Tag Archives: fear

Bear Hunt

A LONG time ago, I worked in a day care center and we took preschoolers on Bear Hunts pretty often. It started by sitting on the floor in a circle and making a marching sound by patting our legs in rhythm while chanting: “Going on a bear hunt,” pat, pat, pat, pat, “Gonna catch a big one,” pat, pat, pat, pat, “I’m not afraid!” pat, pat, pat, “Tall trees,” pat, pat, “Green grass,” pat, pat, pat. “Look at all the flowers!” After we appreciated the imaginary flowers there would always be 1) a river we needed to swim, 2) a mountain to climb, and 3) a field of tall grass we had to push apart to walk through. Then we started the chant again, “Going on a bear hunt…” We always found our way to a deep, dark cave, so dark it was like having our eyes shut (so we shut our eyes) and, as sensible bear hunters would, we went blindly into the cave, finding our way by sliding our hands along the walls. Then, instead of feeling the cold, hard, stone wall, we found ourselves in the dark touching a warm, soft, furry….BEAR! At that point we’d all shout “RUN!” and slap our legs furiously, eyes wide with excitement, racing through the tall grass, down the mountain, and across the river back to our cabin, where we’d slam the door, lock it and then peek through the window to find it was only a baby bear after all. We had dozens of bear hunts and it was always thrilling even though it turned out the same way every time. Except once.

It was not Kyla’s first bear hunt. At almost four years old, she was a veteran. She was the kind of kid who wore her blond, curly hair pixie short, hopped over mud puddles and climbed monkey bars as high as anyone else. What I am saying is that she could handle herself. So it was unexpected when, during one bear hunt, the rest of us had fled the cave and were racing for our lives toward the field of deep grass, we heard Kyla yelling, “Help! Help!” The rest of us in the circle stopped and looked at her. She was sitting between Philip and Brittany in our sunny classroom, her eyes closed, hands up feeling the air, with a look of terror on her pale, freckled face. Take this in; she couldn’t find her way out of the cave. “Kyla, honey, open your eyes!” I said. Her big blue eyes popped open, and she looked at us in surprise. Then she laughed in relief and we all laughed with her. The power of her imagination stunned me.

And yet, how different is this from what I (and maybe you) sometimes do? I get stuck in situations of my own imagining way too often. What if I lost my job? What if my son gets deployed to a conflict zone? What if I or someone I love gets really sick? These are worst-case scenarios, and when I start thinking too much about them I can find myself in a dark place. It can seem terrifying, when it isn’t even real. When I catch myself starting to figuratively drift into a dark scary cave, I try to remember to ask myself two questions: 1) In the history of all that I have experienced, how often have I actually faced what looks like a worst-case scenario? The answer to that is, almost never. 2) In those instances when I have faced a worst-case scenario, how many times did I survive? Answer, all of them.

If kept in perspective, worst-case scenario thinking can be a useful “what if” exercise for planning. My worries might prompt me to keep my resume fresh and to save up an emergency fund to cover basic expenses. Or try to live in a healthy way and encourage others to do so. Or make sure my son knows I love him and work very hard at praying for him daily then trusting God for the rest. This last one, the praying and then the trusting, is the hardest but it is critical in situations that are only partly (if at all) within my control, like my employment, or health, or the lives of other people. Worrying and replaying feared outcomes over and over doesn’t change what is going to happen, it is just groping around in circles in the dark. Memorizing Philippians 4:6-7 has helped me for the times when I am stuck in a cave: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV, emphasis mine.) Step one is praying, but step two, the gratitude, is where I seal the prayer by giving my trust and thanks for whatever comes. When I release my death grip on worry and truly trust God, it is like stepping into the light.

If a person practices worrying for a long time, it takes a long time of practicing trust to make it a habit. I am exasperated by how quickly and how often I find myself worried and anxious. But even when I let down my end of the deal, and forget to pray, forget to be thankful and trust, even when I find myself back in that cave, I am not there alone. When I am fearful and I call out “help!” I feel God is smiling at my side saying, “Child, open your eyes.”

