What If?

I texted a friend today because I was thinking of her.  I asked her how she is.  We texted back and forth and it was pleasant.  A few minutes later she sent me a long text saying the truth.  She opened up about dealing with depression and feeling inadequate.  She said she knows God loves her and she’s trying to be content but she has such a hard time believing her worth.

It got me fired up.  In a good way.  Because you know what, I feel the same way most of the time.  And so do a lot of my other friends.  And so does most of the world.  I started encouraging her all while preaching to myself. And then I sat down and started writing…

This is what I know.  As humans we have been told things about ourselves that make us question our worth.  If you encounter other people at all in your life, then someone at sometime has made you feel rejected or not valued.  You have been criticized at some point and been told you aren’t good at something.  It just happens.  It’s part of life.

But what I know is true in my own life is that I hold on to those words and tuck them away in my heart.  I believe them to be true and then save them for a rainy day.  A day when I feel lonely.  A day when I feel unloved or unappreciated.  I save them for the breakups and when I lose my job. A day when I feel like I’m not enough.  I save them for a day the scale is up and not down.  I save them for the days I fail.

And then one little thing happens and I pull out all of those negative words and start speaking them to myself.  They are words from 20 years ago and from 2 days ago.  They are words from people who aren’t even in my life and people who I still call close.  They are words that maybe held a little truth and words that held no truth at all.  But I use all the words for ammo against myself.

I think we give Satan a lot of credit for trying to destroy our sense of self-worth and confidence but what I’ve come to realize is he doesn’t even have to do much work because I am doing a good enough job of roasting myself on a regular basis.

Now I believe that the devil is the master deceiver and will lie to us and try to destroy us by keeping us insecure and beat down.  The last thing he wants is for us to be truly free.

But what if?  What if we started saying all the positive things to ourselves that have been spoken over us? What if I started to affirm myself the way that God is trying to affirm me all the time?  I’ve been told that I’m beautiful, that I’m a good singer, that I’m an awesome mom, that I am confident and bold.  I’ve been told that I’m fun and funny.  I’ve been told lots of lovely things throughout my whole life that I need to repeat to myself every day.

Because I think if we start replacing those lies with lovely truths about ourselves, we will find less and less ugly words to use to destroy our own selves.  When I hear that voice say, “you’re fat” and I immediately argue with that voice and say “Then why does my husband think I’m beautiful? That’s a lie, I am not fat, just soft ;)”  Or “you will never amount to anything” to “That’s not true, I am able to do whatever I want because I am full of determination and I’m driven”.  I’m pretty sure those lies would stop right there and I would be full of confidence.  Wouldn’t you?

Readers- here is my charge to you…. just try it.  Do it for a week.  When you hear the negative words from your past come up argue with them.  Speak positive things over yourself and if you feel like you don’t have anything positive to say then email me (bestillbeloved@yahoo.com)  and I will give you gobs of truths about yourself.  I love to encourage so it would be my pleasure!

Can we do a better job at doing this to ourselves but also to those in our lives?  I don’t want to tear down people, I want to build them up because I think we do a pretty good job tearing ourselves down!  Let’s all try to love better.  It starts with yourself!

 

The Day I Had It Out With God

Well hello there my faithful readers.  I haven’t given you much to read lately have I?  I’m sorry for that, but I didn’t have many positive things to say so I think it was better to have stayed silent for a season.  But, I’m back, and feel like I’m ready to share again.

It’s kind of hard to just start right back up, writing, revealing my heart, opening up.  When I’ve been in hiding and withdrawn for so long it’s scary to just open the door again, but I feel like it’s time and I want to start again.  Because I have to start again.  I don’t want to keep hiding.

So I guess I’ll just throw it out there.  Over the last year I had been battling serious depression and anxiety.  There it is.  I’m not ashamed of it.  I won’t let it control me.  It can’t label me and I’m done hiding.

