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.
(Originally posted on May 2, 2013. View the original here.)*
I walked in the church, scanned the pews for a place to sit, and found tears in my eyes.
You know that story in the Bible where God opens the servant’s eyes to see the army of horses and flaming chariots surrounding him? His eyes were opened to see what had been all around him all the time—and suddenly he didn’t feel so alone anymore (2 Kings 6:14-17).
Well, God opened my eyes last weekend. For several months I’d been ruminating on how alone I felt. And it seems I never miss an opportunity to tell my readers that I’m 1,000 miles from home. Indeed, writing to my roots has revealed that I often feel displaced in my new home, and I feel even more that way when visiting my old home.
Being in a hiatus from work and school has also laid some things bare: I don’t know who I am without my work. Sometimes I don’t know how to relate to people outside of the most functional of activities: I can be a teacher, a sister-in-law, a communications secretary and music leader for church, a Bible study leader for friends.
But what about just a friend?
I can tell you right now, friendship—hanging out, relaxing, shooting the breeze—none of these have been my strengths.
Yet despite all the off-putting, prickly parts of me, God has drawn friends to me. And at the church that day, I saw them.
There was Tasha sitting in the back left pew of the church. Her friendship was a carryover from the small group Bible study my hubby and I had for a year and a half. We still get together often, for fun things like spa days, iced tea, and girl talk.
Then, a few rows up, was Tammy, a new-ish fixture in our church, who responded to the call I made in October to start a choir. Now she has taken the reins, much relieving me, and also become a fun girlfriend.
Across the aisle were Ashley and Christina, two young moms whom I’d only recently come to know from our Tuesday night prayer group. They’d been in the congregation for many months before their lovely personalities were uncovered for me. Both sincere and searching for the Lord, they responded to the opportunity to pray with Amanda and me, who had recently been trained in prayer ministry.
And behind them was Amanda. I had known Amanda the longest of any of these ladies, yet until our prayer training, I’d hardly known her all–had not seen the beauty of her personality beneath her quiet exterior. Now we are prayer partners and buddies in ministry.
How did it come to be that I was so blessed with all these friends?
Last summer when Amanda and I joined the prayer ministry Straight 2 the Heart to lay our hearts bare before God and our small group—I saw that we had a lot in common. A lot of hurt, a lot of self-protections, and a lot of desire to serve the Lord if we could only know how to channel our pain into something positive.
Looking back, I think it must have been the laying bare of my heart before God and a trusted small group that allowed me to be more authentic with these others that have decided they like my company. Sure, I’m still detail-oriented and serious when I talk church business. But over the past year, I’ve had more frank and open conversations with ladies in my church than I’ve had in eight years combined.
Sharing my heart in a prayerful, supportive environment has bound me together with Amanda, and now Ashley and Christina, in a way that mere biblical instruction can’t. And as a result, I have been able to relate more authentically to others like Tammy and Tasha, and even my music committee in meetings, where we have finally started talking openly and corporately about issues our church has had for a number of years.
Showing some vulnerability not only to my prayer partners but also to my acquaintances has opened the door for conversation that goes beyond surface level…and finally, friendship.
Since deciding to be more honest with others, it’s been a relief not to have to hide my feelings—to be able to speak up when something’s on my heart—to get it out in the open and deal with it sooner rather than later. And saying things that have gone unspoken before—such as on music committee—has actually gotten people thanking me for my honesty and openness.
Do people prefer pretenses, or plainness?
While being honest can open up some uncomfortable cans of worms, in my experience, that’s not any worse than tiptoeing through church—and through life—not knowing and not being known by anyone. Being honest is no worse than feeling alone—wondering if I’m the only one who ever suffers.
As I’ve learned, the sooner we share our stories with someone and listen to theirs in return, the sooner we are brought out of our self-centered misery. The sooner our eyes are opened to the fact that we are not alone.
I’m so thankful for my friends in high places, the old no less than the new (although this post just happened to be inspired by the new). Much love to all! Here’s to many more great memories!
