Posture Of The Heart : Kat Mills

I’ll never forget a story I was told when I was twelve about my big sister in the congregation at a youth service.  She happened to have her hands in her pocket as she was singing, and got tapped on the shoulder by the worship co-ordinator and told off because it was deemed as “an unacceptable posture” in worship. She was really upset, and I can still remember the feeling of indignation and righteous anger I had on her behalf - how dare someone judge the way she worshipped based on her body language. It was damaging.

It was only when I was sitting in one of the first sessions on the 10,000 Fathers intensive when Aaron was delivering some really challenging teaching that it hit me right between the eyes. I was so upset about this happening to my sister all those years ago, but the reality was that I had been doing the same thing to others for many years.  I hadn’t gone as far as tapping someone on the shoulder and having a go at them for it, but it had been happening in the mutterings of my heart - just as bad.

I think if we are all completely honest, we’d probably admit that we judge people based on their outward behaviour.  I know that as a worship leader, it especially easy to look out at a congregation and see people just standing there, maybe sitting down or not looking like they are engaging and making snap judgments based on what is seen. I would even go as far as arrogantly assuming that they didn’t have as deep a faith as mine because their outward expression was not as exuberant and obvious as mine. 

Thankfully, God puts people in our lives who speak truths to challenge us, and this was one such moment for me.  I was deeply convicted about my judgement in this area, and knew that I needed to repent. I then needed to look deeper and be willing to understand that people respond differently and different expressions of worship are just as valid, because it’s not about the outward expression, but the posture of our heart.

I stepped down from leading worship for several months at this time as I felt God needed to help realign my vision and learn how to see others truly through His eyes, appreciate and love the differences I saw.

As I started on this journey I felt God take away my burden of frustration as I began to realise that I was, in fact, surrounded by people with a beautiful depth of faith, incredible gifts of prayer, wisdom and faithfulness, and who had persevered through so much. These people needed the encouragement to share these gifts, be released into them and the incredible and unique callings on their lives. My focus on expressions of faith and worship meant that I missed.

I started to realise that I needed to find ways in congregational worship that engaged people and helped them in their journey with God and I should not be dragging them, unwillingly, to dance in the aisles and jump for joy if that was not their character. I am learning to have realistic expectations and not fall into the trap of thinking that quieter ways of worshipping mean any less dedication to God.

I am so glad that I am learning that people can catch a vision and be stirred by the Holy Spirit without it manifesting in the same way.  It doesn’t have to look overtly loud and expressive to be deep. As a worship leader I have learnt to ask the questions: Where is my congregation coming from? What is their culture? How do they best engage with others? and how do they connect with God? My job is not to make them fit into a one-size-fits-all box, but to help release them in who they are, in their gifts and character and in their expressions of worship. It’s an ongoing journey of learning and I need to remain humble by relying on God and being in community with others.

Lauren Settembrini : Shining A Light On Anxiety

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It began as a feeling that would become dreadfully familiar, but that I had no name for at first. Statistics say that nearly 20% of people will deal with it at some point in their life - many suffering quietly, thinking they’re alone or feeling the shame that something is wrong with them. If you work in ministry, there can be even more of a stigma around it. But it doesn’t need to be this way – so let’s talk about it.

Before I knew the monster had a name, I remember waking up so many nights feeling like I couldn’t take a full breath, sure I was going to suffocate. The me of 10 years ago: an otherwise heathy 21-year-old, newly-married girl just trying to finish her senior year of college…wasn’t sure she’d make it through the night…several times a week. After several months of that, the “anxiety disorder” label came from my doctor. 

One particularly rough evening came a few years later, in February 2011. Nathan and I were at home, getting ready to meet some friends for dinner, when all of a sudden, my heart rate shot through the roof. I was literally putting on make-up and petting our dog (not a particularly stressful situation…) when I got hit with 180 bpm out of nowhere. Talk about thinking you’re going to die. Since nothing like this had ever happened before (and we were scared out of our minds), we immediately rushed to the ER. Lots of bloodwork, tests, and scans later, they told me I was physically healthy, and that it must have been a panic attack. I think that was supposed to make me feel relieved. Basically, it was a massive rush of adrenaline similar to what would happen if a bear was chasing you…only, no bear. 

My story is probably typical for an anxiety sufferer: it builds to a breaking point when you realize you have to do something about it - acknowledge it – because the rest of your life can’t possibly look like this, right? Reflecting on my own experience with anxiety has actually brought many of those feelings back as I write these words. It isn’t pleasant, and I hate that so many of you can relate to it. But if entering into the hard parts of my story can bring even the smallest relief or step towards healing for one person – it’s worth every bit. 

So, here are some things I’ve learned over the last decade. They don’t come from any sort of medical degree or professional training – just years of putting one foot in front of the other and figuring out what’s helped me get to the other side. 

