Social Anxiety. That’s what the therapist called it as I sat across from her on the mahogany leather couch. Her office was devised to look like a living room to make me feel at home, but all I could think was, “I wouldn’t be here if I was normal.” The list of my oddities lay like the stacks of magazines recklessly piled for bored fingers to flip through at the doctor’s office: No friends, no one calls, head down, ignores people, anxiety attacks …
At 14 I couldn’t talk to boys. I spent hours in the mirror painting my face with makeup and changing clothes to find the perfect outfit that told the story of a pretty and desirable girl. All I wanted was for them to like me, but I couldn’t find the words to speak to them. Instead, they thrust words back at me as I walked through the halls like “snob.”
At 16 I sat on the toilet with my feet up on the stall door to eat my lunch because I was too embarrassed to eat in front of people. I bounced from cheerleading to school plays to leadership roles. I went through my days doing the things that would construct a shell of an outgoing, well rounded girl in a charade to convince people I was “normal” and “acceptable,” but inside I felt hollow.
At 21 I let others tell me who I was in exchange for their approval and validation. I forced myself to go to parties and wear the high heels and short skirts like the other sorority girls. I drank the tasteless foam beer that numbed my pain and slowed my racing thoughts. I would return to my apartment and cry myself to sleep.
Today I am a mom of three that drives a mini van usually covered in a layer of adventure.
I take my daughters to school and sometimes they ask me to stay in the car because I’m wearing slippers or pajama pants.
Today I wear the world more loosely. I know who I am, weaknesses, gifts, passions and quirks and I feel at home in myself in a way I never thought possible. So, what changed?
AN INVITATION TO CHANGE
Change isn’t something that happens overnight. It happens in sunrises and walks on the beach, in hard lessons and cups of coffee shared over real conversation. I changed through the ache of letting people be careless with my heart. I changed through the people God placed in my life who saw and pursued my heart. The people who didn’t flinch at my ugly parts but sat in my struggle with me and brought me to God’s light and forgiveness.
When I was younger I saw the Christian life through a black and white lens. Saved, not saved; accepted, rejected; good girl, bad girl, and through that lens all I saw in myself was darkness. My family spoke words of hope and forgiveness to me, but curled in on myself I couldn’t see anything but my own pain and shame.
But God, as He always does, had a plan.
My future husband, Nathan, knew my sister and her husband through seminary. He lived halfway across the country and was studying to become a pastor. One night, he was at her house for a home cooked meal, and saw a picture of me on the family wall. When he asked if I was single, he was given a challenge:
“Nathan you two would be the perfect disaster together,” my sister said shaking her head.
“Challenge accepted.” He said with his boy-like grin.
Jesus pursued me through my husband who didn’t give up on pursuing my heart, despite my overwhelming shyness, my insecurity, and pension for self destructive behavior.
It started with a message over social media, and after three years, many messages, phone conversations and finally meeting in person, we knew that God had brought us to each other for a special purpose.
Nathan saw me, and he loved me. It was the God nudge I needed to see myself with new eyes.
CALLED TO GROW TOGETHER
My husband, Nathan isn’t the prince that picked me up out of a Cinderella life. Like any real-life romance, he brought as many problems as he did solutions. But Nathan didn’t see my past—he didn’t see me as the awkward girl who always said the wrong thing, who averted her eyes, and wore an apathetic look to disguise her overwhelming shame. He didn’t see the girl that performed, pleased, and squeezed into different shells to gain approval. He saw who I was becoming.
This life, therefore,
Is not righteousness but growth in righteousness,
Not health but healing,
Not being but becoming,
Not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.
This is not the end but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam but all is being purified (Martin Luther).
As with most marriages we also discovered each other in layers over time. His presence in my life didn’t vanquish my anxiety or mental health struggles, but he has walked with me through them. He sees who God created me to be, and fights for me as darkness threatens to overtake my mind. He’s pulled the covers off my head and kicked me out of bed. He’s made breakfast burritos with me at midnight, and kept vigil as I’ve struggled with a 2am panic attack.
I’ve gotten to walk beside him, too.
God invites us out of our own struggles as we show up for the people He’s placed in our lives. I’ve walked beside Nathan when he’s felt unappreciated and misunderstood. I’ve reminded him who God has called him to be. My tender heart feels his hurt more deeply, and I’m not afraid to sit in suffering and questions with him. We’ve hurt, loved, and learned together in the journey to becoming parents, as well.
