fasting.

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Until this year, I never fasted for Lent. Fasting is a word that has always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. As a child, I remember my parents fasting, and I fasted from a meal for the purpose of prayer a couple of times back in Bible college, but quite honestly haven’t given it much thought ever since.

Even though I’ve known the Lord for years and years and should’ve known better, I think in my head I thought of fasting as something religious people do to make their god happy with them, and something non-religious people do for health reasons. And so when I heard of Christians fasting for Lent — the 40 days before Easter — I didn’t understand. It felt very legalistic to me: “If I give up ____ for 40 days, then God will be pleased with me.”

But one of our pastors, John, preached a sermon about fasting last month to begin the season of Lent, and it had a big impact on me. He spoke of fasting as a way to get hold of the Christian’s attention. We’re so distracted. We don’t truly, deeply hunger for God because we’re never hungry for anything. We’re so desperate to be comfortable, and the opportunities to make ourselves comfortable are limitless.

We fill up on all the gifts this world has to offer, and the consequence is that our appetite for Christ has grown small.

What fasting really is, is the act of setting aside something we really want for a season in order to grow our hunger for what we need.

John told the story of asking his wife Anna what he should give up for Lent. She told him, “Reading.” And he was incredulous. “What!? That’s not even a thing! No one in the history of the Christian church has ever given up reading for Lent!” But she told him when he comes home from work and picks up his phone to read texts or articles on Facebook, when he picks up a book in the evening, he’s distracted. He isn’t connecting with his family. What they need is for his full attention those few hours of the day and of the weekend.

So John decided to listen to her, and give up reading at home for the 40 days of Lent. He shelved his books and checked his phone at the door each evening. He didn’t do it to try and win points with God; he did it in order to pay attention, in order to see if the hunger he felt for his phone and his books would increase His appetite for the right thing. He chose to trade something he really, really wanted, for something that he needed.

He challenged our church family to consider doing the same thing; fasting doesn’t have to be food, although it could. It can be any good gift of God that we hunger for.

I really wanted to try it. And, so after a bit of thought, I made the decision to fast from caffeinated drinks for Lent. I’m not a soda drinker, so what that means for me is coffee (including decaf) and caffeinated tea.

I’ve had a niggling thought in the back of my mind that I needed to stop drinking coffee for a long time, but honestly haven’t had the courage to do it. I adore coffee, as you well know. And I was drinking way too much. Up to three cups a day, with an afternoon teatime of English Breakfast tea.

Drinking coffee and caffeinated tea had such a hold on me, and I feel kind of ridiculous admitting it. More than anything, reflecting back on the last five weeks, I felt like I had a right to have them.

Life is stressful. Social interactions are hard. Running errands is exhausting. So when I feel blue or even just bored, I make another cup of coffee. I bring my travel mug to church and homeschool co-op and swim lessons to get me through the awkwardness of feeling anxiety around people. I stop at Starbucks for a $5 latte because I’ve got a huge to-do list and I deserve a treat.

I also knew that I felt miserable, physically. My stomach always hurt, my bottle of Pepto-Bismal always close at hand. My anxiety was still simmering below the surface of my life most of the time, even with medication and exercise. I was disproportionately stressed and angry. And I couldn’t stop drinking coffee.

But I thought of John’s decision, and it gave me the strength I needed. Fasting is an exchange. It’s setting aside this thing I really, really think I need to survive, in order to pay attention. I don’t want to need it so badly. I want to be a less stressed-and-angry person for my family. I want to need Christ badly. I want to want Him more.

Having said all of this, I was very scared.

I honestly didn’t know how I was going to live for 40 days without my comfort drinks.

But on March 1st, I gave them up. And I learned a whole lot about myself in the past few weeks.

In his book A Hunger for God, John Piper says, “Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control us,” and this month I’ve had some humbling, un-lovely things to learn about my desires.

The biggest thing it exposed is my idol of comfort: that’s what my desire for coffee and tea are really. And if we get honest, this fast only just pulled back the top layer of that idol back since I still consumed many other things that bring me comfort: sweets, wine, the Internet, and books, to name a few.

Removing just one of those crutches showed me how very selfish all those cravings are. They’re about me; making myself comfortable, myself happy.

If Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control me, then I failed the test.

What’s more, the very first week a friend offered me a cup of coffee and without even thinking, I said, “No, I’m okay, thanks, I gave up coffee for Lent.” I actually said those words. I could’ve kicked myself for being that person. No one wants to be around that person.

