I am afraid of snakes but it isn’t quite that elementary. Were my consternation solely focused on elongated limbless reptiles, life would be far less complicated. Sadly, however, there are spiders, in whom every unknown terror in the world is fused into wriggling, poison-jawed horror, and menacing sea creatures who roam the depths of ocean playgrounds giving life to hideous anxiety even as the sea calls out to me from the shore. I am fearful, and this propensity forces a steely focused amplification of threats both real and perceived, at every turn. All it takes is the rumor of danger, the peril itself is irrelevant.
In recent days I was once again called upon to relent the security of the city for the trappings of nature. Nestled in among the rolling foothills of Appalachia on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, Camp Paradise Valley is home to summer camps, retreats, celebrations, and for this girl, the untenable taunting forces of nature veiled in rich verdant landscapes. I watched with interest as others seemed to move effortlessly through the stunningly crafted minefields of creation. While I, in stark contrast, remained on high alert for the intrusion of stealthily slithering reptiles and other noxious vermin.
As night fell and my vision became further obscured, my instinct was to quickly retreat indoors as to not test my anxiety any further, but mothering called and I was summoned into the elements once again, lured from four walls into the cool dark night by the sound of my son. The dogs needed to be walked and my sweet boy wanted my company, a rarity among the adolescent set in these tender days. With a little coaxing I obliged and tiptoed out the door, stepping gingerly from stone to stone. Distracted by my fear and feeling hurried and a bit frantic, I paid little attention to anything other than my fumbling feet. Watching, waiting, testing…certain of the snares and pitfalls that left me unnerved.
Stuck in fear’s arsenal of threats and worries, I had failed to hear the urgent pleading of my child’s voice. “Mom, Mom! MOM!” he implored, breaking my steely focus. “Just…look…UP”. And so I did. Even as a little boy, my son had preferred night to day. He could sit out in the yard after sunset, soothed by the darkness. It softened the rough edges of the world and toned down the overload of colors that seemed to assault his mind. And sensing my anxiety he was inviting me in to share what he had long ago discovered.
I tilted my head back and took a deep breath allowing the light to fall over me like a deep balm. It was a clear, cloudless night, and after too many nights of looking down, the sight of the sky was dizzying. This is what I had been thirsting for after the minutia of the day, the magnitude and enormity of a night full of stars, each one hung with great intention by the same God who knows my name.
What I had never understood about night and nature was that just above my terror was a mural of stars that crafted a story. There were stars everywhere. The most stunning flashes of light that I had, in the trappings of fear and insecurity, taken for granted night after night. I had been so downward focused, that I hadn’t bothered to look up.
My forehead is a maze of anxious little grooves, from seasons of worry that lasted far too long. And after the experience of loss, self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if danger exists at every turn. There is an undefinable untethering that accompanies grief. It is both disorienting and terrifying forcing us into a world without orientation. We put one foot in front of the other, holding the hand of fear until we remember to look up. Until we are quietly convinced to stop clinching our fists around precious people and things, relenting their care to a God who is able.
What I am learning to embrace today is the reality of my own insignificance in the light of an Almighty God who simply begs my trust. And when I find myself looking down, consenting to anxiety and fear, He gently cradles my quivering chin and lifts it heavenward. Nothing happens, not a hair falls from our heads without His intention. And though there may be times we find Him sleeping in the boat in a tempest tossed sea, He is there nonetheless.
I have yet to fully navigate my disdain for menacing creatures. I have panicked unnecessarily in the air, on land and sea, but I am learning to navigate the complexity that my circumstances often present with my heart open and my head up casting all my anxieties on Him knowing the ocean depths of His unbounding love for me.