College Students and Mental Health

While teaching freshman composition at UTA last semester, I got to teach on a subject that is near and dear to my heart: college students and mental health.* The subject is near and dear to me, of course, because I struggled with my mental health as an undergraduate college student. It is also still near (but maybe not dear) to me because, at this phase of life I’m in–graduate student/mother/wife/teacher–I am again battling some anxiety.

At a public university, I couldn’t talk openly about what has most helped me since my own depressed undergraduate years. That is, prayer and meditating on Bible promises to replace negative thoughts. But I did tell my students I had struggled mightily in the area of mental health, and that I had gained some victories by learning to better express myself in a variety of contexts: talking honestly with friends, arguing “nicely” with my husband (as in Rogerian argument), and practicing expressive (personal) writing in private as well as in public settings, to name a few.

“Communicating well is an essential life skill,” I told my students from the beginning. As the course progressed, I increasingly talked about good communication as an aid for better mental health. In the middle of the semester we practiced some small group communication on several “mental health Mondays.” Following, we read a chilling ESPN article by Kate Fagan, entitled “Split Image,” about a college freshman who struggled to communicate a true picture of herself and ended up committing suicide. The article begins, “On Instagram, Madison Holleran’s life looked ideal: star athlete, bright student, beloved friend. But the photos hid the reality of someone struggling to go on.” We read the long article out loud with our desks in a circle, and I posed the questions Why did she do it? and What is the “argument” of the article? One astute and un-shy student said, “People who look great on the outside aren’t necessarily feeling good on the inside. They can be living a double life.” True, that.

My class of 24 was the quietest class I’ve ever taught. Very few of my students ever spoke voluntarily in class, even to one another. But when we took an anonymous mental health survey at mid-semester, my students learned some troubling things about their classmates. One-third said they were struggling with mental health to the point that it was interfering with their normal activities. (This statistic supports national research we read in the class.) One student was clearly suicidal, based on his or her anonymous comments. Forty percent reported they were in college not because they wanted to be, but because their parents wanted them to be.

Around the time I gave that survey, a handful of students stopped showing up. A couple did not turn in their second required essay. Though all my students started strong, four of them eventually failed or took incompletes. Except for a couple students whom I couldn’t reach, the strugglers eventually admitted to me–via emails, essays, or in person–that they were struggling with depression, anxiety, or relationships (romantic or parental), or all of the above. None of the failing students was academically incapable of succeeding in the class.**

I find often in life at large–not just in college life–that our failures are due to struggles of the mind (stinking thinking some call it), and/or the inability to ask for help. The longer I observe humanity, the more convinced I become that it’s simply hard for people in general to communicate honestly  about their feelings. It’s hard for people to ask for help. Sometimes it is hard for us to even recognize or admit that we need help. This is a sad reality.

Another sad reality is a persistent belief, common among the older generations, that mental health struggles are myths. I was saddened when I read statements in my students’ final essays like “My dad doesn’t believe in depression; he just thinks people who claim it are weak.” I was also saddened to learn how reluctant my students were to simply talk openly with their parents. Some students admitted to me that they literally didn’t feel safe expressing their needs to their parents. One student wrote in her final reflection that she had changed her major from the one her parents selected (a major she hated), but she was keeping the news from them as long as possible out of fear of their reaction. Another admitted that her parents had threatened to disown her if she did not go to college.

Wow. My quiet class of twenty-four, though they didn’t speak up much in class, spoke loudly and clearly by the end of the semester: they have lots of legitimate (and normal) struggles, but they were generally uncomfortable sharing those struggles with others. They lacked skills in healthy self-expression that I believe could do much to prevent normal struggles from turning into mental health issues.

This is why I feel teaching college writing is not just a career, but also a calling. As I’ve transitioned back into professor-mode over the last year and a half, I’ve had many “aha” moments of why God has put my feet on this path. Namely, my life story has been one of figuring out how to communicate in order to achieve or maintain stable mental health. Now I can use what I’ve learned, and what I am still learning, to help young adults learn critical skills of communicating at a critical, crisis-inducing time.

