What Are You Afraid Of?

Why are you so afraid?

That was the big question today, one of the reasons I love my church; we ask questions that even Oprah might poke around at, and we invite honest discussion and difficult wrestling. We don’t always provide a solid, definitive answer, but we point the way.

People complain about our church sometimes, that we don’t “teach the Bible”. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the ability of rational, intelligent people to think for themselves. A good day, like today, is one that shows us what  Jesus said or did, and then challenges us to take a hard look and make it relevant on a deeper, personal level.

(We started a new series called “The Counselor” today, and you can check out the opening message – about fear – here.)

Why are you so afraid?

We have the benefit of an hour’s drive home to process every Sunday morning. A few weeks ago, we processed the fact that if I don’t get some positive feedback after my work is done, I shut down pretty quickly. It’s sometimes ugly but mostly true; I just need some words. He knows that, now, after enduring 30 miles of a pouty, sulky silence from the passenger seat.

Drive time.

And so now he says, “You did a good job with all the talking today, baby. You pulled everything together pretty well.” A few weeks ago, he pointed out that I tend to take on the accent of the environment, quite subconsciously, and that I adapted some weird country-girl voice that sounds great on my friend Carol but not so legitimate on me.

(This is true; it just happens, y’all; and I have to put the brakes on the Southern-girl accent. When I lived in the DR, I started speaking English like an English-as-a-second-language, Spanish-speaking white girl, with a crazy Dominican accent that didn’t make sense for someone born and raised in Franklin, Pennsylvania. When I’m around my Aunt Barbara, the deep North Carolina girl in my genes softens all her ‘R’s’, and her vowels all lay down with a cool drink on a hot day and I tahk lahk disssss…)

Anyway…

The spring sunshine and the blooming trees made for a brilliant, bright landscape today, and as we wound around the two-lane curves in the gentle heat of noon, he asked, “So, what are you afraid of?”

I had thought about it, when the preacher asked. I’d already heard the message, twice, and I briefly considered the question; but today, in the darkness of our little campus gathering, I considered my answer.

I’m afraid of failing, I said. I’m afraid of really trying, of somebody saying, “Oh, you’re a girl – you can’t be a pastor.” Or of somebody thinking, “After all you’ve done – and you are now a leader of a church? HOW RIDICULOUS.” I’m afraid of not being enough. Of being found wanting. Of being disqualified.

It came to me rather quickly – surprisingly so. I am afraid of these things, and my fear inhibits me, sometimes. It keeps me up at night, sometimes. It reminds me of all the things I didn’t do right, while the few things that went well slip through the cracks, unnoticed. It’s there, unbidden, hiding in the dark, where fears gather mold as they wait for an opportunity to make themselves known. I think it’s all good, but it doesn’t take long to summon that dark anxiety to the surface.

For the most part, I do believe I have grown past all that. Lots of affirmation has helped; confidence helps. But ultimately this is my burden to bear, my skin to shed.

You can choose to give in to fear, or you can choose to give in to faith. 

But you can’t do both at the same time.


You can try to do both at the same time, but that’s crazy-making.

I spoke my piece and he was quiet for a minute.

So who might say that sort of thing to you who you could discount, because you knew they were wrong?

I said, Probably nobody. I want to please people.

We drove another mile in silence.

Mostly, the voice in my head sounds like my ex.

And then I thought about that for a while; about how all things work together and how grace and forgiveness and a common purpose covers a multitude of pain and sin. That voice in my head is where it is for a reason – in my head, and only there. And it’s not my voice; it’s fear talking, and it’s not rational.

The point of the message hit me about 23 miles after I heard it.

You can choose to give in to fear, or you can choose to give in to faith.

You can choose.

You can.

Choose.


It was a good day; one in which I learned as much from my husband’s carefully chosen words as those of my pastor.

God works in mysterious, beautiful ways.

Taking My Time

It has been a day when time stretches out from beginning to end, and I treasure every second.

Home, after too many days of going hard and fast. The sweetest thought, when I awoke, was that there was not one single thing on my calendar.

I took a peek at next week’s calendar a few minutes ago, and the days are already full. Meetings and places to go and people to see, and usually just enough time in between for me to get from one to another.

I say this not to encourage sympathy or try to subtly let you know How Busy I Am. I’ll tell you, flat out: I’m busy. But truly, no more busy than the rest of you. Every season brings a different sort of I don’t know how you do it! and I am speaking to you, Mom of three littles settled into your homeschool routine every day. I am speaking to you, parents of one kid instead of five. I am speaking to you, empty nesters. And you, dad-out-of-work.

All of us, truly; the swath cuts wide and deep and none of us have a hold on how we Get Through It All, until we’re through it and we look back and see that there, by the grace of God, we did it.

So in this season of my life, the dawning of a day with a clear calendar is a balm to my soul. I happily engage in my work and my responsibilities every day of the week, but this day?

It was a gift.

And we ended it with a late dinner – grilling in the dark, the thick steaks that would make my youngest cry, if he knew we ate them without him. Cooked to perfection, with quiet music in the background and gentle conversation with my beloved.

I washed and put away clothes, and I cleaned the kitchen, and I talked to God and prayed for people as breath coming in and out of my lungs. I exercised my body and I bought fresh spinach and chicken breasts and chocolate milk and I sat on my parents’ couch and stayed a while.

