banana peel

by
Lauren Neal

2019: Reflection + Release

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It’s a funny concept, New Year’s resolutions. We start off the beginning of a year with hopeful insight in to things we aspire to stand for, change about ourselves, alter habits from the year prior, all with good intention and a hope that the next year is going to be the best one yet. So far 2019 has been pretty great, the whole 6 days of it I suppose, but today I was given a word that made me reflect on the year prior but also helped me really set in stone my hopes for the year to come. That word: release. 2018 brought a lot of change in the best way possible and I found myself making moves in my career, relationships, personal goals and struggles that for the first time in my adult life have been able to stick to and not look at like a mountain I have to climb with an outcome that once reached everything would be “all better.” 2018 taught me to persevere, to work harder than ever before, to hold on to the people who hold on to you, but most importantly it taught me grace. Grace from my own mistakes and grace for others in my life. 2018 took me from a job that I called family to a new opportunity with new work families from Houston to Austin, back to Houston and now… Oklahoma! And in that time one thing has remained so clear as day. God’s intention for me is so true. He has a clear, set-in-stone plan that no matter how hard I try to question it, He is going to continue to steer me back in that direction and the only thing I really can do is follow. I had the pleasure of accompanying a new, very sweet friend to church for the second time today in Tulsa and the sermon hit me in the face with knowledge, truth, and that previously mentioned word- release. I left knowing one thing was for sure, that it was time for me to release a lot of things, but above all I needed to release my testimony into the world. The word release has multiple definitions but the definition I am starting out with is, to make public. I’ve had a lot of hesitations about this post. About being vulnerable and releasing this piece of my heart into the public for everyone to read and for some probably judge, question or “unfollow” but one thing I know to be true is that because someone shared their testimony with me almost 2 years ago, I was able to finally release so much of my past, so much hurt and anxiety that has made me step into the world with pure joy instead of darkness. So that being said, I hope you enjoy this large, giant, vulnerable piece of my heart. My resolutions for 2019 are to be transparent and to have the ability to be who I truly am to everyone I meet, but also to be able to share my story in order to help those who may be dealing with similar issues or their own struggles in life. Thank you so much for reading this far, and I am happy to talk to anyone who may have questions or want to know more! This is my testimony.

When we think of a disco ball, we associate so many ideas and images with this shiny mirrored figure. The 70’s, disco music, John Travolta in a really great pant suit.. but all decorative notions aside, the actual object itself is pretty fun to think about. A disco ball is a spherical object covered in mirrors that reflects light when it is shone onto it. It doesn’t generate light itself, but if put under the sun it reflects brightness all over often creating prisms and almost always creating happiness if you ask me. But when a disco ball is in the dark, it has no function and nothing reflects off of the mirrors to create any sparkle. About a year and a half ago I had just moved back to Houston from Austin for my job at the time and was in that weird in between of happy and empty. I had a great job with a work family I had grown to love so much, I was running a store and learning every day from my experiences there. I had a supportive and kind boyfriend and loving and supportive friends to match so on the surface it didn’t seem like much could be wrong in my life. And honestly, surface-wise, there really wasn’t. But on the inside, I was bottling emotions that I hadn’t dealt with for years and wasn’t sharing or attempting to truly heal at all. I had experienced a lot of ups and downs in relationships, in college, in my career and had walked away from my relationship with God years ago. Not necessarily by choice but more so in search of a longing to feel love and searching in all the wrong places. After college I spiraled into about two years of a really anxiety ridden depression that I was not open about. I made numerous mistakes with men, socially, and clung to alcohol tighter than anything or anyone else. I’d embarrassed myself in front of my family and friends and I’d even got to a point where the things people said about me behind my back didn’t even matter if they were true because I couldn’t care less. I moved to Austin in search of starting over and really just poured more salt in the wound that was loneliness, depression and anxiety. So. Much. Anxiety. I used to live my life with constant anxiety on a daily basis that no prescription could ever maintain. Crippling, shaking, restless anxiety, constant “but what if” and “i’m not good enough” and “they don’t even care about me” every single day and the decisions I was making only reflected that more and more. I don’t care how much you write it off as a “Sunday Funday” but day drinking for 9 hours every weekend and then stressing so much Monday morning on your way to work about the decisions you made the night before is never, ever “living your best life.” You can preach it til the day is done but it’s not ever going to be good for you and I will never believe that it brings real joy. When I moved to Houston I thought that I had come out of that enough to keep a good job and a good boyfriend and a good social media presence because on the outside, if it seemed like everything looked good then surely in time you would believe it yourself, right? Wrong. In search of community, friendship and honestly a last resort, I sought out a Bible study in the Houston area to try and reconnect with the things that I once saw as important in search of something to cure the Sunday scaries. My friend, Jenalee had been posting about a women’s ministry she’d been a part of called Recess and I inquired via Instagram. A few weeks later after drinking a 6 pack alone on my porch the Sunday prior and chain smoking a pack of American Spirits, I showed up Monday night to the first group night of Recess anxiety ridden but ready for anything to change the way I had been feeling. I sat alone amongst a group of girls that at the time were strangers but were about to become people I would get to know well and hold dear to my heart. I had no idea what the next year would entail but I can tell you right now that it changed my entire life. A few weeks in, I had my first break down of spilling my guts out about my past relationships and for the first time in my life I felt, release. True release. Release of anxiety, of pain, of anger that I had toward men from my past that had hurt me, people that had judged me and decisions I had made that I held so much shame for. It was the first time that I had truly realized what God’s grace actually meant. That there is a loving Father that will forgive, even the really rough moments and will always take you back every time. A few weeks later we were in a moment of worship and the speaker asked us to envision in the room all of the things and people that had hurt us in life. I’d walked in that day feeling particularly light and anxiety free but at this moment I started to shake and feel faint. “God, no please why is this happening right now? Just not right now, please just not in front of all of these people, I just want to make it to my car and drive home and THEN I can have a full on panic attack.” and that’s when I started to lose feeling in my hands and knew this was going to be a big one, in public. Cool! I leaned to a friend and mentioned that I didn't feel well and that I felt I was having an anxiety attack. My friend Amanda and a few other girls proceeded to pray over me which at this time I hadn’t fully had someone do in this personal of a fashion, but after we finished Amanda noticed that I was still uneasy. She called over another girl who had dealt with anxiety and said, “will you pray with us? I know you have authority over anxiety and Lauren is having a hard time.” My first thought was, “Great, there’s more of them!” but after explaining a bit of what was going on, these three girls prayed over me and called out the anxiety in Jesus name and suddenly from the top of my head down to my toes I started to feel life being brought back into my body. Normally an anxiety attack of this degree would result in me passing out or having to call my mom to talk my boyfriend through what to do including a cold towel on my neck, lots of water and breathing exercises and then I wouldn’t sleep for the next night or so. Do I sound crazy yet? I probably was! But this was the first time that I had experienced prayer in a physical healing sense and it truly left me hungry to know Him more. Weeks went by and I learned bit by bit more about who God truly is as a loving Father and not an angry guy in the clouds ready to strike you with lightning when you’ve made the same mistake for the 3rd time in a row. A few weeks later, we broke off into smaller groups and were discussing our strongholds- mine in particular being my past of promiscuity with men when seeking love and my tendency to over serve and attach myself to alcohol instead of dealing with depression or anxiety. I’d asked God earlier that year that when I truly needed him most to please show me with a song. A very specific song that I had clung to years prior when an ex boyfriend was sick and I was drinking all too much to deal with anything in my own life let alone his. As I was sitting in this group listening to other girls be vulnerable and open up, I kept saying no. None of these girls will understand. No one has dealt with the shame that I have. I don’t want to talk about my past, they are just going to judge me and if I don’t say it outloud and just keep moving on eventually it will all go away. And just like that, out of the corner of the room, I heard the song. Steffany Gretzinger’s Out of Hiding played on the guitar by my friend Kallie. As tears poured out of my eyes, I listened to the words, “Come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me. There’s no need to cover what I already see” and I knew without a doubt that everything was okay. None of the past mattered. Nothing that had happened before would ever effect who I was after that night. Because God has shown me true grace and it’s okay that the past has happened because it has shaped me to know who I am today. “You have your reasons, but I hold your peace. You’ve been on lockdown and I hold the key.” I spoke about my strongholds and I declared victory and authority over my past and who I was because Jesus is peace and Jesus is in me, so there is peace in me y’all and it is really freaking awesome.

