Tag Archives: christianity

Breathing and God

Driving to this island, I had a recurring vision: I’d meet a man. No, this isn’t what you’re thinking… I kept seeing myself talking to a tanned, bearded man who played a guitar and sat with me wherever I went. Flashes of me leaning my head on his shoulder, seeing his laugh, and hearing him speak to me returned, over and over again, and at first I thought it strange. But…

The entire time I’ve been here, I keep remembering that vision, and I’ve pondered on it often… The symbolism has become apparent to me each passing day; I am to meet Jesus here. Walk with Him. Talk with Him. God was showing me this before I even stepped foot in the sand. In the literal sense I do not envision Christ descending just to walk beside me, but in my heart, I have felt strongly that He is near, and today especially, I have been trying to open up and draw close.

Today, I had a full throttle panic attack. I was eating lunch at a restaurant, obviously alone. I was reading my book, watching the pelicans dance in the wind, and really trying to enjoy my time of this most special solitude. Then, out of nowhere came the flood of adrenaline that hits me and knocks me down. My chest began to literally burn, a fire radiating from my sternum up into my throat, where it lodged itself like a hot ball of clay, forcing shallow bursts from my lungs, making it feel impossible to get a deep breathe. I flagged the waitress down, got my check paid, and fled. Walking towards my car, I kept thinking about my family and how I am not there for them. I thought about all the work I have yet to do, and began to worry if I’ll use this time here wisely… Then it hit me. None of this is what was wrong. These concerns – these immediate reactionary thoughts – these are not “it”.

Naming it has been immeasurably difficult; often I do not consciously know what causes me to go into a sudden panic attack. I’ve thought perhaps it’s the long-suffering feelings of my past that come to find me each day. I’ve linked it to feelings of nagging self-doubt and criticism. The very nature of anxiety – not panic – but anxiety, has caused me to name it entirely caused by the shallow, ineffective breathes I take from morning until night time that signal a panic attack is right around the corner; the very way I breathe, I know from the moment I wake, can tell me whether that particular day will find me dealing with this, and the fear that I can crash at any moment obviously increases the likelihood of an occurrence.

I finally arrived at my car, unlocked it, and sat down in the driver’s seat. I turned the ignition, buckled my seatbelt, and reversed out of my parking spot. “Get back as fast as you can…” I knew that I had to, I told myself just keep driving – get there. I could feel the intensity rising, I could feel my face flush. I could feel my muscles tensing and the burning in my chest getting worse with each labored breathe.

Once at my hotel room, I immediately fell onto the bed.

I gave in. I succumbed to the full extent of the panic attack because the one thing I’ve learned as I suffer this is that fighting it, telling myself, “Damn it, not again” only makes it worse. I’ve learned by now that when it gets this bad, I need to lie down and let it happen.

John talked me through some steps to help me accept my reality and over the phone he coached me through it until it began to subside. My body immediately felt absolutely exhausted and I told him I had to go. Within three minutes I was basically unconscious.

I awoke about an hour later, mid-afternoon, and felt like a walk might do me some good. The panic attack had passed, but I still have yet to take a normal soothing breathe. I think I’ve had maybe one or two today total – one of which was when I prayed this morning so I am grateful for that.

On the walk I did something entirely different. This might sound strange, but hear me out. I shut my eyes. I walked with my eyes closed.

All day today, I have been reading about the kind of life God wants for all of us. Here is where I digress – I will get back to the walk later and this will make sense.

What is most marvelous to me about God is His constant pursuit of my soul. Reading scripture, reading my pastor’s account of Biblical teaching and encouragement to lead a Christ-centered life, even when I praise God through worship and song – it has left me, on this trip, entirely awe-struck.

So, then, I ask – why the anxiety? Why the panic attacks? If God wants good for my life, then why do I carry this burden? To someone who has never experienced this, it might appear trivial to bring this to God as a burden, but I assure you, it is nothing less than a heavy one. It got me thinking, then, that perhaps He is using these panic attacks – He is using my breathlessness and fear of breaking – to get my attention. Part of the pursuit.

