Every week, I attend a women’s bible study at our church with my mom, and the family friend who gave us the bird clock. Right now, we are studying the book of Matthew, and in the last bible study before Thanksgiving, we studied Chapter 6 which includes countless truths about life, but the speaker for our large group lecture that day focused most on verses 25 through 27. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” The speaker that day talked about when she was doing mission work in Africa, and there was one day that involved a long hike through remote areas, and she was not able to bring food along, which really required her to completely trust God. But a few hours into the hike when everyone was getting hungry and it looked to her as if there was no food, their guide said, “Hey look! Nettles!” They all proceeded to pick some nettles, and their guide showed them how to boil them and they were all satisfied. Later, just when it was time to eat again, their guide spotted another kind of edible plant that they harvested and again were satisfied. I sensed God speaking to me when I heard this story, as when I am away from home and have to depend on others for everything, including food, I cannot help but worry. It was as if God was telling me, “See, if I can provide for people hiking through remote parts of Africa, why do you worry so much about vacations with your family in the United States?” That day, I told myself I was going to trust God on vacations and not worry anymore, but to be honest, I was hoping I wouldn’t be put to the test, and was looking forward to the fact that once we made our Christmas visit to Indiana to visit relatives, there were no more vacations on the horizon.
Then, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my sister announced that her husband was able to get tickets for the whole family to come to New York and see Hamilton in early spring. My parents were giddy with excitement, but my heart sank. I was now in a quandary. I really wanted to see Hamilton, especially after seeing In the Heights at a local theatre in October, which was also written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I wasn’t sure I would like this hip-hop style for a musical, but I loved it! The problem was, seeing Hamilton meant a trip was now on the horizon, and as long as we were in New York, my parents would want to do a lot of other things besides seeing Hamilton. The months and months of mental peace I was looking forward to—I was hoping to put off overnight travel until at least Labor Day—were now shattered.
For the next month whenever I had idle time, my mind vacillated between going or telling my parents I really didn’t want to go. If all three of my other siblings were going, I should go, as it is so incredibly rare that we are all able to be together, and there is something special about seeing musicals in New York City, where the theatres are smaller, and the best of the best actors perform. But one brother hadn’t committed to going, and eventually, Hamilton would come to Milwaukee. It wouldn’t be the same as seeing it in New York City, but it would be good enough, and worth the avoided worry, and frustration of being on-leash for a whole weekend. My parents probably wouldn’t want to take me if they had already seen it in New York, but I knew a couple of my co-workers, and several friends in choir who enjoy theater too, so I could probably get someone to go with me when the time came. On the morning of December 23, when the one brother still hadn’t booked his flight, I decided that I would wait and see Hamilton in Milwaukee, but my parents would have nothing of it, saying I was being ridiculous, which maybe I was, but I felt like they didn’t understand how much I hate travel since they love it! So to make a long story short, my dad booked our flight that morning, and to his credit, he tried to assuage my worries by saying he had already done pretty much everything he wanted to do in New York City on past trips, and just enjoyed the vibe of being in Manhattan, so he would take care of me, making sure I had everything I needed, and he was convinced I would have a good time. Mom tried to make me feel better by reminding me of past trips where I had a great time, especially the trip to Carnegie Hall with the Milwaukee Children’s Choir in high school. I did have a wonderful time on that trip, but at that time, I had little regard for my health, had not yet been diagnosed with Celiac Disease which now makes every meal out a gamble, and just didn’t have the desire for independence that I have as an adult. If I did experience any travel anxiety, it was superceded by the joy of getting excused from three days of Math class. Before I could open my mouth to make these arguments, she said to quit thinking about it. The trip was months away, but that day, we were about to celebrate Christmas, so she tried to re-direct my thoughts to Christmas. I know she meant well, but telling me not to think about something only makes me think about it more, and get more frustrated.