So from that moment on, suitably chastened, I decided not to talk about it, except to a very few people. That isn’t what this exercise is about at all, having people know what I’m doing. And more than anything, the goal of all of it is to help make coffee not the point of my life. Constantly talking about giving up coffee is still making it the point.

That first week was the hardest. When I felt those overwhelming cravings and even surges of anger and feeling like a victim, I made a practice of saying to the Lord, “I hunger and thirst for You more than coffee.” Many times it was just words. Many times I really hungered and thirsted for coffee way more than God.

I’ve gone off coffee one time before, several years ago, and remembered this: that first week left me literally depressed. I wanted to sleep all the time. I felt a thick, dark weight settle over my life. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

At the beginning I counted down the days until I could drink coffee again. I fantasized about sitting down with our straight-from-the-oven Easter cinnamon rolls and a steaming mug  and my mouth would water. I’m not sure if that’s the exact right thing to fill my mind with during a fast.

But I also remembered that it gets easier over time.

Gradually, over the 40 days, it did get easier. Until, ironically, last week leading up to the end I rarely thought about the breaking of my fast. I finally started to enjoy my cup of hot herbal tea. And when I woke up on Saturday morning and made myself a French press of Starbucks Pike Place roast, it tasted delicious, but I didn’t even finish the cup. It was decaf, but it instantly made me feel sick (is coffee intolerance a thing!?), and just didn’t feel worth it to me. So I heated water for a cup of Rooibos tea.

I wish I could tell you I had some really deep quiet times with the Lord over this month, but you know what? I didn’t. I take medication for anxiety that left me so very sleepy without caffeine. I don’t think I ever once got out of bed before 7:00 am this month, and usually it was 7:30 or later. I rarely exercised because I didn’t have the energy.

I feel like I lost a big part of my personality all month.

But after the initial withdrawal wore off, you know what I also lost? A lot of my anger. And stress. And anxiety.

So much so, that I had to gradually keep shaving off my medication dose over the past few weeks. That was never my intention; I just needed to do it in order to be functional. Now I take a fraction of the dose. I can wake up early in the morning again. I went for a run today. I have energy. And I feel great.

I found a lot of my other driving desires seemed to be less intense. I didn’t crave a glass of red wine every evening. I didn’t need our bedroom addition to look like a Pinterest post. I didn’t need to be on Instagram — in fact, a couple of weeks into Lent I stopped checking it altogether.

Quitting coffee did not solve all my life problems (wouldn’t that be nice?). I still get stressed and angry and anxious and materialistic. But I would say it’s at a much more proportionate level to the reality of my life and my sinful heart.

And I was reminded, many many times I day, how much I do not hunger for God.

Isn’t it just like Him that I give up something I desperately desire and have so foolishly chased after, and He gives me gifts? I don’t deserve that at all. I deserve His displeasure, because I replace wanting Him with silly, silly things like coffee and tea. At the very least, I deserve His halfhearted, distracted attention, because that’s what I give to Him.

But instead He blesses me and blesses me and blesses me. With His good pleasure. With His forgiveness. With His attention and with freedom from my addiction to self. This month He’s allowed me to taste and see that He is good in a fresh new way. Before, I had what I wanted, but really I was missing out. In what other areas of my life am I doing that?

I used to be a bit terrified of fasting. It felt like too much to ask. I thought of every reason to rationalize my way out of it by pretending it was about legalism. And, just as with sin, the person I was hurting the most was myself.

I’m not scared anymore. I’m stronger than I thought I was. I don’t “need” all these comforts in my life, all the time. There are things I really need, and I’m interested to be embarking on a journey to learn more about them.

I also know this now: fasting is very deep.

It’s deep in a way that sitting with my Bible and going to church on Sunday aren’t. Maybe that sounds irreverent. I believe those two practices are essential to the Christian life. But possibly, by neglecting the practice of fasting, I’m not fully experiencing the good that the other spiritual disciplines have to offer me.

I’m still perpetually, unceasingly “nibbling at the table of the world,” as John Piper says. Like Anna’s example of trying to have a conversation with John while he’s checking his texts, I’m giving half my attention to God and half to things that don’t matter.

Fasting isn’t about making God happy. God is happy with me, because of Jesus’ perfect righteousness. Fasting is about longing. It’s about looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. It’s about joy and it’s about freedom.

