Fruit of My Womb Series: Choosing My Focus
Imagine being in a raft in the middle of the ocean. The ocean is turbulent and you are very afraid. Most people would be afraid in this situation and most of us would panic. Picture yourself on this raft and in the treacherous water. The waves are crashing and it looks like there is no way out but you are still on the raft. Because you are panicking, you are creating movement within the raft – movement that creates unnecessary roughness to an already bad situation. You keep moving around in fear and your focus is on the crashing waves and not on the fact that you are still on the raft. You start thinking about worst case scenarios like what if the raft flips over or sinks? These thoughts are moving through your mind faster than you can articulate them. With each hit of the wave you become more and more disheartened and forget that you are still on this raft. Because you are so focused on the waves, you fall out of the raft at times and that is the only time you focus on the raft. After you get to shore, you are relieved that you made it through the storm safely but throughout the journey you forgot that you were still in the raft the whole time.
I was listening to “Peace Be Still” by Lauren Daigle when the illustration about the raft came to me. It felt like God wanted to tell me something through this song. I want you to think of the raft as the Prince of Peace (Jesus), who freely gives the kind of peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). The rocky waves represents the storms of life – I know, cliche.
Many times I go through difficult times and forget about the Prince of Peace and the kind of peace that He freely gives. I am in this “life storm” where it seems like I get one hit after the other. I am so focused on each problem as it arises that I forget about peace. I forget that it is available to me. Although, I may be in harsh times right now and it feels like I can’t catch a break, I am still in the raft and it is available to me. Peace is available for me to take. I feel like I innately believe that peace should come effortlessly like a leaf falling from a tree but sometimes I have to take it with purpose. In the illustration, the focus is on the waves and not so much on trying to stay in the raft. What I focus on is what I hold onto. I have a choice – I can focus on the problem or holding onto my peace. No one can control the ocean just like no one can control some of our life issues but I focus on the problems like that will resolve them.
If you are reading this then you may already know that I am going through infertility struggles (if not, please read the blog post here: https://naturalbeauty-for-ashes.com/family-life/). A couple of weeks ago, I discovered my period was late. I was 5 days late and took a pregnancy test because being that late is very unusual for me. The test was negative. After some prompting from my husband, I called my doctor to ask questions about what was happening. (I had a myomectomy a few years ago and he wanted to be sure everything was okay). The nurse told me to take another test the next morning and call back with the results. The test was negative again. At this point I did not get my hopes up as I have been down that road of disappointment before. The doctor then scheduled a blood test which also came back negative.
Time went by and I still did not get a visit from Aunt Flo. Day 10, 11 and 12 came and went and still no visitation but on day 14 that all changed. As time lapsed and my period did not come, I allowed myself to believe that I was pregnant and got excited about a child that was never conceived. This one hit me harder than expected. I grieved the non-existent baby and walked around with a ball of anger inside – it felt like a physical ball. As soon as I got home I would do a mixture of cry and scream. Nothing soothed me and at this point I was yelling at God. I didn’t know how else to talk to Him. While all of this was happening, life and obligations still needed to happen. I forced laughs and smiles as I went to work, church and completed daily tasks. I felt stupid for grieving someone who was never alive but I was actually grieving the family moments that I had already concocted in my head. I was angry at me for putting myself on the road to disappointment again. I was angry at God for allowing my period to be so late and raising my hopes only to be let down again (although I knew that this was not His fault). I was angry with Him but I didn’t want to be. I wanted answers. I still want answers that I still don’t have but I am still in the raft.
To Be Continued…
Braids, Dolls, and Faith
There is a story from my childhood that seems to recur in my thoughts this year. It’s a story about braids – yes, braids. Cornrow braids to be exact. If you do not know the type of braids I am talking about – Google is your friend, lol. Anyway, I keep thinking about the moment I finally learned how to braid hair in cornrow braids.
I asked my mother to teach me how to braid hair the way that she had done my hair countless times. I expected for her to drop what she was doing and start a lesson right away. I thought she would start to do my sister’s hair and give me a play by play on what to do. This did not happen. She simply told me to “go play with your dollbaby” – that is how she referred to our dolls. I was confused. “What did playing with my doll have to do with what I had asked her?” It did not make any sense to me but I did what she told me to do. I played with the doll the way I had always played with her. I pretended to be her mom. I fed her and changed her clothes. I put ponytails in her hair. I still did not know why my mother told me to do this? A couple of weeks later, I asked her to teach me again. I thought maybe her answer would be different this time. Maybe this time she actually had the time to properly teach me? I asked her again. “Mommy, can you teach me how to braid?” Her response was the same, “Go play with your dollbaby.” Again, I was confused and a little frustrated. Her answer did not make sense and this is the second time that she said it. I actually remember thinking, she may not have wanted to take the time to teach me but I went and played with my doll again. This time I had the idea to place my hands in the doll’s hair the way I had always seen my mom place her hands in both me and my sister’s hair. I tried to form a braid the way that she did but it did not form. The more I tried the more frustrated I got until I gave up. I did not ask her again for a while. I thought if I let a little time pass, she would forget about her previous responses and finally show me how to braid when I asked her again. Months went by and I asked her again. “This time there will be a different answer”, I thought. “This time she will give me exactly what I asked for the way that I wanted it.” I asked once again and what do you think happened? Nothing different. The same response came my way, “Go play with your dollbaby.” I didn’t show it but I was in shock. Her response nor her demeanor ever changed no matter how many times I asked her the same question. I went to my grandfather’s den and looked at my doll. “I guess I will try this again”, I thought. I formed my hands in her hair just like my mom did in my hair and I tried to move my hands the way I saw her do so many times before. I could not believe it! I was actually braiding hair! It finally happened! I combed the braid out of the doll’s hair and attempted it again and I was able to do it again – even better than the first time! I couldn’t run to my mom fast enough to tell her the feat I just conquered. She looked at me and said, “I told you.”
