How to keep being mama when you are paralyzed by fear

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I saw her daddy’s bike pulling down the driveway and, from kitchen window, caught a glimpse of his tears. No one behind him. My heart sunk deep down, and my body and soul sprung into action with that thing that only a mama knows. My blood pumped hard and I was washed over with it. That gut-deep truth that I would do anything for this child. There’s a truth of a mama’s heart that comes to the light when your child needs you. Not a skinned-knee kind of need. But those moments when terror sets in and the weight of your desperation to see your child safe, it falls right down on your shoulders, and there is no rest until you know.

It had felt like any other morning. A little “big-kid time” – a little extra freedom – for our Girl with too much love, and a heart full of wonder.

A cheerful “goodbye,’ and a reminder of boundaries, as she ventured off for a little walk with the neighbor friend.

Like any other morning, with middle ones in the backyard, and baby nursing long.  As a few small waves of “it’s been a while” worry came, I let them wash right off of me, and I took my time getting up the street to take a peek.

The eerie emptiness of the street felt a bit like someone had poked a hole in my heart.  And my spirit leaked a little with the uncertainty.

But I returned home with a calm confidence that all that lay ahead was a quick reunion and a casual chat about some minor breach of boundaries. That’s when I sent her daddy out on his bike.

My pulse had quickened, but I assured siblings that daddy would be right back with their sister. When he returned alone, too many minutes later, the tone shifted and a battle began…

Suddenly all the things were possible. All the horrors.

The thought of a long search, and a fight to get her back – they pale in comparison to the need to hold her again. We would fight to the death if we had to. Suddenly I’m the shepherd with the lost sheep, and that thing about leaving the ninety-nine for the one takes over me fast. In that instant, her siblings’ comfort fades out of my vision. I grab a friend to stay as I fly out the door to find my precious lost one.

Few words exchanged, I take the car and her daddy takes off running through the woods. Both determined not to return without her.

I’m counting up the minutes, and I think it’s already been well over an hour since she left the house for her “little walk.” Lord only knows how far she could be if that dreaded thing happened, and someone had taken her away.

Most mamas reading this have felt the terror of losing sight of a child, be it for a moment, for minutes, hours or days… I can’t save my heart from knowing the depth of my love, and the terror of loss.

And I’m reminded of other times this mother’s heart of mine came into the light. When the depth of love for which the world has no words – it came right out of me and spilled all over the place.

I think of the newborn with the fever, with the long hospital stay and no answers. The nights down begging on my knees.

I think of the day in the ER when my head failed to convince my heart that a pinky finger is a little thing.  How, in my mama’s heart, the shattered dreams of a perfect daughter with her perfect hand holding junior prom corsage or engagement ring…felt like everything. And how the hopes and dreams fell in a heap along with my massive failure to protect my Girl with the pocket full of sunshine.

I think of nights watching a little one struggle to breathe, and numbers on monitors rising and falling, with finger hovering over the nurse call button.

I think of the scary sonogram and the solemn look on the doctor’s face when they thought something was wrong with my baby boy.

I think of all of my mama friends who didn’t get the good news that everything would be ok.

I think of the hundreds of “close calls,” and the images that flash of how life could have changed in an instant if I had been looking the other way.

That day their daddy came home on the bike alone…it did have a happy ending. Some 30 minutes later, there was a joyful (be it tearful) reunion. And, aside from some difficult lessons, and a visit with a kindly police officer, all was well and returned to normal minutes later.

And yet, my mama’s heart feels and knows as deeply and truly as ever, that it is not always so. It’s all too real that the story could have gone another way, and there is another mama out there who has lived the other scenario.

The moments I’ve lived the trauma – or my friends have – they sit down heavy on me. When you heard a crash and they were not fine. When they got sick or something went wrong, and you lived out your fear. Times like this, the burden of being a mother can feel so very heavy. We mamas can be faced not only with a painful memory, but also a new sense of reality. Our carnality, our children’s fragility – they are in-your-face real.

