Thursday, October 31, 2013

To the Pastor I Appreciate the Most

This month seemed to slip by faster than the last, or the one before it. They say that's what happens as you get older, and I guess it's true.  Our calendar has been dotted with family events, pumpkin parties and retreats. And unfortunately, some sick days. It almost escaped without me saying something that could be said anytime, not just this month, but I wanted to say it now. Because sometimes you need to say something or hear something "now".

October has been deemed Pastor Appreciation Month, and I don't know who started it or how they picked October. I'm usually kind of a rebel about these things and am not a fan of being told when I'm supposed to appreciate somebody. :)  Truth be told, I know my life would be richer if I could learn to appreciate all of the people in it a little bit more everyday. But today there is one special person I need to appreciate.

In 2006 on an innocent supper run to Wendy's after church, Josh turned to me and made a statement that was life changing. He said, "I think I'm supposed to preach." 

It would take a novel to cover what that statement turned our lives into or what the next several months looked like as we prepared to move out of state and follow God's call. I actually started blogging during that time and to say that it was a time of uncertainty would be the understatement of the year. You may think that if your husband decided he was supposed to be a preacher that would only mean a job change. You would be wrong. 

It's a game changer. A life changer. Not just his. Yours. Your kids. Because while some may see it as just his "job", it's not. It's his life. And it becomes yours. For many people you will become the "preacher's wife" before you are anything else. And some days it is the most fulfilling, amazing journey as you build relationships and walk through all the days- good, hard, bad, sad, trying, fun, and life changing-with the people you minister to. And some days it is the hardest thing you've ever done. Lots of days you wonder if it's what you're really supposed to do. You question if it matters if you do what you do. You celebrate victories, mourn losses, bang your head against the wall, and question everything. It's beauty and grace. It's heartache and feelings of failure. It's the wildest ride and some days you feel like hanging over the side of the car sick, but other days.....other days you throw your hands up in the air and scream with pleasure and know that as scary and crazy as it feels, there is no other ride like this. 

And you appreciate the man you call Pastor. And husband. And father of your children. And friend. You appreciate him in a way that no one else can. Because you see what others don't see. 

You see him. You see the man that answers the phone and takes the hard calls. You see the man who answers the phone and takes calls that are more humorous than hard, but they are important to someone so they are important to him. You see slumped shoulders and the look in his eye when he is discouraged. You see that he wants nothing more than to please those he serves, and it hurts when what God asks him to do challenges what others think he should. You see that he truly cares about people, and they are not just numbers or faces in pews to him. You see the tears he has cried for people who may have no idea how much he cares, but he does.

You hear him. You hear his laughter as he tells his stories and the corny preacher jokes somebody told him. You listen as he excitedly shares what he is planning to teach on the upcoming week, and regardless of if anyone else takes it to heart, you do because you feel it in your bones that these words have come from the heart of  God. You hear the man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders stop and patiently answer your children's questions, whether they are deep and spiritual or have to do with the Playstation. You hear his voice and all is right in the world, because he is steady and patient and faithful in a way you hope to become. You hear him say, "I don't have a preacher voice", and he means that he's not loud and doesn't shout. And you think, he may not have a "preacher's voice", but he has a pastor's heart, and that's better. 

You admire him. You admire how he can go and go and serve and do for others. You admire how he balances it all. You admire how when you are weak and emotional and reactive, he is strong and wise and humble. You admire how he can be so focused and not distracted. You admire that the most when he is typing sermons and children are screaming and hanging from ceiling fans and he has no clue. :) You admire the peace he embodies and the love he gives. He listens, and encourages and teaches and works with people others wouldn't give the time of day to. He sees their value. And you admire him. 

You appreciate him. You appreciate that in these short (and yet long) years of ministry he has learned that he will most likely pastor many churches, but he will only father these children and be married to this wife. He puts you first when he can and his children know they are important. He never uses the stress or busyness of his schedule as an excuse. He never acts as if he or what he is called to is more important than someone else. He listens to you unload your day, no matter how crazy his was or how many other people have already unloaded on him. And you appreciate it. He treats you as his equal and understands you also have a call on your life and you appreciate it. You appreciate that he realizes he is still learning and you both make room for new lessons. 

You treasure him. You treasure the memories and the laughs and the prayers and tears you've cried together. You treasure that because of this life you've had to grow up quicker than you would have otherwise and you've been given a perspective not many have. You treasure that you've watched your husband gently comfort a grieving mother, you've heard him speak words of wisdom that have made someone else's life better, and you've played kickball in church parking lots with him and some kids whose parents don't play much of anything or even really acknowledge them. 

You understand. You understand that he gets tired and frustrated and discouraged, too. You understand that no one can really understand this journey except the two of you. You roll your eyes together, sigh in frustration together, and share heartache, confusion and secrets. And you understand those things never go beyond the two of you. You understand the community of being very involved in lots of people's lives and the loneliness of not being able to let many into yours. You understand the thrill of good news and lives changed. You understand that laughter is good medicine and you understand the power of words. You understand the need for a safe place and you hope you can be his.

