The Story I Don’t Want to Tell

 

I briefly mentioned my struggle with postpartum depression in A Letter to My Son. My flesh would like to just leave it at that, thank you very much, but the Lord seems to want me to go there. Again and again, the subject is laid on my heart, and each time I say, “Lord, I’m just not comfortable with this. It’s too heavy and dark a topic.” As much as I want to skirt around this ugly section of my personal history, the way this story weaves into my overall testimony makes it worth sharing, because it was on this muddy, messy path that I encountered Jesus like never before.

What exactly is postpartum depression? The Mayo Clinic describes the following symptoms, which usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin later — up to six months after birth:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Fear that you’re not a good mother
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

I experienced 10 of these 15 symptoms. They lasted a full year, presumably because I failed to seek medical help and was unable to get adequate sleep…and also because it took me that long to open my eyes and reach out and grab the life preserver that was floating beside me the whole time.

Things started getting nasty 3 months after giving birth, when Evan began waking up more frequently at night and my sleep deprivation was taken to the next level. It didn’t help that his reflux and fatigue made him extremely irritable and fussy. I thank God that I never hurt Evan and that he doesn’t have conscious memories of that time (and I have asked the Lord to remove subconscious effects that may have lingered). On my best days I was flat and lacking energy. On my worst days I was stomping at him and screaming obscenities, desperate for his crying to stop at any cost. I found myself googling things like, “I hate being a mom.” This led me to postpartum depression resources, but I didn’t think I needed help- I wasn’t crazy, after all. I just needed to sleep and for my baby to stop crying, for goodness sake! It wasn’t unusual for me to text or call my husband or mother-in-law to come as soon as possible, because I wasn’t confident that I wouldn’t hurt Evan. I told Aaron one day as we drove to a family gathering, “I have thought of every possible way out of this situation, and I’m stuck. There’s no hope, no end in sight. I could run away, but where would I go? What would I do? I would feel empty and regret it. I could kill myself, but that would just leave both of you in a mess. I don’t want to do that to y’all. I couldn’t live with myself if I killed Evan. Plus, I know he’s going to be great someday; he deserves a chance. But I can’t go on like this. I don’t know what to do.” Then I went and visited with my family as if I wasn’t teetering on the edge of a very disturbing cliff. I despised myself for the thoughts that struck me, without my invitation or consent. I loathed myself every time I handled my baby too roughly or spoke cruelly to him. I hated myself for not being a good enough mom to overcome my emotions. I was ashamed of myself because a “good Christian” doesn’t have these thoughts and impulses. The best way to describe the way I felt is dark. I was discussing those days with a few close friends recently, who were shocked because they had no idea I had gone through that (of course they had no idea; I made an Oscar-worthy effort to ensure that…isolation is a tactic of the enemy, after all).  My best friend interjected, “If y’all had seen the demon in her eyes, you would have known what was going on.” We all kind of laughed uncomfortably, but she went on, “I’m not joking. It was like something had ahold of her.” Silence. It felt that way, too.

Spiritual warfare is as real and relevant as any other warfare going on in our world right now. Scripture confirms this in 1 Peter 5:8 “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” In my experience, attacks don’t often come in the dramatic ways depicted in horror movies, but in more subtle ways. For example, Satan began feeding me lies that, in my weakened state, I believed, even though they contradicted biblical truths. “You’re just not cut out to be a mother.”  “You should do this child a favor and leave.”  “It’s never going to get easier. There is no hope.” But God tells us that “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7), and that “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalms 127:3-5). God knows me more intimately than anyone else, yet He made the decision to bless me with Evan. This is truth.

