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woman in patterned dress with eyes closed and head tilted up as if praying, mountains and desert in the background with partly cloudy sky

Fear, Anxiety, All the things

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist, and I have not cited resources for the following information. Please do further research on anxiety if you want to learn more. I also recommend speaking to a licensed counselor or therapist to address your own mental health needs. Yes, it’s worth it.

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Introduction

Fear is intertwined with life itself. In the wild, a gazelle will feel the physiological response to hearing rustling of a potential threat. This engages the sympathetic nervous system into fight, flight, or freeze which allows the gazelle to react according to the severity of the impending danger. In some instances, there may be no threat at all. On occasion, however, a lion may be prowling ready to pursue the gazelle in a mad chase for its life. The latter is proof of the value of the physical response we attribute to fear. 

What if danger isn’t looming?

When the perceived threat is nonexistent, a well-balanced body will recognize the peace after a short time and return to the parasympathetic system. This regulation process is natural and healthy. There are instances, though, where the body and mind lack the appropriate amount of chemicals to tell itself to regulate thus leading to a prolonged state of anxiety. This is biologically natural, given the circumstances, but not healthy. 

What about 2 Timothy 1:7 saying we were not given a spirit of fear? 

You may note in the above situation that the body’s fear response turned into anxiety. For the purposes of this writing, I will define anxiety as an elevated response to a perceived threat. This elevated response is often cyclical and can become irrational. 

Why is this necessary to state in such a way? Well, we were given a body and a mind that naturally work to protect us from real danger. We were not given a spirit of fear or anxiety which takes it a step further—beyond what aids in survival. Our mind may be sending signals that we are unsafe, but in many cases we are safe. And, in the context of 2 Timothy, we are safe when walking out the specific calling God has places on our life. 

Timothy was being discipled by Paul in order to share the Gospel with people in various places. This was a scary task because there were Romans trying to keep Jesus’ followers from posing a threat to their survival—control over the empire. So, Timothy was facing real persecution and danger, but he was being protected by God Himself and thus had less reason to fear. If someone drew a knife on him, Timothy would be well within reason to be afraid. But, if he was told by God to go to a city and preach His Word, Timothy would be within reason to be nervous but would not need to sit in that fear because God was with him.

Application

As you may know, I am diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This simply means I have a serotonin deficiency that leads to anxiety (an elevated response to perceived threats). 

For example, I was going on a first date in October of 2020, and I found myself nearly paralyzed out of fear and physical depletion. (Note: I also have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and several food intolerances which had led to, well, my not having a lot of nutrients in my body that morning). Anyway, I was nervous about the date but not in any real danger. It was an exciting step to take with a wonderful guy I really liked. This is where rational fear (ex. regarding a new situation) leads to irrational anxiety (ex. regarding nothing in particular). 

Another time I faced my fear was going to Mexico for a mission’s trip. Read about that here.

More likely than not, my anxiety was about the possibility of being anxious on the date and having nausea or awkward silences. Notice the cyclical and irrational nature of this scenario? 

  1. Nausea or awkward silences are not fatal nor the end of the world. They both end at some point, often quickly, and are common issues humans deal with in life.
  2. I was anxious about being anxious possibly making me feel ill which made me feel ill. 

Seriously?! Yes. This is anxiety, my friend. 

Tools to Address Anxiety

How do we cope with, fix, or improve our anxiety response?

Honestly, the coping mechanisms, treatments, and mindfulness exercises seem innumerable. Instead of trying to provide an exhaustive list, I will settle for seven ways I address my anxiety.

Truth –

The background: What does most anxiety have in common? Lies. When examined, the thought process whittles down to one falsehood: your survival is in question. Most often, your survival isn’t in question. In fact, anxiety typically manifests around mundane or trivial circumstances like going to class, starting a new job, walking into a messy house, looking at a to-do list, or having a difficult conversation. Sometimes it takes an actually dangerous situation and over-emphasizes the risks (like driving which is risky but not usually to the extent of the anxiety response). 