Now I know you must be thinking, “This is a great stroll down memory lane but was it worth a blog post?” I promise I am making a point – a few points.
I can’t tell you how many times I have asked God for something and I had the answer already planned out in my head. I knew exactly how I thought God should answer my prayer. I, of course, never shared this plan with God – not that it would have done much good as He knows the best way to get things done. I have asked Him the same questions or made the same requests over and over again and He gives me the same answer over and over again in the same manner my mother did (calm and sure). I will sometimes wait before I will ask again because I think that He will change His mind over time and He doesn’t. This frustrates me because He is not following MY plan. If I gave in to what He was doing I could have avoided the frustration. (Psalms 46:10)
Also, I spent enough time with my mother and watched the motion of her hands so many times as she did our hair, that a lot of what I needed to complete the task was already in me. When I spend time with God the way that I should, I take on his mannerisms and I start to act the way that He does and respond to different situations the way that He would. I will never be perfect but as the old saying goes, you are who you hang out with. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I still braid my hair from time to time and I usually get a compliment along with the question, “How did you do that?” Each time it brings me back to that moment I realized my mom knew what she was doing all along. My response is always, “Practice.” The truth is everyone can learn how to braid just like I did. I can tell you about my experience and give advice on the subject because I am now on the other side of the hump. It’s the same way in our lives when God brings us through lessons and experiences we can then share with others and inspire hope. As we share our story it will inspire more confidence in God and His love for us. Proverbs 3:5-6 is my favorite scripture because this is where it all starts. The moment I fully trust in Him and not my own understanding, life starts to take shape a lot better.
Believe the One He Sent
According to the dictionary, self-confidence is a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement.
Admittedly, I do not have much trust in my own abilities in many areas of my life and at times, I rely on accolades of others to point me in the “right” direction. As I type that, it feels weird; but it is honest. When I am at work, I move and make decisions without thinking about them because I am confident in my abilities and the asset that I am to my team; or if called upon to make something look aesthetically pleasing, I am pretty sure I can complete the task.
When it comes to other areas of my life, I will do the different tasks with trepidation and a little anxiety although I try to hide it. I do enjoy these things and aspire to build on certain skills, but I don’t always believe in my own ability. I work hard at talking myself into doing things that I already want to do, but also fear to do.
On the other hand, at times I do have confidence that I am able to do something well but choose not to share it for fear of being boastful or taking somebody else’s shine. Generally speaking, at times, others have put us in a box and expect that we are supposed to stay in said box; and we allow it to continue.
What I just shared is a storm that brews in many of us that breeds frustration, anxiety, and maybe depression.
Reading the Bible and having time with God has really helped me while I am figuring out this stage in my life. He is showing me a lot about myself and it is not always pretty. But it is very necessary in order for me to move to the next level of life. God pointed me in the direction of Haggai 1:2-11. I invite you to read it (after reading this post) but I will give a brief synopsis.
The Jewish people of that time returned to Jerusalem from exile and there were many repairs that needed to be done, including the temple. God told them to rebuild the temple and for eighteen years they let that project fall by the wayside, while they were busy building their own homes. God sent Haggai to tell the people that they were supposed to have the house of God built. They were so busy investing so much into themselves and their worldly possessions, but they saw very little benefit from it. Haggai put a mirror to them, so they could realize what they were doing was not working. The people began to build the temple and then began to praise God and He was with them.
What does that have to do with confidence, Ashley?
Many of us are on this hamster wheel where we are busy getting things accomplished for our goals and aspirations, but we are not fulfilled.
