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.

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

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Disclaimer: I definitely want my two wonderful boys, Sam (3) and Seth (16 months). It’s the sometimes-harsh conditions of the job and the crazy emotions that go along with it that have me at my wit’s end some days.

I wanted a gold star, I suppose. Recognition for a job well done. I wanted black and white answers, adequate sleep, and my sanity. I wanted happily ever after in the here and now.

But on Mother’s Day I lay in bed feeling low, unable to post one positive thing about motherhood, or one cute picture of my kids (see end of this post for some cute pics). No one told me I was doing a good job, least of all the voices inside my own head. Instead, I lay there doubting that motherhood had yet brought out one good thing in me–and wondering if I was screwing up my kids because I couldn’t get it together. At three years in, I was sick in bed with a sore throat, unable to mother my kids well because of my pain–the physical pain symbolizing a deeper pain motherhood has brought. 

It’s the pain of realizing the pain of life isn’t over yet. Happy chapters may have concluded, they may have led us into new, hopeful beginnings…much like the picture of my life I presented at the end of my memoir, Ending the Pain. (I just want to say here that the editors chose this title. And I want to clarify that some pain did end for me. But not all pain.)

All my pain is not over–and all your pain is not over–because we are caught in a war, a great controversy, between Christ and Satan. And the happy endings that our culture–our movies, our books, our music–sell us are not the truth. Our ultimate happy ending is not to be found in the “perfect” mate, our darling children, a new job, or pursuing our passions. Our happy endings are to be found in Jesus, who is coming again one day to take us away from this sin-soiled world and wipe away all our tears. But that day is not here yet.

Oh, I have been disappointed so often in life, because I put my trust in the wrong things, the wrong people. I trusted in things and people.

When will I learn that I must trust in God for everything?

On Mother’s Day I needed comfort for all my fears, insecurities, and unknowns–and when my husband gave me time to rest, God led me back to three portions of Scripture I’d marked in my Bible (pre-kids, when I had more time to study the Bible) to strengthen my heart.

Psalm 91 was the first Scripture God gave me, for all the fear, loneliness, and fretful waking hours I’ve faced in motherhood: 

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.

If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”

(Psalm 91, NLT)

I wanted life to be smooth sailing when I became a mom. I wanted to have perfect children, predictable schedules, lots of sleep, and a yelling-free life. 

But that, obviously, is not what I have. I have two beautiful, healthy, wonderful boys, but they rarely act according to my ideas of how they should act.

With Sam in his terrible three’s, we are seeing new parenting struggles I never knew existed. Why would someone cry because I turned off the light? Why would he scream because I moved a rug? Why would the world come to an end because I just want him to eat pizza? (What kid doesn’t like pizza?) And then, why would he tantrum some more because I wiped his tears away and he wants me to “put them back”? Moreover, how do you get a three-year-old boy to keep his clothes on? And why, suddenly, won’t he sleep all night in his room? How is he raring to go by 5:30 or 6 a.m., when he doesn’t even nap? How can I possibly prepare myself to deal with him when he’s up till 8, in my bed through the night, and awake by 6? Lord, can I give him back?

Clearly, I’m struggling. I don’t know the answers to so many questions right now with my kids, mostly Sam. I know the phases are largely temporary, but man, will I even survive the phases before one of us gets killed? (possibly by me?)

The Bible says to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). But I’m so confused. I’ve tried everything I can think of: timeouts, loss of privileges, positive reinforcement, spankings, selective ignoring, you name it. And I still don’t get the results I want most of the time.

Hebrews 12:1-12, and James 1:2-4 are the the second and third Scriptures God gave me, to encourage me especially in the areas of motherhood and discipline and endurance.

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;[c] then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children?[d] He said,

“My child,[e] don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”[f]

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?[g]

10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees.

(Hebrews 12:1-12, NLT)

Hebrews says, “No discipline is pleasant while it’s happening.” And as I struggle to discipline my strong-willed three-year-old, I feel like the one God is disciplining. He is refining me, trying to scorch off the impurities through these trials. I want my three-year-old to have self-control. But I still lack it.

