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It’s Time We Talked … Part 2 (He Wins)

adult black and white darkness face

I have always been an overachiever. In school, I was a 4.0 student. When I made my first B, I thought the world had come to an end. I still find my actions today to be led by a need to be absolutely perfect. Luckily I see that when things are not perfect, I can still function and the world as I know it did not suddenly cease to exist.

As a young adult, my anxiety began to change a bit. I noticed that I was on constant red alert while at work. I felt like my employer was constantly judging me and never gave me even a small pat on the back to let me know I was doing good work. So there would be days when I would sit in my office and literally tremble because I was certain I would get yelled at or ridiculed. I never did but that didn’t stop the thoughts in my head from telling me it was going to happen.

I remember one incident when we had a board meeting. I had on a pair of grey slacks, white blouse, and an argyle sweater vest (it was the 90s so give me a break). I remember feeling pretty that day. I was getting ready to walk into the board room to help set up and my employer told me I looked unprofessional. I was stricken on the inside like I had been struck by a hand. I just sat there the entire meeting completely embarrassed. Once the meeting was over, I got in my car, pulled out of the parking lot, drove to the first side street, and threw up.

I spent my entire paycheck on new clothes.

For those who have anxiety, you can relate to the sheer struggle that I have lived with internally. It’s a deep desire to be included and accepted while also an overwhelming urge to hide away at home where you are completely alone and secure. The little voice in the back of your head constantly creates self-doubt and your eyes see the negative pieces of who you are while conveniently skipping over all the wonderful parts of your being. If you are like me, you hide this struggle. If you are really really like me, you hide this struggle very well.

I changed jobs eventually and went into the pharmaceutical sales field. Lord, have mercy! This is quite possibly the worst job a person with extreme anxiety can have. In my initial interview, the interviewer asked me if I belonged to a gym. When I told him I did not, he informed me that I needed to make that a priority. Clearly, that meant I was overweight and unattractive (oh to be that size now!). But I landed the job on the spot and was actually pretty good at it. I had to talk myself off a cliff nearly every day because it was a tough atmosphere. The front desk staff at many of the physicians’ offices were quite mean. Doctors weren’t that much better. And the competition was downright volatile.

Because I was in the car alone most of the time, I had way too much time to think. I would replay conversations in my head or overanalyze an encounter. It was ridiculous. Then my anxiety took a brand new approach to steering me off balance. I was coming home from a workday in Hopkinsville. I was on I-24 somewhere between Cadiz and Eddyville when I felt a constricting in my chest. It came out of nowhere! My breathing was labored and I broke out into a sweat. I somehow managed to get pulled over on the interstate and opened the car door for some air. My peripheral vision was growing darker by the second. I threw my head between my knees and began to pray for God to not let me die on the side of the road. This, by the way, was the first time I bothered going to God with this problem.

I didn’t have a strong faith at the time. It was something that I believed but didn’t practice at all. I did not have an understanding of a God of salvation nor did I know that I could go to God with any burden on my heart and he would not only hear it but actively work within it. Unfortunately, I really only had one friend who was a believer. She spoke to me regularly about God but I didn’t accept the truth she was offering. It just didn’t seem that important.

Obviously, I did not die on the side of the road that day but I had many more episodes of that scenario, the worst being several years ago in Louisville while my then young son was in the backseat. But I digress.

I continued in pharmaceutical sales for several years, doing very well. In fact, one year I was in the top 25 sales reps in the company and won a trip to Bermuda. The last straw for me, however, was a doctor who decided he could make some very disparaging comments to me about my personal life. I remember every aspect of that moment. Standing in the “drug hall” with no way out because he was blocking the way, I had to listen to him call me names and make really inappropriate statements about some very personal things. And he did it with a smile on his face. That small hall felt smaller and smaller the longer I stood there. At one point I had to reach out to hold on to the sample cubes just so I wouldn’t fall to the floor. Trying to “save face” while feeling as if your chest is going to cave in is not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, a single tear did manage to escape in front of him.

I never went back to that office.

I quit the job a couple of months later.

I could go on and on about different events that left me breathless, full of doubt and overcome with fear but I think you get the point. Anxiety is a very real thing. It’s a painful, physiological, and psychological life-altering disorder. It has the potential of robbing you of some beautiful and fulfilling moments. I have fought very hard to keep this thing neatly tucked into my box of shame. But no more. It is a part of who I am and I am determined to not be ashamed of it. I think back over the years where society has deemed certain things taboo. Anxiety and depression used to be a part of that unspoken world. And yet, every one of us knows people who suffer from one or both. We must give it a name so that men, women, and children will know that they can seek help because help is available.

Today, I am a Christian counselor and an ordained minister. Oh, that journey toward ordination pushed me to my limits at times. The anxiety of fitting in, being completely judged, talked about, discarded by colleagues, and even pushed to quit at times led to a depression that I had not experienced before. Perhaps someday I’ll share about the journey toward ordination but right now I simply cannot. It was not the kind of experience it should have been. Instead, it felt like that middle school hell all over again. Even on the night of ordination, while I was all smiles and hugs, I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and disappear. Looking around that reception area, I remember thinking, I’m not even a welcome guest at my own party. Feeling my heart race (it was around 138), I just grabbed my husband’s hand and asked him to please take me to dinner. In the darkness of the drive to the restaurant, I stared out the window and cried silently.

As a counselor, I am very good at what I do because I really get people. I just get them. I have lived so much of what they come to see me for and so they experience not judgment but love and mercy from me. Basically, I try to give them what Jesus Christ gave me. I give them space to simply be. I look them in the eyes and love them. I never try to fix them or make them be something or someone they are not. I simply give them space to be. And that is grace.

I still struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. And I still put on a very carefully put-together mask to hide that struggle. As a minister, it can be very hard. I find that home visits are quite possibly the most difficult thing I have to do. There are many times I plan on making visits only to sit in my car mentally talking myself through each breath so I don’t collapse on the spot. I never seem to make those visits. And that invokes a tremendous amount of shame within me. I hate letting people down. Truly.

