How to Stay Calm

Evan and Marie - HQ-5513
Daniel Swanson Photography

Something unexpected happened, and you freaked out.

Afterward, you felt embarrassed about your overreaction.

Trust me, I have made the same mistake countless times, including this week.

I also believe that we can both do better. Here’s how:

1. Tell God.

Duh, right? Seems obvious for Christians, but I don’t think we practice the habit often enough. As soon as you encounter an uncomfortable situation, say to God, “This happened. I’m not sure how to respond.” It only takes five seconds, and it actually works.

2. Tell yourself.

The smartest thing my counselor every told me was this: “Feelings aren’t facts.” In the moment, the tiniest problems can seem like the end of the world, so I talk to myself internally: Your feelings aren’t facts. Chances are, you won’t feel this way in an hour.

Feelings aren’t facts.

3. Distract yourself.

If possible, find a task to consume your focus. Hustle to the laundry room and fold a shirt. Play a song on your phone. Brush your teeth–whatever pops into your mind. At work, open a new document and start typing.¬† Have a conversation with a coworker.

After about ten minutes, the initial wave of emotions will pass. Then you can revisit the situation with a little better perspective. Reacting immediately leads to regret.

4. Breathe alone.

Suppose the first three steps didn’t work, and you start to lose control. Go into the bathroom, shut the door, sit on the toilet, and breath slowly. Count to five for each inhale. Fill your diaphragm. Force yourself to finish ten full breaths before you quit.

5. Read the Bible out loud.

I use this step as my last-ditch effort when I can’t stop crying.

Through the gasping breaths, pick a Psalm at random and start to read verbally. The act of speaking serves as a distraction and requires more regular breathing. The meaning of the text gets you out of your head, and the Holy Spirit can start working on your heart.

Do not consider this a comprehensive list.

These five tricks¬† happen to have worked for me in the past. In fact, I tried a couple of them today with relative success. I didn’t even need to resort to number five–but I’d still love to hear your top five tips for keeping your emotions in check. Leave them in the comments!

Let’s work on staying calm together.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Evan and Marie - HQ-9164
Daniel Swanson Photography

How to Beat Your Fear of Failure

Evan and Marie - HQ-4336
Daniel Swanson Photography

They key is to try. Just keep trying.

I want so much to know God better; to become more organized; to practice healthier habits; and to keeping moving steadily toward my future goals.

I am also so very afraid.

Much like everyone else on this planet, I have trouble maintaining momentum. I do really well for a few weeks, and then I realize that I haven’t exercised or written a blog post in days … and then weeks. Heck, I even follow a blog about how to write a good blog, and the author warned me about that very problem.

Because of my pride, I hate to acknowledge that I’m one of “those” people who sets a goal and then gets tired. As soon as my excitement and motivation wane, so do my efforts. Enter discouragement. Enter self-doubt. Enter fear.

Strange, isn’t it, that while engaged in trying, I don’t feel scared? The moment I stand still, I start to wonder about the future, imagining an endless series of false starts. Then I attempt to mask my sense of inadequacy with excuses. It’s not a big deal; I’m doing fine. That goal didn’t matter very much anyway. I’ll get better. I’m just stressed out today.

What if, instead of assuaging my guilt with meaningless self-talk, I chose to silence my worries by trying again? Push “play” on a workout video. Open a new tab. Channel the mental energy I’ve been wasting on shame into trying.

Suddenly I’m back in college, listening to my classmates fret about upcoming assignments instead of working on said assignments. I pleaded guilty to the same crime on many occasions. Almost always, opening a book calmed my fears enough to help me focus. Turns out trying is an instant morale boost.

Trying is an instant morale boost.

Not only do I forget my fears while trying, but I also stop obsessing about the outcome. Stuck in a state of nervous inactivity, I create elaborate plans about what I will accomplish once I finally [get motivated] or [get over this cold] or [get back from this trip] or [insert other excuses].  In the midst of trying, however, my goals automatically shrink to realistic sizes … and I don’t mind so much.

I am often surprised to discover that when I actually try instead of berating myself for not trying sooner, I start to enjoy the process. As much as we avoid work; as much as we complain about work; as much as we dread the work ahead of time; effort feels good.

Evan and Marie - HQ-4342
Daniel Swanson Photography

So don’t worry about the times you didn’t succeed in the past. Just try again. Simply by trying, you can let go of the shame of previous inconsistency, silence your inner critic, applaud the courage it took to try one more time — and there it is!

The elusive motivator you’ve been seeking.

Trying makes you want to try again.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Evan and Marie - HQ-4176
Daniel Swanson Photography

You Might Mess Up

Evan and Marie - HQ-8923
Daniel Swanson Photography

I have an embarrassing story to tell you.

The other day, I auditioned for a musical performance with a local theater company. I’m a decent singer and actor, so I figured I had a shot. Unfortunately, the show involved tap dancing, which I’d never attempted. Truthfully, I’m not a great dancer, but I gave it a try.

It was, simply put, an unequivocal disaster.

That tap audition reminded me of some very vivid and terrifying dreams from my past, in which I’m standing on an empty stage while an audience stares at me in silence, and I can’t remember any of my lines or even the name of my character. I made a fool of myself in front of a roomful of people, surrounded by mirrors, wearing the wrong shoes.

You don’t want to face the reality that you might fail. I know. Neither do I.

You don’t want to face the reality that you might fail.

I’ll admit that failure does feel pretty awful … for a little while. After that, you laugh.

Let’s take a brief look at my biggest mistakes: blowing things out of proportion. Getting way too worked up about small issues. Letting my emotions run amuck. Delaying out of fear and indecision. Speaking hastily; saying too much; snapping at someone who doesn’t deserve it; flinging cruel words at the people I love — I’ve done these and more.

