Fear

To reach that spectacular, beautifully rugged land’s end, I needed to cross that blustery bridge. It was the summer of 2015, and my husband and I stood on the rocky soil of County Antrim, Ireland. The smiles of the people waiting in line for their turn were like lifelines to me. Tourists who had already made their way over the popular Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge waved across to all gleefully, eager to share their joy at reaching a point of the Emerald Isle that would have been treacherous any other way—if not for the bridge made of simple wood planks and intricate knots of thick, trusty rope.

I wasn’t so sure that rope was so trusty.

Shortly after we returned to our home in California, I turned on the computer in our home office and immediately discovered my husband had changed the desktop wallpaper. It was a picture of me on that bridge. I was confused. Why not a picture of the two of us from some other photo op on that trip? Usually, our desktop wallpaper was something of us together, or of our beloved dog, Amber.

I called out my question to him from where I knew he could hear me in the living room. It was quiet for a bit, and then I heard the muffled sound of his feet brushing across the carpet as he made his way to the room.

“I know how hard that was for you,” he replied quietly from the doorway.

I felt my heart swell with love for this man.

“I know how hard it was.”

Although our trip to Ireland that year was overall an amazing experience, it seemed like I was trapped into facing one battle after the other. Instead of being excited to fly across the Atlantic, I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing in fear of our upcoming flight. Instead of every moment thrilling to the luscious green land all around me, at times I struggled to catch my breath. Instead of marveling at the natural wonder of the hexagonal columns at the Giant’s Causeway, I trembled in near panic as we walked along dirt paths next to cliff walls…certain they would crumble down on top of us at any moment. The odds of that happening were extremely slim.

The fear I struggled with is a distant memory now, but at the time that gruesome pest was taking all the fun out of an extraordinary trip. And my worrying over every little thing was draining the strength out of my mind and spirit.

So by the time we arrived at the “car park” of the rope bridge, he looked over at me before we got out of the car. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I peered out the windshield and looked at the path which led to the ocean. I could barely see the bridge, but from this point it didn’t look quite as scary as I had imagined. “Yep,” I huffed with a tight smile. “Nope,” my heart shot back, the echoes of my discontent bouncing around my rib cage.

As we got closer to the line of tourists waiting to cross, however, my breath started to come out in hesitant, quivering bursts. I squeezed my eyes shut in an effort to quiet the evidence of my uncertainty. “Are you sure?” he checked again when he caught me staring down at the crashing sea 100 feet below.  (That’s the part you can’t really see in many pictures.)

“Yep.”

When we were next in line, I looked up at the young, fair-haired Irishman whose cheeks were red from being slapped by cold, wild coastal air. He was one of two workers there who were the gatekeepers, so to speak, supervising and limiting the number of bridge crossers. The three of us chit-chatted loudly over the roar of the waves while we waited, laughingly trading California and Irish stereotypes, and how he’s been meaning to make his first trip to the States to visit a friend in San Diego.

Finally, I looked into his friendly blue eyes—certain God had placed him there that day to comfort me with his quick camaraderie—and all of a sudden blurted, “I’m a little terrified, but I’m going to do this.” It had been the statement I’d repeated silently the whole way down the path up to this point. I was sick and tired of letting fear beat out my faith and trust. I said it over and over until I believed it.

The stranger’s kind smile gentled, and his eyes turned serious as they acknowledged my fear.  “Not to worry,” he said, his musical Irish accent calming me, “you’ll do just fine. Are you ready?” He had received the nod of permission for us to trek ahead from his partner across the way.

And so, step by step I worked my way across the bridge. The creaks of the rope swaying in the gusty wind invaded my ears, but the strength of the planks below my feet, my silent prayers, and my belief that I could squash this feeling of trepidation—because I chose to—upheld me and my courageous soul the whole way and back again. For the rest of the day, you couldn’t take the smile off my face if you tried. Even thinking back on it now, the memory girds my heart.

“I know how hard it was for you.” My husband’s answer whispered to me again.

