Somewhere in the middle of the desert, on our way to California, there are a bunch of palm trees that had their tops blown off in a lightning storm. I have often wondered why they didn’t remove them because they really are unsightly. I read something today saying that now these remnants of palm trees make a great habitat for swallows, starlings, barn owls and great horned owls. (Chrissy Kelly)
I read this, and my soul let out a big yes.
This really is what life is like
Sometimes things look bad or ugly or even disastrous, but there is always something beautiful coming next.
They could have removed these “trees” after the beautiful parts were ripped off by the storm. I would have. But they didn’t. But because they didn’t, the remnants were turned into perfect homes for birds in search of refuge.
Maybe you feel like you’ve suffered a great loss
A job, a dream, a relationship, a loved one. Maybe you feel like the remnant is ugly and beyond redemption. Maybe you feel like your life cannot be recovered. I’ve felt like that too.
But I want to remind you that that is not how God works. The thought that because of a loss, this is the end for you, is just a lie.
It seems that our brains are wired with a negativity bias, meaning that loss is more painful to us than gain is delightful to us, roughly twice as painful. In other words, we are typically more upset about losing $20 than we are happy about finding $20. This is a phenomenon referred to as loss aversion. We hate losing things. And we all know this.
However, God is the master of taking our ugliest circumstances and turning them into something beautiful. Sometimes they are beautiful just for us. And sometimes they create a beautiful safe place for someone else.
And then your focus shifts
11 years ago, I gave birth to our 4th daughter. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. Soon after she was born, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome, and I was told she would live 7-14 years.
The next few years were really a daily struggle to try to live in what I call the in-between—taking care of my medically fragile child, while also trying hard not to allow the anticipation of death to devour me every day. That is truly a hard place to live.
One particular day I remember well, we had returned home from a hospital stay. I was exhausted, physically and mentally. I was barely holding it together. I got on my knees and cried out to God. I remember asking him why. Why had he given me sadness? Why had he given me a heavy load to carry? And I really, really wanted to hear his answer. No matter what it was.
I sat in silence, waiting.
All I heard from him was she is my mercy in your life.
I have never forgotten—partly because it was so clear, what I heard. Not out loud, but such a clear knowing deep in my mind, in my soul, in my spirit, and not at all something I would have come up with on my own. And partly because I really wanted to know what he meant by that. Because our struggles really seemed like the opposite of mercy.
What I’ve discovered since that day is that because of our daughter, I have found a safe refuge too.
I have found a great habitat, hidden with Christ in God. I have found a new perspective on…really every single thing in my life. I have a relationship with God that I’d never known.
I see wonder and beauty and amazement in every single child. I was stripped of my judgmental nature. I was humbled of my certainties. I was stopped in my pursuit of things that really don’t matter that much to God. And most days are filled with more love from her than my heart can actually contain.
And I’m sure there are so many more that I have yet to uncover.
But for now, I want to help you see that when we live a life with God, even when we lose everything we think we need or want, He will create something beautiful as a result. I said beautiful. Not just OK and cleaned up. But beautiful.
You may see the palm tree stumps as ugly. But I bet from the inside, from the perspective of the swallows, the starlings, the owls and their babies, it is the most beautiful home they’ve ever seen. I’m just guessing, because I know that God works like that.
There’s something about Santa Fe, New Mexico that makes me happy. Maybe it’s the mixture of cultures and architecture. Maybe it’s all of the artists. Maybe it’s the old churches around the square. Maybe it’s the memories. We spent seven summers in a row there on our way home from vacation in Colorado. It was the halfway point to home, but it was more than that to me. Not just a place to spend the night, but a delightful experience I looked forward to each year. And this one year in particular, I learned something special about the grace of God.
I rose early in the morning before we were to head home, and I recruited one of our daughters to walk to the center of town with me to get some coffee. Only the breakfast restaurants were open as the sun was rising. We found an adorable French bakery on the Plaza. It was everything you’d want—beautiful pastries, provincial decor, and a legit Frenchman who greeted us with a “Bonjour!” when we walked in the door.
“Bonjour!” We responded.
I scanned the menu board. “I’ll have a latte and she’ll have a croissant, please.”
He prepared the latte and the pastry.
Then he gave me my total, and I held out my debit card. He smiled and then pointed at the sign next to the register. It said, “Cash Only.”
“Oh no!” I said.
“I don’t have any cash with me. I am so sorry.”
He smiled bigger, slid the coffee cup toward me and cheerfully chirped in his thick French accent, “It’s OK! You can pay me next time!”
The whole interaction just left me feeling filled up.
I think it’s because that’s what grace looks like. That’s how God deals with us. He’s pushing a latte toward us even though we can’t pay for it.
When I don’t have enough, he covers the gap.
When I come up short, he fills in the empty space.
When I mess up, he hides the offense.
What I couldn’t possible pay for, he already paid in full.
That is grace.
This cheerful man left a beautiful mark on me. And it felt really good.
The next year, when we rolled through Santa Fe, I told my husband, “Turn down this street. I need to hop out!”
I ran inside and saw my French friend. I handed him some money and told him why I owed it to him. He gave me a “Merci!” and a smile.
I bet my return and my gratefulness made him happy, but he wasn’t waiting for it or requiring it.
I didn’t return because I had to.
I returned because his kindness overwhelmed me. And I didn’t forget him. His kindness drew me back.
