Fear · Spirituality

Open Doors

One of the first projects Keith and I tackled after buying our old house thirty-four years ago was to tear out the 1960’s screened-in back porch. We replaced it with a large open porch but left the old aluminum storm door by the door which opened into our dining room.

Over the years, our dogs and cats had clawed the screen to pieces, and we simply patched it with a board and ignored it. The result was an embarrassing junky door that we seldom used.

A few months ago, we decided the time had come to fix the problem. We bought a beautiful all glass door with a screen built right into it (it’s amazing what has been invented in the last 50 years!) and our talented carpenter, Bo Norman, ripped out the horrible old storm door and installed the new one for us. Then I filled in the holes and scratches of the inside wooden door and gave it a coat of bright red paint so that it looks fresh and new.

The transformation to our living space created by the new storm door has been amazing! Now I can open the inside door and sunlight floods in through the glass. Unlike the old beat-up door, this new door easily opens and closes, so I use it all the time. I’ve rediscovered the back porch.

Our backyard is surrounded by pasture and soybean fields and has a whole different feel than the other side of the house, which is shaded by the magnolia tree. On the back porch I feel like I have moved into the birds’ space, and I take my lunch out there some days and watch them at work.

Our pretty new storm door!

I wish we had replaced the door years ago. For some reason we thought it would be too much trouble. We had made it too complicated.

How often have I made the figurative doors in my life too complicated?

Jesus said,

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

I admit that I have never understood these verses, especially when the doors that I want opened seem padlocked. But I recently listened to a podcast by Kelly Minter on prayer and realized that I’ve made it too complicated. I need to simply take Jesus at His word. He is promising that if I come to Him with an open heart, He will answer me and, like a loving father, He wants to give me good things.

How often have I missed out on God’s blessings by not going through a door He has for me, just like I missed out on enjoying the back porch all these years? Too many times I’ve held back because I thought a door was going to be too much trouble, or that I didn’t have what I needed to walk through it. I let fear and doubt and, yes, laziness cripple me.

These verses tell me that if my understanding is blocked, Jesus will eventually clear up my confusion. The key is persistence. The verb tense here implies continuous action— we need to keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. The doors may not swing open in one big swoosh, but gradually, as we keep reading Scripture, going to God in prayer, and asking for clarity and understanding, our doors will open.

And we may find out that those doors do not open out to what we expected, but to something far better.

To listen to Kelly Minter’s Cultivate podcast on prayer, click here.

Fear · retirement · Spirituality

A night in the wild

Do something every day that scares you.

When I retired two years ago, I found this saying on a magnet and put it on my refrigerator so that I would remember that it was time to push myself and try new things. I’ve decided that a scary thing every day may be too much, but a challenge most days keeps me from getting too bored with myself.

So when my friend Angela asked me if I was interested in joining her and two other friends on an overnight camping trip to Cumberland Island, followed by two nights in Savannah in an AirBnB, I got excited. I had always wanted to go to the secluded island on the southern tip of Georgia and see the famous wild horses. The trip was going to fall two weeks after my second vaccination and seemed like the perfect way to break out of isolation.

But spending the night in a tent was a little out of my comfort zone. I had not camped in over twenty-five years, and most of that was in the backyard when Adam was little. Fortunately, Angela had reserved a site that was near a bathhouse with toilets and cold showers, so we weren’t exactly going into the wilds. Angela, Rosanna and Marissa were all experienced campers and I figured they could keep me alive for one night. Still, it was not going to be the Hilton. It felt both scary and challenging.

I had to borrow a sleeping bag and tent from Adam. He patiently showed me how to put the tent up in his yard, all the while muttering about how he never heard of old retired ladies going camping. I let him know that I was not over the hill yet and that the other three were younger than me and not retired. Plus, these are some of the most active women I know. One of my fears was that I would not be able to keep up with them.

I spent a week planning and packing for my big night outside. On Saturday morning we met to cram all of our gear into Angela’s car. We looked like we were staying for a month with all of our coolers, folding chairs, and backpacks. But we managed to get it all in and took off to spend a night at Saint Mary’s, where we would catch the ferry the following day to the island.

We were up at 5:30 the next morning for a run on the empty streets of the town — did I mention this was an active group? — then loaded back up for the short drive to the ferry. We had to move all our stuff onto the ferry, then, after a beautiful cruise, move it off the ferry and make our way to the campsite. (This was hilarious, but I will save that story for another time.)

Cumberland Island was wonderful! The palmetto plants and trees covered in Spanish moss seemed like something from a movie set. I kept waiting for Tarzan to swing through the bushes. With no vehicles and few people, it was quiet and relaxing. I decided that even if I got eaten during the night, it would be worth it.

Working together, the four of us managed to get my tent up and hammocks strung in the trees for them. We ate lunch and took off to explore the southern end of the island on bikes. After a few hours we came back, got our beach gear and walked the short distance to a magnificent expanse of pure white sand and ocean. Although a little too cold for swimming, the sun was hot and the water was soothing on my tired legs.

