Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ready, Aim, Fire!

photo by Stacirl

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  James 3: 7,8 (NIV)

You'd think it wouldn't be a problem for an introvert like me, but I did it again. I got upset, and instead of taking some time to step back, give the situation to God and let him quiet my heart I charged in with cannons blazing and my tongue lighting the fuse.

Let's take the lay of the battlefield, shall we?

On one side we have our history with the school district. Gates' kindergarten year was filled with problems. It was fortunate that he has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge because otherwise I am afraid it might have turned him off of school for a long time. We knew that his teacher had been transferred to the school at the last minute and was unhappy about it, we just didn't fully realize how much it was affecting her work in the classroom. We spent a lot of time blaming our discomfort on our unfamiliarity with 'the system'. It wasn't until first grade that some conversations with other parents brought the realization of just how much of the problem rested on his teacher. So we are understandably leery of school district politics and the transferring of teachers who don't want to be transferred.

On the other side we have our new school, built after Gates finished first grade to accomodate our expanding side of the city. The difference in staff at every level is amazing; handpicked by the principal to fit her educational philosophy it is a beautiful model of top-down influence on corporate culture.

This year Indy starts kindergarten. On Thursday evening I went to the introductory meeting to get his teacher assignment. With less than three weeks to go before the start of school the highlighted portion read 'TBA'. During the meeting the principal explained that due to higher than expected enrollment they would need another teacher but that they had to wait for the district to do a final count on August 3rd to determine needs, which would probably result in a teacher being reassigned from a school that had fewer students than anticipated. I sat through the rest of the meeting with my sole thought being "Oh HELL no, we are not going through this again."

After the meeting I lined up with other parents who had documents to turn in, questions to ask, problems to solve. A large portion of the line seemed to be made up of parents with children in the 'TBA' class, and they were not happy. And I am ashamed to say I did nothing to make them any happier. With scathing tone and sarcastic wit I told about our past experience. I expressed my feelings about the situation. My tongue worked its magic, spreading poison with every word.

When it was my turn to speak with the principal I handed in the paperwork that was my guise for speaking with her, and then I began to question her about the teacher situation. I voiced my frustrations, I whined, I may have made vague threats about how we were NOT 'doing this again'. In short, rather than extending her grace in a situation she had as little control over as I, I dumped all of my frustrations on her and as much as blamed her for misery that had as yet to make itself known.

It hit me today as I was folding laundry (a time that is exceedingly useful for deep contemplation) that I had really screwed up. Again. It is amazing how quickly I can use my tongue to spread poison, to start fires, to tear down. James certainly had it right when he said that no one can tame the tongue. With many of my actions I have a moment or so to think before acting, time to consider if it is kind or not. But there is something about speech that seems to bypass that moment of self-awareness, spewing out of my mouth with barely a thought. And once I head down a certain path it is incredibly difficult to reign it back in, to remember to season my words with grace and kindness. I make myself the center of the universe and act like a spoiled child when things don't go my way.

I can't undo the words I said. I also can't justify them by insisting on my 'right' to feel that way. But thanks to the instant nature of modern technology I was able to sit down and quickly email the principal an apology. I was able to do what I should have done from the start, assure her that I am praying daily for a teacher placement that will be a complement to her already excellent staff.

I make mistakes (ok, no sugar coating...I SIN) because I am human, because I fail to turn to God first when problems arise. I need to walk daily in humility, sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I need to learn to speak when he says to speak, and to shut up when he tells me to shut up. Oh, how desperately I need wisdom to navigate the battlefields of life with my weapon tossed aside, seeking instead to bind up those who are already injured.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13

Lord, let my words be light-bringing and life-giving to those around me instead of a raging fire. Let me never take lightly the power my tongue can hold.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Church ladies

photo by Paul Lowry

This past week I hosted a spa party at my home. I invited a number of women from church and the lone neighbor who actually happened to be outside long enough for me to corner chat with her. She declined, giving various excuses about needing to mow her lawn, being all sweaty, not looking up to par, being tired from a week of work. I tried to dispel her arguments, "No really, who cares what you look like? Look at me! It's a spa party, it's supposed to be relaxing and it sounds like you could use it! Mow your lawn, shower and you'll STILL have time to come." But no deal, she was steadfast.

I suspected another reason hiding behind the surface ones, a reason that was later confirmed. Even though I hadn't said a word about the guest list she knew who was coming...Church ladies. And she didn't think she'd fit in.

When did it become this way? Oh sure, in the 1st century when Christians were being tossed to the lions I can see why your average unbeliever would say "You know, I think I'll pass on being seen at your party." And yet the growth of the church in spite of persecution tells us that there must have been something about these Christians that drew others to them. But at some point, lions and persecution aside, we got the reputation as 'People you don't want to hang out with'. Is it the picture of the pious saint, nibbling cookies and rhapsodizing about the five hours spent in prayer that morning? (On her knees. On the wood floor. With splinters.) Is it the picture of Christians as an exclusive club of dour evangelists who will only admit you to our gatherings if you accept the '5 Steps to Salvation and Living a Righteous Life Unlike Those Worldly Sinners' booklet and promise to adhere to its guidelines? Or maybe we've been pegged as the type who put on sweet faces and say "Bless your heart" as we stick the knife of gossip in your back.

It hurts my heart to know that somewhere along the line my neighbor has decided that Church ladies = people she wouldn't feel comfortable around. Like we are somehow so radically different from her that none of us have ever made mistakes or struggled with our weakness. That maybe we would regard her as a 'project' to be 'led to the altar' and then discarded. That she just wouldn't have anything in common with any of us and would have no fun.

