One Day’s Strength

A few weeks ago I picked up Freefall to Fly for my morning time with the Lord and part of this study is a journal at the end of each lesson.  The below is excepts from yesterday’s journal, cleaned up a bit.

Last night at the FOCUS conference God showed up. I mean, He’s always there. But it was a unique experience. During the first set of music I started crying. (This is becoming a common theme with music and I haven’t decided how I feel about it, crying is new territory for me.)

Why are you crying? I asked, a bit annoyed but also glad for the darkness that no one could see me. It’s been a hard week, came the response from my soul. My mind rolled over the challenges of the week and my heart began to ache. No one thing in isolation would have been devastating, but enough difficult weeks have strung together and I’m getting weary.

Suddenly I had this inexplicable sensation of being wrapped up in God’s arms, as a little girl cuddling with her daddy. And I just wept for a whole song. Then it was gone.

Chris preached and then the music started again. Toward the end of the 2nd to last song I asked God, “When do I stop getting hit?”

I haven’t given you tomorrow’s strength yet.

“But how many more times do I get knocked down? I can endure, I just want to know how much more.” I was whining but God was so present and I really wanted answers.

I give enough strength for today.

“But when?”

No answer. Just then it shifted to the last song and it kicked off with a declaration that God returns and wins and every enemy is defeated.

And the tears came again. God is with me and He hasn’t abandoned me or left me desolate. He’s stronger than any darkness and more powerful than any struggle.

I hope this is over. I hope I don’t lose anything else or get “hit” again. But if I do, I’m not alone. And God will walk with me through the storm.

Texas is being hit by a hurricane and last night while I was at FOCUS people were flooding the grocery stores stocking up to prepare. But I pay someone else to shop and cook for me so I hadn’t thought about it. I just opened my freezer when I got home and found it full of food.

God is like that. I can go stock up on canned chili and bottled water. But He’s prepared all the delicious, healthy food I could need. And every day my portion is there waiting. He asks me “do you want my food of peace or will you go make your own of fear and striving?”

Today I choose peace. If I get “hit” again then I will look to Him and I will rise. One day at a time, one step at a time, I will walk out my destiny.

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Learning to Cry

“What are you feeling as you say that?”

Bob’s question briefly pulled me back to the moment. He always asked that question when my voice would quiver, the closest I ever came to tears in his office. My mind raced for the answer… what is the right answer? What had I just said?

We were discussing how I feel about God being all powerful and all loving… it seemed that He didn’t think the most loving option was for me to have parents. That’s what I had said… but what had I felt? It was gone now, suppressed by an iron will that I could not control.

“Do you feel sad? Angry?” Bob prodded, seeing my discomfort and trying to help.

“Maybe both?” I mumbled, more question than answer. Mental clarity had returned but with it the emotions had evaporated again.

Bob and I moved on to other topics and he reiterated his hope that I would find people that I could cry with… that someday I would feel comfortable crying. I told him that I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with tears… but I may one day learn to stop suppressing them.

But I did cry.

Hot, angry tears poured forth the next morning as I scribbled in my journal as fast as I could write. For the first time, I laid out the hurt I felt toward God for His unwillingness to save my father from dying and for letting my mom die so shortly after.

I trust You to hold the whole world. But caring about me personally… well it just seems like You’re busy being God.

So, there it was: the truth I felt. It looked nothing like the truth that I knew but it had come to the surface at last, fighting it’s way through years of “Barrett’s Don’t Cry” and bursting out to the surface in painful anger.

I know that the truth is that God doesn’t cause pain and that He doesn’t owe me anything. I can provide the theology and the texts that prove God has never let me down or allowed me to be abandoned. But this morning was not about the logic or refuting the beliefs; I was just letting them come to the surface.

Every autothought has a belief that stands behind it and that belief was often formed in times of strong emotion, not logic, often in our earlier years. The third step in taking thoughts captive, then, begins with understanding what belief is driving that autothought.

When my community group came to an end, the reality was that my shepherds were moving out of the country. But my reaction was to close into myself: “I have failed to keep this family together.” This autothought has no basis in reality so where does it come from?

