The entire kitchen island was turned into a masterpiece that any five year-old would love. My daughter recently attended a back-to-school carnival and was inspired to recreate it using markers, cups, glasses, glue, several pairs of shoes, pens, fidget spinners, loose change, stuffed toys, scissors, drawings, water bottles, marbles, and her latest craft project (bracelets).
Upon completion of her project, she walked me through the imaginary parking areas, the school, the various rides and attractions, and ticket booths. She then explained my role in this pretend play: to announce the opening of the carnival and stand by the “ticket booth,” handing out pretend tickets to the pretend guests. My daughter spent so much time building her little village that we left it up for the entire weekend (it was a great excuse to get out of cooking).
Eventually, Sunday night brought the bad news that the carnival must all be put away and the counter cleaned and returned to its intended purpose: the dumping ground for all things related to work, school, and eating.
For the carnival, my daughter’s imagination served her well. But, there are times when her imagination does not serve her well. Nighttime terrors lead to anxiety and tears. Panic when entering a new classroom leads to crying scenes that rival Steel Magnolias.
My mind once had the same problem, and I couldn’t fix it.
For a period of six years, I lived under constant stress and fear. Relationships that I expected to be full of love and kindness were platforms for hurt and rejection. The last three years were so intense that I can’t recall one day where I was not scared of losing everything.
My situation was not imagined. It was very real. To try having some control, my brain would work overtime to predict the next line of attack. When the attack did come, it was not always at the angle I predicted. My constant state of “fight or flight” was the physical/mental attempt to keep me from succumbing to my environment. My “normal” was a state of constant mental assault, starting real and then becoming imaginary.
When that terrible normal was resolved, a new normal set in: depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety attacks. I was still constantly looking over my shoulder, but finding nothing there. Having forgotten how to live without the ever-present fight or flight approach to life, my mind and body were turning against me. I was at the point of mental and emotional brokenness.
The real carnival may have been torn down, but the carnival that had been built in my mind was still there.
Imaginations are a tricky thing. As little girls, we imagine beautiful weddings and holding sweet babies. We wonder about the people we will meet, the places we will go, and our place in the community. When we grow up, reality sometimes looks like our dreams, and sometimes it does not.
How do you handle reality when it is the worst scenario you could imagine?
Hit the pause button. You can’t hit the pause button on laundry, bills, and holidays, but you can gently put into place some parameters that allow you to find rest. Don’t worry about taking on big life changes or projects. I learned some very powerful lessons about myself, my thoughts, and my values. They were lessons I needed to learn during that season of my life. I learned what it means to truly love people who don’t and can’t love you. I learned acceptance and how to display kindness in response to cruelty. I learned what it is I truly value and how to finally understand the things I do have control over (a lot less than I thought).
Find a tribe. The tribe may only have one other member, but find someone who holds space in their heart for you even when you are hurt, angry, and afraid. While you may hide your crazy from the rest of the world, this person sees it, and doesn’t get tired of it. Even if you cannot find such a person, find a group of women who are the same as you on some level. Spend time with them to remind yourself that you are not your circumstances and that this season, like all of life’s seasons, will pass.
Renew your mind. That groove that has been worn into the bedrock of your stream of thought needs a new direction, and you can’t shortchange the process. It will not happen overnight or in a straight line. To renew my mind, I read tons of books, spoke with qualified counselors, and embraced two important spiritual principals.
First, I embraced prayer. Pleading prayers. Desperate prayers. Repentant prayers. My pleadings and tears were recorded in a journal so that I would know years later how and when my prayers were answered. I want to remember the darkest nights of my soul so that I can also remember the victories on the other side of them.
To the prayers the came from my heart, I added the prayers that came from the hearts of others. I prayed the words of the king who said, “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” (Psalm 62:1). I meditated (spent quiet time thinking about) the words “being rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17-21) and what that meant for me. Which leads to my second point.
I embraced the memorization of Scripture. It helps to know that there are others who not only felt your same pain, but experienced divine deliverance. What promises did they cling to? When and how did their redemption appear?
Perhaps Bible memorization sounds boring, or even scary. But there are different translations that make it easy to find one you can read with ease. Although it sounds strange, don’t start at the beginning. Find portions that share the stories of Jesus. Read writings of the Apostle Paul. Read the book called Psalms. Underline the words that apply to your life. Write down sentences that give you hope and repeat them over and over.
Eventually, beautiful phrases and stories that talk about protection, love, provision, and healing will forge a new direction for that train of thought looping through your mind.
Sweet girl, may you know the deep, abiding, and overwhelming love that fills your soul with hope and your mind with peace. I found it in learning about and embracing Jesus and know that he wants the same for you.