If that is what she thinks of when she thinks of Church ladies then in some way I am failing. I am failing to reflect the love and grace that have been showered on me. I am failing to reflect the reality of being part of the body of Christ and yet part of this world. Because the reality is that in my house that night were a bunch of flawed and crazy women. Yes, I can lean towards the prim and proper has more to do with introversion than any thought that somehow that makes me more holy. But as a whole we were a motley group of brash and reserved, rocker, nature lovers, horse riding, gardening, creating, stumbling, rising, life-living ordinary women.  We worship passionately, but we also live life passionately and in that we could have found common ground.

I'm on a mission now. A mission to change what those around me think of when they think of Church ladies. I want their first thoughts to be of grace, of joy, of gentleness, of welcome. I want them to see a flawed individual being made whole by the grace of God. I want them to see my heart. I want them to see the heart of God.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3: 7-14 (NIV)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stormy weather

He ping pongs from one window to the other, practically hyperventilating in his fear. The clouds are still moving in, the thunder rumbles in the distance but the thought of what is to come has sent him over the edge. Too nervous to eat, he begs to check the radar so that he can see how big the storm will be. He begs to go down to his bedroom, but can't stay there because he must continue checking the windows, watching the progression of the storm. The sky turns green. His fear is a tangible presence, a scent in the air that rips at my nerves like no storm ever has. He cannot be comforted, either by prayer or by my arms around him. We give him large headphones to block the thunder. The power goes out. Worry is a beast that claws at his insides, refusing to be distracted by snacks or movies on the battery run DVD player.

The power comes back on, the storm passes. He continues to pace, reporting on the advancing blue sky as if fearing that if he does not keep tabs on it, it will retreat. He begs to know the wind speed. He asks again to check the radar. Fear takes its time in loosening its grip on him. Slowly it retreats, but I know that each day he lives life with his eye on the sky (and the radar) waiting for the next storm.

I am exhausted from over two hours of this emotional upheaval. I want it to stop. I want to say "Peace, be still," and have it be so. But how can I do for my child what so often I cannot even do in my own life?

In my life I often struggle with fear. Fear that holds me back from doing what I should be doing or what I want to be doing. I am a champion worrier. I have been for years. I look to the horizon and I see the clouds. Aspergers. Finances. The shadow of loneliness. Flickers of failure. I begin to focus on the possibilities, the 'what-if's', the sense that something that I'm not going to like might be forming on the radar and I WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S COMING!

Gates and I have a verse that we will often say together when he's afraid of something. The verse is Psalm 56:3 and simply says "But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you." Time and time again in the Bible we are told not to fear, not to be afraid. I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I don't think God expected us never to experience fear. We're human, with human emotions. I think the key is in that verse. WHEN I am afraid (not 'if'), I will put my trust in God.

I have a hard time with that. Put my trust in God? Rest in the assurance of His care? Oh, no no no! I have to keep my eyes on the horizon! What if the storm moves in and God isn't paying attention? Doesn't He know that I need to know how big it is going to be?
I love the story of Jesus calming the storm (Luke 8:22-25). I can imagine the disciples in the boat, watching the storm roll in, glancing over at Jesus asleep in the boat. Worry begins to creep in. What if God isn't paying attention? Yeah, that's His Son and all, but...what if? Or, what if God plans on plucking Jesus out of a capsizing boat, saving him at the last moment but not them? The waves get higher, water begins spilling over the sides. How can he SLEEP through this? "Master, wake UP! We're going to DROWN!" Jesus awakes, speaks the words and the storm stops. I imagine the disciples continuing to scan the sky, a bit uncertain that it is really over.

Could you have done it, if you were one of them? Could you have sat in the boat with the waves washing over the sides, trusting implicitly that the One who was with you was fully aware of what you were facing? Could you have remained calm when the world around you was in turmoil?

Can you do it today? Can I? Can I lay aside my worries about what is looming on the radar and simply say "Lord, I am afraid but I will trust in you." Can I stop my frenzied preoccupation with my fears and let God do what He wishes with my life? I have learned that preoccupation with what I am afraid of crowds out all ability to do anything else. Just as Gates couldn't concentrate on anything while the storm raged, neither can I accomplish the work God has called me to do if I am busy worrying about the storm that is raging.

Storm clouds of insecurity are dotting the horizon. What if all of my words are for nothing? Does any of this matter? Will God use the words I thought He put into my heart? I can only rest on the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Stormy weather lies all around us. But the God of peace is with us.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Through His eyes

I originally wrote this post back in October of 2008. Lately this song has been coming to mind AGAIN because of another Bible study I'm doing. So I thought it might be time to revisit it.

I've just finished my Bible study for the day. These past two days the study has been about laying aside our judgment of others. I struggle with this sometimes, because I love to be right and if I lay aside my judgment it means I'm laying down the desire to PROVE that I'm right. Most of all, it means I'm laying down my pride, the pride that tends to ignore all of the broken parts of myself, all of the repair work that God has had to do on my life, all of the forgiveness and mercy I've been granted. I lay down my pride and I look in the eyes of another person and see myself. More than that, I see the potential for God to move in their lives in the way he's moved in mine.

The past few days this song has been echoing in my head and it seems appropriate. If I'm to lay aside my judgment I need to see people the way God sees them. And so my prayer echoes the words of Brandon Heath's song "Give Me Your Eyes":

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see

Update 2010:

I was thinking about this song again last night at Bible study, and guess what was playing on my radio when I woke up this morning.

Here's what I'm learning about having His eyes. It hurts. It hurts with a pain that is very nearly physical, the pain of a heart that is breaking along with God's. Having His eyes is one thing to ask, it is another thing to move beyond just having His eyes to asking "What do you want me to do, God?"

