It’s Okay To Feel Discouraged

Yesterday was not a bad day. It was my day off and I was able to get some things done before snagging a nap. I even got to talk to my mom for a little while (Hi, Mom!)

Around 3 in the afternoon, I started to feel really discouraged. God has been providing for us, but lately my financial situation has been overwhelming at times. Being a single mom can be really hard in a “normal” situation, and dealing with all we are going through makes it even more challenging for me.

At first I was irritated with myself. I shouldn’t be discouraged. God has brought immense healing to me and my girls, and He does keep providing. I immediately started thinking of ways to pull myself out of my funk, but then I felt a stillness that reminded me that it’s okay to feel discouraged.

I knew I didn’t want to stay discouraged, but letting myself feel this hard emotion is healthy. We live in a drive thru world – everything must be now. I’m hungry and tired and I don’t want to cook? Let’s go through the drive thru. My kids are whiny and fighting and I know screens will keep them occupied? Let’s go through the drive thru. I don’t like how I’m feeling and it’s obviously a lack of faith? Let’s go through the drive thru. There are a lot of drive thru options here. Alcohol, binge-watching tv, taking a long nap, and even some that sound like good options, like reading the Bible, praying, or listening to worship music.

Please hear me out. There is nothing wrong with going through a drive thru (especially if you are buying God’s chicken at CfA) when you are hungry and tired and don’t want to cook. There is nothing wrong with letting your kids have screen time sometimes when you are about to pull your hair out and/or turn into The Hulk. And napping is good when you need the rest and recharge. And yes, reading the Bible, praying, and listening to worship music are very good things.

My point is this – those things may help short term, but they don’t take care of the underlying problem. We can only do this by allowing ourselves to feel. When we don’t, it’s like slapping a bandaid over a surgical incision. We need to take time to discover why we feel like we do before we try to pull ourselves out of it.

My fellow moms will be able to relate to this story. When my youngest, who is nine, has feelings she doesn’t understand or doesn’t know where they are coming from, automatically assumes it’s because a little girl in her class has been “so sassy” to her. Now, this little girl has hurt my daughter’s feelings before, but nine times out of ten, that is not the real issue. The real issue is much deeper. Maybe she is feeling insecure, or lonely, or feels inadequate in some way. Maybe the trauma she has experienced in her life is raising its ugly head and claiming territory in her heart. But the easy answer is that this girl is being sassy, because that is what she can see on the surface. And even now, our nine year old inner child is doing the same thing.

A friend of mine recently got on a low dose of medication for anxiety. I asked them if I could make a suggestion, and they gave me permission. I suggested they not get off the meds (with their doctor’s help) until they resolve the underlying issues causing their anxiety. Not their growing to do list, not the financial crunch, not the loneliness they currently live with from day to day. I mentioned that perhaps it was a subconscious feeling of inadequacy because they had not reached certain important life goals, even though they were successful in many other areas. I’m not a therapist, but I’m a pretty good listener, and even if I was off with the subconscious sense of inadequacy, I knew there was something deeper.

We need to stop going through the drive thru with our emotions. Let yourself feel. Discover what hides behind the emotion du jour. Only then can you truly deal with what lies underneath. Only then can you find a permanent solution.

So please, read your Bible, pray, listen to worship music. But let it be out of a heart of gratitude to God – not as a temporary fix. God will use these things to bring healing to our lives, but if we are unable – or unwilling – to deal with the deeper issues, it’s only going to grow our guilt.

Faith is not being perfect. It’s trusting in the One who is perfect.

Not What The Label Says, Pt 2

Not my best photo, but it’s the point that counts.

“Some of these other labels we feel justified in using because they are diagnoses we – or others we know – have received. But let me make this very clear. When a doctor diagnoses someone with an illness or a disease, it is a diagnosis of what they have, not who they are.” – From Not What The Label Says

It has always irritated me when people quote themselves and actually put their name on it, so I decided to just put the name of the post it’s from! Ha. 🙂 However, it was a point I wanted to bring back up, so there you have it. 🙂

As you can see in the picture above, I have a seed packet of Oktoberfest Calendula seeds. (Fun Fact: Calendula are closely related to Marigolds.) I know what kind of seeds are in the packet because of its label. The packet is still sealed, and so I have not planted those seeds. If I did, Oktoberfest Calendula plants would grow – assuming I had them in the right conditions. But if they just sit in the packet, what happens? They won’t grow.

