Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fear Can't Control

I used to always say that I never really struggled with fear until I became a mom.  It is a never-ending process of learning to completely place your children in God's hands and trust that He will care for them... because you can't do it all.

I remember the night that we brought Sean (my oldest) home from the hospital, I did not want to go to sleep because I was afraid he would die of SIDS.  If everyone slept, who would watch him and make sure he was still breathing?  Very quickly God showed me that it was necessary to learn to let go of control and place my hope in Him.

As the years have gone by, and more children have joined our family, the mom fears have changed.  Just when you get control of one, the kids grow up and start a new phase and you have to do it all again.  If you aren't careful, you can be in a perpetual state of worry.

Then lets throw in social media.  It's a wonderful tool for connecting with family and friends, to promote businesses, to stay up to date on the news, and to educate yourself.  It can also dig you into a very deep worry pit.  

Friend A posts a link to a blog about the dangers in vaccinating your children.  Oh my word!  You think.  I really need to read up on this more!  I am such a terrible mother because I have already vaccinated all my kids!  Did I do the right thing?

Friend B shares photos of her son's 6th birthday party.  There's a table with the most adorable themed food, all perfectly labeled with themed fonts & paper.  There's the cake that looks like it came off the cover of a food magazine.  The decorations will put Martha Stewart to shame.  The games and activities planned were just as fun as an amusement park visit.  Seriously?  You think.  I stacked up donuts and stuck candles in them for my kid's birthday... at the pizza place... where they played ski-ball and ate junk food & I didn't have to do a thing. (no really, I've done that on more than one occasion).  Maybe I'm not investing in the memories and celebration of my children's lives enough.  Are they wishing I do more?

Friend C can't stop sharing links about ISIS and North Korea and EBOLA and... well... anything else terrifying going on in the world.  Where is this world headed?  You think.  Is there going to be another terrorist attack on American soil?  Will Christians undergo persecution?  Did that person who just coughed sitting next to me at the dentist travel to West Africa in the last 21 days?

Friend D knows everything there is to know about health food and nutrition, because they have watched every documentary that Netflix has to offer about it.  They make sure to let you know that your store bought food & water will kill you.  Don't eat sugar.  Don't eat meat.  Don't eat gluten.  Don't eat carbs.  Don't eat anything that isn't organic free range nitrate free and grown in your own backyard.  What the heck am I doing to my family?  You worry.  I try to feed them as healthy as I can, with the budget that I have, but maybe that's not enough.  Maybe I am slowly making all of us sick.  

Do you see where I'm heading here?  We are constantly filling our heads with fear justifications.  And there are plenty of them.  We don't have to look far, and we don't have to try hard.  It doesn't take long before fear begins to control you.  I'm not talking about the being afraid to leave your house kind of fear.  I'm talking about subtle fears that can turn into major life choices.  Like, for example, the only reason you send your kids to private school is because they will lose their salvation in public school hanging out with all the heathens.  That's a fear choice.  Or maybe you won't let your children go to McDonald's with their friends because if they eat 4 chicken nuggets from there they will get cancer and die.  That's a fear choice.  Throwing the most extravagant birthday party for your kid because you feel like you will be a bad mom & others will judge you if you don't.  That's a fear choice. 

Don't get me wrong, private school and not eating fast food and amazing birthday parties are not bad things.  At all.  We are all responsible to raise our children in the best way we know how to, with the convictions that the Lord gives to each of us, which is all different.  But I am talking about the heart behind the choices.  Why are you making the choices you make?  Is it because you researched, thought it through, prayed about it, and have peace?  Or is it because of fear?

To continue on in my journey of doing brave things, I am constantly doing a self-check in the decisions that I make.  If I am making that decision out of fear or worry, then I will either make myself do the opposite, or spend some more time in prayer about it.  

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control."  2 Tim 1:7

Fear is not of God, so if we are making decisions out of fear then we are not making them with God.  Instead of fear He gives us power, love, and self-control (some versions say "a sound mind").  Those are what we should be using to make decisions.  Ultimately... peace.  We need to let peace guide our hearts, minds, and choices.  

