When panic becomes personal

There are those moments that literally take your breath away. Those moments that leave beautiful watercolor paintings adorning the walls of your very soul. They cause you to gasp. Leave you momentarily frozen. Overcome with emotion.

The birth of your child.

The sight of your spouse on your wedding day.

This was not one of those moments.

Yes, I did gasp. I was left frozen in mid-stride. Completely disabled by emotion.

Panic.

And I didn’t know where it came from.

Striding down the hallway of my home on a morning like every other, it gripped me in a stranglehold. Thoughts raced in search of the source of my fight-or-flight adrenaline overload.

Was it an indiscernible sound that registered only in my subconscious? Had I caught a glimpse of a threat out of the corner of my eye that caused my body to react before my brain could understand it?

All alone, or so I thought, I considered searching the house for the source of my reaction, but I remained immobilized. Afraid of what I might find. Even more afraid of finding nothing.

So, this is what it’s like. A panic attack.

I tried to reason it away. I tried to distract myself with routine busy work. I even tried walking it off. I would have literally tried to run from it, but when you can’t determine the direction your attacker is coming from, you don’t know which direction to run. Besides, it felt like the attacker was just beneath my very skin.

A half hour or so later it eventually faded away, though I felt the remnants of it for the rest of the day. For the rest of the week, actually. The fear of its returning nearly caused more panic. But, here’s the one feeling that enveloped me more than any other as a result of the attack.

Shame.

I wasn’t ashamed of the fact that I experienced this panic attack, although I have to admit, it did make me feel like I might be losing my mind. I was ashamed of my response to someone very dear to me who had experienced panic attacks. I was especially ashamed of my response when that person experienced one right in front of me.

I blew it off.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t blatantly obvious in my refusal to believe that this was a very real, very serious issue. At least I thought  wasn’t. In hindsight, my words to my friend probably made it very clear that I was, indeed, blowing it off.

Just calm down.

There’s no reason to feel this way.

Relax and breathe. Your reaction to this whole thing is only making it worse.

Trying to add a little sympathetic tone didn’t change the message of my words. My message that I was so smart. My message that I had this all figured out.

Suddenly, in the aftermath of my panic-ridden experience, I was so very ashamed of the most insensitive advice I could have given to someone at a time when they were in such desperate need of support. What’s worse is that I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such insensitive words.

You know the words. You’ve probably heard them yourself.

It could be worse…

Yes, it can always be worse. But when we’re at a point of desperation or pain that sears the depths of our heart, we don’t want to hear how it could be worse. We don’t want to hear all the reasons they believe this is happening to us. We don’t want to hear that God will never put more on us than we can bear.

Because, God didn’t tell us He would never give us more than we can bear.

Never did He tell us that.

Here’s what He did tell us.

Cast your burden on the Lord [releasing the weight of it] and He will sustain you; He will never allow the [consistently] righteous to be moved (made to slip, fall or fail) (Psalm 55:22, AMP)

He told us our burdens will become so great that we will need help. We will need to release the weight of them to Him. He told us that He will never allow life’s burdens to make us slip, fall or fail, because He is always standing by to take the weight of them if we will release the weight to Him. He promised us He will sustain us when those burdens threaten to crush us.

Here’s what else He told us.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities… (Hebrews 4:15a, KJ21)

For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15, NIV)

Christ knows how we feel. Every single feeling. Only He can empathize with us in every situation we face. Only He can identify with us at all times, in all things. Because He’s been there.

I couldn’t empathize with my dear friend over the panic attacks, because I had never experienced one personally.

dont understand doesnt exist

It’s all the more reason we ought to reach out to those hurting from something we have no way of understanding. To reach out to them in Christ’s love, because our own love lacks the empathy so desperately needed.

Because God has so blessed us that we’ve never had to experience it.

I wish I could take back my shameful advice from all those years ago when I thought I had all the answers. I realize now that when I try to have all the answers, I’m really just trying to convince myself that this awful thing will never happen to me. Because I’ve got the situation all figured out. Because I’m above it.

I felt like one of those three so-called friends of Job. Those three who came to comfort him, but only ended up telling him all the reasons he deserved the terrible things that had happened. Those three who considered themselves above such dreadful circumstances because they had the spiritual life all figured out. Those three who believed their thoughts were as high as God’s and their ways were as pure as His. I saw myself wearing their ugly robes of self-righteousness.

Did God send me that panic attack? I don’t know. Did He use it to teach me? No doubt. As much as I would like to, I can’t go back and unsay those unsympathetic words to my friend. But, in the future when I’m faced with those circumstances I don’t understand because I haven’t experienced them, may God grant me His grace and wisdom to be a quiet comfort. And in this instance, I thank Him for what He taught me through that one time when the panic became personal.

