The first time I visited the ocean, I was enraptured. Instantly. To this day it is a feeling that returns every time I stand on a shore and look out at the deep blue. At 12 years old I had to get in that water and let it envelope me. I went as far out as I could possibly go, legs furiously kicking beneath the surface. And again.. although I knew of sharks, the possibility that a threat could be close just wasn't in my thinking. I never feared getting caught in a riptide or trapped beneath a wave. ...I was scared of getting stung by a jellyfish, though....
Many times during my fort-building and ocean diving days I kept myself nourished with the classic kid favorite PB&J. I determined early on that two "fold-over" sandwiches are better than one sandwich made the traditional way with two slices of bread stacked on top of each other. Another favorite snack was to take one of the big spoons from the drawer and dip it into the peanut butter jar and come out with a giant blob of the delicious butter. "Peanut butter spoons". The only fear I had was that my mom or brothers would find me double dipping and ban me from the peanut butter forever. Not once did I ever think my favorite snack held deadly bacteria.
Fast forward to age 21. I am pregnant with my first child. Things have changed. My thinking has changed. On the news I have watched several accounts of shark attacks. One guy lost his leg, another girl her arm. Some people lost their lives. What the...? Why are those sharks swimming in that ocean with those people?!
So with the pregnancy of my first child a whole new world of potentially harmful and deadly scenarios has opened up. I, who, as a teenager, once swam across the Ouachita River ( nearly drowning, mind you) am afraid of the kiddie pool in our back yard, if any kid of mine thinks she will be traipsing herself to the ocean she better think again! I'm sorry.. are you actually riding a bike without a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and any other cushion they market to place between you and certain death?! Says the girl who once strapped herself to a string held on by another piece of string and was pulled several hundred feet into the air and then dropped to swing out over the crowd watching below and the hot, hard pavement... Now... Six Flags is Satan's playground!!
As you can see, just the conception, not even the birth, of my first child brought about a host of new and irrational fears. Just two years ago there was pandemonium in grocery stores and playgroups across the country when thousands of jars of peanut butter were found to be contaminated with salmonella. REALLY?! I can't even feed my child LUNCH anymore?!
Since becoming a mom, the opportunity for fear has presented itself on many fronts. Regardless of the fact that as a child, I frolicked in the woods like Goldilocks, this is simply unacceptable for my kids. I, personally have killed 3 snakes in our yard alone. Who KNOWS what awaits them in the actual woods?!
Yes, motherhood has opened up my eyes to the reality of the dangers in our world. We have experienced some scares and close calls. I have kissed bo-bos and bandaged wounds. There have been ER visits and late night stomach bugs. Since the birth of my kids I have been introduced to even scarier thoughts and words, like SIDS and syndrome. First hand and as friends we have experienced life's worst heartaches.
What frightens me most is all the unseen that I am powerless to protect them from. Heartbreak and loss, betrayal and disappointment. Failure and pride.
When trying to conceive, our focus was timing. In pregnancy it was their physical health. Upon first glance of my daughters face, I immediately understood that life is so much scarier than sharks, snakes and salmonella. While the media brings to light the dangers of standing water and West Nile virus, it does nothing to address the issues of the human heart. Sure, we hear about gang-related crimes and meth labs, but it all seems so removed from us and our kids. We don't hear the back story of those involved in these activities. What was home- life like for these people who eventually turned to gangs in search of family and belonging? What makes a person so desperate that they risk their lives and the lives of their children to get their next fix? What abuses have people suffered via parents and other authority figures? And what kind of warped message have they received about love that would cause them to turn on the innocent? Where is their hope?
I have to be so careful here to not let fear creep in. I know of many, many people, either personally or 2nd hand who have suffered at the hands of those who were supposed to nurture. They been neglected and left alone vulnerable by the ones who were supposed to protect them. As a pastors wife I have seen the best and the worst of people and I have seen the foundation from which they have built their lives. All have hurt in their past. Every last one, from the suicidal to the flourishing. Seeing this, coupled with my own short-comings, it becomes easy for anxiety concerning my own kids to take over.
You see, I want to keep them from all of this. From the snakes and the sharks and that darn peanut butter! Even more, I want to protect them from the heartache and betrayal. Prejudice and being treated unfairly because they are just a little different from everyone else. Those deep, deep boo-boos that are too messy for a mommy's kiss and bleed too much for a Dora band-aid. Being powerless to stop these kinds of pains. Having to watch as they experience break-ups and rejection. Not making the baseball team. The dreaded "chubby" phase...Knowing that I will have to stand-by and watch, powerless to stop it. Because it's all apart of parenting and growing up. As a mother I have to learn to let go, whether its of the back of a bike sans training wheels or a young adult who is making decisions that I think are unwise. And my children must learn to lean on Jesus. The only way for them to experience Him personally is for me to get out of the way and stop catching them. It's scary. Will they fall on the Rock and be broken or will their pride get in the way and they find themselves crushed beneath the Rock? And will they blame me? Did I step-back when I should have stepped in? Was I pushy and controlling? Will I push them away....?
As I contemplate these things, I know that I am seeing a glimpse of the Fathers heart and the way He desires for us to parent our children. Just as with our first parents, Adam and Eve, He created a safe place for them. They were surrounded by beauty and had more than enough. They had a relationship with God and they walked with Him daily. He gave them all that they needed.
And He gave them free will. He let them go. Knowing the choices they would make. Watching, with tearful eyes no doubt, when they surrendered to temptation.
He knew what they would choose. What we would choose. And He lets us go anyway. Making sure that He provided a Way back. And He is confident in that Way. Confident enough to let go.
And that's how I should parent. Not with fear but with confidence in the Truth. Trusting that Jesus is all that we are and all that we are not. He gives us our strength and makes up for that which we lack.
With a tight grasp, I teach and train. Slowly letting go, one finger at a time, until my hands are open. Watching as they wobble and sway in an effort to find their balance. Praying that as they trip and stumble and bang their heads that they will remember what we've taught them. That the light of Truth that was lit in them will light the path back to the Fathers arms and to my front door...