My French friend was an example to me of how God interacts with us. He’s delighted by our presence. When we don’t get it right, he covers over it and sets us on our way. He gives more than we expect. His posture toward us is lovingkindness.
And our natural response to that lovingkindness is gratefulness and wanting to do what he asks of us. Not because of duty. But because his love compels us to move toward him.
Do you have the eyes to see it?
Do you see his lovingkindness all around you—in the people you meet, in the strangers serving your coffee, in the way goodness comes your way when you’re not expecting it? Open up your eyes and look for it. That’s God’s grace. Let Him show it to you today.
And then you get to slide a coffee cup across the counter to someone else who needs it.
Have you ever felt like you didn’t have hope of something getting better? Hope is what keeps us going. If we don’t have it, it is easy to fall into depression. It doesn’t happen suddenly, but it is a gradual depletion of one of your “hope tanks.” And hope depletion can lead to thoughts of suicide. Pay attention to these tanks in your own life, and in the lives of the people around you. Relationships, Emotions, Intellect, Vocation. If you’ve thought, I have no hope, then you’re in need of a major fill up. Pay attention: where are you running low?
Read what guest blogger, Ben Bost, says about the anatomy of hope.
What are Hope Tanks?
The Anatomy of Hope
This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking and mentoring at the Idaho Student Leadership Forum. It’s an annual event hosted at the Capitol where student leadership from high schools and colleges gather to be encouraged is their growth.
The speakers included former Governor of Idaho and Secretary of the Interior under George H.W. Bush Dirk Kempthorn, current Governor Brad Little, Idaho Representative Heather Scott, veteran news anchor Dee Sarton, and ME!
Somebody didn’t get the memo! No way I should have been on this list but what an honor!
The people around us need us
My talk focused on helping them understand that leadership is about culture shaping and great culture shapers understand three things:
- The world around them
- The needs of those they influence
I explained that we take the culture we are making into our sphere of influence and that sphere, like a circle, is always expanding and contracting. Sometimes there are more people in it than other times.
But those people we influence come with needs.
Everyone needs hope
Ultimately, I demonstrated for the students through data that addressing anxiety, depression and suicide is the issue of their day and to lead means to be aware that the people they influence need HOPE!
But how does hope function? We often talk about hope in very ambiguous terms. Something we are able to identify when it’s missing but struggle to explain with words.
The 4 Hope Tanks
The graphic at the top of this post is an illustration I developed to explain how hope functions. We all have tanks…four of them. A relational tank, emotional tank, intellectual tank and vocational one. Each of these tanks have a function that contributes to our understanding of hope:
- Relational – How we connect in life
- Emotional – How we feel about life
- Intellectual – How we think about life
- Vocational – How we execute life
When one tank is depleted
The illustration is very simple, as our tanks deplete in these areas we become more hopeless. We don’t just arrive one day at hopelessness. And so, as an example, all it may take for one person is for their relational tank to deplete and they find them self contemplating suicide.
Someone might say…”Hey Ben, where is the eternal tank…the one that Jesus fills?”
Well, for those of us who follow Jesus we do have a fifth tank that never depletes and is filled by the eternal hope we have in Christ. But this is not true for everyone in our world.
So as I seek to live out my faith, the goal is to do so in accordance with Hebrews 11:1 that says,
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”
This means that I know what hope is and how it functions. It helps me translate to those around me how to find the kind of hope that keeps our tanks full and address them properly when they may be depleting.
I HOPE this is helpful! 😉
Have a great week and love well!
I took the oxygen tubing out of my daughter’s nose and carefully lifted the medical tape from her cheek. I was careful not to hurt her skin or get any hair caught in the tape. I can take the tape off quickly, or to do it slowly, with lovingkindness and extra care.
She looked at me with trusting eyes. And I saw something. She lives in a posture of total trust toward me. She trusts me to take care of every one of her needs. She cannot feed herself, dress herself. She can’t stand up. She cannot speak with words. She trusts me to do all of those things for her.
But she also trusts me to not hurt her. To be gentle with her when I lift tape off of her cheek. To gently pull her shirt over her head whenI undress her. To brush her hair with care. She trusts me to do that because she knows I love her. She depends on me to take care of her basic needs. But she also trusts me to do it carefully because she knows I love her. There’s a difference between someone who cares for you because it’s their job and someone who cares for you because they love you. And you can feel the difference, can’t you?
That look in her eyes moved me. God spoke to me in that moment. That look of complete trust and total dependence… that is what he has also planned for me.
What is true about God for me and for you
He loves me completely. To pieces, actually.
I am his cherished child.
He is a good father.
He takes care of me.
He is careful with me.
I can depend on him.
Sometimes I have to do things that my daughter doesn’t like. I know they are painful for her, but they are necessary to keep her alive. I have to change her feeding tube button that goes directly into her stomach every three months. I hate doing it. I’m certain she hates it too. But without it, she would not be able to eat. It is a painful necessity that ultimately causes goodness in her life. What pain are you going through right now? Could it be necessary to create goodness for you?
She doesn’t doubt my love for her after the pain. Because she believes I love her and she believes I am good. She truly believes that about me, so she knows I would never allow pain in her life unless it was something necessary to create goodness for her.
This is possible
I know we can live like this in relation to God if we truly believe and accept that He loves us and he is good. He may have to allow some pain, but it will always be for our good. He may put parameters around us that feel like restrictive rules. But they are always for our protection. And He protects us only because He loves us.
