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

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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.

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 1

When I was a little girl, going to church on Saturday (because we were Seventh-day Adventist Christians), was a disaster. I was apparently in my feminist phase, and I refused to wear dresses. I used to throw tantrums. Yes, the same woman who is quiet and reserved today—the one whom many dub phlegmatic and calm—was a stomping, screaming terror.

Temper Tantrum
Photo Credit: http://no-maam.blogspot.com/2012/06/woman-most-responsible-teenager-in.html

Why were the worst days on Sabbath? And not just for me, but for my whole family? We all yelled at each other, piled into the car with frowns on our faces, and crinkled brows. We drove to church seething at one another. My parents usually still made me wear a dress…after up to an hour of screaming at me and me screaming back.

Oh my.

Then we got to church and acted happy—I think. Truth is, my memory has left a lot of gaps, especially of the early years, which makes it hard to write a memoir sometimes. So here’s a digression…because this is a messy testimony…

Blanking Out the Past…Because It Hurts

I’ve been writing to my roots (writing this blog and writing my memoir) for about a year, and memories of my childhood are just starting to surface. It was only in the second draft of my memoir, after my editor pushed me to go there, that I delved into my formative years. Why is this?

I think it’s because I needed time to get back there. After my parents’ divorce and my depression, my suicide attempts and my hospitalizations, the present moment—the struggle to just maintain life and just be—became all consuming. I plumb forgot about my past, bad and good.

I used my parents’ divorce and the mess surrounding it to justify my depression and my eating disorder, among other self-sabotaging behaviors. I discounted the fact that—hello—I had depressive tendencies long before my home blew up. And now we go back to the story.

Bad Beginnings

Sad Tears
Photo Credit: “Sad Tears” by Lusi

In writing to my roots, I’ve uncovered the ugly truth that I was always a melancholy child. Facing the fact that the problem has always been inside me—and it didn’t come from any externals (although it was certainly exacerbated by them)—has been hard. It means I can’t totally blame the dysfunction of my early adulthood on my parents or my church or anyone else—except the enemy of my soul.

It’s hit me hard lately that he was attacking me from very early on. I always had the tendencies to stress and despondency and impossible perfection that I still blog about. I remember freaking out about doing my fifth grade Science worksheets “just right.” I remember that my sixth grade Minnesota portfolio had to excel everyone else’s. Every year of elementary, I had to beat out the other kids in the reading program.

At home, I used to rant and rave about how stressed I was, making entire days a living hell for my parents. I learned there was some power in airing all my negative thoughts—“Life sucks,” “I wish I could die”—because they got me some attention. Even when I was shut away in my room, I wallowed for hours, yelling, weeping, complaining. Everyone knew when I was in a bad mood, because it clouded the whole house.

It’s amazing to me that these messages found their way into my brain so early, and that life was sometimes too heavy to handle, even at age ten. (Satan’s that good—I mean, that bad—isn’t he?)

Okay, let me pause again. These admissions are really embarrassing, but I make them in hopes of showing how our negative roots (negative thoughts) must lead to more and more negative fruits (negative behaviors) later in life. In my case, though my outward tantrums stopped around teenage-hood, I found other ways, inward ways, to sulk. The biggest way was keeping a very negative journal from age fourteen until age twenty-five—which, though less visible to the world, still reinforced my poisonous thoughts every bit as much as my childhood tantrums.

Tantrums Change…Temperaments Don’t…or Do They?

melancholy
Photo Credit: “Melancholy” by Lusi

For most of my life, I’ve classed myself as a Christian. However, after I married and entered my adult phase (which events, I think, happened in that order), it always struck me as problematic that I still lived with my negative, “please let me die” thoughts. Was this the kind of fruit a truly “born-again” Christian should be producing?

Writing on the new life in Christ we are promised when we accept Jesus as our Savior, Paul said, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). Romans 8:1-17 is all about living life through the Spirit, in fact, and it’s all about inward renewal, or thoughts. It tells me Jesus conquered “sin in sinful man” so that I could live not according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit (vss. 3 and 4).

The true, spirit-filled life doesn’t sound like it includes wanting to die. The “born-again” experience doesn’t seem like it has room for thoughts like, “Life sucks.” When I think back now to my life before rebirth, I see what Paul meant by his statement, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”

Before I accepted Jesus as my Savior on the inside, my mind was centered on death…which tells me that, although I was “in the church,” I wasn’t really “born-again.”

In part 2, I will explore why some Christians are depressed, and why my “Christian” family eventually imploded.

Read Part 2

My Unexpected Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Point

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

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

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

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

Making Sense of Things

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

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

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

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

Avoiding Future Breakdowns

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

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

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

So how do I avoid future breakdowns?

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

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

 

On Pulling Weeds and Planting Seeds (My Life as a Metaphor)

Image
My husband planting our garden in 2011 (the same time I was working on photography techniques for the journalism class I taught). Of the family, he’s always been the gardener. But this year I seem to be coming around.

I like writing to my roots, or the metaphor I’ve chosen to guide my blog, because it suggests a narrative that deepens as I go. It means that I don’t have to start with all the deep stuff first, but that I can move more gently to the sources of pain, and the sources of me.

Who says I have to go deep, you may ask? Well, definitely not pop culture or social media, which is oh so surface level.

It’s me (“It is I,” for my fellow English majors) who has chosen to go deep, because I write to heal myself and to help others. I choose to work gradually to my roots of pain and self-protection, because that’s how healing has to happen, and after healing, recovery. Recovery of our dreams, goals, and our true identities. We must take gradual steps.

As we do, we can unmask lies we’ve had about ourselves to finally embrace who we are meant to be. And that’s the point of the blog.

