Joy in the Midst of Rejection

“In Your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11

Rejection concept.Oh yippee, a new struggle. I was finally getting things under control where my emotions were concerned, and wa-bam! Within seconds I experienced something that left me feeling utterly rejected. I suppose this feeling follows insecurity around like a shadow. Sort of like how Robin follows Batman. I guess it’s not a complete stranger to me, then, since I’ve struggled often with insecurity. This time, however, it decided to ditch Robin and transform itself into the Dark Knight as it spread its wings over me. I apologize for the Batman analogy. Not sure where it came from but I liked it!

The sun had already set as its typical backdrop for my struggles. Sure enough, here I was, once again struggling. As I lay in bed, wallowing in my grief, or my rejection, I started to feel myself sink deeper and deeper into the familiar abyss of self-pity as I concentrated all my attention and energy on this rejection. This time, however, something amazing happened. God whispered to me! It wasn’t an audible sound, like, “Traaa-ccyyyy, where are you?” in a sing-song voice. It wasn’t even a real whisper. No, it was silent, but so loud. I was lying on my back when it happened so all I needed to do was lift my head and I found Him! The Psalm above replaced the thoughts of self-pity and pulled me out of the abyss that night. “In Your presence is fullness of joy. In Your presence, is fullness of JOY!” God was telling me He was there with me. All I needed to do was just welcome His presence and I could have complete joy. I decided to stop dwelling on my current situation and instead focus on being face to face with my Maker and my Redeemer, my Friend, who was right there with me.

The prophet Isaiah said that Jesus, “is despised and rejected by men.” (Isaiah 53:3) It still amazes and reassures me to know that Jesus, in the form of man, felt every feeling and emotion we do. Interestingly, Isaiah said He “is” despised and rejected, not He “was.” He said this years before Jesus was even born. As I reflected on that, years after Jesus died, I applied it to what I was going through and felt comforted in knowing He still feels what I feel today. I know He may feel what I feel as I go through it, but He doesn’t want me to stay there.

It struck me how blessed I felt after the fact to have been given that experience. Each night as I lay in bed now, first I say goodnight to my sweetie pie, then I roll over onto my back and turn all my attention to my Maker, spending a little time with Him before falling into peaceful dreamland.

Does It Matter What We Think? It was all about how I perceived my situation. Imagine if I ignored God’s silent call and let myself sink deeper and deeper into my rejection and self-pity? I would have missed out on sweet, one-on-one quiet time. Recently my pastor preached on King Saul and his son Jonathan. King Saul was ready to give in to the Philistines because of what he saw, but Jonathan stepped out in faith and faced the battle. (See 1 Samuel chapters 13 and 14). During the message, something my pastor said really struck me as he talked about Saul’s disobedience to God’s instruction. The Bible says Saul, “felt compelled” (13:12) to take matters into his own hands when he started to feel afraid. I don’t want to be like that. I want to care more about the kingdom and winning the battle than feeling offended or rejected!

Be Anxious for Nothing…Except During a Panic Attack

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-8

AdobeStock_145889681.jpegSure. It’s easy to say, but how easy is it to put into practice? Don’t worry. Be anxious for NOTHING. But what about my stressful job, God? Be anxious for NOTHING. But what about my kids, God? Be anxious for NOTHING. But what about my health, God? Be anxious for NOTHING. Or my finances, etc.? God’s reply… Do not worry about anything, but instead pray to me with a thankful heart, and you will be surrounded by my peace. Period.

Recently I had a major panic attack. Anyone been there? You know, the chest pains, (which of course make you think you’re having a heart attack), the hot flashes, followed by the chills, headaches, trouble breathing, that awful unsettled restless feeling. You’re not sure whether you need to call 911 or wake your spouse to drive you to the ER, only to be told that there’s nothing wrong with you. Make some “lifestyle changes”. Or, like mine, your spouse would tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you and to just relax and go to sleep. Right.

