My breaths were short and shaky. A sinking feeling was coming over me, the kind where all the life in me seemed to drain right out of my body, and I couldn’t feel my legs.
I kept rehearsing what I was going to say while I started sweating up a storm. I was sweating as if I had run a half marathon, though I was briskly pacing down a 10-foot-long hallway.
This last-minute practice wasn’t easing my nerves, and my worry and mental cramming couldn’t prolong the inevitable. It was time. The moment had come. There was no turning back.
Does any of this sound familiar for you? These nerve-racking moments were brought to you by experiences I have had several times before a big work meeting, before a class presentation, before a big game, before a confrontational conversation at home, and before taking the stage to sing. These moments happen to all of us. Fear creeps in. It makes us go a little crazy. Sometimes we run, and sometimes we face the fear head on.
I hate being afraid. Fear has been a constant companion in my life, and it’s kept me from trying a lot of new things throughout the journey. The truth is, I don’t want to push myself. I want to be safe. Even though I creatively, socially, or emotionally suffer sometimes, I’d rather be comfortable than take a risk. When my fear bell starts going off in my head, ”This is dangerous! This might hurt! You might fail or be rejected or not make it!” I go in to lock down mode. The only thoughts in my mind are, ”Get me away from everything and everybody immediately. I need to be SAFE!”
Yet, I’m slowly learning to recognize the alarm and MOVE ANYWAY.
I am finding in this perfectly perilous journey that the fearful part of me isn’t ALL of me. It’s only a small part of me; and it can dwindle over time so long as I am persistent with feeding my courage.
It’s a lot easier to feed our fear than it is our courage (can I get an AMEN). This is because feeding fear usually looks like doing nothing or running down the well-treaded physical and mental paths that we have ventured down a thousand times before. It’s like muscle memory. It’s automatic.
Courage, on the other hand, is like carving a new path out of the over-grown, tiger ridden jungle. It’s not clear where to start, we don’t know what’s on the other side, and it takes all of our strength in the process. Courage can be tiresome. Courage is work. However, what I have found is that typically when I take the first step towards courage, the second step is a little easier. Then the third step becomes lighter than the second; and on it goes.
Courage doesn’t look like mightily wrestling fear out of our lives; rather, it often looks like cowardly taking the first step.
So, let’s face our fears today! When we’re afraid, let’s MOVE ANYWAY.
Tell how you’ve made some small steps toward courage this week by visiting my contact page!
As I attended my barre workout class this morning, the instructor repeatedly made her way over to my mat to correct my large, swooping positions. She whispered the same phrases to me about a half a dozen times, “smaller movement…even smaller…little reach”. To my amazement, when I made smaller lifts on my crunches, or held a lunge one inch at a time, I felt my muscles tighten and work like they’ve never worked before. In fact, I felt muscles that I never knew I had.
By the end of the class, I was exhausted, but I was also stronger. I was grateful that my instructor pushed me to take smaller steps.
My workouts are usually focused on running as many miles as possible as fast as possible. In other words, the aim of my gym regimen has been “faster, farther”. This class was a stark contrast to my usual routine as it focused on tiny, repetitive movements and holding a position for as long as possible. Tiny movements? Holding the position? This does NOT seem like a workout. I guess you could say this is “Slower, smaller” sort of practice was really pushing against my “faster, farther” mentality. But boy did I feel the aftermath of that workout routine.
As I ached on after my class, I recounted my instructors’ words, “even smaller…little reach”. I began to not only feel the physical implications of those words, but the spiritual, emotional, mental, and social ones as well.
We don’t often think the smaller, slower movements have a greater pay off, but often they do.
Perhaps we have overlooked the progress we have made and diminished what it took to get there. Maybe we just need to celebrate more of the little victories in our day to day life.
Perhaps our over-reaching tendencies have caused us to fly right past the goal unable grab it for ourselves. And maybe, just maybe, we need to take smaller steps to those goals and simply hold the position.
The tiny, intentional steps we take throughout our days sustain us and strengthen us for the long haul. And those, my friends, are the steps are worth taking and recognizing.
When you're tempted to rush ahead and dismiss snail like progress, just remember: "even smaller...little reach".
TRY THIS TODAY:
- Take a moment today and celebrate a recent step you’ve made toward your goals.
- Tell a friend about your progress!
- Brainstorm together how you can take the next small step towards your ambitions.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” John 20:19-21
The disciples were standing in a crowded room most likely exhausted and certainly terrified for their lives. Three years earlier, they had been yanked from their careers, their families, the only life they knew, with an invitation to turn history upside down. They faced extreme highs and extreme lows as they followed the man they called “the Christ”. They had “no place to lay their head”. And now their Master, their beloved “Savior”, their closest companion had died a brutal death. It must have felt that all of their dreams, their calling, and their momentum toward the purposeful life they had just began to hope for died along with Jesus.
