In the Spring of 2018, I was sure there was a bear living under our house that was going to viciously attack me in the middle of the night. You think I’m kidding? I actually wrote about this near death experience. (When Raccoons Attack).
After that very harrowing night that I nearly died, we called a nuisance animal control service. The service came out and confirmed that we probably didn’t have a bear living under our house, but there was something living in our crawl space. They didn’t find the animal in the crawl space, but could see some holes that appeared to be the entrance to a groundhog den under our deck. The service recommended shoring up a few places under the deck that an animal could easily squeeze into our crawl space and to set a trap to relocate the new furry “friend”.
We live right smack in the middle of the city, and one of our best kept secrets is our backyard. Right behind us is a big city park, but not the kind of park that jumps into your mind when you first hear that word. It’s not full of swings and slides, instead it’s basically a large green space that turns into a wooded area. We have a pond in our backyard, so all kinds of animals will run out of the woods and get a drink in our yard. We always have tons of different kinds of birds and squirrels in our yard, but we have also seen deer, a fox, a crane and a hawk just to name a few. So the idea that we had a groundhog in our backyard, wasn’t surprising. In fact, we had seen a groundhog running around in the park before. We even talked about how cute they were… oh if we only knew!
On the day that the nuisance control service told us how they would remove the bear… I mean groundhog… we believed them. We had no reason not to. The service fixed the entrance places under our house so that no animal could squeeze through. Then they kindly placed a trap near the pond in hopes that the groundhog would go to get a drink and be caught. The service even left some fruit in the trap in an attempt to lure it in. The service left, and we anxiously waited to catch our unwelcome guest.
On the first night, we caught nothing. We both went to work disappointed. I remember wondering how the nuisance control people could be sure it wasn’t a bear. That trap was way too small to catch a bear, but I quickly realized there was never a bear. Just a jerk groundhog. There were a few days that we would watch the jerk literally walk around the trap to get to the pond. It was like he knew it was there for him and he wasn’t falling for it. After a few days, we finally caught something… a raccoon!
The nuisance control people came and got the raccoon and set another trap. This time, they placed the trap a little closer to the house. We watched the groundhog walk around the yard, and nearly laugh at the trap. A few days later we caught something again… another raccoon. Ugh!
At this point, we were frustrated. We had spent money to have the nuisance control people come out and each time they relocated a raccoon we had to pay for them to set another trap. The company shared that they could keep going, however we may never actually catch the groundhog. So we had a choice to make… we could continue to set traps and catch raccoons or we could burn the house down.
It had been a few days since we saw the groundhog, so we made the decision to not pursue trying to capture the jerk anymore. Of course, burning the house down wasn’t a viable option either. Maybe we could live in harmony with a groundhog in our backyard? After making the decision not to catch the little jerk, we would see him every few days. He was cute, and didn’t seem to be doing any damage, so we just kinda lived with him. His presence annoyed us, but never made us angry enough to actually do something about him.
Then, it seemed like he went away. We went months without seeing the little jerk. However, just when he seemed like he had gone away for good… he was back. He spent most of the summer of 2019 living under our deck. He didn’t bother us, he was kinda cute and he didn’t seem to be causing too much trouble. Honestly, even though he wasn’t causing much trouble, each time I saw him, I got more angry at his very existence. However, I still was never angry enough to actually do something about it. Then, just like 2018, he seemed to disappear.
Now I am sure you know what’s coming next in this story. This summer he came back. Unfortunately, not only was he back, this time he brought friends. Suddenly, there were three groundhogs in our backyard and they were considering taking over the living room. We had a gang of groundhogs living in our backyard!! At first we thought we made it up. There couldn’t possibly be three groundhogs. But there was. Every time we opened up our backdoor when the little jerks were in our yard, they would puff up and act like they were going to fight us. The realization that we had three groundhogs was not something we took lightly. We never had dreamed of being a groundhog farm, and at this point it felt like we were going to have to relocate them or they would relocate us! This was no longer something we could live with. It was time to do something. It was us or it was them.
So, we called a different nuisance control service and explained our situation. When the service came out, they observed the area and confirmed that the groundhogs had not done any damage that couldn’t be fixed (a few holes need to be filled but nothing too serious). After a bit of discussion, the new service set up a trap at the entrance of the groundhogs den. They put bait specific to the groundhog, and put rocks on the trap so it could not move. Two hours later, we caught our first groundhog. We couldn’t believe it.
Over the next few days we caught and relocated all three groundhogs. In fact, Dan actually tricked the last one to run into the cage so we could catch it quicker. What a victory that was! Each time we trapped one, the service would quickly come out and reset the trap exactly how it had been previously, at the entrance of the den. Dan and I still can’t believe after all the headaches and all the money spent, catching them was so “easy”. Once we stopped messing around, and put the trap right at the entrance of the den (the root of the issue), we had no problem removing the jerks.