I will tell you right now that this is an imperfect analogy. But stick with me, I’m making an important point.

When we have a label placed on us, it is so easy to make it a part of our identity. But what if we didn’t plant those seeds? What if we refused to accept the label as part of who we are?

Let’s look at it another way. If your doctor tells you that you have a cold and you should go home, get plenty of fluids and rest, would you accept that having a cold is part of your identity? “Hi, I’m Misty and I have a cold. I will probably always have this cold. If you don’t like it, tough cookies, because this is who I am now.” If this is what you would do, we might need to take you to a different kind of doctor!

For years I struggled with severe anxiety and depression. I was so sick that I did accept it as part of my identity. I hated that part of me. I even asked God to either heal me or kill me. He did neither, and I was so angry. I thought I would be miserable my whole life – either in the middle of an episode, or constantly in fear that another episode would begin. It wasn’t until seven months ago that I discovered the cause of my anxiety and depression (more on this on down the road). I changed what was causing these things, and I haven’t had an episode since. That said, it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Some people deal with it their entire lives – just like some people deal with physical illnesses (diabetes, for example) their entire lives. And it’s not their fault. It’s the way their brains are hard-wired.

In my case, it was the situation I was in that was causing my illness. When I asked God to heal me or kill me, it was grace that stayed His hand. Had He healed me then and there, it would have been temporary because my circumstances hadn’t changed. And had He taken my life, my girls would be motherless, my sister sisterless, my parents would have only one daughter, and I would no longer be here. I will come back to this story eventually, but for now, let’s get back to labels.

I am a firm believer that even if if your struggle is lifelong, it does not have to be a part of who you are. I will not say that keeping your identity separate is easy, because that is simply not true. But as the Bible says in Philippians – we can do all things through Christ’s strength.

A quick note – in the same way as we can choose not to plant certain seeds in our lives, there are seeds that we can – and should – plant and nurture. Seeds like love, hope, faith, kindness, integrity, and many others. And there is no better way to do this than to spend time in God’s Word and His Presence every day. It doesn’t have to be for a certain length of time. You don’t have to read a certain number of chapters or verses. Start where you can and be faithful. You’ll find that it grows on its own.

And for any readers who may not be followers of Christ, I invite you to meet Him today. If that’s not something you’re interested in, I will tell you what I tell my daughters. I can’t make you believe in God. I can’t make you choose to follow my convictions. I can share them with you, but ultimately you must make your own choice. Do your own research – and I am not referring to a Facebook or Instagram poll, haha – and figure out for yourself what you do believe. I would hope that you would choose Christ because the Bible makes it clear that He is the only way, but that is between you and God.

Not all of my posts will be strictly about God and my relationship with Him, but I won’t keep Him out of them, because He is a part of my identity. The biggest part. And I won’t apologize for that.

If you are struggling with labels that have been become part of your identity, or if you are attempting to prevent this from happening, feel free to drop me a line. I will pray for you.

Don’t give up and don’t give in. You are worth more than you can ever realize.

Not What The Label Says

This post has been brewing in the back of my mind for the last few days, but today it was as if a lightbulb had gone off in my head. It’s a subject that has been near and dear to my heart for many years – one that I have shared in other settings before, but never in blog form. So here we are, talking about labels.

At first I thought this post would have nothing to do with plants. And while not every post has to be connected to my favorite greenery, this one will be.

Labels are everywhere. Most of the time, they are very helpful. For example, they are convenient when we are grocery shopping, trying to be more mindful of our sugar intake, or when we’re looking for a specific aisle at Lowe’s.

But labels can be painful too.

Stupid. Fat. Anorexic. Loser. Bipolar. Depressed. Troublemaker. Home Wrecker. Baby Killer. Idiot. Fool. Victim. Suffering from Chronic Anxiety and/or PTSD. Hypochondriac.

These are just a few of the detrimental labels that are out there. Some we might feel justified in using. Home Wrecker or Baby Killer, for example. Don’t get me wrong – we need to stand up for what’s right. But which is more right? Is it better to verbally (and sometimes physically) attack someone for making a choice we don’t agree with? Or to love them through it? Did you know that many times “Home Wreckers” are not aware that the man/woman they are dating is married? Often they are hurt nearly as much as the rejected spouse.

