Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion

Locked Doors

The fact that I suddenly had an unexpected, very tearful breakdown, was evidence that there was still much work to be done.  It was clear that the pains from my past were still much bigger than I thought.

I had truly believed that I’d put my past behind me, and I was much better for it.  I was growing in my faith and in my relationship with God, and I was learning about my true identity.  It’s been a very long road, and I knew it wasn’t over yet, but as I embarked on a 21-day Daniel Fast with the start of the new year, God was revealing to me that I was going to have to unlock some doors that have since grown covered in cobwebs due to lack of use.

As I began the 21-day journey, my prayer was to simply grow closer to God.  I wanted to hear from Him as clearly as my Pastor had on the day God told him to take a tuna sandwich to a stranger around the corner.  I wanted to hear from Him as clearly as my Pastor’s wife had on the day she ended up in the ER with a broken finger because God wanted her to stop, not one, but two people there from ending their lives.  God knew the horrible thing they had each been contemplating, and He sent His faithful servant to tell them that their lives mattered.

Of course, God knew the long-time desire of my heart was to be freed from this issue I’ve always had with food, but I purposely did not want to make that the sole focus of my fast this time. 

It was evident that God was with me on each of those 21 days in those quiet moments, because He had been revealing His presence to me time and again, day after day.  He was speaking to me in ways that were so clear, there was no room for doubt!  I spent some time every day journaling about my journey and about the things God had been revealing to me, and I have decided to share this journey with you in a very transparent way.  I would like to share bits and pieces of my journal entries with you, because it’s much easier than trying to explain the way God was making His presence known to me.

About a week into the 21 days, I had already begun looking for the next bible study I would do after the completion of my fast.  I knew it would take me a good week or two to decide, because I would agonize over my choice- wanting to be sure I was making the right one.  I would pour over book descriptions and customer reviews for days on end, praying that God would reveal His choice for me.  It was odd this time, though, as I came across a study called “The Missing Commandment: Love Yourself.”  Without even reading the back cover, I placed the title into my shopping cart and made the purchase.  I never really gave it another thought after that, and then continued to peruse other titles that might pertain to me.

When my package arrived several days later, I placed the study guide on my shelf, intending to “get to it later” because I had still been searching for the title that God wanted me to do next.  Then Day 18 happened.

I was journaling about a conversation I had with my Daniel Fast accountability partner.  I told her about the three new bible study titles I had been kicking around; one was about living to your fullest potential, one was about personal growth, and one was about the power of daily affirmations.  I was excited to hear her response and thought that if one of them sounded interesting to her, we might be able to do it together.  I was a bit taken aback when her reply was, “Hmm, why do you always feel like you can be better?  You are already an amazing wife, mother, and friend.”

Wow.  It had never occurred to me how obsessed I was with “being better.”  I began to jot down my thoughts in a written prayer.  “Am I trying too hard, Lord?  Is it that old lie of never being enough that keeps me striving for perfection and then berating myself when I miss the mark?  I thought I was past all that.  Why can’t I get free from it?  Will I ever be satisfied with just being me?”  Cue the unexpected, tearful breakdown.

Friends, when I started this blog, I made it no secret that I did not have all the answers, and that we would be “learning together.”  This is a perfect example of that truth.  I really did believe I had overcome my past hurts.  I really did believe I had moved on.  And I have; I have made strides in my healing over the years.  I have forgiven and forgotten, and I have risen above my past hurts by doing a lot of learning about my true identity in Christ.  Unfortunately, some of the pain and negative behaviors are still there, and it’s going to take a little more work before they are no longer an issue.

I continued my journaling after I dried my tears and regained my composure: “I see now that the Love Yourself bible study I impulsively bought over a week ago was no accident.  While I was still browsing other titles, Lord, You kept bringing this to my mind, and now I know why.”  I finished writing out my heartfelt prayer with a renewed sense of hope.    

I made a new commitment to depend even more on Jesus as I prepared to delve deeper.  My bookshelves are covered in bible study materials about health, addiction, a desire for God, battles of the mind, bondage and freedom, and so on and so on.  Never once have I ever entertained the thought of doing a bible study about loving myself.  I had finally gotten the memo, and it was settled!  I had made my decision about what bible study was “on deck” after my Daniel Fast was over.  Then Day 21 happened.

As I was journaling in response to Day Twenty-One’s reading, I reflected on that past Sunday’s church service.  I had an incredible moment at the alter that day, and I had been wanting to share with Greg everything that God had been speaking to me over the last three weeks during my fast.

