find them, push them, respect them: your limits

Some limits are meant to be pushed, and others are to be respected.

In my high school and college days, I spent a lot of time doing math. Ever since I first learned of the limit in high school calculus, I’ve been interested in pushing it. I took as many Advanced Placement classes as possible in high school and told people I wanted to work in aerospace engineering. This got a much better response than “I want to get married, have babies and homeschool them,” which was really what I always wanted!

So here I am in what I might call an Advanced Placement level of parenting: training from the ground up a formerly institutionalized child while homeschooling three “homemade” kids. I was just telling my mom the other day, after she spent an eventful evening with them all, that most people will never associate with (much less live with) a person who was born and raised in an institution. It’s an unusual situation that has pushed Mason and me to our spiritual, emotional, and physical limits.

Though adoptive parenting has shown us our limits in painful ways, the plus side is we’ve learned to create margin in our lives. When things get really tough, we know to drop what we can from our schedules and focus on what’s most important. Despite the fact that we’re still on our way out of the woods with KJ (it’s a winding path), we shared recently that we were getting ready to jump into foster care. We submitted it to God and felt confident about it.

When the foster parent certification class started, we found ourselves in the midst of a wild week or two. It was well timed. We realized our desire to open our home to more children right now (in Christen World, this is the best time to do any good idea!) wasn’t taking into account the needs surrounding our latest addition.

We have good days/bad days, good weeks/bad weeks with Kami Joy. God used a string of bad days with her to clue us into the fact that our home is not “home-study ready”. (The home study is the several week process that a family goes through before they’re cleared to adopt or foster.) We know from our adoption home study that these are meetings where everything comes out in the open. Some of the difficult, intense feelings and struggles we’ve had in our parenting journey with KJ are still too fresh (as in, just happened yesterday) for us to be able to truthfully present ourselves as parents who are mentally and emotionally healthy enough to manage more trauma in our home right now. We’re grateful God showed us something through this string of hard days. There was a limit there that we didn’t know about. Some limits are meant to be pushed, and others are to be respected. This one had a sign over it:

do not push

Our family remains totally open to God’s leading, ready to welcome whoever He may bring into our family through whatever means He might choose. It’s comforting to realize that just because our orphan care capacity feels maxed out right now doesn’t mean it always will be. Plus, I am reminded there are many other ways to do orphan care, like supporting adoptive families financially or emotionally through the excitements and challenges of their journeys. In North Carolina, I attended an amazing adoption support group that inspired me to try to find or start that kind of group down here.

There are no limits to the ways God can direct us when we submit our ways to Him. When you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you’re able to do things that would be impossible on your own because it’s His mighty power at work within you doing way more than you can even imagine. God is a good Father, faithful to speak to us when we listen. What’s He saying to you today? Here’s His latest to me:

Don’t think that by serving Me more you can get Me to love you more. I don’t love you because of what you do for Me, I love you because of who I AM. Don’t seek relief from your adoptive parenting struggles by becoming a foster parent just yet. Love each of your 4 kids well; and especially focus on loving that fourth one into the fold.

These words were gifts to me. 🙂

Christen

 

a determined sister & a painful lesson

Mason and I decided to let Eden have her wish of rooming with her sister on our trip. We consider it a necessary life skill to be able to fall asleep in a room with a sibling. So last week, we gave it a try.

Last week we arrived in North Carolina for a month of work-related training. We get antsy once we’ve stayed in the same place for a couple years, and having just reached two years in our Florida home, it was a good time for a change of scenery.


Our family is staying in a modest, pleasant 3-bedroom apartment on campus of the organization hosting the training. When we walked in, it felt like a TLF (military temporary living facility) and looked like a grandma’s house – we felt right at home.

Eden had been talking about wanting to share a room in North Carolina with Kami Joy for weeks. The last time she attempted to sleep in a room with her sister, it was just days after we returned from Bulgaria. Eden was 3 years old, and at some point in the wee hours of the morning her new sister leaped into her bed and started violently yanking the pillows off. Kami was wild and confused, with drug withdrawals in full swing. We quickly moved Eden into Ezekiel’s room (baby Isaiah was still in our room) and gave our new child her own room for sleep training. She had slept in a crib up to age 7 in the orphanage and hadn’t even known how to climb out of it. Every morning she waited for an orphanage worker to come lift her out and herd her through the day, so the freedom of an open bed and room was overwhelming for her.

It’s been almost 3 years since all of that happened, so after giving it some thought, Mason and I decided to let Eden have her wish of rooming with her sister on our trip. We consider it a necessary life skill to be able to fall asleep in a room with a sibling. So last week, we gave it a try.

Eden is loving, forgiving, determined, laid back, and not easily fazed. The first night, she snuggled down into her bed (on the right), coolly reading a book while Kami tried to process what was happening. The door wasn’t closed as it has been for 3 years; it was open. She wasn’t alone; there was another body in the room. It wasn’t pitch dark as it had been her whole life; rays of a flashlight bounced off the walls.

Like many other lessons we’ve taught Kami Joy, it was a bit like puppy training. “Stay. Lay down. Quiet.” Coming in to correct, saying goodnight, returning to correct, repeat. It was a struggle, but she submitted without a huge fight and Eden didn’t take any of our offers to move her bed into her brothers’ room. She was excited to finally be able to sleep near her sister, and she expressed hope that it would work so she could do it again the next night.

Kami Joy has now been with us for half of Eden’s life! Ezekiel is the only child with a functional memory of life before her. And he’s truthful with us that if he could go back in time and cast his vote (we did ask the kids, little as they were, if they were on board with this rescue mission) – he would say no. We allow him to express his feelings because they’re legitimate. It has been hard, but God has allowed us to hold on to our joy, so it’s been a strengthening kind of hard rather than a destructive kind. Ezekiel also says he plans to adopt when he grows up, which blows my mind after all he has seen!

Back to room sharing: the first night took some focused training, but eventually she fell asleep and stayed asleep. The next night was easier, and we thought we had arrived. The third night, we tried to ease the sensory burden on Kami by letting Eden read in the living room. That way the flashlight wouldn’t be a distraction. But after Eden went back into the bedroom to lay down, some sort of switch flipped in Kami … maybe she thought she was getting the room back to herself. She clearly wasn’t prepared for Eden to come back. Whatever occurred, it was dark, and Eden soon tiptoed back out to the living room to tell us that Kami was banging on the wall. I hopped up from the couch, and during the handful of seconds it took me to get to the bedroom, we heard a huge thump. It was a strange reverberating noise, and when I entered the room I found her sitting on the floor next to her bed in defiance of our instruction. Mason was on my heels, and when he flipped on the light it revealed a gash on her left cheekbone very close to her eye. The blood started dripping down her pajamas and onto my feet, leaving a trail to the bathroom where we checked out the injury. She was screaming hysterically, probably from a combination of pain, shock, and anger at herself that she had taken her protest too far and was suffering for it. It is miraculous how God makes moms able to kick into doctor/nurse mode, no matter how little experience we have. I applied firm pressure to get the bleeding to stop (pretty sure she 100% hated us during these minutes, judging from how she was swinging at us and trying to get away), and when it finally stopped we were surprised at the depth and length of the cut. We realized the only surface in the room that could have left that mark was the metal bed frame. She can revert to thrashing and head banging when frustrated and had thrashed her face straight into the frame.

