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.

At the End of the Year, a Look Back…

missouri welcomes youAnother year is coming to a close, and as I can’t help doing, I’m already making plans for 2016. Namely, with baby #2 on the way, I’m looking at down-sizing my goals, and maybe hiring a quarter-time nanny with my book advance.

But what happened to my 2015 goals/resolutions? I did think about them some over the year, and I even wrote the germ of this post in May to check my progress…but my goals got somewhat swallowed up in our baby news, move, and continuous travel.

So before I leave this ambitious stage of life to enter another round of infant craziness, here’s a look back at how my 2015 resolutions played out.

(See my original New Year’s Resolutions post here, and its sister “plan” post here):

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family

 Oh, putting my family first this year was a paradigm shift! I realized that I had often made writing my primary focus, to the point of making it an idol (yikes). But with the resolutions I made, The Love Dare, and God’s help, I no doubt grew in this area.

Family Photo 2015

Here are some family and motherhood gains I made over the year:

  • I learned to be mostly nice (or at least not say anything mean) to my husband in the mornings—AKA the time of day when things are at their craziest and I at my most stressed.
  • Buc and I started implementing more date nights to preserve our marriage in this busy time of toddlerhood. While we don’t always achieve a weekly date night, we both recognize the importance of sitting and talking on a regular basis. It’s encouraging how you can stave off marital stresses with a little focused, face-to-face communication.
  • I learned to make singing with Sam a regular part of our day. If you will recall, singing with Sam did not come naturally to me at first, even though I am a musical person (I still have early childhood/teen roots to write through on my issues with music). But now singing comes easily.
  • At first I listed out one song a week, because I was not in the habit of singing with Sam AT ALL—like, not a note all day long. But having the list helped initially to remind me to sing. So did playing some kids’ CDS we got for Sam’s baby shower. I listened to 100 different Bible songs over and over, until I could sing most of them, and now singing comes pretty naturally. I am not writing down a song each week anymore, because I don’t need to. Singing has, happily, become a habit (and this is a great depression fighter).
  • We don’t yet have family devotions every night with Daddy—can you believe the day gets away from us before we can even sometimes sing songs with Sam? But we do have a family prayer, and Daddy has told me he is taking more responsibility for including this in our day.
  • I am happy to say I made some photo memories and mementos in 2015: I filled several photo albums with prints I already had, and then I transitioned into the world of electronic photo albums. I made an album for Sam on Shutterfly documenting his second six months.IMG_2106
  • I also made a family wall of pictures and decorated our living area with group shots of family and friends. These little touches made it so nice to come home from TX and MN visits; I had a living space that surrounded me with loved ones even though they were far away.

Resolution 2: Make Healthy Choices for My Family and Myself

 So, to sum this one up, I didn’t stick perfectly with my plan to eat healthy (here’s a second post about this, too)—I think I began to derail when chocolate Easter bunnies hit the shelves—but overall, our diet is pretty darn good…and I finally lost all my (first) baby weight at fourteen months postpartum. At thirty-ish weeks pregnant with #2, I am keeping to a healthier weight gain, and I don’t expect to put on the 50 pounds I did last time.

I must report that at Sam’s fifteen-month appointment, his pediatrician raised concerns about his slow growth and encouraged me to give him juice and more sweets (“he’ll use the sugar for extra calories” he said)—so I started to. It didn’t happen right away, but in the second half of this year, Sam’s and my diet got a little “junkier,” although still not bad—and now Sam is in a picky eating phase, which I am told is “normal,” and which I am trying to patiently wait out.

Here is Sam, pictured with adorable cousin Kendall, stuffing his face with Fruit Loops (he calls them ABCs) on Thanksgiving.

A distant goal is to diversify our diet a little more, only because I like variety, but this will come slowly, because Buc does NOT like variety. So I am not killing myself to crack the cookbooks right now. I did join our potluck team at church so I can have an excuse to try new recipes from time to time…

Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child

 This goal was unquestionably met, and it didn’t take too long. It was in June, after a few failed home pregnancy tests, that I got the news from my new OB that I was, surprise, expecting! It was a funny way to find out, because this was exactly how I found out with Sam: I was just going to a new OB’s office for a meet-and-greet to discuss getting pregnant…and lo and behold, at the end of both appointments, I found out I was!

Resolution 4: Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time

Writing time definitely went down this year, but with the recent book acceptance, I feel God really blessed the time I was able put in. I made some of the most important revisions and added some of the most important scenes to my memoir in 2015—or the ones that sold the book.

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At the beginning of the year, I also proudly maintained weekly blog posts and I ambitiously set a goal of writing and submitting five magazine articles this year. After the first article was written and rejected, and the second one unraveled, I put that goal aside, along with my blog for a time, because it was clear my priorities needed recalibrating. I did have this article published online in March.

