Hi Friends! Long time, no write.…but as it turns out, this week has afforded extra down time.
Just yesterday, the day before Thanksgiving, I was diagnosed with COVID. Thankfully, this has meant an opportunity to reconnect with you via this blog. So, happy Thanksgiving! And it is a day for Thanksgiving in my household, even though COVID screwed up our plans for celebration this week.
What we are celebrating today, this week, is a job offer that came last week…a job offer, finally, after three years of subsisting on (financial) bread crumbs, slogging through grad school, and playing the job market. I’ll announce the job at the end…so skip down if you want to know, or keep reading if you care to hear about my life in recent years:)
Of course, you know about some of it–we’ve all been living through this pandemic, and many of us have been facing new (or old) mental health issues. Two extra life-quakes faced by my household included the death of a parent and the addition of the surviving parent to our household. For myself, the pandemic and grad school have also led to a flare of post-traumatic stress symptoms, along with a disturbing political awakening.
The PTSD and political awakening I am still struggling to find words for, as I work to conclude my doctoral dissertation. However, what I can articulate about these last three years is that I’ve learned much more than I wanted to about chronicstress–and I hope to convince my readers that chronic stress is nothing to sniff at.
About six months ago, I took the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, which assigns numbers based on recent life events. In this inventory, a sum of 300 is a mega-stress score, and comes with the prediction of a “major health breakdown in the next two years.” I scored at 350. Maybe I should blame my COVID diagnosis on chronic stress?
I’ll write more publicly about these years at some point, perhaps after I finish my dissertation, but for today, I want to praise God that He has sustained me and my family through these years of chronic stress. I give Him glory that He is providing coping skills and tools I did not learn earlier in life, including various types of writing that I have been able to study and practice (mostly privately) while in grad school.
Although I feel beat up by the scholarly life–a very competitive, scholar-eat-scholar enterprise, if you want to know–I thank God that He led me to worthwhile topics that have provided me needed coping mechanisms for this period of my life. In fact, one task of my dissertation is to explain the mental health benefits of private writing for college students–a topic that I feel has not been sufficiently explored. I have a burden for college students who are struggling with mental health–and stats say at least one-third of them do. But as I’ve researched and written on this topic, I have remained aware that I am in this category, too.
What I love about God is that, while He allows us to go through these seasons of stress, He also delivers us. He knows such seasons are not sustainable; we are not meant to live like this long-term. Sometimes we have the choice to alleviate these insupportable stress levels; other times we are truly at God’s mercy: we have done what we can do, but there are circumstances that we really cannot change, and we must wait on our Maker to move.
Early last week I was praying to this effect: “God, I am at your mercy. I cannot change this situation: this multi-year job search that keeps ending in no’s, this mentally heavy doctoral work that must be gone through (to follow the path you’ve laid out), this house that my family has outgrown; this need for stability, including a living wage for my family. I truly need you to move, please.” And He did.
Right before Thanksgiving break, Southwestern Adventist University offered me my old job back–but this offer was better than last time’s temporary, one-year contract. I have accepted a full-time, tenure-track position that begins July 1, 2022.*
Finally, after three years, the search is over. Praise God! As I sit here resting physically because of COVID, I praise God that, in many ways, I can now also rest mentally.
The hard work is not over, of course. I still have a dissertation to finish. But my stress level is getting back to a sustainable amount. Soon we will have real insurance again, and we will have a new house that fits us all; for now, I have the security of knowing that I don’t have to job search while also dissertating (PRAISE GOD; I already played that game last year, job searching while studying for comprehensive exams…and I don’t recommend it). I know that other seasons of stress will come, but for now I am truly thankful during this Thanksgiving season. Glory be to God who helps us in our weaknesses, who gives strength and answers when we have none. Thank you, Heavenly Father.
If you’re at the end of your rope this holiday season, I hope you’ll take time to reconnect with (or get to know) The Man Upstairs. And if your brain is on overload, like mine has been for these past three years, try some therapeutic writing–perhaps writing out your stressors in a prayer journal. Also, for you over-stuffed intellectuals out there, remember that connecting with God doesn’t always have to mean reading yet one more thing; sometimes, it means expressing yourself, crying out, or even having a good cry while listening to some good Christian tunes.* As these recent years have taught me, God’s in the business of fixing our problems–as well the business of sustaining us when solutions take longer than we want them to.
*I distinctly remember one day last year, when I was working virtually in my makeshift she-shed, that I felt overwhelmed, cognitively overloaded, and stumped as to how to connect with God. I remembered a song I’d heard on the radio and looked it up; then I sat there and cried as I listened to these lyrics: “When you don’t know what to say, just say Jesus.” Normally this song would be a bit rock-y for my taste, but that day, it really spoke to me; for three minutes, it was pure worship. While I couldn’t formulate words, I just cried, and I let the song express what I could not. Afterwards, I felt better and I was able to get to the day’s work. In short, I highly recommend making an anti-stress playlist and using it as often as needed! Be well, friends!
Oh, dear friends and readers. Throughout this coronavirus saga, I have wanted to post an update blog often. I have tried a few times, but the whole quarantine/shelter-in-place situation has strained me, like it has so many others currently struggling with their mental health. I believe the Lord has been striving with me, as he is with the world right now, trying to get my attention—our attention.* What is he trying to tell you?
If I’d had it my way, I would have been running on all cylinders this summer, taking trips to see my Minnesota friends and family, taking more graduate classes, socking it to my dissertation, starting a women’s prayer group. But that’s not what God had in store for me. No, for me, He had a whole lot of sitting still planned—even being knocked on my bum, quite frankly—due to anxiety which, I soon decided, was really a manifestation of complex PTSD. But more on that in a moment.
First, a brief recap of what’s happened since COVID-19 upended our lives.
I started the spring semester continuing fulltime doctoral work, as well as part-time tutoring for UTA’s writing center. But after spring break, of course, my kids and I were sent home to work and study within our own four walls. This arrangement would have been a disaster if not for my mother-in-law and husband. My mom-in-law (who was already their teacher) took on tutoring the kids a few hours a day, and my hubby took the kids in the afternoons, while I worked and studied in our bedroom. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I didn’t have to figure out teaching my kids while doing my own work and school. God provided.
