Sunday, October 9, 2011

That Awkward Phase

We've all heard it: "Oh, bless her heart; she's going through that awkward phase." Knowing glances and head-nods follow such a comment, usually, as all eyes fall upon said awkward child, often a mess of braces and gangly limbs and overgrown feet. Were you her? Did you overhear those comments and pray for a trapdoor to appear in the floor beneath you and swallow you up?

The Awkward Phase occurs at different times in a woman's life, I think. For some, it hits with puberty and erodes the self-confidence for three or four years before giving way to a rebound of teenage promiscuity. Or for others, maybe it swoops in during the high school years when there never seem to be any seats left at the "cool table" in the cafeteria, leaving you hunched over a brown paper bag or styrofoam tray surrounded by freaks and geeks: your people. It seems Awkward Phases are as unique and individual as the women and girls they strike.

My own Awkward Phase had its unfortunate genesis at age three and became tangible and obvious around age six. Prior to age six, I was (quite frankly) rather adorable. But the cuteness factor wore off around the sixth year of life (See archived post about this tragedy here: and gave way to clumsiness and self-consciousness and about 29 years' worth of blurted-out faux pas I wish I could take back. That's right--29 years. See, I don't think I've ever quite outgrown my own personal awkward phase. Oops.

I still trip over my own feet and have very little awareness of my appendages (constantly bruised elbows and hipbones attest to this), and I still wish I could retract approximately 40% of the things I say, the emails I send, the comments I leave on people's Facebook statuses. Basicially, I second-guess everything I do -- or, wait, maybe I don't. Maybe that's an exaggeration. (See what I mean?)

And now that I'm turning 35 (how the heck did that happen?) in a couple of months, I've decided that maybe the Awkward Phase isn't going to wear off at all. Maybe it's who I am. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that this world is not my home and was never meant to be all that comfortable. Or maybe I'm just my own brand of weird -- just like you are your own brand of weird. Maybe it's totally normal to brush my teeth in the shower and sleep with my childhood blankie and habitually sing harmony along to annoying jingles on the radio and listen to Christmas carols in August just because they make me happy. Maybe you second-guess yourself just as much as I do and you just don't blog about it. Maybe the fact that I do is just part of my weirdness and maybe I should just keep on truckin'. As a woman said in a group I led last week, "Jus' do you, baby. Jus' do YOU."

I thought that by the time I reached thirty-five, I'd be The Woman I Always Wanted To Be. Here's a thumbnail of her: Long legs and a graceful stride, delicate features and a certain uber-feminine grace, and everyday is a good hair day and her house always smells like clean laundry and vanilla cake, and her children respect her always and her husband finds her lovable and endearing, and she is both professional and domestic all at once, and she is respected in her community and in her chosen field, and you can just tell that's she's been with Jesus . . .

Wait. That last part -- maybe . . . Maybe it's enough. Maybe that last part erases a multiude of "awkward." Maybe it eclipses all the other qualities, anyway. Yes . . .

Maybe we are who we are -- broken, weird, strange, unique, imperfect, wayward, wind-tossed sojourners in a land that is far from our home. Maybe we don't outgrow that awkward phase until we are reuinted with our Maker, made complete in His arms, clicked in like a puzzle piece that fits just so. And maybe when I am feeling especially awkward, it's because I've spent a little too much time away from Him . . .

I don't know: it was just a thought. I'm already second-guessing it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

By Popular Demand: The Best of Jadenisms!

Okay, people, you've been asking for it . . .

For over three years now, my Facebook friends and followers have been encouraging me to write a book of "Jadenisms" -- quips and quotes from my sharp-tongued son, Jaden. I found a way to search archives of my Facebook statuses dating back to 2009, and compiled the following list both for posterity and for your amusement. As for me, I get to live with this kid; my biggest challenge is knowing when to laugh and when to wash his mouth out with soap.

Without further ado . . .

The Best of Jadenisms, 2009 through 2012:

"Mom, you're pretty. (pause) No, I mean it, you're actually kind of pretty. I don't know why guys aren't just gagging all over you." (age 6)

"Mom, can I have some strawberry milk?" (Me: How do you ask politely?) "Can I have some strawberry milk . . . if it be thy will?"

