My friend Sherry Antonetti invited me to participate in her “Top Ten Scariest Things I’ve Ever Done” Carnival, and I thought that this would be a good day to do it. First days of school are always full of scary moments: new teacher, new classmates, new challenges.
New challenges for me, too. This afternoon I take my first (and hopefully last) tentative footsteps toward finishing my degree. Really. Finally. No kidding. Thus, I begin my list …
10. Finish school, so I can be ready for whatever fresh surprise God has up His sleeve. (This is more of a “pending” item than a “done” item, but I put it on this list because I am in fact accepted in the program.) The prospect of failure has always had a paralyzing effect on me. It’s one of my greatest shortcomings, really. You’d think that the fact that I’ve been either in school or writing for most of my adult life would make the prospect of writing a fifty-page paper something of a cake walk. But for some reason, I kept putting it off. And now I’m determined to beat it!
9. Became a parent. Again, this one that might not seem all that scary to some people. I look at women with ten or twelve children, all of whom are both home-schooled and perfectly behaved (could there be a connection?), and wonder how they do it. Honestly. This, too, has been a cosmic opportunity to overcome a myriad of personal flaws, from my short fuse to my tendency to cram too much into every day. Not that I’ve actually overcome either of these things — but then, that’s why we get ’em for eighteen years or so. Right?
8. Got married. The day we celebrated our ninth anniversary, we went out to Weber’s and celebrated the fact that we had managed to get through (counting the year of our dating and engagement) ten years together. Better yet, still enjoy being around each other. Proof positive that the niggling little voices in my head on my wedding day, all of whom were VERY sure I would drive him away in a year or less — were dead wrong. Hah!
7. Bus ride through Mexico. The summer of 1990, I found myself at a cross-roads, needing to make a choice about where I would be spending the next few years — California, Singapore, or Minneapolis. To clear my head, I flew to Acapulco and boarded a north-bound Mexican bus, to spend time with some missionary friends in the central region of San Luis Portosi. In retrospect, three days on a Mexican bus — knowing as little Spanish as I did — was a bit risky. Scary, even. If it had been my daughter (as no doubt one day it will be) I’m not sure I’d have encouraged her going alone. But that summer, I came to understand the liberating force of a spontaneous adventure.
6. Bus ride across Poland. This would be the summer of 1992. Another spontaneous adventure — but this time, I was leading a group fo 27 college students and musicians (half Polish, half Americans) across what turned out to be one of my very favorite European countries. The Polish students were charismatic Christians (Assemblies of God), the American students were a mix of Quaker, Baptist, and non-denominational. Several weeks into the trip, I found myself stranded with my group — no concert dates, little money, and no translator. Never in my life did I have less control over what was happening to me. Frankly, it scared me to death, realizing how little I could control my own life. When I returned to the U.S., I started sneaking into Masses, discovering peace in the last place I ever expected to find it.
5. Played in a band (“La Lumieres.”) October 1984 – May 1985, I was in Senegal, West Africa. The highlight of the trip was playing keyboards for “La Lumieres,” a church band comprised of African college students and our pastor. My French was pretty pitiful (still is), but somehow the group adopted me. The scary moment? The night I came out of practice and discovered a strange man in the back seat of my car — and one of my friends (who had been listening for my car to start) came out and rescued me. To this day, I look in the back seat of my car before getting in — and lock myself in afterward.
4. California Dreaming. After graduating from Azusa Pacific University, I spent two years working for William Mercer, Incorporated in their HR Consulting department. I was determined to live on my own, and the only place I could afford was a tiny one-bedroom with a mariachi band permanently set up in the garage behind me. I was the only gringa in the entire complex — but I quickly became “Tia Heidi” to the little girls who lived there. Late one night there was a knock on my door, and I found four large Mexican men squeezed together on my front stoop, carrying a large object. Talk about scary — until one of the men identified himself as the father of my little friends. “My kid, she say you have no furniture in your living room. We getting rid of this couch. You wan it?” It was bordello red crushed velvet … but I didn’t have the heart to make them drag it back down to the curb. I threw a sheet over it, and thanked God for my new friends.
3. Crossed the Tiber. Spring of 1994, I took a deep breath and (knees shaking) walked down the center aisle of Holy Family Parish in South Pasadena, to receive the sacraments for the first time. I took the name “Amy,” after Amy Carmichael — the nineteen-century Scottish Presbyterian missionary whom I believe is the patroness of spiritual courage. None of my family was present, and it was thrilling and frightening at the same time. In that moment I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had found my home.
2. My first job. I was twelve when I got my first “professional” job as the organist for a local Lutheran church in New Jersey. The previous organist, who hired me, was a middle-aged woman who (in retrospect) I now realize must have have great courage, inviting me to take her place on the bench. I had no idea what liturgy was about. I had never accompanied a choir, and had not the slightest clue about the liturgical seasons. Still, she let me get up there, open my hymnal, put my fingers on the keys and feet on the pedals — and let it rip. I made the most spectacular gaffes some weeks — but there were also times when I really thought I heard the angels sing.
1. The high dive. Every couple of years we got in the car and drove for a whole week to get to Grandma Dix’s house. There was a public pool with a high dive near her house, and I remember watching from the shallow end as one kid after the other would walk to the end of the board, raise their hands over their head, and dive in. The REALLY brave ones faced away from the pool and did a backwards dive. I was determined to do it. And one summer, I actually did. Stood with my toes on the edge of the board, raised my arms over my head, held my breath, and leaned back. Sometimes I made the most spectacular belly flops — but eventually I managed to actually hit the water palms first.
This last one is #1 for a couple of reasons. It happened earliest in my life (I think I was 10). But it is also the perfect metaphor for my philosophy of life: life on the edge, a little breathless and exposed, hitting the world with a splash.
I don’t like “tagging” people on these things … but if you decide to take up the challenge, let me know! What are your top ten scary things?