Yes, communication–in a relational, expressive sense–is an essential life skill. These basics of communication are even more essential than academic writing, I believe–yet how much time do parents, teachers, and church leaders take to teach these “basic” skills? When we can’t express our feelings and/or ask people for help–healthy stress responses, by the way–we resort to unhealthy stress responses: fighting, fleeing, or freezing.

Over the last year and a half, I have seen that young people today need caring adults who won’t dismiss their struggles, but who will listen without judgment. Are you one of those adults?

If you are reading this blog post and have college-age kids in your life, or any age kids, for that matter, I hope you will ask yourself: Am I a safe place for these young people? Do I respond to their struggles and concerns in such a way that I invite them to share with me? Or do I react in ways that would lead them to want to hide from me, and not communicate honestly?

And some questions for self-assessment:

Do I know how to communicate my own needs to the people around me? When I am stressed, do I engage in healthy responses such as journaling, praying, or talking to trusted friends? Do I do the best I can with the resources around me to manage my mental health?

Aside about Managing My Own Mental Health

One of the resources I used to manage my anxiety last semester is CAPS, the free counseling and psychological services UTA offers its students. I first visited Ransom Hall (pictured above) in July of last year, when I was home for the summer and felt the familiar anxiety coming back. We were smack-dab in the midst of transitioning my mother-in-law and her possessions into our household, and me transitioning my possessions and my full-time professor position from my office at SWAU to my garage and my new office and roles at UTA. I called off a visit to see my parents in Minnesota in July because the thought of the trip, on top of everything else, was making my anxiety worse.

When I started my semester at UTA in late August, the anxiety improved for awhile–I do better at work than at home–but as the semester wore on, life crowded in on me, like it did to my students, and I felt myself struggling to breathe. I couldn’t find much time to journal or talk to friends, much less my husband (though I did pray on a lot on my commute). I was physically sick for about half the semester, so I couldn’t exercise much. However, I made use of the resources available. Ransom Hall is right next to my office in  Carlisle Hall, so at mid-semester, I sought counseling (controlled crying and venting?) again. At the end of the semester, faced with another long break at home (I felt the anxiety coming), I sought again anxiety medication at the campus clinic.

Before Christmas, I made a playlist of anti-anxiety songs and played it over and over for a couple weeks. I saw a couple friends, but not as much as I would have liked (they’re mostly all busy moms, too). After a year and a half of crazy transitions and not seeing my family, I desperately wanted to escape to Minnesota, but failed to communicate to my family how important such a break was soon enough, and never made that trip. We did fly my little brother here for a visit, though, and his presence has been a comfort. And last week my dad happened to call me while I was having a panic attack, and, hearing my sobbing and hyperventilating over the phone (a quite unusual call for us), he planned a last-minute trip to Texas during the last few days of my break. I wish I could have communicated better, earlier, and less dramatically my needs to my family, but so be it. There is a lesson in this. I am still learning to communicate my needs to the close people around me in order to take care of my mental health. I am still a work in progress. But I have learned a lot, and I have a lot to share. Sharing uncomfortably personal things seems to be the ministry God has given me, in fact, and I embrace it gladly, happy that sharing my hurt can lead to someone else’s hope.

End of Confession

You don’t need a college education to improve in these areas (communication, mental health management, being supportive of others in their struggles). You just need a willingness to be honest with yourself and others, and a willingness to listen. If you feel like you need help in some basics of communication, you might benefit from a radio interview I had the privilege of doing this past October with Adventist Radio London on “Overcoming Depression.” Praise God that depression is no longer a part of my story!

Again, Happy New Year, friends! I’ll sign off this post the way I signed off my class last semester: good communication and good mental health to you!

*Providentially, this “topic cluster” was added to the First Year Writing folder just this year–just for me, it seems.

**All the trends I’ve noted in this paragraph also applied to a 25-person Research Writing class I taught last year at Southwestern Adventist University, a private Christian school. An interesting comparison.

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

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

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

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


Showing Up
10/20/19

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what did you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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


img_5270

The Fiction(?) of the “Perfect Mom Post”

Barbie
“Little miss perfect.” by abigailala is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

To my mom readers: I don’t know about you, but browsing Facebook makes me feel bad about myself. My Facebook feed is full of mom posts promoting their great parenting hacks, model kids, fun family trips, and impressive summertime bucket lists. I hop on Facebook for awhile, and I log off feeling empty, and deeply insecure about myself as a mom.