In the summer of 2015, it seemed like my little family just kept getting its feet knocked out from under it. After a massive sleep training effort and short-lived victory, Evan was back to waking up 3 or more times each night. I felt depleted, depressed, and hopeless again. Then came the next wave of the plague: illness. Evan had gastroenteritis, for two weeks. Night after night spent desperately trying to comfort my baby as he writhed in pain, day after day of constant diaper changes, can after can of Resolve carpet cleaner used to clean up vomit, hour after hour of fussing, clinging, and whining. A fruitless visit to the doctor, then another appointment when the intensity increased. A narrowly avoided hospitalization. Then another phase of the plague: more illness. Before he had even gotten over the gastroenteritis, Evan had contracted a respiratory virus that caused croup, easily treated with an oral steroid…that had a delayed side effect of agitation, combativeness, and hyperactivity. It was during this time that I cried out to Jesus in the night and for the first time, witnessed His tangible response before my eyes. After over 24 hours of thrashing and whining with fever that wasn’t touched by medications, Evan suddenly went still and calm as he relaxed against my body. I sobbed with praise as he became drenched from the sudden break in his fever.

Evan’s decreased appetite dragged on and on, he was unable to tolerate formula due to his irritated GI system, and since he had almost self-weaned when he became ill, my milk supply was not adequate. Again, I cried out to God, asking Him to increase my supply so that I could meet my son’s needs. I pumped and nursed as often as I could, and took so much fenugreek that I couldn’t walk straight and reeked to high heaven of maple. One day, I pumped a total of 4.5 hours in 9 separate sessions, while continuing to nurse. I still couldn’t make enough. Then, two friends (Godsends to whom I am eternally grateful) shared their stored breast milk with Evan, buying his tormented gut a few days of healing time, as well as providing essential hydration and brain-nourishing nutrients. It wasn’t enough time; now, since formula had caused an upset stomach and vomiting so often lately, Evan refused to even taste it. Again, God provided in an unexpected way. A stranger heard of my need and offered to share her stored milk as well. After ensuring that the milk was safe, I eagerly accepted 130+ ounces of breast milk for my son. (I smile as I type this, because today, Evan is freshly weaned at a ripe 16 months old. My milk supply did eventually come back…but not until after God had had the opportunity to prove to me His sovereignty. How gentle, kind, and merciful our God is.)

This stranger shared her radical and unique perspective of God, and learning about her relationship and experience with God encouraged me to pursue Him more intently. I found myself craving the Word for the first time ever. I got on my knees and prayed. I started praying out loud, first with Evan, then with Aaron, then with friends. I started thirsting for worship music, playing it constantly in my house and in my car. God began transforming my heart and my mind. My eyes were opened to the warfare that had been waging inside and around me. And in Christ, I was free at last from the prison of postpartum depression.

God has blessed me; I shudder to think where I would be spiritually without my steady rock of a husband who never condemned me when I shared the horrifying things going on inside of me, strong Christian women to battle for me when I was injured and unable to fight my own fight, my sisters who walked with me in the pit and came and prayed in my home, my friends who inexplicably shared the exact scriptures I needed to keep my head above water at a particular moment, or without Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Some things happen in life that can’t be explained, but for me, it’s clear that my experience with postpartum depression was a turning point in my faith. Satan attempted to use it to instill doubt and cloud my understanding of what was true and real, and he nearly succeeded. Ultimately, God used it to bring me into a more intimate relationship with him, and now, to give Him glory.

Maybe you are repulsed by the things I’ve divulged about my postpartum experience. Or maybe the things I’ve said hit a little too close to home. Maybe you’ve been there, or somewhere mighty close to there, and you still carry the weight of shame for an illness beyond your control. Maybe you’re there right now. If this is the case, please, please don’t delay seeking medical help and/or counseling from a professional. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, tell someone you trust now, ensure your and your baby’s safety, and call 1-800-273-8255 for help. Please just don’t walk this road alone. Tell your husband, best friend, minister, or whoever you trust. Tell me. Let me pray with you and for you.

Maybe you are seeing these symptoms in someone you love. Don’t just assume she is experiencing normal baby blues- talk to her, gently, firmly, and without judgement. Encourage her to discuss her feelings and symptoms and to seek professional help. Lift her up in prayer.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)

 

 

 

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A Letter to My Son

Evan Jake,

You have been in my arms for almost a year now. I write this as I rock you for your nap. The entire nap, because that’s the only way you will take one. You have too much to do to care about slowing down long enough to rest. I think you were like this from the time you were an embryo. You just looked like a gummy bear in the ultrasound, but the tech told us you were moving A LOT. Long before there were two pink lines on a stick, I would dream about you and pray for you. “God, please give me a baby. Please make him whole and healthy. I also want a fun baby. Give him a good sense of humor and a love for people. Make him the kind of person that people love to be around. Make him kind.” (Yes, I used “him” because I always knew you were going to be a boy. Hey, I had a 50/50 chance of being right, anyway.) I would throw in at the end, because these things are silly and shallow, “Oh, and if it’s not too much trouble, could you make him smart, good looking, and athletic?”

