Comparison

Photo by Maksim Goncharenok from Pexels

This week I rejoined Instagram because (of course) I needed something to waste more time on.

I had an Instagram account years ago, but decided to ‘archive’ it when it became unhealthy for me. My life was much different back then since I was still struggling with my depression and I was easily triggered by things on social media.

Thankfully that is not an issue anymore.

Since I live overseas, having Instagram is a good way to follow what family and friends are up to back home, and they can also keep track of me. Plus, I now work with teens and young adults, and most of them have Instagram, so it’s another form of connection with them.

And finally, one of my lockdown projects has been writing a book of poetry and I realized I would need platforms other than Facebook to share on when it’s done, which will hopefully be soon.

(I’m also working on a novel so stay tuned for that!)

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram where I’ll be giving sneak peaks of my poetry book, please do: instagram.com/becky.ferg

I try not to spend a lot of time on social media because a) it’s too easy to get lost in it for hours, and b) it can still trigger some unhealthy behaviours which lead to insecurity, such as the deadly ‘comparison’ game. Of course, during this time of a global pandemic, we are spending even more time on social media.

When browsing these platforms, it can be easy for me, like so many others, to get pulled into thoughts of, ‘everyone is much prettier than me, everyone is so much fitter than me, everyone is so much smarter than me, and so on’.

And when I first started scrolling through Instagram at the beginning of this week, I admit that I began to have some of those thoughts. With the state of our world, and the fact that we feel like everything is on hold even though time presses on, we are much more vulnerable to unhealthy thoughts, negativity, and feeling inadequate.

I am grateful that I am at a place in my life where I immediately recognize this unhealthy pattern and can stop myself from going down that rabbit hole. This week I had to tell myself to ‘shut up’ (in a loving way), and remind myself that I am awesome and my life is good.

I don’t mean this in a conceited way. I know I’m not perfect. I’ve got too many flaws to count and I definitely don’t always have it all together. I mean, I’m so clumsy and uncoordinated that I can barely go a day without tripping over something or running into something (I’ve got the bruises to prove it). I often say things without thinking and have a tendency to act impulsively. I’m stubborn, and I don’t like to be told what to do.

But I also know that I am kind, loyal, generous, friendly and funny (sarcasm, inappropriate jokes and self-deprecation are my go-tos 🙂 ). I can laugh at myself. I accept my flaws, and I work to be better each day. And I know I’ll eventually master walking without tripping (or maybe not).

I know my worth because I find it in Jesus. I know I am valued and I am loved.

As a missionary, I work with youth in the Czech Republic, which I absolutely love. A couple of days ago, during the Bible study I lead, we were talking about social media and the dangers of comparison.

We read some scripture about comparing ourselves to others, and then had a great discussion about how God designed each of us uniquely. We talked about how we are all valued, worthwhile and special.

We talked about the fact that there is no one else just like us. There is no one else exactly like you and there is no one else exactly like me. We are made intricately and beautifully by God and God doesn’t make mistakes. No one else can fulfill our individual purpose in this world.

I am constantly amazed by the youth I have the privilege of working with. They are so much smarter and more mature than I was at their age. Yet, they face things I didn’t have to. I was bullied as a teen, but at least we didn’t have social media, where people tend to be much more cruel. There was no cyberbullying 20 years ago.

Yet, the students I know here have a grace and wisdom beyond their years. They still struggle, especially with comparison, but they are also not afraid to be true to themselves.

Honestly, I think I learn more from them than they do from me.

This week I was honoured to be able to remind my youth that they are important. They matter.

And so do you.

Love yourself and love others. We witness so much hate and pain in this world. Stand against it. Do something good for someone else.

This post today is as much for myself as it is for others. I needed this reminder, and I know I’ll need it again in the future. I’ll need it on those days when I feel like I am not enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough.

Then I can read this and remind myself that I am enough.

Since I needed this reminder, I thought maybe someone else would too:

You are enough.

This topic also inspired a poem, which I hope you like:

Comparison

The slow death of the soul
Robbing of peace
Igniting insecurities
Raising doubts
Am I enough?
Immediately transferring me back
To when the mirror was my greatest enemy
Reflecting the shame and hatred
Of the girl I used to know
Scars still visible
Wounds held within
How quickly we can return
To past anxieties

Comparison is a slow death
Like a thousand cuts
A heart disintegrating
Turned to dust
Despite being older
Despite being wiser
I fall victim
To its prey
Counting my imperfections
And all the mistakes I’ve made
Withering under the force
Until I find strength again
To see I am enough

Where is God?