*I am resurrecting an old post today to meet my weekly goal of posting, but it sort of says what I’m feeling today, anyway. We are visiting Texas again on business, and I am revisiting many old friends on this trip (part of the reason I’m not finding much blogging time!). I want to praise God again for the many friends he’s blessed me with in just a few short years–and this post doesn’t even cover them all!
Sam was a different baby when we moved away from Texas. Not yet one, not yet walking. When we returned to our Texas house a few weeks ago, he was one and walking, and this made the house a different house.
I took Sam into the backyard, now that he could walk and explore. I watched as he poked a stick in the dirt, toddled through leaves, pulled up soft green grass, and listened to dogs barking down the street. What a playground for my sweet little boy: It was open, fenced in, and ours…but not ours anymore, because we moved away from this house and this yard, and we were only visiting them, and visiting my in-laws, who are renting from us until we can move back.
I didn’t yet mention on this blog that Buc’s new job requires him to visit TX often—every one or two months. He is now a regional manager for a St. Louis based company (hence the move), but the region he manages is in Texas (hence our visits “home”). We accepted the position ready for a new adventure, but hoping to move back to Texas at some point, when Buc could work in the field and we could again be close to friends and family.
Until we move back (fingers crossed), Sam and I get to join Buc on business trips and stay in our old house with my in-laws. After our first visit back, I’m having lots of thoughts about our move to Missouri, and our visits to Texas, and the benefits and drawbacks of both. I’ve concluded this arrangement is good, and it’s also weird.
It’s good to be back in a one-level house, where Sam is not at risk of falling down stairs, and where my knee is not taxed by carrying Sam up and down those stairs twenty times a day. And it’s good to have a backyard that is fenced in where Sam can play.
But it’s weird, too. It’s weird to come back to a house that’s ours, but not really ours. It’s weird to stay in the guest room when once we stayed in the master. It’s weird to not have a vehicle of my own to take out at leisure. It’s weird to get out of the routine I set up in St. Louis, being so efficient with naptimes and evenings, to spend time with other people, because there are people around to spend time with.
Still, it’s good to have another person in the house during the day besides Sam and me. It’s good to have my father-in-law joke with Sam and make funny voices at him, as Sam toddles into the TV room for the fourteenth time that day and growls, “Papa!” (How Sam loves his Papa!)
It’s good to have my mother-in-law’s helping hands when she gets home from teaching in the afternoons. It’s good for Buc and me to get out by ourselves for a bit, when she’s watching Sam. It’s good to see Sam laughing his head off with his “Nana,” who is a Kindergarten teacher and so good at physical play.
It’s good to be able to help my in-laws just a little, by cooking healthy food for them.
This arrangement is weird, and it’s good. It also makes me wonder: What did we do, moving to St. Louis, away from friends and family and our beautiful, baby-friendly house that we just finished renovating? (But we didn’t realize how much we would appreciate an open, one-story house while our baby was yet a crawler, not a walker. And I didn’t know that all these stairs would damage my knee—well, it could be partly due to Jillian Michael’s Thirty Day Shred, too, which I have given up indefinitely.
Satan is so good at planting doubts, isn’t he?
I’m not sad we moved. But I see the limitations now. I see the new struggles that have come from this move, and they muddy the gloss of our new adventure a bit. But just a bit.
God gave me a blessed peace in the days after returning from our bittersweet trip. Sam didn’t sleep well and neither did I, especially because we were all trying to recover from sickness, but it’s like a voice spoke into my frazzledness.
Rest. (I napped during Sam’s morning naps for the next two days, rather than trying to push forward on my writing.) Take care of your family. (I chose to keep up with my healthy cooking plan by grocery shopping and making two big meals for the week. I have learned that good nutrition is a priority; we all feel better when we eat better.) Find joy in the mundane. (I am learning to involve Sam in the daily tasks I have to do; I am trying to see him as the little person he is, a person to involve in life and teach about life, rather than a weight I must lug around.) Laugh with your son. (When I pay attention to Sam, I can catch extraordinary moments of fun and laughter; and baby laughs do more for the soul than almost anything else on earth can.)
