When Anxiety Knocks and God Answers, Part 2

butterfly title

Several tools can be beneficial when you find yourself struggling with worry or anxiety.  As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, anxiety is something we have all experienced at one time or another as it is a universal emotional.  However, it is often experienced but seldom discussed.  When you are battling with this fear, it is important to access our greatest weapon – God’s Word.  Sometimes this concept can seem too simple but overwhelming all at the same time.

Whether you have occasional worries or regularly struggle with anxiety, here are some tips that can help:

Tell Someone:

Whether it’s a best friend, a parent, your spouse or a doctor, it is important to tell someone you trust.  When I struggled a few years ago, I came to a turning point when my friend Rebecca asked me to dinner.  At Chick-fil-a one evening, I spilled it all to her – the whole awful, messy truth.    As embarrassed as I was, she completely understood and gave me good advice.  That was a big turning point for me, because my humiliation of dealing with anxiety was just creating more anxiety.

C.S. Lewis once said “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”  Telling someone else means you no longer feel you have to carry the burden alone.  God worked through her that evening to help me take an important step towards embracing His Word and the freedom only it can provide.

 

You Can’t Do It Alone:

I learned the hard way that I could not fight this battle on my own because I would lose every time.  Realizing it was not my battle to fight, my rally cry became Exodus 14:14, which says “The Lord your God will fight for you.  You need only to be still.”

My old habits of repressing these emotions and distracting myself did not deal with the real issue at hand.   I finally rested in the fact that He had to do the fighting and my job was to remain close to Him and His Word.  (Disclaimer: So many times, when I just get over my own stubbornness and embrace whatever God is telling me, I realize that it affords me so much more joy and freedom than doing things on my own.  Often, I think we associate God’s Word with the drudgery of rule-following, but really it produces just the opposite – freedom from the very things that are weighing us down.)

 

Tackle Repetitive Thoughts

This is where the rubber meets the road for overcoming fearful thoughts, because we have to put Scripture into practice. Every single time you worry or have an anxious thought, you have to extinguish it with God’s Truth.  Worry and anxiety are habitual, so it is important to stop the cycle with the only thing that really can.  Here are a few tools that will help:

Worry Box – I have noticed that anxiety is most often a side effect of not trusting God in some aspect of my life.  For example, when my daughter went through a rare autoimmune disease, I was constantly worried about the results of her next weekly blood draw.  To remedy my worry, I would take a step back and prayerfully entrust my concerns to God.  The problem occurred when not 15 minutes later, I found myself worried about the same concern all over again.

A friend helped me to see that when I prayed, I was not laying my prayers at his feet and leaving them there.   I was praying but not trusting him enough to handle the situation.   Faith means we leave our requests at his feet, not to pick them up over and over again.  I really struggled with this and the following exercise helped me immensely!

First, every single time you worry, write down that worry on a small piece of paper.  Then, write down a verse or truth that counters that fear.  In worrying about my daughter’s disease, I’d write down Jeremiah 29:11, which reminded me to rest in the truth that He loves her more than I do and He is going to take care of her.  (By the way, my daughter is in complete remission from her disease!).

Once you write down the prayer request and a verse, pray about that worry, entrusting it to God.  Then, fold up the paper and put it in a small box.  When you find yourself tempted to worry about the same concern again, remember that “it’s in the box”.  In other words, you already prayed about it and trusted it to God.   The box was nothing but a physical representation to help me remember that I already laid my request at his feet and it was not to be picked up again.   Although there was nothing spiritually significant about the box, it was a good reminder to trust God with my worries and LEAVE them with him.  (I found that a Tazo tea box taken apart and re-taped makes a great Worry Box.)

worry box

Journal Anxious Thoughts – You can apply the same concept with a journal and it’s much more convenient when you are on the go.  When you feel anxious about something, simply write down that thought and a Scripture reference before you pray.  Then you have a visual reminder that you already trusted God with that request and you have no reason to fear!

