrote about how my story, and my willingness to be so vulnerable and honest was inspiring and encouraging to them. I also received a beautifully bound bible that I still take to church each Sunday, a bracelet engraved with the words “Sisters in Christ“, and other gifts. I would bring the envelopes home, and Mark and I would sit on the bed in that hotel room, and pray over each envelope before we opened it. Most of the envelopes had no forwarding address and the letters were signed with only first names or initials. Meaning, no “thank you” was expected. I received a total of 46 letters and cards. I had no idea that my story of my broken life was encouraging to these woman.They told me I was a blessing to them! Which, by the way, completely breaks me down into tears, even now, years later.
The money I’d been gifted was enough for Mark and I to move out of that hotel and into a second chance house community who ignored our credit because we put down such a big nonrefundable deposit. We were able to leave the hotel. Praise God!
No one but God could have made that happen. No One. God deserves ALL the Glory here.
And I bet that some of you, faithful readers, are some of those women who sent me a card, letter, or note, to bring me though the darkest time in my life. Now, because you left no forwarding addresses, is my chance to say “thank you” from the bottom of my heart, thank you, and God bless.