Unfortunately, once school let out and I looked up from my studies, an old pattern resurfaced. I started suffering another ginormous bout of anxiety, which has been happening during my school breaks ever since I returned to work. Thankfully, God had already provided my friend, Naomi, to pray with me.
(Quick aside: Naomi is a church friend from my time in Missouri who read my book Ending the Pain and subsequently requested prayer ministry. Since the beginnings of our friendship and my prayer ministry to her, in about 2016, our prayer times have evolved into reciprocal prayer support; now, I like to think of us as a two-woman support group, where we trade prayer sessions every other week. Last year, because I was so strapped for time, we would do these sessions during my commutes to and from UTA—not ideal, but we made it work, and God blessed with no car accidents:)
There Seems to Be a Root, Here
Through my biweekly prayer sessions with Naomi this summer, I was able to notice a striking pattern in my anxiety: it doesn’t happen at work or school; it only happens in connection with family or home settings. It also happened at church last year, especially during the brief stint when I taught in my sons’ Sabbath school class. The common denominator was being in a caregiving role with young kids, with the kids usually being mine (though, now that I think of it, I also struggled with anxiety years ago when I was a high school teacher).
Just days into my summer “break” (maybe I should say summer breakdown?) I found myself wound “tight, tight, tight,” as I wrote in my journal, and having so many weird reactions—startling easily at loud noises, angry outbursts, fantasies of running away—that I embarked on some internet research. I wondered: Was there a name for what I was suffering from, beyond just “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”? Because my anxiety seemed way too specific to be called “general.”
My research led me to a condition called complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD. After an hour of internet reading, it was clear to me that this was probably what I had. But I needed to understand it better. So, I went to my recently reopened public library to do more research.
Reading Pete Walker’s semi-autobiographical book on complex PTSD in late June was healing; I cried as I read passages that mirrored my experience of struggling so badly in what seemed like simple, normal circumstances. I reread my emotional eruptions and recurring fantasies of escaping not as evidence that I was a horrible wife and mother, but as examples of what Walker calls the four F’s: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn (fawn refers to people-pleasing). I understood that my desperate feelings (and sometimes desperate actions) were tied to emotional flashbacks rooted in complex trauma; that is, prolonged trauma that occurs over a period of time, usually in childhood. I understood that my childhood development had been arrested years ago, and that was why parenting these days was so hard: because, while trying to parent my kids, I was still trying to parent myself.
For those readers who can’t relate, I know this might sound like psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo, but for me, Walker’s insights came as sparkling revelations. I sobbed with relief to know that there was a name for what I struggled with.
As Fred Rogers famously said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
New knowledge in hand, I was ready to get help and move forward. But I didn’t quite know how. As Walker and other psychology professionals note, C-PTSD is a relatively new concept in the field, and as yet does not hold its own entry in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), or the Bible of psychology; rather, it is a subcategory of PTSD, and one that many professionals in the field are not aware of.
So, I started by sharing my revelations with a couple close girlfriends who, I believe, also may suffer from C-PTSD. (At first I puzzled over why so many of my friends, and readers who have reached out to me, seemed to share this diagnosis. Then I realized that my prayer ministry and writing projects are designed to draw exactly this kind of crowd. No shame, ladies and gentlemen. We are all in this together, seeking healing for the crummy hands life dealt us.)
Old Prescription: Prozac
Taking seriously the magnitude of what I was struggling with, at the beginning of July I put myself on Prozac to help manage my immediate anxiety, until I could get help for my deeper issues. From what I’ve read, depression and anxiety are often secondary to trauma…so if I get help with the trauma, I’m hoping the anxiety will decrease.
(Second aside: I had a leftover, unused supply of Prozac from when we moved to Texas in 2018. In anticipation of our move and gap between jobs and health insurance, my then-doctor had prescribed me extra meds, which I didn’t end up needing once I started work. Go figure.)
Anyway, for the next five weeks, Prozac helped settle me down and sit with my family; it calmed my incessant urge to escape. On the mornings I could beat my kids awake, I sat in the pre-dawn quiet reading the book of Matthew, Message translation. This modern translation made the reading fresh and surprising, and I found myself meditating anew on the life of Jesus. His was a life of suffering and self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice, in fact, came up prominently in my prayer sessions with Naomi.
New Prescription: Self-Sacrifice
During my July 11 prayer session, after an uncomfortable hour praying through my anxieties without much relief, I asked Naomi to pray for blessings for me. But after she prayed, no discernible blessings came to my mind. Instead, the words It’s not about you came up. Huh? I asked Naomi to pray one more time for clarity, because I didn’t understand. At first I thought maybe God was telling me “This summer is about God and what he’s doing, even if I can’t see or sense what He’s doing.” I think that statement is true for the Christian life in general, but another round of prayer gave me more clarity on my particular situation: namely, God showed me that, while I didn’t feel like I was being blessed in this season, I could play a part in blessing others right now, primarily Buc. That was a pivotal moment and perspective-changer for me.
From that prayer session on, I took serving others as one of God’s prescriptions for me during this painful time at home. Of course, serving others is just part of living the Christian life, but sometimes we need a reminder. For the next month, with the help of Prozac and God’s prescription, I laid down my hyper-planning, hyper-anxious personality and worked at being here for a friend who needed childcare. I aimed for acts of service that would bless my hubby—namely, feeding our new chickens and weeding the garden (his idea of fun summer projects, not mine). I made a few meals for extended family during their painful moving process. I prayed with a couple readers who reached out to me. I hosted some stuff at my house. And I tried to give my best to my children, even if my best wasn’t all that impressive.
And the work I put into others came back around. Friends, my hubby gave me the best birthday gift ever at the end of July: he converted a previously unused, nasty backyard shed into an office for me! What sweet relief to again have a quiet space to call my own! Thank you, Honey.
Antidepressants Are Great…Until They’re Not
On August 6, I wrote in my journal that, while Prozac had allowed me to feel calmer and less reactive, I was also starting to feel drugged. So, after praying about it with Naomi, I decided to drop the Prozac. God helped me see that with my next semester of grad school coming up, I need my mind sharp. He also assured me that if I need meds again in the future, I can take them. And He told me I was not a bad Christian for taking them–even though some Christians are anti antidepressants. (Readers, please make those decisions with the input of your doctor, and your Creator.)
