Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A chink in the armor

Today I took my family to Six Flags amusement park in Arlington, Texas for a day of rides, 100+ degree weather and fun. More on this later.

Many of you who know me, know that I do not fly. I have flown. Starting with a transatlantic flight to Europe in 1999 I began to experience a great dread of flying. Dread turned to anxiety, and anxiety to shear terror/panic attacks. It's a little bit claustrophobia, a little bit anxiety, a little bit motion sickness and a lot of hyperventilating and vomiting. My dear friends Ginny & Chip Fowler and Josh & Kortney Carnes got front row seats for this in late 2008. We were attempting to fly from Dallas to Chicago for a youth workers conference when all hell broke loose in terminal D14. There were tears. There were heavy sedatives. There was gnashing of teeth.

Ultimately, the rest of the party boarded the plane with my husband... and I sat weeping on my suitcase outside the gate. My loyal friend Megan Adkins collected me and my rainsoaked luggage at the curb and took me home.

I've never flown since.

I've driven from Dallas to as far as Washington DC for conferences and speaking engagements. But shudder to think of boarding a plane. Intellectually I understand that hours of highway driving are far more perilous than a brief airplane trip... but my stomach does a little flip when I even see planes taking off or landing. I don't know if I will ever fly again.

Which brings us to today. At an amusement park with my family.

I've never been one for roller coasters. I'm the gal who waits in line for hours, then happily holds everyone's bags, hats and half-eaten funnel cakes while they ride... and I wait at the bottom. Happily. It doesn't bother me. I'm not a thrill seeker. It has bothered others in the past, who seem determined to convince me that I am missing out on a wonderful experience by not having my body flung through loops and steep drops in a tiny metal car.

No thanks.

I like my feet solidly on the ground...

Which may leave you wondering how and why I found myself having a panic attack at the top of a large tower in the middle of an amusement park today.

We spent much of the morning taking my children on "kiddie rides". My older kids started to get bored so we headed towards the larger rides in the park. We found ourselves standing at the bottom of a 300-foot-tall tower called the Oil Derrick. It is the highest structure in the city. This attraction is frequently closed due to powerful winds that whip through its open observation deck at the top.

Today it was open.

In a moment of poor judgment I joined my husband and 5 of our children in line to ride the elevator to the top of the Oil Derrick tower. My husband will ride any attraction in the park... but had never been up the tower before. The doors shut and I noticed that the dial by the attendant running the elevator was labeled "slow" and "fast". The little arrow pointed to "fast". I instantly knew I'd made a mistake. As the car began to rise quickly up the structure I felt weak in my knees. My hands started shaking uncontrollably as the world below began to shrink away. I felt my heart pounding, and it seemed to rise into my throat. The walls and floor of the elevator car are a metal grid, so you can see the world rushing by and feel the wind.

I'm silently prayed something like this:
"oh God. Oh God. groan. gasp. oh God. oh my God."
I kept my eyes open, because I was afraid if I shut them I would pass out. Finally we came to a gentle stop at the top of the tower and stepped out onto the deck. My children shot out to the tall railing and chain-link fence at the edge of the platform, eager to look around.

Seeing them near the edge made me feel nauseous, although I knew they were safe.

I walked down the steps to the lower deck and collapsed onto a stair to try and collect myself. By now, the shaking had moved from my hands into my entire body and I was having a hard time breathing. Bruce located me after a few minutes because it was time to board the elevator back down to the bottom. I told him I needed a minute, so he and the children rode the elevator back down without me. I am trying to hide the terror on my face. Trying not to make a scene.

But I can't get up.

I cannot imagine stepping back onto the elevator and feeling my stomach drop as it descends towards the earth.

It is impossible to take the elevator back down.

