How to Stay Calm

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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

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How to Beat Your Fear of Failure

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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.

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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

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Why Routines Are the Key to Progress

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Without routines, you will not achieve lasting change.

Think for a moment about the people you know who never seem to find success. Do they  get excited about new goals only to give up after a few weeks? In my experience, people who never learn consistency spend their lives feeling frustrated, unsatisfied, and stuck. You do not need to become one of those people.

All you need to do is the same thing, every day, for the rest of your life.

People who never learn consistency spend their lives feeling stuck.

If I may be vulnerable with you for a moment, standing still is probably my greatest fear.

Stagnation terrifies me because, in my weakest, most passive state, I don’t move forward. I never would have gone to college if my parents hadn’t pushed me. I couldn’t have married anyone less stubborn than my husband because no other man would have waited so long. For me, the status quo holds a lot of allure. I love routines because they save me from myself.

For me, the status quo holds a lot of allure.

A good routine guarantees eventual progress. A few minutes of practice every day at almost any skill will yield results over a lifetime. Routines help me to feel secure because I don’t need to worry about regressing. As long I persevere, I will continue to improve.

Now, please understand that routines do not guarantee perfection. They only ensure progress. As a recovering perfectionist, I know that my desire for perfection often destroys any chance at self-improvement because I don’t begin. Fear of failure keeps me from trying at all. When I do finally get started, I tend to waste all of my energy perfecting the first step and never reach the end.

Instead of attempting perfection, I want to be content with forward motion.

Right now, I’d like to move closer to Christ. It’s been a while since I maintained a solid routine of prayer and Bible study, and I’m afraid of missing out on Jesus. Maybe it sounds simplistic, but I’ve seen how graciously God responds when I extend a little effort. Sometimes I think Christians over-spiritualize their relationships with God. As with any human friendship, consistent communication builds stronger bonds.

You already know the routines that will propel you toward your goal. You also recognize when you need to switch things up so you don’t go completely crazy. I’m praying this post gives you the encouragement you need to keep going. Maybe you don’t see the progress right now, but sticking with something almost always works.

Routines tend to be boring. They’re hardly ever fun, entertaining, or exciting. They don’t always feel like progress in the moment, and they require a lot of dogged determination and tedious repetition. They’re also the only way to achieve lasting change.

Don’t give up.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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5 Good Things About Today

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Tonight, my spirit wants to complain.

There are a couple of stressful areas of my life right now that I am trying to solve, and my natural self wants to obsess about those problems until I conquer them with pure willpower. If I’m honest, though, fixing those issues won’t make me happy because two equally urgent conundrums will instantly take their place. We live in a broken world surrounded by imperfect people, and while we should continue to take concrete steps toward progress, sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.

Here I go:

  1. Today I shared my commute with my dad.
  2. Today I laughed with my coworkers.
  3. Today I ate lunch with my husband.
  4. Today I discussed movie theme songs live on the radio.
  5. Today I drove home to a hot dinner waiting in the crock pot.

Sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.

You know what?

That actually sounds like a pretty good day.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Tell Yourself Something True Today

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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

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My Sleep Challenge (Abundant Life)

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I envision a well-rested future for myself.

If I put my mind to it, I truly believe that I could go to bed earlier, sleep longer, and eliminate the exhaustion that fogs my days. Naysayers, I have a song to sing for you.

May this blog post be my challenge to live a more balanced life. I am determined to get more sleep. Feel free to act as my accountability partner.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but I choose my own bedtime.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but for the most part I choose my own bedtime. You may have small children or homework keeping you awake, but I do not. If I want to get more sleep, I can! Starting today, I want to set aside the vague complaints about sleepiness that often slip from my lips because I am not a victim of circumstance. I have the power to choose how many hours of sleep I get each night.

Every decision comes with sacrifice. I may not have as much time to watch The Office with my husband on the couch before bed, scroll through Instagram, or sing along to audition videos on YouTube. Change requires discipline, a quality I need to develop.

Instead of staring groggily at my computer screen at work, I long to look with fresh eyes at the world around me and the tasks before me. Recently the Holy Spirit has been whispering the phrase “abundant life,” and whenever He repeats the same message from multiple sources, I try to listen. Perhaps He plans to reveal a new layer of abundance.

I want to be awake for that!

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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My Never-Ending Migraine: A Summer of Grace

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This has been the summer of doctors for two reasons:

  1. I’ve been mooching off my dad my entire adult life, and since I’m about to turn 26 and lose his excellent insurance, I’m trying to fit as many appointments as possible into the next few months.
  2. The first week of May I got a migraine that never went away.

Every year I get a couple of migraines that begin with vision loss in my left eye. If I lie down quickly in a dark place and take ibuprofen, I typically escape the terrible pain that other people describe. This time, though, the visual aura lasted way longer than usual.

After about a month of shadows across my vision, I visited my family practitioner. (I had already seen an ophthalmologist prior to the migraine, so I knew my eyes weren’t the issue.) She sent me to get an MRI. When the MRI came back normal, my mom made an appointment with an OBGYN in case my symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance. The OBGYN referred me to a neurologist. At this point I had spent a fair amount of money to discover that I am, overall, an extremely healthy person. Go, me.

Just when I started to wonder, “How much do I really need my left eye, anyway?” the Neurologist, an adorable Asian woman, informed me calmly that I have been experiencing a continuous migraine for more than three full months. Now I’m on a daily regimen of natural supplements, and she asked that I up my cardio workouts to three times per week. Supposedly it will take 4-6 weeks to get my brain un-stuck.

I think God weakens our bodies sometimes because he wants to take care of our hearts.

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I think God weakens our bodies because he wants to take care of our hearts.

My entire life, the Lord has treated me with such tenderness, but I don’t notice until my physical capacities fail. The most vivid illustration occurred during my semester in Oxford, England, when I nearly collapsed beneath a burden of crippling anxiety.

I remember sitting with my back against the door of the shared bathroom on my dormitory hall with my knees drawn to my chest, trembling with sobs. The strain of an incredibly difficult academic semester had kept me from sleeping; I had lost so much weight that my clothes had started to fall off; and an ocean separated me from the people who normally calmed me down. I had reached the end of my ability to “push through.”

Suddenly, just moments after whispering a desperate prayer, a physical tingling sensation washed over me from scalp to toe. I had never felt palpable peace like that before, and about a minute later I realized that I had stopped crying. The light buzzed above my head while I rested my chin on my knees, completely calm.

He’s so gentle, friends. When my emotional turmoil reaches the breaking point, and my body buckles beneath the weight, He cradles me. This summer His hands have appeared in the form of bosses who remain lenient with hours missed due to doctors’ appointments, family members who sit with me in waiting rooms, kitties who purr on my chest, and paid sick days that give me time to sleep.

Maybe I needed this migraine to remember how much Jesus cares for me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.
 – Psalm 31:8