Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Everything's Not OK

The obligatory answer to the question "How are you?" is understood to be "Fine." 

Maybe a "Good, how are you?" or sometimes an "I'm OK, thanks."

Nobody really expects (or desires) for you to say, "Well, truthfully, everything stinks right now. My kids are driving me nuts, my husband and I can't seem to get on the same page intimately, and I kind of want to punch my coworker in the face." 

If we said such things, we'd get a whole lot more than we bargained for, and truthfully, we don't need to share that much with acquaintances who innocently ask how we are. 

But in telling most of the world we're fine, do we unconsciously convince ourselves we are? Because if we're honest, we're often not fine. Everything's not always ok, and we have no obligation to the world to pretend that we are.

But when our souls beg us to ask how things are, we must be willing to admit the honest emotions we're feeling and the true conditions of our hearts. To do so, we have to face what's really going on. Denial is dangerous. If it's easier to pretend nothing's wrong than it is to honestly analyze our hearts, we have a major problem.

I have become hyper-aware lately that when there's a soul problem deep inside, when my heart is struggling and my emotions are unbalanced, my go-to is to check out. I avoid the core issue for days at a time, subconsciously pretending the problem away. I play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with myself, running from the problem so I don't have to face it while simultaneously living every moment affected by it.

It's insanity.

I don't know if this avoider mentality is just a trait born of genetics or a product of my upbringing. Maybe it's a combination of both. Regardless, I'm learning that it's only ever harmful to me and those I love. My childish refusal to acknowledge my issues is an indication that I'm relying only on myself for their healing. If I keep them locked up inside, then I'm believing the solution is also inside. It's not. We need other people to help us heal our old wounds. Hurts that remain hidden only fester. Dark places that are never exposed to light never lose their dark power over us.

I'm not suggesting we start telling others the unedited truth of our hearts if our hearts are not "fine." But I am suggesting that we start telling ourselves the truth of our hearts. I am suggesting that we pay attention when our souls scream and that we listen when our hearts hurt. Avoidance never heals. Problems don't just disappear. And in spite of our well-intentioned reply that we're 'fine," sometimes we're just not.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

How To Do Church Right

I wanted so badly to do it right. Whatever the Christian life looked like, I wanted to represent it well.

A people-pleaser by nature with perfectionist tendencies, I knew that if I could just find the hidden list of do’s and don’ts, I’d be set. I’d memorize it, practice it, and ace the Christian test.

I would make Jesus, and those around me watching, proud.

It took me years to realize how very wrong I was.

While I was wanting to do things for Jesus, He was whispering, “It’s already done.” While I was trying to work for Jesus, He was saying, “Peace. Be still.” While I was thinking I had something to prove, Jesus was telling me, “I already proved it all.”

To continue reading, click here. I'm honored to be guest posting today with Debby Hudson.

Friday, September 2, 2016

One More Step

It was brutally hot on the South Carolina coast, and like any good vacationers, we were out in it. My little family was staying near an old lighthouse, and we choose the hottest part of the hottest day to see it.

The path was winding, changing from pavement to sand, and as we panted and plodded, we couldn't see the lighthouse. We knew where we were headed, but our eyes didn't reveal what we knew was the goal. Our eyes only saw what was right in front of us, but that didn't prevent us from believing the lighthouse existed. Our limited vision didn't preclude the truth. The lighthouse didn't cease to exist just because we weren't there yet.

Faith is a lot like that path to the lighthouse.

Conditions aren't always ideal, and we get tired along the way. Our eyes don't see what our brains believe, and we start to wonder if the truth is really true. The path is meandering, and we want to turn around.

But faith is being certain of what we do not see.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen.

Faith is enough when the path isn't clear.

The path only requires one more step. Each day, in the midst of exhaustion and uncertainty, just one more step. That's what is asked of us today.

Linking up today to Five Minute Friday.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ten Things I Want My Son to Know

OK, son. You're in that weird stage right now where you're technically not a teenager yet, but you're not a little kid anymore, either. I know it's super strange. Your body is changing, your voice is sounding different, and your brain is struggling to keep up. The next few years are going to be different for both you and for me. I've been thinking about some things you should know, and while this list is definitely not exhaustive, I figure it's a good start.

