six years ago.

Has it really been six years?

Oh, the places we saw, the people we met.

I look at these photos that seem like something out of a beautiful dream, and yet, my main memory is: Sick.

Sick, sick, sick. I did not go to the Taj Mahal — David and Judah visited the Taj Mahal while I holed up in a hotel room in an enormous foreign city with a migraine and a one-year-old.

Even so, I’m thankful for every single sight I saw: snow capping the Himalayas, orphans with beaming faces, enough stand-still traffic jams to last a lifetime.

And I look at the Julie in those pictures and ache for her, because it’s going to get so much harder, up ahead. I had yet to face the darkest moments of my life. God’s rescue was going to feel a lot like death.

But if I could, I would give her a big hug and say, “God is not punishing you. Nothing — not one single minute or one single tear — will be wasted. He is going to use all of it for your good and for His glory, I promise.”

Mostly I’d just say to her, “He will never, ever, ever leave you alone.”

I wish I could also say, “Your life will hold more pain than you know now, but it will also hold surprises so beautiful you couldn’t possibly dream them up.”

You know what’s funny? Why couldn’t God have just left all of that out? The whole journey to India, the illness, the abrupt return and grief and depression so bad I wanted to die. All the subsequent challenges of the last six years. Why couldn’t He have just plopped us down, right here and now in Columbia with our church and our family of six?

I don’t know, entirely, the reason.

What I do know is it’s all so inexplicably part of our story that I can’t imagine our life any other way — no, I wouldn’t want to imagine it. I am the person I am today because of what I’ve been through, the good and the bad. I trust God today in a way I never did before. I can sit with people who are suffering in a way I was oblivious to. I can be just a bit more patient in trials because I’ve tasted hope. I can look ahead to the future with confidence because I know nothing will be wasted, that God is going to make all things new.

No, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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what worked and what didn’t in 2016.

Hello my friends!

I hope your Christmas was great!

We had a wonderful holiday weekend, and then I woke up on Monday and wanted every single decoration taken down, stowed away in the attic, pine needles swept, and our house organized.

As you well know, I have a much lower threshold for clutter nowadays. All the kids have to purge some toys before Christmas or birthdays, but we did even more on Monday, and reorganized their rooms to accommodate new things without losing dozens of Lego pieces throughout the house (which David and I inevitably step on).

Now our home is back to normal and everyone’s at peace and getting excited about Noah’s birthday tomorrow!

Last year I wrote a post about what worked and what didn’t for me in 2015 (you can read it here). It was so fun and helpful to think back over my year in that way that I decided to do it again.

I like to end on a positive note, so I’ll start with:

What didn’t work in 2016:

1. Not taking our kids out on dates
For years we’ve had lofty goals of doing some sort of weekly date night with one of our kids, or letting them take turns staying up late to have time with the two of us, but we neglected to make it happen with any consistency this year.

That’s something we’ve begun to change in the last couple months, with sweet results. It’s easy to get in a rut of our weekly schedule and to-do list, to begin looking at our children as a herd. It means a lot to them when one of us grabs one of them and goes to Barnes and Noble or to the river with a Sonic milkshake, and we realize that it means a lot to us too.

Some weeks are just too busy for dates, so we’re trying to be intentional to take a kid or two to run errands and use the opportunity to give them our attention.

It’s a chance to show all of us that we see our kids as individuals and we’d like to continue getting to know them better.

 

2. My stomachaches
I have chronic problems with my stomach, and that’s still hard. I was diagnosed with IBS years ago, and finally had a doctor shoot straight with me this year and tell me I most likely did irreparable damage to my stomach taking antibiotics for 16 months in India.

I can obsess over finding answers, trying different elimination diets and natural healing methods. Certainly avoiding some foods or eating out too much helps, but then I’ll suddenly be sick after eating something perfectly healthy. Lately I’ve tried instead to find a place of acceptance. My body is broken and will be in some way or another until I go to be with Jesus. I’m careful what I eat and drink, I’m trying to find healthy ways to deal with stress, and sometimes my stomach still gets really sick.

It reminds me that some people live with chronic pain and illness way worse than mine, and I have much to be thankful for.

 

3. Crowds, groups, coffee dates
If you’ve been reading the blog this year, you know about my panic disorder, which has made social settings (even small groups and one-on-one) very difficult. I quit so many of my commitments, things that used to be fun and bring me joy, but suddenly became distressing and impossible.

Anxiety and depression are things that affect my life on a daily basis. I work hard to find ways to manage them both and discover which areas of life I can pour into while I’ve got limitations in others. But even with medication, counseling, and exercise, they are a constant background noise.

Just like stomachaches, I’m learning to accept that this is my reality.

Some days are really hard, and many are just fine. I’m finding ways to give thanks and fight for joy, and God truly helps me. He’s meeting me in this hard thing, teaching me slowly but surely through it to live one hour at a time, to turn to Him and ask for help all throughout my day. He’s teaching me that He’s just as worthy of worship whether I’m having a good mental health day or a bad one.

I pray more than anything that this suffering makes me a kinder, more compassionate person, rather than resentful and isolated.

I pray that God shows me day by day what He’s calling me to do, and that I let go of the rest and live in peace.

 

4. Having too many friends that are like me
Don’t get me wrong — I have wonderful friends and family, who have both loved me well and graciously given me space in a difficult year. But I really long for diversity in my friendships. I miss living overseas — where many other things came hard, but that one thing came easy. I miss having friends who look different and think differently from me, I miss the way they stretch and challenge my views on life.

I miss their stories.

Last month I made a friend from Afghanistan and she asked me to be her English conversation partner. All that really means is that I’ll stop by her apartment for tea once a week and we’ll sit and chat and use lots of hand motions and practice English. She’s expecting her fourth child and so maybe we’ll roll our eyes and laugh about motherhood, maybe she’ll teach me how to cook some Afghani food.

For whatever reason, when I’m with people from other countries I don’t feel anxious or nervous. I just feel like myself. It doesn’t necessarily solve the diversity issue, but perhaps it’s a place to start.

 

5. Cupcakes
You guys, I’ve made cupcakes for years and years, and for whatever reason this year they’ve been a disaster. They taste great but look terrible, spilling over the sides, sinking in the middle. When I finish this post, I’ll go try to redeem Noah’s birthday cupcakes with a generous mound of frosting.

Can anyone tell me what I’m doing wrong!!!???

 

And now, here’s what worked for me in 2016:

1. Exercise
Last year, my goal was to exercise for 30 minutes four times a week. I can’t say that I’ve fully reached that goal, but I’m closer than I was. On average I exercise three times a week, and I split that between running and doing a Daily Burn routine. David, Amelie, and I continue to do a stretching video at night.

I wish I could tell you I ran my first 10K this year, but I didn’t. I stopped training for it, and I currently stick to my two-mile neighborhood loop (but on hills!!!). I’m interested in running a 10K at some point, but right now I’m okay with what I’m doing.

Whenever people ask me how on earth I find time to read, I tell them, “You make time for what’s important to you. I love reading, so I find time to do it.”

I don’t love exercise, so it’s easy to say, “I’m too busy.” But this year I’ve learned to make it important to me.  And so I’m discovering that I really do have time to do it; even more than that, I start to feel really uptight and restless if I’ve gone a couple of days with out it.

 

2. Switching back to normal shampoo and conditioner.
If you’re newer to the blog you may be like, “What…!?” Well, a few years ago I went shampoo-free and began using baking soda/water to wash my hair and an apple cider vinegar solution for conditioning. I think that officially crossed the line into way too granola for David, but he indulged me.

I did it for three years and then all of a sudden, at some point this year, I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” So I stopped! I picked up a bottle of normal, chemical-filled $3 shampoo from Target and have never looked back.

My hair smells so nice now.

I will say that when I wasn’t using shampoo I could go longer between washing my hair, and I miss that. I don’t like the way my hair already looks oily at the end of one day. But I still try to go two days between washing and use dry shampoo from time to time.