These moments offer something so deep, so rich and resonant. Perhaps it is my perspective, this seasoned place pushing through middle age into something wiser; but with every day that passes, I am more grateful, and more aware of how brief a time we actually have here.

I remember, just a few years ago, when I was having huge issues with the thought of turning 50. I felt as thought my life would end. I was beside myself, looking down a long tunnel of something that felt so foreign and strange. And I couldn’t stop talking about it.

My friend Walter said, “Get over yourself.”

I was so worked up. And it was such a waste of time.

I’m 51 now – almost 52 – and today, I woke up and stretched my legs and was thankful to get out of bed and have nothing to do. That’s a miracle, right there, and a gift.

Live well. Take your time. Let the day stretch long, and treasure all that is right here, within your grasp.

A few snapshots from my day:

Does anybody feel my pain here? Do you know of this hateful thing?

My mom’s flowers are blooming…

This is just to make David cry. Pretty crappy photo, especially  for Sarah Brawley’s mom….

Who Chooses To Go To The Hard Places?

It’s the middle of Holy Week; we are leaning hard toward Easter, and in my line of work, that’s a big deal.

There’s no point in anything we do as followers of Jesus – not to the extent that we exclusively follow Jesus – if the Easter story isn’t true.

We forget that, sometimes. We sing about Jesus and preach about Jesus and look to the Bible for guidance, those of us who have tacked his name onto our identity. But we don’t always remember the gritty, nastier part.

My friend Jerimy was reduced to tears this morning. He said, “I can’t find a word. I don’t know. I’ve just been thinking about it all week…”

I said, “You seem undone.

He nodded and walked out the door.

The truth is not pretty. It’s not some sentimental, glorious operatic piece of cinema. It’s ugly and vicious, painful and bloody. Tortuous, and true. Some 2000 years hence, we scoot past the nasty part into Easter eggs and new clothes and high attendance Sunday. Who wants to willingly sink into sorrow? Who chooses to go to the hard places?

/ / /

I’m a follower of Jesus, and most of the time my identity fuses with my job and my passion and my healing and a fascination with the way God has interacted with humanity. I shy away from absolutes, save a few, and I don’t believe disrespect of others honors God or the people He created. I cringe at most of what Christian culture offers, though that’s probably a pride issue, truth be told.

I believe there is a great mystery to this life.

And I believe that Jesus told the truth.

We read that he lived, and died, and came back to life. We read that many years prior to his existence, prophecy indicated the way that he would live – and die – in uncanny detail.

It’s there for the taking; or not. It can certainly be explained away, if you so desire; we’re all capable of spiritual gymnastics that suit our current situation, in either direction…

But here’s what I know today; in spite of the mess we seem to have made of the mandate to love God and love people, in spite of the broken things that will not be repaired in this life, regardless of the lack of respect and even spiteful disdain that comes my way from those who have rejected Jesus as the Christ (quite often with good reason), in spite of how easy it seems, these days, to set aside faith in God and lean hard into a good life for the sake of a good life – in spite of all this, I’m sticking with this identity that I have chosen.

Because past the politics and organized religion and issues and side and songs – beyond it all, there was a man named Jesus.

I believe it. And the most powerful part of the story is the one we re-learn this week; that he willingly went to the hard places, and he proclaimed love every step of the way.

Don’t take it for granted; don’t think you already know the story. Pick up the book and read it again, the tale of his last few days. Consider what it meant for a man to do what he did, to sink into the sorrow and choose to bear the physical abuse.

What do we do with that truth?

/ / /

In my most recent blog post, I wrote about my “issue”; something that I kept hidden, a thing that plagued me and bothered me. I wrote:

“I wonder if my situation makes you think of something similar in your own life. Because I wager that every one of us could be in a different place if we were willing to make a sacrifice.”

And I confess, I knew I might be stirring up trouble. Just a bit. Or at least, stirring up truth. Because so many of you contacted me, privately, to hint at your own issue.

A few brave souls came right out and said it, but most of you – like me – keep it hidden.

A day after that post went up, I felt a bit disingenuous. Because, honestly, my thing is not really as dramatic as you might think. You can find out what it is here – you might be disappointed, and the music is incredibly annoying. But that’s the truth – that’s my hidden issue.

(At least the one I want to talk about today.)

You can be mad at me or want to kick me, because you probably thought it was something more. I’m sure it feels anticlimactic.

But let’s be honest: It’s the little things, all the way around. For me, this is an issue that I know how to fix; it requires denying my appetite, since it’s triggered by stress and by what I eat.

Self-discipline, healthy living, mediation, denying myself the things I want or “need” or “deserve” in order to live without the daily pain – that’s all it takes.

But who chooses to go to the hard places, when we can gorge ourselves on what’s easy to reach, and pay the price later?

You may think it ridiculous, but I’m telling you; spiritual lessons can be found everywhere, because we are spiritual beings, and everything is connected. Thinking through this – writing about this, and confronting some truths about my choices and my willingness to rationalize everything; this is the thing that is drawing me closer to Christ in this Holy Week.

Because love him or disdain him, believe it or write it off – Jesus did do the hard thing, all those years ago. He suffered, for a greater good to which he ascribed great worth. In the translation to my life, here and now, that matters.

And centered within is the cord that tethers me to faith in Christ.