I ask the teenager running security on the observation deck if I can take the emergency stairs down. He calls the security manager, who rides all the way up the elevator to tell him "no". Now I'm crying. So he calls the safety office, who sends their manager up the elevator. He brings several more security officers with him and two EMTs. I'm sitting on a step, 300 feet above the ground, feeling the wind on my face and the steel tower's gentle swaying, insisting that I will take the stairs down. My family has now been waiting at the bottom for 30 minutes. Bruce comes up to check on me, sees that I am an immovable force, and rides the elevator back down to wait.

If I were a fly on the wall, watching this sunburned, thirty-year-old woman crying at the top of a tower... I would think "she is crazy". You may be thinking that right now. A final call is made down to whoever runs Six Flags, and I am told walking down the stairs is not an option.

I have to take the elevator.

A female security officer offers to hold my hand.

I shakily rise and walk to the open door of the elevator. I hold the security officer's hand. I ask if they will turn the elevator speed to "slow" instead of "fast", and they do. The doors close and we make a ridiculously slow and gentle descent. I pray the same prayer on the way down. I'm trying to look calm, but I am freaking out on the inside. Then we reach the bottom. I step off the elevator (escorted by what may be the entire emergency response team of the amusement park) and feel the ground under my feet.

I feel like a total fool.

My eyes are red and my face is white as a sheet. I feel clammy and cold. I am shaking like a leaf.

Because of an elevator.

An elevator.

Even now, sitting at my computer typing this, my face is flushed with embarrassment. But there's a reason I feel compelled to share this experience.

My husband and I are living a life full of challenges. At least once a week someone who knows our story tells me "I don't know how you do it". Let me be clear, we're no saints. God has called us to live a life of adventure, and we're clinging to His will. We try to say "yes" more than we say "no". We've cared for a tiny newborn addicted to cocaine, and 30 other children who have lived under our roof in the past 9 years of fostering. In three years our family has grown from 3 kids to 7. We take all these precious children on cross-country road-trips and tent camping in the heat and in the snow. I've quit my job to follow a mission calling and never looked back. I fought cancer and won. I've endured natural childbirth. I've skied black diamonds and ridden wild horses...

But today I froze up. I was shaking with dread. Because of an elevator.

We all have our private struggles, but today one of mine became very public. It's a "chink in the armor" my good friend observed after I shared the experience with her. Today I was left humbled and embarrassed by my weakness.

But there's good news.

1. I'm not writing this blog from the top of a tower.

2. It may be possible to "die of embarrassment"... but apparently today is not my day to go.

3. If you have a "chink in the armor"... you're wearing armor. Let's unpack that idea further:

This anxiety... this paralyzing fear of moving, enclosed spaces is just one of MANY chinks in my armor. I won't give an exhaustive list here (although a fear of clowns/puppets, emotional over-eating, pridefulness, codependence and gossip would be in the top ten). While these weaknesses may slow my progress, or take me off course, I can't allow them to keep me from what God has for me.

He's called me into battle.

He's called me off the sidelines.

And I've shown up in the ratty armor carrying a wooden sword.

The truly AMAZING part is... He looks on me with delight. Where the world sees weakness, He sees potential for growth. When I feel insufficient, He is assured. He accepts me for who I am, but is ever refining, ever teaching, ever improving me. I have weakness to overcome, but I am also uniquely equipped. I wish I could sing and tell stories with my voice like Alison Krauss or Sara Groves. Sadly, and much to the chagrin of those seated near me during worship, I cannot. I can choose spend my life frustrated I can't carry a tune... or I can celebrate that God's plan for me requires patience, a missional spirit, the ability to go without sleep, good birthing hips, a solid sense of humor, a heart for orphans and a thrifty soul. And we can take it one step deeper. If God is willing to look past my sometimes-ridiculous short comings, how can I not extend this grace to those around me?

"... the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." Romans 8: 26-30

Today the Spirit heard my groans. He is using my weakness to shape me into who I need to be. To be more like Himself. I didn't know what I was asking for... but it was something that could only be found at the top of an elevator shaft.

1 comment:

  1. You hear it often if you grow up in church about being His child. His delight. But it still catches me by surprise and puts a catch in my throat to realize God is crazy about us. Great post.