A Time to Speak, and a Time to Be Silent

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Photo from Creative Commons

What should I say at this stage of life? This question has pained me lately as I prepare to speak at my third women’s retreat. Last week, with the deadline edging closer and closer, I panicked. I felt a sense of oppression settle over me. I don’t know what to say about this stage of my life to inspire others.

I’ve had my basic framework for the talk for awhile, but it’s the guts I’ve been struggling with. Here’s the framework: I will talk about sharing our stories for God’s glory at three levels: with God, in a small group, and in public. These are ideas I’ve developed before in former talks and this post. I believe God wants us to examine our stories to experience His working and to share His work in our lives. But after the events I shared in Ending the Pain, my motherhood story began. And oh, I am having trouble telling this story for God’s glory.

Now, if you look at my beautiful kids and beautiful life and wonder how can this be, I would just ask you to research the personality type Melancholy, and have a little compassion. Melancholy people, though perhaps not “depressed” or suicidal, have their own emotional battles to fight every day. Right now, with two small kids, no family nearby, and an imminent job change/move to we-don’t-know-where, I’m fighting lots of emotional battles. (Praise God, I’m nowhere near where I used to be emotionally, though!)

Anyway, the more I trolled my recent notebooks for inspiring mom stories, the more discouraged I became. There have been bright moments—yes. But by and large, when I search my memory and my recent writings (unpublished), I feel sad. Lonely. Still a little angry about certain aspects of my motherhood story that are too raw to share right now…except with family and close friends.

When I visited my parents in Minnesota recently, they witnessed my momming in midstream; they noted my struggles; got their hands dirty as grandparents; and gently observed some “areas for improvement.” And it was healing to be seen, to be soothed, by my own mom and dad, stepmom and stepdad as well. (We haven’t spent nearly enough time together since the kids were born). I also received a healing prayer session from a friend whom I’ve prayed for many times. That trip was a great start to some self-reflecting and praying that I really must do regarding my mom story…at some point. But now? Do I have to make sense of my mom story now, in time for the women’s retreat?

Would you believe I was actually hoping to do just that, in order to find “new material” for my latest talk? I was hoping to read through all my personal writings in the last three years since kids, examine all my negative feelings, pray a whole bunch over all of that, and come up with a tidy bow to put on the story.

What?! As I reflected on this, I realized I was contradicting the very process of healing I believe in: a process that took me years and years before I was able to bring Ending the Pain to its satisfying, inspirational conclusion.

 My mom story is not done. I don’t have to share it with this audience right now, I finally realized yesterday, while heaving a big sigh of relief. As Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc. 5:7). And that’s when my oppression ended.

Who put this idea in my head, anyway? Certainly not God. Oh, friends, Satan is at work. And he especially attacks and tries to distract when we are trying to do something for God—such as speaking about Him to a large group. We are not to be surprised by the fiery trials that come from Satan when we give our lives to God; it’s part of the Christian walk (1 Pet. 4:12).

And here’s a little lesson in life for everyone, not just writers and public speakers: God is not the author of confusion. So if we are choosing to do something that brings darkness, oppression, heaviness—we have to question whether the idea really comes from God. I believe my recent speaking anxiety was a ploy of the devil to distract me from doing the work God planned in advance for me to do (Eph. 2:10).

At some point, when I am further removed from this stage of life, I need to come back, read those early mom writings, pray over them, pray with friends, and share the lessons I learn with anyone else who wants to read them. But right now, I neither have the time nor the emotional capacity to do that job: so I will concentrate on the job that God has given me right now: raising my kids and inspiring a group of women this September with the gleaming story God’s already given me. God has more work for me to do, but it doesn’t all have to get done today.

 Thank you, God, for clearing my head about this, and for rebuking the devil, so I can do the work you’ve prepared for me to do at this moment. Help me take life one step at a time and not get sidetracked with tasks whose time have not yet come.

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Memoir and Melancholy: A Perfect Pair

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We memoirists might look like gluttons for punishment, because writing about real life hurts, and no one makes us write but ourselves. But for many of us, writing about real life is just an extension of our “Perfect Melancholy” personalities; we write about our lives because we have to do something with all that self-analysis happening in our heads.

