Most people take their children to Sea World for fun. It is a day planned for adventure, relaxation, bonding, or vacation. The intention is for smiles and laughter. Memories are made, love is expressed, warm fuzzies abound! My next trip to Sea World with my eight year old son, Mason, is planned with the intent to scare him. We are bringing out his intense irrational fear that has come from deep inside with the sole purpose of “working on it”.
Months ago we went looking for help from a professional. Will and I recognized signs of anxiety in our son from personal experience. Have you ever done that? Seen something in someone else that you recognize so fully because you have walked it yourself? We had worked with Mason on our own at home and made progress, but it was clear we were out of our depth. God opened paths in the right directions. We have a doctor for Mason that can only be described as “the perfect fit”, but it does not make the road easy. We are living Psalm 121, yet I struggle. I know my help comes from the Lord, I know He watches over me, and us, as clearly as I know that I breath in and out. But, “no harm”? Have you ever seen your seven year old (the age this started at) have a panic attack over irrational fear in front of your eyes? Have you ever kissed your Baby Boy goodnight, have him look you right in the eyes, and say, “I don't want to die”, instead of “goodnight”? Have you ever sat across from a professional and made a plan to take your eight year old to an adventure park you hold amazing family memories of and force him to walk into a show that, for some irrational unknown reason, he has an overwhelming fear that he can die in? These things feel like harm, but I'm promised that they are not. I am promised that He will not let my foot slip... yet I feel like I'm free falling when we are “working on it”.
Last week Mason and I set off to Sea World to do step one of his F.E.A.R. Plan. Yes, it has a name with an acronym as all good plans from professionals do. Step one sounded easy in theory. Mason was to pick one show at Sea World and walk with me from the entrance of one gate to the exit on the other side of the stage BEFORE the show started. I'll spare you the details and sum it up like this: as a whole it went well, though it was stressful for both mother and child. To quote my amazing son, “Mom, I didn't die, and that's good. I like that. But please don't make me do that again, ok?” This week we go back for step two, sitting down in the seats for 5 minutes of a show.
As I “worked on it” with Mason it became clear to me that my eight year old was not the only patient at Sea World. The mental mess in my mind was loud and obtrusive. The best way to describe it? Darkness covering light. Negativity crashing about trying to destroy any progress I had made in my own mental health.
“Look at all those other parents. They get to have fun with their kids. They are getting ready to watch a show. What are you doing? You're walking through gates with your scared child.” Hello Envy, how did you get in my head?
“Why is the employee at the gate looking at me like that? I know he saw us walk through without even looking for a seat. He thinks we're weird. He thinks my kid is weird. He thinks Mason is 'different'. I don't want my kid to look 'different'. I wonder if I could force Mason to sit down and watch the show so he could look normal. I bet I could bribe him to watch the show. What is it he really wants right now? Is it that new $80 Wii game? I could easily swing by Target on the way home if he would only act normal for 20 minutes. Why does that employee keep looking at us!?!” Oh, Pride, there you are. You are very familiar to me. Seriously, how long am I going to have to keep working on you??
“I'm a horrible mother. What kind of mother has a child who thinks great harm will come to him at a show at Sea World? I've taken him here since he was a baby, for goodness sake! Where did I go wrong? How could I have let this get so out of hand? This is all my fault.” Guilt. I should have known you would be close by.
“I should just go home. We don't belong here. If he's scared of the world I should just take him home and shut the doors. We should just stay home. We don't belong out here if we can't handle it like a normal family.” Shame. I hate this one.
“Mom?” and there was Mason, breaking into my thoughts. Ten minutes had past since we left the gates at the show and we were trick-or-treating, a new activity they are doing at Sea World on the weekends. It makes Mason a little nervous, but he was still enjoying himself. “Did you see that they changed the stage at the show?” How did he see that? I watched him the whole time we walked from one gate to the other. He didn't look at the stage once. He had tunnel vision, locked on to the other gate. I had his sweaty little hand in mine. I could feel his heart beat at his wrist, it was racing. His fear was rampant, how did he see the stage?
“How did you see the stage?” I asked him.
“I didn't know I did. I was just thinking about it right now. And I realized the stage looked different from when we used to go. I didn't know that I had seen it. But I guess I did. It had a bookcase on it, right?”
“I was just thinking back, and it's like I can see it.”
“Mason, did you know God does that for me, too?”
And here we have it, a God moment at Sea World (interestingly, it's not my first). Light began to shine in the darkness. And I heard it in my mind, sounds like cockroaches scattering away. My own thoughts began to clear as I talked to Mason about God and the way He has worked in my life. I shared how looking back on what God has done for me brings clarity. I explained how walking through difficult times is confusing, but looking back sheds light. We prayed together at Sea World, not minding that people might be watching. There was no shame, no pride. We shared the trick-or-treating candy with each other as we talked about the success of that day's mission, guilt free of what brought us there. We did the things we enjoy together, laughing as Mother and Son. We still had adventure, we still bonded, we still made memories.
We will go again this week. God will be there, too. He is where my help comes from. When my foot feels like it is slipping, it is He who will catch it. When Mason feels like he is in harms way, it is verse 7 we will be repeating as a family. Mason may only be eight, but his whole life he will be “working on” something. Look at his thirty-four year old Mom, his thirty-nine year old Dad, and you, a something-something year old reader. Are we not all working on something? We are never done “working on it”. The McKinney Family works on it together with scripture, with prayer, with praise music... with God. So why did I choose to put this into a blog before everything was fixed? Before I could package it up with a pretty bow and show you how God rectified the whole situation? Before the mess was cleaned, the house was tidied, and the presentation perfected? Because we are the family of Christ. Because the family comes together and shares scripture, and prayer, and praise, and God. Because...
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. And, when all is said and done, we are all “working on it.”