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.

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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.

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

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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!)

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Hard Lessons (Heed the Signs)

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from Creative Commons

My life recently has been hard. But not because of hard circumstances. It’s been hard because I’ve made it hard.

 For the past six months, I was trying to do too much (story of my life), and my family suffered, and I suffered. I was always stressed. Couldn’t sit still with my kids. Always angry at Buc, always nagging, always criticizing. I got angry even if Buc joked with me or tried to be funny with his answers—and his sense of humor was one of the things that  attracted me to him in the first place!

“I don’t have time for jokes,” I’d snap, literally racing around the house trying to get it livable in time to win maybe fifteen minutes of reading time at the end of the day.

“I can’t take this anymore,” Buc told me one morning. “It’s got to stop. You’re driving yourself crazy. And you’re not nice. It’s not fun to be married to you. You finish the projects on your plate and don’t take on anymore, not until you can deal with what you’ve got.”

I was overloaded. Overtaxed. Strung out. And I wouldn’t admit it, until that sobering talk with my husband. That stressful morning, I finally admitted that the pace at which I’d been living was insupportable. And I admitted that it was time to accept a new reality. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but I knew it would involve letting go of a lifestyle that just wasn’t working.

Roots of Imbalance

If you’ll recall, we hired a part-time nanny last August so I could get some help with the kids and resume some writing/ministry projects. We hired her for fifteen hours a week, with the intent that I’d be gone for most of that time writing or doing other ministry related things; but when her other part-time family let her go (the child went to preschool), she needed more hours. So we gave her more hours. Some weeks it was around twenty-five, more often it was closer to twenty.

At first, I thought this was great. I felt incompetent at home, and my kids stressed me out; I felt like I wasn’t a very good mother anyway. So when I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat and co-write a book and pray with three women at my church and form those women into a prayer group last fall—things at which I felt much more competent—I thought life was falling into place swimmingly. We had money to pay the nanny; she wanted more hours; and I wanted to go do what I knew I was already good at. So, I started leaving the house. A lot.

During that period of six months, when I often left home, one-third of a book got written. Four talks, complete with powerpoints, were prepared and delivered in Florida at a women’s retreat.  And I got invited to do some similar things that are coming up this spring (a magazine cover story, a TV appearance, another women’s retreat). These were and are all great things. But, I discovered, they came at a high cost to my family.

Although I believe God has given me a writing/speaking ministry, I started to sense I wasn’t getting the balance with my home life right. And the more stressed I got, the more I sensed I was using the good work/ministry as an excuse to run away from my first work—my family.

Signs Something Was Wrong

The first sign that something was wrong was that Buc and I couldn’t stop arguing about housework. I’d hired the nanny to watch the kids, not do housework, and when I started leaving the house more, more domestic things went undone—piling up for me at the end of every day, leaving me perpetually exhausted and resentful. I thought Buc should be happy to help me pick up the slack in the name of the good work I was doing. He thought otherwise; he’d hired the nanny to make his life easier, too, and that shouldn’t include more housework for him.

Another sign was Sam’s attachment problems. Shortly after I started leaving the house to go to “work,” Sam gave up touching me. He wouldn’t let me touch or kiss him for a couple months. But in other ways he became clingier. Where I’d previously been able to put him down to bed, no problems, now he screamed and cried when I left, as if scared I was abandoning him. I started staying in his bedroom until he fell asleep every night just to avoid these heart-wrenching scenes.

Beyond that, the nanny setup wasn’t training Sam to be self-contained—wasn’t training him to amuse himself while I got house things done during Seth’s naps. No, having the nanny to play with all day made him clingier to me. But it’s not realistic for a mom to play with her kids all day.

When the no-touching phase ended (after I made a concerted effort to sit and have more quiet times with Sam), he swung the other way and clung even tighter. He’d learned to expect that I was always leaving the house—so he started keeping tight reigns on me when I was home. And I’d let him, because I felt guilty for being away. He also started waking and coming into our bed in the middle of the night, possibly because he didn’t get enough mom time in the day. And then I resented him because I couldn’t get a moment to breath on my own.

As for Seth? He didn’t suffer as much as Sam, because he napped away much of my absent time. But because I felt guilty for being gone, I indulged him more than I should have. As he neared one year of age, I kept getting up with him in the night when he’d mutter, whimper, make little noises, even though he really didn’t need me to. Buc said I’d let him work it out himself when I couldn’t take it anymore, and finally a couple weeks ago, after our nanny quit (read on), I turned off the monitor (our room is next to his, so any loud crying I can still hear). I didn’t hear him at all that night. Or the next. Better sleep is mine.

