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!
I recently recorded a TV interview with 3 Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN), and it was turning point for me, a non-TV watcher. For a long time I’ve denigrated TV and avoided it, but as I prepared for my interview, watching the program I was going to appear on, something interesting happened: I realized that Christian programming was filling two important needs for me: One, spiritual uplifting, and two, human contact.
I also realized, like never before, what an important role Christian TV and radio fill at large. As a lifelong writer and reader, I’ve always favored getting my dose of God—and relaxation, and entertainment—through books. But now that I am a mom of small children, AKA a woman who doesn’t get out much, I find myself craving human contact via sights, sounds, faces, and voices—things I don’t find in a book. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m committing to watch more TV these days…and maybe you should, too.
Please don’t take this as permission to just switch on the TV and zone out. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about watching uplifting, positive programs and filling a void in your life, or bridging a gap, that pertains to family and spiritual life.
In my case, I don’t have family living nearby to just drop in on me and my little ones—and one-year-old nap schedules and three-year-old temperaments make it hard to go out sometimes. So I don’t see other adults much. Additionally, I’m finding it hard to read my Bible and pray like I used to (since the babies)…so I have some voids.
Put another way, it feels hard, sometimes impossible, to build and sustain non-immediate family relationships right now (including with God), with the kids so needy and my energy and waking hours so spoken for. Yet it’s a time when I could really use relationships (and God’s Word) to encourage me and lift my burdens. I need to be around other humans, or at least hear their voices and see their faces through some medium, to remember that my perspective isn’t definitive, and I don’t have an endless supply of hope and joy to draw on. I speak a lot of uplifting things to others (including my kids), but sometimes, I need to hear others speak words of life to me. But when you’re stuck at home, how?
I didn’t quite know how to bridge this gap, until I started watching 3ABN two weeks ago…and discovered TV really does deserve a place in my schedule. At least for now.
Later, of course, when the children are older and it doesn’t hurt my trust levels with them, I need to get back in the saddle of courting friends and social circles and Bible studies and prayer groups—things I love and desperately miss. But for now, flesh and blood human contact is sparse, and I need to bridge the gap. Thanks, 3ABN, and all the Christian TV and radio programs that fill such an important void for so many. I’m honored that this nearsighted writer was able to participate in creating some God-centered TV programming, and I’m tickled that God used my witnessing assignment to witness to me!
If you feel a spiritual void in your life, or a need for human contact, I hope you’ll tune in to some kind of Christian programming that can uplift you. While it’s not a substitute for a relationship with God or anyone else, it can help bridge the gap when we’re literally stuck at home or stuck in a rut spiritually. Happy TV watching!
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.
I sat in the bathroom last Sunday sobbing. The words I feel so alone and abandoned throbbed in my heart.
Buc was leaving that morning. I’d known it was coming, but it wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. He was supposed to stay with me for at least half the day before leaving for his eight-day trip to Texas. Instead, he’d woken up worried about a rumored buyout in his company, saying he had to get on the road by 8 a.m.
Don’t leave me! My mind screamed, and I’d frowned at him and wrung my hands and then run to the bathroom. Don’t leave me all alone with our two small children.
It felt, at that moment, like the worst thing in the world to be left alone, although I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly to this planned business trip.
Maybe it was because, for the past week, worried about the buyout, he’d already been gone—mentally. Maybe it was because I already felt like I was failing as a mother, even with him here. What was I going to do with him gone?
Maybe it’s because I have a negative root* in my heart, I finally thought, and asked God to talk to me about it.
Roots of Abandonment
No doubt my reaction of abandonment stems from roots laid early in life, when my mom left our family to start another, and when my shattered family left me without a safe place to call home. Those roots don’t go away very easily, I’m finding, as I tie other behaviors in my current life to fears of abandonment and aloneness. (Who knew I drank coffee because I don’t want to be alone? Because I just want to have a tangible comfort available to me at all times?)
Silly as it may sound, it came as news to me that I—an authority on “ending pain”—still suffer from a fear of abandonment.
It is humbling, being attacked head-on by an old fear I thought was gone. It is a call to pay attention: pay attention to the beliefs in my heart, and pay attention to the Author of my soul, who can right any wrong beliefs.
