College Students and Mental Health

While teaching freshman composition at UTA last semester, I got to teach on a subject that is near and dear to my heart: college students and mental health.* The subject is near and dear to me, of course, because I struggled with my mental health as an undergraduate college student. It is also still near (but maybe not dear) to me because, at this phase of life I’m in–graduate student/mother/wife/teacher–I am again battling some anxiety.

At a public university, I couldn’t talk openly about what has most helped me since my own depressed undergraduate years. That is, prayer and meditating on Bible promises to replace negative thoughts. But I did tell my students I had struggled mightily in the area of mental health, and that I had gained some victories by learning to better express myself in a variety of contexts: talking honestly with friends, arguing “nicely” with my husband (as in Rogerian argument), and practicing expressive (personal) writing in private as well as in public settings, to name a few.

“Communicating well is an essential life skill,” I told my students from the beginning. As the course progressed, I increasingly talked about good communication as an aid for better mental health. In the middle of the semester we practiced some small group communication on several “mental health Mondays.” Following, we read a chilling ESPN article by Kate Fagan, entitled “Split Image,” about a college freshman who struggled to communicate a true picture of herself and ended up committing suicide. The article begins, “On Instagram, Madison Holleran’s life looked ideal: star athlete, bright student, beloved friend. But the photos hid the reality of someone struggling to go on.” We read the long article out loud with our desks in a circle, and I posed the questions Why did she do it? and What is the “argument” of the article? One astute and un-shy student said, “People who look great on the outside aren’t necessarily feeling good on the inside. They can be living a double life.” True, that.

My class of 24 was the quietest class I’ve ever taught. Very few of my students ever spoke voluntarily in class, even to one another. But when we took an anonymous mental health survey at mid-semester, my students learned some troubling things about their classmates. One-third said they were struggling with mental health to the point that it was interfering with their normal activities. (This statistic supports national research we read in the class.) One student was clearly suicidal, based on his or her anonymous comments. Forty percent reported they were in college not because they wanted to be, but because their parents wanted them to be.

Around the time I gave that survey, a handful of students stopped showing up. A couple did not turn in their second required essay. Though all my students started strong, four of them eventually failed or took incompletes. Except for a couple students whom I couldn’t reach, the strugglers eventually admitted to me–via emails, essays, or in person–that they were struggling with depression, anxiety, or relationships (romantic or parental), or all of the above. None of the failing students was academically incapable of succeeding in the class.**

I find often in life at large–not just in college life–that our failures are due to struggles of the mind (stinking thinking some call it), and/or the inability to ask for help. The longer I observe humanity, the more convinced I become that it’s simply hard for people in general to communicate honestly  about their feelings. It’s hard for people to ask for help. Sometimes it is hard for us to even recognize or admit that we need help. This is a sad reality.

Another sad reality is a persistent belief, common among the older generations, that mental health struggles are myths. I was saddened when I read statements in my students’ final essays like “My dad doesn’t believe in depression; he just thinks people who claim it are weak.” I was also saddened to learn how reluctant my students were to simply talk openly with their parents. Some students admitted to me that they literally didn’t feel safe expressing their needs to their parents. One student wrote in her final reflection that she had changed her major from the one her parents selected (a major she hated), but she was keeping the news from them as long as possible out of fear of their reaction. Another admitted that her parents had threatened to disown her if she did not go to college.

Wow. My quiet class of twenty-four, though they didn’t speak up much in class, spoke loudly and clearly by the end of the semester: they have lots of legitimate (and normal) struggles, but they were generally uncomfortable sharing those struggles with others. They lacked skills in healthy self-expression that I believe could do much to prevent normal struggles from turning into mental health issues.

This is why I feel teaching college writing is not just a career, but also a calling. As I’ve transitioned back into professor-mode over the last year and a half, I’ve had many “aha” moments of why God has put my feet on this path. Namely, my life story has been one of figuring out how to communicate in order to achieve or maintain stable mental health. Now I can use what I’ve learned, and what I am still learning, to help young adults learn critical skills of communicating at a critical, crisis-inducing time.

Yes, communication–in a relational, expressive sense–is an essential life skill. These basics of communication are even more essential than academic writing, I believe–yet how much time do parents, teachers, and church leaders take to teach these “basic” skills? When we can’t express our feelings and/or ask people for help–healthy stress responses, by the way–we resort to unhealthy stress responses: fighting, fleeing, or freezing.

