Year of Blessings: Update Post

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s more.

The Blessing of Going Back to Work

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

Oh-my-goodness.

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

The Blessing of Finding my Calling

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

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

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

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

The Fear and Anxiety

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

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

The Blessing of Losing my Job, and Gaining Graduate School

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

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

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

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

The Blessing of Buc (My Hubby)

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

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

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

This Summer…

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

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

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

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

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

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Book News!

Acceptance letter copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a synopsis of my book, click here.

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

Professing—My Unexpected Blessing

With my manuscript deadline at hand, I knew this week would be busy. Before I got the job offer last Thursday, I didn’t know how busy. Suddenly, in addition to finishing my book manuscript in one week, I am becoming an adjunct professor, too!

I got the call last Thursday (six days before my first class—yikes!), and five days later, I am still in awe at God’s goodness. This past year has been all about me learning that when I humble myself in the sight of the Lord, He lifts me up (James 4:10). Repeatedly broken to knee-point this past year, I have found peace in the surrender to Jesus and His plans for me. I gave up certain plans I thought would not pan out (such as a PhD and professing at my alma mater) to follow new directions in which I felt called: authorship and parenthood. (By the way, we are supposedly finding out the baby’s sex this week, too!)

It was when I surrendered the professing idea that we got pregnant and the book really started taking shape. I thought: “This is okay; God’s really got this.” I haven’t been making any serious money for two years, but I’ve been faithfully sowing seeds in hopes that they will grow into a money tree (er, some kind of career), however small.

By sowing seeds I mean writing my memoir, which goes out to a professional author/editor this week for a consultation. The book is not in its final form, by any means, but at 256 pages, it is a complete draft that says, more or less, what I want it to say. There’s a part of me that wants to keep polishing it, but mostly, especially after faced with having to prepare a semester’s syllabus in a couple days, I think it wise to give the book (and my brain) a break while other eyes ponder it. It will be good to focus on something else for awhile and then come back refreshed to revise in a month or so.

The one-class professing gig on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (which happens to be right down the road) will be the perfect vehicle for me to do just that.

And I was just starting to miss the classroom a bit.

Today I can only shake my head and marvel at the wisdom of God’s plans and His timing. Maybe this turn of events doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but for me, it is. I used to have such issues with needing to be in control of my future. I didn’t handle unknowns well. I got physically sick from anxiety. But since learning to let go (and please know that sometimes I still need remediation), life has become a joy, full of surprises and good gifts from the hand of God. Now, instead of being just a professor, or just a writer, or just a parent, I am suddenly all three! Daily I am reminded that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

If you’re struggling today over the plans for your future, or if you feel physically or emotionally sick from not knowing what’s to come, why not ask God to take the reigns and pave the path for you? He might not make things clear right away, but if you earnestly pray, you can rest in the knowledge that even when we don’t know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:26, 28). Finally, when we put God first, we can rest in the promises that “there is no want to those who fear the Lord” (Ps. 34:9), and God shall supply “all” our needs “according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Amen!

For some inspiration today, check out the song “When I Let It Go” by Sierra. This is a throwback to one of my dad’s favorite Christian groups from the 90s, and lately it has brought me to tears (in a good way!).

This time I’ve got to trust You
I’ve got to accept Your plan
I have tried to guide my circumstance
But there’s just no way I can
When will I learn this lesson
Your ways are not like mine
Lord, help me to surrender
The control I try to have on my life
When I let it go
You take my hand and gently lead me
Then You let me know
Just how peaceful my life can be
When I let it go
Your never-ending blessings
Like a river start to flow
When I let it go
Too many times I’m searching
For the things I think I need
When I try to look for more
I always seem to give You less of me
Lord, help me gain this wisdom
My foolish mind still lacks
‘Til I find a way to let go
Of the part of me I’m holding back

Birthday Blessings

flowers
Photo Credit: Flowers by Just4You

Today is my 29th birthday, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than sitting here at my favorite breakfast place writing, reflecting, and thanking God for the blessings of the past year. Here’s a recap of how my personal and professional lives have converged (and diverged) over the past twelve months—showing me how God takes a very personal interest in the mundane details of my life.

