You Can Know Something and Not Feel It-Thoughts on Guatemala

“You can know something and not feel it.” I repeat this phrase to my clients over and over to explain that they can know they are safe and not feel that way. They can know that things will be ok and not feel it. As I sit here today with my thoughts drifting back to my experience in Guatemala this is the only phrase that comes to mind. “You can know something and not feel it.” I thought I knew things about Guatemala, diversity, poverty, community, friendship and the world, but it’s nothing like experiencing it.

Can I admit something real quick? Is that ok? I only agreed to go on this trip to Guatemala because I am a youth group leader at my church. I didn’t pray about going. I didn’t ask God if I should go. I didn’t have a burning passion for short term international missions. I’m a youth group leader and a committer so when I was told we were going to go to Guatemala, I immediately agreed to go. I’m committed to my high school students and I would be there.

But here’s the thing. When you don’t discuss something over with God it can lead to a lot of questioning. I now know that God definitely wanted me on this trip but up until I went there, I wasn’t so sure about it. I was worried about how I was going to pay for this trip. Also, now that I’m a private practice therapist, I no longer get vacation and I felt concerned over the loss of a week’s pay. This also meant that a vacation was not going to be possible this summer. I felt beach time and campfires slipping away and an entire week was going to be spent in another country. One of my biggest concerns was that we were spending a lot of money to go to another country and relieve some of our own guilt by doing things that weren’t helpful at all. I was afraid that we were going to “do missions” for one week, check it off of our list and call it good for the rest of the year. That kind of missions makes me sick. If there is no ongoing discipleship involved, I’m not about it. I’m also the type of person who feels guilty quickly and just wants to fix things and I was worried that I might feel overwhelmed.

You know what though? I was completely wrong. I would not give back this experience for anything. And it is because it was exactly that, an experience. I knew things about Guatemala and the world before, but now I have experienced a little bit more. And that is much different. I quickly realized that this was not your typical mission’s trip. We traveled to Guatemala City so that we could visit a Carepoint, in Santa Catarina Pinula, to build relationships. That was our main purpose; to build relationships. A Carepoint is a place that provides activities, mentoring, lunch, a safe space etc. for the kids living in the community. My church and a few other churches from Kalamazoo are the only ones who sponsor the children at this Carepoint. We are in a partnership with this Carepoint and community. We are the only group that they will be seeing this summer. My church and the few others are the only ones that they will be developing relationships with. My roommate Kaitlin has been to this Carepoint three times and there are children there that know her name. It is an ongoing relationship.

On one of the evenings that we were in Guatemala, we had dinner with Mimi and Daisy. They are amazing women who run the Carepoint that we came to visit. Mimi shared with us, through tears, about how long she had prayed for support and how my church was an answer to her prayers. She explained that the kids at the Carepoint pray for us, ask about us and ultimately love us. When I found this out I felt overwhelmed. There were people in Guatemala that were praying for me and my church and caring about us, long before I ever knew anything about them. This trip wasn’t about a bunch of Americans just being exposed to the rest of the world and knowing more. This was about experiencing another place, another culture and ultimately building relationships.

Turns out that this isn’t a short term anything. This is a long term, I pray for you, you pray for me, across miles, relationship. This is a community. This a picture of God’s global kingdom. This is a “I’m going to learn your names, not forgot you, remember your smiles, not look away from your pain,” kind of relationship. It’s no longer just people in a different part of the world, but my friends. I can now say that some of my favorite people live in Guatemala. I saw things that I have never seen before. Guatemala is not all in poverty, but the areas we were in had poverty like I’ve never seen before and I can’t un-see it. I gave a thousand horsey back rides to kids who learned my name despite the language barrier and I am committed to praying for them consistently.

So the thing about this blog is that I know that it is more for me than it is for you. I know that you probably know a lot of people who have gone to Guatemala. I know that this blog is more for me to process and hope that you will get a little taste of what I have experienced. I now know that hearing about Guatemala is not the same as experiencing it.

So what did I experience? I experienced hospitality like no other.  I attended a church service where they translated the majority of the service into English just because we were there. I experienced community and laughter. I saw what answers to prayer looks like and the strong unrelenting faith of a woman named Mimi who never stopped asking God for what these kids needed. I tasted a lot of different foods and drank the best Coca-Cola I have ever had. I went to the zoo with 300 of my new friends. I drank coffee, played cards and looked out at a volcano every morning. I also saw houses that made me cry. I watched these kids, that I came to care about, pack up their lunches after one bite so that they could take it home to share with their families. I received more hugs than I can count and I developed a connection and a love for another country that I will never lose.

But what is the point of an experience if it doesn’t change your future? I am determined to take steps that flow out of this trip. I have decided to commit to praying every day for everyone at the Carepoint and the community of Santa Catarina Pinula. I subscribed to more news sources to keep up on world news. I have also decided to sponsor a child at the Carepoint. I think that this ministry is so fantastic that I highly encourage you to check into it. Your church, bible study, family can support a Carepoint and be given the same opportunity and privilege that I have been given to build relationships with amazing people in a different country. You can go to their website for more information. https://www.hopechest.org

This experience allowed me to develop a connection and a love for another country that I will never lose. And God willing, I will go back. Because they know my name and I know theirs and we are all in the kingdom of God together.

This blog was only a little piece of what I experienced. I would love to have coffee with you and share more about my trip.

 

Are We Afraid of Ourselves?

When did we become afraid of silence? When did we become a society scared to sit still and hear our own thoughts? When did our own minds become the enemy? Are we afraid of ourselves? And if we aren’t afraid of ourselves, should we be? With the number of suicides increasing daily in the United States it could lend to the idea that the mind and our thoughts are something to be feared.

Perhaps this is why everyone is trying so hard to drowned out the deafening noise of silence. Isn’t that ironic? Doesn’t it seem like silence yells louder than a little league coach on a Saturday morning? Isn’t it strange how staring at a person in a waiting room is considered more ridiculous than staring at a little box in your hand? Isn’t it odd that we have become so consumed with trying to accomplish things that we have no time to celebrate them when they are actually accomplished?

I myself am not on the outside of this but rather one of the worst offenders. I say offender because, by my participating in excessive busyness and flaunting my accomplishments, I feed the belief to others that my life is what normal looks like. I am proud of my accomplishments and yet I am not proud of feeding the beast that says to others “Do more! It is attainable and expected.”

A few years ago I found myself struggling with anxiety again. I have struggled with anxiety throughout my life but this time there was an added fear. I was afraid to be alone. This was strange because I had spent plenty of time alone in the past. In college I spent hours studying alone and writing papers. I also was spending plenty of time at work alone doing paperwork and I was not bothered. However, if I knew I was going to be at home with an unplanned chunk of alone time my anxiety would start to rise. So I had a choice to make, either make plans with friends for every waking moment of free time, which I did for a while, or face myself in the silence. Through the help of friends and the Enneagram personality test, I eventually realized that I was not afraid of being alone, I was afraid of being invaluable. I felt like if I was not working, doing something for someone else or spending time with someone I had no value. As an Enneagram type 3, my type loves accomplishing things on my to-do-list and sculpting how I am perceived by others. If I feel like I am not accomplishing tasks or am being perceived poorly by others the monster of “do more” creeps back in. Actually, even if I am feeling accomplished that monster is almost always there.

