Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Faith Bigger Than Fear

Over the last few weeks, I have had several people ask almost the exact same question: "What's your story?"  It has challenged me to think about what my story really is.  Prior to this week, I might have used a few key words to describe me that showed my strength or perseverance in times of difficulty.  I might have started with being a single mom putting myself through school.  I might have said something about learning to trust who God is and what I want to do with that knowledge.  I might have even said that I am not really defined by who I was, but more by who I am now.  I might have said my past is just that - my past.  It was no longer really a defining part of my story, because I no longer live there, it is no longer my present reality.

Until yesterday.  Yesterday, I had a bad day.  Like the kind of bad day that starts before you really even wake up.  Before the first cup of coffee kind of bad.  I woke up yesterday morning to a feeling I had long forgotten.  A feeling I thought I had overcome and was far behind me.  I am not sure what brought it on, what triggered it, or what I can do to prevent it from happening again.  But I do know this.  That fear that I thought was no more, was suddenly popping in for a surprise visit.  My fear was real, and it ran deep.  So deep, I didn't even know it was still there.

I can't even pretend it didn't bother me.  I can't pretend I laughed it off as a reminder of who I used to be.  I want to pretend it didn't almost consume me.  But, the reality of my situation was this: this fear used to consume my every moment.  It had the potential of consuming my present and it most definitely had the possibility of capturing a few of my tomorrows, too.  Unless I said no. 

Something I am still learning is that I get to choose.  I get to choose: with God or without?  I get to choose: being sad today or finding something to be joyful about?  I get to choose: yes or no.  I get to choose: ice cream or cake (and we all know the right answer to that one is always both!).  I get to choose: speaking life or death.  The point is, yesterday, I had to choose: fear of man or freedom with God?

Crazy enough, I told a friend on Sunday that God had really been speaking some profound (quite simple, really) concepts about fear and freedom to me and how the two just don't ever seem to work well together.  We can't fear something and it not hold us captive, even if just kinda, maybe, sorta captive.  I remember mentioning how thankful I was that fear didn't hold me any longer.  Thankful that I was free. 

While I don't regret those words, I am pretty sure I would've kept them to myself if I had known what would be happening for the next twelve hours.  One reminder after another of so many fears I thought I was free from.  I thought I was free from the shame.  I thought I was free from the panic.  I thought I was free from the worry.  I thought I was free from the fear.  I thought I was free from the one who created those moments. In one single night, all of my confidence came crashing down.  I had a choice to make.  Be free or be afraid?

And in one single night (okay, and pretty much the whole next day, too), I realized freedom does not happen when we choose to allow fear into our minds.  I woke up yesterday in a panic.  Not because I was afraid of those things ever happening again, but because those weak moments of fear and panic were happening again.  My mind filled with worry that maybe I wasn't as healthy as I thought I was.  That maybe my forward progress had turned around.  Three years of freedom, and it felt like it was all spiraling out of control.  The fact remained that I remembered things and situations that once caused me physical and emotional pain brought a fear that I hadn't forgiven.  The fact that I once was someone I now am not made me fear being worth where God is taking me.  The fact that just the simple knowledge that the nightmares weren't just dreams, but real memories created a fear so painful and so real I felt as though they had just happened to me.

Throughout my day yesterday, I continued to think about fear and how to be bigger or braver or stronger than my fear.  I focused on the fear (which kept me from focusing on my freedom).  While my bigger fear was fear of becoming who I used to be again, and having to live life in a hopeless, dangerous situation, fear isn't always a traumatic situation.  Sometimes it is the supposedly simple act of letting go and letting God lead us where He wants us to be.  Sometimes this fear moves in because we don't really see a way out when we think we need one.  Sometimes, it can be that daunting job application that is eighteen  (yes, seriously, eighteen!) pages long.  When we allow our fear to become bigger than our God, we are pretty much binding our own hands together, turning the lock and throwing out the key.  Something God really laid on my heart Sunday is that whatever it is we fear the most will hold the heaviest chains around us. 

Pretty much, God has given us two choices.

Plan A: We can carry these chains, day in and out, praying the weight doesn't kill us, that no one finds out that one thing we are most afraid of.  Being alone.  Unloved.  Unneeded.  Unimportant.  Feeling weak.  Standing out.  Finding the right job.  Doesn't really matter what the fear is.  What matters is that you can choose to embrace that fear and live held captive by it.  Worried.  Stressed.  Sad.  Lonely.  Uncertain.  Tired.

