A few things about fear and change...

“Just breathe through your nose and wiggle your toes!”

My father had a magical ability to get even the most frightened of young children to accept their dental treatment with confidence.  Day after day, year after year, his practice was home to many dental transformations.  He often had the difficult task of gaining the trust of a new patient, who had previously endured a traumatic dental experience somewhere else.  Even more challenging, were the sweet littles who had only known a life of fear.  Their little minds were already shaped to expect disappointment, mistrust adults, and presume harm.

During my time as the “winder’ lady”(as he dubbed it…aka front office receptionist), I witnessed the power fear had on its prey.  The fear was visible (and often audible) as they entered our lobby for the first time. Some were paralyzed by it-- literally stopping in their {light up} tracks.  In reality, they had no idea what to expect (we were nice people), but the uncertainty and unknown scared them.  My father recognized the fear that existed within many of his little new patients, and he never negated its role. Instead he encouraged the child to use their fear as a catalyst for change.  A change that gave fear far less control inside their little minds, and opened up room for trust and confidence to come in. His tactics and particular actions varied from patient to patient,  but he always began each new patient appointment in the same manner.

From the beginning of his career, my father met each new patient in the front lobby/designated play or waiting area.  In today’s rapidly changing healthcare of maximizing profits and production, bedside manner can oftentimes have little priority.  And taking time to greet a family and child outside of the blinding fluorescent lights, masked face and powdery-gloved hands, oh annnnnd a tray filled with shiny sharp objects—well that would just be absurd! (Read: counterproductive)

He didn’t see it that way.

He believed that ensuring a child’s acceptance of dental care was contingent on meeting each patient where they were. He entered their world.  Because in order to truly begin, we must start where we are. 

Fear’s ability to control can only be weakened by cultivating trust.  And trust is earned by those who are willing to harvest it. My dad never scolded a new patient for their tears.  He had compassion for their anxiety while encouraging them to release it.  He never lied to his patients about what they were there for.  And parents, Barbie dolls, and Ninja turtles alike were all welcome to stay with the child throughout the entire dental visit.  As their trust in him formed, their own confidence grew.  The fear was still with them, but its power was quicker diminished.  They trusted that while the process may be uncomfortable at times, it was truly for their good.  “Just breathe through your nose and wiggle your toes.” My dad’s famous words as he placed the happy gas on their little noses. Just breathe.  Exhale anxiety and inhale peace.

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I found myself chanting his words just recently.  I can almost hear him if I try really hard---you know, like scrunch your face up, shut your eyes reeeal tight, and grasp for the memory, “Dorothy Dean, just breathe through your nose and wiggle your toes, honey pot.” Clutching it, I seal it in my heart and sear it on my mind. 

“Breathe through your nose and wiggle your toes.” 

It’s become a bit of a prayer and mantra for me, one that motivates and affirms. 

Fear is a reality we all encounter.  And we all approach it differently.  Some of us love the idea of squashing it or denying it--just saying the word “fear” can feel like weakness for some.  We even buy shirts that say, ‘NO FEAR’—err…or was that just 1995? Is this you? Would you rather dig your heels in deeper and white knuckle your way through it than risk possible failure or perceived defeat?

Others of us avoid fear.  I know this tactic well. We desperately try to minimize its presence and when we sense it, we run.  The ‘running’ takes on many forms, but the pattern is the same: Escape.  Do you withdraw or isolate when feelings of fear bubble up? Perhaps you evade the uneasiness with alcohol, food, or mindless distractions.  What avoidance tactic is your drug of choice?  Do you recognize it when you do it?  A lot of us have lived this rhythm for so long, it can be challenging to uncover.  But not impossible.

Perhaps there is a better way.  What if we acknowledged the presence of fear, but chose to use it for our good?  What if we, too, used our fear as a catalyst for change? Just taking a moment to introduce ourselves and meet the fear where it is, we are better equip to make room for trust, confidence, and change in our lives.  I love the way Elizabeth Gilbert explains her relationship with fear in her book Big Magic, “So I don’t try to kill off my fear. I don’t go to war against it. Instead, I make all that space for it. Heaps of space. Every single day. I’m making space for fear right this moment. I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortably. It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.” 

Yes. Relax. Just breathe.  

I am a bit of a, how do I put this, ‘calendar enthusiast.’ A school agenda aficionado from way back, I still prefer a tradition planner. (can’t stop. won’t stop.) I definitely have warmed up to the benefits of digital day timers like iCal and Google calendar, but my newest fave is this paper(full) one from the guys at Neu Year.

So, it’s no surprise, that I have lots of love for the ‘New Year’ period.  Second to Fall, it’s a season when change feels exciting and new beginnings feel fresh and fun!  Our calendars are crisp…blank…FULL of exciting possibilities and change.  Before long though, our pages are filled with endless to-dos and reminders of repeating routines.  Our green super food smoothies looks less super and more..well, um..green.  And that race we signed up for? We are realizing it may not be worth the tee shirt and banana.

But beyond those exterior and common January goals, you may have resolved to complete, perhaps you hoped this year would be “the year” you conquered “that thing.” The one that gives rise to fear if we even recognize it, much less put it on our cutesy Pinterest inspired goal list. 

We ‘will’ ourselves to change, but inevitably become paralyzed by the fear. We all have them, those changes that could promise freedom but continue to keep us in an enslaving cycle of stuck.   What is yours? Maybe it’s a dream delayed, secret addiction, or bitter heart?  Sometimes change is one that is beyond our control: the death of a loved one, abandonment of a parent, or unforeseen job layoff.  