Just like my daughter trusts me, we can live in full dependence on God. For all of the good things he has planned for us. For all of our needs. To take care of our emotions. To take care of the big things and the small things. And to be careful with us. He is a careful caregiver because of his profound love for us. Our part involves trusting Him and believing He is good. If we can master that, we can live a life free of fear and worry. A life of joy and freedom. I totally believe that is possible. How would your life look different if you really rested in the carefulness of your creator and actually trusted him to make goodness out of your pain? Sit with it today. And then again tomorrow until you find yourself living in a posture of trust and dependence. That’s true freedom.
By Kerry D’Ortenzio
Sometimes I just want to pull the covers over my head and block out the world. When I’m under stress, I want to hide and make it all go away.
We often hear kids say that they just want to hide. They want to hide forever. Or they want to hide their face. They want to blend into the background so that no one will notice them. Hiding is a natural human response to a lot of our painful emotions: shame, insecurity, stress, and fear of the future.
God Knows You Want to Hide
Because it is a natural human response, I find it extra beautiful that the bible says this about God:
“His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you. You can run under his covering of majesty and hide. His arms of faithfulness are a shield, keeping you from harm.”
… “When we live our lives within the shadow of God Most High, our secret hiding place, we will always be shielded from harm.”
God knows our desire to hide. He knows all about it. So he addresses it in our language. He actually refers to himself as our hiding place.
We have a lemon tree in our yard. Every year, it produces lemons, but this last year it went crazy. Like it hit its maturity and the lemons sprouted all over and grew beautifully and plentifully. We ate or gifted every lemon from that tree last summer. Every single one, and there were hundreds. I put lemon juice in my water every morning, in my green drink, in tea. I put beautiful shiny lemons in bowls on the counter and in bags to give to friends. The lemons brought me a little joy every single day. I love this tree.
One day in June, realizing I had picked all of the beautiful, low-hanging fruit, I spotted the lemon I wanted. It was tucked back closer to the trunk. I carefully navigated my hand through thorns and leaves and grabbed that bulbous beauty. It came off the vine like butter, and I held it, gazing upon it in admiration. It was twice the size of the others with thick beautiful skin. And I said to that lemon, “Wow! You’ve been protected under those big, green leaves, defended by those thorns all summer. The birds and the bugs didn’t even attempt to get you. And look at you. You have grown huge and so beautiful.” Well maybe I actually just said, “wow” out loud and said the rest of that in my head, but I certainly thought it.
And I heard God say to me, And that is what I require of you.
If you want to grow strong and beautiful, just stay close to me. Listen to me and let me cover you with protection and care.
I have not looked at a lemon the same since.
Here’s what He’s been teaching me since that day:
What I want for you, is to sit with me and keep company with me. I want you to let me shield you. And to cover you and care for you. I want you to learn from me.
I want you to hide your life in mine, and I want you to know that all of the consequences are on me. Actually, your life is mine, so everything that happens to you is my responsibility. This is where your growth happens. This is where you beauty resides. Keep company with me. That’s what I require of you.
Love and Freedom
That feels like a lot of love and freedom. God is not requiring me to take on the full weight of life and all of the consequences of it.
He is requiring me to keep company with him and learn from him. And to allow him the honor of being in charge of the consequences. He says to me and to you, hand it over, child. Let it be my responsibility. It’s too heavy for you, and I’ve promised you that I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and learn from me and I’ll teach you to live freely and lightly.
My friend, I don’t know about you, but to me “freely and lightly” are some of the most beautiful words. That kind of life is possible. And I want it every day. This is my rhythm. Resting close to the vine, under his leaves, protected and cared for.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful to you? Maybe you’ve been carrying a heavy load. Maybe you’ve felt exposed and you just want to hide. God calls himself your hiding place. He says, stop thinking about everything on earth, and set your mind on me. He says keep company with me. He says get away with me. He says let me cover you and hide your life in mine.
If you feel like hiding, I’m not here to say quit hiding. I’m actually saying, God offers you a hiding place in him because he knows you need it. How loving. How wonderful. Take a load off, child, and rest.
Trapped. Can’t escape. I want to run but I don’t want to move. I see other people and would kill to have their lives. Just please put me in someone else’s shoes. I don’t want my life.
Everything I have, I hate
The people around me, the things I do, the place I’m at. I just don’t want to do it anymore. When people talk about God, I cringe because I just know he’s not real. All the stupid nursery rhymes and songs about Jesus are there to make people feel safe. I don’t want to hear any more songs on the radio or see any more commercials. I don’t want to hear about addiction hotlines or churches. If God cared or was even real he would’ve done something by now.
Honestly, who would even care if I just ended everything now?
Those are my own words and thoughts.
Well, they were, just two years ago. I know many people have thought or are thinking those same exact things. You’re probably thinking, okay great, another testimony about how God miraculously “swooped in” and saved this person’s soul. That’s cool but why is it not happening to me? I talk to God all the time, yell at him. You name it! Nothing is happening.
I know that feeling. If I knew back then what I know now, I would say to myself, “God is already speaking to you. You feel the way you do right now because you can’t see what he is doing.”
Wouldn’t it be so nice if we could just see and hear what God is saying to us all the time? That scenario seems ideal, but we would never have to depend on him. That is the dangerous part, and my story will explain why.
Thankful for the darkness
My name is Ben and I’m a college student. I reached a low point in my life about two years ago, and ironically it is the thing I am the most thankul for.
