I’m back from Haiti— safe and sound and forever changed.
I’ve scrubbed the layers of Deet off my skin, sudsed the sweat and smoke from my hair, and disinfected everything touched by the filthy fumes that engulf that ravaged land.
Before I move on and embrace my lists and goals and responsibilities for the next season, I’m longing to share with you some lessons learned in this adventure.
I’ve confessed my life-long battle with fear on these pages. I’ve opened the not-so-noble realities of my heart to you and let you in to catch a glimpse of my wobbly faith.
And you’ve responded by loving me anyway, by cheering me on, by reassuring me that my God is bigger then my fears, able to break me from the chains that have held me captive and limited my freedom.
And so many of you have been embolden to embark on your own quest to slay the dragons that stalk you.
We’re warriors together, brave-hearted weaklings who’ve been recruited by the Strong One to do the impossible.
And so I want to tell you one last story about my own battle to overcome life-limiting fear. It happened on day two of our Haiti trip, in the moments before I walked down the ramp into the plane, which would carry us from the safe and predictable into a decidedly unsafe place. Here’s what I wrote in my journal…
Do not be afraid or discouraged.
For the LORD is with you wherever you go.
As we lined up to board the final flight to Haiti just moments ago, I first felt a welling up of exhilaration.
We’re finally going!
After months of planning and dreaming and making it happen— it is!
Sometimes dreams seem like just that— fantasies from which we’ll eventually awake… but will never come to be.
But then, just as I stepped onto the ramp that would lead to the airplane, the excitement gave way to overwhelming fear. Panic. Like I’d hit an invisible wall that impeded every step. My breath came in gasps, my knees threatened to give way.
Is this what a panic attack feels like? I wondered. We’re going to Haiti! A land so foreign surrounded by a people I neither know nor understand. Out of my safe and knowable world into… well, into a world that is at best unpredictable and at worse, dangerous.
Fear. Palatable and pulsing.
Do I have to?
Just as that sense of dread threatened to drown me, these words appeared in bold typeface, marching across my mind:
SO NOT BE AFRAID!
My emotions are real but they don’t rule me. With my will I wrestle all those feelings into submission. Tie them up and settle them down.
I choose courage.
Strangely, my feelings follow quickly. As if that sudden surge was like a feisty toddler testing his mom to see if she really means it. Sort of a “I dare you to contradict me” bluff.
God’s words, given days before I needed them, serve as boundaries to all those unruly feelings.
And so my soul rests. Not quite at ease, but not really fearful either. A sort of peace that is held in place by that “belt of truth” Paul described in Ephesians, chapter 6.
I’ll need to tighten that belt from time to time when I sense myself slipping.
I think that like many things, practice makes perfect. I practice courage every time I dare do something I don’t want to do. Every time I poke my head out of my safe turtle shell to do the hard thing.
Like picking up the phone and making that intimidating call.
Like walking across the street to meet my new neighbor.
Like going someplace alone because I need to and ought to even though I don’t want to.
That sort of stuff.
And I get stronger each time I do it. My faith grows. A history develops. I’ve seen God come through, I’ve put my hand in His and He’s seen me through. Again and again.
Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the choice to lasso that fear into compliance with my will. To go for it regardless of fear. To be strong when I feel weak.
And of course, the only real way for that to work in a fear-prone woman like me is to run into the Shelter of the Almighty and hide there. To rest where I’m really safe. To trust His overwhelming love for me— and to pour a little bit of that love back by being willing to be unsafe for His sake.
Some of you will never understand what I’m saying. You step with confidence into every adventure, fearlessly flinging yourself into the thrill of the unknowable.
But lots of us aren’t like that, and so we march forward resolutely, one step at a time. We don’t fling, we choose.
And since God’s Book is full of heroes who had to do the same, we know that He somehow delights in coming through for people like us. He even leads us to lead.
People like Joshua, Moses, Timothy, David, Esther, Hannah… and countless others who chose to forge forward at great cost to themselves.
Here is Paul’s challenge to a people facing their fears:
“A final word: Be strong with the Lord’s mighty power.
Put on all God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all the strategies and tricks of the Devil. For we do not fight against people made of flesh and blood, but against those mighty powers of darkness
who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.
Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil,
so that after the battle you will still be standing firm.”
Those words, scribbled with shaking hand into my journal on that last flight into Haiti, proved prophetic.
For the next seven days I never once felt afraid.
Not when I saw the bloody corpse beside our bus on the drive through Port-O-Prince. Not when I stood in front of almost 200 hundred pastor’s wives and leaders to begin my message, knowing that what I had laboriously prepared would be entirely wrong for this culture of women. Not when our bus driver played chicken with a Mac truck on the highway. Not even when a I saw a giant cockroach scurry across the bathroom in the middle of the night!
My limbs trembled a little bit when I heard Bishop call “Pastor Diane Carole Comer” to the platform to address the church- but I think that had to do more with the sweat dripping down my body and my uncertainty about what I was actually expected to do, than fear.
And I’m not naïve enough to think that the battle to overcome my sin is locked up tight. But I can never again go back to the coward I once was.
I know His power now. I know that He is a BIG God. I know that obedience leads to life.
And I relish my widened world. There’s room to breath here. Room to learn to dance, to sing at the top of my lungs, to feel the exhilarating beat of joy.
Here in this place of obedience, God put me in the middle of the most courageous women I have ever met. Their faces lined with the grief of deep pain, these women poured their love all over us. They took us in, kissed our cheeks, laughed at my fumbling attempts to sway my hips in that graceful sway of theirs. They wrote me songs and taught me jumping dance steps… and they showed me what a courageous women looks like.
They are my sisters and I’ll be back to dance with them again…
May I just encourage each of you to face what terrifies you? Whether it is bugs or bad people, earthquakes or financial uncertainty, the risk of rejection, or the fear of failure… will you step out of the shadows into this place of light and joy?
Will you dance with the women of Haiti?
From a heart full of more love than I can contain,
Pastor Diane Carole Comer (aka, me!)