My first Lenten fast was imperfect — there’s much more I could’ve done, more I could have given up. It didn’t begin to plumb the depths that fasting has to offer me. After 40 days, I see that more clearly than ever. But it’s a start, and somehow, I feel like starting may be half the battle. It’s made me hungry for more.



a birthday post.

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Hi friends!

Yesterday was my 35th birthday! Can you believe it!? It feels like a sort of milestone. I’m halfway to 70!

I’m really not one to be sentimental about my kids getting older (I love older kids!), but yesterday I had a sort of earth-shaking revelation: I’m 35. Judah is 9 1/2. That means I’ve lived exactly one half of the life I have with him at home, before he spreads his wings and flies away.

A few moments of heart-thumping panic, and then I moved on.

Here’s to seizing the next nine years with my boy and choosing not to be consumed by guilt!

Here’s to having lived one-third of my life married to David!

Here’s to barrelling full ahead to 40!

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I always like to know how people enjoy celebrating their birthdays, so I’ve decided to tell you how I celebrated mine.

The kids and I made an executive decision this year that everyone gets their birthday off school, including Mom. So I planned the school calendar accordingly.

I know it’s not possible for everyone, but if you get the chance, it’s fun to take the day off on your birthday!

David offered to pick up breakfast treats from a bakery, but I knew in the end we’d all prefer cinnamon rolls, so I whipped up a batch Monday afternoon.

I planned to sleep in, but popped awake at 6:30 and was happy for a chance to sit with a cup of coffee and my Bible before the kids woke up.

At breakfast time, we gathered for cinnamon rolls, and I got to open my cards and gifts.

David and the kids gave me Little Dorrit in hardcover and dark chocolate, a garlic press, and a gift card to the Nickelodeon theater downtown to see La La Land (David’s love for me does not quite extend to musicals, but he’s more than happy to send me with my mom).

I got birthday money from family, which I’ll use for books and to go shoe-shopping with my brother tomorrow. Hooray!

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This year each of the kids made me something special:

“A picture of Daddy on the trampoline” from Gabe

A “light saber” from Noah

Two friendship bracelets and a card from Amie

A bookmark for my new book from Judah that says “Julia for President”

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Even better than those sweet gifts is the shower of cuddles and hugs I got all morning from my two littlest boys, who weren’t doling those out so freely this time last year.

After breakfast, David and I needed to sit and have a conversation about our school path in the fall, because if you can believe it, open enrollment practically everywhere is now.

Like a total nerd, I made a huge pros/cons list in my bullet journal, and after processing it all, we unanimously agreed to keep on the exact same path for next year: Classical Conversations homeschooling.

Homeschooling makes me tired, but it is a good, worth-it kind of tired. I’m so thankful for all well it still suits all four kiddos.

It’s good to have that decision behind us, pay next year’s deposit, and move on with life!

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We played a few rounds of our current favorite game: Rat-A-Tat-Cat, and then David headed in to work. The little kids went outside and Judah and I settled in for a game of Battleship, sharing a box of Kleenex.

Several of us have a virus this week, so I was thankful for this very lazy morning at home, and turned on Sid the Science Kid for an hour before lunch so I could sit in the sunlight on the back porch with my new book.

It’s no fun being sick on your birthday, but here’s what is fun: a 70-degree day, eight growing chickies in our basement, and the two rows of onions David planted this week.

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The other sad part of the day was Noah’s 4-year-old doctor well visit at 3:30. We dropped Gabe and Amelie at Mum-Mum’s and headed to our pediatrician in West Columbia (Judah came along for moral support). We love our doctor, but if you’ve had a four-year-old, you know that this particular check-up is just the worst because: a finger prick and four shots.

I fortified myself beforehand by stopping at the Starbucks drive-through for a tall Cascara latte (have you tried it? It is divine).

Speaking of dessert, we have a tradition of stopping for a mini milkshake from Sonic after shots, which I remind my kids of beforehand, but Noah was still a little sad. My three older kids would’ve been crying from start to finish of the check-up, but he was very mature in his sorrow, just hung his head and looked depressed in a very 12-year-old way. The wailing started when the shots started though.

Poor buddy. Does anyone else get choked up when their kids get shots?

But we did it!

A trip to the Prize Box and a milkshake was very comforting.

That was my last four-year-old check up.

Sweet Noah is in the 19th percentile for height and the 6th for weight: the little guy of the family. We think he’s pretty darn cute!!