Currently, I am aiming to stay “active” on my blog (not quite sure what that will mean with baby #2), trying to refrain from making any time-bound writing goals, and striving to let God show me when more projects will be ready to come together. I am heartened to remember that my memoir, and previous magazine articles I published, sat in various states of undone for years before God gave me their conclusions, or their unifying themes. I trust him to make clear when it’s time to take on more projects.

As You Make Goals for 2016…

For those of you working on new habits, goals, or resolutions, here’s a little wisdom I’ve learned: Goals and resolutions are good for us; they give us purpose and direction and by all means should be pursued. But once a goal is no longer helpful, or your needs change, or you accomplish your goal, feel free to drop it or change it. Resolutions should be guidelines for life, not ironclad rules. As life changes, we need to change with it.

Book News!

Acceptance letter copy

Big news! My memoir, Dear God, I Want to Die: My Journey to New Life after Attempted Suicide, has been accepted for publication. And the timing…wow. This news comes after a dry spell in which I didn’t even feel like a writer. It also reminds me that it is when I give up trying so hard–or when I “let go and let God”–that he blesses me the most.

In the last month, it’s been all I could do to muster a few posts about battling my blues as a pregnant woman, a topic I’m not thrilled with, but it’s been “what I can do.” That’s a saying I’ve adopted recently–“It’s what I can do”–to help me remember I’m doing the best I can with the time, energy, and resources I have in the present moment (is pre-partum depression a thing?). “What I can do” has seemed scant recently, but the saying has helped me to stress less; acknowledge my limitations; and, most importantly, acknowledge God anew.

I’ve been acknowledging God for a number of years now, but when I noticed my mood nosediving a couple months ago, I made it a point to really acknowledge him, in the little things “I could do.” Silent prayer before getting out of bed in the morning. Sitting down with the Bible or other good words during Sam’s nap. Praying several times with Sam throughout the day. Having worship with Sam as one of the first activities of his day, every day. Silent prayer before speaking to Buc, both in the morning, and before he comes home (the hubby is my biggest target when I’m stressed). Reading a few more good words by lamplight before I drift off to bed. I am acknowledging God in the margins of my day; it’s “what I can do,” and it’s enough. After all, the Bible says,

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

I have felt him drawing near, in the laughter he’s given me at my physical limitations, my disheveled house, and my toddler who just acts like a toddler. I have felt him drawing near in words of comfort from Lysa Terkeurst (specifically the book Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl) and the Psalms. Maybe he’s also working through this antidepressant that’s been building for four weeks in my system (and that never worked for me years ago–I figured my off-balance prego hormones called for another try).

As far as my writing goes, I felt God’s touch just a couple nights before the book news, when a wave of new writing inspiration rolled in. Suddenly, I felt ideas opening like buds in my brain, some just a quip for my recently dormant Facebook page, others the germ of yet-to-be-written blog posts. Somehow, suddenly, that young woman who wrote an entire book about overcoming depression was back.

All this to say…the book news was not what made me decide Tuesday would be a good day, or that the days ahead would be better. No, it was my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave me the amazing story in the first place. It’s like he wanted to remind me that he’s got my back even when clouds seem to descend, and he will rescue me from the dark day as many times as it takes. The book acceptance is just icing on the cake of my own story…and the real reward will be seeing it impact the stories of others as it goes out to the world.

For a synopsis of my book, click here.

(And, of course, I will share more publishing details when I have them.)

Memoir and Melancholy: A Perfect Pair

despair, hope

We memoirists might look like gluttons for punishment, because writing about real life hurts, and no one makes us write but ourselves. But for many of us, writing about real life is just an extension of our “Perfect Melancholy” personalities; we write about our lives because we have to do something with all that self-analysis happening in our heads.

I’ve been reading Personality Plus by Florence Littauer, and the author’s description of my Melancholy personality hits home more than other personality tests or training I’ve taken. Other tests labeled my personality in less negative terms— Analyzer or Empathizer, for instance. But Melancholy cuts right to the chase. It describes me to an M.

The evidence is overwhelming—I am introspective, moody, artistic, and depression prone—and the personality test was indisputable. I am Melancholy through and through. True to Littauer’s description, I have been saddened by a small thing to which other personalities wouldn’t give a thought (the label of my personality); and more introspection is the result. I want another personality. I don’t want to have to work so hard to be happy. I don’t want to be Melancholy.

People who study personalities have long observed that artists and writers are commonly Melancholies, as opposed to Sanguines, Cholerics, or Phlegmatics, and this could be good or bad, depending on where you stand.