And then the sun came out. Spring is here.
While strolling Sam in seventy-degree weather, Buc and I talked about the limitations of our current living situation, and decided we will need to move into a house (preferably one-story) at the end of our year lease if we are not able to go back to Texas…especially if there is a new baby on the way. I don’t know how my knee and I could handle a newborn and a toddler in our apartment with all its steps.
There is the regret of not visiting St. Louis before we rented this apartment, but there is the peace that we are here for this year for a reason. Maybe it’s so Buc and I can focus on our marriage, and not yard work, this year. Maybe it’s just to hear the birds singing off our balcony. Whatever the reason, I’m okay with this situation. It’s weird, and it’s uncertain, but it’s good.
One of my resolutions for 2015 was to cook healthier. That’s sounds like a big lifestyle change, but it’s actually not a huge leap for me because I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist, and Adventists are recognized for their extraordinary health and longevity. Huffington Post, for instance, reported that SDAs “live an average of 10 years longer than the American life expectancy of about 79 years.” I’m proud of us for this! (See also this article by The Atlantic).
Adventists preach and practice healthy living, including a vegetarian diet with lots of fruits, grains, and nuts; no caffeine; observing Sabbath rest; and other measures like fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. Now then, why have I recommitted to getting healthier if I’m part of this exemplary group?
Individual Adventists adhere to these corporate beliefs in varying degrees, and my husband and I are no exception. Although Buc converted me to vegetarianism after we married (previously I had just avoided the “unclean meats,” like pork and seafood), I’m the one who likes to eat vegetables–he’s more of a carbs and cheese guy. So, after I noticed that he didn’t appreciate me shaking up his diet, I largely gave up experimental, “healthy” cooking, and caved too often to pasta, pizza, and other carb-y, cheesy foods. Not the best for health, or for weight loss, I realized, when I couldn’t shake my last ten prego pounds.
So several months ago, in pursuit of shedding those last pounds, I severely cut carbs and learned to substitute grains, like quinoa and couscous, in my cooking. More recently, I identified other areas that needed reform–namely, too much caffeine and sugar, and “eating emergencies” that I was ill-prepared for (I will share more in my next post). But the biggest reason I decided to alter my diet was Sam.
At one year old (can you believe it?), Sam is at a critical place regarding his future health. From observing other kids, I know that the habits set early often blossom into lifestyles. A toddler who eats veggies turns into a teen who eats them; a toddler who doesn’t have to turns into a teen who won’t. I didn’t want to miss this tender opportunity to set Sam’s taste buds on the right course. But I knew this would take some effort.
With Sam now needing to eat real food three times a day, plus snacks, I needed more foods in my tool belt. I needed to become a better cook. Kids have small stomachs and high metabolisms, and they need stuff to munch on throughout the day. I can’t fend off Sam’s hunger with a cup of coffee like I’ve often done with myself (oops…again, more on my personal food issues in my next post). So I simply need to have good food options on hand.
To my advantage, I already had a reliable rotation of healthy meals (some of which my hubby will eat!), like lentils, chili, and vegetable potpie; and I had plenty more recipes at my fingertips in the Adventist cookbooks sitting on my shelf. Now, it was just time to use them…but use them wisely, in such a way that Buc would go along with me.
I didn’t think I could change every single meal from cheese- or pasta- to plant-based—and I honestly didn’t want to, as I enjoy a good stuffed crust pizza as much as the next American. But I figured a couple tweaks would ensure a generally healthy baseline, so it would be okay to splurge once in awhile.
The plan I came up with, as outlined in a previous post, was to cook two healthy meals per week, to let Buc choose meals on two other nights, and to go out to eat once a week to give us all a break with cooking and cleanup. So far, our plan is going great!
