Call Me a Desperate Housewife

I’m not gonna lie. Even though I’ve had what I call an “attitude change” about motherhood, I still have days when I feel like a desperate housewife. And not the sexy, Hollywood kind either. See below for the depressing details, but then keep reading…this post ends well!

sleep deprived 1Picture me bedraggled and frumpy as I haul myself out of bed at 1:50 a.m. to change a poopy diaper, administer medication, and give a bottle. At 3 a.m. he cries because he doesn’t want to go back to sleep. At 3:30, I cry because now I can’t go back to sleep. Sometime in the 4 or 5:00 hour I fall into an uneasy snooze, but by 6 a.m., the telltale wakeup cry pierces the monitor again.

I roll out of bed scowling and muttering. Buc, my husband, is in the shower and will be gone by 6:30, and it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to blame him for how I feel like a single mother during the workweek. When he emerges from the bathroom, I break my vow to speak peace and instead pounce, listing all that’s wrong with my world. These are the only words he will get from me for the next twelve hours until he returns again. This is his sweet sendoff. Man, I feel terrible. This is where I realize yet again: I am a desperate housewife. Desperate for sleep, yes, but also desperate for wisdom to handle these days when adequate sleep is but a dream.

About four months ago, or half of Sam’s life ago, I made the remark to a fellow parent, “At least the hardest part is over.” He only laughed at me. Now with Sam’s mobility, I know why. Yes, the sleep is better some nights. But not always. And days have gotten 100% harder. Now during waking hours, Sam needs constant supervision, because he will almost certainly hurt himself if I’m not there to catch him, redirect him, or take something away. When does this phase end?

About two months ago when I noticed my attitude consistently lurking in the pits, I recognized a desperate need to get back to the basics. Hence the attitude change I blogged about a few weeks ago. This change happened as I committed to using my “spare time” to uplift my soul, as I paid attention to everything I fed on, from food to books to music and television. I made sure I put good “fuel” in my brain, such as Christian radio programming, the Bible, and other inspirational books. And it helped. Tremendously.

sleep deprived 3aBut then Sam started having trouble sleeping again. And it didn’t matter what nuggets of wisdom I found time to gobble up (not many, by the way), not as long as my hunger for sleep went unsatisfied. Despite my prayers and good intentions and promises to myself that I would not be unpleasant, I often woke up a witch.

Things came to a head as this weekend hit. By Friday, not only had Sam strung together several bad nights, but my babysitter for that day got sick and canceled, and then I started to feel sick. I fought to get Sam to nap in the afternoon, but my best efforts only resulted in a half hour siesta for both of us. Late Friday afternoon found me, head buried in hands, moaning, “I’m a failure,” texting Buc at work and asking if he could sneak out of the office early to help me. I was tired, I was sick, and I felt like a failure as a mother.

I had read enough books to know that babies can be trained to sleep well, and I knew several moms whose babies slept well every night, but I had obviously failed in that department. “Lord, help me!” I cried. I was, indeed, a desperate housewife. And until I got Sam’s and my sleep sorted out, I knew the desperation would continue.

To make a long story short, Buc stepped in like a champ this weekend to give me a much-needed break, time to regroup, and time to tune in to the wisdom God has placed all around me. While he and Sam went to church Saturday morning and to my in-laws’ for Saturday lunch, I rested, read the wisdom of Proverbs, and refreshed myself on what the sleep experts in my parenting books said.

sleep deprived 2The verse that spoke to me in Proverbs was: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many counselors bring success” (15:22, NLT). Proverbs has a lot to say about fools, and I faced the fact that I’d been a fool on the sleep issue, too often going with my feelings instead by wise counsel. Ever since Sam’s separation anxiety (and his “mommy” attachment) manifested, I’d become lax on having him fall asleep by himself and instead often allowed him to fall asleep in the stroller, with a bottle, or in my arms. It was no wonder his sleep had gotten worse. I had been coddling him far too much. But being soft on the sleep issue was not kind to him or to me.

So on my sick Saturday morning off, I spent several hours poring over the wise counsel of the sleep experts (whom I’d silently shut away on my bookshelf), and then I wrote out an action plan for what to do at naptimes and bedtimes. I knew myself: if I didn’t have a plan, and if I didn’t rehearse it in my mind before testing time, I would resort to what “felt right” when Sam cried—and we would go on and on in our desperate, sleep-deprived cycle indefinitely. But I needed still more help. When Buc got home Saturday afternoon, I enlisted him as my assistant. I ran the plan by him, we tweaked it a bit, we prayed, and then we implemented it last night at bedtime and this morning at naptime. And guess what? It’s working!

I don’t believe in “crying-it-out” indefinitely, but Sam can go five minutes, then ten, by himself. (I am relying heavily on the method known as “Ferberizing,” for those interested). So far, we haven’t had to wait more than about fifteen minutes for him to go to sleep. Of course, this morning after he went back down at 5:15, I was wide awake. But that’s okay. I had gone to bed early as a preemptive strike, I felt strangely rested, and I got to write in blissful silence for a whole hour and fifteen minutes!

How I have missed this! Not just the writing, but the quiet morning time. The settling, centering time before the day wakes. This is how days were meant to begin. This is what I need to refresh my soul. Quiet time with God and quiet time with my pen and the blank page.

parenting-quoteI’m glad I can admit when I’m desperate, because that’s when God can help me the most. He helps me by telling me where to go: sometimes to bed early, sometimes to the writing desk. He helps me by telling me who to talk to: this weekend, my husband. He helps me by telling me what to read: down to specific scriptures, and sometimes specific parenting books.

And he also talks by just whispering to me in his still, small voice: “You’re not a failure, my child. You’re just learning the ropes. And as long as you lean on me, you’re never a desperate housewife.”

So maybe I shouldn’t call myself a desperate housewife. But maybe I should. It made for a good blog title; and honestly, I never want to stop being desperate for wisdom. Because when I ask, God answers (James 1:5).

 

 

 

When the Gospel Isn’t Enough

IMG_1702The Hidden Half of the Gospel is now in print, which means it’s time for me to sound promotion bells; but how about I just use a recent, personal example, to tell you why so many people (and maybe you) desperately need this message?

The other day I was listening to a radio show hosted by one of my favorite pastors. People call in with Bible questions, and this pastor answers them, usually with lots of scripture and high caller satisfaction. But one caller on the show did not receive a satisfactory answer.

Essentially, this caller wanted to know how he could get free from his past. He was fifty-two, had been abused as a child, and was still living “in bondage,” even though he went to church and prayed for the peace of the Holy Spirit. How, he wanted to know, could he experience the “new life” Christ promised, and the changes he read about when a person gets the Holy Spirit?