If you’re the one consuming the art, Perfect Melancholy is great: its existence enriches our culture by providing life-enriching and thought-provoking art.

If you’re the one providing the art, or struggling with “genius” tendencies (Littauer’s word, not mine) that you have trouble harnessing, Perfect Melancholy can be excruciating. Littauer notes that while Melancholies have the highest potential for achievement, they also experience the “highest highs and the lowest lows.” To my Melancholy-colored glasses, this data forces me into a dilemma that’s definitely false, but that seems so real: Would I rather be a “genius” (in writing), or be happy?

The Misery of Memoir

For much of my life, pursuing my art meant misery. All I could write about was my life; and my life, for a good chunk, was sad. Why didn’t I pick another topic, a happier topic, to write about? I go back to the personalities. Melancholy couldn’t get its mind off itself. I was trying to process hard things in my life, and as a writer, I naturally processed through writing.

Because it didn’t yet feel safe to talk about some of those sad things, I especially needed writing as an outlet. I had a strange relationship with writing, though. On the one hand, I felt like I needed to write to survive. On the other hand, what came out of my pen felt like it might kill me.

For almost ten years I would waffle on writing my story—I mean writing it for an audience as opposed to venting in journals. Typically here’s how it would go: I get the desire to write, I pull out old journals for inspiration, I spend a few hours working with the material, and I end up in a pool of tears because it hurts so much, followed by a crumpled heap in my husband’s arms because I am not ready to confront all the emotions these memories bring up. Then, I stuff the emotions, the memories, and my writing aspirations for another few months or years, only to repeat the process again and again.

Melancholies Can Write Happy Endings Too

This blog has borne witness to some of the healing process that finally got me writing again…and writing not only with sadness, but with gladness. God gave my story a happy ending. He not only redirected some of my worst circumstances, but he redirected my mind.

Now, even when more bad circumstances arise—which they inevitably do from time to time—I don’t have to give in to Melancholy. I don’t have to collapse in despair because “that’s just the way things are, and that’s just the way I am.”

God’s Word gives me a more accurate measure of how things really are, and how I really am. You might say he gives me a better personality test, or the ultimate Truth meter:

Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in me (Rom. 8:18).

If I wait on the Lord, he will strengthen me (Ps. 27:14); Isa. 40:31).

I can learn to be content in whatever state I’m in, knowing that God will supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:11, 19).

He will keep me in perfect peace if my mind is fixed on him (Isa. 26:3).

I can remember that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5).

And I can be confident that, even when progress seems slow, he who began a good work in me will keep working on me until Jesus comes back (Phil. 1:6).

Yes, this world is sad and often hard to navigate—especially, I think, for us over-analytical Melancholies. But this world is not the end, it is temporary and passing away, and that is life-giving knowledge I can cling to.

Yes, I am sinful and fallible and moody and depression prone. But Jesus didn’t come to this world to suffer and die to leave me that way. He came to pull me out of the pits, physical and mental; to retrain my mind on him; and to change me, from glory glory to glory, as I behold him.

And so the story continues. Many mornings I wake feeling unhappy by default. My Melancholy personality (and Satan) doesn’t want me to be happy. But as I make the choice, day by day, to seek God’s face, he gives me strength for what’s in front of me. So I keep praying through it, keep writing through it, and keep moving forward, little by little. A lot of my days end better than they start, because throughout the day I exercise my faith and allow God to smooth out the bumps. These are small rewards, little happy endings, that point me on to the day when Jesus comes to take me home, and give me my ultimate happy ending.

 

 

 

My SMART Goals for the Year (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound)

orange measuring tape
Photo Credit: “Orange and Measuring Tape” from freedigitalphotos.net

Previously I published three resolutions for 2015, but they were vague and hard to measure (except the one about getting pregnant), so today I delineate SMART goals for my resolutions: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

In other words, I am breaking my goals into small chunks so I will be more likely to attain them. I have also typed out these goals in measurable formats and have posted them where I will see them every day.

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family.

This list of "family stuff" hangs on my fridge. The list of weeks is where I will write in the weekly song I will sing with Sam.
This list of “family stuff” hangs on my fridge. The list of weeks is where I will write in the weekly song I will sing with Sam.
  • Have nightly family devotions, if even just a song and a prayer together (I’ve learned that a song and a prayer is a notable accomplishment with a one-year-old!)
  • Do one fun outing/activity a month as a family
  • Sing with Sam every day: Pick one song per week. (I included this one because the Bible commands me to “sing and make music in my heart to the Lord” [Eph. 5:19], but I don’t naturally do this; if I’m going to develop this habit and pass it along to Sam, I need a reminder!)
  • Finish Sam’s baby book
  • Fill photo albums with the pictures I already have, then start making electronic albums

Resolution 2: Make healthy choices for myself and make healthy food for my family.