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

I haven’t written on here in a while. For about 8 months I switched to writing on a platform called Medium because it gave me the opportunity to interact with other writers, and also earn a little extra money. But I ended that membership last month.

Although I enjoyed the connection with other writers, the platform introduced some policies that I was not comfortable with. On top of that, being on that platform made writing a competition, a business as I strived to gain followers, increase my viewership and make money. I didn’t like that.

So I am back to the blog I started so many years ago. Here, the writing is about sharing hope, faith, joy and love. It doesn’t matter if 100 people read it or no one reads it. I write because I love it, and because I want to make someone’s day better.

So, let’s get to it.

2020 – what a year it has been!

Who could have ever imagined that the first year of a new decade would be so crazy?

It’s been a year of shock, sorrow, fear, anger, defiance, illness, hatred and instability.

We’ve witnessed a pandemic sweep across the globe that has resulted in loss of life, loss of income, loss of relationship, loss of security, and loss of the existence we knew.

Many countries recovered from the first wave of the pandemic, only to now be hit harder in the midst of the current second wave. I sit in a country that has had more positive infections in the last 6 weeks than it did in the first 6 months combined.

Like thousands of others, I have gone for the Covid test as I developed symptoms that were worrisome. Thankfully, my test results were negative.

Personally, I’ve struggled through many things throughout this unprecedented time including loneliness during quarantine, anxiety about being out in public, and depression over losses.

Living overseas, away from family and close friends, is difficult already. Now add a pandemic that means I can’t go back to my home country and no one can visit me. I’ve had some dark days as trips and plans were cancelled.

For me, September was cruelest month yet. Mid August brought the news that my nana was hospitalized. As family discussed options for her for when she would be released rom the hospital, doctors announced she would need to go into hospice care. She was not expected to last more than a few weeks. She passed away September 24th.

I wasn’t there.

I didn’t get to say goodbye.

There was time to get back to Canada, but the pandemic meant I would have been forced to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. I never would have seen her before she died. So I stayed in Czech and grieved alone.

My nana and I had a special bond. We understood each other in ways others didn’t understand us. Our bond was solidified when I was in my 20s, and lived much closer to her and my grandpa than I did to my parents. I spent many weekends and holidays in my grandparents’ guest room.

I didn’t know the last time I saw my nana would be the last time.

Photo of my cousin, my nana and I from several years ago

As strong as my faith is, I can admit that in recent months I’ve asked, ‘Where is God?’

Where is God in all of this?

His answer? It was the same every time.

‘I’m right here, my child. You are not alone.’

And He is. He is right here. But many of us have been too distracted to notice. He’s been right here all along.

As I look back over the 8 months, I see His presence clearly. It’s so obvious that I wonder how I could have possibly missed it.

I see His presence in the friends and co-workers who called me and checked in on me during the weeks of quarantine.

I see His presence in the provision of opportunities over the summer that were a direct result of the pandemic. I was able to participate in 3 English camps for Czech teenagers that normally would have had teams from North America travelling to participate in them. I was only needed because those teams could not come. As a result I made new friends, connected with many Czech youth, and was affirmed in the direction my ministry is meant to go.

I see His presence in giving me a new church and church family to be a part of, where I can serve well, and where my gifts and abilities are wanted and valued.

And although I was not there, I see God’s presence in my nana’s death. He was there when He made sure my mom arrived in time to hold my nana’s hand as she passed. He was there as she took her last breath while ‘Eye of the Sparrow’, my grandpa’s favourite song, played on Spotify. He gave us assurance that He was taking her home to be reunited with Him and my grandpa.

So, where is God?

Right here.

He is here in all of the good and all of the beauty in this challenging time. He never left. We just stopped paying attention.

We can take comfort in His presence. In the midst of uncertainty, we know there is hope. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of age.” Matthew 28:20b, NLT

A Life-Changing Year

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It was exactly a year yesterday since I said goodbye to the life I knew. I got on a plane, with three suitcases and a carry-on, and moved half way around the world.

Why? Because God asked me to.

Was it difficult? Yes.

Was it heartbreaking to leave loved ones? Absolutely.

Do I get homesick? Regularly.

Do I regret doing it? Not for a second.

This last year has arguably been the best year of my life. On January 15, 2019, I got on a plane with a one way ticket. I landed in the Czech Republic in the early afternoon of January 16. It was exactly one year and one week from when I learned I had been appointed as a full time missionary with TEAM.

 

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For years I had dreamt of being a missionary, but I had no idea where to go, what organization to partner with, and how to make it happen.

I was also being held by back by fear and struggles with mental illness.