Over the last five years, I have learned that I am never alone; God is with me, and he even provides the human support and support systems to help me where I lack. I believe this with every breath of my body. And I am so relieved to have met my Lord and Suffering Messiah, Jesus, who also suffered being alone and abandoned in his time of need so he could identify with me. Now that I have re-realized the roots of some of my behaviors (fear of abandonment and being alone), I can pray through them, and I can connect my story to Jesus’ story, and ask him for his strength when I feel alone and abandoned.
This doesn’t mean the sense of aloneness and abandonment will ever, completely, go away on this earth. It does mean I can trust Jesus to comfort me in my heart, and I can also ask him for wisdom to get help in the physical world when I need it.
Seeking and Accepting Help
So I poured out my heart to Jesus sitting on my toilet last Sunday, telling him I didn’t want to be alone for the next week, that it felt like more than I could bear.
I sat and cried and prayed a good while, until Buc knocked on the door. “Are you alright?”
“No,” I sobbed. Not yet. “But don’t come in, I’m using the bathroom.” (With two little kids, you have to use every available opportunity.) Still waiting on you, Lord.
Then, a crazy idea sprang up. What if I went with him? This, despite my vow four months ago, the last time we did a family business trip, that I would not subject my kids and myself to the craziness of traveling so far away, for so long, again, if I didn’t have to.
If I went, sure, we might mess up the kids’ sleep schedules again. There might be hours of crying in the car. I’d lose a week of writing time to travel. These things were certain. And I might go a little nuts at my in-laws’ house for a week.
But then again, I might not.
And if I went, I wouldn’t have to be alone.
I wouldn’t have to be alone.
That settled it.
My writing and house projects could wait, as could our week’s planned menu and errands. As long as I could have help with the most difficult part of my life (my parenting), I would forgo my happy writing plans and comfortable kid setup at home.
I was a little annoyed remembering how many times my plans had been stalled over the past two years for these family business trips; but the state of my mental health told me that going with my husband was the most important thing right now. And so I write this blog post from a hotel room after our life’s latest interruption.
Tomorrow I will head back home to resume my Writer plans and projects, namely preparing four talks for a women’s retreat this month and a new book I am co-writing (more on that later)– AKA, the professional parts of my life, or the parts of my life where I feel most comfortable and polished and put-together. Strangely, I haven’t written anything about these projects on this blog since beginning them because it has taken every ounce of energy I have, after mothering and wifing, to do them. It has been hard juggling all of these parts of life–so hard that I don’t know what I have left to offer blog readers.
Maybe this admission is enough (and I guess I felt that it was worth posting): that I am still struggling with bad roots. They still strangle me at times. But I am still trusting God, and by His grace, I continue to take the next breath.
By the next time I post, I will have spoken to a large group of women four times at an inspirational women’s retreat. Please pray for me as I prepare for this exciting, yet intimidating errand for God. I look forward to seeing him show up yet again in my messy life!
*On this blog, I use “root” to refer to a negative past event or lie from Satan.
Something frustrating/painful/paradoxical about writing books about your life is that storylines you had sewn up at book’s end can, and do, unravel in real life. I’m dealing with that now.
My memoir is sewn up, edited, on its way to press…as far as paper and ink go…but in real life, this one thread of my story is refusing to stay put. That thread is a “character” in my book, a family member, whom I left at a good spot–and whose relationship with me ended in a good spot. But now the relationship…the character…it’s all just unraveling. And I am crushed.
That’s the thing about a happy ending in a work of non-fiction. Unlike the ending of a novel, the story can change. Happy can turn to sad, resolved to unresolved.
It’s times like these when I can start to wonder, Why did I even bother? Why did I go to the trouble to try to organize and understand and “sew up” my story? Happy endings in real life can’t really be sewn up anyway…can they?
I wrote a book about overcoming depression. About moving past family dysfunction. About finding joy and new starts in the sinful, yet beautiful world around me.
And now this piece of my conclusion is unraveling, a piece of my life that originally caused much of my depression, contributed to my family’s dysfunction, and seemed to suggest that life would never–could never–change for the better.
What does that mean for my book, and for me? Does it mean that I am a fraud, my book a farce? Does this make my message of “new life” a bunch of baloney? Does it mean that depression can’t be overcome? That dysfunction can’t be left behind? That joy can’t be found?
If I give in to my gut reaction (this is terrible!), if I listen to my heart (I’m so sad, I feel so depressed), or if I trust the words Satan whispers in my ear (why get up today? Look at the junk I have to face…), then I can easily jump to those conclusions.
