I made it! I'm back for the second day of my writing challenge- on time! Woohoo! It helps that it's freezing cold here and I have no motivation to do anything besides sit with my blankets and my laptop, avoiding my responsibilities.
Today I've been tasked with writing about something somebody has told me about myself that I've never forgotten. That opens up some doors to pretty hurtful things. I won't forget the camp counselor who told me I had anxiety because I didn't pray enough. Or the Bible study member who told me that, after talking it over with everyone else in our group, she didn't feel that I was a good enough Christian (and she linked that to my anxiety, too.) I won't forget the time a relative told me I'd have better friends if I dressed differently, or the time another one told me that I should choose a different career path than the one I was interested in at the time, because I "probably wouldn't be that good at it, anyway." But those things aren't really fun to dwell on. Or write about. Since we're at it, though, if you're reading this- your words matter. Some things are hard to forget. And if you think it's ok to gossip in Bible study group, you should spend less time gossiping and more time reading your Bible. But I digress.
There is one thing someone told me once that is positive (shocker!) that I don't think I'll ever forget. It happened a couple of years ago when I was in Tanzania. I had volunteered before the trip to help put together a craft for the VBS day we'd be hosting. I never meant to be put in charge, especially since I didn't have any spare room in my luggage, but I thought my experience helping to plan programs at the library would be helpful. Our theme was butterflies and how coming to know Jesus is a transformative experience. I thought it would be fun to do thumbprint caterpillars and coffee filter butterflies. The samples we put together after dinner one evening were so cute! It was fun seeing adults of all ages inking their thumbs and making these little caterpillars on construction paper, or getting creative with their coffee filter designs. We were doing the VBS day at a project between Singida, where we spent most of the week, and Arusha, where we started and ended the trip. We loaded up our luggage and checked out of the Singida hotel to head out to the project, which was a few hours away from where we had been staying. As we pulled into the muddy road leading to the project, our trip leader turned to ask me if we had remembered to get the luggage containing the craft supplies from the hotel office. No, we had not. Because we (meaning I) didn't know that it was in the office. I thought that our hosts had it and it had already been on the bus! My mind started racing, thinking of something else we could do with the craft and school supplies we were bringing as part of a project gift. Handprint butterflies were easy enough and could be done with crayons and paper. And, miraculously, one of our travelers was a big fan of origami and had brought a bunch of paper "just in case." And he knew how to make butterflies. When we set up the small classroom for our craft area, he taught a few people how to do the butterflies while I explained the handprints. It was chaotic and passed by way too quickly, but everything turned out fine. All the kids had fun- and some of the grandmotherly lunch ladies and project staff sat in and learned some origami, too!
Two mornings later, when we had finished our game drive (aka safari) and made it to our final hotel, I was joined by our trip leader at breakfast. We made small talk and I told him a little bit about my life back home, and he mentioned how glad he was that everything worked out for our VBS day. I was thrilled at this fun example of God's provision for the trip; "provision" was a word I used over and over to describe my journey and the events leading up to it! And then Sean, the leader, said "I was so impressed with how you handled everything! It was a crazy situation and you brought everything together so well. You must be a really calm, cool headed person." And I nearly spit out my hot chocolate. I burst into laughter, which really confused Sean. I thanked him and explained that those words have never, ever been used to describe me in my life. For all my years leading up to that point, everyone has seen me as an anxious, neurotic, overly emotional mess. I told him about my anxiety disorder and what a miracle it was that I was sitting there in that hotel, in Africa, getting ready to meet my sponsor children. I told him about how God had provided (provision! There's that word again) a calm spirit and a joyful heart, and the encouragement of so many family and friends. I bragged on God, sharing how I had fully expected to have a panic attack every day during the trip, and had made all these plans for how to cope with them and pull myself out of them as quickly as I could- but I really only had issues once! And even then, I was more sick than panicky. If I had felt that way back home, I would have had a full blown anxiety attack and probably had to miss work the next day. But everything worked out fine.
The fact that Sean was under the impression that I was a chill person, and shared that with me, still amuses me to this day. And it means a lot to me. It reminds me of God's faithfulness in a situation I never would have been able to dream of, let alone handle, without Him. It reminds me of the things I can do and have done- now when I'm feeling anxious about something, I tell myself, "girl, you have been to Africa, you can drive two exits down on the freeway. Seriously." And it reminds me of how far I've come! My anxiety isn't "cured"- the structure of my brain is not such that I will ever just "get over" this condition. But I cope with it so well now. It's not perfect, but it works for me. I lean less heavily on others when I'm experiencing anxiety, and I've learned several tricks for helping me cope with an attack- or warding one off completely. My life looks so much different than it did just a few years ago because I have learned to remind my brain that I'm in charge, and I'm not letting it ruin my fun. And for that, I am so grateful!