By Staci Stallings
Fear is one thing. Helpless anxiety is another. Fear brings up your defenses, makes you ready to fight—to take on the aggressor and win. Helpless anxiety, on the other hand, saps every ounce of energy you have because you know that fighting will do no good and nothing you do will make any difference whatsoever anyway. Helpless anxiety wraps around you like a wet blanket. It weighs on you, takes the breath right out of you. It’s a horrible place to be in.
That’s where I was—wrapped in helpless anxiety—as I sat in the darkened church, feeling empty and alone. My husband sat beside me, holding my hand, but that didn’t seem to help. Nor did it change the fact that our baby was six miles away lying in an incubator, fighting for her life. Born three months early, her tiny body was covered in a mass of tubes and wires. Her legs were the size of my husband’s finger, and her tiny little hand couldn’t even get all the way around my finger.
And I was helpless to do anything to make her better.
Sure, the doctors told me I was lucky that I had taken such good care of myself, that because of my good health, she was developed even beyond the 25 weeks she should have been. But I didn’t feel like much of a hero. I felt like I had let down this little one who was counting on me. The should-haves and could-haves ran around in my head constantly bumping into one another and tripping over themselves, fighting to remind me of my guilt. That night, as I listened to what was supposed to be an up-lifting service, I didn’t feel very up-lifted. In fact, I felt more depressed than I ever had in my life.
Then the soloist began a song from my past. I knew the words by heart although I wonder now if I had ever really understood them. I tried to sing, to get the words to come out of my mouth, but my heart just hurt too much. So instead of words, tears came as God whispered to me through that song, “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow Me, and I will give you rest.”
Be not afraid? How could I not be afraid? Afraid was the only thing I could feel. I wanted to DO something. I wanted to make things better. I wanted to go back and a do a hundred-million things differently so that we wouldn’t be standing there praying for my daughter’s survival. And yet, here was God telling me not to be afraid.
For the first time since the whole ordeal had started nearly a month before, I cried. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks. As they sang about standing before the power of Hell and death being at your side, as they sang about knowing God is with you through it all, I really wished I could feel His presence. I needed that. I guess I did feel His presence through the words of that song. A song that someone I will never even know had written down. A song that God spoke through that person to me, intended to give me comfort in my hour of greatest need.
In minutes the song was over, and the life went on. I wiped my face, picked up my courage, and marched forward—sincerely hoping God did indeed have a plan in mind, hoping as well that He would be faithful to His promise that He has not given us "the spirit of fear; but of power and love."
Over the course of the next month, slowly but surely my daughter did gain weight. One agonizing gram at a time. At one point we even threatened to stuff her diaper with quarters (each one gram) so that she could get to the magic number—1812 grams—4 pounds, so we could take her home. Although at the time it seemed like an eternity, in retrospect it doesn't seem like it took all that long. Two months to be exact. A full month less than the doctors had warned it would take. Then one cloudy September day we got to take our perfectly healthy baby home for good.
Less than a year later, I stood with my baby girl in my arms in that same church, and suddenly that familiar music started once again. "Be not afraid… I go before you always…" I looked down at my beautiful girl, and the tears started rolling once more. Hugging my baby to me, I could only sing with my heart because the tears choked out the words.
Even today seven years and a hundred scraped knees later, when those notes play together, I am reminded to the depth of my soul that God is indeed here with me. In my most terrifying moments, He is by my side. More than that, He can see the other side to what I can't, and He knows that in that moment things will be all right. And so, as a wise man once said, "All I have seen teaches me to trust Him for all I have not seen."
Because of one wonderful, talented person whom I'm sure I will never meet, I now understand that we can all "Be not afraid…"
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