Things About Fear

Last week the world blew all to heck. Literally. I have heard reports from the towns south of me, I have seen the pictures on social media to support the claims. In the dark, cold hours of the night, I could heard the angry roar of the wind, like a bear unleashed from a long captivity, wreaking vengeance on his captors. I imagined the giant dying tree above my bedroom crashing down through the roof. I imagined what many people faced in reality that night.

I was afraid. I was afraid for the daughter who lives in Spokane, where she listened to perpetual sirens as the giant trees fell like blades of grass around the neighborhoods. I was afraid for my youngest daughter and the entire bus full of middle school basketball players trekking back from a match across a mountain pass in the violent storm. I was afraid for all of my friends and family who were at the mercy of the wrath of nature.

The word afraid means "to be filled with fear or apprehension." I believe that fear itself is a gift, but to be filled with it is death.

Fear is an unavoidable human reality. It is easy to demonize fear and make it the enemy, but fear is often the one thing that keeps us safe. Fear is the only reason we don't leap unprotected from skyscrapers or dive unguided into the darkest depths. Fear keeps us alive, but it can also keep us from living. Fear, left to spiral out of control, can dominate our existence and paralyze us from movement. When fear fills us up, and we are afraid, it can monopolize our time with useless worry and wasted days of what-ifs and but-maybes. It can be the still small voice that tells us which side of the street to walk on, or it can be the screaming howl of senseless paranoia. Fear is a gift, but like any gift without moderation, can cause death.

My two oldest daughters are heading off in a couple of weeks to a country in a different hemisphere from me. They will be "alone". Traveling teenagers with no supervision during The Holidays in South America, away from me, out of reach of any futile protection I imagine I can offer them. It brings me back to the place I was in 2009, when I lay on a bed under a mosquito net full of holes and I realized that from my location in Northern Uganda, it would take me no less than two days to reach my kids back home if something went wrong. In that moment I began to panic, to regret my decision to travel, to hate myself for abandoning my post as sworn protector. But in that moment I also had to find peace, and the only way I could do that was by reminding myself that they are in The Hands of Someone who has loved them much more and much longer than I have. That even sitting next to me at the dinner table, they are no more under "my protection" than they are 10,000 miles away. They do not belong to me, they belong to themselves and they world they were created for. They have a reason to be here, and their purpose as human beings is certainly not to sit "safely" by my side.

I have to remember this when Halle is working all night on an uncontrolled fireline. I have to remember this when MacKenzie rides the bus alone in Spokane. I have to remember it when Aspen is at the top of Sherman Pass with her classmates in a windstorm, and when Natalee doesn't come home from a sleepover on time. I have to remember this when there are kids being murdered on college campuses almost daily, our Protectors in Blue are being killed on the streets, and there are terrorist threats close to home.

My delusion of control and protection over the ones I love I owe entirely to the safety that they have been granted thus far by a Power far greater than me. I have not kept them safe. I have not prevented their harm. The One who made them has sheltered them, and will continue to do so until their purpose is served. There is no other way to live life with healthy fear and respect for the dangers of this world, than to believe that Someone Bigger is in charge. All I can offer is wisdom and prayer.

In this ugly world of terror, surrounded by human beings intent on destruction, our wisdom has to be grounded in healthy fear and our fear has to be driven by wisdom. I carry a gun not because I am afraid of the bad people, but because I know they exist and I am not afraid to counter them if I must. I wear a seatbelt not because I plan to be in a wreck, but because I know that no accident is planned and I have seen the consequences of not using that protection.

One of my best friends is a police officer - I do not fear the real danger he faces every day but I do pray for his protection every shift. One of my best friends is facing health challenges that could be terrifying, but I trust in her strength to overcome anything. The things that we fear the most: death, pain, suffering... are the things that none of us can avoid. Bad things happen every day, to good people. Our only choice is to embrace the purpose behind the things we suffer, before the things that kill us and make every step count along the way.

Which is why I am not harping (very much) on the girls' trip to Brazil. I am trying very hard to remind them to be wise, but to not nag them to quit living. This world is so vastly different from the one I knew as a teenager. More connected, more open, in some ways better, in other ways, immensely more dangerous. But again, they fly under the Wing of a Bigger Bird than me, and I am thankful.

I am not afraid anymore. I am not filled with fear. There are fearful things, to be sure, but they do not own me. Like that night in Uganda, there are moments when I have to make the conscious decision to put aside my fear for my faith. I have done it a thousand times before, facing the suffering and the struggle to find the joy on the other side of fear. I did it when I  left a destructive marriage and a damaging community, I did it when I pushed through the nightmare of getting a college education, of single motherhood, of starting over in a new town. I do it every time the pager goes off in the middle of the night or I see the burning forest ahead of me. Fear is always there, but I am not afraid, and because I am not afraid, I have oodles of stories to tell. I can only hope the same joy for the ones I love.

READ: The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. Both of these books have been game changers for me.

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