Over the last year and a half, I have seen that young people today need caring adults who won’t dismiss their struggles, but who will listen without judgment. Are you one of those adults?

If you are reading this blog post and have college-age kids in your life, or any age kids, for that matter, I hope you will ask yourself: Am I a safe place for these young people? Do I respond to their struggles and concerns in such a way that I invite them to share with me? Or do I react in ways that would lead them to want to hide from me, and not communicate honestly?

And some questions for self-assessment:

Do I know how to communicate my own needs to the people around me? When I am stressed, do I engage in healthy responses such as journaling, praying, or talking to trusted friends? Do I do the best I can with the resources around me to manage my mental health?

Aside about Managing My Own Mental Health

One of the resources I used to manage my anxiety last semester is CAPS, the free counseling and psychological services UTA offers its students. I first visited Ransom Hall (pictured above) in July of last year, when I was home for the summer and felt the familiar anxiety coming back. We were smack-dab in the midst of transitioning my mother-in-law and her possessions into our household, and me transitioning my possessions and my full-time professor position from my office at SWAU to my garage and my new office and roles at UTA. I called off a visit to see my parents in Minnesota in July because the thought of the trip, on top of everything else, was making my anxiety worse.

When I started my semester at UTA in late August, the anxiety improved for awhile–I do better at work than at home–but as the semester wore on, life crowded in on me, like it did to my students, and I felt myself struggling to breathe. I couldn’t find much time to journal or talk to friends, much less my husband (though I did pray on a lot on my commute). I was physically sick for about half the semester, so I couldn’t exercise much. However, I made use of the resources available. Ransom Hall is right next to my office in  Carlisle Hall, so at mid-semester, I sought counseling (controlled crying and venting?) again. At the end of the semester, faced with another long break at home (I felt the anxiety coming), I sought again anxiety medication at the campus clinic.

Before Christmas, I made a playlist of anti-anxiety songs and played it over and over for a couple weeks. I saw a couple friends, but not as much as I would have liked (they’re mostly all busy moms, too). After a year and a half of crazy transitions and not seeing my family, I desperately wanted to escape to Minnesota, but failed to communicate to my family how important such a break was soon enough, and never made that trip. We did fly my little brother here for a visit, though, and his presence has been a comfort. And last week my dad happened to call me while I was having a panic attack, and, hearing my sobbing and hyperventilating over the phone (a quite unusual call for us), he planned a last-minute trip to Texas during the last few days of my break. I wish I could have communicated better, earlier, and less dramatically my needs to my family, but so be it. There is a lesson in this. I am still learning to communicate my needs to the close people around me in order to take care of my mental health. I am still a work in progress. But I have learned a lot, and I have a lot to share. Sharing uncomfortably personal things seems to be the ministry God has given me, in fact, and I embrace it gladly, happy that sharing my hurt can lead to someone else’s hope.

End of Confession

You don’t need a college education to improve in these areas (communication, mental health management, being supportive of others in their struggles). You just need a willingness to be honest with yourself and others, and a willingness to listen. If you feel like you need help in some basics of communication, you might benefit from a radio interview I had the privilege of doing this past October with Adventist Radio London on “Overcoming Depression.” Praise God that depression is no longer a part of my story!

Again, Happy New Year, friends! I’ll sign off this post the way I signed off my class last semester: good communication and good mental health to you!

*Providentially, this “topic cluster” was added to the First Year Writing folder just this year–just for me, it seems.

**All the trends I’ve noted in this paragraph also applied to a 25-person Research Writing class I taught last year at Southwestern Adventist University, a private Christian school. An interesting comparison.

Two a.m. Soul Cry: Finding Release Valves for the New Year, and Your Current Season

img_5269I didn’t write a Christmas letter or send out Christmas cards in 2019. I found that, at the end of the fall 2019 semester, I was too emotionally exhausted to do much of anything but cry. All semester I went to school/work to be a student/teacher, and I came straight home to be a mom/wife. That was my semester. Everything else got put to the side. This week, our family is decompressing and ringing in the New Year in a cabin in Arkansas. I am still trying to unwind from that crazy semester, as well as the crazy Christmas season. As well as just, well, life as we’ve known it for the past couple years.

