16 lessons from 2016

It feels like an understatement to say that it has been a rough year. I hallucinated this creature every now and then from April to October. When I wasn’t hallucinating, I was worried that I would. My panic attacks got worse because I stopped internalizing them and decided to face them head on. My depression was worse this year. Despite everything bad that happened this year, it’s been a good year. I went on a family vacation, on a mission trip, and to a Christian conference. I made new friends and became closer with old ones. I learned a lot about myself and about trusting others. I finally started seeing a counselor. So, 2016 has been a really hard year, but it has also been a really great year.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, 16 lessons from 2016:

  1. God uses those who are willing and not just those who are the most qualified. I didn’t have to be a construction worker to go a a mission trip. I wasn’t a pro, but I got the job done.
  2. God enables those who are willing to serve Him to complete the tasks He gives. I never thought I would be leading a Bible study or writing a blog or going on a mission trip this year, but He called me to these things and gives the strength for the completion of the task.
  3. I won’t always be able to feel God, but that’s okay. Maybe we only feel God when we need to the most. If we felt Him all the time, we would probably lose the awe and wonder that comes when we can feel His presence.
  4. I don’t need to know all the answers. I don’t know always know why God allows His children to hurt. This year, I have been trying to remind myself that He has a plan and a purpose for suffering.
  5. Suffering teaches us how beautiful God’s blessings are. We need the dark to appreciate the importance of light. Maybe we need suffering to appreciate the beauty in friendship, laughter, and all of His many blessings.
  6. God works on His clock. Sometimes, a 1.5-hour worship session needs to last about 3 hours for God’s work to be accomplished. We need to be willing to adjust our schedules to work around His timing.
  7. I don’t spend enough time with God. I have started something where I pray at the end of the day without looking at the time. I need to do this more often, because it feels pretty awesome, just spending sometimes almost 2 hours with God.
  8. God never leaves. He is always there. Looking back on this year, I can see the times when God worked. He worked in times that I wasn’t even confident if He was there.
  9. The God of today is the same as the God of the Bible. If you had asked me if I believed this truth earlier this year, I would’ve said that I did. But deep down, I didn’t live like I believed it – until a few months ago.
  10. God still works miracles all the time, but it doesn’t mean He will. Sometimes, He does allow death and suffering, but sometimes He heals and works miracles. I used to have fibromyalgia but God healed that over the course of about 24 hours.
  11. It’s ok to miss someone. I still miss someone who died over a year ago, and that’s ok, as long as I move on and continue living my life.
  12. Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. To be honest, I think my anxiety has saved me from making a lot of bad decisions that I was afraid to make at the time. I later realized that the decision was not a good one.
  13. It’s really important that close friends know about panic attacks and other psychological stuff. I don’t mean just like your one best friend, but anyone that you consider a close friend. If you actually think you can’t tell them, they might not be a good person to have as a close friend.
  14. When you don’t tell close friends about personal things, it hurts both you and them. It hurts you because they can’t help you. It hurts them because a good friend would wonder why you didn’t tell them if they found out later (and they often do) and would want to support you.
  15. “Sorry” means nothing without action. One word can’t take back what I said or did. Saying sorry and meaning it is one step, but it means nothing if the same thing happens again and again and again.
  16. I only have one shot at life, and I don’t want to waste it. I have one shot. No day will come again. I need to enjoy the day I have been given, panic attacks and all, because there is beauty in life that I’ll miss if I focus on the anxiety and heartache.

breathe

Breathe. It’s the best thing to do in a panic attack, or just to calm yourself in general. But it’s also one of the hardest things sometimes. So I’m dedicating a whole post to how I breathe through them.

  1. Acknowledge it
    • If you’re in a panic attack, it isn’t going anywhere. It’s best not internalize it unless you absolutely have to.
    • Realize that there are some things (like breathing) that can be done in public. Find things that help you and then use them after acknowledging a panic attack.
  2. Breathe in
    • Slowly
    • Through your nose
    • 5 seconds
  3. Hold
    • 8 seconds
  4. Breathe out
    • Slowly (shouldn’t be able to hear yourself breathing out)
    • Through your mouth that is forming a small O shape, as if blowing through a straw
    • Allow your muscles to relax as you breathe out
    • 10-20 seconds

The longer you can do it, the better. It should be a little hard and uncomfortable, but don’t push yourself too hard that you pass out. It’s good to practice this first when you’re not in anxious situation. This will help you gauge what you’re capable of. You should be able to do a little less than that when you’re in an anxious situation. If you can’t do 5-8-20, then do 3-6-10, or whatever you can do. Just keep the ratios approximate: most time for breathing out, least time for breathing in, and holding it is in the middle.