I got so angry at Sam a week after Mother’s Day that I threw his toy across the room and broke it. (It was a $1 water spray bottle, but still. I can’t believe I could act so childishly.)

While reflecting on all this, I remembered the words from the keynote speaker at the Texas retreat where I spoke over a month ago: of her young motherhood years, she said, “I grew up with my children.” Well, count me in that category, too. I still definitely have some growing up to do.

Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)

God’s Words says, essentially, Be glad for the trials/temptations, for when they have had their perfect work, you will be mature and complete.

“You’re not mature and complete. You’re not done yet, Lindsey,” God says to me through these verses.

But it hurts so much, Lord, it’s so hard, I cried out to God on my Mother’s Day sick bed. Oh, I need it to get better, Lord! I need this to get easier! I need to go back to work, Buc to stay home, something to change. 

“Oh really? Or do you just need to learn to trust me? Trust that, when you reach a breaking point, Buc will step in; or Janice will ring the doorbell; or the tantrum will somehow subside; or, if you must, you’ll throw the kids in the car and one of them will fall asleep; or, at the least, you’ll sit down on the couch and just cry with them, all three of you, and the moment will pass.” (All of these scenarios have played out in my life, by the way.)

No discipline is enjoyable while it’s happening.

It hurts, Lord. I guess I have a hard time trusting you. I have a hard time not knowing so much about how my day will play out, each and every day. It hurts.

I have to believe the best is yet to come. I do believe it. Just like I believe God when He says:

The terrors by night will not overcome you [by “terrors,” I wonder…does he mean small children who won’t sleep?]…my promises are your protection and strength.

I wanted this to be easy, and I wanted only the good parts that come with motherhood. Much like I wish my Christian life would play out.

But being a Christian doesn’t guarantee fun, ease, enjoyability. Momming is a lesson in Christianity. (I’ve blogged about this before.) “Submit, submit, submit,” I keep hearing God whisper to me. I must submit to the Refiner’s fire. So, I say, I pray: Mold me, Lord. Burn me if you have to. Burn away the dross. Mold me into the mom you want me to be.

I guess the refining process is heartily underway.

So, I didn’t get my gold star on Mother’s Day. I didn’t get any recognition for a job well done. I didn’t get black and white answers, didn’t get happily ever after in the here and now.

What I got is the loud and clear message to “Hold on!” It might not be easy, but God will protect me, strengthen me, uphold me, and one day he will complete (perfect, mature) me. I may not be doing the job well, right now, but the job’s not done, and neither am I.

I guess this is enough, for now…as long as I get adequate sleep and keep my sanity–my other two wishes for Mother’s Day.

This blog post is To Be Continued, because I haven’t gotten adequate sleep for a few months, and I’ve actually questioned my mental health. With these two things in the balance, some days seem utterly dark and unmanageable (the water-bottle-throwing day was one of them). In my next post, I will write about mommy mental health and what God is showing me so far about how I can manage my Larger than Little People’s emotions.

My Unexpected Breakdown

Cry for Help by gesinek
Photo Credit: “Cry for Help” by gesinek

There have been times in my life when a breakdown seemed imminent, and lo and behold, I had one. After those incidents, people in my life—like parents, counselors, and doctors—looked back on the circumstances surrounding the breakdown and agreed, “Yeah, it’s no wonder.” I, too, understood where those meltdowns came from.

But about six months ago when I short-circuited (not to the point of self-harm or anything, just had an incapacitating freak-out for a few days), it didn’t seem imminent. It was unexpected. And people around me would have said the same thing. Today I’m writing to try figure out: What was up with that? And is there a bigger issue (a hidden root) I need to deal with?

Most people when they look at my life wouldn’t say I’ve got a problem: They’d probably say I’m really organized and driven—not breakdown material. I’m a leader in my church and have labored for the past two years to bring others to Christ, because I was so excited when I finally found him. So, in 2011, I started a small group Bible study with the intent of providing a place for my “Christian” friends to talk about Christ. Prior to that, I noticed we didn’t really talk about him together. Go figure.

