Saying it Out-Loud

Boy. It’s been a minute, hasn’t it?

It’s definitely been several weeks since I’ve sat down and allowed my fingers to glide along the keyboard in the form of one of these blog posts. We all have those seasons, don’t we?

Truth be told, my absence from writing for the past few weeks had nothing to do with the jam-packed nature of the weeks that have completed (in fact, things have slowed down quite a bit in the past few weeks-IMAGINE THAT). If anything, it was because I was feeling consumed by something I couldn’t quite identify until recently.

These past couple weeks have been difficult. And I mean difficult in a different kind of way than I’m used to handling. I found myself experiencing emotional sensations and behavioral changes that I tend to rarely see in myself. It wasn’t anything super intense-but then again, here I go already with “diminishing” that this could actually be a reality for me. Typing this out signifies that what I’m feeling is real, and while it is not what I’m used to experiencing (almost at the other end of the spectrum for me), it’s still my reality, pure and simple, at this point in time.

If you’ve been following my blog fairly closely, will will know that I’ve identified with experiencing anxiety for many years-dating back even further the more and more I examine it. I was at a place where I was proud of how I was managing this, and even got as far as experiencing little to no anxiety during the wedding planning prep (which is HUGE!). However, I find myself today facing a completely different battle, one that I didn’t think I would be facing at this time in life. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is just mearly not what I expected.

Depression is gripping me right now.

What I’m experiencing right now can be described as this (and maybe it’s not what you’d typically think of when you think of depression):

  • Finding it hard to care about…well, anything at all.
  • Low motivation for even the most simple of tasks, such as doing the dishes, checking my e-mail, taking a shower (I promise I’m following through with the last one 🙂 )
  • Extreme pitfalls in energy. I’m talking waking up feeling like I only slept 10 minutes. Falling asleep on the couch at 8pm sort of exhausted.
  • Wanting to just “lay around” or engage in numbing behaviors (mindless TV, eating crappy foods, no conversations, drinking, etc)
  • Feelings of powerlessness-like I’m feeling rooted in my circumstances and there is nothing I can do about them (while I know this is not true to reality)
  • Low sex drive (and extreme guilt over how this may be affecting my spouse. Especially since we are newlyweds. I feel a lot of shame over that right now.)
  • Weight gain (I’ve gained back 25 pounds of my 83 pounds lost. The internal dialogue I’m having with myself over this right now is not pretty)
  • Irritability/easily angered (enough for loved ones to notice and wonder what’s happening)

I’ll say one thing’s for sure: I’m not feeling sad. In fact, I’m not really feeling like I’m feeling anything at all. I’m feeling numb. 

And honestly, I just want to feel something. 

I’m not feeling unsafe. I’m not having unsafe thoughts-it’s not to that degree. But truly, I’m feeling numb. And right now, that’s the reality.

One night a few weeks ago, I told my husband “I really do want to feel better”. And for the first time in months, tears slowly trickled down my cheeks. I nuzzled my head into his chest and just rested with the hope that he knows I’m trying to do the best I can. And that I want to do more. For him. For me. He’s the most understanding man I’ve ever met. It was the most connected I’ve felt to him in weeks due to the depression.

reaching-out-300x196

A couple weeks ago I had a thought while I was sitting in my office: “What if I just quit my job? Maybe I should do that.” I found myself wondering where is this coming from?love my job.

It was at that moment where I felt like someone else. Like someone not me. 

I e-mailed my therapist-the one that I have so much gratitude towards for helping me thrive above my anxiety. I described what I was experiencing, and her words confirmed what my heart was believing to be true:

“Hun, this sounds more like depression to me.”

Saying it out-loud makes it real.

 

And it’s okay. It’s okay to identify. It’s okay to keep coping. It’s okay to recognize that brokenness is part of our common tie to humanity.

image.img

I was hesitant to publish this post; in fact, I had written this post several weeks back and kept it in my drafts folder, just sitting there. I think there will always be a part of me that leans away before leaning into vulnerability. Since I have written this, the past few weeks have appeared to look a bit “lighter”. We’ve had some unexpected challenges come our way, financially, medically, and work-wise. However, I still find myself able to stay afloat (some days it sure ain’t pretty), and for that I have to thank my Savior as well as my spouse, loving in-laws, and friends.

Sometimes the heavy weight is a reminder of the only One who can lift that from us. As well as the reminder that we are not meant to shoulder burdens alone.

Don’t allow yourself to feel alone in the pain-that is so far from the truth. It may not seem that way sometimes, but we are tied to something and someone SO much greater than ourselves.

 

And, people-if we truly let them-can surprise us with how much love and care they pour into us.

Always chugging on,

-AF

 

Advertisements

“Stuck” vs. Redeemed

Do you ever have that far too familiar feeling of being stuck?

Ugh. Such an icky feeling.

It’s a feeling that grips you on such a deep level, even down to your very soul. I think of how often I can find myself falling into the glamorous trap of this feeling. The past week, I’ve been noticing that something just feels off. After work today, sitting on our balcony gulping in the fragrance of the fresh, cool air, lager in hand (because I can never recognize anything anywhere besides in the stillness), I found myself caught up in this very internal monologue:

“I just feel so stuck in everything right now”.

Sometimes, we get to a point where everything feels like a chore. Being social. Folding the laundry. Finishing the dishes that are piling up well beyond what is characteristic. Accepting physical touch. Looking in the mirror. Taking a shower. Being “on” at your place of employment. Doing what we enjoy. Showing affirmation to loved ones.

