Finding Inspiration in the Negative

woods-690415_1280I’m an inspirational writer. I’m also a pessimist. Sounds weird, right? It does from a human perspective. But guess what? The God I serve is in the business of bringing to life what is dead, and bringing into being things that are not (Rom. 4:17). Through God’s lenses, I can see the glass half full; I can even inspire others. But I’ll be honest: usually my inspiration begins with negativity. So, how do I find inspiration in the negative? And how can you, when your world feels dark?

Sometimes we Christians get the idea that we are not supposed to struggle mentally or emotionally in life. Jesus is Life and Light and Living Water and all those great symbols of abundance and hope and happiness. So if we’re struggling to feel happy, positive, hopeful, we feel like failures. We feel ashamed. I know I do, when the only prayer I can pray begins with the words, “Lord, I’m such a mess!”

I recently suffered a Mom Funk where I found it hard to say anything positive. Now I am climbing out of the funk, doing the things I know I need to do to function well, but you know what? My mornings can still feel a lot like those of a physically disabled mom whose story I read once in Parents magazine. Her day began with a long warmup of massaging stiff, sore muscles before she could even coax her body out of bed–before she could tend to children’s needs.

Though I don’t equate my parenting or life difficulties with hers, I can identify with a long warmup of preparing (mental) muscles before I am ready to get out of bed and tackle the day’s challenges.

Though they may be different, we all have struggles. And it’s no wonder. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…” It was a promise.

Parenting and positivity are my struggles right now. (See my Mother’s Day post for exhibit A.) And the positivity has been a lifetime struggle. Combine the two in an environment with limited sleep or time to pray, and you have some hard days.

Can I say anything positive about this? Jesus, after saying, “In this world you will have trouble…” added these words: “but take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).

Take heart, Lindsey.

Take heart, readers.

Jesus has overcome my struggles, and He has overcome yours. For the perplexed parents out there, He is the Perfect Parent, to both our kids and ourselves. We can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). For the pessimists out there, remember: Everything He creates is good–so there must be a lot of good in the world…including you and me. We were “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) …even when nothing about us feels wonderful.

We Christians know the promises, don’t we? But sometimes, in the midst of struggles, it’s so hard to remember them. How, then, can we find our way back to inspiration in dark times?

Well, here’s how I do it.

I put my pen to paper.

I start where I am.

I pray, “Dear God, I’m a mess,” and…praise God…

He answers: I’ve got a big broom. 

He redirects me.

And somehow, through voicing the negative, through writing the negative, I find my way to God’s truth, I find positivity, once again.

Can I tell you a secret? A lot of times in this Young Mom Stage of Life, I feel I’m just hanging on by a thread–one small thread of faith. And my positivity? (Assuming I have any on a given day?) It takes hard work. Painful, stiff, sore muscle work. It takes cracking open my gratitude journal to write three good things at the end of the day when I just want to crumple into bed and cry. But maybe that’s why God has called me to write. I write to show you that my faith is the thread that saves me, day after day after day–and it can save you, too.

Next time you are struggling through a depression, a funk, or just a dark day, I encourage you to tell God and, perhaps, someone else about your struggles because…

When we bring our frazzled threads of faith into the open with an intent toward healing and growing (not just complaining) at least two positive things can result:

  • One: we allow others to carry some of the burden. We make room for friends, loved ones, and maybe even professionals to help us…according to the severity of our need. (Think closing scenes of Disney’s Inside Out.)
  • Two: we encourage–we actually give courage to–each other. Maybe our stories are not pretty. Maybe we are just hanging on. But we are still here. We still have that thread. And if we keep hanging on, even though we might unravel sometimes, we will look back one day and see that it was enough.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Pet. 5:10, NIV)

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Rev. 21:3-5)

How I’m Recovering from a “Mom Funk”

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Some swinging before church on Saturday, June 3.

If you read my last post, you know I’ve been struggling. I was very vulnerable in that post, based on my own need for affirmation as a mom (thank you to the wonderful readers and friends who gave it). But as dark as that post was, it didn’t share my darkest thoughts, thoughts like:

Am I going crazy? Do I need medication? Do I need a counselor? Are my kids going to end up seeing their mom in and out of a mental hospital as they grow up? 

Indeed, when I wrote that post on Mother’s day (polished and published later), I was in a dark place. At almost sixteen months after my second child’s birth, I felt less together than I did postpartum. My emotions felt too big to handle.  And Buc was asking where his wife had gone.

