Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Journey through Anxiety – Part 5 (Belize 2012)

A Journey through Anxiety - Part 5 | Faith and Composition

A Belizean hut near the village.

If this is your first time here, WELCOME! Please note that this is part 5 in a series on a journey I experienced through anxiety. To read the journey in its entirety, click through to part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5 and the wrap-up.

How do you do it? How do you kiss your 18-month-old and just-turned-four-year-old good-bye and then hop onto a plane that will take you to serve in a remote village for a week? How do you hug their chubby necks tight and then navigate the emotional waters that come with that? And how on earth do you compose yourself amidst those emotions when you’re newly pregnant with baby number three? I had no idea, but in May 2012, I was about to find out. If you’ve been reading, you know that several months prior, my husband and I had committed to go on a mission trip where we would serve in a remote Belizean village for a week (if you’ve just tuned in, you can catch up here). You also know that I experienced severe bouts of anxiety leading up to that trip. By the immense grace of God though, He walked me through that anxiety. And in May of 2012, the time had finally come to put one foot ahead of the other, to walk down that tarmac and enter the plane that would carry me away from my kiddos and deep into the jungles of Belize.

Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful. I said my good-byes, thanked my mom profusely for her availability to watch the kids for a week and held back my tears until they were out of sight. And as our team excitedly waited to board the charter bus that would take us to the airport, I bit my lip, swallowed the permanent lump in my throat and blinked back the tears that threatened to spill over. Dear friends of ours (the radiologist who had so graciously read my MRI scans just a few months prior and his wife) hugged me tight and squeezed my hand. They had journeyed the road of anxiety leading up to this trip with me, and I considered it an incredible blessing that they were traveling with us. Please hear me … God is ENOUGH! But He also often expresses His goodness in tangible ways through the support and encouragement of others. And in this case, He was so gracious to send this sweet couple on their way with us.

A Journey through Anxiety - Part 5 | Faith and Composition

Traveling through the jungle.

The flight to Belize was just a short two and a half hours; the bus ride from the airport and through the jungle was nearly double that. Traveling over steeply undulating roads, I prayed that I wouldn’t battle any bouts of morning sickness. We’d packed copious amount of crystallized ginger just in case. But barring a few short waves of nausea as we climbed deeper into the jungle, God was gracious to spare me from most of it. We finally arrived at our destination with the night closing in. Tired from the travel, the emotions of it all and first-trimester exhaustion, the hubby and I retired shortly after dinner.

A Journey through Anxiety - Part 5 | Faith and Composition

Clockwise from top left: Waiting in the medical line; a member of our team; school girls jumping rope.

Monday morning brought us to our first full day of service. We were partnering with International Servants, and our team would be assisting in the areas of construction, medical and children’s. My husband would be throwing his muscle around with the construction guys, and I would be assisting the children’s team. Meanwhile, the medical team would set up a clinic in one of the school buildings.

Shortly after loading suitcase upon suitcase of medical supplies, medications and an assortment of children’s crafts, we headed into the village. As we pulled into the schoolyard—a ramshackle compound with nary a playground in sight—we all took note of a line that had begun to form prior to our arrival. Word had clearly spread throughout the villages that we were coming. A medical team only serves this particular village once a year, and this one week is the villagers only opportunity to receive care or medication. Nothing is available to these people at any other time; even Tylenol is life saving here. On this first day, the medical team dove in, taking vitals, stitching wounds, assessing pregnancies via ultrasound and much more. Each patient also received vitamins and basic over-the-counter medications to last them throughout the coming months.

Top: A woman gets a glimpse at her baby. Bottom: The line for medical care.

Top: A woman gets a glimpse at her baby. Bottom: The line for medical care.

The construction team evaluates progress on the pavilion.

The construction team evaluates progress on the pavilion.

That same day, the construction team began their work on a large pavilion atop the school grounds. Working alongside several native Belizeans, the team completed the project in a matter of a few days, despite having to nurse a few cases of heat exhaustion.