These are all “good” things. But when we dwell and sink into this “stuck” feeling, even the good things seem like a chore.

We find ourselves asking “what’s the point?” far more than we’d care to experience.

Call it depression. Call it overwhelm. Call it hopelessness. Whatever you call it, the theme remains the same: we tend to feel stuck in our own circumstances.

And without even realizing it, mediating on this mindset strips away all of our power to either a) do something about it, b) cope with it, or c) ask for help through it as we walk through the trenches.

So we isolate. We stuff it down. We wait for it to pass.

Why are we so afraid to identify this as feeling “stuck” and admit that we are there in our mind and heart? Why can’t we say this to others?

rsz_9vptnw84vgi-patryk-sobczak.jpg

I’m not downplaying suffering. Because it’s real. And it happens. But where’s gratitude in this mindset? We say “there’s not enough room for it”. However, that’s the only thing that tends to bring us out.

I had a woman in my office the other day. She says to me, “I’m down to a balance of negative 445 dollars in my bank account. But I have to keep going because my son, daughter, and husband need me to. I can’t let that rule me right now”.

We have a friend of ours that just lost her unborn baby. 8 months pregnant, and her baby was called home to heaven while still in her precious, life-preserving womb, with absolutely no warning. She still had to give birth. The grief is unimaginable.

I heard a story from a neighbor last night of how she was attacked by a dog. And her own dog jumped in the way of the attack, taking the pain and the gnashing in the place of her owner. What bravery and selflessness. From an animal who has never spoken a direct word to her owner.

The people God has placed me to walk with humble me. They ground me. They give me perspective.

We must saturate ourselves in the truth of our Lord’s life-giving, redemptive, gracious, and all-encompassing love and power that takes us beyond any circumstance we may be experiencing. 

I have to continually challenge and remind myself that God is ENOUGH for me. That He can do MORE than I ever can. And that is why my ultimate yardstick of “how am I doing” should be surrounding His grace and mercy rather than my circumstances.

Feeling down is okay. Feeling let down is normal. Brokenness is welcome. God understands that. He overcame that. He wraps you in grace through that. He cherishes your heart and mind in the midst of that.

Praise be to Him.

Stay tuned,

-AF

 

 

 

Myth-Busters: Goal-Setting Style-How Might I be Getting in My Own Way?

It’s that time of year again, folks—the nearing of the wrap-up of summer (bummers. Why did I have to go there, right?)! For many people, this time of year marks a time for a fresh start into fall, a “clean slate” for some, and the opportunity to make some changes in the days to come. But how often do we find ourselves extremely motivated and eager at the idea of this venture, but struggle to carry out these changes on a consistent basis, let alone for very long?

I call this the “idealism syndrome” (OK, so it’s not TRULY an official name, but let me explain!).

We tend to see this time of year in the way that I just described above. While this view is not false or negative, it does not take into account the HOW factor: how we will plan to maintain our new positive habits or new perspectives once the luster of the “new changes” wears off. We become giddy with idea of all the bright and shiny new habits we can begin to form, and we look at this time as a whole while setting monumental (and oftentimes overly lofty) goals for ourselves. And once the sparkle wears off, it can leave us feeling unmotivated and defeated. We’ve all seen this before—how great we are doing in the beginning! And then once the middle of October rolls around…we struggle, start to fall off of the “changes galore horse,” and lose sight of what we set out to do in the first place.

This happens because we can unintentionally set ourselves up for a few common mishaps:

  • Setting a goal without breaking down the steps of how we will go about achieving it
  • Setting large goals without breaking down smaller goal “milestones” in order to keep us on track
  • Seeing the “big picture” without seeing the various components of the “journey”
  • Using “fresh start to fall” time as the only time we set goals for ourselves (or even “New Year’s Resolution” time)
  • Not focusing enough on the “why” behind our goal

We tend to do these things without even realizing—because goal-setting is positive, right? What we tend to overlook is the fact that sometimes we set goals in which we actually inhibit ourselves instead of empower ourselves. Goal-setting is a tricky science, but luckily there are positive methods for goal-setting that have the power to empower,increasing the likelihood of sticking to goals, which makes change more likely to be successful.

Let’s bust through some of these goal-setting myths that tend to center around this time of year:

Setting a goal without breaking down the steps of how we will go about achieving it.This tends to happen when we become very excited around the kick-off to fall, but what we fail to do is further examine the HOW factor. While I’m definitely not knocking enthusiasm, the HOW is equally as important.

  • Instead, try this: Remember to ask yourself, “Do I know what it will take to work toward this goal? What other changes might I need to make as a result of this intended change? How will I fit creating these habits into my schedule?” It may be helpful to write these down as they are important factors of goal success! Remembering the HOW will aid the goal into coming into fruition.

Setting large goals without breaking down smaller goal “milestones” in order to keep us on track. While I agree with the statement that you need to have a clear idea of where you are going in order to be able to guide yourself toward your goal destination, when we forget to keep track of the mile-markers along the way, we sometimes veer off of our goal path and into a ditch of disaster! Focusing only on the end of the goal (or the completion state of the goal) will not be enough.

  • Instead, try this: Think of your goal-setting process as creating a roadmap. Just like on road trips, you have to plan to make those necessary stops along the way in addition to your final destination. Breaking down your goal destination into smaller steps helps your goal seem more manageable. It will also prompt action in order to reach smaller steps that compile into your goal. This method helps keep the motivation going, and gives you opportunities to celebrate the smaller successes in order to keep you on track and keep the motivation flowing (even when “new goals” hype wears off)!

success-roadmap.jpg

Seeing the “big picture” without seeing various components of the “journey.” This is very similar to the points above. When we only have our “end point” in sight, the journey or the smaller successes can be overlooked, and we tend to miss out on the enjoyment of working toward our goals.

