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?