What I learned

Error! Somehow I deleted this post…grrr. Will work on that…soonish.

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Reflecting and Looking Forward

When I look back over 2017, I am amazed, humbled, grateful, and proud. (Yes, it’s possible to be both proud and humbled at the same time.) Life has been nothing if not full this past year.

The first six months largely centered around baby B, who arrived just before the year began. Those months are a blur. He had no self-soothing skills. He contracted his first cold/ear infection before he was two weeks old, and dealt with repeated colds and ear infections until he had surgery to remove the fluid trapped in his ears at eight months old. I love him dearly, but he has stretched my HSP needs like never before. Any little chance to have a break from having a tiny human glued to me 24/7 was gratefully (desperately) received.

I had mastitis. It’s like the worst flu ever, but you can’t sleep because you have a baby. I had another brief but real bout with postpartum depression and anxiety. This time I was able to identify what was going on and tell friends and family sooner, which made a big difference. PPD and PPA are no joke. There were so many days that must have been pleasant outside. January-March are my favorite weather months here, but I just couldn’t register that. Everything seemed grey and dull and nothing seemed right, even though it’s a good life. The most basic of tasks felt like trudging through mud. The more I read other women’ stories of PPD and PPA, the more encouraged and validated I am. We are not alone.

There was my husband’s seven month long stint working night shift, starting when B was still a newborn. Anytime something looks overwhelming, I remind myself that we survived that. Even got used to parts of it. But Mike and I are both grateful for ‘normal’ sleep again.

There was handling a hot sticky summer with said new baby, less of a newborn now, and said nightshift, with swimming lessons and a camping trip. I missed the camping trip on purpose. No privacy+heat+baby=insane, unpleasant and totally avoidable combination. That was my summer vacation-staying home with the two children that nap! Haha! It really was refreshing.

There was also the reckoning of many things, like forgotten stones turned being turned over, the contents dug out and disposed of. It really is true that unresolved issues will keep pestering you until they get the attention needed. And often, pestering is far too light a word. It is still a process, but there is light at the end of this tunnel. I have been hesitant to even mention this part of life. But I am further than I used to be, more certain of the other side that I will reach. This process of moving towards wholeness is human. So many people walk it, or need to. So, we talk about it. If it’s our story, we get to choose with whom we share it, how much, and when. No one else can make that decision for us.

There are the friends and family members, dearer more now than ever. There are new and strengthened relationships. There are relationships long neglected. Regular communication, especially with friends or family I don’t see often, is not a strength of mine. Often a normal day of mothering leaves me so tired I can barely communicate basic sentences to Mike when he gets home. The SPS makes me wish I had a sound-proof, noiseless room, at least at the end of the day. And I think I have often gone oblivious to the fact that even though I need to recharge alone, sometimes I’m lonely too, and it’s time to work on that. I don’t know yet what it looks like to find energy to reach out to my wonderful friends and family more than I do. But it’ll be one step at a time.

I used to love Psalm 16. Re-reading it a couple weeks ago, something struck me. “The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places” is not talking about circumstances. Of course circumstances change; nothing new to me. But it’s also not about me drumming up contentment with the right words until I feel happy with where I am all the time. What I’d never noticed before was that these boundaries are more about fellowship and oneness with God than learning what it means to be a better, more mature Christian. The focus is always him, not my efforts. He is why I am on the slow, life-long path to wholeness. It is walking with him that returns me to what he created me to be in the first place.

My word for the new year is design. I love how it encompasses creative work and personal growth. I want to be intentional about where I invest myself. I want to grow in owning my story, walking with God towards wholeness, and growing in relationship with those that are already in my life.

And here we are, at the start of a new year. Whatever 2018 holds for all of us, may it include greater wholeness.

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How Connected Should I Be?

I’m naturally inclined towards living like a hermit. I love social media because I can keep in touch with people I don’t see often or at all. In fact, I’ve met some wonderful people and made new, dear friends through one or more of these outlets.

But, like many people, I struggle to know how connected I need to be. I love Instagram. Yet now I have three accounts (personal, writing, and shop). That’s a lot to keep up with! Then there’s Facebook. Oh, Facebook. I have a complicated relationship with Facebook. Often logging in feels like entering a giant room full of people engaged in heated discussions. I want to be bold and speak up for the voiceless, especially when others question if the voiceless really exist. And, sure, it’s easy to repost that meme, share this article, post “Equity over Supremacy”, and log out. So how do I engage without burning out?  How do I practice courage while respecting my own limits? The fact that I even have the ability to turn away from many world events and realities is evidence of privilege. How do I use that well?

