(for chapter one, see link at top of page. )
Before I begin this chapter, I want to discuss a parenthetical topic. A number of people have confessed to me that they have also secretly wished their own stories were different. The thing is, they have whispered, it was a wonderful, happy childhood. They came to know the love of the Lord at an early age and never messed around with drugs or alcohol or pornography; they have experienced no broken relationships or the tightening noose of addiction. God has never had to rescue them from a slimy pit of their own making. They believe this means they don’t have a radical testimony to share. To them, I say this: Yes. You. Do. What a testimony of God’s grace that kept you from the scars inevitably left when playing around with obvious sin. What a testimony of His goodness manifested in families that walked in His ways and loved accordingly! Yes, it is true that God rescues us and uses us no matter where we have been, but the gift of Grace in Jesus doesn’t always erase the physical laws that are attached to certain sins and addictions. Sin always brings pain. The truth is, we ALL need the grace of God and the fact that He gives it to any who ask is the beautiful testimony in and of itself. Please recognize that there is no more glory in being rescued from a putrid pigpen than there is in being rescued from a high rise apartment with an ocean view or a little log cabin in the woods. The glory is in His rescue alone.
Chapter 2: Facing Fear
If I could go back and pen my own introduction to my life story, it would read differently than the reality. I know, I know – when we give God the broken pieces of our past, He puts them back together and creates a beautiful new vessel. I know that. I believe that. I’ve experienced that. Still. If I could have a do-over, I’d take it. (Except that I probably wouldn’t have the amazing six children I now have. Never mind; forget the do-over.) If I had written my own protagonist’s pages, I would have been someone like, oh, say, “Charlotte Norris: the fearless Martial Artist” (She’d be Chuck Norris’ distant cousin and a legend in craft rooms around the world, breaking things with her bare hands while creating works of art. Oh wait…) Or perhaps there would be poetic chapters about surviving the Amazon Jungle. Or lofty monologues describing my teen adventures of backpacking through the Swiss Alps and staring death in the face with an unrivaled courage. Fearless. But that is not my story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
This debilitating, this crippling emotion plagued me for decades. Sometimes it was aggressive and venomous, a slithering snake injecting its poison and paralyzing me. Other times it was much more subtle, a hidden prison bracelet worn about my ankle, irritating and chafing, allowing me to only go so far before sounding a warning. Most of the time, it was a nameless, shapeless figure loitering in the shadows, just beyond the periphery of my understanding.
So many kinds of fears.
The fear of being invisible and the fear of being seen.
The fear of the known and the fear of the unknown.
The fear of the dark.
The fear of what I saw happening in the light.
Fear that someone would discover the truth.
Fear that no one would ever learn the truth.
Fear of little things like mice and snakes and palmetto bugs and softballs I was expected to catch.
Fear of big things like strangers and flying and drowning and car crashes and getting lost.
Fear of the tangible.
Fear of the intangible.
Inescapable, unconquerable, sweaty palms and rapid heartbeat, keep-me-awake-at-night fears.
Most of those fears, however, had long been forgotten before the horrific theater shooting that shattered our quiet lives last July. See, when God’s healing takes place in our lives, the memories that once brought indescribable pain, anger or fear melt like the remnants of a dirty mound of snow beneath a sunny spring sky, leaving the ground pliable and ready for new growth. It was like that for me. A once bitterly cold winter heart has been watered by the warm grace of God through Jesus; seeds of joy, peace, love and hope have taken deep root and are producing His fruit in His time. Fear no longer stalked me.
Still, there remained a few snapshots, some slightly torn and fraying around the edges, yellowing memories glued into the photo album of my heart; faded recollections shoved way in the back because there was no point in taking them out.
Some of those photos were shaken loose on the night of July 20, 2012 and the ensuing days. Two of the most common emotions that emerge after a traumatic event are fear and anger. For several days following the carnage at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, fear and terror once again tried to strong arm their way back into my life and I felt paralyzed.
Because the thing about fear, the thing about evil, is when we give into its bullying nature we are rendered impotent.
