Four weeks ago today, I sat on the floor of an airport terminal, staring out the window and clutching my rosary. Outside, a Boeing 777 – painted like a scene from Lord of the Rings – waited for us to board. We were preparing to make the flight from LAX to Auckland, twelve hours over nothing but ocean.
I hate to fly. Ask anyone who’s flown with me. I’m a nightmare of a seat mate. Heart palpitations during takeoff, panic attacks at the first sign of turbulence. It’s ugly.
I could get into the nitty-gritty details of the origin of my fear, but that’s a different can of worms. Basically, I don’t do well when I’m not in control. Surprised? I didn’t think so.
For the entire twelve hours, my mind was on full alert – including the time during which I attempted, unsuccessfully, to sleep (because I subconsciously believe that my active worries seep from my body and form a protective barrier around the aircraft; and we’re not going down on my watch!)
I know that’s crazy. I told myself as much. Multiple times.
Oh my goodness. I’m the biggest baby ever. This is supposed to be fun and exciting but of course, I’ve found a way to be stressed and terrified. I need to get over myself… Wait! Does turbulence get this bumpy? It feels like we’re nose-diving. Tell my children I love them!
Guilt. Fear. Panic. Repeat. For twelve long hours.
As the wheels touched the ground in Auckland, I may have cried just a little bit because a part of me fully believed I had already lived my last day.
New Zealand was breath-takingly beautiful, and I experienced constant reminders of my initial hesitancy to come. Why is it so hard for me to embrace the uncertain?
Then on the third day we had an opportunity to go zip-lining in Rotorua, New Zealand’s largest tourist area. We signed the waivers, tugged on harnesses, and piled into the back of a van that would take us to the edge of the forest.
We crossed six zip-lines, the longest of which was nearly 700 feet. In between, we stood on wooden platforms suspended from the treetops. On the first line, the guides instructed us to “simply” step over the edge and let the ropes handle the rest.
This was my face on the first jump.
The second line wasn’t nearly as scary. The third one was fun. The fourth one, thrilling. The fifth, exhilarating.
And it wasn’t just me. All ten people in our group (well, except the kids, bless their courageous little hearts) started out apprehensive. Looking over the side of the platform, shooting nervous glances back and forth, playfully arguing over who would be first to take the leap, we were all a bit unsure.
Under normal circumstances, it’s reasonable to be fearful while standing on a platform suspended in the air. As we prepared to jump, our brains sent out the same signals they would send if there was nothing to break the fall; and each of us had to fight our own level of temptation to remain on solid ground.
It takes practice to unprogram long-standing fears.
By the second or third run, every one of us sang a different tune. The cloud of fear faded into an aura of courage as we faced our pre-programmed responses and wrote a different ending to a story that began with nervous uncertainty.
We no longer feared the fall because we had finally processed the truth that we were tethered to the sky.
Then on the very last line, the guides demonstrated a different way to ride the ropes; and they challenged the group to try it.
I wasn’t sure if I could do it – mentally or physically, but I knew it was probably the only time in my life I would ever have this chance. Besides, I had started out so hesitant. So unsure. So afraid. And now there I was, actually having fun.
Facing away from the open air, I did a back flip off the platform. The soles of my shoes gripped the rope and I sailed across the last line UPSIDE DOWN, with outstretched arms and a loud whoop that said it all…
Is this really happening?!
Not just the zip-line. All of it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think any of this would happen – introducing my brother to a girl from New Zealand who would end up becoming his wife; leaving my children to fly over the ocean; seeing a part of the world I never expected to see.
And even more than that – this life I’m living; the good things I’ve achieved and challenges I’ve survived over the years; and my upcoming leap into the open air of full-time blogging.
You guys, we can do scary things. Uncertain things. Hard things. Ask me how I know.
Whatever your hard thing is, even it doesn’t feel big enough to matter, if it’s hard for you and you face your fear and do it anyway, you are my hero.
One of the (many) hard things in my life is letting go, taking risks, trusting others with anything I hold dear – my heart, my dreams, my children, my safety.
That back flip off the platform was for all the times I chose not to take the leap. For all the times I chose comfort and familiarity over adventure and discovery. For all the times I allowed fear to take the wheel and steer me down the straight, smooth, easy path.
That back flip was my way of telling my fear, You may accompany me on this journey through life, but you are no longer allowed to set the course.
For the rest of the trip, I didn’t worry about my children being 8,000 miles away, or my twelve-hour return flight, or any of the other hard things that weigh on my soul.
Instead I decided to focus on all that was unfolding in my life and in my heart. I drank coffee on a deck overlooking the ocean. I hiked nearly seven miles and stood on top of a waterfall. I celebrated my brother and his beautiful bride, my new sister.
And I thought long and hard about life, love, and dreams. Fear, loss, and pain. Hope, faith, and possibilities. How I feel about the pace of my life, the path I’m following, and the future to which it’s leading.
My surface is tough but my heart is deep and life’s pain hits me hard. To avoid that pain, I’ve sidestepped many opportunities to take big leaps into the fullness of life.
I’ve always known that fear can make us hesitant.
What I haven’t known is that the presence of fear doesn’t mean an absence of strength; and all the breath we waste beating ourselves up over it would be much better spent cheering ourselves on through it.
Just think – if we could all do that, we just might find that those of us who are most afraid to fall are also the ones with the greatest potential to soar.
With our backs to the wind, we can take flying leaps into the wide open air until we unprogram our fears and reprogram the truth:
We can do all the things we fear we cannot do.
We can launch blogs and start businesses and run marathons.
We can walk through grief and raise difficult kids and battle insecurities.
We can cross oceans and climb mountains and set records.
We can overcome addictions and and rewrite our stories.
We can chase dreams and conquer fears and live big, bold lives.
And right in the middle of it, just when we think we’re about to fall, that’s when we will find ourselves soaring through the air…
Tethered to a rope that runs straight up to The Sky.
Things are changing over here! My new site is almost up and running and I can’t wait for you to see it. The web address won’t change, but I’m getting a whole new look and narrowing the focus of my writing to better serve my growing community of readers.
Thank you all so much for your support over the last five years. I would not be here without each of you, and I’m thrilled to have found the means and the courage to take a bigger step in my writing journey. I hope you all will come along.