You worship Him. That would be God, not the preacher. :) Some people want to worship the preacher, but you know better than that. You know he is just a man who throws away important mail and screams a little too loud when his football team plays. It takes some time to adjust to being married to a man of God because there is a tendency to expect too much. You think that one day you will look over and he will have become the grey haired pastor you grew up with who you never saw in anything but a suit EVER. But he doesn't become your old pastor. You still see him as the shy, skinny 17 year old kid that asked you to prom. Your time together hasn't been one of hymn singing, suit wearing holiness. There have been those things. But they are often overshadowed in your mind by the deep talks, the long hugs, and the whispers of encouragement. And in these years your faith has been more up and down than the thermostat in Florida, but his has been steady. And when you ask, "Are you sure this is what we are supposed to be doing?" he always is. He's as sure as he was when he was 12 years old and he's as sure as he was on the way to Wendy's. And though there are days that you question it, days that you fight it, you are sure, too. You are sure because the pastor who lives in your house is the real deal. He lives out his faith, he loves you and your kids fiercely, and  most importantly he loves God in a way that makes you love Him, too. He doesn't have to write books or sing new praise songs or create a new program. He loves people like Jesus did and they respond. And I'm pretty sure that when people want to worship God because of the love they see in you, you're doing something right. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

I Don't Know

I wanted to start this by thanking all of you who read my last blog, for your sweet comments, your bravery in sharing your own stories with me and your graciousness in sharing it with others. I kind of felt like I had taken off all of my clothes and run through the church sanctuary twirling fire batons. Like I couldn't have been more vulnerable, more exposed, more in a position to scare the mess out of everybody I know and love. Because I have shared my testimony throughout the years with some people, I forget that there are many, even many who have known me for a long time, who didn't know the whole story. The details. The scary, messy, shameful parts. Saying "I was depressed" may leave people with an image of me in my pj's surrounded by pizza boxes. It may not truly express the depths of the experience, and quite honestly I've never really wanted to take anyone there with me.

And yet, as I began to share my journey of faith there was no way to not take you there. Without taking you there, I can't really make you understand what it means that I'm here. That I'm functioning and going to work everyday. That I laugh and cry and stomp my feet, but all at appropriate times only. I say how I feel and most of the time deal with how I feel. I have days when I get down, but I know they are brief seasons, not all consuming years. My journey is one of healing and some days it feels so complete that I have a hard time believing my own story of depression. Other days, like while writing that last blog, if I dip my feet too deep in that water it washes over me in a way that is so fresh and cold it gives me shivers. I am 21 again, rocking a screaming baby, feeling lost and alone. And I want to tell myself to stay away from that water!!! I know for my own benefit that I can't go there often. But occasionally, I do. I will start talking with someone facing a similar challenge and I go there before I know it. And other times, like last week as I sat down to tell my story of faith, I needed to. I didn't really understand it. I felt an urgency, a pulling, a leading to share. Josh had been working on his sermons all day long and as soon as he got off the laptop I said, "I have to write!" I had to. I would not be able to function until I did. I didn't really understand it. Still don't know if I do. But as I hit "publish" and fought the nauseating fear that accompanies laying your life bare on the altar of Blogger, people began to respond. And relate. And reassure me that there was a reason I had just laid it all on the line. And mostly that reason is that while I have experienced healing, there are many people who are still walking through dark days, still stuck in the sea of depression. I need to remember that. I need to remember what God has done in my life so that I will not grow content in thinking that I somehow figured out how to pull it together. My friend, I assure you I did not. I also need to remember so that my heart does not lose compassion for those of you still wading through that water. 

A huge part of my healing has been allowing myself to experience grace. You see, I experienced grace in the beginning of my spiritual journey when I fell in love with Jesus and embraced His welcoming, forgiving arms. I believed that He forgave me of things that happened in my past. I celebrated that He made me a "new creation". (2 Corinthians 5: 17). What I didn't fully understand was that His grace was an ongoing thing. That I would continue to struggle and fall and He would continue to love me. I took it upon myself that if I was a new creation, I had to prove to people it was true. Any misstep, any doubt, any area of imperfection would cause others to think, 'I knew it. She's not really a Christian.'  Even as I type this I can't help but grin that I genuinely thought I could achieve perfection. Isn't that cute? :) I truly had no clue what life had in store for me. But it was pretty much a perfect storm designed to rid me of the idea that I could do it on my own. 

I don't think any experience has taught me that more than motherhood. I always say that I can be so spiritual when I don't have to be around people. :)  But alas, motherhood means being around people. Like, all the time. People who you helped bring into this world. People who are helpless and dependent and yet wildly independent and their own little wild cards thrown into the deck of perfection you expected your family to be. They come with ALL the feelings and through years of crying and tantrum throwing (sometimes they do those things, too) your idea of perfection changes from the family photos you see at Olan Mills, to a day when your child can finally ask, "Can I have some milk?" as opposed to throwing themselves into a concussion causing fit on the kitchen floor because you did not respond to their whining fast enough. *sigh*
And these days teach you what you somehow managed to miss in your younger years of Bible clubs and mission trips. GRACE. Because at the end of the day, you just accept that no matter how many books you read or how long you do this, you still have no idea what you're doing

Some of you know that our dog Daisy had puppies and that was a highly anxiety ridden time for me. Because if I didn't know what to do with my own human children, lord knows I had no idea what to do with these furry ones!! But, it didn't matter. Daisy knew. She was such a pro. I cannot tell you how many times I have told Josh I wish I could be as good of a mom as Daisy. And wow, what does that tell you about my parenting skills? :) But it just seemed to come so naturally to her. She fed and cleaned those puppies like she had been trained by Mary Poppins. If we took one out to hold, she paced the house looking for it. As I pondered my dog's fantastic mothering skills one night (yes, this is what I've come to), it hit me that Daisy just did what nature told her to. She didn't have 15 books to read. She couldn't Google the best course of action for bedtime routines or how many hours you should read to your child. And it hit me just how overwhelming it is to be parent. I think sometimes we don't even know what nature is telling us as parents because we've already allowed so many thoughts, ideas and opinions to infiltrate our minds before our babies even take their first breath. We feel that we should be experts before they've had their first bath. We give ourselves no room for error. 

