Designed: Experiences and Memories

experiencesShe was abused and that’s why she….(fill in the blank).

What did you choose to fill that in with?  That’s why she hates men.  That’s why she advocates for others.  That’s why she doesn’t trust anyone.  That’s why she clings to people.  That’s why she keeps to herself.  That’s why she looks for attention.

How you chose to fill in that blank may have more to do with your own personal experiences then with the actual truth.  As you looked at that sentence and filled in the blank, how old was the girl you pictured?  What type of abuse did she endure?  Who perpetrated that abuse?  How did she handle the abuse?  None of that information was provided in the question, yet you came up with an answer.  How you came up with the answer probably has a lot to do with your personal experiences and memories.

Each person is comprised of a unique set of experiences throughout their lifetime.  Even though we may go through similar things, how we process the information is based on our individual personality, our genetic make-up, and our environment.  All of these things combine to mold each experience into an intensely personal unique event.  From those series of events we create a lens through which we predict outcomes, view the world, and see other people.  Throughout your life time these views and expectations are subject to change because you are always acquiring new information and assimilating it through your own unique way of viewing the world.  This is why two people can experience the same exact event and recall it differently.  Likewise people who experience the same event can be affected or be changed in different ways.  One example would be of two twin children from the same family, treated in the same manner who grew up in poverty.  One of them may continue the lifestyle, being trapped and bound by the circumstances he was brought up in and attribute it to the fact that he was raised in poverty.  The other child may break out of that cycle and become a wealthy person and attribute it to the fact that he was raised in poverty.  Both would honestly be stating their experience, their memory, and their reasoning; as well as correctly attributing the outcome in part to their previous experiences.

QUICK DEFINITIONS:

Before we dig too deeply into the subject, let’s quickly review what each of these words mean.

World View: a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.

Belief: an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.

Values: a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life

Expectations: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

KEY THOUGHTS:

Our experiences shape our world view, beliefs, and values.  What you experience in your lifetime will effect how you see people and what you treasure.  You may see people as primarily good or as primarily bad.  Perhaps you believe that people are usually out for themselves, or perhaps you believe that everyone really is looking out for each other.  Maybe you have taken great risks and it has turned out well so you continue to take big risks believing it will work out.  Or maybe you have been very careful throughout your life and that has helped you to always be prepared for events that have come your way.  There are many things that have gone into creating the unique person you are with the unique way of looking at the world that you have.  This is part of the treasure of who you are and what you have to offer the world.

Our experiences shape our expectations.  If every Christmas since I was born I would wake up Christmas morning to a happy family and bunches of presents, it is safe to assume that I will probably expect that the next time Christmas comes I will be anticipating a good day.  On the other hand, if Christmas was always a time when my family members fought, there were no gifts, and people were miserable, it is likely that I will expect that on the next Christmas morning things will not go well.  Both sets of expectations are shaped by previous experiences.  We all have expectations, bias, and values that are a result of our experiences.  Often times they are so intrinsic, so woven into who we are, that we don’t even realize they are there until someone does or says something that we would have never expected or anticipated.  In that moment we struggle through confusion to understand their way of thinking or defend our way of thinking.

Not everything that happens to you is your fault.  Sometimes our memories and previous experiences create a scenario in our minds that we are to blame for the bad things we have endured.  While it is true that sometimes our poor choices have led to specific consequences,  it is also true that we sometimes have negative experiences through no fault of our own.  If your parents divorced, you suffered abuse, you were neglected, you were abandoned, you were the victim of a crime or some other trauma it did not stem from your own doing.  However, it is still true that it is a part of your experience and will still undoubtedly shape your your expectations, beliefs, world view and values.  Children are especially prone to magical thinking in which they will believe they are the cause of many of life’s bad experiences.  That type of thinking can easily follow a child into adulthood keeping them in bondage to a faulty belief system about who they are and what they are worth.  These experiences will also effect how you see and experience other people in the future.

Not all memories give a complete picture.  As humans we are limited to our own experience.  We can empathize with another person’s experience, but we can not 100% experience things they way they experience them, and we can not process they events exactly as they process them.  Even if we experience the same exact experience we will each capture, internalize, and assimilate different aspects of the experience.  For example a husband and wife may have a child who gets into trouble with drugs, yet each parent will experience that struggle differently.  They will each highlight different parts of that struggle. They will each respond in their own unique way to that pain.  In later years when asked to recall the event it is likely that they will each have a slightly different version of the story because different things stood out to them.  This is one of the reasons that collateral testimonies are collected.  Not necessarily because people are lying, but simply because they are remembering different parts.  So, when you are rehearsing your memories remember that there is room for other vantage points that could still be true even though different, of the same event.

Your experiences help shape you, they don’t define you.  Your experiences are part of who you are, but they are not the sum total.  If you have suffered with addiction, depression, divorce, infertility, abuse (the list could go on forever!)….YOU ARE NOT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU!  You can only be defined by your creator! He has the final say on who you are. (Review the article on Designed: Identity at   https://confidenthope.blog/?s=identity)  Never allow your experiences to decide for you what you will become or accomplish.  You are substantially more then all of your experiences.  You exist outside of them.

You can choose differently.  One of the great things about being human is that you can make choices.  You can choose to acknowledge some of the things that have happened to you and decide how you want to respond in the future.  It may take some practice, especially if you have been responding one way for your whole life and now you are deciding you will be doing things differently…BUT IT CAN BE DONE!

You can allow other people to be different than you.  Once you are aware that your experiences have shaped your world views, expectations and values you can allow other people to have their unique sets of values, views, and expectations.  You do not disappear simply because other people exist.  Their experiences have helped them become the people they are today.

Own your experiences and memories.  Good or bad your experiences happened.  They were real.  You lived through them.  Be honest with yourself and others about what has happened to you in your lifetime and how you recall those events and how they shaped you.  They are a part of you who you are.  Wear your physical and emotional scars with dignity because it is evidence that you survived and that gives hope to others.  Be aware that those experiences will color how you see other things.

Fault and responsibility.  While you may not be at fault for everything that has happened to you, you do bear the responsibility to manage those experiences and how they play out in your everyday life.  For example, if I were to step on your foot and break it, that would be my fault.  However the responsibility to get medical treatment for healing would be up to you.  Even though I would be at fault I can not see the doctor, get the x-rays, wear the cast, or do the physical therapy needed to recover.  Only you can do those things.  Many things that happen may be the fault of someone else, they may not be fair, they may hurt, and you may have every right to all the thoughts and feelings that go along with the experience.  Just bear in mind that you also have the responsibility to acknowledge what you experienced and how it has effected you.  You can take responsibility and use your experiences to help you into the kind of person you desire to be or you can allow those experiences to shape you into their mold.

DEVOTION:

I can’t help but think of the women at the well.  The fact that she had gone to get water in the heat of the day seems to indicate that her experiences had taught her that she would be ridiculed by the other women, so she learned to adjust her behavior to avoid their scorn.  She had learned to value hiding who she was and possibly had secretly accepted the truth of their accusations into her heart.  Initially she seemed to respond to Jesus with suspicion asking questions and giving limited answers.  Perhaps through her experiences with men she had learned to be cautious with men. Or maybe she had learned that men were deceptive, not to be trusted.  Either way in her limited time with Jesus it appears that her previous expectations, beliefs and views were challenged and possibly changed.  When Jesus asked her about her husband and she gave him a veiled answer. Jesus spoke truth to her, He challenged her, He treated her with dignity and offered her hope.  I believe through her experience with Jesus her views changed, and from there her life changed.   Just think….Now her story is one of hope!  She is included in the Bible, not as a shame filled, disgraceful woman, but instead as someone who carries the light and hope of Jesus.  Her past experiences led her to the one who could redeem her!