Until that fateful summer in 2017, when I joined my church for a short term mission trip to work at an English Camp in Czech. There, God changed my life when He finally revealed to me His plans for me to be missionary.

By that point I had pretty much given up on the idea of working in full time missions. I was content with working in church ministry in Canada while doing short term mission trips each year. But God had other plans.

That desire He had placed on my heart so many years before had finally come full circle. It was unexpected, and a little scary, but I never doubted for a moment. God said “Go”, and I said “Ok”.

Design

It was one of the easiest decisions of my life, and without a doubt, it was one of the best. In this last year I finally found my purpose. It took a while to find it. I had some mess and trauma to work through first.

Now, after being a missionary in Prague for a year, I see the purpose of everything in my life that led up to today. All of the chaos, struggle and pain I endured was to prepare me to be here. It strengthened me and gave me the tools I needed to face the challenges of working in global missions.

In the last year God has repeatedly shown me how He can use my troubled past to help others. He has taken my trials and my hurts and created beauty from them.

I’ve developed relationships with Czechs who struggle with mental illness, and God has used my past and my experiences to allow me to help them. This has helped me create some deep friendships in a short time.

I’m not going to say that the transition of moving here has been easy. It hasn’t. But in the last year, I’ve grown in ways I never would have imagined. My faith and trust in God is stronger than ever. I am physically the healthiest I have ever been. Emotionally, I’ve stood firmly in the face of things that would have crumpled me in previous years.

God has been so faithful.

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Even in the frustrating moments of language learning and adapting to new cultural norms, I have been able to see such beauty and grace.

In the times of loneliness and homesickness, God has provided a friend, a text message, a FaceTime call or a sweet memory for comfort.

In the ups and downs of adjusting and adapting to my new life, God has assured me again and again that I am where He wants me. He’s given me a deep joy that cannot be hindered or damaged by anything.

A month I was telling friends and family that for the first time in my life I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. There is such a peace in knowing that.

Life is not perfect. But God is. He is perfect in His plans, in His grace, in His love.

I spent so many years before trying to control everything, losing patience with God when I things didn’t turn out the way I wanted.

If only I had known.

If only I had trusted Him fully.

God is so good.

In a year of change – of ups and downs, trials and victories, sadness and joy, faith and doubt – the most important thing I’ve learned is that God is constant and His way is always the best way.

I’m so thankful I listened to His voice and allowed Him to lead me here.

And I am so grateful for the many people who have taken this incredible journey with me.

The encouragement I offer you today is to focus on His goodness. God is faithful. He is love. He is grace. He has a purpose for you.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”          Jeremiah 29:11-13 NLT

 

 

Hope in God

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This month is suicide prevention month.

Many people will let it pass without giving it a second thought. Not because they’re insensitive. Not because they don’t care. But because they’re lucky enough never to have been touched by suicide or the affects of it. They’re lucky enough never to have lost someone to it. They’re lucky enough never to have contemplated it. They’re lucky enough to have never tried it.

Some of us are not so lucky.

So this month touches us deep down in our souls as we remember.

We remember those we lost.

We remember almost losing ourselves.

We remember the excruciating pain, the darkness, the emptiness, the confusion, the fear.

We remember silently crying out for help.

We remember the loneliness.

We remember what it was like to grasp at nothing, to imagine the world without us, to cry for our family and friends, to truly believe this world would be better off without us.

We remember that we didn’t want to die, but we didn’t know how to live anymore.

We remember a suffering so horrific that it left us writhing on the ground, agonizing in pain, and praying for anything, ANYTHING to make it stop.

We didn’t want to die. We just needed the terrorizing hurt to stop.

Some, like me, are blessed to be able to remember because we didn’t succeed in our attempts or desires to leave this world. Something stopped us. Something saved us.

I know God saved me. He intervened each time I wanted to end it all. In those moments, I didn’t know it was Him, but looking back I can see it. He sent someone or something that helped me to hold on a little longer.

And He used the time to help me heal a little more, to help me grow a little stronger.

I can remember in my younger years crying out to God and asking what I had done to deserve such suffering. I begged Him to take my depression away. I promised to ‘be better’, I promised to ‘be good’.

I wanted a reason for my pain. I needed someone to blame. I assumed it was my fault.

It was in the times of quiet, when I was exhausted from the tears, and the unending battle within, yet my mind would not sleep, that I was able to turn to Him and grow closer to Him.

I was too weak to pray, to move, to question. The anger and struggle had worn me out. So I lay in stillness and He used that time.

He spoke to me.

And I heard Him.

It was not my fault. There was no one to blame.

My depression is the result of a fallen world. God never wanted this for me.

