That. Was the Fastest Year Ever

This year was the fastest year of my life.

It didn’t necessarily feel that was when Cora was two months old and I was so sleep deprived that I was questioning my own sanity all day long, but as a whole, this year sped by like none I have experienced before.  Maybe that’s what happens with each new child that enters your family.  If so, then any more kids is going to send me straight to my fortieth birthday.

This year, while it was exhausting at times and full of total joy and silliness in others, was one of deep growth for me.  This is the first year out of my life where I experienced God come into my anxiety and depression and I’ve been living in more freedom there than ever before.  But more on that in a minute.

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Rio Vista has been growing on me.  I still sometimes wish for the conveniences that come with living in a more affluent city.  I still wish there were more places to go and things to do and a place besides the grocery store where I might bump into someone I know.  I still wish the local parks had bathrooms and shade.  I still wish there was something to hike nearby.  However, despite all that is lacking in this small town, there is a lot that I’ve come to appreciate.  I like that when I drive down the street, people I don’t even know throw me a little wave and some of the older men still tip their hats.  I like how we don’t live right next to tons of shopping malls and chain stores and have to fight our way through traffic to get anywhere.  I like that I can put my kids in the stroller and walk almost anywhere in town.  I like how on Friday nights in the fall I can hear the cheering from the high school football game as I sit in my living room.  I like driving on the highway through peaceful fields of cattle and sheep.  I like the herds of turbines and how on our drives as we see them out in the distance we say, “Turbines mean we’re almost home.”

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Like I mentioned earlier, this year I experienced a huge breakthrough in my struggle with anxiety and depression.  Throughout my life and Christian journey, it’s been something that has continued to come up.  At times it’s been minimal and during others it’s felt like life was swallowing me up and there was no way out. I’ve tried managing it through getting more sleep, exercise, supplements and medication, but while some of those things helped, they never cured it, only helped me cope.

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After I had Cora, my anxiety was high.  The lack of sleep combined with the new tall order of expectations made me feel like I was spinning out of control.  I was on edge because for a while it felt like my whole day revolved around keeping kids from crying.  Feed the baby. Make the kid breakfast. Hold the baby. Clean up breakfast. Make a cup of coffee. Get the kid dressed.  Feed the baby.  Clean up spit up.  Put on baby wrap.  Start a load of laundry.  Heat up cold coffee in microwave.  And on and on it went.  With no family or close friends living in our small town, at times I felt so alone.  Who was there, besides my also sleep deprived husband, to help pick up my slack?  Who was going to offer to swing by for an hour to visit just to boost the morale in our home?   There is nothing quite like the cry of an infant to make you want to jump out of your own skin.

So during this time I struggled.  I just didn’t want everything to feel so hard all the time.  I longed for some rest and peace of mind.  Another thing that was difficult for me during all this was knowing how to view my struggle.  Was it depression?  Well, sometimes I did feel depressed.  I would wake up physically exhausted and lacking any motivation to get through the day, but it didn’t last for weeks or months on end like I saw in the commercials.  Oftentimes it was a day here or a day there or just for a few hours at a time.  Was it anxiety?  Sometimes I definitely felt anxious.  Some days were full of it, but then on other days I felt great!  I’d suddenly have tons of energy and a surge of tenacity.  On those days I would accomplish a lot and make up for the days on which I barely scraped by.  Was it a mild case of bi-polar?  I had one psychiatrist agree that it could be that after I told her about my days which were very up and then very down.  However, through all of this I was frustrated because I didn’t really know what my problem was.  I wanted to call it something.  Having a name for it might help me find peace, but none of the titles seemed to be an accurate diagnosis.

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When Cora was six months old, a new friend invited me to a women’s workshop on a Saturday morning at church.  I hadn’t planned on going, but I was eager to get to know this new friend more so I decided to join her.  When the workshop started, the worship band took the stage for a time of singing.  It was during this time of worship that the Lord spoke two extremely powerful things to me.

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He said, “You’re my Cora.”  Something so personal that it could have only come from my Maker.

And he also said, “Whatever it’s called, I will lead you out.”  Again, so personal that only the Lover of my Soul could have known I needed to hear those words.

I didn’t walk out of that workshop instantaneously healed, but for the first time in my life I really believed the Lord was with me in that struggle.  Even though he had brought me out of so much already in the past, for some reason I doubted whether or not God could help me in that area.  It had been something I’d dealt with for such a long time that I wondered if this was just something I was going to have to carry forever…  But his words to me showed me that he understood my inner confusion about what I was dealing with and that he had a plan.

I left the workshop with new hope.  I didn’t know HOW God would lead me out, but I was certain that he would do what he said.  That next season was one where I tried to memorize scripture like I never had before.  I don’t consider myself great at memorizing things, but through the trying the Lord brought me into more freedom than I had ever experienced in this area.  I wrote Bible verses on 3×5 note cards and stuck them to my bathroom mirror, next to my bed and on the cupboards above the sink because let’s be real, the most time I have to read all day long is while I’m doing the dishes.  I stopped being a total victim to my emotions and I started to experience how God’s Word CAN in fact shape my emotional life, little by little, if I will keep putting it in the forefront of my mind.  I also read Stronghold by Beth Kinder, the woman who spoke at the workshop.  Her stories and inspiration also coached me on how to believe the Word as being more powerful than my emotions.

