I’m bringing back guest posts because I’ve made some new friends who are thoughtful and fabulous writers. They already share their words in their neck of the woods but their voices are needed in this one, too. My first guest blogger is Lesley Miller. We are in the same cohort in the Masters program at Friends University. She is a new soul-friend.
Lesley Miller is a writer and speaker based on Santa Barbara, California. She is a mom of three elementary aged kids and currently spends her days as a student in the Spiritual Formation & Leadership program at Friends University. Lesley’s husband and son are celebrating 10 and 3 years cancer free this spring. She loves to read, cook, run and ski. (And sometimes, when feeling brave, she attempts to surf.) You can connect with her at www.lesleym.com.
There. I Said It.
by Lesley Miller
On New Year’s Day our family went surfing. I typically put a hard stop on getting in the water after October (too cold!) but I was feeling inspired by my new wetsuit, a household of bored people, and this song. During a COVID surge and social distancing, apparently one resorts to frigid ocean sports.
Now, do I surf? This is debatable. In the last year of attempting, I’ve caught many waves into shore on my stomach or knees.
I can catch the waves but the issue is…I really can’t seem to stand up.
I’ve watched YouTube videos. I’ve tried the back foot slide, or whatever fancy name it’s called. I’ve even asked my nine-year old for advice. (Sidenote: it’s bonding and humbling to take up a new sport when your kid is much better than you!) Alas, nothing is working. This tall girl may be a lifelong boogie boarder.
For beginning surfers, the size of the swell is often what feels most intimidating. But that’s not my issue. In fact, I love ducking under the waves to find that secret, peaceful place while the water briefly churns just above my head. For me, standing up feels scary because I’m afraid that if I fall in shallow water I’ll break my neck. And if I really push into THAT fear, the one underneath is I’m afraid of dying.
There. I said it.
Most surfers would say my broken neck fears are misplaced. The likelihood of catching a wave strong enough to slam me into the ocean floor, at this stage in my surfing development, is slim. But when it comes to our fears, rational thought and facts are often overlooked. For years, I was convinced I had some type of rare disease that might kill me. With two cancer survivors in my immediate family, this fear is understandable. While I’ve received some freedom from this particular recurring anxiety––you can imagine the lightbulb that turned on when I recognized my surfing fears were actually connected to that much deeper fear of death.
Recently I listened to a great podcast episode called Why the Practice of Awareness Heals Your Brain (Episode 22) on The Place We Find Ourselves. In it, host and counselor Adam Young says, “Your mind is like an ocean. Deep beneath the surface, if you go down far enough, it is calm and clear. No matter what the conditions are at the surface, deep down there’s a stability, there’s a calmness, a clarity.” Like that moment when I duck under the waves and hear silence.
Young goes on to remind us this is what it means in Colossians 3:3 when it says that we’ve died to this life, and our real life is hidden with Christ in God.
Part of setting our mind on the Spirit is growing in our awareness of what’s happening in our mind and body on a daily basis. The Wisdom of the Enneagram puts it this way: “Awareness is vitally important in the work of transformation because the habits of our personality are let go most completely when we see them in the moment, as they are occurring.”
For me, and for my cancer prone family, we could easily live into habitual, lurking fears of recurrence. Part of standing firm in the confidence of Christ’s hope is learning how to be aware of the times we’re in bondage to fear, and what to do about it.
In the ocean, I know my hiding place. What’s the hiding place in the middle of a crazy wild day? When our emotions are swirling like the waves?
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
When I think about how I’m afraid of death––my own and those around me–– I begin to wonder what it would look like to trust Jesus with my daily and active body. Then it actually gets really fun. Because as I start trusting him with my physical body I realize that I get to trust him with my spiritual life too.
“The act of spiritual cultivation is an invitation to trust that by cultivating an inner environment, where we can be alive to the presence and invitations of Jesus, He will transform our lives.”David Smith, Theodyssey curriculum) link: https://theodyssey.org
Which brings me to this question:
What are you currently afraid of?
When you’re feeling angry, or tired, or your heart is racing…might it be possible that fear is the quiet, subtle driver? If you’re not sure, what would it look like to simply ask Jesus for eyes to see what scares you?
And here’s a hint: sometimes my mind says “I’m not afraid” but my body says differently. When our son was hospitalized, I felt strong and capable to handle his needs. Mentally, I knew what I needed to do to care for him. I put on my strong voice. I asked the right questions. I quickly packed an overnight bag. I told myself, “We’ve done harder.” In some ways, these thoughts were all true. The emergency room doctor said, “I have never seen a mother so calm when told this news.”
But I kept eating! I thought I was hungry and yet nothing could satisfy the hunger. I also couldn’t fall asleep, and when I did, I had terrifying dreams. That “hunger” was actually anxiety rooted in some gnarly memories of his original surgery and diagnosis. It is said the body keeps score, and I believe it.
You can’t learn to trust God until you first know what you need to hand over, but figuring out what you’re afraid of takes paying attention. Sometimes, it’s something big and longstanding that we continue to hold tightly. Or, maybe it’s a new fear. Either way…