Now I’m no stranger to periodic panic attacks, but I’ve never experienced anything like this one before. It was during a time where everything seemed to be closing in on me all at once. Honestly, I thought I had been handling things relatively well. I guess not.

It was just before bed when it started. By the time I crawled under the blankets, I was convinced I’d be in the walk-in before the night was over. I had a choice that night. I could either choose to succumb to the thoughts that incessantly banged on the door of my mind…

OR I could have chosen to pray and cry out to God for His help in my time of need. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) In Hebrew, brokenhearted, or “nishbar lev”, means those of us that are broken (one description I read used the word “shattered”) on the inside and need God’s help because we realize we just can’t do it on our own. This verse, then, tells us that God is right next to us when we feel like we are completely helpless and can’t put ourselves back together. Sound familiar? This is exactly what a panic attack feels like. That night I chose to stop being a victim of anxiety. I’m not saying it was easy, but instead of entertaining heart attack thoughts, I began pleading to God for help, clinging to the hope that only He could give me.

I love Psalm 4:8. It’s encouraging that I’m not the only one who has ever experienced anxious nights. David prayed, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” I can pretty much guarantee that he was feeling anything but peaceful and safe when he prayed that prayer. Yet he chose to cry out to God and proclaim what he already knew God could do instead of succumbing to the other thoughts that threatened to overtake him.

I don’t know about you, but it seems that anxiety tends to strike more at night. Why is that? Because Satan loves darkness! It’s his playground. Ephesians 6:12 talks about the, “rulers of the darkness of this age.” 1 John 1:5 declares that, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” Satan wants to take advantage of the night and get into our minds when we are at our weakest. But if we remember God is light, and He is in us, then we are the light too and no darkness can survive in us!

Does It Matter What We Think? I hesitated to publish this blog because I wasn’t sure it really held the emotion and passion I intended. This is so important. Anxiety is very prevalent in our society today but I want to remind you that we have the tools to fight it. I love the band the Newsboys. In one of their songs they sing a line taken from Psalm 30. “There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.” How encouraging is that! As I prayed that night God did show up. He always does. He promises He will. I know this isn’t the last time the enemy will try to trick me into thinking I’m having a heart attack or dying. But I can stand firm on the knowledge of the fact that if I hold fast to God and choose cry out to Him instead of “fulfilling the desires of…the mind,” (Eph 2:3), the joy WILL come in the morning and I don’t have to be anxious for anything!!

Knock, Knock

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Blog pic knock knockIt was a dark and stormy…morning? What? Yep. I know, cliché. But that’s exactly what it felt like. It was a Friday morning, usually the best day of the week when we get to spend the “Free-form Friday” in our dress-down jeans with seventeen preschoolers who have finally succumbed to the last four days of our structured routine. This particular Friday, however, was anything but roses. It seemed that the earth had shifted terribly on its axis, causing its inhabitants to feel anxiety, worry, and stress. Literally, the weight of the world seemed to be rolling slowly, its sole purpose to crush one particular forty-something teacher right in front of a bunch of four-year-olds.

By noontime, I knew there was a desperate need for a Dunkin run. Collecting orders from my classroom staff (and principal-ok, yes, come on, this woman runs the entire school), I drove the few miles to sanity-a small (which should have definitely been at least a medium) chai latte with almond milk.

Spending the first four minutes decompressing, singing in my head to the radio, I spent the next three minutes praying. It wasn’t so much as a prayer, as a pleading to God. Where was He? Didn’t He see what had happened that morning? Did He care? I have to admit, so many days I begin the morning with a wonderful quiet time, reading and praying, and then before I know it the entire day goes by and while I may have acknowledged God, or even encouraged another friend to stay strong in Him, it’s three o’clock and I’m hustling to pack up so I can be out the door for the second half of my day, and I’ve forgotten all about the real Him. My real Dad (the omnipotent one).