The study we are doing now is the popular "Experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby. We learn to experience God by joining Him in His work around us. In order to join Him where He is at work I NEED to have His eyes. But when I see through them I see broken people, I see pain. I see past the shell of someone I don't like and into a heart that is crushed beneath the weight of life, of choices made and unmade, of waiting for love that seems elusive. And it hurts.

But I wouldn't have it any other way, because one thing I know is that I am loved greatly, deeply, unendingly by the One who gave His only child for me. If I can plant the seeds in someone's life that grow into an understanding of that same love for them, then it is worth it. So I cry out with every breath I take "Lord, give me YOUR eyes."

Monday, May 17, 2010


This post was originally written in May of 2008.

Source: NASA
 Before I married my husband I gave him two ultimatums. Don't ever ask me to move to South Dakota and don't ever grow facial hair. No beard, no mustache, no goatee, nada. I felt that these were entirely reasonable ultimatums to issue. After all, South Dakota is a barren wasteland whipped by unending blizzards in the winter, tornados in the spring, and dust in the summer. And facial hair is itchy. Acceptable on other men, just not on the one I'm kissing.

Well, I now live in South Dakota. My husband is a man of his word though and never asked me to move here; the idea was all mine. I am, however, happy to report that there are far fewer blizzards, tornados and dust storms than previously imagined. In fact, South Dakota is a very lovely state most of the time. A bit windy, and it could use a few more mountain ranges sprinkled about the state, but it has a beauty all its own, a beauty that can be alternately quiet and wild. (I still remember my first South Dakota thunderstorm and how I sat by the window for almost half an hour that night watching the lightning turn the sky into a giant strobe light.)

The facial hair ultimatum, however, has remained unchanged and is likely to remain that way.

Ultimatums. Those uncompromising demands that carry the threat of severing relations if they are rejected. Life on OUR terms. Now obviously I love my husband, and I would have married him, South Dakota, facial hair and all. But am I guilty of issuing ultimatums in other areas of my life? Am I guilty of issuing ultimatums to God?

I grieved deeply when some close friends had a daughter born with a congenital heart defect that meant she would live for only a matter of days. I drove up into the mountains and I hiked and climbed and prayed. And I tried to strike a deal. "God, heal her and I PROMISE that the first thing I write that sells, all the proceeds are yours." Yes, I was trying to get God to do two things for me at once.

Ultimatums, deals, call it what you like; often I want God to operate on my schedule, to conform to my fears, my likes and dislikes. I want God on MY terms. I hold back from turning over my whole self to him because what if he wants me to do something I don't like? So I hand over little bits and pieces, with ultimatums and deals attached. "Ok, God, you can have this part of me if you will PROMISE never to make me go to Africa or any other place with bugs. OK, God, I will be faithful to say what I sense you want me to say, as long as its on my blog and NOT in front of the church. OK, God, I'll give up this, but don't take that, ok?"

We miss the point. God is God. He can do whatever he wants. He doesn't need our petty little deals and he doesn't have to abide by our ultimatums.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.
(Psalm 33: 6-11 from the NIV)

I'm issuing ultimatums to the one who was before all, is in all and rules all? I think I'm going to strike a deal with the one who is able to foil the plans of nations? Sometimes I question God. Sometimes I don't quite understand His ways or His plan. But this I know, God is God. He doesn't become less God in my mind if I question him, but he does if I start to think I can control him.

Lord, today, let my honest prayer be to listen for your purpose and your plans. No ultimatums, no deals, just every area of my life open to your will.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Part of the family

Originally published 5/3/2008.

Sometimes when my husband is out of town I allow the boys to come spend the night in our bed as a special treat. (OK, really I'm just afraid that they'll need me and I won't hear them.) It always follows the same pattern, but they always want to do it and I'm always willing to let them try. Still, getting two small boys to fall asleep in the same bed is no small feat; it's like they are some unstoppable energy machine that has to keep on making noise and wiggling until 'boom' the battery runs out and silence and cessation of motion ensue instantly. It was no different this time. There were repeated cries of "Mom, he's bothering me," and "Mom, he's poking me." And finally there was the ultimatum. "Mom, I don't want Indy to be a part of our family any more."

Oh dear. What is a parent supposed to do with THAT statement? I'm not even sure what heinous crime Indy committed in order to deserve banishment from the family, something about scrubbing that was keeping Gates awake. I gently told Gates that we are all part of this family and I would be very sad if anyone was missing because I love them both so much.

I suppose it isn't that uncommon to hear from our children. I can recall wishing every now and then that my brothers belonged to a different family (or that I did). (Sorry guys.) What made me sad as I thought about it today is that sometimes we carry that attitude with us into adulthood and into the church. Sometimes there are people in the church that make us think "Boy, I wish they weren't part of the family; I wish they'd go someplace else."

I'm not talking about the people who are making things difficult for the church, I'm talking about the people that we just don't like. Maybe their personality irritates us. Maybe they have a disability that makes us uncomfortable. Maybe they don't dress 'right'. Maybe they challenge our faith in areas we don't want to be challenged in. Somehow they 'scrub' us the wrong way.

We don't want you in the family, you talk too much. We don't want you in the family, you need too much. You aren't up to my standards of what a church member acts like. You're too emotional. You're too philosophical. You're too distant. You're too clingy. It isn't fun to be around you. Your personality is scrubbing up against me and it irritates me.

God, forgive me for the times I haven't wanted people in my church family that you had placed there. When we stop seeing people as part of our family, we lose the ability to BE family to them. We forget that God put them there, just as surely as he placed each of our children in our earthly families.

Who don't you want in your family? Are there still people I wish weren't a part of mine? If I'm being honest, sometimes my hangup to being invitational isn't so much that I'm an introvert, it's that I don't want that person to be part of MY church family. It's a whole lot easier to invite someone who acts like me than it is to invite the person I wish would just disappear from my life.

