Sunday, December 6, 2015

Anxious, Fearful and Overwhelmed

Awhile back someone said that our family is "the perfect family."  Although they said this flippantly, not in a condemning way or anything, it really, really bothered me.  We have beautiful children whom we love dearly, we love each other dearly, and we have a feeling of purpose and fulfillment because we are living out God's calling on our lives.  All that to say, it makes us content and happy, but it doesn't make us perfect.  We struggle with the same things every other family, who is not living on the mission field, struggles with.  Sometimes Mike and I yell at the kids.  Sometimes we say unkind things to each other.  Sometimes, well a lot of times, our kids are disobedient.  We've struggled with limiting screen time, the proper way to discipline, ways to make our marriage a priority and finances.  If you struggle with it, we struggle with it, too.

About seven years ago, I struggled deeply with depression and anxiety.  It got so bad that I, literally, had a panic attack whenever anyone from our family had to leave the house.  And considering Landon went to school everyday and Mike went to work everyday and Emi went to the babysitter's everyday - you get my drift.  I was absolutely certain that one of us was going to die.  I hardly left our house.  I could barely complete menial tasks.  I was afraid of everything.  And I hid it from everybody.  I still had a job I had to get done, kids to raise, a marriage to uphold - but inside, every day was a struggle to keep from lying in bed all day, drowning in fear.

Somehow, I had it in my mind for awhile that once you became a Christian, you had this "hedge of protection" around you.  A free "get out of pain" card, a guarantee everything would always be alright.

The Christmas before, I was at my sister's house and was looking at all of the pictures on her fridge.  A Christmas card caught my eye that literally became the first domino in a chain reaction that caused me to question everything I had ever thought about how protected I actually was.  This card was from a missionary family my sister's church supported that had two happy parents and two happy kids on it.  In a picture off to the side, resting on a cloud, was a picture of another happy child.  I thought to myself, "That's strange," and asked Amy why the other boy was on a cloud.  "He died on the mission field.  He contracted some bacterial infection and was gone in 24 hours."  I kid you not, the entire room got very small, I started to breathe very shallowly and I excused myself the bathroom.  My family was on the mission field.  I have children on the mission field.  Missionaries aren't covered under "the hedge of protection?" I thought.  Anxiety was born.

When I really got a hold of what was going on, I sought wise counsel.  I began seeing a mentor once a week for about eight months.  It helped me to gain perspective, walk through my anxiety and also learn about the real heart of God.  I was eventually able to leave my house, and let my loved ones leave the house, without thinking about the worst case scenario.  They would leave.  They would come back.  Bye, bye anxiety.

Or so I thought.

A week ago, Mike nonchalantly tells me that he and Landon were going to Santo Domingo with the soccer teams to play some games there.  They would be taking a bus and would be gone most of the day.  Suddenly, visions of all the movies I have ever seen where foreigners take a rickety bus, over a winding road that has ravines on either side of it, went all crazy in my head.  I had a panic attack on the spot and for the three days leading up to the trip.  To top it off, the night before the trip, Landon starts having a panic attack about leaving, as well.  He was begging with everything in him to stay home and not go.  I was sure this was a "sign from God" that something bad was going to happen.  When Landon went to his room, I begged Mike not to go.

The morning of the trip, I was a mess but was keeping strong so Landon didn't freak out.  Mike said he cried in the car the whole way to school.  I decided to get my devos out.  I knew I couldn't go back to sleep so I might as well try and keep my mind busy on something else.

I've gotten to the point in my spiritual walk to know when things like this come up - it is a spiritual attack.  A way for The Enemy to paralyze me, to steal away my joy.  A lot of people would like to believe that it's just part of being human, it's normal, it's expected.  If you are one of these people, let me just stop you right there:  There is a REAL Enemy.  He knows you.  He knows your weakness.  He knows everything about you.  And he uses this information for your destruction.  Panic attacks aren't normal.  It's not part of being human.  It's not expected.