 

3. Getting highlights
Apparently since I began dumping chemicals on my head again, I felt like the next logical step was to go all the way and get highlights (it’s a slippery slope, you guys).

I highlighted my hair blond all throughout college and have always missed it. This year I looked at photos of myself, post-adoption, mid-anxiety disorder, and thought, “Oh dear. I look haggard.” And so the natural solution to any problem? Highlights!!

Do I need them? Nope. Are they a luxury? Yes.

But I love having them. They remind me of sunnier places, like Orlando and Barbados, and while I really don’t mind looking older, I enjoy looking just a little less exhausted. I love my friend Erin at Roxy Salon in the Vista, who’s been cutting my hair for years. She knows I won’t get my roots done but a couple times a year, so she makes them very natural. No one really notices in fact.

But I do! And they make me happy.

 

4. Simplifying dinners, printing recipes, and our Sunday food tradition
I still meal plan weekly and have been trying to take the guesswork out of it as much as possible by simplifying our schedule:

Monday – Soup or Pasta, Tuesday – Mexican, Wednesday – leftovers, Thursday – Indian, Friday – homemade pizza, Saturday – burgers with David’s parents.

We’ve also come up with a Sunday meal tradition and we do the same thing every single week. Breakfast is oatmeal with lots of toppings, then for lunch, David and I eat a salad topped with canned wild caught salmon mixed with lemon juice and mayo (the kids have sandwiches). Then if we’re home we have Breakfast for Dinner in the evening (usually bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches or homemade waffles).

I really enjoy having every single meal figured out for that one day.

My friend Alison was visiting last month and showing me some of her favorite recipes in a binder, and I thought, I need one of these! I found an old plain black three-ring binder in our house, filled it with page protectors, and now print out any favorite or go-to recipe. I really, really don’t like following recipes from the laptop or iPad, and this binder is becoming one of my new favorite things in the kitchen.

I went over to my mother-in-law’s house and told her about our brilliant revelation, and she proceeded to immediately pull out her own bursting-at-the-seams binder of recipes. It seems the idea isn’t so new after all.

 

5. Bullet journal!
David and I been devotedly using a bullet journal for two solid months now and we’ll never go back to a regular calendar or dayplanner. Never fear, this topic will get a post all its own next week!

 

6. Using Goodreads to track my reading
For the first time last year I actually wrote down every book I read in a Word document and wrote about it here. This year I decided to use Goodreads instead. It’s been a much better way to track my reading, and from time to time I’ve found a great book while browsing the website. I really enjoy seeing the book cover images as I scroll back through my reading list.

 

7. Waiting for our home addition
This time last year I said, “If our master bedroom addition is finished by next Christmas, I’ll be happy.” I thought I was being terribly generous with that timeline.

Well here I am a year later. Still waiting. Not even sure when the addition will begin, much less be completed.

Last year I wrote “One bathroom for a family of 6” in my “What’s not working” list, but you know what? Clearly it is working. It’s all a matter of perspective, no?

In 12 months we haven’t had one single bathroom accident (although we’ve come close), and I potty-trained my fourth and last child in about two square feet of space.

Having said that, full confession; I was taking a shower just yesterday when yet another kid came in the bathroom to poop and I just burst into (silent) tears. I know, I know, one day our children will all be teenagers and won’t want to be in the same room with us, much less poop in the same room, and we’ll look back on this season wistfully. I’m looking forward to that time.

Here’s to laughing a little more and crying a little less about our home inconveniences!

 

8. Counseling/therapy

It was difficult for me to make the choice to begin counseling this year, but I’m very glad I did. I plan to write a bit more about my anxiety in the new year, but in summary: taking medication, exercising, getting enough sleep all helps with symptoms. But going back to counseling helped me realize that there were some underlying issues that, unless addressed, would’ve landed me right back in the same situation again and again.

It’s hard work, and even after a few months I can’t say I look forward to going, but I’ve begun to find some noticeable healing in my illness, and so it’s been worth every minute.

 

9. Being married to a preacher

I end with this because it’s one of the very tangible gifts of going to counseling: honestly, when I began, I did  not want to be married to a preacher anymore. I told David, “I don’t want to do this, I want you to find a different job.” I was in a desperate place, and also I think, burned out.

My counselor helped me examine some of those feelings and begin to distinguish that the problem isn’t David’s job as a pastor, the problem is my driving need to perform and please people and protect my reputation.

She helped me realize that yes, there are unique challenges to ministry, but if those are my underlying motivations in life, I will be burned out and unhappy whether David’s a pastor or an engineer. That’s not our church’s responsibility; it’s my responsibility.

Now I can say, at the end of 2016, that I’m very happy once again with our calling. David loves his work, and his enthusiasm is contagious. This year he’s done a better job than ever of learning boundaries and guarding family time and help me be free to disconnect in some areas so I could heal and find things that bring me joy.

Our family loves our church. So, so much.

I overheard Amelie saying the other day, “We’re so lucky that our dad’s a pastor.”

Happy New Year, friends!

 

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the post i was going to write.

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I had a great post planned for today.

A couple of friends asked me to write on navigating life with young children as an introvert, and I’m only too happy to oblige.

I’ve been thinking on it for a couple of weeks now, anxious to share all these things I’ve been learning. I have some new systems in place. A tighter, more effective daily schedule! Fewer commitments! Less time on social media! But the more I tried to get my thoughts out of my head and wrestle this blog post into submission, the more I seemed to notice my real life, hitting me over the head like a 2×4. In short, the more miserable I became.

So today I’m going to write about something different: my sin.

You know, I have this growing resentment in my heart as I struggle to reconcile the Julie in my head with the Julie in real life. But I’m doing everything right! I’m making better choices. I do have a better daily schedule so that I get one-on-one time with each kid. I read a book during afternoon rest time instead of browsing Pinterest and Instagram. I get weekly time out by myself. I hardly ever even watch TV!

And yet. I’m so tired. And miserable. I work and work and work, and still, deep down have this gnawing, ever-present knowledge that I’m not a good mom.

It is hard parenting four small children as an introvert. You know what? It’s hard parenting small children period, whether you have one or six, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. The mundane-ness of life, day after day, with the laundry and making dinner and sibling quarrels is enough to make me crazy.

I’m making some good choices, but I’m still failing. Every single day I beg God, “Make me a better mom. A better wife. Make me less selfish. Please, I beg You.”

And yet, here I am.

I snap at my kids every.single.day. Multiple times a day. I correct them for stupid, meaningless things, like chewing food with their mouth open and spilling water and wiggling too much at the dinner table.

I’m so negative. I have a real problem controlling my tongue. I criticize David and the kids way too much. I have impossible expectations of Gabe and Noah, who are very little boys who make a lot of messes and noise and are doing their best to learn to obey.

I want my house to be unrealistically clean.

I want “please” and “thank you” every time I do something for someone. I want gratitude, darnit.

I want my kids to dress nice and have good manners so that I look like a good mom.

Also, I want to be left alone. I want space to sit and breathe and read a book without little hands pushing and pulling and stroking my hair and endless questions. Oh, the questions.

I want my husband to come home from an exhausting day at work and I want to dump the kids on him and say, “I’m done. Here. You do something with them.”

I see my kids faces when they look at me, the way they sit up a little straighter and also brace themselves, just a little, for whatever word of correction I have to dole out in that moment. The way they try so hard to please me.

Do you know how it makes me feel to look back and read everything I just wrote?

Like crap. I hate it.

This week our family was invited for dinner at someone’s house, a family who were total strangers to us. It went really well! Especially for all the anxiety I’ve had this year. I made it through the whole evening and felt happy. We all talked and laughed and my kids were polite and actually ate the dinner they served and played great with their kids and we exchanged numbers when we left. They really liked us!

We left and my heart swelled with happiness and satisfaction over a job well done.

