My Journey To Trust

written on October 1, 2019

I admit that I still carry the scars of having been bullied and abused by certain people in my past.

Thankfully, they are no longer a part of my physical life.

One of the residual effects of anyone who has survived abuse is lack of trust in people, and oftentimes, this translates into a lack of trust in God as well.

In high school, I was voted the “Most paranoid”.

What most of my peers didn’t know was that I trusted people quite easily when I was a little child.

But life and stuff happened.

I still deal with effects of “stuff” today.

I admit that there was an hour of my day today where I failed to trust God and His provision for me.

I thought God was being unfair and relished in making me “suffer”.

But God never gave up on me.

Even when I wanted to give up on Him—and eventually myself, too.

But God stayed with me, pleaded with me, and seemed to say to me, “JUST TRUST ME, PATRICIA!”

However, I thought, “ Will He take advantage of me like many others have? Will He leave like everyone else seems to? “

Then, God whispered these verses into my spirit and heart:

“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”–Philippians 4:19 (KJV)

“I will never leave thee, or forsake thee.” –Hebrews 13:5 (KJV)

So, today God took all the broken pieces of my life and put them back together again.

My brother may have moved to Texas…

My friends may move away.

My managers may leave and may never be able to come and visit me again.

My pastors may retire…or find a new calling

But God will always be there through everything and for all of time.

God will also be there for you… even if you, like me, struggle to trust Him sometimes.

God will always give you everything you need.

He may not give you everything you desire,

But He will always give you what is best.

God was my reason of hope today when it seemed that there was almost none.

I know I still will have struggles, but I also know if I remember God’s great love for me, I don’t have to fear anymore.

image by Josh Willink on Pexels

Qualities of my Closest Friends We Should Strive to Have


Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

I am willing to be friends with almost anyone, but every person that I consider to be my close friend embodies these characteristics. No, they are not perfect, and may fail at times, but they have consistently embodied these traits. Not only do I prefer these following character traits in close friends, but I think, everyone, me included, of course, should strive to embody these traits every single day, so we can make a true difference in this world:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Servant’s Heart
  3. Vulnerability
  4. Thoughtfulness/Care
  5. Depth

The most important trait that my close friends all have is authenticity. This means they always present themselves as honest, trustworthy, and genuine.  They do not act one way towards others, and another way towards you. They don’t do things with ulterior motives. All my close friends do not do things for people just to get something from them, but because my friends really want to help and bring joy to their lives.  Also, another part of how they are authentic is their honesty.  For instance, when one of my close friends gives me her wisdom, she always tells me the truth, even if it hurts. Some people have been afraid to tell me truth because they are scared that I will get upset at them and they will be looked upon as harsh or mean. Nothing could be further from the truth!  I appreciate this about my friend because her honesty shows that she values me and having integrity—a rare, but needed trait in our society today! By telling me the truth, she is inadvertently telling me that I am worth what is true.  Sure, some of the things she has said may “sting” a little bit, but I appreciate that because it shows that she values honesty.

Another trait that my closest friends all have is a servant’s heart.  All of my close friends have lived in one capacity or another to serve the Lord and to serve others.  Some are serving the Lord as missionaries. Others are serving their families when everyone else has abandoned them.  Still others are serving their community through their resources, gifts, and talents. I strive to do the same. When we have a servant’s heart, we emulate Christ, who went so far as to die on a cross for us, and to wash every one of His disciples’ feet, even those of the one who would eventually betray Him!  They are constantly thinking of others above themselves, working to make the world a better place for everyone.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Also, another trait that my closest friends all have is the willingness to be vulnerable.  I define vulnerability as being willing to share openly not only one’s triumphs and victories with a trusted person, but also one’s trials and struggles. When I see someone that is unwilling to admit to me or to the world that they are not always “perfect,” I feel like they are lying to me in a way, because I know no one, except God, is really perfect.  Mark Hall, of the contemporary Christian band, Casting Crowns, once said, “[I]t doesn’t bother the world that we sin. It bothers the world that we act like we don’t.” (CBN.com) One of my friends, Veronica,* is so passionate about being vulnerable, it saddens her when others are not willing to open up to her.  In years past, I admit I have struggled with being vulnerable because I did not want people to judge or ridicule me.  However, I have realized over the past five to ten years or so, that being willing to be open about one’s struggles opens up other people to not be afraid to share their struggles. It shows unity in our human-ness, and creates a deep bond between people who are like-minded in their willingness to open up to each other.  It also enables others to help us through our struggles, and us to help in theirs, so we will not feel alone in our pain and struggles.