But if I remember the most important storyline of my book–the real message–then hope revives.
My Reasons for Hope
One of my favorite chapters in my book is my chapter called “Rebirth,” where, amidst the backdrop of this same thread unraveling that I’m currently blogging about (it’s been a recurring, unraveling thread in my life story, you see), I begin the habit of daily prayer, Bible reading, and Bible memorization. As I learn, my attitude, my mood, and my inner peace (or lack thereof) do not have to be determined by my outwardcircumstances. After three weeks of me meditating on God’s promises, that stubborn thread remains as stubborn as ever…but I have experienced a genuine heart transformation: after ten-plus years of depression, I no longer feel depressed!
And that is the overarching thread in my story–that we can learn to hear and operate in God’s truth even when Satan is attacking us with his fiery darts; we can embrace a new life on the inside even when lifeon the outside hurts.
Beyond that, if we are faithful to God, he promises that one day we can have a new life not only on the inside, but also on the outside. The Bible says that if we believe in Jesus and give our lives and hearts to him, these sad stories down here are not our final stories. One day Jesus will “wipe away every tear”; in other words, he will sew up our stories for good and lay to rest those stubborn threads that keep tripping us up and pulling us down.
These truths are narrative threads that can never unravel.
Sometimes hearing these truths don’t help much. Sometimes these Bible promises, if spoken lightly and out of context, seem like an insensitive slap in the face of our very real, very present pain. And that’s exactly why, I maintain, we need the sad stories along with the Bible promises.
My story of overcoming depression, moving on from dysfunction, is not a farce, and I am not a fake. The fact that one of my threads has unraveled again, again causing me much pain, is not a reason to hide my past story of suffering and overcoming; it is a reason to celebrate it. My story Ending the Pain has become a precious record of the Lord’s intervention at a desperate time, and now I can reread it to find hope for the present and future.
If I had not written the story, I might be tempted to forget that the Lord works in wonderful and mysterious ways even when, especially when, the threads of our lives seem to be unraveling.
Here on planet earth, until it becomes the New Earth, threads unravel all the time; things fall apart. So let’s not to forget to celebrate those strong, unbreakable cords of love that have held us together in the past…and that can hold us together today and tomorrow, no matter what falls apart around us.
“When do you feel closest to God?” my pastor asked the congregation this Saturday.
I sat surrounded by toys; spilled popcorn; and my son, Sam, in a back pew reserved for parents with small children. Not now, sprang to my mind. Not as a young mother.
But upon deeper reflection, the pastor also mentioned that to follow Jesus meant to sacrifice everything…to bear your cross…to put others first.
I guess I feel like that…but in service to my kid. To parent babies and young children is to (temporarily) give up things, to sacrifice needs and wants, to bear a cross. A sweet new friend at church who sat with me at lunch said, after I told her I felt I was doing “nothing” in ministry right now, that ministry was “exactly” what I was doing.
So why is it so hard to see motherhood as a work for Christ (at least at this stage)? And why doesn’t it automatically make us feel “close to God”?
Any young mom knows the answer. It’s the “surrounded by toys” thing. The “spilled popcorn” thing. The thing about always being distracted, always making sure your kid doesn’t hurt himself, he has enough to eat, he’s not getting into trouble, or he’s getting consequences for the trouble he caused.
Did I mention the exhaustion?
Then, there is the fear. Fear that there might not be a reward at the end of the road. When they grow up, my kids could write me off, or write off God, or just get too busy for me. And there is the lack of immediate rewards. At least when I serve in church, someone else sees it. But if my kids don’t turn out right, who will ever know about all the effort I’m putting into them right now?
It’s times like these when I have to remember that motherhood is a walk of faith, much like the Christian walk. Much like being a Christian, being a parent is not easy, and it comes with no guarantees for health or prosperity…down here. But if we remain faithful in both walks, there are eternal rewards, and even temporal benefits.
Both walks, if undertaken with a right spirit, lead to self-discipline, self-denial, and the healthier life choices we make when we decide to live for something bigger than ourselves. We continually experience difficulties, but as Rachel Jankovic put it in Loving the Little Years, a new sin or challenge in our kids (and I would add, in ourselves) means they (and we) have moved on from the last one.
And then there is the joy of reaching God’s standards. How good it feels when we have labored over our kids (or ourselves), prayed over them , trained them as best we can, and they “get it.”
