Sunday, April 6, 2014

My Husband Project

A little over three weeks ago, my husband told me he thought maybe no one in our household liked him very much. It wasn't true. 

What was true, however, was that Jeff was (and is still) outnumbered. Three emotional females reside in this house with him, and two of them are trying to grow up. One of them is sort of  "grown up" already, but still growing. 

And Jeff, the rock that all our emotional waves crash up against, was feeling unpopular. He was feeling ill-equipped to deal with some of the stuff our girls are going through. His macho tool box just doesn't have everything he needs to make his daughters feel loved and understood.

But in reality, Jeff is not unpopular despite being sometimes annoyingly male. He is our hero. The other day the girls and I were watching Despicable Me, and when Gru starts vaulting bombs to rescue Margo, Edith and Agnes, my 10 year old turned to me and said, "That's what Daddy would do for us." And he would. 

So I decided Jeff feeling unpopular was not acceptable. I decided to do "The Husband Project." 

Author and Speaker Kathy Lipp wrote "The Husband Project: 21 Days of Loving Your Man On Purpose and With a Plan." Basically, the book has 21 small acts of kindness that I, the wife, undertake to make my spouse feel loved. You're not supposed to tell him you're doing it. You're not supposed to do it with an agenda: to get him to change. The intention is to change yourself as a wife. I first bought the book and did the project about five years ago. My children were smaller, and my resentment against my husband was bigger. After meeting children's needs all day, I wanted him to come home from work and meet mine. 

That time, when I did the project, I started with gritted teeth. I prayed for God to please, please let me do these nice things for Jeff without expecting him to start doing nicer things for me. I was desperately afraid my resentment would get worse. The process worked. It made me realize that I had forgotten why I liked being married, and that the kids and their needs had totally eclipsed my husband's. By doing nice things for him, I remembered that I not only loved him, I liked him. And then I liked myself better too. 

This time, I found the labor of love to be more fun, and less labor. And this time, I had a support system. I brought up The Husband Project to three girlfriends at school pickup, and they immediately wanted in. Then they invited people to join us, then others invited us to join them. Ultimately, I think we had 10 women on a facebook message loop sharing their stories, impressions and ideas of the process. Some women did something every day; some cherry picked their favorite. We gave each other and ourselves grace. And we all learned something I think.

We aren't all of the same faith, we are aren't all in the same stage in our marriages, but we're sort of all in the same boat. We forget that we are blessed to be women with families and that our families wouldn't work so well without our men. It was both touching and hilarious to hear how their projects went. My favorite days were  as follows: 1)  when we were supposed to dress nicely with our husbands in mind -- some women did the works and no one noticed, while others wore matching pajamas and their husbands were in shock and (2) when we were supposed to send a flirty text or email -- and our facebook comments went just a little past PG-13. 

My big take-away in my own marriage is that I am actually able to give my husband what he needs, most of the time. I worry that I am not emotionally even enough for my sweet, stable man. I worry that if I go on a crying jag at the end of a bad day that I've really let him down and burdened him. Having a history of anxiety and depression, I can still experience a lot of shame sometimes when I'm struggling with this predisposition to have to fight a little harder than most for emotional stability and metal clarity. And I hide it from my husband when I'm struggling. Half way through the project, I had a few really hard days, and it wasn't until I blubbed like a baby to my husband that I felt better. And it didn't seem to bring him down at all. What a relief!

On the other hand, the fact that I did things like take out the trash when it was his turn, cleaned out the inbox on our desk, made an extra effort on a couple of dinners, and bought him a bag of black licorice went a long way toward making him feel like he is happily married and well taken care of. Who knew? Being a good housewife, actually makes me a better wife. I sometimes feel sort of "above" caring for those little things, thinking they don't matter. But apparently they do, to Jeff at least. He receives those things as love. And now that the kids are in school all day, the little housewifely things aren't nearly as hard to do as they used to be. 

And meanwhile, though I really went into this without an agenda to change Jeff, I noticed changes in him anyway. When he was feeling unloved in our family, he made the courageous decision to ask himself why.  Being pretty stable himself, my dear husband is coming to a realization that life as he knows it is going to continue to flux around him, so more flexibility on his part shall be required. People often see that they have room for improvement and either shame or apathy or selfishness makes them choose not to try. 