By the time I crawled into my little tent that night, I figured I would be exhausted. It had been a pretty full day! But I had trouble settling down. The weather was muggy and I laid on top of the sleeping bag, worried that I would be too hot to sleep. I kept thinking I heard the armadillo we had seen earlier and was waiting for him to poke his pointy nose in at me. Then the wind started to blow and little leaves fell on my tent and sounded like rain. I got worried about Angela, Rosanna and Marissa sleeping in the hammocks out in the weather. Would they need to come pile in with me if a storm came up?

My little tent

But despite the wind and night noises, the day finally caught up with me. The air cooled and I slid into the sleeping bag. Before I knew it, I was sound asleep. I woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed. I had done it!

We made our way back to civilization and enjoyed our hot showers, but we all agreed that we wanted to go back and stay longer next time. I think a few days on Cumberland would definitely be good for my soul. 

I’ve been thinking about overcoming fears and challenges in my life and here are a few observations:

  1. Each of us has different fears to overcome. Sleeping outdoors in a hammock was too much of a challenge for me to take on, but Angela, Rosanna and Marissa loved being under the stars. Riding a bike around the island was out of the comfort zone of one of our group, but she soon adjusted and was riding like a pro by the time we stopped. And as we were leaving, I ran into my friend Janice Wycherly, who was on the island to backpack in the wilderness section by herself for several days! That takes some courage!

I know people that overcome challenges every day by just getting out of bed. I hope that as I push myself I will become more sensitive to the obstacles others face.

2. Taking on a challenge and getting through it makes me more confident to do the next thing. Now that I’ve spent the night in a tent, what’s next?

3. I need other people to help push me out of my comfort zone. Throughout the trip, the four of us worked together, encouraged each other and laughed at ourselves. I’m thankful for friends and family who help me be my best self.

    We all felt God’s presence in the stillness of the sky and ocean around us. I felt Him there with me in that tent, probably telling the armadillo to poke around somewhere else. I sometimes have to remind myself of His presence when I start to worry about what the future may hold. Knowing that God goes with me in the small challenges in my life gives me the peace to know He will be with me in the big challenges that will come. 

After our night on the island
Fear · Spirituality

Beige is the color of fear

Beige is the color of fear.

I first heard this phrase at our Calhoun Area Writers’ meeting almost two years ago. I was new and nervous, stepping out on a quivering branch to follow a life-long dream of being a writer. Paul Moses, a talented writer and head of graphic design for Royal Thai Carpets, made the statement and said he always uses it with new artists that come to work for him. Get away from what’s comfortable. Be bold with your designs.

It struck a chord with me because a large part of my life has been beige, dominated by fear.

Fear is an interesting part of our lives. Elizabeth Gilbert has a fantastic analogy in her book Big Magic on accepting fear as part of our creative lives. Take a minute to watch this short animation.

Here is Ms. Gilbert’s “Letter to Fear”.

0B7CDEE9-F15A-4E97-A6C3-36942DC072BE

So fear is part of our lives, it’s there and it’s up to us to decide what to do with it.

Am I going to live a beige life or one full of color?

Fear can be tricky. It can often disguise itself as:

Procrastination
Forgetfulness
Self-criticism
Wasting time on meaningless tasks
Overeating
Over drinking
Over exercising
Under exercising
Anger
Guilt
Prejudice
Perfectionism

I’m learning that when I start falling into any of the above traps to stop and ask myself, “What are you afraid of?”

“What are you avoiding that scares you?”

Sometimes I’m just tired, but sometimes the answer is that I’m scared to death of failure – of falling on my face, looking like a fool, not making the cut. And it’s not just fear of failing, but the fear of being mediocre – of blending in like a beige sweater. So it’s safer to just not try.

Back before Christmas we decided it was time to trade in my trusty Prius that was already at 100,000 miles for a newer model. My old Prius was tan – beige- although I preferred to call it Wake Forest Gold. The official name was Sandy Beach Metallic.

North Georgia Toyota had two new Priuses on the lot, both white, which I knew I didn’t want. The salesman said he could find me another color. I liked the mild Seafoam Green, but that was scarce.

“I can get you a red one,” he offered.

“Yes,” I said. The time for driving a beige car was over.

So now I’m driving my snazzy red car – and I love it. It may not be a little red Corvette – I’m embracing fear, not throwing out my practicality – but I feel like a different person in it.

Did I need a new car to get past my fears? No, but my red car represents a new page in my life, one of taking chances, one step in the journey away from beige.

But in order to get past our fears we need to know we have a safety net, that if we do fail, and we will, that we won’t hit the ground too hard. We need to know that we will not be broken, that we can get up and try again.

This familiar verse makes sense in a new way:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I John 4:18

I had always thought that the opposite of fear was courage, but actually the opposite of fear is love. When we are surrounded by friends and family who love us and when we know in our deepest hearts that we are loved by God, then our fear loses its power over us. We know that we will be lifted up, comforted, and encouraged even if our worst fears are realized.

We raise our children in loving environments so that they are not afraid to try new things, but we don’t give ourselves the same buffer.

So I’m taking my fear of failure by the hand and letting it know that it will not keep me from pursuing my dreams. I’m going to let it sit in the backseat of my red car, then I’m going to start the engine and see where the road takes us.

What are some fears you are facing?

BB76560F-0BDD-4F39-8328-951E934E72CC