I COULDN’T GET ON THE PLANE

This is one of my favorite weeks of the year. For the past several years during this week I travel to Atlanta for an amazing conference. As a children’s pastor it was the Orange Conference. Conveniently, as I changed roles to that of a senior pastor/church planter, the people that put on the Orange Conference started the ReThink Leadership Conference. It happens the same week and they even share some of the sessions. In doing this, they took something that I already loved and made it EVEN BETTER.

It was going to be great… until it wasn’t.

For most of my trips to Atlanta I have driven. It’s only about 7 hours or so from my home in Central Florida to the ATL. Besides if flew I would have to rent a car anyway. By time you add all that up, it’s just cheaper to drive. The plan this year was the same. Then a coworker told me about the great deals a certain airline was offering. That night I booked my flight. I was already excited to be doing to the conference, but now I was even more excited to be flying for the first time in several years.

It was going to be great… until it wasn’t.

As the day approached I became more and more excited. This was the first time I had flown since starting my struggles with anxiety. When that battle started the thought of flying was completely off limits. But, this time I was excited. Even as the days ticked by I was still excited. When I booked, I was good. When I talked with my roommate about it, I was good. Whenever I thought about it, I was good.

It was going to be great… until it wasn’t.

That changed the afternoon before my trip. I was doing good and was still excited. As I followed the many social media posts from people heading to the conference and arriving in Atlanta, I become more and more excited. Then someone posted a picture of the sky through the plane window. Just like that the anxiety that I had avoided all that time came rushing in. It nearly crushed me.

It was going to be great… until it wasn’t.

I can see myself sitting there on the love seat next to my wife. I’m certain she had no idea, but I was suddenly freaking out on the inside… and it didn’t end there. Throughout the rest of that evening, off and on I would feel anxious, then I would be ok. As I went to bed the anxiety built. For an hour or more I lay there thinking of the plane, as my anxiety grew.

It was supposed to be great… but now it wasn’t.

I prayed. I took deep breaths. I told myself that God was sending me to this conference and He would keep me safe. I thought back to how excited I was when I booked the flight. I thought back to previous flights that I had actually enjoyed. An hour passed, and even with all this going on, my anxiety grew.

It was supposed to be great…. but now it wasn’t.

After an hour of this I got out of bed and started to pace. My family was asleep.My wonderful wife, such a great source of strength for me, had no idea I was suffering so. I began to think back to the time I thought I was having a nervous breakdown. In this moment I was beginning to feel that same way. I could feel myself escalating towards that. I simply couldn’t allow myself to go there.

It was supposed to be great… but now it wasn’t.

I kept seeing myself strapped into the seat on the plane, unable to get up, unable to move around, and worse of all… unable to leave.

I felt so STUPID.

This ticket was paid for.

What were people going to think.

What was my wife going to think.

What was my friend and roommate going to think.

It was supposed to be great… but now it wasn’t.

I couldn’t get on the plane.

After all this, that was the bottom line. I COULDN’T GET ON THE PLANE.

Finally, I woke my wife. Times like this she is so much stronger than me. She would probably deny it, but it’s true. She wrapped her arms around me and I nearly lost control. How I wanted to just cry.

I felt so STUPID.

What was my wife thinking about me?

What were other people going to think.

It was supposed to be great… but now it wasn’t.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter what people might think. I COULDN’T GET ON THE PLANE. So I decided to drive. Yup. By this time it’s after 10:00 at night. I’ve been up since 5:00 that morning and I’m going to drive to Atlanta, by myself. My wife cried, afraid for my safety. I needed to go to this conference, but I COULDN’T GET ON THE PLANE.

It was supposed to be great… and I think it’s going to be.

As I type this I sit at a table outside the conference site. I’m enjoying some great and FREE coffee. I made it to Atlanta safely. I arrived around 6:00 this morning. Took a quick nap and a shower and got to the conference site a little after 8:00. Guess what:

It was supposed to be great… so far it has been.

Year after year God has spoken to me at this conference. I can’t wait to see what He has to say to me this year. I never would have thought that I would have started by week of blogging from the conference with a post like this, but here it is.

Stay tuned as I share my thoughts the great things that I’m trusting God to speak to me this week.