You see, Satan is so good at what he does. He plays on our worst fears to try to create the very realities we fear. My mom was diagnosed bipolar shortly after she birthed her second child, me, in the early eighties. My life was punctuated every few years with seeing her go into the mental hospital. And after several months of intense struggle this spring, I was worried I could replay the past. I was worried my best self had died on the delivery tables of my two boys.

I needed to figure this out–whatever this was.

Thankfully, in the weeks since Mother’s Day, God has given me a good update to share with you. Through “writing to my roots” (writing for clarity about the underlying issues), claiming Scripture promises, and reading and applying good counsel, I am happy to share with you that I’m not going crazy after all: I am in recovery from a “Mom Funk,” and I am now getting needed “treatment.” Read on for more.

Defining The “Mom Funk”

I give credit to psychologist, mom, and blogger, Amanda, for giving words and insight to my troubles with a post called “Are You Stuck in a Mom Funk?”

Mom Funks happen to all of us.  They aren’t a deep dark depression, they’re just a feeling of funkiness.

Instead of crying all day long and not being able to get out of bed, like depression, Mom Funks are like being in a bad mood for days, weeks, months.

Being in a funky mood can really impact the way you react to your children.  For me, I get angry.

I’ll never forget the day that I transformed into a raging Hulk Mom and screamed at my children.

I had been in a Mom Funk for months.  I was unhappy and walked around every day with a huge chip on my shoulder. I should have been wearing a sign that said: “Don’t Poke The Monster, She Will Bite Your Head Off”

I had been snippy, short tempered, and moody.  The negativity in my soul had been building up, just waiting to explode.

Then it happened.

[Amanda goes on to describe how, one day, her three-year-old son spilled coffee on her new computer and she became a raging “Hulk.” Click here to read the whole post: “Are You Stuck in a Mom Funk?”]

I saw myself in this description, and promptly signed up for her seven-day email series, “Banish the Mom Funk Challenge.” In her email series, she gave lots of helpful tips which I have been trying to apply, such as:

Start a gratitude journal

Find activities that bring joy and “fill your soul”

Find time to do said activities

Find the right “tools” for specific problems you are having (i.e., search out and gather activity ideas when you don’t know how to play with your kids)

Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts

And make all of these changes a way of life

(Take the “Banish the Mom Funk Challenge” for more help with these.)

I love all of her suggestions, and I think they address many of the roots of Mom Funks, but I have also identified a few more roots of my own. Below, I share what I’ve discovered to be the roots of my “funk” and how I am going about “treating” it.

Roots of my “Funk”

Stress

Sarah, a friend who had her two boys around the same times I had mine, said that adding a second child to the family (when you still have a toddler) is like trying to ride a bike while “the bike’s on fire. And you’re on fire too.” (Brilliant analogy, Sarah, brilliant.) That’s the first thing. Life is just at a hard stage.

On top of that, my husband’s company is getting bought out, and we have been waiting for months to find out our fate. Are we moving? Where? When? So, should I wait to wean Seth off the bottle? Should we wait to make a change with three-year-old Sam’s troubled sleeping (bed-sharing) until we are settled?

There is stress in such a huge unknown, and a sense of being stuck, not able to move forward with plans, because you don’t know what’s coming up and if it will undo any changes you make.

The answer here is probably just pray and wait it out. Thankfully, we are expecting to get news within the next month on the job (and living) situation. Whew. Deep breaths.

Lack of Sleep/Lack of Space

I haven’t gotten good sleep for almost three months, because Sam has been waking in the night and coming into our bed. First it was allergies, and then it was “monsters.” And I get it; a three-year-old is allowed to have those troubles and get comfort from Mom and Dad. The problem is, when he’s in our bed, or when I know he’s coming, I can’t sleep. I lie awake stressing because I worry I won’t be able to get out of the bed without Sam seeing and following me, and I’ll have no time to myself. And no time to myself feels like a desperate situation right now.

Lack of Morning Quiet Time

After going through these funky, sleepless months, I re-realized how essential it is for me to daily have quiet time with God (and frankly, just some quiet) before I deal with my family. My friend Naomi and I had a prayer session where I lamented to her that I really would like to talk to a counselor about my “Am-I-Crazy?” thoughts, and when she prayed over that, the phrase “Wonderful counselor” came up. I knew I needed God to speak into my funk—on a daily basis…before I deal with the family—and I knew I needed to make that a priority again.