I was recently listening to a podcast on the Enneagram and they said that society in the United States is functioning as a 3’s world. What this means is that most people of every enneagram type are feeling the pressure to do more and check the boxes on the to-do-list. I hear many people saying that our society is pressuring everyone to be workaholics. While some of that may be true, I think that we may also be choosing it for ourselves. I think that we want to fill the silence, feed the void and drowned out any deep thoughts. If we stop being so busy we may have time to feel our empty souls. We may have to question our value. We may have to contemplate our purpose. We may have to feel pain.

The unfortunate thing is that my need to fill the pieces of my soul that I don’t want to see is as easy as turning on my phone, buying something new, picking up a coffee, exercising, eating delicious food or pushing a deadline to give my brain a kick of dopamine that overrides everything else, at least for a moment. And I am a dopamine addict. It has rewired my brain. I used to spend hours as a child in my back yard playing with a few sticks and some stones. And now? I can barely sit in silence for 15 minutes without feeling the guilt of “I should be doing something more productive.”

I want my brain back. I want to see into my soul. I want to feel my heart. I want to know how my grandparents lived in the same house for over 60 years, only updating décor about every 30 years and that does not include the davenport, which possibly came with the house. I want to know how they looked over corn fields every day and still look out the same window in joy over the birds. I want to hear the silence again and notice the beauty in all of the things that I have been missing. I want to look people in the eyes again and actually notice what they look like. I want to hear the voice of Jesus and leave room for the only one that can fill my empty spaces.

Even as I write this I am sipping on a coffee at a coffee shop and have checked my phone about 20 times. I also acknowledge that in me writing about my quest for silence I am somehow giving value to it by having others read about it. I know that my mind is prone to wander. It will always be part of my personality to want to work, perform, feel valuable in what I do. And so to be healthy I need to acknowledge that and go against what feels most comfortable. I have to force myself to sit in silence. I have to push myself to do things that are relaxing and not productive. I have to fight the voice that says “You’re value is in what you do” to hear the voice of God that says “You were valuable the day you were born and always will be.”

 

Surviving Depression

It’s been 3 years since my last battle with depression and anxiety. It has been 3 years since I struggled to climb out of bed for anything but work. It’s been 3 years since everything was a blur and nothing made me happy. It’s been 3 years since I wrestled with God while tears filled my pillow. It’s been 3 years since I had anxiety that would wake me up in the middle of the night and cause me to go all day without eating because I was sick to my stomach. It’s been 6 years since my anxiety was so bad in my college classes that I sometimes had to tell myself over and over to just stay another minute. It’s been 6 years since my nighttime dreams attacked me. It’s been 6 years since I feared I would have to drop out of college because I was convinced I was going crazy. It’s been 15 years since I first experienced depression. It’s been 15 years since I didn’t know what depression was. It’s been 15 years since I thought I might not survive it. I’ve struggle with seasons of depression and anxiety 3 different times in my life. I am happy to say that thanks to God, Family, friends, prayer and therapy tools, I am happy and healthier than I’ve ever been.

Define Depression.

First, let’s define depression. Depression is feeling sad or feeling nothing when your life is going well.  If something difficult is going on in your life it is normal to feel sad. If you are sad because you experienced a loss of someone, a job, a friendship, or a season in life, that’s called grief.

Allow Yourself to Feel Sad and to Grieve. 

After my first experience with depression I was afraid for a long time to feel sad. It made me concerned that I would slip into depression again. What I have learned is that I need to cry and grieve over loss and cry over things that make me sad. If we don’t grieve loss properly, we will only defer it. Then we will have to suffer the consequences of unhealth and still have to grieve at a later time.

Find a Therapist

I know that I am biased because I am a therapist. However, I have been training for many years to help people work through their problems. A therapist is an expert on problem solving and is highly skilled on working through depression and anxiety. I wish that I had gone to a therapist as a teenager. I may have learned some of the things that I am sharing with you, a lot sooner. I know going to see a therapist can be hard. However, a therapist is not someone that will judge you or tell you that you are crazy. A therapist is simply someone who will help you find the answers to your problems that you already had, you just didn’t know they were there. 

Learn Coping Skills

When I was 14 the only way that I knew how to cope with depression and anxiety was to sleep. I had no idea that I could learn tools that could not only help to prevent depression and anxiety but could also help me survive it in the moment. Coping skills vary from person to person. Some of the coping skills that have helped me have been deep breathing, self-talk, sharing vulnerably and exercise. Grounding and meditation are also helpful. I know that when I mention meditation to some Christians, they look at me like I joined a cult. Not all mediation is bad. There are Christian options of meditation out there. Mediation is simply doing a combination of deep breathing and focused thinking to bring you to a state of feeling calm and peaceful. Research actually shows that practicing meditation regularly can rewire the brain and relieve anxiety.

Keep Doing the Things that You Don’t Feel Like Doing

When I experienced depression while I was in grad school, I considered taking a leave of absence. I was convinced I was losing it and could not handle my responsibilities. My mom convinced me to just keep trying to make it through one more class, one more hour, one more day. I would struggle to get to my internship and initially felt overwhelmed. However, by the end of the day I felt good that I was able to accomplish something and do something good for others. It made me feel stronger, like I could get through it and maybe I wasn’t going to lose everything. I was reminded by a friend that everyone struggles to get out of the bed in the morning. Everyone struggles to get started on work. However, you just have to start somewhere and then a little turns into a lot and you’ve created a new habit. You can build momentum by just starting with doing something small.

Find a Community.

Each time I have experienced depression, it has gotten easier for me. The big reason for this is that I now know how to rely on my community. My family and some of my friends know how to care for me when I’m struggling. My mom gives me hugs, just listens and reminds me that everything is going to be ok. My sisters let me share all of my unrealistic worries and they would pull me out of bed and push me to exercise. And my friend Sarah would just be with me and watch movies, never forcing me to be anything else but real. My people have brought me comfort and accountability in my times of depression. I could not have survived it without them.

Be Vulnerable

The only way my people have been able to be there for me is because I told them I was struggling. When I was a teenager I tried to hide the depression. I thought I was the only person in the world struggling to feel happy. I thought I was the only person crying themselves to sleep for no reason. I used to be so embarrassed. But the more I am open about my worries and my struggles the more I realize that I am not alone and I am more normal than I once believed.

Exercise

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, exercise should be the first thing that you do. Even if it is just 20 to 30 minutes a day. There is research that has found that exercise can not only decrease depression but prevent it in the first place. There are also studies that have found that for people with moderate depression, exercise is just as beneficial as taking an anti-depressant. Exercise also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important role in regulating your mood. Exercise also helps to improve sleep and sleep has a big impact on your mood. Exercise is one of the only coping skills that has the ability to immediately lower anxiety by reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. This year I decided to be proactive before the gloomy Michigan winter started and I hired a trainer. I made it part of my routine to work out 5 days a week. I feel healthier, happier and more relaxed this winter then I have felt in years.

Change Your Diet

What you eat matters. There has also been a lot of research released recently around the gut and the guts impact on our brains. It is pretty basic. Protein, fruits, vegetables and some dairy is good for our brains. We need to eat more vegetables than we do. Sugar on the other hand is very bad for the brain. Bottom line, eat more vegetables and less sugar to relieve depression and anxiety. This is not easy to do. I still eat foods with sugar in it. But I have cut way back and have increased my vegetable intake. I want my brain to be healthy and I want my mood to be stable so I suck it up and do it.