There is a deeper belief: I must take care of myself and everyone around me. This belief was grown in me through emotional experiences where I was left to fend for myself. The responsibilities placed on me in helping raise my siblings in a season when both my parents were working full time. The project I worked all night to complete because my classmates knew I would score them an A without their help.

These events and others grew in me a vine of self-sufficiency that goes beyond responsibility into isolation. It’s a self-sufficiency that is rooted in fear of others letting me down, not faith in my own ability. And it’s a belief that has caused me to take responsibility for what is not mine to carry.

But the third step in taking thoughts captive does not end with recognizing the beliefs that drive our autothoughts. The second half of this requires that we identify the truthfulness of those beliefs. Truths are based on facts and evidence, not positive thinking or hopeful idealism.

So for the week after that tear-stained journal, I sought out the truths that align with those beliefs:

As I meditate on these truths, the other two steps in the process (which I’m still learning so I can’t write about quite yet) transform my heart and reshape my beliefs to the truths. As my core beliefs change, my autothoughts change and my mind is renewed.

So, it begins with a disruption that allows me to realize that I have responded on “auto pilot.” Then I question those decisions to uncover the autothoughts that drive them. Digging deeper, we find core beliefs and we hold them up against facts and evidence.

Some, loosely held beliefs will be transformed at this point.  Others will take more work.  When gardening, some weeds can be pulled with your fingers and others require we dig them up with tools. But diligence and perseverance will create a garden that is free of weeds… for a time.

Our minds are no different. Careful, deliberate cultivation keeps the weeds out of our minds and allows us to live the lives we were created to live.

*Bob is the name I give my counselor in these writings.  I can thank my cousin, Mindy, for the name as that is what she insists on calling him.

Disruption

“A Rut is a rhythm that doesn’t take you where you want to go.”
– Matt G.

Life is full of routine, those decisions that you make back-to-back enough that they become automatic. This is what allows you to move from the new driver who is 100% focused on just staying in your lane to the confident driver you are today that eats a sandwich with one hand, texts with the other, and drives with her knee while yelling at the kids in the back seat.

What changed? Staying in your lane became natural; it became automatic.

Similarly, if you have ever heard “it’s like riding a bike” the statement is based on understanding rhythm. When I first learned to ride a bike, it was on a bike with training wheels. Just learning to peddle and steer at the same time was challenging.

Dad said the training wheels would come off when I could make a lap around the block without them touching the ground and that seemed like an impossibility. But Matt had his off so I was determined and I kept at it until peddling the bike became a rhythm and the training wheels came off.

Rhythm makes life manageable by creating efficiency and is the reason that you can infinitely add “one more thing” to your schedule. Imagine how difficult life would be if you had to remind yourself “right, left, right, left” while you were walking.

These automatic reactions and thought patterns are vital to our survival but they are not always in our best interest. I wrote yesterday about some dangerous thought patterns that I had developed.  Let’s look at one more closely that had terrible consequences for me this week.

In the pursuit of perfection, I have developed zero tolerance for failure. When I make a mistake, I react with feelings of guilt and shame. My automatic response is to hide, often in YouTube or food. This behavior is another mistake, strengthening feelings of guilt and shame, and sending me back for another video or one more cookie.

Once caught in this cycle, the off-ramp is difficult to find. YouTube doesn’t make it easy either, recommending 5 other videos that would go great with the one you are watching and defaulting to “auto play” so it will launch a video if you don’t make a choice.

Feelings of guilt and shame after watching a YouTube video, and the resulting click on another video, has become so engrained in me that even when the first video wasn’t really a mistake, the cycle begins.

Here’s how that played out on Friday. My mentor recommended a video about a story of overcoming. After wrapping up work for the day and standing up to leave, I realized I hadn’t watched the video yet.  I hopped over to YouTube, found it, and watched. Nothing wrong here; just following guidance of my mentor.

But then I clicked on the YouTube symbol at the top of the page. It was such an automatic response that I barely thought in the process.  I remember a brief moment of pause as I said, “what are you doing?” but by then I was already clicked onto one of the two channels I tend to follow.

Since it had been a few weeks since my last YouTube experience, there were some new videos on both channels. I am just going to catch up on my two shows while I am here. I answered myself. Then I will be out of here in 30 minutes.

Except I wasn’t out of there in 30 minutes. I wasn’t out of there until 3:30am and my eyes were literally burning as I made the 5 minute drive home.

