• anxiety,  fear,  freedom

    On Swim Lessons, and Surrendering to Love over Fear

    Our brains and bodies are wired to protect us against threats. But what about when we perceive threats that aren’t really there? Is there a way that we can shift our thoughts to a more loving place, in order to move forward instead of getting stuck in our fear? 

    When I was younger, I took swim lessons at the township pool. On summer mornings before the rest of the clear blue water filled up with families, a lifeguard took me and my peers through basic strokes and breathing exercises. The hardest part of the summer was the day he taught us to tread water in the deep end. We moved under the rope to the 6-foot section of the pool, my lungs tight with worry. My muscles seemed to spasm instead of gently moving through the water to keep me afloat. I was so scared of drowning, even with the lifeguard in the water right next to me. He kept telling me to imagine my arms as spaghetti, fluid and gentle, but I instead I chopped at the water like a karate kid, and my head bobbed up and down as my legs kicked hard under the water. I couldn’t keep my head above water, and I grew exhausted quickly, tapping out of the exercise. I cried when I got out of the pool, embarrassed that my fear overtook my desire to pass the class. 

    I took my son to the Y this weekend for his first swim lesson (he did great), and I was reminded of myself as I watched a little girl across the pool. She entered the chlorine-filled room with a huge smile on her face and a swim cap covering her head. She seemed eager and excited, until it was her turn to jump into the pool. The rest of her class jumped in one by one, to the safety of the teacher’s reassuring words and extended arms. But the little girl’s smile turned into a whimper, and she spent the whole class period overtaken by fear. 

    I’ve been learning to show love to my anxiety lately. 

    Last week I had an insightful conversation with someone about my anxiety, and she encouraged me with some interesting facts on neurobiology and redirecting my thoughts. 

    When my brain cycles through anxious thoughts, I can choose to keep surrendering to that fear, or I can pause and choose to surrender my anxiety to love. I imagine that sounds a little woo-woo, but something about this concept is so comforting to me. She asked what it would look like for me to engage with my anxiety, almost as a friend that I would show compassion to instead of judging so harshly for getting to that anxious place. When we talked about surrendering my anxiety to love, I imagined surrendering it to a God who loves me and is always with me; to my community and my people who love me well, no matter what I’m facing; to a narrative of self-compassion instead of judgment and shame (which feed my anxiety). 

    I am learning to look at my anxiety with love and say, “What are you trying to show me? What are you trying to protect me against right now? Can we step out of this fear place together, and move towards love?” 

    I pray that this new way of thinking will help me jump in with both feet and stick with the hard stuff. Here’s to more joy, connection, and love over fear. 

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  • faith in action,  fear,  intentional living

    Is it possible to stand firm when your life is in chaos?

    “Close your eyes. Plant your feet, shoulder-width apart. Relax your arms and let them rest by your sides. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and slowly expand your stomach, your core. Fill it all the way. Picture a string pulling directly through the crown of your head up through the ceiling. Lengthen your spine. Keep your feet rooted to the ground.”

    I grew up participating in community children’s theatre. Through middle school, high school, college, and my young adult life, musical theatre was a huge part of my schedule, my dreams, my passion, and my identity.

    During warm-ups and exercises, we often heard instructions like the ones above. We had to be centered in our own bodies before we could step into the characters and lives of others. Whenever we practiced this centering exercise, I pictured myself like a strong oak tree. I imagined my long spine and body as the trunk. My feet, connected to the earth, grew deep and stretching roots into the soil beneath the floor. I envisioned life- I imagined full leaves, colorful fruit, a mother bird in her nest- all supported by this strong, rooted body.


    This morning, I listened to Ephesians on my way to work. I heard over and over the command to stand firm. I was instantly brought back to the image of standing in a black box theatre in college in a circle of my peers, with feet to the floor and invisible strings through our heads to the sky.

    In truth, there have been many times in my life where I have been more like a weak and flimsy weed- whipped back and forth like the wind, tossed to and fro by the waves and storms of life. And often it was because I was trying to stand firm on my own or through the support of others around me.

    When I took my eyes off of my Savior, I looked to my own strength to save me and I sank fast and deep. In the times when I looked all around me for comfort or comparison, I forgot who the Creator made me to be. As I frantically scrambled for security in this world and tried to find reliable and steady things to lean on, I built a life based on the temporary fulfillment of accomplishments, love, and financial stability. When I trusted the changing and chaotic things in this world instead of the Lord, my trust in God’s ability to carry me slipped away like sand through my fingers.

    However, in the past few years God has taught me so much about rooting myself in Him. The times when I HAVE felt planted are those when I have not relied on my own abilities or solely on the strength of those around me, but rested in the Lord’s care and provision. In those times when HE has been my planting, He has allowed me to walk through earthly circumstances of confusion, unknowns, and chaos with a sureness that He has it all in His hands.