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I got Buc’s input on our family meal schedule, because he is not, shall we say, as experimental of an eater as I am! He generously agreed to take on the cooking for two nights a week–a relief for both him and me, because I can use those afternoons for other things, and he can count on two meals he is sure to like per week. He also agreed to take the family out to eat once a week to give us both a break in the cooking and evening cleanup departments. I sure have a good hubby!

Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child.

I’m leaving this one to nature.

Resolution 4 (Recently Added): Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time

I’ve added “writing” as an area I want to focus on this year, even though I intend it to take a backseat to family life. Below are some goals that seem realistic for me this year; but because I can get obsessive in the area of writing, I’ve listed the third goal to give myself grace if I don’t meet my first two goals.

  • Post a blog once a week
  • Submit five magazine articles this year
  • Give myself grace if/when I don’t meet these guidelines. I have a toddler.

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Inspiration for Completing My Goals

In case you’re curious, I’m getting a lot of my ideas and inspiration (such as the SMART acronym) from Crystal Paine’s Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. (And I got the book recommendation from hearing Crystal interviewed on Family Life Today–which radio program I also highly recommend). If you’re interested in getting help with setting and following through with goals, check out her book, or her very popular blog, moneysavingmom.com. In her book, she walks readers through setting up goals, a daily schedule, and more, all with the hope that the reader will Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore [their] Passion for Life.

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Just be warned: Crystal is a highly driven woman with many, many goals, some Herculean (at least from where I sit in life right now), so I am trying to take her advice to not to compare myself with her, and to set my goals in the context of my individual circumstances. I realize my goals may change as I go along, should my circumstances change or should I discover a better fit for my life, but for now I am committed to implementing the suggestions she’s given, and doing what I’ve identified as most important to my values at this time. Stay tuned to see how it all goes! We can journey toward our goals together.

The Writing’s Going Well

The last two weeks have hosted a flurry of creative work…during naptimes and on the days my sister-in-law watches Sam (thanks so much, Joanna!). I’m hesitant to publish my high hopes, lest I’m getting too confident…but, of course, here I go.

In the last two weeks, I’ve basically rewritten the last third of my book, or created 80 new pages. This is my first big change since I rewrote the first third of my book last fall. So, now I have a different book from what I had last August. Same story, different book.

I’m not all that sad to have hacked up the first draft. That draft was very repetitious and wallowing. I see it as having cleared the pipes for what really needed to come out. Plus, I’ve saved all that cut material in a word document, and I envision it fueling numerous short articles. This new third, which still needs some organization and editing, focuses much more on Jesus and my healing. It explains the prayer process that changed my life, and shows those changes through new scenes of me reaching out to and praying with other women.

Now that I have the scenes in place that I want in the final draft (meaning I have a reliable outline), I will proceed with writing a book proposal and polishing the first three chapters. I’m not going to set a hard date for sending out the proposal, but I’m hoping for within a month. (I will only be sending to one publisher for now—a press within my faith community which God has laid upon my heart.) While the proposal is being reviewed (or sitting in a slush pile), I will polish up the rest of the book, and possibly get one more edit from my excellent book consultant, Trish Ryan.

I have prayed long over this memoir, and I feel God has delayed its progress so that I could make the recent changes. Now, I believe my book goes beyond telling a sad story women can identify with to showing how Jesus can bring beauty from ashes.

Happy to Be a Mother

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I was married seven years before I decided I wanted kids. Don’t mistake me. I was not married seven years before I got pregnant by accident, or before we could financially support a child. I mean I was married seven years before God, one day, gave me a talking to, and utterly changed my plans.

One October day in 2012, I was simultaneously poring over my career options and getting flustered, as I did so often in those days. I was two months from finishing my master’s degree, after which I planned to get a doctorate and teach college…but I wasn’t happy. I hated graduate school, and the thought of four to eight more years of it constricted my heart like a vise grip.

“Okay, Lord,”I prayed, sitting at my desk, I need your help. Before me sat my list of possible graduate schools, and a blank notebook. These items represented the choice that had dogged me for months: grad school, or writing? Farther back in my mind was a third option, but I had never really been able to voice it. Deadlines were approaching. If was going to get my doctorate, I had to apply soon.

“Lord,”I muttered through clenched teeth, “This indecision has gone on long enough, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m asking you to please, make clear, once and for all, what you want me to do.”

Even as I spoke the words, I felt the answer thudding in my chest.

You know what to do, God said.

And as the tears started, I realized I had known for months.

“God!”I cried out. “This has been so excruciating! Why has it taken so long to decide?”

