Roller Coaster Mama

 

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The Coaster Kid with California Screamin’ in the background

With chagrin I share this today. I had no idea 16 years ago when I wrote it that I was speaking prophetically to myself. Today I tell myself, “Teacher, teach thyself! Listen to and learn from the One who taught you this!”  Twice since then the floor has suddenly, catastrophically fallen out from under me on my life ride. Is what the LORD showed me decades ago still true? Yes! Is Jesus still my secure floor, my “ride buddy,” and is God’s Word the restraint I need? Yes, humbly, and yes, gratefully, God is STILL God, and I can buckle into Him alone to find security in the “Mad Mouse” ride we call life! And to myself: this ride ain’t over yet, so hang on to Jesus, Rose!

From time to time, people who have children in college or way too much time on their hands figure up the current cost of raising a child and broadcast it across the Internet.   Whatever the figure, it’s always enough to make young would-be parents scan their checking account and think twice. I’m glad I never thought to count the dollars-and-cents cost of having children, or I would have missed the bargain one e-mail pointed out: “For your investment, you get to finger-paint, play hide-and-seek, blow bubbles, catch lightning bugs, and never stop believing in Santa Claus. You have an excuse to keep reading your favorite bedtime stories without embarrassment, watch Saturday morning cartoons without shame, and wish on stars. You have the power to heal a boo-boo, scare away monsters under the bed, patch a broken heart, police a slumber party, ground them forever, and love them without limits, so one day they will, like you, love without counting the cost.”   The bottom line of all the tallies and figures is this: The best thing to spend on your children is time.

Mothers typically spend lots of time “doing” for their children: driving them to T-ball games and dance classes, decorating special cakes for birthdays and making costumes from boxes and Styrofoam for class plays, scoring for the soccer team and bringing ice and water for track season, sitting through so many piano recitals that you hear “Für Elise” in your sleep, surrendering your kitchen and your clean house to be a den mother for eight little Cub Scouts, and walking marathon distances door-to-door to help sell Girl Scout cookies. You do these things to enrich your children’s lives and give them opportunities that equip them for their future, and to let them know they matter to you. All these hours are time well invested.

From the time he was three, my older son wanted to be the first man on Mars, so we slept out in the backyard to be sure we didn’t miss meteor showers and lunar eclipses. We sent him twice and drove him once to Alabama for Space Camp. I gave up my freezer to science fair projects, saw “Star Wars” at the theater 23 times, and – before the days of one-hour developing – found a photo lab that would develop in an hour photos of the space ship model Eric had completed just three hours before the entry deadline for a “Destination: Mars” competition. Eric worked on NASA projects four summers during his undergraduate years. Then he met Emily and decided to become a linguist instead of an astronaut. His goals changed, but all the “Star Trek” sheets we bought and pizzas I made for sleep-over Science Olympiad study sessions were not in vain. Those times we invested in his life were time invested in love, and they’ve brought a great return on our investment.

So you get involved in the things that matter to your children. If you’re lucky, none of your children want to grow up to be crocodile handlers! What do you do, though, when your child wants to be a roller coaster designer? That’s right: you ride a lot of roller coasters.

Faster than a Ferris wheel, More powerful than a merry-go-round pony, Able to leap a spilled snow cone in a single bound –I am Roller Coaster Mama!

His father is at least partly to blame for this. He’s the one who cajoled me into riding “Montezuma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm when I was three months pregnant with our second son, Ethan. It was either that loop-the-loop, or the vacation when Ethan was six months old, when we unknowingly set up our tent trailer by a lovely grove of trees that turned out to be within screaming distance of a roller coaster. It ran – click, click, click, aaahh! – till one in the morning, which was about the time Ethan finally went to sleep.

Since then, I have been on or listened to him recount the statistics of so many thrill rides that I can tell a corkscrew from a cobra roll and a boomerang from and out-and-back. Splash Mountain and Space Mountain don’t even faze me. I have spent five straight days in the “happiest kingdom on Earth”, and now I know it’s true that there is such a thing as too much happiness. I’ve plummeted 121 feet straight down on Superman. I rode in succession The Medusa – no floor – and The Viper – no more fillings in my teeth. I can say “linear synchronous induction motor” and sort of know what it means. I hardly flinch when Ethan exults, “It goes from zero to 100 miles per hour in four seconds!” I’ve pulled g’s, caught air, free fallen, been looped, banked, and double-helixed. I’ve hung suspended from tracks and haven’t even screamed on outside loops, with the only ill-effects – other than serious motion sickness – being a cracked rib from a wooden coaster on Mission Bay, and several urgent trips to the chiropractor.

