Thorns in My Flesh: Foot Pain and Anxiety

“Foot pain Sucks!” There I said it. As a person who has suffered with foot issues and pain all my life, it kind of feels relieving just letting that out. My earliest memories of heading to the big city from my very small rural hometown was for the very purpose of visiting a foot specialist. My parents saw my need and did their best to provide the best they could for their flat footed child. Which meant orthopedic shoes. They were kind of special when you are 7 or 8, but by the time I hit my teen years I was fairly certain I would rather hurt than wear anything so ugly, bring on the Nikes and Adidas! But as time went on and the pain increased, my willingness to see pediatrist or orthopedic surgeons that specialize in feet increased. It gets old trying to decide if you would rather stay seated or stand on up and work on through the pain. So began my love for Birkenstock anything, Feet Fleet Shoe stores, orthopedic shoe inserts, ankle stretches, an overnight foot splint to help with plantar fasciitis (takes a little getting used to), etc. It’s amazing the lengths I go to so I don’t have to slow down, sit down, and live with a ton of pain… All this being said, The battle against foot pain still goes on and due to pain in both of my feet, I’ve got an appointment with a specialist this week to see if there are any other tricks up his sleeve that can help…

Being a person of faith, and one who believes that God does answer prayers, and that He still heals today, I’ve brought this issue up to God more than once. I’ve asked for the elders of the church to lay hands on me, anoint me with oil, and pray for me more than once as the Bible talks about in James 5:14. I know God can heal my feet, but for now I tend to view them as Paul did his affliction he mentions as his “Thorn in His Flesh”. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul asked for God to take it away from him three times and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” and there is no record of Paul’s thorn ever being removed.

This all came to mind this morning as I have contemplated another couple of “Thorns in my flesh” That seem to stick around, Anxiety and depression. Once again I have found myself going to great lengths to try to keep up with my “self care” regimen of exercise, eating right, prayer, meditation, medication, rest, fresh air, daily confessions of who I am in Christ, etc. Plus the appointments with a counselor… It’s uncanny the parallel between my foot pain and my struggle with anxiety and depression. Probably the thing that sticks out the most is to what lengths I would go to get some relief for both of them. Because whether it’s pain in every step you take or pain in a majority of the thoughts you think, both are uncomfortable and therefore worth being treated the best way you can, self care, spiritually, and with help from the professionals. And just as I have taken my physical foot pain to God and asked for healing, I have done the same with my mind, but I believe part of the reason my struggle has not been totally relieved isn’t because I am doing something wrong. It’s more a matter of God helping me to get a perspective I never had before.

My youngest son has some of the same issues with his feet that I have, sorry son… If he complains of his feet aching, I automatically empathize with him deeply. I’ve been there, as a matter of fact, I’m there now… I can also say that my accepting where I am in my struggles with anxiety and depression, has given me compassion for those who struggle in their mind. I can tell you what little I know that works the best for me to get relief and I can point you to the One who ultimately makes sense out of all the ins and outs of life- Jesus. I know that looking back through the years and seeing the path I’ve walked that His presence and His help is what has made the difference for me, and although I haven’t seen Him come in and zap my mind into always thinking happy thoughts, I have found Him more than enough when I was unable to see straight or find the will to keep getting up and keep going on. In fact, it is in my growing in knowing Him more that I can take the time to stop and appreciate the little things like the changing leaves, my grandson’s smile, laughter with my kids, or the embrace of my husband. All of these are gifts He has given me to show me that it is true, “God’s grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness.” Whether the weakness be the aching of my feet or the struggles in my head, I can confidently say, “God and His grace is enough for me.” and “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13. Because the Evidence of God’s goodness is there, even in our struggles. It’s whether or not we chose to open our eyes to see it.

Anxiety vrs The God Who Fights for Me

Sometimes life is bigger than me. Actually, a lot of times life is bigger than me… My problem is admitting that little fact. Admitting weakness is not something that comes easy for me. I guess I come from a long line of the “never let them see you sweat” type. So not letting you see me sweat is my specialty. Not asking for help is one of my mantras, not necessarily a good one, but definitely one. So laying this out there is a little uncomfortable, but needs to be said. Mainly because I’ve been stewing on it for about a week. So someone probably needs to hear this…

You’re not alone. I know I need to hear that from time to time too.