One last thing before I share my story. The lives of those you see on social media are not as advertised. The people in your daily life may give off happy and positive emotions but they are going through trials just like you are. It doesn’t matter if you are abused, gay, transgender, homeless, alone, uncertain, broke, cheated on, recently divorced, hated by those in your life, there is room for you in the kingdom of God and he wants you more than you could ever want him.
I was a larger kid, meaning I was always the flabbiest out of all my friends, and it really bothered me. I was constantly judging my appearance from as early as I can remember. This problem continued into my high school years. As a result, I would try to do extremely strict diets that were unrealistic and very unhealthy.
I would avoid hanging out with friends on the weekends because of social anxiety, and because I had no energy because I wasn’t really eating. I had people telling me how good I looked, but I never believed them. My whole existence was wrapped up around my physical appearance. I just coasted by with social anxiety and found a way to survive. Sometimes my neck and back would be aching from grinding my teeth and stressing due to anxiety.
My anxiety got worse as my time went on because I had no responsibility and all I did was focus on myself. My friends were actually doing things with their lives, so I barely saw them. I started to feel like a loser after a while just spending all day at home and doing nothing.
I ended up dropping out of school my junior year because I contracted Mononeucleosis, a disease where one is sick for months at a time and there is really no cure for it. So I spent even more time at home which did not help at all.
I never prayed or did anything to find God. This would’ve saved a lot of trouble.
It got worse
After awhile, I was cleared by my doctor to do physical activity. I started doing some training sessions with my strength coach from high school. This was literally the only time I left my house for about a 4 month period. I started training in January and I absolutely fell in love. I gained around 40 pounds in a 2 month period from lifting, taking creatine and being a big time gym rat.
Becoming obsessed with training, I developed body image issues far worse than I thought possible. I would stare in the mirror for nearly hours a day and if I missed a workout I would physically punish myself, usually by hitting my body against things or punching the wall.
There came a time when financially I had to cut off those training sessions and I started to workout at my house. So I was at the point where I never left the house. Ever. I even started to prefer being in the dark and I would work out with a hood on in a dark room because it made me feel powerful and in control.
I started listening to satanic metal music and don’t get me wrong, rock music is damn good but the music I was listening to made me want to murder myself and break things around me. That music creeped in until eventually it was all I listened to and all I could think about was death and cutting things up or damaging things. I started to enjoy pain, and one day I took that too far and tore my shoulder, giving myself tendonitis and a strained upper body. I continued to try to work out through it but eventually I couldn’t take it.
So working out was stripped away, I didn’t go to school, didn’t have God in my life, so I had absolutely nothing. My parents recommended a counselor, so I said why not and went. I ended up lying to him in every session and we ended appointments after awhile. I remember feeling numb all the time and it got to a point where I wasn’t even sad or angry anymore. All I could really think about was darkness or just nothing, literally nothing.
Planned my death
I started to get curious and think of the possibility of death because my life didn’t seem to matter anymore, I had no impact on anyone and really no future. I figured I could just do everyone a favor and take my own life.
One day I decided to act this out so I stood in the kitchen, home alone and went near the knives in our kitchen drawer and thought about quickly cutting myself to bleed out. I remember thinking back to the times I was on my knees screaming at God for all sorts of reasons and I pondered on it for a while. This memory is somewhat foggy, but all I know is somehow I wasn’t home alone anymore.
Did God intervene?
Later that night, my family told me we were going to be moving out of state. This reminded me of when I asked God to just show me or give me something different. Well this was really different. Maybe God heard me or something? I remember not being too sure about it but I held on to it. I ended up staying around and didn’t try to plan out my own death anymore but I was still numb. We moved away and I was honestly in shock and didn’t know what to feel. During this time, I hadn’t been to church at all. My family stepped back in church once we moved and I decided to go with them.
Verbalizing my story changed everything
Fast forward to that summer. I was at a camp held by the church, and one night I felt the urge to share my experience. Once I verbalized how I had been feeling around a group of people, I knew everything changed.
I never heard the voice of God or saw him with my eyes but I have seen him work through me and through other people. If you feel anything similar to how I did or have had similar experiences, please just tell someone. Just make it known, and I promise you anyone you tell will care.
The world will NEVER be better off without you
If someone has told you to kill yourself or that you’d be better off dead, then they are just trying to make themselves feel better about their own insecurities by putting you down. The world will NEVER be better off without you, no matter what you have done or will do. Understand that God works through other people, and everyone in your life is there for a reason.
It is so confusing to understand why bad things happen, why sickness exists, why we get treated so badly but it can all come together for good. I would not be near where I am today without my experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I still get really anxious at times, still envious of others, still have issues with my appearance and what others think of me. I still feel trapped at times, but the one thing I have now that I never had before is security in the fact that God made me for a reason and I am loved and can never do anything to escape his love.
Your life matters
The best part is that truth is the same for you. Walking through life with God means that we can have joy, knowing that our lives matter. It means we are not judged by our job title, clothes, appearance, or by what anyone says. I want you to think about this story, long and hard before you consider hurting yourself or others and think of the possibility that God could be real and you could have an amazing life waiting for you. Just think of that. I dare you.
[If you need to talk to someone about similar feelings to Ben’s, you can chat now. Or Text D2L to 494949.]
