Since starting this blog, I’ve realized that the devil has a tendency to make me put my money where my mouth is by tempting me with whatever issue I’ve most recently discussed. He didn’t have to work too hard this past week, however, because worry is something I struggle with regularly. After the last post, I have tried to be very aware of slipping back into the “comfort” of worrying, but I’ve noticed that I’ve still not experienced the joy that I know God has in mind for me. And I know why. You see, this coming Tuesday my sweet, not-so-tiny-anymore girl starts Pre-K, and while I’m so excited to see her grow and learn, I am also aware that her tendency toward nervousness and anxiety might get high during this new season of our lives. I know myself, though, and I know that if I allow myself to worry, I’ll be irritable and grumpy come Tuesday morning, so I’ve been praying and asking God to just be with us as we begin this new chapter. I feel like, more than any time before, I’ve kept the worry under control. And apparently, this success isn’t a big favorite of Satan’s because he’s wormed his way in in a different way. I realized as the days passed I was very aware of each day and its nearness to Tuesday. I noticed that I was both clock-watching and calendar-watching, and neither was being done with a cheerful, positive heart and mind. I wasn’t worried, though, so I felt confused. Then it dawned on me–I was being visited by Worry’s equally thieving cousin, Dread. I wasn’t obsessing (per my usual) over possible issues that might arise come Tuesday. I wasn’t thinking and rethinking every single moment of Tuesday to make sure that no small detail slipped through the cracks and ruined our day. I did, however, simply dread the first day, and even the weeks until attending Pre-K no longer felt new. Needless to say, I took that dread straight to Jesus and asked Him to fill me with His peace and His grace so that I could enjoy each day, especially this long weekend, without Dread hanging over my shoulder.
I would love to tell you that this is my first battle with Dread stealing my joy before I ever get the chance to experience it, but it’s not. Like everyone, I’ve had events and moments in life that I have spent the days and minutes leading up to them hanging out with Dread: God-ordained break-ups, college exams, job interviews, surgeries, the pain of childbirth, every. single. dentist appointment, funerals, social events of varying kinds, etc. The kind of dread I experienced at those times were fleeting–once the circumstances were over or once the waiting was over and the event began, other emotions took over and Dread was history. At the risk of sounding absolutely awful and like the worst mother on the planet, I’m going to say this: it wasn’t until I became the mom of an infant that I entered into a daily, intimate relationship with Dread. In our defense, brand new parenthood in the Thomas household wasn’t exactly what many experience. All of those new parent challenges were amped up tenfold. We NEVER slept (we figured it up, and I slept 10 1/2 hours for the first SEVEN DAYS of being a mom!), we NEVER relaxed, and we NEVER knew what to do to help our sleepless, bothered, hurting baby. During this time, when I got up somewhere around ten times every night and got up each morning around 5:00 a.m., I began to dread each day. I loved my sweet baby, but I did NOT love what we were all going through. Because of our own decision to wait and have kids, coupled with a six year infertility struggle, Nathan and I had been married for almost ten years before becoming parents. Ten years is plenty of time to get very comfortable with a particular way of life. It’s plenty of time to get very comfortable being self-serving. When this tiny human came into our lives and changed EVERY SINGLE THING while also presenting very atypical challenges, it was, to say the least, not easy. What was pretty easy was letting Dread camp out in my life. I dreaded the morning because it meant a whole day’s worth of challenges was just getting started. I dreaded each feeding because they always created problems, each one unique and without easy answers. I dreaded nap times because my baby never slept more than a few minutes at a time, and I spent those minutes feverishly trying to clean or shower or eat or do laundry. I dreaded the afternoon because it brought exhaustion–both mine and hers–and it meant dinnertime was nearing and I was going to have to try to get supper on the table while also attending to this baby who I could NOT soothe. I dreaded the night because it was so long and so challenging and so full of wakefulness with zero rest.
One morning around 5:30 am, while out for a walk with my refusing-to-sleep baby, I realized that if I continued to dread each moment of each day, I was going to open my eyes one day and she was going to be grown. I was going to spend so much time with Dread that I was going to miss each precious stage of her life. I remember praying right then, as I pushed that stroller, for God to help me get a handle on dread. He helped me see that if I dreaded teething, eventually it would stop and it would be replaced by something like potty-training. And if I dreaded potty-training, it would be over and I would replace that with whatever new challenge we were facing. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, there will always be something to dread if you let yourself. I’d like to say that suddenly, at that magical, spiritual moment I was touched by God and delivered wholly from my sins of worry and dread, but I’m no liar. I began praying to God when I felt those emotions, asking Him to help me find His peace and loosen this stronghold over my life.