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We had plans to go out for sushi to this wonderful hole-in-the-wall place downtown that makes tiny California rolls for kids, but since several of us are sick, we’ll save it for another time.

My parents stopped by after work with homemade chicken noodle soup (made-from-scratch noodles!!!), and it felt good to just hole up all evening and go to bed early. I think you become quite boring when you’re 35.

David and I watched the first episode of the BBC show Sherlock, and enjoyed it but probably won’t continue with the series. I can’t explain why, it’s just the way we are. The only series we’ve ever completely finished is The Wire, and we came pretty close with The Office but fizzled out, and that was years ago. If you’re wondering about me, here are the series I’ve finished: Parks and Rec (two times at least), Parenthood, and Call the Midwife.

Anyway.

I’m excited about Little Dorrit!

Word to the wise: if you’re going to tackle a big long classic novel, try to find a nice hardcover edition. It sounds shallow I know, but it truly changes everything. And I love having my very own copy to underline!

I loved this birthday: thanks to everyone for loving me and making me feel special.

It’s good to be alive!

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a new way to spend tuesday afternoons.

On Tuesdays at 1:00, my mother-in-law, Linda, comes over to sit with my kids. She reads or works while they have their afternoon room time until 3:00, then walks them two streets over to her house to play until 5:00.

Tuesday afternoons are one of God’s gifts to me in this season. For the past six months I have exercised, gone to counseling appointments, scheduled my trip to the dentist, and run errands in a blessedly quiet van.

My counselor is so great that she works herself out of a job; currently I’m seeing her once a month, which leaves many Tuesdays wide open. I guess ideally I would use those afternoons to write, but like I shared with you, recent attempts to do this have me sitting in Starbucks, drinking tea and staring blankly at my computer screen. Or even worse, browsing Pinterest and Apartment Therapy for two hours.

So this month I’m trying something different.

This week, before Linda arrived, Amelie and I scrambled to load up my purse with a stack of white paper, kids’ scissors, and scraps of dollar store stickers, then when she got here, we set out to visit our friends.

If we drive downtown south down Huger Street, we can hang a right on Taylor and find ourselves in West Columbia. Just eight minutes or so from our house, before you hit the string of restaurants and Lexington hospital on Sunset Blvd, tucked into a side street, is an apartment complex.

Our new friends from Afghanistan live there. God plopped them into our lives, literally out of the blue, last month. A friend at church spends a lot of time with refugees, and met a couple of families. One family was looking for an English conversation partner for the mom/wife, and the other some after-school tutoring for their sons.

David passed along the email and asked, “Should we meet them?” And I said “Yes!”

You may remember my New Year’s resolution of making friends with people different from me.

I had that growing feeling inside of me but looked around at my daily life and said, “Lord, can you help me with this? I don’t know where to start.”

And so David responded to our friend, and one of the Afghani families immediately invited us for dinner. All six of us.

This did not surprise us one bit. In our time spent in other countries, we’ve been enveloped by the goodness of cultures far more hospitable than our own. It has soaked into our very bones and changed us from the inside out.

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So Amelie and I pulled up to Shafiqa’s apartment on Tuesday and knocked on the sliding glass door and kicked off our flip flops as she opened it wide, beaming. She pulled us into big hugs and urged us inside. Her four-year-old daughter Ranna hopped around with glee and laced orange-coated fingers with ours to come see the big pail of cheese puffs she’d gotten into.

Shafiqa is expecting her fourth child this spring. She stays home with Ranna during the day while her husband goes to work and her two elementary-aged sons take the bus to and from school. And so her life is motherhood and laundry and cooking and boisterous children, just like mine.

Her apartment has no furniture, save a small TV stand in the corner, and a little round kitchen table. There are low cushions on the floor against the wall, which enchanted all of my children when we went over for the first time. What delighted the kids even more was the big vinyl tablecloth Shafiqa spread on the floor at dinner time, which we all gathered around, sitting cross-legged.

The plan is for me to visit Shafiqa most Tuesday afternoons for an hour and a half or so to practice her English. I text to make sure it’s good for her (it always is) or to let her know if I can’t come. Her English is limited, so I’m gathering ideas on the fly of what she wants to learn and what to focus on first. I neurotically pull out my bullet journal to record ideas, which makes her laugh.

I’m  discovering that she is an ardent student. This week we sat on the floor together and worked on English phrases (basic greetings) and some vocabulary for an hour. It’s slow going, mostly because we can’t understand one another. I downloaded an English-Pashtu app on my phone and attempted to translate sentences for her. That’s when I learned that she can’t actually read Pashtu.

