Fighting the Fear of Living a Life You Didn’t Expect

I am so grateful to have my friend, Mary O’Brien, share with you today. Mary will forever be one of my saving graces because when I first met her, she came to my rescue!

I was at the National Religious Broadcaster Conference trying to carry 6 foot banners and a box of things for my boss’s book table. Suddenly a woman comes right by me, pulls on my dress and nicely said, “I’m sorry your dress was riding up, and your hands were full.”

How can you not become friends after that! I met up with Mary again at a conference her church where my boss was speaking. Mary is someone after being around her, it makes you want to live better. It truly is an honor to have her as a guest blogger today. I know you will enjoy what she has to share!

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I grew up in a loving yet dysfunctional home. As I have aged – I realize that my younger years were wrought with fear of outcomes I could not control. If I could control a situation, then it hurt less or caused less stress. But that simply was not often possible in my home.

Faith was ever present, but it was not until college that I came to have a personal relationship with Christ. I came to know that God wasn’t a far off God, but a God who loved ME and was intimately involved in my life. He used a very traumatic incident in my 20’s to break me free of my false sense of control and fear of “what ifs”.

I was a single 27 woman when out of the blue I was diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis (an infection in the lining of the heart) and hospitalized. A few days later I was told I would need open heart surgery to repair the damage. I was in shock. I had gone from a normal, healthy young woman to being told I would have congestive heart failure within the next year if I didn’t have this surgery. Within a few days came another blow:

“Did we mention that depending on the outcome of the surgery you may not be able to have children?”

Um no, no one had mentioned this.

My mind was racing. Who would want to marry me if on the first date I had to tell them: Oh! By the way, I cannot have children and I have a foot-long scar down my chest.

I went into control mode. How can I be sure to manage the options so that is not the outcome (there were a few extreme options available to me that might have prevented this possible outcome).

As a believer who had just begun studying the Word seriously for a few years, I knew enough to know I needed to run to God and His promises. But this was so hard (I was still learning about God’s sovereignty and His goodness).

I thought maybe I could handle this better. There were several Scripture passages that really ministered to me at this time…

Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 139:16

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

As I explored my options, the Lord confirmed to me that what I needed to do was let go and trust Him. Trust that whatever the outcome of the surgery was – He was good and faithful, and nothing was outside of His plans for me.

I recall kneeling by my bed a few nights before surgery and through tears just telling Him that I was giving this to Him. I was trusting Him. I knew that He loved me deeply and no matter what happened, He would see me through it and had a plan.

I woke up to good news- the valve had been repaired perfectly and there was no need for the strong medications that may have altered my health and ability to have children. I was so comforted in many ways by this. And, in my limited vision, I saw this as His promise for what life would hold for me.

However, years later, at around 39, I was in a place of striving against where the Lord had me as a single woman with no children. I just didn’t understand His plans or why my life didn’t look like I thought it was going to. In a place of fear – what if what I always thought my life would be doesn’t happen – I recall saying to the Lord that I felt a little bit tricked by Him. Why did you do that with my surgery only to NOT give me children. And in such a loving way I recall Him revealing to me that what He did was for my good, for my best. He took the best care of me with an outcome that allowed me to have a perfectly healthy life with no further concerns or issues. He never said it was about kids and marriage, but I had wanted it to be about that. He was simply taking the best care of me as a loving Father and blessing me with that outcome.

Around 42, he did a big work in me. He released me from the striving, and frankly the shame I had of being an older single woman whose life didn’t look most everyone else’s. I began to see His sovereignty and faithfulness in a new way.

Fear is natural, but the more we recognize the character of God the more we rest in knowing we have nothing to fear. He gave His Son for us. He knows every hair on our head. He knows the ugliest parts of us and loves us, graciously working to refine us and call us out of shallow waters into deep ones with Him. I love that I can look back on these times in my life when I start to get anxious about a situation and recount His goodness and that I have nothing to fear when He is in control.

“There is no line…”

Disclaimer: I wrote this a few months ago. I wrote it to help me process my own feelings. For whatever it’s worth, I hope it helps someone else❤️.

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I have been watching a show called, “Burn Notice.” It’s about an ex-spy, named Michael Weston. Half of the time you can’t tell who he’s being used and manipulated by. People have threatened his family, friends, and very existence of who he is. He’s stuck in this trap of trying to be free. Every time he gets close, the target changes, or the carrot he’s been chasing get replaced, or jerked just out of reach.

As the series continues, the closer the fight gets. If you plan on watching it, you may not want to continue reading this….

Michael and his friends have been through everything together. They become more than friends. They become each other’s family. They all get into risky and questionable situations, but there is always an underlying trust. Even if the team doesn’t understand what’s going on, they trust the one calling the shots.

One sentence in this series won’t stop playing in my head… Michael is gaining ground on the person trying to take his life away, but it requires him to sacrifice some of his newer friends. His girlfriend (Fiona) decides that if she doesn’t take herself out of the equation, Michael won’t be able to make the right call. Since, Fiona has become the leveraging tool used by his newest adversary. He rushes to find her. When he does, she says, “I’m surrendering. I’m taking myself out. You’re losing yourself.” The reality of the situation starts to sink in for Michael. He is about to ruin other people’s lives to save Fiona. She speaks again and says, “Where do you draw the line, Michael?” And this is the part that keeps playing in my head… he says,

“There is no line when it comes to you.”

As I thought on what Michael said, I realized something. God is never going to stop coming after me. To you this may seem like a “no brainer” as my Dad used to say. But, after experiencing abuse from individuals claiming to be serving God coupled by the loss of my Dad… I’ve felt like Michael. I’ve felt lost.

In the midst of the fighting, Michael had lost sight of who he was. I know that Michael said, “There is no line when it comes to Fiona.” But it was Fiona who proved it.

