Tag: Fear

29Nov

Honestly

I set up a Facebook page yesterday. Honestly, I’m not sure why it took me a year of “Huh, I should get on that”s and noncommittal throat noises to actually click the button… though honestlyhonestly, it might have something to do with this fun personal fact: I’m afraid of attention.

We’re talking woodland creature skittishness here, jumping beans in my stomach, thoughts sprouting gray hairs. I don’t think even Dan knows this yet (hi, honey!), but I had to fight back stage fright at our wedding. I still agonize trying to guess which day of the year Italian women will switch from ballet flats to boots because yes, the world will in fact end if I leave the house in unseasonable footwear. From the time I was a girl attracting double-takes with my homeschool uniform (picture an eleven-year-old Michelle Duggar), I’ve always had a wild desire to go unnoticed in public, and that self-protective instinct gets twitchier than ever when it focuses on my writing.

The simple truth is that this is my heart, strung out in black typeface and compulsive backspaces. When you read my blog, you read my heart, and my posting here is something like the CIA declaring Open House Day. My insecurities are here, my doubts, my hopes, the issues I struggle with and mull over, the insights that bring me peace… and by drawing attention to them, I am well aware I’m opening them up to criticism. It feels like standing on a busy intersection in my puffy denim jumper and even puffier bangs, waving.

There are the other fears too—the vulnerability of starting something new, the fragile alliance of “like” buttons, the safety net of personal privacy settings sidestepped. Always, always, statistics and purpose compete for precedence in my mind, and perspective can be as difficult to nail down as a live squid. I’ve moaned to Dan on an occasion or two [slight understatement] about how unfair it is that I was wired to write. As long as I’m following these heart-nudges, my goals and my personality will be at odds, and I wish I could be fulfilled in life by something simpler, less emotionally risky. Deep sea welding, for instance.

However, I can’t turn off the light in my core that says this, here is what I’m meant to be doing. It’s as clear a sense of vocation as I’ve ever experienced, and as much as I might like to dismiss this blog as a mere hobby (a monthly ritual of despair, which I’m sure has no correlation whatsoever to other monthly occurrences) or hide it under a bushel or amputate every stubborn neuron compelling me to write, a force stronger than fear keeps me here… and not just here, but honestly delighted to be here.

