I’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)
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.
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)
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”
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.
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.“
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.
My title comes from lyrics to a song called “Pushing Back the Dark,” and as I prepare to speak at another women’s retreat, I need to hear these words: “Somebody needs the light you have.”
Right now, parts of my life feel dark. Not a depressed darkness, but an unknowing and confused darkness. Mainly, I have parenting puzzles I don’t know how to solve, and these consume most of my waking hours. I don’t know when domestic life will level out to where I feel I can handle it without hiring help.
Satan would have me believe I’m not fit to speak to this bunch of ladies in Texas because I still have so many problems regulating my household and my own emotions…but that is just life as I’m seeing it. I have to remember not to “underestimate the God I follow.”
I’m so thankful, in this time of discouragement, that I happened upon Josh Wilson’s CD Carry Me and his song “Pushing Back the Dark.” (I randomly picked it up at our local library.) The song has reminded me that I do have light to share, and somebody needs to hear it. Maybe I don’t have lots of answers to my parenting puzzles right now, but I can speak on overcoming depression—and that part of my life can bless someone else, as it has done before.
When I filmed my testimony for 3ABN, I was focused on reaching an audience beyond the TV studio. But within a week of filming, a crew member who had helped in the production of the show said he’d needed to hear my message. Praise God. Before the program aired, my light had already reached at least once person.
So today, if you feel dark and overtaken by current realities, I encourage you to remember the places in your life God has already lit up, and know that you do have something to share, and someone needs to hear it. You may not be an expert in all things, or have all the light there is to have, but you have some illumination, and you are called to “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
For more inspiration, read the full song lyrics here.
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!
“Sharing our stories of how God has saved us is the best way to share the gospel,” I told my audience at the Gulf States Women’s Retreat this November. That’s what I said, and over the course of the weekend that’s what I did. Stories, as Jesus well knew and demonstrated in his ministry, have a way of penetrating the heart like pure information cannot—and for this I am glad. It means I don’t have to be a Bible scholar to share Jesus, I just have to be willing to share what Jesus has done for me.
You see, stories from the heart open up other hearts in beautiful, sometimes painful, but also healing ways. After my first talk (of four), one woman caught my shoulder and said, “I need to talk to you,” and proceeded, for two hours, to tearfully tell me a story she’d “never told anyone” before. The next day, one woman after another approached me to confide their own stories of pain. “I could tell you some stories,” grandmother-aged women winked at me over lunch, and proceeded to do so. Over a thirty-six hour period, I heard stories of abuse, divorce, death, and attempted suicide, and not just me–the women started talking to one another! Praise God, this was one of my goals for the weekend: to get the women talking. To get them telling their stories.
But How Do I Know If I Should Share?
“But how do I know if my story should actually be shared, and if it’s actually going to bring glory to God or not?” the question came to me anonymously on Sabbath afternoon during a roundtable discussion. Good question, and I’ll answer it with the remainder of this blog.
The short answer is: defining your audience and purpose for sharing will guide you as to what to share, and when.
Defining your audience and purpose for sharing will guide you as to what to share, and when.
Each act of communication—each story we tell—has an audience and a purpose. What are yours? Let’s look at three levels of storytelling I have identified in my Christian/writing journey. You’ll see that each level has a different audience and purpose, and they all build upon one another to eventually lead to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, or our ultimate goal as Christians. Let’s talk about the audience and purpose for sharing the ugly stuff first.
Level One: Start Small
Purpose: To Heal from Your Pain and Your Past
Audience:God and One or Two Trusted People
If you’ve read Ending the Pain, you know that I believe sharing our painful stories is a first and necessary step in the journey to new life (whether we’re talking “new life” as Christians or “new life” after trauma). But when you are still in pain, with wounds still fresh, your first purpose for sharing must be to help you—not to witness to others.
I resent when Christians and churches ignore this part of our Christian journey—the part where we are broken and need healing—and simply tell us to go witness to others. Uh uh. Nope. True discipleship doesn’t work like that, because we can’t share what we don’t have. (See Part 2 of my book, the “New Beginnings” chapters, to read how effective we are when hiding behind plastic smiles at church. [Not very]).