She told me that in Afghanistan she was not allowed to go to school. She told me, in short words and mostly with hand motions, what the Taliban does to girls in her village who try to attend school, how glad she was to leave, to bring her children to a land where they can read and write and be free.

And then I had to somehow turn and explain to curious Amelie what all of this means.

Suddenly I understood everything, and said, “Shafiqa! Do you want to learn to read English?” and she said, “Yes!”

I said, “And then if you learn to read you can drive!” and she said, “Yes, yes!”

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You know what? There are a lot of things I can’t do, but I can teach someone to read!

Not only can I do that thing, but I enjoy doing it!

Now it’s crystal-clear in my mind. We will read and we will speak.

Mostly, I think, we will become friends. I can’t wait for next week.

You know what my seven-year-old was doing this whole time? Entertaining Ranna, making crafts with stickers, chatting, asking Shafiqa how to write her name in Pashtu. My beautiful girl, who not two hours before was sitting, crying over letters and numbers that get mixed up and turned around in her head, was just beaming and happy.

After our lesson, Shafiqa jumped up and served us fresh-made Pakoras with mint chutney. She loves that we lived in Bangalore, loved seeing photos of me in a sari and salweer kameez. Shafiqa learned Hindi by watching Bollywood movies. Her mother has spent time in India, and Shafiqa wears Indian clothing, with a simple scarf over her hair. Much like the Muslims in our Bangalore neighborhood.

She knows that I love Indian food, and so she makes it for me when I come over. Amelie, who cut her teeth on spicy masala dosa and sambar dal, gobbles it up too. She says, “Mom, I remember this Indian food!”

Too soon, the boys traipse in from school and ask in perfect English where my other kids are, why I didn’t bring them over, when they can come play at my house. We chat and Amie and I pack up and say our good-byes and promise to come next week. Then we run our errands together: Wal-Mart for an air-conditioning filter, and Grease Monkey for an oil change, with a quick, necessary stop at Dunkin’ Donuts of course. We have fun together, just the two of us.

You know that I’ve been in a bit of a tired slump lately.

I thought that what I needed was more alone time, but when I had those hours I didn’t always use them well. Sure I’d go for a run, but I’d also sit staring blankly at Starbucks, or drive to Target and Michael’s craft store to spend money I don’t need to spend. I’d coming home from my afternoons out tired and listless, not wanting to face my family and my chores.

Suddenly, like a light bulb, I realize that I don’t need more alone time.

What I need is to find the thing God wants me to do, something which will make me come alive, and do it.

In the past few months, my counselor has talked a lot to me about motivation.

She said, “Julie, commitments and relationships aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. What you need to start asking yourself is, ‘What is my motivation for doing this thing — or seeing this person?'”

We get ourselves into trouble by doing good things with bad motivation: because we feel guilty, maybe, or to impress people, or simply because we feel like we “should” do it. She asked, “How many of those things do have in your life right now? What needs to change?”

Sometimes we can have a great motivation, but it’s just plain bad timing. In this season, at least.

In another season, it may be the perfect thing.

And so, that is the long and short of how I came to spend Tuesday afternoons sitting on the carpet with my friend Shafiqa using exaggerated hand motions and short phrases and laughing a lot, and leaving her apartment with a spring in my step.

Now I want to bring one or two of my kids every single time. She adores them, and the feeling is mutual. I want so badly for them to find the joy I’ve found in making friends with people who are different from us; even if we live right here in Columbia, South Carolina, rather than in overseas. They are already doing it.

Maybe I don’t need to escape my children on Tuesdays so much as find something I’m passionate about, and bring them along.

And of course wonderful Linda says to me, “No matter how long it takes, drop them off at my place and go for your run at the end of the afternoon: I’ll just let them dig in the dirt a little longer.”

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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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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.



house update: let’s try this again.

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Well, you guys, I wrote the previous blog post this weekend, and then one of my holds came in at the library: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, by Kristen Welch.

I started reading it hoping to find some practical tips to help me teach my children to complain less, but what I didn’t expect was to crack open the book and immediately feel convicted for my own complaining. Reading Kristen Welch’s description of our entitlement culture exposed my own subtle feelings of entitlement, which I’ve been blind to of late. I realize that underneath my so-called “disappointment” with our house process is a belief that I deserve better.