Recently, I was off Facebook for about a year as I manuevered my first year officially back to work (teaching) since the births of my two sons, now almost 3 ½ and 5 ½. But when summer break hit, I logged back on and got triggered. I saw many manifestations of those “perfect mom posts,” and I immediately felt like a bad mom because of all the things I wasn’t doing. I didn’t have a summer bucket list for the kids. I didn’t have any fun trips planned. Long ago, overwhelmed by the many transitions that have characterized this stage of our lives, I had stopped making the effort to even post cute pictures and captions of my kids.

I eyed the feed for a couple weeks warily, despairingly.

I wanted to lash out on my own Facebook feed. I felt angry and insecure, and it was Facebook’s fault. Pinterest’s fault. It was the fault of those perfect moms with their perfect kids and perfect posts.

I did lash out. Thankfully not publicly. I opened my trusty writer’s notebook one night and released a self-righteous personal essay, from my professional standpoint as a writer and writing teacher, on how moms need a lesson in audience awareness and rhetoric: “Leave all the personal pictures for family photo albums, and for Grandma,” was the nature of my rant.

While I penned my angry essay, I thought I was doing my fellow moms a service, teaching them good writing technique for Facebook. Teaching them to consider their audience, because, obviously, my negative reaction as a Facebook reader and audience member showed that they were doing something wrong. Initially, I planned to post that essay on this blog.

But boy, I’m glad I gave the idea time to rest and, later, reconsidered. I realized that what I had written was likely to anger, if not hurt, my own target audience. I was about to be guilty of the very writing and publishing sins I was calling out. I also realized that I might be wrong about some of my key assumptions.

I wrote: “People didn’t used to wave family pictures around at the watering hole; why do we do it on Facebook?” “I long for things to be more like they used to be, women sitting around together having real, personal conversations.”

I remembered how lonely I had been as a stay-at-home mom, feeling disconnected from family and friends. I remembered how I felt lonely not only when we lived far from family and friends in Missouri, but also while I lived down the road from family and friends in Texas.

Women long to connect with one another; and in our modern world, it’s hard to do that in person sometimes. Who am I to say that moms wouldn’t share the same silly stories, or tips, or even pictures of their kids, with one another, if they were able to sit down with one another in person? I realized I was being too harsh.

For myself, when I get a chance to really talk to other moms–or when I take the time to write on social media–I know that I need to have harder conversations than the ones that often show up on Facebook. But who am I to say that the other moms on my feed need frequent “therapy sessions” like I do?

We all have different areas of struggle, and I need to get okay with the fact that motherhood is not a huge area of struggle for all women. The fact that some women “just love staying home” with their babies (and happily, and frequently, post their feelings about that on Facebook) should not threaten my worth as a person. I have my own unique strengths, and as I’m finding, those strengths center more in the workplace than in the home.

As I pondered all these things, I was pleasantly surprised, in fact, to realize that my professional training could help me understand the “fiction” I thought I was reading in those “perfect mom posts.” (Warning: We’re about to get a little nerdy here, moms…).

Scribbling Women–AKA, The Before-Facebook Days

A concept from my past training as an English major came back to me: the concept of “Scribbling Women,” or women of the nineteenth century who wrote domestic fiction, often under aliases, because they were trapped at home without a public voice. Ha. I remembered how, once I got a little babysitting help as a SAHM, I was a pretty voracious scribbler myself. The stay-at-home mom years were some of my most productive blogging and book-writing years. I was never a super active Face-booker, but perhaps I would have been more so, had I not had additional writing platforms available to me. During my SAHM-hood I was also blessed to have public-speaking platforms available to me, after the publication of Ending the Pain.

So, I did the responsible thing as a reader, and reconsidered where those “perfect mom posts” were really coming from. In the college classroom, we call this “critical reading,” as we apply knowledge of the “rhetorical situation.” The three elements that make up the rhetorical situation are writer/speaker, subject, and audience. These three elements are present in any writing or speaking situation–any communicative act–and they make up the message that is transmitted (spoken, written, or otherwise communicated).