The approach: I speak truth over myself or ask others to do so on my behalf. This could be as simple as, “I am going to survive,” or “This too shall pass,” or more directed as in a specific Scripture about who I was created to be in Christ or His Presence in times of trouble. Sometimes, this approach involves verbally processing through the scenario until I have explained the rational likelihood of safety and irrational possibility of danger. Then, I will continue to repeat the helpful truth as it sinks into my mind.

Breathing – 

The background: Simply taking your focus off of the anxiety itself and regulating your body is immensely powerful. There are additional mindfulness techniques (mindfulness is simply thinking about what you’re thinking about) that can make this more effective in alleviating anxiety.

The approach: Find what works best for you such as counting while inhaling/exhaling, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, or even thinking about filling your lungs with something good like light and exhaling something bad like toxins. Yes, that last one may sound weird at first, but give it a try. It is a tool to distract and reframe your thoughts while also helping your body slow down and exist.

Grounding – 

The background: I have read and learned from many sources about how helpful it is to reorient yourself when in a state of distress. This disrupts the unhealthy thought processes and physiological responses in order to regulate.

The approach: Take a moment to pause and breathe. Think about your breath and the air filling your lungs and leaving them. As you continue to sit quietly, think about your different senses. 

Wiggle your toes and relax, flex and unflex your calf muscles, etc. Focus on each muscle group as you go from your toes to your head.

Listen to your surroundings. Focus on the different sounds like cars driving by, birds chirping, people talking in the next room, or a fan blowing.

What do you smell? Fresh air perhaps, or your own deodorant? Maybe you have a candle lit nearby scented of warm vanilla. Take some time to note these scents.

Do you taste anything? See anything? Take note of these, too.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique

Bilateral Movement – 

The background: My counselor taught me about the helpfulness of bilateral movement as it engages both hemispheres of your brain and allows you to make connections and heal.

The approach: The most normative option is to go on a walk, ideally in nature as that alone can be restorative. However, if walking is not an option at the moment of anxiety, you can tap your fingers on your thighs alternating sides, butterfly tap your chest with your arms crossed, flex your toes on each side, etc. ***There is even a nifty gadget called a TheraTapper which will buzz on alternating sides (like a phone vibrating in each hand). You can adjust the buzz length, pause, and intensity. I have one that I use during counseling sessions, when I need to bring my anxiety down at a given time, or just to check in with my emotions. Sometimes I set the two tappers under my legs while I work so I can have my hands free. 

Praise & Prayer – 

The background: Sometimes the best thing to do is something that doesn’t necessarily feel great at the time (i.e. apologizing first). When I am anxious or frustrated, praising God is not always my primary choice. However, it is often one of the most effective “techniques,” if you will. I have found that, by laying aside my own pride or desires, I can choose to glorify God in the midst of struggles. This alone can put my circumstances in perspective. Prayer, too, is incredibly powerful because it involves speaking truth, verbally processing, and acknowledging that I cannot do things on my own. Striving won’t get me anywhere without reliance on God.

The approach: When I am simply not motivated, I will open up to a Psalm and read it aloud. Other times, I will share all of my thoughts and feelings with God and then take some time to sit and listen (that is the hardest part). Furthermore, I may pull out my guitar or bring up Spotify and sing my heart out to the Lord.

Counseling –

The background: While there may be a negative association connected with going to therapy, it has undeniable value. I would love to share how counseling has benefitted me if this is something you are curious about the concept or considering it for yourself.

The approach: It’s simple. If you cannot afford counseling or do not have insurance, find a church that offers free pastoral counseling or a counselor that does a payment scale based on your income. If you can afford counseling, ask around for recommendations and set up an appointment. You do not have to stick with the first person you meet with for counseling. There has to be a cooperative relationship between you and your counselor for your sessions to be productive.

A few tips: 

  • Don’t expect immediate results or for every session to be equally as impactful. Healing and unpacking takes time and energy. 
  • Give yourself the space to feel. 
  • It is okay to be exhausted after your counseling sessions. Emotional conversations are draining. 

Customized Coping – 

The background:
I know my body, and one of its main anxiety responses is nausea. So, I have learned different techniques or sensory tools that help alleviate that symptom thus lessening my anxiety.

The approach: 
For me, having mint anything on hand is super helpful. This could be literal mints, gum, or a peppermint essential oil roll-on bottle. I was also taught to run my wrists under cold water which decreases nausea. Ginger supplements and The Republic of Tea “get relief” tea are both game-changers, as well. 