Get 8 Hours of Sleep

This one is actually at the top of my priority list. I work very hard to get 8 hours of sleep. Any less than 8 hours of sleep is damaging to the brain and can cause depression and anxiety and any more than 8 hours is also damaging to the brain and can cause depression and anxiety. I love Netflix as much as the next person but when it comes to my mental sanity, watching another episode is not worth it. Go to bed.

Consider Taking Medication

Medication is not for everyone. Medication will not fix your problems. Medication will not take away grief or sadness. There are many other things that often need to be addressed before considering medication. However, I take medication. I take a small dose of an anti-depressant. Depression runs in my family and I was blessed enough to have an older cousin help guide me with what I was experiencing in depression. She reminded me that I did not have to feel guilty about taking medication for a disease. Medication has obviously not been the only thing that has helped to relieve my depression, but it is one of the things that helps to keep me stable. If depression and/or anxiety runs in your family talk to a doctor and then research any medications before taking them. Medications can at least get you to a place of being able to seek therapy or other avenues to help.

Consider Neurofeedback

I work for a company that specializes in Neurofeedback or brain wave training. I won’t go into all the details because that could be a blog on its own. However, neurofeedback really helped to lower my anxiety levels. The main idea of neurofeedback is that it rewards your brain for making changes so that your brain can heal itself. If you are curious about how neurofeedback might help you, feel free to ask me about it.

Learn About Your Personality

I have learned so much about myself since I first experienced depression as teenager.  I have even learned more about my personality in the last 3 years then I have in my lifetime and it has been freeing. There was a time 3 years ago when I felt overwhelmed to be alone. I hated spending time alone. It is true that I am an extreme extrovert. I love being with people! However, this was an unhealthy issue. I would verge on a panic attack when I was alone. So I started spending more time alone. The more time I spent alone the more I could learn about myself. I realized that the reason I hated spending time alone was because I felt invaluable alone. If I was not working or doing something for someone else I felt no sense or worth. I eventually was introduced to the Enneagramm Personality Test. Through this test I learned that I am a 3, a performer/achiever. And what are one of the issues that 3s struggle with? They struggle to feel like they have value when they are alone. The more I learn about my personality and where my struggles are, the stronger I become. I highly recommend taking the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test as well as the Enneagramm Personality Test. The more you know about yourself the more steps you can take to health.

Face Your Fears

There is a type of therapy called exposer therapy. The entire idea behind it is that if someone is afraid of something, like going to school for example, they practice doing that thing until it gets better. So the more you are exposed to it the easier it gets. You learn that something isn’t as scary as you thought it would be once you faced it. It’s just like when I was scared of being alone, I knew that I needed to spend time being alone so that idea no longer controlled me. If I had allowed those thoughts to control me then I would spend the rest of my life putting time and energy into ensuring that I was never alone and that is exhausting. I had fears that were embarrassing to share with others. The last time I dealt with depression I was overwhelmed with this idea that no man would ever want to marry me because I was a twin and because I had mental health issues. I also believed that I should never have children because no child should have a mother with issues. I would try to face the idea of being alone, but I was also afraid of being alone. I remember the night that I sat at the top of the stairs of my home and told my friend Sarah about every terrifying thought I was having. Not only was this freeing but she was also able to help me find logic and truth in my thoughts. If we don’t face our fears and thoughts, they will continue to control us.

Find Your Identity

In the same way that depression and anxiety often drive fears and negative thoughts they can also drive negative beliefs about ourselves. Our identity often is attacked in the middle of depression and anxiety. We start to believe that we aren’t valuable. We believe that we aren’t good at anything or that we are annoying. We believe that others would be better off without us. And none of that is true. You bring talents, and laughter and a presence to this world that only you can bring. Just by being alive you are valuable. Finding my identity in the Lord and discovering my gifts and abilities and the uniqueness that I bring to this world has changed my entire outlook on life. I know that I have a purpose and that God says I have value. Seeking a therapist and your community is a great place to start when it comes to changing thought patterns and facing fears.

Wrestle with God

When I first struggled with depression as a teenager I tried spending a lot of time reading my bible and praying. From what I had been taught by my church, I thought that these acts would fix everything. I became even more distraught when I did not start feeling better. I remember sitting on my bed, crying tears onto the pages of my bible and crying out to God, asking him where he was. Reading the bible had the truth for me but it did not fix how I was feeling.  I am the type of person that can’t just believe something blindly. I need answers and reasons. I had to sort this out with God and only God could give me the answers. I have always had very deep thoughts and lots of questions even as a child. At age 10 I was questioning my pastor and my parents on death and the purpose of life. As a teenager I felt overwhelmed by the fact that people’s lives are made up of trying to get to the next season in life with no satisfaction and then they die. It made me wonder what the purpose of living was. I had to struggle through this with God and came out on the other side stronger. I learned that my only purpose in life is to live for God. There have been many quiet times and sleepless nights that I spent crying out to God for answers. While these seasons have been painful they have also made my faith stronger.

Pray Over Everything

The last time I experienced depression and anxiety was not long after I had moved into a new home. After sharing with a friend that I was struggling to sleep at night and felt overwhelmed most when I was at home alone, he suggested that I pray over my entire house. He reminded me that I don’t know what happened in that home before I lived there and that there could still be spiritual presence from the enemy in the home. So I went home and I prayed the blood of Jesus over every room in that house. That night I got full night’s sleep. I believe that there are many causes of depression that are not spiritual, but when you are down the enemy will jump on that. Lack of sunshine is a big factor for me in struggling with depression, but once I’m depressed, the enemy has attacked my dreams. There can be bondage that we are in that we need to be set free from and that is only going to happen through prayer. Pray over your house. Pray over your dreams. Pray over your mind. Pray the armor of God over yourself. Pray for strength from the Lord.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety please feel free to reach out to me with more questions. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. If someone you know has expressed a plan to end their life do not hesitate to drive them to the emergency room and get help from professionals.

 

 

 

 

Men Versus Women; The Ultimate Battle

 
 

“Girls Rule, Boys Drool!” Was the chant I repeated around 10 years old with my other girl friends, when the boys were picking on us. Of course years later I would call that same behavior flirting and suddenly boys were the best thing God had ever created. However, somewhere long before this happened, it had already been instilled in me that this was a boy versus girls world. No one had ever said that directly to me, but I could pick up on it. Competitions or games as a child were often boys versus girls. I learned from TV shows and friends that girls were better than boys, of course that’s not what my brother would say. And even at church I would hear grown women talk about how stupid their husbands were, while the men would discuss how dumb it is to let a woman preach. Everywhere I’ve turned in our culture, it has been men versus women my entire life. And the fight is still ramping up. 
It’s no secret that women have not always been equals in our country. After some women’s rights movements women were finally given the right to vote in. 1920 and slowly our country has turned into a place where women have had more of a voice than they ever had before. In 2018 women have come a long way but still run into societal norms and glass ceilings that can make them feel like 2nd class citizens. And then the #metoo movement happened and years of hidden sexual abuse was suddenly being recognized. I think most people, male or female would recognize that these changes have been good things in our country. 