A very wise friend of mine has said that if someone irritates you, pray for them. Continue to pray for them. You may not like their behavior any better, but you will find yourself being filled with love for them. You will begin to see them as part of your family. I've seen it played out in my own relationships; I need to be more diligent about continuing the practice.

Paul had some things to say about the church acting as a body:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.   Colossians 3:12-15 (NIV)

One body. One family. We strive to cultivate things like compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience in our own families. Can we humble ourselves enough to cultivate them in our church family as well?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

And so it began

It was easier to write and publish this when no one I knew was reading it. It was easier to hide it away and pretend it didn't happen to me. But something happened when I first published this on my blog two years ago. Women read it. And one after the other they commented about how much they needed to hear it, about how much it helped them, about how suddenly they didn't feel so alone any more. And that's what I want, because if someone had told me this story eight years ago it would have made a world of difference. I'm willing to risk the vulnerability of putting this out there again if it helps just one woman to understand something that I didn't, if it helps just one woman to feel less vulnerable, less afraid.

Postpartum depression is talked about; it's understood to a degree. But there is another type of postpartum mood disorder, one of many, a type that I never knew existed until Gates was almost six years old. This is a story, my story, of postpartum OCD. This isn't a story just for women, it's a story for every man who loves a woman as well. Because the thing about postpartum OCD is that we don't talk about it because we are scared, we need people in our lives to ask the tough questions, to see the signs when we can't see them ourselves, to love us through the pain and the darkness. This is my story.

Sometimes I wonder how time could pass so quickly without my notice. It seems like such a short time ago that I held Gates in my arms for the first time and yet it is so hard to remember how small he was, how helpless. But here he is, another year older, and I am remembering. Remembering and finally healing.

There is a common saying, turned into a commercial for baby products, which tells us "Having a baby changes everything." And it does. The sleepless nights, endless loads of tiny laundry, the inability to just head out the door with ease whenever you want, the worry over every cough, the endless debate over every decision because it now affects a third person in your life. The first real smile that melts your heart, the celebration of every milestone, big or small, the pride that fills your heart that this is YOUR child. Having a baby changes everything.

I was ready for change, ready for the responsibility, ready to be a mother to this tiny little being. I held him in my arms and I loved him. The first week wasn't easy. There was recovery from a traumatic birth experience, the struggle to nurse him, the fear that he might have to go back to the hospital, the suspicion that I might be sliding into postpartum depression.

But I could handle it. I was tough. Having a baby changes everything, I just needed to adjust.

I don't remember when it first happened, but I remember where I was. I was sitting on our couch by the window. Blue fabric couch, reclining ends, middle that folded down into a table so that I could sit there for hours just holding Gates, everything I needed right at hand. I was holding him, looking at him, marveling at his perfection, loving him. And then the thought hit. "What if I put him in the oven?" What?? Where did that come from? I'm not that kind of parent. I love this child; I would DIE for this child. "What if I put him in the oven?"

And so it began. The endless parade of thoughts that I couldn't stop, thoughts that horrified me, thoughts that made me feel so unclean I wanted to scrape them off my body like the sticky residue of unseen spiderwebs. Oven, microwave, knives. In my mind I pictured myself hurting my child in a multitude of ways. I stopped watching any show that involved victimization of children, it just added to the list of horrible things I might imagine myself doing to Gates. It made no sense. How could I be holding my child and loving him and at the same time be thinking these things? I begged God to take the thoughts away. I cried and I begged and the thoughts didn't stop. I couldn't understand it. Wasn't I supposed to be a good Christian mother? Was I really as evil as I felt? Had God turned his back on me?

Having a baby changed everything. If I was evil, I had to work doubly hard to hide it. When people asked how it was going I smiled and proclaimed how great motherhood was. I couldn't let them see the cracks, the doubts, the uncertainties because they might see though them to the part of me that was evil. I couldn't tell anyone about the thoughts; they'd declare me unfit and take away my baby. I couldn't tell my husband, what would he think of me? Would he reject me? I deserved to be rejected, or so I thought.

As Gates grew the thoughts slowly subsided, only manifesting themselves rarely and in other bizarre ways; but the effect remained. No matter how well I parented, I was a failure. I'd failed at the most basic aspects of motherhood, therefore I was a failure. Having a baby changed everything.

Fast forward several years. Major life changes, major stress. I was sinking back into deeper depression and there at the center, waiting to confront me was the part of me that was evil. And I had had enough; I couldn't continue living with the fear that the shell would crack open and what was inside would lash out and hurt the boys. So I finally gave up. I couldn't do it all on my own, I couldn't fix it and I needed help.

At my second counseling appointment I finally spoke the words I had been holding inside for all those years. Slowly, hesitantly the words trickled out of me, telling of the thoughts that wouldn't leave me alone. I told of how evil I felt. And then my counselor spoke the words that changed everything. "It sounds like obsessive thought patterns to me." I came home and started Googling. What I found changed everything.

I found that postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder is part of a whole spectrum of postpartum mood disorders and is estimated to affect 2-3% of new mothers. It is most likely under-reported, however, because of the shame it produces and the fear that our children will be taken away from us. Postpartum OCD is NOT the same thing as the more widely sensationalized postpartum psychosis. Women suffering from postpartum psychosis believe their thoughts are rational; women suffering from postpartum OCD know that their thoughts are not normal but are unable to get rid of them. Mothers with postpartum OCD rarely act on those thoughts, instead they typically (not always) develop any number of rituals in order to avoid them or avoid the possibility of acting on them. It can affect women with a previous history of mild OCD as well as women who have never had it before.

