So why would I fear the future? For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life. [Psalm 23]
We lived a lot of life in 2018.
I’m sure you did too.
Coming into 2018, I noticed my social media feed was filled with a lot of “thank God 2017 is almost over” posts. It would have been an easy thing to dismiss as some bandwagon NYE topic except I knew these people and their stories. My dear friends weren’t trying to be trendy or funny. Their simple captions represented genuine places of pain: divorces and breakups, job losses and financial pressures, health struggles and mental torment, broken dreams and disappointments.
I really wanted to join in with their lament. 2017 wasn’t exactly my favorite either. I was ending the year with some overwhelming health issues and the doctors were unable to identify what was going on with my body. I felt held captive by the unknown. Every day, sometimes every hour, I found myself at a fork in the road leading towards faith or fear. Every symptom pushed me to make a decision — give in to the fear of the unknown or press on in faith despite the unseen. It was exhausting.
For whatever reason, things seemed worse at night. It was like all the “what-ifs” were amplified as the noise and distractions and demands coming from the outside world quieted down at the end of each day. I started to dread the night.
That’s the state I was in as I was about to ring in 2018 — dreading the end of each day, but desperately reaching for the end of the year. Looking back, I can see now that I was banking on the power of time to wipe away my pain instead of placing my trust in the Creator of time and space Himself.
So there I stood on New Year’s Eve, surrounded by friends with glass in hand about to make my own “thank God 2017 is almost over” toast when a scripture leapt into my heart and shut my mouth.
You crown the year with Your goodness… [check out: Psalm 65:11]
The thought was so contrast to the moment I was living in that I just let it play over and over again in my head.
You crown the year with Your goodness.
You crown the year with Your goodness.
You crown the year with Your goodness.
Like a shock to my system the promise shook me awake in an instant.
That night I refused to crown 2017 with complaint. I was still sick. I was still not looking forward to facing another silent night. But I had a promise — every year would be marked by God’s goodness, not by my pain…or disappointment…or failures…or losses…or fear…
I’ve heard it said that there is nothing magical about January 1, and I agree that the date itself holds no real power to determine our success or failure in starting a new year strong. However, I’ve always held January 1 in high regard because —whether you choose to acknowledge it or not by setting specific resolutions or making a list of goals — the day seems to spark a universal decision in almost all of us. January 1 invites us to believe that it doesn’t have to be like it’s always been, and for whatever reason, I’ve found that on this day, over any other day of the year, many of us are more open to actually accepting that invitation by starting to walk in the direction of change.
So on January 1, 2018 I decided to believe that my year would be marked by God’s goodness.
If this promise was true for the years ahead of me then it was also true for the years behind me. So instead of shaking off 2017 quickly and hoping for a better year ahead, I gathered evidence (real stories of God’s goodness to me) to bring with me into the new year. I looked back on 2017 and searched for His goodness, and I found it.
The truth was that 2017 had been filled with God’s goodness. When I actually thought about it, I could list many big and small ways God had blessed me in 2017. I didn’t have the scrape the barrel for this list either, it was obvious — my amazing husband, my dear friends, my awesome job, my supportive family, along with many stories of God’s provision and protection.
I had almost let my pain overshadow the overwhelming goodness woven throughout my life. Discouragement had convinced me to give what was inferior — temporary pain and unbridled fear — a place of superiority in my life.
As I dwelled on His goodness, I was strengthened. Whenever a complaint of the present or a worry about the future entered my mind, I would remind myself of something good God had done and the anxiety began to ease up. After a while, I realized that God had placed a weapon in my hand — a weapon called thanksgiving.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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. [check out: Philippians 4:4-8]
Thanksgiving is like a machete, it cuts through the thick cobwebs that pain and anxiety spin around our hearts and creates a clearing for peace to reign.
As 2018 progressed, I got sicker. But God wouldn’t let me forget — He crowns the year with goodness. Whenever I started to spiral back down the black hole of fear, He would offer me truth that served like a lifeline in my greatest hours of need. The way He delivered truth to me during this time could easily have been dismissed as coincidental if I had not been sensitive to His voice — a teaching, a podcast, a scripture, a conversation with a friend — the grace never ran dry [check out: 2 Corinthians 12:9]. Don’t ever dismiss these every day interactions as a product of chance. Even in our seasons where we may be least intentional with ourselves, God remains most intentional with us and provides what we need when we need it [check out: Luke 12:22-29].
