Grace. All is Grace.

A couple of weeks ago I read Brennan Manning’s memoir, All Is Grace. It’s had me thinking a lot about the grace of God, and I’ve come to realize that his grace is somewhat inappropriate – it has no requirements nor restrictions. God is perfect, his people are far from perfect, and yet he still LOVES us and ACCEPTS us just as we are, with ALL our FLAWS and FAILURES. God’s grace covers everything no matter how ugly it is. The fact that he loves me and is using me for his work blows my mind.

I understand that I’m not what most people would call a dirty sinner, but I am in so many ways. I may have followed God’s calling to live in Chad for a year, but I have grumbled and complained so much since I’ve been here. I’ve told God that I’m not the right person to do this job, that someone else could teach better and not complain about missing home so much. I can be a selfish American who doesn’t want to live without her western conveniences, and I remind God of how bad I have it here every day. But his grace covers me.

I make harsh judgements about other missionaries and their work, I make harsh judgements about Chadians and their culture, I make harsh judgements about non-missionaries and their lives. I can be judgmental and self-righteous and think poorly of others to think better of myself. But his grace covers me.

I have days when I fall into the pit of my mental illness. Days when I can see the pit in front of me and I can also see a path around it. I really want to follow the path around it, but there seems to be a magnet in the pit that pulls me into it. I fall in, and I struggle to get out. Sometimes I don’t want to get out. But his grace covers me. (And I’m thankful his grace includes Prozac! Everybody say “Amen!”)

I often ask, “can he really love me and accept me no matter my failure…even the one I repeat on a daily basis?” The answer is yes. He can and he does.

I strive to be better and to do better. I try, but I fail – again and again. Then I see his grace. God’s inappropriate, unrestricted grace. It’s always here. No matter what. Forgiving me. Restoring me. Reminding me that I am sitting in the middle of his calling doing his work even though I am a just dirty sinner.

His grace reminds me that my life, my story, is not really mine at all. My life is a part of his story. His plan. To show his love. To be his hands and feet. Even with all my fears and all my failures, he chooses me to be a part of his story. Wow!

I feel humbled. I feel overjoyed. I feel equipped. I feel inadequate. I feel encouraged. I feel afraid. Lots of emotions to process.

So I keep moving forward thankful for his grace that allows this sinner to be a part of his big, beautiful story that tells the world how much he loves us…no matter what.

Ephesians 2:1-10 in The Message says:

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

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Be Strong and Courageous

Last Wednesday, Robert came home telling me there were two deaths in the village where the school we work with is located, and he would like to join a group of men driving up there for the funeral this weekend. He would be gone for 3-4 days up in the desert where he may not have any cell service. I agreed he should go of course, but the thought made me a bit nervous.

I’m no stranger to him traveling for days or weeks at a time while I stay home with the kids. But this is the first time I’ve had to experience it while in a country where I don’t drive or speak the language. To say I was a bit nervous is an understatement. I was anxious to the point of needing a Xanax. Not only anxious for him driving up into the desert, but also for myself and the kids staying here alone. I would have to call a taxi if we needed to go anywhere, but I don’t speak French. I would have to go buy bread at the corner store, but I don’t speak French. My anxieties were getting the best of me.

Then Thursday night, the night before he was to leave, I sat down on my yoga mat, pulled out my Holy Listening book, and opened it where I last left off. The title for the day was “BOLD.”

Coincidence? I think not. I believe God was sending me a message.

The yoga pose was Warrior and the scripture reference was Deuteronomy 31:6. This verse makes me smile. I memorized this verse when I was in 7th grade. I made up a little song to help me remember it. I have sung this song to myself many, many times over the years when I’ve needed strength.

Again, a coincidence? No! This was God speaking to me in a powerful way.

There I was, warrior-ing on my yoga mat, in a mess of tears, singing Deuteronomy 31:6 to myself in the quiet of my bedroom. A bold faith washed over me. God’s peace and assurance engulfed me. I knew in that moment that I was not alone and that I would conquer this weekend while Robert was away. (Spoiler: the kids and I are having a great weekend!)

I’ve stayed on this prayer and pose for a few days now, not ready to move on to the next. Boldness is something I struggle to find. This may be shocking for a lot of my friends and family to hear, but it’s the truth.

I’ve had to be bold and warrior through a lot of hard situations in my life, and I’ve struggled to stay strong. I like to think of myself as being strong, but I am truly a weak woman. Any strength I find to warrior through my life is found in Jesus. It’s his Spirit and his word that pulls me through. The grace and love and forgiveness he gives me when all I do is struggle, is what keeps my faith in him.