I have lived my life apart from God. I know this because my history is wrought with a thousand tales of what it looks like to seek this world and deny His will. I have been divorced and adulterous, a liar and a hypocrite, I have sinned in more ways than I would ever be able to number – and God knows this about me. He knows the shame and guilt I carry, and that I use this as a means to separate myself from Him, because …

Because it is too much work to change. It is too hard to want to live another way. What will I have to sacrifice to be pleasing to God?

The answer to that, is all of it. All of me.

I’ve laughed at Christians before. Those that really take up a cross for God and be His hands and feet. I used to pity it, to be honest, because that life just never looked like much fun. Except I was always envious that they seemed happier than me, somehow. I thought, given who I have been, and what my life has looked like, that I could never be the kind of person to live a life of total surrender.

Again, it goes back to – what would I lose? My reputation? Ha! Hardly, as if I have anything worth redeeming in me? My friends? What kind of friends do I keep that would laugh me off because I change my life to live it for God – is their opinion of me worth what I am losing by denying God? My selfishness, my flawed flesh with its lustful desires and sneaky little defiance masked as confidence. My pride, and having to come before Him and finally admit that I have been so wrong… More than any of this, the most difficult thing for me to give away, to follow Him, is my obedience.

I must, if I am to be a follower of Christ, be obedient to His word. To His laws. To His desires. To His agenda. To Him, I must submit and be changed by the spirit, not by my will.

For me, that has been absolutely the one thing I can’t let go: Control.

But look, Christina, just look! What has this illusion of control gotten me? One look at me, in this very moment, in this hotel room, 300 miles away from my children and my husband – what has it gotten me?

Why is it so hard to lay myself on the altar and let Him sit in the throne? It is HIS anyway!

Back to the beach today.

I walked, with my eyes closed. I would look ahead of me – on the stretch of beach I roamed there were not many patrons – so I’d make sure the coast was clear (ha, get it!) and then take as much of a deep breathe as I could get, and close my eyes.

I found Him. He was there. Beside me.

It sounds quite fanciful and maybe even a little cooky, but I know it for sure.

In those moments, I trusted God to lead me. It was a small act of faith, a tiny proclamation that I believed Him that He is near… but I did it. It was scary, especially when a small swell touched my feet unexpectedly, but I didn’t let go. I kept walking. Blind. But entirely safe.

This has been jumbled, and rambling, I know that – I didn’t organize my thoughts before I sat to write tonight as I normally like to do. But I wanted this to be an honest look into where I am right now. So that, perhaps, I can look back on this one day and see that I made a choice today.

I made a choice to trust God. To give Him my anxiety, and panic attacks. To give Him my insecurities, and failures, and sins. To give Him my obedience, and put my faith in Him, and to know that He is in control. He is walking beside me, and even when my eyes are open and I can see the next right step, I will maybe let go anyway, and trust that He will put my feet exactly where He needs them to go.

I’ve just… I’ve lived too long fighting Him when I KNOW He is pursuing me. I know it, as true as I know the sky is blue and the waves crash against the sand. I know that God has always pursued me, but it was I who ran, it was I who hid myself away, because I didn’t want to give up what I perceived was better for me.

The thing is, now I want to be like them. The kind of Christ-followers who look silly to mainstream people. I want to read the Bible instead of Buzzfeed. I want to worship the one who gave His life for me, and not be a slave to my own selfish desires. I want to know that with each labored breathe I take, right now, in this very moment, that I am not dying. I am not going crazy… I am just here, right now, trusting that Jesus is near me. With His guitar, and He already knows what I am going through. He won’t leave me through this. He hasn’t left me. He was just waiting around for me to realize He’s been here all along.

