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.

Thanks for Giving

Happy Thanksgiving from Northern Ireland! After all our time spent out of the United States, yesterday was the first holiday we spent away from extended family. I guess we always just planned our travels around the holidays.

After some deliberation, I decided to make a dinner of all our favorite Thanksgiving staples, and tweaked the recipes to make them more healthful. There’s no way I’m going to spend two days preparing foods only to feel like crap for the next few days! We invited some friends over and shared a roast chicken (Turkey is hard to find and quite expensive!), gravy, cornbread casserole, mashed potatoes, cranberry salad (we actually used currants… no cranberries until Christmastime!), stuffing, sweet potato casserole, apple pie, and pecan pie cookies. Everything turned out pretty well and I’m proud of John and me for pulling off an entire Thanksgiving meal ourselves.

thanksgiving2015Traditionally, this day is so focused on the preparation and eating of food. I am not complaining about that… I love to eat nutritious foods! I love celebrating by spending time in the kitchen with loved ones. This year looked different from years past, but the idea was the same. It’s also a great day to really focus on what we are thankful for.

I am so thankful for my family (near and far). I am thankful for fast friendships that have turned into familial ones. And I’m thankful for an abundance of food on my table.

We have been the recipients of so much generosity these past two years. Our fundraising period and our time abroad has shown great witness to the wonderful love of God’s people. There is no way I could ever say “thank you” enough to those who have shown so much kindness, hospitality, and sacrifice for our family. Our church families (past and present) have given up their time, their finances, and their resources to support us this year. On this Thanksgiving 2015, I want to say THANK YOU for giving! I know it sounds cheesy, but we really are so grateful. We are thankful for you.

Peace, love, and cranberry (currant) salad.

<3

Sunday Confessional, 15 November 2015

I confess that I started celebrating Christmas early this year.

I can hear you now, “What about Thanksgiving?”

I know most Americans have a (turkey) bone to pick with people who start Christmas festivities before (they’ve eaten their weight in mashed potatoes at) Thanksgiving, but THERE’S NO THANKSGIVING here in Northern Ireland, so hooray! The Christmas season is upon us!

Advent officially starts on the 29th of November this year, but I’ve already simmered our first batch of chai tea on the stovetop so that means winter is coming. In our house we’ve been listening to Christmas music, making extra treats (healthy of course!), and beginning conversations about advent with our 3 year old. John has even been making little nativity scene people out of empty toilet paper rolls. I think we’ve got a few shepherds so far.

Surprisingly deep questions have surfaced from our 3 year old. I shouldn’t be surprised though; every intelligent and thoughtful human being can ask good questions.

“Is Jesus God? Where is God? Who are the magi? Are they magic? Why are the magi wise? Did Jesus like his presents? Was Jesus a baby like my baby brother? Why was he a baby?”

I love talking about this kind of stuff with Hosea. Sometimes (okay, many times), he drives me bonkers with all the questions he asks. But there is really something wonderful about watching him sort things out in his head and try to understand complex ideas.

I love this “extended” Christmas season as I’ve decided to call it. There is so much expectation in the period leading up to the 25th of December. The feeling of anticipation bubbles up; a baby will be born and he is the Savior of the world! So much joy. So much hope.

I personally know the joy that a baby can bring. I also personally know the joy that Jesus can bring. I hope you’re ready for this advent season to begin in a couple weeks. I know I am.

<3

Peace, love, and chai.

Sunday Confessional November 8th

I confess that my story is often told in one way, but there are usually two versions.

The Facebook version

This week I had the opportunity to be a loving husband and allow Abigail to take a couple days to retreat. She spent five luxurious nights, and six beautiful days on her retreat while the boys and I got to enjoy some quality time in Northern Ireland. Every day the boys and I would wake up to see the sun rise and take our time getting dressed before going about our daily activities. On Saturday we got to go to a friend’s birthday party. On Sunday we went to church, and then the boys helped me set up for the marriage course. Later on, my youngest helped me serve tea and coffee to all of our attendees. On Monday we went shopping for our week’s groceries, and then decided to go again Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday because my boys just love fruit! I think they’ve turned into precious little “fruitarians”. My oldest voiced how much he loved me and how much he wanted to stay home with me and Moses instead of going to school. After the boys went to sleep on Thursday, their mama returned home from her time away. What a week!

A Different Version

Saturday morning at 4:30 am found our boys wide awake as we took Abigail to the airport for a conference. She was gone for six days! Every day while she was gone, the boys woke up well before the sun rose, and getting them dressed made me realize why God led me to become a wrestler in high school. After the airport we went to a birthday party where my boys ate their weight in sugar. On Sunday we made our way to church and the boys went to creche while I got some much coveted alone time. Later that day we went back to church to set up for the marriage course. Hosea ran around moving the tables into a giant ‘A’ and Moses clung to me. My youngest then cried his way out of creche and insisted on me wearing him while I served tea and coffee. On Monday, even though I felt crazy, I went to the grocery store on my own with two boys and we tried to get everything we would need for the week. The boys ate MY weight in fruit that day, requiring us to brave the store again the next day. And the next. And the next. My oldest refused flat out to go to school, and it took twenty minutes of negotiating to get him into his uniform and out the door, all while holding Moses. My youngest finally fell asleep about an hour before mummy got home and woke back up in time to see her. What a week!

We rarely let people see our struggles, but it’s important to know that struggles are real, and common. For everyone’s Facebook story, there’s another story that goes along with it. It is important to note that neither version of this story holds the full truth, but when they are put together they show a more realistic picture than when separate.

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