  • Deodorant and foot washing are not optional. Ever. They're just not. As your body changes (you'll learn this in sex-ed), your hormones go berserk, and you. will. stink. You already do. (No offense.) It's not your fault, and it's nothing to be ashamed of, but Lord have mercy, it is something you can control. The deodorant is in the top bathroom drawer (I'm assuming you forgot?) and foot washing involves soap. With a washcloth. And a vigorous scrubbing motion. No, you cannot count standing in the soap suds on the shower floor. Not sufficient. Scrub those stink cells off your feet. Then repeat. 
  • You won't always (or maybe ever) be the best athlete on your team, but you are overqualified to work your butt off. If I ever see you being the last one to get to the line, or if you think it's acceptable to saunter off the field, you will hear my screech from the stands and feel my wrath at home. Your coaches should all say the same thing - "Man, is that kid a hard worker." I'll be more proud to hear that than to hear you're the top hitter. Seriously. Work ethic matters more than your stats. 
  • Don't ever get too cool to read good books. I know that somewhere in middle school, many guys stop liking to read. (And as a former teacher, I know it's because we educators start assigning crap-tastic books and forcing you to read what you hate. But I digress.) You love to read right now, and the books on your shelves have taught you so many things you can't learn in school. Reading opens doors to worlds you need to see. A man who doesn't read is often a man whose mind is closed. Don't be that man.
  • Your world is going to open up in the next few years. I want you to venture into it and explore what it has to offer, but I want you to do it in the confines of what we've taught you matters. I want to live in the limits of the values we hold. This means you won't do everything that others do. You won't go everywhere they go, and you won't say/think/drink/experiment with everything they do. There is no shame in standing on your own. There is no shame is saying that something's not for you. There is great shame in realizing you've violated your own standards. Remember who you are. 
  • Nothing is off limits when it comes to approaching me. If you have questions about something, you can ask me. It might embarrass us both or make me cringe, but who better than someone who loves you to see your face turn red? If you've done something wrong, I am still here. My love is not dependent on your choices, and though I'll be praying you make the right ones, if you don't, you can still come to me. Our home is your home base, and it is your safe place. 
  • Keep asking me to scratch your back at night. I know I get annoyed when you ask for 5 more minutes every single night, and I know I always say I'm ready to go to bed, too, but that time with you is my favorite. It's just us, and when you're facing the wall, you often open up and tell me things that I wouldn't otherwise know. It lets me know you need me, and there's nothing a mom needs more.
  • Your outfit doesn't all have to be the same color. Seriously. If you're wearing a red shirt, your shorts don't have to be red, too. Variety is the spice of life, bud. Look at the color wheel and learn about complementary colors. Your future wife will be so impressed if you can pick out your own clothes. Trust me on this one.
  • I will never stop giving you chores. You've been putting your laundry away for years, and hauling out the trash and cutting the grass aren't going away either. As you get older, your responsibilities will only increase. It's preparing you for life outside our house. Get used to it.
  • No, you still can't have a phone. I know. I'm mean and everyone else already has one. Too bad. God didn't tell me to make you happy, and what everyone else has is not my concern. Unlimited technology does nothing to give you the character you need, and it opens up a world you are SO not ready to enter. (I'm 36 and not ready for it either.) My calling as a mother is to help you discover your calling, and scrolling through selfies on Instagram isn't it. Friends in real life are more valuable than likes on social media. And no, I don't know when you can have one. Maybe when you actually start putting your laundry IN the basket instead of on your floor. Baby steps, son. Baby steps.
  • I love you like nobody's business, but understand here and now that you will not be a 30 year old man living in my basement playing video games. You are expected to be educated for a job or trained in a skill that can provide you with housing and food. I will do everything in my power to aid you to this end, but at some point you will leave the nest. Even if it's my foot kicking your backside out. There is nothing healthy about an adult refusing to be an adult, and in this house you will not be enabled to stay a child. Nope. Forget about it. I will not do for a man what he can do for himself. I love you, but I will also love coming to your house to visit.
So there you go, babe. Just some nuggets of wisdom for your preteen self. We're headed into uncharted waters for our family, but we're in it together. Unless you forget your deodorant. Then it's every man for himself.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What They Carry

He held a cardboard sign like those we often see. "Homeless. Anything helps."

His long hair was disheveled, his clothes obviously worn. His posture was slumped, that of a man accustomed to defeat. He was stooped from bearing his load. 

The light was red, so I stopped, and I rolled my window down. "Sir?" I said. "I have some crackers."

I passed the food to grateful hands and barely heard as he quietly said, "Thank you." He walked slowly back to his post in the grass, and I left as my light turned green. I drove, away from his pain and towards my provision, and I can't forget the look on his face. 

I wish I knew the color of his eyes. But he never made eye contact with me.

Shame, I suppose, kept his gaze to the ground, and embarrassment prevented his soul from looking at mine. He was begging for help, a hard thing to do, and accepting it was no easy task either.

Hours later, I am haunted by what I took the time to see. 

I rarely stop and roll down my window in these situations. I can blame it on many things, of course - apathy, distrust, not having cash or food to give, fear... But when I don't stop, I don't see. And when I don't see, I can convince myself I don't have to care.

