Exercise, Depression and my Inner Hulk

I went to a therapist this week. The first session was more of a “meet and greet” than anything else, but I can already tell that she means business. I know from past experience I need a therapist who means business. At the next session, she says we are going to talk about the 5 big things that help with depression. So, of course, I have been Googling “5 things that help with depression” on a regular basis to try to figure out what she might say. Patience isn’t exactly my strong suit.

As you might have guessed, there’s one thing that’s on EVERY “Top 5” list – Exercise. This makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Obviously, I don’t mean I want to go to the gym so I can get muscles like the Hulk. That would actually be a productive reaction. No, I literally picture myself screaming in agony and transforming into the Hulk. Of course, since I am depressed, my frustration does not come out in any real way. I just switch my Google searches to alternative ways to deal with anger that don’t involve so much physical energy.

In all seriousness, I see the writing on the wall. I get it. Exercise is like, super important and necessary when it comes to depression. Somehow, I’ve got to figure out a way to incorporate it into my life.

Before I do though, let me just spend ONE more millisecond being sarcastic and snarly. I apologize in advance to the well-intentioned bloggers out there who published Top 5 lists of remedies for depression. It’s really not you. It’s me. And to the particularly ambitious blogger who had a daily “brisk 15-30 minute walk” in your Top 5, thank you for giving me that kind of credit. The truth is, right now, I’m not capable of physically doing anything that even comes close to being near the realm of 30 minutes a day.

It seems like a grand idea to take a 15-30 minute walk every day doesn’t it? I mean, obviously I HAVE 15-30 minutes in the middle of the day. Otherwise, how could I write this blog post?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. One activity can’t so easily be substituted for another. A blog post can be written in bed. It does not require the individual to brush her teeth. Or take a shower. These things, which are non-negotiable morning routines for most people, typically happen 15 minutes before I have to leave my house to pick up my kids. Now, you might be thinking that I should just start brushing my teeth and taking a shower earlier in the day. Isn’t that a simple change?

Again, it’s not quite that simple. Just thinking about exercise makes me want to turn into the Hulk. Now you’re asking me to somehow motivate myself to shower and brush my teeth earlier in the day too? I have been around this block enough times to know that only something external, like having to go pick up kids or go to work, will motivate me to do these basic necessities. If you throw on top of this whole exercise thing that I must also internally motivate myself to get ready in any way, shape or form, I promise, I will give up before I’ve even started.

Another flaw with the “brisk 15-30 minute walk” idea is that it requires me to actually go out IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD by myself. I have no desire to do anything alone right now where I will also be in full view of others. I don’t really know how else to explain this particular issue (ahem, excuse), but I just felt like it deserved mention.

And yes, I realize how ridiculous all of my excuses are. But I am not quite ready to let go of them just yet. What I AM willing to do (praise God) is give this dreaded exercise concept a chance. But it will be on my own terms and with my own “Top 5” list, thank you very much. I even made my Top 5 an acrostic poem so it would be extra special and fun. And if you think that is a cool thing, then I am being totally serious and sincere with the whole acronym thing. If you are rolling your eyes like I would be, then I am being totally cheesy on purpose in a super cool rebellious and sarcastic way.

Without further ado, to actually start to exercise, I am making exercise the ultimate SELFY.

S = Simple
E = Every Day
L = Little
F = Fun
Y = You Do You

First, I am keeping it so unbelievably SIMPLE there is no way I can find an excuse not to do it. Going to the gym … way too complicated. Going outside … way too complicated. Putting on exercise shoes … way too complicated. Believe it or not, I do not own a pair of exercise shoes. I do, however, own tap shoes.

Second, I am striving to do it EVERY DAY, or at least every day of the work week. Otherwise, I know I will just procrastinate until later in the week and set myself up to fail. If I just take it one day at a time, like with everything else, I think I will have better success.

Third, I am starting LITTLE. (Yes, I realize it would sound better to say I am starting “small” but little works better with the acronym, alright?) 30 minutes a day just isn’t realistic for me. Who am I kidding? 15 minutes a day isn’t realistic for me. I am starting with 5 MINUTES every day. 5 minutes is a long time. I will be so super proud if I exercise for 5 minutes a day. I will throw myself a party if I exercise for 5 minutes a day for a week. I don’t care that most of my friends work out for an hour or more at a time. 5 MINUTES is my definition of success right now, and I am not ashamed.