Do you want to know what grace feels like? Grace is taking your deepest, darkest secret, exposing it to the light of day and having it washed away with just a few words. Grace is finding out that even in those dark moments, when I didn't understand why he wasn't taking the thoughts away, God hadn't turned his back on me. Grace is knowing that although I am altogether human, I am NOT a monster.

I don't know the answer to 'why me?' Why did I get this disorder that changed the course of my early parenting years? I will probably never know. I know that it has taught me that secrets held too long leave their mark. I know that in some ways it did make me a better mother because fear gave me the desire to seek out parenting solutions that were gentle. I know it reaffirms the depths of love that my husband has for me, that when I finally told him he didn't turn away, he didn't reject me. I don't know all the answers, but I know the peace that comes from being finally set free.

If you'd like to know more about postpartum mood disorders, including postpartum OCD, you can find many great resources, support and links at Postpartum Progress.

For another mom's story as well as some more in-depth posts on the subject, please visit Angela at Becoming Me. I 'met' Angela after I posted my story and she shares the same heart to help women navigate the depths of postpartum mood disorders. Anything else I could post on the subject would simply be re-inventing what she has laid out with such grace and gentleness.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Being church

This post began back in 2008 on the day my husband and I joined the church that we are happy to now call home. As I got ready for church that morning I began reflecting on what makes a church 'good' and why we were drawn to this particular church after nearly three years of fruitless searching. I've re-written a bit, but most of my musings from that day remain consistent with what I feel today.

Photo by Brian Paff

Every Wednesday morning from early fall until the end of spring I meet in the kitchen of our church with Anne and Betty. When I arrive the countertop is loaded with the fruits of Anne's trip to Sam's Club and occasionally the grocery store as well. Giant cans of tomato sauce, packs of ground beef, fresh fruit or salad, flour, sugar, maybe some cream cheese, eggs, butter, milk...the list varies depending on the menu of the day. We pull out the roasters, each one labeled with its peculiarities: "I run cold," "I burn edges," "I have no temp control," "I work fine." Having the right roaster is essential when you are cooking for over sixty people. One edge-burned batch of scrambled eggs can be a disaster.

And so we cook; measuring, scooping, filling, testing, recalculating in our heads just how to turn a recipe for eight into a recipe for seventy. (Unless it's an online recipe...most of those magically recalculate for us.) We cook because we love to feed people and we love to see the people of the church as well as guests bonding over a good meal before meeting for our Wednesday night Growth Groups. (And when I say good, I mean GOOD; Anne is the mastermind of our operation and what she does with two ancient stoves and a few roasters is a delight to all but the pickiest of eaters.)

I feel at home in this place, surrounded by people I love, people who love me. I look forward to the time we spend cooking together and I look forward to the joy of serving the meal. (OK, lets get real, what mom doesn't want the chance to feed a bunch of people who all say "Oh this looks delicious!" and "Thank you, that was SO GOOD!" and "Can I have some more, please?") I have been a member of several other churches in my lifetime, but this one has a place in my heart that no other church has held.

There are several things that drew us to this church, things that bind us here. I believe they are some of the essentials that many people are looking for in their search for a church to call home, things that are sadly lacking in some churches. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think they are a start to what it means to really be the church, the bride of Christ.

1. I've been in churches and movements where it was subtly or not so subtly proposed that somehow we knew a truth that all of those other churches 'out there' didn't get. Being church means cutting across those lines. It means going past the rhetoric, past the talking points of your particular denomination and seeking to show the identity of Christ reflected on Earth, not as the holy 'church of those who really get it.' No one denomination, worship style, etc. has a lock on all that is true and holy and biblical. In fact, we probably all get it wrong in some places some of the time. But from the stately organs and orchestras to the drums and guitars, from four part harmony to African chant we are all expressing our worship to the same God.
Give me a church that realizes it is a part of something bigger, that we are part of the body of Christ and we aren't going to let names separate or define us anymore.

2. Being church means allowing others to question without slapping them with the label of 'doubter' or 'weaker in the faith'. It means allowing ourselves to question as well, knowing that as we search for answers we will receive both guidance and patience. As humans we are going to struggle to understand the mind of God, to understand the word He left behind for us, to understand how and why He works the way He does in the world both in the past and in the present. Didn't it always irritate you as a kid when you asked your parent a tough question and their answer was "Because I'm the parent and I said so, you don't get to ask the questions." (Well, ok, maybe you were lucky enough to have parents that let you question with freedom.) But it is frustrating to be told you shouldn't have a question because that doesn't take the question away, it just makes you feel guilty for having it. What better place to struggle with the big questions than in a church, where we can learn together? I appreciate the fact that while cooking yesterday I could chat with my pastor about my prior post regarding decision theology and my doubts about it and he didn't call me heretic or toss me out of the church. (Although that may have been because we were cooking his favorite meal and because Anne is his wife and would not be happy if he got rid of her helper.)

3. Being church means accepting people as they come to you. You shouldn't have to be a 'certain way' to belong to a church. Yes, different churches will often ultimately draw different types of people through their worship style, outreach ministries, etc. But as the body of Christ on earth it's our job to show His acceptance to everyone who walks through our doors. I don't believe cliques have any place in the body of Christ. Nothing makes it harder on a newcomer than to realize that everyone has their own little 'group' already and that they are so content with who they relate with that they don't want anyone else coming in and messing up their dynamic. We visited a few churches like that. If new people stick around for a few months and then leave you might want to take another look at how well your church is handling this. Everyone who walks through the doors should be treated as an honored guest and a friend, tattoos, dreads, three-piece suits and all.

