The Height of Fear

Camplite, Camp Lite, fear of heights, roof vent, roof fan, cleaning roof vent, cleaning roof fan, roof of trailer, on top of trailer
That’s me up on the roof of the Camp Lite cleaning the covers of the three fans up there.

It’s all very simple really.  The vent covers of the three fans in the roof of our Camp Lite travel trailer had not been cleaned and there was visible dirt.  I had hoped it wasn’t mold but we just couldn’t be sure.  The only problem was that to clean it, I had to climb up over the top rung of a very tall ladder to get onto the roof.  “Just don’t look down,” became my strategy.  So up I went over 10 feet into the air . . .

Before I knew it everything was as clean as it could be.  Now it was time to figure out how to get down.  “Just roll onto your belly and throw your legs over the edge,” was the coaching of my beloved Stevers safely on the ground below.  Yeah right.  Easy for you to say.  I decided to reverse the procedure I had used to get over the edge and onto the roof, whilst clinging to the lip of the first open vent.  The rubber gasket over the aluminum panel had held me once, surely it would hold me again?  Yes it did.  And with a few very clear requests to have my spotter stop cracking nerve-wracking jokes, I was able to make my way down the ladder and into earthbound civilization once again.

The view was pretty neat up there.  The sky was painted orange sherbet with streaks of steel blue against the line of trees behind the homes of our neighbors.  As long as I stayed away from the edge and didn’t look down, I was fine.  Hmmm.  I quickly remembered during my descent, one of the first times I had to employ such a strategy.  It wasn’t on the roof of a travel trailer.  We’re talking many decades ago . . .

My dad was always afraid of heights.  They call it acrophobia.  I suppose you could hypothesize that I somehow identified with his fear, taking it on irrationally at an early age.  I really don’t know how that works.  What I remember is his frightful reaction to taking a ride on the Space Spiral at Cedar Point:  an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.  He would not go near the edge to look out the window.  He stood frozen like a statue with his back to the wall of the elevating compartment in which we rode up then down.  He said nothing but to scold us when we asked what was wrong.  Wow.  That was crippling fear.

Space Spiral, Cedar Point, Sandusky Ohio, going up in the air, amusement park, fear of heights, overcoming fear
Space Spiral rotating observation tower (1965-2012). Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio

The Space Spiral was a central attraction of the Midway or carnival area at Cedar Point.  When I worked at the amusement park my sophomore year of college, I found it kind of relaxing to take a ride up over the park as I “played animal” on my day off.  The energy of people screaming from the roller coasters, indulging in sugary treats, and sun-burning themselves while running from one attraction to another was kinda fun, amusing even to watch.  Later in the summer I spent more of my free time taking the ferry from The Point to Sandusky to shop for real food.  The employee cafeteria menu tasted too much like the commons in the dormitories at Eastern Michigan University and many of us know what dorm food is like, eh?  Eeeek!

The feeling of my guts dropping into my loins when leaning over a ledge or riding the Space Spiral had never left me though.  Sure, I visited other amusement parks and even returned to Cedar Point over the years.  I even rode in a 4-seater Cessna transport plane over the mountain tops of the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho with the windows open in the late 1990’s with little more than a quick prayer to pass my worries.  But when I got back on the ground this past Sunday after climbing over the edge of our camper, I felt that very old fear flooding to the surface.  The emotion overtook me for a time.

I stood in our driveway bleeding with tears.  I had chosen to face my fear of heights, or rather my fear of leaning over the edge of a tall ledge, and finally won.  I made an adult decision and the child inside became less afraid; I’ll know for sure the next time I have to crawl someplace ridiculously out of reach if the task is really complete or not.  For now, I am no longer sad but rather pleased.  I did it!

Who knows where this stuff that holds us back really comes from anyways.  Only the Lord knows if we will have victory when that day comes and our countenance is tested.  As for me, I believe that He also knows the activities, the experiences, the fullness of living that I have avoided over the course of my life due to this fear or that.  I can see clearly that to live in any type of fear is not the way to go through my days.  My Jesus is with me always.  I will be o.k.  I can take a look around, like the 360-degree turn of a Space Spiral and take in all there is before me with my eyes wide open, my arms wide open too.

