The Gift of Anxiety

January 31, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I told you last time that I’m on a journey about weight loss.  Apparently this journey about a WHOLE lot more than calories and exercise.  In the phenomenal book, “If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Lose Weight?” by Brooke Castillo, one of the things you learn is how anxiety is not about anxiety.

Let me say that again:  Anxiety is not about anxiety.

Castillo says that anxiety is a mask for what’s really going on, and what’s really going on is that there are feelings coming up that you don’t want to feel.  Since you don’t want to feel them, you get anxious which often (if you don’t know better, which I didn’t) leads to a Distraction Technique.

Interestingly, I have found this pattern to be very true in my books with my characters.  I began to see a pattern of what is their Go-To Distraction to keep from feeling what they are feeling. With one it was drugs until he ran his life into a ditch and figured out that didn’t work.  For another it was isolation–cutting himself off from the rest of the world.  For another it was money and power–so long as he had those, he didn’t have to feel anything.  For many of the girls, it’s trying to make everyone around them like them at the expense of what they really want in their life.

Some people call these addictions–money, sex, power, overeating, alcohol, work, drugs, smoking–and that is true.  But that doesn’t help a person DEAL with them.  It just gives a label to what’s going on.

Most of the time, society’s answer to these issues is willpower.  Just throw out all of the alcohol.  Stop doing drugs.  Stop smoking.  Don’t eat the candy or the chips or the triple-decker hamburger.

But I’m seeing that all of these are doomed to fail if you’re going on your own power.  Here’s why:  IT’S NOT ABOUT the smoking, the drinking, the drugs, or the food.  It’s about you are not allowing yourself to FEEL the feelings that are coming up.

Here’s the downward progression to doing what you are trying to willpower yourself into not doing:

Something happens and it brings up feelings you do not want to feel or will not give yourself permission to feel.

Instantly, anxiety shows up.  Why?  Because the feeling is powerful, but there is discord in you because you won’t let yourself feel what you are feeling, but that doesn’t make the feeling go away.  In fact, most of the time, ignoring it makes it STRONGER.  It’s going to get your attention one way or the other.  So half of you is trying to tell you something and the other half is going, “La la la la la la la… I’m not listening!”  So the other half starts yelling LOUDER!

Now if you’ve ever been in a room with two children doing this, you KNOW how out of control the situation gets in a flat hurry.  Same with inside of you.  That’s why you feel the anxiety!

So what is our response to the anxiety?

Medicate it.  Drown it in alcohol or drugs.  Go out and have a good time, party until we can’t pick our heads up off the floor.  Go out and have a smoke.  Yell at someone.  And for some of us, the answer is:  eat something.

So let’s say we go with that last one, and we grab a bag of Doritos.  But we find after a couple that this is not distracting us from the anxiety enough, so we turn on the television, sit on the couch and devour the whole bag mindlessly.   At some point, we hit the bottom of the bag.  We look down and realize what we have just done.  Instantly, we feel extreme guilt and we start beating ourselves up… after all, three days ago we started this healthy diet and we were doing so good, now we’ve gone and blown it.  So there’s only one thing left to do… grab the other bag of Doritos.


Now look how smart our brain is:  it has completely and totally distracted us from that feeling we didn’t want to feel at first.  It’s not even on the radar now.  It’s bury beneath “how stupid could I be for being so weak?!”

Until it tries to come up again, and guess what?  The process starts all over again.

Now maybe your Go-To Distraction isn’t eating.  Maybe it’s smoking, and you’ve tried to quit, and you have for a week or even a month.  Then something happens, something comes up, and you’ve just GOT to find something else to distract you.  So maybe you turn to a cigarette or maybe you turn to your cabinet…

How do you stop this vicious cycle?  You learn to feel what you are feeling to begin with.

Someone does something bad to you, and you feel anger.  Feel the anger.  That doesn’t mean bop the other person on the nose.  Maybe it means screaming into a pillow, or writing it out in a journal, or talking with a friend about what’s going on.  The key is to find a way to allow yourself to feel that anger.

If you don’t, if you stuff it, you will suddenly start feeling anxiety, which will lead you right back to your Go-To Distraction.

