When Fear is Your Currency [aka ‘Is it Safe?’]

erasing fear

“But is it safe?”

My friend stopped drinking her Skinny Vanilla Latte ala Starbucks. She was truly concerned. It was back in late August and I had just told her about the trip I was going on to India in September. I had described what I would be doing, spoken with excitement about the place and the possibilities, but this was her spontaneous reaction.

This is the number one question that I’m asked whenever we travel. Over and over again people ask me those three powerful words: “Is it Safe?”

They say it with doubt as to whether they will trust my response. They say it with much skepticism, and I know as they voice their concern, that the one asking the question will not believe my answer.

I understand the sentiment behind it, we are all products of our upbringing and the media. Unfortunately the way the media portrays life outside the United States is never as safe; it is always ‘not safe’. If one is to believe media reports, whether it be newspapers, online news sources, or television, everything outside the United States is suspect – it is ‘not safe’.

This of course is ridiculous. And yet I know what I felt while sitting in Egypt, reading news from the United States — I was terrified. Evil people kidnapped kids in the United States! Gunmen entered elementary schools and shot innocent children. The United States was a place where the phrase ‘going postal’ became synonymous with violent attacks; a place where random shootings and gang warfare threatened you and your children.

From far away the United States was terrifying. At least, that was my perception. 

Indeed, when we moved from Cairo, Egypt with 26 suitcases and a cat, living temporarily in a small apartment near Capital Hill in Washington D.C, I was beyond afraid. The neighborhood was known as a high crime area. We had left a middle eastern city of 16 million people where I felt safe and at home. Now I had five children, aged one to eleven, and felt I couldn’t go outside for fear of being mugged or hurt.

Robynn in her post “Lessons from Kansas on Living with Storms” makes a profound point: the storm you have is better than the one you don’t. One of the readers of that post gave this illustration: “a few years ago we met a group of Floridians who had just returned from a trip to Northern Iraq. It was a year with a lot of hurricanes in FL. While in Iraq, a dear Iraqi man asked them sincerely, “Florida??–isn’t it dangerous to live there??!!” It is a matter of perspective!”

While I don’t believe we are all called to go into war zones, and I believe we must exercise discernment and wisdom, particularly when we have others who we are responsible for, I do believe that no matter where we are and what we do, when we live under fear, we are using bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth. When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play.

Safety is about knowing where our security lies, what we’re called to do, and who we’re called to be.

Allison Krauss, the bluegrass-country singer, has a song that speaks to me around safety, reminding me that it’s faith, not fear, that should be my currency. It’s these words that have come to me at times when fear creeps in and threatens to own me, to run my life, and it’s these words I offer to us today:I’d rather be in the palm of your hand, though rich or poor I may be. Faith can see right through the circumstance, see the forest in spite of the trees. Your grace provides for me.” 


gingerbread muffinsAnd today’s muffins look incredible! Here are Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Muffins for #Muffin Monday. Stacy says this: “Before I left Dubai, I baked this week’s muffin but I was definitely channeling cold weather and the coming of Christmas.  I made gingerbread batter to which I added melted semi-sweet chocolate for an even richer muffin.” Thanks again Stacy for giving us so many creative choices.   

Image credit: raywoo / 123RF Stock Photo

27 thoughts on “When Fear is Your Currency [aka ‘Is it Safe?’]

  1. Marilyn! This is so good! Thank you for reposting it. “When we live under fear, we are using bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.” I love that word picture. And this: “When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play. Safety is about knowing where our security lies, what we’re called to do, and who we’re called to be.” So true. I know we Americans are obsessed with safety (and insurance!) but that is not where our security is supposed to lie.

    I read Cindy Morgan’s little book “Barefoot on Barbed Wire” when I was in a particularly fearful state about 6 years ago. And in it, she explained that the things we are afraid of actually come from inside us, that we could control every little thing we are afraid of, but even then we wouldn’t be safe, because something else would pop up to be afraid of. Revolutionized the way I looked at my fears. Now I see my fears as something coming from INSIDE me, not something that can be fixed externally. Even when I think about the things I am afraid of now (and at the moment, there are many), I know it is not possible to fix my fears by changing the circumstances.

