A Call to Arms
It was a year ago January. I had just returned from the bible study at my school that I attended each Monday evening just as exhausted as I normally was coming home from a long day, but recently God had been changing. It had been a season of distancing myself from the Lord and I was beginning to see the uselessness of that as He had been asking me to come deeper, closer to Him, asking me to obey. I was sitting on my bed that night and opened my bible to read more because I just couldn’t get enough of Him. But as I opened my bible and began to read I heard the chill of a voice that pulled all of the oxygen out of the room. You’re going to die soon. What? My vision began to get blurry and I was feeling in my lungs the lack of oxygen. You’re going to die soon. Is that from You God? Why are you telling me this? And the blood began to rush from my face and I felt as though I was going to pass out. The room was caving in. My heart was pounding. I laid in my bed and shook. By the time I got the strength to stand up and go downstairs and tell my dad that something was wrong with me I was drenched in sweat. I had never felt such fear before in my entire life.
This same sort of incident would happen multiple times before I would get the courage to tell someone. Night after night I would stare at my ceiling, plagued by a mysterious and horrid fear that I would die soon. I was so scared to tell anyone that God was telling me that I would die soon because what if they would confirm it? Was God giving me some sort of vision into the future? Asking me to prepare for death?
But when these spouts of intense dread eventually began to occur during the school day, I knew it was time to talk about it. So I decided to tell our school counselor who was not only one of my best friend’s mothers, but one of the most intentional and dedicated Christian women I have ever met. I cried in her office for hours, telling her I had no idea what was happening to me but I was constantly so afraid. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, and I couldn’t focus in school. She cried with me and hugged me, telling me how sorry she was and that she understood. She asked me if when I heard that voice I was feeling a sense of peace or a sense of fear. And I immediately without thought said fear. And she reminded me with simplicity: God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of self-discipline (1 Timothy 1:7). So no, she told me, she didn’t think the voice was from God because it was coming with fear and the spirit of God does not come with fear. She explained that she assuming what I was experiencing was a panic attack, and she’s gone through them for much of her life. A panic attack? I wasn’t sure I actually knew panic attacks to be real because I had only heard the term be used in manners of sarcastic humor. She shared her experiences with panic, and that she believes that kind of anxiety to be spiritual warfare, in that the enemy was attacking against the desire to know God more. When I decided to stop living as though I own this life, I became a threat to the enemies plans, and he was trying to take me down. She prayed with me and gave me verses to pray through when I woke up and when I went to bed, all as defense against the attacks of the enemy. But my strength was so weary. I was so busy with school, extra curriculars, and relationships that I didn’t put in very much time to interceding on my own behalf and I barely stood through the end of my senior year beneath the weight of constant panic attacks.
Eventually the anxiety got slightly better, ironically when summer showed up and my faith wasn’t as important as having fun was. But once fall rolled around and a tragedy struck that shook my faith to the core, the anxiety came back with fervent devotion for destruction. One random day at work I suddenly began to feel sick and then just hit the ground. I couldn’t move and I was so scared that if anyone would touch me I’d die right there. My [wonderful] sister rushed to get me and I spent the next several days in bed. It was then that I spiraled into a deep and dark place that would last up until my time now in Belize. Because my anxiety was affecting almost all aspects of my life and each therapist I saw was less than helpful, I began taking medicine. I knew at the time that the medicine was needed and I felt no shame in taking it. There was a real chemical imbalance happening in my brain, and the medicine got me to a place where I could at least function in everyday life. But it didn’t fix me. And as the fall went on and more houses of sand that I once held onto as my identity began falling apart, my mental malady raged on. I only slept. I would wake up in the morning crying, feeling as though I woke up in dry cement, and pop some sleeping pills so that I could go back to sleep and escape reality. The nightmares that trapped me in my dreams were much more pleasant than consciousness. My mom and sister worried so much, and I’m so thankful for their constant help in trying to pull me up because I now know how dangerous a place I was in. But it was the faith of my best friend that really carried me through. Knowing that there was someone struggling even more than I was who was finding the strength to get up and move throughout the day was incredible to me. I began really drawing near to Jesus, and despite my place of mental residence being so pitiful and ugly, He came right next to me. It was the assurance of His arms holding me at night that allowed me to sleep despite knowing the horrid nightmares that awaited me. I spent every waking moment of my day with Jesus and it was like a hint of sunshine behind gloomy gray clouds. This last semester was the darkest my life has ever been, but it was also the brightest because the light of the Lord shown so bright when my light had nothing. It is so incredibly true that when we are weak, the Lord is at His strongest within us. When I could give nothing, Christ gave me all. He filled me with his strength, with his peace, and with his love each and every day. At the time I didn’t understand it. Now I see that I’ve never had anything to give to Jesus and I never will. My morality is absolutely nothing compared to his sovereignty. A single grain of sand has nothing to give to the Eiffel tower no matter how hard it tries to be useful and important. It is God’s very character to give to us even though we don’t deserve anything. He delighted in carrying me through each day even though I could do nothing for His kingdom at the time. He was completely satisfied in me just breathing, because I finally understood that my very breath was only because of him and for him.
