Life held no joy. I dreaded every day. I didn’t understand my behavior, so I couldn’t help myself. And I was making my family miserable. Three weeks ago, I finally sought medical help for over eight months of what I’ve learned was uncontrolled Anxiety (not postpartum depression, as some moms on a Facebook group suggested). And now I am able to breathe again. Able to sleep again. Able to cope again. Able to praise God, even in a time of vast uncertainty.
On the day I finally decided to go to the doctor, I was hyperventilating, again. I hadn’t slept well the previous night, again. The kids were demanding ten million things of me and I kept repeating, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” literally too paralyzed by anxious thoughts to be able to help them. I felt, as I have so many times in the last eight months, that I just needed to get away and have a mental breakdown. I needed a weekend away to regroup, or even a day. But when you have two little kids and no family around, you can’t really do that. My course over the past year has been, instead, to explode. I have been a scary mommy. And a selfish wife.
When things came to a head this past month, which they did after my husband was laid off (due to a merger), my explosions turned to sob sessions. I saw what my Anxiety was doing to my family (although I didn’t know it had a name), and I knew it had to stop. I just didn’t know how to help myself. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to take some good advice.
Two good friends, who have also been spiritual mentors to me over the years, recently revealed that they are getting counseling for emotional issues or life stresses, one of them also taking medication. Getting this knowledge was like getting permission to get counseling myself.
The counselor I saw suggested my root problem was perfectionism (which cannot coexist with parenting toddlers), but she also said I might benefit from Anxiety medication. I agreed with the diagnosis of perfectionism, but was resistant to medication. One week after my counseling session, on the horrible day I described above, I decided it was time to put aside my Christian pride and ask for some drugs.
Friends, it was the best decision I have made in a long time.
I haven’t been on medication for thirteen years—and I don’t feel it helped much in the five years I took it (ages 15 through 20). The healing I finally found for depression eight years ago (age 25) as described in my book, came through Scripture and prayer…but guys, life has changed since then. My hormones have surely changed, as the counselor pointed out. I’ve had two babies, we’ve had two moves, lost the support of family nearby, and now we have lost a job and face another new start.
It’s no wonder I’ve had some anxiety. I just didn’t realize it was anxiety with a capital A. Or that I could get help for it from a pill.
Some of you will be curious, and I don’t mind sharing (because that’s what I do around here): I’m taking Lexapro nightly, and Xanax as needed. The first week, I needed the Xanax daily to battle a beast that was raging out of control. During the second week, I needed it less and less, and now in week three, I haven’t needed it at all. The Xanax, that is. But the Lexapro seems to be working wonders.
I’m happy to report that joy is returning to my life. Equilibrium to my emotions. And sleep to my mornings. Praise God, sleep is again possible from the hours of 3 to 6 a.m. I have not blown up at my kids for days, and I am starting to repair the damage I did to my marriage over the recent rough months, when I was too busy clawing my way through each day to lend any real support to my husband, who is now facing his own brand of (lower-case) anxiety due to job loss.
I know there are deeper problems to face—chief most my perfectionism, which has surely stolen much joy from my family over the years—but right now I am simply thankful to be able to breathe. To be able to sleep. To be able to praise God because I’m not hyperventilating. And to be able to parent my sweet, but explosive little people without exploding myself. Oh, thank you, Lord, for helping me to get the help I need, right now, in this uncertain time of life.
Friends, if you are struggling like I’ve struggled, and if it has lasted for months, and if you’ve tried talking, praying, or making otherwise drastic changes, but nothing is working, don’t feel bad if you need to seek medical help. A prescription is not necessarily forever. But it might be the lifeline you need for a particular season. That’s where I am right now. I’m going to keep praying through my perfectionism, but for now, I’m thankful for the pills that are allowing me to cope.
Last February I gave birth twice: I delivered my second son, Seth, and I published a memoir on “overcoming depression.” This double blessing felt awesome…until four months later when I found myself drowning—in babies, book messages, babysitting jobs, and ministry engagements—hiding from the kids in my bedroom and texting my husband, “I can’t do it anymore! It’s just too much! I need to escape from life!”
Do I have postpartum depression? I wondered, aghast at the thought. What would my readers say? I didn’t really think it was depression, because unlike in my former, suicidal state, I didn’t want to escape life itself as much as I just wanted to escape my messy house. But if it wasn’t PPD, what was I to make of my regular exhaustion, tears, and adult tantrums? For the sake of myself, my family, and my readers (who wanted to know overcoming depression was possible), I knew I had better figure out what was going on, and fast.
When We Can’t See What’s in Front of Us…We Might Be Drowning
I didn’t figure it out right away.
My good intentions to pray into my problems got buried in a busy summer of business trips with the hubby and daycare for four kids—my baby and toddler, plus a 7- and 11-year-old from our church. Added to these disruptions in sleep schedules and household routines, I was fielding new questions and calls from sincere book readers who deserved sincere responses, as well as returning to the time-intensive prayer ministry I’d facilitated pre babies.
