A Peek Into (or Out of?) the Postpartum Cave

IMG_3637
From Hello Dearest, the official magazine of MOPS.

Yesterday while Seth slept on my chest, I finished an article and submitted it to a website. I think it was the first creative thing I’d done postpartum, besides drawing a breakfast menu for Sam. To say I’ve been residing in a cave feels about right. It’s not dark and depressing, but it is a tunnel, and it does block my vision of things I used to see, and bars me from things I used to do. That’s why finishing that article yesterday felt so good. It helped me glimpse the creative side of myself again

IMG_3641I’ve found it hard to write since Seth’s birth. Mainly because my hands are always full, but also because I haven’t felt I had anything new or edifying to say about this period in my life. What I’ve managed to scribble in my writer’s notebook lately mostly goes something like this: “I didn’t know what busy was until I had two kids.” “I am exhausted.” “My brain is on the fritz.” “I feel like a crappy parent.” “I wish I could relax sometimes.” “Life is beautiful, but this is just a hard season, you know?”

Another thing that’s been hard during this postpartum period is reading my Bible. I’m too distracted. Too busy. Too bursting with my own unexpressed, unprocessed thoughts to take on the grand themes of God’s Book. And I was having a lot of guilt about this lack of Bible reading, as we “good Christians” do, until I sat down and examined this feeling, and had the following inner dialogue.

My faith feels stagnant right now. Maybe even in remission…because I’m too busy feeding my children (literally) to be fed spiritually. So how am I supposed to grow in my faith?

Share what I already have.

But how can I share my faith right now, when I’m in a “cave”? (Literally, when I don’t see people besides my kids on a daily basis?)

Write. Write about what you’ve experienced God doing in the past; also, write your experiences now. Maybe these daily details don’t seem edifying today, but later, when you have time and perspective, you can help others who are muddling through the same tunnel.

Indeed, the literature that has touched me during this postpartum period has come from other mother-writers, writing of their years in the trenches. I recently joined MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), and besides the moms-in-the-flesh I’ve met at our physical meetings, I’ve become connected  to a number of mom-writers, through the MOPS blog and Magazine, Hello, Dearest, who have inspired me. 

IMG_3636

The current theme of Hello, Dearest is rest, with a number of articles about reawakening the creative parts of ourselves and doing activities that truly rest our souls (not just numb our brains)–and this theme was something I needed to attend to. I’ve needed to rest, through creating, again.

And so I wrote that magazine article yesterday–I created something–and because I couldn’t write edifying things about my current cavewoman state, I wrote about lessons learned in the past.

In time, I’m sure I’ll gain the needed perspective (and empty hands) to be able to write inspiring things about these postpartum days and beyond, because God has proven faithful to me in that way before.IMG_3614

If I’m tempted to forget that hard moments can make for inspiring stories, I just have to look at the stack of boxes filled with my first memoir…currently sitting in my cave…(in other words, not being circulated except by my dad, who is lugging a case of books around Minnesota on radio advertising sales calls for me…thanks, Dad!). Anyway, my first memoir is making the rounds among Adventist Book Centers around the country; with Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart Ministries (whom I wrote The Hidden Half of the Gospel with); and finding its way into the homes of friends, family, and a few unknown readers who’ve left me good reviews.

All in all, despite my current cavewoman status, I am feeling good these days: still no postpartum depression (although people keep asking me because of my history with depression), and forming some thoughts about parenting…which I’m jotting in my writer’s notebook until God tells me it’s time to polish them up for the public. I can’t see much yet from within the tunnel, but one thing I know: I’ve started the process of crawling out.

IMG_3592
My little cavemen. Pretty good guys to be stuck in the tunnel with:)

The Pain When Real Life Unravels…and Why I Write About It Anyway

by a thread
“By a Thread 5” by TACLUDA

Something frustrating/painful/paradoxical about writing books about your life is that storylines you had sewn up at book’s end can, and do, unravel in real life. I’m dealing with that now.

