Ask An Author: Kimberlee Conway Ireton is HERE! {Book Club}

It’s our last week with Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis by Kimberlee Conway Ireton and I’m super excited! Since the inception of the book club, one of my dreams has been for us to be able to interact with an author. So, when dreams come to fruition it is good to pause…

and

be present in that moment.

When I approached Kimberlee I didn’t know her. I didn’t know that she was truly the one God had for us. That she could speak truth and love and honesty and hope and pain and sadness to us. I hoped she was, but I didn’t know.

Now I do. She has graciously replied to my questions (starting in July!) and has been generous in offering herself in the comments. Today we have our first “Ask An Author” and to get the ball rolling, I’ve got a few questions Kimberlee answered ahead of time:

Your spiritual director sounds like such a gift! I’ve heard of spiritual directors but would love to be even more informed. What the distinction between a mentor and a spiritual director? Are you still meeting with her? What can someone expect from meeting a spiritual director?

I’ve never had a mentor (though reading recent VA posts about mentors makes me wonder if I should get me one 🙂 ), so I’m not quite clear what a mentor would do. A spiritual director, in general, focuses on helping you see where God is meeting you in your life. Margie always–and I do mean always–asks where God is meeting me in whatever situation I bring to our session. Usually, we sit in silence for 5 or 10 or 20 minutes, so we can listen to God together about whatever situation I’m working through. She also helps me discern which of the voices in my head are not God, and which ones might be. After ten years of meeting with her, I know that the harpies in my head are not God, but they are so good at impersonating Him that I still sometimes need her to help me parse what they’re actually saying.

For instance, my husband and I are in the very stressful process of buying another house (we sold the one we live in and are facing houselessness at the end of the month). A few weeks ago, we made an offer on a house, and I felt sick about it–too expensive, too small, too far away–but I was afraid of saying anything because my husband and kids loved it, and if we withdrew our offer, we would not have a house to move into at the end of the month. When I met with Margie in the midst of that, she helped me recognize that the voices that were keeping me quiet were not God’s voice; rather, they were voices of fear: my fear of disappointing other people and my fear of having a gap in our housing and imposing on the kind people who offered to let us stay with them.

Through gentle questioning, Margie also helped me to realize that a week or two of transitional housing was a small price to pay for 10 or 15 years in a house I loved. And she reminded me that regardless of what decision I made, God would be with me, with our family, upholding, supporting, and redeeming us and our home, too.

Mostly, she asks questions–where is God in this? is that God’s voice? what do you think God might be saying to you through this?–and then she listens. Usually I end up answering my own questions. She holds the space so I can be quiet, process internally and externally, and pray. Her little office is a boundaried space where I can be silent before God, which is something I get very rarely in my child-centric life.

I hope that helps clarify what a spiritual director (or at least what my spiritual director) does. 🙂

Thank you for much for sharing your postpartum depression and anxiety. Had you experienced postpartum depression with either of your other pregnancies? What does anxiety look like for you at this stage of the journey?

I had PPD after Jack, my oldest, was born, but not to the extent that I did with the twins. Whatever was going on with my neurochemistry in that first bout of PPD, there was also a lot of negative thought patterns that I worked hard to overcome in the years between his birth and the twins’. The grace notes were a large part of that. I’m a glass-half-empty girl by nature, and the grace notes change my focus to the good, the true, and the beautiful, which is where I want to live my life–and often don’t, focused as I am on all that isn’t what it should be or isn’t what I want it to be. It’s definitely a process–two steps forward, a step back, relearning the same lessons (pay attention, find something–anything!–good in this situation, give thanks) again and again. When I am in the habit of writing down the grace notes, I notice a definite uptick in my outlook on life.

I’ve realized one of the scariest things about mental illness is that your thoughts betray you. We have so little control over anything in life, but we do have control of this: how we respond to what happens to us. What mental illness does is take away that control. That’s terrifying to me. But I keep remembering that even when the anxiety had me by the throat and I could barely breathe, I was okay. I didn’t feel okay, but I was okay. God was with me, and even though I couldn’t feel His presence, I clung to my faith, to Jesus, to the faith of my community, and it held me. It didn’t feel like it was holding me, but it was. I can see that clearly in retrospect.