I have no neat answers yet. Maybe I never will, except to keep trying. I am not as afraid of saying the wrong thing (and by wrong I usually mean not organized or clear enough), so take that, perfectionism. And to those of you who do speak up, thank you. I learn from you. Keep using your voice.

I guess while I’m trying to figure out this whole social media thing, I’ll practice loving the neighbor’s child whose behavior annoys the crap out of me, but who really just wants to be liked. I’ll listen to friends with different view points, because we all need that, to be heard and to ask questions, instead of making assumptions. Ultimately whether online or in person, I want to be like the Jesus who spoke with the Samaritan woman, befriended the tax collector, and touched the leper. That is much harder than figuring out how often I should log into Facebook. But it is infinitely worth it-online and in person.

My friend gave me this because, she says, it reminds her of me. Um, biggest compliment of the YEAR, and goals.

 

Dear Sister: Guest Post on MohawkMommaStudio

I had the honor of sharing this post at my friend’s blog, Mohawk Momma Studio. Click on the link before to read the rest of it. If, like me, body image and self-acceptance are things you think about and struggle with, this post is for you. 

Living life in the body is sometimes a strange thing, isn’t it?  Our body image alone is influenced by a barrage of competing messages from without and within. We may have a growing public awareness of self-acceptance. We may no longer be silent about the media’s unattainable beauty standards. But if we’ve been stewing in these messages for years, they are not easy to shake off, are they?

 As if impossible standards aren’t enough, there’s also a message that tells us our bodies are dangerous and should be feared. As if one slip-up and our bodies are inviting danger. As if we somehow control others’ thoughts. As if other’s actions are our responsibility. As if others’ actions against our bodies somehow strip us of our value and dignity.

 

Read the rest of the post here.

Some Thoughts on Emotions

~Suppressing emotions is actually harmful. Evaluating them doesn’t equal letting them run away with you.

~I spent years suppressing negative emotions. Guess what? Christians get angry, sad, jealous, etc too. Who benefits from suppressed emotions? No. One.

~Another guess what? There’s a full range of emotions in the Psalm. I don’t believe God approves of David’s call for his enemies to be killed-but it’s there. God doesn’t shut us and our negative emotions down. He hears us. He doesn’t beat us over the head with correct theology until our negative emotions go away. He stays with us. It’s his presence, not my shoving my emotions in a box, that helps me.

~I used to do that to myself the extent that I never properly evaluated and addressed what my emotions were telling me. Boy has that been a journey. Thankfully, we live in an age of numerous resources for healthy emotional practices.

~Anger can help set boundaries. Jealousy can be a sign of a perceived lack in my heart that needs the abundance of Jesus. Grief? That deserves a lot of writing on its own. But Jesus was acquainted with it. No need to fear grief.

You can read a poem I wrote about emotions here.

What are some resources that have helped your emotional health?

A Journey Towards Accompanied Self-Confidence

Writing about self-doubt and the journey from it is tough. Only recently have I understood how it infiltrated nearly every facet of life: my decision making, relationships, and creative ventures.

Maybe you struggle with self-doubt too. Maybe the origins of your struggle are different. Maybe they are similar. It is in the interest of showing up, integrating my life, and helping you find a voice, that I write this.

One contribution to my self-doubt was the belief that our hearts are deceitful and untrustworthy. It was a core tenant in the church I grew up in. I am not an overly-confident person to begin with, which contributed significantly to how I operated out of this belief. Now most people,  with any measure of understanding, will admit they do not see everything about themselves in complete clarity. However, this went beyond a healthy humility. Because it was not tempered with the reality that Christ-followers are also Christ-accompanied, this belief in the untrustworthiness of our hearts helped push me to understand that I and my perspective could never be trusted, period. This extended into every facet of life. I hesitated to ask questions, to share my opinion, or even to try to have an opinion about some things because, why bother, if I can’t accurately perceive reality? When I did share my thoughts, they were often carefully chosen to mirror the culture around me. In short, I was afraid to think for myself. It is a silencing, crushing thing.

One of the most recent examples occurred after the birth of our third child. I expected to exclusively breastfeed him as I had my older two children. It soon became obvious that he was not gaining enough weight. Instead of going with my gut and supplementing him, I sought the advice of other moms.  Many of them said their babies were skinny, too, and watching their healthy children, I told myself that my baby will be ok. I’m not saying new moms should not ask for advice-we all need community, no matter what walk of life we’re on. The problem was that I never trusted myself. The wake-up call came at my son’s two month check up when the pediatrician showed me that K was literally not even on the growth charts.  I finally did then what I knew I should have weeks ago.