Fear, came the instant answer. You fear that Buc will die, or abandon you someday. You fear that one day you will be alone again, without support, without resources, and without a clear path.

“Oh, Lord!” I sobbed. “You know me so well. You know that my constant motion for the past few years had to do with protecting myself in case of future abandonment—it wasn’t just about being organized and ‘highly effective.’ You know that I’ve overextended myself at work and church to keep from feeling what was really underneath my skin. You know I struggled over the PhD because it led to a safe and predictable place.”

I stopped talking aloud then, and just sat, letting it all sink in. I was finally admitting to myself: my desire for the PhD was all for fear. It was never what I wanted.

I slipped to my knees and bowed at my desk. With tears still trickling down my face, I acknowledged and embraced my fear, and I prayed: “God, you’ve gotten me this far. It’s time to let you lead, fully. I can’t ignore my desires anymore. And it doesn’t make sense to try to keep forcing a shoe that doesn’t fit. I don’t want a PhD. Teaching I could take or leave. But writing? I can’t leave it anymore. It’s got to come out.

I slumped on the floor for several minutes more, as if held there by God’s hand, because I knew there was more to this prayer. There was something else God wanted to bring out of me, another fear he wanted to replace with his truth. And I knew I was finally about to articulate it.

After composing myself, I called Buc at work and urged him to come home early, saying, “We need to talk about our future.”

When he arrived home, I said, “Let’s drive to the state park and talk while we walk.”

I didn’t have a speech prepared, but when we started our nature walk, words started tumbling out of my mouth. I admitted to Buc that I was not going to find a PhD that would suit me, because a PhD—and the isolation that must come with it—was not the life I wanted.

Voice quavering, I told him, “Honey, I keep looking at my life in the last few years—how I’ve been running around, keeping so busy, trying so hard—and I just don’t know what I’m striving for anymore. I’ve lost sight of what I’m doing. I mean,” I added, voice climbing to hysteria, “I just don’t know who I’m trying to please anymore. Why am I trying so hard?”

Scenes of recent years flashed in my mind. My nose-to-the-grindstone approach, my endless lists of to-dos. My shuffling from here to there. My busyness. My endless pursuit of the next rung in my career ladder, my continual motion. The mere thought of it so exhausted me that I had to stop and catch my breath. Again, these realizations had hit me hard. But the one that next burst from my mouth almost knocked me over.

“I want to have kids!” I blurted.

Like a crashing wave this realization came. In all the years we’d been married, I had never been able to say that I wanted kids. The closest I’d ever come was to speak of it as a distant hypothetical.

“Is it possible,” I marveled aloud to Buc, “that all I’ve ever really wanted was to get back to having a family? To have kids? Is it possible that the one thing I’ve been so scared to embrace all these years is the one thing I’ve really just wanted to get back to?”

I was flabbergasted by the thought. As I talked about our future—a new future—I felt a weight lifting. Was it possible I was really letting go? Just letting the debris of my broken past settle, and finally settling myself? The thought was comforting, even as it brought new fear. To follow this impulse was to completely shift gears, to suddenly grind to a halt plans we’d been setting in motion for years.

I cringed as I looked up at Buc. Would he approve of this change of plans?

“Honey? What do you think?” I shifted my eyes down, as if to deflect a coming glare. “What would you think if I decided to stay home and write, and maybe have some kids?”

His eyes were soft. He clasped my hand. “Honey, I think that sounds nice. I like the idea.” And that was all.

Whoosh. My breath escaped in one glorious release.

“I just have one question,” Buc said, swinging my arm as we trounced through the brush. “Why now? Why after all these years are you finally ready to have kids?”

I thought for a moment before answering, letting the happiness of the moment sink in. Then I realized: happiness was the answer.

“I think I finally understand something.” I let my free arm drift across the tree leaves, feeling like a little girl again. “The best parents—I mean, the people who should be having kids—have them because they are already happy. They have them not to make themselves happy, but to share their happiness. To invite someone else into their special, intimate joy. They don’t ask their kids to bring their lives meaning, they ask to be able to share meaning with their kids.”

“Well said,” Buc beamed at me. “I think I’ve got a wise wife.”

“Not that wise,” I smiled back. “I’m just learning to take God’s lead.”

And that, I thought to myself, is something worth passing on to my kids!

 

Epilogue: A year and a half has passed since that day in the woods, and I thank God every day that he redirected my plans and gave me my (almost) four-month-old blessing, Sam Michael. Happy Mothers Day, Moms!

 

*This post was adapted from a chapter in my memoir manuscript.

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story: Conclusion

After giving my life to God, I was always on the lookout for tools to share my faith. I didn’t feel I was particularly good at this part of the Christian life, and I thought it was because I hadn’t yet found the right method. Enter Paul Coneff and The Hidden Half of the Gospel.