My memoir is sewn up, edited, on its way to press…as far as paper and ink go…but in real life, this one thread of my story is refusing to stay put. That thread is a “character” in my book, a family member, whom I left at a good spot–and whose relationship with me ended in a good spot. But now the relationship…the character…it’s all just unraveling. And I am crushed.

That’s the thing about a happy ending in a work of non-fiction. Unlike the ending of a novel, the story can change. Happy can turn to sad, resolved to unresolved.

It’s times like these when I can start to wonder, Why did I even bother? Why did I go to the trouble to try to organize and understand and “sew up” my story? Happy endings in real life can’t really be sewn up anyway…can they?

Can they?

I wrote a book about overcoming depression. About moving past family dysfunction. About finding joy and new starts in the sinful, yet beautiful world around me.

And now this piece of my conclusion is unraveling, a piece of my life that originally caused much of my depression, contributed to my family’s dysfunction, and seemed to suggest that life would never–could never–change for the better.

What does that mean for my book, and for me? Does it mean that I am a fraud, my book a farce? Does this make my message of “new life” a bunch of baloney? Does it mean that depression can’t be overcome? That dysfunction can’t be left behind? That joy can’t be found?

If I give in to my gut reaction (this is terrible!), if I listen to my heart (I’m so sad, I feel so depressed), or if I trust the words Satan whispers in my ear (why get up today? Look at the junk I have to face…), then I can easily jump to those conclusions.

But if I remember the most important storyline of my book–the real message–then hope revives.

My Reasons for Hope

One of my favorite chapters in my book is my chapter called “Rebirth,” where, amidst the backdrop of this same thread unraveling that I’m currently blogging about (it’s been a recurring, unraveling thread in my life story, you see), I begin the habit of daily prayer, Bible reading, and Bible memorization. As I learn, my attitude, my mood, and my inner peace (or lack thereof) do not have to be determined by my outward circumstances. After three weeks of me meditating on God’s promises, that stubborn thread remains as stubborn as ever…but I have experienced a genuine heart transformation: after ten-plus years of depression, I no longer feel depressed!

And that is the overarching thread in my story–that we can learn to hear and operate in God’s truth even when Satan is attacking us with his fiery darts; we can embrace a new life on the inside even when life on the outside hurts. 

Beyond that, if we are faithful to God, he promises that one day we can have a new life not only on the inside, but also on the outside. The Bible says that if we believe in Jesus and give our lives and hearts to him, these sad stories down here are not our final stories. One day Jesus will “wipe away every tear”; in other words, he will sew up our stories for good and lay to rest those stubborn threads that keep tripping us up and pulling us down.

These truths are narrative threads that can never unravel.

And yet.

Sometimes hearing these truths don’t help much. Sometimes these Bible promises, if spoken lightly and out of context, seem like an insensitive slap in the face of our very real, very present pain. And that’s exactly why, I maintain, we need the sad stories along with the Bible promises.

My story of overcoming depression, moving on from dysfunction, is not a farce, and I am not a fake. The fact that one of my threads has unraveled again, again causing me much pain, is not a reason to hide my past story of suffering and overcoming; it is a reason to celebrate it. My story Ending the Pain has become a precious record of the Lord’s intervention at a desperate time, and now I can reread it to find hope for the present and future.

If I had not written the story, I might be tempted to forget that the Lord works in wonderful and mysterious ways even when, especially when, the threads of our lives seem to be unraveling.

Here on planet earth, until it becomes the New Earth, threads unravel all the time; things fall apart. So let’s not to forget to celebrate those strong, unbreakable cords of love that have held us together in the past…and that can hold us together today and tomorrow, no matter what falls apart around us.

 

 

At the End of the Year, a Look Back…

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

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

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

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

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family

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

Family Photo 2015

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

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

Resolution 2: Make Healthy Choices for My Family and Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2488

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

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

As You Make Goals for 2016…

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

What Christians and Parents Have in Common

mtJMcpQ.jpg

“When do you feel closest to God?” my pastor asked the congregation this Saturday.