    And I am actually seeing a counselor about this on Friday, because my fears are bleeding out all over my life right now, and I’ve got to stop the hemorrhage. I don’t want to have to control all the externals (and I can’t anyway). I’ve seen counselors before, and I’ve dealt with my junk, but this time it’s manifesting in a different way than before. Time to take myself back to an office. Because my memory is too short in these things.


    1. This is so good Elizabeth – so good. Have you ever blogged about Barefoot on Barbed Wire? It sounds like it would make a great post. I’ve not read it. I remember from when I was a tiny person reciting the verse over and over “perfect love casts out fear, perfect love casts out fear” over and over….And I know what it’s like to be bleeding like that – how do you stop a hemorrhage? Or maybe it’s how do you minimize the blood flow. And on the memory – I’m convinced that this is why God said over and over and over to the Israelites to ‘remember’ – he knows our frame, knows how easy it is to forget. “My God My God why have you forsaken me?” Thinking of you this day.


      1. No, I haven’t blogged about Barefoot on Barbed Wire, though I’ve loosely considered it. I was thinking about it recently because someone asked me some questions about fear and moving overseas. The fears I dealt with several years ago (mostly health and safety) are not the fears I deal with now, but I reckon the principles of fighting them are probably the same. I love the reminder about how the Israelites needed the reminders! And thank you for always encouraging me to keep writing more, and different, and braver things. Means a lot.


  2. This is so true! We have many friends here in Oregon who are Iraqi refugees, and some have told us how afraid they were to move here. And when we took our then preschool-school-aged children to Mauritania, many people were very worried for them and us, but I found on our visits to America that I was a much more relaxed mother, much less worried about kidnapping for example, than my friends.


    1. I love how your stories of Iraqi refugees reflect that of the post. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down but at one point in the book the author talks about the rumors that circulate in Refugee camps about the US(one is that they eat your children!) an interesting reminder of fear and distorted perceptions — just like people here fear anything outside the borders. I love that you show how living elsewhere also helped you to live more effectively and without fear back in the US because that’s the best possible outcome. Thanks for reading – I look forward to going to your site and taking a look.


  3. I can so relate… I travelled with my babies several times to a war-torn country to see their grandparents and had to grapple with this time and again, and where I ended up was that I need to make decisions based on conviction and not fear. This one little truth has shaped many of my life decisions, but can be so hard to do as well!


    1. Me as well (life decisions, I mean) but I’m glad you added on how hard it is. That’s one thing that didn’t come through in the post. While I think it’s bad currency – it doesn’t mean it’s easy to exchange. I think also that I have to block my ears from media and from many aquaintances and friends as they can be powerful but unwise influencers of my perceptions


      1. It was actually easier when I was young and didn’t have as much to lose…the older I grow, the more it seems there is to surrender.

        You’re right, it can be so hard to filter advice from otherwise wise friends.


      2. I find it harder too as I get older. The irony is that I have far more experience knowing that safety is a matter of perspective as well as time after time of feeling the hand of God on my life and the lives of those I love.


  4. Marilyn, I’ve read and reread this blog and Tina’s response and I agree with her. I’ve also written and rewritten a response and none of them seem to really explain what I want to say! This would make a great discussion. Fear is nothing to be ashamed of nor to fear. Was it Churchill who said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear must be God-given because there is a lot of scripture telling us how to deal with fear. Fear is personal and what paralyzes me (like being literally frozen in my tracks by a dog about to jump on me) would be laughable to others. Public speakers often admit how stage-frightened they are but appreciate the adrenaline flow that gets them going.
    Fear helps in weighing in on the pros and cons while making important decisions. Dealing with our fears provides an alternative to being consumed by them. The Psalmist wrote: “When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3,4) I could write a book about fears I’ve encountered!!


    1. Bettie, you make a valid point when stating “fear is personal”. At one point or another we all face fear. I have also experienced that people/media try to manipulate others through instilling fear. Currently, I am faced with a personal situation where my uncertainty and the resulting fear has been exploited by family. It is troubling when the ones closest to us use uncertainty/fear as a tool to manipulate a situation to their advantage. Psalms gives me renewed courage. Thanks for posting, Petra


    2. But I think your comment illustrates this post beautifully. Because you’ve never let fear paralyze – it’s something I’ve learned so much about from you and my mom. Pakistan may have been home for Nancy and I, but you and my mom — it was soooo different than how you had been raised. You lived effectively inspite of fears. Which is exactly what I wanted to say. And then there is the adrenaline fear that serves a good purpose and helps us RUN when in danger….but I think that’s a different type of fear. What do you think?


      1. Marilyn, I don’t know how to answer you question. Fear is fear and I guess our reactions to its onslaught varies as we are all so different. One of the first phrases I learned and remembered all my life in Pakistan was, “I need your help!” I was alone with small children many days and nights in Ratodero our first term and I was afraid at times. There was no phone, little knowledge of the language, etc. Living behind high walls, windows with bars, and heavy doors did give a sense of security. In Murree I used to be afraid that one of the tribal nomads passing through might kidnap David. His dark hair, eyes and complexion would have made him a good catch! The time we went to the airport in Karachi during a wheel jam (?) when all the wheels were to be off the road is etched in my memory. We had a local driver to take us to the airport and we were stopped and surrounded by a mob who had huge rocks in their hands ready to throw them. We couldn’t move. I was petrified. Suddenly a man appeared, held up his hands to the crowd, admonished them to leave us alone as we were foreigners, guests in their country and we should proceed! Fear? We did make it to the airport and got a room at a nearby hotel for our driver so that he would not have to take any chances of being stoned on his return. Fear? Yes, I know what fear is, but more importantly there is help and one needs not be held hostage. Life is short and who wants to spend it in the clutches of fear? Sorry this is so long! I’m afraid I’ve had a lot of experience with fear. Bless you for coming up with all these topics.


  5. Reblogged this on willtravelwithkids and commented:
    I always appreciate Marilyn Gardner’s perspective on issues. She blogs frequently at Communicating.Across.Boundaries. Today she posted about the concept of safety when traveling or living not only abroad, but even at home. How often I’ve been asked “But is it safe?” when I tell people where I’ve been or where we plan to go with our children. Read on to see how Marilyn responded to this question when asked about an upcoming visit to India.


  6. My sister came out to Dubai recently to visit us. She brought a friend who had never traveled outside of the US. When they began the discussions about coming, her friend’s first response to Marta’s suggestion of accompanying her was “But aren’t they Muslim?” It was her way of asking, but isn’t it dangerous? Which made me very sad. I am happy to report that we took her to two mosques and introduced her Islam and Muslims in a positive way. I am hoping she’ll spread the word at home. Not all Muslims are terrorists. In fact, most are peaceful, loving, generous people.


    1. This is a great example of Mark Twain’s quote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” While your sister’s friend’s words make me sad and actually mad as well, Kudos to her for going, kudos to you for introducing her to life beyond the media bias. So glad you shared this.


  7. Thank you for sharing this thought. If often comes up in discussions when I tell people I’ve taken my daughter to visit family in Africa or when I encourage people to travel to places outside their comfort zone. Do you mind if I reblog?


    1. Mind?! :) I would be honored. Thank you. I think those of us who live or have lived in other parts of the world face this so frequently we just brush it off in frustration. I don’t know what the solution is though…
      My colleague is from Malawi and met his American wife there. This summer when he wanted to take his daughter to Malawi (she’s a teenager and had never been) it was his wife that balked and talked about it being ‘dangerous’….when is security as we experience it paralyzing?


      1. Oh the irony. We took our daughter to Malawi a couple years ago (when she was almost one). I had been there frequently, but not with children. I wouldn’t bat an eye about taking children there! All a matter of perspective.


  8. In 1986-1987 I was working for World Relief’s Latin America director, and the possibility came up to move to Nicaragua to supervise a housing project. (I didn’t get the job.) When I mentioned it to my folks, my Mom responded with concern. I laughed and responded, “You guys are living in Medellín, the most violent city in the world, and you’re worried about me going to Nicaragua?”


    1. Hahaha! I love this! So similar to the Iraqi woman’s response. I partially wrote it to remind myself as when I end up living in the U.S too long, it affects how I view the rest of the world – which is terrifying to me.


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