How ‘The Hunger Games’ Helped Me With Anxiety

Hunger Games

**WARNING: If you have not finished reading the entire trilogy of The Hunger Games, this post may contain mild spoilers for the books. You have been warned!


My friends like to laugh at my love for the book series “The Hunger Games” written by Suzanne Collins. I’m the one who always finds a way to repeatedly bring the books up in seemingly non-related topics of conversation, attends the movies on opening night in themed attire, and puts a framed THG quote in my baby daughter’s room. It could be a little borderline obsessive, but the truth is that these books mean a lot to me for many reasons; the most surprising of which may just be the fact that I learned a new coping technique for my lifelong struggle with anxiety on the pages of these books.

If you’re familiar with the story at all, you’ll recall how beloved leading man Peeta Mellark is captured by the evil Capitol at the end of the second novel, “Catching Fire.” Much of the first part of the final book, “Mockingjay” is spent with Peeta still in captivity and our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, anticipating his rescue and reunion with her. When word reaches her that he’s finally been rescued and is returned, she runs to him anticipating a sweet reunion, only to find herself choked by a Peeta who is not the same man who was taken from her.

It turns out that Peeta was “hijacked.” Basically, he was given a combination of hallucinatory influences and torture until he was programmed to kill Katniss, the girl he has loved his whole life. It was definitely one of the book’s biggest shock moments. The reader was left wondering if Peeta would ever be the same. Would Katniss and her team be able to help Peeta remember his love for Katniss and find peace?

The key to Peeta’s recovery comes in the form of an extremely clever game crafted by members of Katniss’ squadron called “Real or Not Real.” The game is simple: Peeta tells them a memory he has, and they tell him if it actually happened, or if it is something that the Capitol has programmed him to believe. By going through this process, he is slowly able to recall the truth, even though it’s said in the epilogue that he still occasionally has moments of struggle, even many years later.

When I’m in the midst of an anxiety attack or a moment where worry threatens to overtake me, I have to play “real or not real.” Let me tell you a personal example how this works for me: I often get very anxious about my life as a mother. I’ll hear things in my head like “You’re a terrible mother” or “Your kids deserve better.” When I apply real or not real to this situation, it plays out like this: “What is real?” Well, I definitely make mistakes, but I love my kids unconditionally, and they know it. They are warm, fed, and provided for. I go out of my way to make life fun for them. I may not be the best, but I’m doing okay.

See how that works? A lot of times my feelings get “hijacked” and I wind up believing lies about myself or others. But when I sort through what is really real and what is just anxiety trying to magnify itself and minimize the less dramatic truth, I find I am a lot calmer and less anxiety-prone.

It’s important to note that the Capitol was smart in the memories they chose to distort for Peeta. There were elements of truth in them that they were able to twist to their advantage. Our fears are like that. They are often things that have a small particle of truth (i.e. something that sets us off initially) that the fear chooses to magnify and manipulate until it has become something else entirely. It’s so important to go through the real or not real in our minds with the things we are struggling with, because often we can feel as if we are in the right when really our fears have led us so far from the initial issue.

The next time you’re feeling anxious, ask yourself: real or not real? Remember, just because something seems or feels real, doesn’t mean it is real. Be sure to separate out the lies from the reality. By doing so, you may just be able to dramatically impact the amount of anxiety you encounter from now on. Now that is something to REALly get excited about!

10 Years With You

Dear Jason,

Ten years ago we said “I Do” in front of a church full of friends and family. I remember being hit with the utter sanctity of that moment. I hadn’t expected that. I had expected tears, but I was blown away by just how Holy all we were doing felt. We weren’t just signing a paper or having a ceremony, we were making vows before God.

You are an exceptional man. I don’t know many men who would stand up and vow to love “in sickness and in health” and then be called upon to make good on that vow just 6 months later. You held me as a I cried when I was told I had cancer. You helped me shave my head when my hair was falling out faster than I could keep up with. You slept on the floor of my hospital room more times than I can count so that I wouldn’t have to go through my chemo treatments alone.

I love that we can dream together. I remember the first time I drew up a little map and talked to you about our ideas for starting a church. You were so receptive. You believe in me and value me. As a result, together we’ve seen Access become a life-giving church that has impacted the Kingdom. I’ve seen you grow as a leader and a preacher and I’ve sat in awe as you made tough decisions while always taking the high road. No one else in the world may see or know, but I see and I know, and I am in awe of the man of integrity that you are.

You are, without a doubt, the best father ever. The way you love our children is so genuine that it challenges me in my role as a mother. You are the definition of selfless. You always put your family first. You never complain and you constantly find ways to make life fun and special for us. The kids adore you and look up to you and I feel so content knowing that they have you as a role model.

I remember watching you cry in joy when our son Joey was born (right after you recovered from passing out, that is). You just kept saying, “He’s so beautiful.” I remember cheering for you when you didn’t pass out when Gavin was born. I remember watching you cry in pain as we said goodbye to our first daughter, Angelina Grace. This year, I have seen you fall in love with our precious Ella Elisabeth. You were clearly born to be a father, and particularly to this amazing daughter. She’s got her dad’s heart all wrapped up already.

We have seen some pain in our life, and also some great joy. We have experienced loss and extreme blessing. Through it all, though, you’ve remained steady. You are the single most hard-working person I know. You’re never content until you feel like you’ve achieved excellence and you challenge me to do more with my life. You are smart and funny and kind. You are creative and Godly and you make me laugh even more now that you did when I first met you. Simply put, you are my best friend.

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I look forward to the next 10 and the 10 after that and the 50 after that.


I love you forever.


LMKTM: Don’t Get Stuck!

Ella is now 4 months old and is starting to explore the new world of all that her limbs can do for her. One such experience is rolling over. She hasn’t quite nailed it yet, though. Partially because she’s super content on her back, but also partially because she’s a big baby and, as such, she tends to get stuck in the transit.

I will try to help her along by scooting her one way or another, but a lot of times she’ll get to about halfway and just lay there until she frustrates herself into crying and I have to come scoop her up and rescue her. Poor thing will lay on her side like that, not able to get back to her back, but not quite able to do the final push to get her to her belly, either.

Can you understand her frustration? Do you feel stuck in life right now? Maybe you are in between key phases but all you want to do is lay in the halfway point like Ella and cry for all the frustration you feel. Don’t get stuck! You can’t stay in the middle because you will literally go no where. You have to move in one direction or another.

Today, make the extra push. Get un-stuck. Your next level of mobility and enjoyment could very well depend upon it!

Don’t Just Survive!

I’ll admit: As a mother of 3 kids, sometimes I feel like I’m simply going through my days in survival mode. It’s a race to get to their bedtime when I can finally breathe a little and get caught up on the things that I didn’t have time to address during the day. Especially right now while going through the infant stage again, there is just not a whole time of “down time” during the 24-hour span of my days. Because of this, there’s a great temptation to just try to get through my days.

But I don’t want to just get through life. I want to thrive. I want to embrace the beauty of each season and each day. The thing is that there is beauty in each season. Sometimes we get so busy hoping for days to come that we forget to stop and appreciate all the current day has to offer. And it does have good things to offer. Alright, so my days may feel a bit like a circus and I may not get to shower as frequently as I’d like to, but hey! There is such a short window when my kids will be the ones asking me for hugs and kisses and to solve all their problems. I know the day will come when I’ll be missing that as I watch them take on more and more independence.

Don’t just survive – thrive! Get through your day, yes, but also be intentional about taking strategic pauses to stop and embrace whatever it is that you are currently experiencing. It may just change your outlook and that shift may just change your life.

Two Years Ago Today

It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since our world was turned upside down. It was two years ago today that my husband and I sat in my doctor’s office and were told that our baby girl whom we had named Angelina Grace was no longer living inside me.  We were just there for a routine 24-week pregnancy checkup. This was not the news we had anticipated receiving on that chilly November morning. We sat in shock and disbelief and deep, soul-shaking grief, especially after I was informed that I would be required to deliver my baby girl, but that I couldn’t do so until almost 4 days later.

It’s possible that two years ago today was my darkest day. I’ve walked some hard roads, but there is something about this one that is just that bit more harrowing. And yet, I sit even now and write this blog with the literal proof of God’s redemption sitting in my lap. Ella Elisabeth doesn’t know that she had a sister. She doesn’t know that when I found out I was pregnant with her, I was more scared than I’d ever been: What if we lost this baby, too? Ella doesn’t know those things, but she represents all of that and so much more.