Jaden to Spike (the cat), who was freaked out by fireworks on July 4, 2009: "Aw, don't worry, Spikey. Relax, boy . . . it was just a bomb."

(Talking to himself in the mirror, age 6, as he wiggled his first loose tooth: "You got this, Jaden. Just grab and pull. Gotta take this like a man, damn it." (I really can't remember how I disciplined him for the swearing . . . )

Stylist told Jaden he had the thickest hair she'd ever seen on a seven-year-old boy. Jaden replied, "Oh, don't be so melon-dramatic."

Jena to Jaden: "Get your fingers outta the peanut butter jar!" Anne to Jaden: "Go get a spoon and I'll make you a peanut butter lollipop like Pastor Clem likes to eat." Jaden to Anne: "Miss Anne, I need more women like you in my life."

Second grade math homework assignment asked the students to write a math story problem and show the equation. Jaden wrote "Mom + Dad = Baby." He likes to think outside the box.

Jena to 7-year-old Jaden: "Please take the garbage out and put your bike away." (Jaden rolls eyes.) Jena to Jaden: "Remember, I let you live in my belly, rent-free, for nine months..." Jaden to Jena: "Fine, mother. I'll go get my checkbook."

Jaden to Jena after putting up their Christmas tree, 2009: "Mom, I hope this doesn't make me sound too girly, but can we just turn off all the lights and lay under the Christmas tree and just . . . talk about our feelings?"

Jena, while making vegetable soup, said to Jaden, "I wish you would be my taste tester. This soup needs something." Jaden replied, "Mom, I'm not gonna taste that soup, but I will tell you what it needs: meat."

Another one for the books... Jena: "Do you understand why you were sent to your room?" Jaden: "Because you have no patience today."

I was just torturing Jaden by pinching his cheek, and he yelled, "Help! This is kid adultery!" (I, uh, think he meant 'child abuse.')

Me: "Argh; she left my hair longer on one side than the other." Jaden: "Welcome to the real world, Mom. Nothing in life is perfect."

Jaden woke up singing "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord", so I asked him what he had been dreaming about. He told me: Darth Sideous, dolphins, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Of course.

My parents have been divorced for 28 years. Tonight is my dad's birthday celebration, and Jaden told my mom she should go because "after all, he's your long lost husband."

Jaden (singing): "I could really use a wish right now..." Me: "What would you wish for?" Jaden: "That this would be an all-girls school but they'd let me in anyway."

Jaden: "Mom, can the average man lick his own armpit?" Me: "Ummm... I don't think so." Jaden: "I knew it; I'm talented!"

Jaden: "I would never want to be a teacher. You have to get to school at like 6AM to grade papers, plus you never get to pee. Mrs. Deeter literally NEVER pees. It's freaky."

Me: "So, what goes on at a boys' sleepover?" Jaden: "Can't tell; it's part of the Guy Code." Me: "What's the Guy Code?" Jaden: "Can't say; that's classified information."

Me; "How was your day?" Jaden: "Good." Me: "What did you learn?" Jaden: "Nothing." Me: "What did you play in gym?" Jaden: "Mom, I get it; you care about my day. I'm just tired of speaking."

Jaden and Jackson are wrestling upstairs. Me to Jaden: "Please don't kill each other." Jaden to me: "Is it okay if we badly injure one another?"

Jaden: "Okay, from now on, we're all gonna get along and stop arguing. So let's just, I don't know... pretend to be other people."

Jaden: "I mean, what if there is no Santa? What if all those presents are just dropped off by some guy named, like, Bob Shinkenheimer?"

Just had to have the Great Inevitable Santa Talk with Jaden. His response: "That explains why I never get coal even though I'm bad every year!"

Jaden, at bedtime on the eve of back-to-school: "Not... Feeling so well... I don't think... I'm gonna pull through..." *Falls to floor*

Jaden: "I can't go to school today. I'm not throwing up anymore, but I think I have Brownchitus." *fake cough*

Me: "Jaden, you are not leaving this house until you brush those teeth." Jaden: "Come ON, Mom. I promise I won't smile at anyone today. No one will know."

