Fat Fridays: Mental Health Check In

Happy Friday everyone. 

It’s 8:45am and I’ve already had a busy morning. Made homemade muffins for the kids for breakfast. I’ve got a big batch of yeast bread started, sitting in a bowl on the mantel to rise. Walked around picking up all the winter clothing that was left on the floor yesterday after we had a small batch of snow (only happens a couple times a year for us). Lit all the candles in the house in an attempt to chase off the gloom from this cold gray morning. I’ve cleaned up several messes from my son’s puppy that we are babysitting during the day while he’s at work. And also let my cats in and out the door about 5,000 times. 

And I’ve been trying really hard to not be snappy at my kids. This is their second snow day home and in my current mood, I’ve found it challenging to have to deal with arguments, fussing, and just a bunch of energetic kids bouncing around the house. (Stop throwing playing cards at my candles, No, we are NOT playing basketball in the house, yes, we ARE going to clean your room, No, we are NOT going to do a science experiment that involves setting paper on fire.) 

I am struggling a lot with depression and irritability. I’ve been working on getting back to healthy eating, cutting out sugar and processed foods again, and my body is in shock and not happy as it is deprived of all it’s junk again. I know I’m making progress, I’m starting to crave healthy food again and I haven’t had a hard time staying away from the bad suff, but it always puts me in a bad mood when I come off sugar and junk. I have a feeling a lot of that is just physical things happening in my body. 

I’m coming off the High of the Holidays and feeling a predictable blah-ness from resuming normal life again. 

The last two years have been pretty traumatic and so I find myself facing this new year with a lot of hesitancy. What craziness is going to happen this year? 

We’ve got an upcoming court date for our foster daughter and I’m having to face a lot of inner-demons as I resolve to make my voice heard instead of staying quiet. 

I imagine everyone has a list of reasons for why their mental health is not doing so great right now. 

What am I doing about it? 

Well, I’ve been really focused on keeping my home in a constant state of tidiness and order and coziness. It is calming to me to sit in a clean room with candles lit and some pretty things to look at. I tend to be very comfortable with clutter and chaos, but lately I’ve been going the opposite direction and needing everything orderly and in its place. 

I’ve gotten back into daily Bible reading. I have a 12 month Read the BIble in Year. Each day has a date and a passage from the Old Testament, the New Testament, a Psalm and a Proverb. I have decided to start in the month of December and work my way backwards, cause that just feels more doable for me. I am finding this reading time to be a time of calm and peace. 

I am working hard on getting our whole family eating healthy again, and one of the things I’m focusing on is baking our own whole-grain bread again. I used to do this a lot, years ago, and then stopped. I find that I need to bake about every two days in order to keep up with the kids. There is something very soothing about making bread. It makes me feel grounded and connected to the earth. Weird? I don’t know. I just know that I am enjoying it and find it soothing. 

The last thing is I am trying to keep life as simple as possible. I’ve had to hit pause on keeping up with community events and concerns, what’s happening in our country, and just focus in on my home. 

And even doing all that, it’s still been a struggle. But, I’m hopeful. My body is going to adjust to the healthier diet again, we’ll get past our court date, spring will come again. Life keeps moving. We just have to take it one day at a time. 

Moving Forward

Happy New Year everyone. I hope it’s going well for you so far. 

I have been fighting a lot of stress and some depression as I’ve moved forward into January. Lots of reasons. 

First of all, let’s just acknowledge the parents/caregivers who take the lead in making Christmas and holidays happen. Kids really are oblivious to the amount of behind-the-scenes work it takes to make a holiday feel special. By the time New Years came and went, I was pretty wiped out. It was a great holiday season: cozy, fun, special. But it took a lot of energy. And after every high, there is usually a low. 

Second, we have a court date set for February concerning our foster daughter. Some things have changed and so this upcoming court date is churning up a lot of stress in my life. A lot. 

