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FIRST-PERSON: The choice was mine

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–The packaged Slim Fast ice cream sandwich whacked me just under my chin.

Startled from a near snooze, with my legs up in an easy chair, I snapped at my 21-year-old daughter and asked her why she had thrown the dessert at me.

“I was just joking,” she replied saucily. “You don’t have to get all upset.”

A number of retorts came to mind as I struggled with churning out an appropriate response, but they left my lips a few minutes later when I watched her continue to fold clothes on the couch.

Belinda, who, incidentally, is a redhead, steadfastly refused to meet my eye. Her back was rigid and her arms chopped at a pile of whites. Her chin was quivering ever so slightly. She was MAD.

In those next few seconds, I admitted to myself that I suspected my response to what she meant as a lighthearted gesture could set the tone for a few minutes of unhappiness or for an evening of griping. It was all in my reaction.

The choice was mine. I knew I could jump up, reach down and kiss her forehead, and all would be forgotten. I knew saying, “I’m sorry,” could mean the difference between an evening of finding fault with little things or being comfortable in each other’s presence. I knew my reaction could indirectly impact my 20-year-old son — due to walk in the door any moment — or even my husband, who might return home at 2:30 a.m. from his night job to find his socks spitefully mismatched by our “jokester” daughter.

I didn’t really think Belinda would stoop to the sock joke, but I knew she could very likely say something discouraging to her brother — and that would create a firestorm I wasn’t ready to referee.

Recently, a friend made a comment about another believer who took an anti-depressant drug. He incorrectly called it a “tranquilizer” and questioned their use of it. Because the remark was made at our dinner table, I felt I should put the statement in context for the children.

I reminded them that, but by the grace of God, I could easily have succumbed this year to a serious stress-related ailment or a need for prescription drugs to dull my pain — and I felt empathy and understanding for people who seek medical help when life’s ordeals overwhelm them. I felt God’s timing in letting my children know that it is because of God’s graciousness and peace and their daddy’s help that I have been able to endure this past year.

A good friend told me in October, after I inexplicably and unexpectedly lost my 66-year-old mother, to take life one hour, one minute even, at a time. She warned that I might not care about life for a while. She helped me understand the normalcy of my feelings and the correctness of allowing myself to grieve. Her simple rationale was timely and profound.

I told my children it is only because of God’s mercy and providence that I have persevered in one of the most challenging times of my life. I shared with them a litany of reactions I have had for each of the challenges, in addition to my mother’s death, that this year has brought:

— “God is in control. God is in charge,” I reminded myself when dealing with the rigors of a new job, a new church and a new home.

— “God takes care of His own,” I prayed fervently and constantly for 10 months while my husband searched for a job, and my daughter’s car was damaged by two different tornadoes in Tennessee.

— “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name,” I clung to when I learned I might have cancer. “Thank you, God,” I rejoiced when the tumor came back benign and I lost only half of my thyroid.

— “All things happen for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose,” I remembered when my 48-year-old missionary brother-in-law went home to be with the Lord in early June.

— “Raise them in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from you,” I focused on God’s promise when my own children, hundreds of miles from home, stumbled, or when their hearts were broken.

So, whether it’s an ice cream sandwich thrown my way or a career, health or family calamity, I am reminded to trust Jesus, every minute, every hour and every day — that He will take care of me. I need only to take care of my response.
Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabpatistwitness.com.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan