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Why I Started Living the Hope

Several years ago, I took my first step on the rugged road towards healing. Sitting in the counselor’s office for the first time, everything in me wanted to run. Somehow, I knew deep down that the fragile structures forming my view of life were in danger of crashing down…and let’s face it, no one longingly looks forward to that experience.

It was actually my boss at the time that recommended it. Thankfully, she was pretty perceptive and caring. Despite assuming that I was perfectly fine, I eventually went in to see the counselor. While I would like to say it changed my life, it didn’t. At least not at first. I wasn’t ready to take the journey yet. So I got some helpful tips, and continued to move on with the life I was living – anxious, controlling, and constantly running from one thing to the next, hiding the deep, dark secrets of past trauma and pain.

It took more than one counselor speaking truth to move me toward change. It took courage on my part. It took realizing that I am not alone. It took people coming along side of me, encouraging me to keep going. It took a lot of prayer, while leaning on the grace of God.

Through a 10 year process, and God’s heart transformation, I am not the person I was before. Before I took this journey, I couldn’t actually tell you what real joy felt like. I have made huge strides in healing from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have worked through past abuse and trauma. There are no words for the freedom I have found and received, and it is my wish that every person could experience it.

The longing to help others experience this freedom has only grown in the years since. As I’ve shared my story with more and more people, this comes somewhat naturally. However, I was still left with this impression that there was something more I should be doing. There was a constant prick at my heart that more people need to know there is hope.

The logical next step would be to become a counselor, right??? That’s what I assumed. Many nights were spent researching programs, costs, availability and training. Nothing worked and nothing fit. As cliché as it might sound, for one reason or another, literally every door kept closing. There’s nothing more annoying than feeling like your supposed to be actively doing something but there is no obvious way to make that happen. Many a bad dream has that kind of content.

I wish I had time and space to share all the details that led me to one moment in the car, talking to God in sincere frustration and inquiring. My heart heard the words from God I will never forget:

“I don’t need another counselor. I need someone that will walk along side. Someone to be community for those fighting alone.”

So that’s what I did. Soon, I started mentoring young women. We started making friendships. We talked openly about our struggles and our victories. We studied the word, or explored faith for the first time. We talked through lies and replaced them with truth. Isn’t that something that we all need? Someone who has been where you are now, that is willing to give you insights and wisdom while pointing you to God?

In a world that is becoming increasingly isolated, community is becoming scarce. Trials will often only push us to further into this isolation. It allows us to hide from the shame and pressure from ourselves and others. Yet, community and connection is a soothing balm on our broken souls. Having people that understand and support you is the very thing that can revive hope within us.

That is what Living the Hope was created for. It is for connecting people to mentors – people who have been there, that are willing to walk alongside others. This web site and the blog are created to be a safe space for our community to share insights, wisdom and the hope gleaned from their journeys with our community at large.

Ironically, my greatest hope is to get people off this page – off screens entirely – and connect. Connect with God, connect with people who care, connect with the life and the world given to them. My prayer is that God would use this to create a group of people willing to share their healing stories, mentor others and spread hope!

Ultimately, living in hope comes from knowing The Hope. The truth in the Word of God was the key that pulled me out of the dark places I had been, and it continues to be what keeps me grounded. As we journey together, I hope we can explore healing and hope-filled truth from scripture and learn how to apply it to our lives.

Living the Hope means living out the hope found in the Word, together. As we do this, healing will come.

Thanksgiving in the Cold

They said it would be cold, but not this cold. My fragile American body was not prepared for it. I didn’t really grasp how cold winter could be without indoor heating. The funny thing, is that I left the balmy July weather in my Upper Midwest state to travel to South Africa, which, if you recall, experiences winter in July. The Southern Hemisphere really messed with my favorite time of year.

I traveled to Pretoria, South Africa and then Butha-Buthe, Lesotho with a team to educate about HIV and AIDS, while sharing the hope of the Gospel. The whole process of going on this trip consisted of one miracle after another. Suffice to say, I knew I was supposed to be there, but…

It was so COLD.

