Things I am Horribly Afraid of

I must confess I am afraid. I am pretty sure I am not the only one out there suffering from fear. After all, it is a human emotion, a normal reaction to danger or pain. I just don’t like it. What’s worst, when I give in to it, my reactions and behaviors become detrimental to myself and those around me. Here are the things that make me most afraid:

  • My kids’ future. I fear they might not be safe, especially, but not exclusively, my autistic son. I fear they will go through painful circumstances. I fear they might make bad choices. How could they not? They are human, right? Thoughts of them not following God wholeheartedly can make me shake in my boots.
  • My own future. I fear getting old. I’ve said this before, but confessing it has not quite made it better. At least not yet. I keep working through this fear in hopes I will feel peace about it one day. Maybe when I’m old, I’ll feel peace about being old. But now, I do way too much worrying over it.
  • Loneliness. I guess it goes hand in hand with being old. Not sure why I associate them automatically. I just do.
  • Not being loved. This is not a fear I’m always aware of, but I’ve been discovering that there are many things I do and say because I am afraid I won’t be loved or accepted. Even when I know that I know that I am loved, I default to an unreasonable fear of losing it.
  • Failure. I am afraid of discovering that I may have failed at something, especially the really important things: failure in parenting; failure in marriage; failure in friendships; or as a daughter, sister, aunt.
  • Drowning. I know, I know, this is a little morbid. But hey, I’m posting about the things I am afraid of, and this is definitely one of them. Throughout my many years of driving multiple little ones in the backseat, strapped to car seats, I avoided driving near water, at all cost. Living in Miami, Florida, that was not an easy task. There are canals everywhere! Yet, I chose alternative routes whenever possible. I think I read one too many stories of cars plunging into water. The thought of that happening to me and my children haunted me in dreams for years.
  • Cockroaches. How did I live in So. Florida for almost 30 years, around mammoth roaches called Palmetto Bugs? Just the name gives me goosebumps. They are the most hideous creatures on earth, at least in my very limited knowledge of earth! I am irrationally afraid of them. They cannot really hurt me, and needless to say, they are immensely smaller than I am. My husband kills them in one swoop. But me? No, I run like a pathetic, scared, little girl.

Fear is not an evil or sinful emotion. If it were not for fear, we would not stay away from dangerous or destructive situations. God created us in his image, and I believe emotions are part of that image. In fact, I believe Jesus experienced fear while living on earth, but instead of giving in to fear and responding negatively to his circumstances, he acted in faith and trust, even in his worst moments. It is recorded that as the day of his death drew near, he went up to the mountain and desperately cried out to God. He sweat drops of blood and demonstrated tremendous anguish at the thought of what he knew very well would happen. Jesus felt fear. But he knew how to handle that fear. The danger and pain he would face were absolutely real. But he received comfort in his knowledge of the truth and by delving into prayer with every ounce of strength he had.

So here is what I’m preaching to myself. Here are the truths I need to remember in order to respond to fear in ways that are not destructive to myself or others. I do not want to be controlled by fear. Instead, I want to reflect faith in God through my anxiety, doubt, and even my disbelief. My fear can most certainly result in glory and honor to him. So remember, my heart, these words:

  • I am not alone. “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). When I feel afraid, I have a helper, the perfect helper, who will remind me to trust God and encourage me with his Word. So in time of fear, PRAY, and you will receive his help! “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). Even when I don’t have the sense to pray or the words to voice, He rescues me!
  • God always remembers me, and my children too. “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Psalm 103:17). 
  • I am more loved and accepted than I can fathom. Despite possible loneliness, failure, or disappointment, there is one whose love and delight will never be removed from me. I can draw joy and satisfaction from knowing that “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • Any suffering on earth pales in comparison with glorious things to come. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
  • Any suffering on earth has a good purpose, therefore there is no need to be afraid. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 
  • Love drives away fear. If I truly remember that his love for me is stronger than anything that can happen to me, no matter how disastrous, then I will be able to experience peace instead of fear. This peace is supernatural and I cannot fabricate it outside of God’s realm. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27)

Just as true as it is that I can live in fear, it is true that God can and will meet me at my place of need every single time! I may not always remember him, and I may not always believe his promises for me, but my hope is that I continue to grow in my trust and faith in him. I have come a long way already! I have more confidence than I did a few years ago. I have more hope than before. I have experienced victory over fears that consumed me! So in today’s blog post, I purpose to remind myself of the things God has already taught me. I am certain He will continue encouraging me and helping me overcome my fears. I must admit, I’m not sure I will ever be comfortable around roaches ;), but if I can trust him with the huge things, I think I will survive a bug once and again.