So if you have a Go-To Distraction that you are trying to break, learn to let yourself feel what you’re trying not to feel.  In that way the anxiety becomes a gift to let you know, “Here’s a place I need to heal.  Here’s a feeling I need to listen to.”  Then be gentle with yourself and let your truth come to the surface.  The more you do that, the less you will need that Go-To Distraction… and guess, what?  You won’t even need willpower to do it!



January 27, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I heard a preacher the other day talk about the journeys of our life, and that got me thinking.  Life is kind of a weaving together of different journeys.  Each one will teach us valuable lessons if we are willing to learn them.  These lessons can be used to make travel guides for others around us.  We can use them as travel guides for ourselves also–this works, that doesn’t, take this, don’t worry about taking that, this type of road is good, that type of road is bad, this is what you do if you have a flat tire, this is who you call if you run out of gas.

Now, in the strictest practical sense of the word, I am not a traveler.  I don’t like to travel.  Give me my house and my computer, and that’s about all the traveling I need.

But in the metaphysical sense, I am very much a traveler.

I have been on many journeys in my life.  Some were pleasant; others not so much.

At the present time, I’m on several journeys.  I’m on the journey of being a wife and mother and daughter.  I’m on the journey of being a business owner–dealing with payroll and employee issues and how best to navigate a business.  I’m on the journey of being the mom of a dyslexic kid, which for awhile was a little more than a little intimidating but now is getting really exciting because of all the things I’ve been forced to learn.  I’m on the journey of being a writer and all that entails.  I’m on the journey of being a home owner and learning how best to take care of a house.

And I’m just embarking on the journey of learning to really take care of myself.

For me, all the other journeys kind of overtook that last one.  I was so busy being busy that I didn’t have time or make time for me.  I’m learning that wasn’t a very good plan.

This journey of learning to live a healthy lifestyle–instead of wishing for one, trying for two days, and giving up–is exciting and amazing.

It’s funny to read how “simple” weight loss and getting healthy are:  3,500 calories = 1 pound, so shed 500 calories a day and you’ve lost a pound a week.  Man, that sounds SO SIMPLE!

Until you try to put it into practice and realize that on paper that works, in real life… well, it’s a little more complicated than that.


Because let’s say you decide to cut out sodas.  Great.  That’s 180 calories you’re not putting into your body, which means that’s 180 calories you don’t have to try to burn.  BUT it doesn’t mean you’ve shed any weight… after all 0 is not negative, and you’ve got to get negative to lose weight.

Further, there is more to your body than just calories.  There are toxins that have to be dealt with and there are muscle/injury issues that you have to take into consideration.  You have to learn to plan exercise, figure out what you enjoy so you will do it, plan your meals–and realize that servings are MUCH less than you ever knew (a medium bowl of food is about what you should eat for a whole MEAL!  1/2 or a 1/4 is what you should eat for a snack… how many “meals” was I having when I sat down anyway?).

It’s also important to learn that getting all of your joy from your food is not smart.  I was getting about 60% of my joy from eating.  Good grief!  No wonder I couldn’t stick to a “diet” plan very long.  Take away my food, you take away my joy!  So, I’ve had to find other things that bring me joy and replace the food with those.

I’ve had to dig into the WHY of why I was eating because a lot of times it wasn’t because I was hungry.  I’m learning about emotions and how they trigger you to eat–why that happens and how to stop it (and willpower ain’t gonna do it my friend!).

And then there’s the water issue.  Newsflash:  I’m NOT a water drinker.  Never have been.  But all the books talk about drinking water–a LOT of water (to me anyway).  So how to get my water in without feeling like I was going to sink?  Until I read one little nugget tucked away in one little book:  Drink one 8-oz. glass of water every two hours.  So now, it’s ten o’clock, time for water.  That way I don’t have to try to drink a gallon with my meal.  What a concept!

I’m loving this getting-healthy and taking care of myself journey this time.  I’ve got a couple of my best friends who are on the journey with me, and we can talk and swap a-ha moments (for example, did you know that if you get out and walk for 20 minutes around the block, you won’t come back and have lost 20 pounds?  Funny how we think that, and when it doesn’t happen, we give up!).

How many of you are on a journey or six with something in your life right now?  How many of you are learning lessons you never knew were even out there?  Take a look at your journeys today and bless them.  They are here to teach you some very valuable things… if you will pay attention!


