In which I can’t embrace Jesus without exposing my heart

Hey, my dear friends,

By way of an opening statement, I just wanna let you know that Stan has read and approved all I’ve written here. And that I kind of think that for now, that’s how it’s gonna be with everything I write. Our stories intersect too deeply to navigate this season in any other way.

<3

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It’s Sunday night, our kids are finally all snuggled up and asleep, and I’ve begun the not-so-small task of cleaning up the kitchen after our family’s evening dinner/painting/play-doh-ing chaos. It’s a good chaos. The kind that comes from living life wide open and together.

Stan comes downstairs clad in plaid pajama pants and t-shirt, and — bless him — starts unloading the dishwasher.

And I’m not positive exactly how this happened, but in my next memory I’m sweeping the floor and fighting back tears, telling Stan how I need to feel more connected to him but I don’t know how. We discuss (and he agrees with) the fact that his current spiritual state makes connectedness difficult to achieve on lots of levels, and I tell him I don’t even know if it’s fair for me to ask for more connection given the way he shoulders so much of the burden of our family’s life together.

Special needs, small-but-incredibly-intense personalities, Stan’s own (undiagnosed but very clear to us, based on lots of research) high-functioning autism/OCD, my migraines…. The weight we carry (the weight he carries) is great. Can I really ask him for still more growth in this arena of pursuing his wife’s heart? I don’t want to ask him to be someone he’s not.

Stan’s response is genuine and non-defensive: “But you can ask me for growth in this arena. It’s okay for you to have real needs.”

And somewhere during the conversation, the Spirit’s whisper: Don’t allow fear to cause you to withhold your heart from him.

Withholding it from him is withholding it from Me. 

Let yourself cry.

So I quit fighting, stop faking strength, and let the tears come, opening to Stan another level of my grief over all these places our hearts used to be woven together but don’t seem to be now.

I finish wiping down the kitchen counters, keep finding things to spray and wipe, spray and wipe, spray and wipe. The repetitive motion combined with the scent of my essential oil kitchen cleaner is therapeutic somehow.

That, and cleaning provides at least a small distraction, something on which to focus a bit of my attention so not every ounce of my being is given over to these gulping sobs that threaten to take control.

Oh God, hold my heart.

****

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When I got my first tattoo, I had this tiny, terrifying inkling — (oh my word – is that not the best accidental pun?! INKling?! Ha! Annnd I totally crack myself up. Okay. Ahem. Moving on.) — an inkling that I’d need it for more reasons than I understood at the time — this reminder of how desperately I need to stay in step with Jesus. To move through every moment, every season, every hard thing, arm-in-arm with Him.

The idea for my second tattoo came in late 2015. Kiss the wave — from Spurgeon’s quote “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

And I once again had this quiet-but-strong sense of, “Crap — how tiny is my insight into the ways this idea will make itself real to me, will inscribe itself inside of me.”

I had no clue.

Spring of 2016 came, then summer, and by this point Stan was sharing more and more with me, layer upon layer, of his evolving spiritual reality.

I listened, waited, felt like I was watching our identity as a couple melt into a murky puddle at my feet.

I struggled so much to come to grips with the thought that my husband no longer considered himself a follower of Jesus.

I found myself one day last summer, after one such conversation with Stan, standing dazed in the tiny kitchen of our old apartment. It hit my heart that afternoon like a wrecking ball: this unravelling right here? This is that wave. 

The wave I’d felt coming but couldn’t make out.

It terrified me.

The places most core to my identity, where I’d felt the most deeply knit with Stan — they were coming undone. Our mutual desire for relationship with Christ, this shared heart bent toward the Kingdom.

This disorienting sense of aloneness would press me toward my need for Him like I never dreamed possible.

****

I went and got the tattoo. Sat through it by myself this time, no close friend available to hold my hand.

Breathing through the pain of all this desperate, newly-deepened dependence being permanently inscribed on my skin… even as the grief of this loss carved it anew into my soul.

I contemplate so much lately how in Christ, agony forges trust, engraves beauty where bitterness might otherwise take root. And what a costly privilege it is to be marked by Him, to be expanded inside as I breathe through fear, uncertainty, loss. As I lean into Him. As He bears me up, gives me more of Himself.

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Wrapping my arms around Stan’s neck for a hug at some point while my new ink was still healing, my forearm caught my eye: kiss the wave. Right there, all up in my face as I held onto my man.

I can’t wholly give myself to what God is doing inside me in this season without giving myself to Stan as well, the best I know how. Can’t embrace Jesus, his heart for me in all this, without embracing my husband.

Without exposing my heart.

****

I can’t find anything else to wipe down.

We hit the kitchen lights and make our way upstairs, me still intermittently in and out of tears. I go through the motions: remove makeup, brush teeth, take meds, climb into bed.

Finally, with nothing else to do but sit still with Stan, I full-on weep. Stan’s hand on my shoulder lets me know he’s not scared of my pain. Grieved by it, yes, but not shaken by it. I’m thankful.

He hands me a box of Kleenex, and between my bouts of crying, our conversation moves to our road forward from here. What it’ll look like. How to steward our connection. How to care for one another’s hearts despite feeling utterly disoriented.

Stan expresses concern that his internal journey will cause me perpetual pain. I tell him I can’t promise it won’t, but that I love him. That I trust God with my heart in the midst of the pain. That I’m committed to our journey together, uncertainty and all.

I’m here. Sometimes I don’t know how to be here, but I’m not going anywhere, and neither is he. Navigating this uncharted terrain isn’t optional for either of us.

I eventually realize my desperation for sleep, so Stan kisses my forehead, plugs my phone in for me, and makes his way downstairs for some time alone by the fireplace.

I lie in the dark, still teary. Raw, heart bleeding. All this opening of myself — to Stan, to God — is excruciating. Excruciating, but completely necessary… and good.

And in all of it, He’s trustworthy. So I re, re, re-remind my soul of that truth, roll over, and allow my eyes to close.

Held.

Posted in Confidence in God, Grief and Loss, Learning Authenticity, Marriage, misc. walking with Jesus, risk, Uncategorized, wholehearted living | 9 Comments

on living in the uncomfortable tension {or: all the stuff I didn’t say yesterday}

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Hey, my friends,

I gotta say this first: Your responses to my post from last night, both here and on my Facebook page, have been such healing balm for both Stan’s and my hearts. I’m just undone.

{Quick note: If you missed yesterday’s post, it’d be a good idea to head over and read it before coming back to this one.}

Given the degree of honesty in yesterday’s post about my personal sense of grief, loss, and uncertainty, I want to go back and delve a little deeper into a few things I mentioned briefly, but maybe didn’t elaborate on as much as I would’ve wanted to if I were writing a book instead of a blog post. :-) (I know, I set myself up. I’ll go ahead and say it — that post was 2,440 words. :-O )

So… here I go. Commence sequel.

****

I mentioned Stan’s OCD/high-functioning Autism, particularly as these things manifest in his Scrupulosity, or “religious OCD.” Couple o’ things about this:

Discovering these things about Stan’s wiring has by no means caused me, or Stan himself, to “label” Stan, to box him in so he’s merely a victim of a “disorder.” While OCD and Autism are very real in Stan’s life, and that realization has been sobering for sure, the greater impact of this revelation has been overwhelmingly positive.

It’s given Stan an understanding of himself, a grid for his struggles, that he didn’t have before. Whereas in past years, he’s struggled with self-hatred over his inability to “get it together” in the arena of his faith, he’s now able to see himself through new, much more compassionate eyes. There are reasons these things have been hard for him. He is not a failure. His brain is simply wired differently than a “neurotypical” person’s.

These discoveries have been incredibly empowering. Having an Autism/OCD lens through which to view Stan’s struggles and his strengths has, just like it has in Isaac’s case, given us ideas of how to approach Stan’s questions and difficulties, how to manage life in light of them, that’ve changed us, changed our family, in some really good ways.

You approach a person so much differently when you view them as having a hard time, or simply not understanding something, than when you see them as uncaring. You give their heart the benefit of the doubt so much more often. You approach conversations about difficult topics differently. So many things make more sense now.

I think what I’m trying to say is that neither one of us sees Stan’s OCD as a label, and neither of us sees Stan through a “victim” lens. Rather, while it’s been painful, this has been an incredibly helpful, empowering, paradigm shift for us.

Stan isn’t defined by a diagnosis or a “disorder.” As in Isaac’s case, Stan’s wiring is a gift from God that simply takes more intentionality on both our parts to figure out, requires us to look at life from a different angle, and, for me, reshapes and expands my heart as I continue to learn to love him well.

****

Here’s another important thought: I have no desire for Stan to “come back” to Christianity in the form it took for him before.

I don’t want that for him. God never wanted that for him. That was never how following, obeying, walking with Jesus was meant to be.

