Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Do it Myself

Children come with different personalities. Having three of them, Rob and I have had the opportunity to see many varied facets of humanity. One thread seemed to run common in all of our children though. While some children seem to be easily corrected, falling into quick submission with the least word or glance, ours seemed to have a very different view of reality. Not one of ours responded quickly or easily to correction. The slight glances of disapproval that would send other children into tears did not faze our brood. They were an independent, strong willed bunch. By the time they had reached the age of two, frequent cries rang through the house of “I do it myself!” Independence was the watchword for our children.

While this theme was especially apparent in the preschool years, it continued to persist in their personalities as they grew older with some very interesting results. One particular incident has become one of those family stories we recite repeatedly. David was a young elementary school aged boy when I went to put him to bed one night. He had a lamp right over the head of his bed that he enjoyed using for reading at night. As I turned on the light that particular evening, smoke began pouring out of the socket. Frightened, I grabbed David out of harm’s way and yelled for Rob. Rob was able to stop the smoking before it became a full- fledged fire, but was puzzled as to what the cause was of our obviously damaged lamp. I must admit, I was spooked. This lamp was right over my baby’s head! What if he had turned it on when he was alone? What if it had sparked to a fire burning David and our home to the ground?

I began to notice that David seemed curious, yet not at all frightened by this chain of events. When we began to talk with him, he answered in very calm tones. David explained to us that his light bulb had gone out. In an effort to “recharge” the bulb, he had placed aluminum foil and lemon juice down in the light socket. In typical Dowell child fashion, David had seen the problem and addressed it on his own. No need to ask for help. He had it covered.

Our children were not born with these personalities in a vacuum. It seems as if the blending of Rob’s personality and my personality presents a universal trait of stubborn independence. No need to ask for help. I have got it covered. “I do it myself.”

It was easy to see the danger that had been invited into our home when this child decided, “I do it myself.” But what happens when I make that choice, as an adult, in my own life? For me, this frequently looks like me telling the Father, “No problem. I got this one covered. You are busy running the whole world. Let me take some of the burden off of your shoulders. I can deal with this.” This sounds like the adult solution right? As an American, should I not be all about independence and self-reliance? Isn’t this the mature, adult response to my situation? The reality is, I might as well be two years old, stamping my feet and screaming, “I do it myself.”

What danger does my seeming “independence” bring into my life? The list is limitless. However, the most frequent consequence in my life seems to be a burnout/emotional meltdown because I have taken tasks onto my own shoulders which my Father never meant for me to carry. He is well aware of my limits. He completely understands my lack of knowledge regarding a solution to my difficulties. Ever the gentleman though, he will not steal the burden from my shoulders. He waits for me to decide to lay it down.

Today, I would rather not be a screaming two year old. I want to approach my Father and ask Him to show me what burdens I am struggling with that He never meant for me to carry. I would love to replace the cries in my heart of “I do it myself!” with “Father, carry this for me.”

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scared to Sacred

One of our three children had a consistent struggle as a child. This child was scared of almost anything new and different. Though this child has walked away from this particular struggle and is now leading the pack in a life of new and different, during their childhood, this struggle presented quite a problem. Almost every time there was a new school, a new class, a different worker in the nursery or anything out of their everyday routine, fear would quickly set in. Rob and I began to realize what was going on and look for solutions. One of the techniques that was most effective for us was to be able to touch this child when they were faced with a new situation. If we could just keep a hand on them, the fear seemed to calm and it became easier for the child to walk forward into the unknown.
As an adult, one of the ways I have learned to process my emotions is by writing things down on paper. I do not understand how it works, but when I place my thoughts on paper, things will often become easier for me to understand. Things sometimes appear on the page that I did not even know were in my mind or heart. Writing has also become an easy way for me to talk to the Father about what is going on in my life. As He listens and I process, He often shows me truth I have been unable to see.
As I was recently writing to process several circumstances that had arisen in our lives, my emotions began to flow, as they often do. True confession – I am a major sappy crier. As I wrote, the truth came up in my heart, “I am scared.” When I went to write the word “scared” however, I suddenly blanked on how to spell it. Am I the only one who does this? One minute I am a cognizant, literate adult, the next minute, I cannot spell scared. As I wrestled in my brain, “Is it scared or sacred?,” I realized it only required the switching of two letters for “scared” to become “sacred.” That is when my precious Father held my hand and began to share truth with me.

1. My emotions are safe with my Father. It is my basic nature, when challenges arrive, to suck it up and push through. I can be very gifted at stuffing my emotions into a place where I feel they will no longer bother me or be a distraction to me or those around me. After all, there are mountains to climb, battles to fight – right? However, for me, eventually, my walls will crumble and the emotions will roll in like an ocean wave in advance of a Florida hurricane. All the while, my Father patiently waits until I am able to bring my emotions to Him. When I choose to do so, He is a completely safe place, no matter how violent the anger, how intense the fear, how deep or desperate the grief.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry; Psalm 34:15 (NIV)

2. When I come to a place of sharing my emotions with Him, I can choose to let go of them and hold His hand. At the point I choose to pour out my heart to the Father, there is rarely an immediate solution to whatever brought me to His feet. However, I can often feel an exchange of anger, fear or grief for peace. Something about choosing to share my emotions with the Father, allows me to also begin to let go of them. Just as we learned that a hand on our child’s shoulder could help them navigate through their fear, something about spilling out my emotions allows me to leave some of them with Him, in exchange for feeling His hand on my shoulder. Please do not mistake this for a Pollyanna response indicating I walk away from my time with the Father completely free of anger, fear and grief. When we placed our hand on our child’s shoulder, there was not an instant resolution for them. They simply had more strength to address their situation. As do I.