  • Instead, try this: Don’t allow yourself to miss out on the blessings that are in the journey! While it is a wonderful feeling to accomplish the end stage of your goals, there is beauty in the transitions, the growth, and the journey. Allow yourself to embrace the steps along the way, and reflect on the changes you are not only seeing but feeling as a result of all your hard work. Don’t forget to praise yourself for the smaller victories!

Using “fresh start” time as the only time we set goals for ourselves. Out of all of these goal-setting myths, this one may be the most ironic. It passes under our radar because we view goal-setting in general as positive. However, when we center on kick-off to fall as the only (or most monumental) time for goal-setting, we place ourselves in a situation that is hard to live up to. In addition, once the hype wears off, so can our goal-work and motivation.

  • Instead, try this: Try making a habit of employing goal-setting at various times during the year. This can be on a monthly, or even weekly, basis. In this sense, we create a habit and (just as importantly) a mindset of goal-setting that can carry through the entire year. In utilizing this technique, we create more opportunities for success, constant reflection, and re-evaluation of our mindset and habits, along with opportunities to see our work pay off and our motivation to hold steady. Don’t be afraid to scale back the “big idea goals” to monthly goal guideposts in order to further prompt your growth and dedication!

Not focusing enough on the “why” behind our goal. It’s difficult to stay motivated, energized, and dedicated toward a cause unless we know the purpose behind our activity. We tend to make our main motivator behind setting fall goals as “Because it’s the moving into the new season! I want a fresh start. That’s what you do at this time of year.” When that is our largest motivation for our goals, we struggle to keep those as priorities and tend to not stay on track for very long.

  • Instead, try this: Firmly establish your “why” behind your goals. Explore goal options that you have a personal tie to, something that tugs at the inner part of you. Challenge yourself to find inner motivation toward your goals that goes beyond the specific time of the year. These goals will speak so much more to us and pull us toward action if we feel personally and emotionally connected to our “why” factor.

While the wrap of of summer is an excellent time to think about new beginnings, opportunities, and all the blessings God has for us, it doesn’t have to end around mid-October! We were made for more. Busting through the “myths” of goal-setting and employing techniques that aid in consistent growth and motivation have the power to give us the consistency that we crave. Now get ready, get set, get going! The Lord’s richest blessings on all you seek in His name.

Stay tuned,

-AF

When We Aren’t at “Our Best”

Sometimes, my mind goes to the most random places.

Like on my commute to work this morning, for example. I can’t even truly explain what the exact string of words and images were that got me on this thought, but there it was, bare and exposed in my mind:

  • “What if something happens to my husband on his drive to his meetings?”
  • “What if I don’t find out about it until hours later because I’m at work?”
  • “What if he gets hurt and they can’t identify who he is, and then I don’t find out for hours and HOURS later?”
  • “I can’t even remember what he was wearing this morning….And what if that’s what they ask me to identify him by when he is found hurt?”

oh my good GOODNESS!! What an absolutely turbulent and horrible place my mind decided to go to this morning as I was making my way down the highway to get to my ever-familiar place we dub “the office”.

That’s one of the ways my anxiety likes to spike within me: getting me on a train to rumination-station, allowing my mind to explore areas that have no reasonable grounding and get me all up in a tizzy.

Leading me to worry

Leading me to doubt.

Leading me to feel desperate.

However, what stuck out to me about this (even more than the “my mind is tail-spinning in a million directions and there is absolutely no reason to be thinking this way”) was the fact that I identified with not being able to recount what my husband was wearing this morning as he walked out the door for work.

Look at me, two posts ago writing about how important it is to be “eyeball to eyeball” with someone, and here I am unable to describe what my husband was wearing this morning.

This blog humbles me. I pray it humbles you, too.

What an absolute BLESSING of a man my spouse is. It pains me to say that I don’t think he has had me at “my best” the first few months of our marriage: tired, run down, sick a few times (why does this happen in summer?!), all that jazz.

Why do we feel the need to constantly apologize for not being at our “best”?

photo-1444401045234-4a2ab1f645c01.jpeg

I mean, isn’t that a natural part of life? Isn’t that one of the absolute realities of relationships and marriage, is that we can’t always be at our best, even for those we love the most? 

Instead of faulting ourselves for constantly not being “at our best”, can we embrace the unconditional nature of the love we are given by those who can see us at our worst and love us as if we are at our best?

For example, me not looking up at my husband for an entire morning to know what he is wearing because I’m running back and forth to the bathroom being sick, trying to get ready for work, and have the dog barking her head off at absolutely nothing?

(This is nowhere near my worst, by the way. Oh hunnies, stay tuned.)

What I’m trying to say is, yes we can recognize our shortcomings, yes we can aim to improve upon those, but do we constantly have to berate ourselves for not being “our best”?

broken-heart-lollipop

There is something truly healing about embracing our brokenness rather than feeling shamed by it. It truly can give someone the privilege of “going second” (words of wisdom), meaning, allowing them to be vulnerable as well through paving the path with your example that we, too, are encouraged to embrace the authenticity of brokenness.

Because we are human.

Because we can’t always be at our best. We won’t.

And thank God that we don’t have to be.

 

Stay tuned,

-AF

Dwell, Abide, and Delight

Lately, this verse has been ever-present in my mind:

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

I think it’s more than fair to say that when life throws us curveballs, we either

  1. a. Hold on to Christ for dear life, leaning into him for that necessary guidance, or
  2. b. Shift our focus from him to the overwhelming stressors this earthly life is throwing at us.

