But then she realizes that she must get down. Contrary to what it seems, this is not her first time conquering Mount Kitchenstool. She’s climbed up and jumped down many times. But she’s just ten weeks old and she can’t remember that she’s done this before. So she yips in terror. Though I desperately want to run to her side and help her down, I follow my father’s lead, and refrain. She’s done this before, and she needs to learn that she’ll be able to do it again.
Rewind seven years.
I can’t sleep. It’s the night before the first day of ninth grade, and I’m more scared than excited. I have this freak foot ailment, so laid out beside my jeans are my ugly tennis shoes with special insoles. They don’t really match my white shirt with blue flowers on it. Will people notice? Will classes be too difficult? Will I have any friends? What if I get lost; what if I never find my way? These are the thoughts and questions plaguing my mind atop the kitchen stepstool on the night before high school.
From there, four years fly.
I cry myself to sleep a few nights before I move away to my mysterious future called college. My stuff surrounds me, scattered in crates and suitcases. The little things make me more homesick, even though I’m still at home. I know my family will take the leaf out of the table. They won’t need the fifth chair. I want to change; I’m afraid to change. I don’t know who I will become. How could it be much better than high school? Will I make friends that will last forever? I know I’m too old to cry over little things, and I tell myself that I won’t be able to get emotional like this next week, when I’m on my own, but my little lecture only unleashes more tears. When will I remember that I’ve been here, on this high footstool, before?
Three more years pass: arriving at present day.
Watching Lucy jump down, I grin. Her tail, like laughter, wags. In this moment, I don’t remember the anxiety of standing atop the stool, but I remember the joy of the leaps. Soon after I began high school, I conducted a science experiment. I had all my friends (old, new, and some still strangers), walk through a hallway that had terrified me two months before. My nerdy project (“The Effects of Texting on Walking Speed, Cadence, and Wavering”) won at state. I wouldn’t have been so scared to leave for college if high school hadn’t been great. Now, I can’t imagine how I’ll feel next year, as I think about starting whatever it is I’ll be starting. I still have a year left of college, and I can already feel the tension rising at the thought of beginning again.
It is taking me twenty one years to learn what we’re trying to teach the puppy at ten weeks. There will always be a new first. I’ll always find something new to prepare a pep talk for. There will be first days of work, first days of life, first days of my kids going to school, first days forever.
That doesn’t diminish the weight of the current first. When you’re on the step-stool, it’s hard to remember that you’ve been there before. Walking into a future, knowing you’ll be fully in it soon, is scary.
Seventy two years ago.
A German preacher is tasked with comforting anxious people. Their fear, and probably his too, is Stalingrad, a World War II battle that killed millions. The preacher says:
“The surprising thing in the biblical message is that it finds in love the opposite of fear and anxiety. There is no terror – one might equally well say anxiety – in love, we are told in I John. The surprising thing is that anxiety is not opposed by fortitude, courage or heroism, as one might expect. These are simply anxiety suppressed, not conquered. The positive force which defeats anxiety is love…. That is to say, anxiety is a broken bond and love is the bond restored. Once we know in Christ that the world has a fatherly basis and that we are loved, we lose our anxiety…. If I am anxious, and I know Christ, I may rest assured that I am not alone with my anxiety; He has suffered it for me. The believer… thus has a new relationship to the future. This is no longer a mist-covered landscape into which I peer anxiously because of the sinister events which will there befall me. Everything is now different. We do not know what will come. But we know who will come. And if that last hour belongs to us, we do not need to fear the next minute.” (The Silence of God, 8-9)
Fast forward to tomorrow.
Lord willing, thousands will wake and start high school. Eighteen year olds will say goodbye to lifetime friends and drive away. Lucy will leap from the stepstool again. Battles will be fought, physically and emotionally, around the world. And the Author of love knows each story, each fear, and each heart.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3: 20-21