Me Right Now

It's been a while since I wrote a blog post just telling you where I'm at in the moment. That used to be all I ever wrote about, but being in full time ministry again has kind of put a heavy filter on my writing. I can't write as openly as I used to because my life revolves around church, so I just don't have that kind of freedom anymore. But it's early in the morning, my kids are playing quietly (WHAT) in their room, my chai is still hot, and I'm in the mood to be candid and rambly so whatever. 

I'll start with the not so great things. It's been six months since my last panic attack, but I haven't stopped feeling tremors. I get heart palpitations every day because I just haven't learned to manage my stress well. My kids are so intense and loud and they don't get along and it puts me on edge from the second they wake up everyday. I feel like I'm failing them, like I don't know how to parent them. Since pulling Jonah out of school and deciding to homeschool him, my stress has tripled. Not because of him, he's such a good kid, eager to learn and quick to pick up on things. It's just the pressure of having to be the one that makes sure he's learning what he needs to be learning. Is he learning enough? Am I pushing too hard? Am I not pushing enough? Zach loves the idea of homeschooling all of our kids until they graduate, but I'm really hoping we can get him into a magnet school. The public schools in our city are just not for us. They have wonderful teachers and staff, but Jonah was really not doing well and I have to remind myself of that every time I angry text Zach, "WHY DID WE TAKE HIM OUT OF SCHOOL!?". So the stress is real and I'm learning to manage it, and I must be doing a lot better than I was last year because not having panic attacks is seriously the best thing ever. It's nice to wake up everyday and not be surprised that I'm still alive.

Since postpartum depression has made an exit (for the most part - i still have sad days every now and then) and anxiety has become manageable, I've finally had some free space in my brain to want to do things again. I have goals again! I want to write again! I want to be in ministry again! All great things, but it's been frustrating trying to find my place. It's like my life hasn't caught up with my mind yet. I guess I just expected opportunities to fly at me because I'm amazing and have so much to offer (haha) but every time I put myself out there and tried to do something....rejection. I put that in bold because rejection feels like bold font. I was really discouraged for several months. I started feeling the familiar heavy dark cloud pulling me down again and telling me those familiar lies, "You can't do anything. Nobody wants you. You're pathetic." But then I heard someone say something, and I can't remember who said it, or what it was, or maybe I just dreamed it? But whoever it was said, "If you can't find a ministry in your local church to be a part of, create one. If your can't create one, go outside the church and find one." I had never, ever, considered finding a ministry outside of my church. Ever. I've been in ministry literally my entire life (pastor's kid problems) and have never thought to leave the church walls to serve. Sad, I know, but I'm conditioned, ok??

So anyway. I'll try to make this story shorter. I got sick sometime in December and stayed sick until a week ago (not kidding-it's been awful) but in one of those really intense sick weeks, I started watching the show "Lock Up" on Netflix. It's a documentary series about women in prison and I just went IN. I couldn't stop watching the show and somewhere around episode 6, I started feeling a heavy burden for incarcerated women. Years ago, I was asked several times to be a part of prison ministries and always gave a confident "no" because I just didn't feel like I could do anything for them. Their problems were too intense and I was too young, too peppy, too full of excuses, I guess. But watching that show stirred something in me and I started to think about our city. Zach and I are passionate about investing in our community and creating change in our city, on small levels,  and doing what we can to help people break cycles of abuse and addiction and, of course, to know how much Jesus loves them. Watching that show and thinking about our city and its drug and gang related problems made me realize that working with women in prison is exactly what I needed to be doing. It's the first time something that totally does not make sense for me really makes sense for me. If that makes sense. So I googled "how to teach writing to women in prison" because I thought that would be a natrual way for me to serve and I found an organization called Voices from Inside. It's a non-profit that teaches writing workshops to women who are incarcerated or in drug recovery programs. I emailed the director, had a phone interview, and  spent two eight hour days in training. Now I'm just waiting on my placement! So. Pumped.

The training was phenomenal. It confirmed that working with underprivileged and marginalized people in our city is exactly what God has called me to do right now and it ignited passions in me that I didn't even know were there. I sat in the room with 13 other women, some who were training with me, some that were facilitators already, and I was so inspired by them. I've spent so much time at home, raising my kids, with little connection to the outside except through Facebook and Instagram. All I see on my newsfeed are political opinions and people ranting about the left and the right, telling me why I should hate Donald Trump, or love him, or whatever, but I don't see anybody talking about what they're actually doing except marching or making phone calls. I naively (maybe pridefully) assumed I was the only that believed real change happens on smaller, local levels. You can march on Washington, but if you're not investing in your local community, I don't really put much stock in what you say. Put your work boots on where your heart is. Or something. But in that training room at Smith College, I was surrounded by women who were there to help marginalized women not for what they can get out of it, but for what they can offer. It's probably going to go down as one of the most eye opening and inspirational moments of my life. And I haven't even been inside the jail yet. 