We give ourselves no grace.

 I now work as a Family Advocate and a big part of my job is educating parents on health issues, car seat safety, that kind of thing. Just last week we had someone come and do a car seat safety training. Did you know that if you wash the car seat cover it removes the flame retardant and is no longer safe to use? Y'all, I didn't know that. I'm sure my kids were protected by me being too lazy to ever wash the car seat cover, but still, all I could think was what a miracle it is that my children survived to this point. Because how much stuff do I not know? I also recently had someone tell me that their Dr. told them not to give their baby Tylenol before getting shots, which is exactly the opposite of what my Dr. told me. It's so hard. So confusing. When it comes to our kids, we want to do everything perfect. It's too much of a responsibility not to. Still, as safety regulations change on a yearly basis and different Dr.'s have different opinions, it doesn't feel like there is a perfect way. We have to educate ourselves and do the best we can and pray for a lot of grace

In our house we have moved on from nursing vs. bottle feeding and when is the best age to potty train and will my children survive if they eat cheerios as their only food source for 5 months. They did survive, and the answer on the other things was different for all 3 of them. Now, we are on to do we totally shelter them and never let them watch TV or how much should they watch or do I suck it up and pretend to be cool with their wardrobe choices and let them express themselves and do I give them advice on friend drama or do I just listen? Guess what,y'all. It's still hard. And from what I hear, it just gets harder. I still want to beat myself up. I still question and second guess everything I do. I still mentally prepare my defense for the day Sarah grows up and asks, "Why did you let me wear that?" And I pray for a lot of grace. 

Mostly, I've learned to say, "I don't know."  Those 3 words used to be very hard for me. I grew up believing that I should always have an answer for any one who asked me about my faith. I transferred that onto the rest of my life. I should always know how to be an amazing wife and mother. I should always know the right thing to say in every situation. I should know how every situation should be handled at all times, whether family, church or work related. I should NEVER say, "I don't know."

There are some things I KNOW. You won't convince me otherwise. It's that firsthand, experiential knowledge that sears itself into your being. Or the Biblical, Spirit led conviction that has come from years of study and prayer. But, there are plenty of things I just.don't.know. 

I cannot tell you how much freedom I have found in learning to say, "I don't know."  Seriously, I just don't know. There are some things I have no clue about. And it is not from a lack of Googling, I promise. I can honestly say that about my faith, my marriage, my children, my friendships, my job, and pretty much anything else you want to ask me about. That used to send my perfectionist, need to prove myself little being into a tailspin. Now, it helps me breathe a little easier. 

I don't know it all. But there's learning and growing and changing. And sometimes when we "know" it all, we miss those things. Especially on our faith journey. When we already know it all we have a tendency to stop learning and seeking.  Somehow we have taught that we should come with a wealth of knowledge and operate like a Kirby salesman with a smooth sales pitch and never take no for an answer! I have no idea where that idea came from. All throughout Scripture we see human beings struggling to find their way, to follow Jesus, to leave what's behind, to focus on what's ahead. A struggle. A journey. A crooked path. Jesus is the WAY, but sometimes our attempts to follow Him take detours and distractions and pit stops. We don't want it to be that way. We want to come out of the gate strong and shoot a straight path, run the fastest, most precise race. We try, we really do. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to run the race with endurance, not perfection. It tells us to lay aside the weight of the sin that keeps us from running as well as we should. And some can just throw that sin right off and get on with it. And some have to persevere, keep fighting, limp, crawl, drag yourself, whatever it takes. Accept that you don't know all the answers. Give yourself grace for the mistakes. But whatever you do, don't drop out of the race. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

When I Was on Fire

*This blog is written in response to the book, "When We Were on Fire." I was going to contribute to the synchroblog, but in typical Emily fashion, I missed the deadline. But, I'm sharing anyway. Because maybe you need this. 

I was 13 years old and sporting a horrific bob haircut that had resulted from my attempts to cut my own hair. My curls and frizz were never meant to be worn that short and the appearance of pictures from those days of life serve as an eternal reminder of that time in life that can only be defined with one word: AWKWARD. 

I was at my first church camp, sitting in folding chairs in a tent learning about the rapture and the New Jerusalem. At that point in life I don't think I could even tell you that Revelation was the last book in the Bible, but I was learning the exact dimensions of new walls that would create a new city Christians would live in one day. Or something like that. Truth be told, we were staying up so late and getting up so early and sitting through such deep lessons that it was my first time experiencing genuine, POW type sleep deprivation. I would literally fall asleep sitting up and jerk awake trying to figure out where I was. I would glance down at my khaki shorts, Duckhead striped t-shirt, and K-Swiss and remember I was at church camp.

How I ended up there, I will never know. I guess it was, as we say in church, a God thing. My family had recently moved back to my hometown after a short 11 month move to Orange Park, FL. During those 11 months I had come of age. I left my hometown a chubby 12 year old with glasses, still playing with Barbies. While there I grew a few inches, thinned out and got contacts. My mom bought me Cover Girl lip gloss and Baby Soft perfume. I had my first boyfriend, a blonde haired, wild child, nothing but trouble boy who gave me butterflies in my stomach and filled my thoughts that had once revolved around Baby-Sitter Club books and roller skating. It was a tumultuous time of wanting to be grown up, but having no clue what was going on in life. I sought the wisdom of Sassy magazine and longed to be cool like the girls in the magazine with burgundy lipstick, baby doll dresses and Courtney Love CD's. Suffice it to say, I wasn't cool. 