Back to School…Back to Therapy
As of last week, my kids have re-entered school, in person, thus relieving a major trigger for me. And, in light of my summer struggles, I have taken seriously that I have some un-processed trauma to contend with—some problems that Prozac, and perhaps even prayer ministry, can’t fix. As such, I have started some over-the-phone therapy with a new counselor who is trained in treating trauma.
But even though I have only had one counseling session so far, I am encouraged by the healing that has come from simply getting informed about complex trauma, and owning that I suffer from it. Take this reflection from my June 22nd journal entry, for instance, which I wrote after reading Pete Walker’s book:
“I feel really hopeful that I am turning a corner. It makes so much sense that what I’ve been experiencing is flashbacks to trauma, and re-traumatization once I became a mom, especially after baby #2. My anxiety was second to my trauma and my triggers.
“Walker says that recovery, and shrinking the inner and outer critic, depends on 1) angering at the appropriate targets and 2) grieving. In other words, cognitive and emotional work: ‘Cognitive work in both cases involves the demolition and rebuilding processes of thought-stopping and thought substitution, respectively. And, emotional work in both instances is grief work. It is removing the critic’s fuel supply—the unexpressed anger and the uncried tears of a lifetime of abandonment’ (Pete Walker, Complex PTSD, p. 207).
“I feel like I’ve done a lot of the cognitive work because of my conversion and then Straight 2 the Heart prayer ministry. But it appears I have more grieving and emotional work to do. On one hand, it’s hard to realize I’m still grieving. On the other hand, it’s freeing to realize there is a reason I am the way I am. [As one book on complex trauma puts it, It’s Not You, It’s What Happened to You.] Perhaps I’ve suffered from what Walker calls a ‘salvation fantasy.’ Christianity teaches that in Christ we can become a new creation; the old things have passed away, all things have become new. But maybe we can be born anew and still suffer flashbacks to trauma. It doesn’t mean we’re not born again, or that we’ve failed. It means we were hurt by our sinful world, and there are lasting consequences.”
Takeaways: If You Need Help…
Talk to Someone You Trust
Research Help for Your Mental Health Symptoms
As I wrap up this post (which I have been trying to write all summer), I feel grateful, and my mental health feels good. That’s why I am able to publish this right now. But I know tomorrow I might feel different, unable to write for the public; besides that, I also know I’m about to get very busy with work and school again.
So if I don’t post on here for another six or twelve months (grad school is a lot of work, y’all), I want to shout this out to my readers: Friend, if you’re in a desperate place, reach out. Seek help. Your kids will thank you later. If you don’t get help now, your kids will suffer, now and later! (I am living proof of this unfortunate reality.)
If you don’t know who to reach out to but are open to working with a Christian counselor, I highly recommend checking out the Abide network, where I have found my new counselor, who I am working with over the phone (she Zooms, too!) (FYI, I have some roots with Abide, because I formerly blogged for their website, and Paul Coneff, my Straight 2 the Heart prayer mentor and co-author, is one of their counselors.)
If you’re struggling but not down for traditional counseling, I encourage you to seek counsel in other ways. Spend time with your Wonderful Counselor, Jesus, through reading the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Spend time listening to Him in prayer, preferably with an open journal to write down what He tells you. Or, simply take a walk in nature and ask Him to meet you there. Or, spend time with a friend and ask Him to meet you through her. (Good and godly friends can also be wonderful counselors—wonderful with a little w:)
Bottom line? Our Wonderful Counselor will meet you wherever you are, if you simply ask. I believe He sometimes even meets people through mental health research, meds, and/or therapy, if need be. Bottom line? God has innumerable ways to speak to and/or reach you in your particular situation, like He did for me this summer. You just have to ask…and be willing to get quiet and listen for awhile. Happy new school year, Friends. Here’s to a new start.
* I belong to a church that believes Jesus is coming again soon. I’ve heard speculations that COVID is a warm-up to “end time events.” These are big buzzwords in my faith tradition. My husband has been studying things out pretty seriously (he was doing this even before the coronavirus). I’m not as into studying Bible prophecy—preferring as I do to study the more microscopic topics of human psychology and the heart. But I am paying more attention to world events and enthralled by the hope that our time on earth could be short. I am praying to be ready, and asking the Lord how He wants to use me. If you’re new to the Bible but interested in learning more, I recommend these Bible study guides, which answer some of humanity’s biggest questions about God, the devil, death, prophecy, and more.
I didn’t write a Christmas letter or send out Christmas cards in 2019. I found that, at the end of the fall 2019 semester, I was too emotionally exhausted to do much of anything but cry. All semester I went to school/work to be a student/teacher, and I came straight home to be a mom/wife. That was my semester. Everything else got put to the side. This week, our family is decompressing and ringing in the New Year in a cabin in Arkansas. I am still trying to unwind from that crazy semester, as well as the crazy Christmas season. As well as just, well, life as we’ve known it for the past couple years.
I still don’t have words to express all the feelings I have about my personal life right now–except perhaps what I could only get out in some free verse in October. One night after coming home late from a night class, I couldn’t sleep, and a poem spilled across my notebook pages at 2 a.m. (This was unusual at this stage of life. My readers know I’m not a poet.) Perhaps what comes through in the poem is that I don’t know how to tend to some important relationships right now while also trying to stay mentally sound myself. I feel like, for the past few years, every six months or so we have had a huge life upheaval: two job losses, moving to a new state, a mom-dad role switch, the death of a parent, a parent added to the household, two new jobs, re-entry into graduate school…what have I missed? Anyway. stressful times.
My dad has a tradition of sending out an annual Christmas poem, and since I didn’t write any Christmas communications, I’ll dedicate my October poem to my dad, and to my mom, and to my brothers, Kyle and Caleb. All of these dear ones live at least a thousand miles away, and I have seen none of them for at least a year and a half. I also dedicate the poem to my good-humored husband, Buc. One needs a sense of humor at times like these. During stressful seasons we humans need some release valves like crying, talking with friends, writing poetry, or doing whatever leaves us with a little more peace. May you take your human and/or artistic license in 2020 and do whatever emotionally uplifting, nonviolent, non-destructive-to-relationships, and legal things you need to do to weather whatever season you’re going through. God bless you, Friends, and Happy New Year.