However, most people know that a recent court case involving Ford versus Kavanaugh was the case of the year with everyone weighing in their opinions. A case based in sexual assault allegations became the entire country’s case. This case was more than a concern about who would be judging court cases in our country. This case was about more then finding justice for sexual abuse. This case was personal. This was the ultimate fight for men versus women. Who is more believable? A male or a female?

So why was this case so personal? Some would say that it got personal because they really care about justice for sexual abuse, and for some, that is true. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I want to see us have higher standards in this country and for women to be able to feel safe. Sexual abuse makes me so sad and so sick. Because of this, I followed the Nassar case very closely, and was thankful to see justice come for all of those girls. But this case? This one wasn’t so cut and dried, and yet on both sides there were people everywhere proclaiming that they knew the truth. I may take some flack for saying this, but not one of us can say that we know 100% who was telling the truth. 

On one side I heard people crying out to believe the victim. On another side I heard people saying that this was all a stunt from the Democratic Party to keep Kavanaugh out of office. Some even said that they believed they were both telling the truth and they couldn’t actually remember well. Whatever side of the coin people were sitting on, they were crying, screaming and demanding that they were right. Why? 
Well this brings us back to this case being personal. Before you guess what direction I’m going in, I want to make this clear that this case was personal for both men and women. First of all, I’ve never met a woman that hasn’t been at least sexually harassed, if not more, at some point in her life and felt no control over the situation. In high school I worked at a greenhouse where I experienced sexual harassment. And I did nothing about it, except to try to scare these men into leaving me alone. I needed the job, so telling my boss about it was not going to do a thing. I could quit, but I didn’t want to, so I endured it. My story is a small example compared to what so many women have experienced. For many women, they wanted justice for Ford because it felt like justice for themselves. Justice for all the times they have been sexually harassed and abused and there was no justice. 
On the other hand, Kavanaugh sat in that same court room claiming that he did not do it and he had been wrongly accused. I couldn’t help but also think about experiences of my own father. My father is an upstanding Christian man who lives out his faith and yet he has been lied about and had a career ruined by women who simply did not like his belief system. For years my dad worked for a company where he started out as a truck driver and eventually worked his way up to purchasing agent. Well, the office manager, was a woman, made it very clear to my dad that she did not like his belief system and therefore did not like him. After many years of her constantly lying about my dad and trying to ruin him, she finally blackmailed the owner of the company and had my dad fired. I am sure this is not the only story of a woman being cruel to a man, and all of those men also felt that this court case was personal. 
At this point in this blog your blood is probably starting to boil and you want to fight me. You are also probably wanting to know the point of this blog. And honestly, this blog is a call for unity. It is a call for restoration between men and women. I think that all of the anger that came out over this court case was a symptom of the brokenness in our country and world between men and women. Lots of men have sexual abused women and kept them down under glass ceilings and that’s painful. And lots of women have hated on men, lied about them and destroyed them and that’s painful too. All these hurts can push us to want to take up a side along gender or political lines and cry out about how we have been hurt the most. But to all of the Christians out there reading this post, we don’t get to play that way. 
The enemy has been trying to divide male and female from day 1. God felt that it was not good for Adam, the first male, to be alone, and so he created the female. Their purpose was to live in unity together. But the moment sin entered the world, they started throwing each other under the bus and blaming the other for sin. But the truth is, they both messed up. And since that time both males and females have been born with the same amounts of sin. We ALL have problems. We are all broken. And we all need Jesus to restore us. As Christians we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what we are fighting for? Is it what Jesus would fight for or is it just what everyone else is fighting for currently so it sounds good? Do we care about redemption, restoration and renewal amongst men and women? When we take up sides do we do so because we are in line with God and scripture or because our personal pain and bias are coming into play? If we really believe the teachings of Jesus we can’t just stay in constant fights. We actually have to do things to move forward. 
How can we do that? I’m glad you asked. Here are some tangible things we can do to restore unity amongst men and women. 
Men, help all women feel safe. It goes without saying that you should not sexually abuse or assault a woman. In fact, you shouldn’t even touch a woman without asking. But men, I’m asking for even more than just this. I’m asking you to go above and beyond and to care about all women. It’s one thing to keep your own family safe but looking out for all the females around you at all times shows the love of the family of God. I recently had a scary situation with a stranger late at night and my friend’s husband didn’t even question it, he came right over to make sure I was safe. That made me feel so cared for. 

Women, do not talk about men like they are stupid. I have heard way too many jokes from Christian women about how dumb their husbands are because they are men. That is an incorrect stereotype and not ok. Start speaking out what you want to be true. Use words of respect.
Men, help women have a voice. Recognize that it is often natural for a woman to take a back seat to men just from feeling intimidated, whether that is in a work meeting or in church leadership. Make a habit of asking women their thoughts and listening to them. Make space for women. 

Women, get therapy. if you have been hurt by a man or men it is not ok to then generalize all men. I have seen too many women who have been hurt by a man who then take it out on all men. If I see a woman who is harsh towards men it usually indicates to me that she has pain that hasn’t been healed. And it is important to find healing. 
Men, get therapy. Yes, I am a therapist, so I do encourage therapy. However, there are a lot of men out there who treat women poorly because of their own pain. And I know that it’s hard for men to want to go to therapy but it can be so helpful in finding health and healing. 
Women, read books written by men and go to bible studies with men in them. I love a good women’s conference, girl’s nights and women’s bible studies as much as the next Christian woman, but there is value in hearing about the Bible from a man’s perspective. It is valuable to seek out books, sermons and podcasts from both genders. 
Men, I cannot emphasize this enough. Read books written by women. When was the last time you read a Christian book written by a women? Or heard a sermon or podcast by a woman? Both genders have wisdom. Don’t shortchange yourself by sticking to only a man’s perspective on the Bible. 
Women, remind yourselves that our goal is to have more equality with men in this country, not to completely take over. I recently have been seeing a new popular saying that says “the future is female”. That is completely incorrect and sad to me. The future is male and female, working in unity together. 
Men, acknowledge that women are hurting. Some women come on strong and it can feel like they are against you, but the truth is that it is a cry for help. Every single woman has been hurt, abused, harassed, ignored or limited by a man. Please acknowledge our pain. 
Men and Women, educate and protect your children from pornography, binge drinking and sexual abuse. Pornography is a huge problem in our country and I believe that it is the vein that feeds sexual abuse. Talk to your children about porn and keep them far away from it. Also, talk to your kids about drinking and the implications of getting drunk. There is a reason that God says getting drunk is not ok. All kinds of things you will never remember, including things that could send you to jail, can happen when you’re drunk. Is that worth it? 

  Men and women, pray! Pray for each other. Pray for our country. Pray for unity. Men are not the enemy. Women are not the enemy. Only Jesus can restore us and restore unity among us. Let us keep praying so that we don’t get distracted by arguments and pain that might keep us from what God has for us. In the end, our goal should not be revenge, control or dominance of the opposite sex but rather living in unity together with our focus on God. He created both genders and said that it was good. Let’s all try to remind ourselves of that. 

To the Single Woman Who Wants Kids; You’re Already a Mother

 

I know that when you were a teenager, babysitting other people’s children, you were scared to someday become a mom. You were nervous that you would be bored or that you wouldn’t be able to handle it. You knew that children were a big responsibility and you were thankful that motherhood was years away. And despite spending many Saturday nights dateless and babysitting, you would have never guessed that years down the road you would still have not found Mr. Right and your heart would ache to hold your own babies. I know that you don’t want anyone to know that. You can’t tell anyone that you want a baby. That could be offensive to your friends that are struggling with infertility or sound ridiculous to those choosing not to have children yet.