Breathe. Take some time to acknowledge your panic attack and breathe.

why i know God exists

I know God exists. He is real, and He is living and breathing. I can’t prove it to you. But you also can’t prove to me that He doesn’t exist. Let me explain. I could say things like He has changed my life, I have had way to many “coincidences” to keep believing that they are coincidences, etc., etc., etc. And you could say things like God wouldn’t allow so many bad things happen, those coincidences are actually coincidences, I am insane for thinking a supernatural being changed my life, etc., etc., etc. Yes, there is no solid evidence for His existence. But there is no solid evidence that He doesn’t exist either. And that’s where faith comes in. Faith comes in when there is no solid evidence. Faith is believing in something to the extent that it becomes real for you.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

When there is no evidence, faith becomes the evidence. I chose to believe that God exists, and I see everything in the light that He exists. When a friend intersected my path at the right moment, preventing me from doing things I would regret forever, I thanked God for that and credited it to God. Someone who didn’t believe in God might just say that it was a lucky coincidence. What you believe changes the way you see things. What you believe becomes your reality, because you see the world in light of that.

Take a minute to read this excerpt from C.S. Lewis. It’s a long quote but it’s really good.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such a violent reaction against it?… Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known it was dark. Dark would be without meaning (bold added for emphasis).

We know that there is evil in the world because we know that something exists that is better than that. That is how I know God exists. I know there is evil in the world but I know there is also something better than that. Take some time to think about this one from Lecrae:

If I’m wrong about God then I’ve wasted my life. If you’re wrong about God then you’ve wasted your eternity.

What you believe becomes your reality, to an extent. God exists, whether you believe that or not. Without a loving God, we wouldn’t understand why rejection hurts so much. But whether or not you believe does have its consequences. If you believe Jesus died and saved you from your sins, then His sacrifice will cover the punishment for your sin. But if you choose not to believe in God, then you will suffer the consequences.

I have chosen to risk it all for God, because I believe that He lives and breathes and will never let me go. And I also believe that I would rather waste my life living for someone who doesn’t exist than have to suffer for eternity because I ignored the existence of God.

Merry Christmas!

This won’t be that extra basic Christmas post that everyone puts up on Christmas day. This is personal, about how Christmas hope has changed my life.

Up until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t into “the whole Christmas thing” and kind of just wanted this holiday to get over with. I told my family at thanksgiving that it was ok to put up the Christmas tree without me. I didn’t feel like doing it when I was home for thanksgiving so I just said I had too much work to do. When I saw my sister’s snapchat story a few weeks ago, I regretted that. Why? Because I had found hope – hope that I didn’t even realize was there to be found.

If you haven’t read my post yesterday, you might want to do that. I will probably be referencing that a lot. It references what has been so far the hardest day of my entire life. I wanted to give up my fight on a Monday a while ago. On the following Thursday night, I knew I would do anything to live. What changed? God answered my prayer on Monday. He showed up when I felt like all hope was lost. He was there to say, “Hey, I’m still here. I hear you, I see you, and I know your hurt.” By Thursday, I realized how free I was. I realized that my fight was just beginning. I promised God that if He did something to take even a little bit of the hurt away, I would keep fighting no matter what. I didn’t expect to have to keep that promise, but God showed up in a miraculous way that day. And so I have a promise to keep. I realized that day how big God is that day. And for the first time in years, I got a taste of the heart of Christmas.

Christmas is today, and it is a day of HOPE!! Christmas is God coming down to us to be among us. Christmas is the hope of a Savior who came to us as we are. Christmas is a message of hope and light for those who feel like the most unwanted. Shepherds were, in a sense, the unwanted and cast out. But the shepherds were the first ones to be told that Jesus was born. God doesn’t give preference to the rich or the popular or the intelligent or whoever you admire. On the inside, we are all the same – broken, flawed humans. He came for the ones who need a doctor, not for the ones who are “perfect” (anyone who thinks they have no problems needs to check themselves and find the plank in their own eye). That’s the heart of Christmas. A perfect God stooping down to us and becoming one of us so that we could find freedom through the cross (which came 33 years later).

This Christmas, take the time to read the Christmas story (I recommend the first few chapters of Luke) and really consider the importance of Christmas, especially in your own life. Christmas brings hope and freedom and life. Not always the kind of hope that takes away the storm (I still fight my anxiety and depression pretty much every day) but the kind of hope that gives you calm within the middle of the storm.