And that’s what faith is, isn’t it? Not a feeling, but a choice. A choice to believe that God is good, that He is with us, that all shall be well. Sometimes, that seems like a very rational choice. Other times, especially in the midst of depression, it seems like pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. But how it feels doesn’t matter, not ultimately. What matters ultimately is faith. So that’s how I deal with anxiety: I choose to believe. Also, I keep grace notes. That list of graces makes it easier to choose to believe on the days when believing is hard.

When you wrote about Elizabeth Barrett’s success, I think I heard a collective groan of recognition. As a writer, I try to be happy for other’s success, but the truth is, I’m not always as happy as I let on. I think we can all relate whether it’s other people’s kids who are better behaved than ours, or women who seem to make masterpieces in their kitchens, or any number of areas that might be important to someone. How do you create space to have real emotions (like jealousy or frustrations) without letting them camp out in your heart?

Envy, at least for me, stems from what my husband calls my “theology of scarcity.” This is a pernicious belief that if someone else has something I want, that lessens the chance that I’ll ever get it. It’s life as a zero-sum game. But life is not a zero-sum game. Life in the kingdom of God is a rich and plenteous cornucopia of goodness–“I came to bring life,” Jesus says, “life abundant.” God has more than enough for me, for you, for everyone. There is no scarcity in the kingdom of God. So that’s the first way I deal with envy: I call it out for the liar it is. This means, of course, that I have to acknowledge that I’m feeling it: no stuffing allowed 🙂

The second way I deal with it is to ask what it’s telling me. When I envy another writer’s success, what is it that I’m envying, exactly? Is it that she’s known and I’m not? That she’s a better writer than I am? That she got to work with that editor I admire? Those are three very different reasons for feeling envy, and in each case my envy is telling me something. In all three cases, my envy points me toward action. I don’t have to wallow in it. It can propel me to DO something that will take away its cutting edge.

Finally, I pray. Actually, I often do this first. Sometimes (most of the time?) these prayers sound a lot like whining, like my kids when one of them has something the others don’t, complete with the obligatory “But it’s not faaaaair!” But as I’ve developed this habit of praying for the object of my envy, the whining quickly gives way to genuine prayer, especially when I find myself blind-sided by envying someone I actually like or admire.

I don’t have to fear such emotions: because they, too, if I let them, can draw me nearer to God.

Having said all this, I might sound like I’ve got it together, like I’m well on my way to sanctification, possibly beatification. (Cue the choir of angels.) Don’t be deceived. These are my goals. 🙂 Living my responses is way harder than writing about them. Words have a tendency to neaten and organize what is in reality rather chaotic, even ugly. I am right smack in the middle of the process, just like everyone else.

Kimberlee, these answers are ones to keep. Your thoughts on mental illness and envy, so insightful! Thank you for the ways you’ve enriched our book club and I trust in small ways God has used us to bless you too :).

Friends, what would you like to ask (or just share with) Kimberlee? She’ll be popping in and out!

 

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Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

20 Comments

  1. Jennifer September 23, 2014

    A challenge I find myself constantly coming back to and thinking about is whether there are things that we can do, things that we should do, to create an environment which makes it possible both for us and for others to find it possible to be more open and honest when we find that we are in the middle of challenging times? What are the things which make it challenging for us to be honest and for others to be honest? Are there things we can do which will help make a difference and in a sense break the silence which so often we can be stuck in, in one way or another? I don’t necessarily have lots of answers but I am being challenged with the questions.

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 23, 2014

      Jennifer, I don’t have the answers, either! But asking the questions is the first step toward finding our way into the answers.

      I think it’s important to have at least one person in our lives (and preferably three or four) with whom we can be honest and vulnerable and who will not judge us or try to fix us, who will simply be with us in that space and point us to God right where we are. Margie (my spiritual director) does that for me. Having such a person in our lives allows us the freedom to be who we are and feel what we feel right now–and let God into all of that, whatever it is. Then we can offer that same sort of safe space to other people.