So, my work is hiring RNs, and offering a referral bonus. Mom suggested a friend of ours, but I said "she hasn't nursed in a while" -- to which Jaden replied, "Not from the looks of things; she doesn't even have kids!" *slaps forehead*

Jaden: "Alexis' sister Alyssa almost broke my thumb today. I should have told the teacher, but I figured that might ruin my chances with Alexis. So I make sacrifices; big deal."

Jaden: "A teacher at my school had a baby two days ago. He's a boy and his name is Cameron. Or Henry. Definitely either Cameron or Henry."

Jaden: "What if we switched bodies while we were sleeping?" Me: "You wouldn't like it. You'd have to be a girl." Jaden: "Yeah, but YOU would have puberty all over again, so the joke's on you."

So the boy has Strep. When the doc told Jaders he was contagious, he goes, "Do I have to wear a cone on my head?"

Jaden: "I heard on TV that our president keeps giving Mexican people free stuff. I'M Mexican! I know I don't look like it, but geez, take a blood test!"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Top Ten Life Lessons I Learned (so far) Before Age 35

10) People who say they don't care what people think about them are usually saying that because they are desperate for people to think that they don't care what people think about them.
9) If you are worried about what others are thinking of you, you can relax--because they are probably too self-absorbed to be thinking about you anyway.
8) Everyone you meet and everyone you know is going through something. So don't be a jerk.
7) There is no such thing as the perfect church, so stop looking. And if you do find the perfect church, don't become a member or you'll mess it up. God can work with imperfection; in fact, we give Him no other choice.
6) When it comes right down to it, relationships--with others, with God, with ourselves--are all that matter in this life. Everything else is just details.
5) Never take life too seriously. No one gets out alive, anyway. Besides, if you are a Christ-follower, your life isn't even about you. It's about Him.
4) Never take yourself too seriously. Laughter can be lifesaving.
3) Smile at people. It shocks the heck outta most of 'em.
2) Take inventory of your blessings frequently. Anything and everything good that you have, embody, or experience came to you through God's hand. What if you woke up tomorrow with only those things that you thanked Him for today?
1) Prayer is the most powerful resource we have--and yet we usually resort to it last. That's kinda dumb.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Receiving Graciously 101

I don't know about you, but I rather like the ring of the words "self-sufficient." They make me feel strong. Able. Invincible. Untouchable. If I am self-sufficient, I am self-sustaining. Self-reliant. Independent. Respectable.

Sounds a bit like the American Dream, doesn't it? We as a culture praise and esteem such qualities. We are a nation of self-proclaimed "self-made men." We are all about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- which is often interchangeable with self-sufficiency.

Here's the thing, though -- it's an illusion.

Who do you really know who is self-sufficient? Who is able to keep his own heart beating even one blip longer than his creator intends? Who is his own source, his own provider, his own wellspring of wealth? No one that I know. And yet I have aspired to this, and come to expect it from myself in the process.

Enter unforseen circumstances. Enter the crash of the housing market (and the industry that was making me appear so self-sufficient not too long ago). Enter the mysterious will and plan of God, whose ways I still grapple to understand -- and the mirage of my self-sufficiency, my arrogant needlessness, dissolves like salt in water.

I did the math recently; I am now living on $30,000 less annually than I earned four years ago. And I would love to tell you that, because of that, I have achieved a new level of humility and grown marvelously as a person. But the truth is, I remain prideful. And that fact becomes unavoidable when others offer me help.

Enter more unforseen circumstances -- opportunities to face my needs, and to admit I have them --and then, enter (one by one) a procession of God's people, whom He seems to have placed quite intentionally in my path for such a time as this. People offering prayer and support and friendship and assistance of all kinds. People showing up and saying "Remember the time you were there for me? Now it's my turn." Beautiful reciprocity, indeed.

If you are a prideful person steeped in guilt, you know the default response: "Oh, no, no, no. Thanks, but I can't accept this. Or that. Or anything at all. But thanks anyway." False humility. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth, doesn't it?

