When Your Fear Goes Through the Roof

Many people are sincerely afraid when they think on the events of the last few weeks: the twin attacks in Lebanon, suicide bombing in Afghanistan, the plane crash in Egypt, protests for justice and equal treatment on campuses across the US, the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris. Terrorism and the threat of violence have paralyzed people. What once only happened far away creeps closer with every news broadcast. Our world seems hazardous and our safety in great jeopardy. Fear has taken root and has quickly converted to a deep paranoia that colours every opinion, every conviction, every decision.

Consequently there is a growing number of American States that have emphatically decided to close their doors to Syrian refugees. Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback, in a recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle wrote with words wreaking of worry, “My first priority as governor is the safety of all Kansans, and in this dangerous environment, we must take prudent and responsible actions to protect our citizens. That is why I signed an executive order directing that no state agency, or organization receiving grant money from the state, will participate in or assist in any way in the relocation of Syrian refugees in Kansas.” (www.kansas.com/opinion)

Fear is universally understood. When I hear fear in another person’s words empathy for them rises up in me. I have felt afraid many times and it’s not a pleasant place to be. Even this past weekend I spent a nearly sleepless night battling my own set of freak-outs. Friday late afternoon, along with thousands of others, I learned of the Paris attacks for the first time. Lowell is scheduled to fly to Paris on November 25th. He along with thousands of delegates and participants is descending on Paris for the COP 21 International Climate Summit. By Saturday night fear had stirred up my soul into an intolerable frenzy. I turned and tossed all night. I’d fall off to sleep only to be awakened by dreams with bad guys and chases and dark corners and Lowell. I lied there and tried to speak reason to my tortured thoughts. But reason was weak when the lights were off. My imaginings wrecked havoc on all rational thought. I was afraid.

When faced with fear we have choices. We can give into it and let it control our behavior—which is what I did Saturday night with less than restful results. We can ignore it, silence it, stuff it down. Or we can bravely name it and bring it to the only place of hope for healing. The antidote for fear is always faith. The only analgesic for anxiety is peace.

Something happened on Sunday. Whereas Saturday night I was convinced that Lowell should cancel his planned travel to Paris, by Sunday afternoon I knew he should go. I had found a place to put my fear. This may seem overly simple. To the unafraid or to the petrified this might sound shallow and silly, perhaps even trivial or trite. But trust me. I have found a safe place to store my fear and you can too.

I’ve written before about the story in the gospels where the four men—hopeless to do anything to solve their lame friend’s problem—load him up on a makeshift stretcher (essentially an old bed) and they bring him to Jesus. Out of complete desperation, and in full awareness of their own weaknesses and limitations, they actually dig a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is staying. There in plain view of a large crowd, the same crowd that kept them from going through the door, they lowered their friend down on his stretcher right in front of Jesus.

In the past I’ve done that for my friends and family members that have suffered. I’ve done that for whole countries. I’ve lowered all of Pakistan down on a large charpai (rope bed) at the feet of Jesus. I’ve prayed “dragging, lugging, lowering, pleading prayers” for whole regions. And now, maybe because I’ve had so much experience in doing this for others, I’m doing this for myself. I’m taking my fear through the roof–from up where it’s crescendoed down to Jesus where he ministers. My fears, my anxieties, my perpetual little panics, my worries, my what-ifs, my worst-case-scenarios—they are all laid out on a bed with a tear stained pillow case and turmoiled linens…and I’m laying them out at the feet of Jesus.

Yesterday a young friend asked me what that looks like to, “lay our worries at the foot of the cross,” or to “give our fears to Jesus”. Author Tim Keller says the imagination connects what we know to be true in our heads with what we long to experience in our hearts. There is great power in our imaginations. I imagine bundling up all my fears and bringing them to Jesus. I imagine his expression as he sees me approach. Sometimes in my mind’s eye I throw all my worries at him…as if he’s somehow to blame for it all. He just gently catches it. Sometimes I picture myself pitching my panic at him. He doesn’t even flinch. I cast my cares on him knowing full well he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

Playing Whack-a-Mole with our emotions doesn’t work. We cannot bop these things away. We cannot stuff them down forever. Far better is to recognize what’s going on inside us. Allow our fears to surface—acknowledge their presence. Identify them. Name them. Be gentle with your worries. There is no shame in being afraid. And then lead your fears to the bed, to the stretcher. Help them climb on. Look around inside. “Search me, O God, and know my heart? See if there are any other anxious ways within me.” (Psalm 139:21) Trap the little fear foxes and tie them down on your makeshift stretcher.

