Sunday, December 4, 2016

When Fear Wins

When I was in high school, I had a very wise friend--wise beyond her years.  She was thoughtful and compassionate.  She was a great listener.  She was a prayer warrior, even as a teenager.  There were many times when we would talk.  I often veered the conversation to "what if" statements.  What if my grades weren't good enough for a scholarship?  What if my boyfriend went away to college?  What if my voice wouldn't get better?  What if my family falls apart when I go off to college?  What if, what if, what if.  This young sage said to me, "Amber, one simply can't live by "what ifs".  You have to live by what is."  Boom!  Straight and simple and so true.  While it took me awhile (and lots of counseling) to adopt that mentality, I can honestly say that as an adult, I often hear my friend's words when life gets dicey.  I'm tempted to embrace the downward spiral of "what ifs", but instead, I pause, take inventory of what is, then go from there.

There have been so many times in my life where fear has been my motivator, my challenge, my nightmare.  To write about all of them would depress us all, and take me down the darkest part of memory lane.  I have selected a few events in my past where I can perfectly remember the impact of fear on my heart and mind.  The furthest back that I can remember being mind-consuming afraid was when I was in elementary school.  I remember being in the fellowship hall of our church with my sister in our cooking and sewing class.  I remember that on that day, we rode from school to our class with our saintly teacher, Mrs. Miriam.  While we were working on some kind of sewing project (meaning Andrea was soaring through it with ease and beauty, whilst I possibly had two correct stitches out of twenty), one of the girls from the college ministry, Nicolle, who sometimes babysat us came in to the fellowship hall with our little brother, Tyler.  This was alarming because Tyler and Timothy were normally with Mama during this time.  Nicolle pulled us to the side with Mrs. Miriam and told us that she would be taking us home from class.  Timothy had been taken to the hospital with Scarlet Fever, and Mama and Daddy were with him.  Timothy had already been through so much medically, but what I knew of Scarlet Fever was what I had learned from reading and watching Anne of Green Gables.  So, naturally, my movie-wired mind went to worst case scenario where my baby brother was dying in the hospital (I had a small draw to the dramatics).

I remember when I was in high school, and I loved to sing.  I was involved in youth choir at church and chorus and Broadway musical at school.  I loved to perform, to learn new styles of music, and to attempt to make others feel good through music.  I remember on and off through middle and high school when my voice would simply disappear.  I would go for days at a time with only a whisper.  I remember going to the family doctor, then to the ear, nose and throat doctor, and finally to a specialist at Bowman-Grey in Winston-Salem.  I remember the rounds of testing that gave no conclusive answer.  I remember having to stop singing in chorus and of having to become the girl who turned the pages of sheet music for our music teacher.  I remember the surgery where I had to remain awake and talk and sing while the doctor pushed, poked and examined my vocal cords.  I had six weeks of complete vocal rest after that surgery.  We had learned through the surgery that my left vocal cord was completely paralyzed, and that I kept losing my voice because nodules, polyps, and cysts would develop due to the right vocal cord doing all of the work.  I remember laughing when the doctor told me that I had been given a silicone implant in my left cord to fatten it up so the right cord would get a little break.  I loved telling people that I had a silicone implant, but only on the left side (my Mama did not enjoy that joke).  I remember during the time of silence wondering what my voice would sound like or would I even have a voice?  I was so scared that a part of me was gone forever.

I remember when I was expecting my first baby.  I lived 8 hours away from my family and friends.  My husband was in the Navy and was often gone.  We had just moved to a town where we knew no one.  My sister had come to help me unpack and set up house--we had only been in our new town for one week, and I had two months to go before my baby was due to arrive.  I remember waking up on August 20, 2003 and going to the bathroom and knowing something wasn't right.  I remember yelling for my sister who called 911.  I remember being wheeled out of our home on a stretcher to the sight of a firetruck, police car and ambulance in our tiny front yard.  I remember the hours and hours of labor to bring this sweet one into the world.  I remember her being born, and there was no sound--no scream, no cry.  I remember the nurse rushing to the bed and taking my baby away.  I remember her blue face.  I remember the first sound from her lips that didn't sound human at all.  I remember being in and out of consciousness and hearing words like "air lift to Jacksonville", "she's not breathing steadily on her own", "she's too early."  I remember fearing that my first baby was not going to live.