But, for too long I was needlessly wearing myself out.

The worst part of the past few months was the stress on my marriage. It felt like there was no tenderness anymore, only rough edges. And that’s because I had not allowed time for tender moments. In order to keep up with my brimming agenda, I had to keep moving at all times—had to keep busy, had to keep on task. And those are not good conditions for growing love and affection. It was another hard lesson, of many. Thankfully, now that I’m heeding the warning signs, things are looking up.

Learning my Lessons

Our nanny quit recently,* and though I greatly admire and respect her, it was actually a relief. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe hiring help was the right thing to do. Back in August, I was a new mom of two without family nearby who felt overwhelmed and needed help. And I would still give the advice to “Get Help” to other new moms. But make sure it’s the right kind of help, and in the right amount.

Over the past six months, I discovered that what is most valuable to my family right now is not twenty hours of babysitting a week, but several hours of housecleaning a month (so I can be with my kids more) and one or two babysitting sessions each week to get my other things done.

I didn’t know, when I hired my nanny, what kind of help I most needed, so I didn’t set up expectations and schedules in the way that would most benefit my family. After our recent hard lessons, though, I am able to make much wiser decisions when it comes to hiring help for my family. And I have a happy update about this.

If you’ll also recall, we hired a cleaning lady last summer to clean twice a month. Well, after the nanny quit, I knew I would probably need some kind of babysitting to replace a little of what I’d lost (still no grandparents here in Missouri). My biggest problem was I didn’t want to introduce a new person into my kids’ lives after Sam’s separation issues. I mentioned to my cleaning lady that the nanny had quit, and what do you know? In addition to cleaning houses, she also nannies, and she offered to spot me one or two sessions per week of babysitting, fitting it around the cleaning schedule. Best part? My kids love her. And bonus: she’s one of my readers; she understands my non-housework “work,” and she wants to help me continue it (in the appropriate balance, of course). I am so thankful for God providing Janice right from under my nose! Thanks, Janice, for stepping in!

Parting Lessons (Heed the Signs)

I wish I would learn earlier the lessons God is trying to teach me. I wish I would heed the signs that life is spinning out of control before I come unglued. Unfortunately, I don’t often “get it” until I break down, or wear out, or get to the end of my rope. That’s when I finally seek God and really listen to my husband’s assessment of my current crazy; that’s when I’m open to change.

Now that I’ve gotten really honest and admitted these hard lessons (i.e., my mistakes), I hope I have encouraged you to learn your lessons sooner than I did. To heed the signs. And what are the signs? If you find yourself knocking your head against a wall every day and night, if you easily explode at your family and have no reserves of peace (and no time to build up those reserves), if you are running on empty and the pace of life seems insupportable and just too hard…then it is. I encourage you to admit the broken pattern and do something about it.

When You Know Something Needs to Change But Don’t Know What

If you realize that something needs to change but don’t know what it is, spend some time in prayer asking God what your first steps should be. (Prayer is always a great first step.) If you are having a prayer block, which can happen when we are too busy and strung out to sit still and listen to God, start by asking some godly friends or family members for their take on what needs to change; perhaps they can spot the problem you can’t, and get you back on the right track, as Buc did for me.

May God help us all to heed the signs when life not going as it should (and when we have power to do something about it). The quicker we are to obey God, the faster we will be to learn his lessons, and they won’t have to be so hard. May he help us to listen to his good and perfect plan and be obedient to live it out.

(Psalm 119 is a beautiful chapter about getting our priorities straight; I encourage you to read it in full. For now, below are a few of my favorite verses.)

“Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts….Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your principles! Then I will not be disgraced when I compare my life with your commands. When I learn you righteous laws, I will thank you by living as I should. I will obey your principles. Please don’t give up on me….If you will help me, I will run to follow your commands.” (Psalm 119:2, 5-8, 32, NLT)

“Before I was afflicted I went astray. But now have I kept they word.” (Psalm 119:67, NKJ)

“The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles….I will never forget your commandments, for you have used them to restore my joy and health.” (Psalm 119:71, 93)

*We traveled too much, our nanny said, and she needed more regular income. When a full-time family came along, she took a position that fit her needs better. I am glad for the time she gave us and for what I learned from her. I am also glad that now we’ve both found situations to better fit our needs.

