Of my 19 years in life, 11 of them have been spent weaving through the ins and outs of anxiety, like a thread embroidering an intricate pattern on a piece of soft, white fabric.
Some days are harder than others. Some days, I wake up and I swear it's like I can feel the tension pressing down on me and I know it's going to be an angst-filled day. Rarely do I speak of it to other people--and if you know me, you know I normally wear my heart on my sleeve. I withhold these emotions as a self-preservation technique, afraid that my true fears and worries will seem absurd to the outside world.
Some days, it creeps up on me slowly like molasses dripping down a tree. When it comes, it's sticky and I have to clean it up fast before it hardens over my conscience.
Most days, though, it's imperceptible. The angst I feel is not crippling; it is more of an inconvenience, an enemy disguised as a friend that I have to shove to the back of my head a lot of times. An enemy who asks me hard-hitting questions that always, always begin with "What if."
Of these 11 years, I've known Jesus in His fullness for about 6 of them. More recently, my days often revolve around the mindset of "He will" rather than the "What if," which is a sweet change of pace. However, coming to this conclusion took a few things: my mom and the hopefulness of one small, flickering light.
In one of my fear-filled moments, my mom looked me square in the eyes and said: "Eva, you can't think with a floodlight." What? "You're walking in the dark." Okay? "Your only source of light is a tiny lamp, alighting your next step. You can't see more than just that one step ahead of you." Yes. And that's what scares me. "But you're thinking with a floodlight. You want to take a giant spotlight and shine it on not just the next step, but the rest of the walk." Exactly! Wouldn't that be so much easier? "That's not how we're called to walk. We have to take it one step at a time, following the light that the lantern emits, faithfully abiding and knowing that each step is directed by God." Oh.
That stuck with me for a long time. Every time I'd encounter a new situation that scared me, I'd tell myself "You're walking with a lantern." And it helped. The less I envisioned the "what ifs" of the future, the more I found myself walking in full confidence. The second I actively stopped trying to gaze in the distance, the glare of the floodlight hurting my eyes, I'd remember. I'd recognize what I was doing, call it out as unhealthy, and tell myself: "Walk with the lamp at your feet. Nothing else."
A few months down the road: Finals week hits. I'm days away from leaving my sweet school, my heart aching because I simply can't find it in me to say goodbye. I'm scared to leave the comfort of my sweet campus and my dear friends and merge into a new season of unfamiliarity in the coming summer. Emotionally, I'm a wreck, but physically I'm hiding it (kinda) well.
On one of those days where I could've spent my morning studying, I sat down next to my sweet friend Kate Harris with every intention of reading my CP textbook and having the material memorized for my final later that day. No such thing happened.
A lot of my Samford friends have a connection with this camp in Northern California called JH Ranch, a place I've never been but have heard enough glowing reviews to know that it's a place that changes lives.
Kate began to explain to me how, when she went last summer, she had two options: either biking 109 miles to the coast of California with a group, or hiking to the summit of Mount Shasta-- a mountain that is about 14,179 feet above sea level-- with a group. Kate chose to hike Shasta, an option that initially sounded much more feasible to me. Not sure what I was thinking.
Here's the process: you get up insanely early and spend the entire day hiking, slowly going uphill. "You're getting higher the whole time, but it doesn't always feel like you are," Kate said. Not to get all Miley Cyrus on y'all, but isn't that life itself? A slow, continuous climb? It doesn't always feel like we're going somewhere, but we always are.
After that full day of hiking, you set up camp at a place called Lake Helen (disclaimer: there is no lake at this Helen) at 7:30 pm. The idea is, you fall asleep at 7:30 p.m. and wake up at 1:30 a.m., at which point you get up in the pitch black darkness and keep walking the steep slope. The hikers can't try to go uphill first thing in the morning, otherwise it will be too warm and the icy snowcaps will melt--making them way more susceptible to injury while hiking.
Then Kate said these words that breathed oxygen into my chest and life into my heart and put a real-life scenario to that hypothetical metaphor I'd clung onto for months.
"Walking through the middle of the night was the hardest part because the only source of light that we had was our headlamps. They emitted such a faint light, but it was just enough to glimpse the step ahead of us. Honestly, though, it was better that way because if we had enough light to see all that was ahead of us, it would've looked so much scarier."
Instantly, my brain flashed to the words "Walk with the lantern at your feet." Oh my gosh. All this time, I had always known I was walking with just a small source of light but I never questioned why. I had just accepted it. I took my steps and prayed to God that He would make the next one clear. It became manageable for me to take life that way, one step at a time.
But the reason why we walk with such a low-lit lantern is because all that is ahead would look so overwhelming if we, with our human heart and flesh, could see it. If we took out our giant floodlights and shone them on the future, we would be terrified. We'd see all that has yet to come and we would be crippled with angst and fear at the knowledge of having to live out these realities.
Thank you Jesus that we don't get to know. Thank you, Jesus, that all we can see is all we need to see. Today, I'm thankful that the only scary thing about grace is how it's all too good to be true. I'm thankful for Kate Harris and mornings spent not studying and mornings where I get to have real conversations about the Holy Spirit's tangibility in real-life scenarios like hiking Mount Shasta.
Take this into your days, sweet friends: walk with a lantern at your feet. It may be low-lit, but it's just enough light to illuminate the blessing that is God's grace.
PS: If you want to see a real cool video about JH Ranch and hiking Mt. Shasta, I linked it here!