That’s what Jesus can do for us too.  He can heal our past experiences.  He doesn’t make them disappear, but He can redeem them for good.  He can use every single thing that you have ever been through to His glory.  None of you pain will ever be wasted when you put it in Jesus’ hands.

SCRIPTURES

 

Story of the woman at the well.  (John 4:4-42)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  (Genesis 50:20)

You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.  (Psalm 56:8)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. (Revelation 12:11)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

You have seen me on my darkest days.  You know of all the things I have done wrong.  Every. Single. Thing.  Still you choose to use me.  You seek me out.  You pursue me and allow me to be a part of your master plan.

You also know of the pain I have suffered at the hands of others.  You have seen every tear I have cried…and your heartbreaks  under the weight of the pain I have endured.  Even in my darkest hour You never abandoned me.  Even when I was filled with bitterness, resentment, and hatred toward those who had done me wrong, You didn’t turn your back on me, or hide your face from me.

Help me to allow you to shine through all of my experiences.  Redefine how I interpret all of my memories and experiences so that they are in perfect alignment with your truth.  Help me to think with your mind, with your spirit, with your heart.  Heal me in ways that will bring Your hope to others that they might know that you are God and an ever present help in times of trouble.

Thank you that you are my Redeemer!  

In Jesus Name- Amen

REFLECTIONS:

1.)  Think for a moment on the events from your childhood.  Remember some of your greatest, most fond moments.  What did they teach you about yourself?  What did you learn about the people in your life?  Now think about some of the lowest, saddest, most hurtful times.  What did they teach you about yourself?  What did you learn about the people in your life?  Now, think about the truth and hope of Jesus.  Allow Him to shed light, love, and truth on those experiences.  When you look through His eyes how do you see yourself?  How do you see others?

2.)  What values and world views do you hold?  How did you come to those conclusions?  Why are they important to you?  Compare them to scripture.  What does the Bible say?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS:

1.)  In your journal draw a line through the middle of one of the pages.  Below the line write your most memorable negative experiences.  The more negative they were the lower you write them.  Above the line write your most positive experiences.  The more positive they are the higher you write them.  Write them in chronological order.  Journal what you learned from each of those experiences?  How do they still affect you today?  Take them to the Lord in prayer.

2.)  What are some things that bring back strong memories for you?  Ex. a certain song, a certain smell, a specific place.  Recall the memory in detail.  Try to get a sense of what other people in the memory may have thought, felt or experienced.  *Do NOT do this with any memory that is specifically tied to abuse or trauma.

3.)  Ask a someone about their personal experiences, memories, values, beliefs.  Learn about their values and world views.  Try to listen without defending your own position.  Try to understand their experience from their perspective.  If necessary allow yourself to disagree without needing to vocalize your disagreement.  Process your own feelings about the conversation in your journal after the experience.

Let’s Talk About Grief and Depression (Designed: Emotions)

FB_IMG_1542070397682There she sat, staring at the floor with her shoulders slouched.  Her voice was small and shaky.  “How do you feel?” I asked.

“I feel fine, I guess.”  Weighted silence filled the room, before she took a deep breath and continued, “Honestly, I guess I feel kind of numb.  I’m really not sure how I feel.  I cry every time I step into the shower, or am driving my car, or if someone I love asks me how I am doing.  I don’t know what it is.  I just break out into tears.”  Her eyes began to water, and then her breathing changed and made way for sobs.

“Do you think you might be depressed?”  I asked.

“I don’t think so.  I have so many good things.  I can’t be depressed.  I mean life is hard for everyone……” and she continued on with her list of reasons why she couldn’t possibly be depressed.

Sometimes the depression is so deep and long standing, and you have tolerated it for so long that you no longer even recognize it as depression.   But there it lingers, causing havoc and chaos where you once had peace, contentment, and joy….now those things seem like a million light years away, a fantasy that was maybe never even real to begin with.

No one likes to admit to feeling depressed.  It is such a powerless, hopeless feeling.  Yet, all of us at times will feel the weight of depression in varying degrees and for various lengths of time.

Let’s take a closer look at that heavy feeling that causes you to feel like you are dragging around a 100 pound weight.  What exactly are the differences between sadness and depression?

According to Miriam-Webster dictionary; GRIEF is a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” where as DEPRESSION is defined as “a state of feeling sad”.  Both involve degrees of sadness. Both grief and depression have many similarities in how they present, but the course they take and how they are treated is often quite different.  So let’s take a moment and examine each one separately before we look at the similarities.

GRIEF:  Grief can be caused by almost any type of loss, the most obvious being  a death.  However, one can also experience grief at the loss of a marriage, relationship, job, home, dream, ability etc.  Grief is a normal reaction to loss.  Typically, the grieving process includes five different stages:  1.) Denial 2.)Anger 3.)Bargaining 4.)Depression 5.)Acceptance.  Through the grieving process you will go through each of these stages at some point.  However, the stages aren’t linear; you do not go from stage 1, to 2, to 3, to completion.  It is far more common that you you will vacillate between different stages at different points until finally the intensity of your grief begins to subside. There is no designated amount of time for grieving.  The process will take varying amounts of time depending on the individual and the type of loss or losses that were experienced.  The treatment for grieving is simply time to work through the grieving process and a strong support system that will be patient and loving while you do the hard work of grieving.

DEPRESSION:  Depression can be a  normal response to a life situation, such as a loss or set back.  Or it can be a response to hormones, such as during a woman’s menstrual cycle or menopause.  Lastly, it can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The cause of the depression will dictate which type of treatment and interventions will work.

Here are some potential indicators of grief and/or depression:

Physical Responses: Crying, fatigue, aches and pains, increased sensitivity to stress and pain, forgetfulness, inability to focus, decreased appetite, lack of energy, decreased immunity, lack of pleasure, excessive sleeping, restlessness, stomach aches, digestive issues, loneliness, letting responsibilities slide, poor hygiene.

Thoughts about Self: I am hopeless.  I will never change.  I am alone.  Things will never get better.  I would be better off dead.  Others would be better off without me.

Thoughts about God:  God is punishing me.  God doesn’t care about how I feel.  God has abandoned me.

Our action/tendency/response: Slow down. Withdraw. Isolate.

Men and women tend to manage their emotions differently especially when it comes to grief and depression.  Here are some of the distinguishing factors  in how the expression of depression may differ between women vs. men:

  • Women feel anxious and scared; men feel guarded
  • Women blame themselves for the depression; men blame others
  • Women commonly feel sad, worthless, and apathetic when depressed; men tend to feel irritable and angry
  • Women are more likely to avoid conflicts when depressed; men are more likely to create conflicts
  • Women turn to food and friends to self-medicate; men turn to alcohol, TV, sex, or sports to self-medicate
  • Women feel lethargic and nervous; men feel agitated and restless
  • Women easily talk about their feelings of self-doubt and despair; men hide feelings of self-doubt and despair-considering it a sign of weakness

*(https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.women.html)

Communication: There has been a loss. Things are not as they should be.