Sometimes life is about showing up
hugging a screaming, inconsolable child
saying I love you or
praying with you
when, really, that’s all I can do.
I can’t fly over the ocean to you
or even across five states for you.
I can’t take my family, your grandsons,
to visit you.
I have nothing to give.
Nothing but wishes and prayers and a
heart full of emotions I can’t express.
Life just doesn’t cooperate.
The house is a mess.
And I have to go to work.
And I could work my life away,
forgetting to stop and sit with you.
Neglecting to sit and eat with you.
Not bothering to look you in the eye.
Just giving up trying to connect…
because connecting seems so hard.
Where do we go when we run out of
When Mom, Dad, Husband, Wife, and “Higher Education”
cease to fill us, delight us, comfort us?
And when, after a lifetime of reading and
school and straight A’s, we can’t learn
what we need to know, no matter how
much we study?
Only here. Crumpled in a chair at 2 a.m.,
heart racing, praying, knowing I don’t
know much of anything. But it’s okay.
You know, God.
You know it’s going to be okay.
The world doesn’t rest on my shoulders–
it rests on yours.
I can breathe. I can sit. I can put
work away. I can leave that dust. I can give up so many expectations that never did anything for me
but strangle me.
What if Mom is not all put together?
(And I mean she, and I mean me.)
I’ll speak for myself and say
I’m a mess. Emotionally.
I can clean all day–clean my life away–
but what will that do if I alienate you?
I’m sorry, Family.
I see me now, or I’m starting to.
It’s not totally my fault. I didn’t make
this mess (completely). But neither did you.
It’s a long legacy, passed down to us from
our first mother, our first father.
We’re just the latest installation in a
We were gifted the curse at birth.
And so we grow up nasty and defiant,
a collective screaming child. Rude, disrespectful,
selfish, self-centered “I’s.”
Our parents wounded us, though it’s the
last thing they wanted to do.
We grew up to do it, too.
We’re messy people, producing more messy people.
Heaven help us–Jesus help me.
For on my own, I can do no better than
live out this human legacy.
Human nature tells me to leave–
don’t stay the course–do what’s easy.
Emotions go cold–play mind games.
Get angry, bitter, blame him, blame her.
Don’t take responsibility.
You came to change the story,
Jesus. You came here, by me–right
beside me, and us, in this mess.
You flowered in the fray–
a tender shoot from dry ground.
Unsupported, despised, rejected.
Unfairly treated, betrayed, and abandoned.
Abused, misused, and unfairly accused.
If anyone had the right to be angry,
it was you.
But what did you do?
You showed up.
You prayed, You pled, You loved, and You bled.
You cried and You prayed, even while betrayed.
You kept Your eyes on the skies and on
better days (One day you will see me coming in the clouds,
Still–You prayed and You pled, and You
loved, and You bled.
You didn’t turn cold or deny the pain–
You uttered this refrain: God, if it is possible, take this cup from Me. But if it’s not possible, Thy will be done.
And God didn’t take the cup away, because
this suffering was Your mission.
And when they beat You and hit You,
kicked and spit at You–tore off
Your clothes and dressed You in robes,
nailed Your body to a tree,
You prayed, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Oh, what those eyes could see.
Me. (And I mean you.)
How could I be so stupid?
Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Forgive me. I didn’t know what I was doing.
And I still don’t know what I’m doing, Lord.
And I don’t know how to fix it–
this pain in me and this pain around me–
And the pain inflicted on me, and the pain
I inflict on others.
But praise God.
I don’t have to know.
Because it’s not my job to know.
And it’s not my job to fix it.
You know, and it’s Your job.
That’s why You came and lived
and prayed, and pled, and loved, and bled,
and suffered, and died,
and rose again.
It’s 2 a.m. and the night is almost gone.
Day will rise, hope will rise, again.
And sometimes, like today,
life is just about showing up.
Hugging a screaming, but consolable, child.
Saying I love you to my husband.
Sending I love you’s to my mom, my dad, and my brothers
(thousands of miles away).
Praying with a friend who’s with me now.
That’s all I can do.
And that’s all I have to do.
I’ve spent a lot of my life aiming for perfection. But there’s something to be said for shooting for a B, and even simply showing up (if you bring a good attitude, of course). These are some things I said recently while doing an interview with Adventist Radio London (ARL) on the topic of perfectionism. (I was asked for the interview after my article, “Breaking Free from the Perfectionist Trap” came out in Vibrant Life Magazine in June.) The interviewer, Vanesa Pizzuto, said that the thought of “shooting for a B” made her cringe. But she agreed with me: “We can’t do everything perfectly.”
No, I can’t do everything perfectly.
I am still trying to let that truth sink in, because letting go of my perfection still makes me cringe sometimes, too. But I know this is crucial advice for me, a lifelong perfectionist. I am juggling many balls right now–wife, mom, graduate student, teacher, church member, public speaker, freelance writer–and I desperately need to be able to prioritize. I need God’s wisdom to show me when perfectionis called for, and when just showing up, or just a little preparationwill suffice.
The brain surgeon in the operating room needs to aim for perfection.
The auto manufacturer preparing airbags (and many other car parts) needs to aim for perfection.
Life and death matters call for a measure of perfectionism.
But most of my daily tasks aren’t life or death.
To the extent that I believe this truth–that the bulk of my daily choices don’t matter that much–I can either live in a state of peace or a state of anxiety. I’ve been there, done that with the perfectionism-and-anxiety thing…and I’m sick of it. So I am admitting the error of my ways (in this area), and reciting these crucial truths to myself:
It’s okay to shoot for a B sometimes
It’s okay to just show up sometimes (without an exhaustive plan in hand, but with a good attitude in heart and mind)
Contrary to my anxiety-feeding fears, nothing catastrophic is going to happen if I don’t have:
A perfectly clean house
Perfectly healthy and balanced meals at every meal
A perfectly toned body and my perfect weight of 125 pounds
Perfectly planned lessons for each class I teach
A perfect schedule for my kids that I follow to the letter
A perfect record of daily reading my Bible (I’m just being honest…it doesn’t happen every day)
Every reading assignment as a graduate student (and there are many) completely read and thoroughly annotated
These are some of the things that make up my daily life, and, at various points, they all have caused me anxiety. You know it’s a really bad day when I’m stressing over all of them! But as I continue this walk of life, this spiritual journey, I hope I am getting a little better at recognizing this trap of perfectionist thinking (and its domino-effect-anxiety)–and then promptly turning it all over to Jesus.