I remember when my husband told me he wanted a divorce.  The words resonated through our new dream home as if they had been said over a loudspeaker.  I remember the shock and hurt.  I remember the feeling as if my stomach was going to leave my body.  I remember the tears that poured while no sound came out of my mouth.  I remember the pain of having him tell our children.  I remember the innocent faces of our two children crumbling into hysterics as they heard the words that their father wanted to leave.  I remember the silent days immediately following where I felt lost and confused.  I was a stay-at-home wife who homeschooled our children.  I had just completed my Master's Degree.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  No job.  No plan.  No money.  No idea what was next.  I remember the big man from the bank coming to our door to tell me the house payments had not been made in over six months, and that the next time he came, he would be removing my children and me. I remember another bank calling to tell me they were looking for me because the car I drove had not had payments made.  I remember feeling betrayed.  I remember feeling abandoned.  I remember preparing to flee.  I remember putting together a temporary plan filled with mistakes in order to shut out the hurt.  I remember thinking I had lost my way.  I was terrified.

My most recent battle with fear has been over what I believe, what my call is, what I stand for.  I remember the first moment when I was faced with the decision to lie in order to hold on to a position.  I remember the feeling of panic after being repeatedly told there were people I worked under who wanted me gone.  I remember the fear of facing who I was.  Was I willing to give the appearance that all is well, when the truth was marred?  Was I willing to lead people I loved and who trusted me down a path that was being revealed to me as deceitful?  Was I ready to allow people to continually hurt and belittle me when I fight so hard against that in the lives of my children?  What would happen if I left a job that I loved?  What would happen to the people I loved?  If I walked away from a job without another one lined up, how could I financially contribute to my family?  I was afraid of disappointing people I loved.  On the flip side, I was also fearful of what the ramifications would be if I disobeyed the blinding reality and extremely loud instructions the Lord was laying in the hearts of my husband, my children and me.  I was afraid.

Here's what I know about fear.  It is debilitating.  It is consuming.  It is painful.  It is damaging.  Fear takes the truth and twists it into a believable lie.  Fear justifies unwise choices.  Fear breaks people.  Here's what I know about God.  He does not want us to live in fear.  He has gifted us with a beautiful life, with free will, with a stunning creation, with wonderful people.  He LOVES me.  He LOVES you.  He wants us to make decisions that will bring Him glory and that will give us the best life possible.  He wants us to obey His Word and His way; not as a dictator, but as a loving father.

Through all of these fear-filled stories in my life, God prevailed in amazing ways.  My baby brother, Timothy, broke through that fever and many other illnesses that followed.  He is one of the most intelligent, loyal and humorous people in my world.  God taught me that He holds my family closer that I will ever understand.  My voice lost the 1st soprano range, but I have a voice.  I can still talk, sing and laugh.  God taught me about humility and the power of humor through that ordeal.  My little blue baby is now an incredibly talented, compassionate, and loving teenager.  She has some struggles, but she is the strongest person I know.  God showed me that His gifts are good, and that He is faithful through the battle for my baby.  Divorce is a horrific process, and one I pray against for the families in my life.  It is draining in every sense of the word.  God showed me that my past mistakes and hurts did not define me.  My marriage did not define me.  I have sweet memories of intimate conversations with the Lord during my times of loneliness.  God also reminded me that He is never finished with me.  Even though one man didn't want me, God had another one lined up to love me.  He blessed me with a protector, a confidant, a gladiator, and the greatest friend in my husband Brian.  God did not see damaged goods and a rejected woman.  He saw someone broken who was searching for Him.  He gifted me far greater than I deserved...isn't that one of His greatest themes?  Through the fear of leaving a job, God reminded me that He loves His church and His people far greater than I ever can.  He reminded me that His people (my brothers and sisters in Christ) who are called to His purpose and following His will for their lives will be protected and cared for by Him.  He is the Great Shepherd; and I am but a servant.

To fight the urge to give into to fear, I hold two verses close to my heart.  I repeat them to myself daily, and I share them with anyone who comes in contact with me.  "This is my command--be bold and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged.  For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go," Joshua 1:9 (NLT).  "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you," Deuteronomy 3:16 (NIV).  Whatever fear you are facing, whether from your past, current, or about your future, know that the Creator of all things LOVES you.  He is greater than any fear.  He is wanting to draw you close and guide you through the scary times.  He has a design for your life.  He can work through any mess.  You are worth fighting for; and the Lord is fighting for your heart and mind.  Give that fear to Him and rest in His love!

Be strong and courageous!

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