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When Anxiety Attacks

Updated: May 9

I learned something new the other Sunday.  Now that we have electronic Bibles we can track the passages that are highlighted the most.  I thought it would be John 3:16 because that’s the very first memory verse any 80’s kid in church was expected to memorize.  My former NHL pro pastor Adam Burt (Are you intrigued?  Check out our website or even better come check us out in person!) at Every Nation New Jersey proceeded to tell us that it’s Philippians 4: 6-8,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

What does that say about what our world is seeking?  We are all a bunch of anxious stress balls who are desperate for a sliver of peace in our constant state of overwhelm.  No?  Just me?  The following verses are not highlighted as much, but that cool dude pastor of ours said, “Don’t stop there, you gotta keep reading.”  Verses 8 and 9 tell us how to not be anxious,

“ Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.”  Reign in your mind by focusing on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Then we can experience true peace, the kind that only comes from God. The kind you can have even when everything is falling apart around you.

This is actually the verse I tell my girls when they have nightmares at night.  We start talking about what is pure and lovely to keep their mind away from the scary thoughts that woke them up.  We pray and establish peace in their hearts again.  With my four-year-old, Stella, we imagine what it would be like to be a butterfly flying from flower to flower.  We talk about being fairies, what our wings would look like, and how we would be friends with unicorns.  When Stella fears monsters are in her room I always ask her, “Where in the Bible does it say God created monsters?”  “Nowhere!”  “That’s right, so go back to sleep because God didn’t make any monsters so there must not be any in here.”  With my oldest Dahlia, who is approaching nine-years-old (!!!), we talk about fun weekend plans or a good memory she can dream back to.  We pray and I do my best to debunk her nightmarish thoughts with reassurance from the Bible.  She often reads her Bible or devotion to keep her mind centered on true and noble thoughts until she drifts back to sleep in a peaceful state.  Philippians 4:8 is one of those verses I’d like to prayerfully color in an adult coloring book, frame and hang on their bedroom wall...someday.  It’s a reminder I need on a daily basis.

Last week my body was contorted in physical pain as a result of stress and anxiety.  It had been building up after a long winter of sick kids, sabotaged family vacation (SO. MUCH. VOMIT.  The two-year-old kid kind in the car for 8 hours and more than twenty times followed by all the sisters and yours truly), routine home life overload, not prioritizing rest, bad habits to cope, my husband traveling back-to-back, and my two-year-old’s new favorite word, “MINE!”  I tipped myself over the edge into a state of contorted pain by doing as I often do- I took something simple and complicated the heck out of it.  I had to take one of my four girls to the city for a doctor appointment and instead thought it would be a good idea to bring all four girls, plus the in laws and try to make a day of it.

We made it to Niagra Falls in between vomiting kids which cut the trip short, but got to be at church for Easter

Everyone was tired because the excitement of grandparents in town kept them up late so we were off to a rough start.  Then we had to take our van, a train, a subway, one taxi, and do a lot of walking with a 2, 4, 6 and 8 year old.  We juggled sweaters, two strollers, and the “stuff” that comes with a toddler and another kid in diapers.  We were quite a sight and I was a hot mess who hadn’t slept or eaten well in days.  Oh, and I hadn’t packed or prepared meals or instructions even though I was getting on a plane alone the next day for five days. When we finally crawled back home with bickering children after multiple delays on the train, I was sick to my stomach, my back and chest were tight to the point I couldn’t breathe deeply without pain, and I was so dizzy.  Somehow I managed to shower them and then sent them to the tv to babysit them and I collapsed in bed.

My state at the end of the day did not make sense after the day we actually had.  It was a beautiful, warm spring day and the flowers were in bloom.  The kids find the train fun and exciting (at first) and they got to scale giant boulders in Central Park.  The doctor appointment was worth the trek and the others had a blast in the zoo.  ¾ girls napped on the train home so their moods improved.  We had a delicious lunch (I couldn’t stomach much from the self-induced stress of the day) and it even worked out for my husband to meet us there.  While I lay contorted and exhausted in bed at 6p that evening I couldn’t see any of the good.  I was in a state of…what comes after exhaustion- overwhelm?  hit a wall?  In shock?  Beyond comprehension?

I was so hyper focused on the negative, like the train being delayed both ways so Elena didn’t get to go to the zoo with everyone (she didn’t care!  She got solo time with me and a taxi ride!  We went to Levain cookies- what is there to be sad about?!!?).  I was exhausted from the fear of losing a kid in the crowds (STELLA), the kids being a bit too loud in a restaurant, my gross 2-year-old Aurora dragging her toy on the walls and chairs of the train and then putting it in her mouth before I could stop her.  I could only focus on the tasks of the day and it left no room for enjoyment.  My Philippians 4:8 might as well have read, “She was focused on what could go wrong, where she was meant to be, how late they were, and who would cry next.  So focused on such things, peace would evade her and negativity would transfer from her onto her poor, unsuspecting daughters.”