It’s an ongoing struggle. I won’t lie. But as I said in the interview with ARL, the best thing I can do, when roiled by unrealistic visions of A-plusses in every detail–the best thing I can do, is stop. Stop it right there, thoughts. Call out these unrelenting sky-high expectations for what they are: traps of the devil. And confess to my Creator:
God, I’m sorry for entertaining these thoughts. You are my Creator–You are the Author and Finisher (and the Perfecter) of my faith. Forgive me for focusing on myself and my limited abilities, and not on You, Your omnipotence, Your omnipresence, Your omniscience. Forgive me for taking on a yoke that You never intended for me (Your yoke is easy, Your burden is light!). Forgive me for giving in to fear, and getting derailed (again).
I need You so much, Lord. I need you every moment of every day. Thank you for being with me, whether I acknowledge Your presence or not. Help me to put my thoughts on You, and take courage. Help me to remember that You created me for a specific purpose in this world–and that purpose was not to be perfect in every way, but to do the work You intend for me. Help me daily to separate the (eternally) important from the insignificant. Help me remember I don’t have to figure out my life alone. And help me to remember, and truly believe, that whatever You want me to do, You will help me to do–with Your power, not mine.
Now, I’ve said that most of my daily decisions don’t matter that much. For those of you who feel uncomfortable with that thought–or if you cringe at the thought of shooting for a B–let me just be clear. As a Christian, I do believe, overall, that what we do during this life matters. I believe that our choices, our actions, our obedience or non-obedience to God, will ultimately lead us to eternal life or eternal death. And, speaking as a parent, I accept that my actions can either pave the way to heaven or pave the way to hell for my children. So I don’t take my daily decisions lightly. With that said though, I often take the small details of every day much too seriously.
If my day is chaos, and the kids aren’t going along with my perfect “plan” for the day, which is more important: making sure they eat from all the food groups today, or teaching them about Jesus? See my point? I can drive myself crazy (and I have) trying to check all the boxes in every category. But we aren’t living in a perfect world. I’m not perfect, the people around me aren’t perfect, and conditions are rarely ideal. Thus, some things gotta give. The key is asking God which things can go–and then homing in on the things that really need doing (and realizing that sometimes the things worth doing can be done at a B level).
If you struggle with this perfectionist trap (and you know who you are:), won’t you join me in asking Jesus for wisdom to separate the life-and-death (really important) matters from the daily (not-so-important) details? Only in Him can we hope to live the “perfect” life–meaning, the life He intends us to live–and only as we adopt a biblical perspective can we begin to envision what God’s perfect life for us actually looks like. Courage, fellow perfectionists! May God help us all on this journey.
If you missed the news, I got a full-time position teaching college English at my alma mater, Southwestern Adventist University. As of July 1, I became the “working spouse” in our home; Buc became the stay-at-home parent. Now we are trying to figure our new roles, and those are not always clear-cut.
One thing is clear, though: I have trouble letting go of control when it comes to the home front, so it’s been an interesting summer with me transitioning my time more and more to the office and less and less at home.
I am blessed that Buc has wholeheartedly supported me getting back to work—almost pushing me out the door some days—because it can be hard for me to let go at home. Sometimes I need that little push to leave things in his hands.
Though the home-to-office transition has been a bit clunky (trying to get my mind out of mom-mode and back into academia), after weeks of hammering out syllabi, nosing through textbooks, and scratch-outlining assignments, I feel excited for the school year to come.
It helps that I’ve been assigned a list of “fun” classes: Essay and Opinion Writing, Composition Theory, Advanced Grammar, and Research Writing (“fun” being a relative term, there:) I think this English department sensed my nerdy, writerly self coming, which is why they also appointed me to become director of the campus writing center. I realize that, to some, this would be a bummer of a task; but not me. Every time I report to the quiet of my office, hunker down to hammer out writing curriculum and dream up teaching ideas, I thank God for allowing me to work at something I love.
And work at something that comes easily.
I love my job as a mom, too. But, gosh, that job has not come easily. On the day I drafted this post, I was at home with two kids who had both been sick recently–including one very clingy and one very defiant child. I was also sleep deprived, and I felt panic rising. The tears welled up. I took an anxiety pill, which pills I haven’t needed very often since going back to work. But this little panic reminded me to look up and thank God for how He is working in my life—and in my family.
“Go to work. Please, go to work,” Buc has been saying since I got my keys to my office—not only because I tend to micromanage (and annoy) him at home, but also because he knows it is good for me. In my moments of panic, he adds the words: “I’m glad you’re going back to work so I can be the one to handle the kids more; they don’t affect me like they affect you.” (Wonderful, supportive spouse. Thank you, Lord.)
It is humbling to admit I feel so powerless and helpless as a mom. But I admit it so that I can praise God that He has seen and heard my struggle, and He has provided a way for our family to get through it: Mom going back to work and Dad staying home. Oh, and our vibrant and social Sam starting preschool in the fall with his “Nanny,” my mother-in-law and a brilliant Pre-K and K teacher. This is a beautiful blessing, too. (God bless all you family members, mentors, church members, community members, who choose to step into a child’s life and be a positive influence; we parents just can’t do it all on our own—and we are grateful for your support!)
Friend, whatever you are going through, no matter how frustrating, hopeless, panic-inducing it seems, please take heart. Know that God sees you. He knows your struggle. He understands, and He has infinite ways to lead you through the wilderness. When you don’t know the answers, when you don’t know the way, when you don’t know how to pray, here’s a little script for you:
Lord, thank you that you promise to provide ways I do not know, ways I have not seen. You promise to do a “new thing” in my life—when I seek You. You promise that I will find you when I seek you with all of my heart. And when I seek you first, you promise to add all these other things [the needs I worry about meeting] unto me. You promise to provide. Thank you for providing a way, even before I can see it. Now, just help me trust you to lead me there, and lead me through.
