The Woes We Dread

In the Grip of Reality

Patient to psychiatrist: My friends tell me I need help overcoming my unreasonable fear, so I’ve come to you.

Shrink: So what exactly is your fear, Mr Messer?

Patient: I’m afraid I’m going to die.

Shrink: But you’re still a young man. What makes you think you’re going to die?

Patient: Because I’m human and all humans die, right? They have since the world began. Which means sooner or later it’s bound to happen to me, too. Sounds quite reasonable to me — and I’m scared.

Shrink: Ah, yes. We definitely have to take a look at this.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tomorrow’s Troubles

Some of your hurts you have cured
and the sharpest you still have survived,
but what torments of grief you endured
from evils which never arrived!

—Author Unknown

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It May Never Come to Pass

Our daily prompt this morning asks how my life would be different if I had no fear. Ah! Now here’s a question my analytical mind can really chew on.

One angle:
If I had no fear of people totally avoiding me, I could be totally selfish and rude. I could be greedy and gluttonous. But alas! If I eat whatever I want whenever I want today, I fear I’ll be a 250 lb lump rolling around in a wheel chair without a muscle — or a friend — to my name some years hence.

If I had no fear of ever having to give an account of my life I could simply ignore all my responsibilities, move into the Public Library and become their #1 bookworm, devouring novels every day. (And become a 250-lb lump rolling around in a wheelchair without a muscle to my name some years hence.)

If I had no fear of germs, or living in a despicable mess and/or dying of food poisoning, I may never bother to clean house. (Well, maybe for a few days.)

Sometimes bad things happen to people: unavoidable illness; drug side effects; accidents; whatever. My heart goes out to people who find themselves where they would never be if they had any choice. I had a good friend who was diagnoses as bi-polar and put on drugs for that; in a year she went from a size four to a size 16. (Thankfully, once balanced, she recovered her great personality.) It’s another matter if I bring these woes on myself by being careless, sloppy, heartless or self-centered. Something to fear. A healthy fear does offer motivation.

Another angle:
I’m terrified of sharks with their huge teeth. I’m not going on an ocean cruise anytime soon, just in case. If I weren’t terrified of sharks, I wouldn’t be going on an ocean cruise anyway, because I fear bankruptcy. (Which is why I also fear to blow all my money on any other luxury.)

And on a different, realistic level, I’m afraid of growing older with the attendant infirmities and restrictions. I’m afraid of dementia. I’m afraid of dying, of either of us being widowed, of being unable to support myself either physically or financially. I know these things are unavoidable; they WILL indeed be real in our lives at some point. To what extent no one can say.

I also fear the possibility that our country may be taken over and ruled by a charismatic tyrant, intolerant religious extremists, or criminal organizations. Or that lax law enforcement and corruption will give rise to vigilantes who decide on their own who needs be exterminated. It’s not impossible.

I have to look above these fears or they will petrify me. Sometimes we simply must ignore those fears buzzing around us like flies waiting to land.

Sometimes I need to grab a Divine Flyswatter:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.” Isaiah 46:1-5

Another niggling fear:
I was delighted when I called up this blog and was actually able to get here! Based on my lack of success this past week — watching my browser spin and spin to no avail — I’m fearing that very soon I won’t be able to access this site again. Then what?

In that eventuality, you’ll find me blogging at Swallow in the Wind, my poetry blog.

As to fear of disaster or emotional turmoil, I’ll address that with this poem I wrote last summer: It Only Comes to Pass

Fear Loses Its Grip

Afraid of the Dark–Part B

His car was parked in an unfamiliar lot and I was sitting inside. I was waiting for him to come back and staring around at this corner of the city unknown to me. He’d told me I should just sit here, that he had something to take care of; he’d only be a couple of minutes. I had no reason to doubt him. So I sat patiently, trying to guess where we were.

It seemed this was a parking lot of sorts, well illuminated with glaring streetlights. I wasn’t afraid, rather confused about this strange stop he was making. Bewildered even. Why had he brought me here? He said he was taking me to his place, but as near as I could tell we’d gone in a completely different direction.

“Will you babysit my kids tonight?”

My parents and I lived at 417 Ave F South at the time. For a time we had as next-door neighbors the Paquins, a young Metis couple with several small children. The young mother looked after my little sister Rosie when I was in school, or sometimes they would go out for the evening and I would be asked to babysit their children. Easy job; often the kids were in bed before their parents left.

