Quarantine, with a Side of Complex PTSD

I snapped this pic recently during one of my early morning walks around the duck pond in town. The pond, which, incidentally, overlooks my old office building at SWAU, has been one of my rare quiet, calming places throughout the last six months.

Oh, dear friends and readers. Throughout this coronavirus saga, I have wanted to post an update blog often. I have tried a few times, but the whole quarantine/shelter-in-place situation has strained me, like it has so many others currently struggling with their mental health. I believe the Lord has been striving with me, as he is with the world right now, trying to get my attention—our attention.* What is he trying to tell you?

If I’d had it my way, I would have been running on all cylinders this summer, taking trips to see my Minnesota friends and family, taking more graduate classes, socking it to my dissertation, starting a women’s prayer group. But that’s not what God had in store for me. No, for me, He had a whole lot of sitting still planned­—even being knocked on my bum, quite frankly—due to anxiety which, I soon decided, was really a manifestation of complex PTSD. But more on that in a moment.

First, a brief recap of what’s happened since COVID-19 upended our lives.

March—May

My office at UTA, which is about an hour’s drive away. I have not worked on campus since March. Poor, unused office space!

I started the spring semester continuing fulltime doctoral work, as well as part-time tutoring for UTA’s writing center. But after spring break, of course, my kids and I were sent home to work and study within our own four walls. This arrangement would have been a disaster if not for my mother-in-law and husband. My mom-in-law (who was already their teacher) took on tutoring the kids a few hours a day, and my hubby took the kids in the afternoons, while I worked and studied in our bedroom. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I didn’t have to figure out teaching my kids while doing my own work and school. God provided.

I should mention here, since I haven’t yet on this blog, that my latest book with Paul Coneff, Brutally Honest, came out within the past year. This book, like my memoir, explains why and how brutal honesty is so important when it comes to emotional healing. We actually did most of the writing of this a few years ago, before I was officially back at work. It was a fun and challenging project for me, because I had to create characters and a true-to-life, but fictional, storyline (we are calling it a parable) about people encountering the “angriest prayer in the Bible,” or Psalm 109, through a small group Bible study. With this work, I proved to my hubby that I can write about topics other than myself:)  (although a lot of the emotion in the book did come from personal experience:) As far as reader responses, Paul and I have had readers tell us the book is a page turner, reads like a novel, and has been a tremendously helpful resource for anger, anxiety, depression, and other emotional struggles. I hope you’ll check it out!

June

Noticing Patterns

Unfortunately, once school let out and I looked up from my studies, an old pattern resurfaced. I started suffering another ginormous bout of anxiety, which has been happening during my school breaks ever since I returned to work. Thankfully, God had already provided my friend, Naomi, to pray with me.

Journaling was a lifeline for me this summer. While the thought of blogging made me too anxious, journaling several days a week really helped calm my mind. (The positive benefits of journaling is one of my areas of doctoral research, in fact. Having so recently experienced the benefits myself, I sincerely and strongly recommend journaling as a therapeutic practice to my readers!)

(Quick aside: Naomi is a church friend from my time in Missouri who read my book Ending the Pain and subsequently requested prayer ministry. Since the beginnings of our friendship and my prayer ministry to her, in about 2016, our prayer times have evolved into reciprocal prayer support; now, I like to think of us as a two-woman support group, where we trade prayer sessions every other week. Last year, because I was so strapped for time, we would do these sessions during my commutes to and from UTA—not ideal, but we made it work, and God blessed with no car accidents:)

There Seems to Be a Root, Here

Through my biweekly prayer sessions with Naomi this summer, I was able to notice a striking pattern in my anxiety: it doesn’t happen at work or school; it only happens in connection with family or home settings. It also happened at church last year, especially during the brief stint when I taught in my sons’ Sabbath school class. The common denominator was being in a caregiving role with young kids, with the kids usually being mine (though, now that I think of it, I also struggled with anxiety years ago when I was a high school teacher).

Just days into my summer “break” (maybe I should say summer breakdown?) I found myself wound “tight, tight, tight,” as I wrote in my journal, and having so many weird reactions—startling easily at loud noises, angry outbursts, fantasies of running away—that I embarked on some internet research. I wondered: Was there a name for what I was suffering from, beyond just “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”? Because my anxiety seemed way too specific to be called “general.”

Discovering Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

My research led me to a condition called complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD. After an hour of internet reading, it was clear to me that this was probably what I had. But I needed to understand it better. So, I went to my recently reopened public library to do more research.

Reading Pete Walker’s semi-autobiographical book on complex PTSD in late June was healing; I cried as I read passages that mirrored my experience of struggling so badly in what seemed like simple, normal circumstances. I reread my emotional eruptions and recurring fantasies of escaping not as evidence that I was a horrible wife and mother, but as examples of what Walker calls the four F’s: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn (fawn refers to people-pleasing). I understood that my desperate feelings (and sometimes desperate actions) were tied to emotional flashbacks rooted in complex trauma; that is, prolonged trauma that occurs over a period of time, usually in childhood. I understood that my childhood development had been arrested years ago, and that was why parenting these days was so hard: because, while trying to parent my kids, I was still trying to parent myself.

For those readers who can’t relate, I know this might sound like psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo, but for me, Walker’s insights came as sparkling revelations. I sobbed with relief to know that there was a name for what I struggled with.

As Fred Rogers famously said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

New knowledge in hand, I was ready to get help and move forward. But I didn’t quite know how. As Walker and other psychology professionals note, C-PTSD is a relatively new concept in the field, and as yet does not hold its own entry in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), or the Bible of psychology; rather, it is a subcategory of PTSD, and one that many professionals in the field are not aware of.

So, I started by sharing my revelations with a couple close girlfriends who, I believe, also may suffer from C-PTSD. (At first I puzzled over why so many of my friends, and readers who have reached out to me, seemed to share this diagnosis. Then I realized that my prayer ministry and writing projects are designed to draw exactly this kind of crowd. No shame, ladies and gentlemen. We are all in this together, seeking healing for the crummy hands life dealt us.)

July

Old Prescription: Prozac

Taking seriously the magnitude of what I was struggling with, at the beginning of July I put myself on Prozac to help manage my immediate anxiety, until I could get help for my deeper issues. From what I’ve read, depression and anxiety are often secondary to trauma…so if I get help with the trauma, I’m hoping the anxiety will decrease.