And then the very next afternoon I’m standing in my kitchen, yelling at Gabe for something he said.

I laid on the couch and said to God, “I can’t do this. It’s too hard. It’s impossible for me to live for my family the way I live for other people. I can’t keep up the performance for them. They see the real me. ”

Aha.

So I guess that’s at the heart of all this.

In truth, I know that I’m impressive to other people. I know that I’m friendly and easy to talk to and can be called upon to give good advice from time to time. I speak sweetly to my children in public and have taught them nice manners. I stay home full-time and I homeschool but I’m also a pastor’s wife! I like to make people feel welcome!

Do you know what God up and did this year?

He took all of that impressive-ness away from me.

He said, “No.”

He took away the ministry and the girl nights and all the affirmation highs I live off of like an addict, and allowed me to start disappointing people by saying, “No” a whole lot. And you know what He left me with?

My house and my family.

Here, people are not so impressed with me. Here I don’t get quite so many compliments.

Why should I?

My family knows what friends and acquaintances do not: that I’m a very average person, with some strengths, yes, but with many, many weaknesses. It seems I cannot go one full day without yelling at my kids or choosing myself over my husband or puffing up with pride because of how good I can pull it together in public.

It seems I can’t do one nice thing without expecting a “thank you.”

It seems I can’t sit and focus all of my attention on one child without the distractions of my phone or that mess on the couch or the school list.

Is that real ministry? Is that serving “with a happy heart” like I try to teach my children?

I think not.

To me, serving has always been something I do outside of my home.

Well, God has taken much of that away from me. I’ve been shocked by the feelings of anger and worthlessness it’s dredged up. And after I got over those feelings, I get to face the cold, hard truth: that it’s way easier to spend time with and serve people I know just a little than those I know a lot — those who know me inside and out.

And my pride is such that I’d way rather confess my sin and ask for prayer from my small group friends than from my family.

Our Advent catechism this week says,

“What is it to repent?”

“To be sorry for sin, and to hate and forsake it because it is displeasing to God.”

Each morning around the dining table, Advent candles lit, the kids and I have recited this catechism together. We’ve broken down the phrases and defined the words. But this morning I said to my kids, “Do you know what sin displeases God today?” They asked, “What?” And I said, “My sin.”

I proceeded to tell them a little about my sin. I told them how wrong it is, that I do not have a happy heart, that I am often unkind to them, and very selfish with my time, and care more about how I look on the outside than how my heart is on the inside. I listed some of the ways I disobey God.

I told them that I want to hate and forsake my sin. I asked them to forgive me. I prayed then and there, that God will forgive me and help me.

Then, gulp, I told them I want them to tell me when I’m using unkind words or an unkind tone of voice — if I speak to them that way, if I speak to their siblings that way. After all, don’t I get to do that for them?

I said, “I’m your Mommy and God still wants you to obey, but I’m displeasing Him if I tell you what to do in a mean way or when I’m too harsh and critical with you guys. That’s wrong.” This gives you an insight into the real me — Judah’s first question was, “But what if telling you that makes you even more mad?” And I said, “I really, really hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, then tell me that too. I trust that the Holy Spirit is living inside me and will show me my sin.”

Do you know what happened there at the table?

It was like a huge load rolled off my shoulders.

The despair, the oppression of this week seemed to melt away as my precious, noisy children each looked me in the eye and said, “I forgive you, Mommy.”

They are, after all, kids, so we almost immediately moved on to other things, to reading aloud and coloring and getting ready to go to the park, and no one’s mentioned it since (oh, the humbling ability of children to forgive and forget in mere seconds).

I realize that nothing is solved, exactly.

I still don’t know how to live in my house as an introvert. Clearly you now realize I’m probably not the best person to ask.

I know I will sin against God and against everyone in my family before this day is up.

But I’m not feeling resentful any more. I’m feeling more than a little humbled, more than a little chastened. I go to the park and look at the people around me and know that I’m no better than any of them, even with a dinner plan for tonight and well-behaved children and cute shoes. I don’t have to endlessly prove to God what a good Mom and good wife I am, because I’m not.

And I’m feeling like maybe all of this — all of it — is a good thing. Maybe there are even more lessons to be learned right here, in this house, with these people.

I’m closing my computer now, to go see them.



backyard progress.

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I’ve had these photos in the queue for a couple weeks, waiting for a blog post, but David’s been working so hard that they’re are already outdated. Ah well. I’ll show you what I’ve got and next week I’ll post some more!

But first, a quick trip down memory lane. We bought this house because we had a vision for our backyard. We hoped the fact that the house was small (1,450 square feet)  would give us a good nudge to spend more time outside. In essence, we wanted to make a little homestead, complete with an “outdoor living room” where we could read and play and work and be. We knew that all of this would take time and money and work, but we felt it would be worth it.

Here’s a reminder of what we started with, just over three years ago. We did have the concrete slab, but other than that the yard was quite overgrown with pine trees, ivy, shrubs, and weeds (and a random light post).

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The two biggest projects we had done in our first year of home ownership were to have a privacy fence installed and 8 pine trees removed. David (and sometimes our friends) also did lots and lots of clearing, and he put in a raised garden bed — and rebuilt it when it was crushed during pine tree removal. Oh yeah, and built a play house from scratch, no big deal. David is nothing if not an overachiever.

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The very same month that his parents moved here from Pennsylvania, David corralled his dad to help build the pavilion, which our friend Spencer designed for us. And Steve has been very kindly doing projects for us ever since. Actually my mother-in-law and I have a joke: when I really want something done around the house, I ask Steve to do it, and when she wants something done, she asks David.

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We finished the pavilion, we adopted two kids, and oddly enough, house and yard projects were nearly non-existent for a year.

The trampoline is the best investment we never made in our yard: it was a hand-me-down from some neighbors — right before Gabe and Noah came to live with us —  and has gotten more use than anything else in the yard.

We did decide to hire a landscape architect from a local nursery to give us a design for the entire backyard. This summer when we were ready to start seriously considering landscaping, we had two different companies come give us a quote for the backyard and were dumbfounded by the cost to have the yard landscaped for us.

So David decided to take those plans and work around the yard himself piece by piece. We’re saving money by buying smaller size plants than the landscaper recommended and mulching with pine straw and doing lots of watering the old-fashioned way. Our shrubs and trees will grow and fill out over time — if there’s anything we’re learning as home-owners, it’s that patience is a virtue.

And so, my friends, here’s where we stand today:

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If I had to sum this process up, I’d say the first three years felt like a whole lot of work and waiting. We’ve always enjoyed our backyard, but when we looked around, all we saw were the projects. More and more and more to be done.

But these days, we’re having so much fun with our yard. Of course there’s still more to do, but we’ve both been thrilled with the impact of beginning to landscape the borders, while we’re also keeping up with the vegetable garden.

Now don’t get me wrong: I do almost none of the grunt labor. My side of the bargain includes runs to the local nursery to buy what we need, and holding down the fort with kids and meals and laundry while David weeds and digs and plants.

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You know what I find interesting about my battle with anxiety? It’s keeping me home more, and therefore making me open my eyes to what’s right here, in front of me.

Who would’ve thought I’d ever start gardening? That I’d care to learn the difference between a Camellia Sasanqua and a Japonica? That I’d remember to water both indoor and outdoor plants on a regular basis?

That I’d find joy in it?

Moreover, I’m surprised by the way running my hands through the dirt and emptying a red plastic Solo cup of water onto the base of a plant calms my very spirit.

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I’m still a very, very beginning gardener. There’s so much I need to learn, like when to prune shrubs and to buy my potted mums before they’ve bloomed so they’ll last longer. David and I are a team; some days he weeds and waters, some days I do.

But I’d say the big difference is that these days I’m interested. I want to learn this new vocabulary. I daydream about what annuals to plant in the little bed next to the pavilion next spring, collect plant clippings from my mom, and ask my mother-in-law how to deal with the slugs that seem to be taking over our yard this month (ugh). I adore popping by the nursery during my afternoon out and peppering the staff with my questions.