The Paquins moved away after a year or so, to somewhere around the 1100 block of Ave L South. Then one day after school  the husband called and asked me if I would come and babysit their children. Sure. No problem. My parents were going out that evening and I had nothing else to do, so why not earn a couple of dollars. I was nine years old; I could handle it.

He said he’d pick me up around 7 pm. “Okay.”

If you don’t know Saskatoon, Sask, suffice it to say that their new home was south and west of where I lived. Thus I expected when he picked me up we would head in that direction. But we didn’t. He rather headed east toward the downtown area. Before long he stopped at this place, a building with this parking lot, where he stopped and left the car, saying he’d be back.

So there I sat, in the dark looking around and at the overhead street lights, wondering what on earth we were doing there. Surprised, bewildered, confused.

I sat there alone for about five minutes before he came back. When he got back to the car, instead of getting in and taking me to his place, he told me to come with him. This had me even more confused, but I did as I was told.

He led me into a sparsely furnished room where there was only a bed and a dresser. I stepped inside and looked around, wondering what on earth this was all about. Then he shut the door. (In retrospect, it was probably a cheap hotel or rooming house where a person could rent a room for a short time.)

As I said, there was a bed. After standing there a minute he started to tell me about this game he wanted to play, where I’d get on the bed and he’d get on top of me. I’m sure my eyes popped open at the idea of this odd “game” and I started to be afraid. I may have been totally clueless, but to me this didn’t sound like a fun game at all.

A lot of girls may have caught on a lot sooner — especially today’s street-proofed girls — and probably told him in no uncertain terms where to get off. But I was a real wimp back then; also, we were always to listen to our elders. My Mom had said almost nothing about sexual issues — certainly nothing in the line of warning. However, I was feeling serious fear over this strange unknown situation, which led me to do the most logical thing. I started to cry.

Thanks Be!

I believe to this day that God reached down and turned his mind around. Perhaps his conscience reminded him that this was so wrong — and it might not be the piece of cake he’d initially thought. Maybe it pointed out to him that ten years is a long time to spend behind bars for one foolish prank. And what about his wife and children.

I don’t know exactly how God worked in my favor that night, but really, I was completely at this man’s mercy. He could have done anything to me — and I never would have revealed it to a soul. (I’m sure glad he didn’t know that!)

Finally the man said, “Come on,” and led me back to his car. We got in and he drove me, not to his home, but back to my own. By now I realized this babysitting thing was all a hoax. He walked me to the door of my house, maybe to see if my folks were home and he was in trouble plenty?

But my parents were still away; the house was dark and empty. Then he held up two quarters, offering them to me so that I wouldn’t tell my parents.

Two quarters! For what he’d put me through? Oh, was I mad! With an angry slap I knocked the coins out of his fingers. They fell on the floor somewhere and I went into the house.

I never saw him again, and I never did tell my parents. I didn’t expect any sympathy from them; I was afraid my Dad would be angry and scold me for being so stupid as to get into such a situation. Even if the very worst had happened to me that night I never would have told my parents. I was more afraid of my dad than anyone else.

But as an adult, when I’ve thought back to that situation, I could picture that neighbor spending the next few days antsy and sweating, waiting for the cops to show up and question him about what happened that night.

So I was Mad, but Not Damaged, Right?

Yes, I remembered the incident clearly and I came away from it with a certain anger, but I never thought it had done me any lasting harm. After all, nothing really happened.

But that night in Montréal, as I looked out the kitchen window at those streetlights and this scene in the parking lot flashed back into my head. And this small voice said very clearly, “That’s why you’re afraid.”

Not afraid because of what didn’t happen, but that bewildered, confused, fearful feeling had left its mark in my mind. The young tree wasn’t broken or ruined but it was kinked by this incident.

And probably the two incidents, the one involving my neighbor and the one involving the predator who followed me that dark night on the same street, eventually merged into one terror.

I’ve learned that God isn’t only a psychiatrist who analyzes your problem and tells you exactly what has caused it and why you feel the way you do. He’s the Great Physician for damaged souls. The Healer. That evening in Montréal, when He revealed to me where my problem started, He also took it away.

I can’t describe the beautiful freedom I felt when God dealt with this chronic fear, this baggage I’d been carrying all those years, living with it because it was simply part of who I was. Like a load of bricks on your back that suddenly turns to dust and blows away, so it was gone! A week later I marveled even more as I walked home from our friends’ house, about five blocks in the dark, at 11pm and didn’t feel the slightest trace of fear.