I deserve a bigger house, or at least a bigger kitchen. I deserve another bathroom. I deserve more storage space. I deserve a prettier front yard. I do not deserve to have to wait as long as I have for our building project, and then subject myself to a process of renovations that will be uncomfortable and stressful.

God, don’t You know I now have four kids — two of them I adopted, which is no easy task — and I stay home with them all day and educate them, and my husband and I are in ministry!? I need a bigger, better house! Now!

And if I can’t get it now, then I want to spend money and buy new things and have fun experiences to make me feel better about waiting.

It’s pretty ugly, isn’t it?

How did I get here?

I don’t deserve any of this. What I deserve, thankfully, God has protected me from by His salvation. And that and anything beyond it is a free gift. He owes me absolutely nothing.

I rebuke my kids for always wanting more toys and treats, wanting to know what fun thing we’re doing next, complaining when they’re bored. And yet my heart is just as sinful as theirs. Actually it’s more so — I have 34 years under my belt of witnessing God’s faithfulness and provision to grow gratitude in my heart. I know that stuff doesn’t bring happiness.

I’ve seen the way other people live — both people in other parts of the world, and also friends here in our city: in the projects or the halfway house, one who’s currently in a state correctional facility, which, quite honestly, is probably better than being homeless, which he’s also experienced.

And I think I somehow deserve more?

After reading a couple chapters of Raising Grateful Kids, I felt instantly ashamed of my last post and wanted to take it down. But I won’t. It’s part of my process, and that process is not always noble, I’m afraid.

I’m thankful for Kristen Welch’s book, for her wise words that say that the entitlement in our household begins with us grown-ups — how can we expect gratitude and contentment from our kids that we ourselves don’t have?

I know I already mentioned that I’ve been fighting for gratitude, but now I want to fight harder. You can’t be content and also feel sorry for yourself. The pity party stops right here.

If we have to wait two more Christmases for another bathroom, that’s what we’ll do, and we’ll be just fine. I have everything I need. Here’s what I’m thankful for today:

 

1. We have a house

2. It’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer

3. We have running water and electricity and an indoor bathroom

4. We have money to fix things that break

5. We have a roof that doesn’t leak

6. We have a beautiful backyard that is fenced-in, with space for our children to run and play

7. We have lots of windows and pretty things to look at and comfortable furniture. We have a bed for everyone in the family.

8. We have toys and games and clothes and lots of books.

9. We have a refrigerator and pantry full of food (we have a refrigerator! and a pantry!). We do not go hungry, or wonder where our next meal will come from.

10. God is very, very patient with me. He shows me my sin and brings repentance, so that I can be free. A contented life is a joyful life.

 

Those are just the first ten. I can keep going for a long time.

Starting now, these are the things I focus on, instead of what I don’t have or what I’m waiting for.

I feel lighter already.

 

P.S. As you can probably tell, I highly recommend Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World! I’m almost finished, and David just started it. These are exactly the words I needed right now, and I really appreciate the honest, practical, hopeful way Kristen Welch brings us along on her family’s journey.



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.



what worked and what didn’t in 2015.

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As I sat down last week to reflect on the last year, I used an idea from Modern Mrs. Darcy, and came up with a list of things that worked for me in 2015 and things that didn’t. It’s been such a helpful exercise that I thought I’d post my list for you.

Not only does it give me some direction for 2016, but it’s allowed me to realize that I’m actually on the right track in several areas of personal habits. Rather than feel the overwhelming need to switch everything up, I just need to grow in a couple areas and then keep on with what’s working. And that’s encouraging!

I’m always interested in learning about other people’s habits, and I’d love to hear what worked and didn’t work for you!

 

What worked for me in 2015:

1. Sandy

Eleven months ago a lovely person entered my life: Sandy Garcia. She comes one morning a month while we’re at Classical Conversations to give our house a deep clean. A house-cleaner is not something I would ever have thought to consider, but it was a birthday gift from David, who learned about Sandy through a friend. We rearranged our budget to make it work, and words cannot express how grateful I am!

Sandy is dependable, very thorough, takes initiative to clean things I’d never get to (hello, dusting all the spices and jars on my open kitchen shelves), and has such a sweet, cheerful spirit.  Because of her help, I’m more ready to invite people over and less stressed about fitting house cleaning into the cracks of my day.

