Security in Christ When You’re Fearful

Hoh National Forest in Washington state. Great place for a prayer walk and to thank God for His creation!

“Hopeless”. “Desensitized”.  “Numb”. “I don’t feel safe here”. “I’m always looking over my shoulder”. “ I feel like I always have a bullseye on my back”. “This happens all the time”. I’m honestly ready to die”. 

  These words, spoken by my former students, shattered my heart. I looked around at the Black and Brown solemn faces, resignation and weariness etched in the expressions. What was frightening was how permanent those etchings were. 

I teach 9th grade English and part of the school culture is “healing circles”. Healing circles happen when there’s harm done in a community; usually a classroom where a fight breaks out or a major conflict between two students. The circle is meant for everyone to express, openly and without interruption, how they were impacted by the event. In this circle, we spoke about the Buffalo, NY massacre where almost a dozen, mostly African American, were killed by an 18 year old white male. 

A young man who could have been one of my students. 

We are living in troubling times; a two year pandemic, natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, the war crisis in Ukraine and ever present gun violence. According to the National Public Radio there have been 198 mass shootings in the United States. Everyday a news article pops up detailing a shooting in New York City.

Sometimes it’s all too much. 

When I listened to my students a heartbreak and fury arose in me. I am furious at lawmakers, politicians, guns rights advocates, adults in general. We have to do better for our children. They deserve to live in peace. They deserve to live without a cloak of heavy fear weighing them down. 

I too at times feel hopeless. The Bible tells us “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, and they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31, New International Version). 

What happens when all you want to do is faint?   

There is no easy, quick 1-2-3 remedy. In troubling times, God understands that we are running on empty.  The Bible is excellent at giving feedback on when you’re just too fed up with this chaotic world. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). In thinking about this, here are a few ways I can share on how I  remain hopeful when the world is going crazy around us; 

  1. Find a quiet place in nature (a park or taking a walk in a garden or wooded area): I love going on nature walks when I need a break from the noise of the world. Praying in a park or a beach, sitting down under a tree and journaling are great ways to appreciate the natural artistry of God’s creation. Being in nature reminds me how vast God’s majesty and sovereignty are. 
  2. Healing circles and support groups: Part of what attracted me to the High school I teach at was their response to community tragedies. The support staff and administration do an excellent job of preparing students to lead Healing circles. Being able to hear from your peers and know that we are feeling going through the same trauma helps us be more connected. Churches are also great spaces to s
  3. eek out people who will pray with and for you when the world gets too overwhelming.
  4. Gratitude Journaling: One of my friends gave me a challenge; everyday list five things you’re grateful for. focusing on what’s going well and how God blesses you can shift your mindset away from the negativity around you.  

Lastly, living without fear. When you look at the news, Facebook, twitter and other social media; we’re inundated with negativity. I always hold on to 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (New King James Version). God wants to live without looking over our shoulder for something to go wrong. Of course we should live wisely, be aware of our surroundings and let family and friends know where we are if we have to be out late or going on a long trip. However, God gave us life to live in full, not in fear. 

At the end of our circle, one of the students said “This is why I cherish every moment like it’s my last”. I hope that all of us have an aquarium filled with moments of laughter, joy, peace and love.  

With Love, 

Leah 

Resources: These are the websites of churches I’ve attended that have prayer teams and support groups. 

  1. Palabras De Vida (Words of Life): https://ccpvida.org/
  1. New York City International Christian Church: https://newyorkcityicc.org/contact/?fbclid=IwAR3RzjPmG2PQx5CdgUcfMv5ZHAlW2Z0-ku8UHdqqxW6uoFL0kkyMif3GxwE
  1. C3 NYC: https://www.c3.nyc/  
  2. Rejoyce in Jesus Ministries : https://rejoyce.online/

Security in Identity

Grand Etang National Park, Grenada. Being the beautifully and fearfully made person of God!