Then, I got involved with a prayer ministry called Straight 2 the Heart. I took a three-month training, co-wrote a book with the program’s mastermind, and several months later my prayer partner and I started praying with two other friends to help them experience the freedom and joy we had found.

Concurrent with my prayer training, I took on the position of music leader at church and drummed up all kinds of “great” ideas to bring our fragmented church back together. One of them was starting a choir, and another was putting song leaders into teams to create community.

Last fall, 2012, I was on a roll, doing just everything in my little power to “revive” my church, which, I thought, had grown stale. I was proud when my older brother, now a missionary, visited us and observed that our home, with its two Bible study/prayer meetings a week had become an outreach center. I basked in the glow of his approval: if you haven’t guessed, I thrive on such accolades.

Breaking Point

Then, December came, and I had ten musical programs to line up, including the music all that month for church, and five vespers programs. Halfway through the month an out-of-state choir was to come perform, and I thought I had it all under control. I arrived at the church a safe thirty-five minutes early, or so I thought, only to be met by a disgruntled choir director who informed me I was supposed to have opened the church for them an hour in advance for set-up. She swore we’d discussed this detail on the phone, but I had absolutely no recall of it. Between setting up meetings, making phone calls, sending group emails to my Bible study and prayer groups, and coordinating choir things, my mind was too full to accommodate the memory.

It was then that I excused myself for the bathroom and broke down. In the farthest stall from the entrance, I sat and I cried and cried and cried. I started hyperventilating and couldn’t catch my breath. I called my hubby to ask what I should do. I was supposed to go out and introduce the choir in a few minutes, and I couldn’t stop crying.

Someone else ended up introducing them for me. Meanwhile, I missed almost all of Handel’s Messiah while I huddled in that bathroom stall trying to compose myself.

After December was done and I’d met my immediate commitments, I stayed home from church most of January, and I cancelled our home Bible study. People didn’t understand why I’d just quit cold turkey, and I couldn’t explain.

Making Sense of Things

Six months later, I know I had taken on too much. Not only did I take on too many jobs, but I took on the burden of other people’s salvation, and the burden of our church’s brokenness. Under the guise of “doing the Lord’s work,” I committed the sin of trying to play God himself, as if I could “save” my friends’ souls and fix my church’s issues.

I know I had the best of intentions, but now I also know I had a big problem. You see, after you’ve had a mountaintop spiritual experience, as I’d had during the prayer ministry, Satan swoops in with new wiles to trap you. After receiving so much healing, I felt on top of the world. And that’s when Satan must’ve suggested that I could make this healing happen for others. And do it in my own strength.

This week I’ve been praying about the same problem. After a bit of a ministry hiatus, I’ve been dipping back into outreach. As the church’s newly elected prayer coordinator, I’ve initiated a new prayer group at church, and as the communications secretary, I’m already dreaming big dreams for connecting our church in some new ways.

If I don’t watch out, I’ll end up barreling headfirst into another breakdown. How do I counter this good, yet bad, tendency?

Avoiding Future Breakdowns

Not long after said breakdown, I heard a sermon on Elijah’s “mountaintop” experience, after which he promptly sank into a despondent state (sounded familiar; see 1 Kings 18 and 19). The speaker said it’s common to fall low after experiencing a high, because we are worn out, and we let our guard down. Then he talked about how God actually commanded Elijah to rest for awhile, take care of himself, and then delegate work to someone else (shortly thereafter, he passed his prophetic mantle to Elisha).

This idea about resting after a strenuous effort was advice I needed to hear. So was the part about delegating. And it also reminded me of some other Bible passages I’d already read on this subject.

As I pondered this topic, God brought to mind the story in Exodus where he actually commanded Moses to dole out his work to seventy elders. I also remembered how the early apostles doled out food preparation duties when their numbers were growing rapidly so they could devote themselves to prayer and ministry of the word (Acts 6:3, 4). I also stumbled on other verses that encouraged me, such as Matthew 9:38 and Ephesians 4:11-13, which tell me God has a specific, special work for me—and it doesn’t include doing everything I theoretically and possibly could do for the Lord, or the church.

