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Thoughts on life by Teri McCarthy

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I Really Count!

Posted by admin in July 9th, 2009
Published in faith

I count. No, I don’t mean it in that “I’m okay, you’re okay” sort of way. I mean…I literally count things—objects. I count our silverware, dishtowels, Daryl’s undies after I’ve folded them and before I put them away. I count washcloths, drinking glasses and stairs. (There was that one time though last year that I only got to the number one and then…BOOM! Broken ankle).

My friend Margo has diagnosed me as OCD. Of course, Anne jumped right on that one and confirmed Margo’s diagnoses. Did I mention that neither of these women are doctors, nor do they play one on TV?!?

There are things I count that I cannot even mention here. Not because they are too delicate, but because they are just too strange. I’ve never tried to stop counting stuff, so I don’t know if I actually can. But why would I want to? Is it harmful? Is it destructive? Is counting interfering with my work…uh…wait a minute……..? Sorry, I had to step away there for a sec and count a bowl of apples on our kitchen table. I’m back now.

Anyway, as some might see my counting as “odd behavior” I feel it is a strength. I think of it as a God-given coping strategy. That’s right. God-given. It is a gift imparted to me by my Heavenly Father to help me cope with stress, distress, frustration, fear, adjustment, anxiety, and the unfamiliar. You see my parents moved my sister and me a lot when we were kids. I mean A LOT! I went to 13 schools in 12 years. Oh, and my last school, my high school, I actually stayed there for three years. So, you can imagine that was a whole lotta movin’ before tenth grade! My Dad was a contract engineer who worked with the space program. Every time a new company got a government contract for the program, we followed it—my Mom, my sister and me. California to Oklahoma. Oklahoma to Georgia and back to Oklahoma. Oklahoma to Seattle. Seattle back to Georgia. Back to Oklahoma. On to Florida. Back to Oklahoma. On to Texas. Well, you get the picture.

The moves and the new schools and the new neighborhoods and the new churches and the new everything had two completely different impacts on my sister and me. She became very shy, cautious, an observer of our new environments. Careful, easy, gentle, always listening, imitating, working to fit in. Staying off the radar screen because kids can be very cruel and they attack all things different and unusual. She was smart. I, on the other hand, became a conqueror. I took over every school I ever went to. I dominated. Took control. Bossed all the kids (and yes some of the teachers). I viewed myself as a newly arrived Empress of a newly discovered world. I was loud, obnoxious, domineering (did I already mention that?) and my philosophy, though not that clearly defined, was to call attention to myself BEFORE the whispering started. I made my own rules. Rule #1, never play by others’ rules. Rule #2, make ‘em laugh. Rule #3, make ‘em like you. Rule #4, NEVER, EVER let them see your fear—they’ll eat you alive.

And, so the coping strategies began. Counting started as my parents found it difficult to fit all of the boxes into the moving truck or van. My parents’ philosophy was that if anything had to be left behind during one of these 20 something moves, then it would need to be something of the children’s. Toys, clothing, shoes, a favorite gift item—the only reminder of an amazing uncle who passed away. I hated marking our cardboard boxes with smelly magic markers because these markings tipped my Dad off to whose box was whose. Like the Titanic, my Dad believed children’s and women’s boxes got thrown overboard first. How many times did my sweet sister and I arrive at our new location, hunting, searching, trying to track down a box filled with toys, precious mementos, even clothing and books, just to discover that it had been “left behind”? (Hey, didn’t Tim LaHaye write a whole series about that?) Whenever my sister and I protested that we had things missing my parents’ response was always the same, “What are you crying for? We’ll buy you new ones!” But how can you replace a furry toy kitten a favorite uncle gave you? Or a rare quilt a great-grandmother made especially for you? Or a treasure your grandpa gave you from his WWII days? These things can’t be replaced. And so, I began to count. I counted shoes, shirts, socks, stuffed animals, books—all my personal possessions, all the things that defined who I was and where I’d been. And somehow, I can’t explain it, the counting, the inventory, made me feel better. It helped me keep track of my things, but it also helped me know what was truly missing and to give an accurate, clear account to my parents of what exactly had been left behind.

So, why do I still count today? I’ve lived in the same city now for 15 years! Longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life. I have moved once in those 15 years and we didn’t lose anything in the move. And I’d like to state here that in 15 years of marriage and laundry duty I have never, ever lost a single one of Daryl’s socks! Thank you very much.

Coping strategies God gives us as children sometimes, at least in my case, become habits way after their usefulness is over. And those habits can become symptoms of OCD. I’m at rest now. I’m finally home. And just like Jackson and Kempis, my two adorable grandsons, have to give up their binkies, I too need to give up the things that pacify me. I need to learn to wholly embrace a loving God and give Him the trust He is due: the trust of an adult. Didn’t Paul say that we need to stop childish things?

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:11-13). It’s time for me to stop counting stuff and to trust God, because in truth, He is the only thing that really, truly counts. Peace.

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