Wanting to Draw Near

She stood next to me during worship, and her beautiful voice sang softly as the song ended and we shifted to spontaneous praise.

 

“I love you, Lord…”

 

I felt a pang in my heart as I listened. Her words were so sweet and pure, like she was whispering into the Savior’s ear.  

I wish I loved God like that, I thought. When worship was over, we went downstairs to eat snacks and desserts. She sat across from me and my mom and candidly shared her testimony. She had been a believer for about 5 years. She was a single mom. Her ex was a horrible man. Even as she spoke of what she endured, there was a calm happiness in her voice. She came a long way from where she was.

I’ve been following the Lord for longer than her. How come I don’t love Him more like she does?

I remembered another sister in the Lord from a different church. I had visited her church a few times, and whenever she testified, prayed, or conversed with people, there was this radiant love pouring out from her. Even when she wasn’t talking about God, the evidence of her love for Him sprinkled her voice and her demeanor. She regarded each person she came across with love and respect. She had a dark past, but she was redeemed from it and had purposed in her heart to never go back to where she was before. She was secure in her walk and her identity was firmly rooted in who God said she was.

I looked at her and thought, I wish I had a relationship with God like that.

Then I finally realized…I can! I can be closer to God, all I need to do is draw near. God is no respecter of persons, so He doesn’t “play favorites” with us. All of us have the potential to have a deep, intimate relationship with the Lord. As I read once in a devotional, “you can have as much of God as you want.”

Ah, but that’s the catch. You can have as much of God as you want. Many of us who are saved are still content to just keep God at arm’s length. Because the closer I get, the more my life may change. I may start to perceive the world differently. I may have to give something up, or I may have to do something outside my comfort zone, or I may have to show God’s love to someone I don’t like. I might even get attacked.

But those fears, while valid, are not worth entertaining. One thing I’ve learned in my own walk with God is that we don’t go from point A to point Z in a day–at least, that’s not the usual case. For example, over a year ago I started to spend more time with God, reading His Word and praying. As I grew closer to Him, some of the toxic media that I used to like didn’t interest me anymore. I stopped listening to certain singers and got rid of certain books. It didn’t feel like a big loss to me–God had changed my perspective, and I started to see the world through a different lens. 

The choice is always mine–God isn’t going to force me to do anything for Him. The same way I can draw near, I can also pull back–but when I’m not seeking God, I can feel the difference. I’ve realized how much He completes me, how He supplies the joy and strength that I lack, how He gets me through the day. When I don’t nourish my spirit, I become spiritually “hangry.” In fact, I’ve been spiritually hangry for the past week. I’ve been battling lots of questions but haven’t been actively seeking any answers. So I’m going to spend some time with God after I post this.

We can all be close to God. Don’t be afraid to draw near.

 

~Nikita

ENVY.

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Facepalm.

Envy is a sin I’ve always struggled with. I can tell you my origins story for this, tell you all the ways I felt like I had the short end of the stick throughout my life while others had it easier, but that would be a waste of time and energy–both for me and for you.

A religion teacher in high school once told my class that envy is the only sin which cannot bring a person pleasure. Really, where is the fun in envy? How can envy feel good? My teacher made a valid point, but I think he forgot something.

If a sin does not feel good, people would not keep returning to it.

So there has to be something I get out of envy. But what is it?

Now, I’m not a theologian or anything, but I think envy is rooted in a lack of contentment with your own life. There is a reason why the apostle Paul said this in Phillipians 4:12–

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I’ve been reading the book of Acts during my morning commute, and I’ve been reminded of how many atrocities Paul had to endure while he was preaching the Gospel. Entire towns turned against him. He was loved and despised by both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and authority figures. He was flogged, imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned–Paul had a rough time. Perhaps some would say that this was God’s retribution for the time Paul spent persecuting Christians before he became one himself.

But I wouldn’t say so.

I think life happened to Paul. Reading through Acts feels almost like reading the book of Job. There are times when I’m reading it and I think to myself, but why would God allow so many bad things to happen to His servants? They’re preaching the Gospel for His namesake, so why is He allowing so many tragedies to befall His people? Why????