The things you feel for your child when the danger is real, or when you watch them really hurt…these are the raw things of being alive.

I don’t know about you, but I get to where I don’t think I can do it tomorrow. I get confused about my responsibility to protect my children, and my utter inability to succeed. I know that God is the only one who can truly protect them, but I wonder about the moments when He seemed to be asleep at the wheel for my children, or for the children of dear friends.

The fear can be paralyzing.  But somehow we have to go on.

I have five extensions of my heart running around raw and vulnerable to all the dangers of the world. Statistics are against me on avoiding the ER for the next 18 or so years. And yet, somehow I have to let them run and jump and climb and be alive, and in being alive, be at risk of injury and death. And to try to stop them from this living would be to steal life from them in advance. So, what to do about this mother’s heart of mine?

I think the kind of love that I have felt for my children in the most terrible moments is perhaps –in some strange way – a place to live from. To hover over the crib and feel the weighty rawness of how much I love my baby. To face the fear that tragedy could strike, but determine it’s worth staying in this moment, in it’s fullness.  To just receive today – this moment – as a gift.  To cast off the hustle of the morning and greet my children with the joyful side of the same intense love that I would feel if they didn’t get out of bed to greet me. To let it scare me how much I love them, and to open my hands to the Almighty with it.

I cannot pretend that I am not desperate for my children to be okay. But I can bring my desperation to the throne of grace, before a God who knows how it feels.

I cannot take away the dangers of the world. But I can choose to bring my needs before the Great Protector, and I can make a glorious trade.  I can hand over the images that haunt me and the fears that plague me, and receive the peace that passes understanding, in exchange .

I cannot protect my heart from the devastation that would come if my children were taken from me. And if I try, I might just miss the joy of being their mama. But I can open my hand that was so tightly clenched around the safety of my children, and I can choose to trust the only One with the power to grant me another day with them.

My mother’s heart has been beating inside of me since the day I learned I was pregnant with my first child, roughly 8 years ago. But when our kids hurt, when they are lost or in danger…that mother’s heart beats deep, like the drums of war.   I know actually and fully and in the flesh that I would die for them— that I would do anything for them to be okay.

But there really is only one thing to do.  So I’ll wear down my knees in praying to the only One who is able. To the One who loves them even more than my mother’s heart.

I’ll hand over my fear.  I’ll let them live lives of joy and adventure. I’ll receive His peace.  And I’ll be mama another day.

8 thoughts on “How to keep being mama when you are paralyzed by fear

  1. Mary Ann

    As we read this, each of us aches with our own moments of terror. The pulse quickens, the tears flow, panic creeps into our souls, yet you remind us that the only posture where there is comfort is on our knees. I wish I had been better at remembering that 30 years ago.

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  2. Katie Norwood

    Jenny, this cut straight to the heart and has me in tears. Oh Lord, help our unbelief. An awful thought and topic for every mom, but so important to understand early on they are God’s, not ours. To release them is terrifying. Thanks for this perspective.

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  3. Linda Slattery

    I didn’t want to go on and on too much on Facebook…but this is such a powerful piece. I just can’t back from parents wknd in Annapolis and started reading it. I could hardly breathe. Powerful! Your book is going to be amazing–you have a gift!!

    Sent from my iPhone

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  4. Linda Slattery

    And I’m so grateful to know you–Let Alone that you are my daughter in law!!

    Praise God that you are you and married to Mike and raising such fabulous children–that I get to hang out with!

    Sent from my iPhone

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  5. Dotsie

    Hi Jenn, You are quite the writer. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting inside your heart regarding raising your little ones. You do a great job of grabbing my heart strings and running with them. I’m so grateful for your God loving ways of seeing the gifts God’s placed in your life. May they continue to be a blessing to you as you truly are to them.

    Love and peace, Dotsie

    Sent from my iPhone

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  6. Kathryn S

    So powerful Jenny. Thank you for sharing your gift with us. All Mamas need this reminder. What a great message to remind us to breathe and drop to our knees.

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