My hope is that if you find yourself in the dark, feeling alone, afraid and overwhelmed, that you can let go of your fears, ask God for help and then let yourself trust God to handle what is ahead and to be with you, a powerful and loving presence in all things. Peace!

Advertisements

A Truce

It had been a strugglesome week at work and I was feeling rushed and dejected when my husband suggested we go outside and have a few practice swings with the clubs. A few days before, I had reluctantly agreed to join an outing of four couples for nine holes of golf. Let me tell you something about golf. I don’t care for it. I find it full of aggravation and without reward. I was dreading spending my first opportunity to relax feeling like a total failure surrounded by people who play regularly. But I am a good sport…sort of. “Fine,” I had said, sounding more like “Why GOLF?”

The last time I had played was four years before and it had ranked among the worst leisure experiences of my life. I don’t know how many years it was before that I had played but it was more than four. Last Friday out in the yard, I picked up my driver with poor grace and assumed the position. Instantly there was a blaring chorus of voices in my head. Some were telling me what a bad experience I was about to have, some were telling me what a lousy golfer I am in general, and others were critiquing every single aspect of my swing (SO many ways to do it wrong). It was both deafening and oddly familiar. They sounded just like the voices that used to hound me when I was writing. I couldn’t believe how awful it felt, and I couldn’t believe I had persevered with writing as long as I had, clinging to a certainty that I had to battle through the noise and the unrelenting negativity. As I said in my last post I eventually did give up, and rebooted my writing in Safe Mode, which for me was to only write when I felt like it and to only write for myself. I chose to share my writing when I wanted to with a supportive group of friends who also write, but I absolutely gave myself permission to not do our writing prompts at all, or to write about something else if I wanted. I gave up overthinking and trying to be perfect, and in doing so had made peace with my writing. The voices quieted to a manageable murmur.

Out there in the yard, facing down a leaf in substitution for a dimpled ball, I decided that If I could do that with writing, when I really, really care about writing, I could also do this with golf. Some of the advice my husband offered made no sense. “Position your club face so it impacts the leaf like this.” “Aim so you hit the leaf right at this point.” Incomprehensible concepts which I rejected. Some of the things he said resonated. “Plant your feet.” Yes, this I had experienced in yoga and Pilates, feeling my feet connected with the earth as though my body was an extension of the planet. “Slow your swing.” That I understood, even if I didn’t like it. I just wanted to get the game OVER, but when I slowed down, my swing felt more controlled. Out on the course with an actual ball and an adjusted attitude (less competitive, more experimental and compassionate toward myself) I had a not-terrible time. I had a few (feet planted, slow tempo) strokes that were pretty decent, and the rest (which were absolutely consistent with my status as a perennial beginner) didn’t bother me. Best of all, my inner critics were silent. Nine holes wore me out, and I ended up with a blister on my thumb and some sore muscles the next day, but I also found I had been able to call a truce with the sport. I would be willing to golf again…you know, once my back loosened up.

I even learned a few things from golf that I can apply to my writing. If my metaphysical feet are planted, I have strength and balance to write from. If I don’t rush my message, it comes at its own pace and makes more sense. More peace, fewer voices seems like a good direction to keep moving toward. Fore!

Lynnette golfing

Hey, there. Missed you.


I happened to catch up with an old wordpress friend, lahikmajoe, today (“old” as in haven’t interacted in a very long time, and “catch up” as in I saw his post on Twitter, followed the link to his blog, commented, he commented back and visited one of my old posts and commented…it’s the digital-age version of catching up and reminiscing over coffee.) It has been nearly a year since I have posted anything, and well over a year since I posted any of my so-called “normal” material. I was knocked out by how much I have missed this blog and you people (assuming you are still out there.)

Back then I was fearful and busy and struggling to find something to say. The badly-fitting job I tried so hard at collapsed, but more time didn’t mean more writing. There was a long dark night of searching my soul, a reboot of my writing in “Safe Mode,” and finally another iteration of me as a working person. Now I am working furiously (figuratively, but sometimes literally also) and taking a class and doing a project, and all the  family and church stuff, and still searching. Now, however, I am searching more hopefully, gratefully, and with more of an attitude of acceptance and interest than fear.