Isn’t it funny how embracing a new hobby is like having a light bulb turned on? You suddenly see the world in a different way. On my run I study neighbors’ trees and bushes and try hard to remember their names. I reread At Home in Mitford and notice every single reference to Father Tim’s garden, building it in my mind’s eye.

By now I can tend a planted bed! I found out how to turn my browning aloe plant green again (filtered sunlight)! I can water and pull weeds and clip kale. I can even, under duress, remove and kill the caterpillars that ravage our leafy greens.

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Mostly I feel so very grateful that we haven’t moved, that we’ve stuck it out in this one spot, with its limitations and aches and pains. There is no perfect house. There’s no perfect yard.

But there’s something that feels very right about doing what we can to make this place we live better than we found it. It feels good to take over our yard, bit by bit, to beat back the ivy and the pine needles, and to create new soil with compost and attract butterflies and bees.

There’s something very right and very peaceful about having eyes to see and enjoy right where we are.

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what i’m learning in counseling, take two.

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Hello friends! How are you this weekend?

I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile, mulling it over in my head.

I think when I last talked about my anxiety here, I mentioned looking for a good therapist. This is “Take Two” for me, because I saw a counselor for several years in my twenties when I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It was enormously helpful and a gift from God. She now lives overseas and we transitioned to just being good friends once our official counseling relationship was over.

You’d think because I had this wonderful experience, I’d be fine with diving back in this time around. But actually the opposite happened.

It’s hard to go to counseling, period, in my opinion. It’s hard to hold up a magnifying glass to your junk, week after week. It’s hard to start over with someone new. It’s hard to take the risk, worrying all the time about the awkwardness of quitting if you don’t connect with him/her.

So basically I procrastinated as long as possible. And I’ll admit there was some pride in there, some thoughts of, I’ve done the counseling thing. I know the right answers. I actually counsel other people now and give them answers. I can beat this on my own.

But my stress just grew and grew, until a couple of people said, “Julie, you need to do this. You need help. You need someone to talk to who isn’t your family or your church.”

And right around that time another friend remembered knowing a therapist who has a big family, who’s adopted kids, one as a baby and one as an older child. That felt like the magic answer. Someone who understands in a unique way the exact season I’m in right now.

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I prayed hard and contacted her and sure enough, she had an opening to see me.

That didn’t mean it was easy to go. Last month, when I started, my symptoms were about at their worst. Leaving the house to be in any social setting felt terrifying. Attending Life Group or Book Club was impossible. I would try to do a play date and have to load all my kids up in the van, shaking and sick, to drive back home. I couldn’t handle going to the wine shop for a bottle of wine because it meant I had to make conversation with the owner.

The best way I know to describe it is: I just want to be invisible. I don’t want anyone looking at me, talking to me, asking questions. I want to disappear.

Honestly I’ve lived quite a long time with that swelling undercurrent of anxiety and have brushed it aside. I know all the best ways to hide it in public, to be quite functional in my life. I’ve just pressed on and pushed through, acknowledging something wasn’t right but not really listening to the warning signals. But my mind and body were screaming, “You have to stop.”

And suddenly, I stopped. I hit a wall.

That was when I started to see my counselor.

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At the beginning it was dreadful because, 1. A counseling session generally takes place in a small room (why, why is it in a small room? I want to beg all my doctors to see me outside), and 2. Someone is sitting, looking at me, asking probing questions.

Which is why I found myself before Appointment Number Two sitting out in my van gasping for breath and wanting with everything in me to turn around and drive back home. David called me right at that moment and prayed for me and talked me through it. I knew I could turn around and leave, but if I wanted to get better I needed to make the choice to stick it out.

I walked into her office, basically ignored her greeting, and said, “I’m sorry. Can I just say something?” She said, “Sure.” And I launched in with a flood of tears, “I don’t want to be here. I do not want to talk to you. I can’t handle this.”

That was hard.

Sitting and crying the ugly cry in front of a total stranger was hard.

But she was pretty chill about it. She said, “Okay, tell me about it.”

And so we began.

I have to say that was the absolute lowest point. I was sitting hunched over in this tiny office, every muscle in my body tensed. And we talked, and talked some more. I’d just taken a couple of personality tests and we went over the results and she mentioned possibilities about me that fit like a glove. She wasn’t staring, probing, asking me to talk. She was giving me tools, saying, “Could this be a reason you are where you are?”

And I can’t say why, but that was an enormous relief. Throughout that hour, my body relaxed in tiny increments, until by the end I’d eased back into the sofa, chatting and laughing.

Having someone describe my personality, my responses to stress, my tendencies in a way that made sense normalized everything. From that moment on I’ve ceased to feel like I’m spiraling out of control. Someone else has told me about me in a simple, matter-of-fact way. Someone gets why I’m panicking in weird ways and doesn’t think I’m losing it. She just thinks I’m very stressed and tired and on overload.

I’m beginning to have some good ideas of how I got into this state.

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Friends,

This is a long, winding way to tell you: I’m going to be okay.

That’s what I’m learning in Therapy, Take Two.

I’ll write about some of the specifics as they crystallize in my mind. But that counseling appointment was a real turning point in my struggle. I’ve been to see her twice since then and haven’t felt any of the panic or fear. We talk and she helps me take a step back and look at my responses to life and responses to stress, and it puts things into perspective. She doesn’t tolerate my drama (“My life is falling apart,” “I’ll never do ____ again,” “I’m a failure.”), but she does it in a kind way.

The anxiety is getting somewhat better, I think.

I still have hard days. This weekend I had to back out of going to the beach with a group of women I love very much, because groups are still terribly hard for me.

That was a difficult decision, but I was surprised to find myself at peace with it.

The old me would’ve lived under a mountain of guilt and shame for a decision like that.

I’ve put some very unrealistic expectations on myself and have been caught up in a cycle of perfectionism, pride, and self-loathing that aren’t healthy. It can seem like a badge of honor to say, “Oh, I struggle with perfectionism,” like the person on a job interview who says, “My biggest weakness is that I work too hard.” But the thing is, it’s not good. It’s hurting me and it’s hurting the people around me.

More importantly, it’s not submitting to God, to the way He made me and the season of life He’s put me in. It’s saying, “I know better than You.”

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I’ve had the hardest time this summer — this whole year actually — living under the silence of God. I felt He was blessing me in many ways and yet my anxiety feels like His finger pressing down on me, harder than I can bear.

But the truth is that He’s answering my cries, and the prayers of many around me.

He provided a direction to start in: a new therapist who is just the right fit.

And though I am only at the beginning of this journey of learning peace and humility, I already feel some of the gifts of it. This week was the most beautiful homeschooling week we’ve had yet. I was able to put my energy into creating and learning with my kids and we all loved it.

I’m talking to my husband about what I’m discovering about myself. The idea of what I think he expects from me in my mind is not the reality of what he expects from me. I’m learning to listen and to believe what he says.

I am rooting myself here at home, because that’s the place I have to be in this season. I’m asking God to teach me how to let go of the restless striving, the desire to be anywhere else than where He has me.

I’m baking and cooking more. I’m letting myself drink coffee and eat gluten when I want to. I scrubbed a dozen jars and made two trips to the Indian supermarket and bought a Costco membership and replenished spices and dry goods. I taught myself how to make chapati and have been cooking Indian food.

These small, simple things are bringing me joy.

They don’t feel like settling after all. They’re beginning to feel like gifts.

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how to survive the summer with anxiety.

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This is a hard post for me to write, because I’m still very much in the thick of my anxiety issues.

I wish I could tell you I’m doing better — actually, I take that back. I am doing better, I think.

I have more good days than bad days. It’s just a slower journey than I’d like. If you’ve traveled the path of trying different or more medication, you yourself know that it’s a slow and laborious process. I wish I could write these reflections from closer to the mountain-top. But I’m picking my way over roots and rocks, sweating up the incline.