For a moment we considered taking her somewhere for medical care, but then we realized she’d have to be sedated to get anything done, and that by the time we would be able to reach an emergency room from our remote location outside a new city at 11:00 pm we could probably get the situation under control ourselves. (We weren’t really by ourselves; lots of prayer was going on!) We went into surgeon & assistant mode: “I need melaleuca, frankincense and band-aids!” We soon had her patched up with the bleeding stopped, but she was still hysterical. Since the boys were already asleep and we wanted to help them stay that way, we took Kami into our bedroom closet to help her calm down. The screaming and howling were loud, so we tried a few things to muffle and distract. Then I realized that with the emergency over, I should hug her. I felt truly sorry that she had put herself in so much pain. I pulled her close and rubbed her back, just like I would do for one of my other kids, and through her sobs she managed to sputter “you can hug, you can hug.” Maybe God allowed her to experience that violent accident so she could both receive care and comfort from us and remember exactly why thrashing and banging in anger is a bad idea. She is no stranger to self-harm due to a history of neglect and abuse we will never fully know about, but it’s been awhile since she drew blood.

When we emerged from our closet with an exhausted Kami Joy, where do you think Eden was? She was standing ready to give a feel-better hug and climb back into the bed beside Kami’s. It was late, so we put Eden in the boys’ room to salvage a good night’s sleep for her.

The next night Eden moved back in with her sister. Kami Joy drifted off without much trouble at all. Butterfly bandages and liquid bandaid have her wound healing up safely. Like every scar, this one will have a story behind it.

God is patiently working in me as I struggle to make each of my words gifts to this girl. Someone reminded me this week that she is a treasure. We’re still figuring out so much about her. We haven’t yet settled on what name fits her. Kami, Kami Joy, KJ, or Joy? We’re still working on that. When I tell her story to new people (of which we are meeting many this summer), I rush into it, and I don’t always know whether I feel ashamed of her behavior (most 10-year-olds don’t chew on toys) or proud of her progress (the odds were stacked against her to ever speak, use the toilet, or function in public). It’s confusing. But the people who love us best forgive us and understand that it’s complicated. And the people who love Jesus understand why she is here. The people who don’t know Him just think we are crazy for bringing undue trouble upon ourselves. If only they understood that God’s heart is for the oppressed, the neglected, the fatherless, the outcast. And how will they know if we don’t show them? God’s love knows no borders, so neither should ours.

Defend weak people and orphans. Protect the rights of the oppressed and the poor. Psalm 82:3

 

Christen

 

 

 

push, pull: three years of bonding with Kami Joy

I want you to know that this is how it can feel to adopt. It’s not natural, it’s supernatural. The only reason she is here is because God reached out His mighty arm to save her and make her a new creation. He chose our family to carry out this plan, and I must believe it’s because He’s given us the tools to do the job.

As we near Kami Joy’s third “rebirthday” this July, I’m thinking back over the past three years and rereading my old blog entries chronicling our intense adoption journey. Want to join me for the ride? 🙂


August 2014, Sofia, Bulgaria

Mason is putting Kami to bed and I am taking the advice of a kind fellow adoptive mom who told me some wise things today. She said that even if I feel like I’m taking care of the neighbor’s kid, just make sure to take good care of that neighbor’s kid. Kamelia has been with us for one week tomorrow, and yes, she usually feels like a neighbor’s kid and not our own just yet, but the love will grow. It has plenty of time to grow, and until then I can make the choice to love her through my actions while waiting for the feelings to catch up. What motivates me even more than the neighbor’s kid analogy is letting myself acknowledge that we just took in an orphan. Technically she is not an orphan anymore, praise God, but I don’t quite feel like her parent yet, which leaves us in an interesting place. It’s complicated and, as I’ve transparently shared, messy. Three more full days, and then we’re heading home. We continue to pray that the visa process will be fast and timely so that we can all fly home together. There is a possibility she will scream and need to be physically restrained for the whole flight, but I hope she doesn’t. Either way, we just need to get out of here and get home!

Kami’s favorite new word combination is “push, pull.” It describes exactly how I’ve felt this week! Encouragement, despair. Hope, fear. Rest, anxiety. The war has been unceasing! I don’t know how much of this is normal adoption emotion, how much is the intense sadness I feel at not holding my precious one-year-old and squeezing his brother and sister, and how much is actual spiritual warfare. But I do know that the enemy has capitalized on my confusion and emotional instability. In retrospect, I can’t believe we are doing this. The only explanation is God. And He is the one who grounds me at the end of the day, helping me reorient my heart to hear His voice and drown out the lies. Lord, please help us raise up Kamelia in the way she should go, restore her to the state she would have been had she never been neglected, and create beautiful relationships between her and every member of our family!

Despite appearances, I had never been so unhappy in all my life!!!

 

 


 September 2014, Montgomery, Alabama

The Lord is changing my heart towards Kami. It may seem strange to some that a child who is chosen, prayed for, and sought after for months and months through the exciting process of international adoption would not be easily accepted into their new family. It hasn’t been an easy or even smooth transition so far. The hurt contained in this little person exceeded our imaginations, and her hurt has in turn hurt those of us who are suddenly sharing our home with her. We knew this would happen, but we had no way of knowing how traumatic it would be. It is difficult to love a person – even a small, deprived person who has known only a pitiful existence – when they are hurting you. Weeks ago God showed me the verse Jesus spoke about doing good to those who curse you and praying for your enemies. Kami has never been our enemy, as we’ve always been fighting for her, but it’s sure felt like fighting against her at many times. The point is that God IS changing my heart towards her.