I sat surrounded by toys; spilled popcorn; and my son, Sam, in a back pew reserved for parents with small children. Not now, sprang to my mind. Not as a young mother.

But upon deeper reflection, the pastor also mentioned that to follow Jesus meant to sacrifice everything…to bear your cross…to put others first.

I guess I feel like that…but in service to my kid. To parent babies and young children is to (temporarily) give up things, to sacrifice needs and wants, to bear a cross. A sweet new friend at church who sat with me at lunch said, after I told her I felt I was doing “nothing” in ministry right now, that ministry was “exactly” what I was doing.

So why is it so hard to see motherhood as a work for Christ (at least at this stage)? And why doesn’t it automatically make us feel “close to God”?

Any young mom knows the answer. It’s the “surrounded by toys” thing. The “spilled popcorn” thing. The thing about always being distracted, always making sure your kid doesn’t hurt himself, he has enough to eat, he’s not getting into trouble, or he’s getting consequences for the trouble he caused.

Did I mention the exhaustion?

Then, there is the fear. Fear that there might not be a reward at the end of the road. When they grow up, my kids could write me off, or write off God, or just get too busy for me. And there is the lack of immediate rewards. At least when I serve in church, someone else sees it. But if my kids don’t turn out right, who will ever know about all the effort I’m putting into them right now?

It’s times like these when I have to remember that motherhood is a walk of faith, much like the Christian walk. Much like being a Christian, being a parent is not easy, and it comes with no guarantees for health or prosperity…down here. But if we remain faithful in both walks, there are eternal rewards, and even temporal benefits.

Both walks, if undertaken with a right spirit, lead to self-discipline, self-denial, and the healthier life choices we make when we decide to live for something bigger than ourselves. We continually experience difficulties, but as Rachel Jankovic put it in Loving the Little Years, a new sin or challenge in our kids (and I would add, in ourselves) means they (and we) have moved on from the last one.

And then there is the joy of reaching God’s standards. How good it feels when we have labored over our kids (or ourselves), prayed over them , trained them as best we can, and they “get it.”

I experienced this very joy sitting in the same service that spurred this post…because it was the second week Sam sat all the way through church. Praise God! As with other milestones he has passed, I prayed for this, labored for this, began training Sam each morning to sit while we sang Bible songs and prayed. And the work was/is hard. But the rewards are worth it!

This weekend’s reward reminded me that even when I don’t feel close to God, as long as I am faithful to him, I can take courage that I living out his purpose for me.

Dear Lord, help me to be faithful to the children you have given me, and faithful to my Christian walk, even when I don’t feel you close. Help me to stay the course in faith, knowing that one day this race I’m running will eventually lead me, and hopefully lead my kids, to your kingdom.

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.)

Staying Positive While Pregnant

Smiley face
“Fading Smile 1” by TACLUDA

Since my second trimester began, I haven’t felt physically good. Despite how they say it’s supposed to go, I had a great first trimester, only to feel nauseated and exhausted when the second one hit. The upside? This temporary trial is teaching me to appreciate those who have a chronic illness, and who brave every day in spite of it.

You, see, I’m learning that living life—getting up out of bed, taking a shower, actually looking at your planner—takes mental work when you feel physically ill, when you just want to sleep, or when you just have to puke. It’s not fun to wake up day after day wondering if you can hold down your breakfast (not always). And it’s quite disheartening to see all your son’s naptimes—the times you used to get things done—fly away by the time you can haul yourself out of bed. Suddenly, all those things that used to be easy seem impossible…because you just don’t have the strength.

It’s no wonder sick people get depressed.

For those who live with chronic illness or pain and who remain positive in spite of it, I salute you. It’s no small feat to go about life happily in that state, and those who do have obviously made some hard choices.

Maybe it was the choice to take a shower today. I made that choice at 5:30 this morning, even though I didn’t want to, and frankly, I didn’t care if my hair was clean. I decided to shower for my family, reasoning that my cleanliness would bless them and might make me feel better.