I'll let you in on what God is teaching me these days; I seem to be enrolled in an accelerated course in Receiving Graciously 101. Lesson One: do not turn away a gift (time, resources, a favor, etc) given in love and obedience to God. Ever try to give someone a present and had them shove it back in your face? Well, me either -- but if I had, I think it would hurt something terrible. I like to give people gifts; I wouldn't want anyone to rob me of that joy. Would you?

I'm learning what true humility looks like. In so many ways, it is not what I thought it was. And it turns out that receiving graciously is a great way to cast down pridefulness -- and, as a dear friend told me just yesterday, receiving graciously will enable us, later, to give graciously. After all, none of us can give what we don't have.

Need a more practical application? 1) Open mouth. 2) Insert pride. 3) Swallow.

Repeat as necessary. I know I will.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Signing Up for Heartache

If I were to create a soundtrack to tell the story of my life, a lot of tracks would be courtesy of the late Rich Mullins, an amazing songwriter known by most for his magnum opus, "Awesome God." The man had a way of painting with lyrics, of telling every believer's tale of stubbornly wrestling with an almighty God -- and telling it so well that you almost wonder if he'd ever had a peek at your diary. Rich wrote a lot about human weakness. A few of my favorite lyrics:

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made / Forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage / And with these our hells and our heavens so few inches apart / We must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are.

And another:

Well everybody used to tell me 'big boys don't cry' / But I've been around enough to know that that was the lie / That held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons . . .

Rich had learned a little something about himself in his brief 42 years on Earth: he had learned that he was dust, that he had a tender heart that broke all-too-easily -- and that God Himself had created him -- and all of us -- that way. Vulnerable to heartache, prone to tenderness. Our hearts were not created to mechanically or stoically endure the obstacle course of life; on the contrary, it seems God designed us to feel deeply, to have hearts of compassion for our fellow sojourners, and even (and sometimes I'm not thrilled about this part) to share in His sufferings.

When I was a teenager, new to this journey with Jesus, someone had given me a keychain that said "Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God." I proudly carried that keychain; I was willing to share in Christ's sufferings like a good girl -- and I wanted everyone to know it.

But I didn't have a clue what that meant.

Working in a treatment center, I find myself surrounded daily by "things that break the heart of God." Addiction. Depression. Grief and loss. Crippling anxiety. Unbelievable deception. People haunted by their past. And most tragically, people desperately striving to overcome their past and create a future -- apart from God. These women are His precious creation -- and I feel His passionate desire that they might also become His daughters. His holy heart breaks for them -- and my own seems to be following suit.

This past week, I've wept at work on more than one occasion -- and from time to time, I spend my commute home from work in tears and in prayer. I have had co-workers tell me that I'm going to need to "toughen up" if I'm going to stay in this field -- but then I look around me and see that the co-workers who seem to be making the greatest difference in people's lives are those who are not necessarily all that "toughened up" themselves. As my friend psychologist friend Allen has told me, "In this work, tears are professional." (Read some of Allen's blog archives here: And as my own counselor recently said to me, "May your heart never become hardened. You will pay the price not to have a hard heart -- but as Christians, we have the heart of God for others. So welcome appropriate emotion."

It isn't the easy way of doing things, mind you; I think learning to suck it up and stuff it down might make life appear a little less painful in the short-term. To pick a rose, you ask your hands to bleed. But in the long-term, we would miss out -- oh, God, would we miss out -- on experiencing the heart of Christ toward His creation. He is such a passionate lover of ragamuffins -- slow to anger, abounding in love and mercy, so crazy about us broken-down, bedraggled rascals that He gave His best even when we were at our worst. He knew what perfect love was capable of, and He saw us not only as we were, but as we would be. But, even knowing the end from the beginning, He wept. And He weeps each time we stray.

Toughen up? Yeah, it's tempting. Self-protection is always tempting. But if Jesus never saw fit to harden His heart toward the wounded and wayward, how could I possibly justify doing so myself?