Rhetorical Triangle

Writer/Speaker: These ladies that had my heart racing were not out to make other moms feel bad. They were merely moms dwelling at home—many of them home by choice—and if their posts were any indication, they loved being at home with their kiddos. They were moms who had chosen to stay home with their kids who, although happy at home, still needed to connect with other moms. So they were using the best platform they had, and that was Facebook.

Subject: The stuff of our lives makes up our conversations, so it makes sense that when one is a SAHM, a frequent topic of conversation will be kids. Oh, I remember it well; when I stayed home, with no work outside the home to divide my attention, my kids were almost all I thought and talked and wrote about. Home again for the summer, I am currently much more kid-focused; I find myself thinking and speaking and writing a lot more about motherhood than when I am working. It makes sense. We think and speak and write Facebook posts about the stuff of our lives; so who am I to criticize other mothers for posting mostly about their motherhood experience? (I did it too, once.)

Now, it is my sense that some moms could be more honest about motherhood in their posts, but that’s a subject for another blog. Until a mom messages me, or comments on my ugly-honest motherhood blog posts that they feel the same way (and a number of them have), I shouldn’t assume that her posts or published feelings are deceitful or fake; as a Christian, I should be happy that she is happy, and that her parenting journey is going well.

Audience: And now we get to audience. Who am I to say that these mom posts that had me so riled up a few weeks ago are inappropriate for their intended audience? As I reconsidered, I realized that I had taken it upon myself to react on behalf of all readers based on my own insecurities as a mom. Who am I to say that posts that make me feel insecure make other mom-readers feel that way? I am but one mom in a sea of Facebook moms, and, admittedly, I have some deeply rooted mommy issues that other moms may not have.

I don’t want to begrudge any happy moms for their “perfect mom posts” anymore (and I really just mean “happy,” “grateful,” “glowing,” “laughing,” “silly” mom posts). If those are the conversations moms need and want to have, some lighthearted chitchat at the watering hole, that’s great.

For myself, I’ve been grappling with some old mommy issues this summer. I’m talking about issues with my own mom…and you can bet that those issues filter into my own mothering. So maybe (probably) my own painful history, and the painful continuing story, is where my anger, and insecurity, is coming from.

Do any of you out there struggle with parental relationships? Anyone have mental illness, divorce, separation, or estrangement in your family history? Anyone understand? If so, message me, email me, call me, or meet me for lunch, and let’s have that conversation.

I’ll leave the lighter mom posts to other moms who can honestly make them. And God bless you, moms. You are doing an awesome job…every one of you who keeps showing up and doing the best you can do. For me, those “perfect” mom posts (“happy,” “grateful,” “glowing,” “laughing,” “silly” posts) feel more like fiction right now, so I’ll put my writing and speaking energies elsewhere. This writer will try to take her own advice and strive to create content that accurately represents the writer (speaker) and subject, and appropriately connects with the intended audience.

Back to Work

SWAU Logo

office 1If you missed the news, I got a full-time position teaching college English at my alma mater, Southwestern Adventist University. As of July 1, I became the “working spouse” in our home; Buc became the stay-at-home parent. Now we are trying to figure our new roles, and those are not always clear-cut.

One thing is clear, though: I have trouble letting go of control when it comes to the home front, so it’s been an interesting summer with me transitioning my time more and more to the office and less and less at home.

I am blessed that Buc has wholeheartedly supported me getting back to work—almost pushing me out the door some days—because it can be hard for me to let go at home. Sometimes I need that little push to leave things in his hands.

Though the home-to-office transition has been a bit clunky (trying to get my mind out of mom-mode and back into academia), after weeks of hammering out syllabi, nosing through textbooks, and scratch-outlining assignments, I feel excited for the school year to come.

It helps that I’ve been assigned a list of “fun” classes: Essay and Opinion Writing, Composition Theory, Advanced Grammar, and Research Writing (“fun” being a relative term, there:) I think this English department sensed my nerdy, writerly self coming, which is why they also appointed me to become director of the campus writing center. I realize that, to some, this would be a bummer of a task; but not me. Every time I report to the quiet of my office, hunker down to hammer out writing curriculum and dream up teaching ideas, I thank God for allowing me to work at something I love.

