Saturday, March 19, 2011

(No) Fear Factor

In the wake of the devastation in Japan, I read in the newspaper the real risk to these broken people is worse than radiation. It’s the fear and anxiety associated with radiation.

I’m staying in prayer this week for the people of Japan and their neighbors, and I’m contemplating fear.  What do you fear the most?

Me, I’m a recovering scare-dy cat. For as long as I can remember, my personal fear factor jumped off the charts. Everything from closet-dwelling monsters to geometry to the crippling dread that my children might be snatched right under my nose …you name it; I feared it.

Most of my fears never materialized. I’ll give you just one example. Before the babies came along, an employer required passing a killer test I just knew I was destined to fail. Who did I think I was to take on this kind of job? I was terrified. I studied like a madwoman on double shot espresso and was certain, certain I'd to fail. Leave in tears with my scare-dy cat tail tucked.

Not only did I pass the test; I earned the highest score in the class.

I can’t say I learned from that experience right away. I could tell you so many stories like it.  I tip toed through my life, certain the sky was falling.  I didn't take risks for fear of failure; but I didn't learn much either.  Until I was forced into it.

Then, a few years ago, the bottom dropped, for real.  Don't want to go into detail here … but what I can tell you is this. I endured stomach wrenching, immobilizing, searing fear. It brought me to my knees, and made everything else I feared seem innocuous by comparison.  It knocked me down hard… for a season.

Funny thing about meeting up face to face with fear. You emerge... so. much. stronger. Once you stare fear straight in the eye, walk over its coals, heal and recover; well, you can allow the callouses that form to represent strength and mercy.  I'm not the anxiety - ridden person I once was.  But I'm stronger, and softer, at once.

Fear is empowering.  Facing it is a necessary component to growth, to success.  A wise woman once told me to do that which you fear most.  It works.

Now, I'm free from the constant need to protect myself against the shoe dropping.  Because it will.  But I don’t have to ruin today until that happens.

I still experience fear, but now I spank it, tell it to go to its room and think for awhile.  I can’t dwell in the house of fear anymore; I’ve got a life to live.

I don’t know how I would respond to sudden, seismic, cataclysmic fear, such as surviving the crushing events endured by the people of Japan. (Or losing a child, or facing my own mortality.) My prayer is they emerge with a renewed strength and vigor. And, that we each help in some small way. (Text Japan to 80888 and donate $10 to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts.) But I can draw inspiration from survivors. We are far more resilient than we realize.

The biggest fear I’ve got going? Traveling for a solid week in a tricked out, gas guzzling R.V. (did you see that movie?) with three lively, squabbling kids. We’re going to DISNEY! I can’t wait to get to the happiest place on earth. I'll let you know if I face my fear of driving that big rig.

Quote: A woman is like a teabag; you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Dear Lord, You are my fortress and my shield. Dwell within me; help me to walk with confidence, compassion, kindness and strength.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I'll Have the Guilt, Please

I had almost made my escape.

Our excursion carefully planned, one of my favorite "bestie's" and I anticipated a rare evening out together.  As usual, I ticked the mental list of responsibilities before we fled to the nearest restaurant featuring actual menus - the word, "happy" nowhere to be found.  Homework finished, check.  Dinner made, check.  Instruments practiced, check.  Toes washed, warm and ready for tuck-ins with Daddy, check.  Talking points readied, I anticipated a frosty mug and several hours of blissful girl-time.  Ah, the decadence!

Dashing out the door, I pried my big kids away from screen time for goodnight kisses.  The real test was getting past our yummy  4-year-old... our last hoorah with the "baby" years.  Foiled again.  She wrapped a fortress of pink polka dots around me and wailed, "don't leave me mommy!"

Enter the most powerful of all emotions.... mommy-guilt.  And I've got it in spades.

Now, at this point, the logical section of what is left of my brain, where the wise, calm, seasoned mother resides, launched into  practiced reminders.  Stay strong.  You deserve a break.  You're a better mom when you take time to nourish your soul, blow off some steam, connect with your friends, excavate Diane, that capable girl everyone counts on to get the job done.  But even the wise mother in me was powerless against my baby girl's quivering lips and brimming eyes.  Extracting her from my unsteady legs, I held her fiercely and then, mustering every ounce of my steely reserves, left.  But not without taking the guilt along for the ride.

I think this is the common denominator between so many mothers.  We all relate to feeling guilty, stretched as we are.  Doesn't really matter what choices we've made; working moms feel guilty for not being present every single minute; stay-home moms feel guilty over frustration with burnout and isolation.  Most moms I know wrestle with guilt over just about every aspect of our jobs... if our children squabble, surely we must not have taught them enough about self control.  When our kids get sick, we blame ourselves for not sneaking enough Vitamin C into their 3 squares.   We feel it wash over when we just want to finish a project for a client while fending off whomever is nipping at our heels for attention.   When the house appears as if Armageddon's arrived; when our husband takes last place on the totem pole; when we fantasize about silence and bubble baths and hot meals and killer jeans... and well, you get the picture.  What's up with that?

I'm wondering about the origins of mother-guilt.  Does guilt reside within us by design, a mechanism that serves to ensure we respond to our relentless demands?  To spring out of warm sleep for months on end to nourish a newborn?  To forgo lazy Saturday mornings to take in the rounds of Little League?  To keep bedside vigil during a bout with the flu?  Check under the bed for monsters for the 100th time?  Save cash toward college tuition instead of buying a those AWESOME new jeans?  (Sorry; I've got a thing for jeans ... )  Maybe there is a method to guilt's madness.  Maybe there's a place for it, but I must make my penchant for guilt behave.  It must be disciplined, harnessed.  Taught to get out of my way and let me take a run, finish some work, or get out of the house without the pesky pangs to which I've become accustomed.  I've got to remember to mother myself, to be as gentle and loving and patient with myself as I try to be with my precious brood.

My own mother's advice, I'm certain, would be to cut myself some slack.  After all, she'd feel pretty guilty if she didn't teach me otherwise. :)

Your turn!

In honor of Erma:  The lullaby is the spell whereby the mother attempts to transform herself back from an ogre to a saint. -James Fenton

Prayer:  Gracious Father; remind me that like you, I give, nurture and sustain life.  Help me to remember that you are pleased with my efforts; move me to reside in your perfect, unconditional love.