I’ve been reading Personality Plus by Florence Littauer, and the author’s description of my Melancholy personality hits home more than other personality tests or training I’ve taken. Other tests labeled my personality in less negative terms— Analyzer or Empathizer, for instance. But Melancholy cuts right to the chase. It describes me to an M.

The evidence is overwhelming—I am introspective, moody, artistic, and depression prone—and the personality test was indisputable. I am Melancholy through and through. True to Littauer’s description, I have been saddened by a small thing to which other personalities wouldn’t give a thought (the label of my personality); and more introspection is the result. I want another personality. I don’t want to have to work so hard to be happy. I don’t want to be Melancholy.

People who study personalities have long observed that artists and writers are commonly Melancholies, as opposed to Sanguines, Cholerics, or Phlegmatics, and this could be good or bad, depending on where you stand.

If you’re the one consuming the art, Perfect Melancholy is great: its existence enriches our culture by providing life-enriching and thought-provoking art.

If you’re the one providing the art, or struggling with “genius” tendencies (Littauer’s word, not mine) that you have trouble harnessing, Perfect Melancholy can be excruciating. Littauer notes that while Melancholies have the highest potential for achievement, they also experience the “highest highs and the lowest lows.” To my Melancholy-colored glasses, this data forces me into a dilemma that’s definitely false, but that seems so real: Would I rather be a “genius” (in writing), or be happy?

The Misery of Memoir

For much of my life, pursuing my art meant misery. All I could write about was my life; and my life, for a good chunk, was sad. Why didn’t I pick another topic, a happier topic, to write about? I go back to the personalities. Melancholy couldn’t get its mind off itself. I was trying to process hard things in my life, and as a writer, I naturally processed through writing.

Because it didn’t yet feel safe to talk about some of those sad things, I especially needed writing as an outlet. I had a strange relationship with writing, though. On the one hand, I felt like I needed to write to survive. On the other hand, what came out of my pen felt like it might kill me.

For almost ten years I would waffle on writing my story—I mean writing it for an audience as opposed to venting in journals. Typically here’s how it would go: I get the desire to write, I pull out old journals for inspiration, I spend a few hours working with the material, and I end up in a pool of tears because it hurts so much, followed by a crumpled heap in my husband’s arms because I am not ready to confront all the emotions these memories bring up. Then, I stuff the emotions, the memories, and my writing aspirations for another few months or years, only to repeat the process again and again.

Melancholies Can Write Happy Endings Too

This blog has borne witness to some of the healing process that finally got me writing again…and writing not only with sadness, but with gladness. God gave my story a happy ending. He not only redirected some of my worst circumstances, but he redirected my mind.

Now, even when more bad circumstances arise—which they inevitably do from time to time—I don’t have to give in to Melancholy. I don’t have to collapse in despair because “that’s just the way things are, and that’s just the way I am.”

God’s Word gives me a more accurate measure of how things really are, and how I really am. You might say he gives me a better personality test, or the ultimate Truth meter:

Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in me (Rom. 8:18).

If I wait on the Lord, he will strengthen me (Ps. 27:14); Isa. 40:31).

I can learn to be content in whatever state I’m in, knowing that God will supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:11, 19).

He will keep me in perfect peace if my mind is fixed on him (Isa. 26:3).

I can remember that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5).

And I can be confident that, even when progress seems slow, he who began a good work in me will keep working on me until Jesus comes back (Phil. 1:6).

Yes, this world is sad and often hard to navigate—especially, I think, for us over-analytical Melancholies. But this world is not the end, it is temporary and passing away, and that is life-giving knowledge I can cling to.

Yes, I am sinful and fallible and moody and depression prone. But Jesus didn’t come to this world to suffer and die to leave me that way. He came to pull me out of the pits, physical and mental; to retrain my mind on him; and to change me, from glory glory to glory, as I behold him.

And so the story continues. Many mornings I wake feeling unhappy by default. My Melancholy personality (and Satan) doesn’t want me to be happy. But as I make the choice, day by day, to seek God’s face, he gives me strength for what’s in front of me. So I keep praying through it, keep writing through it, and keep moving forward, little by little. A lot of my days end better than they start, because throughout the day I exercise my faith and allow God to smooth out the bumps. These are small rewards, little happy endings, that point me on to the day when Jesus comes to take me home, and give me my ultimate happy ending.