Things Above

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth

Colossians 3:2

I am committing Colossians 3 to memory. God has parked me in this passage and has used it to challenge me, teach me, confront me, and encourage me. The truths in this chapter are currently performing an amazing work of transformation in my life. What a gift from God!!

Regarding vs. 2 and it’s life-altering truth, I pray God reminds me of it in my daily life. All the time. I want my mind to be completely and solidly set on things that are much bigger, stronger, and lasting than the temporary ones in my walk on earth.

So when I wake up in the morning, I must set my mind on God’s thoughts, through meditation on his word.

When I do chores, drive my kids from place to place, pay my bills, or wash my hair, I must remember Him in all I do. His purpose for me, in the moment, includes doing all those things, and He can, and will, teach me and show me truth, even in the mundane.

When I interact with my family and friends, I must look beyond my needs and desires and practice loving God by loving others. I must put to death selfishness, as I set my mind on things above: all things lovely and good, pure and holy.

When I work at my job, I must set my mind on giving glory to God in all I do, knowing my calling is higher than the earthly activity I am involved in. As I remember this, I will use opportunities wisely, remain joyful, pray constantly, and reflect his kindness to others.

When I feel discouraged or afraid, I must remember that God has all things under his control and that he never ceases to actively work in my life and those whom he loves.

When I am tempted to be lazy or self-indulge, I must remember God’s calling and commands. May God help me fear him and obey him, be quick to repent, and receive his forgiveness.

When I am senselessly busy, may I stop and rest, and enjoy the gifts God has given me.

Lord, help me to always set my mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

clouds

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: A Perfect Description of the Past Week

This week has been some week. Seriously, a week of extremes, in circumstances, emotional reactions, and spiritual responses; a week of utter failures and amazing victories. Care to know what happened? Here it goes!

THE BAD

How about we call it, a series of unfortunate events, too many to list. Among others:

  • While the family was out enjoying Christmas activities last Sunday evening, the adorable, cuddly Bosco (the pony-sized puppy which has been living in our house the past two weeks) managed to wreak havoc by plentifully peeing on our rug, eating massive amounts of chocolate cake which in turn produced profuse diarrhea, and drinking out of the toilet bowl (I’ll spare you the details). Two days ago, I came home to chewed up carpet, because, what is more fun to a puppy than tearing up the carpet, of course.
  • On Monday, while getting ready to go out and do some last minute grocery shopping before Christmas, and while trying to maintain enough self-control to not kill the adorable, cuddly Bosco, I heard the loud crying of my oldest daughter who had twisted her ankle outside and was now not able to walk from pain, resulting in a trip to the emergency room. (This run-on sentence describes the run-on emotional toil on my already overflowing cup). Oh, and, get this, while preparing to rush Lizette to the hospital, the puppy bolted out of the house, happily galloping at the speed of sound, while all the kids (except the injured one) ran after him like mad people all over the neighborhood, to the amusement of our neighbors. At the hospital we discovered Lizette had injured ligaments and would then begin a period (which has not ended) of immobilization of the leg, as well as the use of crutches. I do not recommend crutches in a split level home….
  • My original plan was to have a peaceful Tuesday: I would take time to prepare and organize my music, as I was leading the choir for our church and we would have our dress rehearsal that evening. I would also begin my preparations for our Christmas Eve dinner, cooking some, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house. But then life happened and my Tuesday looked nothing like I had pictured it. It was rainy and cold, and I was out purchasing pain killers, doing the shopping I had not gotten done the previous day, and dealing with relational and emotional, family issues. So I panicked. Yes, I totally panicked. And what do I do when I panic? I pass it on to the husband and the kids, of course. But more on that on the “UGLY” chapter… (how’s that for a transition?)

