Friday, June 22, 2012

The Stronghold of Fear

Driving along the coast of California I am amazed at how many houses line the coastal shores.  Huge 3 and 4 story houses with large parts of them built on stilts gripping the sides of some 80 to 90 ft cliffs. What a view they must have! On one hand they are among the few lucky ducks being able to afford such nice houses with these incredible views and on the other hand it's only a matter of time before their houses become victim to a land slide and are featured on the evening news. Standing on the sandy shores as I feel the waves lap over my feet, I also feel the sand under my feet begin to erode and throw me off balance. I quickly step back to a sturdier mound of sand only to be chased back even further as the waves chase me inland. The thunderous sound alone of the waves crashing against the rocks is a reminder of the power of water.  Tons and tons of sand are literally washed away daily on our coastlines by the changing tide that forces the waves on the beach to carry more helpless sand to depths unknown. As a young girl of five, my long lanky legs would kick and splash through the waves upon the shores of Pismo Beach, California.  My parents would take us there about once a month in the summers to get away from the valley heat and camp out on the beach. I loved the coast, the water, the sun and the freedom I felt running up and down the shore line with my kite.  One such afternoon while my dad was swimming in the ocean and mom was sunning on the beach, I was casually walking just far enough in the water to come up to my knees when all of a sudden I dropped like a rock into a sinkhole that had been hidden by waves coming ashore.  Being less than four feet tall I quickly disappeared.  Thankfully my dad had being watching me walk along the shore so he swam in quickly to where he saw me disappear.  As I struggled to get out of this sinkhole, sand and water quickly consumed my form.  My hands both flailing upward my dad was able to grab my wrists and pull me up out of the giant sand monster. Coughing and gasping for air I couldn't cry even though inside I was screaming bloody murder.  My dad...laughing and trying to get the sand off of me laid me down back in the water to get the waves to rinse off my sand-filled suit. Now at this point I wanted to get as far away from that beach as possible.  There was a monster out there trying to eat me and here my dad puts me back in it!  What was wrong with him?  I didn't understand what he was trying to do but for me I just wanted to run away from what was trying to devour me.  Now able to scream I let everything out which brought half the beach to come see what was happening.  I was frantically trying to escape the grip of my dad with my legs kicking and my arms flailing I'm sure I must have looked delirious to my on-lookers.  My dad gaining his footing in the sand grabbed my waist picked me up and carried me to the dry sand at the same time explaining to the beach patrol that I had fallen into a sinkhole.  It took about an hour to calm me down and I was so traumatized that all I wanted to do is leave that beach.  You would think that my parents would try to console me from such a traumatic event but I was told to shut up and stop crying or I would be given something to cry about.  I lay in the sand with my towel over my head quietly weeping from what had just happened.

The next few days that we camped at the beach I wanted nothing to do with walking on the shore or flying my kite.  I was quite content to sit on beach running my fingers through the sand and speaking to no one.  My brothers made it a game to tease me about the previous day at the beach.  In low voices so our parents couldn't hear they would come up behind me and whisper that I was afraid of the water. I didn't care as long as I could stay safely planted on my blanket next to the tent. From that point on I would be afraid of the water.  I allowed myself to be caught in a stronghold of fear when it came to the beach or even a lake.  I would only go into a swimming pool where I could see the bottom unlike the ocean or a lake.  I was done with that.  I didn't even learn to swim until I was 16 and out of my parent's house, and then it was only because my then father-in-law through me into the lake against my will because I had refused to swim with everyone else earlier.  Screaming and near tears I punched and kicked my father-in-law until he dropped me in 5 feet of water.  As I tried to stand up my right foot caught the edge of a broken beer bottle slicing open my foot.  Feeling the pain of the gash I hobbled out of the lake, all the while my father-in-law was making his snide remarks until he saw the blood gushing from my foot.  I required 6 stitches to close the wound and again I had yet another reason to fear water that I couldn't see the bottom of. Why do I share this fear with you?  Strongholds can be difficult to break and overcome when fear IS the stronghold.  For years I would sit on the beach or the lakeshore watching everyone else having fun in the water feeling left out.  I would try on my own to muster up the courage to get in at least knee deep in the water, but would quickly retreat back to dry land when someone even hinted of dragging me in.  "This was stupid," I would tell myself.  I was missing out on so much fun because of my fears.  I loved the beach and I wanted so desperately to get over my fears and get back in the water.  I thought to myself, how can I train myself to just get over this and enjoy the water again. Even after I learned to swim in a pool, I had to take some extra steps to build my confidence. I even purchased a second pair of tennis shoes to wear at the lake or the beach so I could protect my feet from any more broken bottles. I made sure that everyone around me knew that I was not to be thrown in against my will and they would suffer great wrath or pain if they went against my wishes. Then I had to give myself permission to back away when my fears overtook me.  My stubbornness to overcome my fear won out.  By the time I was 28, I was on the beaches of California swimming in the ocean with a golden sunset at my back.  It wasn't easy though.  There were many times that I stood at the water's edge with tears streaming down my face and people looking at me like I had just thrown someone's ashes out to sea. Even though I had conquered my fear of the murky water, it was another thing to completely remove all fear in my brain. Especially when it came to trusting the voice of God.  I may have been able to temporarily beat my fear of water, but trusting what God was telling me or listening to my own voice was a residual from this stronghold.  It was going to take the power of God in my life to break down this stronghold.