OK, selfish confession moment: those of you who have spent anytime in the Midwestern United States know that summer weather is a precious commodity. I was pretty grumbly about leaving the beautiful weather to only experience more winter in the lower part of the globe. I like warm. I like warm weather; I like the warm sun; and, when it is cold outside, I like my warm home while covered in warm blankets and drinking something warm. Yup. I know I’m pretty spoiled.

The base camp in Pretoria

The group that had gone the year before told us the kind of weather to expect. What I didn’t realize was that they had gone not in July, but early June, and the weather would only get colder. Additionally, our training grounds in Pretoria consisted of dorms that not only had no heating, but also had cracked and gaping windows, allowing all of the cold winter air inside.

Unfortunately, having to do training out in the cold one night led me to getting a pretty bad illness. It was a terrible head-cold with a fever, which plagued me for a couple days. There was nowhere to go to get warm so that my body could heal. We had a few gracious moms on the trip that, as any good mother would, dumped their prepared, toiletry bags filled with cold meds at my bedside. Yet, I had little ease of symptoms.

One of the dorms where we slept.

My bad attitude about the cold quickly turned from grumbling to anxiety. A full-blown panic attack. All the “what-if” questions made their rounds in my head. What if I didn’t get better? What if I would be sick for the rest of the trip? What if I had to go to the hospital? What if? What if?…

Curled up as tightly as humanly possible in my sleeping bag, only letting my mouth and nose experience the chilling air of the dorm, my heart pounded. It was the middle of the night, and the anxiety was keeping me up. I knew I needed to sleep to get better. Yet, sleep evaded me. My top bunk in the frigid dorm sat right next to the cracked window. I peeked out of the sleeping bag enough to peek out at the night sky, begging God for help.

Vary rarely, I experience the voice of God so crisp and clean and true. I knew in that moment, I heard Him speaking to my heart. He knew what I needed in the middle of my panic attack. He said 5 words: “You know what to do.”

I did.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 
present your requests to God.  
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, 
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

My mind quickly jumped to one of the few verses I had memorized. Philippians 4:6-7. “I need to thank You,” I responded to His voice. I knew I needed to take a moment to give gratitude to God for all His blessings, even in the middle of my not-so-pleasant situation. I took a deep breath and began finding all the things I could thank God for in the moment.

The scenery was certainly something to be thankful for!

I thanked him for the trip. I thanked him for the team members. I thanked him for the training. For the new relationships. For the unique wilderness I had never seen before. I thanked him for the bed and the sleeping bag. I thanked him for that cracked window.

To be honest, I can’t remember what happened next, because the only thing I remember is waking up the next morning completely refreshed. I had fallen asleep in thanksgiving!

I always go back to this moment, not just because of how clearly I heard the Holy Spirit speaking to me, but also because of the very valuable lesson I learned from it. Sometimes peace feels illusive. Our minds spin a mile a minute and our bodies react physically. However, the Bible is clear on how to attain peace even in the dark and cold circumstances, Philippians 4 gives us the clear path: prayer with thanksgiving.

Prayer reminds us to put our trust in God. Thanksgiving reminds us of His faithfulness to us, and all the ways he has already fulfilled His promises. Prayer and thanksgiving, coupled together, activate the peace of God in our lives. That peace literally guards us from being frozen in place by our own spells of anxiety and the enemy’s attempts to chill our lives.

The opposite is what led me to the anxiety attack. Worry and grumbling, coupled together, often lead to bouts of unrelenting anxiety. Worrying is like prayer to what you fear. Grumbling is like giving thanks to the negative. When our hearts and minds are focused on these two activities, we shouldn’t be surprised when fear and depression take over. Thankfully, it’s never too late to apply the lesson from Philippians 4. It can take some work, but if you can press into prayer and thanksgiving instead of worrying and grumbling, your emotions and body will follow suit. You can remove yourself from the frozen paralysis of anxiety and quickly find yourself in the warmth of God’s peace.

Like a hot cup of coffee on a winter morning, the peace of God warms our insides with hope. This peace is not necessarily a feeling, and it is certainly not a change in circumstances. This peace is supernatural. It’s God’s own peace in us. Upon leaving earth, Jesus said He would leave His very own peace for us to posses even in the midst of troubles. You, dear friend, may not always feel like you posses this peace, but it is yours. And thanksgiving is the path to activating it.

The good night of sleep I got that night in South Africa made all the difference for my illness. The rest of the trip still had challenges, but at least I wasn’t sick. It was easily the most life-changing trip I’ve been on, and looking back I can see how this instruction on thanksgiving was a big part of that. However, I dare say that this lesson is one that can be applied to even the “small” moments in life – not just the extraordinary ones. We can say “it is well with my soul” even in the cold.

If I Could Talk to My Younger Self

Most people that I talk to find me exceptionally strange for this, but my favorite group of students to teach are middle schoolers. Something about their energy and life, coupled with their curious minds, fascinates me. This is the age when kids start to really own their personhood, allowing their personality to shine through. Yet, they are still willing to look up to those older than them for guidance and answers to life’s big questions. 

All the fire, passion, hormonal shifting, and personality development during these years comes with it’s down-sides. More and more often, our society is finding that young people are in an all-out battle with anxiety and depression. Between academic pressures, social media comparisons, social standings, and compounding fears of world events, it’s no wonder that our middle-schoolers are hurting. 

Just a few years ago, one of my students – 11 years old at the time – came into the classroom in obvious distress. I usually started my class with a check-in time, and thankfully, she was willing to share. It was a test. Not a big test, not a final, not a standardized test, not even a unit test. One small test. She was worried she would get less than an “A” on this test. When I inquired as to why she felt such anxiety over it, she replied, “because if I don’t get good grades, I won’t get into college.” 

Young me, enjoying a moment performing for my family.

My heart broke for this poor girl. I couldn’t help but think back to when I was 11 years old. I was still that kid playing in piles of dirt in the backyard. And, though I can now see how riddled my thoughts were with anxiety, I never had the kind of pressures this young person was facing. If I could be so paralyzed in fear, how much more could it be possible for this innocent soul? 

The more I share my story of healing with people, the more I have parents asking me how to help their kids with their obvious streaks of worry, self-doubt, fear of failure, and all-out anxiety. Now that I am a parent with my own daughter, who seems to carry some of my “perfectionism” gene that often leads to anxiety, I’ve been considering how I would talk to my 11-year-old self to help her break out of the crippling fear. 

If I could go back, what would I say?

  1. Your worth is far more valuable than you realize. There is nothing in this world that you could do or say to make you more valuable. You are already more precious than words can describe. Because God made you unique, you are a treasure. You don’t need to earn this value. It is already yours! No amount of praise from your parents or others could make you more worthy. No award, achievement or title could add to you. No circumstance now, in the past, or in the future can change how precious you are. 

Running your life on feelings is like trying to run your cell phone on water, it might make some sparks, but it will destroy it in the end. 

