Free Devotional: Surviving Christmas: Advent Devotions for the Hard and Holy Holidays

Growing up, I didn’t know much about Advent. Christmas cantatas, yes. Live nativity scenes, yes. Stolen baby Jesus dolls, yes. Advent…not so much.

It was a few years ago after I began attending St. Bartholomew’s in Nashville where Advent really took a hold on my heart: a time to prepare and reflect upon the coming Christ, his birth, death and resurrection, the narrative of Mary and Joseph, angels, dirt, mundane, pain, rejoicing.

Over time, I’ve written a few blog posts inspired by the season or on Christmas in general. Because as mystical and ponderous Advent is, the holiday season is hard for many people.

Family and travel and money and parties and finals and bad weather and schedules and so…many…things that distract and hurt and remind us of a broken world, not a healed one.

This year, I’ve compiled a couple old blog posts with a few other reflections (if you received my Advent emails last year, those too) and made a little eBook.

And it’s free. Just head over to Noisetrade and download it. Please share it with your friends, your family. Study it by yourself or with a group of people. Print off a million copies of it and give it to anyone you think could find it helpful. It’s yours.

It’s my prayer that by taking just a couple of minutes each day as we approach Christmas to stop and breathe and pray and hope and to know we aren’t alone in this hard and holy season, we can live vulnerably in the dualities of joy and sadness and pain and peace.

Those tensions have been lived and wrestled in since the beginning of time but in this season we know the most beautiful moment is in our rest.

And we can rest and know we are loved and can love, we can rest in knowing hope and holiness, and we can rest knowing our Savior has come (and is here, now).

Enjoy A Free Chapter of “Lean on Me” from the Folks at FaithGateway

 

The fine folks at FaithGateway posted a free chapter of Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community today. Here’s a little tease; you can click over to their website for the rest!

They’re also offering 20% off the book, too! (Insert your own verbiage about stocking stuffers or Christmas shopping here…I’ll save you the grief.)

Much love,

Anne Marie

***

Sometimes the only way to return is to go. — Josh Garrels

Leaving behind four years of friendships in Nashville, I moved to California, confidently running, fearless in my decision to escape. It was like my runaway attempt when I was in kindergarten, except now I was taller than the corn stalks and could see my way to a new home. The safety I craved appeared to exist in anonymity. I had nothing to prove to anyone, no questions to answer or expectations to meet. Surely this was the right choice. The voice of my independence distorted the voices of my friends in Nashville telling me to stay.

A new job, new friends, and the healing air of the Pacific Ocean blowing through the windows assured me my decision to move to California was a good move to make.

After work each day, I drove to the house where I rented a room, perched up on the side of a mountain, and watched the sun drop into the ocean as though it had a five-hundred-pound weight attached to the bottom of it. This was my daily commute, and in spite of the small fortune I spent in tolls each way, it was breathtaking every time. My days were kept busy at a growing architecture firm where I helped plan events and managed publicity. It was easy to spend twelve hours a day at work finding something to improve or a new project to begin.

The busyness didn’t bother me at all; in fact, it was a welcome distraction to the grief I was experiencing over the loss of my marriage. Soon, I found myself hopping from plane to plane, running across airport terminals all over the United States for company events. That accomplished two things: it caused a diversion to the growing pain I was desperately avoiding and it separated me from the beginnings of community I was starting to form in California. In the midst of my new job, I was also on a book tour promoting my second book, Permission to Speak Freely, which took me away from my new home in California even more.

The stress of being a full-time author and speaker as well as a full-time publicity manager affected me physically, and I lost weight and couldn’t sleep most nights. But somehow this was okay. Only a month and a half into my new life as a California girl, in between a taping for a Christian television broadcast in Texas for my book and an architecture meeting in Arkansas, I sent a text message to my friend Liz. Liz was a friend who I knew would speak words of truth that I was willing to listen to.

Me: Can be honestIm not sure if movinto California wathe right thing.

A few moments later, she replied. Can call you?

Sure. Give me fifteen minuteto get to my hotel room.

Fifteen minutes later, I sat cross-legged on one of the double beds in my hotel room in Little Rock and waited for Liz to call.

“Why isn’t it working out?” she asked.

“I just feel so disconnected. From everything. I’m traveling so much I can’t do things with my new friends in California. The time zone makes it hard to connect with my old friends back in Nashville. I’m starting to recognize flight attendants on the Dallas to Orange County segment I’m on every week. I feel as if they know what’s going on in my life more than my roommates even do.”

