Thursday, May 8, 2014

When Fear is Real: And other questions we try to answer.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Fear. Or more accurately, I have been thinking a lot lately about how Fear has been running my life, how it has been an undercurrent in many of my major decisions, and how it has distracted me from really living.

I have a lot of ideas about this, and I’ve been challenging myself to write them out and to write about them honestly. But, in the middle of my honesty and “self reflection” I’ve come to a detour/stop.

You see, Fear is not always a vague concept that is woven into a season of our life’s fabric. No, sometimes Fear is a real, visceral, confirmed and present danger. Sometimes Fear shouts at us through our circumstances, and, if we are honest, we are nodding our heads in agreement with it.

What do we do when the face of Fear mirrors the reality in our life?



What do we do when we have been rejected?

What do we do when we face a life-changing illness? Or when we face the illness of a loved one? Or when we are told that we are dying?

What do we do when our bodies are wracked with pain, and that makes it hard to think and to control our impulses?

What do we do when we have done the wrong thing and hurt someone else in the process?

Rejection. Grief. Pain. Failure. Our fears have whispered to us that these could happen, and now they have. So, now what?



Someday, maybe 100 years from now, maybe 1000, or maybe when we are all in a place where we see things from God’s perspective -and thus there is no time, only the NOW- we will have an answer to this question. Until that day, I only have some theories.

Before I share these theories with you, there is something that you should know. I am a Hope-loving hippie child. I take my shoes off when I'm upset and run outside. And while there have been times when I have felt hollowed out, shattered, and terrified of the future, Hope has never completely abandoned me to Fear. It has simply changed and started to look different. Even in the frozen-over wintered seasons of my soul, I was looking at patterns in the ice crystals and crying over their beauty. So, if any of this strikes you as idealistic, unrealistic, or improbable, I get it. We do not share the same life experience or the same personalities. And there is something I could learn from you and your experience I’m sure.



Back to reality. Fear takes over and we feel it pounding through our mind, body, and heart. Now what?

Theory #1
Be Honest. I mean, you are already terrified, so might as well speak your truth. This brings a level of vulnerability often seems to amplify our fear. Honesty invites other people into your process, which is both great and terrible, because they might say something that just isn’t helpful at all, or they might just sit with you in your Fear for a moment so that you do not feel alone. And while we are at it, we may as well be honest with God. Following the epic stylings of Job, the Psalmists, and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can tell Him how we really feel about this fear-filled situation. I’m good at this one. I like crying/shouting/throwing things at God, but I am not very good at letting people into my moments of deepest fears. 

Theory #2
Let God be big. Our natural impulse is often to grapple for control of the situation to prevent greater damage, and yet… If we are small and take a step back from the situation we let God be big. For God to be big, we must relinquish control. This is a hard one for me, because I am a doer. I like to think that I am big, rather than letting Him be big.

Theory #3
Do not avoid the bad/dark/scariest stuff. What is at the bottom of your deepest fear? You will never know unless you fully enter into it. Intentionally examining your fear is different than being consumed by it. Henri Nouwen calls this “working around your abyss.” You don’t avoid it. You acknowledge that it is there. You ask questions about it and try to understand why you are having such a strong reaction. 

Theory #4
Notice things in the moment. Be 100% there. I’m not really sure why this one works. I can only tell you that it has worked for me. I’ve been fully paralyzed by Fear a few times in my life both emotionally and physically, and this has been the thing that actually helped me to move. When I was 12 I stood next to my Dad’s hospital bed while he was in a coma and felt stunned. Although I was drawn to reach over and touch him or to say something, I just couldn’t. I had retreated to somewhere else in my mind and heart so that I wouldn’t feel so afraid. I remember being so grateful that he lived through that illness, because I always would have regretted not being there with him in those precious moments. Another moment of fear hit me years later when I was climbing outdoors at a place called The Quarry. I was 10 feet from the top, 1 clip away from finishing a 75-foot pitch, when the wind kicked up.  I was frozen. My mind told my body that it could not make that last unprotected swinging move to clip in. My climbing buddies’ voices came from far away, as if from underwater. A few minutes later, after some deep breaths, and after shouting down at them that I didn’t think I could do it, some strange awareness came over me. I felt my hand, the cold granite underneath and the chalk beneath my fingernails, the wind tugging at my rope, and the cold sweat in my armpits. I determined that if I was going to fall than I would at least fall trying, and then I leaned into the moment. I was 100% there. The fear didn’t go away, but I was able to be myself nonetheless.




