Category Archives: Family

Redeeming a Life of Anxiety

The Inciting Incident

Seven years ago, I was in what could have been a fatal car accident. By the grace of God, it didn’t end my life, but it did change it. Significantly. The van I was riding in hit a semi, got hit by the car behind it, and caught on fire. I walked away with a few minor physical injuries that healed within a few months.

But the trauma of the accident and the stress of the aftermath triggered anxiety and panic attacks that I’ve been dealing with ever since. I come by it honestly—I’m certainly not the first person in my family to deal with anxiety, and it’s not unusual for trauma to trigger things like this.

I tried what felt like everything to cope—willpower, prayer counseling, exercise, emotional eating, supplements, distraction, cutting out caffeine, curling up in a ball on the couch and praying for it to go away . . . Nothing worked. I wasn’t able to live a normal life. I was afraid to be alone. My days were plagued with panic attacks that I couldn’t prevent or predict.

What Anxiety Looks Like

Health conditions—mine or someone else’s—triggered my anxiety. Every time I heard a story about someone with cancer, I convinced myself I had it, too—stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer. At other times, I was sure I had an appendicitis, an ectopic pregnancy (even though there was no chance I was pregnant), spider eggs in my sinuses. One time I overheard a conversation about someone with a bone spur on their finger. When I woke up the next day, I had a bump on my right pointer finger that didn’t go away for two weeks. I swore off WebMD and made Jonathan read through the side effects of ANY medication I was taking, because if I read them, I would panic, but if he didn’t, I might die. I stopped eating mushrooms because, what if I had developed a severe allergy to them and died of asphyxia? Any time a health segment came on the radio or TV, I shut it off. Jonathan learned to do the same.

I went to the doctor with “invisible” concerns – I couldn’t breathe, my stomach hurt, did I have a tumor? Every test came back negative. No, you don’t have asthma. Your lungs are testing much younger than your actual age. No, you don’t have an appendicitis. You just have a small cyst that ruptured (at least this one is legitimate! I thought). No, you don’t have a tumor. It’s scar tissue from that car accident you were in.

Every muscle spasm, breath, and heartbeat turned into a panic attack. And every panic attack turned into muscle pain, difficulty breathing, and a racing heart. Which turned into a panic attack. For a while, I tried breathing techniques to calm myself. But paying attention to my breathing only made me more aware of the “weird” things my body was doing, triggering another attack. It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t stop.

Every year for four years, my doctor recommended I try a daily anxiety medication. And every year I refused. I didn’t want to be that person who had to depend on medication to be “normal.” I didn’t want the side effects. I didn’t want the association with mental illness or the judgment from other Christians who thought I didn’t have enough faith. I wanted to fix it myself, and if I took medication, it meant I was giving up.

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Hope

After a particularly helpful prayer counseling session, I had a period of respite—I believe it was God’s healing—but just a few months later, the anxiety came back with a vengeance and I felt hopeless. It’s time, I thought. I made an appointment with my doctor and told her I was ready to try medication if it meant I could have a normal life again.

Because I had been so adamant about not taking medication in the past, she wanted to be sure it’s what I wanted. We decided I’d ease into it. She prescribed half of the lowest effective dose that had been studied—just 5 mg—of Lexapro, a newer drug that was supposed to have fewer side effects. “I want you to know the difference between symptoms caused by anxiety and symptoms that you need to come in for,” she said. “It will give you peace of mind.”

I took the bottle of tiny white pills home and let it sit on the table for a week. I asked God if He could make it really clear if I was supposed to take the medication. I was so torn up about the decision I did something that scared me—when we got together with a group of friends from church, I told them about it and their response surprised me. “Take it!” they said, “God uses medication to heal people, too.”

So I started taking it. Three weeks later, it started kicking in. And the side effects were hell that resulted in an antibiotic that resulted in more side effects that were more hell. But after about six weeks, all those things subsided.