Gentle Reader, there is so much living left to do!  Won’t you join me in embracing something new today?  I tell you: the sky is the limit!  Tee hee.  JJ

 

Like a Life and Death Decision

 

Monet Japanese bridge at giverny
Japanese Bridge at Giverny by Monet

 

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.  Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

To receive salvation granted by grace is our greatest opportunity in this life.  In accepting this invitation, we will know Who holds our future in highest regard and security.  We will then enjoy the freedom to live our lives as God designed, as God intended.  Our lives will be meaningful!  He gave us so much goodness to enjoy in our lifetimes:  enough to encourage us when things are not so good or down right evil.  Through it all, with Him, we can live without fear and are never truly alone.  We can live life with abandon!  We can love fully and receive the fullness of love from others especially from our Creator.  Indeed His gracious gifts mean even more than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!”

I believe in saving grace and it came despite horrific trials.  Many trials.  Years of trials.  A lifetime of trials.  Hey, while my life has not been easy it has not been all bad either.  I am grateful for much blessing and my eternal security in Christ Jesus.  It is because of the trials that I no longer fear the worst possible outcome:  death itself.  I have faced death many times.  For example, on my own could I ever be free in my spirit after witnessing attempted murder?  Abandonment?  Poverty?  Abuse?  Physical pain?  Agonizing seizure attacks for years?  The answer to all of these is YES I CAN.  I can be free and yes I am free in Christ Jesus.  With His amazing grace I am also free of the fear of death.  With that out of the way, I have a new sense of LIFE and I am exceedingly grateful for it!

Lately I have considered launching a new business.   As I pondered the best and worst-case scenarios of starting my own company, a question arose about life and death that is stirring my soul.

What if a customer someday dies because of a flaw in my product or services?

O.k. so you might not be the type who “starts with the end in mind” yet this is where my mind goes more often than I care to admit.  In other words, what if either the products of my company or something related to my design or advice are to blame for the loss of life of another human being?  That person would be someone’s son or daughter; someone’s mother or father, sister or brother could be gone forever!  Someone dying because of me directly or indirectly would be tragic.  I would be devastated!  Surely my family and employees would be affected too.  We might lose the business that we worked so hard to create.  Our grief could make it difficult to recover emotionally in the years thereafter.  How could our lives go on with the guilt, the pain, the horror, the shame?

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There is another, hidden layer to my character that relates to this subject of life and death.  It’s a part of me that I have never really understood until now.  A handwriting analyst in the 1960’s nailed it down for me when I was a girl struggling to find my way through childhood.  Everything in my life at that time had to be just so and if it was not, I was very vocal about it!  Imagine a 6-year old kid criticizing the way her teacher was reading a book to her first grade class!  After all, Mrs. C was not doing it the way that Mrs. B read books in my kindergarten class and that was not right.  I understand that I was sent to the coat closet for such offenses more than once!

I have come to understand that the ability to be flexible, spontaneous, open to new things including CHANGE, comes from an inner sense of security.  If at an early age we are 1) affirmed in ourselves, our abilities, 2) believe that the world around us is relatively safe, and 3) there is love and affection to comfort us (from a parent or heavenly Father), then we can deal with the imperfections of life.  If any of those three elements are missing then our ability to live outside our comfort zone flounders.  We will strive for things to be “black and white” when much of life is simply “gray.”  Letting go of control and dealing with the ambiguities of life is easier with the character qualities also known as gifts of the Holy Spirit:  patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Further, the gifts of peace, love, and joy will follow for the mature believer in Jesus Christ who can live in the world just as it is.  A controlling person is told to somehow, “grow up and smell the roses.”  I have found that this is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me.  Who knows what growing up means anyways?

