Parenting: Not for the Faint of Heart

Parenting is hard. If you are a parent then you understand that statement. If you are not a parent, like I was not at one time, you may think you understand that statement but the reality is, it is impossible to comprehend until you are actually in the thick of it. Parenting is hard for several reasons, some of which are the fact that it is physically draining, it is emotionally draining, it is financially draining, and these factors can continue indefinitely. There’s one more aspect to parenting that I could not have understood even when I was several years into the busyness. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to anticipate or comprehend it until the empty nest is upon you. The aspect I am referring to is the agony that comes with retrospect.

Have you ever thought about your childhood days? I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. These years were the beginning of video games, cable television, and the best music of any decade before or after.  My days were filled with playing outside, school days where I received a real education–no common core crap in those days. I learned not only academics but also respect. Teachers back then actually were allowed to demand that respect. I learned that actions had consequences, both at school and at home. My parents didn’t make excuses for my bad behavior. I learned that bullies are real because kids can be mean. That has always, and will always, be the case no matter how many anti-bullying policies schools try to put into place. I learned that bad actions result in bad consequences–and those bad consequences were deserved. The inverse was true as well; good actions resulted in good consequences. If I failed a test, my parents did not go to the teacher and claim that her testing methods didn’t suit my learning style and because of that, it was her responsibility to allow me to retake the test in a way that would insure that I passed. Seriously? No, my mother would yell at me and take away television privileges until my grades improved. (Not that I ever failed a test. I was too much of a perfectionist for that. My brother, on the other hand…)

Why all the talk of my childhood in a parenting post?

Just as we sometimes look back on our childhood and young adulthood and remember the things we enjoyed and regret the actions we took that maybe put us behind somehow, a parent in the stage of parenting that I am in right now, does the same thing. My kids are all legal adults. Of the four of them, two are married. One is heading in that direction. One is still in college, living away from home. All have started to experience real adult world problems. When as children, one of them would come to me and say they did not understand how to solve a particular math problem, I would do my best to help them solve it and to know how to solve a similar problem on their own next time. If one came home crying and gingerly holding an arm, I would make sure he or she was taken to a doctor for the appropriate health care. (THAT happened many times in my parenting journey!) These were problems that a mom and/or dad were supposed to solve. I had the tools to solve them and I knew how to use those tools. I did not feel helpless staring at a fifth grade word problem.

Now, though, that is just not the case.

As adults, sometimes my kids face problems that I cannot solve. Sometimes those problems are brought on by their own actions and consequences must be faced. As a parent, those have been some of the darkest days of my life–feeling helpless as I waited for what was ahead. Sometimes those problems are because of the actions of others. Someone else makes a decision and the effects of it ripple into the life of one of my kids and I am unable to stop the ripple. Sometimes those problems are nobody’s fault–they are just the result of living in a fallen world where disease and pain do not discriminate among victims. Just as I do not possess the power to cure myself of my own health issues, I cannot take away the health issues my kids are facing. My son lives with autism that has made living on his own a challenge at times. My daughter deals with hypoglycemia and must stick herself with a needle multiple times a day to test her blood sugar.

Being the parent of adult children also means that often, I need to watch them make decisions that I know are not to their benefit. I no longer have the right to solve their problems the way I see fit. Instead, I have to allow them to solve those problems and deal with whatever consequences may come from their decision. This has been one of the hardest aspects of parenting for me. I am so thankful for what I am learning in a Bible study I am doing regarding our speech. On more than one occasion lately, I have found myself holding back what wanted to come out of my mouth, knowing that it would not be encouraging nor helpful in the situation.

One other aspect of parenting adult children, and probably one of the hardest for me, is the regret that daily plagues me. Did I do enough to teach them how to be productive adults? Did I love enough so they are loving? Did I allow consequences to teach them so they learned to take right actions? Having a grandson has made these questions all the more haunting to me. As I hold my grandson and read him a book, I wonder why, when my own kids were small, I was so concerned with the laundry that was piling up, the dirt that needed to be swept from the floor, and the dishes that were sitting in the sink desperately needing a wash. When he spends the night and he wakes up crying, I gently pick him up and rock him back to sleep, softly humming to him. I think back to when my own kids would wake up and I would be impatient with them, just wanting them to go back to sleep. I didn’t realize that one day I would miss those quiet moments in the night when my baby was comforted being held by mommy. Of course I knew the day would come when they would all grow up. Too often, I wished it would happen quicker. Then, they began to read and no longer wanted to sit and hear mommy read a story. Then, they turned into teenagers and sleep was all they did. (Except for one…) Then, they were all adults…

Now I can no longer fix all their problems, and even if I have that tool, often they don’t want me to use it. Instead, they want to handle things their way. And all I can do is stand back and watch and hope that the decision they made does not come back to bite them in the future. And I can pray. Pray that God, in His mercy, despite the fact that he or she pays little attention to the God who loves them, will help them make wise decisions and make beauty from their ashes when bad decisions result in difficult consequences

Now I know how my parents must have felt when at age 18, I was engaged to be married to a young man who loved me with all his heart but had no job. I know how they must have felt when as a twenty-one year old wife, I announced that they would soon be grandparents again. I know how they felt as they watched this young family struggle to keep heads above water. I know how they felt when we made decisions that they knew would come back to haunt us.

Parenting is hard. And it is forever. It doesn’t end at age 18 when the world says one is legally an adult. It changes into something that I could never have prepared for. I guess that is part of the game…just as nothing could have really prepared me for a baby, parenting adults has no handbook either. It is a “learn as you go” type of thing, and just like parenting little ones and teens, I make mistakes and have regrets. I hope when it’s all said and done, though, and I die, my kids will know how much I loved them and how I would have given my own life for them if that is what they needed.