Right now, the answer to this lack of quiet time is turning out to be the same as the solution to my lack of sleep/lack of space problem: I have temporarily vacated my bed to sleep downstairs in the guest room. My husband and I are sleeping in separate beds.

While sleeping apart from my husband makes me sad, it has helped my sleep…and given me back some morning quiet time in which I can pray, journal, and read uplifting things. Unlike mine, Buc’s sleep isn’t bothered when Sam comes in in the early morning, be it 2 a.m. or 5 a.m., so he lets Sam stay. And with Buc next to him, Sam will sleep until between 6:30 or 7 (versus 5:30 if put back in his own bed). And that gives me an hour or more to myself to mentally and spiritually prep for the day. Hallelujah. It’s been so long.

Although this is not ideal, right now, this is the solution I have.

Hunger

Moms shouldn’t try to parent on an empty stomach, and that’s that. Remember Amanda’s “Hulk” analogy? Well, I can easily become a hulk when I’m hungry (I’ve blogged about this before). So now that I’m “beating” Sam out of bed, I’m taking care of this basic need in mornings, pre-kids, and it is helping me to be a nicer mom.

Schedule Disruptions/Lack of a Plan/Lack of Confidence to Carry Out a Plan

We came back from a business/family trip to Texas in April, and after that, I felt our routines, and my confidence, shattered. After our routines had been disrupted for two weeks, I couldn’t seem to keep everyone fed, changed, napped, stimulated, you name it, without someone having a major tantrum (sometimes me). And in trying to deal with my son’s tantrums, I had my own. So my confidence nose-dived. I started to doubt every single thing I was doing in the day with the kids, from what time we ate breakfast each day to what activity should we do first?

It’s no wonder my kids were crying and acting up so much. I wasn’t giving them clear direction. I couldn’t give clear direction, or even make simple decisions, with my mind so cloudy. I was so beaten down by Satan’s lies (“I can’t do this”) that I didn’t even have the presence of mind to go back to the things that were working pre-Texas, or search out ideas and resources for problems that do have solutions.

So now I am getting back to the basics: setting mealtimes, sitting us down to mealtimes together (as much as I can when by myself), trying to stick to bedtime routines, and praying with the kids as a first thing. A new thing I am doing is getting on the Internet and searching for activities to do with my boys. For the first time, I’ve given Pinterest a good look. Why didn’t I do this before now? I refer back to my friend, Sarah. For sixteen months, I’ve been riding a flaming bike while flaming myself. Adding one more thing to do was too much until I could get my sleep back.

The Lie that “I Can’t Do It”

I can’t do it, is a common refrain Satan has run and re-run in my mind so much these last three months. But a few days after my Mother’s Day slump, I heard a different thought, one that had to be from the opposite source, God:

The only time to say “I can’t” is to say “I can’t give place to these thoughts, these lies, from Satan.”

If I let Satan into my brain, he filters through to all of me: my emotions, my words, my frantic, crazed, panicky actions in my parenting. And then, my worst nightmare as a parent is realized: I am a mentally distraught mom who can’t keep her kids emotionally safe. And Satan’s work filters through me into my sons. This is how the sins/tendencies/paths of the parents get passed down generations. Kids do what they see done. Kids emulate their parents, whether for good or bad. If I don’t want my kids growing up with a mentally unstable mom (or a Funky Mom, for that matter), I’ve got to stop the thoughts in their tracks.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has become my replacement thought when I am tempted to believe the lie that “I can’t do it.

Conclusion

In short, my “funk” has mostly been a mix of stress, basic needs going unmet (food, sleep, “counseling time” with God), and a lack of knowledge in various areas of parenting, which creates more stress. Also, I cannot underestimate the effect of Satan’s lies wreaking havoc on my mind.

How glad I am to have been reminded of God’s truth (versus Satan’s lies) through this experience, as well as found two other Helpers in this time: the Basement (for adequate sleep and quiet time), and Pinterest (for ideas to keep my boys busy).

As I identify the roots of my funk…and combat them with God’s promises, common sense, and a “this too shall pass” attitude…things are slowly getting better.

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One of the greatest joys of having small children is snuggling them and laughing with them. As I experience the de-funking process, I am finally remembering this joy.

The Dark and Light in a Writer’s Life

Why do literary writers so often languish in the dark? And why do I, a Christian writer, find myself tending there, too?
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I think of Sylvia Plath who longed to succeed at writing so badly that it drove her entire life, and who eventually found success–only to kill herself. Her journal is full of amazing writing, by the way—lilting, lyrical writing that wowed me—but by the end, when I had to face the reality of a journal, and a life, prematurely cut short, I had to conclude: It wasn’t worth it.

