I like the risk in theory. I like the idea of stepping out into what is unknown. It’s been a part of my ethos since I was quite young, a middle schooler sitting on the steps of the State House talking to strangers, to do what is difficult. I’m one of those dumb people who reads about stuff on the internet and thinks to themselves, “Hey, I could do that.” How do you think I wound up in Kazakhstan? The trouble is, though my brain is all too eager to sign up for the risk, the challenge, when push comes to shove my heart is a shivering, squishy mess.
The first time I ever went to a water park (technically it was the second, the first being Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole, but, let’s say first real water park) was at Walt Disney World’s Blizzard Beach. My mom talked us into doing the second-scariest slide in the park, and we waited in line with her, and I was all, “Mhm, mhm, this is a great idea, woo!” The line was long, and as we waited I congratulated myself with how brave I was. That is, until I had to take off my water shoes and position myself in the mouth of the slide. In a moment my courage evaporated in the hot Florida sun, but by then there was no backing out.
I remember going down the slide very clearly, even though it was over a decade ago. I remember a bunch of water got in my face and I couldn’t breath. I opened my mouth to yell and choked instead. The grooves in the slide where each piece connected with the next burned my shoulder blades, and the force of sliding straight down so fast gave me the most unholy wedgie. I distinctly remember feeling disoriented when I arrived at the bottom, my brain was saying so many things at once. Things like, “YOU ALMOST JUST DROWNED.” -- “Get out of the track, another person’s coming!” -- “Wait, fix your swim suit first!” -- “Cough. COUGH. There’s still water in your lungs!” -- “Where did your water shoes go? HOT PAVEMENT.” -- “Where IS your mother, your vision is so blurry from all that water!” And other panicked, exclamation-marked sentiments.
I survived, it’s true. But it’s example of how my reach exceeds my grasp.
Coming to Kazakhstan was a great idea. The plan was almost foolproof. A place most people have never heard of? Check. A job that automatically connects me with locals who speak my language? Check. A year learning about cross-cultural servanthood before attempting to start it stateside? Great idea all around! And it’s been a beautiful time; I cannot overstate how much of a privilege it’s been. Privilege in that, the kindness I’ve been shown has been so great, and my deservingness of this opportunity has been so little.
The idea of working in a different country is a fantastic one, but there’s something about the pragmatics that makes my stomach flip-flop a little. Sometimes I get to the top of the metaphorical cultural water slide and I want to bail. Every time we invite someone over I have butterflies in my stomach. Every time we go to someone’s house I feel faint. I steel my nerves at so many social interactions, waiting, waiting, to break through the barrier of my own selfishness into active love for these people for whom I harbor such affection. I came to Kazakhstan to challenge myself, to find obedience and discipleship and growth through risk, but many times, with shame I admit, I have baulked in fear.
And now I wonder if I am repeating the same with law school. Stepping still into the unknown because I like the idea of it, because I perceive a challenge and a risk, but will only come out on the other side shell-shocked, proclaiming, “I ALMOST JUST DROWNED.”
I don’t deserve anyone’s esteem. I’m a coward. I am a fearful young adult who signs her name too confidently on checks she can’t cash. My knees were gelatin at the top of that water slide. My stomach was in knots before my first meeting with a student. I’ve written pages and pages of doubt and fear in my journal about coming to Kazakhstan and going to law school. I have never done anything good without being scared out of my mind before doing it. I like the risk in theory. But in practice it freaks me out. I have nothing to be proud of, because in every risk I have face-planted in fear.
And how many times does J3sus say to His disciples, or to the people He heals, “Take courage” and “Do not be afraid”? Oh, feeble and fearful heart. Of course you can't. But of course He can.