 

 

 

When the Gospel Isn’t Enough

IMG_1702The Hidden Half of the Gospel is now in print, which means it’s time for me to sound promotion bells; but how about I just use a recent, personal example, to tell you why so many people (and maybe you) desperately need this message?

The other day I was listening to a radio show hosted by one of my favorite pastors. People call in with Bible questions, and this pastor answers them, usually with lots of scripture and high caller satisfaction. But one caller on the show did not receive a satisfactory answer.

Essentially, this caller wanted to know how he could get free from his past. He was fifty-two, had been abused as a child, and was still living “in bondage,” even though he went to church and prayed for the peace of the Holy Spirit. How, he wanted to know, could he experience the “new life” Christ promised, and the changes he read about when a person gets the Holy Spirit?

My heart broke for the man as the pastor proceeded to give pat answers that blatantly sidestepped the man’s apparent pain. “Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to a funeral where the deceased sat up and complained about his past?”

“No.”

“Well, we can’t focus on the past. It’s done. As we drive through life, we can’t keep looking in the rearview mirror. We have to focus on what matters for eternity. We need to give the past to Jesus and then look to the future with him. Our pasts won’t matter in heaven. We need to believe that Jesus forgives us of our past sins and our guilt.”

Here I thought to myself, He totally didn’t address the man’s question: “How do you help someone who is trying, but is not experiencing, the Holy Spirit?” I wished I could contact this man and offer Paul’s and my book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours. I wished I could talk to that pastor and give him our book, too, so next time he got a call like that, he could offer some real help: a complete picture of the gospel that not only addresses healing sin, but also healing suffering.

The Traditional Gospel Doesn’t Help Everyone

Sadly, this pastor was merely presenting the “status quo” gospel that so many Christian pastors, and Christians, promote. That is, “Christ died for our sins and rose again to forgive us and give us a new life.” Sounds nice. It is nice. This gospel has changed millions of lives. But what about those people who have already tried this gospel, who go to church and pray regularly, and who have even accepted Jesus’ forgiveness, and still live in bondage?

Today Christians and non-Christians alike live in bondage to things like divorce, abuse, addiction, depression, and cutting/self-harm (to name a few). More tragically, many Christians live in bondage to the negative thoughts and lies Satan slams us with in the aftermath and in the midst of these problems. Which means we end up living out false identities long after the initial pain of, say, childhood abuse.

I was one of those desperate people only a few years ago (see my seven-part series “My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story“). But then God taught me what it really means to live a new life. Over a period of several years, I learned about Satan’s lies and how they take root in our minds and handicap our lives.

It’s insulting, and discouraging, when pastors or Christians tell us we should be “over it” just like that. It doesn’t work. And that’s why we need a better gospel, a complete gospel—the gospel that Paul Coneff unearthed as a young pastor in his search to minister to hurting individuals like that fifty-two-year-old Christian caller.

Jesus Preached a Better Gospel

When Jesus said He came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free, He didn’t just mean He would heal us when He came back again at His second coming, or set us free from our prisons of darkness when we get to heaven. His promise was for here and now. And that means it includes more than the gospel of forgiveness of sins. It has something for those of us who have been sinned against.

Our book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, starts right where you are: in the midst of your misery. It doesn’t ask you to deny it or forget it, because that’s stupid; it’s impossible. Correction: by ourselves it’s impossible, but with God all things are possible. Specifically, for those of us who are suffering, healing begins with Jesus Christ’s life of suffering, and the promise that “He suffered in every way we did” so He could offer us his mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16). In our book, Paul and I flesh out the implications of these promises through stories of real individuals (like myself) who needed a Savior in the midst of suffering, and who found one who understands our pain exactly, because He has been through it.

Jesus was abandoned, betrayed, and abused; He was unfairly tried, convicted, and crucified; and in the midst of all this, he felt forsaken by his Father. As a “man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief,” He knows that we need time to heal, and He doesn’t expect us to do it overnight. He only asks that we look to Him and the victory He accomplished at the cross. As we look to Jesus and allow Him to tell us about the lies and wounds in our hearts, He can uproot them and replace them with a new identity. If this sounds like a message you could use, or one that you’d like to share with others, please visit hiddenhalf.org. There, you can read sample chapters, and if you like what you see, you can order the book. Happy reading!