I understand the fear that drives a person to curl up into the fetal position. I resonate with the temptation to shut down, to self protect, to hold on to those I love closer, tighter, with shorter reigns. But we are called to external living. We are called to step outside, to love others generously, to welcome strangers warmly. We are called to exit the constricting circle of our fears and to enter into the wide space of faith and grace. This will not happen unless we invite our fears out of the shadows and out into the light. When we openly admit we too are afraid, bravely carrying our strapped down fears to Jesus, even that is an act of trust and surrender. This is where the work of resisting the power of paranoia begins. The Spirit of God softens our souls and leads us courageously into the risky place of love.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).

Giving our fears to Jesus is not magical. Anxieties aren’t immediately silenced. Fear isn’t –poof!—instantly gone. In fact nothing fundamentally changes. And yet, something noticeable does happen. Jesus does not ignore the cries of those who suffer. With his love, he calms your fears, he separates you from them, he releases you from their power. Remarkably he intentionally stays close to your broken heart. He has a special love and affinity for those who call out to him when they’re hurting. With a tangible presence he surrounds you with unfailing love and comforts you in your troubles. It’s of great consolation to me that there is nothing that can separate us from that love—not even our frenzied fears for today nor our worst-case-scenarios for tomorrow, as hellish as they may seem.

(Psalm 9:12, Zeph 3:17, Psalm 34:4 & 18, Psalm 145:18, Psalm 32:10, 2 Cor 1:3-4, Romans 8:38)

https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2014/10/29/series-on-suffering-8-a-pause/

Lost

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We walked the beach at low tide on Friday. The sun was beginning to set, and the beach was perfect; the water calm and a light breeze blowing.

We walked and we talked, at peace with all of life.

As we turned to make our way back at the end of the beach, we saw a man running. A bit farther on, a woman had stopped and was calling frantically to him. He ran up to her, put his arm around her. Her sobs carried across the sand “We need to find her, we need to call the cops. We need to do something!”

Someone was missing, and that someone was dearly loved. We were witnessing her mom and dad, desperate to find her. Suddenly the beach took on a different atmosphere. Farther up, we saw more people looking. At this point the mom was shaking with sobs. We began walking toward them, hearts sinking, wanting to offer help.

A few seconds later a cry echoed from up the beach. “We’ve found her, we have her!” A little girl was walking, surrounded by a group of people. The mom broke all records, running, running to get her girl.

We stopped and spoke to complete strangers, all of us teary, moved by the intense drama of the moment.  A lost little girl was now found. This was a happy ending. Of all the endings possible, of all the images that went through the minds of those parents, this is the one they longed for: To be reunited with their lost, little girl.

We walked back, sobered and grateful. That which was lost, was now found.

I don’t know how many of you are parents, but whether you are or aren’t, you can imagine the joy and relief of the couple on the beach. And those of us who are parents? Our fear is that our kids will be lost; lost physically, lost spiritually, lost emotionally. We long for our kids to be found; the prodigal son come home, the fatted calf killed, the feast of homecoming celebrated.

Lost – gone astray, missing the way, destroyed or ruined. The mere word brings grief.

Found – discovered, recovered, reclaimed. The grace of being found.

As we left, the sky was a glorious palette of blues, pinks, and purples. And that which was lost, was found. 

Today, may we rejoice in the found ones, and pray for the lost ones.

A Safe Sanctuary

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The snow is blowing all around us. 8 feet of snow piled on every side. When we open the back door it piles through the doorway. No one is even bothering to shovel because there is no where to put it.

By contrast the inside of our apartment is warm and dry. Bright daylight pours through the windows. Warm blankets fall over couches, evidence of their recent use. Pillows sit haphazardly on chairs, ready to be arranged by the one who sits down.

A well-stocked refrigerator, hot drinks, plenty of fruit and vegetables — all of these are present.

We have a safe sanctuary away from cold, wet, snow, and ice. In this space we are impervious to the elements that rage on the outside. Security and safety are all here, within these walls, in this space.

I think about this, and about safety. In a moment it could all change and I know this. Safety is something of an illusion. On Sunday night I saw this yet again as I heard the news that a beloved priest was tragically killed in a car accident. He leaves behind his young wife and six children. He was driving home from his Parish when snow began to fall and suddenly with no warning driving conditions were no longer safe. Nothing could have prepared the family. Life changed in a moment for them. 

Safety – what is it? We can be in dangerous places and yet safe because we know who protects us. We can be in secure places and feel frightened. Physical safety is relative.

I think about storms that rage, whether they be physical storms or emotional storms, and how important it is to have a sanctuary, but also how having a sanctuary is a privilege. A huge privilege.

Know your safe people and cry and laugh with them. Be kind to those who aren’t safe, but don’t let them into your sanctuary.

I wrote the words above in a piece called “Dear New Mom” and as I think about safety and sanctuary, I revisit them.  Where does vulnerability fit into all of this? A heart surrounded by ice, thinking the ice prevents it from being broken, is little good to anyone. A friend reminded me of the words below by CS Lewis. She wrote them in response to my piece on connecting the head and the heart.