I know that sharing this with you is not exactly the act of withdrawal my inner stage-fright was hoping for. It’s the opposite in fact—a declaration of purpose and vulnerability waved from a busy intersection, eyes staring deliberately into the headlights. However, I wanted you to understand how much it means to me to be here with you, in typeface and photos, insecurities and Tweets, and a heart that wants to connect with yours far more than it wants to hide.

~~~

Is there anything your sanity compels you to do that simultaneously terrifies you? I’d love to hear about it; after all, commiseration and encouragement are two of the very best things about this great internet of ours.

Oh, and don’t forget to head over and “like” my Facebook page (why yes, I am making ironic quote marks with my fingers right now) if you’d like to connect, get blog updates, or otherwise make my day.

25Oct

Walleyed

Here’s the truth, if you care to know it—I am paralyzed by my own mind more often than not when it comes to this blog.

I might be spilling over with observations and realizations and hopes and stories, but when I make a move to sit down and transcribe them for you, I hit a wall so hard it leaves bruises. This is what I hear:

Are you kidding? YOU? You’re nobody! Why would you presume to have anything worth saying?

Or…

Seriously. You’ve already written 15000 variations on that theme; come back when you have something original.

Or…

If you can’t manage to post consistently, you might as well just give up. Leave the writing to the professionals.

Or, if I’m considering a gutsier topic (i.e. – anything in the category of religion, politics, cultural comparison, or Glee)…

Oh, yeah, this is gonna be good. I’m sure everyone’s just dying to hear your opinions on Controversial Hot Topic #3. Oh, and I’m equally sure you’ll handle the resulting criticism with confidence and stoic grace.

NOT.

See? Instant paralysis, which is a real bitch when you consider that my sanity hinges on writing. I can’t not write. I’ve tried, even for months at a time, but I keep coming back to the truth somewhere deep in my foundations that says giving up writing will mean killing off a part of myself, and I’m unwilling to put my loved ones through that. Soul-death vs. paralysis, rock vs. hard place. How does one summon the fortitude to plow through her own mental barriers? Why does creativity have to be both lifeblood and obstacle?

Feeling out the barriers like this, surveying their shapes, letting them know they’re not as invisible as they’d like to think… I want to believe that it helps because I want to be writing here again, often, even if what I have to say is nothing original or deep or safe. I’m trying to take steps toward self-care these days—eating well, easing my legs into a healthy rhythm, sitting a few minutes in the sun after lunch—and the best mental self-care I can imagine is to get past this bruising cynicism and start creating again.

So I’m going to try, and I use the word “try” with fear and trembling; it’s both promising the improbable and admitting to a staggering amount of weakness. Regardless, I’m going to try writing regularly here again, even if it means tunneling through the barriers Tom Sawyer-style with a spoon. In the meantime, would you mind leaving me a comment or shooting me an email about your own experience with self-paralysis? I could use a little community right now as I try to get this lifeblood coursing again.

18Sep

Schooled

Today marks one week back at school for the girls. Summer lasts long in Italy, and I can no longer contemplate freshly sharpened pencils in the same month when all our neighbors are headed to their beach homes, or apples for the teacher when we’re still in the syrupy peach haze of August. No, the backpacks come out of storage with the skinny jeans here, and this, my fifth back-to-school as an expat mother, is the first time I haven’t been afraid of it.

You have to understand that few personalities are less suited to the learningcoastercrazyspiral of expat life than mine. Two words: shy perfectionist. I’m easily intimidated by the challenge of opening my mouth in my own language, much less a foreign one, and I desperately want to do every last little particle of life right. Moving to a new culture where I am 100% guaranteed to make mistakes every time I a) step out my door, b) open my mouth, and c-z) try to pass myself off as a confident, capable adult who knows what the hell she’s doing in line at the post office has been an ongoing exercise in recovering from mortal embarrassment and pinning my worth on something other than social finesse. (Baked goods, perhaps?)

The girls’ back-to-school transition is particularly prone to trial and error because parents are expected to know through a combination of telepathy and strategic neighborhood networking who to register with, where to order books, how to stock up on supplies, which uniform is required, and what day and time of day school starts. I am inordinately grateful each year when we manage to show up before the bell and with a majority of the right supplies. This year, however, my gratefulness was due less to beating the telepathy game and more to having a great group of friends we can hit up for details. I didn’t have to worry that my child would end up the only second-grader without 5-millimeter graph paper or that my other child would be kicked out of kindergarten for lack of a sun hat. I really didn’t worry at all, which was a welcome departure from tradition.

This lack of anxiety was significant for another reason too, another kind of cultural divide overcome. See, I was raised in a hyper-fundamentalist Christian lifestyle based almost entirely on fear. First and foremost, we were afraid of God; he was demanding, judgmental, and vindictive, and he dangled the threat of hell above our heads like a sword hanging on the gossamer strand of his patience. We were so afraid of incurring his wrath that we accepted every passing religious do and don’t at face value and left critical thinking to those damned (literally) liberals.

We were almost equally afraid of “The World,” the term we used to describe any society or person who did not share our beliefs. The World was the government who collected taxes and redistributed them as welfare and failed to enforce our country’s founding values. The World was secular media, with its television programs and feature films and news bulletins all designed to glorify sin. Most of all, The World was public school, Satan’s greatest ploy for corrupting young hearts and minds. The only times I set foot in a public school as a child was when my parents went there to vote, and despite the empty classrooms and quiet halls, I was terrified that the godlessness of the place would seep into my pores like an airborne disease.

