My turn on a skateboard at the skate park
The elusiveness of dreams
Nothing in life is guaranteed. I’ve heard that phrase all my life, and I’ve spent 99% of my life making sure everything is guaranteed. Why did I work so hard in school to attend university? To guarantee a good career. Why did I marry the person before me today? Because I felt the echo of “happily ever after” beckoning me to marry this man. Why did I have children? Because somewhere buried deep in my heart, I was sure I could guarantee a better emotional childhood for them than I had.
We live on the fumes of dreams every day. Even if we are galaxies away from those dreams coming true, we can’t stop dreaming. Happiness is around the corner is the elusiveness of a dream. Just wait a little longer. Just work a little harder. Just hold onto your good things a little tighter.
When your season has no guarantee
This past month, we’ve had one unexpected surprise after another. When we made this move to France, we not only left our comfort zone – we started over. New schools, new neighborhood, new friends, new medical system, new bureaucracy, and a new uncertain future because we are not following a set job or salary. We are creating the opportunity and laying down one brick at a time on our yellow brick road as we go. What most of my friends relished in their 20s or early 30s would never dare to do what we are doing in our 40s with children.
So what am I chasing when I say I want a guarantee? When I want everything to feel settled, secure, safe, and definite? What I am doing is honestly ignoring a deep fear. When I keep myself busy, this fear hides in the recesses of my mind.
The fear bubbles forth in almost everyone’s life eventually: mid-40s when you ask yourself if the last 20 years of busyness was really worth it; the stark reality of empty nest and if all the child-rearing led to a loving marriage; or the last years of life ruminating whether all the highs and lows really made you feel complete and ready for death.
We all have fears:
Fear of being wrong or lazy.
Fear of being unloved or unwanted.
Fear of being worthless or disrespected.
Fear of meaninglessness.
Fear of not knowing or understanding the world around me.
Fear of chaos or lack of security.
Fear of deprivation.
Fear of being controlled.
Fear of being confronted.
Why can’t we laugh at fear?
Insert your fear, and that is what drives your life. For me, I fear chaos and lack of security. I have to force myself to stop organizing like a maniac because that generally makes me feel more safe. John Hugh fears deprivation, so he is constantly choosing not to feel FOMO (fear of missing out) and walk in contentment.
My fear is what I want a guarantee for. I never want to feel that feeling of chaos. It’s normally so uncomfortable that I will find any escape from that fear, even if I become a workaholic, let healthy habits slide, and push my body to the limit. For you, it might be feeling worthless, feeling unloved, feeling misunderstood. Name your fear, and we will run from it, dissociate from it, numb it, perform to seemingly escape it, control it so we don’t feel controlled by it.
Why can’t we just get a guarantee it’s all going to be ok in this life? Why can’t we laugh at our fears and go about our day?
Nothing is as simple as it seems. Every day I wake up in France, and my fear hits me in the face. Didn’t I feel the same way in the United States? Yes and no. In the United States, I had comfort, predictability, convenience – things I could control to keep my fear at bay.
When I can’t stop lying to myself
In France, I can’t control much of my surroundings as a foreigner, and so, I can’t lie to myself that I don’t feel fear. It’s really the hardest thing to admit. Naked fear staring you in the face is incredibly uncomfortable. Why not scroll Instagram or grab an ice cream cone from the freezer for some easy comfort and avoidance?
As a Christian, I wonder why my life is filled with fear. Fear is necessary to incite us to leave unsafe situations, but I am talking about a shadow fear that you feel has trolled you all your life.
Last night, I told my teenager a key to life is to know when you are lying to yourself and when to ask for help. After talking to him, I thought to myself that must be what God wants from us every single day – even as adults.
How often do we lie to ourselves – “I am unloved”; “Nothing ever good is going to happen to me”‘; “I can escape this problem by just avoiding it”; “I have to prove myself to feel valuable”. And how often do we not ask for help at that very moment that thought crosses our minds(2 Corinthians 10:5)? And then, how often do we feel cheated when the guarantee we have been hoping for – a peaceful day, a pay raise, a content child, friends showing up in hard times – doesn’t transpire or doesn’t deliver the happiness we thought it would?
The silliness of it all
Why is nothing in life is guaranteed? The “Christianese” answer (jargon of Christian church culture) is that God wants you to depend on Him (Psalm 46:1-3). A very broad and sometimes hallow answer, but not so hallow if you realize our fears drive us to think damning and often false thoughts. Do I want a life guaranteed on my desires when I know how much I lie to myself? Statements I have said in the past include: “if I marry this person, if we buy this dream house, if I can just have a peaceful day without any interruptions, if I can just finish my to-do list, I will be happy.”
It sounds silly, but we really do this to ourselves every single day. We seek guarantees of happiness, conditional statements we subconsciously think in our head, that never, ever work out as smoothly as we imagined.
I am not sure where I heard this quote, but “courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the resolve to continue even with fear“. I have learned that courage teaches you something new. Courage puts you smack in the middle of your fear – no way out except in the depths and mess of it.
When no guarantee brings unexpected courage
The past 10 days, John Hugh has been in the United States, and I’ve been sitting alone with many fears of unanswered guarantees. One example of many uncertainties we are facing: we may have to move schools for two of our kids. We are still waiting on placements, and some options being presented to us will force hard choices. My kids aren’t sure if they are ready to make new friends all over again, so it doesn’t look too promising for happiness.
I can’t shake fear I feel pulsing through my body. I am deliberately and painstakingly choosing not numb the fear with Instagram and ice cream. I am sitting with the fear, feeling it, and being very mindful to steer clear of my usual avoidance strategies – stress eating and being a compulsive news junkie top the list.
So what have I done instead? Every single day, to fight the procrastination and self-pity lurking around the corner, I have specifically asked God for courage to do something difficult, something uncomfortable, because since I am already feeling fear, why not just keep moving in it?
That’s the funny thing about fear. You discover another side of yourself that even surprises you. Like when you go to the skatepark with your kids and start pushing on a skateboard like an absolute beginner and without a care in the world that there isn’t 1 parent, let alone one person over 20, on wheels at the park. Like when you march to the local French library and decide it doesn’t matter if you fumble in French asking to get a reading card and plan to only check out kindergarten level books because you can’t miss the treasure trove of free French books at your doorstep. Or when you show up in workout gear at school pick-up (a big faux pas in France, and I did get a double take by my son’s teacher) because it’s so important to move my body or else I will eat 5 gallons of ice cream due to stress, and that day, I could only exercise right before school pick up.
When the uncomfortable becomes the invitation
These may seem like small feats, but when I am struggling daily with big fears, the tendency is to stop doing everything and just worry. And worry with all your bad habits! It’s generally not the case that you go and try brand new things.
I have found my fear drives me to be very present. To be present with the reality that my life is short and I can’t predict anything. To be face to face with how the guarantees I seek can be as easily taken from me as they are given to me. To be present with a God who felt fear Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane and walked with courage regardless (Luke 22:42-22) It’s uncomfortable to feel fear, but it’s exhilarating in how it pushes me out of complacency, comfort, or worry into unpredictably satisfying places.
As a mother to 3 boys, I want to model what I preach (in their eyes “nag”) them about every day. There is no better place to start than to discard the dreamt up “guarantees of life” as our bedrock and start walking with courage instead.
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