Driving to this island, I had a recurring vision: I’d meet a man. No, this isn’t what you’re thinking… I kept seeing myself talking to a tanned, bearded man who played a guitar and sat with me wherever I went. Flashes of me leaning my head on his shoulder, seeing his laugh, and hearing him speak to me returned, over and over again, and at first I thought it strange. But…
The entire time I’ve been here, I keep remembering that vision, and I’ve pondered on it often… The symbolism has become apparent to me each passing day; I am to meet Jesus here. Walk with Him. Talk with Him. God was showing me this before I even stepped foot in the sand. In the literal sense I do not envision Christ descending just to walk beside me, but in my heart, I have felt strongly that He is near, and today especially, I have been trying to open up and draw close.
Today, I had a full throttle panic attack. I was eating lunch at a restaurant, obviously alone. I was reading my book, watching the pelicans dance in the wind, and really trying to enjoy my time of this most special solitude. Then, out of nowhere came the flood of adrenaline that hits me and knocks me down. My chest began to literally burn, a fire radiating from my sternum up into my throat, where it lodged itself like a hot ball of clay, forcing shallow bursts from my lungs, making it feel impossible to get a deep breathe. I flagged the waitress down, got my check paid, and fled. Walking towards my car, I kept thinking about my family and how I am not there for them. I thought about all the work I have yet to do, and began to worry if I’ll use this time here wisely… Then it hit me. None of this is what was wrong. These concerns – these immediate reactionary thoughts – these are not “it”.
Naming it has been immeasurably difficult; often I do not consciously know what causes me to go into a sudden panic attack. I’ve thought perhaps it’s the long-suffering feelings of my past that come to find me each day. I’ve linked it to feelings of nagging self-doubt and criticism. The very nature of anxiety – not panic – but anxiety, has caused me to name it entirely caused by the shallow, ineffective breathes I take from morning until night time that signal a panic attack is right around the corner; the very way I breathe, I know from the moment I wake, can tell me whether that particular day will find me dealing with this, and the fear that I can crash at any moment obviously increases the likelihood of an occurrence.
I finally arrived at my car, unlocked it, and sat down in the driver’s seat. I turned the ignition, buckled my seatbelt, and reversed out of my parking spot. “Get back as fast as you can…” I knew that I had to, I told myself just keep driving – get there. I could feel the intensity rising, I could feel my face flush. I could feel my muscles tensing and the burning in my chest getting worse with each labored breathe.
Once at my hotel room, I immediately fell onto the bed.
I gave in. I succumbed to the full extent of the panic attack because the one thing I’ve learned as I suffer this is that fighting it, telling myself, “Damn it, not again” only makes it worse. I’ve learned by now that when it gets this bad, I need to lie down and let it happen.
John talked me through some steps to help me accept my reality and over the phone he coached me through it until it began to subside. My body immediately felt absolutely exhausted and I told him I had to go. Within three minutes I was basically unconscious.
I awoke about an hour later, mid-afternoon, and felt like a walk might do me some good. The panic attack had passed, but I still have yet to take a normal soothing breathe. I think I’ve had maybe one or two today total – one of which was when I prayed this morning so I am grateful for that.
On the walk I did something entirely different. This might sound strange, but hear me out. I shut my eyes. I walked with my eyes closed.
All day today, I have been reading about the kind of life God wants for all of us. Here is where I digress – I will get back to the walk later and this will make sense.
What is most marvelous to me about God is His constant pursuit of my soul. Reading scripture, reading my pastor’s account of Biblical teaching and encouragement to lead a Christ-centered life, even when I praise God through worship and song – it has left me, on this trip, entirely awe-struck.
So, then, I ask – why the anxiety? Why the panic attacks? If God wants good for my life, then why do I carry this burden? To someone who has never experienced this, it might appear trivial to bring this to God as a burden, but I assure you, it is nothing less than a heavy one. It got me thinking, then, that perhaps He is using these panic attacks – He is using my breathlessness and fear of breaking – to get my attention. Part of the pursuit.
I have lived my life apart from God. I know this because my history is wrought with a thousand tales of what it looks like to seek this world and deny His will. I have been divorced and adulterous, a liar and a hypocrite, I have sinned in more ways than I would ever be able to number – and God knows this about me. He knows the shame and guilt I carry, and that I use this as a means to separate myself from Him, because …
Because it is too much work to change. It is too hard to want to live another way. What will I have to sacrifice to be pleasing to God?
The answer to that, is all of it. All of me.
I’ve laughed at Christians before. Those that really take up a cross for God and be His hands and feet. I used to pity it, to be honest, because that life just never looked like much fun. Except I was always envious that they seemed happier than me, somehow. I thought, given who I have been, and what my life has looked like, that I could never be the kind of person to live a life of total surrender.
Again, it goes back to – what would I lose? My reputation? Ha! Hardly, as if I have anything worth redeeming in me? My friends? What kind of friends do I keep that would laugh me off because I change my life to live it for God – is their opinion of me worth what I am losing by denying God? My selfishness, my flawed flesh with its lustful desires and sneaky little defiance masked as confidence. My pride, and having to come before Him and finally admit that I have been so wrong… More than any of this, the most difficult thing for me to give away, to follow Him, is my obedience.
I must, if I am to be a follower of Christ, be obedient to His word. To His laws. To His desires. To His agenda. To Him, I must submit and be changed by the spirit, not by my will.
For me, that has been absolutely the one thing I can’t let go: Control.
But look, Christina, just look! What has this illusion of control gotten me? One look at me, in this very moment, in this hotel room, 300 miles away from my children and my husband – what has it gotten me?
Why is it so hard to lay myself on the altar and let Him sit in the throne? It is HIS anyway!
Back to the beach today.
I walked, with my eyes closed. I would look ahead of me – on the stretch of beach I roamed there were not many patrons – so I’d make sure the coast was clear (ha, get it!) and then take as much of a deep breathe as I could get, and close my eyes.
I found Him. He was there. Beside me.
It sounds quite fanciful and maybe even a little cooky, but I know it for sure.
In those moments, I trusted God to lead me. It was a small act of faith, a tiny proclamation that I believed Him that He is near… but I did it. It was scary, especially when a small swell touched my feet unexpectedly, but I didn’t let go. I kept walking. Blind. But entirely safe.
This has been jumbled, and rambling, I know that – I didn’t organize my thoughts before I sat to write tonight as I normally like to do. But I wanted this to be an honest look into where I am right now. So that, perhaps, I can look back on this one day and see that I made a choice today.
I made a choice to trust God. To give Him my anxiety, and panic attacks. To give Him my insecurities, and failures, and sins. To give Him my obedience, and put my faith in Him, and to know that He is in control. He is walking beside me, and even when my eyes are open and I can see the next right step, I will maybe let go anyway, and trust that He will put my feet exactly where He needs them to go.
I’ve just… I’ve lived too long fighting Him when I KNOW He is pursuing me. I know it, as true as I know the sky is blue and the waves crash against the sand. I know that God has always pursued me, but it was I who ran, it was I who hid myself away, because I didn’t want to give up what I perceived was better for me.
The thing is, now I want to be like them. The kind of Christ-followers who look silly to mainstream people. I want to read the Bible instead of Buzzfeed. I want to worship the one who gave His life for me, and not be a slave to my own selfish desires. I want to know that with each labored breathe I take, right now, in this very moment, that I am not dying. I am not going crazy… I am just here, right now, trusting that Jesus is near me. With His guitar, and He already knows what I am going through. He won’t leave me through this. He hasn’t left me. He was just waiting around for me to realize He’s been here all along.