Kami, age 7, next to 1-year-old Isaiah in the little apartment in Montgomery where we fought every day just to not give up the fight. Her hair was short from her last orphanage cut and she was wearing size 4T clothing. She could not dress herself, chew her food, speak, or use the toilet. The messes we saw in the morning sometimes were unspeakable. As you can see looking at her right foot, she could barely process the feeling of being barefoot on carpet. She was essentially nonverbal except for unintelligible babbling and spent her days screaming, thrashing, scratching, lunging, and pushing, and was paralyzed by sensory dysfunction. For days in a row she would not eat or drink. This feels like looking through a window into another lifetime for me.
 October 2014, Shreveport, Louisiana
Attachment between us and Kami is coming slowly. Right now I would describe it as if we’d been through a traumatic car accident together. Simply surviving has bonded us together – when you’ve been through so much with someone, things that outsiders could never fully understand, you begin to feel connected simply by virtue of sharing the experience. (This applies to our marriage, too!) I do think she is beautiful. Sometimes I think she is cute. I believe she has limitless potential. I see her progressing emotionally and behaviorally. Sunday we spent about 7 minutes in Krispy Kreme, the entire family. She sat and ate a donut without making a scene. I honestly didn’t know if we’d ever be able to take her out in public, but we did. She’s had a couple of playground trips now without tantrums. Sometimes she whines, but so does Eden, so I won’t hold whining against her. She is VERY stubborn. This stubbornness helped her parent herself for 7 years, but the majority of it has no place in our home. Attachment with a cooing baby, adorable toddler, or even an emotionally stable older child from quality foster care can come naturally, but attachment to a stubborn, previously undisciplined 7-year-old does not, my friends!
Moms, you know how when you look at your baby, you can almost feel your brain being flooded by intense bonding hormones? I felt and still do feel that with our other three kids. Sometimes an experience with Kami, even a tender and positive one, will trigger an outpouring of adrenaline from my very confused and traumatized glands. It’s almost as if my body is rebelling against this unnatural connection, screaming “you didn’t deliver this baby, she’s not a baby, what are you doing loving on her as if she were yours?!?!” I am all about sharing truth and I want you to know that this is how it can feel to adopt. It’s not natural, it’s supernatural. The only reason she is here is because God reached out His mighty arm to save her and make her a new creation. He chose our family to carry out this plan, and I must believe it’s because He’s given us the tools to do the job. It sounds strange, but even when it feels like we’re the worst fit for her, I know that there isn’t another family better equipped for this child.

January 2015, Shreveport, Louisiana

Recently we went to Chick-fil-a for dinner as a family. It was blissfully uneventful. Mason and I sat on a bench together while Ezekiel, Kami and Eden squished onto the one opposite us, and Isaiah happily people-watched from a highchair. It was so…normal. Easy. Enjoyable. Why did I not believe this day would come? Why did I think my life was over and that the rest of my pitiful days would be lived out in frantic mother-of-four isolation? There are a few possible answers to those questions, among them being post-adoption depression and profound psychological adjustment. The healing I am seeing unfold before my eyes is exactly what God promised us before we started this journey. It’s just that the path has been so painful and difficult in places that at times I had convinced myself that we were on the wrong one.

Living together for six months can bond you to someone. It was very awkward parenting a complete stranger, and it was really, really hard to start out a parenting journey with fight-or-flight surges rather than warm, nurturing feelings. As a new adoptive mom to a child from a very hard place, I’ve moved through stages of compassion, frustration, fear, anger, acceptance and hope (sometimes all in one day) in my relation to her. I’ve been trying to keep in mind the helpful advice to put feelings in the backseat, and it helped me justify my lack of them, but praise God – the feelings train is finally starting to catch up. I know I’m using the word feeling alot because it feels good to finally have some feelings to support this new relationship, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter if I feel like loving as Christ loves. I’m called to do it anyway.

I am the closest relationship Kami has ever experienced in her life. It’s obvious that the five of us, Mason, me, and our other three, are closer to her now than anyone else has ever been, but I say I am her closest because I am her most consistent caretaker. I oversee almost all her daily activities, feed her almost every meal, and am training and bonding with her during the workday while Mason is gone. Because of this, she tries to push me away in subtle ways to see how I will react. I’m sure she wants to test the boundaries to see if I will stick around.

I left the book of Jude open on the kitchen counter this week. It reminded me every time I walked by that I no longer live according to natural instinct because God’s Spirit lives in me (Jude 19). There is absolutely no room for my instinctive response, but only for the response of careful training and instruction that is my responsibility as her mother. In the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)


June 2015, Shreveport, Louisiana

From what I understand, the months of intense trauma and stress in our home caused me to have unusually (dare I say dangerously) high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Due to Kami’s tragic past, she came into our family with skyrocketed stress hormone levels, and as hers gradually went down, mine went up. This is what I meant all of the times when people asked me how things were going and all I could think of to respond with was “it has been costly.” That was an uncomfortable exchange of trauma that happened. But I can now say I am grateful for the chance to take on her stress,  even to suffer under it for a little while, when I remember that the Lord Jesus did that with my sin. He took it on and suffered under it in order to defeat it. That’s exactly what is happening in this home by His grace.


November 2015, Kissimmee, Florida

Here is Kami, age 8, at church this morning. She speaks in full sentences, and when I remember her at this time last year, it doesn’t matter anymore that the words in the sentences are arranged strangely. She dresses herself, in size 8-10 clothing, uses the toilet like a pro, and has very few remaining sensory issues. She knows how to play, jump, climb, slide, obey, and communicate. As I write she’s standing next to me looking at the pictures and talking about what I’m doing. It feels this month like we are finally emerging from the woods enough for some real bonding to take place. I took her to visit a special needs school last week, and I walked out feeling unsure if I even want to put her in school anymore. She is doing so well at home and, even on the hard days, she is growing and learning by leaps and bounds. We still have our share of challenges, but today I’m just celebrating the power of God’s Word in changing her life. Because it’s God’s Word that told us to care for orphans, and it’s God’s Word that enabled us to go where He sent us to bring an orphaned child into our family, and it’s God’s Word that enables us today to train her up up in the way she should go, no matter how many years were lost to abandonment.


August 2016, Kissimmee, Florida

It’s taken two years for me to feel mostly like my old self again. My old self could often laugh at the days to come, like the Proverbs 31 woman, and generally woke up peaceful and eager to do my tasks of child-raising each day. I am so grateful that God in His mercy has restored me, because for many months following our adoption of Kami, waking up was painful. Every morning my eyes would fly open to the sounds of her screaming, banging, thrashing, howling, or babbling. In an instinctive effort to preserve the home environment for my first three little ones, I would fly out of bed, adrenaline pumping, to silence the outburst. My stomach would be churning and my heart pounding, from what felt like the moment I awoke to the moment I fell asleep at night. For what seemed like a very long time, fighting for this child’s life felt like fighting against her. 


Today, June 16, 2017

I’m starting to feel like I love her, and I’m starting to feel like she’s mine.

 

Christen

10 positive things about dietary restrictions

Here are ten encouragements for you if you’re dealing with a suddenly restricted diet.

Here’s a positive spin on something that’s generally viewed as a major bummer: dietary restrictions! I remember saying as a teenager, “I could never give up wheat,” “I definitely couldn’t live without cheese,” etc… Well, I’ve learned by now to stop saying I could never do something. Many of those things, I’ve ended up doing!

Here are ten encouragements for you if you’re dealing with a suddenly restricted diet. Take heart; it could become a big blessing in your life!

  1. Most of the grocery store is off limits, so you save both money and time when you shop. You learn to zero in on the small sections that carry your safe items. If you’re gluten and dairy free, brands like Bob’s Red Mill and Enjoy Life (affiliate links included) exert a magnetic force on you!