I know what you must be thinking…“Seriously?!?  Are you joking?  Do you really expect me to take the time to write down every single anxious thought I have.”  That was my immediate mental response when my friend told me to try it.  To my surprise, it worked as it helped me to be accountable to every thought.  The more I recorded my worries in order to counter them with God’s truth, the easier it got and the more freedom I experienced from worry and anxiety.

 

Control your Brain’s Background Noise

I don’t know about men, but most women think in more than one layer at a time.  For example, I can be engaged in a conversation with my mom, while my background thoughts are simultaneously engaged in worry and anxiety about a completely different topic.  God created women’s brains to be multi-faceted, because He knew we needed to be well-equipped to multitask.  However, He didn’t intend for His daughters to be immersed in fear and anxiety while going about their God-given roles.

What worked for me was to drown out those background thoughts with new thoughts.  For example, if I found myself worrying while emptying the dishwasher, I’d read over a Bible verse on an index card and say it to myself over and over again.  Another tactic was to sing a song or listen to Christian music.  While our brains are amazing, they can only be occupied with so many conscience thoughts at once.  So, I basically forced my brain to be filled with something else than worry.  It even helps mundane tasks, like emptying the dishwasher, to go much faster.

 

Surround Yourself with God’s Promises

As I mentioned in the last post, butterflies were a reminder for me of God’s promise of His overwhelming love and ability to transform me.  Because I’m often quick to forget his faithfulness, I made a couple reminders of butterflies around the house to help me remember his ability to overcome my every struggle and transform me to be more like Him.

butterfly pics

To make some DIY framed art, I spray painted some old frames with Rustoleum Universal in Satin Nickel, my favorite silver spray paint.  Then, I framed some fabric (Premiere Prints Barber Village Blue) that already had butterflies.  To make the butterflies pop, I filled them in with a navy paint pen.    Also I bought a cute frame at Michael’s for my make-up table.  I cut a piece of canvas drop cloth the same size of the frame and stuck on some self-adhesive lace butterflies I found in the scrapbook section.  Throughout the day I see these frames and I am reminded about the Lord’s immense love for me and His willingness to transform me to be more like Him.

small butterfly frame

 

Jesus’ Name

Lysa Terkeurst once wrote that one of her greatest weapons against anxiety was Jesus’ name because the word itself carries so much power.  One night I found myself with anxious thoughts swirling through my head.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t fall asleep and I tried everything!  I decided to give her advice a try and started whispering His name over and over.    The next thing I knew it was morning.  This worked for me night after night and I still do this at bedtime when I have a lot on my mind.

mason jar peony

 

Whatever you are struggling with, know that it will not last forever, that God has a plan, and He will see it to completion.  God is powerful enough to create the earth so He is surely powerful enough to overcome any fears that are weighing you down, not matter how overwhelming.   Genesis 18:14 states, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Until a couple years ago, I struggled with anxiety off and on from the time I was a little girl.  These are the tools that were helpful to me when I finally decided to let God fight my battle.  God gave His Word the power to overcome any anxious thought, worry or fear.   He wants nothing more to give you freedom from this stronghold.  Of course, I still have worries and fears at times, but through the power of His Word, I was finally able to rest in Him.  Turn your burdens over to Him, because He never intended you to carry them in the first place.

 

Verses about Fear and Anxiety:

Philippians 4:6-7

John 14:27

2 Timothy 1:7

1 John 4:18

Joshua 1:9

Matthew 6:34

1 Peter 5:6-7

Psalm 27:1

Isaiah 41:13-14

When Anxiety Knocks and God Answers, Part 1

fight

Few know how much I have struggled with anxiety in the past.   This secret monster seems to rear its ugly head whenever I go through a lot of change or a transition in life.   Two years ago, I went through my most horrific experience with anxiety to the point that my heart would race and I had insomnia.  Experiencing these physical side effects made me realize that it was time I fully dealt with this all-consuming emotion.    My usual coping mechanisms of distraction and repression were only making matters worse.