"I am leaving you with a gift -- peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn't like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid." John 14:27

"If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace."  Romans 8:6      

So that is what I'm doing.  I'm choosing to not let fear control my choices, even in the "little" things.  I'm choosing to take off worry and put on peace.  I'm choosing to walk in confidence knowing that there is nothing to fear (even when, ultimately, there are many things to fear).  Will you join me?

"Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." Philippians 4:7 (The Message)

*Side note: I feel like I need to add that in talking about fear, this is different then the anxiety I wrote about in my last blog.  The anxiety in that post was caused by a physical imbalance, the worry/fears talked about in this post are caused by human nature.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Do Brave Things

Who stole my sunshine?

This last year was hands down the most difficult and darkest year of my life.  Don't get me wrong, there were wonderful things that happened, and good things that were able to sneak in, but lets just be honest here... last year sucked.  

In July of 2013 we were in a car accident.  A lady going around 55-60mph blew a red light and t-boned the drivers side of our car, totaling it.  We were all 5 in the car, and I was 11 weeks 2 days pregnant with baby #4.  I have never in my life felt fear the way I did when we were in that car accident.  To hear my children scream, to feel pain, to not know what was going to happen... and to not be able to control any of it... was terrifying.  God was so good to us that we all walked out of the car.  Sean, Dathan, & I were all checked out in the ER (it was actually our first ultrasound of Ayla!) and released.  Physically we were fine.  But looking back, that's when the worry started.

I was nervous to drive.  My heart would skip a beat going through intersections.  At random times the accident would just start replaying through my mind.  Every time I could hear the kids screaming in the back of the car.  Every time I would cry.  Everyone said that was normal, and eventually my nervousness in driving stopped.  But then I started to worry about Ayla & my pregnancy.  Every pain, lack of movement, or other random physical signs would send me into a worry frenzy.  

Ayla was born.  In a fast and very stressful way (the doctor didn't make it in the room in time and Dathan caught her).  The night she was born I couldn't sleep because every time I closed my eyes her birth would replay over and over.  Ayla immediately brought joy and light into our home.  We were thrilled for our sweet girl to finally be a part of our family.  Life was finally going to get back to normal, and we could learn what life was like with 4 kids.

Four weeks after Ayla was born, she was hospitalized with RSV.  I spent over 3 days in the hospital with her, and maybe slept 10 hours total the entire time I was there.  Although we knew Ayla would get better, and that her being in the hospital wasn't a permanent thing, it was still a very difficult time for us!  It's hard having a newborn in the hospital, mommy having to stay with her, and daddy trying to hold down the fort at home while wanting to be at the hospital.

What happened next really is no surprise, looking back.  But at the time I had no idea it was coming.  I had been dealing with some postpartum depression, and my doctor had recommended having a night to catch up on sleep.  So Dathan took Ayla for the night (with some bottles of pumped milk) and let me have the night off.  I had a wonderfully relaxing night painting my nails, watching a show, writing some encouragement cards to friends, and then going to sleep.

About 3:00am I woke up out of deep, wonderful sleep in a complete panic.  My heart was racing, my chest hurt, my left arm was in pain, I couldn't catch my breath, and it felt like there was a 100lb weight sitting on my chest.  I was completely terrified and thought I was about to die.  I have never felt anything like it in my life.  I woke Dathan up and we prayed, I paced, we prayed some more... a bit of time went by and there was no change.  Finally we call my dad to come over and stay with the kids, and Dathan drives me to the ER.

They take me back and do an EKG and some other tests on me.  Perfect.  Everything comes back perfect.  After more exams they tell me it was an anxiety attack.  What?  How is that possible?  They can wake you up from a deep sleep?  Yes.  They feel like a heart attack?  Yes.  They make you lose all sense of reason and think that you are going to die?  Yes.  I was stunned.  Having never struggled with anxiety or depression, and just recently having some PPD after Ayla, I could not believe that it would just come out of the blue like that.  Because it hadn't happened before, and because of thinking I had PPD, the doctors believed it would be a 1 time thing.  They didn't want to give me any medication because I was nursing, and sent me home to rest.

