Yeah so sometimes writing is not easy, mainly because it’s writing and not spoken word complete with facial animation and eye contact and all my wicked rad Italian hand gestures. Sometimes you put all your guts out in the open when you really should have probably kept them inside your body where they belong. Other times, people love your guts and it reminds them of their own guts and how much God loves all our guts no matter how disgusting and gut-like they may be.
But you know what’s actually hard? Trying to write in a style that’s not your own. I get jealous, and totally down on myself sometimes, reading articles/blogs/books written so poetically and coming from someone whose very soul is clearly in constant tune with the Holy Spirit, and they use phrases like “the fragrance of tender mornings” and “dew drops of grace on the battlefield of my tattered heart which is bleeding crimson stains from sins which my sinful soul commits in the night of tranquility.” You know. Stuff like that. They are the sophisticated nectarines poached in lavender-honey syrup to my schloppy blackened roast marshmallow. Like for example: on a good day, Ann Voskamp is an encouraging breath of fresh air, but on a bad day? I want to take those thousand gifts and shove ’em…um, in a pile, to be opened at another time. So here goes:
I’ve been thinking about stuff–no “gentle reflection” about it–mainly about Arbor turning 1, and her first year of awesome life, and my delicate mental state over the past twelve months (or thirty-five years), and all the things that’ve happened since last September, and I’m left wondering: why have I not had an actual heart attack yet?
Let us take stock at the source of my mental trauma, in nonsensical-list format:
1. I had a really cool baby. That really cool baby turned out to have really cool colic. As it also turns out, I’m old. Well, way older than I was with my first non-colicky three.
2. House-building and a colicky newborn does not a solid marriage make. Pretty sure Caleb was googling “how to murder your crazy wife and make it look like a bloody accident.”
4. No, seriously.
5. Okay maybe not murder but the actual “D” word was thrown out a few times between the two of us in fits of anger and exhaustion, and it didn’t look good.
6. And neither did I. Because lack of sleep is a mother trucker. (People who don’t have kids: I love you, and I love how you “babysat a lot in high school” or “studied child psychology”…but you just don’t even know what you don’t know, and I cannot tell you in words. If you look in my dead black eyes you will see nothing; only other sleep-deprived parents can notice the tiniest hint of a flicker of light burning deep, deep, deep down, and they will communicate with you telepathically with their hearts, simply “Coffee?” They are the glorious ones.) (also: Expectant first-time parents: prepare to be broken down in ways you will never read about online. Actually, don’t prepare; because you can’t prepare. But just know that it’s coming. It’s coming. It is so coming.)
7. Birthing. Building. Life-ing. Lay-offs and new-jobbing. Selling. Packing. Moving. Settling. Even Blessed Jesus was rubbing His Holy Temples over our self-imposed insanity.
8. And then Post-Partum Depression showed up with its awkward side-kick, Debilitating Anxiety; and they brought a delicious tray of bipolar hors d’oeuvres and they got really drunk and overstayed their welcome.
9. I’m just gonna be real here (9 points in) and say that despite all the cool stuff (beautiful baby, new house, supportive friends)…last year was one of the top three hardest years of my life. I can’t even sugar coat it or make it funny. I mean I can make it funny, but I shouldn’t, because it wasn’t.
10. To top it all off there was a big giant Cheyenne-sized hole that took me forever to come to grips with. And the past year was actually quite horrible. And I almost lost my family. And my mind. (I probably did lose at least a good chunk of my mind though.
P.S. I whine and exaggerate a little.
And I realize that no part of the above violin solo is any different than one person or another’s perfectly manageable everyday life. But in true Toni fashion, I responded to this stress with a Grade A, top choice, Def-con 5-style freak-out, complete with doctor appointments and midnight phone calls and a crying out to God, and a complete reconfiguration of what we always assumed was the best way to do our family’s life.
Stuff that was healing for me?
1. Knee prayer, that involves a lot of snot and tears and feelings that aren’t always pleasant; and actual reading of the actual Bible, not just an inspiring verse here and there, but an intentional studying and meditation on a particular passage or series of passages, followed by some more ugly-cry knee prayer.
2. A phone call or 800 with an encouraging mom.
3. A most understanding doctor.
4. A text conversation with a college daughter spoken only in Ke$ha song titles and lyrics: “Party at a Rich Dude’s House tonight?” “Yeah but don’t worry mom, I’m not gonna Take It Off.” “Just make sure you put ‘butter on your toast, toast’ before you go out.” “MOMMM, it’s ‘pedicure on my toes, toes’. Wow, UR A DINOSAUR.”
5. The likes of Jen Hatmaker and Francis Chan and David Platt and even–yes–Ann Voskamp.
6. The church, and knowing that the people there are for me and not against me, and I for them; that ultimately we love and respect each other, though we don’t always understand decisions made by one another.
7. Music–because I love me some Hillsong “Oceans” immediately followed by Joe Diffey singing “John Deere Green.” And there is nothing quite so moving as a choir of senior adults singing “How Great Thou Art” because lemme tell you: they all the sudden get super pumped and powerful and it’s really beautiful, amirite?
8. An immediate hold on many activities that unfortunately included a number of kids’ sports, coaching and other volunteer gigs, art classes, painting parties, and even churchy funstuffs.
10. More prayer.
My family needed time to just hold each other and be a family. We simplified, for my sake. We cook dinner. We eat together. We read books. We get homework done. We bathe regularly. We pray and we read scripture and we like it.
I run. I paint. I read. I take little wee baby steps–yet again–and I pray and hope, letting Jesus mend my jacked-up heart and my relationships–yet again.
My heart does not randomly pound straight out of control. I don’t get nauseous over a change of plan or a phone call or a social gathering. I am no longer that mother that gives all her smiles and tenderness and patience to everyone outside my home, but leaving nothing for my husband and children. I can only beg God to let Arbor forget the sound of my hysterical scream-crying. My skin doesn’t crawl and my ears don’t ring. I am breathing.
Caleb and I touch toes at night. We watch sunrises and sunsets and we call each other and text each other hilarious jokes. We fight and we apologize. We are re-learning how to listen and love each other through this new stage.
Life’s circumstances will change, but we are always expected to do 2 things: love God and love others. We will not always be able to come at these tasks with the same approach, and what worked like magic 5 years ago might suddenly be counter-productive for us. I don’t expect to always do this perfectly.
Here’s what matters: Have I honored God? Have I loved well? For the first time in a while, I think maybe I’m at least a little closer to being on the right track.