Confession: Separation of Experiences

I confess that separation is hard.
There are two experiences. Two things that have nothing to do with each other, and my mind keeps putting them in the same category.
This is confusing for me. One experience was new and exciting. The other, dark and devastating. Unfortunately they happened at the same time. I’m working on rewiring my brain to separate these two experiences.
At the beginning of 2015, after a year of preparation and fundraising, my family moved to Northern Ireland. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know all about this lovely experience. A new ministry assignment, a new church family, a new culture… all of it was refreshing and humbling and we learned so much! We met some of the most generous and hospitable people we’d ever encountered, willing to walk through life’s journey with us knowing the year would be over before we could say “What about ye?” We experienced so much joy, so much growth, so much love. That’s the first experience; the happy one.
At the beginning of 2015, I had just had my second baby. I felt like a different mom this time around, but not in a good way. I realized almost a year later that I had been suffering from postpartum depression. A chemical imbalance in my brain gave me extreme anxiety about social gatherings, made me cry on the couch for hours at a time, took away my desire to get out of bed in the mornings, gave me an overwhelming shyness, changed my relationship with food, stole my confidence, and forced me to believe lies about myself. I blamed much of this on culture stress and the difficult task of leaving behind our whole support system in Kansas City. I blamed it on the dreary Northern Irish weather (which was actually quite lovely), and the exhausting task of being the parent of a toddler and a newborn. I didn’t want to admit to struggling with a mental illness and I didn’t even realize that’s what I had at the time. I felt like a terrible mother and I even resented my sweet second-born at times, wondering “…if I hadn’t just given birth, would I still be feeling this way??” There were a lot of factors that caused me stress during this time but, now that I’m on the other side, I’m finding healing in “confessing” that I had a mental illness. Some people ask what it felt like and, besides feeling like I was in a muddy pit that I just COULD NOT climb out of, I tell them that I felt like a totally different person. That’s the second experience, the sad one.
In high school and college, I was always the happy one with the positive outlook. I could turn any situation into a good one, showing others how the glass really was half-full, not half-empty. What people wrote in my yearbooks was that they loved how I was so joyful, how nothing seemed to get me down. What mentors have remarked on in the past was how flexible and adaptable I was, and how I always had a smile on my face. Well, in 2015 that wasn’t me. Either I was really good at pretending, or my new friends didn’t know the type of person I was before. It’s not their fault, but it’s not mine either. I’m allowing myself the grace to own that experience because as awful as it was, it’s part of my journey now. I still can’t talk about it without crying or just cutting the conversation short, but I’m okay with that too. It’s good to feel emotions. God gave us emotions to experience life more fully.
So, I’m working on separating these two experiences. Northern Ireland didn’t make me depressed, I just happened to suffer from postpartum depression while there. I write this to share with you, my dearest friends and family because some of you may not know. If you’re experiencing these feelings, you’re not alone. Sometimes (a lot of times) life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and that’s okay. Even when God calls us to something, that doesn’t mean everything will be easy and fantastic and happy all the time.
im1-shutterflyI’m a different person now. A better one. I’m thankful for my current mental state and how I’m rising up. Even though I wouldn’t want to go back to that dark time, I’m grateful for where it’s brought me. I couldn’t rise up, until I had something to rise up from… this seems to be my mantra these days. And it sounds cliche, but it’s true: The trees are greener, the sun is warmer, the flowers smell better, and God’s presence is more evident than ever.
Thank you for carrying my story in your heart. May you also rise up.
Grace and Peace.