You can blame it on postpartum hormones, you can blame it on circumstances that were all coming down hard on me, you can blame it on exhaustion from a new baby, you can blame it on whatever you want, but it has been the worst year of my life.

I really don’t need to get in all the details, I don’t need to share all the reasons.  It’s not helpful to glorify the negative and the pain, but it is helpful and necessary to recognize the pain so you can heal from it. What I want to focus on is the healing process and how God has never let go of me through it all.

That’s what I want to share with you more than anything else, how I started the process of healing.  It wasn’t antidepressants that helped, although I tried them.  (DISCLAIMER- I am NOT knocking them!  If you need meds that’s your business and no one else’s).  It wasn’t retail therapy that helped.  It wasn’t even my sweet husband and supportive family.

Here is when I felt the healing start- I had it out with God.  Gasp!  What?!  How dare I?  I know I know.  I was the same way.  My husband actually suggested it to me.  One day he said to me, “Babe, I think you need to get real with God and have it out with Him.”

I thought it was a ludicrous idea.  How is it ever right to question the Almighty God?!  Who am I to be angry with God?  But you know what, my husband was right.  What I needed to do was get real and honest and vulnerable with my Father.

I pride myself with being a genuine and honest person with everyone around me.  And I am.  But sometimes, I’ve realized that I put on a facade with God.  A mask.  I don’t come to Him completely raw and real because sometimes I am a disgraceful mess.  Sometimes I am full of arrogance and judgment.  I don’t want Him to see my ugliness and filth.

But guess what, He already does.  He already knows.

He knows when I’m angry to the point of sin.  He knows when I’m harboring unforgiveness and hatred.  He knows when my motives are selfish and impure.  He sees my jealousy and discontentment.  He sees it all.  He sees me for the total truth that I am inside.

But for some reason, I think if I don’t say it to Him while I’m praying and if I keep those things hidden from my quiet time journal that He won’t know.  Ha!

So the day I decided to get real with Him is the day that changed everything.

I did as my husband suggested and I took my bible and my journal outside and decided to have an honest conversation with God.  I opened my heart to the new idea that maybe God is longing for me to be the real me with even Him.

I started out silent for a while because I didn’t know how to begin.  It felt wrong.  But after about 5 minutes the tears started filling my eyes and over the next 20 minutes I let my true feelings fall out of my mouth audibly.  I actually said everything out loud.  I cussed.  I was angry.  I sobbed.  I released so much that had been pent-up inside me that it actually felt like a weight was lifted off of my chest.

And when I let every single thing out, I felt the Lord’s love and peace and grace and freedom in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time.  It’s like He was waiting for me to finally empty out all of the ugliness so He could fill it with His beauty.  And that’s exactly what He did.

I felt like He was pleased with me.  Even though I was a wreck.  Even though my words were filled with anger and hate.  I even said bad words to God!  But I had thought them, so who was I fooling….I hadn’t been hiding anything from a God who sees and hears all.  And despite all of that, I felt Him saying, “It’s about time Amy.  I’ve been waiting for you.  The real you. I’m so glad you broke down the wall between us.”

After that day I started to feel more and more of the depression fade away.  I started to feel peace again.  I started to feel joy again.  I started to be free again.  I began to hear God speak again.

Now, I realize how serious depression is and that it can be hormonal imbalances.  It is not something I take lightly and I am not a doctor or claim to have any answer for your depression except what I can tell you healed mine.  That’s all I know, my own story.

But I will tell you that I believe in a God who loves you beyond your own limitations and whose grace is limitless.  I know that God’s healing is here for you in spite of your ugliness and filth.  He has the power and the mercy to undo all of the pain and brokenness that has you bound.  And I know that because I have experienced it first hand.

Today I am still on that path of healing.  I am not whole yet but I’m not as broken.  But the best news is that I am not walking this path alone.  I am holding the hand of my Father and He has not let go of me yet and I know He won’t let go anytime soon…

I’ve lost myself

So I haven’t really been writing like I usually do and I just felt the need to explain a little.  I don’t want to leave you hanging and I don’t want you to worry.  When I started this blog, I promised an entry a week, but things have, well, changed.