A few days ago, I hopped in my car and opened my Amazon Music app. I figured I needed to find something new to listen to and one of the suggestions was Bethel’s new album, “Revival’s in the Air”. As I was listening, I was struck by the song “Egypt” with Cory Asbury. I’ve found myself listening to it over and over. As one who struggles with anxiety, I found the words comforting.

“You’re the God who fights for me
Lord of every victory
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
You have torn apart the sea
You have led me through the deep
Hallelujah
Hallelujah”

I’ve tried a lot of different things to try to bring peace while fighting the war inside of me through the years. Not that I don’t ever experience the peace, but the fears, the feelings, the thoughts, sometimes become more than I know how to fight. As an outspoken lover of Jesus, this seems to be a contradiction to some to admit that there are times that what I fight becomes bigger than my ability to see Him clearly in all my situations. Sometimes I doubt. Sometimes I fear. Sometimes I hide. Sometimes I struggle with guilt over things beyond my control. That’s why these lyrics resonated so clearly with me this week. I am clearly weak, but “in my weakness He is made strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 God is not surprised by my struggles, or yours for a matter of fact. He is the one who steps in where we are at and fights for us against the foes that are stronger than us, even if that foe is waging war between your ears- in your mind. The battle right now may feel greater than what you are able to endure, but He does not leave us alone in it. God assures us that “His grace is sufficient for us”.

Looking back over the years of my life I can see that God truly is the one “who fights for me, and He is the Lord of every victory.” He’s done it time and time again, and He will do it many more times. He’s not in the business of leaving us alone in disgust, because of struggles. He is the one who sees, hears, and moves on our behalf.

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 40. Especially verses 1-3, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him..” More than once, I’ve found God faithful to take me out of situations beyond me and set me in a place of security. He did not fail me then, and He will not fail me now. His faithfulness extends beyond what I’ve experienced. He has abounding Grace not only for me but for you where you are against your foe that is bigger than you. He will step into your Egypt!

God the Master Gardener

It was 12 years ago in April that we moved into our current house. Everyone was extremely excited. We had lived in an Earth Contact/ basement home for 7 years. It was half the size of our new home and it had no windows. The new house had tons of them. Plus we had more than twice the acreage with a yard with grass as opposed to woods all around. Things were looking up. When we got settled in my husband told me of some of his plans to make this place truly our own. One of his first ideas was a garden.

To be honest, if I were a cusser, at the time that would have made me cuss. All I could Think of was WORK… I begrudgingly opted to help him out. Neither one of us really knew exactly what we were doing but we gave it a try with some success. But by July our nicely tilled, freshly fertilized plot looked like a giant weed experiment. All I could think of when I went out to get stuff was how much easier it would be to just buy frozen produce and call it good. But he loved the idea of gardening, and continually told me how I should get into gardens and flowers and such. After several attempts I told him, “Look Gardening is not my thing. It’s your thing. I’m not going to do it anymore.” So for the first time since moving here, we went without one.

Life got busier and more complicated and I found myself fighting things inside me that were bigger than my ability to figure out on my own. So I ended up trying counseling for the first time. After talking a little, my counselor asked me, “Do you like to garden?” I replied, “I don’t know. I’m no good at it. All I grow is weeds.” She said, “That’s because you really haven’t tried.” I told her, “I don’t know what I’m doing…”. She said, “You can learn anything you want to. That’s why they have YouTube and Pinterest.” I went home that afternoon and told my husband, “If you want to do the garden thing again, I’m willing to give it a try.” He was like a kid at Christmas. We planned, we planted, we worked it, and we ate all kinds of goodies, and though I have hated to admit he was right. I should get in to gardens and flowers and such…Now it’s become an ongoing project for the past 3 years that I have a newfound joy, along with landscaping, flowers everywhere, and my new found love of bird feeders. I think I’m morphing into my mom and grandmas. I love it! And come to think of I actually do have a green thumb. I just never let it come out until now.

Most mornings in the summer, I spend some time with a cup of coffee and my Bible. Then I head outside to take care of the garden and plants before the heat of the day. When I’m out there, the sound of birds singing, cow mooing in the distance, bugs making their noises, etc. fills the air. There’s been many times I’ve thought to myself, “I think I understand why God has a thing for Gardens.” He’s the original gardener. When I’ve spent time pulling weeds, I think about how it parallels Bible stories I’ve read. When I pick the veggies, verses come to mind about bearing fruit. It’s kind of a spiritual experience along with the physical one. Good stuff.