And what about “Baby Killers”? Yes, there are a lot of women out there that use it as a form of birth control, but many of them don’t. I would venture to say that a lot of women who seek out abortions feel that they have no other option. And what do many Christians do? They stand there in judgment and condemnation instead of finding a way to help.

But it’s sin! Yes, adultery and abortion are sin. But so is gossip, having a judgmental attitude, and the pride that causes us to think that we are better than them. We must stand up for what we believe in, but in the right way. Ultimately, it’s still their decision.

Shaming them and calling them names is not the way Jesus would do it. He died for them too. God is the Righteous Judge, but He is also Love. It was His love that sent Jesus to the cross, not His judgment.

I wasn’t intending on going there, but I believe God led me to it. It needed to be said.

Some of these other labels we feel justified in using because they are diagnoses we – or others we know – have received. But let me make this very clear. When a doctor diagnoses someone with an illness or a disease, it is a diagnosis of what they have, not who they are.

As Christians, it is our responsibility to look past the labels and find the hurting person underneath. Even if at first they seem to reject us, we need to continue loving them – while simultaneously respecting their space. If they don’t want a hug, don’t get offended. You don’t know what a hug means to them. It could be a form of abuse to them – they could have been held or “hugged” until they gave in to whatever their abuser wanted.

Love them the way they need, not the way you need. If you know they don’t like to talk on the phone, text them. Or if it’s too much for a text, send a text saying, “I want to leave you a voicemail, so when I call in a minute, you don’t need to answer.” And then be okay with just leaving a voicemail.

I have a friend who rarely answers the phone, and even more rarely listens to her messages. So if I call and get her voicemail, I don’t leave a message about what I want to talk to her about. I leave a message expressing how much I love her and her family. How I hope she’s having a wonderful day. That she’s on my mind. That no matter what she’s facing, she’s not alone. It’s not because I think I’m a special somebody that I tell you this. It’s because this world is full of hurting people, and sometimes we need ideas on how to love others when they are different from us.

This post is starting to get far away from what I intended, so let’s call this Part One. Sometime in the next day or so I will write Part Two. (And that’s the part that will include plants, haha.)

A final note before I sign off for the night. It is so tempting to pretend our Christian lives are peachy. But the world needs us to be real. Not pathetic, woe is me nonsense. But real. We are not all called to share their suffering with others – at least not in detail. But we are all called to love the hurting. And the pain we have survived can give others hope. God doesn’t waste pain.

There are times for secrets. But secrets can keep people locked up in chains – both those who hold the secrets, and those waiting to hear them. Not our dirty laundry, but our hope.

Don’t be afraid to offer hope.

It’s Not Always Me

Several years ago, I took my daughters to the park. Throughout the park were lovely oak trees. I harvested a few green acorns from the branches of one such oak, and took them home with me when the girls were done playing. I had researched how to grow an oak tree from an acorn, and picking healthy, green acorns fresh from the tree was the first step.

When I got home, I soaked the acorns in warm water, allowing them to soak overnight. The next day, I took some sawdust leftover from a project, dampened it, and placed it in ziploc bags. I then placed a couple acorns in each bag, and cleared a spot for them in my refrigerator. Four months I waited, checking every so often to see if any roots had begun to show. Their hibernation ended once each acorn had a tiny root. Each acorn was placed in a planter with good soil.

Still, it took a few days for anything green to poke up through the dirt. And when those tiny plants finally emerged, they were fragile little things – so different from the towering oaks that they came from.

I babied them along until they were about six to seven inches tall. I gave one to my dad, but the rest I transplanted into larger planters. My dad let the tree grow some more, but after a little while, he planted it in the ground, in his backyard.

He started by digging a deep hole (compared to the tiny tree). When he placed the tree in the hole, only the top half could be seen. He filled in the dirt and watered it.

It soon became apparent that his oak was growing considerably faster than mine were. I had given a few more away during this time, so I only had three left. We planted them in our yard, and even though they continued to grow, it was nothing like the growth we saw in my dad’s tree.

There are so many life lessons I could pull from this story. First, whatever seeds we plant must come from the source. We can trust that whoever it is that God wants us to show His love to, He will bring our way. I don’t mean that we don’t need to go out – the Bible makes it clear that we are to go. But we don’t always have to go far away. And it’s not like an Easter egg hunt, where you go out and your entire focus is on finding people to tell about Jesus. And I am talking about an extreme here. Have you ever heard the saying “they are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”? I simply mean that when we obey and we go out, God will bring people across our paths.