2) You are forced to actually think about everything that you put in your mouth. This is a healthy practice we should all do to care for our bodies, but many of us don’t take the time to read labels and make informed decisions unless we develop an allergy or intolerance.

3) The temptation to pig out in social settings is gone, leading to…

4) You emphasize relationships with people rather than food! When I go to a restaurant to meet a friend, chances are I will just order a glass of water and maybe a small fruit or vegetable side dish. (This also saves money!)

5) Fewer choices make for a simpler lifestyle. An unlimited array of choices at the grocery store or restaurant can be overwhelming.

6) The physical discipline of controlling what you put in your mouth can be translated into a spiritual discipline. When I had to become strict about making sure no gluten (and later dairy) was in my food, I realized that I should be just as strict about what I say and what I watch. Practicing vigilance in one area helps develop it in other areas.

7) Midnight snacks feel good. I can stand in the dark kitchen, after everyone else has gone to bed, eating carrots and hummus until I am fully satisfied. I don’t feel sick or guilty afterward!

8) Your stomach gets the message that it’s full. Back when I could tolerate gluten and dairy, I had a greater tendency to overeat because I didn’t feel as satisfied after eating.

9) You’re more grateful for your food! If someone goes to the trouble to make me a GF/DF treat (which my mom does all the time), I enjoy every last bite of it. As long as it’s safe, I’m not picky.

10) You can be sure that when you pray “Give us today our daily bread” like Jesus said to do, He knows exactly what kind of bread you’re talking about! In my case, any of these choices below will do. 🙂

In everything give thanks!

Christen

saying yes to God’s best: the things I didn’t even know I wanted

I’m learning to be grateful for all His gifts, even the ones I didn’t ask for.

It all started with a piano. Loresa, a friend of Mason’s mom, asked one day if we would like a free piano. When she relayed the offer, my first inclination was no, thank you. I figured our open floor plan, which has our kitchen, dining room, living room, and school room all together, seemed full enough; and besides, I hadn’t played piano for years. Mason and I talked it over and felt a tug to accept the kind gift. It was delivered a couple of months ago to a cozy spot next to the dining room table.

piano

This piano has been therapy to my soul. I never would have guessed that I wanted one! I had no idea how good it would be for me, and how fun it would be to pull out all my old music books and remember how to play songs full of pleasant memories. Eden was the first to try to teach herself to play (that lasted all of about 2 weeks), Ezekiel compiles a lineup of special songs (all in minor keys, of course) for me to play him each day, Isaiah snuggles up next to me with his chubby little arm around me says “I love you, Momma!” when I play, and Kami has learned to process and enjoy a new kind of sound in the house. This piano, at first a seemingly random offer to be passed over, has become a sweet gift to every member of the family – even Mason, who’s not the keenest on musical appreciation. (Thanks, Loresa!)

This got me thinking about some other gifts I’ve been hesitant to receive. I heard on the radio the other day the idea that God’s will is everything we want, if we knew all the facts. Of course, we don’t know all the facts, but sometimes we get far enough down the road to see glimmers of them in this life.

One gift I didn’t know I wanted at the time was our third baby. Isaiah is a kind, cuddly, smart, empathetic member of the family, and he’s got a glue-like quality that pulls everybody together. He totally disrupted our plans to adopt from South America in 2012, and we were pretty upset that our grand orphan care mission was derailed by an unforeseen pregnancy. We were foolish and shortsighted, and Isaiah is the best surprise we have ever received! it just takes one look at him every day for God to remind me to trust Him and be patient – it can take 9 months or more to see His purposes unfold. 🙂
Martin-1030

Sometimes we wrestle with the gifts He drops into our laps, particularly when they take us on rollercoaster rides. This has been the case with Kami Joy. I was encouraged to hear one international adoptive mom share with me recently that it took her close to 10 years to feel love for her child. (If you haven’t adopted a traumatized older child, that might sound heartless. It’s quite the opposite. Like so many other things in life, it’s hard to understand unless you’ve lived it.) We do have many moments and days now where we feel warm feelings toward her, but we still have days where we simply choose to love her through our actions in the absence of feelings. She’s a gift that God has used to humble, soften, refine, and bless us.

Martin-1014
Here’s another gift I never would have asked for: a cancer diagnosis. It was like something from a movie, finding myself in a doctor’s office with my spouse where I was told very seriously that I had cancer. This happened to me last month. I think the whole thing was a bit over-dramatized on the medical side, but God’s not intimidated by that. He taught me so much through the six-letter word that I was afraid of. I was pretty upset at first and spent a few days crying and resigning myself to all sorts of horrible treatments. Then we prayed, educated ourselves, calmed down, asked friends to pray, and prayed some more. We watched portions of The Truth About Cancer, I scoured the internet looking for home remedies, we spoke with trusted friends, and we used unconventional things like black seed oil, eggplant extract, baking soda, Essiac tea, and of course, our doTERRA essential oils. During the time between my biopsy and my visit to the oncologist, the growth had almost disappeared. The oncologist needed help finding it, yet flippantly dismissed the notion that natural treatments could have helped. 😉  It is completely gone, with only a small scar showing where it was! The Lord led some of our friends to pray specifically for clear guidance on whether or not we should proceed with surgery. He gave it, and we aren’t planning on surgery right now.

God healed that small tumor. He is so awesome. If I could guess, I think one reason He gave me this gift was to demolish a huge fear stronghold in my life. I have been afraid dozens of times in my life that I might have cancer. (I’m not a hypochondriac, but I have leanings in that direction.) During both of my visits to the doctor, I felt God’s overwhelming presence with me. It was so amazing to be in a situation that I had feared for my entire life, yet to be overcome with peace that only comes through a personal relationship with Jesus. He was right there with me the whole time, and I was reminded that my times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15).

Another fun aspect of this whole experience was seeing Mason, my eternally calm husband, receive with me the doctor’s news that the biopsy had come back cancerous. Not surprisingly, he remained unruffled. He might drive people nuts with his bluntness and expressionless-ness at times, but his coolness under pressure is a great trait. This also makes us a good team, since I tend to spazz out on both ends of the emotional spectrum.

Another thing we may not have known we wanted was the call to leave Mason’s last career when it didn’t satisfy our souls. (We have many wonderful friends continuing to serve in that career in obedience to God, and they are right where they need to be, and we are so grateful for their service!) God has a specific purpose for each of our lives, and because He showed us what it was for us and equipped us to follow, we are now experiencing the deepest soul satisfaction of our lives. It’s been a season of sweetness where I’m often overcome by God’s crazy goodness to guide us so closely and be so active in our daily lives. The days fly by, they get intense, and I mess up; but sometimes I have a hard time calming down enough to sleep at night because I’m so excited! Jesus says in Matthew 17:20,  “if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” Imagine the possibilities!

