The road winds organically through the land with gentle curves around geological formations and no cross-traffic to speak of—just two lonely lanes, one traveling each way. Lush green is the dominant color in every direction except the silver of the road and intermittent glimpses of the sky. Stalwart trees spread their branches overhead, casting pleasant shadows on the road, with splashes of sunlight whenever there is a break in the clouds. I’m not driving, and find myself mesmerized by the moss on the trees, the tender undergrowth on the forest floor, and the gripping beauty of our morning mountain journey. It’s vibrant with life—both inside and outside our 12-passenger van. We round the curves, my husband holds my hand, and we try to tune out the sounds of our seven energetic children in the seats behind us. Despite the chaos, I am able to breathe out some of the stress I’ve been carrying around for months—even if only for the moment—while the forest beauty whizzes by.
I want to flourish like this magical mountain escape of a thousand shades of green.
The past year has been one for the books, as they say—a few beautiful highs, and more than a few burdensome lows. I feel a bit like a soccer ball being kicked around a field—disoriented, bruised, longing for this game to end so I can find my bearings and gather up all the parts of me that have been busted up and rearranged into a person I barely recognize. My husband, patient and tender, has gotten a crash course in keeping our household on the rails on the days I haven’t been able to rise to it. Through months of layered health challenges, the arrival of a new baby, and a shifty postpartum recovery season, he has been a critical stabilizing force while I have quite literally crumbled into a heap. ‘In sickness and in health’ has taken on new meaning for us both.
Looking out over the lush green mountainside, I pine for a new season of strength—a fast-forward through these struggles and reassurance that all this hardship will at some point produce a harvest. I hold on to the hope that brokenness is preparing the soil of my heart for seeds of righteousness to find their roots deep in my life, springing forth into a legacy that will last beyond my years here on earth. I hope for my labor to not be in vain.
“Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground for it is time to seek the Lord that He may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12).
By the faint glow of the bathroom light down the hall, I can see the shadowed outline of piled laundry to the side of my bed. Even more disconcerting, I sense shadows closing in on my soul, shooting pangs of anxiety throughout my body. I’ve had anxious thoughts all my life—ones that hang around in the back of my mind to fuel my worst-case-scenario imagination. However, the anxiety I have been experiencing lately is far beyond angsty thoughts. It is a heightened, hyper-sensitive physiological sensation that comes on without warning, and once arrived, knocks my legs out from under me.
I can never put my finger on just exactly what is wrong, but anxiety thumps through my chest and fatalist thoughts take over my mind. Do I need to go to the ER? Are my kidneys failing? Do I have a blood clot? Am I going to die? What will happen to my children? I race through all the possible things that could be gravely wrong, gulp in desperate breaths, frantically searching for a quick way out of the terror I feel.
My brain, facing this onslaught with some resistance, attempts to talk sensibly to the rest of me. You’re fine. You’re not dying. You don’t need to go to the ER. But my body doesn’t listen, and it’s all-hands-on-deck panic time.
To regain homeostasis, I try breathing deeply and slowly the way I’ve been taught. I try changing the flow of my thoughts. I land on the Bible verses I’ve committed to memory.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
A future. Hope for something beyond this gut-wrenching, chaotic anxiety that has been ruling my life in recent weeks.
“Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:1-3, ESV Paraphrased/Shortened).
This image of a leaf that does not wither profoundly comforts me, probably because in the midst of an anxiety attack, I have felt just like that—a fragile, withering leaf at the mercy of torrential winds.
I have always been able to trust my body, more or less—many uncomplicated pregnancies and cherished children later, I assumed I’d be afforded at least 10-15 years before I really had to worry about any health issues of consequence. That is, until our surprise baby number seven set off a chain of events, plunging me into the hardest and most humbling year of my life. Now a full year into this monumental struggle, even my mind feels a little untrustworthy at times.
I had never experienced this level of anxiety until a few months ago. Honestly, I had really only ever thought of anxiety as an issue of one’s thoughts, having no direct experience with trauma or significant anxiety before. I have always been able to put my nervous thoughts in check, but something about this sideways year of complicated health issues has brought about this troublesome experience. I have a new, profound compassion for those who struggle with conditions beyond my understanding. It’s certainly been humbling to try and explain these developments to people who have no frame of reference for the kind of fear I’ve been feeling. I’ve sought out help in several directions. Primary care doctor. Counselor. Pastor. My local community. I’ve searched high and low for a discernible reason or a quick fix.
I’m like anyone else who prefers to avoid unnecessary pain and struggle. If there is an easy way out of it, sign me up. A pill? A procedure? A straight answer to my most pressing questions? But there hasn’t been an easy way out—only a tumultuous and uncertain journey through.
With my confidence shaken, I realize I have treasured comfort, insulation from pain, and the erroneous belief I would get through these years of motherhood with only a limited amount of garden-variety struggle.
Instead, my perspective has been radically changed. I am convinced no matter what empty platitudes have claimed about “God not giving us more than we can handle,” sometimes He does in fact, give us more than we can handle precisely so we can learn how to let Him handle it, while we cling with every fiber of our being to the truth of His goodness, His faithfulness, His mercy, and plunge our broken selves into His Word.
Repeating the memorized, living words of Scripture steadies my trembling heart and slowly, over several hours, helps me find my way out of my anxiety prison. Grace for today. Strength for today. Truth for today. A manna, of sorts, that must be collected and consumed in the present.
In the shade of a maple tree, I sit with my friend, Michelle, catching her up on all the details of my recent experience with debilitating anxiety. We haven’t seen each other for a few months, so I roll out the long version of the story while our kids play together on the playground. They are close enough to be supervised, but distant enough we have space enough to talk about the gritty stuff without little ears tuning in. I relay my harrowing bouts of overwhelm, and how I struggle to breathe through swells of fear and panic when they come on. I tell her about how my life has gotten very simple out of necessity.
She leans in a little and asks me, “What does simplicity look like right now?”
I tell her I’m on a straight and narrow road that looks like a consistently early bedtime, reduced social media input, canceled commitments, a weekly counseling appointment, and as much time as I can possibly spend with an open bible in my hands. I tell her how I recognize God is with me, even in the terrible moments when anxiety takes over. He whispers His love for me in verse after verse, and reminds me I can do all things—including navigate anxiety—through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13, paraphrase).
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3 ESV
I’m in a battle for peace, for joy, for health. I grieve the ways our family has been forever changed by my health trauma. It has been painful to come face to face with my weakness and drink the cup of total surrender to God and His plans for me. I’ve been weary and discouraged at times, wishing I could ‘pass this cup’ as they say. I’m also deeply grateful for how these struggles have brought me near to Jesus and to the straight and narrow path—the most direct route—to His comfort, His rest, and His deep, abiding peace.
This piece originally appeared in a print issue of Joyful Life Magazine.
Emily Sue Allen is the founder of the Kindred Mom blog and host of the Kindred Mom podcast. She also is an ongoing devotional contributor to Joyful Life Magazine, a member of Hope*Writers, and has contributed writing in a variety of online spaces. Living a deeply nourished life, and helping women find joy in the midst of their motherhood journey are among her greatest passions. She is a contemplative, creative soul who celebrates the beauty of humble things and deeply values the grace and truth of Jesus Christ and the riches found in the word of God. She lives with her husband and seven kids in the Pacific Northwest, and blogs at emilysueallen.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, “Notes on Nourishing,” for personal stories about intentionally nourishing your spirit, mind, and body. Find Kindred Mom on Instagram (@kindred_mom) and Facebook, and say hello to Emily personally on Instagram (@emily_sue_allen).