Church people can be some of the most beautiful souls in the world. And they can also be some of the cruelest. Unfortunately, the way my mind works, I tend to focus on the cruel more than the beautiful. It’s something I’m actively working on to improve. When someone gets upset or seems to be a bit aloof, I immediately take it too personally. And then the anxiety cripples me.

I have learned that resentment and anger are intense triggers of my panic attacks. When I refuse to forgive someone or something, I can actually feel a vice take hold of my lungs and squeezing. So I have learned to rely upon scripture to walk me through forgiveness. I actively pray the Jesus Breath Prayer when that vice takes hold and once my breathing is returned to a fairly normal state, I ask God to forgive me for my inability to forgive another. I’m a work in progress.

Before every sermon, every talk, every Bible study… before any time I’m asked to stand up and speak to a crowd, I feel my heart jump up into the lower part of my throat. I feel redness begin to creep up my chest. I can hear the heart beating in my head. And my breathing becomes just a bit shallow.

And then I pray.

God, please get me through this. Please let them hear you and not me because if they hear me, they’ll hear nothing but if they hear you, they’ll hear everything. Please Lord, have mercy. Amen.

Every single time I get ready to speak, I go through this. Every single Sunday I walk in circles in my office the 5 minutes before worship begins, praying this prayer over and over. Every. Single. Time.

Anxiety is part of me. And perhaps it is part of you. Before I could really make any progress, I had to first admit that I needed some help. My husband informed me one day that I “needed medication.” For those of you who are thinking of using that line on someone – DON’T. It didn’t go well at all. But he was right. I did need some medical assistance. I take an SSRI which is a class of non-narcotic medications that help with anxiety. I take it every day regardless of how good or bad I might feel. And once I was able to get things a bit under control, my eyes were able to see the rest of the needed treatment – the spiritual component.

I was spiritually bankrupt and needed God. There was a lot of ugly stuff that had to go down before I realized the depth of my need for Him but once I acknowledged it, I found a sense of mercy and grace and acceptance that I didn’t know was possible. And you can, too. Jesus Christ saved my life. And my soul.

Praise be to God He never gave up on me.

Lauren Daigle’s song Rescue sums up my life of anxiety. It sums up the feelings of being alone, lost, scared, unaccepted, and not good enough. May this song bless you, too.

“Rescue”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3U4Q2R7ZZAE

You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen

I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS
Your SOS

I will send out an army
To find you in the middle of the darkest night
It’s true, I will rescue you

There is no distance
That cannot be covered
Over and over
You’re not defenseless
I’ll be your shelter
I’ll be your armor

I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS

I will send out an army
To find You in the middle of the darkest night
It’s true, I will rescue you

I will never stop marching
To reach you in the middle of the hardest fight
It’s true, I will rescue you

I hear the whisper underneath your breath
I hear you whisper you have nothing left

I will send out an army
To find you in the middle of the darkest night
It’s true, I will rescue you
I will never stop marching
To reach you in the middle of the hardest fight
It’s true, I will rescue you
Oh, I will rescue you

 

It’s Time We Talked … part 1

monochrome photo of woman sitting on floorI can still remember in vivid detail the first time I experienced a panic attack. I was in 8th grade.

I was sitting in English class. My best friend at the time was sitting to my left, one seat back. The creative assignment we had just been given by our teacher was to write about the “person we hated the most.” Seriously. That was an assignment given by a middle school English teacher. Looking back, it was really a bullying 101 assignment. I mean, what kind of teacher encourages that? But hey, she was my teacher and this was our assignment.

I remember looking over my shoulder to my best friend to whisper to her my choice of targets (I’m am deeply sorry, Jennifer, for any malice thought I had towards you). But there was something in my friend’s expression that seemed off. And at that moment, I just knew.

After school that day, I slipped back into the English classroom and went to the file cabinet where we kept our writing notebooks. I opened it and quickly found the royal blue spiral that belonged to my friend. As soon as I read the first sentence, my heart began to beat faster than I had ever felt. On and on, I read words of hate, mockery, and judgment. Pretty much anything that a young girl deems off-limits was touched. My weight was shamed. My face was ridiculed. The things I enjoyed were made fun of. And at the end of the paper, the one who I believed was my very best friend wrote in her bubbly cursive handwriting, “I hate her and always have. I just feel sorry for her so that’s why I keep her around.”

I put the notebook back into the old grey filing cabinet, listened for the click of the drawer, and began to walk out of the room. Before I made it to the door, my breath was so shallow I was certain I was going to die on the spot. And thus began a life of anxiety.

I don’t really talk about my anxiety much. I might mention it casually if anxiety is brought up but for the most part, I keep it pretty much under lock and key. Even writing this now has my heart fluttering a bit faster than I like. It’s very difficult to talk about even though it is very common. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old. (ADAA, 2019). My bet is that you know of someone… or several someones … who has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or is suffering silently from one. So, I think it’s time we talked. I mean really talked.  

I think my anxiety actually started when I was much younger. I had the privilege or burden (whichever way you want to look at it) of having my father as my elementary school principal. I really didn’t mind the authority he had because, honestly, I was a good girl. But not everyone fits into the category of “well-behaved.” And those less mannered children sometimes found their way into my dad’s office for discipline. Unfortunately, their anger was often let out in ways that did impact me. I can tell you that finding my dad’s name laced with profanity on the elementary school playground was never easy. I can remember feeling this sense of fear because I knew there were kids who didn’t like him. And as I people-pleaser, I couldn’t comprehend that fact without feeling what I thought was fear. In actuality it was anxiety. Overhearing teachers talk about him in ways that were … colorful … shaped me and my sense of safety. So in my little mind, I thought if I tried harder for those teachers and if I were perfect around those kids then they would definitely see my dad as the greatest guy ever. But they didn’t so I felt like I’d fallen short.