It must have felt like they lost out on the life they were dreaming of. Why did Jesus stir their hopes only to come to this bitter end? It must have felt like the last three years were just a waste. It must have felt like their whole life was “floating” and completely out of their grasp. But they didn’t have the full story. They didn’t know resurrection was coming.
They must have believed there was no hope for them. And now, they’re locked in a room out of fear that they too would be killed. Then Jesus suddenly and miraculously appears in their midst speaking peace, reaffirming the calling, and breathing His presence on them for the journey ahead. The disciples must have questioned their sanity to have seen the crucified Messiah in their midst; they must have kept rubbing their eye lids and glancing at the other guys in the room with a “do you see what I’m seeing” sort of look on their face.
This moment changes EVERYTHING for the disciples. With the very breathe of God upon their bruised hearts they begin again. With their Savior’s affirming and commissioning words, the destiny that has always been written upon their hearts starts here, in a crowded and once cowardly room.
This moment is link between who they were and who they were about to be. It is the collision of the life before Jesus, the last three years of tiresome ministry, and their soon to be world-changing futures. The Spirit was pulling together every moment of their lives to launch these men and women into their God given purpose and design.
What if every moment in your life up to this point is just an echo, a foreshadow, of God’s ultimate purpose for your life?
What if all the changing and rearranging in your life is for a purpose and someday it will all collide to form grand beauty and epic purpose beyond anything you could ever fathom?
Like a diamond in the fire, God works all things together for our good. Don’t think for a second that God’s greatest instruments aren’t forged without the flames of exhaustion, doubt, fear, uprooting, pruning, failure, disappointment, and grief.
Though you may be walled in by constant reminders that things haven’t turned out like you had hoped, take heart. That’s the kind of room Jesus tends to show up in.
The breath of God can invade this season, and even kick up the dust of past seasons rearranging everything toward the purpose you have been made for, the one you have been waiting for.
The moment is coming for you, friend.
You're just standing in the echo.
About one year ago, I had a creative wrestling under the surface, the kind that keeps you up at night. I didn’t feel as though I had an outlet for my voice to be heard, and I wasn’t actively cultivating the gifts that I had stirring within me.
I know that I have divinely been given a VOICE to help people experience the depth and breadth of their humanity and find God both within and beyond that depth and breadth. In the past, my voice has most often been used in worship leading, preaching, and counseling. However, over the last few years, I have rarely preached or counseled in an official capacity; and worship leading alone left me wanting more.
In the late sleepless hours of 2018, questions began to race through my mind, “Who am I that I should be heard? What gains have I made that would let people know they can trust me? What could I possibly offer the world?”. Yet something within me couldn’t cave to these assaulting doubts. Something within me begged to try.
Around this time, I remembered the consistent praises given by my teachers and professors through the years aimed at my writing. My freshmen geography teacher pulled me aside from class one day. Though I initially thought that I was in big trouble (which made no sense because I was the quiet good- two shoes type), he said that he had let his wife, a college English professor, read my papers. “Uh oh. Here it comes, I must be the worst writer of all time” I thought. On the contrary, he said my papers were the best of any student he had ever taught, and he wanted his wife to see a high school freshmen’s exceptional writing. I was stunned. However, I never did anything with that comment. I didn’t even tell my parents. I simply just kept trying to hide my way through high school.
Years later, my college Pastoral Care and Counseling professor also pulled me aside before one of our class sessions. Perhaps I should have seen what was coming since this was essentially a deja vu experience from my freshmen geography class; but I didn’t. “Jen, do you have a blog? Because you really should consider having a blog. Actually, you should consider writing as a career. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your papers, and I think you should do something more with this”. Again, I was stunned. I informed him that I absolutely did not have a blog, and I thanked him for his kind words. However, there no way was I about to start picking up writing, especially since I hated having to write papers in school. I didn’t tell him that part; I thought it might crush his assignment giving spirit and result in my flunking out of his class. Who knows? I may actually be a college graduate because I showed some restraint in that moment.
I had never considered writing as a way for my voice to be heard (or rather, read) until those sleepless nights one year ago. Somewhere between my doubts about what I had to offer and the flashbacks of student-teacher conversations popped the thought “what if I do have something to offer, and what if I wrote it down?”
I didn’t know if the affirmations from five, ten, fifteen years ago would still hold up. And to be honest, I don’t even know if I really am a good writer. One thing I do know: you never know until you try, and you never get better unless you practice.
So, 365 days ago, I started a blog, THIS blog. 365 days later, I’m thankful that I did. I’m also extremely thankful to all of those who have gone on this journey with me.
My advice to anyone who is wrestling with whether to go after a creative endeavor or questioning if you have what it takes to pull it off: just start and let yourself be shaped along the way.
I still wrestle. I wrestle with every one of my life endeavors, including this blog. I wrestle if preaching and counseling will ever be a regular part of my life again, if writing is something that I should pursue full time, if songwriting and recording are things that I should give more of my time to. I wonder where I’ll be in ten years and if I’ll “make it”. I question if the things that I try will ever be a “sure thing”.
