Quarantine, with a Side of Complex PTSD

I snapped this pic recently during one of my early morning walks around the duck pond in town. The pond, which, incidentally, overlooks my old office building at SWAU, has been one of my rare quiet, calming places throughout the last six months.

Oh, dear friends and readers. Throughout this coronavirus saga, I have wanted to post an update blog often. I have tried a few times, but the whole quarantine/shelter-in-place situation has strained me, like it has so many others currently struggling with their mental health. I believe the Lord has been striving with me, as he is with the world right now, trying to get my attention—our attention.* What is he trying to tell you?

If I’d had it my way, I would have been running on all cylinders this summer, taking trips to see my Minnesota friends and family, taking more graduate classes, socking it to my dissertation, starting a women’s prayer group. But that’s not what God had in store for me. No, for me, He had a whole lot of sitting still planned­—even being knocked on my bum, quite frankly—due to anxiety which, I soon decided, was really a manifestation of complex PTSD. But more on that in a moment.

First, a brief recap of what’s happened since COVID-19 upended our lives.

March—May

My office at UTA, which is about an hour’s drive away. I have not worked on campus since March. Poor, unused office space!

I started the spring semester continuing fulltime doctoral work, as well as part-time tutoring for UTA’s writing center. But after spring break, of course, my kids and I were sent home to work and study within our own four walls. This arrangement would have been a disaster if not for my mother-in-law and husband. My mom-in-law (who was already their teacher) took on tutoring the kids a few hours a day, and my hubby took the kids in the afternoons, while I worked and studied in our bedroom. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I didn’t have to figure out teaching my kids while doing my own work and school. God provided.

I should mention here, since I haven’t yet on this blog, that my latest book with Paul Coneff, Brutally Honest, came out within the past year. This book, like my memoir, explains why and how brutal honesty is so important when it comes to emotional healing. We actually did most of the writing of this a few years ago, before I was officially back at work. It was a fun and challenging project for me, because I had to create characters and a true-to-life, but fictional, storyline (we are calling it a parable) about people encountering the “angriest prayer in the Bible,” or Psalm 109, through a small group Bible study. With this work, I proved to my hubby that I can write about topics other than myself:)  (although a lot of the emotion in the book did come from personal experience:) As far as reader responses, Paul and I have had readers tell us the book is a page turner, reads like a novel, and has been a tremendously helpful resource for anger, anxiety, depression, and other emotional struggles. I hope you’ll check it out!

June

Noticing Patterns

Unfortunately, once school let out and I looked up from my studies, an old pattern resurfaced. I started suffering another ginormous bout of anxiety, which has been happening during my school breaks ever since I returned to work. Thankfully, God had already provided my friend, Naomi, to pray with me.

Journaling was a lifeline for me this summer. While the thought of blogging made me too anxious, journaling several days a week really helped calm my mind. (The positive benefits of journaling is one of my areas of doctoral research, in fact. Having so recently experienced the benefits myself, I sincerely and strongly recommend journaling as a therapeutic practice to my readers!)

(Quick aside: Naomi is a church friend from my time in Missouri who read my book Ending the Pain and subsequently requested prayer ministry. Since the beginnings of our friendship and my prayer ministry to her, in about 2016, our prayer times have evolved into reciprocal prayer support; now, I like to think of us as a two-woman support group, where we trade prayer sessions every other week. Last year, because I was so strapped for time, we would do these sessions during my commutes to and from UTA—not ideal, but we made it work, and God blessed with no car accidents:)

There Seems to Be a Root, Here

Through my biweekly prayer sessions with Naomi this summer, I was able to notice a striking pattern in my anxiety: it doesn’t happen at work or school; it only happens in connection with family or home settings. It also happened at church last year, especially during the brief stint when I taught in my sons’ Sabbath school class. The common denominator was being in a caregiving role with young kids, with the kids usually being mine (though, now that I think of it, I also struggled with anxiety years ago when I was a high school teacher).

Just days into my summer “break” (maybe I should say summer breakdown?) I found myself wound “tight, tight, tight,” as I wrote in my journal, and having so many weird reactions—startling easily at loud noises, angry outbursts, fantasies of running away—that I embarked on some internet research. I wondered: Was there a name for what I was suffering from, beyond just “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”? Because my anxiety seemed way too specific to be called “general.”

Discovering Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

My research led me to a condition called complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD. After an hour of internet reading, it was clear to me that this was probably what I had. But I needed to understand it better. So, I went to my recently reopened public library to do more research.

Reading Pete Walker’s semi-autobiographical book on complex PTSD in late June was healing; I cried as I read passages that mirrored my experience of struggling so badly in what seemed like simple, normal circumstances. I reread my emotional eruptions and recurring fantasies of escaping not as evidence that I was a horrible wife and mother, but as examples of what Walker calls the four F’s: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn (fawn refers to people-pleasing). I understood that my desperate feelings (and sometimes desperate actions) were tied to emotional flashbacks rooted in complex trauma; that is, prolonged trauma that occurs over a period of time, usually in childhood. I understood that my childhood development had been arrested years ago, and that was why parenting these days was so hard: because, while trying to parent my kids, I was still trying to parent myself.

For those readers who can’t relate, I know this might sound like psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo, but for me, Walker’s insights came as sparkling revelations. I sobbed with relief to know that there was a name for what I struggled with.

As Fred Rogers famously said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

New knowledge in hand, I was ready to get help and move forward. But I didn’t quite know how. As Walker and other psychology professionals note, C-PTSD is a relatively new concept in the field, and as yet does not hold its own entry in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), or the Bible of psychology; rather, it is a subcategory of PTSD, and one that many professionals in the field are not aware of.

So, I started by sharing my revelations with a couple close girlfriends who, I believe, also may suffer from C-PTSD. (At first I puzzled over why so many of my friends, and readers who have reached out to me, seemed to share this diagnosis. Then I realized that my prayer ministry and writing projects are designed to draw exactly this kind of crowd. No shame, ladies and gentlemen. We are all in this together, seeking healing for the crummy hands life dealt us.)

July

Old Prescription: Prozac

Taking seriously the magnitude of what I was struggling with, at the beginning of July I put myself on Prozac to help manage my immediate anxiety, until I could get help for my deeper issues. From what I’ve read, depression and anxiety are often secondary to trauma…so if I get help with the trauma, I’m hoping the anxiety will decrease.

(Second aside: I had a leftover, unused supply of Prozac from when we moved to Texas in 2018. In anticipation of our move and gap between jobs and health insurance, my then-doctor had prescribed me extra meds, which I didn’t end up needing once I started work. Go figure.)

Anyway, for the next five weeks, Prozac helped settle me down and sit with my family; it calmed my incessant urge to escape. On the mornings I could beat my kids awake, I sat in the pre-dawn quiet reading the book of Matthew, Message translation. This modern translation made the reading fresh and surprising, and I found myself meditating anew on the life of Jesus. His was a life of suffering and self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice, in fact, came up prominently in my prayer sessions with Naomi.

New Prescription: Self-Sacrifice

During my July 11 prayer session, after an uncomfortable hour praying through my anxieties without much relief, I asked Naomi to pray for blessings for me. But after she prayed, no discernible blessings came to my mind. Instead, the words It’s not about you came up. Huh? I asked Naomi to pray one more time for clarity, because I didn’t understand. At first I thought maybe God was telling me “This summer is about God and what he’s doing, even if I can’t see or sense what He’s doing.” I think that statement is true for the Christian life in general, but another round of prayer gave me more clarity on my particular situation: namely, God showed me that, while I didn’t feel like I was being blessed in this season, I could play a part in blessing others right now, primarily Buc. That was a pivotal moment and perspective-changer for me.

This was one of my husband’s ideas of a fun quarantine project: get six chickens and build a chicken coop. Ain’t he creative? This structure was built out of an old trampoline frame and got the attention of some morning walkers, who called me over to the fence and asked me to take pics of the thing with their phone, so they could build one, too!

