Friday, February 01, 2013

Scared Senseless

Do you have anything in your life that scares you out of your mind?  Some of you will tell me that raising children does that for you, and though I agree with you, I'm talking about something that is yours and yours alone.  Something that challenges you to become more and different, that taps into all of your creativity.  If you are still trying to tell me that raising children does this, that's alright.  This post probably won't apply to you, because I want to talk about your personal growth, not growing your children up to be great people.  That's absolutely a challenge and I'm awfully glad you've chosen to take it on.  From here on out, though ... that's no longer the topic.

What about personal risks? Stepping outside your own box and doing something that makes your heart race and your palms sweat, that terrifies you and excites you all at the same time.

Too often we become complacent and satisfied with our own excellence.  We've come to a point in our lives where we've done all we need to do and that's enough.  We no longer think about growing in our lives, we simply look out a few years to retirement and hope that we can just live to see that day come.  That's enough of a commitment to risk for us.

It is said that if you take no risks and only accomplish the things you can do alone, you are missing out on a big part of your relationship with God.  If you need Him for nothing in your life, then why do you need Him at all, except for bailing you out of bad situations (sickness, screwups, loss, etc.). We risk nothing if we do things we can accomplish on our own.  We don't exercise our trust in God, we don't bother attempting to see if we could be better than we are right now, we don't grow.  In other words, we stay stagnant, like a dirty little pool of water beside a rushing river.  When the drought comes, we dry up and fade away.

In 1980, our family moved to a new community and Mom discovered an interesting new facet of her life.  We were close enough to the University of Iowa for her to begin taking classes consistently in pursuit of the degree she'd put off for a couple of decades.  While she was attending classes, she also discovered that she had a passion for teaching people how to incorporate themselves into the American culture.  The town had many illegal immigrants who desperately wanted to learn how to become Americans, as well as legal immigrants who had poor language skills. Mom became very involved with an English as a Second Language (ESL) program and spent hours on lesson plans as well as learning to speak Spanish so she could more easily communicate with her new friends.  She added Spanish courses to her class schedule at the University and even wrangled me in the year I lived at home after college (don't ask), to help teach ESL and GED classes to students.  The next thing we knew she had immersed herself into the culture and opened our home to some of the women who would come over and spend days cooking up dishes to freeze and store.

Then, came the big question. How far was she willing to go to learn the language?The University offered a one-month immersion course in Mexico.  I know I've written about this before, but Mom's fears were legendary.  She talked friends into taking classes with her so they would open closed doors to the buildings and classrooms.  She made my sister open the door to a classroom at the University the first time.  Now, once the door was opened, she was fine with going in and out of it from that point forward, she just became catatonic at the thought of opening a door to something unknown.  Mom wasn't terribly friendly. People frightened her.  What a hideous thing to have to face as a pastor's wife.  The most amazing things she had done in her life thus far, and she had done some pretty wild and wonderful things, had been with either Dad or one of us kids at her side.  As long as she wasn't alone, she could do a lot of things, albeit sometimes not without kicking and screaming.

Mom cried a lot about the decision to go to Mexico alone.  She would be alone in a culture she knew nothing about and speaking a language in which she had very little fluency and she wasn't comfortable leaving her family for a month. But she decided to go.  A friend went with her, but they didn't live in the same community while there.  She was on her own.

The next summer, her life changed again and we moved to the Omaha area where she opened a business, having never run a business in her life.  Something happened when Mom chose to step out on her own into a world very different from the one she knew well.  My mother was absolutely, stinking brilliant and excelled at everything she chose to attempt.  She was an amazing writer and poet, impressing the heck out of any professor who read her stuff, painted beautiful paintings, sculpted awesome sculptures, wrote and taught Bible studies, published youth curriculum, organized events and raised a pretty terrific family.  But, those were things she could do on her own, with a little help from friends and family to get her past her stumbling blocks.

She didn't find her passion, though, until she reached beyond the things she knew she could accomplish and had to trust God to bridge the gap for her.  Once she learned to rely on Him for the big things, she no longer needed people to open doors.  She knew He was on the other side of the door before she got there.

If you don't take the big risks, you will never find out what you can accomplish after you've put that risk in God's hands.  He doesn't ask us to do it alone, using our own strength.  Philippians 4:13 says "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  There really are no limits once we realize we aren't alone.