Fourth, I am doing something that I think is FUN. Every time I try to exercise, I do something I have never done before or that I don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy running so I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to go to Zumba class at the gym. My butt will never move the way the instructor’s does, and I’m okay with that. I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror trying to shake it like she does for an hour. My body will never bend the way yoga-lovers’ bodies do. I’m okay with that. I don’t have to do yoga. I am really good at and really like tap dancing. And did I mention that I have tap shoes?

Finally, my mantra will be YOU DO YOU! As if tap dancing in my own home for 5 minutes a day isn’t uniquely ME enough, I am going to do this as only I can. I am going to blog about it just because I know it will help ME. I am going to try to be funny and self-deprecating about it just because I think that is who I am supposed to be and it makes ME feel good. I am going to give it to God and try to use it to help others in any way I can, because that is ME being ME.

Alright, well, there you have it, that is my “Top 5” list. It has already motivated me to exercise 2 days in a row. If anyone else is coming to this exercise table kicking and screaming because of depression, I’d love to hear how you have motivated yourself. Thanks for reading!

Advertisements

When the Fog is Thicker than Normal

I have a history of depression.

Lately it’s been more of a current event.

Some people wonder what it means to have depression. How is it different from just a “normal” bad mood? Doesn’t everyone go through low points? Is it really a medical diagnosis? Sometimes I even ask myself these questions, even though I should know better. My brain knows how to internalize even the slightest hint of disapproval or questioning in another person’s eyes or tone of voice. Sometimes everything seems to point to the fact that “depression” is obviously just a fancy word that someone came up with to shut those of us up who can’t accept that we are really just melodramatic, overly sensitive and lazy.

When my sanity returns, I remember that I don’t have to win a philosophical argument on psychiatry or defend the vocabulary of mental illness to speak about my personal experience. And speaking up is important, not only for my own mental health, but because there are so many others out there who think they are alone and need to hear a word of encouragement and hope from a fellow sufferer.

Depression is a hard thing for me to open up about. I’ve been burned before for revealing too much. I’ve realized the hard way that some things are better shared with more private audiences than on a public forum. Even in a safe, private setting, I often struggle to summon the humility to discuss where I’m at openly and honestly. It all feels like something I should be over by now. It certainly wasn’t on my life roadmap to call the doctor complaining about fatigue and other symptoms I thought must be hormonal and have HIM be the one to suggest that perhaps we should switch my antidepressant. I mean, for years now, any adjustment to medication has been at MY suggestion, not the doctor’s. I thought I was the expert on this thing, but somehow, this time, I missed the key signs.

For me, the biggest clue should have been the apathy. Nothing is really that important when I get depressed. Lots of things start to slip because, you know, who cares. And then, all of a sudden, my normally manageable tendency to procrastinate turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being good enough. I try to tell myself that I AM good enough even though a lot of my behavior is not really my best. Or that I’m not good enough, but it’s okay. I mean, that’s why we need Jesus, right? It’s okay to be perfectly imperfect, right?

These affirmations fall flat, because at the end of the day, things are not okay when you’re depressed. And coming out of depression requires you to admit that first.

Yes, I need Jesus. We all do. No, I’m not perfect, and I don’t have to be. But depression isn’t about making good or bad choices. Depression removes your power to choose and clouds your judgment. It becomes a fog that is impossible to see through without help.

Help for depression involves doctors and therapists, because mental illnesses really are medical conditions. I’m not sure there really is a “normal,” but I do know depression is more than just a bad mood. And while everyone may go through low points, and everyone certainly has her own burden in life, not everyone’s lows qualify as depression and not everyone’s burden is mental illness. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t mine, but it is.

Even though it can still creep up on me when I’m least expecting it, today I know I don’t have to walk through depression alone. God is with me always, even in my lowest points. Even when I doubt Him, He is there. I just have to keep trying to seek and strive for God in honest and real ways. Sometimes that means turning my prayers upside down.

Instead of asking to be filled with the knowledge that everything’s okay, sometimes I need to cry out to God that everything is NOT okay. This admission of powerlessness and acceptance is often exactly what I need to start to see God again through the fog. Sometimes I see Him through the people He puts in my life exactly when I need them. Other times, it’s through moments of clarity He gives me deep inside my soul. It is in those moments that I have come to realize that none of us are ever truly alone.

If you’re struggling with depression, know that there is a healthy way out. You are not alone. Things might not be okay right now, but you can still just put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing, no matter how hard that is. And trust me, I’m not going to suggest that the next right thing for you to do is to exercise! Even though that seems to be a popular recommendation for depression, for me, it usually has to start much, much smaller!

