How Letting Go of Worry Made Me Courageous, and a Survivor

I come from a line of strong women, who faced courageous battles like single parenthood, and cancer. But the biggest battle I’d ever seen fought by a woman in our family, was the one my grandma fought nearly every day of her life.

Grandma was struck with polio at the age of eleven. Even though she never had use of her legs, she managed to have a great life. She celebrated childhood (from what I’ve been told), married, raised five children, and helped raise me.

Grandma was strength and courage, resilience and grace. She could bake, cook, pull herself across a floor, and even swim the length of a pool. Her physical abilities never ceased to amaze me. But what amazed me more than her powerful arms was her ability to stay courageous in the face of danger.

One summer day, my dad took our family on a drive. We stopped at a park, and as I played on the swings, my grandma sat in the front seat of the car, door open wide, legs dangling in the sun.

A large German shepherd bounded across the grass, headed straight towards Grandma. It was too late for her to lift her legs and pull the door closed. The German shepherd was upon her, grabbing her flesh between his teeth.

I remember Grandma’s face right before that bite, how surprised she looked. Surprised, but never scared.

Grandma’s courage showed up again a few years later. While my mom and dad were out for the night, wild winds blew through our small town. Hail pounded on the roof. The sky turned green.

I clung to Grandma’s fleshy arm as she held my little brother in her lap. I began to sob. “I’m scared,” I said.

“There’s nothing to worry about. This, too, will pass.” Grandma said in a calm, even tone.

The storm increased in intensity. Winds blew harder. Branches snapped. The lights went out. Grandma picked up a pillow and handed it to me.

“Take your brother to the basement,” she said.

I knew Grandma couldn’t go with us. Her legs couldn’t carry her, and I couldn’t help. But I also knew I could never leave her alone.

I looked into her deep, dark eyes, the ones that matched my own. She was brave and strong, nothing like me. But she was everything I wanted to be. I stood up tall, and for the first time, I defied her. “I’m staying with you,” I said.

She smiled, and pulled me close. I stood next to the wheelchair, arms wrapped around her neck, my brother’s head close to her chest. She sang and told stories as the storm whipped around us. The storm damaged a lot that night, but inside, we were safe, secure, in the arms of a grandma.

Grandma passed many years ago. I was with her as she took her last breath. As her eyes closed for the very last time, they met mine, and inside, I swear she held a secret.

I’d always wondered about her secret, how she stayed so strong, how she always seemed brave, and wondered why I couldn’t be the same way. I’d never asked her, and she never told me. I think it was one of those life lessons she wanted me to learn. One day I would.

Over the years, I faced many battles. Threatened with cancer, and been the victim of a brain injury. Because of my grandma, I am here. Because of her secrets.

I looked for those secrets for a long time, tried to find strength and courage, but it wasn’t until I had a brain injury that it began to make sense.

The injury caused me to worry, more than I ever had. I used to worry about others, but after the accident, I worried about me. I worried about never getting better, and getting better but not being the same. I worried about being reinjured, about my brain failing, and pains that never went away. I worried about every little scratch and ding on my body.

One day, in the throes of worry, I realized something. Worrying wasn’t making me better. In fact, it seemed to be making me worse. Over time, I began to let go of worry.

A funny thing happened as worry went away. I became stronger. And when I got stronger, confidence arrived. With confidence came less fear, and with less fear, I found courage.

And then I got it.

Courage wasn’t about fear. Courage was about not worrying. Courage was faith. And faith was something Grandma always had.

I guess Grandma had to learn a lot about faith when she was little, when a disease removed the use of her legs. She learned to trust others when she was carried from a burning building, and learned to have faith when wheeled across a busy street. Because she had faith, she didn’t worry, and because she didn’t worry, she was strong and courageous.

Worry was pointless. It was better to be brave.

Because of my grandma, I am here today. No longer a victim, only a survivor. I have let go of worry, and I can tell you, it has truly let go of me.

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Simple Steps to Handle Stress

Have you ever had a time in your life where you’d like to run away and hide in a tiny little cabin in the middle of the woods? Just to escape life, if only for a moment. I am having one of those times right now.

It seems life has handed me a series of events, some unfortunate, and some good (but still stressful). And while I used to thrive on stress, I don’t handle it very well now. My injury changed all that. Instead of taking life as it comes, it seems now that each new event requires a processing time. When I don’t get that, I kind of fall apart.

That’s what has happened lately. In one brief sweep, my husband and I have experienced: job changes, family arriving and leaving (in close succession), trips, changes in extended family and their lives, and health issues. To top it off, we have discussed the possibility of moving, doing home improvements, and a big vacation next year. I know, almost every stress imaginable, enough to send anyone over the edge.

All I can say is, right now, I’m thankful I don’t have a lot of stuff to take care of. I’m thankful for all the things I threw away and gave to the thrift store, for keeping life easy and clean. I’m thankful I haven’t accrued more than I need.

Still, even in my simple life, I have stress. And by last week, I’d had enough. I needed to find ways to let go. I began a series of stress-relieving exercises: working-out longer and harder, practicing daily yoga (I’ve done yoga for a long time, but mostly in moments of desperation, or at the most twice a week). I baked, drew, took naps (of which I failed miserably, not because I wasn’t tired, but because I have always felt guilty sleeping in the middle of the day), made extra protein smoothies, and began taking fish oil supplements.

In some ways, I felt a little better. I think it was the psychological aspect of knowing I was taking some control over my life. But the fact is, those stressors still remained.

I knew it was time for some soul-searching. I pulled out my trusty little journal, wrote down each stressor, how it affected me, and why. And I came to a realization. Most of the stressors in my life were my own fault. What a horrible confession to have to make.