    When I walked through divorce and heartbreak, I cried out to Him. He brought me joy and community instead of depression and isolation.

    When I struggled with the deep ache for more children in my singleness, God brought me a sweet contentment in the family He HAS blessed me with, instead of doubt or jealousy.

    When I walked through times of instability due to financial crisis or job changes, He removed my fear and brought me an understanding of what His “peace that passes all understanding” actually feels like.

    Even when our circumstances do not lend themselves to security, I truly believe it is possible to stand firm in this world BECAUSE of Christ. Here are 5 important ways I’ve learned to stand firm in this world:

    1. Recognize that strength drawn from anything else in this world is a halfway strength. The only way we can get through some of our hardest times and our brightest days is to recognize Christ as a strong, solid ground on which we can stand. Through Him alone, we can find the full strength we need to get through any circumstance.

      “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV)

    2. Know that suffering transforms us. This present darkness or trial is building in you maturity, a stronger faith, and the ability to persevere through hard things in your future. Christ is our Savior who understands suffering at the deepest level. When we suffer, we are able to lean on the Lord for our wisdom and trust that He will graciously show us the way forward. Suffering brings us closer to Christ and sanctifies us, making us holier, humbler, and more complete.

      “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind,” (James 1:2-6, NIV)

    3. Acknowledge that no thing or person here on earth can ever possibly love you or bring as great of fulfillment as our heavenly Father, who perfectly loves us. When we KNOW the height and depth of His love for us, we can grow deep roots and become grounded in His love for us amidst our changing circumstances. His love for us will never change.

      “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God,” (Ephesians 3:16-19)

    4. Practice gratitude. Instead of getting swept up in the waves crashing around us and focusing on the storms and struggles of this world, we are given the powerful spiritual tool of gratitude that grounds us with a Kingdom-focus. An awareness of the good things keeps things balanced on the hard days, and trains our hearts and minds to scan the landscape for the ways that the Lord is protecting, providing, and showing His great love for us. Whether you keep a mental checklist, write a note in your phone, or keep a daily gratitude journal, I challenge you to find 3-5 things each day that you are grateful for. I promise, it will start to shift your eyes from the chaos.

      “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1)

      “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him,.’” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

      “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV)

      “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,” (Hebrews 12:29)

    5. Put on your armor. I’ll end with this, as this is the passage that inspired my thoughts about standing firm in the first place. The Lord gives us many powerful ways to protect us against the chaos of this world. When we root ourselves in His Truth, we can stand our ground and be ready for anything that comes against us in this world.

      “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:10-17)

    While my image from my theatre days focused on the strength of my own body and mind, I know now that my true strength, peace, and hope in this world comes not from myself, but from the Lord. I pray that you would know that Christ is a solid rock on which you can build the foundation of your whole life. He will not let your feet slip when you plant yourself in Him.

    “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

    I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

    On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

    All other ground is sinking sand,

    All other ground is sinking sand.”

    -The Solid Rock (hymn), Edward Mote, ca. 1834

    – – –


    Special thanks to Emily Lewandowski who generously provided the picture for this post through her work with Unsplash. 

  • anxiety,  control,  fear,  trust

    Climbing Through Fog and Walking On Water

    Photo credit: Mary Gin Shepherd

    “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

    -Joshua 1:9

    Imagine someone with control issues trying to plan their way up a mountain, where thick fog is obscuring the way forward. As a controlling planner myself, let me share with you what the potential thought process might be for our adventurer as they consider the daunting task ahead.

    Who knows how long this will take? Will I get there before dark? If this takes longer than I’m expecting, I’ll definitely be late/frustrated/anxious. What if I get lost? How will I shout out for help? Would I go back down? Or keep climbing up? What if this view isn’t worth it?

    My friends and the youth from our church did a hike the other day that literally embodied this foggy mountain climb that I’ve been imagining. (Shout out to my friends Mary Gin and Becky for sharing their foggy pictures to help tell my story). Confession: this control freak would have been a bit anxious on that particular hike.



    I often claim to believe and trust that God is in control. But let me be honest; my life has often looked a lot more like a tug of war with God. A power struggle that I’m bound to lose, but I fight tooth and nail to win anyway. Sometimes, this is a very subconscious process. But regardless, I admit that I have control issues. I fear letting go, and I definitely fear trusting anyone other than myself to lead the way… even God.

    During one of the hardest seasons of my life, I grew paralyzed by a tough decision that I knew was ahead of me. The overwhelm swallowed me up and I was completely unsure of which way to turn, what the future held, what God wanted for me.