I love the blog Design Mom, and recently Gabrielle Blair mentioned that, in the midst of her family’s lovely summer in France, she’s been battling depression. It’s an ever-present cloud darkening the otherwise clear horizon. It helped me to read that because I know exactly how she feels. I know how a person can be having a good summer in many ways, yet under-girding it all is this darkness that makes it also a hard summer in many ways.

And so that’s the first way to survive a summer with depression or anxiety:

1. Find the good things.
This is very hard to do. Because mental illness is so distressing, it’s easy to make it the Giant, to think, My whole life is falling apart.

I have to discipline myself to say, “That’s not true. This one part of my life is falling apart, maybe, but not the whole thing.” And then I make myself list the things that are going fine — great, even. Call it a thankful list, call it what you want.

So today I say:

I got out of bed this morning.

I am not having panicky, racing, self-destructive thoughts about having to walk out of a group of people yesterday.

I have energy to make Sunday morning oatmeal for my family.

I can go to church, even if I sit outside in the lobby during the service.

I can meet a new person.

I hate talking about my anxiety, but because I do, there are lots of people who love me, who are praying for me and who are on my team. I can read their texts on my phone when I start to doubt it.

Perhaps my biggest Good Thing, though, is that I do not have panic attacks around David and my kids. I don’t. Am I stressed sometimes? Yes. Could the stress of my current life with four children be perhaps adding to the overall anxiety problem? Maybe, yes. But the fact that I got out of bed today, the fact that I’m functional with my family, that I can talk to them and read them books and make meals and even have dance parties, is a gift that I do not take for granted.

 

2. Face the pain.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, friends, that it is worth it to face your pain.

I’ve had years of counseling to help me work through my issues. At the beginning it was just awful. It made me feel way worse to expose myself like that, give voice to fears and hurts that had such a big hold on my heart. It was raw and humiliating, especially since the mantra I constantly told myself is, I shouldn’t be here. So many people have been through much worse than I have. Why can’t I just get over this?

I couldn’t find one good thing it was accomplishing and I just wanted to quit.

But gradually, it got easier, just as most things do with practice. And as it got easier, it became very helpful, even healing. Counseling not only allowed me to work through my struggles with a wise, trusted person, but it schooled me in a way of life: that we face the hard feelings and we talk about the hard things.

I don’t currently have a therapist, although I’m working on connecting with one who was recently recommended to me. But the counseling I’ve had in the past has put me in the habit of relating to the people around me in an open, honest way. I find people I trust and I keep talking about the hard things. I ask for prayer. I ask for their wisdom. And in it, I find that I am not alone.

If you need any further encouragement to bring your hard places into the light, I will tell you that because of all this work, living with my anxiety and depression today is easier than it was, say, five years ago — even two years ago. I’m able to disconnect it a little more from my core identity. I do not need to numb and distract myself from the pain. I can sit with myself in the silent moments and talk to God about those scary feelings. I wouldn’t have been able to write this blog post from the thick of the struggle five years ago.

 

3. Grow things.
I made a goal of putting a house plant (or two) in every room of our home this summer. That’s because the little snatch of green symbolizes “thriving” to me. Even if I’m not thriving in some areas, I can thrive in others. I can take care of myself. I can be thankful. I can find things that I enjoy to do. I can create a little beauty around me. I can keep a plant alive (I hope).

My sweet family has been sharing with me and giving me plant cuttings, and I’ve visited the clearance rack at Lowe’s (succulents for $1!). My little army is growing, and David said he’s fine with all this greenery but will draw the line if our house begins to look like a jungle.

Yesterday I had to walk outside in the middle of my beloved Book and Tea Club meeting, shaking and gulping for air. I sat and cried because I felt so lonely and because I feel like a stranger to myself. My friends comforted me. And then as we said our goodbyes, one of them, who was hosting us, put a lovely African violet in my hands. She doesn’t even know about my plant thing; she just did it because that’s the kind of person she is.

And it was like a little gift from the God who says, “I see you.”

 

4. Read the Psalms.
A month or so ago I remembered how much good the Psalms were to my soul during our adoption wait. And so I started back at the beginning. I decided to memorize Psalm 16, one of my all-time favorites, because it felt like a small constructive thing I can do.

I’ve also learned that sometimes less is better. This summer I have learned a few one-phrase prayers from the Psalms that I pull out and repeat during the days when I simply have no words of my own:

– Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.

– The Lord is king forever and ever

– I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God

– I love you, O Lord my strength

– the Lord my God lightens my darkness

–  This God — his way is perfect

In the Psalms, I sit with God and learn that he sits with me. He is near to the brokenhearted. Whether I feel it or not, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

The Psalms are a dear companion in this wearying journey of anxiety and depression.

 

5. Accept help.
This looks like different things for different people. Like I said I’m for the most part blessedly functional in my everyday life, so for me it’s looked like relying on others to serve in areas that I’ve been serving.

This is tremendously difficult for me to do; both because I like to be the one in the serving position — I take a measure of pride in it, to be quite honest — and because I don’t want to burden people.

One example: I haven’t even been to my Life Group — the group that I started and that I lead — all summer, much less led it.

And so this baby group of women, most of whom didn’t know each other 8 months ago, has had to grow up fast to compensate for my weakness. They completely astound me. They are kind, compassionate, fun, and have never once made me feel like I’m letting them down. They’re becoming genuine friends with each other, pursuing one another and me too outside of our meeting time. Last week a woman who is both new-ish to our church and a new mom offered to lead the group discussion. She could’ve found a dozen reasons that “now isn’t a good time.” She was nervous to do it, and that meant even more to me. She said, “Julie, never worry about having to be here or to lead. We’re all happy to help you.”

My weakness has made our group strong, because I need them. I’m letting them lead too and so we’re doing it together, sharing both the load and the joy.

God has seen fit to make me a pastor’s wife who needs other people. I feel myself longing to rise up and be strong, and He makes me weak. I don’t understand exactly why. But I love the gifts He’s given me through accepting help from and being ministered to by other people.

 

6. Find what you can do, and give thanks.
I bookend this little list with something like what I said in the beginning, because truly, you have to fight for joy. You have to get yourself in the habit of naming things to be joyful about, and you pray to God for the feelings to one day follow.

Honestly, it’s taken me all summer to get to the place of simply accepting my anxiety (and some moments I still don’t). I’ve spent most of it either blaming myself or wrestling with God. It feels incredibly inefficient of Him. There’s so much more I could do for Him if I wasn’t panicked by being around people.

It’s taking a long, long time for me to learn that my value is not measured by what I do. It’s taking a long time to learn not to live to please people and work to earn God’s approval. It’s taking a long time for me to learn to open my hands and let go of control a little.

Living with anxiety is forcing me to learn some of those things.

A sad truth about me is that I most naturally define “ministry” as what I do outside of my home (or what I do in my home for people outside of my family). In this season of being confined to mostly just my family, God is asking me, “Do you see them as your ministry, Julie? If you aren’t growing in patience and kindness with David and your kids first, then you’ll never be truly patient and kind with other people. If you aren’t practicing the art of sitting and turning your attention on your kids or husband and being a good listener to them, then you aren’t really a good listener. The rest is just a show.”

This is one of the lessons my anxiety is teaching me.

And it’s something to give thanks for.

While my value is not in what I do, it is still important to find ways that I can serve other people, right here and now, both in my family and out. Because serving is what gets me outside of my own head, it helps me see the people around me and learn that they have struggles too. It helps me move toward them in compassion. It keeps me from feeling paralyzed by giving me small goals and small victories.

So maybe I can’t have people over for dinner, but I can make a meal for a family who just had a baby.

I can’t go out for coffee with someone, but I can send a card in the mail.

I can’t sit in the church service, but I can meet people beforehand and make them feel welcome (oddly, this is one thing that doesn’t cause me anxiety right now, and I’m very grateful for it).