“You’re so young, you have lots of time,” everyone says. Plus you don’t want to be one of those insane women that is worried about her biological clock ticking. If you start doing that you might come across as desperate. That would make it even harder to find Mr. Right. You can’t have a guy knowing that you really want to start having children soon. That might be too much pressure and scare him away. So you don’t tell anyone. But deep down, I know how it hurts. I know that you are afraid that you may never meet Mr. Right which would default you into never having children of your own. I know that you wonder whether or not you will ever rock one of your own babies to sleep or hear little foot prints running across the wood floors. I know that you imagine having a child call you mom and make you crafts at preschool. You know that motherhood comes with sacrifice but you can’t help but feel like a husband and children would make your house into a home. A place filled with laughter and just so much noise. More noise than it is filled with now.

I know that you trust God and you don’t want to miss what is happening now. I know that you put your faith in his perfect plans and you hold onto the hope of “someday” while still living in today. I know that you smile while your friends fly past you through all of the “normal” stages of life, but deep down you wonder “how did I get so far behind?” God knows your desires. He always has and always will. In the midst of this secret battle I want to encourage you that you are already a Mother. The common belief is that you become a mother when you get pregnant. Then you become more of a mother when you give birth and finally you become a super mother when you get an SUV and join every committee at your child’s school.

But the truth is that you became a mother when you were born. When you were born a little girl you were born with the ability to “Mother”. It is an innate ability. No one had to show you to pick up the baby doll and start caring for her like a real child. No one had to tell you to exclaim “Baby!” when you saw a child at least a month younger than you. No one had to tell you to start soothing the “Baby” or telling it that it was going to be ok when it started crying. You see, God gave you the ability to “Mother” whether or not you ever give birth to your own children. And God has a purpose for your “Mothering”. There is a reason that people say that it takes a village to raise a child. It takes more than the biological parents to raise a child. You are a mother to the children that you work with. Every time you smile at them, answer one of their questions or give them a hug, you are mothering them. You are a mother to the girls that you mentor. You have walked in places that they have not gone yet and they need you to “mother” them. You are a mother to your friend’s children. You hold them, babysit them, love on them and teach them things they never knew before. They need you to be a part of their child’s life. You are a mother to your nieces and nephews. You are a mother to the children you know whose mom is no longer here on this earth and they need someone to hug them. You are a mom to the teenager whose parents aren’t there for them and they just need someone to notice them. Children are healthier when they have a lot of positive influences in their lives. They need your mothering.

I know that you want to have the wedding shower and the baby shower and to attend all of the mom’s groups. I know that you want your turn to complain about how hard it is to be a mom or to share the funny thing that your 2 year old said. And you know that you may never get a mug on Mother’s day saying “World’s Greatest Mom!” You might never get to spend a sleepless night with your sick child. You may never hear a child utter the words “Mom”. But, single woman, you’re still a mother and our world needs more mothers like you.

 

Where Are The Boys At?

I never would have guessed that the spring blossoms would turn into colored leaves and I would still be dealing with the same internal struggle. If anything aside from the weather had changed, it was that the struggle had actually gotten worse. I had never met someone like him before.  He captivated me the moment that I met him.  He had a quiet strength that came out through his smile. He not only listened to the words I had to say but he understood them and appreciated them. He displayed the ability to sacrifice selflessly and needless to say I was impressed. I just wanted to be around him because he felt like home. He seemed like he was everything I wanted, except he wasn’t a Christian. And so I knew that even if I was ever given the option, I would not date this man.

I grew up in a Christian family and I learned very young that you do not date non-Christians. I had set standards and made a list for the kind of man that I wanted to marry and “follower of Jesus” was at the top of the list. I knew that the Bible was clear on Christians not marrying non-Christians. 2 Corinthians 6:14 states “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” Paul goes on to make it clear that a believer and a non-believer do not have enough in common to be married. In the Old Testament there is story after story of God’s people marrying outside of their faith and it leading to serious problems. I have also seen first-hand the pain that can come in a marriage between a Christian and Non-Christian and the division that can come to a household because of differing beliefs. And yet, with all of this knowledge, why was I still so drawn to a man that God did not want me to be with? Why are so many of my Christian girl-friends struggling with the same issue and dating and marrying non-Christians? Perhaps the answer comes in the form of another question: What other choice do we have?

Where are all of the single Christian men?

At this point in my 28 year old life I have watched a large majority of my friends get married. I also still know of quite a few amazing single Christian women. However, I can’t say that I can even count on my hands the amount of single men that I know in their late 20’s or 30’s that love Jesus and attend church regularly. I started to wonder if I was just being hard on men because of my own single situation and so I did some research.

According to Travis Mitchell from the Pew Research Center, women in the U.S. are more likely than men, to say that religion is important to them, to pray and to attend weekly church services. This gender gap is found mostly among Christians and is not typical for other religions (Mitchell, 2016).  According to the Church for Men, the typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that is 61% female and 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories. 25% of married churchgoing women worship without their husbands on Sundays. Over 70% of the boys who are raised in the church will abandon it during their teens and twenties (Murrow).

I don’t know if this surprises you but it does not surprise me. I attend a large church in my town and have visited other popular churches in my area and have come across very few single men. I am more likely to see single men at any given time on any day of the week at the grocery store than I am to see them in church.

How does this impact Christian women?

According to sociologist, Mark Regnerus, there are 3 single church going women for every 2 single church going men (Regnerus, 2009). This means that if 1 in 3 single Christian women wants to get married she will have to settle for marrying a man that is either less spiritually mature or not even a Christian at all. And that is a trend that I have seen happening among my friends and in my community. As Christian women get older they continue to pray for a spouse but they realize that they have limited options. So they face the fact that they could be one of the “unfortunate” that has to stay single. After dealing with a drought of Christian single men these women meet men in other areas of their lives and end up marrying a man who has little to no faith in God.  Some women decide to stay committed to finding a Christian husband and enter in to the large competition for the few single Christian men that they know.

Mark Kellner wrote an article on why it’s so hard for women in religious communities to get married and he states that “It’s a numbers game. If there are more available women than men, then the males will have the upper hand in dating, with some avoiding commitment while they look for a better prospect” (Kellner, 2015). This imbalance in gender in the church changes the way Christians date. It turns into a “buyer’s market” for males while females struggle to compete. I consistently find myself in this struggle. I have found myself loving my Christian female friends who are single and yet still feeling the need to compete with them for a spouse.  At times I have set down my list of expectations for a Christian man and instead have focused on my “dating resume”.  I have felt this push that having a relationship with Jesus isn’t enough to be an option for a Christian man, but that I must also have a successful career, a vibrant social life while maintaining physical attractiveness through work out programs, diets, makeup and many other beauty routines. Some women become tired of the competition and instead look for a spouse outside of the church. There seems to be plenty of single men that don’t go to church which leads me to the next question: Why aren’t single men in church?

Why aren’t they in the church and how does this impact the church?

