NOTE: I was very hesitant to share this post because it's pretty personal. But after a message a couple of weeks ago at church, I decided that it's a story worth sharing, no matter how hard that is for me.
Every year during Lent, our church does a 6-week "all church journey." From the littlest kids to the oldest adults, we all study the same things. Teenagers through adults are given study guides to go along with the journey and are encouraged to meet in small groups once a week with either their regular, continually meeting small group or by finding a group online at our church's website that they can meet with once a week just for the journey. That's how we met our current small group last year. We got together for a six week commitment and liked each other so much, that we kept meeting together all year until this journey started. This year's journey was all about freedom.
And let me tell you-- it was absolutely amazing!
If you've read my blog for any length of time, you probably know that last spring and summer I was dealing with some unpleasant stomach issues. I felt nauseous on a nearly daily basis and just plain didn't enjoy my spring or summer. By early fall, this was diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) due to anxiety. I pretty much tried to play it off as always having been an anxious person (partly because I tend to be a perfectionist in many areas of my life). I mean, I always used to feel like I was going to throw up the night before big tests and presentations or other major life events. But when I started feeling like that all the time for no particular reason and it didn't go away, I welcomed the relief a small daily dose of anti-anxiety gave me.
THIS WAS ALL A LIE. That's what I learned as I began really experiencing God and growth during our all-church freedom journey. I am NOT an anxious person. Things do NOT always have to be perfect in order for them to be okay. I do NOT always need to be in control. And I do NOT need medicine to help control all of this.
**Disclaimer: I have nothing against the wonders of advanced medicine. I loved my epidural when I delivered Cate. I love Nyquil when I have a cold or the flu. Afrin is wonderful during allergy season.
But I was relying on a small dose of a very addicting drug for relief from anxiety instead of turning to God for relief. A very real enemy wanted me to believe that the only way I'd ever experience freedom from anxiety would be with that prescription medication.
So I quit it. Cold turkey. I had some weird dreams and light-headed-ness which are pretty common side effects of withdrawal, but I quit.
And I quit worrying and stressing out about things. How? By praying about those ugly worries before they have a chance to manifest themselves in physical symptoms. By having an awesome small group to rally with me. By memorizing some verses to remind myself that God wants me to have peace of mind. By having an absolutely amazing husband who has some weird God-given 6th sense to sense when I'm starting to freak out about something, even little things, and will stop everything to pray with me.
I have never felt so unbelievably free! I'm so thankful for the opportunity to engage in this fight and to fight for my own freedom from anxiety, worry, stress, perfectionism.
I know there may be rough patches ahead. Days where I might be tempted to revert back to my old worrying ways. Days where I might be tempted to call my local pharmacist and re-start my prescription. And I do believe that to some extent there is a healthy degree of worry. However, most of my worrying and anxiety was over nothing and for no good reason. I'm going to keep fighting.
And I'm going to fight for this girl's freedom too: Last Sunday, when the Free Journey ended, our church gave away these shirts to EVERY kid from age 1 to 6th grade. They sent all of the parents this email explaining the shirts (I shortened it for the sake of this blog post):
"It is our hope that this shirt will be a reminder that your kid's freedom is directly related to the way you interact with them. Each time you pull it out of the laundry or see your kid in it, do something to fight for your kid to live in freedom.
Here are some practical ways that you can start the fight:
· Pray for your kids. Don't know what to pray? Start with scripture. Some of our favorites are Joshua 1:9 (be strong and courageous), Romans 8:1 (there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ), Psalm 119:5 (walk in freedom), and 2Timothy 1:7 (God gave you a spirit of power, love and self-discipline).
· Encourage your kid's uniqueness. So what if they want to wear pajamas to preschool or color a giraffe purple? Uniqueness comes from God. Encourage it!
· Look at their heart, not the results. When your kid is making the bed, don't come behind them to straighten the sheets and re-fluff the pillows, just praise them for helping out. You may end up letting them unload a whole dishwasher of dirty dishes, and it will help them to be free.
· Watch what you say. A kid who is told again and again that they are shy, disobedient, stubborn, or flighty will start to believe it. Why not say that they are a good friend, full of joy, smart, funny, and courageous instead?
· Resist bringing up past mistakes. Just last week we heard the story of a kid who was in trouble in school, but he remembered the story of David making some really bad decisions, and then asking for forgiveness. The kid was able to articulate that just like God saw David as a giant killer (1 Samuel 17) and a good king, God sees good things in him, too."
I also painted this mug as a reminder for myself of all the work I've done and growth I've experienced as a result of this journey.
It says "Such a Beautiful Surrender" on it. Kites were kind of a running theme throughout this journey. God wants us to be free to fly, like a kite, but kites have strings and ultimately those strings are attached to something. My string used to be attached to anxiety. I've surrendered it to God. Beautiful. I even have a kite string tied around my wrist to remind me.
Freedom is a journey that doesn't end. We conquer one stronghold and might be met with another one. But man, it's so worth the fight.
PS...Want more information on freedom. Check out this book or click here.