Year of Blessings: Update Post

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s more.

The Blessing of Going Back to Work

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

Oh-my-goodness.

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

The Blessing of Finding my Calling

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

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

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

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

The Fear and Anxiety

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

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

The Blessing of Losing my Job, and Gaining Graduate School

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

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

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

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

The Blessing of Buc (My Hubby)

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

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

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

This Summer…

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

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

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

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

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

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Home Again

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“Texas” from Alpha Stock Images

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

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

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

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

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

Amanda and me

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Church friends

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

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

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

me and kids in truck

Life Transitions and Writing Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When Life Feels Too Hard to Handle”

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

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

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

Getting Help

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Photo from Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Relate to MR. MOM

Mr. Mom

You’ve heard it’s the true-to-life comedy that’s the funniest. It’s so true. I’ve been watching Mr. Mom for the past two nights (it’s gonna take three to get it all watched–what mom has time for movies?), and I can’t stop thinking about a couple scenes in this 1983 movie that hit so close to home.

It’s a movie about a man (Michael Keaton) who swaps jobs with his wife to become the homemaker and primary caregiver of their three children. It’s funny because it shines a light on all the difficult and mundane things moms do daily via the eyes of a man who now has to do them.

There is a series of scenes where Keaton gets depressed, beaten down by the daily routine, and we see him go from clean shaven and svelte to scraggly bearded with some junk in the trunk; his house goes from tidy to turned-upside-down; and his attention goes from his kids and wife to trashy soap operas. “My mind is mush,” he complains to the wife. That’s the result of no adult conversation and watching the same TV shows as your kids. Yep. Feels like this is where I’ve lived recently, minus the soap operas. Instead, I just nap when Sam lets me. (I love the moment when Keaton’s kid tells him his grilled cheese is cold and Keaton simply slaps the sandwich on the ironing board, steams it with the iron for a sec, and hands it back to the kid so he can get back to his show.)

Anyway, it comes to the point where his wife gives him a good talking-to for letting it all go–the house, the kids, himself. Look at yourself! She exclaims, pointing at his newly flabby belly. And the house is a wreck (paraphrase). Basically, she says, get it together, because I did it for eight years, and I understand it’s hard, but I got through it because I had some pride in what I did; I understood that what I did was important. Again, close to home. I recently had a “talking to” by my spouse; more in a moment.

There is another scene where Keaton daydreams he has an affair with the over-sexed neighbor, and his wife walks in with a gun and points it straight at him. “What did it, Jack, hmm?” she asks. “Was it the daily repetition? The boredom? The loneliness?” Now, I’m not close to an affair (never!), but I understand the list: repetition, boredom, loneliness. Add pregnancy to it and a melancholy disposition, and you’ve got some potential problems.

And so I got a talking-to from my beloved husband two nights ago. The house was a wreck and he couldn’t find what he needed, and he couldn’t avoid tripping over some things while looking (we’re still trying to get unpacked/organized is my excuse). I probably looked like a wreck, too. And I don’t think I’d made supper that night. I don’t remember. But I told him to talk to me; tell me what was wrong; if he had a problem with me, I wanted to know.

So he did. He told me some things that really stung. Including, “It seems like you don’t do anything at the house all day.” And, “Somehow, other moms with more kids get more done than you seem to; you need to learn to multitask more.”

Ouch.

In my hubby’s defense, he never volunteers these kinds of criticisms unless provoked. And I provoked him. He was trying to clam up so as not to hurt my feelings, but I made him talk. I had also used Sam’s Sunday nap time to get out of the house and do some rare shopping instead of staying in my daily “work” environment to organize. (In the future, we’ve agreed he can stay silent in the angry moment as long as he agrees to talk to me when he’s cooled down. This honors both his need to stonewall, and my need to communicate.)

Anyway. Those comments, after which I stayed up late to clean house and shower, followed me into the next day and beyond. Is there really something wrong with me beyond the typical Mom burnout? I wondered. Am I defective because I can’t get anything done besides keeping my kid alive and doing the dishes and maybe cooking a meal or three?

I asked Buc that next night, “Is it possible you’re thinking of moms with older [not-so-needy] kids; or moms who have relatives nearby to help, or moms who let their kids watch a lot more TV than I do?”

He conceded that that might be some of it. But the main problem, he said, as he’s often said, is my “perfectionism.” I don’t want to let our kid go without mommy enough. I pick him up [the kid] too much. I give in too much.

Hmmm. I am still pondering this and praying over it. Even though Buc’s words were said in anger, there is usually some truth to angry words. I wish I got more done these days. I wish my house were cleaner, my meals more consistent, my hygiene sparkling. I suppose there are ways to accomplish this.

I also know what Buc doesn’t: I know the inside of my mind, and the physical limits of my body. I feel like I have mental mountains to climb that other people, other personalities, perhaps don’t. I seem happy and serene to most outsiders, but it takes me lots of prayer and meditation sometimes to get to that point. And a man doesn’t know the work of making a baby.

Maybe these are just excuses. Maybe there is some truth to them as well. Either way, I’m glad for my “talking-to,” so I can work at improving, and I’m glad for Mr. Mom so I can laugh at my challenges. One day I will laugh a whole lot more, and even now, I see humor in my day. I’m putting on makeup for my husband when he gets home–and I also made his favorite meal during nap time (no nap for me today…progress!)–but I’m not going to apologize for my stretchy pants, no sir. This is a mom’s life, and I’m learning to embrace it, along with all the humor wrapped up in the job.