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What's in Your Wagon?
Monday, February 7, 2022 by Dan R. Graham, LPC-S

           On the corner of my desk sits a little red, Radio Flyer wagon - a miniature version of the real thing. Inside the wagon are several individually wrapped candies of various sorts. Some are sweet; some are tart or bitter. They differ in color, size and shape. What the candies have in common is that they are all in the wagon, seemingly competing for the limited space.  On top of the candies rests a chubby stuffed squirl that by all accounts, is out of place. After all, when have you ever seen a squirl sitting in a wagon full of candy? So now you know what is in my preverbal wagon - sort of.

            My first question for you is this, what's in your wagon? Before answering the question, we first must define the term "wagon". Very simply, the metaphoric wagon refers to a person and his or her life. All of us have a wagon. Assuming we are discussing your life and your wagon, each candy in the wagon represents your different thoughts, healthy and unhealthy emotions, cherished experiences as well as heart breaks and trauma, stressors, loyalties, relationships, cares and concerns, responsibilities, and debts. It includes your likes and dislikes, passions and biases, insecurities, failures, potential, your faith or the lack thereof, and most importantly - your accurate and inaccurate beliefs about God, yourself, others and the world around you.

            If you were to inventory the contents of your wagon, replacing individual candies for nuggets of reality, what would you find? The second question is similar to the first: does it (whatever you found) belong in your wagon? Or does it belong to someone else? For example, suppose you have a relative who spends his paycheck on really stupid stuff and then comes to you with a sob story and crocodile tears. Does he put you on a guilt trip until you acquiesce and grudgingly place his house payment into your wagon? Do you assume responsibility for his mortgage? In reality, his behaviors and his mortgage belong to him and therefore belong in his wagon, not yours. You have the right and responsibility to manage your own life - to determine what goes in your wagon and what doesn't, what remains in the wagon because it legitimately belongs to you and what is unceremoniously removed from the wagon. When we unnecessarily assume responsibilities for others, we often times place unbearable and untenable weight in our own wagon. Eventually the extra weight will cause the axles to falter or the tires to flatten; in other words, something inside of our being stops functioning as it should. We become stuck somehow; just worn out with nothing left to give ourselves or others.

            The same thing can happen when we ourselves make stupid or haphazard choices, like choosing to drive drunk or marrying a person twenty-eight days after we meet them on line (or in person). Sounds romantically Hollywood, doesn't it? Perhaps, but it doesn't require deep thought to appreciate the perils of impetuous decision making. Yet, some people carelessly complicate their lives by placing such things in their wagon. As we all know, it's much easier to fill up the wagon than it is to empty it - and all God's people said: AMEN to that!

            Let's not overlook that fact that we contribute good things to the wagon also. We choose the right spouse at the right time, start a family, pursue a career, make investments, buy a house, or engage in ministry. Many things in our wagon are wholesome and welcomed - the results of reasoned decision making coupled with blessings from God.

            So far we have introduced two wagon content categories. The first is 'from others', and the second is 'from self'. There is another content category: the unrealized. The origin of some things we discover in the wagon cannot be explained. We have no idea where it came from - an illogical or self-defeating belief about God or self, for example. Often times it really doesn't matter how we acquired a dysfunctional belief or habit or how it got into our wagon. What's important is that we recognize it now for what it is. The next step is to remove it immediately. That may be easier said than done but it can be done. Depending on the depth of the dysfunction, effective professional counseling may be helpful with that endeavor.

            The last wagon content category is the 'unexpected' circumstances that flip our lives upside down. What sets them apart from the norm is they are seemingly huge and unmanageable. It is likened to the chubby squirl sitting in my wagon - only he's not really sitting. He is a menace wreaking havoc by running all over everywhere complicating every other aspect of our lives with little relief in sight. If you've ever experienced a wild squirl running loose in your garage or attic, you understand the metaphor perfectly. As with most things in our lives (or in our preverbal wagons), we normally have some level of influence over it. In a wild squirl situation, it seems we have no control. Instead, we are relegated from an active role to a reactionary posture. Multiply the stress level if we have multiple squirls running around the wagon simultaneously. In some situations, our negative or fatalistic attitude IS the squirl; sometimes not. Either way, we need to figure out the best way to manage our wagon.

            Herein lies a few questions. When and how do we discover the wagon's content? And what should we do about what we find? Short answer: seek to discover the contents now, this minute. Begin by making a list of all of your duties, responsibilities and obligations followed by your past and present emotional experiences that still affect you, your worries, and anxiety producing thoughts and beliefs. Include everything that comes to mind, both negative and positive. Next, decide which things on the list belong to you and which do not. Decide which things may belong to you but are either not true, or unhealthy for you to maintain. Lastly, choose what to do with each one. For example, if something clearly belongs to someone else, give it back to them. If they don't want it, leave it at their doorstep anyway. When you consider things that legitimately belong to you, assume adult responsibility for it. Take appropriate action. If something is yours that you no longer want to carry, let it go. For example, a misstep you made 20 years ago that you can do nothing about now - it's time to let it go; choose not to think about it; focus your thoughts and energy on today.

            The above paragraph is merely a snippet. It is not intended to walk you through the entire process but instead, to remind you that there is hope for you and your situation. You don't have to continue life pulling a wagon whose tires have gone flat from excess weight. You can choose to do something about it - now! So, do it!

Our phone number is 817.812.3021. Call us if we can help.

We offer Help for Today. Hope for Tomorrow.

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