Monday, February 9, 2015

The longest road and the hardest lesson: how insecurity ran my life

"Search me O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way." Psalm 139:23

I don't like that prayer. I avoid that prayer. In fact, not too long ago, as I read it and knowing I should pray it, I actually said out loud, "God, I don't want to pray that prayer."

Now, looking back, I believe that was a culminating moment...a moment 7 years in the making.

I went for a long walk this weekend, outside and alone. Something always happens within me when I go for walks/runs outside. It's forced time alone, with my thoughts, and with God. I have no TV and few distractions, so it doesn't take long for me to end up in the depths with God.

I used to take them a lot, not just long physical journeys, but spiritual ones. For years I traveled alone, completed numerous half marathons, read and contemplated for hours, but these last few years much of that has changed. But when 2015 began, I knew that it was was time to start walking once again.

Two days ago, God woke me nudging me to go on a walk with Him again. I could tell there was something for me. My mind wouldn't stop whirling, thoughts were flooding in, and I knew I had to grab my phone and record some memos as I drove because the stories wouldn't stop, and I had no doubt I was supposed to write them down.

This morning I sit, after wrestling for 48 hours on this, having entered it thinking I'd be writing on being intentional or the power of community, or surviving loneliness..but no, that's not what God had in mind.

He was taking me somewhere I didn't want to go. Like it or not, it was time for me to face Psalm 139.

I stopped writing last night at midnight, with my final thoughts to Him on how I didn't want any part in publishing this. I still don't. This story I'd like to keep to myself.

He let me sleep until 5 before waking me with an urgency to write down more, and as I squirmed and wrestled with Him, I knew I couldn't run from this.

And as I teared up and pleaded that this healing moment could be just between Him and me, I knew that sometime "publish" would have to be hit. Psalm 56 kept repeating over in my head. I begged God hoping Psalm 56 would play out as I shared more than I ever have. 

His best lessons for me have always been in the depths...if I'm willing to walk it out, He's been ever willing to walk me through it. 

I left my house, opened my computer and showed up to write the story He had in mind. Before I began, I flipped my Bible open...and Psalm 56 was staring at me.

"This I know, that God is for me."

I've often wondered what I would tell my 17 year old self...the very time I see so much of the last 20 years going awry. I've never known what I would have told her.

Almost 20 years to the day, I think I now know...

I'm preparing for a half-marathon again, so I've gotta get off my treadmill and hit the streets to get ready. I didn't want to do it. In fact, I really wanted to bail on the half all together.

It's been over a year since my last one, and it's been long enough that fear and anxiety were kicking in. Last April, I got really sick, almost fainted on the treadmill, and had several anxiety attacks after that. It was awful. It led to about 4 weeks of complete wonkiness in my life. My poor, yet uber sweet friends and family, fielded phone calls at 2:30 a.m., came over at midnight, took me to Urgent Care, and prayed for me incessantly as I tried to carry on with my life as nothing was right physically or mentally with me. It was awful. It was embarrassing. It's something I don't want to go through again.

I've yet to get back up to running at the same speeds I was a year ago...I'm too afraid that might happen again.

Therefore, the thought of a half-marathon, being a form of physical exhaustion, has a cloud of fear surrounding it. I had concluded the risk was too great.

But, due to some God-like circumstances, which that's what it would have taken, I'm going to do it after all.

And with the encouragement of a friend, I left the security and nicely temped gym Sunday, and hit the streets and hills of the Texas hill country.

For several years after my divorce, God used half-marathons to teach me endurance and perseverance; how to get up, keep going, and that the only way to finish, was to actually do it, to go through it, and not quit. Quitting wouldn't get me to my car. Only finishing would.

It all became a metaphor for life, and it's helped me in countless ways; mainly by reminding me I'm a fighter. I'm willing to duke it out. I've got some fight in me, and life takes fight.

But, it's been a little too long, and now I'd seen myself as breakable yet again, and so fear had started to build.

I began to think I wouldn't be able to complete a half.

I was afraid, and anxiety is fear's nasty companion.

Anxiety is a battle of the mind convincing you you can't do something, convincing you you will be completely out of control if you do that.

Anxiety has been part of my life for years. I've struggled with it more at various times, but it's been a struggle for as long as I can remember.

Anxiety used to run my life. It kicked in full blast about 5 years into my marriage and it didn't leave, unfortunately, until my marriage was over.

You can read into that statement as much as you'd like, and I'd probably agree that much of your assumptions are true, but if I'm being honest, which I don't always like to be when it comes to that time in my life, it had more to do with me.

I've been reading some books by a Navy Seal.

Their training is highly focused on resisting stress, coping with immeasurable amounts of it, and being forced to make decisions while still under it.

If their body is broken down and pushed to the max, can their mind still function properly?

Will they break when things are out of their control?

For a long time, my anxiety was linked to my inner security being shot. And since my security was linked to my marriage and my husband, and since neither of those were going that well, I lived in a constant state of fear, the fear of everything falling apart.