Later on, when Michael is about to essentially “sell his soul to the devil” because he’s gotten so confused. He wants freedom so bad and there have been so many people after him. In the process, he’s lost so much that up he’s gotten to the point where up is down and down is up.

Fiona know he’s fallen prey due to everything he’s been through and he’s in the “enemy’s camp” . Walking in there could mean sudden death for her — That doesn’t stop her. She walks right into the enemy’s territory and right into Michael’s confusion — not knowing how he will respond to her.

In the aftermath of grief, there’s a lot of confusion and you feel lost. The normality of having your loved one is no longer there. Your mind keeps wanting to see them back at “their place”. Like at the end of the dinner table, at his work desk, or the rocking chair where he used to watching football. But, I’m slowly beginning to realize that I have to relearn the life I live. I have to relearn how to continue with a hole in my family and in my heart, and honor him and God in the process. I have to relearn who I am. The fact is, I’ve been changed. The Christi before losing her Dad is not the same Christi after losing her Dad. The same is true for each one of my family members. But, there’s still a piece of me that is there, and that’s the piece that I’ve got to find.

And, instead of Fiona rushing in, I can picture Jesus rushing in . When everyone else is running for cover. He crosses the line into my lostness. I can picture him saying, “Christi, look at me.” And just like Michael did, it takes a while because maybe you didn’t understand all that “the plan” called life entailed…

But at some point I’ve got to ask for the strength look up and find His eyes again. Somehow, I’ve got to walk towards the voice that’s rushed in to pull me out. It starts with a look up. He will help me relearn who I am and how to move forward, but not forget.

*Pictures taken from: https://www.pinterest.com/chompie97/burn-notice/?amp_client_id=CLIENT_ID(_)&mweb_unauth_id={{default.session}}

A Disciple’s Life

I was one of twelve chosen, I still don’t know why I was picked. Some were related and others complete strangers. Some had a radical turn around and some just quietly left to follow. But we were a force to be reckoned with.

I have never felt so passionately about anything in my life, which is probably why it was easier for me to say goodbye to the life I once knew. Being with these men made me feel alive. I had a purpose. I had a reason to live. Sure, some of the things our leader said were different. A lot of things I didn’t understand, but he was patient and he cared. Besides, I saw so many things I never even thought were possible. Food overflowing from a simple basket, water being turned into wine, lepers cleansed, the blinded eyes restored, the deaf able to hear and the dead being raised.

I knew I was headed in the right direction. I felt as if I were born for this. I could never grow tired of this life. I never knew what was coming next. I’d sometimes be frightened that things wouldn’t pan out; like the one time we crossed the sea and the storm rolled in, but then HE walked on water! Or, that time when we had fished all night and caught nothing to eat. I almost lost it when HE told us to throw the net on the other side; like we hadn’t done that 100x already! But, true to HIS word, we had more fish than we knew what to do with. I don’t know how HE did it.
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Then there was that day that HE called us together and said:

Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  As you go, proclaim this message: The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker, is worth his keep.  Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matthew 10:5-15)

Heal the sick? Raise the dead? Cleanse the Leper? Drive out demons? I thought that was HIS job. I thought only HE could do that. But, we went out anyways. HE didn’t really negotiate with HIS commands.

It was incredible! We did those things. I actually did those things. I was so tired when we returned, but it was exhilarating. I felt invincible. I couldn’t believe I was chosen to do this. This MAN had changed the course of my life forever.

But after we got back, things started to change. I had learned to love our leader like I never loved anyone in my life. I loved to hear him teach. I tried to protect HIM at any costs. But HE started saying things like, I must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and raised the third day” (Matt. 16:21)

I didn’t understand why He’d say these horrible things. Suffer? Be killed? Was this a new parable? I thought to myself. HE must be using those words in a different way than I think.

Tension started rising among the scribes, elders, and priests. I knew they didn’t like what HE was doing… But I thought they would come around. How could you not like this MAN? But, the more time passed, the more the tension grew. I was growing a little more concerned, but then, I’d witness another miracle, or have another long talk with HIM. HE knew just how to settle my uneasy heart.

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Then, the most wonderful thing happened! HE was given a King’s welcome! The moment we all had been waiting for. We knew HE was going to reign; and now, it was coming to pass!  People were throwing down their tunics so HE could ride on something other than the ground. The people were shouting. I had tears in my eyes from the sheer joy of it all. Our King is here. It was such a wonderful day. I never knew so much joy could be contained in such a short amount of daylight.

A week passed and I still felt like I was floating from all that had transpired a week prior. HE decided to have a dinner with us all. It was a quiet night, but it was nice for it to just be us. It seemed we always had others around. But something was different about HIM. HE looked sad. HE and Judas had a brief discussion and then Judas left. I didn’t think much of it because it was Judas. He always had his own ideas about things.

But HE started worrying me. He made sure we had wine and bread and HE said, drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matt 26:227-29)

His blood? The phrases He spoke months earlier came flooding into my mind: I must suffer, and be killed. It’s just a parable, it’s just a parable I continued to repeat to myself.

Later that night, we went to the garden we sometimes went to. I was so full of dinner I fell fast asleep. HE asked us to stay awake, but I didn’t think it was that important. We prayed all the time. I think we had enough prayer to cover us that night.

But then something woke me up. I heard a crowd. I immediately woke the other two disciples with me. I saw Judas, but he was with the scribes. Whatever this was, didn’t sit right with me. I was too fearful to stand beside our leader, so I hid not too far away. I couldn’t hear very well, but I saw Judas kiss HIM.

Suddenly, the soldiers, who had accompanied the scribes and Judas, bound HIS hands. Nooooo, I wanted to scream, but I didn’t want to be heard. I knelt down and wept. I was so angry at myself for not staying awake to pray… Why are they taking HIM?