Jeff tried. He's been carving out more time to just hang out with the girls, to make them feel loved, and to listen to them. It's pretty hard to be more loving when you don't feel loved. And who knows but that bag of licorice or that flirty (PG) text I sent him at work didn't help him have the energy to do it? Maybe I made him feel less like the odd one out, and more like our hero.

The 21 days are up, but I hope I'll keep it up anyway. I like having a hero in my house.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Year of Joy, in Review

"Here's to feeling good all the time."
~Kramer, "The Sniffing Accountant," Seinfeld 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. ~Jesus, Matthew 5:4

In mid-December, on a day that fell in "that time of the month," I had breakfast with my friend Gina and I asked her an important question. 

"Gina, do I seem normal to you?"

Gina, God bless her, did not laugh at me, but, in her quiet way considered it, seeing in my eyes that I was serious. "Yes, you do," she answered.

"Do I seem like I'm doing okay? Like I love God and am happy about my life?"

"Yes, you do."  

"Okay, well let me ask you something else then. Do you feel happy for a couple of hours in the day and then for an hour feel bad? Like bored or discouraged or irritated?"

"Yes. That's life."

Oh. Yes. I believe I've heard that concept before. Why has it not sunk in? 

Well, part of why I didn't know this on that particular day was because of hormones, which make my brain whisper, "The reality is, you're nuts," about two days out of 30. (My cousin Kelley posted on facebook recently that she didn't know which was the real her: the PMS version or the non-PMS version. I wanted to send her a box of chocolates.) But really, deep down, even during hormonal stability, I would really rather not have emotional ups and downs and do my darnedest not to.When I experience "negative" emotions, I jump to bad conclusions about myself, the state of my life, and even the state of my standing with God.

In January of 2013 I heard God say: This will be your year of joy. I wrote a blog about it a year ago (, and I wondered how that would shake out in reality. The Bible often says that joy will come through trials and suffering. I learned that lesson this year, but in a different way than I expected.

Here is the number one lesson I learned about myself in 2013: I want to feel happy all the time.

The number two thing I learned: I don't. And when I don't, I feel both guilty and afraid that I don't.

Number three: Being preoccupied with feeling good all the time makes the moments of good less satisfying and the moments of feeling bad much worse.Trying to feel good all the time also really hurts my relationship with my heavenly Father, who tells me that He wants me to be truthful, all the way down, even in my emotions: "Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within." Psalm 51:6.

I was raised by a dad who had great faith and always seemed to be happy. Having observed him and misinterpreted his example and teaching (as children of even the best parents are apt to do), I thought trusting God meant always feeling good and being grateful. Hence, the guilt when I don't feel good.

And having a history of anxiety and depression (which could be partially caused by the fact that I often felt guilty any time I felt bad growing up), I fear sadness. What I learned this year through study and experience is that sadness -- unlike clinical depression -- is productive. Sadness is an indicator that something is not right -- in a relationship for example -- and may lead to change and healing in the relationship.

Or sometimes, when sadness is caused by something unchangeable, like an incurable illness in a loved one, a loss, or a death, sadness is a necessary part of healing. Fearing that sadness in those instances is destructive. When I push sadness or mourning away from me, it crops up in other ways as anger or irritability or numbness. I can't feel compassion for others if I'm afraid to feel sad and so I cut myself off from others. But, when I allow myself to feel grief,  I've found it to be true what Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

One of the funniest scenes ever in the Seinfeld series is when Kramer goes "undercover" to try to find out if his accountant (who always seems to be sniffing)) is doing cocaine and squandering his money. Kramer sits next to him at the bar and assumes what he assumes to be the attitude of a drug user. With a cigarette hanging from his mouth, he looks at the sniffing accountant, holds up a pint of beer and says, "Here's to feeling good all the time." Then he chugs it down in one take.

As much as this scene makes me laugh, it also makes me think of some sad realities. Trying to feel good all the time is what drives us to addictions: drugs, alcohol, business, eating, excessive exercise, work-a-holism. We end up in those places running from sadness and loss. God can't comfort us when we have numbed out our pain.

As far as boredom, frustration, anger, apathy, jealousy, anxiousness, fear, insecurity, and all the other less-than-blissful emotions that I experience on a weekly basis go, the more I'm willing to name and recognize them, the less scary they become and the faster I get over them. And here's the most radical concept I've discovered in the Year of Joy. Sometimes a little wallowing doesn't hurt. A little sitting around feeling kind of crappy doesn't hurt you once a month.