(Second aside: I had a leftover, unused supply of Prozac from when we moved to Texas in 2018. In anticipation of our move and gap between jobs and health insurance, my then-doctor had prescribed me extra meds, which I didn’t end up needing once I started work. Go figure.)

Anyway, for the next five weeks, Prozac helped settle me down and sit with my family; it calmed my incessant urge to escape. On the mornings I could beat my kids awake, I sat in the pre-dawn quiet reading the book of Matthew, Message translation. This modern translation made the reading fresh and surprising, and I found myself meditating anew on the life of Jesus. His was a life of suffering and self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice, in fact, came up prominently in my prayer sessions with Naomi.

New Prescription: Self-Sacrifice

During my July 11 prayer session, after an uncomfortable hour praying through my anxieties without much relief, I asked Naomi to pray for blessings for me. But after she prayed, no discernible blessings came to my mind. Instead, the words It’s not about you came up. Huh? I asked Naomi to pray one more time for clarity, because I didn’t understand. At first I thought maybe God was telling me “This summer is about God and what he’s doing, even if I can’t see or sense what He’s doing.” I think that statement is true for the Christian life in general, but another round of prayer gave me more clarity on my particular situation: namely, God showed me that, while I didn’t feel like I was being blessed in this season, I could play a part in blessing others right now, primarily Buc. That was a pivotal moment and perspective-changer for me.

This was one of my husband’s ideas of a fun quarantine project: get six chickens and build a chicken coop. Ain’t he creative? This structure was built out of an old trampoline frame and got the attention of some morning walkers, who called me over to the fence and asked me to take pics of the thing with their phone, so they could build one, too!

From that prayer session on, I took serving others as one of God’s prescriptions for me during this painful time at home. Of course, serving others is just part of living the Christian life, but sometimes we need a reminder. For the next month, with the help of Prozac and God’s prescription, I laid down my hyper-planning, hyper-anxious personality and worked at being here for a friend who needed childcare. I aimed for acts of service that would bless my hubby—namely, feeding our new chickens and weeding the garden (his idea of fun summer projects, not mine). I made a few meals for extended family during their painful moving process. I prayed with a couple readers who reached out to me. I hosted some stuff at my house. And I tried to give my best to my children, even if my best wasn’t all that impressive.

And the work I put into others came back around. Friends, my hubby gave me the best birthday gift ever at the end of July: he converted a previously unused, nasty backyard shed into an office for me! What sweet relief to again have a quiet space to call my own! Thank you, Honey.

In the past two years, I have been ousted from two office spaces at two universities (first, by hiring freeze, second, by COVID-19). These were places where I found my sanity after four years staying home with the kids, suffering anxiety that I didn’t know was really a symptom of complex trauma. More recently, COVID-19 took even coffee shops and libraries from me…and Texas heat took the outdoors. Sorry to be so dramatic. I’m just trying to say that this office space means the world to me. Buc saw what it meant to me the day we moved my furniture in. I set down the boxes I was carrying, looked up, and suddenly saw the ghost of my former office at SWAU (I think it was the “Be strong and courageous” sign). Then, I broke into tears. God provides.

August

Antidepressants Are Great…Until They’re Not

On August 6, I wrote in my journal that, while Prozac had allowed me to feel calmer and less reactive, I was also starting to feel drugged. So, after praying about it with Naomi, I decided to drop the Prozac. God helped me see that with my next semester of grad school coming up, I need my mind sharp. He also assured me that if I need meds again in the future, I can take them. And He told me I was not a bad Christian for taking them–even though some Christians are anti antidepressants. (Readers, please make those decisions with the input of your doctor, and your Creator.)

Back to School…Back to Therapy

Sam (middle) is 6 1/2 and starting first grade; Seth is 4 1/2 and starting preschool. I am so thankful for my sons’ teachers and for their school reopening in-person. God bless all the teachers and school personnel out there!

As of last week, my kids have re-entered school, in person, thus relieving a major trigger for me. And, in light of my summer struggles, I have taken seriously that I have some un-processed trauma to contend with­—some problems that Prozac, and perhaps even prayer ministry, can’t fix. As such, I have started some over-the-phone therapy with a new counselor who is trained in treating trauma.

But even though I have only had one counseling session so far, I am encouraged by the healing that has come from simply getting informed about complex trauma, and owning that I suffer from it. Take this reflection from my June 22nd journal entry, for instance, which I wrote after reading Pete Walker’s book:

“I feel really hopeful that I am turning a corner. It makes so much sense that what I’ve been experiencing is flashbacks to trauma, and re-traumatization once I became a mom, especially after baby #2. My anxiety was second to my trauma and my triggers.

“Walker says that recovery, and shrinking the inner and outer critic, depends on 1) angering at the appropriate targets and 2) grieving. In other words, cognitive and emotional work: ‘Cognitive work in both cases involves the demolition and rebuilding processes of thought-stopping and thought substitution, respectively. And, emotional work in both instances is grief work. It is removing the critic’s fuel supply—the unexpressed anger and the uncried tears of a lifetime of abandonment’ (Pete Walker, Complex PTSD, p. 207).

“I feel like I’ve done a lot of the cognitive work because of my conversion and then Straight 2 the Heart prayer ministry. But it appears I have more grieving and emotional work to do. On one hand, it’s hard to realize I’m still grieving. On the other hand, it’s freeing to realize there is a reason I am the way I am. [As one book on complex trauma puts it, It’s Not You, It’s What Happened to You.] Perhaps I’ve suffered from what Walker calls a ‘salvation fantasy.’ Christianity teaches that in Christ we can become a new creation; the old things have passed away, all things have become new. But maybe we can be born anew and still suffer flashbacks to trauma. It doesn’t mean we’re not born again, or that we’ve failed. It means we were hurt by our sinful world, and there are lasting consequences.”

Takeaways: If You Need Help…

  • Pray
  • Journal
  • Seek Counseling
  • Talk to Someone You Trust
  • Research Help for Your Mental Health Symptoms

 As I wrap up this post (which I have been trying to write all summer), I feel grateful, and my mental health feels good. That’s why I am able to publish this right now. But I know tomorrow I might feel different, unable to write for the public; besides that, I also know I’m about to get very busy with work and school again.

