A New Purpose

This quote from Rebekah Lyons “Freefall to Fly” hits me right between the eyes:

“…we walk the streets of our cities with appointments and responsibilities but lack a sense that God intended purpose for our days.”

I knew my purpose and destiny in life was in missions/humanitarian work since I was 15 years old. God confirmed that calling multiple times throughout high school and college. Because of that desire and pull on my life, I traveled quite a bit. I signed up for every mission trip I could. I raised support from family, friends, and churches. I remember living in Sweden for 3 months after college and knowing that my purpose in life was to leave the US and show God’s love around the world.

Even when Robert and I got married, we talked about traveling together and raising our family overseas. We satisfied this desire for a while through Robert’s travels with TEAM. I even accompanied him on a trip to Guatemala once. Then God called us to Chad.

We visited Chad for one month in 2014 and fell in love with the people and the mission. After that trip, we knew we were supposed to go back at some point. Our whole family was excited to plan a year-long excursion as missionaries in Chad. We began praying about when and how.

God had a slight detour for us though. He opened doors for both us to start new jobs here in Chicagoland. This seemed to take us away from missionary life. We walked through those doors and did well. We put the kids in a great school, got a cat and a dog, began to fix up our old home and develop deep friendships. We were becoming settled and comfortable and not really thinking much about life as missionaries.

Then God brought along a Facebook post that changed everything.

I saw that TEAM was looking for a teacher for a homeschool kindergarten class in Chad. I immediately emailed Robert saying, “I can do this.” The wheels started turning. We sent emails, Facetimed friends in Chad, and prayed continually about this opportunity. Every door we knocked on opened. It was like God was flashing a neon sign saying, “Now is the time for the Johnsons to return to Chad!”

So here we are in the middle of packing up our home, raising a budget, and planning on leaving in September for a mission that calls us to fulfill the purpose for our days. The plan right now is to go for a year, but I know if God opens the door for us to stay longer, we will walk through it. We’re nervous but excited to see what this next step in our faith will bring.

You can connect with us and hear more about what we will be doing in Chad at www.wearethejohnsons.com. You can contribute to our mission by clicking here.

 

Turn. Set your journey. Go.

Deut 1:6-7

The Israelites camped in the wilderness for 38 years. They didn’t know God’s where, what, or why. They had so many questions and doubts during this time.

Finally, after they grew and learned a lot about themselves and God, he gave them a direction. Turn, set your journey, and go toward the promise land.

I feel like I’ve been wandering the wilderness for the last 7 years. Although, the last couple of years have been a peaceful wandering – my peace pocket. Now, I feel the Lord shaking things up again. I’m not sure what’s in store.

Door 1 – I see the Lord growing Robert and me in our current jobs and the kids’ school. I see the opportunities for us to be settled here, growing in our work and ministries. Challenging but comfortable.

Door 2 – I see the same as door 1, but Robert and I digging into our writing and being challenged by it. Exciting but nerve-racking.

Door 3 – I see the opportunity to go back to Chad, which would require giving up our comfortable life in the suburbs and immersing ourselves into Chadian culture. Scary but exciting.

I honestly can say that I don’t know which of the 3 lies ahead. There’s a part of me that wants each option.

I’m praying over them and trusting God will guide us into the right path.

Why I March

I had a few people ask me why I participated in the Women’s March on January 21. I gave them the short answer, but I decided to try and organize my thoughts to give a longer answer. I know not everyone will agree and some may not even understand, but this is why I march.

First of all, let me answer the question, “why would I, a peace-seeking Christian, take part in a loud, showy protest?”

Honestly, I feel it’s my God-given duty to stand up for what is right. We see many examples of this in the Bible. For instance, Stephen did not sit silently. The Book of Acts tells us he preached what he believed until he died. When the Sanhedrin began stoning him, he continued to preach. That’s quite a protest.

We read about Paul and Peter and the other apostles who preached when it was against the law. They stood up in the streets and proclaimed the truth. They did not sit silently. They went against the religious leaders and government of their day. They were thrown in jail, they were beaten, they were killed for what they believed in. They were preaching love. They were preaching the gospel of Jesus, that he came to seek and save the lost. That he loves the disenfranchised. He loves the minorities. He loves everyone. The apostles were going to make sure everyone knew that.