“I’m not good enough.” I know you feel like that sometimes. I know that because everybody feels that way at least sometimes. It seems to be a default of the human condition, especially in a culture where we are so profoundly influenced by external factors. We can easily, readily see what other people are doing and achieving. And our society is subconsciously driven by the fear of not achieving, so it takes a conscious effort to actually accept and believe that you are good enough. Because you actually are.
Let’s rewind for a minute. When was the last time you thought, I’m not good enough? Maybe someone actually told you that: You didn’t get the job. You didn’t make the team. She broke up with you.
You literally were not enough. For them. You were not the right match for them. That does not mean you are not enough, it means you were not the match for what they needed. Can you see the difference?
Who determines your value?
Who are you giving the power to determine your worth? If you believe you are not good enough, you have allowed an external circumstance to define you. You don’t have to live like that.
Not feeling good enough will manifest differently in different people’s lives. If you’re like me, when you don’t feel good enough, you hustle harder. It looks like proving you’re worthy through achievement, through being the best, through grasping for external goals as defined by our culture.
Alternately, some people deal with not feeling good enough by running in the opposite direction. They try to prove their worthlessness through self-destruction. Self-harm. Hurting others. Is that you? It looks different in everyone’s life, but if we rewind the whys of destructive behavior, we can usually find it…the belief that I’m not enough. If you’re hurting yourself or someone else, please tell someone. Click one of the links above. Or tell someone in your life who you trust.
Here’s how God sees you
In the Bible, there is a story Jesus tells (read it here) to illustrate how he values every human being. In this story, a man goes out early in the morning to hire help to work in his vineyard. The workers agree to the wage of one dollar a day. Later in the day, he hires more workers and agrees to pay them the same—one dollar for the day, even though they are starting at noon. Still later in the evening, same thing. He agrees to pay the workers one dollar, even though they only have an hour left to work in the day.
The guys who agree to work at dawn are ticked. They made the same amount of money as the guys who came in right before sundown? The estate manager replies, “Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you…are you going to get stingy because I am generous?”
Jesus’ story feels unfair and upside down to us because we are used to putting a price on nearly everybody.
This story shows a different way of determining our value based upon the fact that we simply are. We get treated generously by God regardless of what we do or who we are. That’s just true, good news.
I have to quote Eugene Peterson here because his comments on this passage really revealed so much to me that I’d never seen before:
“[Jesus’ parable] is the simple, direct declaration that God calls you, which means you are significant, and that God gives you generous gifts, which means you are highly esteemed.
The workers in the parable found that no matter what time in their lives they got in on the work, they were still needed.They also found that no matter how many or how few hours they had put in, they were treated with dignity and grace.
The moment they decided to listen to what God said to them and pay attention to how God valued them—not to what others said about them or how they felt about themselves—they were on the way to getting their act together.
The moment you decide that, you will, too.”
You are Highly Valuable
Please let that sink in. No matter who says what about you, God sees you as highly valuable. He loves you, he is on your side and he’s actually coming after you. Jesus told this story to help you see it. To help you see that the truth is, your value is not determined by how much money you make, how well you play a sport, who says you are beautiful, who admires you. Your value was determined a long time ago and it cannot be changed by external factors.
Have you ever been in love? If so, you placed the highest value on the object of your affection. That person was more highly valued than anyone else in your life—They were your beloved. Do you know that is exactly how God describes you? He calls you his beloved. He sees you has HIGHLY VALUABLE. Not because of what you do or do not do. But because you are his child. His beloved child. The object of his affection.
Today is the day that you see yourself the way God really sees you, created you, and is begging for you to see yourself. Whether you came at the beginning of the day (those are the people YOU think are good enough) or you were hired at 5PM (those are the people YOU think are less valuable), you are considered of HIGHEST VALUE. PAID THE SAME WHETHER YOU WORKED ALL DAY OR ONLY AN HOUR. That is the best news, and you’re gonna have to believe it.
A lot of people recommend self-love as a remedy for not feeling good enough. But to me, the most unattractive human quality is someone who is “into themselves.” If you’re working on loving yourself, chances are you will attract other selfish people to you. That’s not what I’m getting at or what I want for you.
Confidence is attractive, but genuine confidence is believing that I am no more or less valuable than anyone else. Have you ever considered this? That is right-sized confidence as far as I’m concerned. That’s the message of the parable. We are all valuable to God, no matter what our circumstances look like. Whether we are a successful pastor or a man on the street corner. Both are valuable to God and are the object of his affection.
If I could give you an assignment today, it would be this: work on living a loving life, instead of working on self-love. What does that mean?
Real love gives and expects nothing in return. It is self-giving, not considering the worth of its object. Living a loving life is a decision. The more you love others unselfishly, the more your life will be filled with love.
How would your life be different tomorrow if you dropped the belief that you’re not good enough and truly believed that God esteems you and is on your side? How would you feel?
Valuable? Confident? Beloved? Those are true about you. Your value has already been established and it’s the highest value you can imagine. Highly esteemed. That’s you. Whether you’re at the front of the line or the end. That’s you.
written by Kerry D’Ortenzio
Guest Post by Richard Mulder, Pro-Skateboard Legend
Hold on to Hope
Sometimes it feels like a battle to hold on to hope. Over the past several days I’ve been emotionally wrestling with the recent suicides of a Southern California Pastor and a 27 year old Nutritionist in New York City. As someone who has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder––constantly contending with these illnesses––hope and nutrition are extremely huge components and an explosive arsenal in the battleground of my mental health. Processing these tragedies––being alone in my thoughts and feelings has provoked sadness, an awkward fear, and confusion within me––resulting in massive empathy for them as mental illness sufferers and grief for their loved ones, alongside an unfortunate, tempting dark invitation to hopelessness.