Within the Christian realm, anxiety is often not a fashionable topic of conversation, however, it is one of the most prevalent struggles for Christians today.  Only three months ago, I sat around my Bible study group of several strong, seemingly unshakable women and shared about my past issues with worry and anxiety.  To my dismay, over half the women in the group admitted to having severe struggles with anxiety at some point of their lives, to the point it would manifest itself in debilitating physical symptoms.  It lead me to wonder if anxiety is so prevalent among Christians, why is it often swept under the rug?

I believe there are two main answers to this question, both equally dangerous.   Often we look at “worry” as something we just all do.  In fact, it is assumed that every good mother worries.  However, the Bible is clear in saying “Do NOT worry”.  In other words, “worry is non-optional”, as it will only add trouble to our day (Matthew 6).   Unfortunately, I feel like I have down-played this sin of worry in my own life, only to allow it to spiral out of control.  John Piper once said that “The root cause of anxiety is a failure to trust all that God has promised us in Jesus”.  If we don’t trust God with the small things, we eventually open ourselves up to distrust God with the big things.  Our distrust relinquishes our thoughts and emotions to focus on ourselves and the result is inevitably fear.  The alternative is to draw near to Him, knowing that He has full control and cares for us more than we can comprehend.  This is when we can experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7).

piper

The other reason I feel the problem of anxiety often goes unaddressed is that so few people will admit they struggle with it.  When I have struggled in the past, I didn’t want others to know because I was afraid someone would think I was crazy.  I was afraid that if I told someone how much my thoughts were consumed with worry, it would discredit me and my ability to do my job properly.

Worry or anxiety left unchecked will manifest itself in an array of physical symptoms including sore muscles, headaches, insomnia, racing heartbeat and stomach issues, just to name a few.  However, what can be more detrimental is the emotional and spiritual upset that anxiety can produce.    At the very least, it will rob you from the blessings God wants you to enjoy and a steady mindset that allows you to be open to the God-given opportunities around you.   When you allow worry to go unchecked, it will inevitably snowball.

Researchers have found that when we have a thought, it makes a neurological connection in our brain.  When we think the same thought over and over again, the connection becomes deeper much like a trench that is widened with every swipe of a bulldozer.  With every repetition of the same thought, that neurological connection is stronger, especially if the thought is connected to an emotion.  Therefore, problems arise when the thought is associated with fear or anxiety.  When we worry, we think the same anxious thought over and over and the trench is made ever deeper in our brain.  With each repeating thought, the fear becomes more consuming as this thought is more prevalent and easily accessed.  Before we know it, a small worry can snowball into tremendous fear as this connection is already augmented in our brain.  This is why worry can be so difficult to overcome and why a very small (almost undetectable) thought can result in a panic attack for some.   Therefore, small worries can quickly become overwhelming if this process isn’t stopped and reversed.

To remedy this problem, psychologists suggest to think a positive thought every time the initial worry comes to mind.  This will work eventually but you have to have a positive thought for every negative thought to undo this neurological connection and “backfill the trench” completely.  For professional worriers like myself, this could take a while.

However God gave us a short cut!  God’s Word is so powerful that it is exponentially more effective than mere positive thinking. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”    The Bible is not simply a history book or large devotional but it is the actual inspired Word of the very creator of the Universe, who breathed life into each one of us.  So surely, it is powerful enough to help us with anxious thoughts.  When we confront Satan’s lies with God’s Word, it refills this trench much more quickly and completely until our negative thoughts are completely filled with the truth of God’s Word.  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthian 10:5)  Isn’t it amazing that through God’s Word we take captive every anxious thought and make it obedient to Him?.  This means we don’t just harness our worries to keep them from building, but we completely transform our anxious thoughts into thoughts that honor Him.