When my Fear is real, when it is pounding and taking over, these are the first things that I try. I try to be honest, to let God be big, to intentionally look at my fear, and to be 100% there.



These are my theories, what are yours?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tales of a Wandering Wild Child

In the middle of sorting through my fears, dreams, hopes, and future plans I have found an Eden.

The wildness is calling me.

Lately, on my days off I am outside.

I’m running the trails behind Fullerton. I am in the mountains with my family. I am pinching the flowering heads off of my basil plants, and leaning into and the rich, deep smell of homegrown tomatoes in the sunshine. When I’m inside, I’m wearing woolen hiking socks and T-Shirt that says “Go climb a rock.” I am smelling the left-over bonfire smoke in my hair and reading John Muir letters.

The wildernesses outside and inside collide.



Life is huge. It is full of things we do not understand. There are great joys and great tragedies. And sometimes in the rush and crush of overwhelming feelings we miss the grandiosity, the extravagance and joy. I think the unexplained wildness of creation may be the very thing that calls to our hearts, the trigger of creation and the intricate detail of our innermost cells. Calling, calling, calling. It echoes through the uncertainty.

Nature is lifeline that ties my soul to a greatness and goodness that is beyond me. 




Years ago my family was in Yosemite for the Thanksgiving holiday. We were hiking in the Sequoias- the great trees near the southern entrance to the park. My younger cousin was walking next to me holding my hand. In the trees and the mist of the low laying clouds, she asked me, “Who is older, the trees or God?” The big, red, towering trunks drew our souls upward. I answered, “Well, God made the trees. So, He must be older, right?” I think He must be bigger and older, and far beyond our understanding.





I don’t want to be afraid of uncertainty, of deep emotions or of what comes next So, I look at the rocks, the trees and the symmetry, perfection and vastness of nature and I rest. I imagine all things made new, the joy that comes in the morning, and the face of the one who set the stars up in the sky.


“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” –John Muir



Wildness heals, frees and strengthens our hearts, or at least it does for mine. 

Let's wander there for a little while together.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Fear and Feminism

This week I guest posted over at my friend Jen's blog for her series called "Expand." I felt pretty nervous about this because although I felt like I HAD to write about this, I also felt like it could cause some controversy.

Would people read grace behind what I was saying? Would they think I was just another woman screaming that men have gotten it all wrong? NOT what I believe by the way.

Anywho, in great trepidation I wrote and re-wrote and then sent this off to Jen for final editing. It's a part of my self examination of how fear has ruled my life. It's a part of the writing challenge that I set early this year.

Here's an excerpt from the middle;


"Looking back now, I feel like God was working on my trust issues with men at the same time as He was making me into feminist. Ironic. But, isn’t that the way that He does things?

I want to say here that there are a lot of people who I deeply respect who don’t like the word “feminist.” For them it is a militant term. It conjures up memories of bloody intellect wars, woman against woman, men against women, and accusations that multiply like popcorn. I’m pretty sure I’ve told people I was a feminist, only to have them do a double take and check for a bra strap.


Nevertheless, I still think it’s important to use the word feminist, regardless of the negative stereotypes or maybe even because of them."



For the complete post and some of the back story you can head over to Jen's blog by clicking HERE.




Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fear Thou Not

Somewhere around the turn of the New Year, thoughts about fear kept weaving themselves through the fabric of prayers, experiences and conversations that make up the living, breathing fabric of Life. I suddenly stepped back and saw a greater pattern in mine. I saw some of the ways that fear has dictated my thinking and guided my decision making process. 


Fear dominated much of the way I approached my faith.

Fear snuck its way into my thoughts about femininity.

Fear told me to hold back reserves even in my deepest friendships. 

Fear kept me from following. 

Fear had my hopes for the future locked up tight in cages. 



But something has been shaking loose. 


"Be a Lamp. Or a Lifeboat. Or a Ladder. Help someone's soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd."  - Rumi


The BIG parts of life and death keep hitting me like a Mack truck. Rather than be the sad llama who feels oh so sorry for herself, I want to be the little big me, who puts one foot in front of the other and is a lamp, lifeboat, or ladder. 


Because fear damages our souls when it keeps us from looking at other people. It keeps fixated on our belly buttons, it would have us stay under false phosphorescent lamps rather than enter the darkness with a candle, steers us away from the storm-wrecked lives of those who need help, and tells us that the heights are only for those who are not grounded in reality.