I understand the black hole
I have never considered suicide as an option for myself, but I have been afflicted with the emotional pain, torment, and suffering that severe anxiety and panic has brought on in the last 25 years. The closest that I have ever been to standing in the shoes of someone contemplating suicidal thoughts came upon me unexpectedly, in the winter of 2013. In that specific season, I was experiencing a large amount of panic attacks, and I had to travel overseas to Japan for work. Although I had traveled all over the world in past years, I could not get myself to get on an airplane this time around. My doctor had prescribed me a series of anti-anxiety medications, in which depression and fatigue were common side effects.
Prior to this prescription, I had experienced moderate (I guess they call it “normal”) depression from anxiety and panic’s debilitating effects, however the severity of depression that I was experiencing as a side effect was on another level. And for the first time, I found myself saying, “Oh–I get it.” I had encountered what many people have described and labeled as “the black hole.” The strength of its dark vortex felt unconquerable and unbeatable––I became so weak and small––deceived into feeling all spiritual strength lost and mental stamina forfeited. I could not show up to life or contend. I couldn’t get out of bed. I lost all desire for any and all things that had interested me in the past. I get it––after experiencing a glimpse of numbing despair I can sadly validate why people can just “check out”––and in that space you are not thinking whether you are being selfish or not, or anything else for that matter. Although there are many different reasons why people arrive to suicidal thoughts, for me to be emotionally standing at the door from a distance has gutted me for all those suffering mentally and consider this fatal option.
How I fight back
Under the care of therapists and doctors, along with supplements, EMDR, cognitive behavior therapy, exposure therapy, and group therapy––combating anxiety and panic with faith and nutrition have been paramount and foundational in my healing process and recovery. I daily surrender the process of my thoughts and feelings to my higher power, trusting that unconditional love and truth––in time––will bear the fruits of inner peace and healing in my soul. Just as important is the spiritual community where I can be transparent and fully known, as well as supported emotionally & spiritually during turbulent times on the journey.
I also make efforts each day to eat whole foods––mostly a plant based diet––which lowers my heart rate, restores my gut health (serotonin, which is a hormone and neurotransmitter, aka “the happy chemical”, plays an essential role in regulating mood, and it is estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut), and I physically feel more energetic and resilient to deal with the daily emotional stress. For me to mentally process these two specific tragedies happening to these beautiful human beings doing meaningful things for others on this planet–– advocates of hope and physical wellness–––feels like a personal attack on the very foundational pillars for my mental health and overall well being. Although I do not know them, I feel like I have lost some personal, fellow team members. And if I’m alone to these thoughts for too long, I can give a voice to these anxious, irrational and catastrophic negative thoughts that start and sinisterly whisper, “What you believe and what you are doing doesn’t matter. You see––God doesn’t care. Eating healthy doesn’t matter either. You are never going to get better. You might feel better today, but it’s not going to last long.” Consequently, I’m clear that if I choose to not fight back, allowing these unpleasant thoughts to take up resident, a stronghold of hopelessness will be the result.
We do not battle alone
Now––what can I do with this inner contention? I have come to accept that in this battle for mental health and personal growth live combination of both glorious cognitive progress and joyous serenity––alongside unfortunate mental stress and tormenting setbacks. I understand feeling what it means to be a human living in touch with Earth’s brokenness. However the difference is––with faith & hope, we must believe we fight from victory, not for victory. Eternally, the battle has already been won. The 14th Century English philosopher John Wycliffe once said, “To live by faith, is to die by faith.” I am going to believe that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but one of love, peace, and a sound mind. The road of redemption is not a road of isolation either. Of utmost importance, I need to consistently remain and stay in community––allowing myself to be known and vulnerable. A friend of mine who spent time in Northeastern Uganda said that he learned something invaluable about tribal communities. It was more than just being known, and everyone knowing everyone else’s business––It was necessary for survival itself. Why should it be any different in our own lives?
Hope: things will get better
I must continue to fill my mind & heart with stories that breed hope. Along the same time that I have been processing what I called “the battle over hope” within myself, I read a paragraph in a book about the John Hopkins scientist Dr. Curt Paul Richter, and his discovery of the effects of hope. In the 1950’s he performed experiments on rats in which they could only swim in buckets of water for only 15 minutes in order to stay alive. They would sink and die after 15 minutes. However, when the swimming rats were given an intermission, and taken out and rescued before they sank––they were able to swim for 60 hours when they were put back in the water. In conclusion, Dr. Richter discovered that the rescued rats were given hope. The hope that they could be rescued was the stamina and resilience to keep swimming 240 times longer. Proverbs says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”. Hope is just as necessary for thriving, as it is for surviving. Together let us continue to believe, contend, and stand steadfast in hope.
Life Isn’t Fair
We packed up everything in the middle of the night. Pulled the girls out of their bunk beds and quietly left Flagstaff and our Labor Day weekend vacation in the middle of the night. 7 year old Reese was struggling to breathe. We needed to get out of the altitude quickly. Sometimes, life isn’t fair.