So if I don’t post on here for another six or twelve months (grad school is a lot of work, y’all), I want to shout this out to my readers: Friend, if you’re in a desperate place, reach out. Seek help. Your kids will thank you later. If you don’t get help now, your kids will suffer, now and later! (I am living proof of this unfortunate reality.)

If you don’t know who to reach out to but are open to working with a Christian counselor, I highly recommend checking out the Abide network, where I have found my new counselor, who I am working with over the phone (she Zooms, too!)  (FYI, I have some roots with Abide, because I formerly blogged for their website, and Paul Coneff, my Straight 2 the Heart prayer mentor and co-author, is one of their counselors.)

If you’re struggling but not down for traditional counseling, I encourage you to seek counsel in other ways. Spend time with your Wonderful Counselor, Jesus, through reading the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Spend time listening to Him in prayer, preferably with an open journal to write down what He tells you. Or, simply take a walk in nature and ask Him to meet you there. Or, spend time with a friend and ask Him to meet you through her. (Good and godly friends can also be wonderful counselors—wonderful with a little w:)

Here is a pic with my bestie from Minnesota, Samantha (we both live in Texas now…you’ll have to read Ending the Pain for the story:). We had not seen each other since last Christmas, but we finally made it happen for my birthday in July. It was so wonderful (and therapeutic) to see my sweet friend again! Love you, Sam! (And yes, my firstborn son is named after her!)

Bottom line? Our Wonderful Counselor will meet you wherever you are, if you simply ask. I believe He sometimes even meets people through mental health research, meds, and/or therapy, if need be. Bottom line? God has innumerable ways to speak to and/or reach you in your particular situation, like He did for me this summer. You just have to ask…and be willing to get quiet and listen for awhile. Happy new school year, Friends. Here’s to a new start.

End Note

* I belong to a church that believes Jesus is coming again soon. I’ve heard speculations that COVID is a warm-up to “end time events.” These are big buzzwords in my faith tradition. My husband has been studying things out pretty seriously (he was doing this even before the coronavirus). I’m not as into studying Bible prophecy—preferring as I do to study the more microscopic topics of human psychology and the heart. But I am paying more attention to world events and enthralled by the hope that our time on earth could be short. I am praying to be ready, and asking the Lord how He wants to use me. If you’re new to the Bible but interested in learning more, I recommend these Bible study guides, which answer some of humanity’s biggest questions about God, the devil, death, prophecy, and more.

Two a.m. Soul Cry: Finding Release Valves for the New Year, and Your Current Season

img_5269I didn’t write a Christmas letter or send out Christmas cards in 2019. I found that, at the end of the fall 2019 semester, I was too emotionally exhausted to do much of anything but cry. All semester I went to school/work to be a student/teacher, and I came straight home to be a mom/wife. That was my semester. Everything else got put to the side. This week, our family is decompressing and ringing in the New Year in a cabin in Arkansas. I am still trying to unwind from that crazy semester, as well as the crazy Christmas season. As well as just, well, life as we’ve known it for the past couple years.

I still don’t have words to express all the feelings I have about my personal life right now–except perhaps what I could only get out in some free verse in October. One night after coming home late from a night class, I couldn’t sleep, and a poem spilled across my notebook pages at 2 a.m. (This was unusual at this stage of life. My readers know I’m not a poet.) Perhaps what comes through in the poem is that I don’t know how to tend to some important relationships right now while also trying to stay mentally sound myself. I feel like, for the past few years, every six months or so we have had a huge life upheaval: two job losses, moving to a new state, a mom-dad role switch, the death of a parent, a parent added to the household, two new jobs, re-entry into graduate school…what have I missed? Anyway. stressful times.

My dad has a tradition of sending out an annual Christmas poem, and since I didn’t write any Christmas communications, I’ll dedicate my October poem to my dad, and to my mom, and to my brothers, Kyle and Caleb. All of these dear ones live at least a thousand miles away, and I have seen none of them for at least a year and a half. I also dedicate the poem to my good-humored husband, Buc. One needs a sense of humor at times like these. During stressful seasons we humans need some release valves like crying, talking with friends, writing poetry, or doing whatever leaves us with a little more peace. May you take your human and/or artistic license in 2020 and do whatever emotionally uplifting, nonviolent, non-destructive-to-relationships, and legal things you need to do to weather whatever season you’re going through. God bless you, Friends, and Happy New Year.


Showing Up
10/20/19

Sometimes life is about showing up
being present
hugging a screaming, inconsolable child
saying I love you or
praying with you
when, really, that’s all I can do.
I can’t fly over the ocean to you
or even across five states for you.
I can’t take my family, your grandsons,
to visit you.
I have nothing to give.
Nothing but wishes and prayers and a
heart full of emotions I can’t express.
Life just doesn’t cooperate.

The house is a mess.
And I have to go to work.
And I could work my life away,
forgetting to stop and sit with you.
Neglecting to sit and eat with you.
Not bothering to look you in the eye.
Just giving up trying to connect…
because connecting seems so hard.

Where do we go when we run out of
answers?
When Mom, Dad, Husband, Wife, and “Higher Education”
cease to fill us, delight us, comfort us?
And when, after a lifetime of reading and
school and straight A’s, we can’t learn
what we need to know, no matter how
much we study?
Only here. Crumpled in a chair at 2 a.m.,
heart racing, praying, knowing I don’t
know much of anything. But it’s okay.
He knows.
You know, God.
You know it’s going to be okay.
The world doesn’t rest on my shoulders–
it rests on yours.

And so.
I can breathe. I can sit. I can put
work away. I can leave that dust.
I can give up so many expectations
that never did anything for me
but strangle me.
What if Mom is not all put together?
(And I mean she, and I mean me.)
I’ll speak for myself and say
I’m a mess. Emotionally.
I can clean all day–clean my life away–
but what will that do if I alienate you?
I’m sorry, Family.

I see me now, or I’m starting to.
It’s not totally my fault. I didn’t make
this mess (completely). But neither did you.
It’s a long legacy, passed down to us from
our first mother, our first father.
We’re just the latest installation in a
forever-back line.
We were gifted the curse at birth.
And so we grow up nasty and defiant,
a collective screaming child. Rude, disrespectful,
selfish, self-centered “I’s.”
Our parents wounded us, though it’s the
last thing they wanted to do.
We grew up to do it, too.
We’re messy people, producing more messy people.
Heaven help us–Jesus help me.
For on my own, I can do no better than
live out this human legacy.
Human nature tells me to leave–
don’t stay the course–do what’s easy.
Emotions go cold–play mind games.
Get angry, bitter, blame him, blame her.
Don’t take responsibility.