It is so easy to get clouded by the demands of this world. I speak from personal experience as a fellow sinner, recovering perfectionist, and someone that has a slightly (or more) unhealthy relationship with control. One of the first things to go out the window when life appears to be in a constant state of overwhelm is my intentionality with fostering my personal relationship with Christ. I wish I could say that I never fall into this trap of getting wrapped up in what the world is asking of me vs. seeking God’s kingdom first. But truly, my sinful self at times gets off track, causing my focus to shift from the security I find in Christ to the endless “to do’s” and the mindset of “how can this ever be accomplished?!”

Which tailspins the anxiety. Which catalysts the rushing. Which leads to the social neglect. Which ends up in depletion.

There are some telltale warning signs that occur when our focus is a bit off-kilter. Maybe you’ve experienced them:

  • Fatigue
  • A sense of overwhelming worry
  • Feeling “burdened” by life; feeling a heavy weight of obligation
  • Living a more “rushed” lifestyle—finding very little wiggle room in which to be intentional about learning from God’s Word
  • Expressing more “If only this would happen…” vs. “I’m so grateful that…”

Sound familiar? I’m sure by now we know these all too well. These feelings or behaviors start to become “red flags” that something is out of balance. More times than not, our overwhelm, ironically, overshadows our ability to deliberately foster our personal relationship with our loving God.

That’s where this verse from Psalms that I mentioned above comes into play. It is something so simply stated, but it truly packs a punch in the comfort department. And it starts off with such a refreshing word: delight. How can one say this word and not feel a sense of relief? Let’s zone in on this word—an interpretation of the word “delight” in this context may be “to find the purest joy in, or “to lovingly and earnestly invest yourself in.” In essence, to throw ourselves fully into—emotionally, spiritually, and mentally—the presence of God and his everlasting promises. “Delighting ourselves” in him illustrates us as his children, seeking first his will and comfort, and finding the peace and joy that comes from the ever-fervent guidance of our heavenly Father.

Doing this requires our recognition of our need for a Savior (especially during the more trying times) as well as the motivation to constantly foster our spiritual relationship with him in order to have a sense of comfort carry over into every aspect of our earthly lives—including the overwhelm! And doing this requires both time in our minds and time on our calendars.

27744-woman-looking-down1200.800w.tn.jpg

Whew. Not an easy balance to maintain, especially when life appears to get more and more hectic each day, making a sustainable lifestyle that includes spiritual growth through Christ quite challenging. As Christ’s children in an age of “I need this done yesterday” and constant overload, what are some habits we can incorporate to keep our focus on delighting ourselves in him?

  • Pick a verse of the day to meditate on. While reading sections of Scripture in a devotion is a wonderful way to foster our relationship with Christ, for the “pulled in a million different ways” individual, more focused and in-depth meditation on smaller passages can be carried out throughout the day outside of devotional time. For example, the passage from Psalms above can be meditated on throughout the day. Placing this passage as an hourly reminder on your phone or writing it on a sticky note and placing it on your computer desk or on your planner (things we look at numerous times throughout the day) are small reminders to keep God’s Word at the forefront of our minds all day long, even when our schedule gets hectic. This provides the intentionality factor of actively opening up our hearts to what the Lord is telling us through his Word and how it can be applied to the everyday happenings of our lives. Biblegateway.com has a verse of the day each day to help get you going!
  • Carry your Bible with you to use as you travel throughout the day. This is something a friend of mine told me that I thought was extremely unique. Even the physical weight of an object has the ability to shift our focus onto what really matters. The act of carrying your Bible with you as you venture to work, pick up the kids, head to the gym, and so on and so forth is a constant reminder to keep our eyes open to how Christ is revealing his mercy to us each day.
  • Have a Christian playlist geared up and ready to go. Music is a wonderful way that God reveals himself to us! There are many places that we can incorporate music into our daily routine: in the car as we sit through our morning traffic routine, in the office during our lunch break, and even during our exercise routines. Having music ready to go that speaks of Christ’s love and sacrifice and encourages us to seek him in his Word is a wonderful reminder of the focus we ought to have each day. AND this is a fun and energy-boosting way to hear of God’s promises for us!
  • Utilize transitions as time for brief prayer. There are many times during our workdays in which we transition between activities or move from place to place. Utilizing these time periods as times to spend a few minutes in prayer with our God (even if it’s just to say “thank you!” or “Lord, let me be your vessel”) can aid us in keeping God as the focus of our day even in the hustle and bustle of life.

Each of the above examples can be done with a sense of joy, as Christ provides us with the comfort that the world cannot give. One of the opportunities we receive from our God is the ability to come into his presence no matter where we are during the day: God can be seen in the struggle of work deadlines, in the abundance of activities to get the children to, and even in the busyness of a packed schedule. We need to delight ourselves in him fully and intentionally in order to dwell in the peace that comes from seeking him out in unique ways.

Join me this week in delighting yourself in the ever-comforting presence of the Lord! It is amazing how we can thrive under the hectic demands of this world when we are first delighting ourselves in our relationship with God and the comfort only he can provide. It is through the strength of God that we persevere, and it is through his grace that he restores our hearts and minds.

May He always bless our mess.

Stay tuned,

-AF

Eyeball to Eyeball-Thanking God for a Collision

So, I learned how to drive in Chicago.

Cue horror movie music.

