After having kids, I think many moms naturally struggle with two big fears: 1) What if something happens to them? 2) What if something happens to me? I had faced the first-one head on. I felt a strength in me that I think was always there, but that I’d never known I’d had. I knew enough now to understand that, as the scripture says, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
I had opened up my arms and let go of having complete control over everything that happened to me. But was I trusting? Was I resting? Eh. I was letting go, but was I entrusting my life and my kids and my circumstances to God, to anything, or just letting it all float out into the atmosphere in a Zen-kind of way?
Last month I went to the doctor for every woman’s favorite: the annual gyn exam. Is there anything worse than shivering in a paper gown in a box-size room while waiting to be manhandled? During the breast exam, the doctor suddenly “thought she felt something.” I couldn’t really figure out what she was talking about. That’s not to say I hadn’t come to the appointment battling my usual array of What if she finds this? What if she finds that? Old habits certainly do die hard.
The next thing I knew, I was being scheduled for a mammogram and ultrasound. A whole 10 days later. Plenty of time to think. Plenty of time to not sleep.
And so the patterns were back. I tossed; I turned; I wondered. I felt so tired of being tired. I felt so tired of feeling the fear. I thought I was beating this, I thought miserably. I was, in reality, but of course sometimes we can’t beat something until we face it. I’d already learned that with Ethan.
Our church had a ladies breakfast with a guest speaker last Saturday. She stood up and told us she felt she needed to share that God wanted us to be overcomers; that we have more in us than we think we do; that sometimes we need to not only give God more credit but ourselves more credit. God gives ordinary people the ability to do extraordinary things, she said. Afterward she asked if anyone wanted prayer and at least 15 women went up to her. When it was my turn I told her what was going on and she started praying and then stopped. “Hon,” she said. “It’s all about control. You’ve got to let it go.”
I thought I had. But as I thought and prayed I realized I hadn’t, completely. I had a long list of things I hadn’t let go of: Needing to know why. Having to understand why bad things happen to good people. Thinking my life HAD to go a certain way. Accepting God on my terms only.
This is the problem that goes back to the dawn of it all. Wasn’t the original sin about having to know all the answers, the temptation that led to eating from the Tree of Knowledge? Wasn’t Lucifer’s fall due to thinking he knew better than God?
In the book of Job, horrible things happen. Job cries out to God, and in the end God answers Job’s complaints. He comes through. But He doesn’t answer Job’s questions. He never answers the “why.”
I thought of Lucy again, the woman who died and left her two sons, and of all the wrongs I had held against God. And this time, I thought of another line from my favorite book series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan, the Great Lion, says it often, when asked why something happened to a certain person, or what would have happened if they’d made a different choice. “That is their story,” he says.
I couldn’t keep holding on to Lucy’s story, or anyone else’s story. How could I hold God accountable for things I just didn't know? How could I claim only I knew the best version, the best ending for my own story or anyone else's? It pained me to accept, but my indignation was really nothing more than pride. I would never break free until I let go.
I was living my story. It was not a story free of pain or loss and I was never going to know how it turned out until I got to the end. In my head I kept hearing a song we'd listened to with the kids called “Jump Rope:”
Up Down yeah
Cause it will get hard
Remember life’s like a jump rope
On Sunday, the day before my appointment, I found the song and turned the music up loud and began to dance around the living room with the kids. I looked like an idiot. I laughed. Sometimes, that's the best way to we can do battle – sometimes we just have to dance. Not because we have the solutions. Just because.
The song goes on:
I want to tell you that everything will be okay
That everything will eventually turn itself to gold
So keep pushing through it all
Don't follow, lead the way
Don't lose yourself or your hope
Cause life's like a jump rope
Twenty-four hours later, I was in the doctor’s office. If there were any circumstances under which I would have chosen to have my first-ever mammogram, these would not be it. The lady running the machine meant well. Saying “good luck” to me might not have been her best choice of words. Neither was the moment after as she was going through the films where she was quiet and then asked, “So, so said you didn’t feel anything over there?”
“No,” I answered.
Sitting back in a curtained room, I faced my humanity. Her statement set me preparing for the inevitable. This is it. This is the moment, that moment, the one I’ve always imagined. Someone might be coming to tell me I have cancer. I felt as if water were filling over my ears, like that long ago afternoon in my cousin’s pool. There was not an angelic peace that settled over me. I didn’t have my worries drift off and float away. Instead I felt a gritty resolve. I would do what I needed to do. I would take one step at a time. His grace is sufficient for me. I had no guarantees that I wouldn’t have to walk through the fire. But I was convinced like never before that He’d be there with me.
An ultrasound tech, not a doctor, appeared around the corner. We went in and did that. Then she was calling the doctor in just to double-check. In ten minutes both of them were telling me everything looked fine.
And for the first time in my life, after having a worry eliminated after a time of great stress, I didn’t feel buoyant and manically happy. Thankful, yes, immensely thankful. Sobered, because some woman that day may not have gotten the same news. Does it make any sense to say I felt more alive? I saw life and its inevitabilities for what they are. But I also saw more clearly than I ever had that when the time came, and only when the time came, I would be able to bear what came along. The grace would be imparted to me. I wouldn’t just be opening up and letting go. I would be walking into an embrace.
When I started this blog, I wrote up there on the masthead, “I’m opening up my arms and letting go of a life I can’t control. While the idea can be a little bit scary, I’m willing to hold my breath and take a leap, knowing I will not drown.” I read that now and think back to that day in the pool, and I realize that while that moment in the pool once taught me about not trusting, it also teaches me about faith. I stayed under the water a little too long. Things got uncomfortable. Fear gripped me. Then I burst out of the water, coughing and gasping but still breathing blessed air. I may have been scared and sputtering that day, but he didn’t let me drown. He didn’t let me drown.
So what have I learned? Does this mean I will never struggle with fear and anxiety again? I am not naïve. This was not the final battle but the turning point; the day fear stopped owning me.
I wrote all of this, at the risk of being way too transparent, in the hopes that it might be able to help someone out there who is also tormented with fear. This is only my story. These are only my lessons. But I feel compelled to share them.
Today I now know:
I can choose my thoughts and what I put into my mind -- and should be very watchful about what I put into my mind.
I can’t prevent fear from coming but can prevent myself from dwelling on it.
Fearing something will happen does not somehow magically prevent it from happening.
Being afraid is not a sign of weakness. Taking a step while still feeling afraid is actually a sign of courage.
I could never conquer fear until I let go of control.
I could never let go of control until I accepted I didn’t have to know every “why” question.
I couldn’t stop asking “why” questions until I realized my own pride.
I couldn’t see my own pride until I accepted the futility of my human efforts, and my absolute smallness in the grand scheme of things.
And last: Never forget to dance.