I’m a parent of school-aged daughters myself now, and I understand more than ever what my parents feared about sending me off to school. When I pass my girls into the waiting arms of their teachers, I relinquish a very large measure of control. I no longer act as filter and gatekeeper to my children’s minds, and yes, it is incredibly scary to imagine what ideas and mannerisms they could absorb away from home. My kneejerk reaction would be to protect, protect, protect, to turn our home into a bunker of parental-approved thinking and only let in whatever wafts of the outside world won’t disturb our family ecosystem.

I know from deeply personal experience, however, that mind control is a losing game for everyone involved. Discernment can’t grow in an environment where only one side of an issue is ever presented. Conflict resolution can’t be learned where conflict is never allowed. Grace can’t thrive in a relational or ideological vacuum, nor can compassion, courage, or humility. We were designed to live in a multifaceted world full of wonderfully unique people who hold diverse opinions, and I want my children to experience the horizon-expanding beauty of this design instead of hiding from it in fear.

Beyond the fact that I would be a terrible homeschool teacher (seriously, the worst), I don’t actually want to be the only adult my girls look up to or learn from. I don’t agree with everything that their teachers and Sunday School leaders and even relatives tell them, but those differences in opinion have a way of sparking great conversations with the girls, conversations we wouldn’t get to have if they were getting a single-minded stream of information from me. Besides, facts aren’t everything. The girls also get love from the “outsiders” in our lives, and part of the joy of their return to school this year was in their reunion with much-beloved teachers and classmates.

How could I be afraid of that, I ask?

First grade done

(I can’t.)

9Nov

Shuttered

Our house is an infusion of morning sun, all the shutters I closed as tightly as my own rib cage last night wide open and relieved. They hadn’t really reassured me anyway.

We got some more horrible news over the weekend, and then there was a break-in in our neighborhood (“A house just like yours!” blurted a friend caught up in the momentum of her story), and my dreams have leeched blackness from the night. In them, there is malicious stealth and violation, and the fear is thick enough to suffocate my lungs into waking. I lie awake at 2, at 3, at 4, straining for sounds I don’t want to hear. I am afraid all the bright day of night’s return.

I have never been afraid in this house before, and I had hung hopes on the theory that my nightmares were connected to place—the apartment building where the prostitute was murdered while we slept, the house harboring tales of demon possession, the bedroom with lace curtains which never stopped flickering after a neighboring house burned down. When I was a child, night was terror, my imagination weaving torture and shame into my already overburdened subconscious.

I am no longer a child though. I am years and continents removed from that darkness, and I had temporarily forgotten this way of breathing sharp through the wee hours. I had forgotten that closing the shutters only serves to trap me in with my fear. My fear… and hers.

My little daughter, my bouncing Sophie with the sunbeam hair and the bedroom still covered in 4th birthday balloons, is having nightmares too. She tells us the details, and I comfort and soothe and then wage midnight wars against her monsters as I lie sleepless and shaking from mine. If you want the raw truth, I lie there daring God to treat her differently than he does me. I rage through the stifling dark that if he fails to protect her precious mind too, she will turn out like me, and for all of the threat I want it to convey, it always ends as pleading. Please, please, please, leave me to brave my fear alone, just come through for her. Just let her have peace.

Sweet girl

I have never been a fighter; my soul shrinks away from violence, and you would not believe the amount of Pepto-Bismol necessary to get me through any kind of confrontation. But this is something different. When it comes to protecting my daughters from harm, I would dash into battle brandishing the nearest available cooking utensil. I would face legions alone, no hesitation. I don’t know how to stand between the night and our minds though. I don’t know how to protect my little girl from the darkness of this imagination we share. I just wish I could lock the expansive light and serenity of this morning in with us when I close the shutters tonight.

10Mar

Sigh No More

One of the first pieces of literature I ever memorized was a Bible verse familiar even to those who have never set foot in a fundamentalist Christian home: “God is love.” It’s a nice sentiment, and it probably sounded adorable in my toddler lisp, but I was already on my way to a very unhappy understanding of the verse’s meaning.

“God is love” meant that he was willing to defile himself by sifting through the filth of humanity and saving a worm like me.

“God is love” meant that he would inflict (or sanction) whatever pain necessary to insure my soul against hell.

“God is love” meant that he would play the gentleman and let people make “unbiased” decisions between Christianity and eternal suffering.

(Alternately, it meant that he had predestined me over less lucky humans for salvation. I experienced my fair share of Calvinism.)

“God is love” meant that he had paid my debt, so I was forever in his.

In practical terms, “God is love” translated into fear. God’s love was conditional, you see, and it wasn’t particularly affectionate to start with. When I was Baptist, any little mistake would put my salvation into question. (You couldn’t lose your salvation per se, but if you messed up… well, Jesus clearly wasn’t alive and well in your heart.) When I was Presbyterian, my soul was secure, but God didn’t love all of my friends and family enough to choose them. From my earliest memories, the unthinkable torment of hell—burning alive forever and ever and ever—dangled over my head  and that of everyone I knew. And this was God’s love.

Which brings me here:

Maybe you’ve heard about this. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe you care so much that you’re brandishing every weapon in your arsenal against heresy. Or maybe you’re like me, wanting to weep for the hope of it all.

Even though “Love Wins” is not yet released, prominent theologians have already consigned the author to hell… simply for suggesting that perhaps God is not torturing the majority of his creation for eternity. A dear friend writes about the divide between real, aching hearts and those “who are more concerned with winning than with loving,” and I want to ask those people, those self-assured theologians and heretic-slayers, Why? Why would you rather follow a God who allows babies to be born knowing that nine out of ten will burn forever… who handpicks some for his utopian afterlife but not all, or who makes our fates dependent on accurate guesswork… who expects us to rejoice while billions die… whose love only concerns itself with right vs. wrong… Why would you rather follow that God than explore the hope that true love doesn’t require us to shut down our hearts?

I was terrified the first time I posted about hell; I expected anger, hatred, and Molotov cocktails (approximately the treatment Rob Bell’s been getting), but it was worth the risk. I couldn’t not share the spacious peace I had found outside of religious tradition. The idea that God actually could be love—kind, unconditional, crazy-about-us love—is worth spreading no matter the cost or the dissenters. In fact, it might be the first piece of truly good news some Christians have ever heard.

Play us out, Marcus:

15Sep

The Reality

Part II
(Preface here, Part I here)

From babyhood, I was expected to be perfect. (These are the 49 characteristics of perfection, if you’re interested.) Any mistake was evidence of rebellion in my heart, rebellion was “the sin of witchcraft,” and witchcraft could only be driven away through physical pain. If you’ve ever met a typical two-year-old, you can probably imagine how many hours a day were devoted to driving away my rebellion. It didn’t work, of course; I still hadn’t achieved perfection by age five, or eight, or twelve. I tried though. My eternal salvation was on the line every second of every day, and I was terrified of ending up in hell for failing to be polite enough or understand my math problems or keep my younger siblings from making messes.

We read long stretches of the Old Testament every morning with whipping implements nearby in case anyone squirmed, and I learned in a very tactile way about God’s violence. (I still can’t open the first two-thirds of my Bible without risking a panic attack.) I often had to copy down biblical passages that directly condemned me as additional punishment and then show up to church where my dad was a pastor and put on a show of saintliness. I would have hated God with every breath had I not been so scared.

I had plenty to fear: hell for myself, hell for my younger siblings, demons who could read my thoughts, a vengeful God who could read my thoughts, violence at home, ridicule outside our home, church staff who would fire my dad if we misbehaved, trick-or-treaters who would bring Satan to our own front door, policemen who would take us children away if they spotted us, doctors who would take us away if we ever went to the hospital, the government who would take us away if we got social security numbers, my body that could cause men to stumble, my emotions that betrayed my sinful nature, my mind that questioned what I was told, and my heart that was black with wickedness.

My parents were able to use scare tactics and violence to control my siblings and I unchecked for a few reasons. First, the isolation of homeschooling meant that my parents didn’t need to answer to anyone. They didn’t have to take us for medical check-ups or immunizations, they didn’t need our education levels checked, and we rarely had visitors. Our church could have posed some opposition, but with my dad being a pastor and my siblings and I looking for all the world like a row of docile ducklings, I think people tended to brush away misgivings. My parents had uncontested authority over us, especially my dad as the God-ordained head of the family, and absolute power without any checks or balances has the ability to turn even well-meaning people into monsters.

Second, the methods used on my siblings and I instilled in us a deep, unrelenting shame. Horrible things were done to us, and they were all our faults. We were vile creatures; God saw us as worms. Our needs were laughable. Our bodies belonged to our caretakers to treat as they saw fit. We were expected to submit willingly to abuse and then thank our abusers with joy; it was utterly humiliating. And because every bit of it was God’s will, we had no right to protest. We were silenced by religion, fear, and shame… and despite this, my parents never did feel like they had the control over us that God commanded of them.

(To be continued…)

30Aug

Phobeea

Let me be clear: This is a tale of survival, and it is not for the faint of heart.

Last Monday, I took myself out for the evening. “Evening” here is a relative term since my husband doesn’t get home from work until 7:15 and the local mall closes at 9 (which the shop owners tend to interpret as 8:45). However, I had a little birthday money to spend, and an hour all my own to try on clothes without small offspring pointing out my anatomy at top volume, suddenly remembering they need to go potty, or throwing open the dressing room door when I am the least… uh, prepared… sounded so relaxing it felt illegal.

I had the house clean and the girls fed when Dan arrived, but I still felt a little rebellious sashaying out the door alone. (Hey, I was far too cowed to rebel in my teens like a normal human, so I tend to get my taste of insurrection from anomalies in my routine… and let me say, it is delicious.) I rolled the windows down, cranked up the music, and sped off into a glamorous sunset.

One minute away from the mall, I was startled when a small rock sailed through the passenger window and landed with a thud in my lap. There were no cars around, and I was mildly curious what would cause a rock to take such a horizontal trajectory. I slowed down just enough to glance at it… and my spine immediately began clawing at the base of my skull for an exit. The object in my lap was not a rock. It was a bee. An enormous bee. A spiky, hairy, hell-hued beast of a bee.

Allow me to provide visual clarification:

Lap of horror 1

