Meeting Nickel Baby ( A gender reveal and subsequent feelings )

Hi friend, it’s been a while. Too long really.

RIght now I’m sitting in the living room while our family watches world cup, loudly, and my daughter pecks at my feet with a beanie baby rooster. This is life, crazy and often happening all at once.

My son is sleeping on the love seat after falling asleep on the way home from the pool, it’s 5:25. This is likely not a great idea but I really don’t have the energy or creativity to get him to wake up right now.

And this morning we got to see baby Penny #3 on ultrasound, which brought tears from all of the places my feelings originate from.

At first the baby wouldn’t cooperate with the ultrasound tech, position wise, so I had to take a walk around the building and chug some more water for bladder fullness.

Then slowly the tech was able to get the measurements she needed. Legs, arms, belly, fingers all accounted for.

FInally she asked us if we wanted to know the gender, we did, we do. I’m still not sure all the reasons why we always find out early, I guess my theory is that the surprise happens either way, at 20 weeks or at 40.

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Kel knew figured it out before the tech got there, We’re having a baby girl!

We told the kids the only way that seemed appropriate, over pink cream cheese bagels.

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Noelle was a lot happier about the news than Caedmon. He’s sort of bummed about not having a baby brother, which is fine. He will be excited when she arrives, right?

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Since the bagel reveal with cute cream cheese photos was a total flop we picked up some balloons, should have been an obvious first choice. Kids love balloons more than bagels. They’ll turn around one day.

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Today I am full of feelings, some of them joyful and excited and some look  more like question marks.

Can we parent three kids well in the middle of all this transition?
Can I bring up daughters who are strong and confident, who trust God in a deep sense and who believe they can do hard things?

Probably. There is healing, there is learning, there is grace.

God meets us all sorts of places, especially in the midst of fear and chaos.

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Love Showed Up: Friendship Overpowers Shame

Today’s brave and breathtaking post comes from my friend Lisa. Kel and I were Lisa’s Youth Pastors almost 10 years ago and I’m so humbled and honored to have reconnected with her so she can share her brave story, which I still cannot read without tears. 

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The ribbon included with my post is simple, but that simple ribbon means so much to me. That simple ribbon gives meaning to all I have been through…all I have overcome and all I will overcome. That teal ribbon stands for surviving sexual abuse.

“You haven’t beat me down. I may have fallen before but I will stand tall now.”

Those words were the last ones I said aloud in a very emotional speech on sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of my father.  This is the first time I have ever written those words for the public to read.

I looked up to the small audience of close friends in my living room after speaking those words one close friend in particular overcome with emotion. I understood then that I was truly “loved”…love showed up. You see…the girl I was didn’t believe those words yet. I was brave enough to speak them again the following night at a Take Back The Night event, but that girl was desperate for acceptance. That girl was so strong that she was afraid to admit that she was actually weak.

The night I practiced my speech I shared this for the first time:

“From about age four to age six I was sexually abused by my father…In those two years he did the worst things you can imagine to a little girl. The abuse pretty much set the tone for the rest of my childhood. The effects were far reaching. I wasn’t confident. I didn’t feel pretty”.

I am 24 years old today and this speech took place about 4 years ago. I can say with confidence that this event was the first time in my entire life that “love showed up” for me (at least that I recognize). I shared such a vulnerable piece of my life with more people than my husband (boyfriend at the time) and expected to be turned away. Instead I was greeted with tears of compassion and quiet support from good friends.

A lot of survivors of sexual abuse wait for the proverbial “anvil” to drop on their heads. I was no different. This was the first time I got that people have the capacity to care…to care about me. Also in that moment I felt God’s presence. Love showed up has dual meanings in this event. I got that people cared for me, and I got that God cares for me…always. His presence was just a flicker… and to this day I struggle with trusting a heavenly father when my earthly one treated me so horribly. It was this event that made me understand that I truly had a family in these people. To this day I can count on them for anything that I need. If it’s a phone call after a hard day or lunch just to socialize…I can count on them. I also understand that I can bring anything to God. It’s just laying my problems (or especially myself) at his feet that I struggle with.