I like to think that this helps me better to be able to drive in a multitude of chaotic conditions (lets be real), however, I do at times get a bit careless. There was an instance a couple years back, however, where I could not attribute what happened to carelessness. I was backing out of my parking spot in the lot behind my apartment building at the time to meet a friend for coffee, and feel a thump. Oh boy. That never tends to be a good sound. As I looked behind me, there was an enormous black SUV-looking car (confession: I have zero car model knowledge) that had become slightly attached to my back bumper. What! As we both stepped out of our vehicles (thankfully unharmed, neither of us were going very fast), we quickly came to the realization of the “flukeiness” of the situation: we had both backed out of our parking spots at the same time (which were across from one another) without realizing it. We could easily place the blame on both of us, as this was such a random occurrence (seriously, you would have to TRY to do what we did).

Side note: I was actually surprised how calm I remained during the situation, and didn’t let anger overtake me. Typically, I tend to respond in a MUCH different, more intense manner. It did help that the damage was minimal to either one of us, and that no one was harmed. But what shook me more than the actual impact itself was the fact that I had never met this neighbor before this point of  literally “running into each other”.

At that time, I had lived in that complex for over 2 years, so I had typically come across many tenants of our large complex. But what stunned me was that it took my neighbor and I literally ramming our cars into each other to have a conversation.

hello-my-name-is-(pink)-send-postcard-online-2795_32.jpg

I feel like sometimes I get caught up very much in my own little world: what I have to do, what I don’t have enough of, what there isn’t enough time to do, and the list goes on and on and on. I tend to have a running monologue in my head of lists, obligations, and reminders (let’s all fess up to this, ladies). This sinful side of me creeps in far too often than I’d prefer it to. How easy it is to get encompassed in our own walk of life that we fail to look out at those walking this earthly life with us.

I’ve learned that at times, I am protective with my time to a fault, always claiming there is never enough of it. But if I’m living in a way where I didn’t even allow myself the time and opportunity to get to know those living literally within spitting distance of me, something’s gotta give. Maybe you find yourselves in similar situations, feeling as if there is absolutely NO time to even explore people around you that you don’t have to work with on a day-to-day basis. It took a minor accident for me to slow down and give a person God loves some of my time.

As I came home later that night a couple years back, the gentlemen who was my neighbor and his friend were in the lot that I was pulling into. When I got out of my car, they kindly came over to me and asked if everything with my car was okay. Instead of giving a short answer and scurrying inside to get into my comfy pants and finish the load of paperwork I had for the next day, something pulled me to again slow down and look eyeball to eyeball with another one of God’s invested creations. As the conversation shifted from what we do to the apartment complex ongoings, we learned about each other that we both love to worship and praise God. As we exchanged information about where we went to church, God nudged me into an important lesson that evening.

When we don’t take the time to look around and become “less of ourselves”, we miss out on the opportunities to build connections in Christ with others, and therefore, miss out on the opportunity to aid in building his kingdom here. This hit close to home for me, as a HUGE battle I have been fighting lately (an honestly, for quite some time) is the balance of sustainability and margin in my life. Pastor and speaker Andy Stanley (LOVE) gives a wonderful sermon series on “breathing room”, and creating healthy margin in various areas of life in order to keep at the center what matters the most. Andy states the importance of “ex-squeezing” yourself in order to allow for instances like impromptu conversations, intentional donations, and a prayerful relationship with God. When we don’t allow for “breathing room” to take in the world around us, and invest in the people around us, we are setting ourselves up for a very unfulfilling existence.

f68967b736b10fc0cce204ec8139909b--coffee-date-good-coffee.jpg

My husband and I do not want to be living in a community where we don’t know the names of our neighbors. We have been challenging ourselves to make intentional neighbor connections in our community (having a dog always helps with this!), and are trying to make plans to follow up with a few individuals we have made connections with. Everyone wants to belong to something: give someone the blessing of “going second” through taking some initiative in that :).

How can you create a bit of “breathing room” this week in order to connect with the world around you?  It doesn’t necessarily take a car crash (bless), but it looks like I needed a bit of a wake-up call that day. It could mean stopping over to bring that new neighbor moving in a hot dish. It could mean skipping your favorite TV show in order to take a walk and smile at the passer-bys. It could mean making that phone call to say “thank you” to a loved one, just because.

 

Let’s look outside of ourselves today. Let’s keep each other accountable in this.

Stay tuned,

-AF

When to Say “No” to a “Good Thing”

Guys: One of my favorite words has got to become the word “no”.

In my more recent posts this month, you can see a theme in my struggle with the word “no” and how allowing myself permission to use this word generously has given me freedom in many areas of my life. One of the biggest things I am learning about myself is that I am the main person that backs myself into a corner. It’s so easy to blame work, life events, yada yada, but no: am the main person who tends to back myself into a corner by not exercising my right to say “no” as often as I should.

I’ve had people reach out to me telling me that they can relate to my love-hate relationship with the word “no”, and I feel so blessed to have ladies that walk along side me with a similar struggle so that we can look at each other eyeball to eyeball and say the most empowering phrase in the world: “Oh yeah? Me too.”

I think a certain commitment has been weighing on my heart and mind much more recently, where I am possibly struggling to accept the reality that it may be time to utilize a “no” and release myself from something I have been involved in for the last 3.5 years. While there are a few things that are holding me back from exercising this “no”, today I want to touch on some of the signs that may alert us to the fact that it is time to lovingly let something go through using the word “no”.

