Overcoming Fear

Image

I am constantly living in fear.

Last week I heard one of my dearest friends, a strong and Godly woman whose faith I profoundly respect, confess these words.

The existence of fear in a Christian’s life is an absurd idea. Since we are supposed to know the power of Christ, fear should never have a chance to get a foothold in our minds. However, fear seems to be Satan’s weapon of choice against many Christians, especially Christian women.

From a worldly perspective, Christian women have many things to fear: their children’s safety, their financial security, their own health and their family’s health, and the list never ends.woman-1150111_1920

From God’s perspective, a woman should fear nothing and enjoy indescribable joy and freedom in the arms of Christ– a freedom that is ours for the taking.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~Isaiah 41:10

This is one of over 300 verses in the Bible where we are instructed not to fear.

Why then is it so hard to turn away from fear?

Satan is skilled in the art of dressing up fear to look like truth. In fact, many of our fears are born out of our own experiences and realities.

I fear for my children’s health because the fact of the matter is, a healthy child is not a guarantee in this broken world.

bank-note-941246_1920I fear for my financial security because through 5 years of marriage I have seen our financial situation ebb and flow in some dramatic ways. These are my realities, so naturally, these are my fears.

However, God asks us to live in His reality, which is a much better place to spend our time.

Even though, I have never been fully released from my fear of losing financial stability, God has been faithful to us and shown me over and over that His provision will always be enough (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Even though, the loss of one of my family members is a thought that nearly brings me to my knees, the Bible tells me that even in our darkest moments, God is sovereign and His love for us is all we need (Psalm 16:5).

I have lived with a debilitating fear since I was a young girl. It has been the culprit for my anxiety, my panic attacks, and many desperate prayers. Until I became a mother and recognized it as a stronghold in my life, I accepted it as a part of me; it is just the way I am.

Let’s stop right there: No matter what fear has taken root in your life, no matter how real it is, how logical it appears, fear is not a part of who you are. Fear is sin, and because of Christ, a true believer is no longer a slave to sin, but rather is a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:18). The enemy wants us to believe we cannot be free, so he feeds us this lie in hundreds of different ways: This is just who you are.

God did not intend for his children to live in a constant state of fear; in fact, his desire for us sets the idea of fear ablaze.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ~John 8:36

As I struggle to free myself from the fears that have held me down for so long, God continually reminds me Jesus is the answer.bible-1149924_1920

Of course, I have been a Christian all my life so I know Jesus is the answer to everything.

However, the more I prayed about my fears, the more God kept whispering this idea into my heart until it finally took root.

Spending time in God’s Word and learning more about who Christ is has released me from many of the toxic thoughts I was convinced I would never be free from.

Knowing the Word of God ensures a Christian woman that she will be able to combat her habitual and fearful thoughts with a piece of truth right from God’s mouth.

If we spend our time in the world, and therefore, outside of God’s Word, we will not know Him well enough to be confident in His promises to keep us from fear. Therefore, fear will easily infiltrate our everyday thoughts.

hands-2667461_1920On the other hand, if our thoughts are full of God’s unending wisdom we will recognize a fear for what it is and not allow it to take root in our vulnerable minds.

I am thanking God today that He has revealed His truth to me and I have experienced moments free from fear. As I draw nearer and nearer to Him each day, these free-filled moments will become more frequent, and I will get to see Christ’s power working in my life.

Advertisements

Marriage in the Mayhem

Image

Let’s talk about a Christian marriage, and even though I am at risk of sounding very mushy (which I hate) let’s talk about what marriage looks like to a young couple with young children.

I was listening to Focus on the Family the other day when a couple, who makes their living counseling other couples, explained that they make sure to have a date night every week.

Um…. what?

1465745_10151975777125376_282087542_oAs they were describing their date nights, I assumed they managed one once a month, maybe twice a month. It never occurred to me for a minute that with five kids, this couple managed a date night every week.

They explained how grateful they were for establishing this essential time together, and because of it, their marriage has flourished. Well… how wonderful for them!