A Journey through Anxiety - Part 5 | Faith and Composition
The children’s team entertained a small group of kids who had walked (many barefoot) from their homes to the schoolyard. Although school was out because the government had unexpectedly declared Monday a holiday, the children came no less. This holiday gave us the chance to simply love on the kids, without the time restrictions imposed by a typical school day. Bubbles, sidewalk chalk, frisbees, soccer balls and beaded necklaces were some of the kids highlights. But those of us on the team relished the opportunity to simply relate to the kids one on one. Their joy was contagious. And what struck me the most was the discrepancy between their condition and their joy. These people have so little, and yet they are overflowing with contentment and grace.

Throughout the week, each team fulfilled their roles and served the people of Belize with fervor, grace and humility. The air was hot (exceptionally so), and it hung about us heavy with humidity. On Tuesday, an unexpected rain drenched the grounds and sent us all scurrying, bringing with it a momentary lapse from the heat and a cleansing that settled the construction dust and refreshed us all. Wednesday saw the pavilions completed, so the construction team began work on picnic tables. At week’s end they had completed a pavilion, three picnic tables and one outhouse. Over the course of four days, the medical team treated nearly 1,000 patients, with treatments ranging from a basic exam to minor surgery.

A refreshing rain.

A refreshing rain.

Clockwise from top left: School girls; salvation beads; medications.

Clockwise from top left: School girls; salvation beads; medications.

Those of us on the children’s team loved on 800 students while also sharing the gospel with each individual class. Literally every minute of our time spent at the school was marked by children clinging to us with enthusiastic tenacity. They attacked us with excitement from the time we got off the bus and hung on to our legs when it was time to leave for the day.

To pause for a moment and take it all in was to be a spectator in the diversity that is God’s creation. In a dilapidated schoolyard, deep in the Central American jungle, the beauty of verdant foliage served as a backdrop to the scene of hands and feet serving grace-filled people. At any moment, one quick glance around the schoolyard revealed children on our team member’s backs, white hands clasped with brown, and smile upon smile on every dog-tired face. And while surveying the ramshackle grounds upon which a profoundly moving scene played out, the dichotomy of Belize was obvious: poverty and joy; pain and grace. Ninety percent of Belizeans have substantially less than the majority of America’s most impoverished, and yet they overflow with a deep-rooted joy. Children run barefoot in the playground, blisters splayed across their feet and a smile plastered across their face. Women and men live with sustained pain for weeks, sometimes months, and yet they exhibit such humble patience and extraordinary grace as they wait for the care they so desperately need. And the astounding beauty of it all was that while we were trying to serve these people, they unknowingly served us in ways we couldn’t have ever seen. We poured out to them, and their joy and grace filled us back up.

Myself and the hubby with the Belizean school children.

Myself and the hubby with the Belizean school children.

By Saturday, I was certainly ready to return home, and yet sad to leave. God used the trip to minister to me in so many ways, proving His goodness again and again. And in some ways, the trip signified the end to my walk through severe anxiety. It was a tangible destination in the journey. And through it all, I came to a deeper trust in God’s goodness.

Parting shots of Belize.

Parting shots of Belize.

I still struggle with some anxiety (which I’ll share shortly), but it’s not the chronic battle it was. When the anxious thoughts do surface, I remind myself of God’s ever-present goodness in my life … Belize and the sweet baby girl who was in utero on that trip are certainly blessed reminders!

CLICK HERE TO READ PART 6.