My heart broke for the man as the pastor proceeded to give pat answers that blatantly sidestepped the man’s apparent pain. “Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to a funeral where the deceased sat up and complained about his past?”

“No.”

“Well, we can’t focus on the past. It’s done. As we drive through life, we can’t keep looking in the rearview mirror. We have to focus on what matters for eternity. We need to give the past to Jesus and then look to the future with him. Our pasts won’t matter in heaven. We need to believe that Jesus forgives us of our past sins and our guilt.”

Here I thought to myself, He totally didn’t address the man’s question: “How do you help someone who is trying, but is not experiencing, the Holy Spirit?” I wished I could contact this man and offer Paul’s and my book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours. I wished I could talk to that pastor and give him our book, too, so next time he got a call like that, he could offer some real help: a complete picture of the gospel that not only addresses healing sin, but also healing suffering.

The Traditional Gospel Doesn’t Help Everyone

Sadly, this pastor was merely presenting the “status quo” gospel that so many Christian pastors, and Christians, promote. That is, “Christ died for our sins and rose again to forgive us and give us a new life.” Sounds nice. It is nice. This gospel has changed millions of lives. But what about those people who have already tried this gospel, who go to church and pray regularly, and who have even accepted Jesus’ forgiveness, and still live in bondage?

Today Christians and non-Christians alike live in bondage to things like divorce, abuse, addiction, depression, and cutting/self-harm (to name a few). More tragically, many Christians live in bondage to the negative thoughts and lies Satan slams us with in the aftermath and in the midst of these problems. Which means we end up living out false identities long after the initial pain of, say, childhood abuse.

I was one of those desperate people only a few years ago (see my seven-part series “My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story“). But then God taught me what it really means to live a new life. Over a period of several years, I learned about Satan’s lies and how they take root in our minds and handicap our lives.

It’s insulting, and discouraging, when pastors or Christians tell us we should be “over it” just like that. It doesn’t work. And that’s why we need a better gospel, a complete gospel—the gospel that Paul Coneff unearthed as a young pastor in his search to minister to hurting individuals like that fifty-two-year-old Christian caller.

Jesus Preached a Better Gospel

When Jesus said He came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free, He didn’t just mean He would heal us when He came back again at His second coming, or set us free from our prisons of darkness when we get to heaven. His promise was for here and now. And that means it includes more than the gospel of forgiveness of sins. It has something for those of us who have been sinned against.

Our book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, starts right where you are: in the midst of your misery. It doesn’t ask you to deny it or forget it, because that’s stupid; it’s impossible. Correction: by ourselves it’s impossible, but with God all things are possible. Specifically, for those of us who are suffering, healing begins with Jesus Christ’s life of suffering, and the promise that “He suffered in every way we did” so He could offer us his mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16). In our book, Paul and I flesh out the implications of these promises through stories of real individuals (like myself) who needed a Savior in the midst of suffering, and who found one who understands our pain exactly, because He has been through it.

Jesus was abandoned, betrayed, and abused; He was unfairly tried, convicted, and crucified; and in the midst of all this, he felt forsaken by his Father. As a “man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief,” He knows that we need time to heal, and He doesn’t expect us to do it overnight. He only asks that we look to Him and the victory He accomplished at the cross. As we look to Jesus and allow Him to tell us about the lies and wounds in our hearts, He can uproot them and replace them with a new identity. If this sounds like a message you could use, or one that you’d like to share with others, please visit hiddenhalf.org. There, you can read sample chapters, and if you like what you see, you can order the book. Happy reading!

Get a Discount on the book: When you click “buy the book,” the next page offers a discount box. Type in “HIS-story” to receive a 20% discount through October 31.

Post-Traumatic Stresses of Growing up in a “Messy” Home

photo 2It’s hard to move on with life when your home is in shambles. I say this because of the never ending construction going on in my house right now—but I also mean it in the emotional sense.

Did you grow up in a home with lots of fighting? Uncertainty about the future? Fear that Mom and Dad might split? Then you might know what I’m talking about. It’s hard to move on, it’s hard to grow up, when your home life is in shambles.

Today I had trouble focusing on my to-dos, primarily because my house is a wreck and has been for almost two months. When I finally got Sam down for a nap, I had to pray extra hard and reread my index cards of Bible promises just so I could move on with the day. My brain felt so cluttered I knew I could not be productive unless God cleared things up. The verse that most calmed me: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isa. 26:3). As I concentrated on God, my scattered thoughts, well, scattered. And then, Sam woke up…an hour and a half before he was supposed to (grr). Glad God calmed me beforehand!

I wish I had learned to rely on God earlier in life. When I was a teenager, my home was in shambles, in the emotional sense, and I suffered in many ways, for many years to come.

I didn’t rely on God. I relied on keeping busy to numb my pain. I relied on building up myself and my skills, determined to acquire things that no one could ever take from me. In the early years, those things included a straight-A record, a good reputation, and lots of experiences to pad my college applications. In my adult life, they translated into two college degrees, a full plate at church, and a teaching career: AKA, resume builders.

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These things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But they’re bad when you do them to avoid confronting your pain. Life gets lopsided really quickly when you do those pain-stuffing behaviors to the detriment of everything else.

I’ve come a long way from the life I’m describing. I finally gave up the career chase to have a kid, for one. And I’m making a concentrated effort to relax in my thirties (wait, did I just contradict myself?). But I still feel myself lagging behind in plenty of areas.

Because I married when I was twenty, I’ve been able to shunt many adult responsibilities onto my husband’s plate: paying bills; navigating home, life, and car insurance; and setting up internet service, to name a few. I don’t know the cost of our monthly bills, and I wouldn’t know who to call if our electricity went out. Perhaps, most shamefully, I still don’t understand how to read and/or fill out a W2 (or is a W4?) when I start a new job. I am always embarrassed at needing help to fill it out. (But amazingly, I don’t take the time to correct this lack of knowledge).

For that matter, many, many things around me go unnoticed, things I should know just by virtue of living on planet earth or living in Texas.

Exhibit A: When I was twenty, I voted in my first presidential election without knowing the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Exhibit B: When my parents visited from Minnesota and we walked around my neighborhood and they asked, “What kind of tree is that?” “What kind of plant is that?” “What kind of bird is that?” I had to repeatedly answer, “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” “I don’t know.” I did not know, and I did not care.

Exhibit C: Sam was born with a large birthmark on his shoulder (I mean LARGE), which turned out to be an “infantile hemangioma,” or a benign tumor, according to his skin care specialist—and when my friend asked me about the long-term effects and other basic questions, I had to answer, “I don’t really know, but the doctor said not to worry, so I’m choosing not to.” Shouldn’t a mom be curious about these things? Shouldn’t she bother to know? Nonetheless, I still haven’t done any research.