At one time, deep in my character I did not care about the things that I should.  For me in the past, having a severely controlling nature went beyond my birth order as the oldest in both of my parent’s families!  (Bossy sister?  Yeah, I heard that one more than I care to admit.)  There was a disconnect that went deeper.  At the core of my character I knew that I could harbor hate, malice, distrust, anger, jealousy, and much more ugliness than I care to disclose.  Somewhere in my unrepentant gut was a self -centeredness that put myself above all others in such a sick way that I might not care if another human being got harmed around me.  This is a horrible quality to have.  This is the consequence of woundedness.  This is the result of growing up without the safety and security needed to fully bond to the human race.  This also made me feel profoundly alone.

At it’s core, I believe that my disconnectedness ultimately did not come from me.  I believe that this kind of strife comes from our sin nature that is part of the human condition; I just got a boost in the wrong direction in the form of a largely unhappy childhood.  What I would do with all of that was up to me when I was introduced to the plan of salvation through our redeemer Jesus Christ.  We are all born with the propensity to sin until truly loved and trained away from it.  Just watch a 2-year old rip a toy out of the hand of a younger sibling!  Yes, even a darling 2-year old has a sin nature!

Jesus came to earth to re-connect us to our heavenly Father by washing away our sins with His grace.  Those who believe in His work on the cross receive forgiveness, a new nature, and the spiritual gifts noted above.  Unshakeable peace, love, joy and more come into our lives.  Jesus came and through our walk with the Holy Spirit we become freed from the character flaws of our sin nature.  This process continues until the day of our death.  And deep within our character we can heal and deal with all that is not quite right with our world, growing to become the man or woman He intended for us to be.  We can be whole.  As we do so, we can fully love one another, forgive those who trespass against us and live victoriously beyond our temptations.  We can be free to receive much goodness, do many good things.

When someone passes away, a person with a right heart grieves the loss.  Jesus showed us this tender quality when His friend Lazarus died and at the cross.  I know that my heart is more full now than ever before as evidenced by my ability to recognize and feel grief when someone dear leaves this life.  I feel very sad.  I also feel more compassion now than ever before as a result of healing from the losses in my own life.  So while I am aware of the character flaw I once carried of depersonalization, I know that the Lord is filling the ugliness of my sin nature with His perfect love.  I know that He loves me more than anyone else can ever love me.  I feel His love directly and through the people His has placed in my life today.  I feel more connected to the other wonderful sojourners in my life than ever before and it is good.

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If I start a new company and there is a tragic loss of life or injury for any reason, I trust that the Lord will go before me to guide my thoughts, my heart, my actions, my speech.  I pray that between now and that day, should it ever come, that He will grow me in His character so that I may fully love that grieving family or person.  Lord help me to do what I can to make things right should a tragedy come to pass.  Thank you for breaking the bondage of my past.  Most importantly today, help me to design products, services, and educational materials that preserve long and happy lives for others I may serve.  May my future customers and employees see Your touch of grace upon my life as it shines through the company I believe you are entrusting to me.  May I hold everything gratefully, responsibly, and lightly:  ready to carry it or let it go as You desire.  You are most important to me, my dear Jesus.  You saved me from sin and death for such a time as this . . .

Gentle Reader:  shall we start a two step solution together that makes life easier for everyone?  Hmmmm.  My mother was a gifted writer and my father was an amazing inventor.  I have learned much from their skills and abilities.  Ah yes, I see a Business Plan coming together.

Step 1:  Make a decision.

Step 2:  Do it!

Alright.  I’m in!  Witness the birth of Two Step Solutions.  Now let’s go!  :J

Julie Horney MS, OTR/L

It can be a mixed bag for the wife of a racer: Part 1

I remember the day Steve first took me out kayaking.  He was careful to put me in the more stable of his two kayaks:  the white one with the yellow deck (Epic Endurance).  Or was it the yellow plastic one (Sirocco)?  Perhaps I was too nervous to recall the color!  All I remember was trying to trust my new boyfriend while fearing toppling into the water.  Becoming a drowned rat was not my intention during one of our early dates together!  Besides, he was an aspiring kayak racer and I had already shared with him my many other types of canoeing/boating experiences thoughout my lifetime.  Yes I can swim.  Oh the mixture of thoughts that ran through my head as I got in that tippy little thing . . .

