Wednesday, September 27

Two Years in the Dark and Dusk

About two years ago, a little more, I sat in my GP's office and looked at her through tears.

I was depressed, unable to deal with "normal" things in my life, suffering from panic attacks, and worst of all, feeling guilty about all of it.

NOTHING in my life was bad. I had a gorgeous 3 month old baby, 3 other healthy and amazing children, a loving husband and and awesome marriage. I also had a supportive moms group, an amazing homeschool community, a church family at the ready to come to our assistance at any crisis, and family that was always, always there and more friends than anyone should be allowed to have. Most of all, I had a solid faith in, and vibrant relationship with, my God who never changes. I was SUPPORTED.

I had absolutely zero reasons to be depressed - except postpartum hormones. And I wanted them fixed. But the doctor had no answers, and she offered me some medicine to deal with the symptoms. I tried the medicine, but I have low blood pressure naturally and the medicine lowered my blood pressure even further to the point of blackouts and dizzy spells. So that was off the table.

I didn't know who to call (for a variety of reasons that I will not go into) for counseling.

So I continued the only way I knew how - one step at a time. My reality was waking in the night with panic attacks, covered with sweat, heart racing and pained, unable to breathe, and unable to sleep when it was over. During the day, I was hiding from the children when I knew a panic attack was coming, locking the door behind me and praying through the symptoms, trying to think rationally and repeating to myself that this was a panic attack and I would get through it, and that I was not dying.

But honestly, a little piece of me was, because I was afraid to go anywhere that I was with my children alone, I was paralyzed by the knowledge that at literally any second, a panic attack could strike, and what if I couldn't hide it from the kids. It was scary enough to suffer through them but how could I explain it to my babies? Or take care of my babies during an attack? How could I explain it to strangers? Or what if one of them called 911? So we stayed home.

I visited several natural doctors, one of which suggested a hormone balancing supplement that contained gluten (which caused 3 days of agony) and for which no substitute existed. The other one suggested I get more sleep and rest, and ordered expensive testing that may or may not give answers. The panic attacks and new baby nixed the "extra sleep" idea, and I decided to forgo the expensive testing. I read pages and pages of articles about postpartum depression and hormones and natural methods for hormone balancing. I continued my THM way of eating, hoping that the lack of sugar would at least keep the symptoms somewhat at bay, or at least allow my body to heal faster. I tried essential oils, supplements, and potions. Nothing really helped. Some things just simply take TIME.

I'm only detailing these struggles because IT. WAS. SO. REAL. And so hard.

Today, it's been about 10 months since my last panic attack, but they were full force, 3+ times/week up until then. I think it's important to note that to the best of my knowledge, these panic attacks were random and without trigger. They were not because of a lack of faith or trust in God. The root of the issue was hormones. I mean, there was more to it than that, our endocrine systems are a glorious and horrifying mystery - but I journaled the situations around the attacks and there was no seeming connection.

I talked to a friend a couple of weeks ago who asked how I was doing. My response was, "OH so much better!" and she was so glad, and asked what I did to help. I pondered that. And laughed a little - "Well, I...I suffered through it, prayed for healing, cried a lot, and waited. And I watched YouTube videos to learn coping mechanisms for dealing with panic attacks."

But the truth is, I also let go of a lot of things. We made the absolutely heartwrenching (at the time) decision to put the boys in school. God provided the perfect solution for us at the exact right time. They are in school for a second year. I don't know if it will be right for us forever, but it is right for us for now. During the years of waiting for the dawn of this healthier time, I learned a lot about hormones and sleep patterns and a lot about myself and my God. I learned in a very tiny way about suffering. There are so many others who suffer more, suffer longer, suffer better than I, but God had lessons for me in my relatively small struggle.