THE UGLY

Here’s where it gets really good. You see, ugly is so ugly. As I was saying, panic, and worry, combined with perfectionism and pride, make the ideal recipe to, well, let’s say, kill the Christmas spirit. It began on Tuesday as I started anticipating I would not be ready for Christmas Eve. I transferred this pressure to my family (oh, and did I mention that my lovely, future daughter-in-law has been visiting us and watching me in “action” this whole week?). I wish I could blame my hormonal changes. But even though hormones can (and probably do) accentuate my emotional responses, they are not to blame for the sin that so reigned in my heart, putting my family in great distress. After my initial mini-fit on Tuesday, I told myself I would have a good, peaceful day on Wednesday. I got up that morning with a new resolve to be positive and stable. Ha! My “good” attitude lasted for most of the day, until BOOM, I completely lost it! I’m talking hyperventilation, anger, frustration, and worst of all, blaming and shaming. My family had been nothing but helpful and cooperative all day. But the enemy of my soul knew where to get me. A comment. A look. A tone. An unfinished task. A feeling of being out of control. Fear of failure. Pride. You name it!

And so just as our family was leaving the house to go to church, where I would lead the choir in the entire service of Lessons and Carols, in “joyful” celebration of the birth of our savior, I was acting more like a dog with rabies than a daughter of God. I arrived at church in distress and in tears. I then proceeded to lay guilt on my sweet daughter, who had been so loving towards me all day. The choir assembled in the appropriate room at the previously assigned time, ready for their warm-up. I did not show up on time, but walked in 10 minutes late, still red-eyed, as I barely composed myself to lead them in a short warm-up. My incredible sinful attitude was being displayed for all to see, and I needed to get a grip within the next 12 minutes.

THE GOOD

Praise the Lord, the good outweighs the bad and the ugly! The only reason it outweighs it, is because the good comes, not from me, but from God himself. He is perfectly good, and kind enough to shower his children with goodness, not once or twice, but always.

  • Grace: I am a recipient of it. Everyone who saw me at church on Christmas Eve knew I was not well. But every single one of them smiled, said a helpful word, and encouraged me. There wasn’t a single complaint, even if well deserved, but even as I walked in late, I was greeted by happy, forgiving faces and patient hearts.
  • Forgiveness: Boy, did I have to ask for it! Sitting at the table on Christmas Day I asked my family to forgive me, and was blessed by their immediate willingness to do so, without reservation.
  • Rescue: I don’t know how I led the choir on Christmas Eve. Honestly, my mind was only present half of the time. But the service was not about me. It was about Jesus and the goodness and love He displayed so openly by leaving his rightful place in heaven to become a human being. So God took care of it. He enabled the choir to sing their hearts out, he helped me to not be lost or make mistakes, and in the end, He received the attention and the glory, the way it was meant to be.
  • Love and friendship: Despite the disaster earlier in the day, our Christmas Eve dinner was lovely. Our family was happy to share this time with wonderful friends. The food was amazingly delicious. The caroling around the piano was uplifting and sweet, and the joy of God was evident. He had compassion for me and gave me what my heart so deeply desired, even though I did not deserve it.
  • Prayer: Our need has been greater, so prayer has increased. The ability to pray is a gift from God. Because Jesus was born in a manger and grew up to become the sacrifice for our sins, our Passover Lamb, we now have full access to him! We pray and he listens! It’s quite amazing. Not only has our family prayed more, but I have been specifically touched and encouraged by Lizette’s prayers. You see, she has gone years without praying… or believing in God. But God has begun a great work of inward transformation in her. At every turn this week, Lizette was the first to say, “Let’s pray”. No amount of bad or ugly can outweigh the joy of hearing her words and seeing her heart being poured out to God in faith and trust. Isn’t God good and merciful?