This helps us stay accountable in being good stewards of the time that God has entrusted (yes entrusted!) to us while truly living out our authentic truth. It also will save us from building resentment, depletion, and a strapped schedule.

shutterstock93426043.jpg

I’ve slowly come to learn to watch out for these warning signs when I am considering exercising a “no”:

You consistently dread said commitment. Now I know there are days in life where even a blessing can seem like a stressor, and we reallllllllly don’t want to engage, but I’m talking on a consistent basis here. For example, some days I just dread going to work. But once I’m there and have gotten going, I’m good! I truly LOVE my job, and it’s normal to struggle to engage some days. However, if the thought of engaging in said commitment consistently gives you a sinking feeling of dread-even if it’s a good thing-it may be time to consider exercising the much needed “no”.

You find your time more useful elsewhere. If I’m consistently saying to myself “I truly feel my time would better be used elsewhere”, I may not be engaging in the right commitment for myself at the time.

You don’t prioritize the time for it. Our priorities direct our goals, which guide our behavior, which decide how we organize our time. If I’m not actively and intentionally prioritizing the time for said commitment after I’ve examined that I DO have the time to devote to it, my heart may not truly be in it.

You simply need the time elsewhere. Similarly as I mentioned before, some seasons of life require our time to be dispersed a bit differently. And this is OKAY! It is okay to give ourselves permission to change our minds depending on the demands that we have at the time. We need to adapt as life challenges us to adapt. It’s okay to say “my time is needed elsewhere” and give yourself the freedom to invest in what needs investing.

You have a “passive attitude” while involved in the commitment. This is something I had noticed more recently while engaging in the commitment in consideration: I was starting to get very apathetic about the entire process-meaning I truly did not devote the energy to care how it went. It was at this time that I could tell my feeling toward this activity had shifted, as I was developing different priorities throughout the season I was growing through.

You aren’t getting your “baselines” met. This was something that became SUPER apparent to me when I needed to exercise some “no’s”: My baseline functions were suffering as a sign of too many “yes’s!” What I mean by that is this:

  • Is this activity cutting into sleep?
  • Is this cutting into your ability to consistently fuel your body with the nutrients and food it needs?
  • Is this activity interfering with your time to prioritize the Lord and listen to His voice?
  • Is this commitment adding too much pressure on your other roles in life-wife, friend, Christian, daughter, parent?

Baselines first. Everything else second.

You can’t define a concrete purpose for engaging in this activity. At this time, my purpose for engaging in said commitment has shifted from “investing in my passion and building community” to “because I’ve been doing it and am worried about upsetting others by leaving”. This is not an authentic reason to stick to something. People-pleasing will get us nowhere. We have to have a definitive purpose to engage in a “yes” vs. prohibiting ourselves from using a “no” when needed.

Whew.

This is NOT easy to do. Only when we empower ourselves to give ourselves permission to exercise a “no” can we truly live sustainable lives filled with balance. I should know-I spent WAY too long doing the opposite! And this still tends to be my ‘default setting’- I have to work very intentionally to live out this truth for myself.

Embrace “no”: it can be kind to you.

 

Stay tuned,

-AF

 

What God Cultivated in the Midst of Anxiety

What an isolating feeling anxiety can be. The best way that I can describe this feeling based on past experiences would be drowning in the chaos of my own internal making.

Looking back, I think what appeared as a “particular, energetic, always on the go, over-achiever, independent, rebellious, resistant against family, forges her own path” type of girl was influenced heavily on what would only be identified years later as an anxiety-based disorder. One that needed to be recognized, addressed, and wrestled with.

And thank God for that. Because I can remember. I can remember the point when it was at it’s worst.

I remember back to days in college where I would go some nights with 1-3 hours of sleep (purposefully) and deem myself “FINE”, waking up the next morning and would go straight for 20 hours from one thing to the next, never to blink an eye or feel that rush of fatigue until days later when I would crash.

I remember spending large amounts of money that I didn’t have in an effort to feel a sense of control over what I felt was spiraling out of my reach. I remember bounced checks. Empty checking accounts. Overdraft fees. Shame. I remember the sobering realization that this only spiraled ME out of control. 

I also remember not being able to stop.

I remember being on my hands and knees at 3am scrubbing the counters, bathrooms, and tabletops raw to release all the pent-up energy that I had inside, energy that craved to be released (but of course, only in a way that allowed me to have more control over my environment).

I remember gaining close to 90 pounds from constantly trying to “outrun” my anxiety through taking on commitment after commitment, pushing harder and harder to reach perfection, forsaking anything my body and mind needed, all to think that would give me the sense of peace that I was yearning to feel in the midst of this struggle.

I remember going months without speaking to my parents, because the thought of facing my mother and hearing her say that I wasn’t “measuring up” was more than I could bear. Even the thought of it made me sick.

I remember checking and rechecking the locks on the doors to my apartment, forcing myself to believe that the more I was able to secure them, the more in control of my environment I could be, prohibiting anything unforeseen from happening. I remember not allowing myself to sleep until I did.

I remember saying “yes” to everything in a selfish effort to please everyone else in my life as well as deem myself “capable and worthwhile”. How sick this looks to me now.

I remember racking my brain ragged with thoughts of how I could push further, do more, BE more in order to ease my restless mind and heart.

I remember turning my back away from God and feeling like I had to be the one to be my own solution, along with everyone else’s.

I remember how tired-my gosh, how TIRED-I was, day in and day out. And how hopeless and hard on myself this made me feel. How most days Senior year of college, I would sleep the morning away just trying to grasp on to some small sense of revitalization, only to miss 75% of my 9am classes sessions, and ultimately, not showing up for a final exam. Just didn’t show.

