The email read: “A resident may have spotted a Florida panther near the woods. Please be careful after dusk, especially if you have small children.” My mind read:”There is a massive panther living in the woods behind building 200, and you are the only mom of young children in the entire building. Therefore, this beast is waiting to devour your little ones! Rooaarr!!
Yes, this was my sad interpretation of my new Sunshine State life. I grew up in the North and was unprepared for living in the South. I traded snow forts for sandcastles and salt water, but also security for fear. My reasons for fright were not completely unfounded … what mother would not be fearful of a large gator swimming in the pond next to her family’s living space? What mother would not be afraid of large insects that bite and cause some terrible unknown disease? What mother would not be petrified of the possibility of being bitten by the terrifying reptile that tricked Eve and caused our entire world to be thrown into despair? My mind began to focus on daily survival for our family, completely leaving joyous living at the Florida-Georgia line.
My fears for basic survival began on our first day as new residents. The afternoon began with a peaceful nature walk along a boardwalk over inter-coastal waters. Unbelievable! This corn field mom was living with inter-coastal waters in her backyard. Our five-year-old son unabashedly displayed the excitement we were all feeling as he ran ahead to jump on the picturesque boardwalk. The rest of our little family was steps away from promised bliss. Then a warning sign featuring enormous red letters and a terrifying picture of looming venomous danger appeared at the edge of the steps. The three-hour tour became the three-minute tour.
The land of seashell sand was not meshing with this frightening world I was encountering. Life as a mother is often full of trepidation over unknown factors, but they are usually served as appetizers, not as the all-you-can-eat jumbo buffet. I was having trouble reconciling my thriving visions of palm trees and aqua pools with raising our little boys amongst jungle animals that I thought only lived in the Amazon.
Reconciliation smacked rock bottom the day I found myself, heart pounding, wild-eyed and couln’t catch my breath, while looking at a picture of a little black house cat. My animal tracking did not produce the proof I needed to contact the panther patrol. Instead, it was hard evidence that my created reality was roaring with fear instead of purring with security. How could I grow as a mother and wife if I was in constant tracker mode? I needed to turn my lens to my own heart and mind.
Moving across the country provides ample opportunity for surviving the to-do list. Unpacking, registering for school, finding medical providers, learning new routines, adjusting to new work schedules and making new friends can quickly turn a short list into an overwhelming list. As with any busy season of life, moms often forget how to breathe through the tasks, and freeze in survival mode. My problem was simple: I was trying to survive the list while also trying to navigate my fear of survival in the new environment. During both of these undertakings, I forgot to flourish.
Years have passed since that day when my Florida fear began to untangle its twisted knot. I would like to tell a tale of courageousness that has not been observed since David defeated Goliath, but I cannot. There are still days when indoor playtime seems best. The voice in my head telling me a slithering serpent is waiting to cross my path remains. Fear for an overwhelming to-do list fidgets, but I have learned to enjoy the blessings of a family surrounded in sunshine. I have learned to thrive as I survive my fears and my mom chores through a gift my MOPS Leader shared with me. As I was tearfully expressing some of my anxieties, she reminded me that God has given all of us a sound mind! Instead of fear, he provides everyone with love and power. God does not give me fear, the enemy does. God loves me so much that he provides the power of clear thinking. My greatest weapon is what I choose to think and feel instead of fear. When my eyes wander to outdoor surroundings, inspecting for danger or I hold my breath thinking about all that remains in my day, I remember the truth about fear. I am now choosing to feel his presence of power. This salty scaredy-cat has learned to inhale the light so that I persevere through lists and fear.
Janelle Brown is a mom who lives with her husband and three boys in St. Augustine, Florida.