Through good friends, an awesome husband and an equally as awesome therapist I am closer to believing these words I wrote in my speech:

“For me taking back the night means taking back all I lost…taking back the world [I] had begun to fear. To say to [the person] who assaulted me. You will not stop me from living my life to the fullest. You will not stop me from becoming the woman I want to become. Strong, confident, poised. My head held high, you haven’t beat me down. I may have fallen before but I will stand tall now.”

419534_10151195673834275_311131210_n Lisa Smith is a devoted wife and student. She strives to move beyond her experiences and eventually become a licensed therapist. Lisa hopes to be an inspiration to others both that share her history and those who don’t. Lisa is passionate about bringing women’s issues to the forefront and out of the shadows of shame and silence. Her hobbies are far reaching…everything from singing and playing the guitar to writing stories and reading. If you find yourself wandering Barnes and Noble you can find Lisa in the psychology section, the reference section, or the fiction section (P.S. you should look in that order). Lisa hopes that she can touch others with her experience and for those who share her history she most wants you to know you are not alone. 

Interested in contributing to the Love Showed Up series? Send me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and let’s have a chat about it. 

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Love Showed Up: Hugging Strangers in Public Bathrooms

I hope you’ve been enjoying these Monday posts on Love Showing Up in life, at times when we need it desperately. 

I’ve been noticing this common thread in each post, in each moment we find to breathe thankful prayers for grace in the midst of pain, it’s this: when love shows up we feel less alone.

Our darkest burdens are easier to bear, our worst roads a bit shorter when love shows up. 

Today I want to tell you about one of the most unlikely moments in my life, a moment when love showed up to remind me that grief and pain are universal burdens, that even though grief is rightly referred to as the loneliest journey of life, it doesn’t have to be, not always. We can find each other and divide the pain with our presence.

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It was only two days after my Mother had taken her life, and I was 28 weeks pregnant with our son. We were back in Michigan after a miserable 22 hour road trip, to plan and attend her funeral alongside hundreds of other confused people she left behind.

My dear friend Lisa had called when we were making the drive up and didn’t ask so much as told me: “Hey, when you get here, I think you need steak.”

This is important when joining grieving friends on their journey, sometimes you tell them you’re helping rather than asking them, we are a stubborn people who prefer to deny our needs. 

I replied with a small laugh, because I wasn’t a steak lover per say, but I managed something like: “Sure, why not. Let’s go eat steak.

Turns out that part of the reason for the steak was Groupon related, but who says you can’t be a good friend while still being frugal? 

After I’d arrived home at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, managed a full but fitful night’s sleep, helped plan a funeral and gone to the mall for funeral appropriate maternity clothes, my friend Lisa picked me up for dinner.

We had a long drive to the steakhouse in Rockford and we picked up another friend, Becky on the way. Alyssa met us there and together we sat down in the golden light of the restaurant to order drinks and listen to the waitress explain the specials in mouth watering detail.

Nothing distracts my weary soul like great food, so as she went on about searing, herbed butter and the chef’s lifelong passion for steak I fell slightly in love with her. Having been a server for a number of years, I have a deep appreciation for menu knowledge and attentive interaction.

The meal progressed and Lisa and I order the London Broil with Bordelaise Sauce, Asparagus Spears and Yukon Mashed Potatoes. She talked me into adding caramelized onions, no regrets there.

It all melted in my mouth, danced on my pallet, sustained me, gave bits of joy.

I found myself gazing at my friend’s glasses of wine, thinking if ever there was an evening where I could use the comfort of wine, it was tonight. Why did I have to go through this pregnant?

At some point, or likely several points, in the evening I got up to use the bathroom. Too many delicious glasses of water I suppose. On one of these trips I ran into our waitress coming out of the restroom and I stopped her to thank her for her excellent service.

…Telling her that after moving to a small town in Oklahoma, I missed and deeply appreciated fancy food and vast menu knowledge.

She asked why we were back in town and I tried to vaguely reveal the details of our trip, of my mother’s funeral, without divulging too much.

Unexpected tears started to well up in the corners of her eyes, which was briefly awkward for me because I’m not always good at comforting other people to feel better about my grief.