Christianity was never supposed to entrap hearts in fear. I really believe God’s heart breaks, grieves deeply over the way a large portion of the western Church has painted and experienced what it looks and feels like to live a life surrendered to Jesus.

I meant it so much in my previous post when I said that if Stan can come to a place of seeing the freedom from fear and legalism that he’s now experiencing as a gift from Jesus, as the beginning of what it really looks and feels like to live surrendered to Perfect Love, I believe he will be captivated, drawn into authentic, meaningful friendship with God.

Christianity is about the Gospel, and the Gospel is about Jesus taking away our fear, our shame, our guilt. About Him paying the price for our sin so we can be free, released into uninhibited, confident, child-like receiving of His love, His enjoyment of us.

I’ll hop off this soapbox for now, but just wanted to re-state that what I ache for for Stan is real freedom. Authentic friendship with God that’s transformative from the inside out. Not a return to the way he lived before, but that God will move Stan through (not around) this season, all this soul work, and into reality with Him.

****

It’s strange, the way the dismantling of Stan’s prior Christian experience has been this huge, scary loss for me, and has simultaneously been laced with hope — this freedom from perfectionism, performance, shame, legalism that I see taking hold inside of Stan.

I trust God’s ability and desire to bring Stan through this and into the relationship with Himself that Stan was created for, and I will pray, will live my entire life as a prayer, until Stan finds authentic, shame-free companionship with God.

AND, I also have to live in touch with the reality that, like I said before, sometimes our God, who is unyieldingly good no matter what, doesn’t do the things I think He should do.

I can’t ignore this, because what I don’t want to do is live in some form of denial, only choosing to acknowledge what I know is God’s best for Stan, and missing ways in which God wants to make His heart known to me in this season.

Here’s what I mean:

One of God’s key invitations to me now is to be willing to live in continual prayer and hope for Stan, while allowing this massive uncertainty to continually bring me to my knees, to keep me acutely aware of my need for Him.

Learning over and over again to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.

And as much as we tend to see them this way in the western Church, with our mostly dualistic framework for so many things, these two heart dispositions aren’t mutually exclusive — the faithful contending in prayer, and the living in touch with the reality of loss and uncertainty.

And the invitation to simultaneously hold both of these heart dispositions, to live in the painful tension between the two? It’s the place where encounter with God, for me, has always been the most personally, profoundly transformative.

The discomfort of this tension is the place I’ve learned trust, surrender, real worship; the place I’ve experienced the most intimate companionship with Him.

It’s the place where I find Christ is being formed ever more deeply inside me.

****

A note on day-to-day life:

I’m continually blessed by the way Stan’s new-found freedom from self-hatred, from constantly feeling like a failure, has impacted his life as a husband and father. He is more patient, and more at peace with his own and others’ humanity; more attentive, more present, and more forgiving toward himself and toward his family.

And… he still sings Jesus Loves Me to the kids before they go to sleep at night, with zero pressure to do so.

****

I have quite a few precious friends whose experiences of Christianity, of the Church, have caused very real, legitimate damage. Many of them move on to totally distance themselves from Christianity, church, the Bible, God. They’re hurt, angry, and it makes complete sense that they are.

Like I said, this was never God’s heart or desire for us. ::insert broken heart emoticon::

(Is it weird that as I was trying to find words just now, all I could think was “broken heart emoticon?” Oy. Technology. Also my brain is mush, apparently.)

Stan’s an interesting “case,” though. Rather than putting as much distance as possible between himself and Christianity, he still wants to be at church with me, wants to stay connected with me and with our pastors regarding his journey, supports my walk with Jesus and my ministry role.

It’s stuff that makes me stop and ponder.

The prayer that Stan’s prayed as of late — God, if you really want a relationship with me, please reveal yourself to me in a way that’s not academic, in a way that impacts my heart — it really lays bare this deep, still-burning desire for real friendship with God.

Stan’s heart is open and tender, humble and authentic… and I believe it moves the heart of God.

So I take lots of deep breaths these days. And I sit, and wait, and lean into Jesus, and {imperfectly} love.

{And in the interest of not writing a complete novel again today, I’ll stop here. Thank you again, friends, for the way you love us. Y’all are such gifts. Like, beyond words.}

Posted in Freedom From Perfectionism, Goodness of the Gospel, Grief and Loss, Learning Authenticity, Marriage, mental health, misc. walking with Jesus, Parenting, special needs parenting, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

when your very foundation is shaken {or, why I was quiet for so, so long}

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It’s Saturday night. The kids are in bed, finally settling down, and I’m standing, staring blankly into our bathroom mirror. Procrastinating.

For months now, my stomach does flips every time I think toward writing this to you all. And even having written these couple of sentences here, tears burn the backs of my eyes.

I have a story for you that’s not completely my own, though it impacts mine profoundly. So I’ll go ahead and say this: I tell it with complete clearance and encouragement from the other “stake-holder” here. A fact which, in and of itself, is enough to make me kinda scratch my head in wonder.

But y’all, I don’t know how to tell this story. So I’m thankful, in advance, so so much, for your grace as I try.

Rummaging through memories now, trying to trace my way back in time, I find myself maybe 10 months ago, weeping on the bathroom floor of our prior apartment in Littleton, Stan entering the room, sitting on the floor across from me, asking questions, compassionately allowing me to spill all this grief and loss and fear all over the tile between us.

Something had happened a couple of days prior that was shaking my world down to its very foundation.

Did I already say I don’t know how to tell this story? ‘Cause, I mean, I REALLY don’t. And truthfully, the amount of fear surrounding its telling — the number of what if’s running through my brain in this moment — it’s staggering.

What if’s primarily swirling around all the people who’re dear to us — family, friends — to whom this will be new information. I’ve thought… (and thought… and thought…) oh, we should tell this person individually, or that person, before letting people into this facet of our lives on a broader scale.

I cannot stand the thought of anyone we love feeling hurt over having learned of this first via my blog, as opposed to a face-to-face or phone conversation. If this thought applies to you, please hear my apology here, and know my heart for you. I love you dearly. And I’m asking again for grace.

I’ve waited months on end to write these words in this space. This reality that rolls like waves through my insides — loss, grief, fear, and even hope.

This was why I quit writing there, too, for a time. How do you write your guts when your whole world seems to be shaking, yet the aforementioned “world” is not only your own?

There’s been this check in my gut, this hold on, Dana… wait for it… from the Holy Spirit, and in talking with Stan and a close friend or two in recent days, I think I’m getting a green light from Him to move forward, to let myself be more deeply known in this season by y’all who walk with me via my writing.

It’s been a long time coming, this green light, and now that I have it, I’ve spent a number of days unsure how to move forward.

AND, at this point I’m pretty sure I’m procrastinating yet again, so let me come out and say it:

My husband — this kind, strong, gentle man who continues to love me so well, partners with me through heaven and hell, has my back through thick and thin — he’s decided he’s no longer a Christian.

We sat across the kitchen table from each other just a handful of days before the weeping-on-bathroom-floor incident, and he told me how his faith had been completely dismantled. How he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, with the Father.

It’s no new news to me that Stan’s always struggled to some degree in his walk with God. How he’s repeatedly cycled through this debilitating fear that he wasn’t measuring up, fear that he maybe wasn’t even saved… frustration over not feeling like he could hear God’s voice, not feeling like he knew God’s heart… I could go on.

Our counselor mentioned maybe a year ago the possibility that Stan might have a condition called scrupulosity, a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. There’s lots to be learned about it, but for now, here’s a good definition:

Scrupulosity is a form of OCD in which the sufferer’s primary anxiety is the fear of being guilty of religious, moral, or ethical failure.

Upon just a tiny glance into research on the condition, Stan (and I) immediately knew: this was him. Scrupulosity/OCD is a piece of his (undiagnosed but quite certain according to our very in-depth research) high-functioning Autism.

In the months following our discovery of this specific OCD disorder, Stan, for the first time in his life, allowed himself to stop obsessing over his spiritual “performance.” Over whether he was obeying God enough.

He stopped reading the Bible. He gradually, mostly stopped praying.

And gradually, layers of fear began to slide off of him.

Anymore, Stan says that he was “tormented” by scripture. And believe me — I don’t fully understand how or why, but I know this to be true.

Stan’s incredibly black-and-white mind, combined with his extreme OCD around pleasing God, and around not understanding why this scripture seemed to contradict that scripture, and was it faith or works, anywayand if faith without works is dead, how many works are enough, and what if his faith was maybe dead? — that relentless cycle had him trapped, y’all. For years. Decades.

He was virtually always, to one degree or another, miserable.

Stan now asserts that he never had an experiential relationship with God, one in which God met with him, spoke to him, guided him, gave him peace.

I, however, look back over the nearly 10 years that Stan and I’ve been married, and see God’s pursuit of Stan’s heart over and over and over again. Woven throughout his story.

