Truth

I have post-partum depression. 

I have not written a blog in 157 days, and I certainly did not want these to be my first words back. But this is real life.

I have not recovered from post-partum depression yet. I am not on the other side of it. I am in the nasty, messy middle of it. When life gets really, really hard, one of my ways of dealing is to shut down all non-essential communication and go to those closest to me. Unfortunately, when you have three small children (one a nursing baby), the amount of time you have to discuss your feelings is almost non-existent. I have tried, I have been aware of my need to get some support and take care of myself. However, I finally admitted that I am not doing that well enough.

I have a plan to take care of myself now. I did not want to write this because I prefer to be the one who takes care of others. I strongly dislike the idea of writing this and others seeing it as a plea for attention. That is not the goal here. I write this for two reasons:

1. I know a lot of women have post-partum depression or have had it in the past. And even more will have it in the future. Can we say it without being afraid of it? When I was pregnant with Evangeline, I was kind of dreading the post-partum period and pretty worried that I might experience this. (I did have some issues after Isabella was born, but it was much easier to find a way to take care of myself and minimize its effects with one child than it has been with three children in my care.) 

I want to be honest in a public way mostly  to open that door for you to be honest as well. I have been honest with some people I love and I know they love me. Please, if you are struggling alone, invite someone in as soon as possible.

2. I would far prefer to wait a few months and then say, “Hi! Guess what? I had post-partum depression, and it was terrible and I felt awful. Now I’m all better! Woohoo!”

That will be a great thing to be able to say, but for some reason I feel that I am supposed to write this instead. ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭34:18-19‬ ‭says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (ESV)

I trust God to deliver me in whatever way He chooses. He allowed this into my life, and I will walk through it until He delivers me. If you are in the middle of an overwhelming obstacle, I leave you with my favorite verses in all of the Bible:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:16-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬

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Things Hoped for but Not Seen

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

Time also flies when you are having no fun at all. I have had no idea what to say here for the past month, so I have said nothing at all. I believe I am rather transparent about my life and it’s challenges, but I also have a pretty consistent pattern of clamming up when life gets really tough. I go to my closest friends in those times, but I am not comfortable letting loose with the deepest hurt and pain of life as it is happening. I’m not sure that a lot of people are, really.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the past month because I could write for much longer than anyone wants to read. One of the things I don’t like to admit about having a strong-willed, difficult child is that it brings me face to face with my own shortcomings in a hurry. I say it regularly, but I am so glad Isabella was born first. I heard on a Dr. James Dobson podcast series recently that many parents have an easy first child, convincing themselves that they have this parenting thing down and can easily handle another one. Number two comes along and blows them away with a much different, stronger personality that challenges them at every turn.

This is not how it worked out for us, and I am very glad. It would have been VERY easy for me to convince myself I was an incredible mom if Jack was my first child. It was very difficult to have Isabella first in many ways, but I am so glad God chose to do it that way. I am much more grateful for Jack’s personality and easygoing nature than I would have been if I thought that’s how all children are. (Now that he is 2 1/2, he is picking up more of Isabella’s stubbornness than I hoped for, but it’s still completely different and not even close to what we have faced with his sister.)

The past month has been incredibly challenging for this mother, and pregnancy hormones are in full effect for me, which means I am easily frustrated, easily brought to tears, and overall feel much less equipped to deal with the challenges Isabella brings. I feel very inadequate for this task right now. I know we all have those moments, but when day after day adds up to week after week of incredibly challenging days with nary a break in the stress, it takes its toll on me. I have been thinking about some of the challenges she presents in her attitude and behavior and what God wants to teach me through it. Today I read a quote that summed it up so nicely (and painfully) for me:

“It is no abstract thing – the state of your heart is the state of your home. You cannot harbor resentment secretly toward your children and expect their hearts to be submissive and tender. Uou cannot be greedy with your time and expect them to share their toys. And perhaps most importantly, you cannot resist your opportunities to be corrected by God and expect them to receive correction from you.” (Rachel Jankovic, Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches)

This is what I have been thinking about this week, but she wrote it so eloquently. God wanted to speak to me about a few things, and I was not really interested in listening. A couple of days ago, I finally heard what He was saying and was convicted that I had been pretty much choosing not to slow down and listen to Him. Reading this today put two and two together for me.