4. Related to point 3; church shouldn't be a place of plastic perfection. Church comes with real people and real people come with hurts and baggage and some Sundays we can barely drag ourselves through the door. But we come, and there we find other people with struggles, some the same, some different, but ALL with struggles. It is in watching other people struggle that we can sometimes find grace for our own battles. How frustrating it would be for me to walk into church and feel that everyone there had it together except me, that I was the only one falling apart on the inside? I don't think I'd be back. No, we don't all walk around wearing our weaknesses on our sleeve, but there's something in the air of a church that is genuine, something we sensed when we first entered the church we are a part of now. I still struggle with trying to put on that mask of perfection, but God is gently prying it from my hands and I don't think I want it back.

There are so many other points I could make, but ultimately I like the way the vision statement for our church lays it out:


Go out and be church. Be house-church, small church, big church, mega church. Just find some way to actually BE the body of Christ.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Faith of a child

For his eighth birthday he wants a heart shaped cake with white frosting and "I Love God" written on it in red letters. He wanted red frosting, but I put my foot down when it comes to red food dye in large quantities. So we compromised with the white frosting and red letters. The "I Love God" was not negotiable.

Why did he decide that's what he wanted on his cake? I don't know. For the past 6 months or so he has been exploring what faith means and what it is to be a Christian; I think this is just one of his ways of stating something that is occupying his thoughts.

When we first started to notice the language delays, when it progressed into realizing that Gates would never see the world in the same way that most of us do I wondered what effect it would have on his ability to develop a strong core of faith. Would he be able to understand what it means to make a decision for Christ? Where does God fit in the mind of someone who is wired to think in logical fact patterns?

Since those early questions I have come to several conclusions. One is that I am no longer comfortable being a proponent of strict decision theology. Are there people who have radical, defining salvation moments? Sure. But for many of us, adults and children alike, the path of faith is a winding one and we can never say exactly when we stepped on the path, only that we know for certain we are on it. If I were to stick to the strictest of decision theology moments I would say that I stepped on that path in third grade when the traveling revival show came to town and scared me with their illustrations of mice, bear traps and pencils snapped in half. OH MY GOODNESS I HAVE TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN RIGHT NOW OR I AM GOING TO HELL!!!!! Or perhaps I could pick the moment in my college years when I decided that my initial decision meant nothing because it happened out of fear, so I was going to choose to believe in God as a loving Father. I am not sure that either of those moments was THE defining moment. Rather, God has slowly drawn me onto the path, with each simple prayer prayed, with each step of faith, with each dawning realization of the depth of His grace.

And so I am comforted by this, by the idea that even if he does not dot all the i's and cross all the t's demanded by many churches, even if he never follows an altar call, even if he never prays the specific prayer of salvation, Gates is learning what it means to love God as evidenced by his desire to declare it on his birthday cake. As he matures he will begin to understand it with more depth. He will understand what sacrifice means and he will understand the grace that has been given to him.

We serve a God of immense and powerful grace, grace that defies the boxes we try to put it in. Maybe that makes me a heretic, or maybe it makes me the mother of a child who will experience God in ways I can't begin to understand.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Broken Things

This post was originally written in April of 2008, a time when I was struggling deeply with clinical depression. I am happy to say that my struggles these days are not as great...but there are still days. Perhaps they are here to remind me that I am, and always will be, broken. But by the grace of God, broken does not mean useless, it doesn't consign me to the trash heap. In that I find incredible joy.

My children believe that their father can fix anything. This is probably due to the fact that I am about as far from the mechanical engineering side of the spectrum as it is possible for a person to be. So anytime they bring me a broken toy, or want me to build a Lego something, or put together their Hot Wheels track my standard response is, “Maybe Daddy can do it when he gets home.” As mother to two small boys I suppose I ought to get over my aversion to building and putting things together, but so far I haven’t. And so, the standard refrain now in our house when anything breaks is, “Maybe Daddy can fix it.”

And such unwavering faith in his abilities. Is the toy completely in shambles, stepped on and crushed beyond recognition? “Maybe Daddy can fix it.” Have the batteries in the world’s most annoying noisemaking toy finally run down, rendering it harmless? “Maybe Daddy can fix it!” This extends beyond our own home. While sitting in our car at the gas station my three-year old noticed that some of the bulbs in the station’s canopy were burned out, or flickering sickly. “Oh no! Maybe Daddy can fix those.” They are still at that wonderful age where Daddy is omnipotent, all-powerful, the ruler of their little world. Daddy can do anything.

Some days I long for that unwavering faith in a Daddy who will fix anything. I long for a faith that even believes that the broken is fixable. Right now I feel broken. Depression has a strangle-hold on my emotions and after years of trying with all my might I know I can’t fix it. All-powerful as he is, my husband can’t fix it. I have cried out to my Father in heaven. And He hasn’t fixed it. Not in the ways I expect, anyhow.

My boys don’t always understand that Daddy can’t fix everything. Sometimes there are tears and pouting. They mourn the loss of something that was precious to them. In my heart I believe that God can fix everything, but I don’t understand why sometimes He chooses not to, or why He makes us take the hard road when it would be so easy for Him to just speak the word. And so I mourn. I mourn for the fact that there may never be a day here on earth where I truly understand what it is to be whole in both mind and spirit. But God hasn’t written the end of the story yet. And unlike a broken toy, God has a use for broken people. It’s called the church, and bigger still, the world. The place where, broken as we are, God works through us to bring strength to each other.