And what I still see as evidences of God’s hand moving in Stan’s life, he looks back and calls self-deception. All of it.

In our frequent conversations around all of this, Stan’s shared that the prayers he does pray anymore are very infrequent, and usually consist of something along the lines of, “God, if you do want me to have a relationship with you, then I need you to come reveal yourself to me in a way that’s not academic. In ways that I can understand and that will authentically connect with my heart.”

To make the understatement of the century, all of this has been devastating to me. A completely unforeseen, soul-shattering loss.

Yet Stan would say he’s happier, freer, more comfortable in his own skin than he’s ever been. Don’t hear me wrong — his heart aches over my grief — but being out from under the religious baggage, the continual fear associated with his prior experience of Christianity — it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Truly.

The way I see it, though Stan’s current stance on Christianity and Jesus and life terrifies me beyond words, this freedom he’s finding as he’s stepped out from under a whole ton o’ legalism? It’s a gift from God. And if and when Stan can see it as a gift from Him, he’ll be drawn into the sweetest, realest, most confident friendship with the God he now says he doesn’t know.

****

There are so many things I could say about how Stan’s recent journey has impacted me. It’s broken my heart to no longer have a common faith-foundation with my husband. A common jumping-off-point for how we see and experience and process the world.

Some days I cry. A bit less now than I did for a while, but the tears seem never to be far from the surface for me lately.

Some days the questions pile up around me and threaten to send me into panic attacks. What does this mean for how our children will grow up? How will Stan field their God-related questions?

My hope is that as I pour into them, as I continue to model companionship with God, Isaac and Maia will grow to confidently know His heart for them. But y’all, the possibility that I would be *spiritually* parenting my children apart from Stan’s partnership — it was never, ever, remotely on my radar.

Till within the last year.

(Again, don’t hear me wrong; Stan is the most checked-IN dad I’ve probably ever known. The way he partners with me in parenting our children — it absolutely floors me. I couldn’t be more thankful. And simultaneously, I never saw this coming. Not even a little. Ever.)

Like I said, there is so much I could say — and so much I likely will say, at some point, about more of the ways this has been painful for me, the ways in which God’s met me in this grief… but for now, I’ll give you this glimpse into my heart in this season: Nearly every day for one reason or another, as we go about the minutiae of our daily lives, I open my mouth to ask Stan to pray for me, or for the kids. And it hits me all over again:

Oh, no, I can’t ask him to do that anymore.

I close my mouth, silent. And my heart shatters all over again.

::deep breath::

****

One of the things that’s always been a struggle for me, is for anyone but just a tiny handful of my closest friends to really know the depths of how I’m hurting. In any circumstance, not just this one. But in these days particularly, the thought of you all, who I so dearly love, hurting for me over this particular loss — it’s actually excruciating. Ugh.

But here’s why I’ve known I needed to share this facet of Stan’s and my story with y’all: I know we’re not alone. I know there are others whose faith has crumbled, or whose spouse’s faith has crumbled, and they don’t know where to go from here.

We don’t know where to go from here, either. The questions are bigger than life and so beyond overwhelming. But I’m here. And I know that I love Jesus, that I trust Him, that He walks beside me, that He carries my family, holds us together even through this.

Especially through this.

I am 100% committed to Stan. He is 100% committed to me, to our family. He respects my personal journey with God. He comes to church with me and the kids. He plays on the worship team because it’s life-giving to him, and because he knows his partnership in that arena is life to my heart as well. He supports me in my leadership role within our church, and our pastors are up to speed on his current spiritual reality. And they, I have to add, have loved Stan and me so well through all of this.

And I trust God’s pursuit of Stan’s heart. Whether he can see it in this season, or not.

Sometimes faulty foundations have to be torn apart before what’s healthy and solid can be built. And I’m praying with every ounce of my soul that that’s what happens here. I see God’s hand all over this season for Stan. Setting him free from crippling fear. From condemnation. From perfectionism. Desiring to draw him into an experience of Himself that’s more real, freeing, healing than he’s ever dreamed possible.

I also know, though, that sometimes our God, who is good, faithful, utterly trustworthy no matter what comes, doesn’t do the good things I think He should do.

Sometimes the good things don’t happen. Children die and marriages fail. Families are torn apart, countries go to war, and sometimes, the most amazing people walk away from their Christian faith for one reason or another, and never return to it.

Sometimes.

So the incredibly weird dichotomy of all of this for me, is this: that I see God’s kindness woven throughout this process within Stan. His kindness. His pursuit. It gives me hope.

AND… I don’t get to know what the outcome of this season will be for Stan. I might not know for a very long time. It scares the you-know-what out of me, y’all. When I allow myself to feel the grief and fear, they really do rise up to the point of almost strangling me.

Most days, though, while punctuated by moments of poignant awareness of our current reality, I move through my life with an okay-ness that only comes from walking in step with Him. Of allowing the pain to drive me deeper into Him.

He holds me together.

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I’d wanted this tattoo for a long time, but at some point during the summer of 2016, when the intensity of Stan’s current spiritual reality was beginning to feel so terrifying to me, I knew it was time.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

Even writing that quote sends me into this profound sobriety that borders on tears, because the aforementioned waves aren’t happy, fun, playful waves. They’re crushing, like I said. Deadly. Killing every ounce of my own strength, any crutch or mechanism by which I could maybe keep going a little bit on my own.

And what I’m still learning, what He forges deeper and deeper in my core, is the willingness to kiss the waves. To be continually brought by the intensity and pain of my circumstances into this gut-wrenching, poignant awareness of my need for Him.

Oh, you guys. How. I. Need. Him.

And how profound is my gratitude, because to the degree I’m aware of my need, He comes in, and He fills, and He stills my soul even amid the waves.

There’s more I’ll say, I’m sure, as I sort through the reality that I’m now free to share the story I’ve held close for all these months. God meets me so much in the day-to-day, as I learn how to navigate parenting and marriage and ministry and life in the midst of this new normal.

So yeah, I might have more words soon. Finally.

But for now, I’ll end by sharing this — a document Stan initially wrote for his and my parents, by way of a well-thought-out description of this current phase of his journey. He asked if I’d offer his words therein to you tonight. He’s really an open book. It’s incredible to me actually, how willing he is to be authentically known along this piece of his path.

I’d love your prayers for Stan and me and the kids as we move through this season, friends. Thanks for reading my novel-length heart here tonight.

And just thanks for being my friends. Y’all are dear to my heart.

***Editing to add: I published a (shorter!) follow-up to this post. Would love for you to read it, too.***

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

to the degree that i’m settled in him

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My plans for this afternoon are thwarted by a migraine.

Thankfully, the timing coincides with our lovely Genevieve’s 4-hour block of time at our place, so I do a tiny bit of organizing in Stan’s and my room, take my migraine meds, and lie down to see if I can sleep this thing off. (Gen’s our babysitter/nanny extraordinaire — the kids (and I!) absolutely adore her)

My neurologist recently took me off one of my preventative migraine drugs and switched me to a different one. It’s not looking like this one’s gonna cut it for me.

(**Is it okay if I say this here, y’all? — That while I want you to know what’s up with me, I’m not looking for migraine treatment advice? That the options we’ve tried are many and varied, and I’d really just love your prayers and your presence? Thanks for understanding, friends.**)

I wake up a couple of hours later, still head-achey, and still feeling drugged. Bleh. Which, interestingly, is where this attempt at a blog post finds me.

So — consider yourself forewarned — I hereby cannot take responsibility for anything incoherent or otherwise ridiculous that might come out of my mouth. Er, my fingers. (As long as I’m lying back against a pillow, I, for now, have the wherewithal to try and write. We’ll just hafta see how this goes.)

*****

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It’s 4-ish in the afternoon, and Isaac quietly opens my door, climbs up on the bed next to me. I haven’t seen him since I dropped him off at school at 8:30 this morning, so I completely ignore the fact that his snow boots are all over our bedding. I could cuddle this kiddo forever.

His attention span at this moment isn’t long enough for more than a couple of minutes of snuggle time, so I relinquish him to Stan for a bath.

Maia comes in next, bearing legos, climbs up and sits a while, building stuff and chatting intermittently. This girl is growing up, y’all. Less toddler and more kid by the day. I love watching her metamorphosis. LOVE it.

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*****

Our country is reeling, it seems, after last week’s inauguration and the events of the last few days. I don’t have anything profound to say about it, but I’m watching, waiting, trying to keep a finger on the pulse of God’s heart and intentions for our nation — and for His church, and for me — in this hour.

In all my listening, I’m pretty sure there’s more static than clear revelation, but I lean into Him, trusting, or trying to, at least, and continue to wait. Being close to Him brings peace like I can’t explain.

Settle, Dana. Be still with me. Rest in me.

*****

I have an incredible worship team. Have I told y’all that? I love my peeps so crazy much.