Who can list the glorious miracles of the LORD? Who can ever praise him half enough? Psalm 106:2

I’m learning to be grateful for all His gifts, even the ones I didn’t ask for.

Christen

***I want to include some encouragement for anyone who’s struggling with their health and feeling like there is no hope outside of conventional medicine. While there is definitely a time and place for conventional medicine, there is also a lot you can do at home using God’s creation under His guidance. For anyone who might be interested, here are the affiliate links for a few of the products I used. No, I am not diagnosing or treating anyone else’s illnesses by sharing about these products. 🙂

Starwest Botanicals Organic Essiac Tea, 1 Pound

Sweet Sunnah Black Seed Oil Cold Pressed (First Pressing) 8 oz..Non GMO Unrefined & Unfiltered,No Preservatives & Artificial Color – Glass Bottle – Product of USA.

BLACK RASPBERRY SEED OIL. 100% Pure / Natural / Undiluted / Virgin / Unrefined / Cold Pressed Carrier oil. 0.5 Fl.oz.- 15 ml. For Skin, Hair, Lip and Nail Care. “One of the highest antioxidants, rich in vitamin A and E, Omega 3, 6 and 9 Essential Fatty Acids”. by Botanical Beauty (I applied topically to tumor site)

Piping Rock Eggplant Extract 6000 mg 30 Quick Release Capsules Herbal Supplement (I mixed the powdered extract with essential oils and applied topically since I had trouble finding a good eggplant at our grocery store)

Many blessings as you prayerfully pursue good health!***

 

a milestone of mercy

One day last March I wrote in my prayer journal about a few things that were on my mind. Writing is one way I really enjoy talking with God and processing life. I ended the entry by asking God to do something crazy tomorrow to show His power in our family. What happened the next day was one of the craziest moments of my life.

March is already a special time of year because my super special husband was born in this month, but one year ago today came an incredible encouragement that still thrills me whenever I think about it. As a milestone of God’s goodness on this particular day last year, I want to share it with you today!

March 21, 2016

We’ve lived in this lovely house for over one year now. When we first moved in and tried to settle our things inside, it felt strange, small (by comparison with our last house), and foreign. I’ve moved enough in my life, a large handful of times as an Air Force kid and another handful of times as an Air Force wife, to expect this by now. It takes me a good year to feel at home in my new environment. It takes that long for each room to soak up enough memories to become familiar. The hardest time for me can be 6-8 months after moving in, when I’m no longer brand new, but also not feeling established in the new surroundings yet. Especially with the huge life change we made in leaving the military, it was easy for me to miss our old home and wonder if we’d made the right decision. One day in March I wrote in my prayer journal about a few things that were on my mind. Writing is one way I really enjoy talking with God and processing life. I ended the entry by asking God to do something crazy tomorrow to show His power in our family. What happened the next day was one of the craziest moments of my life.

The day after I made this request of God in prayer, we had a visitor. We’re renting, and our landlord had from time to time sent out a kind, helpful emissary named George. He’d been by to feed the grass before, and on this March day he was here to cut down two small trees in the backyard and replace them with a palm tree. Though we’d never met our landlord, he had been absolutely wonderful to us from day one, going above and beyond in taking care of our family. He even paid to install a solid backyard fence for the kids shortly after we moved in – a huge and unexpected blessing.

On this day, we watched through the sliding glass door as George cut down the trees. He worked diligently, carrying the branches around the side of the house to the curb. He worked with an unassuming air, but the shiny black Cadillac in the driveway told us this wasn’t his day job. He was obviously a friend of the landlord, doing him a favor by taking care of his house. At my urging, Mason popped his head out back with an offer to help, but George politely declined. His task was nearing completion and I just couldn’t let him leave without thanking him properly for all of his hard work. I ran outside and met him in the front yard, his arms full of branches. From the few times we’d spoken before, I knew that he had a foreign accent, but it was decidedly not Hispanic. We live in a Hispanic area of town, so any other accent stands out sharply to us. I’d been wondering where he was from, so I decided to ask him after thanking him for his work.

“Your accent is beautiful. Where are you from?”

“I’m from Bulgaria,” came his reply with a thick, rolling accent.

“NO WAY! We have a daughter from Vidin!!”

George’s eyes grew wide and his mouth dropped open. With a big smile, he shouted,

“GET OUT! I’M FROM VIDIN!!!”

At this point I’m sure I practically shrieked at him. It was a chilling moment in the best sense. After I gleefully babbled at him for a moment about adopting a girl from Vidin, I ran inside to get Kami and Mason, and we enjoyed a conversation about Bulgaria in the driveway. He spoke a bit in Bulgarian to Kami, who stopped what she was doing, listened, and responded with one word: “Vidin.” I’m sure she understood where he was from. It turns out that George is actually the cousin of the owner, who is also from Vidin. 

Vidin is a town of less than 50,000 people in the northwest corner of Bulgaria. Of all of the houses we could have chosen in Central Florida, we rented this home sight unseen through a property management company while we were still in Louisiana. 

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It was no surprise that two days later we received an e-mail from the property management company stating that the owner wanted to renew our lease for another year at the same rate!

Only God could orchestrate something like this. And it came at the perfect time, because in March we were still struggling in the trenches with Kami. I still wondered if we were really going to make it out of the woods and if we were really the right family for her. This was her Creator and mine, the LORD of the universe, responding to my fearful, exhausted questions with a resounding “Yes! Yes, Christen, she is in the right family, and you are in the right house, and Mason is in the right job. And I AM.”

Come and see what our God has done, what awesome miracles he performs for people! Psalm 66:5

A year later, this milestone of God’s mercy still fills me with awe and comforts me. 

Over the weekend, Mason generously sent me to a ladies’ event hosted by Wycliffe called Women of the Word. The last couple weeks have been intense for our family, and true to the logo displayed on the cover of the event program, the Lord refreshed my spirit, renewed my strength, revived my soul, and reminded me that He can rewrite even the most messed up parts of my story. Guest speakers Chrystal Evans Hurst and Annie F. Downs shared from Scripture and from their own lives about living abundantly in the midst of tragedy, unfulfilled desires, and unmet expectations. One of the most helpful reminders I gained from the weekend was that Jesus had alot to do during his earthly ministry. He valued space, Sabbath rest, silence and solitude, and He made sure to get each of those. Jesus created margin in His life. What an example for the burned out multitudes, maybe even specifically the moms. 🙂 

The guest band was Austin & Lindsey Adamec, whose song Walk on Waves (click for the lyric video) I absolutely loved. If you’re going through something that scares you, give it a listen; it’s powerful. 

Whatever might have happened in your life to leave you feeling panicky, disappointed, or empty, God can change the way you think and view things. When we invite Him into our circumstances and trust Him to sustain us, He rewrites our stories as we realign our lives with the truth of His Word.

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Kami Joy with her mom & dad

I’m so grateful to serve the God who rewrites stories! 

