Ash Wednesday & Resurrection

by Elizabeth

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I went to Ash Wednesday service this week expecting to meet God. I always do — in unexpected ways. I can never predict the moment God will show up and the tears will fall. The part of the liturgy that touched me the year before inevitably feels dry to me a year later.

But I’ve done this enough that I know God will show up. Even if we are more than halfway through the service and I haven’t encountered Him yet, I know He will draw near to me.

That night I experienced several of these moments. The imposition of ashes, of course, when we remembered that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. When we sang “Lord Have Mercy.” When we begged God repeatedly, “Holy Lord, hear our prayer.”

And when we sang the first verse of “Jesus Paid It All”: I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me thine all in all.” Because I know my strength is small, and I am weak without Him.

But most of all for me that night, was the moment in the middle of a worship song whose name I can’t remember, that God reminded me of Galatians 5:7-8. On Tuesday and Wednesday I had a deep, dark flare of anxiety and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I had been doing so well, and the intensity of this relapse surprised and frightened me.

So I turned to the text. Here it is in the New Living Translation:

“You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.”

And here are verses 1-3 in The Message:

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.”

[I love Paul. The way I love Paul borders on the ridiculous.]

I was discouraged because I had been running the race so well. The days had been good, and I was full of joy. And then what happened? It was like all of that goodness and grace just disappeared, poured right down the drain.

In case you don’t know what anxiety or OCD feels like, it certainly feels like a harness of slavery. And OCD is a definite rule-keeping system. I don’t want to trade my free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

So what is holding me back when I relapse? Maybe it’s the brokenness of my own brain, or the forces of evil in the spiritual realms. Maybe it’s living in a fallen and unpredictable world. Maybe it’s some aspect of soul care or body care that I’ve neglected. Maybe it’s all of it together. Maybe I’ll never know.

But this one thing I know: it’s not God. God is the One calling me to freedom. He’s not the One holding me back or “hindering” me, as the ESV puts it. The Message tells us: “This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.”  No, the God who called me didn’t design that detour. What He wants to give is life full and free, satisfying and abundant.

And that freedom was what I had on Thursday — because I went to Church the night before. That’s not all I did, of course. Before that I had gone back to bed to cry extra hard. That wore me out so much I needed a nap. Then in an effort to manage the anxiety, I exercised as hard as I could. After that I went to church, where I smiled and made sweet small talk with people, because I knew the good stuff was coming when I entered that sanctuary.

I wasn’t ok, and I knew it, and I needed God to sit with me in the mess. And meet me He did, through the words of Paul and the words of the hymns and the words of the liturgy.

Because a relapse is not the end of the story. That’s what I tell girls struggling through eating disorders, and it’s what I needed to be reminded of last night. A relapse doesn’t mean that no healing has happened. It doesn’t mean that recovery is over. It actually means lots of progress has been made; a relapse wouldn’t feel so awful if you hadn’t been making forward movement.

So I relapsed. But I didn’t have to stay in that relapse, spiraling downward and feeling sorry for myself. I could start making good choices again, and I could listen to God when He spoke, and I could let Him encourage my heart.

I am a person in need of deep mercy from God, and so are you. So are we all, for we are all formed from dust. Our Maker knows we are dust, for He is the one who made us and breathed His life into us.

But dust, like relapse, is not the end of the story: for we are a Resurrection people, both now and forevermore. Amen.

 

photo credit

When fear strikes at night, here’s something you can do

by Elizabeth

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I was talking with a friend recently when the subject of fear came up – specifically, nighttime fears. And all of a sudden I remembered the nameless, faceless fears of my early twenties. These were the fears that were irrational and nonspecific, feelings more than words. I didn’t always know what I was afraid of, I just knew I was afraid and couldn’t sleep.

Back then, all I knew to do was to sing the name of Jesus, over and over again, until I fell asleep. I had a few songs on repeat in my head. Later I would sing those same songs over my babies as I rocked them. This practice became so much a part of who I was that I didn’t consciously think about it as a weapon for fighting fear until I was in the middle of this recent conversation.

As we were talking, my friend said, “It’s like singing yourself a lullaby. We sing lullabies over our children, why wouldn’t we sing them over ourselves?” That was such a great description of the practice. So I’m going to share with you my lullabies. They’re calming to me but may not do anything for you. However, I think it’ll give you a starting point to find (or remember) your own evening songs.

The first and main song is one we used to sing in college with our friends. This version sounds fairly close to the way we used to sing together. I used to sing the “Jesus” chorus over and over to myself till I calmed down and fell asleep. There’s something so powerful about lifting your eyes up, away from your problems and even away from petitions for help, and focusing on the name of JESUS.

Here’s another one that helped me, though I can’t find any music for it anywhere. It was written by a lady in our Church of Christ circles who sang in a group called Free Indeed:

“Lord give me peace,
I’m feeling all alone,
calm my spirit,
still my mind,
fill my heart with peace.”