Then she let it out: “My mom is in the end stages of cancer, in Hospice care and I’m living at her house. I’m the oldest and everyone looks to me to handle things, I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m terrified to lose her.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, it does suck, but you’ll get through it, I lost my Dad about five years ago and it’s not going to be okay any time soon but your life will keep going, you’ll find joy even. I promise. Just don’t carry everyone else’s burdens without taking care of your own, without processing your own grief, don’t be pushed around by everyone’s expectations of you.”

Then we hugged. Right there in front of the bathroom sink.

I peed and returned to our table, awkwardly trying to explain my interaction with the our server which probably sounded something like: “Our waitress’ mom is dying too! I’m not the only one. That feels better somehow, not that I’m happy about it. Anyway… how’s your food?”

Even though that interaction was three and a half years ago, I still think about it, still give heart space to that server, wondering how she weathered her storm.

Our embrace in the bathroom impacted me, I felt less alone in losing my mother young because of our three minute exchange.

It’s true that grief is one of the loneliest journeys we walk in life, that no two losses are alike, even when they center around the death of the same person.

Yes, grief is lonely, there are times when we will feel naked and alone in our pain. Yet sometimes, we are given companions on the journey, for a minute, for an hour, for longer.

My friends around that evening table divided my grief, not just during that dinner but throughout the journey with their presence at the funeral and their words over the phone.

My time with our server divided both our griefs for three minutes, perhaps even longer.

Yes grief is lonely, but we are not alone, millions have walked this path and millions are waking up to walk it today.

It’s normal to feel alone, but if you can look for it, to be open your pain, love will show up in a thousand surprising ways and each time, if only for a moment or two, your grief load will lighten.

May we be a people who divide the sting of death with authentic, loving presence and sometimes, with steak.

Has love showed up to divide your grief?
How have you divided the grief of a friend?

This post is part of a series called Love Showed Up, check out the other submissions and if you are interested in submitting please send me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com. We’d love to hear about how love showed up in your life. 

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For Those Stuck in Good Friday

Do you remember when Saturdays were always about church planting updates? They will be again, soon, next week even… 

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The year my Dad died Easter came early, March 27, only about a week after his heart attack and the Sunday after his funeral.

Because of this, a church decorated in purple crosses and white lilies doesn’t feel like Easter morning to me, it still loudly echoes the throes of Good Friday.

Every year, no matter when Easter falls in relation to the anniversary of my Father’s death, the songs and smells of Easter are deeply reminiscent of his funeral.

Faith gets real when you’re faced with Easter morning and your heart feels firmly rooted in the worst hours of Good Friday.

Sometimes Easter Sunday doesn’t happen in three days

Because in life, our Good Fridays last longer than a day, longer than the hour of a church service or the time it takes to reflect upon the stations of the cross. There are, in fact, entire seasons, even years of our lives that take place on Holy Saturday.

The day in between the ripping of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb. A day of waiting, of wondering, a seemingly hopeless day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

I remember visiting my fathers grave before the funeral flowers had a chance to wither and shrivel, begging God for some sort of miracle. Bring him back now, fix this now, I want my Easter Sunday healing now, please.

Make this all go away, cause me to awake in my bed back home, awash in relief that this was all a nightmare.

Please God, bring me an Easter miracle today or Surely the depth of this grief will be the thing that defines my life, that undoes me. I cannot live in a world where this is my reality.

But we do, don’t we? We live in a world with awful realities. 

We live seasons, even years stuck between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, where we wake up on Holy Saturday wondering if our hearts can weather another day of waiting and wondering.

Anne Lammott put it perfectly when she said “we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And I think that every year the world seems more of a Good Friday world. And it’s excruciating, whether it’s Japan, or Libya, or whether its your own best friends and their children who are sick, which is something that makes no sense when you think about a loving God.”

So for all of us who feel the weight of the Good Fridays, the Holy Saturdays, who will experience Easter Sunday with more than a few bones to pick with God, with a laundry list of “but hows.”

To all of you I just want to say: “Hi and me too.”

I understand and it’s okay to lament more than you rejoice on Easter Sunday.

I understand how suicide, depression, infertility, hate, hunger and abuse can make you feel stuck, make you wonder if Easter Sunday is a real

Wonder where God is in light of this unspeakable pain.