I experienced this very joy sitting in the same service that spurred this post…because it was the second week Sam sat all the way through church. Praise God! As with other milestones he has passed, I prayed for this, labored for this, began training Sam each morning to sit while we sang Bible songs and prayed. And the work was/is hard. But the rewards are worth it!
This weekend’s reward reminded me that even when I don’t feel close to God, as long as I am faithful to him, I can take courage that I living out his purpose for me.
Dear Lord, help me to be faithful to the children you have given me, and faithful to my Christian walk, even when I don’t feel you close. Help me to stay the course in faith, knowing that one day this race I’m running will eventually lead me, and hopefully lead my kids, to your kingdom.
Big news! My memoir, Dear God, I Want to Die: My Journey to New Life after Attempted Suicide, has been accepted for publication. And the timing…wow. This news comes after a dry spell in which I didn’t even feel like a writer. It also reminds me that it is when I give up trying so hard–or when I “let go and let God”–that he blesses me the most.
In the last month, it’s been all I could do to muster a few posts about battling my blues as a pregnant woman, a topic I’m not thrilled with, but it’s been “what I can do.” That’s a saying I’ve adopted recently–“It’s what I can do”–to help me remember I’m doing the best I can with the time, energy, and resources I have in the present moment (is pre-partum depression a thing?). “What I can do” has seemed scant recently, but the saying has helped me to stress less; acknowledge my limitations; and, most importantly, acknowledge God anew.
I’ve been acknowledging God for a number of years now, but when I noticed my mood nosediving a couple months ago, I made it a point to really acknowledge him, in the little things “I could do.” Silent prayer before getting out of bed in the morning. Sitting down with the Bible or other good words during Sam’s nap. Praying several times with Sam throughout the day. Having worship with Sam as one of the first activities of his day, every day. Silent prayer before speaking to Buc, both in the morning, and before he comes home (the hubby is my biggest target when I’m stressed). Reading a few more good words by lamplight before I drift off to bed. I am acknowledging God in the margins of my day; it’s “what I can do,” and it’s enough. After all, the Bible says,
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
I have felt him drawing near, in the laughter he’s given me at my physical limitations, my disheveled house, and my toddler who just acts like a toddler. I have felt him drawing near in words of comfort from Lysa Terkeurst (specifically the book Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl) and the Psalms. Maybe he’s also working through this antidepressant that’s been building for four weeks in my system (and that never worked for me years ago–I figured my off-balance prego hormones called for another try).
As far as my writing goes, I felt God’s touch just a couple nights before the book news, when a wave of new writing inspiration rolled in. Suddenly, I felt ideas opening like buds in my brain, some just a quip for my recently dormant Facebook page, others the germ of yet-to-be-written blog posts. Somehow, suddenly, that young woman who wrote an entire book about overcoming depression was back.
All this to say…the book news was not what made me decide Tuesday would be a good day, or that the days ahead would be better. No, it was my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave me the amazing story in the first place. It’s like he wanted to remind me that he’s got my back even when clouds seem to descend, and he will rescue me from the dark day as many times as it takes. The book acceptance is just icing on the cake of my own story…and the real reward will be seeing it impact the stories of others as it goes out to the world.
Since my second trimester began, I haven’t felt physically good. Despite how they say it’s supposed to go, I had a great first trimester, only to feel nauseated and exhausted when the second one hit. The upside? This temporary trial is teaching me to appreciate those who have a chronic illness, and who brave every day in spite of it.
You, see, I’m learning that living life—getting up out of bed, taking a shower, actually looking at your planner—takes mental work when you feel physically ill, when you just want to sleep, or when you just have to puke. It’s not fun to wake up day after day wondering if you can hold down your breakfast (not always). And it’s quite disheartening to see all your son’s naptimes—the times you used to get things done—fly away by the time you can haul yourself out of bed. Suddenly, all those things that used to be easy seem impossible…because you just don’t have the strength.
It’s no wonder sick people get depressed.
For those who live with chronic illness or pain and who remain positive in spite of it, I salute you. It’s no small feat to go about life happily in that state, and those who do have obviously made some hard choices.
Maybe it was the choice to take a shower today. I made that choice at 5:30 this morning, even though I didn’t want to, and frankly, I didn’t care if my hair was clean. I decided to shower for my family, reasoning that my cleanliness would bless them and might make me feel better.