I am well aware that much of my child’s behavior is her own choice. I am amazed that I can ask her to do something on different days, same tone of voice and the same situation, and she will respond in wildly different ways depending on…her. On Thursday, I said, “Isabella, please come here so I can finish doing your hair.” She screamed and called me a name. On Friday, I made the same statement, and her response included no screaming or names and she made her way to me after finishing something she was doing. I work hard at not blaming myself for the days when she has a terrible attitude, sassy mouth, and all that goes with it. But I would be lying if I did not admit that I fail at this all the time and deep down, something in me believes I should be able to “change” or fix her. This small passage was so helpful in that it helps me to realize what I can control, my own attitude and my own response to God, can in fact help set the right tone in my home to foster cooperation and obedience in my children. I can in no way control my child, but I can allow God to work in my heart and pray that He would do the same in hers.

It takes a lot of faith to believe in something you cannot see at all. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) Some days I struggle with hope. Other days, I get a glimpse of something that gives me a surge of hope. Then there are the days when all hope is gone and I turn to despair. I first heard Matt Chandler speak of this passage with the great reminder that we don’t need hope if we can see something. Faith is only necessary when things are not able to be seen. What kind of faith does it take to believe God will provide when you hold the miracle check in your hands? It sure takes a lot of faith to trust in His provision when you hold all the bills and have no idea how they will get paid.

Isabella had a few great days this week. It was refreshing for this mama. I have struggled to enjoy the good when it feels like the bad is coming right around the corner. I am getting better. My focus in prayer is that God would change her heart and use her incredible personality for His glory. I don’t see the finish line yet. I have faith but no idea how He will get us there. I do know that He is faithful beyond what I can imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

In the Silence

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I am a pretty firm believer that you don’t wake a sleeping baby. I feel like I am in the minority here, but I rarely check on my children while they are sleeping. I have no desire to accidentally wake a child from peaceful slumber, and I certainly need the quiet time myself, so I have chosen to just stay out.

Matt and I listened to a podcast by Dr. James Dobson a few years ago regarding strong-willed children, and a lot of it stuck with me. I have gone back to it on some of my really difficult days. Some of the mothers told great stories about their strong-willed children that reminded me I am not alone. I don’t know if it was that podcast or another, but I believe one of the moms talked about going in after her daughter was in bed and praying over her. That came back to me a few months ago, and I decided to try it with Isabella as I can use all the help I can get with her.

I was amazed at how much easier it was to speak words of prayer over her when she is in her peaceful sleeping state. The frustrations of the day and even the impatience of bedtime routines have faded, and I love to look at her sweet face as she slumbers. It helps me to remember that her obstinate behavior throughout the day is only a part of who she is. The truth is, most of the time I just stare at her and pray, “Help me, help me, help me.” I love to read and listen to experts on parenting and children, but many days I still feel I am doing nothing right and this stage of constant discipline and correction will never end.

Experts don’t give me hope. Jesus gives me hope. He reminds me to look hard for the blessings in each day, and over and over I am reminded that this time is short. She will not be a small, slumbering pre-schooler for much longer. Every once in a while I get a tiny glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. She will demonstrate that she is learning so much about Jesus and the Bible, and my heart swells with the knowledge that things are sinking into her mind that will impact her soul.

I will add that I do not do this with Jack. My two children are so different, and I have many moments throughout the day in which I connect with Jack and feel close to him. Those times are few and far between with Isabella. She is and has always been a much more independent child who rarely wants to cuddle or have a quiet moment with me. I am grateful I can take those moments even when she is sleeping and be encouraged by them.

I press on, day after day, and those small glimpses certainly give me the fuel I need to keep going. Kneeling beside Isabella’s bed, looking at her sweet face, I am reminded whose child she is and how grateful I am that He gave her to me.

It’s the Thought That Counts

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Philemon 1:4 “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.” (ESV)

As a woman, I am used to a large number of thoughts passing through my brain every day, many at the same time. As a mom, it has risen to a frenzied level. I no longer sit at a desk every day, and I do not currently have a good way of organizing my life or thoughts at this stage. So I hold a lot in my head, but that doesn’t mean I get a lot done.

When I was single, I spent a good amount of time writing encouraging cards to friends and family. I really enjoyed it, and it was so fulfilling to know that I was used by God to bring encouragement to someone in a moment of need. I remember a few times when I woke up in the middle of the night with a specific encouraging word for a friend. When I married my husband, it was a shock to realize how my life changed. I am not sure it occurred to me that he would be there all. the. time. At the same time, I really wanted to be with him, and that limited the amount of time I had to spend on writing cards like I previously loved to do.

