Opening the clouds of insight

Clouds
Credit: JC

Life can sometimes be thought of as a series of changes. I have been undergoing a number of transformations since I was saved eight months ago.

The impacts to my life of accepting Jesus in my heart have been tremendous. As I have talked about before, my entire inner dialogue is different. Whereas I used to be constantly filled with dark thoughts of “I wish I was dead” repeated constantly throughout the day, I now very often have calm.

Calm. With the noise removed, I now have a better chance of hearing God’s whispers.

The darkness does sometimes attempt to return, though. There is the stray “I wish I was dead” that will pop into my head. Such thoughts I am able to capture and control now. I know what they are. I know their source, and I pray them away.

A second way the darkness returns I am still in the process of defeating. While I have made great progress in working to overcome it, anxiety still occasionally strikes me. The darkness uses this tool to attempt to control me and prevent me from realizing God’s plan for me.

There is a major change coming in my life that I want to occur. It is inevitable, yet the timing has been slower than I would prefer. I have been struggling with the degree to which I want to initiate that change versus “riding the wave” and letting events take their course.

Maybe it is just a matter of control. Does riding the wave simply mean letting Jesus run my life? I am a product of our modern society. I want things fast. Now.

Amazon offers a service called Prime Now which features same day delivery on many items. Jesus does not offer an equivalent service when it comes to answering prayers. He answers them when it best suits His plan – whether instantly or a hundred years from now. (Side note to Jesus: Please not a hundred years from now on on this one. Thank You. Amen.)

Sometimes, it is hard to know whether I should directly act. My angst is, what if I am supposed to be taking action to initiate directly the change I want versus waiting for it to happen on its own? Even if I do decide to act, then it is still a question of to what degree.

With confusion in my heart, I sought nature and Him on Monday at the advice of my Bible Study Partner (BSP). I spent the afternoon alone in a park. Sitting. Listening. Walking. Observing.

While I was enjoying my time there, at first it did not seem to be working. I did not feel His presence, and I felt as confused as ever.

I found a new spot in the park that I had never explored before. I sat on a rock near a creek and looked at the water as I prayed to Jesus yet again for clarity and guidance.

Then, it happened. That first droplet of insight. Plop.

Then another. Plop.

And more. Plop. Plop.

Plop. Plop. Plop.

The clouds of insight opened.

Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop.

I struggled to keep up with noting the insights as they arrived faster and faster. For a moment, I doubted myself. Were these really from Him? Or just me talking to myself?

However, the underlying purpose of some of the insights was unclear to me. And one of the bigger insights was disappointing. I want to make a certain change fast, like flipping a switch. This insight slows my pace.

His will, not mine. He is all-knowing, while my knowledge is quite limited.

What to do now? My next step, according to my BSP, is to gather all of these insights and make action plans for them. I will be working on that this weekend. It is a blessing to hear from Him, and now I must obey.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
Galatians 6:9

Searching for peace

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be at peace with myself. I make steps forward and then take steps back. Jesus lifted my chains when I was saved, and then I betray his love by putting some of them back on.

I still fight my anxiety. Every day. Yesterday morning, I was forced to attend a large meeting of about 400 people. I did not have to speak or really do anything at said meeting except be there and at least appear to listen.

From the time I sat down, I was anxious. I arrived with only a minute to spare, so I had to sit between two people I did not know. I still do not know them, for I was not in a good place. I was not able to shine the light and speak with them as I should have.

I reached out to my Bible Study Partner (BSP) for comfort via text, and that helped immensely for a time. However, I eventually reached a point where I stopped texting because I did not want to appear disrespectful to one of the speakers. As the anxiety flowed through my veins again, an extremely dark thought entered my mind, the kind of thought that used to plague me before I was saved, but since then has only cropped up two or three times.

“I wish I was dead,” I thought. That’s right, I wanted to die rather than attend this meeting filled with so many people. This, of course, makes no sense. I recognized the darkness for what it was this time, and I prayed it away. This worked, but the anxiety remained. I should have kept praying and just ignored the meeting all together.

After 82 grueling minutes, the meeting finally ended. Though I knew I would not be able to exit the over-capacity parking lot anytime soon, I immediately fled to the safe zone of my car. I hid there for a time, trying to calm down. Unfortunately, I had less than ten minutes to do so because I had to drive to another (thankfully much smaller) meeting across town.

I drank some water and had a snack. The calm never came. I should have read some verses and prayed, but I did not. Instead, it was back on the road with me. Driving is one thing I have improved on when it comes to my anxiety, and even yesterday I am happy to report I did okay, despite my anxious state.

