What prompted you to write your first book, Afraid of All the Things? Who did you write it for?
I actually sort of wrote the first draft of this book when I was nine. Really. It’s in the big wooden thing in my living room right now. It’s forty pages of pure sadness, hand-written on notebook paper. It’s kind of hilarious now, but each page is just one sad, scary thing after the other with a brief respite in “Chapter 8.” That page reads, “I also have some good things in my life. Like, I hardly ever get sick, and I have lots of friends like a 34-year-old named Harris, Betty Fanning (my mom’s TV agent), and my grandparents.”
I think that’s funny, but, in reality, anxiety crippled me for these massive seasons of my life, and it started when I was five after my parents got divorced. When I wrote the nine-year-old version, I didn’t know Jesus yet, so it was just one thing that scared me after another.
I wrote this non-notebook paper version for people like me. People who struggle with being afraid and who want freedom from it…and who like to laugh. I wrote the book in a humorous tone because I like to read things that are written in a humorous tone.
What was it like growing up, as you say, “in the green room” of SNL and other national TV shows? How has it shaped your adult life?
So, yes, I grew up around Saturday Night Live, but I didn’t know it was anything cool or special until I grew up a little and people told me it was. But my mom’s co-workers, the people who I have photos of leaning against my bunny rabbit toy box, were Conan O’Brien and Jon Lovitz.
My memories of that time are super happy. I was focused on little kid things like the pound cake and jelly packets on the food table in the green room. I really loved, still love, Jon Lovitz. He had a nickname for me…he called me the name of my cat. He’d say “Hi Flippy…wait, you’re Flippy and that cat is Scarlet, right?” and I’d laugh and say, “Nooooo.” Anyway, I saw him a couple years ago when he was doing stand-up in my town and as soon as he saw me, and I mean, it had been like ten years since we’d seen each other, he said in that classic Lovitz voice he has, “Well, hellooooo Flippy.”
How did all that shape me? I think it shaped me a ton. I think part of the reason I grew up scared of “all the things” is because I was exposed to more of the world at an early age. Hollywood is a colorful, happy place, but it’s also a very close-up view of the world in all its world-i-ness and brokenness and pain. There’s a lot of darkness in Hollywood. And you know, my parents got divorced. And we moved from big city to big city to big city, and it was just a lot to take in for someone who, I believe, was already wired to be a little neurotic.
I was raised going to Baptist churches, all the while, which I think kind of added to all the confusion. I was learning about the Christian life but seeing and hearing a lot of contradictory things in the green rooms around me, because I wasn’t in a bubble like my daughters are. I was in smokey comedy clubs, you know?
When do you first remember being crippled by fear and anxiety? What was it like and how did it shape your childhood?
My first memory of anxiety is sitting in the back of the car on the way to school in Miami, the fourth city I’d lived in at age five, with a horrible nausea. That continued every day and drove us to the pediatrician who called it “nervous stomach.” And I mean, eventually, we wound up in the hospital due to a false-alarm appendix rupture I thought I was having. I’d read about or hear about scary things like appendicitis and obsess about them and think they were happening to me. Complete hypochondriac. TOTALLY NORMAL. The first chapter of my book is actually about my non-appendix-non-rupture.
When did you first learn to hold the gospel up to your fears, and how did that change things?
Honestly, it’s something I’ve been learning for about the past five years or so. I think a real turning point in my battle with fear was when I met a pastor’s wife named Elizabeth. I’ve only sat in her presence a handful of times, but she explained how the gospel is for today and right now in a way I’d never heard. Or maybe that’s just when it hit my heart.
I used to think the gospel—the news that Jesus came and died and rose and saved us—was just a thing that got us to heaven, but that we’d better do all the right things after we were saved or God wouldn’t be happy with us. I had never considered that the gospel wasn’t just for the after life, but for after breakfast…that the gospel meant God gives grace to me when I lose my temper with my husband and that a panic attack doesn’t change how God feels about me. Knowing that Jesus is already enough for my next panic attack actually takes pressure off so that it is easier to not even panic in the first place.
When I started seeing the world this way, it caused me to stop living in constant fear. Rather than fixating on the inevitable scary, sad things I encounter every day, I changed my focus and started preaching the gospel to myself every day. I started remembering that Jesus has already defeated all the sad, scary things and that my soul is safe.