I didn’t realize it, but little by little, the demands of my beautiful life, lively kids (plus two), and lovely readers had been drowning me. To the point where I was tired all the time. Drinking too much coffee. Unable to get literal rest, or the spiritual rest of prayer and Bible study that had once brought healing from my decade of pre-partum depression.
After a few too many blowups at my husband, one July night I took said hubby’s advice and made a thorough inventory of my bursting life—and I finally realized my problem. It wasn’t postpartum depression. It was postpartum drowning. (“I could’ve told you that,” Hubby said. “I did tell you that.” Oops.)
So now I knew what my problem was. And I was on the road to fixing it. But if you’re not sure, maybe you can do what I did to figure out if you’re depressed…or drowning.
Do You Have Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning?
First, I took a hard look at what was going on in my life, and what moods or emotions I was experiencing. Next, I did some research on the symptoms of PPD. Finally, I asked myself: Is what I’m experiencing in the realm of normal for a new mom, or is it in the extreme? Once I’d asked and answered these questions, I knew how to proceed, and you can too.
According to mayoclinic.com, if you have PPD, you have a depressed mood or severe mood swings, excessive crying, fatigue, energy loss, intense irritability, and anger. You also find it difficult to bond with your baby, you withdraw from family and friends, and you eat too little (or too much). You aren’t interested in, or don’t enjoy, activities you used to enjoy; you have severe anxiety or panic attacks; and you have recurring thoughts of harming your baby or yourself.
If I had looked at these symptoms in isolation, I might have falsely concluded I had PPD, because some of them described what I was going through. But because I looked at these symptoms along with my situation, it seemed pretty clear that my problems were tied to normal mom stuff, not necessarily PPD.
While my fatigue, irritability, and anger were common to PPD, they were also natural results of being a mom of littles: namely, I had choppy sleep due to baby wakings, and I had poor nutrition because I didn’t have time to cook very good meals, or helping hands to allow me to eat what I cooked.
In contrast to the various “losses” the medical description gave (loss of appetite, loss of interest, loss of friends), I realized I just wanted to be able to enjoy those things I already enjoyed even more. Instead of losing my appetite, I wanted to find time to eat. Instead of inability to sleep or sleeping too much, I just wanted to sleep a normal 8 hours, for crying out loud. Instead of difficulty bonding with my baby, I wished I had some extra hands around so that I could bond (instead of hurtling like a crazy woman between my toddler and my baby). Instead of reduced interest in activities I used to enjoy, I just wished—for the love of God—that I could get away and do my pleasurable activities (visit a coffee shop, write, exercise).
As for the more severe symptoms, I didn’t want to kill myself or my kids, I wanted to live my best life and help them lives theirs. Admittedly, I wanted to live life a little more the way I remembered it before babies, but the important thing here is that I had desire for life, a passion for my kids, and a passionate desire to live my life and raise my kids well.
So I concluded I did not suffer from postpartum depression, but rather postpartum drowning. I wasn’t depressed in the giving up sense; I was simply unhappy because taking care of my baby, toddler, and two more kids—plus the handful of women I was mentoring through prayer ministry—left no room or energy on my plate to do those things that had previously saved me and made life enjoyable. (It’s worth noting that I felt the negative feelings dissipate whenever I could get a babysitter for an hour or two to write, bathe, or eat a full meal.)
The crux of my postpartum problem, then, was this: I didn’t have enough hands. I didn’t have enough hands to both carry (care for) my kids and also tread the waters of my own (perfectly normal) postpartum emotions. At this point, it was obvious that I was drowning, and it finally became obvious what I needed to do.
What to Do if You’re Drowning (or Depressed)
Whether you are a depressed or drowning postpartum mom, first and foremost you need to Get Help. And I don’t mean mental help. I mean physical help. You need someone who can hold and feed your babies for a few hours, or clean your house, or cook, or do whatever, so you can do what you need to do to get healthy.
For me, getting healthy entails writing. As I learned during my pre-mom depression recovery, writing not only helped me cope with life, but it also gave me deeper life satisfaction, because I was good at it…and I realized God was calling me to bless others with it. And I bet you have something you do that helps you cope, brings deep satisfaction, and possibly helps others, too. But if we don’t have time to write, or do whatever it is that gets us “healthy” (as we usually don’t during the crazy postpartum period), then it’s no use.
First, we must get help.
So, as my summer babysitting job wound to a close, I searched for a part-time nanny to hold down the fort so I could go write for a few hours a week. And (cringe), while I’m being honest, I also hired a cleaning lady twice a month.
Before you slam down your computer in disgust—because who can afford to hire a cleaning lady? much less a part-time nanny?—hear me out.
First, I know. I know I am extremely lucky to be able to afford this. Many moms can’t. Which is where I say use the resources you have. Some of us have family nearby who can babysit, or friends with whom we can trade services for babysitting. I don’t. My closest family members are 500 odd miles away, and I’m still new to this area and meeting other moms.