Peter had an easier time with his ministry than Paul did, based on my feeble human reasoning. In reality, it’s senseless to compare one person’s suffering to another’s, because pain is a very personal thing and we all experience it differently. Again, though, based on a mental tally mark chart of how many things Paul went through versus how many things Peter went through, as it is recorded in the book of Acts, I think Paul had a lot more difficulty in his life.

Interestingly enough, though, Paul never has a pity party in his letters to the various churches. He could have reminded the Thessalonians about the mob that had ensued after he preached about Messiah. If Paul wanted to, he could have written “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. Except for those people who forced me out of the city. We don’t pray for them. Remember them? How are they doing now, eh?”

Paul didn’t write that, though. Nor did he waste time comparing his hardships to those of Peter’s.

In the end, both men were martyred. Any earthly gain they had–or didn’t have–did not matter. Both men were going to spend eternity in God’s presence.

Put in this perspective, my complaints are irrelevant. Obsessively looking at the lives of other people prevents me from seeing how [strangely?] wonderful my own life is. Has it always been easy? No. But I don’t need to walk three miles a day to fetch water from a well, so I can be grateful for that. I have a job that I love, I live close to the sea, my home is peaceful, I have friends who care about me, I’m young and free in NYC, and, above all, I have a Savior who loves me.

So, what pleasure does envy derive? The only pleasure I can think of is the happiness I feel when I see something go wrong in someone’s seemingly perfect life. That sounds absolutely horrible, but don’t pretend you haven’t felt that way before, too. We all like to see celebrities get humiliated on TMZ.

As a sidenote, if I envy someone because of something I could have if I work for it, then that is just plain stupidity. I am to blame for my own mediocrity.

Oh, and the downside to envy–why it’s wrong–is ingratitude. Being envious tells God that you think He made a mistake, or that He hasn’t been a good provider. If God wants you to have something, He will make a way. Ultimately, though, He knows what’s best.

Shalom. Peace.

~Nikita

Recluses’ Excuses

I wrote this entry back in late May and never published it, so here it is 🙂

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There’s been a change in my life over the past 2 months. My anxiety has dissipated quite a bit.

Explanation? I think I’m just getting used to my work routine, and I think the subway is helping me grow a thicker skin, so to speak. Also, lots of prayer. And it’s sunnier longer now!

With the current season of warmer weather, I am entering a season of my life where I actually want to go out and do stuff. I’ve spent the past three years letting my anxiety dictate what I will or won’t do. Now that I’m calmer, though, I’m realizing that a fully lived life requires going outside and interacting with people–and that I don’t want to look back on my early 20s as “the time I did nothing because I was afraid of everything.” Real life doesn’t happen within the confines of my room.

So, for fun, I’ve compiled a list of “recluses’ excuses” that I’ve used over the past few years. (A recluse, by the way, is someone who stays in their house and doesn’t go out. Like ever. Emily Dickinson was a recluse. I can’t help but wonder if that’s why she wasn’t really famous until after she died.)

Okay, so, these are things I’ve either told myself/my mom/my sister/my friends whenever I want to get out of going out (along with some snarky responses I have for myself):

1. “But I’m tired…”–I am convinced that exhaustion is 40% physical and 60% mental. True, there are times when I feel really tired after work, and yet for some reason I find myself doing contemporary dance in front of my bedroom mirror at 11:30 PM. More often than not, my second wind will kick in. I just need to eat some protein and keep calm. (My mom recently joked that I need to take Geritol *sigh*)

2. “It’s too cold outside”–I know I’m not the only one who hibernates in the Winter. And really, it’s not always healthy/safe to spend extensive amounts of time outside in the cold. But if I’m just traveling from point A to point B in a heated vehicle, then what’s the problem?

3. “It’s too hot outside”–As you can probably tell, I don’t like extremes in temperature. I like when the weather is somewhere between 40 and 85 degrees (Fahrenheit). Last summer I did attempt to go to the park with a friend during a heat wave. It lasted all of 15 minutes, and judging by the fact that only 5 cars were parked in the usually-packed parking lot, we were among the brave ones. Same as I said in point #2, though, just because I can’t be in the outdoors doesn’t mean I can’t go out at all.

4. “It’s raining”–Not kidding, I used this excuse twice in the past few weeks. Apparently I’m not waterproof…even though I own a raincoat, rain boots, and an umbrella. I think the reasoning here is just sheer laziness. Also, I get strangely sentimental about being cozy in my house during a rainstorm….