I have been working hard to exercise and eat healthy, keep an organized home and life, be the best that I can be at work – believing that if I can get all these things just right, I will be more confident in other areas of my life. All of this is good, but without God in the center it’s nothing and it leaves me empty. I am outpouring all my energy for little to no gains. I have been on a hamster wheel and I want off. Honestly, I have been looking at me, me, and more me and it is selfish. Matthew 6:33 and Luke 12:31 says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” Everything that I need comes from God. Everything that I desire to attain from other sources can never be attained at the level that He gives. The gifts that He gives are of the highest quality and they are matchless. If we need peace, He gives it to us beyond anyone’s understanding. We need joy? His joy will be our strength. When I allow Him to be the center and obey Him, the energy that I pour out will still energize me because I am pouring into the things and people He wants me to pour into. He knows better than I. When I completely trust that, I completely trust Him; and as He leads, I will follow. The pressure to be perfect and look confident is diminished because everything I have is in God.
I will give an example. When my sister and I were young girls, we would sit in the back of the car and play or sleep while our parents drove to our destinations. Sometimes we knew where we were going and sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes the front seats would block my view of what was ahead, but we trusted the driver completely and did not question every turn. I want to be that way with God because it takes the pressure off being “on” all the time and all I must do is what He asks of me because He is perfect.
I also want to leave you with this. Jesus said in John 5:36-37, “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard; his form you have never seen; and you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.”
Jesus, who is God, had confidence in God the Father and therefore, had confidence in himself because he knew that God sent him and gave him the abilities to do his work. It is no mistake that you are in the position that you are in at work, you have the children that you have, or that you struck up a conversation with the person at the supermarket. God has sent you into these situations on purpose and if His word is abiding in you, you will believe the one whom He has sent.
Burned to a Crisp
I sat in the church service, not knowing what was going on. From beginning to end, the tears were flowing, and I could not stop them (Lord knows I wanted to). At the end of the service, I went to have someone pray for me and I could barely articulate what my issues were. Thankfully, the person praying for me was someone I knew. She prayed for me and my husband as I sobbed all over her blazer. I could not help it; it would not stop. With my makeup completely destroyed, I walked back to my car and asked God, “What was that?” The few days after, I figured I could work through this as I have before. “You keep living life and plowing through.” But this was a different situation than what I have ever experienced before. I could not pull myself from whatever this was. I asked myself, “Girl what is wrong with you? You have a blessed life.” I had to truly go to God and have Him tell me what was going on with me. The answer – I was burned out.
I do not let many people in. I keep moving. I live in my head. I don’t ask for help a lot. I feel like I must be strong, or everything will fall apart. I know that many women can relate to these sentiments, which can be a recipe for disaster. At some point, this way of being catches up to all of us. We don’t even realize it is happening until we are sitting in the front row of a church service sobbing uncontrollably. Writing this post has made me think about the situation in it’s entirety. Weeks before my “episode” I remember being annoyed easily and grasping at anything to make me feel comfortable in my own skin. I was always thinking and I felt heavy yet empty at the same time. This way of being is exhausting to a person’s mind, body and soul. You cannot do your best living this way and the negativity that comes with it permeates through all the areas of your life.
Here are some things that I am learning right now:
- God must be the center of my life.
I knew this before, and I thought I was making Him the most important thing in my life. But if I am honest with myself, I allowed life to get in the way of our relationship. I spoke with Him everyday and He would speak to my spirit at times; but there were weeks that I did not give God my complete attention. It’s kind of like the relationship between my husband and me. There are days that we say hi to each other and talk for about five minutes while we are on our phones or doing something around the house. Then there are date nights when our focus is on each other—and not the needs of our jobs or social media. I need this with God to keep me sane.
- We were never meant to live life alone.
My pastor says this often and I always agreed, but I did not know what that truly meant until that day at church. I do not let many people in and as a result, it is very difficult making friends. When I say friends, I mean people who are like family—who I feel so comfortable with that I tell them almost everything. Truth be told, I do have people who I can talk to in my life, but I also have this thing where I don’t want to bother anyone with my issues. Everyone has their own problems. Why should I dump mine onto others? I am learning that we need people to “dump on” and that if we look hard enough, they are ready and willing to be there for us. Also, I have to make myself available to people. If I want friends, I can not be a hermit and spend all my time in my house with nothing but my own thoughts to keep my company. I must be willing to cultivate relationships with people. I am still learning this lesson.
- Have non-negotiable appointments with myself.
I am learning that certain things that I do throughout the day regenerate me: Spending time with God; working out (exercise); spending time outside; reading a good book; or allowing myself to write whatever comes to my mind. These are things that give back to me in some way. I must invest in these types of activities in order to have something to offer to the world.
Making these few changes has made me feel like I can now come up for air. Not only have I learned what not to do; I can recognize the signs of exhaust quicker than I have before. When I recognize it, I can do something about it; and I am better equipped to ask for what I need while I am on the road to restoration.
As I started delving into my situation and why it came to be, I couldn’t help but think about the people who feel this way and don’t feel like they have a way out. Suicide is running rampant. There are teenagers, moms, and even celebrities ending their lives. Once that decision is made and carried out, there is no coming back from that. If you are reading this and feeling like life would be better if it were over, please reconsider. If you feel alone, God loves you more than anyone else can and things can always get better.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255