The 2nd Birthday of Our 2nd Son

Two years ago today I woke up at 2am with a contraction. After confidently laboring at home for awhile we arrived at the birth center at 6am. Moses arrived after two (or was it 3?) pushes and was placed in my arms at 7:03am. A fast and furious labor, this boy has changed my life in more ways than one.
We call him passionate. Passionate in his joy and passionate in his grief. If he is upset, everyone in a 2 mile radius will know it (kidding, sort of). But his zest for life lights up the room and you can’t help but smile alongside him. Living up to his name, at age 2 he is already a great leader and encourages his older brother to follow after him. This usually results in both of them having more fun, albeit more dangerously than I prefer… We like to call him Mo, Mosey-bear, Mo-Mack, or Mo Mo.
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Self potty-trained before 23 months of age, this not-so-baby-of-mine is fiercely independent, but a great snuggler when he wants to be. Moses is very different from his brother in almost every way. They both have white hair and are named after prophets though, so there’s that. Two years have indeed flown by, and it’s been so fun, but also SO HARD.
It took me awhile to figure out how to have two kids as opposed to one, and it took me awhile to figure out that I don’t (and will never) know everything about parenting. This job on the day/night (parenthood) shift is no joke. Social media makes it look like all fun and games, sunshine and roses, cuddles and first words, but there are some incredibly frustrating moments where I am critical of myself and doubtful of my abilities to accomplish this difficult task. It took me awhile to learn how to extend grace to myself, and it took me awhile to forgive myself for things that were not my fault. Other people offer me grace all the time, why can’t I receive it from myself? I’ve learned a big lesson in this: the only person requiring perfection out of me is ME. My family doesn’t expect me to be perfect, and neither do my friends, and God definitely doesn’t require me to be perfect, He loves me in spite of all my failures.
But, this isn’t about me.
Happy Birthday to my dearest Moses. Birthing you made me aware of a strength I didn’t know I possessed, and parenting you has truly made me enjoy life more than I did before. It’s a blessing to be loved by you <3

Sunday Confessional, Anniversary Edition

I confess that sometimes I feel like I’m still 17 years old.

I’m so klutzy, and never quite know what to say. Things are often difficult for me to understand, and it doesn’t help that I look younger than I am. I forget to ask questions at the right time and then, at a crucial moment, I’m left confused and wishing I’d asked when I had the opportunity. I dwell on past conversations, and whether I unintentionally offended someone. I go over things I maybe wanted to phrase differently, realizing something sounded better in my head than said out loud. I’m pretty hard on myself!

My husband, on the other hand, has always seemed so sure of himself. Even in his teenage years, when everyone else was either embarrassed or cocky, he just knew who he was. Now, he is the picture of humble self-confidence. He always seems to know what to say at the right time, and he is the most patient person I’ve ever known. He loves to research topics of interest to him and excels as a student, a lifelong learner. One of my favorite qualities about him is his ability to take a step back from a frustrating situation, calm down, and respond with grace. I won’t go into detail, but my first inclination is not to respond gracefully! God knew I needed someone like him in my life. It takes a lot of effort for me to hold back a biting retort, hence the reason I don’t always feel like a “grown up”…(whatever that means).

They say people start to become more like their spouse as time goes on. I am SO GRATEFUL to God for blessing me with a spouse like John. He embodies such goodness! Getting to see him be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and gentle are HUGE learning moments for me; he is such a gracious teacher.


Last month we celebrated our 6th anniversary. It feels like we’ve been married forever, in a good way 🙂 But it just keeps getting better. He keeps loving me, even when I fall apart. He keeps leading me, even when I don’t want to follow. He continues to encourage me, even especially when I’m feeling discouraged. He helps to remind me who I am and whose I am.

I often joke that he’s the better parent, and it’s kind of true. (I know, I know, we both have our strengths and weaknesses…although I feel like my weaknesses outnumber his greatly!) I wouldn’t be nearly as good of a parent if he weren’t by my side. But it’s not just parenting that I enjoy doing alongside him. We have fun even in our seemingly mundane day-to-day activities. But let’s be honest. moving 7 times in 6 years hasn’t provided us with a lot of “mundane” time. We love to cook, hike, travel, and eat interesting foods together. We love discussing books, movies, adventure ideas, and parenting topics. We forgive and forget, we show compassion, we encourage each other to be the best versions of ourselves, we both enjoy coconut milk ice cream, and a good pun. Some days are really really hard because life isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes the sunshine makes you uncomfortably hot and those thorns pierce your hands. But at least we get to journey together, and for that I am grateful. 

Here’s to forever.

Happy 6th anniversary, John-boy! I love you so.

