7 Encouraging Things Christians with Anxiety Need to Know

7 Encouraging Things Christians with Anxiety Need to Know

Whether you believe in God or not, anxiety is still a beast. It consumes minds and bodies of kids and adults like never before. One third of all absences from work are due to anxiety and stress, and we know that relationships and long-term health also suffer. Anxiety wasn’t supposed to be part of my story, but it is. As a Christian and a church worker diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, I’ve learned both practical and spiritual things about anxiety that are worth sharing with those who struggle with worry, stress & fear.

On the outside, I was lovely. Strong. Capable. Gifted.

On the inside, I was slowly dissolving to pieces. And nobody knew. Not even me.

 

That’s the thing about anxiety. It charades as a sneaky thief.

I planned for the worst to be prepared.
I was “wise.”

I strove for perfection in parenting, in relationships, at work, in acts of service.
I was “valuable.”

I kept my promises and over-delivered
I was “respected.”

There’s nothing wrong with these characteristics, but they are markers for a mind that is busy, a body that is weary, and a soul that is striving.

A human being cannot live this way forever. Something will eventually break.

And that’s what happened to me at the age of 37. I broke. I found myself frozen in a chair at country club where I was in charge of a large fundraiser. I hadn’t slept for days. I was nauseous constantly. My mind raced with to-dos and what-ifs and should’ve, could’ve, would’ves. The room bustled with activity and I (the girl with the golden touch) shattered into a million pieces.

 

It was both the most devastating and the most incredible thing to ever happen to me.

Nobody knew what to do with this new, broken version of Laura. Least of all, me. I was the one who fixed things and took care of others. I had traveled the world and climbed the corporate ladder. I was raising two beautiful daughters. I counseled people, shifted my career to the non-profit world and currently worked at a church. Yet now I was screaming of fear in my bed and having panic attacks on the bathroom floor.

And I was a Christian. Wasn’t I supposed to have peace that surpasses all understanding? Lay my burdens down at Christ’s feet? Be still and know that He is God?

Where was God in this battle and how could I reconcile these fears with the power of His Promises?

There’s not a simple answer, but there are several encouraging truths that I want you to know.

  1. IT’S NOT ALL IN YOUR HEAD
    Anxiety becomes a physical illness as much as emotional, spiritual, and mental. When we stress or worry and don’t give our body the physical and mental rest it needs to recover, there are dozens of very real, physical responses that occur in our body. The effects of these responses (like insomnia, nausea, racing thoughts, shaking, etc) often cause us even more anxiety and a vicious cycle begins.The good news is that early recognition, intervention and even medication are helpful options (provided by God) for managing anxiety and helping our bodies recover from stressful symptoms. There is no shame in seeking counsel of a pastor, loved-one, doctor and/or taking medication. In fact, the sooner you seek help, the easier it is to feel the positive impact.


2. ASKING FOR HELP IS BRAVE & BIBLICAL
Take one look at scripture and you’ll notice that God worked through humans all the time. He didn’t HAVE to, but He did. And He still does today. There are many ways for you to receive help with anxiety through people that God has uniquely placed in your path. Here are the ones I’ve used in my own journey. I proudly call them “my team” and I’m certain they were heaven-sent to be God’s help in my life.

Psychiatrists: a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness (can prescribe medication).

Psychologists: a specialist in mental processes and behavior (does not prescribe medication).

Counselors: a person trained to give guidance on personal, social, or psychological problems.

Inpatient and/or outpatient treatment programs: intensive care consisting of medical, psychological help as well as counseling.

Naturopathy: a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing

Support groups: Often free, these are groups of people struggling with similar situations who can walk with you and share resources. Check out Fearless Women.

Let people help you. Start building your team, knowing that Jesus is owner, provider, and source of their help.

3. GOD’S WORD IS NOT A MAGIC WAND FOR SUFFERING
The Word of God is alive and active. We know this. While the Truth of Scripture is real, God never promises to magically remove our suffering. In fact, Jesus tells us that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

It is confusing, I know. It’s helpful for me to focus on God’s promises and not equate them to outcomes I have pre-determined in my mind. God works the good even when it’s not the way we desire. On that, you can firmly depend.

4. PRAYER IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIP, NOT RESULTS
I used to get frustrated when I prayed for my anxiety to go away or when other people prayed for me because it didn’t always seem to work! And then I realized that I was praying “upstream” instead of “downstream.” When I began visualizing God’s presence in my life as a river flowing from the highest mountain and His Will washing down over my life, my prayer life changed. I realized that being connected to the person of Jesus and what He was already doing in my life was what mattered. Anything else was me spending useless energy trying paddle upstream.