But before I chose Writing to my Roots, I planned to call this endeavor The Before Thirty Project, because that’s how it started. Originally this “project” included two goals in the last months before I turned thirty. Little did I know that these goals would expand as my writing took me deeper, little by little, to my roots—both pleasant and painful. Today I finish a series of three posts on a topic that I used to shun like the unwanted appendage I imagined it to be. Then, back to other topics I’m more comfortable with. I promise.

Image

When I first vaguely conceived of my project at age twenty-five, I had two goals in mind: earning my master’s degree and publishing a book. It was probably my incessant talking about these grandiose goals, in fact, that had my high school students so frequently asking, “Are you ever going to have kids?”

The junior and senior girls would look at me in disbelief when I shrugged, “Probably not.”

For some of them, having kids was the goal of life.

But when they said things like this, I was the one fighting back disbelief.

Really girls? I thought. What was so glamorous and good about having babies?

Of course, being in a high school environment where numerous girls got pregnant each year, it was easy to disparage their dreamy looks and words. Terrible! We teachers said. Teenage girls getting pregnant! What a waste! What unnecessary hardship!

For a teenage mom, of course, it is an unnecessary hardship. To this day I would never advocate teen girls—or any female who is not married—getting pregnant.

But once a girl finishes high school…once she gets married…

Until recently, I still couldn’t advocate it. Not for myself. And honestly, not for anyone else. As my twenty-something girlfriends got pregnant one by one, it felt as if they were betraying me, one by one. How selfish, I know.

Because I couldn’t have this happiness (rather, couldn’t understand it as happiness), they shouldn’t either. Really, I would be doing us all a favor to save us from the inevitable heartache that must come with kids.

For seven years I told myself I didn’t want kids. Too much risk. Too much time that could be better spent elsewhere. Why risk such a hefty investment when you didn’t know what you were going to get? Never mind potential birth defects. What about angry children who decided to write you off because you screwed up their lives?

Today I can look back at sentiments like these more objectively. They don’t seem normal, or rational, or healthy, like I once stubbornly insisted they were. (My husband would just give me that same look I got from my girl students: You’re messed up.)

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Maybe it was a problem with the kind of kid I had become over the years. Bitter. Angry. Sad. Detached.

I was not bringing any particular blessings to my parents’ lives. I had moved so far away from them that it was not strange to go almost a year between visits. At various points, I had barricaded myself from contact. Didn’t want a lot of contact, because contact hurt. It just all hurt so much—family visits, photo albums, phantom memories—that why would I ever want to perpetuate it?

Through writing and other miracles, God has taken me to a place where I’ve realized none of my self-protections can keep me safe or healthy. More than indicating a kind of logic, all my excuses, denials, and exercises in becoming numb indicate a sad existence. The guardedness (to the degree that I’ve had it) is not laudable; it’s lamentable. Would that we women could be smart about our choices—with healthy boundaries that keep us from getting pregnant when we shouldn’t (right, Kim Kardashian?)—but that allow us to be open to any possibility, should God suggest it to us.

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After eight years of marriage, He has suggested it. And now I’m open. At this point, a baby could definitely be part of the “before thirty project,” if God wants it to be. That is to say, I’ve removed the barriers. I can conceive of getting pregnant. It’s up to God if I really will conceive. But if not, I’m okay with that, too. My being open to the possibility is the real growth—more meaningful than a baby bump could ever be.

Whew. Now that I’ve made some real progress with this root, I’m putting it to rest for awhile. (I’ll let you know if anything develops.)

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The Question Every Young Couple Must Answer

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“When are you having kids?” my high school students always used to ask. Why they were so interested in this detail of my life I never understood—much like I didn’t understand when family members or anyone else asked. The question used to come frequently when we were first married, and then, as year after year slid by with no child, but only new feats such as a bachelor’s degree, teaching job, and master’s degree, the question all but went away, and with it, my child consciousness.

But when I got to my first semester of grad school in 2010, I had an epiphany. Sitting in class at that time as both student and teacher, I was to finally understand why students and so many others wonder that question.           

It happened one night in literary theory class, when my professor, trying to explain the infant stages of Freudian development admitted, “Well, the research says this [insert windy explanation of anal and oral stages]; but I don’t have kids, so I don’t really know firsthand.” That’s all. One comment. Then he continued his lecture on Freud. But I was stopped.

Before that night, he’d been Mr. Know-It-All.

Now, he was just a man out of touch with reality…who, perhaps, had never changed a diaper.

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(Photo from giftsfordadtobe.com)

What did my professor have? He had his books and his scholarly journals and his research (and with those, late night library visits while bedecked in baseball caps [to blend with students, he’d told us]), but what, beyond that? He didn’t have a wife. Or kids. Or religion. (Lots of grad students and professors end up losing their religion, I was also to find out.) The closest relationships he had seemed to be with us, his students. And he was great with us, very gentle and caring, and genuinely concerned for our welfare.

But in general…in general, I had to ask myself that night: Is this really the life? And more importantly, is this the life I want for myself? Do I want to be like this professor someday, standing before a class of adults (or high school kids, for that matter), in my forties or above, with no life experience to share with them, besides what I had read in books?

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This was a profound moment for me. I journaled at length about it the very next day. And I talked to my husband. Was I missing something here? Was I about to embark on the wrong path, this path to the PhD? What did it mean that I was having all of these questions?

Mind you, I was hardly ready to toss the birth control, quit teaching, and/or withdraw from my graduate classes. Just then I wouldn’t admit that I wanted kids. Because I wasn’t actually sure I wanted them.

But one thing I now understood: If I had kids, I would become a more interesting professor…and a more interesting person. I would become more credible. More human. And that alone was something worth considering.