And lastly, I am finding it hard to get excited about this new year we are in. My goals have diminished down to “Let’s just survive.” Ok, that’s not exactly true. I have set some new exercise and weight loss goals, and they feel achievable. I am really focusing on getting my whole family into a healthier eating lifestyle. But aside from that, I feel like I am playing defense. Let’s just handle each challenge/catastrophe as it comes. 

Recognizing that I’m in a place of stress, I’ve been working a lot on making my home a cozy, relaxing place to be. I bought some more candles, acquired a new plant, made a new centerpiece on my dining room table. Got most of the Christmas stuff put away, but kept a couple things out like some angel figurines on my mantel. I’ve tried to make my world a little smaller. Keep my focus simply on family and housework. Try to get my mind out of the future and just be in today. (I’m not doing real well with that one, so far, but I’m trying.)

Through it all, I have felt God’s presence with me in a new way I’ve never felt before. Where my thoughts used to wander to anything and everything, I find my thoughts moving back to Jesus over and over again. It feels like grace sitting heavily on me. And while my mind has always equated grace with happy peace and rest, lack of troubles; it’s an interesting experience to be in the midst of troubles and stress and still have peace. I wouldn’t call it happy peace though. It’s more solemn. And more solid. And I am clinging hard to it and moving forward into this new year, one day at a time. 

And Peace on Earth

It is early in the morning. I am the only one awake. I’m sitting out in my living room, all the lights off except my Christmas Tree which is glowing softly. I had been lying in bed, wide awake, my mind fretting on a million things, so I finally decided to just get up. 

Right now I have one of the pieces from Handel’s Messiah running through my head. “Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God in the Highest…….And Peace, On earth……Good will toward men, toward men, Good will toward men, toward men…” which of course comes straight from Luke 2:14. 

Thinking back, this year has been insane. We have weathered some really hard things. I think about the violence our neighborhood and schools have seen this year. I think about the crazy ups and downs we’ve had with our foster daughter. I think about the stressful medical situations we’ve gone through with different family members. Loved ones who passed away. A lot of uncertainty in our country and the news always blasting gloom and hopelessness. 

It’s been a hard year. 

1 Thessolonians 4:13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

This verse talks about grieving death. But I think it is appropriate to say that we don’t grieve, in general, without hope. Whether it is over the death of a loved one, over loss, over enduring trauma, or anything else that hits us hard. We don’t grieve without hope. 

The next verses in Thessolonians 4 go on to say that Jesus died on the cross for us and he will return one day and take all of us up to be with him. And so we know that this time on earth is just a chapter. Not the final credits. The story is just beginning. We look forward to eternity with Jesus. And that is our hope. 

And this brings me back to the angels singing Glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth, Good will toward men. 

It’s been a hard year. I’m sitting up early because my mind is worried about a lot of things. But, I don’t worry or grieve or live life as someone without hope. I know that I am at peace with God. Jesus made the way for me to be at peace with God. Before Jesus, all my sins made it impossible for me to come close to God at all. After Jesus, well here I am. I’ve endured a crazy year. I am looking at more craziness right now. But I have peace. I feel God’s good will toward me. I feel surrounded by his blessings and mercy. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. 

I’m not sure how to spell this out clearly enough. I could make you a giant list of things I’m worried about. Legitimate things. Legal issues we have to look into concerning our foster child. Problems with the inner city schools our children are attending. Financial worries. The normal worries of, “Are my kids going to turn out ok??” The everyday worries, “This family is eating way too much junk over the holidays, how do we get back to eating healthy again??” Nagging worries like, “It’s only ten days to Christmas and I haven’t bought any Christmas gifts yet.” So many things that try to steal our peace. And yet, I am at peace. And Jesus is the one that did that for me. 

And so I sit up early and hum to myself, “Glory to God in the Highest”, and I hand my worries back over to God, get ready for another busy day, and know that I have Peace. 

It’s a Place Worth Fighting For

I went jogging in my neighborhood this morning. I looped around and went over some sections of the road twice. I finished running and started walking towards my house. An elderly woman came rushing as fast as she was able, out of her house. She had a big grin and was holding a cold bottle of water. She called out, I’ve been watching you! And handed me the bottle of water. I’m Karen! And then she turned to go back to her house. 