For those of us who are kneeling of the grave of someone or something, skeptical that the pure light of the empty tomb could touch us.

For you I pray light, small, grace-filled light that sustains gently.

I pray God send gracious friends, able to sit with you in your black, Holy Saturday questions.

I pray God a spring breeze to remind your senses that there are miracles all around you, and they will meet you in your anger and all your “how could you Gods?” 

I pray that something about this weekend brings you all the hope you can handle, and no more.

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It’s not easy to live between the two, to be Easter people in a Good Friday world, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

I pray that you may experience Easter Sunday for what it is: A promise of healing that brings hope for our right now, a set it all right someday vow that isn’t always easy to to hold on to, but true and life changing regardless. 

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Love Showed Up: When People Say They are Hurting, Believe Them

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Abby Norman is a brave, dear friend with a voice that makes one feel stronger for bearing witness to it, I hope you enjoy her wise words today.

But you seem fine.

From 1997-2009  my body was not fine. I was tired and achy and just didn’t feel good. For hours, for days, for months at a time. I for sure was not fine.

But you look fine.

But I looked fine. I looked totally normal. I was tallish and thinish and smiled and laughed a lot . I was participating in class discussions and marching the tenor drums in the marching band and trying out for the school plays. I was bringing home trophies from the speech tournaments and dating boys.

Then, I would just up and disappear.

For a day, for two days, on a really bad stretch for a week. In my Junior Year of High school I missed most of the month of October. But I looked totally fine. I got my diagnoses a month after that terrible October, about 4 years after the whole ordeal started.  I got my miraculous healing 9 years later.

But in between? I got a lot of people questioning whether or not I was telling them the truth. What do you mean muscle disorder? You look totally fine. I get that you are tired Abby, but I am tired too. We are all tired, all of us have feet that hurt. What do you mean you can’t eat that? My mom has fibromyalgia too, but she doesn’t react this way.  I didn’t even hit you that hard, it was in fun, on the back. Stop crying.

Here is a piece of advice that is overlooked because it seems so basic: When people tell you that they are suffering, believe them.

With a cancer diagnoses, a parent dying, a baby coming, there are obvious signs that people are in need. But what about when it is a little less obvious, a little more constant. Is there space in your life for suffering that seems hard to understand? Or the kind a quick google says not all doctors can agree on?

When people tell you they are suffering, believe them.

Believe them when it is incomprehensible. Even when it feels like they are lying, when they tell you they are sick and 24 hours later show up to an event seemingly totally fine. Just because you don’t see the suffering, because it is happening in rooms that are behind closed doors, doesn’t mean the suffering doesn’t exist. Even if you don’t understand it, believe them.

There were a million moments where my suffering was invalidated, my pain not believed, my decisions about how to use my energy to have as normal a life as possible were scoffed at. That part sucked.

But love showed up a million times over.

In the ways my college roommate and my friend upstairs would just quietly go get my lunch or dinner when I told them I couldn’t really get out of bed.

When my speech teammates would quietly take the bag off of my slightly shaking arm, get up from their seat and quietly insist that I sit down. Now.

When the pastor of my church not only didn’t tell me I was a distraction, but thanked me for being willing to show up to my church with a yoga mat in hand when it was just too painful to sit in the pews. He said I was a visual sign to guests that everyone was invited.

Love showed up in the seventh grade when my friend noticed that I had been gone for a school for a month and showed up on Valentines day with a teddy-bear and a box of candy that let me know I wasn’t forgotten.

Love showed up in the forms of teachers who tutored me during lunch, excused a couple of quizzes, stayed after school to let me make up a test. Then, they applauded and congratulated me for the success I was having on the speech team. They didn’t question why I could show up for that and not class.

There were a million ways that people were the hands and feet of Jesus to me when I was chronically and somewhat mysteriously ill.

But it all started here: They believed me.

The most painful thing that happened to me during those years was being ignored, and not being believed.

Love showed up every time my pain wasn’t questioned. Every time how can I help was uttered instead of “why do you need that?”

I’m not the first or only to have an invisible illness. I am not the only one I know whose pleas for help have been met with an eye roll, a shoulder shrug, a why? There are things people suffer that we understand and can relate to, and there are things we just don’t get. (Mental health issues often fall into the second category.) I don’t know why some suffering is easier for me to dismiss than others. But I do know this:

Love showed up for me when people believed I was in pain. Even when I didn’t look like it. Even when I didn’t act like it. If you want to love someone who is suffering, believe them.

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Abby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She swears a lot more than you would think for a public school teacher and mother of two under three. She can’t help that she loves all words. She believes in champagne for celebrating everyday life, laughing until her stomach hurts and telling the truth, even when it is hard, maybe especially then. You can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional and tweeting at @accidentaldevo. Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies and literally burning lies in her backyard fire pit.

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Interested in contributing to this series? I’d love to hear your story. Shoot me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and we’ll have a cup of virtual coffee over it.

Soup and Pie (On Observing The Anniversary of a Loss)

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Today marks the 9th anniversary of the day we lost my Dad (for more on this click here). I can’t wrap my head around this number, some days it feels like I’ve spent my entire life without him and then other days I still go to call him.

Thoughts of the March we buried him still haunt me, many of my memories are of staring down at my black ballet flats, on the funeral home carpet, on the painted concrete of the church, on the freezing grass at the cemetery.

Head bowed, soul overcome

In the end it all happened, it’s not a phantom or a figment of my imagination. He is gone and I am here, with a family and a life he isn’t a part of and cannot touch or enter into except in memory and remembered wisdom.

Softly in spirit sometimes, although usually painfully absent

The first anniversary of his death was hard, we all gathered at the cemetery as a family and words were spoken over the shiny, black marble headstone. We shivered and felt lost, still unable to believe that he was gone and not quite sure what to do about it. A year, a year without David, without Dad.

Gathering those who remember, this is one thing to do about an anniversary of loss.

The second anniversary of his death was possibly harder, we were newly married and I was in my last year of college. I called a few friends and asked them if they would join me in my grief, if we could eat my two favorite comfort foods together (soup and pie) and laugh or cry as needed, as the evening led.

They came into our apartment slowly and I tried to smile and reassure them that this wasn’t going to be weird. But was it? Would it be weird?

Some brought cards and flowers. There were 8 of us all together, or so, my memory is hazy on certain details. We shared soup from the restaurant down the street and store-bought pie.

We sat on couches, plaid hidden under slipcovers, and in a semi circle on the floor. With our warm bowls gathered in front of us I looked into the eyes of each face and thanked them from the depths of me for their willingness to come, to remember and to weather whatever this was.

I think I mentioned my Dad a few times but it was no formal service of prompts or intentional remembering. It was simply a gathering of friends who loved so well that they were willing to enter into the awkward unknown of my grief.

Willing to say “On this Day where darkness feels eminent, I will bring light into your apartment. I will share a bowl of soup over something hard.”

When it comes to remembering a grief, marking a day that has permanently marked your life all I can tell you is this: Remember and Invite.

Don’t pretend it’s not the day that it is, be open with your friends and coworkers that this date on the calendar (which may seem ordinary to many) is a dark square on yours. A day marked with loss.

If they know you, they’ll know the weight that the day carries but in the telling you will create an openness, a vulnerability, an invitation that gives others the knowledge they need to love well, to offer grace.

You point to this day and say this? This is going to be a tough one to weather and I wanted you to know. 

You can even take a step farther and say “this is what I need.” … if you know… and you won’t always know.

This is when the brave ones will enter in and do their best to love well, bring your favorite latte, cover you at a meeting, take you out to lunch, send you a text, a prayer, a hug, a grace.

Be open, do something, do what feels like the right thing to do to abide .

Honesty, Openness, Invitation, this is my best advice for observing loss anniversaries well.

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God, I don’t give this to you.

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It was past midnight, maybe three AM when I found myself face down on our dingy comforter silently sobbing these words:

God I give this to you, I give it to you, I give it to you.

I sat up. I got honest.

God I don’t give this you, not today. I fully acknowledge that it IS IN FACT yours right now but my fingers won’t unclench. They will not release. Today I cannot let this drop into your hands where I fully understand that it already rests.

Today I am grasping, today I lack the faith, today I am fully of reasons not to trust you but God… will you help me? 