It had a really simple melody that I learned one Saturday morning from my youth minister’s wife. She used it when she needed peace and patience as a mama of young children; I used it at night when I couldn’t sleep.

And this last one might seem kind of strange, so bear with me. In middle school choir we sang a song set to words that had been scrawled on a cellar wall during WWII’s Holocaust:

“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
And I believe in love even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God, even when He is silent
I believe through any trial, there is always a way

But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter, to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me, saying ‘Hold on my child,
I’ll give you strength, I’ll give you hope. Just stay a little while.'”

The melody and the lyrics are both haunting, and the song has stayed with me all these years. It gives me comfort – though I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s when I’m in the dark, alone and afraid, that I need its message most. And it represents the undaunted faith I want to pass on to my children.

I was only 12 when I first learned the song, so I couldn’t understand the full soul-depth of its cries, but I remember watching people in the audience weep as we performed it. Now I know why they were crying. They were living in – or had lived in – a world where the sun wasn’t shining, a world where God was silent, a world where it seemed no one was there. Yet they still wanted to believe.

The version below is the closest I could find to the song I learned:

These days, I rely more on the “Doxology” and the “Gloria Patri” for peace and calm. Many years ago in a ladies’ Bible class I listened to one woman talk about how her mentor had taught her to center herself with the “Doxology” when she felt anxious. (Did you catch that? That was a long stream of women passing on wisdom that I’m now passing on to you.) So now in times of stress, I tend to fall back on:

“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”

And this:

“Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning
Is now and ever shall be
World without end
Amen, amen.”

If you’ve never sung to yourself at night, I hope this post gives you a new weapon for fighting fear and anxiety. The songs that speak to you in the middle of the night may be different from the ones that speak to me, but I pray you can find your own nighttime lullabies and start singing yourself to sleep.

If you already sing away your nighttime fears, consider blessing someone else by sharing your own songs in the comments.

Taking Out the Trash {a toolkit for fighting fear}

Here are some practical ways to fight fear that I’ve never shared publicly before. I talked about them during this year’s Velvet Ashes online retreat and wanted to post them here in the hopes that someone out there might find them helpful in their battle against fear. I’ve reprinted all the quotes and Bible verses for easy reference, or you can simply scroll to the bottom for the video testimony. ~Elizabeth

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I used to take my pulse to make sure I was still alive. Because the ability to breathe and move my fingers to my neck weren’t evidence enough of life?? Thankfully by the time I realized why I did that and could verbalize it, I could see the humor in it.

And it was mostly health reasons that made me not want to come to the field in the first place. I’m a recovering hypochondriac [read: I’m still a hypochondriac, but it’s not out of control anymore].

Living here still plays tricks on my mind sometimes, and I have to consciously choose not to follow the rabbit trail my fears are digging. But I’ve got more practice at it now, and someone to keep me accountable (my husband), so it doesn’t take over my daily life the way it used to.

My go-to passage on fighting fear was always Matthew 6:25-34. I even committed it to memory 13 years ago when I was pregnant with my firstborn and finances were uber-tight, and I’ve returned to these words of Jesus again and again throughout the years:

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

But what really helped me several years ago was reading a book designed to help kids with OCD. It’s called What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck, and it teaches kids (or in this case, me) to identify “brain junk,” which is basically the thought patterns we have that are false and hurtful and don’t belong in our mind. After we identify the brain junk (the lies, the fears, the negative self-talk), we can throw it away, literally discarding it from our lives.

For me, following the advice in the OCD book has been a working out of the truths of Hebrews 5:14, which says the mature have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil, and Titus 2:11-12, which talks about the grace of God that teaches us to say “no.”

I had to practice distinguishing the good from the evil (or unhelpful) thought patterns. But I recognize that it is the grace of God that helps me to say no to those irrational thought patterns. And it all came about from a children’s book on OCD.

Another thing that helped tremendously was a section in a book that Cindy Morgan wrote, Barefoot on Barbed Wire, which was all about fighting fear. I “randomly” picked it up at the library when I was pregnant with my 3rd child (when the fears were the most out of control they’d ever been).

“Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”

Her book and this quote in particular really convicted me that fighting fear wasn’t about addressing my specific fears and trying to talk myself down from them and over-researching on the internet and reminding myself of the science.

No, my fear was actually something broken inside me. It didn’t come from risk factors on the outside. It came from within. The OCD strategies helped enormously in fighting my fear on a practical level, but I also needed this heart-level truth as well.

I talk about these things (and more) in my 10-minute testimony for Commune, Velvet Ashes’ 2016 online retreat, which is re-published here with permission. If you missed the retreat earlier this spring, Velvet Ashes plans to make the entire thing available again sometime in the future. And if you’ve been blessed through the ministry of Velvet Ashes, consider donating to them here

More Seizure Coma Death Moments

by Elizabeth

This blog post is brought to you by a 100% Harm Avoidance gal, in the spirit of a life lived the Seizure Coma Death way. I present to you now, purely for your reading pleasure, true stories from this last month:

I.