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Breaking Addiction

I am all too familiar with addiction. I have not tried to hide the fact that this is an area in which I struggle. Twenty years ago I was addicted to alcohol. I would usually have my first drink by 10:00 AM. My mindset was that if I was going to drink some alcohol, I might as well drink all the alcohol. So, a bottle of vodka wasn’t something I would recap and store to use another day. No. If I had a vodka infused drink, you can be sure by the end of the day, sometimes earlier, the entire bottle of vodka would be gone. There were days I managed to have just a few drinks–usually something other than a vodka mix–only because I was needing to hide the fact that I had been drinking. I remember one time being so desperate for a shot of alcohol, I poured some into my bottle of diet Pepsi so no one would know. I also vividly remember coming to the realization that I had a problem and that problem would destroy my then young children if I did not get some help. Thus began several years of battling a very powerful foe. I also remember quite clearly being given a prescription for a drug that would make my body violently sick if it ingested any alcohol at all–that included alcohol through the skin. Shampoo, deodorant, soaps, lotions, etc. all had to be completely free of alcohol. More than once I slipped somewhere, whether it was in one of the above products that I missed or the overwhelming desire for just a small drink. The prescription drug did its job on those occasions as I found myself wishing I could die rather than suffer the effects of the battle between the drug and the alcohol. If I wasn’t sick from the prescription, I was sick from the withdrawal of the one substance that helped me get through my days. My hands trembled. In fact, my entire body trembled when it didn’t get what it craved so badly. My mind could only think of one thing and the deprivation of it was too much on more than one occasion. It was a long road of battling, a road that was far from easy. It has been fifteen years since I have had hard liquor. In fact, with the exception of a glass of wine five, maybe six, times in those years, I haven’t had any alcohol at all. I don’t keep it in the house for I know it is a weakness. I have come across many recipes and watched countless cooking shows where alcohol is used in food preparation. I would love to use some of those recipes, but I will not take a chance and have a bottle of wine or bourbon in the house.

The problem with an addictive personality, though, is there is always something that wants to be in control. After detoxing from alcohol, I turned to other behaviors that could hopefully satisfy the craving my mind had to have something control it. If you’ve never experienced addiction,you may not understand that statement. A person who struggles with an addiction in one area will most likely struggle in other areas as well. For me, after working through some other unhealthy behaviors (not quite ready to write about those yet), I settled on diet soda to feed the addiction craving of my mind. I’ve always loved pop anyway. My dad owned a gas station where I could have all I wanted when I visited him at work and eventually worked there as well. As a child, my mom seemed to always be starting a new diet, so diet pop was abundant in our house. I would grab a can several times a day. Given my age now, that means I have been drinking diet pop for over forty years. My daily intake increased with time and age. For at least the last ten years, I consumed roughly 120 ounces of diet pop a day. Yes. a DAY.  Some days I’m sure I drank more than that and some days maybe a little less. I can say that it was all I drank. I was not a fan of water or lemonade or any other beverage. My mind justified this consumption with the fact that at least I wasn’t drinking alcohol. I knew the harm in consuming that much aspartame. I watched the videos proclaiming the ill effects of aspartame. I knew all of that, but I needed to have it.

A few months ago, something inside me–maybe the Holy Spirit–began to entertain the idea that perhaps my depression is made worse by the aspartame in my beloved diet pop. I toyed with the idea of giving up diet pop.I even attempted it a time or two. But, I would always return to it when the headache hit or we were out doing something and a fountain drink from Holiday was much more convenient and cheaper than water. Or we would go to a restaurant that I knew had an awesome mix of diet pop–the perfect ratio of syrup to water. Applebees is one of those places. So is McDonalds. My mouth is watering just typing this!

But back to my story…

As I thought about the hold that diet pop had on me, the cost of the multiple cases we bought each week, and my declining health, especially depression, I knew something had to change. A few women at church had tried a nutritional program that showed wonderful results on them. They had lost weight, they had more energy, and they simply looked wonderful. Yes. I was jealous. I wanted to lose weight–something that is definitely harder once a woman enters those menopause years. But, in addition to that, I anted to feel better. I know my MS plays a big part in how I feel from day to day. Despite the MS, though, I wondered if better nutrition could ease even some of the depression that gripped me so tightly. For months my husband and I talked about the program. It was NOT cheap. I came up with every excuse possible:

We could never afford it.
The results won’t last.
I’ll just eat healthier and get the same results.

I justified all my excuses until, one night at small group, while watching our study video, James MacDonald said something that rocked my world. His words were,

“Nothing will change until the discomfort of being where you are is more than the pleasure you get from staying there.”

Wow. I knew I had reached that point in my life. I contacted my friend from church who had amazing success with this nutritional program and asked how to get signed up. I knew that meant quitting diet pop. I also knew the pain withdrawal would cause–intense physical and emotional pain awaited me as I began this journey.

That was nineteen days ago. It has been 19 days since I have had any diet pop. I still get daily headaches from the withdrawal, although thankfully they are now only at night instead of all day. I still crave a Diet Coke every time I pass a McDonalds. We’ve been to Applebees and I’ve ordered water to drink even though everything in me screamed for a Diet Pepsi. And yes, I’ve cried. I’ve cried over not being able to have what I want. I’ve cried as the headaches at times were almost unbearable. I’ve cried as my body has released toxins after throwing up for an hour. (TMI–I know) I remember the withdrawal from alcohol being very similar, only this time I do not have a prescription drug to keep me accountable and clean. I have found in those 19 days, I have relied heavily on Jesus. When I’m home alone all day and I know that a drive to McDonalds is a minute away and no one would know, I remember that this body is a gift from God and a temple of the Holy Spirit. Feeding it garbage is like offering garbage to God–something I never thought of before and don’t want to do anymore. In those 19 days, I have lost ten pounds. I have lost 12 inches of body fat. I can’t say yet that I have a ton of energy or that my sleep is blissfully sweet–but I need to remember that MS is still a part of my life and most likely is the culprit behind those things. What I can say is that somehow, in a way that I can’t quite put into words, (shocker–I know) I feel different. There is a brewing confidence that has never been there before. It is small right now. Minuscule in fact. I’m sure it doesn’t yet show itself to others. That’s okay. Even small progress that only I can sense right now is enough to keep me going. If I can go fifteen years without a glass of vodka and whatever I could find to mix with it, without the help of a great God, then I can certainly stay on the road of being diet pop free with the help of a God who sees and knows my weakness and is ready to help and give me His strength.