Maybe it was the choice to lower your expectations for your day, or for your parenting, or for your writing, because really, that’s the only sane thing to do sometimes. I chose to let my son watch TV at 6:15 this morning, even though I don’t like to start his day with TV, because I needed some time to read my Bible and pray. And I made peace with this setup as a possible morning routine in the near future because, heck, I have another baby coming, and mornings are not going to get any easier for awhile.

Let me not rush past that last paragraph. I also made the choice to sit down with God for a few minutes today–even though my surroundings told me I didn’t have time–and I was so glad I did. This is where the choice to think positive for the rest of my day became easier.

What am I reading in this time of physical distress and distraction? Mostly the Psalms. I like the Psalms when I am distracted, distressed, or distraught (and without much ability to focus), because they can be read one at a time, in no specific order, and they still make sense. They are prayers and praises coming from an honest soul, and the words often work to jumpstart my own prayer life.

Today’s Psalms, 48 and 49, helped me to remember that everything on earth, including life itself, is temporary; I shouldn’t spend my time or energy worrying about stuff. The only lasting things are God and his kingdom—the God who is our God “forever and ever” and who will be our great and merciful and and loving “guide until we die” (Ps. 48:14, NLT). It may seem a small thing, but these reminders helped me to relax about the house I can’t totally get in order yet—the pictures I can’t hang, the floors I can’t vacuum, the boxes I can’t unpack—because I’m too sick, or too tired, or the noise would be too much while Sam is napping. It helped me to put my focus back on God, and back on Truth, where it belongs.

After I took time to remember that God is God, God is in control, and God is good, suddenly, the day wasn’t so daunting. I don’t know how chronically sick people do life if they don’t do it with God; but as for me, I have found my lifeline. I have discovered that God can give me joy even when I don’t feel “good.”

Lord, help me to always put you first.

When Writers Shouldn’t Blog (a Farewell, for Now)

Image created at canva.com
Image created at canva.com

I’m taking a break from my blog. I love it, but that’s the problem: I love it a little too much. In this season of life (early motherhood, moving to a new state, The Love Dare), lost in my own learning curves, I’ve lost audience awareness; I’ve slipped into nearly moving my diary online.

But a blogger should write for an audience beyond herself.

The fact is, I don’t have the capacity to write for an audience right now. At least not a blog audience, because a blog audience needs continual attention, much like the husband I am trying to love better; the one-year-old son who needs me constantly; and my God, who hasn’t been hearing much from me lately. (Ouch.)

Since deciding to put my family first, and actually implementing plans to that effect, I haven’t had much free time—but what free time I have has gone to this blog. Consumed with blogging and blogging ideas, I’ve lost the intimate prayer life and the desire to read God’s Word that I had before having a child. So, with the help of Love Dare #23, it’s time to remove this “thing that is hindering my relationship[s], [this] addiction or influence that’s stealing [my] affections and turning [my] heart away from [my] spouse [and my Maker].” It’s time to get re-centered on what’s most important.

But for me not blogging doesn’t mean not writing. While away, I will continue to write. I need to keep writing, in fact, to cope with all the growth and change happening around and within me. I just need to write for awhile without an audience, except my Savior, so I can listen better to him instead of worrying about what readers will think, or how to package my thoughts under a catchy title, or what content will get the most “likes.” I need some quiet time to be raw and real, to pray and journal, and to get back to that “empty notebook” strategy and the “writing to my roots” approach that evoked the germ of this blog and my first memoir—the core message of which I still believe needs an audience. (I’m asking God right now if it’s the right time to revise that memoir yet again…)

In time, I believe I will hit upon another message that deserves an audience–an audience to include (most likely) new mothers, impatient wives, writers, and well-intentioned (but struggling) sons and daughters of God. For now, I am seeking wisdom again, in and for this new stage of life. For now, I need to listen more than I speak; I need to read more than I write; and I need to write more than I blog.

Farewell for now.