I imagine that God was chuckling to Himself during this time, thinking, “Oh dear one, you just wait. I have been planning your family for a very long time.” Having known you for a year now, Evan, there is no doubt in my mind that before your daddy or I were even born, God had dreamed you up. I think he smiled when Daddy and I met, because He knew what lay ahead for us. He knew it was only a matter of time before we fell in love, got married, and started to long for you. He would then have the opportunity through you, Baby Boy, to reveal Himself- His Goodness, Faithfulness, Grace, Love, and Mercy. And so much more. It would be amazing. And hard.

Gosh, it’s been hard. I was the BEST mom until I actually became one. As it turned out, I. knew. nothing. The first night after you were born, I couldn’t keep you swaddled. (In my defense, you were a bit of a spaz. As a side note, I would like to add that I eventually became a Champion Swaddler, since you were swaddled until you were 10.5 months old for sleep. Not to brag or anything.) You cried pretty much the entire first night. Parenting Fail number one. I figured, based on my assumed natural parenting skills and the “dumb” video the hospital made us watch (you know, the one for UNEDUCATED, UNPREPARED parents who might shake their babies), that the crying would pass. It didn’t. You were a post-term baby, which means you CAMPED OUT IN MY OVERSTRETCHED ABDOMEN FOR WAY TOO LONG, and you needed your milk, not just that puny colostrum nonsense. (I know colostrum has its place- antibodies and concentrated nutrition, and so on and so forth.) But my milk didn’t come in until the fourth day of your life. So I had to supplement with formula. Parenting Fail number two. (In retrospect, this perceived failure is absurd to me. But try telling that to the sleep deprived postpartum woman ugly crying in the kitchen as she holds the free sample of formula she got in the mail and thank goodness held on to it even though she was going to exclusively breast feed and tries to figure out if you put the water in first or the powder.) The “failures” snowballed after that. You were maybe a little happier now that you weren’t starving, but the crying didn’t get much better.

This was the beginning of our Frequent Flyer status at the pediatrician’s office. You choked and turned scary colors when you would nurse. Mommy is a registered nurse, so I knew that wasn’t right. It was reflux, and this diagnosis began a whole new adventure. Typical interventions and medication didn’t help much. You got to where you projectile vomited all day long. You nursed every 2 hours for 4 months and were still on the skinny side because you couldn’t keep food down. And the crying. Oh, the crying. For the first few weeks I was sympathetic and felt superior to the parents in the aforementioned video who had to put their inconsolable baby in the crib and go outside to keep from hurting the child. (What kind of monster would have the urge to hurt a baby, or let a baby cry alone?!) Then as frustration began to creep in, the humbling process began. It felt like torture, to hear those screams hour after hour, unable to provide the comfort you were begging for. I wanted more than anything to make you feel better, but nothing helped. I put your needs above my own, abandoning showers, sleep, meals, and socializing. Eventually, I became depressed, and started believing the lies of the enemy. That I wasn’t a good enough mom, otherwise I would be able make you feel better. That I wasn’t cut out for this job. That it would be this way forever.

You got older, and the reflux slowly got better. You even started to sleep some. But there was always SOMETHING. Such as the four ear infections you had between months 3 and 9. Brutal teething. A few sinus infections scattered throughout the first year. A tummy that didn’t appreciate antibiotics. A bout with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. The Great Illness of July: Gastroenteritis, fever, and dehydration that went on for weeks and just nearly landed you in the hospital. Which was immediately followed by croup. In your last month as an infant, you got FOUR TEETH AT ONCE.

