CONFESSIONS OF AN OLDEST CHILD

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

I am the oldest of three children.  I am also the first grandchild on both sides of my family.  I am the definition of “the oldest child”. 

There are lots of perks that come with being the oldest.  Hand-me downs don’t exist when you are the first-born.  As the oldest, you get to do things first.  You get the undivided attention of your parents and grandparents when you are the only one.  But, there are some downers to being the oldest.  You are the first one that has to learn to share – everything.  You are the “learner” child:   your siblings get to do things you were never allowed to do. And even though it’s nice to be the first, it also means you will be the first to fail.

The first born has only adults with which to compare himself/herself.  Think about what an oldest/only child sees:  Everyone around can walk without holding on or falling down.  The only crawling seems to be to encourage the baby to get up.  You are being watched at every moment, so you try to please.   Communication is crucial and the praise received is worth the effort.  A first born learns early that you don’t want to disappoint the big people. 

The first born gets more attention.  This is partly because the baby stuff is so new, but also because the time is spent with just this one child.   Just look at photo albums or baby books.  The first child will have tons of pictures and a complete baby book.  Child #2 will have a few pictures and a good start on the baby book.  Any other siblings will just have to make do with a few snapshots and will be grateful if a baby book was even purchased.  The first born will benefit from more time being read to and being taught at home.  Even when siblings are added, the oldest child will continue to benefit from the time spent learning as a group. 

As soon as another sibling is added, the oldest child becomes a leader.  We know how it should be done and will not hesitate to point it out to our younger siblings.  We will be put in charge of our siblings and reminded that we are “older” and therefore “more responsible”.  Some will call this being a natural leader.  Others call it being bossy. 

First born children tend to be perfectionists, leaders, good students, and teachers.  We are often people pleasers that fear failing.  I never tried anything that I wasn’t pretty sure I would excel at.  If there was a chance that I might look silly, I did not attempt it.  I was never good at roller skating, mainly because I did not want to fall.  It hurt and people would laugh.  My younger brother was a good skater.  Granted, he was black and blue from throwing himself into the “experience.”  But, he had fun and enjoyed it.  I would rather spend my time with a good book or a logic puzzle. 

I was always at the top of my class in school.  Learning came easy to me.  I wouldn’t classify myself as an overachiever, I just did what came easily. My classmates that thought I had it made.  While others would be praised for getting a “B” on report cards, I had to get all “A’s and A+”.  Even an “A-“wasn’t good enough.  It wasn’t until I was taking college classes that I was really challenged.  I had to learn to study.  It was hard to accept that I might not be “the best” after all.  But, it was also in college classes that I found I could enjoy learning without being the best.  As a junior accounting major, I had a class under Dean of the School of Business, Dr. Lauderdale.  He promised to weed out the bookkeepers from the accountants in his class.  He was strict and had high expectations.  Our class size dropped by 50% as the semester commenced.  Before our last final, Dr. Lauderdale looked at me and said “You have a B in this class.  If you ace the final or not, you have a solid B.  Don’t come to the final.”  I have never been so excited to be told I was a B student!

I still struggle with perfectionistic tendencies.  This causes lots of anxiety in my life.   I play scenes over and over in my head of how I disappoint my friends and family.  There are days when I feel like I’m balancing on a pin cushion.  When I am out of control or over-whelmed, I protect myself with a veil of detachment.  I separate myself from those areas.  If they don’t exist, they cannot hurt me, right?  My husband helps me to see past the veil and to accept that I can only be the best that I can be.  If someone is disappointed at my best efforts, then that’s not my problem.  Hurt and disappointments are part of life.  I cannot avoid them.

I still don’t like to do anything without a road map.  I want to know EXACTLY what is coming before I step out.  But, I’ve learned that is not always possible.  But these things I know:

  • I CAN make phone calls when I must. (Many of you know how much a hate to do that!)
  • I CAN meet new people and get to know them without hyperventilating.  (I still do better in small groups.)
  • I CAN make decisions and live my life the way God leads me. (Even when others don’t agree/understand.)
  • I CAN trust that others will love me.  (Love isn’t earned, it’s given.)

