Posted in Blog, Encouragement/Motivation, Faith & Religion

Attitude of Gratitude

With this being the week of Thanksgiving, it is only natural for us to think about the things for which we are thankful.  Of course, we will always be thankful for our family, friends, etc.  I love when our family sits around the table and takes turns announcing what we are thankful for- trying not to repeat everyone else’s answer!  But in addition to those awesome blessings, I like to think about the things that make me grateful unto God that are a little less obvious.  If there were nothing else, the sacrifice on Calvary would be enough for me.  If there weren’t one other thing I could think of, God sending His only Son to die on my behalf would be more than enough.  Oh, but there is so much more…

Sadly, many people focus on the negative.  For some, they only turn to God when they need something, instead of thanking Him every day for the “little things.”  For others, they might wonder why God allows so much suffering in the world.  Some people don’t even believe that God exists!  But let me assure you… there not only is a God, but He is alive, and He cares about His children- big and small.  The fact remains that there is evil in this world; it’s just that simple.  We have a real enemy who will stop at nothing to steal, kill, and destroy.  God doesn’t “make” bad things happen.  The truth is that God gives us free will to make decisions- good or bad, and the devil will use that free will to lead people into making bad choices.  Unfortunately, those bad choices, more often than not, affect others.

Why such negativity at a time of year when we should be filled with happiness, peace, and gratitude?  Because thinking of how God spared me from far worse fates during those times when evil was wreaking havoc in my life makes me want to jump for joy!  My story is a little different from others who have suffered such great trauma and tragedy in their lives.  For me, it was never about how God “let me down” or “wasn’t there for me.”  I was never, not once, angry with God because of the things that happened to me in my childhood.  In fact, I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t angry with God!  I didn’t realize it then, but God had my fragile heart in the palm of His hand from Day One, and He knew I was going to need Him.

For starters, there is the fact that I suffered with Dissociative Amnesia for a number of years- I still do.  I just could not remember any sexual abuse or trauma, and when I started to realize I “fit the bill” for such events, I was obsessed with trying to remember every sordid detail.  I didn’t want to remember the details in order to dwell in the abuse, but I realized that remembering details was more like my way of feeling validated.  Like, somehow if I remembered the actual events themselves, I wouldn’t be “crazy.”  I was one of those who thought, “something like that could never have happened to me.”  It absolutely tormented me.

I was not a survivor who remembered mental pictures, but rather, I remembered sounds, smells, circumstances.  My therapist made me realize that maybe I didn’t have “visual” memories because I could have had my eyes closed the whole time.  I had never given that a thought.  I had been in and out of therapy for over ten years putting all the pieces together, and when I finally found out what had happened to me, I was shocked and horrified, but all of a sudden, things about me and my life finally started to make sense.

I was attending an intense spiritual retreat in 2009 when the Lord finally delivered me from the heavy oppression I had been living with every day.  If you can imagine a fifteen-year-old boy having full-blown sexual relations with an 8-year-old little girl, that was me.  After much calculating and deducing, I learned that it started around the time I was just five years old, and he was twelve.  I was going through this assault and violation repeatedly for at least three years; no wonder I couldn’t remember anything!  And why would I want to?

I no longer needed those visual memories to feel validated.  God knew the truth, and that’s all that mattered.  I finally gave that part of myself up to God at that retreat, and I felt lighter than air!  I couldn’t even walk back to my room that night without help, and it is an experience I will cherish as long as I live.  God protected me from those visual memories because He didn’t want me to have to relive it all, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

There are more instances like this than I can count.  Instances of God’s protection have been evident in my life all along, and although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I can look back over my life and see where He was in every moment.  Not only did God protect my heart and mind while I was the target of someone else’s bad choices, but He gave me a supernatural ability to forgive.  In my Psychology studies, I learned that it was my perpetrator’s way of feeling in control.  God gave me the supernatural understanding that he was only doing to me what others were doing to him.  God also freed me from the burden of unforgiveness, so He could protect me from living a life filled with anger and bitterness.

When Greg and I first got together, I went to a hypnotist because I so desperately wanted to remember what exactly had happened to me to make me the way I was- neurotic, insecure, and depressed.  Back then, I was overwhelmed with the need to have some kind of proof that there was a reason behind my emotions and negative behaviors.  We weren’t Christians then, and I didn’t know that being hypnotized was a big no-no!  But God was with me even then- years after the trauma- in more than one way. 

I was having a great deal of trouble going “under,” and I wasn’t sure what was hindering the process.  I wanted it so badly, but I just couldn’t relax.  I know now that God protected me from being subjected to, not only that kind of vulnerability, but also from letting Satan have his way with me.  No matter how long or how hard he tried, the hypnotherapist just couldn’t succeed in getting me to “sleep.”