The truth is, though, I have a love-hater relationship with roller coasters. They ceased to be totally fun to me when motherhood gave me good sense, or keener awareness of my own mortality, or a combination of all the pains in the neck, literally, I now have. Oh, I can manage anything Disneyland  or the State Fair can throw at me, but Magic Mountain is another story. I prefer steel coasters to wooden ones, because the ride is smoother, they hold you in more securely, and I’m less likely to crack or dislocate something important. Still, I did not get a warm fuzzy when Ethan reassured me that the Viper was easy to ride because it’s heartline roll – a 360 degree spin something like tumbling in a clothes drier – would rotate my body but keep my heart in the same place. It did – it started out and stayed in my throat!

Why do I subject myself to this physical and mental abuse? Because I love my son, and experiencing thrill rides is important to him. I really do want to share a part of this part of his life, so I’ve had to learn some coping – or survival – skills for riding roller coasters.

FIRST – I SECURE MYSELF TIGHTLY IN THE RESTRAINTS

 Restraints are your friends, even if they are uncomfortable. On a thrill ride, G-forces and centripetal forces propel your body in ways and at speeds God never intended them to go. This is what coaster designers and enthusiasts call “fun”. Unrestrained fun can kill you, so I snug those belts tight and make sure my head isn’t going anywhere the rest of my body isn’t.

SECOND – I BRACE MY FEET, OR CROSS MY ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE

 Part of the fun of a roller coaster, so they tell me, comes from the sense of instability and insecurity that heightens your senses and sends those “fight or flight” chemicals coursing through your brain and body. When I crest the first hill on Superman and plunge down that more-than-vertical drop, I press my feet into the floor for all they’re worth. It doesn’t make the ride safer or shorter, but it helps me feel more stable and keeps my seat in the seat. If I’m riding a suspended coaster where there is no floor, or if the floor will at some point drop away, I always cross my ankles, so my legs don’t whip wildly around on the loops and snap turns. At least it gives me the feeling of support, and I know my feet won’t be thrashing around at the mercy of centripetal force.   I watch the riders while I’m waiting in line, and I’ve seen where their feet go. My mother always told me it was ladylike to cross your ankles – but I also know that feet don’t painlessly fit in your mouth after you’re four months old, and knees are really hard to repair.

 THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Riding with a buddy on a wooden coaster is a smart idea: another body helps to keep you from slipping and sliding. I generally ride with my husband or our son, but if they want to ride in the front seat of a roller coaster, I opt to ride alone behind them, and I opt to pray. I want the Lord beside me. The truth is, even if someone is riding beside me, I still pray!   Psalm 91: 9-12 is a standby when I go to amusement parks: “If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm will befall you, for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” I love my husband and our son and would rather sit next to them than ride alone, but I also want as many angels as possible crammed in that car with us!

FOURTH – I CENTER MY FOCUS                                                                                                            

Here is where my approach differs radically from that of the rest of the family. The males ride coasters with analytical minds and cast-iron stomachs. They’re absolutely electrified, keeping their eye open and anticipating the snaps, loops and dives, so they can lean into the curves. They just don’t comprehend that in me, anticipation produces anxiety, and my eyes looping all over everywhere set my inner ear spinning and my stomach churning. I know that the odds are overwhelming that I will be alive at the end of the ride. Coaster designers do have to factor in maximum and minimum G’s, friction, velocity, centripetal forces, and human anatomy when they design rides. My brain knows that, but that knowledge never seems to reach my emotions and my stomach.

I have to attack my panic on two fronts. First, I’ve learned to WILL myself to think of positive truths when I ride. Yes, I am hurtling over a precipice which is, according to the park brochure, “the nearest sensation to throwing yourself off a cliff,” but I have timed this ride while standing in line, and I know the first drop takes just 3 seconds to the bottom; then it’s only a four minute ride from there to the end. That is also truth. I CAN be at peace for four minutes. I can put all those natural childbirth classes to use here and choose to relax and breathe calmly.

