I was a maternal newborn nurse for over ten years. I became certified with the National Certification Corporation as a Certified Maternal Newborn Registered Nurse. This means I was an expert in normal and abnormal physiological and psychological responses in both the postpartum woman who just delivered a baby and the newborn that was just born up until 28 days of life. There are only two fears that we are born with: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. This is demonstrated in a newborn when there is a loud noise or sudden change in position. One of the physiological findings a nurse wants to observe in the newborn is the moro, or startle reflex, which is a strong indicator that the neurological system is intact. During a loud noise or abrupt position change (like falling), the newborn has an involuntary response to the external stimuli as evidenced by 3 things: 1) spreading the arms out, 2) unspreading the arms, and 3) crying. This reflex is present up until 3-4 months of age. There is a reason for that, which is deeply ingrained into our human DNA so the fight-or-flight response becomes activated and our bodies can propel into action to avoid danger.
So why are so many people afraid of things? The fear of speaking in front of people (which is the highest ranking among all people)? The fear of failing? The fear of being your real self? The fear of speaking your truth (from as minor as letting a man know it’s not okay to cat-call at you to as extensive as not speaking up on behalf of social injustices to as personal as not telling anyone that you are actually attracted to the same sex)?
Regardless of your religious convictions, there is some real truth and insight to be learned from the Bible on the topic. Do you want to know the most used directive, or instruction, given by God in the Bible? To not fear. It’s said over and over and over and over again from the Old Testament (the equivalent of the Jewish Tanakh) to the new Testament (with Jesus). It’s mentioned over 350 times from cover to cover! Want to know what’s even more interesting? It’s almost always mentioned at a time immediately before God is telling someone to do something scary and outside their comfort zone. How ironic! The most used ordinance, in a way, contradicts itself. Or does it? Why is the mandate, that’s given more frequently than any other mandate, given at a time where it would be easier, in the flesh / your body, to NOT follow the instruction so as to avoid danger or harm.
I think back on my life and all the times I’ve ever been afraid of doing something. This includes learning to dive in the pool. Growing up, I was always just too afraid to even try it, much less actually do it. Anna had a pool at her mother’s house. We both love to swim. One afternoon at the pool in my early 20’s, I finally confessed to Anna that I always wanted to learn how to dive but was too afraid to learn. Being the extremely over-zealous, confident Leo, super extrovert, and annointed prophet that Anna is – she immediately told me it was no big deal. To just get up there on the side of the pool and she would walk me through it. And she did. “Bend your knees… put your hands together … now lean over … and just fall in … that’s it … all you have to do is just fall in…” So I did: I bent my knees, put my hands together, leaned over, and fell (or rather dove) in. Exhilarating! Something I always wanted to know how to do – I could actually do now! Next step – diving off the diving board. Anna implemented the same laid-back coaching style, and like on the side of the pool – I followed instruction and just “fell,” or rather dove, in.
I used to be terrified of speaking in front of anyone, much less a large crowd. So how did I become the Class President of all four years in high school delivering speeches to 100s of teenagers in the auditorium for elections, gym for pep rallies, and football field for homecoming and then graduation as Valedictorian. Not only that, I went on to be a Nurse Educator, providing instruction, coaching, and guidance across various groups of people that ranged from one-on-one’s mentoring new nurses to small informal inservices on the units to my colleagues to standing in front of classrooms and facilitating 6-hour classes to giving clinical presentations to a huge auditorium of colleagues and high-ranking hospital executives. As a Project Manager, I had to mobilize cross-functional teams in a large matrix-environment by being an influential leader, tapping into what inspires each and every person (which took a LOT of speaking in front of people). How? Because I purposed in my heart to not let my natural shy, sensitive, introverted self be held back by some fear that I wasn’t even born with!! And of course, I practiced, practiced, practiced, tried it, failed sometimes, succeeded some times, practiced more, but most importantly I prayed that I would be able to do it AND I declared that I was an expert public speaker. There is death and life in the power of the tongue. And I chose life. Even as a 14-year old, I recognized the importance of this and spoke, “I love speaking in front of large groups of people. Yeah, I’m shy. But I can do it. I can get up on that stage and give a speech!”
This even goes all the way to me deciding as a 19-year-old Southern girl the first day going back to the dorms my sophomore year of college to Georgia Baptist College of Nursing that my life could never be the same again. I had just spent three months falling in love with my Anna and there was no going back. Whatever thoughts, beliefs, narratives myself, and others, had about two girls being together – didn’t even matter. It couldn’t! Because there was literally no going back. Once you experience true, complete, whole, authentic, spirit and soul level love; you will NEVER go back to trying to conform or fit into the world’s idea of what they think YOU should be doing with your life!