During that middle school year, I suffered tremendously. All self-esteem left me. I worried constantly about what I looked like or what I said. I often wondered when I walked up to a group of kids if they were going to make fun of me the moment I walked away. I thought seriously of suicide because all seemed lost. I was so lonely and so fearful. And yet I buried the true source of my pain. I never told my friend that I knew what she wrote.

Several weeks later, we had a new writing assignment. This one asked us to write about something that made us sad or upset. So I “confessed” to what I had done. Once my teacher read my assignment, she was beside herself. In all fairness to her, I think it was the eye-opening moment she needed to realize the “hate” assignment was not healthy for pre-teens with changing bodies, hormones, and attitudes. She asked me multiple times if I was okay. I lied and said I was. To my knowledge, she’s never assigned that writing activity again. (Silver lining!)

I would love to say that high school was better but it really wasn’t. I just learned to hide my anxiety better. I struggled to fit in. I was smart. I was involved in so many things. Looking back, the places where I felt most at ease were the activities where I could step away from being me. Theater, the school mascot, the newspaper staff. All these things allowed me to hide my face… hide my eyes… so that others couldn’t see the fear, the desperate need for acceptance, the anxiety that took me to shallow breaths and trembling hands.

I remember one incident that still rocks me to this day. I had been out of town with my family for the weekend. When I got home, a friend called me and told me she had something I needed to see. I think I was 16 at the time. I went to her house and she had four or five handmade signs. She had pulled them from my yard while I was gone. Someone had thought it would be great fun to put signs in front of my house with a degrading theme. As I read them, the room went a bit dark as I struggled to maintain consciousness.

When you look at my yearbooks, you would think you see a happy teenager. All the clubs and sports that I was involved in could not trump the amount of self-doubt and loathing that I had. I was the master of hiding it from others but the biggest failure of treating it. From high school to college to adulthood, this anxiety controlled my life and my successes. And it’s time I start owning it if I ever expect for it not to control me.

To be continued…

 

  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depressive, obsessive-compulsive, and trauma-related disorders through education, practice, and research.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety or depression, please know you are not alone. Call your pastor, a counselor, a physician or mental health hotline for help.

Still Called

It is February 27. I am writing this the day after the historic Special Called Session of the General Conference. My mind is struggling to focus on what needs to be accomplished today because I am focused on what the last four days have been. For those who are unaware of what I am referring to, I invite you to reach out to me for there is not enough space in this newsletter to explain. In short, the UMC delegates gathered from around the world to vote on a way to move forward as a unified body while still affirming the Holy Word.

Some of you may have read news articles about the conference. Please know that there are lots of truths as well as untruths that are being circulated. So what is true? The Traditional Plan was voted for by the delegates. The One Church Plan, Connectional Plan, Modified Traditional Plan, and Simple Plan were not approved. A disaffiliation petition passed as did a proposal related to pensions.

What does this mean and how are we affected? Today, February 27, we opened our doors as we always do. Tonight, our youth will meet at their regular time. The sanctuary will be open for our monthly prayer service. This Sunday, we will gather together for Sunday School, worship, and fellowship. The choir will sing. Scripture will be read. And the Word of God will be proclaimed through the sermon. Finally, we will gather around the Lord’s Table as one body. So, basically, friends, nothing has changed for us. We were called to serve God together before the conference and we are still called to serve the same God together after the conference.

But I would be amiss to pretend that many of us are not feeling lots of emotions right now. The headlines want you to think that we have banned LGBT+ people from our churches. That is NOT TRUE. I am saddened to read these comments from both friends and colleagues. No one has been banned from the United Methodist Church. The same rules that applied when each one of us joined this church still apply. The exact same rules. Rules that you said yes to. And that I said yes to. In the UMC, LGBT+ people are not allowed to be ordained clergy nor may they be married by the UMC.

For the past 10 years I have been walking through the ordination process. I have been examined for 10 years by people, many I did not know, who determined if I am worthy of ordination. I had to offer myself to this examination fully and without walls. There were things I desperately wanted to keep private but when you offer yourself up for ordination, you lose your right to privacy in many ways. I had to share very intimate details. I had to allow access to all of my financial history. I had to give information regarding my husband’s history, regardless of how intimate it was. This is the process. These are the rules. Being ordained is very difficult and humbling. I have watched as people, both heterosexual and homosexual, have been turned down for various reasons. I’ve watched their hearts break because they are trying to follow their calling but being told “no”. And then God does what God does. He makes a new thing. He takes these people who have been told “no” and given them eyes to see where he really wants them to minister. And a new thing grows from what was ashes.

I have cried a lot the past four days over the hateful words from all sides of the conference. What I saw was not a witness for Jesus Christ. What I saw from all sides was hate-filled and volatile. And I pray for it to stop. Because there is a world out there full of needs and hurts and fears who need us to stop fighting and start being the disciples we claim to be. Our personal convictions may differ but they should not define us. This church recognizes everyone’s self-worth, gifts, and beauty as children of God. Love does not mean we must always agree. Somehow that has come to be the meaning for our world today and it is wrong. We can love recklessly while disagreeing. Jesus did it all the time and showed us the beauty in it.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this has come at the beginning of Lent, for we are definitely in the wilderness as people called Methodist. As we engage on this journey through the Lenten wilderness, we must make a careful examination of ourselves. Are we making kings of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and temples out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out? Are we in the way or are we making room for The Way? Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, the God might just show up and prove us all wrong? That happened once – over 2000 years ago on a cross on Golgotha.

Friends, I don’t know what is next for the United Methodist Church. I do know what is next for Arcadia UMC. We are going to continue to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We are going to love with accountability, serve with compassion, be merciful without enabling, and point to Jesus at all costs.

“This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is.” — Rachel Held Evans Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church

Serving Him Together, Pastor Janean

I am a child of God

Over the past few days, I have experienced a wave of emotions due to the announcement of the defeat of two constitutional amendments in the United Methodist Church.