I will give thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. Psalm 118:21 (NIV)

3. Life will give me plenty of opportunities to practice these lessons. A danger spot for me will be when I stand amazed at how these things could happen to me or those I care about. Though the Father is perfectly capable of handling all my whys, I have to move through those questions to a place of trust in Him. Life is very hard some days. Being in relationship with God makes me His child; it does not exempt me from trials. If I begin to take the attitude that since I love God, these circumstances should not be floating my direction, I will end up in a bitter and confused place.

He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:45 (NIV)

Today, I want to be a woman who is switching letters. I want to meet with my Father, entrust my emotions to Him and walk away from the scared to the sacred. With His hand on me, I am truly able to face every situation.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Can the Floor Open Up and Swallow Me Now?

With boys who were seven and ten years older, we quickly began to observe a frequently repeated comment when we took our new baby girl and her brothers out into public. People would lean down to see the baby, dressed from head to toe in pink, and coo over her. They would then look at our two elementary age sons and a comment began resonating from their lips much more often than I liked. “Oh, how wonderful for you. You FINALLY got your girl.” Much to my frustration, few seemed to think about the impact this statement might have on our two young sons. One night, I decided to address the issue at the dinner table. With the boys in our presence, I shared with Rob how once again, someone had given us the “finally” statement when we had been out that day. “Do these people really believe we spent the past ten years having no life, just waiting for Libby to be born?” My question was meant as much for the boys to hear as for Rob to answer. I went on to express my concern with a brilliant statement. “The next time someone says that to me, I think I am just going to smack them.”
Within the week, I took the boys to an appointment with a new dentist. The hygienist came out to graciously greet our family. Sure enough, she bent over the stroller, cooed over Libby, looked me straight in the face and said, “Well, you finally got your girl.” Immediately, Mark began pulling on my arm. Before I could address him, he spoke in a clear voice, “Mom, didn’t you say you were going to smack the next person that said that?” As you can imagine, there was nothing for me to do but smile and wish the floor would open up to swallow me.
So this is the story of the one time in my life my child/children completely embarrassed me – NOT. As you can imagine, as you have probably personally experienced, something about being a mom just lends itself to having “will the floor please swallow me up now?” incidents. So, what is really going on when these things happen?
Sometimes, I was not careful with the words that came out of my mouth, especially in my home. At times, my children had just not yet developed the maturity to understand that not everything said in the home demands a repeat presentation in the marketplace of life. Yet some of the time, there was a larger issue going on, one that has had to be continually addressed in my life.
You see, I had chosen to dress myself in a non-visual, yet very real to me, coat. This coat was extremely heavy, unattractive and often just plain stinky. This coat not only impacted my life, but has been at times, a terrible drain on my children, much like an over-burdened, over-heated mom can be to a family. The coat I am describing was one of letting my children’s successes and failures become my resume/report card. When my children were successful (whatever that means), I was a good mom. Not just a good mom, a good person, feeling like I was on top of the world. When my children struggled and had failures, I was a bad mom, beating myself up, overanalyzing every decision I had made/was making with them, depressed and miserable to be around.
It is an easy trap to fall into as a mom. We love our children. We want the best for them. We know we have a huge impact on their lives, especially when they are little. The following logical application seemed to be for me, if they do well, I have done well. If they struggle and fail, I have screwed up.
God has graciously pointed out to me, over the years, the utter failure in such “logic.” He describes himself, over and over again in the Bible, as a parent to us.
“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18 (NIV)
He tells us how His ways are perfect.
As for God, His way is perfect. Psalm 18:30a (NIV)
Yet, you also see God hurting over the mistakes of His children.
“My heart churns within me; my sympathy is stirred.” Hosea 11:8c (NKJV)
You see, in spite of God’s being a perfect parent, His outcome is not perfect children. I only need to look in the mirror to understand that particular truth. Why then, was I expecting superior results from my own flawed parenting?
This week, I had the privilege to share this truth with some mothers of preschoolers. I wish I could say God allows me that opportunity because I have carefully learned this truth and consistently now apply it in my daily life. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the position of repeatedly being able to share this truth because it is something I struggle with so mightily. The reality is I am not a perfect parent. And the coat of my children’s outcomes being my resume is too extraordinarily heavy for either me or my children to bear. We all need the freedom to learn and grow without anyone’s resume depending on the outcome.
The moments I want the floor to open up and swallow me because of my children are now very rare. Probably, the shoe has passed to their feet, especially for a teenage daughter with a so not cool mom. Hopefully, God is starting to write His truth on my heart. I am not a perfect parent. He is. I have not turned out perfectly. They have not turned out perfectly. Yet just as I love them, He loves me. Even if He does still want the floor to open up some days.