I didn't intentionally pick a couple of evenings before Hall-o-ween to write this, but it's somewhat appropriate, given the way our culture has glorified fear for this season. 8^)
Last December. after a home group meeting, Pam shared something she was dealing with. I don't recall what it was, other than fear being involved. So I prayed love into her to obliterate the fear. She felt much better. And then, as so often happens, that still small voice spoke. "Now, Miles, what about your fears?"
I mentally scratched my head. "Lord, I don't have any fears. You took care of them."
"What about your phobias?"
Oh. Those. Two sets of memories went through my head in an instant, like Grand Prix cars screaming nose to nose for the finish line. But I knew them so well, it hardly mattered. Besides, I hated dwelling on those. I mean, think about the things that terrify me? With my vivid imagination? Riiiight...
Both of these took root when I was just a few years old, living in El Paso on the edge of the desert, although one of them was fostered a couple of hundred miles away...
I have no idea what I thought about arachnids before I was six or seven. I don't think I had any problems with them early on. But over the course of a few months I grew to realize they were far more to be feared than the witch who lived under my bed. I can't recall the order these occurred in, but the overall effect was far more soul-scarring than the sum of the incidents.
I remember Mom calling me onto the front porch to see a black widow spider in her (the spider's) web. She was so shiny, hanging upside down where we could see that cute orange hour glass on her belly.
I moved in close to see it better. Mom jerked me back, her voice louder, her pitch rising a few steps. "Be careful! One bite can kill you!"
Another beautiful, summer day, Mom was outside, watering (you do that a lot in El Paso if you want things to live). I heard her screaming my name. I ran outside. She was yelling, "Get a jar! Get a jar!" as she backed slowly across the yard. Pursuing her at a leisurely but menacing pace was the biggest, darkest, hairiest tarantula I had ever seen. Snake-like, it apparently had Mom mesmerized. For some reason she was spraying water behind it. Was she trying to make it chase her? "Get a jar, Miles!"
Finally I unfroze and ran into the house, terrified, almost crying, frantic to find a jar. I found some under the sink, but they were too small for that Lord of Hairy, Fanged Spiders. I eventually grabbed a two pound coffee can and lid and ran to Mom with it. Ever the bold defender of her family, she trapped the monster, asked me to turn off the water, and carried the thing into the house!
(It turned out she was simply trying to catch it so Dad could take it to the biology department at Texas Western College where he taught; they wanted tarantulas and scorpions for the students to study. But what I had thought I was seeing was burned into my psyche.)
A third day that year, I looked down the hallway where my baby sister, Kathleen, sat in her PJs on our black, vinyl floor. She'd been teething on one of Dad's chess pieces (a king or queen, if I recall correctly), which she had put down to reach for something far more shiny and interesting. It was several inches long, yellow and black, and wagging its tail over its back at her. Mom shoved me out of the way, screaming, ran down the hall and snatched Kathleen up just before she could pick it up. I don't remember what Mom did with it, but that was the day I learned what scorpions were. And why we avoid them. And arachnophobia wrapped its evil, many jointed legs further around me heart.
For years these three moments in time would rule portions of my life. I couldn't even make myself touch a page of a magazine with a photo of a spider or scorpion on it. Accidentally touching a cobweb could send me into a screaming fit. Yes, I think you could safely call this a phobia.
Fast forward to the age of eight or nine. Six O'Neals-- two adults and four children-- are on their way to Cloudcroft in the New Mexico mountains. The last hour or so is a long and winding road through the mountains, including a haunted tunnel where headlights mysteriously go out and ghosts honk the horn in the dark. Otherwise, it's always a wonderful trip. Despite growing up mostly in the infinite, west Texas desert, mountains only made me a little nervous. But sometimes you find yourself an unexpected guest of... the Twilight Zone.
If you haven't driven the road from El Paso to Cloudcroft (at least in the sixties; I suspect it's changed), picture this. It's a two lane road, with faded, double, solid, yellow lines the whole way. On each side of the road, there's a faded, white line with (at most) three or four inches of shoulder. On the going down side, that sliver of a shoulder is bordered by sheer cliff, angling upward at anything from eighty to nearly ninety degrees most places. On the going up side, the sorry excuse for a shoulder-- when it exists-- drops off at similar angles.