“You should ask the women how they see you”.

I sat across from my friend, ***Tara, as she took another sip of her drink. What she was referring to was for me to ask the women in my Bible talk how they perceived me. 

Earlier in the day, during the fellowship break at Sunday church service, *Tara approached me me all smiles and sunshine radiating in each step she took. I tried to smile away the unease that had been resting inside my stomach since I left my apartment. 

“How are you?” She asked. 

“We’ll talk”. I replied. “We’ll talk”, is code for when I’m absolutely overwhelmed or inexplicably lonely in a place where I’m supposed to experience love, friendship and unity. 

Tara and I made plans to meet around seven at night. She mentioned a craving for Wendy’s fries and the sugary strawberry lemonade. She picked me 

A little after 7, Tara picked me up in a cute black and white Mini Cooper and we drove to a Wendy’s close to my apartment.   After we ordered our food, settled in our seats, I spoke openly. 

“Honestly Tara, the only reason I think I’m still with the church is because of accountability”. Our church has a culture of “discipling” where each member meets with a man or woman who holds them accountable to the standards of the Bible. Each of us is  supposed to meet with our discipler once a week to discuss areas of spiritual growth, pray and confess any sin we need to get out into the open. Tara had been my discipler for 9 months at one point so I rapport was easy and light. I knew she wouldn’t judge or rebuke me harshly. 

I continued softly. “Sometimes I think I made a mistake coming back to the church”. 

Tara nodded at me to keep pouring out my thoughts. “It’s like people only like me for who they think I should be or who they want me to be”. I stared at my half eaten bourbon bacon cheeseburger. 

“I feel so pressured by people to be someone else”. 

Ever since I joined the church I currently attend almost four years ago, the members, mostly well meaning women, have tried to mold me into a gregarious, spiritually fruitful, bubbly social butterfly, hoping I will shed my bashful nature. 

 I remember one woman from my Bible talk told me that my love for the congregation will be proven by the way I hug the other members of the church. I’m a side hugger, but the expectation is that you greet each sister and brother with a full sized bear hug. 

When disciples coach me on how to be a more social member of the church, I smile, nod and do my best to take the feedback. Yet something inside me seems hollow, inauthentic and unnatural. As if I have to put on a performance or dress in a personality that is too oversized for how God created my fit. 

  I’ve grown to appreciate the quiet, reflective, and sensitive nature that God is cultivating in me. I’m not sure other people do. 

The topic is a recurring theme in my therapy sessions. My therapist repeatedly encourages me to “honor the spirit of God inside you”. I think the struggle with the culture of the church is that there’s an expectation to conform to a certain way of behaving. Of course I’m going to be obedient to God, serve others, and do my best to love like Jesus does. 

However, there are times that people are trying to be my potter when there is a perfectly capable potter in Heaven. One of my anchor scriptures, particularly when it comes to identity is Isaiah 64:8 “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter ; we are the work of your hand” (New International Version). I wish people understood that its not their role to mold other people into who they expect them to be. 

Too often I tried to mold my identity into what was pleasing to other people. Through prayer, therapy, and self discovery, I’m figuring out who God intended me to be. Turns out I’m royal, chosen, special and holy (1 Peter 2:9). That I am wonderfully and fearfully made (Psalm 139: 13-14). 

Of course God wants us to grow into a holy and righteous person. He made us in His image and He’s the standard for how we should live and behave. But the unique characteristics He created in us shouldn’t be stripped away for another person’s preference . I’m learning to set healthy boundaries when people offer me feedback about myself. I discern, take what’s useful and leave the rest at the door. 

With Love, 

Leah

Security in God: Managing Anxiety and Intrusive Thinking Part I 

La Sagesse Beach, Grenada. This spot is excellent for a quiet place to pray or journal

    One morning I woke up and couldn’t move my body. My brain was screaming “Get up! Get up!”. My body remained motionless, ignoring the directives  to move my limbs. 

