Theme Word for 2017

Do you choose a word for the year?

I follow several bloggers who do this, and my folks do it, too – chose a theme word for themselves. A twist on New Year’s Resolutions, the word or phrase is something that they’ve chosen to represent what they’re looking forward to with God in the next 12 months. They pray about it, toss ideas back and forth, and eventually come to a one word or short phrase to sum it all up – their theme for the year. Examples: Return. Quiet. Finish strong. Happiness. Balance. Go bold. Rest. Pause.

I’ve been thinking – but only halfheartedly – about a word, and sort of praying about it when it crosses my mind. So I’ve not put real effort into this, but it seems that God is trying to get my attention anyway – He keeps giving me “contentment;”  the word fills my mind and Spirit. As if God is whispering to me, “Be content, my child. Stop yearning. Stop planning. Simply be with Me, and find yourself settled.”

Being content in my current circumstances – living in VA, working in my job, days of solitude, as empty-nesters, in the position of participant instead of leader, in parenting adult children, in long days of just me and the kitty until my husband comes home.

None of these things define me. They are simply where I find myself right now. God defines me, and He’s telling me to rest in Him. That I am His beloved, His daughter, His joy. I’ve entered a new season of my life, and He wants me to do that with Him leading the way. I’m to trust Him and what He says, and He’ll take care of all the details for what’s to come.

I do this by spending quality time with Him. Opening the Bible to see what it tells me about who God is and how He sees me. Praying His Word and my requests – bringing my honest self to our time together, and letting Him fill my heart with His love. Replacing my fears and insecurities with the truth about who I am in Christ.

Contentment will bring gratitude. Thankfulness for so many blessings of my life: my wonderful husband, my delightful adult kids, my home, my job and the opportunity to serve others, a church to worship with fellow believers, a Bible study to meet women who love the Lord. Living in a country where we can gather without fear for our lives as we worship and study and pray. For family. For friendships old and new and still to come.

Contentment will bring peace. Settling into my new hometown. Adjusting to my new roles. Not longing for the past or trying to figure out the future, but living in the present. Learning new things, new places, new people.  Being open to who and what God has for me each day, one day at a time. Paul said it in Philippians:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13, NIV

I can be content because God promises to give me the strength to do so.  If I have any success in my word for the year, it will be because He helped me do it – to Him be the glory.

Homesick

I’m homesick today, and I don’t even know for which home. I’m grieving double.

We lived in FL for 14 months, so I was just finally getting settled in. I knew my way around town, had a church to call home, the start of some very nice friendships, a routine that I enjoyed most days. Liked Bible Study, loved my Moms In Prayer friends, had great neighbors. Loved my house.

Now I’m starting all over and I’m lonely. I’m grieving the loss of friends. Ok, they’re not lost, they’re just not here. And in many ways, I’m grieving the move to FL again, as I grieve this move to VA. That caught me by surprise this morning. Grief can bring back old grief.

I find myself thinking of my older home, my WI home, the place I moved from when we went to FL. I’m missing my old streets and house and friends and neighbors and co-workers and church. It’s as if I just moved from there, as I’m homesick for them all over again. Even though I went through grief when we moved to FL, it’s as fresh today as it was the first time.

Granted, I’ve only been in VA for fifty-one days. Hardly enough time to settle into a routine, let alone have any friends. But I find myself asking God, “Didn’t I just do this?” I am reminding myself that I told God I’d go where He wanted me to go. I have to remind myself, or I’ll get lost in the pity-party. I think He wanted us to come here, for my husband’s job opportunity and for new adventures together as a couple. I know we prayed about it and sensed God’s leading.

But I’m so lonely. God truly is all I have all day long. I’m trying to practice that, live in that, be content in that. God is all I have.

He is supposed to be all I need. We sing those words. We read those words. Do I mean those words? Do I live them? Is He really enough, or do I only mean it when everything else is in order, in my order?

I know that time will help. I will begin to learn my way around this new place in VA, and I pray that it will start to feel comfortable soon. It will be at least a year before I can call it home – I know from all my earlier moves that’s how long it takes. But it’s really hard in the meantime. And the days are quiet and very long.