Man. It’s been a tough life for you, Baby Boy. It’s caused you to need me more than I could handle at times. I haven’t always held it together for you. But when I fell short, God was always there to say, “Your debt has already been paid. Move forward, my love.” You are living proof of His Grace. I sometimes joke that CLEARLY God is in control, because I’ve done everything I can to ruin you, yet you continue to thrive. But there is some truth beneath my self deprecation. Because I definitely don’t have it all together. It’s okay though, because God does, and He has wonderful things in store for you, son.

To this day, I have days and sometimes weeks where I have to battle those old familiar untruths. But there’s good news. Once I humbled myself before God and saw my arrogance, pride, and self-reliance, I was able to make room for growth. I realized that my Creator had equipped me for this particular life. The pressure is no longer on me to be “good enough,” because Jesus is more than enough. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, I AM enough. I confidently hold on to God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11- “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans for hope and a future.”

God has shown himself to me more in your one year of life than he has in all of my other 27 years. I have witnessed miracles, I’m talking real-life miracles before my eyes (like when God answered my desperate middle-of-the-night prayer that time we hadn’t slept for days and your fever was relentless in spite of the medication, and I felt you relax and quit thrashing in my arms and become drenched in sweat as the fever broke for the first time in over 24 hours). I have wept at the realization of the immensity of God’s Love. For you, Evan. To think that God loves you more than we do is absolutely mind blowing. He loves you SO much. And me and Daddy, and your future siblings. All of His People. He loves us THAT MUCH. It’s insane.

God answered all my prayers for you, and then went on to give you qualities that I never could have dreamed of myself. You are kind and sweet, Evan Jake. You enjoy cuddling in spite of your busyness, and give the best kisses to those you love. Jesus oozed kindness, and I long for you to follow Him. You are tenacious, which is one of the qualities God threw in even though I didn’t know to pray for it. You were sitting up at 4.5 months, crawling at 6.5 months, and walking before you were 9.5 months old, because you refused to give up, no matter how many times you fell down. God will be able to do amazing things through you with that. You are so fun and funny! Your daddy and I love to laugh, and now we have you to share that love with us. You learned early on how to ham it up for a laugh. Your joy is infectious. You love to play wildly and loudly, and you’re always down to party. You are a social butterfly. When we went to the beach, you were constantly wandering up to other campsites to visit with the neighbors. God tells us to love our neighbors, Evan, and you do. You’re sharp, too. You surprise me several times a day by making connections I didn’t think were possible for a baby your age. The other day I turned off Praise Baby and you went and got the remote, pointed it at the TV, and started mashing buttons. I had no idea you knew what that thing was for. And speaking of Praise Baby…God gave you a love for music, specifically Praise and Worship music. This delights me, because music lasts in your heart and mind. Alzheimer’s patients who have forgotten the most basic functions light up when they hear a familiar hymn from their youth. Music is so precious and powerful. He also made you a reader- another fun surprise! You will go to your shelf, throw books over your shoulder until you find the one you want, then hold it up high as you run to me with it. I love reading. I feel like I have lived a thousand lives all in one because of all the books I’ve read. I am so excited for you to have these experiences as well! Time will tell, but I think you are going to be athletic. Yesterday, you WALKED OFF THE BED and landed on your feet in a triple threat position LIKE A BOSS. You never stopped grinning. I thought surely your femur would snap. If you end up hating sports, though, Daddy and I will support whatever your passion is. (You love bringing Daddy footballs and playing catch, so I expect you’ll love sports as much as we do.) And, the cherry on top, you are so very handsome. Your white hair was unexpected. The black eyelashes framing your hazel eyes make me swoon. Your smile is to die for. And your chin, with Daddy’s cleft. I can’t handle it.

I’m so grateful for you, Evan. I’m sorry you’re the canary in the coal mine as Daddy and I figure this parenting thing out mostly through trial and error. But I’m thrilled to be given the honor of raising you. When I was a new nurse working at the hospital, I was assigned a complex patient that would require lots of extra care and attention. My charge nurse explained that I was given this assignment because I needed to learn, yes, but also because I was the best person for the job. I believe God has similar motives in assigning me to be your mom. Yes, you are a challenging baby to raise, with your high energy, persistence, and mischievous streak. I know that God is going to continue to teach me about Him and His Ways as I bring you up. But I think He also gave me you because He knew I could handle your big, wild spirit. I am trusting God to give me the tools to nurture that spirit and shepherd you toward His will for your life.