5. “Nobody will care if I go or don’t go”–Don’t go for them. Go for you.

6. “I’m not familiar with that neighborhood”–And I never will be if I don’t visit sometime and explore a bit. Granted, there are certain neighborhoods I wouldn’t visit by myself after 9 PM. That’s common sense, though.

7. “I don’t know anybody there”–Exactly! That means a clean slate for making a good first impression. And if the chances are high that you’ll never see these people again, even better! Hey–you never know who you’re gonna meet.

8. “But I was planning on doing this nice indoor activity”–Oh, like reading? Or going on Facebook? Or watching a movie? Unless it’s a creative project, this excuse doesn’t apply.

9. “My [insert random body part here] hurts”–It will hurt whether you stay home or you go out. As long as it doesn’t prevent you from enjoying yourself and being able to engage in whatever activity is going on, just go.

10. “My nerves are shot”–This is something I usually say after a busy day at work and a tough commute home. It basically means I am emotionally spent and I am in “the panic zone.” This does not necessarily mean I *will* have a panic attack if I go out, but the chances of me feeling anxious while I’m out are pretty darn high. Interestingly enough, there are times when my nerves are shot and I go somewhere because I have to, and then after the first 15 minutes of being there, I end up having a good time for the rest of the night. So, in short, results may vary. But “what if’s” are inconsequential either way.

I will do my best in the upcoming weeks to avoid using these excuses and, as Nike says, just do it. I would love to take a pottery class or sing karaoke or go see Shakespeare in the park.

I just need to find people to do these things with. And I just ended a sentence with a preposition.

~Nikita

Resilience.

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When I spent those 5 months unemployed (and looking), I was pretty bummed out. I wanted something to do–needed a reason to get up every morning and leave my room, besides going to the kitchen to get a box of Kashi cereal. It happens. The worst part is that when you have anxiety, the more you stay inside, the harder it is to go outside.

Then, I was hired. Somebody decided I was worth a chance, and to this day, I still enjoy going to work. I like my job, I like my coworkers, I like the the location. The commute is very simple–but I have to admit, taking the train was an adjustment for me. In the beginning, I’d be sitting on the train crouched over, squeezing my stress ball and struggling to catch my breath as I listened to Jesus Culture’s album Come Away. Then gradually, I was able to put the stressball away and just listen to music, but I would still be crouched in the fetal position. Recently, I graduated from fetus to sitting upright. It’s taken me two months, but I’m getting used to the train. Even starting to enjoy it, to an extent. Except when there’s a problem.

Today there was a switch malfunction…or a fire…or a broken pipe…I don’t know, I can’t find an accurate story. All I know is that when I got out of work, all trains going uptown to the Bronx were out of service. I noticed when I first walked into the station that there was a swarm of people rushing upstairs from the 4-5-6 platform. They looked like rats scampering to get out. And me, like an idiot, thought “Oh wow, there’s a lot of people getting off the train.”

Really.

So I swiped my Metrocard, went downstairs to go uptown, and figured everything would be business as usual. I noticed it was a little more crowded than it normally is, but I thought, eh, maybe something’s wrong with the 7 train (I always blame the 7 train). But then the people on board the 5 train were told to get out. Well, you’d think the conductor must’ve said something about their mothers, the way one man reacted. But the 5 train people stayed. So we had a mobbed platform full of hungry, angry, lonely, and tired people. And when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, you need to HALT and make sure you don’t do something regrettable. It was by this point that an already packed 6 train left the platform, and then the disembodied voice came on the PA to announce that “due to a switch malfunction, 6 trains will not be running between 42nd and 139th.” Okay, I thought. I don’t need to get off between here and 139th anyway.

But the longer we waited, the more “delays” showed up on the schedule, and I realized I’d better get my behind to the express bus stop if I wanted to get home anytime soon.

Walking to the express bus is, for me, a revelatory journey of sorts. The few times I’ve done it, I’ve found it tiresome, confusing, isolating…even though I’m surrounded by people. Technically, the express bus is not that far from my job. The problem is me. So I walked to the express bus and had my moment of crashing at 331 Madison Avenue, where I sank down in the hallway of an elitist apartment building. The security guard was about 30 feet away, but I figured I should let him know that I was not deliberately trying to loiter.

