Lose Yourself

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

I’m numb. I’m sweating. My face is hot and I feel the sweat soaking through my clothes. I’m thankful for my alb, the white robe I wear every Sunday – a protective layer of clothing so the congregation can’t see perspiration drenching my armpits and back. I step into the pulpit. I pick up the paper clip I keep on the podium and twist it in my fingers. I take a breath. I clear my throat. I smile. Here I go again. Every eye on me. Some are listening. Some are not. It’s gotten to be so that I don’t mind if I notice someone staring off into space, distracted – because if their minds are consumed with what to have for lunch or thinking about the election or the fight they had with their spouse at breakfast, they aren’t noticing me, slipping quickly into panic right in front of their eyes.

This is nothing new.

It was 2002, I was 32 years old and had been a pastor for three years when the panic attacks began. I was the beginning of my second call which was at a large church in Colorado. I was an Associate Pastor working with one other Associate Pastor – plus a Senior Pastor who had been at that church two years longer than I had been alive. My main job on Sunday mornings was to read the liturgy, scripture readings and prayers. I would feel every eye on me, especially the critical eyes of the Senior pastor. I felt like an imposter – a small-town girl from a poor home suddenly thrust into this huge church with an abundance of wealth and wealthy parishioners.

I called that sanctuary the “big brick box.” That is exactly the best way to describe it. Typical of church structures built during that time, there was very little natural light and all the angles of the pulpit and altar were severe, harsh to my eyes and senses. The expanse of the sanctuary was large enough to fit the entirety of my first church within its’ confines. The pulpit rose high and set apart. When the sermon began, like clockwork the usher would dim the lights over the congregation so the pulpit was in the hushed, clear spotlight. This was no folksy church – this was an all-business church. Programs were carried out with precision and excellence. Staff were well-informed and dressed sharply. Anyone who did not contribute fully – whether parishioner or employee – was extracted quickly and cleanly. It was the high-end Lutheran church experience in the area – the one that looked shiniest and best if there had been a church show room. Great location, great budget, all the shiny accoutrement. The movers and shakers of the city joined our church so they could meet the other movers and shakers.

In my thrift store skirts and at-home hair dye-jobs, I did not belong. My husband couldn’t find a job for the first months after we arrived. We had rented a house because we needed a back yard for our two dogs but the rent each month was very high – higher than we ever should have agreed to pay. We felt like two kids play-acting at being grownups in that house with just the two of us, two dogs, two cats, and lots of square footage. I knew we didn’t belong in that house, that church, maybe even that state, but I was determined to see it through. There was no part of me that was excited about starting work at that church – and yet I didn’t know what else to do. Wasn’t this what grownups did? I had the education, I had the foundation of experience at a small church that supposedly had readied me for the big church. What else was there? And so I began my work at the big brick box.

The panic attacks began one sunny autumn Sunday morning shortly after I arrived at that church. Nothing unusual was happening – it was a Sunday like every other Sunday. It was during the final morning service when one moment I was reading the text, the next I felt my throat constricting and my breath slipping away. Heat rose into my chest and face and the words on the page began to swirl. I wondered if I would pass out, I could feel my heart rate accelerating, thumping in my chest. I stumbled over the words as I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs to speak them. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Senior Pastor. Was he looking at me? Could he tell I was freaking out? Could the congregation see how red my face was? I felt confused, frightened, and extremely ashamed that I was out of breath and faltering over my words. When the readings were over, I went back to my seat with my head held low. What was wrong with me? I went home and cried to Chad in our kitchen as I told him about the terrifying experience. He listened and gave me a hug. I hoped to God that Sunday morning had been just a strange, isolated experience.

It was only the beginning, unfortunately. Panic and anxiety began to accompany me regularly each week to worship. I researched extensively on stage fright and panic attacks and as I did, I tried every tactic I could think of to get “over it.” I quit smoking – which I knew was a good idea no matter what. I began running five miles before church each day and eventually began marathon training. I would write down distracting things on my church bulletin (like the punchline of a joke, or even initial in something dirty and scandalous Chad had said to make me laugh) in hopes that if my mind got distracted with other thoughts while I was reading, I wouldn’t think about the swirling, scary thoughts that made me descend into panic: everyone looking at me, everyone listening to me, screwing up, etc. I took a Benadryl before worship – thinking that maybe if I felt drowsy that would help my heart to not race so much. I did breathing exercises and visualizations.

