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The Mechanics of Fear

A couple weeks ago my kids ended up in a ghost-story telling session–it definitely prompted some interesting discussions. One of the things we talked about is something I’ve been thinking a lot about in my own life. Have you ever considered how fear works?

As I’ve mentioned before, I love David Eddings’ series that begins with The Belgariad. It’s one that I read regularly. At the end of The Mallorean (which is a continuation of The Belgariad), Eddings’ characters talk about one of the differences between the light side and the dark side: that the child of the light is surrounded by companions who all help accomplish the task whereas the child of the dark stands alone, working with minions rather than companions, if they work with anyone.

The characters realize the dark evens out this disparity utilizing nightmares and madness, that the dark fights a mental battle–one that causes them to fight themselves. I think this is a very apt portrayal of fear. I’m not talking about caution here; we need a healthy dose of caution to keep us from doing dumb things–as Dr. McCoy says, “Fear of death is what keeps us alive.” 😉

However, the Bible says God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). Or how about 1 John 5:8, “Perfect love casts out fear”? Because of who God is and who we are as His children, fear is not supposed to rule our lives. I’m sure there are various reasons for that, but fighting ourselves is, in my opinion, a big one.

Maybe it’s just having lived in a state of fear for a long time and seeing the deleterious effects spread to every area of my life… but I firmly believe we don’t have time to waste on fear–nor do we really want the consequences. My kids and I were talking about how if you stay awake because you’re afraid of a ghost coming in while you sleep, you end up fighting yourself. You keep yourself awake. You make yourself miserable. And all for something that’s not likely to happen.

Fear works well to mess up our lives, but not because of something happening. It works because it turns our own imaginations against us and causes us to self-destruct.

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More Adjustments

Well, so the benefit of doing blogging this way is that I have no idea what I’m going to talk about before I actually start talking about it. Hope you enjoy a more conversational style 😉

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a few things I’m kinda obsessed with. I have been called nerdy a few times in my life. I love Star Trek (TNG is my fav; not much of a fan of TOS, but I do love the new movies–yes, I know that makes me a heretic). I’ve read more than half of the Lois & Clark fan fiction archive. We watch Speed Racer (the movie) whenever we spend too much time with family and need reminded that faithfulness is key to changing the world, rather than running after any certain careers. I read David Eddings’ Belgariad/the Malloreon whenever I need to remind myself that following God is the short-cut to getting wherever is best for me, even when it feels like getting lost. And I can’t tell you how many days it feels like getting lost. I read Penelope Wilcox’s The Hawk and the Dove when I feel like my brokenness is a hinderance to God’s ability to use me–that maybe by virtue of my absolutely destroyed physical health and sometimes precarious emotional health, I’m unusable, the days when I start feeling sorry for my kids because they have such a sick mom, that kind of thing. I’ve read/watched more versions of Cinderella than I can remember–excited for Disney’s new version! Since it came out, I’ve been reading Rowlings’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows every year around Easter. And this year I celebrate reading Pride & Prejudice at least once a year for twenty years (woohoo!!). I do so love that book. We named our daughter after Jane Austen and Jane Bennet. Someone recently asked me how many books I read more than once and I didn’t really have an answer for that. As I’ve mentioned, books are part of my soul adjustment. I don’t think I could breathe without stories to remind me of what’s true–not that I’m saying that the Bible isn’t more important because obviously it is.