I still don’t have words to express all the feelings I have about my personal life right now–except perhaps what I could only get out in some free verse in October. One night after coming home late from a night class, I couldn’t sleep, and a poem spilled across my notebook pages at 2 a.m. (This was unusual at this stage of life. My readers know I’m not a poet.) Perhaps what comes through in the poem is that I don’t know how to tend to some important relationships right now while also trying to stay mentally sound myself. I feel like, for the past few years, every six months or so we have had a huge life upheaval: two job losses, moving to a new state, a mom-dad role switch, the death of a parent, a parent added to the household, two new jobs, re-entry into graduate school…what have I missed? Anyway. stressful times.

My dad has a tradition of sending out an annual Christmas poem, and since I didn’t write any Christmas communications, I’ll dedicate my October poem to my dad, and to my mom, and to my brothers, Kyle and Caleb. All of these dear ones live at least a thousand miles away, and I have seen none of them for at least a year and a half. I also dedicate the poem to my good-humored husband, Buc. One needs a sense of humor at times like these. During stressful seasons we humans need some release valves like crying, talking with friends, writing poetry, or doing whatever leaves us with a little more peace. May you take your human and/or artistic license in 2020 and do whatever emotionally uplifting, nonviolent, non-destructive-to-relationships, and legal things you need to do to weather whatever season you’re going through. God bless you, Friends, and Happy New Year.


Showing Up
10/20/19

Sometimes life is about showing up
being present
hugging a screaming, inconsolable child
saying I love you or
praying with you
when, really, that’s all I can do.
I can’t fly over the ocean to you
or even across five states for you.
I can’t take my family, your grandsons,
to visit you.
I have nothing to give.
Nothing but wishes and prayers and a
heart full of emotions I can’t express.
Life just doesn’t cooperate.

The house is a mess.
And I have to go to work.
And I could work my life away,
forgetting to stop and sit with you.
Neglecting to sit and eat with you.
Not bothering to look you in the eye.
Just giving up trying to connect…
because connecting seems so hard.

Where do we go when we run out of
answers?
When Mom, Dad, Husband, Wife, and “Higher Education”
cease to fill us, delight us, comfort us?
And when, after a lifetime of reading and
school and straight A’s, we can’t learn
what we need to know, no matter how
much we study?
Only here. Crumpled in a chair at 2 a.m.,
heart racing, praying, knowing I don’t
know much of anything. But it’s okay.
He knows.
You know, God.
You know it’s going to be okay.
The world doesn’t rest on my shoulders–
it rests on yours.

And so.
I can breathe. I can sit. I can put
work away. I can leave that dust.
I can give up so many expectations
that never did anything for me
but strangle me.
What if Mom is not all put together?
(And I mean she, and I mean me.)
I’ll speak for myself and say
I’m a mess. Emotionally.
I can clean all day–clean my life away–
but what will that do if I alienate you?
I’m sorry, Family.

I see me now, or I’m starting to.
It’s not totally my fault. I didn’t make
this mess (completely). But neither did you.
It’s a long legacy, passed down to us from
our first mother, our first father.
We’re just the latest installation in a
forever-back line.
We were gifted the curse at birth.
And so we grow up nasty and defiant,
a collective screaming child. Rude, disrespectful,
selfish, self-centered “I’s.”
Our parents wounded us, though it’s the
last thing they wanted to do.
We grew up to do it, too.
We’re messy people, producing more messy people.
Heaven help us–Jesus help me.
For on my own, I can do no better than
live out this human legacy.
Human nature tells me to leave–
don’t stay the course–do what’s easy.
Emotions go cold–play mind games.
Get angry, bitter, blame him, blame her.
Don’t take responsibility.

But.
You came to change the story,
Jesus. You came here, by me–right
beside me, and us, in this mess.
You flowered in the fray–
a tender shoot from dry ground.
Unsupported, despised, rejected.
Unfairly treated, betrayed, and abandoned.
Abused, misused, and unfairly accused.
If anyone had the right to be angry,
it was you.

But what did you do?

You showed up.
You prayed, You pled, You loved, and You bled.
You cried and You prayed, even while betrayed.
You kept Your eyes on the skies and on
better days (One day
you will see me coming in the clouds,
You said.)
Still–You prayed and You pled, and You
loved, and You bled.
You didn’t turn cold or deny the pain–
You uttered this refrain:
God, if it is possible, take this cup from
Me. But if it’s not possible, Thy will
be done.
And God didn’t take the cup away, because
this suffering was Your mission.