From that prayer session on, I took serving others as one of God’s prescriptions for me during this painful time at home. Of course, serving others is just part of living the Christian life, but sometimes we need a reminder. For the next month, with the help of Prozac and God’s prescription, I laid down my hyper-planning, hyper-anxious personality and worked at being here for a friend who needed childcare. I aimed for acts of service that would bless my hubby—namely, feeding our new chickens and weeding the garden (his idea of fun summer projects, not mine). I made a few meals for extended family during their painful moving process. I prayed with a couple readers who reached out to me. I hosted some stuff at my house. And I tried to give my best to my children, even if my best wasn’t all that impressive.

And the work I put into others came back around. Friends, my hubby gave me the best birthday gift ever at the end of July: he converted a previously unused, nasty backyard shed into an office for me! What sweet relief to again have a quiet space to call my own! Thank you, Honey.

In the past two years, I have been ousted from two office spaces at two universities (first, by hiring freeze, second, by COVID-19). These were places where I found my sanity after four years staying home with the kids, suffering anxiety that I didn’t know was really a symptom of complex trauma. More recently, COVID-19 took even coffee shops and libraries from me…and Texas heat took the outdoors. Sorry to be so dramatic. I’m just trying to say that this office space means the world to me. Buc saw what it meant to me the day we moved my furniture in. I set down the boxes I was carrying, looked up, and suddenly saw the ghost of my former office at SWAU (I think it was the “Be strong and courageous” sign). Then, I broke into tears. God provides.

August

Antidepressants Are Great…Until They’re Not

On August 6, I wrote in my journal that, while Prozac had allowed me to feel calmer and less reactive, I was also starting to feel drugged. So, after praying about it with Naomi, I decided to drop the Prozac. God helped me see that with my next semester of grad school coming up, I need my mind sharp. He also assured me that if I need meds again in the future, I can take them. And He told me I was not a bad Christian for taking them–even though some Christians are anti antidepressants. (Readers, please make those decisions with the input of your doctor, and your Creator.)

Back to School…Back to Therapy

Sam (middle) is 6 1/2 and starting first grade; Seth is 4 1/2 and starting preschool. I am so thankful for my sons’ teachers and for their school reopening in-person. God bless all the teachers and school personnel out there!

As of last week, my kids have re-entered school, in person, thus relieving a major trigger for me. And, in light of my summer struggles, I have taken seriously that I have some un-processed trauma to contend with­—some problems that Prozac, and perhaps even prayer ministry, can’t fix. As such, I have started some over-the-phone therapy with a new counselor who is trained in treating trauma.

But even though I have only had one counseling session so far, I am encouraged by the healing that has come from simply getting informed about complex trauma, and owning that I suffer from it. Take this reflection from my June 22nd journal entry, for instance, which I wrote after reading Pete Walker’s book:

“I feel really hopeful that I am turning a corner. It makes so much sense that what I’ve been experiencing is flashbacks to trauma, and re-traumatization once I became a mom, especially after baby #2. My anxiety was second to my trauma and my triggers.

“Walker says that recovery, and shrinking the inner and outer critic, depends on 1) angering at the appropriate targets and 2) grieving. In other words, cognitive and emotional work: ‘Cognitive work in both cases involves the demolition and rebuilding processes of thought-stopping and thought substitution, respectively. And, emotional work in both instances is grief work. It is removing the critic’s fuel supply—the unexpressed anger and the uncried tears of a lifetime of abandonment’ (Pete Walker, Complex PTSD, p. 207).

“I feel like I’ve done a lot of the cognitive work because of my conversion and then Straight 2 the Heart prayer ministry. But it appears I have more grieving and emotional work to do. On one hand, it’s hard to realize I’m still grieving. On the other hand, it’s freeing to realize there is a reason I am the way I am. [As one book on complex trauma puts it, It’s Not You, It’s What Happened to You.] Perhaps I’ve suffered from what Walker calls a ‘salvation fantasy.’ Christianity teaches that in Christ we can become a new creation; the old things have passed away, all things have become new. But maybe we can be born anew and still suffer flashbacks to trauma. It doesn’t mean we’re not born again, or that we’ve failed. It means we were hurt by our sinful world, and there are lasting consequences.”

Takeaways: If You Need Help…

  • Pray
  • Journal
  • Seek Counseling
  • Talk to Someone You Trust
  • Research Help for Your Mental Health Symptoms

 As I wrap up this post (which I have been trying to write all summer), I feel grateful, and my mental health feels good. That’s why I am able to publish this right now. But I know tomorrow I might feel different, unable to write for the public; besides that, I also know I’m about to get very busy with work and school again.

So if I don’t post on here for another six or twelve months (grad school is a lot of work, y’all), I want to shout this out to my readers: Friend, if you’re in a desperate place, reach out. Seek help. Your kids will thank you later. If you don’t get help now, your kids will suffer, now and later! (I am living proof of this unfortunate reality.)

If you don’t know who to reach out to but are open to working with a Christian counselor, I highly recommend checking out the Abide network, where I have found my new counselor, who I am working with over the phone (she Zooms, too!)  (FYI, I have some roots with Abide, because I formerly blogged for their website, and Paul Coneff, my Straight 2 the Heart prayer mentor and co-author, is one of their counselors.)

If you’re struggling but not down for traditional counseling, I encourage you to seek counsel in other ways. Spend time with your Wonderful Counselor, Jesus, through reading the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Spend time listening to Him in prayer, preferably with an open journal to write down what He tells you. Or, simply take a walk in nature and ask Him to meet you there. Or, spend time with a friend and ask Him to meet you through her. (Good and godly friends can also be wonderful counselors—wonderful with a little w:)

Here is a pic with my bestie from Minnesota, Samantha (we both live in Texas now…you’ll have to read Ending the Pain for the story:). We had not seen each other since last Christmas, but we finally made it happen for my birthday in July. It was so wonderful (and therapeutic) to see my sweet friend again! Love you, Sam! (And yes, my firstborn son is named after her!)

Bottom line? Our Wonderful Counselor will meet you wherever you are, if you simply ask. I believe He sometimes even meets people through mental health research, meds, and/or therapy, if need be. Bottom line? God has innumerable ways to speak to and/or reach you in your particular situation, like He did for me this summer. You just have to ask…and be willing to get quiet and listen for awhile. Happy new school year, Friends. Here’s to a new start.

End Note

* I belong to a church that believes Jesus is coming again soon. I’ve heard speculations that COVID is a warm-up to “end time events.” These are big buzzwords in my faith tradition. My husband has been studying things out pretty seriously (he was doing this even before the coronavirus). I’m not as into studying Bible prophecy—preferring as I do to study the more microscopic topics of human psychology and the heart. But I am paying more attention to world events and enthralled by the hope that our time on earth could be short. I am praying to be ready, and asking the Lord how He wants to use me. If you’re new to the Bible but interested in learning more, I recommend these Bible study guides, which answer some of humanity’s biggest questions about God, the devil, death, prophecy, and more.

College Students and Mental Health

While teaching freshman composition at UTA last semester, I got to teach on a subject that is near and dear to my heart: college students and mental health.* The subject is near and dear to me, of course, because I struggled with my mental health as an undergraduate college student. It is also still near (but maybe not dear) to me because, at this phase of life I’m in–graduate student/mother/wife/teacher–I am again battling some anxiety.

At a public university, I couldn’t talk openly about what has most helped me since my own depressed undergraduate years. That is, prayer and meditating on Bible promises to replace negative thoughts. But I did tell my students I had struggled mightily in the area of mental health, and that I had gained some victories by learning to better express myself in a variety of contexts: talking honestly with friends, arguing “nicely” with my husband (as in Rogerian argument), and practicing expressive (personal) writing in private as well as in public settings, to name a few.