<3

Sunday Confessional- June 26, 2016

I confess that I used to hate Summer. I loved being out of school and frequenting the pool but other than that, I really didn’t like it. Ever since I was young, sunlight was really hard on my eyes. I was that kid with the multi-layer sunglasses walking grumpily alongside my parents in June. During junior high in July I was so fed up with my thighs rubbing together that I just wanted to stay inside. As a teenager in August I would hang out at the pool to pass the time until classes started again. For some reason I was just so sensitive to the summer heat. Maybe I was spoiled with too-cold air conditioning? Maybe I didn’t like to sweat? Something about the sun gave me headaches, made me feel lethargic and I felt bogged down by it.

In my 26 years, I’ve always experienced a hot summer… until last year when we were in Northern Ireland. I prided myself on loving the rainy breezy UK weather where our warmest summer day hit somewhere near 65 degrees Fahrenheit, (but we only had a few of those). Honestly, I was content to wear Fall/Spring clothing year round and it worked out well for me! I didn’t realize until I returned to Kansas City and the weather started to change that I actually missed the sun last year. 

I confess that, despite two and a half decades of dreading Summer, it’s my favorite season this year. A lot of it has to do with my little kids who enjoy the pool, park, farmer’s market, spraygrounds, popsicles, the backyard kiddie pool, watermelon, getting messy outside and giggling when I clean them off with the hose. But I think the real reason I love Summer this year is because of all the light. Yes, the sun provides me with much-needed vitamin D but also there’s just a lot of light in my life these days. My 3 year old has turned a corner with his behavior, my 1 year old is communicating better, I love what I do for work and I can see a time in the near future when I’ll be making an income, my husband is so happy leading a church as their pastor (and he’s good at it too!), my perspective and attitude as a mother are shifting, I have some of the best mom-friends in the world, and I have this overwhelming sense of peace and confidence in God’s purpose for my life.

But don’t read this as someone bragging about her life. Because please believe me when i say that I’ve been trapped in the valley, stuck in the darkness, with no light at the end of the tunnel. I still often find myself in those difficult spots where I feel overwhelmed with life, like God can’t hear my cry. I often forget that God has a purpose for me amidst all the frustration that comes with living how I feel like God has called me to live. And honestly, I received a phone call in the middle of this blog taking me right back to those dark places.

But you know what? You can’t rise up until you have SOMETHING TO RISE UP FROM. (And I know not to end a sentence with a preposition, but there it is.)

As a child, I couldn’t enjoy the sun because I had never experienced true absence of it.

All the darkness, the struggles, the grief, the anxiety… all that I have experienced and continue to experience helps me because now I can rise up and enjoy the light.

This summer, I’ve made a commitment to myself not to complain about the heat. Because even though it presses in from all sides, there is light.

I’ve made my confession, now go make yours.

Sunday Confessional: May 29, 2016

I confess that when I moved back from Haiti four years ago, I didn’t really have the desire to go back ever again.

13245493_3990638883032_6557763790356576116_nYou may be saying, “What? I thought she loved Haiti!” And I do! But after being there for several months, I had started to focus on the difficult parts of living there. Being perpetually sweaty, covered in dirt, and working hard to communicate started to wear on me. And that’s not even including the little things… cold showers, intermittent electricity, and the same few meals (although delicious) left me begging for variety. It can be difficult to accomplish things in Haiti, and I found myself focusing on the end result of accomplishment rather than the journey of learning to get there. I am American after all! 😉

In January I could not shake this feeling that I should go back to Haiti to visit. When I dug deep, I remembered so many good things about living there! These positive memories had been shoved to the bottom as I let the negative memories of culture stress rise to the top. I so badly wanted to GET OVER culture shock, that I didn’t let myself deal with it properly and just be present on my journey. Turns out, there was a group going to Haiti in May that needed a trip leader. I gladly accepted this offer from Global Orphan Project (goproject.org) and we ended up having a great experience just last week.

13256468_3990600962084_3622407768891605660_nI witnessed so much goodness my heart could’ve burst! From the moment I stepped off the plane I felt like I was “home”. I’ve said this before, but the bad part of traveling is that your home is in pieces all over the globe. I hope my team didn’t get tired of me talking about Haiti, I tried to encourage them to create their own perceptions and be present in their own thoughts. But I had forgotten! By speaking out loud I was not only encouraging them to see the goodness, but REMINDING MYSELF of it too. 