Get a Discount on the book: When you click “buy the book,” the next page offers a discount box. Type in “HIS-story” to receive a 20% discount through October 31.

Post-Traumatic Stresses of Growing up in a “Messy” Home

photo 2It’s hard to move on with life when your home is in shambles. I say this because of the never ending construction going on in my house right now—but I also mean it in the emotional sense.

Did you grow up in a home with lots of fighting? Uncertainty about the future? Fear that Mom and Dad might split? Then you might know what I’m talking about. It’s hard to move on, it’s hard to grow up, when your home life is in shambles.

Today I had trouble focusing on my to-dos, primarily because my house is a wreck and has been for almost two months. When I finally got Sam down for a nap, I had to pray extra hard and reread my index cards of Bible promises just so I could move on with the day. My brain felt so cluttered I knew I could not be productive unless God cleared things up. The verse that most calmed me: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isa. 26:3). As I concentrated on God, my scattered thoughts, well, scattered. And then, Sam woke up…an hour and a half before he was supposed to (grr). Glad God calmed me beforehand!

I wish I had learned to rely on God earlier in life. When I was a teenager, my home was in shambles, in the emotional sense, and I suffered in many ways, for many years to come.

I didn’t rely on God. I relied on keeping busy to numb my pain. I relied on building up myself and my skills, determined to acquire things that no one could ever take from me. In the early years, those things included a straight-A record, a good reputation, and lots of experiences to pad my college applications. In my adult life, they translated into two college degrees, a full plate at church, and a teaching career: AKA, resume builders.

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These things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But they’re bad when you do them to avoid confronting your pain. Life gets lopsided really quickly when you do those pain-stuffing behaviors to the detriment of everything else.

I’ve come a long way from the life I’m describing. I finally gave up the career chase to have a kid, for one. And I’m making a concentrated effort to relax in my thirties (wait, did I just contradict myself?). But I still feel myself lagging behind in plenty of areas.

Because I married when I was twenty, I’ve been able to shunt many adult responsibilities onto my husband’s plate: paying bills; navigating home, life, and car insurance; and setting up internet service, to name a few. I don’t know the cost of our monthly bills, and I wouldn’t know who to call if our electricity went out. Perhaps, most shamefully, I still don’t understand how to read and/or fill out a W2 (or is a W4?) when I start a new job. I am always embarrassed at needing help to fill it out. (But amazingly, I don’t take the time to correct this lack of knowledge).

For that matter, many, many things around me go unnoticed, things I should know just by virtue of living on planet earth or living in Texas.

Exhibit A: When I was twenty, I voted in my first presidential election without knowing the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Exhibit B: When my parents visited from Minnesota and we walked around my neighborhood and they asked, “What kind of tree is that?” “What kind of plant is that?” “What kind of bird is that?” I had to repeatedly answer, “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t know.” I did not know, and I did not care.

Exhibit C: Sam was born with a large birthmark on his shoulder (I mean LARGE), which turned out to be an “infantile hemangioma,” or a benign tumor, according to his skin care specialist—and when my friend asked me about the long-term effects and other basic questions, I had to answer, “I don’t really know, but the doctor said not to worry, so I’m choosing not to.” Shouldn’t a mom be curious about these things? Shouldn’t she bother to know? Nonetheless, I still haven’t done any research.

Why don’t I bother to know more about my surroundings, or my son’s skin condition?

Probably the biggest reason is I feel my brain only has so much room, and to overload it is to risk meltdown. (That must be a lie, a bad root, I gained in adolescence—I’ll have to pray about that one some more.) Similarly, I have trouble adding new things to my routine: for instance, everyone tells me I need a Pinterest account—”It would make life so much easier”—but the thought of having to regularly check one more website confounds me (keeping up with my blog is hard enough!).

photo 1I simply don’t have room in my brain to accommodate one more thing. Which is why I used to be oblivious to the news. My husband would ask me what I thought about some really big news item, and I’d respond with a blank stare. Happily, caring for Sam has helped me to turn on the news almost daily (I get bored with bottles and diapers all day), so my news knowledge has increased about 100%.

