Fearless

kalyanvarma_lion_walking_africaCan you recall a memory when you were fearless? A moment in time without hesitation; an experience or endeavor commanded through audacity but advanced through ambition? Consider a time where you made a choice to be truly fearless. Not because life forced you into a corner, but because you made the choice to not let an emotion dictate the outcome of a given situation or season.

Often when we hear the word fearless we equate its meaning to an individual, aspiration, or experience. When presented with distress we often riddle through our mind and find the perfect explanation as to why our fear is logical. We have all observed someone that appears fearless on the surface correct? In my life a few individuals immediately come to mind.

1.) My parents – They have been taking risks long before I was able to acknowledge them as risk takers. Not only have they taken on opportunities with endless financial uncertainty, they have also taken countless risks on people society may not wish to “deal with” otherwise. As their daughter I have often been on the receiving end of advice I did not ask for, you know, because they are my parents. A younger Anna would roll her eyes and discard about 50% of what was offered up. However, after a heavy dose of humility and hard experiences I am constantly tuned in to receive their advice at every occassion. In this example I encourage you to find fearlessness through humility. Be present, observe those who go after life instead of responding to life as it comes to them, and never discard advice from a wise person.

2.)  My Brother- The truth is, both of my brothers are fearless. For the purpose of this discussion, however, I want to point to my eldest brother. On the surface it is a simple response when I’m prompted as to his whereabouts. He is a Captain in the Army, and working through residential training to become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon. He is waste deep in research and has achieved opportonuites to be published in various medical  articles thus advancing his career. Though I am very proud of his accomplishments I am more proud of the hurdles he has faced with fearlessness. When he was rejected by the Air Force for a medical school scholarship he turned around the next day and applied with the Army. Less than a month later he was the only one of hundreds of applicants to be given full tuition through medical school. I have watched him go after life with a  fearlessness that is rooted deep in the person he has chosen to become. He is confident enough to be the guy you want operating on you, but humble  enough that there is a reverence for the preciousness of life that leaves him vulnerable to fail at any moment. His fearlessness comes in valuing human life enough to sacrifice his own for 12 plus years, only to tend to the most life threatening   and fragile of circumstances. He has instilled in me an understanding that  countless individuals have faced their fears as a means of giving hope to those of us who need their gifts. Be fearless because what you have to offer others depends on it.

3.) Memo and Renay– Memo and Renay operate an orphanage out of Mexico that services the physical, mental, and emotional needs of children. I have great respect for these individuals as I have witnessed the sacrifice of leaving behind what is comfortable and submitting to a life surrendered. More importantly they have created an environment where children can leave their fear, pain, and rejections at the door. Through their willingness to move boldly and fearlessly they continue to plant seeds of hope in the hearts of children that have experienced unimaginable hurt. In many ways I see this couple as far more fearless than anyone I have had the privilege of knowing. Often it is nice to think about sacrifice, to romanticize what it could produce, to wonder what you “might,” offer someone who needs your gift; but to act on sacrifice, and to do so with a heart of service, takes true courage. Memo and Renay didn’t wake up fearless. In fact I’m sure they know better than most what true fear of failure feels like, but, somewhere along the way (maybe many times along the way) they have chosen not to give into fear. In this way they have set a new standard for what it means to live fearlessly. Had they not moved forward because of a feeling, countless needs that they are gifted and equipped to handle would remain unmet.

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In the wake of an increasing need for me to push my own fears aside and go forth in pursuit of utilizing my gifts these examples (and many others) inspire me to push fears of failure aside. They have taught me that fearlessness isn’t a characteristic or personality trait. It isn’t as though some of us are immune to fear while others whither behind the barriers of our mind. They have taught me that yearning to see the fruition of purpose does not eliminate fear but it does change how much fear is allowed to control us. You don’t have to be business owners, surgeons, or head off an orphanage to live fearlessly. Start small; build yourself in the direction of your dreams with diligence and humility. Give your ability to make decisions more power than you give your emotions the right to leave you wavering. My greatest fear is that I will settle as unused potential, limited by fear. For this reason I will continue to break apart fear in every season, moving toward life with intention.

Anxieties With Anxieties

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Anxiety is an invisible, unrelenting and at times crippling feeling that holds your nerves hostage. It shoots up through the back of your throat, and throttles your heart into marathon mode. If you’re like me, heat rushes through your body accompanied by numbness, tingling, and shaking. Anxiety not only in its nature to deceive our mind also deceives our physical body. If you’ve never experienced severe anxiety or panic you are unable to comprehend its ability to literally feel like a life threatening situation.