Would I list my recent tap audition among those failures? No, probably not. In my experience, many of my most shameful mistakes occur because I dread some supposedly worse outcome. Ironically, my resistance to failure often becomes my greatest sin.

“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

She greeted me, a nervous stranger, during the preview weekend for Colorado Christian University, before I became an official student. Her question made me uncomfortable.

“Um … I don’t know. Write a book, I guess.”

“So why don’t you write a book?”

“Um … I don’t know. It probably wouldn’t be any good.”

There it was: the fear. I didn’t want to begin because I might mess up.

Evan and Marie - HQ-4211
Daniel Swanson Photography

You will mess up. I wish that you and I could take a deep breath together, accept the inevitable mistakes that await us in the future, grieve for a moment, and then relax. You won’t gain anything by avoiding failure, but you could miss out on a lot of joy. Maybe you should ask yourself which would bother you more: messing up or missing out.

I’d hazard a guess that messing up won’t hurt as much as you think it will. Either way, since no one can avoid mistakes altogether, you might as well give yourself a break. That tap audition bruised my ego, sure, but my life didn’t end. Honestly, it’s empowering to discover that I can handle a little bit of failure. Plus, now I have an uncomfortably amusing anecdote to share.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Evan and Marie - HQ-4216.jpg
Daniel Swanson Photography

Why I’m Thankful for Mood Swings

Evan and Marie - HQ-8910
Daniel Swanson Photography

I haven’t been my best self lately, and I’m searching for the silver lining.

As usual, my husband has borne the brunt of my instability. I’ve had extreme mood swings for weeks — no, I’m not pregnant — and a few embarrassing low moments that shone an unwanted spotlight on my ugly side. A couple of counseling sessions later, I’m learning to remind myself in those dark places that my emotions are not my husband’s fault. My heart is my own responsibility.

Then, driving home from work the other day, I saw a house decorated with rainbow Christmas lights.

This probably sounds silly, but my whole body relaxed into happy enjoyment. I really, really like Christmas lights. When I got married on January 2nd, my mom asked the church to leave up the lights after Christmas so I’d have them for my wedding. Seeing those lights from my car the other day pulled me out of a spiritual stupor long enough to appreciate my surroundings.

Sometimes I hate my own feelings because they have the power to paralyze me, but I believe that God gave us emotions to reflect part of His character. He has big feelings, too. Maybe when I experience emotions more intensely, I can also love Him more deeply. Certain Bible verses mean more. Some church services hit harder. Everything makes me cry, so I might as well cry about Jesus.

Everything makes me cry, so I might as well cry about Jesus.

I never want to put too much stock in my emotions because they often lie to me. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I’m only grumpy because I’m hormonal; my boss isn’t actually being unreasonable; my husband doesn’t actually hate me; I shouldn’t completely unravel. Still, big emotions have their place in the Christian walk. Don’t they?

Thankfully, all of this craziness on my part hasn’t made my husband bitter against me. He’s so willing to forgive. I will continue to try not to blame him for my feelings. At the same time, I did allow myself to feel big emotions at a Christmas concert tonight. After all, as the singer reminded me, the same Jesus who held babies in his lap will also descend from heaven with a sword coming out of his mouth. That’s worth being thrilled about!

Lord, use my weakness to clear the cobwebs from my heart so that You may take up residence there. Put my unstable, fickle feelings to use for Your kingdom. Thank you for Christmas lights.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete, and wanting nothing. – James 1:2-4 (The Voice Bible)

Evan and Marie - HQ-4360
Daniel Swanson Photography

Tell Yourself Something True Today

Evan and Marie - HQ-7715
Daniel Swanson Photography

Today I feel overwhelmed by the apparent chaos in the political sphere.

Normally I don’t pay much attention to politics, other than the limited and heavily biased information that I glean from my coworkers, but I recently spent nearly an entire workday watching the live, televised streaming of a hearing before a Senate committee for a Supreme Court Justice nominee, and since then I have read countless headlines and innumerable strings of social media commentary, and I feel afraid.

I don’t know anything about the judicial system, but it appears to me that a man’s future is currently being determined, not by any sort of reasonable process, but by the uninformed opinions of millions of Americans like myself. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps justice will prevail. I hope so, whatever the truth may be. At the moment, though, my mind and body are faltering beneath the burden of uncertainty.

Probably I am behind the times, and you have been experiencing this oppressive, panicky feeling about our earthly system of government for years. Most likely I’m naive to argue, “Surely there’s a way to know who’s telling the truth. There must be!” All I know is that I need something to be true, absolutely. On my brief jog around the pond tonight, trying to calm my hectic thoughts, I searched for something undeniable — something unchangeable — to which I might cling for solace. Here’s what I came up with:

There is a God. He loves me.

I need something to be true, absolutely.

Those two statements remain true whether I believe them or not. Tomorrow I might change my mind about God’s character, but He would still love me. You might try to tell me God doesn’t exist, but you would be wrong. Some things are really, really true. Lots of other things are undeniably true, too, but those two have imprinted themselves on my heart like a brand. No matter what happens, there is a God, and He loves me.

Psalm 46 says, essentially, the same thing. No matter what terrifying and confusing events surround you, God is with you. He will prevail in the end. He will not let you fall. He’s much more powerful than the natural world. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (vs 2, NIV). I just have a slightly different way of expressing my confidence in God’s immutable character:

There is a God. He loves me.

We can, in fact, know some things for sure. We don’t need to walk around in a cloud of confusion, wishing for something solid on which to stand, feeling desperate. I simply needed to turn my gaze toward the rock instead of staring at the sand. My heart feels calmer tonight. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells” (vs 4).

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Evan and Marie - HQ-7718
Daniel Swanson Photography