But.
You came to change the story,
Jesus. You came here, by me–right
beside me, and us, in this mess.
You flowered in the fray–
a tender shoot from dry ground.
Unsupported, despised, rejected.
Unfairly treated, betrayed, and abandoned.
Abused, misused, and unfairly accused.
If anyone had the right to be angry,
it was you.

But what did you do?

You showed up.
You prayed, You pled, You loved, and You bled.
You cried and You prayed, even while betrayed.
You kept Your eyes on the skies and on
better days (One day
you will see me coming in the clouds,
You said.)
Still–You prayed and You pled, and You
loved, and You bled.
You didn’t turn cold or deny the pain–
You uttered this refrain:
God, if it is possible, take this cup from
Me. But if it’s not possible, Thy will
be done.
And God didn’t take the cup away, because
this suffering was Your mission.

And when they beat You and hit You,
kicked and spit at You–tore off
Your clothes and dressed You in robes,
nailed Your body to a tree,
You prayed,
Father, forgive them for they know not what
they do.

Oh, what those eyes could see.
Me. (And I mean you.)
How could I be so stupid?
Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Forgive me. I didn’t know what I was doing.
And I still don’t know what I’m doing, Lord.
And I don’t know how to fix it–
this pain in me and this pain around me–
And the pain inflicted on me, and the pain
I inflict on others.

But praise God.
I don’t have to know.
Because it’s not my job to know.
And it’s not my job to fix it.
You know, and it’s Your job.
That’s why You came and lived
and prayed, and pled, and loved, and bled,
and suffered, and died,
and rose again.

It’s 2 a.m. and the night is almost gone.
Day will rise, hope will rise, again.

And sometimes, like today,
life is just about showing up.
Being present.
Hugging a screaming, but consolable, child.
Saying I love you to my husband.
Sending I love you’s to my mom, my dad, and my brothers
(thousands of miles away).
Praying with a friend who’s with me now.
That’s all I can do.
And that’s all I have to do.


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Shooting for a B (A Message for Christian Perfectionists)

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“Fast asleep.” by ClickE is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

I’ve spent a lot of my life aiming for perfection. But there’s something to be said for shooting for a B, and even simply showing up (if you bring a good attitude, of course). These are some things I said recently while doing an interview with Adventist Radio London (ARL) on the topic of perfectionism. (I was asked for the interview after my article, “Breaking Free from the Perfectionist Trap” came out in Vibrant Life Magazine in June.) The interviewer, Vanesa Pizzuto, said that the thought of “shooting for a B” made her cringe. But she agreed with me: “We can’t do everything perfectly.”

No, I can’t do everything perfectly.

I am still trying to let that truth sink in, because letting go of my perfection still makes me cringe sometimes, too. But I know this is crucial advice for me, a lifelong perfectionist. I am juggling many balls right now–wife, mom, graduate student, teacher, church member, public speaker, freelance writer–and I desperately need to be able to prioritize. I need God’s wisdom to show me when perfectionis called for, and when just showing up, or just a little preparationwill suffice.

The brain surgeon in the operating room needs to aim for perfection.

The auto manufacturer preparing airbags (and many other car parts) needs to aim for perfection.

Life and death matters call for a measure of perfectionism.

But most of my daily tasks aren’t life or death.

To the extent that I believe this truth–that the bulk of my daily choices don’t matter that much–I can either live in a state of peace or a state of anxiety. I’ve been there, done that with the perfectionism-and-anxiety thing…and I’m sick of it. So I am admitting the error of my ways (in this area), and reciting these crucial truths to myself:

  • It’s okay to shoot for a B sometimes
  • It’s okay to just show up sometimes (without an exhaustive plan in hand, but with a good attitude in heart and mind)

Contrary to my anxiety-feeding fears, nothing catastrophic is going to happen if I don’t have:

  • A perfectly clean house
  • Perfectly healthy and balanced meals at every meal
  • A perfectly toned body and my perfect weight of 125 pounds
  • Perfectly planned lessons for each class I teach
  • A perfect schedule for my kids that I follow to the letter
  • A perfect record of daily reading my Bible (I’m just being honest…it doesn’t happen every day)
  • Every reading assignment as a graduate student (and there are many) completely read and thoroughly annotated

These are some of the things that make up my daily life, and, at various points, they all have caused me anxiety. You know it’s a really bad day when I’m stressing over all of them! But as I continue this walk of life, this spiritual journey, I hope I am getting a little better at recognizing this trap of perfectionist thinking (and its domino-effect-anxiety)–and then promptly turning it all over to Jesus.

It’s an ongoing struggle. I won’t lie. But as I said in the interview with ARL, the best thing I can do, when roiled by unrealistic visions of A-plusses in every detail–the best thing I can do, is stop. Stop it right there, thoughts. Call out these unrelenting sky-high expectations for what they are: traps of the devil. And confess to my Creator:

God, I’m sorry for entertaining these thoughts. You are my Creator–You are the Author and Finisher (and the Perfecter) of my faith. Forgive me for focusing on myself and my limited abilities, and not on You, Your omnipotence, Your omnipresence, Your omniscience. Forgive me for taking on a yoke that You never intended for me (Your yoke is easy, Your burden is light!). Forgive me for giving in to fear, and getting derailed (again).

I need You so much, Lord. I need you every moment of every day. Thank you for being with me, whether I acknowledge Your presence or not. Help me to put my thoughts on You, and take courage. Help me to remember that You created me for a specific purpose in this world–and that purpose was not to be perfect in every way, but to do the work You intend for me. Help me daily to separate the (eternally) important from the insignificant. Help me remember I don’t have to figure out my life alone. And help me to remember, and truly believe, that whatever You want me to do, You will help me to do–with Your power, not mine.

Now, I’ve said that most of my daily decisions don’t matter that much. For those of you who feel uncomfortable with that thought–or if you cringe at the thought of shooting for a B–let me just be clear. As a Christian, I do believe, overall, that what we do during this life matters. I believe that our choices, our actions, our obedience or non-obedience to God, will ultimately lead us to eternal life or eternal death. And, speaking as a parent, I accept that my actions can either pave the way to heaven or pave the way to hell for my children. So I don’t take my daily decisions lightly. With that said though, I often take the small details of every day much too seriously.