I have a new baby.  She’s three months old, that’s still new in my book.  So we are still figuring each other out.  I’m still wondering if the formula she’s on is right.  Is she starting to teeth already?  WHY WON’T SHE JUST FALL ASLEEP?!  You know, things like that.  We don’t have a great schedule just yet, things are kinda up in the air.  And for that reason, she’s still new to me.

Every time I have a baby, I feel like I “lose” myself.  I feel like I’m not the old Amy I was.  And you know what, I’m not.  When it was just Paul and I, I was different.  I was independent, I went where I wanted.  I could work out every day.  I could spend money on silly things.  I had time for friends and date nights were every night.

Then I had a child, and that person I used to be was no longer there.  It couldn’t be.  I now had to learn how to have a human being with me at all times.  I had to think about my husband more, and make sure he was still being loved well by me too.  I had to fight to get my body back in shape.  I had to always put someone else’s needs above my own.

I went through the transformation to become Amy, wife and mom of one.  But then came number two and I lost the previous self again.  Because now I am mom of two and that changes me.  More littles to think about.  More names to whisper in my prayers each night.  More worries, more love given.  I am no longer the Amy I was.

And again, I’m going through the same process currently and the same feelings as before.  I am losing myself in order to become who I need to be for Willow.  I am not the girl I once was and for the first time I feel like it’s okay, and it’s right.  I have to lose myself to become the new me, wife, and mom of now 3.

I am in a process of refining and redefining who I am now.  Not who I was last year or even 4 months ago.  And it is a process.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes some tears and prayers and “coming to Jesus” moments.

It is a challenging and draining season.  It is uncomfortable and it is stretching me.  But, third time is a charm I guess, because this time I’m not resisting it.  I am seeking the Lord on who I am now.  The Amy He wants me to be now that I have a daughter.  I have a little girl who is going to look at me as her hero.  I have things that I need to fix inside of me so I don’t screw her up.  I have to learn how to be a mom to a girl who I will raise to be a woman.  I need to change.

It is not really my favorite season.  But although it is hard, it is so necessary.  I cannot resist this transformation. Either I learn to grow and change or I’ll be whiny and discontent and continually looking to the past.

So, for that reason, I am taking a break from writing for a while.  I need to get to know myself as I am now.  I am not the girl I was when I started this blog 16 months ago, and I can’t keep writing until I find myself again.  I have to get to know the Amy I have become and am still becoming.  I am excited to get to know her….  so goodbye for a season, I will be back, but I’m not sure when….  xoxo

 

 

 

 

He’s still here

I haven’t written in 5 weeks.  That’s the longest I’ve gone without writing.  There are several reasons for that. I’ll be vulnerable with you.  I’ve been battling depression.  I’ve been having health issues.  And I have a new baby which makes me exhausted.  These three reasons have made me feel depleted and that I am unable to pour out anything else, including nice posts with uplifting messages.  And you know what, I hate that.

I hate it because I am naturally a positive, the cup is half-full, kinda person and lately I can barely stand myself because I am such a downer.  I love to leave my readers and friends with a warm fuzzy feeling after they read my post, but I haven’t had much joy to share.

I am trying.  Trust me, I am trying to stay positive and to see ALL the great things in my life, because my brain knows there are SO MANY great things in my life. I know how fortunate I am to have this beautiful life I live.  But it has been a constant battle to stay afloat and to stay positive.

A huge part of it is my health issues.  I am having major hormone balance issues.  All of them.  Thyroid, pituitary, adrenal.  After I had Willow everything in my body is in an uproar and I am all outta whack.  Like in one week I lost 9 pounds and then in the next week I gained 11!  I’ll sleep 9 hours at night and wake up feeling exhausted.  My levels are all over the place and it’s causing problems with my energy and my mood.

