Here I am. Fingers poised.
I did it again. I signed up for a project, not really knowing what I was signing up for. I do that sometimes. I think if God wants us to follow Him faithfully and step out into the unknown, sometimes we actually have to. Step out into the unknown, that is.
Then I found out more about it. I have to write the real, messy beautiful truth about who I am. Argh. Not that I want to really keep it all to myself, it just seems so painfully introspective. Almost narcissistic. And, man oh man; I don’t want to be narcissistic. There are too many millions out there who don’t have the luxury of sitting at a computer playing mind-mellowing tunes while they pick apart their own anxieties and deep-seated isms. But, it’s what I signed up for. And I like to follow through. I like to do what I say I’m going to do. I think that’s a big deal. There. That’s one part of me.
I like follow through because it’s the same as telling the truth. And I like to tell the truth. But, I don’t like mean. Not that kind of truth-telling. Not the,
Hey, I really don’t dig that shirt… or hat… or purse…
Not that kind of truth-telling. It’s really not necessary. Unless someone asks. Really asks. You know, the girlfriend who wants it straight,
How do the jeans really look?
I’ve had friends like that. And I need them. I miss them.
See, in the military, you get to start over and over again. Like anything else, it carries the great and the gruesome with it. You clean your house and your heart, and you pack up and leave.
There’s an excitement and a refreshing order that comes with going to the new normal. You get to start from scratch. But, scratch can hurt. The scratch can bring cuts and wounds and tears. The hardest part, it brings tears from your kids. Those are the worst ones. You just can’t un-live some places for them. The heart places. They have to go there, just like you do. The best you can do is grab their hands and hold on. We only become warriors by going to war – by going to battle against the dark places. Outside of us – but, first, inside of us.
I’m married to a warrior – the kind who flies fighters and goes to war. I’m a mom of six kids. That makes me a warrior in some ways. Six more souls to go to battle for. It also shows me God had to give me more practice in patience than most. Each one of my littles is a hill on which I die. Another place to die to myself. And I really want to die to myself, though it took me over four decades to figure out what that means.
So, who am I? That’s the assignment. I’ll just go right to the fears. We all have those. It’s not such a tough place to start.
I’m afraid of heights. Really afraid. Like knee buckling, heart racing, dizzying fear. I’m not so much afraid of falling; more that I’ll forget I’m up high and jump. Pretty strange, I know. What scares me more is I’ll miss some really cool moments with my kids because of this fear. I already have. Roller coasters and lighthouses. I missed that time on the lighthouse. I have pictures, but they’re just not the same. What’s worse, my baby girl is more petrified than I am. And, I’m sure it’s my fault. Guilt. That’s a whole other subject, isn’t it?
I’m afraid something will happen to my kids. I know we all are, but I don’t want to be like Nemo’s dad. I want them to live. Really live. I don’t know what to do about this fear. So, I pray. But, sometimes I worry I don’t pray enough – or the right way. Like God’s giving me some prayer exam and I am one question away from failing. I want to get it right – like it all depends on me.
Which brings me to the next fear. It all depends on me (and I worry about narcissism?), and I’m going to completely mess up my kids. I had a great childhood. Good parents, good brothers, good friends. And I never had to move. Ever. Same house, same town – until I left for college. And I hardly ever went back. And that’s it, I think. I hardly ever went back. There’s the root of my fear. My kids will take off and live and never come back.
My parents still live in the same house and I hardly ever go back. We live too far away, and it’s not easy to road trip 3000 miles with six kids. The worst part – my mom has Alzheimer’s, or something like it. We aren’t sure because she’s not the biggest fan of doctors. Every phone call, I try to memorize the brief conversation. She’s my mom. It’s been called the long goodbye, but it’s more than that. Imagine your life as a time line. You cruise along collecting memories and suddenly the one who gave you life, the one who held your new baby body, the one who taught you everything about being a girl and a woman – is living a sliding scale. The memories slide to the right leaving everything to the left – your whole past – behind. The memories become yours – alone. And I hate it. That old saying,
We’ll always have the memories.