I’ve found that two “real” cooking sessions per week (I define “real” cooking as having to slice and dice, not just heat up) provide enough to furnish lunch leftovers for our small family on most weekdays. This schedule also leaves room in the supper schedule for Buc to make or request meals closer to his liking, so he is more likely to eat healthy with me on my “real cooking” days. As another benefit, cooking only twice a week (I’m talking on weekdays, not weekends) has freed me up to write more, or do other things for my home and family.
So, how is Sam liking this healthy food, you ask? Surprisingly well! Since I’ve implemented my plan, he has eaten oat burgers and tofu veggies, vegetable pot pie, and a mess of other things not often associated with kids, such as onions and kale (I’ve found a strong soup base does much to camouflage these tastes!). Buc is less enthusiastic about my healthy cooking, conditioned as his taste buds are to crave nachos and cheese enchiladas, but I won’t give up providing healthy options, now that I have an extra eating buddy in the house. After all, even if Buc doesn’t always eat my cooking, two out of three ain’t bad!
Three things. That’s all. I asked God what he wanted me to focus on this new year, and this week I distinctly felt impressed with three things.
1. Focus on my Family.
2. Make healthy choices for myself and make healthy food for my family.
3. Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child (God willing).
The first seems easy, the second harder, and the third, terrifying.
Part of the Journey
As you can read in my archives, I’ve been on a journey to embracing motherhood, and the life of self-sacrifice it requires. But this is not an easy journey. I go back and forth in my resolve. I still ask God every day to give me his love and spirit of sacrifice to serve my husband and son in the ways they need me.
It’s discouraging to me that I could want kids and family so much, yet still wish for days of single childlessness. Part of the problem is my selfish nature. But the other part is an attack.
The enemy buffets me with fear about possible ways my family could disintegrate. Investing time in people doesn’t feel as safe as investing time in self-advancement, or career-advancement. I’ve blogged about this before.
But God is helping me to face these fears and combat my selfishness; this year, through three resolutions:
Make my family my mission field.
God is teaching me it is honorable to devote my life (for a season) to raising children, and raising them in the fear of God. He tells me he knows my selfish heart, and teaches me that what the world honors is not what he honors (Luke 16:15). And he assures me that even if something happened to my family, this time of self-sacrifice would not be wasted. Through marriage and parenthood, God is refining my character, teaching me to serve his children (that includes my own, and humanity in general), and helping me develop vital life skills. Like cooking.
Cook healthier food for my family.
I don’t have much patience for cooking. I’m a simple girl who likes a simple life–some blank pages, a pen, and a good book–so I’m glad God has shown me what’s vital and what’s not. Being a Pinterest mom is not vital (though the world might say so). My family can do without scrapbooking. They can do without elaborate home decorating. But they can’t do without good food, because food begets life and health. So, this year, although I don’t feel the need or want for any new hobbies (you should see my stack of unread books), cooking is my new “hobby.” No matter whether I always have family around me or not, I’ll always need to eat, right? But as for having family around me, I really would prefer it, and that’s where resolution 3 comes in.
Get pregnant in 2015.
When we finally decided to have kids eight years into our marriage, we decided on the number two. We didn’t want an only child, and two seemed like plenty: one for each parent to corral. As it turns out, I’d prefer to have the kid/teen/young adult periods without the baby stages. What can I say? I just don’t resonate with the woman who wrote: “I’m afraid to stop having babies.” With that the case, I figure it’s best to get on with the baby-making show, get past these tough years, and then enjoy my children who, as a side benefit, will be close enough in age to play together. This is all God willing, of course. In my limited understanding, this two-kid plan seems best for my family and our situation, but I realize it’s totally up to God whether or not we will conceive again. All we can do is try, wait, and see! (Hold on! We are not trying quite yet. There is a lot of 2015 left to go.)
So there we are. Three things in 2015. The first seems easy, the second harder, and the third, terrifying. Good thing God has recently reminded me of this promise:
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Eph. 3:20).