That was not a short story. Sorry. I'm just excited about it.  

Anyhoo. So that's kind of where I'm at right now. I'm balancing this excitement about what I'm doing outside of my church with the disappointment and frustration of not being able to find my place inside it. I have felt like the walls are up on all sides and I don't blame my church for it. (Although I definitely have spent a lot of time doing that.) I think this is a God blocking my path to get me on the right one kind of thing. It's this awkward stretch of muscles that I haven't used in a long time and I'm not exactly sure what to do with them, but I'm just going to keep stretching. A few months ago I was talking to my mom about some of this stuff and she said, "God's not done with you yet, Kristen. Just be patient." I hate when moms say stuff like that, but she was right. (I hate that too!) I'm finally starting to believe that God's not done with me yet. I'm trying to stop taking rejection so personally and think of every "no" as a "not this".  It's hard, but I'm trusting that God has me, just like he always has. 

In other news, Jonah turned 6, Anna turned 2, and Zach bought me Nikes for Valentine's Day. Well, really Christmas, but it took him a while to find the right pair, so I got them on Valentine's Day. We're romantic like that. I'm still learning Spanish, so hablame, por favor! Necesito practicar.  

And now my kids are demanding cereal, which we're out of, and juice, which we never have, so I'm going to deal with that. Here's a photo of me and three of my long time friends after our Women in the Church chat a few weeks ago because this is the first picture taken of me in a long time where there is life behind my eyes. Also my friends are gorgeous, so that makes me look better. Happy Tuesday, friends!  

Three Healthy Changes

What is this!? Three posts in one week? It's almost like I'm a blogger again or something. Remember when I used to post something new every day? Ugh. Who was that girl? I am not about that hustle anymore, but I'm back, baby. 

I have a lot of things I want to write and talk about. It feels like I've been in a pressure cooker for the past 18 months and I think I can finally start sharing some of the things I've been learning.

When my panic attacks started happening regularly, I withdrew from life. I basically went into hiding for several months because I didn't know what was causing them. I thought the best solution would be to shut everyone and everything out until I figured out the cause, but that just made them worse. So I started therapy. I fought seeing a therapist for as long as I could, but eventually I got so desperate that I needed to try something new. 

I am so serious when I say this : I should have started going to a therapist 10 years ago. I LOVE THERAPY. I am officially done with my anxiety therapy (HOLLA!) but I have no reservations about going back to process life, marriage, ministry, and whatever else comes my way. If you're toying with the idea of going to see a counselor, but you're maybe kind of ashamed about it, don't be. It was the best decision I've ever made with as much hesitation as I had about the whole thing. It's so good. If you're nervous about going because you don't know what to expect, please email me! I'll try my best to answer any questions you have. Anyway. 

I want to share with you three changes that I made in my life that have been crucial to healing my anxiety, stress levels, and mental health. These aren't things that I picked up from any one place, but a combination of counseling, books, wise friends, and just my gut feeling. I hope they help you as much as they've helped me!

ONE : Cut out all unnecessary stressors
Write down every single thing in your life that causes you any amount of stress. Serious to not so serious, severe to trivial. Every. Single. Thing. Your list could be a few lines long or a few pages long. It doesn't matter. Get as detailed as possible. Don't let your guilt dictate what you write, either. If it stresses you out when your kids wake up hungry every day, write it down. You have to be honest with yourself. 

When your list is done, read it and then start crossing stuff out. I found several things right away that I could stop doing that would decrease my stress level. Just to give you one example, one thing that stressed me out beyond words was fighting with my kids about what they were going to eat. Without telling you my whole life story, I've been determined for years that my kids will eat well balanced, organic, healthy meals three times a day. At worse, two times a day. When I realized how much stress that was causing me, I decided to throw my principles out and give them food that I knew they would eat. Hot dogs. Macaroni and Cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. Buttered noodles. Whatever. I don't care. All that I care about now is that their stomachs are full and that we're not fighting and crying at lunch and dinner every day. Do. Not. Care. Anymore. 

Can I just tell you how LIBERATING that has been in my life? In one day, that decision lifted an incredible, almost embarrassing, amount of stress off my shoulders. Deciding to let go of that one thing has trickled down into several areas of my life and the tightness in my chest at meal times is gone. GONE. I realized that the reason I cared so much wasn't that I was so worried about their health, or them getting cancer, or anything else at all. It was that I had insane expectations for myself as a mother. For me, them refusing to eat the food I gave them was a reflection of how horrible I was as a mom. Which brings me to number two. 