Currently, I’ve chosen to focus on the truths of courage over the lies of fear…but I still have my moments of not believing I can do certain things. Even now, I have some goals that leave me shaking in my boots when I think too long on it. But the things I want to conquer don’t have to be achieved all at once. I believe that some day I will be able to scratch each one off the list, but I have to be patient with myself and give myself the grace to persevere—one step at a time, if need be.

There are some fears I’ve fled from and didn’t triumph. And yet, I won’t dwell on the ones from the past which I may not have the opportunity to face again. Instead, I’ll find new things to find victory in.  Whatever you may be facing, believe that you can declare yourself the victor. The feeling of accomplishment and relief…the burden of dread lifted…the surrender…it is so worth it. Will I ever bungee jump? Never will I ever. For me, today… in about 10 minutes, it’s going to be the pile of dishes in my sink that I will conquer. That mess seems impossible. But I believe I can tackle it, and so I will.

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Courage

They could probably hear my screams all the way up in the lobby. I was around six or seven-years-old at the time, and in the middle of what was supposed to be a quick out-patient procedure. As a young urology patient, it was yet another routine test to make sure all was still well. I remember being promised a visit to Toys R Us and Baskin Robbins once it was over. That was what got me through it. Toys and ice cream.

I knew I had to to be there, because all my little life I’d been told about how sick I had been when I was a baby. I was no stranger to the doctor’s office. I also knew that the scar which traveled from the side of my waist to nearly my spine was from the kidney surgery I eventually had when I was nearly two-years-old. They say it saved my life.

Most of my checkups at the urologist went fine. Water fountain. Check. Urine sample. Check. Lollipop. Check. Easy peasy. But this one was not like the others. It involved
tubes and catheters. Bright lights. Noisy medical equipment…my grandma allowing me to attempt squeezing her hand right off her arm as she stood by my side.
In the end, I made it through, and so did my grandma’s circulation.

As an adult, my bribes whenever I go into a medical procedure that I am not looking forward to have changed from toys and ice cream to pedicures and Starbucks. One of my Worst Memory Procedures was dealing with two ingrown toenails. Now, this is a seriously minor ordeal, but it was during this simple thing in which I had a huge epiphany.

First of all, I learned quickly how sensitive our toes are. Forget the actual digging around with the scalpels and clippers or whatever is it they do behind that thick vinyl curtain that hung in front of my feet. The freezy stuff they inject you with to numb your toes was one of the worst things I’ve ever felt. If my lungs could leave my body from the effort to not scream, they would have. It was all I could do not to involuntarily (or if I’m honest, voluntarily) kick the podiatrist.

So when I had to go back the second time for the other toe, I was on edge. The painful memory of the freezy shot had been imprinted in my brain. I sat and waited alone in wretched anticipation. I prayed for courage. I was so tense I could barely breathe. Then a picture came to my mind. 

Jesus on the cross.

In that moment, I remembered reading all that Jesus had gone through leading up to His death. The torture. The prolonged pain. The crown of thorns.

And then I looked down at my toes. And I breathed. I could do this.

I still wasn’t looking forward to the pain. Who would? But this time, I was able to dig a little deeper into my stores of courage. If Jesus could endure all of that, surely I could handle a little shot of frozen stuff to numb my toe. It still was unpleasant. The pain was still there, but it made me appreciate so much more what our Savior went through to save us. 

When I feel fear start to creep in over my current or future health, I remember the day I had that realization. Whenever I have another medical procedure (and I’ve had some since then that hurt enough to cry), I bring this memory with me. It helps me to know that I’m not alone. That there was One before me who knew pain…and ultimately, beautifully, He triumphed. 

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Hello

Once in awhile I feel like I am back to being the 6th grade girl sitting alone on the bus with sticky, wet candy in her hair. Trying not cry. Wishing I had people I belonged to or were at ease with. Longing to be anyone but the new girl at my fourth California school who couldn’t summon up enough courage to speak even a “hello” to any of the other kids.

Chubby, shy by nature, and with a unique face kids often stared at, I’d already been through a lot by then. In kindergarten, the kids wondered aloud if I was from another country because of the shape of my eyes. In first grade, they commented on my little nose. By second grade, they would yell “Cabbage Patch Kid!” as they raced past me on the playground.