But through it all I am learning to forgive.  I’m learning to forgive myself.  To say I’m sorry for being so impatient with myself.  For hating my body in the past, when it actually worked well.  When I was 50 pounds thinner, I still hated my body and now that my body isn’t well, I just want to be healthy and love my body.

I am learning to be gracious.  To give myself a break.  I am realizing that I am not perfect and I can never become perfect.  That I can’t always be Little Miss Sunshine, and that is ok.  Sometimes I am afraid that if I’m not always happy, and put together that people won’t want me.  They are used to Positive Amy.  Bubbly Amy.  And if I’m having a hard time, I can’t let them see that side because then they’ll drop me.  I’ve realized that is not true.  I’ve not been myself for months, and people who truly love me are still here.  They haven’t left.

And most importantly, I am learning that God is still here and He loves me completely.  I have felt so alone through this time until last week when I finally got on my knees and really cried out to God for help.  You know what, He was there immediately.  I felt His peace instantly.   I realized He was always there, I just wasn’t turning to Him.  How often are we going through something hard, and we are looking everywhere else for peace, for love and we forget to look to the one true source of it all?

Now, I am not healed yet, and I am still battling depression, but for the first time in months, I feel hope again and feel that I can turn to someone who loves me through it all.  I don’t feel alone and that makes all the difference in the world.

It’s so simple too.  Just come to Him, cast your cares on Him, and allow Him to love you through whatever you’re battling.  He’s there.  He’s always been there and He always will be.

And if you think about it, pray for me.  I really need answers with my health…

 

Identity Part 2

I told you all last week a little about the journey I’ve been on and how God has stripped away unhealthy mindsets about my identity and where my identity comes from.  This week I wanted to expound a little on what finding your true identity in Him looks like.  I want to share some things He’s shown me through this process.

First, we have to understand what identity means.  What is it?  It is who someone is.  It’s their name, the qualities that make them who they are.  It’s the beliefs that make you different from others.  God marks us with our identity before we are even born.  We are born with a fingerprint that never changes.  It marks us.  It defines us.  It’s who He’s made when He created us.

So I want you to do what I did… Ask yourself Who am I?  What’s my name, my qualities, my beliefs…

I am Amy Elaine Johnson/Stern.  My name means Beloved.  I am a strong woman in both heart and stature.  My qualities are strength, resilience, leadership, compassion, tenderness, hard-working, intuitive, and honest.  I believe in God, I believe in His goodness.  I believe in family and love.  I believe that I can make a difference in my world if I just open my eyes to it.  There are more things that give me my identity, but this is just a start…

When I realize that those things that make me, me, are from God I can understand that He has already given me my identity. I don’t have to try to figure out who I am, I just sit and listen to what HE says I am.

God has given me my identity and out of that is birthed my purpose.  We cannot walk in our purpose without knowing our identity.

So what is purpose?  It’s the aim or goal of a person; what a person is trying to do, trying to become.

I believe God first shows us our identity and then gives us our purpose in this life.  You can’t fully understand your purpose until you understand who you are.

I think that’s why so many of us are walking around wondering if we are making a difference.  Wondering what our true purpose for being alive is.  We are seeking for something more, something meaningful with our lives.  And all the while, we are just unsure of our identities.   I know that’s what I’ve felt lately.

When I understand who I am, then I understand my purpose.

This is some purpose God has spoken over me…  I am to be a loving woman.  I am to support and serve Paul as his wife.  I am to raise Gibson, Cannon, and Willow to know and love the Lord, and to be kind to their world.  I am a worshipper who worships God with my voice in pureness and honesty.  I am made to be a light in a dark world.

When I see my purpose then I can start living each day differently.  I am more content with where I am because I understand it is right where I’m supposed to be.  I can ask myself, Amy, are you being a loving woman?  Are you serving Paul and caring for your children?  Are you worshipping God and being a light today?  If I am focusing on those things then I am fulfilled in knowing I am doing what I am made to do. And it doesn’t matter if it’s at a workplace, at home, or in a social setting… I should be doing all those things no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

If you are unsure of what your purpose is, then start by asking God what your identity is and then write down what He says.  If it is something belittling or negative, don’t write that down.  Even though we all have faults, I don’t want you to start there or get stuck on your shortcomings.  Start on the positive and beautiful things that make you, you.  I’m so excited for you to know your identity and then start to walk in your purpose.  It’s what you are made to do and you are amazing!