This didn’t happen in a matter of days or weeks, but months. While that timeline may seem daunting, I’m so thankful that I wasn’t healed in an instant because I was being given rich treasure every day — the longer it took, the more treasure I gained.
I was becoming whole before I was becoming healed. The current circumstances were losing their grip on me. Fear was no longer in the driver’s seat of my life, I was changing. The practice of thanksgiving built up my faith and faith became like a shield for me [check out: Ephesians 6:16].
However, nights were still the hard for me for two reasons: 1) anxiety at night had become habitual, meaning even when I was feeling physically fine and no symptoms were present I had built a habit of fear that was trigged by night and 2) I thought that if I ignored it and just pushed through it would just go away.
Again, the Lord shook me awake with promise:
I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. [Psalm 34:4]
When I said, “My foot is slipping,” Your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy. [Psalm 94:18-19]
Now, because of you, Lord, I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for no matter what happens, I will live unafraid! [Psalm 4:8]
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. [Isaiah 41:10]
I believed that I had to face the fear before I could break the habit of dreading the night. This came by no great revelation, I simply knew this because ignoring it wasn’t working for me. In fact, internalizing the fear by trying to ignore it was actually causing even more stress within my body. But I had delayed facing the fear because I didn’t think I could do it alone. I couldn’t do it alone. I knew the moment I faced the fear, it would be exposed and it would no longer be this vague sense of “I’m afraid” that I could stuff down deep within in me for one more night, it would be finally defined into “I’m afraid of_________.” It was whatever may have filled the blank that had me running from the showdown with fear.
I’m afraid of dying.
I’m afraid that if I continue to have to live with this sickness, I won’t want to live at all.
I’m afraid my prayers won’t be answered.
I’m afraid I’m not strong enough to fight this.
I’m afraid I’ll never feel normal again.
Whenever I pictured myself finally facing the fear, I was always doing it alone, and that was terrifying. Would the imaginations of such fear run so wild that I would lose myself to it? Would these imaginings become real if I finally confessed them?
But these promises God had illuminated to me painted a much different picture. The promises didn’t require me to face the fear alone, instead they simply invited me to bring the fear to God and allow Him to take care of the rest.
Whenever “do not fear” is mentioned in the Bible (over 300 times), the Lord is always close by. The overarching promise for all of us is this: We will never be left alone with fear. You will never be left alone with fear. I will never be left alone with fear.
So I confessed all the fear to God and asked for Him to deliver me from it. The confession didn’t happen all at once, it came in waves. In a way, just like thanksgiving, it was a practice I needed to learn. I had internalized fear for such a long time that it had become second nature to me. So I would catch myself doing it, and need to recalibrate. However, God is Patience so there was no condemnation in the process, only more freedom in each step towards Him. A new habit began to form, and as I handed over the fear to God, it was exposed. But instead of the exposure running wild and forming my reality, like I had been afraid it would do, the exposure allowed me to see the fear accurately.
In the presence of God, fear is a very flimsy thing. In fact, held up against all His promises over me, the fear had no significance at all.
During this time, I saw how much fear chokes the creativity out of us. When I was bound up by it, I could not dream of a better reality. I was stuck in the trenches of my current circumstances, and any attempt to dream or imagine was spent on worst-case scenarios. But as I released the fear to God, I was released from fear and I could dream again.
I was coming alive.
Then it occurred to me that a year crowned with goodness, was filled with days crowned by goodness. If God tops off each year with goodness, He could certainly do the same for each day. So when night came, and fearful thoughts started to creep up, I would confess the fear to God and give thanks for the day. I celebrated the wins (no matter how big or small), I would recall a promise from scripture and say it out loud, sometimes I would play a worship song or even look at social media to see if any of my friends posted something good from their day that I should comment on and share in the joy with them.
