Normally I am an upbeat, happy-go-lucky, very positive person. But this past holiday season, I battled discouragement something fierce.
I am not sure if you have ever experienced times like these where you felt like you just couldn’t shake that feeling. That icky, I don’t feel like myself, but I don’t know why feeling?
In my case, it made me want to start isolating myself; steering clear of social gatherings. I wanted off social media because watching everyone’s life was only making matters worse. All the while I was praying, reading my Bible, and attending church. But, nothing I was seemed to do could shake off how I was feeling. I was stuck in a battle with discouragement and I could not fight my way out.
It was frustrating. Lonely. And emotionally draining.
So what happened? How did I overcome this overwhelming feeling of discouragement to start being able to be engaged in the world again?
Here are the seven ways I overcame discouragement:
Tell someone. First of all, I took a leap of faith and confessed my emotional state to someone I trusted.
Let them share the truth. Sharing how I felt with someone else allowed that individual to speak truth to my situation. As I shared my fears they reminded me my emotions do not determine my actions, nor do they always align with God’s truth.
Encourage your faith. That, in turn, encouraged me in my faith in a God who was bigger than my circumstances in the moment. In recognizing, God was able to overcome my situation, regardless of my emotional state, it led me to number 4.
Make gratitude a habit. Discouragement is the exact opposite of encouragement. I knew God had done a lot in the last year, I journal about it all the time. However, when I started keeping a gratitude journal it helped me keep the highlights rather than making me dig. I have praise reports accessible and easy to access for the days that aren’t as rosy as others.
Speak God’s Word over your circumstance. The Bible says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21, KJV). As I read God’s Word and found promises of who I was or what He was capable of doing, I started speaking God’s Word over me and it caused me to believe God despite my current emotional state.
Let them pray. A huge turning point for me was when I made a confession of my struggle to my team at work. Once I shared how I had been battling this for some time, and what felt like a very lonely place, they surrounded me and prayed over me. I believe God responded to my humility and brokenness with His love for me through the prayers of His people.
Learn who God is. I decided at the end of the year to embark on reading the entire Bible in 2018. I have never accomplished this before nor is it a goal I usually set. I like to consume slowly and leisurely rather than for the sake of hitting markers. However, I decided if I was going to take this one it was going to be for one reason, to know God more. When I started reading the Bible to get to know God, my emotional state changed. The way I approached my day and the people around me shifted. I was no longer consumed with thoughts about me, but rather consumed with God.
So there you have it: Seven ways I overcame the battle with discouragement and you can too.
Overcome the battle with discouragement with these 7 tips. #hope
When I was 26 years old I had an encounter with God like I had never experienced before. In fact, up until that point, I wasn’t even sure He existed.
At the time I was extremely depressed. Still trying to work through the pain and guilt of a recent divorce and subsequent bad decisions. You would have never known it as I was able to put on a pretty good show. The mask I wore made me look put together, put underneath I was falling apart.
God knew it and made it very clear how badly I needed Him.
On June 23, 2001 I surrendered my life to Him and everything changed. At the time I was living in Ohio and knew very few Christians.
Once I got connected to a local church. At my baptism I shared my testimony and it was not long after I was asked to go into the local jail to share with the female inmates. At the time, this felt like one of the strangest requests I think I ever received.
I had nothing in common with anyone in jail. (Well, except for that one night in college I spent in the drunk tank) I was different than then as I wasn’t strung out on drugs, I wasn’t a thief, I wasn’t a violent person and I had never killed anyone. So why in the world, would my testimony be of any help to a female inmate?
Nonetheless, I was asked three times to go into the jail.
And three times I turned them down.
Fast forward to 2013. I was now leading this new ministry and about to open up The Link Center in my now hometown of Cullman, AL. The first couple who comes to visit with me were “ex-felons.” They shared that they were homeless, they were in need of jobs, and really just some help/encouragement in moving forward. Even though they shared their story with me, which included Jesus and some pretty horrible charges, I still fell in love with them. It was exhilarating to consider what God could do with their lives now that they wished to live for Him.
At the time, we (The Link of Cullman County) were partnered with our local mental health organization to help homeless individuals get into an apartment. But in order for them to receive the funding, they had to give me permission to speak with local agencies in the community. One of them was DHR.
DHR shared the details of their case and I felt like I was punched in the gut.
I went home that night questioning everything. How in the world was I supposed to lead a ministry that ministered to the poor, which would also include those who had been engaged in criminal activity, if I was struggling to love this couple. I was not the least bit equipped to love these two and help them be restored to God.
