All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Thankful: My Journey Through Psalm (100)

How appropriate that I would land on Psalm 100 for this week of Thanksgiving. The more years I spend on this Earth the more I realize just how blessed I am to be the person I am in the house I own in the city I chose at the church I freely worship in the body God gave me.

That was a lot of prepositional phrases. Sheesh.

All true.

A few years ago I started a gratitude journal. In theory, this journal should be filled 10x by now with all the things I am grateful for, but I have a really bad habit of not recording things about me. I know, stupid, right? A writer who struggles to write about herself? Is that irony? Not sure, but it is true. I have had the hardest time journaling in my life. I’ve tried. Usually, I do well for…3 days. Then I don’t pick up the journal again for, oh…a year? Then I start all over again. I think that’s why I only blog once a week at maximum too. Writing about myself is just…hard. I’ve hidden behind fiction nearly my entire life, so focusing on my reality, well it’s just not as easy for me as it is for other people. Anyway, back to the point. I have this gratitude journal where I have systematically been recording things I am grateful for. Lists help. Boy do I LOVE LISTS. Here are some of my favorites:

6. Nieces’ giggles through the phone line

10. The smell of freshly baked bread

12. Keyboard clicks breaking the silence of a room

 

182. A good pair of jeans

257. A dead phone

261. Light in the dark places

 

292. Unexpected sources of income when you need it the most

 

343. A well-lit room

348. Daffodils outside my house and window

360. The words “Answer to a prayer”

361. Gut feelings that turn out to be God-feelings

375. The swishing sounds of a washing machine at work

381. Reading letters from old friends

400. Answers

And trust me, there are a lot more. This is just a sampling, but as I read back through it I realize just how telling it is about my life over the past few years. And very Psalm-esque. My gratitude journal has become the echoing poem of my life. And I think that is a lot more beautiful than three days here and there telling about what happened to me that day. And it makes me want to “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, and worship with gladness (V.1)” because I have so many things to be grateful for. My life is good. My life is beautiful. My life belongs to the Lord.

So here is my challenge to you. Start a gratitude journal…or if you’re like me and journals are hard, just start a list. Keep going. I was inspired by a book, 1000 Gifts (find it here on Amazon), and it’s a beautiful step forward to “Entering his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (v.4)”. Because Thanksgiving is not the only day we should count our blessings.

Singing Makes you HAPPY. Sing More. (My Journey through Psalms 95-99)

Sometimes, I come home and all I want to do is sing at the top of my lungs in the shower.

Sometimes, I put on my PJs and socks–and do a Risky Business move down the hallway…once, or maybe twice (ya’ll that’s the BEST part about my awesome new floors…you think I’m kidding. Just ask my dog. I’m not).

Sometimes, when I’m in the car, I roll down the windows and JAM out to whatever song is on the radio.

Sometimes, I turn on one of my favorite musicals (*cough, cough* Newsies *cough, cough*) just so I can sing as loud as I can.

I love to sing. Off key, loudly. It ain’t pretty, or cute, but it just makes me feel…GOOD.

Now, I’m a nerd, so let me tell you what I know about singing.

  1. When you sing, endorphins are released. This also happens when you exercise, but let’s face it. I’d much rather sing then run on a treadmill.
  2. When you sing, you have to breathe in a different way than when you speak. More oxygen in your blood=better circulation. Better circulation=better moods. Breathing techniques are important in meditation and exercise as well, so this only makes sense.
  3. When you sing, you forget about things you thought you needed to worry about. It’s hard to worry too much when you are singing Backstreet Boys as you slide down the hallway in a pair of Batman socks (purely hypothetical…I assure you… :-)).

But even more than these three things about singing here, I know that singing can have a deeply spiritual component. This is why it is such a common motif in Psalms. Songs are poetry. And poetry, according to Dr. Curt Thompson in Anatomy of the Soul, is a powerful tool. He states:

It has several distinct features:

  • By activiating our sense of rhythm, poetry accesses our right-mod operations and systems.
  • Reading [or singing] poetry has the effect of catching us off guard. Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose …don’t apply. This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
  • Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode procesisng, but to left-mode as well, given its use of language. This makes it a powerful integratvive tool.