When I was depressed, I had all kinds of tools to make myself get out of bed and keep moving, be productive, active and social in order to keep from sinking. I would sing to myself Dory from Finding Nemo's refrain "just keep swimming, swimming, swimming." That was right and necessary at that time.

But now, five years later, in a much healthier place, if I wake up with the blues -- hormonally induced or otherwise -- sometimes I haul my sad butt off to the gym and salsa dance, and then shower and blow dry my hair. The fake-it-till-you-make-it approach.

But sometimes I put on my yoga pants, don't do yoga, and watch three hours of "Downton Abbey" while eating cereal with my greasy hair in a ponytail.

Whichever approach from above, I also include simply telling God how I feel. "Lord, I'm so anxious right now. I think [insert name of friend] might be mad at me." Or, "God, I am cranky and sick of housekeeping." Or, "Lord, I have very hurt feelings. I feel angry and misunderstood."

Never, never, never is God's response, "Come on, Amanda, suck it up." Never is it condemnation. Instead, always it is comfort. Sometimes in the form of a brotherly pat on the head. Sometimes, on the level of strong arms wrapped around me. Sometimes, a surge of courage or well-being. And always, always, a sense of restored joy.

Negative emotions do not disqualify us from a life of faith. Adverse experiences don't separate us from God's love. But honesty in the inmost parts: this is my path to joy. This is the wisdom and freedom God gave me in 2013. The year of joy indeed. 

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. 
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. ~Psalm 30:5

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What I Got for Christmas

At the beginning of December, in a burst of motherly wisdom, I sat down with my daughters one-on-one and asked them what they most wanted to do during the Christmas season. 

Sophia, age 9 and three quarters, surprised me. 

Her answer was, "Less." 

She wanted less parties, less activities, and time to just hang out at home and enjoy our house. (Which, I have to say, is pretty spectacular at Christmastime.) 

Olivia, age 6, wanted more. 

More parties, more outings, a house full of friends, and as much sugar as I would allow her to eat. 

In mid-December, we hosted an open house for our neighbors, kids included, from 6 to 7:30. At 7:30, Olivia was in the living room, ankle deep in Tinker Toys, passing out dress-up clothes with a cookie in one hand. Sophia was whispering in my ear: "It's 7:30. When are people going home?"

This is my life. I'm raising two children at the opposite end of the introvert/extrovert spectrum. 

The gift I got for Christmas this year was the ability to see this as a blessing. These walking polar opposites under my roof  force me to move toward balance as a parent and a person. 

Over our Christmas break, I made a very concerted effort to meet the girls' disparate needs, balancing adventures with rest, social time with solitude. The result was more harmony, family togetherness, fun, and peace than we have had in a long time.

If I'm honest, I'm with Olivia in the more-is-more corner. I want the same things as her, right down to the sugar. Especially in December. I love people, especially in my house; I'm happiest when I have an excuse to bake 48 cupcakes and hang decorations. 

I want to tie on my Christmas apron, wear my scissors around my neck and then sew, craft, cook and party until I drop. But the thing is, I will drop. I will, in fact, possibly drive myself to the brink of hysteria following the more-is-more plan. (Olivia, too, is likely to crash into a weeping heap after the party she begged for.)

Thank God for my introverted eldest, who acts as a human Busyness Alarm. Though I might not self-regulate for my own benefit, I will for my introverted eldest; I'll drive myself crazy, but I'm not willing to send sweet Sophia into anxiety and overstimulation. 

I'm grateful for the way marriage and mothering has educated me. I've done enough reading and research now to understand that being an introvert -- a quality not much valued in our outgoing American culture -- doesn't mean anti-social or unemotional. Sophia is a wonderfully passionate and relational person. She just wants to relate one-on-one and for shorter amounts of time, and then retreat to her bedroom to recharge. And unlike her mother and sister, she doesn't use people as mirrors; she knows who she is without having to take a survey of public opinion to be sure. I want to be more like my daughter in this way.

On the other hand, Liv and I are good for her. We draw her out of her room, her books, her inner world and force her to relate to people in groups, to cut loose, to be hospitable. 