Today, as we go up, all four kids are pressed against the window, looking out across the valley and down into it. The days when most cars will have seat belts (nevermind mandatory seat belt laws) are far in the future.
Sharon and I suddenly notice, far below, the rusted, twisted remains of cars and trucks, scattered across the valley, apparently tumbled from this very road. Vines, trees and bushes are slowly hiding them from view. We discuss whether they are full of whitened bones and tattered clothes. As we at each other solemnly, an air horn screams bloody murder, followed closely by noise from Mom and Dad.
Coming down the mountain, a big rig hurtles around a blind curve, almost completely in our lane. There's literally nowhere we can go (and live). Looking straight ahead, all Sharon and I can see is a rusted, twisted, Ford station wagon far down a ravine, our bones bleaching slowly in what little sunlight can reach them, tattered clothes rotting away as vines curl around our fibulas and tibias.
Dad slows as much as he can and eases as far over onto the theoretical shoulder as possible. Screaming like a banshee, Death races straight at us. I'm pretty sure our right tires are half way (or more) off the broken pavement as the trucker somehow manhandles his rig, tires screeching, back mostly into his lane. As the truck rolls by I'm sure its tires graze our car. Then it's gone and silence reigns. We somehow stay on the road instead of tumbling through space, and I remember to breathe.
Sharon and I spent the remainder of the trip curled in fetal positions on the floor. Kathleen and Bill laugh and squeal and ask Dad to do it again. What little I remember of our time in Cloudcroft was fun, but Sharon and I spent the trip downhill on the floor as well. ("No, we're not scared. We just like it here on the floor. It's comfortable.")
From then on I was terrified of heights. Some day I will write of wondering why I let my friends goad me in to climbing trees, of my fear of rooftops and high dives, of terror at the Grand Canyon. I've written elsewhere of how Pike's Peak conquered me.
All these things, and more, raced through my mind in that instant.
I explained to Pam what God had said. She smiled and grabbed my hands. "OK! Let's pray!"
It was brief, probably under a minute. I definitely felt God's peace, that peace that defies our ability to understand it. Mind-boggling peace. I forgot, for the moment, the arachnids and heights. I thanked her, and soon drove home.
For some reason I took the toll road that night. Where it rejoins I35 in Round Rock there's a flyover at least 100 feet in the air. With my Miata's top down (yes, I did say this was in December!), I was looking serenely out over the lights at La Fronterra, wondering why I had never noticed how beautiful it was. Then it hit me. I was looking down instead of straight ahead, enjoying the view rather than wishing the walls were higher so I couldn't see over them.
The next day, returning from a lunchtime run at work, I noticed a spiderweb on a light pole. As I drew near, the spider moved back from the face of the web toward the pole and curled up. I stopped to look closer to see the beauty of this graceful animal. It hit me that my face was an inch from a spiderweb, wishing the spider were closer so I could see it better. Say what?
That was roughly ten months ago. Since them I have gotten close looks at several spiders, casually wiped spiderwebs off when I've run into them, leapt twice from a ten to twelve meter, rickety bridge into a river and wept with joy as I looking down Albanian mountain cliffs not that different from those in New Mexico that horrified me years ago.
But it gets even better. I realized a few months ago that another, more recent, lesser phobia-- one I didn't think to mention that night, so it was never specifically prayed for-- was also gone. For over a decade, I couldn't use the bathroom in someone's home without checking behind the shower curtain. (A friend's young daughters, playing hide and seek, had jumped out to yell, "Boo!" at her brother as he sat on their toilet; ever after, I had to check behind shower curtains!) But this was gone, too.
God says that perfect love chases out fear (Jn 4/18). That love took care of Pam's and my fears, and it can take care of yours-- no matter how large or small, whether rational or not. I speak that love over you now. If you'd like prayer and healing for specific fears, let me know-- or just grab someone who believes and get them to speak it over you, pray it into you. Or ask God yourself. You have the right, and it's his joy to take care of his kids' needs. It's Daddy God's love that does it, not getting the right person to pray. It's not, after all, magic. It's grace. It's love.
Go scare a fear today. Rub some love on it, Laugh at it. Watch it flee for its life. Freedom... It tastes so much better than chicken.