Fearless

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
–Eleanor Roosevelt

Fearless is exactly what I’m not. I remember when I was little, I would have recurring nightmares, and then one night it would end, and I’d never have that dream again. The amazing thing about dreams, whether pleasant or otherwise, is that often you can’t remember them. I do, however, remember one dream that I had throughout my childhood, or I should say, I recall its soundtrack. It was this repetitive noise — not music, not talking, but almost rhythmic. If I’ve ever mentioned this dream to you in person, you’ve heard the noise. It’s been decades since I’ve had the dream, but it still keeps me from doing things like listening to repetitive songs, allowing the kids to say the same thing over and over again, and if you look at me when everyone is clapping on every beat, you’ll see me rebelliously clapping on the off beat. I can’t help it. Repetition will probably forever freak me out a bit.

More often though, fears are cyclical. I’ve noticed this more and more with every passing year with four of my own kids. We’ll go weeks where no one wakes up and climbs between Matt and I in bed, and then we’ll have a night where three of the four will visit us, and I wake up half-hanging off the bed with a numb arm. In fact, having four kids, with four different sleep patterns and fear cycles means that there is some little person in our bed for part of most nights.

I’ve tried to fend off the fears before they appear. We have to be mindful of what we allow Lucas to read — his imagination can fill in visual effects and what was once a harmless classic novel is now riddled with his mind’s rendition of goblins and Gollum. Bethany likes to be brave, and so we rarely know something is bothering her until she has an episode of delirium and all our efforts to calm her are in vain. Nicholas gets scared when something gets stuck in his head. A song will be a favorite of his, and he’ll sing it non-stop, until he can’t stop and the inability to move on scares him. (The entire family is banned from singing Eye of the Tiger, currently.) Mary Elena is mostly peaceful, but occasionally when she wakes up in the night decides that her room is too dark.

Bethany, my sweet and spicy middle-child, has more fear about food than anything else. She will sit at the table and cry over not being able to eat something, without having actually tasted it — she just knows she won’t like it. There have been many nights when she asks me what’s for dinner, hears the menu, and  gets ready for bed, because she knows she is incapable of sitting politely at the table and eating 8 bites (since she’s 8 years old) without a meltdown.

When Bethany is scared of something, whether food, or a movie preview she accidentally saw, Matt has begun to reason with her. “Bethany, if you take a bite of your dinner and you don’t like the way it tastes, what will happen?” Or “Bethany, if you have a bad dream, and you wake up, what will happen?” In the end, she rationally realizes that if she tastes something she doesn’t like, it isn’t going to kill her — she might gag, but she’ll live. If she has a bad dream and wakes up, she will call for Matt or I to come get her, and we’ll pray and she’ll go back to sleep in her bed or ours. Though she can answer the question rationally, the realization that all will be ok, rarely changes her turmoil over the possibilities.

Fear is not rational.

I have been fearful my entire life. I can pretend that I’m not — that I’m brave, confident, but in the end it’s just a sham.  I don’t want to be fearful. More than that, I don’t want my children to be fearful. I want them to live life to the fullest, to not sit on the sidelines, to choose action over observation.

Though I am capable of overcoming my fears, I often allow them to paralyze me, and I am so aware that my kids are watching me, learning from me and my fear. There are things that I would have never done, if I hadn’t had someone push me to do them. I love when I push through my fears — I meet the greatest people and make the best memories.

I once decided to walk up and talk to a girl I thought looked interesting, and twenty-two years later, and miles apart, she is still my dear friend.

I took Speech in eighth grade because I had to, and then time after time entered classes and competitions because I discovered that speaking in front of people isn’t scary, it’s energizing …

Once I decided that I’d  go out with a boy I’d only met once, because going out with boys that were friends never amounted to anything, and I met my best friend, love of my life, soul mate, father of my children, favorite person in all the earth, and I get to share everyday with him still.

We decided to stay in California after Matt graduated from seminary, because even though he didn’t have a job, I did, and we loved our church. Nearly eleven years later, here we are, and our church is more than a place to worship, it’s our family.

Matt convinced me to kayak for the first time in the jungle of Mexico. I was certain I’d topple the boat and be eaten by crocodiles, but I wasn’t and lived to snorkel for the first time in a cenote, even though I’m so claustrophobic I think I can’t breathe if someone sits on top of the blankets I’m under.

