When This Jesus-Lover Lost Jesus

I’ll never forget the moment it happened—when I felt a crack in my spirit, the breaking of my faith. Chink.

It was an afternoon in November, just a few years ago. I was sitting on the couch alone. The house was unusually quiet. There were no shouts from little boys. There was no chaos. There was nothing to distract me from thinking, praying, worrying. There had been so much on my mind for so many months. So many things piling up, weighing heavy; a load of issues ready to drop as soon as I could no longer hold them. On this particular day, it was concern over my dad’s health that pressed down with the most weight.

And then I felt it. Crack.

The “what if” question manifested itself physically in my body. Just a little blip in my chest—a literal skip in my heart rhythm.

Smash. Thor’s hammer of doubt hit against the clear glass floor of faith holding all of those weighty issues, all of those uncertainties, all of the pain, all of the confusion.

That floor had always been so strong. It had always been so solid. It had always, always held. But the issues were heavier now. They were just so many more than there had ever been. And the strength I thought I’d always had simply evaporated.

The scattering of cracks along the glass was swift—they were so numerous. One wrong move and it was going to break completely—the solid floor of faith that had always held was giving way.

I couldn’t stop it.

Bang. The “what if” questions grew more numerous over the next days and where for years I’d always been able to come up with faith-based responses to quiet them, I now found myself at a total loss. It was an unusual place for me. A scary place.

Three days before Christmas I wound up in the ER, and the cracked floor could no longer hold. The glass shattered into tiny, glinting pieces of my once firm faith.

Crash. God was missing.

I could not find His goodness. I could not find His promises. I could not find any semblance of a reality where He had any kind of beauty in store for my life. I felt like I’d been robbed. I felt like I’d been abandoned. I felt extremely alone.

Exactly where the enemy wanted me.

Perhaps I should back up a little. Perhaps I should explain when this really all began.

I’m so lucky. Blessed. Honestly had the best childhood a person could ask for. I was raised in a Christian home by loving parents who taught me from a very young age how important faith was. I gave my life to Christ at the age of six and never considered any other path. Sure, like many, I ignored Him more than I should have in my teens, but came back around fully in adulthood. I led Bible studies. Taught Bible classes. Sang on the Praise Team. Followed Him through difficulties. Became pretty well known around my circles for living my beliefs. Life had its ups and downs, but it was good. Me and Jesus? We were good. Simpatico.

Sure, maybe I wasn’t a daily Bible reader, but that’s ok. Jesus got me anyway. Maybe I didn’t pray as much as I should have, but I prayed and prayed hard when I needed to. Maybe I excused and looked over some things in my life, but I knew that God had me. I was good.

I suppose I was too good on my own with all my me-based faith and expectations for my life.

2016 was supposed to be a stellar year. I was expecting baby #4, working a job that was more than a blessing, writing and loving it, and looking forward to moving into a place with a little more space for our growing family. But things weren’t all that great behind the scenes.

Bam. Our marriage hit a rough patch. A very rough patch. Worse than anything we’d been through before. Why, God?

Bang. Then there was some specific sin in my life that I was ignoring. I’m ok, right, God?

Crash. Next came a health concern for my husband, leading straight into the week our son was to be born. What if, God?

Those first three months of 2016 were some of the most difficult I’d had in my life up to that point, but I had no idea what was coming.

The day our baby boy entered the world turned into more than a day to remember. It was one of those days that became defining in my life. You’d think it was because of his birth and that’s partially true, but unfortunately, that day is remembered because of someone else’s choice that put me moments away from the grave. A nurse chose to defy doctor’s orders and I nearly lost my life. I won’t rehash those details now, but while there was joy in my son’s birth, I left that hospital a few days later with pain I could not explain—pain I did not have when I arrived. The pain was physical, but it was also mental and spiritual. I didn’t understand what I had just lived through. I was grateful to be alive, but I had so many unanswered questions. So many new fears. Why, God?