Paul  conducted a week of prayer at my church in the spring of 2012, and after just the first night, I knew his message was special: I sensed it might even be the missing link in my life and ministry, this “hidden half” of Jesus’ story. So, what was it? And how, if I’d been in church almost my entire life, had I missed it?

Lindsey HH Cover MasterThe Hidden Half of the Gospel

Paul began his presentation with a question: “What did Jesus do more of while on this earth: Teaching or healing?”

Healing was the obvious answer. Then Paul asked, “Why have we [churches and Christians] reversed Jesus’ model of ministry? Why do we do more teaching than healing, when he did more healing than teaching?”

He continued, “Now let’s say that I am sitting in my office and I am studying for a sermon. Some church member comes in and says, ‘I have been struggling with guilt and shame from an abortion.’ Is it easier to turn to that messiness and brokenness of her life, or is it easier to do a Bible study on the character of God? Give her some scriptures on forgiveness and say, ‘You know God has forgiven you,’ pray with her a thirty-second prayer, and walk away. Which is easier?”

His point? Many churches, and Christians, don’t know how to handle messy problems like this one (other common examples being pornography addiction, abuse, eating disorders, infidelity, and cutting ), so we don’t–meaning we don’t offer the help so many people need. He went on to prove his point with a concept he calls the “cycle of sin-and-forgiveness.” Many Christians come into the church and get forgiveness for their sins, only to fall back into their patterns of sin. Then they ask for forgiveness, but continue to sin, again and again and again. (In my own experience of praying with women, I’ve also seen a pattern of wallowing in guilt over past sins that the person is no longer committing.) Paul continued. “Why is it that so many Christians who have accepted the ‘good news’ of Christ still are not free?”

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Photo Credit: Peacefulparenting.com

I was riveted. Exactly! I said to myself, remembering how my parents had been wooed into the church with lots of good information and had gotten baptized, only to leave our family scattered and scarred by an affair and divorce (see parts 1, 2, and 3).

For the first time, I saw my problems standing stark naked in church, and I was desperate to know: How can the church address these issues?

The Hidden Half of the Gospel is how Paul addressed them. This is a message I would come to know well when Paul later asked me to cowrite his book of the same title.

Two Pillars

There are two pillars to The Hidden Half:

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Here is a worksheet that can help you identify the lies Satan may be planting in your mind. I was able to recognize which lies applied to me because they were “thoughts” that ran through my head on a regular basis.

1. The root of our sin and suffering is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). This concept of roots is huge in Paul’s ministry. As Paul explained, all our negative behaviors and patterns are merely fruits of deep-seeded roots, or lies, planted by Satan. We cannot fix the fruits unless we first attack the roots. Thus, healing begins by identifying the Satanic lies driving our behavior. Once we know the roots, or the lies, we can take those to Jesus and let him deal with them, which leads to pillar 2.

2. The root of our healing and freedom is Jesus, our Suffering Messiah (Luke 9:22; Rev. 5:5; Col. 2:15; Isa. 53). The suffering of Jesus is the crux of The Hidden Half of the Gospel, and the key to our healing.

As Paul explained, many churches have overlooked this crucial aspect of Jesus’ gospel, instead choosing to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The death and resurrection take care of forgiveness of sins, but often merely believing in and accepting these concepts doesn’t resolve suffering, or the cycle of sin-and-forgiveness. Putting “suffering” back into the definition of the gospel, as Jesus explained it to his disciples (see Luke 9:22), offers hope to those of us stuck in suffering—depression, abuse, addiction, etc.—because it means Jesus didn’t just nail our sins to the cross, but he also nailed our suffering there, as well. The Bible tells us Jesus “suffered and was tempted in every way” that we are tempted, to offer us help when we suffer and are tempted (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16).

Why Jesus Had to Suffer

Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html
Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html

“Have you ever thought about why Jesus’ story had to be so gory?” Paul asked the audience.

I really hadn’t.

“Well, think about it.” Paul continued. “Jesus was abandoned; betrayed; physically violated; shamed and humiliated; and verbally, mentally, emotionally, and physically abused. Now, do you think He understands the pain that abuse victims feel? Does He understand when a parent abandons a child? Was He ever tempted to numb His pain?

“He suffered all these things and more so He could identify with us. So that he could understand every way we are sinned against, and every form of self-protection we develop in order to numb our pain.

Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).
Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).

“What’s more, he suffered these temptations  and triumphed over them, which means that when we take time to connect our stories with Jesus, to pray and meditate on what it means that he suffered for us, and became sin for us, we can experience his victory.”

By this time, I was hooked. I wanted this in my life. I wanted a ministry that was relevant to the suffering I’d experienced, and that which I saw all around me.