Find someone to talk to. Whether it’s a spouse, friend, family member, pastor, or counselor – just the simple act of telling a trusted person that you’re feeling anxious helps lift the burden. Something about anxiety (and depression) tends to make people feel like they are the only ones struggling with it, or that they have to go through it alone, and the reality is that actually exacerbates the problem. You’re way more likely to get stuck in your head and in your fear when it remains an internal conversation – believe me. Try speaking it out loud every time, naming it for what it is, and just watch it begin to loosen its grip on you. If you do choose to talk to a counselor or other professional, they may also be able to help you identify things from your past that could be triggering the anxiety and give you tools for processing through it. 

Learn to articulate what you need in those times when it’s the most intense. Early in our marriage, when it became clear that this whole anxiety thing was something that would take time to work through, one of our biggest challenges was the breakdown in communication between someone who regularly experienced overwhelming anxiety and someone who didn’t struggle with it at all. 

When you’re in the thick of it, it’s very hard to think rationally about what you need in order to get out of it, mostly because that rational/reasonable thinking doesn’t typically help the feeling go away (this is something non-anxious folks can have a really hard time understanding). Even the most well-intentioned family member or friend probably won’t know what you need in those moments unless you can tell them. In order to figure this out, you’ll need to do the work of assessing your own mental and physical state before, during, and after experiencing anxiety. 

What are the things that make you feel more anxious? 

These are often the easiest to identify. For me, some of those things are being embraced/touched, feeling trapped, being physically alone, loud noises, and hot spaces. That list may look much different for you, but it’s well worth the investment of time to learn to name them. 

Similarly, what often makes you feel less anxious? 

Maybe it’s certain music, scents (for me, lavender is very soothing), breathing exercises, praying or meditating on a passage of Scripture (Psalm 116:7 is a go-to for me), having someone to talk to, laughing, being outside. 

Whatever those things are, do the work of learning what you need and articulate it to the people closest to you (certainly your spouse or roommate if that applies), preferably initially during a conversation when you’re not feeling overly anxious. That way you can establish some common ground and language for when you do begin to feel anxious, and you can walk through it knowing you have someone on your side.

Don’t think TOO far ahead. Now, I realize I’m talking to a fairly specific type of person on this one, so it may not apply to you. BUT if you’re the kind who looks ahead on the calendar for a whole week or two (or more), mentally listing all the things you have to get done in that time, and it causes the panic to rise because when in the world are you going to do it all – listen up! You don’t have to do it all today. You don’t even have to do it all tomorrow. Try taking things in smaller chunks and setting aside specific times or days to complete each task. Make written or typed lists so you don’t feel like you’re trying to remember everything. Then focus only on what you must do each day. Of course, things will come up along the way because life happens, but it will feel less overwhelming to add those things to your proverbial plate if you’re only holding a day’s worth of food versus an entire week’s. 

Exercise. I know, I know…why does every list have to include this one, right? Because it works. Don’t worry I won’t get too science-y here, but exercise (especially aerobic exercise) burns adrenaline (aka epinephrine) and boosts endorphins and serotonin levels. Regular exercise reduces the amount of adrenaline in your body while at rest (so less chance of that fake-out bear attack we talked about earlier) and boosts the brain chemicals that elevate mood and alleviate stress, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness. Who doesn’t want that? 

Like any new habit, at first you probably won’t feel like exercising. It’s hard, it takes steady discipline, and there will be times the progress is slower than you want. Go into it knowing that that’s normal and choose to stick with it anyway – the payoff will be so worth it. If you can find an exercise buddy or someone to hold you accountable to a set plan or number of workouts per week, that’s always helpful too.

Do something you love. Many times, the assault of anxiety turns your focus inward, and there can be much shame, anger, fear, and disorientation associated with that. When you feel anxiety creeping up, try taking a break and doing something you enjoy, even if it’s the simplest thing for a few minutes. Take a walk, pet your dog, turn on some music and dance around – whatever it looks like to you – just break the mental cycle by engaging in an activity that brings you joy! Laughter really is great medicine for anxiety. 

Practice thanksgiving. I had to come to the realization that (for me at least), anxiety wasn’t just physical, it was spiritual too. On some level, it was based in fear and doubt. Let me pause and say this: I’m NOT saying that if you deal with anxiety it’s because of a general lack of faith. This is not about casting blame. I’m simply acknowledging that the spiritual realm is very real, and that in order to address something like anxiety holistically, I believe we must be willing to talk about all the angles. 

Learning to name the things I’m thankful for was a huge step toward my healing and building up that foundational trust in the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. I don’t just mean the obvious/circumstantial type things…I mean learning to see the beautiful, God glory in every day, normal reality in a way that reminds you of His nearness. I’ve learned that it’s impossible to feel truly thankful and anxious at the same time – they just can’t coexist. This is basically putting Philippians 4:4-9 into practice. By paying attention to the gifts all around you, and bringing everything to the Lord with thanksgiving, that peace that passes understanding will guard you from anxiety. Practically, it can look like making a list, taking pictures, talking to someone, or telling the Lord directly through prayer and worship!