But He used my pain to draw me close to Him. He showed me Jesus, who understood my suffering because He suffered so greatly. Jesus knew my hurt. He knew my struggle. He felt my pain.

And He told me to hold on to Him. He took my hand, validated my feelings, and said “You are not alone”.

He picked me up and told me He would fight with me. He told me we could conquer it together because nothing is impossible with Him.

He saved me. Again.

And now I am here today. I can share my story. I can share how things got better, how I got healthy.

I did it with Jesus.

It doesn’t mean life is perfect. I still struggle. I still have to fight my depression. There are still days when it’s hard to get out of bed.

But I know I can do it. God has given me the strength to fight when the war wages within. He goes before me and endures the hardest attacks Himself. He shields me from the worst of it.

And He gives me hope. Hope for tomorrow. Hope for the future. Hope in Him.

He reminds me He has a purpose for me. He reminds me that I’m here because He wants me here. He reminds me I’m not done.

Amazingly, He shows me how He can use my suffering to create good. He’s allowed me to help others who struggle with mental illness. He’s given me the strength and wisdom to counsel them, walk with them, encourage them, pray with them, love them, and point them to Him.

He’s shown me how He can take something so messy and horrible, and turn it to beauty.

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Because nothing is impossible with Him.

If you are struggling today, I encourage you to turn to God. Take the hand of Jesus, let God go before you, and fight your battle together.

It can get better. It will get better. Surrender it to Him.

And don’t stay quiet. Don’t suffer alone. God gives us people to reach into the pit of despair that we’re drowning in. They want to help pull us out. Grab that hand. When you climb out of that pit, grasping that hand, you’ll see not one, but many people behind the hand that pulled you out. People who love you, who need you, who want to help you.

Don’t give up. God’s got you.

 

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Wanted. Worthy. Loved.

woman holding a heart shape light
Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

Unwanted. Unloved. Unworthy. Not good enough.

There are days when these words float through my head on repeat.

We’ve all experienced this. Something happens in our lives and these negative images of ourselves circle our minds.

You’ve lost your job, so you feel as though you’re not good enough.

Your friends ditched you so you feel unwanted.

Your partner left you so you feel unloved.

Someone yelled at you so you feel small and unworthy.

These negative depictions of ourselves can spin like a broken record, repeated over and over and over.

I found myself allowing some of these words in my mind recently. I got my feelings hurt and instead of placing the blame on the one who hurt me, I placed it on myself.

Because it must be my fault when someone treats me poorly, right?

WRONG!

Oh so very wrong.

Unwanted. Unloved. Unworthy. Small. Not good enough. These words that we too often give power to are from the devil.

And the devil is WRONG!

When I realized I was allowing these negative thoughts to affect how I feel about myself, I worked to put an end to them.

How did I do that?

I turned to Jesus.

Jesus, am I loved?

“More than you can imagine” He said.

Jesus, am I wanted?

“So much,” He said.

Jesus, am I worthy?

“You’re so worthy that I died to save you,” He said.

Jesus, am I good enough?

“You were made in the image of God,” He said. “So, what do you think?”

It is so easy for us to doubt ourselves when someone does us wrong. Even for those of us who are confident, self-aware and self-accepting, it can puncture our hearts when we’re hurt or betrayed. And that puncture, no matter how small, can lead us to question our value. In those moments of uncertainty, when our usually strong resilience falters, the devil sneaks in quickly and silently. He takes hold of that uncertainty and pummels it with bullets.

When that happens to you, do what I did. Turn to Jesus. Let Him show you how much you are loved, how much you are wanted and how much you are worth.

You are made in the image of our Heavenly Father and that makes you so precious and so valuable.

I look back on the many years of misery I spent seeking acceptance in this world. I sought my worth in what others thought of me. I judged my value by how others judged me. And I never felt good enough. There were days I couldn’t even look in the mirror because I deeply hated the image that stared back at me.

Then I turned to Jesus and sought my value in Him. I prayed and asked God that I would see myself as He saw me.

And suddenly I was free.

I realized I didn’t need acceptance in this world because this is not where I belong. I belong with Jesus.

Does this mean that I can’t get my feelings hurt? Of course not.

Does this mean that I don’t doubt my own worth? Of course not.

Does this mean I am always confident and able to love myself? Of course not.

But in those moments when I falter and the devil tries to sneak in, I can stand up to him because I have the shield of Jesus.

When someone hurts me or betrays me, I am able to realize that it has nothing to do with my value. I can have compassion on that person because often those who cause hurt are orchestrating out of their own pain.

Remember always, no matter what happens in life, that you are a beautiful child of God, made in His own image.

