A common occurrence in my household recently has been me verbally exploding on my three-year-old and, shortly thereafter, asking his forgiveness. “Mommy is angry,” I explain, “because you hit your brother/didn’t obey me/yelled at me [fill in the blank]. But I should not have yelled like I did. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” Praise God that Sam always forgives me, and so does God.
Thank God for forgiveness!
Not until I became a parent did I realize quite how sinful I am—and how in need of forgiveness I am—from my family and from God. Now that I’m here, where I am squeezed all day long (no naps for Sam, sadly), I regularly lose my temper, act unlovingly, and do things I don’t want to do. I know exactly what the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 7. Unless I maintain a proactive connection with God, praying through the day and asking Jesus’ words and attitudes to replace my own, I’m in danger of exploding, nagging, criticizing—sinning—all the time. And every day, I do sin. Every day, I fail. I’m learning much more about God’s grace than I really wanted to know, because I am just so darn sinful. Thus, there’s no other way for me to function—to move past my guilt, to repair my relationships, to regain my peace—than to beg God’s, and my family’s, forgiveness.
Thank God for forgiveness!
I’m learning, begrudgingly, that all of my really close and important relationships—spouse, kids, God, parents—hinge on forgiveness. My forgiveness to them, and their forgiveness to me. That’s because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are not perfect, and we are all going to screw up, especially when we live together . Ever notice how the closest relationships are the ones that hurt the most? They are also the relationships that make life worth living. If we have any hope of salvaging them, we have to forgive (and pray to be forgiven).
As I work out my relationships with spouse and children at this stressful, “squeezing” stage of life, I am finally beginning to understand the gift of God’s forgiveness towards me. Where I once despaired in my relationship with God because I couldn’t get it right for even one day, I can now rejoice. You know why? It’s because of the forgiveness I have seen demonstrated in my own family.
I have now seen in flesh in blood, through my three-year-old, and through my husband of twelve years, that my relationships can grow despite daily screw-ups…as long as confession, forgiveness, and the intention toward improvement remain in operation. I can sin day after day, I can nag, criticize, and explode at these precious people—and yet, when I humble myself, confess my sins to them (and God), and communicate my intentions to do better, they forgive me, like God forgives me (1 John 1:9). They accept me, and they love me. Our relationships grow.
My family’s sweet forgiveness, like God’s forgiveness to the repentant sinner, makes me want to change. And I am changing. Slowly. It’s a journey. Changes in my relational life, like changes in the life of a new Christian, come in response to grace we’ve received. Forgiveness is not permission and license to keep sinning willfully. It is a free gift, undeserved, that should soften our hearts. The proper response for the well-intentioned Christian, the well-intentioned mother or spouse or brother, is to accept the gift and do better out of gratitude, and out of a desire to continue growing the relationship.
Unfortunately, because we are sinners living in a sinful world, we won’t always behave nicely (my kids or myself). But what we can do, when sin invades our lives, is to ask forgiveness, extend forgiveness, and start again. Again and again. And as parents, we can model this process for our children. As we extend forgiveness to our children and ask them to do the same for us, we will be teaching them the power of God’s love to redeem sinners and restore relationships. And we can show them that relationships still grow, even when we screw up. (Perhaps this is when they grow the most.)
Thank God for forgiveness, and thank God for growth!
I recently recorded a TV interview with 3 Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN), and it was turning point for me, a non-TV watcher. For a long time I’ve denigrated TV and avoided it, but as I prepared for my interview, watching the program I was going to appear on, something interesting happened: I realized that Christian programming was filling two important needs for me: One, spiritual uplifting, and two, human contact.
I also realized, like never before, what an important role Christian TV and radio fill at large. As a lifelong writer and reader, I’ve always favored getting my dose of God—and relaxation, and entertainment—through books. But now that I am a mom of small children, AKA a woman who doesn’t get out much, I find myself craving human contact via sights, sounds, faces, and voices—things I don’t find in a book. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m committing to watch more TV these days…and maybe you should, too.
Please don’t take this as permission to just switch on the TV and zone out. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about watching uplifting, positive programs and filling a void in your life, or bridging a gap, that pertains to family and spiritual life.
In my case, I don’t have family living nearby to just drop in on me and my little ones—and one-year-old nap schedules and three-year-old temperaments make it hard to go out sometimes. So I don’t see other adults much. Additionally, I’m finding it hard to read my Bible and pray like I used to (since the babies)…so I have some voids.
Put another way, it feels hard, sometimes impossible, to build and sustain non-immediate family relationships right now (including with God), with the kids so needy and my energy and waking hours so spoken for. Yet it’s a time when I could really use relationships (and God’s Word) to encourage me and lift my burdens. I need to be around other humans, or at least hear their voices and see their faces through some medium, to remember that my perspective isn’t definitive, and I don’t have an endless supply of hope and joy to draw on. I speak a lot of uplifting things to others (including my kids), but sometimes, I need to hear others speak words of life to me. But when you’re stuck at home, how?
I didn’t quite know how to bridge this gap, until I started watching 3ABN two weeks ago…and discovered TV really does deserve a place in my schedule. At least for now.