I moved back to my hometown and  somehow connected with another "bad boy". It is, I'm sure, laughable to anyone who knows me now that I was once drawn to the bad boys. I used to tell myself it is a phase all girls go through, but now that I'm the mom of 2 girls, I've decided it's just a phase I went through. They never will. :) I longed to be bad too, because in my mind that equaled cool. Like the Sassy girls. 

Eventually that bad boy moved on from me and I was left with heartache and regret because I had never managed to be cool by being bad, but I had managed to become someone I didn't really want to be. During that time my family was attending the church I had grown up attending VBS at during my childhood. We just went on Sunday mornings. I sat in service and daydreamed and thought about things 13 year old girls think about. We left church and went through the drive-thru and got KCF chicken. That was the extent of my spiritual experience. I had been "saved" and baptized at the age of 7, but there had been no growth, no real desire on my part to learn more about what the Christian life was about. I thought it was about going to church and getting chicken on the way home.

Somewhere along the way a couple of the girls from the youth group at that church befriended me. I'm sure out of pity and a leading by God to include the weird, quiet girl who only came on Sunday mornings. I would later learn that everybody thought I was a huge snob because I never talked to anyone. What they didn't know was that I was painfully shy, scared of my own shadow and living in fear that I would be asked a question about the Bible and the truth would come out that I knew NOTHING. 

Then, one day it happened. They began announcing the upcoming camp that everyone would be going to. I really can't remember if they asked me to go or if I just randomly decided I would. Either way, I went and there I was surrounded by all of the other kids in khaki shorts and polo shirts and we were learning about Jesus and singing songs about papayas. (Don't ask, I can't remember.) My new church friends were in love with the worship leaders and any other boys who happened to acknowledge our existence. 

I still have the workbook from that camp and to be honest, 20 years into this journey I realize it is full of things I still don't fully understand. Leave it to me to choose the church camp that started with the.most.complicated part of the Bible EVER. Oh well. It didn't really matter. Because even though I didn't fully get what it was all about (although I would do my best to explain  the Rapture to my 7th grade friends when I returned home), it happened for me. I became completely overwhelmed by the idea that the God of the universe loved me and had sent His Son to die for me. This was especially fresh and full of grace for me after my brief stint in "bad girl" land. I cried and felt like I should walk forward during the invitation time even though I didn't know why. I fought it as long as I could and waited so long that I had to go on a search to find someone to talk to. That night I would sit down with two people who had exemplified grace and love to me and they would pray with me and one of my new church friends and life would never be the same again. 

I returned home a different person. I sprawled on my bed for hours reading my Teen Study Bible, underlining every verse, reading every devotion. I began sporting Christian t-shirts, replaying the tapes of the music from camp constantly and trying to explain the dimensions of the new earth to any person unfortunate enough to encounter me that summer. :)

From 8th grade until my senior year of high school, I was on fire. I prayed around flagpoles, signed True Love Waits commitment cards and led the Bible Club at school. I spent my free time going on visitation and memorizing Bible verses. I dated good Christian guys. In fact, I may be the only girl who can say that at the age of 15 a guy broke up with her because he was a different denomination. My well-meaning friends confronted him about the seriousness of that issue and how if we were going to consider marriage that could be an issue. This now makes me laugh hysterically, one because that guy grew up to marry a Baptist girl (like me), and two, who is thinking about getting married when they're 15???? I was just thrilled to have a guy talk to me and my immediate goal was a driver's license, not a marriage license. Oh well. I am glad I had friends who were concerned for me. :)

I also smiled a lot during that time. It kind of became what I was known for. Because Christians are always happy, right? That's what I thought. I didn't know life could be as hard as it would soon become.

Toward the end of my junior year another boy came into my life. He was fresh on the heels of another heartache in my life and I did my best to keep him in "friend" status. He was quick to make it known he had feelings for me that were more than friendship and I was quick to put my fingers in my ears and say "la la la". His mom still tells the story of when Josh woke her up late one night after talking to me and what he told her was that he liked me and that I was always smiling.

Just a month after Josh and I attended prom together as friends, I was 12 hours away in Mentone, Alabama having the time of my life working as a camp counselor. I got to teach dance lessons (my passion) every day and hang out with 5 and 6 year old campers and wise and worldly college age counselors. It was my first summer since 8th grade to not be going to church camp or on a mission trip with my church. I was venturing out. I was growing. I was about to receive the most tragic, life altering news I had ever received.

I still remember it like it was yesterday. We fed the campers supper outside, Mexican food. A mess. I was still cleaning up our table when the camp director came to get me. She was a kind, beautiful, outdoorsy kind of woman. She kindly asked me to walk back to the cabin I shared with several other junior counselors. I began to panic. Were we in trouble for the mess we had left it in? Oh the times I have thought back on that night and wished that she was taking me up to the cabin to chew me and the other girls out for leaving wet towels on the floor. We didn't make it back to the cabin before my world crumbled. As we climbed the hill my Dad appeared. In that split second I instantly knew that something was wrong. I thought of my Papaw who had been struggling with Emphysema. In a whirlwind of humidity and emotion I heard the words "Cat died."  Cat was my six year old cousin and those were the only words I heard and I couldn't wrap my mind around what that meant. The gathering of my belongings and getting to our family's green Ford Aerostar are absent from my mind. But somehow I was in the van and my Dad explained to me that Cat had been riding in the back of a pick up truck when she fell out and was hit by another car. And we made the 12 hour drive, trading off driving duties and staring blankly at the road, not really able to absorb what we were driving home to.

My senior year was a flurry of activities and excitement about the future. And grief and sorrow and change. And news stories about my family where reporters mispronounced "Catriona" and radio talk shows debated what happened in a clinical, mean spirited way that you discuss things that have not impacted your entire life. 