Second, to keep my inner ear and stomach contents from sloshing around, I’ve learned to focus on one spot directly in front of me (even if that spot is my white knuckles on the safety bar or an imaginary spot on the tip of my nose if my eyes are closed). It’s like the way a dancer or skater spots when doing spins. Granted, these two procedures thwart the intention of the coaster designer, and the whole purpose of thrill rides, to drive me to the brink of terror and nausea. But MY purpose in riding is to contribute to quality family bonding AND get off the ride in one coherent piece, so I don’t really care that I miss half the fun.

This brings me to my last coping skill – KNOW YOUR LIMITS. I can’t bond with the family if I’m hugging the toilet in the ladies’ room. I won’t be pleasant to be around if my neck is frozen in some picturesque, but painful, pose. I ride what I think I can handle without unreasonably taxing my back, my capacity to use mind over instinct, or the angels who have to ride with me. I try to discern when to say “no,” and to say “no” without guilt. I try to recognize when I can say “yes,” take a deep breath, and trust that the amusement park is as interested in their insurance liability as I am in my safety.

Lately, I recognize this has broader practical application in my life. For mothers in particular and women in general, if you’re part of a family, or if you have relationships at all, life often resembles a roller coaster. Can anyone else identify?   Take a typical day. It’s 7:40 a.m., and I need to drive Ethan to school by 7:50, then get 45 miles across town to take my mother grocery shopping, run errands along the way to make it worth the time and gas involved, start home before 2:30 so I can use the carpool lane on the freeway, make dinner, and get to Bible study that evening with a dessert to share. But this is the day the garage door opener won’t open. No panic yet. Between the two of us, Ethan and I manage to shove it open. Mental note: drive back home to call garage door company before hitting the freeway. Pray with son and kiss him goodbye. Drive back home, make phone call, and leave a message for husband to let him know what’s going on. Remember to stop by store I don’t usually frequent to get almond butter and rice milk that Mom can’t get on the west side of town. Hit the freeway. Make it intact to Mom’s, to learn that her medical monitor just arrived and she can’t understand the directions. Help her put on the monitor, run test recording, call the monitoring company, re-write directions for Mom so she can do this on her own, take her to lunch, as it’s now noon, take her to store. Realize it’s next to impossible to start home by 2:30, so kiss carpool lane goodbye, gird my loins for battle, and kiss Mom goodbye. Drive to discount store for errand, find what I need, discover they only have two checkout lanes open and lines a mile long. Look at watch and remember that son did not take house key, so he can’t get into the house if he gets home before I do. Madly put everything back (what would Jesus do?) and dash out of store, into the freeway frenzy, to hopefully get home before son does. And so on . . . . Have you been on that ride lately?

Up, down, whip, drop, snap, loop, squashed by four g’s, panicked by those negative g’s when nothing’s supporting me, light speed through the curves– does this sound like your life, too? How are we supposed to cope positively, calmly, with roller coaster days and thrill ride weeks?   It seems to me the same survival skills I put into play when I’m riding a coaster apply emotionally, spiritually, and practically in my daily life. I’m sure none of these principles is new to you, but looking at spiritual truths through a different context helps me remember and apply them in my life. Lets’ re-examine those coaster survival skills again and see if they fit in life as well.

FIRST – SECURE YOURSELF IN THE RESTRAINTS

Most accidents on roller coasters happen when riders ignore safety mechanisms. When riders ignore the lap belt, they pay the consequences. Don’t do what the sign at the station says to do, and you will become a statistic. I am not above the law of gravity. Neither am I above the laws of God. If I live in a way that is foolish, selfish or reckless, I will certainly be thrown for a loop when life takes me for a ride. Just as there are safety systems on a thrill ride, God has given us safety mechanisms – guidelines and wisdom – that are meant to secure us and keep us from harm, especially through the ups and downs of life. Consider this advice, for example:

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”      James 1:19

What protection for the emotional well being of our lives and our families following this simple instruction gives! My hands – what I do – and my tongue – what I say – would remain safely inside the vehicle of what’s helpful and good at all times

Thrill ride designers keep safety mechanisms simple to use. If you just do the dos – one click, one pull, hold tight – you’re good to go. God gives us similar simplicity in his safety mechanisms for our lives. Jesus summed up all the commandments in two steps:

“Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 30-31

Think for a minute about what your life would look like if you just “buckled up” with those two do’s. Love holds us securely through the dips and drops in life.

