No Safety in Fear

I have a lot of fear in my life. Its grip has been fierce and unrelenting. Fear has maintained its power over me by reminding me of past mistakes, failures, setbacks, betrayals, which, like a hamster on a wheel, have kept me in the same spot…just to be safe.

Trying something new or out of my “normal” has been out of the question or only vaguely considered because of how it could turn out—like the other mistakes and setbacks in my past. I have recently discovered a funny thing about fear, however. It does not provide the protection that it promises. Mistakes, failures, setbacks, betrayals still occur, sometimes in the area of my life I was trying desperately to protect. In other words, there is no real safety in fear.

I was in a discount CD store recently and struck up a conversation with the girl behind the counter. We began talking about the recent flood. She asked me if I had been affected by it to which I responded no. When I asked her the same question, she responded yes but supplies left over from hurricane Katrina had helped her protect her home. I completed my purchase and left, wondering the obvious, “Did that young woman flee New Orleans because of Katrina only to be threatened by flood waters again?”

I receive frequent emails from Beverly Ryle—a kind of prophet to the unemployed. This week’s newsletter was on fear. She mentioned that when we experience failure, we often put Fear in the driver’s seat of our lives. She went on to provide tips on how to know when Fear is ruling you, rather than the other way around, and how to combat it.

I read another article on fear and failure this week and how famous people overcame it. It mentioned Colonel Sanders, Chuck Colson, and Madeline L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time. I found the last one particularly interesting. Ms. L’Engle had written three books by the time she was thirty and then nothing with any success for decades. She wrote in her diary, “I am a writer. That’s who I am, even if I’m never published again.” She went on to publish her famous, award-winning piece.

Like so many of the things we “hook our caboose to” thinking that it will provide direction, purpose, fulfillment, fear is also a lie. All-encompassing fear doesn’t protect us or provide us with anything. It only leaves us feeling empty, alone, adrift.

The message then is to live our lives with conviction. Follow our dreams…live the life we’ve imagined (Thoreau) and fear…well, fear be damned. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

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Tennessee Without Dry Land, But Not Without Warm Hearts

In all my years, and I won’t go in to how many that is, I’ve never seen anything this bad. Some of you may have heard of the devastating floods Tennessee experienced this past weekend. I am thankful that our home was not damaged. We paid for some landscaping last week, however, and now it’s at the bottom of our hill, but that is nothing compared to what some have and are suffering on this sunny, gorgeous Monday.

Probably the most painful pictures to watch for me was the flooding of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Opry Mills, and The Grand Old Opry. These businesses are icons of our city, some national icons, and now they are under water. The flooding at Opry Mills is nearly to its roof. This beautiful discount shopping complex was already suffering from the weak economy and now this. The conversion of the theme park, Opryland, to the shopping center, Opry Mills, has been a shaky one at best. This does not bode well for this troubled center. The flooding at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center and The Grand Old Opry has not been as devastating, covering the first floor of both, but the damage is significant. A convention of 2,000 people was supposed to take place this weekend at this beautiful resort. Some attendees were already here and now must be turned away. I can’t help but wonder if there will be legal actions after this unforeseen disaster. I certainly hope not.

As I watch the astonishing pictures from the news, I am also amazed by another unique occurrence and that is of Tennesseans helping other Tennesseans. We may have run out of clean water in some places and electricity (28,000 homes without power from reports last night. Probably more homes without power today), but we have not run out of the generosity of people helping people. There have been numerous volunteers offering boats to rescue others. There have been 200 rescues at this writing and the efforts continue. In addition, there have been reports of people offering their homes to strangers, in order to help out the overcrowded hotels.

The economy has not been good for me here in several years. I have wanted to move, to try markets in other states, but it would be difficult to leave the lush greenery of Tennessee and the concern it has for its fellow man. I love Tennessee…have lived here all my life, but I have never been more proud of the efforts by city officials, public works, and of the kindness of its citizens during this historic and tragic event.

Snow and Panic

I’ve lived here all my life—in the South—and if you’re a transplant from the North, living in the South, I want to apologize for our behavior. As I write this, it’s snowing outside. The local weathermen and women have been predicting this snow and ice storm since last Saturday. It’s Friday and it’s finally here and panic has come with it.

