Today marks the first day of our third year in Uganda. We’ve spent the last few days at Musana Camps, soaking in the beauty, enjoying the quiet, and reflecting on our journey thus far. It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the ground for two full years. In some ways, it feels like we just arrived last week, and yet, it also feels like we’ve been at home in Uganda for a decade.
I thought about just writing a post detailing all of the silly things we’ve learned since arriving. Thing like…cockroaches can fly or chameleons can hiss or rubber boots are no match for a panga. How about that our ‘vanbulance’ can, in fact, fly? Or that I DO know how to do CPR?
Sure, there’s depth to some of those things. God is teaching us and revealing more of His character to us, even through the not-as-desirable parts of His creation, even when life hangs in the balance. And those lessons are good.
But, I promised to begin detailing my struggle with anxiety. So, I suppose now is as good a time as any. This is a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and settle in.
As I reflect on our last two years here, I laugh a little at how I thought God would work in my heart. I thought the hard work would be about letting go of things, getting used to the “inconveniences” of living in the bush, dealing with cultural differences.
To be completely honest, until last summer, I didn’t even know that I had a problem with anxiety. I would have told you that I was a worrier by nature, “that’s just who I am.” I would not have classified my worrying as anxiety. Or sin. I would have justified my worry.
Y’all, I can worry with the best of them. When Jarid was traveling in the oilfield, there were times that he didn’t arrive home at the expected time. By the time he got home, I was certain that the footsteps coming up the walk were the coroner coming to give me the bad news of his tragic death. I was already imagining the phone calls I’d have to make to family, bearing the bad news. I was walking through the funeral, the burial, life in the days after.
Sadly, I’m not exaggerating here. And that is just one instance. But, who wouldn’t worry in a situation like that? Who wouldn’t be nervous and anxious? And furthermore, it’s good to have a plan in place, right?
Oh, my friends. The problem is that my anxiety was manifesting as anger. And control. And it was ugly. Jarid and I used to smirk a little when the song, “Angry All the Time” by Tim McGraw would come on, but it was really more true than funny. When a plan fell apart, or, God forbid, Jarid changed the plan, there was anger. When unexpected things happened, I was angry and I’d try to regain control of the situation. It ran deep, and wide. Maybe that’s another post for another day.
It began coming to a head about a week before Kaiya’s incident last July. As Jarid and I were talking through an unresolved work-related issue, my heart began to pound, and I began having problems breathing. Soon, I began having pain down my left arm. I went back to the bedroom to lay down, try some deep breathing, and pray. The more I tried to calm my racing heart, the more the symptoms worsened. I finally asked Jarid to come back and pray with me and read Scripture, I even mentioned that we should prepare to go to the hospital in Kiwoko, in case I was having a heart attack, as I was certain it was imminent. By God’s grace, after much prayer and meditation on Scripture, the symptoms subsided, and we went back to life as usual.
The very next week found us racing down the hill from Musana Camps, trying desperately to save Kaiya. Later that night, as she was stabilizing, Jarid and I sat in her room in the HDU (ICU for my American friends), discussing the heaviness of things that had possibly happened in that room, the spiritual warfare that seemed evident in this particular hospital. My heart skipped a beat and began to pound heavily. That familiar suffocation threatened and my left arm began to ache. Jarid gently suggested that I go outside for some fresh air, read my Bible, and pray for a bit.
Like a good wife, I obeyed and went outside. But in a panic, instead of complete obedience and submission, I sent a text to one of our western colleagues here at New Hope, a doctor. Giving a quick rundown of symptoms, I asked her, “When should I worry?” Oy. She responded as any good doctor would and should do, and told me to go for an ECG. The next hour or so was spent standing in line with the cashier (in Uganda, you pay upfront before services are rendered), waiting our turn for the machines to become available for scanning.
As we waited, the symptoms intensified and I again asked Jarid to pull out his Bible and read to me. So there we sat on the bench, huddled together as onlookers watched curiously, me breathing slowly and Jarid reading from Isaiah 41.
8 But you, Israel, My servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
Descendant of Abraham My friend,
9 You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its remotest parts
And said to you, ‘You are My servant,
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
10 ‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
11 “Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored;
Those who contend with you will be as nothing and will perish.
12 “You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them,
Those who war with you will be as nothing and non-existent.
13 “For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand,
Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’
14 “Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel;
I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
He read, and I asked him to read it again, talking me through each verse. And again. And again. As he read, I tried to focus more on the words, and less on the physical symptoms I was feeling. And not allow myself to be carried away with thoughts of what could happen, the chain of events I may have set off by not obeying my husband and taking my thoughts captive.
Eventually, both an echo and an ECG were performed. My heart was fine.
Except that it wasn’t. In the quiet moments we had alone as a couple while Kaiya regained her strength in the hospital and the boys were with our Kasana family, we began to process through what had happened and what was going on in my heart.
I commented to Jarid on the irony that, as we were speeding down the mountain, unsure of the outcome with Kaiya, I felt no panic. Despite my audible cries for God to save my baby, I felt no anxiety. So why, after God had delivered our baby girl from the hand of death, would I then have a panic attack?
My astute husband gently proposed that anxiety only crept in once I felt I could control the situation again. He noted that in the intense moments, I had ZERO control, I could only cry out to God, I was absolutely powerless to save my girl on my own accord. And I knew it. But he also observed that I began to grasp for control once she regained consciousness and it seemed she was going to be okay. My demands on hospital staff ramped up a bit, I began to get angry when things weren’t done according to my requests. He was right.
And so began the rapid revelation of my heart disease.
Do you remember those Magic Eye pictures, where if you look at it just right (almost with crossed eyes), the 3D image pops out?
That’s how I felt. Suddenly, the picture became clear. I could see that I wasn’t a worrier. I had sinfully allowed anxiety to take over. I wasn’t angry. My anger was a cover for fear, which was ultimately distrust of God. I wasn’t a planner, I was a controller. Controlling covered my fear of the unknown, which was distrust of God’s sovereignty. Even in the small things. I could suddenly see that I had believed lies. I hadn’t taken my thoughts captive. Sin was crouching at the door, and I let it in!
God graciously opened the eyes of my heart to see when I had allowed the sin in, unabated…seventeen years ago, when Jarid and I were newly married. He had gone camping with a friend in the high country behind Pike’s Peak and didn’t return when I thought he would. Instead of taking my thoughts captive and turning to prayer and my Savior, I allowed the seeds of anxiety and fear to take root in my heart. The details became clearer and clearer as I began to see just how I had let the sin in, let the small weeds grow into a big noxious weeds.
You know those weeds we pull up in our yards? The ones that are kind of like quack grass, but if pulled just right, are like a roped web of more weeds?
That’s what was happening in my heart. The more I pulled on that root, the more sin was revealed, all connected. I have been disrespectful to my husband in my anxiety. I have placed burdens on my children in my anxiety, I have treated them unkindly. I have allowed anxiety to affect relationships and fellowship with other believers. And on and on.
Oh, I thank God for the work He is doing in my heart. I haven’t defeated anxiety. I haven’t conquered the sin. I am a work in progress. Right now, my hands are dirty from pulling weeds and digging deep, and my clothes are covered in dirt. I’ve probably sprayed dirt everywhere. I probably have dirt smudged all over my face. But I can see progress. And I am resolved to have victory over this by the same power that rose Jesus from the dead!
I have seen progress in my own life, just in bringing this struggle into the light, so bear with me as I share more in the weeks and months to come about this battle and specific ways I have been combatting it.