And when they beat You and hit You,
kicked and spit at You–tore off
Your clothes and dressed You in robes,
nailed Your body to a tree,
You prayed,
Father, forgive them for they know not what
they do.

Oh, what those eyes could see.
Me. (And I mean you.)
How could I be so stupid?
Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Forgive me. I didn’t know what I was doing.
And I still don’t know what I’m doing, Lord.
And I don’t know how to fix it–
this pain in me and this pain around me–
And the pain inflicted on me, and the pain
I inflict on others.

But praise God.
I don’t have to know.
Because it’s not my job to know.
And it’s not my job to fix it.
You know, and it’s Your job.
That’s why You came and lived
and prayed, and pled, and loved, and bled,
and suffered, and died,
and rose again.

It’s 2 a.m. and the night is almost gone.
Day will rise, hope will rise, again.

And sometimes, like today,
life is just about showing up.
Being present.
Hugging a screaming, but consolable, child.
Saying I love you to my husband.
Sending I love you’s to my mom, my dad, and my brothers
(thousands of miles away).
Praying with a friend who’s with me now.
That’s all I can do.
And that’s all I have to do.


img_5270

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.

Home Again

texas
“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.

IMG_3373

 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

IMG_2914
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!)

IMG_3010.jpeg

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.

IMG_3088

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.)

IMG_3041.jpeg

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.

IMG_2962
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

anxiety 2
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.

Reconnecting with God as a Young Mom

IMG_2139It’s 5:30 a.m., and I lie in my “new bedroom,” the downstairs basement guest room, where I have finally found sanctuary from my kids’ night and early mornings wakings—where I have finally found rest. Buc is handling the kids for the next hour, should they wake or come into our bed (if not already there)—which means I have finally found the time. It’s time to reconnect with God.

But I lie there like a stone, debating. How to reconnect?

For three years, since my first was born, I have tried to reconnect with God. But most of my efforts have ended up incomplete, interrupted, and finally put aside when discouragement kicked in…or sleep deprivation.

I’m finally making up for lost sleep with our new arrangement…me sequestered away from the family between the hours of roughly 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. (I explained this in my last post.) But with my wits about me, I’ve identified other areas besides my spiritual life that need attention:

  • In the mornings, I almost never have breakfast ready, and I’m almost never dressed and ready myself. So we get off on a bad foot.
  • For the rest of the day, I haven’t planned enough activities to keep my kids out of trouble. Meaning, much of the day is stressful.
  • In short, I haven’t yet created a routine that works.

I’ve been addressing the morning readiness problem with my new living arrangement—getting my own sleep and beating the family out of bed—but I am still trying to fill a knowledge deficit in how to parent, or simply, how to do my job as a mom.

I am still trying to fill a knowledge deficit in how to parent, or simply, how to do my job as a mom.

With more sleep, I’ve been able to step back and realize every day doesn’t have to be so hard. There are resources out there. I can become a prepared and put-together mom (to a certain extent—there are always variables with little children). But it will take sacrifice. It will take preparation. It will take time and intention.

Anyway, all that to say, when I wake well-rested at 5:30 a.m. now (having gone to bed at roughly 9:30), it’s hard to connect with God. With one hour before I’m “on” as a mom, my mind is already spinning. More than likely, I don’t yet have a plan for the day to keep the kids engaged and to keep my home running smoothly. I wake with the immediate burden to get up and prepare activities and food for my children. (I didn’t do this the night prior because I was too busy getting a shower or finishing my dishes…you know, all the stuff that has to get done in a day.) But I know how dicey days can get when I don’t have something planned for the kids, and I want to prevent that.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33). I know the principle of putting God first. I know that when I do that, the day tends to go better. But I can’t focus. I can’t even decide where to open my Bible, which devotional book to read. It feels like I don’t have time. And even though I know I do, now, it’s so hard for me to focus on the Good Book, because it’s such a Big Book. I know the principle of eating an elephant one bite at a time; I know a lot can be accomplished in small chunks. But in this season, the words on the page swim.

Lord, this is creating so much anxiety. I fear opening your Word because I don’t know if I’ll find the right passage in the few minutes before “mom duty” kicks in…will it leave me empty? Will I be able to remember it through the day? This just isn’t working.

I used to write Scriptures on note cards, and I’ve tried that as a mom, but man, I just keep misplacing them. The cards are always in another spot where I can’t get to them; or I forget to look at them. That approach is just not working right now. Life is different now, with my kids. Lord, help me. I need you to simplify this for me.