“Communicating well is an essential life skill,” I told my students from the beginning. As the course progressed, I increasingly talked about good communication as an aid for better mental health. In the middle of the semester we practiced some small group communication on several “mental health Mondays.” Following, we read a chilling ESPN article by Kate Fagan, entitled “Split Image,” about a college freshman who struggled to communicate a true picture of herself and ended up committing suicide. The article begins, “On Instagram, Madison Holleran’s life looked ideal: star athlete, bright student, beloved friend. But the photos hid the reality of someone struggling to go on.” We read the long article out loud with our desks in a circle, and I posed the questions Why did she do it? and What is the “argument” of the article? One astute and un-shy student said, “People who look great on the outside aren’t necessarily feeling good on the inside. They can be living a double life.” True, that.

My class of 24 was the quietest class I’ve ever taught. Very few of my students ever spoke voluntarily in class, even to one another. But when we took an anonymous mental health survey at mid-semester, my students learned some troubling things about their classmates. One-third said they were struggling with mental health to the point that it was interfering with their normal activities. (This statistic supports national research we read in the class.) One student was clearly suicidal, based on his or her anonymous comments. Forty percent reported they were in college not because they wanted to be, but because their parents wanted them to be.

Around the time I gave that survey, a handful of students stopped showing up. A couple did not turn in their second required essay. Though all my students started strong, four of them eventually failed or took incompletes. Except for a couple students whom I couldn’t reach, the strugglers eventually admitted to me–via emails, essays, or in person–that they were struggling with depression, anxiety, or relationships (romantic or parental), or all of the above. None of the failing students was academically incapable of succeeding in the class.**

I find often in life at large–not just in college life–that our failures are due to struggles of the mind (stinking thinking some call it), and/or the inability to ask for help. The longer I observe humanity, the more convinced I become that it’s simply hard for people in general to communicate honestly  about their feelings. It’s hard for people to ask for help. Sometimes it is hard for us to even recognize or admit that we need help. This is a sad reality.

Another sad reality is a persistent belief, common among the older generations, that mental health struggles are myths. I was saddened when I read statements in my students’ final essays like “My dad doesn’t believe in depression; he just thinks people who claim it are weak.” I was also saddened to learn how reluctant my students were to simply talk openly with their parents. Some students admitted to me that they literally didn’t feel safe expressing their needs to their parents. One student wrote in her final reflection that she had changed her major from the one her parents selected (a major she hated), but she was keeping the news from them as long as possible out of fear of their reaction. Another admitted that her parents had threatened to disown her if she did not go to college.

Wow. My quiet class of twenty-four, though they didn’t speak up much in class, spoke loudly and clearly by the end of the semester: they have lots of legitimate (and normal) struggles, but they were generally uncomfortable sharing those struggles with others. They lacked skills in healthy self-expression that I believe could do much to prevent normal struggles from turning into mental health issues.

This is why I feel teaching college writing is not just a career, but also a calling. As I’ve transitioned back into professor-mode over the last year and a half, I’ve had many “aha” moments of why God has put my feet on this path. Namely, my life story has been one of figuring out how to communicate in order to achieve or maintain stable mental health. Now I can use what I’ve learned, and what I am still learning, to help young adults learn critical skills of communicating at a critical, crisis-inducing time.

Yes, communication–in a relational, expressive sense–is an essential life skill. These basics of communication are even more essential than academic writing, I believe–yet how much time do parents, teachers, and church leaders take to teach these “basic” skills? When we can’t express our feelings and/or ask people for help–healthy stress responses, by the way–we resort to unhealthy stress responses: fighting, fleeing, or freezing.

Over the last year and a half, I have seen that young people today need caring adults who won’t dismiss their struggles, but who will listen without judgment. Are you one of those adults?

If you are reading this blog post and have college-age kids in your life, or any age kids, for that matter, I hope you will ask yourself: Am I a safe place for these young people? Do I respond to their struggles and concerns in such a way that I invite them to share with me? Or do I react in ways that would lead them to want to hide from me, and not communicate honestly?

And some questions for self-assessment:

Do I know how to communicate my own needs to the people around me? When I am stressed, do I engage in healthy responses such as journaling, praying, or talking to trusted friends? Do I do the best I can with the resources around me to manage my mental health?

Aside about Managing My Own Mental Health

One of the resources I used to manage my anxiety last semester is CAPS, the free counseling and psychological services UTA offers its students. I first visited Ransom Hall (pictured above) in July of last year, when I was home for the summer and felt the familiar anxiety coming back. We were smack-dab in the midst of transitioning my mother-in-law and her possessions into our household, and me transitioning my possessions and my full-time professor position from my office at SWAU to my garage and my new office and roles at UTA. I called off a visit to see my parents in Minnesota in July because the thought of the trip, on top of everything else, was making my anxiety worse.

When I started my semester at UTA in late August, the anxiety improved for awhile–I do better at work than at home–but as the semester wore on, life crowded in on me, like it did to my students, and I felt myself struggling to breathe. I couldn’t find much time to journal or talk to friends, much less my husband (though I did pray on a lot on my commute). I was physically sick for about half the semester, so I couldn’t exercise much. However, I made use of the resources available. Ransom Hall is right next to my office in  Carlisle Hall, so at mid-semester, I sought counseling (controlled crying and venting?) again. At the end of the semester, faced with another long break at home (I felt the anxiety coming), I sought again anxiety medication at the campus clinic.

Before Christmas, I made a playlist of anti-anxiety songs and played it over and over for a couple weeks. I saw a couple friends, but not as much as I would have liked (they’re mostly all busy moms, too). After a year and a half of crazy transitions and not seeing my family, I desperately wanted to escape to Minnesota, but failed to communicate to my family how important such a break was soon enough, and never made that trip. We did fly my little brother here for a visit, though, and his presence has been a comfort. And last week my dad happened to call me while I was having a panic attack, and, hearing my sobbing and hyperventilating over the phone (a quite unusual call for us), he planned a last-minute trip to Texas during the last few days of my break. I wish I could have communicated better, earlier, and less dramatically my needs to my family, but so be it. There is a lesson in this. I am still learning to communicate my needs to the close people around me in order to take care of my mental health. I am still a work in progress. But I have learned a lot, and I have a lot to share. Sharing uncomfortably personal things seems to be the ministry God has given me, in fact, and I embrace it gladly, happy that sharing my hurt can lead to someone else’s hope.

End of Confession

You don’t need a college education to improve in these areas (communication, mental health management, being supportive of others in their struggles). You just need a willingness to be honest with yourself and others, and a willingness to listen. If you feel like you need help in some basics of communication, you might benefit from a radio interview I had the privilege of doing this past October with Adventist Radio London on “Overcoming Depression.” Praise God that depression is no longer a part of my story!

Again, Happy New Year, friends! I’ll sign off this post the way I signed off my class last semester: good communication and good mental health to you!

*Providentially, this “topic cluster” was added to the First Year Writing folder just this year–just for me, it seems.

**All the trends I’ve noted in this paragraph also applied to a 25-person Research Writing class I taught last year at Southwestern Adventist University, a private Christian school. An interesting comparison.

Two a.m. Soul Cry: Finding Release Valves for the New Year, and Your Current Season

img_5269I didn’t write a Christmas letter or send out Christmas cards in 2019. I found that, at the end of the fall 2019 semester, I was too emotionally exhausted to do much of anything but cry. All semester I went to school/work to be a student/teacher, and I came straight home to be a mom/wife. That was my semester. Everything else got put to the side. This week, our family is decompressing and ringing in the New Year in a cabin in Arkansas. I am still trying to unwind from that crazy semester, as well as the crazy Christmas season. As well as just, well, life as we’ve known it for the past couple years.

I still don’t have words to express all the feelings I have about my personal life right now–except perhaps what I could only get out in some free verse in October. One night after coming home late from a night class, I couldn’t sleep, and a poem spilled across my notebook pages at 2 a.m. (This was unusual at this stage of life. My readers know I’m not a poet.) Perhaps what comes through in the poem is that I don’t know how to tend to some important relationships right now while also trying to stay mentally sound myself. I feel like, for the past few years, every six months or so we have had a huge life upheaval: two job losses, moving to a new state, a mom-dad role switch, the death of a parent, a parent added to the household, two new jobs, re-entry into graduate school…what have I missed? Anyway. stressful times.