Later, of course, when the children are older and it doesn’t hurt my trust levels with them, I need to get back in the saddle of courting friends and social circles and Bible studies and prayer groups—things I love and desperately miss. But for now, flesh and blood human contact is sparse, and I need to bridge the gap. Thanks, 3ABN, and all the Christian TV and radio programs that fill such an important void for so many. I’m honored that this nearsighted writer was able to participate in creating some God-centered TV programming, and I’m tickled that God used my witnessing assignment to witness to me!
If you feel a spiritual void in your life, or a need for human contact, I hope you’ll tune in to some kind of Christian programming that can uplift you. While it’s not a substitute for a relationship with God or anyone else, it can help bridge the gap when we’re literally stuck at home or stuck in a rut spiritually. Happy TV watching!
“Sharing our stories of how God has saved us is the best way to share the gospel,” I told my audience at the Gulf States Women’s Retreat this November. That’s what I said, and over the course of the weekend that’s what I did. Stories, as Jesus well knew and demonstrated in his ministry, have a way of penetrating the heart like pure information cannot—and for this I am glad. It means I don’t have to be a Bible scholar to share Jesus, I just have to be willing to share what Jesus has done for me.
You see, stories from the heart open up other hearts in beautiful, sometimes painful, but also healing ways. After my first talk (of four), one woman caught my shoulder and said, “I need to talk to you,” and proceeded, for two hours, to tearfully tell me a story she’d “never told anyone” before. The next day, one woman after another approached me to confide their own stories of pain. “I could tell you some stories,” grandmother-aged women winked at me over lunch, and proceeded to do so. Over a thirty-six hour period, I heard stories of abuse, divorce, death, and attempted suicide, and not just me–the women started talking to one another! Praise God, this was one of my goals for the weekend: to get the women talking. To get them telling their stories.
But How Do I Know If I Should Share?
“But how do I know if my story should actually be shared, and if it’s actually going to bring glory to God or not?” the question came to me anonymously on Sabbath afternoon during a roundtable discussion. Good question, and I’ll answer it with the remainder of this blog.
The short answer is: defining your audience and purpose for sharing will guide you as to what to share, and when.
Defining your audience and purpose for sharing will guide you as to what to share, and when.
Each act of communication—each story we tell—has an audience and a purpose. What are yours? Let’s look at three levels of storytelling I have identified in my Christian/writing journey. You’ll see that each level has a different audience and purpose, and they all build upon one another to eventually lead to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, or our ultimate goal as Christians. Let’s talk about the audience and purpose for sharing the ugly stuff first.
Level One: Start Small
Purpose: To Heal from Your Pain and Your Past
Audience:God and One or Two Trusted People
If you’ve read Ending the Pain, you know that I believe sharing our painful stories is a first and necessary step in the journey to new life (whether we’re talking “new life” as Christians or “new life” after trauma). But when you are still in pain, with wounds still fresh, your first purpose for sharing must be to help you—not to witness to others.
I resent when Christians and churches ignore this part of our Christian journey—the part where we are broken and need healing—and simply tell us to go witness to others. Uh uh. Nope. True discipleship doesn’t work like that, because we can’t share what we don’t have. (See Part 2 of my book, the “New Beginnings” chapters, to read how effective we are when hiding behind plastic smiles at church. [Not very]).
Who should we tell our stories to when we are still broken and bleeding? Share them with a small audience that includes God and at least one other person—a spouse, a friend, or a trusted pastor or counselor. I don’t know why, but there is something freeing in the simple act of putting our stories outside ourselves—maybe it’s the new perspective and validation we gain; maybe it’s the support that comes when others suddenly know how to pray for us or help us. Whatever it is, it’s important to tell someone how you are hurting as a first step to healing.
Level Two: Identifying with Others
Audience:A Small Group
Purpose: To Get Support from and Give Support to Others Who Have Gone Through the Same Things
The next step to healing and moving your story outside of yourself is to tell a small group. Sometimes you will have to search for a group, and other times it will come together organically, as has happened recently in my life.
Three women at my “new” church in Missouri (my post Ending the Painchurch) read my book and caught on to what I was presenting, and all three reached out and asked me for the prayer ministry I described receiving in the book. After praying with two of them individually and repeatedly over the summer (becoming their “one” person to confide in for a time), I gathered them into a small group because it felt like time to take their healing to the next level (also because I couldn’t keep up the pace of all the prayer appointments!). These two women had begun to feel hope through connecting to Jesus in prayer and sharing their story with me, and it was time for them to find support in connecting with one another.
We’ve met three times now as a group, and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch them open up to one another (as I once did with my initial, Ending the Pain, prayer groups), realizing that other Christians struggle in the same ways they do. I have witnessed such relief in their faces and postures and words as they learn it’s actually okay to talk about their ugly stuff…in this audience, among kindred spirits, among others who “get” their pain.