Everything helped and nothing helped. Sometimes I could go a Sunday or two without a full-blown panic attack, but the threat of them was always there. Nothing could make the threat of them disappear and the worry wore me down. I felt like I lived constantly under the heavy shadow of what my anxiety might do to me. I was not in control of it, I could only avoid it sometimes. Even if it left me at peace for a time, I knew it would be back. It lingered like a ghost in the corner of that big brick box sanctuary – I knew eventually it would always find me again.

After many months of this, I went to a doctor who prescribed an anti-depressant. This helped – if only because I could tell my mind to quiet down because surely the pill was working. Right?

My doctor who prescribed the anti-depressants, a Christian, suggested perhaps I was encountering spiritual warfare. In a way, it was comforting to hear him say this because at least it was a reason – and it was one I had thought about myself. After all, it only happened when I was up in front of the church, trying to do my job as a pastor. I didn’t know if it truly was spiritual warfare – but it made sense to me that if it was warfare, well, then I had to fight. The only way to fight was to keep getting up in front, no matter how hard it was or how much dread consumed me, I would keep on doing my job. I was going to keep on making myself face this issue every Sunday. I would scratch and claw to find whatever weapons I needed to help me fight. I would not give up.

The Lutherans I grew up around don’t talk much about spiritual warfare. We aren’t quite so dramatic – about anything, really – which might be why the stereotypical Scandinavian- American Lutheran church is slowly shrinking while some other denominations are growing. The Lutherans I grew up with and spent the most time with pride ourselves on being thoughtful and as pragmatic as possible in our faith. Yes, there are mysteries, but let’s not get too emotional about them. Yes, the Holy Spirit moves and is at work, but no sense in getting too worked up about it.

Even so, I believe in such a thing as spiritual warfare. I had read enough of the scriptures to know that God’s people had their share of struggle and heartache and time in the wilderness. Maybe this was just mine and I had to learn how to muscle through it. If I just kept moving forward, I, like God’s chosen people of old, would reach the promised land. The day would come when that land of milk and honey, of no more panic attacks, would be my dwelling place. Right?

 

Lose Yourself

by Eminem

Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?
Yo

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs,
But he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down,
The whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s choking how, everybody’s joking now
The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, blaow!
Snap back to reality. Oh, there goes gravity
Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked
He’s so mad, but he won’t give up that
Easy, no
He won’t have it, he knows his whole back’s to these ropes
It don’t matter, he’s dope
He knows that but he’s broke
He’s so stagnant, he knows
When he goes back to his mobile home, that’s when it’s
Back to the lab again, yo
This whole rhapsody
He better go capture this moment and hope it don’t pass him

[Hook:]
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go (go)
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime (yo)
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go (go)
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime (yo)
(You better)

The soul’s escaping, through this hole that is gaping
This world is mine for the taking
Make me king, as we move toward a new world order
A normal life is boring, but superstardom’s close to postmortem
It only grows harder, homie grows hotter
He blows. It’s all over. These hoes is all on him
Coast to coast shows, he’s known as the globetrotter
Lonely roads, God only knows
He’s grown farther from home, he’s no father
He goes home and barely knows his own daughter
But hold your nose ’cause here goes the cold water
His hoes don’t want him no more, he’s cold product
They moved on to the next schmoe who flows
He nose dove and sold nada
So the soap opera is told and unfolds
I suppose it’s old partner, but the beat goes on
Da da dum da dum da da da da

[Hook]

No more games, I’mma change what you call rage
Tear this motherfucking roof off like two dogs caged
I was playing in the beginning, the mood all changed
I’ve been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage
But I kept rhyming and stepped right into the next cypher
Best believe somebody’s paying the Pied Piper
All the pain inside amplified by the
Fact that I can’t get by with my 9 to 5
And I can’t provide the right type of life for my family
‘Cause man, these goddamn food stamps don’t buy diapers
And it’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life
And these times are so hard, and it’s getting even harder
Trying to feed and water my seed, plus
Teeter totter caught up between being a father and a primadonna
Baby, mama drama’s screaming on her
Too much for me to wanna
Stay in one spot, another day of monotony’s gotten me
To the point, I’m like a snail
I’ve got to formulate a plot or I end up in jail or shot
Success is my only motherfucking option, failure’s not
Mom, I love you, but this trailer’s got to go
I cannot grow old in Salem’s lot
So here I go it’s my shot.
Feet, fail me not
This may be the only opportunity that I got

[Hook]

You can do anything you set your mind to, man


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