My husband and I attempt one date a month, but usually manage to accomplish one every three months.

As I reflected on our failure to make it out the door once in a while, just the two of us, I thought of all the reasons this isn’t plausible. I have been pregnant for half of our five year marriage, which means we have had a newborn every year and a half. Since I stay home with our kids, I am never in a hurry to hire a babysitter and leave my infant to cry and resist a bottle while my husband and I try to enjoy a movie, all the while thinking about how our infant is doing.

The stability of our marriage has never been in question, nor has my husband’s infinite loyalty to me and our family. Connecting with him simply looks different than it did before children.

Sometimes it is in the grin he shoots me across the supper table while one kid talks like it’s going out of style, the other cries for more bread while he throws veggies at the centerpiece, and the other squirms and squeals in my arms. It is in my husband’s grin that I’m reminded of our immense blessings and the love between us that started it all.20180704_215954

Sometimes it is when he grabs my hand while he reads our kids a bedtime story. I’m sitting on the bottom bunk rocking our littlest and the other two are on his lap, but yet, we manage a brief and unspoken moment together.

Sometimes it is in the evening, after a particularly hectic bedtime routine has finally come to an end, when he chooses to sit next to me on the couch, instead of across the room in his own chair. We are too exhausted to talk, so we just watch Netflix and breathe the same air.

Sometimes he surprises me with a bottle of Dr. Pepper, reminding me that he thinks of me even when he is busy at work.

Sometimes I climb into my suburban, running out of daylight to make it to the grocery store, and I notice that he has filled it up with gas, eliminating at least one line on my to-do list.

Sometimes I watch across the dinner table, the kids having been excused long ago with untouched food, as my husband takes another forkful of what I know is a meal falling short of flavor or anything redeeming at all. Yet, he eats it, without complaint, thanking me for taking the time to put food on the table.

Sometimes he stays up late completing one of my many Pinterest projects in the garage. I know he has no desire to have it done and hanging on our wall, but he knows it is important to me.

20181104_201925Sometimes, after saying goodbye to each of our kids, he forgets to kiss me goodbye before he rushes out the door to work. A few minutes later, he strides back through the door, refusing to leave the house without giving me at least a second of his attention.

Sometimes he lets me go spend our money, even though we don’t have enough of it, to get my nails done or buy an outfit I don’t need, just because he knows it makes me feel good to still spend a little money on myself.

Sometimes he listens intently as I weave him in and out of the windy road of my mind and my worries, all the while knowing he won’t be able to help– yet he never fails to listen and remind me, “It will be okay.”

Sometimes he throws in a load of laundry without reminding me I should have had it done days ago.

Sometimes he takes our boys to the basement and burns off endless amounts of their energy because he knows I need some quiet.20180827_092949

Sometimes it is when we clean up the supper table together, just so we can spend some time alone as the kids throw dinosaurs around the living room, unsupervised for a few short minutes.

You see, my husband and I are right in the messiness of this life. We are truly consumed with raising three faithful children and they need our constant and undivided attention. These children are a product of the love between us, and even though this love is sometimes neglected, it is never forgotten.

1523710_10152117002730376_852043122_oI don’t mean to imply that our marriage does not need to be a priority, in fact, we are warned in the Bible about the dangers of neglecting our marriage. However, a young couple with many children simply needs to do what they can, and look for the expressions of love where they can. We still strive to have dates and alone time, but when we fail at these things, I will still see him and he will still see me.

Someday he will be all that is left in this life. We will be old and our kids will be gone, but he will still be there. Then maybe, just maybe, we will have the opportunity to finish one of our conversations.

The Small Heart of a Big Sinner

Image

My toddler’s defiance is not about me. This is some of the best parenting advice I have ever received.

20180817_063923It is so difficult to avoid viewing my son’s misbehavior as an attack against me. When a child rebels, it is natural for a parent to feel offended, hurt, angry–and dare I say, inconvenienced. However, a child does not rebel to hurt his parents, he rebels because of his sinful nature. When I remember my son’s misbehavior is a product of his human sinfulness, instead of a personal attack on me, it is so much easier to keep my cool and discipline him appropriately.

