Don't Freak Out First: A Story And Some Counsel

So, my daughter Eve has an in-grown toenail. That's gross; I know. I know better than anyone actually because I'm the one who's been monitoring it, cleaning it, and otherwise trying to balance being a responsible parent and not going to the doctor. Justin and I both had in-grown toenails as kids so we sorta know what we're doing. Kinda.

Last night, right before bed, my husband said, "Jen, have you looked at Eve's toe?" I looked his way and saw he was already looking at her toe. He was clearly disturbed. I came over to look, and my heart started pounding. It was black. All black.

Here are some thoughts I had in that moment:

1. My daughter is going to lose her toe.

2. My daughter is going to die of a Staph infection.

3. My daughter is going to be toe-less or lifeless and it will be all my fault.

Trying not to show the total freak out going on in my head I said to Eve, "Baby, we're going to have to go to the doctor." She did a little dance. She loves the doctor.

Just to be sure this doctor's visit was merited, I decided to do a more thorough examination of the toe. To be clear: the toe looked like death. But doctor's appointments are expensive and a hassle and our insurance is weird--so why not take a second look? I know--bad parent. I blame my raising--my dad once did minor surgery on my leg with a knife and an ice cube to remove a piece of lead.


I poured hydrogen peroxide on her toe. I rubbed the nail with a paper towel. I noticed Eve wasn't jerking away from me or crying. And I noticed the black on her foot was sticky. I cleaned some more. Did other things we won't talk about because this story is already pushing the limits of acceptable grossness.

Finally, after five or six minutes, I'd cleaned the entire toe, and it looked great. It was obviously healing. We weren't going to need surgery. And it was definitely not infected. Huzzah!

In less time than it takes my kid to put on her shoes I'd gone from meltdown to completely at peace. I realized even in the moment that this was a life lesson. I leaned toward Eve, took her face in my hands, and said...

Um. Actually I can't remember what I said. So I asked Eve just now and her sister London chimed in. Here's her understanding of the moral of the story:

"Mom, you said sometimes we're freaking out and saying This is so baaaaad!!! [insert crazy hand waving] But if you'll just calm down and look it will be revealed and you'll know it's not actually so bad."

I think that's a solid summary.

The reason I told you this story, despite it's grossness and relative smallness, is that you, like me, sometimes freak out about stuff too early. You see the headline or hear the gossip or catch a glimpse and your brain jumps into action:

That's not true!

You don't love me!

That's horrible!

We're all going to die!

I can't believe she did that!

I'm never going there again!

[Facebook comment with exclamation marks and maybe ALL CAPS]

In those moments we have no idea if our freak out is merited. We can't know until we look more closely, until we scrape away the gunk, consider the source, ask questions...

James writes in his letter to the early church, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."

I think that's such good advice because often our first assessment of a situation is wrong. We need time to pay attention and figure things out. If we're quick to listen and slow to speak we give ourselves room to discover the truth and find perspective

Personally, I'm doing my best to limit the knee-jerk freak outs.

When my kids confess to something that sounds really terrible at first, instead of jumping on them, exerting the full force of the parental discipline hammer, I ask questions. Lots of questions. When I feel like I really understand what happened, that's when I figure out a plan for possible discipline.

When my husband doesn't do the thing I asked him to do, instead of letting my emotions run away jabbering about how "He never..." or "He always..." I decide instead to think about all he is doing, to check in with him and see if maybe I can take something off his plate.

When my church elders make an announcement and I'm not a fan, instead of talking about why it's stupid with my church friends, I sit down across the table from an elder I respect and try to understand the full story.

And when I read something or see something in the news that spurs anger inside me, I wait 24 hours before I let myself type a single word of criticism. After I take the time to consider it with reason and grace, then I let myself enter the discussion.

That means I'm usually late to the blogging scene. But it also means I rarely freak out in public.

Today I'd encourage you not to freak out. I know, freaking out is sometimes inevitable. Sometimes circumstances justify our anger or criticism or quick action. But most of the time the proper reaction to whatever it is that stirs up a freak out, is simply time and attention.

Take a deep breath. Look. Listen. Pray.

Let your meditation and reflection reveal what's true.

Take London's advice: "If you'll just calm down and look it will be revealed and you'll know it's not actually so bad."