Another ultra-important trait my close friends have is thoughtfulness and care towards others.  Along with having a servant’s heart, they are truly intuitive to the needs of others.  One of my close friends, Erica,* knowing that I have struggled off and on with the loneliness that comes with long term singleness, gave me a book that she thought would help me (as it has helped her as well) with my lonely and unfulfilled feelings that I sometimes struggle with, for my birthday.  I will always treasure the thoughtfulness of that gift and her friendship, even though we are not able to see each other very often right now. A few days ago, when I was distraught and anxious about several events that were going on in my life, my friend *Bonnie was willing to take time out of her busy life to answer my texts and encourage me, as she sensed that I was hurting and sad.  I aim to do the same for her, when she has issues, and also for anyone else who wants moral support in a time of need.   All my close friends are willing to take the time to attend to others’ needs and to give them the encouragement they need, especially in a tough time.

Last, but certainly not least, all my closest friends have spiritual and emotional depth in them. This is what I aim to have in my life more and more, though it is often a struggle for me, as it is even for these friends. This does not mean they shut themselves off from the world around them. However, this does mean that they are able to relate on a deeper level with people. For instance, when I want to discuss why there is injustice in this world, they can give me spiritual insight in wisdom into why God allows this and how we can remedy it. In contrast, some people either don’t care about these things or aren’t able to understand these things. For believers in Christ to have spiritual depth to them is an essential ingredient in being able to relate to others in their church and to get others, even those who don’t go to church, to think about their purpose and goals in life and how they can relate better to the world around them.

I’m so thankful to have these great, close friends—you know who you are—who embody these characteristics.  I pray that we all would strive to embody authenticity, a servant’s heart, vulnerability, thoughtfulness, and depth to our lives so we can bring love and joy to others, and lead them to freedom from their pain and fears.

Source: “Casting Crowns: The ‘Lifesong’ of Mark Hall.” Accessed 12 May 2019. < http://www1.cbn.com/music/casting-crowns:-the-‘lifesong’-of-mark-hall>.

*=names have been changed for privacy reasons

On Vulnerability, Depression, and God’s Sovereignty

No one knew.

Growing up, I seemed this bubbly, albeit, times, hyperactive little girl who got decent grades at school. I seemed to have it all—two parents who loved me, a cute little brother, and stability. 

What they didn’t know was that inside I was being tormented by thoughts about never being “good enough” to the outside world.  Unfortunately, many of them confirmed my fears.  Most of my peers didn’t want to know me on a level deeper than “acquaintance”.  I was bullied by several of them for any quirks that they saw in me. There also were some racial and cultural prejudices that I had to endure. 

I remember at the tender age of ten when the word “suicide” first entered the recesses of my mind. The demons in my mind deceived me into thinking this was a way out of all the pain I held inside for so long, laughing that they were going to somehow get me to ruin myself.

However, God in His sovereignty didn’t let that happen. I am still here, more than twenty five years later. 

Though God saved my life through Jesus’ shed blood on Calvary seven years after I first battled depression and that ugly word crossed my mind, it wasn’t until about seven years ago today that God revealed to me that I had indeed another weapon in my arsenal to defeat the demons in my head that had harassed me for so long. 

My voice.

However, I was terrified to be vulnerable (i.e…open up) to others about my struggles. I feared rejection, ridicule and condemnation, which I believed would kill me emotionally and spiritually, if not, physically as well.  In fact, in high school, I was voted “Most Paranoid” because I trusted so few people.

But through the Spirit’s promptings, I obeyed Him, and began to share my story and my struggles to others—first just to close friends, then more publicly in my blog.

The rejection and ridicule I feared receiving was few and far between.  Most people instead either related to me about their own similar struggles with depression or said that they would use my story to help their loved ones who were struggling similarly. 

The more I opened up about my struggles, the more I saw people around me, both online and offline, the more I realized that my story needed to be told.  God, in His sovereignty, had a reason for allowing me to go through these trials. He needed to use my story to give people His hope and love that He gave me so many years ago, when He first came into my life and saved me.  God saved me from more than hell—He saved me from giving up on myself and those around me that needed to hear my story, as much as I needed to hear theirs.

Image by Vicki Nunn from Pixabay

On Combating Loneliness


image by : Lukas Rychvalsky

written 4/1/2019

A recent study by Cigna found that about half, or one out of every two Americans, feels lonely. (1). In the age where everyone and everything seem more closely connected than ever, especially by the Internet and social media, this statistic is particularly alarming. Moreover, a study by the CDC, found that suicide rates are also increasing by as much as 30% over the past decade (2). In fact, during junior high through my sophomore year in high school, when I felt the loneliness, I often had suicidal ideations. Thankfully, God, in His mercy and sovereignty didn’t allow me to go through with that option.

We were all created for community. Even when Adam was surrounded with animals, God acknowledged his need to be surrounded by at least one other person when God said in Genesis 1:18 (KJV), “It is not good that the man should be alone.” So, after that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Even Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose which the Father had for Him, had to be surrounded by people, at least some of the time.  Believers in Christ or not, we are all created to be with at least one other person. This doesn’t have to be in the context of a romantic or marital relationship, but we do need some kind of relationship with another to truly be content with our lives.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really feel connected with my community at school and I rarely attended church. As I consequence, I struggled on and off with loneliness throughout most of my childhood.  Many people, especially the younger generation, sadly feel the same way I did when I was growing up. 

Though we are, in some ways, more connected to each other than ever, through phenomena like globalization and the Internet, we can also be more isolated.  While we may have more virtual connections, our face-to-face connections as a society have suffered.  Because many people may see that their face-to-face connections are suffering, instead of confronting this problem head on, they may be tempted to retreat into virtual reality.  For instance, in my personal life, I found that when I am stressed and/or feel lonely, I tend to isolate myself more. 

One of the things that God has taught me through all that, is not to isolate. For instance, about two weeks ago, I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed to go to church!  However, later I decided I should try to go the evening Sunday school class at church, so maybe I’d feel better.  Not only did I feel better, but some of my friends were able to help me through what had been causing me to feel depressed in the first place!  Also, when we are part of a community, there is place for both accountability and vulnerability. (Yes, there are toxic communities where people will not feel safe to be vulnerable or accountable. In that case, I would find another, more genuine community, and not give up until I found the right one.) . In a community, we can learn from one another, be accountable, and can encourage one another. That is why, in Hebrews 11: 25, Christians are encouraged not to forsake the assembly of believers (i.e…Don’t neglect your local church community).

Another thing that God has been teaching me about combating loneliness is the connection between being lonely and the temptation to forge idols.  I know several people who have turned to idols, whether it be smoking, workaholism, alcoholism, gambling, or a number of other life-dominating vices, because they sensed a void, or loneliness, in their lives.  One of my pastors said that the reason that many people turn to idols because they have a mistrust of some aspect of the character of God.

So, God has been teaching me, that In order to combat true loneliness, I need to forsake any idols that I have used as a “filling in” for any of my perceived feelings of loneliness.  One thing that I have realized combats both the loneliness and idolatry is basking in God’s presence and learning about and believing His character.  In my class that I attend Thursday nights at church, when I learned about God’s steadfast love and that He would never leave or forsake me, through Scripture, I found that I became more joyful and more aware of His presence in my life. It goes without saying, that I no longer felt stressed or lonely that day, in dealing with life. Also, I was surrounded by a community of believers that were able to help and/or teach me to overcome some of my temptations to idolatry, so I would be less likely to fall into that trap again.

God has also been teaching me that some people are lonely because they feel afraid to forge connections with others, even though they may crave it.  This may be due to a number of reasons, but one of the major reasons I found in what I have observed with people around me, is that people don’t want to forge connections because they are afraid of getting emotionally wounded by another person again.  They have been wounded, manipulated, and/or betrayed by so many people in their lives; they would rather risk loneliness than be abused again. I don’t blame them for this reaction, but ultimately it will ruin them as well.  I used to be one of these people who was afraid to be vulnerable and really connect with others, and thus, I was constantly depressed and lonely. However, I found that when I became vulnerable and was able to be myself that I not only became less lonely, but I also became more confident of who I was and where I was going in life.  So, how was I able to be more “real” and “vulnerable” with others?  First of all, I surrounded myself with people that really had my best interests in mind and were supportive and caring, even in my darkest times.  I also strived to forgive those who had hurt me somehow. For instance, I forgave several managers at work who I had bitterness and anger against for a long time. Since a lot of people respected them, I sometimes felt alone.  However, when I let go of my bitterness and start to consciously think good things about them, not only did I not feel alone anymore, my relationships with these managers also started to improve dramatically!  Also, in order to not feel lonely for a prolonged period of time, we must persevere in forging relationships with others, even though it may be difficult at times. People may irritate us, be rude to us, or treat us unkindly, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on relationships completely.  Also, God may want us to learn something, even if it is how not to be, from these rude or irritating people.