My point is that I’m still decompressing from growing up in an emotionally messy home. For many years it took all my energy to put one foot in front of the other and take care of myself (I didn’t realize that God already had my back)—how could I care about the world around me? It’s only by God’s grace that I’m here today, somehow swimming in the current of adult life.

God has been gentle with my transition back into the world, giving me a loving husband and plenty of guardian angels to guide and protect my uninformed, oblivious steps. It’s hard to move on, it’s hard to grow up, when your home life is in shambles. But by his grace, people can do it. And because of his goodness, I am.

 

Returning to Writing

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With the help of a generous sister-in-law, I have returned to writing my book. One day a week until the end of the school year, she babysits Sam so I can write.

How has it been, reentering this manuscript I put aside three months ago?

There is the feeling of visiting a foreign country, as well as the feeling of returning to terrain I know very well. Above all, there is a clarity about the message of my book—and with that clarity, knowledge of what to cut and what to add. I surprised myself by spending most of my recent writing time cutting unnecessary chapters or scenes. Whereas several months ago I couldn’t have imagined cutting these scenes, now, there was no doubt about it: they had to go.

These cutting decisions signal so much: not only a writer’s process, but also a woman’s healing. Let me explain.

One of the standout tips I received from my professional book consultant last fall was: After the first few pages/chapters, cut the crying! (She elaborated: instead of describing your crying, describe for readers what made you cry). And related to that: Add in scenes with other key characters so we are not left alone with you and your brain for 300 pages.

In recent months I’ve thought a lot about how this advice relates to my memoir, which means I really have been working—thinking, planning, pondering—if not actually writing. I realized I had lots of crying in my book—in lots of solitary scenes, and my consultant helped me realize that this was not the best approach for a general audience. The types of books most people want to read are built around action, not a person sitting and thinking (and crying).

As I thought about why my first draft was sopping wet, I realized I wrote it for myself, and perhaps for the handful of friends and family members who read it last fall. Writing all those solitary crying scenes was a way for me to acknowledge how alone I felt in my pain. Having several loved ones read that manuscript allowed me to share that part of myself—and it felt good. Now I feel vindicated: that part of myself has not been shoved into a closet. However, that part of me (though present in the book) will not be the book’s focus.

What I am working on now is describing more of my healing, less of my hurting. To set the stage for why I became so broken (as requested by my consultant), I had to write over 100 new pages for the book’s beginning, just so readers could understand what led to my suicide attempt, eating disorder, sudden move to Texas, and shotgun wedding. But I am trying not to draw out the personal anguish after that (plenty of other memoirs excel in that area). As suggested, I am trying to show myself in contact with others—how I began to relate in more healthy ways to my family, and how I eventually extended my healing insights to others: my high school students, and then women in my church.

The new theme of the book, and maybe the new title, is “breaking silence.” I want to encourage readers who have suffered not to stuff their pain, but to get it out and deal with it—in the proper venues, of course. I believe I could have healed much faster had I not learned to hide my issues from friends, close family, and church family. What good are friends and family if we can’t tell them what’s going on? What good is religion and faith if we can’t get healing for our brokenness at church, and/or among our Christian friends? With my revised memoir, I hope to paint a picture of how honesty with ourselves, with God, and with certain loved ones is the right thing, the healthy thing, and the healing thing to do. Readers can take my advice or leave it, but for my book and my own health, I’ve learned honesty is a must.

Are Your “Roots” Showing?

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Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

I’m not talking about your hair color, though we often get hung up on the outward appearance. I’m talking about what’s on the inside: or those beliefs you hold at the core of your being.

Last weekend I hosted about ten women at my house for a mini women’s prayer retreat, and we talked and prayed about how the negative beliefs we hold are responsible for the negative behaviors in our lives. In other words, your problem of overeating, undereating, cutting, criticizing, worrying, etc. is the “fruit” of a deeper “root.”

As Jesus said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:43-45). He’s saying that any fruit cannot grow without a root first in place, because the one flows from the other.

My co-author, Paul Coneff, likes to further explain this concept with the “toothpaste test,” which stipulates that if a tube of toothpaste is strawberry, well, when it gets squeezed, nothing can come out but strawberry paste. In other words, whatever beliefs are rooted in our hearts—whether positive or negative—will eventually come out.