One thing I’ve learned as a receptionist is the value of courtesy. Like the Bible says in Proverbs 15:1, a soft answer really does turn away wrath, and in order to come across as disarming, I’ve softened my voice. (To the point that if my mom calls me at work, she remarks about how nice I sound on the phone. Haha. I learn from the best!)

So I told the security guard something like this: “Excuse me, sir, I’m not trying to loiter. I’m just staying until I recuperate.” He said it was okay. I continued. “You see, the 6 train had a switch malfunction, so I’ve been walking to the Express bus at Madison and 45th, and I’m really out of shape.” He said it was fine if I stayed. I could stay as long as I needed to. I could even sit by the stairs.

His kindness undid me. I was going to weep. I got myself together, gulped down some Gatorade and water, put my coat on, grabbed my bags, and headed out to walk to the BxM8.

Where there was a line of people waiting.

I managed to get a seat, and I figured I was set, but then the bus driver had to tell boarders at the next stop that they would have to stand if they got on the bus. One middle-aged blonde lady didn’t care–she just wanted to get home. We all, in fact, just wanted to get home. This is the goal of every commuter. This lady–I’ll call her Cassandra–stood in the aisle right beside my seat, where she proceeded to murmur and complain.

I felt like I should give her my seat. After all, I’m young. I’ll live. So I offered my seat to her. She asked me if I was sure. And I was all, “Yeah, of course!”

Look at me, getting all optimistic. As the bus got fuller, we aisle-standers had to make our way towards the back. I took my coat off and put it in that shelf above the seats. I felt stylish and confident in my black blazer. The feeling was short-lived. Let me tell you something–Express buses were not made for standing. This is why they have narrow aisles and lots of seats. So after awhile, my anxiety kicked in. My feet got numb because I wore my heeled boots today. My legs felt stiff and strained. I tried various positions of leaning. But I became pretty scared once the hot/cold flashes started coming over me. I contemplated sitting on the floor. It wouldn’t be comfortable or socially acceptable, but I don’t know these people so it’s all good. I continued to stand, though.

And it was strenuous. I appreciated the scenery and all, but the traffic and swerves and whatnot made me feel thrown, and I was starting to feel weak.

When I finally felt like I couldn’t take it anymore, the bus driver announced our first stop. Then I was finally able to sit. And I cried because of 3 things: 1) I was glad it was over. 2) I felt bad I put myself through that. 3) God proved me wrong like He always does–I can do it. Because He will give me the grace/strength I need. I prayed while I was on that bus, and the song “Shoulders” by Tal & Acacia played on my iPod.

Slowly, I’m building up resilience. I’m not like I used to be. And I’m not alone.

~Nikita

The Panic Diaries: Fighting Immobility

Hey all. As I announced in my last entry, I now finally have a job!

But with any change comes new adjustments…and new fears.

Thankfully, I’ve built up a pretty sizable arsenal of coping techniques. The unfortunate thing is that I have my moments when even those don’t seem to work…

And those moments are frightening.

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My boss was kind to let me out early this past Friday because many people took the day off and it was a slow day. I was determined to go to Posman Books in Grand Central to buy two contemporary classics–Slaughterhouse Five and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, Grand Central was really mobbed on this particular day because it was Black Friday–which meant that the place was filled with travelers and shoppers. I soon felt overheated and overwhelmed, so I plopped myself down on the floor under a closed ticket booth and drank my gatorade as people rolled their luggage and gave me strange looks. Or maybe the looks weren’t strange, but either way, I felt really self-conscious.

And I continued to sit on the floor. And the fear of getting up seized my heart.

I started mentally going over my options. Cab? No, too expensive. Call my mom and ask her to meet me in Grand Central? Not feasible, and she’d probably want to slap me through the phone. I knew two things: 1) My problem was anxiety in and of itself. I wan’t afraid of any particular bodily ailment or any specific threat or dangerous person. I just felt scared for no particular reason. And it sucked. 2) I couldn’t stay on the floor. I had to get up at some point, whether I liked it or not.

I felt anguished. Based on past experience, I knew a good cry would be somewhat relieving, but I couldn’t muster up the tears. So I had to be a big girl and get up. I unlocked my iPod so I could play Jesus Culture’s album Come Away, and I started to repeat Joshua 1:9 to myself over and over again. I needed to remind myself that God was going to be with me wherever I go.