I’ve had people ask me before how I know God is real. My answer is always “it’s in the ways he responds to my faith.” When I reach out to him, he shows up. It’s not always right when I want it or in the way I expect it, but he never fails.

Just like this weekend – I was scared and anxious, but God showed up with peace and strength, and I’ve been completely calm all weekend. The kids and I have had a great time, I’ve handled a couple of meltdowns without having one myself, the house is clean, and I’ve actually been serving up healthy meals. All miracles!

I must throw some shout outs to Shiloh’s teacher who reminded our taxi guy that she needed to be picked up Saturday for her youth group meeting and to my neighbors who helped me get bread. Thank you, God, for putting a great missionary community here to help me out…just another way of him showing up in my life!

Ramblings of Life in Chad and Faith in God

We’ve been in Chad for 4 months now. Some days it seems like our time is going by extremely fast, but other days it feels like time is crawling.

We’re all settled in our job/school routines and feeling content. There is a part of me that wants to look ahead to when we return to the U.S., but I’m trying to stay focused on my present and not think about the future until it’s necessary.

We do have a few things settled for when we get back to the States. Shiloh is enrolled in Wheaton Academy for her freshman year of high school. (Let’s all take a moment and have a Praise break that God worked that out!) Huck and Weslee will return to Four Winds Waldorf School. And it looks like we will be renting a house in our old neighborhood – woohoo!

Things we don’t have settled (and aren’t actively pursuing just yet) are jobs for Robert and me, vehicles, and furniture. Ha! Those are some pretty big things, but I know God will work these out just as he has everything else.

I can truly say that this last year has increased my faith and trust in God. How could it not – it took all of 6 months for us to hear about this opportunity, decide it’s what we should do, sell our belongings, raise our funds, and get here. I’m still in awe of how God made it all happen. If he can do that, I know for sure he will take care of everything for our return.

Even since we’ve been here, God has been proving himself over and over. Our first few weeks were very hard: getting over jet lag, adjusting to not having our American conveniences, Robert’s kidney stone issues, and trying to fit into a new culture. But we had some special moments where God revealed his presence in a tangible way.

The first night we were here one of my kids was crying and could not fall asleep. We were tired and emotional and the tears just wouldn’t stop. I began to quietly pray Ephesians 6 (the armor of God) over my family. It was as if someone flipped a switch when I began praying. The tears immediately stopped and my precious child fell right to sleep. The peace I felt in our little apartment was amazing.

God was with us as we traveled to Kenya for Robert’s surgery and recovery. He helped keep us calm when everything seemed like it was unraveling. A couple of answered prayers: 1. We were approved for an emergency medical evacuation which means that insurance covered our hospital fees. 2. We were approved to seek medical assistance in Kenya where Robert’s parents could meet and help us. God took what started out as a very stressful and scary situation and turned it into a time for us to relax and spend time with friends and family.

God has been faithful to answer prayers for my fast-paced family to adjust to the slow goings of Chad life. We’ve developed a love of reading that makes my heart proud, tried our hands at new types of art, grown closer to one another, and made new friends even with some cultural differences.

These 4 months have been exciting and challenging. I’m so grateful for God’s provisions, grace, and mercy.

Not today, honey!

I’m having a hard day. I don’t feel sad or sleepy or angry. I just feel down…exhausted…weary. Depressed.

This has been a hard week. We moved out of our house and signed the closing papers. This is a huge change for us and every emotion is knocking on our doors.

I feel like I’ve been carrying a heavy load all week. And now I just want to go to bed and stay there.

I’m fully aware of my mental illness today. She’s sitting a little too close to me right now. Thankfully, I recognize how close she’s getting and I have my tool box ready to prevent her from sitting on my lap and taking control over me.

I took my meds this morning. I got out of bed, put on my clothes, and took the kids to Chick-fil-A. We ate inside so I had to interact with strangers. I had to be seen and heard. Then we went to Target for some groceries – checked something off my list – and even though I did use the self-checkout, I still had to leave the comfort of my bed and car and be around people. Then when we got back to the apartment, I played on the play ground with my kids. I laid in the grass, basked in the sun, and even asked Weslee to push me on the swing. I sat on my bed, inhaled some essential oils (bergamot, lemon, and patchouli), and wrote in my journal. People, these are HUGE wins for me on a day like today!

To some these tools of mine may seem silly, but to me they are major successes. Today, I stood up to my mental illness and said, “Not today, honey!”

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.

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.