What I do have is a husband with a good career, a little mad money from babysitting, and some modest earnings from a book. So I have chosen to use my resources to get the help I need. And I’m trying not to feel bad about it. (Despite that friend on Facebook who pooh-poohed my “need” for help because I am a stay-at-home-mom.)
Second, if you face naysayers who say hiring help as a SAHM is too indulgent, or too much “pampering” of oneself (or if you feel that way, yourself), consider two things:
One: Are you sure you really can’t afford it? As my new nanny, Paula (how I love her), says, “A lot of people who think they can’t afford this actually could afford it…if they made it a priority. The question is: what else are you willing to give up?” A good point.
And two: Is hiring help actually spoiling yourself, or is it just helping you take care of yourselfin a necessary way? After deferring my mental and emotional needs in my pre-mom life…to the point of attempted suicide and bulimia, I’m choosing to take myself, and my self-care, pretty seriously. If you have a history of depression, are depression prone, or more sensitive than the average woman, you should too.
If you identify more with the depressed version of myself I just relayed, I can certainly give you the advice that helped me in my pre-partum depression days, and which I wrote about in my memoir:
Form new and better habits.
Read and memorize Scripture.
Pray to Jesus, who understands everything we’ve gone through.
Spend quiet time in prayer and ask God to show you his blessings—then ask him what your barriers are.*
But if you are depressed and also a postpartum mom—which I was not when I took all that good advice—then you still need to get help…because no matter whether we have depression or not, all postpartum moms are drowning—drowning in armloads of babies, dishes, and laundry (and other stuff) that we need someone to take care of before we can take care of ourselves.
Which brings me to my final point…
If You Only Read One Section in this Article, Read This:
If hiring help is what it takes to get you the relief you need—to keep you sane and functional—It’s not indulgent. It’s necessary.
Yesterday while Seth slept on my chest, I finished an article and submitted it to a website. I think it was the first creative thing I’d done postpartum, besides drawing a breakfast menu for Sam. To say I’ve been residing in a cave feels about right. It’s not dark and depressing, but it is a tunnel, and it does block my vision of things I used to see, and bars me from things I used to do. That’s why finishing that article yesterday felt so good. It helped me glimpse the creative side of myself again
I’ve found it hard to write since Seth’s birth. Mainly because my hands are always full, but also because I haven’t felt I had anything new or edifying to say about this period in my life. What I’ve managed to scribble in my writer’s notebook lately mostly goes something like this: “I didn’t know what busy was until I had two kids.” “I am exhausted.” “My brain is on the fritz.” “I feel like a crappy parent.” “I wish I could relax sometimes.” “Life is beautiful, but this is just a hard season, you know?”
Another thing that’s been hard during this postpartum period is reading my Bible. I’m too distracted. Too busy. Too bursting with my own unexpressed, unprocessed thoughts to take on the grand themes of God’s Book. And I was having a lot of guilt about this lack of Bible reading, as we “good Christians” do, until I sat down and examined this feeling, and had the following inner dialogue.
My faith feels stagnant right now. Maybe even in remission…because I’m too busy feeding my children (literally) to be fed spiritually. So how am I supposed to grow in my faith?
Share what I already have.
But how can I share my faith right now, when I’m in a “cave”? (Literally, when I don’t see people besides my kids on a daily basis?)
Write.Write about what you’ve experienced God doing in the past; also, write your experiences now. Maybe these daily details don’t seem edifying today, but later, when you have time and perspective, you can help others who are muddling through the same tunnel.
Indeed, the literature that has touched me during this postpartum period has come from other mother-writers, writing of their years in the trenches. I recently joined MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), and besides the moms-in-the-flesh I’ve met at our physical meetings, I’ve become connected to a number of mom-writers, through the MOPS blog and Magazine, Hello,Dearest, who have inspired me.
The current theme of Hello, Dearest is rest, with a number of articles about reawakening the creative parts of ourselves and doing activities that truly rest our souls (not just numb our brains)–and this theme was something I needed to attend to. I’ve needed to rest, through creating, again.
And so I wrote that magazine article yesterday–I created something–and because I couldn’t write edifying things about my current cavewoman state, I wrote about lessons learned in the past.
In time, I’m sure I’ll gain the needed perspective (and empty hands) to be able to write inspiring things about these postpartum days and beyond, because God has proven faithful to me in that way before.
If I’m tempted to forget that hard moments can make for inspiring stories, I just have to look at the stack of boxes filled with my first memoir…currently sitting in my cave…(in other words, not being circulated except by my dad, who is lugging a case of books around Minnesota on radio advertising sales calls for me…thanks, Dad!). Anyway, my first memoir is making the rounds among Adventist Book Centers around the country; with Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart Ministries (whom I wrote The Hidden Half of the Gospelwith); and finding its way into the homes of friends, family, and a few unknown readers who’ve left me good reviews.
All in all, despite my current cavewoman status, I am feeling good these days: still no postpartum depression (although people keep asking me because of my history with depression), and forming some thoughts about parenting…which I’m jotting in my writer’s notebook until God tells me it’s time to polish them up for the public. I can’t see much yet from within the tunnel, but one thing I know: I’ve started the process of crawling out.