I hold up Jeff as her model. Also an introvert who would be almost totally content to spend all his time with me and the girls, he is also profoundly generous and hospitable, ready to open our doors to the entire neighborhood should they happen to show up at the door. But then, he's been living under the same roof as me for 14 years, so perhaps the gift I've given him -- challenging though I may be -- is also balance. 

I'm grateful for the blessing of balance I got for Christmas. God grant me the ability to hold onto it all year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Like Nobody Loves Me

Today I found Christmas in an unexpected place, and I need to share it. I found the joy of Christmas on an iTunes play list.

A couple of year's ago I made Jeff a mix CD for some romantic occasion (Valentine's Day? Our anniversary?). I titled it "Little A's Sassy Love Mix." On it is everyone from Mary Chapin Carpenter to the Rolling Stones.

Jeff may have listened to it once or twice, but it is my most listened-to play list in my iTunes library. I love it so much because the songs are just what I want to say to my husband. But at least half of them are lyrics I wish he'd say to me.

I preface what I am about to say by citing my excellent track record of praising my husband via this blog. (Despite that fact that I learned on a John Tesh radio program that bragging on your spouse is in the top-10 most-hated activities on facebook I do lot of it.)

But here's the truth. My husband doesn't love me like I want to be loved.

There's a hole in my heart that he doesn't and cannot fill. Sometimes I smack up against that reality with a mixture of shock and sorrow. The holidays can bring this into sharp relief. Like most women this time of year, I'm working flat out to make magic for the family and I want to feel seen and loved for the heart behind what I'm trying to do. (Whether or not I should be doing this is the subject for another blog.)

Today I walked into my women's Bible study room feeling kind of, well, beaten down and unloved. We finished up a 15-week Bible study by reading aloud with a treasured group of women the beautiful prayer Jesus prays over his disciples at the last supper in the book of John. I left church uplifted, wanting to tune out the whole world and stay in the peace that reading gave me.

I put on my headphones as I walked through Trader Joe's and turned on iTunes. What came up on shuffle? My love mix. And I realized, Jesus was singing to me. He was doing it in Keith Urban's voice, but I heard Jesus.

I want to stand out in the crowd for you, a man among men. 
I want to make your world better than it's ever been. 
And I'm gonna love you like nobody loves you. 
And I'll earn your trust making memories of us.

Tears start coming in TJs. Other shoppers think, Oh no, that housewife has cracked up under holiday stress. She's crying over her spiral sliced ham. But no, I'm crying over the way Jesus has earned my trust.

Memories start coming to me of all the places He has shown up and saved me, spoken to me. In mountain camp chapels and Sunday school circles as a child. In back rows of churches and back seats of cars as a teenager. In the delivery room and hospital waiting rooms and alone in my laundry room crying out for relief. In sunsets and leaves changing and the call of a friend on a day that I really needed it and the Scripture brought to mind that would mean nothing to someone else but meant everything -- everything -- to me on a certain day.

And then He went on...
I'm going to be there for you from now on
This you know somehow
You've been stretched to the limits but it's alright now
And I'm going to love you like nobody loves you...

I hear other words, recorded gospel words.
"In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world." John 16:33
"My peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27

My play list went on. Song after song I'm realizing why I chose them for my husband, what my heart was crying out. I want to be loved like nobody on earth loves me! I want to be loved like nobody on earth can love me. 

I want love that is rescue, passion, security, eternity. I want a hero, a husband, a father, a friend. I want someone to pick me out of the crowd, choose me, see me, love me. Jesus did: He came looking for me.

Sting: I'm going to find you a place to live, give you all I've got to give." 

"I'm going to prepare a place for you  and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:3

Bruce Springsteen: I'll work for your love, dear. What others may want for free, I'll work for your love.

He worked for me: In the manger, on the mount, on the cross. In His prayers for me in John 17, 2,000 years before I was born. Jesus was a gentleman and gave women value like no one else in His day. They saw in Him someone who wouldn't strip them of their dignity, but clothe them in honor. He earned their trust. He has earned mine.

Now I'm still listening, I'm still crying. I'm in Walgreens buying pillow pets for nieces and nephews. I'm in Gelson's buying bags of dried peas for Christmas Eve soup. And I'm hearing it played out in these secular songs: Jesus, Son of Man, man among men, loving me. And my response...

Bob Marley: In life I know there is lots of grief, but your love is my relief. 