Hamster Wheel Days

It’s 7:30 a.m. I’ve just tucked my fourteen-month-old, Sam, in for his first nap. Yeah, I know. That’s early for a nap. But we’ve been awake since 4:30. “It’s another hamster wheel day,” a voice tries to tell me, after a series of events like teething, traveling, and sickness that just won’t let us get back into our sleep routine. But then another voice replies, “Maybe not. You don’t have to live constantly struggling to catch up and never getting anywhere. You have choices.”

I have choices.

I’m not blogging this morning to complain. Well, maybe a little. But I’m making a big effort not to complain to my husband this week, or ever again…and I also have a need to express my feelings in order to work them out. I have expressed my feelings to God numerous times, and I am trying to make him my foremost confidant. But a blog audience is a nice audience to complain to, if you need to complain. I can talk about my struggles without being tempted to attack—like I am tempted to do with my husband—and I usually get some encouraging comments from my sweet readers. If nothing else, pounding the keys of the keyboard does something good for the anger inside me.

God is doing a work in me. He continues to do a work. Through this motherhood gig, he is pointing out sins that I wasn’t previously ready to confront.

Hello, selfishness.

I can keep blaming other people and circumstances for my frustration—there are always plenty of excuses. Or I can take responsibility for my actions and my attitude.

The fact is, I’m not (mainly) frustrated because Sam’s sleep is erratic, or my babysitter cancelled again, or my husband doesn’t help with meal cleanup. I’m mainly frustrated because I am selfish, and I have not planned for “interruptions” in my plans.

I am selfish, and I struggle to see motherhood (and wifehood) as my first duty and calling. I am selfish, and I have tried to neatly portion out blocks of time that are “mommy hours,” and blocks of time that are “me hours.” I am selfish, and I have not lived as Jesus Christ, giving my whole self—my body, my time, my attitude–as a living sacrifice. I am selfish, and I have wanted motherhood to happen on my own terms, not on God’s terms.

I have been deeply convicted that my failure to love and appreciate my husband and son in the midst of inconveniences or upsets in schedule are rooted in selfishness. So I am putting my eyes back on Christ—because I need his supernatural patience and love to get me through these “hamster wheel days.”

I have choices.

I can’t right now choose the time of day I want to study my Bible, or choose how long, or even totally choose what hours I want to sleep. (While I am doing what I can to sleep train, factors outside of my control like teething, sickness, and travel back and forth from Texas are legitimate struggles that cause regression and necessitate some babying.) But I still have choices.

I can choose to own this stage of early mornings and night wakings not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to grow patience and self-sacrifice. Practically, I can also choose to nap with Sam on the really hard days, and realize that the world won’t end if I don’t post a blog or cook homemade food on those days.

I can choose to get my eyes off myself and focus on others who are going through struggles much worse than mine. I can look to mentors and good influences to lift me up. And I can celebrate all the good around me, like the fact that my friend just gave birth to a new baby.

Getting off the hamster wheel means simultaneously lifting up my eyes and lowering my expectations. I must do this—I will do this—so I can stop running on empty and be still sometimes…at flexible times, at whatever times Sam takes his naps. I don’t know what kind of a day you’d call that, but it sure beats the hamster wheel.

Idol Writing

2015/03/img_1958.jpgA few months ago when I blogged about scaling back my writing efforts in favor of motherhood, a faithful reader asked in the comments, “Do you think your writing desire might be an idol?”

After giving her question plenty of thought and prayer, along with hunkering down with the Bible and other sacred writings, I can answer that question. The answer is yes.

It’s a complicated issue, because I’m also quite certain writing is a calling from God. It’s part of my mission and ministry. So, on the one hand, my writing is a calling from God. On the other hand, it is an idol. How can two such opposite things get confused in the same activity?

God has impressed me with lots of thoughts about this as I seek to put him back at the center of my life. (If it seems like I have to wrestle with the task often, it’s true—I do. Satan is always warring within me to take my focus off Jesus.)

Worshiping Gifts, instead of the Gift-Giver

Isaiah and Jeremiah teach me much about my tendency to confuse the gift with the Gift-Giver. Isaiah 44 strikes to the heart of the matter by describing how people use part of a tree to make an idol, and then burn the rest of it as firewood (see especially verses 9-11 and verse 15). The firewood is the proper use for the wood, because the wood is only a tool given by God for sustaining and improving life.