Identity

Do you ever just wonder what you are doing in life?  Do you ever ask yourself, “What am I?  Who am I?”  Do you ever feel like you don’t know how you are?  The last 6 months I have been asking myself a lot of questions and then seeking God for answers.

I’ve been in a very strange and new season in my life.  Foreign territory to me.  I do not have a church that I’m calling home.    Gasp! What?! That’s craziness to Christians!  Most people who would call themselves Christians, have a church!  And if they don’t, then they are actively looking for a new one.

In July of this year my husband and I transitioned out of our worship pastor role at our home church of 5 years.  After that we felt that we needed to take a step back from attending church to focus on a couple of things.  (Not a step back from God, a step back from attending church…there’s a difference!)  We wanted to focus on my health, because I was on and off bedrest throughout my pregnancy.  Also, to refocus on family and being intentional at home.  And most importantly, to seek God on what He wanted us to do, what direction He was taking us.

So since July I have attended a church service only 3 times.  That sounds insane to me, a girl who was born into a church- going, very involved in church family.  I have alway attended every service that was offered.  I’ve always greeted and been on the worship teams.  I’ve jumped right in to serve and got heavily involved in every church I’ve been a part of.  But after Paul and I were no longer on staff, we both felt that God was stripping us of a church family for a season.  He wanted to speak to our hearts without any other influences.  Just His voice.

I know that sounds strange but now I’m starting to see clearly what God was doing in our hearts.  This season has been difficult and very emotional. I have felt lonely and lost.  I feel that God was stripping away unhealthy mindsets I had.  He was getting down to the core of my beliefs and my identity.  That process has been uncomfortable and has left me extremely raw.

I believe we all have “identity issues.”  Some of us more that others.  I have always struggled with certain issues that I have felt give me identity and worth.  My work roles, my weight and body, my friends, my clothes and stuff I own.  And through this season, God’s exposed another…my church.

Without having a home church, I’ve felt like I was floundering.  Now I think the church is God’s design for us. Church is and can be great.  I know the importance of it and the role of it in our lives and our community.  And I love being involved in the local church.  I will be again one day, but I believe we can put too much of our identity in our church and it gives us too much of our foundation. Or at least that was the case in my life.

God wanted to get me to a place where my foundation is solely in Him.  Rooted in the only foundation that will stand through anything.  Abiding in Him and receiving all of my identity and worth through His love and His truth.  When all else is stripped away, I’m left with me and Him and that’s when He can fully give us our identity.  That’s when He can answer the questions, “Who am I?  What am I supposed to be doing in life?”.   Because nothing else is fulfilling our need for worth, and nothing else is a substitute for Him, that’s when He can speak truth to our souls.

I want to share this journal entry I wrote in the midst of my questioning and seeking.  It is very vulnerable and very honest, but I think it might help some of you know that you aren’t alone in your hurt and struggle and your identity crisis.  And I hope it will help you start allowing God to strip away anything that you are trying to find worth and identity in other than Him.  Because anything else is a cheap substitute for all that God has for you.  Trust me, nothing else satisfies.  Allow Him to speak worth and value over you with love and in truth.

