Fear: It Coerces and Controls

Some weeks the news seems to sit more heavily on my heart. This past week was one of those weeks. The news had me feeling angry, scared, confused, and at a loss for words. In those moments of raw, unfiltered emotion, I often choose to just sit back and listen. This is not in an effort to be apathetic in my response, but rather a self-protective response knowing that opening my mouth before having time to process could have some serious consequences. So, instead of immediately responding, I sort through my own thoughts, listen to or read the thoughts of others, and just exist amongst the chaos.

Tonight, a particular text messaging conversation with someone regarding news from this past week sort of ‘set me off.’ It upset me – and it got me thinking once again – thinking this time from a much more ‘processed’ perspective. Now, rather than just listening, I am ready to write.

Throughout the chaos of this last week – chaos including everything from an earth-shaking letter released by our current Miss America to the concerning publication of a study that our breakfast foods contain high amounts of Round-Up – I have continually been confronted by one consistent theme:

We, as a society, live in fear.

That fear is used to control those around us, demeaning them and reminding that individual of our ultimate power. That fear is used to elicit change in human behavior – changes in what we believe, changes in the daily choices we make, and changes in how we raise our family. That fear is used to misguide individuals, families, businesses, organizations, and nations. Fear controls. Fear manipulates. Fear terrifies us. Fear coerces us to hide – an often futile attempt to hide from this all-consuming emotion. Fear persuades us to react to others in ways that insinuate hurt, anger, division, and consequently, more fear.

Fear is not easily seen. As a society, we have come to mask it well. Take for example the question, “How are you?” Today, the only ‘appropriate’ response is “I’m fine.” The question is simply routine, rather than truly conversational. We hide our fears. We put on a smile and present a ‘picture perfect’ lifestyle on social media, hiding our true fears behind the screens that separate us from others. We mask our fears with other emotions, with substances, with motivations, with passions…well, with whatever will keep anyone from seeing through to our fears. We hide our fears in innumerable ways.

But, here’s the point that really grates on me. Why is it that we try to hide these fears – these battles we are facing? Why is it that we hide behind a mask, consequently living consumed by our fears rather than facing them?

(Now, don’t think for a second that I’m up on some pedestal preaching about not hiding your fears, meanwhile perfectly sharing my fears with the world. Yeah right. I’m at fault here too. In fact, these past few months have been some of the most challenging months I have ever faced and during this time I have been continually confronted by the fact that I have tried to disguise my fears – even from those I love most.)

You see, there’s no refuting it: We all have fears. We all face battles. Fear is a human emotion. It’s undeniable, and I don’t think we should ever feel guilty for a certain emotion. However, what we do with our emotions, how we respond to our emotions, is up to us.

So, I ask you…

What if instead of being consumed by our fears, we could learn to share those fears? Wouldn’t our fears be more easily conquered with someone on our team?

What if, for one second, we could put aside our fear of being wrong, our fear of other viewpoints, and have a conversation (a real, actual conversation) with someone “on the other side?” Wouldn’t this be a recipe for fruitful conversation and future cooperation?

What if rather than using the fearful circumstances we have faced to reek havoc on other people’s lives, we used those fears for good? Wouldn’t we have a story to share – a story that could make a difference in the lives of others facing similar fears?

What if instead of disguising our fear through bullying, hurtful words, abusive lifestyles, and divisions, our fears were shared and allowed to heal? Wouldn’t we have the power to heal both ourselves and others?

What if rather than speaking from behind a mask of fear, we spoke from a standpoint of empathy and kindness? Wouldn’t that be truly beautiful?

Emotions are strong, and at times fear seems to have a strength greater than any of us. Fear has the power to cage us – caging us in broken relationships, inhibiting our vision to move forward (whether by ourselves or as a business/organization/nation), hurting those with whom we interact, and consuming our every thought and action. But, if used for good, our fears grant us perspective. And when faced, our fears give us a story to tell and a hope for the future.

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“Momma, take food?”

A few weeks ago I was backing out of the driveway to go run some errands. All of a sudden, our two and a half year old piped up from the backseat. “Momma,” she said, “Take food?” 

You see, she knew we were headed somewhere and she wanted to know if we were going to deliver a meal to someone in need. 

I have to admit, in the past few years, there have been many moments as a mom where I have just paused and admired my beautiful girls, soaked up a memory, and thanked God for my time with them. But, this one moment dropped me to my knees…figuratively, of course, since I was trying to drive. 