Is it Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning? (How to Know, and What to Do)

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New babies can bring the biggest thrills and blessings of our lives…as well as the most stressful periods we’ve ever faced. Here are my biggest blessings: Sam (2 1/2) and Seth (6 months)

Last February I gave birth twice: I delivered my second son, Seth, and I published a memoir on “overcoming depression.” This double blessing felt awesome…until four months later when I found myself drowning—in babies, book messages, babysitting jobs, and ministry engagements—hiding from the kids in my bedroom and texting my husband, “I can’t do it anymore! It’s just too much! I need to escape from life!”

Do I have postpartum depression? I wondered, aghast at the thought. What would my readers say? I didn’t really think it was depression, because unlike in my former, suicidal state, I didn’t want to escape life itself as much as I just wanted to escape my messy house. But if it wasn’t PPD, what was I to make of my regular exhaustion, tears, and adult tantrums? For the sake of myself, my family, and my readers (who wanted to know overcoming depression was possible), I knew I had better figure out what was going on, and fast.

When We Can’t See What’s in Front of Us…We Might Be Drowning

I didn’t figure it out right away.

My good intentions to pray into my problems got buried in a busy summer of business trips with the hubby and daycare for four kids—my baby and toddler, plus a 7- and 11-year-old from our church. Added to these disruptions in sleep schedules and household routines, I was fielding new questions and calls from sincere book readers who deserved sincere responses, as well as returning to the time-intensive prayer ministry I’d facilitated pre babies.

I didn’t realize it, but little by little, the demands of my beautiful life, lively kids (plus two), and lovely readers had been drowning me. To the point where I was tired all the time. Drinking too much coffee. Unable to get literal rest, or the spiritual rest of prayer and Bible study that had once brought healing from my decade of pre-partum depression.

After a few too many blowups at my husband, one July night I took said hubby’s advice and made a thorough inventory of my bursting life—and I finally realized my problem. It wasn’t postpartum depression. It was postpartum drowning. (“I could’ve told you that,” Hubby said. “I did tell you that.” Oops.)

So now I knew what my problem was. And I was on the road to fixing it. But if you’re not sure, maybe you can do what I did to figure out if you’re depressed…or drowning.

 Do You Have Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning?

First, I took a hard look at what was going on in my life, and what moods or emotions I was experiencing. Next, I did some research on the symptoms of PPD. Finally, I asked myself: Is what I’m experiencing in the realm of normal for a new mom, or is it in the extreme? Once I’d asked and answered these questions, I knew how to proceed, and you can too.

According to mayoclinic.com, if you have PPD, you have a depressed mood or severe mood swings, excessive crying, fatigue, energy loss, intense irritability, and anger. You also find it difficult to bond with your baby, you withdraw from family and friends, and you eat too little (or too much). You aren’t interested in, or don’t enjoy, activities you used to enjoy; you have severe anxiety or panic attacks; and you have recurring thoughts of harming your baby or yourself.

If I had looked at these symptoms in isolation, I might have falsely concluded I had PPD, because some of them described what I was going through. But because I looked at these symptoms along with my situation, it seemed pretty clear that my problems were tied to normal mom stuff, not necessarily PPD.

While my fatigue, irritability, and anger were common to PPD, they were also natural results of being a mom of littles: namely, I had choppy sleep due to baby wakings, and I had poor nutrition because I didn’t have time to cook very good meals, or helping hands to allow me to eat what I cooked.

In contrast to the various “losses” the medical description gave (loss of appetite, loss of interest, loss of friends), I realized I just wanted to be able to enjoy those things I already enjoyed even more. Instead of losing my appetite, I wanted to find time to eat. Instead of inability to sleep or sleeping too much, I just wanted to sleep a normal 8 hours, for crying out loud. Instead of difficulty bonding with my baby, I wished I had some extra hands around so that I could bond (instead of hurtling like a crazy woman between my toddler and my baby). Instead of reduced interest in activities I used to enjoy, I just wished—for the love of God—that I could get away and do my pleasurable activities (visit a coffee shop, write, exercise).

As for the more severe symptoms, I didn’t want to kill myself or my kids, I wanted to live my best life and help them lives theirs. Admittedly, I wanted to live life a little more the way I remembered it before babies, but the important thing here is that I had desire for life, a passion for my kids, and a passionate desire to live my life and raise my kids well.