The other day I was jogging/walking and I had hit my walking stretch and another lady called to me from her porch, wanting to know if I got out at a regular time every day, wondering if I wanted to join her on her morning walks. She also wanted to know if I needed a drink of water. 🙂

This morning, as I was running down a familiar road, I realized that I had a nodding acquaintance with almost all of these neighbors. My kids had played with a lot of their kids. I passed another lady out running and we waved at each other. We met last summer when a different neighbor held a block party. Her kids bring their dog to come greet my dog pretty regularly. 

Our next door neighbor has a little girl who is best friends with my foster daughter. That friendship, and their willingness to have my daughter over to play regularly, has been a life-saving thing for us. 

I ran into another neighbor at the grocery store last week. I testified at the trial of the murder of his son. He came up to tell me how the family was doing now that the trial is over. 

One of our elderly, very civic minded couples that live in our neighborhood has started a text chat with as many neighbors as they can add. I think we have forty people on the chat right now, and they are always looking for more people who want to join. They talk about the monthly neighborhood meetings, a community garden that we have down at the park, congratulations to the new parents on the birth of their child, does anyone know who this stray dog belongs to? (pictures attached!) 

Neighborhoods are great things. Our neighborhood has had a rough year. Lots of gun violence, deaths, craziness in our high school. At times I have had the thought, we should just move. This is ridiculous. We talk about it. Where would we want to live? (Definitely the country!) Wouldn’t a small rural school be better? But so far, every time I think about moving, I have a check. No. Not now. This isn’t the right time. 

And I think we don’t give enough thought to what we would be giving up. We have lived in this community for almost seventeen years now. And it’s taken us a long time to establish all these connections. But they’ve been established. They are here. This is our neighborhood. This is our community. And it’s a good community. Lots of good people. 

And I guess this is part of the  answer to the question a lot of people think, but don’t come right out and ask..Why do I live here? Why haven’t I moved? Because it’s home. It’s a good home. And it’s worth staying and fighting for the changes needed to make it a safer and better place. 

Weary

My head is fuzzy

Thoughts flit around and disappear

My shoulders, so tired

The world weighs too much

I try to move and bustle around

My legs are heavy

So tired.

Just keep moving, Just keep moving

I whisper to myself

The daily tasks stack up around me

Waiting.

Voices call my name

Everybody needs me.

How much longer? 

How much longer can I just keep moving?

Rest

My soul cries for rest.

God help me please.

And I wait

And I trust

And I just keep moving

Confident Help is on the way. 

Fat Fridays: Fixing the Roadblocks

Today (Thursday) has not been a great day for the diet. In fact, the last three days haven’t been great. A lot of fast food. This morning I had run out of my lite greek yogurt cups. I ate the last of my blueberries and then looked in the fridge again. There was not much there and none of it looked good. I poured myself a bowl of cereal. My first cereal in a really long time. Last night someone dropped off pizza at our house. I thought I would go and cook myself some lentils and rice. Didn’t happen. I was really busy and then I was super hungry so I grabbed some pizza. 

That has kind of been how the days have been going. I’m super busy and there is not-so-healthy food available and so I eat it. 

I’ve been feeling pretty bad about it today. But, as I tried to explain what was going on to my trainer, I got some clarity on what’s going on….

This week has been crazy. It’s the first full week of having all my kids home from school, and that’s following a vacation and then immediately having all my big kids head off to camp which meant I was managing all the little kids on my own for five days. I have written down a new family schedule, but now, by sheer force of will, I have to get all my kids onto this new schedule. And that takes a lot of will power. At the same time I am trying to get my house in order after the vacation and having a week with no older children home to help. And also get my house summer-proofed (organizing my activity drawer for rainy days, organizing books and math puzzles and workbooks for keeping our school skills honed during the summer, organizing all our legos and building blocks and art supplies for bored kids). 