Like, with getting out of bed.

Sometimes it’s just getting one FOOT out of the bed. Maybe even just one TOE!! It might be brushing your teeth. Or taking a shower. Or making an appointment. Or reaching out and texting a friend. Or a million other baby steps that feel like they might as well be giant leaps between two mountains. Things might not be okay right now, but if you just keep trudging along, reaching out and looking up, things will be okay.

I have a history of depression. And lately it’s been more of a current event. But having depression also means I have a history of incredible spiritual awakening and renewal, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. My depression can create a pretty thick fog in my little corner of the universe, but when I do see the light shining through, it is all the brighter in contrast to the darkness. No matter what, by God’s grace, the future looks bright.

Definitely Not Smarter than a Fifth Grader

This week’s Fifth grade Sunday school lesson focuses on the importance of God’s word. We will each get ten paper rectangles to record the things we take time to learn about. Then, each of us will use our rectangles to build a pyramid of our priorities. I’m calling it the Personal Priority Pyramid, or PPP for short. Even though we will write down different interests and subjects, the exercise is intended to show that we should still all have the Bible at the top of our PPPs. I’m supposed to make it personal by sharing about a time when God’s word wasn’t at the top of my PPP and how that wreaked havoc in my life until I reprioritized.

I’m pretty sure this week’s lesson has brought about more growth in me than it will in the Fifth grade girls I’ll be teaching!

It’s not really the lesson itself that stirs up uneasiness within me, or at least, not the lesson as it appears at face value. Sharing about something personal certainly doesn’t cause me any turmoil. I’m more or less an open book. And it’s super easy to think of a time in my life that pertains to the lesson, so that’s not the opportunity for growth.

It took me a while to realize that the reason this lesson makes me uncomfortable is not because it’s not true, but because I so often fall short at remembering it. The experience that jumps to the front of my mind is from twenty years ago if that tells you anything. When I was in college, my area of expertise somehow all of a sudden became entirely about food and exercise. I could tell you how many calories and fat grams were in EVERYTHING, how much and what type of exercise would burn off those calories and fat grams, and exactly what I had eaten every day for the past month. Today, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone, last Wednesday. But the devil had a firm grip on me, and it took everything I had to find release. I started taking anti-depressants. I went to therapist after therapist. I went to church. I sang in a choir. I gave up caring about food or weight and ordered pizza. But most importantly, I read the Bible. God led me to His word and guided me through it during that difficult time like He never had before.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ve felt that connected to the Bible since then.

I want to say this lack of connection is all related to the fact that God has filled me in other ways these past couple decades – through the Holy Spirit, through relationships and community, through inspirational Christian speakers and authors, through prayer, through writing and speaking. But the truth is that I’m also – mostly – at fault. The only other time I’ve tried to read the Bible all the way through, I stopped in Isaiah – in other words, before the hero of the story was even born. Whenever I’ve done Bible studies, I’ve tried to recreate my university experience, going to the same passages and books that moved me then. When I didn’t get the same warm fuzzy feelings I got in college, instead of realizing I’m just no longer the same kid who needed a sound, theological proof like the one laid out in Romans, and I should perhaps have picked a different book to study, I just get frustrated and decide the Bible and I just need a little distance from each other.

Of course, I still read the Bible. It’s just really not at the top of my PPP. It’s not the thing I prioritize most to learn about.  I certainly don’t spend as much time in God’s word as I do checking Facebook or the Daily Mail. The non-fiction book I read a little bit of every night is a parenting book, not my Bible. The information I dive into daily, after having perhaps glanced at a verse in a devotional, is my work email inbox.

It’s hard to admit how much the Bible has taken a backseat lately. It makes me feel unfit to lead this week’s lesson. And yet, it actually makes me more fit. Ironically, I know this because my favorite Bible verse tells me so. Of course, that isn’t really ironic, since the Bible truly is the most important book of all. I certainly wasn’t expecting to end this post with a Bible verse when I started it, but as always, with God, you have to expect the unexpected.