NEEDS. If there has been a loss of any type, big or small, there is a need to grieve and there will likely be some feeling of depression.   If the depression is stemming from a chemical or hormonal imbalance, medication may be needed.  It is always possible that working through the grieving process, in addition to lifestyle modifications and medication may be needed.

Reminder. While it would be great if you could just “cheer up and be happy” it doesn’t always work like that.   Changing the feelings associated with depression and grieving are a lot like trying to turn the Titanic around.  It’s a big job! A good place to begin, as you embark on the task of improving how you feel, is to take some control of your actions and thoughts.  This is where you have some power!  You have the right to all of your emotions.  Including your sadness, grief, and depression.  Honestly, sometimes it is healthy to sit with the sadness for a moment, to honor a memory, a loved one, or a dream.  Eventually, you will have a responsibility that will require you to move on and re-enter the world. At that point it is your responsibility to seek out whatever you need to improve those heavy emotions; it might be socialization, skills, lifestyle change, or medication.  Whatever it is you have a responsibility to get what you need to not be controlled by those emotions.  Remember, emotions are there to serve you, to help point out your needs, to allow you to have empathy for others.  They are not meant to crush or control you.

So, what can I do?

1.)  Here are some ideas if you are grieving a loss:  A.) Journal your loss, your feelings, and your process B.) Pray or meditate C.) Make a scrap book of memories D.) Visit with friends and family that love you, be open about what you are feeling and needing

2.)  Get a physical examination to determine if your depression has a physical cause such as a chemical or hormonal imbalance

3.) Get some physical exercise EVERY DAY!  Physical exercise releases the endorphins (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in your brain which are natural mood regulators.  A daily dose of sunshine will increase those positive benefits.

4.)  Maintain a regular daily routine for meals and sleeping.   This will help restore balance to your system which will help regulate your emotions.

5.)  Be sure to create some small, measurable goals each day that you can achieve.  This will create a sense of accomplishment.

6.)  Do some thing that you used to enjoy.  Read a book, take a walk, play with a pet, watch a funny show or movie, listen to music, take a bubble bath, or create something.  Sometimes your emotions will change once you start engaging in the activity.

7.)  Challenge your thoughts.  Depression has a way of making everything look negative.  Saturate your mind with truth.  When you are facing negative self talk and negative thoughts; ask yourself, what would you say to a friend who was having those kinds of thoughts.

8.)  Depression breeds in isolation.  Talk with trusted friends or a counselor about things that are going on in your life.  Talking with people you trust can bring new insights and fuel hope.

9.)  If necessary take medication.  Some depression is from a chemical imbalance and truly needs medication.  For this type of depression the best results come from a combination of medication, lifestyle change, and talk therapy.  There is no shame in reaching out to get the help that you need.

Dealing with GRIEF AND DEPRESSION?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Don’t let despair dictate your decisions.  I am reminded of the story of the Battle of Jericho.  Read the story in Joshua 5:13-6:27.  This is the second time the Israelites have come to the walls of Jericho.  The city is fortified and closed up, there is no way of getting in; but God has promised them victory.  God sets forth his plan.  They are to march around the city one time for six days in a row making no noise.  On the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times and then blow the trumpets and shout.  When they did that the walls came crashing down and the Israelites were able to go right in and take the victory that belonged to them.  Imagine if the Israelites gave up on the sixth lap around the city.  What if they had allowed what looked like a waste of time and energy, fuel their hopelessness and feed their despair?  They would have have walked away dejected and  never seen the victory, the would have never gotten the blessing that God wanted to give them.  They would have walked back to their homes defeated.  Instead in this moment they chose to trust God, obey his commands, and believe that things would be better in the future just as He had promised.

Question:  What feels hopeless?  What dreams and desires feel like they will never come to fruition? What has God asked you to do?

Are you willing to continue taking laps until your victory?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

2.)  Build and alter.  Remember the things God has already done for you.  By remembering what God has already done, you will be increase your faith and your mood will not need to be dependent on your current circumstances.  Throughout the old testament God instructed his people to build alters as a reminder of what he had done.  In Joshua 4, after God parted the Jordan river for the Israelites, He instructed them to build an alter of remembrance.  He had them do this so that they would remember his might and power.  Whenever the Israelites would come into hard times that could look back at that visual representation and remember God’s ability to provide and rescue them.

Question:  What are some miracles God has done in your life?  How has He come through for you in the past?

Do you have things in your home that remind you of those victories (journals, notes, pictures)?  Rehearse how God has shown his faithfulness, goodness and mercy to you in the past.

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

3.) Remember God is in the resurrection business.  Scripture is laced with a theme of resurrection.  For something to be resurrected it must first die.  There is pain in the process of dying…whether it be the death of a career, a dream, a marriage or a loved one.  There is a sacredness in that space where God chooses to work.  When we have lost everything.  When we are desperate.  That is a space where we can relinquish our control, submit our will and allow God the freedom to work.  Once we release what has died, there is room for God to move in and work his miracles.  God is always taking something that was dead and breathing in new life.  He takes situations that seem hopeless and turns them into miraculous victories.  God promises that pain will only last for a moment.  In Isaiah 61:3 it says “He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of despair”.

Question:  What have you lost that you need to bury?  What is hurting that needs healing?

Are you willing to allow God to create His masterpiece from the rubble of what was?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

4.)  God is never late, He’s never early, He’s always on time.  This is a tough one for me personally.  In the middle of my pain I often feel like God is late.   I long for God to arrive early, for him to comfort me with the plan of what lies ahead as a reward for going through the suffering, but that is simply not how God works.  I imagine that Lazurus’s sisters Martha and Mary were struggling with Jesus’ timing.  In John 11, John tells the story of Lazurus.  Martha and Mary had sent word that their brother was ill and that they needed Jesus to heal him.  These were people who loved Jesus and whom Jesus loved.  Yet, from a human perspective it seems that Jesus stalled.  He didn’t even get to them until days after their brother had died.  Hope was gone.  Jesus didn’t arrive early enough to heal Lazurus.  Right when people were convinced that all hope was lost, this is where Jesus enters the scene and does a the miracle.  He raises Lazurus from the dead.  His timing was perfect for allowing a miracle that couldn’t have been preformed if he had arrived on the scene early.

QUESTION:  What are you waiting on God for?  What do you need him to do?

Are you willing to trust His timing?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

My heart is so heavy sometimes.  I can barely see through my tears.  My chest actually hurts as I feel my heartbreaking.  I want to move forward but I feel paralyzed by my circumstances.  I am uncertain how to get out of this deep pit that I have fallen into.

I know that you are a God who sees me and who loves me, but I feel alone, small, and abandoned.  I am scared.  Please help me to trust you.  I want to believe that you will create a way out…that you will do a miracle for me.  Remind me that you are still in control and are able to handle all that I am experiencing.  Remind me that no problem is too big for you to solve.  Remind me that you have a plan and a purpose for all of this pain that I am experiencing. 

I can remember times when you have done good things for me.  Thank you for the good things you have given me.  Thank you for the obstacles that I have already overcome.  Thank you for your promise that you never leave me, no matter what I’ve done or have not done.  Thank you for the promise that you are an ever present help in my time of trouble.  I ask that you once again come through on my behalf.

In Jesus Name- Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Story of the Jordan River:  Joshua 4

Story of Jericho: Joshua 6

Story of Lazurus: John 11

The Year of The Lord’s Favor: Isaiah 61

2 Peter 3:8 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

 

STRESSED OUT! Let’s talk about Anxiety and Fear (Designed: Emotions)

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“It’s scary what a smile can hide.”