I have no idea what this man's story is. I don't know his name, and I don't know if I'll ever see him again. But he reminded me that every encounter with another person is a chance either to lift their burden or to make it greater. Every encounter is an opportunity to affirm their existence or to deny it.

We envy and judge and criticize and condemn because we don't see what other people carry. We don't know what they've buried in the depths of their hearts. We can't feel the hurt that's ever-present in their lives.

We don't know their past, and we don't know their present. We don't know, so we don't let ourselves care.

This weary man in dirty clothes reminded me that I want to see people. Not just their shells, but the real them inside. Not what they present to the world, but the hidden depths they don't share.

Stepping into another's life is always deliberate, and it's often messy. Understanding their hearts is a process carried out in love. But it all begins with the simple step of choosing to see them. Seeing them and not just their mess.

In the image of God. That's how they were created. Lord, give me eyes to see.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Experience with Postpartum Depression

All I ever wanted to be was a mother, and as soon as I became one, all I could do was cry.

My pregnancy with my son was perfect, and I looked forward to the day when I could hold the little one growing inside me in my arms. I decorated his nursery with airplanes, hung his tiny outfits in the closet, and stared at his profile on the ultrasound.

I was made to be a mother, and I couldn't wait. I was ready, or so I thought.

When the pains woke me from a dead sleep, I screamed louder than I ever had and hurt worse than I knew was possible. From zero to dying - this was my labor story.

After laboring for hours, it was finally time. Time to see his face. Hold his body. Touch his flesh. It was time, but something wasn't right.

He had turned, and a natural delivery was no longer possible. Surgery was required, and I was devastated. My tears began then, and they didn't stop for weeks. The plan in my head was gone, and a depression I had never experienced had come.

He was delivered, and he was healthy. Six pounds, 3 ounces, with wisps of dark hair and the eyes of an old-soul. He was perfect. But I wasn't.
Right away, something wasn't right. Initially, I had strange reactions to all the medications. I hallucinated and spoke out of my mind and gave my family a lot of laughs.

But when I got home, I still wasn't right.

I was trying to recover from a major surgery, trying to breastfeed, and trying to understand why I felt so unhappy. All I could do was cry, and all I wanted was to be alone. It's hard to admit nearly eleven years later, but I was severely disconnected from my son. His needs overwhelmed me and his cries consumed me. I had a picture in my head of how motherhood was supposed to be, and this wasn't it. I wanted to close my eyes and disappear. Close my eyes and ignore my baby. Close my eyes and maybe not wake up.

I knew I was sad, but I didn't know why. I didn't know what was going on, and I didn't know what to do. I didn't have a name for how I felt.

I was going through the motions of motherhood, but I didn't realize how far away from myself I was.

I cried nonstop, and no amount of determination changed how I felt. No amount of prayer fixed me. When I wasn't crying, I was staring into space, numb.

I was sick, so sick, but I didn't understand. I was in the vise-grip of depression with no way to escape on my own.

My mother stepped in, and I believe she might have saved my life. She forced me to call my doctor, and had she not, I honestly don't know what would have happened. She forced me to make an appointment, and she forced me to go. She sat in the waiting room with my tiny baby as I told the doctor I needed help.

I did need help, and I got it. Not everyone who needs it does, and that's why I'm sharing my story with you.

Recently, a friend of a friend took her own life. She was a new mother, and she was depressed. Her story could have been mine, and it's the story of so many others. I recently learned that suicide is the leading cause of death in post-partum mothers. It doesn't have to be.

My hospital sent me home with a list of instructions on how and when to feed my baby, how and when to change my surgical dressings, how and when to bathe my baby. Included on the sheet was a side-note on what to do if depression struck.

Depression is not a side-note. Depression, especially in new mothers, is very real and much more common than it's spoken about. So we need to be honest about it.

It's not your fault. It's not because you did something wrong, and it's not the end of your story.

Depression is treatable. But I'm convinced most who experience it cannot - will not - treat it on their own. They, like me, will hide it in shame and wait for it go away. They will pretend they are ok and will try to convince themselves they are. Most people who experience it need someone who loves them to step in and demand they get help. Make an appointment for them. Force them to go. Sit in the waiting room while they admit they need help.

If you love someone who is pregnant or newly post-partum, make yourself the one who looks out for her. Be her advocate. Be a voice who speaks into her life and says, "It doesn't have to be this way. Let's get you some help."

I cannot overemphasize that I do not believe I would have sought help on my own. I would not have swallowed my pride and said, "Help me." I would not have admitted I couldn't handle my problem. The woman you love? She might not either. It doesn't have to be this way.

Watch for the signs. Listen to what she's not saying. And step in to her pain. She may need it more than you can understand.

Allison Goldstein's story
Brooke Shields's book Down Came the Rain