Wednesday, July 15, 2015

fighting fear

When life is moving too fast... literally last evening I was sitting in the back seat of our van and Joe, our oldest, was driving down I-83. I don't often sit in the back seat so my perspective was a bit different and I was wall-side of 83 feeling ridiculously anxious. The wall felt menacingly close. I had to close my eyes and remind myself not to freak out. It's not that Joe was driving too fast, he wasn't even up to speed at one point and people were passing on the right. I just feel I've hit a patch of extravagant turbulence. My world is being rocked hither and yon.

I find myself comparing this summer to last summer. When we first arrived in the states last year Steve was very sick with scary high fevers that were eventually diagnosed as viral encephalitis and when he recovered he was diagnosed with malaria and before being completely recovered from that he had a gall bladder attack. This happened while we were mostly homeless and trying to get a couple of our kids to college and one settled locally for the next school year.

It's so easy to remember the scary parts and forget the parts where I was surrounded by excellent support. I had multiple medical professionals at my finger tips. I had friends and family coming out of the wood work to offer homes to live in and care for my kiddos.

Recently friends of ours were in a very serious car accident in Cameroon. They were on their way back from the airport after a year of home assignment. 2 missionary friends had picked them up in a van large enough to accommodate everyone and all their luggage. The wife of one of the friends was back at their home with dinner ready, anticipating a wonderful reunion. She got a text letting her know all was well and they would be there soon. Then she got a disturbing phone call from her husband telling her they had been in an accident. (Facebook users: Click Here)  All survived and no one was gravely injured, though there were some really scary head injuries sustained. They are all expected to fully recover.

Again it's so easy to dwell on the chaos and horror of that situation and forget the excellent support that surrounded them and the way God must have intervened to allow them to live through a head on collision going 35-40 mph. But that's the thing right? God allowed them to live through it. He didn't prevent it but allowed them to go through it. I hate going through times of illness and accidents, times of goodbyes and transitions, times of loss and mystery (not the good kind that you watch or read about passively for entertainment but the kind you go through in a befuddled state feeling out of control). Steve just came up as I'm writing this blog and told me about the death of a good friend of ours in Gabon. My heart is grieved to hear of it and know I can offer nothing other than prayers and words of sorrow from a great distance.

It's easy to ask why God has allowed us to go through such things. He could effortlessly prevent them. However He allows them to happen. We live through it until we don't. How we live through it makes all the difference. I can tell you stories of God's goodness in the midst of great grief. I can remember when He spoke love and comfort during times of great personal distress. He promises to be with us always.

I hate to admit that I often forget God's goodness. I find myself fearful and anxious much like the Israelites wandering in the desert after being delivered from slavery in Egypt. They experienced
miracle after miracle in their epic deliverance. Yet they grumbled and complained and embodied fear. What should have been an 11 day journey turned into nearly 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. I first heard of the cycles of failures of the Israelites when I was a child. It was absurd to me that the Israelites could so quickly forget God's miraculous rescues and provisions. I couldn't believe they could be so hard headed and hearted. I vowed never to be like them! Famous last words... I am so like them. I forget God's goodness again and again. I moan and complain and allow anxious and fearful thoughts to root deep within.

Case in point, I am taking college classes online and while I was in the midst of taking a quiz for one of my classes I accidentally submitted it after only completing 20% of the quiz. It was a stupid mistake and I panicked. I freaked out and after writing an email to my professor went upstairs to my room and wept bitterly in frustration. I over-reacted for sure. I allowed ruinous thoughts to rain down on my brain. Thoughts that said I was stupid and couldn't even follow simple directions, thoughts that said I shouldn't be taking classes. I was a puffy mess. Steve lovingly sat next to me and firmly yet compassionately calmed me down and prayed with me. I took a shower and decided to shake it off. I checked my Liberty email and found my prof had responded and I could retake the quiz. No harm no foul. All that emotional fallout for nothing!

I have all these fears about leaving our 2 college kids in the states and fears about going back to Cameroon. They range from small concerns to full-blown life and death scenarios. My vivid imagination can really crank out detailed possible disasters which loop in living color over and over again in my mind. I am really good at making mountains out of mole-hills. It reminds me of the story of Gideon.

I am taking a Bible class and in my course work I am studying the story of Gideon. The opening scene is of Gid deep within a winepress threshing wheat. A winepress is a well-like structure in the ground where grapes are thrown down and someone jumps in to stomp on them. The story goes on to say that an angel of the Lord appeared in shepherd's clothing and sat under a tree near the opening of the winepress and watched the wheat get tossed up and down. Gid was surely covered with wheat, looking ridiculous and unaware anyone had come upon him. He was deep in the winepress hiding from possible Midianite bandits then the angle of the Lord greeted him saying, "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor" (Judges 6:12 ESV). Gid responds by saying, "Please sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us..." (6:13). Gid is referring to all the calamity the Israelites are facing with the Midianites stealing from them and pushing them to the edge of the Promised Land.

In the book, Courageous Faith, author Ed Hindson points out during this time in the history of Israel the Israelites were once again in a cycle of failure. They did evil in the eyes of the Lord and so the Lord allowed the Midianites to raid, destroy and push around the Israelites for 7 years. The Israelites cried out to God and begged forgiveness asking God to intervene and deliver them from their enemy. God answered their prayers with the most unlikely character Gideon. Gideon was probably the most cowardly person in the weakest tribe. God chose Gid, a bumbling farmer afraid of his own shadow to become a war hero, to bring victory to the Israelites and keep His promises. Gid had all kinds of "ifs" in his dealings with God. His "ifs" were simply his many fears fleshed out. God responded to each and every one and became Israel's deliverer once again. In the story of Gideon the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Gideon and transforms Gid into a war hero. God did the work and all Gid did was obey.

Hinson ends his chapter on Gideon with this sentence, "God is more interested in our finding him in our life's struggles than protecting us from life's struggles" (p.104). That's the part I struggle with. I want protection from life's struggles and God wants me to find him in life's struggles! My fears mount up before me like a vast wall stretching out over the horizon yet God wants me to hand over my fears and grasp hold of this:

"...I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:14-21 NLT

I am encouraged by the story of Gideon. I love how God uses unlikely characters to become heroes and do incredible things. God calls us to become more than sum total of our parts, he puts his spirit in us and extraordinary things happen for his glory. I am a coward like Gideon was but I am being changed by his spirit. Rather than shrinking into a quivering stressed out mass of humanity focusing on my fears, please pray I press more fully into God and become complete with the fullness of his love and power.

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