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Sweet & Salty: On Joy and Bitterness {ft. a Character Study: Naomi}.

I’ve had better days.

A bit before 2017 rolled around, I wrote a post on how 2017 would be better than 2016. 2016 brought on a lot of pain and suffering in the form of a mental illness {see the “Unashamed” tab}. It brought on a lot of heartache and bitterness as I longed to return to Nash and be loved by my Waco friends.

Then 2017 hit and it has been better — God’s provided me with an amazing, entry-level dream job; He gave me a new church home and provided new, grounded community; lately.

He’s opening up opportunities for me to serve locals on Forest Ln — people I work with, climb with, eat with, drive by, pray for — from all walks of life: every age, race and socioeconomic level {many are impoverished}; and to fully seek healing redemption through Him and Him alone.

He’s given me a core group of women my age and life phase that hold me accountable to discovering His Truths and living them out daily. We call ourselves the “Wine, Whales & Word” tribe. I cannot say where or who I would be without them during this crazy, fun season of life.

Sometimes life is sweet. Sometimes it’s salty.

My TVC Dallas Home Group and I are walking through Ruth. Starting yesterday, we plan to read it all the way through {it’s four chapters long} each week, to deliberately meditate on the scripture, to earnestly analyze characters, culture, Creation and Christ in every word and between every line.

Yesterday we walked through Chapter 1. I believe God is forever, always, eternally sweet, but life can sometimes be salty.

Poor, Sweet Naomi — her husband and two sons all died within a short span of time. She was left a widow without children with two women who were destined to become cultural outcasts unless they remarried soon.

Before their deaths, Naomi was named “Pleasant.” She experienced the pleasure of loving and following God, of living a life under His provision and guidance. But after their deaths, she changed her name to Mara, which directly translates to “Bitterness.”

I think bitterness is a valid emotion — when people wrong me, I become bitter. Today was a very bitter day: my pants broke, my stomach hurt, employees related to my work {not people I work with} were being unkind, impatient and downright rude, my back started to physically ache from the anxiety and stress.

Joy is also a valid emotion — as Believers, we are equipped with eternal joy when we accept the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in us. We are called to a joy that never ceases, to thanksgiving in all circumstances {1 Thess. 4:16-18}.

Joy partners with seven other Fruit of the Spirit — please note: it’s only one fruit, this means the Fruit of the Spirit is one entity, embodying seven traits {Gal. 5:22-23}. It does not stand alone, it must work alongside love and peace {they are the three foremost fruit that truly marry each other in union}.

As people, we choose to be sweet or salty. We get to decide.

Today, I was salty. I slightly snapped at my poor work husband Cedric when he playfully teased me as he always does. I decided to be bitter to dwell in anger and regret and contempt. My day was awful to me, so I wanted to be awful in return.

Sweet Penny from Downtown Fort Worth Sheraton chose to be sweet. She reached out in hopes that our firm would give them business. Sweet Penny delivered a Tiff’s Treats package to me: cookies, ice cream, milk.

These three things will always brighten my day. But snail mail in particular really gets me going. It really makes me grateful for the sender’s intentionality and genuine pursuit of my gratitude and love. It takes more work to call a company, ask for a delivery, pay for a package, than it does to text me, “Hope you’re doing well.”

Sweet Penny gave me faith in humanity again. She made me feel “Pleasant,” just like Naomi felt pleasure before her trials. She reminded me there are kind, patient, good people in this world who love to serve, share and give.

It is not up to me to decide if we give Sweet Penny and the Sheraton business, and Sweet Penny knows that. But she chose to send me some love anyway, to brighten my day just because she can, and just because she had the opportunity to.

I want to be Naomi.

I like to choose pleasure, I like to choose joy. I will choose bitterness and contempt on off days, I will experience down moments and unkind souls and humans who test my patience and my ability to love and be loved.

But I want to be Naomi — I want to experience God’s goodness, promise, provision. I want to taste and see — figurative cookies, ice cream, milk — literal joyful moments, people, places — that God is eternally sweet to me and sweet to everyone He loves.

Who are you today? Who do you want to be? And how can you become that person? Stay tuned for a later character study on Ruth, Boaz and Mara. Stay tuned for a post on how to overcome bitterness and bask in eternal joy.

Blessings,

Naomae

For the record, I have zero regrets for using that pun.

*S/o to SJ, MCD, AML, RDLC and a couple of new faces eager to join us soon.

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Unashamed: When April Showers Don’t Bring Mae Flowers.

They’re supposed to bring May flowers.

April has come and gone — and for the most part, so has the rain — the Dallas Arboretum proves the flowers are upon us — but what if life’s metaphorical flowers, aren’t?