I went to church, and dance. I was in the Homecoming Court and named Prom Queen. I was the President of the Bible Club and chaplain for our senior class. I went to football games and pep rallies. And court hearings. And I pressed on. And I never questioned God, never blamed Him for what happened. But even in the midst of senior activities and falling in love (Josh and I became "official" in September of my senior year) something was changing in me. My smile was fading. My motivation waning. My understanding of life shaken to the core. It was during this year that I skipped school for the first time for no reason. My Dad called it a "mental health day". And I told him I didn't understand why I felt the way that I did and he said, "Emily, it's not your job to make everybody happy." But I sincerely thought it was and it grieved me that in my grief I didn't feel all that happy, so I certainly didn't feel like I could make anybody else happy. But that was my job because Christians are always happy.

I really don't know when I decided that. That Christians were always happy. Maybe I just saw the people who appeared to always be happy and wanted to be one of them. Maybe I internalized all of the sermons I heard on Jesus being the Answer and the Way and the only way to have joy and decided that I should always be happy since I had Jesus. Whatever led me to believe that would be what led me to the greatest challenge of my life. Depression.

It seemed like such a dirty word. I lost two grandparents to suicide, one before I was born and one when I was 7. I had no understanding. All I understood were the people who said that it was selfish to take your own life. And that those people must be weak to do such a thing. Yes, I thought, so weak. And I determined at an age that most people don't think about such things, that I would never be depressed.

So I pressed on. And I chose a college (a Christian college) that was 5 hours away from home and everybody I knew because I had something to prove. Even today as I thought about this I wondered who I was trying to prove something to. And finally, after 33 years on this earth, it hit me. It was ME. I was trying to prove something to myself. That I wasn't a scared, insecure, fragile little girl. That I was bold and brave and ready to embrace the world. I took out my student loans, loaded my Mitsibushi Mirage and turned up the Dixie Chicks "Wide Open Spaces" as loud as it would go. My high school sweetheart slept in the front seat next to me and we were determined that we would beat the odds, we would survive a long distance relationship.

I moved into my dorm room with the concrete walls and the community showers. I decorated my side with smiley face decor and lived on a diet of Spaghettios freshly heated up in my one worldly possession, a microwave purchased with graduation money. My roommate and I forged a friendship based on mutual loneliness and Golden Girl marathons. 

Sometimes those are lost years for me. There are several memories that really stand out, and good ones, but overall the change that was happening in me was so all-consuming that I am just now, a decade later, able to look back and appreciate the journey without being overcome with raw emotions. During that time I attempted to make friends and be involved. I just couldn't seem to find my niche. I had been super Christian back home. Here, I was just another girl in a sea of people who were there to be missionaries and preachers and theologians. I found myself spending most of my time sleeping. I tried to find a church to belong to, but nothing felt right. I soon started making the 1 1/2 hour drive to my grandparents house every weekend where I would immediately fall asleep on their couch and spend the rest of my time on the phone with Josh.

My first summer back home was hard. All of my friends were away at different schools or on trips. I felt increasingly out of place and realized I was torn between wanting to be back at school with my roommate who had become my best friend and never wanting to go back, never wanting to have a calendar to mark down the days until I would see Josh again.

It was that summer, right before I returned to school, that I went to a family dr. for my physical. Out of nowhere he asked if I had been "weepy" and out of nowhere I began to cry. I assume he looked at my family history of suicide and promptly wrote me a prescription for Zoloft. I still remember sitting on the hood of my car asking Josh, "Do you think I'm depressed?"  It seems strange now, because so many of the following years of my life would be defined by depression, but at that time, it was such a foreign concept to me. I was the girl who always smiled.

I started the Zoloft and headed back to school. I went for 2 sessions with a school counselor and he was a great guy.  I was supposed to go for a 3rd session, but on that day I poked my head in, told him I wanted to go to the mall and headed out. I thought I was cured because I actually felt like getting out of bed. All was good again. In the following months Josh would propose, I would decide to move back home and change schools and my days would get darker than I could have ever imagined.

I became increasingly angrier. I had never been an angry person. Never. If there was a poster child for stuffing your feelings, I was it. I would turn that other cheek like a boss. Until I couldn't. Until it all fell apart and one day I got so upset that as I pulled out into traffic I wished that a car would hit me. Thankfully in that time of irrational thought I shared that with my Mom and she promptly scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist. He basically concluded that I was a spoiled, selfish college kid and upped my dosage of Zoloft. It would be several years later before it would hit the news that Zoloft was not safe for children or young adults, which I was. It would be years before I realized that that medication actually changed the chemistry of my brain. Years before it hit me that all changing my dosage did was turn all of my feelings off and turn me into a zombie.

In the next year I would get married and pregnant. Married in June, pregnant in October. I took myself off the Zoloft before I got pregnant (even though getting pregnant was not in the plan) and for me pregnancy seemed to balance my emotions. I was so happy. You may notice I haven't mentioned God or church or any of that during all of this time. It's because I wasn't sure where He was. Wasn't sure where I was. Occasionally I would watch a preacher on TV or Josh and I would attend a church on Sunday morning, but mostly I was still trying to feel and figure out who I was now that I wasn't always happy. That girl from high school seemed like a different person altogether and I had a hard time remembering that we were the same person.