I was calm. After years of anxious, racing thoughts and physical pains, my mind and my body were at peace. I could get through the hour without thinking about cancer. I went days without panic attacks. They stretched into weeks that stretched into months. That first year, I went from having multiple panic attacks a day to having just four for the entire year. The second year was the same. My dose is still a tiny 5 mg, and I feel free.

It’s weird to think about now. I still have vivid memories of some anxiety episodes. One especially difficult one took place on our honeymoon. Jonathan was driving back roads through the mountains of West Virginia and I was beside myself thinking he would miss a turn and we’d roll down the mountain.

But that’s not my life anymore.

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Making it Count

I’ve been thinking a lot about my struggle with anxiety and wondering if there’s a way I can make it count for something. If I had to go through all of that, I want it to mean something. And I think God does, too. Otherwise, why would He let me go through it?

So here’s what I’ve landed on: I want to make the Church a safe place for people with mental illness. I’m going to start with my church. It’s not that it’s an unsafe place, we just don’t talk about it. I don’t want people to forgo treatment like I did just because they’re afraid of how other Christians will view them. I don’t know what this is going to look like, but I do know this:

Just because you struggle with mental illness does not mean you don’t have enough faith. It doesn’t mean you’re not “spiritual” enough. It doesn’t mean you have unresolved sin in your life. (For some people, it can be a symptom of those things, but not always. I’m not going to get into that here.)

If you struggle with mental illness, I’m not going to judge you for it. Instead, I’m going to put myself out there and speak up for the both of us. I want to help people to understand, to know how to talk about it in the Church. Though I’ve never personally felt judgment from the Church for my mental illness, I have family members who have. And I have been affected by ignorance in the Church—people who don’t mean to do or say the wrong thing, they just don’t know any better.

The Challenge

So let’s be brave. And honest. Let’s be open about mental illness. And let’s not be afraid to talk about it in the Church. Let’s make the Church a safe place where people who struggle with it can find friends and find hope. Because that’s what the Church is for—sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with people who feel hopeless.

Living a Portfolio Life

Calling GoinsI’ve spent the last four years (at least) trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I’ve been working at the church, but that didn’t seem like enough, even though I knew I was supposed to be there. And I made it to the last round of interviews for my dream job and then didn’t get it. I just couldn’t figure out what I was missing.

Until I read The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. In it, Jeff talks about the significance of calling and explains that it goes way beyond your day job. Your calling is the sum of many things—your skills, your job, your relationships, your interests—it’s the whole picture of your life, how you choose to spend your time and use your gifts.

I realized that I don’t have to spend my days agonizing over the ominous and evasive calling God has placed on my life because I’m living it right now.

My calling is to work at my church, to be a good wife and friend and sister, to spend my free time writing and reading and editing and blogging (and crocheting and sewing). My calling is to embrace where God has placed me, do what He has asked me to do, and give Him the glory no matter what.

And I think I’m okay with that.

Are you trying to wrap your mind around the idea of your calling? Check out Jeff’s book. It’ll get you asking the questions you need to ask to figure out what you’re meant to do. Visit this link to find out how to get a free copy and a ton of bonuses—you just pay shipping.

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*As a member of Jeff’s launch team for The Art of Work, I received a free copy of the book in exchange for spreading the word. 

Settled

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Waiting for Settled

Until last week, I believed someday I would reach a point in my life when I felt settled, like I had arrived, like I could get comfortable where I was and coast on through the rest of my life.

What was I thinking?

I thought if I could just get married, finish college, get a full-time job, buy a forever house, have kids…everything would feel more long-term, more permanent, more settled.

But it doesn’t work like that. It wasn’t a lighting-strike epiphany, more like a foggy mist of realization that settled over me quietly as I drove to work, when I was wondering if what I have now is all there is. And if it is, wouldn’t that mean I’m settled now? And wouldn’t that be terrible because, really, I don’t want to be stuck like this forever?

What Being Settled ISN’T

Being settled isn’t a result of the circumstances in my life or what I do or don’t do. It’s not about who I married or how I’ll parent or whether or not my student loans are ever going to be paid off. If being settled is about those things, I’ll never get there. None of those things are constant. None of them will last. None of them are eternal.