The thing is, change is a bitch.  It’s hard, my darling friends.  But it’s completely and totally necessary.  You were Divinely designed to change.  So in the weeks where your January 1 resolutions feel like suffocating reminders of your failures, it may be time to reevaluate your approach to resolutions and change.

But how? Where do I start?

 Start where you are.

RESOLVE to identify and accept your fear for what it is. Meet it. Fear loses its paralyzing power when we recognize its presence and give it its proper role. Gilbert gets the fear meet and greet:

“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.” (Big Magic)

Remember fear can be used as a catalyst for change.  It doesn’t always keep you safe.  It keeps you stuck.  With that acknowledgment alone, you have movement in the right direction. 

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So that peace we are making room for? The confidence we are inhaling as we exhale our fears? It comes from a source of Truth beyond our ego, flesh, and fear.  It comes from the ONE who is working all things together for good.  “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” (Romans 8:28 VOICE)

He infuses us with a Holy confidence and Superior strength.  He meets you and me where we are and stays with us through the process.  Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deuteronomy 31: 8 NLT) He not only comes alongside us, but He has gone before, and He will be after.  His omnipresence and omnipotence transcends our present fears or circumstances. 

Are we letting Him in these parts of our lives? Are we making room by getting to know Him more in a more intimate and trusting way?

Donald Miller reflects on fear and identity in Scary Close, “Sometimes our identities get distorted because people lie about us and scare us, and sometimes our identities get distorted because of things we’ve actually done. The result is the same, though. Isolation.” 

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If our focus shifts towards getting to know Him, we in turn learn who we are in Him.  He does not just fix broken things, He makes all things new! “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”( Ezekiel 36:26)

For many of us, we easily accept His forgiveness of our past failings.   We have faith, too, for the future Reconciliation and Restoration that eternity offers.  We just get all fussy in between.  Today. Now. The present. Are we letting Him reshape and renew our hearts here and now!? By determining the ‘why’ behind and the ‘hope to come, we can claim peace in the process, yes the HOPE is here and now too! Paul writes, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10)”  I like how the ESV translation calls us His ‘workmanship.’ He crafted us with His hands and we are HIS work of art. That, my friends is our identification.

So why do we actively and continually strive to add our design to His already divine one? Or more accurately, we focus on telling the story about the ‘old heart,’ the one that is dead. Friends, He gave us a new heart.  A heart made alive because of His love, mercy and grace.  Sure it’s messy; the pages bent up and filled with conflicting thoughts, and ever-changing perspectives, but’s it the real one...the one with guts and authenticity.  The one that meets fear but accepts grace, mercy, and love.  And it’s one that is growing, shaping, and being made new throughout our lives.

“….but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)”

THIS changes everything.   It provides a new ability to change. 

What we believe about ourselves determines so much of how we live, the actions we take, and ultimately the stories we live and tell. The story God is telling in our lives is one of change and redemption.

It often reverses our initial motives for those ‘resolutions’ and it dissolves the existence of others.  By focusing on lying down our own will and trusting in His, we gain clarity. We begin to ask more questions.  We begin to ask different questions:

Why do we want to change “(fill in the bank)”? 

Who is this change for?

Is the unknown result worth the possibly painful process? 

Does our ‘resolution’ align with who we know we are in Him?

Are we seeking value from an outcome or do we know our worth outside of it? 

And, these things that fill up our calendars, are they truly essential? Are they mindless or are they destructive distractions?

What can I eliminate to propel me towards true lasting change?

Sweet friends, understand that clarity, confidence, and courage are not automatic.   These things take time.  You’ve seen that here, if you have been following the story I am telling.  But with all my flaws, all my failures, and all the changes in my life, God is always there: cultivating and binding me to Him.  Even when I am not. Yours too, do you see? 

So this New Year, as your rhythm and routine take root, take time to assess and engage with the One who is the best cultivator and curator of life and change.  Be willing to listen. Shut up for once. 

"My son, if you accept what I am telling youand store my counsel and directives deep within you,If you LISTEN for Lady Wisdom, attune your ears to her,and ENGAGE your mind to understand what she is telling you,If you cry out to her for insight and beg for understanding, If you SIFT through the clamor of everything around you to seek her like some precious prize, to search for her like buried treasure; Then you will grasp what it means to truly respect the Eternal, and you will have DISCOVERED the knowledge of the one True God."(Proverbs 2)

There’s a lot of talk these days about living with authenticity and vulnerability.  You can listen to this TED talk (it’s really quite good) or just take it from Don again,

“I am willing to sound dumb. I am willing to be wrong. I am willing to be passionate about something that isn’t perceived as cool. I am willing to express a theory. I am willing to admit I’m afraid. I’m willing to contradict something I’ve said before. I’m willing to have a knee-jerk reaction, even a wrong one. I’m willing to apologize. I’m perfectly willing to be perfectly human…Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.” (Scary Close)

Know this:  

You are not your circumstances. But you can actively change them thru Him. 

You are not your mistakes. But when you know better, you do better (Thanks Ms. Angelou)

You are not your embarrassments. But you can fully receive grace and forgiveness today. 

 I am so grateful for each of you who have entered this space, this blog: my little Internet home.  I look forward to more dialogue, wrestling, and growth together.  Our conversations connect us: whether online or off.  I’ll be sharing with you more online again about the listening, learning and #inreallife I’ve been living in recent months. 

The website is getting it’s own change—I’ll keep you posted on that.  And, it’s true the new official podcast is coming soon!  

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Thanks for reading along today, and if you are finding your Monday is Manic, may I suggest to, “just breathe through your nose and wiggle your toes?”

Xoxo,