You see, in His usual fashion, God waited until I was in complete surrender and admitted my weakness before He reminded me that I’ve not been quite so disengaged from His word. In fact, the Bible verse that finally filled me with the assurance that I am more than fit to teach these Fifth grade girls is one that just came to life a couple years ago. It has touched my soul a thousand times recently and let me know that I am okay just as I am, warts and all. For Jesus assures us all that His grace is sufficient. Not only should I not be ashamed when I teach on Sunday, I should share about my weakness, knowing that God’s power will be even more perfect because of it.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’”

2 Corinthians 12:9

I pray that I will remember this verse on Sunday and that I can give these girls a real example of what it means to be a Christian. It doesn’t mean we always have to perfectly follow all the rules we learn at church. In fact, it means the opposite – that we have admitted and surrendered in the deepest parts of our souls that we are utterly incapable of living flawless lives. Christ’s light and all of our need for Him shine all the more brightly when we stop thinking we need to be perfect, little Christians and remember that being a Christian has one and only one stipulation – to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Humbled at McDonald’s in Canada

We are currently on vacation in my husband’s home country of Canada. And even though I’ve been here many times, there are still a few things that catch me off guard on every visit. For one thing, the Great Lakes are really, very great. How foolish I must have sounded when I asked my then-boyfriend if he had ever been to the beach, and then presumed to tell him it didn’t count because it wasn’t the ocean! The little island we went to on this trip had a sandy beach facing Lake Ontario. As I looked out at the endless water and watched the waves roll in, I was just as serene as I was last summer when we went to a “real” beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

This isn’t the only thing about Canada that humbles me. Every time I do the dishes here, I remember how most people do not have garbage disposals. It’s just not an appliance that has ever caught on here. People could afford them; they just don’t see the need. New homes don’t come with them installed. Apartments and townhouses don’t have them. But back when I was a know-it-all, twenty-something-year-old who discounted her boyfriend’s beach experiences, I also refused to accept the reality about garbage disposals and Canada. Surely, there was some sort of mistake, I thought. Maybe I just needed to say the right word – it’s “garburator” in Canadian, not “garbage disposal,” after all. And so, when I moved to Canada, I insisted we call every apartment complex remotely close to Toronto and ask if they had a unit for rent with a garburator. As you probably guessed, the answer was always the same. Flushing my cereal down the toilet and scraping plates into the trash weren’t totally new to me. I’d been to many countries before and even lived in France. I just had it in my head that the differences between Canada and the United States were not quite as big as this. As it turns out, the differences between our two incredible countries aren’t so big. Shockingly, a garbage disposal really isn’t an absolute necessity.

I’m not sure how something so small ended up becoming a catalyst for me to open my mind to new things and different ideas more readily, but it did. For years, if someone said something to me that seemed odd or different or unthinkable, I would just remember that life without a garbage disposal used to seem odd and different and unthinkable. Then I lived without one for three years and realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. My husband used to think it odd and different and unreasonable to insist, like I had, that a garburator hold the same level of importance as a refrigerator. Now that he has lived in the US for twelve years, he finds it odd and different and unreasonable for someone to live without one.

The truth is most things are only odd or different or unreasonable when they are foreign. Once you get closer, you see a bigger picture that almost always changes your perspective. You realize you’ve been looking through a mirror like the one on your car that says “objects are closer than they appear.” Life in Canada seemed so familiar I just assumed I fully understood it, but the truth is I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought. We make judgments all the time based on a warped view of the world. Things, or people, or races, or religions, seem just familiar enough that we think we can judge the differences we seem to perceive. But when we stop to listen to each other and imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we see that so much lies beneath the surface.

Back to our visit in Canada, as always, we went to McDonald’s for lunch one day. Before we went, we talked about how McDonald’s is different in other countries. I didn’t want the kids to overreact when they saw, for example, that in Canada, apple slices still have skin on them. But just when I was patting myself on the back for how enlightened and open-minded I am, five dreaded words betrayed me. They just spilled out before I could do anything about it. It was like I was in slow motion. I recognized what was about to happen but could do nothing to stop it. I meant to ask the cashier what came with a happy meal. Or what kind of kids’ meals they had. Or if the happy meals came with a burger, fries and a side like in the United States. But, no, instead, I said “Do you have normal happy meals?”

I was embarrassed before I finished the question. How could I have asked if the happy meals were “normal”!? I cannot identify any part of me that thinks in any way that anything is less “normal” in Canada than in the US, and yet, those words came out of my mouth! Of course, I had to make it worse by explaining that we were from the States. As if the sweet teenager taking our order hadn’t figured that out. What a great way for me to reinforce stereotypes that Canadians have of Americans! Of course I would think our way of doing things is “normal” and everyone else’s is “abnormal,” right?

