when anxiety overwhelms: a mother’s tale of Hurricane Matthew

It was a mother’s worst-case-scenario. My  husband and I had finally made time for a much needed one-night retreat away from it all. Our children were staying with their beloved grandparents; we would be gone for a total of  24 hours, barely a few hours away. We disconnected from internet and cell phone signal was spotty. God met us right where we needed it, and when it was time to leave the next afternoon, we were aware of fresh winds of the Spirit breathing life into our hearts and our relationship.

But then there was Hurricane Matthew. We had assumed we were safe – that it was turning away from us.

Imagine our dismay when we had driven only a few feet and were practically floating through an unexpected flash flood – and this was in our SUV! We quickly switched into panic mode. For us, that meant my husband went super-calm and quiet, and I wanted to talk about it all. [We both quickly realized that this wasn’t working: lessons learned in a decade of marriage – and yes, you’re welcome.] Our focus was that we had to get home to our kids. We must. There was no other option.

One-and-a-half hours later, the situation was deteriorating quickly. More unexpected huge puddles on the road. When I checked the satellite radar, it showed us tracking right along with Hurricane Matthew’s new and unexpected path. Evening was falling and flash flood warnings were increasing.

We finally gave up and found a hotel that wasn’t yet full in which to stay. Then we had to call the grandparents and the kiddos and try to act brave and calm about the decision that had my mother’s heart trembling: we couldn’t make it back before bedtime as planned, and we were going to try again in the morning as long as Hurricane Matthew allowed.

Needless to say, it was a long night.

As we surveyed the damage the next morning, we decided that we were going to risk it and try to head back to our “babies.” So we did. And God used the prayers of many to clear a path for us back home. It was a joyous reunion and a relief to give and receive hugs, laughter, tears.

And there’s a picture there, right? How anxious I am! How anxious we are collectively as a culture/nation right now!

We look around us and want to be anywhere but *here* – whether that’s the dark side of a cancer diagnosis, the turmoil of parenting challenges, a hurricane that’s wreaking havoc in your community, on the eve of a presidential election that has us all twisted in knots inside, in the midst of racial tension, stuck in a hard family relationship, etc. We want relief. We want a way out, or a promise that we’ll make it through. Or, even better, our people with whom to ride out the storms of life – literal and metaphorical. 

We have One. He fought his way through the depths of hell itself to be with us. It was costly [he died] – but miraculous [God raised him to life]. And it’s the only Hope I know that’s so sure and secure it is called, “an anchor of the soul.”

When the storms of life hit (perhaps literally), where do you turn? How have you known the peace of Jesus even in the very middle of the very worst troubles in your life? 

Day 6: what to do about fear {when pregnant with twins}

image from universesings.wordpress.com

image from universesings.wordpress.com

With every pregnancy, fear is an unwelcome undercurrent. For me who already has a predisposition towards anxiety, the fears of pregnancy added to the fears of twin pregnancy almost undid me. As soon as my OB found out it was twins, she was upfront and honest – telling me that I was automatically in the high-risk category despite being otherwise perfectly healthy and that the greatest risk for twin pregnancy is premature delivery. All of this I tried to process at week 6!

And I couldn’t. So the fear grew along with my belly. Here’s a blurb that I wrote on June 25, 2010 – 24.5 weeks into pregnancy. The eerie irony of hindsight is that it barely four days after this post I was going to be hospitalized for the very thing I feared the most: early premature labor. Yet you and I, dear readers, have the benefit of knowing that the story ended well. If you could, try to suspend that knowledge and watch me as (a) I anticipated one of my biggest fears of twin pregnancy and (b) walked through this fear onto the other side.

June 15, 2010

The next two topics I want to address in my “trusting God when you’re expecting” series are fears/anxieties and body image. Soon after finding out we were pregnant, I wrote this: “I think this pregnancy journey will certainly reveal the fear factory my heart often can be: there are truly an almost infinite number of things to worry about, over which I have virtually no control.” If the last post focused on how my heart is a desire factory, this one is about how my heart is also quite expert at producing fear, too. Pregnancy only magnifies this!