That was the first time I experienced sleep paralysis. I knew I dreaded the day ahead. That’s anxiety’s job; to immobilize your mind and body. I’ve struggled with the condition since I was six; I didn’t have a name for the condition, but I was a worrisome child. I remember if my mom or dad was late coming home from work or picking me up from after school program I’d start to panic, chest constricting and start sobbing. I knew that they had been killed in a horrible car accident or murdered in the mean streets of the City. My mind always veered toward the worst case scenario and I developed a form of insomnia. My mind kept replaying all that could go wrong, all the ways I or someone I love could die. I hated when the telephone rang; the dread would creep up my stomach and I rushed toward my mom, frantically asking “who is it, who is it?”. 

Anxiety filled other areas of my life. I purposely performed poorly in elementary  school because if I made honor roll, the principal would call me up to the stage in front of all my peers. I was afraid of being laughed at and booed if I walked across the stage. I had anxiety about crossing the street. Dogs. Being called on in class. Driving. Getting into a car accident.

Last year was the breaking point. I finally began therapy in September of 2020. I’m blessed to have a therapist who is a Christian. One of the first points she made was “Anxiety is not of God”. 

If anxiety is not of God, then it must be from the other guy.  

According to the American Psychological Association anxiety is defined as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety usually have recurrent  intrusive thoughts or concerns”. 

God understands the human condition, so He specifically addresses anxiety head on. He knows that satan uses anxiety to rob us of our peace. One of my anchor scripture is in Philippians 4: 6-7 where the Word of God reads “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be known to God; and let the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (New King James Version) .

My therapist encouraged me to clothe myself with that scripture anytime my mind wandered toward worst case scenarios. When battling anxiety, helpful remedies included 

  1. Praying and reading scripture 
  2. Speaking or thinking of anchor Bible verses about anxiety 
  3. Taking an intrusive thought and speaking the positive 
  4. Journaling 
  5. Herbal tea
  6. Being in places that provide a sense of peace: a library or quiet part of a park
  7. Deep breathing and tapping exercises 
  8. Consistently seeing my therapist

I’m still learning various techniques to quell anxiety, but most importantly I understand that I don’t have to claim anxiety. I used to say, “my anxiety is flaring”. I do not have to own anxiety. Another scripture that helps is 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast your anxieties on him because He cares for you”. We are given explicit permission to let go of our anxiety and give it to God. 

I’m not 100% cured of anxiety because, like most mental health struggles, the condition takes time to subside. Supports like therapy, deep breathing, prayer and other techniques are extremely helpful. I’m grateful to share my story and help those with similar stories. To God be the glory!  

With Love, 

Leah

Security in God’s Victory  (Or, What the Cross Means to Me)

Every Sunday the church I attend participates in communion. Prior to the symbolic breaking of bread, there’s a sermonette segment of the service dubbed “What the Cross Means to Me”. The purpose of the time is for each member to reflect on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  A member comes up in front of the congregation and shares about how the sacrifice of Jesus has changed them in a certain way. 

In Luke 9:23, Jesus discusses that His followers must pick up their “crosses” everyday and follow Him. For Jesus, the cross was bearing the sins of the world, past, present and future. For us, God gave me a revelation that we will have various crosses to bear in our lifetime. I see each day as a new cross to carry. 

When I think about what the cross means to me, there’s victory.  While I was on hiatus from the current church I attend, I worshiped with a bilingual Spanish church. One of the Sermon’s was titled “The Victorious One is Here”. The sermon examined Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem a week prior to His crucifixion (I think this was the palm Sunday service). The pastor passionately asserted that Jesus was crucified so that we could have victory in our walk.