Sure, there were things that couldn’t be helped, like my husband’s job. He had been in an unstable company with the threat of lay-offs. He needed a change. His new company has been around a long time, and was exactly what he was looking for.

The trips weren’t totally optional, at least not one. One was a business trip that we both attended. The other was a trip to the ocean with family, planned many months ago, and worth every bit of time and energy.

But there were stresses in my life I had control over, like family visitations. As much as I love family visits, next year I won’t let them get scheduled so close together.

And home improvements – painting, putting up hooks and blinds – those can wait. They aren’t even close to being important in my life. Moving doesn’t need to be discussed – it’s a plan for the future. Even next year’s vacation, as exciting as it might be, can wait.

When it comes to extended family, I have a bad habit of worrying about them. I guess if I don’t worry, I feel calloused. But here’s the thing, it’s their decisions, their lives. None of it affects me. I need to remember that.

Yup, all those things I had control over, and I let it affect me. But health, that’s one area that can’t usually be controlled. It’s been a rough few months, especially the last couple weeks. But the good things is, when I have less to think about, and less to do, I have the time and energy to take care of me.

Stress happens. Life happens. It always will. Here are a few things you can do to help you through a stressful time:

1. Be prepared by always taking care of yourself. Exercise, pray, meditate, drink water daily, and get plenty of rest.

2. Do something often, just for you. Whatever relaxes you and keeps you calm. Yoga, a walk in the woods, painting, reading.

3. Keep your life simple. A simple schedule. A simple home. A simple wardrobe. Simple cooking and cleaning. With less to care for, stress is easier to handle.

4. Know what’s important, and what’s not. Let go of the things that aren’t.

5. Write about it. Write about every little stress – dirty clothing on the floor, a house that needs cleaning, the illness of a close friend. Pick that one that matters.

Most of all, remember how important you are. Keep stress levels down by taking care of you.

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The Story of a Worrier

It was two in the morning. Hints of moonlight streamed across the darkened walls. An air purifier hummed in the corner of the room. The night was silent, and if it hadn’t been for the thunderous roar in the pit of my stomach, I would have been asleep.

I can usually sleep through anything, sirens, fireworks, or the clap of thunder. But a hungry stomach, apparently that wakes me up.

I lay in bed that early morning and argued with myself. On one hand, I was starving, and figured I should eat something to settle my angry stomach. On the other hand, if I got up, I knew I’d be tempted to stay up, to wash dirty dishes, sort through mail, and clean the bathroom I hadn’t gotten to the day before.

I took a deep breath and tried to relax. And as I did, I thought back to the days when my children were little, and waking at 2:00 a.m. was normal for me.

***** *****
Story time:
The young mom stared at the ceiling, cast in a light glow from the street lamp just outside her bedroom window. She placed her hands in the air, imitating the shadow puppets she’d created earlier in the evening for her two boys.

She looked at her husband lying next to her. She envied him, how quickly he fell asleep, how quietly he lay in one position for hours. She glanced at the clock. 2:15 – the same time it was last night, and every night before that.

Her mind began to wander. Even though she had stayed up late, she still had many tasks to do: plates teetered in a pile in the sink; marks from soccer shoes were smudged across her kitchen floor; her son’s pants sat in a basket, waiting to be hemmed, and if she didn’t do it soon, he’d outgrow them before he had a chance to wear them, just like the pair before, and the ones before that.

Special outfits were needed for school this week, red for Monday, green for Tuesday, and a hat for Wednesday. She wondered where the cowboy hat was, the one he had wanted while on vacation a long time ago.

She remembered the cookies needed for a party later in the week, and how she’d have to make one more trip to the grocery store.

Her mind was reeling now, hundreds of thoughts all melded into one. She jumped out of bed, shivering as her feet hit the cool slabs of the wooden floor. As she snuck out of the bedroom, she wrapped her thick robe around her shoulders, closing the door softly behind her.

In the kitchen, she flipped on the light, squinting as her eyes adjusted. It was eerie being up this late, or rather, this early. No pitter-patter of little feet, no cries, no shouts, no laughter. Not even a bird. She hit the button on the coffee maker, inhaling deeply as the first drips of black water hit the pot.

Grabbing a pen, she began a list for the new day. By the time her family slid out of bed, the young mom was showered, dressed, with breakfast waiting on the table. Fresh chocolate chip cookies sat on a plate, and the fixings for dinner were in a bowl in the fridge.

The young mom was happy she had accomplished so much, and though she smiled at her family, she was tired. She wished she could sleep a whole night, could wake up refreshed and renewed, but the truth was, she didn’t know how.

Worrying had become an addiction, a nightly habit she didn’t know how to let go of. Worrying stuck with her through each stage of her children’s lives, as pre-teens and teens, as young adult men who were gone and married. She didn’t know life without worry.

It wasn’t until her accident that worrying took a new face. It seemed her body only wanted sleep, and the only worrying and thinking she could do would be for herself. She needed to heal, and in order to do that, she had to let go of the one thing she’d relied on most of her life – worry.

***** *****

The Bible tells us not to worry, and all those times I read it, I didn’t understand. I thought worrying meant I cared, but the truth is, it meant I wanted control.

I think worrying has many aspects, and there are many reasons God tells us not to worry. He wants us to trust in Him. He knows what worry can do to our bodies, and how it infests our minds.

Worrying harms our health, giving us high blood pressure, making us gain weight. Worrying makes us tired, unhappy, dissatisfied with life. Worrying takes time and energy. And if we are giving our time and energy to worry, how can we give it to anything else?

I’m not much of a worrier anymore, and rarely wake up in the middle of the night. For both of those things, I am thankful. But maybe I wouldn’t be if I had never been a worrier. Maybe I needed to learn a few lessons. Like: Worrying isn’t worth my time. And: Worrying steals life.

I have learned to let go of worry, and hang on to life.

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