Yet, what I have found is that the wrestling and wondering alone can keep you stuck; and “sure things” aren’t the northern stars to success. What matters is that you START, because you’ll find your footing along the way.
When my brother, cousin and I were youngsters, my parents would frequently pull out the orca sized tape recorder to capture family moments. It was the 90s, and you had to have a lot of upper arm strength to record home videos.
In every Swift family video, you will hear my mom in the background saying “give the baby kisses” to the nearest toddler. Often, as the youngest, I was the baby receiving all of the kisses which may explain why physical touch is my love language. Thanks mom.
As we have gotten older, “give the baby kisses” has become sort of a joke between the family. Usually whenever the family gets together, someone will spout off “give the baby kisses” in a sarcastic yet still Lorie-like tone during any sort of mushy family moments.
Every time I hear that phrase, I think fondly of my mother. Her affection is felt in that phrase, even when she is miles away because she has always seemed to give love so effortlessly and enthusiastically.
I’ve realized over the years how much I am like her. I cackle like her, I’m creative and administrative like her; I have a knack for music, teaching, and ministry like her. I also get my enthusiasm for celebrating people from her.
My mom is excellent with people. Every time we are in a grocery store, some random stranger strikes up a conversation with my mom that lasts for a few minutes (it’s worth noting that this never happens to my brother, my dad, or I). People are just drawn to her.
As far back as I can remember and consistently through the years, my mom taught me to think of other people and stick up for them. Once in elementary, she knew of a girl in my class who was feeling left out from all the other girls in 5th grade. My mom pulled me aside and drew that girl to my attention. So, I sat with her at lunch everyday for a week until my friends became her friends.
I am who I am in life because of my mother; her love, guidance, example and prayers through the years. And I hope to someday be half the mother that she is.
Though I don’t have children yet, I’m guessing I will be the one to carry on the “give the baby kisses” legacy she has so eloquently established. Hopefully I can live up to that sort of mantle.
I had a professor in college who would dish out his wise one-liners on daily basis. Sometimes it felt as though he had a life altering quote for us every five minutes! Each quote was as great as the next, all equally deserving of a mic drop. The diligent note takers in the room couldn’t keep up with his effortless wisdom. Though I probably heard over a hundred of his one liners, there was one that stuck to me more than any other.
“Feel what you feel when you feel it.”
Haven’t you ever had that voice run through your head saying, “this isn’t worth getting upset about; this doesn’t matter”? But the truth is if you are having a reaction to something, it does matter. That sinking feeling where your throat drops into your gut, the butterflies in your belly, the intense rage brewing below the surface, or the cringe that comes when you’re about to shed some tears. Whatever “it” is matters.
"Feel what you feel WHEN you feel it."
Though I first heard this phrase in my college classroom, I didn’t begin to put it into practice until a few years after college. I can remember moments of being frustrated with friends, family, coworkers, and even myself. In this emotionally crowded season, a bathroom stall was my only means of escape. It was often the only accessible place where I felt safe enough to break away from my day and allow whatever was brewing in my soul to surface. The tears would come, but to my surprise so would the ability to move on. Tears alone didn’t do the trick. I needed to surrender the moment to Jesus, and I needed to make the choice to move on.
Timing was everything. If I didn't catch my emotional stirring within the hour and take five minutes to let it drain, it would come back days later with a vengeance. And if I didn't set a timer on those little breaks, those emotions would rule me for hours. However, simply breaking away from my day with a five-minute timer, giving space for whatever emotions to emerge, and then choosing to go on with my life became a great tactic in my days.
"Feel WHAT you feel when you feel it."
Now, I must admit that when I first heard this phrase, I spent most of my time trying NOT to feel. I was also quite good at it. However, what I learned in this season, was that I wasn't meant to live with walls up. I found the harsh truth that while I spent so much time trying to protect myself from “bad” feelings, I was also keeping out the “good” feelings and the potential for good things to come my way in life.
So, I began to let whatever feelings come: anger, sadness, joy, bitterness, despair, contentment, forgiveness, confidence. And with this, I learned not to judge my first reaction; but rather to filter it. Just because a "bad" feeling may come, doesn't mean we shouldn't feel it. However, we should filter our feelings and not let them lead us.
"Feel what you feel when you feel it."
The greatest part of all of this? It’s not nearly as bad as you think it might be. I have found that while I am feeling the hurt in the presence of God, I begin to also feel the healing. It is the perfect picture of being beautifully broken. It’s messy; it’s risky; but it’s wonderful. So don't let pain build up; let it drain as it comes.
It mattered. It matters. You matter. Your emotions are a gift, not the enemy. They are gifts to your heart to signal what is important to your unique soul. Embrace them as they come in the comfort and safety of Jesus.
Now say it with me...
"Feel what you feel when you feel it"
Jen is a pastor, worship leader, writer, and songwriter living in Napa, California.