13267865_3990578361519_4190440226937945782_n Whether they’re aware of it or not, the Haitian people I hung out with last week taught me many things. Where we see trash, they see treasure. Where we see brokenness, they see an opportunity for resourcefulness. Where we see a crowded church that “needs more seats”, they see a vibrant congregation ready to worship. Where we see boredom, they see a time for rest. But it’s not just about “them” and “us” is it? Because we’re really not that different. People are people, and we are all on our own unique journeys through life. So let me turn this around on myself. Where I once saw difficulty, I now see opportunity. Where I once saw frustration, I now see there is something for me to learn. Where I once hated the heat, I now can enjoy the times where the air conditioning is in fact working! Where I once saw a sound system that didn’t function properly, I now see the wonder of singing without the burden of equipment. And where I once experienced hopelessness, I now see peace and contentment. 13233058_3990607282242_7550166303212554831_n

The first thing I wrote in my journal was in kreyol, “anpil change” (so much has changed). I initially meant that a lot of things looked different than they had 4 years ago and was writing about the way dinner was served, the uneven step that got leveled, and the location of the drink fridge. But I think what really changed was me. You see, life keeps on going whether we’re ready or not. And I realized that I could let the frustrations of Haiti become my cry, or the joy of Haiti become my song.

I’ve made my confession, now go make yours.

Singing,

Abigail

 

Sunday Confessional- Mother’s Day 2016

I confess that I don’t feel like an awesome mother very often. Not for lack of encouragement though; my husband tells me constantly how wonderful he thinks I am. Oh, and my kids are perfect little angels, their sweet behavior reminding me how amazing my mothering skills are. JUST KIDDING. My boys are moody toddlers who scream, cry, hit, bite, and frustrate me a LOT. I try to remind myself every hour of every day that we are all learning how to do this thing called life together, my boys and me. I’m on a parenting journey and once I feel like I’ve made progress and finally learned my lesson, it seems like I take another step backward. Likewise, my boys are learning how to be decent human beings in this world of ours. Teaching and learning lessons (all of us), extending grace, asking for forgiveness, crying, laughing… these are all things that can happen in a day (sometimes an hour).

I confess I went out of town and spent a week away from my boys and I LIKED IT. Yes it was hard and yes I missed them but, because they were in such good hands, I didn’t worry about them. That helped me have an amazing time and I was able to come back feeling refreshed, re-energized, and reminded of all the goodness in my life. I think I’m finally at the point in my parenting where I can take moments to myself and come back a better mom. (Shoutout to my husband who is SUPER-DAD! Two words: “mini quiches”… Okay, more words. I mean seriously, I’m left alone with the kids and I can barely survive. He is left alone with the kids and he makes mini quiches and goes on field trips?! Super-dad.)

I confess that I didn’t get my mom anything for Mother’s Day. Apparently I came back in town feeling refreshed but with my head screwed on crooked. We had a whole meal planned and she even got me a gift (I’m not even her mom!) but I totally failed. 11800426_3575959956318_8330832645136930381_nI have an amazing mom, too. She birthed me, nurtured me, deals with my idiosyncrasies, has always supported me in everything I do, and even comes to visit me internationally when she can. She is such a wonderful grandma (Yaya) to my boys I sometimes joke that she only had kids so that someday she could have grandkids 🙂 My favorite thing about her is the openness of her home. Growing up, it seemed like we always had someone living with us, usually extended family but also an exchange student and even a pair of refugees finding their way in our country. Coming back to Kansas City from Northern Ireland was made so much easier because she just assumed my family would move in with her, and we did! Family dynamics are far different than they were when I was a teenager living with them. I’m married with a family of my own and she didn’t even bat an eye when opening her door to us. She helps with our boys and keeps her mouth shut when she comes home and the house is a mess. Living with them helps John and I have the ability to pursue our dreams at the same time and it is marvelous. Sure, living with my parents is unconventional but it seems like my husband and I are always a bit unconventional in how we live our life. I’m not worried about it, and neither is my mom. Like I said, she’s the best. I love you mom! Thank you for being YOU, because you are the perfect mom for me <3

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I’ve made my confession, now go make yours (not you Mom, you’re off the hook this week)!