Who should we tell our stories to when we are still broken and bleeding? Share them with a small audience that includes God and at least one other person—a spouse, a friend, or a trusted pastor or counselor. I don’t know why, but there is something freeing in the simple act of putting our stories outside ourselves—maybe it’s the new perspective and validation we gain; maybe it’s the support that comes when others suddenly know how to pray for us or help us. Whatever it is, it’s important to tell someone how you are hurting as a first step to healing.
Level Two: Identifying with Others
Audience:A Small Group
Purpose: To Get Support from and Give Support to Others Who Have Gone Through the Same Things
The next step to healing and moving your story outside of yourself is to tell a small group. Sometimes you will have to search for a group, and other times it will come together organically, as has happened recently in my life.
Three women at my “new” church in Missouri (my post Ending the Painchurch) read my book and caught on to what I was presenting, and all three reached out and asked me for the prayer ministry I described receiving in the book. After praying with two of them individually and repeatedly over the summer (becoming their “one” person to confide in for a time), I gathered them into a small group because it felt like time to take their healing to the next level (also because I couldn’t keep up the pace of all the prayer appointments!). These two women had begun to feel hope through connecting to Jesus in prayer and sharing their story with me, and it was time for them to find support in connecting with one another.
We’ve met three times now as a group, and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch them open up to one another (as I once did with my initial, Ending the Pain, prayer groups), realizing that other Christians struggle in the same ways they do. I have witnessed such relief in their faces and postures and words as they learn it’s actually okay to talk about their ugly stuff…in this audience, among kindred spirits, among others who “get” their pain.
This is key at the second level (and the first): choose your audience well. It’s already hard to share and be vulnerable, so make sure you will be safe when you share. Don’t believe the lie that no one else has gone through this. Oh, what a lie! (There is nothing new under the sun.) Pray for God to show you those who will understand, accept, and support you. When you find this audience, as the ladies in my group have “found” one another, you’ll find not only the release of telling your story, but also the blessing of identification. You will be blessed at hearing others’ stories, and you know what? Suddenly, though you are still a work in progress, you will be blessing others! You’re not all better yet, but the beauty of opening your broken heart to Jesus and several trusted others begins the process of sharing your story for God’s glory. You and your small group get to watch, together, as you are transformed into God’s likeness. Now that’s a testimony!
Level Three: Going Public
Audience: Anyone the Lord Moves You to Tell
Purpose: To Comfort Others with the Comfort You Have Received
When it feels comfortable and natural to share your story, when it ends with victory in Jesus, and when it no longer hurts (very much) to tell, praise God! You have gained a testimony that has gone past the “rough draft” stage and is ready for a larger audience. You are ready to share your story for God’s glory, not only to a couple close friends, but to whomever God moves you to tell.
That said, the audience for “public” sharing varies. We are not all called to go hugely public, and that’s okay. We all have a sphere of influence that only we can reach, whether it is one person or one thousand. The point here is, if God has changed your life for the better, you have a testimony, and because you are a Christian, you are called to share it with someone, some audience. Whether that audience is Aunt Mabel or coworker Bob or your book club or Bible study group—or whether God calls you to write a blog or publish a book or give a talk—God wants you to be ready to share the reason for the hope you have (1 Pet. 3:15).
Still Scared to Share?
Now, what if you have found victory in Jesus but still get weak-kneed at the thought of sharing? First I’d encourage you that even Bible giants like Moses got scared, and I’d remind you, as God reminded Moses, that God was the one who made Moses’ mouth (Ex. 4:10, 11); it is God who works in you to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13); and it is God who will embolden you to share. Just as you learned to ask him for healing in your hurt places, ask him to prepare you to speak to the audience he has for you. And he will. And guess what? The more you share, the easier it will get, until you realize that sharing your story is as easy as simply having a conversation.
Finally, after decades of not knowing how to “share Jesus,” I know what to say to people when they ask me about my faith: I just tell them my story. And I hope you, dear reader, are feeling encouraged to do the same…if and when you are ready.
But before you bust out a blog or a Facebook rant, first check your audience and purpose for sharing your story today. Ask yourself, and God, these questions to help you figure out when and where to share:
Is this primarily about me, or is it about Godworking in me?
Do I need more healing before I make this public?
Could I benefit from sharing this with a small group?