One of our newest members happens to be a pianist (and guitarist, and bassist, and singer, and…) and this past Sunday we decided to experiment with having him play keys, and me leading via voice only.

Sometimes I find myself nervous about how nervous I’m gonna be about how nervous I’m gonna be. All my nerves birth more nerves and those birth still more and– yeah.

So this past Sunday felt like it was gonna be like that. Not having a piano in front of me while I led would be extra out of my comfort zone.

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Sunday mornings typically find me awake(ish) between 5 and 5:30, warm coffee in cold hands, sitting by our fireplace, being quiet with Jesus. This past Sunday, I watched the fire flicker as my audio Bible played Psalm 34… and 35… 36… 37 —

I couldn’t bring myself to stop listening.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

Who is like you, Lord?

You rescue the poor from those too strong for them.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

Do not fret because of those who are evil…. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. 

Commit your way to the Lordtrust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him….

I could go on and on. Actually, it’s all I can do right now to make myself stop there. The familiar words were balm to this desperate, raw place inside me, drawing me deeper into trust, into dependence on Him.

And while there is nothing certain, nothing remotely predictable about this season, and while everything — or lots of things, at least — that can be shaken quake around me, my heart was still in that moment, just sitting with Him.

Walk with me, Dana. Companion with me through all of this. Let’s do these days together, one step at a time.

Settle.

*****

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I quiet my heart before Him in the early Sunday silence of our church’s auditorium. I put fingers to keys for a few minutes, sing my heart to Him like I haven’t in a while. He whispers peace, holds me steady. Secure.

At the beginning of our service, I pick up my mic, say a few words that I completely can’t remember now, invite my precious church fam into worship, and direct my team to start playing.

We worship for 40-ish minutes, and somewhere around halfway through, I notice: I’m not scared. I’m enjoying the Lord. Eyes on Him. Mostly unselfconscious, which is a complete, total act of God. Gratitude fills my heart.

I could do this leading-but-not-playing thing more often.

We sing Draw Near by Matt Stinton, and the lyrics of the chorus hit me with surprising force and clarity — God is calling me out of myself. Again.

“I’ve made a place for you here, so come on, come on. All things are possible here, so come on, come on.”

He’s beckoning me. Whispering life to the recesses of my soul, and calling those places forth. To the surface. To exposure. Calling me into an even fuller authenticity — to give still more of my true self — in the way I lead. The way I live. Which is, yup, scary. Vulnerable as heck.

Settle.

You can live wide open like this, Dana, to the degree that you’re settled in me. 

*****

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I’m not usually a “God spoke to me and said _______” kind of person. My companionship with Him, I think, is usually more intuitive. His Spirit moves quiet, deep in my gut, in my core, and I try and surrender to that movement. To quietly walk hand-in-hand with Him. I can’t frequently wrap words around precisely what I sense Him speaking to me.

Somehow, this moment, right now, is different. There are words. A few of them, anyway.

I write to discover, to make sense out of what’s happening inside and around me. To grow my own awareness of what Jesus is doing, how He’s moving my heart.

Prior to a couple of weeks ago, I went several months without writing, and I can’t say for sure what’ll happen, of course, but I so want to keep coming back here, to this space. Because I need it. And because it’s life to me, the way y’all hear and receive my heart. The ways He shows Himself to me through the community that happens here.

So. Thanks for listening, my friends, as I’ve only somewhat coherently wound my way around and through and found a few connections between circumstances and Holy Spirit whispers. Your presence here is a gift to me, precious beyond words.

I love you guys. Peace to you tonight. <3

Posted in Attending to His Presence, Confidence in God, Creativity, leadership, Learning Authenticity, Ministry, misc. walking with Jesus, wholehearted living, Worship Leader Guts | 2 Comments

finding words after too many months of silence (on connection, confidence, and my one word for 2017)

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Hey, my friends! So. It’s January 3rd, and I haven’t written in this space since August fourth. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in a solid 4 years that I’ve gone this long without blogging.

Welp. Happy 2017. And merry Christmas. And happy Thanksgiving. And Labor Day…. and… and… and…

I’ve so desperately wanted to write in the last few months, and yet have (apparently) avoided it completely.

As much as I love blogging, love the community and connection it can bring, after a period of silence, I always find it hard to put fingers to keys and begin sharing myself with you here again. It feels foreign, like roller skating after a solid 20 years of not. (Don’t ask me how I know that feeling.)

What do I say? What do I tell you about my last several months? How do I give you a glimpse into my life and my heart’s journey within it?

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I’m still heading up the worship ministry at the Littleton Vineyard Church, and continually full of gratitude for the privilege. Stan is still developing websites, researching various interests, and occasionally producing crazy-amazing movie-sound-track-type music like it ain’t no thang.

Isaac is in Kindergarten and, all things considered, doing beautifully. Making friends, making academic progress, reading brilliantly. My brave boy — I’m in awe of him these days.

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Maia is more creative by the hour. I’m often astounded by her attention span for sitting at the kitchen table painting, drawing, cutting, taping, doing puzzles. What a gifted kiddo she’s becoming. I love watching her creativity evolve.

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Oh! And… we moved. Y’all. We bought a house and we moved. No more 2-bedroom apartment as of the end of August, last year.

Don’t get me wrong — I was genuinely, deeply thankful for that apartment for a number of reasons. But truthfully, life is a good bit easier on several fronts, just having a bit more room, a fenced-in backyard, etc. One of these weeks I’ll maybe dedicate an entire post to showing you our home and some of my house-related projects. I’ve kept busy, that’s for sure.

We got a dog. For real. We’d been promising Isaac for ages that when we got a house, we’d get a dog.

So. Meet Rocky. He’s a black lab/blue heeler mix, and he is absolutely awesome. He’s a relatively calm, incredibly sweet pup. He was a rescue, and we got him at 5 months old. He’s about 9 months now. Gosh, we adore him. He’s completely, totally a member of our family.

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The kids have been on Christmas break the last couple of weeks. They started school again today. I’m not gonna lie — while I was looking forward to Christmas, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be desperate for them to return to school by now.

But there’s been this grace, you guys. Grace to sit and play legos and read books and do puzzles and invent creative games. Grace to lay aside to-do’s and sit snuggled up, one-on-one, with each of my littles, to talk and laugh and connect — like, really connect. I don’t know if I can remember a time when I’ve felt this connected to my kids.

It’s incredible, really, how the Holy Spirit’s teaching me at a new level to see through their struggles and negative behaviors, to speak into their hearts in any given situation.

{Well, not any situation. I’m still at a loss sometimes for sure.}

The kids are still at each other’s throats quite a bit of the time, and they definitely still have their moments of epic disobedience, but I think our relational recovery time (not to mention my own heart toward them during said “incidents”) is much, much better.

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Nearly every evening for at least the last month, Stan’s grabbed a notecard and written some facet of his heart to me. Affirmations. How he loves my laugh, loves my cooking, loves my hospitality as it’s extended to others, loves my heart for our children. How he’s thankful to have me walking by his side through this season.

While I’ve been a little less consistent in reciprocating, this practice has given my heart toward Stan an overhaul that I didn’t even know it needed. These days, Stan and I are connecting more deeply and being so much more intentional to steward our marriage well. It’s really precious, this journey of growth with him. {Side note: we’ll hit 10 years of marriage this year. Really?!}

Oh hey, I turned 36 in November. Whaaa–?! So strange, being closer to 40 than 30. Some days my heart feels a solid 85 years old, but more often, I find myself telling Jesus something like, “Hey Lord, I’m not mature enough to be this old.”

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In other news, I think I’ve landed on my word for 2017.

For the last several years I’ve asked God to highlight a word to me, something He wants to do inside me, a way to intentionally allow Him to lead me through the year. In 2013, my word was presence. 2014,  freedom. 2015, unfold. 2016, pause.

And these days, there’s this one particular place into which I feel Jesus leading me deeper. It’s difficult to explain, but bear with me as I give it a quick shot—

I’ve struggled lately, leading worship. And actually, leading people in general. In leadership situations, I can easily find myself mostly relying on my sense of humor to kind of buffer me (and maybe buffer others, too) from having to really say what I know I need to say. Or, put another way, to keep me from having to step out and lead (speak, sing, coach, etc.) with authority and confidence.

My insecurities feel so at the surface these days.

On New Year’s Day before our church service began, I found myself telling my worship team, “Ya know what’s easy for me to do? To get up there and lead running mostly on adrenaline and nerves, as opposed to leading with a heart posture of settledness in Him.”

A quiet confidence in the knowledge that, “I don’t have to make anything happen; I believe God wants to encounter, heal, and transform His people infinitely more than I want Him to, and I get to simply be my true self — be who He made me to be; nothing more, nothing less — and let my leadership come out of that place.”


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When my heart’s at rest in Him, I’m peaceful, confident. I’m able to say what I feel needs to be said (which is monumentally amazing for me). My fear of people’s opinions isn’t necessarily gone, but it doesn’t control me.