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From this past year, the first year of having two small children, I can say that motherhood is messy.  So much messier than I anticipated.  I am more messy than I anticipated; both my home and my appearance at times, but especially the interactions that go on throughout out our days.  There are a lot of sorrys and will you forgive mes.  Lots of outbursts and not enough caffeine to help us on the hard days.

And yet, these years are intentional.  They must be.  Why would God make it so that no matter how type-A you are, there are so many moments that are going to break you in motherhood?  Success in these years cannot be measured by how clean your floors are or by how stylish your clothes or your hair look.  Success cannot be measured by whether the bed is made or the fridge is stocked.  Of course we pursue these things and feel good when we accomplish them and of course we’d like to feel like we have it all together all of the time. Of course.

But success in these years is forged in the dark.  Not always in the literal dark, but there too because when you’re up late and then up again early to care for your baby the presence of God is there with you.  In the dark, when you’re stuck at home most of the day because your children are napping or crabby and you wish you could be anywhere else – anywhere with more people around.  In the dark, when you flop it up and act like a toddler yourself in front of your children, but instead of just walking away, you humble yourself and ask that tiny person to forgive you.  In the dark, when you work so hard to clean up a room, only to have it destroyed again the following day or even moments later.  In the dark, when the dishes and laundry never end.  In the dark, when nobody is praising or even noticing all your hard work, nobody except for God.

God must know that the work that is done in a mother’s heart during the moments or the periods that are overwhelming and lonely cannot be done anywhere else.  God can’t reach your heart when you think you’re fine; when your life’s activities shine with perfection and spin effortlessly.  God forges perseverance, love, humility, tenacity, gentleness and strength during these times when you think that there is no possible way you can wake up and do this all again tomorrow.  During these messy years God can form gold in the heart of a mother.  The kind of stuff that she will use year after year after year once she posses it.  That is what success looks like when you’re a mother of small children.  Grace, grace, grace defines you.  More grace for yourself and more grace for others is success.

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As for the birthday girl, she’s snuggly, adventurous and has an obsession with my hair.  When she’s sleepy she likes to grab it and rub it all over her face.  She has the deepest ocean blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair.  She already has eight teeth and two more on the way and it seems like she is constantly eating.

Cameron is obsessed with airplanes and captures my heart daily when he always finds an opportunity to pick me a flower from the grass or bring me a “special leaf” if he can’t find a flower.

Both my kids have unusually loud voices.  Both are precious, fun and just weird enough to be Kidwells.  Being their mom is sweet and difficult and totally worth it.

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What Christians Need To Know About Mental Health

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This title is not mine, but rather I’m sharing the title from Ann Voskamp’s blog.  She wrote a post called What Christians Need To Know About Mental Health.  It came on the coattails of the terrible news that Matthew Warren, youngest son to mega-church pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide on Friday night after a lifelong struggle with depression. [story here]

The news, of course, seems to be stirring many, Christians especially, to delve more into the topic of mental health.  There is quite an array of opinions about the subject, so here, I’m choosing to share mine.

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When I finally decided to get on anti-depressants my first son was six months old and my mother said, “I can’t believe you’ve made it this long without them.  I thought you should have gotten on them years ago.”

Her comment was not offensive to me.  It was true.  I probably should have gotten on them years ago.

Instead, I’d denied medication because I thought it was more noble just to pray.  I thought I needed to prove something.  Prove my faith.  I thought something might be wrong with me and my Christianity if my Jesus didn’t simply take the depression away.  It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.

So I hid.  I closed the door and the windows and I only gave one person the key to my dark place.  My husband bore the burden.  No one else was to know this dark space existed.  So on difficult days, I stayed home.  I didn’t answer my phone.  I didn’t make plans with friends.  I didn’t do much of anything.  I just texted my husband about how miserable I was and how I felt like the room might swallow me up and I’d never come back.  Sometimes I wished that were the case.

Often times the very next day I would wake up feeling cheerful and light and jump back into normal life.  I just never knew when a dark day was going to hit.

Many Christians simplify depression, even people in my own church, including my own husband.  I’m not a psychiatrist, but I understand deep down in my soul that my depression is a complicated thing.  It’s not something I ever chose to have and while there are things I can do to help myself, it is not something that I can simply will away with positive thinking or by force.

The simplified version of depression is that if we muster up enough faith and ask Jesus, he will heal us from it.  Depression is a demon so just tell it to go away.  So I did.  And because my depression dug it’s heels in and decided to stay, I felt trapped.  Guilt.  Guilt.  Guilt.  It set in.  I felt like it was okay for a new Christian to be struggling with this darkness, but not for me.  Not for over-churched, Bible-reading me.  So all this left me feeling confused.  How could someone like me, who believes in the everlasting truth in the Word of God, still struggle, intensely at times, with depression?