Bonnie Rait:  I was in a daze, moving in the wrong direction 
Feeling that I'd always be the lonely one
Then I saw your face on the edge of my horizon
whispering that I wasn't the only one, the lonely one
When I heard your sweet voice calling, saw your light come shining through
I couldn't stop my heart from turning, turning out my love for you. 

The Bible study I've just finished (well, I've finished Part One, anyway...) is called the Eternal Love Story, written by my dear friend Barb Egbert. On this mid-point celebration day for our small group of women, Jesus made me a mix CD filled with love songs. He loves me like nobody loves me. I'm not ashamed to say I need that kind of love. I'm so grateful I have it from Jesus. 

Because sometimes I go through the days acting like nobody loves me. But the real issue is, nobody loves me like Jesus.

His love frees me up to accept the love from those around me (my wonderful husband included) without demanding that they love me that way, because they can't. C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity “If you find yourself with a desire that no experience in this world can satisfy, then the most probable explanation is that you were made for another world.” Even the best romance in this world can't compare to the eternal romance of being Jesus' bride.

My prayer for you, reader, whoever you may be, is that Jesus sings His love -- a love that is specific, unconditional and eternally precious -- over you in this next holy week. I'll send you my play list if you need it. But I don't think you will. Keep your ears open, because I know He has a song for you, too.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Table Before Me

For the last month, my dear friend Jennifer has been preparing a talk on the subject of gratitude to deliver to a Celebrate Recovery group at a local church. As she's been researching and processing the concept of gratitude, and asking for input, so have I.

One of the principles she uncovered in her reading and thinking on the subject is that of perspective. We see what we have in perspective. When we see our lives in the context of the bigger picture, we find gratitude  even in difficult circumstances. 

A valuable observation. 

However something has been troubling me about how I hear people express gratitude, or how I observe my own thinking on the subject.

Sometimes perspective becomes comparison. We find thankfulness by looking for ways in which we are better off than so many others in the world, or even than so many others in our own neighborhoods. 

Our thoughts and speech goes something like this. 

The flu season has been rough this year, but at least I'm not struggling with a serious illness like....

I sometimes wish our house was bigger, but so many families our size are living in apartments.

My husband's salary isn't what I want it to be, but at least he's not unemployed.

These are all true statements and do, for the moment, make us feel grateful. 

But the danger is, what if we make a comparison, and we come out on the bottom? There is always someone worse off than me, but there is also always someone better off. 

And in the unstable human heart, comparison quickly turns to competition, and when I come out on the bottom, I sometimes unconsciously seek how to devalue the person who has come out on top. 

She may have lots of money but she probably doesn't have such a great marriage. 

She seems to have a great marriage, but her kids are really struggling with...

The real perspective, the safest one, the kindest one, the truest one -- and probably the one Jennifer realized and lectured on -- is the true bigger picture. 

I have what I am meant to have. I am grateful to be me. 

You can't really be a Christian without some sense of destiny, the idea that  on a mysterious level, God is in control. Though there is conditionality or cause and effect in the Bible -- blessing follows obedience -- equally true is that some things God determines. 

My life is a gift from the Creator of the heavens. My personality is a gift from Him. My talents and gifts are literally gifts. And my flaws, which are basically the flip side of my gifts, my gifts on steroids, unchecked, overbearing, are also what I am meant to have in one sense. 

So though I try -- work, train, strive, struggle -- to do my best with what I've been given and be creative with my life, which is my right and responsibility as a woman made in the image of my Creator, I have to work with what I've been given. Ah, destiny. I can't be someone I am not.

So the positive side is...I am who I am meant to be. 

Or at least I am the rough version of who I am meant to be. And my life is about moving closer to the perfect version God has held of me in His mind since before I was born, as it says in Psalms 139. 

Our pastor Kenton Beshore gave a sermon on the 23rd Psalm many years ago, and it has been with me ever sense. My favorite portion was from verse 5.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. 
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 

 This is a Psalm of gratitude, Kenton said. God has prepared a table before you, and you should accept it with thanksgiving. If you don't feel thankful, maybe its because you're looking at what someone else has on their table. Eyes on your own table, boys and girls! 

The table is a surprise, perhaps, and it's set in the presence of my enemies; the challenges without and the flaws within me have not been removed as I feast. But I am safe,  to sit down and enjoy what's on the table, because God told me to. 