Eventually, I learned where they had taken my beloved leader. I went there immediately. HE was being question, accused and then they took HIM outside to be beaten and whipped. Tears poured out of my eyes and down my cheeks. Why? Why is this happening? Why don’t they believe HIM? HE’s the most compassionate man I have ever met. One lash turned to two, two lashes into four, four into thirty-nine. I couldn’t watch anymore. HE was barely recognizable.

I found a place to cry until I felt as though I had nothing left in me… I decided I needed to go back. When I did, I found my beloved friend and my hero hanging, like a criminal, on a cross. People were shouting at HIM, “Save yourself.”

I prayed to God, HIS Father, to give HIM the strength to get off that cross. It wasn’t too much. I still had hope, despite the fear. I’d seen HIM do miracles on top of miracles. Time pressed on and still, HE hung there.

The sky began to grow dark, it felt like I was watching a picture of my own heart. I saw HIM struggling to breathe. The ground began to shake and HE cried out, My God, My God why have you forsaken me. (Matt 27:46) Never before had I ever heard HIM say anything close to this. HE was always talking about how HE and HIS Father were one and that if we knew HIM, we knew the Father. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

My heart was breaking in me; yet, I had seen this same man bring back others from the gripping hand of death. I couldn’t make sense of it.

Then HE said, it is finished and HE breathed HIS last. A groan from the deepest part of my soul came out. I fell to my knees, NOOOOO, Jesus, Noooooo…. This cannot be…. Please, God, you can’t take HIM!

It all moved so quickly; yet, it also felt like time stood still. HE was taken down and buried. I couldn’t grasp what was happening. It felt like a nightmare. I couldn’t connect my mind with the reality in front of me. The tears came easily as my heart was broken into a million pieces, but my mind was still not able to process it.

This MAN was my life. I left everything to follow HIM. Everything I believed in revolves around HIS words. How could we do all that we did and the outcome be standing at HIS grave? So many questions flooded my mind. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t get out of my cot. Fear encompassed me. The moment HE died, something inside of me died.

I don’t remember much of that Saturday. But Sunday I heard a stirring of women…
He’s alive!

What? I questioned.
HE died, I saw HIM, don’t mess with me, I already have enough to process. I said.

No, HE’s alive they insisted.

I ran all over looking for HIM. When suddenly, HE found us… I couldn’t believe my eyes! He was here. One day turned into two, and two into four, and four into forty. HE was with us for forty days. But, this time, it was different.

Part of me doubted. I knew HE was the way to eternal life but so much of this MAN I just did not understand. HE did everything backward. Why did HE have to die? Why cause all of us and HIS own mom and family so much grief? Why couldn’t HE just saved Himself, and not put all of us, including HIMSELF, through that agonizing situation?

But, I noticed one thing. After HIS death, I listened more carefully to what HE said. HE had allowed a great wound in my heart to awake my ears and heart to listen more intentionally. Losing HIM once made me more grateful for the time I had with HIM and the people around me. I was also grateful for HIS love for me. One breathes more deeply and feels more intensely when pained.

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HE told us He’d have to leave, and this time I knew it was not another parable. HE would really be leaving and handing us the mantle.

So, the day came. Before HE left, He instructed us to, go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the earth.

 

HE said HIS goodbyes and ascended to heaven. To be honest, the mayhem from all the chaos in the past month or so caused us a lot of fear. We all were a little lost after HE left. He’d left us with more instruction than the first time, but we were hoping HIS next return would be around the corner, but as time passed we realized we had a mantle to carry and a gospel to spread…

After a large gathering, known as the Day of Pentecost, the church began and the gates of Hell have not and will never prevail against it!

Fighting Fear: The Fear of Depression


INTRODUCTION:
When I started writing on Fighting Fear , one of the first people I asked is my friend, Kristi. I have only known Kristi for a year and a half, but I cannot imagine life without her. She has become one of my dearest friends. The one thing I love about Kristi is how quick she is to listen, and to speak truth. Not only do we share the same name, but we both are Pastor’s kids. We both have been Personal Assistants, and share similar ups and downs. It is honestly a joy to have a friend like Kristi. It was during one my hardest seasons that God allowed Kristi and I to meet. If every dark season brought a friend like Kristi, I have little to complain about. Thank you, Kristi, for sharing your heart with us today!

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Depression is like a cancer to your soul, one that comes like a thief in the night.  It steals all joy and light in its path, leaving behind a complete and utter darkness that embodies your very being.

In my very dark and lonely season, I was experiencing a world of confusion. On the outside, my life was full, filled with beauty, and people who loved me.  On the inside it was like my soul was raging war against my mind, breading lies into the deepest part of my soul. “You’re worthless ” it spoke. “No one sees you” it whispered.

The voices without became drowned by the voices within. I could no longer hear the messages that spoke life into my soul, I could only feel a voice within, beckoning me to believe that my life was worthless and void of purpose.

I didn’t choose depression.  I never thought a woman who loved God with all of her heart could struggle with such a dark and deep “thing”.  I didn’t even know what to name it at the time. I struggled to believe I was facing depression until I went to my doctor and licensed therapist. I was diagnosed with major Depressive Disorder.  I took the diagnosis as it was my new identity and wore it like a jacket. Each feeling I felt in the carousel of negativity, circling around me, I began to wear it like an article of clothing.  It felt heavy. Every day I woke up, I chose to put on those same articles of clothing, until one day I realize how much weight I was carrying.

I allowed myself to sit in a state of depression for so long that I eventually believed that’s how I would always be.  Medicine scared me, the therapists made me face my worst fears head on and the people around me didn’t understand. I felt trapped… totally and completely alone. The worst part about it all was that no matter where I went, it was there too. I was stuck with this deep voice that rang loud in my spirit of worthlessness.  My pillow became my daily resting place to cry and moan, yell and groan.  I needed help, I longed to be saved, and I only had one place to go… my room.