In the Old Testament, Esther protested. She illegally went before her king and could have died because of that choice. She did it anyway because she knew she had to stand up for her people. She did not sit silently. She protested, and her people survived!

So I protest by marching.

I march for equal rights. It should not matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you look like, you deserve to be treated equally and justly. If people meet the same requirements and have the same qualifications, they deserve to get hired for the same job and paid the same wages. Children deserve a quality education no matter where they live or how much or how little money their family has. All people, whether black or white, rich or poor, should receive the same punishment if they commit similar crimes. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:38, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we seek to be like Jesus, then we will treat everyone with equality.

I march for refugees. I march because people of this world need to be loved. People of this world need to know that someone is for them. That they are not alone nor forgotten. If we as free Christians do not tell them, who will? If we do not show them they are valued, who will?

I march so women are not sexually exploited. I march to see an end to sex trafficking and rape culture. I march so my son knows to treat women respectfully and that they are not sexual objects.

I march because God gave us the freedom to choose how we want to live. I believe living according to the Bible is the right way, but it’s still a person’s choice. I’m thankful I am not persecuted for my beliefs. I don’t want anyone else to be persecuted for theirs.

I march for gun control. I don’t have a solution, but seeing a graph like this shows me America needs to do something now!

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I march for our environment. I believe God has called us to care for his creation. He created this amazing world for us to live in, and we are destroying it. The science about climate change is fact not theory. We must tend to this beautiful creation.

I march because I live in a democracy and I can. The law allows me to speak out and speak up for what I believe.

To be honest, it’s hard for me not to have bitterness in my heart toward our new president and his staff. I don’t understand why God allowed him to be a presidential candidate or to get elected. (I think it goes back to God giving us free choice.) But I know that God is in control no matter our choices. I know that his plan will eventually unfold. So I choose to pray for our government leaders. I know they are people in need of a Savior. We all need Jesus and each other.

Health

After Weslee was born in 2013, I didn’t stress about getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight. I decided I was comfortable with the extra 15 lbs I’d gained and bought new clothes. It was a freeing feeling to not be stressed about getting back to my pre-baby body. I’ve been content with my weight/body image for the last 3 years.

Then last October my doctor and I decided to up my dosage of anxiety medication. We’ve been trying to find the right meds and the right dosage for a while. We finally found it with this last change! Yay!

I feel normal for the first time in years…maybe for the first time in my life. I am not as moody as I used to be, not as impatient, nor as negative. I sleep better, handle conflict better, and am a much better wife, mother, friend, and employee. I used to wonder if I was abnormal because of the rollercoaster of emotions I rode daily – not to mention the anxiety attacks and bouts with depression I experienced. Feeling emotionally and mentally balanced – what I consider normal – is a wonderful feeling!

But with all of that positivity comes a bit of negativity. I’ve gained 11 pounds since my dosage changed. EEK! I can’t blame it on holiday binge eating because I didn’t binge eat this year. My diet and exercise have pretty much stayed the same as they were before the new dosage. Also, weight gain is big side effect of this particular drug. Boooo!

So, here I am almost weighing the amount I did when I was 9 months pregnant, and I’m definitely NOT pregnant. I’m not content with these new 11 lbs, and I do not want to buy new clothes in a bigger size.

On top of that, I read these two articles that talk about how heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women and how mental illness can potentially increase one’s risk of heart disease. My anxiety soared while I was reading the article that linked mental illness to heart disease. I had to stop reading it for a bit to calm myself down.

With weight gain and heart disease on my mind, I knew I had to make a change.

I emailed a friend with similar mental health issues, and asked for her advice. She shared: I am just committed to the reality that whole health is me on meds, exercising, eating whole foods and going to therapy. That is me whole.

Her words struck a chord with me. I know I cannot go back to feeling “abnormal” again, so I am determined to adopt my friend’s definition of a whole self. I will stay on my meds (let all the family say “Amen!”), I will eat healthy and clean, I will be consistent with exercise, I will continue to see my therapist as needed, I will be consistent with prayer and bible study, and I will commit to writing every week as another form of therapy and accountability.

I’m going to put up reminder post-it notes around my house, car, and office to help me stay focused. I might tell my kids to help hold me accountable too – they will be more than happy to have something to nag me about. Ha!

Here’s to a life of whole health – spiritual health, physical health, and mental health!