Anyway, that is all background. For this:

The first doctor I talked to mentioned how stress has a "bad" connotation, as in "I'm stressed about a lack of _____ or the pressures of ________" but that good things in our lives can be stress too. Stress is really just too much brain stimulation. Too many instances where adrenaline kicks in can take a huge toll. She mentioned the idea that we have so much fast paced technological stimuli coming at us every single day JUST ON OUR PHONES and we expect our brains and bodies to cope with that as if it's normal. Then add in "real life" and it quickly becomes overwhelming, especially with kids who have complicated schedules and multiple activities, and/or kids who are waking up in the night, or who are constantly needing to be rescued from outlets, busy roads, and other toddler tendencies. We are constantly, constantly multitasking; asking our brains to push to the absolute max without relenting. The expectation from ourselves (and from our society!) is that we should just be able to bounce back from the stimuli and be resilient!

She mentioned that God created the day for work and the night for rest but we are constantly on "go" from before dawn to past midnight and expect our fallible bodies to just deal with it. As she spoke, my heart resonated a big, giant YES to these things. And so it has stuck with me. I'm still learning to let go and learning to say no and guarding my heart from false guilt and expectations that are Other than God's expectations. I'm learning to discern when I'm acting on my own ambitions apart from God's plans. I will never be perfect at this, but it is the best lesson that has come from my years in the dark and dusk.

So if you're feeling on edge today, and Facebook is getting overwhelming, step away. If you can't watch the evening news for awhile, it's OK. If there's a way for you to slow down, do it. Read a book instead of watching a video. Put your phone in time out, even just for a couple of hours. Close your eyes for a few minutes this afternoon. Say no when you can. Breathe. Take a walk without multitasking. Delegate. Let go. Find a substitute. Enjoy the sunset. Watch the stars. God put them there to remind you of Him. Be still, be dependent. It's more than OK; it is good.

We are created to work for God's glory and to learn of our dependence on Him by honoring His design for our bodies in our times of rest. It is more than OK to rest and thank God for His gracious gift of human limitations. May He be glorified.

Friday, June 2

Upon the Anniversary of my Graduation

Twenty years ago, June 6th, I donned a white cotton dress and white pumps, put on my white cap and gown and flung a golden cord around my neck. It was about 95 humid and smelly degrees in the carpeted gym that was crowded with people there to witness our milestone - graduation from high school.

That night, I was filled with many emotions. I'd been with the same group of peers since the tender age of four, and I wasn't in a hurry to leave them. We had become family.  I also had quite a bit of excitement and nervous anticipation about the next chapter of my life. I'm certain it was the most conflicted I had been, EVER. The FUTURE and my potential to accomplish much was an intoxicating combination. Overwhelmingly, I wanted this: to make a difference.

If I could go back, I wouldn't. I wouldn't inform my seventeen year old self of all the sweet (and bitter) lessons that only the years could teach me. I wouldn't change anything because each of my missteps and hard falls and successes have been woven in now, and are part of my story. And God is going to keep working it together for my good, and His glory.

So off I went, to explore the world, experience life on "my own." And I was determined above all that I was going to make a difference, fight dragons, be a strong woman, experience exotic adventures, be used by God.

And time flew by. Twenty years later, here's what I'm beginning to see:

I'm learning that sometimes making a difference is just about plodding along, clinging to the hope that God will accomplish the good. I can't do it anyway, because I am completely empty. Not "completely empty" in a nice shiny sermon illustration kind of way, but in the sitting-on-the-laundry-room-floor-hiding-and-crying-that-ugly-cry-again kind of way. I'm beginning to see that it's more about how God makes a difference in me and less about my claim to world-changing powers. I need continual overhauls.  Most recently, I'm breaking up with the idea of "control" but that is another post for another day.

My expectations have been my biggest dragon to fight. I have learned that not all calls are glory and spotlight. That the place God uses me is His call, not mine. That call to "full time ministry" I thought I had in high school? It ended up being more about how I wanted people to see me then, and in my imaginary future, and less about how I wanted to be before God. I've been fighting dragons, all right, but not how I thought I would!

Being a strong woman is a noble aspiration. Women have been greatly used by God many times through the Bible and history. In my youth, I rolled my eyes many times at the "delicate flowers" that adorned the pages of novels, or were held up as model Christian women (and OK I still do, a little bit...and sometimes, maybe a lot). But strength is not what I thought it was either. I am strong not because of who I am, or what I have the right to accomplish, or even what I have the grit to endure.I don't have any of those things without Him.

