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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Why Mom-Olympians Should Inspire Us

These Olympics are going to be the death of me, y'all.

First, because I am literally losing sleep over them. NBC decided they need to show the events that get the highest ratings as late as possible, and since I feel like I'll miss something if I don't watch them as they air, I hold my eyelids open to stay awake and then stagger around like a zombie the next day.

At this rate, it will be December before I recover.

Second, the back stories. Goodness gracious. We've seen kids rise from poverty and foster care to be the greatest of all time, and we've watched people push through career-threatening injuries to make it back to the Olympics. Their bodies bear the bruises, and we've collectively learned about kinesiology tape and strange orbs from cupping. I'm amazed by what the human body can bear and what the human spirit can endure.

And, of course, you have the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Runners false starting and immediately being disqualified? Cyclists crashing and bleeding from their wounds? Gymnasts vaulting and shattering legs on the landing? Agonizing.

But then there are the mothers.

The commentators on TV are fascinated by the athletes who are mothers, and even though there's been some criticism on social media for their incessant need to point it out, I just want to state for the record that I am fascinated, too.

These women are the absolute best at their sports, and in the midst of their training and preparation and traveling to competitions, they do what many of us do every day. They parent. Their bodies have been through the most grueling event ever - pregnancy and childbirth - and they are still able to operate in beast mode. I gave birth nine years ago and am still trying to get my body back and not have embarrassing accidents when I sneeze.

They deserve some mad respect.

Listen, you can call it sexist that many of the male athletes are dads and no one ever mentions it. But let's be real. The men did not grow another human being inside their bodies, have their bodies nearly (or in some cases actually) split open to deliver that human being into the world, feed the human being with food produced by their very own bodies, and then six weeks later get back at it like nothing ever happened.

So yes, I love when the commentators let me know the elite athletes I'm watching are moms. It makes their victories even sweeter to me. But it also inspires, and dare I say, challenges me.

Here's the deal. These women know you can simultaneously mother a child and pursue a passion. You can mother and work. You can mother and train. You can mother and win. You can mother and - fill in the blank.

Ladies, you can. We can. We don't have to, but we can.

There's a 41 year old gymnast who competed against athletes the same age as her son. She has said she just loves gymnastics (and that she hasn't ruled out competing in Tokyo). Can you imagine anything more inspiring to her son than seeing his mom work at what she loves? What a legacy.

Becoming a mom changed and challenged me more than I knew it could. But it also brought confusion and doubt as I struggled to find my identity in my motherhood. I had always wanted children, and when I had them, I questioned whether it was also ok to want other things as well. Was I only a mom? What about who I was before? What about what I did before? Was it ok to still spend time on myself? Was it acceptable to follow pursuits that had nothing to do with my children?

We moms are super hard on ourselves, but we can also be super hard on each other. Some say becoming a mom means forgetting about yourself and the things you want, focusing solely on your children. Others say that to be the best mother possible, it's important that you nurture yourself and continue in the things you love.

I can't tell you what's right for you, but I'm telling you what's possible. It's possible to be a mom AND.

The Olympians told me so.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Love, No Matter What

Yesterday, Travis Blanks, a former Clemson football player who played for the national championship against Alabama, spoke at my church and blew me away. He touched on a lot of timely topics and super-important issues we face in this country, but one line he spoke keeps bouncing around in my skull:

"Love will never be the incorrect response."

I scribbled it in my journal and buried it in my heart, because the truth of those words is to be at the core of every believer's response and behavior, regardless of the circumstance.
For far too many of us, judgment and criticism are the hallmarks of our lives. We as a people are known for what we hate, what we condemn, what (and whom) we stand against. When - and why? - did we stop being known for being loving and generous? Kind and forgiving? Accepting and inclusive?

Maybe because it's easier to hate than to love. Maybe because our first response is to criticize and condemn, and it takes so much more effort and intention to show mercy and grace with no strings attached. Maybe because it's easier to see the plank in others' eyes instead of the speck in our own.

But here's the thing for those of us who call ourselves believers. If we choose this life, then as Travis said, "There's a price we have to pay when we walk with Jesus. When you profess Jesus, you no longer have the right to choose who you love."