The first proposed amendment was for gender justice, which would have given a voice to women and girls around the world.  The new paragraph in the Book of Discipline would have read: “Men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.” In addition, it also would have stated that the church should “seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.”

The second proposed amendment would have changed the wording in our Book of Disciple’s paragraph 4 to add the words “gender,” “ability,” “age,” and “marital status” to the protected groups as those included in the church. Essentially, we would be saying that none of these groups of people could be discriminated against in the church.

And yet, these two amendments failed to pass a 2/3 majority vote around the globe and in our own conference.

Men and women around the world who have been chosen as voting delegates by their churches, some ordained in the church as elders and deacons, some as laity, boldly claimed that women and girls are still not embraced and affirmed as equal worth within this body of believers. This group of voters failed to claim that the United Methodist Church should never discriminate against people due to their gender, their ability, their age or their marital status.

For this, I grieve.

I grieve because as members of the United Methodist Church in the United States of America, we should be the first to stand in the trenches for the women and girls around the world who are still deemed second-class citizens, at best, and just property, at worst. But our own delegates could not affirm the equality and worth even here in this great nation. If we can’t affirm this, what does that say about us?

I know that many read these two amendments with fear and distrust, certain there was some underlying scheme hidden within to further enhance some issue they disagree with. But that simply wasn’t the case. If you read the Book of Discipline’s first seven articles, you will find that women and girls are excluded from protection. Why? Because women and girls are not viewed as equal worth in many of the countries around the world. The Book of Discipline is the unifying church constitution. It’s what makes the Methodist Church “United”. It’s why we are called a connectional church. But here in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, we couldn’t even agree that women are equal and should be free from discrimination. 

We failed.

Having spent time in Africa last year, I met with several ministers of the UMC in the country of Tanzania. They were all men. And they all had a sense of suspicion around this group of American women clergy who were visiting. They were welcoming and friendly but also kept us at arm’s length. I dare say for some, we were the first women they had ever heard preach. And preach we did. We shared the Gospel… the very same Gospel that they share. And yet, women are still not included as equal and worthy. So, I grieve. 

But while I grieve, I also know that I must acknowledge that not every Annual Conference failed women and girls, young and old, married or single, of all races, and all abilities. For that reason, I will stand alongside the Annual Conferences who unanimously affirmed women and girls — Finland, the Philippines, Mozambique, and South Africa.

Yes, women have been ordained in the United Methodist Church for 60+ years. But there are still many many churches here in the United States that simply will not accept women in the pulpit. There are still many United Methodists who verbally assault women who preach. Some people like to misuse Scripture as a way to marginalize women. Yet they conveniently forget that Jesus himself chose Mary Magdalene as the first apostle, revealing himself to her after the resurrection and giving her the commandment to “go and tell the others”. Women have been used throughout the pages of Scripture to proclaim God’s Word. Sarah, Deborah, Hannah, Ruth, Mary, Joanna, Susanna, Priscilla, Phoebe. And God continues to use women and girls today.

No vote. No debate. No paragraph in a book that is barely followed will ever define me. My definition comes from the ordination that I received at my baptism. I am a child of the one true God. As a deacon, my calling is to Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice. I take that very seriously. I will fight for the marginalized around the world, including the women and girls who continue to be abused, raped, sold, and persecuted. I will speak for the women who feel they cannot speak in the United Methodist Church around the globe and close to home.

For the ones who have been told God does not hear them or see them as worthy, I pray.

For the ones whose churches won’t allow women to preach… or even speak out loud, I pray.

For the ones who have had their cries ignored by the church, I pray.

And for the men and women who have affirmed these anti-Christian behaviors, I pray.

I am a woman.

I am a minister.

I am a deacon.

I am a mother.

I am a wife.

I am a daughter.

I am a sister.

I am a disciple.

I am worthy.

I am made in the image of God…. and so, my dear sister, are you.

IMG_0559

Stephanie is my little friend with the big heart. – Tarime, TZ

Slow Down

  Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? 
       Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? 
    But you say, ‘I can’t help it. 
       I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.’   — Jeremiah 2:25 

When I read this today, I couldn’t help but flinch a little. It was as if God were speaking to me directly. “Slow down.” It has been a stretch of busyness and stress – all of my own doing. Saying “no” is something I urge others to do but often fail to do myself. So, here I am, slowing down.

railroad-tracks-wallpaper-picture

It was actually a forced time of rest – sort of. I’m taking a train today and have five hours of uninterrupted rest, relaxation, and prayer. I’ve never taken the train for a long distance before. It’s sort of like stepping back in time (minus the complimentary wifi, of course). I couldn’t help but let my imagination go when I first boarded. The conductor bellowed “all aboard” and folks were carrying their luggage (yes, actually carrying it because they didn’t have wheels). People were hugging each other good-bye right beside the train and then waving one final time as we pulled away from the station. I imagined how train rides must have been in the days when people dressed up to travel. Women in their fitted, floor length dresses and white gloves. Men in their suits and hats. It must have been quite the spectacle.

I’m a little jealous that those times are gone. Things seemed so much more relaxed during those days. Not the rush, rush, rush that defines our 24 hours. People were more respectful of each other, more caring and empathetic. Front porches were used for sitting and talking instead of just a place to walk across going to and from our cars. People waved at each other when passing by. The offer of assistance was always on the tip of every tongue. And the churches were always full. At least, that’s how it’s always been described to me.

But that’s not our story today. We are busy people, with lives that seem abundantly important. We stay connected electronically, letting our hundreds of “friends” know our every important minute. We voice our opinions and throw words of venom as we hide behind our glowing little screens. The dust builds up on our porches as we close the doors tightly to shut the world out. We no longer spend time talking with each other. We don’t go to church. We shut out community and the idea of real fellowship makes us pull the covers back over our heads. And we are all guilty of it at one time or another.

But God says, “slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?”