I claimed this promise yesterday, while clutching an”impossible” to-do list. But as the day wore on, I checked off thing after thing–phone calls to pediatricians and pharmacies, phone calls to friends, a batch of healthy cookies, minestrone soup, some writing time, a trip to the grocery store, and clean dishes. God delivered on his promise! And I know he will again.
What I saw in my kitchen this morning made me instantly angry, and I most certainly would have sinned, again, if I had not been meditating for the past two days on the Apostle Paul’s instructions to “Be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26).
The puppies tore up my rug, again, the one I had just fixed with duct tape (don’t laugh); and their water and food dish was empty, again, showing that my husband had shirked his duties for these puppies he wanted, again.
As I sat stewing at my dining room table, contemplating what to do with this welling anger (magnified greatly by past-due pregnancy hormones), I stroked my Bible. This was supposed to be my morning devotion time, but I was tempted to wake my husband and yell at him: “See what they did? You clean it up. See their empty food and water dishes? You fill them.”
I was also ravenously hungry by this point, and getting angry, yet again, that Buc has never in nine months of pregnancy made it a priority to get up and eat breakfast with me on the weekends. He always has to shower first and look at his news, which seems extremely selfish when I’m about to pass out. Because he won’t rearrange his routine, we miss eating breakfast together—because often I just can’t wait.
Anyway, this morning I had a decision to make. Was I going to pause and pray, or just react? Because I’d been mulling over Ephesians 4 for the last two days, I heard these words in my mind: “Be angry and sin not.” “Forgive others as Jesus forgave you.” “Speak only words that will encourage others, not tear down.” I also remembered an anecdote I’d just read about how Abraham Lincoln once advised a general to deal with his anger at a colleague. To summarize, Lincoln told his general:
Write a letter to that man in all honesty, in all nastiness, to express your feelings.
When you are done with the letter, DO NOT send it. Reread it to yourself, then burn it. Now, write a new letter.
While my first impulse was not to pause and pray, or to write a letter, I asked Jesus for strength to overcome my instincts, my unreasoning hunger, and my prego hormones. And then I popped in a toaster strudel to tide my appetite, and pulled out a clean sheet of paper.
“To my husband,” I began. “I am very angry at you right now…” From there I quickly filled up the front and back. I could have gone on, but interestingly, part of my letter ended up detailing my own faults. Trying to see things from Buc’s perspective, I found myself writing things like, “I know you would tell I am too easy on the puppies, letting them get away with ruining my stuff, and how will I discipline a child if I can’t even handle dogs? Maybe you’re right; I just wish you could appreciate how damn hard this is for me. I’m not good at discipline.”
I paused for a moment, considering how small this morning’s events really were in comparison to life’s bigger mysteries—such as my son’s impending birth—realizing how sad it would be to ruin a morning just for the chewed up rug and empty water dish. And then, remembering what I’ve learned about fruits and roots, I wrote: “Maybe a root of this anger is that I feel unappreciated and disrespected. I feel you don’t understand how hard certain things are for me [like disciplining the dogs] or how important other things are [like breakfast on demand]. I just wish you would try to see things from my perspective and not brush off these things that are a big deal to me.”
By the end of two pages, I felt less volatile, but I still didn’t trust myself to speak in love. Remembering a tip from Dr. Laura’s The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage, I pulled out a second clean sheet of paper. (The basic premise of Dr. Laura’s book is to kill your spouse with kindness—actively love him or her so much through words and deeds that he or she can’t help but respond in kind.)
Now, I listed all the GOOD things about my hubby I could think of. Blinded as I was by my anger, I needed to remember that my husband wasn’t intentionally annoying me; and I knew that compared with all his good traits, this little issue would fade.
After I wrote for that one page (why is it so much easier to write bad than good?), I cracked open my Bible and reread Ephesians 4 in The Message version (yesterday I read the NIV), and then I went on to Ephesians 5 for good measure. Very funny, God. Chapter 5 is the one about wives submitting to their husbands. In my reading, which took no more than ten minutes, I was reminded of these key ideas:
1. Because I have been reborn, I can rely on Jesus’ blood and breath flowing through me, and Jesus’ love for my husband. I don’t have to rely on my own strength anymore.