And I think that’s the biggest thing Jesus is focusing on with me these days — learning at a new level how not to operate out of fear, but out of a place of quiet, confident settledness in Him.

Settle. That’s my word. It’s my constant reminder to myself these days.

Settle carries with it for me this mental picture of stopping, taking a breath, noticing moments when I’m running on adrenaline and fear. Taking note of ways in which I’m not comfortable truly being myself because what if my true self and my authentic thoughts and opinions aren’t acceptable?

Settle entails making a quiet but conscious choice to sink down out of adrenaline, and into my truest self-in-Christ, and then to lead, love, move, and live out of that place.

Confident. Not playing small. Deeply connected to Him. Rooted, resourced, empowered, defined by Him, not by my own skill or strength (or my perceived lack thereof).

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared about what Jesus might invite me into this year that’ll require my heart to settle even deeper into Him. Kind of like the old idea, “if you pray for patience, look out, because God will give you opportunities to intentionally practice patience.”

That’s a real thing. Yikes.

But also? I trust Him. We’ll move through this year hand-in-hand, He and I. Him filling my weakness with His strength, and me learning to rest more fully in Him as I do the things He puts before me to do.

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As I think toward wrapping up this first blog post in forever and ever, is it okay if I toss a few specific prayer requests out there for y’all? If you feel inclined to pray for me, for my people, here’re a few places you could start:

My memory issues. I’m on several different migraine meds, and their effect on my short-term memory is, I think, the most frustrating side effect. It impacts my life as a mom, as a wife, as an artist, as a worship leader, as a friend. I’m dropping proverbial balls on a regular basis, all over the place. (Typically communication with friends or responsibilities within my role at our church.) My neurologist is working on adjusting my meds to hopefully minimize this and other side effects. Please pray we can get this resolved.

My Isaac-boy. As we enter the second half of his school year, he is noticeably more anxious, more disregulated, less peaceful than usual. I would so love your prayers for peace and protection for his precious heart and mind.

Our family. We are doing a number of things very intentionally to deepen both of our kids’ senses of connectedness and healthy attachment. Would you pray God uses this season to both connect and calm (i.e. settle) our kids’ hearts overall? That He’ll continue to strengthen our bonds with one another as a family?

Thanks a ton, my friends. For caring, for praying, for being here with me today. Your presence and companionship in this place — even though I’ve been gone a while — mean more to me than I can say.

Happy New Year, y’all.

P.S. Have you chosen a word to mark your 2017? I’d love to hear about it. Would you share it with me in the comments? <3

Posted in Advent, anxiety, Confidence in God, Family Moments, Freedom From Perfectionism, leadership, Learning Authenticity, misc. walking with Jesus, One Word, Parenting, special needs parenting, Uncategorized, Worship Leader Guts | 17 Comments

Some words about politics and loving Jesus

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Oh dang.

The crazy that ensued on my Facebook wall yesterday. It was somethin’ elsey’all.

For any of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, suffice it to say that I shared a very thoughtful (non-inflammatory — or at least, I didn’t foresee it being inflammatory) article by a woman who’s an adoptive mama, loves Jesus, is pro-life, and plans to vote Democrat in the upcoming election.

Her article questioned, among other things, the wisdom of Christians who may be planning to vote for Trump because he (for now) says he’s pro-life, and a number of my conservative friends quickly weighed in (on my Facebook wall) with their opinions.

Some were kinder than others.

And I kinda just sat back and quietly marveled while acquaintances accused and condemned (quite literally — to a fate worse than hell, one person wrote), and my friends who lean slightly more to the political left went to bat for my character and my integrity and my heart.

To you few: thank you. Your words meant more to me than I can tell you.

(And actually, to be fair, I should clarify that I believe several of my friends genuinely didn’t intend to be argumentative.)

Here’s the thing, though. I have so many things I want to say after yesterday’s conversations, one of which is that I’m not offended by my more conservative friends, even the ones whose comments came across as argumentative. I get it, or at least I’m pretty sure I do.

I’ve been there.

I spent the entirety of my adult life until just the last few years as a registered Republican voter. As someone who was (and is) passionately pro-life, the abortion issue was essentially THE pivotal factor that determined how I’d vote. So yeah. Pretty much, straight Republican ticket forever and ever, amen.

I thought.

Over the last few years though, my opinions have become a little more fluid and a little more nuanced. I’ve developed friendships with people whose experiences have been radically different than mine, people who see important issues from differing angles, whose votes might’ve completely opposed mine in prior elections.

There’s something I’m learning lately: I don’t have it all figured out.

I’m learning to sit, both with people and before the Lord, and let Him loosen my grip on some of my conclusions. I’m learning that loving people well often means suspending my assumptions about their beliefs, values, and journeys; asking questions, and learning from them.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely go to my grave saying it: I firmly believe that if Jesus wanted His Church to be on the same pages, at the same times, about the same issues, then we’d all be just that — uniform. Politically and theologically homogenous.

But y’all, He didn’t. He didn’t make us that way.

I think one of the most confusing things is how on Earth people who legitimately, radically, wholeheartedly love and live for Jesus, can be continually before the Lord over their political views, yet come to such radically differing viewpoints on huge issues like abortion, homosexual marriage, care for the poor, immigration, etc.

Why did He design His Bride this way? Why does He allow so many conflicting perspectives among those who love Him? Doesn’t Jesus want unity within the church? I fully believe He does.

And this is what I think: He’s after something deeper, y’all.

He’s after our depths. He’s after the subterranean transformative work that happens when we choose to learn from our brothers and sisters, over hanging onto a need to be right.

He’s after all the ways Love expands itself within us when we set our opinions aside for a minute and learn to really listen. When we listen to understand another’s heart, rather than with a primary objective of making ourselves understood.

I think I’ve said here before that to really be present to another person, you have to listen to them with a degree of openness that permits you to be impacted. To be affected by their story. Maybe even to be changed by it.

To be clear, what I’m not saying is that in order to love well, your opinions must be changed to line up with a differing point of view. Though this might happen occasionally, it’s not the point.

What I am saying is that maybe what’s changed, what’s expanded, is your heart toward the one(s) with whom you disagree.

I think unity is about humility, y’all. It’s about the beauty Jesus carves into the deepest corners of our hearts when we get quiet and offer one another the gift of our true presence. When we join hearts across denominational and political lines for the sake of conveying Jesus’ heart to the world.

When we can look at people whose views differ dramatically from our own, and say, “I need you. I need your heart, your story.”

Recently in Facebook Land, I’ve been somewhat indirectly accused of not having thought through or conferred extensively with the Holy Spirit regarding my decision to vote for Hillary. This is interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which being that I never said, and am still not saying, that I necessarily plan to vote for her. I’m honestly still undecided, other than my certainty that I personally cannot vote for Trump.

Anyway. So, since I’m learning that this doesn’t go without saying, can I just tell you, my friends, that I have agonized over this decision? I have prayed and wrestled and lost sleep, and I’ve explored issues from angles I didn’t even know existed.

Also: If you are a full-on, right-leaning, card-carrying Republican who loves Jesus, I believe you’ve walked a road of similar depth, one of much prayer and consideration. Your process, passions, opinions, and perspectives are valid.

I might disagree with you on a number of issues, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need you, and it certainly doesn’t give me the right to be unkind, to be condescending, to jump to conclusions about you, or to call into question whether you’ve put thought and prayer into your conclusions.

Goodness gracious. Who you are and how you feel and how you got to where you are now are so, so important.

For real.

And the greatest thing is that I don’t have to figure out why you love Jesus and yet are on a different political or theological page than I am. 

It’s straight up not. my. job! This is so freeing! Gah!

I get to simply enjoy you, honor your heart and your journey, and allow my own heart to be expanded as I {hopefully, imperfectly} love you. As I learn from you in all these places where we differ.

And we get to have conversations and share our takes on politics and life with new perspectives, open hearts toward one another, and an attitude of humility. We can learn to engage from a place of security in Jesus, void of any sense of being threatened by another’s differing viewpoint.

We can enter these dialogues not with a need to be right, not with an objective to necessarily to make ourselves understood, but with a desire to learn from one another.

It’s epic, you guys. Just epic — this invitation into love. Into His heart.

Last thing — I promise:

Within the Christian faith, there is so much mystery. There are questions. There are things we can search out, and things we’ll never understand, and every bit of that is okay. This means I can look at you, with your different political stance or theological viewpoint, and value and validate your journey and your perspective.

I don’t have to wrap my mind around how you got there to acknowledge that your journey to there is legit.

Ya know?

Okay. I’m done now. Whew.

Thanks for loving me, y’all, and for listening. Truly. It means more to me than I can tell you.