As you can imagine, these particular three minutes in the car were like priceless gems for me. My thoughts and prayers quieted down as I still waited to feel Him, or for some miraculous sign from above that He heard me and still loved me, (knock, knock, God, You there?) I turned into the parking lot and happened to glance at one of the parked cars. There, glaring at me from the back, was a large silver cross that had been fixed to the rear of the car. Immediately I felt a wonderful peace and joy as I lifted my eyes and silently thanked God while exhaling a deep breath at His goodness. He had heard me! He hadn’t forgotten me even though I had forgotten Him in the midst of my dark and stormy morning.

After I ordered my five drinks I was pulling back onto the road and one of my favorite songs came on the radio. It was Casting Crowns’ “Just Be Held.” Another word from my Dad. My favorite verse of that song is when Mark Hall sings, “your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place. I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.” Wow. Why is it that we (I) get so bent out of shape as soon as a little bit of stress is applied to our even-keel life, when God’s promised that He is always with us. All we need to do is search for Him during the storms of our day and stop holding on.

Does It Matter What We Think? I know you can’t tell me I’m the only one who’s ever asked God if He’s still there, if He hears me or if He’s listening. But if we meditate on those thoughts for too long, they can be destructive. God promises us He will never leave us nor forsake us. Instead of treading through the storm, wondering how on earth you will get through it, focus your mind on Him and let go. He is on the throne!

Photo by LP

Party Time

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8

B8BA2660-4225-4699-8BD1-7B608016AD51Recently, I was really struggling (again) with feeling forgotten, used, and hopeless. I felt like I wasn’t getting the attention I deserved. Basically, I was throwing myself a pity party. Big time. I was entertaining all sorts of thoughts and questions about how bad things were in my life, what’s the matter with me that people are treating me this way, etc. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I wanted to climb into bed and curl up in the fetal position and think, think, think.

The problem was, I was thinking! But I was thinking the wrong things. I was allowing the devil to control my mind and it made me feel terrible. The other problem was my focus. All my self-pity was just that-on my self! When we switch our focus from God and others, and narrow it on to ourselves, all we find is emptiness, depression, and anxiety. Nothing good.

And don’t think I didn’t know what I was doing. That little voice in the back of my mind kept saying, “Tracy, this is the enemy. These are not good things to dwell on. Refocus your mind back to what you know is true.” Think about the verse above. It says to, “meditate on these things.” According to Vine’s dictionary, to meditate means to think about something in earnest. Not a passing thought. To me, it means that when Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians, he knew they would struggle with their thoughts.

Anytime we want to change a habit, or get better at something, we have to practice and work at it. It’s no different with training our thoughts. If someone wants to be a good basketball player, they have to work hard and practice…a lot. Not only physical practice, but they have to get the right mindset. To do that they need to repeatedly say positive things and think positive thoughts about their abilities. Often, they pump each other up by encouraging each other.

It took me a while, but when I finally decided that I was tired of feeling down and depressed, I started to change my thinking. At first it was just as simple as saying “thank you, God,” for who He is and what He has done for me. Then, I started to verbally say positive things that I knew were true, even if I didn’t feel it inside. But as I continued to say them (notice how I said them out loud), something amazing happened. I began to change how I felt inside! I began to believe what I was saying. A a result, I felt better.

As expected, it didn’t take the enemy long, and by the next day the devil kept trying to put those yucky thoughts back into my mind, but this time I was prepared. I immediately spoke the positive confessions out loud, and as I did I felt stronger. I felt brave. I felt loved. I felt, and knew, that God was taking care of me and would help me through it. Because, “greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.” I John 4:4

Does It Matter What We Think? In this struggle I faced, the more I dwelt on all these negative things about myself and others close to me, the worse I felt. Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” When I made a decision to change my mindset, to throw my hands up to God, it definitely felt like a sacrifice. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think I had the strength to do it. But once I did, in faith, God saw it as good and it was like incense to Him! Greater is He who is in YOU!!

Keep On, Keeping On!

“But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” Philippians 3:13

20171224_082430Recently I had the opportunity to visit and reflect on mistakes I’ve made in the past. This was not an opportunity I welcomed. Nor one I enjoyed much. It reminded me once again how far from perfect I am. I saw every flaw and felt the embarrassment, pain, and suffering all over again. I began to think about how many people noticed these flaws and who might be talking about them behind my back. It made me feel awful.