A Very Transparent Prayer

I prayed to you this morning, Father. I pray it seems these days constantly, but my mind is also distracted by some of the shadows of my past, and I find myself frustrated with this – entirely exhausted and quite breathless – because I yearn for peace and rest. I yearn for it, like I hope with each breathe not to feel the weight of anxiety against my chest, pulling the air from my lungs as I try with everything I have to keep it in. I have come to you with these concerns now, God, and I have hope that You will get me through this day.

Most of the time in my life I try and have the control. I keep it like a hundred dollar bill in my pocket, unwilling to relinquish this currency for Your will, but I hold it to use for myself – I know this is not sound, and not prudent, but I struggle. I don’t want to struggle like this anymore, but my nature goes against what I know to be better for me – You are better for me, and yet I hold on to the illusion that I can do this apart from You.

Why must this be so hard? To know You – to trust that You have a will for me that is better than my own – I suffer under the weight of the lie that I am strong enough, but then when night falls, and I lay in this bed alone, I know that it is holding me back every single moment I don’t lay all my concerns before You.

I’ve been reading Your Word, and in this time of solitude, I have felt You come beside me and ask me to trust. I give it all it seems I have, but then feel so ashamed because I know I am fooling myself. I have never given it all of me, because I have never trusted all of You. That is my greatest regret, and one I hope, with every new day, to rectify, but then again I fail, and again I am ashamed.

I do not know what to do with my shame, but I am being obedient now, I am writing this – to You – and it is here that I lay it down. In these words, my fingers against these keys, I am here, now, Lord… Help me be who I am destined to be.

The greatest struggle I have faced since being here, in this time alone, is one pain I have held for many years, God. The pain of losing a love I held so dear, and losing my mother, all in one short span of time. It is here where I question Your will, and perhaps it is here that explains why I have such a hard time trusting that. Because I do not understand it, God. I do not understand why You allowed this to happen. Why You allowed her to hand down her generational sin upon my heart, and his, and then instead of heal us, You took her away.

I was left with nothing, and I didn’t know how to turn to You, wholeheartedly, because I was so broken. That break – that pain – has stayed with me, Father, and it is the single biggest pain I have ever known, and I am still angry that You thought I could handle this. What did you expect from me? How did You see this playing out? Did You know that it would be all these years – did You see that it would break me and yet You gave it to me anyway? Was I not a faithful child, Lord, when I was young? Did I not call out to You, and want to know You, and share that knowing with the world?

I strayed as a youth, You know this, but did my wayward heart deserve, then, such a burden? To the world, it is simple – I should let it go, and I should have done that a long, long time ago. I have nobody to help me with this, nobody to understand it. And when I have come to You to lay it down, I have never felt like it was taken from me. I have never felt like You wanted me to give this up – because it remains. If I have asked You, and cried out in the night in this pain, then why have You not listened?

When she was dying, were You there? When she breathed her last breathe, did You hold her? She strayed, God, she strayed so far that she gave her pain over to me, and You allowed this. Was she too far gone for You to have intervened, for You to have spared me, her, and him from that – did I deserve this somehow? Did she? Did he? She never got the chance to make it right, and instead of allow me to have that reconciliation, You took her. Or was it not You, but sin, that befell my mother? If it was that, please don’t tell me, because I think if I knew it wasn’t You, I don’t know how I would handle that against You supposing to be a loving God. How is that for truth?

I long for the kind of rest that is not hindered by this pain. But in the years since that time, I have not once known what that feels like. I have not once awoke to a new day and felt the absence of this pain. There has been immense joy, and happiness, and You have blessed me in other ways, yet this darkness in my soul remains, and as much as I’ve asked You to release me from it, even in the midst of all the joy that I have known, here yet it remains. Why, God?