If my day is chaos, and the kids aren’t going along with my perfect “plan” for the day, which is more important: making sure they eat from all the food groups today, or teaching them about Jesus? See my point? I can drive myself crazy (and I have) trying to check all the boxes in every category. But we aren’t living in a perfect world. I’m not perfect, the people around me aren’t perfect, and conditions are rarely ideal. Thus, some things gotta give. The key is asking God which things can go–and then homing in on the things that really need doing (and realizing that sometimes the things worth doing can be done at a B level).

If you struggle with this perfectionist trap (and you know who you are:), won’t you join me in asking Jesus for wisdom to separate the life-and-death (really important) matters from the daily (not-so-important) details? Only in Him can we hope to live the “perfect” life–meaning, the life He intends us to live–and only as we adopt a biblical perspective can we begin to envision what God’s perfect life for us actually looks like. Courage, fellow perfectionists! May God help us all on this journey.

A Time to Speak, and a Time to Be Silent

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Photo from Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconnecting with God as a Young Mom

IMG_2139It’s 5:30 a.m., and I lie in my “new bedroom,” the downstairs basement guest room, where I have finally found sanctuary from my kids’ night and early mornings wakings—where I have finally found rest. Buc is handling the kids for the next hour, should they wake or come into our bed (if not already there)—which means I have finally found the time. It’s time to reconnect with God.

But I lie there like a stone, debating. How to reconnect?

For three years, since my first was born, I have tried to reconnect with God. But most of my efforts have ended up incomplete, interrupted, and finally put aside when discouragement kicked in…or sleep deprivation.

I’m finally making up for lost sleep with our new arrangement…me sequestered away from the family between the hours of roughly 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. (I explained this in my last post.) But with my wits about me, I’ve identified other areas besides my spiritual life that need attention:

  • In the mornings, I almost never have breakfast ready, and I’m almost never dressed and ready myself. So we get off on a bad foot.
  • For the rest of the day, I haven’t planned enough activities to keep my kids out of trouble. Meaning, much of the day is stressful.
  • In short, I haven’t yet created a routine that works.

I’ve been addressing the morning readiness problem with my new living arrangement—getting my own sleep and beating the family out of bed—but I am still trying to fill a knowledge deficit in how to parent, or simply, how to do my job as a mom.

I am still trying to fill a knowledge deficit in how to parent, or simply, how to do my job as a mom.

With more sleep, I’ve been able to step back and realize every day doesn’t have to be so hard. There are resources out there. I can become a prepared and put-together mom (to a certain extent—there are always variables with little children). But it will take sacrifice. It will take preparation. It will take time and intention.

Anyway, all that to say, when I wake well-rested at 5:30 a.m. now (having gone to bed at roughly 9:30), it’s hard to connect with God. With one hour before I’m “on” as a mom, my mind is already spinning. More than likely, I don’t yet have a plan for the day to keep the kids engaged and to keep my home running smoothly. I wake with the immediate burden to get up and prepare activities and food for my children. (I didn’t do this the night prior because I was too busy getting a shower or finishing my dishes…you know, all the stuff that has to get done in a day.) But I know how dicey days can get when I don’t have something planned for the kids, and I want to prevent that.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33). I know the principle of putting God first. I know that when I do that, the day tends to go better. But I can’t focus. I can’t even decide where to open my Bible, which devotional book to read. It feels like I don’t have time. And even though I know I do, now, it’s so hard for me to focus on the Good Book, because it’s such a Big Book. I know the principle of eating an elephant one bite at a time; I know a lot can be accomplished in small chunks. But in this season, the words on the page swim.

Lord, this is creating so much anxiety. I fear opening your Word because I don’t know if I’ll find the right passage in the few minutes before “mom duty” kicks in…will it leave me empty? Will I be able to remember it through the day? This just isn’t working.

I used to write Scriptures on note cards, and I’ve tried that as a mom, but man, I just keep misplacing them. The cards are always in another spot where I can’t get to them; or I forget to look at them. That approach is just not working right now. Life is different now, with my kids. Lord, help me. I need you to simplify this for me.

 I know God doesn’t want me to feel anxiety over connecting with him. Yet I know He still wants to connect. And I know I need it.

It feels like these approaches I’ve tried need a break, and that’s something I’m figuring out with three-year-old Sam: sometimes when something isn’t working, or when something is making him too upset, I just need to get away from it. Give it a break. Try a completely different tack.

So, I do that. I am in a huge learning curve in my life, and I need my God time to be simple.

I am in a huge learning curve in my life, and I need my God time to be simple.

God, give me something simple, where I can still reconnect with you.

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As I make my morning coffee, look around my kitchen and living areas for an idea, He gives me something: Bible story books. I have three different sets of Bible storybooks sitting on our shelves that were given to us for Sam’s birth. We have tried reading them to him from time to time, but so far, they are still a little too advanced to keep his attention. They go back on the shelf until he’s a little older. One day I think he will really enjoy the pictures and stories.

But they’re not too advanced for me. I could read them for my God time. Yes!

 I need the Bible, but right now, I need fewer words, more pictures, simpler stories. I need something my spinning mind can easily attach to.

bedtime-storiesFor bedtime, we have been reading Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories to Sam, and Buc was amazed the other night when one story brought tears to my eyes. A children’s story made me cry! Why? It’s a little embarrassing. But I identified with the little girl in the story, Margaret, who had said very naughty things to her mother (I have said not-so-nice things to my family in my recent Mom Funk), and who then tearfully said a prayer of repentance with her big brother’s help.

Could children’s Bible stories speak to my heart? They already had. I put a hand on one of the series on the shelf and pulled out the first book in the set. It would only take a few minutes to read one story, maybe two. I could do that. I grabbed my coffee, opened the storybook, and settled in. With my new, doable reading goal, I would have plenty of time to reconnect with God before the rest of the family awoke…and maybe even get breakfast on the table, too.

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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.

Somebody Needs the Light You Have

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Photo from Creative Commons

My title comes from lyrics to a song called “Pushing Back the Dark,” and as I prepare to speak at another women’s retreat, I need to hear these words: “Somebody needs the light you have.”