At God’s leading, and with my husband’s and mother-in-law’s overwhelming support, I am happily heading back to work.
We have moved back to Texas, and it’s good to be back. I truly didn’t know how I’d feel coming back to this state that holds one-third of my life’s history. Last year, when we were still in job limbo, I thought I wanted to go back to Minnesota—where I spent the bigger part of my history. But now Texas feels like the right decision. It feels like home.
As far as new starts go, this is a BIG one. When we left Texas 3 ½ years ago, we had one child: 11-month-old Sam. Buc worked an 8–5 job in the finance industry. I wasn’t working in the traditional sense, but I was getting off the ground as a writer, developing this blog and the book that became Ending the Pain.
Now, we have returned with two children: 4-year-old Sam and 2-year-old Seth. Buc’s career in finance is at a pause after a merger of his two former companies, and I have been hired as a full-time English instructor for next year at Southwestern Adventist University. Starting next fall, I will “work” in the traditional sense, and Buc will stay home with the boys and begin his own business.
Am I excited for this new chapter? Oh, man. You don’t know the half of it! Not only does this new job feel right, but being back in our old home feels right. Yes, we were able to move back into our first house as a married couple—the house whose white walls I filled with color and whose big, empty rooms I filled with couches and friends and prayer groups. There are a lot of good memories, and good feelings, in this house.
I am writing this post as if I’ve reached the mountain top after experiencing near death. I know that’s being a little dramatic, but it’s not dramatic to say that the last couple years in Missouri were hard.
I’m still kind of asking God, “What just happened, Lord?
I still don’t understand the emotional roller coaster we faced after baby #2. I don’t quite understand the anger. The anxiety. The marital strife. I don’t understand how moms of little children survive if they don’t have help (from family members, church family, a spouse). While in Missouri, I don’t feel like I ever figured out how to mother my two boys and keep my sanity on a regular basis—without regular breaks. I still don’t know.
All I can say is praise God those years are behind me; and praise God that He provided the help I needed to survive. Praise God for my husband who has never given up on me, even through the defects of character the last few years brought out it me.
Praise God for Janice, our babysitter/nanny/cleaning lady who helped me stay afloat and who invested so much love and energy into my kids several times a week. (Praise God for the fruitful job that allowed us to hire Janice for those years!)
Praise God for the MOPS group I belonged to that gave me moral support and a break from the kids every other Thursday morning.
Praise God for the handful of mom friends I made at my Missouri church whom I didn’t spend nearly enough time with, but who still encouraged me through emails, texts, and phone prayers, and allowed me to do the same for them.
No, we didn’t thrive in Missouri, but we survived. Maybe the lesson was this: No mom is an island. Before motherhood and Missouri, I was at a peak place in my life, feeling pretty good about myself and my abilities. Feeling, maybe, a little too self-sufficient. Well, that feeling is gone.
Maybe I needed that 3 ½ year lesson in seeing my need, so I could appreciate what I had, and have, here in Texas. Got it, Lord.
Today I am so thankful for new starts—the new starts God gives me daily, and other new starts, like this one, where my whole world kind of gets picked up, rattled around, and set back down. I may not understand the clunkiness of what happened in the past 3 ½ years, but I trust that God is working out those years for good—in our lives and in the lives of those we came into contact with in Missouri.
Life held no joy. I dreaded every day. I didn’t understand my behavior, so I couldn’t help myself. And I was making my family miserable. Three weeks ago, I finally sought medical help for over eight months of what I’ve learned was uncontrolled Anxiety (not postpartum depression, as some moms on a Facebook group suggested). And now I am able to breathe again. Able to sleep again. Able to cope again. Able to praise God, even in a time of vast uncertainty.
On the day I finally decided to go to the doctor, I was hyperventilating, again. I hadn’t slept well the previous night, again. The kids were demanding ten million things of me and I kept repeating, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” literally too paralyzed by anxious thoughts to be able to help them. I felt, as I have so many times in the last eight months, that I just needed to get away and have a mental breakdown. I needed a weekend away to regroup, or even a day. But when you have two little kids and no family around, you can’t really do that. My course over the past year has been, instead, to explode. I have been a scary mommy. And a selfish wife.
When things came to a head this past month, which they did after my husband was laid off (due to a merger), my explosions turned to sob sessions. I saw what my Anxiety was doing to my family (although I didn’t know it had a name), and I knew it had to stop. I just didn’t know how to help myself. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to take some good advice.
Two good friends, who have also been spiritual mentors to me over the years, recently revealed that they are getting counseling for emotional issues or life stresses, one of them also taking medication. Getting this knowledge was like getting permission to get counseling myself.
The counselor I saw suggested my root problem was perfectionism (which cannot coexist with parenting toddlers), but she also said I might benefit from Anxiety medication. I agreed with the diagnosis of perfectionism, but was resistant to medication. One week after my counseling session, on the horrible day I described above, I decided it was time to put aside my Christian pride and ask for some drugs.
Friends, it was the best decision I have made in a long time.
I haven’t been on medication for thirteen years—and I don’t feel it helped much in the five years I took it (ages 15 through 20). The healing I finally found for depression eight years ago (age 25) as described in my book, came through Scripture and prayer…but guys, life has changed since then. My hormones have surely changed, as the counselor pointed out. I’ve had two babies, we’ve had two moves, lost the support of family nearby, and now we have lost a job and face another new start.
It’s no wonder I’ve had some anxiety. I just didn’t realize it was anxiety with a capital A. Or that I could get help for it from a pill.
Some of you will be curious, and I don’t mind sharing (because that’s what I do around here): I’m taking Lexapro nightly, and Xanax as needed. The first week, I needed the Xanax daily to battle a beast that was raging out of control. During the second week, I needed it less and less, and now in week three, I haven’t needed it at all. The Xanax, that is. But the Lexapro seems to be working wonders.