Isabella joined our world, and I have barely had a chance to look back. I still spend a good amount of time thinking about the people I love. I have been incredibly blessed with a lot of friends who are scattered across the country, serving in big and small places. I interact on Facebook, I see them on Instagram, but I think so often of the things I would say if I grabbed a pen and paper to write a special note.

I think of those who could use an encouraging word in a tough stage of life and what I would like to say to them (or what podcast I would recommend). 🙂

I think of a friend whose birthday is around the corner, and I promise myself I will get a card during nap time and write that note.

I think of someone who encouraged me and helped me through a tough season in life, and the words of thanks roll around in my brain.

I think of all the fun, thoughtful notes and surprises I used to do for my husband before kids, and I have more great ideas in between putting away laundry and getting glasses of ice water that I hope to work on soon.

I have heard “it’s the thought that counts.” I don’t really believe that the thought counts if no one knows about it. But I desperately hope they do. I hope the quick texts and short Facebook messages can convey the depth of feeling that is behind them. I do my best to not feel guilty about all the things I’m not doing at this stage of life. The list is long, but the time is so limited. One day my children will be more independent, and I will be able to finish a task without being interrupted or maybe write a card or two while they do homework.

If God has placed this longing in my heart, I know He will provide a way to fulfill it. In the meantime, I do the best I can with the time I have and trust that God can use others as well when my time and energy is limited.

If you have an unfulfilled longing as well, I pray today that God would encourage you in your season of life. He is not finished with you yet, and He still wants to use you today and in the future. Don’t let go of dreams He has placed in your heart. Some are big and others may be smaller, but His timing will bring His plan to pass.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV

Perfect Parenting…Is A Myth

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I decided to home school. Okay, I was not totally sold on the idea, but my husband and I were pretty sure that’s what we (I) should do for our children. As my oldest child turned 3 and 4, I looked into curriculums and considered the possibilities of what home schooling would mean for us. For me just as much as for her. Because my dear firstborn daughter is not a “typical” child. No, ma’am. God decided baptism by fire was the way to go for us, and we have been in the fire ever since day one. She is fiercely independent. Any time I tried to do a worksheet or a simple preschool assignment with her, she brushed me off as she chose to do her own thing. Her own way. It didn’t bother me as I wanted it to be fun, not work. I learned (fairly) early on to choose my battles. Worksheets are not one of my choices, so I didn’t worry about it. However, as school age neared, I became concerned that she would never be interested in “school” at home with me.

The picture of the perfect parent begins to form before parenthood is even a possibility. As a child, you take your own parents combined with those of your friends, other family members, and the idea of a “great mom” or a “great dad” starts to form in your mind. You get older, you gain experience watching other people’s children, and you decide how you want to be as a parent after observing them, their children, and their home.

Then, God willing, it happens. Ohmygosh, I’m going to be a mom. A MOM! This mythical creature I have watched, studied, loved, loathed, and dreamed about becoming is happening to me! And from the day you stare at that positive pregnancy test, the specifics of what it means to be a great mom dance around in your head night and day. You make decisions and form plans about breastfeeding, diapering, sleeping, working, vaccinating, and on and on.

When that glorious day comes and you finally meet your precious baby, you quickly learn that everything does not progress according to the plan. Some of your choices work out incredibly well, and others are painful, stressful, and not at all what you had hoped. These disappointments can cut deep, very close to the heart as every mom wants to do the very best for her child. I had made decisions about what was best, and some of them worked out very well and I was proud of it. Homeschooling…was starting to seem less than ideal for us.

In September of 2014, the year Isabella would have started preschool, we took a trip to Springfield. I took the kids there a couple times a year to spend time with my sisters and their kids. Between my two sisters and me, we had 7 kids under the age of 6 at that time. It was always chaos and very stressful for me, but I felt it was worth the sacrifice for my kids and their cousins to have time together.

This trip was no different than prior trips. There are many factors involved when you are out of town, sleeping in a different place, not on a regular routine, and not in your own home with your own stuff. I knew all these things were factors in Isabella’s behavior, but it was not helping me figure out what in the world to do with her. She was sassy, mean, screaming, yelling, acting crazy, and I felt control slipping from my fingers more each day. We had planned to leave on Monday morning. We visited my sister’s church on Sunday, and I was not going to send her in to a class with strangers based on her behavior that weekend. So I took the kids to the family room and tried to pay attention to the service (never possible in the family room).