My prayer for you going forward is much the same as it was before I held you, with less emphasis on outward appearance (haha!). I pray that, like Jesus, you will grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. I pray that you encounter the Lord at an early age and follow Him step by step (just like the words of your favorite song). I pray for your health. I pray for wisdom and clarity from heaven to guide you.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store for you, Evan Jake.

Love Always,

Mommy

I wrote this letter to my son several months ago in an attempt to capture his first year in words. I wanted to try to explain to him how he changed my life, not just by making me Mama, but by drawing me nearer to God than I’ve ever been. I’m so grateful to have had this experience, as difficult and ugly as it was at times. I chose to share it with you, my dear readers, because it depicts my spiritual journey as well as my parenting journey. ***If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, don’t be afraid to seek help from your doctor. For more information, go to http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english

 

Psalm 51

Let me make myself clear. I have not “arrived” in my faith. When I write about Jesus, it’s not because I’m an expert on scripture or because I’ve mastered clean living. It’s definitely not to brag on myself for “living right.”

The truth is, I’ve always been nervous about sharing God’s work in my life. The shame of my sin, past and present, caused me to shrink back from God’s glory. I’m so afraid of being called a hypocrite. I worry someone might say, “She calls herself a Christian, but I was at a party with her once. Three margaritas in, she was using the eff word like a comma.” Or, “She may have had her own apartment in college, but I know for a fact she stayed at Aaron’s place more than her own.” Ouch. Then there are my more current issues, like coveting and jealousy. I envy that gorgeous, fit mom of six well-dressed kids under the age of seven (who all slept through the night at three weeks and who would never dream of hurling a wooden choo choo train at their mom’s face, even if they were just being playful). She’s the woman with the sexy wavy hair and full makeup in Chick-fil-A, who eats waffle fries with abandon and never gains an ounce. She’s got an immaculate home, terrific sense of fashion, and somehow finds time to volunteer at the homeless shelter each week, even though she homeschools her entire herd of offspring. Yes, sin is still a strong force in my life. I could devote a lot of space to my shortcomings, but I’ll move on so I can get to the really juicy part.

In the summer of 2015, I began the process of casting off the chains of sin and shame. I experienced such radical revelation that I could no longer bear to sit on my hands. The Lord basically grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the face, and said, “Wake up!” This happened through a cascade of events that were really tough (I’ll share a little more next week via A Letter To My Son). To waste a single opportunity to declare His goodness is to waste the blood shed on the cross for me. I’m not doing Jesus any favors by ducking my head and zipping my lips. In fact, in doing so, I’m depriving Him of the opportunity to demonstrate His sovereignty. If Paul’s sin (persecuting Christians) wasn’t too much for God to handle, then neither is mine. And neither is yours. One of my dearest friends recently introduced me to Psalm 51, a heart-wrenching song of repentance.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

Friend, if you are allowing shame or fear to keep you from experiencing God intimately, I strongly encourage you to read this psalm and put an end to that right now. My prayer tonight is that the Lord would guide us in genuine repentance, creating in us pure hearts, and renewing our spirits. Thank you, God, for the blood of Jesus that paid the debt for our sins.

Are you letting shame or sin hold you back from experiencing God? Let me know how I can pray for you- it would be my honor. 

Resolutions

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Alright, friends. I’m out of excuses. My “baby” is actually a toddler, he is consistently sleeping through the night at last, and a new year has just started…it’s time to start working toward another one of my resolutions for the year: to start taking care of myself. I think most of us have a tendency to put our own needs aside with the good intentions of giving their best to their families…but are we able to give our best when we’re constantly depleted? I know I’m not, so this year, I’m prioritizing self-care.

