Fear incarcerates, restrains, overpowers, and paralyzes the mind. It works its way into the human spirit and replaces freedom, joy, and peace with torment, pain, and dread. Someone once said, “The first duty of a man is to conquer fear; he must get rid of it, he cannot act till then.” I find this to be true, although, feeling afraid has nothing to do with conquering fear. Just ask Gideon.
It was Halloween 1999; I was twenty-seven-years old and a mother of three young boys when my house was robbed. My husband was away on business, and thankfully, the boys and I were not at home during the robbery. The incident happened about 2:00 in the afternoon. Four adults stole our musical instruments, bass amps, guitar amps, speakers, my kids play station, video games, and a few dollars. The realization of the incident left me feeling violated. The violation stirred up intense and debilitating fears that I hadn’t experienced since childhood.
It opened a Pandora’s box, and all the fears I’d bottled up and stuffed deep down inside, resurfaced. I was edgy and paranoid. My imaginations worked double-time and every little noise invoked fear. At night, while everyone slept, I patrolled the house. I’d peek out the blinds and listen for footsteps and creaking doors. Fear negatively impacted my life. I stopped going down in the basement because I was afraid someone would grab my leg, pull me down the steps, and rape me, like when I was twelve. Night and day, I checked and rechecked the locks and kept the blinds closed tight.
Someone said, “Negative fears invoke feelings associated with all kinds of debilitating phobias and unnatural constriction. Fear occurs when we focus on the initial cause of the trauma, or pain, or dread, and not the affects.” My earliest memory of fear stemmed from a catastrophic and traumatic event that happened when I was six. That traumatic event went something like this...
“On Friday nights, Grandma and Grandpa hosted a local game night of cribbage and poker. My grandparent’s twelve children and their innumerable offspring, neighbors, and town folk gathered at The House for the weekly festivities. Grandpa welcomed everyone—the admittance passes, bulking wallets and a case of beer. After a long week of school, we kids anticipated an evening of Hide and Seek, Red Rover, Cops and Robbers, Flashlight Tag, The Devil and The Angel, and Simon Says.
My cousin Ricky lined everyone up and began choosing partners. Charlene picked Tamara, and Ricky, he planned to pick me, when a scruffy voice sounded, “Count me in. I pick Francine.”
I rotated thirty degrees, to the husky image flicking off the lights and scrolling down the garage door. The undersized wheels squealed upon the rusty track.
Uncle Jerry’s blackened image grew nearer. I felt nauseous and dizzy. The extra attention he’d been paying me lately didn’t feel right. When he reached me, he picked me up, and tossed me onto his back for a pony ride. I secured the puffball I found under the chicken coup as Uncle Jerry trotted in a circle. I bounced around on his back, holding on for dear life. Adults entering The House chimed, “Jerry’s gonna make a good father one day.”
The teams scattered when Ricky began counting, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…” From the starting gate, Jerry took off at qualifying time for a derby, and hurried behind the unused portion of the house, entering the “off limits” zone preset by the parents.
My sixth sense shouted, “I wouldn’t go over there if I were you.”
On the backside of The House, sat a huge mound of dirt from when the septic company dug up the old cesspool. My uncle threw me down behind the forsaken mound, squishing my priceless puffball. He pushed me backward, slivers of slate and sharp obscure pebbles pierced my elbows and shoulders.
“Shhh,” he said. His sandpaper hand cupped my mouth. “Don’t think ‘bout tellin’, or I’ll kill you.” He nodded his head signifying what my answer should be. “This is our little secret.”
In the distance, Ricky’s voice echoed, “…ninety-nine, one-hundred. Ready or not here I come.”
Uncle Jerry’s hand pressed into my chin, filleting the corners of my mouth. A light feather-like touch swept over my abdomen. The sound of my snap with a “B” unclipping, and the zipper gritting its teeth, as it slowly opened, broke the silence. A second feather-like brush and my shorts came off. He yanked at the band on my cotton panties, and bent, and pushed my knees apart.
This is our little secret. We don’t tell secrets, right?”
I shook my head. “Right.”
Trepidation paralyzed my muscles, nervous system, and lungs. My mind commanded me to move—to get up—to run, but I wasn’t able to comply. He pulled my tube-top up and rubbed his stubble and lips on my undeveloped breast bone, the weight of his chest crushed my lungs, making it difficult to inhale and exhale. I tried to nudge my pinky—to squash the tiny buzzing insects with the siphon that sucked blood. The only body part to function—were my eyes. I rolled my eyes to gain momentum and try to spin over. His physical body confined me. His flesh spread like a human coffin around me. The potent smell of sweat, motor oil, and beer filled my nostrils.
I wanted to yell and kick, but the panic pumping through my veins made it impossible. Fear threaded my lips together and robbed me of my voice. It seemed I was pronounced dead, and the undertakers were burying my still pulsing corpse. I closed my eyes to escape the lowering of my self-worth into the internal grave of shame.