Remember that you are loved and valued so much that He sent His son to die so you can be saved.

Find your worth in Jesus.

 

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Who Are You?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Have you ever been asked this question? Have you ever asked this question of someone else?

Usually this inquiry would be made in a casual setting, or perhaps occasionally in a hostile environment as one person challenges another. In either of these situations, the first response would likely be a name. This may be followed by a statement of job profession or perhaps a reason for being in that place at that present time.

In a casual instance where you are meeting someone for the first time, other information may be offered as small talk ensues. A person may share where they live, what car they drive, what sports they play, how many children they have.

These are expected responses to the question,(or some version of), ‘who are you’?

Have you ever been asked ‘who are you?’ by someone who wasn’t interested in what you do for a living, or what car you drive, or where you live? They didn’t want to know your resume, but wanted to know you.

They didn’t want to know how you keep your lawn so green or how you organize your challenging job. They wanted to know what makes you smile, what makes you cry, and what is below the exterior that is presented to the outside world.

In today’s world of Instagram, Facebook, Tinder, Match and Tumblr, we seem to be lacking the ability to truly get to know a person. We throw words into a profile, put up pictures of our best selves, share the adventures of our “awesome” lives, and allow others – strangers, friends, family and acquaintances alike – to judge us on the things we share.

Internet dating is the worst aspect of this as single men and women fill out extensive profiles, display photos, and then spend hours browsing through the same things others have placed online. Quick judgements are made based on how someone looks in a picture or the clothing they are wearing, or a few specific words focused on in the never-ending questionnaire of most dating websites.

Because of social media we’ve become so quick to judge someone, and the life they appear to have, that it seems to be causing us to judge more quickly in daily encounters as well. We don’t take the time to get to know someone, really get to know someone, anymore. And we have very little grace when someone we’ve just met makes a mistake or does something we see as “wrong”.

The reality is that in social media, as well as in person, we often have no idea what is really going on in someone’s life. We have no idea what is going on in their heart. We have no idea who they really are. And we often don’t take the time to find out.

Then we’re shocked when we hear that a certain couple is divorcing, or that our friend’s husband has been diagnosed with cancer, or that our co-worker is in the hospital after a suicide attempt. And we can argue that we didn’t know or they didn’t tell, but did we ask?

Our eyes are so glued to our phones that we don’t notice our friend sitting next to us with a trembling lip as she tries not to cry. We’re updating our statuses while a child is being bullied on the playground in front of us. We are seeing who swiped ‘yes’ for us on Tinder while sitting on the bus and we don’t notice the elderly gentleman who just got on and is struggling to stand because there are no empty seats.

We need to move off social media and talk. Really talk. We need to communicate in person, show grace and offer love to one another. We all crave deep connections and intimate relationships, but we are depriving ourselves of exactly that when we hide behind social media, or when we fail to truly get to know a person outside of Facebook and Whatsapp.

Instead of judging without mercy, let’s listen with kindness.

Instead of ignoring without care, let’s help without selfishness.

Instead of dumping someone without grace, let’s love without boundaries.

Instead of being in today’s culture, let’s be like Jesus.

Jesus asked us to love our neighbours. Can we really love them without truly engaging in knowing them?

Jesus dined with outcasts and listened to sinners. Let’s invite everyone in, just as they are, without judgement or criticism.

None of us are perfect, but we are all made in the image of our perfect God.

We are flawed. We make mistakes. We lose our tempers. We lack mercy. We judge.

But we are also valued. We are worthy. We matter. We are loved. We are beautifully, intricately, and uniquely made. There is no one exactly like you. There is no one exactly like me.

That’s how amazing our Almighty Creator is.

Take the time to get to know who someone is. Take the time to get to know who you are. Take the time to share who you truly are.

Because God made you and He doesn’t make mistakes.

“Don’t pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other.” Romans 12:9-10 NLT

The Little Things

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Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

I was getting ready for bed and suddenly felt this uncontrollable urge to write about something that happened today.

My friend, who I met in my Czech language class in the Spring, and I took a break from language review/practice to go for lunch. We went to a restaurant a few minutes from my apartment, and prepared to order.

We had a lovely, young woman as our waitress, and when she approached us, she (of course) spoke to us in Czech. My friend and I ordered our drinks and tried to tell her we needed a few more minutes with the menu. At this point, she switched to English, but I quickly told her we were learning Czech and wanted to practice. She smiled sweetly and switched back to Czech, but made an effort to speak more slowly so we could understand.

Throughout the remaining time at the restaurant this wonderful server treated us with kindness and patience as we fumbled our way through communicating with her in Czech.