So how do I avoid future breakdowns?

Now I know that answer has something to do with delegating, taking some pressure off myself. And I know it also entails homing in on my specific appointed work from God and not getting sidetracked by any and every possible thing I could do for God, because then I’d never get a break (except when I break down!).

I also need to keep praying, to uproot the false beliefs that keep telling me I have to do it all. And I have to keep praying for God to reveal why I feel the need to control things—and I have to let him release me. Like every growing and healing experience, this one will take time.

 

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)

The Lonely Vegetarian

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So apparently in India, you can get a Mcveggie burger. We vegetarians in the states are still waiting.

Oddly enough, today again I find myself sitting in Mcdonalds, writing. Why would a vegetarian go to Mcdonalds, you ask?

Over the past few months of being homebound, I have discovered that Mcdonalds is actually a nice place to come and write. That’s true, of course, except when you sit down in an empty play area only to have it fill up with screaming kids (which happened to me a few weeks ago.)

ImageBut seriously. At Mcdonald’s, coffee is just a buck, and you get free refills.

And this was a pleasant surprise: Mcdonalds has renovated to make itself more modern and coffee-shop like. A poor man’s Starbucks, really.

Right now, in fact, I’m sitting on a cushy couch-like thing in front of a fake fireplace, with a flat-screen TV just to my upper left. It’s 10:18 a.m., with few people here except for some good-natured seniors in the corner over my right shoulder, smiling over their senior-sized coffees and chatting. (Once I interrupted a high-spirited Bingo game in the Playroom on a Friday. Kindly, the Bingo players let me sit quietly in the corner and blog.)Image

There are four Mcdonalds relatively close to where I live, so I have rotated among them, trying not to look like that loser who has nothing better to do than go sit solo in the same place day after day. So far I think I’ve remained relatively anonymous. I mean, I don’t go every day. Just when the house feels too empty.

Well, actually, that’s kind of the point. Why would a vegetarian go sit at Mcdonalds, you ask? And why am I drinking coffee, anyway? Health conscious Christian that I am, I’ve tried to quit several times. I was successful for a few weeks in 2010 when I had my heart conversion and found myself cutting out lots of old, icky stuff from my life.

But for the most part, I’ve been a steady drinker for almost ten years, ever since I dropped out of college and entered the most lonely phase of my life.

This is kind of embarrassing to admit, because in my particular church, caffeine use is seen as a bad thing. We focus lots on good physical health. That’s why I’m a vegetarian, in fact. And good physical health is a lovely thing.

But what happens when your bad physical habits are a result of bad mental health? Bad emotional health?

As I’ve learned in the past year, all bad behaviors stem from negative beliefs we have developed. Our negative patterns are reactions to negative thoughts and feelings implanted by Satan, the father of lies (see John 8:44), such as I’m alone, I have to protect myself, or I deserve to reward myself.

This is one of two “pillars” in The Hidden Half of the Gospel, the book I’m co-writing with Paul Coneff of Straight 2 the Heart ministries.

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This is the gist of what our book cover will look like. Currently, we are in round two of a three-round editing process. Thanks to Paul for letting me use this image.

And for me, it’s not just some high falutin’ theory. Nope. It’s what my own introspection keeps confirming. Day after day. Mcdonalds visit after Mcdonalds visit.

So I order my Egg McMuffin without meat. So I’m a healthy weight and I exercise pretty regularly.

So what?

I’m still here today—the lonely vegetarian—sipping joe with seniors. (Is that sad?)

At least I’m not sipping deadly medicinal cocktails.

“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Is that God’s voice I hear?

Well, maybe someone else said that.

Anyway, I think God understands that recovery is slow. And egg McMuffins are good. Not vegan, but I think He understands: heart health is more than meat or drink.

“We’ll keep working on it,” He says.

And for that, I’m lovin’ ‘im.