Sunday Confessional: Finding Balance

I confess that finding balance is hard. We’ve taken a (what was supposed to be brief) hiatus from our Sunday Confessional posts until we got back into the swing of things and created a routine for our new normal. We intentionally enjoyed the advent and Christmas seasons, not taking on any new responsibilities, simply spending time with family and getting over jet lag. Apparently we were still adjusting because our blogging hiatus lasted all the way through Lent and Easter!
We returned to Kansas City from Northern Ireland in December and it feels like we’ve been in a constant state of “finding balance” ever since we stepped foot on that first plane. So far John has already started and resigned from one job, and been hired for two others. I’ve started working as a postpartum doula and a yoga instructor, neither of which I had planned on doing 6 months ago. We were in a bit of a sweet spot when we returned to Kansas City, just because we had the chance to start over with our involvement. Responsibilities we had assumed we’d take on when we started our life back up in KC have either proved to be too much too soon, or they very clearly don’t fit in with the path God has set before us.
I’ve written things into my planner and crossed so many of them out
that it has become difficult to read. 
All that to say, our life looks totally different now than when we lived in Kansas City before. This process of finding a new “normal” has been challenging and emotionally taxing. I constantly ask myself, “What am I supposed to be doing?!”, which is probably not the right question. It seems like everyone else wants to know what we’re going to do next but this is a stressful question for me! I know what I am going to do today, and that’s about it. It’s important for me to remind myself who I’m supposed to be serving in this life. What is my ultimate goal? Knowing the answer to this helps me choose daily what is of greatest importance.
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I taught yoga twice this week and in both classes I ended with my students resting their hands on their knees, palms facing up, representing a willingness to receive whatever comes their way this week. This does not mean overloading our schedules, taking on too many responsibilities, overcommitting ourselves, and feeling swamped or exhausted. This is about taking time to decide how to best approach the upcoming week.
Which responsibilities can be let go?
What things are calling us to dig deeper?
How can we be more involved in the good things
and let the extra/unimportant things fall by the wayside?
Maintaining balance takes intentionality. This is true in yoga and in life. Find your “drishti”, your focal point, and set your intention on balance. Let’s not focus too much on ourselves, but on expressing our love in an outward manner.
(Thanks to Pastor Tim Suttle and his blog for inspiring us to make our own confessional posts every week. Check out his site here)

“What We Are Made Of”, a poem

Slip-on shoes, greasy roots, frantically searching for my daily green juice:

This is what Mommy is made of.

Two part time shifts, adding school to the mix, never a whine from his lips:

This is what Daddy is made of.

Food stuck in their wispy blonde hair, in this world never a care, daily learning to share:

This is what little boys are made of.

Sticky hands, muddy boots, endless jokes about “toots”:

This is what my boys are made of.

Chattering chattering all the day long, singing singing their very own songs,

dancing dancing to their own beating drums, and thinking out loud (giving the day a low hum):

This is what my boys are made of.

Fingers brush against my cheek, is this the blessing of the meek?

Even though the laundry reeks, and I always wish for a bit more sleep, others tell me that my life is sweet.

Dirty dishes fill the sink, odd-jobs to make ends meet, some days feel like they’re on repeat.

But on the other hand, there are so many kisses and hugs to be had, I wish time would slow but then I feel bad…

Because deep down inside I urge time to continue, for seeing the growth, the change, the journey, is what keeps my heart grateful, my soul yearning.

Hoping for renewal, longing for healing, enjoying these special moments that God is revealing.

This is what dreams are made of.

<3

Breathe

My breath was becoming ragged. The combination of the wind lashing the semi-frozen rain into my face, and the amount of energy that my body was exerting from forcing my bicycle up the face of this mountain forced me to take a longer inhale with each passing second. I looked up and saw that I was falling behind my riding partners. I tried to push the bike harder, to pedal faster, but my body rebelled.