So here I am, signing up for heartaches to come. But I believe I will continue to find that, as my heart breaks for the things that break the heart of God, I will know Him a little more and a little better with each new painful twinge of compassion. I'd be lying to say I'm jazzed about it. But I could carry that keychain much more honestly today.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Breathing Lessons

There is a technique in choral singing called "stagger breathing", wherein the choir is able to sing long phrases of music without an audible break in the phrase for a breath, because singers of the same vocal part (sopranos, altos, et al) essentially take turns breathing; someone's voice is always filling in the blanks and representing that vocal part. The result is something of a sonic mirage: it sounds as if the choir never stops singing, even for a split second. It is continual sound -- ongoing music.

A couple years ago, I sang in an eight-voice vocal group for a church event at Christmas. We were singing "O Holy Night", acapella (sans accompaniment, for the non-musicians out there). If you're familiar with the song, you know that the musical phrases are written to be long and stretched and dynamic, with a great deal of arc and shape to them. Take an obvious breath in the middle of one of those gorgeous phrases, and you kill the song and ol' Adolphe Charles Adams turns over twice in his grave. Needless to say, we decided to "stagger our breathing."

Now, there's a certain amount of compassion and sensitivity required on the part of the vocalists in order to pull this technique off. There is no such thing as "every man for himself." For example, my friend Shauna and I were the two sopranos singing the melody line. In order to ensure that Shauna didn't run out of steam and fall into a lifeless heap on the stage beside me, I had to be sensitive to her body language, the timbre and tone of her voice, and her physiological requirement for oxygen. She, in turn, had to do me the same favor. Working together this way, side-by-side, with a purposeful, intentionally keen awareness of one another's moments of strength and weakness, we were able to compliment one another and empower one another to give the best of our voices (and ourselves) to the song. We were working separately -- and yet collaboratively - toward a common goal.

It's a pretty cool model of successful inter-dependent living, really. In a sense, it illustrates the way God has intended for human beings to "do life." In any close relationship -- that of best friends or partners or husband and wife -- there has to be a certain climate of give-and-take. The key, I would surmise, is that both partners should not generally be on the giving and taking end at the same time - or worse yet, all the time. And this, of course, is where the compassion and senstivity come into play.

We can do that, can't we? If Shauna and I, as singers, were able to be intentional enough about being sensitive to one another's condition to make pretty music, then surely we can carry that same principle with us into our non-musical endeavors like, say, life. Surely the integrity of our relationships is as important as the integrity of a song. And maybe getting along with one another and enabling one another to be the best that we can be, so that we can give the best we have to give, is as elementary as learning to breathe.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The God of Do-Overs

The truth? Sometimes I still secretly (or maybe not so much) wish I were Perfect Woman. You know her; you know her well. You envy her. She has perfect hair, the perfect body, the perfect husband, perfectly-behaved children who never mouth off or sass back or put their muddy shoes on the back of her leather seats in the car. She graduated Summa CumBaya with her PhXYZ from The University of Amazing Awesomeness. She is a professional. And a mom. And the best friend anyone could hope to find. Oh, she makes mistakes of course; if she didn't, you wouldn't want to be her friend because she wouldn't be "relevant" and "approachable" and "down-to-Earth." Oh yes, she makes mistakes. Once.

Okay, the jig is up: I am so not her. And this week, just to keep me good and humble, I was reminded of that.

I screwed up on a promise I made to myself this week. It's really not important for our purposes here to share the gory details; suffice it to say, right at this moment, my humanness is showing. And it's a little embarrassing.

Perfect Woman makes mistakes once. Imperfect Me makes them over and over, as many times as it takes, evidently, to remind myself of my desperate need for mercy. For grace. For friends who love me anyway. For the heart of Jesus, who is such a fan of do-overs that He commands us to forgive one another 490 times a day (70 x 7, for the non-mathletes out there). So why is it that each time I screw up, I tend to think it must be my 491st foible of the day, and that surely this time He'll be good and ticked off at me?

Truth is, I am so much harder on myself than God is. He already took my punishment, all those centuries ago on a stormy Friday afternoon. And I believe that as He hung there, thinking of you and me, doing what He did for us out of obedience and unfathomable love, He knew even then that I would mess up and go back on my word this week.