Another year is coming to a close, and as I can’t help doing, I’m already making plans for 2016. Namely, with baby #2 on the way, I’m looking at down-sizing my goals, and maybe hiring a quarter-time nanny with my book advance.
But what happened to my 2015 goals/resolutions? I did think about them some over the year, and I even wrote the germ of this post in May to check my progress…but my goals got somewhat swallowed up in our baby news, move, and continuous travel.
So before I leave this ambitious stage of life to enter another round of infant craziness, here’s a look back at how my 2015 resolutions played out.
Oh, putting my family first this year was a paradigm shift! I realized that I had often made writing my primary focus, to the point of making it an idol (yikes). But with the resolutions I made, The Love Dare, and God’s help, I no doubt grew in this area.
Here are some family and motherhood gains I made over the year:
I learned to be mostly nice (or at least not say anything mean) to my husband in the mornings—AKA the time of day when things are at their craziest and I at my most stressed.
Buc and I started implementing more date nights to preserve our marriage in this busy time of toddlerhood. While we don’t always achieve a weekly date night, we both recognize the importance of sitting and talking on a regular basis. It’s encouraging how you can stave off marital stresses with a little focused, face-to-face communication.
I learned to make singing with Sam a regular part of our day. If you will recall, singing with Sam did not come naturally to me at first, even though I am a musical person (I still have early childhood/teen roots to write through on my issues with music). But now singing comes easily.
At first I listed out one song a week, because I was not in the habit of singing with Sam AT ALL—like, not a note all day long. But having the list helped initially to remind me to sing. So did playing some kids’ CDS we got for Sam’s baby shower. I listened to 100 different Bible songs over and over, until I could sing most of them, and now singing comes pretty naturally. I am not writing down a song each week anymore, because I don’t need to. Singing has, happily, become a habit (and this is a great depression fighter).
We don’t yet have family devotions every night with Daddy—can you believe the day gets away from us before we can even sometimes sing songs with Sam? But we do have a family prayer, and Daddy has told me he is taking more responsibility for including this in our day.
I am happy to say I made some photo memories and mementos in 2015: I filled several photo albums with prints I already had, and then I transitioned into the world of electronic photo albums. I made an album for Sam on Shutterfly documenting his second six months.
I also made a family wall of pictures and decorated our living area with group shots of family and friends. These little touches made it so nice to come home from TX and MN visits; I had a living space that surrounded me with loved ones even though they were far away.
Resolution 2: Make Healthy Choices for My Family and Myself
So, to sum this one up, I didn’t stick perfectly with my plan to eat healthy (here’s a second post about this, too)—I think I began to derail when chocolate Easter bunnies hit the shelves—but overall, our diet is pretty darn good…and I finally lost all my (first) baby weight at fourteen months postpartum. At thirty-ish weeks pregnant with #2, I am keeping to a healthier weight gain, and I don’t expect to put on the 50 pounds I did last time.
I must report that at Sam’s fifteen-month appointment, his pediatrician raised concerns about his slow growth and encouraged me to give him juice and more sweets (“he’ll use the sugar for extra calories” he said)—so I started to. It didn’t happen right away, but in the second half of this year, Sam’s and my diet got a little “junkier,” although still not bad—and now Sam is in a picky eating phase, which I am told is “normal,” and which I am trying to patiently wait out.
A distant goal is to diversify our diet a little more, only because I like variety, but this will come slowly, because Buc does NOT like variety. So I am not killing myself to crack the cookbooks right now. I did join our potluck team at church so I can have an excuse to try new recipes from time to time…
Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child
This goal was unquestionably met, and it didn’t take too long. It was in June, after a few failed home pregnancy tests, that I got the news from my new OB that I was, surprise, expecting! It was a funny way to find out, because this was exactly how I found out with Sam: I was just going to a new OB’s office for a meet-and-greet to discuss getting pregnant…and lo and behold, at the end of both appointments, I found out I was!
Resolution 4: Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time
Writing time definitely went down this year, but with the recent book acceptance, I feel God really blessed the time I was able put in. I made some of the most important revisions and added some of the most important scenes to my memoir in 2015—or the ones that sold the book.
At the beginning of the year, I also proudly maintained weekly blog posts and I ambitiously set a goal of writing and submitting five magazine articles this year. After the first article was written and rejected, and the second one unraveled, I put that goal aside, along with my blog for a time, because it was clear my priorities needed recalibrating. I did have this article published online in March.
Currently, I am aiming to stay “active” on my blog (not quite sure what that will mean with baby #2), trying to refrain from making any time-bound writing goals, and striving to let God show me when more projects will be ready to come together. I am heartened to remember that my memoir, and previous magazine articles I published, sat in various states of undone for years before God gave me their conclusions, or their unifying themes. I trust him to make clear when it’s time to take on more projects.