In 2013, I dealt with deep depression and anxiety after we lost our first baby. Honestly, I think I had been dealing with anxiety long before, but after the loss I could not contain the feelings any longer. Fear grew bigger than I ever knew it could grow. The monster threatened to squeeze the life out of me. I struggled to be left home alone, and I struggled to be out in crowds. Busy stores felt claustrophobic and I was sure the car was going to cave in on me on any given drive. These were just some of the “what if’s” that seemed to haunt me.
After a few very hard months, with the encouragement of my family, I started taking anti-anxiety medicine. I also started talking to a counselor. Both the medicine and talking to someone were fantastic tools that helped me learn how to fight anxiety. I learned how to recognize fear and worry and how to combat it with truth. After about 10 months of counseling, we moved to Springfield and I was in a much better place, so I stopped seeing the counselor and I stopped taking the medication.
Shortly after moving to Springfield, I found Moms in the Making and my journey with the Father changed. I dove deep into the secret place with Him, and found a sweet relationship with Him that I didn’t know was possible. I have learned so much about my identity and who I can be because of who my Father is. Dan and I once prayed that our faith would be without borders, and we really started pushing into that place. We choose words to focus on each year that pushed us out of our comfort zone. We grew so much. The girl that once struggled being home alone, going out in crowds and worried about the car caving in on her is someone I barely recognized anymore. Fear no longer owned me. (Fear, You Don’t Own Me) The girl that was once terrified of her shadow, was replaced by a mighty woman of God.
However, something changed in late 2019. I started to notice “groundhogs” around me. I found it harder to read, which is a big thing in my world. I was finding myself easily distracted. I started to feel some fear, but I ignored it. I didn’t think it would cause any damage. I was fine. I had already conquered fear. I didn’t need to address it again. I wrote off my feelings to a hard year, to stress, and so many other “little” things. I ignored the problem. I didn’t want to admit that there were “groundhogs” living in the yard of my heart. They probably weren’t doing that much damage anyways. I started 2020 by reading a book about fear, and pulling out some scripture cards I had once used often to help me process through anxiety, but then I quickly moved on. I was fine. Everything was fine.
Then COVID-19 shut the world down. While COVID alone does not scare me, it was for sure the last straw that pushed me to my limit. Suddenly, I was working from home and the world was a very scary place. I didn’t want to be home alone, and I didn’t want to go out alone. Suddenly it seemed the entire world around me was worried and I found myself sinking back into the girl I was in 2013. I love writing, but I stopped completely. I couldn’t find the words. Nothing was being written in any public space, or even in my very private journals. Not being able to journal was maddening. It seemed that I could barely keep my head above water, but I didn’t tell anyone. The “groundhog” was growing.
This isn’t the first time I have lost my words, so I did what I have always done. I started walking. In the past, when I have struggled to find words, I would walk and pray. As I prayed, it always seemed like the words would somehow make it to the tips of my fingers and I could finally get them out. However this time things were different. Day after day I would walk, but still I couldn’t find the words. Sometimes it would be a quick lap around the block, but other days I would walk for over an hour and could never capture my thoughts. Then I physically started struggling to breathe, and I could no longer walk anymore. I didn’t think my breathing issue was related to anxiety at all. I ignored it and imagined that I was probably dying. I felt trapped in a body that was giving up on me with a mind that was slowing running away without me. That huge “groundhog” is just laughing at me.
I knew I was not okay long before I told anyone. I didn’t need anyone to know. I am a strong woman of God. I already fought fear and anxiety. I had walked away from that girl and I wasn’t afraid to be out of my comfort zone anymore. I could handle this. When the COVID restrictions lifted a bit, I went back to work in the office and life started to look somewhat normal again. I thought that going back to some kind of normalcy would make me feel better, but the fear only intensified. It’s hard to really explain because I can honestly say that COVID still didn’t scare me, but everything else did. Driving to work everyday meant that the car could cave in on me. What if my cell phone died and I couldn’t call for help when the car caved in? What if something happened to Dan? The “what if’s” circled around me threatening to take any sanity I had left. The “groundhog” is calling all of its buddies.
Our niece graduated from college this year, and she’s basically the most okayest person in the whole world (love her big). I was excited to watch her walk across the stage. I had planned to bring a sign and scream like a lunatic, because obviously that shows my level of extreme Aunt love I hold for her. However, due to COVID her graduation didn’t happen. Well, it happened, but screaming and holding signs in front of our TV as her name and picture were played during a Facebook live video didn’t seem to carry the same impact. Thankfully, our family was able to get together in June to celebrate her accomplishments.
Nothing was going to stop me from hugging my niece, but I didn’t want to go. I was terrified of being in the car for over 12 hours. I was sure that the car would cave in while we drove. While we were being crushed in our car, our house would fall in a sinkhole and our cat Leo would be forced to find a new home to live in. I laid awake for nights wondering how I could get out of going, but also still be there. Now what started as one small groundhog had taken over my heart. Suddenly I had “groundhogs” that were the size of skyscrapers shouting at me. They were threatening to take over my entire existence. It was me or it was them. Finally, I called my doctor and asked for help.