I’m not going to say that I haven’t made mistakes since then. This past summer I relapsed on a lot of my old tendencies and for a quick minute saw myself start to forget what I had learned and crumble back into that anxious person I used to be. But the difference this time? I caught myself, I dusted myself off and I remembered. I have authority in Him and those strongholds do not have authority over me anymore. I am happy and confident to say that I live my life anxiety free with true defeat over my past and my tendencies to lean on alcohol and promiscuity from those times 100%. I know that I am not perfect by any means and I know that I am going to make mistakes, but the significant difference from me a year ago, or even me during this summer is that I know that no matter what, He has a plan and will pick me up, dust me off and remember where I left the pieces of myself when I drop them. Every. Single. Time. I walk into each day knowing that no matter what, I can trust that God’s plan is going to unfold and I have no anxiety about what is to come or what has happened before today. The past is simply the past and I am a brand new creation. I am willingly, openly happy to talk with anyone about my past and my story and if anyone reading this struggles with alcohol, anxiety, depression, or just need someone to talk to I promise I am here to listen.

A month or so after Recess had started, a friend mentioned that she had a word for me. She said, “God sees you as a disco ball. I don’t really know what that means for you specifically but I know it means you are going to reflect His light.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but I wear it now like a bright, shiny message for everyone I meet. My true duty in life now is to reflect His light. I have been someone so low and in the darkest of places that no light could ever reflect off of my surface. But now I walk in Truth and reflect pure joy in every way I possibly can. Because He is good, and I am enough. I hope this has been well received and again, I am happy to ever answer any questions or help anyone dealing with anxiety! I can honestly say I have tried medications and supplements and essential oils but Jesus is the only 100% success rate so far. I want to be a reminder to everyone in this new year not to lose joy in the journey because you aren’t where you think you are supposed to be, everything is happening exactly how it is intended to. Jesus has delivered me from the darkest of dark to a place that I never thought I would find myself. People close to me knew that I was anxiety ridden and as my friend Amanda says, the people who say you just learn to live with it are so wrong. I am here to tell you that you don’t have to learn to live with anything that is hurting you and that there is true love to be shared in Jesus. My words for 2019 are experience and transparency. I hope to experience life in the fullest way and to be as open and transparent so that I may always reflect His light. And that to me, is the ultimate release.

Thank you for reading, banana babes. I love you so much.

Lauren

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photos by: Sunnie Reagin

top: (similar) Beehive, in white
denim: Madewell
shoes: (similar) Zara
earrings: (similar) Beehive

Sister Act: A Conversation + Collab with Esperanza Heritage