      Having said that, I want to issue a caveat: not everyone can be trusted to hold us and our vulnerabilities with gentleness. We must be discerning who we trust with our most-honest selves. On the flip side, we must also be careful whom we invite to be honest with us. There are vampires in the world who feed on others’ compassion and kindness and empathy; I have been in relationship with such people, and it is toxic for both parties. If you feel that someone is sucking the life out of you, step back. Pray. Journal. Figure out what the trigger point for the energy drain is. Especially for people in ministry as you all are, it is imperative to draw firm boundaries around such relationships. You cannot serve God with the best of yourself if the best of yourself is being drained out of you by a toxic relationship.

      Because I have been trapped (or let myself be trapped) in such relationships, I am very careful whom I trust with the vulnerable, tender parts of myself. At the same time, I know that if I want others to be honest with me, I have to be honest with them. This is fairly easy for me. My issue is more in discerning whom it’s safe or healthy to be vulnerable with–I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and the older I get, the more I realize that not everyone I meet will be kind to my heart. I have to guard it, as Proverbs says.

      How’s that for a long non-answer to your questions? I’m happy to talk about this further, if you want. Just reply to this comment, and I’ll do my best to get back to you later today. (It might be tomorrow, but I will respond.)

      1. Phyllis October 2, 2014

        I am kind of late to this party. Sorry!

         

        If you’re still around, I would like to ask more about those vampire relationships. How do I get out of the one that I’m in?!? I have stepped back. (Tried to step back!) Pray constantly. Journal, yes. She’s still sucking at me.

  2. Anna September 23, 2014

    One of the things I loved most about your book, Kimberlee, was your desire to be present in each moment instead of running ahead in your thoughts. This is something I struggle with daily, especially as it pertains to anxiety. What are some things, along with grace notes, that help you to do this?

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 23, 2014

      Thank you, Anna. Believe me, this is something I struggle with on a daily basis, too. My son spent most of yesterday in bed. He had a headache. He’s ten. What ten-year-old has a headache so bad it renders him bed-ridden? I just knew he had a brain tumor. Um, hello. Can you say fleeing ahead?

      To combat the anxiety of What Might Happen (and why is it always only Bad Things that might happen?), I pray. A lot. The Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me) is my near-constant companion. When I’m really anxious, I try to pray it in rhythm with my breathing and s l o w my breathing down as I pray it. Oxygen does wonders for helping alleviate anxiety, as does exercise, so if I can I go for a walk. Sometimes I listen to music. I’ve even been known to put on Abba and become my own dancing queen.

      And of course, I take grace notes, which is basically a way of staying present in the moment: what is here, right now, to be thankful for? What is good? What is beautiful? And lately, I’m also learning to ask, what is true? I have a life-long habit of listening to the voices of the harpies–you know, the voices that hiss ugliness and insecurity and anxiety and self-loathing and fear into your thoughts. The harpies are liars. So when I find myself feeling anxious or fleeing ahead in fear, I’m learning to ask, “what is true?” And I’m starting (usually with the help of my husband or a trusted friend) to be able to tease out the truth from the fear. Jesus promises that we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. So thoughts and thought-patterns that enslave me to fear and anxiety are absolutely not of Him, and I am learning to see them for the lies they are.

      I hope that’s helpful.

      Lord Jesus, for Anna and myself and all of us who struggle to stay present and not flee ahead in fear, I ask that You would have mercy upon us, that You would breathe Your truth and Your Presence into our thoughts and that we would find joy and life and You in the moment at hand. Amen.

      1. Anna September 24, 2014

        Oh man, unfortunately, I totally get the brain tumor thing! I love your description of the harpies and how you ask, “What is true?” in that moment. Often I’m so caught up in everything I’m afraid of that I forget to remind myself, or ask God to remind me, what is the actual truth – not just what my wild running thoughts are telling. Thank you for your thoughtful reply and prayer!