 

This post is one part of an ongoing conversation about my battle with anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety, would like to better understand a loved one who does, or just want to travel this journey with me click on the ANXIETY category to see a full list of all those posts.

Matt Norman

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Say Something !!! – RIP Robin Williams

Yesterday actor Robin Williams was found dead from apparent suicide. I simply can’t stop thinking about it. Robin Williams is one of my favorite actors, but that’s not why I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s the fact that he represents so many others out there. He dedicated his life to making others laugh while on the inside he had such pain and sorrow. He’s not alone…

I remember many years ago I took care of a teenage girl who had taken a bunch of pills in an apparent suicide attempt. I can still see her in my mind as we tied her to the stretcher, as we stuck needles in her arms, as we placed her on a heart monitor. I remember her face as we pushed a large tube down her throat into her stomach so we could pump her stomach. I’ve taken care of many such patients, but I remember this one; not so much because of what happened that night, but because of something that happened a few years later. You see throughout the torturous treatment that was required to ensure her safety and wellbeing I TALKED TO HER. Not like a stupid kid who had done something really stupid, but as a human being who was hurting. At the end of it all I took time to talk to her. I saw value in her that she could not see in her self.

As I said it wasn’t because of that night that I remember her. You see a few years later I saw her again in that same ER. This time she wasn’t tied to a stretcher with tube and wires coming from her body. This time she wasn’t a kid suffering the consequences of her bad decisions. This time she was a young woman, a wife and a mother. This time I saw her with her husband and their child. I remembered her as soon as I saw her, but I wasn’t sure if the might remember me. Turns out she did remember me and she remembered that night. She told me that I had not only saved her life that night, but I had changed it.

I share this story not to point to myself. God placed me there, the Holy Spirit gave me the compassion to see her as more than just the result of her bad decisions, and gave me the words to say. The glory goes to God. God saved that young woman, but he used me as the vessel for that work. He can do that only if we let him.

I am reminded of Matthew 9:36, “When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them…” You see, all those around Jesus could not have helped but recognize that there was a crowd there, but how many of them actually SAW the crowd. How many of them recognized that there were PEOPLE there. If the disciples had seen the crowd as Jesus saw them, He would not have needed to tell them about the abundant harvest. We are often no different than the disciples. All around us there are people hurting, yet we never bother to see them. Even worse, on the rare occasions that we do see them we don’t bother to do anything about it.

To those that might be hurting: Some may think i am crazy for what I’m about to do, but if you have pain that you have never told anyone about. If you are or have had thoughts of taking your own life. Please talk to someone about it. If you don’t feel you have anyone to talk to, talk to me. You can email me at mnormancarguy@gmail.com or you can text or call me at 863-412-8526.

For the people of God: Open your eyes. See the crowds around you. Look people in the eyes, it is there that you will often see their pain even when the rest of their face tries to hide it. Ask God to help you see those that are hurting, then do something about it. Talk with them. Let them know that you see the value in them, even if they don’t. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you, then take some action. You never know the impact that you might have. I, for one, never want to read a story like Robin Williams’ and realize that I may have had a chance to minister to that person and find myself wondering what might have been different I had just talked to them.

Matt Norman

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Book Review: The Anxious Christian

The Anxious Christian coverAs many of you know I have been struggling with anxiety lately. I friend of mine recommended a book to me, The Anxious Christian by Rhett Smith. In this book Rhett shares how the death of his mother and other’s close to him led to a life filled with anxiety. He shares about this anxiety led to stuttering problem. From here it was a cycle of anxiety that caused him to stutter and stuttering that caused more anxiety. More importantly, he shares how God helped him to deal with his anxiety and brought him through the worst of it. Along the way Rhett shares how he thinks God wants to help you with your anxiety and what you can do to get through it.

If you have never struggled with anxiety or fear, then this post and this book may not be for you. However, if you are a ministry leader, then you WILL deal with people who do struggle with anxiety or fear. Whether you are a ministry leader or you struggle with anxiety, I would recommend that you get and read this book.