Addictions are a powerful thing. They wrap around you and hold you so tight, it seems a losing battle to try to fight it.

BUT, God is more powerful than any earthly addiction. His strength is made perfect in my weakness. It isn’t a road I can walk alone. I know God is walking with me, but I also know others who are fully aware of where I am on this road and pray for me. Some days I’m pretty sure it is those prayers that have sustained me…in my pain, in my depression, in my breaking free.

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The Preschool Years

I remember having preschool age kids. I consider this to be between ages three and five. There are a few hallmarks of the preschool age. One of them is busyness. Oh my! These guys were busy little bees! They loved, and needed, to run, jump, skip, touch, push, pull, hide, seek, crawl, and any other action verb one could think of. We made forts out of blankets draped over a table or a couch to crawl in and out of. We had tunnels to crawl through. Toys that could be pushed, pulled, or pedaled. We had pretend hammers to bang with and Playdough to roll and sculpt. Living in the northern parts of the country during these years meant I had to get creative during the months that it was too cold to take them outside to burn off some energy. And I didn’t have the luxury of a resource like Pinterest to give me great ideas. More than once I would fall into a chair, exhausted, hoping an episode of Barney or Tom and Jerry would give me a little break. My little ones, though, would often watch for a short time and would then jump on the couch like it was a rectangular trampoline. In fact, we never bought a new couch until this year when, as empty nesters, we moved into a townhouse.

A second thing that marks the preschool years is the fact that they never stop talking. Most of their words are usually spent telling silly stories or asking questions. Questions about everything. Some of the questions I could answer. Some, though, I had no idea what to say. Questions like,

Why is the sky blue?
Why is the grass green?
How does sand get on the beach but not on the sidewalk?
How does the salt get into the ocean?

These days, I suppose, preschoolers know how to use mommy’s phone and ask Cortana or Siri these questions. Perhaps they know the answers. I haven’t tried it. Regardless, there were days that my preschoolers talked so much and wanted to know so much that I felt their little heads would grow too big if I told them all the answers! Good thing my husband is the quiet type who would come home from work and maybe say ten words to me all night. Yeah, that eventually came back to haunt us, but during those years, the silence when the kids went to bed was seriously golden.

Why all this about preschoolers from a mom who no longer even has teenagers?

Later this month, I will officially mark three years as a follower of Jesus. Oh, I knew who Jesus was a very long time ago. I knew Bible verses, won the Bible drill finals year after year in Vacation Bible School, answered the questions correctly in Sunday School…I even knew the right words to say to pretend I prayed a prayer “asking Jesus into my heart”. And I believed I was saved because, on more than one occasion, I had prayed that prayer and said those words. The problem was, I never had a relationship with Jesus. I knew a lot about Him, but I never really got to know Him. On more than one occasion I would give upon being a Christian. I wanted Jesus and the pleasures of the world too. For a while I tried to make the two coexist. After a while, I gave up on God. The world was much more fun. Drinking and other sins I won’t mention here became normal for me. I remember one time driving home from a Halloween party a friend of mine had planned. She lived “off the Island” (a phrase we Grand Islanders used for anything that didn’t take place on Grand Island). The thing is, I don’t remember driving home. The next day, I vaguely remembered almost hitting the guard rails coming up to the toll booths at the bridge. I didn’t even know how to get to her house in Kenmore. My husband had driven there but he said he was too drunk to drive home. So was I, but I wasn’t going to admit it. We shouldn’t have made it home that night. Somehow, at the time, I thought that was fun…

The stories could go on but, three years ago, God in His mercy decided enough was enough. I needed to choose once and for all who I was going to follow–Him or the world. Through an orchestration of events that could only come from an almighty God, I was brought to a place of wrestling with God like never before. God placed some people in my life who spoke the truth to me. I admit, at the time, they made me quite angry, yet I know now they were speaking that truth in love. After a few days and nights of intense wrestling and emails with these people, I realized that although I knew God, I didn’t know God. I made my choice and gave my LIFE to Jesus–I didn’t ask Him into my heart; I made Him Lord of my life. So in Christ, I am almost three years old. That makes me a preschooler in the eyes of God.

And lately, I’ve been feeling like a preschooler.

It seems in the last few months, there has been one crisis, one problem, one sad situation after another. A family in our church lost a son unexpectedly. A pastor in a neighboring Harvest church also lost a son unexpectedly. Health issues have continued to pound my body and mind. Even the weather has been a source of dismay for me as we have been in the 70’s. That just isn’t supposed to be the case in November in Minnesota. In a broader sense, the world seems to have gone completely crazy. Police officers have been gunned down for doing nothing except wearing the uniform. Others have been fired for doing their job. The world continues to gang up on Israel. Plane crashes possibly acts of terror as well as earthquakes and hurricanes have filled news headlines. Of course there have been good times mixed in there as well. A long awaited vacation to Disney World and the ocean topped my September. Spending as much time as I can with my grandson and seeing his beautiful smile when he sees Grammy is enough to make my heart melt. Still, the tough times have been, well, pretty tough. Similar to the waves that I watched roll and crash onto Cocoa Beach in September have seemed the storms in life around me. I find myself asking God “Why?” many times.

God, why didn’t you stop a young man, only fifteen and one of your children, from taking his own life?
God, why do the bad guys seem to get away with evil while the good guys get punished for doing good?
God, what is going to happen to those I love who have not made the decision to follow you wholeheartedly?
God, when are you coming back to save us from this world where evil has become good and good has become evil?
God, why won’t you heal me from the debilitating effects of depression and MS?