Her gentleness and understanding of the fact that we were trying hard to speak in her language has stayed with me all day. I can hardly express how much I appreciated her patience, even though the restaurant was busy and she had many others who needed her service.

If she was frustrated by us, she didn’t show it one bit.

When we made a mistake or said a word incorrectly, there was no judgement.

Her sweet smile never left her face.

After we left, I’m sure she did not give us another thought, but her actions have stayed at the front of my mind all day.

How she treated us may not seem like a big deal to many, especially given that her job is in the service industry, but it meant a lot to me. She made me feel appreciated and valued for attempting to speak only in Czech.

This has not been a regular experience for me; often when I have attempted to speak Czech, the person I am speaking to will switch to English. If they don’t know English, they’ll just use hand gestures. And many times I have sensed their annoyance with me as I stumble through my limited Czech.

My experience today has reminded me of the importance of appreciating the little things.

So often we only focus on the big things – the next adventure, a new experience, going on vacation, the start of a relationship, the big presentation, a visit from a loved one, the wedding day, the birthday celebration.

We spend the time in between ‘the big things’ waiting for, and anticipating the next ‘big thing’.

In doing that, we frequently miss out on the little things that matter just as much as the big things.

The little things like…

Seeing a wooden moose painted with your home country’s flag in a small German town.

When your friend’s 5 year old son wants to sit next to only you.

When you see a beautiful landscape and take a moment to be mesmerized by it.

When you get excited over the appearance of a rainbow in the sky.

When there’s a hammock on the porch of the beautiful cottage you’re staying at for a few days.

I could go on and on…

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Often we can fail to see the beauty in the moments that seem small.

We forget that even the little things need to be celebrated.

We’re so busy planning or praying for that next big thing that we don’t realize how incredible much of the small things are.

A friend of mine writes her blessings in a gratitude journal. It helps her focus on all of the good in her life instead of the negative.

She struggles with anxiety, so it would be easy for her to focus on her trials. Instead she purposely focuses on her blessings and all that she is grateful for.

I used to keep a gratitude journal, and it is something I am going to do again.

I want to focus on all of the positive things, big and small, that God has blessed me with in my life.

I want to remember that every experience, every moment, every word spoken, every action taken matters.

Because we never know how our words or actions may affect someone else.

I am certain that the waitress I had today has no idea what an impact she had on me. I am sure she doesn’t know that she made my day better through her actions. I think she would be surprised to know how much what she did meant to me.

We often have no idea how we can impact people. Something we do that may seem minuscule or ordinary to us may be the difference between a good and a bad day for someone else.

A smile can lift a hurting heart.

Holding a door can straighten burdened shoulders.

Giving up a seat can bring rest to aching legs.

These are all little things.

But they matter so much.

Pay attention to the little things. Find the beauty in them. Find the inspiration in them. Find the joy in them.

Embrace the blessings.

Exude gratitude.

And be the bright spot in someone else’s day.

 

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Thorn in the flesh

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I am currently reading a book by Charles Swindoll called ‘Paul: a Man of Grit and Grace’, which is about the life of the Apostle Paul. The chapter I just completed focused on suffering and the “thorn in the flesh” God gave Paul to keep him humble.

Though many have speculated, it is unknown what Paul’s thorn was, whether it was physical, mental or emotional. All we know is that it caused him great pain, and he pleaded with the Lord three times to have it removed. We also know that God’s response was ‘No’.

Each time He said, ‘My Grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness’.”    2 Corinthians 12:9a

At this point, Paul could have responded in many ways. He could have walked away from the Lord in anger. He could have wallowed in his suffering and given up on life. He could have refused to do God’s work until he was healed.

But instead he accepted his thorn.

So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10

Wow.

I don’t have another response to that, so just, “Wow”.

Paul’s faith and trust in the Lord was so strong that he simply accepted his thorn knowing that in his weakness, God would make him strong. Paul chooses to boast in his weakness so that God may be glorified. He accepts his suffering and trusts God’s promise that His grace is sufficient.

In ‘Paul’, Charles Swindoll writes, “The world needs more followers of Christ who embrace pain and hardship rather than deny it.”

So often people come to Christ and expect that life will suddenly be significantly better. They expect instant happiness, no more pain, and a life without drama. I’ve heard this and witnessed it many times. They think that after they accept Jesus, God will give them everything they need and desire. Then they get so angry and discouraged when that doesn’t happen.

This is why it is so important that those of us who are followers of Christ are open about our struggles. We must be able to show our suffering and reveal our weaknesses. Then we can also show how God uses our times of trial to reveal His grace and strength.