So there I sat, in my neediness and imperfection, looking around me at the pieces I'd have to pick up from my latest mistake. At first, I started gathering up the pieces quietly, hoping no one would see. Hiding the pieces with my silence, my isolation. But have you ever tried to isolate from God? It isn't easy. Like every good parent, He has eyes in the back of His head. And He is so big that He sees all from where He sits. He tapped me on the shoulder last night around 10:00, just as I thought maybe I had found a good hiding place from Him under my covers in bed. But, metaphorically speaking, He gently pulled my blanket off of me, exposing all those pieces I was attempting to hide under there.

"Give those to me," He said, His eyes smiling tenderly.
"Don't look!" I gasped, hurriedly pulling the covers over the pieces.
"Give them to me," He repeated, just as gently as before. "We'll fix it together."
"I made a mess," I cried.
"I know," He said. "Would you like a do-over?"

I hesitated.
I closed my eyes.
I felt the tears come.
I nodded.

The God of Do-Overs is infinitely more forgiving of me than I am. How I long to be more like Him! In fact, I think I'd do better to be more like Him than like Perfect Woman. She is a myth. He is the real deal. In fact, Perfect Woman doesn't think she needs the God of Do-Overs.

Tragic, really, to be so self-sufficient. She will never know Him like I do.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Put On Your Big-Girl Panties and Cowboy Up!

Have you ever noticed how much more credit we give people after they're dead and gone? Artists' paintings suddenly become valuable, musicians' singles start getting more airplay, writers' books enjoy revivals on best-seller lists. It always strikes me as a little bittersweet: "Boy, he sure is successful nowadays. Too bad he's underground."

Today would have been my friend Cindy's 36th birthday. She's been on my mind all week. It isn't just famous people whom we tend to exalt posthumously. Cindy, for example, was never famous at all (except to a very small circle of friends by whom she was adored) -- and yet now, six years after she went to meet her maker face-to-face, I find myself remembering things she used to say and suddenly, even if only in memory, I am listening. Really listening.

Cindy was a true Texan. Her drawl was contagious; Midwestern friends could always tell when I'd spent the night before in a two-hour phone convo with Cindy because I'd have a hard time keeping "y'all" out of my own vocabulary. I used to get a kick out of the phrases that became known as Cindyisms: "Heavens to Betsy!" and "Well, shooooooot!" and "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!" could always make my giggle. Cindy liked to tell me what to do; two years my senior, she proudly referred to herself as my "bossy-boots big sister." And one of her most common bits of advice for me was to "Put on your big-girl panties and cowboy up!"

Several times this past week, I could almost hear her voice saying that to me. I've had to do some hard things over the last few weeks, and the temptation to give up, cave in, and wuss out has been pretty strong. But it's amazing how the Spirit of God will lead us into portions of His Word where the letters seem to jump off the page at us, just as we need them most -- and this, I suppose, is why I found myself reading James this week. I'm particularly fond of James in the Message translation. Check this out, from James 1:3-5: "You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."

I realize now that a lot of Cindy's sisterly advice to me could have been straight out of the NTV (New Texan Version) of James 1. Maybe I should have listened a little more closely all those years ago. But of course, now that Cindy's in Heaven, her words carry a little more weight. And I swear -- I swear -- as I read James a few nights ago, I could almost hear Cindy standing next to Jesus, her hands on her hips, saying to me, "Yeah, Jena! What He said!"

Advice like this is hard to hear sometimes, whether it's from a bossy-boots big sister or from the King of Kings. Stick it out. Suck it up. Deal with it. Don't give up, wear down, back off, or fizzle out. Keep on keepin' on. Um, okay . . . how am I to do this, exactly? Thank God for verse six: "If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought."

Phew. I'm so glad God allowed for us to "not know what we are doing." 'Cause sometimes, not only do I not know how to put my big-girl panties on, but I don't even know which drawer to find them in! And God knows that. Even when I can't find my big-girl panties, He still covers my backside.

I can do this. All these hard things I'm facing this week, I can do through Christ. I'm puttin' on my big-girl panties and lookin' for my saddle. Happy birthday, Cindy.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fear Not?