January 24, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

One of the things I find most fascinating about living with God is how well everything fits together.  I mean, in short, that God makes sense.  I’m not talking in some metaphysical way that you have to have faith to believe that there are things you can’t see and don’t understand but you have to just have faith that they are.  I’m saying that God makes sense in a very practical, everyday kind of way.  It’s a matter of taking the time and really looking at the things God puts together to see that.

When God says, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open,” understand what He is saying:  You will get what you are looking for.  So if you’re looking for God, you will find Him.  If you’re trying desperately NOT to look for God, guess what?  You’ll be able, based on your experience, to say that you don’t see God.  Why?  Because you don’t.

A couple months ago, I was reading some books about the Bible.  Now if this had been pointed out to me before, I certainly don’t remember it.  But Cana as a land shows up at least 3 times in the Bible, and all are very specific references.  However, they are spaced so far apart that although we might hear “Cana” and think we understand that, if we don’t put them altogether and make the connection, we miss the awesomeness of God.

The first reference to the Land of Canaan is in the story of Abraham.  Abram is directed to take his family to the land of Canaan.  This is the land God promises Abram for following God’s commands.  Abram goes to Canaan, during the journey, he becomes Abraham.  At Canaan, Sarah has Isaac.

Then the story continues that Isaac has Jacob, Jacob (who becomes Israel) has Joseph, and in short order the Israelites become slaves in Egypt.  God intervenes again and sends Moses to free His people.  Reluctantly, Moses does so, and the Israelites wander the desert for 40 years.  Where are they going?  The Promised Land.

What is the name of the Promised Land?

You got it:  Canaan.

THEN skip ahead in the story another 1,000 years, and there’s this young preacher guy who has called some disciples, and they go to a wedding.  At the wedding, this preacher-guy does this miracle by turning water into wine.

Can you guess WHERE Jesus performed this first miracle?

In Cana.

Hmmm…  Funny how those connections have always been there, but somehow I was missing them.  I wonder what other cool connections I’m going to find this year.


January 20, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

So, how many of you can spell camouflage correctly without looking back at it or at the title?  Go ahead.  Try it.

How did you do?

Here’s a weird thing I’ve noticed about my son and dyslexia.  The words that went in when he was struggling and we didn’t know it got all mixed up.  When… What… Who (who is a killer!)… Very…  There…

Those he has a really hard time discerning and spelling, though he’s getting better.  But give him a word like camouflage or Thanksgiving and he’s all over it.  Now, to be fair amphibian tripped him up, but he got vertebrate right.

Teaching through dyslexia for me has been interesting.  He can do it if he’ll slow down and sound things out–or as I now say, “Take it one letter at a time.”  He’s doing lessons out of the Hooked on Phonics books that nearly fried him over the summer:  flock, flap, flog, flat.  Every word is no longer a struggle. He’s reading them the way he should have been reading them 2 years ago.

And reading the stories is, for all practical purposes, simple now.

The funny thing is, I can tell when he’s decoding (using the new skill) and when he falls back on the old memory-and-guessing combo.  Only now, Mom’s wise to that trick, so if he starts that, I swipe the book away, make him stop, and then try it… one letter at a time.

This last week he graduated to second grade books for the Accelerated Reader program!  (He’s in second grade.)  That was a big YEA because it means he’s only about 4-5 months behind.  We started this year well over a year behind in reading.  So, we keep working and praying and walking.

What I have learned through all of this so far is that my children’s experience of life is often so very different from mine.  My son wasn’t trying to be difficult.  He just didn’t see the world–or words–like I did at all.  He needed to be taught to see them and how to decode them–rather than trying to memorize everything.  He can do it.  It’s just a matter of teaching him differently.

So for now we’re climbing back up to where we would have been if dyslexia wasn’t in the picture.  But already I can see a time when this issue no longer holds him back.  I can see a time when reading and even spelling are not chains around his neck pulling him down.

In fact, over Christmas one of his games with his sister was treasure hunt.  He would write clues and hide them around for her to find, and then she would write him clues.  Not once did he come to ask how to spell something.  Now many of the notes were a mish-mash of misspellings, but he’s now sounding words out to spell them for himself instead of running to me to do it for him.  That’s a step in the right direction.

Kind of on-par with spelling camouflage without flinching.