With an unwelcomed nudge (shove?) on the stern from my teacher I was able to paddle out some from the park launching site he had so carefully selected, turn around then return to the shore a few times.  When it was time to go he carefully straddled the boat to stabilize it and instructed me on in the finer points of a gracious dismount.  That action requires straddling your legs wide apart to either side of the wide cockpit of an elongated diamond-shaped seafarer.  Ladies:  that’s not the view I had hoped to offer my intended beloved at this stage of our relationship if you know what I mean?  And my feet got wet and muddy to boot since this would be a couple of years before acquiring my own proper pair of water shoes from our local mega-grocery store.  (That was another rite of passage that came later!)  Steve expertly cleaned off the boats and attached them to the roof racks of his truck.  Oh, so that’s how those beastly black metal frames filling the bed of his periwinkle-striped truck work!  (I remember seeing them on our first date in the west suburbs of Chicago.  A rare sight in suburbia for sure!  Who is this guy?)

Steve rapidly progressed that summer as he shifted from a recreational to a competitive United States Canoe Association (USCA) racer.  I watched closely as he increasingly dedicated himself to all things paddling:  studying the equipment, kayak dimensions, paddling technique videos, and outings with both Indiana racers and the Fort Wayne kayaking group.  Hmmm.  I had an important decision to make.  Either I would master this paddling thing or spend lots of afternoons home alone as he perfected his craft away from home without me.  To insist that he stay home with me would get in the way of the paddling athlete he was becoming.  After all, I did enjoy the fruits of all that cycling and marathon racing.  🙂

Steve aka River Bear
Steve aka River Bear

Our first USCA Nationals was an amazing experience.  Cars, campers, trucks, wagons, and anything to which you could strap a boat (can you say Amish buggy?) were crammed along the shore of the St. Joe River in South Bend, Indiana.  There were young and middle aged men in either spandex or neoprene everywhere!  My training as an occupational therapist has often helped me appreciate the beauty of God’s human form just long enough to remember that I must bounce my eyes to other lovely things lest my heart go to dishonoring places!  Sish.  You would think that everyone was a competitor given the hundreds of colorful vessels sprinkling the shoreline that day.  Excitement and anticipation were in the air.  Steve competed in the sea kayaking class and finished respectfully for his first Nationals.  A former Olympian named Matt smoked the pack by minutes:  a dramatic sight to see.  I’d never seen a racing canoe (C-1) or an Olympic-class ICF kayak before:  narrower, tippier, and lighter than 2 bowling balls side-by-side and pushed effortlessly against the current of any river with carbon fiber, bent or winged paddles, respectively.  I didn’t see any that looked appealing to me just yet!  My learning curve would surely keep me beyond reach of these river rats in vessels as wide as a hewn log floating downstream to a lumber yard.

Steve could give you more details on how he progressed to lighter and faster sea kayaks, trading up or buying-and-selling with guys throughout the Midwest.  For the two of us we had settled on a Hobie Oasis when the Lord provided the needed resources:  a tandem bright blue pedal-driven barge-by-comparison, complete with cup-holders and 100 pounds of stability.  We had fun taking the Hobie out on local lakes many Sundays that summer after Steve had raced all day somewhere in northern Indiana on most Saturdays.  We could use it as a swim platform or explore native shorelines and never fear the wakes of ski boats zooming by.  The only drawback was the slow peddling speed.  With both of us peddling we still maxed out at around 4 MPH.  Adding power from the wimpy plastic kayak paddles didn’t make much of a difference.  It takes a long time to get anywhere at that speed!  We were always struggling to keep up with the recreational paddlers of the FW Kayaking group and getting water lilies or seaweed caught in the drive system under the boat (think bicycle crank shaft above and swim fins below).  Sure we could trade up for the shorter fins.  Somehow I had a feeling that I was going to learn to paddle eventually.  Could I become strong enough to power my own vessel?  I started looking around at kayak designs when at races.  I looked over Steve’s shoulder many times as he was watching frightful ocean-going surf ski racing You Tube videos.  Good golly!  So where is the middle ground?