This was something I had to remind myself of repeatedly yesterday. My three-year-old woke up with one goal in mind: do not listen to a single word mom says for the entire day.

He succeeded.20180817_064021

At 39 weeks pregnant, I did not want to spend my day punishing, disciplining, detaining, and bargaining with my son, but this is what he needed from me. He needs me to mold his heart and his character into the heart and character of a man of God– a man who recognizes and repents of his sinfulness, and rests comfortably in the forgiveness of his Savior.

Teaching him to respect our home is the beginning of how we will teach him to respect others, himself, and someday, his wife.

Making him clean up his mess is the beginning of how we will teach him to correct bigger wrongs in his life, to own up to his more destructive mistakes.

Setting him in timeout while he thinks about what he has done will prepare his heart for when he must sit before the Lord and repent.

20180810_143041Parenting is not about me. My son did not draw on the wall yesterday to make me mad. He did not throw rocks at his brother to emphasize my bad parenting skills. He did not destroy his bedroom to give me even more to do.

My son is a sinner. He did these things because he is a victim of the evils in this world, just as I am. Christ died for for my son’s defiance and refusal to stop arguing with his parents, just as He died for my quick anger, harsh tongue, and love of the world.

For a little while, God has entrusted me with his small heart, and I will not let my selfishness get in the way of this profoundly important task.

Enough is Enough

Image

I know the answer to all of my problems.

I know that the answer is Christ.

I know Jesus is the answer to my impatience.

I know Jesus is the answer to my anxiety.

I know Jesus is the answer to my love of gossip.

I know Jesus is the answer to my toddler’s attitude.

sunset-174276_1920I have shared these thoughts with friends of mine, and I have had a few reply, “It’s not that easy.”

Oh yes. It is.

It is that easy.

Jesus is the answer to the skyrocketing suicide rate in this country.

Jesus is the answer to the dangerous drug use among our teenagers.

Jesus is the answer to the gender dysphoria that so many suffer.

Jesus is the answer. Period.

Since God has blessed me with a faith that believes these statements without hesitation, I wonder then why I hesitate to develop my relationship with Him.

I wonder why I press snooze instead of getting up to read my Bible.

I wonder why I ask a friend to help me, long before I get on my knees.

I wonder why I trust my plan, my ideas, and my desires more than His.

I wonder why I turn on Netflix to find my peace after a long day with my children instead of spending time in the presence of a Savior who heals and restores all things.

Of course I know why I do or don’t do these things. I’m a lot like Paul when he says in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Amen, Paul! I hear you loud and clear!tree-736875_1280

You see, I love the world more than Christ. And sure, I could just chalk it up to the idea that I’m only human, but that excuse just shouldn’t be enough for me.

Enough is enough.

I want everything the Bible has promised me.

I want peace. I want unwavering strength. I want freedom. I want every single one of my prayers answered because every single one of my desires aligns with the King of the Universe.

I want to throw away the things of this world, those things that lie to me and promise peace, and I want to grab hold of an everlasting, all-powerful, indescribable love and devotion for the One who made me.

This is the only answer for me, for you, for any of us.

God Shaped Priorities

Image

Every now and then something happens that makes you realize everything that has seemed so important to you– getting your child to sleep through the night, affording that unexpected car repair payment, going on one last vacation before school starts– really amounts to nothing at all.

20180730_174210Today when I heard of an 18-month old on life support, for an accident that could have easily taken place in my own home, all of my weak attempts at maintaining my priorities crumbled beneath me.

Heading into my last month of pregnancy, I have been rushing about the house day after day organizing and cleaning and preparing. My boys have played together well and have allowed me to complete most of my daily tasks with minimal whining. In fact, I have been organizing so much that last week my 3-year-old was quite proud of his own organizing skills when he rearranged his dinosaurs in the living room (I’m creating a monster).