And work at something that comes easily.

office 2

I love my job as a mom, too. But, gosh, that job has not come easily. On the day I drafted this post, I was at home with two kids who had both been sick recently–including one very clingy and one very defiant child. I was also sleep deprived, and I felt panic rising. The tears welled up. I took an anxiety pill, which pills I haven’t needed very often since going back to work. But this little panic reminded me to look up and thank God for how He is working in my life—and in my family.

“Go to work. Please, go to work,” Buc has been saying since I got my keys to my office—not only because I tend to micromanage (and annoy) him at home, but also because he knows it is good for me. In my moments of panic, he adds the words: “I’m glad you’re going back to work so I can be the one to handle the kids more; they don’t affect me like they affect you.” (Wonderful, supportive spouse. Thank you, Lord.)

It is humbling to admit I feel so powerless and helpless as a mom. But I admit it so that I can praise God that He has seen and heard my struggle, and He has provided a way for our family to get through it: Mom going back to work and Dad staying home. Oh, and our vibrant and social Sam starting preschool in the fall with his “Nanny,” my mother-in-law and a brilliant Pre-K and K teacher. This is a beautiful blessing, too. (God bless all you family members, mentors, church members, community members, who choose to step into a child’s life and be a positive influence; we parents just can’t do it all on our own—and we are grateful for your support!)

Friend, whatever you are going through, no matter how frustrating, hopeless, panic-inducing it seems, please take heart. Know that God sees you. He knows your struggle. He understands, and He has infinite ways to lead you through the wilderness. When you don’t know the answers, when you don’t know the way, when you don’t know how to pray, here’s a little script for you:

Lord, thank you that you promise to provide ways I do not know, ways I have not seen. You promise to do a “new thing” in my life—when I seek You. You promise that I will find you when I seek you with all of my heart. And when I seek you first, you promise to add all these other things [the needs I worry about meeting] unto me. You promise to provide. Thank you for providing a way, even before I can see it. Now, just help me trust you to lead me there, and lead me through.

At God’s leading, and with my husband’s and mother-in-law’s overwhelming support, I am happily heading back to work.

be strong sign
I wanted something inspirational to greet me when I go to work every day, so I placed this sign where I would see it first thing when I come to my office every day.

Home Again

texas
“Texas” from Alpha Stock Images

We have moved back to Texas, and it’s good to be back. I truly didn’t know how I’d feel coming back to this state that holds one-third of my life’s history. Last year, when we were still in job limbo, I thought I wanted to go back to Minnesota—where I spent the bigger part of my history. But now Texas feels like the right decision. It feels like home.

As far as new starts go, this is a BIG one. When we left Texas 3 ½ years ago, we had one child: 11-month-old Sam. Buc worked an 8­–5 job in the finance industry. I wasn’t working in the traditional sense, but I was getting off the ground as a writer, developing this blog and the book that became Ending the Pain.

IMG_3373

 Now, we have returned with two children: 4-year-old Sam and 2-year-old Seth. Buc’s career in finance is at a pause after a merger of his two former companies, and I have been hired as a full-time English instructor for next year at Southwestern Adventist University. Starting next fall, I will “work” in the traditional sense, and Buc will stay home with the boys and begin his own business.

Buc and boys
A dad in his glory:) I am so blessed to be married to this man, and I don’t tell him enough. (I just prefer to embarrass him occasionally on this blog…he’s been suffering the side effects of marrying a writer since this blog’s beginning in 2013:) 

Am I excited for this new chapter? Oh, man. You don’t know the half of it! Not only does this new job feel right, but being back in our old home feels right. Yes, we were able to move back into our first house as a married couple—the house whose white walls I filled with color and whose big, empty rooms I filled with couches and friends and prayer groups. There are a lot of good memories, and good feelings, in this house.

Amanda and me

I am writing this post as if I’ve reached the mountain top after experiencing near death. I know that’s being a little dramatic, but it’s not dramatic to say that the last couple years in Missouri were hard.

I’m still kind of asking God, “What just happened, Lord?

 

Seth and Sam in Truck
Sam (left) and Seth exploring the moving truck on March 27, the day we loaded it, a day before we moved our lives from Missouri to Texas.

