Friday, July 31, 2015

Hiding when it hurts

Originally published on Smart Girl Politics

I've done a lot of hiding in my life.

The first time I remember needing to hide for a good reason was when I was a young girl, living with my missionary family in Ghana, West Africa.

We had gone to bed, like any normal night, with the expectation that morning would arrive without incident.  That was not to be the case.

I remember waking up slowly, my eyes adjusting to a dim light, and the forms of men in the hallway. I slowly raised my head.  Why I did not scream is a mystery to me.  Strange men holding guns was not a normal sight in our home.

I saw them enter the room across the hall from mine.  My Mom was in there, lying on my brother's bed with him...begging God to spare our lives.

After what seemed like a very long time, they exited my brother's room, and silence took over our house.  We rose carefully, and my Mom began to wake my 3 siblings.  We walked quickly, yet timidly into the living room.  Our watchman lay on the floor with his face to the ground.  He whispered for us to get down.

We learned they had taken my Dad hostage, and that it was time for us to run.  And we did.
I can still remember with vivid detail the way the rough ground felt on my bare feet.  We didn't have time for shoes.

We ran in the bush for what seemed like heart beating wildly.  Childish prayers filled my mind.  I worried for my Dad's life.  I worried for our lives.  I worried.

That was one of the first times I remember intense worry, fear, and anxiety filling my consciousness.
Even after we were told it was safe to come back to our property, and we were escorted to our friend's home, I felt an unshakable feeling of dread.

Even after my Dad was returned, unharmed, I felt the weight of worry settle over me.
And, even after we prayed and thanked God for His protection, I experienced the anxiousness that comes with a tainted sense of safety.

It's as if it was yesterday, in my mind.

I am sitting on my friend's bed.  I am shaking, and even though we live incredibly close to the equator, I am cold.  I look out the window into the darkness of the night.  I feel eyes watching me.  Eyes that aren't truly there, but feel as real to me as my own.  I am sick with worry.  And, I want to hide.


We've been in more homes than I can keep track of.  As we travel from state to state informing new friends of the college we are teaching at in Africa, I am learning how to brave a smile.

I’m in a different bed almost every night...usually a sleeping bag on the floor.

I experience the familiar waves of nausea that accompany early morning departures...I've never been a good traveler.

New faces greet us each evening, at churches where we are expected to say hello, and make small talk.

Most of the time I love it.  New friends.  New experiences.  New memories.

But then there are nights when I have had enough.

I don't want to talk. I don't want to sing. I don't feel like smiling.

I want to hide.

I didn't know that I was an introvert back then.

I had never taken a personality test.  But truthfully the title of Pastor/Missionary's kid meant that you became the "right personality."  The one who had a warm smile. The one who said hello. The one who put other's needs before your own.

And, all of these are good traits.

I have an enduring gratefulness for the way I was raised...even that I was raised in the spotlight.
Good manners have been my friends. And, being pushed outside of my comfort zone has been helpful.

In this case, hiding is not a temptation because I feel hurt, or particularly terrorized.

I am tempted to hide, because I wonder if I can be what the person "needs."

Mostly, I'm afraid that the person in front of me might "require" something of me that I don't feel able to give.

It's a kind of stage fright, except the stage is my life, and the fear comes from the need to impress.

They can't know I'm scared.

I'd rather hide.
As a teenager, I found a great way to cope when I wanted a wall between me and the world. It was known as the "walk-man." It played music to my ears, and carried me to another reality.

There were times when I took trips with a large group of people.  In order to create the illusion of a "bubble," I would put my headphones on my ears, close my eyes, and travel to a place where I didn't have to perform in any way.

 The same could be said about the books I continually had my nose in.

 It is said that introverts love to escape in novels, and that was the case for me.

There is something about words on a page.  They don't ask anything of you, and offer the chance to become whoever the hero/heroin is in the story.

The teenage years tend to present themselves with an inclination toward awkwardness.  I remember wanting to be as wholesome as the "good" kids, as cool as the "bad" kids, and as smart as the "brainy" kids.

Depending on who I was with, I wanted to create the illusion that I understood everything about who they were.  And, I wanted the same respect from them.  Instead of being content with being "Jamie," the reluctant introvert, who smiled at everyone, while feeling absolutely scared to death of talking to them, I wanted to project a different image.

As I mentioned before, some of this comes with the territory of "coming of age."  Most teenagers will admit to a feeling of insecurity and trying to fit in.

And in the moments where I felt like I was doing everything except fitting in, I wanted to hide.

As a college student, I experienced the typical ups and downs of juggling school, work, home, and a social life.

One of the things I remember is that I didn't really enjoy going out with friends.  I would much rather be one on one with a close friend, or home with a favorite novel.  I loved my friends.  I loved my classes and I enjoyed my life.  But, at the end of the day, I longed to tuck away in my house, and take a break.

I didn't understand that part of who I was.  I would feel guilty for not being more "adventurous."  I would imagine that people thought I was boring.  So, there were occasions in which I projected a different personality in order to protect an image I thought I needed to have.

