“I can’t do this.”
Palms sweaty. Heart racing. Can’t breathe.
“Where’s the exit?”
Head spinning. Too many people. Not enough space.
“Am I going to pass out?”
These aren’t typically one’s thoughts at Disney…but they happened to be my mom’s. Her first of many panic attacks at the Happiest Place on Earth. Can you imagine? Kids hugging characters, experiencing the best day of their little lives, eyes full of excitement and hope. Parents carrying cameras around their necks, ready to capture the sparkle in their children’s eyes. And you…all alone with the deafening sounds of anxiety, crippling every inch of your body.
This was the beginning of a treacherous journey.
Over the next twenty years, Penny would face obstacles of insurmountable fear and dread. Fears that cause your whole body to feel either hopelessly numb or kick every sense into overdrive.
Now, this isn’t a story about how a woman trusted God, He healed her and she miraculously lives a full life, without fear of the future. (Though it very well could be; her story isn’t over.) This is a story of a woman, who reluctantly learned that our anxieties are so infinitesimally small compared to the goodness of God.
In 2014, Penny went to a Christian conference, where they spoke of missions and shortly after that, a family friend felt led to lead an upcoming mission trip. “I never thought that I could go to another country like that. I was scared.”
In 2015, I went with a small group of other believers to Leogane, Haiti…but my mom stayed behind. 2016 comes around and I remember asking her to go back with us. Again, riddled with fear, she declined. 2017 rolls around and we are in agreement to return one more time. This time was different though, good ole Pen Pen packed a bag and hopped on the plane destined for Haiti. She had allowed her fears to be bigger than God, swallowing her up into this pit of “what ifs.” But not that year.
That year, she said enough is enough.
The day we left, this unexplainable peace overcame her. (Funny how we say unexplainable, but really it’s all God…isn’t it?) Over the course of a week, we were all humbled by what we had seen and experienced: starving children, deprived adults, eyes so void of joy, with empty bellies and souls hungry for something more than what this world has to offer.
We all had the honor of sharing God’s word, but it was especially special to me. I got to see my mom abandon the very fears that crippled her.
I asked her if she had any particular verses that she leaned on in her perilous times and she recalled the very first verse to help her.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand.”
“Isaiah 41:10 was the very first verse I clung to when it came to feeling anxious,” she said. “I also like Philippians 4:6-8.”
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things.”
When I asked her if she had any advice for someone who has anxiety or has trouble trusting God, my gorgeous mother said,
“There is light at the end of the tunnel. You can walk on the other side of anxiety and be a conqueror of it. It may take time. It’s a process. If you need medicine to help jumpstart the process, it’s okay, but ultimately you have to rely on God. Trusting God? That probably was the toughest part, taking the leap of faith and knowing that God’s going to take care of it. Don’t live in the mentality of, ‘anxiety is your life.’ Don’t worship anxiety. Worship God. Because for so long, without me realizing it, [anxiety] was an idol that I put above God. When I focus more on anxiety, that’s less of a focus on God. The Bible tells us to focus on things above and anxiety is not something from above.”
Struggling with anxiety isn’t the easiest subject to talk about, because of some reason talking about our mental health feels shameful. It’s shameful to feel disobedient to God. It’s shameful to feel like it’s better when we’re in control, instead of trusting God’s promises and goodness. I’m so thankful for my mom’s vulnerability to share her part of her story. Over the years, I have faced my own battles with anxiety and depression and knowing that I can have an open dialogue with her has cast away those feelings of guilt and shame. Why? Because when I feel overwhelmed by the weight of the world, she has continued to point me towards God.
If you have wrestled with thoughts of anxiousness, I pray that you have someone to confide in, someone who will remind you of God’s caring attributes and mercy. If you feel totally and utterly alone, please reach out to me. I will be more than happy to set you up with resources or a listening ear. Anxiety will only consume you if you let it.