I’m happy to report that joy is returning to my life. Equilibrium to my emotions. And sleep to my mornings. Praise God, sleep is again possible from the hours of 3 to 6 a.m. I have not blown up at my kids for days, and I am starting to repair the damage I did to my marriage over the recent rough months, when I was too busy clawing my way through each day to lend any real support to my husband, who is now facing his own brand of (lower-case) anxiety due to job loss.
I know there are deeper problems to face—chief most my perfectionism, which has surely stolen much joy from my family over the years—but right now I am simply thankful to be able to breathe. To be able to sleep. To be able to praise God because I’m not hyperventilating. And to be able to parent my sweet, but explosive little people without exploding myself. Oh, thank you, Lord, for helping me to get the help I need, right now, in this uncertain time of life.
Friends, if you are struggling like I’ve struggled, and if it has lasted for months, and if you’ve tried talking, praying, or making otherwise drastic changes, but nothing is working, don’t feel bad if you need to seek medical help. A prescription is not necessarily forever. But it might be the lifeline you need for a particular season. That’s where I am right now. I’m going to keep praying through my perfectionism, but for now, I’m thankful for the pills that are allowing me to cope.
In the past two months I got stuck twice: in my writing/speaking life and in my personal life. This is nothing new, and neither is my finding that writing problems resolve more easily than personal problems. But what is new is how I’m dealing with the stuck-ness: first, notecards. I’ve found that when I’m overwhelmed—with ideas, with emotions—simply transferring those thoughts to some notecards helps me organize in writing, and helps me cope in life.
In September, notecards helped me complete my presentations for the women’s conference I spoke at, and this month, notecards are helping me articulate some personal problems I can’t seem to straighten out on my own, or even in prayer right now. While I’ve decided to seek Christian counseling for these personal problems (read more in my next post), writing my overwhelming thoughts on notecards has facilitated a small emotional release when I don’t have a listening ear at my disposal.
If you’re stuck either on the writing front, or overwhelmed in your personal life, maybe you can try what I’ve tried.
On the Writing Front
In the months leading up to the Iowa Missouri Women’s Retreat, I struggled to write my presentations: a sermon and a writing workshop. Every time I opened my laptop to work on them, I typed more and more words as my ideas spiraled wildly…without ever reaching conclusion. There was so much I wanted to say…but I would only have so much time at the conference. I had to be selective and concise in my talking points.
(Last year at a different women’s retreat I had four talks to develop my ideas…and it was considerably easier to prepare for that conference because I had so much talking time.)
Finally, after trying to write out my sermon both verbatim and in bullet point form too many times without success, I got out some notecards and started jotting down my points shorthand—one thought per card. Over several days, as more ideas came to me, I jotted them down, too, and slipped them into the deck where they seemed to fit.
This simple process of writing on notecards, as opposed to writing on paper or typing on a laptop, freed me up to introduce any and all ideas that came to me in my writing process, because I knew it would be easy to discard the extraneous ones later. (Though some of my ideas were total rabbit trails, jotting them down somewhere was valuable because it kept me fluid in my writing process, kept me moving, when I just wanted to stop.)
As the cards accumulated, I began to find the shape of my talk, and I also figured out what didn’t fit. In the end, I returned to my laptop and typed out my speech, a mix of bullet points and fully developed paragraphs (I’m still finding my way as a speaker), but now it came easier because I had an outline: my notecards.
When it came time to present, I knew my delivery wasn’t perfect, but I felt that my presentation was valuable to my audience, because my writing/preparation process had allowed me to zero in on my best, most pertinent ideas, and discard those of lesser importance.
After I presented my sermon and writing workshop, women came up to me to thank me for my talk/writing tips, some saying my message/material was exactly what they needed to hear. Still other women said they had read my book and it was great and would I sign it? It was a heady experience being treated as such a religious authority …especially because I know what they don’t: since the events of the book ended (really, since I’ve become a mom), I’ve been a mess of pent-up ideas and emotions, so much so that I have decided I need some professional help to sort them all out.
On the Personal Front
Until my first counseling session, I’m using notecards, and other small releases, to help me cope. For those moments when I can’t find quiet, space, time, energy, or listening ears to process, I can find fifteen seconds and a pen. I can write one phrase, or one sentence, and tuck it into a discussion box that I plan to take to the counselor. I can put that negative thought or problem away from me, from brain to pen to paper, until I have true time and place to process. And then, I can quickly pray:
God, here is the mess the best I can describe it in these few seconds. I desperately don’t know how to fix it, but eventually I know I need to deal with it. Please hold this for me—keep me safe from it, keep my kids safe from it—until I have the proper time and space and listening ears to process it.
I do believe God honors these prayers—and these pleas for help—found on this writer-mom’s humble notecards.
In my next post I will further explain my reasons for seeking counseling, and perhaps give an update of how the first session went. Until then, please send me a message or a comment if you’ve had a good (or bad) experience with counseling or, on a lighter note, notecards (or some other writing strategy).
What should I say at this stage of life? This question has pained me lately as I prepare to speak at my third women’s retreat. Last week, with the deadline edging closer and closer, I panicked. I felt a sense of oppression settle over me. I don’t know what to say about this stage of my life to inspire others.
I’ve had my basic framework for the talk for awhile, but it’s the guts I’ve been struggling with. Here’s the framework: I will talk about sharing our stories for God’s glory at three levels: with God, in a small group, and in public. These are ideas I’ve developed before in former talks and this post. I believe God wants us to examine our stories to experience His working and to share His work in our lives. But after the events I shared in Ending the Pain, my motherhood story began. And oh, I am having trouble telling this story for God’s glory.
Now, if you look at my beautiful kids and beautiful life and wonder how can this be, I would just ask you to research the personality type Melancholy, and have a little compassion. Melancholy people, though perhaps not “depressed” or suicidal, have their own emotional battles to fight every day. Right now, with two small kids, no family nearby, and an imminent job change/move to we-don’t-know-where, I’m fighting lots of emotional battles. (Praise God, I’m nowhere near where I used to be emotionally, though!)