  1. Your feelings are horrible guides. It may seem like all those emotions building up in you are your best life-directors right now, but they simply are not. Emotions and feelings change. Your heart can be so fickle. Even the weather can make you feel up or down, depending on how much sun is out that day. So, don’t let those feelings lead you. Running your life on feelings is like trying to run your cell phone on water, it might make some sparks, but it will destroy it in the end. 
  1. Failures lead to the best things, not the worst. I know it seems right now that every failure is a crushing defeat. But, with maturity, you will realize that failures can propel you into the best things. Failures can teach you, grow you, and push you to new and better paths. Sometimes, the best blessings come out of a perceived failure. Instead of letting failure overwhelm you, try to cherish the lessons you are learning through them, and look hopefully at all the ways you are succeeding.
  1. What others have done to you or said about you does not define you. People will hurt you. This truth will only become more pronounced as you continue living on this earth. Instead of spending all your mental energy on attempting to please everyone, accept that you will never be able to satisfy everyone perfectly. Instead of protecting yourself from getting hurt, accept that we are all broken people that fail. When people do hurt you know that, most often, their actions come from a place of hurt as well. 
  1. Your thoughts will be the basis of your day. If there was one action that could help predict how your day will go, it’s your thinking. Yes, some days are better than others. However, the more you spend your time worrying and mulling over the negative, the worse your day will become. This isn’t to say you should suppress your feelings or pretend like everything is good. Instead, it means that if you can find ways to think positively and be thankful – even in the messy days – your perspective and your attitude will change, allowing your day to be brighter. 
  1. The best response to anxiety is to know the Truth. What anxiety and depression don’t do well at all is tell the truth. These physical and mental states have a nasty habit of exaggerating half-truths or all-out lies. The best way to combat a lie is with truth. Truth is found in God’s word. Know this truth, inside and out. Remind yourself of it day after day. Put it up around your room and read it before you go to bed. And no, the goal is not to have the perfect Bible study, the most verses memorized, or many “good tasks” in order to earn points with God. The goal is to have a relationship with the One who made you and desires to take care of you. The best way to know someone is to listen to what they say – that includes what they say about you. 

My dear, young friends. If you are reading this, I am sure it is because you’re facing overwhelming struggles. The current surprising events in our world is enough to bring anyone to their knees. How I wish I could take you out to my favorite coffee shop downtown, hold your hands and listen while you have a good cry. But since I can’t, let me say this to you. Hold on. It will get better. Your circumstances might not get better, or new challenges may come your way, but you will grow. You can get through this with God on your side. He can use what you are going through as a tool to give you maturity, perseverance and a closeness with Him like none other. In the meantime, reach out to the older, wiser people around you. There are many that would love to be the shoulder you lean on. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, counseling, or a good conversation about your challenges. Then listen with an open heart and stand strong.

My Battle with Anorexia

It normally doesn’t surprise people to find out that I have had a battle anorexia. It’s almost cliche: a ballerina wants a serious career, and ends up with an eating disorder. But it’s not just something to pass by. Eating disorders are dangerous, no matter what your circumstances. As we find ourselves in the middle of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I felt it was important to take a moment to talk about my experience and offer encouragement to anyone finding them in the mental trap that leads a person to destroying their body.

Back from my ballet days!

My battle may not surprise people, but it may surprise people to know that I had no idea what I was doing was clinically called “anorexia.” Like any other lie we believe, it starts out so subtle. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided to starve myself. It was one small choice after another that led me into a place of bondage to behaviors.

I don’t use the word “bandage” lightly. Most people think that people that struggle with eating disorders simply hate food. It’s simply not that simple. In my experience, food was ALWAYS on my mind. I was bound to thinking about food.

Around the time I weighed the lowest.

This bondage was not just in my head, though. It was spiritual. I know for a fact, because of the miraculous moment God used helped me start my path of healing. I had gotten home late one night, and I went straight to my room. My roommate and I didn’t talk much, in fact, my life was pretty isolated (that should be a big red flag!). I decided to take a shower after logging my calories for the day. I spent the whole time thinking about how I could eat even less tomorrow, feeling depressed because I still didn’t feel skinny enough. Then, like a light bulb suddenly flipping on, I realized what I was allowing myself to do: I was anorexic.

But just as quickly, I felt God pressing on my heart. I pressing towards repentance. It didn’t hear a voice, or see a vision. It was a just a moment that God placed in my path to respond to. In my heart, I cried “Oh, God, I’m sorry.” That very moment, I swear I felt a dark cloud lift off of my shoulders. Every thought became clear. I felt like I could stand up straighter. I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. Something dark left me at that moment.