I was well acquainted with those emotions.
As a young, freckle faced child with a seventies wardrobe (polyester bell bottoms anyone?) I lived with those beliefs of impotence and powerlessness. Looking back through old albums, I see an eager little brown-eyed girl who was totally smitten with one of her mom’s friends. He was a kind man with crinkly, laughing eyes and a belly like Santa Claus that jiggled when he laughed. Years later that moldable, eager trust had cemented into a smoldering anger and an anxiety that ate away at my insides because the attention he paid me left me feeling unclean; I was imbued with a sense of shame and humiliation. I would tremble inside when I saw him but became mute, unable to verbalize what was going on. He was not the only friend of my mother to create this same fear in me and during my teen years I slammed cupboards and bedroom doors, I stomped my feet, I cried and I fervently hoped my mother would figure it out, but she never did. At the time I didn’t understand; despite the fact that I couldn’t tell her, I thought she should just know.
Once I became a parent of teens myself, I realized that moms and dads cannot read young people’s minds, especially when they are caught up in battles of their own. As a word of encouragement to other parents, I would like to suggest to you to be aware. If you suspect something is going on with your child, or if you notice a change in behavior, talk to them. Oftentimes a child will not be able to verbalize what they are going through, so e-mails and/or journals are a great, less intimidating way to communicate for them. For example, once one of my children suddenly started making excuses for not going to youth group. Previously this child loved the weekly meetings. I questioned the child but he/she hemmed and hawed and gave no clear answer. Finally I sent an e-mail saying I was worried. Turns out the youth pastor was going through a series on sexual relations/sexual purity and this child was just young enough to be uncomfortable with that. It was a simple thing, but could have been something far bigger and it was worth the effort to communicate in a way that my child felt comfortable with. Young people – if you are going through a troubling time, please, please talk to or communicate with a trustworthy adult. Keeping things inside never makes them go away.
Another childhood panic inducer was the ex-wife of one of my mom’s friends. This woman was mentally unstable and would arrive at our home brandishing a gun and making volatile threats. The mere mention of her name, or the sight of her white station wagon slowly making its way up our street turned my insides to jelly and I had nightmares about her for years. I remember huddling under the covers one winter night, soaked with sweat and not understanding since it was cold out. Why was I sweating? Looking back, I realized I was scared enough to be perspiring profusely!
Then there was “Crazy George” as he was dubbed. George was a scary looking man who had recently been released from a mental hospital and moved into the apartment below us in the dilapidated building we called home for a few years. Many times my siblings and I were alone at night and as a young adolescent and teen I would lie awake terrified of the banging and muttering I heard coming through the floor boards.
I don’t think i need to share all of the details for you to realize I understand fear. Like I said, if I could write my own story, I would not have been a wimpy kid, full of anxiety and fears. Instead I would have been a Fearless Warrior who let nothing stop her, but apart from the illusion of courage that alcohol gave me, I was timorous and cautious right up through adulthood. I tried positive self-talk programs and read books on how to overcome fear. I became a proponent of Tony Robbins’ The Giant Within, but nothing helped; there was no fearless giant in this girl, just a timid, cowering child. It became particularly notable during the years I lived in Florida. I had such a phobia of palmetto bugs (for those unfamiliar with a palmetto bug, think cockroach) that at one point I left Scott, took our two young sons and moved back to Vermont. It sounds ridiculous now, but I was terrified of those scurrying little creatures of the dark! I attempted counseling while in Vermont. I cannot remember the name of the particular form of counseling used, but it was a secular program and basically a desensitization process. For example, a person with a phobia of snakes would first be shown photos of snakes, then move up to being in the same room as a snake, and hopefully get to the point where he or she could actually touch a snake without hyperventilating. It didn’t help me; likely because my fears were deeply rooted, and because I could see my counselor had issues of her own. (I am not against secular counseling; I think that it can be beneficial for behavior modification. But I firmly believe that it can never have the transforming power of God’s Spirit!)