Could you love me, even now when my fear and faithlessness gather into piles of reasons why you shouldn’t? 

God I am through pretending that I leave my endeavors, my people, my life, my plans in your hands because I think we both see me scrambling for control, for the reigns, for the false hope that I was ever in charge in the first place.

I wonder if the only way to get somewhere in all of this is to sit up straight, walk out of bed, turn on the lamp and confess to you plainly that I do not trust you. That I do not give this to you… but that I want to, deeply, with a desperation kin a deep, desert thirst.

Continue to romance me? To pry my fingers open one by one saying “dear one, dear one… I got this. I got it love, please let go, drop it into the hands that have never stopped holding it. I know you are wounded, I know that you have questions and reasons why the only person who can make things okay is you but I promised you freedom and I will never stop calling you thusly.

He cannot promise he that everything will be okay
That there will not be additional pain, even loss.
That promise does not exist friends.

So tonight I sit up in the midnight hour and confess honestly the heart space in which I find myself.

God I do not trust with you my children and I do not trust you with my husband.
I do not trust you with our provision and I do not trust that you go before.

But God? I want to.

Can you spare a bit more patience? Go with me a while longer while I point out all the ways in which you have let my prayers fall through the cracks or be answered with the worst possible ends?

Will you forgive me my faithlessness a bit longer while I come to terms with it and beg a bit more forgiveness? A bit more love, a bit more time on our journey back to trust.

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What Mental Health Isn’t

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In my life “Mental Health” has been an elusive thing.

Until just this past year every doctor I’ve seen has said something to the effect of: “Have you considered… <insert trendy new pill here>”

Just this past year I had a doctor tell me: “With your case history and the way your mom passed I don’t ever see you off an anti-depressant. If we had a pill to cure breast cancer and your mom had died of that, wouldn’t you take it?”

Sure, but it’s not really the same, is it? My mom didn’t just die because she was sick, it was this messy cluster of pain and problems.

Like losing my dad to a heart attack and losing parts of her daughter in a car/train accident while struggling with depression.

And this is the point at which mental health becomes really hard to figure out. Am I struggling because I’m sick or am I struggling because this is hard, because Life. Is. Hard?

I would never dream of deciding that for another person. Ever.

It is never my place to say “Here is where your life issues and baggage stop and your chemical imbalance begins so this is what you should or should not do.”

I can’t even figure that out for myself.

But I have figured out one thing in this past year of counseling and life and delving deep into past to discover some foundation core beliefs that are throwing me off.

I have figured out what Mental Health is not.

I always thought that mentally healthy people, people upon whom doctors would never dream of handing a Rx for antidepressants must ooze sanity, logical thought and even keeled temperaments.

But that’s not mental health… and that’s not humanity.

Here is what mental health isn’t, what it doesn’t mean:

It doesn’t mean you never yell at your spouse.
It doesn’t mean you don’t need to make lists to get things done.
It doesn’t mean you never sob for no particular reason over the state of things.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like hiding when the world feels too big.
It doesn’t mean you never get overwhelmed when life feels unstable.
It doesn’t mean you never need to call a friend, right now just to unload and vent.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like walking around with an L on your forehead because you feel like such a mess you may as well proclaim it.
It doesn’t mean you never feel like finding the bottom of a tub of ice cream

These things are not signs of mental illness, they’re just part of being human. Yet for so long I thought that they were things that were categorizing me as “not quite right” when they were normal, human reactions to the big feels of life.

I’ve come to realize that my old idea of what mental health looks like involved two things

1) Not really needing people.
2) Not feeling big feelings out loud.

This is not mental health, this is not human. 

Mental health involves healthy coping skills and healthy coping involves living well in community and feeling your feelings even when they’re really inconvenient.

And they’re going to be inconvenient.

It would be so nice if grief, jealousy, insecurity, sadness, fear, anger and frustration would only come out at the appropriate times but that’s not life, at least it’s not my experience of life on pills or otherwise.

Life happens at messy and inopportune moments and so does it’s corresponding feelings.

If I could share one thing on this topic, it would be this: It is good to feel your feelings. It is healthy, needed and natural…. normal even.