I could have a testimony like this (I'm sure it will sound familiar). “I heard this song and prayed this prayer and God healed me of my depression and it’s been great ever since.” And if that is truly the case, I am happy for you. But to those of us who have tried so many spiritual remedies, who have worn out our knees with prayer, it will be empty words. It will leave us wondering where we have failed, why our faith was not strong enough. But what if my testimony was “I struggle. I struggle to keep it together some days. I struggle to understand love. I struggle to understand the big questions in life. I struggle just to get up and get moving some days. But in that struggle, God is there. In that struggle I am finding grace at each step. And slowly, slowly I am finding joy in the God whose love is unfailing enough to trust me with the big challenges.” It is a hard thing to admit, but I think I know which testimony I would choose. Sometimes grace comes like a flood. Sometimes it trickles in so slowly we don’t even notice until we are submerged in it.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  2 Cor. 12:9 (NIV)

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I think that Gates was almost three when I truly began to realize that something was not quite right. He'd hit all of the normal developmental milestones right up until it came to talking. And there he stuck. Our communication consisted of one word statements. Tractor. Ball. Milk. I waited and waited for the burst of language to come. I blamed myself for not talking to him more, for putting him in an infant daycare where the husband was partially deaf, for not being proactive enough in developing language. Car. Truck. Book.

He had amazed us shortly after turning two by being able to name every letter of the alphabet. "My child is a genious!" I thought. Juice. Grandpa. Kitty. Slowly his vocabulary grew and he expanded to short sentences of several words. But he wasn't communicating with me. There was no give and take.

His vocabulary continued to grow, but so did my sadness at not being able to truly communicate with him. I talked to him and it was as if he didn't understand at all. At age four I finally took him to be evaluated.

"He meets the criteria for being developmentally delayed in receptive language," they said. "He is also significantly delayed in his gross motor skills."

"No," I thought, "not my child. He could say the alphabet when he was two. He has a great vocabulary." Did he really need special services to help him? Sometimes as parents we beach our boat on the vanishing sandbar of denial, knowing it is eroding beneath us, but not willing to launch ourselves into a sea of desperation.

Eventually I accepted it; I enrolled him in the early childhood education program, speech and occupational therapy. And one day we had a conversation. Not just me talking at him, but him responding as well. Four years later we know he has Aspergers Syndrome, we know that social communication will always be a struggle for him. He can fill your ears with incredible repetitions of facts, questions, rambling while failing to really connect as a person. But for every step he takes in learning to connect, we are right there, waiting, delighted, rejoicing at his efforts.

Sometimes we approach God as if we had Aspergers. We have memorized incredible amounts of facts about him, we can talk about him ad nauseum, we can talk AT him. But we stop short of the give and take of true communication. Communication. Communion. Combined.

And God waits. He waits through the developmental stages of our early faith, when we are exploring this world of "Christianity". He waits as we mature, as we develop a bigger vocabulary to talk about him. He waits as we learn words like "Exegisis," "Dispensationalism," "Calvinism."

Sometimes we stay there, content with our impressive knowledge, our ability to talk about God, even our ability to ask the deep theological questions which we rarely have the patience to wait for the answers on.

But sometimes within our Aspie little selves is that desire to make a connection, the understanding that communication is more than words. Sometimes we look God square in the face and say "I love you." Sometimes we have the patience to stick around for him to answer back. Sometimes we listen. Sometimes we reach out. Connection. Communion. Worship.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why Intaglio?

When I started my first blog I titled it "Grace Unbound" because it seemed to describe that point of my spiritual journey. I was learning about grace, learning to slowly let go of legalism, of doubting grace. I was learning to let grace begin to lift me out of the pit that I was stuck in.

I'm still learning about grace; I'm not sure that any of us will ever truly understand just how lavish, how beautiful, how amazing it is until the end of our lives. But I'm moving into a different stage, a stage where I want the grace I am learning about to be evident in my life.

When I first started trying to title this blog I kept thinking in terms of crafting. This was probably because I was learning to knit at the time and my inner artist had been unleashed. I like words, and I like words that have a beautiful flow to them. Intaglio (in-tal-yoh) is one of those words. I tentatively set up the blog title, walked away for several months and then came back. Looking at it through fresh eyes I knew that the image of being carved with grace was the one I wanted to convey.

The art of intaglio, also known as etching, involves engraving a design into the surface of a plate. Ink is then applied to the plate and wiped off so that all the remains is the ink in the grooves. When paper is pressed to it the ink transfers to the paper, creating a work of art. As you can see in the example above, extraordinary detail and beauty can be created by this process, detail that defies my ability to understand.

As part of God's workmanship, I want to be so deeply etched with grace that when I come in contact with others they will see the imprint of Christ. I'm a work in progress, still being etched, refined, corrected. Sometimes the etching hurts as the tools press into me in areas that I don't want touched. Sometimes I don't know where this design is going. But I am willing.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2: 8-10 (NIV)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Empty Places

This post was originally published on 4/3/2008. Sadly, I am still trying to convince myself that my children won't notice their missing Easter candy, even though they are both on to me by now. I still have my empty places, but I am slowly learning to let God fill them. Emphasis on SLOWLY learning. :)

The conversation goes something like this:

Me: (shamefacedly holding out a bag of trail mix that is now about two-thirds empty) "Um, I got you this to snack on for the trip this weekend, know, it's been a rough week with Gates getting detention and me getting all up in the principal's face and everything, so..."

Husband: (shaking his head and smiling so it removes the sting from the words even if the truth remains) "Didn't you learn anything after the Easter candy? Didn't you learn not to buy that stuff too early?"

No, no, clearly I didn't, OK? I didn't learn my lesson, even after having to replace the Easter Candy three times. I didn't learn it after Valentine's Day when I realized that Gates is now old enough to notice that candy is missing from the stash he received at school. I really do ok most of the time, I do this by having almost no palatable food in the house at any time that does not require several hours of preparation prior to consumption. I proudly proclaim myself a food purist, shunning fast food, high fructose corn syrup and scary food dyes. But let a holiday or a special occasion hit and I am shameless.