In the meantime, my head is anointed, a sign of God's favor and a purpose spoken over me, as a king was anointed in ancient times as a way of marking him for his role. And my cup is filled to overflowing. My cup might not be as big as yours is, or it may be bigger. But it's my cup, set  on my table. God is setting one for you too.

As the gratitude season -- brought to us by the Pilgrims and Facebook -- comes to a close and we enter advent, the season of waiting, I'm anticipating what God will lay on my table. I'm praying, as I feast, to get a glimpse of the Big Picture, a true Perspective.  I'm saying grace, asking for the ability to drink up everything He pours in my cup.





Friday, November 15, 2013

The IPhone Has Not Changed My Life

The iPhone has not changed my life yet. Or perhaps I should say it has not changed my marriage. Or even, that no matter how smart the new phone, it has not made me any smarter. 

You be the judge. 

The most anticipated feature of my new phone was the GPS feature. I am hopeless at finding my way places. (For details on this, please see topical section "A Life of Losing" at right.) And not only am I often lost, I hate, hate, hate being lost and experience primal fear and hostility while lost. My beloved husband usually bears the brunt of this, as it is he I used to call to look up directions for me when lost, being GPS-less. Please, technology, rescue me!

Well, this week, I drove to the wilds of residential Orange to purchase a desk for my daughter, found on Craig's List. Jeff, being Jeff, had typed the directions into my phone for me the night before and set up the route, a feature I had not yet learned to use. I made it to the house only having to make one u-turn and this because my six year old daughter was repeating the directions to me from the back seat. Being six, she didn't do it very accurately. 

All was well until I knocked on the door of the rather questionable-looking house until no one opened the door. I texted "Wendy," Craig's List seller, and told her we were out front. The door opens. A man missing most of his teeth answers. "A desk?" he says, puzzled. "Let me go ask my wife." He returns a moment later. "No, I'm sorry, we don't have a desk for sale."

I return to my vehicle, where Wendy has texted to say that she is out front of her house and I am not there. I check my written directions. I check my iPhone. There is a two-digit discrepancy in the address. I text Wendy and tell her what happened. I call my husband and tell him I would like to strangle him with my bare hands. Lovingly. He says it's easy to search for the correct directions. 

I say really? How could it be? You can't even type in the right address. Children in the back seat look worried. I growl at my phone. I can find  directions to the place I am already, from the place I want to be (hardly helpful), but can't figure out how to flip it around. I growl at my phone again. I go back to old ways: I call my husband and have him give me step by step directions to navigate around a street in Old Orange that has been cut up, disjointed and put back together in mystifying ways. 

I arrive on the correct block. Small children, a large black lab and a smiling father approach my car, waving. Hurray! This must be Wendy's husband, come to greet me. I begin to apologize, to explain, to disparage iPhone's non-intuitive system after all, to ask to see the desk. 

"I'm sorry," says the smiling father. "I have no idea who you are." 

I look at his address. It is two numbers off. I get back in my car. I cry. I make a u-turn. I check the address again. I park in front of the correct house (two doors down from smiling father) and see that the family and their dog are still watching me. 

Wendy and her husband come out of their garage. They are so lovely and gracious and well groomed and sympathetic as to the ills of technological navigation, that I want to beg them to take me inside and make me a cup of tea. Or possibly adopt me. Instead, I pay them $35, and allow them to help me load the desk into my trunk, from which I clumsily extract three blankets, a beach umbrella and two dirty folding chairs (humiliation upon humiliation). Wendy's husband assures me the situation is actually funny. I tell him it will be in an hour. 

I drive away, apologizing to my children for losing it (both literally and emotionally) and thanking God that neither of the three strangers houses I just went to housed a serial killer or even a grouch. 

What is the moral of my story? I'm not really sure, friends. I think it's a long way of saying either "Wherever you go there you or" or "A good carpenter never blames her tools." Or her husband. 

In the meantime, the story has in fact become funny to me. And I think I have learned how to use my maps feature correctly. I also learned how to use my voice dial and voice texting function. Did you know your iPhone voice function can correctly spell supercalifragilisticexpialadotious and distinguish between the would and the wood in "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck" tongue twister? I checked. If I ever get lost again, what a comfort this will be. 

Stay tuned for more adventures in technology. You can be sure there'll be plenty.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What I Preach

I don't know if all teachers, speakers, and pastors have the same experience, but I am not allowed to say anything from the stage that I am not asked to live out within a week. 