2. Also because I have been reborn, God wants me to be mature, not childish anymore (Eph. 4:14-16; 21-24). How mature is it (I had to ask myself) to make a fuss over a torn rug and an empty water dish, or my empty stomach?
3. “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life” (Eph. 4:26-27).
4. “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another [husbands included] as quickly and as thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). What a tall order this was! But compared to Christ, who forgave those who tortured and murdered him, what did I have to complain about?
5. “Figure out what will please Christ and then do it!” (Eph. 5:10). I was pretty sure it wouldn’t please Christ for me to explode at my husband or skip my morning devotional. I was also starting to feel that it would please Christ for me to, once and for all, admit that these frustrations with our puppies are largely due to me not preventing bad behavior I could, actually prevent. I figured it would please Christ for me to finally just deal with the problem so it wouldn’t waste any more of my time or energy. I resolved to submit to my husband’s good counsel (Eph. 5:21-28) and start being more assertive with the dogs, and not let them sleep in the main areas of the house anymore (we have a laundry room that will do as well) so as to avoid these unpleasant morning surprises.
When Buc sauntered into the kitchen, eyes widening at the fluff strewn all across the tile (I hadn’t had energy to clean it yet), I was just finishing my three-part anti-anger plan, and I had no desire to yell at him anymore. I also didn’t feel much like talking (which is sometimes the best recourse when you can’t say anything nice), so I left the list of good traits on the table and threw the nasty letter (ripped to pieces) in the trash. I went to take a shower, after which I started scrubbing the bathroom tile. Better to give myself lots of distance from the temptation to sin. After awhile, Buc approached me, and he lit up my day with three statements:
1. “Do you want to eat breakfast together?” (Yes, I did.)
2. “I found that list you wrote about me, and I know you’re mad at me, because you don’t write those good things when you’re not. But I appreciate the list, and I love you. And I cleaned up the dogs’ mess.” (I was gratified that he’d found the loving list, and he knew without me telling him that I was angry. I was also reproved by the fact that he thinks I don’t write good things about him unless I’m angry—something for me to work on.)
3. “I’m going to get cracking on organizing my closet and my gun supplies” (something I’ve wanted him to do for the last few weeks). “I appreciate you honey, and how you keep me organized.” (This made me feel especially good, because it told me he has noticed the extra efforts I’ve been putting in to get ready for our baby. I was also softened to see that Dr. Laura’s advice was working: I had chosen to be kind to him, and he chose to be kind back.)
Readers, this may seem a long post to recount a silly could-have-been spat this morning, but don’t take lightly how important these small moments of life really are. I believe our lives are made up of these small moments, these small choices (to yell or to pray, to speak kindly or to criticize) and they are the stuff our characters are made of in the end. One “silly” spat can ruin a whole day, just as the choice to submit to God in something as simple as pausing to pray (or to read, or to write a “fake” letter) can set off a full day’s worth of kind words and deeds.
I wrote this post for myself, to remind myself how important it is not to skip my daily time with God, but I hope I have reminded you of the same thing. Even born-again Christians need to be recalibrated on a daily basis.
While still in college, like many students, I was forever trying to figure out what career to pursue. But it wasn’t just about figuring out a career: I felt panic at the thought of college ending with nothing waiting for me on the other side. I needed a plan after college, because I still didn’t trust myself with free time. (Having kids was definitely out, because I couldn’t fathom passing along my dysfunction to another generation—much less the responsibility that comes with children.)
So, during my senior year of college, I spent many mornings at my kitchen table, praying: “God, what do you want of me? Why am I here? Why don’t I feel your peace? When is life going to get better? And what the hell am I supposed to do when I graduate?”
For all my praying, I didn’t notice any response from God–except for the fact that I got only one job offer: teaching at a rural Texas high school. Feeling insecure and unprepared, I took the job.