Is it that I have not done a good enough job? Do my thoughts, and deeds, and actions, and heart fail so greatly that I must still bear the weight of such pain in everything I try to do? Is this Your will for me? To learn to cope with it, and find joy, even when I hurt? If so, please, I am not sure I am strong enough to handle that for the rest of my life. My children don’t deserve less of me because I have less to give. My husband doesn’t deserve less of me because I have no more fight left in me, since all my strength goes to just making it through…

I bear this pain without anyone’s understanding, and in the face of that, I risk every single time I speak of this to appear whiny, and needlessly so – how can they have empathy for me when they do not understand? Worse, when they don’t approve that I should even deal with this anymore? A grand part of my shame comes from how I’ve experienced, time and time again, well-meaning others remarking at how strange it seems that I still deal with this pain. To them, I am a fool. To them, it looks so simple.

But You, the knower of my heart and keeper of my soul, You know what I carry, and yet even You have allowed this. I am disappointed and saddened by this, and I feel I need to tell You that.

I am going to spend this day being obedient to You. That is why I sat to write this. That is why I prayed this morning for You to take the anxiety from my chest, and to help me breathe easier. I just inhaled and it fully filled my lungs and escaped my lips with no hint of that pressure and fear that has come most breathes this week. Perhaps in this very act of writing, for some reason, You’re actually listening and maybe this day won’t be another anxious, fearful episode in a long line of the same.

I want different, God. I want something more than this. More than carrying something that I have tried to lay before You but have found no rest from. I want to go an entire day praising You, God, not questioning You. You want me this way, don’t You? If that’s what You want, then help me! I have obviously shown that I cannot do this apart from You. I don’t have that control. I don’t possess the strength, and You know this. So, please, God. Take this from me. If even for just this day.

The Truth in my Broken Spirit

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I am failing.

Every. Single. Day.

My heart is not pure. My mind is worse. My flesh is torn with old scars and I have no problem slashing them open again and again with a knife of longing for something I lost. I have a quick-tempered tongue, and a wayward tendency to always want something else.

I am not in the Word – not as much as I could be. My history distracts me from believing that I can involve myself in more than what immediately satisfies me. A learned behavior pattern from my youth, but it wasn’t always this hard…

When I was a small child, I remember vividly having a fire for the Lord. I did. It was important to me. It mattered. I shared it with my friends. I sat at my father’s feet and listened to him and my mother recite scripture and then explain its application to our young lives. I believed in God not as a supernatural being but as a tangible friend in my heart.

I lost this. Some time ago. With age comes a million wide roads, and I had no problem walking those instead of the narrow path that drew me close to God.

Sometimes, I think about this – I remember a skinny brown-eyed-girl with long legs and a brave, pleasing heart – I remember her and I weep. I remember that God sewn in my spirit an evangelical gift and I shared my faith with people confidently. A child, with little exposure to a world beyond Vancouver Washington… I wanted to share what I knew to be true, with no fear. I had purpose. I had knowledge of who I was, and who I wanted to be… I just needed stability, and people to believe in me, and keep showing me the way.

What happened to me? Where did that child go?

In the time since my childhood I’ve seen my parent’s divorce when I was in 5th grade because my mom wanted to be someone else, with someone else. I looked around me and from what was a family with two parents and their five children in one home, I could not recognize the two new lives they both led, and watched the utter abandonment of my parents to their children as they themselves tried to reconcile this new experience.

With this came me seeking approval and love outside of my two homes and halfway through my adolescence I found comfort in the arms of way too many boys. Sexual promiscuity became my identity, under an easily penetrable guise of self-confidence – my parents weren’t watching so they missed it entirely; I was lost, completely, and wanted love so badly that I reached for it wherever I could grasp, at the incredibly devastating expense of my self-worth – though I hid that part deep inside.