I would not say that I have neglected my children, but I certainly have not put spending time with them at the top of my list. When you stay home with your kids day after day, it can be difficult to remember that your physical presence is not always enough. They need me to be engaged and emotionally present in their lives each day, not just spending time in the same house as them. Quality time is essential for a stay-at-home mom and it is easy to fall into a habit of viewing quantity time and quality time as the same thing.

However, today my priorities were once again set right when I listened to my 18-month-old squeal and giggle from the basement as he played “capsized boat” with his dad. My overwhelming gratefulness that my son was healthy when another mother, just like me, was simply begging the Lord that her’s might live, caused me to immediately put down my Windex, leaving a bathroom only half cleaned, and go hop on the imaginary sinking boat in my basement.20180615_150207

With life being so hectic and so demanding, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is those that matter to us. When God has granted us little ones to enjoy and shape into fully grown Christians, I imagine He anticipates that we will cherish every single second He allows us to raise them.

So tonight, put down the remote or your intense desire for some peace and quiet and go cuddle with your kids; let them stay up past their bedtime as they lie next to you; let them tell you their dreams as you both drift off to sleep.

The Thorn or the Antidote

Image

I want to know so badly what infirmity tormented Paul so much that he cried out to the Lord three times for mercy and healing. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul’s desperation can be plainly seen when he describes his pain as “a messenger of Satan.” When God responded to his cries for relief, he received an answer that would fail to satisfy. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

With that, Paul’s attitude shifts dramatically as he explains, quite convincingly, that he takes pleasure in his infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses, so that “the power of Christ may rest upon” him.

spur-1818848_1920God’s answer was enough to fully satisfy Paul to embrace his pain and learn to think of it as nothing but a blessing from the Lord. He also describes it as the thing God uses to keep him humble. Dealing with multiple weaknesses myself, God has given me this same answer a number of times, and I never quite rejoice in it the way Paul does.

As we suffer, we want only one thing: God, please take this away. The longer our prayer goes unanswered, the more assured we become that God has turned away from us, that He no longer works for our good.

Of course, a true Christian knows this could not be further from the truth, but no matter how strong in faith we are, when our strength is tested by an infirmity, reproach, need, persecution, or distress, we begin to view God through the lens of our own pain, instead of the lens of truth. Deep within our hearts, we know that God is good, but our finite human capacity for understanding lacks the strength to grasp why a good God would allow us to suffer.

prayer-1308663_1920Paul was certainly able to grasp it, but 2 Corinthians 12:9 has always perplexed me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” I understand the basic concept of this verse, but I cannot confidently say that I have seen it in action.

I began to focus on this verse in my quest for freedom from anxiety. Anxiety is no doubt my weakness, or the thorn within my flesh as Paul refers to it. The more I meditated on this verse, the more confused I became. How could God possibly be made strong in my weakness? In fact, the reality of my life demonstrated the exact opposite of this. When I experience moments of my most extreme anxiety, I feel further from God, and I definitely have never seen Him show up in a fury to display this “strength” He supposedly gains from my pain.

This is the way I felt toward this verse until God recently led me to read the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8. Now, I can finally say that I am beginning to understand why God left Paul’s cries for relief, and mine too, unanswered.20180727_131331

You see, Gideon is facing the Midianites with an army of 32,000; despite this being a significant number of men, Gideon is still outnumbered by the immense Midianite army. Then, God appears to Gideon and says, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me…” God then asks Gideon to decrease the size of his army not once, but twice, leaving him with just 300 men.

Wow. Um… What?

We know the outcome of this story, of course. The Israelites are victorious against the Midianites and all credit, for a time, is given to God, therefore strengthening the Israelites in faith. When I think of my anxiety, I am not sure how I would respond if God somehow asked me to make myself even weaker against its forces. Actually, I know exactly how I would respond: I would tell God to go find someone else to ask His outrageous requests.

However, after reading this powerful story of Gideon being made unimaginably weak so that God might get all the glory I am finally able to grasp what God means when he says that His strength is made perfect through my weakness, or my anxiety.