 Most of my life, I lived in a constant state of defeat. . I brushed off life, expecting to fail at my goals, dreams and desires. I developed a defeatist attitude in all areas of my life; ministry, jobs, friendships, leadership roles at my school, and different degree programs. Mentally and emotionally, I gave up on ever truly belonging or finding that solid forever friend group. One little setback and I’m saying “nothing ever works out”. I gave up on marriage. Having children. Writing. Feeling peace. My anxieties, fears, depression, insecurities and doubts were waging war in my mind and at times defeat felt imminent. 

Jesus is victorious. He didn’t suffer for hours, almost naked, lungs bubbling with blood, flesh hanging off and bearing the crushing weight of my sins for me to dwell in defeat. He conquered death, a victorious eternal king. Paul directly states in 1 Corinthians 15:57 “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Whenever I’m tempted to walk with the weight failure, I cling to God’s truth. That because of Jesus I can overcome, persevere, dream, and try. 

The next steps are to put on the victorious casing in my daily walk with God. A practical way to walk victoriously is to celebrate and thank God for the victories I experience each day; a lesson plan that my students enjoyed, making a colleague smile or uplifting the spirits of someone who was having a crummy day. I can look forward to and believe in future victories; a family member or close friend saying yes to Jesus, my students graduating from High school, a finished manuscript of my first novel. SOmetimes I will fail or take a misstep. Yet I remember who I belong to, the one who overcame the world, death and sin. 

Side by side with Jesus, I’ll always strut in victory. 

With Love, 

Leah

*Scriptures related to victory*

  1. 1 John 5:4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
  2. Deuteronomy 20:4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” (New International Version)

Social (In)security: A series of Reflections on Fellowship and Connectivity

Each Sunday I wake up with the same tightness in my chest; the thought of going to church is supposed to encourage and uplift my spirit. The church I currently attend laudes itself as “the fellowship of believers” or the “God’s family”. The culture thrives on intimate connection through Christ, which is 100% biblical. The church leaders expect us to be immersed in each other’s lives, no boundaries and with complete trust. Almost every Sunday service there’s a member tearfully expressing how much they are grateful for the body of believers. The scripture often quoted comes from Matthew 13:44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field( NIV Version)”. 

I sit in silence as church goers weave right past me. This is the part of the service called “The Fellowship break” where eager congregation members huddle, all smiles and hugs. I watch as women in flowery dresses squeal in delight as they approach another sister (in Christ). I watch brothers (in Christ) fist bump and bro hug. The cacophony of conversations swirls all around me and one part of my brain begs “Get up, go say hi to someone. This is why you’re lonely and don’t feel connected. You’re not trying”. Then the dominant, insecure part of my brain retorts “I told you we don’t belong here. No matter how hard she tries, she’s never going to feel connected. We’ll always be on the outside”. 

A close  friend of mine point blank asked me “I wonder if you really value the Kingdom” (the members of the congregation). The more I ponder that question (and she asked me this almost a year ago), the more I find myself wrestling with the requirement of being bonded with a single fellowship. Naturally, I’m an introvert and coupled with social anxiety creates a cocktail of overwhelming feelings when I go to church for various “meetings of the body”. 

Instead of experiencing encouragement and love, I am ready to leave as soon as I get to the 3rd floor of the building where the service is held. Sweaty palms, fuzzy head and blurry vision I take my seat. Instead of clapping and bouncing along to the sounds of worship, all I experience is a hollow heartache. I wonder why I decided to come back after leaving the Church in May of 2021. It seems the more I try to connect with members, the more the emptiness and disconnect increases. 

My therapist attributes my social anxiety to the fact that I purposely made myself a wallflower to protect myself from being hurt by others. She said “You’re not used to putting yourself out there and initiating conversations. Oftentimes you’re going to have to make the first move”. 

There are times when I make an effort to connect with the women of the church. I smile, make small talk, but then the conversation stalls or feels too forced, inauthentic. In fact, I often feel like I have to put on a facade, conform to the person the people in the fellowship want me to be ; gregarious, talkative, peppy. Sometimes I feel like I have to be someone else to be accepted, to be chosen to participate in service or just plain seen. 