I had my first baby in July of 2002,  less than a month after our 1 year wedding anniversary.I was 20, Josh was 19. I decided to take a year off of school. These would become the darkest days. As much as pregnancy had balanced my hormones, postpartum hormones wreaked havoc on me. I had postpartum bleeding that lasted 2 months before my dr. figured out what was going on and my gallbladder shut down, something that took 8 months to discover. I just knew I was miserable. Exhausted. In pain. My beloved Papaw was on Hospice, near death. Josh was working 80 hour weeks. My baby had colic. My body was ruined. My friends weren't moms yet. I would literally lock me and Sarah in the bedroom and only get out of the bed when she needed to be fed. I became angry. So angry. In a way I never understood. I was overwhelmed. That was my word. It became the only prayer I prayed. God, I am so overwhelmed. God, help me. And there were people who would have helped me, but I had something to prove, and so I wouldn't let them. I learned during that time that people could be very much in the same location as you, but not in the same place. I felt broken in a way that I thought could never be fixed. I hated myself. I couldn't smile anymore. I literally didn't recognize myself when I looked in the mirror and it wasn't just the postpartum body, it was the emptiness in my eyes.

Some nights I laid on the floor and wished I would die. And I thought of the people who said that was selfish, how I had thought it was selfish. But now it didn't feel selfish. I felt like it would be selfish for me to still be here. To put Josh through this. I wanted to just disappear so he could find someone who could be happy and make him happy. He assured me that I still made him happy, but I couldn't fathom how.

After I finally had surgery to remove my gallbladder I started to regain some energy. Sarah was finally sleeping more and I had learned some ways to ease her tummy aches. I would look at her and think that with all of my flaws and brokenness, nobody else could love her the way that I did. I was her Mom. And nobody else could be that. So, I pressed on.

My New Year's Resolution for the year 2003 was to make my bed every day, simply for the reason that if my bed was made it meant I was out of it

I can look back on those days now and see Jesus laying on the floor with me. But at the time, I didn't. I couldn't find him anywhere. I couldn't believe that He would have anything to do with me anymore. The pain of depression is that the more you need to reach out, the more you don't. The more you cocoon yourself into your own, isolated pain where you convince yourself that you are the only person who has ever felt this way.

The other day someone was telling a story about the time as a child that they got glasses. All of a sudden, they could see the leaves! She had been able to see them as a blur in the trees, but now, she could really see them, the colors, the veins on them, the textures of the tree. That was exactly how coming out of my depression felt. As if I had spent years in a blur, and one day, I could see. I could once again appreciate beauty around me and I could feel emotions, and  not just anger. That's how it felt to come out of  my depression. I've attempted to tell this story many times, but the thing I always struggle with it how to explain how the depression went away. Because if I could bottle the solution I know I could make millions. But I can't. I never gave medicine another try, but I never want to say that others shouldn't. I believe God healed my heart, but I've come to learn that I will probably always have a part of me that can slip into those dark places. I've come to learn that just as my journey into Christianity was much longer and wider than a prayer prayed at church camp, the healing of my heart is an ongoing process. 

I am now a preacher's wife, but I'm not on fire. Not the way I was in 1995 when I started high school ready to pray around flag poles and wear Christian t-shirts everyday. A LOT has happened in those many years. I've finished college. I've had 3 kids. I've lost my Papaw, my Dad and my Mamaw. I've experienced life in the living room of a pastorium, and Christianity looks different from that view. I've been hurt by people I love and I've hurt people I love. My high school sweetheart has been my husband for 12 years and only by the grace of God. He decided to love me even when I wasn't the girl who smiled all the time. He played a big part in putting that smile back on my face. He took it like a man when I said ugly things and held me when I couldn't stop shaking. He has chosen to never, not one time, remind me of things I said during the dark time.

This retelling seems so long, and yet still it has not even scratched the surface of my story. I am thankful that I am where I am in this journey. Because at times I've wondered how this story would end. If I would survive. If my faith would survive. But it has.

Not because Christian cliches in any way helped me, but because Jesus met me in places beyond the cliches. He's been in hospital rooms, church business meetings, funeral homes, and all of the hard places. He has filled the many cracked spots of my story with grace, and placed an arm of comfort over the times when no words helped. Mostly He has taught me that there are those times. And that's okay. Because that is the journey of this life.

I used to want to do "big things" for God. That was the thing to do. I don't know if any of us knew what those "big things" were, but I was pretty sure they included Africa and women's conferences. Sometimes people still tell Josh and I that God has "big things" for us. And that used to fill me with pride and hope for the future. Now when someone says that, I'm not sure how to take it. Because it feels like they are saying that what we are doing now is not a big thing. That raising 3 kids and ministering in a needy community, doing the daily grind of counseling and praying and feeding neighborhood kids doesn't matter. Or that it's not as big as what we could be doing. And I realize that what I was trying to prove all those times was that I could do "big things".  I am so thankful that over the course of my journey God has lovingly and patiently led me to realize that loving people good is a big thing. That listening is a big thing. That ministering to people who don't register on most people's radars is a big thing. That walking with people through the dark days and rejoicing with them in the good ones is a big thing. 

No, I'm not on fire. I don't read my Bible for 3 hours at a time anymore. I'm a working mom of 3, I don't get to do anything for 3 hours at a time! I don't chase down people I've never met with tracts to witness to them. I don't even own a Christian t-shirt at the moment. But, my Light still burns. It may not be as bright, but it's steadier. It knows that no matter what winds may blow, it can always be rekindled. When I tell people about Jesus it's from a place of knowing, a desire for them to experience what I've experienced, not to win a contest of who invited the most people to church. 

