Lately I have been completely stressed out. Let’s face it…we’re all stressed out to some degree even when it’s from something positive such as weddings, births or graduations. I’ll admit that I am dealing with many emotional burdens such as reminders that my kids are growing up way too fast as my oldest son just completed his middle school years while my youngest will be graduating from elementary school next week. My job recently triggered panic attacks as I was blindsided by a surprising decision while also trying to cope with headaches and anxiety. That might not sound like much, however in the midst of not feeling well it totally paralyzed me.
Yesterday after dinner I took my kids to the river to swim and as I sat at the river’s edge something peculiar happened to me. There was not another soul around so my boys were thrilled that they would have their favorite rock to jump from all to themselves.That should have made me smile but as I was sitting there watching them laugh and leap into the water I found myself exhausted and mentally defeated. I became annoyed by the hard, uncomfortable rocks under the towel I was sitting on, a mosquito as it buzzed in my ear incessantly, an old water bottle littering the shoreline and the dull headache I had been fighting since I woke up. How long would I have to sit there and suck it up?
There was no one else to complain to so I started to tell God` how fed up I was with everything and as the dark thoughts gained momentum it was not long before I was on a roll, each thought feeding off the other:
I’m lazy and fat because I haven’t run in two weeks and have been eating like crap.
I’m a terrible wife because my illness sometimes overwhelms us.
I’m resentful because my pleas are going unheard and I am no longer valued.
I’m frustrated and stupid because I can’t think straight.
I’m ungrateful because I see the two most amazing boys on earth smiling at me but right now I just want to go to bed and never wake up.
I’m mean because I was irritable and short tempered with my kids earlier.
I’m useless because I haven’t been able to finish several things on my project list.
I’m a failure because I’m not making a difference like I used to.
All it took was one self destructive thought to get the ball rolling then spiraling out of control. As each thought intruded my mind my whole being sunk deeper and deeper into a pit of hopelessness.
But then suddenly another thought popped into my head out of nowhere.
The word interrupted the trainwreck that was in progress and shifted my attention to a simple bird call. Then there were 2, then 3, then 4 joining in causing a beautiful song to echo throughout the river valley.
I caught a glimpse of the sun sparkling on the water just around the bend which drew my attention to my two beautiful boys living joyfully in the moment swimming in the river at the start of summer. The voice that insisted I STOP continued:
“How are you a bad parent? Your kids just expressed their gratitude for bringing them for a swim.”
Ok. Maybe that’s true.
“It’s ok to be frustrated with not feeling well and having difficulty thinking…it’s ok to feel.
Look at how hard you have been trying to juggle everything that is going on.
Your kids are thriving and joyful.
Wait…What?…Where did all that come from?
Then I realized my thoughts were shifting — I was no longer engulfed by the fog of my mind. Something had penetrated the darkness and was beginning to shine through. I purposely started to pay attention to my surroundings.
“Look. Appreciate. Breathe.”
My thoughts of hopelessness were being challenged by examples that refuted the negativity and they started to flow effortlessly just as the damaging ones had done before. The tension in my body dissipated. The rocks beneath me no longer annoyed me; they were affording me the opportunity to be still and soak it all in. I closed my eyes and whispered “Thank you.” Negativity kept knocking but I refused to let it back in. It knows me all too well and has had decades of practice getting the best of me. But this time I asked for help in the combat.
I heard — no I FELT– God speaking to me through everything that surrounded me. Inspiration had been all around me the entire time…always had been and always will be. I just had to STOP, open my eyes and then LISTEN. The rush of the falls further down the river soothed me. The birds singing and the fish jumping touched my soul. The seemingly endless number of tadpoles scurrying along the shoreline made me smile. Swarms of insects dancing, baby geese swimming while mature ones took flight and the sun setting in the distance overwhelmed me with peace. The full moon making its appearance faintly against the blue sky filled me with wonder. It was impossible to take it all in and not come to the realization that God is BIG and He is AMAZING.
As the kids emerged from the water and started to dry off they began to argue and complain causing the “magic” to start to fade. But then I heard God’s words reminding me to look beyond the whining and remember what I had just experienced. In the midst of an insult my youngest yelled and pointed, “Whoa! Look at all the minnows!” Immediately the argument was forgotten as they too became lost in fascination.
Gratitude filled my heart leaving no room for the frustration I had been overwhelmed with when we first arrived. It was a valuable lesson that I desperately needed. Without a doubt it was God speaking to me, interrupting my thoughts and nudging me to pause and take notice. Irrefutable evidence of God’s power and love surrounded me.
Now, looking out my window I continue to be reminded of His gifts…the blooming mountain laurel, towering trees, the snores from my dog sleeping beside me, the robin’s nest perched on top of the outdoor light…the signs are everywhere. Difficulties in this life are guaranteed to bombard us. But when we take a moment to look around we are assured that God longs to soothe us. He is always speaking to us, loving us and reminding us of His power and desire to take care of us. However as I learned last night, we have to LET Him. The river will continue its journey with or without me so it’s up to me to appreciate it. I could have remained on the shore allowing myself to get beat down, but as soon as I spoke to God He responded. When I decided to listen He provided exactly what I needed.