I had waited 3 years to go back. I scheduled 4 days off of work. It would take us 11 hours to get there. We would go in 2 vehicles. The 7 of us would share 1500 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1 living area, 1 kitchen, 1 balcony. We would have 3 full days on the beach, 2 days of travel. The numbers were so carefully calculated. I could tick them off as often as needed in the days leading up to our trip. There was one number I failed to heed. One I let slip right past me. The number 6.
Because I had booked the condo, I took charge when we arrived at the resort. Went inside, collected the keys, paperwork and condo number: 618. Still oblivious, I boarded the elevator, pressed the number 6 and headed up. In this resort, all of the units’ doors are outside. Ding. I stepped off the elevator, rounded the corner, took 8 steps, and my knees buckled. I was standing on a walkway in what my eyes, ears and prickly skin told me was mid-air.
Have I mentioned I’m afraid of heights?
I leaned against the railing and tried to steady myself. The balcony, I thought. My 3 year-old and the balcony. Instant despair. I managed to wobble across the rest of the breezeway and make it to our condo, imagining our beach vacation spent entirely outside of this peril-fraught condo entrance, and entirely off of the equally peril-fraught balcony. I panicked inwardly and with very little restraint.
After a very ugly exchange with my sister, my mother and my balcony-rail-climbing daughter (I made the exchange ugly), I sat on the couch just inside the condo and thought, do I really have to be this person? Do I really have to be afraid? Knowing the answer to that question, I prayed, very simply, for the courage to brave that balcony. And then I thought beyond the heights, to the landscape of my life – the things that I fear, the things I avoid, the things that go bump in my proverbial night. And I so wanted to be free of all that fear. So I asked God to make me free. To help me be a woman of courage. To make me brave so I could raise a daughter whose first response is trust, not fear. So I let Livi play on the balcony, and I tried not to hover and obsess and scold and hyperventilate. And I managed to spend a few relaxing moments out there myself, reading and enjoying the view.
It’s almost 9 months later, and until recently, I’d forgotten about that prayer. How I wish I had remembered it all along! See, in the last several months, I have had to face wild fear. There have been fears I didn’t know existed for me and fears that ran far deeper than I’d admitted. Then there have been fears that came as no surprise at all. It’s been hard. Crazy hard. But I’m moving forward and gratefully watching as the scenery changes – as the whisper of the Promise is heard over fear’s futile cries.
So it should really come as no surprise to me that one of the big ones has surfaced and is demanding an answer.
Okay, so that makes it sound a little more dramatic than it really is. It’s just oral surgery, just a silly little wisdom teeth extraction. Only everything I’ve read on the Internet and am told by the surgeon assures me that this will involve both anesthesia and surgical blades, so I get to call it surgery.
I sat in the oral surgeon’s office last week listening to him describe the entire procedure, and I just started to cry. Like a crazy person. I couldn’t stop it. Just tears. He stood there telling me what a simple, straightforward thing this was, and all I could remember was my obstetrician patting my hand and telling me there was nothing to be afraid of, nothing to worry about, and me being too tired after 17 hours of labor to shout, “But I’m afraid! I don’t want to have to do it this way!” I remembered that feeling of inevitability – the realization that this baby had to come out and my body had given its final refusal to our requests for cooperation, so that meant they had to cut me open and now. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have any time left. Nurses and sisters and mother stood around me telling me what to expect and insisting that this was easy, and inside all I could think was, How is being cut wide open ever easy? But I couldn’t say it. It was only when I made it into the operating room and the anesthesiologist leaned in close to ask me how I was that I could finally tell someone just how much I was freaking out. She responded the way you would expect an anesthesiologist to – with a syringe full of clear liquid to ‘take the edge off’. Then she patted my hair and told me that she would be standing exactly there during the whole surgery. I asked her to hold my hand.
Every minute felt like fifty…except for the minute that they pulled Olivia from my womb and I heard her glorious little cry for the first time – and then she was gone. Off with the nurses and my mother to be cleaned up, and I was alone again. I didn’t let myself feel relief until they wheeled me out of that horrid operating room. And even the next morning, holding my sweet, perfect little daughter, I was still reeling. Weeks after, I reeled. And I processed, I prayed, I got better. But there’s been this little part of that experience that has stayed as fresh as it was the day it happened. I’m told that’s what our birth stories do – they stay with us in exact detail for the rest of our lives. With those details has remained the fear, hissing loud, you only barely made it through that. You’ll never be able to do it again. Never. Because you can’t beat me.
And isn’t fear the lie that so desperately longs to be the Truth?
That’s what I scrawled on a sticky note last month, what I placed before my eyes so I could read it every day: fear is the lie. Fear tells me the worst will happen and I will suffer it alone and hopeless, helpless. Fear is the lie. Fear tells me that if I just stay tense enough, just keep a tight enough grip, I can control everything, keep anything bad from happening, and I’ll never have to feel pain. Fear is the lie. Fear tells me that this God I’ve come to know as my good, wonderful, loving Father, just might let me fall this time, just might suffer my foot to be moved. Fear is the lie.
And how to answer lies we need defeated? With His Truth. I will never leave you nor will I forsake you. Even if the worst does happen. In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength…His hand is the tight grip I want grasping my life. Be still and know that I am God. And so…
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.
And so it’s settled. I go in at 11 tomorrow morning. To have 4 teeth cut out. And answer 1 very sinister lie with my face set like a flint. (Fitting analogy, don’t you think? Considering I’ll come out with chipmunk cheeks?)
Because the Sovereign LORD helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
Who then will bring charges against me?
Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.