I have noticed that I have moved through different stages of fear along the journey of this pregnancy so far. Initially, there was the fear of losing the baby through miscarriage. I have had several friends who have walked through this grief, and I would imagine there are many more who have experienced this yet have not shared the grief with me or others. It’s such a private pain, really. I experienced some unsettling symptoms early on in our pregnancy that led us to think that I might be miscarrying. It was terrifying and dreadful as we waited for our first doctor’s appointment. The wait seemed to be forever – and then to finally be there and anticipate bad news … there just is no way to prepare yourself for that.

Here’s an entry from my journal early during those weeks of waiting:

“Lord, I do not want to be consumed by worry over what I cannot control anyway! So I’m officially crying out to you for help in a big way today. Make this refrain of Psalm 136 mine as well: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

“…to him who led his people through the wilderness for his steadfast love endures forever; It is he who remembered us in our low estate, For his steadfast love endures forever; And rescued us from our foes [fear], For his steadfast love endures forever.”

Help me in my unbelief – in my insatiable desire to control the uncontrollable [having a miscarriage] and to know the unknowable [whether this baby is healthy].”

That’s the thing with anxiety: it is my attempt to control what I cannot control – and in fact, what is not mine to control. My role was to actively trust God, come what may. Easy to say when looking in the “rear-view mirror” of life but it feels impossible when you’re in the midst of the dark valley of death’s shadow. I remember repeating over and over again the words of Psalm 23 and Psalm 139, seeking to meditate on these truths of my Shepherd and entrust these little lives into His care. Practically, I also restricted myself from searching on the internet for more information, as this only served to increase my fear and anxiety at all of the “what ifs” out there.

As the fear of miscarriage faded a bit with each week, it was replaced with the fear of “how in the world will I take care of TWO babies?” This is an anxiety that I am still working through. It certainly comes in waves. For example, I remember the day I went grocery shopping and noticed how cute a mom and her baby were. Immediately following this was the realization that grocery carts don’t have space for TWO infants! And my “natural” fear/thought progression led me to the conclusion that I would never be able to even venture out to buy groceries by myself after the twins’ birth. (twin friends, please leave me in blissful ignorance if that is, in fact, true) I fear the loss of my independence.

Other fears that I experienced especially during the first trimester included:

  • fears of whether I was eating enough and the right kinds of food to nourish the babies
  • fear of unknowingly exposing them to harmful toxins (did using my aerosol hairspray once or twice damage them? What about the day they were refinishing the floors at my workplace and I smelled the fumes for a few hours?)
  • fear of how my fears and anxiety might have a negative impact on their growth and development

More than any pregnancy book I turned to for answers, reading this book on anxiety, Calm My Anxious Heart (by Linda Dillow), and hearing sermons on the book of Hebrews about the faithfulness of God reminded me of God’s care and provision. The God who created the universe is intricately involved in my life, speaking to my fears and reassuring me with His presence – in fact, inviting me into His presence. And I have many friends who helped to demonstrate this truth to me through their prayers and encouraging words and presence with me.

Where does fear show up currently? As I approach the end of my second trimester, I have (naturally) begun worrying about whether I’ll go into premature labor. This fear is certainly grounded in the risks associated with twin pregnancy. I find myself again in the realm of needing to actively trust in a God who knows when these babies will be born. This doesn’t mean that I throw caution to the wind. In fact, I have stopped exercising vigorously and I am more tuned in to resting when I’m tired (novel concept for me) and seeking to continue to eat well. Yet beyond that, the details of when these babies will arrive is really out of my hands.

A few years ago at a baby shower, a woman in my church who was pregnant with her fourth child at the time told me that pregnancy was the best opportunity she had been given to learn how to surrender completely to God because every aspect of pregnancy, labor, and delivery is really out of your control.That has stuck with me, and I pray that I will continue to grow in trust – rather than fear – throughout the remaining weeks of this pregnancy.

If you want to continue to follow along, subscribe to my blog or like my Facebook page “Hidden Glory” to get updates. For the month of October, I’m participating in “Write31Days” and my series is “31 Days of Parenting Twins.” 

Five Minute Friday: fear

Our first week of summer has officially begun – defined for us as the time between preschool’s end mid-June and pre-K beginning in early September. And we are trying to find our new rhythm, with stops and starts along the way. More to come in a future post. For now, though, I return to Five Minute Friday – five minutes of free writing on a given topic every Friday. Hosted by Kate Motaung.