Why are single men not in church? According to the statistics listed above this is a large problem and it’s a bigger problem than single women not being able to find a spouse. It’s about a majority of single men not having a relationship with Jesus. It’s about men who do believe in Jesus but don’t have a place where they fit inside the church. It can be awkward for me to go to church and sit alone as a single woman but there are typically other single women to sit with. Most churches also have not only a women’s bible study that I could join but one for my age group as well. A bible study for men or even young men is not as common. When there isn’t a space for young men to be a part of a community or find mentorship this leaves them with no accountability and lack of Godly friendships. Without community or accountability the drift from the church becomes easy and almost no one is noticing their gradual disappearance.  Currently there are plenty of families and couples to fill up the church pews but soon there will be a large generational gap with lack of male leadership if there is not space made for the young single males. God’s kingdom is a diverse kingdom that is made more beautiful by equal parts of males and females working together for his glory.

What can we do about it?

It is time to start having conversations in our churches and to start asking questions. Do single men have a place in your church? Do you have men’s ministries for all ages? Are there older men that are mentoring younger men? Are healthy friendships between men and women being encouraged rather than a battle of genders? Question asking is always the place to start. When we ask hard questions we are all able to make changes. Wherever there is a problem there is actually an opportunity for change.

So, whether I ever get married or not, there is a bigger issue at hand. We need men in the church. In 1st Corinthians 12, Paul talks about how the church is a body and the body has many parts and we need all of them. Paul also explains that all parts of the body cannot be the same. God never intended for the church to be made up of one gender, one ethnicity or one age. God’s kingdom is beautifully diverse and that includes men. I don’t have all the answers on how to fix the drought of Christian men but I know that if God desires men to be a part of the church then we should too. And when God desires something he always has a plan. So I am asking you to ponder on the questions “Where have all of the Christian men gone?” and “What is my role in making sure men are included in the local church?

 

Kellner, Mark A. “Why it’s so hard for women in religious communities to find men to marry.” DeseretNews.com. Deseret News, 02 Sept. 2015. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865635720/Its-not-you-its-a-lack-of-hims-2-why-its-so-hard-to-find-a-man-to-marry.html?pg=all&gt;.

Mitchell, Travis. “The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project. N.p., 22 Mar. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2017. <http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/22/the-gender-gap-in-religion-around-the-world/&gt;.

Murrow, David. “Quick facts on the gender gap.” Church for Men. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017. <http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/&gt;.

Regnerus, Mark. “The Case for Early Marriage.” ChristianityToday.com. N.p., July & aug. 2009. Web. 22 Mar. 2017. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/august/16.22.html?start=2&gt;.

Open Hands

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Everything feels unstable right now. It feels like I am walking on a frozen lake that is thawing. I am trudging ahead but I’m really not sure if I am going to make it to the other side. In my mind stability is over on the other side and at some point I will reach it if I keep moving forward. Up until about a week ago I didn’t realize how attached I was to stability. I would go to church and hold my hands open during the praise song while I sang lines like “I surrender all” and “Lord, take it all.” I felt confident in my devotion to put my life in the Lord’s hands and allow him to do whatever he wanted with it. But that was back when things were stable.

That was when I felt confident in my job. I felt a bright future in what I was doing and had become comfortable in my role. Unlike 90% of people out there I could say “I love my job.” “I get to help so many people in my job.” I would hold this job up with open hands to God if he wanted it, but never expecting him to take it away. I would never tell anyone, but my career was the place that I found most of my identity. If friendships were confusing, or my love life was complicated, I would pour myself into my job. It wasn’t right, but I figured I would deal with that issue another day. I felt secure in my job until out of nowhere the unimaginable happened and I was told that the company I work for would be closing my branch. I was still offered a position at another branch but that still meant change and uncertainty.

A few weeks ago I was feeling secure in “my people”. I love people and I tend to find a lot of joy and satisfaction in spending time with them. I rely on my people. When times are good I laugh with my people and when times are bad, my people will allow me to cry and say irrational things. And yet on a recent Saturday night I found myself all alone. Typically being alone is fine but this time I was sorting out a disappointed heart and I needed my people. My people couldn’t be there. I realized that even when these are my people they cannot always guarantee that they are going to be there. I don’t know when some of my people might be taken away from me, whether that is through life changes or the end of life. I want God to be in control of my relationships with people and so I hold it up to God with open hands but I don’t really want him to touch it. We say “God have your way……unless you are going to take someone away, then please don’t do it!” We hold onto people as if we have control over life and death when the only choice we have is to hold them up with open hands.

At this point you feel like you are holding quite a bit of your life up to God with open hands and so you might as well hold up where you live. I love the house I live in and I love having people over. Hospitality and serving coffee to friends is one of my favorite things to do. So when the opportunity to move into a bigger and nicer house that will allow for more entertainment possibilities such as garden parties arises, you feel like life can only get better. But when everything becomes uncertain about where to live and you face the fact that you could end up living at your parent’s house again you feel very unstable. Holding where I live with open hands did not seem that hard a few weeks ago.

“Open hands. Hold everything you have with open hands to God.” I can hear my friend telling me this over and over and I say “Yes, I am holding it up.” And I really am. Every night I go to bed and I hold it all up. I tell him he can have control. But deep down I want him to just leave it alone. It kind of sounds ridiculous but somewhere in my soul I don’t trust God. Somewhere deep down I crave stability.

I remember as a child just begging God for stability. I didn’t live in an unstable home but I had an unstable life. My parents loved each other and I knew they would always be married. My family was very close and I had security in those people. And yet, those people didn’t feel secure and I knew it. My parents never wanted the kids to know how hard it was to pay the bills but eventually we could tell. My parents were very careful with every dime that was spent because raising 4 kids on a truck driver’s salary is no walk in the park. This meant that the only times we went out to a restaurant was after vacation and Wendy’s was usually the restaurant of choice. This meant that I had no clue what movies my friends were talking about because we couldn’t afford to go to the movies let alone buy a VHS. This meant that my wardrobe came from goodwill. All in all, none of these things were bad. I looked forward to going to McDonalds, shopping at goodwill and watching Cinderella on VHS at my best friend’s house. Life was good, until uncertainty would appear. The uncertainty came every time that my dad lost his job, and it happened quite a few times. It wasn’t because my dad was bad at his job but rather the fact that my dad is a very moral man. He loves God and he will follow the bible even if it means he loses his job. When something immoral was happening in the companies he worked for, he would stand up against it, and every time, he was “let go”. Every time my dad would come home and tell my mom and she would cry while dad would say, “Its ok, the Lord will provide for us.” My dad was very good at holding his life and his family’s lives up to God with open hands. My dad knew that he could trust the Lord. My dad was always right, but it didn’t feel that way.

I remember when my dad lost his job when I was a senior in high school and I started crying and begging to the Lord to just give us stability. I had no idea how I was going to pay for college or what life would look like for any of us. I gave the same tear filled prayer when the same situation happened again when I was a sophomore in college. I just wanted stability and security. And yet every time like clockwork when I was getting comfortable and stable, God would change things up in my life. He would push me further and deeper into him. He would pull me further and further away from stability.

God wouldn’t let it go. Over and over God has whispered to me “Open hands, open hands, open hands.” Over and over I have had to hand my life back over to him. It starts to seem like I just don’t learn my lesson, but my sinful flesh is constantly trying to sneak my life back out of God’s hands and into my own. My sinful flesh says “Stacey, you have good plans. Your ideas are better than God’s.” As I write these words down it makes me feel sick that I would be arrogant enough to think that my plans are better than God’s. I don’t really believe that. Do I? Then why I am holding onto my plans and begging God for stability? Why do I want my life to fall into place so badly? Why am I so distraught by some instability? God’s plans are always good. I can’t see what God is doing. I can’t see the ways that God is moving in the middle of uncertainty and instability, but he is.