TWO : Lower your expectations for yourself 
There is no one I hold to a higher standard than myself. I have always had this idea in my head of what kind of mother I wanted, no, needed to be and I have never measured up. Not once. I have never been crafty enough, patient enough, fun enough, clean enough, organized enough, loving enough, funny enough. I have strived and strived for five years to measure up and now I know that the reason I don't measure up is not because I'm a failure. It's because that version of motherhood isn't real. That mom does not exist. There is NO WAY she exists. If she exists, she's lying about something because there's just no way. Lower your expectations. 

I had this lightbulb moment a few months ago when I was thinking about a person in my life that makes me feel like I will never be good enough. I have been trying to prove myself to this person for years and then I thought, "If I'm never going to be good enough, why do I keep trying to be? If nothing I can do will prove that I'm enough, why do I keep pushing myself and stressing myself out about it?" And then I took a deep breath and said, "I'm done." And I was. I stopped trying to be good enough for that person and then I stopped trying to be good enough for myself. 

You are good enough. You are enough. The best mom that you can be is the mom that you already are. The more you try and strive and fail your own expectations, the more you become that version of yourself that you don't want to be. Take a deep breath, lower your expectations, and just be the mom that you are and nothing else. 

THREE : Stop worrying about what other people think of you 
Keep reading. If you are like me, you're going to skip over this part because you think it doesn't apply to you because you don't care what other people think of you, but you probably do. So at least just hear me out. 

This concept first came to me when I read The Emotionally Healthy Woman (Which I HIGHLY recommend. a thousand times. Buy this book.). All I did was read the chapter title on this subject and was like, "Nope. That's not me. I can skip this. I don't care what people think of me." But I'd already committed to read the entire book, so I figured I'd just trudge through that chapter like I trudge through the book of Lamentations when I've committed to reading the whole Bible. Two paragraphs in and I was eyes wide open, jaw on the floor, SHOCKED at what I was reading. 

When I accepted that I care deeply what other people think of me, it changed my entire life. It's changed the way I interact with people, it's changed the way I carry myself, the things I commit myself to, the places that I go, the things that I say, the way I am around my children and my husband. I've spent so many years convincing myself that I don't care what people think of me. But now that I know that I do, and that I care greatly, I've started caring less. There are moments I've found myself holding back from saying something or doing something and then I think, "You're doing this because you're afraid of what they'll think of you." and then I buck up and say to myself, "NO. I'm not going to let fear hold me back this time." 

You probably care a lot what people think of you. That's why you don't like going to moms groups, or bible study at church, or even going to the park because there are other people there. That's why you don't lift your hands at church, or submit that article to that magazine, or go to that work event with your husband. Fear is a controlling force, but it's not unstoppable. All fear is rooted in lies and the only way to stop lies is with truth. 

Admit that you care what people think. That may go against every fiber of your being, but if you can admit that you care, you'll start caring less. Maybe not right away, but you'll start to retrain your brain to not care and you'll learn to participate in life in spite of the fear of what people think. 

If you've struggled with anxiety or depression to any degree, these three things could be beneficial to you. I'm not saying this is a cure all. It's not. But it's something. For me, these have been transformational. If nothing else, I hope I can encourage you to take your mental health into your own hands and be intentional about finding solutions that will help you find wholeness. We are generation that is saturated by fear, depression, and mental illness, and I have to believe that we can overcome it, rather than letting it destroy us. I am in your corner. I hope you're encouraged. 

Punching My Fears in the Face ... Literally

Sometime last year, I finally admitted to myself that I struggle with anxiety. I don't know why I never recognized it, but I now realize that it's something that I've dealt with since I was a little girl. My fears were always dramatic, imaginative, and unfounded. As I grew, my fears grew, and they came to a head last year. One of my biggest fears has always been getting attacked, raped, murdered, and/or kidnapped. There have been times when it's been crippling. I was afraid to go grocery shopping at night, afraid to leave the church by myself, I carried a knife around the house with me when Zach wasn't home ... it was bit ridiculous. 

I don't like being weak, I don't like being dependent on people, and I don't like being afraid. I decided to face my fears head on and do something about them. Since my biggest fear is being attacked, I decided to take the fear, face it, control it, and channel it into something productive. So I signed up for Krav Maga, bought myself a new pair of Nikes and workout pants, and I started facing my fears. 

At my first class, I was the only girl and I was hilariously out of shape. I refused to stop, even when my side was cramping and I felt like throwing up, because I didn't want to be that girl. I wanted to prove that I could hang with the guys that towered over me in both height and stature. Intimidating? Just a bit. But everyone was so nice and patient and took the time to make sure I understood everything. Every week, the classes get more and more intense. This past week was huge challenge for me mentally. 