In complete transparency I have no quarrel admitting that anxiety has at times become a debilitating struggle in specific seasons of my life, primarily those that uproot me with literal change. This may come as a surprise to you, but I am not always a complete goof. In fact, I take life too seriously, and do you know why? Because I don’t trust life. When someone says, “Everything will be okay” I used to (occasionally still do) want to punch him or her in their calm face.

Let me give you an illustration that I believe describes intense anxiety. I’m standing in a room. There is nothing especially ordinary or unordinary about where I am, but I am a part of this place in that I am aware. Something strikes me as off about where but I’m not sure what it is, and I cannot identify its source. Anxiety builds off of being unsure what this off feeling is, but I am sure that whatever it is, it is becoming more tangible than the room in which I stand. This thing, this off feeling that manifests from an unknown place, feels more real than the floor I’m standing on. Everything zooms in swiftly (like in the movies) and I become increasingly isolated to this feeling. My knees buckle, my breath shortens, and even though I feel like running somewhere I do not move. I am in the most literal sense trapped in my mind. Let’s consider for a moment someone who has experienced anxiety and panic described in that detail to you as their current reality. How would you respond? I truly believe most of us have at least experienced some form of intense Anxiety/Panic/PTSD but I also know a handful of people who have not and certainly not at the level one might label “extreme.”

So there are two things I want to clarify here, beyond the experience itself.

 1.) IF YOU HAVE STRUGGLED WITH ANXIETY/PANIC

  • Anxiety will come and it will eventually go, but one thing is indisputable…anxiety will force you to deal. You will have to breathe, you will have to search, you will have to “come to”, you will have to get up the next day and you will have to express to someone you trust regardless of whether they can do anything that you’re in the battle. Let me tell you this, if you think you’re being tough by keeping it all in you are not. I know, it may not be something that can be understood. You may be recovering from a traumatic season or memory. You may not want to be vulnerable. I get it. However, I also know this; if you do not bring community in, anxiety will become your community and you will live with it. You will watch TV with it, go to dinner with it, and day-by-day, week-by-week, you will literally walk with it.

2.) IF YOU LOVE SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY/PANIC- I am not going to complicate this, because it is not very complicated. In fact, I think it’s more of a list, so, here’s the list.

  • Do not tell them to calm down. They aren’t calm. Give them a minute.
  • Do not invalidate their fear(s) not matter how irrational they may be.
  • Do not respond in a way that will penetrate their feeling of being alone.
  • Do not insist they cheer up or go out with you, but offer.
  • Do – Be Patient, Be Loving, Listen, or Just be with them.
  • Do- Answer their phone call if you can.
  • Do- Ask questions that help them think through the source (if you can).
  • Do- Check in. They may seem like a zombie but they will love you for it.
  • Do- Remind them. They aren’t crazy, but you get that it feels really bad.

Let me end with this. I have never failed because of my anxiety. I have never not shown up. I have considered it, but I never just quit all together. I’m just referring to everyday life, and you may be thinking, well, you haven’t had MY life. You’re right, I haven’t, and if anxiety completely stopped your life I am sorry. I’m sure it is validated on some level. However MY truth remains on the premise of a mindset, which says that while anxiety screams no I must say yes eventually. I also believe that I was designed with a promise that will oversee every season of my life. I will be on the receiving end of grace. I will be taken care of even when I feel abandoned. It is my personal belief that this world no matter how full of turmoil was intended to be woven and strengthened with predestined relationships. Do you have to work at relationships? Yes. Are they a coincidence? No. Be vulnerable. Make that phone call. Reach out to that friend. Pray, reflect, and keep steady with hope.

Peaks and Valleys

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It’s 2 am and a jolting spasm curves up my legs to the lumbar region of my spine. Painful is not how I would describe the sensation, but is certainly uncomfortable. My room is spilling over with an abundance of pillows. Body pillows, wedge pillows, foam pillows, small pillows, big pillows, flat pillows, fat pillows; if it’s on the market I own it. As I turn over my stomach gnaws at me urging me upright. Saltine crackers and anti-nausea medication have become a staple in my diet. I’m constantly fluctuating between a state of feeling ill and running low-grade temperatures and not being “ill “per say but not feeling like myself. I definitely do not feel like myself. My body has a vast list of symptoms and my emotional state is far from what would be typical for me. Some may call it PTSD, or post surgical depression, generalized anxiety, etc. Label it what you want, I am simply in a place where my mind and emotions have now caught up to my body, and it is a tough place to be. Everyone tells you it will be great to be on the other side of it, and I know what they are trying to say…but being on the other side is the time you finally have a moment to breathe and internalize what has happened. For anyone who has gone through a major medical challenge, you know what I’m preaching and you know how tough it truly is. Grateful to be healing, but struggling to let your emotions run their course