    As a type-A perfectionist and a big-time dreamer, I typically try to imagine life 10 years down the road. Then I come up with specific goals and a plan of action to get there. I like to have a plan A, along with back-up plans for my back-up plans. I think through the ripple effects of decisions and anticipate how I will handle the reactions/results that will “surely” come if I do x, y, or z. There is something terrifying about letting go of that level of detailed planning (control) and entrusting it to someone else.

    That hard season, I couldn’t even picture 2 months down the road. I truly needed God’s guiding for His will for me. Sometimes, though, when we pray for His will, we wait, and wait, and wait. We are looking for big neon signs flashing towards the path to take, or a mountain-shaking, booming voice of wisdom to point us in the right direction.

    “But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

    “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

    “Come,” He said.

    Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

    Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

    And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

    -Matthew 14:27-33



    Do you ever feel like Peter, calling out to Jesus to make sure He’s really with you on your journey? When we lock eyes with Him and follow His steady voice calling out to us to Trust, we are carried forward, one step at a time. But when we start getting wrapped up in the wind and the waves around us, we sink.

    In the hard season, I learned to pray to surrender to God in smaller ways, and knew that eventually He would reveal a path. I had to slow myself down and stop running ahead. I wasn’t asking for a big reveal of where He would take me long-term, I learned how to ask for Him to show me just one day at a time how to move forward, how to walk with Him. I learned how to press into His Word and focus on His strength instead of my own, waiting for His voice to show me the way forward.

    The answers were usually very quiet, so I had to sit in stillness and wait, something I’m not naturally inclined to do. But they did come. He walked me through it. And I learned to trust Him more with each step.

    If you imagine that foggy hike again, and apply this one-step-at-a-time approach, it changes the whole adventure. You can begin to enter into a slow but steady pace (not rushing anxiously). You get a chance to connect with others on the trail and take each step with intention. You carefully climb over a big tree root instead of tripping over it and falling. You look up through the mist and take in the birds in the trees and sky overhead, instead of laser focusing on the mission to get to the top. You breathe in the air of a nearby stream and realize how sweet it is to be here, on this very journey.



    If you’re struggling with fear of the unknowns in the future, or trusting that God has you in His hands, I’d love to encourage you with this prayer today:

    To the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and the End… Lord, You know it all, and I am thankful for Your gentle care and Your sovereign knowledge of my life and circumstances. You are trustworthy. I ask that you go before me. Still my heart. Quiet the overwhelm. Help me to honor You as I learn to wait for Your guiding.

    I know that You honor obedience, so please bridle my heart in my desire for control as I learn to obey You instead of running ahead. I lay my plans down at the altar, and pray boldly (faithfully), “Not my will but YOURS be done.” If I try to pick up that control again tomorrow, please forgive me, and gently remind me to lay it down at Your feet again.

    When I can’t see the whole path, cast Your light on just enough for me to trust you and take one step. Help me relinquish control, my will, my plans, and trust You one step at a time. I commit this (decision, situation, relationship) into Your hands. Show me the next right thing; I pray that my life and my growing faithfulness will honor You.

    “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

    –Isaiah 41:13


    Source: my sweet friend, Becky McLaughlin
  • fear,  identity,  insecurity

    Perfect Love

    “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears has not been made perfect in love.” -1 John 4:18



    A few weeks ago I wrote about my own struggles with fear, anxiety, and insecurity, and I heard from several people that this topic resonated at a deep level. I recently read that “fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible. It’s almost as if God knew we would need daily reminders to trust Him and not live in fear. Over the next few posts I will be digging into this topic further; I will be sharing thoughts about fear in a few different areas– insecurities, lack of control/awareness of the plan for the future, worry about daily needs being met, rational/irrational fear, and anxiety. Each post, I’ll share a little bit about my own journey, some practical tips and spiritual tools I’ve found for facing that arena of fear, and a prayer for you.



    When I read over the story of Adam and Eve I think of how long the problem of insecurity has been a part of humanity. In Genesis 2:25, it is written that “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” They were living in the garden, unhidden, fully themselves as God created, but unashamed. They had the perfect love of God and had all they could ever need. Yet, in Genesis 3 an enemy came along in the form of a serpent, whispering lies in their ears that who God created them to be just wasn’t enough. When the lies grew greater than the Truth and they began to doubt God’s perfect love, they fell. They stepped into shame, fear, and hiding.

    Recently, my friend Hope introduced my to a song called “Fear is a Liar” that includes the lyrics:

    Fear, he is a liar. He will take your breath, stop you in your steps. Fear, he is a liar. He will rob your rest, steal your happiness. Cast your fear in the fire, cause fear, he is a liar. 