By failing to exhale I was beginning to put my body into a downward cycle. By doing so I was leaving excess carbon dioxide in my lungs. My body noticed that there was an imbalance of carbon dioxide and screamed for my oxygen. But with every inhale coupled with a poor exhale, I was furthering this spiral of leaving more and more carbon dioxide in my body. If I had kept this up and not realized that I needed to even out my breathing, I would have run the risk of pushing my body into a state called “acidosis”.

Acidosis is an imbalance of the pH in our blood streams. A healthy person contains a blood pH of 7.4, while acidosis is usually diagnosed when the pH falls below 7.35. This might seem pretty minor, but it causes all of the bodies organs to work in a different way. Acidosis can cause some serious health risks, and it can even be life-threatening.

One of the healthiest models for Christian worship has a very similar rhythm and feel to it as does a persons breath. A person must inhale, and exhale, and so too must the church. We must gather together, which is the inhalation, and we must be sent out, which is the exhale. There is an increasing trend in American Christianity to put the majority of the focus on the gathering together part, and forget about the being sent out part. We are becoming dangerously insular. We have forgotten that Jesus, if he was walking the streets of a major city, would probably be more likely found in the apartments of a family of refugees, or maybe he would be talking with the muslim man who just came out of his mosque, or maybe he would be standing next to the man on the side of the street who is holding a sign (yes, the same man that you just drove by, pointedly ignoring him because it “isn’t sustainable” to give him money to use as he wishes). Regardless of where you would find Jesus, it would most definitely be with the disenfranchised of the world. It would probably not be in your church building (you know, the one with mauve carpet picked out in the 1970’s).

We are living in a time when the church is on the brink of blood poisoning, because we are a church gathered, and gathered, and gathered, and gathered, and STOP!! We have to breathe. We have to exhale. We must not only gather, but also be sent out. We must remember that God’s church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a church.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

Church, let us go and do likewise. Let us be the healing balm to a hurting people. Let us be a breath of fresh air. Let us go in peace and serve the Lord.

Failure to Launch??

Failure to launch, a term made popular by the 2006 Matthew McConaughey film of the same name. Failure to launch is an increasingly popular way that Americans are describing the difficulties that young 20 somethings are having transitioning from one stage of development to the next.

The movie, Failure to Launch, serves to highlight some of the funnier aspects of this phenomenon. There are three main male roles, friends in their 30’s who all live with their parents. As the movie progresses we learn of the different reasons why. One is doing it for financial reasons, one because he is a crazy hippie, free spirit, who loves to travel, and one who had someone close to him die and he moved back in with his parents during the grieving process. One of the common themes in the movie is that all three sets of parents want their children out of the house.

Perhaps I am only saying this because Abigail, the boys, and I have elected to move in with her parents. Perhaps I am only writing this because I am in the throes of failing to launch. Nevermind the fact that I’m working full-time on my Master’s of Divinity, working as a Children’s Pastor, being a stay-at-home Dad, and I recently accepted a job to work at the Overland Park Farmer’s Market. Most cultures around the world have a structure in place for this stage of life. In many world areas, a couple gets married and then moves in with either his or her parents. This is the basic cultural structure for community. It actually creates a real community, not just the idea of one. Families live together and grow together. We are doing life with Abigail’s parents, and we are all growing together.

I know that it’s not an option for everyone to move in with their in-laws, or their parents. Nor am I suggesting that it would be healthy for everyone. But it is a possibility and it is healthy to build community with those with which you surround yourself. To intentionally dig into relationships is a key feature of life that many people miss out on. There is a profound implication that points toward worshiping God when you live in such close community, and have such intentional relationships with your neighbors that you are able to experience life together. What if it even went a step further than opening your house and inviting your neighbor for dinner? What if it became a lifestyle of worship? Remember this quote by Daniel Migliore as you go forward with an intentional heart to set up a community:

 

“To speak of God as triune is to set all of our prior understandings of what is divine in question. God is not a solitary monad but free, self-communicating love. God is not the supreme will-to-power over others but the supreme will-to-community in which power and life are shared. God consists not in dominating others but in sharing life with others.”

Go engage God, experience God with others, and enjoy God!