‘Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket of selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change, it will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.’

There is being vulnerable and then there is being safe. Can safety and vulnerability coexist?

I think they have to. Particularly at different points in our lives. Only when we feel safe can we be vulnerable. When we are in the midst of a crisis, be it a marital or other crisis, it’s difficult to be vulnerable. Because all of our safeguards are gone.

When we let people who are not safe into the sanctuaries of our souls they tend to break things. They take those fragile pieces and treat them poorly, throwing them around, tossing out words and behaviours that shatter our safety. And when those fragile pieces break, it can take a lot of work to put them back together. Trust is broken easily, but repaired slowly.

Several years ago I heard a story about a public school in New York City that wanted to take down the fence around the school yard. I’m not sure why, perhaps they wanted children to feel more freedom. But the opposite happened: instead of more freedom, children huddled together in the middle of the play ground. They were afraid and they could not move freely. When they had the fence, they could run and play, there was safety around the perimeter and it made all the difference. The fence, instead of constricting, gave freedom.

We need fences in the sanctuaries of our souls. We are not made to be emotionally naked with everyone, everyone is not safe. But with proper fences, we have freedom to be vulnerable. 

So know your safe people, and be vulnerable with them. But keep proper fences, not walls that cannot be penetrated, but fences that allow freedom around the sanctuary of your soul.

Blogger’s note: Just a note that the first couple paragraphs of this was written in the middle of a snow storm. There are no snow storms raging around me right now, and for that, I am grateful!

On Protection in the New Year

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When I look back at parenting small children I sometimes take in a sharp breath. Not because anything tragic happened, but because tragedies could have happened, and many times over. From croup that sounded like a wounded puppy, in an isolated area with no medical help, to high fevers and salmonella, you cannot parent five children without several ‘catch your breath’ moments.

And I think about protection. And how much we want it and need it and pray for it. Protection. Preservation. Safety. Shelter. Refuge. Strength. So many words associated with protection. From the minute our babies are born we are endowed with a fierce need to protect. Our babies are the gap in our armor, the place where an enemy can send a sword and pierce us, sometimes fatally.

Protection. Protect — “[pruhtekt] to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult, etc.;cover or shield from injury or danger.”

But babies grow up and as they grow, our ability to protect diminishes by thousands. No longer are we with them night and day. We share them with people, some worthy and others unworthy, and we let them out of our sight. We know that this is what makes a healthy adult, but it is not without fear that we release them.

If we are honest, we know that even when they are small a certain amount of danger in the form of germs is a good thing. A healthy immune system is not born of protection but of exposure.

What about us? What about me and my family in the new year? Is a certain amount of danger a good thing? Is a bit of risk necessary? Is protection from God born, not of isolation, but of exposure?

Just as we cannot protect our children from everything, we cannot protect ourselves as we go into the unknown of the year. We don’t know the paths where we will trip, the places where we will shudder under the weight of fear.

A year ago I wrote a piece on fear. In that piece I wrote this:

“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.”

While thinking about protection, I picked up a Christmas present from my daughter, Annie. The book is a new one by Eula Biss titled On Immunity: An Innoculation. I loved Biss’s first book, No Man’s Land, and my daughter was quite sure I would love this one as well. Her most recent work comes from the personal experience of researching vaccinations when pregnant with her son. In the first few pages of the book, Biss recounts the familiar story of Achilles. So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed. Thus the famous story of Achilles heel.

The point is clear. There is no way we can shield ourselves from all the danger, sadness, hurt that comes our way in life; no way we can protect ourselves from the same in this new year.

The more I ponder this, the more comfort I feel. The picture I see in my mind is me, standing on the sand of a vast ocean, holding my arms forward in surrender, in humility. Like the tide of the ocean, the year will come with joy and with sorrow, it will hold things I will love and things I will hate. There will be times where I feel exposed but I will never be without his Presence.

As I was writing this, a memory came to mind of my son Joel. We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when he slipped on the sharp edge of a bed and cut open an area right above his eye. He was two years old, screaming and bleeding profusely. Somehow we made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile, and a kind doctor took care of the wound, with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.” I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough. 

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” Isaiah 66:13a

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

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“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.” 

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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

When Fear Proves Love

What if the fear we sometimes feel for our kids is what we need to remind us we love them? Great post this Friday with Robynn.

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The Kansas River near De Soto, Kansas.

My son Connor and his friend Barnabas went on an adventure. Late Saturday afternoon, February 9th, they loaded up two kayaks and pushed off into the Kansas River. They searched out a sandbar where they set up camp and spent the night.

It would be good to keep in mind that Connor is not quite 16. Barnabas is 14. It’s winter time here in Kansas. Although it could have been worse, the temperatures did dip to 40 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday night. The forecast called for a 60% chance of rain. There was a blustery wind that blew all night long. The adventure involved water, sand, boats, tents and fire.

