Facing Fear

FullSizeRender 9Outside the window prairie stretches for miles in every direction, wave upon wave of grass blowing in the breeze. In the distance, a large lake rimmed by trees reflects the sunlight, its ripples just barely evident from where I stand. On the horizon, the sun sinks below a cloud, streaming beams of light in every direction. A hawk flies by, its speckled feathers highlighted as it passes through a sunbeam. The beauty of the moment, of the place, takes my breath away. It settles my heartbeat, slowing its rhythm.

I relax my hand; suddenly aware I’ve gripped my papers so tightly they’ve crumpled into a mess of wrinkles. Chatter filters up from downstairs, a blend of female voices as they gather in the kitchen, the soothing cadence of their conversation occasionally broken by peals of laughter.

Outside a car door slams, signaling another participant has arrived. On the driveway below I see her reach into the backseat, pull out a striped bag and a pillow. Juggling both, she locks the car and heads towards the house. Soon after I hear the main door open and a series of greetings as she joins the group.

I look down at my papers, smooth them on my pant leg, read the opening lines printed there. Closing my eyes, I recite them to myself, trying to recall those that come after.

I’ve been invited to speak at a women’s retreat, to share bits of my story, and to talk about the freedom that comes when you build an authentic relationship with yourself and conquer fear. While I was honored to be asked, as the time approaches I realize the task combines two of my greatest fears: public speaking and groups of smart women.

“What have I gotten myself into?” I whisper to myself. “Who am I to speak with any authority about anything? I’m just a woman muddling my way through life, writing bits and pieces here and there to help process my thoughts. I’m certainly not an expert in anything. What if I bumble it? What if they reject what I have to share? What if I forget what I’ve planned to say?”

 My inner critic is alive and well, ready to jump in with her two cents. Ten cents really.

And yet, I find as quickly as the negative thoughts come, I catch them. This journey to be brave, not perfect hasn’t eradicated the thoughts, but it has taught me to catch them faster. That awareness allows me to fight back, minimizing their damage.

“Shhh. You’re not welcome here. My story helps others. My willingness to share it vulnerably is rare. It seems to inspire people, encourage them to do the same, to dig in and live more authentically. Be quiet so I can do what I came here to do.”

 Though they never disappear, the negative voices do fade to the background, something impossible even a few months ago. I return to the memorizing task at hand, picking up where I left off.

Before long I hear footsteps on the stairs as the women climb to where I am, journals in hand, settling into chairs and couches loosely grouped in a semi-circle. With a quick whispered prayer, I move to the front, as ready as I will ever be to share my story and what it’s taught me.

I focus on my breathing as I’m introduced, humbled by the words shared about me. I look around the room at the women assembled, curious what brought them to this place this weekend, what doubts and shames they keep hidden inside. I wonder if what I share will be enough to crack their careful facades and inspire them to welcome what the weekend will bring. I hope so. My pulse quickens as the introduction ends.

“Be brave, not perfect,” I whisper to myself as I stand, face my fear, and begin.


Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 9.30.59 PMMorning sounds different in South Carolina.

Sitting on my grandma’s porch drinking coffee, the new sounds captivate me, pull me into the beauty of the morning.

In the canopy overhead, a symphony of unfamiliar bird calls, each more interesting than the next. There’s a persistent high pitched trill, repeated over and over with such determination and dedication I think it’s owner is desperate to communicate his message. On the opposite end of the scale, a low quacking rumble, coming from somewhere in the lagoon nearby. Understated and quietly riveting.

Hidden among the leaves of a nearby bush, a songbird sings a song resembling a contented whistle. I can’t find its owner but the upbeat nature of the tune makes me smile as I picture a line of dwarves heading off to work.

Occasionally I hear a sound I do know; the caw of a crow as it flies overhead, the happy chirp of the chick-a-dee as it flits from tree to tree.

And underneath it all, a quiet, subdued coo. So faint I almost miss it. Audible only if everyone else is silent. I wonder briefly how that bird will ever find a mate when he’s so hard to hear. Does she have ears only for him?

Each one, unique. Interesting. Unfamiliar.

I tense as I hear movement in the undergrowth that covers the forest floor below me, certain an alligator is about to emerge. The sound grows louder. Closer. I breathe a sigh of relief as a resident squirrel bounds into sight, busily sorting through fallen leaves for breakfast treasures.

As I relax and close my eyes, a power saw whines, joined by the beat of a hammer as construction begins on the house next door, evidence that life goes on after a hurricane. Down the street a leaf blower starts as a landscaper gets to work separating the fallen pine needles from their grassy beds. Manmade machine sounds blend with the natural creating an interesting orchestra that fills the air.

I sit, taking it all in. Separating sounds from one another. Seeing how many I can hear.

Even the wind sounds different as it moves gently through the trees instead of across the open valleys of Montana. It’s more of a whisper, just a hint of its sound back home. And yet it’s still able to create both a fine white noise, and a host of individual sounds. The subtle rattle of leaves, the clitter-clack of a pinecone tumbling through the branches to the bed of leaves below, the tinkle of a wind chime at the neighbor’s house.

It’s been three sips of coffee, but it feels much longer.

Out front in the driveway a car door slams, my signal it’s time to engage with the world.

Reluctantly I open my eyes and take a last sip.

Questions flutter through my mind as I stand, collect my things, move to the door.

Does every place in the world have its own unique set of morning sounds? Would I recognize my set of sounds? How long would I have to live in a place for its morning sounds to become those I associate with home?

It never occurred to me I might be able to identify my home by the sounds of the morning; sounds I didn’t realize were familiar until they were replaced by others.

It makes me wonder how often I actually stop and listen.

How often I stop and notice the world around me.

How often I stop and hear what a place has to share.

How often I stop and marvel at the living things I share the world with.

How often I stop at all.