This means several things to me, starting with getting enough sleep. I have always had night owl tendencies, and now that my son is sleeping, I justify my staying up late by saying, “I’m still getting more sleep than I used to, even if I stay up till 2a.m.” The evenings are when I recharge my batteries and have “me” time. But my beloved little blonde haired alarm clock didn’t come equipped with a snooze button, so I have got to make myself go to bed at a decent hour. That should be simple enough.

It also means I need to close the bathroom door sometimes and potty in peace (as if peace is possible when you have a wailing toddler banging on your door…but hey, it’s got to be better than trying wash your hands while preventing said toddler from his life’s ambition of unraveling the entire roll of toilet paper). It means giving myself permission to take breaks  to get a massage more frequently than once a year. It might even mean going to the grocery store alone after Aaron gets home from work. All of this is easier said than done, because I genuinely enjoy my time with my boy…until I’ve had enough, then I’m thrusting him into the arms of the first person who will take him and running for the hills. I need to remember that I shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time off before I’m at the end of my rope.

A month ago, it would have meant not feeling guilty about limiting my toddler’s nursing. I have been thankful to have the ability to provide comfort, immune support, and nutrition to my boy in this way, but there comes a time when it’s no longer a mutually enjoyable experience. I’ve described it as “breastfeeding a hurricane” before. Then there’s the frequency of feedings (all day and allll night) and the whining/screaming for “muk” in the grocery store. As of now, we are down to just one feeding per day, upon awakening in the morning. It’s the way we reconnect after being apart all night, and we both enjoy our special time together in the morning. He still occasionally asks for milk during the day, and I no longer feel guilty for telling him, “I won’t let you have milk right now, but I can get you a drink and a snack instead.” In the same vein, I’d like to add for moms of tiny ones, that just because your two month old baby loses his mind when you put him down to go brush your teeth in the morning, you’re not a monster. Please, I’m begging you, go brush your teeth. (Yes, I was that mom. Don’t laugh.)

I bet you guessed this next one already. I plan to get in shape and lose weight this year. I’m going to try to exercise four times a week and eat healthier. To kick-start my fitness goals, I’m doing an Advocare 24 Day Challenge (interested? Learn more here https://www.advocare.com/products/challenge.aspx ). I’ll keep you updated on my progress in the coming weeks. With age and through a closer relationship with God I’ve gained a sense of self-worth that is independent from my appearance, and I’ve learned to love my body in spite of some extra cushion, but I’m just not feeling my best or healthiest right now. My energy level is low, there is jiggle where muscle used to be, and things ache and creak. I’ve always dreamed of being a mom who plays flag football in the backyard with her kids. This is going to be tough if I don’t take charge of my health.

The most important aspect of self-care is my relationship with Jesus. I plan to nurture this relationship by being diligent in my prayer and taking time to be still and quiet, listening for His voice. I’m going to continue to be in the Word, find an area in which to serve, and be bolder with my faith.  This blog is actually a manifestation of my resolution/desire to grow closer to the Lord. I have felt Him telling me to be bold in my faith for some time now, but I didn’t know exactly what He meant. When my friend Christina suggested I start a blog, I immediately knew this is just the sort of bold thing He wanted me to do. (It’s funny, the way God works. I told a few of my friends- including Christina- a couple of weeks ago, “Growing up, I wanted to be a writer, but I’m too stupid nowadays.” Because, y’all…sleep deprivation changes you. And now here I am…not just writing, but putting it on the internet. Woah.) As unsettling as it is for me to bare my soul on the world wide web with no Instagram filter to mask the imperfections of my heart-selfie, I’m willing to obey my God. I’m reminded of an anecdote my friend Jennifer shared once. She was timid in her younger years, and every time she would leave the house, her father would remind her, “Be bold!” I can imagine my Heavenly Fatherly encouraging me in the same way. 

So here’s to 2016 and taking care of ourselves, in whatever way that means for each of us. I’m praying for myself and for you tonight- that God will help us balance our desire and obligation to care for our families with the need to care for ourselves.

Did you make resolutions this year? I’d love to hear them. How do you prioritize self-care?  

Ask, Seek, Knock

For those of you wondering how my Respectful Parenting resolution is coming along, here’s a brief update.