In the kingdom of God everything works backwards. When I’m not sure what is happening in my life and it feels unstable I can still be more stable than ever by standing on the stability of God. When everything falls apart and I can’t fix it, I can actually become more secure through surrender to God. When life is painful and it forces me to rely on God, my weakness can actually make me strong because it opens my eyes to where my strength actually comes from. Circumstances don’t make me stable. The never changing power of God makes me stable. This kind of security allows me to walk ahead and take the risk of falling through the ice because I know that God will catch me every time. Suddenly, in the middle of instability, I feel more stable than I have ever felt before.

And once again, I hear God just gently reminding me, “Open hands, open hands, open hands.”

 

Dear Hot Mess Mom,

toddler momDear hot mess mom, You’re a good mom. You’re actually a really good mom. I know you don’t feel that way. There was a time when you thought you would be a good mom. Remember when all you wanted was to become a mom? And then you found out that you were going to be mom! Those were great days! But now there are days when you question why anyone allowed YOU to become a mom. You are barely keeping it together and you feel like your kids are going to struggle through life all because of you. I know that some days you cry just as much as the kids do, and they cry a lot. Why do they cry so much? I know that you have read the magazines about healthy eating and you want to Instagram pictures of faces made out of veggies that your kids loved but most days you can’t get them to eat anything but those Gerber puffs or cheese sticks. I know that you would love to share a photo of your adorable child in his Ralph Lauren sweater but he wore it on Easter and his older sister got chocolate on it. (You don’t even know why she ate an entire chocolate bunny, especially since before she was born you swore that she would never eat any kind of sugar. Things changed.) I know your plan was to never let your children watch TV and instead you would entertain them with arts and crafts but you need to take a shower sometime, and that doesn’t happen very often.

How do I know these things? How do I know your life? Is it because I’m a mom? Well, I’m actually not a mom. I probably wouldn’t be sharing these things if I was a mom. I’m actually very single. It is because I’m single that I have had the time to hang out with all of my friends who have become moms. With nap schedules and the fact that putting their children in car seats is an hour process my friends tend to stay home a lot. So I go and visit them. They invite me into their world. I shared with them about my life as their children run around destroying the place because mom is not paying attention. They first are embarrassed but eventually they confide in me that they have no idea what they are doing, they are ruining their children, they are barely keeping it together and they are a hot mess mom. They are able to tell me this because I’m not a mom and I won’t judge them. They are also looking to me, the social worker, for some advice on child development. I can tell you what the text book says but most of what I have learned about parenting came from my parents and from babysitting for the majority of my free time in high school and college. Babysitting taught me that children are beautiful and adorable crazy manipulative little monsters that will go off at any moment. Their ability to regulate their emotions is very low. Don’t believe me? What happens when one child takes a toy away from their sibling? The child who has been stolen from screams bloody murder until you come and deal with the injustice. The other child now is unwilling to return the toy because they took that toy only to see their sibling scream. That’s not good right? Is this child a narcissist? Is the other going to have bipolar? I highly doubt it. One will probably be an engineer and the other a nurse.

I know that some days that you feel like you can’t win. You don’t want your child to be addicted to screens so you send them outside to play only to have them return with a bruised knee and flowers stolen from the neighbors or worse yet, they don’t return. You finally find them 2 hours later playing video games at a friend’s house. Yes, you did send that child outside away from screens to play and they found the loophole. They would! Now you have to discipline them and you completely forgot about the chicken in the oven and it is now burned. It’s another macaroni and cheese night. I know that you want your house to look like Pinterest but instead it is decorated with hot wheels cars, crayons, empty coffee cups, fruit snack wrappers and laundry baskets filled with clean laundry that will never actually be folded. Yes, you will dress from a laundry basket each morning. Now not every day is like this. There are days that you will get things done. The house will be clean and you even made a healthy dinner. That is the day that you tell your mom thanks for babysitting.

I know you feel like a hot mess mom, but you’re a good mom. I know it feels like your friends are more organized and they have these beautiful Instagram photos of their children but what you didn’t see was the glass of juice that the cat spilled on the counter while they were taking the photo. Thank God for paper towels. Seriously though, you’re a good mom. You’re a really good mom.

How do I know this? I know this because I spend time with you. Your kids are so loved! And they love you so much! I know that sometimes you worry about attachment issues because you think they are too attached or not attached enough but all you can do is show them that you love them. I see you bandaging their skinned knee with a princess or car’s band aid. I see you helping your kids brush their monster teeth. I see you reading them good night moon before bed and getting up in the middle of the night to clean them up when an unfortunate accident has happened. I see you taking your kids on vacation and to the beach. I see you spending hours to get everything ready so you can go somewhere and make some memories. I see you cooking, doing laundry and dishes and helping them with math that even you don’t understand. I see you disciplining them even though it makes them mad at you because you don’t want them to be spoiled brats. Discipline is not easy but you’re doing it! I see you giving them space as they grow up even though you desperately want them to stay little. They are going to grow up and be really good adults.

These children that you are taking care of, they are a hot mess. The truth is we all are. If we weren’t a hot mess we wouldn’t need Jesus and we all really need Jesus. You were born a mess and your children were born a mess but Jesus enters into this mess with us and he gives us hope. One of the best things you can do for your children is to pray for them. You won’t always be able to protect them but Jesus can. The next best thing to do for your children is to take care of yourself mentally, physically and spiritually because whether you like it or not they will become you.

So I just want to say thank you! Thank you hot mess mom, for being a good mom. Thank you for sharing so openly with me. You have given me the courage to want children of my own someday. There are days that I am afraid of becoming a mom someday but I see you doing it and so I know that I can do it too. I know some day I will feel like I’m a hot mess mom and I will need you to remind me that I’m a good mom too.

Poem: Anxiety and Depression 

So I have a confession, I struggle with anxiety and depression, 

I know that it can be hard to tell, 

People tell me that I hide it well,

But it is something that I have been hiding for a while, 

There can be a lot of pain behind the biggest smile, 

I’m always afraid that someone will see it through all of the lies, 

If they look long enough into my eyes, 

And know that even though I say “I’m good”

I’m not fine,

Now please don’t take this the wrong way, 

This isn’t a battle that I have to deal with everyday, 

But instead it comes in waves, 

Sudden seasons of grey,

It sneaks up on me when nothing is wrong, 

Pulling me down even though I felt strong, 

I struggle to get out of bed,

Exhausted from the battle in my head,

Something inside me says “Everything is pointless” 

And “look at everyone else and be jealous” 

They are normal and not crazy, 

Strong and not lazy, 

But you are about to lose it,

You can’t do it, 

I find myself afraid of things I never feared before, 

And in happy situations wondering if there is more,

People say to take things one day at a time,

But every minute feels like a wall I can’t climb, 

I look back, 

And I miss the past, 

I look forward, 

And I feel like a coward, 

People say “God is your strength,” 

And “Do not anxious about anything”

But that doesn’t fix it, 

Instead it makes me feel like a bad Christian, 

Then that makes it worse 

Feeling like people will find out about my curse 

And so I hide 

The very thing that needs to be brought into the light, 

And so I talk, 

I talk to God, to people I trust 

To people I love, 

I talk 

Talk to myself 

And I encourage me 

Positive thoughts are key 

I let my mind rehearse 

A comforting bible verse 

And when it feels like I’m losing an impossible war,

I then remember that people have done impossible things before,

David killed Goliath with just a little stone 

Because David knew that he wasn’t alone, 

Daniel survived the lions den,

Gideon won a war with only 300 men

Esther saved her nation from destruction 

Joseph went from being enslaved and in prisoned to saving the country from a famine

Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of a whale and came out alive, 

And Mary gave birth to a miraculous child, 

And that child conquered life and death 

And he has the power over depression and health, 

And so whether in joy or in pain 

Whether tomorrow is different or more of the same

I know that I’m not on my own, 

God will not let me battle this alone

And he will walk with me while I do my part,

And I hear him say “My child, take heart, for I have overcome the world!” 

