Since FEAR was the subject of the sermon on Sunday, I have been thinking about it a lot. Sunday evening I usually work on some of my writing. I pulled up my book project and came to the section about fear. Since I have been talking about sharing some of my writing with friends, I decided it may perhaps be time to take a leap of courage and share this with you. I still don’t have a title and I still can’t figure out how to organize all it. I just keep writing. The book title was originally going to be RoadBlocks, but I just don’t know. In any case, here it is. This is original copy without much editing. It is meant to be a conversation that takes place during a very long road trip. The type in italics is the “voice” of my travel companion.
Fear has been the biggest roadblock in my life. Truth is I’ve been afraid most of my life. What am I afraid of? That’s a hard question to answer. It keeps changing. Let me see if I can explain. I took my 11-year-old grand-daughter Blue Eyes shopping for clothes last weekend.
“Blue Eyes, do you have a favorite store for buying clothes?”
“Hmmm. I’m not sure. But I know that Once Upon a Child (a consignment shop) doesn’t have a good selection.”
“Ok, I see. How about the mall? There are several stores there.”
“Oh, that is good idea. But NOT JC Penny. I do not want to go there.”
“No JC Penny. I got it.”
“Grandma, do you know why I don’t want to go there? One word-escalator.”
“You don’t like escalators?”
“No. I’m afraid of them. I get close to one and I just freeze. I just can’t do it. Sorry Grandma, but the girl’s clothes are upstairs. Escalator-see the problem?”
“Sure do. I have a secret to tell you, Blue Eyes. When I was your age I was afraid of them too. I would get so scared. My grandmother would be so mad. She would make me get on it and I would feel like I was going to die right there. But now I like them.”
“How come you like them now?”
“I just kept getting on them until I wasn’t afraid any more. Sometimes you just have to decide to do something that scares you. Then you can decide whether you are going to do it again or not. But it has to be your decision.”
As a child one of my biggest fears was one I didn’t really understand until later in life. I was always afraid of being alone or left behind. I was also afraid of going to sleep. I fought sleep with everything in my being. I would curl up and pull the covers up around my neck and get into a tight ball. I felt safe this way. So when the bad guy came in and tried to stab me, his big knife would have to go through the blankets, the sheet, and my shoulder bone to get to my heart. You’re right. Not logical or rational thinking.
Oh, and being bombed by planes. You didn’t see that one coming? When I was about ten years old we had this thing called the Cuban Missile Crisis. Everyone was afraid of the nuclear weapons being stored in Cuba. The President was telling us all we might go to war. I lived in Charleston, SC. If there was going to be a war, we would surely be bombed. We were one of the largest military cities in the country. When a plane would fly overhead, I would put my fingers in my ears, close my eyes, and ask God not to let the plane drop a bomb on me. I understand it was an irrational fear, but aren’t most fears irrational when you come down to it?
I was also afraid of the Rapture. That is when Jesus is supposed to swoop down and take all the good people away and leaves the rest here to suffer. One minute everyone is here and the next minute they just disappear. I would freeze when I heard a distant train horn or see the moon with an orange glow. There are Bible references to trumpets sounding and the moon turning to blood connected to the Rapture.
I remember being in the bathroom at one of the larger stores and when I came out of the stall into the main bathroom, no one was there. I panicked. I looked all around the bathroom including looking under the stall doors to see if saw any feet. I just stood there trying not to cry. My grandmother came in to see what was taking so long. She would wait outside guarding the door while I went to the bathroom in a public place. And that was after she had gone into the bathroom to check it out first. Yes, you’re right, Grandma obviously had issues.
Grandma didn’t like having a child who was afraid of everything. She was quick to explain that God didn’t like little girls who cried and were scared. That showed you didn’t have enough faith. If you were a good girl God was going to take care of you. But if you were bad, God had to punish you. Way to go, Grandma- such an inspiration to us all. I am obviously still working on the forgiveness part. You will hear more about her later.
I was afraid of God. Wait. Not necessarily God Himself, but afraid of not being good enough for God. What if I didn’t have enough faith or what if it was the wrong kind of faith? Is there a wrong way to have faith? At one point I believed that God had given me over to Satan just as he did with Job. Either that or I had been demon possessed. Did I really believe that or is that exaggeration? Yes, I really did believe that.
The hardest part for me has been building a relationship with God and Jesus. As a child I thought that I could never be good enough for God to love me. Grandma’s ideas about God were a bit distorted. At the time I believed her. I was taught that God couldn’t look at evil or bad things. I was taught that bad things happen when you didn’t have enough faith. I believed God punished us for bad things we had done. It only made sense to believe I must be very bad because so many bad things had happened. Church didn’t help make things any easier.
Let’s talk about church for a minute. The songs we sang and the prayers we learned in church were meant to teach us about God and Jesus-not scare children. When you grew up like I did, it is easy to misunderstand things. One of the most popular songs kids learn in church is Jesus Loves Me. “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, THEY ARE WEAK. but He is Strong.” So why would I think that Jesus was going to be different. I already knew I was weak. The grownups in my life were strong. They proved it by hitting, screaming, and more.
So you can see that God, Jesus and I got off to bad start. Then in church they taught us that God was our Heavenly Father and loved us just like our earthly Father. No thanks–think I will pass on that one. Had two fathers already and that didn’t work out so well.
We also have the great night-time prayer. “Now I lay me down to sleep..I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should DIE before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Die while I am asleep? Why would I die? Is someone going to come and hurt me or try to kill me? And why does God want to take my soul? Where will He take it and what does He plan to do with it? And I already asked Him to keep my soul and I guessed that meant to keep it safe. So if God can’t keep me from dying why would I think He would take care of my soul if I did die?