That’s really the question, isn’t it? What are you after anyway? I wonder that myself, sometimes – when I get so busy “doing” that I stop “being”. As I watch the world fly by while sitting on this train, I can’t help but wonder all of that and more. I know my calling but am I really fulfilling it? Am I doing all that I can to serve God in the way He called me? I don’t think I am.

John Wesley said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” That’s a tough statement. Honestly, there are other things that I fear. Other things that I worry about. And they are selfish things. Things that do not matter because they in no way lead others to Jesus Christ. So why do we get so wrapped up in the busyness of life and our own self-importance? Because it’s easier to have an illusion of control rather than the reality of surrender. It’s easier to say ‘yes’ to our own wants rather than saying ‘yes’ to God and His commands.

So for today, I’m slowing down. I’m taking a train ride that forces me to be still, take in the beauty of God’s creation, listen to the conversations around me, and act on His behalf. For today, that which I’m after is “my Lord and my God.”

What if?

I am sitting here putting finishing touches on the candlelight communion service for Christmas Eve. So much work has gone into the planning and writing. But now the house is quiet, the rain has stopped and a thought so haunting has found its way into my head once again. It stirs my heart every Christmas for the past few years.

What would I have seen and heard on that night if I had been there?

Would I have heard the breath of heaven or simply the wind rustling the leaves? What about the angels? Would I have heard them or just the yammering of those in the streets? Would I have seen the star in the sky or just two kids who were poor and tired? Would I have felt the peace on earth, or just the oppressiveness of a busy town? Would I have understood that God was with us, or would the holiness of that moment just pass me by?

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The story of the nativity is more than just a beautiful tale to be told at Christmas. It’s one that should cause our hearts to stand still as we begin to comprehend exactly what God has done. But is that even possible? Can we really comprehend this idea that He humbled Himself to be with us, to be Emmanuel? For each of us, we have to take a moment and think about what it must have been like on that night so long ago.

I believe that for everyone who was present that night, the scene was entirely different. No two people experienced it in the same way. God is like that, you know. He presents Himself to each of us and then leaves it up to us to see Him as we choose. There’s a song that sort of describes it perfectly. “Some may call it foolish and impossible but for every heart it rescues it’s a miracle.” Isn’t that true? What some call impossible, others call a miracle. I wonder, what would I have called it on that night?

Let’s be honest, there weren’t a lot of people who saw and experienced what took place that night. It’s not that the opportunity wasn’t there. No, they just chose to not see or hear. The choirs of angels who were singing were drowned out by the crowds coming in. No one was looking up at the sky to see that amazing star because they were too busy looking ahead at their own plans. No one noticed Mary and Joseph because they were too busy thinking of their own needs. No one noticed the peace that transformed the earth because they were fighting wars of their own making.

It’s easy for us to read the verses in Scripture and say we would have been the ones to have opened the door or noticed the star. We would have felt the divine presence had we been there at Bethlehem that night. “I would have seen,” you might say to yourself. “I would have known who He was. I would have known it was the Christ child.” Really? Would you?

Ask yourself – what you have seen and heard this Christmas season.

What did you see? When you went out to shop for gifts did you just see long lines of people or did you see the pains of life in their eyes? Pains from worry about money or fear about health. When you opened your news app did you see violence and chaos, or did you see that lost sheep without a shepherd. 

What did you hear?

Did you hear only the blast of irritating music everywhere you went, or did you hear the silent sighs of the brokenhearted? Did you hear the bickering of the parents and children or the pleading of a family for a savior to intervene? More often than not what you see and what you hear is not the reality. It’s not based on any one event. It’s actually based on you. If you did in fact hear the cry from those in pain, the pleading of the broken, if you saw the sheep without a shepherd, then, and only then, might you have noticed all that took place in Bethlehem that night so long ago. But, if you didn’t see the lonely, broken, lost, and needy this season, then you probably would have been with all the others who were present but missed it all.

Oh little town of Bethlehem
Looks like another silent night
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
A giant star lights up the sky
And while you're lying in the dark
There shines an everlasting light
For the King has left his throne
And is sleeping in a manger tonight
Oh Bethlehem, what you have missed while you were sleeping - Casting Crowns

*illustration by Brett Blair

There’s Only One Label…

I had a client recently who found himself in crisis mode. He had been living dangerously close the edge for a couple of years and he finally reached a point of jump or surrender. He had experimented with sexual fantasies involving multiple partners, self 512px-Hello_my_name_is_sticker.svg_-300x214medication through alcohol, theft, abuse, lying and many other self-destructive behaviors. He could not maintain a job for longer than three or four months because his mood swings would not allow him stability. He isolated himself from family and friends and essentially shut himself off from the world’s acceptable behaviors. He was a mess in a thousand different ways. So, late one afternoon, he took himself to a hospital because he knew he had finally reached that moment — that very moment where something had to change. He knew that if he didn’t surrender, he would die before the day was over.

When I saw him a few weeks later, after he was released from inpatient care, he was ecstatic. He said, “finally I know who I am! I am bipolar with extreme anxiety and antisocial disorder. I have impulse control issues but the doctors promise that I can recover from all of this if I do what they say.” For this young man, getting this diagnosis was an answer to prayers he didn’t know he needed to pray. His struggles throughout his life were enormous and they crippled everything he tried to do. The relief on his face was enough to say to me that this man was ready to truly treat his disease so he could live the life he was meant to live. And the labels he had been given, while heavy, were labels he would embrace rather than run from.

So why do I tell you about this man (whom, by the way, gave me permission to use his story)? Because we have become a society of labels. Every single day on social media or out with friends I hear at least one person refer to themselves as a label. They are constantly saying they are ADD, OCD, introverted, bipolar, the list goes on and on. We joke about it and make light of it but the truth is, there is nothing funny about having a mental disorder.

Every week I see clients who are clinging to life in ways most of us can never fully understand. Their entire life is often full of chaos and confusion. Many never successfully graduated from high school because they were unable to calm their minds enough to focus. A few have trouble leaving their homes because their anxiety of disorder is so great that they feel their life is literally at risk. One young lady confessed to me that she has never been able to read a book from start to end that longer than the children’s chapter books because her focus is so limited. Without treatment and constant support, these folks experience life in a way most of us cannot fathom. It is debilitating on many levels.