I remember stopping the car. Just haulting. I was overcome by the question my toddler had just posed. 

I mean, we hear things like, “More is caught than taught.” And we strive as parents to model the love of Christ. But that’s a really BIG job. The love of Christ is no small thing. And while I want to model that every moment of every day, I know full well that amidst the tantrums, tangles, and tears of everyday life, I fall short. 
So, when my toddler said, “Momma, take food?” I just stopped. Tears welled in my eyes as I thanked God. That love of Christ that I work so hard to model, despite my imperfections, had come full circle. My daughter, at two and a half, had already recognized the importance of providing for those in need. 

I stopped. I prayed. I thanked God for granting us the means to provide meals for those in need. I thanked God for all his provisions throughout our debt free journey that allowed us to reach this point of giving to others. And I thanked God for this beautiful reminder that my actions as a mother are placing an imprint on the heart of my toddler. 

I have, in the past few weeks, shared this story on a few accounts. I most recently shared it with our Financial Peace University class praying that it might give them hope – hope of a future where they are debt free and able to give generously! 

And I share this story today with you. If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, or any individual who has contact with children, I pray that this encourages you to continue to model the love of Christ. You may not see your efforts come full circle, but we are all a part of this next generation’s walk with Christ. And the part that each of us plays is important! My actions today could be paving the way for someone, possibly myself or another follower, to lead my daughter to give her life to Christ. 

So I encourage you all. LOVE. Love like Christ loved the church. Love those around you and model that love constantly for the children in your life.

Those words ring in my mind, “Momma, take food?” While on that specific day, we weren’t headed to deliver a meal, I forever want my response to be, “Yes, sweetheart, let’s take food. Let’s love someone in need today.”

What Will You See?

What will you see?
Will your patient be an elderly man with a broken hip who simply needs a smile and pain relief on his trip to the hospital?
Or will you respond to find a bruised and mistreated infant whose parents stand in oblivion?
What will you see?
I do not know.

What will you do?
Will you be called upon to set fractures and split broken bones?
Or will you mercilessly perform CPR in order to try to save a loved one?
Will you bring a new life into this world?
Or will you crawl into a mangled car to begin treating a battered patient, with glass shards falling around you as the jaws of life are used to cut the patient free?
What will you do?
I do not know.

Will you put your life on the line?
Will you treat patients with life-threatening diseases that with one accidental needle slip could cause you to contract that fatal disease?
Will you care for a patient on the side of the interstate as cars go flying by?
Will you station your ambulance on standby in a local neighborhood as the police officers work to resolve a standoff?
Will you transport patients hundreds of miles in bad weather?
Will you put your life in the hands of your coworker as you stand, with no seat belt, treating a patient in the back of an ambulance?
Will you put your life on the line?
Yes.
Yes. You will.

You will put your life on the line.
Because every day you put your life on the line in order to serve those around you – in order to save a life and heal the hurt.

My Debt Free Band

It’s white gold; it’s full of diamonds; and it fits me, and my personality, perfectly. It graces my left hand every day. And it represents more than words can ever say. You probably already know exactly what I’m describing – yes, it’s my wedding ring.

My engagement band, in its center, has a cluster of princess cut diamonds. This cluster is graced on each side by two more prominent diamonds. These three clusters symbolize the past, the present, and the future – the present being the largest of the clusters and thus reminding us to treasure the moment we are engaged in presently. The rest of the band curves flowingly through the center, almost as if emulating the infinity symbol. The band is lined with small diamonds, which sparkle so beautifully in the sunlight. I still vividly remember the first time I ever saw that ring. Logan was down on one knee in his parents’ back yard (in the middle of the black hills of South Dakota…talk about stunning scenery!) holding a beautiful wooden ring box open in his hands. It was a perfect fall day, and I remember the way those diamonds absolutely sparkled in the sunlight. I was sure I had never seen a more beautiful ring.

That beautiful engagement band is hugged gently by a wedding band, equally adorned with diamonds and gracefully complimenting the symbolism of the engagement ring. These two beautiful rings…not a set…yet so perfect for each other. So perfect it’s as if they were meant to be together. I remember going to shop for wedding bands together with Logan. And, I remember Logan giving me that ring on our wedding day – excitedly, nervously, and confidently placing it on my finger – only to find out after the ceremony that he had put it on backward!

