Warm Embrace

It’s fascinating to me how some people think of  Christianity as just a “crutch to get through life.” Like it is something for only fools and failures. And once those that admit this attain the status of a “good Christian,” you’ll have less problems and temptations than everyone else and you will bible beat the heck out of those that don’t believe every single thing that you do.

Christianity is not a crutch. It does not merely support you. Rather, it is something that carries you (Isaiah 46:4). With a crutch, you continue to hobble along with what little strength you still manage to possess. You are free to do practically whatever you want whenever you want, but with a slow and painful gait. You depend on no one but yourself. Being carried is quite different. Much different, in fact.

Being carried is like being weightless. You are always encompassed by a pair of arms and your own are free to do as they please or take hold around the back of the others neck. During the times of laughing and dancing, we may not need to have as firm of a grip around His neck while being carried. But whenever the time to weep and mourn comes, you always have your own arms to wrap around His shoulders to keep you steadfast in times of trouble (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Being carried, you may not always have complete control of where you are going. After all, your feet are no longer touching the ground. But with lips to speak, you may tell the One who is hoisting you which way you would like to go. To many, this may be a bit uncomfortable. It was to me for the longest time. It’s hard letting go and letting God, for anybody. Period. But in Proverbs 3:5, we are called to “trust in the Lord with all of your heart, leaning not on your own understanding.” God is more than happy to steadfastly listen to all that you have to say and take it all into account for His future plans for you. Each request you make will always be answered. If not with a yes, than with a greater yes. With time, conflict of opinion will become less and less apparent as your will becomes entwined with His own.

As for having less problems and temptations to deal with, that statement is nothing but a complete and utter falsehood. Those that profess to be Christian are held much more accountable than those that do not. By committing to a serious relationship with Him, you should always take your will, desires, and actions into account before acting on them. It is the same way with a parent or a significant other, you know them intimately and you want to do your best to keep both the other person and the relationship as a whole in good spirits. If not, it leads to trouble down the road.

The presence of temptations is also very real in the lives of Christians. Satan only attacks those that appear to be a threat, and Christians are the perfect target. Unlike others, they have had a taste of what all God has to offer: peace, love, redemption. Satan knows that the longer they continue down God’s path, the more others will start to notice that strange light about them and decide to shine too. To combat this, Satan will throw every dirty temptation he can at us in order for us to turn from God or at least stop us in our tracks for a while. But the Bible ensures us that “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

As for bible beating, yes. There are unfortunately a number of those that would easily fit into this category, even by the opinion of other Christians. It pains me to say that some would rather use knowledge garnered from the bible to puff themselves up rather than to lift others up. At times, when I was first learning, I would even do this. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back I will own up to the fact. Bible beating is honestly just another form of judgement, you set yourself up on a pedestal while unexplicitly labeling others as more ignorant and lesser than you. Matthew 7:1 clearly warns us not to judge, or else we will be judged. We as Christians are called to be a light in this world (Matthew 5:14), and there is absolutely no way that we can be so while talking down to and judging others in such a way.

So, there you have it. Tired with crutches? Humble yourself to being carried. Dealing with temptation? Overcome it. Bible beating? Stop. Christianity may not be immune to all of the problems Satan and this world throw at us, but it sure has a way of swooping you into the warmest embrace of your life.

“I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4).

A Grief Observed

Below are various C.S. Lewis quotes from his book A Grief Observed that I tore apart and stitched back together in such a way that benefits me and my current circumstance. I wish that I could take credit for his beautiful words, but I can’t.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments where the house in empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all…”

Here, C.S. Lewis absolutely nails the thoughts and feelings that often tag along with grief. Unfortunately, all human relationships end in pain (namely, through death). This is the privilege of love in our fallen world. “It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.” But anything that has been made with love will never be abandoned. “Love does not create, and then annihilate…”

I never felt closer with the strength of God’s presence than I did the months following my mother’s death. But before reaching this point “I not only lived each endless day in grief, but lived each day thinking about living each day in grief.” “It (grief) gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.” If I had really cared about the sorrows of the world, I wouldn’t have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrows came.

“I had wanted her back as an ingredient in the restoration of my past. Could I have wished her anything worse? Having gone once through death, to come back and then, at some later date, have all her dying to do over again?”