As a clinician, I always cringe when I see these “tests” on social media that claim to diagnosis you. Let me be clear – no ten question test on Facebook that asks you what your favorite animal is or whether you prefer loud music over soft music can diagnose you with a mental disorder. Those tests are good for one thing – making fun of those people who truly suffer from a disorder. Think about it like this, would you say you had cancer without a diagnosis? What about diabetes? Would you ever claim to be a amputee if you had all of your limbs? Of course not. It would be disrespectful and hurtful. But yet, we don’t hesitate to say things like, “I’m convinced I have ADD because I can’t ever get anything finished” or “I like a clean house because I’m OCD.”

Stop it!

The truth is you likely aren’t getting things accomplished because you don’t set priorities well or you have not learned to say ‘no’ and stick with a calendar. That is not ADD or ADHD. I have a girlfriend who was able to sit through the entire Twilight movie franchise in one setting but swears she has ADD. It’s not possible! Folks with untreated ADD cannot sit for 10 hours focusing on one thing. Their minds operate differently and they begin to wonder, thus, losing focus and …well…attention.

So, what is ADD or ADHD? Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are mental disorders often requiring both cognitive behavioral treatment and medication. The criteria to be diagnosed with either of these is multifaceted and very specific. There are four criteria that must be met plus six or more specific criteria in hyperactivity/impulsivity and/or inattention that also must be met.

OCD or Obsessive Control Disorder is another mental disorder that can leave a person feeling debilitated and overwhelmed. Folks with this diagnosis feel that their impulses and obsessions are absolutely true and not, necessarily in their minds. To receive a diagnosis of OCD, the person’s obsession are defined by meeting two specific criteria, their impulses meet two specific criteria plus they must meet an additional four criteria. Just because you like a clean house or neat cabinet does not mean you have OCD. It just means that you like to have things neat and orderly. It’s called ‘being organized’. That’s not a mental disorder.

It’s actually quite difficult to be truly diagnosed with these or any other of the mental disorders and the diagnosis can follow you for years. Health insurance premiums are often impacted and securing a good life insurance policy is very difficult. The reason is that folks with mental disorders are among the leading groups who commit suicide. Why? Because having a mental disorder such as ADD, OCD, bipolar, addiction, depression, anxiety… when untreated or undertreated, they leave the individual feeling worthless and without hope. Their minds are so consumed with the chaos that they see no alternative. And yet, everyday, society makes fun of these groups, belittling their diseases.

I could go on and on about disorders people claim to have because they think it’s funny or maybe even use it as an excuse. The majority of the folks who constantly talk about having this disorder or that disorder do not.  If you know someone who constantly talks about his or her labels, they are probably hiding behind insecurities too deep to even recognize. Someone who is secure in who they are and WHOSE they are will not lean on labels. Instead they will see their gifts and weaknesses for what they are, opportunities to grow. Love these folks but don’t encourage the talk. Give them grace but don’t agree with their self labeling. And if it’s you who lives in this way, I invite you to walk in the shoes of my client. How would you feel if your entire life had been like one constant tornado, constantly spinning without any control. You could never hold down a steady job, your family turned their backs on you, and friends rarely came around. You never knew when you would crash or what the destruction would be. You just knew that you were in the vortex and couldn’t get out. Then imagine all of those around you making fun of that. It’s not so funny anymore, is it?

If you want to wear a label, how about wearing the one Jesus Christ gave you when He died on the cross for you? Redeemed. Saved. Loved. Forgiven. Child of God.

But to all who have received him–those who believe in his name–he has given the right to become God’s children … (John 1:12)

Those are labels that we need to be talking about and holding on to with both hands. Just image what this world would look like if we stopped using all other labels but those to describe ourselves and others. When others see you, when they see your social media posts or talk to you in person, do they see a self-diagnosed man or woman who screams of insecurity or do they see a follower of Jesus Christ who is bold and courageous in their faith?

“I’mperfect”

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Recently IMG_4067a girlfriend made an off the cuff statement that just won’t leave my mind. We were talking about our husbands and she said that her husband had hugged her that morning and said, “I just love you so much.” She replied, “there is no way you can love someone this fat.” We all giggled and nodded our understanding. But quite honestly, I felt a pain rush through me unlike anything I have felt in a long while.

I stewed on it for a while. What was it about that statement that was making me uncomfortable. I could completely relate to her statement because I’ve said the very same thing to my husband. And honestly believed it.

The past couple of nights I’ve actually had tossed and turned a bit because I kept thinking about it. I mean, it’s not like many of us don’t think it. Wait. That’s it. We think it but don’t usually say it. We equate our physical appearance – our IMperfections with the worthiness of love.

There is not a single day that I go through where I am not constantly reminded that thinner is better. Or that more youthful skin is the key to happiness. Facebook is over run with weight loss programs, younger skin treatments, before and after pictures and “thinspiration.” Television ads for national weight loss programs are on at least once an hour, if not more. Magazines show airbrushed pictures, the newest night creams, and the latest weight loss fad. And none of those things even begin to touch the intimate conversations between friends about our consistent weight struggles or fears of growing older. Now before folks get upset with me, let me clarify right now that I am not against healthy living. I do believe 1 Corinthians 6:19 – it states that the body is a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. Verse 20 goes on to say, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” For that reason, I believe it is our obligation to take care of the body which we have been given by God. So for anyone reading this who is currently living a healthy lifestyle, I applaud you for the hard work as long as that work is not because of self-loathing and a desire to be loved.

My point is that we have allowed ourselves to measure our worth on the number of the scale reading. That’s what hurts me. I am so ashamed that I have said to my husband that he can’t possibly love me because of my outward appearance. The truth is, I don’t fully love me because of my outward appearance so I place that “truth” on him and…ultimately, on my heavenly Father.

