Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Used To Hate My Husband: A Love Story

Two short years ago I married my husband. Our journey has been riddled with pain and joy, trials and triumphs. Although we like each other most days and I still find him attractive after all these years, I’m pleased to report that I did not marry Prince Charming. I didn’t marry someone who matched me perfectly, who knew me inside and out, and I certainly didn’t marry my soulmate. In fact, for a time in our relationship, I loathed the man I married.

Blake and I met online in December 2013 and got married three months later (true story!). He swept me off my feet unlike anyone I’d ever met. He was this charming, green eyed, blond haired, Jesus lover, and I was embarrassingly smitten. He must have been smitten, too, since he proposed just a month after meeting me. I believed that Blake was the man I had desperately prayed for, that he was the one made especially for me. It was a whirlwind of romance and excitement.

The whirlwind ended almost as soon as it began. It quickly turned into a hurricane of pain, confusion, and shattered expectations. We screamed, spit, and snarled our way through our first year of marriage. Don't be mistaken... I dealt my fair amount of damage under the rule of "hurt first before you are hurt". It was a recipe for disaster. My choices, my sin, my baggage, paired with my husbands, made for utterly the most horrible time, ever. I affectionately call it the “First Year Hurricane”. Let me explain a little…

From the beginning of our marriage (literally the same night we got married), things got off to a bad start and it continued to get worse. It got so bad that by early January 2015 I decided to move out, leaving him alone in our house. At this point we were only ten months into our marriage, and I happened to be pregnant with our first child. Let me be the first to say that hate being in pain. I hate struggling. I've been known to avoid potentially painful circumstances to sidestep getting banged up or bruised by other people. If my plan of avoidance fails, I've learned to pretend the wounds aren't even there. So you can imagine how shattering it was to find myself in the middle of the First Year Hurricane. You can't escape from that kind of pain, although at the time I moved out, I was desperately trying to escape the painful place my marriage had found itself. 

The circumstances of our relationship were gory enough, but what made it worse was that it seemed God was silent in my suffering. 

During the months we were separated, I had wonderful, godly people around me, but I often struggled to "taste and see that the Lord was good". I doubted His goodness. I was bound by fear, afraid of the future for myself and my baby, afraid of what God was calling me to do. I even wondered if I married the wrong person. The God of Exodus 14:14 seemed absent, leaving me to fight for myself. I battled against my flesh to trust the Lord. I tried so hard to convince myself that this, even this, was being worked together for my good and for His glory. 

I couldn’t see it then, but I see it now:

“…the Lord will personally go ahead of you; He will neither fail nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8

It’s with overwhelming thankfulness that I can say that God didn’t fail; He worked miraculously, indeed. Sin and pain were transformed into repentance and healing. Blake and I submitted to church leadership, we committed to months of professional counseling, and we let pain teach us about love; how His deep love for us frees us to vulnerably love each other.

As I think about our struggles over the last two years, I see nothing but the Lord’s checed. I don't see anger, pain, or hatred; I see fear turned into freedom, and loathing turned into love. As I reflect, I think of His faithfulness to show us the truth of our sinful hearts and give us hope when we most need it. I'm awestruck when I consider how His character permeates the circumstances of life. 

No matter the size of the battle, He has never stopped pursuing my heart, never hesitated in wooing me back to Himself, never abandoned me, and He has never let me stay where I'm at. Because of Who He is, I am free to embrace my struggles. I can trust that it is ALL being worked together for my good and for His glory.

This anniversary I happily sit back in my own house with my husband of two years, our 10 month old son, and a new little baby kicking inside of me. This is the stuff only God can do.

I pray that we all have the courage to take a hard look at the orientation of our hearts and identify the walls we've built to shut out pain, letting our loving Father change us from the inside out as He so gently does.

********

I encourage you to go through the One Series from Grace Church in Greenville, SC. It has been essential for me and Blake as we navigate our marriage. I hope it blesses you as much as it has blessed us.


