Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Do You See Me?

Kelly at Exceptionalistic featured a post from Crystal at Serving Joyfully that got me thinking about how often I’ve been working and working, and felt like nobody’s noticed or cared. Then I began thinking, “What’s the point?” Then discouragement reared its ugly head and I was tempted to just quit.

Dearies, that is just what the enemy wants us to think! If he can get us to stop what we’re doing because we’re discouraged– whether it’s providing a stable, creative home for our children, a loving place for our husbands to come home to, or a godly, supportive classroom for our “other” children– it’s as good as if we stop because we’ve become the most filthy, vile reprobate.

I remember hearing Marilyn Meburg speak about this at a Women of Faith conference . The little slave girl Hagar had been so mistreated by her mistress Sarai (of course Hagar wasn’t completely innocent in the relationship either!) that she finally ran away into the wilderness. God met her there (Genesis 16: 7-13):

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; … And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”… She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” …

She was rejected by her mistress, whose idea the whole thing was in the first place; abandoned by her master, who had gone along with his wife’s bad idea, and was in a hopeless situation. But God knew the situation, and SAW HER. Sometimes, even more than a solution to our problems, we just need somebody to see us! We humans have an innate need for connection, and I think women in particular do. Some of us need affirmation more than others, and I know when my well is low because I’ve been giving and giving, I need it more than ever!

The building season of our marriage was the hardest. At a time when we both needed extra because we were stretched so thin, we were stretched too thin to give any extra! We had 3 children in 4 years, and Mr X started back to college when they were about 6, 3, and 2. He was working full time and going to classes 2 or 3 nights a week. I was a full-time stay-home mom, teaching piano 3 evenings a week. Those days were very long. Even though we knew the end result would be worth all the sacrifice, it was still a very difficult time. Then after a few years, as he approached the end of his degree, his classes were no longer offered at night, so I began teaching middle school full time and he worked part time, which added a different sort of stress – less money, a new job for me after having been home with children for 11 years, and growing kids of 5, 6, 9.

I dealt with exhaustion and recurrent sinus infections all the time. Mr X dealt with hard math classes, trying to make his work schedule around his school schedule, and probably the guilt of my having to work full time to provide for our family. Our relationship tools weren’t the greatest that early in our marriage. And again, if a marriage is neglected simply because it’s not the biggest fire to put out, it can die just as surely as if somebody’s had an affair.

What have I learned, in retrospect?

  • Be oh-so-choosy about what you allow in your life. Choose, very intentionally, how you spend your time. If you don’t keep a tight reign on your schedule, people will add things and it will get out of control before you know what hit you.
  • Keep the first things the first things. God. Husband. Children. Then jobs, hobbies, and everything else.
  • SEE the people in your life. Let them know you do. When you start the appreciation ball rolling, it’s much more likely to keep rolling and give you what you need.
  • Tell your fan club when you need a little extra love. You know you have one.

And finally, remember that your Heavenly Father sees you all the time.

  • Isaiah 43:1 … I have called you by name. You are mine.
  • John 10:14 … I am the good shepherd. I know my own.
  • Psalm 139: 1-5 … Lord, you have examined me and know me. you know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts. You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions… You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power… (there’s lots more that is really good; read this whole chapter!)
  • Psalm 91:14 … He knows my name.

Who do you see that needs a dose of encouragement?

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Auntie Em and depression

I had my first brush with depression probably 15 years ago. At that time (before I had sinus surgery and began a serious approach to treating my year-round allergies) I had 4-6 sinus infections every year. I was teaching middle school choir and social studies, and it was late in the school year- concerts, field trips, talent shows, end-of-the-year wrap ups; and my children were 9, 11, and 13. At my church one of our dear men was dying with brain cancer. One of our high schoolers had been in a terrible auto accident and was in a coma (and later passed), and another member, the father of one of our good friends and missionary to Mexico, was suffering with prostate cancer. He taught one Wednesday night, and the one thing I remember him saying was that most of the times, our spiritual battles aren’t huge, dramatic affairs – mostly we are pecked to death by ducks. This spoke to me so vividly and I felt like it was EXACTLY where I was. It just seemed like everywhere I looked, there was one more thing to do, one more expectation I had to meet, and I didn’t think I had the emotional or physical stamina to do it.

I talked to him after the teaching about how guilty I felt, complaining about my life, while these other terrible things were going on in our church family. “My problems are small potatoes!” were the words I said to him. And he, in his wisdom, said, “But they’re still potatoes. Your problems are still problems.” I was struck by his compassion and understanding.

On the way home I began to cry and couldn’t stop. I just kept on and on; Mr X jumped into protector mode (thank you God for a husband who is not afraid to take care of me!) and told me I was staying home tomorrow. He called my principal and took care of things, and my assistant handled my choir classes so that all I had to do was show up for the concert the next night! I ended up taking off the rest of the week, returning the next Monday. Even then, I felt very fragile, like I might burst into tears at any moment. My assistant was my rock that I leaned on when I went back to work.

During those 5 days– my “mini nervous breakdown” as I call it–  I went to the doctor for my sinus infection. (I had said, “I don’t have time to go to the doctor!”) TeeKay counseled me a lot. She assured me that the world can indeed function without my running it. And if I didn’t take care of myself I couldn’t do anything. I don’t know why that lesson is so hard for us women to learn! But I learned it.