Isabella flipped her lid a couple times, and that was the last straw for me. I took the kids back to the car, texted my mom that I was leaving, and I drove to get a Starbucks while and I cried and cried and cried. I had to go home, I could not handle one more day of this trip. My mom wanted to stay, but I begged her to go. We left, and as we drove home and talked, I decided that I needed to check into preschool. I was worn out, beaten up, and I needed to regroup. I felt bad that I needed preschool more than she did, but I felt that God was really leading me this direction, and that brought me peace. I was not concerned about her academically, but I wanted her to experience the structured environment and the opportunity to interact with other kids in a controlled setting. I needed the three hours, two days a week to get a little break. It’s true. I needed a break from my child. I know many of us mothers do not like to admit this, but it was (and is) very true for me. If I don’t get regular alone time and a chance to recharge, I am a wreck. With a child as demanding as Isabella, that break I need is vital to my mental and emotional health.

When I returned home, I called a local preschool. Within two weeks, Isabella had her first day of preschool. She was excited, and so was I. Within a couple of weeks after that, I knew without a doubt that we had made the right decision. She enjoyed it, I appreciated it. I was resistant to preschool because I myself did not attend preschool, and I turned out just fine. I knew she did not need it for the academics, but I learned that she needed it in a lot of other ways.

It is time to register Isabella for kindergarten, and that is another question with another set of circumstances to consider. I am due with our third child a mere two weeks before school begins. This time, we know that we can make a decision about kindergarten for Isabella without feeling “locked” into that decision for the remainder of her education. This is one year, and we will make the best decision we can for Isabella, her education, and for the whole family. I am thankful that God gave me a chance to reconsider my opposition to preschool this year.

Don’t be afraid to reconsider your parenting ideals. Pray and trust God to lead you to the right decision for each child.

Matthew 11:28-30 “‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'” (ESV)

Courage: Part 1

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I have never jumped off a diving board. EVER. I took swimming lessons as a child, but I was not a big fan of swimming in the deep end at all. At some point in time, I heard a story about a kid who jumped off a diving board, landed the wrong way, and broke his neck. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

I am…risk averse. If I have time to weigh and measure the odds, I will do so. If not, I will lean towards the safe route, the path that requires the least amount of risk. For me to write about courage is not natural. I have done some things that take courage. I left home at age 17 to attend college 6 hours away. Most of my extended family still lived in Des Moines. I tried out for a popular ministry team that took only 12 members (a number of whom were returning). Last week, I wrote about how I moved to a small town where I knew three people. I have led worship for hundreds of people, spoken in public enough to overcome my fear of it, and have continued to do those things even after some intense failure at doing so. I think it takes more courage to stand up after falling down and to try again.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” It defines brave as “having or showing courage,” so I will use these words interchangeably.

I have so many friends who have exhibited enormous levels of courage through their life circumstances. I previously wrote about my friend Maggie who faced breast cancer with such peace and joy and now lives with Jesus. Another friend survived breast cancer and gave birth to a precious boy despite all the odds against her. Two very dear friends have experienced the deepest pain and betrayal in marriage and emerged on the other side with the story of God’s great grace.

I can go on and on. The pain of this life has at times completely taken my breath away. How do I find the courage to get out of bed in the morning, to live life and continue to function, to find ways to deal with the pain so it is no longer debilitating? How do you? You have certainly faced danger, fear, or difficulty. How did you move on from it? DID you move on from it? Are you still stuck in the fear, slave to the difficulty that you cannot get out of your mind? What situation has so captured your mind that you cannot see through the mess?

You are not alone. It takes great courage to face the difficulty and decide that it will not rule your life. Maybe your difficulty right now is not cancer or death or betrayal. Maybe your difficulty is deep loneliness. Your difficulty could be a loveless, lifeless marriage. These may not be obvious to others on the surface, but it requires great courage to face loneliness and rise above it. It takes incredible courage to be the wife or husband who chooses to invest and inject life into a marriage that feels like it is dead.

I will spend the next few posts on the subject of courage. I can think of a couple of areas in my life in which I need more courage. I need to make the choice to be present, to enter in and face the situation instead of hiding behind a phone or a book or a computer screen. I would love for you to join me if you need a little courage, too. Or even a lot.

You can subscribe to this blog on the right side of the page. I would love to have you join me.