I haven’t been majorly depressed since December — BLESS UP. It’s been a whole new year of adventure and excitement and radiance that I rarely tasted in 2016. The amount of gratitude toward my parents, friends, doctors, therapists and The King has overwhelmed me.

But I think I’m regressing — lately I’ve experienced heavier and lower days. It hurts, as I started a dream job just a couple of weeks ago, and so desperately want to thrive there. I seek out medical, emotional help partnered with a holistic approach to mental health.

Sometimes the flowers don’t sprout.

We go through periods of absolute suffering and pain, we cry out to God for relief, but it seems as if the hope and joy never come upon us. It seems as though we are forgotten and abandoned and He doesn’t live up to His promise to “work for our good.”

Lately I’ve been eating up Isaiah. This morning, I walked through ch. 30. It talks about rebellious people who “speak to us smooth things.” They want an easy way out, they want smooth sailing.

Yet, those people are like breaking “that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found.”

We are Christ’s vessels — we are called to be filled with the Spirit and pour out radical love onto those around us. So how do we refuse to rebel and cling to God’s goodness?

We remember that He will be gracious. He hears the sound of our cries, he answers us. The “bread of adversity” and “water of affliction” make us see our Teacher.

Bread and water are necessities — I’d prefer to live without adversity and affliction. I’d prefer to sail calm waters without blasting winds and pelting rain. I’d prefer to not be bipolar, to not give too much of myself away, to not suffer from anxiety over tomorrow’s.

But He “binds up the brokenness of His people.”

He sees our hurt. He hears our cries. He sits with us. He cradles us. He listens. He weeps. He protects. He provides. He delivers.

He will not leave us alone. He will not let us suffer without Him, His presence, His grace. He will not abandon or forsake or condemn us if we walk in Spirit and in Truth.

He says, “You will not suffer forever. I will stitch you back together. I am yours, you are Mine. We will fight this. We will win. And I will overcome.”

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In the Darkest Moments: On Peace That Transcends.

Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.

Long before I was diagnosed, I saw the pain and hurt of my friends and family. Divorce, deaths, diagnoses tore them apart from the inside-out. It ripped their hearts into pieces and they dove into depression or became addicted to whatever vice to briefly fix their pain.

Sometimes, bad things happen to me.

Sophomore fall was my hardest semester of college. I suffered from betrayal of those who were close to me, I became bitter and distraught. My life felt desolate and isolated.

I wandered in my own desert, longing for Christ’s eternal water to quench my thirst.

My diagnosis last year tore my world apart. I honestly thought I peaked in college and that I would never be able to work, function or love again. I feared that my life would amount to nothing and I’d be stuck in a constant cycle of major depression and minimal joy.

But during even the lowest of lows, I remembered core truths:

  1. God works for my good.
  2. God loves me.
  3. God never changes.

When my world shatters, I get down on my knees.

One of my very favorite Bible verses is Philippians 4:7. This is how it goes:

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus (NLT).

It’s hard for me to pray when I’m hurt. My instinct is to get mad at God, to put on my gloves and smack a bag and scream until I weep. I feel forgotten and used and trapped.

It’s easy for me to pray when I’m whole. I’m madly in love with my God and my friends. I feel joyful and independent and confident.

But God pursues us when we’re both: when we’re black and blue, and when we’re silver and gold. He seeks us out with his never changing grace and mercy. He scoops us up in His strong, brave arms.  He says, “You are allowed to feel, just know that you are always mine.”

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed with peace.

I’m in a strange period of life: ending a PR internship, seeking something more. I’m open to new opportunities near and far, similar and unfamiliar.

I’m ready to dive headfirst into my next adventure, because I just know God’s cooking up something good.

I experienced the deepest heartbreak in 2016, but God’s brought so much healing in 2017. In the most painful moments when I doubted, He met me while I was curled up in bed in a puddle of my own tears.

He said, “There, there, dear daughter. Let me stitch you together with my love.”

When you are down and when nothing seems right, when you’re right in the eye of the storm, remember: God works for your good. God loves you. God never changes.

You can be angry, you probably have a right to be so. You can be sad, you probably have a right to be so. But you can also rejoice, because in the hardest moments, God’s already ahead of you, prepped to heal you, ready to make you whole.

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Unashamed: Real-Life Scenarios of my Bipolar Experience.

“Oh my goodness. You’re being so bipolar.”

That’s what I used to say when someone acted happy and okay one moment, then angry and frustrated the next. If someone’s mood suddenly switched from carefree and on, to grumpy and off.