For you, start by listening to your body to determine what the typical anxiety symptoms are so you can look for applicable items to have on-hand or tricks (i.e. if you are over-stimulated in loud or bright spaces, go to a quiet, dark room to decompress). 

a branch cannot bear fruit by itself

Expecting Results

Some of you may not know this, but my day job is designing websites for small businesses. I get to work with my parents in our family-owned marketing business, and it can be really rewarding at times when we get to love people well and help them thrive in their work.

Bear with me as I draw this back to Jesus…

Because of my background in marketing, I know the typical recommendations for using social media and email lists and websites to increase sales. I often make excuses rather than applying that knowledge to this side business of mine because it’s easier not to put in the work.

I was getting ready for bed last night and thinking through possible ways to share my greeting cards with people so I don’t end up with a pile of them after the holiday season this year. I wished sales would just happen without having to post consistently all year to build up a following. Then, something dawned on me.

I’m expecting results without putting in the work.

People buy when they trust you and know you provide them with good information or nice free things. If I don’t give away helpful stuff throughout the year and then announce a product out of the blue, the odds are low that people will purchase that new product.

Here’s where things got real.

The same is true with Jesus.

When we go every day without pursuing Him, without giving Him all we are, without loving Him and others, we have no good reason to expect to be close to Him.

I deeply long for a close relationship with Christ, but I am rarely diligent in setting aside prayer time.
I wholeheartedly want to align my heart to His, but I forget to ask.
I want to see the world changed through the Holy Spirit’s work in my, yet I choose to waste my energy worrying instead of praising Him.

Do you see the pattern?

Whether it’s my business or my faith, I need to put in the work, the energy, the heart, to actually see results.

Yes, grace covers a multitude of sins, but it can’t provide that day-to-day intimacy you get from spending every moment for and with Jesus. James made a good point that faith without works is dead. In addition, Jesus plainly stated this principle, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself…neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4).

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

John 15:4

So, it’s time I got on my knees and interceded for the people I minister to at church.It’s time I fell on my face in gratitude for all God has provided me.It’s time I lift up my hands in praise and wonder at the fact that He sees me as immeasurably valuable—worth dying for.

Here’s the tough question: Are you with me?
Or are you going to expect results without putting in the work?

“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

James‬ ‭2:26‬
Lettering for Jesus devotionals and handlettering practice sheet

Just My Type | Alphabet Practice

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Disclaimer: I’m not going to lie… I have been procrastinating creating these tutorial-based blog posts for quite a while now. Those of you on my mailing list can attest to this. Why? Well, I decided to hop on the comparison train.

Have you seen what famous letterers are producing these days? They have created some impeccable classes, practice sheets, books, videos, the list goes on.

I let all of this get to me and dissuade me from writing for you. For that, I apologize. I know you are here because you want to hear what I have to say no matter how bonkers it feels to me that you value my words.

With all of that nonsense out of the way, the following is my first attempt at creating something beneficial for aspiring letterers and curious onlookers alike. Thank you a billion times over for your patience and willingness to support me through this process.

Which Letter is Your Type?**

The other day, I put a question on Instagram to see what you want to learn about. One of you asked me to share a bit about my favorite letters of the alphabet.

So, I created practice sheets (available to subscribers now!) and went to work lettering the alphabet one capital at a time.

Having done more digital lettering than pen/paper recently, I find the result cringe-worthy. But, I’ve noted my favorite version of each with an asterisk.

Upon reviewing the sheets in their entirety, I have narrowed down my preferences to the following:

Favorites–

D, J, L, N

J and L are, in fact, my initials, so I have had a lot more practice writing them. D and N ended up looking lovely after just a few attempts. I especially enjoyed adding a flourish to the capital D.

Least Favorites–

F, P, T, X

I have never fully conquered the cursive F, and I wish it were easier. I suppose until I find a different way to write it I will continue to find it particularly challenging. The T is a similar style, so it falls under my less-than-ideal letters to write. P just lacked a certain special something for me. You may be fooled by my example, but I find X’s to be oddly difficult.