Mental

Today was a doozy! It’s 9pm and I just said goodnight to the last child. It’s time for momma and daddy to enjoy some rest and relaxation.

My middle child has SPD and some behavioral issues, and today showed them off in full force. From around 9am until 8pm he was on a huge roller coaster of angry to silly to angry again. He broke his favorite night light and a keepsake from Austria after raging in his room. He kicked his sister when she did something he didn’t like. He screamed “I hate you” to me more times than I can count.

My 3 year old is potty training and had 4 clothing changes today because she didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. Hold me, sweet Jesus. I am so ready to be done with diapers in this house!

Saying today was rough is an understatement!

Days like today remind me that I’m still in the thick of it. Not just in the thick of parenting but in the thick of my mental illness.

My left eye begins to twitch. I wear my shoulders like earrings. I keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to bark instead of speak. I retreat to my room and escape my world with naps, novels, Netflix, social media, and chocolate.

I’m not saying any of that is inherently bad, but they become bad for me when I retreat for hours instead of interacting with my children, checking things off my to-do list, and living a normal, responsible life.

This is how my mental illness works: when life throws a strike, I completely fall apart. When life throws a perfect pitch and I get a base hit, I panic that I’ll trip before I get to base. I sink into a pit of despair because I panicked. Then I begin to fall apart. That’s when I feel the need to escape.

I’m learning how to combat it though – the anxiety, depression, and that need to escape. I’m learning to use my tools better. With every struggle, I learn more about myself. I learn new things that trigger my anxiety. I learn new things that help ease it. I learn that if I trust God and keep going, this moment will pass.

So now I am going to reward myself for continuing on today, for not escaping for too long, for starting those loads of laundry, for putting that frozen pizza in the oven (ha!), for not losing it on my children, for showing up and facing my issues. I truly can do hard things!

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Tattoo

I’ve wanted to get a tattoo for a while now, but I’ve been scared. Don’t laugh – tattoos hurt! But last year, when I heard of project semicolon, I knew I needed to gather the courage and get one.

I texted Robert at work the other day, and told him I was ready. I called Ink 180 and made an appointment with Chris. Robert and I walked in, chatted with Chris for a bit and then we headed to the back room. I sat in the chair and braced myself for the pain.

I’ve had 3 unmedicated child births, so when the needle started going in and out of my skin I thought, “This isn’t so bad. No big deal.” Robert quickly reminded me that I was only getting a teeny, tiny semicolon and not a huge tattoo that takes 8-9 hours to complete.

Yes, people sit/lay for 8-9 hours while an artist pokes them thousands of times with a tiny needle. OUCH!!! I don’t think I could do that voluntarily.

I found myself looking at my semicolon all night feeling so proud of myself. Not only for getting a tattoo, but for continuing on in my life. For what this semicolon symbolizes.

I have struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life, and during those times, the anxiety and depression would get worse. I’ve come to realize, though, they’re always with me.

They’ve become these constant companions of mine. Getting stronger or weaker with the rise and fall of my emotions. The older I get, the worse they become.

I am so grateful for my faith in God because it is the biggest tool I’ve got. He has blessed me with loving family and friends and counselors, mentors, and support groups who have helped me build a large toolbox filled with tools to help me keep these companions under control.

This semicolon tattoo is another tool. It’s a reminder that when anxiety or depression rear their ugly heads, I don’t have to give up; I can keep going.

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Feelings

Hi. My name is Cheyenne, and I’m feeling insecure and anxious but also excited and hopeful. I’ve learned the roots of these feelings are fear and joy. I’m joyful about writing and sharing my life with readers, but I’m scared of what you might think of me.

Five years ago, I learned how to identify my feelings while attending a support group. The facilitator would pass around a piece of paper with the Feelings Wheel printed on it. Each person would say her name and find which word(s) best described the feelings she was experiencing in that moment. The first time I looked at the wheel, I felt very overwhelmed. For me, it was easier to start on the outer ring and work my way in toward the center. I was surprised to find that “overwhelmed” and “embarrassed” led to “anxious” and “insecure,” which led to “scared.” But fear truly was the root of the situation I found myself in.

I was feeling scared. I was feeling embarrassed. I was very anxious and extremely insecure. My joy was gone, and I didn’t have much hope.