A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to borrow a dvd/book/ Bible study by Beth Moore a couple of months ago, “Chasing Vines”. I hesitated. Beth Moore is known for being in-depth and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be engaged in an in depth Bible study. In between just finishing up quarantine and the governor’s stay at home orders and a lot of other stuff going on, I wanted to do my thing and not get too in depth. Yesterday I saw it sitting there and I picked it up. Let’s just say what I had resisted looking at, turned into an adventure. (kind of like the garden dream 12 years ago) The first chapter was all about God and gardens. The more I read the more I realized, “I’m going to have to buy Joy a new copy of these books because I have got to underline and write in them.”

Then of all things, a verse Beth Moore quotes hits me. “”I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”
‭‭John‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬ I’ve heard it in other versions as “my Father is the vine dresser.” God is the “Gardner”. The Gardner who gets a kick out of working in the soil of my heart. Planting new plants that He enjoys watching develop and bear fruit. God loves to spend time working in the heart of me. He loves to cultivate, prune, and pick so I am the most fruitful I can be. In fact, He loves a beautiful garden. I can be assured that the garden of my heart is beautiful because of His constant attention and care. He’s been at this Garden development in my heart since before I was born actually the Bible describes it as “before the foundations of the world.” Ephesians 1:4.

God’s great Garden work in my heart brings me to an assurance that His intentions for me is to “bear much fruit.” Just as a garden has different seasons that continue to work the garden, so does my life. There may be a time of rest, where snow covers the ground. It may look like my productivity is frozen during cold temps and freezing precipitation. But all this contributed toward the goal of productivity in my heart. Nitrogen released from the snows of winter is needed for a great harvest in the summer sun.

Nothing is wasted in the garden of my heart and I am assured that God is not done with me. He promises me fruitfulness now as He tends my life and that fruitfulness will continue even into old age- Psalm 92. What was, what is, and what will be are all under His care. And I must always remember “He has done all things well”. Mark 7:37. That includes me. God’s not just a gardener. He is the Master Gardener working in me.

Reset 2- New Beginnings

This Sunday morning, just like every Sunday morning, my husband and I got up and ventured off to our local Church congregation for the weekly service. It’s something I appreciate all the more since the Covid 19 outbreak. I sorely missed being “in the house” for a time of worship with the worship band and time in the word. The message today has been percolating in my heart. Probably since it reinforced my ponderings on “The Reset” I’ve been pursuing as of late. The ending of the service was a time of reflection on the times God has stepped in. You know when life appeared to be going one directions with a certain expectation of a bad outcome, and then God changed things. It may have been a time of financial uncertainty, emotional unrest, relationship turmoil, etc. Most certainly it has been a time of great darkness, sadness, pain, etc. The kind of time when there really was no way out. That’s the time the “reset button” of “New Beginnings” is pushed. God has a promise that has brought much comfort to me through the years. His promise is that He “makes all things new”. Revelation 21:5. That is a promise that I have had to dig my fingernails into and hold on with all my might at times. Because as one who has struggled with the monsters of the past lurking in the closet of my mind, that promise assures me the closet they have occupied has it’s light turned on, monsters evicted, and the New Beginning begun.

A few years ago I went in for my first session with a Christian Counselor to aid in my fight against anxiety and depression. The first thing she was quick to point out was how the battle in the mind has it’s rubber hit the road in the thoughts we think. It’s hard, but totally possible to change our focus from all the fear, pain, sadness, etc. to the things that are “True…Noble… Right… Pure… Lovely…Admirable…Excellent… or Praiseworthy.” and for us to “Think on these things.” Philippians 4:8 Then with a reassuring smile, she handed me a sheet of confessions of who I am in Christ, and assigned me with the task of speaking these truths out loud every morning. It has been a daily reminder of the “Reset Button of New Beginnings” I pushed so many years ago as a teenager at a Christian youth camp. When I asked God to take what little I had to offer, my life, and do whatever He wanted with it. The New Beginnings began. Looking back I can see that the hard times were the times that pushed me closer to Him, and the reminder of all that I wasn’t, brought the truth of all that He is and wants to be for me.