That said, let me make a confession: I started out in the dark, too. (Oh, that word darkness is so fraught with metaphor, but let me hold off for a moment.)

I merely mean I wrote dark things—when I really started writing (age 14)—because my life had gone dark. There were certain things happening at home that I couldn’t talk about. Dark things. Embarrassing things.

I wrote in the dark, too (again, resisting the full metaphorical connotations). I mean, I wrote at night. Not only did my student schedule make nighttime the best time, but it just seemed fitting. Until after I got married, I remained a night writer, letting the day’s darkness inspire that in me to come out.

From my background in literature, it seems to me that a lot of great writers drew their inspiration from suffering. Some tragedy from childhood—or some shocking turn in adulthood. Why would a person, and how could they, write of darkness without living it? Why would they want to?

ImageMark Twain, commonly dubbed a humor writer, actually turned darkly pessimistic in his later years after losing his daughter.

You remember that highly anthologized story “The Yellow Wallpaper” with the unreliable (read: crazy) narrator? The author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman ended up killing herself, as did the popular Virginia Woolf.

Alcoholism ran in William Faulkner’s family, and Eugene O’Neil’s mother was addicted to morphine (this is depicted in his play Long Day’s Journey into Night).

T.S. Eliot had a nervous breakdown, and Ezra Pound died in an insane asylum.

From my American Literature class, I can remember a slew of writers whose fathers died in their youth or abandoned them, including Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and Tennessee Williams.

And Sylvia. Poor Sylvia lost her father before the tender age of ten. She obviously never recovered, but for a period of years she was able to cover her pain with a slew of academic and literary achievements.

I see a lot of myself in Sylvia. Correction. A lot of my old self.

Poor Sylvia never found light. I did. I recovered a will to live as well as developed a prayer life. I decided my still forthcoming memoirs would not be all doom and gloom and “poor me, pity me,” but rather, “Look what God can bring forth from doom and gloom” and “Learn from me.”

And yet…

And yet…

I just had a conversation with a good friend in which I confessed: “I still find myself wanting to write mainly melancholy—I have to work to write positively. I worry that this blog gets too dark sometimes.”

She reassured me that, although, yes, I get a bit dark sometimes, there’s always hope inherent. “It’s a good mix,” she says. “And maybe it will help someone going through similar things.”

Can I make a spiritual/biblical application here?

My Characteristic Glimmer of Hope

In the past year, I’ve started marking metaphors I find in my Bible. I have a dream of teaching a college literature class that explores the figurative language in the Bible—it is so rich!

One of the recurring metaphors I find is that of light and dark.

This is so meaningful to me because of the darkness I’ve felt in my life—and more so just in me. The Bible tells me that Jesus came to shed light on my darkness. He is the Light of life. But the world did not recognize Him because they loved darkness (See Luke 1:78-79; John 1:3-5, 10; 8:12; 1 John 1:5).

I love the image of my Lord and Savior shining light on me—illuminating my narrow and closed mind, drawing me out of the night’s blackness into the morning light, warming my frigid insides.

Oh, He knows me so well! He knew what I would need—His light! Oh, Lord, more of your light!

But these remaining shadows! What of these mixed blog posts of light and dark? It’s like a struggle is going on in my soul.

The sobering reality is: There is a struggle going on in my soul. The enemy is clearly still fighting for me—he wants me back, that jerk. But I have no intention of going back.

And yet…those shadows.

Sometimes I wonder if going back on depression meds could help brighten my discouragingly-default-like pessimism. And then I remember that over six years, they never helped me as much as inviting Jesus into my heart. And I go back to my Bible to read that no pill could change the real problem (my fallen human nature), not unless it were God-sent manna-Prozac.

So—here’s my real gem of hope for today—maybe my mixed blog posts are churning out of my insides in the way they do to serve as a reminder, to me, to you, that there is a battle going on every day in our souls—and it won’t be over until God comes. 

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Going Home

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My dad called last night to check on me. He’d been reading my posts from last week and wanted to make sure I was “okay.” Also to confirm travel plans for this week when I will go see him.

“So you’re feeling depressed? Are you feeling better?”

Since another family member has long been diagnosed as bipolar, I think Dad is extra sensitive to signs of mental illness. It’s understandable. And though I didn’t appreciate these inquiries when I was sixteen, today I think they’re sweet. He and my mom are the only ones who really ask about my mental health anymore, since I’ve been off medication for about eight years.