Plan B (or C or D and/or E, because this really isn't the easy choice): You can take those fears to the one who created fear in the first place.  You can choose to call out that fear to the one who already knows how you will defeat it.  You can make the choice to live a faith bigger than your fears, choosing the freedom God so desperately desires for you to live in.  Fear and freedom cannot co-exist.  Which are you going to choose to exist with?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Transition Wasn't Meant to Be Easy

As a Mom of three amazing kids, I have had the absolute joy (not) of being in the transitional stages of labor three very difficult times.  No, this post is not going to be about the pains of childbirth or any of my birthing experiences.  It is just an easy to relate to sort of experience, I guess.  I have entered this weird stage of life transition.  Not because anything is physically changing, but because I know life as I used to know it is behind me.  I've taken months off.  In my time off, I finished the most difficult courses of my college history (Oh yes, history.  As in past.  As in done!)  I attempted to regain some form of normalcy.  Yet, nothing feels normal.  While this huge goal was completed, it left a sense of change looming.  Nothing looked different.  Still, everything was.  Something great is in the midst.

Something I feel coming into this new year is just this sense of amazing things happening in my life.  Has God directly spoken new plans and purposes and snapped it all into place?  Nope.  Can I see His mighty hand preparing the way? No, not really.  But, just the same, I know it is happening.  While I don't really like this time of transition, I know it is developing me for something greater.  Nine years ago, I experienced a transition period that led me to becoming a Mom.  No greater joy than what I experienced that Wednesday evening.  But, let me just skip the yuck and say it was not an easy, pleasurable experience.  It was the most intense pain I have ever been in. 

Transitional times are never easy.  They are a time of great expectancy, knowing something huge is getting ready to happen, yet typically a time of growth, pain, despair or hopelessness that the miracle will just never get here.  It hit me tonight, that it is through the most insane pain of our lives that the most amazing miracles will occur.  If we suffer nothing, the gift we receive means little.  Kinda like no pain, no gain.
Waiting on something exciting, a new car, a new baby, that amazing cruise to the Bahamas, whatever it is, it isn't easy.  We get excited at the beginning of the process, knowing we get to plan the experience of a lifetime.  The wait is easy at the beginning, because the excitement outweighs the length of the wait.  As time progresses, we may waiver between nervous anticipation over stretch marks, leather or cloth seats or if motion sickness will get the best of you - again.  But, in the end, the excitement still wins out.  As you wait a little longer, you may get frustrated at the inability to find the perfect name, make and model, or if the cost is seriously worth it.  We start to doubt it is going to happen when and how we want it.  We get tired.  We get cranky.  Our dreams become a little less clear, and way less fun.  We start to wonder if the days could possibly pass any slower. 

Then suddenly, it appears.  Labor starts (or the new car is available in just the right shade, or even better, that cost of the cruise was just reduced 75% off).  Emotions get a little crazy.  Excitement.  Anticipation.  Uncertainty.  Pain increases.  That car bill comes.  Clothes get forgotten at home - or worse, sunscreen.  There comes a point in most things that it just doesn't seem fun anymore.  What you are going through just doesn't seem worth the wait, worth the cost, worth the sacrifice.  You just want to be done.  And you just can't be done.  You have no choice.  If you really want what it is you are expecting to receive, you have to finish the process. 

It is in those hours (whether they be real hours, or hours that stretch into months or years) that we learn what real pain feels like.  We have no choice but to wait as something incredible is going to happen.  Now, we can force that something to happen sooner.  We can elect to have that C-section three days sooner.  We can buy that car that isn't exactly what we wanted, but it'll do.  We can go on that cruise ship, even though you doubt it's ability to sail.  But, when we do this, are we really getting what we want or need?  Do we learn what we were supposed to learn for the season we were in?  As a very pregnant, first time momma-to-be, those were the longest hours of my life.  You know what I learned?  Those moments of the most insane pain of my life were worth it.  Those moments I wanted to give up and flee from the room because of the pain would have allowed me a way out, but could have caused major harm to the little girl God was blessing me with.  Those moments of pain were soon forgotten when the miracle bloomed forth, and a baby was placed in my arms.  We forget the difficult moments when we get to hold that promise in our arms. 

When we wait out those moments of pain, seeking God in the midst of them, we learn a lot about life.  We learn about this incredible God who doesn't always ease the pain of the moment.  We do learn He is the greatest Comforter we could ever have the possibility of knowing.  We learn about this Creator who has the ability to bring forth something that is completely worth the wait, the pain, and the tears.  This Creator who does, in fact, work for our good, and for no greater reason than because He loves us and we are His. 

We show God that waiting on Him has never felt more right, despite the pain and frustration.  We fail.  We falter.  We mess up.  And we realize, He is still there, waiting for us.  Preparing us for the greatness He created us for. Transitioning us for the greatest times of our lives.  And, then, when we are finally ready, we hands us this promise, reminding us He never forgot and had it planned perfectly all along.