When my son was about six months old my depression took on a new form.  It took on more of an anxiety quality.  I don’t know why, seeing as I felt more happy and fulfilled than I ever had before in my life.  Of course things were difficult at times.  The learning curve with having a newborn is extreme.  But I was happy.  Yet happy Erin still struggled with depression that was now turning into moments of extreme anxiety and panic.

After a few incidents where I freaked out and lost it, I told my husband, “I don’t care any more.  I need to get on meds, like tomorrow.”  He said okay, and we quietly spent the next few hours putting back all the clothes and shoes that I had just ripped out of our closet in a fury of panic.

The medication helped almost instantly.  The first thing I noticed was that I rarely ever cried anymore.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been someone who cried at least every other day, usually more.  I’d always been an ultra-sensitive person where things that might seem minor to someone else, felt huge and extreme and way too big for me to handle.  Actually, a lot of the time my relationship with God just seemed to be me trying to get over bad feelings.  Sometimes I felt so tired of that.  I just wanted to feel okay so that I could think about other things for once.

Even though I struggle with it, I don’t fully understand depression.  In some ways the medical explanations don’t help and neither do the spiritual.  Both types of explanations make sense, yet both leave you not really knowing how to move forward or improve.  What happens if I take the medications and the medications don’t help?  What happens if I pray for healing and the healing doesn’t come?

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe in the Word of God and I believe that Jesus can and does heal.  I just know from my own real life experience and many of my friend’s, that standing before God with hands held high, worship music blaring, with your fist pumped, declaring that you’re healed, isn’t always gonna make it happen right then and there.  God has his reasons, and if you read a book like Job you’ll realize that sometimes when you’re the character in the middle of your story, there is no way in the world that you are ever going to figure out the WHY of what God is doing.  I believe in his goodness and his loving nature towards me, but I don’t think I always know what God is up to.

I also think that healings along with signs and wonders are not the point of a relationship with God.  When I first became a Christian I worshiped God and loved God because of who he is, and that was all.  In the beginning, the gift of salvation was more than enough of a reason to love him back.  So why then, as time progresses do we start to obsess over getting healed?  Why do we think that if we have a back problem or depression that we must be doing something wrong with God?  Sometimes healing doesn’t happen in an instant.  Sometimes works of redemption take time.  Sometimes they take a long time.

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I think that people who deny medication are doing the best they can.   I think they really want God and they believe in miracles-so we shouldn’t judge them.

I think that people who take medication are doing the best they can.  I think they make the decision because they want to enjoy life and be a better version of themselves and feel happy – so we shouldn’t judge them either.

I think that’s my whole point.  There can be so much judgement when it comes to mental health, no matter how you individually choose to approach it.

I’m not an advocate for meds, in fact sometimes meds don’t help and sometimes they even make a condition worse.  Matthew Warren had been on meds and even seen some of the best mental health doctors in the country, yet he still struggled.  But sometimes they can help someone get through the meantime.  Sometimes meds can pull someone struggling with depression out of the fog and out from under the heavy load so they can get on with their life.  And sometimes they are needed for a lifetime…and that’s okay too.  If I had cancer or arthritis or whatever, I would probably take medicine as long as it was necessary as well.

So for me, the medicine has been helping.  I cry less and the things that used to make a huge splash in my day oftentimes seem now like little pebbles dropping into the lake.  For the most part now I feel like I am more in control of my feelings; like I finally have a say in some of it.  Before, my feelings ruled over me and I didn’t have a fighting chance.  Now, I’m more even keel and I don’t live on the roller coaster every day.  But once in a while I still have my days.  However, now my dark days are more like three times a month instead of three times a week or more.  And they’re not as dark as they used to be.  My darkness has lightened by a few shades.

I truly hope I won’t need to stay on this medicine the rest of my life.  I still plan to pray for healing – instantaneous healing and slow progressive healing because I’d be happy with either one.  I was healed from an eating disorder a few years ago so I know for a fact that God’s miracle healing is real.  But that didn’t come from just declaring healing over my life.  It came through honestly desiring the healing followed by a slow, painful and messy process.  One where God took my hand and led me through the mess and out onto the other side.  One where God started the process of healing, not me.  You can’t force that kind of thing to happen and it doesn’t do any good to pretend that it is happening if it isn’t.  If it’s not real, the only result will be guilt.

But I can tell you one thing, I don’t feel guilty before God.  When I talk to him I don’t feel like he’s shutting me out because I’m taking medicine.  Right now I’m a better mom and person in general because I’m on antidepressants.  Right now, I’m experiencing more joy because my mind isn’t so weighed down with bricks of sadness.  Right now I don’t think about suicide because I don’t get swallowed up by the dark feelings that like to grab onto my clothes and pin me down.  Right now I’m living in God’s grace.  And if God whispers to me that he wants me to flush my pills down the toilet because I’m healed then I will do it and I’ll dance and shout his praise before men.  But right now, I’m going to praise him as I am.

If we’re honest, aren’t we all a lot more broken than we’d like to be?