I was the kind of person that was always putting others before myself. Empathy and compassion are two of the gifts God gave me, I can read the emotions in a room like a book in my hands and my heart extends to both the happy and the sad, the strong and the weak. Basically, I am an other-people focused person. This is something I’ve always known about myself but haven’t always handled healthily. There was a period of my life that I was SO outwardly focused that I would lose track of taking care of myself to the point where I’d be going, “Mariah who? oh yeah me.” Need a late night shoulder to cry on? I’d be there. Just need someone to listen? Pick me. Need a ride, your picture taken, advice, comfort, prayer? D, all of the above. Even if it’s something I didn’t know how to do yet, I would do my best to tackle whatever it was for you. No matter the cost or sacrifice on my end. I was *that* friend. And to some degree I still am, but we’ll get to that. If you’re reading this and going “okay yep that’s me” to any of the above, you’ll want to read this next part (and even if it’s not you, it’s good to know anyways because you 100% have at least one friend whose brain operates this way): 

You cannot give whole love to others if you aren’t taking care of y o u r s e l f . 

What do I mean by whole love? What do I mean by taking care of yourself? 

There is a fine line between being a good friend and being codependent. Codependency in friendships is a sneaky thing because it makes the feeler think they’re being kind and it makes the friend expect the behavior. Codependency isn’t just putting someone else’s needs above your own, it’s putting someone else (or maybe multiple people) above yourself every time, because that is where you have told yourself your value lies. 

I used to seriously struggle with codependency, and in all aspects of my life. It has been in my personal case that the codependency doesn’t completely go away, but rather becomes a tendency rather than my lifestyle. Tendencies are something one can be made aware of. By being self-aware, seeking counseling, and gaining new perspectives I can at least realize when I’m being codependent and make the healthy decision instead.

If you don’t know what being co-dependent means, here are some examples I used to struggle with (and some I still sometimes do!). Please remember I am not a psychologist or a doctor, so don’t use this blog post as a means to self-diagnose. Instead, if you are curious seek help from a professional who can properly assist and educate you. This is purely my personal experience I am sharing with you as someone who has struggled with co-dependency:

1)  people pleasing.

“no” is not an option. if someone wants to do something you don’t want to do, if someone gives you advice or offers something, if someone makes a suggestion on your behalf. often times co-dependent people won’t say no because maybe saying no will upset the other person, and the thought of being left behind creates anxiety. With co-dependency, your value is found in others, so you just avoid no altogether. 

2) blurry boundaries.

you feel responsible for the state of other people’s emotions. especially in the negative degree because negative emotions require fixing. if someone is angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, hurt..your helper ears perk up and you feel it is your job to make everything all better. and you stick around until everything is all better. every time. on the other side of the coin, because you react and become involved in everyone’s emotions, if someone’s emotional response to something doesn’t line up with yours, you feel personally attacked or like you cannot trust that person because of the lack of boundary.

3) helping.

you find purpose and definition in helping and fixing others. if you cannot help or fix, you don’t feel of value or necessity in the relationship. if the other person doesn’t ask for your help, you get upset because you feel you have nothing else to offer. “if they don’t need my help, why am i here?” helping makes you feel needed, valued, and like you’re fulfilling your purpose. and i’m not talking Bill Mathers “lean on me when you’re not strong and i’ll be your friend” helping. this can be obsessive, searching for problems to fix so that the other person eventually feels like they HAVE to have you around. it’s the sense of being needed and wanted, which reverts back to blurry boundaries.

4) control.

this one goes hand in hand with helping. sometimes as a codependent person the draw for helping is to feel control. this one snuck up on me, but was something I struggled with severely. as someone who also struggles with OCD, having control is a major mute button on my anxiety (but it’s also a reason for the anxiety sometimes too..a very real catch 22). how does this connect with helping others? well when you’re that shoulder to cry on, when you’re the #1 go-to “late night text emergency” friend, when you are the person they all come to for advice, you’re kind of playing puppeteer. controlling their actions and dictating what they do next, all from just “helping”. friends will keep coming back and asking for your help like a puppy who’s thirsty for water. you are controlling people by navigating and influencing their actions decisions, and while you tell yourself it’s helping it’s really coming from a place of self definition and worth. you feel value when YOU can help, and control. 