In October I was hired to address a group of young mothers at a church in Oceanside, in which many of the women are military wives, and have husbands stationed at nearby Camp Pendelton, or currently deployed oversees. Their speaker coordinator asked for my talk "What Can Postpartum Depression Do for You?" my least popular topic. Really, who wants to get a morning off from their kids and listen to a talk on anxiety and depression? But I'll drive to any group that asks me to talk about this, because the statistics on women who suffer from depression in our country are staggering (about one in four with be diagnosed in their lifetime).

I try to approach the subject with order, humor and a light hand. I have well organized slides, funny stories about breastfeeding on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, and practical tips. 

But it didn't work out that way, on that day. From the moment I began to speak, a woman in the back of the room burst into tears. About 15 minutes in, someone at every table was crying. As I spoke about risk factors and causes of anxiety, I realized that the military wives could probably put a check next to every one on the list. And somehow without making a conscious decision to do so, I set aside my clever outline and instead laid out my raw experience before them: my fear, my pain, my confusion, my brokenness. And eventually, my rescue.

I didn't get to be a wonderful, funny speaker that day; I didn't feel great about my entertainment value or my skills on stage.  But instead I saw that through me, God gave these women an opportunity to share their pain with each other, and shine light on what had been a source of shame for so many of them. In the group I sat with after my talk, the women on either side of me shared that they had both experienced severe PPD, and neither of them had told anyone before but their mothers and husbands. 

I don't know if I got through all my points on "paths to healing" that day, but I did get to the first: Come clean and tell someone what you are going through. And boy, did those brave women take that step. 

I got to my second major point too, and this one I was called on to practice: All of us mothers need to stop trying to do everything alone. We need to accept that each one of us has both physical and emotional limitations, which are unique to us. We are foolish if we aren't willing to ask for help when we have -- or, even better, before we have -- come to the end of our rope. 

I spoke in two different groups that week in October, each over 50 miles from home. I was sick with a nasty cold, but I pushed through with prayer, cold medicine and adrenaline. By the drive home through Camp Pendelton I was both sobbing with sympathy and snuffling with mucus. I had totally lost my voice by dinnertime. 

By the next morning, I had a migraine, so painful it was difficult to stand. Ignoring my own advice, I drove myself to Sophia's soccer game. On the way to the Olivia's game, I almost couldn't drive. I went home instead, crawled (literally) to my bed, and called my neighbor in tears, begging for Excedrin. She offered to go buy some for me (God bless her), but instead I called my mommy. And she came right over. She brought me food, drink, and medicine. She went to Target for me and bought Kleenex, bread, milk and toilet paper (all of which we were out of because I had been too sick and busy to go to the store). 

She patted my hand and sat with me until I went to sleep. I hardly ever let my mom take care of me like this, even though she wants to do it and is excellent at it. In fact, part of why I got PPD six years ago is that I didn't ask her to help me when I had acute bronchitis and a 10 day old child. She respected my boundaries, but at that moment my boundaries were bad. I needed help.

Meanwhile, my husband had the kids with him for Olivia's game, and another game he had to referee. He got them lunch at a drive through. They were tired and bored, but they made it. Mommy couldn't take care of them, but they survived anyway.

Here's what postpartum depression did for me. It stripped me of the illusion that I can make it through motherhood (or life in general) on my own. I can say that now with absolutely no shame. In return, it gave me the comforting knowledge that there are a lot of people in my life willing to stand by me when I can barely stand. I have a lot more of them now than I did five years ago, and most of them are willing to call me when they are sick, desperate, sad, or all three. I'm so grateful! All our children are also reaping the benefit of this village of imperfect moms, a small army of "aunties" and Mrs. So-and-sos that care for and love them. 

Most of all, I'm grateful to be able to share the most precious piece of my story: that when the only prayer I could pray was "Help me!" God did. He comforted me with scripture and His own gentle presence; through my husband and my friends; through medication and therapy. And ultimately, He called me to share the experience with other women. 

So that whether they ever suffer from a clinical mood disorder, or just experience the emotional ups and downs that are part of being human (especially female), they can experience freedom from perfectionism, come out of isolation, and know what it is to love and be loved just as they are. 

Ultimately, this is always the subject on which I "preach." It is for freedom that we have been set free. I'm beyond thankful that there are women willing to listen. God bless you all.