Then there is the devil. You know the one with horns, a red cape, a pitchfork, and big bulging eyes. Never quite understood the pitch fork thing, but if you weren’t good and faithful and believed in God and did all the right things, then the devil would get you and you would go to Hell and burn in eternal fire.
So let’s review and see if I got all of this. God is going to watch over my soul while I sleep, but since He can’t do a real good job at that, just in case I die, He is supposed to take my soul and do something with it. But that is unless I hadn’t been a GOOD GIRL. In that case the Devil gets to take me to hell. Do you see where this could be confusing for a kid like me?
The world ending is another worry to add. I don’t watch sci/fi movies about the world blowing up. I have always been concerned when some outlandish people claim to know the date for end of the world. I don’t really relax until the predicted end of world time has passed. Even though I know better, I am a little concerned about 2012. That is when the Mayan calendar stops and some predict the end of the world. But that doesn’t seem to work out with all the Rapture stuff, so I’m thinking maybe the Bible wins over the Mayans.
What else? I was afraid of eating mushrooms. I had heard something about poisonous mushrooms back in the 60’s. People died. I think it was actually botulism, not poisonous mushrooms. But how could you be sure the mushroom picking people hadn’t picked the wrong ones? You just can’t be too careful. Yes, as an adult I understand the difference in wild mushrooms and commercially grown mushrooms. But I still won’t eat them.
Fear of flying is a valid fear. I don’t fly anymore and won’t. Technically, the fear of flying is a specific phobia, one of several kinds of anxiety disorders. As an anxiety, the “fear” of flying is more concerned with what might happen than with what actually is happening.
The fear of flying may be created by various other phobias and fears:
* a feeling of not being in control
*fear of having panic attacks in certain places, where escape would be difficult and/or embarrassing.
* fear of crashing resulting in injury or death
There is a view that a fear of flying is entirely rational, and reveals much about the way we think about risk – concentrating on the quantity of a risk and not its quality. (That all came from Wikepedia)
Now you have it from the experts. Did you notice above that a fear of flying is entirely rational? I also love the idea that the fear of flying may be related to “fear of crashing resulting in injury or death”. YOU THINK?
I have many friends, coworkers, and family members who assure me they can get me on a plane. These so-called plans include drugs, de-sensitizing, education about plane technology, and an online program that includes 11 DVDs and two hours of online counseling from a former pilot turned counselor.
My firm belief is that the only way to get me on a plane would be to get me drunk and since I haven’t had a drink since 1987, I don’t think that is going to happen—at least not today. But I’ll tell you more about that later. Don’t want to give away too much yet. The other way would involve taking an anesthesiologist who would give me Demerol and Versed and then get me off the plane.
Back in the days when I did fly I had a great theory about flying and crashing. I have watched every plane disaster movie made. If you watch carefully you will notice several things. Every plane that crashes has a Nun, a child with a small stuffed animal, a nerdy guy who flies alone, and a woman who was neurotic (that would be me). While I was waiting to board my flight, I would look around and if all of those people had ever been there together ready to board my flight, I would have walked out of the airport. I also watched for flight attendants or pilots on turnarounds. I would watch them while we were flying and if they were relaxed, I knew that things must be OK for the moment.
After 1987 it seemed my fear became worse with each flight I took. Then they had the gall to make you stop smoking on planes. What is a recovering alcoholic/addict, co-dependent, adult child of alcoholics (and whatever else you want to add in there) suppose do on a plane that could fall out of the sky at any minute?
Take the train. Yes, I have taken the train across country two times. I love trains. The biggest challenge is the time it takes to go anywhere. It takes just about as long to drive as it does to the train. Driving of course is another option.
Peter Pan: Now everybody try.
Wendy, John, Michael, Peter Pan: One, two, three!
Wendy, John, Michael: We can fly! We can fly! We can fly!
[The children all fall to the ground]
Peter Pan: This won’t do. What’s the matter with you? All it takes is faith and trust. Oh! And something I forgot.
Peter Pan: Dust!
Wendy, John: Dust?
Peter Pan: Yep, just a little bit of pixie dust.
[Taps Tinkerbell a bit with his hand to make golden dust come off and rain down on the kids]
Peter Pan: Now, think of the happiest things. It’s the same as having wings.
(Quote from the Disney movie Peter Pan)
So how am I handling fear now? I still have fears. Actually I have a clinical diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. But with therapy and medication, it doesn’t control my life any more. There was a time it did. I started having panic attacks after my son was born. There were debilitating and scary. They lasted until I started drinking in my late 20’s. I’ll tell you that story later. The panic attacks came back about four years ago when my best friend Jan died without warning. She had been my therapist many years ago. And for 23 years she was my friend, my mentor, my spiritual touchstone, and confidant. And I was afraid I couldn’t face life without her.
After two months, I knew I had to go back into therapy. I only wanted the new therapist to make the panic attacks stop. I got so much more. She was exactly the right person to help me find my way. The way she explained faith and God to me opened my heart. It wasn’t something she read or heard, but something she believed. I believe it’s the reason she was put in my life. I am still not where I want to be in my relationship with God and Jesus and the church, but I have the courage now to keep trying. I have come to realize that all through my life the right people have shown up at just the right time. Yes…I will even say that God has watched out for me….no coincidences.
Jan once gave me a stuffed Gund Bear with a tag identifying it as the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. I keep the bear in a small basket in my bedroom. She said she picked it because even though I had been so afraid in my life, I had shown such courage along the way. She wanted me to remember that I didn’t need a Wizard to give me courage. I didn’t need alcohol, drugs or any other addiction to find courage. And then came the time I had to learn I didn’t even need her to have courage. I just needed to look inside. I just needed to see that God was with me every step of the way.