Am I at a point where my story would benefit others? Whom?
Will my story be good news to someone? Lots of people?
Finally, can I share my story publicly without needing approval from everyone? Perhaps a certain demographic won’t like it, but does it speak true of God and have the potential to bless more lives than it would ruffle feathers? (Remember, Jesus certainly didn’t base his ministry on approval ratings!)
Only God can answer these questions for you, but one thing I know: wherever you are right now, God can rewrite your sad story, and he can finish the good work the he has begun in you. We all have stories of sadness, suffering, sin, or struggle, but by God’s grace, over time, they can all become testimonies to the good news of Jesus Christ; they can all have happy endings.
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.
It’s a lesson I’ve been hearing and trying to apply for years: Don’t underestimate the power of good words. Today I’m not talking about skillful writing (per se), but uplifting words, written or spoken. I hear this advice as a wife, when my husband entreats me to stop nagging him for his shortcomings. “Positive reinforcement,” he says, “Is what will get me to change.”
I heard this advice at graduate school when learning best practices for teaching writing: “If you only criticize students, you will freeze their writing process. You must encourage what they are doing well so they can gain confidence to keep writing.” And, “Wait until later to correct their grammar and punctuation. If they only see red marks on the page, they will be so scared of screwing up, they won’t take any risks.”
The Bible says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (Prov. 15:4), and, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Prov. 16:24).
Putting Wisdom into Practice
I’ve tried to put this advice in practice this semester as a college writing instructor. This doesn’t mean I never comment on what’s bad in an essay, but I give as many compliments, if not more, as criticisms. And I waited until about halfway through the semester to significantly address punctuation or grammar. I’m not sure if it was this approach, or my sequence of assignments, or the natural improvement that comes over time, but by essay four, all my students were writing their best papers yet. I think it has something to do with all of the above, plus the fact that the fourth assignment, modeled on a magazine article submission, was a true story of their choosing written for teens. They seemed to care more about this task, given the topic and the clear audience, and it showed in their writing.
I think older, more experienced writers, can handle criticism without letting it derail them. Same goes for older people in any context, if they are well adjusted adults who have learned to let adversity lead to growth. Still, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings…” (Isa. 52:7). As one who has just received some good news, I am reminded just how life giving good news can be.
My Own Good News
This weekend I received the edit letter on the second (partial) draft of my memoir. I sent Trish 130 new pages thinking, “These suck,” but I sent them anyway, because I had done what she suggested. As I awaited her letter, I expected to read, “You were right; I see why you didn’t put these things in the book originally; they don’t work, they aren’t well written.” I thought she would confirm my self-diagnosis, and I would be stuck at square one, trying to figure out a book structure that’s been problematic from the beginning.
Guess what? I was wrong. Her letter positively glowed. Here are some of the good words she gave me:
I am so, so proud of you for digging deep.
It was a vivid, powerful reading experience.
I didn’t do much line editing, mostly because I was really caught up in the story.
These are great scenes. There are lots of pages where I don’t note anything because the story was carrying me along. That means you’ve done it right.
Overall, you have raised your writing level so much with these new pages. I know this is taking longer than you thought it would. But you will be glad you took this time and wrestled out these scenes. The end result will be a book that you will be really proud of, and will entertain and bless your readers.
You’re a fun, talented writer to work with.
The Results of Good News
After the second time I read through the six-page letter, I felt light, like a weight had been lifted. A week ago when I sent in my pages, I felt heavy, lost in my writing process, and unsure what I was going to do after she told me to try again. I resisted working on my memoir for the entire week, figuring it would do no good until I knew what she would say.
Now I am re-energized. Last night around bedtime, I even felt compelled to sit down and outline some new scenes that will finish the book. The outline poured out and suddenly clarified the structure of my book. I saw how the new pages would circle back to and unify this new, as yet unwritten, ending. I realized I could not have conceived of this ending until now, because the events have just happened within the last month.
One lesson for me to learn was, again, God’s timing. Though I tried to set a date on this book project from my very first blog post, I couldn’t, because I didn’t know what all needed to be in the book.
The other lesson was good news. How lovely was this good news to me! Would I have seen the vision for completing my memoir without Trish’s good words? God used her words to revitalize my writing, and now I can’t wait to get back to work!