This is key at the second level (and the first): choose your audience well. It’s already hard to share and be vulnerable, so make sure you will be safe when you share. Don’t believe the lie that no one else has gone through this. Oh, what a lie! (There is nothing new under the sun.) Pray for God to show you those who will understand, accept, and support you. When you find this audience, as the ladies in my group have “found” one another, you’ll find not only the release of telling your story, but also the blessing of identification. You will be blessed at hearing others’ stories, and you know what? Suddenly, though you are still a work in progress, you will be blessing others! You’re not all better yet, but the beauty of opening your broken heart to Jesus and several trusted others begins the process of sharing your story for God’s glory. You and your small group get to watch, together, as you are transformed into God’s likeness. Now that’s a testimony!
Level Three: Going Public
Audience: Anyone the Lord Moves You to Tell
Purpose: To Comfort Others with the Comfort You Have Received
When it feels comfortable and natural to share your story, when it ends with victory in Jesus, and when it no longer hurts (very much) to tell, praise God! You have gained a testimony that has gone past the “rough draft” stage and is ready for a larger audience. You are ready to share your story for God’s glory, not only to a couple close friends, but to whomever God moves you to tell.
That said, the audience for “public” sharing varies. We are not all called to go hugely public, and that’s okay. We all have a sphere of influence that only we can reach, whether it is one person or one thousand. The point here is, if God has changed your life for the better, you have a testimony, and because you are a Christian, you are called to share it with someone, some audience. Whether that audience is Aunt Mabel or coworker Bob or your book club or Bible study group—or whether God calls you to write a blog or publish a book or give a talk—God wants you to be ready to share the reason for the hope you have (1 Pet. 3:15).
Still Scared to Share?
Now, what if you have found victory in Jesus but still get weak-kneed at the thought of sharing? First I’d encourage you that even Bible giants like Moses got scared, and I’d remind you, as God reminded Moses, that God was the one who made Moses’ mouth (Ex. 4:10, 11); it is God who works in you to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13); and it is God who will embolden you to share. Just as you learned to ask him for healing in your hurt places, ask him to prepare you to speak to the audience he has for you. And he will. And guess what? The more you share, the easier it will get, until you realize that sharing your story is as easy as simply having a conversation.
Finally, after decades of not knowing how to “share Jesus,” I know what to say to people when they ask me about my faith: I just tell them my story. And I hope you, dear reader, are feeling encouraged to do the same…if and when you are ready.
But before you bust out a blog or a Facebook rant, first check your audience and purpose for sharing your story today. Ask yourself, and God, these questions to help you figure out when and where to share:
Is this primarily about me, or is it about Godworking in me?
Do I need more healing before I make this public?
Could I benefit from sharing this with a small group?
Am I at a point where my story would benefit others? Whom?
Will my story be good news to someone? Lots of people?
Finally, can I share my story publicly without needing approval from everyone? Perhaps a certain demographic won’t like it, but does it speak true of God and have the potential to bless more lives than it would ruffle feathers? (Remember, Jesus certainly didn’t base his ministry on approval ratings!)
Only God can answer these questions for you, but one thing I know: wherever you are right now, God can rewrite your sad story, and he can finish the good work the he has begun in you. We all have stories of sadness, suffering, sin, or struggle, but by God’s grace, over time, they can all become testimonies to the good news of Jesus Christ; they can all have happy endings.
I sat in the bathroom last Sunday sobbing. The words I feel so alone and abandoned throbbed in my heart.
Buc was leaving that morning. I’d known it was coming, but it wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. He was supposed to stay with me for at least half the day before leaving for his eight-day trip to Texas. Instead, he’d woken up worried about a rumored buyout in his company, saying he had to get on the road by 8 a.m.
Don’t leave me! My mind screamed, and I’d frowned at him and wrung my hands and then run to the bathroom. Don’t leave me all alone with our two small children.
It felt, at that moment, like the worst thing in the world to be left alone, although I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly to this planned business trip.
Maybe it was because, for the past week, worried about the buyout, he’d already been gone—mentally. Maybe it was because I already felt like I was failing as a mother, even with him here. What was I going to do with him gone?
Maybe it’s because I have a negative root* in my heart, I finally thought, and asked God to talk to me about it.
Roots of Abandonment
No doubt my reaction of abandonment stems from roots laid early in life, when my mom left our family to start another, and when my shattered family left me without a safe place to call home. Those roots don’t go away very easily, I’m finding, as I tie other behaviors in my current life to fears of abandonment and aloneness. (Who knew I drank coffee because I don’t want to be alone? Because I just want to have a tangible comfort available to me at all times?)
Silly as it may sound, it came as news to me that I—an authority on “ending pain”—still suffer from a fear of abandonment.
It is humbling, being attacked head-on by an old fear I thought was gone. It is a call to pay attention: pay attention to the beliefs in my heart, and pay attention to the Author of my soul, who can right any wrong beliefs.
Over the last five years, I have learned that I am never alone; God is with me, and he even provides the human support and support systems to help me where I lack. I believe this with every breath of my body. And I am so relieved to have met my Lord and Suffering Messiah, Jesus, who also suffered being alone and abandoned in his time of need so he could identify with me. Now that I have re-realized the roots of some of my behaviors (fear of abandonment and being alone), I can pray through them, and I can connect my story to Jesus’ story, and ask him for his strength when I feel alone and abandoned.