For many years I wanted nothing more than to go back and redo the dark days. Find a way to avoid them. To never face them in the first place. Now I can see that they were maybe the most important days I've ever lived. Because you can pray for compassion and wisdom and patience and humility. And maybe God can just supernaturally give them to you. Or maybe you can experience heartache, and loss and sickness and failure. And those things grow in you with such deep roots  that you can't remember when they weren't a part of you. And you have no doubt that they were planted with meaning and watered with grace and grown in mercy.  And that makes you smile. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Making Messes and Memories

I recently started a Sunday School class for our youth and young adults and so far I have such a sweet group. This past Sunday we talked about conflict, and specifically conflict where there is no right or wrong, just a difference of personalities or preferences. The story used from Scripture was of Mary and Martha. If you are not familiar with the story, Jesus brings His disciples to eat at the house of Mary and Martha, who happen to be sisters. Two sisters who happen to have different personalities it would seem. Martha is the one who, ironically, was the Martha Stewart. She took hospitality seriously and got really irritated with her sister, Mary, who just wanted to hang out and listen to Jesus. I'm sure Martha wanted to hang out and listen to Jesus, too, but y'all, stuff's gotta get done! I can honestly say that I always felt like a Mary, until I got married and had kids. Then I straight up became a Martha. Sometimes I can almost see myself in the kitchen with Martha, sighing, washing dishes as loudly as possible in frustration. Because, hello, do I have to do everything? The point of our lesson was that while often times we look down on Martha for being so concerned about physical things versus the spiritual act of spending time with Jesus, Jesus was actually very understanding and knew the customs and traditions about hospitality and how important they were. He basically told Martha, what you are doing is a good thing, but what Mary is doing is the best thing.

I tell you this to set up the story I'm about to tell you so that we can all just pretend that I'm like, really spiritual, instead of a raving lunatic. 'K?  

So, Friday when I went to pick the kids up from school I ran into a friend who was also picking up her kids and I asked if they had gotten all moved into their new house. She told me she was still painting and was actually on her way to do some painting right then. I looked at her 3 children and had PTSD flashbacks memories of painting experiences with our 3 kids and offered to let hers come home with me. My kids were thrilled. It was a win win for everyone. We went through the drive-thru at McDonald's. BTW, I stink at ordering food for 7 people, but we got our food and headed to the park. I knew that I had things I should be doing at my house, but I told myself I would have time later.  The kids played amazingly together and I got to sit on the swing and enjoy the weather. We stayed a little longer than I had planned and when it was time to leave Kate asked the kids, "Why do you want to go to our house? It's a mess."  Y'all. I have to get my life straight, because that child has no filter and no sense of, 'maybe we shouldn't share that.'

Anyway, it was definitely not as messy as it could have been. But, I was out of dish soap and the crock pot needed to be cleaned. I was just about to wipe it down when the doorbell rang. In a moment of panic, I put it in the oven. Desperate times call for desperate measures. And unfortunately, hospitality and desperation are two words that often go together for me. I just put that crock pot right in the oven, told myself to remember to get it out as soon as company left, and went about my merry way.

Fast forward to Monday night. My sister and her family came into town this past weekend and stayed on the beach so we spent all weekend driving over to visit with them. Did not cook a single meal. Until last night. We decided to make home made pizzas. I turned the oven on. I went about my business. I came back to the kitchen. It stunk. I kept thinking, 'did I spill something in there?'  'What was the last thing I had in the oven?' I honestly went for about 5 minutes letting it pre-heat while we fixed the pizzas. Then, Josh opened the oven door. The CROCKPOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you could have seen the look my husband gave me. I panicked and screamed. He got oven mitts and pulled it out. And the oven rack that now had plastic melted on it. All I could do was  promise my husband that I was not purposefully trying to set the house on fire, even though I have threatened to if people don't learn where the trash can is or how to hang up a towel. 

Turning your oven on when you have things like crockpots in them is scary on several levels, none of which  in this case is the fact that I clearly had no memory of putting the crockpot in there. I mean honestly, at one point in the day I was cleaning the kitchen and actually thought to myself, 'Josh must have washed the crockpot and put it away'. At that point- did not remember it was in the oven. Then, I turn the oven on and it starts smelling like an electrical fire-still don't remember it's in there. Then, my husband opens the oven door and I am just as shocked it's in there as he is! Seriously. I need to be highly supervised at all times. 

We were both very serious about this whole situation for several minutes, most of those I'm sure Josh spent trying to figure out how the crockpot got in the oven?!?!? I was on the verge of tears and self hatred when I suddenly began laughing hysterically. Josh did, too. I explained what happened and he admitted he couldn't say anything because the knob on the crockpot was already melted from a previous experience in which he placed something too hot too close to it. At this point he started acting as if he was going to save the thing, when I pointed out the cord. Y'all. Do you remember the scene in "Christmas Vacation" when the whole tree goes up in flames and you see the power cord for the Christmas lights? Yep. That's what we had. And I was once again left pondering how many moments of my life remind me of scenes from that movie.

The moral of this story? There are so many. Like checking your oven before turning it on. Like, this is what happens when you don't cook a single meal for 3 days. Like, washing your dishes instead of hiding them. 

You probably want to judge me. You probably should. I prefer to think of my Friday morning that I spent blogging, watching Golden Girls, and swinging at the park as deeply spiritual. Yes, I could have brought the children home and washed my crockpot, but then we would have missed out on this creation.
This would be a snowman made out of sand in October. It's a Florida kid thing.

Maybe one day I will make progress in my domestic skills. Right now I'm just making memories. And not all of them are traumatic. :)

Friday, October 11, 2013

When Things Change

Hello blogging world! I've missed you. I've missed pouring out my heart and sharing my stories. I think last month is the first time since I started this blog several years ago that I didn't write But, such is life. And things have changed. It's funny that I thought when my kids got out of the very demanding toddler/pre-school age that I would have more time. Isn't that hilarious? I know all of you Moms with older kids think so. Sometimes I do feel like I have more time, but what I lack is the mental capacity to have a straight thought. Can anyone relate?  I actually started drinking coffee a few weeks ago in hopes that it would give me the energy to have a personality again. I don't know if that has happened, but man, I love me some coffee!