God never promised us a life without suffering. In fact, He promised us the exact opposite. Jesus told us that as His followers, we would face struggle, trial and pain. He was very clear that His way is difficult, but He also promised He would be with us and give us strength, and that our reward in heaven would far outweigh the suffering of this life.

Paul is an inspiring example of true faith and trust God, despite enduring much pain and suffering. Charles Swindoll writes, “The secret to Saul’s contentment was knowing Christ’s strength was perfected in his weakness.”

We all have a thorn in our flesh. For some it is a physical ailment. For others it’s a constant, sinful temptation.

My thorn in the flesh is my mental illness – the depression and anxiety I’ve struggled with since the age of 11.

For many years, my thorn caused me excruciating pain and suffering. I remember nights of sobbing and begging God to take my illness. I remember pleading with Him and offering to do anything to be relieved of the hurt that ravaged me from the inside out. I remember asking what I had done to deserve it, and then promising to be good all my life if He took it from me.

But He never took it from me.

As my suffering and desperation grew, I turned away from God and tried to numb my pain with alcohol, drugs and self-harm. I was drowning in self hatred, anger and hurt, and too many times I came close to ending my life. But in those times, He always saved me, even when I didn’t realize He was.

It was only when I finally turned to Him in my suffering, when I finally laid myself at His feet and asked for His grace that I learned how He could strengthen me in my weakness. In His grace, I found healing. In His strength, I found hope. In His love, I found joy.

And I began to understand Paul’s acceptance and contentment even when God did not remove his thorn.

I discovered that in my weakness, Christ’s strength can be made perfect. I learned that God’s grace in my suffering is sufficient.

He revealed to me how He could use my suffering and use me to bring glory to His name.

God has used my struggles with mental illness to help others. He has used me to help others who also suffer with depression and anxiety. He has given me strength to not only overcome my struggles, but to help others find hope, joy, strength and healing in Him. And that is an incredible gift.

I know that I will always be at risk for my depression and anxiety to attack. I will never be free of my illness as long as I am in this world. But now, with God’s strength and grace, I am prepared for it when it comes.

In fact, just last week, my depression began to surface, so I had to get into “battle” mode and put my fight plan in action. But it’s a battle I cannot win on my own. I am weak and I am broken. But when I turn to Him, He pours His strength into me so I can endure my thorn and battle my demons.

In His grace and strength, my weakness is made strong. With Him, I have nothing to fear, even when my thorn brings me to my knees.

Because of this, I, like Paul, am grateful for my suffering. It has brought me closer to God and allowed me to experience His grace, mercy, power and love.

 

Being Vulnerable

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Working in ministry, I have a lot of conversations with people that can end up being very deep. One thing I see over and over is the struggle many have with vulnerability, and the fear of being vulnerable.

I get it. Being vulnerable is scary.

I’ve spent years working on being more vulnerable and opening myself up. However, with being vulnerable and more open, comes fear of rejection and judgement. I am at a place in my life where it’s less scary to be vulnerable and honest because I know who I am and I know my worth. Through years of therapy, conversations, reading, writing, and prayer, I’ve become very self-aware, and I’ve learned to genuinely love myself. Everything changed when I began to pray that I would see myself as God sees me; I stopped looking for my value in this world and instead sought out my value in Him.

As I spend time with people and engage in conversations, I see so many who are yearning for a deep connection with another human being, yearning for realness and honesty in relationships, and desperately needing a sincere relationship with God. But their fear is holding them back from truly seeking that thing they so desperately desire. Their fear of being vulnerable, and of facing rejection or judgement keeps them trapped inside their guarded walls.

I understand.

I also fear rejection. I also fear being judged.

Like most, I have been rejected and judged multiple times in my life. And it hurts.

I’ve been judged for my choices.

I’ve been judged for my beliefs.

I’ve been judged for my mental illness.

I’ve been judged for not being married and not having children.

I’ve been judged for my mistakes.

I’ve been judged for being “too good”.

I’ve been judged for being not good enough.

I’ve been judged for being too thin.

I’ve been judged for being too big.

I’ve been judged for what I wear.

I’ve been judged for what I’ve said.

I’ve been judged for what I haven’t said.

The list goes on and on.

It’s painful. It’s painful to be judged. It’s painful to be rejected.

While that pain is often never erased, it can be overcome.

It can be overcome by being accepted.

By being welcomed.

By being loved.

By loving others even if they reject you.

By being honest even if some don’t like what you have to say.

By being vulnerable even though you could get hurt.

By not judging even when others are judging you.