After I got over my embarrassment, I laughed and lightened up and realized (again) that we are all just flawed human beings. The best thing we can do is listen to each other respectfully and then cut each other some slack. I sure hope that cashier does not honestly think I am so arrogant that I really consider only my experience to be “normal.” I hope she gave me the benefit of the doubt and realized I was just thinking about what is “normal” to me and didn’t mean the question the way it sounded.

As a society, we are so often and easily offended by innocent words that are not meant to injure but just represent a different perspective.

Words matter.
But more than words, intentions matter.
And more than anything, grace matters.

We have to extend each other grace to blunder and bludgeon through each day, because we also must rely on grace. We are all imperfect creatures in need of God’s perfect love and the grace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Because of this amazing grace, I am often humbled but never humiliated. Even as an American in Canada!

(As it turns out, in Trenton, Ontario, a “normal” happy meal comes with only one side. You get fries or apples, but not both. Also, the fountain drink cup is significantly smaller than the one you would get if you were to order a “normal” happy meal from a McDonald’s in Plano, Texas.)

Confessions of a Sporadic Church Going Jesus Freak

I have a confession to make.

Until this past Sunday, I hadn’t been to church in a while. Like, since April.

I love God. I love Jesus. I pray many times every day. I just took an unplanned, extended leave of absence from church.

And that’s not even what I need to confess!

What I need to confess is that I really worry what you think about it.

Even though I have worked hard to shake this whole people-pleasing character defect, I still really feel the need to please you. And so, I have to come out publicly (or at least on this blog) about my sporadic church attendance. I need to risk your disapproval so I can remember I only need God’s approval.

It all started with Love Lives Here Plano – you may remember I had a mental breakdown via blog post about this (https://seeingthroughthefog.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/love-lives-here/).

Well, the event turned out beautifully. Don’t get me wrong. None of our difficulties magically disappeared. The biggest room in the building we rented, where we had originally planned to have our evening program, ended up closed off due to low attendance. And we still haven’t figured out how to fully reconcile the budget, although God has worked some pretty awesome miracles in that area.

The bottom line though is that Love Lives Here Plano was perfectly imperfect and just what it was supposed to be. Even though a few of the workshops had to be cancelled, those that did go on as planned exceeded expectations. One workshop leader even thanked me for allowing her to participate in such a special event. She made a point to tell me how amazed she was at the honesty and transparency in her small group. The attendees echoed the speaker and shared that the workshops had a deep impact on their lives. I wonder if I would have these kinds of observations if each workshop had 30-40 women instead of 10-15.

Despite an ad on a major radio station, our vendors did not see hundreds and hundreds of women, but they were all (well, almost all) happy to be there. About half way through my obligatory purchase and apology to each proprietor, I realized it really wasn’t necessary. They understood you don’t always get the turnout you expect, and they all made sales. Even if it wasn’t what they’d hoped for, when I got out of my own way, I saw that they really were happy to be there. Most of them made significant connections with other vendors and participants that have continued to thrive and contribute to their business and personal growth well past the event.

The evening program was honestly one of the highlights of my life. Around eighty-five women total came, fifteen with free tickets we gave to a local crisis center. Serving these women was an unexpected blessing. As the keynote speaker, I delivered a twenty-minute speech and then led the participants in an interactive activity where everyone wrote at least one thing she wanted to let go of on a paper heart. Each table then ripped up their paper hearts and taped them onto a large puzzle piece. Volunteers gathered the puzzle pieces, and we fit them together on a large poster board at the front of the room. The end result was a picture of a large heart with a cross in the middle – a powerful visual that showed that when we give God our hearts, even when they are in broken pieces, He uses them to create something more beautiful and incredible than we can imagine.

When I gave my speech, I had one of those moments when you feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I knew it was good. I knew God was there. It was confirmed in my heart that speaking is one of my gifts. Afterwards, I got nothing but positive feedback – everyone said I was funny and had a good sense of timing. Many people came up to me in tears. Several of the aforementioned vendors, many of whom originally intended to come to Love Lives Here only to sell a product, were among the most moved. One woman just kept repeating the word “phenomenal.” I knew in that moment this would not be the last time I would stand up in front of a group and say similar words of encouragement, and I have already had the opportunity to speak part of the speech again.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with my break from church. Well, even though Love Lives Here came off beautifully, it still left me exhausted. And while that’s not an excuse to skip church, it is the first domino in a chain of events, emotions and thoughts that led me to where I am right now.