God has used this fear of deep murky waters in in my life to show me that I can trust HIM even though I have a hard time with trusting people. For years I let fear grip my heart when it came to putting my full trust in God. Strongholds can come in many forms; they can be seen by others, and some can only be seen by us.  Either way they cripple us from exploring, experiencing or expressing the life that we can have.  Notice in the story above I had to "train" myself to not be afraid of the water.  I had to prepare the way by setting boundaries for me to obtain passage through my stronghold.  I had to be the one to put into action steps that I would take not knowing whether I would be successful or not.  I had to try over and over again until I gained ground and confidence. The day finally came that I could swim in the Pacific Ocean and it was a day of freedom for me.  Yes there were still fears, but each time I went in they became less and less.

Learning to hear and discern the voice of God can be a scary thing.  If you are over 20 you have years of listening to your own conscience to determine what's right or wrong. Hearing the voice of God is learning process that takes some time.  Once you become a Christian I believe that the Holy Spirit then resides within you at that very point of acceptance.  There are no rituals or laying on of hands, or some mumbo-jumbo mystical shows.  God said that you would be filled with the spirit if you had received and accepted his work of the cross. It just takes time to "know" the voice of God.  You know when you meet that special someone how you want to be with them always, everyday and everywhere?  You're so smitten with them that you just can't seem to get enough of being with them.  You call or text several times a day. You write poems and send cards just to show how much you care for what you two have.  You look forward to the time where you two can see each other and embrace or sit and talk. That is exactly how it should be with our relationship with God.  What if when you met someone for the first time and you shook hands and felt a deep connection?  Would you say your good-byes and never see that person again except on Sundays? I think not. So should it be as with a special someone as it should be with God our heavenly father.  He wants to spend time with you.  He wants to hear about your day. He wants to shower you with his love. He wants you to know him.

So you ask "How do I get to know God?" You will find out more about his character, his love, his heart, his awesomeness by reading about him in his love book, "The Bible" that he wrote especially for you and me.  All those stories, all the history has been written just to show you and me who he is and how much he loves us.  The Bible is filled with examples of his godliness, his grace and his mercy. Every time I read the Bible I have been amazed at the newness of a passage that I have read many times before.  Something new is always brought to light about God and who he is.  I have several translations of the Bible just to compare verses so I can get the full meaning of what's being said.  I have a Bible dictionary and a Bible concordance so I can look up passages and get definitions of words. If you are interested in some great online teachings just let me know and I would be happy to shoot you some resources. God is waiting for you for you to get to know him.  He will not force his will upon you.  He is a gentleman and will wait. Believing and walking with God doesn't mean you will not fall into a sinkhole or two, it just means that you will have a heavenly Father that will save you at just the right time. Unlike my earthly father who didn't comfort me, God will always be there to comfort you and me and to give us peace.

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