5) being misunderstood.

it is so easy as someone who struggles with codependency to get caught in the anxieties of being misunderstood, hurting someone else, making a mistake. i know for me sometimes i feel myself just trapped in this whirlpool of what ifs and oh nos and i hope they don’t think such and such. the reason for this is simple and at the root of codependency: being liked by others is what creates and defines your definition. if someone doesn’t like you anymore, you are no longer of value, that’s what codependency teaches.  

The friend that is codependent not only dishes out this behavior and mentality but also expects it in return. Often times codependent people end up with hurt feelings and eventually leave friendships and relationships behind because the other person doesn’t “care as much” or would “never do what I do for them for me”. The reality is the other person is most likely having boundaries, whereas the codependent person who lacks boundaries feels like they give give give and never get anything in return. This is common codependency behavior.

Philippians 2:4 says:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

You may be asking what about putting others before yourself? How does that come into play? Well, there’s a difference between being compassionate and being codependent. You can be compassionate (selfless) and still take CARE of yourself. There is a fine line between these two characteristics, and that line is called intention. The compassionate person genuinely wants to help because they care and empathize, and they will help where they can. This is done all while still taking care of him or her self FIRST. There is no compromise to self-care. The codependent person also will genuinely help others, the difference being that ultimately this is done for the feeling of being accepted and valued in return. The codependent person’s version of self-care is to help others. How is that self-care if you’re only helping other people? You guessed it, it’s not. The codependent person throws self-care out the window if it means being able to “help”. Compassion asks for nothing in return, codependency has expectations. You can still be compassionate without being needed. Codependency is fueled by feeling needed, your heart and your mind crave it. Sometimes to the point that it almost can be compared to a high. The intention behind why you are doing what you’re doing is truly defining in these cases of compassion vs codependent. 

First and foremost regardless of your God-given strengths, we are called to find our value in Christ first. When we start at the cross and allow that love and definition to bleed into the rest of our lives the desire to help others comes naturally. 

Matthew 6:33 says:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Nothing is expected in return because that is the nature of Christ. He loves us despite the fact that we can never give anything back. He protects us, He fights for us, He provides for us, and He speaks to us. All without asking for a single thing in return. No expectations. He knows we will fail Him, and He still pursues.

Compassion is the nature of Christ. 

Now reverting back to the original questions: what do I mean by whole love? What do I mean by taking care of yourself? 

Imagine a cup on a table. Now imagine the cup has a dozen or so different holes starting at the bottom and making their way to the top. The holes are all over the cup. Imagine trying to fill water into that cup. It’s not going to work, right? Now imagine trying to pour what little water makes its way into the cup, into another cup. 

That’s what codependency does to our hearts, friend. Every hole is another time you’ve put someone else before your own needs. You cannot give whole love to others when you yourself are full of holes. You cannot pour into others if you are constantly drained, if you only have to offer the little water that made its way into your cup. 

My prayer for you today is that you remember to stay rooted in Christ. In Jesus we are capable of wholly and completely finding value, definition, and purpose. You need’nt look for acceptance in other earthly things, you have a Savior who has already claimed your heart. My prayer is that you seek for purpose in Jesus, sweet friend, and allow what grows from that yearning to bloom.

If you have any questions, prayer requests, if you’re confused and wanting answers, or if you would like to know more about my personal experiences with codependency I am always just an email, dm, or text message away. I am happy to help you get connected with someone who might be able to help, as well as lend a listening ear.