So I concluded I did not suffer from postpartum depression, but rather postpartum drowning. I wasn’t depressed in the giving up sense; I was simply unhappy because taking care of my baby, toddler, and two more kids—plus the handful of women I was mentoring through prayer ministry—left no room or energy on my plate to do those things that had previously saved me and made life enjoyable. (It’s worth noting that I felt the negative feelings dissipate whenever I could get a babysitter for an hour or two to write, bathe, or eat a full meal.)

The crux of my postpartum problem, then, was this: I didn’t have enough hands. I didn’t have enough hands to both carry (care for) my kids and also tread the waters of my own (perfectly normal) postpartum emotions. At this point, it was obvious that I was drowning, and it finally became obvious what I needed to do.

What to Do if You’re Drowning (or Depressed)

Whether you are a depressed or drowning postpartum mom, first and foremost you need to Get Help. And I don’t mean mental help. I mean physical help. You need someone who can hold and feed your babies for a few hours, or clean your house, or cook, or do whatever, so you can do what you need to do to get healthy.

For me, getting healthy entails writing. As I learned during my pre-mom depression recovery, writing not only helped me cope with life, but it also gave me deeper life satisfaction, because I was good at it…and I realized God was calling me to bless others with it. And I bet you have something you do that helps you cope, brings deep satisfaction, and possibly helps others, too. But if we don’t have time to write, or do whatever it is that gets us “healthy” (as we usually don’t during the crazy postpartum period), then it’s no use.

First, we must get help.

So, as my summer babysitting job wound to a close, I searched for a part-time nanny to hold down the fort so I could go write for a few hours a week. And (cringe), while I’m being honest, I also hired a cleaning lady twice a month.

Before you slam down your computer in disgust—because who can afford to hire a cleaning lady? much less a part-time nanny?—hear me out.

First, I know. I know I am extremely lucky to be able to afford this. Many moms can’t. Which is where I say use the resources you have. Some of us have family nearby who can babysit, or friends with whom we can trade services for babysitting. I don’t. My closest family members are 500 odd miles away, and I’m still new to this area and meeting other moms.

What I do have is a husband with a good career, a little mad money from babysitting, and some modest earnings from a book. So I have chosen to use my resources to get the help I need. And I’m trying not to feel bad about it. (Despite that friend on Facebook who pooh-poohed my “need” for help because I am a stay-at-home-mom.)

Second, if you face naysayers who say hiring help as a SAHM is too indulgent, or too much “pampering” of oneself (or if you feel that way, yourself), consider two things:

One: Are you sure you really can’t afford it? As my new nanny, Paula (how I love her), says, “A lot of people who think they can’t afford this actually could afford it…if they made it a priority. The question is: what else are you willing to give up?” A good point.

And two: Is hiring help actually spoiling yourself, or is it just helping you take care of yourself in a necessary way? After deferring my mental and emotional needs in my pre-mom life…to the point of attempted suicide and bulimia, I’m choosing to take myself, and my self-care, pretty seriously. If you have a history of depression, are depression prone, or more sensitive than the average woman, you should too.

If you identify more with the depressed version of myself I just relayed, I can certainly give you the advice that helped me in my pre-partum depression days, and which I wrote about in my memoir:

  • Form new and better habits.
  • Read and memorize Scripture.
  • Pray to Jesus, who understands everything we’ve gone through.
  • Spend quiet time in prayer and ask God to show you his blessings—then ask him what your barriers are.*

But if you are depressed and also a postpartum mom—which I was not when I took all that good advice—then you still need to get help…because no matter whether we have depression or not, all postpartum moms are drowning—drowning in armloads of babies, dishes, and laundry (and other stuff) that we need someone to take care of before we can take care of ourselves.

Which brings me to my final point…

If You Only Read One Section in this Article, Read This:

If hiring help is what it takes to get you the relief you need—to keep you sane and functional—It’s not indulgent. It’s necessary.

So, go forth, Gentle Mom…

(Drowning Mom),

(Depressed Mom),

(Angry…Weepy…Raging Mom):

Be kind to yourself.

Take my advice.

And Get Help!!!

 

*Read my memoir Ending the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression for more details.