Although my husband loves the Lord and is ever grateful for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us, his relationship with the Lord has a different dynamic than my relationship with the Lord.  Although Greg spends his own personal time with God on a regular basis, he rarely has time to “go deep” with God like I desire to do for my own walk with Him.  I wanted to share this part of myself with Greg, but “spiritual” conversations with my husband never really come easy for me; I often feel like he wouldn’t understand.  Greg’s faith and trust aren’t quite, for lack of better terms, on the same “level” as mine, and if I’m being completely honest, I sometimes wondered if it was possible for a husband and wife to grow apart in that area while they are thriving everywhere else.

I decided I needed to talk to Greg about how I was feeling, and while this blog post isn’t about dissecting my husband’s relationship with God, I share this very personal conversation with you because it’s very relevant to what happened next.

When I told Greg that God was supposed to be first in his life, then his spouse, then his children, he said something I never expected.  He looked me dead in the eye and confessed, “Well if that’s true, then I’m in the wrong, because the idea of making you ‘number two’ behind anyone or anything is a foreign concept to me.”

I didn’t know how to react to that statement in the moment, though my gut instinct was to crumble into his arms.  I sat in silence for a minute, because I could tell there was something else he wanted to say.  He was fighting the urge but finally gave in when he realized this conversation wasn’t over.  “When you talk about this stuff,” he began, “it makes me…”  he paused there.  I patiently waited for him to voice what he was apparently afraid to put out into the universe.  Then these words came out of his mouth, “Whenever you start talking like this, I’m afraid you’re going to leave me because you think we’re incompatible or something.”

Oh my.  For a split second, I was speechless, then logic kicked in and made me respond with, “Well that will never happen.  I can’t even imagine my life without you.”  When my own words went out into the universe, my floodgates opened.  Something deep inside of him made him worry I might leave him?  I didn’t even know how to process that.  I was always the one who was afraid of people leaving me.  I had never been ‘number one’ in anyone’s life until now.

I wrapped my arms around Greg and curled up into his chest as I reflected on how blessed I truly was to have him as my life partner.  God knew exactly what He was doing, and suddenly I was overflowing with gratitude….

And chastising myself for being so picky.  God brought me a true, blue knight in shining armor, but leave it to me to focus on the flaws.  Wait, back up, there I go again.  Chastising.  “Rebuking or severely reprimanding.”  Well that negative behavior of beating myself up had reared its ugly head once again.

Perhaps the real question, though, is, “Why did I reprimand myself for bringing up a legitimate concern?”  Was I truly being picky, or was I just trying to have an adult conversation about something that was troubling me?  And why did I feel that doing so was not okay?  Did I feel I didn’t deserve to have my concerns addressed because Greg is so good to me?  Of course I did!  And I felt that way because a part of me still believes I’m not worthy.

I’ve spent several years- more than I can count- learning how to reverse these negative behaviors and learning how to dispel the lies of the enemy, but here I am, still learning.  Evidence of my spiritual growth, though, is that I’m starting to recognize it now.  I am learning to hold those thoughts captive as soon as they come, and I’m learning how to make a conscious effort to combat Satan’s lies with God’s truths.

I returned to my journal a little later, recounting the conversation and documenting my feelings and revelations.  I realized that God must think I’m ready to go back “there” again.  He is ready to use His master key on some of those old, locked doors.

I often talk about baby steps when I’m writing for my blog, and I want to take a moment here to remind you that God is constantly working in and through us now, and He will continue to do so until Christ’s return.  During the many years I’ve been working on my Christian research about facing and overcoming past trauma, trials and tribulations, I learned that if God were to give us everything all at once, we would never be able to handle it.  I believe it is by God’s design that He works on us in baby steps.  In John 15:2, we are told, “He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (NLT)

According to Harmony Gardens Landscaping, “Pruning is the cutting away of unwanted parts of a plant for more fruitful growth and shaping.  You should prune a plant or shrub to remove crossed, damaged or diseased branches which will stress the plant. Pruning also improves air flow through the plant and can encourage better branch distribution which results in a healthier, more vigorous plant that is more disease tolerant.”  Is that relevant to how Christ cares for us, or what?

For us to be able to bear good fruit, we need to cut off the “diseased branches” that produce anything opposite of what Galatians 5 teaches us about the Fruits of the Spirit.  And just like a growing tree, it takes times to grow into what God has designed us to be.  Sometimes it will take some pruning and cutting to get there, and that means there will likely be seasons of pain or difficulty.  But consider this truth: “…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 (NKJV)

That being said, I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  While this may be comforting in times of suffering, it’s not entirely true.  (Don’t shoot the messenger!)  If you reference 1 Corinthians 10:13, you will see that Paul was specifically referring to temptation when he said that, not trials and tribulations. 

