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Fear of the dark woods?

When I was little my family went camping a lot. First it was out of a pop up camper and then when I was older my dad got a full camper, hard top with AC and everything. But in the early days we had no bathroom and had to voyage out at night to either hit it behind the trees or to the campsite bathrooms. In one of my earliest experiences I woke up in the middle of the night, everyone seemed to be asleep so I grabbed the flashlight and slipped out of the pop up to walk into the woods.

As I exited the camper I walked into the dark of night, deeper into the forest than I probably needed to but in those days I was still saddled with some level of modesty. As I was nearing what I thought was a safe distance into the woods, I heard some rustling of the bushes that made me feel as if something else was there. I just froze and turned the light toward the sound. It was way too dark to see anything. I turned the light out as then I thought if I could not see them, they could not see me. Standing silent for a few moments, I then heard some additional rustling of branches and decided not to wait it out any longer. I reversed course and tore back to the safety of the camper as fast as I could. I made it back (without being followed), out of breath, and scared too death.

Now I had good reason to be a bit nervous of those dark woods. You see, as the younger brother by almost 4 years, my older sister enjoyed taking me out into the woods "for a hike" and then ditching me. Or waiting for me to pass by on a trail, usually around sundown as I was heading back to our campsite, and then jumping out from behind me to try to scare me (and it worked way too often). It was quite the little game for her and I was young enough to still fall for it (although it was only a few years until I out grew her and things changed quite a bit! : )

So on this night I was thinking that might have been my sister but was not going to take any chances. So there I stood by the camper, scared too go out into the woods, but also scared I was about to wet myself. So faced with two fears I had to decide, which I feared less. Fortunately I mustered the courage to walk back into the woods (but not nearly as far as last time) and took care of business.

In my life I have been presented with the choice between my fears many times. Usually large life decisions can come down to that. Trying to decide which path or option to take when presented with some choices. In my early days I did not understand the role that fear played in my decision making. I thought I was making a conscious choice to take a better option. But after going through some major transitions several times, I realized there were some other things going on. I realized that while I was telling myself I was taking the more exciting or more advantageous option, in actuality I was (at times) making a decision to avoid another situation or possible outcome that I found uncomfortable, did not like, or even feared if I was honest with myself.

There is always some fear of uncertainty, of making changes, of doing something new, with new people, in a new place. The fear of failing, not doing well, disappointing people. So in the face of that fear one response is to sit tight and just keep doing what we have been doing. While it may not be perfect we know it, we are familiar with it, and that is comfortable for us. But the fear in my life usually runs deepest when I think I am not doing something because of the fear of failure. My deepest fear is not taking an option or a chance because I might be afraid of failing. My greatest fear is that I have in some way allowed fear to dictate my life, to push me into avoiding an opportunity, facing a challenge, or speaking up when I know I should. Of staying in a situation simply because it was easier than changing, or more comfortable, and ultimately choosing to avoid the challenge or the risk of the other option simply because of fear.

So then I have to step back and ask myself, what do I fear? How is fear controlling my decisions? What do I fear if I do not make the change, and what do I fear if I do? Is my fear of change, challenge, learning new things, stretching, being criticized, and even possibly failing keeping me from trying something? Is that fear greater than the fear of not trying something because of my need to stay close to what I know, to be comfortable, to stay on the known path? The path that while it has challenges and issues (all do), but I prefer simply because it is less scary than the other option?

Now many who read this may say: "I'm not driven by fear. I do not let fear control me or influence my choices." To you I say congrats. And maybe many of you are not presented with these kind of choices or options and so do not fall into this situation. But life for me is full of choices. Choices about people, places, tasks, future paths, goals, dreams, justice, living intentionally, growing, and the like. And in the back of my mind I fast forward to being near the end of my life and looking back and possibly feeling regret over the path not taken, particularly if it is a path I wanted to take but did not do so because I was afraid. You can't take them all, I know that, but often the meadow and beautiful waterfall (insert your dream here) that exists is only found after walking the dark, curvy, rocky, and difficult path that was at first frightening to you but you do it because you believe the waterfall is there and in your heart of hearts you know that you can live with yourself if you try and fail, but not if you never try to get there at all.

So I look behind my thoughts, examine what my mind tries to tell me about what I am doing and why. I try to look deeper to understand what all might be going on and what I might be avoiding and why. I ask myself "what am I afraid of in this situation." And I can only say that the older I get the less fears I have, certainly none any more of failing at anything because I know there is always another day. Another day to rise up and give it another go. I have also learned I can live with the failure, but not the regret of not having tried.

A closing word on those Iowa Hawkeyes!! It has been a season full of ups and downs with joys and frustrations. But what a 3 week run by those boys. Just when you think they are about to fold up, that the season is completely in the tank, they find a way to beat Michigan (ranked 2nd in the nation at the time), then a weary road trip to take care of business at Illinois, and then a sound beating of those Huskers to the west (ranked 17th at the time).

So they finish 8-4, on the up swing, nationally ranked, and now waiting to hear about a nice bowl invite. So I guess we learn again the old mantra - "never give up, never surrender!!" What they found within themselves and how they did it people will be talking about for a long time. But they did do it, they found a way and we could not be any happier for them that they did.

As a family we were just grateful George was able to participate in that senior day. The program has been very good to us and we have nothing but gratitude to Coach Ferentz, Coach Woods, and all of the staff for the opportunity to be a Hawkeye and for all they have done for George over these years. It has been very special and while it is bittersweet to have it end, we know that is how all things go, things enter our lives and then they leave (windows open and then they close!). But we also know there is graduation in December (YEE HAA!), a bowl game, and then life beyond Iowa (another open window). And with all of that, we have no fear, we are ready to move on, and we are excited about life beyond this closing window.

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