Clink. Bam. Bang. Pain became my bitter companion.

But I loved Jesus! This wasn’t what my life was supposed to look like.

Having a newborn is hard enough. Having a newborn plus three other boys is challenging. All of that plus debilitating pain, strep throat, and the inability to sleep at all is how the first few weeks back home went. Plus we sold our home, the baby had some serious reflux issues, and we bought a new home and had to move.

Bang. It was a lot.

And through it all, the pain continued. I learned very quickly that the doctors I had trusted for so long suddenly had no concern for me. I completely lost faith in the medical community. I was bounced from doctor to doctor, all of them hypothesizing about why I couldn’t stop hurting, but no real answers. Medications and treatments and theories were thrown at me, but nothing worked. And no one seemed to want to listen.

Not even God. He wasn’t listening to my pleas for help. Why, God? What do you want from me?

Chink. Clink. Bang. Pow. Smash.

One month turned into six and exhaustion began to wear me down. Chronic pain will do that. It tears up your resolve, emotional health, and spirit with every lingering ache.

I’d never experienced anything like it.

Flash forward to Christmas 2016. I spent that day in mental agony, certain it would be my last holiday with my family. I’d seen so many doctors since the birth of my son back in March. I had so many physical issues at that point that I could hardly keep track. And I simply could not calm the “what if” questions. They overwhelmed me.

The floor of my faith had shattered—I had no faith left in anything. Not medicine, not myself, not God.

2017 brought more questions. I was lost, in constant pain, and I couldn’t see my way out. Tests, biopsies, more tests, more doctors…it was a never-ending cycle of fear.

I had only one truth at this point—God had one thing for my life: suffering. Because suffering was the only thing I could see in the world. Fear was the only thing I could feel.

No, it didn’t matter that I had lived through a near-death experience. The living didn’t matter to me. It was the almost dying that mattered. It was the mess of the aftermath that mattered. I was blinded to everything else. I became paralyzed by fear.

I couldn’t factor it into God’s plan for my life. The plan where I was happily married and raising boys and teaching and writing books and singing at church and living—that plan. What happened to that plan?

I wasn’t living—not really. I was existing. I was floating in the black abyss, completely lost, questioning everything. Me and Jesus? We were no longer ok. I just knew that whatever His plan was, there was no good in it. And I couldn’t understand why.

I couldn’t reconcile what I once believed about the loving nature of God with the pain, suffering, and evil I saw in the world. Even though His truth and goodness were still there, I could not find them at all. With each incident that happened in and around me, especially medical issues, my spirit shattered a little more.

I’d never “believed” in depression—not really. I’d always thought that someone who “claimed” to have depression needed to get up and get over it.

Until I fell so far down into a pit of depression and anxiety, there was no way I could pull myself out. How naïve I’d been. How cruel my view.

Timelapse Photography of Clouds

What’s depression like?

It’s like living inside of a swirling, gummy black cloud. You can see through it to the life you had—the life you want—going on around you, but you can’t seem to find a way to push the fog aside to participate. You know in your rational mind what truth is, but your emotions take over and crush the very joy out of your soul. Joy, peace, happiness, hope—they are all strangled by fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. There is nothing other than despair. There is nothing other than your own feelings. It’s a very selfish state, even when you don’t mean for it to be. The blooming, healthy vines that once carried your thoughts and emotions are strangled by black weeds of destruction, killing hopes for the future and replacing them with a new truth—that the only thing to be believed is that the worst of any situation is reality.

I slipped as low as a person could go into the foggy, sticky, black pit. I had the thoughts no one talks about. I faked being fine for a very long time. I stopped writing, stopped singing, stopped dreaming or sleeping or laughing. I wallowed in my anger, so full of frustration that I, the one who had always been able, couldn’t do anything to fix myself. I was broken. I realized that I was doing damage to the people I loved most by talking about my fears, so I bottled them up as best I could. In fact, there may be those of you reading this who are surprised, maybe even shocked by my words. Maybe you’re re-evaluating what you think about me as a woman, a mother, a daughter of the Most High King.