A fever and a hacking cough recently afflicted my youngest daughter. One night as she’s crying in pain, I wake to give her more Tylenol, to bring down her fever. I leave her room thinking, “Hmmm, she’s worse than the night before, when she slept all night without her fever spiking.” I begin to worry thus: Oh no, it’s probably that new mutant strain of the flu that’s worse than most flus but starts as a regular cold and gets worse and worse and worse until. . . it moves into the lungs and my baby might DIE.

II.

And then, as I crawl back into bed, I notice that my big toe is hurting. This is my OTHER big toe, because the first one is already fighting an infected/ingrown nail. When I realize both toes are hurting, I think, Oh no!!! I have DIABETES!! I never knew a 5-pound weight gain could be enough to propel me into type 2 diabetes. I am going to be stuck the rest of my life having to take meds for this.

So I toss and turn awhile and Jonathan finally notices and asks, “Are you ok?” I answer, “NO! I am not ok! I think I have diabetes. Both my toes hurt. My feet aren’t healing.” He retorts, “The reason feet are a problem for diabetics is because they CAN’T feel their feet, not because they CAN; your feet are fine. Go back to bed.” So I try. Even though my toes are still in pain.

The weather here affects my feet I guess, making them more dry and calloused than usual. So maybe I need to invest in some sort of foot cream.

But probably not Metformin.

Yet.

III.

Later that week, a killer mosquito attacks Jonathan and me. First, it attacks him. We had gone to bed early that night to try to recover from the sleep loss associated with, you know, COUGHING KID. So we are tossing and turning, in and out of sleep, listening to our dear sweet little hacker, when suddenly he jumps out of bed, all flustered, saying a mosquito bit him on the lip. It’s swelling HUGE, and it hurts. I give him the Benadryl cream and we look for, but cannot find, the Perpetrator.

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I cover my entire self with the sheets, except for my face, so I can, you know, BREATHE, and I fall back asleep. Then about an hour later, I wake up with a pain in my lip, and it’s a teeny tiny bit itchy. Fearing the worst, I run to the bathroom, only to discover a bite that is TAKING OVER MY FACE. Numbness and tingling spread all the way down to my chin. My lip simultaneously balloons outward and swells all the way INTO my mouth, where I can feel the bulge on the inside of my lips. I think: And when the swelling reaches my windpipe, I will die.

So I slather on the Benadryl cream and search for that blasted mosquito. When I finally find it, I swipe at it with the electric bug zapper. The zapper buzzes the mosquito no fewer than 5 times (usually 1 or 2 zaps is enough to slay a mosquito). When it falls to the ground, it is STILL WRITHING. Of course, even a mosquito as hardy as that can’t survive my foot: one stomp finishes the job nicely.

It takes all night for the swelling on my lip to go down. The tingling doesn’t fully subside until later the next day.

But my airways are still intact.

For now.

Seizure, Coma, Death

by Elizabeth

Jonathan and a friend, on his last day at the hospital.

Jonathan and a friend, on his last day at the hospital.

Seizure, coma, death: the end process of all diseases. My husband Jonathan discovered the end results of disease in nursing school, where one of his instructors made the phrase seizure, coma, death somewhat of a joke. Me? All I had to do was be born the harm-avoidant, overreacting hypochondriac that I am. I can extrapolate any symptom or situation all the way to end-of-life processes. And I don’t need the help of nursing school to do that; I can do it all by my lonesome self.

Seizure, coma, death: it’s the place I always go. For me, the worst option is always the first option. Case in point?

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MORE Reasons You Should Be a Missionary

Your coffee shop will sell fresh meat AND fresh coconut milk. And coffee.

Your coffee shop will sell fresh meat AND fresh coconut milk. And coffee.

by Jonathan

At the end of my post on A Life Overseas called 10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary, I asked the readers this question: If a “Top 10 List” could have 15, what would you add? Folks replied with some great stuff, which I’ve compiled and edited below.

So, just in case my Top 10 List didn’t convince you, here are some more reasons being an overseas missionary is awesome. To see all of the responses, view the original post.

– You’ll get to go off-roading in a 4×4 just to get to your village.

– All the chicken is “free range.” However, “free range” is interpreted loosely, and may in fact mean “they live and eat in the gutters and trash piles, freely.”

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Trailing Spouse: He Heard, “Go!” and I Said, “No!”

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

When my husband first told me, rather excitedly, that he wanted to apply with Team Expansion to become a missionary in Cambodia, I did not in any way share his excitement. I had many mistaken ideas about missionary life – mistaken ideas that told me, “No! Never! Don’t go!”

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