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and he explained that everyone is our neighbor. Regardless of race. Class. Gender. Financial status. Living arrangements. Background. Addictions. Struggles.

We each are created in the image of God, and each of us is deserving of and in desperate need of the love of other image-bearers.

Listen, I struggle with this. It's never easy to look at someone whose faults are on display and choose love over judgment. It's not easy to look at someone you know is in rebellion against God and choose love over condemnation. It's not easy to look at someone you have been taught is in a different class than you are and choose love over rejection.

It's never easy, but it's required. It is a command, and it is black and white. 1 John 4:8 says, "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." Whenever I choose a response other than love, I am acknowledging that I don't know God as I think (and say) I do. If I know God, I can only choose love. If I am God's, I love. Period.

Love doesn't mean you approve of wrong behavior. Love doesn't mean you withhold truth. Love doesn't mean you ignore addictions and accept sin. It means that in the midst of all those things, you believe in the inherent value of the person and choose to draw them closer to God through your own love. Your love is to be a mirror of the Father's love until that person knows His love personally.

I'm challenged by this. I'm convicted by this. And today I'm choosing to be changed by this.

Love. No matter what.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

It's Go Time, Teachers

It's that time again, teachers. The first days of school. Time to morph back into "Mr" and "Mrs," time to set the alarm to rise before the sun, and time to wear make-up and real shoes.

It's time to get back to packing lunches, time to retrain your bladder, and time to learn many, many new names.

It's time to be on your feet for 8 hours, time to ration your copies, and time to remember just who you are.

You're a teacher, doggone it, and it's go time. It's time to begin the making of magic that only teachers armed with glue guns and inspired by Pinterest can make.

It's time to prove to the Trump children of the world that our schools are not "department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers," because as anyone who walks into a school will see, the long hours and dollars spent and lessons planned are surely not just for the benefit of "the clerks." The technology training and curriculum adoption and blood-borne pathogen videos are not just for teacher entertainment.

For the first time in a long time, teachers, I will be watching from afar. I will not be setting up a classroom and welcoming students myself, and although I know it's the right choice, I also know I'm indescribably sad. I figured out why, too. It's because what you're about to do every single day is sacred.

Yes, it's hard. And it's draining and stressful and full of red tape and scrutinized. But what you do - what you GET to do - is sacred. You are given an opportunity that few other professions ever have. The opportunity to change - literally change - the world. And it starts sometimes with changing yourself and your perspective.

So here is what I want to say to you as someone who is watching from afar with a heart still incredibly near:

You've got this. The nerves and anxiety will tell you otherwise, but you can do exactly what needs to be done this year. More and more is being piled on you, and you will feel like buckling sometimes, but you can do this. You won't be perfect every day, and there will be some days you want to throw the alarm across the room and pull the covers back over your head. That's ok. You're human. But deep inside that teacher-heart is a reservoir for such days. Deep inside you is a lifetime's worth of preparation for a year such as this.

Each child in your room needs you. You might have tough 18 year olds who act like they need nothing, or you might have tender 3 year olds who need everything. Regardless, each child needs something, and I believe they are in your room because you can provide the something they need. Whether you actually do or not is up to you, but I'm begging you to look inside each child - look past the exterior - and really see him or her. See that child's heart and ask yourself what he needs. Remember that sometimes the ones who need you the most also try you the most. Think past the behavior to what its root might be. Investigate, explore, and ask. Sometimes we teachers forget that our students are intricately carved human beings with emotions and motivations as complicated as our own. Let this be the year you meet needs and not just standards.

We're cheering for you. I know sometimes it feels as if everyone is trashing public education and the teachers who provide it, but please don't allow the loudest naysayers to drown out the devoted supporters. We, the vast majority, are here cheering you on and are so grateful for what you do and the excellence with which you do it. We know it's exhausting (because we've had our children home all summer and struggle to keep them entertained for 30 minutes, much less multiple hours). We know you don't always have the resources you need or ideal conditions, and we know the successes you have are often in spite of your conditions, not because of them. We know that you are taking care of our babies when we're not, and we know that you are giving it your all. We know, at least most of us, and we thank you.

Teachers, good luck. Make the most of what you have and the best of what you face. Like with everything, there will be good and bad, ups and downs. There will be successes and failures, days you run in and days you run out. But no matter what, remember the simple truth that when go-time comes, you've got this.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Are You Watching Me?