Our three older girls had plans to make pancakes and eggs with their cousins in the morning. Olivia and her new neighbor friend had planned to play a game the next day. Those plans were stripped bare suddenly when we peeled them away from their bunk beds and the cousins that night.
On this particular night my heart was aching. One more time, they had to miss out on something they looked forward to because their medically fragile sister needed immediate attention.
The reality of raising a child with medical needs is it’s just really hard sometimes. I’m sure that’s obvious to most people. But we also worry a lot about the siblings. We worry about how to give them enough attention, how to make them feel important, we worry about them growing up bitter and angry. We worry about having the time to teach them all of the important things. Also, we worry about worrying about them.
It’s difficult to the mall, take a trip to Hawaii, or even run out to get toilet paper without scheduling it. It’s just the way it is. The siblings sometimes pay a great price. Life is not as carefree as I wish it were for them.
They worry about their sister dying. And I hate that they worry about that.
We were driving back to Phoenix that night in the quiet darkness. Nobody else was on the road. My heart really hurt for them. And I was really worried about Reese.
Olivia teared up as she said, “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
“I’m so sorry you guys. I know you had plans. Thanks for getting in the car,” I told them, choking back my own tears.
They were great sports about it, but all I could think was it’s really not fair.
After a minute of silence, I heard Faith whisper, “Thanks for being a great mom.”
“What do you mean?”
It was kind of the opposite of what I felt and what I was expecting. Pulling children out of bed in the middle of the night didn’t seem like it qualified me for such praise.
“Thanks for doing whatever it takes for Reese.”
Not what I expected. I was expecting disappointment and maybe some complaints from a 15 year old. But I got to see unselfishness and understanding. And also some gratefulness and compassion. Those were hard-won after years of living a life watching her sister struggle. It was a life changing moment for me.
Can the worst thing actually be the best thing?
A few days later, while driving 13 year old Mia to a rehearsal, I peppered her with questions about her childhood.
“Would you say it has been awesome…good…or just OK?”
[Can you tell I’d been worried about them since our middle-of-the-night drive? Yeah, just a little.]
“I’d say it’s been awesome.”
“Oh really????” [huge mom smile]
“What would you say has been the best part of your childhood?”
Without hesitation, she answered, “When Reese was born.”
[Mom’s mouth hanging open, speechless, amazed at God, really]
That part really got me. The thing I thought would be the hardest thing for her turned out to be the best thing. That blows my mind.
Is God Actually Good?
I listened to an interview with an author I admire the other day. In it, he recalled how his best selling book came to be. It had been a really difficult year for them. They’d lost everything financially, he was working 3 jobs to try to rebuild, and Christmas was coming.
His wife asked him to write something for their kids instead of trying to buy gifts. He said she was thinking he’d write 4 pages. Instead, he wrote a book, took it to Kinko’s, printed 15 copies, gave some to his friends and the rest to his kids. Subsequently, his friends sent it to a publisher and it’s sold 20 million copies since.
What really stood out to me in this story, even though he didn’t say it directly, was that the book wouldn’t have been written if God hadn’t allowed him to lose all of his money. He wasn’t an aspiring author. He never planned to publish the book. But God allowed a painful, difficult situation in order to move him toward something bigger.
I think this speaks to who God is. He really is good. He really is love. That’s actually who he is, not just what he is like. So we can know that everything that he allows to happen to us will turn out to be good for us. That is just who he is. That thinking changes all of our thinking. It has changed my life.
When every thought is framed with the truth that God is actually working things out with goodness in mind, and he actually is involved in my life, there is absolutely nothing that can shake me. The truth is, if we really believe that God is good. That God is who he says he is. Then whatever happens in our lives, whatever disappointments, devastations, discouragements, we can choose to look at them as something God is allowing in our lives for some good purpose. Hang on and find out what the goodness is. Aren’t you at least totally curious to see how your painful stuff turns into good?
It Can Still Be Good
You know what? Just because life doesn’t look the way you thought it would doesn’t mean it can’t be good. And sometimes those things we think are the hardest are the very things that are pushing us toward our destiny. Refining us toward unselfishness. Teaching us to overflow with compassion and love for other people. I wouldn’t have designed my life like this. I wouldn’t have chosen the pain. But in retrospect, seeing all the ways that my pain has allowed God to work out beautiful things, I would not change one thing. The most beautiful things in my life came as a result of the things I thought would be the worst. It overwhelms me as God unveils pieces of his mysterious ways when I least expect it. Hold on for the good stuff.
“Hi, I can’t do this anymore. I’m hurting and life doesn’t seem to welcome me, I’d much rather die and not exist. No one cares at all about me. Nobody does, that’s not an exaggeration. I would love your help. I try to reach out to friends and family that are supposed to love me with nothing in return. Tears soak my shirt. This shit must stop, I just can’t and don’t want to do this anymore. Can you possibly persuade me? I’m open. I don’t even no why I’m here, I guess it’s a dream to believe that someone can care for me.” – Sara, 12
I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE
Have you ever said it? I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE. Have you thought it? We hear that a lot. Is this a soundtrack that repeats in your mind? It could be for any number of reasons, but if you’re saying it to yourself regularly, it may be a sign that something needs to change. Those thoughts may be like background noise in your mind, but those are powerful words. Let’s not ignore them together.
WHY ARE YOU SAYING THIS?