Why don’t I bother to know more about my surroundings, or my son’s skin condition?

Probably the biggest reason is I feel my brain only has so much room, and to overload it is to risk meltdown. (That must be a lie, a bad root, I gained in adolescence—I’ll have to pray about that one some more.) Similarly, I have trouble adding new things to my routine: for instance, everyone tells me I need a Pinterest account—”It would make life so much easier”—but the thought of having to regularly check one more website confounds me (keeping up with my blog is hard enough!).

photo 1I simply don’t have room in my brain to accommodate one more thing. Which is why I used to be oblivious to the news. My husband would ask me what I thought about some really big news item, and I’d respond with a blank stare. Happily, caring for Sam has helped me to turn on the news almost daily (I get bored with bottles and diapers all day), so my news knowledge has increased about 100%.

My point is that I’m still decompressing from growing up in an emotionally messy home. For many years it took all my energy to put one foot in front of the other and take care of myself (I didn’t realize that God already had my back)—how could I care about the world around me? It’s only by God’s grace that I’m here today, somehow swimming in the current of adult life.

God has been gentle with my transition back into the world, giving me a loving husband and plenty of guardian angels to guide and protect my uninformed, oblivious steps. It’s hard to move on, it’s hard to grow up, when your home life is in shambles. But by his grace, people can do it. And because of his goodness, I am.

 

Happy to Be a Mother

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I was married seven years before I decided I wanted kids. Don’t mistake me. I was not married seven years before I got pregnant by accident, or before we could financially support a child. I mean I was married seven years before God, one day, gave me a talking to, and utterly changed my plans.

One October day in 2012, I was simultaneously poring over my career options and getting flustered, as I did so often in those days. I was two months from finishing my master’s degree, after which I planned to get a doctorate and teach college…but I wasn’t happy. I hated graduate school, and the thought of four to eight more years of it constricted my heart like a vise grip.

“Okay, Lord,”I prayed, sitting at my desk, I need your help. Before me sat my list of possible graduate schools, and a blank notebook. These items represented the choice that had dogged me for months: grad school, or writing? Farther back in my mind was a third option, but I had never really been able to voice it. Deadlines were approaching. If was going to get my doctorate, I had to apply soon.

“Lord,”I muttered through clenched teeth, “This indecision has gone on long enough, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m asking you to please, make clear, once and for all, what you want me to do.”

Even as I spoke the words, I felt the answer thudding in my chest.

You know what to do, God said.

And as the tears started, I realized I had known for months.

“God!”I cried out. “This has been so excruciating! Why has it taken so long to decide?”

Fear, came the instant answer. You fear that Buc will die, or abandon you someday. You fear that one day you will be alone again, without support, without resources, and without a clear path.

“Oh, Lord!” I sobbed. “You know me so well. You know that my constant motion for the past few years had to do with protecting myself in case of future abandonment—it wasn’t just about being organized and ‘highly effective.’ You know that I’ve overextended myself at work and church to keep from feeling what was really underneath my skin. You know I struggled over the PhD because it led to a safe and predictable place.”

I stopped talking aloud then, and just sat, letting it all sink in. I was finally admitting to myself: my desire for the PhD was all for fear. It was never what I wanted.

I slipped to my knees and bowed at my desk. With tears still trickling down my face, I acknowledged and embraced my fear, and I prayed: “God, you’ve gotten me this far. It’s time to let you lead, fully. I can’t ignore my desires anymore. And it doesn’t make sense to try to keep forcing a shoe that doesn’t fit. I don’t want a PhD. Teaching I could take or leave. But writing? I can’t leave it anymore. It’s got to come out.

I slumped on the floor for several minutes more, as if held there by God’s hand, because I knew there was more to this prayer. There was something else God wanted to bring out of me, another fear he wanted to replace with his truth. And I knew I was finally about to articulate it.

After composing myself, I called Buc at work and urged him to come home early, saying, “We need to talk about our future.”

When he arrived home, I said, “Let’s drive to the state park and talk while we walk.”

I didn’t have a speech prepared, but when we started our nature walk, words started tumbling out of my mouth. I admitted to Buc that I was not going to find a PhD that would suit me, because a PhD—and the isolation that must come with it—was not the life I wanted.

Voice quavering, I told him, “Honey, I keep looking at my life in the last few years—how I’ve been running around, keeping so busy, trying so hard—and I just don’t know what I’m striving for anymore. I’ve lost sight of what I’m doing. I mean,” I added, voice climbing to hysteria, “I just don’t know who I’m trying to please anymore. Why am I trying so hard?”

Scenes of recent years flashed in my mind. My nose-to-the-grindstone approach, my endless lists of to-dos. My shuffling from here to there. My busyness. My endless pursuit of the next rung in my career ladder, my continual motion. The mere thought of it so exhausted me that I had to stop and catch my breath. Again, these realizations had hit me hard. But the one that next burst from my mouth almost knocked me over.

“I want to have kids!” I blurted.

Like a crashing wave this realization came. In all the years we’d been married, I had never been able to say that I wanted kids. The closest I’d ever come was to speak of it as a distant hypothetical.

“Is it possible,” I marveled aloud to Buc, “that all I’ve ever really wanted was to get back to having a family? To have kids? Is it possible that the one thing I’ve been so scared to embrace all these years is the one thing I’ve really just wanted to get back to?”

I was flabbergasted by the thought. As I talked about our future—a new future—I felt a weight lifting. Was it possible I was really letting go? Just letting the debris of my broken past settle, and finally settling myself? The thought was comforting, even as it brought new fear. To follow this impulse was to completely shift gears, to suddenly grind to a halt plans we’d been setting in motion for years.

I cringed as I looked up at Buc. Would he approve of this change of plans?

“Honey? What do you think?” I shifted my eyes down, as if to deflect a coming glare. “What would you think if I decided to stay home and write, and maybe have some kids?”

His eyes were soft. He clasped my hand. “Honey, I think that sounds nice. I like the idea.” And that was all.

Whoosh. My breath escaped in one glorious release.

“I just have one question,” Buc said, swinging my arm as we trounced through the brush. “Why now? Why after all these years are you finally ready to have kids?”

I thought for a moment before answering, letting the happiness of the moment sink in. Then I realized: happiness was the answer.

“I think I finally understand something.” I let my free arm drift across the tree leaves, feeling like a little girl again. “The best parents—I mean, the people who should be having kids—have them because they are already happy. They have them not to make themselves happy, but to share their happiness. To invite someone else into their special, intimate joy. They don’t ask their kids to bring their lives meaning, they ask to be able to share meaning with their kids.”

“Well said,” Buc beamed at me. “I think I’ve got a wise wife.”

“Not that wise,” I smiled back. “I’m just learning to take God’s lead.”

And that, I thought to myself, is something worth passing on to my kids!