One early morning while the sun was still coming up and the light streamed through the curtains in the window, seeming to dance on the walls in my room.  The light was radiant, bright and almost appeared to be glowing.  For the months leading up to this morning I had hibernated in the darkness of my room after work and classes. I found safety in what seemed like shadows and dim lit places.  I hadn’t yet realized that I was entertaining the light dancing across the walls because it seemed so majestic and brilliant.  The more I sat there watching the light, the more I became intrigued at how it moved across my room.  I felt a breeze move through my room suddenly. I quickly glanced over to the window to see if I had left it open. To my surprise, it was closed.  I felt it again.  I turned to the other side as if I had felt it brush against my back. Again, there was nothing.

Then, there in that moment, I heard him speak. “Out of the ashes and the dust you will rise, my daughter”. It was as clear as day, the voice of God rang out in my room and I audibly heard Him speak into my very soul. I fell to the floor and cried out to the Lord, who I thought had long forgotten me. He spoke again. “Awake, oh soul. I AM your victory. I AM yours and you are mine”.  It was there that God spoke life into my being. It was as though He was speaking life into my depression. I felt the weight and burden and voices lift off me, and at the very same moment felt a surge of joy and peace, and renewal enter my body.  Christ had redeemed me once again. He stepped in rescuing me out of the mud and the mire, and releasing me from the snare that so closely entangled my very existence.  Freedom rang loud in my soul that day.

The enemy is cruel isn’t he? He thinks of himself as powerful and crafty and has a soul purpose of devouring any lovely, joyful, happy Christian. I mean, how dare he mess with me for two years!

Fighting depression is a lot like fighting a shark when fishing.  When at first the shark bites the bait on the end of your line, it runs, and I mean hard. If you’re not in good shape or workout you can forget it and call it a day! He will give you a serious run for your money, and you won’t get it back. You’ll likely get dragged into the ocean and eaten alive. Okay that’s a bit dramatic, but go with me here for just a minute.

It’s not a matter of if, but when the enemy will show up. If you’re not ready, conditioned and alert, you too will be dragged out and enticed (not literally eaten, don’t worry).  When shark fishing, you can almost guarantee that every shark has about 4 to 5 minute run in them until they finally tire out.

Let me break this down for you even more.  The enemy is so devious.  He will come at you every which way and doesn’t tire easily, so you have to be prepared to fight through at least a few runs before you can be sure he is long tired out and has decided not to mess with you anymore.  Do you think if you had to reel in a 6-foot Black Tip shark today that your body is well conditioned to handle it?  Well, you don’t have to worry right now if you haven’t made it to the gym in the last couple of months.  The type of conditioning I’m talking about right now is spiritual.

It’s often the battle over your mind that the enemy will target first. Once he has you where he wants you, he will then target your inner core by trying to get you to believe the lies are rooted deep in who YOU are as a person.  It’s all rubbish!  The enemy can’t win!  God is more victorious and will deliver me! These are things I hoped to believe after I was redeemed out of the pit of darkness and depression. I quickly learned that I couldn’t just stop there. This wasn’t a one shark kind of fight. I soon realized that if I was going to do this Christian life well, that I needed to be better spiritually conditioned and on guard for the next time.

For months after I feared I wouldn’t be ready or even strong enough to combat the enemy once again. I was tempted to run and hide all over again and thought maybe the shadow thing would be better. It would maybe be easier to just hide! I was so totally and completely wrong.  The life God intended me to live and the one He is beckoning you to live is one that is FULL of life!  I decided that no matter how many runs the enemy would try to make in my life that I wanted to be ready and totally capable to ward off his crazy nonsense.  I wanted to be fully armed for the next time he would make his attack on my life.  So, I did what I knew God was asking me to do. I got serious about knowing and speaking out God’s truths. I mean, I would daily walk around speaking out scripture. Sometimes I looked like I was talking to myself and I’m sure some people thought I was crazy.

You need to take every thought captive and immediately release it to Him who breathes truth and life so He can replace and renew your thought life.  Lastly, just like when shark fishing how you need at least a partner or three to help you reel in the wild beast of an animal and bring it on shore, you’ll be needing the same in this game.

It’s time we come together and join forces. We are only so powerful and effective alone, so we need to round up some of our most trusted, loyal, and truth-speaking friends.  Invite them on the journey with you.  Doing life together will be one of them most powerful and life giving decisions you can ever make!  I choose three girlfriends who I knew could battle the storms with me and who I could equally influence as well.  Together we decided it was time to take a stand and live the life that God called us to, living like the fearfully and wonderfully made prized daughter of the one true King!

         Watch: Kristi literally catches a shark!

Song of the Week: Not Backing Down, by Blanca

Fighting Fear: The Fear of the Unknown

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I got out of bed to do my quiet time, feeling depleted. My “prayer” sounded more like a complaint and a pitiful plea.

“I can’t do it. I’m overwhelmed. I’m tired and I just don’t know if I can keep up”

I had a lot of responsibilities awaiting me at the office. I had reports to finish. People needed their schedules. Facebook posts to create, the endless to-do list always present in my mind. These things were piled on top of the project deadlines, many of which were overdue. Even when I was off I was thinking of the amount of work left unfinished. I almost didn’t like having time off because I knew I had more to do. So after my pitiful prayer, I was surprised to have this thought, I believe from the Holy Spirit, pop into my head:

“Just focus on loving me, today”

“Just love you?” I thought. “You don’t care if my to-do list gets done? You just care that I love you as I’m doing my to-do list?”

“Yes…”

Suddenly, the weight I felt from thinking about the day crumbled! Like Jesus was taking my load, and just asking me to walk with him. Asking me to hold His hand as a child would her Father while navigating through a busy street.