CALLED TO MOTHERHOOD
Like Paul’s prayer, “God has given me more than I ask or imagine” in the gift and calling as a mother. As mothers, God mercifully bestows on us a title that invites us to live into a new identity. One that I don’t always feel worthy of. But like Esther is given the crown and then the the opportunity to live into her royal identity, God never loses sight of the fullness of who He has designed us to be.
Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Esther 2:17
Queen Esther is given position and power before purpose
Queen Esther is given position and power before purpose, just as God has pulled me out of my own struggles and given me the honor to be a wife, a mother, and pastor’s wife. He didn’t wait for me to be qualified, just willing to take tentative steps toward the life that He was calling me to.
Today I get to write and share about how I draw close to God as I struggle with anxious thoughts. God has transformed my struggle and suffering into a story of His grace and relentless love, and ultimately into a calling.
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? Esther 4:13-15
Of course, I’m not really royalty, or one called to save a nation from execution. I’m not even one worthy to break my perfumed offering at Jesus’ feet. But because of God’s great love, I have been raised up with Christ and seated in the heavenly realms with Jesus. By His grace gift I am saved, and made for a purpose (adapted from Ephesians 2:6-10).
BEND ME, BREAK ME, MOLD ME, SEND ME
I am still a work in progress.
I still get caught in the riptides of others’ approval. As I get swept away, time and time again, God restores me back to the solid footing of his foundation. God is still molding me and teaching me lessons. When I’m lonely and vulnerable, I still find myself hungering for a false fulfillment in the opinion of others. But rather than getting caught in the current of others’ opinions and expectations, God reminds me to anchor myself to him. My identity as his child isn’t something that can be washed away with a dirty look or an unkind word, but rests securely in his hands.
I don’t need to hide the scars from my past. I’m not afraid to tell my stories, even the shameful ones. I’ve learned that my words aren’t something to be ashamed of. As I get older and my past becomes my history, I’ve learned that God weaves my stories and my words into a testimony of His goodness.
I want to tell that shy, anxiety ridden girl to lift her chin, to smile and to speak the words on her heart. I want to hug her close and kiss the top of her head, to wipe the layers of makeup off her face and to tell her she only needs to live for an audience of one.
I want to tell that shy, anxiety ridden girl to lift her chin, to smile and to speak the words on her heart.
What is your invitation to embrace brokenness?
Maybe you’re a cancer survivor, a mother of a special needs child. Maybe you’ve overcome dyslexia, depression or an eating disorder. Maybe you can speak to the everyday struggle of showing up; of keeping it all together when you’re worn out and ready for a respite.
There is a Japanese art form called Kintsugi, also known as golden joinery. It is the process of binding broken pottery back together using golden laquer. Once restored, the pot is intersected by a unique and beautiful web of golden cracks. The broken places are illuminated, just as I believe God uses our broken places to reflect and glorify Him.
Maybe you are still living in the middle of an unfinished story. You still make daily trips to the hospital or the pain hasn’t subsided. Your loved one hasn’t forgiven you, or your child refuses to listen to you.
In Genesis, Hagar has run away from her harsh mistress Sarai. Hagar has been sexually used, verbally abused, and now accused. Accused for haughtiness toward Sarai. Perhaps more accurately, accused for being the one that conceives Abram’s son first The angel of the Lord comes to her aid with a spring of water. He commands her to return to her mistress and promises to bless and multiply her descendants.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (16:9-10, NIV)
Hagar is the first person in the Old Testament to call God, El Roi, the God Who Sees. In her brokenness and shame God sees her, He comes to her and restores her to relationship. He recommissions her with a purpose and a calling.
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to
her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (16:13, NIV)
We are all broken in our own ways. But I’m beginning to learn that in the brokenness, we can find the most strength. We turn to God that supplies our strength–Who offers an endless supply of love. Love that sees us, that binds up our wounds, and ultimately heal us.
Squeeze, beat, crash, and shake,
Whatever the pressure,
it cannot break Our fragile vessels made of clay,
Because of the strength that we contain.
Though fear thuds loud, Though worry wears, Though others try to strike me down,
God’s presence, strength, and comfort be
All the greater within me.
(poem by Lindsay Hausch, from Take Heart: God’s Comfort for Anxious Thoughts)