Crooked Blinds

Today I want to talk about filters. And it’s probably not the filters that immediately come to mind, so hear me out. It all started a couple weeks ago. Since moving to Portland Thomas and I have struggled to find a home church, and have been on the journey to find our community for almost two years. That is primarily why two weeks ago I found myself at a worship night at my friend’s church. Initially I didn’t know anyone but her, and yet my naturally extroverted self was nothing short of giddy. New faces, new places, and endless opportunities to connect: all of this is just fuel for my fire! As soon as I entered the building I began looking around at the people surrounding me and getting a feel for my environment. Friends I was so excited, meeting new people and making that initial connection is one of my favorite things. Getting a feel for my environment turned quickly  into looking for people to make acquaintance with, or at least introduce myself to. However not in the way you might think, and not in a way I’m particularly proud of. I started looking at how they were dressed, who they were with, their age. And within the mere second it takes to blink I felt my excitement vanish and instead I felt..nothing. There was a vacancy in my heart and I could feel it, and immediately that excitement turned to disappointment. I remember realizing what had happened and shaking my head, physically and mentally snapping out of it. I couldn’t believe it and it really that hard to believe?

We are becoming a society so used to primary communication being behind a screen, reading words that have been analyzed and stared at before sharing and pictures that have been filtered, adjusted, and edited we forget that it’s just that: an edit. We decide whether to “follow” someone based off of what we see at a glance, a quick analysis leading to a very definite yes or no. If we don’t like what we see or read in whatever pre-determined amount of time we spend judging a person (because that’s what it is, right? it’s a judgment) we allow them to pass by. Why follow someone that isn’t speaking to your liking? So then, is it such a shock that eventually we scan real life in the same way? Later on that evening I was still thinking about what had happened and I realized I wouldn’t be friends with any of the people I know, I wouldn’t have met or fallen in love with Thomas, heck I wouldn’t even be me if I actually lived my life that way. If I actually decided whether to even speak to someone based off whether their personal styles and overall “look” were similar to mine, or intriguing to me in some way. This goes beyond judging a book by its cover, this is actively deciding to throw transparency out the window. Dismissing the heart, the memories, the thoughts and the minds of people around you and instead deciding whether you will know each other or not based off of whether they match the criteria you’ve subconsciously created in your head for people you associate with.

Social media is a wonderful thing. Apps like facebook and instagram can be wonderful things. But they are also JUST apps. I love instagram for its ability to connect me with a broader community of people who love Jesus, more vast than anything I could accomplish without access to the internet. It helps the voice God has given me reach someone who may need to hear that someone is out there that cares + is eager to listen, and lastly I can share my passions. All of that is wonderful. 

That said, let me ask you this. Who was Jesus not friends with? Who did Jesus decide wasn’t worth His time, didn’t look the part, or didn’t match His “aesthetic”? If Christ did have a social media account, would there be anyone truly worthy of His following? His time? His attention?

Friend this is my prayer for you today. Look at what people have to offer on the inside. There’s absolutely no way to know until you speak to them yourself, so go. Speak to people you wouldn’t normally, go out of your way to engage so that eventually there isn’t a hesitance, there isn’t a line between who you will and won’t talk to. There’s just you and another child of God, completely unworthy and yet absolutely irreplaceable. And not because of a look or a brain or a heart or a filter, but because our worth is found solely and entirely in His sacrifice, a sacrifice that was for everyone you see, not just someone you’re drawn to materialistically. Don’t lock yourself up to one specific “niche” of humanity when God created an entire world for you to engage with. We were created for so much more than shallow “scans” and cliquey tendencies. There isn’t a person on this planet you can look at that Jesus doesn’t love. There’s no one too good, too mighty, too different, or too out of reach. Take the time to pull up the blinds you’ve so diligently placed in front of your eyes and atop your heart, and let the delicate and tender parts of you connect with whoever He sends your way. 

Blood Like Anxiety

I’ve always been a tidy person. I love cleaning up, it leaves me with a clean and organized space both physically and mentally. Even when I was a kid I was this way, always tidying up and always having everything in its place. Don’t get me wrong I’m no Monica Geller, but I definitely understand where she’s coming from (if you don’t know who Monica Geller is, watch this clip here).

If something wasn’t right, I’d fix it. That’s something anyone would do, right? Something is out of line that you see in passing, you fix it. A book flipped backwards or a piece of laundry on the floor. The difference for me was, fix one fix all. If there was laundry on the floor, I’d pick up that one piece sure, but then I needed to make sure all of the laundry was done. No matter what I was doing prior or whatever I had going on. It was time to do laundry. Book flipped backwards, simple and easy fix, but then I needed to flip all of the books backwards and then flip them forwards again, because everything needed to go through the same process. Everything needed to be perfect. Even if it didn’t make sense, it had to be that way.