I ask myself, do I have time for one more thing? Do I have time to formulate my crazy spinning tangential thinking into a coherent message on a semi-regular basis? Probably not, but I am not sure coherent messaging was ever my strong suit. The real question is, will I have time later? No one knows. I am feeling a little fragile upon hearing of Robin Williams’ death today, and maybe that too is moving me back into this space. We can’t definitely say that me catching lahikmajoe’s tweet in that brief moment before it rolled to the bottom of the feed and off the edge of the earth is actually a sign the universe is beckoning me back to the blogosphere. But if it feels like it, a little, that tells me something.

So, I am back, and really curious to see what I have to say. Thanks for visiting.

wpid-img_20140811_195628.jpg

An affirmation from a very helpful book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers

 

Picking a Fight

I don’t think a lot of people who know me in the real world would describe me as timorous, but I am. Sure, I will ask just about anybody a question even if it makes me look dumb and I will brace myself and dive into uncomfortable new social situations as needed , but put me in a conflict situation and all kinds of alarm bells and whistles go off. If I am in the conflict I rush straight to the de-escalation and defusing stage; if I am only observing, I try to take it all in (how are you doing that? how do you defend yourself so handily?) Part of my problem is that the stress of the interaction shuts down my brain so I simply cannot think of any of the arguments that would back up my position. I know you are wrong, I might think, but I can’t quite work out why with you standing there grinning (or snarling) at me. Although in my head it sounds more like Aaaaaaghh! Think dammit! Aaaaaghh!

Obviously this is not how a mature adult should function, or at least not how I want to function. I thought what I needed was practice, so one evening, while having a glass of wine with friends at their home,  the conversation turned (as it does,) to Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of suspected terrorists, and I thought, here we go. Why this topic, Lynnette? you might ask. Such a politically and emotionally charged issue seems like rather big potatoes, perhaps you should have started with something smaller, like whether consumers should be forced to buy fluorescent bulbs or whether wool or microfiber makes a better base layer when working out in the winter? Well, maybe. Here is what I was thinking: Guantanamo at this point was covered ground. The arguments had already been made many times in the media, and I was familiar with both sides. I also felt that both sides had valid concerns and that, to me, made it safer. A reasonable person would need to cede at least one “point” for opposing valid concern so at minimum, I’d have that, right? I am so silly sometimes. Anywho, my friend, who is conservative AND former military took the position of ” terrorists are trying to destroy us and we have to do whatever necessary to protect our country and our people,” leaving me with “if we are the bright light of civilization we had better act like it and torture puts our citizens who are outside our borders at greater risk.” Now don’t get all excited about this, I have political and philosophical leanings but for the most part I am all “jeez-o-pete there are a lot of good points here and I really don’t know what the right thing is.” This is another reason I suck at arguing, but I was TRYING. I guess I thought it would build character or something.

So instead of just letting the opinions roll over me as usual, I picked up the other end of the conversational rope and gave it a congenial tug. At this point, I am sure both Mr. Wordtabulous and my friend’s wife (who is also my friend) thought, “Oh, shit.” But I was all, this is fine, two adults respectfully sharing opposing views, we’re all friends here, cool. But one of us wasn’t cool. One of us was increasingly loud and ranty. I was increasingly uncomfortable, but after all, the purpose of this had been to push the envelope. I tried to keep things calm and conversational but that was a unilateral strategy that broke down when my friend shouted into my face, “I hope you’ll be happy the next time one of our soldiers gets killed by an IED!!” I looked at him in shock and then stormed out of their house, slamming the door behind me. He sent me an email the next day or so, saying that the episode was unfortunate and he didn’t feel arguments should get in the way of friendships. And we all picked up from where we had been BEFORE I began my little experiment.