As You Make Goals for 2016…
For those of you working on new habits, goals, or resolutions, here’s a little wisdom I’ve learned: Goals and resolutions are good for us; they give us purpose and direction and by all means should be pursued. But once a goal is no longer helpful, or your needs change, or you accomplish your goal, feel free to drop it or change it. Resolutions should be guidelines for life, not ironclad rules. As life changes, we need to change with it.
I’ve been mostly missing from social media for the past four months, so I’ll start with a few pictures to catch you up. (Also because I feel some unnecessary guilt for not posting these on Facebook…sorry faraway fam and friends…my intentions have been good…)
In June we found out we were expecting #2! He or she is due in February!
Also in June, Sam’s “Grandma Su,” my mom, came to visit from Minnesota for two weeks. Oh, it was so nice to have a grandma around!
In July and August we traveled. A lot. We spent over two weeks in Texas and two weeks in Minnesota.
While in Texas, we saw my bestie and Sam’s namesake, Samantha. I will always love this girl for setting me up with my husband and, thereby, making baby Sam possible. (We also saw lots of other friends and family; I’m just horrible at taking pictures.)
Also while in Texas, Buc and I celebrated our 10th anniversary by staying in a sweet little Bed and Breakfast for three nights. Sam’s other grandma, “Nanny” Margie, babysat. During those couple of days, I used the vacant lounge at the B&B to mostly finish my book. (I resubmitted my manuscript to a publisher earlier this week and eagerly await their response.)
And I must mention that my husband fulfilled a lifelong dream during this time: purchasing a ’69 Corvette. “Lindsey [#2]” stayed back in Texas where we have garage space, but Buc hopes to move her to Missouri soon. (Here’s a pic of the fam in the new Corvette, riding in the 4th of July parade! Miserable pic of the Corvette, but oh well. It’s my blog, and I like pictures of people better than pictures of things!)
In Minnesota, Sam caught up with his other grandparents, Daryl and Juanita (sorry again, major picture-taking lapse), and met many of his cousins at the beach. (Photo courtesy of Manda Tumberg.)
I also celebrated my 31st birthday. We had not been to Minnesota since the last time I was pregnant, or two years ago. It was a very overdue visit. (Photo courtesy of Manda Tumberg.)Back in Missouri, needing a more kid friendly place (and with a new baby in mind), we began the process of closing on a house. Here is the new kitchen I can’t wait to move into. (All that counter and cupboard space–yes!!!)
Unfortunately, due to a snafu with the gas inspection, our closing has been delayed, we had to cancel our movers for today, and I am stuck with this for a kitchen for at least another week.
At first I was tempted to cry.
But then I prayed, and God reminded me he is in control. So I will slow down; enjoy the last days of summer; and be thankful that, with all my pots and pans packed, I won’t have to do much cooking for the next week!
Now, with my book manuscript submitted, and with my priorities re-calibrated, I plan to do some blogging again–at least until #2 arrives, at which point I’m sure I’ll take more blogging breaks.
Praying my friends, family, and readers are blessed, as well. It’s good to be back!
I’m thirty years old with a ten-year-old marriage and a one-year-old son, and I’ve realized I’m stupid in love.
Not stupid in dreamy, teenage girl love, or romantic young woman love. Those are some of the false notions of love paraded in media and in our culture, and I know all about those. Those are the kinds of love that get you into trouble with teenage boys, and that get your foot through the door of marriage, but rarely any farther.
No, I’m stupid in agape love. God’s love. The love that chooses to love when someone is unlovely, when someone is angry, when someone needs you all the time and can’t return a favor. How did it come to my attention that I’m stupid in love?
I sought degrees, careers, publishing credits, and pats on the back from friends, church members, and family—because these investments weren’t risky…I knew I could keep them, no matter what.
One of my accomplishments was co-writing a book called The Hidden Half of the Gospel. It’s a book about how Jesus can heal our suffering, because he went through everything we did. And through the writing of that book, and through participating in the accompanying prayer ministry, I did largely heal from my suffering.
I began to open up to people like never before. I began to seek relationships. I began to spread the healing message I had learned in prayer groups and women’s ministry. My social life became the fullest it’s ever been. And I even decided to take the risk of having a child.
I thought I was pretty well equipped for this new job of motherhood and homemaking, what with all the healing I’d done.
Well, I wasn’t.
Yes, I had experienced the love of Jesus pouring into my heart—that’s what healed me from my own childhood wounds. But over the past year-ish of parenting—and especially since we’ve moved to St. Louis, where I mostly sit at home with my husband and son, stripped of outside relationships, accomplishments, and recognition—I’ve realized I’m not well equipped at all. I’m bad at putting my husband and son ahead of myself. I’m stupid in love.
It shows up in my short temper with Buc for not helping clean our new, tiny, easily dirtied kitchen. It shows up in my irritation at Sam for waking at “inconvenient times,” or for taking up “my” writing time. It shows up in my resistance to embracing the fact that THIS IS MY CALLING; THIS IS MY LIFE’S WORK RIGHT NOW.