Christen

friendship after loss: I choose to lean on grace

I’ve found that when I don’t know where to turn first, I choose to lean on grace. And when it comes to grief, grace is a powerful tool.

A few weeks ago I shared with you about how I sometimes struggle with my words. My dear friend of days gone by shared transparently with us about offering hope amidst depression & anxiety, and now I’m excited to introduce you to another sweet friend from the same era. Johanna Mutz knows about friendship after loss. She’s a driving force in the creative team behind laurelbox, whose mission is to nourish hearts after loss. I’ve been grateful on more than one occasion for her help in knowing how to encourage suffering friends. Here’s Johanna! – Christen

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Special guest Johanna Mutz of laurelbox

I’ve heard it said that after experiencing grief, scales fall off your eyes and reveal pain in people all around you.  And in my own life, I can attest that loss is a powerful teacher of empathy and sensitivity.  But thankfully, I can also attest that personal pain isn’t a pre-requisite for carrying another’s burden well.  I will forever be grateful to my close community of women, some who comforted me from an intimate understanding of loss, and some who comforted me by tenderly carrying a pain they had not personally experienced.

When it comes to friendships after loss, I’ve been on both sides of the equation.  I’ve been the griever and the comforter, so I’ve learned a few lessons about friendships after loss.  And while it is true that friendship after loss is a tricky beast, the tools for connection and community in the wake of loss are actually very simple and God didn’t leave us without tools to navigate loss in this life.

I’ve found that when I don’t know where to turn first, I choose to lean on grace.  And when it comes to grief, grace is a powerful tool.  If you’re walking with a grieving friend, just know, you might text them, but not hear back. You might send a gift or a card, but not get a thank you note. You might offer to help, but not get a reply.  And listen close when I say this, it’s probably not personal. Your beautiful friend may barely be getting by. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to hear from you, or see you, or that you hurt their feelings. It means they are grieving. So give them lots and lots of grace, and keep showing up.  And if they don’t text back, still text that you love them. If they don’t say thank you for a card or gift, don’t bring it up. If they don’t reply to an offer for help, drop dinner in a cooler on their front porch. Increase your grace and decrease your need for affirmation. Grace has a beautiful opportunity to show up in grief.  Release your own opinions about things.  Know that someday, you will need that grace in return.  Life is so much more abundant when we give endless grace.

Secondly, just be there for them.  Your words can’t fix their pain.  Don’t offer platitudes or give advice, especially if you’ve never been there.   As much as you can, try and sit in their pain with them.  It might make you feel a little jumpy and insecure.  But just try. Your discomfort in talking about their loss is infinitely less difficult than their reality.  So just try to embrace any awkwardness, sit in their pain, and give them space to process at their own pace.  Remember too, that there will be times they want to do something normal.  So be ok with that too.  If they want to sit in your living room, eat cookies, and binge on old Friends episodes, then guess what, tonight you’re eating cookies and bingeing on old Friends episodes.  Give them freedom to be wherever they need to be in their own time.

And lastly, I find it really helpful to make a firm plan of how to support your friend.  It might feel forced and contrived, however, I think that without a plan, the chaos of the life can suck your time away before you know it.  So write dates that might be hard for your friend on your calendar, and make a point to reach out during seasons that might be especially difficult, like the holidays or near birthdays.

You can do this hard work.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.  Together is the best way to walk through darkness, and we will all need this kind of friend someday or another.

Be sure to explore laurelbox, which you can also follow on Facebook and Instagram. I think you’ll be as grateful as I am for this small business, and you’ll find all sorts of treasures including the beautiful gifts below. Thank you for ministering to hurting hearts, Johanna, and for sharing your wisdom with us!

 

a tale of two survivors

Two children who spent their early years in the same orphanage in Vidin, Bulgaria sat beside each other poolside at a Disney resort this week. It was a sight to see!

Two children who spent their early years in the same orphanage in Vidin, Bulgaria sat beside each other poolside at a Disney resort this week. It was a sight to see! They both met their adoptive parents in January 2014, within days of each other. The following summer they both began new lives when they left Vidin with these bewildered, desperately hopeful parents and boarded planes to America.

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Nathaniel’s wonderful parents made time for a short visit with us during their vacation to Disney World. We were seriously inspired by them! They had four beautiful biological kids before following God’s call to bring home not just one, but two sons from Bulgaria. Nathaniel is their youngest.

The bond created by adopting children from the same institution is interesting. I felt like I already knew Misty through a Facebook group that we both frequented during the adoption process. It was bizarre sitting by a pool at Disney World sharing the different fragments of knowledge we possess about our children’s early lives.

Neither of our families knew the magnitude of the challenge that awaited us after the thrilling moment of busting our new child out of the orphanage gate. It was super encouraging to hear Misty say that they were just as shocked as we were by the reality of the special needs – and that siblings who thought they were gaining a playmate were in for a surprise. Nathaniel has some medical special needs – some of which were not documented – while Kami’s special needs are everything but medical. God reminded me through seeing Nathaniel and Kami together that He gave each family the exact needs that they could handle. And not only that, He is actively guiding each of us in how to best care for them while also considering our own parental needs and limitations.

Perhaps most inspiring was meeting all of Nathaniel’s siblings! Man, they were super cool. Each of them had the opportunity to travel to Bulgaria with their parents during the family’s second adoption. There is just something awesome about kids who are siblings to special needs adoptees. They’re a few years older than our crew, and they gave me a glimpse into the depth of understanding, compassion and maturity that the adoption journey can instill in siblings.

Another realization I had during this poolside meeting was that, despite my frustration about what Kami can’t yet verbalize about her years in Vidin, she can verbalize some things. You know how every parent deals with comparisons? It exists in the realm of adoption, too. A dear friend adopted a little boy from Bulgaria around the same time we got Kami, and it seemed to me like this bright little guy was speaking in full, coherent English sentences within days. Of course, I began to wonder, “Man! When will Kami be able to speak like that?” Well, only God knows if she ever will communicate that way; but I can be grateful for the level of communication that she does have. I remember our translator/social worker emailing me from Bulgaria about one year after our adoption to tell us that the fact Kami was starting to speak in sentences was totally amazing. Coming from her background of gross neglect, pharmaceutical abuse, and emotional deprivation, speaking at all (much less in sentences) seemed like a huge and unlikely achievement. It just goes to show that nothing is impossible with God.

It’s easier for me to survey the big picture at the end of the day, when everyone is in bed. From this vantage point, I can see that although the struggles are raw and draining, they pale compared to the deep satisfaction of knowing that God is using our lives for something BIG. In this sense, the struggle is supremely worth it. Yes, we still feel pangs of grief from time to time about our old life; but these days I more often find myself in awe watching the story unfold.

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We look so happy! This is not an accurate representation of our day-in/day-out, but it was a great moment to celebrate.

Misty, thank you for sharing your family with us for a couple of brief hours! We learned from you and were inspired by each member of your family.