And most importantly by knowing you are forever accepted and unconditionally loved by our Father in heaven.

He will never reject you.

He will always want you.

He will always welcome you.

He will always accept you.

He will always love you with a fierceness that none of us can fully comprehend.

So I encourage you to be vulnerable. Be open. Be honest. Be accepting. Be welcoming. Love. Love as our Lord loves us.

Because even if you are sometimes rejected or judged, that love will overpower the hurt.

And you can feel secure knowing that the Almighty is always there.

When I look back and see all the opportunities I missed because I was afraid of being vulnerable, afraid of being judged, and afraid of being rejected, I am filled with sadness. Pure sadness. Yes, I may have avoided being hurt or embarrassed, but I may have also missed out on meaningful relationships, best friendships, chances to love and be loved, and so much more.

As I have gotten older, and my faith has grown, I have realized that all I want to do is love and care for people. Even if they reject that love and care from me. I want to know people, to connect with people, to be vulnerable, to be open, and to be honest. I want to help others and allow them to help me.

And if I am hurt or judged or rejected, that is ok.

At least I’ll know I did what Jesus asked me to do. I’ll love my neighbour, and I’ll serve others.

And I will always know that I am fully loved and accepted by the One who matters most.

 

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Provision

IMG_4998I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday about how, when and if God provides in every situation when we ask Him for something. We had some differing views but came to realize that we actually felt similarily, but how we interpreted the word ‘provides’ played a part in how we discussed our views.

My reasoning was that God always provides in some way even if it is not in the way we want. For me, when God doesn’t answer a specific prayer that is an answer in itself. By Him not giving me what I want, I see that He has a different plan and what I want is not what He feels is best for me. In not giving me what I asked for, I see that as an answer. I still feel He is with me always and that He has a plan and purpose for me, and therefore will provide for HIS purpose.

My friend, who has experience working with people who believe in the prosperity gospel, (ask God for what you want and He will always give it to you, which often looks to Matthew 6:25-34 as reasoning for these views), felt we must be more careful in our word choice and that the word ‘provides’ can be understood by many to mean God will give you everything you ask for. As he explained his reasoning, I understood why he chose his words so delicately when speaking of God’s provision. His thoughts are that God does not always provide, but He is always with us and leading us toward His plan.

So ultimately our viewpoints were along the same lines.

Since this conversation I have been thinking about the requests that we, and I especially, make to God in our daily lives. Currently I am searching for answers on a couple of things, and anyone who knows me well, knows that I am not naturally a patient person. Therefore I find myself getting frustrated and begging God for answers on the same question again and again.

I have to remind myself to be patient. I have to remind myself that I don’t need the answers right now. I want the answers, but it is not about what I want. I need to just trust God and His plan for me and that He will provide answers on what I am seeking in His time, not mine. Otherwise I am simply going to stress myself out unnecessarily trying to control something that God has already figured out.

So often we turn to God only when we want something. We want a specific job. We want a boyfriend/girlfriend. We want a new house. We want more money. We want to move to a new country. We want to punish someone who hurt us. And we get angry with God when He doesn’t provide what we ask for. We claim He’s not listening or He doesn’t care. We may even question His existence and our own faith. All because He didn’t give us what we want when we want it. We expect that because we’ve chosen to follow Him, He should fulfill all of our desires in return.

Why?

How is that true faith?

Why is our belief in Him dependent on Him providing us with exactly what we want?

As I ask these questions, I’m not trying to call anyone out, but I’m pointing the finger at myself.

What right do I have to be so demanding of my God who saved my life? Who sent His son to die so I could be forgiven? Who loves me more than I can possibly imagine and only wants His best for me?

I need to stop demanding from God what I want and ask Him what He wants from me instead. I need to stop being so entitled and simply say, ‘Thank you, God’

As I look back over my life, I see God’s presence in everything. No, He did not give me everything I wanted. And there were times of deep pain and struggle, but God was always there. He was there to comfort me. He was there to strengthen me. He gave me earthly support through people and opportunities. And when I asked Him for something that would not have been good for me, He protected me by not providing it.

God is not a magic genie who will grant our every wish. God is our father who loves us, strengthens us, helps us grow, and leads us. Like any good father, He doesn’t give us everything we want just because we want it. Like any good father, He tells us no when He must and accepts our anger and frustration in response, while still loving us fully and unconditionally.

God will never abandon us. He doesn’t promise us that our lives will be perfect. He doesn’t promise us a life without struggle. He does promise He will always be with us. He does promise that if we follow Him and accept His son, Jesus, that when our time on this earth is over, He will take us home to be with Him for eternity.

And that is more than enough for me.