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free fallin

Sometimes when you are loud and obnoxious and wiling to look like a fool on a regular basis people forget that you are still afraid of things. That you are just as insecure as they are. That you still get embarrassed and petrified and your feelings hurt.

I don’t get it. I’ve had multiple people tell me how un-insecure I am. 
How I will say or do anything.
And I have to tell them that I am just as afraid as the next girl. 
And there are plenty of things that make me run away or want to wet my pants. 

Most are facing hard things like emotions, rejection or failure.
But. Let’s start with the easy stuff.

I have a few big fears.
One is snakes  (and bears or anything that could try to eat me or poison me in the woods). And I am 100% serious. And I have run-ins with both snakes and bears almost every year. 
I can hike forever. Despite being super extroverted,  I enjoy the idea of getting lost in the woods alone. I like to spot deer and elk and chipmunks and anything furry that doesn’t eat meat (or at least humans). I convince my husband to pack the gorp and follow me down the trail, but when he starts to venture off on his own, or wants to stop and fish….I insist that I can see him. So he can hear when a mountain lion or bear decides to make me their lunch. And snakes are even worse. My brother briefly had one as a pet. I also  realize that most of the ones I run into will be non venomous. Fear and rational thoughts are not usually found in the same sentence.  My father in law just teasing about a water moccasin at the lake was enough to make me fly out of the water and onto the dock. 
Growing up we’d find copperheads coiled up in the garage or laundry room. One even took up residence on my bike seat. That bike and the copperhead on it both got shot to pieces. And I wasn't even the least bit sad.
I know the chances of me getting eaten by a bear or bitten by a snake are smaller than me using the vacuum this month…slim to none.....but they are still there.
I lace up my hiking boots and swim in the lake anyways.
This year we have traded in the mountains for a long lake weekend.
Meaning, I do not have to worry about bears this year....just the snakes.

My next biggest irrational fear is heights. I think I still have nightmares about the high dive at the racquet club. My husband loves to ski, and I don’t mind snowplowing my way down the mountain…but the ride up petrifies me. There are NO seat belts on a ski lift. And sometimes it stops right in the middle and you sit there and shake in your chair. I’m pretty sure my knees knocking make our particular chair shake even more. I usually pass the time on the lift marking points where if I’d fall from that I’d likely survive or at least places where I’d hopefully die quickly.  At least in the winter the ground and giant rocks are covered in what looks like nice soft white snow….but I have been up these same lifts in the summer and they are even scarier. I am not one to pass up an experience or try something new so I often find myself looking down from such great heights despite my fear. 
I ride roller coasters. I walk across suspension bridges. I zipline. I fly every chance I get. I just sometimes do it with my eyes closed. 

This weekend we were at a national park with a very deep swimming hole and cliff diving. I have jumped off cliffs in Mexico and as soon as I saw the kids lining up to jump I figured I’d end up there as well.  My stomach was in my throat before I even slipped off my flip flops. 
My kids are not natural risk takers. I don’t want them to be fearless, but I also do not want them to live afraid. I think bravery is something that you have to practice and figured this might be the opportune time to show them that. Plus, did I mention I hate to miss out. I hate letting fear win. I hate the idea of not doing something fun just because I am scared.  My sister-in-law immediately shed her shorts and swam straight over to the cliffs. I tried to get my bearings and check out the rest of the lake. I figured I’d work my way up to it.  She quickly joined the teenage boys and plunged off the top before I’d even gotten my feet wet.

I cussed because now I figured I really had to do it.
One thing I hate more than letting fear win is being outdone.

She gave me a few pointers and I swam out to the rocks. I kept trying to tell myself that this was much lower than the high dive. That I had done scarier things before.  I have jumped off bridges, ropes courses, high dives and cliffs.

Obstacle #1, getting myself onto the rocks.  I have the upper body strength of a kitten. A very weak kitten. I can pull myself out of the swimming pool, but algae covered rocks is a different story.  I knew my family was watching on the other side of the water as I tried and failed to shimmy myself up no less than a half dozen times. It did not help that teenage boy after teenage boy buoyed themselves up with about as much effort as lifting a cotton ball right beside me. After many failed attempts and promises to myself to start doing pushups.....I managed to beach myself onto the slab of rock.