 

Epilogue: A year and a half has passed since that day in the woods, and I thank God every day that he redirected my plans and gave me my (almost) four-month-old blessing, Sam Michael. Happy Mothers Day, Moms!

 

*This post was adapted from a chapter in my memoir manuscript.

He Slept Through the Night!

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This is a headline every new mom wants to publish, but my announcement is even more gratifying because it came as an answer to a Bible promise I claimed two weeks ago. You see, two Sundays ago I sat down and wrote a blog post about lack of sleep that I never published…because I got too busy to polish and then too tired to post it. (As I’ve written more than once, sleep deprivation is one of the biggest drains on new mothers.) But now I can publish that post with a happy ending.

Two weeks ago…

In a recent post I wrote that I was having trouble with my God time, so I fasted from secular books and TV last week. The fast is over, and it was a blessing, but I also realized it’s not enough to fast. You also have to refill what you’ve taken away. As if mothers have a need to fill any more time! This is where it takes a conscious effort to include God in your day.

My husband took Sam for the afternoon, and I was tempted to take a nap. However, after lunch and a delicious lactation smoothie I’m trying this week [after two weeks it sadly hasn’t helped much], I was revived enough to sit down and talk to God. I told him that I was frustrated. It’s hard for me to focus on the Bible right now. The Bible seems too vast, plus, unrelated to my daily mommy mire. I told him I wished there were a Bible, or a gospel, specifically for mothers of young children. Sometimes I don’t want to sift through the biblical language to find a personal application.

I asked God what he would have me do. He told me he wasn’t asking me to be a Bible scholar, just to be faithful with the time I have. I was impressed to continue reading through the Psalms like I’ve been doing, and to memorize at least one verse from my reading each week.

In the past, the Psalms have spoken to me even when I had little mental energy for Bible study. The themes are simple—God is in control; the righteous prosper, the wicked die; God created me and cares for me intimately; God is the creator of everything—but beautiful and reassuring. Just like they were good for a frazzled first-year teacher six years ago, they are good for a tired mommy today. And you know what? As I looked over the Psalms I read last week, searching for one verse to memorize, one jumped out.

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). My Bible commentary told me this section pertained to when David fled from Absalom and feared for his life. The fact that he can lie down and sleep shows absolute trust in God.

As far as I can tell, my life is not in danger; but with a two-month-old, I crave to sleep in peace. It occurred to me that I could claim this verse for myself. I can trust God that he will help me sleep in peace, because he provides for my needs, just like he provided for David. I know it’s a somewhat silly comparison, but this verse made me feel loved by God.

I recited that verse several times a day for over a week…and within two weeks, Sam, eleven weeks old, slept 9 ½ hours two nights ago and then 7 hours last night. I was able to sleep in peace. God came through!

I am so thankful to serve a God who meets me where I am—even when that is a pathetically sleep deprived and droopy state. May he help me to continue honoring him with my time. If Sam keeps this up, it looks like I’ll be getting some quiet morning hours back—and I will do my best to spend them with God.

 

Reexamining Priorities as a New Mother

Photo Credit: "Chalkboard Numbers" by mimwickett
Photo Credit: “Chalkboard Numbers” by mimwickett

One great thing about a baby is that he forces you to reexamine your priorities. As the mother of a two-month-old, I’m reconsidering mine, and I’m ashamed. I’m talking about the fact that Bible study feels foreign to me these days.

Maybe that’s not surprising. Everything from my former life—exercise, writing my memoir—feels foreign. The exercise video that was once easy has become difficult. The memoir that seemed nearly sewn up now has gaping holes. The daily devotion that came as a joy now poses frustration. In short, my abs were not the only things left flabby by childbirth.

Feedings, Facebook, and the Today show replaced my morning devotions. Bottle washing and diaper changing ousted my daily workouts. Rocking, singing, and mad dashes to shower during naptime replaced the writing. And with all that breastfeeding, as you might remember, memoirs became my reading material of choice. Yes, I’ve had time to read, but I haven’t had the focus, a little voice inside has said.

That’s not good. In my former (pre-mother) life as a Christian, I learned where certain little voices come from. If it’s not the Holy Spirit, it’s, well, the other guy.

This is a tough truth to face. On the one hand, I want to plead, “But it’s not my fault! I wasn’t getting any sleep, and how can you expect a zombie to focus on her Bible?” Even now I feel this argument holds water…concerning at least the first few weeks. Just like one cannot be expected to function without food or water, I believe one cannot be expected to function (at least optimally) on inadequate sleep.

Concerning new parenthood, and I suppose other life upheavals (such as moves and new jobs), there has to be an adjustment period, and it’s bound to be rocky. If you don’t have someone spoon-feeding you your Bible lessons—or bottle feeding your baby, putting him to sleep at night, changing his diapers, holding him when he cries for the zillionth time (you get the picture)—it’s unlikely that even the most devout new parent will have a robust devotional life.

But then.

Then, that infant settles down a bit, so that you can expect a decent naptime each day. Then he sleeps to the extent that you are no longer a walking zombie. Then you have the time and the faculties available to reconsider your priorities. Then you are once again accountable for your actions.

So, I’ve decided I need to regroup. I need to get back to the Bible.

Being a good Christian doesn’t exclude some of the things I’ve been doing lately (perhaps with the exception of the Today show—I can’t help but notice how the worst of pop culture is always applauded, never condemned) but it means those things never take priority over Bible study or prayer.

Because I’ve had trouble hearing God’s voice lately, I decided to fast this week from secular books and TV. Until I am again comfortable with God and the Bible (although a Christian really should never get comfortable) I’m not turning on secular TV or picking up a memoir. So far this week I’ve bathed myself in the Bible, other inspirational reading, and religious programs such as those aired on Amazing Facts TV (If you want a spiritual boost, I recommend Amazing Facts; the speaker/director Doug Batchelor is a favorite of mine). Similar to my “Damascus Road year,” I’ve been convicted that I need to keep God front and center in my life. When I don’t, life is upside down, even more so than new motherhood makes it.

Listen, new motherhood throws your whole identity up in the air. It’s hard to redefine yourself, especially in relation to your work, if you were formerly career oriented. But I’ve decided that there is one aspect of my identity that need never be shaken, and that is my identity as a daughter of God. In Christ, I am called to be Christlike wherever I am in life. Maybe I don’t have the luxury of many uninterrupted minutes of Bible study. Maybe most of my prayers can’t be made with the backdrop of silence. But I can be faithful with what I have, be it five minutes of quiet time in which to read, or a whole noisy, busy day in which to converse with God.

 

Surviving Parenthood

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Until his first smiles, I’m counting on funny expressions like this one to keep me endeared to little Sam.