I worry about being out of my routine. I have been told I am too set in my ways, but you know what? I have figured out what makes me feel good, and when I am not set in them, I often don’t feel well. I feel best when I get a good night’s sleep uninterrupted by snoring or rowdy hotel guests, and eat breakfast as soon as I wake up, which is around 7:00, not an hour or more later as we shower, get dressed and walk down to the hotel breakfast area or meet someone at his/her house or another restaurant. Lunch should be eaten between noon and 12:30, 1:00 at the latest, not 3:00 or later because people are slow to get going in the morning and we are just arriving at a museum or park when it is lunch time. Dinner should be eaten around 5:30 or 6:00, not 9:00 or later because we had such a late lunch. When this schedule is followed, I feel great. When it is not, I feel myself getting cranky and sometimes will even feel a headache coming on, especially now that I have committed to a healthier lifestyle and eat a smaller breakfast than I used to. It is even more crucial that this routine is followed on trips, as you have to allow for the possibility of the waiter who is not knowledgable about Celiac Disease or the restaurant’s gluten free options, or the waiter that requires a little more patience because English is not his first language. If I did not get a good night’s sleep, or we are eating lunch at 3:00, I have absolutely no patience for these curveballs, and that’s when meltdowns happen.
By meltdown, I mean bursting into tears in public over the smallest things. For example, in 2014, my parents and I flew to New York to visit my sister and see Book of Mormon. We flew out on a Thursday and returned on a Sunday, the same schedule as this upcoming trip. I hadn’t slept well at all that weekend due to snoring, and the fact that our hotel was in a noisy part of the city. I was especially tired Saturday night after doing a full day of museums, and on top of that I pulled a muscle in my right leg when I panicked and stepped onto a subway train wrong. But that night, the snoring was especially loud and I could not sleep at all. But on Sunday, another long day of museums lay ahead before our evening flight home and Paralegal classes early Monday morning. So sore and exhausted as if I never went to bed, I got up, dragged myself to the hotel shower where I knocked the bottle of soap off the stupid, tiny slippery shower ledge right onto my toe. Maybe my mood could have been salvaged if breakfast at the restaurant where we agreed to meet my sister was fabulous. English was not the waiter’s first language, but we figured out the omlet would be a safe gluten free option. But the omlet was gross to me, and when I asked about potatoes which are always delicious, the waiter wasn’t sure if they were gluten free. That’s when I lost it. My sister, in an effort to put things into perspective told me, “you got to have a baked potato at Potato-topia yesterday.” I know she didn’t mean to upset me, but it was seriously all I could do not to lunge across the table and smack her silly. Instead, I burst into tears. That meal at Potato-Topia was delicious, but that was yesterday, and this is now. I was exhausted, sore, dreading what would be my fourth day on-leash, and even though I was acting like a three-year-old, didn’t appreciate being consoled as if I were one. I ended up choking a couple more bites of that omlet down, and was sulky the whole time we were in Top of the Rock, a really boring place for blind people, and not what I needed after getting no sleep and a gross breakfast. My mood lifted slightly when we went back to my sister’s house for the afternoon and I had a tasty gluten-free pizza from Amy’s Kitchen for lunch, but at that point, I was so done with that trip that my mood wasn’t fully restored until we were home, and even then I cried in bed that night hating the person I become when on-leash so long and out of my routine. To be fair, we get better with every trip. As I said in the last post, my parents now make sure that I always have a hotel room free of snoring people, and we have gotten better about bringing some of our own food and researching gluten free restaurants. When we are traveling with other people, Dad will even try to get after them so that we are not eating meals at ridiculous times. These reforms have made being on-leash a little more tolerable, and I haven’t had a meltdown in awhile. Even so, the potential for this to happen worries me to the point that I still don’t look forward to traveling. I am especially worried about an involuntary meltdown this trip because of my renewed commitment to my health. In terms of exercise, I have nothing to worry about. If I go to the museums, even if I am bored to tears, I can at least console myself knowing that I am burning more calories walking around New York City than I would have burned had I stayed home and just walked half an hour on the treadmill. But all these calories burned will mean nothing if we don’t eat lunch until 4:00, and I am just so hungry that I over-indulge, which is so easy to do at restaurants. And food is like alcohol. If you over-indulge once, you will start craving junk food again, and thus in one weekend, all that I have achieved in what will be four months of commitment will be shot, which is a good segue into my most weird and maybe even irrational worry.
