Iowa in mid-August is a baking, steamy oven of a place where heat just hangs in the air because there is nowhere for it to go and the heat is certainly in no hurry to get anywhere. There weren’t enough popsicles or homemade folded fans in the world to keep my five-year-old self cool. But there was one thing that immediately changed my temperature. In fact, whenever the thought of it entered my head, I was chilled right to the bone.
The rickety wooden bridge, with its slight sway and slats wide enough to accommodate my leg, covered the creek that had to be crossed in order to reach the ultimate beacon on the hill. . . . SCHOOL.
I was torn and tormented. I wanted to go to school so much that it HURT. My backpack had been ready for weeks, stuffed to the gills with the requisite Kleenex, crayons, kindergarten paste and number two pencils. It sat in the corner of the closet, waiting for the day to arrive when it would finally be drafted into service. But every time I approached the bridge, my breath would come in short, shallow bursts, my stomach churned, and my knees went weak. The only way I was able to go from the safety of home to academic nirvana was if someone gave me a piggyback ride across that death-trap of a bridge.
You see the problem. Big kindergarteners walk to school themselves. They cross the bridge and laugh in the face of DANGER. They certainly don’t get piggybacked across the bridge anymore, and definitely not everyday.
Thus, the training began. Each afternoon, my mom, sister, and I would walk to the bridge and every day, I would have the same reaction. Sheer terror. I simply froze. I may as well have been Lot’s wife, because the sight of that bridge froze me into a pillar of salt EVERY TIME.
I would have to cross, and in my mind, CHEAT DEATH, twice a day, EVERYDAY, for the rest of my life.
Exasperated, my mom called in the big guns.
Towering, formidable, Hank, with hands bigger than a catcher’s mitt, a chest wider than our street, and a gruff determination to fix anything that needs fixing.
To my little self, he was Paul Bunyan, who happened to live next to me on Driftwood Lane. Or, better yet, he was like Aslan, the lion from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He was scary, but he was good.
Hank, the lovable curmudgeon next door, didn’t tolerate nonsense like little girls who couldn’t cross bridges.
He said we would do it after dinner. Just me and him.
Needless to say, I wasn’t much interested in my tuna casserole and canned green beans. I didn’t even want a popsicle. I was terrified, but in the best possible way. This matter was going to be settled once and for all. Either freedom was at hand, or DEATH BY BRIDGE. If I were a betting woman, I would reckon that Hank would settle for no less than FREEDOM. I started to sweat.
We walked behind the tract houses on the sidewalk that led to the bridge. People on their back porches greeted us and inquired about where we were headed. Hank gruffly responded that we were getting ready to conquer a big ole fear. The lump in my throat rendered me mute.
We arrived at the bridge and stared at it for a few moments in silence.
Suddenly, I felt my hand enveloped by Hank’s giant paw.
Slowly, he walked me back and forth across that bridge dozens of times, holding my hand throughout, guiding without forcing. He gently asked me what was so scary about this bridge, then kindly refuted each of my fears in his gruff, no-nonsense way. He talked to me about doing hard things. He talked to me about the importance of studying a problem not from a posture of fear, but as a curiosity that needs to be solved. In short, he taught me this:
For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
-2 Timothy 1:7
What’s your bridge? What’s holding you back?
What is making you less free?
Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan explore this idea in their first book, Wild and Free: A Hope Filled Anthem for the Woman Who Feels Like She Is Both Too Much and Never Enough.
Which sums me up in a nutshell. I feel like I’m WAY too much, and never, ever enough.
In alternating chapters, Connolly and Morgan discuss how we let fear, doubt, convention, comparison, competition, and expectations limit our lives and prevent us from being who we were created to be. They argue that there are all kinds of bondage in this world, and our lives will never change unless we allow ourselves to get FREE.
They want people to cross their bridges.
So do I.
Freedom is on the other side.