My dad has a tradition of sending out an annual Christmas poem, and since I didn’t write any Christmas communications, I’ll dedicate my October poem to my dad, and to my mom, and to my brothers, Kyle and Caleb. All of these dear ones live at least a thousand miles away, and I have seen none of them for at least a year and a half. I also dedicate the poem to my good-humored husband, Buc. One needs a sense of humor at times like these. During stressful seasons we humans need some release valves like crying, talking with friends, writing poetry, or doing whatever leaves us with a little more peace. May you take your human and/or artistic license in 2020 and do whatever emotionally uplifting, nonviolent, non-destructive-to-relationships, and legal things you need to do to weather whatever season you’re going through. God bless you, Friends, and Happy New Year.


Showing Up
10/20/19

Sometimes life is about showing up
being present
hugging a screaming, inconsolable child
saying I love you or
praying with you
when, really, that’s all I can do.
I can’t fly over the ocean to you
or even across five states for you.
I can’t take my family, your grandsons,
to visit you.
I have nothing to give.
Nothing but wishes and prayers and a
heart full of emotions I can’t express.
Life just doesn’t cooperate.

The house is a mess.
And I have to go to work.
And I could work my life away,
forgetting to stop and sit with you.
Neglecting to sit and eat with you.
Not bothering to look you in the eye.
Just giving up trying to connect…
because connecting seems so hard.

Where do we go when we run out of
answers?
When Mom, Dad, Husband, Wife, and “Higher Education”
cease to fill us, delight us, comfort us?
And when, after a lifetime of reading and
school and straight A’s, we can’t learn
what we need to know, no matter how
much we study?
Only here. Crumpled in a chair at 2 a.m.,
heart racing, praying, knowing I don’t
know much of anything. But it’s okay.
He knows.
You know, God.
You know it’s going to be okay.
The world doesn’t rest on my shoulders–
it rests on yours.

And so.
I can breathe. I can sit. I can put
work away. I can leave that dust.
I can give up so many expectations
that never did anything for me
but strangle me.
What if Mom is not all put together?
(And I mean she, and I mean me.)
I’ll speak for myself and say
I’m a mess. Emotionally.
I can clean all day–clean my life away–
but what will that do if I alienate you?
I’m sorry, Family.

I see me now, or I’m starting to.
It’s not totally my fault. I didn’t make
this mess (completely). But neither did you.
It’s a long legacy, passed down to us from
our first mother, our first father.
We’re just the latest installation in a
forever-back line.
We were gifted the curse at birth.
And so we grow up nasty and defiant,
a collective screaming child. Rude, disrespectful,
selfish, self-centered “I’s.”
Our parents wounded us, though it’s the
last thing they wanted to do.
We grew up to do it, too.
We’re messy people, producing more messy people.
Heaven help us–Jesus help me.
For on my own, I can do no better than
live out this human legacy.
Human nature tells me to leave–
don’t stay the course–do what’s easy.
Emotions go cold–play mind games.
Get angry, bitter, blame him, blame her.
Don’t take responsibility.

But.
You came to change the story,
Jesus. You came here, by me–right
beside me, and us, in this mess.
You flowered in the fray–
a tender shoot from dry ground.
Unsupported, despised, rejected.
Unfairly treated, betrayed, and abandoned.
Abused, misused, and unfairly accused.
If anyone had the right to be angry,
it was you.

But what did you do?

You showed up.
You prayed, You pled, You loved, and You bled.
You cried and You prayed, even while betrayed.
You kept Your eyes on the skies and on
better days (One day
you will see me coming in the clouds,
You said.)
Still–You prayed and You pled, and You
loved, and You bled.
You didn’t turn cold or deny the pain–
You uttered this refrain:
God, if it is possible, take this cup from
Me. But if it’s not possible, Thy will
be done.
And God didn’t take the cup away, because
this suffering was Your mission.

And when they beat You and hit You,
kicked and spit at You–tore off
Your clothes and dressed You in robes,
nailed Your body to a tree,
You prayed,
Father, forgive them for they know not what
they do.

Oh, what those eyes could see.
Me. (And I mean you.)
How could I be so stupid?
Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Forgive me. I didn’t know what I was doing.
And I still don’t know what I’m doing, Lord.
And I don’t know how to fix it–
this pain in me and this pain around me–
And the pain inflicted on me, and the pain
I inflict on others.

But praise God.
I don’t have to know.
Because it’s not my job to know.
And it’s not my job to fix it.
You know, and it’s Your job.
That’s why You came and lived
and prayed, and pled, and loved, and bled,
and suffered, and died,
and rose again.

It’s 2 a.m. and the night is almost gone.
Day will rise, hope will rise, again.

And sometimes, like today,
life is just about showing up.
Being present.
Hugging a screaming, but consolable, child.
Saying I love you to my husband.
Sending I love you’s to my mom, my dad, and my brothers
(thousands of miles away).
Praying with a friend who’s with me now.
That’s all I can do.
And that’s all I have to do.


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Shooting for a B (A Message for Christian Perfectionists)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“Fast asleep.” by ClickE is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I’ve spent a lot of my life aiming for perfection. But there’s something to be said for shooting for a B, and even simply showing up (if you bring a good attitude, of course). These are some things I said recently while doing an interview with Adventist Radio London (ARL) on the topic of perfectionism. (I was asked for the interview after my article, “Breaking Free from the Perfectionist Trap” came out in Vibrant Life Magazine in June.) The interviewer, Vanesa Pizzuto, said that the thought of “shooting for a B” made her cringe. But she agreed with me: “We can’t do everything perfectly.”

No, I can’t do everything perfectly.

I am still trying to let that truth sink in, because letting go of my perfection still makes me cringe sometimes, too. But I know this is crucial advice for me, a lifelong perfectionist. I am juggling many balls right now–wife, mom, graduate student, teacher, church member, public speaker, freelance writer–and I desperately need to be able to prioritize. I need God’s wisdom to show me when perfectionis called for, and when just showing up, or just a little preparationwill suffice.

The brain surgeon in the operating room needs to aim for perfection.

The auto manufacturer preparing airbags (and many other car parts) needs to aim for perfection.

Life and death matters call for a measure of perfectionism.

But most of my daily tasks aren’t life or death.

To the extent that I believe this truth–that the bulk of my daily choices don’t matter that much–I can either live in a state of peace or a state of anxiety. I’ve been there, done that with the perfectionism-and-anxiety thing…and I’m sick of it. So I am admitting the error of my ways (in this area), and reciting these crucial truths to myself:

  • It’s okay to shoot for a B sometimes
  • It’s okay to just show up sometimes (without an exhaustive plan in hand, but with a good attitude in heart and mind)

Contrary to my anxiety-feeding fears, nothing catastrophic is going to happen if I don’t have:

  • A perfectly clean house
  • Perfectly healthy and balanced meals at every meal
  • A perfectly toned body and my perfect weight of 125 pounds
  • Perfectly planned lessons for each class I teach
  • A perfect schedule for my kids that I follow to the letter
  • A perfect record of daily reading my Bible (I’m just being honest…it doesn’t happen every day)
  • Every reading assignment as a graduate student (and there are many) completely read and thoroughly annotated

These are some of the things that make up my daily life, and, at various points, they all have caused me anxiety. You know it’s a really bad day when I’m stressing over all of them! But as I continue this walk of life, this spiritual journey, I hope I am getting a little better at recognizing this trap of perfectionist thinking (and its domino-effect-anxiety)–and then promptly turning it all over to Jesus.