The Love Dare has honestly helped me more than any self-help book I’ve read—and I’ve read a lot—because it is getting my mind off myself. For most of my twenties, I thought the best thing I could do was to focus on improving myself, because I was a miserable creature. But while “self-directed self-improvement” is sometimes called for, too much of it can ruin your heart for others. I think this is where I was before The Love Dare.
Before the dare, I was still too focused on developing myself and my career that I forgot my roles also include homemaking, wifehood, and motherhood—because God created women for these roles. I’m not saying he created us for these things exclusively, but when we have husbands and children—as I do—they should definitely be top priorities.
Yes, I needed The Love Dare to challenge me, to move me out of my prideful high place, and to put me back in the driver’s seat of God’s callings for me of wife, homemaker, and mom. I needed a “self-improvement program” that judges my progress within the context of how much time and effort I am putting into others—because where we spend our time (and money, if we have it) shows what we really love.
At this point, I’d say I’m still “stupid” in love. But I am learning. Day by day, and dare by dare. Slowly, my life is beginning to look more others-centered.
Sam was a different baby when we moved away from Texas. Not yet one, not yet walking. When we returned to our Texas house a few weeks ago, he was one and walking, and this made the house a different house.
I took Sam into the backyard, now that he could walk and explore. I watched as he poked a stick in the dirt, toddled through leaves, pulled up soft green grass, and listened to dogs barking down the street. What a playground for my sweet little boy: It was open, fenced in, and ours…but not ours anymore, because we moved away from this house and this yard, and we were only visiting them, and visiting my in-laws, who are renting from us until we can move back.
I didn’t yet mention on this blog that Buc’s new job requires him to visit TX often—every one or two months. He is now a regional manager for a St. Louis based company (hence the move), but the region he manages is in Texas (hence our visits “home”). We accepted the position ready for a new adventure, but hoping to move back to Texas at some point, when Buc could work in the field and we could again be close to friends and family.
Until we move back (fingers crossed), Sam and I get to join Buc on business trips and stay in our old house with my in-laws. After our first visit back, I’m having lots of thoughts about our move to Missouri, and our visits to Texas, and the benefits and drawbacks of both. I’ve concluded this arrangement is good, and it’s also weird.
It’s good to be back in a one-level house, where Sam is not at risk of falling down stairs, and where my knee is not taxed by carrying Sam up and down those stairs twenty times a day. And it’s good to have a backyard that is fenced in where Sam can play.
But it’s weird, too. It’s weird to come back to a house that’s ours, but not really ours. It’s weird to stay in the guest room when once we stayed in the master. It’s weird to not have a vehicle of my own to take out at leisure. It’s weird to get out of the routine I set up in St. Louis, being so efficient with naptimes and evenings, to spend time with other people, because there are people around to spend time with.
Still, it’s good to have another person in the house during the day besides Sam and me. It’s good to have my father-in-law joke with Sam and make funny voices at him, as Sam toddles into the TV room for the fourteenth time that day and growls, “Papa!” (How Sam loves his Papa!)
It’s good to have my mother-in-law’s helping hands when she gets home from teaching in the afternoons. It’s good for Buc and me to get out by ourselves for a bit, when she’s watching Sam. It’s good to see Sam laughing his head off with his “Nana,” who is a Kindergarten teacher and so good at physical play.
It’s good to be able to help my in-laws just a little, by cooking healthy food for them.
This arrangement is weird, and it’s good. It also makes me wonder: What did we do, moving to St. Louis, away from friends and family and our beautiful, baby-friendly house that we just finished renovating? (But we didn’t realize how much we would appreciate an open, one-story house while our baby was yet a crawler, not a walker. And I didn’t know that all these stairs would damage my knee—well, it could be partly due to Jillian Michael’s Thirty Day Shred, too, which I have given up indefinitely.
Satan is so good at planting doubts, isn’t he?
I’m not sad we moved. But I see the limitations now. I see the new struggles that have come from this move, and they muddy the gloss of our new adventure a bit. But just a bit.
God gave me a blessed peace in the days after returning from our bittersweet trip. Sam didn’t sleep well and neither did I, especially because we were all trying to recover from sickness, but it’s like a voice spoke into my frazzledness.
Rest. (I napped during Sam’s morning naps for the next two days, rather than trying to push forward on my writing.) Take care of your family. (I chose to keep up with my healthy cooking plan by grocery shopping and making two big meals for the week. I have learned that good nutrition is a priority; we all feel better when we eat better.) Find joy in the mundane. (I am learning to involve Sam in the daily tasks I have to do; I am trying to see him as the little person he is, a person to involve in life and teach about life, rather than a weight I must lug around.) Laugh with your son. (When I pay attention to Sam, I can catch extraordinary moments of fun and laughter; and baby laughs do more for the soul than almost anything else on earth can.)
And then the sun came out. Spring is here.
While strolling Sam in seventy-degree weather, Buc and I talked about the limitations of our current living situation, and decided we will need to move into a house (preferably one-story) at the end of our year lease if we are not able to go back to Texas…especially if there is a new baby on the way. I don’t know how my knee and I could handle a newborn and a toddler in our apartment with all its steps.