Unlike me as a parent, God knows all the answers to my questions, but if He gave me all the answers, I wouldn’t need to trust Him. As it is, I have very few answers and even less control over what may come in the future. I think that’s exactly the spot God wants me to be in–a spot of dependence on Him because I don’t know from day to day what is going to happen.

Being a preschooler is hard…to see the big world and want to know everything about it yet unable to be all knowing. My preschoolers thought I knew all the answers. I did not.

This preschooler, though, is thankful she follows the One who does, even though my path has taken twists and turns that have delayed my growing up. I hope, just as my preschoolers trusted me to give them the right answers to their questions, that my trust in my Father will grow…regardless of whether He gives me the answers I want to hear.

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I am tired of depression. Tired of the grip it has on me.

I am tired of the tears it brings. Every. Day. At least lately that has been the case.

I am tired of waking up and wondering why I woke up.

I am tired of asking God to please heal me of it but healing doesn’t come.

I am tired of being a burden to my family.

I don’t want to go on anymore.

But I don’t want to quit either.

I don’t want to give depression–actually satan–the win.

I want to believe God is bigger and stronger than anything that happens on this earth, including depression.

I want to say that with God’s help, I can overcome whatever He allows into my life.

I have lived with this long enough to know most likely it will get better. That it’s just a season–again. I know it does not define me. God would not put that label on me.

If you’ve never been in this place, please don’t lecture me with all the well meaning words that may be forming in your mind as you read this. Depression is my battle. It is big and strong and, right now at least, daily. It seeks to destroy everything about me. That is how I know it is not from God. I don’t blame God for my depression. What I struggle with is why God has chosen to leave it as part of my life…especially knowing its deadly potential.

But He has. For His reasons, whatever they may be, He has.

And that hurts. And confuses.

The words of a song, though, replay in my head during the darkest times:

“Even if the healing doesn’t come,
And life falls apart and dreams are still undone,
You are good, you are God, forever faithful One,
Even if the healing doesn’t come.”

The healing hasn’t come. Thirty-some years of dealing with this beast. I am weary. I am lonely. Depression is a lonely path. And scary at times.

Paul the Apostle was denied healing from something as well. God told him that His grace would be sufficient for Paul. My prayer today, over and over, is that God’s grace would be sufficient for me as well.

to get through the moments when life seems to be too much…
to get through the darkest moments knowing that light must be up ahead somewhere…
to eventually come out of the pit of depression and walk in victory, knowing God was with me all along.

Soon. I pray the light appears soon.

In the meantime, I will carry on the best I can. It is the only right and obedient choice I have.

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What I Need to Remember

Sometimes I forget.

I forget that not everyone understands the way I think. That could be a good thing though.

I forget that not everyone knows the difficulty that comes with living with multiple health issues.

I forget that there are people who say they care and really mean it.

I forget that allowing those people into my life means letting down a guard that has been in place for so long. It’s a risk.

Speaking of risk, I’ve never been one to shy away from a thrill. I have bungee jumped, climbed heights that would make some queasy, and handled the most daring amusement park rides and roller coasters like they were kiddie rides. I love those kinds of thrills even at my old grandma age.

There is one risk, though, that I’ve never been really good at. That risk is letting down the wall that protects my heart. I’ve definitely made progress in this area. At one time in my life I would never have gotten up in front of people to talk. In the last few years, though, I have done that on a few occasions. I stood in front of a group of moms (most I did not know) and recounted the difficulties and the miracle that is our marriage story. I sat in front of a video camera and told the story of how God rescued me from myself and agreed to have that video shown on a Sunday in church. I got into a pool to be baptized in front of our church family. This morning, I took one more step in the direction of letting down that wall. This morning I stood during a very heavy but moving church service and shared something that was heavy on my heart in order to allow others to pray for the situation.

That’s a good thing, right?

Well, kind of. You see, I was honest in speaking of the situation. What  I wasn’t completely honest in was my reaction to the situation. Don’t misunderstand–I was not dishonest. I just did not share the state of where my heart has been for the last several weeks. Had I been honest this morning, I would have admitted the depth of depression that I have been wrestling with on a nearly daily basis. I would have allowed myself to be vulnerable outside of a computer screen, around actual people who most likely would have cared and prayed for me. But I passed up the opportunity to be prayed for. I don’t know if it was that I consciously didn’t want to, or if I simply couldn’t say much more than I did for fear of totally losing it emotionally. Regardless, I know I did myself a disservice by not being completely transparent regarding the depth of the pit I have been stuck in.

There’s something else I forget though. And it’s something that is very important for me to remember.

I forget that God already knows the depth of my despair. I forget that even though others may not know (or possibly care), God does know and He does care. And, He is the only One who can completely heal me of the physical and emotional pain that have been plaguing me. God hasn’t let go of me even though sometimes it feels like He has. I forget that God has put me in this place at this time for a reason…to do a work in me that He won’t neglect until it is done. His Word promises that.

Maybe, in time, I will be able to completely take down the wall that protects a heart that is so fearful of letting others in to see the whole truth. I know I have taken steps in the right direction. Baby steps, but steps none the less. I can only imagine the freedom that will come when energy spent protecting my heart’s wall is no longer needed for that purpose.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

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A Formidable Opponent

If you know me at all, you are most likely aware that I deal daily with the effects of a chronic illness. Some days are better than others, but all days provide a reminder that I am not the healthy younger version of me. If you know me well,  you also know that I have battled depression much of my life. Even with all the focus on educating people about depression, there is still a stigma attached to the diagnosis. In my case, the combination of a chronic illness with the long standing fight with depression can make for some very difficult days/weeks/months. The two combined can be likened to a mosquito on skin. The mosquito needs blood to live, so she finds you sitting outside on a warm, muggy summer evening. The opportunity is perfect. She silently lands on your exposed arm and begins the process of eating some of your blood. It takes a little time for you to realize that something has penetrated your skin; once you do, though, you slap at the spot in hopes of killing the blood-sucking pest. Had you been wearing a thick, long-sleeved sweatshirt, Miss Mosquito would not have been able to feast on your blood. The mosquito is only a pest when it bothers you. If you are sitting in your house and you see the mosquito flying outside, you don’t go running out there to try to kill it. It is only when it attacks that you lose patience and swat at the flying pest. Depression is like that mosquito–at least for me. It is always there, lurking beneath the surface, just waiting for the right moment to attack me. Its presence may be barely noticeable at times; however, if I am having a day that is filled with more pain than usual or dizziness that sidelines me from doing what I want and need to do, depression grows larger. My skin is exposed, so to speak, and the pest is no longer flying around waiting to attack. No, the attack comes full force.