It’s an ongoing struggle. I won’t lie. But as I said in the interview with ARL, the best thing I can do, when roiled by unrealistic visions of A-plusses in every detail–the best thing I can do, is stop. Stop it right there, thoughts. Call out these unrelenting sky-high expectations for what they are: traps of the devil. And confess to my Creator:

God, I’m sorry for entertaining these thoughts. You are my Creator–You are the Author and Finisher (and the Perfecter) of my faith. Forgive me for focusing on myself and my limited abilities, and not on You, Your omnipotence, Your omnipresence, Your omniscience. Forgive me for taking on a yoke that You never intended for me (Your yoke is easy, Your burden is light!). Forgive me for giving in to fear, and getting derailed (again).

I need You so much, Lord. I need you every moment of every day. Thank you for being with me, whether I acknowledge Your presence or not. Help me to put my thoughts on You, and take courage. Help me to remember that You created me for a specific purpose in this world–and that purpose was not to be perfect in every way, but to do the work You intend for me. Help me daily to separate the (eternally) important from the insignificant. Help me remember I don’t have to figure out my life alone. And help me to remember, and truly believe, that whatever You want me to do, You will help me to do–with Your power, not mine.

Now, I’ve said that most of my daily decisions don’t matter that much. For those of you who feel uncomfortable with that thought–or if you cringe at the thought of shooting for a B–let me just be clear. As a Christian, I do believe, overall, that what we do during this life matters. I believe that our choices, our actions, our obedience or non-obedience to God, will ultimately lead us to eternal life or eternal death. And, speaking as a parent, I accept that my actions can either pave the way to heaven or pave the way to hell for my children. So I don’t take my daily decisions lightly. With that said though, I often take the small details of every day much too seriously.

If my day is chaos, and the kids aren’t going along with my perfect “plan” for the day, which is more important: making sure they eat from all the food groups today, or teaching them about Jesus? See my point? I can drive myself crazy (and I have) trying to check all the boxes in every category. But we aren’t living in a perfect world. I’m not perfect, the people around me aren’t perfect, and conditions are rarely ideal. Thus, some things gotta give. The key is asking God which things can go–and then homing in on the things that really need doing (and realizing that sometimes the things worth doing can be done at a B level).

If you struggle with this perfectionist trap (and you know who you are:), won’t you join me in asking Jesus for wisdom to separate the life-and-death (really important) matters from the daily (not-so-important) details? Only in Him can we hope to live the “perfect” life–meaning, the life He intends us to live–and only as we adopt a biblical perspective can we begin to envision what God’s perfect life for us actually looks like. Courage, fellow perfectionists! May God help us all on this journey.

The Fiction(?) of the “Perfect Mom Post”

Barbie
“Little miss perfect.” by abigailala is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

To my mom readers: I don’t know about you, but browsing Facebook makes me feel bad about myself. My Facebook feed is full of mom posts promoting their great parenting hacks, model kids, fun family trips, and impressive summertime bucket lists. I hop on Facebook for awhile, and I log off feeling empty, and deeply insecure about myself as a mom.

Recently, I was off Facebook for about a year as I manuevered my first year officially back to work (teaching) since the births of my two sons, now almost 3 ½ and 5 ½. But when summer break hit, I logged back on and got triggered. I saw many manifestations of those “perfect mom posts,” and I immediately felt like a bad mom because of all the things I wasn’t doing. I didn’t have a summer bucket list for the kids. I didn’t have any fun trips planned. Long ago, overwhelmed by the many transitions that have characterized this stage of our lives, I had stopped making the effort to even post cute pictures and captions of my kids.

I eyed the feed for a couple weeks warily, despairingly.

I wanted to lash out on my own Facebook feed. I felt angry and insecure, and it was Facebook’s fault. Pinterest’s fault. It was the fault of those perfect moms with their perfect kids and perfect posts.

I did lash out. Thankfully not publicly. I opened my trusty writer’s notebook one night and released a self-righteous personal essay, from my professional standpoint as a writer and writing teacher, on how moms need a lesson in audience awareness and rhetoric: “Leave all the personal pictures for family photo albums, and for Grandma,” was the nature of my rant.

While I penned my angry essay, I thought I was doing my fellow moms a service, teaching them good writing technique for Facebook. Teaching them to consider their audience, because, obviously, my negative reaction as a Facebook reader and audience member showed that they were doing something wrong. Initially, I planned to post that essay on this blog.

But boy, I’m glad I gave the idea time to rest and, later, reconsidered. I realized that what I had written was likely to anger, if not hurt, my own target audience. I was about to be guilty of the very writing and publishing sins I was calling out. I also realized that I might be wrong about some of my key assumptions.

I wrote: “People didn’t used to wave family pictures around at the watering hole; why do we do it on Facebook?” “I long for things to be more like they used to be, women sitting around together having real, personal conversations.”

I remembered how lonely I had been as a stay-at-home mom, feeling disconnected from family and friends. I remembered how I felt lonely not only when we lived far from family and friends in Missouri, but also while I lived down the road from family and friends in Texas.

Women long to connect with one another; and in our modern world, it’s hard to do that in person sometimes. Who am I to say that moms wouldn’t share the same silly stories, or tips, or even pictures of their kids, with one another, if they were able to sit down with one another in person? I realized I was being too harsh.

For myself, when I get a chance to really talk to other moms–or when I take the time to write on social media–I know that I need to have harder conversations than the ones that often show up on Facebook. But who am I to say that the other moms on my feed need frequent “therapy sessions” like I do?

We all have different areas of struggle, and I need to get okay with the fact that motherhood is not a huge area of struggle for all women. The fact that some women “just love staying home” with their babies (and happily, and frequently, post their feelings about that on Facebook) should not threaten my worth as a person. I have my own unique strengths, and as I’m finding, those strengths center more in the workplace than in the home.

As I pondered all these things, I was pleasantly surprised, in fact, to realize that my professional training could help me understand the “fiction” I thought I was reading in those “perfect mom posts.” (Warning: We’re about to get a little nerdy here, moms…).

Scribbling Women–AKA, The Before-Facebook Days

A concept from my past training as an English major came back to me: the concept of “Scribbling Women,” or women of the nineteenth century who wrote domestic fiction, often under aliases, because they were trapped at home without a public voice. Ha. I remembered how, once I got a little babysitting help as a SAHM, I was a pretty voracious scribbler myself. The stay-at-home mom years were some of my most productive blogging and book-writing years. I was never a super active Face-booker, but perhaps I would have been more so, had I not had additional writing platforms available to me. During my SAHM-hood I was also blessed to have public-speaking platforms available to me, after the publication of Ending the Pain.

So, I did the responsible thing as a reader, and reconsidered where those “perfect mom posts” were really coming from. In the college classroom, we call this “critical reading,” as we apply knowledge of the “rhetorical situation.” The three elements that make up the rhetorical situation are writer/speaker, subject, and audience. These three elements are present in any writing or speaking situation–any communicative act–and they make up the message that is transmitted (spoken, written, or otherwise communicated).

Rhetorical Triangle

Writer/Speaker: These ladies that had my heart racing were not out to make other moms feel bad. They were merely moms dwelling at home—many of them home by choice—and if their posts were any indication, they loved being at home with their kiddos. They were moms who had chosen to stay home with their kids who, although happy at home, still needed to connect with other moms. So they were using the best platform they had, and that was Facebook.

Subject: The stuff of our lives makes up our conversations, so it makes sense that when one is a SAHM, a frequent topic of conversation will be kids. Oh, I remember it well; when I stayed home, with no work outside the home to divide my attention, my kids were almost all I thought and talked and wrote about. Home again for the summer, I am currently much more kid-focused; I find myself thinking and speaking and writing a lot more about motherhood than when I am working. It makes sense. We think and speak and write Facebook posts about the stuff of our lives; so who am I to criticize other mothers for posting mostly about their motherhood experience? (I did it too, once.)

Now, it is my sense that some moms could be more honest about motherhood in their posts, but that’s a subject for another blog. Until a mom messages me, or comments on my ugly-honest motherhood blog posts that they feel the same way (and a number of them have), I shouldn’t assume that her posts or published feelings are deceitful or fake; as a Christian, I should be happy that she is happy, and that her parenting journey is going well.

