“Julie, he’s not heeeere!!!!!” my husband shrieked. He yelled so loudly to silence my screams that he bruised a vocal cord and had to croak through his sermon the next Sunday. The intruder I blearily glimpsed outside my window was the shadowy silhouette of a mesquite tree blowing in the breeze. Everybody has nightmares now and then, but I experienced blinding terror. What could have provoked such an over-reaction?
Suppressed memories of past traumas had finally boiled to the surface. I had survived three robberies, a sexual molester and a stalker’s advances in my 25 years of life. I’ll never forget the imposing dark figures coming toward my bedroom. I was a hyper five-year-old kid. Sleep seemed like a waste of time for me. So while the rest of my family snored away, I counted ceiling tiles and dreamt of the mischief I’d make in the morning. Our hallway floor was hardwood and creaked loudly one sultry July evening. I heard whispers, low and growly, and they weren’t the voices of Mommy and Daddy. I pulled the covers over my head and lay motionless for what seemed like an eternity. The next morning my Mom discovered that her wedding rings were missing. She sobbed as she described her most treasured possession to the policeman. I could have told the cops my story, but who would believe a five-year-old? For months I waited until Mom, Dad and Sissy had fallen asleep and arose to check all of the door and window locks. Were we safe? I suppressed that early childhood memory for two decades, but it remained in my little-girl subconscious. I lived life looking over my shoulder.
My next encounter with cops and crooks occurred one balmy summer afternoon in my twelfth year of life. I parked my Schwinn banana-seat bike on the front porch and pulled my house key from my pocket. My nanny and Sissy were at the grocery store and I arrived home from the swimming pool damp, chlorinated and starved. I heard a thud and scrape as I jiggled the lock. My heart leapt to my throat as I saw two masked thugs hauling our television out through the patio door. I panicked. I dropped my keys, ran like a deer and hid in my next door neighbor’s bushes. A beat-up blue Chevy truck screeched out of our driveway and tore down the street. Breathless, I finally found a nearby neighbor who answered her door. Mrs. Sallis held my shivering body until the authorities arrived. I continued to be jumpy when left alone, but I don’t remember if I was more traumatized by witnessing the break-in or missing my favorite shows on the Disney channel. My trepidation faded as the summer days passed.
My next disturbing episode occurred in college. I tirelessly pursued a double major in piano and voice at Baylor University. I hammered on the ivories and vocalized arpeggios until 11 p.m. every night. Music performance majors were required to practice in a closet-sized room four to seven hours a day. I often trudged home to my campus apartment after most of my classmates had gone to sleep. I also spent most weekends in the school library while many of my friends left for fun and family time. One crisp March evening, I sensed a shadowy presence behind me at the library. When I turned to see who was “touching” me, the form disappeared. Was it my imagination? It happened three more times, even when I changed locations in the library. When I reported these incidents to the librarian, she simply told me to find somewhere else to study. Are you kidding me? Where are the campus authorities when you need them?
Late one Thursday evening I prodded home from the practice room, trying to memorize Mozart on the way. I heard footsteps behind me, shuffling closer and closer. I started to sprint. Breathless, I reached my apartment and slammed the front door. I called out for help, but no one answered. My roommate had gone to the movies for the evening. My hulking “stalker” pounded on the door and said he just wanted to get to know me better. Yeah, right. I phoned my dad and told him about my dilemma. He jumped in his car, drove the two hours to Waco, and stayed the night. By morning, my doors had triple locks, the campus cops had been notified, and Dad sternly warned me never to walk across campus without a wrestler or a football player at my side. Thank God for dads!
I stuffed my scary stalker experience and resumed my scholastic endeavors without missing a beat. (Forgive the musical pun!) Who had time to panic? College was terrifying enough!
My reservoir of unprocessed fright came to a head the moonlit night I screamed at the “mesquite man” by my bedroom window. I minimized my former apprehensions and wrongly assumed they would not affect me. Suppressed fears produced insomnia, nervousness, heart palpitations and “fight or flight” adrenaline spikes. My worst terrors were fear of failure and fear of rejection. Neither of those qualms related to my traumatic past experiences, but they did deepen the fear “slush fund” I accumulated.
We are all fearful creatures. That’s why Adam and Eve made fig-leaf outfits in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:9: “But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Satan loves for us to live our lives paralyzed by fear.
God taught me three life-changing lessons about overcoming fear.
Fears cannot be suppressed. They MUST be processed. Psalm 34:4 teaches, “I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. The greatest enemy to conquering our terrors is self-reliance. Self-reliance is the antithesis of trusting God. Lean in. Pray more. God hears and heals.
Don’t face fear in isolation. Solomon wisely writes in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Finally, you must be sure you have the right view of the real God. You must answer the question, “Where was God when…?” (I was robbed, I was raped, I was abused, I was neglected). Difficult experiences can often give us a skewed perspective of God; that He is distant, uncaring and unaware. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The words of Psalm 121 provide us with an accurate picture of a loving Heavenly Father who is always watching over us. This passage changed my life. I memorized each word, meditated on each phrase and recited this poem to fortify my heart and mind.
“I look up to the mountains. Does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” (NLT)
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