~~~

Let’s back up a couple of decades. I liked bugs as much as the next grubby-fingered kid. I remember farming roly-polies in our gravel driveway, coaxing butterflies to land on my nose, and poking beetles simply because… well, antagonizing beetles is one of childhood’s great joys. But then came the fateful morning that a cricket got tangled in my hair. I couldn’t see it. I could only feel it, it’s spindly legs, its bony wings, all the little scrambling bits of sharpness and slime getting increasingly enmeshed in my hair. That morning, a phobia was born, fully-grown.

My little brothers took full advantage of the shift in my psychosis. They chased me with grasshoppers and spiders until I was in hysterics (another of childhood’s great joys), and even though I realized my fear had nothing to do with logic, I couldn’t stop it from pulling me in head-first. At least my reaction these days is a little more refined. When I see something with more than four legs in our house, I simply shut the door to that room and wait until Dan comes home to take care of it. No more weeping or screaming. Not so loudly, at any rate.

~~~

Need I take you through the horror of that moment in the car? If you had been within a hundred meters (and thank goodness no one was), you would have heard a rather eloquent scream followed  by the equally eloquent “OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD…” If you’re concerned for my salvation, rest assured—not a syllable of it was in vain. I needed God to get rid of the bee nownowNOW before the car and I came to a tragic demise.

I could still feel the weight in my lap and the pricks of its legs sticking through my jeans. God apparently hadn’t heard. “OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!” I didn’t dare look down. All I could do was keep the car more or less on the road and try not to imagine all the awful ways that bee was going to kill me with its barbs and fangs and beady-eyed horridness. I suppose I do have to give credit to divine powers for getting me into the mall parking lot without panic wresting the steering wheel from me—and believe me, it tried every quarter-second—because I was certainly not in the proper frame of mind to handle heavy machinery just then. Nevertheless, after the longest minute of my life, I managed to park the car. It may have covered three spaces, and I might have forgotten to actually turn the motor off, but we were safely at a standstill when I snuck a second peek at my lap.

Allow me to provide visual clarification:

Lap of horror 2

If you had been in the parking lot (and unfortunately, plenty of people were), you would have seen a crazed woman leap out of her still-running car and start doing the Riverdance while stringing together Shakespearean curses in a helium voice and beating at her own legs with a purse. You would have seen the jumping abruptly replaced with full-body shuddering as she retrieved the contents of her purse from the pavement and barricaded herself in the car (this time remembering to turn it off). Eventually, you would have seen her glance mistrustfully out the window, climb over the console, crawl out of the passenger door, and head into the mall trying to pretend away her jellified ankles and wild eyes.

It may not have been my most dignified public appearance, but survive I did. I even enjoyed the solo shopping experience, gruesome flashbacks notwithstanding, and when I finally returned to the car, the bee was gone. It probably just flew away in search of some new victim, but I like to think that it returned to Hades from whence it came.

Take it away, Beyonce.

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