It’s funny, because I think I originally assumed that having Ella would bring an extra layer of healing to my heart’s loss of Angelina, and in ways it has. But it has also somehow made the loss of Angelina that much more palpable. When I look at Ella, I think that we lost someone like her. Not just a sort of little life that we speak of as more of an idea than a reality, but a real, living, beautiful, sweet baby girl. And that hurts.

I still get tongue-tied when I’m asked how many kids I have. I still feel an inward twinge of guilt and sadness when people ask if Ella is our only girl and I stumble upon my answer. I still struggle because as much as I don’t want to feel pain, I even more so don’t want my Angelina to be forgotten.

God’s grace has been so strong. As much as I can’t believe that there’s been two years since that day, I also think of all He’s done in the past two years and am filled with awe. More than that, I am filled with a sense of challenge and responsibility that urges me to make my life and her life count for something.

Today I remember you, my sweet first baby girl. You are not forgotten. Your gentle little life had purpose far beyond its earthly time. You are remembered. You are loved.

Not What You Expected

I grew up hearing that God had a plan for my life. I repeatedly quoted the words of Jeremiah 29:11 that said that God had a plan of prosperity for me. There was hardly a day that went by that someone didn’t speak of God’s great plan for me. I grew to believe it so deeply in my being. I just knew God had a wonderful, joyful plan for my life.

And then I got cancer at the age of 23 after a mere 6 months of marriage.

What had happened to God’s plan? This was not what I had signed up for. This did not seem at all like the prosperity that I had been promised.

The thing about God’s plan is that it is for our good. We can always trust Him simply because He’s already proven His motive toward us by dying for us. But I’ve come to learn that His plan often comes in rather unexpected ways…and by unexpected, I mean, “Help! Get me out of here!” kind-of-ways.

You may be asking yourself where God is today. It may feel as if His plan for you has been canceled out by an unexpected or undesired life experience. I can only encourage you that sometimes it is those very things that feel so far off from the plan that can actually propel us toward our intended paths. Don’t fear the hard times. Remember, God’s will often plays out in ways we would never expect, and that’s okay. It’s still His plan and it’s still something He can ultimately weave into the tapestry of a beautiful life lived full of grace and goodness.

Moms United

Yesterday I had the privilege of hanging with a dear friend and her sweet new baby, my sister-in-law and my precious new nephew, and my own darling baby Ella. It was a symphony of dirty diapers, strollers, baby blankets, pacifiers, and the usual chaos you might expect from the coming together of three infants. But something else really cool happened in the midst of all the noise: three moms came together and encouraged one another and it was really beautiful.

Is this rare enough that I should be not only observing it but blogging about it? Well, maybe. The thing is that there is a lot of insecurity in motherhood that can turn to defensiveness that can turn to judgment. Mothers feel shamed for their parenting choices, and shamed for their accomplishments (or perceived lack of accomplishments). But the truth is that there is no better way to help a mother out then by reminding her that you, too, have had the same struggles and that they can and will get through them.

I loved watching as each mom there took time to encourage the others. We were all comfortable being vulnerable about our struggles and mothering insecurities because we knew it was going to be a judgment-free zone. Instead, we knew we would receive encouragement and support, and that made all the difference.

Let’s do our part to change this from being rare to the norm! We can start by extending grace to a mother around us and by lending a helping hand. Let’s unite, moms!

It’s Exhausting Not Being Yourself

My husband and I are coming up on our 10 year anniversary. It’s a milestone that brings with it a great deal of reflection. Part of that reflection, for me, has been an appreciation of just how freeing it is to be with someone with whom I can completely be myself. Jason knows me better than most anyone, and because of that, I never have to put on pretense or a facade in order to please him.

Sadly, this wasn’t always the case for me where others were concerned. I’ve had relationships, be they romantic or platonic, where I felt so insecure about my place in them, that I had to make sure to uphold a certain level of pretense in order to maintain them. It could have been simple things like pretending to be way more into a certain TV show or book so that I could keep up with a conversation, or as sadly significant as changing my stance on an issue in order to gain acceptance. Whatever the case, it left me feeling straight up drained whenever I’d leave the situation and go back home.

In short, it was exhausting trying to be somebody that I wasn’t.