*Thank you to ALL who supported us on this trip! For more information on Belize and International Servants, click here or watch this video (which opens with a testimonial from my handsome hubby). All images in this post are ©Andrew Holzschuh. For more images of the 2012 Belize trip, click here

From Belize with Love

©Andrew Holzschuh

Image ©Andrew Holzschuh

One week ago, my hubby boarded a plane to return to Belize … to the same village he and I served last year. But this year, the baby (whose pregnancy we discovered just weeks before leaving for Belize last year) is only 4 months old, so I stayed behind with the kids. Thankfully, my mom came in to help me for the week, along with my brother and sister-in-law who stayed for a few days. It’s been a whirlwind of constant activity with my family here, so I haven’t had a chance to post a review of last year’s trip or the wrap-up of my walk with anxiety as promised, but I will get to it once our schedule returns a bit to normal. Until then, we’re all ready for this handsome guy to be home!

For more images of the Belize 2013 mission trip, check out the work of the talented Andrew Holzschuh

©Andrew Holzschuh

Image ©Andrew Holzschuh

A Journey through Anxiety – Part 4

If this is your first time here, welcome! You’ll notice that this is part 4 in a series on anxiety, and this will all make a lot more sense if you read the whole story! So please click through to read part 1part 2 and part 3.

Jeremiah 29:11 | Faith & Composition
I could hardly wait for the MRI. Not because I particularly enjoy lying perfectly still in a claustrophobia-inducing machine as it takes countless scans of my brain, but because I was desperate for answers. The neurologist I’d been referred to was convinced I was having optical migraines. I’d read the symptoms though, and I wasn’t so sure. Yes, some of my issues were consistent with optical migraines, but the fact that I wasn’t having any respite from the symptoms (and the tingling episode) caused me to believe that this was something else entirely. Still, the appointment with the neurologist was a turning point in my walk through this struggle. Not because of anything the neurologist said or did, but because of what I heard following the appointment.

As I got into my car to leave his office, I heard a voice speak into the stillness of my trembling soul: “I’m proving my goodness to you. You’re not sick. Trust me.” It wasn’t an audible voice, but it was so lovingly authoritative and it echoed in the deepest, darkest places of my fear that I could not deny it. I knew then that this was in the Lord’s hands, and that He would see me through … whatever that might be.

Meanwhile, I’d also started seeing a chiropractor. I had been wearing my anxiety like a wet, wool blanket, draped thick and heavy around my body, and its weight was taking a toll. There was a chronic tightness and an ache in my shoulders and neck. I hoped the chiropractor could alleviate some of that pain, and I also hoped that he could perhaps shed some additional insight on my other physical issues.

It was at my first consultation that the chiropractor asserted that most, if not all, of my symptoms were likely a direct result of anxiety. He believed that the fear that I had allowed to take up residence in my mind was manifesting itself in tangible ways throughout my body. I was beginning to slowly come out of the fog to see God’s protection and goodness throughout my struggle, but I still wasn’t convinced that my physical ailments were stress-induced. I still feared the worst.

And so with trepidation I went for the MRI on March 27, 2012. Dear friends of ours–a couple who have served as mentors to several young marrieds in our church–had agreed to read the MRI scan for me that very day. As a radiologist, he graciously met my husband and I at his office to review the scan and (figuratively) hold my hand as he did so. My heart pounded as I handed him the CD and prayed in ernest for the scan to be clear. He pulled the scans up and began reviewing them, but much to my dismay, the imaging center had only scanned my cervical spine. They had failed to scan my brain! The scans we really needed to review hadn’t even been completed. I fell into a mess of tears. Where were my answers?

A Journey through Anxiety | Faith & Composition

Again, climbing into my car, I heard the Lord repeat: “You’re not sick. Trust me.” I was beginning to realize that the answers I was desperate to find weren’t going to come from a scan … they could only come from Him. And while I knew this in my head; my heart had been doubting. Finally, my heart was beginning to turn the corner.   

The next day I returned to the imaging center for a second MRI. And later that night my husband and I drove across town to return to our friend’s office so he could read the scans. As he talked me through what he saw, my inhaled breath came out with a rush of tears. The scans were clear. There was absolutely nothing to indicate MS, and there certainly weren’t any tumors of any kind. Relief washed over me like a soothing balm, and again, I heard the Lord say, “I’m proving my goodness to you.”