There’s a quote from one of my favorite movies “The Breakfast Club” (John Hughes, 1985). Andrew, the jock, says to John Bender, the trouble maker, “You know, Bender, you don’t even count. I mean if you disappeared forever it wouldn’t make a difference. You may as well not even exist in this school”. 

That sums up how I can view myself in the context of the church I attend. Invisible. Overlooked. There’s a desperation and longing to experience the same fellowship that is so praised by the church leaders and members. But I don’t. And there are many times I don’t think I ever will.  

Then I think of Jesus, how I belong to Him once I said “Jesus is Lord”. John 1:12 “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he became the right to become children of God”. I may be one of God’s shier sheep, but I have to remember “The Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture”(Psalm 100:3).  

Another important point is to know that I am not the only person who struggles with social anxiety, loneliness or feeling invisible. It can be hard to admit these struggles in an environment where instant bonding is celebrated. I’m reminded to pray and seek out those who are overlooked. 

One challenge I literally just gave myself as I conclude this post is for next Sunday; find someone who is sitting alone, who isn’t engaging in conversation and just say hello. We have a God who sees us even when people look right past us. I am 1000% guilty of staying in my bubble, too afraid to move when someone is feeling the exact way I am. Sometimes my I get so caught up in my owns thoughts, I need to have eyes like Jesus, able to see the Zacchaeuses longing to be seen from the treetops (Luke 19:1-2) 

I’m grateful to be able to write about this topic. Social anxiety, loneliness and the persistent feeling of being left out may not be the most comfortable topic within a church. It requires examination internally and externally. My prayer is that all those who feel like I do know how much God loves and cares for each of us. As much as I would like to at times , we are not meant to live life alone. God created Eve for Adam because He knew it wasn’t good for anyone to be alone. Perhaps one day the connections will come. For now, I’ll fix my eyes on Jesus, because I know He calls me friend. 

And with a friend like Jesus, who can ever be lonely? 

With Love, 

Leah

32 Candles

I found a $20 dollar bill in the pocket of my winter coat this morning. I thanked God for the unexpected birthday gift since I woke up with a rancid stomach and a cloudy head. Usually, birthdays, at least for me, bring a sense of invigoration, a chance to revive old dreams and to create new goals.

Instead, this year I felt similarly to Samatha Baker from the movie 16 Candles; only instead of friends or family forgetting my birthday, I wanted to forget my birthday. Just let the day pass as quickly as daylight during this time of year. I even cried a little last night, wanting to sink into my mattress for the impending 24 hours. Thankfully, I was able to connect with a dear friend after church, have a delectable Brazilian steak dinner with my father and then cake with family. Gradually I found myself smiling more and more throughout the day.

It’s incredible that I’m double 16 (some folks I come across say I can still pass for 16). And for that, I should be grateful. This is why the initial apathy I had about my birthday was concerning. I mean, I just moved into my first solo apartment! I have a stable job. Health insurance. Decent health. A loving family. Friends.

I asked myself; “what is going on with me?” Despite having what I desired for years after I graduated from college (career, own place), I found myself disturbingly discontent. Lonely. Depressed. Barely able to get out of bed in the morning. And this is after I went through an intense form of Cognitive therapy procedure. I kept thinking I was supposed to be “cured” of these issues. That as the “brand new” Leah, I conquered the insecurities, fears, and trepidations of my former self. The dreams I had long smothered would magically revive into manifestation.

Instead, for the past two months, I’ve felt like I missed a mark. That the direction I took was a derailment, a wrong turn and now I’m lost even though everything seems like I’m driving in the right direction.

Then there’s the passage of time. Relatives growing older. The inevitable transitions. Hearing about sickness, aches, and pain during conversations. Wishing that there was infinite time to be with loved ones yet knowing that’s not reality.

Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes tells us there’s a time for everything; to be born and die, plant and uproot, tear down and build, weep and laugh, to search and give up (Vv. 1-8). I think my issue is that I’m not sure what time God has me in. Maybe that’s what’s bothering me. I feel jumbled in unfamiliar seasons.

As another birthday concludes, where I find an appropriate stopping point for this blog post and work up the courage to face tomorrow, the answer always circles back to God’s word. I’m shameful to admit that through this haze, I haven’t been connecting with God like I should. He can’t work in me if I shut and lock Him out. He’s always standing, waiting patiently for me to answer. Its up to me to open the door. To invite Him in. For Him to show me the plans He predestined for me.

Besides, our Lord loves s good celebration. And I can wager He’s the most excited to celebrate year 32 right beside me. Wrapping me in in His love as we blow out the birthday candles.

“A Bird Alone on a Roof”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month - Florida Institute for Health  Innovation
Let’s break the Stigma

I decided to go grocery shopping today. I dragged my cart down three flights of stairs, stepped out into the liquid steel gray morning and trudged the 25 minute walk to Aldi’s. On the way there, I decided to pray. I spoke to God, thanking Him for the miracles in my life, speaking healing over my sick relatives, increased faith and to build up the confidence to share my faith with those in my circle. I entered Aldi’s pumped up, ready to take on the dairy and produce aisles. A clerk greeted me warmly and pointed me in the direction of the fresh, sun colored sweet corn. I sashayed through throughout the store, energized by my power prayer walk. I left the store and started back toward my apartment.

That’s when the enemy flung depression right in my face like a monkey at a zoo throwing its dung in its cage. As I struggled to push my cart up hills a barrage of thoughts such as ” you have no friends”, ” no one cares about you”, no one is thinking about you”, “you’re always going to be left out”, “you could disappear and no one would notice” drowned out the previous, kinetic and powerful pray from just 30 minutes prior.

The backdrop was mockingly perfect. Gray, sunless skies along with a taunting drizzle became my own little movie set as the wheels of my cart hit cracks on the sidewalk. The closer I got to my house, a place that is supposed to provide comfort and relief, the more I felt a growing void insidiously growing inside. Empty and colorless. I thought to myself, “You’ve been here before. Just get into the Word and then watch the church service. You’ll feel better”.

Except the void only expanded. Try as I might, the worship and message of the pastor failed to soothe the burning depression searing throughout my body. The music from the worship team sounded like a baby banging on pots and pans on the kitchen floor. The words from the Pastor dulled into my brain, but go figure, I could hear the enemies taunts of “you’re not good enough”, “what have you accomplished for God?” “Look at everyone else, they’ve got something to show, they’ve got the talent, the anointing”, “what have you got?”

Like a twisted melody, I let the enemy continue his sinister symphony. Even now as I’m writing, the burning in my chest persist.

I, like 16.1 million adults in the United States, battle Major Depressive Disorder (according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America). The National Institute of Mental Health has the figure of 17.1 million adults as having one depressive episode. These past two weeks I experienced the symptoms of “persistent, sad, anxious mood”, “feelings of pessimism”, Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”, “Restlessness, irritability” “Insomnia, early-morning awakening,” and “Loss of interest in hobbies and activities” (adaa.org).

Even today, I considered calling up a friend and saying I was no longer wanted to go on our trip to Montana. I ruminated on how to tell her that I didn’t want to go on the trip she is so pumped about.That I wasn’t interested. That I would feel like a third wheel.

Depression is one of the devil’s favorite friends. he uses depression to suck the joy and light out of anyone who has a dastardly encounter with it. Like a puppet, the talks through depression saying “When was the last time anyone texted you to hang out” and “See, you’re never invited to hang out or go on dates”, and “you’re not appreciated at work and your colleagues don’t respect you”. And worst “Look how you’ve wasted your time and life. God isn’t using you because you’re useless”.

Depression makes you feel like a bird alone on a roof. An unstable and collapsable roof.