This ring – two beautiful bands fused together – has graced my left hand for two years now…for two crazy, adventure-filled years! But, just recently we added one last band to my ring. Now, from what I know, it isn’t uncommon for a husband to give his wife an anniversary band on a significant anniversary such as ten or twenty years. However, we aren’t even close to celebrating one of those big milestones, so you’re probably wondering…Why another band? You’ve only been married for two years. It’s not as if you’ve got a 10-year anniversary to celebrate. No, we haven’t reached a significant marriage anniversary. We have something else to celebrate. Something we have worked long and hard on for the last two years.

This band – this is my debt free band. That’s right, DEBT FREE!!!!!! (I still can’t stop smiling.)

This debt free band symbolizes a journey we began when we got married…a journey to pay off all our debt. We wanted a life with no credit cards, no car payments, no student loans, (and eventually…no mortgage). NO DEBT. (Yes, I know we are weird!)

This debt free band represents so many things. It symbolizes countless jobs worked diligently by Logan. (There were many weeks when he worked all day and all night – over and over and over.) It represents garage sales, hours upon hours of crafting goods to sell, and way too many nights spent apart from my husband. It represents a lifestyle rich with self-control – a lifestyle where my grocery budget was a puzzle, eating out was not at all an option, and a new pair of jeans was a gift from friends. This band represents some of the first goals we ever set as a couple. It represents the highs and lows in our journey towards achieving those goals. It represents some great financial successes and some even greater lessons in money and wise spending. This debt free band represents teamwork, dedication, hard work, and sacrifice.

Towards the end of our debt free journey…say the last $10,000 or so…we got really, as Dave Ramsey would say, ‘gazelle intense.’ We were sick and tired of being in debt. We wanted nothing more than to be done; and we were willing to do about anything to get there. Logan was working around the clock; and I was managing the home front, and our two little girls, on my own most days. Even though we were focused, this is when it got really hard for me. You see, I married into most of this debt. None of it was originally my debt. The credit cards, furniture payments, and student loans were all Logan’s. Don’t get me wrong…we did create some debt together when we didn’t have enough saved for the hospital bills for our first child or when we learned our lesson about contractors and electrical work. But, most of the debt was his…and that was really starting to grind on me. I was sick of sacrificing for something that wasn’t mine.

You see, during this ‘gazelle intense’ time, I was in the fourth trimester after having our second child (who we cash flowed of course!). I was recovering postpartum, and not really fitting comfortably into many of my clothes. At this point, I had two pairs of jeans to my name…both of which I had owned since my early college years. I had recently popped the buttons on both pairs of jeans because they were so worn out. Embarrassingly enough, my only two pairs of jeans were being held together with hair ties. Yes, hair ties! But, I was stubborn. I was determined that we were not going to budget money for new clothes. The jeans would have to do until we were debt free. (Of course, God is good and I was blessed by a few friends, which resulted in a couple pair of new jeans prior to the finale of our debt journey.)

But, back to my story…the story of a tired mom of two little girls who is sick of sacrificing because this debt wasn’t hers. Wait. What?!? Can we just stop and think about what I was feeling? I was sick of sacrificing a couple years of our lives – two years of hard work and time away from my husband in order to have the rest of our lives debt free?!? I was sick of sacrificing two measly years in order to give my daughters a better life and spend the rest of our lives giving generously?!? How incredibly selfish of me.

In the midst of this internal battle, I was humbled (ok, embarrassed, actually…) realizing that my sacrifice was so minuscule in comparison to the sacrifice that Jesus gave to us all when He died on the cross…died for sins that WERE NOT HIS. My sacrifice was minuscule in comparison to the sacrifice that God made when He gave His son to die for our sins. If God can give His son to save us…if Jesus can give His life for me and you…surely I can give two measly years!

And so, two years and $97,000 later, we have completed our debt free journey…and I have a few more diamonds that will forever be on my left hand to remind me of this journey. They will remind me of how my husband took charge of our scary finances and inspired this journey for both of us. They will remind me of the importance of that open line of communication about money between Logan and me…and the importance of continuing this communication in order to invest in our relationship. They will remind me to always treasure what we have been given because it is truly a gift from God; and He calls us to be good stewards of His gifts. My diamonds will remind me of tears, laughter, sweat, love, and joy. My diamonds will always have a story to tell – the story of a debt free journey that has forever changed our family and our legacy.