Be Soft

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1 

In my attempt to find a place to connect with God, I tried a new church today. And I think I may go back. The message was on discipleship, and I was surprised to find it resonated with me. The pastor had four principles of discipleship: (1) disciples are made, not born; (2) a disciple is a follower; (3) not every disciple is a great disciple; and (4) discipleship is about helping to take the next step of obedience. The third and fourth principles are what affected me most, though.

The main idea behind the third principle, that not every disciple is a great disciple, was that we need to love God above everything else in life. One thing I took away from this principle was that, once we are followers of Christ, making a mistake does not make us any less of a Christian. No one is perfect, not even the original 12 disciples. To be a great disciple means to love God above everything, including whatever situation you are facing—it means to trust He will take care of everything.

The fourth principle is pretty self-explanatory, but what stuck with me was the idea of a community of believers to walk with you, to help you find, and take, your next step of obedience. I’ve been without that (physical) community for a while, and, after today, I could see the affect it has had on me. Namely, I don’t have people I can talk to, connect with, people to walk with me. I feel God has been moving on my heart about my next step of obedience to Him, but I don’t have a community to go to who can support me or guide me.

But how does this connect to the verse in Proverbs?

Honestly, I lost the thread that connected the sermon to the verse. The pastor ended the sermon with Proverbs 15:1, and I only remember that he said it was the first verse he had memorized. It really impacted me, though, and I felt like maybe my next call of obedience is to be soft, to answer softly.

In the past, in any argument, I would speak before thinking. Of course, I would later regret what I had said, but, as we all know, you can’t take back anything you say. This made it difficult for me to admit when I was wrong, to apologize, or even try to make amends in any way.

A lot has made me frustrated recently, and it seems my patience and temper are more on edge lately. I try not to snap at people, but if you could be in my head…

So, I’ve decided I will be soft. Another reframing of my mind. I will breathe, I will pray, I will do what I need so my mind and my mouth are in sync.

Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

I don’t want my mouth to say things that are not in my heart, like it has in the past. I need to make an active attempt to align all of myself.

The only way I know to do this is to pray, and I think that is the point God is trying to make to me—the only way to be in alignment is to follow and trust Him.

Maybe that’s the thread that connects it all.

I encourage you, too, to be soft in all things. Pray before speaking. Answer gently. You never know what affect it will have.

Showing Faith Through Fasting

Do you know who Leslie Knope is, from the show Parks & Recreation? She loves sweets and anything sugary. In fact, there’s an episode where she proposes a tax on soda, and in a pre-meeting, she dips her finger in a bucket of sugar and begins to nervous-eat the sugar. I can relate to her in that way.

(I promise this is going somewhere.)

I have a huge sweet tooth. In fact, I’ve noticed that in my depression, while I won’t eat meals, I will indulge in sweets. It’s begun to feel like I am using sweets as a relief instead of going to God. And I guess I am.

Admittance is the first step, right? An action plan comes next.

I’ve decided to begin a fast.

Scripture guides us to fast in times of distress and when we seek to draw nearer to God. In an interview with Desiring God, John Piper explains that fasting means to temporarily give up something in order to intensify our need for God. There are instances in scripture where individuals have chosen to fast to do just that in their times of need:

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” – Joel 2:12 

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days, I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven. – Nehemiah 1:4

Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. – Psalm 35: 13

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. – Daniel 9:3 

Now, I understand that Matthew 6:16-18 tells us we are to fast “in secret”: When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces and their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

(John Piper has an excellent explanation of fasting and its purpose in Christianity, so I would encourage you to check out the full interview.)

Having said that, the reason I am writing about my choice to fast is because I feel called to make this my next “challenge.” John Piper explains in the interview that fasting is not a replacement for faith, but rather showing you have faith. I want to challenge myself in having faith. I think often times, I say I have faith, but my thoughts and actions don’t really show it.

This is my attempt to change that.

My goal is this: fast desserts for 3 weeks and write about how it goes at the end of each week. I am going to hold myself accountable.

Making Mistakes

Today was the first day in a few weeks I broke down in tears and fell on my knees, literally crying out to God.

Even though this past weekend was enjoyable as we spent time on the beach in Delaware and I watched Belle frolic in the ocean for the first time, I could feel something bubble up, just beneath the surface. I could feel it in the way I had trouble focusing on anything other than Belle, in the way I couldn’t control checking my phone though I knew there was no reason to, and in the way I could barely finish a thought without a heavy mental sigh. Another episode.