There were many things in my life that needed attention after being somewhat or a lot neglected while I had put on this event. I felt like I had been living a pretend life. Then, the week after the event, we got the call from my son’s teacher that turned our world upside down. All of a sudden, I went from event manager, public speaker and writer to mom of a “special needs” child. I thought this was God’s way of telling me to just let go of this dream. I couldn’t possibly have this extracurricular passion in addition to a full time job, marriage and children, especially now that one of those kids had to be carted around regularly to therapists and specialists. I couldn’t possibly spend time writing and speaking when clearly, I needed to spend any free time I had becoming an expert on neurological issues in children.

I now realize that God is so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. Of course, He would not put it in my heart to write and speak if I couldn’t somehow manage it along with everything else. In fact, He usually picks people who seem least able to do what He asks so that all the credit and glory goes to Him!

Nonetheless, for a while, I got lost. I fell into a depression that impacted more than just my church-going. If you read my blog regularly, you would have noticed there was a big gap in original posts between April and July.

I am excited to report that I went to church this past Sunday, and that I will be a regular attendee next year, as the Fifth Grade small group leader. I know that I belong in regular worship with a community of believers. We are not meant to do this thing called life and faith by ourselves. I have not been convicted that my sporadic church attendance qualifies as “sin,” but nonetheless I have asked for God’s forgiveness and am back in the habit. What God has convicted me of is that I really need to work on my continued obsession with how you perceive me. I was starting to feel like I had a dirty, little secret from my Christian friends, and I’ve learned the hard way that secrets are bad.

In closing, I really want to ask you to please not judge me, but well, that would just be perpetuating the problem. So please judge me all you want. I need to learn that your judgment is not what matters. I’m wearing a shirt I got at Love Lives Here that says “He Loves Me,” and that is all that matters.

Progress Not Perfection

Someone asked me a couple days ago if my son was getting “better,” and I couldn’t articulate an answer. My first thought was no, but then I realized that I had completely forgotten (again) a fundamental truth – success is best measured in terms of “progress not perfection.”

Will’s biggest issue right now is that he is afraid to be alone.  All I have to do to know if there is progress in this area is to look at his “experience points.”

Daddy came up with the brilliant idea of experience points. Will earns them when he does things by himself. To be clear about what this means, I need to explain a bit more what Will is and is not afraid of. He doesn’t fear being left alone nor does he have “separation anxiety.” He is actually quite comfortable in a sea of strangers and even has a tendency to wander off in public. Like those few terrifying moments we lost sight of him at Disneyworld. Or like when he was four and we were paged at the airport. Or like last week, when I almost had to page him at Walmart until running around like a crazy person screaming his name finally did the trick. We are always very emotional over these experiences, but Will is usually just startled and confused as to what all the fuss is about.

I asked him last week how he could be so far away from me at a store but can’t leave my side at home. He explained matter-of-factly that he could see other people at the store, but at home, he can’t see anyone. This was a big “aha” moment for me. Will’s fear isn’t being away from a familiar face, it’s being away from any face. Or any voice, come to think of it. He can stay calm if he can’t see me as long as I talk or sing non-stop. I guess that’s the only way he absolutely knows I’m still near.

Basically, my almost-seven year old is terrified of being physically in a space where he cannot see or hear another human being. Even if he knows someone is just in the next room, that knowledge isn’t enough to provide the comfort he needs to face his phobia. And without that comfort, all hell breaks loose.

When Will gets in a place where his fear takes over, he completely loses it. He sobs uncontrollably. He screams as if he’s trapped in a container with spiders, or snakes, or something equally terrifying. Eventually, he turns red and hyperventilates. I ask him what he is afraid of and he doesn’t know. When he calms down, I try to talk to him about why he got so afraid, but he just says “Mommy, you know I’m afraid to be alone” like he’s telling me something that everyone in the world knows about Minecraft. He owns his fear without any shame.

In his therapy sessions, he talks about how the toilet overflowed once. About how the Xbox overheated and make a loud noise a few months ago. This seems to imply he is afraid there will not be an adult around to help him if there is a big problem.

But why would he not be comfortable when he knows that I am literally 20 feet away? Just because he can’t see or hear me, why would he think that he might end up unable to call on me for help?

We have never left him alone in the house. We have never given him any reason to think for one second that we might leave him alone in the house. We have never been unreachable in the house for a long period of time. Or for any period of time. We have never played hide and seek and hid in a really hard place. I just don’t get it.

After we saw a couple of his epic meltdowns, we gave in to his requests for someone to be with him. We hoped his anxiety was a phase that would pass, and that seemed to be the case last year when we got a brief reprieve. All of a sudden, he had no issue going to the bathroom by himself or playing upstairs by himself. Even sleeping by himself wasn’t a consistent issue.

