Jesus, my Prince of Peace • part 3
When December rolled around, I was still sure that I wanted to move back home and transfer to another university near my hometown, even though I was finding more and more small victories in the day-to-day. I made plans to visit an admissions counselor there while on Christmas break.
After the meeting with that counselor, I decided that I could handle one more semester in California. Then I would seek the transfer and move back where I felt safety and support from my family.
Upon returning to school, I shared the decision with my friends, who all understood completely as they’d observed my struggle over the past several months. But something stopped my planning in its tracks.
I took my seat in the school gymnasium for the first chapel service of the semester. A dear friend of mine was leading worship. As she strummed a chord on her guitar to begin, I felt a sudden flow of tears in my eyes, and the voice of the Lord spoke again to my spirit, loudly and clearly, “This is home for you.”
I sat back in my chair and sobbed. It was a cathartic expression that was full of thankfulness for hearing His voice and simultaneous anguish that I could not return home where I desperately wanted to be. I had to be obedient; I had to stay. There was still fighting left to be done and strength to be acquired from Him.
I remember going to my Intro to Psychology class immediately following chapel, wiping away tears and unable to contain my emotions. We had an exam that day, and I hurriedly marked answers, finishing within fifteen minutes but not caring for the moment about accuracy. I handed in the exam and my professor looked at me with concern in his eyes. My tears began to flow faster and I smiled shakily, whispering that I’d be fine.
I ran out of the classroom and called my parents, gasping as I told them that I had heard from God and that I wasn’t moving back. Amazingly, they had felt the same impression as they prayed for me earlier that morning and were committed to continuing to support me from afar.
As I consider this part of my story, it’s incredible to me how committed the Lord was to my healing and to teaching me to believe that He was faithful to accomplish the good work that He had begun in me. Though painful, it is clear that being so far from home was the best way to get that work finished.
I can see now that the course of my life would have been dramatically altered in many ways had I chosen to ignore His word to me and return to perceived safety. I am thankful He got my attention and that I had the strength to obey.
The attacks had decreased from multiple times a day to two or three a week. I was getting better at recognizing the triggers. Eventually, the old things that sent me spinning didn’t impact me at all. I was hyper-aware of this phenomenon, surprised to find that my body and heart regulated in the face of a situation that, a month ago, had landed me in bed. At every realization, I would acknowledge, “You are faithful, God.” Those small victories and the awareness of His presence which became more and more tangible were encouragement for me to continue on in the journey.
I moved home for the Summer after sophomore year and enjoyed time with my family and friends. I battled the anxiety when it came, but it seemed easier in the home I grew up in.
The attacks had become less frequent but now they were more intense. Physical shaking, uncontrollable and debilitating, accompanied the worst of them. It also took longer to break the negative mental cycle. It was like the truths that had worked well recently as rebuttal to the lies and mental gymnastics had lost some of their punch.
As I sought prayer and support from my home church community, some things became apparent. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and he is also cunning and crafty. He was committed to my demise and therefore I had to harness wisdom from heaven to resist him effectively.
The night before I was scheduled to leave to return to school for my junior year, I felt an attack coming on. Thoughts of fear had plagued me all day but I had been so busy packing and preparing to leave that I hadn’t taken time to pray or worship. I began to feel physically sick at the dinner table where my entire family was gathered to say goodbye to me. I was trembling and lightheaded and left the table, ending up on the living room floor, crying and shaking with almost seizure-like movements. My family surrounded me, laid hands on me and prayed over me for more than thirty minutes as I lay there. Someone turned worship music on and they declared hope and peace over me until the panic subsided.
It was the reminder that I needed that I was never alone in this battle – not only was God on my side, but so was my family.
When I woke the next morning, I was instantly aware of the still and quiet that filled my mind, where yesterday there had been loud, rapid-fire thoughts, fears, and worries spinning out of control. As I journaled about it, the Lord spoke to me, saying, “I have placed an iron gate around your mind – you are being given a respite from your anxious thoughts. Only truth is allowed inside the iron gate and no lies can penetrate it.”
I was blessed to experience deep peace and calm in my mind and heart for several weeks after that night. The Lord had once again proven that He is able to rescue me and trump the attack in any way He chose.
Along the way, the Lord was gracious to surround me with dear friends who empathized, fought with me and for me, and surrounded me with love and support.
The first ones who come to mind are the women back home who prayed for me when I sent them SOS texts: Emie, Heidi, Kaeli, Kelley, my mom, Kristina, Melissa, Michelle, Rachael, Sarah, Tasia, and Susan. I counted on them to support me as soon as I reached out and could feel a difference in my body and spirit within minutes. Their encouragement, affirmation, hope-filled words, and pep talks were significant for my ability to make it through my days.