Maybe it was the choice to lower your expectations for your day, or for your parenting, or for your writing, because really, that’s the only sane thing to do sometimes. I chose to let my son watch TV at 6:15 this morning, even though I don’t like to start his day with TV, because I needed some time to read my Bible and pray. And I made peace with this setup as a possible morning routine in the near future because, heck, I have another baby coming, and mornings are not going to get any easier for awhile.
Let me not rush past that last paragraph. I also made the choice to sit down with God for a few minutes today–even though my surroundings told me I didn’t have time–and I was so glad I did. This is where the choice to think positive for the rest of my day became easier.
What am I reading in this time of physical distress and distraction? Mostly the Psalms. I like the Psalms when I am distracted, distressed, or distraught (and without much ability to focus), because they can be read one at a time, in no specific order, and they still make sense. They are prayers and praises coming from an honest soul, and the words often work to jumpstart my own prayer life.
Today’s Psalms, 48 and 49, helped me to remember that everything on earth, including life itself, is temporary; I shouldn’t spend my time or energy worrying about stuff. The only lasting things are God and his kingdom—the God who is our God “forever and ever” and who will be our great and merciful and and loving “guide until we die” (Ps. 48:14, NLT). It may seem a small thing, but these reminders helped me to relax about the house I can’t totally get in order yet—the pictures I can’t hang, the floors I can’t vacuum, the boxes I can’t unpack—because I’m too sick, or too tired, or the noise would be too much while Sam is napping. It helped me to put my focus back on God, and back on Truth, where it belongs.
After I took time to remember that God is God, God is in control, and God is good, suddenly, the day wasn’t so daunting. I don’t know how chronically sick people do life if they don’t do it with God; but as for me, I have found my lifeline. I have discovered that God can give me joy even when I don’t feel “good.”
My life has been full of interesting twists and turns since I began trusting God. A few days ago Buc and I road tripped back to Missouri from Texas—me with Sam in the truck, Buc in his new Corvette—and as I followed my husband over those familiar highways, I had to smile at the adventure God has brought me on.
I once said that I could never see myself staying in one place for a lifetime. That was depression and despair speaking. Now, I see new experiences not as escapes, but as valuable and enriching milestones. (They also provide good fodder for writing.)
With that said, I want to address the negativity of my last post. I sounded depressed in that post, because I felt depressed. But these days, staying depressed is not an option. God has given me tools to combat those feelings, and as often as I complain about my struggles (to maintain my commitment to honesty), I want to give him glory for the little, repeated victories in my life.
Indeed, the best part of my life journey is how I keep seeing God show up—or how he keeps teaching me to do better, think better, and live better in the midst of life’s messes. Like anybody, I have reasons to complain again today—including a family diarrhea weekend, and a still unsettled house (too much traveling to unpack!)—but here are some ways I’ve felt God helping me out of my “Melancholy Mom” pit.
I’ll admit it; I have started taking an antidepressant, and it seems to be helping. I want to qualify this by saying that I don’t see this as a permanent solution. I took myriad antidepressants as a teenager, and after five years they still didn’t help me avoid attempting suicide. It was only years after I stopped those antidepressants that I found my permanent solution and genuine joy: prayer and Bible study. Which, by the way, I believe is the permanent solution for most cases of depression.
But these days I am carrying a baby in my belly and my hormones are going crazy. After too many days where I couldn’t stop crying, where I couldn’t stop biting my husband’s head off, and where I generally couldn’t function, I decided to try an antidepressant (with my doctor’s consent, of course) to take the edge off. I prayed about this decision, and I sensed God assuring me it wasn’t a copout or a sin—it was just a tool he’d provided during extraordinary circumstances.
Accentuating the Positives
Another tool is choosing to see the positives rather than the negatives. Some days this is easier to do than others, like when your hormones are balanced versus when they are unbalanced; but I believe it’s a Christian’s duty to focus on the positives. God has given us so many reasons to be thankful—most of all, salvation and a heavenly inheritance—but even while on earth, we can find positives.
As I alluded, the three of us had a yucky weekend of barf and diarrhea, which we picked up somewhere between Texas and Missouri. Then we had to come home to a house that was (and is) still strewn with boxes and belongings we haven’t had time to organize or put away in a whole month of living in this house. But you know what? It’s not a big deal. Because both situations are temporary, and we have better days ahead.
