Battling Fear at 14,500 Feet

fear skydive

“C’mon Dad, it will be fun!”

My oldest daughter Bailey kept saying that to me, but I couldn’t get past the feeling I was going to throw up.  Two summers ago I was about to turn fifty and wanted to do something I had never done before.  Bailey thought that skydiving would be the perfect activity for me – she had done it the summer before and loved it – plus she wanted to go again.  I can assure you that of all the things I was thinking of doing, jumping out of an airplane never came close to making the list.  As I age, I seem to have developed a growing fear of heights.  The mere thought of doing it made me break out in a sweat.  I was genuinely afraid.

I got up close and personal with fear back in 2006, when my wife and I were both diagnosed with cancer just six months apart.  There’s a whole new intensity to fear when you stare death in the face.  I’ve learned a lot about fear and how it affects us.  In fact, as I look back at my life, I realize that fear is something I’ve dealt with quite a bit.  I’ve almost embraced it to a certain degree.  I certainly don’t mean I like it, but it drives me in many situations.  The motivation to “not fail” pushes me as much as the prospect of success does.  I don’t know if that’s healthy or not, but to this day I am still motivated that way to a certain extent.  I fear not being the best husband and father I can be, so I am driven to live up to some unreachable standard I set.

In my previous job, I worried about all the potential issues that could keep things from running smoothly, and I knew if I addressed them, we would do well.  I fear my cancer could come back, so I pray, work out, do yoga, and drink these smoothies in the morning that look like something I’ve seen in a six-month-old’s diaper.  Hold up before you picture me in alone in a dark room watching Matlock reruns.  I consider myself an optimistic, happy person, but fear is definitely something I deal with on a semi-regular basis.

So, back to the part where I’m trying not to puke.  After several requests from my daughter, I finally said yes…and she looked almost shocked.  I told her I needed to do something that I was really afraid of doing.  I told a friend/co-worker what we were doing, and she wanted to go.  We had a 3 hour drive to the jump site, and everyone was getting anxious as we got closer.  We drove through some beautiful countryside once we got off the interstate, but then we passed a small cemetery and everyone made some nervous jokes about it.  Then, we passed another cemetery…and another one. THREE cemeteries on this rural two-lane road in the last 10 miles of our trip!  I asked if so many people died jumping out of airplanes in this area that they needed to keep building more cemeteries to bury all the bodies!

We arrived and they were over an hour behind schedule, so we had to wait…at least it gave us time to watch the video version of the waiver we signed that mentioned death no less than twenty times.  As we finally piled into the little plane, I buckled onto my tandem partner Ronnie that would make sure we did everything right.  The short ride to altitude was brutal for me.  As Bailey stepped to the door, she looked back at me and said “You good Dad?” with a thumbs up.  I said yes as they rolled out.  I immediately looked behind me and said “RONNIE I AM NOT $%*#$*% GOOD!”  He said, “It’s going to be great…besides, it’s too late now anyway”, and we tumbled out into what almost looked like a fake picture below me.

The next five minutes were some of the most amazing, exhilarating, and gut-wrenching of my life.  It was so beautiful and peaceful – except for the parts where I was screaming.  I prayed to God for the parachute to open, but mostly I told Him how thankful I was for my life and being with me through good and bad.

Author Jon Acuff wrote a book called Start and the subtitle says “Punch Fear in the Face”.  Remember that the next time you tell yourself that you can’t do something because you’re afraid or it makes you uncomfortable.  I talk and write a lot about getting out from underneath our blanket of “comfortable” and doing those things that we’ve always just talked or thought about.  Sometimes it takes more than just throwing off that blanket – you’ve got to punch it in the face.

19 thoughts on “Battling Fear at 14,500 Feet”

  1. Jim Vernon is a walking example of daily love. He’s honest, compassionate and super-funny. I am glad to call him my friend and thank you for sharing this post about fear!

  2. Love reading Jim’s posts. Always a great message and great points of reflection. Love how he is to the point and doesn’t add a lot of fluff, great for all us “too busy” people.

  3. What a special gift you have Jim and how special you are to share it this way for all of us! I especially need uplifting and spiritual guidance right now and look forward to more of your writings!

  4. Jim great article. I deal with anxiety and fear myself and have since I was a kid. I use Deut 31: 7-8 and Phil 4:6-7 to help me with my fear. You’re are doing a great thing.

  5. What an inspiration you are to so many of us. I have read your book and can relate to so much of that in the lives of my family.
    Keep up the good work and let the world know how special you and your family are in this world that hurts so much.
    Marion & Derek T. Smith

  6. Incredible- you certainly did punch fear in the face. It is a shame how much people miss out on simply because they are afraid. I have met some truly brilliant people with amazing insights that are afraid to write. I believe that support and encouragement are so important for overcoming fears and insecurities.

  7. Luckily, I don’t need to jump out of a plane to punch fear in the face. Sometimes it’s just trying anything new or talking to new people. Still, conquering fear is a pretty powerful experience .

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