I don’t remember if my to-do list got done that day, but I remember the pressure I had the majority of the week dissipated. It was simply my job to love him. To love him by making a good post, to love Him by creating a solid report, to love him as I scheduled meetings and production times, to love Him while I worked with my other co-workers. My to-do lists won’t even be a thought in heaven. However, the person I loved well might very well be standing next to me there.

God reminded me of this lesson again but in a different way. My life lately has been and felt a little unsettled. I have so many questions: Should I do this? Should I do that? What interests should I pursue? Should I be more ambitious? Should I wait? What about this prospect? How open should I be?  In life, there is so much to think about. One day can hold a basket of questions that need to be answered.

If I am being honest, the past few weeks have been really difficult. Not because of anything in particular, but because it seemed like nothing was happening. I feel like I’m waiting but I don’t really know what I’m waiting for. The nothingness became wearisome. But then I heard a message by Dr. Michael Youssef. He said when you remember you’re up. When you forget you’re down. I realized my hopefulness had a slow sprung a leak. I was beginning to lose hope. Maybe I was forgotten. Maybe my desires and dreams are just that a dream. Maybe my life will amount to nothing.

After listening to that message by Dr. Michael Youssef I wanted to write a letter back to God. Because, at the end of the day, my purpose in life is not about having a career, having a comfortable life, or having a bunch of letters after my name. My purpose is to love God and love people. As I began thinking on this, I wrote this prayer:

God,

I know I rarely get it right. I know I judge too quickly, rush impulsively, and try to control
everything. I think too highly of myself. I am selfish and get wrapped up in my own insecurity. I go from thinking I can do it all; to thinking, I’m incapable of doing the most menial tasks. But God, I’m asking that you would use me. I know I don’t get things right, but I want to serve you. I know I am not the smartest, but the little I have I’m asking you to use. God, I know I’m not good at showing it and I fail daily, but I do love you. I know I doubt you way too much, but I trust you. You’ve proven yourself time and time again. You’ve loved me past my deepest wounds. You sat with me on my darkest day. You held me as I cried out. You provided when I had nothing. You cherished me when I felt worthless. God, I only have one life and I want to live it for you. Help me to love you. Help me to love others. Those are the most important things you ask. Thank you for loving me enough to come rescue me. God, do the impossible through me for your glory. I am nothing, but with You, I have all I need. Use this life for your purposes.

Love, your girl,
Christi

In life, the unknown is daunting: unknown relationships, unknown diseases, unknown treatments, unknown financial burdens, unknown hardships, unknown life changes. We know nothing about the future. Everything could change in a split second. But one thing I know is that whatever is ahead, my purpose is the same: Love God and love people. Perfect love casts out fear…

Because God fearless loves us, we can fearlessly face this life. Remember: He has already overcome it, and He who is with us is greater… Greater than anything we face.

I’d like you to watch a short clip of a dear friend who is living fearlessly now: All Things Possible: High Risk Missions to Iraq

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Song of the week: Fearless, by Ginny Owens

Fighting Fear: The Fear of Failure

INTRODUCTION:
As you all know, I decided to spend the month of June focusing on fighting fear. I think fear is something we all struggle with. Today, my oldest sister, Rachel, is sharing her thoughts. Rachel has always been not only one of my closest friends, but she also was like the second mother to my siblings and I. It is no surprise that she would have five adorable babies of her own. As I read her blog, I appreciated her transparency. Rachel is one of the most thoughtful and kind people I know. She will stop to check on literally anyone. She always puts others first. I am so grateful that she is not only my sister but also my friend and role model. Love you dearly sis <3!

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My name is Rachel. I am almost 32 years old. I am married and live in a nice house and I have a job. Most days I get out of bed because someone tells me too, or pulls on my clothes to force me to get up. Let me add here, that I am a mother of littles, as I like to call them. And, I struggle with fear.

While everyone may battle many types of fears there is a fear that starts to take hold that first time you see “Pregnant” on your home pregnancy test. All of a sudden you realize how little control you have over the rest of your life. What if your child isn’t born healthy? What if your child dies before birth, during birth or even right after birth? Then again, what if there is more than one child?  These are a few the thoughts that hit first. There are, of course, lots of joy in these moments but lurking around the corner is fear. It doesn’t take much to go from the joy of becoming a mom; into fear of the unknown. Fear of not being enough, fear of not being able to care for your child, fear of not being in control of your body, or your child’s. In motherhood, there is a lot of opportunity for fear.

I struggle to get out of bed sometimes because I am tired, and didn’t sleep enough, and sometimes it’s because I am afraid. One of my biggest fears is failure. As I write that word I feel the heaviness in my heart. I love my children dearly and want to do the best I can for them. I am constantly reminded that my best is not enough. And as a believer in Jesus Christ, I know in my head that He saved me because I am a sinner and it’s not by my actions that I can be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9) but that doesn’t always go to my heart. I fight the fear of failing by looking at Christ and trying to remember the truths of the scripture.

Recently our associate pastor preached a message out of Isaiah 40. It blessed me so much. Chapter 39 ends with some bad news, guess what Israel, you screwed up and there will be consequences, but the first verse of chapter 40 starts off with the word comfort. God told Isaiah to comfort His people. It’s easy to forget that God is a loving God. I picture Him more times than not as a God that brings Justice to His enemies and destroys the wicked. But He also wants to comfort my heart and He knows what fears I have. Later in the chapter, He talks about leading those with young tenderly, again another mention that God knows moms need a little TLC.

You know what else I need? HOPE! Hope that we will make it through today. Hope we can make it through breakfast without spilling a whole gallon of milk. Hope that my children will have clean clothes to wear because hopefully, I finished enough laundry yesterday. Those are some silly examples, but let me tell you what I hope for my children. I hope they meet Jesus early. I hope they walk with Him all their days. I hope they know when life gets tough and lonely that He never forsakes His own. I hope that when I am no longer on this earth they have the hope they will see me again and I, them.