What Being Settled IS

As I read Psalm 37 last week, I remembered memorizing verse 4 in high school:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

Even back then, I knew that meant if I delighted myself in God, my desires would begin to line up with His. That was so much easier to do when I wasn’t responsible for my own life, when I didn’t have to make decisions about where I would live or work or when I would have kids or even whether I should put that pretty bottle of nail polish back on the shelf because, really, I already have like 20 bottles and that $8 could go straight toward my student loans. And when those are paid off we can finally think about a down payment on a house . . . Anyway . . .

At this point in my life—age 27—I’m clinging to verse 23:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in His way;
Psalm 37:23 (ESV)

It’s the same idea as verse 4, but it seems a little easier to understand now that I’m grown up and worrying about things like feeling settled.

The entire Psalm is about that settled feeling I’d been searching for. It says, “fret not yourself” and “He will act.”

So I’m learning that being settled is about trusting God, about delighting myself in Him, about waiting for Him to act, to direct my steps, to fight my battles, to count my days, to bring forth my righteousness, just like Psalm 37 says.

Ten Things to Do in Copper Harbor, MI

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  1. Hike Estivant Pines. It’s a virgin white pine forest with two loops you can hike. I think it was less than 4 miles to hike the whole thing. It was a little  tricky in a few places, but if I could do it, you’ll be just fine. You may not know this about me, but I really, really love trees. I was in heaven.
  2. Eat at Harbor Haus. Yummy yummy fish and au gratin potatoes. And potato pancakes. A little on the pricier side, but it
    was some of the best food we had while we were there.
  3. Read on the beach. (And if you need a good book, Grandpa’s Barn.) I wish we had done more of this.
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  4. Visit the Thimbleberry Fudge Shoppe. It’s inside the Country Village Shoppes. We bought half a pound the second day we were there and went back on our way out of town for another pound to take home with us. The Maple Bacon and Mocha are the best, but I there wasn’t anything I tried that I didn’t like. It was so good that I suggest you call them up and have some shipped to you, even if you don’t make it to Copper Harbor :)
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  5. Eat a Pastee. It’s basically a requirement when you visit the UP. It’s basically meat and potatoes wrapped in a pie crust calzone-style. Most people eat them with gravy or ketchup. The ones we had weren’t fantastic, but they were nice warm comfort food on a rainy day.
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  6. Take Brockway Mountain Drive. If you only do one thing on my list, do this one. It’s a four-mile drive from “downtown” Copper Harbor with some pretty steep grades, but there are gorgeous views the whole way. Once you get up there, you can see the whole town, two or three other harbors, Lake Superior, and gorgeous tree-covered rolling hills. If I were you, I’d head up early enough to see it in daylight, watch the sunset, and then hang around until it gets dark to see the stars. And bring some blankets—it gets cold up there. We were lucky enough to be up there to see a meteor shower. Amazing.
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  7. Tour the Copper Harbor Lighthouse. Not only do you learn all sorts of history about the area, you get a boat ride across the harbor. If you’re luckier than we were, it won’t be raining the whole time. At least we had ponchos.
  8. Kayak Lake Fannie Hooe. I learned kayaking is a lot harder on a lake than a river. But it’s a gorgeous lake. We took about 4 hours to kayak the whole lake. Thank you, Keeweenaw Adventure Company, for a great deal on the sit-on-top kayaks we rented!
  9. Visit Brickside Brewery. I don’t like beer, but Jonathan likes a good craft beer, and he enjoyed our trip to the brewery. I did too, actually—they also brew yummy root beer.
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  10. Hike Hunter’s Point. So so pretty. Two trails, lots of beach and trees, and great views of Lake Superior and Copper Harbor.

Click here for more about our trip to Copper Harbor.

Camping in Copper Harbor

Last week was glorious. We set off on Saturday for six days of camping at Fort Wilkins State Park in Copper Harbor, Michigan. I’d always wanted to go there. It’s the northern-most city in the Upper Peninsula. According to one of the locals we talked to, there are only 80 full-time residents.