Audience: And now we get to audience. Who am I to say that these mom posts that had me so riled up a few weeks ago are inappropriate for their intended audience? As I reconsidered, I realized that I had taken it upon myself to react on behalf of all readers based on my own insecurities as a mom. Who am I to say that posts that make me feel insecure make other mom-readers feel that way? I am but one mom in a sea of Facebook moms, and, admittedly, I have some deeply rooted mommy issues that other moms may not have.

I don’t want to begrudge any happy moms for their “perfect mom posts” anymore (and I really just mean “happy,” “grateful,” “glowing,” “laughing,” “silly” mom posts). If those are the conversations moms need and want to have, some lighthearted chitchat at the watering hole, that’s great.

For myself, I’ve been grappling with some old mommy issues this summer. I’m talking about issues with my own mom…and you can bet that those issues filter into my own mothering. So maybe (probably) my own painful history, and the painful continuing story, is where my anger, and insecurity, is coming from.

Do any of you out there struggle with parental relationships? Anyone have mental illness, divorce, separation, or estrangement in your family history? Anyone understand? If so, message me, email me, call me, or meet me for lunch, and let’s have that conversation.

I’ll leave the lighter mom posts to other moms who can honestly make them. And God bless you, moms. You are doing an awesome job…every one of you who keeps showing up and doing the best you can do. For me, those “perfect” mom posts (“happy,” “grateful,” “glowing,” “laughing,” “silly” posts) feel more like fiction right now, so I’ll put my writing and speaking energies elsewhere. This writer will try to take her own advice and strive to create content that accurately represents the writer (speaker) and subject, and appropriately connects with the intended audience.

Year of Blessings: Update Post

Write Spot
I had the privilege of directing the Write Spot, the campus writing center, at Southwestern Adventist University for the 2018-19 school year.

Okay, after ten months of silence, it’s time for a blog post. Last you heard from me, I was starting a new job as an English professor at Southwestern Adventist University. Well, that position is ending, and a new chapter is starting. I’ve begun my PhD at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA); as of this coming fall, I’ll be working on a doctorate fulltime and teaching part-time for UTA.

Guys, one year ago as a stay-at-home mom, I had no idea I’d be back in grad school right now; no idea I would have fallen in love with teaching college composition, and have decided that this is what I was made to do. Life simply continues to be a whirlwind of changes. The 2018-19 teaching year was a blessing, on so many fronts. It was also a year of heartache, fear, and anxiety.

The Heartache of Losing a Loved One, the Blessing of Extra Time

My husband lost his job in March of 2018, as you may recall. We were then in Missouri, detached from any family (his family being in Texas, mine in Minnesota). After considering many options, without a job lined up, we decided to move back to Texas. We didn’t know then that Buc’s dad would pass away just seven months after our return. We didn’t know that I’d get a one-year position at Southwestern Adventist University and Buc and I would essentially switch roles for this year, but in hindsight, oh, what a blessing! We will ever cherish the extra time we got to spend with our Dad and “Poppa” Gendke. I am thankful that it was Buc at home, and not me, to be able to spend extra time with his father, and later, to bring extra comfort to his mother. Buc loved the job he lost, but he loved his father so much more. If this had been the only blessing of our job loss and move, it would have been worth it.

But there’s more.

The Blessing of Going Back to Work

If you read this blog, you may remember that I was a floundering mama in Missouri. Wow, was I a mess. Staying home with kids simply seemed to bring out the worst in me. I’d love to say I love being home all the time with my kids, but the truth is, no, I don’t. There’s a complex explanation here that involves my roots: my upbringing, my fears, and my sinful nature. Maybe I’ll unfold that in writing later. But the simple explanation is that providing childcare for littles does not call forth my strengths. On the contrary, it ramps up my anxiety like almost nothing else I’ve experienced. So, while I love my boys dearly and I’m so glad I have them…

Oh-my-goodness.

I’m so relieved I got to go back to work this past year! And not just to any job. Guys, this past year, I think I literally worked my dream job. I’m so amazed at how great a fit this position was for me. Suddenly, after years of feeling like a colossal failure, daily feeling bad about myself and my performance with my littles, I felt comfortable and confident again.

The Blessing of Finding my Calling

In the college classroom, specifically in teaching my writing classes, I found a passion that is second only to writing. In my comp classes, I provided learning experiences for a young audience, but now young adults (not young children). And this seems to be my sweet spot as a teacher. (Maybe this will be my sweet spot as a parent, too.) I knew how to talk to young adults, how to connect with them—in short, how to help them. It was nice to finish a day of work and feel I had really helped people; I had really provided skills they needed.

When teaching, I like to write on the white board. Here’s a taste of my Essay and Opinion Writing class, fall 2018. Did you realize that many college kids just take pictures of the board, now, in lieu of writing down their own notes? This was news to me this year!

You may or may not recall that I taught high school English for three years before having my children and writing my books. Well, this feeling of satisfaction did not accompany the high school job. Thus, I really didn’t expect to fall in love with teaching as I did this past year. What a blessing to have had this year to figure out my audience as a teacher.

At the end of the year, having to tell my beloved college students that I was not coming back was sad and felt a little confusing. I didn’t want to leave. I did reapply when my position was reopened. But I was not re-hired. No one was. The position, my position, has been cut at this time for budgetary reasons.

The Fear and Anxiety

The months leading up to this news were chaotic and stressful. Ever aware of the impending hiring decision, I was doing everything I could to keep my job. I updated my resume, wrote a heartfelt cover letter, re-interviewed with the English department, put my best foot forward in a departmental presentation—I even enrolled in a PhD program and one night class, not because I wanted to do a doctorate (I ended grad school last time with mixed feelings), but simply because I wanted to keep my job.

All year, I kept my head down, eyes off Facebook and this blog, and instead focused on teaching, and trying to keep my job. All my extra time went to my kids and husband. I’d say all other relationships—the ones outside my home—suffered. By January, because I felt so anxious, I decided to take part in a depression and anxiety recovery program at my church on Monday nights. Well, it was a good try at dealing with my situational anxiety, but unfortunately, the demands of the seminar—eight weeks, Monday nights for two hours, with hours of assigned reading each week and personal homework—created more anxiety. I simply didn’t have the space in my schedule for it.

The Blessing of Losing my Job, and Gaining Graduate School

By the time my boss informed me I would not be rehired, the last day of my spring break, the news actually came as a relief. Although teaching was going well, overall, I was being stretched in too many directions: fulltime job, PhD work, mother of small children, and a once-a-week anxiety seminar that I didn’t have time for. So, after spring break, I had Monday nights back, and closure about my job. I still had to get through the rest of the semester, though, which included teaching a full load, and my Thursday night class, for which I had to write a twenty-five page paper.

Here’s a last look down the SWAU English department hallway (and into my office) before I move my stuff out. It’s quiet now, for summer break, and I may take advantage of that peace and quiet a few more times before I transition my office to UTA.

Actually, the sting of losing my job was greatly lessened by my concurrent involvement with the doctoral program. With that twenty-five page paper looming, and questions of, What will be my areas of research for the next three to five years? I had plenty of new material to occupy and distract my mind from the job loss. In addition, toward the end of the spring semester, I was awarded a doctoral assistantship, which will pay for my tuition, and also pay me to teach one or two writing classes at UTA.

UT-Arlington_DirectoryLogo.gifI couldn’t have predicted it, but I actually feel happy to be back in graduate school. I’m so much more ready to focus on graduate studies and a career now than I was in 2012 when I finished my master’s degree. At that time, I decided to step away from grad school and a career and have kids and write. That decision led to the beginning of this blog, in fact. Back then I was still trying to heal from childhood trauma. I needed to do some hardcore expressive writing, and focus on family.

The Blessing of Buc (My Hubby)

As I type that line, I imagine some readers asking, What about your family now? Don’t your kids need you at home?