It was amazing! I can’t tell you why God allowed me to have such an extraordinary experience. It did change me. But there was a lot I still had to learn:

It’s spiritual as much as it’s physical

I’m so very thankful for the advances in modern medicine that can help people with eating disorders. Doctors and scientists continue to gain more and more understanding on how to meet the needs of struggling individuals. They know how to better help the brain, nourish the body and heal past trauma and wounds. But, just because we have these advancements doesn’t mean we can ignore the spiritual side of things.

We have an enemy that wants nothing more than to keep us in bondage. He wants to keep us so preoccupied with lies that we can no longer live in the freedom of Christ. He wants to make us feel powerless in the battle. But we are not powerless! In fact, we are victors.

It is one thing to fight a battle thinking you may or may not win. It is another thing to fight knowing that you are already the winner. When we place our hope in Christ, we are given His victory over the enemy. We do not have to keep falling for Satan’s traps, so we continue to stay in bondage. Hope says we CAN be free.

Healing the Heart

I wish I could tell you that after that amazing moment with God, experiencing peace and hope, everything was all better. It wasn’t. In fact, sadly, I lost more weight in those following months. It took well over a year of more struggle and suffering to finally get to a healthy place.

Why? That is the question I was asking myself. I knew what I was doing. I knew it was the enemy that tricked me into the mess. But I was still struggling. Other people around me tried to help by saying platitudes like “just pray” or “just have more faith.” They were right… in a sense. However, there were underlying issues that needed to be dealt with.

My heart needed healing. I had some major childhood wounds that left me feeling desperate for any sense of control. My shame was so great that it dictated how I viewed both myself and those around me. Anorexia wasn’t the cause of my despair, it was a symptom of something much deeper.

Healing of the heart is a large part of helping anyone struggling with a spiritual and mental battle. Those that struggle with eating disorders may find, like me, that the disorder is just the scratching the surface on deeper healing that needs to take place. This is not always the case, but from my experience talking with others, it often is.

Moving Forward

I have felt healthier now, more than ever. I believe much of this is from healing of my soul!

Counseling was a key part of my healing. Fixing my physical issues through nutrition and medication put me in a place where I could actually fight this battle. If I’m honest, sometimes those old thoughts come back. I am 10 pounds heavier than my healthy “active” weight. I am 40 pounds heavier than I was at my lightest weight. Sometimes, I fight the thoughts of needing to control my weight, feeling value by how I look, and punishing my body in a way that will destroy me. However, now, it is much easier to fight. It is much easier to recognize the lies as they come and to deflect them by speaking and reading the truth.

I may be heavier than Alyssa from 10 years ago would approve of, but I feel good! I am healthier now than I was through most of my teenage and young adult life. Not only has my body healed from the affects of anorexia, it has healed from the affects of trauma.

I am not a counselor, nor do I have training to help people with eating disorders. so I don’t have all the answers. It may be that those who battle wit eating disorders may have temptations to fall back for much of their lives. Like me, you may have to become wise to the tricks of the enemy and allow yourself to get help and healing.

If you struggle, I cannot tell you enough how helpful counseling was for me. I realize it may feel easier to hide the battle, but the most powerful thing you can do as a first step is to bring it out to the light.

If I could sit down with you right now, I would tell you that it’s worth it. It may be hard, but not as hard as continuing in bondage. Not to mention the terrible toll that eating disorders take on your body for your whole life. Find a professional with experience in dealing with this area. Ideally, talk with someone that could speak the truth of the Word of God to you, while teaching you ways to change your thinking and create new behaviors. Surround yourself with people that can understand your struggle and help you fight. Most importantly, fill your mind with the Word of God – slowly but surely, it will change you from the inside out.

I didn’t know there was hope when I was in the middle of the battle. But now, I do. There is hope, and you are not alone.

Living the Hope

The small Midwest town I live in has a school with a unique name: Hope. 