Psalm 95-98 all utilize the idea of ‘singing’ to the Lord, about the Lord, for the Lord, as ways to show gratitude, understanding, acceptance, love. Here are a few examples:

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud oto the Rock of our slavation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. (Psalm 95: 1-2)

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. SIng to the Lod, raise his name; roclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his golry among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all the peoples (Psalm 96: 1-2). 

Zion hears and rejoices [sings] and the villages of Judah are glad ecause of your juddgments, O Lord (Psalm 97:8).

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; […] Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing (Psalm 98: 1; 4-5). 

And these are only a few of the Psalms–this motif is seen from beginning to end because singing is a part of being human. But beyond just singing is exalting. When we exalt the Lord, we lift him up and acknowledge that he alone is mighty and just. When we sing, we more easily exalt him. We belt out a tune and shout out our praise and worship him without regard for what others think about us. Singing lets us do what we are created to do.

Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy. (Psalm 99:9)

So turn up your radio, put on your socks, and rock out.

Spiritual Struggles : My journey through Psalms (94)

I have, like many people, struggled with anxiety and depression for a good part of my life. It is where the enemy targets me—especially in moments where I am basking in the glory of God’s light. This time of year, November-January, is always the hardest. The days are dark and long. The stress is high. Each day is a battle, a spiritual one.

A few nights ago, around ‘fall back’ time, I had a dream. To the average person, this dream seems mundane at best…stupid at worst, but here it is:

My good friends got together. They did not invite me, I just happened to stumble upon them at a park where they were gathering. They greeted me with smiles and told me the plan. Of course, I was invited, they were glad I was there. But I knew I was an afterthought. 

I walked away. 

A couple of them followed, but wallowing in self-pity, I didn’t return. Instead, I watched the gathering like an omniscient ghost. Every good friend I have ever had, met, or spent time with was there.  Illogically they were together and having a great time without me, even though most of them didn’t know one another. 

Later, I flooded the bathroom–I’m not really sure how that fit into the dreamscape, but I woke up startled and confused, breathing in the anxiety of my dream.

My friends. My Family. The people I do life with. I know they love me. Intellectually I have no problem accepting this. Yesterday I had an amazing time hanging out with some of the people who have been with me since elementary school–clearly not a place of anxiety This dream was stupid, yes, but it also is very telling about my fears. 

But then…

I had dinner with a friend of mine and I said something pretty stupid. My extemporaneous delivery in conversation sometimes is terrible, and my comment was meant as a joke, but based on her reaction I realized it was not life-giving, it damaged hope. I felt bad. I’ve obsessed over it for a few days now, even though I know she immediately either forgot or forgave my insensitivity, I still sometimes struggle with the feeling that one wrong move and all my relationships might just crumble.

 

I fear many things, but rejection is pretty high on the list. Even when I’m with people I love and who I know love me, a part of my mind is always battling against the whisper that I am unwanted–that I don’t fit in and I should stop trying to.

I fear being an afterthought. Forgotten. And worst of all, being isolated in my own head because I allow these fears to become realities.

Because the fact is, sometimes I do allow it.

Psalm 94, of course, spoke to me after a night of restless dreams. Verses 18-19 read:

When I said my foot is slipping, your love, O Lord, Supported me. When Anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy.

The fact is simple. We all have a choice–to lean on God or let the world support us. The world will always let us down. No matter how much our friends and family care–they are only human and they make mistakes. We simply can’t count on them to sustain our life force the way that God alone can.

Don’t get me wrong. Friends and family are important! Jesus had 12 BFFs that he did life with, but even Jesus asserted that we must leave them and trust only in God.

Only then will we find consolation for our weary, fearful souls.

I found this graphic to be simple, but effective. It helps me, so I’m sharing it in case your spiritual battles are equally mind-blowing.

I can’t control every subconscious fear, but I can put God in control, and listen only to his voice. When he is my foothold, then the fears can never control me.