This picture was taken on the morning of January 21st of this year, Sam’s fifth birthday. It was dress-up day at school, and he chose to go as Catboy from PJ Masks. This photo makes me happy.

Do my kids need me? Yes, they do. But do they need me to be the parent who is predominantly at home? Or is it possible that, in my particular family, Dad is the one better suited for this job? I’d like to write more about these particular dynamics in another post, but suffice it to say, this past year of Buc staying home with the kids (mostly Seth, since Sam entered preschool) has proven to be another huge blessing, as well. Buc did great! We are finding that, for our family, Dad is the better parent to stay home.

This Summer…

It still pains me that staying home with my kids seems to bring out the worst in me. On summer break currently, I am again suffering some anxiety. I keep remembering back to something I said to a friend on the brink of turning thirty, when I first became a mom: “I want my thirties to be more relaxed.” When I said that, I’m not sure I knew what I meant by “relaxed.” I think somewhere in my imagination, I wanted “relaxed” to equate to staying home with my babies and happily living life on the porch, a glass of lemonade (okay, coffee, lots of coffee) in hand. Well. It didn’t take long to discover that, for me, being at home was not relaxing.

As I write, I am about to turn thirty-five. I have a husband, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old. I have a house and a yard to take care of. I also have an appointment to teach and study for my doctorate fulltime in the fall. Before you judge me as crazy (for taking on so much at once), or a bad mom, please know that going back to work has saved me. It has saved my mental health. And maybe it was the first step in preventing psychological damage in my kids.

This summer, I’m going to try to be a happy, hands-on, blessing of a mom. For me, that takes a lot of prayer, planning, and energy (it stretches me much more than being in the classroom). So, I’m trying to leave margin, trying not to fill up my plate with much. That means blogging won’t be a high priority, although I hope to blog sporadically. My other goal is to reconnect with some family and friends, and actually try to rest a bit before the busy-ness starts up again fulltime in the fall. I hope to continue reflecting on this year of blessings that has just concluded, and prepare mentally for the busy year ahead.

Look at my handsome little dudes! Even though I write about mothering struggles, I am still a proud mom, and I know the best days are yet to come. This photo was taken May 20th, right before Kindergarten graduation at Sam’s school. As a preschooler, Sam (right, 5 years old) still participated in the program; Seth (3 years) even got to cut the ribbons for the pre-K and K classes before they walked down the aisle.

Thanks for taking time to catch up with me. I hope and pray you have a blessed summer, and can find some time to reflect on the blessings in your life and/or rest, plan, and pray about whatever difficulties you may be facing.

Back to Work

SWAU Logo

office 1If you missed the news, I got a full-time position teaching college English at my alma mater, Southwestern Adventist University. As of July 1, I became the “working spouse” in our home; Buc became the stay-at-home parent. Now we are trying to figure our new roles, and those are not always clear-cut.

One thing is clear, though: I have trouble letting go of control when it comes to the home front, so it’s been an interesting summer with me transitioning my time more and more to the office and less and less at home.

I am blessed that Buc has wholeheartedly supported me getting back to work—almost pushing me out the door some days—because it can be hard for me to let go at home. Sometimes I need that little push to leave things in his hands.

Though the home-to-office transition has been a bit clunky (trying to get my mind out of mom-mode and back into academia), after weeks of hammering out syllabi, nosing through textbooks, and scratch-outlining assignments, I feel excited for the school year to come.

It helps that I’ve been assigned a list of “fun” classes: Essay and Opinion Writing, Composition Theory, Advanced Grammar, and Research Writing (“fun” being a relative term, there:) I think this English department sensed my nerdy, writerly self coming, which is why they also appointed me to become director of the campus writing center. I realize that, to some, this would be a bummer of a task; but not me. Every time I report to the quiet of my office, hunker down to hammer out writing curriculum and dream up teaching ideas, I thank God for allowing me to work at something I love.

And work at something that comes easily.

office 2

I love my job as a mom, too. But, gosh, that job has not come easily. On the day I drafted this post, I was at home with two kids who had both been sick recently–including one very clingy and one very defiant child. I was also sleep deprived, and I felt panic rising. The tears welled up. I took an anxiety pill, which pills I haven’t needed very often since going back to work. But this little panic reminded me to look up and thank God for how He is working in my life—and in my family.

“Go to work. Please, go to work,” Buc has been saying since I got my keys to my office—not only because I tend to micromanage (and annoy) him at home, but also because he knows it is good for me. In my moments of panic, he adds the words: “I’m glad you’re going back to work so I can be the one to handle the kids more; they don’t affect me like they affect you.” (Wonderful, supportive spouse. Thank you, Lord.)

It is humbling to admit I feel so powerless and helpless as a mom. But I admit it so that I can praise God that He has seen and heard my struggle, and He has provided a way for our family to get through it: Mom going back to work and Dad staying home. Oh, and our vibrant and social Sam starting preschool in the fall with his “Nanny,” my mother-in-law and a brilliant Pre-K and K teacher. This is a beautiful blessing, too. (God bless all you family members, mentors, church members, community members, who choose to step into a child’s life and be a positive influence; we parents just can’t do it all on our own—and we are grateful for your support!)

Friend, whatever you are going through, no matter how frustrating, hopeless, panic-inducing it seems, please take heart. Know that God sees you. He knows your struggle. He understands, and He has infinite ways to lead you through the wilderness. When you don’t know the answers, when you don’t know the way, when you don’t know how to pray, here’s a little script for you:

Lord, thank you that you promise to provide ways I do not know, ways I have not seen. You promise to do a “new thing” in my life—when I seek You. You promise that I will find you when I seek you with all of my heart. And when I seek you first, you promise to add all these other things [the needs I worry about meeting] unto me. You promise to provide. Thank you for providing a way, even before I can see it. Now, just help me trust you to lead me there, and lead me through.

At God’s leading, and with my husband’s and mother-in-law’s overwhelming support, I am happily heading back to work.

be strong sign
I wanted something inspirational to greet me when I go to work every day, so I placed this sign where I would see it first thing when I come to my office every day.

Home Again

texas
“Texas” from Alpha Stock Images

We have moved back to Texas, and it’s good to be back. I truly didn’t know how I’d feel coming back to this state that holds one-third of my life’s history. Last year, when we were still in job limbo, I thought I wanted to go back to Minnesota—where I spent the bigger part of my history. But now Texas feels like the right decision. It feels like home.

As far as new starts go, this is a BIG one. When we left Texas 3 ½ years ago, we had one child: 11-month-old Sam. Buc worked an 8­–5 job in the finance industry. I wasn’t working in the traditional sense, but I was getting off the ground as a writer, developing this blog and the book that became Ending the Pain.

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 Now, we have returned with two children: 4-year-old Sam and 2-year-old Seth. Buc’s career in finance is at a pause after a merger of his two former companies, and I have been hired as a full-time English instructor for next year at Southwestern Adventist University. Starting next fall, I will “work” in the traditional sense, and Buc will stay home with the boys and begin his own business.

Buc and boys
A dad in his glory:) I am so blessed to be married to this man, and I don’t tell him enough. (I just prefer to embarrass him occasionally on this blog…he’s been suffering the side effects of marrying a writer since this blog’s beginning in 2013:) 

Am I excited for this new chapter? Oh, man. You don’t know the half of it! Not only does this new job feel right, but being back in our old home feels right. Yes, we were able to move back into our first house as a married couple—the house whose white walls I filled with color and whose big, empty rooms I filled with couches and friends and prayer groups. There are a lot of good memories, and good feelings, in this house.

Amanda and me

I am writing this post as if I’ve reached the mountain top after experiencing near death. I know that’s being a little dramatic, but it’s not dramatic to say that the last couple years in Missouri were hard.

I’m still kind of asking God, “What just happened, Lord?

 

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Sam (left) and Seth exploring the moving truck on March 27, the day we loaded it, a day before we moved our lives from Missouri to Texas.