At home that night, I started searching the internet for prison ministry information. I don’t know what I thought I was going to find. Google had a lot of information but all it did was remind me how ill-equipped I was for this new role.
As I asked God, “What do I do? How do I love someone who has done these things?”
I felt like God was impressing on my heart, “You love your neighbor as yourself. Nothing changes.They are no different than Paul (murder), David (murderer and adulterer), Moses (murder), or the thief on the cross.” I think sometimes God likes to talk to me in extremes, so I don’t miss his meaning.
From that day forward everything changed. It became blatantly apparent to me at that point that their sin was no different than my own. I was called to love them, just as much as God had loved me in the pit of my sin.
From that point on it was like the Holy Spirit put out an “APB” into our community. Every where I turned someone was asking me if we would help ex-felons, if we would give them a second chance. I got Facebook messages, phone calls, and one by one they started coming in.
About 3 months later I was setting up a meeting with the Warden of our local jail to teach a bible-based jobs preparedness program to the inmates. And that is when my calling became more real than ever before.
In August of 2013, we launched Jobs for Life(TM) class. The class started with around 30 women and by the time we ended the 16-week class, we had 3 women left.
During that time, I learned more about me and the things inside my heart than they ever could have taken away from that class.
One of the verses that God used to get Chris (my husband) and I to move to Alabama in the first place (you can read more about that here) was Isaiah 61:1-3.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness,”
It was at the end of that first class that I read those verses inside the jail.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you can feel the intensity of it. Like you know for sure this is where you are supposed to be, at this moment in time, for such a reason as this? When I have those moments the hair on my arms will often stand up.You too? I knew you would understand.
As I read those scripture verses, it was like everything I had done, everything that God had called me to, everything I thought this ministry was going to be came to a halt. And things got real.
Never before in my life did I realize the significance of me choosing to love my neighbor beyond their choices. It was never more real than standing in the jail that day with those women.
I became committed, sold-out, extremely passionate about understanding the plight of the prisoner and the ex-felon. I wanted to understand everything about their situation. How they got there, what their story was. I asked lots of questions, listened as much as I could, and started watching documentary after documentary on prison and drugs. But none of it prepared me like actually walking with someone through it.
In that very first class was a woman named Peggy. I connected with Peggy because of her eagerness to learn. I am a teacher, what can I say…I tend to be drawn to the eager ones. At the start of the class she spoke of being tired of going in and out of jail. Peggy had a drug problem and an abusive husband. She needed a GED and was on disability. She had lost her kids years ago due to the drugs and her poor choices. She had landed up homeless and reminded me at one point when she had come to The Link Center to get help with a hotel room.
Peggy was taking the Jobs for Life(TM) class because she knew she needed something to be different. Being on disability had held her back from working, but it had also gotten her to where she was, as a repeat offender. Peggy looked like she was in her mid-40s with her mouth drawn in from lack of teeth and her sun-worn skin.
Peggy wasn’t much different than a lot of the other women in there, as she was awaiting her fate in court. But, over time, Peggy started to desire more and more of her life to change. She started to seek God to change her, her circumstances, and her future.
She was inspiring others with big prayers that stretched her faith. And before we knew it, we started to see God move. But, not everything happened the way Peggy had hoped. It wasn’t long after the class was finished, in November of that year, that Peggy was sentenced to Tutwiler. If you live in Alabama, you know what that means. If you don’t live in Alabama, you can learn more about the all-women’s prison here. Tutwiler is hell-on-earth. It took everthying in me, of hearing of her fate, to not want to burst out crying.
Sure Peggy had some issues with drugs and in her desperation she not only became a user but a seller. But in my mind none of that deserved the fate of Tutwiler.
But God had another plan for Peggy and so off to Tutwiler she went. While she was there we corresponded frequently through mail and phone. Tutwiler offered her a few class options and she was court-ordered to take the SAP (Substance Abuse Program). I often recall Peggy calling me in tears because God had opened up another wound to help her work through the healing. The more I spoke with Peggy, the more I heard her life stories and the more my heart was opened to loving her.
When Peggy secured a bed at a local rehab, I picked her up and dropped her off at her new home. It was a far cry from a mother picking up her child from college to bring them home, but for some reason it felt familiar. I realized then Peggy and I were in this for the long haul, this story was not going to end any time soon.