The doctors were wrong.  Very wrong.

That was the beginning of what I now refer to as "the dark nights."  A few days passed, and another anxiety attack hit.  They started once a week.  Then twice a week.  Then three times.  Then five to six times a week.  They would happen almost every time I slept.  There was no relief.  I prayed more during those months then I have in my entire life.  I memorized and spoke scriptures against fear over myself.  I fasted.  Others fasted.  Others prayed.  I could not figure out what I was doing wrong.  Unless you have experienced an anxiety attack, you really have no idea how terrifying they are... at least I didn't.  To be afraid to fall asleep because you think you are going to die... or to be woken up out of your sleep unable to breathe and feel like you are about to die... it's a horrific way to live.  I'm not exaggerating when I say there were probably 6 months of my life where I didn't sleep.  It would take me hours to fall asleep... then Ayla would wake up and need to eat... then I'd have to try to fall back asleep... then I'd have to get the kids up for school.  It was a never ending cycle of torture.

There were very few people who truly knew what was going on.  There's this stigma in the Christian world that mental illnesses are caused by lack of faith.  There's a shame in things like anxiety or depression.  You must not be doing something right, you're lacking in your walk with God... something spiritually must be changed in order to fix it.

I was at a Women of Faith conference in Anaheim, and Christine Caine was speaking.  She went off on a tangent and said something that spoke to my soul.  It had nothing to do with what she was speaking on, and I fully believe she said it because I needed to hear it.  She said something along the lines of "We, as the church, don't look at someone who wears glasses and ask them 'where's your faith?' So why do we do that to someone battling a mental illness?"  That gave me the courage to talk to my doctor about options that were available to help my anxiety.

Because I was nursing my doctor put me on a children's dose of some meds.  She told me it would probably take a couple of weeks to get into my system and start working.  Three days.  Three.  That's all it took for the darkness to begin to lift.  I couldn't believe it, thought maybe it was in my head because it started working so quickly.  But my doctor assured me that it was not in my head, some people have systems that are so depleted that the medicine can work almost immediately on them.  That was the case with me.  I started having some strange headaches which were side effects of the medicine, so I started taking half a pill every day.  That was it.  The perfect combination.  Half of a child's dose of medicine daily was all my body needed to get back in working order.  Since the middle of September I have maybe had 3 anxiety attacks total, and all of them were mild in comparison to what they use to be.  3 attacks in 4 months as opposed to 5-6 attacks in 1 week?  You can't tell me that the medicine doesn't play a part in that.  

The darkness has finally lifted.  The sun is shining again.  I'm getting sleep.  I feel like myself.  The days that I feel the enemy stole from me are getting redeemed.  God is doing a great work in me, and He wants to do a great work through me.  So, because fear played such a huge role in my life last year, God showed me that this year I am going to do the opposite... be brave.  Make brave choices.  Do brave things.  Fear will not consume me, and fear will not control my choices.

My first brave step is sharing my story here, for all the world to see.  I want to use what I went through as something that can bring freedom to others.  First, I want others who may be walking through the same thing I was walking through to read my story and know there's hope.  Second, I want to help break the stereotype of mental illnesses, especially in the church world.  I want people to see that sometimes the state of your mental health has nothing to do with your relationship with God and everything to do with your body not working the way it's supposed to, and that sometimes you need help to get your body to work correctly again.  And that's ok.  Just as if someone with cancer or migraines or eyeglasses or a broken ankle seek medical assistance to help their bodies get better, a mental sickness is no different.  

This is my time to be brave.  And this is the time for someone else to know they aren't alone.  

It's time we stop judging and start loving.  I admit that even I have been judgmental in the past of those who were dealing with things like depression or anxiety.  Until I walked in those shoes myself I had no idea how terrifying, how debilitating, and how much of your life it can steal from you.  Until I walked in those shoes I had no idea how incredibly wrong my preconceived ideas were.  Lets be brave together.  Lets love others going through things we don't understand.  Lets look past the way we think people should be and see them at their best... lets look at their hearts.