6.20.2016

Acknowledging Anxiety and Finding Peace: The Struggle is Real, Part 1

In my last post, I shared Val’s most recent talk, the core of which I would say is our life anthem (click here to watch).  Over the last seven years of being married to Val, I’ve learned the beauty and freedom in seeing and acknowledging my weaknesses, struggles, sin, and brokenness and pursuing God and His purposes in them.  Whether God transforms or frees me from the hard reality or He allows a weakness or struggle to remain, I’ve found that knowing God in these places has completely changed me and how I live life.  Specifically, when I acknowledge my weaknesses and struggles, I find that I get to know Him and walk in His power and strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 lived out). 

This is all totally opposite of what I want to do.  I want to point to my accomplishments and success.  I want to look awesome and strong and like I have it all together.  And I want to hide my weaknesses and struggles.  This is basically what we all do.  We’ve been taught that success is to be shared and shown and weakness is to be hidden.  There is a learned shame surrounding weakness and struggle.  Shame keeps things hidden, increasing our isolation and preventing our freedom.  

God set things up exactly opposite of this hidden, shame-ridden system.  He said that in our weaknesses, His power will be made perfect.  Perfect.  That when we are weak, then we are strong in Him.  So rather than remaining bound in weakness, He set up a system where in seeing and saying our weaknesses and acknowledging Him in the midst of them, He can give us power and strength through them.  The weakness, struggle, sin, and brokenness are not the most powerful reality.  He is. 

So, not only to dismantle my own isolation in places of weakness, but also to normalize weakness and invite others toward freedom, I want to start sharing posts about places of weakness in my life, places of struggle that God’s power is being displayed through.  This will not be a consecutive series, but random posts along as I sense His leading (I’ll subtitle these types of posts “The Struggle is Real” so that they’ll be easy to find). 

This first post today is simply to expose anxiety as a common weakness and a place that God wants to meet with us.  Anxiety is a reality with which I am incredibly familiar.

Anxiety is one of the most paralyzing feelings ever.  When you struggle with anxiety, something triggers you, anxiety grips you, and you can’t escape.  Your heart starts racing, you get lightheaded, your palms sweat, and your mouth dries up.  The anxiety inducing reality becomes all you can think about and you are stuck.  You enter that fight or flight space emotionally, and can think of nothing else. It is awful. 

I actually used to think this was normal.  In my late teens and early adult years, I began to realize that I worried more than most, but thought that was about it.  Until I married Val, I didn’t have anyone telling me just how rampant my anxiety was.  When Val first started pointing out my fear and anxiety, I thought I was the normal one and he was simply abnormal in his lack of fear.  And while he may be abnormal in his lack of fear, what I’ve come to see is just how extreme my fear, worry, and anxiety actually was and is.  It is a process to acknowledge something as abnormal that you’ve thought was normal your whole life. 

But. 

As I began to acknowledge the grip fear had on my life and the reality of anxiety that often overcame me, I began to have the chance to step toward freedom and peace.  While I’ve never actually been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I am sure that at various times in my life (and maybe even now!), I could have easily been diagnosed as such.  Those feelings can be so consuming at times that I literally can’t get out of them.  Val has literally held the hand of my heart and walked with me out of the grip of anxiety through patience, acceptance, love, listening, speaking truth, prayer, and continually pointing me to Jesus and His love and tenderness toward me.  Those terrifying moments of gripping anxiety have become fewer and farther apart, and when they do arise, I have more tools now to almost always find my way out of that grip.

Recently, a counselor in our life explained that anxiety is basically seeing your future without God in it.  This unlocked so much for me.  Val and I have done healing prayer with people where Jesus takes a person back into a memory and shows that person where He was in that memory.  Seeing Him back there in that memory can be so very healing.  This process is basically what the counselor was sharing with us, but future-oriented as opposed to past memories.  

I am now often able to engage this prayer approach toward the future: rather than asking God where he was in past memories (healing prayer), I ask God where He will be in my future fears.  I am learning that when I am lost in anxiety, I am actually lost in seeing a future reality without God in it.  But if I can find Him in it, the fear often loses its grip on me.  Sure, there could be really hard realities ahead of me, but the anxiety does not have to grip me because He will always be with me. 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.           1 John 4:18 (ESV)

So, I am learning to trust His love for me both in the present and in all future realities, even the ones where fear taunts at my heart and threatens to grip me with anxiety.  I am learning to acknowledge that I actually do struggle with anxiety, rather than ignoring the struggle out of shame.  And I am experiencing His nearness and power and strength.