Aside from reading my Bible and focusing special attention to verses discussing God’s peace, I began paying careful attention to my thoughts and my attitudes—something I really wasn’t doing at all. I noticed that what started as dread was morphing quickly into depression. I was feeling sad and discontent and jealous of others who did normal things with their new babies…like sleep. I also noticed how often I revisited the “days of old” in my mind, especially when things were tough. It was with shocking frequency that I longed for how things used to be, before all of these new challenges began. Like I said, I loved my baby. I wanted that sweet girl. But I so badly wanted the sleeplessness, the fussiness, the belly troubles, the doctor visits, the teething, the fill-in-the-blank to stop, that my “refuge” was to spend so much time reliving the life I used to have that I began to literally ache for what my life used to be. It was during this time that God brought my attention to Isaiah 43:18-19: “Do not remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Y’all!!! The salve that was this scripture! Not only did I feel like I was floundering utterly alone in the wilderness, but it was such a VERY dry time that terming it a desert was too oasis-y for what I was feeling. To have God speak directly to me in this way and remind me that no matter what it felt like, I could believe and KNOW that He was right there. To have God speak and tell me that all of what I was going through was His plan and had a purpose was knee-buckling. To be honest, it was at this very moment that I felt my life shifting and felt God moving more than ever before.
Again, I’d love to tell you that I was so anointed by God’s promises that Dread was eradicated from my life, that my spirit never again worried or dreaded the days and challenges before me. I struggled. I struggled big for a lot longer. (Psst, I still struggle) But each time when I thought I was literally at the end of my rope, God would direct me to scriptures like Philippians 3:13: “…but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” It was through little moments like these where I realized I was once again living in a past life, a season that was over, dead and buried. A season I’d never have again. And it wasn’t until I decided that I was going to do what Paul suggested and let go of that past that I began to make progress in my future. Only a few months after I began living in the here and now, trusting God for the future and His decision to move me out of that former life of comfort, things finally began to progress. We learned that our sweet girl had some previously undiagnosed food allergies, she had some food intolerances, but the biggest breakthrough was just before her third birthday when, after a two-night stay at Children’s Hospital, we discovered the FIFTEEN stomach ulcers that were living in her belly. Once that issue was addressed and medicines were put into place, there’s no describing the improvements that continue to arrive and amaze us.
There is no way to include the NUMEROUS ways in which God showed His hand over us during all of these circumstances, especially those few days leading up to our hospital stay and diagnosis. With distance from this painful, scary time, I’ve continued to watch God’s plan play out in our lives. We still face challenges that get to me sometimes (those food allergies are NO JOKE), but I have found that when compared to what many other moms and dads are facing, we have nary a thing to complain about or to dread. The me of three years ago would have slapped myself silly over the audacity to dread something so simple and trivial as the starting of Pre-K. I would have been so happy to have something so minor on my mind. Can you imagine how many parents out there feel the same?
Dread is a thief, and he’s the jerky first cousin of Worry, two feelings I seem to struggle with more than the others. Thankfully, though, I have a God who has enough grace and mercy to walk me carefully through those feelings so that I am filled up with faith and joy and peace. Now, when I feel that dreaded Dread (is that a thing? Can I say that and it make sense? ), instead of reaching for those memories of how things used to be, I reach for my Bible. I reach for scriptures like Luke 9:62, where my Savior speaks directly to me, carefully reminding me that my life is not in the rearview. It is not in the future. It is here, right in this moment, and if I spend my time and energy worry about or dreading the future or aching over the past, I will miss all of the blessings waiting right here in the now. “Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back [to the things behind] is fit for the kingdom of God.“ I don’t know about you, but I certainly want to be fit for the kingdom of God.
Dear Lord, thank you for my life. Thank you for all of the blessings, both big and small, that You put in my every day. I ask that you help me kick dread to the curb so that I can live abundantly as You have planned. Please help me not to let my past hamper my present or my future. Thank you for forgiving me for living in the past and for not trusting You with my future as I should. When I feel overwhelmed, help me to turn to You and Your Word, Lord, so that You can remind me of the ways in which I should go. I love you, and I am so grateful that You have put my past behind me–even the good parts–so that You can do a mighty work in my future. Thank you, Lord, for the challenges I face and the opportunities they present for my growing in You. I trust YOU, and I walk confidently into what You have in store for me. In Jesus’s name–Amen.