  3. Laura C September 23, 2014

    I struggled with PPD after both of my sons birth, both of which I also struggled with hyperemesis, and pre-term labor which left me on bed rest for 11 and 7 weeks.  My youngest will be 5 in January and I am still working on healing the havoc pregnancy had on my body as it also triggered autoimmune-diseases.  I’m not sure if this is really a question, or if I finally just have a space to “say this out loud”, but what would you say to someone who wishes they could have more children, but knows the risk is probably too great?  I know God would walk my family through another pregnancy, but I don’t feel at rest in this decision.  Especially being oversees now away from all of our support.  I feel so sad at times thinking I won’t get to experience bringing another baby home from the hospital and all the joy a child brings to a family.  Of course I know adoption is an option, and something we pray that God would make clear to us if that’s what He has for us.  Besides my husband, I’ve never really shared this with anyone, but it often weighs heavy on my heart.  And I don’t know it’s something that he can fully understand not being a woman.  I also feel guilty at times knowing others in my family have been unable to have any children, and another has lost a child.  I have two beautiful healthy children… why can’t I be content with that?  So like I said, I don’t know if there’s a question in there or not, but I really appreciated your book ( I read it in 1 day!) and I am thankful a space has presented itself for me to share something I haven’t been brave enough to do beforehand.

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 23, 2014

      Oh Laura, I am so sorry for the struggle you’re going through. That question, “why can’t I be content?” is a brutal one. I asked it so many times after the twins were born. I ask it now when I find myself wanting something (like writerly success) that I don’t or can’t have. May I gently offer advice that I have a hard time taking myself? Please be gentle with yourself in the midst of your desire for another child.

      Berating ourselves for our desires is a spirit-killer. It shuts us up and makes us feel guilty. I think that question “why can’t I be content?” comes from the harpies (see my response to Anna, above). It is designed to separate us from ourselves and our desires and from God. It seems so spiritual, even holy. But it’s not. It’s a harpy.

      You would never tell a woman who wants children to just be content that her childlessness enables her to serve God more wholeheartedly. Nor would you tell a woman whose child has died that she should be content that at least now her dead child won’t break her heart when he’s a teenager. The thought is abhorrent! Please don’t tell yourself the equivalent thing. Please do not feel guilty for wanting another child. That is not the voice of God.

      God longs for you to bring that desire to Him. He may not be able to grant it, for the sake of your health or for some other reason known only to Him. But He still wants You to come to Him with your heart full of longing…because your heart full of longing is a heart full of love. Like His heart.

      I pray for you tonight, Laura. I pray over this deep desire you have for another child. I don’t know what that particular desire feels like, but I do know what it feels like to long for something that God seems to be withholding. I know it can be hard to trust Him with our desires. So I also pray that God would gently whisper His love over you, His delight in you, that you would know his deep, deep love for you, His deep, deep desire for your best good in all things.

       

      1. Laura C September 25, 2014

        Thank you so much for your response!  I thought it was really interesting what you said about my thoughts seeming spiritual, but really are just lies being whispered to me.  I can be content and still long for something.  And I’m free to bring that to Jesus and not just linger in guilt or even anger.  I think feeling free to approach Him with this will definitely help let my heart heal.

        I just have to add that I’m from Washington State too… I felt like I could relate that much more knowing how many cloudy, gray days you had to deal with too 🙂

        Thanks again for your words here, and in your book!  I hope it continues to touch many more women, and give them the courage to speak up and get help where needed.

  4. Stacey September 23, 2014

    I really wish I could be more fully engaged in this conversation! Tonight is a busy night, so I have to keep it short in order to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I almost didn’t pop in (because once I get started it probably won’t be short!) but I just couldn’t go that far.

    Kimberlee, I just want to say that your book met me deep. I have struggled with anxieties and fears since I was a pre-schooler. Some seasons the anxieties lie dormant, but this is not one of those seasons. When I first started reading your book a couple weeks ago I was in the thick of it, really quite lost in my panic when the world was quiet enough. Actually, sometimes I was drowning in it with absolutely no control even when the world was noisily spinning on without me. Last week in God’s mercy I was able to come up for a breath, see the light, rest for a bit. I had a whole day without worry. And a night, and another day. I honestly think that the Lord’s gift of relief came in part through reading my thoughts written out on a page that I didn’t write on.  You are a brave woman, for spilling out on these pages all the drama that you and I wrestle against. You are a brave woman, for not letting the first defeat you felt in writing keep you from writing again. You are a brave woman, for choosing to believe and trust God in the midst of your fears of unbelief.

    Your bravery in your own battles has given me strength, courage, and relief as I fight mine. Thank you, dear sister. Someday the fears will be gone and the tears will all be gently wiped away by our Savior. I can’t wait to meet you and celebrate with you as we know – really know – the truth. He has met us both in the depths. In this season, He used you to meet me and breath hope, when I desperately needed to hear hope from someone else who knew exactly what these inner battles feel like.