Then, just when you’ve run out of tears to spill, another bird joins you on the roof. He shoos the enemy away and turns to you. He says to you ” Don’t let this rattle you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” (John 14: 1-4, The Message Version).

This bird will never leave you alone, even though that’s exactly what you want to be at the moment. This bird nestles next to you, sings a song of hope, light and love. The bird urges you to fly with Him high above the void that the enemy tried to pull you into. He takes you on a new route, the route of life and Truth. He restores your smile. Your outlook.

When Jesus was about to go to the Cross, he made sure that His disciples would be taken care of. He didn’t leave them alone, but sent His Holy Spirit as a comforter. The Holy Spirit helps us remember the character and promises of God. He’ll vacuum out the dusty cloud of lies that the enemy left behind and remind us that we are chosen, thought of and loved.

And my mind has a lot dust to vacuum.

I used to be ashamed of depression. On days when we duke it out and depression seems to have the upper hand, I think that I’ve failed God. That my faith is weak. In these moments, I’m reminded of the words the Lord spoke to Paul “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Instead of embracing depression, I am encouraged to embrace God’s grace and power. Battling depression has made me more emphatic and understanding. An advocate of mental health . And living proof of God’s grace and mercy.

With the Month of May being National Mental Health Awareness Month, now more than ever, I feel compelled to share my story. I may still be smack dab in the middle of a depressive episode, but that’s all the more reason I need God to use me. For me to tell you there’s hope. That struggling with your mental health isn’t shameful or an indication that something is wrong with you. I am proof that depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, maladaptive behavior and other mental health challenges don’t have to rule your life. Because at the end of that long, dreary walk through that dark tunnel is light.

And I can’t wait to bask in it.

Something New

“I’m so happy for you!”

“I wish you the best!”

“We support you one hundred percent!”

“I hope you’re well and you take care of yourself during this time” .

“I’m sending positive thoughts your way”.

The well wishes of my parents, friends and colleagues uplift my spirit as I take a major step towards mental health wellness. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be undergoing a deep, intense therapy called “The Breakthrough Process”.

The purpose of the “Breakthrough Process”, according to my therapist, is to “release the toxic energy that has been draining you for so long” and that I need to release “the yarn ball of combined traumatic experiences”.

Scary part; this conversation happened right after our first session back on September 23rd, 2020.

The type of mental health therapy I’m about to undergo comes at a price ( a hefty $3000.00 so thank God my parents are helping me finance the therapy) ; I think about the scripture in Luke 14:28, about counting the cost of battle. At first, I shirked at the price, thinking, “this woman is out of her mind”.

Turns out, I’m the one that has been out of my mind for twenty plus years. Anxiety and depression became appendages that took over my mind and eventually my actions. My smile faded. I jumped every time the phone rang, convinced of terrible news on the other end of the line. Then came a jagged symphony of insomnia, negative thinking, migraine headaches, diminished cognitive thinking, low energy, apathy and hopelessness.

So I had two choices; I could either have a breakthrough or I could have a breakdown.

I have no idea what tomorrow will be like. I’ll wake up at 5:00 AM, take an Uber to the Metro North and then a Bee line bus to my therapist’s office. The Breakthrough process takes a week and I have no idea who will step out of my therapist’s office when we have our final session of the Breakthrough Process.

All I know is that I’m ready for something new.

“And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh”. Ezekiel 36:26

All Aboard the Love Train: A Journey Towards Biblical Self Love

“You need to love how God made you. And Leah, one of your main problems is that you don’t love yourself” my therapist said to me one afternoon during our weekly session.

This is one of those difficult and brutal truths that need to be heard, but causes your ears to bleed and your heart to tumble down into your intestines.

“I know”. A lump formed in my throat but I slowly gulped down the guilt. “You know something *Lucy?” I said confidently; the most confident and sure words I’ve spoken in a long time. “I don’t think I’ve ever loved myself. I then let out a dry and humorless laugh. “Heck, I don’t even think I like myself”.