This doesn’t mean the sense of aloneness and abandonment will ever, completely, go away on this earth. It does mean I can trust Jesus to comfort me in my heart, and I can also ask him for wisdom to get help in the physical world when I need it.
Seeking and Accepting Help
So I poured out my heart to Jesus sitting on my toilet last Sunday, telling him I didn’t want to be alone for the next week, that it felt like more than I could bear.
I sat and cried and prayed a good while, until Buc knocked on the door. “Are you alright?”
“No,” I sobbed. Not yet. “But don’t come in, I’m using the bathroom.” (With two little kids, you have to use every available opportunity.) Still waiting on you, Lord.
Then, a crazy idea sprang up. What if I went with him? This, despite my vow four months ago, the last time we did a family business trip, that I would not subject my kids and myself to the craziness of traveling so far away, for so long, again, if I didn’t have to.
If I went, sure, we might mess up the kids’ sleep schedules again. There might be hours of crying in the car. I’d lose a week of writing time to travel. These things were certain. And I might go a little nuts at my in-laws’ house for a week.
But then again, I might not.
And if I went, I wouldn’t have to be alone.
I wouldn’t have to be alone.
That settled it.
My writing and house projects could wait, as could our week’s planned menu and errands. As long as I could have help with the most difficult part of my life (my parenting), I would forgo my happy writing plans and comfortable kid setup at home.
I was a little annoyed remembering how many times my plans had been stalled over the past two years for these family business trips; but the state of my mental health told me that going with my husband was the most important thing right now. And so I write this blog post from a hotel room after our life’s latest interruption.
Tomorrow I will head back home to resume my Writer plans and projects, namely preparing four talks for a women’s retreat this month and a new book I am co-writing (more on that later)– AKA, the professional parts of my life, or the parts of my life where I feel most comfortable and polished and put-together. Strangely, I haven’t written anything about these projects on this blog since beginning them because it has taken every ounce of energy I have, after mothering and wifing, to do them. It has been hard juggling all of these parts of life–so hard that I don’t know what I have left to offer blog readers.
Maybe this admission is enough (and I guess I felt that it was worth posting): that I am still struggling with bad roots. They still strangle me at times. But I am still trusting God, and by His grace, I continue to take the next breath.
By the next time I post, I will have spoken to a large group of women four times at an inspirational women’s retreat. Please pray for me as I prepare for this exciting, yet intimidating errand for God. I look forward to seeing him show up yet again in my messy life!
*On this blog, I use “root” to refer to a negative past event or lie from Satan.
Last February I gave birth twice: I delivered my second son, Seth, and I published a memoir on “overcoming depression.” This double blessing felt awesome…until four months later when I found myself drowning—in babies, book messages, babysitting jobs, and ministry engagements—hiding from the kids in my bedroom and texting my husband, “I can’t do it anymore! It’s just too much! I need to escape from life!”
Do I have postpartum depression? I wondered, aghast at the thought. What would my readers say? I didn’t really think it was depression, because unlike in my former, suicidal state, I didn’t want to escape life itself as much as I just wanted to escape my messy house. But if it wasn’t PPD, what was I to make of my regular exhaustion, tears, and adult tantrums? For the sake of myself, my family, and my readers (who wanted to know overcoming depression was possible), I knew I had better figure out what was going on, and fast.
When We Can’t See What’s in Front of Us…We Might Be Drowning
I didn’t figure it out right away.
My good intentions to pray into my problems got buried in a busy summer of business trips with the hubby and daycare for four kids—my baby and toddler, plus a 7- and 11-year-old from our church. Added to these disruptions in sleep schedules and household routines, I was fielding new questions and calls from sincere book readers who deserved sincere responses, as well as returning to the time-intensive prayer ministry I’d facilitated pre babies.
I didn’t realize it, but little by little, the demands of my beautiful life, lively kids (plus two), and lovely readers had been drowning me. To the point where I was tired all the time. Drinking too much coffee. Unable to get literal rest, or the spiritual rest of prayer and Bible study that had once brought healing from my decade of pre-partum depression.
After a few too many blowups at my husband, one July night I took said hubby’s advice and made a thorough inventory of my bursting life—and I finally realized my problem. It wasn’t postpartum depression. It was postpartum drowning. (“I could’ve told you that,” Hubby said. “I did tell you that.” Oops.)
So now I knew what my problem was. And I was on the road to fixing it. But if you’re not sure, maybe you can do what I did to figure out if you’re depressed…or drowning.
Do You Have Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning?
First, I took a hard look at what was going on in my life, and what moods or emotions I was experiencing. Next, I did some research on the symptoms of PPD. Finally, I asked myself: Is what I’m experiencing in the realm of normal for a new mom, or is it in the extreme? Once I’d asked and answered these questions, I knew how to proceed, and you can too.