Yea, but sometimes we won’t.
Fear of man. It’s one of the worst. Being afraid of what people think. It’s almost paralyzing sometimes. We can say (and when I say “we,” I mean “I”) we don’t care what people think. But, we do. The problem with this fear? It keeps us caged. Stifled. Half alive. And the worst part, we miss the best parts of the turning pages of these passing years. We read only half of every page, which leads us through only half of the book. We miss some of the best parts, but we’ll never know it – until the end when all the pages are open under the sun. I’m not saying finding favor with man is wrong. Wise old King Solomon told us it’s a good and honorable thing to have. It shouldn’t be the goal; but it shouldn’t be the hindrance.
Love is a big deal. Love and mercy are mission number one. But, don’t you know, there’s always going to be someone who wants to shoot you down. And, that’s why we’re warriors. Because we are willing to let people shoot at us. Because we know what’s at stake – our very lives. Our real lives. The ones we are supposed to live – wild and free. Just like that rebel Jesus.
It’s funny, the more you talk about your fears, the smaller they get; and the braver you become. And, man, I want to be brave. I want to be brave for my kids every time they face the dark places. I want them to be brave in the face of angry and critical eyes. I want them to be brave when the angry and critical eyes are the ones facing them in the mirror. Because we can be brutal with ourselves. I want to show them what brave looks like. I want to show them forgiveness is the bravest thing you can do – especially to yourself. I want them to see what it means to carry a cross and to sacrifice. And I want to love their daddy well. I want to be brave for my warrior every time he steps out to battle. And sometimes love is the battlefield (thank you, Pat Benatar…). I want to show them that this is not all there is; but this is all worth fighting for. And, then I think of her.
She’s been gone two years now. The kind of friend who would tell you in her sweetest southern drawl that those jeans were just all wrong. She would smile and hum,
Girrrrl… huh-uh. Those are all wrong, girl.
Man, I miss her. Two years is a lot of life to keep to yourself. So, here’s the thing. My girl, she could stress with the best of them. We could talk in the dark of a booth in a remote restaurant, and just as she poised herself for true confessions, her ears would perk and her eyes would shift,
Do you think anyone heard me?
She pretty much cared what people thought. For a long time. Until she got sick.
Cancer will kill more than healthy cells. It will kill any inkling of fear of what your purpose here is. It will kill any thoughts about what anyone else thinks. It will make you brave and strong and grateful for this very moment, even while you are scared and weak and the moments pass by. It will make you grow up and wake up. It will make you see things you forgot to look at. It will make your eyes new again with more tears than you can count. She was brave and I want to be just like her.
I could go on. But, well, there comes a point we have to stop. We have to get a grip and stop being afraid. I don’t know how to change it all. I don’t know how to erase the fears, but I know a God with a mighty powerful pen. I am fairly certain He can write over anything we ask. In fact, I know He will.
So, I am just going to start here – with pen and ink. I’m going to ask Him to re-write my view of heights through His eyes. The places that seem too high for me are just footstools. He has higher and holier places to take us. Maybe I can just step on one of these footstools, then take the next step, and the next…
My kids. Yes – motherhood. This place He shows me how wrong I can be – while being right where I am supposed to be. I guess I’ll just have to remind them I never doubted them when I let go of their hands… or they let go of mine. And I would fight the world for them; but, that’s not what they – or the world – need. The best I can do is throw these fears onto a page to tell them, and you, we are really all in this together. Some same, some different, but we are all sweating bullets over the pages we haven’t even gotten to yet. And those faded chapters? They show us how far we’ve come.
I want to live this epic tale. I don’t want to miss any more of the story meant for me. And whatever I miss, I’ll ask Him to please have a white-washed beach for me in heaven – somewhere breath-taking, with a hammock and a cold drink – where I can finish reading the parts I missed until now.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
(This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, Click Here. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, Click Here.)