When I was little, I remember frequent snowfalls. Yes, back in the day winter equaled snow, and of course snow boots, silly knit hats in bright colors, mittens that would freeze on the fingertips after a few snowballs, and the ever favorite snow cream. Since I have become an adult, however, there hasn’t been a snow like this in a decade or more. There was a frightening ice storm in December of 1998. Ice covered everything and many people lost power for several days. Then there was the huge surprise snowstorm of 2006. I was substituting that day and got caught in a valley on my way home. I had less than a tank of gas and a weak charge on my cell phone—scary. I made it home, though, safe and sound and greatly relieved.

For some odd reason, probably global warming right, this winter has brought snow. We had snow two weeks ago, if you can call it that. The local weather people were again predicting an accumulation of several inches. Before the first flake fell, schools were cancelled and bread and milk were cleaned out of the groceries. The results in my county? Less than an inch.

This one is predicted to be a big one and from the looks of things they could be right. Schools in the entire state were cancelled last night, bread and milk were again cleaned out of the groceries, AND there were no movies worth seeing in the Red Box by Thursday evening. The crazy thing is people who work for my husband are trying to keep from traveling next week. The forecasters are predicting more snow and the panicky emails against traveling east of here have been pouring in.

What people seem to forget is that we live in the South and snow melts quickly. Forty and fifty degree weather is also predicted for next week, which means warm and slushy streets. So, as the long anticipated flakes fall to the ground and as most everyone, including me, is holed up in their homes, peeking out wide-eyed and cancelling all appointments, I’ll think about my Northern friends and neighbors who are probably rolling their eyes right now.

The Kingdom Within Us

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).

The command seems easy enough, right? I think all of us who think along these lines would agree that we should seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. I am learning, however, that it is not so easy. For years I’ve been giving a nod, if you will, to the first part of this verse in order to get to the second part–the goods–but if we take a closer look we will see that the beginning of the verse takes more than just a nod.

We know, for instance, that once we belong to Him, His kingdom then resides in us (Luke 17:20-21). I think, then, that seeking His kingdom and His righteousness means among other things to become the person He intended us to be—for us to reflect His kingdom. This means then that we cannot remain covered over with sin and shame. The shame that comes, say, with living in addiction be it the obvious like drugs or alcohol or food or porn or the less obvious like people-pleasing or anger or greed. We must then be free from this; we must become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). How do we do this? I wish there was an easy answer—a magic wand, perhaps, that we could wave and our addictions would be a distant memory. I am learning, though, that it takes work…a lot of work.

One of the most important requirements to becoming that new creation is a daily dying to self, so that when the Self calls and says, “Hey, I’m hurting today and need you to soothe the pain—temporarily—by taking a drug, having a drink, eating a package of cookies, visiting an Internet site, seeking approval from a friend, boss, or a stranger, picking a fight with someone, adding another task and paycheck to your already heavy workload, so I can feel better” then I can say “not today, Self. Today I’m going to ignore your yearnings and, instead, stop, count to ten if need be, and put my trust in God. Today I choose to look to Him for hope and for a better tomorrow.” Only then can we/I arrive at the second part of the verse which states, “and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I don’t think God is saying here, “Nanna nanna boo boo, you can’t have this until you trust Me,” although, admittedly, it has felt like this at times. I think, instead, that He is saying, “I love you, I know you, I created you and knew you even before you were born (Psalm 139), so let me show you what I can do for you. I will do for you something that is beyond your own efforts and beyond your wildest dreams” (Jeremiah 33:3). So, all those dreams that I dared to dream while cleaning a park restroom or sitting alone in an office hour after hour working on some mundane task will finally make their way out of my hazy dream world and become a reality. I don’t think it will happen for me, though, until there is a constant flow from myself to my Creator. As long as that “artery” is clogged with the above then I will remain in this place of drifting, marking time, settling.