I am totally stressed out!  “What if I can’t recover from this?”  “What if I can’t protect them?”   “What if I end up alone?”  “What if I can’t pay the bills?”  “What if I make them angry?”  “What if they don’t like me?”  The list of what if’s goes go on and on, every thought fueling yet another barrage of questions, worries and concerns.

On top of all the what if’s are the what now’s…. The house is flooding, the ambulance has taken him to the hospital and he is in critical condition, the child is missing, my abuser is messaging and threatening me.  In your mind you can picture all kinds of scenarios and none of them end well. You’ve thought through every angle of the situations and have made plans and contingency plans.  You are doing all you can to control things so that they don’t get more out of control.  Still you can’t shut off your mind, you can’t sleep, your stomach is a mess, and you just want it all to stop!

That is what anxiety and fear feel like….and the reality is that all of us have felt each of them from time to time.  Some of us however struggle with them on a continual daily basis.  We are designed to function well with short bursts of intense stress.  God designed our brains to excrete chemicals to signal that we need a burst of physical energy to accomplish impending threatening tasks.  However, we are not designed to handle acute stress over the long term.  When we try to accomplish this in our own strength we become sick, weary and drained.

Let’s take a closer look at these emotions that rob us of our peace and safety.  What exactly are fear and anxiety?

According to the Oxford dictionary, fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the thought of danger, pain or harm.  In this definition fear is based on knowledge that something specific and bad is about to happen.  For example: a man points a loaded gun at your head and says “this is a stick up”.  That is fear.  You know that you are presently in real danger.

Its counter part, anxiety, is defined as a feeling of nervousness, worry, or unease about an imminent event, or something with an uncertain outcome.   Anxiety encompasses varying degrees of uneasiness of what may or may not happen and is usually more vague in it’s scope of reasoning.  For example: you enter your neighborhood grocery store and begin to worry that you left the stove on at home.

These two emotions can work together.  If you are uncertain if something is going to be dangerous or painful, you may experience both fear and anxiety, with each one fueling the other.  Here is an example:  You have had negative or scary interactions with someone in the past.  During those interactions they hurt you emotionally and/or physically.  Now you are faced with the task of having to confront them about an issue currently.  You will be anxious about the upcoming confrontation and fearful based on previous experiences with this person.

Here are some potential indicators of fear and/or anxiety:

Physical Responses:  headaches, muscle tightness (especially around the neck and jaw), inability to sleep, racing thoughts, chest tightness, ringing in ears, sweating, shaking, cold sweats or hot flashes, increased heart rate, numbness or tingling, the sense that the event is not real or like a nightmare, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, shortness of breath, feeling like you are going crazy, hyperventilating, and/or feeling faint or dizzy.

Thoughts about Self:  I can’t handle this.  I am going crazy.  I am not enough.  I can’t do this.  I must figure this out.   I won’t let this happen.

Thoughts about God:  God doesn’t care about me or this situation.  God isn’t in control.  God won’t or can’t handle this.

Our action/tendency/response: Fight, flight, or freeze.  This is the physical response system that is turned on in the brain as a direct result of a the incoming fear stimuli.  In anxious or fear producing situations we will do one of these three things.  Fighting the situation can look exactly how it sounds.  You fight with the person regardless of if you are right or wrong or even if you have all the facts!  Or it can look like coming up with all kinds of plans for every possible scenario.  Flight can literally be running away from the situation, or it might mean going to extreme measures to intentionally avoid the situation or person.  Freeze is when you literally do nothing.  You are paralyzed.  You don’t run or hide.  You don’t make any decisions or take any precautions even though you are aware of the danger.

Communication:  Fear says “this is dangerous”!  Anxiety says “everything is out of control”or “this is not going to end well” or “I need to do better”.

Infected Fear and Anxiety:  It is important to remember that we will all experience fear and anxiety from time to time.  It is both normal and natural based on our circumstances, hormones, and various personalities.  However, if we are constantly allowing them to rule in our hearts and mind we will be more inclined to suffer physically and emotionally.  When we allow these emotions to go unchecked for long periods of time our bodies will literally break down under the stress.  All kinds of health problems can be linked to prolonged anxiety including: depression, hypertension, ulcers, irritable bowl, migraines, sleep disorders, digestive issues,and autoimmune disorders.  On a strictly emotional and mental level prolonged anxiety and fear can lead to depression, panic and phobias.

NEEDS.   Part of the role of our emotions is to help us to identify our needs.  When we look specifically at the emotions of fear and anxiety we may uncover that we have one or more of the following needs:  1.) The need for safety.  2.) The need for security.

Reminder.  You have a right to all your feelings and thoughts, no one can tell you that you are not afraid or anxious, frankly these feelings aren’t always reasonable, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t truly experiencing them! While you have a right to these feelings you also have a responsibility to manage them.  They are within your realm of ability to address, control or manage.  The fact that you have the obligation to care for them also gives you some power and control over the internal mechanisms that are responding the the outward stimuli, triggers, or circumstances.  Remember it is your thoughts that fuel this emotions.  So while the experience itself is emotional, the fuel that is keeping it going are the thoughts that you keep playing over and over and over and over and over……………

So, what can I do?

1.)  Determine what is within your control and responsibility and what is outside your control or responsibility. 

Here are some examples of things you cannot control:

  • Another persons actions, thoughts, or feelings.
  • The past
  • Certain circumstances or situations

2.)  Challenge some of the thoughts and beliefs that are fueling your fear and anxiety. 

Ask yourself:

  • Is what I am feeling based on facts?  Do I have all the facts?
  • Am I engaging in any types of cognitive distortions? (See previous article entitled  “Beautiful Mess”)
  • Am I trying to reach an unattainable or unreasonable standard?
  • Am I trying to change things that are outside of my responsibility or ability to control?
  • Am I continuing to face the same situation, in the ways I traditionally have, and continuing to see no improvement or change?
    •  If you answer yes to this you may be trying to change something that you are not able or responsible to change.  In this case you will need to focus your attention and efforts away from the person or situation which you cannot change.  Instead you will need to put switch your focus on to yourself and the things you can change with in you, your circumstances and your boundaries.

3.)  Accept circumstances or situations that are unchangeable or outside your ability to control.

Here are some ideas to help you work through accepting:

  • Journaling
  • Prayer/Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Visualization
  • Forgiveness
  • Counseling

4.) Control or change the things that are within your ability and responsibility to control.

Here are some ways you can take control of situations that are making you stressed, anxious, or fearful:

  • Identify, set, and enforce boundaries.
  • Set goals with small, well defined, measurable steps and track progress.
  • Talk with a friend to help hold you accountable and encourage you.
  • Read and meditate on scripture.
  • Pray.
  • Listen to music.  Choose music with positive lyrics or soothing melodies. Some ideas might include: worship songs and hymns.
  • Go for a walk in nature.  Take in the sights and sounds.
  • Engage in a soothing or creative activity…yoga, painting, cooking and coloring are some examples.
  • Give your mind a break from rehearsing the problems and plans and instead do something fun and mindless like watching TV sitcoms or a movie.
  • Remember times when you have done similar things well.  Visualize yourself succeeding in this challenge.
  • Remember the people who love and care about you.  Talk to them about your situation and let them offer you guidance and comfort.
  • If necessary you can also seek medical care, counseling and/or medication to address any issues that are perpetuating or resulting from the fear and anxiety.