Today has been quiet, happy, and peaceful. Bosco is still alive and, somehow, still here (It’s a Christmas miracle). We are learning to keep him away from food and toilet bowls. This morning Lizette, Geneva, and I prayed and laid hands on him so that God would help him as well ;). We are eating delicious left-overs and Lizette’s pain is not as intense any more.

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

Elise and Bosco. Cute, right?

With my 3 daughters on Lizette's birthday, last Friday

With my 3 daughters on Lizette’s birthday, last Friday

Dealing With Anxiety: Answers in Philippians

So I’m reading Philippians this morning (one of my favorite books of the Bible — basically my go-to book whenever I need perspective), and I stop in my tracks when I get to 2:28. I notice something for the first time, “Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.” I notice the words: Less anxiety.

Paul had anxiety?

I try to put it in context, understanding the background story: The believers in Philippi loved Paul and wanted to provide for him, knowing he was enduring suffering and persecution (just as they were). So they sent him a man called Epaphroditus to help him. EP (let’s abbreviate, shall we?) stayed with Paul, risking his life and becoming very ill, to the point of near death. EP had become very distressed to hear that the Philippians found out that he was ill. He didn’t want to cause them worry (a lot to learn from that kind of selfless attitude), and now longed to return home.

So here comes the verse where Paul says that he is also eager to send EP back home, so that when the Philippians see him again, they can be glad. This would relieve Paul of anxiety. It would not take it away, but it would lessen it.

Yes, Paul had anxiety.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, anxiety is a human emotion; a natural response to difficult circumstances. I’ve read psalm upon psalm where King David pours out his anxiety in song. However, I am smiling just because, for the first time, I read it in Paul’s words.

I just love the apostle Paul. I love that he freely shares his struggles and he also explains how he deals with them. He has so many reasons to be anxious. Pain. Persecution. Loneliness. Alienation from loved ones (no facebook or skype, say what?). Sickness. Poverty. You name it! He is not some kind of saint who is above human feelings and discouragement. He struggles, and in the midst of his struggles, he writes encouraging notes to his friends. He shares how anxiety and pain do not rule him, but he has found inexplicable peace.

Shouldn’t I read this letter and see what advice he gives his loved ones? Paul doesn’t only write from a purely theological and intellectual place. He writes from experience! Yes, there is copious amount of doctrine in every line, but similarly, there is practical, day to day help for people like me. In this letter, I read not only what Paul says to his friends in the form of counsel, but I also read about his own attitude and view of life. This wonderful, little book gives me insight into the man who experienced peace in spite of the storm. Here are the 7 answers to anxiety I see in the book of Philippians:

  1. He is thankful for the people who surround him and spends himself encouraging them, praying for them, and building them up. He has learned to love people deeply and genuinely care for their well-being. He puts others first. (1:3-9, 2:1-5)

  2. He lives, not for himself, but for the glory of another. He is driven by the call to advance the Gospel. He is single minded in purpose and pursuit. (1:12-26)

  3. He truly understands that suffering and hardship are in the hand of God. It’s not simply that God is not surprised by the suffering he’s going through, but he is convinced that God has sent it his way, and for a good reason. (1:28-30)

  4. He rejoices. I think this is an attitude of being joyful, as opposed to grumbling or complaining. Because he has such a high view of God, he is able to see his life from a positive perspective. (2:12-18

  5. He not only gives encouragement, but he allows himself to receive it from others. He is not proud to think he doesn’t need help, but rejoices when others offer friendship and support (2:19-30, 4:10-20)

  6. He is not self-reliant, in other words, he doesn’t trust that he is strong enough or good enough to achieve his goal and complete his race. He trusts and relies in the power of God. He prays earnestly, confident that God will empower him to do His will. (3:1-11)

  7. He does not dwell in the past and doesn’t wallow in the things he could have done or should have done. He looks to the future instead — not the immediate future, but the ultimate one. Within that perspective, he doesn’t rely on temporary things, but has his eye on eternal things. (3:12-4:9)

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your life in writing. One day I will meet you and rejoice alongside you.

I will keep this book close by to meditate on through the course of my life. I want to imitate Paul, because he imitated Christ.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:6-7)