On Sunday I left for a writers’ retreat. Already anxious about going, about an hour into the drive to Tahoe, I called to see how things were at home. “Joey’s come down with a fever,” said my husband. “But don’t worry. He’s okay.”
Of course, after hanging up the phone, I worried. A 12 year old needs his mom when he’s sick. A couple hours later, I called home again. “Joey and Cruz are both sick now,” but they’ll be fine. Enjoy your writer’s retreat.
Yeah, right. It’s very hard to enjoy anything when my kids are down.
I went to bed that first night praying Jesus would take care of my boys. The next day Joey and Cruz stayed home from school. The sick 12 year old in charge of the sick 6 year old. Alone. In the country. I pondered driving home on Monday. My family is far more important to me than writing. But after praying about what to do, I felt I should stick out the retreat, and just keep checking on the boys.
In the end, my sons recovered. And at this retreat, I met Marilyn. Rarely, have I been around someone with such peace. In a house with nine other women it just so happened Marilyn was my roommate. Of course, I don’t believe things just happen. I know God put Marilyn in my room. The first night, I had a nightmare, and Marilyn hesitated to wake me. “You were calling for help,” Marilyn said. I went and stood by your bedside, but you settled back into sleep, so I left you alone.
The next day we went on our first walk together.
The Tahoe woods are changing with the seasons. Each day at the retreat our instructor, Susanne Lakin, took several breaks to walk in the woods. Marilyn and I walked along with her. It was so good to get outside and breathe fresh air after hours wearing out our brains plotting books inside the warm house.
The quaking aspens are losing their leaves up in Tahoe. A carpet of gold foliage crunched under our boots. The woods are mysterious, hiding bears and mountain lions and secrets. My heart hid a secret too. I was sick with fear. Not just over the boys being ill while I was away, but other things as well. With seven kids and now two grandbabies, there’s always something to fear. I also dread a host of other monsters. Sickness. Failure. Financial difficulties. Random shootings and natural disasters. The wildfires that recently tore through California affected my friends and family. Last year, floods threatened California. We live below the Oroville Dam. It seems like every Monday morning on the news something terrible has happened over the weekend. If your own world isn’t frightening enough, just step out your front door.
I stopped at an aspen tree and studied a carving during one of our hikes. I think the message was initially carved in love, but was so distorted with the tree’s growth, that I couldn’t make out the truth of the author’s original intent. The carving looked kind of scary now.
I’ve been afraid all my life. When I first became a Christain, I took up the mantra, Do it afraid. A priest I admired preached this one day, and it resonated with me. For fifteen years, I’ve done life afraid. Fear does not hold me back, but I’m sick of living with fear. I don’t want to be brave anymore because you can only be brave if first you are afraid. I want to be healed of being afraid.
I stood in front of this rotting log and told myself, No longer will I bow to fear. I will only bow to God. My heavenly Father who loves me.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18.
I don’t think the Lord’s original intent for me is to “do it afraid.” Fear has to do with punishment. I’ve been pondering what this means. I don’t have the answer yet. But every quest starts with a question. Three hundred and sixty-five times in the Bible, the Lord says, “Do not fear.”
That’s like Jesus telling us every day, “don’t be afraid.”
I’ve been afraid to plot a novel. I’d rather just wing it and see what happens. But I learned a great deal about plotting at the retreat. Susanne is a wonderful teacher with so much wisdom to share. I’ve always been a “seat of my pants” writer, which means I just sit down and write and the story comes to me like a movie. I don’t run the projector, I just do my best to write out the scenes that I see. No planning. No plotting. Just writing. I’ve always written this way. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I get lost in the woods of my own imagination.
I’ve been working on my final California Rising novel and recently got to a place where I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I needed to step back from my story and get a little perspective so I signed up for Susanne’s plotting retreat at the last minute.
It wasn’t really the last minute. I’ve been invited to Susanne’s retreats for the past several years. The retreats are often held in Tahoe, and I’ve been wanting to go. I really didn’t think it was possible, but in a matter of days, all the doors opened, and I found myself in the Tahoe woods, contemplating my novel, which is really the story of our heavenly Father’s love.
Funny, how that’s exactly what I need right now. To know the love of my heavenly Father more. As I plotted out the rest of my story, how my characters discover God’s love, I was discovering more of God’s love myself in Tahoe. I kept finding heart-shaped rocks. This is a special thing between God and me. The gift of heart-shaped rocks.
It surprised me that Tahoe has lots of rocks. It’s an extraordinary place. You walk out of the forest, and onto golden sand, and then you reach the lake. An incredibly wide, incredibly deep, incredibly clear blue lake that looks like an ocean.
I stood there staring at the lake, marveling how big it is. For some reason, my fears have felt so big lately. A few weeks ago, I stopped looking at the news because I’ve realized it makes me more anxious. Even Facebook is upsetting.
I will no longer bow to fear, I admonished myself at the retreat. I know there is healing in my heavenly Father’s love. His perfect love casts out fear.
My new friend Marilyn said, “I’m done with fear. For most of my life, I battled fear. And then I went through something really hard. And in the end, I realized my heavenly Father loves me. He is sovereign over every bit of my life. The devil can do nothing unless my Father allows it. God’s grace covers everything. And I haven’t been afraid of the devil or death or what will happen to my children and grandchildren since I realized that,” said Marilyn.
I want the kind of peace Marilyn has found.
“This is what the LORD says: “I will give Jerusalem a river of peace and prosperity. The wealth of the nations will flow to her. Her children will be nursed at her breasts, carried in her arms, and held on her lap” Isaiah 66:12.
I first read this “river of peace” verse in the Bible when I was still nursing my children. Even now there is usually a child on my lap. My six-year-old still likes to sit there. And I’m cradling grandbabies as well these days. This river of peace scripture pierces my heart like an arrow every time. I long for a river of peace that never ends.
Since I got home from the retreat, I’ve been telling myself my heavenly Father loves me. He has complete control over my life, and his grace covers everything. I have nothing to fear. Psalm 34:4 says, “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He delivered me from all my fears.”
If you struggle with fear like I do, I encourage you to pray and read your Bible and get to know the Lord better. Our heavenly Father doesn’t promise us an easy life on earth, but He promises to be with us through it all.
“Do not be afraid or terrified, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” Deuteronomy 31:6.