    Today, the battles are still there, the footing I had for a bit last week seems to be slowly washing out again, and the fight is hard. I’m a bit nervous, trying hard to keep my eyes on the Light, but I am fearing the fear. It comforts me to hear your words as part of the swarming thoughts: “But I keep remembering that even when the anxiety had me by the throat and I could barely breathe, I was okay. I didn’t feel okay, but I was okay. God was with me, and even though I couldn’t feel His presence, I clung to my faith, to Jesus, to the faith of my community, and it held me. It didn’t feel like it was holding me, but it was. I can see that clearly in retrospect.”

    Thank you. Thank you. The Lord is giving life through your willingness to be real. (Yep, not short. Oh well.)

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 23, 2014

      Stacey, oh my goodness. Tears are streaming down my face. Tears for the place you find yourself and how desperately hard and scary that place is. I’m so sorry, my sister in Christ, so sorry you are being swept away by the fear and anxiety. But also tears of gratitude, because your words of encouragement and affirmation here are so beautiful and wonderful to me. Thank you thank you thank you for taking the time to “pop in” and leave this comment.

      You are in my prayers as you battle the fear and the anxiety–and the fear of the fear and anxiety. I pray God upholds you with His victorious right hand. I have been finding the Second Collect for Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer especially meaningful these days. I pray it over you this evening:

      O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, <em>may not fear the power of any adversaries</em>, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

       

      1. Stacey September 24, 2014

        Thank you very much, Kimberlee. As I know you know (since I got to read about your journey!) there is a strange and wonderful truth, that even in the throes of the battle there is still a lot of beauty and joy and Grace around. That was another thing I so appreciated about your book. Sometimes it feels so insufficient and untruthful to say to someone, “I’m really struggling” – or to even dare use imagery as dramatic as drowning or losing control. Because to a person who hasn’t been there, then I would assume something seems suspicious, and explanations are difficult. I imagine the questions, not necessarily harsh, but confused: “Were you faking that smile when your baby gave you a snuggle? You were laughing just then, but I thought you were drowning? Surely it’s not as bad as you make it seem, or surely you’re faking an awful lot of happiness.” It even feels suspicious to me. But the truth is, it’s both, at least right now it is. There are spaces of time – sometimes daily, sometimes not – where “drowning” and “feeling out of control” are barely descriptive enough. And most of the time, during that same day, there are spaces of time where the feelings (not just the recognition of the truth regardless of feelings) “immeasurably blessed,” “my cup overflows,” “content” and “happy” are my most sincere heartbeats. There is some discipline involved in turning toward those God-given graces (like taking Grace notes – a habit I’m beginning to pick up thanks to you-), but they are still God-given. They are the reprieves that keep us moving.

        Your book painted this realistic picture so marvelously. While I would sit with tears streaming down my face at the pain in your journey, I’d be giggling with you on the next page at the joys and silly things that you had managed to notice. I’d recognize that inner dialogue where all the known “right” answers to anxiety made no impact on the struggle, which only served to deepen the anxiety. But then, all of the sudden, God-grace makes one of those “right”answers actually sink beneath consciousness and chase out some of those fear-tumors, and the “right” answer really becomes Right, solid as a Rock.

        I am so thankful that you took the time and effort to write this book. It has helped me realize that I’m not making up the drama, I’m not making up the joys, and I’m not crazy alone. It has given me hope, too, that my pursuit of help for ways out are not futile.

        Thank you for praying for me. I am honored and that prayer is beautiful! Oh yes, one more thing: a long time ago when I was dealing with depression, I had memorized the first 8 verses of Psalm 63. No other prayer could say it the way that one could. But I always skipped the last few verses, as I thought battle fighting/ throw my enemies down language didn’t really apply. Wow, what an encouragement it is to have this Psalm resurrected in my memory, and now to be able to deliver that final statement of defeat to my enemies while I am being upheld by His right hand. When I read your words about this Psalm I cried at how the Holy Spirit works simultaneiously in such a universal and individual way to bring His comfort, truth and freedom to His people. One of the many moments in the book that sturdied my faith that my God has not, nor will He ever, abandon me.

