I was volunteering with my daughter’s class during their designated library time. Mary was sitting on the floor with her classmates listening to the librarian read them a story. She had several of her fingers lodged in her mouth, chewing away in an attempt to sooth the new adult teeth fighting for room in her already overcrowded gums. I watched as she proceeded to take her tiny soaked hands out of her mouth, drag them across the carpet in front of her to dry them off and immediately shove them right back in, this time undoubtedly with countless germs along for the ride. While this scene would have once sent me into panic mode, I sat still and simply prayed, “into your hands, Lord”.
It’s a prayer I say often and is one of immense freedom for me. I can now acknowledge that, while what Mary did was gross and may expose her to germs, I can not possibly be in control of her every move, nor does God expect or ask me to be. What I can always be in control of is recognizing that, by continually placing my children in God’s hands, they will be taken care of. The clouds have parted and the gift of clear discernment is once again my own. The paralyzing fear that once kept me from living the joy around me has dissipated and logic and reason are mine to claim.
Healing is a beautiful thing and it would certainly make for an easy life if everyone who suffered from anxiety could follow the same simple formula to find their own. Unfortunately, like anything else, there are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to climbing out of what can feel like a bottomless pit. Everyone’s path will be different and mine wasn’t necessarily straight and entirely easy to maneuver. It is true, however, that God never gives you more than you can handle. After much reflection on those few years when my anxiety was at it’s worst, I see all the hidden gifts that God provided to keep me faithful and trusting in His eventual answer to my prayer.
My husband and best friend was life vest number one. I’m certain there were times when he wondered what exactly had happened to the woman he once knew and questioned whether or not we would ever truly enjoy this life and family we had worked so hard to build. He’s a man of his word, however, and he gave both me and God his word to love me through sickness and health. And he never wavered from that promise. He quietly and prayerfully worked to understand where I was at and what I was going through and supported me day in and day out, from one fear to the next. He’s simply a beautiful soul and I have immense respect and the deepest gratitude for the sincerity of friendship and love he offers me every day.
I’ve always felt that there is no coincidence in life when it comes to one’s friends. Rather, I do believe that each and every person you call a friend has a distinct purpose in your life. And I love to marvel at the thought of God smiling at the exact moment you meet one friend or another, thinking to himself, “ah, good. now my plan is set in motion.” During the worst of my anxiety, I had two friends that offered me what no one else could; genuine understanding. They themselves were living with anxiety and, although it manifested itself differently in their lives, we understood one another in a way that was simply impossible for someone who didn’t live it, day after tiring, frustrating day. We could call one another at a moment’s notice to talk through one fear or an other. Tears, anger, shame; no words were even necessary between us to know exactly where the other was at. Thinking of them, and the many other women I have since met that have lived with anxiety for too long, is a big piece of what compelled me to share my story. It is so important for people to know that they are not alone in their struggles and I am personally amazed (and saddened) at the number of people I have connected with that understand anxiety on a deeply personal level.
Remember the name of the man who was asked, or perhaps more appropriately, ordered to help carry Jesus’ cross when he couldn’t go on? Me neither. But Google reminds us it was Simon, Simon of Cyrene. My husband, my parents and sisters and my friends were all my Simon. They weren’t necessarily asked to help me. They never had any warning that this might be a piece of what they would have to do to love me. The anxiety demanded they step in and they did, wholeheartedly. They picked up the cross with me and we walked together until I was ready to lay it down and let God take over.
There was a piece to the healing that surprised me and took me off guard. Oddly enough, I can remember the exact moment when the feeling of shame overcame me and brought me to tears. I was in my bedroom one morning making the bed and listening to my boys play happily in the other room. It was one of those moments when my heart just swelled and I was overcome with the love that I have for them. In that instant, I saw them for the innocent and precious little beings that they are and I was all at one wrapped in this cloak of guilt and shame, stitched together by all the times I hadn’t been that free-spirited, play-in-the-dirt mother I so wanted to be for them. It was a hard reality to swallow. I would never get those moments back. The times they wanted to sit on the floor with all the other kids, push the button on the elevator, play outside unencumbered by my rules and regulations. The more it became clear to me how illogical my behavior had been, the harder it was to forgive myself. It was yet another layer to the healing and forced me to pull back my pride and live in the humility that was necessary to move forward.
A few weeks ago we took a trip to the Tampa Zoo as part of a vacation in Florida. It’s hard to describe the joy I felt watching our youngest truly “live” the day. She was fascinated with the world around her and I made no hesitation in allowing her to experience every piece of it. She pet the sting rays, fed mr giraffe, rode the merry-go-round five times and even surprised us by riding a toddler-sized roller-coaster all on her own. I literally gave myself a headache from smiling for the better part of the day. Living a life free of the anxiety is a gift I do not take for granted. I am always acutely aware of the many things I do throughout the day that used to be very difficult for me.
In the end, anxiety will always be a part of me, and I’m ok with that. The memories of the worst of it, the gratitude for those that helped me through it and the awareness each and every day of the freedom I now enjoy has all been a part of shaping who I am and who I can be for others who are trying to understand it all and find their own healing. I find myself stronger as a result of the cross, humbled by God’s mercy, enlightened by His wisdom and forever protected in His limitless love.