I can’t speak in front of a group, but I can write a blog post.

I can help in the nursery once a month and run around after two-year-olds.

I can listen to David and help him process his job and brainstorm for sermons and meetings. I can make his breakfast smoothies and iron his shirts and watch the CrossFit Games with him, and try to make his life at home just a little more joyful.

I can pray.

I cling to these few things, and I try to do them well and let the others go right now. I trust God to use other people to help do what I can’t. I cling to hope that one day I’ll be myself again and find joy in the things that used to bring me joy.

If you are someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, then I pray the same for you.



life with anxiety and depression, part 2.

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This is the second post in a two-part series about my journey with anxiety and depression (here’s Part One). I’ve wanted to write about my experience in more detail for years. But until now I just wasn’t ready. In fact, I’d get close to a panic attack even imagining exposing myself like this in public.

It’s quite a victory that I’m sitting here, writing this for you today, and that I feel peace. It’s a sign that God is freeing me (still slowly, friends) from my fierce desire to protect my image and reputation and be strong. As I hide myself in Him rather than hide my brokenness from people, His love frees me to be real with you and with the other people in my life.

Here are five things that help me right now:

 

1. I expect to struggle. Remember I told you about how emotional I get when I panic in crowds? Well in the last few weeks, I’ve moved past some of that because I now go into social situations expecting them to be hard. Truly, it makes all the difference. Instead of being caught off guard, I’m prepared. I take a Xanax when I’m headed to a crowded place or leading Life Group or writing a difficult blog post. I sit close to the door. I get a glass of water. I walk outside or to the restroom and work on my abdominal breathing.

David has been the truest and best of friends in this journey. He told me, “Babe, I don’t care if you sit out in the lobby every single Sunday during the church service, or go sit in the kitchen when I’m teaching our New Members class. Of course I don’t want you to suffer, but your identity is not in sitting with me. You’re free to do whatever you need to do to.” I can’t tell you the relief I feel hearing this, when my mind is telling me the opposite: “You’re failing; you’re letting him down.”

 

2. Instead of fighting to escape the anxiety in the moment, I picture God sitting with me in it. I remember that it will pass. This I learned from years with my counselor and good friend, Ulla, and also in a tangible form from the love of my husband and close friends. You can get in a troublesome battle of fighting anxiety and panic attacks, and that only makes the cycle worse.

And so I’m learning not to fight. I’m learning that this is something that’s happening to me, but it’s not who I am, at my core. At my core I’m unshaken. I’m forgiven. There’s no condemnation for me. I am whole in Christ. And He sits with me when I feel worthless. He clothes me with worth like the whitest of garments.

I’m learning to say to myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen in this moment? It’s that I will have a panic attack. And that has already happened, and I’ve survived it. I will survive it again.”

 

3. I talk about it. I mentioned this to you before, but now at age 34, I’m telling people more openly in person and on this blog that I struggle. That’s so hard, and makes me feel humiliated. But I cannot tell you how God is using it to help me. It’s strange how all these years my worst fear was that people would somehow find out I’m broken (or, as I shared in my Life Group, that they’ll figure out I’m the crazy person in the room); and yet now I’m telling them — they are finding out — and this exposure has become the very thing that’s helping me most. My worst fear is evaporating.

God has made me, the pastor’s wife — the one who ministers to others — experience seasons of deep struggle and darkness. And I am in need of being ministered to. I need help from people. It has deepened every one of my relationships. My friends and family love me and comfort me. Some of them they tell me that they too struggle — something I would never have known if I hadn’t opened up. Sometimes they say, “I’m the crazy person in the room too.”

When we’re at a crowded wedding, they ask if I want to go sit at the end of the aisle so I can breathe easier. When we’re sitting, visiting in a tiny city hospital room with no windows, they ask, “Is this hard for you? No wonder — it’s suffocating in here!” and I can say, “Yes, it is actually.”

You know what? Sometimes we even laugh about it. We can joke about how “Julie needs an escape plan” at all times. I can’t tell you the relief I’ve found in beginning to not take myself quite so seriously, and having friends who know the not-so-pretty parts of me and love me anyway.

And when my children are a little bit older, I’m going to talk to them too. In simple, age-appropriate ways, I will tell them that Mommy struggles with these things. It is not on their shoulders to fix me or make me not sad or stressed any more. I want to remove the stigma of mental illness for them. I’m not a victim.

As much as I pray against it, with four children, the chances are fairly high that it will touch at least one of them at some point in their lives, and when it does, I’ll be here. I don’t want to project my experiences onto them; I  just want to walk alongside them, as someone who understands. I’m not scared of mental illness anymore.

 

4. I try to take care of myself physically. For awhile I obsessed about my diet, convinced that what I ate or didn’t eat could solve my anxiety problems. I researched the thing to death and listened to way too many voices and tried elimination diets and generally made myself and my family miserable. Last year I needed to take a break from my various diets for awhile to break free from that obsession.

Now I think I’ve found a more healthy balance. I still eat mostly gluten-free, simply because it helps me feel better. Consuming less sugar lessens my anxiety. But I do make exceptions sometimes, and I don’t beat myself up for it.

I quit drinking coffee a couple months ago when my panic attacks were at their worst. That was heart-breaking! I adore coffee. But I’m now enjoying my hot tea habit, and feeling so much better, and I still treat myself to the occasional cup of coffee. It’s not that coffee caused my anxiety, but it did make my symptoms worse.

I’m exercising several times a week. I’m running a 10K race in May with a friend, and I can’t tell you how good it is for my struggles with low self-esteem to simply set a fitness goal and work to meet it. When I complete a run (I’m using a 5K to 10K app on my phone for guidance), I feel good about myself, like I was able to make one small, good, tangible choice toward being physically and mentally healthy.

 

5. I take medication. I don’t love being on medication, but I decided years ago that I was going to do whatever it took to be a good, stable wife to David and mom to my children. I feel discouraged knowing I may need to be on medication all my life, even as I’m tremendously grateful for modern medicine and my doctor who helps me be able to function and be emotionally present for my family. Of course I’m still a sinner who sins against my family, but medication makes me so much more stable, so that I don’t take out my struggles on the people I love the most.

Now, the downside of medication is that there are always side effects. For me, the hardest one is a lack of energy. I need medication in order to sleep through the night, but it’s strong, so I have to take it and know that I’ll be able get 7-8 hours of sleep or I’ll feel drugged the next day. This makes evenings pretty inflexible, and if I have to wake up in the night with my kids, I really struggle the following day. I miss being able to stay up late chatting with girl friends or spring out of bed at 5:30 or 6 in the morning with lots of energy.

It’s always a struggle to wake up, like trying to find my way out from under a thick blanket, and I’m still sleepy when I do wake up. I don’t feel as inspired to write or be creative on my medication. I actually wrote my Purposeful Simplicity series a year ago during a break from taking medication, and I’m not sure I could’ve done it otherwise. I suffered afterwards with terrible insomnia and anxiety, but it was so nice to have the energy to just write and write. I loved it. I miss it.

I learn to live with these limitations, but sometimes I ask the Lord, “Why do I have to do this? I’m so thankful for medicine that helps me function, but I miss the energy of the old me. How long, O Lord?” I know that if He doesn’t choose to heal me here on earth, one day I’ll be with Him in heaven and my body and mind will be whole and free. I can’t wait for that day.

In the meantime I am so very grateful He’s given me the resources I need to be stable.

——

Thank you for letting me share all of this with you.

Yes, I’ve had the occasional cursory and unhelpful comments from people, “You should pray more,” “Confess your anxiety to God,” “Cut ____ out of your diet,” “Try _____ natural method,” (which, believe me, I’ve most likely already tried).

But these people are by far the minority. Most everyone I tell says, “Thank you for being willing to share this. I’m sorry.” They ask questions. They listen. They talk to me in a deeper way about some form of suffering or addiction in their lives. They say that they’re relieved to hear I’m just like them because they always thought I had it all together.