During those times of intense attack, my inclination is one of two things. I either isolate myself knowing that my presence would not be positive company for others, or I force the depression down and pretend that, for the most part, things are okay. I have worn that mask of “things are pretty good” so many times that I am pretty darn good at pulling it off. The heartbreak, though, is that it is during those times of intense attack that I need a friend the most. It is only very recently that I have become open about the struggle I still face with the beast of depression. I have written about it before. Still, there is a sense of self-preservation in trying to cover what is really going on. Part of the reason for that is I have been burned in the past being honest on this subject.

One of the most difficult aspects of having depression as part of my life is the fact that I am a Christian. I am supposed to be joyful. I am supposed to trust God. I’m not supposed to struggle with intense sadness and self-hatred and guilt because Jesus lives in me. I believe Jesus died to set me free from all of this, yet, all of this is still very real in my life. It’s a constant conundrum to know Jesus has saved me yet I still struggle with all the yuck that depression brings to my life. I have yet to find someone who can understand this, let alone someone who can help with it.

One fictional character that I have always related to is Eeyore. You know Eeyore–the sad, blue donkey from the Winnie the Pooh cartoons. Poor Eeyore. He’s always losing his tail. He doesn’t bounce like Tigger–how could he when he always feels so sad? Recently on Facebook, I saw the following:

Eeyore’s friends have found the secret that humans have yet to figure out when dealing with people who suffer from depression. In the midst of it all, the last thing a depressed person wants or needs to hear is that they have so much going for them (even if it is true) or just snap out of it (it isn’t that easy) or everyone has hard days (it’s way more than that). What a depressed person needs is a friend–a friend like Pooh is to Eeyore–a friend who doesn’t ask you to pretend to be happy or doesn’t cancel because the awkwardness of tears is too much. (Yes, there are some times that the most loving thing a friend can do is make sure the depressed person is safe and can get help. If someone is struggling so much that they are convinced taking their life would be better than continuing to live, then professional help is needed.) Most people with depression, though, are not at that point. Instead, they are bravely trying to get through a day or a week.

I have been at both ends of the spectrum. I know what it is like to be so depressed that thought patterns are not logical and dying seems like the best option. I also know how it feels to be depressed and be fully aware of that beast as it rears its ugly head. It is in the latter times that understanding friendship, while hard to come by, is so needed. A depressed person needs a friend who will just listen and not judge tears–not a friend who passive-aggressively lectures on how good his or her life is compared to people in countries where there is no food or water.

Depression, like any other illness, at its core, is rooted in sin. Not necessarily the sin of the individual but sin in general. It is sin that caused our separation from God and caused the fall of man so that life would no longer be perfect and easy. BUT, just because a person is depressed does NOT mean that person has brought that depression on themselves by doing something wrong. If someone you love was diagnosed with cancer, you wouldn’t say to that person, “Well, you did this to yourself. At least you have food and water unlike so many in the world.” Even if that were true and the person lived a lifestyle that had the potential to cause cancer (i.e. smoking and lung cancer) you wouldn’t say that to your loved one. Instead, you would weep with them and seek to support them. Yet, when it comes to depression, people think it’s okay to try to talk depression out of people…reminding them how good they have it and scolding them for not being more grateful for all those things.

Depression is a cruel adversary. It hides for a time and can launch an attack with no warning. Unexplained tears fall freely even though they are not wanted. I know this all too well. I suspect living with someone who deals with the beast is not easy either (my husband would probably agree with that!). It is a formidable opponent that can only be conquered through the healing hand of God. And sometimes, God says “No”. Instead, God is desiring growth through adversity, tears, and pain. These are not easy words to type, nor are they easy words to live, yet living them is what I am called to do as a follower of Jesus.

I am Eeyore and what I long for–what everyone with depression longs for–is a group of friends who love me regardless of whether or not I am blue with sadness. Actually,  every human longs for this–not just people who suffer from depression. It’s just that sometimes, people who suffer from depression have a much harder time finding that kind of community. For some, it never comes and the alternative is tragic.

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I have always been a competitive person. I’m not sure exactly why. Although I loved watching sports on television as a kid, I didn’t have the opportunity to actually participate in team sports until middle school. The first sport I played was soccer. I had never even heard of soccer before, but one of my friends played on a community team (something I also didn’t know existed) and encouraged me to join when our small school formed a team. Much to my mom’s dismay, I found that I loved playing and the skills needed came naturally to me. Of course, I had been playing backyard sports prior to this–baseball, basketball, football, street hockey, volleyball, tennis–pretty much anything that involved athleticism. Soccer, though, brought out a new level of competitiveness in me. For the first time, I was playing against people I did not know and the game outcome meant something. A winning season meant postseason play. I continued playing soccer through my freshman year in college when an injury ended any future plans for continued play. I lived vicariously through my kids later on–coaching them at various levels and cheering them on, sometimes rather obnoxiously, at every game I could get to. My kids are grown now. My body wouldn’t handle running around a soccer field anymore anyway. I do still enjoy watching soccer; I also enjoy watching other sports still. I no longer have the opportunity to participate, but my competitive spirit has not diminished at all.

I guess that is a good thing, since it seems competition is all around me.