But then, for some unknown reason, it all came back with a vengeance. Now we don’t indulge his every request. If he has to go to the bathroom, he will do the “pee pee dance” for hours just so he doesn’t have to go by himself. When someone happens to walk the same way as the bathroom, he takes the opportunity to go, hoping it means that person will stay close while he does his business.

We’ve been working really hard to get him to sleep in his own bed. Right now we are on “phase 3,” which means someone stays in his room until he’s all the way asleep but doesn’t spend the night. It’s not quite going how I thought it would. Every night, Will wakes up screaming bloody murder because he’s alone. Every night, he wakes up his sister with his cries, she becomes beyond irritated, and we are all up well before Will finally busts into our room and climbs into our bed. I think it’d almost be better if there was a monster in his room, because then at least he would have someone in there with him.

Back to the experience points, Will has been earning them for about three weeks now. Going to the bathroom when Mommy is in the kitchen earns 1,000 points. Going upstairs to get something while everyone else is downstairs earns 2,000. You get the idea. He now has 27,000 experience points.

So even though some things are not going exactly as I had envisioned them, there IS progress. What’s more, this weekend we were all outside swimming when I looked up and saw Will coming outside with a drink. He had gone inside all by himself and gotten a drink, without even batting an eyelash. That is HUGE progress!

So often I forget to look for progress and only focus on perfection. I’m grateful today to be reminded once again that, at least while we’re here on earth, progress is all there is and all that matters. Sometimes progress is slow, but it’s still progress.

I pray regularly for Will, for God to relieve his fear and give him a spirit of strength instead. But I have to remember to thank God for the progress. And I have to remember that God’s timing isn’t always my timing. Most importantly, I have to remember that God doesn’t always completely remove all of our fears, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My fears give me depth, and they help me relate to and help others. Most importantly, my fears and insecurities bring me to my knees on a regular basis where I always find God waiting for me. And that in and of itself is a beautiful thing. Will might just have a similar journey.

So from now on, here is my prayer for Will:

God,

Thank you for my sweet son. Thank you for how much he has grown. May his steps today be part of the journey you have set before him. May he make progress in facing his fears at your perfect pace.

As his mother, show me how best to guide him. Show me when to listen and comfort and then give me the strength to trust my gut. Show me when to push and be stern and then give me the strength to follow through. Above all, Thy will be done.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

From One “Good Mom” to Another

When my babies were born, I was one of those moms who just instantly felt comfortable. Instead of being crippled by worry about the baby or insecurity over my parenting skills, I was at total peace. Nobody was more surprised by my natural maternal instincts and calm demeanor than I was, especially considering how clueless I had been before. At my baby showers, it was actually comical how many gifts were met by my blank stare. Seriously though, why do so many things need to be warmed? Can I get a towel warmer for when I get out of the bath please?

As my kids grew older, my smugness and comfort with motherhood went out the window. All of a sudden, these babies that I knew how to take care of turned into actual people. They had their own personalities! They had their own thoughts. And those thoughts weren’t restricted to to “Give me your boob!” and “Change my diaper.” I know this, because they actually starting speaking their thoughts. OUT LOUD. I had NO idea how to even talk to these little creatures, let alone “raise” them, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

By the time my oldest started school, I was a hot mess as a mother. I questioned everything I did. I always thought I was somehow doing it wrong. I’d look at what all the other moms were doing and try to emulate them – all of them. If neighbor Suzy was using a behavior chart to mete out rewards, then we would get some poster board and create a behavior chart. If fellow room mom Cindy limited her children’s screen time, then we needed to limit screen time, and in the exact same way.

As you can imagine, it was quite impossible to do every single thing that every other mom around me was doing. It’s no wonder I was always falling short in my own mind and felt exhausted from all of the “mom guilt.”

A good friend of mine at the time had four children, ranging in age from five to fifteen. She was one of those “good moms” I was always trying to copy. When she came over with her kids and actually made them wait the recommended fifteen minutes after applying sunscreen (who knew?), a piece of me died inside because my kids were already swimming. Once again, that voice in my head told me this was just one more piece of evidence that I was a failure as a mom.

My perfect sunscreen-applying mentor challenged me to write about what I thought it meant to be a “good mom” as a way to work through my insecurity. I hand wrote out a first draft of my assignment, making sure I didn’t leave any behavior or attitude out. After all, this was going to become my playbook, or so I thought. I edited it, revised it, perfected it and admired it. I felt like I was back in middle school as I hand wrote the final version, like I was turning in a paper for an important grade. Then came the time to review the three-page single-spaced diatribe with Super Mom. I was so proud of myself, and I just knew she would be too! My essay describing a “good mom” was no doubt going to gain her approval as the perfect set of objectives.