According to mayoclinic.com, if you have PPD, you have a depressed mood or severe mood swings, excessive crying, fatigue, energy loss, intense irritability, and anger. You also find it difficult to bond with your baby, you withdraw from family and friends, and you eat too little (or too much). You aren’t interested in, or don’t enjoy, activities you used to enjoy; you have severe anxiety or panic attacks; and you have recurring thoughts of harming your baby or yourself.
If I had looked at these symptoms in isolation, I might have falsely concluded I had PPD, because some of them described what I was going through. But because I looked at these symptoms along with my situation, it seemed pretty clear that my problems were tied to normal mom stuff, not necessarily PPD.
While my fatigue, irritability, and anger were common to PPD, they were also natural results of being a mom of littles: namely, I had choppy sleep due to baby wakings, and I had poor nutrition because I didn’t have time to cook very good meals, or helping hands to allow me to eat what I cooked.
In contrast to the various “losses” the medical description gave (loss of appetite, loss of interest, loss of friends), I realized I just wanted to be able to enjoy those things I already enjoyed even more. Instead of losing my appetite, I wanted to find time to eat. Instead of inability to sleep or sleeping too much, I just wanted to sleep a normal 8 hours, for crying out loud. Instead of difficulty bonding with my baby, I wished I had some extra hands around so that I could bond (instead of hurtling like a crazy woman between my toddler and my baby). Instead of reduced interest in activities I used to enjoy, I just wished—for the love of God—that I could get away and do my pleasurable activities (visit a coffee shop, write, exercise).
As for the more severe symptoms, I didn’t want to kill myself or my kids, I wanted to live my best life and help them lives theirs. Admittedly, I wanted to live life a little more the way I remembered it before babies, but the important thing here is that I had desire for life, a passion for my kids, and a passionate desire to live my life and raise my kids well.
So I concluded I did not suffer from postpartum depression, but rather postpartum drowning. I wasn’t depressed in the giving up sense; I was simply unhappy because taking care of my baby, toddler, and two more kids—plus the handful of women I was mentoring through prayer ministry—left no room or energy on my plate to do those things that had previously saved me and made life enjoyable. (It’s worth noting that I felt the negative feelings dissipate whenever I could get a babysitter for an hour or two to write, bathe, or eat a full meal.)
The crux of my postpartum problem, then, was this: I didn’t have enough hands. I didn’t have enough hands to both carry (care for) my kids and also tread the waters of my own (perfectly normal) postpartum emotions. At this point, it was obvious that I was drowning, and it finally became obvious what I needed to do.
What to Do if You’re Drowning (or Depressed)
Whether you are a depressed or drowning postpartum mom, first and foremost you need to Get Help. And I don’t mean mental help. I mean physical help. You need someone who can hold and feed your babies for a few hours, or clean your house, or cook, or do whatever, so you can do what you need to do to get healthy.
For me, getting healthy entails writing. As I learned during my pre-mom depression recovery, writing not only helped me cope with life, but it also gave me deeper life satisfaction, because I was good at it…and I realized God was calling me to bless others with it. And I bet you have something you do that helps you cope, brings deep satisfaction, and possibly helps others, too. But if we don’t have time to write, or do whatever it is that gets us “healthy” (as we usually don’t during the crazy postpartum period), then it’s no use.
First, we must get help.
So, as my summer babysitting job wound to a close, I searched for a part-time nanny to hold down the fort so I could go write for a few hours a week. And (cringe), while I’m being honest, I also hired a cleaning lady twice a month.
Before you slam down your computer in disgust—because who can afford to hire a cleaning lady? much less a part-time nanny?—hear me out.
First, I know. I know I am extremely lucky to be able to afford this. Many moms can’t. Which is where I say use the resources you have. Some of us have family nearby who can babysit, or friends with whom we can trade services for babysitting. I don’t. My closest family members are 500 odd miles away, and I’m still new to this area and meeting other moms.
What I do have is a husband with a good career, a little mad money from babysitting, and some modest earnings from a book. So I have chosen to use my resources to get the help I need. And I’m trying not to feel bad about it. (Despite that friend on Facebook who pooh-poohed my “need” for help because I am a stay-at-home-mom.)
Second, if you face naysayers who say hiring help as a SAHM is too indulgent, or too much “pampering” of oneself (or if you feel that way, yourself), consider two things:
One: Are you sure you really can’t afford it? As my new nanny, Paula (how I love her), says, “A lot of people who think they can’t afford this actually could afford it…if they made it a priority. The question is: what else are you willing to give up?” A good point.
And two: Is hiring help actually spoiling yourself, or is it just helping you take care of yourselfin a necessary way? After deferring my mental and emotional needs in my pre-mom life…to the point of attempted suicide and bulimia, I’m choosing to take myself, and my self-care, pretty seriously. If you have a history of depression, are depression prone, or more sensitive than the average woman, you should too.
If you identify more with the depressed version of myself I just relayed, I can certainly give you the advice that helped me in my pre-partum depression days, and which I wrote about in my memoir:
Form new and better habits.
Read and memorize Scripture.
Pray to Jesus, who understands everything we’ve gone through.