Julie and a friend's son Ty in a recreational race with the Hobie Oasis
Julie and a friend’s son Ty in a recreational race with the Hobie Oasis

In many sports you are only as good as your gear.  You can’t blame your gear for poor performance most of the time (or at least your spouse will remind you of the financial cost of trying to get it right!) but you can spend less energy where it doesn’t need to go when your equipment is lighter and your technique is streamlined to match.  This is where it is beneficial to be married to an athlete of the sport in which you are choosing to dabble!  With my own better gear I was about to start looking a bit more accomplished than my ability!  The next stage began in Warren, Pennsylvania.

I knew it when I saw it.  We were pulling into the parking lot of the beautiful park that would be the home base for the Warren USCA Nationals.  She was bright orange and gray, strapped to the roof of a racer from New Jersey, and wearing a big red-and-white “For Sale” sign.  The boat, not the guy!  My dad had just sent me an unexpected financial gift that happened to be idling in my checkbook.  I had seen the fiberglass lay up of the Think Fit on display at our first trip to Nationals the previous summer.  Something about it resonated with me:  a sea kayak that wasn’t too narrow, was significantly lighter than the plastic beasts like the Hobie that the recreational paddlers tended to favor, and yet was respectable even by the racing crowd.  Very few Think Fits were available in the Midwest.  It looked intimidating and skill-building all the same.  She was going home with me.  I was sure of it long before I said anything to Steve.

The bonding experience would change my view of kayaking forever.  Think about it:  what’s the worst fear a person might have when getting into a tiny vessel on unknown waters?  Drowning?  Even if you know how to swim there are variables on open water that can kill you.  A jet boat can run you over, a swirling eddy can entrap you under a log, the current can take you where you don’t want to go, and a spider can tether down from a tree branch from above and frightfully let you know that you are not paddling alone . . . It’s the stuff waking nightmares are made of.  You know, that twilight time just before you fall asleep?  I would have many recollections of my first time in the Think Fit after that maiden voyage.  It’s the stuff you tell stories about when out to dinner after a day of racing or touring.

Steve stabilized the Think Fit in the midst of the current of the Alleghany River to help me get a feel for it.  This is a bit misleading for many reasons including these top two:  1)  a boat (like a bicycle) is more stable as you move forward instead of sitting stationary and 2)  the rate of the current (or the overpowering wind on a bicycle) can challenge the skill level of all of us.  The Core of Army Engineers had released a bit too much water from the dam earlier that day to correct the water levels for the race competitors.  So instead of a gentle 2-3 MPH current, we’re talking 5-6 MPH!  The last time I stood in current like that was as a kid when helping groom a trail at day camp.  I had slid off the trail into the swirling waters of the Clinton River, feeling the rush pull me away from the shore as I struggled to get back onto dry land.  Where were the other kids?  Who knows.  All I knew is that I was scared and I had to spend the rest of the day in soggy shoes and shorts!  Bummer.  Or there were the times as a kid that we created a current walking around the periphery of our 24-foot backyard pool.   After about a dozen times pool-walking around the circle we had created an awesome current for crazy fun, sweeping us away unless we hung onto the sides!  The feel of rushing water returned few decades later when I felt the undertow when swimming in the ocean along the Gulf of Mexico . . .  Now there’s a real sense of danger right there.