I was absolutely not thinking about things that are true, lovely, and pure.  Then I would have seen the excitement on my girls’ faces at the top of the boulder in the park.  I would have noticed the loving, slightly nervous gaze of my in laws as they watched my spider monkey children climbing.  I would not have missed the opportunity my oldest Dahlia saw to serve a homeless man.  Instead I was nervous sweating all over NY, engrossed in Google maps and not losing that wild child (STELLA).  Meanwhile, Dahlia was upset to the point of tears because we walked by a homeless man who had something written on his sign about Jesus, and we didn’t give him anything.  Nor did we stop to listen to her plea to give him something, because we were rushing to the next train, the next task.

We had a long talk and made plans to be better prepared next time.  I told her how God and I love her heart for people and that we would be sure to stop next time as long as it’s safe- meaning Stella hasn’t just hopped on the wrong subway ahead of us and there’s no threat to Dahlia’s safety.  Sure enough, God presented us with an opportunity.  I told her she could pray for the man we passed by and for another chance to bless someone.  Soon after, we saw a Venezuelan family with three young children in the shade of H&M.  We approached them and their faces lit up when Dahlia handed them all of our remaining snacks and most of the small toys we brought along to keep Aurora entertained.  They had a baby girl who lit up at the sight of a mermaid and animal board book.  I even had an eye spy book in Spanish full of cars and things that go that the boys were excited to have.  They thanked us profusely and said, “Dios los bendiga” over and over.  The children inhaled the fruit squeeze packs and granola bites as I rummaged through my diaper bag for more.  Dahlia’s heart is so big it brings tears to my eyes.  I can’t wait to see how God uses her to brighten the lives of others like he did that day.      

I texted my husband that I was incapacitated until further notice and he said the most wonderful words, “Just tell me what you need.  I’m here.”  I did, and he and his parents took care of the rest of the evening.  He brought me ginger tea, I threw back some reflux medicine, and ibuprofen, eventually could breathe deeply and started writing the schedule out for the days I’d be gone.  Sure I heard crying and kids kept escaping to sneak upstairs to my room only to be grabbed by the ankles and hauled back out by Papa.  That’s love- when you’re just as tired, but let the other person rest instead.  Those couple of hours I could think clearly without interruption and I put on my praise and worship music to refocus on what is lovely, pure and true.  It wasn’t a bust of a day.  It was an adventure like it is anytime you take four little girls to New York City where the max allowance of children seems to be 1 1/2.  Bring four in matching outfits and you’ll shock and awe.  Shock.  And.  Awe.  You’ll get a plethora of unwelcome comments about weddings, but also some sweet ones directed at my husband about being “blessed.”

When I focused on the words of my music I could feel the scales tipping in favor of peace again.  Once the house was quiet and it was safe to emerge from hiding I finished up my tasks without a sense of overwhelm or doom.  That time I took to reset rescued my soul, re-established my peace that comes from being rooted in Christ and his promises, and I put it into practice. I got on a plane while they were in school, but I put an extra cookie in my girls’ lunches which they’ll recognize as extra special.  I left clear, typed instructions for my mother in law, so she wouldn’t have any doubts that might make her nervous while taking over the responsibility of four little girls.

I can start my days so gung-ho, with big plans to have quiet time, feed the two youngest a proper breakfast, start the laundry, take them for a jog in the double stroller, run errands halfway through, hit the park, listen to a Christian mom podcast in between and be back in time for them to actually eat lunch at the table.  The reality is that we stumble back in the door overtired, full of snacks because they were fighting in the stroller and only got dry cereal in a ziploc for breakfast, forget the laundry in the washer til tomorrow when it reeks, and send them to their respective beds in tears because I yelled at them out of hangry, irritation because I’m flustered from once again, trying to do too much.  Then I’ll get 15 minutes to either inhale some food or shower (but you have to choose just one- no time for both!) before heading to pick up the big sisters in elementary school.  I’ll be short with them because I’m behind on my day and feel like a failure, because I didn’t achieve the items on my self-inflicted list and it puts a damper on the rest of the afternoon and sets a negative tone for the rest of the afternoon.  Basically it makes for a wasted, bummer of a day.          

If I would just lower my expectations for myself, be present for the task at hand, and take in what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable I’d find that supernatural peace from God that we’re all searching for. What’s true is that Jesus wants me to check in with him regularly, not once I’m at my breaking point. What’s noble is Dahlia’s desire to serve those who are less fortunate. What’s pure is God’s completely unconditional love for all of us. What’s lovely is how my girls take care of each other when they think no one is watching. What’s admirable is how easily the girls handed over their snacks and toys to children in need. What came at the end of a difficult day after realizing all these things I couldn’t see through my state of overwhelm was that oh so sought after, one of a kind, peace.

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