Peggy grew while she was at the rehab and I would go and visit her frequently as I was the only “family” close by at that time in her life. It was often a tough burden to bare, knowing she may not have someone come see her as she watched the other residents with their family and friends. My only consolation was knowing she had other friends from Cullman who were there for her when I could not be.
About 6 months into her stay there was an incident at the rehab that became a red-flag to the courts. Long story short, the judge released Peggy to come back to Cullman and finish out her recovery through an out-patient recovery program. Peggy had nothing. No home, no car, no job, barely any clothes, no family close by and she was needing to make all new friends.
Thankfully a safe and welcoming family from her past opened up their home to her and gave her a place to stay.
Peggy is one of a handful of women I have walked with in their transition back into society as “returning citizens” (we don’t call them ex-felons, as we tend to live out the labels that are placed on us) that I have seen God do a transformative work in.
You can watch more of Peggy’s story here:
Peggy, along with the others, have taught me so much about what it truly means to love and walk with our neighbors behind bars and then beyond.
Here are 5 ways to cut down on recidivism one heart at a time, starting with yours.
1.Jail is Different Than You Think When I went into the Cullman County Detention Center for the first time, I experienced something I never expected, acceptance.
After I met with the Warden he asked me to share what the Jobs for Life class would entail with the female inmates. I was so emotional, filled with fear and excitement, that it overwhelmed me. When I asked them if they had ever heard about The Link of Cullman County before, hands went up. They started telling me, “My Momma told me to come.” “My aunt told me to come.” “I was going to come, before I landed up here.” The tears just started rolling down my cheeks. I was so overwhelmed I could barely hold it together.
I heard from the crowd,” Its okay, baby girl, we’ll wait on you.”
That was the last thing I expected to hear. It ripped open my heart and allowed me to see, these ladies, well, they were the same as me. Vulnerable and needing acceptance.
2.Loving a prisoner is a heart-issue We have the tendency to want to put sin on levels. It is understandable. If I am honest, I don’t want my “little white lie” to be as bad as someone else abusing their child. I don’t want my jealous issues to be viewed the same way as someone who sells drugs. It’s not the same, right? Well, yes and no. One is not treated the same as the other, but they all lead to separation from God and eternal hell.
But the issue here is not their sin, it’s our hearts.
To love our neighbors behind bars or walking on the streets, we must ask God to reveal our hearts. The reality of it is, we never want to see our own sin on the same level as their sin. However, God’s word does not discriminate. The words He speaks to you is the same as He speaks to them. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Ps 013:12, NIV)
This may be the area that we need to be aware of most. If you are going to love someone behind or beyond the bars, you are going to have to be willing for God to do the work in you first.
3.Just because they are in jail does not mean they don’t know Jesus I went into jail believing that NONE of them knew Jesus and it was our job to get them all saved. HA! Not true. In fact, churches had been sharing the gospel with them for years before our team showed up on the scene. Many of them experience “jailhouse Jesus.” What I have learned is that at times it’s actually easier for them to follow Jesus in jail than it is when they get out. Why? Because the jail is filled with broken people. And more often than not, broken people realize they can no longer do life as they were doing it and they need a Savior to help them. So Jesus is more tangible in the jail then when they are released.
What became apparent to me is that many of them need to be equipped with how to live like Jesus, rather than being introduced to Him. Now, I will put a caveat on this. I live in the South, where its been said ‘We first have to convince people they are lost, before we can help them accept Jesus.’ On the other side of that coin, there are also people getting “saved” in the jail all the time. This is a good thing. But we need to understand is not all of them need to be saved. What they need to learn is how to live like Jesus.
4.The real test of your character is not loving them in the jail, it’s sticking with them when they get out In our local Detention Center, there are close to 30 churches/organizations that go in to teach and share the gospel. Thirty. Do you know how many of them stay with them on the outside? About a handful. That makes me sick to my stomach. We are willing to go in and share our “love” when they are in a contained space, but when they are released and most vulnerable we turn our backs on them. Come on Church! We can do better than that.
If I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times. “Those church ladies/men come in here and minister to us, and they are really nice, but where are they when I need them on the outside? Their churches don’t accept us. They say one thing but their church does something different.” UGH!
We all need a heart-check on this. If we are going to be apart of God’s desire to transform our communities by loving our neighbors, we are going to have to get over ourselves and start changing our ways.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31, NIV) Our churches and our ministries should be like hospitals set up to receive the sick, not a sanctuary for the healed.