Here is what God does promise us through His pruning process, however:

  • Strength– “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)
  • Courage– “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”  Deuteronomy 31:8-9 (NKJV)
  • Comfort– “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  Psalms 23:4 (NKJV)
  • Wisdom- “For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”  Proverbs 2:6 (NKJV)
  • Peace- “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 (NIV)
  • Freedom- “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 (NIV)
  • Hope- “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Sharing my journey with you is not meant to make you feel like you’ll never get to the light at the end of the tunnel.  My purpose is to encourage and inspire you.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that, although it might not seem like it right now, something good can, and will, come from whatever it is that the devil used to harm you.  God promises to use our pain for good.  In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (NLT) What a great example of faith and servanthood!

In a nutshell, God helps us to help others.  When we share our stories with the people who need to hear them, we are doing our part to further God’s kingdom by offering hope.  Christ is hope, and that is what my blog is all about.  Letting you know that God is about to do some more “pruning” within me is not meant to discourage you.  My intention is not to diminish your hope, but to ignite it!

We were never promised that our lives would be easy once we’ve turned them over to Jesus, but we are encouraged to stay the course and walk in faith.  Just like a business owner can’t open shop until he gets the loan, and the doctor can’t perform surgery until she gets the education, we can’t bless others until we get an understanding that this isn’t about us.  And don’t think that you have to have it all figured out before you can help others, because that’s just another lie from the pit.  Although we learn our life lessons in baby steps, we can still use what we learned to make a difference in the life of another.

I want to take a moment to thank you for walking through this journey with me, and I want to encourage you to “stay the course!”  God isn’t finished with us yet, so when you feel like you can no longer walk by sight, walk by faith!  He promises that He has a plan for each one of us.  That is the truth I hold onto whenever I begin to feel anxious or discouraged.

*What about you?  What are some of your favorite truths that get you through times of pain, doubt, or fear?  Share them below, because they just might help me out, too!

Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation

You Are Enough

In the newest book by Rachel Hollis, Girl, Stop Apologizing, chapter four talks about the fourth excuse women use when they can’t or won’t even try to accomplish their goals. The excuses provided in her book before and after this one are equally important, but this excuse was one that is extremely relative to my story, and therefore, I am sharing it with you here: the excuse that tells you, “I’m not enough to succeed.”

I mentioned in my More About Me page that I had been mentally and verbally abused.  From the age of about eight or ten up until the time I moved out at 18, I was told by my step-father that I was a worthless, lazy glutton that would never amount to anything.  There were many variations of these words, but the message was always the same… and I grew to believe it.  (Before I go any further, I absolutely need to make sure all of my readers know that my dad was a completely different person when I was growing up.  He has since found the Lord, we have repaired our relationship, and we are closer than ever!)

As an adult, I found that I was caught in a never-ending cycle of perfectionism and dissatisfaction.  No matter what I accomplished, it wasn’t enough.  This makes sense because as I was growing up, if I earned a “B” on a test, I was told it should have been an “A” instead.  If I cleaned the bathroom top to bottom, he found the one hair I missed on the sink.  I’m sure I don’t need to give any more details for you to get the idea.

Unfortunately, if that was my dad’s way of “encouraging” me to reach for the stars, it severely backfired.  It turned me into an unfulfilled and unsatisfied perfectionist who couldn’t see the good in anything she did.

I constantly beat myself up for not going to college every time I didn’t get the job I wanted.  When I published my first book, I was convinced it “didn’t count,” because I self-published instead of finding an agent.  And when I did go back to college, I earned my Associate’s Degree with a 3.9 GPA but was devastated that it wasn’t a 4.0. In short, I had let the size of my paycheck (and the size of my body!) determine my value and worth instead of walking in my God-given identity.

Do you see why Excuse #4 in Rachel’s book totally resonated with me? I highly recommend this book, (as well as her first one, Girl, Wash Your Face).  But, until you get your own copy, I want to share with you a life-changing exercise that she encourages us to do when we are in doubt about our ability to achieve our dreams.

She tells us to write a letter to ourselves.  It should be from that part of us that never gave up.  It should be from our “persistence and tenacity,” and we are to focus on all the things we have done instead of all the things we haven’t done.  She even encourages us to update it as often as necessary. In her book, she candidly shares with us the very first letter she wrote to herself when this exercise was suggested to her, and now I am going to candidly share my letter with all of you.

Please know that I am not sharing this to be boastful, but to be transparent.  I want to be relatable to you, and if nothing else, I want to jog your memory about some things you have accomplished that you may not have thought of yourself!  Know that if you choose to do this exercise, your letter will be for your eyes only, unless you want to share it with someone else who needs to be encouraged!