I remained off kilter for the next several hours. My BSP recognized this and read our daily devotional to me a little earlier than normal. Calm finally began to set in. His Word has that power. I already knew this, of course, yet I failed in the midst of a busy day to take even a minute or two to draw on this peace.

Will I ever find my peace? Yes, for I have already come a long way. Dark thoughts occasionally return, but I know how to fight them now. I have Jesus on my side. I am a child of God.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.”
2 Thessalonians 3:16

Trees
Credit: JC

The ultimate gift

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Luke 2:8-14

Merry Christmas Eve Eve! As a child, I was always so excited by this date. My mom often allowed my little sister and me to exchange our gifts to one another on Christmas Eve. Usually around December 21 or 22, we would both start trying to push this timeline up a bit. Once or twice, Mom acquiesced, and we managed to give each other our presents on Christmas Eve Eve.

The most fun for me was seeing my sister’s reaction to what I gave her. While my funds were limited, I always hoped to find just the right present for her. They were small things, but our gifts to one another meant so much to both of us. I still remember many of the presents she gave me, and I even have a couple of them. There was the small Transformers airplane. The Michael Jordan basketball game. The electronic stopwatch/hippo game.

All these years later, my favorite part of gift exchange is seeing the other person when I think I have found just the right thing. As for me, my favorite gifts to receive are those from the heart. Something handmade or symbolic of a special time. Or, my most cherished gift of all, a letter. Things that cost little to nothing in terms of money, but are priceless to me.

This is my first year celebrating Christmas after being saved a little over six months ago. As you might expect, I see Christmas through a different lens now. It is hard for me to get wrapped up in all of the shopping hoopla anymore. I feel very detached from the “shopping days” element of Christmas. I see people rushing around, cutting each other off in traffic and worse in the parking lots. Peace on Earth? Good will towards one another? Not during the Christmas shopping season, it seems.

Most years, I hibernate from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, only leaving the house to go to work due to how people behave. If I did otherwise go out, I would usually have someone else drive me, as I was afraid.

This year, I try not to let fear control me. I am a child of God! I will go where I need or want to go. I dove right into the traffic on Friday and Saturday, and I did fine. That may sound like a non-event, but for someone who is normally as anxious as I am while driving, it is an accomplishment, particularly in this frantic time of year. I feel different now.

I even went into a very crowded Target store yesterday to buy one $10 item, and I had not even mentally prepared for it. As people shoved and pushed past me, the anxiety that would normally rise up within me in such circumstances stayed away.

I am not naive enough to think that my anxiety is magically gone this week, but I do feel different.

Writing these posts is always so fascinating to me. I had not planned to cover anxiety again this week, yet here I am. Wherever the words take me.

When did Christmas become so much about shopping and so little about Jesus Christ? This has apparently been the case for quite some time. “I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas” proclaimed the titular character in A Charlie Brown Christmas. That was back in 1965, before my time. If Christmas was considered too commercial back then, what is it 53 years later?

What would poor Charlie Brown think of Christmas in 2018? One where Thanksgiving is but a gate to a shopping frenzy? One where towers of Amazon boxes await on our front porches each day? One where “Christmas Day” is often referred to only as “Holiday.” As in, “Holiday Sale 2018!!!” Christmas has not only been commercialized, but it has been genericized.

“Holiday” of course derives from “holy day,” and Christmas is the most holiest of days. It represents when the Son of God first came to our world to live as a human. After teaching, healing, and feeding so many, He gave all of us the ultimate gift, His precious blood. For He sacrificed Himself for our sins so that we who believe in Him would be right with God. He was then resurrected from the dead and walked the Earth again, before ascending back to Heaven to sit at His Father’s side. Yet, He remains with us always as well, for we are blessed to walk with Him today.

Nativity scene
Credit: JC

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16

This is, of course, a famous verse, but it is always worth revisiting. Read it again. Christianity in its pure form, as documented in the New Testament, is as inclusive as can be. Whosever believes will have eternal life. That is the only requirement. Nothing else matters. Any sin you have committed. Any commandment you have broken. Even if you have broken all ten of them. Believe in Him, give your heart to Him, and you are forgiven. Forever. Believe in Him, truly believe, and your life will change. Mine changed, and it is still changing. I see the entire world through new eyes.

I see a world that we have wrecked, yet His creations continue to shine through. I see an imperfect but wonderful world. I see a world that needs us to continue His work. By opening our hearts, He can work through us.