Lately I have felt that life is one big competition. Everywhere I look, it seems, someone or something is taunting me to go one more step. Sometimes this competition comes from within. My best example of that is a new little gadget my husband and I purchased over the summer. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial for the wearable exercise tracker, Fitbit. For some reason, in a moment of insanity, I agreed with my husband that getting a Fitbit would be a good idea. It would give me an idea of how much I moved during the day and give me goals to try to attain. In theory, that’s the purpose of a Fitbit. For me, though,this little gray band is always there to “scold” me if my steps or miles or floors or calories burned are not high enough to give me a green little smiley on my Fitbit report. I find myself getting very discouraged if any of those markers are not met.

My Fitbit isn’t the only thing that has forced me into feeling that I am always losing to a champion heavyweight in the final round. I’ve written in the past about my love-hate relationship with social media. A quick scroll through Facebook or Twitter bombards me with the idea that there is competition to be found in every aspect of life. Posted pictures tell me I am not skinny enough. Posted statuses elude that I am just a wife and not worthy enough. Shared articles tell me I fall short even as a Christian. The list could go on. While I am a very competitive person, there is another word that I could use to describe myself.

That word would be insecure. Most of my life has been marked by extreme insecurity. I am pretty sure I know the root cause. That isn’t the subject of this post though.

Insecurity and competition don’t play well together. They feed off of each other in a negative way and wreak havoc on the life and in the mind of the person who has the misfortune of being their playground. Over the past few weeks, my mind has been that playground. Competition usually begins the game. A post or a photo or an article tells me that I am overweight or too old. Competition tells me I don’t even come close to measuring up to what’s presented. The ball is then passed to insecurity. Insecurity wastes no time in an attempt to take me out of the game. It’s effective strategy attacks my mind, telling me because I can’t even come close to measuring up, I am certainly no longer loved by people who once loved me. In a frame of mind already weakened by illness and depression, my mind latches onto these statements as truth. I rationalize that of course this is all true. After all, I am not stupid nor am I blind. I see what our culture values–and it shouldn’t be a newsflash that gray hair, extra pounds, and an ailing body do not make the MVA (Most Valuable Assets) list. Of course some of this I bring on myself. If I know that a quick scroll through Facebook is going to leave me feeling worthless, one would think that staying off of Facebook would be the obvious choice. If I know that my husband works with women  just a few years out of college, not seeking to find a picture of them would be a wise choice to make. Maybe I am stupid, for I do exactly the opposite of the smart choices written above. This is like pouring gasoline on a fire, causing even more of a downward spiral of emotions. And tears. Buckets of tears.

That’s what has fallen this week–many tears as I wrestled with the idea that I just can’t compete with all that is out there for competition. My insecurity grew as I realized that, for one of the first times in my life, I am losing a competition.

I hate losing. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

I really want to turn the tone of this entry at this point, maybe write how God reached down and drew me out of the deep pit of depression and reminded me that what the world thinks doesn’t matter. I could write something like that. I can put all the right words down to make others think that I learned a wonderful spiritual lesson this week and grew in my walk with Christ.

But the truth is, that isn’t what happened.

The truth is I am left in the same spot I was when the lies and insecurity went running through my head–a place of doubt that I am really loved for who I am by those closest to me. Depression can do that, I guess. It can team up with just about any negative characteristic and magnify it to the point that life is just very hard. It can make a marriage difficult too. It can block any glimpses of hope that otherwise may be visible. Storms, though, never last forever. Even in fictional Narnia, eventually the sun came out and spring returned. That is my hope right now…that this storm of feeling like I just can’t measure up will someday leave.

At least it’s something.

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Measuring Sticks

I just returned from an amazing vacation with my husband. After forty years of waiting, I finally got to see the ocean AND go to Disney World. The ocean was more than I even imagined it to be. The sand was soft–so much softer than the sand found around our Minnesota lakes. The water was warm and salty. (I admit that the salt water wasn’t pleasant on the lips though.) The waves just kept rolling in. They were the perfect height for having fun. I saw surfers riding some of the waves as well. The sun was hot! Having MS has meant that I pretty much have to avoid the sun to avoid getting overheated. That said, the hot sun shining on me while I stayed cool in the water did not overheat me. It did, however, burn me. I definitely regretted not using more sunscreen. Disney World was as magical as television portrays it to be. The rides were a blast, the shopping was endless, and it really felt like I had left my normal life behind for a time. There were two days that I really struggled with heat issues. At one point, my husband was close to calling an ambulance as swallowing issues decided to plague me on our long walk to exit the World Showcase at Epcot. Returning home has been a difficult transition. My body doesn’t quite want to bounce back from the toll of the high heat and humidity of Florida. It was worth it, though, to have a week with my husband that didn’t involve work.

Being in a place like Florida, where the sun shines and the heat is high, also meant being around people who attempt to avoid getting hot so they dress to avoid the heating effect. On more than one occasion, I found my mind thinking of how awful I looked compared to so many of the females walking around us. I often thought of how much age has changed me–my face is no longer youthful as stubborn lines refuse to go away, my body is no longer thin, and even though I try to lose weight, it seems to stubbornly hang on making me dislike myself tremendously. My health is not what it used to be either. I once could walk through an amusement park for an entire day, regardless of the temperature. That is not the case anymore. I found a few hours pushed me to my limit, and I pushed right back, nearly risking a vacation spent in the hospital rather than at the “happiest place on earth”. So many times, I thought about how old I really am now. Even though my mind sometimes still thinks I am in my twenties or early thirties, the reality is that is just not the reality. I am much closer to fifty now than forty, and the twenties and thirties? Well, they are long gone along with the vitality that I possessed while in those decades.

Yesterday, as I rested to try to recover, I began to think about life. I wondered if this is really all that it is. I loved being a mom, a wife, a teacher, a coach, and all the other titles that came with being younger. I remembered the years we took our kids to the Minnesota State Fair. We were never able to take our kids on a real vacation, but each August we spent an entire day at the fair–sometimes we went twice in the fair’s twelve day run. Nothing was off limits to them–they could eat, ride, and play games to their heart’s content. Each year, several of the exhibitors would give away free things. One of those offers was a yardstick. You would see people walking through the far carrying the neon colored yardsticks given to them by an organization that wanted you to remember their business. We accumulated many of these yardsticks over the course of our years at the fair. Some of them were broken as our boys pretended they were light sabers or golf clubs, but when we moved this past spring, I counted eight brightly colored neon yardsticks that moved with us. The purpose of the yardstick is to measure something. We would use them to measure walls when we needed a rough estimate of how much paint to buy. We would use them to measure furniture to see if it would fit in a designated spot. Measuring is what the yardstick is designed to do.