By God's grace I'm crazy in love with this dude!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Experience with PPD

I never thought I would be one to deal with postpartum depression (PPD). Before getting pregnant I believed that PPD was probably something that happened to women who didn't adequately take care of their bodies during pregnancy or weren't mentally "tough" enough for the changes following childbirth. Sometimes I thought that the whole thing was an exaggeration.

And then I got hit upside the head, punched in the gut, tarred and feathered, and was left for dead. At least that's how it felt.

Normal Helen is tough, powerful, strong, optimistic, lively, and passionate. Normal Helen is resilient, open to change, and fearless. All of the things that made me "me" died in the first 2 weeks of Ty's life. To be mild, I became weak, hopeless, uninterested, easily provoked, and self-loathing.

I can only describe PPD like a thick fog that slowly descended over my soul. There was a noticeable change in my mood following childbirth, but it was ever so slight, easily passed off as "normal hormonal changes". This shift in my soul kept getting passed over and ignored until suddenly I became a woman who stayed hunched in the corner of the bedroom, weeping for hours on end. I became overwhelmed with the state of my new life. I hit and punched myself as punishment for not adjusting quicker. I pulled my hair and scratched my face for spilling milk I'd just pumped. I mourned over my postpartum body. I mourned over my old life. I wept for the sake of my newborn baby; his own mother wished she'd never become a mother. How unfair for him and how wretched of me. I was drowning in self-condemnation and self-hate.

One night, just before Ty turned 1 month old, my husband called out to our small group leaders and to a friend of mine. The 3 of them immediately rushed to our aid. I don't know how much time passed, but they eventually convinced me to check into the hospital. I stayed hospitalized for 2 days. Not only was baby was taken care of the entire time, but we received fully cooked dinners for the weeks following my return. Our church friends called, visited, and prayed for us. They showed up, ready to love and serve. Just when it seemed the whole world was against me, that's when God's people showed up and rallied around me. 

"Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble." 1 Peter 3:8

When I hit the bottom, my brothers and sisters lifted me up in the most tangible ways. They selflessly took care of our family when we found ourselves limping along. I dealt with PPD for the next 4 months and my close church friends remained consistently by my side. They spoke truth and life into me. I never felt alone and never was abandoned or judged. I was loved the way Christ loves.

"The Christian, however, must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated. The burden of men was so heavy for God Himself that He had to endure the Cross. God verily bore the burden of men in the body of Jesus Christ. But He bore them as a mother carries her child, as a shepherd enfolds the lost lamb that has been found. God took men upon Himself and they weighted Him to the ground, but God remained with them and they with God. In bearing with men God maintained fellowship with them. It was the law of Christ that was fulfilled in the Cross. And Christians must share in this law." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I am convinced that in this life, with all of it's curve balls and home-runs, we cannot thrive outside of biblical community. It's in biblical community that we open ourselves up to a beautiful exchange of love, kindness, and care.

I'm glad to report that the self-harm and the PPD fog are both a distant memory. My dear husband and my courageous sisters in Christ loved me back to health. They pointed me to my Healer and held my hand while I sought Him through the fog. And for that, there are no adequate words of thanks.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tynan's Birth Story



Birth Story - Tynan

May 12, 2015. It was a beautiful day and I was 5 days away from my due date. I went to work in my cozy, yet fast-paced office. My boss asked, like she did every morning, how I was feeling. "Fat" is probably what I said. The day started out fine enough, but sometime around lunch I began feeling sick. I mean, sick, sick. Hot flashes, headache, upset stomach, and tiiiiiiiiiiired. I left work a couple hours early because I just couldn't concentrate or sit still.

I got home, lumbered up the stairs to the nursery, and sat in the glider. My husband came home about an hour later and asked if I was well enough to go to counseling (side note: I'll give you the background story later, but my husband and I had been seeing a wonderful Christian counselor for several months at this point). Still feeling rough, I told him to go on without me. 20 minutes after he left, a spark of insanity lit up in my hormone-saturated brain and I convinced myself that the baby's room wasn't finished. So I waddled downstairs, grabbed the step stool, a hammer, and some nails. I attacked the nursery for a solid hour and it... looked... awesome.