2 Corinthians 4:6-9 (ESV) “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.”

Next Stop…the Middle of Nowhere

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I attended Bible college for four years, where the biggest joke was that women chose the school to earn their “MRS” degree. And…that may have been an expected side effect for many of us. It didn’t happen for me, though. I am not sure I had one official date during my four years. I would say that the unmet expectation of getting married in Bible college (or even having a prospect or two) was disappointing as graduation came and went. I knew some churches would hire a single woman, but I had not majored in pastoral ministry or youth ministry or even children’s or music ministry.

I majored in Administration of Christian Education.

I wanted to be practical, to have a major in educating Christians (also known as discipleship) seemed to be something that would apply in a variety of situations and could be useful if married to a senior pastor or a youth pastor. Which I was not. Married to one, that is.

I minored in music, but I did not have the confidence to major in music. Being ever so practical, I did not want that to be my only option for employment, either. So there I was. Stuck with an education that, in my mind, was kind of useless for a single woman. But God disagreed.

I earned some interesting experience working at the Assemblies of God headquarters in the National Youth Ministry. I loved it. Organizing events, planning travel, scheduling, these are all things I loved, and they had a great eternal purpose. I was thrilled. After three years, however, my friends were moving away and on to other things, and I started to feel the desire to do the same. I called my youth pastor and left him a message asking what type of job he might have for me if I wanted to come there. We had talked a few times since my graduation, and he always mentioned that he wanted me to come whenever I was ready. I remember where I was when I made the call. I am even pretty sure it was New Year’s Eve 2001.

I have to admit, my expectations were LOW for this particular move. Oh, I was very excited to work for my youth pastor and his wife. Over the moon about it. I could hardly think of a man I respected more who invested more in my life and future during my pretty unstable teenage years. But as a 24 year old single woman, it made little sense to move from Springfield, MO – a place filled with young Christians and people who were and wanted to be in ministry – to Waverly, IA. I had visited Waverly one time. I was sure it was a place “filled” with farmers and very few places to exercise my right to shop. (This is before online shopping, at least, before I was doing any online shopping.) Also, I had only lived in Des Moines, IA, and Springfield, MO, which I considered to be decent-sized towns. The idea that you could count the number of gas stations and grocery stores on one hand COMBINED was absurd to me. I was not meant to live in a place like that.

How exactly did it make sense to reduce my prospects for dating/marriage by such a large number? Once I moved to Waverly, I soon discovered that 93.8% of people that attend high school in a small town also get married within 2.5 months of high school graduation. (I promise I could find a study to back that up.) For my analytical brain that loves a good pros/cons list, this was a terrible decision. My assumption was that I would “sacrifice” a year or two because I really wanted to work with my youth pastor. After spending that time in small town purgatory, I would be released to live somewhere awesome forever and ever amen.

The interesting thing about low expectations is that something or someone will rarely rise above the level you expect. I had my own ideas and very low expectations for Waverly, and for a couple of years, that was exactly what I got. When I finally (FINALLY) surrendered my plans and let God have His way, my heart and mind changed in a hurry. I had a few dates (seriously!), and in the meantime I was learning so much about ministry, I had earned my ministerial license, and I was developing a lot of other amazing relationships.

I was really narrow-minded when I moved to Waverly. I assumed I was leaving all the good people in Springfield, and there could not be much left for little old Waverly.

I was dead wrong. I am regularly overwhelmed by the deep relationships I have encountered here. I can think of a dozen friends who have the spiritual depth, godliness and knowledge of the Bible coupled with a love for others that could easily earn them the same ministerial license I have. They live their “regular” lives with the passion of a full-time minister of the gospel, and they love others with a grace and joy that often challenges me.

High expectations. Low expectations. They are both so dangerous to our ability to experience God and allow Him to meet us right where we are. Do you know a terrible place to put your hope? Things that are seen. Don’t put your hope in anything you can see. People (including family), possessions, money, position…we want to hope in these things so badly. But they will fail you. One hundred percent of the time, they will not meet your every need and supply you with all joy and happiness. Never. Ever.

Where do we place our hope? Jesus Christ.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

These are my life verses. They came to me at my time of greatest desperation, and they have spoken to me countless times since that moment. I am a realist, hopefully not all the way to a pessimist. I have a real tendency to lose heart. I love the regular loving reminder that these verses are to me.

I will talk about meeting my husband later. I don’t want to dilute the fact that changing my expectations by focusing on God and not myself was the key to experiencing full, rich life in Waverly. It was not finding a boyfriend or a husband, although I am grateful for that bonus. 🙂