So this is what it comes down to: if I want to write a blog post, I have to do it while lying on my side feeding my son, awkwardly typing with a crick in my neck. This makes me think of a humor book on parenting I read (Sippy Cups Are not for Chardonnay), in which the author joked that the new definition of “sexy” for mothers is just getting to wash their hair.

I won’t lie: after just three weeks, both my hubby and I are having doubts about parenthood. What did we get ourselves into? we’ve asked. And, Does our baby come with a return policy? I feel terrible even typing those things, but from all the parenting books I’ve read (blame it on graduate school), these seem to be normal enough questions. Yet I’ve rarely heard them spoken by friends and acquaintances who have kids. Have they just forgotten what the early days were like? If so, here’s a reminder.

My newborn son takes round-the-clock work, but offers not one smile in return. More like it, he cries, and he screams—morning, noon, and night. Although just a week or so ago all his crying made me cry, too, now I roll my eyes, pick him up again, talk to him in silly voices (perhaps desperate pleas), or, if all else fails, I lay him down to scream for ten to fifteen minutes. I can’t take more than fifteen minutes.

When I do get him down for a nap, it’s all I can do to grab a shower or a bite to eat, or, if I’m really lucky, get some laundry or dishes done. Yesterday I was able to sweep the mud room where our dogs constantly track in, well, mud, and that was a major accomplishment. Some days I also manage to get dinner made before hubby comes home, and that is always cause for profuse thanksgiving.

In the beginning (just a couple weeks ago), I remember laying Sam down for a nap and praying, Lord, can you please let him sleep for one hour? Now, with the wet blanket of reality smothering me, I have started praying, Lord, thank you for every minute—and I really mean every single minute—that Sam sleeps. Sometimes it’s fewer than ten minutes. Yesterday’s two-hour nap was a happy milestone. But no matter how long or short it is, it is always just long enough…for me to get at least one thing done. Maybe it’s just a shower, maybe it’s just washing my breast pump accessories so I can be ready to pump again after the next feeding. Stressed though I am, God sees to it that my needs are met. That’s life right now.

Right now, I’m only accomplishing the most basic necessities. For an overachiever like myself, this is near torture. But, sigh, it’s good for me. It’s good to remember how dependent I am on God for my most basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter. Little Sam has reminded me of this. Because he is taking his sweet time to regain his birth weight, I’ve been worried about my milk supply. I’ve been worried about him. When I’m tempted to resent him for “chaining” me to a feeding schedule, I am softened to remember that, with all these feedings, this little, helpless being is totally depending on me for his life. Suddenly, all these mundane feedings are hardly small or insignificant. Likewise, motherhood.

Lord, when I’m tempted to see my new “job” as merely frustrating, difficult, and insignificant, remind me what a privilege it is. Help me see my job as a miracle—I’ve gotten to play a small part in creating a life, and now I get a small part in sustaining it. I get to understand what your job is like just a little more. I get to experience your love just a little deeper.

So this is what it comes down to (after forty minutes of feeding): a sweet, helpless baby sleeping silently on my chest, depending totally on me for his sustenance, his life. How can I stay angry at a sleeping baby? It’s impossible. This must be one of the survival mechanisms God built in to all newborn babies—for them and for their parents.

 

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story: Conclusion

After giving my life to God, I was always on the lookout for tools to share my faith. I didn’t feel I was particularly good at this part of the Christian life, and I thought it was because I hadn’t yet found the right method. Enter Paul Coneff and The Hidden Half of the Gospel.

Paul  conducted a week of prayer at my church in the spring of 2012, and after just the first night, I knew his message was special: I sensed it might even be the missing link in my life and ministry, this “hidden half” of Jesus’ story. So, what was it? And how, if I’d been in church almost my entire life, had I missed it?

Lindsey HH Cover MasterThe Hidden Half of the Gospel

Paul began his presentation with a question: “What did Jesus do more of while on this earth: Teaching or healing?”

Healing was the obvious answer. Then Paul asked, “Why have we [churches and Christians] reversed Jesus’ model of ministry? Why do we do more teaching than healing, when he did more healing than teaching?”

He continued, “Now let’s say that I am sitting in my office and I am studying for a sermon. Some church member comes in and says, ‘I have been struggling with guilt and shame from an abortion.’ Is it easier to turn to that messiness and brokenness of her life, or is it easier to do a Bible study on the character of God? Give her some scriptures on forgiveness and say, ‘You know God has forgiven you,’ pray with her a thirty-second prayer, and walk away. Which is easier?”

His point? Many churches, and Christians, don’t know how to handle messy problems like this one (other common examples being pornography addiction, abuse, eating disorders, infidelity, and cutting ), so we don’t–meaning we don’t offer the help so many people need. He went on to prove his point with a concept he calls the “cycle of sin-and-forgiveness.” Many Christians come into the church and get forgiveness for their sins, only to fall back into their patterns of sin. Then they ask for forgiveness, but continue to sin, again and again and again. (In my own experience of praying with women, I’ve also seen a pattern of wallowing in guilt over past sins that the person is no longer committing.) Paul continued. “Why is it that so many Christians who have accepted the ‘good news’ of Christ still are not free?”

family-fighting
Photo Credit: Peacefulparenting.com

I was riveted. Exactly! I said to myself, remembering how my parents had been wooed into the church with lots of good information and had gotten baptized, only to leave our family scattered and scarred by an affair and divorce (see parts 1, 2, and 3).

For the first time, I saw my problems standing stark naked in church, and I was desperate to know: How can the church address these issues?

The Hidden Half of the Gospel is how Paul addressed them. This is a message I would come to know well when Paul later asked me to cowrite his book of the same title.

Two Pillars

There are two pillars to The Hidden Half:

lies
Here is a worksheet that can help you identify the lies Satan may be planting in your mind. I was able to recognize which lies applied to me because they were “thoughts” that ran through my head on a regular basis.

1. The root of our sin and suffering is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). This concept of roots is huge in Paul’s ministry. As Paul explained, all our negative behaviors and patterns are merely fruits of deep-seeded roots, or lies, planted by Satan. We cannot fix the fruits unless we first attack the roots. Thus, healing begins by identifying the Satanic lies driving our behavior. Once we know the roots, or the lies, we can take those to Jesus and let him deal with them, which leads to pillar 2.

2. The root of our healing and freedom is Jesus, our Suffering Messiah (Luke 9:22; Rev. 5:5; Col. 2:15; Isa. 53). The suffering of Jesus is the crux of The Hidden Half of the Gospel, and the key to our healing.