Wherever you are in your walk of life, there is hope. Look to a baby who was born in a manger to rescue your heart and set you free. Fall on your knees before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who gave up heaven to become a human baby and feel pain and suffering so that you could spend an eternity with Him in a place void of all pain and all suffering. This year, don’t miss the heart of Christmas.

a day i will never forget

Okay, it’s time for me to be honest, like really honest. I have been struggling. I’ve mentioned that a little before. I’m a college student on a medium size campus. So it’s good for walking and running. But running can have its drawbacks, especially on a mostly empty stomach – it wasn’t that I didn’t have food available; I just chose not to eat it. I do this thing where some days I switch into stress eating (so overeating) sometimes and barely eating anything other times; other days I am fine and eat normally.

A while ago, I did just that. I ran. On an almost empty stomach. So my stomach is churning and I haven’t eaten and I’m sprinting. Bad choice. But not my worst decision that day. I ran for a while, maybe 10-15 minutes. I took a few breaks in that time period, even telling someone where I was… but I didn’t tell her how bad things were. She was going through some stuff, but I have a pretty large support group. There are several people I couldn’t asked for help. But I didn’t. Another bad decision. Anyways, after running, I walked around for a little bit and then sat on this retaining wall that’s like 3 feet high. I sat and stood up, paced and sat down, and repeated this once or twice. I spent this time praying, internally screaming at God, thinking, crying, pleading for God to do something or give me strength or send someone to help me. I was too afraid to ask for help. After at least 15 minutes of this, I decided I was going to walk to a place less than a quarter mile away. Once I got to that designated location, I would choose my fate. I would choose to keep fighting, plan a date to um end everything, or end it all that night. I told God that if He didn’t come through, I was giving up my fight either that night or on a later date.

A friend was walking and saw me and invited me to her dorm and I’m still alive, obviously. I found out later that she wasn’t even planning on coming back at that time but she somehow did. Neither of us really understand what happened. But what I do know is that less than a minute after crying out to God, a friend found me. I don’t know for sure what I would’ve done that night, but I probably would’ve picked a date or that very night.

God came through. God heard my cry. As bad as that night was, I think that night was the night I decided I wanted to get better. But I was scared that God wasn’t big enough to give me the strength to keep fighting. And so I cried out to God. And He heard me. He heard me because He is there. He is always there. And He is big enough to give me the strength to fight.

That night, I wanted to give up the pain and the brokenness. But I also would be giving up the joy and love and shelter and peace and everything beautiful I had found in God. I wanted to give up the good things that had happened, are happening, and will happen. So I will keep fighting, because I made a promise that I would continue my fight if He came through that day. I will keep fighting for those I would leave behind, for the beautiful memories yet to come, and for the God who created me with a beautiful purpose that I might understand better some day.

i still believe.

Hey guys. Here is something I wrote October 9, 2o16. The quote at the end is from this song.

God, thank you for reminding me why I believed You 7 years ago. Thank You for showing me how you’ve been there even when it felt like You were a thousand miles away. Every panic attack, every depressive episode, that first time I hurt myself and thought you weren’t there….. You’ve never left. No matter how many times I walk out of Bible study because I’m hurting too much, not matter how many times I can’t feel You. You’re always there, no matter how I feel. If this relationship was dependent on my feelings, I would be in major trouble. God, I don’t know how I’m going to get through today. But I’m starting to understand that this is Your will, and I still believe in You.”I still believe in Your faithfulness…. Even when I don’t see, I still believe.”

who am i?

Who am I? I have wrestled with that for a while. Is my major what it is supposed to be? Is my dream job really like me? What defines me: an anxious person, a godly person, a smart person… like who am I? Then, one day, at Bible study, I wrote this down in answer to that question.

loved deeply and sought after by the God who never gave up on me

That’s me. That’s who I am. That day, I started crying and cried for a while. I was like, Um ok, so I’m worth it. But why. Why. Why am I worth it. Like I feel like trash. But He still be seeking after me. That’s cool. Like that’s really cool. Ok. Cool. Thanks God.

God takes us where we are and gives us the strength to be who He intended us to be, so any other labels we have been given… they don’t matter. They really don’t. God loves us. God’s love defines us. Because God loves us, because He created us, because He died for us, … we are worth it. Our lives are worth living because of God. And I’m struggling with this. It’s hard sometimes. Sometimes I wonder why I’m alive or if I should’ve just not been born in the first place, but I was. And because I was given life, I will continue to live. I will continue to live because Jesus loves me. And if the Creator of the universe loves me, it shouldn’t really matter who doesn’t.

That day, I realized something else too. My identity is that I’m loved by God. And that means nothing else really matters so much: not my major, my future career, anything else. The fact that I believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive my sins and that I love Him and He loves me… that’s the most important thing guys. So if you ever have to choose between studying for an hour when you’ve been studying hard all day and spending needed time with God… spend time with God. It’ll always be worth it in the end. Because what matters most is who you are in God. (This isn’t a free pass to fail out of college. It just means that we have to work hard to make time to spend with God, even if that means getting a slightly lower grade because we lost an hour of precious study time.)