Dealing with FEAR AND ANXIETY?  Here is your challenge:

Review the topics under “What can I do?”.  Where are you at?  What is it you need to do starting today?  Choose someone you can talk to, a trusted friend or counselor, and share this information with them.  Get their feedback and ask if they would be willing to help you conquer this giant.

Additional ideas:  1.)  Learn more about boundary setting and endings by reading the following books by Townsend and Cloud.  “Boundaries”, “Necessary Endings”, “Changes That Heal”.  2.)  Enroll in a yoga class.  This will help you learn how to relax your body, and help you to focus on your breathing skills.  3.)  Write out some of the scriptures verses below and keep them with you.  When you feel anxious review them.  4.)Memorize the Serenity Prayer.  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

Do you see me under the weight of all the burdens that I bear?  Do you hear my cries of fear and worry over the many things and people I don’t have control over?  How long will I have to continue on this journey?  Will it ever ease up? 

My heart is so anxious at times with all of the “what if’s”.  I am constantly striving and trying to win the approval of people, trying to change people and make them do what I want them to do.  I worry about the future.  I long to trust you. I want to have the “peace” that you have promised. 

Sometimes I think I am doing well and that I can just let go.  Then next thing you know I am rehearsing once again all the possible outcomes and contingency plans.

Help me to trust you with all that is going on.   Help me to trust you with my future, with the people I love and care about, with the situations that are beyond my control. 

Grant me vision to see what you would have me do and only what my next step should be.  Then please give me the courage to do that next step.  Keep me focused on you and your will.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6&7

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  Psalm 56:3

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Psalm 34:4

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, the comfort me.  Psalm 23:4

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Jealousy (Designed: Emotions)

 

 

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Her looks, his money, her fancy house, their marriage, those kids, his success, that ministry, those accomplishments….or even my relationship, my friendships, my belongings, my rights, family: You name it and I can be jealous over it.  Sad to say I am no stranger to this life sucking, vision clouding, strife producing emotion.

We all experience jealousy at one time or another, it is one of the many emotions we experience because we are designed in the image of God but living in a sin filled world in a fallen state.  Our feelings are part of how we are created in the very image of God.  However, it is what we do with our feelings that make a difference.  Remember, feelings are not good or bad; they are simply present.  If I allow my thoughts to feed my jealous feelings then I may take damaging action that is irrevocable.  I may speak words that I later regret or hurt someone in such a way that the relationship is irreparable.  We have a right to feel jealous, but a responsibility to choose to respond in a manner that will help alleviate the pain of the emotion.

Up to this point in the Designed Curriculum we have examined, God, identity, along with the roles of our physical being, our thoughts and our emotions.  Now it is time to see how they are all connected together just as a tree is connected with it’s roots firmly planted in the soil and extending up through it’s trunk.

So, exactly what is jealousy? Jealousy is a secondary emotion that is a combination of sadness, anger, insecurity and fear.  It is defined as:

  • Feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.
  • Feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship.
  • Fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.

Here are some of the potential indicators of jealousy:

Physical response:  Crying, increased pulse rate, shaking, lack of sleep and sweating. Sometimes accompany the feeling of jealousy are racing or ruminating thoughts.

Thoughts about self:  “I am not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough etc.”,   “I deserve more.”   “I should have gotten that.”   “I have a right to…..” “This is not fair.”

Thoughts about God:  “God won’t take care of me or meet my needs.”  “God doesn’t care about what I want.”

Our action/tendency/response:  Belittle the other person. Brag about self or accomplishments. Protect at all costs. Attack the other person. Wallow in despair or hopelessness.  Try to “correct” the situation by getting whatever we think we deserve regardless or the cost.

Communication: Jealousy says: This is not fair.   This is mine. I deserve more or better.  I can’t have what I want or need.

Sometimes when our emotions get out of control, or are suppressed, we end up with what I describe as an emotional infection.  An emotional infection is similar to a physical infection.  When a person receives a physical wound and doesn’t engage in measures to protect from infection or seek the proper treatment there is a risk of infection.  The result of the infection can result in varying degrees ranging from mild symptoms to amputation, to death.  Emotional infections are similar to physical infections.  Many times we will be in a situation where we receive an emotional wound.  If we do not attend to that wound our emotions can become inflamed and can result in varying degrees of relational difficulties ranging from increased personal distress, to relational loss, and ultimately to death.  Therefore it is important to pay attention to the state of our emotions and engage in healthy emotional regulation and distress tolerance.

Infected Jealousy.  Jealousy is not a pleasant emotion to experience.  If we let jealousy have free reign in our hearts and continue feeding it with our thoughts it can cause tremendous damage inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly one can experience bitterness, rage, hatred, extreme anxiety, depression and self-loathing.  Outwardly one may end up lying, stealing, or hurting someone.  In some cases jealousy has even led to murder!

As we learned in our last lesson all emotions are designed to give us important information about our needs.  So exactly what does our jealousy indicate and how can we get those needs met?

Jealousy may indicate a need to learn to trust, to be content, or to develop an improvement plan.  Here are some examples:

You may need to learn to trust God.  That he is who he says he is and will do all that he has promised to do.  You can trust him to meet your needs and to provide discovery or protection as necessary.

You may need to learn to trust an individual or process.  If you are worried that a loved one may be cheating on you it can be difficult to trust them because they may not be honest with you. Their behavior or confession will eventually show the truth of what is going on.     By expressing your feelings, thoughts and needs you are allowing the other person an opportunity to help meet those needs.

You may need to learn to be content.  Celebrate what you do have and learn to live without the things you don’t have.  Situations are temporal, they change.  Sometimes you will have a season of plenty and other times a season of want.  You can choose to be content in both scenarios.  Often times it is through the difficult process of learning to accept things as they are in the moment that we learn valuable life lessons, develop strength of character and gain the power that comes from being able to let go.

You may need to develop an improvement plan.  This is a case where jealousy, when correctly focused, can help spur you on to achieve goals or dreams.  Perhaps you are jealous of some one who has attained a goal that you were hoping to obtain.  In this case you may need to learn to press into your goal or revise your plan for obtaining your goal.

So what can I do?  The important thing with jealousy, as with all uncomfortable emotions, is to 1.) acknowledge the emotion, 2.) uncover what is fueling the emotion, 3.) express the emotion in appropriate ways, and 4.) wait for facts before responding with irrevocable actions.

Dealing with JEALOUSY?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Which of the 3 definitions of jealousy listed above best define they type of jealousy you are experiencing?

2.)  Exactly what are you jealous of?

3.)  Review the list of indicators listed above.  Which ones are experiencing? (If you are experiencing things that are not listed include them as well.)

4.)  Take a moment to reflect on your jealousy.  Are they symptoms of infection?  If yes, what are they?  (If necessary take some time to review the lessons on forgiveness and take appropriate steps.)

5.)  What needs is your jealousy indicating that you have?  What can you do to get those needs met?

6.) Practice expressing your emotion.  If the emotion has given you a lot of pent up physical energy engage in some healthy physical activity like running, walking, biking, swimming.  If it has given you a flood of emotional energy write out your emotions and thoughts in your journal in a prayer to God.  Try expressing your emotion to a trusted friend or loved one using the statement: “I feel jealous when…..”.

