Wisdom Wednesday

Stop Light

The following blog post is 99% metaphorical.

As I left the school today, I groaned at the time. 3:40.  By the time I hit the road, it would be rush hour, and there would be no chance of me getting home before 5.  The commute to the school is never that bad.  Sure, sometimes there will be an accident or construction on the road, but usually I make it to the school in less than an hour.  But for some reason, no matter what time I leave the school (especially during rush hour), I do not make it home at a decent hour.

I turned up the radio and drove to the main road.  I managed to get to the highway entrance without hitting any lights.  As I raced my car down the highway, I thought I actually had hope in getting home early.  Then, all of a sudden, there is a sea of red lights in my path.  Every car was completely stopped.  My car jolted as I slammed on the brakes, barely missing an accident with the car in front of me.  Well, there goes my opportunity for fun.  Did I mention I was thirsty, in desperate need of some watermelon?

If there was any chance of movement in the next lane, I would quickly change lanes to get at least a foot farther than where I was before.  I kept moving, I kept going, not being satisfied where I was.  But no matter where I moved, there was traffic in my way.  I couldn’t go far.  I had to simply stay put and wait for the traffic to end.

I rolled my eyes as each exit sign slowly passed by my view.  One exit closer, ten minutes later.  My mind replayed all of the people who have complained to me about rush hour in the past.  Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as some people have made it out to seem, but it still wasn’t a pleasant experience.  Thirsty, hungry, and tired, I could not even sing along to the music on the radio.

As I listened to the radio, the song “One Thing Remains” came on.  I decided to sing it out loud, because it talks about dealing with trials.  I sang each word, enunciating each consonant.  The traffic didn’t go away, but suddenly, I began to laugh at my predicament.  Here I am, sitting in a car, after having a great class with my students, having had the opportunity to practice what I have learned in my TEFL certification class, and I am complaining!  How long would I really be in the car, two hours at most?  Why would I let two hours ruin my whole day?

To cope with the rest of the ride, I did a few things to lighten the situation.  First of all, I continued playing music from a CD.  I used my steering wheel as a drum.  I found harmonies to the songs on the radio.  In the end, although I was by myself, I laughed at the ludicrousness of the whole situation.  I didn’t care if other people were watching me dance. As a matter of fact, I was hoping that my laughter and joy would catch on so that they had no reason to complain.

Secondly, I looked to the other side, to the people who were going in the other direction.  They really were at a dead stop, while we were at least crawling.  I know it’s bad to laugh at the misfortune of others, but I at least had to enjoy the fact that I wasn’t as unfortunate as the drivers on the other side of the road.

Finally, I thanked God when the road actually began to clear.  It would have been easy for me to say, “Well, it’s about time!”  However, I knew that, at that time in the day, the roads should have been jammed until my exit.  After all of my complaining and expecting, I made it home in a little over an hour.  I was home before 5.  God showed me mercy on this hot, thirst-inducing day.  All I could do was thank him that my experience wasn’t much worse.

Before I finally got home, there was a stop light that almost brought me over the edge.  There were at least ten cars waiting for the stop light.  Seriously?  I had one more little obstacle blocking me from making it back to my house.  Just as I was about to find a detour, I stopped myself.  I made it this far; why wouldn’t I stick it out until the end?  I waited a few seconds for the light to turn green.  I shifted into the turning lane and made it safely back to my house.

If you are dealing with a frustrating situation, how are you going to respond?  Are you going to complain and try to avoid it, or are you going to make the most out of it?  Wait it out, and see what you can learn from it.  Sometimes, we can’t avoid the traffic in our lives, but we can still dance in the midst of it and appreciate what we have.


Conclusion: Choose Joy

I said all the prayers they asked me to pray. I went to counseling sessions, and my counselor told me that I had a very good understanding of myself (basically telling me that I didn’t need a counselor).  I took anti-anxiety medication, ate healthy food, and exercised daily.  But at the end of the day, I was still anxious.  I thought that I had failed God, since everyone told me that anxiety was a sin.  I thought that God had failed me, since everyone told me that God is a healer and does not let his children suffer.  After a whole journey of faith, after having God strip me of everything that I once held dear so that I could cling to him, I still woke up in a panic.  Didn’t God want to heal me?  Didn’t he see how much I was in pain?

The night before I went on a retreat, I did not get any sleep. Irrational thoughts, that I knew were irrational, raced through my head.  What if the retreat center is on a mountain and I can’t breathe because of the thinness of the air?  What if I get food poisoning?  What if someone drops me off and then forgets to pick me up?  What if the other women in my room do not like me?  What if I end up having to share living space with a difficult person?  On and on, the ridiculous thoughts came.