Use your own voice.  This letter is to you, from you.  Be honest.  Tell it like it is, and don’t worry about grammar or spelling.  I intend to make a copy of mine for each of my girls, so I can leave a legacy of confidence, not cowardice. With that, here is my letter:

Dear Alicia,

Hello, woman!  Wake up and pay attention, because this is a very important letter that contains a lot of very important information.  Hi, this is your Persistence & Tenacity, now listen up!

First of all, straighten up that crown of yours and act like the princess you are!  Why?  Because it was no accident that you were adopted into the Royal Family.  Not only did God choose you from the very beginning, but you chose Him, too.  And you did it because you are a good mother!  When you had your first child, you wanted a different life for her than what you had.  You looked at that precious little baby and then made a life-changing decision for both of you.

Not only did you want God to be an important part of your lives, but you did something more… you stopped the cycle!  You stopped the cycle of partying; you stopped the cycle of divorce; and most importantly, you stopped the cycle of abuse.  You have overcome and risen above!  You chose to rise above your circumstances.  You wanted better for your life, so you endured more than ten years of scary and painful therapy.  You learned healthy ways to cope with trauma, stress, and fear.  You made yourself forgive, so you could step forward and step up.  Then….

You spoke to large crowds of people about it!  And here’s a newsflash for you… you are a great public speaker!  You may have been a hot mess on the inside, but you never showed it on the outside.

You pursued further education- twice.  You not only did your two-year Literature Course after graduation, but when you went back to school to get your Psychology degree, you were 38 years old, working part-time, raising three kids, and leading a Girl Scout Troop!  When you got that Associate’s Degree, you got it with a 3.9 GPA.  Let’s not forget… You wrote a novel!  You wrote it, then you learned how to self-publish it, and you were able to self-edit it, too.  Now you have a book on Amazon!  And you think you haven’t accomplished anything yet?  Come on, girl.  Don’t be ridiculous.

Okay, now let’s talk about the elephant in the room… your health and body.  Remember when I reminded you of all the family cycles you stopped?  Well how about the cycle of constant overeating and bad food choices?  When this health & wellness company came into your life, the Holy Spirit gave you the power to overcome, and now you are heading towards Food Freedom!

Last but not least, let’s talk about that dirty little four-letter “F” word…. FEAR!  Listen, girlfriend, if you were to have a check list of all the times you showed Fear who’s boss, it might look something like this…

You hate being the center of attention, but you became a public speaker because you wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.  You were always a shy introvert, but you faked it until you made it, and now you’re a people-person!

When your daughter was going through her medical trauma and had to have two brain surgeries and then a Bilateral Adrenalectomy, they were the scariest times of your entire life.  You not only had to be strong for her, but you learned how to give up control and trust God.

When your other daughter was away at college, which was scary enough by itself, your heart sank every time she called home because you never knew what was waiting for you on the other end of the line.  But, your daughter needed you, so you faced it every single time because you knew that burying your head in the sand would not help her overcome.

Despite being a nervous wreck, you’ve driven in busy cities by yourself, you’ve gracefully made it through over a dozen job interviews in your lifetime, and they don’t even make you nervous anymore, you’ve had three surgeries, you’ve survived losing a parent, you’ve gone through intensive training to do volunteer work at a crisis pregnancy center, you’ve gone through more intensive training to become a certified lay minister, you’ve taken steps to start your own ministry at church, you became an entrepreneur, and you’ve had to kill spiders all by yourself when no one else was around!

The list of ways in which you have conquered fear goes on and on, so why let fear hold you back now?  As your favorite friend, Winnie the Pooh says, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  And you…are not…a quitter.

Be proud of all those hats you wear!  Wife, mother, author, online content writer, public speaker, entrepreneur, college graduate, spiritual leader, family secretary, prayer warrior, and one heck of a tenacious, goal digging, go-getter!

Before I go, let me remind you of the lyrics from one of your favorite songs…

“Fear, you don’t own me.  There ain’t no room in this story.  And I ain’t got time for you telling me what I’m not like you know me, well guess what?  I know who I am!  I am strong, brave, and I am free.  I’ve got my own identity!  So, Fear, you will never be welcome here!”

Another hat I wear is Encourager. Now I encourage you to grab a journal & a pen and your favorite feel-good beverage, and get writing. Here, I’ll start it for you: Dear (your-name-here), this is your Persistence & Tenacity, and I want to remind you that YOU ARE AWESOME! And do you know why?

Fill in the blanks.

Don’t be scared; it’s easier than you think once you get on a roll! For a little extra encouragement, maybe you first want to take a listen to the song I referenced in my letter. You can do so here. Download it, install it, save it, or whatever you do to get it on your favorite device, and listen to it every day!

*You don’t have to share your letter with me, but if you want to share any part of it, or if you want to share anything about how it made you feel, I would welcome those comments! Kick Fear to the curb, and happy writing!*