Yes, I’m still prudent and don’t expose myself to unnecessary danger. Yes, I still look in the back of my car before I get in. But that heart-stopping, paralyzing fear has never come back.

“Fear Hath Torment” Don’t I Know It!

Today’s prompt asks us to relate a time when we felt unsafe.  There have been a zillion times when I felt unsafe. Then one glorious night fear lost its terror for me. I’ve written this incident as part of my memoirs; now I’ll share it here, too. Since it’s a long account I’ll post it as a two-part story, with the conclusion tomorrow.

We were living in Montreal at the time, and the season was late Autumn, so the darkness descended around 5pm. I never have like to be out after dark, but this evening I decided to take a short walk before supper.

While I was passing the residences I was okay, but then I got to an area where a small park broke up the row of houses. I didn’t go through the park, but simply passed it on the sidewalk. However, as I walked past the park, which seemed very dark that evening, and the bushes very spooky, my imagination and fears combined to produce the sense that like someone could easily be lurking behind one, ready to leap out and grab me. Before I got halfway past I was terrified and ran. I jogged the two blocks all the way home before I could breathe easily again.

I’d always been afraid in the dark and I believe this got worse with time. When we lived in Ontario I remember having to go out and get in the car at 11pm at night to go pick my husband up after his evening shift. I’d glance around the yard uneasily. Then I was scared to open the car door; there might be someone in the back seat with a long wicked knife or something.

Sometimes I’d drop him off at 3pm, then go somewhere for the evening — and come home to a dark house. There were times when Michelle was gone and I’d come home from taking him to work at 11pm and have to walk into the empty house. I was afraid someone would be lurking in our empty house. As soon as I stepped inside they’d jump out at me and attack me.

The fear I felt at times like that was almost a heart-stopping terror. I can’t begin to count hhow many times I embodied that old cliché “petrified with fear.”

I reasoned the matter out. After all, how much TV hadn’t I watched as a kid? How many horror shows and police thrillers? How many times had I read some book or article about a person — usually a woman — being kidnapped and murdered?

To top it off, when I was a kid in Saskatoon, nine or ten years old, I was coming home after dark, maybe from a friend’s house or from the store. This was late autumn, about 8pm; except for the streetlights it was very dark and I was all alone on the street. Or not quite. It took a bit to register, but I could hear footsteps behind me.

I never looked back, but started to hurry — and the following footsteps quickened, too. I could tell the unknown person was closer to me now and I was beginning to panic. When I about six houses from my home I started to run. The person behind me did, too.

I knew I’d never make it right home because our yard had a fence with a gate I’d have to stop to undo, so when I reached the neighbor’s house, where there was nothing to hinder me, I turned in. Right when I took the first few steps onto the neighbor’s sidewalk the predator following me made a grab for me. As I felt his arms go round me, I instinctively sank to the ground. I probably yelled.

I’d hoped to fool him into thinking I lived here at this house and my ruse probably worked. At any rate, he let me go and hurried off.

So of course I would be afraid of the dark after an episode like that. Who wouldn’t be?

That night in Montreal all these thoughts were churning in my mind, going over this recurring, terrifying fear of “someone” being there. Grabbing me. Harming me. And that evening, for the first time I stopped reasoning and faced the fact. This terror was NOT normal.

After supper, while I was washing the dishes, I even prayed these words: “God, this is not normal. Why am I this way?”

I never expected the answer to be so immediate.

I lifted my eyes and stared out the window. I looked at the street lights gleaming in the darkness. And just like that a picture flashed into my mind. Another dark night, another set of street lights. Me sitting in someone’s car. A scene I was facing when I was ten years old.

I started to recall what happened back then. Then a voice spoke these words very clearly in my mind. “That’s why you’re afraid.”

To be continued tomorrow…

I Am Not Adventurous

Back in Sept of 2012 I shared some information about myself as my response to a blog award I’d received. This was originally posted on christineevelynvance.com, but I thought I’d repost these articles here for the sake of newer readers. Now you, too, can get to know me a little better.

I Am NOT Adventurous

I admire people who are, but I prefer familiar surroundings. I’m a timid, “stick-in-the-mud” sort, fearful of approaching strange situations or being in crowds of people.