As we celebrate the beginning of a New Year, this verse is a reminder to me to put the past behind and look to the great things God has planned for my future! We have all made mistakes, but that’s the awesome thing about God. He knows that, and it’s ok. He still loves us despite them if we have a repentant heart.

As I began this post and thought about what to write, I reflected on a comment I overheard someone say. In a nutshell, they said now that it’s a new year we can forget everything from last year and move on. I knew what they meant, but it made me stop and think. I wondered if that’s really what God wants. Does He want us to forget last year? Yes, I know we are to press forward, to look forward to the new year, but did Paul really mean forgetting everything that happened last year? Or was he more specific, like maybe we aren’t supposed to dwell on our mistakes from the past but instead learn from them and move on?

The next day I had my answer. I started a new devotional for the year, and the title for that day’s devotion was “Remembrance.” I chuckled at the irony of it and let God speak to me. When I finished, I closed the book in awe of what God reminded me. When things get difficult, it’s important to remember the times when God showed up for us. When did we feel His presence? When did we see His hand working in a difficult situation?

Does It Matter What We Think? The New Year is a time to celebrate, and in a sense start over with a clean slate. But don’t forget the times when God was there for you last year. When you face the first difficult situation of the New Year, reflect on what God did for you last year, then look ahead and keep on, keeping on!

To Choose Or Not To Choose

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:33

7E1CAD9C-0859-4217-B47D-960ED854A3E3Have you ever had a major life decision staring you in the face? A while ago my husband and I found ourselves in the midst of one. We weren’t sure what we were supposed to do. We had some ideas, based primarily on physical things, not a call from God.

We made a decision with a “let’s see what happens” attitude. After a few weeks of that, I felt really confused. Here we were, trying to make a better life for our family, yet I didn’t really hear God speaking clearly to me. At all. And the more I thought about it, the more confused I felt. I knew I needed to continue to pray about it, but as a Type A personality (I know some of you are out there) I found myself often thinking the situation through. First mistake. That made me more confused.

Then I realized I needed to work on trying to reason less, and pray more. I remember one day I approached my husband and said, “you know, I really don’t feel led to continue on this track.” He replied to me that he really didn’t either. What did this mean?

Soon after our conversation, my husband told me he believed we were called to do the opposite of what we decided to do. The problem was, I had that sense as well, but I didn’t really want to.

Each time I prayed about it I felt confused. I felt like God had big plans for us and everywhere I turned we seemed to be running into sermons and messages related to our plans. Someone he was talking to who he had just met that night encouraged him with basically, why not? Some of these messages we were getting we realized might not necessarily have meant making these big changes but smaller ones. The problem was we were both so confused we didn’t know what action to take.

Now I should note, that just a couple of months before, my husband felt God tell him to just wait, and be patient. But it’s hard to wait and be still when the world is telling you to move. The confusion began to strain our marriage, and we would engage in endless discussions that only went around and around the same questions. What is the right decision?

Finally, I recognized this for what it was. Maybe I knew it all along and tried to put it in the back corner of my mind because it was different from what I wanted. But it was the enemy, settling a spirit of confusion upon us. Often it is his way of keeping us from doing what God has called us to do, and ultimately advancing His kingdom here on earth. Or, to put it another way, God has a special purpose for each one of us here. You and I are here on earth at this particular moment in time for some reason. If you are a Christian, you have a special work that God wants to use you for. But if the devil puts confusion into our minds, we find ourselves spinning in circles as we wear a rut in the same exact spot instead of stepping out and moving forward.

When I finally stepped back and let my husband make the decision, I felt a great peace. An amazing peace. You see, I knew that if he was being led to do this, then I needed to be obedient to that and follow him. Regardless of what God wants me to do here, the first step was to do what I know God wants me to do now. And His Word, the Bible, says that God recognized man should not be alone. “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18) My first job? Be a help to my husband. Ok, not too difficult until he wants to do something that maybe I don’t want to do. Then how do I help or support him?