As I thought yesterday about my own thoughts during our vacation, I came to the conclusion that I am tired of using others’ yardsticks to measure my own life. I look at someone who weighs less than I do, and I find I dislike myself because my body doesn’t look like that anymore. I look at someone who has been successful in the work force. She has a role to fill in her job and is respected by those around her. My husband works with many such women. I don’t measure up to that. I have no colleagues who appreciate my work or seek me out to fill an empty space on an important project. I look at someone who has smooth skin and hair that isn’t gray. I look at someone else who can handle an entire day of fun with their family without needing to take a few hours rest or use a cane for support, and I find myself jealous of when I was able to do that as well. I can’t measure up to that anymore.

This kind of thinking seldom produces anything positive. My thoughts are no exception to that rule. Still, it’s so hard to move forward when your mind keeps telling you there is no real reason to move forward–that the best years are gone.  It’s difficult when nearly every television commercial tells me I need to remove my wrinkles or I need to lose weight to look a certain way in order to be valued in society. (Ironically, as I typed this, my husband has the TV on and a commercial advertising a cream to blast away wrinkles plays…) I am trying to measure up using others’ yardsticks. It will never work–I will never be able to meet the expectations society has placed on me. I didn’t ask to grow old, but it happened anyway. I didn’t ask to struggle with weight gain/loss, but it happened anyway. I didn’t ask for an illness that limits so much of what I can do, but it happened anyway. I want to be young again, but I cannot.

I know my thoughts should be put up against the measuring stick God has for me…am I measuring up to His expectations? His expectations don’t say that my face cannot have wrinkles, that my waistline cannot have a few extra inches, or that my health has to be perfect in order to be loved. It’s definitely difficult, though, as just about everyone around me seems to say the opposite of what God says about me. Once again, it’s a battle of the mind. Just once, I want to win the battle.

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I have missed blogging. I haven’t been away because of busyness. One thing about having an empty nest–I have so much more free time than I ever thought possible. No, it hasn’t been the busyness of parenting or homeschooling that has kept me away from writing. It hasn’t even been illness, although that has definitely been a struggle many days. What has kept me away has been the loss of yet another laptop. For several years I had a red Dell laptop that I loved. I guess computers don’t live forever, for about a year ago, the charging port died on my beloved laptop. We replaced that with a red HP. (Do you see a theme in color??) That has turned out to be a bad purchase decision. The HP has serious connectivity issues that even my techie husband has been unable to fix. So, I have been forced to use an old Toshiba which works, but has serious keyboard issues. <sigh>

All that said, in my absence of being able to blog online, I at least have been able to keep up the old fashioned way–with pen and paper in my journal. The absence of blogging, though, has not meant that my heart and mind haven’t been full of swirling thoughts and emotions and passionate internal debate on subjects near and dear to me–or even subjects that I wish were not a part of me but have become so despite my wishing the contrary. One of those subjects reared its ugly head yesterday.

Feeling inferior to others and feeling like a misfit is nothing new to me. I have honestly written in the past about times in my life where it has been blatantly obvious that I was not welcomed or that I didn’t fit in with a group of people I found myself surrounded by. When illness became such a major part of my life, though, I found that I was not put in that kind of position very often. Most of my days are spent at home, either alone or in the company of immediate family members such as my husband or my daughter and grandson. There is no awkwardness there of course. But once in a while, I find myself in a situation where I am literally the only one in a group that has absolutely nothing to contribute because I do not understand the context of the conversation. Yesterday I found myself in that very spot.

My husband had been invited to attend a going away party for a person he worked with. The invitees were selective, for his leaving was not necessarily voluntary. There were and are some very hard feelings over all that took place. My husband has worked for this company for over three years and was (still is) very close with the guy who left. In those years I have met only one of his colleagues and that was while traveling with him in South Dakota. I had kept the car to go visit a special family and when I went back to the client to pick him up, he was walking out with this guy and he introduced me to him. Beyond that, I have not attended any function that would have allowed me to meet anyone. I only know names from what my husband talks about at home, but have never had faces to put with the names. I do now. I was nervous leading up to the party, but I told myself that others would have spouses that were in a similar situation like me.

I. Was. Wrong.

Everyone there knew each other. In fact, the majority of the people there were former employees of the company. Spouses that were there had all been to numerous company functions in the many years their husbands had worked together. It was like a big reunion and I was the guest that no one knew. To make me feel even worse, the wife of the guy who planned the party asked me what I did for a living. I should have expected that question, but I guess I haven’t been out in so long, I had forgotten that it is a standard question among those in the business world. My reply used to be that I homeschool my children, but that is no longer the case. Instead, I fumbled for words to say that didn’t make me sound like a lazy person. I finally said that I used to homeschool my children, but they have all grown and moved out so now I just stay home. The reply took the hostess by surprise, I think, for her response was simply, “Oh.” I couldn’t tell if it was in disdain or if she simply didn’t quite know what to say to that. I tried to quickly explain that part of the year I did work from home in a professional job in the field of education, but I think she had tuned out by then. I got no response or interest. The rest of the evening found me sitting and listening to everyone else talk about management and engagements and staff and all the other things this group of people had in common. A sub-group of people, comprised of a recently retired couple (the husband had worked for the company for years) and a few others talked about their extensive travels around the world. To say I was uncomfortable is an understatement. To say it made me feel insignificant is also an understatement. I fought back tears as we left and made the long drive home.