The Devil’s Strategy

January 17, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

When we did the Jesus activity I talked about last time, we also did another activity.  In this one, I blindfolded one child and stood him at one corner of the room.  Jesus, my oldest daughter, stood some distance in front of him.  We talked about how we often don’t get the chance to VISUALLY watch Jesus’ feet as He leads the way.  Instead, we have to listen for His voice.

So the student was supposed to follow what Jesus was telling him.  “Take two steps forward.  Okay, now take one step to the right.”  (I was putting chairs and obstacles in his path as he went.)

Everything went fine.  He was moving quite well.  Then I added (already worked out beforehand) a twist.

“Satan,” my middle child stepped up next to him.  “Satan” could tell him whatever she wanted to get him to stop listening to Jesus.

So Jesus would say, “Take a step to the right.”  And Satan would say, “Take a step forward.”

At least that’s what I THOUGHT she would do, but these kids are super-smart.  Here’s how it went:

Jesus:  Take a step to the right.

Satan:  Take a step to the right.

He did.

Jesus:  Take a step forward.

Satan:  Take a step forward.

He did.

Jesus:  Take a step to the left.

Satan:  Take a step to the right.

About every third time “Satan” would give them the exact WRONG directions.  But “he” didn’t do it every time.  I almost tried to correct Satan, but she looked very much like she knew exactly what she was doing so I let her go.

Another 5 feet, I brought another “demon” in to help.  By now the student was getting a little confused, stumbling over chairs and coats in the way.  He would hear Jesus’ voice, but it was getting confused and drowned out.

Then in the corner, I said that anyone who wanted could come join in.  Poor kid.  He got way turned around.  Half of the kids were telling him to go Jesus’ way, half were telling him to go Satan’s way, and some were just saying random things:  “Go right.  Go left.  Go forward.  Turn around….”

Suddenly all he was doing was going in circles.  When I stopped him and took the blindfold off, he was shocked to see that he was going back the direction he had come from (right road, wrong direction… ever been there?!)

I asked him why that was so hard.  He said, “Well, I couldn’t tell who was right.  I could hear everybody, but I wasn’t sure who to listen to.”

Lesson learned.

Then I got a lesson on the way home.  My middle daughter said, “Mom, do you know what I was doing when I was Satan?  Do you know why I kept saying what Jesus did at first?”

I was glad she’d asked because, yes, I did want to know.


“Well, I figured my voice is just like hers.”  (Which is unbelievably true!)  “But if I kept saying opposite of her, he would figure out it was me.  So I had to get him to trust me first.  I said what she said and he would wait for me to say it the second time and do what I said.  Then sometimes I would say different than she said, and he would do what I said because he was starting to trust me instead.”

WOW!  Amazing insight from an 11-year-old!

How many times have you had Satan tell you good things to do, like join a church group.  You think you’re doing what Jesus told you to do, but then you start noticing you’re spending far less time with your family and far more time with the group.  The group wants to cook a meal and you volunteer.  The group wants to donate items, and you volunteer to collect and deliver them all.  The group wants to get together, and you volunteer your house.

Now, none of those look like the wrong answer, but they can be.  If you start resenting your “service” and the other involved…  If you start feeling overwhelmed and like the group’s activities have taken over your whole life…  If something about all of it just doesn’t feel right, you may have been snookered by the Devil’s Strategy.

Take heed.  Satan can turn the best things in life around if you get taken in listening to him instead of Jesus, and at first, they may sound an awful lot alike.  After all, what chance would Satan have if he always said the opposite of Jesus–especially at first?  No.  First, he will try to get you to trust him more than Jesus.  When that happens, look out.  You’re going to get all turned around and you very well may get going the wrong direction on the right path.

Just beware of this happening.  And when/if it does, be willing to stop, regroup, and stand there for a while until you’re sure you’re hearing Jesus again.  Otherwise, who knows where you’ll end up?

The Folly of Doing it On Our Own

January 13, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

This is turning out to be one of my favorite Sunday School days of the year.  This last week we did the pattern-path.  It’s the day we talk about Jesus as part of the Trinity.  In the activity, my oldest daughter lays out a pattern of 3 X 5 cards in various colors.  Then she is Jesus.

Each student gets to walk the path that Jesus created.  At first they do it on their own with Jesus standing there watching them and judging if they are doing the path correctly.  Now the path starts at one corner of the room and goes all the way around to the other corner.  Each level of the path has three different colors.  You choose which color to step on on each level.  But you have to do it perfectly, or you get sent back to your seat by Jesus.