I gave up on my attempt to sleep.  I sat up in my bed. “God, I don’t get it.  I’m doing everything right. I know these thoughts are wrong.  I have trusted in you, I have prayed, and I have given you everything. What are YOU doing?  Why are you making me suffer like this?”  I felt like God was asking me, “Do you trust me?”  I had to think about it.  God had been faithful throughout my entire life.  Why would he be unfaithful now, when I needed him the most?  Maybe he had a greater plan than what I had planned.

The next day, a group of us left for the retreat center.  The ride was pleasant, as the people in my car were optimistic.  We appreciated every aspect of the ride there, even when we got lost.  When we arrived, our friends were there to greet us and encourage us.

At the end of the retreat, I was not healed of anxiety.  Instead, God blessed me with joy.  I was so excited to have joy that I forgot about being anxious.  I realized that anxiety was a choice.  Although it feels overwhelming, we can choose not to let anxiety win.  I was waiting for anxiety to just stop; I was waiting for God to heal me.  Instead, God wanted me to fight against anxiety.  Those irrational thoughts did not come to me for the first time that night.  I had established a thought pattern that resulted in anxiety when I was a child.  It took me to my breaking point to fight against those thoughts I believed.

I learned that when I feel overwhelmed, I can choose joy.  At a very appropriate time in my life, my friend’s mom gave me a book that reminded her of me.  It was a devotional by Tommy Newberry, called 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life.  This book has helped me put the rubber to the road and fight anxiety with joy.  Just like anxiety is a choice, joy is a choice.  Newberry writes: “The word emotion is 86% motion.”  Emotions are caused by choosing to think a certain way.  The choice is ours: do we choose to focus on thoughts that give us anxiety, or do we choose to be free in joy?

Sometimes, when I feel a panic attack coming along, I just put on an encouraging song and I start dancing.  By the end of the song, my anxiety looks so insignificant.  When I’m not in a position to dance, I will color, write, or spend time with friends.  Since I recognize that I have a choice over my emotions, I no longer allow myself to think irrational thoughts.

Emotions don’t have to just happen; you can be proactive in your thinking and in your feeling.  Choose to believe what God says about you.  Choose to believe the truth.  Choose joy, and you will overcome anxiety.


Slow Down!

In tenth grade, I could never get a perfect score on my math tests.  I would always be the first student to hand in her test.  Since I knew all the answers, it was easy for me to go through the test quickly.  However, every time my teacher would hand back my tests, they would have at least one question wrong.  My teacher would tell me to look over my test.  I would scan each sheet of paper, looking for that red ink.  The ink would often circle around a mistake that could have easily been avoided.  I would have no problem doing the hard math, like factoring or simplifying the fraction.  The mistake would come when I was one step away from the answer. All I had to do was add 25 and 30 (for example), but I would write down 65 and move to the next question.  I knew how to do math.  I learned addition in kindergarten.  However, because I rushed through the test instead of taking my time and checking my answers, I would make mistakes.

Yesterday, I discovered that I still have not learned how to slow down and check my answers.  I am taking a TEFL certification class so that I can teach English to non-native English speakers.  Since I had off from work, and I am working every other day this week, I decided to get as much done of my weekly assignments as possible.  I clicked through the lessons, taking notes and gaining insight about how to teach English pronunciation.  I finished a week’s worth of notes in two hours.  Since my momentum was going, I decided to take most of my assignments – five multiple-choice quizzes – at that moment.  The program gave me an hour to work on each of the quizzes, but each quiz only took me five minutes to complete.  I felt pretty confident because I had just read the material and I had gotten a perfect score on my first quiz.  I didn’t bother to look over my work. Expecting to get a perfect score on all the quizzes, I was astonished.  I got three answers wrong on each quiz.  If I had taken the time to review the material, or at least to check my answers, maybe I would have done better on my quizzes.

Rushing clouds our judgment and makes it difficult to live to our full potential.  When I have a panic attack, I feel a sudden urge to do anything to calm me down. If I am in a stressful situation, I feel the need to leave as soon as possible.  I have noticed that this robs me of the opportunity to enjoy what I have in front of me.  Sometimes, I feel anxious at work, a job I am very grateful to have.  Because of a huge mistake that I made one time at another job, I often want to rush through helping a customer so that I do not make a big mistake at my new job.

Now that I have realized this, I have tried to become more aware of my rushing.  Before helping a customer, I take a deep breath and consciously remind myself that I am blessed to have a job that I enjoy.  I stop to ask the customer how he or she is doing. We sometimes have conversations, but most of the time my customers simply appreciate the recognition.  I have been told that I have a positive attitude, and that my optimism has a good influence on other people.  By taking the time to slow down and enjoy what I am doing, I am positively affecting the lives of other people as well.

What could you do if you took a break?  If you feel an uncomfortable urgency, take a deep breath, tell yourself to relax, and choose to do something that will help you rather than hurt you.  I have heard it said that strong emotions – both good and bad – can lead to unwise decisions.  You can save yourself a lot of guilt, regret, and anxiety by slowing down and reviewing the situation.  Slow down, and enjoy what you have in front of you.