One more time. We’d wait six months after our miscarriage, and decided that if I wasn’t pregnant in that time frame, our family was complete. Though the pregnancy was laced with fear, I have my joy-bringer, Nicholas and Mary Elena (the icing on the family cake), because no fear of loss is great enough to snuff out the joy of having a child.

Choosing life over fear is amazing.

***

For the past several years I have chosen a word to intentionally live out over the course of the year. I’ve loved my word the last two years. Simply— to choose simplicity over drama; to simply love; to follow Jesus simply; to embrace the mundane moments of motherhood. Last year, my word was content. I wanted to choose contentment in all things; to be satisfied always because I know the Source of my provision; to allow the satisfaction of my soul to spill over into all areas of my life.

I love choosing a word for the year, because it becomes a part of my identity in a way that less intentional resolutions do. At the beginning of a new year, we all want to be healthier, to spend less money, to leave a mark on the world, but as the year trudges on, these good ideas will mostly fall by the wayside. Two years later, I’m still choosing simplicity and contentment in all things.

Today, I was sitting in the waiting room of a lab, preparing myself to have a ct scan. As I was waiting for the nurse to come out with the chalky “smoothie” I’d have to drink  before the scan, I was getting worked up. This is silly really (but also the only time I really understand Bethany’s issues with taste and texture), because there are so many things in life that I can do. I delivered my babies without epidurals, for goodness sake, but the three times I’ve had a ct scan, I have been overcome by fear … fear of having to drink that gross concoction and only having an hour to do it … fear of having to lay still … fear of what the pictures will reveal.

Lying on the table with machinery all around me today I knew. 2016 is my year to be fearless.  I don’t just want to fear less. I want to know Who I’m living for and believe that He loves me and let His love “… expel all fear” (1 John 4:18).

So what if the doctor calls and says the tests showed some abnormality? What then? I will live trusting that I serve a good God, who is for me and with me.

Now this is what the Lord says—
the One who created you …,
and the One who formed you … —
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
I will be with you
when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you.
You will not be scorched
when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you.

Isaiah 43:1-2

But it’s not just the test results — it’s working out the details of living well in Los Angeles; it’s balancing dreams and reality; it’s wanting a suburban existence in a city; it’s choosing to love and serve the church and the city without sacrificing the well-being of home life; it’s all the little wants and needs that four kids have and the parent hearts that have to pick and choose what’s right and good for them even when it means disappointment; it’s thinking that your life would turn out one way and waking up to find yourself living an equally good, but less exciting existence than you imagined.

All of the unknowns, the things that I can’t control, all of the many scenarios I work out in my mind for how this year could play out for me and my family and friends — those things do not change the end of my story.

You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139: 5-10

In 2016, I can be fearless no matter what is going on in the world around me, within my own home, or the worries that skip through my mind, because of Who I belong to and Who is writing my story. He is sovereign and I can trust Him.

I am writing with a group of ladies this year. If you’d like some inspiration for the new year, let Allison‘s words encourage you and follow the links to the other blogs.

Be Still

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;’
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Psalm 46:10-11

Before we got into the busy-ness of Christmas this year, I took some time to pray. I prayed that I would be present in the moments; that we wouldn’t rush through the motions, but that we would really take the time to relish the season — to rest in the waiting; to practice Advent.

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I am a do-er. I have a hard time sitting still. It is difficult not having something I’m trying to achieve. My kids and husband got sick over Christmas break. In a strange way, I can see how this was an answer to my prayer. We were forced to live in the moment; to make the best of the situation. For almost two weeks, I did what was necessary and let go of the things that I generally fill my days with.

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The house wasn’t pristine. We didn’t eat a well balanced, home cooked meal every night. The beds were occupied more than they were made. The bathroom was cleaned often, and its door might as well have been a revolving one. We missed out on our Christmas Eve plans with friends. I wasn’t even sure I’d cook our Christmas day meal until late in the afternoon, but what could have been a disaster for the planner, do-er, friend-cherisher that I am, was a gift in disguise.

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We made memories that would never have been ours, had everything worked out the way I had planned. I was forced to slow down, which was exactly what I had wanted. We watched classic movies and ate Texas Trash; we made a sick room downstairs so that no one had to be alone while sick; we read all our favorite Christmas books multiple times; we played game after game and laughed a lot; we ate prime rib in our pajamas! For as sick as everyone was, we had a great holiday!