From that, I obviously struggled in school… It was my last priority, but deeper than this, nobody noticed how I was struggling. They just … did not care. I think about this now and I have begun in this moment to tear up. I was still a child – their child – God’s child… But I felt nothing but alone. I remember a counselor pulling me aside in 11th grade. He asked me what my plan was to recover my GPA so that I could graduate. I just started crying because he was literally the first person to notice. I went home that day and tried to talk to my mom but instead of help me, she got angry – I guess because I was a disappointment taking the same path she and my father did. That was the first time I was kicked out of my house…

After the first semester of my senior year, it was clear I could not recover and instead of fight for me, and try and figure it out, my mom walked into my high school and withdrew me. Against the advise of the principal, and counselors literally shaking their heads at her. I walked around school that day, my last day, with hidden tears and a smile as I said goodbye to my friends. My gosh I still cry even now, in this moment, because I remember it so well. The humiliation. The devastation. The feeling that I had failed and it was all my fault. I feel anger now because I think of Layla – she is struggling right now in 2nd grade. She is in several programs, counseling, and we hired a tutor. Because that’s what you do – you, the parents, don’t stand back and watch your child fail – I would never allow that, and I am still not sure why my parents did. This part of my history I don’t talk about, and few people actually know this, because I have spent all this time feeling so ashamed of this, but the older I get, and as I mother my own children, I realize it was NOT my fault – not entirely. I could have went the other way and buckled down in school, I know that, but all around me at home it just didn’t matter – nobody showed me it was worth it. At least not until it was too late and I was made to feel like a failure…

Shortly after my last day of high school, I got my first job working at Papa Murphy’s Pizza. I moved out on my own, and life moved on… Entirely different from how I had long imagined it would. Three years after this I said goodbye to my mother at the age of 39 because alcohol is a cruel beast and she could no longer fight it off… One month after that day, I boarded a plane and left everything I knew behind. Devastated. Lost, entirely. The man I moved to I barely knew, we met barely a month before my mom died, and my heart still loved another with everything I had, but I left anyway – I had no other choice.

Through all of this time, I can remember periods of time I would feel God pulling on my heart. I would know it was Him – with certainty – but I ignored it. I had failed. In countless ways. The little girl I had been was lost underneath the weight of my guilt and disappointment and sadness. I was more angry than faithful… How could He let all of this happen, hadn’t I once served Him, even in my childlike innocence and lack of knowledge of the world He put me into?

I am almost 33 now. Twice divorced, two of my children have different last names from each other and from me. Three daughters that call me Mama, and it is my charge from God to lead them, to guide them to Truth. To dedicate myself to them, entirely, but I fear this more than I fear much else: that I am failing them.

I fear… That is my first mistake. That I am nothing more than who I have been; all these years of history still tarnish my spirit, and I cannot rise above feeling less-than who I was meant to be. How can I lead them, how can I teach them truth, when I don’t hear it for myself?

So many “wiser people” have tried to counsel me that it is as simple as being in God’s word. That, if I do this … If I pray more, if I seek fellowship more than seeking solitude, if I stop living in the past or the future but live right now, if I… If I… If I… Then I would finally “get it”, and God would flood my heart with meaning and purpose again, and I would be redeemed. I’ve even been told my crippling anxiety is not so much a mental disorder but its satan, and I can fight it if only I were just a better Christ-follower.

I’ve heard it all. I’ve told myself maybe they are right, and so I try it. For a while. I read scripture more, and really meditate on it and apply it to my life practically. I pray, sometimes with many of my breathes directed straight to God, and then I listen, patiently. I fellowship with those wiser people, and I listen as they tell me how THEY “hear God”, and I try not to feel their superiority over me, because I just don’t seem to hear God talking to me at all, and so I must be doing it wrong.

When I became a mother, that covenant God made with me was to raise them with truth and purpose greater than my own – it was set ablaze in my soul. I look at them and sometimes, to be honest, the way that I love them – how deep that goes – it rushes to the surface and I feel this overwhelming and intense flood of tangible, fierce loyalty and devotion to them that I could literally scream as loud as I can – because it has to come out of me (I guess that’s a hard one to adequately explain…) My face flushes, my heart beats fast, and I tremble with love.