This behavior bled into everything I did. Beyond just cleaning and tidying up. Everything from tiny meticulous things to more seemingly obvious things. Walking a certain way because of how the tiles on the ground were lined up or vacuuming a room and only leaving straight lines on the carpet with every stride. Things I knew no one else paid much attention to, but that didn’t matter because I knew it was the way things had to be done for me to get through the day.

If I left something unattended, the thought and reminder would egg at me every day. I wouldn’t be able to focus until the issue or mistake was fixed. Sometimes this meant I left a dirty dish in the sink because I didn’t have time to add it to the dishwasher before leaving the house, other times it would be brushing my hair starting on the left instead of the right side of my head like “usual”.

I didn’t know what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was until I was fourteen. I had honestly just accepted that this was my brain, and this was my life. I didn’t know OCD was a mental disorder, I didn’t know it was directly connected with my anxiety. I didn’t know things could be different.

One of the first therapists I ever saw said something to me in the very beginning that has stuck with me ever since.

“Your life is like a bouncy house and you’re trying as hard as you can to walk straight. You have so much going on and you’re trying to control every single aspect of it”.

My need to control every single tiny aspect of my life originated because everything else in my life was so unpredictable and fear driven. My internal response to this was to over-analyze and over control, to the point of obsession. My anxiety wasn’t just in my thoughts and in my fears it was in the wiring of my brain.  There wasn’t any other option because my need to control was controlling me. Like blood in my veins, anxiety paved its way through my mind and in my heart and was the single thing both keeping me alive and keeping me from living.

Eventually I came to the realization that my anxiety and OCD were not two separate issues, the OCD was a manifestation of the anxiety.

It took time. Baby steps, one day after the next. I refused to try any medication, that wasn’t how I wanted to do things. I have always applauded and encouraged medication for those who prefer it, but for me medication just wasn’t an option (more on that another day). It took time to quiet those egging thoughts, the condemning nagging thoughts that told me to go back and fix whatever it was my brain had labeled “unfinished”. It took time to realize not everything had to be perfect, to give myself grace, to be flexible. And eventually my anxiety ceased. Not ceased to exist, no, but it ceased its grip on my brain and my thoughts. Instead of control it was a matter of co-existence.

I do not think I will ever be rid of my anxiety. I still have triggers, I still have break downs, and I still have attacks. There is a long list of fears and anxieties that the enemy uses to box me in and try and stop me. And God continues to tears those walls down and urges me forward, like a gust of wind pressing on my heart to take the next step. Baby steps.

Jesus did that. From the moment I cried out to Him and begged no more, He has never stopped working in me. Encouraging me to stay true to myself despite whatever rhythm my life is currently flowing on, whether it’s as crazy as a bouncy house or as calm as the open ocean. God has never stopped reminding me to find peace in His love rather than trying to find my own balance.  He taught me how to hold His hand and walk straight with confidence, instead of trying on my own and falling, every two steps forward landing me three steps back.  And friends there are still days that I fall, because sometimes I still think I can handle it on my own. And He still picks me up. Every time. But that’s God, though.

At this point my anxiety and I are like old friends. Not enemies, but we definitely have a history. We live this life together. There is nothing I have to be limited by, but there are things I know I won’t be able to control or change about myself. Not alone and not without Jesus. My anxiety is not my definition, but it is part of who I am, and it will always have a seat at the table. But I’m learning a seat and a voice are two very different things, and God’s promise since that very night we first talked is that He is both might and grace, my comfort and protection. When He speaks my fears and anxieties are nothing but a whisper.  


Five verses on letting go of anxiety and walking with God instead:

Proverbs 3:5-6:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

Deuteronomy 5:33:
"You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess."

Isaiah 41:10:
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

Romans 8:38-39:
"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Joshua 1:9:
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”