 

Growing Experiences We Don’t Want

Right now I’m going through a growing experience I don’t want, and I haven’t blogged about it because I’m struggling to talk positively about it. “I don’t want this situation,” I keep thinking, keep telling my husband and God, but so far no rope ladder has dropped from the sky to rescue me. What does an inspirational writer who writes about her own life say in such a situation? Just this: I don’t want this, but ultimately it will be good for me, because in order to survive, I have to grow.

What is this situation that has me spouting negativity from my first waking moments these days?

Outwardly, it’s embarrassingly mundane.

I’m in Texas again for a two-week business trip, sharing a house that puts my husband and me in separate beds, each in a room with one of our children (FYI, Sam is 2 1/2, and Seth is 4 months). Outwardly, I don’t have my vehicle here to jaunt off when I want; I don’t have my own stuff around me, I don’t have the baby equipment that makes life with a four-month-old a little easier. Outwardly, I’m doing a tricky, recurring trip with two kids instead of one, we’re out of our routine, and I’m getting less sleep. Outwardly.

I want to say the situation is outside of me.

But after all that I’ve learned about roots (our negative thoughts and feelings, which lead to our behaviors–and which rear their ugly heads when we are put upon or pressed), I know the situation is deeper than that.

My Roots

The real situation has to do with a woman who loses it when things don’t go her way.

The ugly, inward situation is a woman who wants to be in control realizing, blatantly, painfully, that she can’t be.

And yes, if you’ve read my book, this should be a lesson I’ve already learned. It’s in part 3 of my book, where I relinquished (some) control of my life’s plans, deciding to “just stay home and write, and have some kids” instead of pursuing a PhD and job security (which I then viewed as Life Security). Well, here I am. At home (but not at home for these two weeks)…with my kids…writing (very sporadically)…and realizing I still have a lot of control to give up to God.

Guys, internally, I’m a mess right now.

I’m facing the fact that when I said I wanted to stay home and write and have some kids, I wanted those things on my terms–impossible terms that no parent gets, unless they are rich and famous and can afford around-the-clock help. I didn’t want to stay at home and, I guess, actually parent 24/7. And I sure didn’t want to keep having to readjust things I’d already figured out for these annoying, recurring, every-two-month trips that always throw us out of our pattern. Especially when there’s a baby afoot.

But guess what? This is the outward situation right now. And it’s here, I think, to expose the inward situation. The woman inside me.

My Rope Ladder?

Brief pause here. A month ago, I thought maybe my rope ladder had dropped. An old professor from my alma mater contacted me to tell me about an opening in the English department here in Texas; he wanted me to apply; he gave me reason to hope. The month before that, I’d been struggling just to “woman” the home back in Missouri with my own two kids, and then with two more whom I’m babysitting for the summer. I’d been feeling like a failure, a bad SAHM, a woman who wasn’t meant to stay home. Was this job my green light to move back to Texas–to the helping arms of family–and to go back to “work,” where the work seemed so much easier?

I waffled back and forth, thinking maybe this could be a good thing. I submitted my resume and we prayed that God would open or close the appropriate doors.

In the past month, I also read Dr. Laura’s book In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms (one of many books I checked out about all types of moms and work situations). Dr. Laura makes a convincing case for staying at home with one’s kids, and she uses a lot of the same arguments I used before living the difficulty of staying home with kids. Long explanation short, I felt increasingly convicted over the past month that staying home was and still is the right thing for me to do in this season of life.

And then, as if to punctuate my findings, I didn’t get the job. Door closed, prayer answered.

So here I remain, at home (yet not at home), in this (on some sleep-deprived days) excruciating growing experience. This past month of pondering going back to work has taught me I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere other than at home with my kids (most days). It is the best job I could have, I have to agree with Dr. Laura. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean I always want it; it doesn’t mean I want to talk positively about it, or even find it within myself to do so.

So how do I wrap up this post on a positive note?

I guess this: God doesn’t always ask us to like our mission on earth (think of Jonah in Nineveh, think of Jesus in the Garden); he just asks us to accept it. So no, I don’t like this situation–being not-at-home in Texas, and, at the root of it all, being never-in-control of my life–but I am trying to accept it. I am trying to accept that I need to grow, and I need to let go of control, and maybe this is the best way God could design for me to do that.

Lord, help me to remember that you are in control, you know best, and you have my back. So I will praise you, Lord, even though I don’t feel like it. I praise you for what you can see and I can’t; I praise you for the work you are doing in me and in my family right now. May my words and thoughts center on you today, my hope and my salvation.