 I know God doesn’t want me to feel anxiety over connecting with him. Yet I know He still wants to connect. And I know I need it.

It feels like these approaches I’ve tried need a break, and that’s something I’m figuring out with three-year-old Sam: sometimes when something isn’t working, or when something is making him too upset, I just need to get away from it. Give it a break. Try a completely different tack.

So, I do that. I am in a huge learning curve in my life, and I need my God time to be simple.

I am in a huge learning curve in my life, and I need my God time to be simple.

God, give me something simple, where I can still reconnect with you.

IMG_2136

As I make my morning coffee, look around my kitchen and living areas for an idea, He gives me something: Bible story books. I have three different sets of Bible storybooks sitting on our shelves that were given to us for Sam’s birth. We have tried reading them to him from time to time, but so far, they are still a little too advanced to keep his attention. They go back on the shelf until he’s a little older. One day I think he will really enjoy the pictures and stories.

But they’re not too advanced for me. I could read them for my God time. Yes!

 I need the Bible, but right now, I need fewer words, more pictures, simpler stories. I need something my spinning mind can easily attach to.

bedtime-storiesFor bedtime, we have been reading Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories to Sam, and Buc was amazed the other night when one story brought tears to my eyes. A children’s story made me cry! Why? It’s a little embarrassing. But I identified with the little girl in the story, Margaret, who had said very naughty things to her mother (I have said not-so-nice things to my family in my recent Mom Funk), and who then tearfully said a prayer of repentance with her big brother’s help.

Could children’s Bible stories speak to my heart? They already had. I put a hand on one of the series on the shelf and pulled out the first book in the set. It would only take a few minutes to read one story, maybe two. I could do that. I grabbed my coffee, opened the storybook, and settled in. With my new, doable reading goal, I would have plenty of time to reconnect with God before the rest of the family awoke…and maybe even get breakfast on the table, too.

IMG_2138

What I Wanted for Mother’s Day, Versus What I Got

IMG_2115
Disclaimer: I definitely want my two wonderful boys, Sam (3) and Seth (16 months). It’s the sometimes-harsh conditions of the job and the crazy emotions that go along with it that have me at my wit’s end some days.

I wanted a gold star, I suppose. Recognition for a job well done. I wanted black and white answers, adequate sleep, and my sanity. I wanted happily ever after in the here and now.

But on Mother’s Day I lay in bed feeling low, unable to post one positive thing about motherhood, or one cute picture of my kids (see end of this post for some cute pics). No one told me I was doing a good job, least of all the voices inside my own head. Instead, I lay there doubting that motherhood had yet brought out one good thing in me–and wondering if I was screwing up my kids because I couldn’t get it together. At three years in, I was sick in bed with a sore throat, unable to mother my kids well because of my pain–the physical pain symbolizing a deeper pain motherhood has brought. 

It’s the pain of realizing the pain of life isn’t over yet. Happy chapters may have concluded, they may have led us into new, hopeful beginnings…much like the picture of my life I presented at the end of my memoir, Ending the Pain. (I just want to say here that the editors chose this title. And I want to clarify that some pain did end for me. But not all pain.)

All my pain is not over–and all your pain is not over–because we are caught in a war, a great controversy, between Christ and Satan. And the happy endings that our culture–our movies, our books, our music–sell us are not the truth. Our ultimate happy ending is not to be found in the “perfect” mate, our darling children, a new job, or pursuing our passions. Our happy endings are to be found in Jesus, who is coming again one day to take us away from this sin-soiled world and wipe away all our tears. But that day is not here yet.

Oh, I have been disappointed so often in life, because I put my trust in the wrong things, the wrong people. I trusted in things and people.

When will I learn that I must trust in God for everything?

On Mother’s Day I needed comfort for all my fears, insecurities, and unknowns–and when my husband gave me time to rest, God led me back to three portions of Scripture I’d marked in my Bible (pre-kids, when I had more time to study the Bible) to strengthen my heart.

Psalm 91 was the first Scripture God gave me, for all the fear, loneliness, and fretful waking hours I’ve faced in motherhood: 

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.

If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”

(Psalm 91, NLT)

I wanted life to be smooth sailing when I became a mom. I wanted to have perfect children, predictable schedules, lots of sleep, and a yelling-free life. 

But that, obviously, is not what I have. I have two beautiful, healthy, wonderful boys, but they rarely act according to my ideas of how they should act.

