Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Standing with Fear

I stood near the edge of the shore, watching the rolling waves tumble toward me, slowly splaying themselves out onto the sand and then gently, gradually making their way back to the ocean. The waves moved so rhythmically, that for several moments I stood entranced solely by their steady sound. Roll, crash, flow, roll, crash, flow, roll…

I had spontaneously flown to Florida for the weekend with a college friend, both of us married and several kids later, needing some breathing room from our daily routines of potty training and vacuuming and the relentless demands of toddlers. 
Both of us needing a space to reconnect with ourselves, to remember the things that beat most truly and passionately within us, to acknowledge the things standing in the way of living from that truest place. 
We had spent hours talking, a quantity of words that only friends with history and days without demands could allow. We had walked the beach - together and alone - laid in the damp sand and felt the crisp wind blow through our hair as we read and wrote our mornings away. We had relaxed in the beachfront hot tub, slept without an alarm and eaten well all weekend.
I had come to Florida, hesitatingly at first, and then in service to a friend, but soon realized how greatly I needed the space away myself. Hundreds of miles from home, relaxing my body and spirit more than I had done in months, I let my heart speak. I let it lead. I let my soul set the agenda and I found it worn with wounds from friendships, heavy with love for my children, longing for more closeness with my husband. 
These three themes – friends, kids and husband – soon merged into one, and I saw with clarity a deep thread of fear binding them all together. I wrestled with this realization at first, but as the weekend wore on and I allowed my heart to organically overflow, I found the bubbling over was always about those I loved most dearly, or rather, losing those I love most dearly. 
I saw so much of my struggle in friendships was rooted in years of hurt and betrayal that had left me terrified of never having a close friend, of losing the friends I felt were barely in my grasp at any given moment. I saw how this base need to be known and loved sat screaming at the base of my soul most days, a longing for intimacy in friendship that always seemed a step or two away. How, in seasons, that longing became so defining and consuming within me that I could not give or receive friendship through any other filter.  
The next morning my heart was pierced when I read, “So much of parenthood is negotiating endings, the unceasing process of disconnecting the strings that tie our children to us, preparing them for a life on their own” and I saw my yearnings extending to my children. As much as I had known in my head about separation and raising children to part, my heart received the news with fresh terror, and I found myself journaling for pages about my fear of losing emotional or physical closeness with my two little loves. 
Again, this fear of being alone, unwanted and unknown, stood tall and showed powerful influence in my life. 
Perhaps most surprising of all, I found my heart turning with sorrowful longing toward my husband, yearning to love better, regretting not loving more. I sensed with clarity a level of self-protection and guarded intimacy I had carried in our relationship throughout all our years of marriage. “The other side of the same sword”, as I had journaled - the need to protect for fear of losing. 

I saw this thread of fear, affecting the things that mattered most to me, and I wanted to rip it out, disconnect from it forever. I wanted to walk ahead, unhindered in intimacy, loving deeply and freely. I got it into my mind to perform some sort of ritual on the beach during our final day, a soul ceremony marking this moment in time in my spiritual journey. I wanted to symbolically release the fear and walk into a new season of being.
And so there on the beach, watching the waves roll...crash...flow into the vastness of the ocean blue, I decided to give my fear to the water. I found the line on shore where the waves consistently met sand, leaving a rim of bubbles and a trail of smoothed earth. I found a piece of reed and wrote in large letters, “FEAR.” I closed my eyes and imagined my soul releasing the fear, watched the waves gently washing it away from my heart. I breathed deeply of the salty ocean air. And then I pictured myself walking into a new season of generosity, vulnerability, courageous opening up. 
When I opened my eyes, I was surprised to see that within a matter of seconds, the tide had mysteriously ceased reaching my spot in the sand. 
There I stood, “FEAR” still written large and loud beneath my feet. 
I quickly became self-conscious by all the passersby and wished I had picked a more private ceremony, a more discreet word. My insides squirmed at being so publicly displayed, my soul written out in large letters for the world to read.  

After a couple of minutes of standing, confused and embarrassed, I considered wiping “FEAR” away with my feet. I could re-write it closer to the new shoreline and watch it quickly evaporate into the waves, finally concluding my little ceremony. I tried to reason myself into this quick escape, but couldn't quite bring myself to brush the letters away. Perhaps coaxed by the freedom of the weekend, my heart found a voice and told me to stand still. 

And in standing, I knew that this was the real ceremony. Not the magical, instantaneous disappearing of “FEAR” from my life. Not the effortless washing away of years of self-protection and wounded worries. This - standing awkwardly, uncomfortably, boldly with my fear in hand, displaying my fragility and longing to the world – this was vulnerability, this was intimacy, this was the new way of being I wanted to walk into. This is what it meant to live openly, generously in relationship, not forever free from fear, but courageously pressing on in spite of it.

And so I stood, for what seemed like an eternity. I stood with my discomfort, I received the awkward glances, I breathed in the sting of vulnerability and I waited with my fear in hand. Finally, a brave, strong wave broke all the way up shore and washed away my writing. I watched the letters melt back into the earth, fading from the worlds' view, knowing my own journey to wholeness would take far more time, far more patience, far more courageous opening up and pressing in to be complete.
To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.  ~ Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection 

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