Maybe you feel like you just can’t stay in a certain relationship one more day, you can’t deal with your financial pressures, your family is placing unrealistic expectations upon you, your daily duties are pushing you to the edge, your emotional pain is more than you can handle, or life just sucks. Whatever it is, your emotional capacity is on overload. We all have a different capacity, or ability to manage what is going on in our lives. You may look at someone else and think, why can’t I handle what she can? Because every human being has a different capacity. You will not have the same capacity as your friends and family.
YOUR THINKING DOESN’T GET TO CONTROL YOU
If you’re reading this, you probably sense that something is not right. That’s actually a good thing because the first step in overcoming it is acknowledging it.
Sometimes we allow thoughts to run rampant in our minds. But it is important to remember that you get to choose how you think. You get to determine what you think about, but it will take some practice if you’re not used to thinking about your thoughts.
“The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon.” (Dallas Willard). I love that–it’s freedom. You do not have to allow every thought that enters your mind to have its way with you. In fact you shouldn’t. You get to decide. Where will you set your mind and keep on setting it?
HERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO HELP
1. Pay attention to your thoughts and stop that particular thought in its tracks.
I have a child who needs to be on an oxygen concentrator overnight. The swishing hum of the machine has become soothing background noise. So much so, that I don’t even hear it anymore. Every morning, while she does one of her chest percussion therapies, I do Pilates on a mat next to her bed. (Too much info? I want you to know why I’m on the floor:):)). It’s often when I’m down on the floor, next to the oxygen concentrator that I realize it is still humming, an hour after I have taken the nasal cannula out of her nose. The hum of the machine is such a familiar noise to me that I don’t even hear it anymore. How have I not heard that noise and remembered to turn it off?
That reminds me of my thought life. We all have thoughts that we’ve been thinking for so long, patterns developed years ago, that we don’t even realize we are thinking them, nor do we realize they are destructive to our emotional well being. Start paying attention to the background noise in your mind. When you hear yourself say, I can’t do this anymore, just stop it. Stop in your tracks and make a decision to turn off that soundtrack starting today.
2. Replace that thought with something that is true.
OK, you might be rolling your eyes. But the truth is we can’t just stop thinking. We have to replace the destructive thought with something that is actually true. And healthy. The truth is that you can still do this. You may need to change some things but you can still do this. Instead of telling yourself you cannot do this anymore, what is something that is true and also constructive?
Here are some ideas of truths to intentionally set your mind upon. “I may be having a hard day today but tomorrow will be different.” “I am a beloved child of God. Beloved.” “I care about people.” “I am doing my best.” You can train your mind to stop the negative thoughts and replace them with constructive, true thoughts. Take a moment to write down a true thought that you will use to replace “I can’t do this anymore.” Then start practicing that discipline every day until it becomes a reflex.
3. Ask yourself, does something in my life need to change?
We all have bad days. Have you ever had a day where everything seemed overwhelming, but you woke up the next day with a whole new attitude? You felt completely different? It’s remarkable what a difference a day can make. Sometimes. But sometimes, we can go weeks with that nagging thought. If you’ve been saying, I just cannot do this anymore for several weeks, there may be something that needs to change. Ask for help. Talk to a counselor (talk online now at d2lrev.com).
Or maybe you need to get out of an abusive relationship. Make a plan to change your spending. Get help in your home. Ask someone to take one of your responsibilities off of your plate.
There are simple shifts you can make to change your stress level today. Look for ways that you can change what is pushing you beyond your capacity. If your emotional pain is more than you can handle, tell someone. Today. Don’t try handle that on your own or to keep it a secret because of shame or a fear of burdening your friends and family. You are not alone. You are not the only one. You are not a burden. So many people care about you whether you believe it or not.
4. Ask yourself what you are grateful for.
Studies show that focusing on what we are grateful for affects every area of our health, including mental health. What is one thing you are thankful for right now? Think about it. Write it down. Focus on that. Write down at least one thing a day. Every night before I lay my head on the pillow, I write down at least one thing that brought me joy during the day. What I’ve found is that as I’m going through my day, I’ll hear myself saying, that’s gonna make the list. It shifts the focus of my day from just getting things done to looking for things that bring me joy. It’s an intentional way of thinking that affects every part of our lives—physically, emotionally, spiritually.
5. Look for ways to help someone who needs it.
I think that we are made for this. Our selfish nature is to look out for ourselves and think about our own needs, but I believe part of our original design was to actually take impeccable care of each other. I’ve found that I am happiest when I’m doing that.
Ann Voskamp said it this way, “We are always lost until our heart makes its home inside of someone else. Our lives are unfulfilling if we only let our hearts fill us instead of filling other people’s broken places…fulfilling lives happen when we give our hearts to fill other people’s empty spaces.”
Take a moment. Sit in quiet an ask yourself, who has an empty space that I can help fill? Who needs me to help heal them today? I promise you there is somebody. Do you see their face? Send them a text right now and let them know you’re thinking about them.
Listen. I see you. I get it. Life just plain sucks sometimes. Some days and some seasons push us beyond what we can handle on our own. The good news is, you don’t have to do it on your own. Interrupt your soundtrack. Set your mind on something true and constructive. Do you need to reach out for help today? Is there something you can change to remove some stress? You are not alone and you can keep going. I just know it. First things first, set your mind and keep on setting it on something true and new. Remember, never be afraid to reach out for help. Maybe not everyone acts like they care, but I promise you someone does.
By Kerry D’Ortenzio, VP, Death2Life Revolution