…and sometimes even after all that…after I have prayed and found Him in the anxiety-driven reality…after acknowledging that anxiety is running rampant…a glass of red wine helps to slow my mind and body down and reset me.  So there’s that common grace, too. 

(Image created through snapp.io)

6.08.2016

Our Life Anthem

About a month ago, Val traveled to Oklahoma City to do a talk at the Christian Community Health Fellowship annual conference.  Because I wasn’t able to go with him this year, I just today heard the talk he gave.  He totally nailed it.  He was able to express the reality of Jesus and of walking with Him in a way that I rarely hear expressed so clearly.  What Val expressed is truth and counteracts the all-too-common concept of Christianity being a faith of trying hard to be better.

This talk is something everyone needs to listen to.  It is literally everything I have learned about Jesus the past decade.  It is the freedom I am learning to live in as I acknowledge my weakness, pain, struggle and sin, releasing myself into Jesus’ acceptance and discovering His power in it all.   The talk is 38 minutes long and so worth it. 

I would classify this talk as the life anthem of our life and family. 


CCHF OKC Val Tramonte from CCHF on Vimeo.


6.03.2016

Pressure Cooker


Some seasons of life feel like we’re literally being cooked in a pressure cooker.  Sometimes those seasons are brief and only last a little while.  Sometimes, those seasons last for years.  Since getting married seven years ago, Val and I have had two major waves of “pressure cooker” seasons that each lasted for years at a time. 

Here’s how a pressure cooker works: a pressure cooker is basically a sealed pot that uses pressure to raise the internal temperature higher than the normal boiling point for quicker cooking: “…the higher the pressure, the shorter the cooking time.”2

So basically, pressure on the contents raises the temperature and cooks those contents in a shorter amount of time than it would take without the pressure and higher temperature.  More pressure equals higher cooking temperatures which leads to quicker cooking time. 

Our pressure cooker seasons are like this in life, right?  In those pressure cooker seasons, a variety of life pressures press down on us, the intensity of our life is raised, and (hopefully) growth and maturity are reached quicker than if we were going through life without those pressures.  What seems like pressure and discomfort may actually have a valuable purpose in our life. 

But.

Sometimes things go awry with pressure cookers.   While it is assumed that the main danger of these pots is that the lid will come flying off sometime during the cooking process, it is not a likely danger.

“The reason it doesn't come to that is that as long as the pressure builds up at a reasonable rate (as opposed to somebody intentionally making a bomb) it will fail at the weakest point, and that's usually the valve or the seal.

The two bigger dangers, which are still the biggest risks today, are that people will either put their face in front of the relief valve and get scalded by steam that is released during normal operation, or else open the lid after cooking before the pressure inside has a chance to equalize, and then they get boiling liquid and steam shooting out through the gap as it opens. I suppose contents being hotter than normal is also a risk, they cook at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 212 degrees or less for conventional boiling and simmering.”2

So, a pressure cooker is essentially safe as long as you don’t put your face in front of the relief valve and as long as you don’t open the lid before the pressure has equalized.  However, if you pry the lid open before the internal pressure has equalized, you risk getting steam and boiling contents all over you. 

The same is true in life.  We run the risk of getting burned when we don’t allow the pressure of life to equalize after those pressure cooker seasons.  God has been at work cooking something good in our life through the pressure, but there is a necessary time of equalizing after the pressure has been lowered.  You can’t just shut off the pressure and expect it to immediately recalibrate; rather, the pressures that were present need time to be equalized.  We need time to recalibrate after seasons where life has pressed down so hard.  If we don’t recalibrate, we run the risk of spewing our hot mess all over those closest to us. 

During our most recent “pressure cooker” season, Val and I had multiple pressures pressing down on us for a number of years. However, once we identified that we needed to release some pressure and recalibrate our life, we really did remove every pressure we were able to remove and minimized those that couldn’t be removed.  And for a while, we sensed a temporary peace as the pressure began to subside.

However, as I look back over the past year, I can see how we actually pried the lids off our life a little too soon, spewing our own hot messes all over each other, hurting one another in the process.   We weren’t able to see how much more recalibration was still necessary for each of us after years of so much pressure.  And as such, when the lids of our internal realities were lifted, the equalizing pressure and intense heat of our internal realities made a mess between us.  It took a while to sort out the mess and get it cleaned up.  In fact, it was God Himself who stepped in and began cleaning up the mess of our super intense internal realities that had spewed everywhere.