Steve had me paddle towards him then drew me back along the shore for a repeat mini-paddle.  I could feel the rush of the water making the paddling easier.  No problem.  His presence boosted my confidence too.  Then I started venturing out a little more, requiring less help from him to turn around.  I barely had a handle on the rudder steering mechanism as I tried to make a turn before a large tree hanging over the river.  Before I knew it I was pushed into a horizontal branch and began rolling over in slow-motion.   I grabbed a branch within reach above me, nearly panicked, and somehow remembered to hang onto the very expensive boat that wasn’t mine.  Everything flashed before me in an instant:  I’m glad I am wearing a life jacket.  I can’t hold the boat and the paddle at the same time.  The boat isn’t paid for so I can’t let go.  I am horizontal and the current is stronger than I could ever imagine.  How long can I hold on?  If I let go will I be strewn down the river backwards for miles before anyone ever finds me?  I will be stranded somewhere with snakes, barbs or worse as it gets dark.  Why are the men watching right now and not doing anything?  I could die!  I don’t know what to do and I am panicking!

In a moment like that you must make a different decision:  will you become overwhelmed with fear and land in a worse outcome because of it or will you take a deep breath and try to figure something out.  Even Steve was standing knee-deep in water along the shore watching me, speechless!  Would he even be able to hear me over the roar of the rushing water anyways?  Yes, I have to try anyways.  First step, I yelled, “I need to be rescued.”  He quickly came out of shock, took off his glasses/watch/keys, and started towards me.  Second step, “I am letting go of the boat.”  That cued him to grab the boat, make an awesome deep water re-entry into it, grab the paddle and make his way towards me.  Third step and just as he got to me, I let go of the tree branch and my only security on earth in that moment.  I quickly drifted into the stern of the boat and grabbed hold.  He said something to me and I have no idea what it was.  I held on with whatever energy was left in my trembling body.  Did I mention that the waters were quite cool?

Even Steve was having trouble righting the boat to return to shore as I realized that I could help him do so.  I started kicking my legs as if I were hanging onto a kick board in a lap pool.  Yeah, more like a lap pool with a swim machine on steroids that is!  We readily got going in the right direction and Steve paddled us into shore.  When I could feel the sandy bottom of the shoreline I dragged myself out of the water.  Steve dismounted out of the boat, emptied it and laid it on the shore.  The two idiots that were watching the whole time and did nothing to help, said nothing, checked their phones, and walked over the hill back into the parking lot beyond.  In that park were hundreds of experienced canoe and kayak racers who had no idea of the crisis occurring for me at the take-out where all of them had ended their respective races within the previous hour.  I collapsed into Steve’s arms in horror, fear, grief, terror, and relief that I had not drowned.  It was my worst fear you know.  The second was drifting aimlessly backwards down the river forever.  Both landed me in a bucket full of tears that seemed like they would never end.

These days I understand that you can swim in waters with a stout current.  These days I know some navigational and survival skills should I ever be faced with that scenario again.  These days I know that I could have drifted downriver with the boat as a float and with the protection of my life vest to keep my head above water in most circumstances.  These days I know that Steve would have signaled for help and did whatever it would take to find me should I have become stranded along the river down from the take out.  And these days I know that I could have turned myself around almost instantly if I would have been swept away with the current.  I have learned a lot since that day five years ago.

When I got my wits about me I looked at that orange and gray Think Fit kayak and knew I had another decision to make.  We would be leaving town the next day and the boat that I thought would be right for me would also be leaving to make a cross-country trip in the opposite direction from where we live in Indiana.  This was the boat I had landed upon after investigating the options and it was about to go away.  The crisis that I experienced was a rite of passage in many ways.  Sure, it’s unlikely to find such perilous conditions in the waterways of Indiana so why worry about it ever happening again.  But that wasn’t the point.  The point was that I had faced my worst fear of what could go wrong in a human-powered craft.  I had faced it and survived.  I had faced it and gained some new skills.  And in the process I had bonded with my new Think Fit kayak.  I bought it and took her home with me.  It was the only possible outcome that I could imagine.  I became a kayaker that day!

Julie in her Think Fit sea kayak
Julie in her Think Fit sea kayak

There’s more.  See Part 2 for a little more of my paddling story.  Then get into your own boat somewhere on some friendly waters this summer and get going eh?  Oh the adventures that await you!  Did I tell you the one about the nest of great blue herons in the remote pond at the end of the Golden Lake chain o’ lakes?  :J