All this talk of Kami’s early years makes me want to share with you the one “baby” photo we have of her. She was 3. It would still be another 4 long years before she would know the love of her family.

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The one baby photo we have of Kami Joy – oh, how I would have enjoyed picking up and loving on that little baby! (age 3)

Finally, here is the image that started it all. I scrolled past it on a list of waiting children in 2013, then scrolled back up to take a closer look because something about her caught my eye. The rest, as they say, is history.

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First photo we ever saw of Kami in 2013: the waiting list image that started it all

Are you willing to view photos of waiting children around the world, perhaps even ones with special needs? I will warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart. You might sense God calling you to do something about it. You’ll find some of their faces and stories here. But be encouraged: He will be with you every step of the way if you say yes!

Receiving this Scripture (1 Peter 4:10-11) from a fellow special needs mom recently encouraged me, and I hope it encourages you, too:

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.

 

Christen

 

the beginning of my journey to actually trust God

It is heartbreaking to realize that so very many children are living in conditions where they have to resort to animal instincts to survive. No discipline, no parents, no love, no security, nobody to depend on. How can we overcome that?

Each time February rolls around, I remember the snowy and exciting February of 2014. We touched down in Bulgaria on our baby’s first birthday, eager to meet our oldest child the next day. Does that sound confusing? It can be, but I’ll tell you what: it made me smile to overhear Ezekiel and Eden playing with toy ponies today, explaining the structure of their make-believe family. “These ponies are twins, and this one’s the firstborn. This one was adopted; she’s the oldest.” I like hearing them work adoption into their play scenarios!

In February 2014, our five-, three-, and one-year-old children were nestled safely at home in Louisiana with their visiting grandparents. We were beyond thrilled to be meeting our new daughter, the one to whom God had directed us like an arrow shot straight to its target! We wouldn’t be allowed to bring her home until the following July, but meeting her was a huge step in the adoption process.

In recounting our pickup trip with you, I left off at a point where my trust in God was seriously faltering.

This is going to be real, folks. This has been one of the most difficult weeks of Mason’s and my life: a week of questioning God, panicking and doubting, alternating with trusting God, seeing and expecting great things. I’m a total mess. Jesus Christ, who truly loves all the children of the world, including the broken little girl sleeping in this room, is the only One keeping me standing right now. His face is what gets me up in the morning again to face Bulgaria – in fact, it was the thought of seeing Him face to face at the end of my life and having to explain why I didn’t go get this little girl He put on my heart that caused us to begin this journey in the first place!

It has been unspeakably difficult for me to leave Ezekiel, Eden and Isaiah to come effect this rescue plan that God picked us for. This mission to rescue Kamelia was not undertaken without counting the cost, but now that we are in the middle of it, it seems overwhelming. I’ve been blessed by the encouragement of friends and counselors in my lowest moments, and I’m grateful to them for believing and hoping for me and seeing the beauty that is going to come from this time of intense pain. It is so strange to watch videos of our happy, adorable kids at home that my mom sends and then to watch and hear Kamelia thrash and scream in anguish. Yes, we think the fits are lessening in duration and frequency still, and if I were to tell you all she is learning you’ll wonder why I’m not feeling more excited. She is saying more English words each day, learning new songs, performing tasks with help that she has never done before such as throwing away trash or putting on her own clothes, sitting at the table to eat, and so much more…but the road seems interminably long from this spot. This twelve day trip is beating me up. We are over halfway done, but I really need your prayers to carry me and Mason through to the end with strength and stamina. The temptation is for me to check out and wallow in sadness and anxiety rather than actively pursuing and bonding with Kami. When I focus on her, good things happen. Another ounce of trust is added to the bank. She learns a new word or giggles at something funny. It’s just becoming very hard to press on, though I know that the remaining hours and days will keep passing and the flight, no matter how challenging, will land and we will be back in the beautiful, wonderful United States. I won’t ever take that country for granted again! Mason is the most patient man in the world, but even he has had his moments where he needed a break. He has been wonderful with Kami, but it’s not easy. He also is ready to have his regular wife back, the one who is not sobbing about missing her baby.

This may look alright, us strolling the streets of Sofia; but it was so not alright. At age 7, Kami was much too big for the stroller, and every time we stopped she would arch her back and shriek like an otherworldly baby!

stroller

It’s impossible to accurately envision what life will be like on the other side of this. How will I manage the needs of all four kids, especially when Kami will probably still be throwing dangerous fits? It is heartbreaking to see a child so angry and hurt that she bites her hand or throws her head against the ground, but that’s what we’ve seen in the worst moments. It is heartbreaking to realize that so very many children are living in conditions where they have to resort to animal instincts to survive. No discipline, no parents, no love, no security, nobody to depend on. How can we overcome that? We can’t without the wisdom, strength and comfort of the Lord Almighty. It’s also an interesting realization that these undesirable behaviors are the very ones that allowed her to survive. In a sense, we have to respect her ability to navigate such a terrible environment and come out alive. But envisioning how to phase those behaviors out in a safe manner as she enters a family with three siblings is difficult. I wonder if we will ever go out again, if I will ever have a normal play date again, how home school will change. God knows these things. He intends for Kamelia to leave this place, to grow and thrive, to develop her musical talent, to build loving relationships and most importantly to know Him. He knows my heart is so torn up away from my babies that I am having trouble putting one foot in front of the other. He knows what Kami needs and is giving us wisdom to help her heal. Please pray for us as we finish out this time in country, that God will fill us with His peace and strength. I said this months ago, and I definitely believe it now – adoption isn’t charity, it’s war!

It’s interesting for me to read this today because we’re currently passing through a regression that includes a revival of some old animal instincts. Kami doesn’t need them anymore to survive, but her brain doesn’t always remember this. On the other hand, it’s amazing how my own words, journaled years ago, can give me the perspective I need. I wondered if we would ever go out again as a family; now we go out all the time. Unless a stranger gazes intently at Kami or tries to initiate a conversation with her, they might not even notice what’s different about her. Only her immediate family usually sees those old instincts come out, and it’s typically when she’s upset that we require her to submit to God’s authority over her. The mechanism of God’s authority for a child is, of course, parents. A soul who never felt an ounce of loving authority for her first seven years is ill-equipped to understand that love comes in the form of discipline. But it does. Today and yesterday have been tough, but I find the Lord providing the words when I don’t have any kind ones to say. He reminds us both that He rescued her so she could bring Him glory. I’m not sure she understands the depth of that truth, but I do, and my soul needs to hear it at the end of the day just as much as hers does.

Kami will turn ten next month, and it feels good to know she’s now been with us for about 25% of her life. The first 75% of her life continues to present a challenge as we move forward. God is helping us where no human help will do.

So what’s going on with you that’s really challenging your trust in God? Do you question Him, like I did, when the going gets rough and you realize that the thing He called you to do is much harder than you knew going in? I’m with you, friend.