Spend quiet time in prayer and ask God to show you his blessings—then ask him what your barriers are.*
But if you are depressed and also a postpartum mom—which I was not when I took all that good advice—then you still need to get help…because no matter whether we have depression or not, all postpartum moms are drowning—drowning in armloads of babies, dishes, and laundry (and other stuff) that we need someone to take care of before we can take care of ourselves.
Which brings me to my final point…
If You Only Read One Section in this Article, Read This:
If hiring help is what it takes to get you the relief you need—to keep you sane and functional—It’s not indulgent. It’s necessary.
Yesterday while Seth slept on my chest, I finished an article and submitted it to a website. I think it was the first creative thing I’d done postpartum, besides drawing a breakfast menu for Sam. To say I’ve been residing in a cave feels about right. It’s not dark and depressing, but it is a tunnel, and it does block my vision of things I used to see, and bars me from things I used to do. That’s why finishing that article yesterday felt so good. It helped me glimpse the creative side of myself again
I’ve found it hard to write since Seth’s birth. Mainly because my hands are always full, but also because I haven’t felt I had anything new or edifying to say about this period in my life. What I’ve managed to scribble in my writer’s notebook lately mostly goes something like this: “I didn’t know what busy was until I had two kids.” “I am exhausted.” “My brain is on the fritz.” “I feel like a crappy parent.” “I wish I could relax sometimes.” “Life is beautiful, but this is just a hard season, you know?”
Another thing that’s been hard during this postpartum period is reading my Bible. I’m too distracted. Too busy. Too bursting with my own unexpressed, unprocessed thoughts to take on the grand themes of God’s Book. And I was having a lot of guilt about this lack of Bible reading, as we “good Christians” do, until I sat down and examined this feeling, and had the following inner dialogue.
My faith feels stagnant right now. Maybe even in remission…because I’m too busy feeding my children (literally) to be fed spiritually. So how am I supposed to grow in my faith?
Share what I already have.
But how can I share my faith right now, when I’m in a “cave”? (Literally, when I don’t see people besides my kids on a daily basis?)
Write.Write about what you’ve experienced God doing in the past; also, write your experiences now. Maybe these daily details don’t seem edifying today, but later, when you have time and perspective, you can help others who are muddling through the same tunnel.
Indeed, the literature that has touched me during this postpartum period has come from other mother-writers, writing of their years in the trenches. I recently joined MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), and besides the moms-in-the-flesh I’ve met at our physical meetings, I’ve become connected to a number of mom-writers, through the MOPS blog and Magazine, Hello,Dearest, who have inspired me.
The current theme of Hello, Dearest is rest, with a number of articles about reawakening the creative parts of ourselves and doing activities that truly rest our souls (not just numb our brains)–and this theme was something I needed to attend to. I’ve needed to rest, through creating, again.
And so I wrote that magazine article yesterday–I created something–and because I couldn’t write edifying things about my current cavewoman state, I wrote about lessons learned in the past.
In time, I’m sure I’ll gain the needed perspective (and empty hands) to be able to write inspiring things about these postpartum days and beyond, because God has proven faithful to me in that way before.
If I’m tempted to forget that hard moments can make for inspiring stories, I just have to look at the stack of boxes filled with my first memoir…currently sitting in my cave…(in other words, not being circulated except by my dad, who is lugging a case of books around Minnesota on radio advertising sales calls for me…thanks, Dad!). Anyway, my first memoir is making the rounds among Adventist Book Centers around the country; with Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart Ministries (whom I wrote The Hidden Half of the Gospelwith); and finding its way into the homes of friends, family, and a few unknown readers who’ve left me good reviews.
All in all, despite my current cavewoman status, I am feeling good these days: still no postpartum depression (although people keep asking me because of my history with depression), and forming some thoughts about parenting…which I’m jotting in my writer’s notebook until God tells me it’s time to polish them up for the public. I can’t see much yet from within the tunnel, but one thing I know: I’ve started the process of crawling out.
Something frustrating/painful/paradoxical about writing books about your life is that storylines you had sewn up at book’s end can, and do, unravel in real life. I’m dealing with that now.
My memoir is sewn up, edited, on its way to press…as far as paper and ink go…but in real life, this one thread of my story is refusing to stay put. That thread is a “character” in my book, a family member, whom I left at a good spot–and whose relationship with me ended in a good spot. But now the relationship…the character…it’s all just unraveling. And I am crushed.
That’s the thing about a happy ending in a work of non-fiction. Unlike the ending of a novel, the story can change. Happy can turn to sad, resolved to unresolved.
It’s times like these when I can start to wonder, Why did I even bother? Why did I go to the trouble to try to organize and understand and “sew up” my story? Happy endings in real life can’t really be sewn up anyway…can they?
I wrote a book about overcoming depression. About moving past family dysfunction. About finding joy and new starts in the sinful, yet beautiful world around me.
And now this piece of my conclusion is unraveling, a piece of my life that originally caused much of my depression, contributed to my family’s dysfunction, and seemed to suggest that life would never–could never–change for the better.