What had once been “what-if?” doubts seeped in fear became “even if” declarations of faith.
I was no longer wrestling doubts like, “What if I never feel normal again?” deep into the night.
Instead, I would declare, “Even if I never feel normal again, the Lord will sustain me and He will not let me be shaken.” [check out: Psalm 55:22]
Please don’t confuse this with positive thinking and self-help, this is spirit-empowerment.
Of this I am convinced, if I had tried to slay fear on my own, it would have destroyed me. I didn’t need a stronger self will, I needed a strong Savior.
This was not some big trust fall into my own self effort. It was not facing my fears that brought me relief, it was handing my fears over to the One who was bigger than my fears and saying, “Please remind me who I am by being all who You are.”
When it comes to fear God never asked me to contend with it, He only invited me to cooperate with His power.
As I held onto the promises and placed my trust in God, I discovered that the severity of my circumstances were no match for the intensity of a God in love.
Seven months into the year, I still had no answers for what was going on with my body. Tests had ruled out the obvious things, and I wanted to rejoice that nothing serious had been found, yet I so longed for answers it was hard to celebrate. During this time fear tried to disguise itself as wisdom. I felt so responsible for finding an answer that it was hard to think about anything else, in fact, it felt irresponsible and unwise to think about anything else but getting better. Seeking answers became all-consuming, and I had no peace in the process.
Too often we allow ourselves to be led by angst, when we’re called to be led by peace. In a moment of desperation, I stopped all the research, shut down the Google search, and went to God in prayer. The gist of the prayer was this: “God, please help me. I am not a doctor (for good reason, clearly I’m freaked out by all of this body stuff…thank you for creating people wired to handle it and give their lives to help people like me get better), and I cannot carry the weight of responsibility for cracking this medical mystery.”
All I heard was this, “Just take the next step.” I didn’t exactly know what that meant at the time, but I knew it was God because I had peace again. So I walked away from that conversation and waited for Him to illuminate the next step. A few days later I realized I had my annual physical scheduled on my calendar the following week with my OB/GYN physician. It felt like a next step.
During the appointment, I listed all my symptoms to my doctor. She listened to my long explanation and then said, “I’m not really alarmed because it sounds like it could be gut-related.” Now, this wasn’t the first time I had heard that what I was experiencing may be gut-related, but in that moment something clicked for me. She offered to refer me to a specialist if I wanted to do further testing just to be safe, but I didn’t have peace about that option. It’s important to note that I wasn’t afraid of further testing, I knew I wasn’t being led by fear this time. However, I felt a green light to pursue holistic treatment. It felt like a next step.
That’s when I discovered that there are a ton of holistic healthcare options in Atlanta. I was tempted to be overwhelmed again by the weight of responsibility in choosing the right one for me. But instead, I asked the Lord for direction. He reminded me I had a friend who worked at naturopathic doctor’s office. Duh. It felt like a next step.
I met with Dr. Jennifer Gramith at Rightway Health and Wellness in late August, and I was given a diagnosis that included a shot immune system, severe candida, inflammation, hormonal imbalance, and chronic stress. It wasn’t great news, but it was curable, and for the first time in over 8 months, I had answers. Not just answers, but I had a team of advocates ready to help me get well. I was not alone.
I began a health protocol that involved eating differently, detoxing, restoring certain nutrients through supplements, exercise, and identifying and managing stress. I had no idea how bad I was feeling until I started feeling better. Things I didn’t even know were issues for me like energy (I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to want to crash every afternoon), brain fog (it turns out I actually have a pretty good attention span), and pain (I just thought neck pain was normal every now and then) began to heal.
About two weeks into my protocol, I told my husband (who had been and continues to be a champion for me through it all) that I felt like I was becoming the person I was always supposed to be. I honestly felt like superwoman, I just felt so good.
And I realized something — I would never feel normal again. Remember that old fear? Well, normal for me back then had still not been fully alive.
“Even if I never feel normal again, the Lord will sustain me…” and He did.
I tell people God used wisdom to heal me. God could have healed me instantly, but if He had I would have continued to live a lifestyle that had made me sick in the first place. I was not only healed, but I was also empowered with the wisdom to stay well. It was no less miraculous for me to experience healing this way. God can use anything to heal you, trust Him in the process. Ask Him for the next step.