A job partially done

Several years back, it was the first thing you heard when you entered my back yard. As a matter of fact, you could hear it even as you stepped through the door onto our back porch. The gentle, calming sound of water. It came from a beautiful water garden that graced the back yard of our home many years ago.  But eventually my husband and I converted it into a planting bed.

Eventually.

It was hard work that took many long hours. But it wasn’t the task of filling in the huge, gaping hole that caused the job to take so long to complete. It was my unwillingness to do it.

I loved my water garden and I really didn’t want to see it go.

Lily pads and fish b 06 04 07

One particular fall, however, it appeared we had finally finished the task. We ordered dirt, and shovelful by shovelful we filled in the giant hole. But, the winter rains that followed compacted the soil, leaving the outline of our former pond painfully visible. Like a wading pool for frogs.

What was especially glaring was the waterfall structure that had been left. I gazed out my kitchen window at it every day, and it stuck out like a sore thumb of partial obedience.

God had clearly instructed me to do away with our water garden long before we eventually filled it in. I couldn’t understand why, and I ignored His directive for months. With a less-than-cheerful heart, I finally drained and disassembled the pond.

During the deconstruction I became convinced I knew God’s reason for asking me to give up my cherished water garden. I had reached that stage of life where the physical upkeep was becoming too difficult. God, I determined, was simply trying to make my life easier.

I could accept that. Still, I was going to miss the tranquil sound of water cascading over the fall, splashing into the upper pool, and flowing gently into the pond.

That’s what I would miss most. The sound of the water.

colocasia-in-water-05-20-10-b

Unless…

Unless I could determine a way to keep the sound of water while still filling in the pond.

Eureka! I would just keep the small upper pool and the waterfall structure.

It would only require a small pump, which I already had. And a little pond liner, which I could re-purpose from a leftover piece. So, I would be doing away with the part of the water garden that had been so much work, but I could still enjoy the sound of the water. I had the best of both worlds.

Or so I thought.

As it turned out, the liner in the small upper pool had loosened and required re-sealing to the waterfall structure.

Then the lip of the waterfall had lost its seal to the body of the structure. That would have to be addressed.

Plus, the upper pool didn’t hold as much water as I thought, and the timing of the water re-circulation wasn’t working out. Then, the upper pool seemed to hold more fallen leaves than water, and the leaves clogged the pump’s intake.

The obstacles continued to mount.

Initially I tackled each obstacle with determination. As the obstacles mounted, so did my frustration. A few weeks of fighting losing battles brought me to a conclusion.

I would simply wait until the following spring. I could address the situation then.

That spring arrived. Each morning before work I sipped my coffee and I looked out the kitchen window, gazing at the odd-looking silent waterfall with no pond to flow into. Staring at the shallow outline of what had been our water garden. Ugly reminders of something long left undone.

All because I was determined to keep the sound of water.

All because I was too stubborn to obey God fully.

I couldn’t take it any more. It was time to convert this eyesore into something breathtaking.

I had more filling-in to do, and I needed dirt. Where was all the dirt I removed when I dug the hole for the pond?

It was in the berm I had built around the waterfall. That non-functioning, problem-causing waterfall I was so determined to keep.

It was time for a decision.

Would I remove the dirt from around the waterfall and relinquish my quest for the sound of water? Or, would I continue to be stubborn? Would I continue to do things halfway? Would I continue in partial obedience? Would I continue in disobedience?

Partial obedience is disobedience.

Those words from a sermon kept ringing in my ears.

water lily bud 07 03 08 a

Grasping my shovel firmly, I plunged its blade deep into the soil mounded around the waterfall structure. Taking as much soil as I could manage, I tossed the dirt into the low-lying area where the pond had once been

Finally… obedience.

The immediate relief from giving up my struggle with God was palpable.

I didn’t finish everything that day. But all the hardware of the old waterfall was removed. And when I looked out my kitchen window on the mornings that followed, that area where the water garden had once been didn’t look nearly as depressing.

I no longer saw reminders of disobedience. I saw wondrous opportunities laid before me by a God who patiently waited for me to trust and obey.

Finish the work 2 Cor 8.11

Walk in obedience to all that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.   (Deuteronomy 5:33)

I no longer heard the sound of water gently cascading out of the waterfall. But I heard the magnificent sound of God’s quiet voice speak to my soul. I finally understood that I had chosen to hear so many other sounds over the sound of God speaking to me.

I finally understood the reason God asked me to give up the water garden. All of it. He wanted to teach me a lesson I desperately needed.

I had fought to keep listening for other sounds. Sounds I found beautiful. Sounds I believed would relax and calm me. Despite God’s direction for me to remove the source of the sounds, I continued to cling to it. I assumed God would shout over the noise. I finally grasped the fact that my disobedience blocked the sound of God’s voice.

A sound much more beautiful than any lilting song of cascading water.

A traveler’s question

We’ve all heard it. At least those of us who have travelled with a child have heard it. Whether five minutes into the trip, or forty-five minutes; from the back seat of the vehicle the words will search us out and latch on to our rawest nerve.