I know you've been there; you know what it's like. Your palms sweat, your throat tightens up, your heart races and you feel like your stomach is about to fall right through your . . . Well, you get the picture. Fear stinks, doesn't it? It's no fun at all to look ahead at something inevitable -- something frightening or foreboding or intimidating -- and to feel your body react with an increase of adrenaline so extreme that you feel like you could either lift a car with your pinky or just pass out cold where you stand, your body falling away from you like an old pair of pants.

I'm not proud of this, but there have been moments in my life where I was so incapacitated by fear that I actually fainted. Fainting itself is a frightening experience. First your vision narrows, blackness closing in on you from either side until the light fades away completely. Then your fingers and toes begin to either tingle or fall off completely -- you can never tell which -- and then your ears ring and your head detatches from your neck and floats up into some wild blue yonder as the floor disappears beneath you. It isn't quite like in the movies. It was once considered very ladylike -- very dainty and feminine and Victorian -- to swoon; the tiny porcelain hand flies up to the forehead as the corseted damsil sighs and slides gracefully down, usually onto a velvet chaise with a virile gentleman caller not far behind. In real life (or at least in my life) it is a bit less romantic. It is less like swooning and more like dying -- or at least that's how it feels.

That kind of fear is paralyzing, debilitating. It feels completely out of one's control. But is it? Almost every book of the Bible includes a "fear not" passage. And I'm not so sure "fear not" is a suggestion; I believe it is a clear command and directive from the One who empowers us to overcome. But I gotta admit: it used to kinda tick me off. "Fear not?" I thought. "What is that, sarcasm?"

Fear not, as in "do not fear." Not as in "try not to fear" but as in "just don't." Easier said than done. For years, I had this major beef with God over His infallible Word: If fear is an emotion, and we don't necessarily choose our emotions, how can God expect us to simply stop fearing? It seemed like a cruel joke to me, to be honest. After all, He doesn't expect us not to get angry -- only not to sin in our anger. He doesn't expect us not to be sad -- only to remember that He bore our sorrows and to allow Him to be the lifter of our heads when we experience sadness and grief. But fear and anxiety seem to be another story. How can that be?

I've searched and prayed and wondered and argued with God (am I the only one who does this?), and here's what I figure: The difference is that fear and anxiety are in such direct opposition to a surrendering faith that God asks us to give the emotion of fear to Him -- and to allow His perfect love to cast it out completely (I John 4:18).

Okay, but where is the practical application? What does surrendering our fear look like in action? In DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), there is a skill called opposite-to-emotion action, wherein we feel the emotion -- for our purposes here, we'll say the emotion is fear -- and choose to act in direct opposition to it, while still experiencing the emotion. "I'm afraid to dive off of the high dive into the water ten feet below -- and geronimo!" Or "there are two hundred people in the audience out there and I'm terrified to step onto the stage -- and here I go." Or, in my case, "I haven't been to the dentist in years and I'm pretty sure I might faint in the chair if I actually make an appointment and show up -- and I'm making the stinkin' phone call." (Honestly, I think I'd much rather dive the ten feet -- or a hundred and ten.)

I don't exclusively look to modern psychology for answers, but that one idea does appeal to me, because I don't believe some psych guru invented it. "Opposite-to-emotion action" was God's idea; the cross is proof of that. Jesus' willingness to be crucified had nothing to do with His mood. He was as much God as though He were not man, and as much man as though He were not God, so I think we can be certain that He felt enormous fear that Friday -- but He didn't obey the fear. He obeyed the One who commanded Him to fear not -- and He picked up that cross and walked anyway. And that changed everything.

The rest of us don't have nearly that much at stake. In most cases, no one else's life or destiny depends upon our decision to act in opposition to our fear; usually, we're the only ones who suffer if we ignore the "fear nots" in our Bibles. And speaking for myself, it's a darn good thing, because I'm not quite on top of this yet.

Still, I'm learning. It's been years since fear has caused me to faint, and it certainly isn't because I've stopped experiencing the emotion. The difference is that I have taken chances on God, just in case He was right. And it turns out He's been right every time so far. Each time that I have dared to explore what it means to "fear not", it has become a tiny bit easier to choose faith through my fear.

And someday (soon), my dentist will be so proud.