Exotic adventures? I don't even have a passport. Maybe sometime in the NEXT twenty years. 😊 I have had some pretty great domestic adventures, and I'm enjoying the story God is writing! It's much better for me than anything I could have come up with! But to many, I'm sure my life just looks pretty ordinary.

Sometimes, in fact, MOST of the time, being used by God looks very ordinary. Ordinary like going to work and doing the job faithfully. Ordinary like preparing lesson plans. Or doing laundry, or feeding hungry little and big people, again, or smiling at a stranger, or being a friend. Or crying out to God on the laundry room floor asking Him to increase your faith. And watching Him do it.

You know, I changed my mind. I would tell my seventeen year old self something. I would tell her not to underestimate the ordinary. I would tell her that if she continues in it, patient in hope, that the beauty in the ordinary will absolutely take her breath away.

Happy 20th anniversary on my graduation to me, and the entire class of 1997. It's been a really quick, sometimes agonizing, mostly good, really ordinary twenty years.

Wednesday, April 19

Happy Easter! (our annual update letter)

Note: We're going against the grain, again, and just last week sent out our second annual non-Christmastime update letter. Maybe we'll start a trend, but this time of year is much more manageable for us to get the letters out. Feel free to email if you'd like to be added to our annual mailing list, but here's the e-version too. 😊

Typically, update letters and photos come at Christmastime, as we celebrate the birth of Christ. This year, ours comes as we celebrate His resurrection! What an exciting time of the year! Christ Is Risen and ALIVE! We celebrate our new life made possible by Jesus, through faith, and because of His grace. And of course, we hope our update letter finds you well, and also rejoicing!

This year has been one of many firsts and new beginnings for us, while many things remained the same. Michael has continued working for Bright Construction, and in his “spare time” is enjoying the opportunity to create cutting boards and trivets (mostly) in the shape of Michigan for our business, Trivet + Board. The growth there has been astounding to us, and we are so grateful for God’s blessing on our venture. We have a full summer/fall show schedule and are excited to see what the future brings!

After homeschooling for 7 years, we put Aaron and Evan in a small Christian school, where they have adjusted and blossomed. We are taking the schooling decisions one year at a time, as always, but are so grateful that God led us to this school for this time in our lives. Evan is 8, and his favorite subject is Art, and he is a prolific writer and illustrator with a collection of his own books. He also keeps us laughing with his creative videos. Both boys have enjoyed playing basketball at the school, and Aaron also played volleyball and is running track this spring. Aaron (10) enjoys Math and Science, as well as Technology classes at school. He’s enjoying time with his friends and has started his own paracord business making and selling paracord bracelets and keychains. It’s great to watch his entrepreneurial spirit and creativity. We are so thankful that both boys continue to grow spiritually and it is neat to watch God soften and change their hearts and mature them. Evan plans to be baptized this May and is very excited about it.

Jenny has been dealing with some health problems and has seen some improvement but it seems like it may be a slow process. God is directing and giving wisdom, and is faithful. She is homeschooling Cadence (5) and tutoring for our local Classical Conversations group, and of course running after Amos, who is an astounding 21 months old. He’s a funny little guy with a BIG personality and growing vocabulary. He loves to play with his siblings and listen to books. Cadey also enjoys listening to stories and learning to read, coloring pictures, art, music, playing outside as much as possible, and anything with glitter, sparkles, and/or rainbows. J She also has a tender heart toward spiritual things and a strong faith even at this early age.

We continue to keep busy as a family with the junior high youth group at church, spending time fixing up our fixer-upper, and art & craft shows (as mentioned). We also have enjoyed taking advantage of some fun local activities as a family this Spring! We’re thankful Jenny’s parents live nearby and anticipate spending more time over there this summer helping renovate their rental property. Dad Forbes is retiring at the end of the school year after 43 years in Christian education! We are so thankful for his faithful service and are looking forward to what God has for him in the coming years. (We are pretty excited to hang out with him more, too!)

This year has been one of many new things, but through the changes and challenges, our GOD remains faithful. He is our Savior and sustainer, and we rest in His trustworthiness and celebrate His provision for our family!

Much Love to you,

Michael & Jenny, Aaron, Evan, Cadence & Amos Muth