The words came tumbling out of my mouth as a jumble of shameful admissions. The moment, a breakthrough for sure, both stung and soothed my soul. I didn’t love myself.

I’m writing this blog post two days after Valentine’s Day. By now department stores such as Target and Walmart have since ushered the boxes of sugary chocolates, gigantic teddy bears, heart shaped lollipops and oversized Hershey kisses in to a clearance section. In moves the new neighbors, the marsh mellow peeps, chocolate Easter bunnies and Easter eggs. But I’ve still got love on the brain.

I used to think self love was selfish. The root “self”, to me, indicated a haughty and hazardous narcissism. As Christians, we’re supposed to love God above all. Love others before ourselves. Self love, in my narrow understanding, was unbiblical.

Well, that mindset is slowly being debunked through careful study of God’s word.

Of course, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to “Love the Lord with all your heart and with your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27, ESV version).

In that same verse, the Bible reads “and your neighbor as yourself”.

I did a double take (or double read in this case) of that line. A proverbial “aha” moment went off in my head like a 5 o’clock in the morning alarm that startles you with loud successions of beep beep beeps. Love your neighbor as yourself. The ending of the verse carousels around my brain and comes to a halt so I can begin to understand what God is saying to me. It’s ok to love yourself! David even proclaims that “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well”. (Psalm 139:14).

Love, I’m realizing, starts with loving God and his creation (that includes me!). If I can’t love myself, then I can’t love others. I’m starting to wonder if I can even love God, if I can’t love myself.

Such a sobering, yet enlightening thought.

My therapist often discusses retraining my thought patterns to challenge what she calls “limiting beliefs” (stay tuned for more on that topic). One of my main limiting beliefs is that I am wrong for loving myself; when, in reality, I have a sneaking suspicion that I use this mindset to cover up a truth I have long avoided.

My journey to self love is far from over. I still have a lot to learn about the topic from a biblical standpoint. However, like with any journey, starting with small steps is the best way to move forward. Here a four ways I am learning to love myself in a Godly fashion.

  1. At the end of each of my therapy journals I am supposed to write down two things I like about myself , specific to the day. My therapist tells me what I like can be as “small” as “showering” or “cooking a healthy meal”.
  2. Look for ways that God shows us love everyday. As an addendum to my journals, my therapist has me look for God’s love throughout the day. She encourages me to look for His love beyond the obvious prayer time and quiet times (although speaking directly to God and Him speaking directly to you are main ways to experience His love). For example, today a gentlemen help me find Staples when my not so trusty Google maps kept rerouting.
  3. Remind myself I am worthy of love, even when I’m unlovable. If humans have perfected one trait it is imperfection. However, the Bible remind us time after time of God’s unfailing love. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is from Romans 5:8 “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners , Christ died for us”. I thank God everyday that he still love me, despite my sin. Because I’d be down the a sinkhole if he didn’t.
  4. Look for how you are loved by others. I love my parents and my parents love me. Often, I think that they’re the only ones, besides God Himself , who truly love me for me. Again, I have to train my minds eye to look for love. An example is when my friend wrote me a lovely Valentine’s Day note. Although she is married, she took the time to write the words ” *Jack and I love us some Leah because you are a great friend and sister …we are grateful for you”. Dang, she tried to draw up wells of joyous tears from my eyes!

As I take this journey towards self love, I hope to encourage those who read my words to seek out God’s love in all environments. I’m actually planning on studying out the ways God shows us love and why we all deserve love. For Christians, find your go to scriptures on God’s love and his creation. For those of different faiths, I recommend writing down at least two reasons why you love yourself. Lets ride this love train together!

With Love,

-Leah

***Names have been changed to respect the privacy of the persons mentioned in the blog.*****

Scripture references come from the English Standard Version of the Bible.