“But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. “ Joshua 23:8

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful, and let us consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:23-24

If I’d hold fast to God and do the loving thing in everyday circumstance, my heart would remain secure and stay where it belongs when life spin-dries me in a heart-line roll. One click –love God – one pull – love others – hold on to God, and we’re good to go.

SECOND – BRACE YOUR FEET, OR CROSS YOUR ANKLES IF THE FLOOR WON’T BE THERE.

In daily life, that “fight or flight” reflex is not a 50/50 toss-up. I know I lean heavily toward “fight.” Flailing feet aren’t safe on a roller coaster. Flailing attitudes and words aren’t safe in life.   When I’m stressed, my foot frequently ends up in my mouth, or I figuratively kick the person next to me with hurtful, thoughtless words.   That’s why it’s wise to press into the support around us, even when life’s running smoothly, to give us the stability that strengthens peace and self-control within us. Your family will appreciate it, since the riders sitting next to you are the ones who bear the brunt of your flailing.   My family has no clue how many crazed tirades they’ve been spared when I do think to press into the support around me.

A primary source of support is – or is intended to be – our family, but I’m sure you’ve experienced that you may not be able to look to them for support when they’re part of the corkscrew.   We all need people with whom we can be genuine and open, people who will love enough to push back with truth and encouragement when we need it. We need people we can count on for practical help, too. That’s why it’s wise to make a floor to brace yourself through a Bible study, small group, prayer partner, or support group. One of the first things we did when we moved was to search for a small home group through our church. The group we’re part of is consistently there for each other with very practical help through illnesses, house repairs, picking up kids at school when a car breaks down, shoulders to cry on, victories shared, and keeping each other accountable.

Even before you look to other people for support, plant your feet firmly on the faithfulness of God . . . for :

“. . . the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.                                                                                                                                                 Proverbs 3:26

God designed us to need each other, to be needed, and to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ for each other. It’s our function as parts of the same body to support and encourage one another.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

In thrill ride terms, be a supportive floor for each other.

THIRD – RIDE WITH A BUDDY

 Sometimes people fail you, and the floor you trusted in completely falls away without warning. Sometimes your floor of support can’t be there in the moment to brace you – like when you’re alone in the car with just that teenager and toddler, the alternator quits, and your day spins off in a double helix.   That’s when an unfailing buddy is vital to keep you from sliding. Invite God along for the ride to keep you from cracking a rib, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – perhaps even physically speaking. God does intervene in circumstances, but more importantly for me, he intervenes in my thoughts, giving me a healthy, proper perspective that keeps me from sliding when I’m ready to panic.   God never leaves us to ride alone.

“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”    Psalm 139: 5-7

God’s presence in our lives is security, confidence, and power. Knowing God is on the “coaster” with me straightens the curves and lowers the drops – as well as my blood pressure. Psalm 16:8 is a promise to hang onto when I’m pulling G’s:

“I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

FOURTH – CENTER YOUR FOCUS

 Choose to think on positive truths. There are generally several things true in any situation. Increasingly I see how important it is for me to choose to focus on the truth that leads to positives like compassion, peace, and faith. I may be powerless over my circumstances, but I have power over my attitude and thoughts. Many of the stressors in my life lose their power to produce stress if I choose to relax, be flexible, and shift my focus. Just saying, “Well, Jesus, what’s this about?” instead of spouting, “What in the world am I going to do now?” actually reduces my anxiety level, and I’m sure it protects my brain chemistry as well. That has a practical effect on my body and my day.

“. . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”                                                                Joshua 24:15

I can focus on the positive truth, and choose whom I will serve in my response: God, or my anxiety and agitation.