To see an example of the “fruit/root” principle, or to watch the “toothpaste test” in action, just get close to someone for a little while, settle in, and watch. Listen to what inadvertently pops out of their mouths when they get stressed. I’ve observed that even if people aren’t trying to be confessional, they end up confessing a lot more than they think (and this includes myself).

Recognizing Common Roots in Women

Writer Patricia Garey, in her book Beautiful Woman, talks about how mothers inadvertently send negative messages to their daughters about beauty and self-esteem when they make passing comments like, “Oh, I can’t go out without my makeup,” “I have to get rid of this extra flab,” or, “I wouldn’t be caught dead without [fill-in-the-blank].” What do these seemingly trite remarks say about the beliefs rooted in their hearts?

I know a lovely woman who will not go out in public until she has “put on her face.”

“I can’t be seen like this,” she chirps to her husband if he ever asks her to run to the store on a Sunday morning—even if just for a quick “in and out” errand where she will only be seen by the cashier. To go out for that sixty-second errand first must entail an hour’s preparation.

After I learned about the fruit/root principle, I asked myself: “Is this behavior just a quirk, or is it the symptom of a deeply seeded negative belief, perhaps, ‘I’m not acceptable just the way I am’? or ‘I need to hide who I really am’?”

I know another woman, well respected in her teaching job, who clearly has some insidious negative beliefs rooted in her heart. Because she doesn’t have a college degree, she feels inadequate, or “less worthy” in some way. Clearly, by the passing or side comments she makes under her breath, such as, “I’m so dumb,” or “Well, you’re better qualified for that,” or “I just wish I could really do something that would make a difference,” she believes in her heart that she is not good enough. Usually these comments come in the context of talking or hearing about someone else’s achievements, whether in the area of career, health, or other. I’ve heard many people say she is the best teacher they’ve ever seen, but sadly she won’t believe it.

I wonder how many of us have that problem. How many of us have deeply rooted negative beliefs about ourselves that everyone around us would disagree with? Sometimes no matter how many times we hear truths about ourselves, we refuse to believe them. But how quick we are to blow one negative comment into the gospel truth. If that’s so, then we can know we have some negative beliefs rooted in our hearts.

Recognizing My Own Roots

Tonight begins a thirteen-week women’s prayer group with a few good women who are willing to honestly examine those false beliefs in their hearts and let Jesus uproot them, replacing them with His truth. I’ve been through this process twice in the last year, and each time God reveals more roots I need to deal with.

Some of the easiest roots to recognize when I started a year ago were those depressive thoughts that used to define me: thoughts like “Life sucks,” “I’m a loser,” and “I will always be this way.” I have now recognized those thoughts as lies and renounced them in my life.

uprooted tree
Photo Credit: “Toppled–Uprooted” by Tacluda

Next, I faced the following slew of lies—and these, I realized, were protections I had developed to try to fend off any more depression (or my old roots): “I have to try harder and do more,” “I have to control things,” “I am responsible for making my life into something meaningful.” After prayerfully asking God to search my heart and try my thoughts (Ps. 139:23-24), I realized these, too, were lies from the enemy. I still battle some of these lies, especially when I slack in my prayer life, but this battle is getting easier.

As I begin a new prayer group, the new lies I am battling sound something like this: “I have worked through my issues, and therefore, I have arrived.” “I am better than others.” “I don’t need to spend so much time in prayer anymore.” Wouldn’t you know it, even when we reach a spiritual high, Satan can use that to slam us some more—usually this is when the “pride” lies begin.

So today I am praying about pride, and asking the Lord make me feel my desperate need for him once again. I have confidence that as I spend time with him every day, he will once again reveal his truth. In the meantime, before I can feel it for myself, I am taking him at his word that I can do nothing without him—I am choosing to believe that to remain fruitful for him, I must remain in him—I must remain in the Vine (John 15). That’s because I never want to be ashamed for my roots to show; and I always want my life to produce positive fruit (Gal. 5:22).

What fruits and roots are showing up in your life today?

 

(Note: If you liked this post, check out the preview of the book Paul and I wrote, and sign up to follow this blog so you can read more about fruits and roots when our book is published.)

On Pulling Weeds and Planting Seeds (My Life as a Metaphor)

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My husband planting our garden in 2011 (the same time I was working on photography techniques for the journalism class I taught). Of the family, he’s always been the gardener. But this year I seem to be coming around.