And that’s ok. I can handle it because God can handle it.

I did seek professional help. I was treated by a wonderful Christian counselor for PTSD resulting from the trauma I’d experienced at my son’s birth and that was helpful for moving past that moment in time seared into my brain, but it didn’t really help with the big questions. I did try medication as well, but the side effects were, for me, far worse than what I was going through.

Please understand, this was not “just post-partum depression.”

This was a war—the kind waged in spiritual realms. I was under attack in all ways.

So I began to fight. I fought so hard that I didn’t think I’d have any fight left in me. I screamed in prayer. I searched. I became obsessed with finding and understanding my God again. I wanted to understand life again. I prayed like my life depended on it—because it did.

It isn’t my strength I fight with—it’s His.

I’m writing this for two reasons—1) Writers have to write what they know. And although I never would have thought it possible in my own life, I have come to know depression and anxiety, and 2) I write this because you need to know that if you, too, are a lover of Jesus and you are fighting through depression and anxiety, you are not alone. It’s not impossible for someone who loves Jesus deeply to experience the very depths of despair. Christians fight this battle, too.

And if this is you—if you’re fighting it now or you’ve fought it before, know that there is hope. I’m going to write in future posts about some specific things I’ve done to survive this season of my life and to learn from it. I’m going to write about how I found Jesus again—how even when I couldn’t see Him, He was right there beside me, just as He promised.

I’m going to write about how this strong-ish again, faithful, Jesus-loving wife and mama with grand plans for her life learned that God teaches us lessons in the ways we least expect. Sometimes He lets be weak so that His strength is supreme. Sometimes He lets us learn that He is faithful, even when we are not. Sometimes He shows us just how empty we are so that He can fill us with something so much greater. Sometimes He allows our plans to be smashed into a million tiny bits only to build new plans from those shattered pieces. The lessons are hard. Tear-stained, painful, belly-aching, heart-torn-open lessons that bring beauty from ashes. And sometimes that beauty looks nothing like what we’d planned, hoped or expected.

I’m not cured. Not a single day goes by that I don’t have pain in my body. It’s chronic at this point and still mostly mysterious. And I still struggle with the emotional war sometimes. But there’s more sunshine now—more light. More opportunities to celebrate His faithfulness when I trust Him. I can smile and laugh again. I can write again, and this post, the first in a very long time, is proof. I praise Him and thank Him for that! And if I’ve learned nothing else over the past three and a half years, I’ve learned that the fight with anxiety and depression affects far more people—Jesus-loving, God-fearing people—than I ever would have guessed.

Jesus hasn’t left you, child of God. God is still for you. His word is still true, despite what the enemy whispers in your ear and despite what your feelings are screaming at you today. I haven’t found a miracle cure or the answers to my tough questions, but I have found hope again. And that hope begins with simply saying, “I trust you, Jesus.”

So keep fighting. Keep praying. Keep reminding yourself that you are loved and God is good. Ask him to show you His goodness. Never give up because Jesus will never give up on you. There are questions, sure, but Jesus is the answer. Grab on to Him and fight the powers of hell with everything you’ve got. TRUST HIM. Know you are not alone. Know that there are others who know just how difficult, exhausting, and frightening the fight can be. I’m praying for you and I’m praying that these words are laced with grace from the Holy Spirit and that they’ll give you the courage to keep going. You might feel lost in that swirling black cloud of depression– but God sees you. He sees right through all of it to the very core of the soul in you He loves so much. He holds you. He has a plan for you. And He is the answer.

You are deeply loved by the Creator and currently prayed for by me.

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Grace For the Middle Schooler

middle school

I’ve dreaded the middle school days forever. Probably since the moment my first son was born.

Because I hated middle school. Hated every single second of it.

It didn’t help that I moved twice and went to three different middle schools on opposite sides of the country during those three years from 6-8th grades, but even if I’d stayed put in one school, it probably wouldn’t have been any different.

