Where Fear Has No Home

I thought I knew how to come and go as I pleased.

To load up the car, drive the tree-lined drive to two lane roads toward the behemoth interstates. I don’t. Or at least didn’ until I forced myself to do so this Memorial Day weekend. In March, I bought my ticket to a writing retreat in which I knew only the other attendees by their avatars on Twitter, years of blog posts, and that awkward moment when I friended a few of them on Facebook and hoped that they accepted. They did. IMG_0134

For three months, I scrolled through the #RRforWriters tweets and mapped out travel plans from the safety of my desk surrounded by all of crazy but comforting knick-knacks(doesn’t every writer have a Jane Austen action figure with a mini-poseable Shakespeare kneeling at her feet?).

But then the day before I was to fly out of RDU toward Michigan, I felt the old panic rising upward, fear tingling away whispering this was a bad idea. I’m an introvert. I’m fairly certain if Dante wrote about the circles of Hell for introverts meeting new people that one has only known through the internet would be in there somewhere. My mind grasped for excuses to stay where I was comfortable. Where I could be safely at home.

Home on five acres surrounded by pine trees, towering dead oaks, and blackberry vines. Where I can click the red circle on my browser to get rid of unnecessary blogger drama, to escape to my porch where I notoriously overwater my petunias, to tend my herbs–sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary. Where I feel both trapped and secure, where I have the power to keep all who’ve hurt me away.

Sometimes, we confuse what is supposedly stable, safe, and secure with what lurks beneath in the shadows. Our fear. 

Perhaps, fear doesn’t always look like the bogeyman under our beds. For me, fear wears Sunday dress clothes and carries a Bible, sits in the pew next to me, and waits until I offend to unleash its fury. These emotional scars came from those who claim to love the same Jesus I do, and yet, there are such deep hurts that I’m not sure will ever fully heal. Being around other believers causes me to panic, but the only I way I know to deal with this terror is to silence myself, push others far away. I’ve spent years bouncing from church to church, stayed seated when the old panic bubbled up, kept other believers far away so I could lick my wounds. Now, emotional callouses, hard and numb.

Fear took away my ability to be in community with other believers because I let it.

But I signed up for a Christian writing retreat anyway. Out of sheer bravery, doubtful.  Over-confidence in my own abilities, more likely. How hard could it be to sip some wine, talk about writing, meander about during free time writing poetry, endure the spirituality portion? Again, I tried to keep other believers at distance, walls built up from years of brick laying, plaster the everything’s okay smile on, no one would know the difference. Except for the Holy Spirit. And probably, everyone there.

During Vespers, we sat in silence. Sometimes, we stared at the flicking of the candle flame. In the silence, I felt these simple words–love, peace, and seen. While I had never been to Michigan before or this retreat center, this place became a new kind of home. Where I was loved, where I was seen, where I could break down the emotional walls for a much needed period of rest.



There is No Peace

If peace were a place, it would be near the ocean. 

Ocean waves roll in, tides change. I sit  under navy umbrella, toes buried deep in the sand. Another wave creeps closer to my beach chair, my half-read book, my utopian afternoon. The constant breeze, the lull of soft water, the giggles of children splashing in the surf. The smells of salt and coconut oil and water intoxicate us. We who line the shore like a bright rainbow share this long spit of sand, and together we drink in the moment. Breathe in another memory, peaceful and unbroken.

But peace doesn’t live everywhere.

Thousands of miles away, Syria punctuates its people’s life with bodies filling long trenches, babes crying out for dead mothers, daughters with missing fathers, sons burying younger siblings baptized in tears and blood.  Bags and blankets cover those once living, breathing in life. Now, they lie down in death’s violent peaceful slumber. Arabic words fly untranslated by international reporters. There’s no need. Sorrow transcends our cacophony of words. I watch the small television screen as buildings crumble from another blast like some spoiled child kicking over another’s sand castle.

Screams and sirens blare as if they want to grab the attention of the world. To jerk our head over to see beyond diplomatic rhetoric hurled from all sides, to see the man and girl laid upon the UN truck begging the world’s eyes to open. There amid the wreck, sorrow still speaks in her universal tongue. Look here, see us. The hurting, the helpless, the lonely, the scared.

Again, the earth jerks and rumbles and creeks swallowing up villages whole. The eerie sounds of  Italian ambulances careen past cameras and more reporters hoping that the mangled roadways will still hold while the earth trembles beneath. Searching for life  and counting the dead,holding out hope for the missing. Voices silenced too soon. Another tremor, another building falls, another scream, another panic attack.

The camera pans out away from the faces to empty streets. Centuries of church building laid waste in a moment. Bare bones of worship stand like lonely cloisters amidst the wreckage. Blue tents lined up, little shelter to the toppling granite, edifices meant to last forever. Now gone. There amid the wreck, sorrow still speaks in her universal tongue. Look here, see us. The hurting, the helpless, the lonely, the scared.

It seems like another world so far from my beach and waves and peace, but it is there. Ugly and tragic as the ocean is beautiful.

But I sit in my beach chair unaffected by tragedies beyond the Atlantic. My worst fears are jelly fish and rip currents, not bombs or quakes or angry militias. I don’t know how to piece together what I feel or what to say or how to fit all of this violence under the auspices of a loving God. A God of Peace when there is no peace. Not yet. Words jumble together and sound trite and so Western compared to those slinging the dead into mass graves, those searching for the dead amidst earthquake rubble. But I pray for peace, for comfort, for those of us with Western eyes to see.

Today, I’m linking up Joy in this Journey and Life Unmasked. Come join us in writing naked.

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