This guest post from Faith Takes Flight talks about facing your fears of travel. After a troubling experience in 1993, Heather Ledeboer traveled to Florida with her family 20+ years later and faces old memories that could've easily kept her away from a place that provided her and her family with experiences of a lifetime.
Heather is an amazing writer. If you haven't checked out her blog, I highly recommend it!
I spent most of my childhood growing up on a fruit orchard on the Columbia River in Washington State. Our white two-story farmhouse was perched on a small hill, nestled within the protective arms of a pine tree covered hillside. If I tilted my head just right, I could see a sliver of placid blue water through the distant trees beyond my living room window. Our summers were hot and dry and the winters were cold and white. Although my family made many trips to Southern California to visit family, that was the extent of my travels and for all I knew the rest of the world looked a lot like the west coast of the United States of America.
First Taste of Freedom
In 1993 I turned 15 and my parents offered me my first chance to step outside my comfort zone and see well beyond my living room window. A pamphlet from Teen Missions International based in Merritt Island, Florida beckoned offered a travel experience like no other: two weeks in Florida for boot camp and then on to diverse international locations such as Mozambique, Papa New Guinea or Brazil. I scoured the brochure attempting to select the most ideal location like a discerning shopper looking through a fashion catalog. Dog-eared and worn, I poured over my printed options with vigor, circling those that seemed most promising and adding stars to the ones that seemed extra romantic. In the end, France captured my teenage heart and I submitted my application for adventure.
What the brochure failed to mention however, was the fact that no geographically informed individual would consider traveling to Florida in the height of summer. I was, up to this time in my life, grossly uninformed and blissfully naive to matters of humidity, chiggers and mid-summer mosquitoes. I was also somewhat self-absorbed and walking that difficult road of confident ignorance. (If you are over the age of 25, I trust I’m not alone in recalling memories from this period of time with embarrassing clarity.)
What greeted me that July as I stepped off the airplane in Orlando, was a wash of reality served fresh on a plate of heavy humidity mixed with intense heat. Arriving late in the evening, I traveled under the cloak of night by bus to the boot camp location. Because of my late arrival, I was treated to a night on the floor in my sleeping bag in an air-conditioned building. This would be the last comfortable night of sleep I would experience in Florida.
For the next two weeks, my sleeping bag rested inside a small pup tent amid the forest floor. I learned to wash my clothes by hand and forgo the expectation that they would dry in the moist air before I needed to wear them again. My only comfort was that I was not alone. My team of 32 other teens had signed up for this self-inflicted experience as well.
Because there were thousands of teens representing countless teams traveling all over the globe, our conditions were set up to mimic those of the most primitive team. Every aspect of our boot camp adventure was designed to mimic conditions on the mission field and help us overcome culture shock before we left the United Sates to our varied international destinations. This included our dress code of jeans and combat boots despite the sweltering summer weather. Team building opportunities included classing in construction, puppets, drama and survival skills and a morning obstacle course through the jungle complete with a rope swing over a muddy slough and scaling a 12 foot wall.
Occasionally, I would peer into the night sky and see the blinking lights of an airplane. I’d stand in awe that somewhere in the stratosphere people were sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned cabin drinking soda with ice cubes clinking in their plastic cups watching an in-flight movie. How I wished I could be among them! As sweat dripped between my shoulder blades in the heat of the night, I made myself a promise: never again would I be dumb enough to visit Florida.
Twenty-three years later I was staring hard into that promise as our family began charting our RV travel route. Logically and logistically wintering in Florida was the best choice..."for a lunatic", I reasoned.
We wanted to visit the states we’d never been to as a family. We wanted to travel up the east coast in the spring. Florida made perfect sense..."if you want to be an idiot."
Let’s set aside the humidity and the insects and pretend those are inconsequential. How can we ignore the alligators? People say they are “everywhere.”
What about the hurricanes? We are traveling in an RV for Pete sake, we’d likely blow right out to sea!
Facing Unfounded Fear Head-On
In my first post of 2017, I addressed the topic of fear. Please understand that was not written from a hypothetical or metaphorical standpoint. I’ve met fear face-to-face on many occasions and in varying degrees of circumstances or intensities.
This time was guilty of nursing a twenty-three year old memory well past the weaning stage. I’d let the news, social media and those around me feed that fear. It’s embarrassing to admit but over time my fear became bigger than my God and my faith was in the words of those confirming my doubts.
If you are looking for a good place to get lost in insecurity, turn inward and wrap yourself in a blanket of anxious thoughts. It’s awfully lonely, but at least you will be warm.
Choosing to winter in Florida this year was a deliberate move to throw off the anxiety blanket and step boldly toward fearlessness; away from hypothetical “what ifs?” and unfounded fears and toward more calculated curiosity and logical reasoning.
What I have discovered after a month in the Sunshine State has been surprisingly straightforward: yes there are unpleasantries in Florida. It’s humid. It’s buggy. There are alligators, crocodiles, snakes and panthers. Hurricanes are possible and sinkholes occur. But that is only the view through one lens.
Realistically speaking, the Northwest, where I call home has bears, cougars, moose, and poisonous spiders. The winters are cold and summer brings the treat of wildfire. Despite all of those perceived dangers, I’ve never questioned my sanity or well being living there.
Have you noticed how relaxed we can become inside our zones of comfort?
I Could Have So Easily Missed Out
Here is what it comes down to: my fear of the unknown is often deeply rooted in just that–the unknown. Becoming familiar with something new is often not only the antidote to fear, but also a close-minded outlook. My fear faded as my education grew. I learned that hurricanes more or less follow a predictable schedule and just like in Idaho, the wildlife prefers to keep to itself. Once I was willing to use a different lens, I saw that manatees were swimming in the same waters as the crocodile and shark teeth could be found on the opposite shore of the lazy alligator. Beauty and wonder co-existed with my misplaced fears. I could so easily have missed out.
I could have missed out on new friends, biking through the Everglades, crocodiles on the riverbank, canoeing through mangrove forests, and dolphins dancing in the Gulf of Mexico as the sun set.
I could of missed out on huting shark teeth in the riverbed, hanging out with wild manatees in the bay, and Florida sunsets with my family on the beach.
...or rehabilitating sea turtles and watching them in the wild.
...or picking strawberries in January.
...or the priceless look on my children's faces as they watched Blue Angels fly overhead in perfect formation.
I COULD HAVE MISSED IT ALL!
Now certainly one could say that had we not been in Florida, different memories would have been made in another place. This is true and they could have been wonderful. However, in addition to all that we gained in friendships, memories and experiences, I can also add the lesson of facing my unfounded fear and realizing that the reality was much different than the expectation. Call me crazy but if I tilt my head just right, I just might see another Florida winter in our future.