If anyone who struggles with depression and anxiety comes to me looking for advice, I tell them what I’ve learned; that the best approach is holistic. We are whole people: body and mind and spirit, and so any healing path has to involve tending to all of these things.

So, yes to counseling and working through your issues (I say that with a caveat because there can be bad counselors/therapists or simply a bad fit for you, and when that happens, please stop seeing them and try someone else).

Yes, to medication.

Yes, to eating well and regular exercise and getting good sleep.

Yes, to trying natural, alternative healing methods, if you’d like.

Yes, to being part of a church community that teaches the gospel and encourages you in truth, a place where you can take off your mask and be real and be known.

Yes, to pouring out your heart to Jesus and confessing your sin and asking Him to use suffering for good in your life.

Yes, to telling your friends that you struggle and finding safe people who will walk with you in a boldly compassionate way.

And, as a wise person once told me, you may try all of those things, and find help, but never find total deliverance, and that is because our world is fallen and we are all stained by sin.

But hear this, friends: We have a Savior who died and was raised again and sits at the right hand of God. He is King over all, and so if we’ve put our trust in Him, we have nothing to fear from any kind of illness — mental or otherwise. Our King will come back for us and He’ll wipe away our tears and give us new bodies and minds, and we’ll live worshiping Him forever.

One day we won’t even remember what depression and anxiety feel like.

There will just be joy.



life with anxiety and depression, part 1.

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Hi there! After telling you about my recent struggles with anxiety and panic attacks here, and receiving feedback from you guys and others, I wanted to talk some more.

I do this, not because its easy for me, but because if you are someone who lives with these battles at all, I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you know someone who struggles, I pray that you’ll come alongside them and just be a friend. Please don’t try to fix it, just sit with them and love them and listen. Ask them what is helpful for them in their low moments. Their mental health is their responsibility, not yours, but you can love them where they are.

This is a two-part series. In this first post, I thought it might be helpful to explain how it feels to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I think people who aren’t personally acquainted with this disorder think it means simply to worry too much, or for a Christian, to lack faith in God. I think worry and lack of faith in God is a human condition; we all struggle with that at some point because we are broken and sinful.

But what I am speaking about here is something more pervasive; it’s an actual illness. I was diagnosed with clinical depression three years ago (after our return from India); thankfully this is not something I am currently battling, although honestly, it’s come on me suddenly, without warning, in different seasons. So there is a pretty good chance I’m going to face it again at some point.

I’ll attempt to differentiate between the two for you. Everyone has their own unique experience and so I’m by no means an authority on the subject. I can just tell you about me.

For me, depression is a thick cloud that seeps into every area of my life. It’s lack of energy. It’s a desire to sleep or sometimes to watch lots of TV in order to escape the darkness. It’s feeling a deep despair about both the right now and the future. Sometime, at its worst, it’s not wanting to live any more. The thing that saddens me most about depression is that I can choose to look around and believe in God’s goodness and I can keep my thankful list, but all the joy has seeped out of my life.

Anxiety is different than depression. I feel it as a sharp prickling fear around the edges of my consciousness. For me it involves physical symptoms such as an upset stomach and a pounding heart and shaking all over. It’s obsessing over something small and being unable to stop, until the obsession switches to something else. I know it’s irrational, I know it’s not rooted in reality, but I feel trapped inside a body and mind who respond as if the danger is real.

I have social anxiety, which means often I will leave an event or conversation and feel panicked that I said or did the wrong thing. It’s feeling exposed and wanting to hide. It’s feeling terrified about losing my good reputation. It’s feeling alone. It’s living with a low-grade impatience and irritability in life in general, and snapping at my family and having intense mood swings, and then feeling deeply ashamed and hating myself for treating them badly.

For me, depression is despair, and anxiety is feeling worthless. Sometimes it’s wanting to hurt myself to avoid the choking feelings of worthlessness, to have something else to think about. At its very worst, anxiety feels like I don’t deserve to live.

My doctor said what turns the tide from anxiety to Generalized Anxiety Disorder is that while regular anxiety is typically tied to a specific experience or event, GAD is present all the time, even when life is good. Here is the Mayo Clinic list of symptoms if you want to know more.

Panic attacks are a tightness in my chest and suddenly feeling like I can’t breathe, or that I can’t escape. Sometimes I feel nauseated. Waves of panic and worthlessness rise up and wash over me. A panic disorder is struggling repeatedly with panic attacks in situations that don’t warrant those extreme reactions. It’s being caught up in a cycle of fearing those panic attacks, and so wanting to avoid people and situations that trigger them.

I wouldn’t wish these experiences on anyone, they truly are awful. If you’ve ever felt this way, I am very, very sorry. I know how it feels to be at the bottom.

But, I’m here today to tell you that there is so much hope. Even as God has chosen to weave this suffering into my story, He’s brought redemption in it. He has chipped away at the pride I cling to and humbled me, and perhaps best of all, helped me love people in a more compassionate way.

I mentioned before that I used to think healing and growth would involve freedom from anxiety and depression. For some people, it does; especially when a particularly hard season of loss eases. But that is not the path God has chosen for me. I don’t understand it, but I trust Him. I know that He loves me and that He could lift this in a moment if He chose to. But He doesn’t, and so I wait on Him.

On Friday, I’ll give you some of the ways God is helping me live with depression and anxiety.



thirty-four.

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So I turned thirty-four last weekend!

If you’re a pastor’s wife, Sunday isn’t the luckiest day to have a birthday, but David and our family made the weekend special. ONE of my children also made me a card, and I’ll let you guess which gender the child is!

It feels a bit strange to be thirty-four. To some of you that probably seems old, and to some it’s quite young. But to me . . . I don’t know. I’ve reached my mid-thirties, which means forty is right around the corner. I see crow’s feet in the mirror when I smile, and my feet ache when I wear cheap shoes all day, and this year I discovered my first gray hair.

I don’t mind getting older though. When I was young I thought youth was the prime of life. I thought I’d like to be thirty, because that might mean I’d be married with a kid or two, but beyond that, I figured it was all downhill.

Now I laugh at my younger, foolish self.

Growing older is truly such a blessing. I think maybe the greatest gift it brings is that of perspective.

I’m every day humbled by the realization of how sinful I am, how far I have to go to look like Jesus, but now that I have three and a half decades under my belt, I am also more hopeful because I see how far I’ve come.

I recognize that I’m able, just a tad bit more, to let things go that I used to hold so fiercely to. What people think of my decisions. Being right. My reputation. Seeing people as all-good or all-bad. I’m a little quicker to let go of my pride and confess my sins. The view from thirty-four holds a good deal more gray in it than black-and-white.

At the same time, the truths I believe in are more certain than ever, because I’ve lived them. God is good. He takes care of me. He doesn’t always give me what I want, but He always gives me what I need. He forgives me. He’s making me more like Jesus. He loves the people I love even more than I do. He’s faithful in suffering. He never leaves.

I can bank my life on these promises. And the thing I love is if I feel this way at thirty-four, how much more will I feel it at fifty-four? Sixty-four?

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In a small way I’m in one of those suffering seasons right now, the kind of season that desperately needs the perspective that thirty-four (or even older) can bring.

I’ve lived all my adult life with the presence of depression and anxiety. Since being diagnosed in my early twenties, I’ve taken many steps to manage what has at times been a crippling illness. I have spent years in counseling and taking medication and learning how to manage stress and building strong friendships where I can be real.

And I have managed it. I’ve experienced countless victories through this journey.

But the bewildering thing about being thirty-four is that those victories don’t include God taking my depression and anxiety away.

For the most part the anxiety has been generalized, but about a year ago I began having panic attacks in crowds of people. If the first example of a situation you think of is church on Sunday, you’d be right. Yes, I’m a pastor’s wife who suddenly became unable to sit in a church service. I’d be okay somewhere like the mall, but not sitting in a crowded room with people surrounding me on all sides and no quick access to the door.

