the firm grip of anxiety

I feel smothered by anxiety lately.

An invisible python has coiled itself tightly around me, squeezing the life out of me, and I just stand there, paralyzed in fear.

Will it kill me?

Will I ever get out?

It’s snuffed out my confidence, my passion, my motivation.

Will I ever write with conviction again?

How does one write emphatically about a truth they haven’t embraced themselves?

I’ve noticed that lately, how I’m not sure of anything these days, a disconnect between the head and heart.

One can’t encourage unless they’ve been encouraged, inspire unless they’ve been inspired.

And I’m not.

I haven’t heard from God lately, and that bothers me. I find myself at a loss for words, my heart void of passion, and I don’t even know where to look for it.

I long to be connected, to move forward, to seek wisdom, to find confidence and speak boldly, but I’m stuck…

Self-doubt so heavy it’s exhausting. Standards so high they’re debilitating.

I know I just need to start somewhere, but where exactly would that be?

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Dear Diary, Circa 1996

source
May 5, 1996

Dear Diary, 

It seemed like the perfect life…until now. It’s about to fall apart; hopefully not, however. Bad news.

Mom and dad will be separated as of tomorrow, Monday night. Dad is going to live in an apartment about 15 minutes away, for about two months. Maybe more, maybe less. This is to avoid divorce. Yes, you saw right, divorce.

They said that sometimes, grown-ups hurt each others feelings, but they don’t know it.

How? Don’t ask me.

They said it was complicated and no one really understood how it happens, or why, but it just does. It’s because of the differences in their personalities and how they view things, mom says. She also says she doesn’t expect me to understand, but I do. It’s like when dad doesn’t call her all day when he’s at work and doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but mom gets all mad.

Us kids don’t get enough credit for our ability to understand these days. If anything, I thing we understand the world more than anyone. We see it through the right eyes, the true, real ones. Personal opinion. If only our opinions stayed this way, as we grow, then the world wouldn’t be half as bad as it is now. When you’re kids, you think littering is bad, drugs are bad, smoking’s bad, polluting is bad; and when we grow up, those opinions disintegrate, and new ones are formed. All of a sudden, littering and smoking are okay. Freedom has something to do with this, too. 

I’m babbling, back to the subject.

The family doctor id the one who told mom and dad to separate. I hope he knows what he’s talking about. Well, I guess advice from anyone else but our stupid dentist is okay with me. Mom says we’ll still do family things, and dad will come to all our events and stuff, fix things around the house, take us places, etc., but just won’t be sleeping here. Like he’s out-of-town, but we can talk to him and call him. Divorce is the last thing they want to do; me, too.

It’s a pretty nice day out, about 60 degrees. The smell of freshly cut grass in the air, along with the cheeps and chirps of birds, is a great sign of spring. I hope the problem gets worked out okay, or the rest of the year will be wet, foggy, and stormy.

 

*************

I was fifteen.

Twenty years have passed since then, but I can remember the events of that day as if it were yesterday.

I remember the solemn look on mom’s face as she gathered us in the family room.

I remember her nervously wringing her hands as we sat in a circle for a “family meeting,” the very sound of which was highly suspicious.

I remember, although they spoke to us as a united front, that there was a disconnect. A helplessness. A despair in the air.

I remember thinking that this couldn’t be happening to us. Everyone thought we were the perfect family.

But a lot can happen in twenty years.

Looking back, I can clearly see now that I processed life through writing. I’d tell myself not to stop, that you do some of your best thinking that way. Don’t get discouraged by life, by suffering, by circumstance, but instead set out your tools. Line them up and prep the ground. Excavate there. And as you dig through the dirt and the mess, let it propel you forward into your dreams and calling.

And I’d tell myself that it’s going to be okay.

…to be continued…

The Art of Not Making Disciples

I had the privilege of leading two ladies to Christ this past weekend.

But Father, I have sinned.

It’s been 10 years since I last led someone to a saving relationship with Christ.

10 years.

It was on a Friday night, which my friends and I planned to enjoy from our barstools. The room was dimly lit and the music blaring, probably something to the tune of Gold Digger (God I loved that song), and we huddled close, drinks in hand. I listened as drama from past relationships began to spill out all over the black countertop right along with the peanut shells.

I listened as they spoke of their first intimate encounter with someone they thought they loved, how it just happened, and how it hurt. That the guy didn’t end up being who they thought he was—in fact, he was a total jerk who just wanted their virginity—and how they moved onto another guy they thought they loved. How it didn’t really matter to them that they’d had sex with half a dozen people to date.

I had been praying for an opportunity. A chance to speak some truth into their broken hearts, to remind them that they are loved and worth so much more than the choices they’ve made. And so I sat with them. I drank with them. I listened to their pain.