Life is a roller coaster of big feelings and we are meant to be stretched and grown and stressed and sad and thrilled. It’s terribly inconvenient but it’s really important to feel these and go there and know what’s really going on inside us.

We learn how to identify and express emotions in preschool and then sometimes it feels like we try to undo all that as grown-ups.

When your feelings get to a point where you can’t cope or where they are having a negative impact on those around you, then it may be time to seek help, but don’t feel all wrong just for having them.

It’s not my place to speak to anything you’ve discussed with your doctor. You will only ever find me supportive of your choices in that respect.

The only thing I really have to say is don’t assume that your big feelings and inconvenient emotions mean that you’re sick, feel what you need to feel, go to counseling, get to the bottom of it.

The journey to understand your feelings and negative beliefs about yourself, the world and God is worth every moment and penny you invest in it.

It’s the most worthwhile time and money I’ve invested in years and I suspect I will continue to invest in my mental health so I can be the big feels, slightly unpredictable wife, mother, writer and human person God created me to be.

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Just last month I went to a doctor who has seen me for the better part of my life and she told me this: “If you feel like the anxiety is too much, then call me and we will talk through it and figure out the best plan. But you seem to be really self-aware and stable,you’re doing really well.”

As I drove home, I sobbed, because in the journey of living my life and not following in my mother’s footsteps, those were some of the most beautiful words anyone has ever said to me.

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When Love Showed Up, To Sit With Me

I first met Kristin Tennant a few years ago when I was blessed with the invitation to share a meal at her table. From that first meal it became obvious that her warmth, hospitality and writerly wisdom were something to be cherished, today you get to share in a piece of that, enjoy. 

Two Old Friends

We all know that love is better when it’s shown rather than told—that it’s more believable when it impacts your life in some tangible way you can point to.

There’s the love, for instance, shown by my mom when she came and stayed with us for a week after each of my babies were born—the cooking and dishwashing, the early morning baby soothing and late evening advice-giving.

More recently, we witnessed the love of friends who showed up with rubber gloves, cleaning supplies, and a fresh burst of energy as we were frantically preparing our house for its sale the following day.

Yes, those demonstrations of love carried me through stressful times, giving me not just nourishing post-partum meals and a sparkling pre-sale kitchen, but also a clear understanding that I wasn’t alone.

But maybe it’s wrong to assume that love showing up is always active and busy—that it must involve a flurry of helping and working, problem-solving and doing. Maybe in the midst of so many busy demonstrations of love, we miss the love people need most: the quiet, steady love that doesn’t try to control what happens next, but just sits with you and waits to see what happens next.

* * * * *

Of course, there’s something to be said for the most practical forms of love—the meals, childcare, and snow shoveling: It’s much harder to screw them up. Being a loving presence in someone’s life, on the other hand, is a tenuous balancing act.

I experienced this first hand 10 years ago, as news of my failed marriage spread through our small church and community. The people in my life seemed to instantly sort themselves into two categories: those who faded into the background, where they could pretend nothing uncomfortable was happening, and those who assumed a very active role in what was happening.

Of those who chose to speak up and get involved, there were also two distinct groups. One group, primarily Christians from both our current and former church communities, felt compelled to demonstrate love through lecturing, debates, and “loving discipline.” They were so laser-focused on my Issue they became blind to every other part of my life and the whole person I still was.

The other group, consisting primarily of non-church-going friends, demonstrated love through vocal, all-encompassing support. They were my cheerleaders, and in their eyes I could do no wrong. There’s no doubt this was a refreshing counterpoint to the many critical voices in my life, but it also didn’t exactly feel like love. It wasn’t nuanced enough to make room for the complexity of the situation—for the conflicting emotions and uncertainty, for both the despair and the hope. The comfort these friends offered lasted for only as long as I was sitting with them, having coffee or a beer, soaking up their approval; it dissolved as soon as we hugged goodbye.

I know that these expressions of love—both the brutal questioning and the blind acceptance— are generally well-intentioned. They emerge from a desire to move people we care about toward a better place—toward whatever is best for them. The flaw lies in assuming we know what is best for them.