In my hurt, I posted a Facebook status about the evening I had just had. Friends commented, reminding me that I had raised four children, had homeschooled them, and that my worth is really found in Jesus. I appreciate their comments and the fact that they cared enough to comment. I certainly don’t underestimate the influence being a full time mom had on my kids. I am thankful for the investment I poured into them. In reality, I wouldn’t trade those hard years of full time mothering and homeschooling for anything. Still, (and unless one has been in this situation I suspect it is quite hard to understand) when put in a situation where everyone else in the room works or has worked in a professional career, it is nearly impossible to feel like your life has any value. Even my husband does not really understand why the tears fell so hard last night. He didn’t struggle last night–he had much to contribute to the conversation. Similarly, he always has an answer when someone outside of his circle asks him what he does. The answer to that question always brings interest and intrigue from the one who asked. And rightly so. After all, he does have a job that is different and sometimes exciting. It is just expected, I guess, that everyone has an answer to that question. Maybe not every job is confusing like my husband’s so that not everyone has to explain what they do like he does, but answers like “I’m a teacher” or “I’m an engineer” or “I’m a financial adviser” bring nods of understanding and respect from those listening. “I’m an empty nester”? Not so much. The response to that is usually a blank stare–and that makes me want to crawl away and hide from all people.

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I don’t often write about books I’ve read or movies I’ve watched–I actually don’t watch many movies. I have a hard time sitting still that long. That said, if I am writing about something I read or watched, you can be certain that it had a big impact on me.

This post is about something I watched that not only got my attention, it got me fired up. It also made me wish I had been able to view this video before I became a parent of school age children.

Now, I must start this with a disclaimer. I sometimes struggle with thinking that every person should follow the same protocol when it comes to educating children. I also am fully aware that there are exceptions to every scenario and that the public school system doesn’t “ruin” every Christian kid who goes through its paces. I also realize that there are strong Christian teachers within many public school districts who truly care about the children they are teaching. So please, do not send me hate mail or unfriend me on Facebook simply because I may be writing things that you do not agree with.

Okay. That’s done. Now, onto the meat of this entry.

I am a new grandma. Fairly new. Our precious grandson is nearly six months old now. His mommy and daddy are great parents! His daddy works hard in order to allow his mommy, my daughter, to stay at home with their son full time. They make sacrifices to that order as well. They have one car in order to save paying insurance on a second car–that would often just sit in the driveway anyway. They seldom eat out, choosing instead to cook meals at home. Their date nights, when grammy and grandpa get the baby, are not spent at movies or fancy restaurants. Instead, they go skateboarding or walk through a park. They both believe it is best for their son to have his mommy home with him. They are on the same page when it comes to how they want their son to be educated as well. They have already decided to homeschool him. His mommy was homeschooled for several years. Not that she struggled in school, at least not what one would consider typical struggle. She did fall victim to the No Child Left Behind act but in the reverse form than most. You see, she was very bright and caught on to concepts quickly. She was independent and had interests she wanted to pursue. The public school system didn’t allow that, especially the high school where she would have to attend. They operate on a block schedule. That means students only have four classes per day and they are somewhere around eighty minutes long. The problem with a schedule like that, at least for our daughter, is it left a lot of wasted time (and boredom) when she “got” the concept in the first ten minutes, but the teacher needed to make sure that all twenty students in the class “got” it as well. Our bright, well-adjusted daughter went from loving learning to hating it! School became a miserable existence for her. She had been homeschooled prior to high school and ended up finishing high school at home.

Last week, after some medical issues forced me to rest for several days, I popped in a video I had ordered. Its title is “Indoctrination”. It’s a documentary, narrated by Colin Gunn, on the public school system in America. And it was unbelievable. I was riveted to my screen for the full one hundred minutes of the video. Mr. Gunn is actually from Scotland. He and his wife homeschool their children. He buys a school bus (for the irony) and travels to several states, interviewing teachers and parents. He examines curriculum and gives hard facts to swallow about what children actually learn while in school.

Now, if you are reading this and you don’t believe in God or you don’t call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, then none of what I write here applies to you. Of course you would have no problem sending your children to government run schools. It’s how you were most likely educated and you probably turned out just fine.

BUT, if you do believe in God and you do call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, then everything in this video pertains to you and to your children.  Mr. Gunn gives statistics revealing how many Christian kids walk away from their faith soon after high school. The number is staggering. He makes the point, though, that parents should not be surprised when this happens. After all, if your  third grader is being taught that two men can marry because love should be for all (and he is being taught this for sure), even though you may tell him the opposite, eventually, after years of hearing his third grade teacher’s words validated with only you and maybe a youth leader disagreeing, there is a string likelihood that your child will think you are the one in the wrong. How can so many teachers and peers be wrong? One of the most eye opening moments for me was when Mr. Gunn interviewed a second grade teacher. She point blank told him that parents have NO idea what really goes on at school. In fact, one school district, after learning of several teens getting pregnant, decided to hand out condoms to students as young as fourth grade. Mr. Gunn asked what would happen if a parent objected. The superintendent of that district said that parents don’t need to know and even if they called to say they wanted their child exempt from this, it didn’t matter…the school did not have to listen to parents. Seriously? Last I knew, a parent gave birth to that child and that child is their responsibility.

Except parents have abdicated that responsibility to the government schools.

Mr. Gunn talked about how our founding fathers were mostly educated at home and many of them would be astounded if they could come back and be told that parents now send their little ones of to some stranger for an entire day, five days a week, nine months a year. Hitler once said if he could control the schools, he could control the country. You have ideas and agendas for your children—for them to be educated. The government also has ideas and agendas for your children; however, they may not line up with yours.

I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. Instead, I would encourage you, if you are a Christian parent, to watch this documentary. It WILL step on your toes. It WILL reveal things you probably have no idea goes on. It WILL break your heart at times. It WILL anger you. Hopefully, it will get you thinking about your own children. What choices have you made for them and are those choices really the best? Regardless of where you stand on the idea of homeschooling and private schools, this is a MUST watch for every Christian parent.

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