Fear

Sometimes I write two whole new posts before what I really want to talk about next comes out. I write one, finish, realize it’s something I want to save for another time, save it, start a new draft on a different topic, write more, save it. Then, the next day, realize that once again what I wrote doesn’t quite feel relevant, feels like thoughts that need revisited in the near future…because I’ve realized what I really want to post about, right now. Sometimes I feel like I could find something relevant to say about any topic, but this blog is a lot of figuring out what is most applicable to my life in the very present moment, and hashing it out like a therapy session in mini-blog-essay format. Today’s topic, that I finally uncovered, is fear.

I’ve been listening to The Shins’ latest album a lot (didn’t love it at first, but it grew on me) and one of my favorite songs on it is called “The Fear.” The lyrics touch on that detrimental habit of living in fear of things going wrong instead of just enjoying a happy time while it lasts. I can relate to an extent, because I’ve always sort of been a fearful person. I’m sentimental, I don’t love change, and I occasionally find myself worrying about how I’ll get through inevitable sad and stressful things in the future. I also have tendencies to imagine worst case scenarios involuntarily, dark thoughts that creep in usually just for a second, but it’s enough that I have that sort of inherent fear inside.

Some people are fearless types, those who love challenges and will jump into anything headfirst without considering what could go wrong. But I was always a careful kid. For example, if I was climbing a tall tree, I couldn’t help but have a brief picture enter my mind of losing my grip and plunging down through the branches to the ground. A gruesome thought, for sure, but that is a peek into the head of a non-fearless person, always considering consequences. Luckily, my cousin is a fearless type who motivated me to keep climbing anyway, to an exhilarating view at rooftop height, until the neighbor’s own fear of us falling (on her property) led her to call and ask us to stop.

Year after year of learning to trust myself and continue to embrace challenges has made me more fearless than ever, and I can usually push aside any dark warning thoughts with more realistic, not-so-fatalistic outcomes. Honestly, I’ve always been pretty good at trusting God to keep me safe as well, the fear really only creeps into situations where I’m in control (or, as in-control as I can be). But as the song lyrics say, “this fear is a terrible drug,” a hard one to quit. It still numbs my rational senses with silent panic at times, making me want to avoid things that trigger that I-can’t-do-it mentality. In yoga class, any thought of doing a handstand without a wall or a spotter for security makes my palms sweat. I have fallen out of inversions plenty of times without getting hurt, but that nagging fear is still there. On one hand, it’s a sign that I probably need to get a bit stronger before I can solidly balance in a handstand without some help, but it also kind of holds me back from really closing the distance towards making it happen.

Perhaps the top of the list of fears, though, is that fear of the unknown. The fear of the future that we all have to an extent, not knowing what our decisions will lead to or whether we’ll be able to reach our loftier goals. The fear of failure even despite past failures that turned out okay. All those variables that seem like they’ll never line up the way we hoped. Again, it’s a fear to strive to abandon for faith if you have that belief in God looking out for you as any good parent would, and ultimately there’s nothing to be gained from fearing the unknown, nothing but unnecessary pain and worry and paranoia.

2 Timothy 1:7  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

See what I said about my posts being like mini therapy sessions? I don’t know about you, but I already feel a lot better about those silly fears I hold on to so tightly. I’m gradually learning to loosen my grip. If you have something that’s been weighing on you, I highly encourage you to do some writing therapy of your own. In a journal or a word document, however you prefer, just get down some streams of thought until you get to what’s really bothering you, and try giving yourself advice as if you were writing a blog post or a letter to a friend. Grammar doesn’t matter, just connect some dots, past memories and current struggles, quotes and stories you’ve read. It really helps, I promise.

Structure

Every time I feel like I’m struggling to be productive and make progress, or if I’m feeling restless and stuck, it’s usually because I’ve let go of structure. Structure in life is so important. It’s one of those contradictions…more structure leads to more freedom. When you have important structure in place in your life, you have the freedom to be, to do, to pursue. When you have your values settled, you don’t have to constantly overthink everything; you know immediately where your priorities lie. When you have routines and habits and guidelines to follow as you live day to day, you can maintain your health to the extent of your control. When you know your responsibilities and goals and obligations, you have things to do and places to be, and the want-to-do’s can then fall into place in between those must-do’s. When you have no structure, suddenly the choices paralyze you. What to do today, tomorrow? What to eat, not eat? What to work towards? What to believe? These answers are easy with appropriate structure in place, but without it, anything could be the answer, and those questions remain up in the air.

Children need structure to grow and flourish. My grandmothers were guiding lights in my life in this department, as well as my mom, who  continues to provide and encourage structure, the maintenance of the foundation laid. Today is International Women’s Day, and I thought it topical to reflect on this necessary and wonderful structure provided by the women in my life. “Structure” is a solid, almost harsh word, but I associate it with nurturing, support, strength, tradition, and freedom. Of course, my Orthodox faith is a major source of structure in my life, and it’s fitting that the top human example of our faith is a woman, the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, who is “the most exalted and most honoured person by God. She is the most revered and most loved by humans. She is a binding force for all Christians.” Women truly are a binding force in the world. We have a gift to nurture and love and be gentle, and to raise the future generations, to raise our boys and girls to be good men and women. A humble young woman gave birth to God and now we can look to her, our heavenly mother, for guidance, for protection, to intercede on our behalf.

So on this International Women’s Day, I’m thankful for the structure provided by the women in my life, in heaven and on earth, and I strive to remember their example and be the good woman good women raised me to be.

I’ll end by sharing this lovely icon of the Virgin Mary by Madame Struve, the French woman iconographer who did many of the icons for my home parish in the 1960s (I love her use of color, softer and more varied choices than the more frequent bold primary colors in traditional iconography).

Hatching

The late winter/early spring time, from about February to April, is sort of like a baby bird hatching from an egg. Slow, tedious, a struggle. It’s exciting when that first taste of warmth comes early in the year: a rare, sunny, no-coat day. The first poke of the tiny egg-tooth through the shell. A bit of progress, then nothing for a while, resting, the chill returning. Then another bit of warmth, maybe a few days this time, more mild than the first burst, but sustained. Slowly, more of the cold shell is chipped away, until finally, the new life is freed and the warmth is here to stay. A bit more transition as the feathers dry and fluff up in the warm air…the trees finally getting their leaves and blooms back, the grass finally greener, perking up.

I think we’re all feeling that test of patience at the moment. Enjoying the peeks of what is to come, but frustrated at the slow process. Wanting that sunlight and fresh air, getting tired of wearing the same coat and boots and sweater layers. When I was in fifth grade, we incubated eggs as a class, waited for the baby chickens to grow and hatch. I remember that excitement when the first chicks began to peck through, but I also remember the slowness. It took days for them to finish hatching, but the waves of new life were an exciting reward for the waiting. Soon we had quite the group of cute, tiny, fluffy new friends that made the school days much more fun and fresh.

Spring is my favorite season. It is the season in which I was born, and my name means “green shoot” or “blooming.” I also live somewhere with pretty long, dreary winters, so I think the new growth of this season in particular adds a very welcome, highly anticipated freshness to the days each year. It is the season of Easter, and eggs are also used as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. I honestly had a bit of writer’s block for the first time when I was trying to think of what to write/illustrate for this post, but I saw some beautiful blue and brown chicken eggs in an instagram photo and suddenly had my inspiration. Funny how the simplest things can hold a lot of meaning.

Whether you are excited for the season of new life in plant growth or the approaching celebration of our new life in Christ after His ultimate sacrifice, I hope you enjoy the process. The patience found in observing the slow hatch is sometimes the best part.