I know what you’re thinking … “That sounds great Karin, but you have no idea how strong my fears have become.”  I’m here to tell you that I get it and I realize how horrific anxiety can be.  At times it can be like a swirling tornado of fear that you feel like you can’t escape – simply because you can’t run from your own self.   Fortunately, through relying on God and meditating on His Word, He will provide us with a way out.

When you feel a fearful thought coming on, your first step should be to go to God’s Word.  When I struggled two years ago, I summoned the courage to share about it in a Bible study group for mom’s.  To my dismay, another young mom in the group named Katy came to me afterwards and said she was struggling with the exact same thing.  She said that when we feel anxious we could stop and pray for one another and we each did just that.  She also sent me a list of verses that she had written out on cards that were especially helpful to her.  She said when she felt an anxious thought come on, she would stop and recite one of the verses on the list.  Here is the very list she emailed to me that day and now I pass them on to you:

Joshua 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Psalm 34:4 – I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

2 Timothy 1:7- For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.

Phil 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jeremiah 29:11- For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Isiah 40:31 – But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

1 Thes 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

.Exodus 14:14 – The Lord your God will fight for you, you need only to be still.

The verse that stuck out to me most was Exodus 14:14  It made me realize that my only job was to sit at His feet and seek Him – that He would fight the battle for me.   So, when I had an anxious thought, I pulled out my verse card and read this verse, sometimes out loud.  When I couldn’t sleep at night, I repeated this verse over and over again and it helped like nothing else before.  I could see that there was power in praying God’s Word and that He was having victory over my anxiety.

What’s fascinating about this list of verses is that Katy had used this same list to combat her fearful thoughts.  She had gotten the list from another friend in our Bible study group who had used the same list for the same reason, before she passed them onto Katy.   Sharing my struggle with others made me realize I was not alone – that others had struggled as I did and came out on the other side stronger than before.    God orchestrated the situation perfectly.  He put us in the same group at various times to support each other when we needed it most.

During this time of anxiety, I grew exponentially more than any other time in my life.  The experience allowed me to realize the power of God’s Word and the depth of His love for me.  In my hour of need, He not only didn’t leave my side but He made sure I had constant reminders of His love for me.

That November, I saw a strange number of butterflies outside, which seemed odd for the beginning of winter.  Every time I went outside, one seemed to cross my path.  Whether I was driving or went outside with Morgan, they were everywhere, popping up in the times I needed a distraction the most.  When I was inside, I was still seeing butterflies at various times on TV, on a sign at store, on a thank you note, etc.   Eventually, I realized God was trying to tell me something.  God was trying to communicate that He loved me enough to transform my thoughts, just as he transforms a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.   I realized that this process of transforming my thoughts was just that….it was transforming me as a person.  I learned that exposure to the truth of God’s Word always results in change – transformative change that allows you to be more like Him.   When God sends His Word out, He promises it will never return void.  He always sends it out to accomplish something (Isaiah 55:11).   It was not overnight, but through this process of praying Scripture and repeating His Word in my head, I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel –  a new freedom and trust that allowed me to have a better view of His love for me.

butterfly

If you are struggling with anxiety on any level, know that you are not alone.  Feel free to email me so I can pray for you at Karin.m.peters@gmail.com.  Part 2 of this post will describe strategies to help us to hold His Word at the forefront of our minds when anxiety strikes.

10 Steps to Affordable Curb Appeal

cover before after

Upon moving into our house last year, I knew that we would have to take some considerable steps to add curb appeal to our home.  The landscaping was messy, overgrown, impractical and just not our style.   I got a few bids from local landscapers which made me decide to implement my own budget-friendly plan.  Enjoy these 10 easy steps to a seamless and affordable landscape makeover!