Husband came home, offered to make dinner (because who wants a crazy lady making dinner?), and as he was busy at the stove, I laid on our living room floor and started crying. My superhero husband knelt down next to me and asked what I needed. 

"I'm done being pregnant."

Now, before this point, my mantra was something like this: baby will come in his time, be patient. That's a lovely thought and, yes, it's true. But try telling that to a woman who has been pregnant for 275 days and has gained 55 lbs. And my sweet husband, without skipping a beat, started praying for me. He prayed that it would be in God's will that our son be born soon and that I would have relief in the near future. What a wonderful man, that husband of mine.

My contractions started that morning shortly after 2 AM. I told my husband I'd be fine at home, so he went into work. I took a shower, smiling with every contraction. I did my hair and make up, thankful that the Lord heard our prayers. I read over my birth binder (more on that later). I relaxed. I stayed positive. And I let the process happen.

Around 10:30 AM I called my friend, a mother of 5, and she asked to hear a contraction. After just one she said "hang up and call your husband right now." So I did, and he happened to be with a driver dropping off some equipment. He was more than an hour away from home! No bother, I thought, I've labored for 8 hours and I feel fine, everything will be fine. 

When he got home around 12 PM, I was kneeling at the foot of the bed, rocking back and forth, howling. He got out a timer and began counting contractions. I was at 1 minute duration with 4 minute frequencies. And this had already been going on for an hour, yet my husband and I stayed at the house for another 45 minutes.

You guys... 

We actually went to birth classes. We knew when to go to the hospital. It was literally spelled out on the cover of my birth binder: WHEN CONTRACTIONS LAST 60 SECONDS, FREQUENT EVERY 5 MINUTES, AND REPEAT FOR 1 HOUR. I have no idea why we stayed those extra 45 minutes.

After circling the hospital twice, we finally checked into the hospital around 1:30 PM. A terrified child in the waiting room asked his mother what was wrong with the screaming lady. The mother calmly explained that "the screaming lady" was having a baby. The nurse pushing me in the wheel chair asked "hon, are you having that baby right here?"... it seems funny now, but at the time it was a very insightful question. I, along with everyone in the vicinity, actually thought I was giving birth at the reception desk. I'm very loud.

I got to my room, put on a gown, was told that I was 8 cm dilated, ate a popsicle between howls, and thanked Jesus every time I felt a contraction starting. A nurse started filling the tub so I could finish laboring in it. My water broke and I thought "now is my chance". I rolled out of the bed, took about 6 steps, and that's when it happened.

I was overcome by an uncontrollable, guttural, other-worldly noise that erupted from the deepest part of my being. It was an amazing and terrifying response to the bowling-ball-in-my-butt sensation. Birth is beautiful.

I growled, "I NEED TO PUSH" and sure enough I started pushing, white-knuckling the handrail near the toilet. The head nurse (my favorite person in that entire hospital) gently urged me to stop pushing. "Sweetie, let's not push in the bathroom. Let's go to the bed." I don't think I would have made it to the bed without her help.

The L&D staff was called in. My midwife frantically put on her gloves and apron. Students gathered around as I writhed in pain with my bowling ball. My husband held my hand. I asked my midwife if I could push, and she said sure. That's all I needed. 

Everything is a blur past this point due to the severe tunnel vision. I do remember, while in the throes of hard labor, the head nurse told me she liked my sparkly nose stud and I told her she would look awesome with one, too. That's about all I remember. The room could have flipped upside down and the staff could have been replaced with zoo animals and I would've been none the wiser. I'm told I birthed Tynan in 4 pushes, just after 20 minutes of being in my hospital room.

The rest, as they say, is history. The whole day was the most expensive yet priceless gift I've ever been given. I learned that I'm one of the weird ones who actually enjoys the birthing process. I love contractions. I love the thrill and anticipation. I love how Tynan's birth transformed me into a sweaty, grunting, thankful, fragile, empowered mess. I'd relive that day in a second... great news since I'm pregnant again, HA!!

Welcome to the world, little guy!