Middle school is rough.

It’s been that way since the invention of junior high.

So, I’ve dreaded it for my son.

But he hasn’t. He’s looked forward to it for some time—excited about the prospect of a new school where he’s a “big kid,” (albeit on the bottom of the totem pole again), where he’s proving that he’s growing up and can handle a little more responsibility.

But can he?

Hormones, attitudes, smart mouth, dropping the ball on things he knows he’s supposed to do—it’s happened, just as I suspected it would. My boy is becoming a man, and it’s awkward. It’s hard.

And we’ve reacted to each event in turn, doling out the appropriate punishments or reminders or rewards.

I walked into his bedroom the other day to find his bed unmade, clothes covering his floor…lack of responsibility glaring at me everywhere.

I felt the burn of anger and frustration starting to build in that middle spot in my chest.

“How many times have I told him?” I asked aloud to his room. I answered myself. About a zillion. A zillion times I’ve said, “make your bed,” or “put your dirty clothes in the hamper,” or “please pick up your karate gear.”

A zillion times.

I glanced up to his window which overlooks our street, and also, by blessing, his middle school. It’s close enough for him to walk each day, close enough that I can look outside and see the windows to his classrooms.

And as I beheld at those windows, grumbling to myself, the Holy Spirit whispered softly.

Grace.

Grace.

Grace.

I sighed and moved to pick up his clothes and make his bed.

Not because he deserved my help for ignoring what I’d asked him to do. Not because he’d been an angel lately or because I’m a slave to what needs to be done.

No. Because grace. Because sometimes our sons and daughters need a little less nagging and a little more grace.

Because as hard as it is on us for them to go through these awkward middle school years, it’s hard on them, too.

Because when I think back on my experience in those years, I don’t remember all the lectures and groundings and punishments for the bad choices I made. I’m sure they helped to change and mold me, but I don’t recall them vividly.

What I do recall are the moments of grace my parents showed me. Times when I’d come home to a perfectly made bed. Or folded laundry. Or a surprise small gift. Or the time when I was having a particularly rough go of it with some “friends” and my mom let me stay home from school for a day just because.

So grace.

Grace is a gift from God. We praise him for it. And so we should look for ways to gift it to our middle school children who so desperately need both grace and guidance to get through these difficult years and discover just exactly who God wants them to be.

Discipline. Guidance. Grace.

They need it and so do we.

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Share with me: What’s the best way you show grace to your middle schooler or can you remember a time your parents showed you grace during those years?

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35 Bits of Advice for First Year Teachers

First Year Teachers

 

School will be starting again before we know it. I know, I know. No one wants to think about it. Sadly, school supplies are appearing on store shelves and thoughts are already turning to back-to-school.

I remember the summer before I first started teaching. I had just graduated college and I was so incredibly excited. I think I thought I was going to save the world the moment I entered the classroom.

I just knew that every lesson I prepared was going to be amazing and that my students were going to do so well that they would destroy achievement data.

And then I couldn’t find a job.

School started and students and teachers went back—and I didn’t.

I started the school year substitute teaching. And I hated every second of it. I didn’t find any joy at all in being in a classroom that wasn’t mine. It was a serious emotional challenge.

A few weeks into the school year I was called into a great high school to substitute for a teacher who had passed away (tragic story. He had a heart attack one afternoon and quickly passed. He was far too young for such a thing). After several weeks of subbing, I was asked to stay in the position permanently.

While the circumstances were tragic, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to be able to be a “real” teacher.

I learned a lot that first year. More than I think I’ve learned any year since.

So if you’re about to enter the classroom for the very first time as a “real” teacher, here’s a bit of advice.