Fast forward about 4 years. At school we changed campuses right before school started, and it was a huge, emotional ordeal. (One little sentence doesn’t begin to imply the amount of emotional stress that was involved. Which probably says a lot about my mindset about the time.) Then on September 2, my mother had her 3rd major stroke and was hospitalized, in a coma for a week, during which time my sister or I stayed there round the clock. (Here she is in her early 20s- isn’t she beautiful?) Finally, on the morning of September 9, while I was with her, she passed on to Heaven. My administration was so kind and generous, and encouraged me to take all the time I needed- I think I missed 8 or 9 days. So between these two events, I never felt like I got a good grip on the school year, but was trying to run in deep sand.

We buried her on Sept 11, 2000. On the 15th was Sunshine’s 13th birthday. I knew we needed to do something special for her important milestone, but I just couldn’t pull it off. I vividly remember sitting with a friend by her pool while Sunshine and the other kids swam, feeling like I was in a fog, or down a long tunnel, disconnected from the laughing children and everything else real. (I’m thankful for my friend, who had also lost her mother, and her counsel that I was NORMAL!) I had no energy; I felt lethargic and numb.

But finally, realizing that I couldn’t concentrate enough to read was the tipping point for me. At that point I got on a mild dose of antidepressant. Truly I don’t remember much about it, except that I felt better and after some amount of time- a year maybe?– I weaned off of it.

Since that time I’ve needed antidepressants seasonally, in the winter, a few times. The descent for me is very gradual, and the natural disinclination to take medication of any kind, and especially antidepressants, makes it hard to realize when you are in “the pit.” The last time was after we had had some major damage to our house from Hurricane Rita in 2005, and it was taking longer than I wanted to get the repairs done. At some point I had decided I wanted to just leave the house and move. But then I got to a point where I didn’t care if we moved or not. I didn’t care whether or not the repairs ever got done. I was tired of fooling with flower beds, and told Mr X that I was done with plants and flowers; I was going to throw away all my pots and plants.

Even in my state, I realized that those words coming out of my mouth were not “me”, so once again I called TeeKay and told her I didn’t really feel sad, but did she think I was depressed? And of course she said APATHY is one of the big indicators of depression.

So I swallowed my pride again, and got on my mild dose of antidepressant. Little by little things improved.

I try to be very aware of what stresses me out (too little sleep and down time) and what makes me happy (bright colors, flowers). I turn on lots of light when I’m feeling down and try to get in the sunshine. I at least THINK ABOUT exercising! But if all that doesn’t work next time, I’m calling Walgreens!

Psalms 42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

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Christians and Depression

The other day I read a post over at Curly Miri’s called The D Word. It featured an interview with a woman who battles severe depression. It got me thinking about some conversations I’ve had with other Christian women about it. Go read it– I’ll wait right here.

Depression in Christians is a hot-button issue, especially when you start talking about medication. Auntie Em has had some experience in this area, so I’ll share what I learned.

I have had several bouts of depression that have required medication to get past. Usually they come in the winter months. The first time I got on an antidepressant was after my mother died in 2000. I was able to wean off of it, but got back on during several winters. I haven’t needed them for a few years.

For some reason, there is a stigma associated with Christians medicating emotional disorders- and I think it’s mostly from Christians! Honestly, nobody ever told me I should let Jesus heal my depression, and I would never say that to anybody else, but boy did I say it to myself, and apparently lots of other Christians do too. Here was my inner dialog:

What do you have to be sad about? You have a great family, a lovely home, a supportive church family… (GUILT)

Cast your care… I can do all things through Christ… the renewing of your mind… (FAILURE)

Just get over it. Make up your mind. Get moving and that will help… (WEAKNESS)

You are a Christian and a strong woman. You should be able to let God handle this and not need a crutch. (CONDEMNATION)

Dear hearts, we are often much harder on ourselves than we would ever dream of being to another. I finally got over my pride and took the medicine. I didn’t have to stay on it forever, and I might have gotten over it without it, but who knows how long it would have taken, and what tolls it would have taken on my relationships and life?

So, if you are having the same struggle I did, I encourage you to consider these things:

  • While some amount and intensity of depression can be controlled by you (your rest, diet, stress level, and general health), sometimes you have a genetic predisposition and nothing you do will make a difference. (Like some types of diabetes are caused by lifestyle choices and others are yours by birth.)
  • What would you advise a friend if he or she felt like you do? Would you tell them that they should be stronger, and do it alone?
  • Do you know what you SHOULD be doing or feeling, or letting go of, but you can’t?
  • Refusing to accept help CAN BE a manifestation of a prideful sprit.
  • Does God approve of medicine for infections or blood pressure, but not anxiety or depression?

Please understand, I’m not trying to talk you into taking medicine that you don’t need, and I know everyone’s situation is not like mine. I’m just saying BE HONEST. Pray about your situation, and talk to a trusted friend. When you are depressed you are not your best advisor!

And in the meantime, listen to the great theologian Chondra Pierce talk about her experience with depression. And if you think Christians shouldn’t take medicine, well just “take off your glasses” while you watch! (If you don’t have 4 minutes, start at 1:50 to hear her philosophy, then to 3:28 to hear the punch line.)

I”m linking up with

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