The “Reset Button of New Beginnings” starts with the first push “Salvation”. It’s the time when we see just how much what we are doing isn’t working, and just how much What He can do in us we need. It starts with an honest talk with God, an offer to give Him all of you, and watching Him do what only He can do, “Reset” your life.

Psalm 40 has been one of my favorite Psalms in the Bible. Verses 1-5 stand out the most to me. “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.” The New Beginning I have found has been when God saw where I was, heard my cries, and pulled me out. But He didn’t stop there. He set me in a good secure place and gave me a new song to sing about Him and His Goodness! I Am Not There Anymore!! That is the Philippians 4:8 stuff I am to think about. The Truth is I am His! The Noble thing Is I am the Kings Daughter! The Right thing is I have been made right with Him- righteous! The Pure thing is Me after He cleansed me from my wrong doings and sin and made Pure. The Lovely thing is Me, His master piece! The Admirable thing is the Miracle of New Beginnings He gives! The Excellent thing is His work in me! And the Praiseworthy thing is that He has done all this because He loves me, period.

That is the “Reset Button” He has given to me. That is the “Reset Button” He has given to you! Hit activate! He longs to bless you with “New Beginnings”!

Nothing But Blue Sky Above the Storm

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2 NIV

Wow! What a week! At the beginning of the week, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a meme that said, “Time change, a full moon, Friday the 13th…What could possibly go wrong?” I laughed at the pile of superstitions heaped onto one week, and scrolled on. I don’t believe that any of that had any weight to bear on where we are after this week of frightening announcements and unprecedented actions of our leaders. Gazing at the “natural realm” after the past week could make it quite possible for a person to be left shaking in their boots. But I can assure you that when I laid my head on my pillow last night I slept with perfect peace. Because I am assured that my God is in absolute control, and I know He cares for me.

I’ve openly shared in this blog that I struggle with the thoughts in my mind.  I think that’s pretty common for the human condition. It’s a struggle that I have, at times, felt very defeated in. I have tried so many different techniques to try to conquer the fears, anxiety, and at times torments that have existed in my mind. Some successful, some not so much… Recently, I have been approaching the fight with an all weapons out approach. Everything from uplifting music, self-care, and exercise, to Bible meditation, Bible study, prayer, counseling, etc. It really seems to help. One of the videos I watched recently on focusing our thoughts has had a profound impact on me.  Especially after taking the little gem of information it held and combining it with what the Word of God says.  

The video pointed out how our minds are like the blue sky. Occasionally we see a peaceful little cloud float by and that doesn’t bother us so bad because we can still see the blue.  However, there are times that storms rage and it seems the blue sky has disappeared, but just like an airplane can rise above the storms and see the blue again we know the blue is always there.  

I like this illustration better when I put God into the equation.  My mind focused on Christ is like the blue sky.  It’s the mind “set on Christ, Things above.” Occasionally cute little white clouds float by and get my attention.  They may be daily interactions with loved ones that are seemingly unspiritual, enjoying a cookie, laughing at a funny meme on Facebook etc.  I notice them, but over all the blue sky (Jesus) is the main focus of my mind.  Occasionally a storm starts to blow.  As it comes in, I find myself unable to see the blue sky (Jesus) and focus on it.  I know deep in my heart He is there somewhere.  But the Holy Spirit has given me the power to rise above the storm of my mind. He is the airplane that can help me to fly above the clouds and once again see the blue sky, Jesus, having confidence that the storm will pass in time.  But HE, Jesus, the blue sky will never leave me. 

I went grocery shopping Thursday morning, as the fears of COVID 19 were starting to ramp up in my area of the Nation. I was amazed at the similarities in the over all moods of my co-shoppers that were with me and the moods of the co-shoppers I felt the evening of 9/11/2001 when I went to Walmart, the somberness, anxiousness, etc. It seems that the over all feelings of uncertainty, panic, and being out of control had hit everyone. As I was checking out, I heard an older gentleman talking to his checker and discussing the current situation. After a few words, he said, “We don’t have to fear. God is in control.” He had his mind set on the “Blue sky- Jesus” that reigns above the storm. That impressed upon me the importance of this moment we live in. While talking to my kids that remain at home, trying to give them a sense of stability in a tumultuous week, where their social lives and school lives have been wrought with changes, not to mention, dad coming home to work for several weeks (something they have never seen), I quoted a Bible verse. “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14 NKJV