So I signed on for Paul’s seven-phase, thirteen-week discipleship program. That’s right. A thirteen-week program. This wasn’t any “quick fix.” It was going to be an intense period of praying on a consistent basis, first for myself (to get more healing in my own life before I was expected to pass it on–a requirement of Straight 2 the Heart Ministries) and then for others. I was going to learn at the feet of Jesus (and the seat of Paul Coneff) for an extended period of time, sort of like the first disciples, before I set out to make more disciples.

Discipleship, Small-Group Style

Paul (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.
Paul Coneff (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.

Paul spent the next four months with five of us, discipling us—praying with us, and training us to pray with others. And not quick, clean, thirty-second prayers. These were deep, messy prayer sessions that first asked Jesus to identify our negative roots, and then helped us connect our stories to Jesus’ story. It didn’t end there. We delved deeper, praying, “Lord, what else do you want me to know about these roots in my life? What blessings or barriers are there in these areas?” The prayers were recursive, connecting our stories to Jesus, then having us stop and listen to the Holy Spirit so he could take us one layer deeper into our negative roots. Always, by the end of the prayer sessions, which dredged up long-buried hurts and often tears, Jesus revealed blessings, too. He always brought to mind His promises to combat the negative roots our praying was churning up.

Our training ended, with the goal being that we would start more small groups in our church, beginning with a few men and women, hopefully to grow as disciples multiplied.

My Gateway to New Life at Home, at Work, and in Ministry

My life intersected with Paul Coneff’s message and ministry, Straight 2 the Heart, when I was at a crossroads in my life. I was coming up against the age of thirty, and was finding that pursuing my “chosen” path, graduate school to become a professor, was leaving me feeling empty. Here’s a summary of how God has since rerouted my plans through this life-changing prayer ministry.

Facing Remaining Negative Roots

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Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

First, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me to be honest about areas in my life that weren’t all healed yet (some of which are still in progress) such as:

  • Anger at the premature loss of my childhood family and, well, my childhood.
  • Resentment at my husband’s happy family (and any happy family).
  • Disillusionment with my church and religion because it “did not help me” in my time of crisis. Straight 2 the Heart helped me to see that my church didn’t help me because it didn’t know how—also, because I didn’t let them know I needed help in the first place. (It also provided the answer for how churches can help, when they have the right tools.)
  • My pattern of trying to control my life in my own strength so it would never get out of control again (or my attempts to never repeat my past depression, suicide attempts, broken family, etc., through over-planning, becoming over-busy, and more).
  • My avoidance of having kids out of the above need to maintain control.

Gaining Deeper Healing 

Second, Straight 2 the Heart has led to more healing for those negative roots in these ways:

  • The decision to let go of the “safe,” but wrong career path of academia.
  • The decision to finally pursue the identity God has for me, which has translated into sharing my story through writing and even teaching. This blog, my memoir-in-progress, and Paul’s and my forthcoming book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, are all examples of me sharing my story for God’s glory.
  • The decision to have a baby.DSC_7783
  • The decision to be honest with other women, to reach out and accept relationships I had avoided but desperately needed (See my post “Friends in High Places”)
  • I am gaining more appreciation for my church as I look past its flaws (every church has flaws) and see the human beings there. Since deciding to be vulnerable with my own story, I’ve connected with many of these dear people in meaningful ways.  I am getting the authentic “fellowship of believers” experience I missed as a child, when my family was intent on covering up its problems.

Taking the Next Step in Ministry

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Photo Credit: Cristina Coneff

Third, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me learn how to have a really relevant ministry, or how to help others who are stuck in negative places and patterns like those I’ve suffered. (It is through making Jesus’ gospel relevant to the everyday struggles of life—boldly connecting our messiness to Jesus Christ’s suffering and his full gospel to “heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.”)

  • My partner in prayer ministry, Amanda, and I, prayed two new young women (now dear friends) through the thirteen-week prayer process, which helped lead them to lots of healing—and baptisms in our church!
  • Amanda and I also trained women at a neighboring church to facilitate the same thirteen-week prayer and discipleship process in their congregation.
  • With the help of Amanda and Mary, our other cohort from our initial 13-week training, I facilitated a third prayer group, consisting of around ten ladies, in my home for several months last fall. This group resulted in amazing healing for many of these women (for marital, parental, and other common problems) as well as facilitating much needed connection between these lovely, but often isolated church ladies.
  • Now I am working on rendering the miracles we saw in these women willing to be honest with one another and with God into the closing scenes for my memoir. I want my story to testify to how one changed life can ripple out to other lives, and still more lives from there. This is what discipleship is all about.