Life is short. Why pretend to be someone you aren’t? The older I get, the more comfortable I get with myself and the less tolerance I have for pretense or false appearances. I know who I am in Christ and I don’t want to apologize for or change that. I have seen firsthand that people respond much more positively to authenticity than they ever will to my attempts at being what they need me to be.

Today, take an evaluation of your speech and actions when in the presence of your most loved ones versus those you are only on a surface level of acquaintance with. I’m not saying you will have the same comfort or familiarity with the two groups, but I am suggesting you take note of any wildly differing behaviors or attitudes in yourself when around them. Do you change yourself to fit in with your surroundings? If so, STOP! You’re doing no one any good by putting on a false representation of yourself. Be yourself! It’s freeing, it’s comforting, and it’s true. Life is exhausting enough without having to add pressure from pretense to your plate.

LMKTM: Kids Are Like Snowflakes

I’ve had a parenting realization lately that I think will free a lot of you up like it did for me:

My child is unique and can never be compared intellectually, physically, or spiritually to any other child.

It’s not about getting my child to do x like y. It’s about finding the strengths that are already there and pulling them out of him or her in a way that makes them shine!

My oldest son is so organized, neat, and perfection-driven, that his teacher has to tell him to not worry about making things too perfect and just remember to play. My middle child is all fun and charm, but at 4 years of age, his attempts at handwriting are hieroglyphic at best. Ella, my baby, is a great night sleeper but her afternoon nap consistency is almost non-existent.

And you know what?

All of my kids are great just as they are. It wouldn’t be fair to compare them to one another. Even further unfair would be to try to compare them to Facebook statuses of my friends who are talking about their children’s latest accomplishments. That’s not successful parenting! Instead, I’ll find so much more satisfaction if I take the time to find out what my child’s strengths and weaknesses are, and to work with him or her individually to be the best they can be.

Parenting is not textbook. There’s no one thing that will work for every child. There’s no one learning strategy that will appeal to each one. There’s no one disciplinary action that will similarly impact them all. They are individual and they can shine as such if I just remember to treat them that way. Let’s ask God to show us specific ways of parenting that are individual to each of our children. Just like snowflakes, no two kids are exactly alike, so why would I treat them all the same? Today, I hope to help all 3 of my kids to shine – each in their own way!

The Power of the Hug

If you are blessed enough to be on the receiving end of regular physical affection, you may not get it. I know I didn’t get it at first. I grew up in one of the most affirming, loving, affectionate homes in the whole of the United States (maybe even the world?). I was never in want for a hug or a kiss to the point that it almost got irksome to me to have to dole out the obligatory daily affections.

In between my junior and senior year of college, however, I moved into my own apartment where I lived alone for the first time ever. My parents had moved to New York, and I was on my own and suddenly feeling extremely lonely. I don’t think I realized just how lonely I was until I visited a small local church one Wednesday evening and the adorable, gray-haired woman at the door asked me my name. “Elisabeth,” I said warily. “Oh, Elisabeth!” she cried as she engulfed me in a bone-crushing hug, “It’s so nice to see you!”

And I cried. Cried! It suddenly dawned on me that it had been so long since I had just simply been hugged. I realized I was starved for affection and that I needed that hug. It blew my mind. It had never been a problem for me before, so realizing my deep lack of personal contact was eye-opening. At the time I was hanging out in my small apartment during the day and working at a restaurant at night. I had few friends who had not gone home for the summer, and none of my family was local. I was lonely. I didn’t know just how lonely until that soul-searing hug, I think.

I came to appreciate hugs again two years ago when we were walking through a time of deep sorrow and grief. Very few words spoken to me during that time held much resonance, and not for lack of trying on the part of the speakers. I just didn’t need to hear anything at that point. What I did need, however, was the dozens of strong hugs that I got from so many. There was actual comfort in those hugs. They were healing hugs.

I’m in such a place of love and security in my life now. My children shower me with the tight squeezes and slimy kisses all throughout the day. I have a husband who has strong arms that can hold me in times of sadness or celebration. But even just this past week, I had to go to my husband and tell him that I needed a hug. I was facing something and it made me sad, and I needed that extra squeeze to comfort me. The Lis of the past would have scoffed at this or called it needy, but this Lis knows better. This Lis knows that hugs are powerful.

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