At one of the charity auction events for which I had donated a painting, Clark and I won a bid on a trip. Our four children were still young at the time, and time alone with Clark was in short supply. We so looked forward to jumping on a plane and enjoying the crystal-clear waters of Turks and Caicos.
About two weeks before our departure, though, a terrible fear of flying gripped me. What in the world? I thought. I’ve jumped out of planes. What is wrong with me?
I tried reasoning with myself. I talked it out (or attempted to). Of course I prayed. But fear continued to slither in my ears.
I remember breaking down at a swim meet, grabbing my brother-in-law and explaining to him where Clark and I kept our wills. I told him what to do “when we’re gone.” I also wrote my sister a long letter, giving specific instructions for how to raise Blakely, Catherine, Taylor, and Ford. I really, truly believed I might die on the getaway my husband and I had won. I was deathly afraid that I’d board the plane and never return, leaving my four incredible, beautiful children behind, with no mommy or daddy to care for them.
Fear-stricken for several days, I finally called my prayer-warrior friend, Anne Cochran. I desperately needed prayer support.
“I don’t understand. Why is the fear so heavy?” I asked my friend.
Anne listened as I unloaded. Then she prayed powerfully. I was driving while she prayed, and as she closed with an “amen,” I looked closely at a car that had stopped ahead of me at a red light. A worn bumper sticker on its rear fender contained only one word in all-capital letters: PEACE.
Message received, Lord, was my immediate response. Thank You. Thank You, Jesus.
It wasn’t easy to get on that plane, but I did it. On that flight I also started something that has since become a habit of mine. I made the sign of the cross on the left side of the plane, declaring with my hands and my faith what my mind had trouble believing: Jesus was in control. I travel frequently now and continue this practice; it’s one way I remind fear that I trust in God.
When we landed safely in Turks and Caicos, Clark and I rendezvoused with our assigned driver. I let out a sigh of relief when I noticed the sticker plastered on the side of his van:
Step by step, keep following Me.
We discovered our driver also worked as a pastor, and God’s peace flooded me! I felt cared for by my heavenly Father. And I knew He would care for my kids too.
Clark and I had a wonderful trip, reveling in the masterpiece of creation that Turks and Caicos was—charming and, in many places, unspoiled. With powdery white-sand beaches stretching into turquoise waters that kiss the horizon, these islands proclaimed peace and glory. It was just what my husband and I needed.
What we did not need was a ridiculous fight about God-only-knows-what the night before our scheduled return home. Not only was the fight silly—truly, I cannot remember what prompted the argument—it was also needlessly big. Perhaps you’ve been in a situation where a relatively small issue quickly escalates and, suddenly, you’re in the middle of the relational equivalent to a nuclear war. Not good.
I was fuming and emotionally taxed. It’s not surprising, then, that fear crept right back into my mind and heart, ready to take up residence for good. This is when I discovered that, even when one is fear-stricken and fighting with a loved one, one still has to eat. So the next morning Clark and I went down to the beachside restaurant for our last meal (on the island, that is, not existentially, though I feared it could be the final meal of my life).
Virtually every restaurant in Turks and Caicos sported outdoor tables, and this breakfast spot was no exception. Just as the waitress took our finished plates away, a white dove swooped down and sat, peering at me, right next to our table. I almost laughed out loud. A white dove. Seriously? An international symbol of peace and the symbol, in my faith, of God the Holy Spirit?
From this I sensed the message, Make peace with your husband, Anne. Receive My peace about your flight. Return to Me every time the grip of fear tightens. I will never leave you or forsake you.
Once again I prayed, Message received, Lord. Thank You, Lord. Thank You.
I melted into God’s peace, which the Bible describes as a peace that transcends understanding. You may or may not be familiar with the verses to which I’m referring. They don’t just describe peace; they also impart wisdom about how we can deal with anxiety.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God
what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will
experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.
His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”
(Philippians 4:6–7 nlt).
Clark and I reconciled. (How could we not after the dove God sent?) We also returned home safely, and this experience gave me the opportunity to reflect on the role fear played in my life.
I started life as a rather fearful child. Perhaps you remember me telling you that I would wake up my sister to go to the bathroom with me in the middle of the night. As I grew up, though, I became what many people saw as fearless. I skydived. I rappelled and climbed vertical slants. I left a sure thing—teaching—to sell pottery. And I succeeded at so much in life. I’m sure there were people who looked at my life and thought, She probably never feels afraid.
But fear lies to us all.
When songwriter Zach Williams released “Fear Is a Liar” and I first heard it on the worship playlists I stream while painting, I immediately resonated with the lyrics. You read some of Zach’s words at the opening of this chapter. Let me bring them back to our minds now.
When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough
Fear, he is a liar
Fear lies to us about circumstances—this is how my fear of flying developed. Becoming a mom and knowing what I could lose and who I would leave behind changed my entire perspective on the adventure of travel. I needed to trust God, not just with the actual process of flight but also with what I risked every time I left my family, whether I was driving to the grocery store or boarding a plane for a marriage getaway. You never may have experienced a fear of flying, but you probably have had anxiety surrounding situations in your life. Fear lies to us about what has happened, is happening, and will happen.
But fear lies to us about more than that too. It lies to us about who we are. And this is where shame can grip us. Fear tells us we’re not good enough and never will be. It lies to us about our strength and ability to fight through the tough trials we face. Fear lies to us about whether we’re loved, worthy, or beautiful. Fear, he is a liar.
In case you were wondering, Zach Williams didn’t write “he” in the lyrics because he hates men. He wrote that because the Bible tells us that we have an actual enemy who lies to us. Jesus identified him as “a liar and the father of lies” in John 8:44. Whether or not you believe in an incarnate evil—an evil that exists and actively opposes light, goodness, and truth—you likely have experienced the effects of lies about your identity.
Fear lies to us all.
That’s why, years after I wrestled with God about flying to and from Turks and Caicos, I took the time to write my family and speak truth into their minds and hearts. I wanted to be part of God’s work to dismantle the lies fear tried to breathe into them. Ironically enough, after God had delivered me from the fear of flying, I wrote these mini letters to Clark and my children while airline techs de-iced the plane I had boarded during a snowstorm in New York City.
If something should ever happen to me, know that each of you were my life! I love you all more than you will ever know. Please find God in all of this. I know there are times it seems hard to believe, but we do have a living God.
We counteract fear not only with courage but also with truth. Fear is a liar, and we need to speak words of encouragement and hope into one another’s lives. That’s why I took the time to write these truths to my children and husband. I wanted to fill their minds with God’s truths that empower and encourage. Fear keeps us in bondage; it holds us back.
The Bible also reveals that the purpose of the Father of Lies is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Don’t let fear steal your joy, kill your hope, and destroy your identity.
Fear is a liar, but God is the way, the truth, and the life you crave. I’ve chosen to reject fear and follow Jesus’ way. What about you?
A lifelong artist, Anne Neilson began painting with oils in 2003 and quickly became nationally renowned for her ethereal Angel Series. Neilson’s paintings are inspiring reflections of her faith.