With Sam in his terrible three’s, we are seeing new parenting struggles I never knew existed. Why would someone cry because I turned off the light? Why would he scream because I moved a rug? Why would the world come to an end because I just want him to eat pizza? (What kid doesn’t like pizza?) And then, why would he tantrum some more because I wiped his tears away and he wants me to “put them back”? Moreover, how do you get a three-year-old boy to keep his clothes on? And why, suddenly, won’t he sleep all night in his room? How is he raring to go by 5:30 or 6 a.m., when he doesn’t even nap? How can I possibly prepare myself to deal with him when he’s up till 8, in my bed through the night, and awake by 6? Lord, can I give him back?

Clearly, I’m struggling. I don’t know the answers to so many questions right now with my kids, mostly Sam. I know the phases are largely temporary, but man, will I even survive the phases before one of us gets killed? (possibly by me?)

The Bible says to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). But I’m so confused. I’ve tried everything I can think of: timeouts, loss of privileges, positive reinforcement, spankings, selective ignoring, you name it. And I still don’t get the results I want most of the time.

Hebrews 12:1-12, and James 1:2-4 are the the second and third Scriptures God gave me, to encourage me especially in the areas of motherhood and discipline and endurance.

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;[c] then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children?[d] He said,

“My child,[e] don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”[f]

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?[g]

10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees.

(Hebrews 12:1-12, NLT)

Hebrews says, “No discipline is pleasant while it’s happening.” And as I struggle to discipline my strong-willed three-year-old, I feel like the one God is disciplining. He is refining me, trying to scorch off the impurities through these trials. I want my three-year-old to have self-control. But I still lack it.

I got so angry at Sam a week after Mother’s Day that I threw his toy across the room and broke it. (It was a $1 water spray bottle, but still. I can’t believe I could act so childishly.)

While reflecting on all this, I remembered the words from the keynote speaker at the Texas retreat where I spoke over a month ago: of her young motherhood years, she said, “I grew up with my children.” Well, count me in that category, too. I still definitely have some growing up to do.

Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)

God’s Words says, essentially, Be glad for the trials/temptations, for when they have had their perfect work, you will be mature and complete.

“You’re not mature and complete. You’re not done yet, Lindsey,” God says to me through these verses.

But it hurts so much, Lord, it’s so hard, I cried out to God on my Mother’s Day sick bed. Oh, I need it to get better, Lord! I need this to get easier! I need to go back to work, Buc to stay home, something to change. 

“Oh really? Or do you just need to learn to trust me? Trust that, when you reach a breaking point, Buc will step in; or Janice will ring the doorbell; or the tantrum will somehow subside; or, if you must, you’ll throw the kids in the car and one of them will fall asleep; or, at the least, you’ll sit down on the couch and just cry with them, all three of you, and the moment will pass.” (All of these scenarios have played out in my life, by the way.)

No discipline is enjoyable while it’s happening.

It hurts, Lord. I guess I have a hard time trusting you. I have a hard time not knowing so much about how my day will play out, each and every day. It hurts.

I have to believe the best is yet to come. I do believe it. Just like I believe God when He says:

The terrors by night will not overcome you [by “terrors,” I wonder…does he mean small children who won’t sleep?]…my promises are your protection and strength.

I wanted this to be easy, and I wanted only the good parts that come with motherhood. Much like I wish my Christian life would play out.

But being a Christian doesn’t guarantee fun, ease, enjoyability. Momming is a lesson in Christianity. (I’ve blogged about this before.) “Submit, submit, submit,” I keep hearing God whisper to me. I must submit to the Refiner’s fire. So, I say, I pray: Mold me, Lord. Burn me if you have to. Burn away the dross. Mold me into the mom you want me to be.

I guess the refining process is heartily underway.

So, I didn’t get my gold star on Mother’s Day. I didn’t get any recognition for a job well done. I didn’t get black and white answers, didn’t get happily ever after in the here and now.

What I got is the loud and clear message to “Hold on!” It might not be easy, but God will protect me, strengthen me, uphold me, and one day he will complete (perfect, mature) me. I may not be doing the job well, right now, but the job’s not done, and neither am I.

I guess this is enough, for now…as long as I get adequate sleep and keep my sanity–my other two wishes for Mother’s Day.