A few days later, the neurologist repeated the good news I already knew: the scans were clear. He then told me that he still believed I was having optical migraines, and he wrote me a script. I never filled it.

Slowly, I was beginning to notice the weight of my anxiety lifting. I clung to God’s promises, and repeated Jeremiah 29:11. It became like a banner over me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

As the departure date for our Belize mission trip neared, I found that the fear that had nearly paralyzed me when I first committed to go was loosening its grip. I was still anxious, and worst-case scenarios still occasionally peppered my mind, but they didn’t consume me like they had. The vision issue still lingered, but with less severity. I remained a bit fearful, but I was trusting God in spite of my fear, instead of letting my fear override my trust in Him.

A Journey through Anxiety | Faith & Composition
Several months prior to the start of this journey, when I’d originally told my husband I would consider going to serve the Belizean people, I also told him there was one caveat: I would not go if we happened to become pregnant. The chances of us conceiving a third child prior to our departure were slim to none (my body didn’t appear to be ready), so this was a last-ditch effort that I threw at my husband in fear. Still, I committed to the trip knowing that if by some miracle we did conceive number three, I’d have an excuse to stay. I insisted that traveling to a developing Central American country in my first trimester wouldn’t be wise. But  in reality, I knew that this was nothing more than my fear and anxiety speaking.

Two weeks prior to our departure, I discovered two little lines on a pregnancy test. We were indeed expecting baby number 3. I had my exception to forfeit the trip, my chance to give into my fear and stay home. And yet, in that moment, a peace that passes understanding overcame me. God had been proving His goodness and His faithfulness to me in the midst of my physical struggle, and I knew He would prove good and faithful throughout our mission trip as well. I also knew that this child, conceived in His perfect timing, was part of God’s plan in walking me through my struggle with anxiety. Given the chance, my flesh was going to use this pregnancy as an excuse to give into fear, but God was going to displace my fear with peace. God graciously gave me the one beautiful circumstance that I said would hold me back, so He could prove that He was bigger than my circumstances, bigger than my fears. So I laid what anxiety I had left at His feet, and I went. I hugged the necks of my two kiddos, left them in the care of my mom, and went with my husband and others to Belize for a week. Newly pregnant with baby three and with the effects of all-consuming anxiety still lingering, I was given the opportunity to show Christ to hundreds of Belizean schoolchildren, not because of my own strength, but because He was at work in me.

CLICK HERE TO READ PART 5.

I’ll return later this week with a few last posts in this series: one that details the mission trip and one that talks a little bit about how my anxiety has played out since the trip. Even today, it’s still a journey for me, and I’d love it if you’d join me back here! I’d also love to hear from you! If you’ve battled a similar struggle, are still in the throes of that battle, or merely felt this resonate with you, please leave a comment. We can all find encouragement in community.

*The copyright to these original images belongs to various people who attended the trip with us. Unless otherwise stated, all other content and images on Faith & Composition are ©Shalene Roberts.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mamas! May you know today that you are doing work of the highest calling … hard, elbow-deep, glorious, dirty, sanctifying work. Work that in the end will count for eternity. May you relish in the beauty and the blessing of it all today!

And to my own Mom and Mother-in-law:

©Haley Settle

My mom at our home during at Little Lady’s first birthday party. ©Haley Owens.

Mom, I am who I am today largely because of you. The physical affection I shower on my children, the way I discipline them, the longing I have for them to dig their little nails into a garden, the silly lizard face that causes them to fall into hysterics. It’s all because of you! You serve us so sacrificially, and we could never fully express our gratitude for that! But most important is the way I am raising my children to love Jesus. I still remember mornings when I would come out of my room, the imprints of the pillowcase still fresh on my face, to see you sitting quietly with your Bible open. Those memories are imprinted on my soul with a depth that cannot be erased. Thank you for setting that example! I will point them to Jesus through my actions and my words because I saw it from you first. I love you! Happy Mother’s Day!

