Sunday, June 16, 2013

Forsake Me Not

To the fatherless ones out there on this Father's Day - know this: You no longer have to bear the marks of abandonment. You DO have a Father. He's in heaven. And He is the Only One who can heal that hole of rejection in your heart. Come to Him and exchange your scars for a love that will never, ever leave or forsake you. I'm not speaking fairy tales. I am a credible witness to this truth: God will take you in.

 Psalm 27:10

Monday, June 10, 2013

Jayla's Fear: The Hairy Man

Earlier this year Jennifer and Jayla started learning their recital routine for dance class. The studio is set up so that the parents sit outside in a waiting area so as not to distract the dancers or the teachers. [There is, however, a little viewing window that you can watch the dancers through.] One such evening I was sitting in the waiting area during class and playing with Jasara. About half-way through the class the girls came out to get changed from their ballet shoes to their tap shoes. As they flooded out of the studio one of the other little dancers announced, “Jayla is crying!” Sure enough, around the corner came a red, blotchy faced Jayla with tears streaming down her face. She was crying so hard that she wasn’t able to answer my pleas of, “What’s wrong?” Her classmate filled me in, “I think she’s scared of the ‘hairy guy’ that came into our class today.”

“Who is the hairy guy?” I asked.

“The guy with the big beard.”

What on earth was this about? I had never seen this ‘hairy guy’ before, but little did I know I was about to become very familiar with him. I looked at Jayla and asked her if that was why she was crying and she nodded yes. We got her shoes changed, grabbed a sip of water, and I walked her back into class as she reluctantly followed. That’s when I saw him. Nothing out of the ordinary honestly. It was just a young man who had grown a very thick beard for the winter, covering the majority of his face. With our family being surrounded by mostly the basketball crowd, Jayla does not often come into contact with anyone who isn’t clean shaven, or at the least they don’t have more than a little scruff on their face. Seeing this was an all new experience for her. This man literally terrified her as we walked by him and I scooted her back into the studio. As I watched the remainder of her class through the viewing window, I saw that she still hadn’t quite recovered from this encounter with the hairy man, who I found out later is part of their recital routine. He had come that day, and would be coming to their future classes, to practice his part that goes along with theirs in the recital. Well, Jayla could not pull herself back together, and kept looking over her shoulder to see if he was coming back into the studio. I also could literally see these waves of fear come over her as she let her mind go with scary thoughts and she would start crying all over again. Oh boy.

Class ended and since the hairy man was still in the waiting room, I met Jayla at her studio door. By now, it was obvious to everyone, even the hairy man, that Jayla was terrified of him. Talk about awkward. And honestly, I felt quite embarrassed. In all the different cultures and colors and appearances she had been around, how could my child be afraid of a beard?

As we packed up our things to go, I found myself offering Jayla some very worldly advice and counsel in an effort to talk her fear down. “It’s nothing to be afraid of, honey,” I said. “It’s just hair. Daddy has a beard sometimes - it’s just like that.” “That man is not going to hurt you. He’s a dancer. He’s just there to dance.” There’s nothing wrong with trying to bring in a little reality. But nothing of what I said helped her that night. We even tried our best to make light of it all later on once Daddy got home and we filled him in on what had happened. We all joked around about beards, and got Jayla to giggling a little. I figured that after she was exposed to this hairy guy a little more that she would eventually realize it was just hair. Tonight was probably the worst of it I thought. Next time she won’t be so scared.


The next week rolled around and the girls were back at dance class and practicing their recital routine. I saw the hairy guy arrive at the studio once their ballet piece started. He waited until his cue and then entered the studio to practice his part, which is rather short-lived. He comes in at the very end of their piece and the girls are supposed to gather around him and jump up and down and chirp as he pretends to feed them birdseed. This time I watched the whole thing unfold from the window. The minute Jayla saw the hairy guy enter into the studio she completely lost it, broke down, and ended up frozen in a corner sitting on the balance beam. They hadn’t even gotten to his part yet. But she was done for at just the sight of him. The class helpers huddled around her, trying to convince her, as I had, that there was nothing to be afraid of. But to no avail. Jayla couldn’t get herself to move off the balance beam until the piece was over and the hairy guy had left the studio room.

This time I was at least aware that it might happen again. And as I had observed the class helpers trying to calm her, it felt like a punctuation mark on that failing strategy. Trying to rationalize with Jayla was not going to work. In fact, my mind floated back to something I had just read in a book a few weeks ago:

You cannot reason with irrational fears. Irrational fears only submit to prayer. (Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson).