Teaching that first year became all about performance. The demands of the job, along with the sassy attitudes of my freshmen, sent me home every day exhausted and on the brink of tears. I lost sleep, I lost weight, and I lost confidence.
I woke early many mornings with knots in my stomach. I remember paging through the Psalms at 4 a.m. looking for comfort, but I never felt comforted. Every day the stress began all over again; I didn’t feel God’s hands guiding. Instead, I only sensed myself fumbling through the dark from August until June.
But somehow, I made it through the first year—and even agreed to come back for a second.
Hindsight and Foresight
During the summer, I couldn’t make much sense of what had gone on the previous year, except that I knew I could not repeat that year again. I resolved to plan ahead as much as I could for year two. There would be no more frantic school nights wondering what to teach the next day; there would be no more “dead” time during class. The students might still act up, but it wouldn’t be for lack of preparedness on my part.
In July, my older brother, Kyle, suggested I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I did.
A note on my brother: for a few years, I’d been noticing a change in Kyle that had me wanting what he had. When I was twenty-one, I’d first seen it: I’d walked in on him kneeling fervently in prayer—prayer that lasted over thirty minutes—and I’d heard him talk about his new relationship with God. He’d even prayed with me, looked up Bible verses with me, and encouraged me to “give it all to God” so I could find peace. But try as I might, I couldn’t find that dynamic God-relationship he’d found. Maybe I was doing it wrong; maybe I didn’t know how to pray properly. Whatever the case, as I read The Seven Habits, I felt myself come alive: here were concrete steps I could take not only to get my classroom in order, but maybe my life, too.
I began putting the habits to work immediately in my lesson planning: I was being proactive (habit 1) by starting well before the school year began; I was beginning with the end in mind (habit 2) by defining goals I wanted my students to reach by the end of the year. I was so taken with the seven habits, in fact, that I decided to make them my first unit of the school year. I ordered an audio presentation on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens to play for my students, and I made powerpoints to go along with each segment. By August, I had a three-week unit ready to go, and I was excited for the year to begin.
But one week before it did, crisis hit.
I was notified that back in Minnesota my mom had gone off her bipolar meds and my ten-year-old brother, Caleb, had been put in a group home. To make matters worse, Mom had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was not accepting conventional treatment. Now, there was no way she would seek the medical help she needed—for either malady. In the past when I got this kind of news, I typically retreated to a solitary place and cried until I regained composure–sometimes I was incapacitated for days.
This time, I didn’t have that luxury. Now, I was one-thousand miles away from the problem and had one-hundred students to lead and guide. It was no time to collapse—except to collapse to my knees.
Oh Lord! I prayed. I feel so helpless! What is going to happen to Mom? What’s going to happen to Caleb? Is she going to die? Is he going to be left to foster care, or stuck with his drunk dad? God, I am lost right now. I’m so scared!
Lord, I don’t know what any of us are going to do, especially Caleb. Oh please protect Caleb! Please shield him from this somehow—he shouldn’t have to go through this. But I am not there to save him, and I cannot go to him right now. Oh Lord, HELP!
I cried myself to sleep that night, and when I woke intermittently, my stomach souring each time the reality washed over me, I began praying all over again: Help, Lord, please. Just please…help.
An Answered Prayer
Somehow I began my school year on the right foot. The students were responsive to the seven habits, and I fed off their energy. Six times each day for the first three weeks, I listened to the audio presentation about forming effective habits—and the material bore into me. I learned that it takes about three weeks to form a habit, and at the end of our three-week unit, I realized I’d formed a habit of my own: morning prayer and Bible study.
Driven to my knees by my utter helplessness at fixing the family drama, I was praying like never before. I had also started reading my daily Sabbath school lesson—the study guide put out by the Seventh-day Adventist church—and the Bible. Amidst a backdrop of uncertainty, I took comfort in the routine of reading God’s word in the quiet morning hours. I began talking to him during my commute, telling him my fears and concerns like he was my friend. And now, it was as if he’d opened my mind to concentrate on his truth—and he’d opened my heart to feel his presence.