However, that day in late August of 2008 didn’t start with me just absolutely 100% KNOWING that my life would never be the same again and that I, Katie Shirley – the daughter of two Pentecostal pastors, raised in the South, a “good Christian girl;” was going to spend the rest of her life in a relationship with a woman. No, not at all. In fact, it was the complete opposite. Although I spent every waking, and non-waking, moment for the last 100 days with Anna: laughing, kissing, going to church together, meeting up the very minute we each got off work, talking about every and any thing, sharing our similar stories of both being raised by mother and father Pentecostal pastors, witnessing the break-up of our churches when her dad and my mom each had affairs, making an intense spiritual connection as we talked about how we always felt like we never fit in with the world, and exploring every area of each other’s bodies, minds, and souls; I decided I could overcome that!
I purposed in my heart, that August morning in 2000, that I was going to leave that summer behind me as I went back to start my second year of college. I didn’t tell Anna this, of course. But I did tell myself. I spent all day unpacking and organizing my new dorm room, socializing and catching up with friends I had made the previous year, filling my entire day trying to fill the agonizing void I felt each and every second not being with Anna. It took up until that evening for me to finally come to terms with my new reality: that life post-Anna would never be the same as life pre-Anna was; nor did I want it to be. As I unpacked and organized and cleaned that day – I kept telling myself, “Oh; you’re just having to get used to it. Not being with Anna. No worries. It’s gonna be just like it was last year when you first came to college – new, exciting, fun, making lots of new friends.” But all day, it was becoming more and more apparent that was a complete and utter lie.
Evening came, and although I knew my new truth; I still was in denial. When Anna and I talked on the phone; I quickly got off letting her know I still had to clean the bathroom and attend a hall meeting being led by the RA. I was just so busy, busy, busy. That night was one of the loneliest nights of my entire life: the night I chose not to be with Anna when I could have been. After that and into the following morning, I couldn’t stand it any more. It didn’t matter how fearful I was of being with a woman. I had to walk over that fear and move into faith. Fear was no longer an option. The only choice was faith. The only choice was Anna.
I paged Anna. She didn’t call me back. I panicked. Anna always called me back as soon as I paged her with my signature 27 at the end of the telephone number. But nothing. She didn’t call me back. When I think back on that day – for the life of me; I can’t remember how I eventually got her on the phone. But, got her on the phone, I did! The reason she hadn’t called me back was because the full page didn’t go through. She had only received a portion of the call-back phone number to my dorm room (remember, this was pre-text, pre-cell phones on the-daily; this was still pager-time).
What I do distinctively remember, however, is that once I got Anna on the phone – I was determined to never spend one minute away from her for the rest of my life. I proceeded to tell her my emotional, heart-wrenching journey from the previous 30 hours. How I really thought I could just go back to college and make it be like it was before we got together. How no matter how much I organized, cleaned, or socialized – there was such an immense emptiness that I could not endure. And how we always had to be together forever .. no matter what. The next day, she came to the dorms and spent the night with me. We have spent every day and night together since.
Choose faith (also known as love) over fear. No matter what the cost.
Why was it that in the Bible, every time God told someone to not be afraid – it was right before he asked them to do something extraordinary and fearful? He told us to not be afraid. By saying this, He was also telling us to have faith. Because faith is the opposite of fear. Faith means to have complete confidence or trust in someone or something. Fear is explained as an unpleasant emotion caused by a belief that something or someone is dangerous and likely to cause threat or pain. God is love. Which sounds more like love to you? Faith or fear.
I think the reason God (Spirit, The Universe, God, Jesus, Higher Power, Higher Self) tells people to not fear, aka chose faith, is because He wants us to experience love. He is love. God is the one that made us. He is the one that put the desires, unique and specific to each one of us, in our hearts. He did! He even knows the numbers of hairs on our head. He said the plans He has for us is to prosper and be in health, even as our soul prospers. Think about that – God wants our souls to prosper! What an amazing thing to want for us. He also said when we delight ourselves in Him (Spirit, The Universe, God, Jesus, Higher Power, Higher Self), He will give us the very desires of our heart (remember – the ones HE put there).
God wants us to be living life to its fullest, experiencing true love. I’m not the one that declared it. He is! I’m so thankful that all those years ago, I followed God. I followed God’s instruction – to not fear, but rather have faith. Because of my obedience to that command from my Spirit, I live a life of love. Just like I learned to dive in the pool by listening and adhering to the instruction provided me – I listened and adhered to the instruction from God: I bent my knees, put my hands together, leaned over, and fell (or rather dove) in … but this time it was to life and love.