As Paul explained, many churches have overlooked this crucial aspect of Jesus’ gospel, instead choosing to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The death and resurrection take care of forgiveness of sins, but often merely believing in and accepting these concepts doesn’t resolve suffering, or the cycle of sin-and-forgiveness. Putting “suffering” back into the definition of the gospel, as Jesus explained it to his disciples (see Luke 9:22), offers hope to those of us stuck in suffering—depression, abuse, addiction, etc.—because it means Jesus didn’t just nail our sins to the cross, but he also nailed our suffering there, as well. The Bible tells us Jesus “suffered and was tempted in every way” that we are tempted, to offer us help when we suffer and are tempted (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16).

Why Jesus Had to Suffer

Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html
Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html

“Have you ever thought about why Jesus’ story had to be so gory?” Paul asked the audience.

I really hadn’t.

“Well, think about it.” Paul continued. “Jesus was abandoned; betrayed; physically violated; shamed and humiliated; and verbally, mentally, emotionally, and physically abused. Now, do you think He understands the pain that abuse victims feel? Does He understand when a parent abandons a child? Was He ever tempted to numb His pain?

“He suffered all these things and more so He could identify with us. So that he could understand every way we are sinned against, and every form of self-protection we develop in order to numb our pain.

Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).
Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).

“What’s more, he suffered these temptations  and triumphed over them, which means that when we take time to connect our stories with Jesus, to pray and meditate on what it means that he suffered for us, and became sin for us, we can experience his victory.”

By this time, I was hooked. I wanted this in my life. I wanted a ministry that was relevant to the suffering I’d experienced, and that which I saw all around me.

So I signed on for Paul’s seven-phase, thirteen-week discipleship program. That’s right. A thirteen-week program. This wasn’t any “quick fix.” It was going to be an intense period of praying on a consistent basis, first for myself (to get more healing in my own life before I was expected to pass it on–a requirement of Straight 2 the Heart Ministries) and then for others. I was going to learn at the feet of Jesus (and the seat of Paul Coneff) for an extended period of time, sort of like the first disciples, before I set out to make more disciples.

Discipleship, Small-Group Style

Paul (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.
Paul Coneff (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.

Paul spent the next four months with five of us, discipling us—praying with us, and training us to pray with others. And not quick, clean, thirty-second prayers. These were deep, messy prayer sessions that first asked Jesus to identify our negative roots, and then helped us connect our stories to Jesus’ story. It didn’t end there. We delved deeper, praying, “Lord, what else do you want me to know about these roots in my life? What blessings or barriers are there in these areas?” The prayers were recursive, connecting our stories to Jesus, then having us stop and listen to the Holy Spirit so he could take us one layer deeper into our negative roots. Always, by the end of the prayer sessions, which dredged up long-buried hurts and often tears, Jesus revealed blessings, too. He always brought to mind His promises to combat the negative roots our praying was churning up.

Our training ended, with the goal being that we would start more small groups in our church, beginning with a few men and women, hopefully to grow as disciples multiplied.

My Gateway to New Life at Home, at Work, and in Ministry

My life intersected with Paul Coneff’s message and ministry, Straight 2 the Heart, when I was at a crossroads in my life. I was coming up against the age of thirty, and was finding that pursuing my “chosen” path, graduate school to become a professor, was leaving me feeling empty. Here’s a summary of how God has since rerouted my plans through this life-changing prayer ministry.

Facing Remaining Negative Roots

tree roots
Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

First, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me to be honest about areas in my life that weren’t all healed yet (some of which are still in progress) such as:

  • Anger at the premature loss of my childhood family and, well, my childhood.
  • Resentment at my husband’s happy family (and any happy family).
  • Disillusionment with my church and religion because it “did not help me” in my time of crisis. Straight 2 the Heart helped me to see that my church didn’t help me because it didn’t know how—also, because I didn’t let them know I needed help in the first place. (It also provided the answer for how churches can help, when they have the right tools.)
  • My pattern of trying to control my life in my own strength so it would never get out of control again (or my attempts to never repeat my past depression, suicide attempts, broken family, etc., through over-planning, becoming over-busy, and more).
  • My avoidance of having kids out of the above need to maintain control.

Gaining Deeper Healing 

Second, Straight 2 the Heart has led to more healing for those negative roots in these ways:

  • The decision to let go of the “safe,” but wrong career path of academia.
  • The decision to finally pursue the identity God has for me, which has translated into sharing my story through writing and even teaching. This blog, my memoir-in-progress, and Paul’s and my forthcoming book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, are all examples of me sharing my story for God’s glory.
  • The decision to have a baby.DSC_7783
  • The decision to be honest with other women, to reach out and accept relationships I had avoided but desperately needed (See my post “Friends in High Places”)
  • I am gaining more appreciation for my church as I look past its flaws (every church has flaws) and see the human beings there. Since deciding to be vulnerable with my own story, I’ve connected with many of these dear people in meaningful ways.  I am getting the authentic “fellowship of believers” experience I missed as a child, when my family was intent on covering up its problems.

Taking the Next Step in Ministry

S2Hlogo
Photo Credit: Cristina Coneff

Third, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me learn how to have a really relevant ministry, or how to help others who are stuck in negative places and patterns like those I’ve suffered. (It is through making Jesus’ gospel relevant to the everyday struggles of life—boldly connecting our messiness to Jesus Christ’s suffering and his full gospel to “heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.”)

  • My partner in prayer ministry, Amanda, and I, prayed two new young women (now dear friends) through the thirteen-week prayer process, which helped lead them to lots of healing—and baptisms in our church!
  • Amanda and I also trained women at a neighboring church to facilitate the same thirteen-week prayer and discipleship process in their congregation.
  • With the help of Amanda and Mary, our other cohort from our initial 13-week training, I facilitated a third prayer group, consisting of around ten ladies, in my home for several months last fall. This group resulted in amazing healing for many of these women (for marital, parental, and other common problems) as well as facilitating much needed connection between these lovely, but often isolated church ladies.
  • Now I am working on rendering the miracles we saw in these women willing to be honest with one another and with God into the closing scenes for my memoir. I want my story to testify to how one changed life can ripple out to other lives, and still more lives from there. This is what discipleship is all about.

Now, what I’ve left out of my rebirth story (and there’s lots I’ve left out), I am working on telling in my memoir. Why did I call this my “ugly, messy” rebirth story? If you consider a real birth (and I’ve been considering it a lot lately), it’s a messy process. It’s no small thing when a new physical life is created—and the same is true for a new spiritual life. The creation of a life, and the re-creation of a life, are not simple or easy processes. At times they are painful, ugly, and messy—but to get to the birth, or the rebirth, they are necessary. That’s why I have unapologetically included the ugliness and messiness in my story—along with its beauty. Without either, my story would be incomplete.

 Read part 1      Read part 2      Read part 3     Read part 4      Read Part 5    Read Part 6

To read more about The Hidden Half of the Gospel, see the following articles Paul and I wrote on the subject:

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 1

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 2

To schedule Paul to speak at your church or to facilitate a discipleship group, contact him at www.straight2theheart.com.