Valentine’s: Boycott or Buy Chocolate?

Snow-Winter-and-Girl-With-Red-UmbrellaA couple of weeks ago I was having a wonderful day on a beautiful sunny Friday morning. I had accomplished many things and was now out shopping. I felt joy in my heart like a song that enters and just hangs there. I felt so full that I couldn’t imagine that anything could steal my joy that day. Thinking about it now it is silly that I was unaware of the time of year. Perhaps it was the unusual warm weather in January in Michigan or the busyness of my life that made days fly so fast I could not keep track of a calendar. So I went on with my day and entered Meijer unprepared. Suddenly there it was. It took me off guard and left me feeling gross. Right there at the entrance of the store was an awful site; the Valentine’s Section. I should have been more prepared because I’m sure it arrived on December 27 already but I had not yet thought about Valentine’s Day this year.

I then did what no single girl should do. I walked through it. I smelled the chocolates, I touched the stuffed animals and I dreamed of a guy giving me flowers for Valentine’s Day. Suddenly everything went from pink and red to black. I hated Valentine’s Day. I became overwhelmed with thoughts such as “I’m never going to get married.” “No guy will ever love me.” “All of my friend’s my age are married, why am I not married?” “What’s wrong with me?” And bitterness started to set in. I started to feel anger towards my friends that are married thinking, “They should be more grateful. They don’t know how lucky they are.” Needless to say I moped around for the rest of the day with an anger at the world. I had a sudden bitterness towards all of the men of the world for not noticing me and jealousy of all my friends who were in a relationship. This entire problem was clearly their fault!!!

I had always loved Valentine’s Day as a child. The first Valentine’s Day I could remember was when I was about 3 and it was magical. My grandparents came to my house and brought me a beautiful pink and red glitter heart card with chocolates in it. My favorite color was pink and I love chocolate! I therefore loved Valentine’s Day. My parents also made Valentine’s Day special. They wanted to show us children that Valentine’s Day was about love and not just romance and so every year they sacrificed their romantic Valentine’s Day for a family dinner. We would decorate the kitchen with crooked hearts that we cut ourselves; pink and red crape paper and balloons. My mom would cook a fancy dinner that we all enjoyed over candlelight and was followed by a jello and cool whip dessert. I loved Valentine’s Day! One year my friends from church put on a girls Valentine’s Party for all of their friends and I was invited. It was one of the best parties I ever attended. Valentine’s Day was magical. As years went on and I entered high school I no longer wanted to be single and it became more difficult to love Valentine’s Day. However, I was convinced that my prince charming would be coming soon and would arrive in time for the next Valentine’s Day and so I would enjoy this year’s day in light of that.

And so the years continued. My prince did not arrive but I still decided to make Valentine’s Day amazing and not to be a Valentine’s Day hater. This meant going to Valentine’s Hockey games with my single girlfriends to celebrate the Holiday or dressing up for fancy dinners and Valentine’s Parties. Yes, I always wished that I had a boyfriend that year but I still had an amazing time on Valentine’s Day.

So why this year, why am I bitter now? It could be the piling up of years of not having a Valentine exploding. It could be that I was just in denial all of those other years and this year I am facing the truth. It could be because all of my friends my age are married or because society and the media’s push of the importance of romantic relationships. Someone or something was to blame for my sudden bitterness towards Valentine’s Day.

And that’s when I realized it. Those things I was bitter about were all excuses. They were all excuses for sin. I was blaming other people and things for my bitterness, my jealousy and my sin. Yes, it does hurt to be single some days and that is not a sin. Desiring a spouse is not a sin. But getting angry at God and others for what I don’t have is a sin. When I don’t trust God to provide for me, that’s a sin. When I am jealous of my friend’s lives because they are married and I’m not, that’s a sin. And sin leads to destruction.

” See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”-Hebrews 12:15

“13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”-James 3:13-18

Bitterness and jealousy do not come from God but instead they are considered “earthly, unspiritual and demonic.” And for good reason. God knows that jealousy and bitterness can destroy us and so he warns us to stay away from that kind of “disorder” and evil practice.”Once you start down the road of bitterness and jealousy it is a slippery slope. You can no longer see clearly. It blurs your vision and you suddenly see everyone else’s lives as perfect and your life as a mess. It starts to steal from you the very thing that you desire, which is community. When you are jealous of your community it starts to disconnect you from them and suddenly you are on the outside of a door that you built yourself.

“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”-James 4:2

When we desire something and we don’t get it in our timing we can start taking the wrong paths which is to try and go and get what we want for ourselves or to fight with those who have what we want in an attempt to make us feel better. But God makes it clear that the only place to go with our desires is to him. I have to set aside my bitterness and jealousy and trust that my God is a good, good father that knows what he is doing in my life. Making that choice is not always easy.

It can be easy to give into jealousy no matter what our circumstances are. The truth is that God has given me many good things in my life. The truth is that I have things and opportunities in my single life that isn’t always a part of married life. I am able to volunteer often, attend a weekly women’s bible study, spend time with friends every weekend, take random road trips to Grand Rapids to hang out with my sister and explore the city, attend conferences, speak at conferences, plan random trips to friend’s houses across the country, go sit in a coffee shop and blog and spend large amounts of time with Jesus. Yes, my married friends can do these things but not with the same ease. When you are married you have another person to think about and sometimes even little people to think about. Even though I’m sure my friends love their lives I know that there are times when they get jealous of me. So, even though I do desire a husband and children I choose to be thankful for the things I can do because I am single.

Did you notice that word “choose”? It’s a choice. Having joy is a choice. When I’m bitter and jealous it’s not Meijer’s fault for having a Valentine’s section or my friend’s faults for getting my married but it’s my choice. I can choose to be bitter or I can choose to have joy. In the end I am already loved. Jesus Christ is the lover of my soul. I have been given the most extravagant Valentine’s gift ever given which is my Salvation through the death and resurrection of my Jesus. My prince overcame death for me. That is more than any girl could ever ask for or ever want.

So this year I am choosing to be joyful about Valentine’s Day. I of course am throwing another party this year for my single and married girlfriends. We are going to celebrate our friendship and I am going to bask in the love of community and the love of God. And  as for next year? Who knows what next year has in store for me. Either way I will choose joy and choose to love Valentine’s Day just like the 3 year old child with her pink and red glitter heart card encasing delicious chocolates.