Anyway, yesterday out of nowhere I just felt struck by the strong desire to write again. I almost felt like I was no longer able. I hadn't had  much of a desire to. Life has been happening and it's taken most of what I have just to pull it together and live each day. That sounded pretty dramatic. So, I guess I haven't lost my flair for the dramatic. :)

Just to catch you up, things are changing. They always are. And this is not a post to reveal some new, exciting life change. No new additions (we do have a new puppy, but y'all, that is a WHOLE.OTHER.BLOG), no moves, no new jobs. Just slow and steady living, working, ministering and changing in the ways that are so subtle no one may notice.

My kids are changing. 

Kate poses for pictures......

Eli is growing more confident..........

Sarah is turning into a little lady........

Our activities have changed. After a crazy All-Star season in baseball and dance competitions last summer, we've decided to take it down a notch or 20. We had so much fun with those things, but we are enjoying a season of doing things like, being at home more than 15 minutes a week. :) Sarah is taking one dance class as opposed to 5, and Eli is taking the fall season off from sports. Kate will tell you, "I just watch TV", and really, what more did y'all expect from my 3rd child? I mean, y'all are totally impressed all 3 of them get to school with shoes on everyday, aren't you? Because, let's face it, shoes are totally optional for us most of the time.

Yeah, so maybe this was at church and maybe I didn't notice until I was home looking at this picture that one of my children was barefoot and the other had on one sock. But, whatever.

Anyway, chilling out with the activities has given us more time for things like....
                                                       Loving on our new niece and cousin, Audrey. <3 div="">
Doing science experiments.
Enjoying the view
Watching football
Enjoying girl's weekend
(On a side note, Lori posted this pic on FB and my husband did not acknowledge it because he said he did not know if we were being serious or joking. Lori said her husband said the same thing. Let's just take a moment and feel sorry for our husbands that this could possibly be the level of attractiveness they expect from their wives....)

And snuggling

Looking at these pictures you may not notice any changes. Well other than that my kids are grown and I've gained 50 pounds. But, other than that. a lot of changes have been happening that can't be seen. Changes in me. 

I won't lie, going back to work has kicked my tail. I know some women who rock the working mom thing like a boss, but me, I'm kind of just taking each day as it comes and praying everybody gets fed and nobody's teacher has to write another note reminding me to sign the behavior chart every day. :) 

October 1st was my year anniversary with my job and it is unreal what this last year has been like. What has changed. What has become the new normal. What I've learned to like about  myself and what I've cried over. I am thankful for a husband who gets my kids to school most days, even if they eat breakfast from a convenience store. And a husband who chauffeurs 5 little girls to dance class. And a husband who comes to the bedroom to talk to me when I lay on the bed and cry about the time I'm missing with my kids and says things like, "You just have to make the most of the time you do have with them."  Oh, you mean like right now instead of crying in the bed like a 5 year old? Yes, those words were important this year. 

I am thankful for changes like a new vehicle this year. But even more, I am thankful that in times when I have wanted circumstances or things to change in my life this last year, God did something better. He changed my heart.  

Today I am home on a furlough day, and that is also another blog I won't get started on. I knew about our furlough days about a month ago because ours are from sequestration days, not even what is going on now. And truth be told, I don't know how what is going on right now will affect my job in the future. And that is where the change in my heart comes in. 

Because my heart wants to stress and worry and think about things we want or need. But God has wanted me to focus on Him, His ability to provide, His plans that are bigger than things.

Because in the last year coming home has had its own level of stress as I come into a house that often times is the closest I've ever gotten to a frat house. Because people. These people, y'all. This husband and these children and these people in our community who spill drinks on my carpet and knock on my door at 11:00 at night. The socks. They're everywhere. And now I have a puppy who chews them up, so even when I find a pair that matches and is clean and hasn't been in my couch cushion for 2 months, it has holes! The smell. I'm convinced the inventor of deodorant lived with a 14 year old boy. 

And today, my first instinct on this first day I have had at home by myself in months is to clean this house like nobody's business. But as my foot stuck to the kool-aid on the kitchen floor and I wanted to scream in frustration about the socks under the dining room table, my heart was reminded of the memorial service I attended last night for a 4 month old baby. And I thought of those parents who won't get to pick up socks or spend hours trying to get red kool-aid off the countertops. And I decided to sit right here in this chair and thank God for the piles of laundry, but mostly the people who are living and breathing and playing and still here to change clothes 4 times a day. And as many times as I've told myself in the last year that I wouldn't stress about how my house or my family or or my life looks, today I mean it. 

Because God has changed my heart. Because I love that husband and those children and the people in this community who knock on my door. Because, to quote a friend on FB this morning, " It's weird how you end up loving the chaos that motherhood brings ", Jess Mead. Because I love those people I work with and want better things for their lives, even if they don't. Because I've finally learned that what looks impressive to other people and what brings fulfillment and meaning and peace in my life aren't necessarily the same thing. Because I've learned that life is messy and hard and the only way it is not is to not really live it. Because I've been stretched to the point that I cannot be enough even if I died trying. But Jesus is always enough. And so I've given up on Emily, and I've depended on Jesus. At the end of the day, no matter how much I've done I can create a list of all I haven't done. But Jesus. He said He will do the work. 

 "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

                                                                                     ~Philippians 1:6

I am so thankful that when I ask God for change, the first thing He changes is my heart.

What kind of change have you been experiencing?