If you came over to my house (you are more than welcome, we have a pretty open home, just don’t mind the clean laundry on the couch and children playing blocks on the floor) you would see lots of quotes and verses taped to my kitchen cupboards. They are there because they remind me to choose God over my fear of failure. Hebrews 6:19-20 states “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast”. It is referring to Jesus Christ. I need that Anchor. When I get overwhelmed by the daily needs of my children, the feeding, clothing, changing, bathing needs. The loving, nurturing, disciplining, teaching needs that I am supposed to meet. It’s so demanding that you can hardly get out of bed in the morning.  I can’t do it again, not today, not when I am still tired and sore from yesterday and, yet, God meets me and with His grace, He leads me. I don’t get everything on my to-do list done, normally I can only get one or two of them done even if my list is ten items long. But God knows that and He isn’t basing my merit off my mom works. He gives me value and worth because I am His child through Jesus Christ. When I seek Him and ask Him to help set my priorities He meets me and the most important things get done.

As far as daily evidence of His help, I have started a little faith test. If there is something my child has a need for, some warmer clothes, a children’s Bible, or a school book. I have started to just ask God to provide it, not because I am worthy, but because He said to ask. He said to trust and He said He is my heavenly Father and He knows how to give good gifts. So far several things have been provided without the giver ever knowing I asked God for it. I am so grateful God loves me and will answer me when I pray. Even when I pray help my unbelief like the father in Mark 9:24. Whether you have one child or 20 you will probably struggle with fear. Keep trusting God, without Him as my anchor and my hope, fear would consume me.

Song of the Week: I Have This Hope, by Tenth Avenue North
Listen Here

 

Fighting Fear: With the Opposite of Fear

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Introduction:
This month’s theme has been Fighting Fear!  Today, my dear friend, Connie, is sharing her thoughts on fear. Connie is one of my heroes. No matter what she goes through, she strives to be more like Christ and it is evident. To be truthful, she is more like a sister to me than anything else. I know you will enjoy her thoughts today :)!
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I’ve been thinking about fear this week, and how my sin is often rooted in fear. And do you know that the Bible commands – commands – me to not fear, not be afraid, and fear not over 100 times? So, fear is a sin, and apparently, one that is common enough and serious enough that God reminds us over and over again to just NOT DO IT. And I think one reason for that is that fear has a lot of power to cut us down, cripple us, and make us forget who we are. It’s a stronghold that has a very… strong hold.

So what’s the opposite of fear? If I choose not to fear if I give my fears to God and sacrifice them on the altar of my heart, what will replace it? One of my craziest fears is that if I let go of my fear, I’ll not have anything left… but I know this is a lie because God never leaves a void in us. Emptiness is meant to be filled by him. So how does he fill the newly-vacant throne of fear? The words that He revealed to me were these: Joy, Trust, Hope, Grace, Peace, Freedom, and Love.
So this week I feel like my prayers are stronger… instead of just asking God to wrench fear from my hands, I’ve been asking him for an exchange – my fears for his hope; my fears for his joy, my fears for his peace… It seems like an unfair trade, but his resources are endless and he is so generous, I don’t think he minds. In fact, I get the feeling he is pleased… And guess what is starting to fill up my heart?!

Connie Chandler
Website: conniesbowlofcherries.blogspot.com

Read my book, Tales of the Great King: Click Here

 

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Song of the Week: Overwhelmed, by BigDaddy Weave
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Fighting Fear: The Fear of Being a Parent

Introduction:
I met Emily through a mutual friend. We used to work at the same company. If I am being completely honest, I was a little jealous that she got to work on the same floor as my friend. They were always around each other, but they never made me feel left out. As we all started hanging out, I loved how down to earth Emily is. She also is a fan of Anne of Green Gables and that always means you know how to be a kindred spirit ;). Emily is someone who I admire a lot. She is courageous, kind, thoughtful, and beautiful in every way! Emily, thank you for taking the time to share your story with us!

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If you had approached me when I was a kid and had asked me, “What are you afraid of?” I would’ve responded in a snap with, “absolutely nothing.” Well, in all honesty, I might’ve said cockroaches! But that was truly about it!

Flash forward to now, and if you were to ask me again, “What are you afraid of?” I could give you a laundry list! An odd thing happened to me after my daughter was born… everything became scary. All of the questions, the potential for danger, it all started running through my head. What if she gets hurt doing this or that? What if something happens to me? What if I don’t meet all of her emotional and physical needs? The list is endless. It can be exhausting.

Recently, something happened with my daughter that really shook my core. I felt REAL FEAR. A fear of losing our bond, a fear of being inadequate, a fear of not being able to fix things. As I cried out and prayed to God, I was led to read a devotion. In this devotion was the story of Abraham and Isaac. A story that I have read and heard my entire life, one that has always been so abstract for me. However, this time it was different. God was using Abraham’s example to teach me.

Oftentimes, when people cite the story of Abraham and Isaac, they focus on the lesson of obedience and faith. Reading this story that night, I felt like I could understand Abraham for the first time in my life, I saw Abraham the man and father.  I can only imagine the fear Abraham felt, the fear of losing God’s greatest blessing to him, his treasured son. Yet despite being terrified of loss, Abraham faithfully presented Isaac to the Lord as a sacrifice. Abraham took his earthly fear, flipped it around for good and in that moment showed that the only fear a man can stand to have, is the fear of the Lord.

God moved me with this story. I’m tired of living a life of fear and limiting God. Every night now I pray to God and offer up my daughter to Him. I surrender my will for her and ask that only God’s will be done. She is His child. She is my blessing from God, but she is still His child. I don’t want to limit God’s power and provisions in our lives any longer. I’m on a crusade to eliminate fear from my parenting, reaffirming Psalm 91:1-2 every day.”