We were not created to be alone. That is why children and adults who are isolated from others for a long period of time, may have irrevocable damage and trauma from that experience. However, when we experience true unity among one another, we can find love, joy, fulfillment, and community in our lives that gives us purpose and hope for this hurting, broken world.

Source:

  1. Jenkins, Aric. (1 May 2018). Study Finds That Half of Americans — Especially Young People — Feel Lonely Fortune. Retrieved from: http://fortune.com/2018/05/01/americans-lonely-cigna-study/.
  2. Hedegaard, Holly, etal. , Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (June 2018). NCHS Data Brief, 309. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db309.htm.

What I Learned From My Pastors

written October 31, 2019

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I am blessed that God has provided me with two wonderful pastors, and one Pastor Emeritus who have served and labored over my local church for many years.  I have been in several different churches, but my current church has been the best so far.  I have learned more in the past three years, than I have in the previous sixteen years in the Lord. I owe all this to God and His sovereignty in placing the people in my life today, especially the pastoral leadership of my church.

One of the major things my pastors taught is how to more effectively relate to others.  About three years ago, I had a tumultuous work relationship with one of my managers at the time.  One day, things became so bad between the manager and me, that I actually went into one of the services upset and very bitter towards this person, even though I was not scheduled to work that day and hadn’t even made contact with this person in a few days.  So, I decided as a last-ditch effort to maybe quell my intense emotions and be able to concentrate on the sermon that night, that I would talk to Pastor John* about what was going on.  (You can read the whole story here.) Pastor John gave me a few poignant Bible Verses. I told Pastor John, “I tried to be nice to him [meaning my manager], but I don’t think anything is happening. “  Then, Pastor John told me something I will never forget: He said, “Patricia, you have to trust God’s timing.  Just because your manager hasn’t responded now, doesn’t mean God will not work in his heart later.”  This not only convicted me to be more patient with my manager, but also helped me to see that I hadn’t really been trying that hard at all at being kind to him.  That night, I wrote an apology note to my manager, asking him to forgive me of my bitterness towards him. The next day, I was able to see my manager as a person in need of grace and love, rather than the monster that I crafted into my mind for one and a half years. Thus, Pastor John was instrumental in helping me reconcile with my manager, whom I’m pleased to say I’m on good terms with my now-former manager and he’s happy where he is at now.  Pastor John recently helped me to think differently about my job, through one of the sermons he preached. Instead of thinking of my job as a “necessary evil,” especially when I’m stressed,  God spoke through my pastor, and they helped me realize that I am at the job I’m in for a reason—to give hope to others and to spread Christ’s love there.  Yes, my job gets very stressful at times, but as long as I’m doing what God (and those He put over me at work) commanded me, God’s sovereign will and His faithful love will cover me during those times.  Pastor Don* and Pastor Todd* also taught me how to more effectively relate to others through how they are patient with others and willing to serve wherever they are called.

Another thing that my pastors have taught me is how to be more authentic, both in my relationship with God, and others.  One of the things that I always appreciate about people in general is their willingness to admit fault and to be vulnerable, and not try to maintain this “perfect fake image” in front of others.  All my pastors model this to a good degree, but I have especially appreciated this coming from Pastor Todd. One time he admitted on the pulpit that he got pulled over for speeding! Thankfully, because the police officer liked our church, Pastor Todd got off with a warning.  I found this vulnerability and honest confession refreshing in an age where there are many church leaders who will try to hide their sins and flaws; with the appearance that they know “everything” and that they are “holier-than-thou.” There were other times too that Pastor Todd was open about his personal struggles with sin and temptation. This is refreshing to me because I feel that Pastor Todd’s honesty makes him more relatable to someone like me, who also struggles with sin and temptation on a daily basis. In other words, his vulnerability and authenticity makes him more human and trustworthy!