My mother-in-law at Little Lady's first birthday party. ©Haley Settle.

My mother-in-law at our home during Little Lady’s first birthday party. ©Haley Owens.

Kathy, I couldn’t ask for a better Mother-in-law. You love us all with an infectious affection, and yet you give us the space to raise our family as we see fit. And while some of our traditions aren’t always the same as yours, you not only respect them, but you seek to understand them. That means so much to me! Your beautiful quilts are absolute treasures to our family, and you have so graciously passed on a love of sewing to me! I wouldn’t even know how to thread my machine if it weren’t for you. But most importantly, thank you for raising your son with such strength, grace, and beauty. It is because of your influence that he is the patient, gracious head of our home. And due to your example, he loves us all with a servant’s heart and seeks to know the heart of Christ. I love you! Happy Mother’s Day!

I will be concluding my Journey through Anxiety series in the next few days, so please stay tuned. But today, enjoy your Mother’s Day!

A Journey through Anxiety – Part 3

Anxiety Part 3 | Faith and Composition

I promised that I would get to the personal details of my own battle with anxiety, and today starts that story. If this is your first time here, please note that this is Part 3 in a series on anxiety. Click through to read part 1 and part 2.

It started with the headaches. I’d go to bed with one and wake in the morning with its effects still lingering. It wasn’t a sharp, debilitating pain, but rather a chronic dull ache. A constant pressure in my head that wore me out and made me aware of the fact that something just wasn’t right. Baby number 2 (Little Lady) still frequently slept in our bed, which often caused me to sleep in contorted positions, so I knew that my sleeping patterns could certainly have something to do with the aches. But I feared there was more. Truth be told, I feared A WHOLE lot more.

Several months prior to the onset of the chronic headaches, my husband and I sat in the back row of the college class at our church (no, we’re not that young; we were volunteers). As the college pastor stood up to begin to promote the summer mission trip, I felt a quickening in my spirit. This was the same mission trip my husband had been yearning to go on during the previous summer. He had approached me then about the possibility of us attending, but we both agreed it would be too difficult to leave the country while the kids remained behind at such a young age. Our oldest would have just turned three years, and our little girl would have only been eight months old.

But this year, the kids were a bit older. And I knew my husband still had the heart to go. I on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to stay within arms reach of my children at all times. The thought of leaving them to travel abroad on a mission trip absolutely terrified me. And the reality that my husband might actually encourage us to go again nearly sickened me.

Anxiety Part 3 | Faith and Composition

For weeks the college pastor promoted the trip, and for weeks my husband remained silent. Each time the Belize video splashed on the screen, I felt a sinking sensation that this would be the week my husband would broach the topic. There was a gnawing in my spirit that I couldn’t ignore … a still small voice I tried to drown out but found impossible to turn a deaf ear. I knew my husband and I were called to go to those villages; only I was paralyzed with fear at the thought.

So I figured that unless my husband broached the topic, I would remain silent. Only remaining silent when the Lord has convicted you is never a pleasant thing. In Psalm 32, verse 3, David writes: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night, Your hand was heavy upon me.”

God’s hand was indeed heavy upon me, so I finally consented to raise the topic. I feebly and quite quickly told my husband that if he still wanted to go on the mission trip, I would consider it. And yet, in speaking those words, I knew I was signing up. My husband’s heart was already there.

So we said yes. He and his selfless servant’s heart was wholly enthusiastic, while the mother in me was ridden with fear. I should insert here that prior to having children, I had traveled abroad (London, Costa Rica, South Korea) with nary a concern. But once I had children and my heart took on skin and began walking around outside my body, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving them.