You would think I would have already been prepared for summer to come. After all, it’s no surprise. But, alas, I was so focused on just finishing up this crazy school year that I did not give a lot of thought to summer. Also, we have a foster child who does not handle a “go-with-the-flow” lifestyle, which my other kids are more adept at. We are finding out, loud and clear, that our house needs a strong routine/schedule NOW in order to help her function better. And so this week has seen me extremely busy and slightly panicked as I have been trying to establish order as quickly as possible. 

Grocery shopping and meal prep and cooking healthy dinners have been low on the priority list. 

So, I’ve learned something important about myself. I have to have a routine/schedule or I can’t function as a mom of many kids . 

I have been working hard on fixing that and I’m actually pretty hopeful that by this coming Monday morning, I’ll have the most important things in place and I can be back on schedule. 

It was really helpful to talk to my trainer and put things in perspective. Ok. There is a roadblock. Let’s make a plan to fix the problem and then move on. 

The Great Summer Transition

For the first time since I started writing this blog I have been struggling, the last couple weeks, to find a time to sit down and write. Usually my days have a fairly slow rhythm and I can fit in whatever extra thing I need to do pretty easily. But since summer has started I feel like my personal treadmill suddenly sped up from easy walk to fast run. 

I’m pretty sure that any mom out there that suddenly has her kids home from school will understand. Transitioning to new schedules is not easy. Not easy on the mom, not easy on the kids. And if you have any kids with special needs, that transition is even harder. Routine is a strong glue that holds a lot of people together. Usually I am a little more prepared, but for whatever reason, this summer I’ve been floundering a bit. 

I went out and bought a big dry-erase calendar board that has a “notes” section on the side. Then I realized that wasn’t enough space to get everything written down, so I went and bought another smaller dry-erase board and put it underneath that one. Now, I think I need at least ONE more dry-erase board to really have EVERYTHING written down. (Because writing everything down on a dry-erase board will somehow make everything better!)

This summer I have different children leaving for different camps almost every single week. It’s unnerving. When you have a lot of kids there’s always a bit of an inner panic that you’re going to forget someone somewhere and now the routine is all shaken up and I have to count kids up differently. We’re missing someone!! Oh, right, they’re at camp. And that one is at summer school, and that one is at work, and that one is playing at the neighbors…you can see how it gets a bit unnerving. Like, could everyone just sit still so I know where you are.

I”ve had other unnerving things happen too. Like I had to get a root canal yesterday. Very unnerving. I hate pain. I hate dental pain. I really dislike dental work. 

I’m going on a women’s retreat this weekend. I’ll be gone from the family. That is very unnerving. Not that I can’t be alone without my family. Not that I won’t greatly enjoy being alone for a couple days. But it’s different. It’s not normal, and I have a hard time relaxing into “not normal” things. 

So, here I am, flying along on this fast-paced “new” schedule that hasn’t become a comfortable routine yet. My kids are all off in different directions. I’m doing something different this weekend. The end result is that I’m battling with some anxiety and panic. And in the middle of all this chaos, God has been downloading his goodness to me. And I want everything else to just hit pause so I can just soak it all in, but instead I just find myself dwelling on it in bits and pieces when a quiet moment arrives. 

My teens went to a church youth camp and when they came back, some things had shifted spiritually for some of them. And I can see a difference. And I just want to cry because really, the only important thing in my entire life is that my children follow after God, and when you see them taking ownership of that relationship and becoming independent in that area, there aren’t any words to describe your joy. 

Another thing, a friend of mine has been posting Bible devotions/research that she has been doing about Jesus as the Groom and God has been shining a spotlight on the intimacy of his relationship with me. And it makes me feel cherished and special. It’s an overwhelming answer to that lifelong question, “Do I have any worth? Am I lovable?”

So, here I am, waffling back and forth from a spiritual high to anxiety. It’s a weird place to be. Writing this down helps me get it all sorted out in my mind though. God loves me. I can be at peace knowing he’ll help me figure out this summer. 