I still don’t understand the emotional roller coaster we faced after baby #2. I don’t quite understand the anger. The anxiety. The marital strife. I don’t understand how moms of little children survive if they don’t have help (from family members, church family, a spouse). While in Missouri, I don’t feel like I ever figured out how to mother my two boys and keep my sanity on a regular basis—without regular breaks. I still don’t know.

All I can say is praise God those years are behind me; and praise God that He provided the help I needed to survive. Praise God for my husband who has never given up on me, even through the defects of character the last few years brought out it me.

Praise God for Janice, our babysitter/nanny/cleaning lady who helped me stay afloat and who invested so much love and energy into my kids several times a week. (Praise God for the fruitful job that allowed us to hire Janice for those years!)

Janice and Emily
Janice went from being our cleaning lady in 2016 to our babysitter/nanny in 2017, to my friend. I didn’t know when I hired her what a godsend she would be to our family, and I really don’t know how I would have survived without her. (This is a story for the next book:) Thanks Janice (and Emily, pictured on the right). We miss you both already!

Praise God for the MOPS group I belonged to that gave me moral support and a break from the kids every other Thursday morning.

Praise God for the handful of mom friends I made at my Missouri church whom I didn’t spend nearly enough time with, but who still encouraged me through emails, texts, and phone prayers, and allowed me to do the same for them.

Church friends

No, we didn’t thrive in Missouri, but we survived. Maybe the lesson was this: No mom is an island. Before motherhood and Missouri, I was at a peak place in my life, feeling pretty good about myself and my abilities. Feeling, maybe, a little too self-sufficient. Well, that feeling is gone.

Maybe I needed that 3 ½ year lesson in seeing my need, so I could appreciate what I had, and have, here in Texas. Got it, Lord.

Today I am so thankful for new starts—the new starts God gives me daily, and other new starts, like this one, where my whole world kind of gets picked up, rattled around, and set back down. I may not understand the clunkiness of what happened in the past 3 ½ years, but I trust that God is working out those years for good—in our lives and in the lives of those we came into contact with in Missouri.

me and kids in truck

Life Transitions and Writing Updates

IMG_2914
This picture was taken a few days after Christmas at a quaint Bed and Breakfast in Granbury, TX, where I finished the rough draft of my current manuscript and enjoyed a little time away with the hubby.

Hi Friends! My blog is woefully neglected these days, but for good reason. My husband is being severed from his job next month, and we are trying to figure out what we’re going to do next: where he (or I) is going to work, where we’re going to live, and how we are going to pay for stuff.

Life has been stressful, to say the least. But we are still counting our blessings, because we still have lots to celebrate–with the birthdays of my two beautiful boys topping the list, and some exciting writing projects besides.

We celebrated Sam’s fourth birthday on January 21st with his first official “friend party”–a simple, but wonderful affair! Never underestimate what a few balloons, cupcakes, and friends mean to a child! (Sam was so excited that he claimed every day after January 21 was his birthday, until we finally took the birthday banner down on February 12!)

IMG_3010.jpeg

Then a few weeks later, on February 11, we celebrated Seth’s second birthday with a quiet day at home and some angel-themed activities–angels being Seth’s current obsession! Never underestimate the value of family time, some DIY cookies, and a blow-up angel to a toddler! What special moments these two birthdays were in the midst of a stressful season.

IMG_3088

On the writing front, I have finished my third book, a modern-day novel about Psalm 109, with Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart Ministries, and am currently working on edits. (Here’s a link to our first book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, in case you have yet to check it out!) I look forward to announcing an online release date within a few months! (Titles are still being discussed, but following you can see a few options we are considering.)

IMG_3041.jpeg

Finally, I have recently partnered with a new Adventist mental health blog called Ending Pretending, which appears on the AbideCounseling website–to write two articles about depression that I hope you’ll check out:

“I Thought I Could Never Tell. I Was Wrong.” 

“When Life Feels Too Hard to Handle”

Well, those are the headlines, for now. If you want more updates about how I am handling the stress in my personal life, you’ll find them in the second article above (“When Life Feels Too Hard to Handle.”)

But let’s keep this post nice and light. Thanks so much to all you who continue to read and support me in both writing and in life. Your encouragement, and prayers, really mean so much! Blessings, Friends! Until next time.

IMG_2962
Here’s a New Year’s picture with my love and husband of almost thirteen years (Whaaat?)! Anxiously awaiting what God has in store for us in the coming year!

