>> my story (overcoming social anxiety)

I am a 31-year-old wife, teacher, pug mommy, friend and Pinterest-loving crafter. I am an introvert that loves people. I can be as silly as a 12-year-old and love making others laugh. I am a good listener and love hearing other people’s stories.

Because we all have a story. And sometimes sharing it with others is the scariest thing we think we’ll ever face because vulnerability can sometimes lead to pain. Jeremiah 1:5 tells us that before God formed us in the womb, he knew us. He knew what he was doing when he gave us our character traits and our flaws. It is only recently that I’ve come to understand that the imperfections within us are meant to serve a purpose. God tends to use those with a proverbial limp, if you haven’t noticed. That being said, here is my story.

Growing up, I was thought of as the shy and quiet girl. I clung to my mother’s leg on the first day of Kindergarten and hoped that if I cried hard enough my parents wouldn’t make me stay. In elementary school, I remember playing alone on the playground and drawing elaborate pictures in the dirt with a stick. My best friend was my stuffed, pajama-clad bear named Chuckles.

Once, in the fifth grade, I had to demonstrate a “how-to” project in front of the class. This is my first real memory of experiencing crippling fear in front of my peers. I went with something quick and easy: How to Draw a Snoopy Face Out of the Number 55. I went up to the board and drew that thing out in about five seconds flat. There was no pausing to give my classmates instructions. I drew as quickly as I could with trembling hands as my teacher urged me to slow down and explain each step. I don’t remember what kind of grade I got on that presentation, but I do remember from then out having an inescapable fear of being called up to the board in class.

Fast forward to high school, where every day was spent making sure I didn’t wear a gray t-shirt to reveal my incessantly sweating armpit stains. I refused to eat anything for lunch at school other than crackers because I feared eating a big lunch would cause my stomach to make gurgling digestive sounds in a quiet classroom. My worst fear was being called on by my teacher to read out loud.

Then came college, where there was more of the same. Every day was spent fighting one anxious battle after another. I remember my heart beating fast each and every time I walked to class. I wondered: Would I get called on to read out loud today? Would I get a tickle in my throat and have an uncontrollable coughing spell during lecture? I told myself that if things got to be too stressful in class, I would just get up and leave, pretending I had an appointment. This is an escape route that wasn’t available to me in high school, and I utilized it one day in Calculus to avoid board work. 

At the end of the day, I would go back to my dorm room and collapse on my bed, emotionally exhausted. A suite mate might knock on my door, but I wouldn’t answer, telling her later I had fallen asleep.

When Summer came, while other kids got jobs to further their resume and use towards experience in their field of major, I would stay holed up in my apartment, relying on savings to pay my part of the rent and bills. A day didn’t go by that I didn’t feel like a worthless freeloader. I couldn’t apply for jobs because my anxiety was through the roof. I remember multiple instances of my picking up the phone to call a potential employer then hanging up before they answered because my heart was beating so hard, I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk. One morning I was in bed thinking about how all my roommates were at work and I was wasting another day away, a prisoner to fear. My heart started beating erratically, and I experienced a full-blown panic attack that left my heart physically hurting. I was so worried, I actually called my parents and asked them to drive me to the hospital for heart tests. After all the testing, I learned my heart was fine. I was told to stay away from stimulants such as caffeine. I was also told that anxiety is most common in college-aged women trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

No matter what age I was, a common thread coursed through my life: the concept of embracing who I was and simply being myself was never considered. It took all I had to face each day trying to hide my unrealistic anxieties from those around me. But even though it was the only way of life I knew, I never stopped to consider what might be wrong with me until after I got married.

At 23 years old, I googled “social anxiety.” The symptoms laid out on my computer screen sounded like someone was writing a biography about me. I felt exposed. I felt scared that I had an actual diagnosis which I would forever be trapped in and defined by. 

According to Wikepedia:  Social anxiety is a discomfort or a fear when a person is in social interactions that involve a concern about being judged or evaluated by others. It is typically characterized by an intense fear of what others are thinking about them (specifically fear of embarrassment, criticism, or rejection), which results in the individual feeling insecure, not good enough for other people, and/or the assumption that peers will automatically reject them.”

Boom. There was my life summarized in two sentences. I cried to my husband that night and revealed to him my secret struggle that even he had known nothing about. I worried he would look at me differently, but he amazed me then and continues to amaze with his understanding and full acceptance of me.