Plug for Foster Care

Foster Care is kind of in a crisis right now. They need families to sign up to be foster parents. It’s a constant need. I see ads and articles talking about this pressing need all the time, but I have been hesitant to take up the call and start advocating and pressing other people to consider being a foster family. Mostly because we have been on this journey since December 2019, and it’s been hard. And I’m in a place where I can very clearly tell you how hard this is on a day-to-day basis, and do I really want to be responsible for someone else signing up for foster care and then watching them be weighed down by this same burden? 

I kind of feel the same way about having large families. I love our large family. I would not go back in time and do anything differently. But, it’s been hard. It’s not an easy path. So, I don’t go around telling everyone else that they should also have a large family. 

But having a large family is what has made me who I am. Refining by fire. And being a foster mom has been a whole other level of refinement. 

I didn’t pursue fostering. I had a desire to be a foster parent, but the size of our family disqualified us to be official state foster parents. The prayer in my heart was kind of, Ok God, I have a heart for these kids, but there is nothing I can do. If you want me to foster, you will have to fling open the doors. So he did. We ended up with what is technically termed as a kinship foster placement, even though we were just good friends of the kids, not formally related. 

I think about concerns I’ve had about fostering. The main one is, what about my own children? I don’t want to harm them in any way! After all, kids who enter the foster care system are usually coming with some sizable baggage that affects their behavior and their ability to get along with others. 

In the first months that we welcomed a sibling group into our home, we had a lot of rough spots. Very rough spots. During that time many of my children came to me in private to complain and ask why on earth these kids were in our home. I was very straight forward with my answer. James 1:27 (NIV) says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I am a Christian. God wants me to take care of the orphans, and these kids might as well be orphans since the State will not allow them to live with their parents. 

They need help. 

We are able to give help. 

We help. 

This is not to say that I purposefully put my children in danger just because I felt like I should help foster kids. In the end, two of the kids had to be moved to a higher level of care than I was able to give. But we were able to eventually have the youngest sibling on a more permanent basis and she is still with us. And while those two kids didn’t stay with us, I do know that I offered them love and safety during the time they were with us and helped them on their journey. 

I think in the end, it’s always a heart issue. What is your heart towards the orphans and widows of this world? What is your posture when it comes to obeying James 1:27? It’s been my experience that if you are willing to obey, and ask God to give you HIS heart for the needy, God will fling open doors so you can help. Whether it be to actually have children in your home, to help other families who are fostering (they need all the support they can get!) or to find some other way to help, if you are willing, there is always something you can do. 

This is my plug for foster care. These kids are God’s creation. They are beautiful children with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of them. 

They need help. 

We can help. 

Let’s help. 

Motherhood Brings out the Worst in Me

It’s been a day.  

I was in the middle of a confrontation with a melting-down child. I was seconds from physically removing said child and taking them to a quiet location where they could get calm without an audience…and then another child decided to come and stand right between us and start playing her recorder as loud as she could. And for a moment I felt frozen in time as I watched sheer ridiculousness unfold before my eyes. Several choice comments jumped in my mind and I may have muttered some of them at a slightly audible level. 

A couple hours later I asked the kids to clean their zones. The child of Recorder Fame pitched a fit and caterwauled the entire time she was cleaning. She sounded like a dying cat…I just might have mentioned that to her. 

Another, younger child, escaped the house without doing their cleaning. I chased them down, and when they responded that their zone WAS clean, I proceeded to point out, in sarcastic detail, the ten things that they had failed to clean. 

Earlier in the day, the kindergartner would not do his reading. So, I made him get in the car with me when I went to pick up kids from public school, and he had to sit there for the thirty minutes wait and read his book out loud so I could hear him. And I might have done a this-is-your-own-fault, when he complained about being bored. 

This morning, I had this random thought…I know God loves me, but does he Like me? 

At the end of days like today, I kind of feel like a not-so-nice person. I’ve yelled, been sarcastic, made a lot of kids unhappy with my expectations of them. I am not currently the hero of the hour. I am about to sit down to supper where I will be the bad guy who makes everyone eat vegetables. And then, I’m going to make kids do homework. And I’m not going to let them watch tv tonight. And then, they will all have to go to bed at bedtime…and brush their teeth. I will, in fact, win no popularity points tonight as I parent my brood. Though they still will all want me to hug and kiss them goodnight.