Obstacle #2, getting to the top.  My hometown high dive and the cliffs in Mexico had something these did not. A ladder.  I started to climb the rocks which is no easy task when you have the biceps of a kitten. One that hasn’t been hanging in there for a while. I swear there must have been a direct relationship between how many inches high I went and the amount my knees were shaking.  My feet and hands were still slick and I kept sliding back down. I tried to psyche myself up the whole time. Noting how I had watched at least 20 kids jump and so far not one of them had died or even required a care flight. I tried to tell myself how good it would feel to jump even though I was petrified. I wondered what my in-laws or the rest of the moms would think if I shouted the f-word on my decent. I kept climbing and slipping and shaking.

One of my favorite books (download or order it right now if you haven’t read it or at least read the chapter I am referring to for free on Amazon) is Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir...of Sorts by ― Ian Morgan Cron
And he tells a similar story about letting his kids jump off of a similar cliff called “The Forty” . When I think about doing scary things I often remember that chapter.  In it he says this:

“There is a big difference in life between a jump and a fall. A jump is about courage and faith, something the world is in short supply of these days. A fall is, well, a fall.”

(read the whole part here…and it is SO WORTH IT )

That story of the Forty kept running through my head as I made slow slippery progress on the rocks.

And I wanted to jump, because I seem to fall all the time.  But jumping is on purpose. Thinking that chances of landing safely are good, but not guaranteed. Doing it even though it is scary and hard and unsure. Jumping is thrilling, partly because of the risk.  People say they fall in love.
And I doubt them. You don’t fall you jump. At least in most healthy relationships.
Except for maybe Taylor Swift, but at least you can get a good song out of it.
Falling is reckless and stupid. And I have done it over and over again. 
And landed on my ass every. single. time.
Jumping occasionally lands me in the exact same spot but somehow it feels good anyways.
Even the parts that hurt or knock the wind out of you.

I kept climbing.
I kept slipping.
My husband was on the banks waiting with a camera.
I grew more petrified by the second.
I got a few more feet up and started slipping again. Despite the half dozen boys Spiderman-ing it up the cliff I did not think I could go another inch.
The only problem was that I had gotten high enough and the rocks were steep enough that I was not sure how to get back down either. 
I was left with some crappy options.
a) keep going up and jump.
b) potentially slip and fall over the edge. 
c) embarassingly make my way back down on my belly which might also end in option b.

I have spent my life falling. And was not about to fall when I wanted to jump.  I am usually more afraid of looking like a chicken than whatever it is that I am actually afraid of. However this time pride did not win out.
I compromised a bit and went down just a few feet to a slightly lower, less impressive ledge. (possibly the ledge that the girls and kids who hadn’t quite hit puberty were jumping from). There was nothing impressive about my jump.  Teens kept pummeling themselves off rocks well above me as I closed my eyes and threw myself into the cold deep water below. And it still seemed like a long way down. I didn’t yell any obscenities. I am not sure I really even enjoyed the fall. 
But I still jumped. 

Falling isn’t the fun part. 
We think it is because we aren’t in control.
But falling is scary.
Jumping is even more scary because you chose to do it.
The good part is being able to say you jumped.
The fun part is letting yourself feel brave.
There are no bragging rights in a fall.

I emerged gasping out of the water only slightly embarrassed at my abbreviated plunge.
Of course I had thrown myself over the edge so fast my husband had missed the photographic proof.  My adrenaline rush and escalated pulse was more than enough proof enough for me and I felt no need to do it again just for the sake of Instagram.

I let my kids swim for a bit longer and explored the rest of the lake. Before slipping my shoes back on and hiking back to the car, I watched as teenage boy after teenage boy (and yes….pretty much it was only teenage boys) threw themselves over the edge. They jockeyed for the highest points. Some did backflips. Some from my own lower ledge. 
But they all jumped.
I watched fear leap over the edge at least thirty more times before we hiked back up to the car.
And I’d like to think that I left a little of my own fear back on the cliffs as well.

On our way back to the car I was still flying a little high on adrenaline and the beauty of the day. I was busy feeling brave until a long green snake slithered across the road. My son tried to chase it down while I sprinted the rest of the way to to car.


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