Now, what I’ve left out of my rebirth story (and there’s lots I’ve left out), I am working on telling in my memoir. Why did I call this my “ugly, messy” rebirth story? If you consider a real birth (and I’ve been considering it a lot lately), it’s a messy process. It’s no small thing when a new physical life is created—and the same is true for a new spiritual life. The creation of a life, and the re-creation of a life, are not simple or easy processes. At times they are painful, ugly, and messy—but to get to the birth, or the rebirth, they are necessary. That’s why I have unapologetically included the ugliness and messiness in my story—along with its beauty. Without either, my story would be incomplete.

 Read part 1      Read part 2      Read part 3     Read part 4      Read Part 5    Read Part 6

To read more about The Hidden Half of the Gospel, see the following articles Paul and I wrote on the subject:

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 1

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 2

To schedule Paul to speak at your church or to facilitate a discipleship group, contact him at www.straight2theheart.com.

And if you want to get a copy of our book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours, follow this blog to be notified later this spring when the book is published!

Knowing When to Quit

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Photo Credit: “Exhausted,” posted on Thayer Memorial Library’s Website

I can talk a good game about living proactively, being productive, and striving for new heights; however, I’ve also found there’s a time to back off. The time is when you’ve made commitments that are not needful, helpful, or healthy for you to keep.

For a few weeks I’d been feeling stressed because I wasn’t finding enough time in my day to work on my memoir. I entered the fall planning to work on my book at least twenty-five hours per week. As I looked at my records for the past month, I saw that I was logging closer to ten. And because my baby’s due date was approaching, this was making me nervous. Could I still get my manuscript done by the time Baby Sam came?

My hubby has often said I tend to keep my plate full to the brim; he’s always known me to be stressed over what I’m not getting done. But since my unexpected breakdown, I had been trying to pare down the helpings on my plate. What had gone wrong?

As I’ve been learning to do when I get in a pickle, I prayed. But this time as I started to pray, my brain felt too scattered to even stay on track (this is a good sign you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re pregnant, or both). So in my prayer journal, I began with a list of my current commitments, hoping to see a pattern or pick out something I was unnecessarily stressing over.

 

Let me fill in the background for you about the housecleaning item. In the past two months, thinking I needed to become a better homemaker for the baby, I picked up two books on housecleaning (three, if you count The Happiness Project), and started to try to drastically change my habits, per the books’ suggestions. I had started to feel positively weighted down by the thought of keeping my kitchen sink clean, de-cluttering a little bit every day, and deep-cleaning my kitchen.

When I made the list in my prayer journal and saw the housecleaning item mixed in with everything else, though, I realized something: Cleaning/organizaing my home doesn’t have to be a top priority right now. Especially since I’m not a dangerously messy person (i.e., my dust bunnies are not causing us physical health problems or my clutter creating safety hazards, like some people referenced in my cleaning books).

I asked the Lord to help me set some goals for what I actually needed to do for the time being. He told me, “You can stop reading the housecleaning books right now. If you want to focus on your own book [and I do], read stuff that inspires you to write [books on writing, or memoirs].

“Continue the habits of keeping your sink clean and purging your clutter when you can. But you don’t need to add anything else.”

This was making me feel lighter already. I was next able to list out some new, more manageable goals for my writing each week; although I had to admit it wouldn’t amount to twenty-five hours. This was because my unexpected teaching job had come up at the last minute, and it takes time to create curriculum when you’re teaching a brand new class. This was an item that was not negotiable.

The baby registry and choir cantata were pretty easy to resolve: I’d let them become overwhelming when I saw I couldn’t get the registry done in three sittings (but one more should do it), and the cantata piano music learned in two weeks (hopefully four more will do it—but if not, I have the out of purchasing the performance CD).

While my hubby had told me I shouldn’t feel bad about cutting back on my memoir work, I did feel bad, because this was the single most important thing I’d identified to get done before the baby came. I knew I wouldn’t cut back anymore than I had to, but God did help me see that I was worrying too much about getting the book done in my projected time frame. He helped me resolve this by reminding me that if I got the first section revised and a proposal written, I could start shopping the manuscript to agents/editors even if it was unfinished. This is how non-fiction publishing works, anyway.

Then, God gave me this list of do’s for my guilt:

  • Lighten up
  • Lessen your expectations
  • Give yourself a break. Unpredictable things (like the class and the puppies) have happened lately.

Finally, I realized that God would accomplish his work in his time. I didn’t need to worry about what wasn’t getting done, because he was seeing to it that everything that needed to get done was getting done.

When we are walking in God’s will, or doing our very best according to the light we have (based on reading his word and listening to his voice), we can “quit” certain good things with a clear conscience—and sometimes, to continue walking in his will, we must.