What does that mean for my book, and for me? Does it mean that I am a fraud, my book a farce? Does this make my message of “new life” a bunch of baloney? Does it mean that depression can’t be overcome? That dysfunction can’t be left behind? That joy can’t be found?
If I give in to my gut reaction (this is terrible!), if I listen to my heart (I’m so sad, I feel so depressed), or if I trust the words Satan whispers in my ear (why get up today? Look at the junk I have to face…), then I can easily jump to those conclusions.
But if I remember the most important storyline of my book–the real message–then hope revives.
My Reasons for Hope
One of my favorite chapters in my book is my chapter called “Rebirth,” where, amidst the backdrop of this same thread unraveling that I’m currently blogging about (it’s been a recurring, unraveling thread in my life story, you see), I begin the habit of daily prayer, Bible reading, and Bible memorization. As I learn, my attitude, my mood, and my inner peace (or lack thereof) do not have to be determined by my outwardcircumstances. After three weeks of me meditating on God’s promises, that stubborn thread remains as stubborn as ever…but I have experienced a genuine heart transformation: after ten-plus years of depression, I no longer feel depressed!
And that is the overarching thread in my story–that we can learn to hear and operate in God’s truth even when Satan is attacking us with his fiery darts; we can embrace a new life on the inside even when lifeon the outside hurts.
Beyond that, if we are faithful to God, he promises that one day we can have a new life not only on the inside, but also on the outside. The Bible says that if we believe in Jesus and give our lives and hearts to him, these sad stories down here are not our final stories. One day Jesus will “wipe away every tear”; in other words, he will sew up our stories for good and lay to rest those stubborn threads that keep tripping us up and pulling us down.
These truths are narrative threads that can never unravel.
Sometimes hearing these truths don’t help much. Sometimes these Bible promises, if spoken lightly and out of context, seem like an insensitive slap in the face of our very real, very present pain. And that’s exactly why, I maintain, we need the sad stories along with the Bible promises.
My story of overcoming depression, moving on from dysfunction, is not a farce, and I am not a fake. The fact that one of my threads has unraveled again, again causing me much pain, is not a reason to hide my past story of suffering and overcoming; it is a reason to celebrate it. My story Ending the Pain has become a precious record of the Lord’s intervention at a desperate time, and now I can reread it to find hope for the present and future.
If I had not written the story, I might be tempted to forget that the Lord works in wonderful and mysterious ways even when, especially when, the threads of our lives seem to be unraveling.
Here on planet earth, until it becomes the New Earth, threads unravel all the time; things fall apart. So let’s not to forget to celebrate those strong, unbreakable cords of love that have held us together in the past…and that can hold us together today and tomorrow, no matter what falls apart around us.
Two big and awesome things are happening in my life right now: I am expecting my second son and my second published book sometime next month. Currently I don’t have many words available to describe my feelings–what with prego brain and book revisions squeezing me dry–but I can say this: “Thank you, Jesus.”
I am thankful that two of the best parts of my life are converging right now.
I am thankful that a publisher, Pacific Press, picked up my book so that I don’t have to keep lugging around an unfinished dream…and so I can now concentrate more fully on my kids.
And I am thankful that God continues to surprise me with this life I once thought I didn’t want to live.
This past week as I reread my manuscript in a breathless four days, scouring it for last-minute corrections, I had fun remembering all the delightful surprises God had laid in store for me years ago.
The manuscript, now entitled Ending the Pain: A True Story About Overcoming Depression, begins with me, a depressed college student, giving up on God and giving up on life. The first chapter ends with me writing my suicide note. Then we jump chronology back to age seven so I can explain how I got to this point.
Once back to the suicide scene, the manuscript chronicles my failed attempt and then moves through the tough year after–a year in which I emerge from the mental hospital disgusted with my new start. It’s a new start I don’t want, with a clean slate that is “blank, but not in a good way.” I have no goals, no plans, no dreams. The one goal I had, to end the pain, has been taken from me by doctors, nurses, and family members who say I cannot kill myself. But there’s absolutely no one who can give me to will to live…no one but God.
After some futile attempts to numb my pain (sleazy guys, bulimia), things start happening in my life that can only be attributed to the Divine: I meet a great Christian guy from Texas, doors literally start closing in Minnesota (I go to work one day to find my restaurant has closed), and I am compelled to pack up my rusty Cavalier and move my sorry life 1,000 miles from home to start over again. One year to the day after my discharge from the mental hospital, at a measly twenty years old, I find myself in the “Gendke Love Chapel” (my now-in-laws’ living room) getting married to a man I’ve only known six months.
Lest you think the story ends there–because so many stories end with a wedding–know that we are only one-third into the book…and I am still w-a-a-a-y depressed beneath a good-churchy-girl-looking exterior.
What follows is the rest of the story of how I got un-depressed–a story that is often simplified or glossed over in Christian literature. We’re supposed to accept Christ and have a new life instantly, promise so many preachers and Bible teachers. But real-life recovery from depression (and crappy childhoods, I’ll just add) is slow and hard; often it seems unattainable. My goal with the last two-thirds of my book was to explain just what it looked like to find God and gain a new life in Christ when, for so many years, I felt him doing nothing.
