Little Fears Can Be Big Fears, too

Fear. He is a liar.

These words echo through our car as the boys and I sing along, the truth of Zach Williams’ lyrics reverberating in our souls. And I think to myself that I face my fears every day. After all, I get in a car and drive miles down the freeway with my two sons in the back seat. I drop them off in the school drive line and make my way to my own classroom where each day is filled with unknowns. My fears don’t conquer me; I conquer them. At least, that is what I like to tell myself especially when it comes to the little fears no one can see.

When I was young, I wanted to be a ballerina. With two close friends cast in the local production of the Nutcracker, I became fascinated with frilly tutus and pirouettes. I longed for a few dance classes so I could join the ranks of graceful girls my age. In the rare moments when I found myself alone at home because my mom ran to the neighbor’s or my brothers were outside playing homerun derby, I wiggled into my swimsuit, found a pair of frilly socks, and moved the coffee table from the center of the room. Turning up the volume on my cassette player as high as it would go, I leaped over the carpet and twirled around the recliner to the Nutcracker suite. For a few moments, I was Clara enjoying a fancy ball. That is, until I heard a car pull into the driveway or my brothers make their way into the garage with their baseball gear. Then, I hurriedly scooted the furniture back into place and raced back to my bedroom to hide my swimsuit in the bottom of my sock drawer. No one would ever know about my clandestine afternoon recitals.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I mentioned my desire for ballet lessons to my mother. I know she felt badly that I had yearned for them for years, but she never knew. Then, in a matter of weeks, she enrolled me in a beginning class. There I was, a five-foot-eight freshman girl in a class with eight-year-olds. But I did it. For a year, I lived that little-girl dream. What if I had asked earlier, months or years earlier? Maybe I would have been a prima ballerina – at least, I know my posture would have improved dramatically.

Even at that young age, only one thing got in the way of joy: fear. Not the big, life-or-death fear, but the little fears. Afraid I would be a klutz and fall on my face. Afraid the other girls would laugh at me. Afraid my mom would say we couldn’t afford it. So many fears for a little girl with blonde pig tails that bounced when she skipped down the sidewalk.

What’s even more difficult to admit, though, is that those same fears followed me into adulthood. There have been many things I’ve wanted to do, or try, or learn. So many people I would like to interview or meet. So many places I wish to travel. And the little fears often become the biggest ones.

Just three years ago, during a tour of the set of When Calls the Heart in British Columbia, I found myself presented with a unique opportunity. The wrangler for a few of the horses had one of them out of the barn for fans to meet. He asked if anyone would like to ride. The few people within his circle stood quietly, not responding. How could they not jump at this opportunity? I thought to myself. Tentatively, I inched my hand skyward. With a nod of his head, the man beckoned me over.

“Do you know how to ride?” He asked.

“Ummm…not really.” I blushed.

He helped me get settled into the saddle and led me down the main street of the Hope Valley set. My heart thundered in my chest and I tried desperately not to care that every eye on Main Street was watching me. After all, I was riding a horse in Hope Valley! Though that memory is blurred by the same fears I had as an eleven-year-old ballerina, it is still a testament to what I can do when I remember that fear is a liar.

Fast forward to only a few months ago. Upon discovering the Canadian series Heartland, I also re-discovered my long-held wish to truly learn to ride a horse. I think the original desire stemmed from my passion for all things Little House on the Prairie. In my dreams, I raced through a field peppered with wildflowers, my hair blowing in the breeze as my horse broke a tiny trail in the knee-high grasses.

This childhood fancy was voiced a few times to both of my parents. I remember my mother taking me to see the horses her friends kept on their property and watching them in the round pen. Twice, my father took me on trail rides to quench my thirst for life as a prairie girl. Once, we enjoyed a short trek through the trees in southern Colorado. My horse was constantly hungry and stopped every few feet to munch on the lush vegetation growing along the trail. The other ride was a bit more…eventful. My dad’s horse liked being close to his buddies and kept bumping my horse, who happened to be the next in line, in the rear end. Now, my travel buddy did not take kindly to these friendly nudges and did his best to buck me off. I held onto that saddle horn for dear life – and finished our ride by looking back every two seconds and admonishing my dad to keep his horse in check.

Now, with my eyes opening to a world of horse-jumping and trail rides as I enjoy the 13 seasons of Heartland, I see those early rides for what they truly were: an answer to my inability to overcome my little fears. You see, I told my parents I wanted to ride a horse, while the deeper desire was to learn how to ride – to gain the skills and abilities to take off across a meadow with a four-legged companion. But, for years, I held onto those little fears of not-good-enough, too-clumsy, they-will-laugh, I-might-get-hurt, and so many others until they became the big fears standing in the way of joy.

Because that is what I have discovered, in only two lessons: I like riding a horse. I enjoy discovering how to read their body language and movements. Part of the joy comes in knowing I am conquering one of my little fears.

During the first lesson, I was definitely not good at riding. In fact, I couldn’t even figure out how to get down from the saddle and ended up on my behind in the dirt. But that didn’t matter. Sure, my son thought that was hysterical, and he didn’t hesitate to share the story with the rest of the family, but I fell down and I got back up. That matters.

Each time I climb up on that horse, I breathe deeply. I remind myself that I am not too clumsy or too much of a beginner. I push those fears back down into my gut and remember that all fears, even the little ones, are liars. And they steal our joy just as much as the big life-and-death ones. And I tell myself that, the next time someone asks if I can ride a horse, I will be able to hoist myself up into that saddle with confidence and take up the reigns of the horse while I keep a tight hold of those little fears, too, so that they don’t become big ones that get in the way of things that bring me joy.

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