Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Testimony

My testimony is really an ongoing thing. It began years ago and will continue to develop as I grow older. Up to this point, I have not felt free enough to share it except with a few close friends. I kept thinking that I needed to arrive at some as yet unknown point where I could definitively stand and say it was "all behind me." But recently I have come to realize I should have been able to say that all along. As time moves on my experiences will become richer, deeper, and more sure; the Word of God washing all the residue away. (2) I pray what I have been through, "in at one end and out at the other," will help someone else see just how big, how deep, and how wide the love and power of Christ really is. (1)

When I describe my upbringing, it sounds incredibly mundane. I was raised in a Christian household where we went to church at every opportunity. I attended local schools, got good grades, and graduated from high school with honors. I have never smoked anything or drunk any form of alcohol. In fact, my biggest offense would be a speeding ticket for going 30 in a 15 zone.

My father's parents were farmers who lived practically outside our back door. The only thing between our house and theirs was a short walk down a dirt lane lined with live oaks and rows of corn, tomatoes, and beans. You name it, they could grow it. I was the youngest with a multitude of cousins. We did all the normal southern family things.

My grandfather on the farm
My Grandfather

My mother's parents lived a city over. My grandfather was a church music minister. My grandmother, in my young eyes, was the best person ever. My brother and I were the only grandkids for many years and became a bit spoiled with all the attention. I say all of this simply to point out that even someone raised as I was with all the opportunities I was given, with all of God that was poured into me from the youngest age, and surrounded by family on every side, was not immune to making wrong decisions.

The wrong decisions I made began with my holding deep resentments. I am an introvert, and I have always tried to deal with things that upset me on my own. Even as a child, when I felt wronged, I bottled all the pain up inside and only voiced my feelings to myself. I thus spent years meditating on my anger. I thought I wouldn't hurt anyone so long as I kept it all to myself and didn't act on it. I didn't forgive and I most certainly didn't forget. My anger turned to bitterness and poisoned my soul. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate. violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction." I can express it no better than that.

It all climaxed in 2007 when I began having severe panic attacks. I had 2 or 3 every week. I will not go into a detailed definition of what panic attacks are. But as a brief explanation, they do not begin because you are afraid. The fear comes after the manifestation of the physical symptoms. I could be at a family dinner, visiting a local park, or just going out to supper and thinking no unpleasant thoughts when suddenly I'd begin to shake and tremble. I'd feel like I couldn't breathe; my chest would grow tight, as if all air had been cut off. I'd then become nauseous, dizzy, and so weak I couldn't walk or even stand. They always left me terribly confused and consumed with fear. As the year passed by, I became more and more afraid until I couldn't leave home. I couldn't go to the grocery store. I couldn't go to dinner. I couldn't eat. I was always afraid of what might happen, what scene I might make. "What if I" this. "What if I" that. I descended into a spiral of darkness, that eventually I couldn't see my way out of.

Panic attacks are greatly misunderstood by those who haven't had one. They thus become a "secret" problem that no one wants to admit they've suffered with. Outside of God, there is no hope in the medical world for a cure. I reached the point that year where I wanted a cure. I no longer wanted to survive the next attack, or to cover up the symptoms. I wanted to be free. I struggled for months without knowing what a panic attack was, before I finally did what I should have done from the start. I prayed. I cried out to God, who I still knew in my heart was bigger than "all of this", to show me the way out.

Now, I had to change a lot of things in my life to receive my healing, but it was the first two that I'd put down as the biggest steps. First, I had to admit I had a problem. I'd say this was THE hardest thing I've ever done. I had already spent a great portion of my life trying to cover all my problems. I once heard a preacher say, "If you need help, you need help." At this point, I knew I needed help. I came to realize that this was not something I could recover from in secret. And the freedom that came into my life from taking this first step was overwhelming. Often, it is the things we have refused to do that will bring the biggest salvation. I finally knew just how much people loved me, how much God loved me. The Bible says, "Faith...worketh by love." (5) I could have no faith, no belief for my total restoration, outside of first knowing how much I was loved. I didn't have to suffer alone. There were people who loved me enough to support me in my time of weakness. Love was a crack of light pushing into immense darkness.

The second step came when I at last saw the self-destruction of my years of anger. Pointedly, the Lord said to me, "Before you can receiving healing, you have to ask for forgiveness." I had hit rock bottom, and I was desperate. I wanted to be "normal" again. I wanted to stop planning each day around how afraid I might be. That was what I was doing. I'd think over and over again about how to avoid the fear consuming my life. "If I don't go there ever again, or there, or there, then I won't have a panic attack." My list of places to avoid was becoming very long. But I knew I didn't want to live that way, so I obeyed and asked for forgiveness. I forgave others and most of all, I forgave myself. I forgave myself for being weak, for making bad choices, and began to change my thought processes, to learn to love others and to let go when things don't go my way.

This is where my writings on self-control and forgetting come from. I have learned the power of one's thoughts, words, and actions the hard way. I lost control of myself and reaped loss of control. But what took me years to develop, did not correct itself overnight. It has been a slow process, one which I walk every day. "Opportunities to return" (6) come my way, but each time I say, "No." I am never going back there. I am never going back to where I was in 2007. If I have to love the most unlovable person, if I have to speak to large crowds of people, I'm going to do what the Lord said would walk me out of the darkness into His marvelous light. (7)

Healing came through many additional steps, to tell them all would take more pages than this already long blog could contain. It took daily meditation in the scriptures, reading the same verses again and again, daily listening to the same sermons over and over and over. It took the prayer of supportive Bible-believing friends. It took the patience of my spouse, to whom I owe the world. I've had to face my fears and go to those places that I was so afraid of. Often it was terrifying. But I can truthfully say, I am free. I have not had a panic attack since November of 2007. And it is because of nothing I have done to deserve it. When I was at the bottom, the Lord lifted me out.

(1) Romans 8:31-39
(2) Ephesians 5:26

(5) Gal. 5:6
(6) Heb. 11:16
(7) 1 Peter 2:9

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Suzanne
Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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