I continued to live life crippled by social anxiety for a few more years. My breaking point came when my job required me to go into a few different stores and pick out products to highlight. This involved me carrying in a notebook and pen and asking an employee to help me with what I needed. I couldn’t do it. I broke down, absolutely overtaken by fear. My husband was my hero that day. He took my notebook and pen and went into each and every store and got the information that I had been assigned to get. 

Not long after that, I had a talk with my family doctor. My heart beat and my voice shook as I told him about the relentless anxiety I struggled with every day. He listened and acknowledged my struggle. He affirmed that I had truly been living in a secret hell. It was that day that I took the first step of treatment. And my life has been changed for the better since.

Do I still struggle with anxiety? Yes. But the difference is that instead of not making the call, I’ll make it now, even if I don’t feel the most confident. I put myself in new situations now and don’t hide from the world. I have discovered my real personality when not held back by fear of being judged. I am funny. I love people. I’m goofy and not as shy as I’ve always considered myself to be. I love teaching children. I see the value in complimenting a stranger and look for opportunities to be a light for Christ. And going back to what I said in the beginning about God using those with a limp: I am a greeter at my church. I struggle sometimes with stumbling over my words or feeling awkward trying to talk to new people, but I’ve also seen God use me just as I am to make others feel welcome and important. 

I recently read this quote and it has stuck with me: “Imperfections have a role to play in our lives and when we forget that, we become unapproachable.”

Therefore, embrace your imperfections. Don’t waste them. Figure out who God wants you to share your story with and tell it. You will be amazed at how many people will be able to relate and how many lives you’ll be able to touch when you take off the proverbial mask of perfection.

I am sharing my story to bring awareness to a disorder that affects millions of adults in America. If you are secretly struggling with social anxiety, know there are various forms of treatment and I urge you to consult with your doctor about which might be best for you.

There IS life beyond the labels.

“I will praise thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” Psalm 139:14

>> Published in Peekaboo NWA magazine, September 2014.


>> my classroom

Summer is over, and I'm a week into the new school year. I was super happy that the teaching bug hit me weeks before it was actually time to go back, as opposed to my hanging on to every last moment of summertime freedom like I normally do. I went to a summer training session in July that really rejuvenated my love for teaching and reminded me how blessed I am to have this job that allows me to pour into the lives of children.

First order of business before the new school year started was to go in for a drastic hair cut. I had been growing my hair out for years and it was so long. I loved it, but it was so dead on the ends, even after regular trims. It was also super tangly and a nightmare to style after being washed. So, I got what I like to refer to as my "teacher haircut." 

Next order of business was to get my classroom all set up. I added a tent to the reading area, scaled down all the small random toys, and added a plethora of new table activities to my white cabinet. I also found a white board/chalkboard easel and art drying rack on a local yard sale site to add to my room. The little red, white, and blue table was a freebie that I painted for my kitchen center. Oh, and I can't forget to mention my new valance curtain I made out of chevron fabric. Needless to say, I made lots of fun changes to my room this year that I deemed worthy of a photo shoot. :-)


>> enough

Dear God,

This morning I walked by this chalkboard hanging in our hallway just as I have hundreds of times before. The message on it "Bless This Home" read differently to me this time than the generic sentiment I wrote it as. It hit me that in the midst of my longing for something I don't have, our home is already so abundantly blessed. Why am I asking for something that already exists? Why am I expecting more?

As you know, I desire to be a mommy. I believe you put that desire in my heart and that it is a good thing. However I admit that my focus on this one desire has blurred my vision on what it is you most want me to see. Forgive me for looking past all the beautiful blessings you placed daily in my line of vision that I've failed to acknowledge because I've been too busy peering past them towards the unattained. All this time I thought I was doing you right by telling others:  "I'll still praise Him, even though I'M WAITING; I'll display patience WHILE I WAIT." While I believe this is an honorable stance to take when "in waiting," my eyes are now open to a new revelation:

Who says there's an end to THE WAIT?

My saying that "I'm waiting" implies my expectancy of a reward, doesn't it? And how long do I really want to spend "waiting" on one blessing when I already have 1,000 blessings around me? God, the things you've given me are way too good to let go to waste.

My husband is a gift from you, and he is more than good enough. My health, this house you've given me, my wonderful job, my sweet dog, loving family and friends -- all of it is more than good enough. If the blessings ended right here, today, you would only deserve nothing short of my eternal praises.

