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.

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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!

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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.

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.

Because Free Books are Good and Because Friends are Better

In a couple of weeks (October 7 to be exact) my latest book, Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community, will ship and be placed on book shelves and will hopefully, hopefully, hopefully help people think about and relate in community in very Jesus-like ways.

What’s the book about? Well, when I started doing the writing/speaking/blogging thing, life was pretty great. I got to do what I dreamed of for a living, I met fascinating people, I traveled the world, I spoke at conferences…I felt known. 

Anne Miller at NYWC in Nashville

I know many people who strive to live that life thinking a conference invite or a book contract or numbers on a dashboard will somehow make them whole and happy. I won’t lie – on the surface, those things did bring me a lot of happiness. But they did not bring me joy or wholeness. Yet, because I found so much of my identity in them, my foundation wasn’t built on Christ and that would prove to have devastating effects later.

In 2010, right before my book Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace shipped, everything changed. Words were spoken to me that still haunt the deepest part of my heart. My marriage ended. Grief flooded in and I was left wondering if life was even worth living.

If you would have asked me in my “top of my game” days if I had community, I would have answered with a resounding “YES!” My phone was full of people I could contact, my inbox was full of encouraging letters from strangers. But when this crisis hit my life, I was faced with two distinct choices: run away and start over again or lean into my community and ask for help.

I ran.

It was a huge mistake and as I sat alone in a hotel room on a work trip, I reached out to a friend who told me to ask a handful of people to commit to being my friend for 18 months. I felt like I was in second grade and about to hand out notes to people:

“Do you like me? Will you like me? Circle One: Yes or No”

It was the most awkward ask I’ve ever made, but I asked 12 people to let me lean on them. I was a mess. I needed direction. I needed support. I needed a place to live.

10 wrote back and said yes.

The following 18 months were not easy. They were full of growing pains and tears and moments of joy and craziness. But that community committed to me and I healed through my grief. God spoke to me through them in unexplainable ways.

I knew the only way to repay them was to share the things they taught me about genuine community.

Lean on Me is just that.

It is not a how-to have community or what to do. It simply asks where you see yourself in community and tells the story of a community who loved a girl (who didn’t always deserve it or even want it) well. Jesus taught through stories and I know the way my community loved me (and in turn, the way Tim and I love others now) is not only inspiring, it’s actionable.

Lean on Me Anne Marie Miller

If you pre-order Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community, the folks at Thomas Nelson will send you my book Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace as an eBook for free. Just send your order confirmation to wpubpreorders@gmail.com.

You can pre-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.

I hope both of these books encourage you to be yourself, love others, and allow others to love you.

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

Much love,

Anne Marie Miller

Lean on Me Anne Marie Miller Committment

Fight for Unity, or Don’t Fight at All: My Plea for Christians to Keep Your Opinions To Yourself

When I was sixteen, my dad left the ministry. He did nothing wrong, but it was an ugly church-wide meeting full of Southern obstinacy. I saw men in our small church yelling at each other, accusing each other, accusing my father, accusing my mother, accusing the youth pastor. Some claims were insidious, others plan incredulous.

I will never forget that Sunday in April. A fire rose inside me that rarely burns for much anymore. As shy as I am, as non-confrontational as I am, and – for that church – as female as I am, none of that mattered. I stood up, my whole body shaking and read verses upon verses out of the bible about unity. All those Bible drills came in handy. I flipped to Ephesians, to John, to Galatians.

What I was taught in church about loving each other and what I was shown by the church were diametrically opposed.

When I was through, I was met with cold stares telling me my input was not welcome. I rushed outside, up a fire escape, and wrote a letter to God I still have to this day.

Give me a way to bring unity to the church. Or else, I’m gone.

I didn’t hear an answer for a while, so I left. For five years, I went off on some dark roads which God has so graciously redeemed. I came back to His bride and found myself back in many situations where I would pray that same prayer (just without the “or else…”)

In recent years and more specifically, the recent month, everyone who has an Internet connection has been exposed to many an exposé on pastors and other church leaders. The scandals, the sins, the full-open-letters pasted for all the world to see. We are an age of opinionated school-yard bullies with platforms and reach and nobody is winning.

That fire is lit once more. I’m that sixteen year old girl again, shy and nervous of unwelcome stares, trembling with my Bible in hand…but I’m ready to fight.

