In the late 90s and early 2000s, my friend Debbie and I went camping about twice a year. We’d load her car with everything from the basics (like tent and lanterns) to totally useless stuff (like whitener strips and a welcome mat) and spend a few days cooking pancakes over a butane burner, hiking until we hobbled, and pulling ticks off our ankles. At the time, I was almost two decades into a 23-year marriage that was void of everything that makes a marriage tolerable, much less meaningful. Anxiety played a daily role in my marriage and in life as a whole, but a few days at Fall Creek Falls always reminded me how to breathe again.
Debbie and I always took full advantage of those outings to work on our issues. Mine included codependence, unhealthy boundaries, a victim mentality, and—of course—fear. One of our approaches to helping me overcome fear was to take night hikes. We’d wait until nine or ten at night, when all was deathly still and dark, grab our flashlights, and venture down a trail, away from the safety of neighboring campsites and the reassuring flicker of our campfire. Into the deep woods we’d go, armed with nothing but my can of pepper spray and her husband’s buck knife.
Usually we’d walk for ten or twelve minutes, congratulate ourselves, then turn around and walk back. But on this particular night, we either took an unfamiliar path or went a little farther than usual—I don’t recall the exact circumstances—but the point is that our surroundings seemed especially eerie and unfamiliar.
Just a few minutes into our walk, we both shrieked as a deer, startled from its bed in the underbrush, shot to its feet and darted away. The forest was so dark that, even with flashlights, we couldn’t tell if it was a buck or doe, but it sounded massive, cracking tree limbs as it retreated into the blackness. Hearts pounding, we pressed on, determined to go a little further.
Suddenly, we stepped out of the thick woods and onto a peninsula of sorts. The area looked like a swamp. In front of us was a stretch of land or water—the shadows made it impossible to tell which—interrupted by clumps of tall grass that shuddered in the breeze and created peculiar shadows. The place screamed of swamp monsters and unnamable creatures with jagged teeth.
For a long, icy moment, we both stood motionless. Then, as if on cue, we pivoted as fear propelled us into a dead run—down the dirt path, through the brush and the inky darkness we sprinted, tripping over one another, flapping our arms like birds caught in a snare, laughing one moment and screaming the next.
When we burst out of the trees, back into the fire-lit circle of our cozy campsite, we collapsed to our knees, choking with laughter and trembling with lingering fear.
We were appalled at how miserably we’d botched our night hike. But today I have to wonder: Was our experiment in fearlessness a complete failure? I don’t think so. Granted, we bolted, but not before we’d completed the task we’d set out to do. In spite of all the screaming and flailing, by golly, we did it.
Sometimes God will ask you to jump through a ring of fire and you’ll say yes even though you’re terrified of fire. Sometimes you’ll jump while shrieking and flapping your arms. In the end, the fact remains that you said yes… and you jumped.. and you cleared the ring without being burnt to a crisp…
and that is victory.