Last Summer

I was fretting over what I saw as conflicting desires, including the desire to write, teach, and (though I didn’t much tell anyone), have a baby. God started to drop things into place when Paul Coneff of Straight 2 the Heart ministries asked me to help him write his first book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel. During July of last year, I was also starting to write my master’s thesis (eventually 100 pages), which was a perfect warm-up for the book-length project I was taking on. Now busy with writing, I tabled my internal baby discussion for the time being.

2012-11-08 22.27.41

Last Fall

I was still working fervently on my two writing projects, but there came pausing points in both works, during which time I was left with nothing to do but finally start writing what was in my heart. Four notebooks and one month later, I had the rough draft of my memoir and the beginnings of this blog down on paper—both would wait for January for further development.

I looked around one day on campus and asked myself if this student life was what I wanted for five to eight more years. I didn’t see how that life would allow me to be the parent I knew I’d want to be—if we decided to have kids.

One day in October, while writing a paper for my last graduate class, I broke down at my computer and finally faced the truth: I was tired of this solitary student life; I wanted something more. I called my husband in tears and he came home early that day to take me on a walk-and-talk through the local state park. As I unknowingly acquired poison ivy, it was a relief to hear myself finally saying words I had been repressing for a long time: I want to have kids (this was a fun scene to write for my memoir).

In December I completed my master’s program and sent out two graduate applications—one MFA, and one PhD—just in case we didn’t conceive, and just in case God still wanted me in graduate school.

girl on bench

Last Winter

I did not get into either of the grad programs I applied to, which told me that was not God’s plan for me right now. I went off birth control in January, began this blog, and started officially calling myself a writer.

I spent the early months of the year feeling lonely and a bit depressed—now I was alone in our big house all day long, getting to write, yes, but without the promise of much people time during my days. I started really missing my family in Minnesota, whom I hadn’t seen since the previous June. I also realized I had been taking my husband for granted for most of our eight years of marriage—putting him on the back burner as I worked on emotional issues, self-improvement, and career development. I decided to be more family oriented.

Around the same time, God also brought many friends into my life to help alleviate my loneliness. This told me that God could meet my need for people contact with or without a baby.

Amanda and me

Last Spring

In May, when I wasn’t expecting it, I found out I was five weeks pregnant. Yay! We had a fun time surprising our family with the announcement, as most hadn’t been reading this blog and didn’t know we were trying. I rededicated my efforts to finishing my memoir “before thirty,” and now I also vowed to try to finish before baby.

2013-01-09 23.52.05

Currently

I have just returned from two weeks in Minnesota—probably my last trip to see my family before baby comes in January (I am four months along today). While in Minnesota I attended my ten-year class reunion and felt additional closure about God’s plans for my life. Though visiting Minnesota always makes me wistful, I clearly saw God’s wisdom in moving me away almost nine years ago. Visits back home used to be hard—brought painful memories—but more and more they bring happiness. Now, my husband and I are talking about getting a summer house in MN in a few years—which prospect fills my heart with joy.

My memoir is going well, and I have made contact with a favorite author of mine, Trish Ryan, who has agreed to consult on my book in late August to help me prepare it for publication (my hubby is giving me a “loan” because I told him it would be a good investment!). This fall I will be searching for an agent and/or publisher as I prepare for this baby’s arrival—and hopefully this winter I will have both a healthy baby and a manuscript headed for publication. The healthy baby is more important, of course—the book would just be a bonus. Regardless of how long it takes to get the memoir published, The Hidden Half of the Gospel will be published long before my next birthday—showing me that God heard my “before thirty” prayer six months ago.

It is 10:10 as I finish writing this, and my dentist’s office just texted, “Happy Birthday, I hope you have many reasons to smile today!” I am happy to say, “Yes, I do!” Today, I am smiling about my immediate future that will consist largely of family time, writing time, and more Minnesota time—and that doesn’t even compare to my eternal future!

Thank you, Lord, for taking such a personal interest in the mundane details of my life. Today I praise you for how you care about my heart’s desires and how you’ve led, not just for the past year, but for the past twenty-nine years.