Four days before we left town to celebrate our niece, I started anxiety medication again. The impact of the medication isn’t overnight, so the doctor gave me additional “emergency” medication to take for panic attacks. I felt like a complete failure as we traveled and I had to take special medication to help me get through the weekend. This wasn’t who I was meant to be. I was supposed to be a mighty woman of God. I had already conquered fear. This wasn’t how 2020 was supposed to go. Remember, God gave us the word secure this year? (The 2020 Word of the Year I Never Wanted). This didn’t feel anything like security. This felt like everything within me was falling apart.
I was so embarrassed, and so I only told four people that I had started medication. Two dear friends, Dan and my doctor. Dan encouraged me every day when I didn’t want to get out of bed. He held my hand and reminded me that cars don’t just spontaneously cave in. He reminded me over and over that Leo would not need to find a new home. Again and again, he helped me sort through the lies that I had let move into my heart. He helped me see how crazy what I was believing truly was. My two friends reminded me of who I am and where I have been. With each step, they reminded me that it’s not failure to need help. These words are so much easier to tell someone else. Why don’t I believe they apply to me?
Remember that groundhog story I told you? Dan and I had allowed a silly little groundhog to live in our backyard. Call it laziness or apathy or whatever you want, but it never made us angry enough to actually get to the root of the problem. We tried, but it was hard, so we quit. I had been doing the same thing in my spiritual world. I knew there were lies, I had even attempted to read a book about fear, but then I stopped. However starting medication, listening to the encouragement of Dan and my friends and digging in deep to the truth I already knew helped me set traps at the den of the “groundhogs” in my heart. One by one, I caught each “groundhog” and replaced them with truth. It wasn’t easy work, and if I am being honest, I am still working to fill the holes in my heart that the “groundhogs” left behind.
In late July, nearly 6 weeks after starting medication, I started to find my words again. My closest friends started to notice that my mood seemed to lift and I didn’t seem so “half empty”. I felt like I could breathe for the first time in months. I started writing again. I found myself less distracted. I felt more motivated to do tasks. I started to share with a few more friends and family members the journey that I had been on. It was then that I realized something super powerful.
1 Peter 5:8 tells us that we should be watchful, because our enemy prowls around constantly looking for someone to devour. The enemy is always looking for weak places in our life. Places we have grown complacent or places that we deem “safe”. John 10:10 says the enemy is like a thief who comes only to steal, kill and destroy. Words like “devour” and “thief” are scary. But friends, we have authority over the enemy! Luke 10:19 says this in the Passion Translation:
“Now you understand that I have imparted to you all my authority to trample over his kingdom. You will trample upon every demon before you and overcome every power Satan possesses. Absolutely nothing will be able to harm you as you walk in this authority.”
Remember when I was sure that there was a bear living under our house ready to devour me? It was a groundhog. ONE small groundhog. Even when that jerk invited his friends, there were still only three small groundhogs. The groundhogs NEVER would have been able to force Dan and I to relocate. They may have acted mean, but they were ALWAYS afraid of us. The same is true about the enemy. He may be looking to “devour” me, but did you catch what Luke 10:19 says? When I walk in the authority the Father has given me, I have the ability to trample every thing that comes against me. The enemy stands no chance. I have no reason to be afraid of him because I can’t lose. But he’s got every reason to be afraid of me, because I have all authority!
Friends, I have learned some very powerful lessons over the last few months. Frist, just because a battle has been fought before doesn’t mean it won’t ever have to be fought again! Can you imagine if we stopped locking the front door to our house because we locked it once before? We are not failures because we are facing feelings that we once conquered. Remember, the enemy is cunning. A jerk groundhog that sneaks in. It’s okay to need to shore up the defenses of our heart. It’s not failure that sees faults, it’s strength. Second, it is absolutely 100% okay to need help. I don’t know how long I will continue to take anxiety medication, but the length of time doesn’t matter. This medication has been a helpful tool that has helped clear my mind and allowed me to see the truth. It’s okay to need medication or to need to talk to a professional about your mental health. I have spent years telling others those words, and now it’s time to believe those words for myself. Third, we need community. I have known this for a long time, but I couldn’t have found truth without the help of Dan and my sweet friends pointing me back to Jesus and reminding me who I am. We need people who we can trust and be vulnerable with. Finally, no fear is bigger than my God. 2 Timothy 1:7 promises that God has given me a sound mind and because of that sound mind I can stomp on all the lies the enemy whispers.
So today, I want to challenge you to take a step back and really look at your heart. Have you allowed “groundhogs” to take up residence? Maybe you need to set some traps and get those jerks out. Maybe you need to call a friend and be vulnerable. Maybe you need to ask for help. No matter where you are, today I want to encourage you that you have the authority to live “groundhog” free. The choice is yours. It’s you or the groundhog.