5. EMOTIONS ARE NOT BAD
I come from a long line of stoic, German Lutherans. In my family, we always try to do the right thing, keep our emotions in check and quickly move on to the next challenge to be tackled. I call it overdrive. I’m also the first-born of four girls which brings it’s own set of responsibilities and unspoken rules. So, essentially, I spent 37 years of my life stuffing negative emotions. And guess what? They eventually ALL came spewing out over my life and my loved ones. Anger, sadness, grief, and fear are not bad. They are human responses to the pain of this world. Allow yourself to fully feel those emotions. Jesus did. Let them wash over you and then release them in Christ’s loving hands.

6. YOU ARE NOT THE HERO OF YOUR STORY (and this is a good thing)!
Much anxiety stems from trying to be in control of what happens in our lives and in the lives of others. At the beginning of my breakdown, I thought if I just read the right book, prayed the right prayer, found the right meditation, or took the right herb, my problems would cease. I had this idea about what healing should look like for me. After a year of chasing one magic cure after another, I finally laid down in the middle of my living room floor and gave up. I didn’t give up on life or hope, I gave up my control.

We can ONLY do the next right thing. That’s it. We can’t plan our future. We can’t erase our past. We can do everything right and still not get what we want. However, we can simply do the next right thing in love and trust God with the outcome. That’s true peace. That is divine surrender.

7. JESUS IS THE HERO OF YOUR STORY
You are NOT the Hero of your story, darling. No, you are the wanderer, the broken. You are UNABLE to work your way out of your life’s web of hurt, pain, lies and heartache. It’s true. You are the one who needs to be rescued. Oh, how your soul longs to be rescued! Christ, the true Hero sees you here, hurting. And He is so good and so true and so full of light and love that He cannot bear to leave even one broken soul separated from Him. Not one. Not you. This Hero doesn’t do what you expect. He does not flex His muscles or call in an army. No, the Hero does something much more radical. Something so shocking, so undeserved.

The Hero takes your place.

So please don’t be ashamed of your anxiety or fears. When God says “Do not fear,” 365 times in the Bible, it is not a command to be obeyed. Rather, it is the assuring words of a Father comforting His child. The Hero has already made a way for you. Just do the next right thing. Whatever that may be. And watch how your Hero makes a way for you to seek the still. Maybe…just maybe, this new dependance on Him will be the best thing to ever happen to you, too.

Seeking The Still… Still

Seeking The Still… Still

One minute I put a pizza in the oven, the next I was running toward the stairs. With eyes wild and heart on fire, I felt IT rising.  Panic. Out of nowhere. Wait. Maybe this isn’t panic, maybe it’s the virus that Anna had a few days ago. Let’s see, sudden nausea, hot flash, pins and needles every which way. All I could think was bed. I laid down shaking under the covers. Is this different from a panic attack? Is it the same? If it’s the flu, why am I not throwing up? I reached for Google and broke my number one rule.

Hands shaking, I typed out the search words:

“Symptoms of stomach flu.”

This couldn’t be anxiety…or could it?

I slept for 24 hours. When I finally ventured downstairs, I said THE WORDS to my family. “I think I might be having anxiety symptoms.” No way, they said. Right, mom?!? You’re just sick.

Yes, I’m sick, but I also feel like I’m having anxiety again.

Off and on anxiety symptoms and tiredness followed me the next two days. There were times I was sure I was having a setback, and other times I was sure it was simply low blood sugar or high cortisol from being ill.  

The truth is that it simply doesn’t matter why I feel the way I do. My body is revved up for one reason or another, so what in the world was I to do?

 

 

Be Honest About It

I told my family and a few select people that I was struggling. It helps to have them know.

 

Be Kind To Yourself

Do the same things you’d do if you had the flu. Drink lots of water. Get lots of rest. Breathe in and out. Let the waves come, don’t try to fight them.

 

Be Brave

Put on the armor that God gives you. Claim the peace of Jesus. It’s yours. There’s nothing you have to do to get it. Don’t let it sit unused. Claim it. Claim it. Claim it.

 

This journey of Seeking the Still is just that: a journey. I haven’t arrived. And while I have tangibly seen the victory of Jesus, I’m still in process. So are you. It’s not called “I Found The Still.” I’m still seeking that which is fully available in Jesus.

 

Having had acute anxiety, I may always be more prone to it. In times of stress and sickness, it leaks out. It’s good for me to know this and be prepared. But I will not allow it to be used against me.

 

No weapon formed against me, or you, shall prosper. That verse doesn’t mean no weapon will be formed against us, it just means it won’t win. We claim the peace of Christ. It is ours, and we will wield it in His almighty name.

You, too?

COME OUT OF HIDING,
MESSY MIRACLE

There is hope  +  You are not alone

Caught on Tape: My Bad Mom Moment Revealed

Caught on Tape: My Bad Mom Moment Revealed

Guilt. Shame.

Sadness washes over me as the home video abruptly switches from my cute little girls to me with my game face on, all dolled up in a white denim jacket.