I like writing to my roots, or the metaphor I’ve chosen to guide my blog, because it suggests a narrative that deepens as I go. It means that I don’t have to start with all the deep stuff first, but that I can move more gently to the sources of pain, and the sources of me.

Who says I have to go deep, you may ask? Well, definitely not pop culture or social media, which is oh so surface level.

It’s me (“It is I,” for my fellow English majors) who has chosen to go deep, because I write to heal myself and to help others. I choose to work gradually to my roots of pain and self-protection, because that’s how healing has to happen, and after healing, recovery. Recovery of our dreams, goals, and our true identities. We must take gradual steps.

As we do, we can unmask lies we’ve had about ourselves to finally embrace who we are meant to be. And that’s the point of the blog.

But before I chose Writing to my Roots, I planned to call this endeavor The Before Thirty Project, because that’s how it started. Originally this “project” included two goals in the last months before I turned thirty. Little did I know that these goals would expand as my writing took me deeper, little by little, to my roots—both pleasant and painful. Today I finish a series of three posts on a topic that I used to shun like the unwanted appendage I imagined it to be. Then, back to other topics I’m more comfortable with. I promise.

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When I first vaguely conceived of my project at age twenty-five, I had two goals in mind: earning my master’s degree and publishing a book. It was probably my incessant talking about these grandiose goals, in fact, that had my high school students so frequently asking, “Are you ever going to have kids?”

The junior and senior girls would look at me in disbelief when I shrugged, “Probably not.”

For some of them, having kids was the goal of life.

But when they said things like this, I was the one fighting back disbelief.

Really girls? I thought. What was so glamorous and good about having babies?

Of course, being in a high school environment where numerous girls got pregnant each year, it was easy to disparage their dreamy looks and words. Terrible! We teachers said. Teenage girls getting pregnant! What a waste! What unnecessary hardship!

For a teenage mom, of course, it is an unnecessary hardship. To this day I would never advocate teen girls—or any female who is not married—getting pregnant.

But once a girl finishes high school…once she gets married…

Until recently, I still couldn’t advocate it. Not for myself. And honestly, not for anyone else. As my twenty-something girlfriends got pregnant one by one, it felt as if they were betraying me, one by one. How selfish, I know.

Because I couldn’t have this happiness (rather, couldn’t understand it as happiness), they shouldn’t either. Really, I would be doing us all a favor to save us from the inevitable heartache that must come with kids.

For seven years I told myself I didn’t want kids. Too much risk. Too much time that could be better spent elsewhere. Why risk such a hefty investment when you didn’t know what you were going to get? Never mind potential birth defects. What about angry children who decided to write you off because you screwed up their lives?

Today I can look back at sentiments like these more objectively. They don’t seem normal, or rational, or healthy, like I once stubbornly insisted they were. (My husband would just give me that same look I got from my girl students: You’re messed up.)

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Maybe it was a problem with the kind of kid I had become over the years. Bitter. Angry. Sad. Detached.

I was not bringing any particular blessings to my parents’ lives. I had moved so far away from them that it was not strange to go almost a year between visits. At various points, I had barricaded myself from contact. Didn’t want a lot of contact, because contact hurt. It just all hurt so much—family visits, photo albums, phantom memories—that why would I ever want to perpetuate it?

Through writing and other miracles, God has taken me to a place where I’ve realized none of my self-protections can keep me safe or healthy. More than indicating a kind of logic, all my excuses, denials, and exercises in becoming numb indicate a sad existence. The guardedness (to the degree that I’ve had it) is not laudable; it’s lamentable. Would that we women could be smart about our choices—with healthy boundaries that keep us from getting pregnant when we shouldn’t (right, Kim Kardashian?)—but that allow us to be open to any possibility, should God suggest it to us.

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After eight years of marriage, He has suggested it. And now I’m open. At this point, a baby could definitely be part of the “before thirty project,” if God wants it to be. That is to say, I’ve removed the barriers. I can conceive of getting pregnant. It’s up to God if I really will conceive. But if not, I’m okay with that, too. My being open to the possibility is the real growth—more meaningful than a baby bump could ever be.

Whew. Now that I’ve made some real progress with this root, I’m putting it to rest for awhile. (I’ll let you know if anything develops.)

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