If you had never given me any of the things I just listed, and all you ever gave me was the promise of eternal life with you, you would still deserve nothing short of my unfaltering praise and gratitude.

Sometimes, the more gifts you give a person, the more they come to expect. I know I have become entitled because you have been so good to me.

God, I'm handing all my unattained desires to you, and I'm entrusting the outcome to you. Your will for my life, your knowledge, your plan -- it's all sovereign. Your understanding of the big picture is impeccable. You give and you take away (Job 1:21) and most of the time, we don't understand. That is ok, though, because God, YOU KNOW. Your will, even when it hurts, is perfection.

I'm saying this: My desire for YOUR WILL for my life is stronger than my desire for a baby. Your will for my life is better than any agenda of my own. There is NOTHING lacking in my life--no void waiting to be filled--because I have you. I say this with sincerity because, God, you truly are everything good, everything wonderful.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above..." (James 1:17)

Your name alone is a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10), and no matter what my circumstances, you are enough. Even when I forget. Even when I'm struggling. Even when I don't understand. You are enough.

You are the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). You always have been and always will be...enough.


>> eight years

Thank you, God, for being the glue that held us together when we didn't have it in us.
Thank you for the painful glimpses we had of our lives without each other, the hollowness we felt, and for the beautiful restoration that came from the storm.
Thank you that the bond between a husband and wife is sacred and meant to be unbreakable--a picture of your everlasting love for us--full of mercy and grace.
Thank you for the man you've placed alongside me with which to worship and to hold my hand as we walk closer towards you.
And thank you, God, for promising us a brighter tomorrow when today already holds more good than we could ever ask or imagine.


>> on being a mentor

Sometimes God pulls on our hearts about something for a long time before we ever realize it's Him. For me, that tug I've been feeling and ignoring for years has been towards preteen girls. I vividly remember that time as being the hardest, most excruciatingly awkward years of my life. So much of who I am today was molded during those years.

I was a nerd, by all social application of the word: quiet, poor, awkwardly shy, insecure and quirky-looking. Those were all labels given to me by my peers, and those labels stuck in my heart with proverbial industrial strength adhesive. To this day, that 12-year-old girl reemerges in times of insecurity or failure, and I immediately see myself through the eyes of my 5th grade classmates and go back into my shell of adolescent awkwardness.

I sometimes wonder what would have been different for me had my heart truly been entrenched in God's truth -- if I had known how to see myself through His adoring eyes instead of the eyes of my peers.

My heart has empathized with the growing pains faced by preteen girls ever since I matured enough to realize my experience at that age did not have to be so painful. I believe God allowed me to experience what I did to give me a heart and understanding for girls at that stage of life now. And he recently spoke through my sister Emily to remind me there is something tangible in all this that I can do for Him. 

A few weeks ago, Emily and I assisted with VBS and got to know a few preteen girls in our church a little better. As we were leaving the last day, she told me she thought it would be fun to get together with a few of those girls and do something fun with them. She recalled how much it would've meant to us at that age to have a woman show interest in pouring into our lives. That's the moment when it all clicked for me and I told Emily how her idea was perfect because girls of that age had been on my heart for a long time.

So, yesterday I think I officially became a mentor! Emily and I had the best day with these girls, ages 10, 12, and 12. We met up at the promenade and did some shopping, ate some pretzels and frozen yogurt, and had some solid girl talk.

I went into this day thinking it would be us pouring into their lives, but it didn't take me long to realize it was actually a dual favor. I had no clue I would have so much fun just listening to them talk, laugh and get excited about things such as chevron backpacks and s'mores friendship necklaces.

Emily and I used every opportunity we could to speak words of life to these girls and let them know it's not about sitting at the popular table, it's not about boys and it's not about makeup. Whether or not those words will stick with them has yet to be seen. I just pray they always see themselves through the eyes of their Father in Heaven. I pray they will be shining lights to everyone around them.

Before we ended our time together, Emily and I gave the girls notebooks to use as prayer journals. We wrote encouraging notes and verses in the front of them, and prayed with the girls about their upcoming school year.

It only took one outing, and I'm crazy about these girls. I love their personalities and enthusiasm. I could see on their faces that they were having fun and that they felt special.

So, I guess this is mentorship. I'm in like flynn.