As a minister, I preach on God’s love every week in one form or another. I encourage others to look beyond themselves and their brokenness in order to see a perfect love that has been offered to them through Jesus Christ. I speak on redemption and grace. I offer scripture after scripture proving the love that is so abundantly available to them. And yet, I carry this dark secret that says none of that applies to me.

Yesterday, a precious young girl gave our scripture reading. She is beautiful in every way. I thought of Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for a I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And when I looked I her, I just wanted to protect her from all the junk of society. I want her to always feel free and beautiful, not because of a societal definition but because she is made in His image!

A couple of years ago I read a book called God Loves Ugly. It’s a powerful book by Christa Black. She writes about her struggles with physical acceptance and how it overshadowed any possibility of spiritual acceptance. We are just so tied to this idea of physical appearance equates to lovability. But not God. 1 Samuel 16:7b “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

You see the depths of my heart and love me anyway.

We work so hard with loving others through kindness, support, grace, forgiveness. But we work equally as hard at not loving ourselves. We chastise our friends when they put themselves down but we put on a badge of honor at disrespecting ourselves. What we are actually doing is telling God, “you must have gotten it all wrong when you created me.” In no scenario is that true and yet we accept that “truth” every single day.

I often think about how God sees me. Obviously, according to 1 Samuel, He does not see me in the way I see me. How much does it hurt Him when I say things that are hurtful about me? Or when you say things that are hurtful about you? He focuses on my heart not on my hair style or my waist circumference. While we can pick out the things about us that we are not – “I’m not thin enough. I’m not tall enough. I’m not petite enough. I’m not cute enough. I’m not __________ enough. I’m not perfect.” God sees what I am – “I am a child of God. I am made in His image. I am loved so much that He gave His only son for me. I’m perfect.”

I have dedicated my life to serving God through serving others. He has called me to speak His truth to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Mark 12:29-31 says it like this: Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. Ouch.

I cannot possibly fulfill my calling to love others if I do not love myself. Just realizing the full impact of my failure takes my very breath away. Forgive me, O Lord, for not seeing your image rather than my own. Forgive me for seeing myself as imperfect rather than saying I’m perfect.

My new truth comes from the International Children’s Bible version of Psalm 139:14 – “I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way. What you have done is wonderful. I know this very well.”

Another Chapter Begins…

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…Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, “ God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me”? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. (Isaiah 40:27-31 MSG).

I just reread my New Year’s blog from 2014. How depressing!! But let’s be honest, I had a right to be a little depressed. It had been a rotten 2013 and the start of 2014 had not been much better. As I reflect over all of 2014, it’s a combination of praises and prayers. What I have found, however, is that I don’t cheer the fact that a difficult year has passed. In fact, each new year is a bit sad to me because it means that another year has rapidly gone by. Those seconds tend to speed up. It’s a wonder that I can even catch my breath.

So, what was my 2014 like? Some of said it’s like a well-written tragedy. I don’t know about that but it was definitely full of heartache and excitement. It started out with me sitting in the hospital. I think it was day 15 when the “ball dropped.” My husband had been very sick and there were moments when we didn’t know if he would pull through. The following week, I lost my job. I can tell you that at that moment, I broke. I felt like God must have lost track of me somewhere along the way because I was drowning and it didn’t seem that He would ever throw a life-preserver. The next several months would prove challenging, to say the least. Paying bills required a bit of creativity and we spent more than a few sleepless nights worrying about our next meal.

In the spring, I was honored to serve as Lay Director of the Purchase Area Walk to Emmaus. If you don’t know what that is, shoot me a message. It’s a huge privilege to serve God in such a compacity. While in that role, I was humbled by the hearts of all of the folks I served with. Unfortunately, satan was pretty aggressive, trying constantly to shake my foundation throughout that time period. Verbal attacks, cold shoulders, hurt feelings. They all did abound. In the end, God’s shield provided me with the armor I needed to survive.

During this same time, I started a private counseling practice. I was invited to share office space with two Christian women whom I respect. What a difference an atmosphere makes! While the process of building clients has been an extremely slow one, the benefits of where I am located and who I am located with outweighs any of the negative. I strongly believe that God opened that door and has made it possible to be there each and every month since.

By the summer of 2014, I felt like things were looking up. My husband had just been granted reinstatement of his medical license. I thought for certain that it was only a matter of a few weeks and he would practicing medicine again. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like that. After more “no” responses than I count, his depression set in. This placed an urgency on me to “make things happen.” Who was I kidding? The more I tried to control the situation, the more desperate I felt our situation had become. Finally, one evening, I surrendered myself. I knew I could no more control the outcome than Allen could. I looked at myself and asked God to light a path because I was completely lost. I had been spinning for more time than I care to admit and it was time to stop. The next day, I received my answer.

In July 2014, I would be asked to serve as minister of two local churches. This would mean an official step from laity to clergy. I knew God had designed my life so that this very moment could happen. Saying “yes” was much more difficult than I thought it would be. But ultimately, I did say “yes”. The rapid changes that took place in my life have left me breathless at times. There was no easing into the role. These two churches were without a minister. Their previous leader had already begun his new appointment in another district so I couldn’t “pick his brain” as I would have liked. Instead, I jumped in and prayed God wouldn’t let me sink.

During that same time, I began an internship at a local hospital as chaplain in their CPE program. Let me just say right off the bat that this is something I never want to do again but believe that every minister should have to do at least once. Let me explain. Hospital visits are more than just a quick visit where you talk about the weather, offer a quick prayer and get the heck out of dodge before your next text message comes through. If any minister who hasn’t been through a unit of CPE says he or she knows how to make hospital visits, I’d be leary. Anyone can go in an offer a quick prayer just to check it off the list. But a true pastoral care visit means listening without checking your watch. It means loving without worrying what germs you might get. It means putting yourself in the middle of the visit so that you have self-awareness in your situation. I hated every minute of this internship because it was hard on me emotionally, spiritually and mentally. But I thank God that He opened that door so that I can better serve Him in those moments when people need pastoral care rather than a fly by visit. This prepared me for some very difficult moments that would I face in the next few weeks.