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With the start of the new year and the kids going back to school, it has taken some time to get back into a good routine. Two weeks in and we’re still not there yet. We’re playing catch up, and that has meant that I’m home a lot more than I usually am. Sometimes I feel like I’m moving in slow motion; that what a month ago I could have accomplished in a day, now takes me a week to complete.

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All this being home, has given me so much time to think. It’s no secret that time is moving on and my kids are growing, and with every passing day we experience change. I thought I was good at change. Now I’m looking at all the things that are basically up in the air in our life, and I’m trying to hold it all together. My purse, kitchen counter, and my dresser are cluttered with little scraps of paper with numbers and notes on them, tangible pieces of me trying to figure it all out. I’ve worked out multiple scenarios … if this happens, then this will be the plan … but if that happens, then this would be the best solution. Seriously, I’m constantly “figuring” and in the end, all I have is a messy purse and no answers.

***

Mary Elena Leigh stayed home from school today. She took a four hour nap in the middle of the day yesterday, and so she was up really late. All of my kids outgrew their nap by two and a half years old, and so if a kid of mine is sleeping in the middle of the day and just won’t wake up, I know she isn’t feeling well. You’d never hear her complain; that’s not her nature. Parenting her is both a joy and a mystery. She is so laid back, so quiet, such a little partner in life, that I have to read between the lines and make the call on what she will or will not do. She is happy to just be and to be with.

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For a mother of four, that is a gift. She’s at home this morning and she is with me, whether I am transferring or folding laundry, dredging eggplant in bread crumbs, doing the dishes, eating, lost in my thoughts, or writing. Mary Elena is there, and she is contentedly playing, whispering to her toys, smiling every time I look at her. Whether she is sick or completely healthy and full of energy, she takes joy in being.

These days, I’m learning a lot from my three year old. Though our days are woven together, my life looks so different from hers, and it’s not just the difference of an adult and a child. The difference is in the heart.

Mary Elena has always just gone with the flow. When each of my kids was a baby I gave them a lullaby — their song. Each song is filled with words that I hope and pray for them. Words of love. I’ve been thinking about different words in these songs, as I look at all that could change in the year ahead. Making decisions used to be so much easier, but the older I get, the more I realize that I do not live in an autonomous realm. My decisions affect others, and so often the people they affect are the ones that mean the most to me. It weighs heavy on me that I’ve sung these words to my baby for the past three years:

I won’t let nobody hurt you
Won’t let no one break your heart
Now no one will desert you
Just try to never grow up

What if I make the wrong decision and I hurt them … if what I do breaks their hearts and forces them to grow up just a little more this year? What if what I think is the best for us, actually isn’t?

And then I remember this

“For in him all things were created … He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16-17

I can spend every free minute I have trying to work it all out. I can allow all the details of the life I’m trying to make for our family distract me from everything else. I can try to hold it all together, but in the end and from the beginning, that was never mine to do. It’s not my job.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with love for my kids. I see them playing or eating or sleeping, and I’m just overcome with a love that I would have never dreamed possible. I want what’s best for them. Matt and I would do anything to keep them safe, to give them what they need, to try to satisfy some of their wants. That sounds like someone else I know.

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Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ … your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:26-34

That being that Mary Elena is so good at? Part of that is her own wiring, and part of that is the security within which she lives. She’s never been given a reason to worry. Never has she had something disastrous happen to her, to cause her to question or doubt that her needs will be met.

I’m a little more weathered. I’ve lived thirty-two years longer than Mary Elena. There are times when I’ve been let down, disappointed, mistreated. Like everyone, I’ve thought my lot in life was unfair at times. The imaginary, perfect world that I’ve created in my mind rarely matches my reality, and my prayers are often poised to help God make my perfect world exist.

But if He’s holding all things together, then my ideas, my efforts, my “perfect” world, is completely superfluous to His perfection.

This year, while I continue to slow down, I’m feeling urged to trust in ways I never have before. To not expect that God will work everything out because of my efforts, but in spite of them. To trust, because He is good. To trust because like I would do anything for the good of my kids, He can do anything and everything for the good of us.

When I look at all the unknowns in my life right now, I get discouraged. I want certain things, because I think they are what is best for me, for my friends, for my family, for my church. But this year I want my wants to be submissive to His great love; to know that He is for me and I can trust Him.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1


 

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