No, that's not right. I am not shameless because emotional eating carries its own shame with it. The shame that says, "I should know better, I should do better, I am weak, I am not in control." Anyone who has struggled with emotional eating knows the drill, the roaming through the house flinging open cupboards, refrigerator and freezer, certain that somewhere there is something that can be eaten, something to fill that feeling that we can't even identify. And even as we fling open the cupboard we slam shut the door to our heart, to the voice that is calling us to just be still for a moment.

Being still isn't easy. I am learning that the hard way this year. After years of stifling the inner voice by immersing myself in work, in books, and on the internet, I came to a screeching halt when I decided to quit my full time job to stay home with my boys. No, they don't allow a lot of time for literally sitting still, but suddenly my mind became still. I couldn't hide behind busying it with work, my protection was stripped away. Suddenly the empty places became obvious.

We all have empty places in our hearts and our lives, places that we don't know how to fill. And for every woman with an empty place there is a different way of trying to fill it. Some of us even rush desperately from method to method, trying to find the one that works. In high school I tried to fill them with packages of Oreos, hidden under the covers of my bed as I hid from the world inside the fantasy world of books. In college I thought I could fill them by just reaching that magical weight, but the empty places couldn't be filled by the steadily decreasing numbers on the scale. Most athletic, perfect mother, perfect employee. Nothing filled them.

I still have empty places. But slowly I am learning to be still, to quiet the frantic rush of my heart, to hear grace calling "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10 NIV) Psalm 46 is a reminder to us, a reminder that God is our refuge and strength, not all the foolish things with which we try to surround  and fill ourselves.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Take time. Be still. Let grace begin to move.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Originally posted on 3/20/2008

"Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'my beloved.' Romans 9:25 (from the Revised Standard Version)

"See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands..." Isaiah 49:16 (RSV)

My mind cannot begin to comprehend the wonder that the God of the universe calls me beloved. Me. Ordinary, insignificant me, with all of my faults, all of my failings. In spite of the fact that I yelled at my kids today, in spite of the fact that my house is a mess, that I'm spending time blogging instead of working, that I blew it in a hundred different ways today, he still calls me beloved. Not only that, but I'm engraved on the palms of his hands. He can't forget me and he's not going to overlook me.

I'll admit, I struggle with understanding this. I struggle with believing that it really is true. There's such a huge gap between God and me, why would he bother with me? Because of love. Because of the longing of a lover's heart to have the object of his affection love him in return. Make no mistake about it, the love God wants from us in return is not the cold and passionless love of rules and regulations. He wants the fires of our heart to burn with a longing to know him. He wants us to rejoice in knowing him, to join him in the dance of life.

I can't comprehend it. But I am still his beloved.

Winter Whining

I'm reposting some of my favorite posts from my previous blog. This was my first 'real' post, published on 3/17/2008.

I knew what was going to happen as soon as I started hearing the weather forecast for Sunday night. I hoped the snow would pass us by. I hoped for the sun. Monday morning I stumbled to the window, peeked through the curtains and...not just three, but FIVE inches of new snow lay on the ground that had been nearly laid bare by a week's worth of thawing.

I closed the curtains and went about the morning routine; just waiting for the moment I knew was coming. Gates, my five year old, got up, ate breakfast, got dressed, all without looking out the window. But I knew what was coming. Quietly I started to fold up his snow pants and put them in his backpack. I carried the boots upstairs. I could see it coming.

"No Mommy, I don't want to wear my boots and take my snow pants to school today."

"I'm sorry, Gates, but you really need to today."

"No, Mommy, I don't WANT to. I don't need them today!"

The moment of truth arrived. I walked to the window and pulled aside the curtain. I knew what was coming.

Shock. Disbelief. Then...Drama! Wailing! Crying! Anger! "WHY did the snow come back? I don't WANT the snow to come back! It has been winter for too long! The snow has been on the ground FOREVVVVVERRRR! Arrgh! Spring is NEVER going to get here!" (I'll be honest, I'm right there with him on the whole idea, but there's something less acceptable about a grown woman collapsing to the floor and wailing about the unending gloom of winter.)

And yet, I have my own fits, my own temper tantrums about the winters of my soul. I trudge through my days with the gray clouds always there, always threatening to send the snow and blowing winds that will force me to my knees once again. Even when they clear for a moment I'm waiting, just waiting for them to move back in again. It feels as if winter has been here forever. What if the world has tilted on its axis and spring doesn't come this time?

Then the warming trend starts. Streams that were bound and frozen start to have trickles of life in them again, snow starts to melt exposing what was underneath. Hope creeps in. Spring? Maybe? And then the clouds descend again. The snow falls and the water stops flowing. Drama. Wailing. Crying. Anger. "I don't get it, God! Why is this happening? It feels like I've been frozen here FOREVER! When is spring coming? IS it coming? Why does it have to be winter for SO LONG?"

In his book, "Let Your Life Speak," Parker Palmer talks about seeing life not as a manufacturing model in which we must make things happen ourselves, but as an agrarian model, a cycle of seasons and growing. Winter is the time of dormancy, the time of rest that is essential to all living things.

I'll admit, I don't want to see it as essential. I want the sunshine, the growth. I don't like this state of being frozen. But the thaw will come, eventually. And the stream that is newly unbound after a thaw is not the same stream that runs in the middle of the summer. The summer stream is often placid, peaceful, and there's nothing wrong with that. But the unbound stream? The stream that has burst through the ice and runs with the weight of all the winter's snow? That stream rushes with passion and purpose. It shatters obstacles and prepares the land for growth. It carries the excitement of new life.

Winter will end. Spring will come. And grace will be unbound.

Wait for it...

After nearly a year long absence from blogging I am longing to get back into the game. I'll be migrating my old blog over from Wordpress and hopefully the new look and new format will inspire me to get back into the game. I'll also be starting a companion blog of random stuff, my garden, my life, things I'm learning about being a mom. I'm excited!