But then I was diagnosed with bipolar, so I stopped using that phrase.

bipolar is so much more than acting moody.

Since I was diagnosed just over a year ago, I’ve experienced each and every level and symptom of the mental disorder. I can vouch for the world that bipolar isn’t just a girl “on her time of the month,” or a boy “being moody and dark.”

Here are a few scenarios of what bipolar has looked like for me through the past year:

  1. Feeling really great and buying all of Anthro. Okay, obviously I didn’t buy all of their clothes. But I definitely clicked the “add to shopping bag” button three too many times when perusing their sale section online.
  2. Feeling really down and making an excuse not to go out with friends. This happened repeatedly during those weeks when I felt off. I was ashamed to spend time with other people, because I feared I would lower their mood, too. So I simply stayed inside. A hostage to my disorder.
  3. Feeling awesome and ordering a last-minute ticket to Florida, but then feeling depressed when I actually get there and not enjoying the vacation. Last summer, I asked for a ticket to FL as a birthday present from my parents. I felt so great and was elated to reunite with my dear friend Gabbie. By the time the trip rolled around, I was having an off couple of weeks, so I was sluggish and spoke little and felt down the entire trip.
  4. Feeling very inspired and writing three songs in one day. As a creative, I love to tell stories through music (especially guitar, sometimes ukulele). During moments when I’m high, I feel inspired by God and the people around me and my past, so I usually crank out some songs. Of course, when I’m down, I can’t bring myself to play a note.
  5. Feeling absolutely nothing and watching copious amounts of Criminal Minds episodes back-to-back. While I do enjoy the occasional binge-watching off my latest favorite shows, it’s not the same when I’m down. When I’m low, watching TV is about all I can muster myself to do. I feel like I can’t do anything and I feel like I am nothing, so I do nothing.

bipolar looks different for everyone.

Manic and hypomanic episodes are different for everyone, and so is depression. Everybody responds to their mental illness in different ways.

Since my diagnosis, I now encourage people to do a few things:

  1. Be aware. . Be aware that 1 in 5 Americans suffers from a mental illness. Be careful of things you say and do, because it can be hurtful to call people “bipolar” if they’re moody, “OCD” if they’re organized, “depressed” if they’re just sad.
  2. Educate yourself. Read books, watch documentaries, browse articles. If you or someone you love suffers from a mental disorder, learn about it. Even if you don’t know anyone, it’s likely you will meet someone who does.
  3. Be compassionate. At the end of the day, we are still people, just like you. Sometimes there really isn’t anything you can do but pray for healing. Sometimes all we want is for you to sit beside us. Ask how you can help, but don’t be offended if there answer is, “There’s nothing you can do.”

We are fighters.

I fight every day to be as healthy as I can be.

I try to eat well, exercise often, meditate daily, pray continually, work hard. I do my best to perfectly combine my medicine and balanced lifestyle in the hopes that a deep, deep depression, or a crazy, crazy manic phase won’t overtake me.

I fight to share my story on here and in person,

so that people can understand 1) there is nothing wrong with people who have mental illnesses and 2) we are human, too. I try to be transparent and honest and open about my personal struggles–bipolar and otherwise–and my walk as a Christian.

Please, if you are ever curious about my testimony or about how my disorder has changed me, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or DM my LL&G Facebook page.

I’m here to help you learn and grow and share. And I’d love to have a conversation with you.

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2017 Will Be Better {On Bravery & Faith}.

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2016 was the very worst year.

As my first year out of college, it was supposed to be my year of independence. I moved to Nashville, hoping to stay and find a full-time job there.

But instead of thriving in Nashville at my dream job, I ended up coming back to Dallas early and getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The rest of the year consisted of counseling, finding out the right combination of medicine, and a never-ending struggle with on-and-off depression.

I felt the opposite of free and independent and confident and joyful.

I felt trapped and dependent and terrified and devastated.

2016 was my very bravest year.

I packed my bags and moved to a state I had only been to once before. I came out of the bipolar closet and exposed my deepest insecurities regarding my disorder. I attended group therapy and revealed stories of my past I barely allowed myself to remember.

There were many moments I hesitated, and asked myself, “What are you doing?” I stopped in my tracks and wondered if I was really capable to make my next move.

Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and made the first step, packed the first bag, wrote the first line, spoke the first word. I mustered up courage when I feared I had none.

2017 will be better.

I don’t hope for better, I don’t pray for better, I am prepared and ready and absolutely sure it will taste and sound and feel so much better than 2016.

The good thing is, I have already survived the very hardest year of my life, the worst diagnosis, the most unexpected news.