Once the mess was cleaned up, our marriage now stronger than ever, we have begun to see into each other’s lives and see that God was actually cooking something really good during those seasons of pressure.  What had seemed like a huge hot mess spewing everywhere a year ago when we hadn’t fully equalized yet, was actually some amazing growth and maturity in each of us (click here to read, “When Marriage Isn’t Working”).  A year ago, all we could see was the hot mess that had gone everywhere and was all over each other.  Now we can actually see what was in each other’s lives as a result of maturing through those pressures.  We just needed God to come clean up the mess of our personal realities and point us back to what He had been doing all along.  

As we prepare to celebrate seven years of marriage, we see ourselves entering a new season, hopefully with the pressure lids off and just simmering a bit, keeping alive what God had been developing in us all along.

This is where I find myself re-engaging the blog here.  I’ve grown and changed and learned a lot these past seven years, continually being transformed and made new.  I have a lot in my heart I want to share with you all and want to use this space to speak more boldly, more vulnerably, and more bravely. 

Will you join me on this next phase of my journey as I begin to share some of the results of what God’s been developing in my life the last seven years? 

What’s your story: How has God used seasons of intense pressure to bring about something good in your life? 



(Image created at snappa.io) 



1 https://fastcooking.ca/pressure_cookers/how_pressure_cookers_work.php
2 https://www.quora.com/Under-what-circumstance-would-a-pressure-cooker-explode-and-what-kind-of-damage-would-it-do

4.29.2016

Six

Elijah!  Dude, you are six.  Can you even believe it?  Six years old!  You have grown up so much this year, and I love getting to be your mom as you grow!  I am watching your childhood happen right before my eyes.  I love that I get to be in it with you!

You are awesome!  So precise.  So creative.  So smart.  So silly.  So tall.  So amazing.  I love you so much! 

You create the most elaborate worlds with your Legos.  You’ve built all kinds of worlds with themes ranging from the Lego Movie to Angry Birds to Transformers to Minecraft to Shopkins…all just from Legos.  You can see things in all your random Lego pieces before they come to be.  And then you make it happen.  Your creativity is phenomenal.  Both dad and I are super impressed with your creative worlds.  Lately, you’ve even begun drawing stories and narrating them to us as you draw the action in them.  I love this!

You’ve become so good at school this year.  Over this year in kindergarten, I have watched you become a learner.  You are absorbing so much and making connections all over the place…tying in things from school to shows you’ve watched to the world around you.  You are a total math whiz, doing mental math all the time.  You have also begun to read, which is a big deal because learning to read is h-a-r-d work!  I love remembering the day that you told Solomon that you couldn’t wait for him to start kindergarten because then he could learn how to read, your words full of anticipation and excitement for him also to gain what you’ve learned this past year!

You are growing up in how you handle problems, struggles, conflicts with your brothers, desires and wants.  I see you growing in maturity.  It’s super cool to see.

You also are connecting with Jesus in your own way, and I see that connection actually settling your soul.  I don’t even want to write any more here because this is so your own thing that I don’t want to over-define your spiritual reality for you.  It’s just super cool!

You are a great brother and an awesome son.  You bring so much to our family, and I am so, so glad that God put you in this family of ours!  I love you so much and have learned so much by being your mom. 

You are a really fun person!  You have really gotten into Angry Birds lately, watching the show, playing all the different Angry Birds games on the phone, and even playing with the K’nex sets of Angry Birds.  You love them.  You also love Star Wars, the Justice League, and the Avengers.  You love your Imaginext figures and play with them almost daily.  You also love your Legos.  You love your Nabi.  “Nabi time” is such a fun way to learn and play for you!

You also really love bananas lately.  You literally eat 2-3 bananas a day right now.  Bananas, bacon, bread with strawberry jelly, chocolate milk, pickles, cucumbers with Italian dressing, BBQ chips, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, Kit Kats, and Sour Patch kids are some of your favorite foods.   You have branched out and tried more new foods this year than ever before.  So, that’s pretty cool! 

You really have grown up so much this past year!  You are such an awesome kid!  And I am so glad I get to be your mom!

Happy sixth birthday, buddy!