Sunday, January 8, 2017

Spiritual Warfare, Book Reviews, and Anchors!!!

Whenever I tell people that the easiest part of my cancer journey has been chemotherapy and surgery, they typically look at me like I am crazy (I mean, I get that look a lot anyways, but especially when I tell them about that).  Obviously, they inquire as to why that was easier than my journey since then, and until recently I never could pinpoint it.  It took me a little while, but I finally figured it out.  

I've always known that spiritual warfare exists (at least in my opinion; here is a link about it), as the devil is always looking to get us down and take our eyes off of God.  If you've never seen the movie The War Room, take time to watch it.  Not only does it have a powerful message, it's actually good entertainment!  Anyways, up until late last summer, I never personally knew the enemy's full power (which, keep in mind, is NEVER more powerful than God).  

There was a lot of anxiety (which I've always struggled with) and depression (which was new to me).  I constantly felt overwhelmed, drained, and defeated, with feelings of worthlessness and despair that I couldn't shake.  I would read my Bible, but the words seemed hollow and untrue.  I would pray, and I felt that my words fell on deaf ears.  

Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, and my anxieties and depression grew worse.  I fought them all day every day, which was exhausting.  

His job was much easier when I going through surgery and chemo.  When you are going through that, you are very much focused on just keeping yourself alive; you don't really notice or worry about what else is going on in your life, or what is going on around you.  Plus, that stuff is terrible enough on its own that it's practically the devil incarnate (and I know many of you have gone through "Red Devil" chemo).  The enemy doesn't have to try very hard to get you down; often, you're already there.  Even though I had was fortunate enough to maintain a positive attitude throughout treatment, it wasn't always easy.  I read my Bible and prayed daily, and I know this helped me tremendously.  

When you finish all the physically grueling things, that's when his real work begins, and he works HARD to try and destroy us.  And if you're not ready for it or expecting it, it can catch you off guard.  Wayyyyy off guard.  I had confidently expected once I finished chemo and radiation, the rest would be smooth sailing.  So I threw myself back into "regular" life.  I started seeing my friends regularly, started dating, started fundraising and doing charity work, started a business, etc etc.  All of these things are wonderful, important things, but I slowly forgot everything I learned while going through my cancer journey: put God first, and everything else will fall into place.   

As my schedule got busier and busier, my spiritual life was pushed aside.  I read my Bible and prayer maybe once to twice a week, and my prayers were shallow and rushed.  After a few months, I had become so frustrated and angry and depressed I hated my life.  I was so mad that I went through all of that treatment just to come out the other side with a life that I absolutely hated, even though it was a wonderful life.  I would get more angry with myself when I would ask why couldn't I just appreciate this wonderful life I had?  I started hearing the answers very clearly: Because you don't deserve anything good, Natalie.  You're not worth it.  You have too much baggage to even consider carrying on.  Etc etc, with everything in my life: my friends, my family, my job, myself, everything.   

And these are the lies we start to believe.  The devil is so smooth and persistent that if we are not constantly on guard, his whispered repetitions become our reality.  Thankfully, God is good, and he is always fighting back for us.  

On my way home from work one night,  a few months ago, I randomly decided to stop by a bookstore on my way home (literally one of those God things as I passed the store, and turned around to go back to it).  I purchased two books that evening, and while I have not finished reading either one, they've both already changed my life.  

The first one is "Fervent" by Priscilla Shirer.  This is a book all about spiritual warfare; specifically the top strategies the enemy tries to destroy your life, and how to use scripture and prayer to fight against him.As the back book cover says: "You have an enemy.  And he's dead set on destroying all you hold dear.  He does it strategically.  He does it specifically.  He's doing it right this minute, in fact - aimed at personally drawn targets on your heart, your home, your mind, your life.  And this book, this battle plan, is your chance to fight back.  With a weapon that really works.  With prayer."  Shirer says are the top ways he tries to destroy us (and I am inclined to agree): 

  • Strategy 1: Your Passion - Getting It Back When It's Gone 
  • Strategy 2: Your Focus - Fighting the Real Enemy 
  • Strategy 3: Your Identity - Remember Who You Are 
  • Strategy 4: Your Family - Fortifying the Lives of Those You Love 
  • Strategy 5: Your Past - Ending the Reign of Guilt, Shame, and Regret 
  • Strategy 6: Your Fears - Confronting Your Worries, Claiming Your Calling 
  • Strategy 7: Your Purity - Staying Strong in Your Most Susceptible Places 
  • Strategy 8: Your Pressure - Reclaiming Peace, Rest, and Contentment 
  • Strategy 9: Your Hurts - Turning Bitterness to Forgiveness 
  • Strategy 10: Your Relationships: Uniting in a Common Cause 
Definitely all the areas in which I can feel Satan trying to sabotage me and my life.  