 

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Demo

This was a project that had to be tackled in several steps as we had to clear out all the underbrush and small trees (except one crepe myrtle) in the front yard.  None of the small trees were in good shape and were in an odd location, right in front of the view of the front door.  The function of landscaping is to complement your home, making it open and inviting.   If any aspect overwhelms or distracts from your home, it has to go!  Notice how much more light comes in by losing the small trees.

demo before after

 

2. Time to Touch Up

While plants were not in my way, I took this opportunity to paint the trim of our house.  The brick color has an orange tone, which I’m not super excited about, so I wanted to direct the eye away from those warm tones.  The previous yellow/cream color was only adding to those orange hues but the white paint made it very crisp and cool as shown above.  I used Sherwin Williams Pure White in Superpaint.  I usually save money by using Behr but on a project like this where you are painting so much overhead, my arms were grateful for not having to do an extra coat or two! (Sherwin Williams has great coupons once you join their email list.)

curves 1

3. Make A Plan on Paper

Next, and I cannot emphasize this enough, make sure to get every aspect of your plan on paper.  It is so much easier to make changes on paper than it is to move plants already in the ground.  Be sure to look on Pinterest and in your area for ideas.

Since the walkway and face of our house includes lots of straight lines and sharp, right angles, I knew I wanted to make our beds curvy to add more interest.  Use large plants in the back and smaller plants up front.  As you get plans on paper, think more about the shapes of plants (For example: tall and grassy verses a small round shrub) you would like for your plan than the particular plant types- you can fill that in later.   Look for large voids against your house and fill those with tall shrubs or a trellis.

I used an old hose to plan out the edge of the flowerbed and spent a lot of time getting it just right.  Once I was happy of the shape of the new beds, I used spray paint to outline the border.   There were a couple times I changed my mind after using the spray paint, which was not a big deal.  I just used my foot to wipe the old line out of the grass and sprayed a new line.

curves 2

 

4.  Pick your Plants

Now, research the plants that would work best for your landscape design and region. Use plants that you see thriving in your area as you know these will be a wise addition to your landscape.   Be sure to take note of the size your plants will reach at maturity or know that you can prune them back if you need to.   For example, I used several dwarf yaupon, (shown above) which can become small trees if you let them just grow, but my plan is to prune them every year to keep them small and round.  Pick trees that will not grow too large or just make sure to put them far enough away from the house.  The crepe myrtle I picked is a smaller variety.   Also, email your local extension office for questions about plants.  They are happy to answer specific questions and often times they have a list of what plants do well in your location.

Also, avoid planting a large plant or tree directly in front of the vertical lines of either side of your house as covering these lines of delineation will make your home look smaller.  Notice the new crape myrtle tree’s trunk is to the left of the house.

white line pic

 

5.  Maximize Color

Use lots of color to add curb appeal and incorporate colors that coordinate with one another.  Maximize your  opportunities for color by using flowering shrubs such as azaleas and rhododendrons, which come in a wide variety of colors and sizes.  These are good background plants because they flower most of the year, and can be pruned into a rounded shape or a hedge.  Unfortunately, because of the alkaline soil of our area in College Station, Texas, azaleas will not grow here…at all.  So, my solution is using Drift Roses that I will keep pruned back because they will grow just about anywhere with very little maintenance.   Drift roses are very disease resistant, heat resistant roses that are a cross between a miniature rose and a ground cover rose.  The Peach Drift Rose(below) is also more shade resistant and will bloom most of the year.  Aren’t the color combinations amazing?!?

peach drift

 

6.  Where to Buy Your Plants

The big box stores can be great for finding cheap plants but in ours, only about 1/3 of the plants they sell will actually grow in our alkaline soil.   Big box stores don’t take a lot of care to pick plants that will do well in each store’s region.  Often, private nurseries in your area will only sell plants that will grow in your particular area and zone.  If in doubt, be sure to ask someone at a local nursery.  I googled nurseries in our area and stumbled upon a wholesale nursery called Circle D that sells to the public on Saturday mornings.  It had by far the best selection of plants that all grow in our area for a fraction of the cost.   I was actually able to buy the exact same plants that would have been three times the price a landscaper was going to charge me.

