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In the Midst of Our Fear by Gary Robbins

I had watched her, just a few minutes before, as she stood there…crying.

“I can’t do, I can’t do it,” she said, tears running down her face.

 “All my life I’ve been afraid of heights.  I can’t help it, it just terrifies me.”

It didn’t matter that she was surrounded by friends encouraging her, friends who who believed in her, friends who believed that she could do it.  She looked up at the 40-foot climbing wall and terror flooded her face.

“It’s O.K.,” I said.  “You don’t have to do it.  Just stand and watch.”

She seemed visibly relieved.

Slowly, one by one, a half dozen students or more and made their way up the climbing wall in the hot New Mexico sun.

The most agile and daring seemed to scurry up the wall with little difficulty.  The others were more cautious, carefully picking out their hand- and footholds, working their way up the wall slowly.  All of them, once they got twenty-five or thirty feet up the wall, were glad they were in safety harnesses.

Even some of the most confident climbers were a little unnerved to be up three stories high.

And then, out of nowhere, I heard her voice.

“I’m going to do it,” she said, her voice quivering.

I was shocked.

“You don’t have to,” I reminder her again.  “No one is going to think any less of you.”

“No,” she said.  “I’ve got to do this.”

She walked over to the climbing instructor and asked him to help her with the harness.

I saw the students look her way and then quietly nudge the person beside them.

Some smiled broadly as they watched Sara get into the harness, but others weren’t quite sure what to feel.

Then the moment came.

Sara stepped toward the wall, looking straight ahead, too terrified to look up and think about what awaited her.

She didn’t have a lot of upper-body strength—and her thick glasses made us wonder whether she even see the handholds.  But she reached up and grabbed one.  Then, another.  She put her foot on one of the holds.

I watched as she lifted her body up.  Her leg began to tremble.  Her body was quivering.

“You can do it, Sara.  You can’t do,” shouted her fellow students.

She was only about six to eight feet off the ground the first time she stopped, pressing her body close to the wall.

“Don’t give up, Sara!  Don’t give up!” shouted her roommate.

“You can do it,” echoed the others.

But she didn’t move.  Her eyes were closed and tears were rolling down her cheeks. She seemed frozen in place.

“It’s O.K., Sara.  You can come down if you need to.  It’s all right,” I said.

“No,” she said, her voice trembling.  “I’ve got to do this.”

She reached her right hand a little higher and grasped the next handhold.

Slowly, ever so slowly, she lifted her right knee until she was able to find a spot for her right foot.

Her roommate had now come close to the wall.  “Sara!  Sara!  I’m here.  Don’t be afraid.  I know you can do it.”

But Sara was getting tired.  She was now about eighteen feet up the wall and her arms and legs were shaking.

“Take your time, Sara.  Just take it slow and easy,” I said.  I was so proud of her.  I couldn’t believe that she had made it as far as she had.

And then she started crying again.  But this time, it was more than mere tears.  It was a sob—one of those deep “I just can’t do this anymore” kind of sobs.

This time it was the climbing instructor who stood almost under her.

“It’s O.K., Sara,” he said in a soft and reassuring voice.  “You’ve done well—really, really well.  It’s O.K., you can come down now.  We’ve got you.”

All of us expected her to begin making her way down.

“No,” she said, her voice breaking.  “I’ve got to do this.  I’ve got to!”

My eyes filled with tears.

The others began to cheer:  “Sara!  Sara!  Sara!  Sara!”

Quietly, underneath their shouts of encouragement and support, I heard her small voice:  “Help me, God.  Please help me.”

A moment later, her hand reached up again and grabbed another handhold.

As Sara inched her way to the top, all of us knew that we were watching something remarkable.  It was an extraordinary act of faith, bravery, and courage.

We knew that Sara was terrified, absolutely terrified.

We knew she was facing her deepest fear.

And when she finally made it to the top, down on all fours, completely unable to stand because of the height and the exhaustion, but smiling from ear to ear, we went wild.  We were screaming and laughing and cheering and crying.

People must have heard us for miles.

I’ve never witnessed anything else like it in my life.

I think about Sara on top of that forty-foot climbing tower…

…and Moses going back to face Pharaoh,

…and Abraham leading Isaac up Mount Moriah,

…and Jeremiah saying yes to God’s call even though he was little more than a kid,

…and Mary responding to the angel Gabriel, “Be it unto me according to thy word,”

…and Jesus rising up from prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane,

and I think about how deep and real their fear was.

And I think to myself, “Maybe, with God’s help, I can face some of my fear too.”

Gary Robbins is the pastor of Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Roanoke.  Visit them on the web at:

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