So since it’s New Year’s and time for Pride & Prejudice, I’ve started reading Pride & Prejudice fan fiction (in addition to reading Pamela Aidan’s fabulous Fitzwilliam Darcy Trilogy). I’ve been reading a lot of fan fiction the past 7 months–basically since I got sick in July. It’s amazing how being too sick to function opens up lots of reading time. Anyway! I have read so many terribly written stories that there have been days when I literally have wished I could take my brain out of my skull and wash it. It terrifies me when I realize some of these people actually thought their writing was edited enough to post on the internet for all to read–mostly because I’m scared that my writing is really that bad, but no one has the heart to tell me 😉 (ps–that wasn’t fishing for compliments, just sharing) Today, however, I read a version of P&P that I fell in love with called A Rush of Blackbirds. I could probably happily talk about character development for hours, so I’ll try to keep this short. Basically, the thing I loved about this version is that the author pushed Lizzie until she broke. It could be where I’m at in my life, but I am in love with stories that have lots and lots of angst. There’s something so satisfying about reading/writing a story where people are pushed far beyond their coping capacity and then somehow by the end, things work out ok.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept of fan faction, the author takes well-known characters/stories and basically changes something and then writes about how that change affects the rest of the story or sometimes they write the further adventures of the character. In this version of P&P, the author had Darcy get injured just before Bingley and co. were going to leave Netherfield, which meant that they all ended up staying. Darcy gets over his pride quite a bit earlier in the story. Elizabeth recognizes her own attraction to Darcy quite a bit earlier. I’ve never really spent a lot of time thinking about Elizabeth’s home situation, which is odd given how much my own family has played into my issues and how much Darcy throws her family in her face. This author talked about how traumatic it must have been for Elizabeth to have her father be so checked out, and yet how torn she was because she was his favorite. How hard it was for her to have her mother constantly put her down… for her mother to tell her she’d ruined the family by refusing Mr. Collins. How much she missed Jane, especially when she had some angst in her life and no one to turn to. And how even strong personalities reach a breaking point and need love to heal. It was beautiful.

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This Is Not a Detour: Finding Mental Rest

I don’t know about you, but mental rest is something I really struggle with. I am a worrier and a planner–just *slightly* on the control-freakish side. My husband likens my brain to a computer with 100+ windows open at all times.

The past several weeks I’ve had increased pain levels… mostly it’s been exhausting because I haven’t been able to find a position where I have less pain. And in case you’ve somehow forgotten, we just had Easter. This is significant in my life because the day after Easter three years ago was when my joint symptoms began, the day I started exploring this world of auto-immune disease.

I’ve also been re-reading one of my favorite series’: The Mallorean by David Eddings. And as I’ve been fussing a little to God about how I don’t like where I’m at right now, I happened to read through these passages:

Garion suddenly banged his fist on the rail in frustration. “Supposed to!” he burst out. “I don’t care about what we’re supposed to do. I want my son back. I’m tired of creeping around trying to satisfy all the clever little twists and turns of the Prophecy. What’s wrong with just ignoring it and going right straight to the point?”
Belgarath’s face was calm as he looked out at the rust-colored cliffs half-hidden in the gray drizzle. “I’ve tried that a few times myself,” he admitted, “but it never worked–and usually it put me even further behind. I know you’re impatient, Garion, and sometimes it’s hard to accept the idea that following the Prophecy is really the fastest way to get where you want to go, but that’s the way it always seems to work out.” (Vol. 1, 475)
“Let’s look at things from a practical point of view, though. When we started out, we were half a year behind Zandramas and we were planning a very tedious and time-consuming trek across Cthol Murgos–but we kept getting interrupted.”
“Tell me about it,” Silk said sardonically.
“Isn’t it curious that after all these interruptions, we’ve reached the eastern side of the continent ahead of schedule and cut Zandramas’ lead down to a few weeks?”
Silk blinked, and then his eyes narrowed.
“Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?” (Vol. 1, 563)

When my plans get re-arranged, it’s easy to huff and puff about how this isn’t what I wanted to be doing, what I planned to be doing. But mental rest means that I can trust God to lead me wherever I’m supposed to go, therefore I can stop worrying and obsessing over the future. I can trust that He knows the way ahead and that my loving Father will provide for whatever is ahead. (See “The Resting Place” in Tales from a Spacious Place for more expounding.) No matter how it looks, whatever I’m going through is not a detour, it’s part of the plan.

Does this mean I should stop planning? Um, no, that would fall into the category of laziness, like the Proverbial sluggard. The ant plans, without obsessing over the future.

And finally, there’s a profound mental rest that comes from knowing things turn out all right in the end. I need that reassurance, especially on days when it feels like nothing is turning out all right.

So what does this look like on a practical level? I’m sure it varies from person to person, but these are three things I try to practice for myself and with my kids whenever I’m worried/scared/giving in to despair.