Thankfully I am able to answer, as I did last night, “I’m feeling much better, thank you. It was just a bit of the blues, and some female hormones getting the best of me.”

Thank God, I do feel better.

But that’s the thing these days. Even when something painful triggers bad feelings, I know they’re just passing feelings. None of that abysmal stuff of the past.

Like with visits home.

Used to be these visits triggered deep depths of anger and sadness.

Because of the divorce, I always miss half of my visit time with each parent and my little brother. The ‘rents live hours apart (and both are far from the airport), so though I buy a plane ticket for a week, I only get to see each for about half that time.

Needless to say, visits are complicated.

For years, when I was about to make a visit, I would typically spend the days leading up to it grumbling about the inconvenience. Anger bubbling up again at the awkwardness left over from divorce. Sadness that the awkwardness would never go away.

And, oh, I can get pretty low rubbing my nose in the past—and I have. Sometimes, in the past, returning from a visit was even worse, as I got to thinking about how a few days were not enough—and how long it would be until the next visit (usually six months to a year).

Maybe some of these thoughts were unconsciously playing in my head last week as I felt the illusion of the abyss, though I didn’t acknowledge them.

But over the weekend, something happened to remind me: my life is not that bad.

After church, I found myself talking to a new couple from Romania, the first real conversation I’d had with them since they’ve started visiting our church.

The woman is pregnant, and due this very week, in fact. Because I knew they were from far away—and I am sensitive to being far from home—I got to wondering: Does this lady have any friends or family nearby to help with the baby?

So I asked her.

After describing how miserable the pregnancy had been in the beginning—constant vomiting, dangerous weight loss, and inability to eat or sleep—she told me she’d lost both parents at a young age. Now she has only one or two family members left…and they are still in Romania. In the states, her husband is really all she has. Still new to this area, she doesn’t even have a church family yet.

“That must be hard,” I said, over the lump growing in my throat.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” she said, eyes bright, face brave. “We’re always seeing and hearing interesting things; we get to meet a lot of interesting people.”

She proceeded to tell me about the groups of people they’ve met at various churches they’ve attended over the years, moving from state to state for her husband’s job.

Through it all, she kept a smile on her face.

Does she really mean it? I wondered. If I were her, all alone and pregnant in a new state without so much as a church family to call my own, I think I’d be depressed. Perhaps she really is. But she carries on, as we all must.

Readers, I have to apologize. I want this blog to be positive and godly and uplifting. But sometimes I find myself hovering a little closer to melancholy than I want to.

Though it’s not an excuse, my parents tell me I was a melancholy child. My husband agrees that my personality still drifts that direction.

I want to show you how far I’ve come from depression and sadness, but sometimes, with a personality that tends toward the negative, it’s hard. And I’m not going to lie.

So I write about sad feelings hoping you realize I’m just being honest—to show that, though one’s life might, overall, be “re-set” from broken and despairing to hopeful and healing—that doesn’t mean all sadness leaves.

It just doesn’t stay like it used to.

But knowing, recognizing, and acknowledging when bad roots are stirred up allows me to take them to God once again. Allows me to open my heart, once again, and say:

“God, it hurts. And I don’t ask you to fix everything just today (because I know you will in the future). But for today, here’s my heart. Thank you that Jesus died for my broken heart. Thank you that His heart and Your heart were broken as He carried all my hurt and pain to death on the cross, as He suffered and died for me, and rose again in victory over the death and decay of our mortal bodies and wounded hearts, so I could claim my inheritance as Your daughter.”

Though I have to pray this way daily, He delivers daily. Fresh batches of grace every time I need them. And I’m sure I’ll need them again, soon.

This week I’ll get to my dad’s and have a jolly good time laughing and talking over Scrabble and coffee—and at Mom’s I’ll enjoy the home-cooked meals and those mother-daughter conversations I can’t have with anyone else. It’ll be a good time, and infinitely more fulfilling than past visits, when walking over the old family threshold used to bring tears.

I’ll probably battle some more resentment when I have to part from Dad on day three—then I’ll face it again as I wave goodbye to Mom and little bro at the airport on day seven.

But I will recover quickly, as I remember that it won’t be too long until I go home for good—my real home—where there will be no more tears, no more regret, no more long car rides, limited visitations, or broken families. This is the hope that heals—and brightens bad days.

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Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:1-4, NLT)