For anyone who struggles with anxiety, this is a great book. It’s refreshing to hear another Christian talk about his own struggle with anxiety. This is oftentimes a bad word, or at least a taboo subject within the church. For this reason to read a fellow Christian so openly share his struggle with anxiety is very encouraging. It’s also great to see that he has been able to move forward. In the midst of our anxiety and fear it can be difficult to believe that it is possible to move forward. He did, and so can you.

For men who struggle with anxiety, this is a great book. It’s hard for ANYONE to talk about their fears, but it’s even harder for men. I mean we’re men after all. FEARLESS…STRONG…we are CONQUERERS. Yeah RIGHT. We are human, just like anyone else. However, there is this feeling that other men will think less of us if we show fear. Will people still follow me if I am honest about my fears? How can we lead our families if we have fear or anxiety. If I talk to my wife about my fears will she think less of me? If I share my fears with my wife, will she have more fear and anxiety because of it? All of these questions have come to my mind at one time or another. None of them are helpful. Rhett points out some things that are helpful. If you are man who struggles with anxiety or fear, you are not alone and this book can help.

For ministry leaders, this is a great book. If you are a ministry leader and struggle with fear and anxiety, then this book can help you to work through your own fears. If you do not struggle, then I promise that you will minister to people who do. You may not even know it, but I would bet that there are people serving or being served within your ministry that are struggling with this issue right now. Read this book, then share it. I would encourage you to buy a copy for yourself and to keep a copy on your bookshelf to loan or give away. After you have read the book pray, and look for the people around you that might be struggling with fear and anxiety and might be covering it up. They need to know that it is ok and they can benefit from your help and from this book. They will be stronger because of it. You and your ministry will be stronger because of it.

Matt Norman

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Does Anxiety Make Me a Bad Leader?

You may have noticed that I am writing a lot about anxiety this week. If your wondering why you can check out Monday’s post, HERE for the story.

There are certain messages that we, as leaders, tell ourselves. These vary from admonitions to never show weakness to things like, “never let them see you sweat.” We can even go so far as to convince ourselves that we can not be a leader if we experience fear or anxiety. If you are anything like me, then your day is filled with a constant stream of internal messages that the people around us have no idea are even happening.

What happens when the leader has anxiety? With this constant stream of messages it can be easy for us to come to believe that anxiety and leadership are exclusive. How can we lead e people if we are afraid or anxious? As an ER nurse anxiety was sort of like a phantom. It was something that people often talked about and we treated people for it in the ER on a regular basis, but for people who have never experienced it, it didn’t seem real. There was often a desire to tell the person to “just get over it.” For leaders this type of dialogue goes on inside of us. When we feel anxious we often tell ourselves to “just get over it.” We may tell ourselves that we simply don’t have time for that today or that we are too strong for that. These attitudes may get us through a moment, but I don’t believe they will get us through the long term battle with anxiety.

Gideon was anxious. In the book of Judges we learn about a man named Gideon. Gideon grew up in a time when the Israelites were under great oppression. So much so that they found themselves hiding from their oppressors. This is where Gideon was when God called him. Gideon went on to free the Israelites, defeating their enemy with a  force of 300 men. This may be what most of us know Gideon for, but before that Gideon experience fear.

Why are these things happening? In Judges chapter 6 we read where the angel of the Lord showed up to Gideon with the greeting, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon responded with “…if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” Gideon hear what the angel said, but wasn’t convinced. The angel later tells Gideon to, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel.” Gideon responded, “…how can I saw Israel? My clan is the weakest in Menasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Do these sound like the words of a man who would lead 300 soldiers into victory over an overwhelming enemy? No, these sounds like the words of someone who is scared. Someone who has anxiety.

Gideon later came to believe that this messenger was indeed telling the truth and that he could do what God was calling him to do. We later read that after , “the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon” he asked for a sign from God to PROVE that God instructions were true. Gideon did this not once, but TWICE. This happened after the Holy Spirit had come on Gideon. Even with the help of the Holy Spirit Gideon still have anxiety.