Jesus gave up his life for us, so that we might eternally live. So that we who sin might have a chance to make it to the Perfect Place after all. He has paid off the debts of our sins. What other Christmas gift could possibly compare? The question is, have you accepted His gift? It is not available from Amazon.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you. Have a merry Christmas!

Inside an anxious heart

I have experienced much change since writing my last post over two weeks ago. Yet, some of my more annoying aspects continue.

I suffer from anxiety, which can be a challenge not only for me, but for those around me as it can manifest in various ways. In public, it often means I start to shut down.

Though I rationally know it is probably not true, in the moment I feel as if everyone is looking at me and judging me. I am holding the line up. I don’t know what to do next. People are barking instructions at me, but I don’t understand. I begin to freeze up. I just want to crawl away and hide. Better yet, disappear. Forever.

Flee. That is my instinct. This is not always an option, though. I usually have to push through. I often try to avoid certain scenarios that I know feed my anxiety. I don’t arrive at the grocery store after 8 AM, for instance, as it is too crowded. People. Always in a hurry. And I am always in the way. Always.

Driving is another challenge. There was a time when I only drove my one route back and forth to work, and I avoided driving elsewhere as much as I could. I would let someone else drive. That was easier. Give in to the fear. I became dependent, though. I could only go somewhere out of the ordinary if I had someone to drive me. With the encouragement of my Bible Study Partner (BSP), I have started driving myself on different routes and to different places. It may sound silly, but these are actually accomplishments to someone that had essentially drove only on a few established routes for years and had no confidence to drive anywhere else.

One Way sign, pointing to Heaven
Credit: JC

I can still get worked up while driving, though. Again with the people. Always rushing. Always in a hurry. I dread right turns at stoplights, for instance, because if the light is red, I am very cautious before proceeding. But, if someone honks his horn at me in impatience, my mind goes blank. Everything goes white. I can’t see. I sometimes go ahead and pull into oncoming traffic such that the person behind me can be on his way. I wonder if he would care if he watched me get creamed and splattered across the intersection in front of him? I suspect not. He would probably drive on past, happy to be on his way to whatever important destination awaits him. He has to get that morning coffee, after all.

Anxiety often hits me at work. The nature of my job is such that I have to talk to and interact with people every day.

Some days are better than others. On bad days, my heart will start pounding: Thud. Thud. Thud.

“The candidate is here for you to interview.”

Thud. Thud. Thud.

She is over 15 minutes early. I am not ready. I try to explain this to the recruiter. But my words are inadequate. I can’t think.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

I try to take a few minutes. I need time to think. To prepare. Before I can even take a breath, though.

“Here is the candidate!”

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

I can’t breathe. I’m not ready. I should have made this more clear, but it is too late. I can’t think. I don’t know what to do.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

Instead, I lash out. I am rude to the recruiter.

Now, I am not only suffering from anxiety, but I am being a jerk. This is not who I want to be. I am a child of God.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

Interview has to start. The rest of the interview panel is looking at me.

The knowing stares. The thoughts I think I see in their eyes.

He is losing it again.

What is wrong with him?

He can’t handle his position.

The one person who understands me steps in, covers for me. Things begin, despite me.

I breathe and try to calm down.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

I reach into my pocket and pull out a prayer stone that my BSP gave me for dealing with such situations. I hold it throughout the interview. I repeat over and over in my head, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Thud. Thud. Thud.

By the time it is my turn to question the candidate, I am at least functioning.

I still feel the eyes, though. The worried looks.

I make it through the experience, but at what cost?

After the interview, I retreat to my office and close the door. I need time alone or, ideally, with my BSP. I remain off-kilter and need to re-center. Read scripture. Pray.

Nope. No time for any of that. Within a minute, there is a knock at my door.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

It is the recruiter. This would be a great time to apologize. Or I should just ask her to come back later.

That’s not what I do, though. Instead, I lash out even more. If it seemed like I might have been a jerk before, this solidifies it.

The recruiter leaves, and I finally get a chance to be alone with God. Why did I let all of this happen? What is wrong with me?

I wish this post had answers. It does not. All I can say is that I remain a work in progress. Incidentally, I did later apologize to the recruiter, and I asked forgiveness from both her and God.

My BSP helps me tremendously with my anxiety, finding ways to comfort and calm me. Suggesting things to try in the moment. Always trying to help. I am sad to report that I even occasionally lash out at this caring individual. Yes, I am that much of a jerk.

All I can say is that I am trying. Some suggest taking life a day at a time, but sometimes, I have to take it more like a moment at a time. Just get through this moment, and then the next. Then the next.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.