This is our time to shine! It is the time I can point out how I have found peace in a mind that struggles. It is a time that I can speak peace to my neighbors, friends, and family that surround me. Jesus is the blue sky above the storm, whether it be anxious thoughts in my mind, or a global pandemic. I can rest in Him. Could I or someone I love suffer in the upcoming weeks? Yes, that is a possibility, but I know that Jesus is the healer. Whether HE steps in a physically heals our afflictions, or I stand face to face with Him in the time of my death. (Not that I’m afraid I’ll get sick and die). I am with Him. I can be at peace. I can let my mind rise above the clouds that try to keep it constrained, and fly high in the blue sky of God’s love knowing that He cares for me. I can be free from fear.

Peace Flowers Sprouting in My Mind

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” I’m pretty sure that quote was about the weather in Missouri. Monday this week was almost 70 degrees, by Wednesday we had 4 inches of snow.

I value my sunshine. I probably have a touch of S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) if I’m honest about it. I’m a warm weather, sunny day, good mood kind of person, which might necessitate a move down South when my husband retires, or at least a yearly Caribbean cruise in February. (hint, hint if you’re reading this Rich)

Anyway, during my one warm day I took a walk around and looked at my different flower beds which I discovered last year that I actually like working in and that I might possibly have a green thumb. (Long story). I noticed that I had some plants coming up. Plants from some Amaryllis belladonna “Naked Ladies” bulbs my son and I planted last spring. I was surprised to see them because the situation for that particular area I planted wasn’t the greatest, it didn’t drain well and was overrun with weeds at the end of summer. So, I chalked it up to a flower gardening fail. When I looked down and saw the small green plants poking through the soil, I thought of the verses in Galatians 6:7-9 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” What I planted really did come up even if I gave up.

I’ve been contemplating these verses a lot this week.  Mainly because it’s a part of a devotion book I’m reading Secrets of the Secret Place by Bob Sorge.  He was talking about how our time spent with God was like planting seeds.  If we are faithful to plant them, God is faithful to grow His character in us.  As he puts it, “This kind of sowing will produce a harvest in your walk with Him. It will change you and, in turn, begin to affect everything around you.” 

That’s exactly what I need. I’ve been looking at the things I struggle with mainly anxiety and depression, and how I long for God to bring out His fruit in my life: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Gentleness, Goodness, and Self-Control. So, I began to think about what kind of Seed I need to plant into my heart and mind to take the place of the weeds of anxiety and depression the enemy has sown. Where do I need to fix my mind when it tries to spiral down that path? I was reminded of another verse.
Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” Back when I was in high school, I stumbled across this verse and committed it to memory. I remember it being a source of comfort when I struggled then with the fears of What will I become? Where will I go? Etc. Typical teen stuff. It was what I needed then, but it is also what I need now.

Joyce Meyer wrote a book called, The Battlefield of the Mind. There’s a lot of truth conveyed in that title. My mind is a battlefield, and it’s not a war that will stop after a few good fights.  I will have to fight for my peace and my freedom within my mind until I stand face to face with Jesus.  I’ve got to decide if my happiness and joy is worth the effort to fight for it.  If so, how will I wage war? There are some victories that God gives us as we stand by and watch Him work with His power and glory.  But there are others that He wants us to take a stand in and rely on Him to arm us for battle.  

A few years ago, I began seeing a Christian Counselor for the struggles I have had within my mind. She’s given me a lot of practical ideas that help with my mood and attitude like exercise, sunshine, and gardening. But one thing she told me was how true Philippians 4:8 really is. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things… And the God of peace will be with you.” She told me “It’s a matter of replacing the negative thoughts with the positive thoughts of God.”

I’m seeing a pattern here. If I am wanting to reap a harvest of peace, or see “peace flowers” come up in my mind, I need to keep my mind on the Prince of Peace, Jesus and think of all the qualities He has that are listed Philippians 4:8, and also because I am His, He has put these qualities within me. It might take a while, I may not see immediate result, and I can guarantee you that I’ve felt like many times that my mind was as ill prepared as the small flower garden area I planted the Naked Ladies Bulbs. But God assures me, What I plant I will get back. I can trust in Him to do just that. Keep looking. The green sprouts will eventually press their way through.