1) I whip out my verse cards (actually, I try to whip them out preventatively–keeping one set on the kitchen counter and one in the bathroom). I have passages like Matthew 6:25-34 and Isaiah 40:27-31 there. Worry is based on an unreality and takes your mind to places that don’t yet exist (and may never do so). Truth is our ammunition to get rid of those lies.

2) I slow down, take deep breaths, and explore the moment I’m in. Pretend you’re looking at wildlife. Don’t judge what’s there, just examine what’s around. What does this moment look like? What are the good things in this moment? What are the not-so-good things? More often than not, the positive things outweigh the negatives, but I can’t see them when I’m focused on the negative. Slowing down forces me to re-evaluate whether my worries actually match reality.

3) I read through old journals or talk to a friend to remember the ways God has come through for me in the past, whether that’s Him getting rid of the stressor or using it in my life to work something amazing.

What are some practical ways you pursue mental rest?

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Patterns

This past week, due to an influx (or outflow?) of flu, I had lots of time to read. I’ve frequently found that distracting my mind is the best way to forget how awful I feel (yes, I know that’s contrary to being present in the moment, etc. etc.). Two of the books I read were A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond and Polgara the Sorceress by David Eddings. I must confess that I became a David Eddings addict back in Junior High and I’ve never really gotten over it. This was the first time, however, that I’d read anything by Nancy Bond.

I won’t recommend either book, simply because a person’s fiction preferences are highly individual and depend a lot on where one is at in life, and how much of an “eat the meat, spit out the bones” type of person you are. Personally, I want a good story with lots of epic themes and a lot of character development. To the best of my knowledge, neither of these authors are believers.

In A String in the Harp, Ms. Bond explores isolation and the idea that every person, every thing is a tapestry, being woven: Peter considered them, the three of them together: how unlike they were. Yet they’d grown familiar to one another and were comfortable. His fingers went automatically to the chain around his neck. It was woven into the same pattern: Gwilym, Rhian, the Key, his own family, Wales, and a feeling sometimes so powerful it made the back of his throat ache. The pattern was right, it was working itself out. People spent their lives weaving patterns, borrowing bits from one another, but making each pattern different. Peter was part of Rhian’s, she was part of his; they overlapped but didn’t match.

Reading these books I was so struck by God’s overarching pattern… the importance of each individual as revealed in the overall pattern. David Eddings’ books get into that—he structured The Belgariad, The Mallorean, Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress to be read in a circle. The first two deal with the stories of individuals and the last two are the backstory—the work of thousands of years setting up the pattern so that those individuals could do the work they were designed to do (ending where the first book begins). There’s a tension between how the individuals that effected the giant changes are desperately important, and yet so were all their ancestors and the people the Prophesy used to get them into place, to mold them so they could fulfill their calling.

It’s so easy for me to look at snapshots of my own life and get discouraged or confused. But that’s often not a good way to see God’s hand in my life… to see change. The change of a moment may be the beginning of a whole new path or it could be gone a moment later. The pain of a moment may last for years or it might be a fleeting thing. But trying to interpret based on such a small sample isn’t going to help me out. I found myself wondering where I fit in history. I’ll probably come back to some of Eddings’ characters later, but even the minor one-scene characters are vital (that’s sort of the nature of fiction anyway). Nobody is a throwaway person. And God doesn’t create any minor throwaway characters either. We all have a part to play in the pattern… interacting, redirecting each other.

None of us are designed to be isolated. It’s “not good” for us to be alone. Our lives are a pattern woven by God, overlapping but separate… changed by each other, the way a ball is deflected into a new course.

Supposedly it’s the books we read and the people we meet that force us to keep growing. Are not books simply a way of looking at the world through someone else’s eyes? Interacting with people is what furthers the pattern. And yet, it’s so easy to retreat into isolation. When I have a problem, when I’m overwhelmed with pain or depression, my first instinct is to hide away and nurse my wounds in private. In private though, they stay just that—wounds. Static. Trapped. I’ve been so convicted that I need to override that first impulse and instead reach out to others–reach out to friends, and most of all reach out to God.

I love that being in relationship with God can’t help but change us, just as relationship with others can’t help but change us. I love that He weaves all of us into a pattern. His pattern. His story.