Song of the Week: 
No Longer a Slave to Fear, by Jonathan David & Melissa Helser
Listen Here

Fighting Fear: When I Walk Through the Valley

Introduction:
I do not remember the day I met Katie. So many of my childhood memories have her in them. We grew up in the same church. Our parents were in leadership. Katie and her family have impacted me in ways I never knew possible. Their faith through the hardest of times challenged me. They suffer well and love well. It is truly an honor to have her write a piece of her story for us.

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There are times in life when your circumstances can become overwhelming; when it’s easy to lose sight of the things you’ve always known to be true, and fear comes rushing in to fill the void.

February 11th, I went to surprise my mom at her house. My dad was sick, so I just wanted to pop in and see if she needed any help. My dad suffered a disease that was an autoimmune vascular illness that attacked his organs and severely compromised his immune system, so every cold or flu he got had to be taken seriously. By the time I reached their home, it was clear we were going to have to take him to the hospital. I stayed with them for a couple of hours until other family came to be with my mom, and then I left for home. We’d been through this many times before, so I was confident that once my dad had gotten some liquids and the antibiotics he needed from the IV that he would be fine.

I was wrong. Two weeks later, he was dead.

The night I got home from taking him to the hospital, my sister called me around midnight. Not only was the IV not helping him bounce back like usual, but his test results were so bad, they immediately intubated him and rushed him to the Critical Care Unit of the hospital.

I didn’t sleep after that. I wanted to go back to the hospital, but it was a forty minute drive, and my kids were sleeping, and what was I really going to do? My mind was racing. Was this it? Was this the time I had been fearing since I was fifteen when he was first diagnosed? Was he in pain? Was he aware of what was happening? How was my mom?

Most of those thirteen days were sleepless for me. When I did sleep, I just had nightmares about what was happening. It felt like a rollercoaster; up and down, slight improvement, then a setback, constant nausea in the pit of my stomach. All I wanted was for him to be healed or for God to take him home. I didn’t want to put him in hospice. I didn’t want to make that choice. Would he even want the extreme measures we were already taking just to keep him alive? How could we possibly know what to do? I had so much fear in my heart. Fear that he would die, fear that he would live but as a vegetable, fear that we would have to decide to put him in hospice.

It became clear that my dad was not going to recover. He hadn’t been conscious once since we brought him to the hospital, his heart was damaged, his kidneys weren’t working, his lungs had multiple infections. One night as I was home, my brother, Billy, called me. He told me that the doctors set up an appointment for our family to speak with the hospice center the following morning. It was time to make that decision. The thing about it was, if we chose to do this, they would extubate my dad. They would take out the machine that was giving his lungs breath. I didn’t want to do it. It was too awful. Billy knew that I was struggling, and so he spoke truth into my life. He reminded me of the God we serve. He reminded me that if God wanted my dad to keep breathing, if there was more for my dad here on earth, that He would give his lungs the air that they needed. He also spoke about how there was nothing my dad wanted more than to tell others about God, to point them to the God that we all so desperately need, and that if he could choose a way to go, he would have chosen a way that made all of us lean into God and come to understand Him in a deeper, more meaningful way, exactly like what was happening right now.

What broke through to me the night Billy and I were on the phone was that the entire time my eyes were in the wrong place. I wasn’t thinking about who God was or what He could do, I was thinking about the doctors and the machines and trying to simply weigh the pros and cons of our choices. I had become myopic, only able to see what was right in front of me. God never promised us easy, pain-free lives. What He promised was to always be there and to work good from each situation, and as devastating as this situation was, He was there bringing us peace and comfort. He was there when people brought us food at the hospital. He was there when my friends were texting and calling, checking in on me. He was there by giving us each other, a family strongly knit together, who know how to be each other’s shoulders to cry on and also how to joke until we’re crying from laughter.

My family knew I was the last one to be okay with hospice, so they were talking about how to approach me. Billy spoke up and said that he felt God was telling him he needed to be the one. God was there as he orchestrated the conversation I was in need of to go forward with making the right decision.

The following night we put my dad into hospice. Two days later, February 24th, he passed.

My dad always told me that every good gift in life is from God and that God only gives good gifts. When I focus on that, on my good God, is when I can have peace in the worst of situations. The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear, and the more that I lean into His love, remember how He has been good to me in the past, look at the ways He is currently blessing my life, and expect Him to do the same tomorrow, the more my fear fades into the background.

Song of the Week:
God of the Hills and Valleys, by Tauren Wells
Listen Here

 

Fighting Fear: My Greatest Fear

Introduction: 
For the month of June, I decided to launch a series called Fighting Fear. Each week you will hear a testimony from one of my friends. Today, you will hear from Paula Denny. I have known Paula as long as I can remember. We were both Pastor’s kids. I believe I was Paula’s Awana Leader when she was a Spark. We didn’t talk much as we got older. However, our friendship has changed drastically over the past year. Paula and her husband have walked through some painful experiences. I never knew how painful experiences can morph two people who would not necessarily be close friends into dear sisters. We have had some very real and honest talks about each other, ministry, and life. It is truly a privilege to have Paula share today!

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“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

I cannot think of the exact moment or ways in which I recognized and faced my greatest fear, I do know that the process began in the summer of 2014.  I was working for a mission camp, and during that time, I learned so much about myself and faced many fears, however, one stands out.

My greatest fear was allowing the Lord to expose himself through my flaws.  The verse above was presented to me by a camp leader and it hit my soul like a ton of bricks.  We are simply clay pots, we as Christians, are plain vessels, filled with something so much greater than ourselves, but in order for what’s on the inside to be exposed, it must have a passageway. I already knew that the Lord wanted to expose himself through me, and honestly, I believed that he already was.  I never understood the level of vulnerability that was necessary in order for him to be truly seen from within me.