It was at this point that my need to hide turned into something more.  I began to have pangs of something that felt like fear, with a side of worry mixed in.  I didn't even know what to call it.  I knew that it couldn't possibly be depression, or anxiety (Right?!)  I was striving to be perfect. And, perfect people didn't deal with that.

I remember a particularly hard summer while in Nursing School.  I had convinced myself that taking a heavy load of classes, and starting a stressful job was a good idea.  Extra homework, no sleep, plus a stress-filled job were a recipe for disaster.  After a particularly hard week, and the first major feelings of anxiety, I quit the job.

I felt like a failure and I felt weak.

 Of course, now I know the truth.  I wasn't weak.  I was unwise.

I now understand the benefits of having a carefully planned schedule with room for flexibility in it.
I now understand the necessity of a good night's sleep, plenty of water, and healthy food.
I have come to realize that saying "no" is okay, and no explanation is necessary.  But, those skills would come with time and experience.  I had more to learn.

"Hiding" would become an everyday reality after the birth of my first child.

I don't think you can ever forget your first "off the charts" anxiety attack.  The one that comes out of nowhere, for no reason, and leaves you paralyzed.  Unable to think, unable to move and unable to breathe normally. - I felt like I was dying.

I was rescued by my Dad, who drove 30 minutes to help me get home.

From that day until now, I have been a different person.

My severe anxiety attack led to a fear of driving, a fear of public places and of crowds.

Suddenly, hiding from the world was my only mode of survival. And, in order to hide, I had to make excuses.

A friend might call and ask, "Do you want to go do ___________?"

I would freeze.

 "What if I go, and I have a panic attack while I'm there?"  "What if there is no way to escape?"  "What if I have to tell them what is going on?"  And the most troubling question, "What if they think I'm crazy?"

So I would come up with a lame excuse as to why I was unable to attend the function in question.

For the next 5 years, I would battle extreme social anxiety, hiding who I really was from almost everyone.

I sought perfectionism, and in my mind, a perfect person didn't admit that they were a mess. - And that's exactly what I was... A high-functioning mess, who was frequently sick due to the worry and fear that wrecked my body.

My 3rd child was a year old when I had to come out of hiding.

After 5 years of pretending I was okay.  After years of hiding in public restrooms and hyperventilating...praying for strength to get through the rest of my grocery shopping. After an incident that left me physically and emotionally ill, I admitted it was time to get help.

My husband drove me to my Doctor, where I told him the truth.  The nightmare I had been living in for the past 5 years.

I can still remember the tears that poured down my face, as he looked in my eyes and said, "Your body is sick...You need help."

Somehow, taking a pill to help me cope with life seemed like a cop-out, which is why I had never considered it before.  I wouldn't be controlled by anything.

And yet, here I was, nodding silently, as my caring Doctor wrote out the prescription that would alter my thought processes.  I was terrified.  But, I knew it was time to let my perfectionism go.

 I knew it was time to get well.

Those first few months weren't easy.  Adjusting to life-altering medication is no walk in the park.  I remember one particular instance in which I kept leaving a meeting I was in. The person leading it finally asked, "Are you okay? What's going on?"  I burst into tears, and confessed that I was on a new medication for anxiety.

 It was a wall that I was letting down.

I was slowly coming out of hiding.

That was 4 years ago.

I wish I could tell you that my hiding days are completely over. - They are not.

I am still tempted to hide from life, instead of hiding in the shelter that God offers. (Psalm 46:1-3 & Psalm 46:1)

I still experience a certain level of anxiety and fear, and yet I have such hope.

I am confident that God is working all things together for my good.

With prayer, support, and some fantastic coping mechanisms, I am making it in a way I didn't think possible.

I had a friend tell me to thank God for my anxiety.

I have done that.

I thank Him that He has given me insight into what so much of the world goes through.  I know what it's like to wake up each morning, uncertain if you can handle one thing well.

I am well acquainted with the fear that grips your mind as you push yourself W-A-Y out of your comfort zone.

And I am also acquainted with the courage that comes when you choose to rely on a strength that is not your own.

Nothing I have done has come easy, but I am stronger because of it.

So, I will thank God.  I will surrender to the plans He has for me.  I will give Him my worry-filled mind, and ask Him to renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10)

As I look back through my journal entries at the beginning of my experience with anxiety, I am struck with one in particular.

I wrote the following...

I'm trying so hard to keep my focus on God and His Word through this hard time.  I'm so ready to be "healed" instantly, but maybe that's not what God wants.  Maybe He has more for me to learn, so He doesn't want to let me just "get over it."   Right when I think I can't go on, He helps me through an especially hard time.  It's helping me to realize that He is right there beside me...I believe that He is refining me for a purpose I can't see clearly yet.  As a Pastor's wife, I will need to have extreme compassion and already these experiences have helped me to have more of that! Someday I pray that I will look back at this time in my life as a defining moment...when I overcame a huge obstacle with God's divine help.

So, if you are in the midst of your own season of hiding, know that you are not alone.

It's okay to open the door, and allow people into the space that you guard so carefully.

Ask for help.

Allow people the chance to show compassion.