One of my recurring nightmares is the scenario of being in a crowd of people and we are all walking into a tunnel that angles downwards — or down some stairs, as in going down into the subway. The tunnel curves, or the light ahead is so dim I can’t see where we’re headed. I panic, turn, and frantically scramble to go back. Usually I wake up with a jerk right then.

I’m timid in some ways, yet I actually do like meeting new people; in situations such as huge conventions or strange churches once I can separate the individuals from the “teeming masses” I usually overcome my reluctance and have some great conversations. My husband may have to drag me there, but once I get settled and start visiting one-on-one, I’m always glad we came.

Unfortunately the devil has used my fears to keep me from being obedient to the Lord. At times I’ve felt a nudge to go talk to someone, in a shopping mall or on the street, someone that looked very unhappy. But a persistent little voice shouts in my ear, playing on my fears. “How will they react? They’ll get very angry and tell you to mind your own business. Don’t do it!”

I believe God is merciful and forgives our weaknesses when we’re sorry; at the same time I can’t just pass it off as ‘my personality’ and think God will understand. Thanks be, I could repent and be forgiven, yet every time I think back to those incidents, I know the devil won those rounds.

Remember Peg Leg in the cartoon series BC? He was at times a poet and wrote these few lines that have stuck with me:
“Because of protocol, a life is lost, because someone didn’t talk to someone;
because of protocol no line is crossed and a law that should be don’t become one.
When a voice in your ear speaks of faith, not of fear, and bids you to go be a doer,
give heed to the voice that makes LOVE your first choice;
and throw protocol down the sewer.”

So I struggle to overcome Protocol. I try to not let my “just mind your own business” upbringing win over the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Overcoming Fear

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.”  Psalm 46: 1-3

One morning our Sunday School lesson was on the subject of fear. As we were discussing various aspects of this old enemy a thought popped into my mind:  “Fear is self-centredness.”

I was a bit startled; I’d never heard or thought such a thing before. I said it as soon as it came into my head, but the real depth of the revelation came later: as I opened my mind to this thought, I could see how true it has been in my life.

I’ve always been somewhat fearful and assumed this is just the way I am ‒ my cross to bear. Much as I admire self-confidence in others, I’ve accepted that some people like me just have a more fearful nature. But this sentence gave me a completely different perspective, not only on fear but also on my own nature.

When I look to myself for the strength to do something, I often come up short on courage or smarts. Then I fear. How can I do this alone? How will it ever get done? When I look to myself for answers to problems that arise, I soon see that of myself I haven’t the experience to deal with them ‒ the answer is not within me. Then I fear. What if things go very wrong? Soon I’m panicked and paralyzed.

Some people seem to have a lot of confidence in their own ability to tackle any task. They accept difficulties as a challenge and stand up to them. Folks like this give the impression that they can manage quite well by themselves to handle all of life’s problems and overcome all obstacles, while some of us start to quake each time a new situation comes along. But either way, it’s looking to SELF.

I have always believed that when we look to the LORD we do not need to fear earth-shattering disasters like mountains being carried into the midst of the sea or troubled waters roaring. I have the confidence that in major trials His power and capability will come through on our behalf and we will be protected.  However, I could see that I’d not been putting my FAITH into PRACTISE in the small tests of life. After all, God expects me to do what I can on my own, right?

Wrong! He wants us to be God-centered in everything. He wants to be a present part of our lives, to invite Him into every area. When we have a problem, no matter how small, He encourages us to look to Him for help, wisdom, strength.  “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”  I Peter 5:7

That morning I resolved to stop letting fear overwhelm me. Rather I was going to start looking in confidence to the Lord when new and unusual situations or problems came up. I read II John 4:18 and wanted to have this perfect love that would trust Him completely and cast out all my fears.

My resolve was put to the test some months later when I needed to climb up a ladder to the upstairs window. Normally I never go higher than what a step ladder will get me; high ladders have me trembling, envisioning falls, broken bones, cracked skull, etc. This time I looked up the long ladder and told myself, “Fear is self-centred. I’m looking to the Lord.”

As I started to climb, my fears evaporated like a morning fog and up I went right to the top.  It really works!

Since then I’ve found it to be true in many areas: focusing on the Lord does cast out fear! In the years that have followed I’ve faced some real challenges, including the dark valley of breast cancer, but as I have looked to Him for help I have been able to do things I never could do before ‒ without quaking.