There is the regret of not visiting St. Louis before we rented this apartment, but there is the peace that we are here for this year for a reason. Maybe it’s so Buc and I can focus on our marriage, and not yard work, this year. Maybe it’s just to hear the birds singing off our balcony. Whatever the reason, I’m okay with this situation. It’s weird, and it’s uncertain, but it’s good.
Do you ever fall into the trap, like I do, of feeling you must use something just because you have it? Last year I received some lovely scrapbooking supplies for my baby shower, and those supplies sat unused in a drawer for the first eight months of Sam’s life, taunting me, making me feel like a bad mother…until his ninth month, when I counted the cost of what scrapbooking would mean to my already busy life.
Already I was having trouble fitting into my day the things I loved (apart from Sam), and some things I didn’t really love, but really needed to do. I was not finding regular time to blog, read, or keep up with friends. I could not always find time to make healthy meals for my family. And I had committed to an exercise program that required just twenty-five minutes a day—but after completing the day’s demands, sometimes I literally could not find the time (or energy) to keep that commitment to my health. I realized again a lesson my people-pleasing personality needs over and over: I can’t do it all, at least not all at the same time; in life, I have to choose.
Happily, just as I was trying to decide what to do with my scrapbooking supplies, I read Lysa Terkeurst’s book, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands—and I knew what to do. The thesis of the book is that God has “best yeses” for us, or things we are definitely meant to do in life; but we have to be intentional about our decisions, always checking them against God’s word and spiritual discernment, or we will trade our best yeses for things we are not meant to do. The two most important words we can wield, says Terkeurst, are “yes” and “no.” She helps readers determine when to say no. She helped me decide that scrapbooking, for me, was a “no.”
Along with Terkeurst’s wisdom, here are some questions I asked myself to determine whether something really deserves my time–along with how I applied it to my scrapbooking dilemma:
Will this thing matter in the end to others who matter to me? I decided it was important to preserve some pictures of Sam and some milestones and thoughts, but it didn’t really matter how. In other words, keeping a baby book and a regular photo album is just as good as keeping a scrapbook. Sam will feel loved from these simpler memory makers, so why not go easy on myself?
Will this thing matter in the end to me? In ten years, twenty years, or even tomorrow, I decided I don’t care if I have a scrapbook sitting on my shelf or not. In fact, I’m trying to de-clutter my home, so why would I add another baby book? It would be nice to have, but it’s just not for me.
What would I, or could I, do with my time instead? The things I am constantly craving more of right now are reading good books, writing, and time with God and family. These things refresh me, and when I am refreshed, I am a better, more pleasant person.
Is doing this thing helping fulfill God’s plan for me, detracting from it, or neutral? In the case of scrapbooking (big deal, right?), maybe the answer is neutral. But between the other two choices, I’d say it’s detracting from God’s plans. It would take time away from my real gift, which my hubby recently said (and I agree) is communicating–talking, listening, and writing to others. On a side note, the recent project I’ve been doing for my church is collecting, writing up, and disseminating info on all our ministries/activities–and I have thoroughly enjoyed doing this, and I feel good about it. The accompanying bulletin board my assistant and I have planned excites me far less (huh, bulletin-boarding kind of resembles scrapbooking), so I am thankful for a communications assistant who is enthusiastic about the board.
At the end of the day, the decision to scrap the scrapbooking was a great victory for me. “Redeem the time, for the days are evil,” the Bible says. Deciding not to scrapbook helped me crystallize what’s really important, and what’s really not–and it has helped me to redeem my time. Take the past twenty-five minutes, for instance. I could’ve been scrapbooking, but instead I got to record these thoughts. I feel better already.
Buc is out of town this week, which has given Sam and me extra bonding time. It has also made me wonder: What would this journey of motherhood look like without the support of a husband?
Pondering this question makes me sad. I have friends who are making this journey, some of them in silence. But I know there must be pain. Any time a baby comes into the world under questionable circumstances, there is the feeling of rejection, non-acceptance, loneliness, abandonment. I grew up in a home where a baby was born under such circumstances.
This event—or more accurately, the negative roots, or bad emotions and feelings (and the misguided marriage), that led up to my baby brother–led to my family members eventually turning against one another and the five of us living far apart, both emotionally and physically. Today we have reconciled to a great extent. Forgiveness, understanding, and grace have been extended, and we have made up for lost time by creating new happy memories. But not all can be restored.
When families come apart, there is un-restorable loss. I have my husband today, and I have Sam, and God has healed much of the childhood wound, but there is still a hole.
Anytime we lose a family member, or a family structure, we have holes. And while God can soothe them, and partially refill them, they will remain until we are restored to our heavenly image and the heavenly blueprint for families. Single parents, and kids with divorced parents, and kids who don’t know their parents, and kids who do not get to see their parents, was not God’s plan for the family. No matter how much family members may bother us at times, we are not complete without them. We miss them when they’re gone.
And yet, sometimes during the daily grind, I have thoughts about my husband like:
If he weren’t here, I could actually keep this house clean.