Hope College is one of the pinnacles of this small town. And though small for a college, it has a lot of influence in the community. For the first several years living here, the first question I was often asked was what year I graduated from Hope College. And unfortunately, I had to deliver the news that Hope was NOT my alma mater. But I find some humor in the fact that “hope” (the noun, not the college) is something God has been “schooling” me in since moving here.

It feels like hope has become a lost treasure in our society. Even in the modest, serene Midwest town I live in, I encounter not just a lack of hope, but emotional fatigue, despair, heartache, doubts and fear. It seems like hope should be a natural thing for Christians, but sadly it is not. 

We post beautiful and inspirational pictures on our instagram about hope, but what is it really? We talk about hope in our churches, groups, and communities, but how should it change us? We read about hope in the Bible, but what is our hope in? If you are like me, you have answers to these questions, in theory. But then turbulence hits and emotions still win over hope. Are we really living hope?

I just recently encountered the definition of “hope” for Webster’s 1812 Dictionary. Please take a moment to read it, then read it again. We can find rich truths here:

HOPE, noun [Latin cupio.]

1. A desire of some good, accompanied with at least a slight expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable. Hope differs from wish and desire in this, that it implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired, or the possibility of possessing it. Hope therefore always gives pleasure or joy; whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety.

Did you read it? Did you see that last line? Whoa! Am I right?  It seems likely that the anxiety, fear, and ultimately pain that I have been experiencing is ultimately tied to a wish or desire, rather than hope? Have I miss understood hope? 

Funny thing, one of the bigger landmarks at Hope College is a gigantic anchor sitting on the lawn of the incredibly ornate campus buildings. It’s appropriate, because it reminds me of this verse:

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Hebrews 16:19 (NLT)

Hope is that thing we need to hold us steady. To anchor, not just our emotions, but our very souls to something bigger, greater, and stronger than anything in this world. What is the “this hope” that the author speaks of here? 

I hope (see what I did there), that you take time to read more of Hebrews 6. In fact, all of Hebrews is an incredible book to read! In it, the author reminds his readers of all that Christ has done for us, so that we can have a relationship with our Holy and loving God. He tells us of God’s promises to us and the care he has for us, while also reminding us of the joy we will have when obeying God. And, he reminds us in verse 6:18 that God’s promises are true because God does not lie!

So let’s connect the dots…

1) We know hope is stronger than a wish or desire, and can produce joy. 2) Hope is what anchors our souls in this crazy world. 3) Our hope, as Christians, is in a God that has not only given everything for us, but gives us promises that will hold true for eternity. 

When I put these dots together, I realize where I often get off kilter. I think it goes back to the very first point. There is a piece of me that is not confident in God’s promises. I wish and desire for them to be true, and for him to come through for me. But, the expectation that he’ll actually do it? Maybe not.

Anxiety ensures. Fear reigns. Doubts take hold. I end up feeling defeated, drained, hopeless. I know this is not what God wants for me and you. I think that is why in another place in His Word, He says “and these three remain, faith, hope and love” (1 Cor. 13:13) God wants us to, by faith, hope in a God that loves us. We can have more than just a little expectation in God.

Hope a gift given from God, transferred to you and me by His Spirit. Hope comes with practice as we strengthen our spiritual muscles of faith. Hope comes through experiencing God’s faithfulness and taking time to remember it. In my experience, the best way to allow hope to grow within me is by reading the Word of God and spending time with Him. The more I feed myself of the nuggets of truth, the less I doubt His character and the more hopeful becomes my trust. 

We live in a world that completely counters God’s Word and His promises. You need to know that you will constantly be hearing messages that tell you why you should not hope. It permeates our souls more than we could possibly realize. God doesn’t just want us to read His Word as another religious box to check off. He wants us to know it so that we can constantly be alert to the lies of this world and remind ourselves of Who God is.
Hope is more than a wish or desire. Knowing where we set our hope can blow our anxiety away like a leaf in the wind. We can go from just knowing the hope, to truly living the hope. A process we are all in together.