When we surrender our lives to Christ, we also surrender to potential suffering. Jesus was tortured, spat upon, and killed. So many people believe that if they surrender their lives to God and obeying His word, life will be easy and chill from that point on. That’s not how Christian life works. It’s not miserable all the time either, but acknowledging that we will have challenges makes them at least a little easier to deal with. Jesus promised that in this world we would have trouble, but to take heart because He has overcome the world.

Sometimes God places us in what may feel a little like hibernation. We are called to a certain job, or church, or mission field, but then it doesn’t happen. We start to wonder if maybe we heard wrong. Or perhaps we said or did something that messed it all up. Reality is that God sees the big picture, and He knows that either we’re not ready, or someone else isn’t ready for us. His timing is perfect, even if it seems completely off to us. Sometimes it’s enough to tempt us to doubt God. I have given in to that temptation, and my life was so much more miserable without Him than it is with Him. But that is a story for another day.

If you are anything like me, you probably pray that God would help you with areas in your life that you struggle with. Maybe it’s jealousy, or a critical spirit. It could be an addiction – to food, drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Whatever it may be, you know it needs to change, and you do your best to change it – but you know that you need God’s help. It’s easy to get yourself motivated and tell yourself it will be different this time. You expect that things will change quickly, that your wrong desires will just disappear. Sometimes God moves quickly, but more often than not, He allows time and experiences to help us to grow. We want to be that towering oak, but we are still just a fragile green thing that is just starting out.

In order to grow, sometimes we may feel buried. We may be working in the background while others are in the spotlight, or we could be in a period of rest and recuperation. These phases are important too. Jesus told the parable about the rich master who went on a journey, leaving a few of his servants with some of his money. The point was that those that can be trusted with little things can be trusted with much. Don’t despise the little stuff. Don’t be jealous of those in the spotlight. Enjoy the time you have in the quietness of the dirt. It gives you stability.

Finally, once we finally reach the place where God can use us to influence other people’s lives for the better, don’t lose courage. We may plant a million seeds and never see growth from a one of them. But that doesn’t mean that we failed, that we haven’t somehow influenced their lives. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” I planted that acorn, but my dad watered the tree. It took us both to grow the thing. I am fortunate that my parents still live in the same house, so I get to see how that tree is growing from time to time. The others I have no clue about. But my dad’s tree still offers shade and safe place for birds to nest.

Do not lose faith. Hold on to hope. Whatever season God has you in, you can trust that it is for your good.

My dad’s tree today, April 11, 2019.

The Pain of Pruning

I currently have two bonsais growing – one that I started from seed and one that I started from a cutting that was sent to me. The growth in the picture above are from the cutting.

Both bonsais are very important to me.

My desert rose, which I grew from seed, is a little particular sometimes. To be honest, I am very fortunate that I even have her, because most of the desert rose seeds I have purchased ended up not actually being desert rose seeds! Thankfully they were ridiculously cheap, so the only real loss was the disappointment at growing grass instead of the bonsai I thought I had planted.

My willow, grown from a cutting, will one day be a beautiful miniature tree. I was nervous when I received it. It looked like someone had cut a thumb-thick branch off of a tree, wrapped a damp paper towel around the base, and sent it to me. However, I read and followed the instructions (to place the base in two inches of water), and within a day or two, roots began to grow. A few days later, leaves appeared. I was so excited. My little branch was really going to turn into a tree!

The instructions has also said that the leaves/branches should be left alone for several months unless I was pruning the ones too close to the base. Those instructions seemed like no big deal and I filed them away in my brain. But when leaves and branches began to grow too low on the cutting, I realized it was time to remove them. Again, no big deal right?

Right. With one problem. My plants are like my little green babies, and although I’m fairly certain they feel no pain, it pains me to remove bits of them that are so healthy!

I knew the cutting would grow better if I pruned these bottom leaves, but I hated (gently) pulling them off. Somehow it seemed wrong to remove these vibrant, green leaves.

As I held the excess leaves in the palm of my hand, I felt that knowing that I have experienced many times before. It’s nothing mystical. It’s more like a light bulb coming on in my head. A spark fanned into flame by the Hand that placed it there. The still, small Voice that reminds me that He really does know best.

