It’s that twice-a-week juggling act where I hold an infant carrier, a lunch box, a backpack, a jacket, a craft, and my keys in my arms. I shift the weight of these items and reach for my daughter’s hand (who is only carrying her freshly unwrapped lollipop). But instead of standing next to me, my toddler is peering into the parking lot storm drain with tears in her eyes.
“What’s wrong, sweet girl?” I say quickly while my biceps burn.
“I drop my waw-ee-pop,” she replies, pointing down the concrete trimmed blackness in front of her. The white stick with a pink candy circle teetered precariously on the edge of the storm drain, moments away from dropping into the dark pit. “Can you get it?”
“No way,” I answer as I usher her away from the edge and back towards our minivan. “We’ll get you another treat at home.”
I’ve read about a lot of strange phobias. Somniphobia is the fear of falling asleep. Chaetophobia is the fear of hair. Ablutophobia is the fear of taking a bath. And even if you don’t fall into one of these odd categories, we all fear something—snakes, heights, closed spaces, the dark. For me?
The official name for an abnormal fear of storm drains is prosciugareorageaphobia. And before you ask, no, it’s not because I watched the movie “It” as a kid. I’ve only seen glimpses of the infamous clown from memes, and, honestly, he doesn’t look that scary.
No, it’s not so much what might come out of a storm drain that terrifies me. It’s what might fall in. You read that right, one of my greatest fears is dropping something down a storm drain.
On our family afternoon walks, I put as much distance possible between my stroller and the inky blackness lurking under the concrete of a storm drain. I hold my daughter’s hand tightly, anxious she may break free and drop her luvie. I press my fingers to my earbuds, dare they fall out at the worst time and roll down the drain. As soon as we are out of harm’s way, I do a mental check of all our items to make sure nothing jumped out of the stroller to join the dark abyss below the storm drain. Once I realize everyone and everything is accounted for, I breathe a sigh of relief. I didn’t lose anything this time.
It’s not just storm drains. I’m afraid of elevator shafts, too. When I get off the elevator, I take a deep breath, cling to whatever I’m holding, and practically jump across the crevice. As a nervous habit, I check my wedding rings every time I get in and out of an elevator, just in case I hadn’t closed my fist tight enough, and they were falling to the depths of the dark, abandoned elevator shaft.
I’m not afraid of the dark or heights or snakes. I’m afraid of losing things. And my greatest fear is losing control.
So to say 2020 was a year that terrified me is an understatement.
It appeared I had no control over my calendar, my health, my job, my daughter’s school, and so much more. One after another, I lost things to the storm drain that was 2020.
Yet that didn’t stop me from trying to cling tightly to what I thought I could control. The perfectly planned quarantine toddler birthday party. The best exercise routines while pregnant. A well-researched social distancing plan for after our son was born. And after every day that went according to plan, I breathed a sigh of relief that we were one day closer to this pandemic being over. I didn’t lose anything today.
Yet, many days did end with loss—some losses greater than others. While I clung tightly to the people, things, and circumstances around me, God slowly pried open my sweaty palms to take back the control, which he had in fact held all along.
My daughter cries all the way home from school, but I keep reminding her, “I can give you another piece of candy at home.”
When I finally open the garage door, she bursts through and heads straight to the pantry yelling, “Candy!”
I select a pack of Smarties (her favorite) from our stash of Halloween candy. She cups her open palms together, and I pour in the sugary prize. Instead of closing her hands around the candy, she dips her face down and inhales the pastel pieces in one eager bite.
I laugh at her enthusiastic, “maw pwease,” while her little mouth chews the chalky-sweet candy. She has already forgotten about the pink lollipop at the bottom of the storm drain. This is even better than what she had lost.
With each thing I lost in this past year, God graciously provided something even better. An isolating pregnancy gave us our sweet baby boy. A loss of a job gave me more time to write. My husband’s working from home gave us mealtimes together. My daughter not going to school allowed for more slow mornings outside on the porch.
An empty calendar gave me more time in God’s presence. Because when I lost my perceived control, I found more of him. I realized that even as I grieve suffering and loss in 2020, I have gained so much more through greater intimacy with Christ. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
Whenever I lost something that had been clasped in my fist, God poured out the sweetness of his plan and provision on my weary palms. With my hands empty, I was able to receive what God had planned for me all along.
If you see me on a walk, I’ll still avoid the storm drains in my path, squeezing the handlebar of the double stroller until we pass.
But if you ask about the plans I have for this year, I’ll tell you I hold them with open hands. Each morning I pray to surrender my fight for control. Each morning I set my eyes on the hope found in Christ instead of the loss from this past year. And after each morning I spend in God’s presence, I am a little less afraid.
Instead of fearfully leaping over the crack in the elevator floor, I’m walking with the assurance that the God who holds the universe is holding me.