Posted in Community, Ministry, Politics, Presence, Uncategorized, Unity within the Church | 12 Comments

On Needing Help {or: Life’s hard. Play Mario Kart.}

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I never title a post before I write it. Except, apparently, for when I do.

I’ve had this post title sitting here alone in my WordPress Chrome tab, blank screen looming, and I’ve been straight up procrastinating — also known as aimlessly surfing Facebook. Which, by the way, is a veritable minefield of politically charged emotions these days, eh? Yipes.

::zips lips and closes eyes tight::

Anyway. As you can see, I’m still procrastinating.

As I try and wrangle my focus toward the things I’m planning to say here today, my stomach does flips. This post has been brewing for a while. Months. I’ve felt it coming, eyed it with trepidation.

I want to tell you about some places in which I’ve fallen very short of my own {previous} expectations of myself. Some places I’m learning to admit I need help.

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When Maia entered our family, Isaac still wasn’t sleeping through the night. And while Maia’s babyhood was nowhere near as challenging as her big brother’s, it wasn’t a piece of cake, either.

Sleep loss began to take a significant toll on my health. It weakened my immune system, and in those days, a common cold could easily take hold in my lungs, develop into bronchitis or even pneumonia, and mess with my breathing and my vocal chords and my energy level for months.

Very quickly, Stan began spending the vast majority of nights sleeping in the living room or the guest room. He took the baby monitor and made himself available to our littles during those nighttime hours so that I would be able to sleep uninterrupted. He chose to sacrifice sleep so I’d have a better shot at staying well.

Now, over three years later, Stan’s sleeping in our room with me probably 50-60% of the time. It’s been a long journey. He still sometimes sleeps in the living room if I’m fighting sickness or have a headache, and the kids know where to find him if they’re up in the night.

Y’all, I can’t begin to explain the degree to which I’ve battled shame over needing this degree of sacrificial help from Stan. But over the last year and a half as my frequent headaches have developed into full-blown migraines, my need for plentiful sleep has been inescapable.

Which brings me to another facet of my life in which I’m coming to grips with my need for help: my kiddos.

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Lemme say this first: y’all, my kids are stinking AWESOME. I adore them. Isaac is imaginative and articulate and brilliant and hilarious. Maia is strong and affectionate and creative and engaging. Parenting them is the most fulfilling part of my life.

Annnnnd the most challenging. A dichotomy to which I’m sure most, if not all, parents would attest.

All of that said, I’m admitting to you that particularly in the last year and a half, my life has been frequently punctuated by periods during which I feel completely unequipped to bear the weight of parenting my kiddos.

My kids’ relationship with one another is incredibly intense, a dynamic that’s exacerbated by Maia’s indomitable will, and Isaac’s deficits that stem from some of his cognitive/developmental needs. For those same reasons, their individual relationships with me (and with Stan, too) can also be very intense.

In the interest of walking the fine line between sharing parts of my kids’ stories because their stories so deeply impact mine, and then not sharing other parts, because their stories are first their own — I’ll just say that the combo of Maia’s strength and drive, with Isaac’s special needs, is highly, highly combustible.

Said combustibility impacts me in a zillion or so ways, but there are a couple arenas of impact that stand out in my mind above the rest:

Headaches and stress. The intensity of the dynamics I’m speaking of, y’all, on many days it’s been enough to take me from zero — or very mild — headache, to a migraine that lands me in bed for a couple days.

I’ve tried lots of things — natural, homeopathic, western medicine. I’m on preventative medications for my migraines. I’m seeing a neurologist regularly, and I’m certainly not looking for medical advice here.

But y’all, my headaches (many of which were undeniably parenting-stress-induced) became so frequent that a few months ago, Stan insisted I procure more help with our kiddos. Our precious ones who’re already in school three (for Maia) and four (for Isaac) mornings per week.

I cried my eyes out, y’all. I wept because it killed me inside to admit my need for more help. To admit at a new level that I am not the mom I always thought I’d be. That I don’t have the physical or emotional capacity I always thought I’d have to navigate my children’s needs and struggles in the nitty-gritty. The day-to-day.

And? I wept because I spent a lot of years in a church culture where, for a mom to ask for regular alone time, away from her children, was frowned upon. Where for me to admit that I needed time out, away from my kids, by myself, would most definitely mean I “wasn’t getting my needs met by the Lord.” I’d bought it, y’all.

I’m still unlearning things.

So, yeah. I wept. I processed with the Lord, with a couple of close girlfriends, and with my counselor. And then… I began to accept the reality (not to mention the validity) of my need, and, however reluctantly, followed Stan’s urging.

We have a lovely, incredible sitter 2 afternoons per week nowadays. She bakes cookies with the kids and leaves the kitchen spotless; she takes them swimming… and y’all, she folds our laundry. I had no idea what a load (pun sort of intended) it’d take off my shoulders to come home to a clean apartment and already-folded laundry.

The kids adore her, and she’s fun and novel enough that they clash with one another significantly less than they do when I have them. We joke that she is the real Mary Poppins.

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So I’m coming to grips these days with the fact that, right now, this is responsible, God-honoring self care. Carving out these blocks of time is what I need to do, so that during the times I have with my little peeps, I’m able to wholly give myself to them. So I have the internal reserves to shepherd and invest in their hearts at a deep level.

It’s what I need to keep my migraines on the decline (they’re much less intense and frequent this last month or two), and… it’s what I need for my mental and emotional wellbeing.

Okay. So…

About this whole mental and emotional health thing. True confessions impending here, you guys — and I’m saying this stuff out loud, shaky voice and all, because there’s still shame and this overall sense of taboo that shroud and silence those of us with various mental and emotional difficulties, particularly in the church.

And in a future post, I’ll maybe say some stuff about Christians and mental health. About why I still trust God’s heart to heal bodies and to meet the needs of hearts and how I’ve experienced Him in the midst of navigating this particular need in my life.

But for now, I’m just gonna say this to y’all:

I am on medication for depression and anxiety. I have been for something like two years intermittently, and consistently for the last year.

Gosh. Never, ever did I think I would need medical help to support my mental/emotional wellbeing. (Nor, by the way, did I think I’d ever share this out loud, public-ish-ly.)

I’d never been prone to depression, at least not that I or anyone close to me recognized. And I’d never remotely considered the possibility that my anxiety level might be a little more extreme than most. Not until we went through some deeply painful, stressful circumstances in 2014, which was when I first talked to my doctor in Kansas City about a medication for anxiety.

With all of life’s intensity — the dynamics with my kids I alluded to above, combined with other heavy circumstances that I won’t go into here — I’ve been incredibly thankful for this type of emotional support.

It’s making a really, really noticeable difference for me. I’m significantly less discouraged and less overwhelmed, less of the time, than I previously was. My capacity to deal with my kids’ crazy in all its various forms is remarkably higher than it was and holding steady-ish, I think.

Like I told my doctor when I first went in to chat about medication, “I’m not out of control — I just don’t want my kids to grow up and remember me being irritable and borderline overwhelmed through the entirety of their early childhood years.”

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So. Here I am, shaky voice and all, telling you this stuff — all these ways in which I haven’t met my own expectations for myself, all these places that would feel like so much defeat if Jesus weren’t tangibly near, whispering within my weakness — and praying God takes something I’ve said here and makes it healing balm to your hearts today, my friends.

And… if you’re still here reading (and if you are, bless your heart) I want to tell you one more thing.

Stan and I are buying a house — did I tell you that? We’re under contract and should be closing on or before the 26th of this month. We couldn’t be more excited. A back yard, separate rooms for the kids, and more space in general promise to radically improve our lives on several different practical levels.

Oh — another thing:

I may or may not have purchased a 10-year-old, used Wii for Stan’s birthday last month. Because I’m a kid at heart, and so’s he.

Isaac loves Mario and Wii Sports and Maia’s hand-eye coordination is gradually improving.

But y’all – here’s what happens after the kids are in bed:

Stan and I play Mario Kart. We race to our hearts’ content. We are zooming around like crazy people and running into walls and falling off cliffs and being attacked by plant-like chomper-dudes, and Stan beats me a HECK of a lot more often than I beat him.

And we’re laughing together. A ton. I didn’t realize how much we weren’t doing that. How much all these pressures can cause us to take ourselves way, way too seriously, for way, way too long.

So. Like I’ve already said: Life’s hard. Play Mario Kart.

Thanks for your presence here, friends. For listening. For caring. For graciously receiving my heart here. I love y’all so big. <3

Posted in Learning Authenticity, mental health, misc. walking with Jesus, Parenting, risk, special needs parenting, Uncategorized, wholehearted living | 11 Comments

Some Stuff I Haven’t Told You {in which I get real and update you on our boy}

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Isaac’s anxiety is more pronounced these days.

It’s not quite as intense as it was a year ago, but it’s leaning somewhat in that direction lately.

Did I ever tell you guys what last summer was like for us? Bless my boy’s heart — he was literally paralyzed with fear. It was gut-wrenching to watch.