I was afraid to let the Lord shined through my cracked pot because my cracks were my imperfections–Imperfections that we all have.  Every crack in my pot represented sin, sorrow, shame, fear, or anything imperfect that had been or was currently a part of me.  With each strike of imperfection, came a crack to my clay pot.  The flaws that covered who I am show: my shortcomings, my failures, my sorrow, and my shame.  I spent so much time trying to distract from my flaws, why would I want to bring attention to them?  I spent so much time and effort shielding my cracks, because I did not want others to know of their existence, much less put them on display.

This verse kept coming up throughout the course of the summer and it continued to burden my heart on a daily basis.  I was afraid, that in showing my blemishes, I would distract from the beauty of God within me.  I was afraid that my cracks and scratches would be far too ugly for others to see. I was afraid to surrender my current and past shame and sorrow to the Lord allowing him to do whatever he wanted with them.  I wanted my pot to look put together, I put so much effort into making my pot look as though it had no cracks.  In doing this, I was hindering myself from being used by God, because in our weaknesses, he glorifies himself in a mighty way, if we will only share with him our greatest shames and most sorrowful failures, he will use them and take something so disgraceful in our eyes to be transformed into something adorned with beauty and grace.

Little by little, I began to share my deepest failures, the ugliest parts of my inmost being.  I began to recognize their existence and shared them with the Lord, though he already knew they were there. I became more vulnerable with fellow believers. Allowing myself, and everyone around me to see my clay pot for what it truly was. All of my flaws were no longer hidden, I was free from the burden of hopelessly covering and hiding my cracks without an end in sight.

In finally releasing this fear to the Lord, something beautiful happened.  The Father took all of my cracks and scratches.  He took the sin, sorrow, hurt, and shame, that I had been hiding and he used it.  He used it to show himself through my shortcomings.  He displayed his beauty in areas and situations in my life that were damaged.  He showed himself to others through the cracks in my pot.  He brought me comfort and healing through the holy treasure of his grace.  He made my soul feel refreshed and beautiful among his eyes.

Within the cracks of my clay pot, his light shined, so that he was seen.  The attention was brought to him, not to my shortcomings, as I had feared it would.  No one was focused on my cracks, but rather, they were made witness to the glory of God that was shining through the broken pieces of my simple clay pot.  In surrendering this deep fear of my soul, I experienced joy and relief, so precious to my inmost being.

Remember: There is beauty in broken and flawed vessels. There is beauty because Christ shines through. When we are “whole” no one sees the Light. When we share our brokenness it gives other hope to continue on.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

I cannot think of the exact moment or ways in which I recognized and faced my greatest fear, I do know that the process began in the summer of 2014.  I was working for a mission camp, and during that time, I learned so much about myself and faced many fears, however, one stands out.

My greatest fear was allowing the Lord to expose himself through my flaws.  The verse above was presented to me by a camp leader and it hit my soul like a ton of bricks.  We are simply clay pots, we as Christians, are plain vessels, filled with something so much greater than ourselves, but in order for what’s on the inside to be exposed, it must have a passageway. I already knew that the Lord wanted to expose himself through me, and honestly, I believed that he already was.  I never understood the level of vulnerability that was necessary in order for him to be truly seen from within me.

I was afraid to let the Lord shined through my cracked pot because my cracks were my imperfections–Imperfections that we all have.  Every crack in my pot represented sin, sorrow, shame, fear, or anything imperfect that had been or was currently a part of me.  With each strike of imperfection, came a crack to my clay pot.  The flaws that covered who I am, show my shortcomings, my failures, my sorrow, and my shame.  I spent so much time trying to distract from my flaws, why would I want to bring attention to them?  I spent so much time and effort shielding my cracks, because I did not want others to know of their existence, much less put them on display.

This verse kept coming up throughout the course of the summer and it continued to burden my heart on a daily basis.  I was afraid, that in showing my blemishes, I would distract from the beauty of God within me.  I was afraid that my cracks and scratches would be far too ugly for others to see. I was afraid to surrender my current and past shame and sorrow to the Lord allowing him to do whatever he wanted with them.  I wanted my pot to look put together, I put so much effort into making my pot look as though it had no cracks.  In doing this, I was hindering myself from being used by God, because in our weaknesses, he glorifies himself in a mighty way, if we will only share with him our greatest shames and most sorrowful failures, he will use them and take something so disgraceful in our eyes to be transformed into something adorned with beauty and grace.

Little by little, I began to share my deepest failures, the ugliest parts of my inmost being.  I began to recognize their existence and shared them with the Lord, though he already knew they were there. I became more vulnerable with fellow believers. Allowing myself, and everyone around me to see my clay pot for what it truly was. All of my flaws were no longer hidden, I was free from the burden of hopelessly covering and hiding my cracks without an end in sight.

In finally releasing this fear to the Lord, something beautiful happened.  The Father took all of my cracks and scratches.  He took the sin, sorrow, hurt, and shame, that I had been hiding and he used it.  He used it to show himself through my shortcomings.  He displayed his beauty in areas and situations in my life that were damaged.  He showed himself to others through the cracks in my pot.  He brought me comfort and healing through the holy treasure of his grace.  He made my soul feel refreshed and beautiful among his eyes.

Within the cracks of my clay pot, his light shined, so that he was seen.  The attention was brought to him, not to my shortcomings, as I had feared it would.  No one was focused on my cracks, but rather, they were made witness to the glory of God that was shining through the broken pieces of my simple clay pot.  In surrendering this deep fear of my soul, I experienced joy and relief, so precious to my inmost being.

Remember: There is beauty in broken and flawed vessels. There is beauty because Christ shines through. When we are “whole” no one sees the Light. When we share our brokenness it gives other hope to continue on.

Song of the Week: No Longer a Slave to Fear,
by Jonathan David & Melissa Helser

Listen Here