Being a mom sometimes just feels like it’s me at my worst. 

The mean me. 

The strict me. 

It’s hard to feel like a lovable, nice, person when you’ve just physically carried a screaming seven year old up the stairs to their room because they need to be in a quiet place to calm down. It’s hard to feel like a nice person when you’re dishing out the table chores after the meal and no one wants to be the one who has to sweep the floor, but you assign it anyway, cause you don’t want to sweep either. 

Maybe being a mom is so hard because it really brings out the worst in us. Our kids strip away all our pretensions of being sweet and patient, and instead show the real us. Someone who has some temper problems. Someone whose patience has real limitations. Someone who makes mistakes often. Someone who struggles to put others first. 

As I think about this, maybe God especially likes me in the role of mother. It keeps me honest and humble. No fake Esther pretending to be pure and holy. Instead it’s me: dirty, weary, spending half the day asking for forgiveness as I try again to be patient. Try again to see things from the child’s point of view and not just my own. Try again to not be cutting with my words. Try again to have grace. 

Me at my worst, is actually just me at my most real. And being real is what God wants from us. So, I guess I’m actually in a pretty good place. 

Resting in the Favor of God

Lately I feel like my life has been reading like a soap opera. What happened this week? Oh, you know, death, violence, tragedy, mental health emergencies, major appliances broken…

Yesterday my 2nd grader was playing on the playground at school. Two cars drove past the school, shooting guns at each other. The kids heard the gunshots and ran inside, school went on a soft lockdown, lots of police were present as the kids were dismissed from school. You know. Just another day. 

On the same day, we had a child with a mental health crisis, and it came home to me again, that our health system is letting the kids down. Our school has a program where a therapist comes to the school from one of the big providers in our area, and meets with the kids at school and does home visits during the summer. Awesome program. Except the therapist quit her job in November, and they still haven’t replaced her. And my child is falling through the cracks. Our own doctor’s office only does mental health visits over the phone or zoom, which doesn’t work well for small children. After a flurry of phone calls, we have found a new place we are going to try that does in person visits. Thank goodness. 

And this just seems to be our everyday life now. 

This year I have felt an urgency and conviction to actively work at keeping myself in a good place mentally. I am prone to depression and anxiety and have learned that these are things I have to constantly be working on to keep them at bay. With a lot of pushing and shoving from the Holy Spirit, I started a new exercise and diet program in January that is giving me good results. I started taking high school Algebra 1 online, just for the challenge, and I have enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, every time I pass another exercise or another quiz. God has been convicting me of my choices in entertainment, and I have been working on a big shift in what I read, which is a whole story in itself, but I have been working on filling my mind with more wholesome things. (Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8)

This is my testimony, despite all the craziness, I have not been shaken. I know when I was younger, things would happen, and I would wonder if I was being punished for some wrongdoing. I would wonder if all these troubles were a sign that I was not walking in the right direction. I believed that if I was a Christian, then my life should be mostly blessed, simple. And if it wasn’t, then I must be doing something wrong. 

I don’t believe that anymore. God is good but his goodness doesn’t always look like the Perfect American Dream. The bible is pretty clear that we are going to have trials and hardship and persecution. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Right now I feel like I am in a place of faith building. Each day I feel almost bewildered at how normal I feel. Things happen, and I step back and shake my head, when is all the crazy going to stop? But, then I keep moving and keep tackling whatever is in front of me. And I marvel that God is still keeping me in a place of peace. Yes, I am worried about what is happening in our nieghborhood with gun violence. Yes, I am concerned over many things, but my head is still above water and I’m still swimming.  And that is all God. 

My daughter has been playing a song recently and the refrain is stuck in my head. It’s from the Psalm 30:5, the first half of the verse:

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;

Funny as it sounds, I feel very much like I am resting in the favor of God. Despite the soap opera thing going on.