I missed my therapy appointment last week because of our trip to Delaware. I thought I’d be okay for a week, but I guess I didn’t realize how much therapy is helping me.

I left work early today, explaining I “don’t feel well,” that I’m “taking it one day at a time,” and requested to work from home the rest of the week in hopes it will help me recoup some of myself. I don’t know if it will.

Honestly, the only thing I know to do at this point is cry out to God.

A few days ago, I woke up with this idea in my head: we can acknowledge we made a mistake without dismissing that we learned from it. As the day wore on (and I do mean wore on), I began to wonder if it was God trying to speak to me.

For weeks, I’ve been told by (some) family members not to view past decisions as mistakes. But why not? These people seem to think I’m somehow dismissing that I’ve learned from the mistake. I promise you, I’m not. I just learned the hard way. But the fact of the matter is I did make a mistake. If I don’t admit it, if I don’t say it out loud, if I don’t own up to it, then nothing can ever change.

I made a mistake.

Now all I can do is thank God for letting me learn, for not forsaking me, even in the midst of my mistakes, and for keeping His promises, even if I cannot see them yet.

Since my positivity challenge ended, I’ve struggled to write. It goes back to feeling I have nothing to write about, nothing that anyone else would care about.

But that is the enemy speaking.

I know that because one of the comments the Editor wrote on my draft of my final publication for the positivity challenge was telling me that she followed each of the posts and that I have inspired others to challenge themselves. And what better praise could an aspiring writer get than to hear you’ve inspired others?

So, yes, I made a mistake. But already God has kept a promise to me, and He has used that mistake to turn me back to a gift He blessed me with.

After falling on my knees, and with tears still streaming down my face, I took a nap. (Because when I’m depressed, I sleep a lot.) I slept longer than I meant to, but when I woke up, I felt a little better. Maybe not 100%, because that will come in time, but a little. My tears had stopped at least. But in that tearful crying out, I felt close to God. In the admitting of making a mistake, in admitting to trusting in my own will above His, I felt relief.

I hope I can encourage you. If you made a mistake, cry out to Him. It doesn’t make you weak. It brings peace, relief, and new insight. It is in those moments, when you give yourself entirely to Him, that He will speak to you.

Day 30: Mindset

How did it go?

Here we are. Day 30. The end of my 30-day positivity challenge.

You’ll probably notice I didn’t post yesterday either. My mom, Belle, and I left for a weekend getaway to a beach town in Delaware. We got out of town later than expected (I had to drop the cats off at my Nana’s for babysitting), so we didn’t get to our destination until about 9:30 at night. Since it’s a new place for Belle, and it was a 3-hour car ride, we spent an hour before bed letting her explore a bit and getting some energy out.

I was excited, though, that my Week 3 wrap up was published this week. Can you pick out any of the themes I’ve discussed in my posts?

Other than that, the day itself was simply uneventful.

I’m beginning to think maybe most of my days are. (And that’s okay.)

What did I learn?

I’m definitely the type of person that decisions affect my mind, which affect my mood. (Your mind affects your mouth, and your mouth affects your mind.)

I’ve noticed that since I’ve made a decision, the “don’t care attitude” I feel I have is actually coming across as positive and strong-willed to others. Who would have thought? Making a decision, even in my head, and adopting a different attitude has actually changed my environment because it’s changed the way I interact with my environment.

Mindset is everything, it seems.

And I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from this whole thing: it’s all about your mindset.

If you’re willing to fight and “dig in” for what you want or what you believe, then don’t let the actions or thoughts of others deter you. Keep persevering, keep pushing forward. (God rewards the committed.)

My decisions won’t change; I will remain committed to not only having small faith, but also what I am called to do.

I will keep my mindset because my mindset will help to determine the outcome (or at least how I see it).

Day 27: Commitment

How did it go?

Let’s admit it: commitment can be tough. It doesn’t matter what you are committing to; there’s going to be a time it gets rough. There’s going to come a time you just want to give up. But it’s when we don’t give up, when we continue to commit even when times are tough, that God can move in our lives.

I was listening to my Christian podcast this morning on my commute, and the message was on staying committed. It was quite a powerful message, and it really spoke to me.

It made me think about the things I am committed to in my life.

What did I learn?