Even worse is the way that fear has us lock up our questions about God and faith into neat little boxes rather than let our hearts be honest, clear, and messy. One thing I learned this year was to be unafraid of asking my questions. Because sometimes, our spiritual lives are more like a shouting match, than the traditional and celebrated "quiet time."


And when the storm is at its loudest point, and the winds of disappointment whisper that darkness and despair are all that is left, THAT is when we see the figure in the waves shouting back at us, "Hey! It's me. Fear Thou Not. I'm right here. Let me get into that boat and ride this storm out with you." [John 6:17-21]





Fear Thou Not. 



I say it over and over again to myself, "Fear Thou Not."


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Perpetual Motion

Somedays I feel like my nickname should be “perpetual motion” but then days like today happen and I find myself sitting in the my living room, in a dark and quiet house, with the light from one candle and the chatter of far away traffic for company.



I feel shaken from the Holiness of death. Not in a fearful way, but it’s as if something Big has happened, and as if the longing space in my heart just grew deeper.

I feel like moving slowly and purposefully. Then I feel like tying on my minimalist shoes and finding a trail that runs a pathway under that big, clear moon that has just risen up to quiet the noisy sky.

I feel like eating chocolate and drinking whisky.



Or maybe I should just lay down on the wooden floor, and let silence wash over me. These moments are precious and if we “Have not Love” then all the words we speak are just noise, and all the actions we take are empty. Sometimes we must stop moving to feel and be filled.


And I remember:




And this time can I pray it true. By some miracle, I can pray it true.



Today, it's time to sit in the stillness again and listen.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ouchy-Ouch and Touchy-Feely


Welp. I was going to write something about pain, but… It just wasn’t gelling. Like seriously, this past weekend I wrote 4 different fragments of thought collections, and none of them were anything that I felt in my bones. I was on vacation with my friend Lindsay, trying to write, and suddenly turned to her and said, “This is not working. I think I maybe need to write something… gritty.” She nodded supportively and asked me ½ hr. later how my “getting gritty was going.” Yeah. I had nothing.












I have no success at "grittiness." It just looks like crazy eyes. 


Yesterday I was in a patients home with no words, tears in my eyes, and barren comfort to give the daughters of a young mom who is dying of cancer. Last night I was sweating the emotion out of every single pore of my body in a hot yoga class. And today was like listening to the same song on repeat- another family, more tears, and eye contact with my patients hazel eyes that blinked to push back the medications that are her life raft on a sea of pain.

I thought that I had a lot of "gritty" stuff to write about pain, but when I stopped today for my lunch break I found myself thinking instead about all the falling down messy laughing and terrible karaoke that I’ve done this year. And I remembered that a year ago when I was talking with a friend about starting my job at hospice, I told him that my theory about how to handle this work was to “be emotionally honest with myself as often as possible.” A year later, I have thicker “thinker” shadows in my forehead and new crinkles under my eyes. It’s been a year of touchy-feely moments; adventure, heartbreak, growth, and moments of being 100% THERE in what I was doing.



I’d like to think that it’s been a year of emotional honesty, although, it was also pretty scary at times.


In August, I felt SO much emotion that it was hard to function. From my well of sadness and confusion, I said to my brother. “It’s just hard to see anything good right now.” And Michael grabbed my shoulders and said; “I don’t think it’s going to be like this for you for long.” And he was right, because a month later I was on a trail in the Peruvian Andes, letting go of disappointment, chasing condors and bringing rocks home as mementos.


The scariest thing about emotions is how big they are, and how small we feel to contain them. To contain so much sadness, pain, anger, joy, and love, seems impossible. But, somehow, letting them out has kept me from becoming bitter, from hardening over, from freezing.  Henri Nouwen says that when we feel pain because of deep love, we allow the ground in our hearts to be broken deeper and deeper. So the pain and deep feeling are connected, and somehow it's worth it when we let the places we had hardened to keep ourselves safe be shattered. It makes no sense, the very pain of deep loving and feeling breaks us down and makes us more vulnerable to more pain and deep loving… The more we really let go and love, the more we have to keep loving. It becomes a way of life. And it kinda sounds like Jesus.



In 2013 I felt a lot, and it was terrifying but also beautiful. This year I’m going to keep feeling, and also practice telling that little voice of fear to suck it (I mean… Um, insert something appropriately ladylike here ________).




How’s that for gritty?