So I’m learning, at a deeper level, to listen to God in the stillness. To hear Him assure me that He is enough. He is all I need. He will supply all my needs. He understands my tears. He will draw near when I feel broken-hearted. He is the lover of my soul. I will tell myself these truth-promises until my eyes dry and I can rest quietly in His arms.

Getting My Attention

I just love it when I realize that God is teaching me a lesson, when He speaks to me from several venues, but always the same message. And when I get it, I say “Ohhh. I’m listening now, Lord!”

A couple of days ago, I was reading my devotional from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I love this book – such a great way to start my day. The point of her message was that when I chose to spend time with God, meditating on His Word, He will give me His peace to replace my fears and worries.

I then opened my email, read an e-devotional by Ann Voskamp (A Holy Experience), and was reminded that I am not what the media would tell me I am, but that God is the One who sees me as beautiful. When I think of myself as fat or out of shape or unattractive, I was encouraged to replace the messages from magazines and TV with the truth of God’s Word, that He calls me Beloved. He sacrificed Himself for me, He loves me unconditionally, completely. He sees the inner me, and I am beautiful in His eyes.

A couple of emails down, I read my e-devotional from Jennifer Lee, and it reminded me about taking my thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). So when I’m thinking that I don’t measure up, I wish I had a better body, I feel inadequate because my days are long and I don’t see how I’m contributing anything to anyone, then I need to recognize that these are not thoughts from Christ.  They are lies that cause me to question my value. But Christ says I’m valuable, I’m treasured, I’m important, I’m loved – so much that He died for me. And His words are Truth.

After journaling about these lessons and finishing my morning emails, I flipped on the TV as background noise for while I was knitting. Enjoying Everyday Life with author Joyce Meyer was on, and I found myself watching instead of knitting. She told the audience to be careful with thoughts, that dwelling on the negative ones is contrary to how God wants us to think. “Ohhh, I’m listening now, Lord!”

I recalled Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” 

Four separate venues, but all to get my attention. God wants me to think truth, not lies, and when I do, I will be flooded by His peace (You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3).

God reminds me that I am His treasured child and He has a plan all worked out for my good. I don’t need to fret about our relocation and living situation, or my body image, or what my future holds. I am to spend time with Him in His Word, and keep doing what He gives me to do. And when I choose to release my worrisome and negative thoughts to Him, He will give me His peace to replace those thoughts.

I’m so glad He got my attention.

 

 

How God Spoke to Elijah

I’ve always loved the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Ever since my first depressive episode, I’ve especially appreciated the part in the story after the Mount Carmel encounter. The story when Elijah is exhausted and discouraged and ready to give up, and God meets his needs in very specific ways.

In I Kings 18, Elijah had an amazing showdown with the prophets of Baal vs. God, and God proved Himself in a big way. The prophets of Baal were defeated and killed. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were furious, and so Elijah “ran for his life.” He went into the wilderness, where he collapsed from exhaustion and asked God to let him die. Instead, God let him rest, fed him, let him rest again, and fed him once more. Then Elijah ran for 40 days and 40 nights, and he spent the night in a cave at Horeb, the mountain of God.

It’s not clear, but perhaps Elijah was hiding in the cave. Maybe he was still exhausted and discouraged. But God wanted to remind Elijah of His great power, and that Elijah was not without hope because God was still with him. He told Elijah to “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (v. 11a)

First, God displayed His power to Elijah in a great and powerful wind, then in an earthquake, and then  in fire. But the Bible says that God was not in the wind, nor the earthquake nor the fire. Finally, God spoke to Elijah in “a gentle whisper.” After all that Elijah had been through, and his feelings of depression and defeat, God spoke to him in a gentle whisper.

When I read these verses this week, this really stood out to me. That God would speak to a man, hurting and tired and feeling alone, in a gentle whisper. That He is so kind as to be gentle. Not a voice in the wind, or earthquake, or fire. But in a gentle whisper.