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One of the best parts of the trip was being forced to unplug. We were already planning to “forget” our phones in the car, but when we got up there, we had no cell signal. At all. On the way home, we had to buy a map and navigate the old-fashioned way because we couldn’t even use the GPS on our phones. With the exception of a few reservations, we didn’t even pay attention to what time it was. We got up when we wanted, went to bed when we wanted, and basically did whatever we wanted. All week. So, so lovely.

I apologize in advance for the picture overload. I can’t help it.

Most of the week was in the mid-sixties and we had a few days of rain. Not exactly summer weather, but nearly ideal for camping. The first night was so rainy we got dripped on while we slept and ended up covering the tent with a tarp. Of course it didn’t rain much after that.

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When it’s chilly, you do what you have to do. Like make fashion faux paus you swore you never would when you were eight and you saw your relatives do the same thing.

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Notice the pjs.

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When you wake up on a rainy Sunday, of course you find a local place to get some warm coffee, hot chocolate, and pasties. We went to the Tamarack Inn. So charming.

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Nothing like reading with Lake Superior waves crashing in front of you. Way more comfortable on sand though. I got bruises from sitting on those pokey rocks.

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We came across this little guy in the middle of the trail. He didn’t move when we got close.

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All these tree pictures are from our hike through Estivant Pines, a virgin white pine forest.

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Our campground was on Lake Fanny Hooe.

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Brockway Mountain Drive was my favorite scenic part of the trip.

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Those green spots are copper.

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The bell buoy. We could hear this from our tent. Every morning. Every night. All day.

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I wish I could take credit for this photo. But it’s so good I have to tell you Jonathan took it.

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The Copper Harbor Lighthouse

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We found copper!

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A view of the town from the harbor

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This was an adorable book store. I would have bought half the store if I didn’t already have a stack of books to read.

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So I think one of my aunts taught at this school. But maybe that’s just family legend.

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We left the campground on Friday morning and headed for the Porcupine Mountains, which was another part of Michigan I’d always wanted to visit. There were some pretty podunk little towns on the way. We spent the night at a cute little motel in Ironwood, Michigan.

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Lake of the Clouds

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This trip ended like most do—we were content and crabby and full of happy memories. If I have anything to say about it, we’ll be going back.

Click here for my list of the top ten things to do in Copper Harbor.

Five

date in sand ourweddingFive years ago today, this was us.  Rather than write a long cliche post about how wonderful it’s been, I thought I’d show you the eight years of our relationship in pictures (in no way comprehensive or in any particular order). When we got married, someone told us someday we’d look back at our wedding pictures and think, “Oh wow—we were just babies.” Turns out he was right . . .

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collage 7Here’s to many, many more years of marriage! Jonathan, I am so glad I get to be your wife. I love you.

27 Lessons in 27 Years

globe babyToday I turn 27. Actually, in three minutes from the time I’m writing this. Honestly, I’m feeling old. My sister turns 21 in November, my baby brother is graduating high school next year, and I’ve been married for (almost) five years. This is the first year I’ve actually been grateful when people say, “You’re 27? No way!” And I finally understand why turning 30 is a big deal. I’m not there yet, but I totally get it.

When I was trying to figure out what my “birthday post” should be, I decided it would be fun to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some are happy, some are sad, and some are a little funny, but they’ve all been a part of “becoming me” in a significant way.