It’s always so interesting to watch the kids.  At first they don’t get it.  Then they really start trying to figure out the path.  My daughter always does something that’s relatively easy to figure at first–like step on the pink one in each row, but then about 1/4 around, she gets tricky.

Which is actually a great metaphor for life.  Because at first, really life is not too terribly hard to navigate.  Don’t lie.  Don’t steal.  Don’t kill anybody.  Sounds pretty easy and at first it is.

But then life gets trickier.  Don’t lie we learn can mean not just outright lying but fudging the truth as well.  Maybe you don’t say, “I was at Timmy’s” as your lie.  Maybe you just say, “I was at a friend’s” not adding the fact that the friend was Timmy (whom Mom said you couldn’t go to his house).  And we also start intellectualizing our lies, figuring out ways that it’s not REALLY lying–just not telling the whole truth.  “I was stuck in traffic.  That’s why I’m late.”  When the real reason you were stuck in traffic to begin with was that you left 15 minutes late knowing you could use the traffic as your excuse.

Or maybe it’s stealing.  When you’re young, you know not to slip that pack of gum into your pocket.  But as you get older, do you also know not to take a pen from a colleague’s desk and not return it?  Or do you know that snitching a grape from the store while you shop is wrong?  Or do you know that borrowing your neighbor’s shovel and then leaving it in your garage until they ask for it back is wrong?

And of course you’re not supposed to stab someone to death, but what if you stab their spirit every time you’re around them?  What if you put them down behind their backs, killing their good name?

Just like the pattern, the farther you go in life, the trickier it sometimes becomes to navigate what you should and shouldn’t do.

So the kids finally figured out the first part, but once they hit tricky, the jig was up.  One after the other after the other, Jesus sent them back to their seats.

Then I told the next girl up (who had been standing right by Jesus the whole time) that she could choose someone to help her with the path.  “Anyone?”  “Yes, you can choose anyone in the room.”  She looked around, thought about it, and chose a classmate.  This moment is always a surprise to me because what I expect them to do, they never do.  So I said, “Okay.”

Of course, two heads are not better than one because the other student didn’t know the tricky part any better than the first had.

Suddenly, however, as the two of them were walking around, one of the girls still in the chairs said, “Wait!  Could she have chosen Jesus to lead her?”  I said, “I said anyone in the room.”

Word spread like wildfire to those who had not yet gone.  “Choose Jesus!  You can choose Jesus to lead you!”

So when the next young man stepped up, he looked up at me with hesitant hope, “Can I choose Jesus to lead me?”

I smiled.  “Sure!”

So he did.

Again, you never know what kind of cool lessons you’re about to learn.  Jesus started around in front of him and before they were a 1/4 of the way around the room, they had most of the other students following them!  Yes, he had figured it out.  He was following Jesus, and now because of that, everybody else was too!  And they were all excited because they made it through the tricky part.  “Oh, man!  I should have done that!”

It was funny.

When he got all the way around, I (as God) told him the really cool part.  When you’re following Jesus and you get to Heaven, God doesn’t ask Jesus how you did.  He doesn’t even judge how you did.  He simply asks JESUS if JESUS got it all right.  Of course Jesus got it right!  HE IS THE WAY!

You get in to Heaven on what Jesus did for you… not on your own effort.  How cool is that?

And right there encapsulates the folly of doing it on our own.  We cannot do it perfectly.  We will get tripped up.  On our own, even with our best efforts, we are sunk.

Ah, but with Jesus leading… with Jesus guiding our every step… we don’t have to worry about if we’ve done it all right enough to get into Heaven because Jesus already got us there by following the Path He set down for our lives.

How cool is that?

Heroes Amidst the Horror

January 10, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

First, prayers go out to all the families affected by this weekend’s tragedy in Arizona.  It’s completely unbelievable how different life can be five minutes from now.  In all the coverage, I’ve seen this story only once, but it deserves mention because in the midst of absolute horror, one man ran in to help heedless of his own life.  I have no words to say how incredibly brave, right, and true I believe Daniel Hernandez to be.  May God walk with you on every road you travel from here, Mr. Hernandez.

Bravery In Action