I am the oldest of three children.  I am the first grandchild on both sides of my family.  And, I am a beloved child of God.

 “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” 

Psalm 139:13-14 NLT

 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” 

Matthew 6:30-33 msg

Purple Eye Shadow

Today, I decided to wear purple eye shadow. As I was applying it, I thought about my first purple eye shadow.  I was in Junior High School.  My normal go-to make-up was pretty simple:  Avon cream shadow (usually in frosted shades) and mascara.  I was just beginning my forays into the world of Maybelline and powdered eye shadows.  My mother received a box of samples and included in that box was a Charles of the Ritz eye shadow in a dazzling shade or purple.  She gave it to me and I was thrilled.  It became my favorite shadow.  There was one small issue, however.  When I wore it, my eye-lids would swell.  But, it was such a pretty color, I just HAD to wear it, puffy eyes or not.  Eventually, I did have to stop using it and that was a sad day for me.  I kept that little sample, and looked at it on occasion. purple

I wondered if I would ever find a purple eye shadow in such lovely shade ever again. What if all purple shadows caused the same problem? Should I stop searching for purple eye shadow and just stick with the normal beige and taupe colors?  Obviously, I didn’t eliminate all purple eye-shadows from my makeup selection.  I have several of them in various shades, both cream and powder.  I have purple eye-liners and lipstick and I’ve even used purple mascara.  The only allergic reaction I’ve ever had was to that Charles of the Ritz purple eye shadow.  I’m glad I didn’t write off all purple shadows because of one failure.

How many times, do we dismiss all possibilities because of one failure, one miss-step? None of us enjoy failing.  I go out of my way to avoid failure or even looking silly.  But, what have I missed because I didn’t give something or someone a 2nd or even a 3rd shot?  It took many, many attempts before I learned to appreciate the taste of coffee.  I didn’t think I would ever try sushi, much less like it.  I didn’t give up driving after my first wreck, and I didn’t quit school the first time I scored less than a perfect grade.  I’ve discovered that much of life’s great joys are found after trying and failing and trying again.

I love Habakkuk 3:19: “The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” I fell in love with this verse after I read Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.  It was through reading this book that I learned that I’m not expected to be perfect.  I will fail.  I will stumble.  But, I must continue the journey.  My strength comes from my Lord God as I MOVE forward.  He will help and guide me.  And, He will love me even when I fail, even when I whine, even when I give up.

We live in a society that doesn’t forgive. Our world is the first to stand up and point fingers at any failure whether it is real or perceived.  The penalties for a lapse in judgment or a moment of weakness can be extremely harsh. The failure becomes a cancer that grows and outweighs anything else in a person’s life story.  Nothing else can be seen.  Only the ugly is magnified and discussed at length.  Any attempt to bring balance to the situation is viewed as out-and-out disagreement and the mob mentality widens the target to attack anyone that does not “toe the line”.

Sometimes, I just have to laugh. What other option is there?  People living in the big extravagant homes, driving the gas guzzling vehicles are often the very ones talking about waste and over-spending.  The first ones to complain about lack of leadership are the last to volunteer to pick up the slack unless they can pick where and how they get to so.  I’ve come to realize that the loudest voice usually has the least effect on positive change these days.  Too often the “activist” is just the passive/aggressive bully that gets everyone else to do the work and only wants the credit.

So, I will do my best. I will attempt new things and retry some old things.  I will continue the journey, treat others in the manner in which I would like to treated and trust that God will lead me to my destination.  All while wearing the perfect shade of purple eye shadow.

