The Extra-Terrestrial and Other Stuff

The other night we opened our small group by having everyone share a fear or something that really freaks out him or her. Before we began, I have to admit, I felt a little proud–after all, I really only had one main fear.

Too bad that fear is kind of crazy.

You see, I am terrified of something that really shouldn’t bother me. I’ve never had any experience with this thing, nor will I probably ever. Yet, the thought of it can start my heart racing, my body tingling. I’ll stay awake at night curled in a little ball, holding onto Matt’s arm as we sleep.

But if this thing is real, Matt’s arm isn’t going to help.

No, nothing can save me if the aliens come.

That’s right; I’m terrified of aliens, so terrified, in fact, that I cannot even look up a picture to place within this blog. I tried to find a picture of a UFO instead, minus the aliens, but when the pace of my breathing quickened, I had to stop.

I know they are probably not real, and I also know that, even if they are real, they most likely aren’t coming for me. Unless they can read minds and know I’m currently typing about how afraid I am and they come for me and then they take me to the mother ship and they stick those probe thingies in my eyeballs and then they impregnate me some little alien baby that will burst forth from my stomach in four months (they grow quickly) killing me and setting forth their plan to take over the human race.

Whew.

By the time it was my turn, I had heard fears ranging from giant camel spiders in Iraq to snakes to sinking in the ocean, and I felt like I could have a panic attack. I didn’t even realize that I shared some of these fears, and I was sure when I talked of my fear of aliens to the group, I might send some of us over the edge. But everyone just stared at me and gave a polite chuckle….

I know the fear is irrational, but, nonetheless, it is real. When Matt is away on a trip and I hear a noise in the dark, my mind goes to strange places. And while fear can serve a purpose–we stay away or are cautious of unsafe environments–this fear does nothing useful.

And, unfortunately, when I really began to think about this topic, I found that I have a list full of unproductive fears:

What if my children don’t love God when they’re older, and they rebel? What if they don’t love me? What if one of them gets sick–really sick? What if something happens to Matt?

The list could go on and on. And while the above list at least covers real people in my life and lists more rationale fears, the end result is the same: the fear gets me nowhere.

And since I’m too busy to waste my time dwelling on the unproductive, I choose to place my thoughts elsewhere:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, New International Version, 2010).

Not on snakes.

http://i226.photobucket.com/albums/dd309/KenMarsh/python.jpg

Not on spiders.

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And definitely not on aliens.

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What frightens you? How do you overcome fear?

Fear

When Matt is away and I settle in our room for the evening, my imagination tends to get the get the best of me.  I hear every creak, and my mind begins to play out morbid scenarios.  If you were to ask me on those nights, I could tell you my defense plan against a home invasion and where I would hide with our three kids.  By the time I get in bed, my heart is pounding, and all I can do is pull the covers up over my face, squeeze my eyes shut, and hope I fall asleep quickly.

I’m sure this frame of mind contributed to the whacky dreams I had the last night Matt was gone.  In one dream I was a pop artist trying to perform, but the venue did not provide security for me.  My scariest dream that night, however, was a dream full of friends from high school.  Two of those friends had a sad story about their current mental conditions, and for some reason they would instantly turn into sociopaths and try to kill anyone in their paths.  Unfortunately, I was in the one friend’s path, and I spent most of the dream trying to escape his wrath.

In the middle of the night, I awoke, terrified.  I was breathing hard, and it took me a minute to comprehend that I had been dreaming.  The strange thing about dreams is that no matter how bizarre and unrealistic the plot is, they can still feel incredibly real.  As I was lying in bed, coming to the realization that I was now awake and not running away from my former friend-turned killer, I realized that I had to use the bathroom.  But I couldn’t move.  I was paralyzed with fear.  I rolled over and again squeezed my eyes shut while squeezing my bladder harder.

The next morning after I ran to the bathroom, I began to think about my dream and the power I let fear have over me. I had allowed fear to keep me in bed, even though I had a need to get up and was extremely uncomfortable. Of course, my fear was understandable–I was alone in a big, dark bedroom, and I had already let my mind run wild thinking of the three little lives I would protect if anyone tried to cause us harm.  In the daylight, I was more rationale, and, thankfully, fear didn’t control any part of me.

Or did it?

While I was priding myself on my ability to live my life without fear hindering me, a particular incident rushed up to the front of my mind and smacked me in the face.  Recently, my husband pressed me on starting graduate school.  I have a little tuition money for having served in the Air Force, and I only have a few years left to use it.  True to his nature, Matt began searching for different programs that I might enjoy, and he showed me a creative writing program from the University of Georgia. And while I don’t think now is the right time for me to begin a program, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that fear caused me to dismiss Matt rather quickly.