It was 9 years ago in 2007, when video cameras still recorded on tiny tapes. Apparently, I intended to record over this audition, but a remnant remained.

I watch myself deliver carefully rehearsed lines. Eyes directly into the camera, voice projected, body poised. I was auditioning for a non-profit organization that sends motivational speakers to high schools around the country. And the deadline for audition tapes was that day.

Right in the middle of a line, adorable 3-old-year-old Audrey runs to the room, interrupting my soliloquy. The video shows me stop and glare at her, an angry mom look casting dark shadows everywhere.

“Anna’s getting fussy, mom,” her sweet voice rings out.

“What are you doing out here?” I yell at her. “I told you stay in the room. Get back in there and watch your sister. NOW!”

In the space of 5 seconds I watch myself turn from an enthusiastic, classy woman into an ugly witch yelling at her 3-year-old to go back and take care of the baby crying in the exersaucer.

Of course, that wasn’t the first time I yelled, threw a fit, or relied on my toddler to keep an eye on the baby. But it was the first (and last) time I saw myself do it outside the walls of my own head. I wanted to erase the evidence. Pretend it never happened. But for some reason, I didn’t. That clip still exists somewhere in the vast storage device where our electronic family memories reside. I know I’ll stumble upon it one day. Or perhaps one of my girls will find it. What will I say? How will I explain…

I could brush it off.

“Oh, gosh. That must have been a really bad day. Let’s delete that one!”

I could defend myself.

You know…I had recently stopped working to be home full-time. I didn’t know it then, but I likely had postpartum depression, too. We sold our car to make the budget work, and Justin only carpooled a few days per week. Many times, I had no vehicle to leave the house. Money was so tight. I was isolated and desperately trying to find an outlet to make cash and feel like myself again. The deadline for the audition tape was that day, remember? And I DID get the job…

I could give insight.

It was hard for me to be a mom of little ones. I’m highly driven, ultra sensitive, and I need lots of down time to feel my best. I was in over my head, and I had not yet learned the importance of asking for help. It’s not that I didn’t love my babies. Oh, how I have loved them every moment since I learned of their life within me! It was a rough season that I did my best to hide. As a result, the ugly parts spewed out all over the ones I loved the most.

I could be honest.

I’m a messy miracle, darling. I don’t know why I do the things that I do. I make mistakes. I act out of fear. I screw up…badly.  But those mess-ups have taught me so much about love and forgiveness and grace. I never would have known how much I value those gifts, how much freedom they give, if I hadn’t needed them desperately. And I do need them desperately.

What if we’re all simply doing the best we can?

I know you can relate to my story. There are things you’ve done that you wish you could take back. Maybe they weren’t played on a computer in front of you, but perhaps they keep playing on the screen of your mind. Your first instinct is probably to defend yourself and place the blame elsewhere. Or do you dismiss and avoid?

What about when other people mess up? Do you revel in it? Does it secretly make you feel better to know you’re not alone? Is your first instinct to judge and assume?

It’s a crazy world we live in, and we’re all part of the crazy. It’s not the way it was designed to be, but it’s the way it is. Until Jesus takes us home or returns, you and I will continue to be part of the mess. But we’re also part of the miracle.

What if the next time you mess up, you choose to confess and ask forgiveness?

What if the next time your unmet expectations cause you frustration, you talk about it openly and honestly, without blame?

What if the next time a friend tells you she doesn’t want to get out of bed, you don’t try to fix her. You simply say, “I understand. What can I do?”

What if the next time you see a mom frustrated with her child, you offer an encouraging word instead of judging and walking by.

Because you understand, after all.

You’re the mess. And you’re the miracle. God works through you in both ways. So let him. Be you and offer grace to others to be themselves, too.

Be Still,

Laura

XOXOXO

Other posts from the Messy Miracle Series:

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Blackout: Chasing Contentment

Blackout: Chasing Contentment

blackout

On the back of my senior t-shirt, I added these words in white vinyl letters.

Harmful or Harmless?
What do YOU think?

My maiden name is Harm, thus the creative play on words. But a darker meaning also lurked there.

I swallowed my first taste of alcohol at age 16 sitting on a car in the high school parking lot. The next morning, I sat in the choir loft for church. I was a notorious good girl who thought way too much about doing, saying, feeling the right thing, so I quickly learned that alcohol was an “easy” way to release the nagging voice in my head. Under the influence of elixir, layers of weight shed from my skin. Words flowed freely. Spontaneity was achievable. My reserved nature fell away and an alter-ego took her place with sweet release.

For the first decade of my drinking years, there was no such thing as simply enjoying a glass of wine or a can of beer.

I drank to become someone else.

“You know, alcohol is more dangerous for you than for others,” my father said one night, a reminder of our shared family history.