She kept dropping the Frisbee.

On the coast of our little state last week, my daughter and my brother tossed a Frisbee back and forth, over and over. His able hand would toss it in her direction, and her little arms would reach out but just miss catching the yellow disc. Time after time, she scooped it out of the sand and practiced throwing it with more accuracy.

And as time passed, she slowly got the hang of it. She began to catch it sometimes and throw it where she actually intended. She kept going, and she kept getting better.

I'm afraid I might have just quit.

Her gangly legs ran over to my beach chair, her little-girl voice asking, "Mommy, are you watching me?"

Yes, baby, I am.

I'm watching you rehearse your tenacity. I'm watching you swallow your frustration, and I'm watching you succeed in what you once couldn't do. I'm watching you do what I need to do.

Sometimes I want to ask, "Are you watching me?" Sometimes I want to go running over to someone and ask if their eyes see my effort. I want to know that my rehearsing, my practice, my slow-but-steady improvement is noticeable at all.

When she was throwing that Frisbee, though, she didn't do it because she knew I was watching. She didn't practice just to impress me, and my applause wasn't her goal. She just wanted to get better. She just wanted to be able to do what once was impossible.

My daughter teaches me so much.

I need reminders that the audience is not the goal. The performance is not the purpose. The praise is not the priority.

Sometimes, and more often than I'd like to admit, what really matters is the repetitive fail and succeed, drop and pick up, get frustrated and try again. What really matters is the practice behind the scenes, the brushing-the-sand-off and giving it another go. What really matters is what I do, not what those watching see.

Thanks, baby girl, for the reminder.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What Sacrifice Are You Not Willing to Make?

Think about what you want. What you really, really want.

I bet without much coaxing, you could make a list of things you'd love to have - or be. I bet you have dreams, both big and small, tucked away inside your heart. I bet you have goals, both lofty and mundane, on that list inside your brain. We all know what we want, even if we've never told another soul.

And yet we remain without those things. What I want us to consider is why.

Naturally, we have no control over some of the things we want. They are out of our reach or are not meant for us. But just as clearly as some things are out of our control, some things aren't. Some things we want could be ours today if we had the courage and drive to go for them.

But we don't.

Many of the things we want are on the other side of a sacrifice we'd have to make, and when it comes down to it, we aren't willing. It's easier to dream and lament and complain about our lack than it is to work for all we could gain.

I want so many things I don't have: a six pack (of abs, that is, not beer), a perpetually clean house with perpetually empty laundry baskets, home-grown produce to save both money and calories, flower beds with beautiful blooms and zero weeds...

Not one of those things is impossible, but all of those are things I don't have. The reason is simple - me. I am the reason I don't have those things, and I don't have them because I'm not willing to make the sacrifices necessary. I could have a six pack, theoretically. I'd have to work out a whole lot more and eat a whole lot less, but it's doable. I could stay caught up on laundry - if I'd rather catch up on it than episodes of Fixer Upper I've missed. I could have a garden - if I wanted to spend my time maintaining it... For every thing I wish I could have, I'd have to make a sacrifice to get it.

What I've begun to question about myself lately is whether my lack of sacrifice is a forfeit of my destiny. Are there things the Lord desires for my life that will only come if I give up what doesn't really matter? Our best will arrive only when we relinquish our grip on the good. Good might prevent best. Comfort might block destiny.

What do you need to give up today to walk into what's meant to be yours? Sleep? Food? Relationships? Self-hatred? Mindless television watching? A critical spirit? A job? Over-spending?

The interesting thing is that we all have something - likely many things - we could (and should) give up. The reality, though, is that most of us won't. We want the comfort of what we know. We want the easiest option, which is to stay as we are. We say we'll start tomorrow. We assume we'll fail anyway, so we refuse to even start.

We make a thousand excuses, but we really just make the path we're intended to follow that much further away.

I'm tired of sabotaging my own life. I'm tired of assuming the worst and settling for it. I'm tired of watching others achieve their goals and thinking they know some secret I don't.

You want to know their secret? Hard work. Sacrifice. Giving up something now for something greater in the future.

It's really no secret at all. It's just hard. Today, I'm embracing hard.