Anyone who said that the Christian walk is easy did not give it their best effort. The idea is simple enough: give your life to Christ, but the daily implementation of it is much more difficult. It is a daily, sometimes hourly, undertaking. I like a good challenge, though, and this has been the best challenge so far. For even as I struggle, I feel God’s presence and His gentle, capable hand leading me on.

Two Worlds Collide

I’ve had the fortune to travel frequently. I say fortune because I have discovered that I really enjoy this unique diversion from routine. The change in scenery and environment is like witnessing the arrival of a best friend after a long absence. Training and “tours of duty” have taken my husband to various cities this year and I have had the grand opportunity to accompany him. The experience can be and has been a lonely one, however. While he has been away with the car and working, I have been left with the challenge of finding entertainment in a strange city. Long walks, photos, reading, writing, answering emails (when Internet is available), and exercising have made up most of my days. Recently, we visited Orlando, FL.

Our hotel was situated in the heart of downtown. With camera in hand, I began the usual task of exploring the city. After taking pictures of some wonderful architecture and manicured city streets, my adventures soon led me to the public library. I adore books, so I was happy to see this building appear around a corner. I was unprepared for what I saw inside.

The automatic doors opened and I walked into the cool air with the familiar and welcoming smell of books. I browsed the new releases on some tables and then studied the map of this old, three-story building. I walked up a flight of stairs, pulled some books from shelves, and then found a seat, enjoying the crack of a book’s spine as I opened the first one. Then I heard another sound—a terrible cough. It was low and deep and contagious. I looked around and noticed an unsavory character, leaning on one hand, clothes disheveled, and a decrepit backpack on the floor. Being the perpetual dreamer, I was glad to see that he was reading and imagined him finding a new passion in life that would take him off the streets. I went back to my reading.

Next, I was interrupted again by the sight of a policeman and a librarian quietly escorting another character out of the building. I began to really look around and wondered where the real patrons were…was I the only one on this floor? Later, I decided to find a more comfortable chair on another floor.

The next floor was set up for a book signing by Dara Torres, the 40-year-old Olympian, who was to appear later that month. There was a small stage and about 30 chairs stationed for her book talk. In the chairs, however, were seated about ten homeless men. They had that tell-tale exterior—one leg crossed, hands folded across the lap, head down. It was and is the appearance of someone who has been beaten down by life, has temporarily or not, lost a battle, given up, lost hope.

Walking back to my warm hotel room, I pondered with dismay my own struggles with employment, among other things. Consequently, I do not feel that far removed from their particular lot in life. It is a sad one and unsolvable. This community of the ignored is a constant reminder to us of how quickly the comforts of life can be taken away. Their appearance in “our world” is a nuisance, their clothing repulsive, but their message to us is loud and clear–be thankful.

City on the Go, But Is It Going Too Fast?

I’ve lived in the suburbs my whole life, but I’ve always been close to the city. I love the city. I love the many things it offers and don’t often mind its obvious faults. Unlike the suburbs or the country, the city is honest. It’s bare with its beauty and splendor in the form of manicured parks and streets and with its massive buildings almost breathing at night with their twinkling lights, but it is also raw in the form of crime. It is home to places you wouldn’t dare visit alone and places where one suddenly finds God, if caught on a dark and seedy street, after a wrong turn. And the city has, of course, its homeless. Individuals both young and old, who look at us through dark and hollow eyes. Eyes that tell us that life has beaten them down and that whisper a chilling connection to us. A connection that tells us we have managed to avoid the shipwreck that life can bring…for now. But I still love the city and, in my opinion, the busier, the bigger, the better.

However, I think I may have lost something by living here. I went to a wedding celebration recently. The bride is a long-time friend of mine. This was her second marriage, after a troubled first marriage. The guy she married she had reconnected with on Facebook. It turned out that I knew him from college, so this was quite the event for us both. The wedding was a small, private one and the celebration took place in the rural outskirts of town. The destination included a beautiful, 45-minute drive through open countryside. The houses along the way boasted three and four acres of land along “busy” streets. When we arrived, I waded through the large crowd (about 50 people had already come and gone, I was told) to find and hug the new couple. There was much laughter and tears of joy as the bride re-introduced me to the long-lost friend from college.