7.)  Take action.  Seek God. Get the facts.  Accept reality.  Make changes as necessary.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

I confess that I struggle with jealousy.  It is so easy to compare myself to others and find myself coming up short.  My insecurities will often overwhelm me if I let them.  Help me become so content with what you have given me that I am able to honestly and truly rejoice over the success of others.  Help me to keep my focus on you and build my faith in who you are and who you say I am.  Help me to trust you and to act in obedience to all you have said.

I can’t thank you enough for loving me.  I acknowledge that you are a jealous God and in your jealousy there is no sin.  Thank you for making me your beloved.  Thank you for your fierce protection of me and your vigilance over me. Help me to reflect your character when I experience the emotion of  jealousy.  Show me how to be more loving in my interactions with others, more truthful with myself, and more honoring to you.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

A heart at peace gives life to the bod, but envy rots the bones.  (Proverbs 14:30)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Where jealousy and selfishness are there will be confusion and evil of every kind.  (James 3-16)

MEDITATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT:

PSALM 37:1-40

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord , and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord ; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. The blameless spend their days under the Lord ’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord ’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke. The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed. The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing. Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed ; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip. The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, intent on putting them to death; but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked or let them be condemned when brought to trial. Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it. I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked. The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord ; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

A Temple, A Teacher and A Treasure (Designed: Physical)

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“Your body listens to everything your mind says.”

On first impression our physical self seems pretty self explanatory. However, it actually is more inclusive and complex then one might initially think. So what does the physical part include? 1.) our bodies 2.) our physical needs and desires 3.) our senses that shape our experiences 4.) our physical sensations, and lastly 5.) our actions. Along with these various aspects we also have specific rights and responsibilities in relation to ourselves and others. Our bodies are designed as temples, that inform our thoughts, teach others about who we are, and are the treasure through which God works. Lets examine the wonderfully designed physical self that God has given to us, and our rights and responsibilities that go along with it.

1.) BODY. Your body is miraculously designed. It is your most distinguishing feature. Most people will recognize you by your physical appearance. We all struggle with aspects that we dislike about our appearances. Still your appearance is part of what makes you uniquely you and therefore it is something to celebrate. Your body is the most basic way in which you set boundaries. You have the right to decide who will be allowed to touch you and how you will allow them to touch you. You also have a responsibility to provide for and care for your body. This includes sleeping, eating, exercising, setting limits, personal hygiene, maintaining health care and healthy routines.

2.) NEEDS. Your physical needs are the things you need to survive and include things such as; food, sleep, air and water, without these things you will die. Those physical needs can be expanded to include things such as touch, communication, attention, clothing and shelter, while you may be able to live for a while without these thing you will surely need them eventually. You have the responsibility to get these needs met and to help meet these needs for others who are in your care. Remember is that it is not bad that you have needs! It is part of being human. You have a right to ask others to help meet your needs. Seeking to get your needs met in appropriate ways is how you are designed by God to function. We are designed to be in relationship. It is not a flaw! Our needs give us an opportunity to move toward growth and affords a reason to develop relationships with other people.

3.) SENSES. Our senses include sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. These senses work together to help us gather information about the world around us. They alert us to things that may be dangerous, such as touching a hot stove, we would feel the pain and remove our hand. They also alert us to things that are pleasing, such as the taste of cold ice cream on a hot day. Our senses contribute to our individual likes and dislike of an experience. This makes our individual interpretation of an experience uniquely our own. For example we can both go to a symphony or a heavy metal concert and hear the same thing, but one of us love it and the other hate it. Simply because we have differing opinions on the experience doesn’t mean one of us is right and the other wrong. We have the right to our own unique opinions and experiences as well as the responsibility to express them respectfully. It is part of what defines each of us as an individual.

4.) SENSATIONS. Sensations are those things we feel physically within our bodies. For example before a job interview you might feel your heart racing. Other examples would be the feeling of physical pain in your chest as you grieve a loss, extra energy as you begin a dating relationship, or a tense neck and shoulders when you are under stress. These sensations are a physical manifestation of your emotional state and provide valuable information for you regarding your surroundings. If you are a person who has suffered abuse or trauma, it is possible that you will misuse or ignore these cues. For example, if you suffer from prolonged abuse, you may choose to ignore the uneasy feelings you get in your stomach when you’re around a certain individual so that you can continue to maintain a relationship with them. Or if you were the victim of a sudden traumatic event you may have escalated responses to anything that triggers memories of that event. You have a right to experience all your sensations with acceptance. There does not need to be a reason that you can specifically pinpoint for feeling uncomfortable around someone. Perhaps your body remembers things that are similar to people and situations that your mind can’t recall and is alerting you through sensations. We have the responsibility to pay attention to our sensations and respond appropriately by incorporating facts and emotions to determine specific actions.

5.) ACTIONS. Actions are what you choose to do with your body and words. You are always responsible for your own actions just like other people are solely responsible for their own actions. What you choose to do, or not to do, will almost always have an impact on others. Sometimes things will not be your fault, but you will still have the responsibility to fix them. For example if someone were to push you and cause you to fall and break your leg, that would not be your fault. Still it would be your responsibility to seek medical treatment and follow the treatment plan in order for your leg to heal. You have a right to set and enforce boundaries for through your actions, and the responsibility to take ownership of your actions.

DEVOTION:

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
(Psalm 139:15‭-‬16 NIV)

As I think about this verse I am struck anew by the thought “all my days were written in your book before one of them came to be”. So that means all of them! God knew my good days and bad days. He knew the days I would be victorious in my trials and the days I’d fail miserably and fall into sin. He knew every single moment I would have and exactly what I would choose. Still he chooses to love me. Not only does he know them, he uses them for good. That truth is true for you as well. There is nothing you have done or can ever do that excludes you from his love and plans for you. Also there is nothing anyone can do to you that will thwart his plan for your life. In fact God says in his word, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” {Romans 8:28) and “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you well carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phillippians 1:6) So, are you struggling with a past that haunts you? Or perhaps you are currently under the weight of a bondage that seems to powerful to break? Maybe you’re trapped in a situation that seems hopeless. What you are doing, what you’ve done, and what has been done to you are not the defining or limiting factors in God’s plan for your life. While you have rights and responsibilities you can rest in the confidence that God still has you and is able to work his purposes.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating me in such a way that I can experience the world that you have created. Thank you for all the marvelous sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that you have made for me to enjoy. Thank you for setting a rhythm to my days and night, for offering me times of activity and times of rest. I have to confess that sometimes when I think of my body I am very critical. I am not always pleased with my appearance and I often neglect to take care of myself the way I should. I also confess that I do and say things that I am not proud of, things that I know would be displeasing to you and hurtful to others. Thank you for not holding me to any standard of perfection in my appearance or in my actions. Help me to fix messes that I have created. Teach me to handle my rights and responsibilities in this area in ways that are pleasing to you. I ask for the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control so that I can learn to implement them in my own life, and demonstrate them to others.

Amen.

REFLECTIONS: Are you treating your body as a temple? What would you need to do to honor God with your body? Are you getting your physical needs met? Are you setting appropriate boundaries with your body, words, and actions? Are you maintaining healthy, balanced routines? What are some areas that you are strong in? What are some things you need to work on? Is there a specific area that you feel God is speaking to you about regarding the physical part of you? Journal your answers.