The better thing is, every promise God has ever made to me will always be kept. So when He says He is good, He is good. When He says He works for my good, He works for my good.

The great thing is, I am never ever alone. Not only do I have my family and friends, but I also have the God of this Universe on my side, and His Spirit alive in me.

So when bad days and diagnoses and news come in 2017, I can know that with a little bit of bravery and a whole lot of faith, I will survive, and maybe even thrive.

Friends, even if you didn’t have the worst year of your life, have faith that God still works for us and with us and in us. He does not leave us amid our struggle and worry and doubt.

He fights for us. With us. Beside us.

So let’s say goodbye to 2016. And welcome a better 2017.

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Unashamed: The Power of Prayer & Suffering Well.

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Some days, I beat bipolar.

It is funny how many friends and family praise me. They say I am doing so well, that I have responded to my diagnosis exceptionally. They are proud, they love me, and they can’t wait to see how God will use me.

But they don’t see me at my worst, when I curl up in bed and try to squeeze out tears from my empty tearducts.

It’s hard to feel hopeful in those moments. It’s hard to feel anything at all.

Lately, I’ve come across the phrase to “struggle well.”

When I hear this term, I picture cancer patients fearlessly undergoing chemotherapy treatments, and constantly hoping in The Lord.

I don’t think of myself, because I still consider myself a victim, not a survivor. I struggle and doubt and wrestle with my mind. I fear and hurt and cry.

After reading James 5, I think it is okay to struggle and doubt and wrestle. It is okay to feel afraid and to experience hurt and to cry out to The Lord.

James 5 walks through patience among suffering, and the prayer of faith.

The passage says, “You too, be patient and stand firm, for the Lord’s coming is near. It says, “We count as blessed those who have persevered.”

It goes on to say, “Is anyone among you troubled? Let them pray. Is anyone among you happy? Let them sing songs of praise….The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.”

During even the toughest days, I remember that Jesus is coming soon. I remember that God is in the here and now, fighting by my side and even in my future. I cannot ever be fully hopeless, because my hope is built upon the Lord’s promise to return. My hope is built on His promise to restore and redeem.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness. It isn’t an ordinary, physical sickness, but it can be just as debilitating. Like cancer, or a broken leg, it can be healed and managed well.

With the Lord, there is always hope.

There is always an answer to a prayer. There is always an open door. There is always a silver lining. Often, it’s hard to hear His reply, or to notice the door, or to see the silver. But friends, they are always there. Jesus is coming soon.

 

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Just Around the Big Bend: On Suffering & Satisfaction

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I camped last weekend.

My friends Brian, Sarah, and I made the 10ish hour drive down to Big Bend National Park.

Our first full day there, we decided to hike to Emory Peak, Big Bend’s highest point. At 7,825 feet, this hike was more like a trek for an out-of-shape, wannabe adventurer like me.

It was rough.

Minutes into the walk, I was already panting. Then my calves began to hurt. Then the sun came out, and I sweated like none other.

I wouldn’t define my uphill battle as suffering, but I sure wasn’t thriving. I often asked myself, “Why was this a good idea?” Then I pictured me passing out and rolling down the mountain. Doubts and insecurities crept into my mind.

Mental illness is very much a part of human suffering. Bipolar disorder challenges me because I have little to no control of my moods: I can be happy one day, and hopeless the next.

When I am down, I feel like I am lost in the valley, desperately trying to find a way uphill to a better view, a better state. I doubt my ability to get better, I become insecure about every part of my being. Fear and uncertainty plague my thoughts and interrupt my dreams.

It was worth it.

The top of the peak offered some of the best views of the area below. Mountains and deserts and valleys unfolded beneath my feet.

It was a beautiful, breathtaking sight. My doubts and insecurities stilled. And peace and hope filled my mind.

There is so much satisfaction from overcoming challenges. Each time I come out of my depression, I am thrilled to feel like myself, like a human again. I call up friends and schedule outings, I just want to be around the people I love to show them my true self.

It’s a beautiful, breathtaking moment when you realize the storm has passed. Doubts and insecurities dissolve. And peace and hope reign.

We can make it through the valley to stand on the mountain.

I had a student minister who always said, “If you’re not in a storm, you either just came out of one, or are headed toward one.”

There will be storms, and they will tear apart your life without asking permission. Lightning will strike, thunder will roar, and you will hope and pray to be saved by sunlight.

Make it through the storms, withstand the tests and trials down in the valley. Look up to the mountain, know there is refuge and hope and goodness ahead.

Because the mountaintop view lets you see and understand the trek you hiked, the fears you battled, the storms you faced. The mountaintop moment satisfies you by knowing your suffering was worth it.