The Illusion of the Abyss

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This week has been a tough one so far. I don’t like to admit it, but I’ve battled some depression—at least, some depressive feelings. (But don’t mistake me—these are nothing like the suicidal thoughts of yesteryear). I finished my part on round two of my co-writing book project, handed it back to my co-writer, and then sank into a bit of an abyss that looks kinda like so:

The Rough Morning

Scene: Morning comes, time for hubby to wake up. It’s 6 a.m. and dark.

Crap. [my thoughts—bad angel]

“I should get up and make him breakfast.” [my other thoughts—good angel]

But why? He gobbles it down in five minutes, then leaves. [bad angel again]

“But when we decided on this arrangement, it was understood: This was part of my job.” [good angel—you get the point]

Exposition: Then I feel guilt because I’ve been sleeping in more and more lately. [Not sure which angel.]

What is there to get up for? I have ten hours of aloneness stretching in front of me. And I can’t even stand to write for more than five.

“I could clean the house.”

Who even cares anymore? We stopped our Bible study at our house a couple months back. And it doesn’t make a difference to hubby. All he needs is a clear spot on the couch, where he will come home to sit all evening barely talking to me anyway… [definitely bad angel—I understand that my hubby is just tired at the end of the day; I would be, too.]

…And my family is all 1,000 miles or more out of reach. Can’t go visit mom or dad down the street. Can’t see little bro, and big bro is halfway around the world in a mission field. [stupid bad angel won’t shut up]

So why get up?

(I’d like to thank my blogging friend, Harper Faulkner, for inspiring this bit of internal dialogue, although it’s not what I had in mind when I told him I’d try to be more humorous in my posts, like he is. Oh well. Baby steps.)

Starting the Day

At 7 a.m., or 7:30, or 8, or 8:30, the day is brighter, and I can finally stand to face it. So I hoist myself out of bed, trying to brush away the cobwebs in my brain.

I debate how to start the day.

I will pray. I always pray. But maybe I will try to exercise first, because I’m still not thinking too clearly. Maybe exercise will clear out some of the cobwebs.

So I pop in P90X and accomplish thirty minutes of a sixty-minute-long DVD—I didn’t know when I selected it that Plyo-X was the “mother” of all P90X videos—before exclaiming, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

There’s no way I can do another set of these squats.

Click.

Fast forward through a shower and breakfast.

Now it’s 9:30 or 10. I sit down at my dining room table-slash-workspace, and try to pray.

The Prayer Session

“Lord, I’ll just be honest. I don’t wanna face this day. I know you are big and great and all powerful. I know that you offer me “glorious, unlimited resources” [says the New Living Translation of Ephesians]. I just don’t feel them right now. I feel depressed, and I think I shouldn’t, because you have been so good to me this past year. And I am so thankful I’m able to write instead of teach bratty high school kids this year (oh, am I thankful!).

But I’m so lonely.

And I don’t know why, if I’m so blessed, I’m having these feelings.

Lord, do you have anything to say to me?”

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Asking God actual questions that I expect Him to answer is a new thing for me. It’s all due to Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart, or the prayer ministry I have been working with since last July, both learning to pray for myself and with others, and helping to write The Hidden Half of the Gospel with Paul.

Silence.

“Lord, what’s up? I’d like to hear from you right now, because I feel a bit lost. It’s like I’m starting over again.”

I mean lost in my career at the moment. I recognize this feeling from January, right after I finished my master’s degree and before starting this blog. Around that time, I applied to an MFA and a PhD program, and currently [in March] I am still waiting to hear from both. I canceled my birth control in January, too, and am still waiting to see if we’re fertile. I’m almost done helping Paul with his book, and am now waiting to see if he wants to really make me part of his ministry (which I love), or if I’m just to be on call when he has a writing project. I also have this “Before Thirty Project”—my memoir—roughly handwritten in about three notebooks, but the task of polishing and marketing it seems too huge when my life could take a drastic turn any day. And then I have this blog, which I can easily pour all my time into, but I don’t feel that would be very wise.

Notice my mind—see how it races! It does this a lot. I get to thinking about things so frenetically that I can hardly choose one single activity to start my “work” day. Like on a day like today.

