Warning: long post ahead.
I've been thinking a lot about fear over the past little while.
When I was a child, I was pretty much fearless. To the best of my recollection I had three fears: needles, bees and rejection. Outside of those, just about anything went. My dad was an outdoorsman, so I became one too. Hunting, trapping, fishing, exploring, etc. We had pets and trained dogs and I never met an animal that frightened me. For awhile he worked for Dead Stock (they come around to farms and pick up dead stock and then process it for safe disposal) and I went along on the runs with him whenever I could, then sat on a bench and watched the butchering process. I prided myself on my iron stomach and nerves of steel. I was Fearless Girl, sidekick to my hero.
Over the years though, fears started creeping in. Fear of public speaking hit hard and fast; but there was more to come. Slowly, my iron stomache got a little more jello-like every year. First it was a squeamishness around blood. I had never been ok with my own blood (oh the stories my mother delights in telling) but other people's or animal's blood I could handle. Then suddenly--one day--I couldn't. Soon it was an inability to go hunting or fishing with my dad, watch the medical shows my mom loved, even handle raw meat.. Now even the mention of such things has my stomache rolling. My love of canoeing and rappelling and spelunking and riding every roller coaster twice died the moment I became pregnant for the first time. Then I began to taste true fear.
It's true what they say; choosing to have children IS like choosing to have your heart go walking around outside of your body. The terror I experience daily watching them grow and stretch their wings is, I'm told, universal to mothers, yet still surprises me. Every. Single. Time. How can crossing the road be so frightening? Not for them, for me?
If it were just fear for them I think I could understand it, but it's not. It seems that every time I turn around I have a new fear. Things that never, ever bothered me before make me terribly nervous, with or without the kids around. Strange dogs. Reptiles. Insects of every variety. A fear of sharks became a fear of swimming in the ocean, which has become nervousness around getting in any type of boat. Strange diseases like Lyme Disease or West Nile Virus. Less strange diseases like cancer. Natural disasters. Freak accidents. The thousands of things in this world that I just can't control, and the things that I can that I don't feel I manage well enough.
The bright and beautiful world has become a dark and scary place over the years.
Last week a new fear jumped up out of nowhere and bit me: gravel roads.
Oh yes. The rural girl who lives inside me, she who LEARNED to drive on gravel roads and mocked the timid "grannies" for going too slow, stands back and shakes her head in disgust, but she is powerless. Two weeks ago construction crews tore up our old road and began rebuilding it, starting seemingly from scratch with layers of loose gravel. It was safe enough, certainly from the point of view of all the drivers who passed me the first chance they got, but I just wanted to get off. I was terrified. Terrified. Even as I questioned how it could be, I shook with fear and found an alternate route.
I try to hide my fears from the kids. I want them to embrace the joys of this world, to be strong, confident, adventurous, eager, fearless. I also want them to use a little common sense and caution rather than rushing into things, but I do my best to lead with the confidence and not burden them with my fears. I'm not sure I'm entirely successful when the boy says to me "it makes me nervous when you do that". Where did he hear that, I wonder?
And so today the kids started swimming lessons for the first time. We hyped it up as lots of fun and everyone was eager. Sweetpea and the Boy had class first, and went impatiently and gleefully into it. I wish I had had my camera out to capture the grin on the Boy's face as he strode away from me, proud of himself and his specialness. It was a joy. The Princess sat beside me and laughed along with me at the obvious delight of the other two. Then the Boy balked a bit at floating (just for a minute!) and I could see the fear begin to creep over her. I tried to distract her with the camera and snacks and stories, but she was building things up in her head. She went off nervously to her lesson and by the time I got the other two changed and to the observation window, she was lost. She stood shaking in terror. She wouldn't go near the pool. The lifeguard started coaxing and encouraging and she just stood, head shaking and tears streaming.
My sympathetic mom heart bled for her, even as I started coaxing her in my mind. If heart could speak to heart, mine was crying out to hers: "It's ok. It's safe. You can trust me. I'm watching you. I'd never let anything happen. It seems scary, but if you can just get through this, whole worlds will open up for you. It really is worth it. I promise. I'm right here watching you, and I'd never sign you up for something I didn't know you could handle. The lifeguard is right there to protect you. If you could just be brave for a minute, something special is waiting for you."
And then I started to hear my words from another source, from a loving Father in Heaven who, I'm sure, whispers the same words to me every day. I know I need to let go of my fears and trust Him to support me. To be brave and leap when He tells me to. To stop listening to the louder and louder voices of all those scary things and focus on Him.
To just get in the water and 'Fear Not! For I am with you".
My girl and I, we'll be working on it, taking it one day at a time, growing grace by grace.
Some days, I think just sitting on the edge is a perfect start (even if you're still afraid of getting wet).
Maybe we'll be ready to leap tomorrow.