For the record I was against the adventure from the start. I didn’t think it was a good idea. But Lowell, the Dad was keen, and even excited, for Connor to plan such an event. He was supportive, helped Connor track down the supplies and the gear.

I kept wondering aloud if this was such a good idea. No one seemed to listen.

I kept suggesting deferring the adventure for another time, or maybe eliminating one of the components. What if they just went kayaking? Or what if they went winter camping? Perhaps camping in April would be a good idea? They kept talking and planning and ignoring. I remember reading that dad’s exist to slowly separate moms from the child. I remember reading somewhere else that dads encourage adventure and risk, that moms want safety. Or maybe I made that all up…but it kept me quiet. I didn’t, and I could have, put my foot down and adamantly stomp out the whole crazy idea.

And so the boys went camping in the winter rain. When Lowell dropped them off it started to hail!

When Connor was first born in faraway India nearly 16 years ago I was completely overwhelmed. Hormones, fatigue, and lack of support structures pushed me into a deep agonizing place. Those first months were not pleasant ones. My expectations for me as a mother were dashed. I thought I’d be amazing. Instead I was tired and sore, empty and emotional.  I even wondered if I had any affection for this baby boy that cried, that interrupted my sleep, that disturbed my roles, that disrupted my ideals.

On Easter Sunday that year we took a tiny baby boy out to the village to worship with one of the village churches we had come to love. The women, girls, and grandmothers all descended with exuberance on this little, very white, bubba! They scooped him up. They doted on him. They loved him enthusiastically! At one point one of the Aunties took him next door to see another Auntie. When they brought him back several minutes later they had put kajol on him. Kajol, charcoal (sometimes in pencil form, sometimes straight from the fire place) is placed in the eyes of baby boys as a primitive type of eye liner. It serves to confuse the gods. Perhaps they’ll think this baby now made-up is a girl and they won’t harm him. It also protects the boy child from the evil eye. A large black spot is usually applied on the forehead or cheek to make the baby seem less than perfect. That way the “evil eye” won’t be jealous, or won’t want to do its part in harming the child.  It’s also used simply to accessorize the baby…like the large flowers that moms attach to bands that wrap around new baby girl’s heads…just for pretty!

Thousands of babies in India have kajol applied all the time. It’s a mark of love really, born out of a desire to protect. But when I saw it on my small Connor I freaked out. I smiled and masked my panic but it was there nonetheless. I imagined blindness and eye infections. I was horrified. But I’m well versed and trained in crossing cultures and I kept it together until we got home. And then I cried. And cleaned gently the coal from my Connor’s eyes. And pleaded with Jesus to protect my baby.

I realized, in my panic, that I loved my baby. I was so relieved. The monster mama bear that rose up within me to protect my son was an unexpected guest. I was so happy to meet her. I was so pleased she showed up. My fear somehow, in a slightly twisted way, proved I loved my son. Anxiety mysteriously affirmed my affections!

However I knew I couldn’t live in paranoia and panic. In a deeper place, past the panic, I knew I wanted to be truly at home in India. I wanted to relax and let India love my children. I wanted my children to know India and to be completely at home there. I would have to face my fears. I turned to the only Person I know who specializes in Peace. I poured out my heart to Jesus. I asked him if he might help me to relate to Connor as a mother relates to her 10th child. I wanted to be laid back and relaxed as a mother.

I wanted to be like Mary Jo Hawkinson.

Mary Jo is an amazing mother. At the time of Connor’s birth she had birthed 10 of her own babies. She’s made for it. She loves completely. She nurtures deeply. She was made to mother and she’s embraced that calling with energy, with a mellow manner, with mercy. Mary Jo mothers well. I prayed to be like her.

And I think God transformed my heart that Easter Sunday years ago. I became comfortable in my parenting. I’ve been quite laid back ever since. I don’t freak out often. I’m relaxed.

Saturday night Lowell and I were talking about Connor and Barnabas. We wondered how they were doing. Lowell was more anxious than he thought he’d be. I was worried too. We no longer need the reassurance of fear to convince us that we love Connor. We’re crazy about the kid!  As we talked I remembered that prayer I had prayed years before, the prayer to become like Mary Jo, and I chuckled.

Chuckled because that prayer, prayed in desperation 16 years ago, had come full circle. My first-born was out camping with Mary Jo’s baby. You see Barnabas is Mary Jo’s eleventh and last child!

Connor came home exhausted but impishly victorious! Both boys agreed they’d like to do it again but maybe they’d wait for warmer weather–I applaud that idea.

I saw Mary Jo at church. As you might imagine she wasn’t at all worried. She did admit she might have had second thoughts if there had been bears! But we don’t have bears in Kansas.