Interestingly, I noticed that the verses which explain the true battle here, the battle not between husband and wife or siblings, but the battle in the spiritual realm, that often that takes place in our thoughts or our minds, I noticed that the verse comes immediately following the verses that encourage husbands, wives, children, parents, servants, and masters. “Let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph 5:33) Wow. So, this is pretty much telling me that there will be times when I need to respect my husband, and follow his lead, even when I’m confused about the decision and don’t know if it will work. AND that it may be hard for me, but I need to recognize who the real enemy is. It’s the devil, trying to bring confusion into our family so that we are divided and unable to complete God’s great work for us.

Now I still don’t know if there is one particular reason why God showed us that decision for that time. But I do know that since we’ve (well, hubby), made the decision, I have had peace, and a content that God will work all things for our good, because we didn’t allow confusion to divide us anymore and because I did the one thing I knew how to do, support my husband.

Does It Matter What We Think? In this instance, the enemy was pushing me to “think” too much. To reason too much. Sometimes we can still meditate on things that we think are for good but really God is saying, “stop thinking so much and start talking to Me. I will show you what to do.” Twice in the book of Proverbs is says, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (14:12 and 16:25) I’m not saying we would’ve died if we made that decision. But I can assure you that if we allowed confusion to take over our minds, and we acted before leaning on the Lord’s leading, the way might’ve been a bit more rocky.

The Monster Under My Bed

DSC_2192.JPG“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” Genesis 50:20

Don’t laugh at me. And don’t tell me you’ve never gotten down on your hands and knees to triple check that there isn’t anything or anyone lurking in the shadows of your bedskirt. Ok, maybe you haven’t lately. But I have. Yep. Very recently in fact. Before you close the screen because this doesn’t apply to you, hear me out.

I had been looking forward to this weekend for months. A whole weekend focusing solely on my writing and my spiritual growth. I was ready to relax, refresh my soul, and spend a calm, peaceful weekend with God and my computer, while fellowshipping with other Christian authors. After all, the conference was called “Renew.”

Well, I showed up just in time for my critique appointment, and in order to make it I left my luggage in the car. After the appointment I had a half hour before they were doing a celebration panel of authors who published in the last year. Perfect! Time for me to get my things, find my room, use the facilities, freshen up, etc. Well when I finally managed to ask the front table where the celebration would take place, I was told all the authors on the panel were currently meeting in the front room. How did I miss that email? I stepped into the doorway just in time to basically hear, “Ok, and that’s how it’s going to work. Let’s just have fun!” Not to mention when they saw me there they asked if I had my 5 books I needed, and I said, yes, in my room. Oops.

So I had to run up to my room, throw the books onto the table, and settle myself into my seat, just in time for the interview panel to begin. I felt like I was in a whirlwind. I wanted to cry. I tried to compose myself. I took deep breaths. I prayed. I smiled. And I prayed some more as they called up the first panel of 7 authors, myself being one of them, but for some reason I missed my name the first time.

Long story shorter, after sitting in the wrong seat (how could I miss that each seat had the author’s book on it!), blindly finding my way to the dining room down the stairs and pretty sure located in another state, I managing to keep myself composed through dinner with one of my most favorite authors. After dinner I scrambled back upstairs to get the rest of my books into the “store” and priced. Then I found myself alone in my room.

I was tired. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and most significantly, spiritually. Where was God? Here I am at a spiritual writer’s retreat, surrounded by people who love two of the same things I do, and yet I struggled. Where was God? I prayed for peace. I sure didn’t feel it. I prayed for it to be a great weekend. So far we were off to a not so great start. Surely He didn’t set all this up for me just to waste the entire weekend in misery and despair.