I chose to attend this particular support group after Robert’s and my marriage counselor recommended it. He said that being in a group of women who are facing similar struggles in their lives would be healing for me.

–side note– I highly recommend finding a counselor you trust whether you are in a peaceful place or at rock bottom. Listen carefully to what he/she says because they are very wise!

He was right. I found myself surrounded by broken souls who were picking up the pieces of their lives and laying them before the Lord. They were becoming strong, whole women.  Women who knew to trust God and themselves. Who took life’s challenges and conquered them.

I attended this particular group for 4 years. I prayed with these women. I cried with them, laughed with them, felt anger with them and felt peace with them. They taught me how grieve well. How to argue well. How to listen well. How to love well. I learned how to be honest with myself and others and how to set boundaries. These incredible women encouraged me and helped me grow into the woman God made me to be.

Recognizing what I was feeling each day – what caused those feelings and how I should respond to those feelings – was one of my first steps toward healing.

I am in a completely different place than I was 5 years ago, but I find that stating my feelings about writing and figuring out why I have these feelings will ultimately help me realize that there is nothing to be fearful of. Because I am a strong, whole woman who can share her story with others. Because this is my story not someone else’s. Because, hopefully, someone else can find healing from reading about how I found mine.

Writing…again

I used to write. I filled journals with words. I found writing to be therapeutic especially when I shared my thoughts with others. I began a blog soon after my dad passed away in 2009. Writing about him, my pain, and my life helped me get through that difficult time.

Then, in 2011, my marriage, my faith, my life turned upside down. I tried to keep blogging through it because I thought it would continue to be healing for me, but it wasn’t. I became too embarrassed and disappointed in my life to share it publicly. I let my blog go. I continued to write in my journals for a while, but then that stopped too.

I no longer had the patience to sit with my thoughts and organize them into words that made sense. I had a lot to say, but I didn’t want to take the time to write it down.

But for the last little while, I have felt that urge to share my thoughts with the world again. Hence, this new blog. I’m excited to sit with my thoughts once again. To fill a page only to crumple it up and throw it away. To type a paragraph only to hold the delete key down. To do this again and again until what I write is really what I want to say. To order my thoughts, write them down, read them and be satisfied.

So, here goes…

Anxiety

For the last 3 years, I’ve been either pregnant or nursing, and I think those hormones, and a handful of supplements helped me stay emotionally balanced. But now that Weslee has almost weaned, I can feel the unbalance settling in.

My anxiety causes paralyzing fear. I fear failure, rejection, inadequacy, and being overwhelmed. I’m afraid of big things like trying new tasks, being in a large group of people, and having hard conversations, but I’m also afraid of smaller things like doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, and cooking dinner. My anxiety causes nausea, tightness in my chest, shortness of breath, shakiness, and a crazy, constant twitch in my left eye. Fear has held me back from improving my photography skills, from writing on this blog, from making close friends. It has even held me back from doing certain activities with my family.

My counselor helped me find tools to keep my anxiety at bay. These tools include prayer, quoting scripture, singing worship songs, taking supplements, alone time, deep breathing, exercise, fresh air, sleep, healthful eating, checking in my feelings with safe people, and doing things that bring joy. These have been life savers for me. But I know these tools are not enough when I have trouble doing them. I have days when it’s hard for me to take deep breaths. I have days when I’m afraid of getting dressed and taking a walk or going to the grocery store. I have other days when I struggle with how I spend my alone time – I know taking care of myself by getting my hair done, giving myself a mani/pedi, taking a long, hot shower help me calm down, but I often find myself lying on the couch watching a movie instead. Sometimes this is okay, but if I continually choose to watch a movie rather than do something I really need, then I know I’m getting in a bad place emotionally.

I’m in a bad place right now. I’ve been really trying to pull myself out of this hole, but I’m not having much success. It’s time for me to step up and admit that I’m no longer in control.

I know some of my friends and family don’t understand this. Some of them believe that if I prayed harder then God would take this from me. But prayer and scripture are the first tools on my checklist. I do believe God helps me because of my prayers, but I also believe he has given our generation medication to help as well. It’s the same as when I give my kids Ibuprofen to bring down a high fever while also praying for God to heal their bodies. Mental illness is an illness just like any other sickness or disease.

So today, I’ve committed to making and appointment with my doctor. I need help, and this is my next right step.