5. Loving the prisoner means believing beyond their circumstances Remember, every person in jail has a story to tell. They too were once children and their stories can break your heart. In order for them to overcome their circumstances, sometimes you need to see what they cannot and start speaking those things over them, praying it for them, and loving them as if they are such. We have the power to speak life and death through our tongue. If we choose words that speak encouragement, love, and respect it is only time before they start to believe them. Here’s the bottom line.We can choose to focus in on their sins and therefore perpetuating the problem, only reinforcing what they already believe: they are nothing, can do nothing, and therefore should just continue down the path they are already on.
Or, we can choose to love them as we are commanded to do because it was shown to us in our pit of sin. In doing so giving them the opportunity to be restored back to their God, to themselves, to their relationships, and to the world around them.
We who call ourselves Christians, Christ-followers, and the body of Christ, we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus. He came to set the prisoner free both behind the bars and beyond. In order for us to do as He has done, we are going to have to start with our own hearts. As we are transformed, God will use us to go and transform others.
What is it about ministering to someone beyond bars that scares you the most?
Those words rung in my ears as I sat in my ENT doctor’s office. It was February of 2011. My doctor was telling me how the carotid body tumor in my neck needed to be removed and the reality of it’s removal could be, well…death.
About 7 months before that my husband and I, with our 10 month old son in tow, moved from Hamilton, OH to his hometown of Cullman, AL to start a local church…or so we thought. It didn’t take long for us to realize, God had other plans. In fact, the church launched in August and by November we had decided to shut it down in order to seek God for what His plan was…we had decided we must have missed that along the way, because what we thought would be a successful ministry opportunity turned into a closed door. I had blogged about our experience, and you can read more about that here.
This moment in the doctor’s office was pivotal for me. You see up until this point I would not have consider myself a very anxious person. I didn’t think I had a lot of fear and for the most part, would have been willing to try new things…well, most new things.
But at this moment, of seeing the prospect of death, well, this was a game changer. From this point forward, nothing in my life was the same.
And from it you are going to learn what I did, 6 ways to overcome fear with peace, that you can use moment by moment, as you struggle through the very thing you fear the most, even death.
But before we go there, let’s travel back in time a bit to early 2011 where God was clarifying a vision for what I thought was for Chris to follow through on to help unify our community by bringing together local non-profits in order to meet needs in our community. I felt with everything in me God had given us that vision and I was convinced that Chris was the one who was supposed to carry it out. He was from Cullman, he knows people, he could lead a ministry like that.
And I was convinced I was the very last person on earth that could lead that vision. I wasn’t from Cullman. I am a Yankee, in a southern town, and at that time knew no one. I am also a woman, in a very conservative place where most leadership positions are held by men. Did I mention I am also a Yankee. I am the last person to be leading a ministry to meet the needs of the poor in a way that brings unity to a community that I did no grow up in.
But, God had another plan. Those words, “You could bleed out” were the first of what started me on a path of learning about fear.
Fear like I have never felt before.
Fear that paralyzed me and gave me terrors in the night.
Never in my life did I ever experience the feelings of fear that I had days and weeks after those words were spoken over my life.
Over the next months we traveled from doctor to doctor praying we could find the one who could conduct the surgery on my tumor . And while we prayed and sought him for direction, I started to gain perspective. I started to hear Him through my scripture readings and found Phillipians 4:6-7 which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving bring your requests to God. And the God of peace will guard your heart in Christ Jesus.”
Those words were like salve on my anxious mind and were used many nights to usher me to sleep.
Because the reality is my life had to keep going on, regardless of the fear.
It was April when we finally located an ENT with more experience with my very rare tumor than any other doctor and it would be months before the surgery was scheduled. So I do what any person who wants to remain in control of their life does, I went on doing my day job and pursuing what I thought God had for me as a calling. At that point I believed with everything in me I was called to write and speak to women.
In May of that year, I went to a Christian Writer’s Conference in Colorado (talk about getting over fears) where I was mildly successful in engaging a possible agent in a book idea I had pitched and making some great connections with publishers and editors in the Christian Writing Market. This was HUGE for me as God was redeeming a story that was laden with death words like “you’ll never be a writer” from a college professor and “you might as well forget about writing professionally, no one would ever publish what you write” from the same man. God had already been re-writing that story for me and the Writer’s Conference was just another way He was taking what the enemy meant for harm (remember kill, steal, destroy from last week) and offering me a life of abundance.
So I truly thought…this was my calling. This is what God is going to have me do…and that other vision…well that was for Chris.