Just remember this – God doesn’t make mistakes. If you have trusted in Him as Savior, you are His child and sealed by the Holy Spirit. He will never abandon His child. Whatever people do or say or make you feel like, don’t let it get to you. God loves you.

i’ve lost control but i’m free

I’m standing knee deep but I’m out where I’ve never been
And I feel You coming and I hear Your voice on the wind
Would you come and tear down the boxes that I have tried to put You in
Let love come teach me who You are again
Would you take me back to the place where my heart was only about You
And all I wanted was just to be with You
Come and do whatever You want to
Then You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free
I’m going under, I’m in over my head
Then you crash over me, and that’s where You want me to be
I’m going under, I’m in over my head
Whether I sink, whether I swim
It makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head

In Over My Head – Bethel

It is a beautiful thing to be in over your head in God. I am sinking, I guess. I am daily surprised by His love and His greatness. Our God is so big. He can do anything. He can do the impossible. In reflection on this year, a lot has happened. I started hurting myself. I had hallucinations; my hallucination died. I started having nightmares and terrifying daydreams so realistic I’d wonder afterwards if they were real. I’ve had to question whether or not to switch churches. God showed up in my darkest places through the Bible, friends, my Bible study group, music, and just in the most random times and ways.

I wanted to control my life. And for a while I thought I could. But I can’t. And I was a fool for thinking I could. I needed to let go. And that’s hard. With anxiety, that is hard. It is so easy to think that control is the best and only good approach. But it isn’t. Trusting God is. And so I am so slowly losing my control. And that’s ok. That’s good. It is good because even though I am not in control, I know that the one who is in control is always good and never makes mistakes. And yes, there are still days when I want to take over. But I’ve been learning to let it all go. I’ve been learning to let His will be done. Because it is only through doing His will that I find true joy and peace and the hope I need to fight for tomorrow.

Wherever you are, even if reflecting on this year is painful for you, know that God is there. He always has been, and He always will be. To those who trust in Him, He will never let you go.

where have you built your house?

The rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
The rain came down
And the floods came up
And the wise man’s house stood firm.

If you’ve grown up in the church, you have probably heard this song before, maybe too many times that you forgot to think about what it means. And if you haven’t, check out this video here. So yeah, it is a silly kids song. But maybe it’s more than that.

Anxiety can feel like an endless storm. But if you have to have the storm either way, would you rather stand firm through it or be smashed to pieces? That’s what the song is about. The song is about standing firm in Christ despite the storms raging around you.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27

The song originates from that passage. Two people try to accomplish the same task. The task mentioned is building a house. So let’s liken that to building and living your life. So the wise man lives his life by relying on God through reading the Bible and doing what it says. The foolish man disregards the Bible and builds on a much weaker foundation. This foundation could be the lies of the world, a false god, another religion… really anything that is not of God. The storms of life come. Things get hard. And only the one who is founded on God will have the strength to stand. 1 Samuel 2:2 says, “No one is holy like the Lord, for there is no besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.”

This is something I am still working on – to make Jesus my first thing. Sometimes, I go to other things first. And yeah, going to my support group and listening to Christian music are great things. But Jesus needs to be first. Reading the Bible and crying out to Him need to be first. And it is something that I will continue to work on.

Where is your house built? Where are you building your life? Because if it’s not God, there is no hope. Jesus brings hope and truth and life, because He is all of those things. Without a firm foundation, a house – and your life – cannot stand.

you are not alone

Feeling alone is probably the absolute worst feeling in anxiety. Sometimes I can feel alone even when I am with my closest friends who know everything about my anxiety. A friend texted me Psalm 139:11-12 a few days ago. It says:

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

I love these verses so much. I love the meaning behind them. It is so calming to know that He knows. I can’t hide in the darkness. But that’s good. Sometimes the anxiety makes me think that I am alone and that it is good for me to be alone. But really, I am really not alone, and it’s good that He is there. In darkness or in light, He knows. He knows what goes through my head when I lay under my covers crying myself to sleep, He knows the thoughts that go through my head as I struggle through a panic attack, … He knows everything.

I want to challenge you to read through the entirety of Psalm 139 because it is a wonderful passage to think about during panic attacks. Memorize the chapter. Quote it to yourself during panic attacks. Cling to the God and His Word, because His power is stronger than the power that your anxiety has on you.

No matter what your anxiety tells you, you are not alone. God loves you very much. He knows everything about your panic attacks and understands you, because He created you. He is always there; he always has been and always will be. He never lets go.