I do not combat my anxiety on my own. When I attempt to do this, I am left irrevocably helpless and discouraged. God walks with me each day, even on days I know my anxiety is going to come upon me with a vengeance. And it is at the end of these uniquely difficult days that I climb into my bed at night with praise upon my heart, because I know that it was God who sustained me. Despite feeling sickeningly weak throughout the day, I cannot argue that at the end of such a day, God is the one that saw me to the sunset.

Most days I do not face this paralyzing anxiety, and on these days, I do not climb into bed praising God. It is only on days that I was sure would defeat me do I become the most aware of God’s unwavering and unsurpassed love for me.

sky-2667455_1920This love is what makes the pain of my anxiety so worth it. Without God, it would be nothing but a thorn, but with God, it becomes a means to bring Him glory, which is really my whole purpose in life. I will continue to plead with the Lord to take away my anxiety, because I believe in His healing power. However, each time He responds to me the way He responded to Paul, I will recognize the transforming power God brings upon me because of my weakness, not in spite of my weakness.

Each and every day I am able to muster up enough strength to defeat my anxiety will be another day that God is glorified. You see, no matter what, I am victorious because He is my King.

A Warrior of Feeble Faith

His fear had faded into a weak and desperate voice deep within, but he knew better than to pay it any mind. As he gazed down to the valley, the weary sun was just beginning to find rest on the west side of the hill of Moreh. The commotion from the enemy camp that could have been heard just a few minutes ago had now quieted to muted conversations and hushed whispers, another sign that the men were not anticipating an attack.

desert-1270345_1920A light breeze had picked up, common for this region, and had awakened the sand around his feet, still hot from the sun. He breathed long and deep as he felt his soul settle even more peacefully into what he knew was to come: victory. He knew now what he had to do, and as he headed back into his own camp to rally his men, he thanked God once more for His boundless favor.

***

This fearless fighter would soon accomplish a seemingly impossible task by defeating the Midianite army with just 300 men. God had already ordained that Gideon and the Israelites would be successful, and at this point in his story, Gideon is confident of this victory. However, it was only weeks before this courageous moment that Gideon was not valiant, nor confident, nor a warrior.

In fact, he was a member of the weakest clan in Manasseh, as well as the weakest member of this clan. Surprisingly when the Lord first addressed Gideon, he called him a “mighty man of valor.” Clearly God saw what no one else could.

Not only was Gideon physically weak, he displayed fragile faith when God revealed Himself. He questioned God’s motives, as well as His entire plan for the nation of Israel: “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about? (Judges 6:13).” He goes on to claim that the Lord has forsaken the Israelites and has delivered them into the hands of the Midianites.

When he is finally able to accept that it is in fact God’s will for him to conquer the death-valley-89261_1920Midianites, he questions that it is God speaking to him at all, and asks God for a sign that it is really Him. This is not the only moment on Gideon’s journey that He asks God for a sign.

In fact, it takes Gideon a couple face to face encounters with God to truly find peace in His will. I like to think if God showed up on my doorstep and insisted that I was a mighty warrior, I would nod my head in agreement and follow Him to the ends of the earth, but I know this isn’t true.

Gideon’s story resonates so much with the way I have approached God over and over and over again. No matter how many times God proves himself faithful, I still question His motives, His presence, and His ultimate goodness. How do I know this is really Your will? If you’re really with me, why has all this happened to me? Where are your miracles? How could I possibly do what you’re asking of me? Give me a sign.

Just as Gideon wondered all these things, so do I, and I have a feeling I’m not alone. The comfort we are to find in Gideon’s story is that despite his complete lack of faith and qualification, God still worked through Him to accomplish one of the most unlikely victories in history. God saw something in Gideon, and not only did He see it, He turned Gideon inside out to reveal that part of his character.

When we follow the will of God, our victory is secure, just like Gideon’s. This means that our fear should be conquered and our doubt, crushed. Even in our faith’s weakest moments, we have something that Gideon lacked: the Word of God. God’s word shows us the improbable and phenomenal victories God has achieved for others, and we can be entirely confident that our own battles already belong to Him.