I proudly read to her how “good moms” make sure their kids eat healthy, go to bed at a decent time, pray regularly and go to church. I explained that a “good mom” listens to her children, teaches them right from wrong and makes sure they bathe regularly. A “good mom” always sets a good example for her children, sets appropriate limits and helps them to become their best selves. She always sees the good in her children, never pushes too hard and is herself a “good” sister, daughter, Christian, wife, employee, member of society, and of course, she somehow manages to take care of herself as well. It took a while to get through it all.

When I was done, I looked up beaming, expecting my mentor to praise my efforts. I was seriously shocked to get an entirely different reception. All she said was “Wow. No wonder you never feel like you’re a good mom.” but the look on her face said it all. I did not get an “A” on this assignment after all. I had not hit the mark. My expectations of myself, even after I thought I had narrowed them down, were still way too high. I needed to scale back my definition of a “good mom” WAY more before I was even in the right ballpark. She suggested I think more in terms of the basic “essence” of what makes a good mom.

I was dumbfounded. How could I have so misunderstood the assignment? Isn’t it good that I got specific? What exactly did she have a problem with, I wanted to know. Isn’t it good to have high standards? Why shouldn’t I set the bar high for myself? Maybe instead of saying it was a description of a “good mom” I could just rename it to be my “ideal for parenting” and we could quit talking about it already.

But she wouldn’t drop it. When I argued, she argued back.

“You talk a lot about how one of the most important aspects of being a ‘good mom’ is leading your child to know God and specifically, the Christian faith. Does that mean that a Jewish mom is a ‘bad mom’?”

Well, no. Of course not. A Jewish, or Muslim, or Atheist for that matter, can still be a very good mom. I could think of examples of people I knew in all those categories immediately.

“What about the bathing thing? My youngest daughter absolutely detests baths, and I can’t remember the last time she got one. It seriously may have been a month. Does it make me a ‘bad mom’ that she doesn’t take a bath every night?”

This was really rather shocking to hear, but even with the knowledge that it may very well have been a month since one of her daughters had bathed, there was still no question in my mind that Super Mom actually was a super mom.

I thought about what it means to be a “good mom” some more. I prayed about it. I licked my wounds. I read The Glass Castle, a book that was recommended to me that tells a story of a far-from-perfect mom who ends up shaping her daughter into an incredible woman, because of both her weaknesses and her strengths. I thought about how the most “perfect” mom can end up with daughters who struggle with perfectionism their whole lives trying live up to her. And then, finally, one day, I realized Super Mom was right. I needed to seriously cut myself some slack.

And I was set free as a mom.

Here’s my new version of what it means to be a “good mom”:

  • Love unconditionally
  • Encourage your children to be themselves
  • Set limits
  • Teach
  • Try to be the best role model you can be
  • Trust your gut instincts
  • Know your children ultimately belong to God

This list was met with a very different reaction from my friend, but honestly, it didn’t even matter. I no longer cared what she thought. Through the journey, I had come into a new self-confidence that has yet to be shaken, even though it’s been several years since this exercise.

At the end of every day, if I can honestly look at the list above and say that I did my best trying to do those simple things, I know I am a good mom. No matter how many days it’s been since the last bath. No matter if we talked about God or prayed together. No matter when bed time ended up being. No matter how many cookies were eaten.

Even on days when the kids fall asleep in their clothes, without brushing their teeth, in my bed, after having swum immediately after applying sunscreen (gasp), I’m still a good mom.

Being a mom is hard. A lot of blogs have been written about how we all need to quit judging each other, but I think the real problem for most of us is how hard we are on ourselves.

If you’re struggling today with whether you’re a good mom, let me be the mom to help you simplify your expectations of yourself.

Do you love your child unconditionally, just as he or she is?

You’re a good mom.

Do you do your best to set limits and/or teach your child, even if things don’t always go exactly as planned?

You’re a good mom.

Are you trying your best and trusting your gut, even if it means doing something you swore you would never do before you had kids?

You’re a good mom.

We have so much less control than we often think we do. Let’s not spend the precious moments we have with our children worrying that we aren’t good enough. Today, I know I’m a good mom. Join me and let yourself off the hook too. You won’t regret it.