I’m so thankful for the doctor who kindly assured me I was doing a good job and sent us home with formula. I’m thankful for those reassuring moms I spoke to. It took me months to forgive myself and not feel a stab of painful guilt anytime I looked at my sons’ newborn pictures, but this child is now a healthy toddler (and quite the picky eater too).

I realize when  the words “church” and “beliefs” are mentioned, they bring up many highly nuanced and often inflammatory topics. My brain went everywhere while writing this post, and I tried to keep the focus narrow. This is simply  part of my journey.

Writing about a journey of faith can be nerve-wracking, but I think it can do more to foster community than division when done in true humility and confidence. We need to foster environments where others can feel safe to bring their uncertainties and doubts. That’s my desire. I think we need to see more stories of people walking out our imperfect faith,  because it’s never about the quality of faith itself but about the person our faith is in. Walking with Jesus is not a perfect, neat thing, but he is always present and active.

We all have doubts. Many of us have experienced shut-downs or shaming for sharing them. That is not this place. I’m still on this journey and I’m uncertain of a lot of things that used to seem plain. There’s a level of peace about much of that though, because I know Jesus will reveal all we need in time, when we no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face.

You’re not alone, friend. If you have any questions for me, or just want to converse, feel free to leave a comment.  I would love to talk.

More Thoughts on Limits

Physical limits have a way of drawing us back, but we don’t have to fight them. Our physical limits can be as varied as our personalities, appearances-in short, as varied as we are. As an HSP my limits sometimes fell very tight. Loud or repetitive noises and even small crowds tax me quickly. Heck, with four children, there’s always a small crowd at my house! So I get to be creative with finding time to recharge. And it’s a frequent challenge to make that “get to” instead of  “have to”.

On the other hand, limits don’t have to define or restrict us unhealthily. What I mean is, when faced with a taxing situation, avoiding it isn’t always the answer. Sometimes it’s a chance to stretch, grow, and learn. As much as I hate discomfort, I also don’t want a life of atrophy either. We were meant to flourish. Flourishing doesn’t happen on its own.

So while limits can feel tight and suffocating, they are not our enemies. They are not something we have to compare with others, which can lead to guilt, shame, or arrogance. Working with our limits invites creativity, growth, and the chance to see them as allies instead of enemies.

How do you work with your physical limits? I would love to know!

Dear Sensitive Soul, Know Your Boundaries

Dear Sensitive Soul,

Today I am preaching to the choir. Our sensitivity is an asset. We notice things others miss, whether in our friends’ expressions, the look in a stranger’s eyes, or that nuance in our surroundings. We can bring insight to situations and interactions.

But, we can also struggle with our own boundaries. I’m talking about feeling others’ feelings in a way that pushes us in. Empathy is good. Empathy is needed. But, dear sensitive soul, we must learn not to take on other’s feelings, thoughts, choices and attitudes like a cloak. We can’t let those things define us in any way.

Sometimes if you are with others for any length of time, discussions become heated. Opinions and personalities flare. It’s just what happens when people interact. Have you ever felt that the pressure of it all was suffocating? I have. I have felt the overwhelming need for space, physical and emotional. I have often felt shriveled  and voiceless because of all the, well, people and their people-ness. I have often not coped with it well.

Dear sensitive soul, we can and must learn what it looks like to have healthy boundaries. Not because others are big bad meanies, although we’ll encounter of few of those in our life time. Because we must know where we end and others begin. We do not let other’s feelings, opinions, attitudes or choices define us, no matter how forcefully they may be thrust upon us. We can learn when to say “stop”. We can learn when that needs to be said out loud, and when that just needs to be quietly affirmed in our minds. We can learn when to walk away and when to ask for strength to remain present and firmly rooted in a greater grace than we alone possess.

It’s taken me a long time to learn about boundaries. Most of my life, I didn’t really know they existed. But healthy boundaries are necessary for personal growth and fruitful relationships with others. I am slowly learning what this looks like in my own life. I hope this helps you too. I’m with you on this road. 

Grace and peace,

Steph


 

Showing Up

Today is Mother’s Day. For some it is a day of joy, while others find it a difficult reminder of what they still await. I’ve been thinking about the women in my life. The ways they’ve offered their giftings to those around them are as varied as they are. My mom homeschooled my sisters and I for over two decades. (She deserves a post of her own!). I have a friend who shares wisdom and compassion with boldness and graciousness on her blog. Then there are numerous other women I love that practice the art of living an abiding life in the midst of messiness and often, downright ugliness.

Lately I’ve been slogging through some tough writing things (which I’ll share here soon). As usual, doubts and fears have raised their ugly heads: is this really worth it? This process hurts. Sometimes I hate it. What if this helps absolutely no one?