We do these endurance challenges where you have to keep punching, kicking, and attacking, in spite of what's happening around you. It's always intense, but last night was on another level. We had to keep punching the guy holding the pad while two people pushed you, grabbed you, and tried to keep you from punching. At one point, the trainer came over and picked me up off the ground and spun me around while I wriggled and struggled to break free. As soon as I got loose, another guy came up yelling and grabbed me and knocked me to the ground. It's all part of the training and immediately afterwards the trainer and a few of the guys came over to make sure I was ok, but I was off for the rest of the night. It sucked. 

When I woke up this morning (a little sore from headlocks and throat jabs), I was so thankful for last night and for this training. I was shaken and on edge for awhile, but now that initial shock of being attacked is over. It happened within the safety of a gym with guys that are intense, but caring. If it ever happens outside of the gym, in a real life situation, I'm ready for it. I won't have that shock of getting hit for the first time, or being grabbed, or having a 6'5 man staring down at me and yelling in my face. I'm so thankful that they don't take it easy on me over there. I've taken a punch to the ear and to the face (chipped a tooth with that one), I've been thrown to the ground, picked up and dropped, kicked in the stomach and elbowed in the eye. I have faced almost every fear that I've lost sleep over and now I feel empowered and strong. 

I'm no where near done with my training, as I'm only 4 classes in, but I'm not stopping anytime soon. It expensive and intense, but worth every penny and every drop of sweat. Are you scared of something? Face it. Can you do something about it? Do it. Fear only has as much power as you give it and we need to be stop feeding the beast. Don't hide from what scares you. Get out there and punch it in the face. If this 5'2, 119 pound, mom of three on an embarrassingly tight budget can do it, you can do it. I swear to you, you can do it. You are stronger than you think you are and you can handle more than your fear lets you believe.

Ok. Pep talk over. You've got this. 

Click here for some info on Krav Maga. This is where I go, so if you're in the Western Mass area, come join me! We can feel silly and intimidated together. 

Collecting stories

After Deep Cries Out released, Zach asked me, "What are you going to do now? You spent eight months on that thing!" Initially I wanted to say, "I'm starting my next book!", but that didn't feel right. And then I thought maybe I'd go back to the blog life and start updating this space a little more regularly, but that didn't feel right either. 

A few months ago, I was listening to a chat with Lysa Terkeurst and she said something that's stuck with me. She said as writers, our input needs to be greater than our output. If all we do is write and write and write and write, there is no space for stories to happen. We should spend time collecting stories and space out our telling of those stories. I think that's true for everyone, regardless of whether or not you write for a living. We spend so much time telling other people what happened to us or around us the minute that it happens and I think it's wise advice to tuck those stories away instead. There is no rush to share your story. Sit on it, let it grow, move, and take on life of its own. 

So in the spirit of spacing out my writing and collecting more stories, I deleted a few social media apps off my phone and am trying to seriously reduce my social media intake and output. I'm resolving to read more and scroll less and let my stories be my stories. Ever since I was a little girl, I've had this compulsive need to document my life in intricate details. Journal entries, photo taking, keepsake collecting, I've been a hoarder of story mementos because I've been so afraid of forgetting. Now I want to try my hand at just being in my stories and not collecting their mementos. If that makes sense. It's a life experiment, if nothing less, and I think it will be good for me. 

ALSO... I feel like I've been in this constant wish washy stage of life where I can't decide what I want to do or who I want to be. I feel outside pressure to put my kids in school and day care and start my career and give up the stay at home mom and homeschooler life. Internally, I feel like I'm getting older and like what I want to do and who I want to be is getting muddy and I'm just not sure my choices are so clear anymore. There's this weird tug of war happening inside of me and the outside voices are drowning me out and the pressure is on and it's just getting to be a little too much. I can't breathe. I need to breathe. 

All that to say, every time I put my writing on hold, I feel like I have to explain myself. Kind of a, "It's not you, it's me!" sort of thing. I need to pause, collect my stories, be fully present and committed to my life, and figure out what the next step is for me. I know I just turned 29, but for real... the 30 life crisis is no joke. This stage of life is so weird, right?? 

ANYhoo. 

If you need some new reads, here are some that I've been digging lately and I think you will too. 

Many Sparrows - Kayla has two little boys, is expecting a new little baby in the Spring, and just adopted sweet little Eliza. The Craigs are just the coolest family ever and Eliza's adoption story is an incredible testimony of God's grace, provision, and fierce love. (Anxiously waiting for part 2, Kayla!!)

Coffee + Crumbs - This is 100% my favorite blog right now. So many beautiful, real life essays on motherhood. 

Jess Connolly - Always. The girl just gets me. 

One last thing ... 

Next month, I'll be periscoping (@kristenlavalley) through Deep Cries Out every Monday morning at 10am. I'd love for you to jump in and chat about the book and your thoughts on the devotions. If you haven't bought it yet, the link is here and you can purchase the PDF version here

That is all. Happy Saturday, my friends!