“I think moving to California was a mistake,” she said without pause.

“Um, well, that’s a bold statement.”

“What do you want me to tell you, Anne? You’re running.”

“I just needed a fresh start.”

“No, you need to heal.”

“I am healing.”

“Are you?”

I sat silently, staring at the dated pink floral pattern of the bedspread.

“Go,” she said. “Go to the place where it hurts your heart so much you simply can’t stand it and you feel like you want to die. Go to the place where the infection is thick and rotting and it smells and burns. You have to go to the bottom of the wound and start there. It is the only way to begin healing. Where is that place for you?”…

(READ THE REST OF THE CHAPTER HERE…)

Having a Plan for Coping with Anxiety

Anne Marie Miller, Lake Michigan 2012

It was 3:12 am and it felt like what I imagine a heart attack feels like.

If I hadn’t felt this tightness hundreds of times before in the last 20 years, I probably would have been concerned, but it was a familiar foe. Rarely does it visit while I’m sleeping, but last night it did. I took some deep breaths, told my brain what was happening (because brains are only wired to know evidence – my racing heart and shallow breathing – not reason.)

“You are starting to have a panic attack. There is no reason you should be this afraid. You are healthy, you are safe. This feeling will pass in no more than 20 minutes, and then you will be asleep again.”

My brain somewhat bought the explanation.

The next step? Meditation.

In my mind, I pulled up a snapshot of Lake Michigan, which feels like the ocean, where there is so much space and air, and calming, rhythmic waves.

I repeated what I’ve been repeating for 10 years when I feel a panic attack coming on: “He keeps in perfect peace whose mind stays on Him.”

And at some point, I fell back asleep.

Anxiety sucks. There is no poetic way around it.

Having a plan for when your brain wants to take control is key.

Pixels Distract. Praise Focuses.

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I’ve been caught up in my mind more than paper lately, an avalanche of thoughts I suppose…Relating in a real, tangible realm and relating in a social media world.

I adore the people who have morphed from screen name monikers to friends. I cherish those who I always and only knew as flesh and blood, a pixel-less soul.

And I wonder why it is we are so drawn in to the complexities of online connection. Indeed, we connect, but what we see and how we feel because of minuscule lights and squares and code sometimes astounds me – both in good and bad ways.

Why do some things I see stir up terrible emotions in me? Rage? Envy? Lust? And some things inspire me? Speak truth? Pour light down? Where do I seek solace? Inspiration? Courage?

I’m afraid often it’s like the 15-year-old me, flipping through her yearbook and dreaming of what it’s like to be this popular kid or this rich kid or will people like me more if I ran track and played basketball? The 34-year-old me wonders what it’s like to have a house like that, abs like that, or book sales like that? Will people like me more…if?

Yet I know there is no if, and God is sovereign over our skin world and our social media world. And all of my questions need to redirect into adoration of Him, worship of Him, and only Him. I must clear the clutter.

Pixels distract. Praise focuses.

Depression, Prozac, And Where I Come Out As a Nerdy Girl

If you’ve been around these parts for any amount of time, you know I’ve wrestled with seasons of anxiety, depression, and even a time where a shrink thought I was bi-polar II (I wasn’t). One of the crazy (ha!) things about mental health is it’s really difficult to diagnose and if you’re serious about getting healthy (Note: Not fixed, not medicated, but healthy), you agree to subject yourself to a myriad of paths to find that health. Paths like:

  • A commitment to be healthy physically – heal thyself. All the stuff you hear about eating well and exercising truly plays a large role in your mental health. Will it cure you? Maybe. Maybe not.
  • A commitment to be healthy spiritually – this is so when those uneducated folk say you just need to pray more, you can, with confidence and tact, tell them to shut up. But seriously, spend time with God. He wants to be with you in these seasons.
  • Medication – sometimes with horrible side effects. It is a roulette. I’ve been on medication that made me hallucinate and have paranoid thoughts before. Meds that made me have MORE panic attacks. Meds that made me gain weight. Meds that made me have brain zaps. Meds that numbed me out where I couldn’t laugh or feel anything. I’ve also had meds that work wonderfully. When you find those medications, you praise Jesus like there’s manna raining down from heaven above..