“Am I dead?” I wondered. “I can’t move.” A second and third mosquito began to sup.
“Outer body experience?” I wondered further.
I didn’t know. Cocooned by confusion—my mind functioned but my body refused.
Sitting up, he relinquished my breasts, sparking optimism.
Cerebrally celebrating, It’s over! His outline hovered over my limbs and extremities.
I waited for him to stand.
He fidgeted with his trousers and wiggled side to side until his grubby mechanic slacks reached his kneecaps. His scaly, powerful hands prowled for my unconcealed parts. His hips jerked forward in a single penetrating thrust. The shock so deep and painful, my inner organs twisted. This wasn’t like the other times that he groped me on the divan at my house, while playing hide and seek. This time included a massive amount of physical pain. My body naturally gravitated away. He gripped my legs, and slid me forward. His hips rocked back and forth, with the possibility of disembowelment in each thrust. The breach so ghastly—I’d rather have suffered a thousand broken legs.
Confused, stunned, and in tremendous agony, tears spilled from my ducts and rippled down my cheeks filling my ear holes. At the same time, a succession of deep sounds, moaning, and strange gargling escaped his diaphragm. The motion stopped.
I heard Ricky call again, “Come out—come out—where ever you are!”
“Don’t make a peep,” Uncle Jerry said. He knew Ricky wouldn’t come to the forbidden side of the house.
The Man in the Moon illuminated the perspiration on the transgressor’s forehead.
The smell of alcohol tainted his breath. “Uncle Jerry loves you!” he whispered. Making atonement he placed two dimes and nickel in my palm.
The familiar sound of drunken laughter roared from the oval poker table. Grandpa shouted, “Royal flush!” The clanging of chips comforted me. I pictured my grandfather at the table with his white t-shirt overlaid with an unbuttoned blue mechanic shirt. The blue shirt having Auto Salvage embroidered above the pocket, and a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve. Having a beer in one hand, and by his elbow a tri-union of cancer-sticks—a cigar, a pipe, and a smoldering cigarette.
The magnitude of Uncle Jerry’s steps registered on my Richter scale—I monitored the strength of the tremors to determine distance. The hinges creaked—the dealer asked, “Deal you in, Jerry?”
“No, Pop, I have an engine to finish. Just gettin’ a brewsky.”
I listened for the hinges a second time, monitoring the darkness until the light from the tarpapered garage began to glow and I knew he was gone… (a small excerpt from my memoir titled, In the Land of Canaan, Maine: A Little Girl’s Giants, to be published).”
Negative and Positive Fear
My friend was twelve when she was asked to sing The Star-Spangled Banner at a Junior High basketball game. While she was singing, she froze, and forgot the words. Needless to say, it’s been twenty-years, and she hasn’t sung a lick since. She allowed the initial trauma to cause an unnatural constriction.
The word Pechad is the Hebrew word for “negative fear,” meaning: dread, or the kind of fear that paralyzes and intimidates. It also means, a projected or imagined fear.
The word Yirah is the Hebrew word for “positive fear,” meaning: to invoke feelings of awe or reverence.
There’s a story in Judges that I love. It’s when God calls Gideon to deliver Israel. Gideon is both superstitious and paranoid, and on three occasions, he requests a sign proving that he’d been chosen by God.
Sound familiar? Today's culture is no different. Society is filled with prophets, and tea leaves, and palm readers, and eight-balls, and fortune cookies, and horoscopes in order to provide signs, and direction, and meaning.
Moreover, the Lord told Gideon to “fear not.” The Bible gives the commandment “fear not” a total of 365 times. That’s one for each day of the year! In fact, Gideon wasn’t the only Bible hero that was afraid. Abraham, Jacob, and Mary were all afraid and were commanded not to fear. Yes, fear is a human instinct, but if these Bible heroes didn’t allow fear to hold them back, we shouldn’t either. I have news for you, you don't need to wait for a sign to be free of fear--you just need to start taking small, consistent steps in the right direction, and trust God for the result!
Do it Afraid
Most phobias have a root cause and can be traced back to some traumatic experience that happened at an early age.
Six months after my house was robbed, I confided in a close friend. I told her that I felt like I was going crazy. My imaginations had gotten the best of me. I was scared all the time and the robbery had triggered a paralyzing fear that caused me to reflect and relive the pain-points of my childhood.
Nevertheless, I didn’t like the negative feelings that fear invoked, so I decided to push past it like Gideon, and Abraham, and Jacob, and Mary, and conquer the debilitating phobias and overly active imagination. Firstly, I forgave the person face-to-face that masterminded the robbery, and secondly, I allowed my pain to serve a purpose. I put the negative emotions and fears that had been dredged up to good use by actively writing, speaking, and helping others.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
So, if you are bogged down by fear, it’s time to release it. How do you do that? By taking action. Do the thing you fear and put your fear to good use. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy god: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
I am M.O.R.E., and so are you!