No, not “gut-wrenching.” I think I actually lack the words to even start to convey how painful, how traumatic it was to watch my son suffer. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so helpless.

We couldn’t go to Target because he was terrified he’d get lost or kidnapped, experiences he’s never even remotely come close to having.

We couldn’t go to the park because he was afraid he’d get “beaten up” by bigger kids. (Or, at other times, because he lacked the social intuition to be reasonably respectful to other kids on the playground.)

At school, he opted to stay in the 3-year-old classroom most days rather than going on field trips with his pre-K class, because riding in the van with his classmates was too scary.

He spiraled and spiraled in random, nonsensical fears: fear that the umbilical cord had hurt him while he was in my belly; fear around not having been able to see when he was in my belly; fear that he would someday be crucified or thrown into a fiery furnace.

(By the way, teaching our son about the Bible has become nearly impossible because EVERY story, every intense thing in scripture, is personalized and causes trauma, up to and including sometimes a full hour of processing in order to talk him through whatever the fear is on any given day. It is heartbreaking to me not to be able to read his very age-appropriate children’s Bibles with him).

Anyway. Last summer.

We were a minimum of 20 minutes late to nearly everything, depending on how long it took us on any given day to coax him out of his bunk bed, out the door, into his car seat.

I tried everything I could think of. I validated his emotions. I helped him talk through his fears. We tried to come up with creative solutions together, ideas that would help him feel safer. We prayed. We prayed with him and without him. We prayed SO much. We asked Jesus to bring peace to his heart.

We had him psychologically evaluated. We began therapy.

And finally, our last option: meds.

Have I told you Isaac’s on medication for his anxiety? I don’t think I have, mostly because I believe Isaac’s story is his to tell, and right now, while he’s young, I want to carefully steward and protect that story.

I continually seek balance in this arena, however, because if our journey with Isaac can in some way be helpful or healing to a handful of people, I want it to be.

Also, to be completely honest, placing a child on medication for mental health purposes can draw so, so much criticism, and truthfully, I haven’t wanted to field it. But here I am, saying it out loud: our son’s on an anti-anxiety med.

Whew. Breathe.

So– the last almost-year has been better. The medication has made a world of difference, though we’ve had to tweak the dosage every now and again. We have an excellent therapist who we all adore, and consistent care from the psychiatrist who oversees his medication.

We’ve been mostly able to go to Target, to the park, to church, etc, without major anxiety meltdowns.

This morning, though? I had to full-on bribe Isaac to get him out of the apartment and into the car so we could go grab some groceries at Target. Ugh.

These types of scenarios have been a little more common lately. And a little more intense. Nowhere near as extreme as last summer, like I said.

But it’s enough to make me really, really aware of my need to walk closely in step with Jesus, to trust Him with my son, with my own heart, with our family.

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We spent the day together yesterday, all 4 of us. We busted it out the door at 7:30 in the morning — boo-yah! — to put in another hour and a half or so of (very amateur) landscaping work at our townhouse.

Did you know we own a townhouse? It’s about 15 minutes from our apartment, here in Littleton. We’ve had a tenant in it for over 8 years, and his lease was up at the beginning of June, so we’ve been in the process of having some major remodeling done over there for the last month.

It’s almost ready to go on the market. Our goal is to sell quickly (which shouldn’t be a problem because the market is crazy-hot in the Denver area) and buy a house here. Stat. Preferably before the end of July.

Yikes. The heat is on. Mega time-crunch.

Anyway. So we landscaped yesterday. And in between chasing bunnies and butterflies, Isaac helped me spread gravel. {And nearly crushed all my baby plants, too, but that’s beside the point.}

We came home from landscaping, fired up the grill because July 4th, and spent time with Stan’s parents.

We swam in the pool, and y’all, my boy is SWIMMING these days for the first time ever. Like, going under water, holding his breath, and swimming.

It is nothing short of amazing, given the fact that up till now, anxiety has always overpowered his desire to try. He’s almost 6 now, and I feared I’d never see the day.

Grateful ain’t the word. Stan and I couldn’t be prouder, and neither could he.

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We ended our 4th of July evening at a huge park nearby, ate burgers on a blanket in the grass, and snacked on M&M’s and gummy worms to our hearts’ content.

While we waited for fireworks to start, Isaac and I left Stan and Maia on the picnic blanket for a while and walked a solid 10 minutes down to the playground, his hand in mine the entire time.

I found myself keenly aware of how his hands are getting bigger, but how comfortably they still fit inside my own. Aware of his soft skin against my dryer, more calloused fingers. Grateful for the fact that he’s still not embarrassed to hold my hand in front of his peers.

Too busy most of the time, yes, but not embarrassed.

I treasured the moment. Don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling, those little-boy fingers.

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The fireworks began at precisely 9:33 PM, and we sat on our blanket and took it all in together, the four of us. Maia leaning back against her Daddy, Isaac leaning back against me. I couldn’t have loved it more.

We sat in traffic a while after the fireworks were over, and finally made it home around 10:45 PM with two falling-over-exhausted children. But I’ve gotta say — for 2 kids whose bedtime is generally 7pm, they sure did well last night. They were {mostly} peaceful and patient while we awaited the fireworks display, and then were cooperative as we brushed candy remnants out of their teeth and helped them into their pj’s.

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A handful of times lately, I’ve noticed something in Isaac that’s shaken me: a kind of distance. Or… something.

 There’ve been times I’ve tried to talk with him about heart-related stuff and he’s avoided the conversation. Not because he was busy or distracted (which is typical), but because he genuinely didn’t want to talk about it with me.

Truth, y’all: I’m really afraid sometimes. Concerned about the possibility that, due to his anxiety and his utter brain-in-clouds-ness, I’ll be more and more frequently impatient with him, and that my impatience will drive a wedge between his heart and mine.

It’s the thing I talk with God about when I sneak in and check on the kids before I go to sleep at night:

Oh God, please don’t let him withdraw into himself. Give me grace to remain a safe place for his heart, and give me the wisdom to draw him out. Even through these years that are so hard, these days that can be SO beyond frustrating. In your kindness, please preserve and deepen my relationship with our boy. His sense of connectedness with me.

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When we tucked the kids in at 11 last night, I kissed my already zonked out Maia-bean, then stood up to quickly connect with my boy in the top bunk.

I brushed Isaac’s hair from his forehead, gave him at least 4 kisses, and found myself saying, “Thanks for hanging out with me tonight, buddy. I like you SO much.”

I really meant it. Like, so, SO deeply meant it.

And I think he knew it.

Posted in anxiety, Family Moments, Grief and Loss, Learning Authenticity, misc. walking with Jesus, Parenting, special needs parenting, Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Every Side of His Face

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Running shoes on and earbuds ready to roll, I step out my front door. It’s late June, and the evening air is muggy for my beloved, typically-dry-ish Colorado.

Instrumental piano music is my soundtrack for my workout time tonight. It both stirs and heals my heart.

I set off toward my river, and am quickly given pause: tonight’s sky is a breathtaking backdrop, all around me, on every side. I reach for my phone and quickly notice my camera’s inability to focus with precision.

Oh yeah. I dropped my phone in the pool today.

::Face palm::

The lens is foggy. Probably permanently so.

I grab a few pics anyway, hoping even still to capture a tiny fraction of these continually evolving, shapeshifting brushstrokes. A tiny fraction of the way they move me inside.

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I haven’t written in months. Months, y’all, and it’s hard to have even an inkling of where to start.

We went to Estes Park as a family, just the 4 of us, for several days in late May. It was beautiful, glorious, chilly, and challenging to have the kids out of their typical, day-to-day rhythms.

Pretty normal for a family vacay with little ones, eh? But we rode horses, roasted marshmallows, walked by the river, visited a candy shop, played at a playground in the mountains’ shadow.

We made memories.

June rolled around, and my dear friend Tira and I took off for Ouray, Colorado — a tiny town about 6 hours away, with one heck of a spectacular panorama. Whew. I mean. Never EVER in my life have I seen beauty like that.

Our trip had been in the works for at least 9 months, thanks to supportive husbands who knew a girls-only trip would be soul medicine for their wives on a thousand different levels.

Tira and I stopped on the sides of roads and took pictures. We visited waterfalls and ate at fun restaurants and chilled at the hot springs and got massages and took 4 wheel drive trails that were… harrowing… to say the least.

Yes, we went with a guide, but seriously: #dontlookdown.

And the silent, untouched beauty at the top of those mountain passes– I lack words, y’all. It moved me so deeply.

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Even just walking the streets of Ouray, I kept losing my balance, ’cause it seems that walking and looking up {and forward and backward and all around} at the same time are kind of hard to do.

But dang. The beauty was all. around. And it was epic. As was time spent sitting together and talking, and talking, and talking… and laughing as undignified-ly as possible. Yup. Soul medicine. Those few days were incredibly sweet and restorative for my heart.