My processing of this event has been in stages. My first stage was, “My friend is an ass.” Which isn’t true. He is a hard-working, loving husband and father who volunteers his time in the community and has genuine concern for others. So I got through that phase pretty fast. Next I thought, “I still suck at arguing, and now I’m traumatized, too. I guess I’ll never do that again.” I held onto this phase a really, really long time. But recently I was at State Services for the Blind, doing my thang of reading books into digital media and was assigned the job of finishing At the Oasis by Bill McDonald. It is a collection of essays by the Minnesota writer on a wide variety of topics. One of the essays was on his three “round tables” in which he and others engage in debate over events and ideas of the past, present and future. Tears are not welcome, he warns, but then says that all viewpoints are. The  more I read, the more I believed that lively doesn’t necessarily mean combative. Maybe, I thought, I’m not the only one who could use some pointers on argumentation (looking at you, argumentative friend.) Maybe I just need to find the right folks to disagree with, and establish the goal of fleshing out and truly understanding the subject as opposed to winning or losing a match. I am not itching for a fight, per se, but am starting to think that when the next one comes my way, maybe this time I won’t avoid eye contact. What could possibly go wrong?

I only read the last few of McDonald’s essays, so I can’t give a full review, but the one he wrote on whether the citizens of the US could ever vote away their democracy as did the citizens of pre WWII Germany was both thought-provoking and moving. Check out his work on Amazon or via the link at the title above if you are interested!

CHECK THE CRAWL SPACE

Tap, tap, tap, tap. Tap-tap, pause, shuffle, tap, tap. What the hell was making that sound above the bathroom ceiling? Way bigger than a mouse. Mutant raccoon? How would something that sounded that big get UP there? I stared at the ceiling, as though I would suddenly develop x-ray vision. Why would a varmint be tapping? What if it wasn’t a varmint? What if it was Tooms, from the X-files? That episode, while not the first one I saw, was definitely the one that sold me on the series. And now, thanks to my stupid vivid memory and imagination, I was afraid I was going to be his next victim. Except I wasn’t–of course not, FICTION, woman, you know the difference. Ha-ha. Right. Well, I couldn’t drive to St. Paul in my bathrobe. I was going to have to get dressed and ready for the day. Which was difficult while keeping my eyes glued to the ceiling exhaust fan. If I had seen a pair of eyes peek out at me, or a mutant paw reach through the grate, whatever it was wasn’t going to get a chance to kill me. I’d drop dead from terror first.

This wasn’t the first time fear has kicked me across the “over-reacting” threshold. The first time, decades ago, I was standing by the door in a preschool room I was working in and a little vole scampered across the floor by my feet, looking for a way out. The next thing we all knew, I was across the room, standing on a Little Tykes slide. None of us, the other teachers, the kids, even I, knew how I’d gotten there so fast. Either I was a blur, or I somehow opened a little wormhole in time/space. Neat trick, if I could figure out how to do it on purpose, but I was a little surprised that I had had such an extreme reaction. I used to work with mice and rats in a laboratory, and they weren’t my faves but I hadn’t been frightened of them. Of course, they hadn’t been zipping around by the cuff of my pant leg, either. The next episode from my diary of terror, I was in the basement and I heard very clearly the floor above me creak from the weight of footsteps. I froze, and the footsteps stopped. Husband and kids being at work and school, I had been alone in the house, I’d thought. After holding my breath and listening for a few minutes, hearing nothing more, I couldn’t bring myself to go up the steps. I dashed out the back and went to my friend’s house down the street. She was sitting with two of our neighbors and another woman I knew a little. After I tried to laugh off my situation, they all insisted on coming and searching my house to make sure no one was there. At that point I remembered the state of my house, and tried to stop them, figuring death by stranger would be preferable to them seeing the shocking mess in every dang room, but they would have none of it. Mortifying. I can’t even put words to it.  The most recent episode before today was another wormhole incident, when Mr. W and I were having a conversation in his workshop. The walls down there were unfinished, just plastic sheeting stretched over fiberglass insulation and studs. To my horror, I saw the plastic over the patio door BULGE out as a fist-sized black something scurried along the top of the door. Mr. W was all, “Hey, look at tha…” but I was twenty feet away, covering my mouth so the scream couldn’t get out of it and jumping up and down.