When I got to Belize, I still struggled. I was still in the pain of the night; the morning had not yet come. My strength was still so shaky. I was living in such fear and loneliness even though such a loving community surrounded me. One night I got the strength to admit my anxieties to my small group leader, and we cried there together just like the first time I talked about my anxiety out loud a year earlier. She encouraged me and prayed for me in such a powerful way, just as my school counselor did. And then she gave me a “giving key”. It was a key that she received in her school by someone who wanted to show her hope. Each side of the key contains a word of encouragement and you're supposed to hold onto it as a reminder that suffering in our lives doesn't last forever. And she was now giving me the key because she had experienced the same kind of panic and anxiety and she now wanted to show me hope that the anxiety wasn’t forever. She told me that anxiety didn’t define me and I’m not sure I had ever heard before that it didn’t define me, because it was such a constant struggle that I really did believe it defined me, especially after the struggle of the semester before.
But once I began to ask the Lord to show me how my anxiety didn’t define me, he began pouring joy down onto me. He gave me unbelievable joy. I have never been so alive than I have been here. I have never felt such passion for the Lord. I have such joy for the Lord that thousands of miles away back at home my mother is feeling it and her faith has changed; all because the joy of the Lord is powerful. People are seeing a change in her because she saw a change in me, which resulted from asking the Lord to show me how me how HE defines me. Joy defeats depression. Joy defeats anxiety. The Lord has authority above all. No, the struggle of my anxiety didn’t just vanish it still remains. But Katie (small group leader) began challenging me to pray against the spirit of anxiety with the authority of the Lord. To tell the enemy straight up that he DOES NOT belong in my heart, and that he WILL NOT steal my joy from me. My anxiety gets the worst during worship, I’m sure that’s because there is a whole lot of spiritual warfare happening in a room with a bunch of people singing praises to the Lord from their hearts. But it began taking me over. The more my joy increased, the more I tapped into the Lord’s direction for me, the harder the enemy fought against it all.
For the last couple of weeks I have had a panic attack nearly every other day. I wake up heavy and go to sleep heavy. I know in my head that it is spiritual warfare, but when I am feeling the weight of anxiety, I can’t think anything but fear. I can’t think anything but death, doom, and darkness. It’s truly terrifying. I have no artistic way of explaining it. I have been avoiding updating you all because I knew that in writing, the Lord would ask me to in some way to share this struggle, as it is a direct attack against my strength and ability to work for Christ. But in my prayers for this anxiety, the Lord has been showing up in some really amazing ways. Maybe one day he’ll ask me to share some of those stories. But until then, I’ll save them to treasure up in my own heart. I have been learning to stop asking God “why?” when the anxiety attacks because He constantly reminds me, Mads that’s not from me. Power, love, and self-discipline come from me. Not fear. So I’ve been learning to fight and proclaim out loud that the enemy is NOT welcome. And now that I am beginning to see the power of the Lord inside me for real I feel the Lord asking me to really give this anxiety up to him and trust him. He has been working on so many areas of my life here, but I can bring most of them back around to the theme “dare to hope” that I feel the Lord has given me for this time here in Belize. With my anxiety, I feel him asking me to hope that it won’t last forever, and have faith that he will heal me of the weight of it if only I will give my burdens to him (Matthew 11:30). So I’ve decided it is time to stop taking my medicine. I have felt for quite some time that my dosage is too high and that alone makes me uncomfortable. I know that at a time, yes, it was appropriate for me to take it. But now I have moved out of that time and am able to freely move about my day in fullness of joy. Not many people get to experience the blessing of living in community as I do, and I think God has placed me here at this time because he knew that here would be the perfect place for me to taper off of my medicine. Spiritually and mentally I am ready. But because my medicine is a serotonin inhibitor, my body is chemically addicted and coming off of the medicine causes side affects. I’ve woken up a couple of mornings in dangerous realization that I had forgotten to take my medicine the day before. It is a frightening idea, but my God calls me warrior.