Many times in my life, I have had things I really wanted to keep stripped away from me. They weren’t always bad or unhealthy things either. Sometimes, they were really great things – such as living close to my parents and being able to spend time with them on a regular basis. And other times, they were things that really were detrimental, but I couldn’t see that they were. Like staying in a marriage that I legitimately should have left years before.

And even though my plants aren’t likely to feel any pain when I prune their excess leaves, I felt significant pain in losing what I so desperately wanted to keep.

At the time it was excruciating, and I couldn’t understand why God had allowed certain things to be ripped away from me over the years. I trusted Him and I obeyed Him, but He tore away the leaves I had held on to so tightly. Sometimes this made me angry, and sometimes distrustful. I couldn’t see why He would take and take and take!

But the reality is that even though He knew it would cause me pain, He also knew that the pain would be so much worse if He left those things in place. He saw the bigger picture, and He knew exactly what He was doing.

Don’t get me wrong – God does not harm us in the hopes that we might grow as a result. The saying “everything happens for a reason” is bogus. God allows painful things to happen in our lives for a couple of reasons – one, because He gave us free will, and to remove all of the pain would be to remove our free will; two, because as I mentioned a moment ago, He can see the big picture. He knows that in order for us to reach our full potential, something has to go.

I can look back now and see that the removal that I so hated at the time was exactly what I needed. I can see that had those things not been removed, my life would be miserable – and that is if I were still amongst the living.

It’s been probably a week or two since I removed those bottom leaves and stems. It’s amazing the healthy growth I have seen in my willow since her pruning. See for yourself:

In time, more leaves will have to be removed. Several months from now, I will have to start training the branches. But in the long run, I can see that she will be a beautiful bonsai, and it will all have been worth it.

Perhaps something is happening in your life and you have prayed – begged, even – for God to act in a certain way. Perhaps His decision not to answer the way you have requested has you wondering if He really does love you after all. I can tell you from my own experience – He knows exactly what He is doing (or not doing). You may feel dissatisfied and hurt right now, but someday you will look back and realize that He did things the way they needed to be done in order for you to become the person you needed to be.

Keep trusting. Even when it all feels wrong, trust.

Beheaded

I don’t like to over-spiritualize things, but when I took this picture, I felt as if it was another small reminder from God. Let me explain.

This plant is a spider plant. It used to have long, healthy leaves, but it was root-bound, and so unable to grow. I tried to transplant it into a larger planter without damaging it at all, but it was *so* root-bound that I accidentally beheaded it. When I finally got it out, it was just a bunch of roots.

Spider plants are self-propagating, so I decided to plant the roots in the larger planter anyway. I wasn’t sure anything would grow because of how badly I had damaged it, but I wanted to at least try. A couple days ago, a tiny little green thing popped out of the soil/river rocks. Today I checked again, and there are three little green things now – and the first one is even starting to put out leaves!

Sometimes our lives get root-bound. Sometimes we can’t grow any further because we’re stuck. Sometimes it takes giving up everything and starting all over to become the person you are meant to be. I never expected my life to take this path, but I am so grateful that I have never been alone. I am grateful that I am growing again and finding new confidence.

Maybe it doesn’t take something drastic. Maybe all you need is to move a little outside your comfort zone. Maybe there are only a few little things that need to be pruned away. Make those changes now, before you find yourself root-bound.

What looked like the end was only a new beginning. Don’t give up. ❤️

*Originally written February 12, 2019

The Journey Begins

Had the last twenty years of my life been made into a movie, one might be tempted to view it as a tragedy. Pain, my constant companion, nearly destroyed me. Were it not for grace, I would no longer be counted among the living – even had I physically survived.

For a long time, shame closed my mouth. Fear helped keep it sealed. I didn’t want to be judged, to be found as lacking as I thought myself to be. My pain was already enough, and I didn’t need anyone adding to it. It wasn’t until my offspring began showing signs of struggling with pain similar to mine that I found the courage to start speaking out.

Even then, much of what I thought caused my pain was incorrect. I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. It has not been until the last few months that my eyes have been opened to the truth. Pried open, in some respects, due to having preferred my blindness.

Now that the healing has begun, I have chosen to cease my silence. No longer will I hide the ugliness when transparency could potentially set others free.

Thus my invitation – grow with me.

We know we cannot plant seeds with closed fists. To sow, we must open our hands. – Adolfo Perez Esquivel

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