The second book is "Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships" by Chip Ingram.  I had just recently starting dating literally the most perfect man, but I was constantly plagued with anxiety about the relationship.  Despite his encouragement to the contrary, I just knew I wasn't good enough for him (and that I was probably bad for him), that he was too good to be true, that once the "honeymoon" phase ended it would be over, that I would screw it up somehow, etc.  So I picked this book up, and for anyone in any relationship (romantic, friendship, working, or otherwise), I recommend it.  The enemy constantly wants us at odds with everyone we have a relationship with: blaming them for our unhappiness and frustrations.  In reality, we need to realize there are two different ways of doing relationships (this is specifically tailored to romantic relationships, but can be adapted for all relationships): 

  1. The Hollywood Formula (AKA how most of us have always known to do relationships): 
    • Step 1: Find the right person. 
    • Step 2: Fall in love. 
    • Step 3: Fix your hopes and dreams on this person for your future fulfillment. 
    • Step 4: If failure occurs, repeat steps 1, 2, and 3. 
  2. God's Prescription for Relationships: 
    • Step 1: Become the right person. 
    • Step 2: Walk in love. 
    • Step 3: Fix your hope on God, and seek to please Him through this relationship. 
    • Step 4: If failure occurs (and it will, as we are humans), repeat steps 1,2, and 3.  

Once you work on becoming the right person (and not looking for the right person, or expecting your partner to be the perfect person), walking in love (and not just falling in love, but loving them unconditionally, and showing them grace and mercy), and fixing your hope on God and serving Him through this relationship (instead of expecting this person to fulfill all your hopes and dreams, which one person absolutely cannot do), your relationships will change DRAMATICALLY, as will your life.  

And of course, we are human and we will fail, so when you do...start again with becoming the right person.  And repeat.  And repeat again, and again.....

I LOVE books that change your life.  Now I'm back in the Bible every day, and spending daily time in prayer with Jesus, and I am back to feeling that joy and peace that God so lavishly and lovingly gives.  I know that there will be more spiritual battles I will experience in this life, but I will be reading, knowing that God will always win the war.  

And yes, I'm also back to loving my life and the people in it, my job, and Jesus :)  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

I wanted to add this bit here too, as it is a post I wrote on New Years Eve a few days ago, but never got around to publishing :) 

2016 is winding down, and 2017 is rapidly approaching.  In lieu of traditional resolutions, I like to pick a "word of the year" for myself to focus on.  This year, it was "survive" (of course!).  The year before it was "cultivate."  2017's word: Anchor.  

As many of you know, at some point during 2016 I became obsessed with anchors.  Not just a "hey those are cool" type of obsession; an obsession in which I became so infatuated I wanted a tattoo of an anchor.  I wanted it on my left wrist (because that's the side my cancer was on); however I'm not allowed to have needlesticks on that arm (since my lymph nodes were removed).  Which is fine; I will just "anchorage" up everything else! ;)  I fell in love with the symbol after I heard the song "Eye of the Storm" by Ryan Stephenson, in which the lyrics say: 

In the eye of the storm
You remain in control
In the middle of the war
You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn 
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm 

Jesus is the only one who, when we are lost or falling apart, can keep us together.  Our family and friends and others are great and helpful, but only Jesus alone can save us in the storms of life.  

So what is more perfect than making anchor my word of the year?!? :)  

Now my musings on why choosing the word anchor, so that 1. I can remember; and 2. enlighten and hopefully inspire you all  :D  

Wikipedia defines an anchor as: "A device, normally made of metal, used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the craft from drifting due to the wind or current."  I interpret this (via my spiritual Christianity) to be: "A device (being/entity = Jesus), normally made of metal (or made of the Holy Spirit! :) used to connect a vessel (us, humans, people) to the bed (a firm rock, or other stable place) of a body of water (life) to prevent the craft from drifting due to the wind or current (life situations/circumstances, stressors, anything that can throw us off course).  Thus, Jesus is my anchor, who keeps me grounded in Him and in His hope; keeping me from drifting away into anxiety, depression, hopelessness, etc.  

Now, don't get me wrong, I still struggle with anxiety almost daily; however it is a lot more manageable when I spend time with Jesus every day!