I don’t know when I got all squirrelly, but it is undeniable. I am a lunatic. But I had things to do. I couldn’t just sit around and wait for whatever was living in the crawl space to finish me off, so I rapped on the ceiling with one of the kid’s broken air soft rifles and the tapping subsided with only the hint of a shuffle. Then I rinsed the bedhead out of my hair as fast as I could, dressed and got the hell out of there. I notified my tweeps, and am telling you now, that if our bodies are found with our livers removed or with oddly large rodent toothmarks on our tibias, CHECK THE CRAWL SPACE. Well, not you personally, I love you and wouldn’t want anything to gnaw your head off, but get a professional. I wonder if Mulder and Scully still make house calls?

A Good Day

I woke this morning to the sound of air raid sirens, which slowly resolved into the high whine of a jet flying overhead. As my confusion ebbed and I started to consider going back to sleep, I heard gunshots in the distance. Someone getting ready for goose or deer season, I assumed, since there were no sirens forthcoming. This violent first few minutes of wakefulness followed a horrible night’s rest. One of my dreams involved a harrowing bus trip with impossible hills, descents and breakneck turns. The unsettling dreams were interspersed with wakeful intermissions within which I wrestled pointlessly with worries. Was my mom getting a good night’s rest before her mastectomy? Had we sisters planned well for helping her out during recovery? Would my mammogram on Tuesday be clear? Have I done what I can to get my kids ready for school? What have I forgotten, what have I missed? Nothing constructive came of this. The morning was a mess of trying to keep moving, keep doing, staying focused so I couldn’t watch the clock, staying as positive and grateful as possible.

Worry is weakness and worse, a thief of energy and clarity. Nothing is accomplished better under the cloud of fear and anxiety than it is with clear eyed thoughtfulness and rational optimism. Many of Jesus’ best quotes have to do with casting off fear, and that is one of the reasons I am such a big fan. Still, like most of what Jesus stands for, I have a long way to go before I truly live the Word. (Don’t be me. Be better.) Aside from the fact that my mom was having a surgery to remove cancer from her body and I spent a lot of time wavering between functioning human being and a waste of space, it was a good day. No cancer in lymph nodes! Satisfied surgeons! A living, breathing post-surgical mom! A lot of people were praying for her. Did prayers bring her a better outcome than worries? I can’t prove that, either way, but I know for sure that that same lot of people faced the day with strength and hope beyond what faith in modern medicine provides. It isn’t magic. It isn’t even easy to be faithful or hopeful in difficulty. But it is effective, important, and life-changing. Every moment I remembered to put aside fear and embrace faith, I turned inside out, like a pocket being emptied of old Kleenex and last week’s shopping list. Tomorrow will bring its own troubles. Hopefully, they won’t be near as dramatic as today’s were, but how much better would my life be, would I be, if I faced even the everyday tiny worries with the same intentional faith that helped me get through today?

I am so glad you have stopped in to check out my newborn blog! My desire to be a successful writer is almost (but not quite) matched by the fear that I can’t do this at all. I remember when I first started riding a road bike (super skinny tires, handlebars lower than the saddle, shoes that clip to the pedals.) That first summer I found every way possible to fall over, usually in front of other cyclists and motorists. After the eighth consecutive phone conversation with my mom relating my latest kiss with the pavement she commented, “I don’t understand why you keep doing something you are so bad at.” She is not usually cruel that way and will probably deny she ever said it, but it’s true. My response was, “I like it, well, not the falling part, but all the rest of it.” Writing is like that, but more so.  Writing is therapy and escape and growth. It can also be a little bit like picking scabs. Sorry, but you know what I mean, don’t lie and say you don’t. It is agony sometimes and yet I can’t stop doing it. True love or psychopathology? The jury is still out, but I hope that  you will join me on the road to verdict, and that there aren’t too many crashes along the way.