 

Michigan Vacation  Wednesday, July 25

I’m up early before everyone else.  I could have dozed another 30 minutes or so, or get up and have quiet time.  I’m glad i chose to get up.  As soon as I sat down and opened my bible, the tears started flowing.  My soul feels dry, my heart feels weary.  My body is exhausted.  I honestly feel depleted on all levels.  I’m 31 weeks pregnant and so uncomfortable.  I can barely move around and I hurt all over.  My relationships are strained because I’m afraid to be vulnerable and to trust anyone right now.  It feels that my friendships are all in the closet until I’m ready to let them back into my life.  Paul and I are distracted by our burdens and are empty for each other.  We just don’t have much to pour out right now.  Where I felt secure in my giftings and callings for God, I now have insecurities and doubt.  I am unsure of what God has for my family right now.  I feel unsure of my future.  I am starting to have fears about our finances and how we are gonna make it and ever get ahead. I feel worthless and useless and worn out and hollowed out.  God, I need you to fill me up.  I am not free.  Not full of life, not full of joy, not full of hope.  I am not full at all.  I am realizing that nothing else can fill me up.  Nothing else can satisfy.  No friendship, no church, no community, no family, no stuff, not Paul.  Nothing but you.  I have to remove all the “fillers” in my heart and replace them with you.  Replace them with your spirit.  I need you Lord.  I need you to fill me  completely.

Stayed tuned. Next week I will share what God has been speaking to me about identity and purpose.

 

Lessons at 5:05 in the morning

I’m up for the day at 5:05 today.  Not happy about it.  You’d think it’s because of my newborn.  No, she’s fast asleep in her crib.  It’s my dear 4-year-old that decided to wake up 2 hours early today.  I tried to lay with him and get him to fall back asleep, but no, of course not.

He’s like me.  When he’s up, he’s up.  My dad calls it “pinging”.  We are morning people and we “ping” in the a.m.  We get it from him.  I’m the same way.  If I’m awake anytime close to 6:00 and my eyes are open, it’s very unlikely that I will fall back asleep.  And apparently my Cannon has been “blessed” with the same pinging genes.

So, I get him out of bed so he doesn’t wake up his brother and I start the coffee cause I’m gonna need it and I get out the biggest mug we own.  I give Cannon the iPad so he’s quiet and doesn’t wake up the rest of the house.

As I wait for my coffee, I sit on the couch and start tearing up and beg God to help me out.  I pray that He would make life a little easier.  I’m tired.  I have already been up feeding my newborn in the middle of the night.  I have gotten only 6 hours of sleep and I’m the person that needs 8 at least. I feel like I can’t catch a break.  It’s so hard.  Poor me.

And almost immediately I realize that I need to stop boohooing.  I felt silly and like a child throwing a fit for something not worth crying about.  Yesterday I came across an article about Orphans in other countries, showing pictures of their frail, underfed bodies.  I was remembering that when I was crying out to God for help and I felt bad for being such a complainer.

I know that being a mom is sometimes tiring, sometimes stressful, and sometimes uncomfortable.  But it isn’t hard.  In my life, it truly isn’t.  For myself, the moments I think are “hard” are usually just when I’m being selfish and my kids are inconveniencing me.  That isn’t hard though.  It’s exhausting sometimes, it’s selfless most of the time, but not hard.

I know there are things in our lives that are challenging and stretch us and make us uncomfortable.  Trust me I know. But sometimes I find that my attitude is what’s making the situations more uncomfortable than they need to be.  My frustration and “poor me” attitude can make a bummer situation more tragic than it needs to be.  I should have just woke up and thought, “oh well.  I’ll try to nap later.  Cannon can’t help it he woke up early.  Maybe I can get some things done with the rest of the house asleep…”  That attitude would have been a better one to start my day off.

I’m working on my first response attitude.  I want to be content and joyful in ALL things.  Even the things that are a little annoying.  I have so much to be grateful for and to praise God for, there’s really no room for boohooing at 5:00 in the morning because I wanted to sleep more.

As I’m siting on my couch, in my lovely warm home, in my safe neighborhood, writing on my laptop, drinking my huge mug of coffee, looking at my very well fed son playing an iPad, I find that there’s really nothing to complain about and certainly nothing to cry to God about.  I’m pretty sure there’s a ton of people who would gladly trade my “hard” morning for theirs any day.

Let’s be grateful today and try to respond with a good attitude.