Give yourself grace. Resist the urge to feel discouraged if you begin to feel anxious again after a period of feeling good. Like most things in life, the path to growth and wholeness often looks more cyclical than we’d prefer. Sometimes anxiety can rear its head in different ways over time – this is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be stuck in anxiety your whole life, it doesn’t mean that you’re weak, and it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It’s ok, you’re just human like the rest of us. Take a deep breath, process through your life situation, and reflect on what’s changed. Return to the tools that have worked for you in the past. 

There may be seasons when more serious or traditional medical intervention is necessary. Over the course of six years, I was on and off several medications for anxiety. There tends to be a lot of shame associated with this in our culture, but sometimes it’s just the only way forward that we can wrap our minds around. 

That’s okay – there is grace here too. It does get better. 

If you are in a position of ministry leadership and have any history with anxiety in your past or present, my prayer is that you would feel the freedom to talk about it (maybe even write and sing about it!). There is such a temptation for us to feel like we have to have it all together in order to lead well, and while certain marks of maturity and growth do need to there, perfection is not a prerequisite to being a good leader. The shame and doubt that comes from that inner narrative – wondering if there is something wrong with you, thinking you’re not praying enough or somehow lacking in faith – it can be paralyzing. You may find yourself asking how you can help anyone if you’re still on the road to recovery yourself. As long as you’re on the road at all, there will be those behind you who need your testimony and encouragement, even if you’re only a little further ahead. And if you still have a ways to go, allow others who have found breakthrough to be an encouragement to you! This is one of the most beautiful purposes of community, and you will be blown away by the deepening of relationships that come as a result.

Your story is still being written, and it will be beautiful. 

The Lord is still working, and He is good. 

All is grace, and all will be well.

Remember Your Story : Taylor Breen

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Recently, my husband and I celebrated seven years of marriage. Right before our wedding, I bought a journal that we could write in – just little love notes and recordings of memories of things that we did over the years. I imagined we would write things like, “I can’t believe how amazing our marriage is” and “You never ever ever ever frustrate me; you are perfect.” You know, real and honest things like that. 

 

The day of our wedding, I wrote a little note to my husband, Sam, telling him how excited I was and how I couldn’t believe we were about to be married. Then on our first anniversary, I took out the book to read over all of the things that we had written over the past year…and I found that we had written a total of 6 letters. Six letters over 365 days. That’s all. I was so sad to not have recorded the ups and downs of our first year, like our first fight as a married couple, little things we loved about living together, the restaurants we frequented, or our thoughts about our tiny one bedroom basement apartment. I decided that every year, no matter how many letters we had written, our anniversary tradition would consist of looking back over the year, remembering as much as we could, and writing it down in our journal.

 

Seven years later, we celebrate as we read through what we wrote on each anniversary, remembering vacations, weddings, births, new friends, and loved ones we’ve lost. We laugh at funny memories, we sometimes cry, and we thank God for the years He’s given us and for the years ahead. This is our story. This is the life we’ve graciously been given. 

 

There’s something sacred about remembering, and remembering together. Our stories make us who we are; they bind us together and remind us and others of the faithfulness of God. In Joshua 4:2-8, after the Israelites cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the Lord tells Joshua to choose twelve people (one from each tribe) to choose twelve stones from the middle of the river. With those stones, they were to build a monument at their campsite after crossing the river. Then the Lord says this: “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones means?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” God is telling them that this monument will remind them to tell their story, the story of the faithfulness of God toward Israel.

 

We also see the significance of remembrance at the Last Supper, when Jesus “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:19-20). Every time we receive communion, we are to remember Jesus, what He has done, and the story of His faithfulness. 

 

Is it a practice in your life to sit and remember, and to thank God for who He is and what He has done? Do you sing and tell of the faithfulness of the Lord? Sometimes we can find ourselves worried about a bill we can’t pay, scared about a diagnosis from the doctor, lonely, ashamed of how we treated someone, and sure that God will not meet us in our pain and bring beauty out of brokenness. It’s in those times that we must look back and remember what God has done. Remember the times He was faithful when you didn’t think He would be. If you can’t remember, spend time with Him. Ask Him to remind you or show you where He was working. Ask your friends or family to encourage you and help you remember. 

 

And when things are going well, remember. Write down your celebrations! Take pictures! Talk about the goodness of the Lord with your friends and family. Do not let weeks and months go by without reminding yourself of the goodness of God. This will serve as your foundation of thankfulness in the hard times. 

 

Then, as leaders, let’s help our communities remember. Tell your story. Tell the story of your church. Write songs that help your community tell their stories. These can be stones of remembrance for you and your community, sparking conversation in the years to come about all that God has done. And they can serve as an encouragement to others to step into their story with trust that God will be, just as He has always been, faithful.