And THEN. Fast forward to this past Thursday at 11:40 AM: My buddy Amber flies in from Seattle, and after years of history and countless trips to pick up and drop off friends at DIA, I promptly forget how to get to passenger pickup on the West side. It takes me 3 times circling back around and re-entering the airport terminal area to finally end up in the right spot, but when I finally make it, oh man, I could hug that girl and just never, ever, EVER let her go.

Amber spent the better part of 4 days and 3 nights hangin’ with the Butler crew, and suffice it to say she witnessed more of my daily “mom-life” in those days maybe than anyone has experienced in person, ever. I found it incredibly vulnerable, my kids being disobedient and scrapping with each other every other second, me trying to coach and correct and connect and discipline and throw laundry in the wash and do it all with some shred of sanity and kindness… and Amber bearing witness to ALL our crazy.

Holy moly.

And she was the kindest, most gracious witness, y’all. So validating to me and so sweet to my people. She is such a gift, and I lack vocabulary to describe how deeply her quiet presence impacted my heart. How it brought healing in places I didn’t know I needed it.

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And also? You guys, we rafted. Boo-yah.

Just Amber, me, and a buncha peeps we didn’t know, including a guide. For both of our first time in at least a decade. In crazy high water. Intermediate trip — class 3 and 4 rapids. With wetsuits and life jackets and f-f-f-freezing-fresh snowmelt and the whole bit. And it. was. awesome. At the risk of over-using the word, EPIC. Kind of life-alteringly so.

Filled my heart with glee and gratitude, getting to adventure with my soul sista in the mountains of my beloved Colorado.

I sent Amber back to Seattle last night and gosh, I ache for her presence already. I don’t know when I’ll see her again, but I’m choosing to be grateful for continuing Voxer conversations, memories made, and a soul-friendship that runs even deeper than before, if that’s possible.

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The clouds slow me down tonight, steer my focus from working out to just breathing in beauty. I walk down the river a ways, plant myself on a rock, and stare until the fiery mountains of fluff turn darker shades of blue and gray, and periodic flashes of heat lightning punctuate the evening sky.

I want to absorb those clouds. Want their beauty to somehow become a part of me. I need it badly tonight, I think.

Because, as always, there are things I can’t say in this space. Like most online writers, I navigate life on this fine, sometimes indistinguishable line of saying enough but not too much, because some stories aren’t exactly mine to tell, but they intersect and impact my own story in significant ways.

So I’m wondering — could I just ask y’all for your prayers? I would be so thankful if you’d hold me before the Lord.

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The darker the clouds, the more visible the lightening.

I ponder the facets of God tonight as the vivid sunset colors fade. How every side of His face is beauty itself. Every. single. facet. of who He is and how He loves. The vivid, fiery colors of glory, and the darker ones, too.

And how every season of the soul comes bearing some form of beauty, bearing Him — even {and especially} those seasons that wrench your heart. How the hardest days come bearing gifts less easily uncovered, but so deeply transformative and profoundly, gut-wrenchingly sweet.

He is so kind. And so beautiful. Every side of His face. Every season of His love.

I stand a while longer by the river tonight because I can’t quite tear my eyes away from the darkened clouds and the flashes of lightning within them.

After I’ve absorbed as much as I can of the beauty within the darkening sky, I’m surprised to find myself shored up a little more inside. A little more wrapped in peace. A little more still, more hidden in Him.

And I take off running toward home.

Posted in Attending to His Presence, Encountering God in the Messy, Family Moments, Learning Authenticity, misc. walking with Jesus, Presence, Travel, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

If Your Heart Hurts this Mother’s Day {a few things I’d say if we could do coffee}

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I awake early to sit here and wait in the predawn quiet, my littles still snug in their beds, and a hundred or so passions burning all at once in my soul.

And out of those hundred burning thoughts, this rises to the surface — this aching that comes with the approaching of Mother’s Day. It’s an aching over my own losses, yes — but even more, an acute awareness that for many, this day holds more pain than joy.

So to those who just wince a little inside, and to those who want to completely run and hide as this weekend approaches — to you whose aching heart feels sidestepped, avoided, overshadowed as Mother’s Day draws near–

I so wish I could sit one-on-one with you over coffee in the next few days. I wish I could ask questions and hear your heart’s journey and hold your story with quiet understanding.

Because I want you to know — I see you. I’m not afraid of the depth of your heart’s ache. And I hold you in my heart before the Lord.

You, my friend who parents alone. Day in and day out, cooking meals and working a job and wiping noses and folding mountains of little people clothes, falling into bed exhausted beyond words. Then you wake up Monday morning, and face the grind all over again. And you wonder if anyone sees how your heart bleeds this tired loneliness. How you cry to Jesus for grace, for strength to keep going. Please know — I see you. My heart cries with you. You are not forgotten.

You, my sweet friend whose mom passed away when you were a child. Or when you were 20. Or when you were 50. How old you were doesn’t matter as much as the fact that when you long to dial her number and ask about a recipe, or about parenting, or about a story from your childhood that you can’t quite remember fully, she isn’t there to answer. Part of our childhood dies when we lose our mom. Part of our childhood, and a lot of our right now. Your loss sits heavy in my chest in these days.

You, my friend whose relationship with your mom is broken. The communication is strained if it happens at all and you wonder if the pain wouldn’t be more bearable if there had actually been a death —  instead of this long, excruciating dying of your connection. Of a piece of your soul. Know that I sit with you, mourn with you.

You, my friend whose womb aches empty. Whose desire to birth babies and shape lives has been long delayed. You who have been medically unable to bear children, or whose circumstances for whatever reason have not allowed the fulfillment of that God-given dream. Because the dream to mother is God-given, and when the desires He places within us go long unfulfilled, the throbbing ache can make our hearts sick. I see your pain, connect with it deep in my gut. 

You, my friend whose road to adoption has been longer than you imagined. You who’ve spent long months and years agonizing through prayer and mountains of invasive paperwork, but the distance between you and your child seems no shorter now than at the beginning. The calender pages turn, and turn, and turn again. Maybe hopes have been raised only to be dashed, or “the call” has never come at all. Regardless, the questions loom ever larger in your heart. I’m leaning into those questions with you. Leaning into His heart with you. Sitting with you in the silence.

You, my friend who found yourself unexpectedly bearing life in your womb 6 months ago or a decade ago or 30 years ago — and the fear and questions landed you right in the abortionist’s office. The new life was snuffed out and even though they told you it was just a cluster of cells, something in your gut knew better. Knows better. And you weep, even still, in the middle of the night, because the guilt weighs heavy. I am weeping with you. And I want to whisper it straight to your heart this Mother’s DayForgiveness can lift that crushing weight. 

You, my friend who knows the gut-wrenching bittersweetness of “He gives and takes away.” You who’s been gifted a child and poured out every ounce of your soul, your life, your sleep in love for him or her, only to pour it out all over again in grief. Whether loss struck in the womb, or further down the road, you carry that empty, love-carved cavern in your soul. And some days you have to just breathe your way through each hour, just to keep functioning, just to make it through this one task. To the next. To the next. In my heart, I am holding your hand. Breathing through the grief alongside you.

You, my sweet friend who made one of the most terrifyingly courageous choices imaginable — you birthed your baby… and then entrusted the precious life that had grown within you to an adoptive family. You wrestled, agonized, faced the unfathomably brave realization that your personal resources were less than what you desired for your child. Yet daily, hourly, you carry the ache of that baby’s absence from your everyday life. Your selfless love has personally, profoundly impacted my life, and there’s this debt of gratitude to you that I can’t repay or fully express in words. I carry you close in my heart this week. I honor the selfless extravagance of your mama heart. The beauty of your love.

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All of you. I do see you. Your Father sees you. Carries your pain in His heart, collects your precious tears, and weeps over your heart’s groaning. Over the loss. Over the longings unfulfilled.

And if in all things He is working for our good, for all of our good, and if deeply knowing His heart is that ultimate good, then this would be my blessing for you in this Mother’s Day season:

May you respond to His invitation to intimately encounter Love in the midst of the pain.

May it be a prayer, pulsing in your depths as you hold your raw places open before Him — Christ, form yourself in me, right here. Encounter me in this gaping wound, in all these questions with no answers. Press your scars over my own, wrap my heart in yours, and make your affection tangible to me now.

And may Jesus deeply meet you in that heart cry. May you hear His whisper today that He has not cast you aside, but drawn you close to His heart.

You are seen.

You are valued.

You are loved.

You are held.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

-Psalm 34:18

P.S. As always, please feel free to share if you have friends or loved ones who might be touched by these words. I so value your presence here, friends.

{from the archives}

Posted in adoption, Celebrations, Grief and Loss, misc. walking with Jesus, Parenting, Uncategorized | 15 Comments