  1. If someone is trying to annoy you, ignore them. They’ll eventually get bored and go away. (I can thank my little sister for teaching me this one.)
  2. Churches don’t have to be full of hypocrites.
  3. Leadership doesn’t have to be loud. Sometimes quiet leadership is more effective.
  4. God is trustworthy. Always.
  5. It’s okay to ask for help.
  6. Relationships don’t work when each person only gives 50%. Each person must give 100%, so when one person can’t give their all, the other person can pick up the slack.
  7. God cares about the little things, too.
  8. Stories (real or imagined) change lives.
  9. Babies aren’t so scary after all.
  10. Adults don’t have it all figured out. Life is an experiment.
  11. We’re all different, and that’s a good thing.
  12. When you have a favorite thrift store, second-hand shopping is awesome.
  13. Budgets don’t prohibit you from spending money, they give you permission to spend it wisely.
  14. You can learn a lot from other generations. Everyone has something different to offer.
  15. Teaching four-year-olds about Jesus is SO FUN.
  16. Humility often means not seeking credit and taking blame.
  17. Regular dental appointments are important. You do NOT want to get a root canal.
  18. No matter how much you hate exercise, it will make you feel better. (If my husband asks, I did not admit this.)
  19. Divorce sucks. And it will affect your kids—no matter how old or young they are.
  20. Food doesn’t make you happy, it just makes you fat.
  21. You don’t have to have all the answers to be a good friend. Just be there.
  22. (Usually) good writing should go unnoticed. It should flow in such a way that the reader doesn’t even think about the act of reading, they just do it.
  23. What you want to do is not necessarily what you’re called to do.
  24. Working at a church is hard.
  25. There’s no such thing as a normal family.
  26. Minnesota isn’t so bad.
  27. Having a husband who’s your best friend makes life a lot more fun.

So there you have it. Obviously I’ve learned more than 27 things in my lifetime. At least, I hope it’s obvious…

Northshore Tourists

A few weeks ago, two of my favorite people came to visit us—my Aunt Renee and my sister, Cilia. They were only here from Friday to Tuesday, but I kept them running. We visited the Stonearch Bridge, Stillwater, the Mall of America, and the North Shore.

By the time we headed home on Monday night, we were all tired and crabby and full of happy memories.

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Hudson’s Hot Air Affair

When I was a little girl, my aunt and uncle helped plan the local hot air balloon festival. Every summer, I got to spend an entire weekend watching balloons launch, fly, and glow. The whole thing was magical. Then, when I was ten, my family moved to a different town that also hosted a hot air balloon festival every summer. It was close enough to our house that we’d often see the balloons fly over our house. And then, when I moved to Minnesota, there were no balloons. It was sad. Until . . .

Until I randomly came across a website about Hudson’s annual Hot Air Affair. Not only is there a balloon festival within driving distance, it happens in FEBRUARY. That’s winter, guys. If a hot air balloon festival is awesome in June, it can only be awesomer when there’s snow on the ground, right?

So last weekend, when my cousin Rachael came for a visit, we took her with us to see the balloon glow on Saturday night. This is before we all looked like Rudolph (it was maybe 15 degrees out).

If you don’t know, a balloon glow is when they inflate the balloons at dusk and take advantage of the dark to make the balloons “glow.” They don’t actually launch. They just look pretty.

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patchwork-balloon-2 quilted-balloon balloon-glowballoon-glow-2My favorite part about this festival was that they actually let you out on the field. We got to stand right next to the balloons. It might be different for the launches, but it was the coolest thing. I had so much fun, and now I want to go up in a hot air balloon even more than I did before. I’m not a huge fan of heights, but I’m willing to suck it up for that experience.

Meet Margaret

This is my car, Margaret. I named her after my grandma. Jonathan and I bought Margaret in Minnesota, but she was made in Michigan like me. She’s 125,500 miles old.Car

Margaret is a champ. So far this winter, we’ve had several days of at least -20 degree windchills (that’s not even counting all the other below zero days), and she sits outside all night and starts right up every morning. She’s a little groggy at first, but she comes around. I think we do just as well as native Minnesotans—maybe better. Jonathan’s car, which doesn’t have a name, can’t do that unless it sleeps in the garage.

 

This morning Margaret and I had a great conversation.

“Good job, Margaret. You can do it. We’ve just gotta get to work and we’ll be fine. I know it’s slippery, but you can do it. We just gotta stay safe and we’ll be okay. Just keep going.”

Then I patted her dashboard. Repeat four or five times and you have our ride to work. We made it without incident. A little pep talk goes a long way!

And Jonathan thinks it’s silly to name your car.