How can I lead with anxiety? Yesterday I talked about how anxiety can lead us to activity or can scare us into inactivity. This is true for each of us as individuals, but it is also true for us as leaders. Anxiety is real and it happens to all kinds of people, even leaders. The difference is what we do with it after it comes. Does your anxiety push you to further action or does it cause you to stop moving? Does your anxiety push you to step out into uncharted regions or does it cause you to chose a path that is safer and more comfortable? Does your anxiety push you to step out in faith, trusting in what God is calling you to, or does it cause you to try to run or hide from God? This is where the rubber hits they road, as they say. This is where true leadership happens. When anxiety hits leaders move forward, followers stop and wait for the danger to pass.

Which one are you?

Will you stop and wait, or will you MOVE?

Matt Norman

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Does Anxiety Make Me a Bad Christian?

Anxiety is practically a bad word in church. Many equate anxiety with a lack of faith. After all if we REALLY trust God, what do we have to be afraid of? On the surface this rings as truth. However, I don’t think that it is that easy. I’m not convinced that anxiety is evidence of a lack of faith.

“Be angry, and sin not.” Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” In this verse God makes a distinction between the feeling of anger and the sin that it can produce. You may be wondering what this has to do with anxiety. After all, this post is bout anxiety. Well, I present this verse to say that there is a difference between what we FEEL and what we DO. If we can FEEL angry and not sin, than I say it is possible to FEEL anxious and not sin. This does, unfortunately, mean that our anxiety can lead us to sin.

Moses was anxious. Imagine what it must have been like. From the midst of a burning bush comes the very voice of God. Moses stood there, hearing and knowing the voice of God. He watched as a bush burned, but was not consumed. Moses KNEW that he was talking to God and could hear him, audibly, reply. In spite of all of this Moses had fear. In his fear Moses tried to convince God that he was the wrong guy for the job. Moses was so afraid of what God was calling him to that he proceeded to ARGUE WITH GOD!! I mean who does that. Oh, wait… In our own anxiety it can be easy to find ourselves trying to convince God that we are not the right person for whatever he has or is calling us to.We may even go so far as to argue with God or attempt to run from God because of our fears and anxiety.

Despite fear Moses went. This is where the argument that anxiety and faith can not coexist begins to fall apart. Few would try to say that Moses was without faith. Yet we just looked at the fact that he also had fear. We know that Moses had faith because he did what God was calling him to. He went to Pharaoh and demanded that the Israelites be released. Moses performed one earth shattering miracle after another and then led God’s people out of Egypt. Just when he thought he was done, he found himself with the Egyptian army behind him and the Red Sea in front of him. So, he moved the Red Sea out of the way. Clearly Moses had faith.

Can faith and anxiety live in the same person? I think that Moses paints a clear picture of how a person can have both anxiety and faith and the wonderful things that God can do with it. I remember when I was in nursing school learning about two different types of stress. One was good and the other was bad. The good kind is that which spurs you into action. A man spends a night in the hospital after experiencing some chest pain. He then starts a journey that leads to him becoming healthier than he ever has been. A mother looses a child in a tragic accident and starts a campaign to ensure that no other mother has to experience her pain. An ER nurse looses a patient to a condition that she is not familiar with and sets out to learn everything she can about it and then teaches the rest of the ER staff. These are all examples of GOOD stress.

Bad stress is that which leads you to inactivity. Stressors that cause us to become paralyzed with fear. A woman finally leaves her husband after years of abuse, and vows never to allow herself to get close to another man. A father looses a child in a car accident and is unable to leave the house without debilitating fear. A man choses never to marry because half of marriages end in divorce. These are examples of bad stress.

Can anxiety be good? I think that much like I learned about stress in nursing school, anxiety can be either good or bad. Just like with the examples of good and bad stress above, the difference between good or bad anxiety is not the cause, or the symptoms. Rather it is what comes next. What do we do with our anxiety? does your anxiety push you into action, or does it paralyze you with fear? Moses experienced an anxiety that pushed him into action. Ultimately  this is a choice. I’m not saying that it is an easy one, or that it is an easy thing to do. BUT, in the midst of your anxiety, what do you do? Do you reach out to people that can help? Do you reach out to God? Do you step out trusting God, even though you are afraid?

For most of us anxiety and fear will come. When it does, take a moment to really consider what comes next. Make the choice to turn this anxiety into a good thing. Let the anxiety push you into action.

Matt Norman

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