I thought about the message all day, which seemed to make my day go by faster. (So there’s one positive.) It reminded me that it doesn’t matter if we feel something deserves commitment; if God has placed us there, then we must remain committed.

Only when we commit can God bless us.

It did force me to mentally evaluate commitments, though. What is the line between committing to honor God and committing out of our own stubbornness? In other words, how do we know commitment to something is what God wants versus when it’s something we want?

I have been beating myself up over a choice that was made months ago. I felt that I had to commit to that because it’s what brought on pain. And if I brought it upon myself, then I need to make myself pay for it.

I can’t commit to something simply because I feel I have to make myself pay for making a mistake.

It inspired me to make a commitment to myself: I will not continue to make myself pay for past mistakes, and I will not see making much-needed changes as breaking a commitment.

Another interesting thing I noticed as I was listening: I realized what my commitments were. I think this was one more step into deeper knowledge of who I am and growing in my faith.

When the episode ended, I was more spiritually convicted and more positive than I had been in a few days. And that’s when I know God is working in me.

 

 

Day 26: Spiritual Growth

How did it go?

I went to church for the first time in 6 months today. I’ve decided to look into churches in the area, so today was a visit to one of them. I don’t like saying I’m “church hopping.” I am just trying to find a church where I am comfortable.

My biggest problem is that I really liked our church in Arizona, and I miss it—the community, the people…It took time to get to that point, and I feel like I threw it all away. Of course, when I get to that thinking, the guilt starts to creep in.

Comparison is the thief of joy. I think that works for not only everyday life, but also our faith life. If I continue to compare my previous church with any one I attend, I won’t ever be comfortable, and I won’t ever be willing to give another place a chance. People and places are never the same, so it’s unfair to compare.

I forgot, though, how emotionally tiring church can be.

What did I learn?

The sermon was on spiritual growth and how we can work toward it. It was a good sermon and enlightening. I walked away more determined to grow spiritually and to grow my prayer life.

But when I left, I felt drained.

I can’t remember what exactly made me feel that way, but I remember that certain pieces of the sermon almost had me in tears. Most of the songs, even, had me close to tears.

I remember having a similar feeling at our church in Arizona, and it would happen when I was dealing with something I was so lost about.

I’ve come to the conclusion it’s God asking me to lay it down and give it to Him. It’s Him making me see that I am trying so badly to hold on to something that I need to lay at His feet.

I walked away, though, being more motivated to grow in my faith. And I walked away with a bit of an idea on how to do that. Even if I’m not perfect at it, or it isn’t done “correctly” all of the time, what matters is that I am motivated to change my spiritual life.

So, while I felt emotionally exhausted after service, I also felt a bit more hopeful. I guess only church and time with God can really make you feel that way.

Day 25: Like Jesus Does

How did it go?

It took me a little while to get my husband at all interested in any type of country music. When he came around, he decided he liked Eric Church. As our First Dance song at our wedding, we played Eric Church’s “Like Jesus Does.”

Part of the chorus of the song goes like this:

She knows the man I ain’t,
She forgives me when I can’t,
The devil, man, he don’t stand a chance,
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does.

The last time I heard the song, it was on the radio on a two-hour drive home with my husband. And he turned it up and held my hand, which is something he always does when it came on the radio. I remember smiling and feeling how full my heart was.

The song randomly popped into my head this morning as I was getting ready. I caught myself humming and trying to hold back tears.

I always end up crying when I hear it because I’m reminded of not only how I love him but how God loves us. The name of the song says it all.

What did I learn?

As a Christian, it is my belief that Jesus died for our sins, for all the debt we could never repay. He gave His life so we may have ours.

He knows who we are, even when we are not who we want to be (or who He wants us to be). He will always forgive us, even (and possibly most especially) when we cannot forgive ourselves. Because of Him, the enemy does not stand a chance against us.

I was reminded that we are, above all, called to love.

We must love in all we do, regardless of if we feel someone else deserves love, regardless of how others may judge us for loving that person.

I truly feel that the fact that this song popped into my head this morning was a gentle reminder from God: love, love no matter what, show how I love.

And He loves unconditionally. That’s what it means to love “like Jesus does.”

Because of this reminder, I am going to strive to approach each day with love. Believe me—there are definitely days I don’t feel like the people I am around deserve love. But God doesn’t ask us to love because others deserve it; He asks us to love because they don’t always deserve it. I hope I can wake up in the morning feeling a little more positive simply because of this decision.

I am choosing love.