7. Prep the Bed and Plant!

Once I brought all my plants home, I then spaced them all out exactly how I wanted them and took pictures with my phone to refer back to when I was time to plant.  Then, we brought in 5 yards of Landscape Mix (dirt with compost) and we used that to build up the beds.   We literally dumped the soil on top of the grass as we knew our beds were high enough that the grass would never be able to grow through.   Buy dirt by the bulk and have it delivered as it is much cheaper than buying bags.  We used the remaining dirt to fill holes in the backyard.

Once Jeremy and I added the soil to the beds, I began to plant. Start with the biggest plants first and be sure to ask for help with planting large plants, unlike I did.    Then, plant from the back to the front, taking care to step in the bed as little as possible to keep the soil loose as plant roots don’t like soil that has been packed down.

planting

 

8.  Extra Touches

I ran soaker hoses and fertilized with Osmocote. Then, I added a few touches of my own for extra curb appeal!

birdbath

First was the stone bird bath.  It was actually left by the former owners in the backyard.  It had chipped paint and had definitely seen better days.  I sprayed it with a Clorox/water solution and scraped the paint that was peeling with a wire brush.  Then I let it dry out in our garage for at least a week.  When it was dried out, I sprayed it with Rustoleum Universal Flat Soft Iron.   I’m really happy with how it turned out!

trellis plan

As I mentioned, I knew I needed to fill the mass of blank space on the side of the house.  I bought three trellises from Lowe’s and just attached them with lots of black cable ties – easy peasy!   I liked the look of the two end pieces being lower in a more cathedral look, so that’s how I attached them to one another and then just buried the bottom of the two side trellises deeper.  This plan was MUCH cheaper than buying one large 6-foot-wide trellis.

hose holder

 

I also made a garden hose holder using this tutorial from Shanty2Chic.   I figure if you can’t hide something that is ugly, you might as well make it cute!  I bought the finial and post cap from Home Depot and bought the hose hanger from Walmart.  After spray painting it with Rustoleum Black Semigloss, I buried it, added a hose and voila!  The whole hose holder cost $26.00.

 

sideview

 

I also enjoyed making the wreath and topiaries.  I got the topiary balls on sale at Joanne’s and bought plastic planters.  For the stems, I wired some sticks from the backyard  together and painted them brown with craft paint.

 

9.  Newspaper Mulch.

Next I added a thick layer of newspaper over the soaker hoses. Newspaper is great for controlling weeds as it smothers existing weeds and prevents weed seeds from germinating.  It also helps the bed to retain moisture and attracts worms which is great for the soil.  Add a thick layer and wet it down to prevent the wind from blowing it away.  Then add two to three layers of black mulch.   Adding newspaper is definitely worth the extra step and its free!

newspaper

 

10.  Rock Border

We had help with the mulch and rocks because of a service project at Texas A&M University called Big Event. A group from the Association of Pediatric Cancer at Texas A&M covered our beds with mulch and meticulously placed the rocks along the edges.

cover with curves

 

My favorite aspect of this project is one particular plant called a Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow plant.   I needed something to cover the gas meter(yes, I painted it too) and I planted this right in front. It’s not a very common plant, but it is special to me because my grandmother had one in her garden.  What’s unique about this plant is that once it blooms, the flowers are deep purple the first day, lavender the next day and then fade to white the third day.  She was careful to explain to me that the plant signifies the three days that Christ hung on the cross.  The darkness of the purple represents the depth of our sin but then by the last day the white flower signifies the purification, forgiveness and new life that can only come from Jesus’ death and resurrection.    When we accept this act of unselfish love, we can enjoy eternal life with Him.  Here is my Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow plant that reminds me of grandmother and the Legacy she left for the rest of our family.

Yesterday Today Tomorrow.jpg

My grandmother had a green thumb and everything she touched would bloom and thrive.  I think she would have been pleased with my new flower beds.   Hopefully with these tips, you will have an amazing yard you can be proud of    Anyone can have amazing curb appeal without having to spend a lot on landscaping.