I waited for Jayla to come out of the studio since class had ended, and she did, still in tears and shaken up. I asked her if she wanted me to pray with her and she nodded yes. We ducked into the changing room and prayed for God’s power to smash this fear.

That night, I turned to one of my favorite books, ‘Power of a Praying Parent’, and re-read the chapter the author had written titled Enjoying Freedom From Fear. I was looking for clarity on how to exactly pray Jayla through this. As I read, a little paragraph stuck out to me:

There are times when fear is more than a passing emotion. It can grip a child’s heart so strongly and so unreasonably that no actions or words can take it away. When that happens, the child is being harassed by a spirit of fear. And the Bible clearly tells us a spirit of fear does not come from God (2 Timothy 1:7). It comes from the enemy of our soul.

We can’t blame everything bad that comes up or happens to us on Satan. But I felt by the Holy Spirit’s discernment that this was an exact description of what was going on. When Jayla was in this state of fear she was frozen. Paralyzed. That’s the work of the enemy. He gets us to stop moving forward.

Once pinpointing that, I became even more confident that the power of Jesus was the only thing that was going to break down this fear. And I knew that we had authority to access this power. Luke 10:19 ~ I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy… But Jayla was not confident in this power yet. Nor had she learned how to access it. And that was my role. I needed to lead her to experience this power over the enemy. I thought back to what Jesus did when He needed to fight Satan off in the desert (Luke 4). For every attack, Jesus fought back with scripture. And we would too.

I looked up verses on fear, and there are a lot! I wound up in Isaiah chapter 41 were there are two really good verses on fear. I ended up picking this one:

Isaiah 41:13 ~ For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

I picked this verse for three reasons. One, I loved the imagery of it. I knew Jayla would be able to visualize God taking hold of her hand to help her. When the scary thoughts started coming in, this would be a good picture to have in her mind. Two, I loved that it used the exact word fear. I know that this hairy man will not be the only fear in Jayla’s life. Looking further down the road, my hope is that whenever the word fear comes up, it will trigger this verse in Jayla’s mind. Three, I loved that this verse teaches God’s character. When you are scared or afraid, God can be trusted. So, it’s not just giving a command to not fear. It’s stating why: Because you can trust in God’s power to help you.

That night I introduced this verse to Jayla and I told her it was going to be ‘her verse’. I said we were going to practice it and pray it and talk about it until we knew it by heart. We walked through the hairy man scenario that would come up again next week at class, and I talked her through the application of the verse - highlighting that she could trust in God’s power to deliver her from this fear.

The night of the next dance class came, and this time I prayed for Jayla right before we left for class. We rehearsed the truths that we had been talking about the past week. We called on the power of Jesus to break down this stronghold. And we blasted Jeremy Camp’s “I Will Trust In You” on the car ride there.

And wouldn’t you know it……..that night the hairy man didn’t come to recital practice! Interesting move by the Lord I thought.

The next week, we went through the same preparation scenario, but I must emphasize that this did not feel like going through the motions. There is POWER when you pray through scripture. There is CONFIDENCE when God’s truths take up residence in your heart. In fact, I felt my whole perspective about this hairy man situation changing. This wasn’t just an annoyance. This wasn’t just another situation as a parent that would leave me feeling caught off guard and flustered. This felt purposeful. Working through this with Jayla (with Jennifer right alongside and also learning these truths for the first time) felt intimate and full of life. I felt a high in getting to lead Jayla to this awesome confidence of being able to trust God in the midst of fear. In fact, one night during that next week I actually found myself thanking God for all this hairy man trouble. Yes, Satan was capitalizing on Jayla’s weakness, and no parent ever likes to encounter that. But I had a revelation on the flip side. My continual prayer as a parent has been that God would help me to guide my children to know Him and to know His word. And here God was giving me the opportunity to do just that - it was just coming in a way that I didn’t expect. It wasn’t packaged up all organized and prepared while we sat sprawled out in the living room for family devotionals – our conventional teaching grounds. It came huddled in the corner of a ballet studio, paralyzed in fear, with a tear-drenched face. Via a beard.

I should mention this: there were at least 10 other class times that we could have signed up for at the dance center in which Jayla would have been part of a different recital piece (none of which included this hairy man). I don’t believe in the fate of coincidences. Therefore, I believe that God is Sovereign and placed Jayla in this exact dance class, on this exact day of the week, at this exact time, so she would get this exact recital part that included this hairy man so that God could teach her about His character. That He can be trusted. And in so doing, He was also answering my prayer and giving me the mommy role of leading my daughter to encounter His truths. God was drawing me closer to my girls, and all of us closer to Him because of it. No matter how this all would end up turning out, that in itself was totally worth it.