I know that there may be people reading this who are in the middle of their own long battle, perhaps a battle that has lasted for years not just months. Perhaps, you or someone you love is battling sickness that is not unknown but has been diagnosed with a label of permanency, like “terminal” or “chronic” or “inoperable.” You may be facing the impossible right now, and your fear does not feel unwarranted because there are plenty of facts and experience to back it up.
I have walked closely with ones so very dear to me through these battles, so I know the last thing you need is a pep talk or a to-do list. I will offer you no such thing.
I share my story to remind you that the severity of your circumstances is no match for the intensity of a God in love. God is so in love with you. Yes, you.
If you place your hope in Him, you’ll not be disappointed [check out: Romans 10:11]. Looking back, I see how I had first placed my hope in outcomes (finding answers, finding the right doctor, getting better, etc.), but it was when I placed my hope in God that I began to experience miraculous breakthrough. The breakthrough didn’t happened as I expected it would — I wanted instant healing. But I see now how low my expectations of God actually were. I only asked for physical healing, but God wanted so much more for me. He wanted me fearless, strong, at rest, and at peace. He wanted me both well and whole.
People still die. Marriages still end in divorce. Abuse is still prevalent. Jobs are still lost. Our lives sometimes unravel in ways that crush our souls. This is the world we still live in, and I type that with tears in my eyes — trust me, there is no flippancy in my heart towards your pain.
I wish I could be with you right now in the very midst of your darkest hour to offer you comfort and hope. I would cry with you. I would refrain from trying to fill the silence with empty words of condolence. I wouldn’t try to hush your cries of anguish. I would not ask you to grin and bear it or suck it up or ignore it. I would just be with you. I would stay with you so that you were not alone.
Friend, I am not kinder than God. If my human heart, as flawed as it is, longs to comfort you, how much more does your Heavenly Father long to bring you comfort?
You will never be left alone with fear.
The misconception is that the circumstances of our lives are indicators of how connected we are to God, and how close He is to us.
Maybe you’ve been told that if you had more faith you’d be healed, or if you just dealt with the sin in your life then God would show up for you.
Maybe you think because you’re battling depression, or fear, or sickness, or anxiety that your connection to God is severed and you’re considered less than in His Kingdom until you can pull yourself together.
God’s Word reveals the truth…
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” [Psalms 34:18]
God is already close to you. Our faith doesn’t bring God any closer. However, faith does change something. When we choose to believe the truth, like I did by focusing on God’s goodness in my life, we become aware to how close God already is to us. That awareness changes us — the way we see things, think about things, and ultimately the way we live our lives.
There is no code to crack. There is no wall of separation. There are no magic words to unlock God’s love for you. [check out: Romans 8:31-39]
These are Jesus’s words to us: And everything I’ve taught you is so that the peace which is in me will be in you and will give you great confidence as you rest in me. For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world! [check out: John 16:33]
Jesus never promised a perfect life in this world, but He did promise perfect peace. Notice He didn’t require perfection from you in order to access that peace. Instead He invites you and I to simply rest in Him — to trust Him, to believe Him. He’s perfect, so we don’t have to be. He came to earth to place His perfection on us so you and I could live lives marked by triumph not torment. [check out: 2 Corinthians 5:21]
Come as you are. Bring what you have. Believe in Jesus. It’s enough because He’s enough. He will give you the next step.
I ended 2018 with a cold (boo sickness). So Bruce and I rang in the new year together, just the two of us. No champagne, or live bands, or confetti, and no midnight kiss because of the stupid cold.
Instead, of checking off lists of accomplishments from the previous year and resolving to be better versions of ourselves in the next year, we spent the last hour of 2018 recalling all the goodness. All the times God had been near, and faithful, and kind, and trustworthy, and helpful — all the times He had been our Provider, our Protector, and our Refuge — all the times He led us, counseled us, and held us. We ran out of time, before we knew it it was midnight.
We lived a lot of life in 2018, and it was a good year. I look forward to the next.