Shortly after agreeing to work in the remote villages of Belize for one week while our children stayed at home, I began to literally be consumed with anxiety. To say that dark thoughts took up residence in my mind is an understatement. The worst of scenarios played out in my head, one after another, with such increasing frequency that I could hardly maintain a rational thought. And while my mental health spun into a deep abyss, the chronic headaches simultaneously began to plague my physical well-being.

Anxiety Part 3 | Faith and Compositio

To be wrought with anxiety is an immobilizing fear. And as that anxiety deepened, so did my physical symptoms. In turn, as my physical health worsened, my anxiety grew exponentially as a result. I began to worry not only about the trip to the jungle villages and all manner of things that could go horribly wrong, but also about my own health.

Then just a few weeks after the headaches became chronic, I began to have eye issues. I’m blind as a bat on a good day, so I was no stranger to blurry vision. But something about this was different. The vision in my left eye was exceptionally blurry even with my contacts, and colors seemed a bit off. I tried a replacement contact, but the blurriness remained. So I went to the eye doctor for an exam. He fitted me with a new contact and sent me home. But the next day, that new contact was useless. As my anxiety-ridden mind tried to cope with this ailment I found myself fearing the worst regarding my health. I returned to his office, and this time the doctor performed more tests. He also mentioned two little letters that literally ripped the breath right from my lungs. “Do you happen to have MS in the family?” he asked? Struggling to hold back the tears that threatened to spill over, I said no. He said that he would like me to see a specialist. I was already so mentally fragile, this nearly sent me over the edge.

I began to research MS and other potential causes voraciously. Some of my symptoms matched MS, but many didn’t. Still I started to fear that I did indeed have the disease, or worse yet, a brain tumor. I could hardly peel myself away from the internet during that time. I just wanted an answer.

One Saturday, shortly after hearing those two ominous letters, I began to experience a tingling in my cheeks. It was similar to the experience of novocain wearing off after receiving a dental filling. The tingling spread to both arms and then to my hands. I was distraught with fear. If you know anything about MS, you know that it affects the nervous system. Tingling in the arms and hands is a classic symptom of the disease, only it typically occurs on one side. The tingling I experienced was across both sides of my body.

Looking back, this was one of the lowest points in my journey. Darkness engulfed me and fear consumed me. What if a devastating disease had in fact taken up residence in my body? What if there was no cure for it? What if something terrible happened to us in Belize? What if something happened to our children? The onslaught of anxious thoughts was relentless.

Anxiety Part 3 | Faith and Composition

During this time, I cried out to God, clinging to Him and His promises with all my might. Begging for him to give me just a bit of strength to put one foot in front of the other despite my fear. He responded, carrying me through it. And in His gracious kindness He also very gently revealed to me that there were others who would shoulder this burden with me, if I’d just allow them.

You see, I struggle with perfectionism. And with that struggle comes the temptation to present myself as if I have it all together (I obviously don’t, by the way!). As a result, rather than sharing my struggle with others, I had internalized it all. Even my husband was surprised when I finally admitted the depth of my mental anxiety. But the experience of this battle was revealing to me the pride I harbored in my heart … pride that caused me to want to hide weakness and mask imperfection. I had so often appeared strong and capable to others, but this was just too much. God was whittling away at my pride.

So I revealed the full magnitude of my struggle to my family, a few close friends, my small group Bible study and our women’s ministry director. I also humbled myself one Sunday and took that long walk down the aisle toward the altar to ask for prayer from dear friends of ours (who also happened to be going on the mission trip with us). And in doing so, I sensed that still small voice telling me that these people would not only shoulder the burden with me, but that they would also celebrate with me at journey’s end … whenever and whatever that might be.

CLICK HERE TO READ PART 4.

I’m going to conclude the account of my journey through anxiety in the next few posts, so please do continue to tune in! And if you’ve ever struggled (or are struggling) from a similar battle with anxiety yourself, please leave a comment. I fear that this issue is quite common among women, and it’s only in transparency with our own struggles that we can encourage others who may find themselves entrenched in this battle.