When the apostle Paul advised the Colossians to set their hearts and minds on things above, rather than earthly things (Col. 3:1-2), he wasn’t urging them to deny reality and live in some fantasy land. Choosing positive truth and re-setting your focus changes, practically, how you respond in everyday situations. Recently I was on my way to our Tuesday morning women’s study. I teach, so I need to be at church early to set up my class. I had some time, but on this day I happened to leave just as a school bus stopped a block down from our house and put out its stop sign. It was a handicapped bus, so I waited, and waited, and waited as the mother and driver loaded a child on the bus. As I sat there – choosing not to fume – I decided to shift my focus. I didn’t know a handicapped child lived on our street. I prayed for her, for her mother, for their family, for the bus driver who so patiently helps this child every day, and for the teachers who invest their lives working with special needs children. It was true that I’d sat in the same spot for five minutes, but which truth was more profitable, both for others and for myself – not being five minutes further down the road, or spending five refocused minutes in prayer? Choose to focus on the positive truth.

Set your focus on one spot that will not change. That’s the way to keep your balance and settle your insides in a loopy world. Where is that unchanging spot?

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”   2 Corinthians 4:18

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”     Hebrews 13:8

FIFTH – KNOW YOUR LIMITS

I don’t have to take every ride. I create many of the loops and drops in my life by taking on too much, or by assuming something is my responsibility when it isn’t, or by letting myself get sidetracked (and isn’t the Internet helpful in that department?). I can choose to say “no” to some thrill rides and still be a supportive, encouraging mother. Good judgment, not guilt or compulsion, should tell me when to say yes and when to say no in life, too. What can I wisely take on? What can I let go? What SHOULD I let go? Let me name a few of the rides I’ve created:

Mind-Bender: Trying to reason with a tired two-year-old

The Enforcer: Proving to my husband I’m right about wasting electricity when he always leaves the radio on in the garage while he works in the back yard

Temptation Station: When the budget is tight and I really shouldn’t buy anything but necessities, but I allow myself to walk into Dillard’s, lured by those clearance sale signs, just to look around.

Avalanche Alley: Trying to accomplish just one more thing in the five minutes I have before I need to leave for an appointment.

Ooooh – cobra roll! Here comes a stress headache! Do any of these sound familiar? On a regular basis, it seems, I have to remind myself, “Don‘t go there; don’t even get on this one if you don’t want an argument or problem that’s more stress than it’s worth. I’m not taking this ride today.”

Sometimes , though, you have no choice. Life just drops you onto a thrill ride you weren’t standing in line for. When that happens, I need to realize I have my limits, but at the same time I also need to recognize that, for a Christian, life isn’t about my limits. No matter how scary or negative the situation, Philippians 4:13 is always in operation:

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Since the limitless Jesus gives me strength for the ride and the power to love, to pray, to choose, and to center my focus on him, I can handle the coasters that circumstances put in my life. Through Jesus, I can be at peace for the next five – okay, two – okay, for the next one minute – when an upset to my life takes me on a heartline roll.

Sometimes life goes along smoothly; some days bring a little “wild mouse” like an upset schedule. My usual rides lately are “Time Bandit” and “Mind Eraser”!   But life can seat you on more serious rides. You may suddenly careen down “The Financial Funnel” when a layoff comes along. Life-threatening illness can drop the floor out from under you faster than “The Bottomless Pit.”   Life does not give you a map of the park to help you prepare for the next coaster. You don’t know when life is going to twist you through a corkscrew roll. But you can have stability, confidence, and sound perspective that will help you handle the drops and loops with peace, and maybe even with joy.

So Lord, let me be a roller coaster mama! With your help, I won’t panic, hyperventilate, lose my lunch, or scream. I’ll buckle into love for you and others – even the ones who put me on the roller coaster. I’ll look for a supporting floor of friends and groups to push into, so I don’t kick anybody riding with me. I’ll ride with a buddy through prayer so I don’t slip and slide. I’ll center my thoughts on positive truth. When it’s within my power to choose what I get involved in, I’ll be wise about my choices. When it’s not within my power to choose, I’ll hold onto God’s strength and whooeee! l believe I’ll at least survive, if not enjoy,  the ride!

(Parenthetically – God has faithfully been beside me as He was with Daniel when he faced roaring lions, as he was with David when he stood before Goliath. People may not understand the stands  I’ve taken in the last nine years when, literally, the Devil has raged and roared against me, or why I’ve chosen to stand, but I  MUST stand for and with GOD and the sanctity and truth of God’s Word if  I’m going to stand before Him at the Judgment with any integrity at all, and even then, my only defense is JESUS CHRIST THE RIGHTEOUS, the Savior and Lover of my soul!

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