Right now, parts of my life feel dark. Not a depressed darkness, but an unknowing and confused darkness. Mainly, I have parenting puzzles I don’t know how to solve, and these consume most of my waking hours. I don’t know when domestic life will level out to where I feel I can handle it without hiring help.

Satan would have me believe I’m not fit to speak to this bunch of ladies in Texas because I still have so many problems regulating my household and my own emotions…but that is just life as I’m seeing it. I have to remember not to “underestimate the God I follow.”

I’m so thankful, in this time of discouragement, that I happened upon Josh Wilson’s CD Carry Me and his song “Pushing Back the Dark.” (I randomly picked it up at our local library.) The song has reminded me that I do have light to share, and somebody needs to hear it. Maybe I don’t have lots of answers to my parenting puzzles right now, but I can speak on overcoming depression—and that part of my life can bless someone else, as it has done before.

When I filmed my testimony for 3ABN, I was focused on reaching an audience beyond the TV studio. But within a week of filming, a crew member who had helped in the production of the show said he’d needed to hear my message. Praise God. Before the program aired, my light had already reached at least once person.

So today, if you feel dark and overtaken by current realities, I encourage you to remember the places in your life God has already lit up, and know that you do have something to share, and someone needs to hear it. You may not be an expert in all things, or have all the light there is to have, but you have some illumination, and you are called to “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

For more inspiration, read the full song lyrics here.

Hard Lessons (Heed the Signs)

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from Creative Commons

My life recently has been hard. But not because of hard circumstances. It’s been hard because I’ve made it hard.

 For the past six months, I was trying to do too much (story of my life), and my family suffered, and I suffered. I was always stressed. Couldn’t sit still with my kids. Always angry at Buc, always nagging, always criticizing. I got angry even if Buc joked with me or tried to be funny with his answers—and his sense of humor was one of the things that  attracted me to him in the first place!

“I don’t have time for jokes,” I’d snap, literally racing around the house trying to get it livable in time to win maybe fifteen minutes of reading time at the end of the day.

“I can’t take this anymore,” Buc told me one morning. “It’s got to stop. You’re driving yourself crazy. And you’re not nice. It’s not fun to be married to you. You finish the projects on your plate and don’t take on anymore, not until you can deal with what you’ve got.”

I was overloaded. Overtaxed. Strung out. And I wouldn’t admit it, until that sobering talk with my husband. That stressful morning, I finally admitted that the pace at which I’d been living was insupportable. And I admitted that it was time to accept a new reality. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but I knew it would involve letting go of a lifestyle that just wasn’t working.

Roots of Imbalance

If you’ll recall, we hired a part-time nanny last August so I could get some help with the kids and resume some writing/ministry projects. We hired her for fifteen hours a week, with the intent that I’d be gone for most of that time writing or doing other ministry related things; but when her other part-time family let her go (the child went to preschool), she needed more hours. So we gave her more hours. Some weeks it was around twenty-five, more often it was closer to twenty.

At first, I thought this was great. I felt incompetent at home, and my kids stressed me out; I felt like I wasn’t a very good mother anyway. So when I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat and co-write a book and pray with three women at my church and form those women into a prayer group last fall—things at which I felt much more competent—I thought life was falling into place swimmingly. We had money to pay the nanny; she wanted more hours; and I wanted to go do what I knew I was already good at. So, I started leaving the house. A lot.

During that period of six months, when I often left home, one-third of a book got written. Four talks, complete with powerpoints, were prepared and delivered in Florida at a women’s retreat.  And I got invited to do some similar things that are coming up this spring (a magazine cover story, a TV appearance, another women’s retreat). These were and are all great things. But, I discovered, they came at a high cost to my family.

Although I believe God has given me a writing/speaking ministry, I started to sense I wasn’t getting the balance with my home life right. And the more stressed I got, the more I sensed I was using the good work/ministry as an excuse to run away from my first work—my family.

Signs Something Was Wrong

The first sign that something was wrong was that Buc and I couldn’t stop arguing about housework. I’d hired the nanny to watch the kids, not do housework, and when I started leaving the house more, more domestic things went undone—piling up for me at the end of every day, leaving me perpetually exhausted and resentful. I thought Buc should be happy to help me pick up the slack in the name of the good work I was doing. He thought otherwise; he’d hired the nanny to make his life easier, too, and that shouldn’t include more housework for him.

Another sign was Sam’s attachment problems. Shortly after I started leaving the house to go to “work,” Sam gave up touching me. He wouldn’t let me touch or kiss him for a couple months. But in other ways he became clingier. Where I’d previously been able to put him down to bed, no problems, now he screamed and cried when I left, as if scared I was abandoning him. I started staying in his bedroom until he fell asleep every night just to avoid these heart-wrenching scenes.

Beyond that, the nanny setup wasn’t training Sam to be self-contained—wasn’t training him to amuse himself while I got house things done during Seth’s naps. No, having the nanny to play with all day made him clingier to me. But it’s not realistic for a mom to play with her kids all day.

When the no-touching phase ended (after I made a concerted effort to sit and have more quiet times with Sam), he swung the other way and clung even tighter. He’d learned to expect that I was always leaving the house—so he started keeping tight reigns on me when I was home. And I’d let him, because I felt guilty for being away. He also started waking and coming into our bed in the middle of the night, possibly because he didn’t get enough mom time in the day. And then I resented him because I couldn’t get a moment to breath on my own.

As for Seth? He didn’t suffer as much as Sam, because he napped away much of my absent time. But because I felt guilty for being gone, I indulged him more than I should have. As he neared one year of age, I kept getting up with him in the night when he’d mutter, whimper, make little noises, even though he really didn’t need me to. Buc said I’d let him work it out himself when I couldn’t take it anymore, and finally a couple weeks ago, after our nanny quit (read on), I turned off the monitor (our room is next to his, so any loud crying I can still hear). I didn’t hear him at all that night. Or the next. Better sleep is mine.

But, for too long I was needlessly wearing myself out.

The worst part of the past few months was the stress on my marriage. It felt like there was no tenderness anymore, only rough edges. And that’s because I had not allowed time for tender moments. In order to keep up with my brimming agenda, I had to keep moving at all times—had to keep busy, had to keep on task. And those are not good conditions for growing love and affection. It was another hard lesson, of many. Thankfully, now that I’m heeding the warning signs, things are looking up.