This blog post is To Be Continued, because I haven’t gotten adequate sleep for a few months, and I’ve actually questioned my mental health. With these two things in the balance, some days seem utterly dark and unmanageable (the water-bottle-throwing day was one of them). In my next post, I will write about mommy mental health and what God is showing me so far about how I can manage my Larger than Little People’s emotions.

Mommy Is Angry (Thank God for Forgiveness!)

Sorry
Photo from Creative Commons

A common occurrence in my household recently has been me verbally exploding on my three-year-old and, shortly thereafter, asking his forgiveness. “Mommy is angry,” I explain, “because you hit your brother/didn’t obey me/yelled at me [fill in the blank]. But I should not have yelled like I did. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” Praise God that Sam always forgives me, and so does God.

Thank God for forgiveness!

Not until I became a parent did I realize quite how sinful I am—and how in need of forgiveness I am—from my family and from God. Now that I’m here, where I am squeezed all day long (no naps for Sam, sadly), I regularly lose my temper, act unlovingly, and do things I don’t want to do. I know exactly what the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 7. Unless I maintain a proactive connection with God, praying through the day and asking Jesus’ words and attitudes to replace my own, I’m in danger of exploding, nagging, criticizing—sinning—all the time. And every day, I do sin. Every day, I fail. I’m learning much more about God’s grace than I really wanted to know, because I am just so darn sinful. Thus, there’s no other way for me to function—to move past my guilt, to repair my relationships, to regain my peace—than to beg God’s, and my family’s, forgiveness.

Thank God for forgiveness!

I’m learning, begrudgingly, that all of my really close and important relationships—spouse, kids, God, parents—hinge on forgiveness. My forgiveness to them, and their forgiveness to me. That’s because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are not perfect, and we are all going to screw up, especially when we live together . Ever notice how the closest relationships are the ones that hurt the most? They are also the relationships that make life worth living. If we have any hope of salvaging them, we have to forgive (and pray to be forgiven).

As I work out my relationships with spouse and children at this stressful, “squeezing” stage of life, I am finally beginning to understand the gift of God’s forgiveness towards me. Where I once despaired in my relationship with God because I couldn’t get it right for even one day, I can now rejoice. You know why? It’s because of the forgiveness I have seen demonstrated in my own family.

I have now seen in flesh in blood, through my three-year-old, and through my husband of twelve years, that my relationships can grow despite daily screw-ups…as long as confession, forgiveness, and the intention toward improvement remain in operation. I can sin day after day, I can nag, criticize, and explode at these precious people—and yet, when I humble myself, confess my sins to them (and God), and communicate my intentions to do better, they forgive me, like God forgives me (1 John 1:9). They accept me, and they love me. Our relationships grow.

My family’s sweet forgiveness, like God’s forgiveness to the repentant sinner, makes me want to change. And I am changing. Slowly. It’s a journey. Changes in my relational life, like changes in the life of a new Christian, come in response to grace we’ve received. Forgiveness is not permission and license to keep sinning willfully. It is a free gift, undeserved, that should soften our hearts. The proper response for the well-intentioned Christian, the well-intentioned mother or spouse or brother, is to accept the gift and do better out of gratitude, and out of a desire to continue growing the relationship.

Unfortunately, because we are sinners living in a sinful world, we won’t always behave nicely (my kids or myself). But what we can do, when sin invades our lives, is to ask forgiveness, extend forgiveness, and start again. Again and again. And as parents, we can model this process for our children. As we extend forgiveness to our children and ask them to do the same for us, we will be teaching them the power of God’s love to redeem sinners and restore relationships. And we can show them that relationships still grow, even when we screw up. (Perhaps this is when they grow the most.)

Thank God for forgiveness, and thank God for growth!

Making Peace with My Father–The Story Behind the Story

Mag Cover.png

This month my Dad and I are featured in Outlook Magazine for the theme “Making Peace with your Family.” The story? Dad didn’t come to my wedding twelve years ago, and we both thought it was because the other one wanted it that way. We miscommunicated.

In the magazine you can read the story of how this miscommunication happened and what we did about it–a vow renewal ceremony this January–but here I want to share some behind-the-scenes tidbits and photos and sing the praises of the wonderful people who made this act of peacemaking possible.