What I Learned

  1. Sometimes you can surprise yourself with a particularly stunning letter on the first try
  2. A letter almost never looks perfect on the first try
  3. Keeping a consistent angle among the entire alphabet is necessary for uniformity and a prettier result
  4. Playing around with flourishes and varying styles helps you find a way of writing each letter to be just your type**
  5. No matter your skill level, practicing is a prerequisite of success

 

*This is the first part of a song I learned as a lullaby for the baby girl I used to nanny. She’s precious and has grown up all too quickly!
**Pun intended

Oar What?

Have you ever been kayaking? Have you sat still while the current ebbed around you, carried you gently, and released you further along?

Did you stop to admire where the trees met the water? That place mimicking a horizon but nearly indistinguishable. Instead of shouting its existence, the line seeps into a reflection on the glass-like surface.

I find such a scene breathtaking. Its serenity encompasses you and invites you to rest, to pause, to exhale.

And you know what else? It speaks its life over us as a reminder of God knitting us into being. When He made us, He made us to reflect Him.

Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:26 (ESV)

Just last month, as I kayaked for the second time in my life, Jesus showed me something beautiful about where the water meets land. Just as we were created in His image, we have been called to reflect Him in our lives.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV).

You see, our lives are like water—crafted with grace, influence, the capacity to move quickly or sit still, with strength, peace, and a beckoning to all who gaze on our beauty. Even more than these is our purpose to reflect the Creator, or in this case, the trees and all-encompassing shore.

As the person in the kayak, we choose to control our lives by rowing one stroke of the oar at a time. Here is where God struck my heart… Just as rowing generates ripples in water, when we take control of our lives, we disturb the reflection of Christ in us. It becomes skewed and difficult to discern.

Before I get carried away with this word picture, bear with me. This does not mean we have a free pass to take a backseat and do nothing. We are called to pursue Him which requires action on our part. Sitting idly by is not always God’s intention for our obedience. So, the comparison to any stroke causing ripples and thus disturbing the reflection may be too broad. The point is this: we are meant to surrender our lives—including control—to Christ. We need to give up our oars.

We can still take action. We are still called to exemplify Love to those around us. These are necessary things. But, at the forefront of each step (or stroke) is Jesus. He steers, He writes the story, He nudges us in the right direction or brings us back on track after we fall astray.

The next time you see a reflection in water grow hazy through ripples, think about the ways God is calling each of us to relinquish our control to Him. It will not be easy… As someone who desires control of circumstances, I know I battle this all the time. If that’s you, know you are not alone. Still, no matter where you find yourself, I pray Jesus will use these words to bring freedom and peace in Him.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Sometimes progress looks like two steps forward and one step back.

I am choosing healthier foods more now, but I still splurge on sweet treats often. Progress.

I’m stopping to listen now and again to God’s heart rather than simply follow my desires. Still, I return to the easy option of hollow entertainment. Progress.

Setting aside my selfishness to serve others may happen in greater frequency, but I continue to say, “Nah, I would rather do something else.” Progress.

No, I’m not encouraging being self-centered, gluttonous, or undisciplined. We need to challenge ourselves, but we need to stop hating ourselves.

It’s a two-fold process. Move onward with your eyes fixed on Jesus, yes. Then when you inevitably fail, know He still loves you.

Learn God’s love for you so you can show His love for others. Respond to Jesus with a heart aimed toward holiness. Let Him pick you up when your arrow goes astray.

We need to challenge ourselves, but we need to stop hating ourselves.

What does it look like to accept God’s justification of us through faith? What does it look like to know how rotten we are but start grasping how loved we are?

Run to Him. Cling to Him. Don’t turn when you fail, but stop and rest knowing it is an opportunity to glorify Him in His unconditional love. Then, get back up and continue pursuing His best.

Let’s learn grace and love and righteousness and failure and joy and peace as we take steps forward (and back).

~ Progress towards God’s heart is progress indeed. ~

Mexican blanket

The Impossible

It’s all in the title, friends. I saw international missions as impossible… for me.

Yes, Jesus clearly calls us to make disciples of the nations in Matthew 28. He begins, though, by calling the twelve to their own backyard. I took this as a way to get out of, well, getting out of my comfort zone.

