He shaded this tree with three shades of green. Last time he had only used two shades. Setting down his coloring pencil, he squinted at his paper. They would be so surprised. He smiled as he pictured it framed in his grandparents’ living room, then picked up one more shade of green. Real talent, Mrs. Ludstrom had said last week as she posted his latest work on the bulletin board.
He looked up quickly. Two of the guys from seventh grade swaggered to his table and sat down. He watched them while quietly covering his drawing with his math book.
“Saw you in P.E. today,” one of the guys said. “That was a great three-pointer.”
“Um, thanks.” He wiped his hands on his pants. He wondered how long they would stay at his table.
“Maybe you could be on our team again next time,” the other guy said. It didn’t sound like a question.
“Yeah,” Matt said.
“If only we didn’t have to end that scrimmage game there,” the first guy said. “Stupid art class. We would have won if Mrs. Ludstrom wasn’t so picky about making us go color like preschoolers.”
Matt pushed the box of coloring pencils further into his backpack.
Of all the days for her sister to cancel the playdate. Kelsie clicked her three-month-old’s carrier into place. “Sara, let’s buckle you in, honey,” she held apart the straps of her two-year-old’s carseat.
“Nope,” Sara insisted as she kept playing in the back of the van.
Kelsie tried logic. “Sara, we need to go get some food from the grocery store so we can eat dinner with Daddy tonight.”
Kelsie turned around just in time to see Baxter come jumping into the car. “Baxter, no!”
Aa-roof! The baby started crying.
Kelsie sighed. “Come here, boy,” she called to Baxter while the baby cried louder.
“Here’s your paci, Baby,” Kelsie heard her toddler say behind her while she wrestled Baxter to the backyard. So much for weaning him off that like Jenna suggested, Kelsie thought, remembering her friend’s cautions about pacifiers.
“Stay back here, crazy,” Kelsie shoved Baxter in and shut the gate. She hurried back to the van just as Sara dumped the diaper bag out on the van floor. “Sara, what are you doing?”
“Finding Noah’s paci,” Sara informed her.
“It’s right here by your foot. See, here? Okay, we’ll clean that up later. Let’s get in your carseat.”
“Sara, we need to …”
Sara stood up to go back into the back of the van. Kelsie reached out just in time to grab her.
“NO!” Sara yelled, kicking her legs. Kelsie put her screaming daughter into her carseat. The baby’s paci fell out of his carseat and he started screaming again, too.
“Let’s sing a song for Noah,” Kelsie suggested as Sara kept yelling. “Twinkle, twinkle—” Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out to see if her sister answered her text about childcare and saw a name: Rebecca Peters. Kelsie raised her eyebrows. No way, she thought. Mrs. Perfect does not need to hear this chorus right now.
Just as she started to cancel the call, Sara kicked again, knocking the phone out of her hand. “Sara!” Kelsie scolded. “You need to stop it right now.”
Sara crossed her arms and glared at Kelsie, but Kelsie had stopped caring—as long as a certain two-year-old quit kicking and screaming. She re-inserted Noah’s paci. “You can get out when we get to the store,” she told Sara firmly then picked up her phone and looked at the screen.
Oh, no! The clock was counting up—Sara’s kick had made her answer the call instead of decline it. Kelsie swallowed and wondered if she should hang up or not. Timidly she put the phone to her ear. Not knowing what else to say, she softly said, “Hello?”
“Oh, hi, Kelsie, how are you?” Rebecca asked smoothly.
“Good,” Kelsie answered and slammed the van’s sliding door. “We’re doing good,” Kelsie climbed into her seat, wondering what all Rebecca had heard. “How are you?” she mumbled.
“Oh, we’re doing wonderful. My kids and I have had so much fun this summer! Anyway, I was calling to see if you wanted to help us out with a thank-you project for the church staff…”
Kelsie rolled her eyes as she pulled her door shut. She put the key in the ignition as Rebecca droned on about the project. She would have backed out the driveway with the phone stuck to her ear, except two things happened at the same time.
The first thing Kelsie noticed was that Sara started kicking and screaming again. Then she looked up and saw her next-door neighbor standing on her driveway, holding Baxter by the collar.
“And that’s where you’ll find me/Farther than I ever hoped to be.” She smiled as the last notes on the piano died away.
“Oh my goodness! That was so pretty!”
Erica smiled at the praise.
“You wrote that? That sounds like it could be on the radio.”
“Thanks, Ashley,” Erica said. She paused then grinned. “It would be fun to hear it on the radio.”
“I know, right?! Play another one.”
Erica looked at the ceiling while she thought. “Um, okay, there is this other one I really like, but it’s not quite finished yet. Tell me what you think,” she took her place at the piano bench again. Gently, she fingered the keys and began playing a melody. She took a deep breath to sing the first line.
Erica looked up. “Oh, hi, Chloe,” she said slowly.
“Hi!” Ashley grinned. “You should hear what Erica wrote—it’s amazing! Play the first one again, Erica.”
“Oh, I don’t have to play that. It’s really not that good. I know a lot of people who could do a lot better,” Erica started to get up from the piano.
“But you just said you wanted to hear it on the radio,” Ashley reminded her.
“I’d love to hear it,” Chloe added. “I heard you’re playing for church in a couple weeks.”
“Maybe,” Erica smiled and looked away.
“Come on, just do it,” Ashley said.
“Please?” Chloe asked.
Erica sighed and sat back down at the piano bench. She paused as she thought through the first few notes again. She looked down and noticed her hands were shaking.
It almost seems that to be human is to be afraid of the opinions of others. How many of our decisions and thought processes are wrapped around what other people think of us—or what we are afraid they will think of us?
Stories like Kelsie’s and Matt’s and Erica’s feel familiar—because they are our stories, too. We relate to these and many similar predicaments we find ourselves in. Ever fumbled over someone’s name (or your own) during an introduction, or completely flop a handshake? Then think about it for hours and mentally replay what you wish you had done?
Why are we so afraid of each other?!? Do we realize how crazy it is that we give so much power to those who are human just like us?
Fear of people holds sway over most of us to some degree or another, and it has long directed much of my own life. Over the next few weeks I hope to explore this topic here on the blog—not as someone who has conquered and moved on from this fear, but as a traveler working through it. May we all find something to encourage us in leaving these silly fears behind. Come join me! See you here next Tuesday – or you can sign up for updates and new content will land in your inbox as it is posted.
There is no reason to be afraid. Not anymore.