If you look at me as a homeschooling mom of four kids and wonder, How does she do it all? The answer is: I don’t! I’m sure this season won’t last forever, but right now, other than a quick vacuum and wiping down my bathroom, I don’t clean my house at all. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

 

2. De-cluttering

I needed my habit of regular de-cluttering more than ever this year when we adopted Gabe and Noah, and it’s still working great. If the idea of tackling unruly closets and kitchen pantries makes you shudder, I’ve learned from experience that if I do one really thorough purge of a space, I can easily maintain it with just 20 minutes every few months.

Right before Christmas a few of our closets looked like they’d been hit by a tornado, so I did a quick sweep and tackled organizing a couple a day while the kids played outside (it is pretty much impossible for me to organize anything with my children around). I still regularly come up with a bag or two worth of stuff for His House, but I’m discovering that as we try to watch our purchases carefully, I need to get rid of less and less.

De-cluttering — and trying to keep from amassing lots of things in the first place — is my secret to keeping our house neat. People walk in the door and comment, “It doesn’t look like you have four kids!” Honestly, I don’t do it to impress anyone with my clean house; I do it for me. My brain feels foggy when our house is a mess, and forget trying to home school. We enjoy our home so much more with surfaces cleared and places to sit and play.

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3. My early-morning routine

I’ve learned that because I’m an introvert, I desperately need a few moments to myself before my kids wake up in the morning. Also: if I don’t read my Bible first thing in the morning, it’s just not going to get read. Here are two magic hints that make this habit work for me: 1. I go to bed by 10:00, and 2. I get the coffee ready to brew at night. Somehow the knowledge that all I have to do is stumble out of bed and hit the “Start” button on the coffee maker, motivates me to get up instead of sleeping in.

I make my coffee, plug in the string lights in our bedroom, and cuddle up in bed under our puffy white duvet. I read my Bible (usually a Psalm or a chapter from the New Testament), and often a devotional book (currently it’s I Come Quietly to Meet You, by Amy Carmichael, but last year I read Streams in the Desert). I sip my coffee and choose a few verses or a quote to write in my journal, and usually that turns into writing a prayer.

This routine helps me wake up and feel grounded in Christ before facing the day. I start my day intentionally — one step ahead of the kids — rather than in reactionary mode. Of course there are times I stay up too late and sleep in and I don’t beat myself up for it, but by and large I’m happier when waking up early (I want to insert here that I didn’t attempt to follow this routine when I had infants waking up throughout the night . . . back then I needed every minute of sleep I could get!).

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4. Afternoon rest time

I only have one regular napper left, but this year I stuck to our whole-house afternoon quiet rest time, which we call “play time.” I’m so glad I did. After a full morning of home school, I am exhausted and need a break, and all of the kids need some down time to hit the reset button. If you’re wondering how this worked adding Gabriel and Noah to the mix, it was a learning process, but now it works great.

When we first adopted the boys, Gabe napped on my bed, then transitioned to just a few naps a week, and now he rarely needs one. Currently, Noah naps in our room, and Gabe has play time in his bedroom; usually half with Amie and half by himself. He doesn’t always love it, but has adapted so well to the routine, and I love hearing his little voice in the other room. He’s grown leaps and bounds this year in his ability to self-entertain and play imaginatively.

The big kids usually do their own thing or play together quietly in their bedroom. I either take a nap, read a book, catch up on blogs, or as of last week, take 30 minutes to exercise. Everyone is revived after play time!

 

5. Goodbudget

David and I used the Goodbudget app on our phones this year. We set budget categories together, and used the app to track our monthly expenses. It syncs our phones so that when either of us checks it we can see how much money is left in each category.

The slightly time-consuming part is entering each expense, but as we’ve gotten ourselves into the habit of recording right after we make a purchase, we’ve found so much freedom in both knowing exactly where we stand for the month. It’s not perfect — we overspend sometimes and have to regroup; to sit and map out what went wrong and what expenses are coming up for the next month. But it’s the best way we’ve found to pursue financial freedom together. We argue about money less than we ever have, and it’s wonderful.

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6. Investing in attachment

I’ve mentioned this in my other adoption posts, but I feel like the single most valuable thing we did with our time last year was to invest in attachment. I know this isn’t as necessary with infant adoption; but it was much-needed with our toddler/preschool aged boys. I am so, so thankful for the wisdom of friends and blog posts that pointed us in this direction. The boys didn’t just need to attach to us as their family, they needed to feel safe, to heal, and to learn what this new life is all about. In retrospect, I really don’t think that could have been accomplished if we spent our days rushing from one activity to the next, doing lots of play dates, always out of the house.