I still don’t understand the emotional roller coaster we faced after baby #2. I don’t quite understand the anger. The anxiety. The marital strife. I don’t understand how moms of little children survive if they don’t have help (from family members, church family, a spouse). While in Missouri, I don’t feel like I ever figured out how to mother my two boys and keep my sanity on a regular basis—without regular breaks. I still don’t know.

All I can say is praise God those years are behind me; and praise God that He provided the help I needed to survive. Praise God for my husband who has never given up on me, even through the defects of character the last few years brought out it me.

Praise God for Janice, our babysitter/nanny/cleaning lady who helped me stay afloat and who invested so much love and energy into my kids several times a week. (Praise God for the fruitful job that allowed us to hire Janice for those years!)

Janice and Emily
Janice went from being our cleaning lady in 2016 to our babysitter/nanny in 2017, to my friend. I didn’t know when I hired her what a godsend she would be to our family, and I really don’t know how I would have survived without her. (This is a story for the next book:) Thanks Janice (and Emily, pictured on the right). We miss you both already!

Praise God for the MOPS group I belonged to that gave me moral support and a break from the kids every other Thursday morning.

Praise God for the handful of mom friends I made at my Missouri church whom I didn’t spend nearly enough time with, but who still encouraged me through emails, texts, and phone prayers, and allowed me to do the same for them.

Church friends

No, we didn’t thrive in Missouri, but we survived. Maybe the lesson was this: No mom is an island. Before motherhood and Missouri, I was at a peak place in my life, feeling pretty good about myself and my abilities. Feeling, maybe, a little too self-sufficient. Well, that feeling is gone.

Maybe I needed that 3 ½ year lesson in seeing my need, so I could appreciate what I had, and have, here in Texas. Got it, Lord.

Today I am so thankful for new starts—the new starts God gives me daily, and other new starts, like this one, where my whole world kind of gets picked up, rattled around, and set back down. I may not understand the clunkiness of what happened in the past 3 ½ years, but I trust that God is working out those years for good—in our lives and in the lives of those we came into contact with in Missouri.

me and kids in truck

Life Transitions and Writing Updates

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This picture was taken a few days after Christmas at a quaint Bed and Breakfast in Granbury, TX, where I finished the rough draft of my current manuscript and enjoyed a little time away with the hubby.

Hi Friends! My blog is woefully neglected these days, but for good reason. My husband is being severed from his job next month, and we are trying to figure out what we’re going to do next: where he (or I) is going to work, where we’re going to live, and how we are going to pay for stuff.

Life has been stressful, to say the least. But we are still counting our blessings, because we still have lots to celebrate–with the birthdays of my two beautiful boys topping the list, and some exciting writing projects besides.

We celebrated Sam’s fourth birthday on January 21st with his first official “friend party”–a simple, but wonderful affair! Never underestimate what a few balloons, cupcakes, and friends mean to a child! (Sam was so excited that he claimed every day after January 21 was his birthday, until we finally took the birthday banner down on February 12!)

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Then a few weeks later, on February 11, we celebrated Seth’s second birthday with a quiet day at home and some angel-themed activities–angels being Seth’s current obsession! Never underestimate the value of family time, some DIY cookies, and a blow-up angel to a toddler! What special moments these two birthdays were in the midst of a stressful season.

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On the writing front, I have finished my third book, a modern-day novel about Psalm 109, with Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart Ministries, and am currently working on edits. (Here’s a link to our first book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, in case you have yet to check it out!) I look forward to announcing an online release date within a few months! (Titles are still being discussed, but following you can see a few options we are considering.)

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Finally, I have recently partnered with a new Adventist mental health blog called Ending Pretending, which appears on the AbideCounseling website–to write two articles about depression that I hope you’ll check out:

“I Thought I Could Never Tell. I Was Wrong.” 

“When Life Feels Too Hard to Handle”

Well, those are the headlines, for now. If you want more updates about how I am handling the stress in my personal life, you’ll find them in the second article above (“When Life Feels Too Hard to Handle.”)

But let’s keep this post nice and light. Thanks so much to all you who continue to read and support me in both writing and in life. Your encouragement, and prayers, really mean so much! Blessings, Friends! Until next time.

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Here’s a New Year’s picture with my love and husband of almost thirteen years (Whaaat?)! Anxiously awaiting what God has in store for us in the coming year!

Getting Help

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Photo from Creative Commons

Life held no joy. I dreaded every day. I didn’t understand my behavior, so I couldn’t help myself. And I was making my family miserable. Three weeks ago, I finally sought medical help for over eight months of what I’ve learned was uncontrolled Anxiety (not postpartum depression, as some moms on a Facebook group suggested). And now I am able to breathe again. Able to sleep again. Able to cope again. Able to praise God, even in a time of vast uncertainty.

On the day I finally decided to go to the doctor, I was hyperventilating, again. I hadn’t slept well the previous night, again. The kids were demanding ten million things of me and I kept repeating, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” literally too paralyzed by anxious thoughts to be able to help them. I felt, as I have so many times in the last eight months, that I just needed to get away and have a mental breakdown. I needed a weekend away to regroup, or even a day. But when you have two little kids and no family around, you can’t really do that. My course over the past year has been, instead, to explode. I have been a scary mommy. And a selfish wife.

When things came to a head this past month, which they did after my husband was laid off (due to a merger), my explosions turned to sob sessions. I saw what my Anxiety was doing to my family (although I didn’t know it had a name), and I knew it had to stop. I just didn’t know how to help myself. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to take some good advice.

Two good friends, who have also been spiritual mentors to me over the years, recently revealed that they are getting counseling for emotional issues or life stresses, one of them also taking medication. Getting this knowledge was like getting permission to get counseling myself.

The counselor I saw suggested my root problem was perfectionism (which cannot coexist with parenting toddlers), but she also said I might benefit from Anxiety medication. I agreed with the diagnosis of perfectionism, but was resistant to medication. One week after my counseling session, on the horrible day I described above, I decided it was time to put aside my Christian pride and ask for some drugs.

Friends, it was the best decision I have made in a long time.

I haven’t been on medication for thirteen years—and I don’t feel it helped much in the five years I took it (ages 15 through 20). The healing I finally found for depression eight years ago (age 25) as described in my book, came through Scripture and prayer…but guys, life has changed since then. My hormones have surely changed, as the counselor pointed out. I’ve had two babies, we’ve had two moves, lost the support of family nearby, and now we have lost a job and face another new start.

It’s no wonder I’ve had some anxiety. I just didn’t realize it was anxiety with a capital A. Or that I could get help for it from a pill.

Some of you will be curious, and I don’t mind sharing (because that’s what I do around here): I’m taking Lexapro nightly, and Xanax as needed. The first week, I needed the Xanax daily to battle a beast that was raging out of control. During the second week, I needed it less and less, and now in week three, I haven’t needed it at all. The Xanax, that is. But the Lexapro seems to be working wonders.

I’m happy to report that joy is returning to my life. Equilibrium to my emotions. And sleep to my mornings. Praise God, sleep is again possible from the hours of 3 to 6 a.m. I have not blown up at my kids for days, and I am starting to repair the damage I did to my marriage over the recent rough months, when I was too busy clawing my way through each day to lend any real support to my husband, who is now facing his own brand of (lower-case) anxiety due to job loss.

I know there are deeper problems to face—chief most my perfectionism, which has surely stolen much joy from my family over the years—but right now I am simply thankful to be able to breathe. To be able to sleep. To be able to praise God because I’m not hyperventilating. And to be able to parent my sweet, but explosive little people without exploding myself. Oh, thank you, Lord, for helping me to get the help I need, right now, in this uncertain time of life.

Friends, if you are struggling like I’ve struggled, and if it has lasted for months, and if you’ve tried talking, praying, or making otherwise drastic changes, but nothing is working, don’t feel bad if you need to seek medical help. A prescription is not necessarily forever. But it might be the lifeline you need for a particular season. That’s where I am right now. I’m going to keep praying through my perfectionism, but for now, I’m thankful for the pills that are allowing me to cope.