When You’re Stuck…in Writing, in Life…Try This

IMG_2562
Presenting a writing workshop in Des Moines, IO in September

In the past two months I got stuck twice: in my writing/speaking life and in my personal life. This is nothing new, and neither is my finding that writing problems resolve more easily than personal problems. But what is new is how I’m dealing with the stuck-ness: first, notecards. I’ve found that when I’m overwhelmed—with ideas, with emotions—simply transferring those thoughts to some notecards helps me organize in writing, and helps me cope in life.

In September, notecards helped me complete my presentations for the women’s conference I spoke at, and this month, notecards are helping me articulate some personal problems I can’t seem to straighten out on my own, or even in prayer right now. While I’ve decided to seek Christian counseling for these personal problems (read more in my next post), writing my overwhelming thoughts on notecards has facilitated a small emotional release when I don’t have a listening ear at my disposal.

If you’re stuck either on the writing front, or overwhelmed in your personal life, maybe you can try what I’ve tried.

IMG_2559
The two sessions of my writing workshop were well attended. I coached about 80 women on writing their stories for God’s glory, and I hope they are well on their way to sharing those stories with others!

On the Writing Front

In the months leading up to the Iowa Missouri Women’s Retreat, I struggled to write my presentations: a sermon and a writing workshop. Every time I opened my laptop to work on them, I typed more and more words as my ideas spiraled wildly…without ever reaching conclusion. There was so much I wanted to say…but I would only have so much time at the conference. I had to be selective and concise in my talking points.

(Last year at a different women’s retreat I had four talks to develop my ideas…and it was considerably easier to prepare for that conference because I had so much talking time.)

Finally, after trying to write out my sermon both verbatim and in bullet point form too many times without success, I got out some notecards and started jotting down my points shorthand—one thought per card. Over several days, as more ideas came to me, I jotted them down, too, and slipped them into the deck where they seemed to fit.

This simple process of writing on notecards, as opposed to writing on paper or typing on a laptop, freed me up to introduce any and all ideas that came to me in my writing process, because I knew it would be easy to discard the extraneous ones later. (Though some of my ideas were total rabbit trails, jotting them down somewhere was valuable because it kept me fluid in my writing process, kept me moving, when I just wanted to stop.)

As the cards accumulated, I began to find the shape of my talk, and I also figured out what didn’t fit. In the end, I returned to my laptop and typed out my speech, a mix of bullet points and fully developed paragraphs (I’m still finding my way as a speaker), but now it came easier because I had an outline: my notecards.

When it came time to present, I knew my delivery wasn’t perfect, but I felt that my presentation was valuable to my audience, because my writing/preparation process had allowed me to zero in on my best, most pertinent ideas, and discard those of lesser importance.

IMG_2551
I spoke to about 150 women for a Sabbath morning session about how, when, and where to share our stories, especially when life feels “dark.” I am trying to take my own advice and start back at square one with one trusted person, a counselor, until life makes more sense again. But since part of my ministry is sharing my personal struggles and victories with an audience, I’ll probably share bits of that journey on this blog, too:)

After I presented my sermon and writing workshop, women came up to me to thank me for my talk/writing tips, some saying my message/material was exactly what they needed to hear. Still other women said they had read my book and it was great and would I sign it? It was a heady experience being treated as such a religious authority …especially because I know what they don’t: since the events of the book ended (really, since I’ve become a mom), I’ve been a mess of pent-up ideas and emotions, so much so that I have decided I need some professional help to sort them all out.

On the Personal Front

Until my first counseling session, I’m using notecards, and other small releases, to help me cope. For those moments when I can’t find quiet, space, time, energy, or listening ears to process, I can find fifteen seconds and a pen. I can write one phrase, or one sentence, and tuck it into a discussion box that I plan to take to the counselor. I can put that negative thought or problem away from me, from brain to pen to paper, until I have true time and place to process. And then, I can quickly pray:

God, here is the mess the best I can describe it in these few seconds. I desperately don’t know how to fix it, but eventually I know I need to deal with it. Please hold this for me—keep me safe from it, keep my kids safe from it—until I have the proper time and space and listening ears to process it.