And if you want to get a copy of our book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours, follow this blog to be notified later this spring when the book is published!

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 5

Photo Credit: from ubdavid.org
Photo Credit: from ubdavid.org

For a long time I waited to have the type of “Damascus Road” conversion that the Apostle Paul had. I wanted a cataclysmic experience to bring me to God, once and for all. Maybe I should have been careful what I wished for!

As I wrote in part 4, I was about to start my second year of teaching when my mom—who already had cancer—was hospitalized for bipolar disorder, and my little brother went into foster care. Because my hands were tied with one-hundred adolescents, one-thousand miles away, I fell to my knees and pleaded for God to do something. And he did.

Oh, but he didn’t change my outward situation–or my mom’s, or my brother’s–at least not at first. First, he changed me—from the inside out.

My Damascus Road Year

I believe that God is always growing those who seek him. While we don’t always sense our growth, sometimes we experience “growth spurts.” That year was my first spiritual growth spurt. With God’s leading, and with a little help from Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I was forming all kinds of good habits in my life.

By far the most important habit I formed that year was the habit of daily prayer and Bible study.

Photo Credit: "Bible Collage 4" by ba1969
Photo Credit: “Bible Collage 4” by ba1969

Next, I began memorizing Scripture so that, when negative thoughts came, I could re-set my mind on God’s promises. Without even having to think about it, I started pondering Scripture throughout the day and conversing with God. In turn, he responded to me by bringing certain Bible verses to mind that I had memorized.

Again, without my having to work at it, the words that I spoke, in conversation and in prayer, started to change. Rather than counting my losses, I started counting my blessings. My journaling naturally took a more thankful tone, too, as I wrote about how I was experiencing “happy days” like never before.

After allowing God’s words to take root in me for several months, I was generally not depressed anymore. When sad days came, I fought them off by reciting Scripture and reading the Word.

And that is the key to rebirth: we cannot changes ourselves, but God’s “living and active” Word must change us (Heb. 4:12-13). If there is one thing we can do, we can avail ourselves of the Word and prayer.

More Spiritual Fruit

Photo Credit: blog.zap2it.com
Photo Source: blog.zap2it.com

Not only were my devotional habits changing, but so were many other aspects of my life. During this time, I heard a pivotal sermon all about monitoring what we put into our minds and bodies. The speaker, evangelist Leo Schreven, raised tough questions for Christians, such as: Why do we listen to, read, and watch the same kinds of materials that the “world” listens to, reads, and watches?

As Schreven pointed out, so much of mainstream media and entertainment is opposed to Christian principles, such as the many pop, country, or rock songs crooning of infidelity. What about TV shows and movies fraught with violence? He pointed out that there is so much “trash” around us, yet we Christians sift through it as if through a dumpster, always hoping to find something halfway decent—instead of doing the sensible thing and avoiding the trash altogether.

Input, Output: By Beholding, We Become Changed

As a recovering depressive, this point hit me hard. I was beginning to realize that a large part of my depression came down to my thought patterns—and many of my post-adolescent thought patterns were determined by the music I listened to, the books I read, and the things I watched.

Photo Credit: "Man Watching TV" at www.digitaltrends.com
Photo Credit: “Man Watching TV” at http://www.digitaltrends.com

There was a reason I often felt cranky after watching secular movies or reading secular books: They were not uplifting. Even cute, seemingly harmless chick flicks left me desiring a more glamorous life, a more “storybook” marriage, a prettier figure, and a more successful career. In other words, they were leading me to desire almost everything but a relationship with the Lord.

Moreover, I realized with horror that when I listened to music with depressing or even suicidal lyrics (the band Evanescence came immediately to mind), I was cooperating with Satan by meditating on self-destructive thoughts.

Now I was beginning to understand why my older brother had tossed out his entire CD collection after his own rebirth experience. I realized these seemingly “harmless” hobbies are really insidious tools of the devil to speak lies to us.

Photo Credit: Jonah Bayer
Photo Credit: Jonah Bayer

So I threw out my CD collection, too—the bad part of it. For a time I stopped reading novels and switched completely to the Bible and self-help books (this was an odd and confusing thing for an English major to do). I also separated myself from certain friends (sadly, self-professed “Christians”) who habitually exposed me to R-rated movies. I knew these changes were all necessary to cleanse and fortify my sinful, depression-prone mind.

The other conviction I felt was a need to reach out to my friends, many of whom called themselves Christians, but who, like me, did not live like it. Why, if we were “Christians,” did we never come together to talk about Christ? The only times we got together, we watched secular movies and did other non-Christ-centered things. I made it a goal to start a young adult Bible study for these beloved friends.

Crisis Resolved

All of these changes were happening in me while Mom was in the mental hospital, my little brother in foster care, and myself tied up with teaching, 1,000 miles away from them. Later that fall, Mom was mentally stable and discharged from the hospital, and by November, she had my little brother back. The remaining unknown was Mom’s cancer.

Meanwhile, I marveled at how God was sustaining me. I believe God carried me on high that year, helping me soar above situations that could have otherwise devastated me.

The One Who Sustains

The truth is, no matter if we think we are sustaining our lives, God is the one who sustains. We couldn’t even breathe without him. We may think we’re the ones moving our lives forward—but we can do nothing of ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote, “[God] himself gives all men life and breath and everything else,” and “It is God who works in you to will and to act of his good purpose” (Acts 17:25; Phil. 2:13). Jesus Christ, while he lived on this earth in human flesh, even said, “Of myself I can do nothing.”

On the Other Side of Hardship

Photo Credit: "Glass Tears" by Man Ray
Photo Credit: “Glass Tears” by Man Ray

Ever heard this saying?

Sometimes you have to be knocked flat on your back to look up.

I believe that God uses trials to get our attention. I’m not saying he causes bad things to happen, but he uses bad things to make us stop and realize how powerless we are. Without facing trials, we tend to get haughty, thinking we don’t need God. It is when we are knocked flat on our backs that we have to face the truth: we can do nothing without God.

After God has broken us, he can use us: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now I obey your word” (Ps. 119:67). While most of us would never ask for hardships, sometimes they are the best things that can happen to us. The Apostle Paul recognized this. Knowing that “God’s strength is made perfect in weakness,” Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). But what if we don’t have this attitude?

A Mature Faith

Please note: It is not natural to “boast about weaknesses,” or to thank God for hardship. It is only a mature person who can recognize the blessing in trials, and only a mature faith that can observe: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10).

When hardships come, we will either experience godly sorrow, or worldly sorrow. One type of sorrow sees hardship as an opportunity to lean on God and grow, and the other sees it as a life-ender; that was me in parts 1, 2, and 3.

