Once upon a summer I was a camp counselor up in the Smokey Mountains. It was my first summer as a camp counselor. I had just finished my freshman year of college. I was trying to figure out whether or not I should become a music major (I was a seminary hopeful and an English major at the time). I was in a bad relationship and was realizing right then that it wasn't healthy for me. It was a summer of turmoil. Oh - and I was afraid of heights. Hah. An outdoor adventure camp counselor who was afraid of heights.
I love that Proverb - it speaks to our current situation as a society, right? We fear the other. We feel like we need to somehow ignore what they say or drown out the voices of folks who don't agree with us (because we're afraid that their differing opinion will somehow make our own beliefs right false . . . fear). We're afraid to let anybody say they've been hurt because we're afraid we had a hand in it - by deed or by silence. Then if we have been hurt, we're afraid nobody will listen to us . . . and sometimes we push too far and end up hurting somebody to get even. Such a mess we get ourselves into - and it's so complicated, right? And you could replace the word "people" with any other word and have this statement hold true.
Back to that first summer of camp counseling - I had a magical group of campers right at the beginning of the season. They came in for our teenage horseback program. We had a handful of girls and a handful of boys. They were quirky kids flexing their sarcastic humor muscles. It was lots of fun. We spent most of our 5 days down at the barn with the horses, but we had some other adventures on the schedule. We had a big camp out. We had some pool time . . . and we had ROPES 3. Ropes 3. The biggest, tallest ropes course we had at that time - stuff I'd managed to avoid testing during staff training (trust me - ROPES 2 was hard enough - took me 10 years to decide I'd go down the zip line).
But my campers were so spunky. They encouraged me all week - "Sarah, if we go on the swing, you have to try it, too!" - the "V swing" is made of some trees and some cables that are perfectly tensioned so that as you step sideways from the horizontal log you're standing on, you do a perfectly smooth free fall that becomes exactly what you'd expect - a giant swing ride. It's super fun! But I was not having any of it that week. All week those kids worked on me, though, and by the time we got up there I was convinced that I had no choice.
So I climbed the tree, I hooked onto the log and shimmied across it . . . . and then . . . I did nothing. I stood there shaking in my boots, hyperventilating. And then I shimmied back across, unhooked and climbed down. Those kids were so disappointed in me.
Oh yeah - that is a picture of me being terrified up there on the V Swing. That is a picture of me not believing. Not trusting. Not living.
But right after this picture was taken, something amazing happened - I did trust . . . and I did live a little! You see, a couple of those crazy kids came back again. They came back late in the summer for another round of horseback camp. And they were assigned to my group. Again. They voted to do ROPES 3. Again. One of those sweet, sassy girls told me, "You don't want to disappoint me, Sarah. You're doing it this time. I will stand here and watch you until it happens. You have to." - or something like that . . . hahaha - it's been a while.
So I climbed the tree, I shimmied across the log, I hooked into the swing. I experienced some moderate panic. Then I did it - I stepped sideways from the log into the air, and I went soaring. It was so wonderful. Just like that I knew some things . . . I knew I could change my major. I knew I could seek health in my personal relationships. I knew again, anew, that God was everywhere and still beside me. Some experiences do this for a person.
Now I'll give you the one bit of history that will make this story seem even sillier to you.
You see that picture? That's a person on a zip line that has 3 sections. The zip line is located in Managua, Nicaragua. It criss crosses the edges of a volcanic crater that has turned into a lake. On the 3rd section you actually zip from one rim down over the water, landing near the bottom. It's insane.
The summer before I worked at camp, which would have been the summer right after my high school graduation, I went to Nicaragua. And I did that. I did that zip line. Actually, I did it bare footed (NOT SAFE, KIDDIES, DON'T EVER DO THAT . . . I was lucky and didn't get hurt).
If you know me now and have only known me for the past 6 or 7 years you might scratch your head at all this. Because fear is tricky. I've spent several years being more closed off and fearful than I was the summer I conquered ROPES 3 at camp. And that summer seems crazy to me now . . . because I did a zip line over a volcanic crater in Nicaragua before I ever saw the V Swing . . . and the V Swing still scared me.
As I understand anxiety and fear better, I'm able to branch out and face more challenges. I can only do this because of help - help from God and help from wise counsel. People: I highly recommend seeking a good counselor when you're facing anything that becomes debilitating. Actually, it would be best to seek the counsel before that!
It's not a matter of saying, "My fear isn't real." My fear is real. So is yours. Our fear is real when we look at the stranger with misunderstanding. Our fear is real when we underestimate our own ability to cope and when we overestimate the difficulty of possible outcomes. Our fear is a physical, emotional, and spiritual experience. It's right to acknowledge our fear. But we can also acknowledge the resources we have to deal with our fear:
1) We can seek knowledge. We can seek facts to help us have a clearer picture of our situation.
2) We can seek support. We can seek God. We can seek a counselor or a friend to help us take action.
3) We can seek practice. We can figure out where our thoughts are all tangled up and then we can do the work to make our thinking healthier. Remember the scripture about the unclean spirit being cast out and then coming back with more of its friends to find its home still clean, empty, and waiting? We can't leave the space empty when we cast bad things out. We have to replace the hurtful things with healthy things.
When I write a new song it's an act of defiance. Because everything within me wants to say "You're still the not-good-enough teenager who couldn't quite cut it with any of the music. You're still the kid who sat 2nd chair and had somebody always ahead of her. You're still the awkward kid who couldn't get it together in high school chorus, who couldn't fit in, who couldn't keep up." - We all have thoughts like this. I know we all do. You know it, too.
So I have counter statements for that. "I'm a child of God and this writing is part of who I was made to be. My life experiences have taught me lots of things and this writing helps me to express and understand what I'm learning/what I have learned. I'm still a work in progress and I can see where progress has taken place - I'm excited to see what this writing can do to help me recognize more progress. I'm going to celebrate that progress when I see it."
Learn. Learn. Learn.
Love. Love. Love.
You're a child of God. Your fear is real, but so is your potential. You're a living, growing thing. Get out there and be defiant!