Anyway, I got tired of being separated from my husband and after a few weeks he drove to Vermont to bring the boys and me home. It wasn’t long after our return that I encountered the Lord. I began to devour Scripture and one of the first verses I memorized was Isaiah 41:10:
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with the righteousness of my right hand.
I cannot tell you how profoundly this Scripture changed me. At first it was a subtle change, but when the Word of God collides with the Spirit of God in a person, it becomes a powerful, transforming truth. As I began to understand the miracle of Emmanuel, God with us most of my fears dissolved. I recognized the majority of them stemmed from a sense of lack of control over situations. Giving that control over to God brought incredible peace and freedom. When we were stationed in England, I met an old friend that I used to spend days at the park with in Florida. She looked at me quizzically and said “What happened to you? You look so, so…happy!” Anxiety ages us and wears on us physically; the abiding peace of Christ is a great cosmetic!
Fast forward to the days following July 20, 2012.
I have read about evil and heard it on the news and been horrified; I’ve lamented and prayed about the tragedies infesting our world. But then I would close the newspaper or turn off the news and plan our Sunday dinner.
It was different when evil had the audacity to enter my own turf, to come close enough for me to smell his vileness and look into his empty eyes. I discovered there is no simply going back to a Sunday pot roast after depravity enters your movie theater and guns down your children’s innocence, when it blows up a town’s sense of security.
It was two days before I actually slept; for some time the reality of evil in the world, in my world, shook me to the very core. I had bouts of panic and anxiety. The first time I went to JC Penny’s, at the end of July, I discovered it had been remodeled and I was totally disoriented. I had to leave. During my first trip to the grocery store I found myself scanning the aisles searching for shooters and looking for places to take cover.
Fear had reappeared, had pushed his way back into my life. I did not want him here.
So I cried out to the Lord.
He reminded me that He has not given me a spirit of fear but of power and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
I thought about that truth and remembered the moment when I was lying on the theater floor, my nose pressed against the dirty, old carpet, certain that death was imminent. In that moment I experienced His presence and His perfect peace.
I wanted to live that way. Consistently.
I did not want to go back to the place where fear of evil had my life on a leash. I thought about the first Scripture I memorized, and suddenly I understood that since God is with me all the time, I CAN live consistently in that peace, not just in moments of great terror but all of the little moments of gnawing anxiety as well.
The enemy of our souls would love to render us impotent, to keep us so bound up in fear and anxiety and worry that we are useless for the Kingdom.
God has provided a way for us to be more than conquerors in Christ.
Truth is, after a traumatic event there will likely be physical reactions to certain stimuli, at least for a period of time. The fire alarms at school still make me teary-eyed and kids yelling in the lunchroom temporarily freezes me. But these are knee jerk reactions; much like a muscle spasm they quickly disappear.
I. Will. Not. Live. In. Fear.
Here are promises and principals from the Word of God that I am living instead:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” Exodus 14:13
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God is with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6 (This is a personal favorite of mine – there is much joy in the knowledge that God never, ever leaves me.)
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8
Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; for the LORD will be your confidence and keep your foot from being caught. Proverbs 3:25-26
Believers, if you are struggling with anxiety, worry or fear, please allow the truths of the Scriptures to be transformed by the Spirit of God within you into a living reality.
It’s not enough to memorize the words; you (and I) by faith must allow Him to make them a living truth in our lives.
There is nothing that can separate you (or me) from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus and from His healing power.
By faith you received Him.
By faith believe that He who began the good work in you will be faithful to complete it.
Here is a word of hope from Billy Graham:
God promises us hope – hope that someday all the evils and injustices of this life will be destroyed. Jesus warned, “In this life yo will have trouble,” but he immediately added ,”But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 Everything that makes you fearful or anxious is only temporary for when Christ returns they will be destroyed.
Before I close I have to confess: I still have a fear of heights and a fear of public speaking. But I am allowing God to work on both of these in my life and I won’t allow them to interfere with anything He calls me to. I will take every fear, every worry that comes my way, and hand it over to Jesus.
I am praying the same is true for you.