The angel on my right and the demon on my left. A conflict of character. A battle of identify. I was both of them, but thankfully they weren’t all of me.

Can you relate, Messy Miracle? Do you sometimes wish you could change the things you dislike about yourself? Do you wish there was a pill to erase the fear? Do you long for a magic mirror in which to see the future yet to come?

We all do. It’s universal, this desire to control. And sometimes it actually works…for a little while.

The dark side.

I’ve experienced two drinking-induced blackouts. Entire evenings missing from the cavern of my mind. On my 19th birthday, the last memory I have is throwing back shots at a bar during a fraternity social. I woke in my sorority bedroom soaked in layers of vomit with no recollection of laying face down, comatose on a parking lot the night before. Nor do I remember the (thankfully kind) designated driver who carried me home. He left a note. His name was Troy.

In my twenties, I attended the marriage of friends and drank the glasses of wine that continuously appeared before me. I vaguely recall dinner, then dancing and then nothing. Except the echoes of embarrassing stories the next day.

Blackout. No memory. No picture in my head.

Life moved ever forward with career, marriage, and kids. The escape of drink turned to shopping, moving up the corporate ladder, decorating a home, and dozens of smaller distractions to numb the ever-blooming chase for contentment.

Who am I? Why am I here? I had everything I ever wanted, but nothing was enough.

First the heartache. Then the healing.

I intended this essay to be about drinking, but I realize now that it’s actually about so much more. Drinking is just one of many ways I’ve sought to avoid the pain of this chaotic world. And what I’m learning is that You. Can’t. Avoid. The. Pain.  

At least not forever. Any attempt to stuff it or hide it or ignore it, just makes it intensify when it can no longer be contained. And trust me. At some point, it will no longer be contained.  

So, what’s a lady to do? I wish there was an easy fix, dear one. The truth is that the only way out is through. You have to open the door on the pain to set it free. You have to find trustworthy people to help you. And you have to surrender it all to Jesus.

I know you’re chasing contentment. You are wrestling with warring sides of yourself.  So am I…still. We’ll never find the answer in the bottom of a bottle. It’s nowhere in the latest trendy clothes, lower numbers on the scale or newest wrinkle cream. It’s not in your boyfriend or your spouse or even your children. All of that will fail you. You will fail you. But it’s ok. We were never meant to heal ourselves. But we ARE made to be healed.

Can you believe, just for a moment, that you were made to live free? Live free from the pain and emptiness? Imagine what that would feel like…to know that you are perfectly loved and accepted exactly the way you are. And what if you didn’t have to do anything for this to be true? What if you only had to let go of the reigns and believe? Would you do it? Could you do it? Stay with me on this quest to Seek The Still and see…

Fear tells me to hold these memories deep in the cavern of my mind. My weirdness, quirks, and imperfections feel safe hidden from stinging curiosity and judging eyes.

But change is stirring. With each word released, with every story shared, my heart and soul are stretched in new ways. Feelings fly free and shame is undone in a mysterious dance that I’m learning to respect – and even enjoy.

These tales are true, and they are mine. Yet they are also strangely yours. In the sharing, our lives intertwine, and we see one another more purely. Perhaps for the very first time.

I'd love to remind you that there is hope and you are never alone.

 
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When Resolutions Are Made To Be Broken

When Resolutions Are Made To Be Broken

 

“Mommy, will you play pet shops with me?” the little voice pleads. I sigh and look up from the computer, stare at my to-do list a mile long. I begin to utter the familiar words, “Not right now sweetheart. Maybe in a little awhile.” Then I remember. Soon I will be the one begging for time spent together. Soon playing with mom will be the last thing on her list.

I look at my list again.  It is filled with the demands that make my days speed by too quickly, as I rush around without taking the time to be still. Work to pay the bills that keep coming. Chores to clean the house that will get dirty once again. New Years resolutions to keep.

My words catch in my throat. “Yes, darling.  I will come and play with you.” Her eyes widen with the surprising answer. “You will?!?” She skips merrily down the hall, and I know that for once I got it right. I made the right choice.

The work and the chores will still be there waiting for me. I’ll always have goals about exercising more, eating better, or whatever the New Year has challenged me to do. But for now I am going to sit on the floor with this precious one, stare into her eyes with wonder, and be part of her world. It may not have been in my plans, but sometimes plans are made to be broken.

Friend, do you have plans or resolutions that need to be broken today?

 

 

Video of Sistering Testimony

Video of Sistering Testimony

Laura Fleetwood and Elise Aromando were two women separately dealing with tough struggles until God unexpectedly brought them together.  They became friends and spiritual supporters – “sisters!” In the video below, Laura and Elise  share the story of God working in the midst of cancer, chronic pain, anxiety & depression to strengthen faith, provide new beginnings, and offer hope for the future.