        1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 24, 2014

          Stacey, Once again your words made me cry. But good tears. I felt called to write this book, and throughout the writing and editing process, I felt like I was being carried, as on a wave. After it was published and sold so very poorly, I began to wonder if maybe I had imagined that call. Or made it up. Or misheard it. When I stepped back and remembered, I knew I had not imagined that sense of being carried. I knew God had upheld me through the writing.

          Still, sometimes it was hard to step back. Sometimes, a year out from publication with sales as sluggish as molasses, it’s still hard to step away from the numbers and believe that yes, God called me to write this book and made it possible for me to write it (despite having two-year-old twins at the time!). Your words here re-affirmed my sense of calling. Reading what you wrote here, reading how my words resonated with you in ways that only God could have orchestrated–I think I wrote this book for you. I didn’t know it, of course. But God knew. And I bless His name for giving me this glimpse into why He asked me to write it. Thank you, Stacey. You can’t know how your words here blessed me and encouraged me and pointed me to God and His amazing sovereignty. Your words sturdied my faith, too, and reminded me that our God has not, nor will He ever, abandon me.

          Know that I hold you in my prayers today. Please don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you need a word of encouragement or prayer for a specific something. I would be honored.

          1. Stacey September 25, 2014

            Sister, I can relate to the “did I hear that call right, or did I just make it up?” thoughts! I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve thought that here on the soil of Myanmar. God’s call was clearer than I had ever experienced before, and He lined up gift after gift and paved the way for me, who then became us, to get here. There is no way we would’ve ended up here on our own. Yet I have questioned whether it was all just a big mistake, some crazy aspect of my imagination that we have pursued in error. Because life isn’t happening exactly the way I imagined it would when I first responded to that call (turns out my expectations of what would happen after I reluctantly said “yes, Lord I’ll follow You there” – my expectations are what could be categorized some crazy aspect of my imagination!)

            This book, this conversation with you – I am just in awe of His tender mercies raining down in such intricate, life-giving ways for both of us. Yes, you did write that book for me and for all of us who have read it (by the way, have you read your reviews on Amazon for this book? I am not the only one you wrote it for!) Thank you for listening to His call. Thank you, Jesus, for Kimberlee and her book. Thank You for meeting two of your daughters who live at opposite ends of the earth, for meeting us through each other, over a blog. Wow.

            I am going to bed deeply encouraged. At this moment, I know and trust deeply that God is truly good, more good than we have ever known. This is peace, and I love it. What a gift.

  5. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 23, 2014

    Hi everyone! Thanks for your great questions here. I want to be able to give each of you the thoughtful answer you deserve, so it may take me awhile to respond to all of your comments. I will try to respond today, but it may be tomorrow or even Thursday. Thank you for your patience with me!

    1. Amy Young September 24, 2014

      Kimberlee, we understand being busy and pulled in different directions. Whenever you are able to pop in, we welcome you :)! Again, thank you for a book (an offering really) that has helped us individually and as a community to grow. We have been so blessed by you. Thank you seems inadequate! We will also continue to pray for you!

      1. Stacey September 24, 2014

        Well said, Amy! Amy, thanks for bringing this book to us!

  6. Brittany September 25, 2014

    I feel a little behind as I’ve not quite finished the book yet and things have been so chaotic around here that I haven’t been able to pop in until now.  BUT, wow, even in just the comments I’ve been blessed!

    I’ve not ever considered anxiety one of my “things”, you know, the things I struggle with.  But throw me into a foreign country with two little boys in diapers and all the anxiety I can possibly muster has been spilling over my soul this past year.  Medical problems, a miscarriage, not knowing where we will live 17 days from now, news about a sibling getting married and one having a baby and whether we can afford to go “home” to celebrate with them, and all the other uncertainties found when you have no idea what you are doing/supposed to do day to day in a foreign place and when raising two wild human beings who like to jump off of furniture and help themselves to whatever they can scavenge in the kitchen…Oh how very aware I am of the anxiety that is rearing it’s ugly head.