Learning my Lessons

Our nanny quit recently,* and though I greatly admire and respect her, it was actually a relief. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe hiring help was the right thing to do. Back in August, I was a new mom of two without family nearby who felt overwhelmed and needed help. And I would still give the advice to “Get Help” to other new moms. But make sure it’s the right kind of help, and in the right amount.

Over the past six months, I discovered that what is most valuable to my family right now is not twenty hours of babysitting a week, but several hours of housecleaning a month (so I can be with my kids more) and one or two babysitting sessions each week to get my other things done.

I didn’t know, when I hired my nanny, what kind of help I most needed, so I didn’t set up expectations and schedules in the way that would most benefit my family. After our recent hard lessons, though, I am able to make much wiser decisions when it comes to hiring help for my family. And I have a happy update about this.

If you’ll also recall, we hired a cleaning lady last summer to clean twice a month. Well, after the nanny quit, I knew I would probably need some kind of babysitting to replace a little of what I’d lost (still no grandparents here in Missouri). My biggest problem was I didn’t want to introduce a new person into my kids’ lives after Sam’s separation issues. I mentioned to my cleaning lady that the nanny had quit, and what do you know? In addition to cleaning houses, she also nannies, and she offered to spot me one or two sessions per week of babysitting, fitting it around the cleaning schedule. Best part? My kids love her. And bonus: she’s one of my readers; she understands my non-housework “work,” and she wants to help me continue it (in the appropriate balance, of course). I am so thankful for God providing Janice right from under my nose! Thanks, Janice, for stepping in!

Parting Lessons (Heed the Signs)

I wish I would learn earlier the lessons God is trying to teach me. I wish I would heed the signs that life is spinning out of control before I come unglued. Unfortunately, I don’t often “get it” until I break down, or wear out, or get to the end of my rope. That’s when I finally seek God and really listen to my husband’s assessment of my current crazy; that’s when I’m open to change.

Now that I’ve gotten really honest and admitted these hard lessons (i.e., my mistakes), I hope I have encouraged you to learn your lessons sooner than I did. To heed the signs. And what are the signs? If you find yourself knocking your head against a wall every day and night, if you easily explode at your family and have no reserves of peace (and no time to build up those reserves), if you are running on empty and the pace of life seems insupportable and just too hard…then it is. I encourage you to admit the broken pattern and do something about it.

When You Know Something Needs to Change But Don’t Know What

If you realize that something needs to change but don’t know what it is, spend some time in prayer asking God what your first steps should be. (Prayer is always a great first step.) If you are having a prayer block, which can happen when we are too busy and strung out to sit still and listen to God, start by asking some godly friends or family members for their take on what needs to change; perhaps they can spot the problem you can’t, and get you back on the right track, as Buc did for me.

May God help us all to heed the signs when life not going as it should (and when we have power to do something about it). The quicker we are to obey God, the faster we will be to learn his lessons, and they won’t have to be so hard. May he help us to listen to his good and perfect plan and be obedient to live it out.

(Psalm 119 is a beautiful chapter about getting our priorities straight; I encourage you to read it in full. For now, below are a few of my favorite verses.)

“Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts….Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your principles! Then I will not be disgraced when I compare my life with your commands. When I learn you righteous laws, I will thank you by living as I should. I will obey your principles. Please don’t give up on me….If you will help me, I will run to follow your commands.” (Psalm 119:2, 5-8, 32, NLT)

“Before I was afflicted I went astray. But now have I kept they word.” (Psalm 119:67, NKJ)

“The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles….I will never forget your commandments, for you have used them to restore my joy and health.” (Psalm 119:71, 93)

*We traveled too much, our nanny said, and she needed more regular income. When a full-time family came along, she took a position that fit her needs better. I am glad for the time she gave us and for what I learned from her. I am also glad that now we’ve both found situations to better fit our needs.

Staying Positive While Pregnant

Smiley face
“Fading Smile 1” by TACLUDA

Since my second trimester began, I haven’t felt physically good. Despite how they say it’s supposed to go, I had a great first trimester, only to feel nauseated and exhausted when the second one hit. The upside? This temporary trial is teaching me to appreciate those who have a chronic illness, and who brave every day in spite of it.

You, see, I’m learning that living life—getting up out of bed, taking a shower, actually looking at your planner—takes mental work when you feel physically ill, when you just want to sleep, or when you just have to puke. It’s not fun to wake up day after day wondering if you can hold down your breakfast (not always). And it’s quite disheartening to see all your son’s naptimes—the times you used to get things done—fly away by the time you can haul yourself out of bed. Suddenly, all those things that used to be easy seem impossible…because you just don’t have the strength.

It’s no wonder sick people get depressed.

For those who live with chronic illness or pain and who remain positive in spite of it, I salute you. It’s no small feat to go about life happily in that state, and those who do have obviously made some hard choices.

Maybe it was the choice to take a shower today. I made that choice at 5:30 this morning, even though I didn’t want to, and frankly, I didn’t care if my hair was clean. I decided to shower for my family, reasoning that my cleanliness would bless them and might make me feel better.

Maybe it was the choice to lower your expectations for your day, or for your parenting, or for your writing, because really, that’s the only sane thing to do sometimes. I chose to let my son watch TV at 6:15 this morning, even though I don’t like to start his day with TV, because I needed some time to read my Bible and pray. And I made peace with this setup as a possible morning routine in the near future because, heck, I have another baby coming, and mornings are not going to get any easier for awhile.

Let me not rush past that last paragraph. I also made the choice to sit down with God for a few minutes today–even though my surroundings told me I didn’t have time–and I was so glad I did. This is where the choice to think positive for the rest of my day became easier.

What am I reading in this time of physical distress and distraction? Mostly the Psalms. I like the Psalms when I am distracted, distressed, or distraught (and without much ability to focus), because they can be read one at a time, in no specific order, and they still make sense. They are prayers and praises coming from an honest soul, and the words often work to jumpstart my own prayer life.

Today’s Psalms, 48 and 49, helped me to remember that everything on earth, including life itself, is temporary; I shouldn’t spend my time or energy worrying about stuff. The only lasting things are God and his kingdom—the God who is our God “forever and ever” and who will be our great and merciful and and loving “guide until we die” (Ps. 48:14, NLT). It may seem a small thing, but these reminders helped me to relax about the house I can’t totally get in order yet—the pictures I can’t hang, the floors I can’t vacuum, the boxes I can’t unpack—because I’m too sick, or too tired, or the noise would be too much while Sam is napping. It helped me to put my focus back on God, and back on Truth, where it belongs.