The purpose of being their mother is the greatest I have known, and I fear too often that I will let my past failures convince me that I am not going to be good at this. I hear my father tumble out of my mouth when I am impatient for no good reason, or when they spill the milk and I just can’t take such an offense. I hear my mother spill off my tongue when I snap at them to hurry up because I am late for this or that, and of course I make it their fault. I hear that little voice, so cunning, sneak into my thoughts and it whispers so cleverly disguised as the inevitable that I am going to fail anyway, so why even try to do better next time? It uses my history – it uses my shame, and regret, and pain – and it knows just how to grip me, stop me dead in my tracks…

It keeps me from picking up the Bible, because I’ve tried that, and I didn’t stick to it, because Christina never sticks to ANYTHING. It keeps me from all the good I could be doing, instead distracting me with meaningless tasks that don’t root my heart, or theirs, in truth and purpose.

I guess all of this – these thoughts pouring from me now – this trip down memory lane, it might seem like an excuse, but it is so much more honest than that. I come to terms with what cripples me here, and name it, and face it, and I think THAT is brave.

But it is what I do now. It is where I go from here…

I picked up the Bible this morning and read some of the Psalms. Delaney was restless and done with her cereal so I got her out of the high chair and together we trekked up the stairs. On the crook of our staircase the banister jets out oddly and I accidentally hit her head into it, leaving a little knot and her tears painfully soaking her face. I immediately prayed to God to take her pain away, and to forgive me for hurting my precious baby girl. It was immediately apparent to me that I was praying because I didn’t panic and cower underneath self-loathing, which is my typical pattern whenever I do anything wrong. I think it was that I sought God, intentionally, that my mind was able to go THERE instead of where it normally would go…

Perhaps there is hope for me yet?

I desire a child-like faith. The kind of relationship with God that I can write about, the kind that defines my life, starting in these frail moments when I am still floundering, and growing into something that permeates every avenue of my life, and my children’s lives. I want this so badly, and I am so tired of convincing myself, and letting the enemy convince me, that I cannot do it. That my history proves I will fail, because I always failed.

My spirit knows there is God, I was born knowing this, and for some reason, He made me especially aware of it and able to share it as a small child. I see this in my children, and I dream for them the kind of upbringing where that is fostered and grown and nurtured, and they see it from me – they model it from me.

I’ve got to stop ripping open my heart and seeing only the parts of me that have failed.

I want to be vulnerable to something more. I want to be the kind of person who doesn’t hide from who she was, and has the strength to admit where I went wrong, but then lay that down – that is the part that I don’t do well. I can’t seem to let go of how easily I fall apart in the name of who I’ve been and what I’ve been through.

My eyes want to be stuck on the cross, and see the world as I did when I was a child.

I want to give my daughters the kind of example worth having – one of perseverance where they have seen me fall but I got back up, and I tried again, in spite of the difficulty of fearing I will fail. I want them to see that this IS worth coming back to, again and again, and that I will support them as they navigate this world, and I will be there – no matter what.

I look at my history and see that everything I’ve gone through has equipped me to be a pretty darn good mother… Because I’ve experienced almost every avenue of where NOT to go, and what NOT to do. And I know with certainty I won’t just stand back and let their life happen in front of me without helping to guide them to truth.

The truth is, as I see it, is that God is still here, inside of me. I cling to that. I unbury that truth with these tears on my cheeks because I am so grateful. I am so grateful that I can be who I have been, and to Him I am still that child on her knees, sharing Jesus with her Kindergarten class – I can be that girl again, because she never left me. She just got lost to this world, but not to Him.

I will hold onto that, and try this yet again… I will fail, but I will not give up, and I think that is one of the gifts He gave me. One I saw in myself as a child. Something I see in my own children. I cannot wait to see where God takes us now.