The Story Begins

This vow renewal started as a simple pitch for a magazine article, but when Brenda Dickerson, Outlook editor, asked me for a photo to accompany the story–preferably one of Dad and me–wheels started turning in my head. Dad and I didn’t have any recent photos together, much less any magazine-worthy shots. What if I could get him to fly to Missouri (from Minnesota) to take some pictures?

dad-and-me-2

Over the course of forty-eight hours I mulled this over, and the idea got bigger and bigger. What if we posed in a church? Then, what if I wore my wedding dress? Finally, what if we just went all out and did a vow renewal ceremony and had Dad walk me down the aisle like he should have done twelve years ago?

I didn’t tell Dad about all these ideas at first, just said the magazine wanted to feature our story and would he come to Missouri to spend some time with his grandkids and take some pictures? He liked the idea, so we purchased a plane ticket. And when I pitched the idea of the vow renewal to Brenda, she was all for it.

So with four weeks until deadline, I began planning the wedding I’d never had. I emailed my pastor, a photographer, and other church friends–decorators, pianists, schedulers. The woman who didn’t want a wedding twelve years ago (and who didn’t plan a wedding then, either), was suddenly thrust into four weeks of wedding planning. Whew.

church-vow-renewal

Helping Hands Make Light Work

By God’s grace, I didn’t have to do a lot of the planning. My Missouri church family pitched in in ways I never could have expected. Pastor presented us with sample vow renewals, printed up invitations, and met with us to do a  run-through. Our friend James heartily agreed to take our photos. His wife and our friend Ana sang our song, “God Bless the Broken Road.” Another friend, Rebecca, took it upon herself to decorate the sanctuary and fellowship hall, which included begging, borrowing, and shopping for items like table decorations, pillars, and an arch. My friend and prayer partner Nancy was happy to play the piano for us; my other friend and prayer partner, Naomi, lent us her beautiful daughter, Sophia, for flower girl; and others pitched in with last minute details like childcare and dress zipping.

(Funny story: we couldn’t actually get my dress zipped up on the big day, so you’ll notice I am wearing a shawl in the pictures. Now that that’s over, I am happy to retire the dress for good. [I never want to get married again.] Rest in Peace, Dress.)

All that to say, it was no small task to throw together a wedding in four weeks–but my dear friends made it possible and more beautiful than anything I could have come up with on my own (even if I’d planned for a year!). So thank you, thank you, thank you, Friends, for your hard work and the love you showed. Our vow renewal not only healed hurting hearts, but it also showed me the love of Jesus. On the day we remarried, I can truly say I saw the body of Christ at work.

family-photo

Final Tidbits

Now, as far as Dad’s visit and the actual vow renewal, I’ll be honest: I enjoyed the visit more than the vow renewal. I learned that there are good reasons to plan a wedding and celebrate a marriage before having kids. For one, at your reception, you actually get to have your cake and eat it too (i.e., you are not trying to feed the baby, or keep him from touching your dress with spaghetti sauce). It’s hard to savor the moments of a wedding and reception when rounding up little children…but I digress.

There are good reasons to celebrate a marriage after kids, too. The vow renewal allowed Buc and me to recommit ourselves to each other at the most stressful time in our marriage yet (young parenthood). While planning the vow renewal did not bring out the best in us behavior-wise, it did show me that Buc is committed to me no matter what. And it gave me a chance to reflect on where I have erred as a wife and how I can do better. I took the renewal as a new start in our marriage, and just as we have beautiful photos to show for a stressful event, I can remember that God will leave us with joy and good memories after the hard times have passed.

On a final note to this story, I had a beautiful visit with my father, and outside of the big day, we did find some time to sit and savor each other’s company. These days, living so far apart, it’s rare for us to see each other, and we’ve missed lots of mundane, but precious moments that families were meant to share. Seeing my dad be “Grandpa” to his two grandsons–cuddling, roughhousing, and laughing with them–was worth every dollar we spent on the ceremony.

grandpa-and-kids

In life, it’s the little things, like “chips with Grandpa” and rides up and down the escalator, that really count. Well, and the big things, too. (To any non-marrieds out there, please make sure you clearly invite your family to your wedding–a do plan a wedding–because you will regret it later if you don’t). I am so thankful for the opportunity Outlook gave me to celebrate both types of moments with my Dad. It took us long enough, but we finally made some happy wedding memories–and lots of happy memories besides. Thank you, Lord, for your power to restore what was once lost.

 

 

Re-Wedding Pics

Photos by James Plumery

sam-bible-boysam-handoff-to-bucsophiadad-walking-me-down-aisleme-vowing-to-bucunity-candleseth-and-duckdad-watchingkiss

recessionalcake