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

Christen

offering hope amidst depression & anxiety

In contemplating our words and their power to bring life or death, how exactly does one approach someone who is battling depression and anxiety? How does one offer encouragement and support when the sufferer is so unreachable and despondent? Do words even help?

In answer to my recent question, Whitney Hachinsky is here to share from her heart and her experience. Whitney and I had each other’s backs during that magical, life-threatening time called high school. I still remember kind words Whitney spoke to me when we were fourteen. Sixteen years later, they’re still with me, proving that words can be gifts that keep on giving. Let’s learn from her now!  – Christen

 

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Special guest blogger Whitney Hachinsky

Eradicating A Societal Stigma: Offering Hope Amidst Depression & Anxiety

depression: a pressing down; lowering; a state of feeling sad; dejection; anger; a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping; hopelessness; sometimes suicidal tendencies.

anxiety: an apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness; an abnormal and overwhelming sense of fear; doubt concerning the reality of a threat; self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it; mentally distressing concern or interest.

If you search the Merriam-Webster dictionary for the words “depression” and “anxiety,” the aforementioned explanations will follow. When one is troubled, weighed down, disquieted, and cheerless, it is simultaneously pitiful and lonely. Furthermore, it is oftentimes a brutal, debilitating double-edged sword because one feels incredibly low while also harboring guilt, shame, and embarrassment over their mental and emotional state. It is difficult to conjure the courage and bravery to speak about the truth of mental illness, particularly in a culture and society that attaches such enormous negative stigmas to the concept of being “mentally ill.” Even within the Christian church, it is frightening and challenging to discuss clinical depression and anxiety because they are so easily misunderstood, and one simply cannot relate unless they have also walked the dark and isolating path.

In contemplating our words and their power to bring life or death, how exactly does one approach someone who is battling depression and anxiety? How does one offer encouragement and support when the sufferer is so unreachable and despondent? Do words even help?

Admittedly, I have struggled for years with depression and anxiety. There are times when my illness is less noticeable and powerful, but there are also periods of immense grief and darkness. If I’m truly honest with people (and myself), I have never really known life aside from depression and anxiety. It somehow feels coded into my family history, my genes, and I can look back on numerous periods and experiences of my life through adult eyes now readily recognizing and admitting I was struggling against an unknown enemy.

My first diagnosis was given to me six weeks postpartum, following the birth of my son. It was horrifying. I felt trapped in a pit of despair and fear. I thankfully never entertained thoughts of harming my baby, but I could not escape the sense of wanting out, to simply escape life and be done with pain and hardship. I felt I was lost at sea, bobbing up and down amongst waves threatening to take me under, and oftentimes ready to surrender to drowning. I didn’t want to be alive. One moment, I couldn’t stop myself from crying or screaming, and the next moment I found myself numbly lying in bed, a mere shell of myself. My lowest point arose when I realized I was thinking about how many pills it would require to fall asleep forever, to quietly and effortlessly drift away. And I felt ashamed. I felt horrified. I felt tragically hopeless and guilty. I didn’t want to admit I was struggling because I worried they’d lock me up, take away my baby, deem me an unfit mother . . . you name an irrational fear, and I had it racing through my mind.

I prayed God would grant me bravery, and I eventually did make an appointment with my physician. As I sat in the waiting room filling out a form related to postpartum depression, I was sobbing—ever aware of the people staring and increasingly certain that this sickness was both beyond my control and very, very advanced. I couldn’t shake the sensation that something was wrong with me, and I was terrified.

I felt so alone. Everywhere I turned, people were talking about the joys of a newborn, the sweet smell of their innocent heads, the happiness of becoming a mother, and how sweet it was to cuddle their infant babe. I wanted nothing to do with my son. Holding him made me angry and guilty. Looking in the mirror, I hated myself. I had endured a very difficult labor that resulted in a c-section, and there was no one who could relate or speak truth to me. I was alone in my experience and suffering. I regretted everything and loved nothing, especially myself. I. Hated. Myself.

Around the time my son turned four-months-old, I noticed improvements. Medication and counseling—only truly effective when coupled together—had been God’s means of providing relief and healing, though I never stop remembering that true healing and restoration for me will only come in Heaven. Depression and anxiety remain constant struggles and companions for me. They rear their ugly heads at times when I expect and other times when they surprise me, but rest assured they are never welcome.

I know now that I am better with medication. I still see a counselor when I sense myself reaching a precipice where I will either fall into the pit or remain afloat. There are days I cannot breathe or function, days I feel I’m forever treading water and simply surviving. There are days I despise myself and my circumstances. There are days I cannot concentrate or stop crying. There are days when everything feels great.

Depression and anxiety are illnesses as much as cancer is a sickness. You cannot control it, predict it, or fight it alone. It’s interesting how little discussion arises regarding mental illness. There are walks and fundraisers for plenty of diseases, but for some reason when you mention depression, people immediately assume “craziness.” If one could simply choose joy and have more faith, all would be well. It’s as if we’re suffering from mental illness because we are weak and lacking faith.

Here’s the truth: I am a Christian. Jesus Christ is my LORD and Savior. I believe wholeheartedly in the message of the Gospel, and I walk in relationship with Him. I also have depression and anxiety. I take medicine and go to counseling because it helps. It doesn’t cure it, but it helps. My hope is in Him. I rejoice in Him. I am thankful to Him. But I also suffer from something I cannot help or control. I have an illness that only partly defines who I am and how I live my life. If I could simply have more faith, pray more, or choose happiness, don’t you think I would? In a heartbeat!

If someone breaks a bone, the physicians will reset it, cast, and wait for healing. If someone has cancer, no one questions the treatment of chemotherapy or radiation. If someone has a dangerous infection, antibiotics are always administered. Please understand that everyone has bouts of darkness in life, and all individuals will encounter struggle and hardship—Jesus promised as much for our time on earth. When you struggle with depression and anxiety, however, it is on another level. It is more intense, longer lasting, and is it lonely.

If we could stop treating the mentally ill like the guilty party, it would be tremendously beneficial. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes silence and your presence is the best option. Don’t stop loving us. Write us notes and remind us we are loved. Tell us what we’re doing well (chances are, we’re doing an excellent job pointing out our flaws without assistance). Hug us. Hold us. Simply be there, so we don’t believe the lie we’re alone. Don’t take offense if we lash out or don’t respond. Don’t offer solutions or problem solve for us. Encourage, encourage, encourage.

If we could comprehend the human brain, we would be God. Science and medicine have made impressive strides, but we will never come close to understanding the intricacies of the human body, its processing, chemical components, and so forth. In the meantime . . .

“Unless the LORD had helped me, I would soon have settled in the silence of the grave. I cried out, ‘I am slipping!’ but your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer” (Psalm 94:17-19 NLT).

“Watch the way you talk . . . Say only what helps, each word a gift” (Ephesians 4:29 MSG).