You guys, it was hard. It was lonely. It was thankless. But entering our ninth month with the boys, I can already say it’s been worth every moment of wanting to bang my head against the wall. I realize that this kind of isolation wouldn’t be healthy long-term, but for that first season after our adoption it was good and right. All of us have changed so much by spending heaps of time together, sticking to our routine, working on behavior issues and manners, being consistent with discipline, cuddling and reading books and playing with toys.

And although sometimes each day (okay each hour) felt like an eternity, when I look back on that season, I see it was such a short amount of time. We still follow a simplified routine, but are slowly re-engaging with commitments, and those long hours are paying dividends in our life today.

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7. Waiting a week to set up our Christmas tree

We’ve always set up our Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, but this year, with four kids in the house, I didn’t think I could handle seven extra days of Christmas excitement. So we decided to wait until the first weekend of December. It was a lovely decision and I hope it becomes our new tradition!

We were able to recover from Thanksgiving weekend, and that extra week gave us time to actually get excited about Christmas decorations. We turned on Christmas music, pulled boxes down from the attic, and set up our (artificial) tree together, then later that night the big kids and I watched Elf. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll try to get a real tree!

 

What didn’t work in 2015:

1. Not exercising regularly

I went through spurts, I really did. But I didn’t sustain a good habit of exercise, and I felt the effects of that physically and emotionally. I told David if there is one thing I could change about myself in 2016, it would be to exercise for 30 minutes at least 4 times a week. And between running and our P90X DVD’s, I’ve started my plan to do just that!

 

2. Eating gluten

When we adopted Gabe and Noah, all of our good eating habits went out the window for quite awhile. I didn’t sweat it — we were maxed out just trying to keep our heads above water. And racing around after four kids made me so.very.hungry. A salad at lunch just didn’t cut it. After a month or so we reintroduced green smoothies and salads (now we make sure to add a protein to our salad to fill up our bellies), but I never eliminated gluten and dairy like I had before, and my body became more and more sick.

I think if anything I’m growing more sensitive to gluten, but I just loved all my comfort foods so much I couldn’t bear to part with them. However, now I’m ready for a change. It’s no longer worth it anymore to eat whatever I want and feel terrible. I’m committing to a gluten-free lifestyle in 2016 and eating minimal dairy, and it feels like a relief.

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3. Social media on my phone

I can’t explain why, but Facebook and Instagram just do not work for me (wait: have I mentioned that at least a dozen times on this blog?). They make me restless, anxious, and envious of my friends. They make me distracted around my kids. I’m trying to find a solution to this because there are friends and family I really want to stay connected with. But in the meantime, my Christmas gift to myself this year was to delete all social media from my phone.

 

4. Staying inside too much

This is a weakness for me. While David gets itchy if he has to spend more than two hours inside, I’m just not an outdoorsy person, and honestly think I wouldn’t notice if I didn’t set foot out-of-doors in a whole 24-hour period. But this isn’t really good for me.

It’s easy to just send the kids out to the fenced-in backyard — and sometimes that’s fine — but I want to be out with them, going for walks, sparking their imagination, puttering in the garden, weeding and watering. I’m realizing that if I want them to grow up being active and enjoying the outdoors, I need to do the same myself.

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5. Not involving my kids in chores

Speaking of weaknesses, this is a big one. There are several things the kids do to help out at home — pick up toys, take dishes to the sink after meals, put away their laundry (Judah and Amie), but they could do much more. Honestly, it’s just easier and quicker for me to do things like laundry and wiping the table and counters on my own. It feels exhausting to take the time to teach them skills and honestly I hate the battles when they have bad attitudes. I don’t mind daily housework really, and it’s messier to have little hands “helping” me. I crave the relaxing part of my day when I can cook dinner or bake cookies all by myself.

But all of that’s selfish, plain and simple.

My kids need to learn more responsibility — they need to learn that we’re all a team and when we work together, the whole house runs more smoothly. I don’t want them growing up thinking of Mom as their personal servant/chef. They don’t love chores, but they do all love to help me cook. Our kitchen is tiny, so more and more I’m trying to grab just one of them to come help make dinner with me, and help with clean-up too. If I’m lighthearted about the process and view it as a chance to spend some quality time together, it’s less burdensome for all of us.

6. One bathroom

I am so over having one bathroom for a family of six. There. I said it.

 

Happy 2016!!!

 

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