I had my first panic attack at the age of 14 and a roller coaster of neuro-transmitting madness in my 20s. Things mostly balanced out in my 30s until the last few years when I thought a brief spell of sadness and apathy would resolve like it normally did.

But it didn’t.

We moved to Lubbock a little over a month ago and within the first couple of weeks, the depression only intensified. Thoughts of harming myself crept in and wouldn’t go away. I made an appointment with a doctor and after a really good conversation (tip: doctors who listen are seriously the best), I started on 10 tiny milligrams of prozac – an SSRI that helps treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts.

My previous experience with SSRIs have been terrible. Literally. Terrible. So I was nervous to start, but I knew I couldn’t not. I had to jump back into that game of medication roulette.

This time, I decided I would get nerdy about it. If I went back to the doctor in a month and he asked how I was doing, I would probably think of how I felt overall in the last few days.

I wanted to see if prozac was really working for me, and if so, how well. I needed quantitative data.

So I charted. I pulled out my spreadsheet and I got to work.

I took six positive mental health characteristics (like energy and optimism) and four unhealthy characteristics (like apathy and anxiety) and rated them on a scale from 0 to 10 (0 being “not experiencing”; 10 being “fully experiencing”) and I went to town. Each night I would simply note what number I felt best represented how that day went with 10 of those characteristics.

Three weeks in, I have some cool looking charts that are providing me (and my doctor) with some good information.

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You can click on it to see it full-size.

The top chart represents those healthy characteristics and the bottom chart represents the unhealthy ones. The hope is to see the top chart slowly climbing up while the bottom chart is steadily kerplunking down.

A few interesting observations which I wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for a visual aid:

  • About every 7th day I have a rough day. You can see the top chart spike down and the bottom chart punch up.
  • While most of the healthy qualities are increasing and the unhealthy are decreasing, my anxiety is still pretty consistent, with it really going through the roof during certain times of the months when my hormones are crazy.

I’ve had people contact me before about their mental health, asking if it was a sin (no), if medication helps (usually), and how do we know if it’s working (here you go). Being aware (but not overly aware) of where we are weak and where we are strong and how we are changing by making healthful choices can truly provide huge relief where you’re struggling and where it seems hopeless.

You’re not alone, you never are, and you’re not “less than” if you feel your life is caught up in a whirlwind of seemingly uncontrollable anxiety, sadness, fear, loss, pain, or confusion. Speak about it. Speak openly about it. Ask for help. People want to help. Ask for prayer. People want to pray. Just know – even though you feel alone and those voices in your head are confirming it – you are not.

You are loved because you are His and because you are His, we all belong to each other.

Much love,

Anne Marie

 

“Lean on Me” Book Club Discount + Free Shipping

Last weekend, I spoke at a church. Saturday was a women’s retreat and we focused on my new book Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent CommunityEach woman got a copy of the book. On Sunday, something awesome happened that blew my mind a little bit. About a third of the women who got a book on Saturday came back to buy another book on Sunday for a friend so they could work through it together.

THAT WAS JUST SO NEAT.

This was not a pat-on-the-back moment for me. Yes, I’m really quite happy with the way the story was written in Lean on Me, but what delighted me to my core were two things:

  • People need to know they’re loved
  • People want others to know they’re loved

And though Lean on Me is not a “how-to” book (If you know anything about me, you should know I am not fond of “how-to-do” anything. Discovery is a sacred process.), the story of how others loved me through a very painful and messy time in my life, and in turn, how through those people I saw Jesus makes me want EVERYONE to have this same kind of community.

The kind people at my publisher agree and have a special offer for the next month. If you buy 6 or more copies of Lean on Me, you’ll get 40% off AND free shipping. 

The book has a chapter-by-chapter study guide in the back with questions, actionable steps and a prayer for each chapter. It’s totally perfect for small groups, for book clubs, for friends.

LeanOnMe_bulkoffer1

 

To get the Book Club offer:

  • Head over to FaithGateway
  • When you check out, type in “leanonme” in the coupon code area.

You’ll get each book for under $10 which is a pretty sweet deal and again, totally free shipping.

I hope this allows you to dive into this really important message that I believe in with all my little heart and soul.

Much love,

Anne Marie

How Do You Know It’s Safe to be Vulnerable?

Do you have solid community in your life? I thought I could answer that question with an easy “YES!” until a crisis hit. It took that crisis for me to evaluate how I relate to God and to others.

Today my book Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community is officially out and available for your perusal.