“What does it matter how this grief of mine evolves or what I do with it? What does it matter how I remember her or whether I remember her at all? None of these alternatives will either ease or aggravate her past anguish…”

“But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was  complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possible inflict or permit them if they weren’t…”

Through this experience (my mother’s death), “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t…” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

At Last a Life

I wrote this at a very, very, very low point in my life about a year ago. I am so beyond thankful that Jesus has bound these wounds with His tender touch, so thankful in fact that I take this time now to boast in my weakness. A weakness that in no way deemed me worthless, but rather had its perfect work in perfecting the power of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“When we are born into this world, those before us are likely to assume that we will live what they would call a typical life. You know, like achieving life’s typical milestones. More than likely you will experience your first day of kindergarten, somehow earn your driver’s license, graduate from high school and maybe college, dance with your dad at your wedding, cry tears of joy with your mom after having your first baby, send your kids off to college, and grow old with your spouse; all the while enjoying every minute of it. Although every individual lives with the expectation that all of these things will happen to them just like everyone else, for some it is either suddenly stripped from their future or diluted with doom, and if this occurs you can either roll with the punches and just live your life or have these things literally eat you alive.

For me, my world was flipped upside down when my mom passed away when I was nineteen (we didn’t even know she had cancer). One day my biggest dilemma was picking a country on which to do my Spanish project, and the next was choosing which coffin my mom would have liked. There was no long battle with chemo, which I suppose I’m thankful for, but the path she had chosen was still laden with unimaginable suffering for us all. I always wondered what it would be like to lose someone you truly believe you can’t live without—a part of me even yearned to experience it one day just to see what would happen or how I would handle it. Would it be like the movies? Would it be like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies? I always thought that these actors and characters were exaggerating just to earn an Oscar or make a story more memorable (it’s just fiction, after all), but it wasn’t until I experienced loss first-hand that I finally realized that all these gut-wrenching emotions weren’t just added for flare. No, these emotions were real.

My sister and I were waiting amidst vases of flowers we had just bought for our mom in her new room at the hospital when my dad told us that she had passed away in the elevator. Without even thinking I dropped whatever was in my hands and shoved myself in the nearest corner, balling my eyes out. I had never cried like that before, my body just couldn’t stop shaking as I fought to see through my mascara-stained glasses. I had completely forgotten about the host of relatives that were gently stroking my hair from behind for who knows how long. I sometimes wonder what they were thinking in a time like that because from the outside they looked like they still had control of their sanity. I hardly remember the week leading up to her funeral, but somewhere in there I managed to type up her eulogy and buy a new black dress (she was never fond of the one that I usually wore). The funeral itself really wasn’t that bad surprisingly. But even just days after the funeral, I genuinely thought I was okay—not great, mind you, but okay. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how broken I was.

It happened a little over a month after my mom’s death. I was sitting in our local movie theater watching the world’s latest take on the story of Noah with my family when it hit me. In an instant my heart was racing at what felt like a hundred miles an hour. My lungs were fighting to expand against what felt like a tightly-cinched corset around my chest. My hands shook as if I kept touching a hot skillet over and over, my senses never learning to refrain from the heat. My eyes could no longer focus on the massive screen directly ahead of me. The urge to pass out overtook my entire body. I desperately tried to get more comfortable in my seat and nibbled on popcorn in a poor attempt to get a hold of myself, but all I really managed to do was keep myself distracted until the end of the film (thankfully we had already gone through most of it). Immediately afterwards I told my sister that I was about to pass out and needed to go home, thinking I just needed to get a little something to eat and rest for the night. After my dad drove us home I crawled in bed and morphed myself into the tightest little ball I could muster, praying that I would eventually find peace in sleep.

It wasn’t but a few days after when the struggle to breathe proved too much to cope with anymore, it had now gotten to the point where each breath felt like my last. I was now hyperventilating in a desperate attempt to get more oxygen. Although it was the last place they wanted to return to, my dad and my little sister took one look at me and didn’t think twice about rushing me to the ER. There, nurses quickly tethered me to various beeping instruments via wires and stickers after taking a quick x-ray of my chest. As we were waiting for the results of my chest x-ray, I just knew that they would find something wrong. Fluid in my lungs, a tumor, a blood clot, anything that would explain why my body acted like it was fighting for its life. But when the doctor came back with the results, all he had to show us was the ghostly gray imaging of a perfectly sound heart guarded by a set of healthy larger-than-average lungs. I remember thinking that this just couldn’t be right, that I must be looking at someone else’s x-ray instead of my own. But no, this scan was mine, I could easily read HIGGINS, ALYSSA M. typed in bold white font along the bottom of the image. What the doctor did next was something that I would have never guessed in a million years: he diagnosed me with severe anxiety. I just lay there in disbelief as the words that shot at me like daggers leisurely rolled off his tongue (apparently my father had mentioned to the doctor while I was in for my x-ray that my mom had just recently passed). Once I got my bearings back I asked him if more imaging could be done to make sure, but he told me that it was too late in the night and that they would have to call others in from home that were specifically certified for those screenings (I could tell he was writing me off). Eventually it got to the point where he insisted that nothing was wrong with me and sent me home with nothing more than a doctor’s note and a prescription for some anxiety medication that I would never consider taking. Going home that night felt like such a defeat, I had stopped hyperventilating but I didn’t feel any better. All I felt like now was like a crazy person, but far worse. A crazy person without the slightest hope.