What happened?

My automatic reaction to watching a YouTube video is to watch another.  This has been reinforced by shame and guilt so many times that I don’t even need the shame and guilt anymore to take the action.

The response of my mentor the next morning was to send me another video to watch (this time telling me to text him after) and I was confused. Isn’t YouTube the problem? No. It’s not YouTube that is the problem, it’s the automatic reaction of “one more” that is the problem.

By having me watch a video and then close YouTube immediately after, my mentor is helping me re-wire my reaction. The video was a recommendation from him, so there is no guilt or shame for watching it, and the reaction of closing it to apply what I learned is a healthy response to an inspirational story.

Is this going to be the medication he prescribes ever day? I doubt it but perhaps. The point is that it’s important to recognize the triggers that lead to our harmful behaviors and then rewire those reactions.

The first step is to recognize that those automatic reactions exist. That is where Disruption comes in to play.

About two months ago Donovan told me that I need to quit everything. I laughed it off; I’m not a quitter. The third time he brought it up, I started asking questions. Donovan explained that the ruts in my brain were really wrecking me and I needed to “Disrupt” my routines. “Question everything” he went on to say, “from how you put on your pants, to what activities you do.”

While I didn’t go out and quit everything that day, I tried starting with minor changes. I parked in a different place at the gym a few times and tried changing up what I wear to work. Within a few weeks, these minor changes were all back to the way they had been before. But the seeds of disruption had been sown and looking back two months later, much of my life is not the same.

Yesterday I posted about a shift in my work schedule and that 30-minute shift has changing my morning routine and fitness regimen.

After months of prayer and planning, I am ready to make big moves in ministry.  August 27th, I will teach my last Sunday school class and I have begun to move into working with the women of our church. Instead of an hour commitment Sunday mornings, I’m now planning our next women’s retreat, hosting quarterly brunches, teaching bible studies, and constantly thinking about ways to connect, develop, and engage the women of our church.

Meanwhile, I started looking at everything I do and asking “should I be doing this?” I’ve hired awesome women to clean my house and prep my meals. This has freed both time and mental energy to focus more on what I am called to do with my life and less about the day-to-day tasks that need to be addressed.

More disruption was thrust upon me when my community group came to an end because our leaders are moving to Morocco. This was hard, as it felt like losing a second family this year, and now it means finding a new community group… again.

My chief purpose in life is to Encourage, Empower, and Equip people worldwide to Break Free of Strongholds and Pursue their Dreams. This means that I need to write more and waste time less. I’m disrupting my schedule as much as I can to make that happen, with the goal of 1-2 blogs a week. (That’s a goal, not a promise…)

I’m starting a new Discipleship relationship that will provide the opportunity to address some key weaknesses in myself. I picked up a new Bible study yesterday and started it this morning. I changed the books I am reading and adjusted the people that I seek out to engage in conversation.

And looking back to two months later, I have disrupted everything.

Disruption is uncomfortable. I pay someone to cook for me but still find myself cooking most weekends. I’m savoring the last few weeks with my kiddos on Sunday mornings and I am dragging my feet about finding a new community group. I look at my new schedule and commitments wondering how it will all get done.

The chief value of disruption is reengagement. It’s vital to switching off the autopilot in your brain that is stringing your decisions together without consulting you. Disruption is how you identify your autothoughts so that you can begin to attack them.

Your homework this week is to disrupt yourself. Walk backwards for 30 minutes (or even 3). Change how you dress for work or wear a suit to class (unless it’s a gym class…). Ask “Why?” about everything, and I mean everything.

Why do these numbers matter?
Why am in this club?
Why is this my ministry?
Why can’t I ask for help?
Why do I spend time with this person?
Why do I care what they have/do/accomplish?
Why did I say that?
Why isn’t crying ok?
Why am I wearing this?
Why do I feel responsible for them?

If you don’t know the answer, or don’t like the answer, then it may be an autothought that needs to be adjusted. And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time so for now just write them down.

I’ve heard my whole life that I need to “take thoughts captive” and take responsibility for my life.  For the first time ever, I have been taught how to take thoughts captive and that’s what I want to teach to you … if you’re brave enough to come along.