Needless to say, when I went to Mexico this year, the little bubble I had constructed around my life burst pretty quickly.


Let’s take it back to the beginning—

A couple at my church has been part of an annual trip to Mexicali where an incredible family has planted not one, but two churches. The team from Oregon helps paint, build, and serve alongside them wherever the greatest need exists as well as put on VBS in the colonia (one of the city’s poor neighborhoods).

Four years ago, our church championed this trip (it began 18 years ago with a different congregation). My younger sister went all three years up until 2018. Naturally, when I graduated from college and had the opportunity to go this spring if I so chose, she was a huge proponent.

Against my inner anxiety’s inclinations, I went to the first interest meeting. Sitting there, I thought of all the reasons going would be challenging and unnecessary. I was already involved in the youth group, met weekly with friends for our own Bible Study, worked nearly full-time, and had a side-business for lettering.

Why add something else? Wasn’t it clear that I served God and spread His Word? Did I really have to go to another country to follow Christ?

These were the seeds of fear taking hold of my decision-making.

Guess what? Everyone was SO EXCITED that I was going to Mexicali spring of 2018! Little did they know I was hardly considering the trip, but I didn’t need to ruin their enthusiasm just yet.

Well, I sat on the choice for months while continuing to go to interest meetings. I would help make crafts for the kids and sing along while we practiced songs in Spanish. I even nodded or said, “I might be able to handle that,” when asked if I could lead worship for the team on the trip.

How was I going to break the news that I wouldn’t be joining them?

Two months before the trip, I was sitting at Bible study with my closest friends listing off the reasons why I shouldn’t (or wouldn’t) go. They patiently waited for me to finish before giving me the… “talk.”

”Jen,” one of them started, “Every single ‘reason’ you just listed was actually an excuse based in fear.” Talk about truth bomb, am I right? While I was taken aback, I knew he had a point. They told me if I went, not only would I survive, but I just might break through my anxiety and come back forever changed.

And you know what? They were right.

I went home that evening and prayed myself to sleep. I said, “Jesus, if you actually wanted me to go, I would. You know that. But, why? What do You gain from this? What do you want with my going on the trip?”

As simple as can be, God said, “You.”

Tears flowed, and I knew in that moment I had to go. For my entire life, I had maintained steady control. Letting go was not only unpleasant, it didn’t feel like an option. I lay there reflecting on this notion that I was keeping myself from God because I wanted control. I cried because it made so much sense. God yearned for my heart like I yearned for His protection. I sighed and said, “I hear you, and I’ll go.”

Not a split second later, I felt a wave of peace with a hint of excitement. Can you believe it? After years of anxiety about the very concept of leaving the country, I, Jennifer Lewis, was excited!

A few weeks, two infections, a whiny meltdown, and many prayers later, and there I found myself in Mexico.

Fin de la parte uno “El Imposible”
The end of part one of “The Impossible”

Unrighteous

Psalm 24

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive blessing from the Lord,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face. Selah

Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.”

As I read this chapter today, I realized that there are a number of areas in which I fall short. Do I have clean hands? A pure heart? While I’d like to think so, the answer is most definitely “no.”

Do I treat God as my only god? I’d like to resolutely agree, but sometimes I let the show I’m binge-watching or my Instagram feed take over my day-to-day devotion.

These realizations aren’t new to me, but they’re still as disheartening as ever. What am I to do when the world around me swirls me through the funnel of media and distraction? How am I supposed to join Jesus one day?

That’s where this turns around and becomes a triumphant anecdote.

Romans 3:22-26 says, “…For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

God already knows we fail at nearly every turn. He sees us, knows us, hears our cries, and welcomes us with open arms. Salvation is available to us through His righteousness as we cannot fully attain it on our own. Jesus paid the price. And the gift is freedom from eternal separation from God. We get life, and life with Him.

So, the next time you’re noticing your weaknesses or failures, remember that Jesus is not only a cool guy who lived a long time ago but also the King of glory who died a terrible death and rose again so we could have relationship with Him forever.

Search My Heart

Learning to pursue God as He pursues me — relentlessly.

How Productive Is Worrying?

Not productive at all, if you were wondering. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:27