Anyway, the more I trolled my recent notebooks for inspiring mom stories, the more discouraged I became. There have been bright moments—yes. But by and large, when I search my memory and my recent writings (unpublished), I feel sad. Lonely. Still a little angry about certain aspects of my motherhood story that are too raw to share right now…except with family and close friends.
When I visited my parents in Minnesota recently, they witnessed my momming in midstream; they noted my struggles; got their hands dirty as grandparents; and gently observed some “areas for improvement.” And it was healing to be seen, to be soothed, by my own mom and dad, stepmom and stepdad as well. (We haven’t spent nearly enough time together since the kids were born). I also received a healing prayer session from a friend whom I’ve prayed for many times. That trip was a great start to some self-reflecting and praying that I really must do regarding my mom story…at some point. But now? Do I have to make sense of my mom story now, in time for the women’s retreat?
Would you believe I was actually hoping to do just that, in order to find “new material” for my latest talk? I was hoping to read through all my personal writings in the last three years since kids, examine all my negative feelings, pray a whole bunch over all of that, and come up with a tidy bow to put on the story.
What?! As I reflected on this, I realized I was contradicting the very process of healing I believe in: a process that took me years and years before I was able to bring Ending the Pain to its satisfying, inspirational conclusion.
My mom story is not done. I don’t have to share itwith this audience right now, I finally realized yesterday, while heaving a big sigh of relief. As Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc. 5:7). And that’s when my oppression ended.
Who put this idea in my head, anyway? Certainly not God. Oh, friends, Satan is at work. And he especially attacks and tries to distract when we are trying to do something for God—such as speaking about Him to a large group. We are not to be surprised by the fiery trials that come from Satan when we give our lives to God; it’s part of the Christian walk (1 Pet. 4:12).
And here’s a little lesson in life for everyone, not just writers and public speakers: God is not the author of confusion. So if we are choosing to do something that brings darkness, oppression, heaviness—we have to question whether the idea really comes from God. I believe my recent speaking anxiety was a ploy of the devil to distract me from doing the work God planned in advance for me to do (Eph. 2:10).
At some point, when I am further removed from this stage of life, I need to come back, read those early mom writings, pray over them, pray with friends, and share the lessons I learn with anyone else who wants to read them. But right now, I neither have the time nor the emotional capacity to do that job: so I will concentrate on the job that God has given me right now: raising my kids and inspiring a group of women this September with the gleaming story God’s already given me. God has more work for me to do, but it doesn’t all have to get done today.
Thank you, God, for clearing my head about this, and for rebuking the devil, so I can do the work you’ve prepared for me to do at this moment. Help me take life one step at a time and not get sidetracked with tasks whose time have not yet come.
I’m an inspirational writer. I’m also a pessimist. Sounds weird, right? It does from a human perspective. But guess what? The God I serve is in the business of bringing to life what is dead, and bringing into being things that are not (Rom. 4:17). Through God’s lenses, I can see the glass half full; I can even inspire others. But I’ll be honest: usually my inspiration begins with negativity. So, how do I find inspiration in the negative? And how can you, when your world feels dark?
Sometimes we Christians get the idea that we are not supposed to struggle mentally or emotionally in life. Jesus is Life and Light and Living Water and all those great symbols of abundance and hope and happiness. So if we’re struggling to feel happy, positive, hopeful, we feel like failures. We feel ashamed. I know I do, when the only prayer I can pray begins with the words, “Lord, I’m such a mess!”
I recently suffered a Mom Funk where I found it hard to say anything positive. Now I am climbing out of the funk, doing the things I know I need to do to function well, but you know what? My mornings can still feel a lot like those of a physically disabled mom whose story I read once in Parents magazine. Her day began with a long warmup of massaging stiff, sore muscles before she could even coax her body out of bed–before she could tend to children’s needs.
Though I don’t equate my parenting or life difficulties with hers, I can identify with a long warmup of preparing (mental) muscles before I am ready to get out of bed and tackle the day’s challenges.
Though they may be different, we all have struggles. And it’s no wonder. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…” It was a promise.
Parenting and positivity are my struggles right now. (See my Mother’s Day post for exhibit A.) And the positivity has been a lifetime struggle. Combine the two in an environment with limited sleep or time to pray, and you have some hard days.
Can I say anything positive about this? Jesus, after saying, “In this world you will have trouble…” added these words: “but take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).
Take heart, Lindsey.
Take heart, readers.
Jesus has overcome my struggles, and He has overcome yours. For the perplexed parents out there, He is the Perfect Parent, to both our kids and ourselves. We can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). For the pessimists out there, remember: Everything He creates is good–so there must be a lot of good in the world…including you and me. We were “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) …even when nothing about us feels wonderful.
We Christians know the promises, don’t we? But sometimes, in the midst of struggles, it’s so hard to remember them. How, then, can we find our way back to inspiration in dark times?
Well, here’s how I do it.
I put my pen to paper.
I start where I am.
I pray, “Dear God, I’m a mess,” and…praise God…
He answers: I’ve got a big broom.
He redirects me.
And somehow, through voicing the negative, through writing the negative, I find my way to God’s truth, I find positivity, once again.
Can I tell you a secret? A lot of times in this Young Mom Stage of Life, I feel I’m just hanging on by a thread–one small thread of faith. And my positivity? (Assuming I have any on a given day?) It takes hard work. Painful, stiff, sore muscle work. It takes cracking open my gratitude journal to write three good things at the end of the day when I just want to crumple into bed and cry. But maybe that’s why God has called me to write. I write to show you that my faith is the thread that saves me, day after day after day–and it can save you, too.
Next time you are struggling through a depression, a funk, or just a dark day, I encourage you to tell God and, perhaps, someone else about your struggles because…
When we bring our frazzled threads of faith into the open with an intent toward healing and growing (not just complaining) at least two positive things can result:
One: we allow others to carry some of the burden. We make room for friends, loved ones, and maybe even professionals to help us…according to the severity of our need. (Think closing scenes of Disney’s Inside Out.)
Two: we encourage–we actually give courage to–each other. Maybe our stories are not pretty. Maybe we are just hanging on. But we are still here. We still have that thread. And if we keep hanging on, even though we might unravel sometimes, we will look back one day and see that it was enough.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Pet. 5:10, NIV)
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Rev. 21:3-5)