After touring her new home, nestled among trees alive with deer, raccoons, and squirrels and whose property rested its edges along a small creek, I found a plate, filled it with chicken wings, crackers and dip, chips and salsa, and found my way to a corner…near the cake table. While standing there, enjoying my food and wondering if I should try two slices from two cakes or merely a small slice of one, I became aware of conversations going on around me. They went something like, “Now, are we still doing lunch on Tuesday?” and “I think we’re going to catch a movie Friday night, can you join us?” and “Are you coming to game night?” It occurred to me later that when one lives in a rural area, the entertainment becomes the company of others, rather than, say, a day alone shopping in the city.

This is not to say that I don’t get together with friends, but it takes real effort on both our parts for it to occur. For example, I had a lunch date this past weekend with a friend of mine that we have been planning since September. On another occasion recently, I offered a get-together which would have included 12 people but only 5 showed. Even my own family, all of us born near the city, of course, prefers busy-ness over a face to face. In stark contrast, my husband’s family–all from the country–is usually eager to gather for a meal and to visit one another, even if it is mostly watching TV.

I still love and enjoy the city and would feel like an alien or, rather, more of an alien, if I had to move too far from its cold yet ample arms. However, I miss the warmness that real friendship can bring–friendships that seem to flourish in the wheat fields and rolling hills of the South’s rural areas.

Bout with Laryngitis Could Lead to Clearer Voice for Future

October was a difficult month. It started with laryngitis, which led to a sinus infection, which led to a fever, which led to a stomach bug, which limped across the finish line with chest congestion and an overall bad feeling. I remained upright, for the most part, but didn’t want to be. Every chair I passed or every bench I passed—park or otherwise—called to me, like some tortuous siren to come sit or lay down for a spell.

Although long, the sickness was, if I may be trite, a blessing in disguise. I found myself reevaluating my days and doing only what was absolutely necessary. There are many activities in my life that I have volunteered for, but I quickly learned to tell those in expectation, “Not this week.” If it was a daily personal undertaking that I felt an urgency to do for reasons known only to me and not even sure why the reasons were there, I began to ask myself, “why do I feel this thing is so important?” and would, consequently, skip it for that day…and the next…and the next.

Even church and choir attendance fell down on the list of things I felt I must do and I began to give even those activities a second look. I don’t often enjoy church. It’s big and relatively unfriendly. Sure, people talk to me and we are usually glad to see each other on Sundays, but the majority of people I know, know me only as, “Hi” rather than by my real name. This isn’t entirely their fault, of course. I could do more to change this reality, but it would require work. It would require more involvement, joining small groups, getting involved in small ministry projects, and so on. Just writing what I need to be doing makes me sigh with stress much less stepping out and actually doing it.

I haven’t enjoyed choir…well…maybe never. Again, it is large and relatively unfriendly. It has been a good day in choir practice if I strike up a conversation that is longer than 3 seconds. Again, this is not the fault of the choir, but my own. I could do more. I could…well you get the picture. I have a background in music, so music is quite important to me, but our choir director, although an amazing spiritual leader, has led for so many years, I think, that his enthusiasm for music and directing has waned. Over a 2 hour rehearsal, for example, he will talk an hour of it or read something to us or tell us, at length, about a new spiritual book he is reading. Meanwhile, I’m sitting there, as are the rest of us, waiting to either (a) sing or (b) go home, both of which are long in coming.

So now that I am better where does this leave me? I have felt powerful, in a way, telling people no and skipping church, choir rehearsal, and the other “necessary” activities of my life. It’s almost been like storing junk. I have piled and piled these things in my life and turn around one day, during an illness, and realize how much energy I have been spending on things I don’t enjoy. So, do I quit church for awhile or do I ignore the fact that I’m going through the motions mostly for others and keep attending and keep doing?

More than likely I will keep attending, because of commitments I made at the beginning of this year, but next year, say September of 2010, I anticipate change. Those things that I do in my personal time that I have somehow, over time, felt necessary I will scale back and try and not add anything new that is not somewhat enjoyable and heart renewing.

 

What about you? Have you scaled back and if so how? What was the result? I would love to hear about your personal “fall cleaning.”