 

The “F” Word

It’s not what you think.  It’s not THAT “F” word.  It’s the “F” word that we fear, that we try to escape.   And, it’s the “F” word commonly accepted and used in our own self-talk.  To which “F” word am I referring?  FAILURE!  No one sets out to be a failure.  To fail is not acceptable in most areas of life.  Yet, how often do you or I accept failure as a way of living?  Why do we allow our own minds to attach failure to so much of our lives?  Why?

I struggle with depression.  I’m also an “overachiever”.  After my late husband’s death, feeling down became “normal.”  Just being able to get out of bed or a day without tears was a good day.   I learned to cope.  I convinced myself I was okay.  Because, I needed to be okay.  To be anything else, was to be weak.  I could not and would not be weak.  That was failing.  I read the books.  I did all the things I was told I needed to do (except counseling!) I moved on with my life.  I didn’t excel at life, but I was living.

Do you know some symptoms of an overachiever?  These taken are from John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance at Texas A&M University and author of Overachievement.

  1. It’s all about the outcome:  Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves
  2. You secretly think you’re not good enough:  While some people will “self-sabotage” when they feel inadequate, overachievers stake their identities on performance in order to conquer self-doubt.
  3. There is a short list of things you want to be good at: and that list only includes things you know you’ll be judged on.
  4. Criticism is the worst:  It all goes back to the fear of failure — overachievers’ public enemy No. 1 is criticism, because it implies that they failed at something.
  5. You’re very future-focused:  Because overachievers are constantly trying to avoid bad outcomes, they are heavily focused on the future — and as a result, often neglect the present.
  6. You feel anxious a lot:  Constantly worrying about what the future holds and achieving everything that needs to be achieved is a recipe for stress.
  7. You’re a perfectionist:  Overachievers may also be concerned about being a perfect spouse or parent, or having a perfect home.
  8. In high school, you were the one in 15 clubs:  They had an A in every class, participated in every club and went to music lessons and sports practices — all in the name of a strong college application.
  9. Being able to provide your child with all the opportunities in the world has more to do with your fear of being a bad parent, and less to do with helping your child realize his or her interests and passions.  All parents, to some extent, feel the need to “do it all” for their kids. But overachievers tend to do it big — attending every PTA meeting, making goodies for the bake sales, volunteering in class, constantly checking up with the child’s teacher — because they care so much about being the best parents.
  10. Crunch-time is the worst time:  When the stakes are high, “the overachiever tends to make mistakes in that situation, and are more out to choke because they’re so concerned with the outcome.

I never quite live up to the ideals that I picture for myself.  The smallest glitch can send me into a tailspin:  I’m not a good mother, I’m failing as a wife, I’m just not good enough.  I struggle with the fear of being utterly alone and unloved, of not being good enough to earn the love of those for whom I care so deeply.  I’m caught in a whirlwind of needing to be the best and feeling like a failure at every turn.  This, in turn, leads to anxiety and depression.

I am fortunate.  I have a husband that is constantly reassuring me.  I have friends that love and support me and are always there with words of encouragement.  I have a counselor that listens to my irrational fears and helps me see the truth.  I don’t want to be a victim of the “F” word.  I struggle each day to see value in myself and my actions.

I’m encouraged when I read  that others in the Bible suffered bouts of depression.  David wrote in Psalm 38: 21-22:

Don’t dump me, God;
    my God, don’t stand me up.
Hurry and help me;
    I want some wide-open space in my life!

There are several scriptures that talk about anxiety and trust.  Believe me, I’ve read them all.  I go to those verses when I’m overwhelmed with the daily concerns of life, when I am confronted with my lack of perfection.  I don’t want to fail.  I will not fail.  God is with me every step of the way.  I must look to His strength and remember it is through His love that I am made perfect.