    Somewhere along the way, lies crept into my mind and heart like ivy–a few insecurities were planted through various situations and relationships that started overtaking Truth. I somehow grew convinced that I had to prove myself to be loved or worthy. I worried about whether I was capable or deserving of the friendships/jobs/relationships/leadership roles I desired. I feared that the people I loved would leave or reject me if I was honest about who I was. I fixated on my perceived imperfections and tried to remove them at all costs. I wore a mask to show others that I was okay and had it all together. I hid in shame when I made mistakes. And I started to rely far too heavily on my own strivings for perfection instead of resting in the knowledge that I was perfectly loved by my Creator and Father.

    Over the years, that ivy has choked life out of my spirit– all I could hear was “unworthy,” “too much,” “not enough,” “too different,” “unattractive,” “unlovable.” And the lies starting influencing my decisions. The apples I’ve bitten have gotten me no closer to my ideals of perfection, but just pushed me further from the garden.



    I’m not sure what your insecurity is related to, but I want to share with you where MY hope and healing have been found in this area of fear. When I feel alone and fearful about authentically connecting with others for fear of rejection, when I worry that I am not lovable, when I question my worth, I go step 1 on this list over and over again, but I’m also including a few others suggestions that I’ve found helpful over the years:

    1. SOAK IN TRUTH (Romans 12:2- be transformed by the renewing of your mind)- Read about who GOD is, and who He says you are!  It’s time to get rid of the ivy and stop it from choking the life out of you. The best way I have found to fight lies and insecurities is to memorize and KNOW the Words that God says are true. In Truth, we find light and life… in lies, we get tangled in darkness and death. The more I’ve written God’s Truth on my heart, the more my heart and mind have shifted away from anxiety and fear. Here are some of my favorite verses that remind me of my identity in Him. I write these on my bathroom mirror, sticky notes on my desk at work, in my journal, and I memorize them so that when lies start to creep in I have an immediate response to combat untruth:

    • Psalm 139 (THE WHOLE PSALM)
    • But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’”Isaiah 43:1
    • But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” -1 Peter 2:9
    • See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” -1 John 3:1
    • I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” -Ephesians 3:16-19

    2. LOVE NOTES– Write yourself a love note! When I realized that I would never talk to another person the way I talked to myself, I knew I needed to work on my self-talk. As though you were writing to a best friend, kindly tell yourself some of your favorite things about who you are as a person (remember- you were fearfully and wonderfully made!). If you are compassionate, creative, generous, trustworthy, loyal, funny, servant-hearted, tell yourself why you’re proud to be that person! If a love note is too daunting, just make a list of 3-5 of your favorite qualities that make you YOU! Start to see yourself with realistic eyes- the way God and others who love you see you.

    3. COMMUNITY– In insecurity, we sometimes tend to isolate. Fight the urge to let the lies take over, and open up to other safe people in your life. Surround yourself with people you love. Make a coffee date with that friend who you always feel refreshed after seeing. Pick up the phone and call your grandmother (I guarantee you she’ll love it too). My mom has always said to us, “you have to be a friend to have a friend.” Make a list of 2-3 people you want to get to know better and reach out to plan a coffee or lunch within the next week or two (it will give you something to look forward to). 

    4. SERVICE– Sometimes stepping out of my comfort zone and thinking about how I can love others around me is just the cure to momentarily lift my eyes from my own struggles and insecurities. Next time you are at the library or grocery store, look up from your phone, and smile at the person you see who looks like they could use some sunshine. Buy a coffee for the next person in line. Get connected to a local ministry or service project you feel passionate about, and commit to serving at regular intervals (to build longer term relationships). Make a meal for the friend or family member who might need a little extra support in their current season. As people come to your mind or your heart, shoot them a little text or note to just let them know you are thinking of them



    Lord, thank You for creating this world and Your children in perfect love. Even though we walk away from Your love at times, I pray that You would continue to draw us back to You. Father, open my eyes to see myself in light of Your love and grace. Cast out fear, and help me to shed darkness and old lies by putting on the belt of Truth– fight these battles with me. Transform my thoughts to remember that You created me in Your own perfect image, that You will never leave or forsake me, that You call me precious, spotless, cleansed.

    Thank you for sending Your own son to die for me, for calling my sin “finished,” so that I can walk in light, freedom, and hope. Lord, guide my thoughts away from my insecurities, and allow your Truth to trickle down from head knowledge to heart knowledge. Prune the dead, old human lies I’ve allowed to inform my identity, and plant your Truth deep in my heart so that I can bear Your fruit. Today, I rest in the fullness of Your perfect love, and I accept the words You call me– beloved, chosen, worthy, child of God, redeemed. Help this change the way I love You and serve others. In Your precious name, Amen. 



    **Important: Please note–I have spent many years with professional counselors and in recovery programs/support groups, but I am not a licensed therapist or counselor. If you struggle with fear that is interfering with your life, I encourage you to talk to someone about it (a counselor, pastor, mentor, trusted friend, support group). Sometimes saying it out loud makes it a little less daunting, or can help you find ways to root yourself in the present moment and release your fear.