So what am I to make of those years when I tried to pray but did not feel God’s presence? Looking to James, I think the answer has something to do with developing perseverance. James says, “[T]he testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything….” (James 1:2-4).

Sometimes we are not ready to receive the things of God. “The carnal [or worldly] mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). I would substitute the word “immature” for “carnal.” My immature mind was not ready to submit to God—plus, I was in so much pain, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

Photo Source: www.cafemom.com
Photo Source: http://www.cafemom.com

Why do some of us have to go through more pain than others to “get it”? I don’t know. I just know that, on the other side of pain, there can be great joy. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

As the writer of Hebrews said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (12:10-12).

This is how we know we have matured spiritually: when we can thank God for our trials.

After we have experienced a rebirth, how do we share our experience with others? Read part 6 to find out what worked (and what didn’t) for me.

Read part 1      Read part 2      Read part 3     Read part 4

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 4

While still in college, like many students, I was forever trying to figure out what career to pursue. But it wasn’t just about figuring out a career: I felt panic at the thought of college ending with nothing waiting for me on the other side. I needed a plan after college, because I still didn’t trust myself with free time. (Having kids was definitely out, because I couldn’t fathom passing along my dysfunction to another generation—much less the responsibility that comes with children.)

Photo Credit: "Reading Outdoors" by Lusi
Photo Credit: “Reading Outdoors” by Lusi

So, during my senior year of college, I spent many mornings at my kitchen table, praying: “God, what do you want of me? Why am I here? Why don’t I feel your peace? When is life going to get better?  And what the hell am I supposed to do when I graduate?”

For all my praying, I didn’t notice any response from God–except for the fact that I got only one job offer: teaching at a rural Texas high school. Feeling insecure and unprepared, I took the job.

Teaching Troubles

Photo Credit: "Young Woman Teacher" at kevinmccullough.townhall.com/blog
Photo Credit: “Young Woman Teacher” at kevinmccullough.townhall.com/blog

Teaching that first year became all about performance. The demands of the job, along with the sassy attitudes of my freshmen, sent me home every day exhausted and on the brink of tears. I lost sleep, I lost weight, and I lost confidence.

I woke early many mornings with knots in my stomach. I remember paging through the Psalms at 4 a.m. looking for comfort, but I never felt comforted. Every day the stress began all over again; I didn’t feel God’s hands guiding. Instead, I only sensed myself fumbling through the dark from August until June.

But somehow, I made it through the first year—and even agreed to come back for a second.

Hindsight and Foresight

During the summer, I couldn’t make much sense of what had gone on the previous year, except that I knew I could not repeat that year again. I resolved to plan ahead as much as I could for year two. There would be no more frantic school nights wondering what to teach the next day; there would be no more “dead” time during class. The students might still act up, but it wouldn’t be for lack of preparedness on my part.

7 habits 2
For more information, visit https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php

In July, my older brother, Kyle, suggested I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I did.

A note on my brother: for a few years, I’d been noticing a change in Kyle that had me wanting what he had. When I was twenty-one, I’d first seen it: I’d walked in on him kneeling fervently in prayer—prayer that lasted over thirty minutes—and I’d heard him talk about his new relationship with God. He’d even prayed with me, looked up Bible verses with me, and encouraged me to “give it all to God” so I could find peace. But try as I might, I couldn’t find that dynamic God-relationship he’d found. Maybe I was doing it wrong; maybe I didn’t know how to pray properly. Whatever the case, as I read The Seven Habits, I felt myself come alive: here were concrete steps I could take not only to get my classroom in order, but maybe my life, too.

I began putting the habits to work immediately in my lesson planning: I was being proactive (habit 1) by starting well before the school year began; I was beginning with the end in mind (habit 2) by defining goals I wanted my students to reach by the end of the year. I was so taken with the seven habits, in fact, that I decided to make them my first unit of the school year. I ordered an audio presentation on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens to play for my students, and I made powerpoints to go along with each segment. By August, I had a three-week unit ready to go, and I was excited for the year to begin.

But one week before it did, crisis hit.

Testing Time

I was notified that back in Minnesota my mom had gone off her bipolar meds and my ten-year-old brother, Caleb, had been put in a group home. To make matters worse, Mom had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was not accepting conventional treatment. Now, there was no way she would seek the medical help she needed—for either malady. In the past when I got this kind of news, I typically retreated to a solitary place and cried until I regained composure–sometimes I was incapacitated for days.

This time, I didn’t have that luxury. Now, I was one-thousand miles away from the problem and had one-hundred students to lead and guide. It was no time to collapse—except to collapse to my knees.

Photo Credit: "Young Woman Praying" from blogs.voices.com
Photo Credit: “Young Woman Praying” from blogs.voices.com

Oh Lord! I prayed. I feel so helpless! What is going to happen to Mom? What’s going to happen to Caleb? Is she going to die? Is he going to be left to foster care, or stuck with his drunk dad? God, I am lost right now. I’m so scared!

Lord, I don’t know what any of us are going to do, especially Caleb. Oh please protect Caleb! Please shield him from this somehow—he shouldn’t have to go through this. But I am not there to save him, and I cannot go to him right now. Oh Lord, HELP!

I cried myself to sleep that night, and when I woke intermittently, my stomach souring each time the reality washed over me, I began praying all over again: Help, Lord, please. Just please…help.

An Answered Prayer

Somehow I began my school year on the right foot. The students were responsive to the seven habits, and I fed off their energy. Six times each day for the first three weeks, I listened to the audio presentation about forming effective habits—and the material bore into me. I learned that it takes about three weeks to form a habit, and at the end of our three-week unit, I realized I’d formed a habit of my own: morning prayer and Bible study.

Driven to my knees by my utter helplessness at fixing the family drama, I was praying like never before. I had also started reading my daily Sabbath school lesson—the study guide put out by the Seventh-day Adventist church—and the Bible. Amidst a backdrop of uncertainty, I took comfort in the routine of reading God’s word in the quiet morning hours. I began talking to him during my commute, telling him my fears and concerns like he was my friend. And now, it was as if he’d opened my mind to concentrate on his truth—and he’d opened my heart to feel his presence.

While everything around me swirled in confusion, the peace that passes understanding filled my heart. I was able to stand in front of my students with a smile, knowing God was with me—knowing I didn’t have to know how things would turn out. All I needed to know was that God was in control.

For the first time in my life, I was surrendering everything to God: my fears, my feelings, and my attempts to control my life. My family’s situation had showed me how very powerless I was—and how my survival, Mom’s survival, and Caleb’s survival, depended on a higher power. If any good was to come of this, I knew it would have to be God’s doing.

In part 5, read what happened to my mom, Caleb, and me, as well as what God taught me about persevering through hardship.