Thursday, May 18, 2017

Panic Attacks and Faith

"Then he put his right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last." 
-Revelation 1:17b

It starts small. Like first changes in the waves hitting shore when there's a storm brewing in the distance. It's almost indiscernible at first. I find myself feeling a bit irritable for no apparent reason. A bit withdrawn. A bit impatient. It's easy to shrug it off as a bit of stress or a bad day.

But then the storm intensifies. The waves crest and crash with increasing violence. It becomes apparent that the storm is coming. And the fear sets in.

I've been through this storm before. And I don't want to go through it again.

But it's like running into the stormy seas and trying to hold back the frothing waves with brute strength alone. And it's never enough. The ocean of fear drives forward in its merciless march.

The first icy wave crashes over me and, as I sputter and choke at the initial shock, panic sets in. My lungs seem to shrink within me, unable to capture the air. My heart seems to take their place within my chest cavity, as it swells and strains against its cage-- its ticking beats become frantic and frenzied. I try desperately to regain my footing on the shifting sands beneath me. But I am kept off balance as wave after wave crashes over me, until I'm knocked down and swept out to sea. Helpless. Out of control. Drowning.

I withdraw to find a place to hide while I drown. I back myself into a tiny place. A dark place. A safe place. I find refuge in a closet. Or a bathroom stall. Or corner. I push my back against something solid and reach out for the walls around me.

 I close my eyes and I sob. I sputter. I gasp. I choke. The white-hot lightning of shame flashes across my mind, while the thunder of self-loathing shouts its derision in reply.

"I hate this person!"

"I don't want to be this person!"

"What a disgusting and pitiful creature you are!"

"You're weak and sniveling and incompetent!"

"How could anyone possibly love you? You're a mess!"

"You're a sad excuse for a mother/friend/wife/daughter/employee"

"You. Are. Disgusting."


And I ride out the storm until the waves subside and leave me washed up on some familiar shore. I am left exhausted and broken. A shell. A corpse. But the relief of being left cold and numb on the ground is a welcome alternative to the unrelenting terror of the storm.

And so I lay there.

I teach myself to breathe again. I resuscitate my broken body and help my heart regain its rhythm.

I put all the broken pieces back together and hope no one sees the cracks as I return to the world and try to pretend to be whole again.

...and this is often where I think this story ends. In those dark moments I feel alone and worthless and hopeless. But the truth is, I am not alone. It is in these times my God carries me. It is in these times I am brought to prayer. It is in these times that I rely on the Father God who loves me so very much. And I realize that it's up to Him to mend those fractures in my heart and mind. I might think I'm feebly gathering the broken pieces of myself together, but it is He who holds me in His hands. It is He who not only holds me together, but continues the work of healing and repairing and renewing and redeeming-- sealing those cracks and making them disappear.

It is He who carries all the stormy seas in a teacup and has complete control over the tempest in my mind. And, as often as I have begged Him to speak "Peace, be still!" to my anxiety--to bring an instant and miraculous halt to the spiraling of my mind-- I know that He is still in control even when my circumstances don't make me feel that way.

I am loved by God. I am His. He is mine. He is in control.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Let's "Be Real" For a Minute...

"...put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." 
-Ephesians 4:22b-24

 I am often at war with myself--- with my thoughts, my emotions, my actions. I'm very open about this ongoing battle (hence this blog dedicated to my many "Stumblings"...), but sometimes I worry that I'm trapping myself in this identity and excusing myself from growing---that I'm confusing my sinful attitudes with my core identity. 

My generation glorifies "realness." We scrunch up our noses in contempt of those we deem "fake." While this attitude is rooted in a healthy desire to break down the walls of hypocrisy, sometimes I fear that it inadvertently encourages perpetual immaturity. We cry out for acceptance, but refuse to grow. We have a "take it or leave it" approach to our relationships and expect others to silently put up with us as we are or get out of our lives---with no room for humbly accepting rebuke or challenge--which results in us surrounding ourselves with like-minded "comfortable" individuals who enable us to remain as we are.

In its healthy and true form, being "real" involves confessing our shortcomings/sins and repenting of them. What does that mean? That means we acknowledge our unhealthy attitudes and we commit to change and growth. We hand them over to God and pursue Him instead. We become more like Jesus in accordance to our identity as children of God. The outcome: a more selfless and loving attitude. 

In its unhealthy and debilitating form, being "real" stops short of repentance. We have no problem confessing our shortcomings, but we neglect any responsibility for them.We use "I am" statements to fuse our attitudinal shortcomings with our core identity in an attempt to exempt ourselves from growing or changing. "I am anti-social/introverted", therefore I don't have to try to reach out and love others (they should come to me!). "I am passionate" therefore I should be excused for acting angrily or rudely (people should agree with me anyway!). "I am smart" therefore I am right (and I have nothing to learn from others!). Most of us have our core list of "I ams"--- the attitudes we hold so closely and so tightly that we get defensive or fearful if anyone even comes close to suggesting we change or grow in those areas. We shrug and declare "it's just who I am." The outcome: a more selfish and isolating attitude. 

We always have a responsibility to our actions. We can choose to be joyful, loving, patient, and gracious even when we don't feel like it. Choosing an outward action that doesn't necessarily match our inward feelings is not "being fake/hypocritical", it's maturity. Choosing an outward action that doesn't match what we say we believe is hypocrisy. And perhaps many of us "real" people are bigger hypocrites than we care to admit, because we fail to discern the difference between our feelings and our beliefs. 

A hard truth I've come to grapple with is the fact that if I'm feeling defensive (which I often do), I'm acting out of fear and pride, and not the selfless love I've been called to. There is absolutely nothing for a child of God to feel defensive about.  We are either being accused of something untrue and, by the grace of God, our lives can stand in testament to that and He will justify us, or we are being confronted with truth and have an opportunity to humbly repent and grow. Either way, there is no place for defensiveness among God's children.  As we have been instructed to " everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.' Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life." (Philippians 2:14-16a--- the whole chapter of Philippians 2 is actually a great reminder...)

When we boil it all down, there is actually very little we can fuse so tightly to our identities that we can honestly say "This is just who I am, there's no changing that!": I am a child of God. He has given me unique gifts to lovingly and selflessly share with this world for His glory. That's it. Even the "gifts" can change! My giftings are not my identity. My position as a child of God is who I am. Made in His image and being transformed to match the character of Christ Jesus. That is  my core "I am", my identity. All my other "labels" hang on that central identity. I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife, a professional, a Canadian, a (fill in the blank)-- but I am a Christ-follower, a Christian first. A Christian woman. A Christian wife. A Christian Canadian. And that core should radically affect all other areas, not the other way around. 

Jesus may have met people where they were at, but that doesn't mean he let them stay where they were at. An encounter with Jesus was as challenging as it was amazing. It was life-altering. It required a commitment to growth and maturation. And while no one who encountered Jesus was instantly perfected, they were instantly transformed.


Give me the strength and courage to let go of the broken pieces of my sin and insecurities and exchange them for the wholeness of my identity in Christ. Transform me, Father. Bolster my faith so that I can be bold in my true identity as your daughter.