Survival mode

When S was born, mothering a baby came back to me so quickly and my body seemed to spring back almost as fast. But within a few months the sleepless nights piled up, the dormant allergies awoke with a vengeance, and sinus infections came one after another. I felt guilty for the sinus meds and the four rounds of antibiotics, wondering how my little nursling was being affected but knowing I needed to get healthy so I could be a better mommy to him.
I blame the physical exhaustion and postpartum hormones for the anxiety that has ensued. It isn’t debilitating, which is why I haven’t sought professional help -- but it has been a struggle for me. It seems to come most often when I’m in transition – when I’m rushing to get the kids out the door to run errands, when I’m looking for my car in the parking lot to no avail. My heart starts pumping, my mind seems to stop working, my chest gets tight, I go into survival mode. I think it’s a result of living in survival mode for too long.
When I brought up the symptoms to a friend and to my husband, they encouraged me to get help if I needed it. I decided to start with trying to take better care of myself, physically and spiritually. I took my vitamins more regularly, read my Bible more often, started writing again, listened to good music, planned more girl time. The sinus infections finally subsided, and my spirit is slowly healing too.
Sometimes as a mom, I think I need to put my needs aside to care for everyone else. But in order to best love my family, I need to love myself too. I need to do things that allow God to breathe life into me. I need to build in times of rest and renewal. I need to make the time to eat well, drink more water, take a shower. So when my spirit feels too tight, I take a deep breath and ask God what He wants me to do next. I realize that my to-do list does not define or control me, that God’s expectations for me are not burdensome.

On my entryway wall are inscribed the words from Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So I gaze on them often, and my soul learns to rest in Him.

(In case you need a moment of rest - this song from Jimmy Needham has brought me so much peace...)


To my 20 year old self

Strangely, at the private Christian college I attended, I struggled most with finding community. I came in as an 18 year old junior, and knew almost nobody. During orientation, I tried desperately to connect with someone, anyone - and felt awkward and alone. Rather than participate in more awkward activities, I went to the State Fair with my amazing boyfriend (and hey, that turned out well in the end!). My roomates and I got along well enough, but they formed their own friend groups and I didn't want to just tag along. In our daily chapels I resigned myself to sitting alone in the crowd, doing homework to appear like I was just fine while my heart ached. I despised getting lunch in the cafeteria, sitting at a huge table by myself while friends laughed around me. I walled off my heart and tried hard not to care, but I was bleeding inside.

Shame didn't help matters. I was struggling with my sinfulness, feeling like such a bad Christian compared to the amazing students around me. I confessed my struggles to a few, and withdrew even more when they didn't seem to know how to respond, when I didn't know how to move forward. My mind was being filled with knowledge of God every day, but my heart was walled off.

Looking back on those days, I can thank God for the pain and loneliness, for being my comforter and healing my broken places. I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self a few things...

1. Show up. You can't build a community if you don't show up! Go places, accept invitations, invite people over.

2. Be interested. People don't care how interesting you are if you aren't interested in them. Ask questions - silly ones, deep ones - and listen.

3. Follow through. If you pour out my heart to someone one day and ignore them the next, you are sending mixed signals. Be consistent, even if you feel awkward or embarrassed.

4. Give. Even when you don't feel like you have much to give. It's enough. Share your heart, encouragement, skills, food, home, whatever you have. It will bless others, and you.

5. Be real. Don't pretend like its all okay if it's not. Share, cry, be silly, laugh. The people you want to be your friends can handle it.

What would you tell your 20-year old self?

Four years ago

"J, I'm so glad you made me into a mommy four years ago."

"I didn't make you a mommy - God did!"

Four years ago, God made me a mommy. I found out I was pregnant on the morning of my 21st birthday -- what a way to enter adulthood! Motherhood has brought me to my knees, made me realize the depth of my sin, showed me my great need for my Father's love and strength. It has brought me oceans of joy and valleys of intense pain. And I'm forever grateful.

On Sunday, I made a point to celebrate my four-year-old. I (mostly) ignored the Pinterest posts on how to host a fantastic, handmade superhero party, and instead bought a cake at Sam's Club and party favors in the dollar section of Target (half off!). I woke up early and strung banners and birthday signs haphazardly around the house, wrapped gifts in Christmas paper, then made extra coffee and gave thanks to Jesus for my boy.

J slept in (praise God!), and when he emerged from his room I told him "It's your birthday, four-year-old! You are so precious to me!" His eyes widened when he saw balloons and banners and gifts all around.

"Mom! There's 1...2...3...4 birthday signs for me! There's presents! Can I open them?!"

We snuggled and watched cartoons until daddy awoke, then J ripped into Christmas wrapping paper and thanked daddy for his new toys (somehow he knows daddy picks out all the best toys). I made french toast at his request, and tried not to show my frustration when he decided to eat dry Cheerios instead.

I finished party preparations while the hubby entertained the boys. I vowed not to get stressed, to focus on celebrating my boy - and it was wonderful. We played at the park with 30 friends and family members, knocked open a pinata, ate Sam's Club cake and sandwich wraps, opened gifts, and J was in heaven.

(I can't fail to say -- a million thanks to our sweet friends for watching the kids and making a hundred sandwich wraps on Saturday night! Truly, they are Jesus to me.)

Four years old!

I'm learning that being a mom isn't about being Pinterest-perfect. It's about celebrating my kiddos, helping them to see and become who God made them to be. It's about accepting the help, the mess, the bittersweet growth. It's slowing down to live this moment, rejecting the anxious thoughts of all I "should be" doing. It is certainly not very glamorous, but it is so beautiful.


On being Jesus to each other

Claire and I became best friends at ski club in sixth grade. We rode chairlifts and talked about the tough things middle schoolers face -- friendships betrayed and unreciprocated crushes. We filled in each other's friends-only files (anyone remember those?) and had butterfly best friend necklaces.

Last weekend we got coffee (me) and tea (her), walked around a park, and talked about marriage, friendship, children, and wanting to re-learn each other's quirks after years of living apart. This ebb and flow of lifelong friendship, the coming together and leaving and still loving - this is community.

I first met my husband's friend group at a dirty bachelor pad where I wouldn't even sit down on the toilet. They talked in movie lines and I sat quietly. Over years, the bachelors married and I learned their lingo and inside jokes. The women are often referred to as "patient ladies" because of the guys' shenanigans, but we are blessed with so much laughter in return.

The group expanded and traditions formed. We do weddings, birthdays, leftover Thanksgiving, a summer cabin trip, rib fest, game nights and bonfires. We pray for each other and help each other through rough times. We have a Facebook group to share the things only we'd think are funny. Our babies are growing up together. That's community.

It wasn't always like this. In our early dating and married years, most of our close friends were away at college. Those days of figuring out how to live together, how to deal with morning sickness, how to be parents - they were kind of lonely. I praise God for our amazing parents, siblings, and church who were (and still are) such a support to us; I thank God for blogs like (in)courage and O My Family that showed me I wasn't alone. And I'm so grateful that our support system, our community, has expanded and deepened in the years since.

"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing." 2 Thessalonians 1:3

Community grows us, shapes us, keeps us accountable. It lets us be Jesus to each other.

I'd love to hear your thoughts - What does community look like to you? Have you struggled to form community?