As physical healing increases my emotional and spiritual health is challenged. I’ve gone through the fight, I’ve gone through the trauma and now “the dust settles”. It’s kind of like this:

  • Pre-Tumor – What is wrong with me? Am I overly concerned about how I feel? I know something is wrong with my body but 3 Doctors have told me I’m fine. It’s anxiety, or a pinched nerve. It will pass.
  • Doctors Office– Okay I have a tumor. SHIT I have a tumor. In my spinal column? I didn’t even know that was possible. I have to have surgery. I have to have it in less than 2 weeks. I have to tell my family. I don’t know if it’s cancerous. I don’t know where it came from. I should have listened to myself sooner. I should have known I had a tumor. How could I not know?
  • Surgeons Office- You have no medical options. You are at risk for paralysis, death, spinal fluid leaking, and permanent nerve damage. We need to do an emergency surgery. Those are the only words I heard.
  • Post-Surgery– Primarily terrifying for the first 3 days. Pain beyond belief the 7 days following.
  • Home Recovery– After a few tough days I made a steady increase of improvement and I still am. Physically I began healing extremely well. Now we are at week 4 and I’m just beginning to internalize some of the more difficult emotional aspects of what has happened. It’s as if my body said…okay…we can only take care of one trauma at a time so all of our resources are going to be toward healing your body to a place of stabilization. Now that I’ve reached that foundation my emotions have kicked in and are running ramped. So, what is next?

First and foremost I will not make myself to believe I shouldn’t be feeling these things. I’ve I’m withdrawn and processing the experience it is okay. If I don’t face the emotions and memories now I will not find peace. I will not “just” pray about it. I will feel it. There is no shame in being in a relationship with a living God, receiving his grace, being grateful for his mercy, and STILL not being “Okay.” Too often we tell people who are going through something traumatic to “just pray about it” or instead of saying “what can I do for you?” Granted, not everyone can do something, and often times even if you reach out the person processing a trauma will not really know how to receive help, but the actual act of REACHING OUT is what is important. It is another example of the strength that comes with community. It says, I see you, I hear you, I care about you, and helping you in some way no matter how small is a priority.

If you’re wondering if I’m saying this because I feel somehow that my friends have not reached out, just know, that is not the case. I’m saying this specifically because I now know that had the people in my life not reached out in community I would not be where I am in recovery. My friends in the area here and beyond have been so attentive and receptive to my needs, and for that I am more grateful than they know. I’m also communicating this because often when we are the one wishing to reach out and not the person/family in trauma it feels awkward and uncertain. What can I do? What do I say? Will I bother them if I call? What is their greatest need?

Call. Ask. Be uncomfortable. It is important.

 Being in authentic community with one another takes work. It does not always fit our schedule and we have to be resourceful with our time, energy, and even funds at times. Authentic community breeds on our willingness to admit that we need each other’s encouragement, honesty, joy, and occasional tough love. I think there are too many people skimming through life in surface relationships that leave little room for personal and spiritual growth. Instead of “just saying it” whatever “it” may be, we skate around and try to figure out how to be in the relationship without being vulnerable to rejection and/or discomfort.

My journey through this trial has been a series of peaks and valleys. I’ve had moments of profound gratefulness and I’ve had moments of resentment coupled with a handful of self- pity. I’ve had days where God’s Grace overwhelmed me and I’ve had days where I’ve been angry with God that this had to happen, and of course I’ve felt shame for feeling that way. After all, have I not had my prayers answered? Can I not here and testify God’s faithfulness? Am I not an example of his love? Sure I am. But, as I said before, I will still allow myself to process, to feel, and to be. However that may look, it is okay. God has taken me through the valleys and he’s asked me to wait on his timing, and if I’ve learned anything from this it is that HIS timing IS perfect. Had it been even a month later I would not likely be where I am. I certainly would not be healing the way that I am. I would not have had the surgeon I did, nor the wonderful nurses. God’s timing is perfect. He does not bring the pain but he will pull you through it. All we have to do is show up, walk with him through the peaks and valleys, and breathe. Everyday. Thank you for your love and for being in community with me. We are Christ to one another.