What’s Your Emergency?

In 2011, our family was living near Houston when my husband was offered a promotion to his company’s office in Chicago. We had made a cross-country move less than four years earlier, our kids were finally settled and secure, and our oldest daughter was about to start her senior year in high school. After prayerful consideration, we decided to have the kids and I stay, while my husband took the job and flew home on weekends.

That year was…intense. By God’s grace, a fog has descended over many of my memories from that time apart, leaving bruised what were once fresh wounds from stress, doubt, and discouragement. We made it through, though, and I do have one clear memory which has remained a tender reminder of how hard I must work to keep things in perspective.

What's Your Emergency

Our home at the time had a hard-wired system for detecting smoke and carbon monoxide. The control panel was intimidating and we never really did master it. I’m sure it was something we did – or maybe failed to do – that made it so when the power went out, the alarms would sound in unison when power was restored.

Living near Houston, we got a lot of storms, and losing power was not unusual. One such storm blew through when my husband was away. Starting just before midnight, the power began a rotation of going out, coming back on, going out, and coming back on again. It wreaked havoc with the alarm system.

It felt like our house was being torn in two from all the connected alarms screaming at once. I had fallen asleep before the storm began, so I didn’t know what was happening, only that I was woken from a dead sleep, and that the noise was immense. I started panicking, and called my husband in Chicago, in tears. He called a friend to come check on me; it was only when I opened the door for him that I realized it was storming.

Miraculously, none of my kids woke up. I still don’t know how they could have slept through the noise – it seemed deafening to me! Our friend could make no sense of the control panel or think of any way to make the alarms stop. I thanked him and sent him back to his family.

I was standing in front of the control panel, crying and pacing and crying some more when I realized something: although the alarms indicated danger, there was no real emergency.  I mean, I knew that, but I hadn’t really understood. The noise was just noise.

This one clear, rational thought allowed me to calm down, and even laugh a little at myself.

I’m not sure how I got the alarms to stop – I don’t know if I happened to stab the right combination of buttons on the control panel, or if the system just reset itself after the power stayed on for good. All I know is that it eventually stopped, and I was left with a life lesson.

There’s a lot of noise in life. Sometimes it’s in our own head, and sometimes it’s carried to us by others. And sometimes the noise feels like danger, feels like something must be done, or something must be fixed, or something at the very least must have its dues in worry.

But we need to stop, and take stock. Must something really be done? Is it really an emergency? I’d hazard a guess that most things in life are not. So, what then?

Be calm. Be wise. Get some distance from the situation and have patience with yourself for reacting. But then decide how you’ll react moving forward. Determine your interest or responsibility in addressing the situation. Be clear if you believe others ought to take interest or responsibility themselves. Try to take a long view of things.

Determining what is emotion and what is emergency is not always easy for me, and I often don’t even follow my own advice. But I’m working on it, and I’m enjoying how quiet it becomes when I do.