It’s the same with any “tool” or gift God gives us. Our gifts, like firewood, are meant to be spent for the spread of the gospel. We should not try to conserve them, because they were given to be used. When God gives us a talent, it is wrong to worship it, to look to it to bring us satisfaction. No, we should always and only look to God for satisfaction, and salvation. The talent, gift, or tool, is just that: a tool that should be used, even exhausted, in the service of God and others. It is nothing to take pride in; on the contrary, it should help us humble ourselves before God.

I am on track when I focus my writing on God and the message he wants me to share with others. I get off track when I focus on what my writing can bring me: as in fame, success, or recognition.

I also get off track when I focus on the writing of others, even Christian writers, as something to aspire to so that I can have similar success.

My Distorted Relationship with Reading

On that note, here’s something that surprised me in my recent inventory of my heart: I’ve been reading “good, Christian books” with the wrong motives. I’ve been reading lots of self-help books, but not receiving any help—because I’m reading for craft, not content.

What do I mean?

Four of five years ago, when I first starting seriously researching how to publish my writing, I read that writing is a business, and writers need to study writing that sells. At the time, I was also getting to know the Lord better and working at beating depression, so I had the noble goal of writing and publishing uplifting books. To feed these parallel goals—publishing, growing spiritually—I started reading writing/publishing books in tandem with Christian/self-help books; at the time, the writing books were to help me write better, the Christian books were to make me a better Christian.

But at some point, all my reading, even my Christian reading, became too much about the publishing. I found myself reading popular Christian authors not just for spiritual feeding, but for research.

I wanted to know what topics these best-selling authors were writing about that were selling so well, and I wanted to know how good they were at the craft, to see if my writing could stand up to theirs—or, more particularly, to see if my writing was of publishable quality.

When I judged that my writing was, in some cases, of higher quality, I became prideful.

And when I read that I must immerse myself in “good writing” in order to produce “good writing” (grammatically and aesthetically speaking) I became a reading snob. I started to choose my reading based on the quality of the writer’s writing—and not so much on the quality of the writer’s Christianity.

I won’t name drop here. I’ll just say I’ve read some “Christian writers” who write beautifully, but who, in their writings, exalt a spirit of selfishness and prideful-ness, and a resistance to yield to God’s hand of correction, should it conflict with their inner desires. Some of these Christian writers are heavily influenced by the world and popular culture’s “follow your heart” mentality—a mentality that must, if I believe God’s word, come from Satan.

I know some of my own writing bears out this struggle between Christ and Satan—and I am sorry. I am not sorry for representing the struggle, because the struggle is real, and we must name it to overcome it. But I am sorry for the times I have let Satan win. And I repent of it. I want to give my gift of writing to the Lord once again, to be used to uplift him, and not myself.

Getting Back to Truth

So I am getting back to truth. I am reading some hard-hitting stuff that doesn’t really feed my literary side, but feeds my soul. And I am asking the Lord to make the “soul impact” of my writing my greatest concern—not it’s literary quality, or it’s salability (if salability would mean it is out of alignment with God’s truth). I am letting go of “idol writing”—writing for myself, and for my own gain—in favor of writing for love of God and for my fellow humans—the two greatest commandments.

Lord, help me to stay true to you in all I do—especially in this gift you’ve given me.

It’s Weird…and It’s Good (Thoughts on Our Move to St. Louis and First Visit Back to Texas)

2015/03/img_1902.jpg
A view of our new apartment building in St. Louis.

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.

2015/03/img_1895.jpg

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.

2015/03/img_1880.jpg
Sam peering over the very necessary baby gate in our new apartment.

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.

2015/03/img_1904.jpg

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.

2015/03/img_19051.jpg

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.

2015/03/img_1886.jpg
This is the playground down just one block from our apartment.

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.

2015/03/img_1896.jpg
Another view of the apartments, with our covered parking in the distance.