So before I read anything in my Bible or devotional, I decided to just write in my journal about how I was feeling.  And what I wrote completely took me by surprise:
"Right now I'm thinking, 'Is this God trying to warn us?' or 'Is Satan trying to rob Landon of a great experience?'  I know the determining factor in all of this is fear.  I feel afraid, anxious, nervous, overwhelmed...but here's the thing: none of these emotions are things God "puts on" His beloved.  Those are weapons of The Enemy.  Satan is constantly trying to steal the joy from God's people.  Paralyzing people with fear is his most powerful weapon.  So today I will CHOOSE joy, not fear."
My struggle with anxiety has always been deciphering between if God was trying to speak to me or if Satan was trying to deceive me.  And for the first time I saw the Word of God come to life and comfort me in a real way.  We all know that the Bible tells us "Do Not Be Afraid" and "Don't be anxious." So if that's what God's Word says than that's how we know when HE is speaking rather than the Enemy deceiving.

It changed everything for me.

Whenever I had an anxious feeling that day, I would recite to myself as a reminder,
"So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." -Isaiah 41:10
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." -Philippians 4:6
Almost everyone knows those verses.  Heck, I skip over them whenever people put them in their blogs because I know them by heart.  But this time was different -- I didn't just know them by heart, I knew them in my heart.  Those words helped me decipher that Satan was speaking to me, not God.  The loudest voice was fear-ridden, anxiety-stricken and overwhelming.  

It was the still, quiet voice echoed in Scripture that helped me focus on my God, not my perceived problem.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Baby Luis

I've avoided writing this post for a week and a half.  Partly because I was really hoping the circumstances would suddenly change.  And partly because I'm still just kind of in disbelief.

I showed up a week ago Sunday afternoon to the hospital to care for this sweet little bundle.  Life events with our family kept me from visiting him on Friday like I had planned, Saturday was Emi's birthday so the earliest I could go was that Sunday. 

I walked into his room so ready to squeeze his little body and give him kisses - only to find his crib empty.  To say I was shocked is a vast understatement.  At first I looked at his little cabinet to see if his stuff was still there and maybe the nurses had taken him to run tests or to bathe him.  But everything was gone.  Some of the other moms saw my discombobulated demeanor and began to tell me the story.

Conani had found his birth mother after three weeks of searching for her.  The other mothers said she walked in the room, visibly pregnant with yet another baby, like a toddler throwing a fit because they had to do something they didn't want to do.  She started bagging up his belongings (which weren't even his, they were all donated items) and complaining that Conani "made" her come get him because she has a responsibility to uphold.  She slung him over her shoulder, grabbed the plastic bag and marched out of the room.  Not a word to anyone.  The moms said she didn't even say a single "thank you" to any of them who have helped care for him over the past month after she abandoned him there.

As you could imagine, I was angry.  I was sad.  I was disappointed.  I walked out to my van and cried.  That sweet baby boy, so many confusing things have happened to him in his 10 weeks of life.  And now, I couldn't even ensure his safety from here on out.  I yelled at God.  I mean, goodness, how could THIS be in your plans?

My anger has subsided but I think of him every morning.  There's an empty corner in our room where we prepared a place for his crib to go.  And it dawns on me heavily that this is the life we have committed to.  The beautiful stories of redemption that are yet to come -- but also the stories and heartaches that make absolutely no sense to my human heart.

Last night, I read in Jesus Calling:

"During times of severe testing, even the best theology can fail you if it isn't accompanied by experiential knowledge of Me (God)."

I am grateful that God has taken us on this journey that has often been lonely, trying, heart-breaking, and difficult.  It has solidified our beliefs in a just God but more than that He has allowed these tough situations to give us first-hand knowledge of his faithfulness.

Luis and Gilverson and Regina and Sara -- they may be our first encounters of an unjust world but they most certainly won't be the last.  We have seen the mighty works of our Father.  We know His heart for children.  Therefore we trust in His faithfulness even when we don't understand the outcome.