Fear is the acknowledgement of no control and anxiety is allowing the thought of having no control scare you to death.

I believe that's why you think you're going to die during an anxiety attack, your mind has gotten to a point that truly believes that...until reality can kick in again.

Anxiety and anxiety attacks do that to you over time. They convince you and remind you that you're breakable, and that scares me to death.

Physical stress can mimic depression, fear, and anxiety, so as I traveled the road of anxiety, my mind began to equate physical exertion and tiredness as something to panic about. The moment my body was put under physical stress, my mind seemed to not be able to handle it anymore. In other words, I'm not Seal material. ;)

So, unfortunately, I've had to battle through convincing my mind, that just because I'm physically tired, doesn't mean I'm under attack. I don't need to panic or shut down. It's taken years to untangle that, and one day, sick on a treadmill, had me questioning it once again.

Anxiety had entered back into my life, and even though it left after a few weeks, it reminded me it was a snake in the grass, and I was its prey...(it's a man eating kind of snake!)

My first memory of being anxious is from when I was 9. My mom got cancer, and I realized my world was breakable. As a child, quite rightly, my security was completely tied to my parents, and at 9,  I realized I had no control over my world, and it could be shattered at a moment's notice.

That changed me. It rattled me to my core.

The moment I felt breakable, I saw that my security was up for grabs.

And consequently, I've spent a lifetime trying to avoid the pain that happened at that moment.

But what's ironic is my world was already broken. I had come into a broken world, and I was experiencing the pain of that brokenness. My security was resting in something of this world, and this world is temporary, which meant my security needed to rest in something eternal. I just hadn't come to know that part yet.

Looking back, I wish I'd taken that lesson from it, but for some reason, I didn't. My road would not be one of establishing a close and intimate relationship with God, knowing He was the answer to the chasm that had just fractured inside of me, that my security could rest in Him, the eternal One.

Instead, I was the little girl who saw her security being taken, and I couldn't get my eyes off the pain I was feeling, and I became desperate to not feel that kind of pain ever again.

So, for the next 28 years, I'd be on a search for where to place my security, how to avoid pain, and how to become unbreakable.

I was all about self preservation, and when one is all about self preservation, certain things in life don't work.

See, when it comes to security, control is the key, so situations that are seemingly out of one's control are daunting, are ones I'd walk away from. Needless to say, relationships weren't my forte. I had my people, the ones that I loved and loved me, but I kept them at a distance. I didn't like being vulnerable, because weakness might lead to being broken. I wasn't a fan of making new friends or risking too much. It took me into unknown territory and I didn't like that. I didn't like being in situations I couldn't predict. Unpredictable equaled high potential for pain in my world.

People were unpredictable. Love was even more unpredictable.

So, when one tries to date, it doesn't work out well. My lack of dating was (and is) masked as independence, a strong sense of self, with a vision for my life, but it's actually just a cover up for extreme insecurity. You get to know me and that'll come out. You'll see right through my show.

My seeming strengths and gifts are just a cover up for my extreme weaknesses.

Dating involves high risk and love requires great sacrifice, and since I was about self-preservation, I was not up for any of that, so needless to say, in dating, I unknowingly chose a situation that was seemingly more controllable and didn't require much sacrifice. 

I was an unhealthy teenager, latching onto something unhealthy, and it wasn't going to end well.

It couldn't end well.

No relationship is controllable, but I'd chosen to give it a try. Manipulation and inauthenticity are the tools of self preservation, so it didn't take long for it to show the set up was highly flawed, and just how breakable it was.

Unfortunately, I was married before having to truly face the music on that one, and it didn't take long for me to figure it out. I knew something wasn't right or natural, and I didn't know what to do about it. I knew I wasn't myself, and I was quite certain I felt less secure than ever. Something was missing, so anxiety kicked in early on for reasons of my own doing, as well as others; for the situation I had created as well as the one manifesting out of how we dealt with it.

To this day, nearly removed by 7 years, having reflected on it ad nauseam (as any over-thinker worth her salt would), I believe my marriage was doomed from the get go.

I do.

Many might question that, heck, I do quite frequently, but something happened on that walk on Sunday that made me see something in myself I hadn't really seen before. And yes, I feel the shame of that.

As much as being breakable scared the crap out of me, and I was doing everything in my power to prevent the pain that comes from that, what I hadn't fully grasped was that I was already broken.

I'm a broken pot, walking around trying to hold all of my shards together, wondering why everything keeps leaking and not working.

I'm the girl in the pew who has worked all week trying to make good decisions, being intentional, and striving to make the right choices, because I know what I want, SELF PRESERVATION, and I keep thinking that if I just would follow the stinkin formula, I'd get it.

If I could just keep all these freakin broken shards glued in, painted over, and facing the right direction, then maybe I wouldn't really be a broken pot.

Just give me the formula, and I'll do it. For the love of Pete, just tell me I'm not broken.

And I'm arrogant and blind enough to think I'm doing it. My self-righteousness runs so deep, I'm numb to it. 