One of the most important things that my pastors have taught me is how to be more passionate about Jesus Christ.  All of them have emphasized, over and over again, God’s love and sovereignty over the whole world.  I learned from Pastor John that God’s sovereignty intervenes in our whole lives, down to the bosses we will have and the parents we have.  I learned from Pastor John that if we loathe our bosses and constantly complain about them, we also have a problem with God, because it is He who put them there in our midst, possibly to teach us something or for God’s sovereign and good purposes in our lives!  This has taught me in order for me to be more passionate about Jesus that I need to trust Him even in the tougher circumstances of my life, and not to complain about the people He decides to place in my life.  I learned from Pastor Todd that in order for me to be more passionate about Jesus, I need to learn that Jesus loves me very much and He always has good in mind for me, according to His purposes.  I learned from Pastor Todd’s teaching on the book, “God is More Than Enough,” that when I become discontented with my circumstances, I need to check my heart to eliminate any worldly and selfish desires on my part, especially the want for something more than what Christ has already graciously provided me.  Pastor Don, Pastor Todd, and Pastor John all have taught me the importance of spreading the Good News and to show God ‘s love to all those around us, even those we may consider our enemies.

Because of my pastors’ commitment to teaching exactly what Jesus taught, and because they strive to live authentic and blameless lives, they have helped strengthen and shape how my faith is today. Of course, none of us are even close to perfect, but I will always appreciate the good that these three men have done in our church and in my life.

*=names have been changed for privacy reasons

Lessons Learned in the Dark of Depression

Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

For over 25 years, I have gone in and out of the throes of depression. During my worst episodes, I seriously considered ending my life. Thankfully, every time I wanted to give up, God rescued me out of the pit of despair and helped me see His love and light. Even though I would have preferred to not go through the darkness for so long, and though I had wanted to give up so many times, I am thankful that God taught me so many valuable life lessons that I now strive to apply to my life:

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

One lesson I learned from going through depressive episodes is to be more open and genuine with others in expressing my true self. In the past, I was so afraid of what people would think of me, that I never told anyone for a long time about my struggles, past and present. Unfortunately, I got so used to hiding that when I finally decided needed help with my issues, some people thought I really didn’t have those issues! However, the longer I struggled, the more apparent it became to me that I needed to talk to someone about my issues, and more than likely, several people.

Then, I started to talk. I began opening up the layers of my pain in my past. What I realized is that many of the people I opened up to struggled with similar issues! Also, I didn’t get most of the judgment or condemnation I had feared, and those that judged me were often the same ones that God would later remove from my life anyway. When I started opening up and being vulnerable with others, not only did I forge stronger bonds with those around me, but I found that the pain I went through in my depression lessened, as I started to heal.

Another lesson I learned from going through depression is to be value my time– especially the good, depression-free times– more. When I am depressed, I can only see the wounds and ugliness of myself and life. I feel like I am in a long, dark tunnel with no end to it. However, when I am content with life and glance back at (but not dwell) on my depressive episodes, I realize how blessed I am! Reflecting back causes me to value and appreciate the good times more, because I see how far God has brought me from the darkness of the worst of my depressive episodes.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The most pertinent lesson that God has taught me from going through depression, in my mind, is that He had a purpose and a plan for allowing me to walk in the dark for so long. I have learned that God has been using my struggle with depression, and the past hurts that had exacerbated my depression, to help me minister to others with similar or even more complex issues than I ever had!  He has also used my struggle with depression to help me be more compassionate and caring towards others in pain, and in order to strengthen my character by tearing down the layers of selfishness and self-righteousness in my heart.

If anyone is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts right now, know that God has a good purpose for all you have been through. We may never know what it is this side of the world, but God never wastes our pain.  Let this be our hope to never give up no matter what life brings us.

Image by brigachtal from Pixabay

Butterfly

You thought no one would want you

You thought you were hideous

That none would truly love you

That you were doomed forever

 

But then you saw a bright light

Someone who saw your beauty

And not just an ugly sight

Giving you true hope inside

 

Despite all you have gone through

You are a true butterfly

And I will always love you

And the beauty inside you