The next few months consisted of many different ups and downs (mostly downs, to be honest). I had managed to finish off my classes for that semester, but the following summer was one that I would like to forget. Sure I went swimming with my cousins frequently and even took a much-needed family vacation to Atlanta, but during these times I still felt like my body could breakdown on itself at any given moment. At any time I could be the bedbound nut-job I once was when I had just returned from the ER. Anxiety has a way of swinging you back and forth like some plaything, once it tires of you it will seem like it has lost interest in you for a while, but it always seems to have a way of charging uninvited through your door again. I cried and prayed continuously whenever anxiety physically wreaked my body, and once the symptoms seemed to be at bay I would soak up the opportunity and pretend to live normally for as long as I could until my body decided to turn on me once again. I had hoped that my next semester at college would keep my mind off of how bad I felt inside, but this was not to be. I was able to pretend for a while and put on a happy face during class or afterwards with peers, but the month before finals I had once again become a slave to my fears.

I was once again housebound. The thought of returning to school was almost unbearable, I couldn’t even make a trip to the grocery store without bursting into tears. I was so uncoordinated that I felt like I could pass out at any given moment. My mind whirled like a top. Always analyzing, always questioning. Why me? What do these symptoms mean? Am I going to die? When will this nightmare end? I spent most of my time either crying or Googleing my new latest symptom (neither of which did absolutely nothing for me but put even more stress on my already exhausted body). However while surfing the web, I had stumbled upon a certain website that wasn’t at all like other anxiety forums that seemed to only terrify me more, this one was entitled “At Last a Life” and was written by an ex-anxiety sufferer by the name of Paul David. He too had dealt with severe anxiety, for ten years in fact, and had wandered helplessly down the road of countless prescriptions and doctor’s appointments until he finally had the realization that he alone had the ability to regain his old life back. For the first time I felt hope as I combed over the entire website with a fine-toothed comb, leaving no link unread. There was no talk of some magic pill or miracle doctor, which was quite refreshing after the countless gimmicks I had encountered that had promised such things (you would be surprised of some of the things you find on the Internet), but of how to conquer anxiety ON YOUR OWN. Without even having a chance to think about it I ordered Paul’s book, which has undoubtedly become my biggest step towards freedom thus far. That, and a whole lot of Jesus.

I now have a whole new mentality when it comes to my anxiety. I no longer fuel it further with fear, but face it head-on with what I can only call a “so what” attitude. Instead of stressing my body out even more with constant worry like I once did, I now let whatever my body wants to feel just feel it. What is the worst it can do? Sure it may not be the most comfortable thing in the world, but I have finally realized that it is in no way life-threatening. Everyone deals with bouts of adrenaline when they feel scared or anxious; my body just over exaggerates a bit due to the constant worry that has plagued my mind for so long. My anxiety is no longer being fed with fear and panic, being not of God (2 Timothy 1:7), but is slowly being starved by just not caring and living my life. I know that I am by no means cured or even close to recovery just yet, but for the very first time since I first struggled with anxiety I now know that one day I will once again be the person that I once was, but perhaps even better. For once, I am daring to hope.”

Now, I can look back on these last two sentences I had written in the past and smile. Because of the hope that I dared to have during my darkest hour, I am the person who I am today. Someone not only relieved from the crippling effects of severe anxiety, but also the lie that convinces us that we go through this life completely and utterly alone. Jesus is there for you people, He is there for you every step of the way. I thought that I had a life before my anxieties took hold of me, but looking back I realize that I really didn’t. At last, God has given me a real life. A life of humility and love, and a certain understanding that I would have never had if it weren’t for trials that proved only to strengthen my faith. Thank you, Jesus. At last, a life…