When I was young, up to about the age of 12, I had horrible anxiety. Back then we didn’t really have a term for it. Mom just called it nerves. For as long as I can remember, I was filled with fear. I wasn’t really fearful of anything in particular. I was just fearful of the unknown. The only place I felt safe, at peace and happy was at home. Going to school, church, friends’ homes, anything outside of the comfort and safety of my house with my parents would create a reaction within my body that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. My stomach would turn into knots and I would vomit either before I left for school, once I got on the bus or once I got to school or wherever I was going.
Every day, mom would pack a “barf bag” in my school bag just in case I needed it. Then the fear of vomiting and being embarrassed in front of my peers would overtake me and I would want cry. Then the more I tried to stop myself from crying, the more I’d want to vomit. It was a vicious cycle. Every morning was like that from the time I woke up. It was awful. And that made me afraid to go to sleep each night because I knew that morning was coming and I didn’t want to face it. I felt like a freak.
I remember that one of my favorite Christmas presents in those dark years was a digital alarm clock that had a sun that rose and set on it. It was magical to me because the sun actually moved throughout the day. The orangey glow of that clock once the lights went out each night gave me such comfort. It was so simple but so beautiful to me. When I went to bed, I would focus on that sun and it would give me such peace that eventually I would drift off to sleep.
The Lord gave my mom some incredible wisdom and patience back in those days as she tried her best to help me manage my anxiety. She was literally the only person who could help me refocus and function. The Lord must have given her special grace as she worked with me day in and day out to be able to just do ordinary everyday things. I marvel at the things she did now because I just don’t know how she knew what to do. She was always calm. She never got upset. She knew when a hug would make it better and when it would make things worse. She just knew what to do and always helped me through my issues with a smile and kind words.
One of the biggest things she did to help me was have me memorize two verses.
The first one was Joshua 1:9. It says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
The second one was Philippians 4:8. “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.”
Whenever I felt like I was going to lose it after I left home each day, I could hear mom’s voice in my head telling me to take a deep breath and say one of those two verses to myself. I would start with Joshua 1:9 and tell myself to be strong and courageous because God was with me. And then I would refocus and start thinking of all the pretty and beautiful things I could think of. So, instead of focusing on my multiple layers of fear, I would focus on flowers and trees, puppies and butterflies, rainbows and the stars at night and the fact that when the school day was done, I could go home to my happy place. It was a constant struggle but by reciting those two verses to myself multiple times a day, I could get through my day without too many issues.
I still have anxiety now. It’s not as severe as it was then, but I still find myself breathing deeply and quoting these two verses to myself when I’m faced with anything outside of my comfort zone. And when I do, especially now, I always think of my mom and how she fought so hard for me and encouraged me so much with truth in those early years.
I learned over my life time to fake it to make it through my anxiety. I know, that’s probably not the best practice for my mental health. But it was what I had to do to manage myself and do the things that needed to be done as a grew up, went to school, got married and became a mom myself. There are definitely still times that my body immediately goes into fight or flight mode. My stomach knots up and I still want to vomit, but I have learned to just push through. But you know what? As I push through, those two verses still rumble around in my brain and always help calm me down so I can do the things that need to be done.
It is all about refocusing, isn’t it? There are things in life that are going to throw us off. Disappointments,
frustrations, misunderstandings, anxiety, loss, pain, etc. that have the power to ruin our day. But if we can refocus and think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,” we can deal with those difficult things and find the strength to carry on with courage because God is with us wherever we go. What an amazing promise!
So, remember those two verses as you march into the next tough thing you face. Remember to breathe and refocus. Remember that you have an all-powerful God who loves you and wants to give you all the strength you need to keep going.
If you haven’t already learned those two verses for yourself, listen to my mom and memorize
them now. Hold them close to your heart so the next time life goes a little crazy, you can think on those things and move forward with grace and peace!