As I looked over this program, intimidation seeped throughout my body.  In one moment, I scanned the required courses, and I felt an adrenaline rush!  The chance to read and discuss literature again with my peers, to write essays and challenge my mind–I wanted to start now!  But almost as quickly that moment of excitement, that positive rush of adrenaline turned to a rush of fear, a moment of flight.

Sometimes when I’m writing my blog, I can’t remember basic grammar rules even though I used to teach high school English.  Since becoming a mother, I have lost brain cells as that part of my brain that used to think clearly and analytically is a little mushy. How could I write a graduate level paper?  I’ve been out of practice for too long…I don’t want to receive scorn from my professors, pity or disgust at being the little stay-at-home mom who needed something to do.

Part of the admission requirement is to submit a portfolio of writing, one piece having to be so many pages in length.  I’ve never attempted to write a novel or anything of substantial length; what would I submit?  And even if I got into the program, would I write anything that my professors or peers would think worth reading?  Most of my writing thus far has been about my children, my marriage, or my faith, topics I’m not sure academia would warmly receive.  I don’t have the great American novel swirling around in my mind–I have my experiences as a wife and mother, a Christian trying to understand God’s will, and they are what I know right now.

As I relived all of these thoughts, these doubts, the other morning, I was ashamed.  I have never talked myself out of something because of fear.  I’ve traveled to other countries by myself; I joined the Air Force after getting married and starting a career–I’ve never let fear determine my course or paralyze me from doing something I want to do.

And I’m not going to let it today, either.

I still don’t think now is the right time to start a graduate program.  I’m not emotionally ready to take on that challenge while raising such young children, and Matt and I have some other goals that we need to reach before I make such a commitment.  Yet when the time is right, I’m certainly not going to back away from a program that excites me because I fear that I might fail or not win others’ approval.

Because fear should never have that kind of power in our lives.  We should never allow fear to paralyze us, to keep us from taking a step in the next direction.  After all, there is no sense lying in bed with the covers pulled up over our faces, squeezing our eyes shut, when the bathroom is a mere fifteen feet away.

Fearless

I had no intention of doing any more than dangling her little feet in the water.  I thought the newness of cool waves lapping at her feet, sand squishing between her chubby toes would suffice.  It was early evening, so I hadn’t even changed the baby into her swimsuit; the sun would go down, and no one would want to swim. Instead, I found myself struggling to pick up a baby who had doubled over my arm reaching towards the water.  When I tried to straighten her and carry her, she allowed her body to transition from completely limp to completely tense–whichever would successfully allow her to slide beneath my grasp.

I marveled that evening as she moved through the water, determined to keep traveling ahead.  She was undeterred by the small waves that would meet her and pressed on.  Her orange tank-top dragging across her body with the weight of water, she continued to crawl with a small grin on her face.  She purposely dipped her head into the ocean to feel the cool on her cheek, only stopping momentarily, and then she continued.

Watching her move with such grace, I thought to myself how free she looked.

Fearless.

I envied her.  To be able to look at something so vast, so huge, yet jump in without hesitation is not an action to which I can relate.

I can relate more to my son who, upon seeing the ocean for the first time since he was a baby exclaimed, “It’s too scary!  It’s too scary!”  I was surprised by his reaction.  He went on to say that the ocean was so big, but almost immediately, he, too, braved the scary sea.

My second-born wanted to be brave; she wanted to run towards the waves, but her fears kept her dancing along the shore.

Until the next day when she gripped the back of her daddy’s neck, wrapped her legs around his waist, and allowed him to carry her through the waves.  I watched as cries left her open mouth, but then gradually the black hole I could see from afar began to close.  She trusted her daddy.

And why should any of my children have been afraid?  If they turned their heads away from the sea in front of them, they would’ve noticed a creased brow over the eyes of one watching with concern, not turning her eyes from the fearless babe unaware of how easily a wave could knock her over.  They would’ve known as soon as they took their first step into the deeper water, their mommy would’ve been right behind them.

Or behind the lens, capturing their every move, their brave moments in the waves, stood their Daddy. With each click of the camera, a smile spread across his lips from the joy of watching his kids play.  He stood proud, cheering on his children with each memory he preserved.

And when I turn my eyes from the vast sea in front of me, I am reminded that I no longer need to fear.  I look into the eyes of my Father and know He is guiding my every step as I pick up my foot that has sunk into the sand and push through the water lapping at my ankles.  I walk and feel the cool on my calves and then the back of my knees.  As the first waves splash around my thighs and more are forming in the distance, I turn back with worry written on my face.  But the eyes of my Father speak, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

It is then that I begin to play in the water and splash until I taste salt on my lips. It is then that I know that I, too, can be fearless.