Right now, except for this travel anxiety, my life is literally perfect. My family and I are all healthy. I work three days a week at a job where my co-workers are also my friends, and the rest of the time, I spend on pleasures like writing, cooking soup in the Crock-pot, singing in choir and playing Scrabble. On Sunday, I go to a dynamic church that inspires me every week, and then on Monday, another perfect week begins. I know that I am blessed, and it is almost shameful that I am so fixated on travel anxiety when people in my own community have to worry about how they will put food on the table, or whether a loved one struggling with addiction will live to see another day. But everyone’s life journey is unique, and as Pastor Rick Warren teaches in the Purpose-Driven Life, which I read in high school, we are not meant to be completely content in this life. I am blessed not to have “real problems” but I suppose my travel anxiety is my inevitable struggle that keeps me from total contentment with this life. So I try not to beat myself up about having this anxiety. But the truth is, for some reason when I travel, I have anxiety that this trip will ruin the perfect life I have. This ruin could come from something as simple as over-indulging at restaurants all weekend so that I am addicted to junk food when I get home and have to start all over on my health journey, which means going through withdrawal headaches again, and sitting at my desk at work barely able to concentrate because I am so hungry. This ruin could come from a delayed flight, so that I am exhausted at work the next day and make a big mistake, or we could be stranded at the airport on Monday morning so that I have to call work and apologize. My co-workers would have to re-schedule my appeals or add the appeals to their workload, so I would lose some of the goodwill I have earned which could expedite my being fired if I need time off for something really important someday. And if I got fired, would I ever find another job that allowed me to work such a peaceful schedule and live such a contented life? Or what if, God forbid, I was maimed in a mass shooting, terrorist attack or accident on the trip. I never thought about this until the Boston Marathon bombing, but after hearing that some of these victims were on vacation, it occurred to me that this could happen to anyone. Of course, I could be maimed in a terrible accident or shooting tomorrow right here in Milwaukee. Granny was going to an event in her own community when she was in her terrible accident. But for some reason, I only think about it when anticipating being on vacation.
But I sense God’s presence in trying to help me work through this anxiety. How so? You ask. Well, of course I was in a tizzy on December 23 once the flight was booked and I was committed to going on the trip, and I had forgotten all about the bible study’s lesson on trusting God. On Christmas Eve, I started writing my blog about the inability to serve two masters when it comes to my health to try and take my mind off the trip, when for some reason, after quoting the verse I wanted for that post, something compelled me to read a little further. And guess what comes after the verses on serving two masters? The verses discussed in that bible study! I was still in a little bit of a tizzy when I came downstairs to hang out with my family, but seeing that verse again planted the first seeds of recognizing that not only would Dad take care of me. So would God. Then a little over two weeks later on January 10, I had forgotten these verses again, and found myself lying awake in bed at 5:00 in the morning, my mind racing about the trip. I recently started listening to Family Radio in my bedroom which is a Christian station that has programs that feature bible teaching, and beautiful choir music that relaxes me. That morning after breakfast, my mind was still racing a little bit about the trip when I went to my room to do some writing, and shortly after turning the radio on, guess what verses they decided to do a devotion on that morning. Matthew Chapter 6, verses 25 through 27!
I think I got the message God! I am really trying to overcome this. Like I said, I am not to the point where I can say I look forward to traveling, but now when I find my mind wandering toward travel anxiety, I recite these verses to myself on my own and my anxiety lessens a little. Of course, God’s idea of taking care of me could be different than what I would want. I could have a meltdown, although I will pray that I can stay calm and keep things in proper perspective. Ironically, in the sermon last Sunday, the pastor talked about how God gives us challenging situations to test how real our faith in Him really is, so instead of fleeing from these challenges as David wanted to do when he wrote Psalm 11, and as I wanted to do in a way by staying home, we should embrace them and let God shape and grow us through them. I could be stranded at the airport Monday morning when I am supposed to be back at work. My boss is fair and kind to me, and Mom pointed out that if we are stranded at the airport, it shouldn’t put my job in jeopardy because of the excellent reputation I have earned. But even if I am fired because of this trip, that could be God’s way of opening the door to something even better. If I am maimed in a terrorist attack or accident of some kind, I would be devastated for a time of course. But just like with Celiac Disease and blindness, or even my past school and job challenges, I would eventually realize that God allowed it to happen for a reason, and that my life would eventually be richer for it.