Barely two months into my new ministry, my world would be utterly changed and, quite honestly, my heart would forever be broken. My best friend would tragically lose her life in a motorcycle accident. She was only 39 years old. God would see to it that I served as the minister of her funeral. From that moment on, I have only blogged once – to tell the story of her good-bye. I lost my voice when she passed and I have not asked God to give it back. Writing this has been more difficult than I thought but I know it needed to be written.

Since that day in the fall of 2014, I have struggled with some things internally. I have felt, at times, very distant from the One I serve. That distance is only because I placed it there. I don’t blame God for her loss. In fact, I praise God for granting me a life with her in it. I am just not where I once was in my walk. The beauty of that is that God never leaves us regardless if we choose to go it alone for a while. He never stops loving us. He never stops fighting for us. He never stops lighting our path to find our way back home to Him. It’s always a choice on our part to not have a close relationship with God.

My family and I moved to Ballard County in November. For anyone who really knows me, you probably are finding it rather funny to think of me living in the middle of farm lands. Trust me, it’s been a culture shock. From no cell service to wildlife in the front yard, I have to rethink my way of living. But I know that God has provided this home in this place for a very specific reason. We are still getting settled in our new place. It’s never a good idea to move in the middle of the holidays. Just too hectic! But once we finally get everything unboxed and placed where it should be, it will be nice to relax in the solitude of home.

Just as I started this year, I am ending this year sitting in the hospital. This time, I am there because my mom is recovering from surgery. She’s having a tough time of it. The past six weeks have been difficult on her body and spirit. So, just as I asked during this time last year, I’ll ask it this year – please pray for healing. I am very blessed to have experienced all that I have in the past year…. and in my life. I have been given a storyline and asked to author the text of my life. I could choose to write a story of tragedy. I could choose to write a story of fiction. But I don’t like those genres. I believe that nonfiction can be quite exciting and full of hope. As I look forward to the year 2015 I anticipate chapters of laughter and tears. I believe there will be mysteries and how-to’s. And I believe that through it all, God will light each step toward my next chapter. I began this with a quote from Isaiah. I love how it says, “Don’t you know anything? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.” Yes! God does last. He is the perseverance when we run out of strength. He is the breath when we fill breathless. He is the light in a world full of darkness. Because of that, I don’t have to worry about figuring out what my next chapter is. I don’t have to fear walking around in the darkness of this life because God continues to shine a light – His Light – so I can see into those dark corners of uncerntainty. Would I like to know what’s next? Maybe. But that’s not how it works. He gives us just enough light to see our next step…to write our next sentence…

It’s 2015. God, I’m ready to start the next chapter…

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Lukewarm is NOT okay!

I have a confession to make…and it’s probably one the hardest confessions I have ever had to own up to. 

I am a lukewarm Christian.

Up until about an hour ago I was pretty sure that my faith was strong. There’s always a need to grow and mature in the faith but I felt pretty solid about where I was. Then I had lunch…

Have you ever just known that something pretty amazing was about to happen? I’ve had the feeling a couple of times. I had it today, as well. My husband had been invited to lunch by a longtime friend and they invited me to join them after I finished my morning appointments. On my way to the restaurant I found myself getting excited. I just sort of knew that it was going to be an amazing hour. Understand that I did not really know this man very well at all. We are “friends” on social media because of the relationship between he and my husband but that’s it. Still…I knew it was going to be a good lunch.

If you think about most lunch “dates” with friends, the time is spent talking about children, work, funny situations, etc. Not this one! We talked about Jesus Christ. And it wasn’t like any conversation I have ever had before about Christ. It was as if Jesus himself was sitting with us and telling us stories about His life. Scripture was quoted but not like we usually quote scripture. It was quoted like we do when we are relaying a conversation. It was real. It was direct. It was in-your-face. 

Too often we refrain from showing too much passion for Jesus. I don’t know why but we do. I’ve written about that before, actually. But not this man. Nope. Not only did he not refrain, he invited others to be prayed for. Our server was so humbled when he asked her what she would like for us to pray for in her life that she had a difficult time speaking at first. Then the smile that took over her face brought tears to my eyes. I can’t help but wonder if that was the first time that little girl has had a prayer said specifically for her. 

He leads a church in Georgia. It sounds like a piece of heaven. People of all walks of life coming together for the entire purpose of serving God while serving others. The more I listened to him talk the more I realized that I am a lukewarm Christian. Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ with my whole body, mind, and spirit. And yes, I share the Good News each week to my people. But what am I really doing? Am I feeding the orphans and widows? Am I going up to perfect strangers and asking them what is on their hearts that needs praying for? Am I sharing the Gospel in all walks of life? NO! I’m not. I am doing exactly what I said I didn’t want to do – I’m going through the motions. When I accepted the appointment to the two churches, I had such great ideas. But then my fears took over. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointment. Fear of the unknown. Those fears have held me back from doing what God expects me to do. I have been called to make disciples for Jesus Christ and I am failing….because I’m a lukewarm Christian. 

For the past hour I have replayed today’s events in my mind over and over. I realize that I have an opportunity to change, not lives, but souls. The Lord ha73cce639efcec0bc3942281a0ebdeb0as entrusted to me His words and His grace. He expects me to make each person I meet feel loved by Jesus Christ and ministers to others. Honestly, I don’t know what is next in this journey but I am certain that the lamp posts on my feet will illuminate my next step (Psalm 119:105). I’m not going to lie and say that I’m not scared. I am. Because each time God opens my eyes, my world gets crazy rocked. I refuse to be lukewarm any longer. 

Lord, please forgive my complacency in my life toward you. You trusted me with your Word and I have failed you. I ask you now to give me strength, wisdom and, most importantly, courage to fulfill the calling you placed upon my life. Amen.