We’re not even a week in, and my life feels totally different. I am more relaxed and at peace, and I have even noticed an increase in mutual affection between Evan and me! This makes sense, because we are fighting and butting heads WAY less lately. I took Evan to TWO restaurants this week and regretted neither decision. He was as pleasant as could be.

As far as meltdowns go, he has one to two per day, which doesn’t seem abnormal for his developmental stage. They are still VERY intense, but I just get down on his level and try to be an anchor for him during the storm. “You’re very upset right now. You really wanted to play, but you also wanted to eat that cookie. I wouldn’t let you do both because it would have made a big mess. That’s hard for you, isn’t it?” I still feel funny doing this in front of other people, because I feel like the societal expectation is to nix the fit, rather than allow room for healthy (safe) expression. I’m convinced that this approach is what my son needs, though, so I ignore that discomfort.

Nap time is hit or miss still, but getting Evan to sleep initially is no longer a dreaded event. We only had one wrestling match before a nap this week, and that was the day we were busy and didn’t get home until 3pm, so the poor kid was way too tired.

I still need lots of practice and more training on how to communicate respectfully. I find myself trailing off a lot of times because I can’t think of how to translate my blunt thoughts to respectful communication. And I’ll be honest- there is some joking in our house about the Respectful Parenting concept, because frankly, sometimes you just want to respectfully spank your kid’s bottom for something, no questions asked, no explanation needed. Sometimes, it’s much easier to just bark, “No! Don’t touch that!” The time and effort we are investing has already started paying dividends, though, so we know we are on the right track. For the first time in a long time, I feel like the positive moments outweighed AND outnumbered the negative moments this week. I’m so encouraged and grateful for answered prayers!

Friend, if you’re feeling discouraged about your parenting, don’t give in to despair! Get on your knees and ask the Lord for guidance. Listen and pay attention for His response. It may look different for you than it does to me. But I know He will show you the the way. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7

Becoming a Respectful Parent

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One of my resolutions for 2016 is to become a more respectful parent. (More to come on my resolutions.) In the last few months, my 16 month old son’s emotions and behaviors have seemed to be spiraling out of control, in spite of my generous administration of spankings, stern lectures, time outs, and cuddling. My boy is one of those people who is all in. He approaches life this way: Need to go to the kitchen? Better sprint as hard as you can- don’t worry about tripping and falling. Feel like giving someone a hug?  Make sure they know you love them by squeezing them so hard their lungs compress. Got something to say? Say it loud and say it proud, y’all! (I could really learn a lot from his zest for life.) 

I knew when he was in the womb that he was going to be spirited, but I was completely unprepared for the never-ending sleeplessness, irregular schedule, refusal to separate from me, inability to play independently, insistence on nursing frequently and around the clock (yes, even as a toddler),  and overall toddler dictatorship. My husband vented to me the other day, “I HATE having to parent this way. All I do is spank and yell at him all the time. It sucks.” He’s right. It does suck to feel like you’re coaching from the opposing team’s bench.

I have been asking God since I gave birth to show me how to nurture and shape my son’s spirit so that he can reach his full potential in Christ. I recognized early on the qualities that could make him an amazing tool in the Lord’s hand: tenacity, intensity, decisiveness, and an abundance of energy. I can easily imagine my son doing great things one day. The thing is, these qualities are the very same ones that fray my nerves, test my patience, and reduce me to tears almost daily. I reach my boiling point several times a day, and spend much of my time restraining my reactions to his misbehavior.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the incident at church this past Sunday. Immediately after the closing prayer, my boy crawled under the pew in front of us faster than I could snag him and grabbed someone’s car keys. From our original pew, I explained that the keys didn’t belong to us and that my son wasn’t allowed to play with them. Then the wrestling match began. I’m bigger and stronger than my son (for now), so I won. Naturally, he didn’t like losing, and plopped down on his bottom and proceed to let the fury and rage loose, right there in the middle of the church during prime social hour. I just stood there, telling him I was sorry, he could be upset, but I still couldn’t allow him to play with someone else’s things. A kind older woman approached us and felt sorry for my son. She reached down to pick him up. He screamed even harder and started slapping at her. I could have dug a hole and buried myself. Sadly, this isn’t unusual behavior. I’m just fortunate enough to rarely have eyewitnesses.