The night of the next dance class rolled around, and this time Jayla asked me to pray with her beforehand. I loved that she came to me requesting it.

Once at dance class I watched the girls practice through the window. Jayla kept looking over her shoulder to see if the hairy man had made his appearance yet. And about halfway through, he showed up to practice his part. This time, when he entered the studio Jayla was able to keep going with the routine right up until the very end. That’s the part where all the girls are supposed to gather around the hairy man while he pretends to give them birdseed. About that point the fears made their way in. The tears started and wouldn’t stop. And Jayla once again found herself off in the corner, knees-a-shakin’ until the hairy man’s part was over and class was done.

As Jayla walked out to me in the waiting room, defeated and sniffling through her tears, I felt something different. I wasn’t mad or frustrated with her failure or thinking “well, so much for that scripture stuff! It didn’t work!” Instead I looked at her and felt a tremendous peace. The peace of knowing that we were on the right path. I knew God was going to come through`….in His time, when we had all learned what we needed to.

I steered Jayla into the changing room to talk with her. For the past few weeks I had been reaffirming to her over and over again that she could trust God with this fear. This time, I felt the Holy Spirit spin things differently and it came out something like this: “Jayla, the enemy of your soul does not want you to trust God. He’s against you and he’s against everything that God wants for your life. The devil wants to scare you so much that you can’t do this dance. Because if that happens, and he scares you so much that you can’t do it, then God won’t receive glory in this. And that is what the devil wants. He does not want God to be glorified in your life. But, if you can trust that God is big enough and powerful enough to help you, then other people will be able to see how God worked in your heart. You would get to tell them that you aren’t afraid anymore because you trusted God. And that would bring God glory, and you would be able to punch the devil in the face.”

Sometimes you just need to call it like it is, and the Holy Spirit in me had said Jayla was ready to hear it.

For the next 3 dance classes, the hairy man didn’t show up to practice. Each week we felt ready and prepared as we rehearsed the truths about God that we were learning, memorized her verse, and exposed the deceiving work of the enemy warring against us. Each week Jayla would wonder, “Is the hairy man going to be there tonight?” And each week that he didn’t come I could sense her relief.

Then the next week came. By this point I hadn’t been watching through the window for weeks because each time the girls started practicing their routine the teacher would call the parents into the studio to watch. On this night we got the call to come in and be the audience. We got settled in the studio as the teacher was busy prepping the music and the girls took their places. And then. In walked the hairy man. BUT. Something had changed. HE WAS CLEAN SHAVEN! Let me tell you, I totally did not see this coming! And Jayla didn’t either. She saw him come in and did a double, triple, quadruple take which finally turned into a full out stare down. I could see her mind was in complete shock. The hairy man now just looked like your normal, everyday, clean cut dude. There was barely any time to let it sink in as the music started and their routine began. And Jayla danced FEARLESSLY. At the end she got right up to the now-non-hairy man and chirped away during the birdseed part and finished the routine without a trace of shakiness or tears. Then, they practiced their finale piece which the now-non-hairy man practiced with them on this night. There is a part where they all chass—ź in a big whirlwind of a circle together and Jayla ended up right next to the now-non-hairy man, just inches from him. And she just looked absolutely confident. Beaming from ear to ear.

As class ended my mind was beginning to question was this real victory? Why would God have had him shave off the beard before Jayla was able to fully face the fear head on? I was still thinking through it all on the way back to our bags when Jayla came running up to me, bursting with excitement, and blurted out loud as can be, “Someone in hell is mad tonight!” It took me a few good seconds to get through her bluntness and realize she was talking about the devil and how she had just squashed him! And that’s when I knew. I looked at her face and I knew. She was stating her triumphant battle cry. This was victory. Because it never really was about hair. It was about what was going on in her heart. FEAR verses TRUST. And the opportunity to learn how to rely on God to get from one to the other. With a little shaving cream and a razor God made good on His promise that we had been rehearsing day in and day out: ‘I will help you’. It was in this way, taking the basis for her fear away, that God came through for her. And in so doing, she gained confidence in Him and experienced firsthand that she has access to His power over the enemy, which was a goal of this opportunity all along.

We rejoiced and squealed and recounted the victory the whole way home. And this past weekend Jayla completed her recital piece that included the former hairy man...without a hitch. :)

And when the next fear does pop up we will now have some God-evidence to fall back on. We will get to say, “Jayla, remember when God….”