If I can build my walls, secure the fortress, be intentional enough then Shelly will make it through. The pain will be less, the resistance will go down, the unknown will become known, the grey won't be so scary, and I can rest secure that it's all going to be okay.

But that's a lie.

I can't do a damn thing to make me unbreakable.

I'm broken.

I'm already broken.

And the only person I'm kidding is myself to think I'm not.

And even one step more, the point is I have to be broken for any of this to work.

For years, I linked my security to people. and I quickly discovered people die and people make mistakes.

If my security rests on them, I'm guaranteed to be walking in a world filled with fear. Anxiety will rule my life because I've placed my security in something that is guaranteed to fail.

If I place it in my job, in money, in my ability to pull myself up, if I place it in my beauty, my health, or my children, it's just a matter of time before my security crumbles.

My marriage was doomed because I walked into it placing my security in a person, in a marriage, and, even worse, in having "settled that detail of my life". 

No matter who he was or what he did, he didn't deserve to be set up like that. Marriage deserves more than that. They were both pawns in my attempt to feel secure.

It was about me. I wasn't willing to sacrifice myself, my dreams, my plan, my comfort, or my heart. In the name of self preservation, I wasn't willing to learn how to love, and so, in turn, I sacrificed way more...with wakes larger than my heart can take.

Ya, hindsight. It's a killer.

Love can't flourish under those circumstances, love can't hardly begin or have a chance to grow under that pressure. I chose to make my marriage fill a hole in my life that it was never meant to occupy. I defined it erroneously and it was doomed to fail because the ship was never righted, and I'm not sure it could've been because no matter how much I tried and believe me, the fighter in me tried, but for whatever reason, the ship could never right itself. Maybe too many bridges had been burned, or the two who had said they'd become one had lost too much along the way that they couldn't be found anymore.

Either way, our journey didn't include one of the most beautiful parts of marriage: finding healing and redemption together. And I believe much of that had to do with me not facing my brokenness sooner.

I've walked through life searching for security, because I seemingly lost mine at 9. I've been wandering through life as that scared little 9 year old girl, afraid that she'd be alone, that her heart would break beyond repair, unable to face what was ahead of her. The pain of grief, the feeling of fear, the realization that not a thing was under my control was too much for me to handle.

I would do anything to find security.

I thought I could find that in marriage or in people.

I was wrong.

I was wrong.

I mean it. I was wrong.

It's taken 17 years, including death, divorce, and 6 long years alone walking this out with God to finally face that.

No formulas, no intentionality, no preventive measures or "right choices" could get me out of it.

It's taken 17 long years to stand before God saying I'm broken and I'm sorry Lord. I'm sorry for all the times I haven't thought You were enough. I'm sorry for thinking I am smarter than You, more capable and better than You. I'm sorry for choosing myself and my wishes and my wants before listening to Your words and Your love and Your wisdom and grace.

I'm sorry that I chose self preservation above anything else, and I was too afraid to trust You with my life.

I've let my fear of grief and that gut wrenching pain that makes me question if I can do this rule me. I've allowed my loneliness to tempt me, and I've listened to the lie that I'm not enough and never will be and at the same time afraid that I'm too much and always will be.

God, I've run my entire life trying to not face that I'm completely broken. And I need Your grace to save me Lord. I need Your grace to save me.

Not because someone else broke me, not because of circumstances or anything else, but just because me, Shelly Vaughn is a broken woman, whose sin runs so deep that it takes years to dig it out and for her to even acknowledge it.

I'm the girl on the pew who says, at least I'm not doing that...or why God, I try to do it right, yet still...

I'm the girl who reads a book and has a list of people who really "need" to read it, or if only this person would hear that sermon, then they'd change.

Because if others need fixing, then the playing field is leveled for me.

God, forgive me, for I'm more broken than I want to face, and I've walked around completely blind to that fact and running from it, thinking Your death wasn't completely necessary for me, that all the grace I need is more like a thin sheet, rather than layers of unstoppable forgiveness, and waves of an immeasurable ocean crashing over me, the one that sits here still hesitating to let go.

God, I still don't know how to fully separate my security from people or things. Even after all of this, I'm not even sure I grasp the tip of how broken I am and how much I've missed because I've been too scared and am too arrogant to admit that.

But, I do know that my life is in Your hands, and no matter what might come my way, You'll walk me through it.

The only guarantee I have is, You'll walk me through it.

And I can rest securely in that.

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?...
This I know, God is for me.
In God whose word I praise
In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid...
for You have delivered my soul from death,
indeed my feet from stumbling,
So that I may walk before God in the light of the living. Psalm 56

This I know, God is FOR YOU!

PS - Don Miller's books have impacted me for years, but God has used his new one, Scary Close:Dropping the Act and finding True Intimacy,  as an integral part of putting these last few puzzle pieces together for me. I'm so grateful Don wrote it. It was one more catalyst for me to run to God and seek His grace.

1 comment:

  1. Shelly, thank you for giving us a peek into God's amazing grace in your life! I am so blessed by His long-suffering with me! Jesus knows us so well and still loves us so well! love you