But Chris had other thoughts. When I originally shared that vision for him in the early parts of 2010, his response was very realistic. He knew this community better than I.
He said, “Dawn, as much as that is a great vision to unite the community by helping meet needs of the poor, that’s going to take a lot of collaboration on the parts of the churches and other organizations. They are very divided here. So the only way that something like that is going to happen is if something big blows through this town and shakes it up.”
We would never consider Chris a prophet…but it was literally only a few months later in April of 2011 that something DID blow through our town and shake it up. In fact, on April 27, 2011 we sat huddled in a basement of a friends house as a F4 Tornado tore up our town. You can see video coverage of that tornado, here.
God shook up a lot that day. Our town. Our hearts. Our community served each other like never before.
It was beautiful.
Are you catching all of this. A tumor. Massive anxiety. A trip to a writer’s conference. A tornado. All before the surgery in June.
He was putting me in an uncomfortable and vulnerable place, wrapped up in very uncomfortable experiences so I would have no choice but to trust Him and only Him. I had to surrender all my control and believe He knew what was best for me.
It was during this time that I learned what it meant to have peace that guards your heart.
A peace that surpasses all understanding.
A peace that speaks to you and says, “I am not finished with you yet.”
And you cling to it with everything that you have because you want it to be true. Because surgeries are scary. And no one knows when they go in, if they are coming back out.
Peace. It is what I clung to while I walked through during the scariest part of my life. So let me walk you through 6 ways you can overcoming fear and find this peace as well.
Don’t be anxious about anything…yeah, like that is easy. I know this is the verse part of the verse, but really…I don’t think God thought we could do this on our own which is why He followed it up with “with thanksgiving, prayer and petition.” I think these are the antidote to not being anxious to anything. However, you’ll soon see, these are wise words, encouraging words, and words we want to strive to live by.
Give thanks to God – Who really wants to give thanks when they are dealing with anxiety and worry? I think sometimes I actually like being worried. It gives me something to think about. Something to talk to my friends and seek their opinion on. It can be a topic of conversation at lunch. But God has a completely different idea of what I am supposed to do with that worry and it does not include any of the things I just mentioned. Darn. Instead, he wants us to change our perspective. The act of thanking is challenging but what He wants us to get our thoughts off of us on and on to Him. So what do we thank him for? We thank Him for Him being God. He’s in charge. He is in control.
Pray and Petition, bring your requests – Again, this is taking the mindset off of us. Let’s face it. If we could fix the problem, figure out the issue, or in my case…remove and cure my own tumor, I would not be worrying. I need a God that is bigger than my stuff to run to when I get to the end of myself. I honestly believe He allows us to get here. To the end of ourselves… so we’ll pray, petition, and bring Him our requests. And when we do…that’s when the blessing happens.
He is the God of Peace…Did you know this about our God? The bible says, He is the God of Peace. Not the God of Anxiousness. Not the God of Stress. Not the God of Worry or Ulcers or Nail Biting. But the God of Peace. So as you pray, keep this in mind. You are praying to the God who is Peace. Do you feel like you want to go back to number 2 and thank Him?
He surpasses all understanding – Say that to yourself again. Surpasses ALLunderstanding. Folks…hear me out on this. We are not God. We do not have the ability to think as He does. The word says, “His ways are above our ways, His thoughts above our thoughts.” We are human. He is our Creator. There are just some things we are not going to understand. And this may be the most important thing I share with you on this entire post…you ready for it. When I surrendered ALL understanding to Him. When I finally said, “You know what God I am never going to get my head around all of this.” that is when the peace came.Flooding in like a river. It was sweet, it was rich, and it was what I needed more than anything else, except this…
Guard your heart in Christ Jesus -Because that’s what peace does. It guards your heart so as you repeat this verse over and over to yourself moment by moment, day by day, week after week and still for me 5 years later…you start to realize that the worry and the anxiety, that’s all you. Giving thanks, prayer and petition and surrendering all understanding, that’s God. He is the guardian of our hearts. Oh, dear one, let Him guard your heart today, do not try to block Him by filling your day with worry and stress.
So that’s it. The 6 ways to overcome fear, all laid out clear as day in scripture for you and me. When I uncovered this secret, I learned what it took to overcome fear. And now you can too.
Now that you know the secret to overcoming fear with peace, which of these 6 ways to overcome fear do you think will be the hardest for you to do and how can you implement them in your daily life? Take a moment and then comment below. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!