Pain was sitting there with us that night, and they were talking to it, too. They were trying to convince it that it didn’t really matter to them, those intimate encounters gone awry. That pain had no place here in their lives, for they’ve moved onto another, and this one, for sure, must be the one. And they were happy. Couldn’t pain see that they were happy? But pain doesn’t take no for an answer, and I could see it in their eyes.

And so I called out the fourth party at the table by saying something like, “You both say it doesn’t matter, these past relationships, these past intimate experiences. But that can’t be true. You can’t sit here and tell me that you haven’t been deeply affected by all those broken relationships, all that broken trust. You can’t tell me that it doesn’t hurt.”

Their eyes began to well with tears and pain could no longer hide among us. It began to creep out and run down their faces.

Just as pain was ousted, Jesus had an in. There was room now. For Jesus can speak truth even in a dank bar over mixed drinks and beer, and I took advantage of that opportunity, unconventional as it were. I pulled out my Bible and told them of a better way. Of a God who loved them and cared about their pain, who saw their broken hearts and desired to make them whole.

And we sat there and read the Bible, verse by life-giving verse, until something of truth resonated with their inmost being. Until the light in their dark souls began to flicker a little with a glimmer of hope. And I asked if they wanted to ask Jesus to save them.

One did, and we prayed right there next to the spilled peanuts, hand in hand. The other didn’t, for her pain was still too great, and she couldn’t see past it. She was stuck in the muck of loss couldn’t yet reach out for hope. But maybe someday.

Fast forward ten years, through a new marriage with struggles, the birth of multiple children, the subsequent loss of my sanity as a result of said children, and the business of life, and here I find myself, not a disciple in sight for quite some time.

Matthew 28:17-20 (NIV)

17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This is supposed to be our mode of operation. Making disciples. That’s our jam.

But 10 years….

The past Sunday, however, was different. I was perched on a pew in the lobby at the back of the sanctuary, listening to the sermon from afar. Seating in the lobby is typically reserved for parents with toddlers, nursing mothers, hall monitors, or the homeless who wander in from the streets and don’t want to get too close. Or maybe it’s because they haven’t had a good shower in a year.

As lax as my personal hygiene is at times, I don’t fall into any of those categories, but I sit there a lot of the time anyways.

Mostly because I’m always late.

But also partly because I like to people watch, greet latecomers like myself (solidarity, you know), and keep an eye on things. And so there I sit this past Sunday, when a mother and daughter pair wander in at the tail end of service, right before communion. They sit down right beside me on the outsider’s pew. A hush falls over the crowd as the pastor sums up his message and prays for the congregation.

We’re dismissed for communion, but I stay seated, as it will take a while for the entire body in front of me to file in line. The mother next to me blurts out, not at all in a church whisper, “can anyone take communion?”

“Absolutely!” I reply. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a member or another denomination or anything—that’s not important—the only thing that matters is that you have a personal relationship with Jesus. If you do, you’re free to take communion.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks.” She stammers. And then silence.

I risk the awkwardness and blurt out myself, “Have you guys ever prayed a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart and life?”

“Well,” the woman offers, shifting around on the pew a little, “we’ve been to this church before and would like to keep coming….”

“That’s great!” I respond, leaning in a little closer, “and we’re so glad you came, but that’s not the same thing.”

I proceed to explain the problem of sin and why a relationship with Christ is so important. How either we need to pay for the wrong we’ve done, or we allow Jesus to do that, and it can all be done with a simple prayer if they were willing. They were, and we held hands and bowed our heads right then and there.

The communion procession continued behind us, although I’d forgotten all about it at that point. Because Jesus promises that whenever two or three are gathered in His name that He’s there in the midst, and that was much more enthralling than the processional.

We finally straightened up, wiping away the tears, and were the last ones to walk down the isle that day. But I’ve never walked that narrow stretch of navy carpet more proud and grateful that God would use a slacker like me to further His Kingdom.

The same thing I learned that night at the bar was reaffirmed in that holy moment on the wooden pew: I just need to be willing to look past myself to see Him at work.

Too often I’m pissed off at my children and dwelling on the crappy morning we had (Sunday mornings are by far the most stressful of any morning) or embarrassed by the fact that we were late, again. Or I’ve gone through three outfit changes and still wonder if I look appropriate or what people will think of me based on my clothing choice.

But it’s hard to see, let alone love, anyone else if all I focus on is my own problems and neuroses. I need to be willing to get over myself and how I look and what I think and simply turn my attention to another. For a moment.

I need to ask the right questions. And then I need to listen. Listen as pain provides an opportunity for Him to enter in. And He promises to do the rest, even when we are full of doubt and ten years out of practice.