Fear, Failure & Other Silliness

I have NOT done lots of things in my life because I didn’t want to:
a) look silly
b) fail
c) get hurt
d) lose
e) admit I was afraid
f) ask for help
g) all of the above

In school, I didn’t try out for anything unless I was fairly certain I would succeed. I avoided any activities that might be above my current capabilities. I didn’t want to fall and maybe be hurt. If I did take a risk and then I fell, I NEVER tried again. (It’s amazing I learned to ride a bicycle!) I stuck with the things I could do best and pretended I didn’t care about the rest of it.

As I matured, I learned that there were times when taking the risk was worth it. It was okay to try and to fail. I actually found that I could excel at looking silly and survive! I’ll never be a champion skater (or even very good for that matter!), but I can say that I tried. And fell. Many, many times. On a few occasions, I’ve been forced to face my fear of heights and bugs and snakes and telephones and have lived to tell about it even if I still get a bit nauseated at the memories.

One area in which I continue to struggle and grow in is developing true relationships. I’ve never had a problem meeting people. I can be friendly and even helpful. But, when it comes to really allowing another person past my personal fire-wall, that’s a different story. Because behind this facade is a person that fears the risk of transparency. You may discover that I’m actually silly or shallow. I may not be able to live up to your expectations. What if you don’t like me or find me annoying? Will you stick around if I admit that I’m afraid or that I desperately need your help? What will I do if you let me down? And those fears have tried to rob me of the joy of truly knowing and loving others.

There are no guarantees. Some people have come into my life for a specific time and now our lives follow different paths. There are people who I have loved and mourned when they were unwilling or unable to return that love. And then there are the people who are so deeply and richly ingrained in my life and memories that even time and distance cannot break the bond. I’ve had my heart broken and bruised through the years. There have been times that I promised God and myself that I would NEVER allow anyone the opportunity to hurt me that deeply ever again. But, as the pain subsides and the new normal becomes more familiar, I know that I need to step out of my safe zone. And, I’m so glad I haven’t given up on loving and caring about others. For all the tears and pain, I’ve also experienced so much love and joy.

If I had waited until love was safe and hassle-free, I would never have married. If we had waited until everything was perfect in our lives and in our world to have children, I wouldn’t have Zachary & Gracie. If I wait until there is no risk of being hurt before I love and care about others, I’ll live a very lonely, empty life. If I only live the parts of my life that come with guarantees, I’ll never know what it is to live life fully. Every day, I ask God for guidance and wisdom and protection. And every day, He reminds me that I am loved.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31 NIV

Drifting

When my kids were little, we would visit area water parks. At the time, there were 2 larger parks and then a smaller one on our side of town. The kids loved to go. They liked the slides and chutes, the faster and higher the better. My favorite parts of the park was the lazy river and the wave pool. There weren’t lots of stairs to climb or blind turns in the dark tunnels. And best of all, the water forced up my nose was held to a minimum. I just enjoyed drifting along in the waves, going nowhere in particular.

Drifting can be a relaxing and mindless activity. You just enjoy the gentle rocking up and down and let the waves carry you along. It works really well in an enclosed park. But, mindless drifting can get you into trouble in the ocean. Before you realize it, you can be further away from the shore than you ever intended. It’s easy to be totally lost with no idea where to go if you don’t pay attention. And the effort to get back on course is often exhausting at best.

Sometimes in life it’s just easier to go with the flow, to just drift along and do what comes easy. Then, I look around and wonder where I am and how did I get here? Often it’s the rush of the falling rapids of my life that get my attention. How do I get back on track with “the plan”? Is it even worth trying? And I don’t think I’m the only one. I’ve watched others drift past and wondered when are they going to realize the rapids are coming even as I ignore my own destination.

One of the few things I remember from the Franklin-Covey training I received many years ago was this: If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time! When I allow myself to just drift along, I am choosing to aim for nothing. Dreams and plans require some effort. I have to open my eyes to the possibilities. I have to allow myself to dream even if those dreams may never be reality. Even failure is better than simply drifting. I have to stop retreating to the lazy river and make an effort to jump into the rapids. I need to take aim at life and with that the responsibility of where I’m going.