I remember when Justina, one of my college friends agreed to be my prayer partner. Thankfully, we lived in the same dorm almost every year and I would text her when I felt an attack coming on. We would meet in the lobby of our building and she would implore the Lord with me, reminding me of truth and claiming victory over the attacks. I drew strength from her friendship
I remember how Jenna – the worship leader whose song the Lord used to speak to me and remind me that California was where I needed to be – sat with me in my bunk bed one night. As I shook with panic, she firmly stroked my leg to remind me that I wasn’t alone and declared the promises of Psalm 91 over me, not leaving until I was at rest and asleep.
One friend who was a daily support to me during my senior year was my roommate, Jessica. That Winter, I caught a chest cold that lasted for almost 3 months. It was difficult to draw deep breaths – a huge trigger for the anxiety. In those weeks, I slept with my Bible next to my pillow, open to Psalm 91, so that if I woke in the night and felt unable to breathe, all I needed to do was turn my head and run my eyes and mind over the words promising that I was able to dwell in the shadow of the Most High, sheltered under my Father’s wings.
One night, I awoke to a panicked feeling and called my parents at two o’clock in the morning. Jessica was still awake, writing a paper at her desk a short distance away. Though I tried to speak and cry quietly, she heard my conversation with them. After I hung up, she came over, knelt beside my bed, laid her hand on my arm and with her Bible open, read Psalm after Psalm over me until my shaking subsided and I fell back asleep.
Another significant moment came two summers later when I was home and visiting a church near my city. The sermon was about strongholds and idols. As the pastor spoke, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that I had come to a place in my journey where there was a choice being presented to me every time I felt an impending attack. Because it had been a few years now that my life had revolved around the battle against anxiety, I was believing that I was predisposed to succumbing to the panic and fear. It was an unconventional idol, one I found myself continuing to bow down to time after time.
At the end of the service, an invitation was given for anyone who felt impressed to come forward and publicly renounce the idols in their life. I stood with many others, stepping to the front where a microphone was being passed around. One by one, the community took the microphone and in various levels of passion and volume repented for not believing God and bowing to their idols of lust, self-harm, addiction, outbursts of anger, and envy. As the microphone was pressed into my hand, I felt tears streaming down my face and I declared, “I will never bow to the idol of fear ever again.”
After that day, I didn’t have another panic attack for two years.
That moment turned out to be a stake in the ground of claiming the territory of the abundant life of freedom and peace that Jesus had been offering me from the very beginning. It was another stone in the foundation of my spiritual life that I could point to and say, there I chose to believe God and saw Him meet me.
By the Word of His mouth, God created realities (¤). I believe that similarly, because we are created in His image, we also have the power to use our words to impact our world (¤). The words I spoke with my mouth that day had impact in the spiritual realm, showing the enemy that he had once again messed with the wrong girl.
Today, I can’t even remember the last panic attack I had. I know it’s been at least a year or two. This journey stays fresh enough for me to recall and has shaped my life in ways I can’t even express. The faithfulness, strength and power of God is the most sure truth that I stand on. Because I fought so long and so hard for my freedom, I now find that when I encounter others who struggle as I did, I am able to pray with and for them with an authority and assuredness that I experience in few other areas of my life.
We, as children of God, have the opportunity to live in peace every. single. day. Obviously, as you’ve seen, dear reader, the journey is full of twists and turns but the glories along the way are life-giving, empowering, and bear much fruit. The enemy may try to take me out in other areas, but this is one that he cannot touch any longer because I am well-acquainted with his schemes.
I pray that you can say that, too – if not today, I hope someday soon. Maybe you are now a little more aware of the opportunity that awaits you: to acknowledge that He is present with you in your struggle, to reach out for help from a trusted friend or counselor, to make determinations and declarations that position you for another positive change in the journey. Whatever you may have received from my story, I pray that at the very least you found HOPE for your future. Your life doesn’t have to stay the same it always has been. You won’t always struggle with this.
You are not alone, and you are stronger than you think.
The longer I live, the more people I meet who also struggle with anxiety. A few of my closest friends take medication for their pain and struggle and rely on it to cope with everyday life. I am not against medication to treat anxiety; I probably would have chosen it myself had the Lord not been so clear and specific in His word to me that day at the clinic. My story is my own and the grace that I have found is available to anyone – regardless of whether they are medicated or not. My heart and prayers go out to you if you read this and are holding onto hope for complete healing and restoration someday. I truly believe you will find what you are searching for.
Photograph by the talented Madison Kay Photography © 2016