 I do believe God honors these prayers—and these pleas for help—found on this writer-mom’s humble notecards.

In my next post I will further explain my reasons for seeking counseling, and perhaps give an update of how the first session went. Until then, please send me a message or a comment if you’ve had a good (or bad) experience with counseling or, on a lighter note, notecards (or some other writing strategy).

A Time to Speak, and a Time to Be Silent

hand-977641_1280
Photo from Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Inspiration in the Negative

woods-690415_1280I’m an inspirational writer. I’m also a pessimist. Sounds weird, right? It does from a human perspective. But guess what? The God I serve is in the business of bringing to life what is dead, and bringing into being things that are not (Rom. 4:17). Through God’s lenses, I can see the glass half full; I can even inspire others. But I’ll be honest: usually my inspiration begins with negativity. So, how do I find inspiration in the negative? And how can you, when your world feels dark?

Sometimes we Christians get the idea that we are not supposed to struggle mentally or emotionally in life. Jesus is Life and Light and Living Water and all those great symbols of abundance and hope and happiness. So if we’re struggling to feel happy, positive, hopeful, we feel like failures. We feel ashamed. I know I do, when the only prayer I can pray begins with the words, “Lord, I’m such a mess!”

I recently suffered a Mom Funk where I found it hard to say anything positive. Now I am climbing out of the funk, doing the things I know I need to do to function well, but you know what? My mornings can still feel a lot like those of a physically disabled mom whose story I read once in Parents magazine. Her day began with a long warmup of massaging stiff, sore muscles before she could even coax her body out of bed–before she could tend to children’s needs.

Though I don’t equate my parenting or life difficulties with hers, I can identify with a long warmup of preparing (mental) muscles before I am ready to get out of bed and tackle the day’s challenges.

Though they may be different, we all have struggles. And it’s no wonder. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…” It was a promise.

Parenting and positivity are my struggles right now. (See my Mother’s Day post for exhibit A.) And the positivity has been a lifetime struggle. Combine the two in an environment with limited sleep or time to pray, and you have some hard days.

Can I say anything positive about this? Jesus, after saying, “In this world you will have trouble…” added these words: “but take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).

Take heart, Lindsey.

Take heart, readers.

Jesus has overcome my struggles, and He has overcome yours. For the perplexed parents out there, He is the Perfect Parent, to both our kids and ourselves. We can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). For the pessimists out there, remember: Everything He creates is good–so there must be a lot of good in the world…including you and me. We were “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) …even when nothing about us feels wonderful.

We Christians know the promises, don’t we? But sometimes, in the midst of struggles, it’s so hard to remember them. How, then, can we find our way back to inspiration in dark times?

Well, here’s how I do it.

I put my pen to paper.

I start where I am.

I pray, “Dear God, I’m a mess,” and…praise God…

He answers: I’ve got a big broom. 

He redirects me.

And somehow, through voicing the negative, through writing the negative, I find my way to God’s truth, I find positivity, once again.

Can I tell you a secret? A lot of times in this Young Mom Stage of Life, I feel I’m just hanging on by a thread–one small thread of faith. And my positivity? (Assuming I have any on a given day?) It takes hard work. Painful, stiff, sore muscle work. It takes cracking open my gratitude journal to write three good things at the end of the day when I just want to crumple into bed and cry. But maybe that’s why God has called me to write. I write to show you that my faith is the thread that saves me, day after day after day–and it can save you, too.

Next time you are struggling through a depression, a funk, or just a dark day, I encourage you to tell God and, perhaps, someone else about your struggles because…

When we bring our frazzled threads of faith into the open with an intent toward healing and growing (not just complaining) at least two positive things can result:

  • One: we allow others to carry some of the burden. We make room for friends, loved ones, and maybe even professionals to help us…according to the severity of our need. (Think closing scenes of Disney’s Inside Out.)
  • Two: we encourage–we actually give courage to–each other. Maybe our stories are not pretty. Maybe we are just hanging on. But we are still here. We still have that thread. And if we keep hanging on, even though we might unravel sometimes, we will look back one day and see that it was enough.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Pet. 5:10, NIV)

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Rev. 21:3-5)

Somebody Needs the Light You Have

candle
Photo from Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more inspiration, read the full song lyrics here.