November 23, 2008
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than the fear. – Ambrose Redmoon
I have a recurring dream about a house. The house is an old Victorian with three stories. There is a woman that lives on the third floor. In some of my dreams, the house is in a quiet neighborhood and surrounded by other homes and people. In some, it is in a field or on top of a mountain. In one dream, it was even at the end of a long logging trail that I climbed slowly and steadily on my mountain bike. I’ve been inside the house, once as a visitor, once as a prisoner, and twice as its owner. In all of the dreams, the woman, whether I can see her or not, is evil and trying to hurt me or my children, the third floor is dark and empty and terrifying, and I wake up in a heart-pounding sweat that often lasts for several minutes. It’s not a pleasant experience, and at certain times in my life, I have the dream more often. On the one hand, I could blow it off as just some weird manifestation of my subconscious. Me being me, however, I worry that I have some terrible dark side just lurking and waiting to come out. And that’s the crux of the situation. I worry.
I worry that something is going to kill me; I worry that something is going to kill or take my children; I worry that our country has lost its direction; I worry that people aren’t as kind as they used to be; I worry that our education system is failing miserably; I worry that we are a society of mass consumers happily destroying the planet as we eat our Big Macs and buy plastic crap that we’ll throw away in less than a year; I worry that we have lost our sense of communion with one another, with nature and with God; I worry about the negative representation of women in dolls such as Bratz; I worry about my parents’ health and happiness; I worry about the future of my church; I worry about the inappropriate and increasingly disrespectful attitudes of many of our children; I worry that people don’t read enough, pray enough or exercise enough; and I worry that life is passing me by at warp speed as I sit and worry.
One of my favorite books, The Mother’s Guide to Self Renewal by Renee’ Troudeau, has a chapter entitled, “Outrageous Living: Reclaiming Adventure in Your Life.” In it she discusses the importance of taking risks, going new places and experiencing new things. Her argument is that in embracing those things that scare us or even just make us a little uncomfortable, we are able to reconnect to ourselves, our core. Often, particularly as parents, we fall into a pattern of doing what we are “supposed” to do. Our lives become so routine that we forget the adventure, the spontaneity, the things that make life fun. In taking the occasional risk, we allow ourselves to step outside of the routine and look at our lives with fresh eyes. Sometimes just stepping off the track for a moment lets us look around and see the big picture. It can refresh relationships, inspire us to do things at home, at work and in our communities that we might never have thought possible, and it just makes us feel better.
One of the journaling exercises in the book asked me to think about what my parents had taught me about risk-taking and trying new things and what I wanted to teach my own children about the same things. It also asked me to write about times when I had stepped out of myself and my own personal comfort zone and how it had felt and how I feel about trying new things in general. It was a very eye-opening experience, and I realized that I have a fear of new things, things that are unfamiliar or might make me look “stupid” or “inept.” I also saw a great fear of “something bad happening.” Rather than seeing the world as a place of endless opportunity and adventure, I saw it as a dangerous place where death or tragedy waits behind every corner. That sounds really dramatic, I know, but if I’m honest, that’s how I felt and how I sometimes still feel. Being a mother has not eased my sense of trepidation. If anything, I have more to fear than ever.
But, because I am a mother, I also have more reason than ever to gain control of my fear. When I examined my own sense of uneasiness and I considered how I might be passing that on to my kids, I knew I had to move beyond the worry. I don’t want Harper Lee and Isaac moving through life as if they are stepping across a minefield. Harper Lee, especially, is a person who will twirl, pirouette, and leap across life, and I don’t want to squash that innate sense of joy in any way. It is an enviable trait and one that I would like to cultivate in myself. It is one that I believe I can cultivate if I work on it.
For one thing, I’m convinced that each of my children is designed to teach me something about myself. I’m pretty sure Harper Lee’s lesson is one of joyful abandon and beauty. God knows my needs, and I think he has sent me someone to help me overcome my fear. On the one hand, He has given me a child that exemplifies a “cheerful heart.” In that sense, she is a living example to me. On the other, He has also given me children who consume me with such fierce love words escape me. It is the ultimate paradox. I love them with such passion and devotion that I think my entire being would be destroyed if I lost them; however, it is this fear of loss that I have to let go in order to be happy, unafraid, and a good example to them. Isn’t that just like God?
Letting go is a difficult thing to do. By letting go, I am moving from my familiar path of worry and fear. I’m not sure I can do it, but I think I need to try. Troudeau’s idea of adventure often takes the shape of trying a new class or taking a solo trip overnight, and those are excellent ideas and ones that I would like to explore, but for me, for now, my step out of the ordinary may mean simply taking a deep breath, saying a little prayer, and then accepting life as it comes in all its unexpected beauty. I think as I do that, I will find more of myself (after all, Harper Lee must have gotten some of her enthusiasm from someone), I will shift my focus to what is real and what is good, and I will ultimately deepen my relationship to God, a God who is not fearful but is good and kind and wants His children to enjoy what they have been given, and as I do that, I think I will see less and less of the woman on the third floor.