Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Battle Within

Self-esteem takes years to build, and only seconds to destroy. It's such a fragile thing. So easy to lose. Our society is not known for making confidence an easy thing for women to grasp. We're constantly being compared to the models on TV, the "power" women in business, the supermoms. We don't have a chance against the perfect, make-believe women that are pushed on us from all sides. Their lives are wonderful, their skin is flawless. They don't deal with depression or anxiety, they stay thin without trying. They make six figures, they own three houses. They are perfection incarnate. And they aren't real. The women we see in magazines have flaws, they simply don't let anyone see them. Deep down, they're just as insecure as the next girl.

The problem is, we allow our self-esteem to be based heavily on the opinions of those around us. When someone says something negative about us, we begin to question everything we respect about ourselves. The world's solution to this problem is to "believe in yourself." And "don't base your opinion of yourself on what others say, base it on what you think about yourself." There's a HUGE problem with that logic. Our self worth should never be based on what we think of ourselves, and how we feel about ourselves. Our self-confidence should ALWAYS be centered on seeing ourselves the way GOD sees us. We should find our worth in His eyes, not our own.

We can't rely on how we feel day to day to be an indication of what kind of value we have. God is the only one who knows what He has planned for us. He is the only one that values us the way we are meant to be valued. He loves us. He believes in us.

As a child, I did not have very many friends. I was weird, homeschooled, a tomboy. In college I spent all of my time making friends, to prove to myself that I was pretty and smart and fun. I did a lot of things to boost my self-esteem. It took years, but my hard work did pay off. I graduated college with more friends than I had ever known. I felt sexy. I felt smart. I felt valued. Why? Because I managed to convert the attention of others to self affirmation.

But that kind of confidence doesn't last. It worked for me for years. But in the matter of a few short months, it all came crumbling down. Everything I had ever "known" about myself felt like it was thrown back in my face. The world taunted me with "you're not good enough," around every corner. My writing was torn apart and rebuilt without my permission. It felt like my intelligence was questioned by my superior every day. My fashion sense went down the drain when I gained a few pounds. All of my Jesus-related obligations were taken from me. I allowed myself to attach my feelings of beauty to another human, just as flawed as myself. I don't know when it started, but I just lost every shred of my identity.

While wallowing in self-pity, I realized this: it's not about me. What I think about myself is just a bunch of malarkey. What God thinks about me is what really matters. He doesn't think I'm stupid or ugly or a bad writer. I am His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10), He has great plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11). Nothing I do or say can change His opinion of me. I am His child, and I am loved. Every step I make should be to glorify Him, not to boost my own confidence. My life should revolve around Him, not myself. It's so hard. But it's so worth it.

I'm revamping my life with a larger focus on Jesus. My abandoned prayer journal has been dusted of and reinstated. My husband and I are reading through chapters of the Bible together, my devotions are now starting and ending my day. The more I focus on HIM, the less I can focus on MYSELF. And that's the way it was meant to be.

Jackelyn Stange

Friday, February 20, 2015

Negative Encouragement

When I was a kid, I found out that one of my spiritual gifts was exhortation. I've honestly always questioned that result. I'm not complimentary enough to be an encourager. I don't walk around telling people how great they're doing or how wonderful they look. That just isn't my thing. I'm too unhappy all of the time, have too bad of an attitude to be labeled an exhorter. But over the years, I've come to realize that there are different types of exhortation. For some people, it's being bubbly and encouraging all of the time. For me, it's taking my life experiences and trying to help other people find peace in the midst of discouragement. My life is far from perfect. So often, I feel like it is crumbling into pieces, and I feel vulnerable and scared. But each time that happens, I know that God can sustain me, strengthen me, and get me through. That's something I could never do on my own. The more things that happen to me to bring me down, the more of myself I have to share with those who need it. If I can make it through, anyone can.

The last two weeks have brought so much despair and discouragement to my heart. A family member passed away too young. I had to face the ugliness of alcoholism and substance abuse head on. I tried not to collapse as I held a sobbing, breaking grown man together. I felt unwanted on the day of love. I faced an act of betrayal by the person closest to me. I endured criticism from family. I was treated like a child by someone in authority over me. One thing after another piled up, washing away any joy I was able to find. In the days leading up to today, I've just felt empty. Completely empty. I stopped feeling sad and lonely and discouraged, and started feeling nothing at all. My heart took a vacation, it couldn't handle any more.

When faced with heartbreak and pain, I sometimes completely shut down. I can't do it anymore. I want to curl up in a dark corner and simply be left alone. I want everyone and everything that could ever hurt me again to just go away. I want to forget it all.

But I can't do that. It doesn't solve anything. I have to get up and start fixing. My marriage will only get better if I put effort into it. My family will only respect me if I don't lash out. My job will only produce if I take responsibility.

These lessons help me to grow. The hardships of this life have made me as strong as I am today. Without them, I wouldn't have the words to help anyone. I would never be able to tell someone else to keep on keeping on if I wasn't able to do it myself.

Seasons of life bring great joy, and seasons of life bring great sorrow. We can only find joy if we conquer our sorrow.


Jackelyn Stange

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pardon The Insecurity

I'm learning a valuable lesson. It's not quite fully learned, but I'm working on it. It's this: when people try to one-up you, love them anyway. There are few things I hate more than being one-upped. Please, do not try to shove your imagined superiority on me. You don't have to try to prove that you're better than me. You're not. Just like I'm not better than you. We're both amazing at different things. We are unique people with unique skills.

"Oh, your job is hard? Well, at MY job we work overtime, but don't get paid for it." Cool, thanks for letting me know. Get a different job. "You'll understand when you're married." What? Just because I wasn't married, I didn't know how frustrating men can be? Hello. I do have brothers.... "You don't know what tired is until you've had kids." Stop. Just. Don't even go there. You have no frame of reference to know how exhausted I might be.

I tend to get so irritated about these things. Being treated as an inferior grinds my gears. Welcome to the real world. Most of us have jobs we don't enjoy, that doesn't mean yours is worse. Wow. You have kids? Congratulations. More laundry. There's a reason I don't have any yet. I don't want your life, that's why I'm living mine.

These are all of the things that go through my head when somebody tries to make me feel sub-par. But then my mom comes into the picture. That woman. She's brilliant (sometimes). She says things like, "Well, they're probably just really insecure in their identity." Woah. So. They're trying to make me feel low because of how unfulfilled they are? That totally switches my perspective around. I go from being bitter about the comments to feeling awful for that person. Are they really so miserable that they have to try to shift that misery onto someone else? That's rough. Maybe there is something I can do to help pull them from the mire. Now, God is really the only one who can fully pull anyone out of despair (Psalm 40:2). But having someone around to be your cheerleader absolutely helps!

The point is, when someone tries to make you feel less than you are, see what you can do to help that person. Be their friend, hold their hand in the slippery mess. Support them while their confidence is crumbling. Help to rebuild their foundation of confidence. Find ways to let them know how much you value and respect them, how great they are at the things they do, how much you enjoy being around them. Don't get angry and storm off, show Christ's love in a shaky situation. Live like 1 John 4:7-8.