Living Large: Awaiting a Book and Baby!

Somewhere between 34 and 35 weeks. I keep losing count.

Two big and awesome things are happening in my life right now: I am expecting my second son and my second published book sometime next month. Currently I don’t have many words available to describe my feelings–what with prego brain and book revisions squeezing me dry–but I can say this: “Thank you, Jesus.”

I am thankful that two of the best parts of my life are converging right now.

I am thankful that a publisher, Pacific Press, picked up my book so that I don’t have to keep lugging around an unfinished dream…and so I can now concentrate more fully on my kids.

And I am thankful that God continues to surprise me with this life I once thought I didn’t want to live.

This past week as I reread my manuscript in a breathless four days, scouring it for last-minute corrections, I had fun remembering all the  delightful surprises God had laid in store for me years ago.

The manuscript, now entitled Ending the Pain: A True Story About Overcoming Depression, begins with me, a depressed college student, giving up on God and giving up on life. The first chapter ends with me writing my suicide note. Then we jump chronology back to age seven so I can explain how I got to this point.

Once back to the suicide scene, the manuscript chronicles my failed attempt and then moves through the tough year after–a year in which I emerge from the mental hospital disgusted with my new start. It’s a new start I don’t want, with a clean slate that is “blank, but not in a good way.” I have no goals, no plans, no dreams. The one goal I had, to end the pain, has been taken from me by doctors, nurses, and family members who say I cannot kill myself. But there’s absolutely no one who can give me to will to live…no one but God.

After some futile attempts to numb my pain (sleazy guys, bulimia), things start happening in my life that can only be attributed to the Divine: I meet a great Christian guy from Texas, doors literally start closing in Minnesota (I go to work one day to find my restaurant has closed), and I am compelled to pack up my rusty Cavalier and move my sorry life 1,000 miles from home to start over again. One year to the day after my discharge from the mental hospital, at a measly twenty years old, I find myself in the “Gendke Love Chapel” (my now-in-laws’ living room) getting married to a man I’ve only known six months.

Lest you think the story ends there–because so many stories end with a wedding–know that we are only one-third into the book…and I am still w-a-a-a-y depressed beneath a good-churchy-girl-looking exterior.

What follows is the rest of the story of how I got un-depressed–a story that is often simplified or glossed over in Christian literature. We’re supposed to accept Christ and have a new life instantly, promise so many preachers and Bible teachers. But real-life recovery from depression (and crappy childhoods, I’ll just add) is slow and hard; often it seems unattainable. My goal with the last two-thirds of my book was to explain just what it looked like to find God and gain a new life in Christ when, for so many years, I felt him doing nothing.

It’s too much to describe in this blog post, but if you suffer from depression or just need a new start in Christ, I hope you’ll stay tuned for more details on my book’s release.

Until then, if you want a preview of what’s in my book, check out my seven-part “Ugly, Messy Rebirth” series–or, if you just want to get to the heart of matter, read this post for some practical tips on what most helped me turn a corner in my battle with depression and in my relationship with God.

Here’s to a God who “makes all things new” when we let him (Rev. 21:5), a God who has prepared a future for me–and for you–that we haven’t even imagined (1 Cor. 2:9).

A Joy Restored

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Photo Credit: “Jump” by Jana_Koll

I’ve said my dream was to be a writer. I developed this dream in childhood—I don’t know exactly when, but it was early. I read profusely from age eight on, and I’m guessing my writing dreams developed as my reading list grew.

At that age it was enough to have a foggy notion, a sort of affinity, a general inclination or tendency to writing. Writing was fun! I did it without overly thinking about it. I jotted silly stories and poems, and when I started playing the piano at age eight, also penning song lyrics. Back then I never thought about the practicalities of getting published, the imminent necessity of earning a living, the eventuality of needing a schedule to keep oneself on track to produce enough, often enough, to survive. No, back then my dream was a hobby, a thing I did at whimsy with no outside provocation. I did it because I enjoyed it. It brought me joy. It was fun.

How wonderful to be a child, to be innocent of worldly and societal expectations, or implications of adulthood. How I wish, as I write this, that I could go back.

Is that impossible?

It seemed impossible when life threw me its first really traumatic curveball at fourteen, when tragedy struck so quickly it seemed childhood was snatched away overnight. Then it was, I have to think, that Satan really went in for the kill on my identity. And with it, my dreams.

Suddenly I was no longer a capable, positive, promising child. I was an incapacitated, negative, doomed child. My world as far as I could see had collapsed around me. I couldn’t see beyond the walls of my home, now torn apart by dissension and hatred and despair.

Though a family breakup may not be our fault, it has everything to do with us. It has everything to do with how we see and understand our place in the world, everything to do with how we define ourselves. I’m not saying this is how it should be, or even that it’s logical, just that this is how it is.

This family event affected everything about me. It redefined me in negative, defeated ways. I became, in my eyes, a pitiable child, one who couldn’t speak up or have needs, either at home or at school.

Instead of being an empowered writer, I became a closet writer. That dream of writing got shoved in a closet, shoved under cover—literally, under the covers of journals—as I took to writing about my family plight and my own plight for no one’s eyes but my own. I guarded my writing, and with it, my pain, like I guarded the family secret. This was not healthy. And yet, by God’s grace, he even used that period of writing to myself for good. Even though the subject matter was bad, it kept me growing at least as far as a writer.  The writing kept my joints oiled, kept me in practice. The practice was being perverted, but it was leading to something only God could see.

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Photo Credit: “Happy Life” by Lusi

Today I feel I have regained the joy of writing–maybe I’m even embarking on my second childhood! Gone are the dark days and the need to hide who I am, because God has restored to me my value and my worth. I rejoice because my identity is not defined by what was done TO me, but by what God has done FOR me. He saved me. He restored me. And He has returned me to the joy of my youth. Thanks for sharing my journey!

The Lonely Vegetarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

At least I’m not sipping deadly medicinal cocktails.

“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Is that God’s voice I hear?

Well, maybe someone else said that.

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

“We’ll keep working on it,” He says.

And for that, I’m lovin’ ‘im.

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

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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.

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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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