“Lord, I don’t even know where to start. What to work on? Can you help me? What should I even blog about? I can’t even decide that.

Since learning to pray dialogically (yep, that’s another grad school word [meaning two-way]), usually I do hear from God. Usually the answers materialize almost as soon as I formulate the question, or I get an impression.

Now, I don’t hear words, but I feel my eyes gliding to rest on my prayer journal.

It occurs to me (and let’s not discount Who is making it occur) that I have been trying so hard to make something happen today, to reinvent the wheel, to even figure out what to pray for—and I’m probably repeating myself. I’ve forgotten something.

Maybe all I need to do is look again at what God’s already told me. (This is the benefit of keeping a prayer journal).

So I open it up and read what I’ve written for the past three months.

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Lessons from Prayers Past

Surprise, surprise. I’ve already prayed about all this stuff and more. Common themes in my prayers since January:

  • Loneliness, the sense of loneliness from being alone in this big house all day.
  • Anger that I’m alone. [This usually comes around Christmastime, where I see it in my journal now, and I know it was exacerbated this year because I didn’t get to see my family for the holidays, and I haven’t seen them now since last June.]
  • A sense of being Overwhelmed. [I ended last year at a sprint, having gotten super-involved in ministry for the past year, including this prayer ministry I love, and starting a church choir, and running an in-home Bible study with my husband.]
  • Resentment that I was doing so much for others and yet feeling so little being done for me. My blog readers have a better idea of my feelings than most of my friends, because I hide them (my feelings, I mean).

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As I reread these woes, I feel discouraged at first. Gosh darn, and I thought I’d done so much growing over the past year with Straight 2 the Heart!

But as I read, I also see another pattern emerging. For each whiny problem, God’s booming voice answers. I’m alone, angry, overwhelmed, and resentful, but through it all, represented in my messy scrawl, is God’s much bigger voice—His promises, His care.

And to that end, I see something else in these journal entries.

I couldn’t see them while going through the past few months, but now that I look back, I read the following string of answered prayers:

  • For my stress in ministry, God has brought more people to help, such as a new friend at church who has taken the choir idea and run with it. He has also taken away the burden of our Bible study by moving it to a young adult class at our church, which our church desperately needed!
  • For my loneliness, God has added some people to my life, like a niece who comes over sometimes to get tutoring during the week; a Groupon-shopping friend who invites me for spa days periodically; and this blog, where I am meeting more like-minded people all the time.
  • For my loss of family time, God moved my hubby just a week ago to decide (on his own) to buy me a plane ticket so I can take part in a cousin’s wedding in Minnesota next week. Oh, thank you, Lord—how I have missed family!

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As I look at all these blessings, I am again overwhelmed, but now in a good way.

“Wow God. Thanks. I know you’re here. And you’ve been here. I just can’t really hear you very well right now, for whatever reason.”

And now I remember something else that Paul told my prayer group and me when we began our training last July:

“When you really start giving your life to God and praying for victory, expect Satan’s attacks to increase. Now that he sees you’re going with God, he will try to stop you any way he can.”

Huh. Actually, for the first few months of prayer ministry, I felt great. Wondered where Satan was. Thought I was getting off easy when all my group mates reported greater attacks from the enemy.

Oh, but he is a master deceiver. And maybe he was just waiting…waiting…to throw me off his trail. So that I wouldn’t recognize his attacks for what they were when they finally came.

Well, they’ve arrived. And each morning this week I’ve had to fend them off on my knees. And I’m still not hearing God like I want to. But I also remember that lots of God’s people went through wilderness experiences. And it didn’t mean God wasn’t there (remember the poem “Footprints”?).

I know he’s here. Though it may take me a little extra time to get out of bed these days, I won’t give up praying. I will hold on—knowing God and I will ride out this storm together—knowing this abyss is just one of Satan’s many illusions—and it, too, shall pass.

This week I will also remember that God has a plan, and that I don’t have to have all the particulars right now. When I look back in a few months or years, hindsight will be clear enough.

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