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My dear friend Shelia–who is a character in the book, and a protagonist in my life–said this about it:

Lean on Me is not a stale “how to” book with seven action points to automatically fix all your relationship woes. It is a story. A glorious, difficult, hope-filled story.”

In order to have a rich community surrounding us, one of the key values we must embrace is vulnerability. In Lean on Me, I talk about this complexity.

“A great misunderstanding in the world is that we must wait until we feel safe to be vulnerable with other people. They must earn our trust and show us they will not take our wounds and cause them to bleed more. We misconstrue the wisdom of guarding our hearts, our life’s wellspring, as a command to build a fortress around them.

We are never safe from pain, and safety has nothing to do with vulnerability.

Vulnerability will hurt…It is a paradox: once we realize being vulnerable is never safe, we are then free to be vulnerable. We guard our hearts by giving them to the Guardian. We accept the fact that hurt will come. We see wounds as gifts. When this dramatic shift in our spirit occurs, fear no longer controls us.”

You can order Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community as a paperback and as an eBook.

If you want to read a few sample chapters of Lean on Me, you can do that here.

We need each other and we get to carry each other.

Much love,

Anne Marie Miller

 

Wanting God in the Midst of Imperfect and Crazy

Today I’ve asked my sweet friend Lisa to share on my blog. Because she has good things to say. Good things that resonate with my heart and soul and challenge me and beat me up in the best way. My life is usually crazy and always imperfect and I can choose to either embrace it with a bitter heart and want it all to be easy or I can want God. Lisa talks about this in her new book I Want God  and gives us a little glimpse of how deep this message goes in today’s blog post. I hope you love it!

***

I will never forget the day in college when my friend asks me to describe God, the way I see Him.

It catches me off-guard, this question I have never been asked before.

Sitting on the cold, community laundry room floor, I answer, in a clumsy, pedestrian way that is small, but honest.

“I think He has nice eyes,” I say, my own filling with tears.

I’m much older now and my college days seem far away, but I still picture this same Jesus.  I’ve learned and grown and studied since then and yet, it is what about Him, I see.

I know He is big.  I know He is all powerful and holy and can take me out in one breath.  And yet, He is everyday to me.  He is lover.  He is best friend.  He is humble and perfect and laughs at my quirks and wipes my tears with fingers I can’t see.

And as His Church gets bigger and glossier and the craziness of making celebrities out of people who preach is the constant pull, I often retreat into my thoughts of who God is and what He is all about before I, myself, go mad.

And it always makes me want Him.  Just Him.  It is where I find rest.

[Tweet ““The only way I know to get better is to focus on God harder.” ~Lisa Whittle, I Want God”]

It’s not just the world and the Church that drives me crazy.  It’s me, too.  It’s my own stubbornness and need to be valued and the mental war of wanting God to make sense but knowing He likely won’t.  It’s the constant rub of wanting to be comfortable and yet, the desire to throw my contented life out the window so I can do the brave, big thing.

And right before I get too disillusioned, ready to throw in the towel I remember these things:

  • It is the wanting of God more than anything else, His power within us that makes us brave.
  • It is wanting God most that helps us love, keeps us together and keeps us humble.
  • It is the wanting of God that will drive us to stay the course, keep it real, accept ourselves, dive in, even when it’s hard and unclear.

The world will always be crazy.  The Church will sometimes get it wrong.  We will war with our flesh that tells us to be noticed and famous and our spirit that reminds us to become less – passionate to live our dreams one day, scared to death to move at all, the next.

But we can choose God.  We can pursue God.  We can long for God and lock eyes with Him.

And it will keep us sane.  And steady.  And ready for the day we can ditch all this imperfect mess and not want anything else anymore.

**

Lisa Whittle is an author and speaker, a lover of God, family, and the Church. Her high anticipated 4th book, I Want God: Forever Changed by the Revival of Your Soul, will release October 1. Lisa’s honest, bottom line approach is her trademark, as she points people to a passionate pursuit of God. In addition to speaking, media appearances and writing for Women of Faith, Catalyst, Relevant and various other publications, Lisa has done master’s work in Marriage and Family and is a part of the MOB [Mothers of Boys] Society writing team. Lisa is a wife and mother of three, plus one fluffy dog, residing in North Carolina. You can find her on Facebook, follow her on Instagram, Twitter [@LisaRWhittle] or Pinterest, and visit her ministry community at www.lisawhittle.com.