I talked to my husband on the phone, and had some time to sort through all the books I purchased, as well as my freebies. I told him if I could just get myself organized, I’d feel better. So, I did that. Then the next wave came. I felt like I was almost being suffocated. I felt fear, anxiety, and confusion. And then the monsters showed up. You know what I’m talking about. The sense that someone is standing behind you. You know they’re there, even though you haven’t turned around yet.

How many years has it been since I’ve even thought about a monster under my bed? But that was the next thought. What if someone was lurking under my bed, waiting for me? And not even what if. It was more like, who or what am I going to find when I lift up the skirt? Then I did what every sane forty-year old does. I went to the foot of the bed, moved back a bit (just in case they lashed out at me with a knife), and put my head to the floor. Surprise!! Nothing. Of course not. But that wasn’t good enough. I got down and looked again. Then I went to the side of the bed and looked again. And when I left the room that night, I looked again when I returned. Each time I saw nothing. But what I felt was so real, I knew I had an enemy in the room with me.

You see, God set this weekend up for me. And often, when God has great plans for us, the enemy will try to fight it. In this case it was through fear, because that’s one area that is a struggle for me, and Satan knows that. So I had a choice to make. Was I going to stay up all night in fear, that someone was going to come in or that someone was hiding under the bed I checked fifty times? Or was I going to lie down in peace? David said in Psalm 4 verse 8, “I will both like down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” It was more clear than ever that this weekend was divinely appointed, so I was not going to let my peace be stolen. I hit the floor and prayed until God showed Himself and the peace I was craving wrapped itself around me.

By now I should end my story, with all of you saying, “Praise God! Ya, He is real!” But it doesn’t end here. Literally within ten minutes after that, the mental attack struck again. I was standing at the desk in my room and knocked over a very full cup of water. I had no idea how much water fit into that cup. Big deal, you say. Well, it is when you’re struggling to keep peace in your mind. All my toiletries were on that desk, my computer, Bible, books, notes, etc. Once I clumsily cleaned it up and mopped the floor, I still refused to let my peace be stolen. I climbed into bed and gratefully thanked God for the day and looked forward to a new day.

The next morning, yes, after checking for monsters twice during the night, I woke feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day! Upon looking at my phone, and realizing I had a half hour till breakfast (I never sleep that late, so I didn’t see any need to set an alarm), I hurried up and went to the showers. Ok, little frazzled, not a big deal. Ready in plenty of time, just missing the prayer time but that was ok because I would have my own time with God. Finishing up getting dressed, I felt good about things and bent down to pick up my conditioner bottle off the floor. Standing up, I banged the front of my head onto the towel bar. Ok, dumb move. Just clumsy. We all bang our heads. Yes we do, but this hurt so badly and all I could think about was the concussion I received from hitting my head against a cabinet. So here we go again.  A little nauseous, I finished up and went to breakfast, smiling all the way as I greeted others. With a throbbing head I asked the dining room manager for a bag of ice.

In the bathroom, as I squatted against a wall with a large plastic bag of ice against my head, I had another decision to make. It was almost more than I could bear. Ok God, did you really not want me to come here this weekend? I finally asked. But then I pushed that aside and knew in my heart that once again, the enemy was finding every single device he could use against me to get me to give up. To go home and miss out on all the blessings that were prepared for me. I told him that he’d have to do better than that to get me to leave. I wasn’t giving up. Then and there I made the decision. I stood, iced for a few more seconds, and walked out of there resolved to stay here until the bitter end.

Why did I tell you all this? Did you really need to hear a play by play of all the things that went wrong with my weekend? Of course not. But let me tell you, the weekend was beyond even my own imagination, and in more than one way. I met several amazing women who encouraged me and loved me. I reconnected with an acquaintance. I heard real women speak about real life and I learned so much from each of them. And I had a chance to write some more and read it to a group of people who offered advice and suggestions. Not to mention I learned a lot about the next step in this journey, public speaking.

So was it worth it? Absolutely. The times we go through the fire are the times when we are being made perfect. If I gave in to my fears and anxiety and left the conference, I would’ve missed out on the great reward. Remember, what the devil has planned for our harm, God means it for our good!

 

Photo by LP