Since beginning this journey, I have felt attacks coming hard upon me. I knew that any kind of tapering would affect me, but the enemy has been attacking me more than I expected. I spent much of last week asleep in my room because I just couldn’t handle life. This weekend went surprisingly well, and this morning I felt so great. I was so ready for the day the moment I woke up, ate my weight in food at breakfast, and was pumped to head into the Sand Room for community worship. What a great way to start off a great week.
When I got in the Sand Room, I hugged my friend Brayden good morning as he sat down next to me, listened to my friend Grayce give a wonderful devotional, and then the music began playing… and I couldn’t stand. I felt the walls closing in and rather than hearing a melody of voices, I heard each individual voice screaming directly into my ears. I tried to stand and my legs were shaky and sweat rolled down my brow. I sat back down in defeat. I tried to tell the enemy no, but I sounded more like Bambi than a warrior of God. I just really felt as though I needed to finally stand up before the entire community and ask for prayer because spiritual warfare is real and communication with God is the most effective way to defend against it. So finally I got the courage to go up before the entirety of our community and ask for prayer. I explained everything I just explained here (feel blessed, you got the much better version of it) and immediately everyone jumped from their seats and surrounded me in prayer. Person after person proclaimed truth over me, and it filled me up with more hope and joy than I have felt since I had my first panic attack. Our base leader Zoe literally picked me up off the ground and told me she’d carry me as I prayed over myself. And I did. Finally, after receiving the strength of the rest of the community was I able to say NO to the enemy. In that moment God reminded me that on my own I couldn’t do it, but he asks us not to live in isolation for a reason. When our voices are barren our brothers and sisters in Christ will sing for us. I’ll never forget the love I felt when the entire community was praying for me. It took so much of me beating myself up, calling myself a burden, and telling myself it wasn’t worth it to ask for prayer before I actually did it. And when I did, I knew it was what God wanted. And honestly, it was what my family here wanted to. I never expected them all to be so excited to pray for me. But they were. And so was God.
Zoe’s prayer was the last prayer. She said that she received a picture of God handing me the keys to His kingdom- that’s he’s giving me full access to all things that are His. Except he wasn’t just giving me one key, he was giving me a handful of keys, a plethora of them so that I never felt as though I wasn’t well equipped. Well, that was a funny picture she received of those keys because Katie had given me her giving key a month before and today after asking for prayer I received two more giving keys. Since I have been here I have received 3 keys… Honestly, how random is that? I went away to school in Belize and got 3 keys? Without adding context that sounds pretty funny. But when you know the picture of God giving me a plethora of keys to his kingdom, receiving 3 different keys as a gift doesn’t seem random, but an assurance to the presence and love of our Lord. Each key that I have received says something different. None of them say the same thing.
One key says peace and abide.
Another says faith and love.
And my last key says fearless hope.
God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline. Coiencidence? I think not… God literally GAVE me keys with words synonymous to His character and His kingdom.
I am writing this, and finally not putting it off because I am no longer allowing the enemy reign over this area of my life. I have 3 keys to the kingdom! It is completely out in the open and there are no secrets that I hoard in my heart over the issue of anxiety. My heart is wide open and vulnerable, exactly where God wants me to be and exactly where the enemy doesn’t, which is perfect. Just where I want to be! And yeah, in my flesh that’s a scary fact because I know the enemy will come after me. But my God is SO much stronger. There’s so much in our society to be anxious over. Money, food, social media, politics, school, sports, I don’t even think I need to keep going do I? It doesn’t matter, none of it matters! Our God is so much bigger than all of that! And the enemy may attempt a battle, but he is nothing compared to the peace we receive from Christ, our abidance in Him, our faith in His plans and purposes, His unconditional love for us, and our fearless hope that He is going to come out of this victorious. So please pray alongside me and my DP family that I can truly believe that this battle has already been won by my God and I can walk on in freedom of panic attack and constant anxiety. No, some things aren’t a quick fix, and take time. I am prepared for that, and I ask that if I ever come to your mind, pray that I never forget to give the Lord glory in this situation. I get unbelievably excited when others ask for prayer because I know the Lord is ready to meet with us, but asking for prayer is oddly new for me. I am trusting that the Lord will use this. If you’re in a similar position to me, I hope that my story has encouraged you, and know that I am praying for you too. I know how you feel, and I want to speak truth to you by saying that you CAN live in fearless hope that the Lord will carry you through this time and together we’ll come out of this on wings like eagles. And one day God will place 3 people in my life who's anxieties I can resonate with, and I'll be able to give them a giving key as a reminder that just like I did, they'll overcome their struggles as well.