It’s too much to describe in this blog post, but if you suffer from depression or just need a new start in Christ, I hope you’ll stay tuned for more details on my book’s release.
Until then, if you want a preview of what’s in my book, check out my seven-part “Ugly, Messy Rebirth” series–or, if you just want to get to the heart of matter, read this post for some practical tips on what most helped me turn a corner in my battle with depression and in my relationship with God.
Here’s to a God who “makes all things new” when we let him (Rev. 21:5), a God who has prepared a future for me–and for you–that we haven’t even imagined (1 Cor. 2:9).
We’ve been traveling again, and with my second baby due in less than two months, I am eager to get back home and nest. After seven trips in the past year, I don’t even want to think of the hours and days I’ve spent packing, unpacking, and re-adjusting each time we return from Minnesota or Texas. In other words, all the work–the writing, homemaking, home decorating, and integration into a new community–that isn’t getting done. But then two realizations dawned on me.
Realization One: Important work is happening while we’re away from home. Work on our family life. Work on our marriage. And work on our parenting. (For example, how do we uphold family ideals regarding TV, diet, and time use in places where our ideals are not the norm?)
Realization Two: Traveling is actually training for our second child…because each trip puts us back to square one. I arrive at the destination, and I am forced to pare back my to-do list to bare necessities:
Is there food in the cupboard?
Do I have a meal plan for the week?
Is this living space livable for us?
Do we have clean laundry to wear?
Are we getting along? Is our marriage okay?
Yes, again and again in the past year, my life has been reduced to putting first things first: food, clothing, shelter, and marriage.
And that’s how life is with a baby.
With both continual travel and baby care, I’ve learned sometimes it’s all I can do to keep the fridge stocked, meals prepped, laundry clean, and a smile on my face…if I can even do that.
So I guess I’m in training right now. On the outside, it feels like nothing’s getting done, but once again, I can’t go by my feelings.
James 1:2-4 adds perspective to my situation:
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
As I trust God with my life, I can be confident that even when “nothing is getting done” on the outside, something is getting done inside of me. Patience. Endurance. Perseverance. All tools needed for parenting, marriage, and life. I guess I shouldn’t be so disappointed when I don’t have time to write…because when I finally have time again, I will have lots to write about, and probably some wisdom besides.
“When do you feel closest to God?” my pastor asked the congregation this Saturday.
I sat surrounded by toys; spilled popcorn; and my son, Sam, in a back pew reserved for parents with small children. Not now, sprang to my mind. Not as a young mother.
But upon deeper reflection, the pastor also mentioned that to follow Jesus meant to sacrifice everything…to bear your cross…to put others first.
I guess I feel like that…but in service to my kid. To parent babies and young children is to (temporarily) give up things, to sacrifice needs and wants, to bear a cross. A sweet new friend at church who sat with me at lunch said, after I told her I felt I was doing “nothing” in ministry right now, that ministry was “exactly” what I was doing.
So why is it so hard to see motherhood as a work for Christ (at least at this stage)? And why doesn’t it automatically make us feel “close to God”?
Any young mom knows the answer. It’s the “surrounded by toys” thing. The “spilled popcorn” thing. The thing about always being distracted, always making sure your kid doesn’t hurt himself, he has enough to eat, he’s not getting into trouble, or he’s getting consequences for the trouble he caused.
Did I mention the exhaustion?
Then, there is the fear. Fear that there might not be a reward at the end of the road. When they grow up, my kids could write me off, or write off God, or just get too busy for me. And there is the lack of immediate rewards. At least when I serve in church, someone else sees it. But if my kids don’t turn out right, who will ever know about all the effort I’m putting into them right now?
It’s times like these when I have to remember that motherhood is a walk of faith, much like the Christian walk. Much like being a Christian, being a parent is not easy, and it comes with no guarantees for health or prosperity…down here. But if we remain faithful in both walks, there are eternal rewards, and even temporal benefits.
Both walks, if undertaken with a right spirit, lead to self-discipline, self-denial, and the healthier life choices we make when we decide to live for something bigger than ourselves. We continually experience difficulties, but as Rachel Jankovic put it in Loving the Little Years, a new sin or challenge in our kids (and I would add, in ourselves) means they (and we) have moved on from the last one.
And then there is the joy of reaching God’s standards. How good it feels when we have labored over our kids (or ourselves), prayed over them , trained them as best we can, and they “get it.”
I experienced this very joy sitting in the same service that spurred this post…because it was the second week Sam sat all the way through church. Praise God! As with other milestones he has passed, I prayed for this, labored for this, began training Sam each morning to sit while we sang Bible songs and prayed. And the work was/is hard. But the rewards are worth it!
This weekend’s reward reminded me that even when I don’t feel close to God, as long as I am faithful to him, I can take courage that I living out his purpose for me.
Dear Lord, help me to be faithful to the children you have given me, and faithful to my Christian walk, even when I don’t feel you close. Help me to stay the course in faith, knowing that one day this race I’m running will eventually lead me, and hopefully lead my kids, to your kingdom.