If the door is actually closed, that’s double trouble.

So I sort of felt myself unraveling as I found myself in situations that were previously okay, and suddenly, here I am, struggling to breathe and shaking and kind of falling apart.

This past year has been a journey in dealing with that specific kind of anxiety, or panic disorder. I already see a psychiatrist, and she has helped adjust the cocktail of medication I take, to allow for this.

In addition to that, I worked so hard all year. I practiced breathing and talked to people who’d been through similar struggles and learned some techniques for dealing with the situations that were the hardest. I went from sitting out in the lobby at Tapp’s on Sunday mornings, to sitting in the very back by the door, to finally sitting up front and to the side.

I never recovered from the discomfort of being in groups, but I was doing it!

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Until last month, when it started again. And it felt worse. At church. In the CPC New Members class (which is at our house, by the way). At a life group I visited. And worse of all, going to hang out with a new friend.

It’s totally irrational.

These are all things I want to do. I love our church! I feel safe there. I love our friends. I love hanging out with new friends. That’s the most discouraging thing. Sitting, shaking on the floor in the dining room while David is on the other side of the wall, leading a meeting, thinking, “Who is this person? What happened to me?”

I feel like a stranger to myself. My panic makes me weepy, so not only am I slipping out of the church service, I am starting to cry in front of whoever happens to be in the lobby. I’m not by nature a weepy person. I hate it, even as I experience the kindness of the people around me in it. Their looks, their hugs, their tears are like a blanket against a bitter-cold day.

Unfortunately there is not just the anxiety itself but a bad cycle of lies that follows, that feels heart-breaking. Lies that say I’m a failure, that I’m falling apart, that I’m hindering my husband’s ministry. I feel a crushing weight of expectation, and it is all expectation I put on myself. It’s a lonely place to be.

But.

I am telling you this whole story for a few reasons. One of them is to say that it really is easier to face this kind of trial at thirty-four than it would’ve been, say, ten years ago. I’ve been through crippling anxiety and can’t-get-out-of-bed depression before. I’ve experienced firsthand that the lowest point never lasts, that it does get better, and most of all, that when I’m at my most desperate, God hasn’t left me. I want Him to deliver me, and he always does, even when it doesn’t look like I expected, even when I’m still broken.

Another reason I’m writing this is that I’m fighting the lies. A friend said, “You can’t help the physical reaction of your body, but do not give into the lies that Satan is telling you right now.” So this time around, instead of trying to fight the panic so much, I’m fighting the lies. I’m doing that by saying them out loud to someone near me so they can speak truth to me, I’m doing it by believing that God is with me, even though my anxiety tells me I’m alone, I’m doing it by reading my Bible each day.

I’m also doing it by speaking up more. When people see me crying at church and ask if I’m okay, I tell them the truth, “No, I’m not,” and then I tell them why. I tell my friends and my husband. I write a blog post, which is very scary.

I want so badly to cover this up, to try and preserve my reputation, to be the Strong One ministering to the Weak Ones. But that is a lie. I’m not strong. I’m broken.

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I don’t want to close this post on a low note, because there is so much to thank God for, in the midst of this. I work hard at my gratitude list. I thank Him that there truly are many areas of my life in which I can function just fine, even with the cloud lingering at the periphery. I go ahead and do some of the things that are hard for me; others I learn to let go. I recognize that as I tell people about this struggle, they in turn comfort me and so I don’t feel so alone. I let them in.

Thirty-four is both good and also a bit perplexing. Mostly good.

I’m thankful for these years God has given me.



new year’s resolutions.

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I’ve been learning some more about depression and anxiety lately, and a symptom that resonates with me is the tendency toward “extremes.” For example, when you do one thing wrong you immediately begin thinking, “I’m a failure, I always let everyone down” or if you have a conflict in a relationship concluding, “This relationship is terrible.”

Because of these extreme responses, depression-sufferers are prone to feeling easily overwhelmed and helpless because problems in ourselves or in life seem to big to surmount. An all-encompassing feeling of failure just isn’t possible to beat. It’s too vague and big and powerful. It makes us paralyzed and can make us difficult to confront (the loved ones in our lives are scared of making us feel worse about ourselves), and procrastinators when it comes to life situations.

When I began learning about these symptoms of depression it was like a light came on. I suddenly began to see my responses to life in a new light. I honestly never thought it was a symptom of something or that other people may struggle with the same thing, because I literally believed how I felt about myself was true.

This knowledge helps me be a little more objective in my extreme responses — to be able to separate myself enough to say, “I’m feeling like a failure right now even though I really just did this one thing wrong,” and to be more open to correction. It’s helping me begin to focus on the issue at hand instead of slipping under the tide of helplessness.

I’ve found that setting and reaching small goals has been very helpful in keeping the helpless feelings at bay. And so I want to apply all of this to New Year’s resolutions. I decided to pick several areas of my life where I’m prone to feeling like a failure (or at least feeling like I’m not doing enough) and choose very practical goals to work towards.

Please don’t be overwhelmed or impressed when you see my list (yep, there’s 10 goals). Please don’t feel like my goals need to be your goals. I’m just tired of never setting any goals for myself because I don’t want to feel like a failure. 2014 isn’t going to be the year of “the new Julie.” It’s just going to hopefully be a year of me growing in small ways in a few areas of my life.

I know blogging about New Year’s resolutions isn’t going to help one bit in achieving them, so I made a plan. Here it is:

1. Make specific action points for my goals (since you want practical, I’ve included a few below)

2. Print out the list

3. Tape it in my notebook (notebook is pictured above, a scratch pad I sit with in my morning quiet time. I write the day’s date across the top and any thoughts swirling in my mind while I’m trying to read a Psalm. I also write a to-do list for that day and mark which items are priorities, write items for prayer, people I need to text, etc, etc). By sticking my resolutions in my notebook I can both remember them and work them into my daily to-do list.

4. Show a friend the list and see if we can sit (maybe every couple months?) and check in about how things are going (for me personally it’s helpful if this friend knows about my struggle with depression so she can speak truth to me when I’m reaching/not reaching my goals). [Side note: I’m choosing someone who’s not my spouse/family member in case you were wondering].

My 2014 goals, in no particular order.

1. Fitness:
Exercise 3-4 times a week.
– P90X-3 with David in the evenings

2. Health:
Go to bed earlier (by 10 pm) and wake up earlier (by 6 am).
– Take my anxiety/sleeping meds by 8:45 pm

3. Hobbies:
Take better photos.
– Post daily photo on the blog for January
Become a better cook.
– Make gluten-free all-purpose flour blend and learn to do more GF baking (pancakes, muffins, bread) that people actually want to eat

4. My kids:
Praise more times a day than I correct.
– List positive things/gifts/growth I see in my daily notebook, make a point to mention those things to the kids throughout the day

5. My husband and my friends:
Interrupt less. Listen well in conversation instead of trying to figure out what I’m going to say next.
– Ask David to tell me when I interrupt him
– Pray that I will be mindful of interrupting people, and when I’m not being a real listener

6. Finances:
Take ownership of our monthly budget so it’s not on David’s shoulders to remind me
– Consistently enter all expenses into our budget app (we use Goodbudget)
– Stick to budgeted amounts (especially in the areas of Groceries and Home!!!)

7. Church:
Start co-leading in our Life group
– Email John for study packet
Meet with a mentor/counselor
– I’m doing this by phone twice a month with a church-planting wife from our denomination

8. Home:
Spend more time outside.

9. Spiritual life:
Pray for five minutes each morning before the kids wake up
– Set iPhone timer for five minutes before my morning quiet time

10. Social media and screen time:
Spend less time on my phone and laptop.
– Check email twice a day and set a timer for internet time (keep laptop in the guest room)
– Keep my phone in my bedroom (don’t check messages while homeschooling)