I found out I am having another baby boy!!!… and I can thank God that the three main men in my life are generally healthy (diarrhea excluded). I am also thankful that the first and worst night hit while we were in Oklahoma…which means it was hotel maids doing our barfy laundry, not me!
Author Lysa Terkeurst brought this next tool out for me in her book Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl. It’s closely related to Accentuating the Positives, but takes it a step further by moving the focus from myself onto God.
Here is a list of powerful statements she includes that I’m thinking of posting in my home:
God, circumstances change, but I praise you because you never do.
God, I praise you for never leaving me.
God, I praise you for being trustworthy.
God, I praise you that you are with me in this moment and you stand in my tomorrow as well.
God, I praise you for being the wisdom I can lean on when I have none of my own.
God, I praise you for your love and your compassion that never fails. (p. 126)
God is ever helping me to get my priorities straight, and having right priorities always helps my mood. I’ve struggled a lot over the years with my priorities, usually trying to do too much in my own strength (not God’s), and usually for the wrong reasons (to make myself look good, not God). But in this season of motherhood, I’ve been especially blessed by two books chock full of wisdom on my priorities as mother. They are The Adventist Home and Child Guidance by Seventh-day Adventist author and most translated female writer of all time, Ellen White.
Recently I was asked to collaborate on another book project that would help spread the gospel. And it was a tempting offer. Not because I would be paid much, if anything, but because it would help boost my sense of self-worth in a season of life where my strongest talents are lying dormant. I took some time to pray about this decision, but the answer throbbed in the back of my mind from the start: not right now.
Because I had been filling my mind with Bible wisdom via Ellen White, I could easily see that this project would take critical time and energy away from my most important task as a wife and mother—and based on my exhaustion and volatile emotions lately, not to mention a glaring lack of babysitters, I knew this was not time or energy I could spare. And look at these words from Mrs. White. These are the words that kept coming back to me as I prayed over this decision.
Writing to a woman faced with choosing missionary work over her household, Mrs. White said:
The Lord has not called you to neglect your home and your husband and children. He never works in this way, and He never will. . . . Never for a moment suppose that God has given you a work that will necessitate a separation from your precious little flock (Lt. 28, 1890; p. 246 of Adventist Home).
You may be urged to attend mothers’ meetings and sewing circles, that you may do missionary work; but unless there is a faithful, understanding instructor to be left with your children, it is your duty to answer that the Lord has committed to you another work which you can in no wise neglect. You cannot overwork in any line without becoming disqualified for the work of training your little ones and making them what God would have them be. As Christ’s co-worker you must bring them to Him disciplined and trained (MS 32, 1899; p. 246 of Adventist Home).
So that is the adventure right now. Learning to be happy and content where God has placed me—even in ever-changing, ever-unsettled circumstances. I certainly haven’t mastered this to the point where I can say, with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11), but I am getting there. I see hope lighting the path everywhere I look; and for a girl who once tried to take her life, that seems like a significant stride.
I’m taking a break from my blog. I love it, but that’s the problem: I love it a little too much. In this season of life (early motherhood, moving to a new state, The Love Dare), lost in my own learning curves, I’ve lost audience awareness; I’ve slipped into nearly moving my diary online.
The fact is, I don’t have the capacity to write for an audience right now. At least not a blog audience, because a blog audience needs continual attention, much like the husband I am trying to love better; the one-year-old son who needs me constantly; and my God, who hasn’t been hearing much from me lately. (Ouch.)
But for me not blogging doesn’t mean not writing. While away, I will continue to write. I need to keep writing, in fact, to cope with all the growth and change happening around and within me. I just need to write for awhile without an audience, except my Savior, so I can listen better to him instead of worrying about what readers will think, or how to package my thoughts under a catchy title, or what content will get the most “likes.” I need some quiet time to be raw and real, to pray and journal, and to get back to that “empty notebook” strategy and the “writing to my roots” approach that evoked the germ of this blog and my first memoir—the core message of which I still believe needs an audience. (I’m asking God right now if it’s the right time to revise that memoir yet again…)
In time, I believe I will hit upon another message that deserves an audience–an audience to include (most likely) new mothers, impatient wives, writers, and well-intentioned (but struggling) sons and daughters of God. For now, I am seeking wisdom again, in and for this new stage of life. For now, I need to listen more than I speak; I need to read more than I write; and I need to write more than I blog.