While everything around me swirled in confusion, the peace that passes understanding filled my heart. I was able to stand in front of my students with a smile, knowing God was with me—knowing I didn’t have to know how things would turn out. All I needed to know was that God was in control.
For the first time in my life, I was surrendering everything to God: my fears, my feelings, and my attempts to control my life. My family’s situation had showed me how very powerless I was—and how my survival, Mom’s survival, and Caleb’s survival, depended on a higher power. If any good was to come of this, I knew it would have to be God’s doing.
In part 5, read what happened to my mom, Caleb, and me, as well as what God taught me about persevering through hardship.
Mobs form for all kinds of purposes and on all kinds of platforms—a group of “Twerds” (Twilight Nerds) standing in line to see the new release of the movie, some gamers getting together to join a virtual world, a group of Christians gathering to worship—but the two things they all have in common are leaders and followers. So, I’ll put two questions to you:
Are you a leader or a follower?
As a teacher and church officer, I’ve observed that most people are followers—and even though I’ve always preferred to see myself as a leader, I’m undoubtedly a follower of certain things/people/movements, too. In my next post I will talk more about leadership, but let’s camp on the follower aspect for now, since everyone can claim to be a follower of something. To get to my second question:
Who (or What) is it that you follow?
To my (at times) chagrin, I often find myself scoffing at popular movements that create mob followings: the Twilight series, Duck Dynasty, Facebook, iphones and whatever else everyone seems to be doing. I’ve gotten into this bad habit of automatically rejecting certain things just because they’re popular, because, I figure, “If everyone’s doing it, it must be wrong.” I think this approach stems equally from my being as Christian (you know, “The path to hell is wide” and all that), as well as from my desire to be a leader (if I want to lead others, I can’t be just like them).
But is that the right attitude to have? After all, as a self-professed Christian, I have to admit I have a lot of fellow “Christ followers” sitting in the same boat. And obviously I don’t think I’m wrong.
A better approach as a Christian and prospective leader, I’ve decided, is not to automatically reject something because “everyone is doing it.” Rather, I must go back to my source of truth and test whatever is being followed, to see if it is noble, worthy, true, and worthwhile (Phil. 4:4). Isaiah says, “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:20).
I’m not going to get onto my anti-technology platform (especially since I just got my first iphone) or my anti-Twilight platform, or my anti-whatever-else platform right now, except to say it saddens me to see so many people (and I’ll pick on Christians especially), flinging away their self-control, their dignity, their morals, to “follow” people, things, or movements that counter their so-called “convictions” or, at the very least, add little benefit to their lives. I know fellow believers who will wait for hours in line to see a midnight opening of a movie, but who can’t get out of bed to go to church. I know fellow believers who will whoop and yell at sporting events and listen with rapture at concerts, but who will barely look up from their iphones (sorry, that slipped in) during a sermon. I ask you: Who or what is it that you follow—truly follow?
Feel free to follow who or what you want, but please, call it what it is. Jesus said you can’t have two masters. You will love one and hate the other. He also said He’d rather a person be hot or cold than lukewarm.
Who do you follow?
I’d like to think I’m in the Jesus camp—that the one thing that would excite me enough to stand in line for hours, to go hungry for hours, to wake up ravenous (metaphorically speaking), is God and God’s word. I’d like to picture myself as one of the disciples sitting on the hillside at Jesus’ feet, unable to wait for his next “new release”—the next words He wants to speak to me. Right now I know I’m not always there. But that’s my desire: to be a “Jerd” (Jesus Nerd). That’s one mob I definitely approve of.
So, who or what are you waiting in line for? And does the person/thing/group at the front of the line confirm you are who you say you are?
Lest I sound too high and mighty for my britches here, in Part 2, I talk about some of my personal challenges in trying to be a Christian leader.