The icing on the cake?  This was at this man’s personal home, and he had sent Greg to pick up our take-out that we’d ordered.  I was alone with this stranger on his own stomping ground, not even in an office, but on his couch.  Greg didn’t want to leave me there, but I insisted.  I believed that I couldn’t relax enough for the hypnosis to work, because I was embarrassed that this was happening in front of my future husband.  I convinced myself that I was just afraid Greg would learn something about me that I didn’t want him to know.  The bottom line is that the hypnosis failed, and I never tried it again.  Was God with me in that moment or what?

As a teenager, God protected me from being assaulted more times than I can count.  When I was younger, I was often called nasty names because I would let the boys believe one thing about me, but then I wouldn’t live up to their expectations when they wanted to take things too far.  As an older, more promiscuous teen, God protected me from sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.  Even more spectacular is that He went as far as to let me find my one true love early in life.  Greg and I were married by the time I was nineteen, and we are still like newlyweds over twenty-five years later!  I was headed down a slippery slope, and God redirected my path.

God not only redirected my path, but He has blessed me in ways I never could have imagined.  In Jeremiah chapter 30, verse 17, the Lord says, “For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds.” (NKJV)  In Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 3, we learn that, “God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered.” (MSG)  Isaiah, in chapter 61, verse 7, proclaims, “Instead of your shame, you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace, you will rejoice in your inheritance.  And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” (NIV)

There are so many more verses than just these that tell us of the restitution God promises.  I grew up fatherless (at least without a good example of fatherhood) and learning about intimate love in all the wrong places, with all the wrong people.  When God brought Greg into my life all those years ago, little did I know how God was going to pick up all my scattered pieces and restore what I had lost.  Greg is such a loving husband and wonderful father that he ended up being so much more than a double portion!

I don’t want to be misleading here.  I am not trying to pretend there were no repercussions from the trauma; that is far from the truth.  As a young adult, I spent what felt like an eternity dealing with distrust, insecurity issues, paranoia, claustrophobia, and of course, depression and anxiety to name a few.  I exhibited negative behaviors and thought patterns, too, but with God’s help, I was able to be freed from those damaging emotions after a lot of time and hard work.  He was with me every step of the way- before, during, and after.  And He is with me still.  I know that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

After all I’ve mentioned in this post, I must let it be known that these are just a few examples of why I am grateful unto God.  He has done so much more for me than I could ever tell.  From giving me a supernatural understanding that He was not to blame for my past trauma, to giving me daily blessings today, God has continually shown me His faithfulness, provision, and unconditional love.  That is a lot for which to be thankful!

One story I hold near and dear to my heart is of a particularly bad day when I had been struggling, yet again, with poor self-esteem and body image.  Greg has always been faithful in telling me I was beautiful and that he loved me so much, and on this particular day, I had a break down in the bathroom and asked God to show me what people were seeing in me that I didn’t see in myself.

As I was staring intently into the mirror, my reflection suddenly went out of focus.  Right before my eyes, I watched as long, dark wavy hair began to frame my face.  My nose somehow grew slightly pointier, and my eyes became a bright, piercing color I couldn’t quite identify.  Even my skin seemed to darken a bit, and I thought the light had somehow shifted in the room.  It seemed to happen in slow motion, but yet so quickly, too.  I blinked in shock, and everything had gone back to normal just as suddenly as it had changed.  Oh my goodness… Jesus was showing me Himself!  He was telling me that people saw Him when they looked at me!  It was similar to the experiences that, until then, I had only read about.

On another day, I was on my way to a job that I had grown to dread.  It had gotten to the point where my work ethic and willingness to help others was taken for granted, and I had begun to feel taken advantage of more often than not.  I had been praying for God’s direction in making a decision about whether or not to seek employment elsewhere, and I found myself stopped at a red light.  Right in front of me, hovering above my car, was an eagle in flight.  I had rarely even seen an eagle in passing let alone hovering over my vehicle for the duration of the red traffic light!  God was reminding me, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

Even in moments that aren’t quite as intense, there are evidences of God’s presence and faithfulness all around if you know where to look for them.  Even if you aren’t consciously looking for them, just being aware of your surroundings will help you see them.  One crisp Autumn morning when I left the house, the car windows were all frosted over- save for one little spot right in my line of sight when I got into my vehicle to start it up and put on the defroster.  There was one little clear spot- in the shape of a perfect heart- singled out amidst a whole windshield of thick frost.  God was sending me a little love note, and I didn’t even have to ask Him for it!

I am grateful unto God for always taking a moment to remind me of His love and of His presence in my life.  Although the earth is His footstool, He is El Roi, the God who sees me.  He sees little old Alicia from a map dot in Pennsylvania, and He cares about me in the big things and in the little things.  He has never let me down, and He never will.  He feels the same way about you, and He wants you to know that He is everywhere, in every moment.  He promises, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” (Jeremiah 29:13)  How thankful I am that God makes Himself so readily available to us!

Have an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving, and take time to remember who God is and what He means to you.  Look back over your life, and challenge yourself to point out those moments when you doubted His presence but now realize He was there all along.  And if you can’t think of one other thing He has ever done for you… remember to lift up a thanksgiving for His sacrifice on Calvary that made you free! 

 

 

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!*