* * * * *

In the dark days of my separation and divorce, love showed up and stayed with me in the form of a friend who didn’t pretend to know what I should be doing to fix my life. She didn’t come bustling in to shine a harsh light on my messiest corners, nor did she sweep the mess under the rug. She simply came with a quiet, steady love, ready to sit with me.

She was saddened by my situation, but not hopeless. She hurt for me, but refused to take on that hurt in any personal way. She listened when I wanted to talk about the dark details of my divorce, but she also listened when I talked about the type of mid-century modern sofa I was hoping to find for my apartment, or when I wanted to complain and laugh about the mundane trials of parenting two little ones. She reminded me that she was praying for me—not for any specific outcome, but for God’s clear and steady presence, guidance, and love in my life.

And in exactly that quiet way, she was God’s hand of love in my life.

* * * * *

KTennant Kristin Tennant has been a freelance writer for 12 years. In 2007 she began blogging about family, faith, doubt and redemption at Halfway to Normal (www.halfwaytonormal.com). Kristin, her husband Jason, and their blended family of three daughters live in Urbana, Illinois, where they love cooking and sharing meals and conversation with friends.

 

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How to stop worrying about who isn’t listening or reading or watching and start loving the people who are

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons jennifah007

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons jennifah007

I have a confession to make:  Sometimes when I’m talking to my children about something particularly amusing or ridiculous, I project a little louder for other people to hear.

“You learned about how Jesus will heal as long as we cut a holes in the roof? Wow that’s crazy!”  
(big look around to see if anyone else heard that and wants to exchange a grown up eye with me as I ignore the child trying to talk to me about God… <facesmack>)

And sometimes I do this with my husband, especially at parties or social gatherings. If we say something funny together I’ll dump him to go tell other, new-shiny people about it.

And sometimes I do this with my friends

And very often I do this online.

And when I do this, you know what I’m saying? Dear person I’m actually talking to:  You’re not enough, I need a larger, more important audience.  Others matter more than what’s going on between us.  

My need to be noticed trumps what we are sharing in this moment.

It took a season of therapy and a good hard look to realize that the heart of this problem is this:  So often I worry about who isn’t listening and miss out on who is, because I’m valuing the wrong things.

We all do this in life, don’t we? Come on, please normalize this with me so I don’t feel like such a jerk…

We’re chatting with our friends, our people and across the room or the twittersphere when we spot someone we wish we were friends with, chatting with a crowd we wish we ran with and we feel… jealous and small and less than… maybe even crummy and insignificant.

Why? Because we want to be noticed and successful. It’s perfectly normal… but if we’re not careful it can become utterly consuming.  And we should be careful.

We should be careful with the people we’ve been entrusted with, the audience we’ve been given. 

Because odds are that if you look around, you’re already as noticed and significant as you need to be.

Let me give you an example that will potentially make you hate me and burn my blog in anger (I don’t know how that would work, just go with it):

Sometimes when a new person responds to me on twitter I go to check their profile.

Not a big confession, Normal right?
What am I looking for you ask?
Am I trying to see if we have common interests and beliefs?
Nope.  I’m checking to see how many followers they have to figure out how much time and attention I should give them.
I know, I know.  Awful. But I swear It’s getting better…

Why? I’ve stopped worrying about who’s not listening and started loving everyone who is.

I actually remember the exact day that this switch flipped. I got put off by an acquaintance online, someone who didn’t do anything wrong but who, through inaction left me with a wound.

I literally looked at myself in the toothpaste covered bathroom mirror and yelled. “What (name of person) thinks doesn’t even matter! I have people, good people and what (he/she) does or doesn’t think of me doesn’t get anymore airtime in my brain or my time.”

Then I talked about it at therapy. A lot. I talked about how I want to intentionally cultivate depth with the people I’ve been given (gifts each one!) and how badly I needed to stop worrying about who wasn’t paying attention to me.

Then over dishes about a week later I received some news from God.  The kind that just pops into your mind and feels at home, like sweet mind-truth, life giving and free.

“I’ve given you exactly the influence needed, the people you were meant to tend and grow. Love them well and forget the rest.”

And so it was that I learned to love my people, my place in this world.  Not in a passive way, but in an active, daily choosing that leaves me feeling full of life and peace.

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