I remember cancelling plans with friends time after time after time because I felt like I just had nothing left in me to give.

I remember feeling like nothing I could ever do would ever be enough. Enough for who? Me? My family? Everyone? All of them?

static1.squarespace

I had to own this. I HAVE to own this. Because hints of this are still a part of me from time to time.

And how common this is. How truly common this is. I own this now not from a place of shame, but from a place of rawness, recognizing that in the midst of the battle (and from time to time, still on-going battle), God has been able to cultivate beauty even from this chaotic mess. I treasure these truths He has instilled, using my anxiety as a spokesperson in which He was able to speak to the inmost parts of me even when I wasn’t fully ready to listen:

Doing more does not MAKE you more. The world does not push us to believe this is true. God pushes us to believe this is true. It’s not about doing more to be more. Moving on to that next thing and revving up the hustle to achieve that sense of peace? Temporary. Not lasting. In fact, more draining than ever. My anxiety would drive me to be “go go GO” and I thought that was the solution. Slowing down has never felt so good.

Having anxiety does not mean you are a “weak Christian”. This took me a long time to wrap my head around. And I’ll be honest, I have heard loved ones who have told me “I can’t imagine ever feeling that way, I have my faith. You just need to pray more”. I even had a family member tell me this. How shaming that felt to me, without them even knowing. I had to accept that this was their lack of insight, and not the shame of who I was. While anxiety may always be a part of me, it does not fabricate itself from a place of “weak faith”. However, it can be a barrier to me engaging in the blessing of the ever-comforting presence of God, as well as the blessings he has placed around me. Faith is not the problem, but it is the solution. 

I have the capabilities to channel my anxiety in a healthy way. God has led me to encourage myself to use my anxiety to stay determined, organized, mindful, assertive, creative, and compassionate toward others who sing with the same battlesong I do. Do I do this daily? Not at all. Can I do this? Yes, through His strength.

You are not everyone’s solution. Period. Here more on my grappling with that here.

He is enough for me. I’d be lying if I said that I embraced this statement daily without hesitation, because that’s not real life. But I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that I don’t have to make it all happen; I merely need to step out in faith and listen to His voice as He calls me. No amount of striving, rushing, success, earthly love, family acceptance, financial security, physical health, and even my own goals will compare to what He has to offer me in Him. I’m so convicted in this.

No amount of striving, rushing, success, earthly love, family acceptance, financial security, physical health, and even my own goals will compare to what He has to offer me in Him.

Let’s keep each other accountable in this. You are not alone. You are made for MORE.

157406042

So in an extremely counter-intuitive way (because that’s how life tends to work), I thank God for my anxiety. Because while I felt that it stripped and took so much away from me in some seasons of life, it was able to cultivate so much in me. HE was able to cultivate so much in me.

So while anxiety is still very much a part of me, I still feel liberated. I still feel more than it. I still believe He is more than it.

And I embrace that.

Stay tuned,

-AF

 

What Worked and What Didn’t: July in Review

8/1/17. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE greeting the first day of a new month (except if those months are November-March. Ew Winter).

I want to go back to a system that was working for me VERY well in the past (why do we drop things that work so well for us?! Ugh.). What I would do is each month, and the very end or very beginning of the next month, I would look back at the past month in a sort of reflective-review style and figure out “what worked” and “what didn’t work” in terms of goals and lifestyle. I feel like this type of reflection is important because it allows us to 1)see what changes might be beneficial to make and 2)allows us to praise ourselves on what IS working and what IS going well (which we often times overlook, well at least I tend to 😉 ).

So here I am to air out my “dirty laundry” of how I let some things go this month (why? Because brokenness and imperfection needs to be embraced and accepted), as well as pinpoint what was working well for the month of July:

What worked:

  • Consistent weekly date nights-making time to just be newlyweds and enjoy new experiences together! Also provided us with something to look forward to each week
  • Saying “no” to extra work obligations (this was a big step for me)-I turned down 2 presentation opportunities and a promotion this month in order to hold on to my sustainable work schedule, and I have NO regrets about this
  • Attending my weight watcher weigh-ins regularly, no matter how I thought the week had gone-I had extra accountability as well as my most consistent weight loss this month since November of last year 🙂
  • Checking out of “work mode” the moment I entered my car after work (I used to be a CONSTANT work planner at home, checking work e-mails at all times of the day from home-no more!). Overall, being less accessible
  • Making more time to invest in close friendships and family relations-making more of an effort to host people at our new home, meet up for coffee dates, and check in with loved ones (especially those who we knew were struggling a bit more)
  • Starting to get back into writing again (hence this blog) and investing in this area of expression and life

What didn’t work:

  • lack of paying close attention to our social spending-which dipped into our finances more than I am typically comfortable with
  • Not writing down a meal plan each week-how easy it can be at those times to just “pick something up on the way home” and not make the healthiest choices!
  • Inconsistent church attendance-due to travel, changing schedules, fatigue-what have you
  • Missing out on my group exercise classes that I like-I missed the variety in activity!
  • Lack of sleep-I was SUPER cranky and irritable at various times this month, and I know it was because my body was not getting the rest it needed. However, I don’t like that side of myself and don’t wish to see it more than I need to
  • Lack of group-based support-I think I’m recognizing I need more time with the sisters in Christ I have in my life on a group basis to discuss and support one another in the specific challenges and blessings that come along with being women
  • Lack of time in personal prayer as well as prayer with my partner-we need more of this in our lives

Even as I’m writing this, I’m recognizing that more things have worked this month that I thought. Sometimes when we are in the midst of a challenging or inconsistent season, it can be hard to see that there is blessing in the storm, and that things are going better than they feel. 