Are we there yet?

I am not one of those patient souls whose gentle answer can calm the most frustrated youngster. (If you read my post “The Quiet Game”, you already knew that.) Perhaps because I’ve discovered they really don’t want to hear the answers I give them. Perhaps because no matter how many times I try to give them the answer I think they’re looking for, they keep asking.

Are we there yet?

From the front seat we volley back common responses like birdies in a verbal badmitton match. We’ll be there…

in about an hour

right before lunch time

after about four more songs have played on the radio

Then there are our attempts at distraction. We suggest things like the license plate game, coloring, or watching a movie. By the way, you parents today who have the benefit of dvd players and movies for your children… you have no idea how easy you have it. Here’s an example of what I had to rely on.

auto-bingoWhen the distractions do work, they’re only temporary. It’s just a matter of time before we hear it again.

Are we there yet?

In another attempt to gain silence, I’ve threatened all manner of punishment if I hear that question once more. Children are masters at loopholes, so they rephrase the query. I’m no psychologist, but I believe their choice of rephrasing says a lot about the child’s personality.

When are we gonna get there? This child is the demanding one. They want to cut to the chase and get a hard and fast answer. They believe they deserve to know the full story.

How much farther is it? This youngster grows frustrated easily. They notice every McDonalds you drive past, not stopping to give them an hour or so in the PlayLand. They suspect you are purposely dragging them across half the country only to make their life more miserable.

How much loooonnngerrr? My least favorite of the rephrased question. This one falls on my ears like a bad song sung off key. It’s really nothing more than a whine.

Are we lost? This child just thinks you’re a moron.

Those dear children know we’re not there yet. If we were there, the car would be parked in a driveway or a parking lot somewhere and we’d all be out moving about.

Does it look like were there yet

Depending on your destination, there may be some follow-up questions.

Where did you say we are going? A true indication that their questions about the length of the trip aren’t based on their excitement of arriving at the destination. As a matter of fact, you can probably determine from their tone that they suspect you of dragging them across half the country only to subject them to some place they won’t enjoy in the least.

Who will be there? The dread is setting in now. They’re wondering about Aunt Mable who squeezes their cheeks and leaves smears of red lipstick on their foreheads. And those cousins they only see once every couple of years, whose names they can’t remember. The antagonizing ones they’re expected to be nice to. Their suspicions are growing deeper.

Here’s the thing. They don’t want to know how much farther, or how much looonngerrr. They are simply letting us know they’re tired of this trip. They’re ready for the journey to come to an end.

gravel road along mountain stream in fall

The truth is, we’re all travelers. We’re all back seat soujourners in this expedition through life. And we all have questions. Just like those darling toddlers in the back seats of our Buicks, our questions reveal some unpleasant things about us. At least they do about me.

I know I’ve asked the same questions of The One who has the answers about my journeys. And I seem to go on a lot of journeys.

I take trips down the road of needing to forgive someone, wondering if God will let me take an exit to another destination.

I travel the highway of frustration caused by uncontrollable circumstances with finances or jobs.

I sludge along the path of damaged relationships that seem beyond repair.

I don’t look to the destination. I don’t really know what the destination is. I only know it’s a place God wants me to be. It’s a place where He’s taking me.

And I ask…

Are we there yet?

road through forest

I ask because I’m sometimes demanding, and I feel like I deserve to know the whole story about this trip.

I ask because I’m growing frustrated. I’m ready to get out of the car and stretch my legs. I think I’ve earned a few hours in the playland.

I ask because I just feel like whining.

Sure, I’ve had some unpleasant trips. I have friends whose trips I would consider nearly unbearable.

Trips through devastating diseases.

Trips through unfathomable loss.

Trips through a heavy darkness I can’t begin to imagine.

Life is filled with trips. But, here’s the thing about a trip. It is defined as “a traveling from one place to another… a passage or progress from one stage to another”. A trip is an illustration of motion; of movement. We pass through from one place to another.

And we are never alone on our trips.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; (Isaiah 3:1b – 3a)

When I read that passage about unpleasant trips through waters and rivers and fire, I notice that God doesn’t give a reason for the trips. He has a purpose, but the purpose isn’t always for us to know. At least not this side of heaven.

God doesn’t give any clues about the destination of our individual life journeys, but He says He has summoned us to them.

He promises protection. He promises us His presence. And He tells us there will be an end to our life’s various trips.

He won’t plant us permanently in the middle of our unpleasant circumstances. Notice the phrases “pass through” and “walk through”. Those phrases reinforce the fact that there is an end to our life’s trips. There is a destination to which God wants to bring us. It’s a progress from one stage of our spiritual life to another.

When we question God about our trips, He knows what we’re really saying. He understands that sometimes we don’t really care how much farther, or how much looonngerrr. We’re simply ready for our journey to come to an end.

It will.