Here’s the thing.

  • If you don’t know the person you’re dragging through the mud, you have no scriptural basis to bring what he or she is doing to a public forum where anyone can read.
  • If you do not have an accountable relationship with them, they are not accountable to you (or to your blog, or your Facebook rants).
  • That person isn’t going to read your blog, or your comments on a blog anyway.
  • If you find it humorous or rejoice when a man or woman of God has been removed from ministry or celebrate when they are publicly humiliated somehow, you should mourn. The Father is grieving. Even if what they did was both terrible and true, there is never a reason to celebrate. Never.

My bottom line request is this: If you’re not going to fight for unity, don’t fight at all. And don’t cause others to fight. Don’t bring people along with you in rejoicing (or making fun of, or condemning) for a fallen brother or sister. If you have a platform, use it to bring prayer for the church. Humble, pleading, grieving prayers. Don’t share the latest YouTube video of that person because “you just can’t believe it” and “it’s so wrong it’s ridiculous.” Move on. Sharing those things does not edify the body of Christ.

The same grace that covers you covers the worst of us.

Oh, and in that church service where my dad resigned? There was a girl there from my school who wasn’t a Christian. It was her second time visiting. As far as I know, she never returned. Heck, it took me five years for my faith in God and the church to recover from that situation.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:29-32

PS – I am turning comments off on this post. In the past, I have written similar posts on unity and have received comments that do not reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I don’t want this to be another one. If you truly need to comment on this, you can contact me privately using the contact form on my website.

Blogging Isn’t What it Used to Be…And that’s Okay.

Several times a week, I log into the dashboard of my blog and think I have something to write.

  • I could write about true freedom, and how that means willingly accepting my identity as a slave to Christ, which doesn’t bring oppression, but true joy.
  • I could write about how I think the voice of the peacemakers is being shut down because the voice of the cynics is so loud…and the peacemakers know there’s really no point in fighting a virtual battle of words.
  • I could write about all the new stuff I’m learning about anxiety disorders, OCD, trauma and grief or about the theology of subordinate & ultimate purposes in moral ethics.

But I don’t.

It’s not that I can’t; as if I have some writer’s block and I keep pressing delete and thinking my writing isn’t good enough.

It’s not because I’m scared of what people will think about what I write.

It’s not even that I don’t want to.

Or that I don’t have time.

None of those things are true.

Photo Credit: Thomas Lieser

Lately, I’m full of words and inspiration, most of which are being poured into the channels of a launching “Lean on Me” which comes out this October. Or into my other-new book that will come out next year. It flows into my husband as he goes through some exciting ministry changes, and into some friends over coffee or a glass of wine. I give these words to the trees and the sky when I go on walks with my dog, or sometimes they only rattle around in my head until they break into little digestible pieces I can stomach. These words fuel me as I straighten up our kitchen or hang up the laundry (who am I kidding? Tim so graciously does the laundry. I hate doing laundry.) 

A few years ago I would have wondered if you missed me.

Maybe I still do a tiny bit, but most days this blog is so far from any of my normative thinking. Only when I see the bookmark to my dashboard to log in, I log in. And that’s really just to delete any spam comments.

want to talk to you. I remember how, almost ten years ago, a small group of fifty or a hundred people would come here and listen about me putting up Christmas lights or running from tornadoes or wrestling through tithing as an automatic deduction from my church-staff paycheck. Then that number grew into the tens of thousands and the conversation changed and I began to love those numbers much more than I should have. And then, life changes pounced and left me wounded and I took everything off of the Internet for a couple of years and that huge audience I was so enamored with dwindled back down to a handful of people.

But that’s okay.

It’s taken a year or so of being truly back “online” for me to accept the new Web 2.0. Or is it 3.0 now? It’s not even about the Internet, is it? Whatever it is – whatever this is – I’m okay with it.

I’m not saying goodbye to blogging, and I’m certainly not bidding adieu to writing. I’m embracing how different it is now, both externally in how social networking has changed in the last decade and internally, how I’ve changed in the last decade.

I’m giving myself permission to keep things close, as Mary did, pondering them in her heart. 

My heart used to be online, but now it’s found in quiet moments with trusted friends, in solitude, and in quietness and trust.

That is where I find rest.

That is where I find Him.