The two things about that memory that make me cringe the hardest are 1) now everyone knows I am an incompetent mother, and 2) I worry that people are labeling my son unfairly as a beast. God is working with me regarding my own “incompetent mother” label. The upside to being in over my head is that I am forced to constantly rely on Him to guide my parenting. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9. As for my son and his labels…I feel like it’s one of my jobs to ensure that he has the best shot possible in life, without the restrictions of stifling labels. Therefore, it was time to stop persisting with the failing experiment of my current parenting style.

Enter Respectful Parenting. Janet Lansbury came up on my Facebook news feed one day (https://www.facebook.com/janetlansburyElevatingChildCare) , and something (a nudge from the Holy Spirit, I presume) made me click on her article. I don’t remember what the article was about, but I do remember thinking this was a weird hippie parenting trend for pansies who are afraid to stand up to or spank their children. Yet, I “liked” her page, and began reading more of her work. At my wit’s end, I bought the electronic version of both of her books, “Elevating Child Care: a guide to respectful parenting” (affiliate link http://www.amazon.com/Elevating-Child-Care-Respectful-Parenting/dp/1499103670) and “No Bad Kids: toddler discipline without shame.” (affiliate link http://www.amazon.com/No-Bad-Kids-Toddler-Discipline/dp/1499351119/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=11ESJ3VS0QZV6D1DCT7C) I initially rolled my eyes at much of it, but as I continued reading, the messages began to resonate with me. The idea of setting firm, healthy limits without bullying my child was foreign and amazing. The concept of respectful parenting is based on awareness of our child’s perspective. By communicating authentically and allowing for expression of emotions, you can better connect with your child and help them find inner discipline, problem solving skills, confidence, etc. As hesitant as I was to buy in to it, I decided to give it a try two days ago.

By 3:15pm the first day I was texting my sister-in-law (supermom of three spirited kiddos), “I’m seriously amazed at how different today has been. I’ve been frustrated maybe four times. That’s down from like, constantly. Not a single all out tantrum. That’s down from like ten. I will tell him in a matter of fact tone, ‘I won’t allow you to do that.’ And a lot of times he just walks away. What in the world.” She responded, “I need to know more.” 

Even nap time was radically different. Naps at home usually involve what can only be described as a physical fight, with screaming and spankings and arching and kicking, before my son succumbs to exhaustion and passes out in my arms. (I recently cut his nursing back to two feedings per day: at bedtime and upon awakening in the morning. In days past, I could usually count on nursing to help calm him down and get to sleep.) That day, I verbally acknowledged his feelings, telling him when he would start to push away from me, “You want to get up and play right now, but I can’t let you because it’s time to rest.” I sang to him as always, except this time I didn’t have to pretend the shrieking wasn’t affecting me because there was no shrieking. There was almost zero resistance. He relaxed into my body and drifted off to sleep. What’s more impressive is that he remained asleep for almost two hours, instead of waking up after 45 minutes begging to be nursed back to sleep. The second day was similar.

My husband noticed the difference in our son’s reactions, and soon he was attempting to implement the respectful parenting principles. As ridiculous as he thought they were, he couldn’t deny that they were effective.

I stumble a lot as I try to wrap my head around this new way of interacting with my son. I’m excited about the path we are on, though, and I have no doubt this will be an interesting and positive journey as I search for my own footholds in climbing the sometimes treacherous cliff of motherhood. I feel hopeful that we are on our way to a healthier, more respectful relationship with our son. My prayer tonight for myself and all who read this and can relate to being at their wit’s end as a parent, is that the Lord will impart the wisdom we need to parent to our full potential and the way He sees fit. All glory to God.

Have any of you heard of Respectful Parenting? What is your experience with it? And what was your most recent or notable “dig a hole and bury yourself” moment as a mom? [Share your thoughts by clicking the comments link at the top of this post.]