After I took time to remember that God is God, God is in control, and God is good, suddenly, the day wasn’t so daunting. I don’t know how chronically sick people do life if they don’t do it with God; but as for me, I have found my lifeline. I have discovered that God can give me joy even when I don’t feel “good.”

Lord, help me to always put you first.

The Everyday Adventure

My life has been full of interesting twists and turns since I began trusting God. A few days ago Buc and I road tripped back to Missouri from Texas—me with Sam in the truck, Buc in his new Corvette—and as I followed my husband over those familiar highways, I had to smile at the adventure God has brought me on.

I drove those highways over ten years ago to meet my man, sight unseen, on a whim and a prayer. Six months after I met him, I drove those highways again to move my life to Texas and to gain a new family. Now, Buc and I have started a family I never thought we would start, and God has placed us in Missouri—a situation that puts us closer to my family in Minnesota, and lets us travel back to Texas multiple times a year.

I once said that I could never see myself staying in one place for a lifetime. That was depression and despair speaking. Now, I see new experiences not as escapes, but as valuable and enriching milestones. (They also provide good fodder for writing.)

With that said, I want to address the negativity of my last post. I sounded depressed in that post, because I felt depressed. But these days, staying depressed is not an option. God has given me tools to combat those feelings, and as often as I complain about my struggles (to maintain my commitment to honesty), I want to give him glory for the little, repeated victories in my life.

Indeed, the best part of my life journey is how I keep seeing God show up—or how he keeps teaching me to do better, think better, and live better in the midst of life’s messes. Like anybody, I have reasons to complain again today—including a family diarrhea weekend, and a still unsettled house (too much traveling to unpack!)—but here are some ways I’ve felt God helping me out of my “Melancholy Mom” pit.

Antidepressants

I’ll admit it; I have started taking an antidepressant, and it seems to be helping. I want to qualify this by saying that I don’t see this as a permanent solution. I took myriad antidepressants as a teenager, and after five years they still didn’t help me avoid attempting suicide. It was only years after I stopped those antidepressants that I found my permanent solution and genuine joy: prayer and Bible study. Which, by the way, I believe is the permanent solution for most cases of depression.

But these days I am carrying a baby in my belly and my hormones are going crazy. After too many days where I couldn’t stop crying, where I couldn’t stop biting my husband’s head off, and where I generally couldn’t function, I decided to try an antidepressant (with my doctor’s consent, of course) to take the edge off. I prayed about this decision, and I sensed God assuring me it wasn’t a copout or a sin—it was just a tool he’d provided during extraordinary circumstances.

 Accentuating the Positives

Another tool is choosing to see the positives rather than the negatives. Some days this is easier to do than others, like when your hormones are balanced versus when they are unbalanced; but I believe it’s a Christian’s duty to focus on the positives. God has given us so many reasons to be thankful—most of all, salvation and a heavenly inheritance—but even while on earth, we can find positives.

As I alluded, the three of us had a yucky weekend of barf and diarrhea, which we picked up somewhere between Texas and Missouri. Then we had to come home to a house that was (and is) still strewn with boxes and belongings we haven’t had time to organize or put away in a whole month of living in this house. But you know what? It’s not a big deal. Because both situations are temporary, and we have better days ahead.

I found out I am having another baby boy!!!… and I can thank God that the three main men in my life are generally healthy (diarrhea excluded). I am also thankful that the first and worst night hit while we were in Oklahoma…which means it was hotel maids doing our barfy laundry, not me!

 Praise

Author Lysa Terkeurst brought this next tool out for me in her book Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl. It’s closely related to Accentuating the Positives, but takes it a step further by moving the focus from myself onto God.

Here is a list of powerful statements she includes that I’m thinking of posting in my home:

God, circumstances change, but I praise you because you never do.

God, I praise you for never leaving me.

God, I praise you for being trustworthy.

God, I praise you that you are with me in this moment and you stand in my tomorrow as well.

God, I praise you for being the wisdom I can lean on when I have none of my own.

God, I praise you for your love and your compassion that never fails. (p. 126)

Priorities

God is ever helping me to get my priorities straight, and having right priorities always helps my mood. I’ve struggled a lot over the years with my priorities, usually trying to do too much in my own strength (not God’s), and usually for the wrong reasons (to make myself look good, not God). But in this season of motherhood, I’ve been especially blessed by two books chock full of wisdom on my priorities as mother. They are The Adventist Home and Child Guidance by Seventh-day Adventist author and most translated female writer of all time, Ellen White.

Recently I was asked to collaborate on another book project that would help spread the gospel. And it was a tempting offer. Not because I would be paid much, if anything, but because it would help boost my sense of self-worth in a season of life where my strongest talents are lying dormant. I took some time to pray about this decision, but the answer throbbed in the back of my mind from the start: not right now.

 Because I had been filling my mind with Bible wisdom via Ellen White, I could easily see that this project would take critical time and energy away from my most important task as a wife and mother—and based on my exhaustion and volatile emotions lately, not to mention a glaring lack of babysitters, I knew this was not time or energy I could spare. And look at these words from Mrs. White. These are the words that kept coming back to me as I prayed over this decision.

Writing to a woman faced with choosing missionary work over her household, Mrs. White said:

The Lord has not called you to neglect your home and your husband and children. He never works in this way, and He never will. . . . Never for a moment suppose that God has given you a work that will necessitate a separation from your precious little flock (Lt. 28, 1890; p. 246 of Adventist Home).

You may be urged to attend mothers’ meetings and sewing circles, that you may do missionary work; but unless there is a faithful, understanding instructor to be left with your children, it is your duty to answer that the Lord has committed to you another work which you can in no wise neglect. You cannot overwork in any line without becoming disqualified for the work of training your little ones and making them what God would have them be. As Christ’s co-worker you must bring them to Him disciplined and trained (MS 32, 1899; p. 246 of Adventist Home).

So that is the adventure right now. Learning to be happy and content where God has placed me—even in ever-changing, ever-unsettled circumstances. I certainly haven’t mastered this to the point where I can say, with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11), but I am getting there. I see hope lighting the path everywhere I look; and for a girl who once tried to take her life, that seems like a significant stride.