ACTIVITY OPTIONS: 1.) Think about your daily routines. Consider ways to bring things back into balance. Choose one item from your list to implement and track. 2.) Consider if you are getting all your physical needs met. If they are not being met, make and implement a plan to ask someone to help meet your physical needs. Journal the result. 3.) Practice mindfulness. Take 5 minutes each day to sit, still and quiet. Take notice of the environment around you with all your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Try to stay focused in that moment with no distractions. 4.) Find a quiet place to lay flat and still. Take a couple moments to calm your body. Focus on the inner sensations in your body starting with your head, neck and shoulders and moving systematically body parts down to your toes. Focus specifically on each area how it feels in the moment, then trying to relax each body part. 5.) Think about some of your current actions. Journal a time when you someone else was at fault at it was your responsibility to fix it. Now ponder things that are currently happening in your life. How is God asking you to respond in this situation? Journal your response.

What’s In Your Trunk: Designed Trunk Overview

FB_IMG_1531095548445.jpgJennifer was a mess!  Her thoughts were going a million different direction. Each day she worried she was becoming more forgetful and distracted.  Her emotions were off the chart.  One minute she was screaming in anger, the next sobbing hysterically.  Her heart would race with fear about what the future would hold.  Throughout the day she would find herself exhausted and longing for sleep.  Yet at bedtime she was either unable to sleep or tormented by nightmares.  She would get through each day by numbing herself to her thoughts, feelings, and body and would fake her way, going through the motions, praying for it all to end, yet seeing no possible way out.

Perhaps you can identify with some of Jennifer’s struggles, or maybe you have had the unfortunate experience of being able to identify with all of what she was going through. These symptoms are often the reason that people will finally come to counseling.  The pain of being where they are at moves them to seek relief.  Over the next several weeks I will share with you some of the key ideas that I have used in  counseling sessions to help individuals regain their sense of self, face their struggles and win their battles.

In the previous lessons we learned about our “roots”.  Over the next several weeks we will examine the “trunk” of your tree.  The trunk includes your physical body, senses and actions, it also includes your feelings and thoughts, as well as your inner beliefs, values, memories, and experiences.  These systems work together to create a sense of health and well being if they are operating correctly  or a sense of chaos if they are out of whack.   As we examine the trunk, we will be discussing topics like our needs and desires, boundaries, rights, responsibilities, regulation, acceptance, action and processing.   You and your specific situations will be the focus of the reflections and homework.  This is where you are called to dig in and make changes.  This will be hard work, but let me encourage you that it will be well worth it.

So, let’s begin with an initial self assessment.  As we consider the trunk of the tree I want you to picture it as a stump, think of yourself as looking at the stump from a birds eye vantage point.  It would look like a circle, with concentric circles inside of it.Green Leaf Plant on Brown Wooden Stump

I want you to imagine that there are 3 key concentric circles.  The outer most circle signifies your physical self, the next circle signifies your emotions and thoughts, and the inner most circle signifies your experiences, memories, and events that shaped you.  Each of these circles together represent how you experience the world and provide a context in the way in which the world will experience you.  It is your actions, thoughts and feelings when expressed that will teach the world about who you are.  Likewise, how you care for your physical needs, experience your emotions, process your thoughts, and integrate your experiences will play a huge role in how you perceive the world and others around you.

Each part has it’s own vitally important role to play, but all parts effect the functioning of the other parts. For example if you are physically hungry, it is likely that you will feel irritable and unable to focus.  Alternately if you are stressed by a relationship it may effect your appetite.  In order to be healthy in your relationships with others it is wise to start with learning to understand yourself.  If you ignore your needs or allow parts of yourself the ability to do jobs they are not designed to do you will have a recipe for disaster.  Our physical bodies use senses to take in information, to experience and interact with the world around us and to perform actions.  Our emotions cause us to feel and sense things that may not be present in the physical realm, they allow us to be empathetic towards others.  Our thoughts help us to process information and help us make decisions about what to do, they organize facts, and formulate plans. Our experiences give us wisdom and help to shape our view of our self, others and the world.  Each part is intricately designed to work intimately with the other parts.

DEVOTION:   It is incredible to think about how we are designed.  Like some of you, I have had the amazing experiences of birthing children as well as the experience of watching the birth of a child.  It is crazy to think that there is a tiny human being being formed inside of you.  It is almost surreal when you hear that heart beat for the first time, or alien like when you feel them kicking the inside of your belly. While you are carrying them you take extra precautions for their health, multivitamins, iron, staying away from certain foods and drinks that you would normally enjoy.  When they are finally born you stare at them for hours thinking about how they were inside of you and ponder what a miracle they are.  From the moment that child is born, and even before, he or she is developing a physical frame, they have various systems, needs and preferences.  They are able to learn and express emotions.  All their tiny parts are working to some degree and they are dependent on you to care for them and provide for them.  Over the course of time you will teach them to care for and provide for themselves.   You will also teach them how to get along with others.  Eventually you expect that they will also care for and love other people.  Still you will always be their parent and even when they are grown you will still support them and of course you will always love them.

If you as a fallible parent can create, love, and teach a tiny person to grow and care for him or herself, then just think about how a perfect parent, your heavenly father, can teach you to love and care for yourself in such a way that you will be better able to love and care for those who are in your life.  God wove you together long before time.  He made provision for you.  He has a plan and a purpose for you and for every single thing that you will ever go through.  He considered your frame and made it a temple for his spirit.  He designed your brain to manage your thoughts and your emotions.  He linked the physical sensations of your body to your brain and transmits them into emotions and stores them as experiences.  Then He allows you to partner with him in practice of loving Him, yourself and others.  You truly are wonderfully made.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION: Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all it’s many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  (1 Corinthians 12:12)

A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34)

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’:and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Luke 10:27)

PRAYER:  Heavenly Father, I confess that I have not always done a very good job at loving and caring for myself.  There have been many times that I have let myself go without needed sleep and nutrients, times that I have allowed my emotions to overtake me, times when I have let my past define me, and times that I have dwelt on evil things.  I know that you have told me to love others as I love myself and yet I know that at times I have failed miserably at both.  I ask that you would please teach me how to be a better steward of all that you have entrusted me.  Help me to learn how to care for myself in ways that are pleasing to you.  Remove the lies that caring for one’s self is selfish.  By your Holy Spirit help me to know truth.  You are the example I long to follow.  Give me courage to keep trying even when things are difficult and grace to make room for errors.  Please continuously remind me of your love for me and calling on my life so that I will not loose heart.  Thank you for loving me, for holding my hand and gently leading me into your presence.  In Jesus Name- Amen

REFLECTIONS:  The scripture verses above talk about the body having many parts and about love; specifically loving others as ourselves, and as Jesus loves us.  Meditate on the following question.  How does Jesus love you?  Journal some of your answers.  Now, think for a moment about how you take care of other people whom you love.  Journal those thoughts.  Next, take a couple of moments and reflect on how well you are loving and caring for yourself.  Are you more diligent in caring for others or in caring for yourself?    

ACTIVITY OPTIONS: 1.)Think about what the circles of your trunk would look like. Draw that image.  Are some sections taking up more space than others?  Are some sections being ignored?  Are they currently balanced and in alignment in all situations?  How are you doing physically?  How are you doing emotionally?  What types of thoughts are you consistently thinking on?  2.)  Think about a specific situation you are currently facing.  Focus on your role in that situation.  Create a diagram showing what your circles (physical, emotions, thoughts, and experience) would look like currently in that situation.    Ask God to reveal areas where you need balance and healing.  3.)  Journal a prayer to God regarding a specific situation you are currently facing.  Focus on yourself in that situation.  Submit to him your physical self, your emotions, thoughts, and experiences.  Ask him to help you to create balance and health in this situation.