I’m a goal-oriented gal, but I also don’t believe that goals should run EVERY area of my life (I’ve developed a healthier, more balanced relationship with this over the last several months). However, I oftentimes find myself setting a few goals here and there over 5 main categories of my life: Financial, Health, Professional, Social, and Personal/Spiritual. Based on my reflection from above, here are some things I am challenging myself to stay accountable and intentional in (giving myself some grace every now and again 😉 ).

8dcb185a497230bee40c8e2b6175469a24203fff.png

Financial:

  1. Update our budget and budgeting app to reflect recent financial changes
  2. Weekly analyze/reflect back on our spending patterns (especially socially) to see how we are doing with our means

Health:

  1. Continue to regularly attend weekly Weight Watcher Meetings
  2. Use our new whiteboard (of course) to meal plan for the week before going grocery shopping-map out food prep days
  3. Encourage myself to schedule in 2 group fitness classes a month

Professional (not a big emphasis this next month):

  1. Continue to only check/respond to work-related e-mails/duties when at the office-my job is NOT on-call and I should not be inducing guilt on myself for this choice 🙂
  2. Continue to only schedule client appointments within office availability

Social:

  1. Host one larger gathering at our home (if our dog is ready for it!). If our dog is not ready for it, create a larger group outing to eliminate some of that pressure
  2. Invite 2 friends that I have been meaning to connect with out for coffee/drink dates
  3. Continue weekly date night (love this!)

Personal/Spiritual:

  1. Choose a devotional app that I enjoy and begin to incorporate this into my daily schedule
  2. Make a consistent effort to pray with my spouse each day
  3. Become more consistent in our church attendance
  4. Continue to write on this blog 3-4 times weekly

 

There ya have it! My reflections and intentions. I’d love to hear how your monthly reflections have gone, and what is on your heart and mind for the month of August. I’d love to provide any support I can!

Stay tuned,

-AF

Where the Comfort Truly Lies

Well, it comes around every week. It’s MONDAY.

When you haven’t seen a post from me in a few days, you can tell what kind of a week it’s been. And boy, was it ever a draining week. I’ve been trying to pinpoint what exactly wore me out so much this week, but it was truly a combination of major lack of sleep, worry over financial strains, little “me” time, and HEAT (it was soooooo hot this weekend, and we were basking in it for most of Saturday, yikes-but still enjoyable!). To be quite honest, by the end of the week, my anxiety level had gotten higher than I would have liked it to be, and my body really started to feel the impact of the week (as well as my poor husband. Bless his heart). By Sunday night, I was SPENT. I’m feeling a bit more refreshed (thank you, coffee), but recognize that my body truly did take this on.

The Apostle Paul knew a little bit about this (okay, maybe more than a little bit). In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks very openly about his own weakness and struggle, and is very aware of it. But he gives this message regarding being “spent”:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of All Comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” -2 Cor. 1:3-6

But…but…but Paul? You don’t get it. You don’t get my current situation, and just how frenzied I felt this week. Where was my comfort then?

Truth be told, I wasn’t doing a great job of seeking out God at the end of this week. I also lost my lens of gratitude, and every little thing just seemed so much bigger than it actually was (power of perspective!). We have a God of all comfort that has the power to refresh and revive us in the midst of anything we may be experiencing. Best part is: He is literally ALWAYS there. Always! We don’t need to make an appointment with him (although appointments with professionals are gifts from God too, believe me), and we don’t have to wait to get our time with him. We merely need to seek him out in his word, through prayer, and through being present in the moment with him.

Now, to be fair, I am all for taking care of yourself, which sometimes means making sure your needs are met so you can fulfill your obligations and roles, but to neglect my personal time with God can have a serious effect on my functioning-I wasn’t partaking in the comfort of Christ in order that I might provide comfort to others through Him. Hindsight is usually 20/20, isn’t it?

Another wrong turn I took was losing my lens of gratitude. Looking back to my above “laundry list of chaos” that occurred this week, I should have been reframing it as such:

  • gratitude for our darling pup, who even though has been giving us great challenge lately, always greets us with so much unconditional love and excitement (even if it is a 4am, ouch). She is also making great gains in some other areas of training!
  • gratitude for so many activities and loved ones to engage with this weekend! Schedule was tight, but we got to experience so many events that reminded us of the love and support God has placed in our lives
  • gratitude for Christ having a plan, and him being the one in control (and praying for patience while he unfolds it)
  • gratitude for the awareness that personal time, for me, is necessary (and prayers of how to continue to balance that on the more chaotic weeks)
  • gratitude for the current financial means we do have, and the compassion that my partner and I were able to show one another in tackling some of our concerns in this a bit more head-on
  • gratitude for lack of rain when we needed to be outside all Saturday afternoon, and the beautiful day we were able to have.

lens of gratitude

Doesn’t this list sound a lot less hostile than the beginning of this post? If I had engaged in this type of thinking, it is quite possible that I would have had a different outcome regarding my stress level and functionality. When God said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”, he meant it (2 Cor. 12:9a). God’s comfort and the power we receive from him in the midst of struggle or more challenging week is our greatest strength. To engage in this is to further our personal relationship with Christ, as well as slow down our minds and bodies to better experience the joy in the midst of struggle.

With that being said, my lens of gratitude is screwed back on, and personal time for self-care is an absolute priority this week as it should always be. How does your lens of gratitude and personal time in prayer affect how you experience life? I would love to hear your hearts.

Stay tuned,

-AF