  1. You are not going to save the world your first year. But you can certainly try.
  2. Many of your lessons and activities are going to fail. Be okay with that. Be a good example to your students and pick up the pieces and try again.
  3. You’ll be a completely different teacher in a few years. Don’t get used to who you are now.
  4. Be willing to adapt. Flexibility and adaptation are the name of the game your first year.
  5. I once had a teacher I very much respected tell me that because I taught high school I shouldn’t smile until after Christmas. I smiled on day one and all the days after.
  6. Decide if you want to be respected or liked. The two are not always mutually exclusive, but you’re not there to be your students’ friend.
  7. Don’t let your students call you by your first name. Ever. I don’t care if you are 22 and they are 18. Or 5.
  8. Keep your mouth shut. (This bit of advice from my hubby who has been teaching for 15 years). New teachers should be quick to listen and slow to share their “brilliant” ideas. Share when appropriate, but don’t try to re-write the book on teaching.
  9. (Along with #8…) You’re not a mentor yet. Don’t try to tell seasoned teachers how to do their jobs.
  10. Never talk about having a “teacher toolbox” when referring to teaching strategies (also from my hubby).
  11. Don’t wear anything with an apple or a pencil or a bus on it. Ever.save the world
  12. Dress appropriately. Dress up really classy on Mondays. It sets the tone for the week.
  13. Don’t let your students get away with cheating. Ever. (Refer to #6).
  14. Remember that you’re not just teaching subject matter—your personality is a reflection of your character.
  15. Don’t over-volunteer. Sometimes being an eager beaver can get you hours of extra work outside of the school day, and you’ll need that time for planning and grading, etc.
  16. Don’t gossip. You have no idea who is friends with whom on your faculty or what history they have. Be classy and keep your mouth shut and your opinions about people to yourself.
  17. Respect the administration. You don’t have to like their policies or policy changes, but respect the process and the people behind the process. Those folks work hard.
  18. Get a mentor. Sometimes you will be assigned one, but if that mentor is not helpful or you aren’t given one, attach yourself to a seasoned teacher and ask for advice. Lots of advice.
  19. Be humble. If something is working in your classroom, share appropriately and be ready for seasoned teachers to help you adapt it to make it better. (Refer to #8).
  20. Have school spirit. No matter what age-group you teach, be proud of your school. If you aren’t, the kids won’t be, either.
  21. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get into the cafeteria, make friends with other teachers at the “teacher table” and watch the dynamic of your students as they interact with each other. You can learn a ton about student personalities and relationships over lunch.
  22. Don’t be afraid to report something that needs to be reported. Whether student abuse or teacher impropriety, don’t sit on it if it’s serious.
  23. Don’t blog about being an awesome teacher. You aren’t yet.teaching
  24. Find the happy medium between being excited about and dreading professional development. Some teachers get a little too happy about it (I’m going to save the world with these strategies for my teacher toolbox!) while others act like sitting through professional development might be reason to have the coroner on hand. PD can be cool. You might not use everything presented to you, but you can learn something—if you try.
  25. Love your students. Even the ones that are difficult to love. They deserve it and they might not be getting it at home.
  26. Be fair. Never play favorites with students.
  27. Don’t show too many movies. If movies are your go-to, you aren’t creative enough.
  28. Never leave your students alone in the classroom. Chaos will ensue.
  29. Never use profanity in front of your students. Set high standards for yourself and your students will follow.
  30. Good classroom management comes from being wise enough to know when to be firm and when to laugh. (Refer to #6.) This takes practice.
  31. Never be afraid to apologize to a student.
  32. A student who has wronged you but is forgiven will never forget it.
  33. Students like “fun” teachers. They respect and remember the ones who push them to their greatest potential.
  34. Use caution when eating homemade goodies gifted to you from a student.
  35. Be grateful—for your job, for your mentor, and for any seasoned teacher and administrator who is willing to help you. Someday you can repay it to a first year teacher.

Be excited about your first year as a teacher. Give it your all. Smile a lot. But most of all, be willing to learn. Your goal in your career should always be to be a better teacher than you were last year. 30 years of that will produce some amazing results.

Share with me: Seasoned teachers, what advice would you add to this list?

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