Elijah was listening. And God was gently assuring, encouraging, and challenging. He reminded Elijah that he was in no way alone – there were 7000 others who followed God. He reminded Elijah that He was all-powerful God, and that He was with Elijah as Elijah served Him as prophet. He told Elijah of Elisha – his soon-to-be companion, assistant, and replacement.

God responded to Elijah’s battle with the prophets of Baal by exceeding expectations of proof of His existence as the only true God. He cared for Elijah with rest and food, equipped Elijah to run to safety, and spoke to him gently.

Such a personal God we love and serve. Meeting us at exactly our point of need, in just the way we need to hear.

Reaching From Mental Illness to Mental Health

Many weeks ago, in commenting back and forth with fellow blogger Dawn Liz Jones, she challenged me with:

I would be interested to know why or in what ways it is hard to reach from mental illness to mental health. I know for me, it was definitely hard work, with God’s help and grace. Only if you’re ever willing to share. Would make a very helpful and insightful post. – dawnlizjones

Be sure to check out her blog – great Bible insights and personal stories – Inspiration with an Attitude!

How can I reach from mental illness to mental health? Why is it hard?

A major part of my struggle in reaching toward mental health is that health feels gradual, and my descent into mental illness – particularly Major Depressive Disorder with some anxiety – felt very sudden. Looking back on it, it wasn’t sudden; it was a slow decline over many months. But it was life changing for me. It’s easy to spot the negative, to see the low points – my hospitalization was a huge “defining moment” – and to focus on the illness part of my diagnosis. In many ways, I’ve allowed depression to define me, to become part of my identity. I have life before depression, the diagnosis and later hospitalization, and then the “ever since.”

My therapist Ted always wanted me to speak of depression as a different entity, not a part of me but separate, and name the friends depression brought with it (ie, anxiety, loneliness, negative self-talk). He wanted me to see that this was not me, not part of who I am, but instead an unwanted outsider who desired to take over my thoughts and emotions.

That’s great to say, and much harder to put into practice. My depressive episodes – for over 8 years now – are part of my lifetime experiences, and they help shape me. Whether I should or not, I define myself by them. I identify myself as a Christ follower who struggles with depression, may have it all of my life, and so am learning to live with it. That means recognizing my symptoms, my markers, and my triggers and responding appropriately to keep depression away as much as possible.

My mental health is not easy to define except as the absence of mental illness. Illness is much easier to name – depression and anxiety. So health must mean something different, or I will never again be mentally healthy, since I see myself as one who struggles with mental illness.

For me, then, mental health is more about learning how to live in the better moments of my illness or when symptoms have subsided and when I’m in remission, like now. Health also means learning to recognize those steps I can take that help with it – eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, following my treatment plan. Finally, health means recognizing signs that show something might be awry, that depression is fighting for a way in again. Recognizing those markers and triggers can help me take other steps needed to keep it away – giving myself permission to do less and rest more, bumping up my exercise, being more forgiving of myself and more gentle with myself in my own thoughts.

There’s another piece too, and that’s reminding myself to see me the way God sees me. He doesn’t define me as mentally ill. He defines me as His adopted daughter, His precious child, wholly and dearly loved, forgiven. Walking in this world with its troubles, but walking with His Holy Spirit as my Guide. Not alone. Not a mess. But beautiful in His eyes.

The awareness ribbon color for mental health is lime green, for depression it is green, and for mental illness it’s gray. Into the first few years of my depression diagnosis, I had my good friend Carol make a bracelet for me, a mixture of green and lime green stones – it is beautiful. I wore it proudly, as a reminder and hopefully a conversation starter about mental health and depression awareness. But then a few years later I read someone’s comment about the need to bring attention to mental illness, not specifically mental health, because mental illness is the taboo topic. I thought on that a long time, and it makes a lot of sense to me. We can talk about mental health, but that isn’t the issue – mental illness is. So I asked Carol to make another beautiful bracelet – this one is gray for mental illness awareness. I wear it a lot.

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And they look good together, too.