My one blessing, and the greatest of them all in my seven-year-old eyes, was my best friend Marci. She was a cool kid. She had confidence. She proudly hailed from New York. Most important of all, she was nice and she stood up for me. Hands on her hips she would yell back at the mean kids. Her envied freckles flaming, she would scrunch up her nose and give them a what-for. I always guessed it was because of her that I even got invited to parties. Kids like me usually were left out.

Then one early fall at the beginning of third grade, my mom and I moved to a new town. I found myself far away from the school I knew, away from Marci my Defender, and was plucked into a sequence of several years filled with new towns and new apartments. Which also meant new schools.

I was able to be inconspicuous at the first two new schools, mostly by reading alone by the classroom door at recess. Then I discovered band. I praise God for that. Learning how to play an instrument took my mind off the friends I still hadn’t made, opened a new place of wonder in my soul, and it also started to give me a little bit of a community I hadn’t been able to find as a shy kid. It wasn’t long until I did make a few good friends.

Then we moved in the middle of sixth grade. Twice. The first school that year was a monster of a junior high in a big town. It was navigating through asteroids in outer space. It was the rookie horrors of the P.E. locker room. My goal was to be invisible. I still hadn’t been able to get my “hello” out. I also didn’t feel like I mattered, compared with all the cliques and kids who already knew each other.

The second school was a K-6 elementary school. The hair candy bus school. I sat in the front near the bus driver while a small group of pretty, popular girls sat way in the back. The bus was mostly empty, and there was no one in between us. I heard a bunch of laughing. Then it got louder. I turned around and they all ducked, blond curls giving them away as the wind from the open windows whipped the tops of their hair around. Checking my own thick, permed hair to make sure it was in control, I felt the first Jolly Rancher. Then the second. I froze.

I lacked social skills, but I was a nice girl. I barely spoke to anyone. I was quiet, but full of love. I didn’t understand. Why me?

The school secretary found the third piece of wet, sucked on candy as they cut out the pieces for me. I couldn’t get them out myself. I’m not sure if I ever told my mom. I was humiliated. Thankfully, we moved again not long after that. Things got much better when I was able to stay in the same school district for the next five years. I came out of my shell a little more, although still shy enough that while I could talk to my band friends I could barely say “hello” to the students in my regular classes.

Thirty years later, I still think on that incident now and then. It comes to me in the moments when I notice others briefly glance at me, but make more of an eager effort to converse with the beautiful or fun people across the table. It makes me pause when I feel uninvited or left out. It haunts me when I feel not good enough.

I am much more outgoing these days. I’m better at conversations now. It may or may not be hard to tell, but there are still times when I’m secretly shaking in my boots when I talk to people. My confidence-in-training ebbs and flows like the oceans’s tide, but it strengthens with each small step of courage.

Despite all that, I am not sorry for my social hardships as a kid. Yes, the memories sometimes pain me in the moments when I feel lonely, but I know I still have growing to do. I could also make more of an effort on my part. Maybe accept more invitations. Or look for how people may need someone to talk to and listen to them, rather than hide in my own insecurities. It gives me opportunity to pray not only for myself, but for others like myself. And those times always draw me back to Jesus, who is now my most reliable and greatest best friend of all. He tells us He is with us always.

These days, I am not afraid to say “hello”. I make it my mission to smile and say hello to try to make people feel welcome and comfortable. I’m not Miss Sunshine 24/7…believe me, I have some cranky days! And I get in a sullen mood during some seasons. But within each child I meet, I can’t help but wonder if they have ever felt like I had when I was young. Within each adult, I imagine they may have had a painful, bullying experience, too…no matter what they look like. Or maybe they are having a rough day and need some friendliness.

I chose not to let exclusion break me into pieces. I found other things to hold unto while I grew my courage. Music, books, Jesus…journal writing. Eventually, I realized that even one person like me can make a difference in someone’s day who might be feeling alone. If just one word….”Hello”…can make things a little better for someone, then I’m going to summon up my courage and get it done.

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