I walked over to the area where I could go down the escalator to catch my train, but when I saw the crowd of people just waiting to get on the escalator, I thought to myself, “Nope. I’ll just take the Express bus.”

Which meant that I would have to walk to the Express bus. In the cold. By myself….Just like everybody else! But when you have panic disorder, even tasks that normal people find trivial can sometimes turn into mountains. So I made a few stops along the way to the bus so I could warm up. It snowed for all of one minute, and I had to laugh at the whole situation. When I finally boarded the bus, I felt a huge sense of relief.

You can’t die from panic disorder, as I’ve reminded myself multiple times. The problem is that when you’re in the midst of an attack, even though you feel like you’re gonna die, you know you’re going to live…and that there’s a huge chance you’ll have another panic attack sometime soon. The combination of these three things makes me feel miserable at times–I feel like I’m dying, but I know I’m going to live, and I know I might feel like I’m dying again sometime soon. But I cannot focus on the what-if’s. Instead, I can look back on the small victories. To you, these things may be run-of-the-mill and mundane. But for me, getting up in the middle of Grand Central station and moving ahead was momentous. Because it proved to me that I’m more resilient than I think I am, and that God is still with me, even when I’m walking alone.

❤ Nikita

PS Is anybody looking to get rid of an old copy of either Slaughterhouse Five or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? Please let me know via Twitter @Vacca_To_World. Thank you!

The Most Calming Album

Music’s effect on the brain

I once asked a friend of mine if she believed that the media you expose yourself to can have a negative effect on you. She said no, and since then her opinion has slightly changed. I still believe your input can definitely affect your output, though.

With that said, knowing my personality, there are certain things I avoid exposing myself to. I don’t watch horror movies, I avoid listening to artists with bad messages (i.e. Marilyn Manson), and I don’t read really dark books (iDrakula wasn’t what I’d classify as “really dark.” It was kind of a spoof).

These are self-imposed restrictions, by the way. When I was teenager, I was really into paranormal fiction, and my mom made no gripes about buying these books. Then one day I woke up, looked at my book shelf, and tore these books apart. Then I recycled the mess of covers and pages, because I care about the environment. (I kept the Twilight Saga, though, because those books are tame and don’t dwell too heavily on mythology).

Aaaanyway, this is supposed to be a music post. I think music really taps into something deep within our hearts/minds/souls. An upbeat pop song can put you in a good mood. Listening to fast music while you’re working out can help you keep pace. Listening to a violin and piano duet can make you cry. Why? What is this mysterious thing about music that makes us react to it so viscerally?

Lanny Donoho touched on this subject in his book God’s Blogs, which I plan on writing about in the near future. So for now, I’m going to tell you which album has had the most soothing effect on me.

Around the time I was diagnosed with panic disorder, worship band Jesus Culture released their album Come Away. A friend of mine recommended that I check it out, so I bought it and listened to it.

It was recorded live, so you hear the crowd between songs. Indeed, the album does have that spontaneous, live quality to it, as if you’re there in person. The songs were so encouraging and calming for me that I started listening to the album on my commute to school, and in my room as I got ready in the morning, and I would even play it looped on my iHome as I slept at night.

It’s not an album for music aficionados, per se. If you’re looking for a more artful and experimental worship album, I’d recommend Gungor’s Ghosts Upon the Earth. Come Away has songs with repetitive lyrics and melodies, and some songs are pretty long–but that’s kind of the point. The album isn’t meant to entertain you–it’s meant to uplift you and bring you into God’s presence. And it succeeds in doing just that.

My favorite songs on the album are “Rooftops,” “My Soul Longs For You,” and “One Thing Remains.” All the musicians and singers in this band are very talented and “tuned” to each other and to the Holy Spirit. Worship music can be done one of two ways. You can have a set list and simply stick to the set list, without leaving any room for spontaneous worship and alternate songs. Or, you can have no set list at all, or just have a basic idea of what songs you want to sing, and then let things go onstage as God leads.

Come Away has been my go-to album when I feel anxious, scared, and overwhelmed. If you fall into any of those categories, I’d recommend this album for you.

~Nikita

What albums do you listen to when you are stressed out?