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fear

photo from: findingthegracewithin.com

Fear: the four-letter word that leaves us trembling. It can feel like a vague, nagging sense of dread playing in the background of our days like an unwanted soundtrack. It can pierce through our souls and bodies, leaving panic and a racing heart in its wake. It can be warranted – like what I felt the day I saw planes take down twin skyscrapers in New York City. That became an image for a generation of a world that was no longer as safe as we thought it was. An image for our fear to rest upon. Fear can be seemingly inexplicable, too. This is the “free-floating” variety, that can rest upon anything in its path.

If we let it, fear shrinks our worlds. Fear leaves people isolated in their homes for decades. It keeps us from engaging those different from us. The irony is that the more we listen to fear, the bigger it becomes.

The only way to be free of fear is to act against it. To go to church when you’re newly aware of a headline proving there is truly no *safe* place in this world. To board a plane to a dangerous area of the world to defend what’s good and true – to keep evil from winning. To take a pen in hand and write the most honest thoughts of your heart. To admit our fears together – this begins to be the pathway out of fear. Shall we?

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The perplexity, fear, and joyful disbelief of Easter morning

Perplexed. Frightened. Startled. Disbelieved for joy. Alarmed. Astonished. Afraid.

All of these describe the response of those who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. Joy is our primary emotion on Easter morning, but fear overshadowed all else on that first Easter morning. Fear and astonishment. Nestled in the middle of the gospel accounts is this, “disbelief for joy,” and that seems to make the most sense to us. It’s what we can connect to as ones who eagerly proclaim resurrection hope.

I wonder what it would be like to stop and sit in the other responses: perplexed at how this could be – at what this could mean. Frightened, startled, alarmed, astonished to find the tomb empty. This shook those first witnesses to the core. We expect it because we know the end of the story, and we can’t bear to sit with the weight of the grief of Good Friday for long. (I was all too happy that we did a pre-Easter celebration with my daughters yesterday – like skipping the uncomfortable scenes of a movie, we press fast-forward to today’s joy.) But what would it have felt like to go to the tomb early on a Sunday morning, while it was still dark, fully expecting to pay homage to the memory of beloved Jesus, and to find instead that it was empty? Of course Mary’s first response is that someone has stolen the body (John 20:2):

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

That makes sense. But that Jesus is alive? It is too good to be true. If it’s true, everything changes. And that is perplexing, frightening, and alarming. What will happen next if resurrection has happened? It interrupts with discomfort the order we depended on (even the grief inherent in the old order of things can feel comfortable because it is familiar). If Jesus is alive, what else will change? Do we dare to hope that freedom from Roman oppression will also happen? What does this mean for our mission? Will we die, or will Jesus bring us with him to heaven immediately?

No wonder there are numerous letters written to the early church discussing the implications of Jesus’ resurrection. It changes everything.

What has it changed for you, and for me?

I have hope that I will meet again those who have died. Bethany, Nancy Leigh, Beverlee, Uncle Ashby, Grandmother and Grandfather Davis, Papa, a sister-in-law I never knew (Sarah), Lynn, Karla, Katharine. And you who have lost beloved family and friends will see them again, too – Nan; Liz; Jill; Megan, Kelli, & Patti; Mike & Shelby; the Rodriguez family; Kimberly & Erick; John – thinking and praying for each of you particularly this Easter morning.

I have courage to enter into the messy and broken places of my heart and others’ lives as we grieve to live in between resurrection and full restoration when Jesus returns. I can weep with those who weep, who miss their beloved ones, whose hearts are breaking because of the brokenness of this world. I can sit and mourn without having answers. I can listen and be impacted by the grief of life in a world that’s not yet what it should be. 

I can ask my questions and doubts, and create space for you to do the same. Jesus compassionately showed doubting Thomas his scars. He did not berate him for his disbelief. (For disbelief might be one of the most honest first responses to the reality of resurrection.)

sad untrue quote

photo from poetrystoryteller.blogspot.com

I can choose joy (belief in a bigger purpose, a deeper reality) in the middle of suffering and heartache and frustrations. I have an unshakeable hope waiting for me, guaranteed by the Resurrection. “Everything sad will come untrue,” writesSally Lloyd-Jones in The Jesus Storybook Bible.

I’ll close with one of many teachings on “what now, in light of Jesus’ resurrection?” This one penned by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”