    I’m so very overwhelmed by my failing and my desperate need for grace.  I feel like not a day goes by that I don’t have to ask either of my little ones to forgive mommy because I am just not handling myself well.  Or because I threw a fit (does Mommy get a spanking for throwing a fit?).  Or because I’m feeling numb and instead of sitting on the floor reading books together, I just pop in a movie.

    But as Stacey mentioned in her comment, the roller coaster of drowning and then feeling immeasurably blessed in the presence of God is one that I experience most days.  I’ll have my quiet time and though I want to be more intentional about grace notes, I do sit in His presence and just soak up who HE is and try to just rest in Him.  And it’s glorious.  And then, I get lost in my day and begin to drown so quickly.  I think about Peter as he began to look at the wind and the waves instead of Jesus.  That’s when he began to sink.  I guess my question is, how do I keep my eyes on Jesus throughout the day?  I mean, I’m starting the day with Him, but I want Him to stay.  I want Him to permeate my thoughts and motivate my actions *all day*, but when everything starts getting crazy, my eyes get diverted.

  7. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 26, 2014

    Dear Brittany, of course you feel anxious! Given all that you’re juggling, processing, holding, and carrying, it’s a wonder to me that you still manage to feel God’s blessing on a daily basis. That is, to me, amazing.

    In answer to your question, one of the ways I keep my eyes on Jesus is to create prayer triggers. Going down my basement stairs is a prayer trigger–eight years ago, I trained myself to pray the Jesus Prayer every time I went downstairs, and now I find that the prayer starts praying itself without me! But as soon as I realize I’m already praying, I bring the prayer to consciousness and keep praying it or pray my own words or sing a praise song or hymn. I suggest choosing something you do several times a day–washing your hands or changing a diaper–and using that activity to prompt you to pray. At first you’ll forget more often than you remember. That’s okay. (Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up for that! It’s completely normal.) Then, gradually, as in, over the course of weeks or even months, it will become a habit, and you will have several moments in your day when you’re reorienting yourself to Jesus in prayer.

    Another practice I’ve more recently embraced is the Daily Office. This is a series of seven prayer services, inspired by the Psalms, that were taken into Judaism and then into Christianity: early morning, dawn, midmorning, noon, mid-afternoon, evening, and bedtime. I have only begun to tap into this rich stream of Christian practice and have yet to even attempt all seven prayer times. Instead, I set my phone alarm for 9 am, noon, and 4 pm, and when the alarm goes off, it is my call to prayer. Sometimes I sit down with a prayer book and have a short time of guided prayer and Scripture reading. Other times, I recite Scripture I’ve memorized or sing a song of praise. Still other times, I just say, “God, I don’t have time to pray right now. You have GOT to help me.” Which, of course, is a prayer, even though it doesn’t feel like one.

    And, of course, I take grace notes. I firmly believe in writing these down. At the very least, say them out loud. That, too, is prayer, a refocusing of our gaze (and our lives) on the Giver of all good things.

    I almost hate to write all of this, because while it’s true, it looks really good on paper (er, a screen) and in real life it is such a mess–because I am such a mess. Despite attempting to organize my life around Jesus, I still scream at my kids, forget all His benefits, and daily grouse, grumble, and complain. I’m ashamed of those things, but I also know it’s important to share them with others–because I can get mired in my own junk and forget that looking at myself is never the answer; I only become magnified in my own eyes, and my failings get magnified the most. Other people can remind me of God’s love and mercy and grace (which, being a perfectionist, I am horribly prone to forget) and can point my gaze away from myself and back to Christ. So that’s another way of re-centering on Jesus: talking with people who love Him and can point me back to Him.

    Blessings on you, Brittany. You are carrying a lot right now–your children and your uncertainties and your longings and your disappointments–so please be gentle with yourself. Jesus is gentle and we are called to be like Him. Even to ourselves.

  8. Brittany September 29, 2014

    Kimberlee, thank you so much for your response.  What a great idea to put alarms on my phone to call me to prayer!  I’m trying to do more Scripture/hymn singing with my kiddos, but even that I have a hard time remembering (or remembering the words to them).  Having something to regularly snap my attention back to prayer is definitely worth a shot.  I keep thinking that when things slow down it will be easier…but I’m realizing, I’m not sure it’ll ever slow down!  Thank you for your encouragement.

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