UPCOMING LESSONS:  Next week we will examine our physical circle and how it is designed to function, the role it plays and our responsibilities in relation to our physical needs, preferences, and desires.

Your True Identity: Your Roots (Designed: Roots)

FB_IMG_1528761897413Pastor Jeff Kapusta once said that if “Satan can’t steal your destiny he will lie about your identity”.   Satan will tell you that you are worthless, hopeless, crazy, dirty, stupid, ugly, and that you will never be enough or perhaps that you are too much.  His array of insults are limitless and he knows exactly which ones to apply to keep you feeling fearful, defeated and trapped.   A key part of God’s design for your life is tied to who you are…so who are you?  Are you a composite of Satan’s labels and lies?  Are you simply a parent, a partner, a child, a sibling, an employee?  The truth is your true identity is only found in Jesus.  Since God is the one who created you he gets to decide your true identity, the creator decides what he is creating.  So what does he say about you?

You are loved. “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.'”  Jeremiah 31:3

You are forgiven.  “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  Isaiah 43:25

You have value and significance.  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

You are accepted and belong.  “But you are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  1 Peter 2:9

You are a child of the King.    “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12

You will never be alone.  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

You are designed in His image.  “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Genesis 1:27

You are a victorious warrior.  “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  Romans 8:37

You have a plan and a purpose.  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

You are worth fighting and dying for.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Let’s read through that list again slowly and this time replace the “You are…”  statements with “I am…”.  Add your name in the scriptures.  Let the statements sink deep in your soul.

I am loved.  “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved (your name) with an everlasting love; I have drawn (your name) with unfailing kindness.'”

I am forgiven.  “I, even I, am he who blots out (your name) transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers (your name) sins no more.”

I have value and significance. “Before I formed (your name) in the womb I knew (him/her), before (he/she) was born I set (him/her) apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

I am accepted and belong.  “But (your name) is a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, (he/she) is God’s special possession, that (your name) may declare the praises of him who called (him/her) out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

I am a child of the King.  “Yet to (your name) who did receive him, to (your name) who believed in his name, he gave (him/her) the right to become children of God”

I will never be alone.  (your name) will be strong and courageous.  (your name) will not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord my God goes with me; he will never leave me nor forsake me.”

I am designed in His image.  “So God created (your name) in his own image, in the image of God he created (him/her)…”

I am a victorious warrior.  “In all these things (your name) is more than a conqueror through him who loved (him/her).” 

I have a plan and a purpose.  “For I know the plans I have for (your name), declares the Lord, plans to prosper (him/her) and not to harm (him/her), plans to give (your name) a hope and future.”  

I am worth fighting and dying for.  “For God so loved (your name) that he gave his only son so that when (your name) believes in him (he/she) shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Remember our analogy of the tree from our last lesson?  The roots bring nourishment to the young tree and with the proper care the roots will grow strong and deep so they can anchor the tree in wind and storms.  It is the same with us. God longs for you to grow strong and deep in Him.  By believing what God says about who you are and who He is you will grow strong and deep in Him.  In this life you will face trials and temptations, at times you will fail, you will be rejected or abandoned by others, you will be mistreated and misunderstood; having a deep understanding of who you are and who God is will help you stay anchored in life’s storms.

DEVOTION:
Not long ago I went through a very challenging season in my life.  I had done somethings that I was ashamed of, these sins caused me to doubt my identity and God’s purpose for my life.  I felt ashamed.  Satan knew that I was struggling to survive under the weight of my sin.  He hurled insults that went straight to the core of my being.  My heart hurt so deeply, waking up each day was a struggle.  I would weep throughout the day and long into the night.  I longed for the pain to end. Each day as I cried out to God in my pain He would softly remind me of my identity in him.  Having been a Christian for a long time, I knew that God’s word is true.  I clung to that truth as if my life depended on it, because in fact my life truly did depend on it.  I was in a battle, and from all I could see, I was loosing.  God reminded me through His word that  my identity was securely in Jesus and nothing could change it.  No matter how bad my sin was, no matter how I felt about myself or what others said about me…NOTHING could change the fact that I was still a beloved child of God, completely forgiven, never alone, sealed for His purposes.

If you are now or ever were, in the same place as I was, please listen closely…You are loved and forgiven.  There is nothing you could ever do that will separate you from God’s love for you. There is no way that you can ever be too far gone, or too bad for God to redeem you.  You do not have to try to clean up your act before coming to Jesus.  He wants to be the one to help clean you up.  You do not have to be perfect.  Come to him in your dirty, messy, sinful state.  He will not turn you away.  He will not leave you stranded or alone.  He sees you in your pain and in your mess.  He will not leave you there!  He will not condemn or shame you.  He will lovingly put his arms around you and will work with you to get through this.  You are his beloved and He has a good purpose and plan for you.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:  “For we are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10  You are God’s handiwork!  He sees all your weaknesses, all your imperfections, all your sins, all your struggles, all your idiosyncrasies,  all the things that make you uniquely you.  He designed you and you are his beloved.  He has not forgotten you.  He is preparing you and using you even in this moment for his purposes.  

PRAYER:  Heavenly Father,  You are my designer and creator.  You knew beforehand where I would stumble and fall.  You know everything there is to know about me, even more than I know about myself, and yet you still love me.  Not with a pitying love, but with a passionate, radical, relentless love.  You say yourself that you delight in me, you smile on me, you rejoice in me, and that you sing over me.  I confess that I often don’t feel very lovable.  I often don’t measure up to all that I think I need to be.  At times I am ashamed of the things I do or think.  Help me to come to you and not to hide from you.  Lift my shame and clean my messes.  Help me to remember who I am and that I belong to you.  Cleanse me from my sins.  Empower me to live out the identity you have given me.  In Jesus Name-Amen

REFLECTIONS: Which of the above characteristics are you most comfortable acknowledging?  When and how did you learn of that characteristic?  Which of the things that God says about who you are is the hardest for you to believe about yourself?  How would letting the truth of what God says about you change how you relate to others?  How would it change how you tackle the difficult situations in your life?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS:  The main ways we can grow and nourish our root system is to stay deeply connected to God.  Some of to the main ways to do this include: prayer, bible study, scripture memorization, and meditation. Each activity option will focus on one of those key elements.  1.) Choose one of the things God says about you each day and meditate and reflect on it through out the day.  Ponder specifically and personally what that characteristic means for you.  Then journal what the characteristic means and how it impacted you that day.  2.)  Think about a difficult situation you are currently facing.  Choose one or more of the identity characteristics that we identified.  Personalize and pray about the situation using the verses that go with that characteristics.  Journal the process you go through and the outcome.  3.) Search scripture to uncover more aspects and verses related to who God says you are.  Journal your findings.  4.) Choose one or more of the verses to memorize.  Share what you have learned about your identity in Jesus with at least one other person as a testimony, prayer, or encouragement to them.  Journal the experience.

UPCOMING LESSONS:  For the next few lessons we will be discussing the “trunk of the tree”, this will be a major portion of where we will spend our time.  In these lessons we will be discussing our physical bodies and actions, our thoughts, our feelings and our inner being (values, experiences, expectations, memories, inner compass). We will be studying each area individually, beginning with our physical bodies.