And once again, mothering and writing have intersected to show me something crucial about both. I think about these amazing women in my life and what strikes me is that if they had held back, I and many others would not be in the place we are today. They’ve faced the same doubts and fears, but they have not allowed themselves to be defined by them.

It’s an outward look that answers both sets of questions, in mothering and writing. If we held back, we would be robbing others of what we were uniquely designed to give. We would be robbing ourselves as well. We would be denying the freedom we have in Jesus to act redemptively and leave the results to him.

Thank you to all the women who move from a place of abundance, trust, and freedom, no matter how small of a step you feel you have made. You have made all the difference in my life, and whether in mothering and writing, friendship and business, we need each other and what we have to offer.

Voices that Say “Be Quiet”: Postpartum Depression


I read the list of Postpartum Depression symptoms. What surprised me was that nearly every single item looked normal.

Everybody feels this way after having a baby, right? I mean, every mom feels hopeless and numb and so, so sad and distant from her baby sometimes, right?

Many moms do, but that doesn’t make it normal.

Oh yeah…those intrusive thoughts, the ones so violent and terrifying that I buried them deep down and tried to forget? When was I going to face those? Not normal.

What stared me in the face as I read that article was not just a mirror of my symptoms, but the understanding that I was trying to rationalize my situation away. I’m an emotional person. I feel things deeply, reaching extremes often several times in the same day. I’m guilty of simmering in my own feelings until I can’t see straight. Introspection can rob my awareness of outer realities. So I have lots of practice telling myself things like: you’re being dramatic. You know it isn’t as bad as you feel it is. This won’t last! Hey, you birthed three other children and you’ve all survived, right?

Here’s the thing. All those things I told myself were true, at least some of the time. Rehearsing  concrete facts sometimes helped me gain perspective during those bleary-eyed days that I’m only recently crawling out of. But my problem was that I wasn’t recognizing how deeply my mindset of shame isolated me and fed my depression.

This wasn’t my first brush with postpartum depression or depression itself. This was another brush with my habit of comparing and minimizing my depression, thus robbing myself of  healthy growth. The tape playing in my head said, “you should be fine, get over it”. It is very closely related to another familiar voice I’ve listened to for far too long. This one tells me I can’t and don’t understand my situation properly and I can’t trust my perspective. As you can imagine, it is paralyzing. It is not a voice of freedom. There’s a lot more I’ll write about on this later…

After reading that article I stood in the shower obsessing it over. I tried, from every angle, to say I did not have PPD. Stephanie, this is just one of your low moods. (That has lasted for weeks.) What do you expect to do to help yourself, frolic in nature all day? Paint your nails while watching hours of chick flicks? Sounds like an excuse to be lazy and avoid the responsibility that you signed up for when you became a parent. Tomorrow you may not feel better, but you will feel very silly for thinking you should classify your little troubles as Postpartum Depression.

Please tell me you see how dangerous this type of thinking is! The message of shame is “be quiet!”. When I listened to that voice of shame that sounds so reasonable, I sank a little farther away from everyone who loves me. I sank both away from myself and deeper into myself at the same time.

Motherhood is so hard. Sleep deprivation is so hard. Thinking that you have to do hard things alone makes it worse and we were not designed to go through life that way. I began to see that the label of postpartum depression was not a title to restrict or define me, but a tool I could use to avail myself of help and healing. I winced inwardly when I told my husband, mom, and a few close friends “I think I’m struggling with postpartum depression”. Yet when I uttered those words, I took power away from what threatened to suffocate me and harm my family. I was no longer slugging it out on my own, in the dark. I took one more step towards trusting those around me that have proven their love for me again and again.

Mothers, postpartum depression is common, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. If your struggles look nothing like a friends’ but something isn’t right, reach out. It does not make you weak. It does not make you a failure. It means you are a strong woman willing to face the music that threatens to signal your defeat and turn those notes into a theme of grace and triumph. Don’t try to do it alone. Vulnerability may not be easy. But those who love you want to do just that-love you.

Today as I rocked my baby to sleep I gazed at his eyelashes, round cheeks, and fuzzy hair. He’s less of a stranger to me than he was a month ago. Now I know that I know him, and he is a delightful person. I had prayed for him months ago. I wept when I thought I wouldn’t have him. Then when he arrived I felt like a total failure as his mom and feared I’d never bond with him. But now, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some days panic grips me and tells me this is not over and I will fall back into this pit again. And I might. But if I do, I won’t be alone. And I don’t have to be quiet any more.

I’m still learning to destroy the voices that bind me. But I do know that the voice of freedom belongs to my God, and he has never left me. He has heard me, and he will hear me yet.

 

P.S. If you struggle with PPD or postpartum anxiety, please reach out to a family member, friend, or therapist. The above link has help resources too.