If I didn’t have to cook and clean for him, I could have more time to myself.
I would eat healthier without him around.
Terrible, right? But it gets worse. I’ve had similar thoughts about my baby. (Oh come on moms, you’ve had them, too.) Christian writer/speaker Lysa Terkuerst admitted to wishing her kids were older so she could finally get something done. A friend of mine has admitted that she often wants her husband out of the house so he will stop messing it up. These are just the kinds of thoughts we have, aren’t they? We are so quick to dismiss the blessings God has given us.
But as I look back at my childhood family, I don’t care about the little inconveniences we caused each other, such as my brother’s pranks on me, Dad’s boring cooking, Mom’s “too helpful” comments on my homework. I don’t much remember them, honestly. I just regret losing the support of a two-parent family, and family unity and harmony. I regret the hurtful words that flew between us and the barriers we erected.
If I were a single mother, I would have cleaner house, sure. I would have a better diet, I think. And I would have more free time to write and do my “own thing.” But these things are poor consolation prizes for what I would lose.
I would lose the joy of seeing Buc make our baby belly laugh. I would lose a warm body to cuddle with at night. I would miss good conversation over dinner (when we are lucky enough to eat dinner together and in quiet). I would miss feeling loved and needed. I would miss relationship.
God created us to exist within relationships, and no matter how full our lives are in other ways, the lack of close, familial relationships leaves us feeling empty at the end of the day. I know. I’ve lived that way. And living that way left me not wanting to live.
I’m glad I’ve gotten these days away from my husband to remember how much I love and need him. This time alone has reminded me to keep the main thing the main thing. If my home is not in order, then it must get my priority attention. There is nothing else more important.
I’m also grateful to remember how Jesus cared so much for me that he addressed my holes…by taking them into his own body and soul. A year ago I was Christmas shopping and came across beautiful poem by Anne Peterson called “I Have These Holes,” framed as wall art. I cried right there in the store as I read it, because it rang so true for me. And I bought two copies. One I gave as a Christmas gift (which I think got forgotten by the owner), but the other hangs just to the left of my writing desk.
This poem still makes me cry because it reminds me how Jesus brought me through the loss of a mother for some of my crucial growing-up years, the loss of a father for a couple more of those years, and the loss of a two-parent family. I can’t say the holes are gone, but they don’t ache like they used to. And they have largely been refilled. And one day they will be completely filled.
If I were a single mother, I would have different holes. But in that case, Jesus would offer different ways to fill me up, to ease the ache, to provide support.
Today, if you are a single mother or dealing with the loss of any family member, Jesus understands. And he has ways to fill you up of which you can’t even dream right now. Just hold on.
Last week my sister-in-law babysat Sam (as she is doing now), and I surprised myself by feeling a little sad when he left. I don’t remember feeling this way last spring.
I think I’m finally attaching to Sam because he is attaching to me. We’ve had time to get to know one another, and now he interacts. He registers all kinds of positive emotions in response to my voice, my presence, my touch—joy, delight, contentment. And best of all, he says “mom-mom.” If ever there was a way to melt a mom’s heart, it’s her baby saying her name.
He woke me one night last week in the 1 a.m. region, not really hungry, but just wanting to cuddle. So I held him and I rocked him, and in his sweet little voice he said “mom-mom,” “mom-mom,” against my chest. I wasn’t angry about getting up that night.
A week ago Sunday he stayed with my husband at my in-laws’ for a couple of hours while I did other things. After two hours, Buc texted to say Sam was being “awful,” and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. But after I got there, Sam was fine. He hardly fussed the rest of the day.
We chalked it up to separation anxiety, and I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon ever since. While separation anxiety makes my job as a mom harder, seeing evidence that he actually needs me, and me specifically, is changing my heart.
I’m starting to feel more of the “mom” feelings I’ve read about, such as that fierce love that puts baby above all else, and that righteous indignation at the thought that someone could ever mistreat or abuse him. I understand better the verse that says “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2, NIV).
A God who understands parental love, who created parents and children, and who is a parent himself, authored that. How much he loves us.
I consider that my love for Sam, though it is growing, is still imperfect. I can’t fathom being as loving, giving, and self-sacrificing as Jesus was when he came to this earth, walked with us, suffered like us and for us, and died for us. But with Sam, I begin to see why and how a God could do that. It’s because he is a Father.
The amazing thing is that often we, unlike an eight-month-old baby, ignore our Father, hardly speak his name, and act like we don’t need him. Could I be so giving to my son if he treated me so indifferently? I hope so, but I’m not sure. Would I feel attached to him right now if he hadn’t recently attached to me? But God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I’m so glad God’s love doesn’t depend on my actions—as it seems my love for Sam (sometimes) depends on his. Incidentally, Sam gave me another tough night last night (fewer “moms,” more tears), and today I wasn’t nearly so sad to leave him. I am praying for more of Christ’s love for Sam: namely, an attachment to him that would make me willing to suffer and die for him, if need be.