Accept the fact that you are not perfect, and work on the areas you are lacking in from a place of purpose, rather than perfectionism.

Appreciate the intricate way your body is made, and the fact that it will let you know when something is not right.  Healing may take time, but healing will come.

It's easy to hide when you are hurting.  Whether the pain is physical or emotional, the desire to run from it is very real.

What I've found is that "hiding and hoping," is not as effective as "honesty and healing."

There may be times when you feel as if you can't meet up to your expectations, or the imagined expectations of others.

In those moments, remember that God created you exactly how He needed you to be, so that you could fulfill a role no one else could.

Take courage.

Be healed, not hidden.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hopeful Parenting

Image by: Photography by Jamie Taylor

I watch my children play in the sun-bathed yard. - It's an idyllic scene.

I walk by their pictures on the wall, and pause...contemplating what their future holds.

Life is unpredictable.  I've heard it all my life, and have put the rhetoric into practice.

I know that I can't predict what will happen next year, next month, or even in the next minute.

It has always been my preference to keep a controlled hand on the unfolding pages of my story.

I wrote the "Once upon a time," and "They lived happily ever after" stories as a young girl.

Every girl got her guy. Every sunset was glorious, and every character was the picture of perfection.

If I could edit those childish stories now, I would add a whole layer of realistic drama to the story lines.  
Isn't it funny how life works?

My husband and I are raising 4 unpredictable human beings, who will undoubtedly have their own versions of the family story we are creating.

We don't know who they will end up becoming, what they will end up creating, or how they will end up living.

It occurred to me the other day that my children will most likely have some type of "smart device" in their possession in the near future.  I realized that even if I tried to protect them from these limitless investigators into the internet, they will at some point be exposed to the vastness of the world-wide-web.

I don't mind telling you the momentary feeling of terror that gripped me right then.

I found myself asking questions in my mind...

"How will I keep them from the evil out there?"

"How will I convince them that there are beneficial paths to walk upon?"

"How can I control the outcome of their lives?"

You see, I realize that no matter how many boundaries I put around them, no matter how many filters or safeguards I put in place, there will come a day when the choice will become their own.

I've read statistics about the psychological harm that comes with exposure to explicit content.

I've read about the torment they have to endure replaying all the things they have seen, read, or listened to.

And I look at my children's generation, many of whom are in possession of unlimited internet access late at night or the ability to watch TV from the comfort of their bedroom, and I wonder...

What baggage will this generation be dealing with?

What images will they be unable to force out of their tortured minds?

Which lyrics will play over and over in their heads as they attempt to sleep?

And, then, how many of them will believe that behavior like that is some version of normal?

The truth is, I'm something of an idealist.

I am a firm believer that just because there is potential for failure, does not mean it has to turn into a reality.

I've seen enough parents raise outstanding children when the odds were not in their favor.

I've seen young men who were written off as societal failures turn into men of integrity and faithfulness.

I've seen young women who were plagued by painful memories of destructive behavior, transformed into delightful emissaries of grace, who are desperate to rescue anyone from the possibility of their past.

Because redemption is a reality.

Change is possible.

Breaking generational curses is something I know is within reach.

I guess that is why I have hope.

I was there when my parents raised me.

I know what I was capable of.

I saw the person I could have turned out to be (and still could if I made wrong choices).

I know what happened in my mind when their control over me loosened.

I have no trouble recalling the time when it occurred to me that I was free to make my own choices.

Suddenly I had the ability to go anywhere I felt like, watch and listen to anything I wanted, and become the person I decided I should be.

How liberating, you might say...

And yet, I could not get my parent's voices out of my head!

Every snippet of wisdom, every instruction, every purposeful discipline was with me forever.

It still is...more than a decade after leaving home.

And, truthfully, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Because you see, I know what I am capable of.

I am aware of the temptations that come my way daily.

And I am also very much aware of the consequences of any poor choices I may contemplate.

Because of the faithful instruction of loving parents, I know that the things I choose to dwell on will determine the trajectory of my life.

And while I can't control who my children end up becoming, any more than my parents could with me, I can follow in their footsteps.

There are no guarantees with parenting.

Discipline, instruction, boundaries...all are needed, but don't guarantee a promising future.

But, there is one method of parenting that I believe our children can never ignore.

That is, the consistent declaration of God's will and purpose over their lives.

They may choose to follow unhealthy patterns of living, but when they come to the end of their proverbial rope, one strand of hope will endure.  

"The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." 
(James 5:16 NLT)

I am choosing to hold on to the promises that my parents held on to, and are still trusting in.

Prayer will be the foundation of my parenting.

Guidance and instruction will be lovingly encircled with the fervent prayer of this Mommy.

I don't know what I'm going to think of our parenting skills when I look back.

But, one thing I am sure of... I will do my best to pray with expectancy, knowing that the same God that answered my parent's prayers, is the One who will hear my cry.

I pray  with fervent hope...and I trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to "equip [them] with all [they] need for doing his will. [That] he produce in [them], through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen." (from Hebrews 13:21).

I leave you with the prayer that I pray almost every night over our children:

"All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children."
 (Isaiah 54:13)